I’m overwhelmed. As I sit, thinking about what I really want to write, all I type is nonsense. My brain is a mess—I can’t remember which shows or movies I’ve been watching, or what I’ve read recently that demanded reply.
Things seem unbearably—vast. I can’t focus. There are a combination of factors at play—I moved into a new apartment, which is time-consuming and stressful. Lots of last-minute travel for work and for play. Changing seasons, holidays approaching and so many pumpkin-flavored beers everywhere. All weird and distracting.Recently, even stray observations of mine seem secondhand and stale. Bar-bound with a buddy last week, I mentioned a girl we know, and was struck by my reluctance to call female friends women. Because of the patriarchy, probably! Or cultural appropriation! Maybe both! The next day, this article appeared—Why It’s Not Sexist To Call Women “Girls”–which was miraculous. But I don’t have much to add—and anyway, Ann Friedman already explored the idea years ago in a New Republic piece about the word “lady.” Why bother?
Last week, I saw Sloane Crosley read selections from her new novel, The Clasp. In the same way that I moved through adolescence alongside Harry Potter—turning 13 the same year that Harry hit puberty in Prisoner of Azkaban—Sloane and I grew up together. I discovered her first book of essays at around the same age that she was when she wrote them.
I read I Was Told There’d Be Cake just out of college. The collection is shot through with the kind of overwhelming confusion and anxiety that propelled me out of my room at 4 a.m. to yell-cry on the couch with Alison while we watched clips from inspirational sports movies.
Sloane’s second collection, How Did You Get This Number is anchored by a greater sense of self. She and I: still quirky and nervous, but fairly confident that things will turn out fine. A woman at Wednesday’s reading asked Sloane about the final essay in that collection, Off the Back of a Truck—which takes a kind of dramatic left turn into heavy heartbreak, and spoke directly to my soul upon first read. Her story made me sad, and it made me laugh—as does everything, in the decade before you turn 30.
Sloane is smart and funny—and endearingly awkward before large groups. I get chatty and nonsensical when I’m nervous, but Sloane is a charming and demonstrably talented lady. So when she says wacky things, you suspect that they’re also brilliant. I do not have this specific ability. Anyway. I decided to ask her a question—I got up in front of a bunch of strangers (and one very confused friend) to say, essentially: what makes you so special? In a world with so much stuff, where everyone Tweets their feelings and posts every brunch, how do you make the argument that what you write is worth reading?
Sloane’s answer—with a few jokes and some wonderful recommendations for voracious readers like myself—came down to, Don’t write about just anything. Write about something that is bigger than yourself. Oh, sure. I’m so glad we had this talk.
Do you all care about my big ideas and grand thoughts? Probably not. I don’t even know if I care about what I think. But, okay: what I like about Sloane Crosley’s essays aren’t (just) the experiences she describes–like having a roommate that was definitely a ghost, or seeing a baby bear die in Alaska. It’s passages like these, from that last story in How Did You Get This Number:
There is one thing you know for sure, one fact that never fails to comfort you: the worst day of your life wasn’t in there, in that mess. And it will do you good to remember the best day of your life wasn’t in there, either. But another person brought you closer to those borders than you had been, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Sentiments that are universal—that I recognize—but are also deeply personal, and which I’ve never quite managed to articulate.
It’s easy to get lost in a huge mess of white noise. But perhaps the more times you write something down, the more likely it becomes that you’ll pen a line that will rise to the top. It’s probability—math, guys.
So I’ll do as Sloane does. I’m going to calm down, buy some Halloween costume props on Etsy and get back to the business of enjoying some of my favorite things (The Knick is back! And Fargo!). Also, I’ll read The Clasp cover-to-cover, real quick. To see how much more growing up we’ve got left to do.