I have been writing for this site for about three years now. Longer, if you count my time freelance writing as Elizabeth “The Misanthropologist” Richard, who most of you probably don’t remember. But we’ll get to her in a second.
The Gloss has been a lot of things in my time here–back in 2010, it was a lot snarkier, meaner, and a little less body positive. It’s become something more pro-lady, while at the same time maintaining its irreverent tone. It’s also shown a greater emphasis on longform first person essays–when I first showed up, it was all high volume, 8-10 posts a day about various fashion things. That transitioned into something with more personal essays and the corresponding photos of authors of those essays.
…Which presented a huge problem for me, because I dislike writing about myself.
Which brings me to my first point: my first book just came out. It’s a comedic essay collection. It is also a memoir. Loyal readers may be surprised by this. I sure as shit am. Moreover, the book is a sex memoir–maybe not quite in the usual sense one gets when hearing that–but it’s a memoir about my sexual development all the same. Which I’m still trying to wrap my head around.
It’s surprising to me for a couple of reasons. Part of that is wariness at good old fashioned hubris; what kind of asshole writes a memoir in her mid-20s when she has lived in no discernibly interesting way? (Cynical readers may here say, “A lot. A lot of assholes.”) I dislike that aspect–and I have no substantial charge against the criticism. I wrote about myself. I’m young. I’m “another white girl living in Brooklyn” writing about my stupid life. For those of you upset by this, let me extend my sincerest apologies.
Also–and this is the bigger one–I am deeply, neurotically private and up until getting the book deal, I avoided writing personal stuff wherever possible. Gloss readers know that, even when required to post a selfie, I usually prefer to obscure my face and shy away from publishing any sort of personal anecdotes on the site. (Of course, that was before Wed Bed Dead)
Another reason this memoir business comes as a surprise is I’d also never written narrative nonfiction before. Outside of fashion blogging, I’d only ever written fiction–and I’d only ever envisioned for myself a very arid future as a writer of leaden, ponderous literary fiction.
Last of all, I never thought of myself as funny. Certainly not funny enough to go about writing “comedic memoirs.”
…By which I mean, you should absolutely buy this book. Right now. Seriously. It’s really great and I am extremely qualified to write it.
So, how I got to this point is a little convoluted and–in the interest of hoping you’ll order my book or go outside and buy a copy–I thought I’d share with you the story of how I accidentally wrote a sex memoir.
Before I was a blogger, I was a recently-graduated 22-year-old New York City transplant. I moved here about a month after college because I always wanted to live here and try to publish a book and, if I couldn’t get that off the ground, I figured I’d work in publishing. After waiting tables for a while (and holding more than a few Craigslist-found odd jobs), I landed an editorial assistantship at the science fiction/fantasy imprint of a major publishing house. I ended up being the avatar of a permanently out-of-office (and hopelessly eccentric) editor, so I worked long days and–those of you familiar with the pay scale in publishing know–I worked for very little money.
I also had an impressive mountain of student loan debt, thanks to my extremely forward-thinking decision to go learn ancient Greek in the middle of the New Mexican desert at a tiny school no one’s head of–and none of this was really helped by the fact that New York is as crushingly expensive as everyone warns it is.
Right around that time, I’d started up a Tumblr on which I wrote absurd essays. I was doing it because a friend of mine named Ben convinced me I should try being funny (he had recently struggled to get through my latest “serious work of fiction”). Perhaps as a means of cushioning the blow, he told me he didn’t much care for the novel, but that I should be writing comedy.
Soon after, a friend of mine from college who’d overcome the same ridiculous classics degree to fashion herself into a successful blogger, Jennifer Wright, saw one of these essays and found it funny. She asked me to pitch one to the site–the essay was about tittyfucking and how ridiculous it is. The Gloss ended up publishing it and it did pretty well because apparently people love tittyfucking. …And they were outraged at my irreverent treatment of mammary intercourse.
Their outrage didn’t matter because the site paid me. And it was astonishing–I could go to a restaurant even! As soon as I could, I pitched them again and they published another one and I pitched them again and they eventually ended up offering me a weekly column. The problem was I still had my day job at the publishing house and publishing is a pretty traditional industry–I couldn’t have my name tethered to a bunch of super puerile dick jokes on Google forever.
So, I came up with a pen name. Almost immediately after that a persona developed as a byproduct of not writing under my own name. The voice of a hateful, embittered, glue-sniffing social outcast fast emerged and the column was so-named The Misanthropologist. It was kind of a satirical sex and dating column; a lot of anecdotes from my life and my friends’ lives on the theme of, primarily, sexual humiliation. You see where this is going.
As for the problem of writing about myself, it was perfectly easy to rationalize doing so in the voice of a character. I could get away with saying all kinds of weird shit! No, really.
Within about six months, The Gloss offered me a fulltime job and I hightailed it out of publishing so I could finally get paid for writing (especially shocking considering I have no viable skills). I started to blog for a living and pretty soon after that my now-agent saw one of the Misanthropologist pieces and found it funny–one about how much the speaker hates babies. She took me on as a client and we put together a proposal which was basically 50 pages of essays from the column.
Publishing houses were interested enough in the project but we kept hearing the same thing, “What’s with the persona? Is this a memoir written by a fictional character? Is this fictional memoir that’s based in reality? This would be more appealing (and less confusing) if it was written by you and not some random character.” And that was the thing–the project didn’t make much sense if it was about my life and my friends’ lives but not written by me.
After one of these meetings, I went home and gutted the proposal. I took out all of the voicey stuff and replaced it with my own. The columns were already about things in my life and my friends’ lives, so it was just a matter of changing tone. I edited the whole thing hastily over one weekend.
Right after that, Penguin bought the book. As soon as we accepted the offer and the elation subsided and I had a second to breathe it out… I realized, “Holy shit, I just sold a fucking sex memoir.”
And then I had to produce a manuscript!
As I mentioned, I’m private and neurotic so I knew I couldn’t write a book about me having sex. I’d have to write a sex memoir that kind of skirts the issue. So, not to spoil anything, but: there aren’t really any sex scenes in my sex memoir (maybe).
In fact, at no point am I naked. Instead, it’s really an essay collection that’s, yes, drawn from my own experiences about sex and anxiety and how they overlap. It’s about the fear and unease and dread and discomfort that permeates psychosexual development–so it is maybe more accurate to say I’ve written an anti-sex memoir.
That being said, I’m still kind of coming to terms with revealing anything at all about my personal life–whether it’s stuff that’s still painful or the more ridiculous, like the bizarre recurring sexual nightmare about Prince that haunted many sleepless nights when I was a child. Or that Thanksgiving I found my cousin’s sex tape. Or how I got kicked out of Bible study. Or that guy I knew who made a dildo out of his own penis so his girlfriend “could enjoy [him] when [he] wasn’t around.”
Anyway, it’s still pretty weird to me that I wrote a whole book about myself and on a subject I find pretty challenging to instill with credible insight–thankfully, I really like dick jokes.
And, if you’re like me and you too like dick jokes, it’s probably worth a buy.