By Nikki Darling
Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth – Camus – I mean, obvi
Pink is a protest a rejection a confrontation with decadence. It’s a big middle finger to everyone who has batted their eyelashes and fanned themselves with faux genteel hands. Pink is a drunken slut that doesn’t give a shit if you blackmail it with naked selfies. It was hoping you would. Pink is every woman who has ever put her head in an oven, slit her wrists, or shot her brains out on TV. And yes, I support them, in death as in life. Pink is one of the only positive things we give to young girls and probably why they glom to it greedily. All the more heartbreaking when we spend the rest of our lives trying to take it away.
Punk is transformative because it understands pink. Pee Wee Herman, John Waters and Angelyne understand pink. Cyndi Lauper, Beth Ditto, Kenneth Anger, and Divine understand pink. Jim Jarmusch, Elvis, and Elvez understand pink. Vaginal Davis and Dolly Parton understand pink. Miss Piggy, Mae West, Gilda Radner, and Tonya Harding understand pink. The band Men is pink. Jean Genet is pink. And so it is that Laurie Weeks, Kate Durbin, and Samantha Cohen understand the gooey center, the strawberry jam clogged artery of goodness that is pink.
Pink doesn’t have time and pink doesn’t care. Pink doesn’t give a fuck about your neutral sensibilities. When pink closes it’s eyes before it goes to bed at night it has the singular knowledge that it is alone. Pink still wakes up in the morning and gives it a go. Pink also doesn’t mind contradicting itself and telling all that previous pink crap to go to hell, it’s happy, loved and intertwined with another human in Oneness.
“This is a book about women and that’s why the pages of this book are pink, because this book is an object and women are objects.” So began Kate Durbin at her recent reading for the release of E! Entertainment, at Skylight Books in Silver Lake, dressed as Anna Nicole Smith from this video:
An Open Letter To Laurie Weeks:
Dear Laurie Weeks,
I’m not sure how to begin this letter, as I am now aware, you are the master of form when it comes to composed correspondence, but all the same I must begin:
I lied to you. Last week when I came to your house after Sam told me to enroll in your writing class because you are amazing and I needed the “Laurie Weeks experience”– sometimes you just lie on the floor! — she exclaimed, her eyes full of sparkle and enthusiasm, and after an entire cranium-stabbing semester of Male Professors telling me what it means to Literature On Paper, it did sound transcendent. When I came over and gave you money to enroll, we sat in your fabulous back yard filled with dreams I could taste ever so subtly on my tongue of desire. I said that I had read your book and that I was obsessed with it. Well, I lied. I had only read the story, “Debbie’s Barium Swallow” from The New Fuck You, which I am also obsessed with, but the story of origin that I told you was true. My copy indeed came into my possession after a long night of havoc and going to see a band called Wikkid play in a small tinderbox of death in Bushwick, 2003, where I stole the copy from someone’s bookshelf along with Glen E. Friedman’s, Fuck You Heroes, which I feel terrible about but was at the time an active alcoholic and at the height of human ineptitude. Anyway, my copy is water stained from being shoved in the front pocket of my winter coat, and having been dragged through the snowy streets, pulled down the sidewalk, shitfaced, by my legs, giggling and yelling, as my girlfriend kept dropping and picking up my unruly feet. Yes, my legs were shitfaced and pulling me. No, my girlfriend was pulling me through the streets by my legs, as I was shitfaced. But it reads prettiest, the first way, no? This is why I love you, Laurie Weeks, because I know that you do. Which is to say, holy shit your sentences. I want to pull them shitfaced into my mouth and eat them every morning for breakfast.
You have filtered into every thought I’ve had for the past two days since I opened your fabulous book, Zippermouth, which make no mistake, intended with all the intensity and awkward weight with which I write these words IS CHANGING MY LIFE.
Why, just this afternoon I wanted to change my Facebook status to: “Visine, YET AGAIN YOU HAVE FAILED ME now I am blind AND late.” But I didn’t because I wasn’t sure if it was actually something you had written and I was subconsciously carrying around in my brain pouch labeled, Brilliant Things. Like how George Harrison carried around the melody to “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons and turned it unknowingly into “My Sweet Lord.” I didn’t want that because I just now finally seem to be getting some career traction under my feet, and plagiarism, unintentional at least, would be embarrassing. So if you did write it, it’s great and if I did, it’s entirely because of you.
My father is also self-loathing, yet such a jerk. My entire life he’s insulted my efforts, and just last year when I got into a very competitive PhD program said, “Well congratulations, I didn’t think you could do it.” I wanted to yell back, “Everyone wants to get me drunk on Champs and strawberries! And I can’t because of you, asshole, because I drank away the best years of my life trying to smother the zeitgeist of failure that you projected on me! Now I must drink this Fresca instead and pretend to be happy about it!”
In reality I did two espresso shots, smoked a blunt at 10 AM, spun around in a circle, then tried to talk to strangers about happiness in line at the bank. The effect was a similar disembodied psychosis. Look, I didn’t quit alcohol for altruistic reasons, I quit because my liver is a wimpy piece of shit and combined with its regular onslaught of cranberry flavored mixers intended to fight the repetitive bladder infections I subjected onto its sponge of so-called enzyme inducing clarity, was causing a major traffic jam in its ability to do what it’s supposed to. Namely, keep me alive. And at 26! Man, what a loser my liver is, my dad should have been calling it a disappointment its entire life, not me. That night, familiar, comforting feelings of shame and failure tucked me in while I held the acceptance letter and shrugged, meh, this is okay but next I’ll do something really great!
Laurie, I have my own Jane, have had many Janes, I just wrote an entire book of poetry about my last two Janes and I, too am still wistful for the unfulfilling, endlessly empty feelings they leave inside me. I also think I might be a Jane as well, many different Janes to different people. One can never be sure who they are emotionally draining to death at any given moment, isn’t that the entire problem with being Jane?
I get you Laurie Weeks. I, too am obsessed with old movie stars, cats, marijuana, and Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar is my thundershirt, a type of swaddling sweater for dogs so they don’t diarrhea themselves on the 4th of July. I love that you called Sylvia a crazy nut!
In any event I’m afraid that I love you. I’m afraid to sit across from you now, while you, master and wise-like, study and critique my paltry sentences, quivering like worms on hooks you did not ask me to bring. But I know that you understand the thrill of writing something brazen and ludicrous and so your ludicrosity opens the door for my own freedom of expression. This is your power, Laurie Weeks, and you yield it for gold. You spin it for good. You sprinkle your brilliance at the feet of us mortal wordsmiths, as every word that has unraveled from your lips has lodged itself radically into this mortal coil. I will leave you now, Laurie, before I too, am like Tammy, the crazy bi-polar junkie from your book, scuttling about your privacy, looking to score.
“Her reality and my reality are two very different things,” says Wife Kyle, “former child star and aunt of an heiress who is also a reality TV star,” and one of the many tanned moisture parched Real House Wives that hover murderously about the Hollywood Hills, a gaggle of women so presumably wealthy they create their own realities. Take for instance Wife Kyle’s good friend “high profile Medium,” who has “a TV show based on her life, the lead actress played by Patricia Arquette.”
The most fascinating part of E! Entertainment might be how easy it was for Durbin to construct such Dada-esque beauty and Gertrude Steinian play with language. It’s as if reality TV has always been working undercover as the cultural barometer of evil and capitalism. From the beginning of its existence, reality TV has bludgeoned to death any bits of humanity that were lodged in our collective throats, the inner desires and sick fantasies that were kept in journals locked away in drawers to be discovered upon death. Emily Dickenson called, she said why, yes, oh and how, duh. With the advent of the internet so too went culture’s last grasp on formality and reverie. And that’s a good thing. At least the forum that has brought depravity to the forefront can also act as its watchdog and best cultural critic. It’s not that reality TV has made the world a more terrible place, it’s that it has brought into focus the truly bizarre and twisted nature of humankind. Just as the internet hasn’t changed humanity, only held a mirror up to it. And now, we can, thankfully, case in point, E! Entertainment, respond.
Craft aside, E! continues Durbin’s, Oscar Wilde-tinged investigation into consumer culture contained within a Lacanian interest of subjectivity and screens. All of which gets filtered, spray-painted, and reconfigured by Riot Grrrl sensibilities. Durbin might dress the part of a Disney princess, getting tangled in bits of her work, but she is purely a post-90s Judith Butler laced Kathleen Hanna. This book is a teenage Riot Grrrl grown to full maturation, lining up her ducks and shooting them skillfully down.
E! Is also a Flaubertian nightmare. A psychedelic Madame Bovary on acid. If poor Madame Bovary was reviled in her yearning for upward mobility and things, true indicators of class and excess, E!, then becomes the answer to the question: what if those desires were never challenged? A reality in which Madame Bovary’s downfalls never come to consequence and she continues, unsullied in her feminist desire to matter and be seen.
Durbin doesn’t judge her subjects, she simply recounts their objects and clothes, their cars and floral designs, their furniture and McMansions. She sees them as products of their own cut-throat models of self creation. In this way the reader is pushed against how little has changed since the birth of Madame Bovary, the choices at hand for social advancement and power still tied to material excess and outward beauty, even if the tongue clucking has gone viral.
E! Entertainment, is a chicken and egg feminist metaphor that delivers quite cleverly the real life evidence that real life, to some extent doesn’t exist anymore and might never have existed to begin with. Everything has become an endless prism, the reflection in the mirror that is a reflection in a mirror. This is the first and most obvious connection to be made with the work, but as the book unfolds a dull repetitive disassociation begins to take place. The chapter titled, Anna Nicole Show, a piece fractured and mesmerizing, pulls together questions of infantile womanhood, addiction, social feminine structures, the absurdity and frightening codes of motherhood in the voice of seven year old Riley, parroting a mantra of approved and acceptable motherhood at Anna Nicole, instilled in Riley since leaving the womb. It is the script talking back to the broken relic of the same system, the piglet admonishing the sausage. And then of course, there is the sickening manipulation from Howard Stern, a coaxing voice of acceptance. All of which rides to completion on the Dadaist horror of the words Mamma and Waah, a Steinian gesture of structure and breaking codes of language if ever there was one.
At which point Wife Kyle’s reality assertion sharply veers, turning toward wind of a different sail. Durbin’s reality, our reality, in which old-fashioned sexism permeates all walks of life, still suppresses women in the everyday. The Housewives’ models of shallowness then are not to be sneered at or mocked but rather celebrated in their own way, for having made it gladiator-style to become the pampered evil queens they are today. In their own way these women made it in a world of misogyny, whether operating within its structures or not, they worked with what they had, most likely being cut-throat and focused, to reach a state of oblivious narcissism, where the problems of the outside world simply become a stage on which to sell their stories. These women believe and understand the power of narrative, the very way in which they model their ambition coincides with how they execute their choices. Think Joan Didion’s, Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream reinvisioned for our time, the “coronet of seed pearls” that held the “illusion veil” of Lucille Miller’s replacement now hold in place the cameras swarming in and out of our lives, seen and unseen, always present over our shoulder, tempting us with that confessional life, that freedom to create then destroy everything based simply on desire for excess comforts. In Lucile Miller’s case a life insurance policy, for Wife Kyle, that currency that flows like fountains of Cristal from the Hills, that TMZ life.
By the end of E! Durbin has illustrated a world in which to live freely within the patriarchal system one must literally turn themselves into an object zombie. This ability to craft an entirely new existence and live it fully is for Durbin the true wonder of modernity, not its gadgets, not its philosophies, but its very ability to reframe desire and morality. Its speed and precision moving quickly across the pink palettes of these wives’ faces, their scars tucked beneath wigs, their eyes pulled tight, their lips glossed and plump. A piece of shrimp tiger tail, hanging delicately from a cupid bow, unfelt and unknown to its host lip, sensation having been lost years ago after the fifth Restylane injection.
Durbin makes a clear Thoreauvian argument against consumerism while celebrating the women who succeed within this broken system, a thirst for success and savagery that is most commonly thought of as the domain of men. This desire for comfort and entitlement of personhood, bellies the very shallowness which their reality costs. Durbin understands this sacrifice and while deconstructing poetic codes gives each wife a veranda of her own, a Malibu view.
Laurie Weeks I forgot to tell you, I’m a performance artist now. Or maybe I’ve always been a performance artist. I recently stripped my clothes and whipped myself with a long artificial Easter Lily while gyrating to “Trial Before Pilate,” from Jesus Christ Superstar. The audience was friendly and reacted well, I was whipping myself for Jane. Really giving it to him. You know, take that, Jane! These tits will love again! Or something. How do we extricate that splinter, Laurie? The one that bends and cuts and reminds us daily that our flesh and blood is tainted only by our own design? No one else runs my finger along the cross but I. Is it really that I love the feeling of being lacerated so much that I rip my own flesh? It appears so, if there’s a camera involved, because if Jane won’t love me, the camera will. I know this Laurie Weeks and you know it too, nothing cuts the brain in half except failure, not “their” failure, fuck them, but my only failure, to give up, not on Jane, I give up on that fool every five minutes. I mean giving up on passion, giving up on determination of spirit, of believing deep in my heart that I am and always will be the best fuck Jane never had. Giving all this pink to all these scrubs feeding ratty alley cats and feigning pissed when they don’t purr back.
I’ve always resented that famous saying that’s like, great minds discuss ideas and small minds discuss people! Or something. Because it seems so obviously anti-girl. It’s a very girly practice to talk about people as a way of discussing ideas–it’s a way of floating stuff, or seeing what fits–almost like a constant fiction collaboration. So this story was conceived of as a story about what fiction is, what storytelling is, and in part, about the ways we are lost when we’ve let go of traditional narratives (such as the rom-com love story), & how we work to re-find ourselves. – Samantha Cohen
Samatha Cohen’s chapbook, Gossip, takes its cues from that which has been brushed aside as narcissistic navel-gazing and self indulgent trivialism. But the truth is, in 2014, gossip is more powerful than it has ever been. We live in a culture of gossip. Gossip brings down presidents and ignites controversies and elevates everyday folks to heros. This desire to feminize gossip then becomes an attempt to undermine its power. Much the same way female sexuality has been manipulated to produce puritanical shame in women. Cohen understands this dismissal and dresses it up in exactly the thing it’s most accused of: female relationship blathering.
Cohen’s fiction often skirts the edges of where the ethereal meets the complicated. For instance, where there might be an argument someone decides to cut off an arm out of apathy or anger. Here however, in a piece about gossip, the thing that gets tangled and reconstructed via an endless game of social telephone, Cohen stays true to the facts of this planet, leaving the metaphysical or happenstance to the various and meandering theories that emerge from her chorus, an unnamed narrator who filters, Gossip Girl style, all the “facts” as they present themselves.
In this way the book displays its greatest strength, the way in which our reality is mitigated and reshaped by the assumptions of others. In a time when Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and other forms of social sharing have opened up our private lives to the public, never has the idea of “truth” become more subjective. What does it matter if the two love subjects of Gossip’s pages ever consummate their relationship or not–although they do, according to our narrator–the fact is they have presented a reality to others in which the results of those actions, taken or not, have had ramifications amongst their peers. They are talked about, passed within the social stratosphere as objects worth analyzing. They have become the TV show and the commercial, both of which have have become swirled into an incomprehensible knot.
Theory aside, Cohen can write with a capital W:
But so here is what really happened, probably, if you believe that rule that the simplest explanation is always the right one. At the goth party, one of the people Evan was talking to was Marion. Marion was this really young, just-out-of-college person with an easy, neutral face and hairy legs. Marion was likeable and not unbalanced. She was wearing a black dress and black lipstick and looked like a convincing goth.
Marion and Evan talked about the Occupy Movement and Evan started thinking how not unblanced Marion was. He looked in her eyes and they didn’t spark and they weren’t hungry. They were present and attentive and clear. And Evan looked over at Ada and she looked so crazy. She looked like the first woman ever slipped in time just after eating the forbidden fruit and arrived frazzled and guilty in 2012 where she promptly styled herself like a fraggle.
Cohen’s narrative reveals and pulls back on itself, becoming the frothy talk it’s supposedly attempting to make clear. Finally, in a last line so satisfying you might read it twice, we get the rub: clarity is overrated, Truth is subjective, and what we thought we were reading is in fact, much like gossip itself, something entirely different. What remains is a cacophony of voices, each one lilting and laughing with femininity, each one carrying more power than it understands, each one rising like a wave into a scream, until everything is wet with pink.