A feminist pie writer sent me an email yesterday to inform me that she published a zine in which I appear and wanted me to see it before I “found it [myself], or someone else told [me] about it.” After reading the essay, I took exception to my portrayal because my words were taken out of context and don’t at all reflect the intent I had in saying them. (More about all that below.)
Normally, I wouldn’t write about this on my blog. I wouldn’t take a personal disagreement with someone whom I believe is a close friend to the Internet (I’m not Kanye!). If I had a problem with something someone said, I would put my big boy pants on and say something to them directly. However, since she used a very public forum (a reading attended by mutual friends and people I work with in the writing community) and is now selling the zine on Etsy, this is the only way I can respond to her one-sided dialogue that will potentially reach all the people who heard or read her portrayal of me minus creating a zine myself and organizing my own reading–and that’s just too much work.
With that said, here is her essay. (It starts on page 9 and ends on page 14.)
Here is my response, which I emailed her last night (with some slight edits and emphases for clarity/because I wanted to):
I pilfer my life constantly in my own writing, which means I often write about the people who are/have been in it, especially my wife Jaime and my two best friends Carlos and Steve, and if I expect to continue having relationships with them once the work is out there in the world, I ask their permission to write about them. If they were not comfortable with it, either I wouldn’t do it or I would change their names and the details of their lives, create characters out of them, so it wouldn’t be possible to determine who they were in the first place. As writers of nonfiction, our stories, our integrity in telling those stories, and the trust we share with the people we love that we write about is all we really have.
Unfortunately, you violated that trust. You did not create a character out of me. You left my name out, but included very clear details about me, such as references to “Cheap Beer & Prose” (There’s no other ladies’ night reading in Seattle.), the job you had five years ago (Hugo House, duh!), and the way I speak (“That shit’s not cool”–Yeah, that’s me.). In fact, I’ve asked a couple of people to read the piece you wrote, and they could very easily tell it was me. “Obviously,” one said. I can only assume you thought the same thing. Why else would you email me out of the blue before someone else told me?
But what I find most interesting about your email and your zine is that YOU TOOK MY ADVICE. There is a set of tits on the fucking cover! That is exactly what I was suggesting when I said, “Show some tit.” When you were talking about the wholesomeness and the conflict you feel as the “pie poet,” something I’ve heard you talk about often, it got me thinking of the reclamation project that is new domesticity and how anyone who has felt victimized has sought to reclaim some aspect of their victimization in order to cope, to overcome (the N-word, etc.). What better way to reclaim oneself, one’s body, to push back against the assumption that you are little more than “fruit and boobs” than slapping some tits on the cover, putting it in peoples’ faces (Karen Finley, anyone?). That’s what I was suggesting and exactly what you did. Too bad you didn’t give me a chance to explain myself.
And too bad you didn’t come talk to me before writing about it and then turning that writing into a zine and then giving that zine to so many people we both know (And now selling it on Etsy!), none of whom will understand the context of what I said because as it is presented it just makes me seem like the character in that stupid sexual harassment commercial you reference. I am not that character. My dedication to women writers speaks for itself. I run the only reading series in Seattle that presents an all-ladies’ night event and has for several years now. I created an entire Literary Series featuring all women writers (Patricia Smith, Kelly Froh, Arlene Kim, and Katie Kate in the house!)–and it was one of the best events I’ve put together in my opinion. In so many ways I have been committed to showcasing, supporting, employing, and investing in women writers, including yourself, because they are good fucking writers, because of things like the Count, because I was raised by a strong woman and have a tremendous amount of respect for her, for all of you.
If, as you say, you loved me like a brother, I would have hoped you would come speak with me about how you felt before writing about me with little obfuscation and in a manner that I believe entirely misrepresents my intent in our conversation. You’ve had so many opportunities between the emails and the hellos we’ve exchanged since AWP and never once did I think something was amiss. If you had talked to me, I would have explained what I meant when I said, “Show some tit.” And if you were still hurt or offended, I would have apologized.
But you didn’t do either of those things. You didn’t give me a chance. You put me in a box, much like the one you believe you were put in yourself, only I didn’t even have the opportunity to say, “No.”