on recording an audiobook (or the strange sound of your own voice in your ears)

I went to my first co-ed party when I was ten. The night ended in boy-girl slow dancing, which, I felt sure, was the most grown up thing I’d ever done. I danced with a boy who’d just transferred from another school and even though our unbent elbows kept our torsos at a comfortable distance, his hands on my hips felt tentative and electric and possessive. It felt just a little bit unchaste. The next week at school, he asked me to be his girlfriend.

A few days later, my mom and I were walking through the dewy grass outside our house one night when she asked, out of nowhere, if I had a boyfriend. Her friend Kathy had heard as much from her son, who was also in the fifth grade at a neighboring school. I can so easily remember the constriction in my chest, my total surprise that adults would notice or talk about the love lives of fifth graders.

“No,” I said instinctively. “I don’t know what she’s talking about.”

I immediately regretted this lie. Not merely because I hated lying to my parents but also because there seemed to be no way out of it. What was I going to do, casually bring up my new (first) boyfriend a few days later as if the whole conversation had never happened? I was embarrassed about having a boyfriend at all, and then—on top of that—I was embarrassed about being so embarrassed that I’d had to lie. This embarrassment inception could not be undone.

The new boy broke up with me a few days later, probably (almost certainly) because I was so weird and self-conscious around him after that.

I was so sad about being dumped, and sadder still that I couldn’t talk to my mom about it. But also, I felt relieved of the burden of my lie.

I don’t know why I was so self-conscious about having a boyfriend at age ten. Maybe because slow dancing was, to my mind, just a long slippery slope away from sex. Or maybe because desire itself felt like a kind of parental betrayal. A few years later, I would be equally embarrassed about not having a boyfriend. It seems my own desires—and desirability—have always sort of mortified me.

Sometimes I think I started writing about love precisely because there is nothing else I have spent so much time wanting—and so much time regretting. Continue reading

Love in a time of declining democracy (or how do you promote a book?)

Last semester was hectic. I was teaching two new classes (both on love!), so there was tons of reading to do, and daily prep work. Between bouts of marking papers, I was finishing the final rounds (rounds, plural–so many rounds!) of edits for my book. As I got dressed in the mornings, I listened to the news with a mix of hope and dread.

I spent some days feeling like a total boss who was doing cool things in a perfectly capable way and then finding myself overcome by the sudden onset of rage and despair. This despair typically emerged from listening to one of those news segments where journalists interviewed “real voters” on “the issues they care about” and I wondered–again and again–at the media’s willingness to let people make racist or xenophobic comments on air as if these were sensible concerns that deserved the same airtime as other voters’ fears about losing their healthcare.

I kept thinking, January will be better. In January the news cycle would die down. I’d be fully prepared for all my classes. The edits would be complete. In January I would sleep in more often. I’d get back to Wednesday nights at the climbing gym and the brewery. I’d read all the books that were stacking up on my kitchen table! 2017 was a beautiful utopic time when I’d write tons of blog posts!

You see where this is going.

But, as I wrote on Instagram, the end of 2016 had the useful effect of putting some things into perspective. Continue reading

An open letter to Carolyn Reidy, Simon & Schuster CEO

My publisher has been in the news lately, and the news is not good. Though I know many have argued that writing about Milo Yiannopolous gives him publicity and motivates more people to buy his book, I felt like my own silence on the issue was a form of complicity. And I wasn’t comfortable with that. So I wrote a letter to S&S President and CEO, Carolyn Reidy. I know I’m opening myself up to white supremacist trolling by posting this letter publicly, but on the eve of the inauguration, it feels especially important to be vocal, to do what I can to avoid normalizing hate and abuse disguised as “free speech.”

 

Dear Carolyn Reidy,

First, I’d like to thank you and everyone at Simon & Schuster—especially my amazing editor Marysue Rucci—for taking the risk of publishing a collection of essays by an unknown writer. When I got the call from my agent letting me know that Simon & Schuster had made an offer on How to Fall in Love with Anyone, I pulled over, got out of my car, and jumped up and down on the side of the road. I was so excited.

One of the things I liked about Simon & Schuster from the start was your obvious commitment to ideas that challenge the status quo and push the cultural discourse in progressive directions with book by authors like Rebecca Traister and Alain de Botton and Issa Rae and Justin Simien, just to name a few. I felt proud to be in such good company.

I read a summary of your end-of-year memo about resisting the censorship that looms on the political horizon and I felt proud again. As a publisher, you understand that ideas have power, that individual voices can change the landscape of our country, and that (as you point out) right now those voices matter more than ever.

Maybe you can imagine my disappointment in Simon & Schuster’s decision to publish Milo Yiannopoulis’s forthcoming book. Many people in the media have conflated calls to boycott S&S over Yiannopoulis’s book deal with calls for censorship. But as you know Milo has a large platform and his ideas will continue to circulate without the company’s money and implicit endorsement. I’d love to see my publisher be the one who draws a line at hate speech, who acknowledges that online assault is often as destructive as physical assault, who continues to value the work of women writers, and people of color, and other marginalized voices, and who is bold enough to say no to people like Yiannopoulis who try to silence those voices with harassment.

I feel especially concerned for the writers without equally large platforms whose book sales will likely suffer as a result of widespread calls to boycott S&S. My friends and colleagues who have joined the boycott are the same people who prioritize buying books by women and writers of color. For these writers, the decision to publish Yiannopoulis is doubly destructive: S&S is promoting the work of someone who aims to undermine their basic rights, and enabling a boycott that may hurt their careers.

Personally, I find it difficult to argue with those who have decided not to buy or review my book when it is published later this year. I understand that now, more than any other time in my life, it’s important to act in ways that are in line with progressive values and in support of individual civil and human rights. I respect any thoughtful individual expression of those values, even if it impacts my career.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I am hopeful that in the future Simon & Schuster can find a way to “stand unequivocally for freedom of speech”—as you say in your memo—without endorsing hate and assault.

Sincerely,

 

Mandy Len Catron