Sunday, March 01, 2009

Quasi-literary quasi-aspirations

Writing stuff in exchange for payment seems a hopeless way to make (or contribute to) a living, so while I have a few pieces sitting around (conservative defense of birth control, anyone? Jewish parochialism? Anyone?), I'm not optimistic enough to do anything with them, other than to perhaps send them to publications and count to ten as I wait for the publication to fold.

That said, one literary market seems to be in full force: first-hand accounts of Upper East Side prep school. If your child could paint a Pollock, I could most definitely write up a novel based on my impressions of that rarefied world. If I dig deep, there's got to be something. What's holding me back?

-It's a boring topic, not to mention one that's been done. Somewhere in the blogosphere is an exchange, I think with Amber, about how there are already enough novels set in New York, so who needs more? Readers might think they do, but they don't, unless whatever it is covers new ground. Which, for reasons soon to become clear, my Great Upper East Side Novel would not.

-I was neither the limitless-credit-card-holder-soon-to-develop-a-coke-habit-and-then-poof-onto-Yale-like-nothing-happened nor the scholarship-student-of-color-from-a-not-yet-gentrified-outer-borough-location. If you did not experience high fashion and hot clubs while underage, you have no authoritah to write about lives others could only dream of. If you did not spend your private-school years developing totally justified class angst, living in two worlds, etc., you have no authoritah to write the Private School Outsider novel. One reads about Manhattan prep schools to learn about Class In America. I could certainly analyze the strange ways class mattered at the school, but can't contribute, not first-hand, at any rate, to tales of extreme decadence or out-of-placeness.

-I left after 8th grade. The thrill of the prep-school novel is the precocious entry of high school juniors into New York's glamorous world of adults. As far as I know, my classmates' debauchery was limited to 'interactions' with boys from the local boys' schools, not with investment bankers. Plus, who remembers age 13 and younger? Frank McCourt, I suppose, but it's a gift I lack.

OK, I remember some. But:

-I am unwilling to write (thinly-veiled or openly) about real people I once knew.

-What I do remember, and would be willing to write about, is not the stuff novels are made of. Does anyone really care about how the cafeteria was all gourmet (Caesar salad, balsamic this-and-that, and one time, due to a parent's donation, a whole lot of crayfish), or how a ridiculous amount of ballet class was mandatory, or how how we used striped tights as a challenge to the uniform, or how all the 'half-Jewish' kids had Jewish fathers, or that dances - for kids! - cost $50 because they 'went to charity' but were really just opportunities to - at long last - speak to members of the opposite sex? The neuroses and disordered eating of well-off adolescents, also memorable, could provide enough material for maybe a "Styles section" blurb, but the imagined calorie count of a hollowed-out bagel does not a novel make. I also have a Sheldon-like recollection of who was in which clique in the third through fifth grades, a subject I found fascinating at the time, but beats me what made it interesting. And even if I could remember why I cared, and could find a way to make others care, too, this would involve creating all new people who were just like the real people (again, authoritah), but not (again, won't speak of real people).

-Compare this with this. Whose Upper East Side authoritah would readers respect?


Anonymous said...

I grew up on the West Coast, Protestant - but the kids I knew who had Jewish mothers, mixed marriage, tended to be brought up Unitarian, or Quaker, or without faith at all. Was that your experience in NY? Or were there just a lot of single Jewish women for whom the potential Jewish husbands had all gone for gentiles? dave.s.

Phoebe said...

As I wrote in the post, there weren't kids with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers in any significant numbers.

As for what came of the generation of Jewish women equivalent to the Jewish fathers I mention, I wouldn't take from the fact that they weren't mothers *at this school* to mean that they remained single. For all I know, they'd long since married and raised kids, since the fathers tended to be a good bit older than the mothers, regardless of religion.

Anonymous said...

Birth control is just about the most unconservative thing in the world.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Phoebe said...

My article would prove you wrong.

Anonymous said...

I like your writing, but your attempt at re-thinking what is/not conservative seems to be a therapeutic. Obviously - you are a young and educated and liberal - But you share a few conservative notions - objection to some leftist premises among academics - Chomskyism - and a general hawkishness on FP, esp Mid East. So suddenly you find yourself in some un-confortable, un-hip, rustic company, ideological wise.
Hence, an attempt on your part to shuffle the deck - politically speaking - the various markers of left/right.

But the only right wing case for BP is the late 19th cent. eugenic-inspired - racially minded social darwinism. The other defenses of BP - woman's lib, autonomy, pleasure - etc are all liberal and grow out of leftist critiques of bourgeois morality and religion.

Phoebe said...




Not so much.

I'll present my conservative case for BC (what is BP?) somewhere along the line, but I promise it has nothing to do with eugenics. (Hint: better use of BC can lead to fewer out-of-wedlock pregnancies and fewer abortions. But that's not the whole argument.)

My concern is that conservatives are misguided in their choice of BC as enemy. Where does "theraputic" enter into it? I know I'm in some ways on the left and in others on the right, but this is something I've long since understood. 25 is not that young.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well maybe your right (mostly) - I was just fumbling around blogs and posted a comment without thinking it thru too much. I probably agree with you, but was just being contentious -- However, your out of wedlock argument is one that is already met with vehement resistance from conservatives active on this issue. It erodes the whole discipline/sin loop that is key to understanding conservative opposition to accomodating something they know takes place anyway.

Liberal? Well most people I know in academia are far far to the left of people I've met who are active in Democratic party politics on the national level. Even liberal NY congresspeople like Maloney in NY tend to be far to the right of most acadademics in the humanities.
So what I mean to say is that some people I know who think they are conservative in academia find out they are liberal when they meet actual conservatives in GOP politics

BP was a typo.

Phoebe said...

"So what I mean to say is that some people I know who think they are conservative in academia find out they are liberal when they meet actual conservatives in GOP politics"

I'm sure you have, but a) I'm aware of academia's slant, as I think are most academics, b) I have met plenty of flesh-and-blood conservatives, and c) I don't consider myself either on the left or on the right, even though I am always going to be one of those, relatively speaking, in a given context.

PG said...

You should try presenting yourself as a conservative voice for Slate's XX. Maybe then they could get rid of Abigail Pilgrim, who isn't 100% clueless ... but 85% isn't good either. I have thought since college that the media's real discrimination against the Right is their failure to hire the conservatives whom I like to read -- who often are quite conservative (one friend I made on my college paper is a GOP volunteering, Fed Soc, no-sex-until-marriage Southern Baptist), but who don't wholly caricature the Left. (P.J. O'Rourke has made too much money on the caricatures to stop now.)