Just now I was curled up on my side in the bathtub, crying and repeating “I am thwarted. I am thwarted. I am thwarted. I am thwarted.”
For maybe five minutes: “I am thwarted.”
I needed to relax after getting all worked up over this article about how you should be male if you want to publish literary fiction. Stuff I knew from personal experience, but this stirred up my fear and seemed to confirm my experience:
Playwright Julia Jordan pointed me toward a recent study about perceptions of male and female playwrights that showed that plays with female protagonists were the most devalued in blind readings. “The exact same play that had a female protagonist was rated far higher when the readers thought it had a male author,” Jordan said. “In fact, one of the questions on the blind survey was about the characters ‘likability,’and the exact same female character, same lines, same pagination, when written by a man was exceeding likable, when written by a woman was deemed extremely unlikable.”
I try to be careful about what I think about and talk about repetitively. My friend points out if you say something over and over, it becomes a mantra. I believe in the magic of daily life. I believe we create the world around us. I believe there’s power in our spells.
I fear the danger in giving in to this kind of grief: indulge in grief, and you create a world in which you are grieved.
Let yourself break down in the bathtub — let yourself say out loud those terrible, magic words — I am thwarted — and you feel relieved in the moment. It’s a catharsis, an emotional release, an acknowledgement that you exist and you matter and your reality deserves to be stated, or repeated over and over in a dramatic manner. But the fear is that if you indulge this way — or God forbid make a habit of it, let this become a way of life — the grief, the acknowledgement becomes your reality —
I am thwarted.
Did the words come first? Did I have “I am thwarted” inside me — did I believe in that mantra and then use my internal magic to create “I am thwarted” in my life? This is the question that keeps me up at night — the question that scares me. Because if I can’t tell, how can I keep it from happening again?
What’s worse — having these terrible words inside me and not giving voice to them, or having them inside me and giving voice to them and seeing them become reality? Is there a way to not have them inside me at all?
Perhaps they’re not even true. I know the truth is not only am I not thwarted, I am thriving. Many people are thwarted. I don’t want to diminish their suffering by taking it on as if it were my own.
What brought on the sobbing and the volley of “I am thwarted” was this — I posted about the article on Twitter. I don’t talk about this stuff very often in public because I’m afraid of how I’ll look — in the male dominated industry I work in, I am afraid of looking bitter or difficult or man-hating or whatever stigma might apply to outspoken feminists. But –how we live shows up in our writing, and how we write shows up in our lives. To protect my writing, I have to be honest, present, and emotional.
We live in the future, but women writers work in the past. It’s true that some women writers succeed, but shouldn’t the successful be more successful? Where are all the women showrunners, directors, working screenwriters? Pointing to fields where women get ahead like chick lit, rom-coms, and their TV equivalents as evidence of us succeeding reminds me of the women who were allowed to be film editors because it was a lot like sewing.
I don’t know the stats on women getting literary fiction published, but the male-exclusive lists and prizes certainly tell a story. And my experience tells a story: people loved my first novel. They should, because it’s good. And all the editors raved about how good it was — but said the main character was too unlikable. Or it was too original and Barnes & Noble wouldn’t know how to market it.
Many women writers don’t talk about this for fear — consciously or subconsciously — that talking about it will affect our ability to get work. I think women in Hollywood have Stockholm Syndrome. We know who we need to please to get ahead, so we pretend sexism isn’t as significant a force as it is — subconsciously, we identify with our captors. Our captors are not men, it’s thousands of years of bio/cultural forces that makes women and men feel like a woman cannot create A Great Work of Art. She can run a studio because that job seems like a glorified assistant — it’s less mythic. But there’s something so epic about making art that at a gut level most of us still feel like women can’t do it.
I have been afraid to speak about this publicly because I don’t want to drive away people who can hire me. The fact is — as a young woman trying to get writing jobs in Hollywood, I feel less afraid to write publicly about sucking the dick of some married Hollywood guy years ago than I do about my fears surrounding this industry’s sexism. I know I’m sticking my neck out here. But that’s my job. I stick my neck out, then I stick it out further.
When I get raw and emotional and vulnerable and honest, this is me practicing in public what I do when I face the script.
I am thwarted.
So when my friend on Twitter said that female authors sell much better than literary fiction authors do — and when I pointed out that I AM A FEMALE AUTHOR AND I WRITE LITERARY FICTION — he amended to say he meant pop versus literary fiction — and I responded — My point is that as a woman, I’m allowed to write pop books. I’m not allowed to write literature. I am an artist. I am thwarted.
Saying it in public is what sent me to the bathtub. It felt dangerous — like by saying it out loud, I was making it true. Conjuring the mantra. And waving a flag to the world — this is who I am. I am thwarted. But it felt good too. I felt recognized, I recognized myself. Because I matter, and my reality matters. I deserve to tell the world what my world looks like. And I think that’s why it came out over and over in a flood — it felt so good to say it publicly, I couldn’t stop saying it.
I am thwarted. I feel thwarted.
I hope I’m neither. But if that’s what I turn out to be, you’re gonna fucking hear about it.