Chloe & Fran Talk: Writer Envy

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 2.22.05 PMFrances Badalamenti:  We haven’t done a convo for a while.  I was on my way to the cafe this morning and I started thinking about what’s been going on for the two of us these past few months.  Oftentimes there are interesting parallels to our lives.  

We were together in Brooklyn over the holidays and then at your place up in Hudson.  We went to a sick play (A View from the Bridge) in the city and then hammered out a few scenes for a prospective screenplay at some mad Finnish place in Greenpoint.  It was pissing rain that day and when we got out of the play, I scored us two of those cheap-ass umbrellas (they actually made it all the way back to my house in Portland), five bucks each and we were in the wet chaos of manic Broadway and I gave the guy ten bucks and then you quickly gave me a fiver.  We got some killer takeout back in Brooklyn and drank some nice wine with my husband.  My kid was all up in the mix catching our party vibes and being all crazy typing away on this antique typewriter like he was Jack Nicholson in The Shining.  

The next morning, it was Christmas Eve and you and I walked through Williamsburg in the quiet morning hours so I could score some legit Italian bread and cookies for my family in Jersey.  I had told the baker that my grandfather was a very successful baker and he actually knew of the bakery.  I said, Yeah, but he was not a nice man.  And the baker said, Sicilians are bad.  I said, Yeah, we’re killers.  

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And then we walked backed towards Greenpoint, under the Williamsburg Bridge and I told you some stories about my mom growing up fatherless in the Bronx, how her sister, my aunt was once kidnapped and held captive for a day.  That was a good walk.  I love when the streets are quiet like that in Brooklyn.  The mood was very reminiscent of that play that we had seen the day before.  The stories of these wounded complicated men and the women whom they both love and hurt.

And then we each went off on a trip.  You went to Michigan and I went to Mexico.  So we didn’t get to text and yack as much as we usually do.  I texted you saying I didn’t like it.  You said you were sorry.  That cracked me up, like we were playing codependent or something.  And now we’re back to our usual silly shit.

This past Sunday, I read Sarah Manguso’s essay entitled ‘Green-Eyed Verbs’ in The New York Times Book Review.  The day prior, we had a conversation around a similar theme to what Manguso touched on in the piece, which was writer envy.  She writes, “All writers will envy other writers, other writing. No one who reads is immune. To write despite it I must implicate myself, to confess to myself, silently or on the page, that I am envious.”  

I mean, you and I talk a lot more about Narcissism than envy, but I kind of think that too much envy can easily be morph into Narcissism, or that envy can be a side effect of Narcissism.  I totally get writer envy sometimes when I read shit and there are times that I cannot read something that is too similar to what I am currently working on, as if it is too much of distraction.  

Do you feel writer envy?  Who are you most envious of right now? I think I am most envious of Heidi Julavits right now.  

Chloe Caldwell: When you texted me, I dont like itI thought you meant being around people 24/7, because I was telling you I was around people almost 24/7 therefore was texting and emailing less. Only later that night did I realize you meant I dont like itmeaning us talking less. Funny.

I dont have a big envy problem, thank God. Im envious of a few writers but I think of it more in terms of their lifestyles, not specifically their writing. For example Im envious of Diana Spechler because shes living in Mexico and her agent is PJ mark and she writes for NYT. Im envious of any writer who can afford to live in a nice apartment in NYC. Im envious of Tao Lin because he gets to write all day and walk around Manhattan and can afford healthy microbiotic food. (My envy almost always comes down to money.) Im envious of Emily Gould because she has a husband and a baby. Im envious of Cat Marnell because she doesnt.

Someone whose writing Im envious of lately is Sarah Nicole Prickett. I love her voice and essays. Im envious of Chelsea Martin b/c of how funny she is. Im envious of Maggie Nelsons intelligence.

Interesting we both named only women (except Tao).

Luckily, envy as never held me back, it motivates. Ive always been good at surrounding myself with people who lead lives I admire. Like, instead of being envious, work harder, is what I tell myself.

When you were at my apartment, we looked at all these black and white photographs on postcards of classic (some deceased) women writers. I think I have about 15. We were guessing who they were (we had no idea) and then flipping the postcard around to fact check. We were saying they all had very distinct looks and choosing which ones wed want to look like. I think I chose Maya Angelou or Joan Didion. Do you remember who you choose? I remember being surprised.

Anne Sexton
Anne Sexton

If you could look like any writer, living or dead, who would it be?

Why are you envious of Heidi Julavits?

FB:  I like the writers you picked to be envious of — they are so varied and such amazing talents.  I guess it’s good to envy because it’s makes us work harder, but I also suppose you don’t want the envy to get too out of hand that it leads to jealousy or resentment.  A good balanced envy is ideal.

I am envious of Heidi Julavits because, like you were saying about some peeps, she has a place in NYC.  And she is raising her kids there and my dream has always been to raise my son where I was born, to be closer to my family.  When I was in grade school, my family moved out to Jersey, so I am always looking for a way back to the city.  Heidi Julavits also has a house up in Maine and is married to a very talented, successful writer guy.  I think a lot of people are envious of her.  She’s also a great writer.  Wait, I’m also super envious of Vendela Vida.  But I don’t think I have to explain why.  

The photo on your frig that I picked was of Anne Sexton.  I just love the way that she looked, she was so striking and she is really the only poet that I have ever truly connected with on a deep level. I even have one of her poems, I Remember, pasted in my current notebook.  If I could look like any dead writer, I would for sure want to look like Anne Sexton.  As far as a living writer, I would say Zadie Smith, who is not only beautiful but she has mad style.  

Who would you want to look like?  Dead and alive.  

CC: Maggie Nelson, Sarah Manguso; any of those Graywolf Press bitches, probably. Oh I know: Cookie Mueller!

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