Being Alone, Books, and Confused: Toni was one of those women it was impossible to pin an
She could've been anywhere from eighteen to thirty-five. Her skirt
showed enough leg to make him think younger. Her manner and the
cadence of her voice made him think older
He heard a quick snort of laughter from Anne's cubicle. She was the
one bright spot in the office. She was another temp like him, with the
cheekbones, eyes, and body of a model. Her hair stretched down to her
waist. Anne had been at the office for eight months now.
Xela wasn't naked, he realized, just topless. Her bikini bottoms
didn't hide much, though. Her body was lean, and her arms and shoul-
ders had three or four tattoos each, or maybe one elaborate one. He
didn't want to let his eyes drift down far enough to check. Her sky-
colored hair dusted her shoulders. She'd gone the extra step and dyed
her eyebrows, too.
notice him. There'd been no more sightings of the farmer's
daughter blonde who lived across the hall.
You guys, you must stop doing this. You must. We cannot keep yelling at you about it because it makes us so angry, and we are already angry all the time, about real things, like how our lives are turning into a real world Handmaid’s Tale, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha haha ha ha ha ha ha. We cannot keep spending our energy being mad at mediocre men for writing mediocre books that inexplicably win awards and that people tell us to read, for some fucking godawful who knows reason.
So men. My guys. My dudes. My bros. My writers. I am begging you to help me here. When you have this man in your workshop, you must turn to him. You must take his clammy hands in yours. You must look deep into his eyes, his man eyes, with your man eyes, and you must say to him, “Peter, I am a man, and you are a man, so let us talk to each other like men. Peter, look at the way you have written about the only four women in this book.” And Peter will say, trying to free his hands, “What? These are sexy, dynamic, interesting women.” And you must grip his hands even tighter and you must say to him, “ARE THEY, PETER? Why are they interesting? What are their hobbies? What are their private habits? What are their strange dreams? What choices are they making, Peter? They are not making choices. They are not interesting. What they are is sexy, and you have those things confused, and not in the good way where someone’s interestingness makes them become sexy, like Steve Buscemi or Pauline Viardot. Why must women be sexy to be interesting to you? The women you don’t find sexy are where, Peter? They are invisible? They are all dead?” He is trying to escape! Tighten your grasp. “Peter, look at this. I mean, where to begin. ‘She could have been any age between eighteen and thirty-five?’ There are no other ages, I guess? Do you know what eighteen-year-olds really look like, in life? Do you know what forty-year-olds look like? And not that this is even the point, but why are these sexy, dynamic, interesting women BOTHERING with your boring garbage ‘on the skinny side of average’ protagonist? Why did you write it like this, Peter?”
And maybe Peter will say at last, “I don’t know.” Maybe he will be silent for a long long long time, and then maybe he will say, “I guess it’s scary and difficult for me to imagine the interiority of women because then i would have to know that my mother had an interiority of her own: private, petty, sexually unstimulating, strange: unrelated to me and undevoted to my needs. That sometimes I was nothing to my mother, just as sometimes she is nothing to me. That I was not at all times her immediate concern.”
“I know, Peter,” you can tell him gently.
“I don’t want to know that my mother was a human being with an internal life, because to know that would be to risk a frightening intimacy with her,” Peter will say, maybe. “Because to know that would be to know that she was only a small, complicated person, no bigger or smaller than I am, and I am so small. To know how alone she was. How alone I am. How alone we all are. That my mother survived with no resources more mysterious than my own. And yet she gave me life. My God: she gave me life. How can I pay her back for that? How can I ever, ever give her enough to repay her for my life, every day of my life?” He will be sobbing probably. “I am frightened of her. I am frightened of loneliness. I am frightened of dying. O God. My God. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.” Drool will run from his mouth as he cries. The way babies cry. He will be ashamed. You must hold him. You must say, “Shh, Peter. Shh.” Wrap your man arms around him. Hum into his thin hair as your own mother hummed once into your own sweet-smelling baby scalp. Kiss him gently on his mouth. There. You did it, men. You fixed sexism. Thank you. You’re the real hero here, as always, you men, and your special man powers, for making art.