Dear Marie Calloway

I’m no angel.

Hold yourself with care.

I’m old enough to be your mother. But I’m no one. Lidia Yuknavitch, Rachel Resnick, Cheryl Strayed, Chelsea G. Summers, Antonia Crane, Susie Bright, Kerry Cohen, Sue William Silverman, Ethel Rohan, and Dylan Landis aren’t writing you this letter. It’s possible they wouldn’t bother. But I imagine them writing you letters anyway and get choked up. I want to put my ear to everything they’d say. As if to me, could be. Twenty-one-year-old me, I kept it all in notebooks.

What a dangerous profession, to be dying for attention.  Now we have the Internet to make us, undo us.

I thought about your father. If he read “Adrien Brody.”

Even as daughters, we can’t pretend we’re not sexual. My father doesn’t read my erotica. But he could. I don’t use a pen name.

I wrote a story called “Underground” in graduate school. I told this story from the perspective of Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler’s fourteen-year mistress, and in it Eva says, “I’ve no idea when glory by proxy became so important, or why I felt I existed because he fucked me.”

My best friend Judy once observed, “You dream about famous men a lot.” It’s true. Two nights ago it was Colin Farrel. Five nights ago it was George Clooney. Eight nights ago it was Gordon Ramsay. I reach far back for the first man who was larger than life, unattainable, out of the question for me.

It’s a slippery slope. Something close to an Electra Complex. Maybe.

Woman. Writing. Sexually. I didn’t see the picture of you with “Adrien Brody’s” come on your face. I want to see it metaphorically. My Kiefer Sutherland is your “Adrien Brody.” Actually the actor, his real name. He didn’t come on me.

Like you, I orchestrated a meeting. He didn’t know I was on my way. Literally and metaphorically.

I was twenty-one and drove my 1977 VW Beetle through the mountains to a space that opened up. A movie set snuggled between trees. Kiefer Sutherland sat on the steps of a trailer holding a guitar and wearing a suede jacket. I passed out. Or fell down. My knees buckled. This would not happen to me again in the presence of famous men. Lots of them. Dirt on my shorts, dirt on my hands. He teased me. Took my hand. Sang “Operator” by Jim Croce. In 1995, I wrote the first of many versions of my Kiefer Sutherland story. A college journal published it that same year then subsequently entered it in a contest,  category “creative non-fiction.” It won an honorable mention.

Never mind why we want to fuck famous men, sort of famous men, men with notoriety, authority, years on us, power or celebrity.

Why do we want to write about these encounters?

I used to love that book by Pamela Des Barres. I’m With the Band. My potential calling. Glory by proxy.

I’ve read everything now. This is no surprise. You can write. Now you’re all these things. “Feminist.” “Fame Whore.” “Literary Seductress.” “Internet “It” Girl.”

You can write. Keep it close, like a bird under your jacket, your heartbeat.  The online literary world is alight. You’re so pretty.

Yesterday in a mass email, Stephen Elliott announced he was interviewing you for The Rumpus, so I thought, “Marie Calloway has arrived.” Then I walked around my trailer house, because my living conditions aren’t so glamorous, until I finally stopped at the washing machine. I asked myself, “What the fuck does that mean?”

Arrived.

I’ve abandoned money and fame. Now it’s a spiritual calling for me. Still celebrity-celebrity-celebrity. Some scandal, gimmick, or hoax. JT Leroy taught me that, except he was actually Laura Albert, and she achieved everything I wanted by lying.

Am I jealous? I asked myself if I was jealous Stephen Elliott wanted to talk with you. I had this chance once to see Stephen Elliott at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, but I didn’t have a car because I’d sold it so I could pay some bills, like rent. It was important at the time. To see this guy, Stephen Elliott, maybe talk to him.

Yesterday, I thought Stephen Elliott should talk to you as a man of his wisdom, because he’s old enough to be your father. I decided he should take you under his wing and protect you, care about you as a person, then I realized I was a hypocritical asshole. I don’t care about you. That’s impossible. Who are you? The girl who wrote “Adrien Brody.” Now people take you apart. Everybody has an opinion. If I tell my female students to read “Adrien Brody” will they interpret it as art?

I mean, empowering. That’s what I mean.

This is how we get it.

Do you consider yourself part of a larger something?

Roxane Gay wrote about “Adrien Brody” for HTMLGiant, “The Price of Revelation” she called it. Her take on your story hit me. She wrote, “We are in the age of Internet confession. Have blog, will reveal, memoir, pixilated for a hundred random strangers to read. Or more. I wonder about the cost of confession these days, and the reach.”

I liken “confessional writing” to stripping. Same thing. My willingness to bare both body and soul indistinguishable. Here I am. Isn’t she sad, isn’t she lovely?

After the first time, it’s easy. Sadness, public nudity. There’s this illusion of power in it. And if it’s art, we’re lucky.

I know this: when we reveal ourselves as writers, we reveal others, or at the very least risk causing someone we love—or don’t—discomfort even embarrassment; writing our real lives isn’t an isolated act separate from other people who live here with us; thus our writing raises questions about moral responsibility.

“Dislike being watched” you wrote at the now empty Marie Calloway Magazine. Meanwhile, “Adrien Brody’s” girlfriend is nail polish.

Wondering about it, symbolically.

In “The Price of Revelation,” Roxane Gay expressed concern for “Adrien Brody’s” girlfriend, who I heard had a hard time with it. Maybe hearsay. She saw it, before you took it down, the picture of yourself wearing her boyfriend’s come, before you changed his name, before Tao Lin republished the encounter as fiction at MuuMuu House.

I imagine myself her;  just a minute, because art is empathy; it’s also ambiguity. I see your picture, how pretty you are, and how you’ve crafted this smart, explicit narrative. Me, on the periphery. If it were really me, Marie, comeuppance. I’m a writer. I haven’t always been careful. I’m not always gentle. Or tactful. I can be mean.

We’re vulnerable. Criticism hurts me. It gets sticky.

At twenty-one, I was pissed. There was this sense of entitlement.  And a need to take risks. Maybe I was self destructive. Cyberspace wasn’t there yet. My ability to wreck havoc on myself, my lovers, and my father was limited. I should at least feel grateful for this.

We’ve no idea how powerful it is to write until we start a fire with it, the online literary world alight now; someone burns alive. You, maybe.

I began blogging in 2004, after I’d earned my MFA.  Susie Bright suggested “Blog or perish.” She was also the first writer I admired who began to “tweet.”

Once a blogger, I blogged my guts out. In earnest. It meant something. Expression, perspective, blood. I’ve no power without writing, this is how it feels for me.

Since 2004, I’ve deleted four blogs although I can’t delete this one because it doesn’t belong to me. I just write here. But I’ve stopped writing here because I was scared. Ashamed of myself. Artistic crisis. I forever negotiate this fine line between self serving crap and narrating my life in a way that’s useful, and I’m not always successful. Sometimes, I’m just dumb. Some acts of creation, more accurately described in this case as “confessional writing,” involve a degree of mental illness. When I’m not on my meds, I’m obsessive-compulsive. Carried away with it. Hive-scarlet. Impassioned. My inner censor sometimes sits at a bar with Marguerite Duras doing shots and doesn’t tell me when to stop. In the blogosphere we hit “publish.” That easy.

There’s always a consequence.

Like, I’m an “anal slut.” How a man once described me for my son, here.

Lets hold ourselves with care.

I cling to this conviction: I’m a better mother because I’m a writer, and I’m a better writer because I’m a mother. I’m an artist. Still. Second guess everything. I should. This even. What does it mean?

I went for a walk carrying my I-pod Shuffle, ear buds screwed in, and the song “Le Disko” came on and reminded me of a former lover because he played the song for me our first night together. My “Broke Back Boy” is your “Adrien Brody.” I blogged our affair on a now long-dead blog. Later, I put some of those blog posts together and presented them as a fictional story eventually published both online and in print.  Memoir as fiction. Stephen Elliott.

Why write it?

The longest time, I thought I was born for Playboy Magazine. But my grandmother made me promise I wouldn’t do it. Something I couldn’t take back.

I followed Kiefer Sutherland into his trailer convinced I was alive now and living, in existence, not sad at all how important it was. Instead of setting out immediately to seduce me, which would have been easy, he said he had to get back to work. He asked, “Will you wait for me?” I would have waited all day, except somebody’s personal assistant chased me away. She said, “You’re distracting the actors.”  This was her job, to keep me from making an ass of myself.  Not really.

For the longest time, I wasn’t grateful.

9 thoughts on “Dear Marie Calloway

  1. This was not quite what I was expecting! Love that last line, for obvious reasons.

    More than anything else about Marie’s story, I’m most offended that she tried to steal that avocado. And I don’t know why!

  2. Read some of Marie’s work after I read your article. I like your take on the situation. I think of Duras’ ‘The Lover’ and the intensity of that type of confession between reader and writer…and Anais Nin in her journals. That Marie is writing in real time is more unnerving.

  3. Dear Alana Noel Voth,

    I’m probably young or old enough to be your sister. I’m no angel, either. However, the first thing I noticed is how you tagged the names of all the female authors you wanted to see your work, and then you go on to accuse Marie Calloway of confessionalism and attention-whoring. If you didn’t want attention yourself, on the back of a young girl who got some for herself, you’d have written this letter to her privately. Instead, it’s flourished top and bottom with scarlet letters cloyingly disguised as concern and directed to the attention of those whose approval and attention you seek.

    What a dangerous profession, to be dying for attention. Now we have the Internet to make us, undo us.” Yes, you do.

    “I thought about your father.” Viva la patriarchy and the maternal guilt that keeps it alive!

    “We’ve no idea how powerful it is to write until we start a fire with it, the online literary world alight now; someone burns alive. You, maybe.” She’s not Joan of Arc, Alana. She’s a girl who told a story that obviously turned people on a little bit. She did it in a way that at first lacked some aspects of common courtesy, yes, but you write here as though confessional writing was never controversial. As though it’s unheard of. As though she did this knowing, without fail, that it would bring her fame and fortune. As though Marie Calloway had a crystal ball that would direct her to “indie internet stardom.”

    As though that was all she wanted, and as though you know for certain that this was her motivation. Other essays on this made me feel the same way. It made me feel sorry for this girl. All the bigger girls are like, “Bitch, I’ll coat my insecurity about you and what you’ve done with sparkling concern.” They are all taking her into the bathroom to give her a good talking to. Publicly. All together. She did not treat Adrien Brody or his girlfriend with the respect the onset of maturity might have taught her to do: I am not debating that. What I am appalled by is to see a literary world I admire set on fire by disdain displayed as concern or philosophy. Really, go ahead: call Marie Calloway a callous slut. You might as well. It’s what you’ve done.

    If you care so much about Marie Calloway, write her a letter that only she can read. Do you hesitate because you fear she’d publish it and name your name? Than don’t be brave in a yellow way, all strong and indignant in a group of scorn. It’s like a witch hunt conducted by a bunch of women waving baked goods in front of them, just before they assuage their own insecurities and fears by seeing if the suspect will sink or swim, but hoping she’ll drown either way.

    And this? “Some acts of creation, more accurately described in this case as “confessional writing,” involve a degree of mental illness. When I’m not on my meds, I’m obsessive-compulsive. Carried away with it. Hive-scarlet. Impassioned. My inner censor sometimes sits at a bar with Marguerite Duras doing shots and doesn’t tell me when to stop. In the blogosphere we hit “publish.” That easy.”

    What does that even mean? Who are you calling mentally ill? Yourself only? Marie Calloway too? Are you diagnosing Marie Calloway with something? What’s your qualification to do so, besides sanctimonious judgment?

    Maybe Kiefer Sutherland’s assistant should come back along and try to help you out again.

    I see it this way. Marie exploited. Tao Lin exploited (big surprise.) Now all the mama hens are exploiting, even going so far as to cry out to Stephen Elliott to step up to the front of the revival tent to save our dear Marie, as though the Father Figure can be the one who saves us all from some sort of indie lit blogger damnation.

    What a crock of puritanical shit. You want to say that Marie was wrong? That seems like what it is you are trying to say. So say it. Say it without the sugarcoating and handwringing.

    Sincerely,

    Dena Rash Guzman

  4. Dear Dena Rash Guzman,

    Isn’t this exciting? The conversation sparked between women about exhibitionism, feminism, modernity, anonymity and desire for attention has arrived. Marie Calloway’s story was the catalyst. Personally, I’ve lost hours on the Marie Calloway issue, reading thoughtful, beautifully written blogs by miss Voth above, The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, and especially here on PANK.

    You’re a good friend, to run to defend the young Marie Calloway. The thing is dear, she’s not under attack. Who is she, anyway?

    Don’t you think if Marie Calloway provided her actual name that Miss Voth would’ve emailed her directly?

    You say this: What I am appalled by is to see a literary world I admire set on fire by disdain displayed as concern or philosophy. That’s exactly what’s been interesting about these conversations.The match that has been lit.

    Disdain? Sure. If you want disdain dressed up as a Lacanian feast,
    check out Rae Bryant over at TNB. It’s a smart writeup that’s ten times more engaging than the Muu Muu House story. Roxane Gay’s piece ponders the issue of how we hold ourselves as women writers, an important question for attention whores and escorts alike.
    In the article above, Voth only scrutinized herself, which is the awful beauty of non fiction, a truly brave endeavor. She didn’t claim any authority. She admitted her envy, her longing. Isn’t that the squishy center that we all want to read?

    Warmly,
    Antonia

  5. Dear Antonia,

    I don’t know Marie – we did meet online after I wrote that comment, however. I decided that since I was speaking about her, I should introduce myself, but I had never met her before I wrote this and cannot say I am her friend.

    I did not defend her actions. I criticized the response.

    I wanted to say to Marie, who might have read this, ‘We don’t all want to shame you. Know this. We might not all agree with your style, but we don’t all want to bring your dad into it.”

    I too am glad the dialogue is here now, for the issue to me is one of slut shaming, and as Ryder said on her blog ( http://bignortherngirlgoes.blogspot.com/2012/01/mamas-gonna-get-real-for-sec.html ) so well, the fact that the independent literature world is nothing but a microcosm of the world at large, and the same inherent sexism and female self-loathing are visible in it as exist in say, the Junior League. Let’s all please unlearn these habits. Stop the maneuverings of shaming and the furthering of patriarchal holdings over our sexualities. Only we can make that change. We as women.

    To be blunt, I find these ‘open letters’ to ‘Marie Calloway’ to be in very poor taste. Gossip disguised as concern.

    You ask me: Who is she? I don’t rightly know. She might even be a hoax! GASP! But I don’t care. If Marie Calloway is a fictional character, it’s a societal response that would be as interesting to me as it would be were she a real person.

    Thanks for the kind response to my very sharp note, and I am happy this conversation has occurred.

    I spoke up against a societal tone that I see forming and believe could damage the women coming of age a generation behind us. There are ways better than this to ‘help’ our ‘wayward women.’ Posting public callings out and pinning red letters to them isn’t my idea of good form, and I said so, and I guess that’s brave and awful, too.

    This wasn’t a misunderstanding. I’m not friends with Marie. I introduced myself to her after I started talking about her publicly, as I believe good manners dictate. Have any of you done that? This was my reaction and an honest analysis of what I see going down here.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe these open letters will bring comfort and wisdom to Marie Calloway. Maybe she’ll believe you really care. Maybe they’ll school her good.

    Again, thanks for the discourse. I for one am laying Marie down and if I want to interact with her, it will be personally. If I want to discuss her, it will not be by defending her. I guess she can do that herself, if she cares – which she might not. She might be our biggest heartless nightmare. However, I won’t be losing much sleep worrying about it. She’s not the enemy.

    Thanks for your time.

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