an excerpt from Surveys
Looking at the printed tabloids, I barely recognized most of the people. They were daughters of famous actresses, or famous actresses who no longer look like themselves. I was in the same sphere but luckily not what it was made up of, since no one who read those cared about my rivalry. But Lucinda was this perfectly burning flame in the background of each page. Stars, They’re Just Like Us. No they’re not. I don’t even go grocery shopping, like them. Lucinda is just like me. She is alone in her bedroom, taking selfie after selfie, and relating to the world as if it is a soft, sexist thing. She writes essays on the women in these magazines. She starts out not knowing who they are, either, but that doesn’t stop her. She does her homework and comes out the other side with a better understanding of the world, of being female. And I’m in this van, lying in his lap, holding up the magazine so the sun doesn’t get in my eyes.
Each party was like this: We’d arrive late, and be ushered in by a group of women holding clipboards. There was a VIP section. There was a thing happening. Maybe this was the after party for a film screening. Maybe this was a fundraiser for an education charity. There was a cheap folding table under a plastic tablecloth, filled with champagne glasses, which bartenders were filling. There were palm trees lit with neon. Maybe this was at a gallery or an old movie theater. Maybe it was outdoors. We’d get behind a DJ booth and look at the knobs, not touching anything. We didn’t really talk, but no one noticed that, or they thought it was cool. One or two famous people were at each of these, and the conversations circled around a project: “We’ve got to do something, seriously,” said the directors and the photographers and the daughters of famous actresses. “I’m down, absolutely, that would be incredible,” I said. I was elated beyond words. If my younger self could see me now. Lucinda would be so fucking jealous, I thought. Lucinda had never even met me. She would be devastated by this, me working with these people. And they asked me, not the other way around. And the next morning, I’d see that she published something else, and everyone was saying that she is the next level, that she came out of nowhere, saying what we’ve always been thinking, and thank god for that. She wouldn’t even think about working with someone else. She’s her own island, and she never wanted Jim the way he wanted her to want him, wouldn’t take him back if he begged her.
I wrote Lucinda email after email, deleting each one at some later point. I am, like you, a woman, and one who cares about the way women are treated, and the way we like to be treated, and I know that those things are complicated. I know that it is difficult to separate the masochism that is sexual and the kind that is perpetuated by the media, and so it is involuntary. We are made to feel like objects, and we gain power in objectifying ourselves, and everything else you say. I agree. I also dislike the artists you reference, for the most part, but that is probably just aesthetic preference, really. Maybe it isn’t, though. Maybe your understanding of the subjects you address, and the simplicity with which you are able to speak of them, is similar to the simplicity that these artists are known to appreciate. Actually, that, Lucinda, is something I can’t stand about your style. It’s like a high school teacher’s, using easy to digest examples. I hated that about school. As if everything we were learning there was as simple as the minds of these random people trained to point out the information in those textbooks. You have a lot of good points, but the way you get people to like you with them is a little cheap. And hypocritical. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it. I just hate the response, usually. I wonder if you do, too. I wonder if you’ll respond to this, seeing as you’re clearly over Jim, and me, and this whole situation even though I think you do owe a lot to it and to me.
I tried talking to Jim, to get over my jealousy. I teased myself about it to him, saying nothing is the end of the world, we were fine, and then I’d get angry at any response, telling him it’s not appropriate. Silence always felt more satisfying. If I left him alone for too long he’d wander over to me and ask what I was up to, if I saw anyone interesting. I’d smile because I knew people were looking, but answer, “No, getting a drink,” and walk away. The bar was nearby, in a separate room from where we DJed. The table was circular, flanked by a black tablecloth, topped with neon lights of all shapes. The room itself was black and curtained, so dark it looked as if there were no edges and corners, just a black seamless hole for the guests to stream in and out of. There were leather couches that had neon lights glowing from their seams, holding more guests around the bar and booth. Everyone looked pale and sparkling, against such a matte black, lit from so many directions. I saw an artist I’d spoken with online, and walked toward him, but he saw someone else he knew and passed me quickly. There were hours to kill before we were supposed to be in the booth, so I went outside to smoke, and found Jim again. This was something we were invited to ages ago, the launch of a perfume. These things are timed to coincide with a resort opening or a collaboration announcement, parties that welcome B-list celebrities and fly in some As, and Jim and I at first couldn’t get enough of these. Our status was elevated out here, even though we were much more obscure. And they were the same parties, with the same free drinks, as the ones we went to in L.A. They blended into one another, but that wasn’t even the problem. I’d always dreamed of being able to say that—to not be sure in which city some memory happened, and of in which city I was in now. “All these parties are the same,” Jim laughed, hugging my shoulders, and it was exactly what I had wanted, when I was dreaming of this in Arizona. All of it was happening, in the way it should happen, except for this one detail, which repeated itself in my mind. Like a smoker thinking, “I shouldn’t smoke,” as she’s accidentally lighting up a cigarette, I took out my phone, and searched Lucinda’s name.