Miss my friends a little. this photo was taken in Jamaica in October 2013. i was working on my book WOMEN which was called ROLLERCOASTER and only 5 pages and I wasn’t planning on making it a book. We stood in the bluest water I’ve ever been in and talked about heartbreak and obsession. i didn’t know then if ROLLERCOASTER would be anything. I was living in Portland. When i flew back there from Jamaica, I knew I was done with it. I needed to move back to New York.
dang, i <3 when my book is compared to tig notaro’s life.
especially because tig once sent me a personalized birthday card. (K fine it was my friend Logan)
From AutoStraddle: Dating Women: The Most Enticing Romantic Possibility Life Ever Threw Her Way:
Chloe Caldwell’s 2014 novella Women, a beautiful story about the narrator’s first same-sex love affair, manages to address frankly how different it is to be with a woman without making sexual orientation itself the subject or the obstacle of her story. Early in the book, when she’s found herself drawn to this woman, Finn, but hasn’t yet given it a name, Caldwell writes, “I knew I found Finn’s aesthetic attractive, but I hadn’t yet explored feelings of being attracted to her, in part because I hadn’t yet explored my ability to fall for a woman. I figured if I was going to be with a woman, I would have been with one by now. I would know if I was bisexual or gay. Being a writer, I assumed I was at least mildly self-aware.” And then, of course, she falls, quickly and desperately, in love with a woman she cannot have because this woman is already in a relationship with somebody else. It’s unhealthy and destructive. But she falls, and falls, and falls, and this new categorization of affair is approached not with hand-wringing, but with nervous, tentative, flushed excitement and curiosity.
A similarly enchanting narrative begins mid-way in the new Netflix documentary Tig, when out lesbian comedian Tig Notaro becomes fast friends with Stephanie Allyne, a straight actress she worked with on the film In A World. Although Allyne and Notaro are clearly falling for each other — texting nonstop, becoming inexorably obsessed with each other’s every word and move, involving each other in their work whenever possible — Allyne resists to categorize it as “falling in love” because, of course, she’s straight! “I don’t know how to go forward in my life without this person,” Allyne recalls feeling after her and Tig had decided to take a break from their friendship because Tig’s feelings for Allyne were too strong. “I knew if I don’t say ‘yes’ to this in my life then I am not following my feelings and my heart.” I won’t spoil the film for you, but you’re probably already aware that the two are presently engaged to be married, so there’s that.
Ye olde fictional narratives never turned out quite as well as these present-day true stories do. Jessica Stein tried really hard to love her girlfriend as much as her girlfriend loved her, but ultimately she was just too straight to make it work. Samantha Jones quickly grew tired of her relationship with Maria in Sex and the City, and exited with several digs at lesbian relationships in general. InSix Feet Under, Claire’s brief experimentation with bohemian lesbian artist Edie was similarly short-lived, as Edie reminds Claire that “the world’s not your own private fucking chemistry set.”
This is my favorite TIG ever. On Being Present.
Publisher’s Weekly gave me some nice airplay in this article about WHAT ELSE: memoir writing. Thanks Ryan Joe!!
I’m up at six a.m. on a Sunday for absolutely no good reason.
7 women came to my apartment yesterday at ten a.m. and left back for NYC at nine p.m. for a nonfiction workshop. It was so fun!!! But I can’t tell you what went down. It’s top secret.
Then we walked to dinner. And asked some dude to take this photo.
And if you want to take my memoir classes in NYC, sign up here.
I’m posting on my website frequently and I think it’s because I’m off Twitter. Trading addictions for addictions. Also that ‘picking my brain’ post really emboldened me to voice myself more here.
I’m currently working with two teenagers on their college essays. Gotham offers a 5-hour college essay package. The first two hours of the package entail a ‘brainstorming’ session. I meet with the girls (separately) in a windowed room in Manhattan, books shelved around us, ambulances constantly ringing, air-conditioning blaring. We drink iced coffees. The girls are both Syrian-Jews and grew up in their tight-knit Syrian community together. They are best friends. One likes to write and one doesn’t. They are both sweet as hell.
What’s been so endearing about meeting with them, is that they are starting from scratch. I don’t ever start from scratch anymore. I don’t know if I have since Highschool. I still feel seventeen in some ways, and sitting across from these sinewy girls reminds me I am not. Since high school, I have not had to write an essay because I was told to. It’s always been for fun or desire or money.
Similarly, my students are not at a loss for what to write about. They have a surplus. Life happens. Your twenties happen. We have stories. Pain. Confusion. Observations. But these girls are seventeen. They say their moms made them work with me because otherwise they’d never write their essays. One girl offers me a sip of her green juice. We discover she wants to be a nutritionist.
It’s really refreshing to sit across from people that have to write an essay but don’t identify as “writers”.
“I feel like I’m selling myself,” one of the girls said to me this morning.
“You are!” I told her. Get used to it, I think in my head. “You want NYU to want you!”
“I feel like I’m bragging about myself.”
Neither of the girls knew what they wanted to write about. Neither knew when the essay was due. Neither knows what they want to major in. Neither has given thought to what their plan B schools are in they get into NYU.
We start from absolutely nothing. We talk. I play therapist and ask them questions and take notes while they talk. My notes look insane. But they work for me/us.
“What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?” I ask them.
They can’t think of anything. Nothing bad has happened to them, they say.
“What would you do if you had a weekend alone with your best friend?”
“Nothing? Shop? Eat?”
I get it. When I was a teen, I wanted to do less than that. I wanted to smoke pot, leave my town, go to parties. I didn’t want to go to college. These girls are lightyears ahead of me.
“What about when you took that trip to Italy? Did you ever get lost? Have any problems?”
“We just used our phones,” she tells me. “GPS.”
So anyway, I take these psycho notes and by the end of the first hour we come up with an idea. Then I take her computer and I outline it for her. This is where you say your curious nature is what makes you want to be a psychologist. And stuff like that. I create something from nothing and ask her if it feels authentic or like a white lie. She says authentic. We talk about what a phenomenon the college essay is, how silly. How silly it is to know what you want to do at 17. We say the college essay should be banned within the next 5 years.
Then I pee and get water and leave her to it and by the end she’s made something out of nothing. She’s written an essay about her life. I read it out loud back to her. She says she’s excited and likes it.
My photo is shitty because I’m on the train and it’s moving. My notes cover her favorite Woody Allen movie (Annie Hall and Midnight and Paris), her favorite books (The Martian. The Great Gatsby, Outliers), what her parents do (real estate and professional running), the time she slammed her finger in a door as a baby leaving it deformed, the time she lost her mom in the supermarket, the time she was approached by a crazy person on a Sunday afternoon in Notting Hill, etc, etc, etc.
Makes me wonder what my therapist’s notes say about me.
My college essay was about music therapy. Or visiting France. I think. I don’t remember. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I was damn good at churning out essays, at bullshitting words, at finding meaning on the page.
I really hope both girls get into NYU. I don’t know why they wouldn’t.
I’m teaching Memoir 1 in NYC this fall at Gotham Writer’s Workshop. This time I’m teaching two 10-week classes. You get your pick. That’s right, I’m a memoir ninja running back and forth from 8th Ave and Broadway. The classes run on Tuesdays from October 6th through December 8th.
I love how my ‘boss’ at Gotham, Kelly Caldwell, always uses the accent over my é.
Some info about class is below. View the syllabus here.
This course gives you a firm grounding in the basics of memoir craft and gets you writing a short memoir (or two) or a book. Course components:
- Writing exercises
- Workshopping of student projects (each student presenting work two times)
Memoir Writing I is for beginners or anyone who wants to brush up on the fundamentals.
Let me know if you have any qs.
Frances Badalamenti: A theme that is often on repeat in our texts and talks and I feel, something that surrounds our friendship in many ways, is our individual relationship status. I have been married for over a decade. I have only had sex with that one person for the past fifteen years. Before that dude, I was married to another dude and by the time that I was your age, I was already married and divorced. You are a single lady. When we first started hanging out, you seemed to be heading into recovery from a few not-so-healthy relationships. We would sit at my kitchen table in the epicenter of my pretty fucking normal American life (husband, kid, houses, loot in the checking account) and we would be across from one another drinking tea and it was obvious that there was this major difference between the two of us that was beyond age or sexual orientation or fiscal disparities.
I had a person and you did not have a person. You were the lone wolf and I was part of a pack. And the funny thing is — I envied you and I still do to a certain extent. I would love nothing more than to be a lone wolf again for a brief period of time, but I think that I would want to have the knowledge that I now hold from being in a long-term relationship. I think I envy your relationship status because of what I now know about being with the same damn person and sucking the same damn dick for so many years.
Do you feel that you have envied that part of me, the part that has the same person in the same bed every night? Or, is that something that you wouldn’t want for yourself at this point in your life?
CC: I’ve never told you this straight-up, but your house is pretty much my happy place. I explore this a little in an essay in my new collection, about how I’m often in situations and homes of friends married with children. You, Cheryl, Elisa Albert, Erika Kleinman. I like peering into that lifestyle and observing it.
But yes, I envy you having a husband and a kid because you have a rad husband and funny as hell kid. And I hope I have a version of that some day, but to be honest, I’m growing less interested in it, and it’s not like, a goal for me.
Early on in our friendship, your husband and kid went to the coast and you stayed in Portland. I came over for lunch, and you had already gone to yoga and were gonna go to Thai food and a movie later. You were applying to residencies and working on your book. You said something like, “I wish they were gone a week, I could get so much DONE!” And I totally got it. And I think not having a person does allow me to get a shit-tone ‘done’ in my creative life.
I also don’t have qualms about doing anything by myself–we’re the same that way. I think the lamest thing ever is when people say they wouldn’t go to a bar/movie/hike by themselves. Really? Then why do you even live? I love having meals alone, it makes me feel alive, especially in places like NYC. My friend the other day said she’s been wanting to get Pho, but would never do it alone because it’s pathetic. I ate Pho alone like once a week when I lived in Portland. Who gives a shit?
FB: You said to me recently that you are un-dateable. I remember first hearing that term in Frances Ha and totally fucking connecting to it because I can definitely recall a time when I was completely un-dateable. It was a period in my life that I was way too hungry for a relationship and completely starved of sex and so I would be super intense with my needs and I would turn dudes off straightaway. I remember once calling a dude’s answering machine like a hundred times in a row until he actually picked up the phone. I would wait by the phone for hours to see if some dude might call. It was complete desperation, it’s no wonder I married so quickly the first guy who came along and actually wanted to be with me. It was sick in the head. Awful. My point is, that was my version of un-dateable, but I don’t think this is the case for you.
Why do you feel that you might be un-dateable?
At this point in my life, especially within the past year, I’ve become really ‘career’ focused. I have no degree or skills really aside from nannying. Of course I could work retail or waitress or work at my dad’s store forever. But none of those are appealing to me, so I have thrown myself into this hustle of, as you said on the phone yesterday, “a working writer.”
Many people I’ve met I can tell ‘think’ they want to date a writer but they don’t think about it realistically, for example, I need a lot of space, and get anxious if I’m not getting work done. I think people want to date and waste time together, and that’s not where I’m at in my life. In that sense, I think I can be a little undate-able, because people don’t want to date someone whose work comes before everything else. It can be threatening, I think. That said, if I fell in love with someone, I would make the time.
Also, I’m a little high maintenance and need a lot of attention. I’ve been really immature in the past in my relationships, but I’ve grown a lot since then. Oh, and lastly, I write such personal nonfiction and many people I’ve dated don’t know how to broach that. It freaks them out.
FB: I am suddenly reminded of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, ironically my favorite book during the un-dateable phase of my life. I am thinking about the character of Tomas and his need to be un-attached yet he had this strong desire for intimacy with women. If I were magically awarded with a reprieve from the long-term, I would totally want to be a Tomas. I would choose to be detached yet getting tons of good sex and great long talks in-between crisp white sheets. But I think that is because I have already experienced and reaped the rewards of a long-term relationship. I have no plans to give it up, I am fully committed to this person, but I cannot help but dream about the idea of being fully autonomous and confident and independent but also getting plenty of amazing human contact. It would be a hybrid form of where both you and I are at in our lives.
If you could get whatever you want right now, in terms of an intimate relationship, what would you go for?
I am definitely like Tomas in that regard, and you’re a nut for thinking of him for this, ha!
I would love to date someone who was passionate about what they do in the arts and needed alone time to do it. I’m not into ‘working’ around other people. My friend Milcah, who you know, texted me the other day and asked if I make ‘work dates’ with other people and sit at coffee shops with a friend (or in a living room) and both work silently on their computers. That sounds like my worst nightmare, I told her. I really need to be physically alone while I work.
I went to Elisa Albert’s apartment for dinner this past Sunday. Both she and her husband have separate large offices with windows. That’s what I would need. Or I would need to have a different schedule than my partner–like the way your husband goes to his office 9 to 5 so you have the day to write.
I envy my mom’s marriage, which I call The Weekend Marriage. Her husband livs two hours away, so they spend every Friday night through Monday morning together, and then go on epic vacations together. This would work for me. It works for my mom, too.
So yeah, I’d need someone who respects my space and boundaries. I need a lot of space! I need downtime. I guess at heart I am an introvert because I get drained around people.
Oh, and he/she would be a millionaire. Har, har.
At Heart coffee in Portland this past January, you asked me, would you rather get a 20k book deal or meet your soulmate on your flight home? And I said, “The money. Nah, I guess the person.” And you said, “I know, right?”
FB: Just to add in my five cents, I totally feel that you are dateable. But I also know that you have to be ready to take on another person’s shit and that’s the part of a committed relationship that I feel is the hardest part and is the part that sometimes, some days, I want to just give it all up and be a Tomas. You basically end up with this person’s dirty laundry in your face, both literally and figuratively and do me a huge fucking favor, please promise to relish in this quiet introspective time that you have right now, because I have a feeling that it will not be forever.
CC: Oh thanks. Will you date me? Hahahaha. We are long distance friends/dating. We have a good rapport. It’s never overwhelming or underwhelming. It’s so funny how sometimes when it’s 9am here and 6am there, we manically text for the start of the day until you have to “open the kitchen” for your husband and kid. It makes me LOL. No but seriously, thanks, it means a lot.
Oh I do. Don’t you think? I love doing whatever the F I want. I love having no one ask me where I am. What I did. Why I bought this or that. It works for me right now. It’s not to say I don’t get lonely and crave intimacy and touch. My friend Logan and I talked about this recently—we were at dinner. Her friend Megan was saying everything in her life was going well, except she didn’t have a partner. She said she thrived in partnerships. That’s not me. I thrive when I’m single. I’m hoping someone fits into my puzzle some day, but I haven’t met them yet.
Check it! I interviewed author of Black Out: Remembering What I Drank To Forget, and Salon’s personal essay editor, Sarah Hepola for Hobart.
There is exactly one place left in my One Day Nonfiction Bootcamp in NYC. Make it yours.
There are like 5 spots left in my online Personal Essay class, starting August 27th.
If I were a musician, here are the women I want would be:
Something about this Lady Lamb chick is interesting to me. Her lyrics jump all over the place so quickly, and she writes about this weird ephemeral feeling when you almost miss your train because you think you see an ex. Then you make your train and you’re fucking stoked. Been there. Anyway, Spotify had rec’d me the song so I was listening a bunch. When I finally looked up this live version, I was like dang, she’s only 25! A lot of her lyrics surprise me and keep me interested. She’s so charged and adorable.
My friend and I decided this song, “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” would be the song that rolled at the credits if my book WOMEN were a film. (I actually love Natalie Prass’s album in it’s entirety, but this is the best song on it.)
This song “Devon” is one of my fave songs of all-time. I LOVE GRIMES. Fun fact: Driving through the midwest on book tour last October with Mira Gonzalez, EE, and Chelsea, we were deciding what music to listen to. Grimes came up. The writer Mira Gonzalez was dating a guy named Devon, and he was coming on tour with us for part of it. I knew this, but forgot, and mentioned how much I listen to this song Devon by Grimes. Turned out, Grimes (Claire Boucher) was Mira’s boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend and wrote this song about him…anyway, i listened to her incessantly while writing Women. Can’t find a good live vid of that one though.
And this song never gets old for me. I would totally be Sharon Van Etten if i WERE a musician. Both she and Natalie Prass are exactly my age.
More where that came from but i have to go do stuff now.
Yesterday an email popped in from a guy named Ryan who wanted to see if I had 20 minutes to talk to him over the phone about memoir writing. I immediately shot back: Do you mean you want advice or you’re interviewing me for your article? “It’s an article for Publisher’s Weekly,” he said, “You’ll be quoted.” I apologized, I said, “Sorry, I was about to jump down your throat.”
He called me an hour later and said, “You must get lots of emails from strangers about your books and stuff.” “I used to get emails about my books,” I said, “Now I get emails asking what I can do for them, how they can “get” things I have.” I said this in a joking manner, but as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized it was true.
I’ve been getting hit up a lot for advice lately. In the past two weeks I’ve received more emails from strangers than ever; what’s in the air right now? These emails are not about my books like they used to be, but more of, How can I emulate your career path, what do I do. I am getting these emails at a time when I’m busier than I’ve ever been. I’m teaching memoir here, personal essay here, doing my own book edits, teaching at Catapult story here, taught a teen workshop, and doing freelance stuff and one-on one editing with writers like this one. I am working furiously to keep up with my students’ work, my lectures, my own writing, my health. So when I am working on my students’ essays, and an email pops in asking me for advice, it aggravates me, because I want my time to go to the people who are paying for it.
I’m trying to figure out why this getting hit up for advice sometimes makes me cranky, and I’ve come up with a few reasons. One is that, many of the people are living more well-off than I am. Why do you want to imitate ME? I get it—I have books out. But if I told you the way I “got to where I am” (which is, HA, where? Sitting at my desk, still? Working at my dad’s store, still? Babysitting, still?) I don’t know if these people would want to try it. Last week I received an email from 2 girls from California who are living in a loft in Williamsburg writing a movie all summer. (I would kill to have that set up, but the grass is always greener, right?) The girls wanted to ask me how I “got” what I did, so here it is:
- I lived home from age twenty-four to twenty-six so I could write. This meant I had nothing. Not money, not a car, not a partner, not a bank account, not my own apartment, not my own groceries. I lived at home again shortly when I was twenty-eight. This meant I felt lazy and lame; a failure.
2. I moved a lot, leaving me unsettled and poor and exhausted and lonely, but widening my “literary community” since I lived back and forth on both coasts for a few years.
3. I took emotional risks. Big ones. I promoted and pushed my own work which you can only do in the way I did if you are young and naive enough. I gave myself permission to be a writer.
4. I chose writing over relationships.
5. I chose writing over going out.
6. I chose writing over sleeping in.
7. I chose writing over living in New York City.
8. I chose writing over finding a day job that would lend me security or benefits.
9. I chose writing over having health and dental insurance. (I’m on Medicaid now.)
10. Since I chose no other career path or back up plan or degree, I became married to writing. Since I became married to writing, my work got out there more. Since my work got out there more, I got more opportunities. The more opportunities I got, the more opportunities I got.
11. I didn’t go to college.
12. So obviously, I didn’t get an MFA.
13. I put out a book of essays without making a cent on it.
Here are some things I didn’t get:
I’ve never been accepted to a residency. I paid $300 to go the one at Martha’s Vineyard in May.
I’ve never won a contest that paid anything. I’ve never won an award.
I did win $150 from Word Riot.
Do you see what I mean? This is not exactly the “path” most people want to follow. My path is like, move home and make no money. Write for free. Have no back up plan.
It’s not linear and it has no tips or tricks. The “trick” was that I literally spent eight hours a day at my desk. I remember vividly one night my friends threw rocks at my window telling me to come out to the bars, and I ignored them. (This is not to say I didn’t spend my twenties in bars–I did, but when I was devoted to a book/essay, I was devoted.)
The 2 girls said that they wanted to ‘pick my brain’. What exactly do you mean? I asked them, I’m pretty spread thin these days, I said. They wanted to take me for coffee, they said they felt ‘stuck’ in their writing projects. They wanted to know about my trajectory. They said if I didn’t have time for coffee, would i talk to them on the phone?
When they called, I told them I had 15 minutes. They put me on speaker phone. They had 2 questions, one was “So, like, how did you get on VICE?” and another was, “How did you get literary representation?” (Mind you, these girls aren’t in the lit world, they are in the film world, something I totally cannot speak to, so I’m not sure how i could help them if I wanted to.)
Well, I GOT on VICE because the editor solicited me after I wrote hundreds of unpaid pieces over the last nine years, and I got an agent when she read an essay I wrote for the anthology Goodbye To All That and contacted me. And I GOT into that anthology because the editor of it saw something else (unpaid) that I wrote on The Rumpus. I got on VICE after writing for free for a decade. I GOT on VICE after the editor Jennifer Schaffer and I spent three months of intense edits as I wrote about my beautiful dead friend. (Are we having fun yet?!)
Imagine if I’d asked them questions back like: How did you GET a loft in Williamsburg?
I just clicked on my PUBLICATIONS page and counted them. 30 of them were published unpaid. 10 were paid.
I know this post might sound bitchy and bitter. But I want to say that when you work your ass off and are still eating canned tuna, and pasta a boyfriend left at your apartment a year and a half ago, the phrase, “How did you get” can feel really grating on your ears.
I recognize ambition in my students. I had it too. I was telling my mother the other day that I looked back on my old emails when I took Memoir 1 in NYC, the same class I am now teaching. Seven years ago, my teacher Katie Dykstra was the only woman writer in her thirties (she was the nonfiction editor at Guernica) that I knew. I was twenty-one. I wrote her incessant emails:
Hi Katie, the assignment was to write about our mom, right?
Hi Katie! Is it okay if I bring in my essay on recycled paper?
Hey Katie, what day do I hand in my pages again?
Hi Katie, can you give me recommendations on places to send my work?
Sorry to bother you Katie, but could you send me that piece you mentioned in class, Literary Laryngitis?
Hey Katie, I have a book coming out and just wanted to thank you!
Hi Katie, do you know any reading series I could read at?
Hi Katie, I’d love to submit something I wrote to you at Guernica. Can I send it over?
Katie was my only resource. I had 0 resources so i took it upon myself to seek them out. I took more classes, therefore met more people. I made friends. I wrote. I read.
Another email I got the other day: “My friend took Litreactor class with you and says you’re really nice and approachable, so I wanted to ask you for some advice.”
“Usually I AM nice and approachable!” I told her. “But I’ve been receiving a lot of these requests while I’m swamped reading my students’ essays and doing things I’m being paid for. But I’ll answer your questions really quickly.”
1. Many of the small presses don’t have open submissions- how do I get them to read my work?
CC: No idea. Send anyway? Follow on Twitter and brazenly ask? Find the publisher’s email and send the book anyway?
2. How did you deal with negative criticism once your work was out (like The Mercury review of LGLA)?
CC: I don’t know. It’s funny and interesting. Builds character.
3. What is the editing process like once your manuscript has been submitted? Do publishers often change a ton?
CC: Always different! Depends on your book and you and your publisher. No answer to this I’m sure it always varies.
4. This is a weird, personal question, but how did your family react to how personal your writing is? I know Chelsea Hodson has a rule with her dad that he can’t read anything she publishes, and I’m curious to know if you’ve had to place any similar sort of restrictions on people close to you.
CC: I’m tight with my family so was never a huge issue. I have lots of support from them so I felt safe enough to write LGLA, I guess. It will always be unnerving, but this is how I’ve chosen to live my life, so I have to deal with that. No restrictors. That seems unfair. If i’m publicly writing books, I can’t decide who reads them. It’s a surrender of control.
The family question is getting particularly hard to answer. It’s depends on your family, and unless I know your family story, I don’t know what you should do in that regard. I only know what I should do.
When I was twenty-three, my parents helped me pay to have 5 one-on-one sessions with the author Melissa Febos. I met her for coffee first at News Bar near Union Square. I will never forget she emailed me afterwards, “Chloe I know this is awkward–talking about money always is!—but the meeting we had today has to be paid for as well.”
I wasn’t old enough to be mortified, but that anecdote hangs over me now. She simply couldn’t meet young authors for coffee for an hour for free. Now, I get it. Looking back, I thought she was rich, because she had a book out. She lived in Bushwick. I also thought she was way older than me: but now I see she was only 29 to my 22. (I am now 29.)
I’ve been bribed with many coffees lately. I can buy my own coffee! I want to say.
Here’s an excerpt From Emily Gould’s “How Much My Novel Cost Me”:
During that $7,000 year I also routinely read from my work in front of crowds of people, spoke on panels and at colleges, and got hit up for advice by young people who were interested in emulating my career path, whose coffee I usually ended up buying after they made a halfhearted feint toward their tote bag–purses. I felt some weird obligation to them and to anyone else who might be paying attention to pretend that I wasn’t poor. Keeping up appearances, of course, only made me poorer. I’m not sure what the point of admitting all this might be, because I know that anyone who experiences a career peak in his mid-twenties will likely make the same mistakes I did, and it’s not even clear to me that they were all mistakes, unless writing a book is always a mistake, which in some sense it must be.
This post is making me sound like someone I am not. if you know me, and many of you reading this kind of do, you know I am generous as hell. I adore my students and give them my heart. I spend the week before each memoir class trying to pick out something we can read that will make them laugh, feel good, learn. I lie on my couch with their essays and my red le pen. Any of my Litreactor students will tell you I truly enjoy helping them place their essays, (in and out of class) and emailing with them and sending them towards the right editor if I know one. I constantly bother people telling them, “You should submit to this!” I also am generous to people who are not my students and would love to meet them for coffee, when I can. I guess I just want people to be more aware of the phrase “how did you get” because usually the person didn’t “get’ anything and while they respond to your email of how they “got” what they “got” it’s taking away from them “getting it, girl.” I got what I got because I sit here in yoga pants and acne all day working my ass off. This is not to say I am not grateful and flattered. I am. But there’s something about it that makes me feel defensive, and used, and dirty.
I watched an interview with Amy Schumer the other night. I related to lots of what she was saying: she loves other women comics, she champions them, etc. It was really nice and authentic and then this girl ruined it during the Q & A when she stood up and told Amy to Google her comedy and then made a comment like,
“And you know, you just said you love mentoring young girls so…..hit me up.”
EW. EW. EW.
I was deeply embarrassed for her. Mentorships should work naturally. They should be special. You do not ask a celebrity to be your mentor. This is called having basic social skills.
it is insulting to ask writers how they GOT on VICE, or The Rumpus, because it implies they knew someone there, not because their work is good. I got in The Rumpus and Salon because I went to their websites and followed the submitting directions. The secret to writing and publishing, it turns out, is writing and publishing. Mostly writing.
This is not to say I haven’t had some good luck! But I had the “luck” because I was doing the work. Some things I’ve done have been wonderful: I’ve been flown places and done readings in eccentric and glamorous places I never thought I would. Cheryl Strayed blurbed my first book—–because I had written it. Elizabeth Ellen bought my next book because I had written it. CoffeeHouse bought my next book because I had written it. There are zero shortcuts to writing.
I don’t want this post to be solely negative so here are some things I did do that helped me along my way:
1. I emailed authors when I was moved by their books or pieces I read online.
2. I said ‘yes’ every time I was asked to do a reading
3. I emailed hosts of readings and asked if I could read at their series (before LGLA was even out.)
4. I asked for jobs. At Litreactor, at Catapult, at Gotham, at libraries.
5. I treated writing as a job. I still wake up every single morning and head to my desk first thing.
6. I submitted my work.
7. I knew when not to submit my work (sometimes.)
8. I studied what other writers were doing and where they were publishing and sent my work to those places.
9. I got off Facebook two years ago, which has helped me to keep my head down and do my work without seeking attention all day, every day. (I use Twitter for that. : )
10. I support dozens of other writers and they support me in return. Support is not, “How did you get” support is based on mutual admiration.
The girls who I spoke to on speaker phone told me I could come hang out with them in Brooklyn anytime and listen to records. I think they wanted more from me than I could give. I think I disappointed them. But they disappointed me, too.
And if someone wants a VICE contact, they should just email me and ask. Also it’s on their website.
I’d rather have someone email me and ask me directly for an editor’s name, then flatter me just to make connections.
When you say, “How did you get” it sounds like you’re asking for a shortcut. It sounds like you’re saying, “Why you and not me?”
When I was 22 I emailed Ryan O’Connell for the editor’s name at the New York Times Townies column. He told me he couldn’t give it, because he was solicited. (So I found the editor’s name on my own: Honor Jones. I sent her my essay which she accepted, and then changed her mind–a quick heartbreak for me.)
I’m 99.9% sure, without looking back into my email, that I phrased my question to Ryan, “How did you get on Townies? How did you get in the New York Times?”
Chloe & Frances Badalamenti discuss $ issues. CC: Did anyone ever teach you how to budget money? My friend goes to finance classes with her husband.
FB: Nobody taught me shit. My mother was awful with money, like the kind of person that has the whole paycheck spent before it even reaches the cashier at the bank. She grew up in a single mother household in the Bronx and I think she reverted back there after she left my father. My dad always made a good wage in the graphic arts and as a jazz musician on the side, but he was the opposite of my mother, spending money was hard for him, so he only spent on way bare necessities. These were people who were raised in the depression, so their relationship with money was fucked up and dysfunctional. Long story short, I had to figure it out on my own, when I was finally out on my own. I made tons of mistakes in those days, like not even having ten bucks to go out for a beer with friends and so I came to the realization that I hated being broke. It reminded me too much of my crappy-ass Jersey childhood. I got jobs that make me a lot of money so I didn’t have to feel awful all of the time and then I married two guys who made decent loot. I have to say, those were not good ways to form a healthy relationship with money, because I couldn’t stand those well-paid jobs and I have been through one failed marriage. A friend of mine is one of those financial advisor slash therapist types. She tried to work with me on my money shit and to learn how to properly budget, but I was resistant in the end. I told her that I didn’t like the computer program that she wanted me to use to track spending. What a dick. If I went to a finance class with my husband we would probably end up just making fun of the people in the class or mock the teacher. The subtle art of resistance.
CC: A few months ago I told you that I had $75 in my checking and no new $ that would be coming in. The next day you told me you’d been thinking about it and that $75 wasn’t SO bad, and you told me about times you overdrafted. I don’t think I’ve overdrafted since my NYC days.
FB: When you said you had $75 in your account, I was reminded of the time that I didn’t even have enough to pull twenty bucks out of an ATM in the city. I had a super stressful job in advertising and I worked at a music venue on the weekends, but I was still always broke around payday. I don’t know what my fucking problem was – I guess that I hadn’t figured it out yet and was working out shit from my mother. So for me back then, $75 would have been a lot of money. It would at least have been enough to get a couple of bags of groceries, a PATH card to get to work and a pack of smokes. But I did have that constant stream of paychecks every two weeks and you don’t have that. Your shit is way more stressful I am sure.
CC: Yeah sometimes I have no work and then I have a lot of work at once. It’s not the best way to live, but also I am making more now that I do live off my writing/teaching/catering/retailing. I email places like Salon every day like, hello? Still waiting on my $150! You know how they say that however you pay your rent is who you are? Or maybe it’s you are what pays your rent? Well my rent comes from all over. For example, I took this photo the other day, because it was 3 checks I was going to pay my $600 rent with. One from catering, one from a workshop I did with teens at the library, and one for the workshop I am hosting at my apartment in a few weeks. I am never not trying to collect one of my checks since they come from all over. Right now I am waiting on my book advance check. There is always something, and like the work itself, all the checks often come at once, and like my mom worries, “Then you think you’re rich.”
On Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, Louis CK talks about how he was once locked out of his apartment so he checked into The Ritz in NYC on his credit card. Another time Marc Maron had to rent out a video for Louis cause he (Louis) didn’t have a credit card. That was me in Portland. No credit OR debit cards. I cashed my checks at the grocery store and kept my cash in my underwear drawer. What was your worst point financially?
FB: I love when Louie talks about how fucked he was with money. It’s really refreshing and validating in so many ways. It’s like that must have been his rock bottom. Maybe your rock bottom was when you were here in Portland not even coming close to making ends meet. It’s like you have to go to that place to know that you never want to be there ever again. It becomes the motivation. Maybe that’s part of why Louie is so successful, he drove himself out of poverty. I had many worst points financially, but the one memory that comes into my head was when I was still in college and living in this garden apartment in Bloomfield, New Jersey. My former roommate had been killed in an awful car accident and I was traumatized because we were not on speaking terms when she died, so I decided that I needed to live alone for a while. I think the rent was $400 a month plus utilities which doesn’t sound like a lot, but besides a hectic school schedule, I worked stupid ass waitressing shifts at Chili’s and who the fuck knows how much loot I walked with back then. Some days, you made decent money but then there were days that you didn’t make jack shit. So the awful memory is my brother coming over with a turkey sandwich from the deli and some cash to pay bills, so my phone and electric didn’t get turned off. He later told me that I wolfed down that turkey sandwich like I hadn’t eaten in days. I think I was actually starving, like I literally hadn’t eaten in days. I wanted so bad to be able to take care of myself by that point, but I simply couldn’t. What do you think your worst point was financially? Was it when you had to cash checks at the grocery store? Do you think that was your bottom?
CC: I have had so many bottoms. I’m sure I still have more to come. You know that co-op by your house? Sometimes I’d go there, having no money, and take a string cheese off the shelf, and slowly walk around the store eating it, hoping I wouldn’t be caught. Portland was bad. I had to charge coffees and bagels on my mom’s credit card she let me use for $20 groceries each month, at World Cup in Powell’s. Then send her shameful emails about it. During my Portland life, my friend invited me to go to Chicago with her if she bought the flight. I went, and had like no other money. This came up, because you know we were going to lunch and stuff. I had to SHAMEfully ask her to lend me some money. Luckily, she is cool about $, and has a bunch, and she discreetly handed me like $100. Back in NYC, my friend and I sometimes had to steal twenties out of the petty cash drawer at the jewelry shop we worked in, and replace it when we got paid. My friend thinks my bottom was eating condensed cooking soup for dinner. She came home and saw me doing that. I think I wrote about it in LGLA. After living and babysitting my cousins in Seattle for a year, my cousin Bella who was eight at the time, gave me a drawing she did of us in various situations. One of them was us in a shop she loved called GIFTED. She drew a photo of me with a thought bubble saying, I told you, I don’t have any money. One day you said to me, “I am so sorry you are struggling” and it was really nice. I could take it in. I didn’t feel pitied or condescended or anything, I just felt like…you were/are truly sorry I struggle from being so broke. It’s terrible. “It makes me tired just thinking about it,” Jonathan Ames wrote in one of his essays, of his struggling days. That said, you still tell me it’s okay to splurge sometimes. Like now we both have (along with having the same deodorant) the same orgasmic smelling Cedar Rose parfum. I spent some extra paypal $ on it. Also when we were at the park in San Fran, I said to you, “I’ll have more money in my forties, right?” And you said, “Yes. Thirties.” How do you know when to splurge and when to save?
FB: I can totally relate when you say that you are having a hard time around money, because I have been there firsthand. I know it fucking sucks to struggle and I also know that you will not struggle forever, but I never want to say that because that’s not being in the moment and it’s not really empathetic. I feel that when people say things like, This too shall pass, I want to clock them in the jaw because it hasn’t fucking passed yet. You are living in it and wallowing in it and it is really hard to be having a hard time and sometimes just being validated for that takes some of the sting out. Plus, I know how hard you work and I want you to make good money. The urge to splurge comes in waves for me. It’s hard right now because I am not generating an income and even though I work my ass off taking care of household shit and the kid and trying to make a go of writing, sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve to throw down for a stupidly expensive smoothie or a killer pair of Swedish clogs. This all goes back to my faulty neurological wiring that I have been trying to get repaired for many years. What generally happens is that I crave something nice, like that beautiful amazing fragrance (Olo Cedar Rose parfume) – I see it at a store and I don’t buy it on the spot. I obsess and I torture myself with the idea of it for a few days, let’s say, and then I eventually go there in a fugue state to buy it. When I walk out with the bag, I feel this combination of being high and sad and also feeling guilty but also elated. So I sit in the car or don’t get on the bike until I sit with those feelings for a while, until they soften and pass on. This is, I truly believe, how you repair the broken shit in your life. You sit in it. In other words, it’s a lifelong process and a continual one. I will say that I don’t spend a lot of money on things (mostly food and travel) and I definitely don’t buy a lot of shit, but when I do buy shit, I try my very best to be intentional and to buy good quality beautiful things that will make me happy in the end and not make me feel like an awful consumer freak. Let me say, this all comes with being privileged. I was not always this privileged so it can still be really triggering, like I am still a broke ass Chili’s waitress with only a couple of bucks sticking out of my apron ‘til the next slow shift. I’m so glad you dropped in on that fragrance. There are times that I am like, Chloe would love this! Like the time we walked into the No.6 store and you walked out with a pair of $300 clog boot. Hahahahaha, I wonder what’s next! If you had an extra grand sitting in your account right now, rent paid up for the next six months, plenty of stash for bills and stuff, what would you do with the money?
CC: I’d buy a few items of clothing. Then I’d get a flight either to Mexico where my friend Diana is renting a house for six weeks on a lake and invited me. Or I’d book a flight to Paris for my thirtieth birthday. Haha, doing these convos is annoying me because I want to talk in person, maybe we can continue this $$$ convo when I’m in Portland and record it? What did you spend money on so far today? Or yesterday?
FB: Yesterday I didn’t spend a dime because I was at the beach most of the day and we didn’t stop in town or anything. Today my husband, kid and I were still out at the coast and the kid was being ornery because he burned himself with a fucking glue gun. He had collected all these bird bones and crab claws from the beach and brought them back to the house and glued them into something of a monster with the feral neighbor kid. Anyhow, he got burned and was upset and so I said, Let’s go to town and get a steamer and a cinnamon bun! I knew that we needed to flip the script. So the three of us went into Manzanita and I dropped $11.50 plus buck tip at a bakery there (one vanilla steamer, two house coffees, one apricot bar, unfortunately they were out of cinnamon buns). And I just now spent $4.50 plus buck tip on a Mate Latte (it was an extra fifty cents for coconut milk) at Tea Bar near my house in Portland. This time, it was me who needed to flip the script. When we get back from a weekend at the coast, I generally need a short reprieve from the two people who I live with and so I end up spending stupid money on a hot bev to make myself feel better. I’m like a cranky baby who needs a warm bottle. When you come to Portland next month, we can film a conversation about money.