1. Hello (The Gray Area)

A man wakes up in his apartment with a hazy memory of the night before. He’s greeted in bed by a mysterious woman who keeps saying, “Hello.” But she seems to know far more about his life than he ever could have told her in one night. And as the rats gnaw mercilessly from within the walls, she has a few bold and shocking answers as to why he’s so afraid. (Running time: 22 minutes)

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Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:
He: Tim Torre
She: Emily Carding
Gordon: Michael Saldate

Edited by Edward Champion
The Gray Area Theme by Alex Khaskin (licensed through NeoSounds)
Foley Sources: Edward Champion and erpe (CC license, slight changes).
Cover Image: Jason Lander (CC)

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Chris Fletcher, Claudia Berenice Garza, Sarah Golding, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Pete Lutz, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Paul Sating, Marc Stein, Georgette Thompson, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this emotionally revealing episode.

0. Prologue (The Gray Area)

Virginia Gaskell, an underappreciated 66-year-old cult writer forced into a rest home, contends with mysterious voices summoned from her typewriter and an obscure literary interviewer named Ed Champion. (9 minutes)

Play

Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:
Virginia Gaskell: Chris Smith
Ed Champion: Edward Champion
Orderly: Zachary Michael
Demon #1: Greta Christie
Demon #2: Pete Lutz

Edited by Edward Champion
Foley Sources: Edward Champion, Superex1110 (CC license, slight changes), and nothayama (CC license, slight changes).

Special thanks to Jonathan Ames, Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Erin Bennett, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Emily Carding, Robert Cudmore, Devony DiMattia, Chris Fletcher, Claudia Berenice Garza, Sarah Golding, Daniel Handler, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Fred Kiesche, Matthew MacLean, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Michael Saldate, Paul Sating, Gary Shteyngart, Darin Strauss, Marc Stein, Scarlett Thomas, Georgette Thompson, Tim Torre, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode.

Introducing The Gray Area

Since 2007, I have dreamed of making a radio drama. While I spent more than a decade of my life making radio and podcasts, I didn’t know how to approach its fictional equivalent. But last year, I began discovering that a number of incredibly talented audio drama producers were actively at work rethinking the medium for the podcasting age (and offering plentiful innovations). And I began listening. The work of people like Return Home‘s Jeff Heimbuch (who recently celebrated the one year anniversary of his fun and often hilarious audio drama), The Bright Sessions‘s Lauren Shippen (who I interviewed here), Small Town Horror‘s Jon Grilz (who I interviewed for the Audio Drama Production Podcast) — to say nothing of the incredible kindness of formidably skilled people like Pete Lutz, Steve Schneider, Jack Ward, Lauren Nelson, Paul Sating, Todd Faulkner, Austin Beach, Matthew Boudreau, Fred Greenhalgh, the entire gang over at the Audio Drama Production Podcast (Fiona, Sarah, Robert, and Matthew are all radio treasures), and really far too many people to list — emboldened me to take a huge plunge.

It started when I was asked to write a script. I was in contact with two affable Scotsmen named Matthew MacLean and Robert Cudmore. These two gents, who I cannot express enough gratitude to, were putting together a fantasy series. I wrote a wild story in about two weeks, had more fun writing this script than I had any right to, and became hooked with the form. While the story itself was never produced (although a version of this script has since folded into my project), I’m terribly grateful to Matthew and Robert for leading me down this road, which has quite literally changed my life for the better. Matthew and Robert, simply by taking a chance on an eccentric Brooklynite, inspired me to go deeper than I ever had before. In late December 2015, I started writing more scripts with the idea that I could perhaps come up with enough stories for an anthology series. What I did not anticipate was such a colossal outpouring of pages over the course of four months that I ended up writing four seasons of material. It was almost as if these stories were caged within me. More important than this prolificity, however, was finally stifling that too clever bastard inside me who had gotten me into so much trouble over the years and writing from a very emotional place, something that I was starting to do in my essays. I finally got in touch of the man I truly was and dared myself to reveal aspects of myself that I had never had the courage to do before. I tapped into parts of me that I had feared. I went into areas that I had never written about before. I often cried as I spilled my heart into these stories. But I would also laugh uproariously. And I started to become calmer and more positive.

I’ve spent the last fourteen months working on what may be the most ambitious creative project I’ve ever attempted. There are close to two hundred characters and some of them are recurring. While each story can be listened to on its own terms, the careful listener will start to detect patterns that emerge over the course of the series. Someone who may appear in a minor role may become a major character later. There are huge storylines. There is fun genre. There are moral questions. I’ve stuck with the hard rule of never having a story exceed thirty minutes in length. The tone is both real and strange and I have absolutely no way of categorizing this. It is basically all genre. (Here is a list of inspiration points that I am aware of, but I am certain there are many more than I’m not coginzant about.) Because I didn’t want to pull a Damon Lindelof, there is a carefully planned ending. The hope is to produce all four seasons, rewriting and honing the drafts as I go. There’s been an improvisational feel that has cropped up in recording the actors and in editing that I’ve deliberately cultivated. I’ve been blessed to work with a calvacade of tremendously accomplished actors, most of them in New York but quite a few from far flung corners of the globe. I’m almost finished editing the first season, which I hope to premiere sometime next month.

The show is called The Gray Area. There is a Twitter account and a Facebook page. There is also a Libsyn page.

And I now have a 90 second trailer for the first season, which you can listen to below.

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I want to again thank the many beta listeners and supportive people who believed in me and my project, especially the ones who knew what I really had in me (and didn’t know).

The Lies, Libel, and Deceit of Molly McArdle: Rebuttal to a Hatchet Job, a Personal Reckoning with What I Actually Did, and an Exposé of Literary McCarthyism

“In 1970 my mother said to me, ‘I would have been glad to testify to get back at those bastards for what they did…But I suspected, from my own experiences working within the Hollywood system, that people used the blacklist as a way of getting back at other people for things that had nothing to do with politics. And that’s not unique, because it happens in academe too. A lot of people who testified did so to get back at people who had gotten jobs away from them, who had won assignments. It was an opportune moment; in a very cynical way, it was a golden opportunity. This was the government who wanted your testimony. It was sanctioned.”

— Jacoba Atlas, interviewed in Victor Navasky’s Naming Names, an excellent volume on McCarthyism.

“Conformity is a way of guaranteeing and manifesting respectability among those who are not sure that they are respectable enough. The nonconformity of others appears to such persons as a frivolous challenge to the whole order of things they are trying hard to become part of. Naturally it is resented, and the demand for conformity in public becomes at once an expression of such resentment and a means of displaying one’s own soundness. This habit has a tendency to spread from politics into intellectual and social spheres, where it can be made to challenge almost anyone whose pattern of life is different and who is imagined to enjoy a superior social position — notably, as one agitator put it, those in the ‘parlors of the sophisticated, the intellectuals, the so-called academic minds.’”

— Richard Hofstadter, “The Pseudo-Caonservative Revolt –1954”

“Google is an instrument of humiliation. I google a rival to see if I can discover unflattering tidbits. And the very process of googling is humiliating to the rival (in magical form), but also humiliating to me. Any time I exercise the privilege of ‘googling for the hell of it’ I am humiliating myself.” — Wayne Koestenbaum, Humiliation

“I can’t beat it.” — Manchester by the Sea

3

I slept for many weeks in a stale caged room, surrounded by fragile people who were just as broken and twice as devastated. I had no refuge. I had no family. They left me for dead and still want me vanished to this day. My partner wanted me invisible. I can’t say that I blame her. It seemed as if I didn’t have any friends, although I will always remember the rare ones who did not give up on me as I lived in this hopeless way station of ceaseless grief. Some part of me knew that I had to find a way to appreciate what I still had, which was a roof over my head and a psychiatrist meeting me for about ten minutes each week. It wasn’t much, but the room at the hospital was still more spacious and a bit more private than the cramped expanse I would later land at the homeless shelter. I lived with a friendly schizophrenic who talked in many voices, a shattered congenial man who came to New York to reclaim unspeakable loss from his past, along with several dozen troubled souls. After a few weeks, there were occasional escorted trips up the elevator to play basketball, where I practiced aloof moves on a rooftop asphalt slab that felt something like heaven. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to orderlies quietly sifting through my scant possessions, looking for contraband razors or anything else that I might use to kill myself. That was, after all, why I was there. It was what I had tried to do on the morning of September 26, 2014, after I cracked and did something terrible the night before, something that was fueled by alcohol and a mental breakdown.

I took showers in which I had to dry my naked vulnerable heartbroken body — always surveiled by the cameras — with paper towels. The woman I once loved, the woman who I personally pledged with every honorable bone to leave alone, had served court papers on me as I was trying to recover. I had received the cruel and unnecessary envelope just after finishing a relaxation session. I accepted the summons and burst into tears and fell shellshocked into a blanketless bed that was not mine for what seemed hours, wondering how much lower I’d plummet. She knew that I didn’t have the funds to defend myself, although I was appointed an attorney, arriving embarrassingly late to the first court appearance weeks later after I’d been rustled out of bed only hours before, moved to another shelter at four in the morning in a part of the city I did not know. I am never late. I pride myself with being on time. I am a man who, for better or worse, shows up. But I was late. I was also exhausted, disoriented, heartbroken, and humiliated. She knew that I was never violent towards her, much less any person (save for self-defense against a man who attacked me at Coney Island and, to be completely transparent, a thin young man I verbally confronted at the Franklin Avenue subway station, who repeatedly punched me as I handed him his dropped books and who I never once hit back), and that my father was a damaged man who burned me with cigarettes, who choked me, who abused me, who tried to suffocate me as my sister watched, who told me he loved me just before popping me in the jaw. I had worked very hard to escape this cycle of violence, quietly volunteering off and on over the years with domestic violence hotlines, often interceding whenever I saw a man threatening a woman, and disarming countless near-pugilistic situations with my wit. Now I was this deadly man by legal implication. It was just about the worst thing that she could have done to me. And I suspect she knew this. But then my mentally addled and drunken behavior on the night of September 25, 2014, which momentarily sullied her well-deserved reputation before she excelled quite well without me, was probably the worst thing I could have done to her. All acts of justice, large and small, come down to petty retribution in the end. But the question we’re too hopped up on hurt to answer is when it should stop.

She had visited me once. It wasn’t a long visit. There was upset and sadness in her hardened brown eyes. Warm orbs that once jittered with joy were now forever gone, reduced to a dimming memory of a shimmering figure now more mythical than real. I knew I’d never get back what I once had, that I’d somehow managed to lose it all, and this cold truth caused me to cry for months, even though I had to parcel out my tears because I rarely had space to myself and I couldn’t let the rough men I lived with see me weak. In our last meeting at the hospital, I saw her hands shake. Her voice quavered. Her curls, which once pulled towards me of their own accord, now retreated away with a natural instinct from the suicidal madman. I remember her being so afraid of me that she rattled upon the door, begging for someone to let her out, even though the door was open. I wasn’t in my right mind and had no defense. The nurses and the orderlies, who were all so terribly kind and who later told me how much they liked my writing and a few poetic songs I composed for others to sing, went out of their way to get me a pen and paper. They believed I could win her back. I knew they were wrong. I had little more than twenty minutes to write her a poem. I am sure that the incoherence I put down in words scared her too. For many months, I would have no private place to recover from my crackup and my heartbreak: the terrible, terrible pain of seeing someone who once looked at me with such love shudder and retaliate because she was afraid.

I watched minds break and I witnessed troubled men piss their pants. There was a brilliant Russian intellectual with an unruly shock of wild jet hair demanding his own room to escape the “peons.” There were many very smart people inside, but they were all fragile and broken and needed to get through their pain. At least two of my cellmates — one offering to pay me to house sit, later buying me an extravagant sushi dinner that felt beyond my wildest dreams after I lost thirty pounds on a benefits card diet of cheap sandwiches (always cold, never hot) — took their lives in the year that followed. I played chess with a man because he was lonely and nobody else wanted to push forward pawns with him and, well, I wasn’t going anywhere. And I won. It was a perfunctory victory, one arrived at in a heart-battered haze. Then he sought me out. Because I was the only one he couldn’t beat. And I let him win. Because he needed that and that seemed the decent thing to do. Like all of us, he needed a little hope. He needed just a little dignity, a little faith in himself. This was, after all, the only way to beat the shame and accept the truth of who you were and what you did. But when I left the hospital, reclaiming the confiscated phone that got me in trouble, I had no idea how much more public shaming awaited me online. Most of it involved actions that I never committed.

* * *

Jon Ronson has written about victims of public shaming sitting paralyzed at their kitchen table for nearly a year, frozen and broken by online impressions of what they are not tendered by people they have never met, debased in their efforts to rebuild their lives and to do the hard work of confronting and correcting the impulses that led to their transgressions in the first place. No amount of kindness or honorable action or good faith efforts at redemption will ever win over the crowd. The roots of this cultural disease reside in vengeance trumping compassion, of myths replacing facts, of false allegations begetting more false allegations, of the whole putrid and untrue stew being summoned whenever you say anything, no matter how kind and thoughtful. In an effort to keep up with the fickle jonesing from easily angered social media consumers, longform journalism, which was once committed to an airtight presentation of the facts, has aligned itself with the absolutism of public shaming. It has faltered from its original mission, with cynical editors crafting and encouraging outrage-inducing clickbait, often published at places like Slate and Salon, that have caused perfectly decent writers to debase themselves as they willfully traffic in half-truths for a paycheck.

When Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely began investigating an alleged rape gang operating at the University of Virginia in July 2014, she was driven by a passionate need to redress a great wrong. She became so consumed by a larger cultural malady, one that certainly requires a devoted army of journalists, essayists, poets, and fiction writers to keep in check, that the underlying facts, which disproved her thesis, no longer mattered. A real journalist might have clung to doubt and skepticism, or gone out of her way to paint the scene with a subtle and careful brush, but Erdely was determined to push forward even when the professed ringleader of the gang was never interviewed or found out. Erdely never bothered to interview key witnesses who offered differing accounts. She believed too easily in a story that kept changing, one that mimicked details from books and television shows. And because Erdely made several serious mistakes, she set back a vital discussion of an important issue plaguing our nation, one recently reopened with the many courageous women assaulted by Trump stepping forward.

On June 10, 2015, a little more than a week after I escaped my homelessness and moved into a very hard-won one bedroom apartment, the universe did not grant me the dignity to celebrate my near insurmountable triumph against incredibly bleak odds. That day, Brooklyn Magazine published a 9,000 word libelous diatribe written by a self-proclaimed “writer and editor” named Molly McArdle. The article was a nasty seven layer burrito stuffed with hearsay, uncorroborated rumors, conjecture, quote manipulation, speculation, outright lies, willful exclusion of key facts, and other spurious claims that were designed to falsely portray me as a monster with a pattern of abusive behavior that had been silently tolerated for many years by the publishing industry. It was quite uncanny that this reckless person’s name was so close to the infamous witchhunter Joseph McCarthy. For like McCarthy, McArdle had no intent whatsoever in pursuing the truth. “I am more scared of silence than false or petty speech,” declares the article in its final paragraph, meaning that falsehoods and invented grievances matter more to McArdle than the facts. She sought to destroy a man who had suffered a nervous breakdown and committed the worst mistake of his life: a man who lost his home, his partner, his shaky and far from lucrative stature, many friends, and likely the ability to publish anything, no matter how good, for the rest of his natural life. McArdle’s article was also anti-intellectual fundamentalism of the type that the historian Richard Hofstadter once called the one-hundred per cent mentality: “a mind totally committed to the full range of the dominant popular fatuities and determined that no one shall have the right to challenge them.” It was this one-hundred per cent mentality that a group of novelists, publishing insiders, and industry people chose to believe in, willing to promulgate any lie if it meant stubbing out the voice and ruining the life of of a vociferous critic. And if these smart people can willfully buy into such a deceiving and prejudicial account, one riddled with at least fifty-eight unsubstantiated statements and factual errors, then imagine the myths that will bamboozle Americans in our new era of fake news.

There was a time when irresponsible journalists who lied about and fabricated their stories were held more accountable by the public, when Janet Malcolm’s wisdom about impulsive subjectivity and character assassination was better heeded. But a compelling lie or the Liberty Valance idea of “printing the legend” — such as the false claim that Alexander Hamilton called the American people “a great beast,” first falsely promulgated as a fourth-hand rumor more than fifty years after Hamilton’s death — has an ability to latch itself onto a person for life like an unshakable leech, overriding considerable accomplishments and providing no possible allowance for reform. This tendency has become worse in our age of social media and outrage culture, where rapturous fury is rarely tempered with the clarity of thoughtful reflection or even a proper consideration of what actually happened. The experience is often as bad as a prison sentence or a financial setback or a bad breakup, causing pain not only for the wrongly accused party but for his friends and family.

Yet readers continue to have a great appetite for perceived monsters, with even the sharpest blades in the kitchen willing to believe in an untruth if it is juicy enough. Before Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass were discovered to be fabricators, Janet Cooke famously reported on a eight-year-old heroin addict who moved Washington Post readers (including then mayor Marion Barry) to track down this victim, who only existed in Cooke’s imagination. Cooke managed to fool many smart people and even won a Pulitzer Prize for her efforts.

So what today of the self-styled reporter who invents lies about a real person and tarnishes that person’s reputation when the facts don’t line up? What of the journalist who wallows in malice and ice cream rewards like a spoiled adolescent when the lion’s share of her story cannot withstand an extremely rigorous challenge? What of the slipshod character assassin who goes out of her way to destroy the reputation of a man who made one deeply terrible mistake (and a few minor ones) that he has already suffered greatly for, that he continues to seek help and care for, and who must now expend precious time answering to potential employers and creative collaborators and lovers who cannot reconcile the kind, capable, and caring person before them with the alleged demon represented in a work of scabrous sensationalism? If “comment is free and facts are sacred,” as C.P. Scott has famously observed, should not the narrative uniting the twain be rooted in something more diligent than pumping out “the first draft of history”? Should not a journalist go out of her way to take up her allegations directly with the source or accurately set forth the facts to slam dunk her claims?

On September 26, 2014, I tried to take my life. And I want to be clear that what I did the night before was terribly wrong and over the line in every way. It was not, however, the final capstone in a sustained run as Edward Champion the literary terrorist. I tried to kill myself after I became massively drunk, suffered a nervous breakdown, committed a diabolical act on Twitter that involved threatening to publish the name of someone who had photographed novelist Porochista Khakpour in a compromising position, which I ended up tweeting and which my then partner deleted soon after. This came after Khakpour had spread poisonous lies about me and whipped up the fury of the literary community. I was broken and desperate and traumatized and had the kind of life-altering meltdown that no amount of regrets or remorse or apologies or setbacks or soul-searching can ever appear to atone for. I was besieged by hate from all corners and lost everything I had.

Many articles followed in the wake of these events when I was in the hospital trying to get well, my only refuge a homeless shelter on the outside where people shot up and smoked K2 (a cheap and deeply potent synthetic drug with a dreadfully lingering second-hand odor more industrial than any pesticide; it is one of the worst smells I have ever experienced) and shouted at all hours and contended with the indignities of a callous and corrupt and graft-happy and largely indifferent administration that was supposed to help them. It was there that I barely escaped very real threats from a psychopathic champion boxer who slept across from me, recently released from Rikers Island and not liked by anyone, who regularly rattled me when he wasn’t starting bloody fights and who sent several of my fellow residents to the hospital. But eight months after the furor had died down, McArdle felt the need to dig her self-righteous heel into what remained of the twitching corpse. No amount of punishment or humiliation was enough for her. If she could use prevarication and invention to bolster her case, she would. She was right about one thing. The “literary community,” as last year’s Charlie Hebdo PEN Gala protest revealed in abundance, is no longer tolerant of anyone who even remotely challenges its rightfully rocky hold on culture. Indeed, why face an opinion you despise, why argue smartly against it, when you can pretend it doesn’t exist or damn the odious orignator without knowing all the facts? The literary community was thus quite willing to believe McArdle’s fraudulent spin. It needed a bad guy, much as trolls need someone to crush. It failed to understand that writers are meant to be united rather than carving up solipsistic parcels of superficial territory that only a few dozen people care about at best.

McArdle created the mirage of journalism by talking to a lot of people, even though, as the evidence will soon abundantly demonstrate, when she wasn’t mangling her facts, she never bothered to perform due diligence to corroborate any of her claims. All she had to do was toss out a damning sentence that she could stitch to her Frankenstein monster of casual and reckless libel and wait for the greedy reward of ice cream after the article was published.

1

The irresponsible kernel was there from the beginning when, on June 29, 2014, McArdle announced her capitulation of objective bona-fides on Twitter, stating her intent to go after me, beginning with a prerigged thesis that I was someone who went out of his way to hurt and abuse people. McArdle started with an assumption of guilt and spent several months working on an article with the sole purpose of gainsaying more than a decade of honest journalism and positive contributions to the literary world, including 551 in-depth conversations with some of the finest minds on our planet. It was little more than a power grab, a temerarious hit job counting on the reliable monomania of mass rumor and cheap belief, designed to punch down an acerbic voice at the bottom of his game and the end of his rope. She never once called her assumptions into question or took up any of her points directly with me, save through a highly general email on May 7, 2015 that mentioned little more than writing a profile. Indeed, one of her most preposterous smoking guns on the charge that I am a misogynist, a misogynist so hopelessly set in his ways that thirty of the last fifty guests who appeared on Bat Segundo were women, was the apparent use of “cunnilingus” in a joking manner. By that measure, I suppose we should add The Awl‘s Alex Balk, Robin Williams, William Shakespeare (“tongue in your tail”), and Judd Apatow and James Franco onto the list of diabolical comedians hating and oppressing women through prolific usage of and reference to the C word. (See ¶103 below for statistics on how comparatively infrequent my usage was when stacked against other websites.)

When I telephoned a representative at Brooklyn Magazine asking for a retraction to McArdle’s piece and received no reply back, I decided to ignore the article and move on with my life. I truly did not fathom why anybody in the universe would be this obsessed with me. What I did not count on was that people were indeed more interested in me than I was. While I have lived a very happy and positive life, attempting to atone for my sins trying to be more peaceful and graceful after rebounding from a down-and-out existence where stabbings and drug use were regular occurrences, and while I have clawed my way up from an abyss of poverty, humiliations, and joblessness that I would not wish on my worst enemy, I have seen my personal and professional life severely damaged because of McArdle’s article. Where other writers, such as Elon Green, were sensible enough to confine their essays to opinion and speculation (comment is, after all, free), McArdle recklessly and irresponsibly presented her distorted and blinkered version as the truth. And there is simply no escaping what my name now represents.

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I have consulted with attorneys who have suggested that I have a case for defamation, largely because McArdle acted with “actual malice,” recklessly perpetuating a story that had been killed by The New Republic by occluding key details that, as the considerable evidence demonstrates, show that the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan standard does not apply. But in order to carry forward with a lawsuit, I have been informed that it would involve a retainer ranging somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000. Aside from not being able to afford this staggering sum (along with any exorbitant costs beyond that), especially after a tough uphill climb from homelessness, a protracted legal battle for financial restitution doesn’t feel nearly as appropriate as factual challenge. And in our epoch of Peter Thiel-financed bullying, I truly don’t feel that stifling the free press is something I want to be part of. I only want journalists to be fair, accurate, and reasonable. Also, if I want to evolve and become a better person, it has to be based on the facts. It has to be based on who I really am and what I really did. This very long document isn’t merely a rebuttal. It’s a personal reckoning. It’s also an examination of how common we are in our perceived transgressions, for some of my accusers have committed far worse behavior than I am alleged to have done. But I am not trying to settle scores. I am trying to come to terms with the facts.

Another reason I didn’t want to respond was because this involved the moral dilemma of republishing emails, instant messages, and Twitter DMs from parties McArdle who interviewed for her piece. I am a big believer in the covenant of private communication, or whatever remains of it in our age of massive data breaches (Sony, Ashley Madison, Target, Anthem, eBay, Wikileaks, Russia’s claws slithering inside the Beltway) and NSA wiretapping. But if people are going to libel me without presenting the underlying facts of the actual correspondence, then I must reveal, with considerable reluctance, the misrepresentations and conduct of my accusers. I shall confine my citations only to those parties who spoke public untruths about me. And after this article is published, I shall maintain my long-held policy of keeping all correspondence sent to me in confidence.

Despite my progress, my life continues to be jarred because of this defamatory article. And I am fairly confident that McArdle still basks in her hatchet job, possessing no remorse or reflection for what she did to me. In a December 19, 2016 tweet, McArdle, who I have blocked on Twitter, intercepted a tense but conciliatory Twitter conversation I was having with Colin Dickey, where I pointed out to Dickey that only four of the article’s six dozen or so claims were valid. McArdle declared, “Which four claims were true? Read to find out!” Truth and journalistic integrity do not matter to her. And the Twitter crowd would rather pass the popcorn and delight in misfortune manifested by myth rather than conjure up some spell of compassion. There is no modern day Joseph Welch asking, “Have you no sense of decency?” Noblesse oblige died sometime in the 21st century, frogmarched and gassed in the same concentration camp that took out bipartisanship and forgiveness.

While I have been fortunate enough to land a very hard-won job with serious responsibilities, I have been denied writing and editing gigs. I became a well-loved regular at a Village bar, where I befriended many of the staff and other customers. Until one night when I accidentally paid with my credit card instead of cash and the staff caught my last name and Googled me and became frosty towards me. And my refuge was taken away from me. My dating life is little more than a string of short-term affairs, each fizzling out the very minute I reveal my last name. I am nothing less than kind and courteous to a woman. She puts my full name into Google. And in most cases, it’s over. (To cite one of many all too common examples, I went on a date with a marvelous woman who I very much liked. She knocked over her beer, which I proceeded to mop up. I was polite and nothing less than a gentleman. This was easy. Because she was very nice, smart, and we hit it off. I wanted to know more about her. (I am sorry to be so general with my description, but I really don’t want to cause this woman any more grief.) This woman told me that she had been on far too many dates and said that I was the first man she had felt anything for in five years. I respected this, did not want to exploit this, and said that I would be happy to take it as slow as she needed. We both wanted to see each other again. She bragged to all her friends about this very nice and smart man that she had met. Unfortunately, one of her friends had been involved in the books world and I discovered, mere hours before the second date, that this friend had scared her off. And there was no appeal. I went to see the feminist hip-hop show I had bought two tickets for alone.) A few “journalists” went out of their way to shame me this year by outing my OKCupid profile. Some women have been kind enough to stay after I’ve told them what happened to me (and I have remained friends with many women I’ve dated), but this means I have to work ten times as hard to find a partner. The happy family I hope to make someday to replace the broken and hateful one I came from may never happen. I’ve taken improv classes at UCB in an attempt to find a new and healthier outlet for the performative streaks that landed me in trouble in the past and, despite being nothing less than affable to my classmates, I was ratted out to the registrar for “rejecting the UCB philosophy” after some student discovered the article. (The registrar, who was a good guy, and I patched it up by telephone.) And when I passed the class, I was quietly dropped from the improv practice sessions. My classmates ended up forming an improv team without me.

But what truly pained me, what caused me unspeakable sorrow, was when two podcast producers who I had never met used the article to lead a campaign to kick me out of the audio drama community. You see, I’ve been working on an audio drama project for a while. I’ve worked on it every day of 2016. It’s my attempt to do right as a person and as an artist. I’ve written some very visceral scripts and, after many years of hiding myself within the seductive certainty of clever writing, I reached a point where I could at long last be real and emotionally vulnerable in my work. As a temporary member of the audio drama community, I went out of my way to be kind, encouraging, professional, and constructive. I did not utter an unkind word about anyone. It was easy to be kind because these people were very kind. But my impeccable behavior, which flowed quite naturally from may largely sanguine disposition, was not enough to overturn the taint of the article. These two podcasters were so driven by malicious zeal that, on July 22, 2016, they even rejected my good faith efforts to meet up and buy them beers, include them in my thoughtful Audio Drama Sunday interview series, and support their project on Patreon, for which they refunded my donation within seven minutes. I took my leave. I didn’t want to cause anyone any undue upset. But I also took it very hard. For I had done nothing wrong other than to have a past that had been distorted into a largely untrue hatchet job.

So it’s become necessary to respond to the article. It’s hurting my life. It’s not going away from Google anytime soon. It’s not helping me come to terms with what I did. There’s also the worry that if McArdle plays this loose with the truth in describing me, she may very well do this to someone else.

I don’t wish to let myself off the hook here. Part of reckoning with your personal history, good and bad, is being completely up front about your flaws. Even before my nervous breakdown, there were a few instances in which my communications were over the top, many of which I have documented in full detail below. I’m not perfect. I don’t know who the hell is.

If McArdle had confined her article to the night of September 25, 2014, as others did, I wouldn’t have to respond with this lengthy rebuttal. McArdle is absolutely right to condemn my behavior triggered by a mental breakdown. And I can personally guarantee that no amount of hatred, scorn, relish in my continued suffering, or vengeance that McArdle or anyone else possesses for me can ever equal how terrible, contrite, and ashamed I feel about what happened. The question here is how much suffering is enough. I lost everything I had. I suffered a mental collapse. I was locked up in a hospital. I was harassed by my abusive mother calling me at all hours on the hallway pay phone as I was trying to get well. I was thoroughly humiliated and heartbroken. I spent months of my life homeless and jobless after being shunned by my family and by people who I thought were my friends. I lost the woman I loved. Is that enough? It is clearly not my question to answer. Some of you may undoubtedly feel that I have not received enough punishment, that I should continue to suffer for the rest of my life. Some of you may feel that I deserve no mercy, no compassion, no dignity, that I should neither have happiness nor offer happiness to others – despite making serious and good faith adjustments to my life with therapy and positivism.

Here is the truth: My transgressions were hardly the frequent and rampant run that McArdle has made them out to be, nor did they reflect an abusive pattern carried out over years. The article severely discounts the considerably more numerous cordial communications I had with writers, publicists, editors, and related parties for more than a decade. (See ¶¶60-61 below for examples of how I typically conducted myself.) Moreover, the many death threats and belligerent communications I received from writers (including a Pulitzer finalist and a National Book Award finalist) over who they believe me to be have suggested very strongly that my extreme behavior on one regrettable night isn’t nearly as uncommon as what goes on regularly among a savage and insular group masquerading as progressive-minded champions of literature.

Because this is a very long document with much evidential spillover, I have included two appendices for the sake of keeping this clear and organized. The first appendix outlines in complete detail how the Twitter exchange between Khakpour and I happened, how Khakpour willfully lied and distorted our communications, and how I, in turn, reacted with even more despicable desperation. The second appendix responds to Jessa Crispin’s defamatory claims by including the entirety of our correspondence. Crispin has been making libelous claims about me for many years and her false assertions helped persuade the literary world to howl for my blood, yet conveniently she has never produced any evidence. Unfortunately for her, I have copies of all of our exchanges. Her claims do not hold up. She is a liar and a libeler in the Goebbels tradition.

I have responded to each claim by paragraph number. I do not want to give Brooklyn Magazine any traffic, but the curious can download a copy of the article here.

I have done my best to be as complete as possible and have tried to mitigate against any subjective views by sticking with the facts. I have, however, offered a few personal asides in some cases, in an effort to point out how one’s own shame and guilt is often unseen as the crowd cries loud for retribution. Since I am defending myself, I am sure that my defense will be called into question anyway. And it should. The only way we learn anything in life is through constant challenge. But if there are any mistakes, I will correct this article and hold myself fully to the fire.

One further but very important note: This is a rebuttal grounded in facts, not an invitation for harassment in any form. I seek with this article to not only reveal the truth, but to consider, where I am able to, how my words may have caused the literary community to condemn me. (An interlude on satire and the thorny subject of violence expressed in words can be found sometime after ¶83 below.) I realize that my writing voice is loud, erudite, and often aggressive. But this confession is about how I have actually behaved. I am holding my own terrible deportment on one night up to even more exacting standards than McArdle’s “journalism.”

Claim, ¶2: “On September 26, 2014, Ed Champion stood again…”

FALSE. I made only one suicide attempt on the morning of September 26, 2014. (Reported by The Brooklyn Paper, September 26, 2014.) Why is such a detail important? Because a person who tries to kill himself always remembers the date. The date is a shameful shroud that slowly becomes invisible as the time passes, but it’s a permanent reminder burning into the deepest parts of your soul with the telltale message that you were once so hopeless that you wanted to end it all. Every day away from this diaphanous millstone is a painful baby step, an increment measured in tears that becomes easier as the weeks and the months and the years roll on. But when someone disrupts this melancholy marker by planting another one, it’s akin to smothering a toddler who is just learning to walk. For just as there’s no going back to your life if you do successfully kill yourself, there is also no returning to the person you were before. You must learn how to live again. It was for this reason that I returned to the Manhattan Bridge on September 26, 2015 and walked across it with a deep sense of joy. Finding the beauty and marvel in life is the only way you can beat the suffering. September 26, 2014 will be forever burned into my memory in the same way that others remember their wedding anniversaries or the birthdays of their children or a moment in which their career took off. Despite the dark context, it’s a date I must live with.

Claim, ¶2: “…had written a despairing note on Facebook the night before.”

TRUE on despairing note. FALSE on time. The Facebook post, since deleted, that McArdle incorrectly quotes (see brackets) from in ¶1 (“If I have any advice to young people, I urge you [to] never write or become part of the publishing industry.”) was actually posted on the morning of September 26, 2014 circa 7:00 AM. See below screenshot from Brandy Zadrozny (“38 minutes ago”). Time stamp for Twitter is Western time. Zadrozny’s tweet is 4:45 AM, or 7:45 AM Eastern time.

2

Claim, ¶4: “’Middling Millennials’ overflowed with grotesque descriptions of Gould’s body. She is ‘cold,’ ‘a minx’; she was ‘hatched’ rather than born; and Champion speculates about her ‘dewy newborn hands’ reaching ‘with hollow hunger’ for Twitter even before her umbilical cord is cut.” This is later used to buttress a claim in ¶5 that the essay is “starkly misogynistic.”

GROSSLY MISLEADING BUT SOMEWHAT TRUE. Some very respected writers informed me privately that my essay was not misogynistic. This was very kind, but I don’t entirely agree with them, yet I don’t believe that the 11,000 word piece that I wrote in protest of Emily Gould and superficial thinking was rooted in a desire to hate women, even though I now recognize how some of the language that I used could be perceived that way and am forced to conclude that the essay was partially misogynistic. The paragraph’s topic sentence suggests that the essay “overflow[s] with grotesque descriptions of Gould’s body,” but the examples cited are metaphorical, mostly aligned with a recurring motif of baptism and birth.

Uses of “cold”:

“One clearly sees that, even before she poured the Internet’s water over her naked confessional form in an oddly bathetic baptism, Gould’s relationship with other people was predicated upon diminishing their perspectives and rigging the narrative so that she emerged as the coldblooded white bread winner.” The use of “naked confessional form” here is clearly metaphorical. “Cold” is used in reference to her temperament.

“Did Gould have any sympathy, any sense of the impact of her actions, or any understanding about the way the book business worked (even after her Hyperion stint)? Not at all. She was colder than the mist on a chilled champagne glass.” No reference to the corporeal.

Use of “minx”:

“But when a minx’s head is so deeply deposited up her own slimy passage, it’s often hard to see the sunshine.”

McArdle’s case against me is far from airtight, but in the interest of entertaining her interpretation and trying to grow as a person, I would say that, if the essay is in any way “starkly misogynistic,” it’s probably with this line. This essay was written from a place of welled up anger that had been boiling for years. I am deeply ashamed that it exploded in this feral form with this line, which I should never have included. It was clearly an elegant variation on Gould having her head up her own ass. Many readers interpreted an altogether different cavity from the one I described. It never occurred to me that I was objectifying Gould at the time that I wrote it. And I have in the intervening years reached out to feminist thinkers and worked with therapists in an effort to deracinate this impulse. (As ¶¶99-100 reveal below, while I’d hardly call myself a monk, I rarely sexualized women in my writing.) Two people (both women) reviewed this paragraph before it was published and did not say anything. I made the mistake of not running the essay by someone who was more sensitive to language. And I definitely made the mistake of letting anger overcome my otherwise progressive-minded views on gender inequality, which I am firmly against.

“Minx” is typically a ”a young, pert, wanton girl” or a woman who is daring. This was not intended as a misogynist term, but to reference the image that Gould promoted of herself in both her New York Times Magazine cover story (“‘I’m bad at describing sex, or maybe everyone is,’ I wrote at one point, but I didn’t let that stop me from trying!”) and her memoir, And the Heart Says Whatever. Nevertheless, the word’s etymology goes back to the Low German minsk, which is a vulgar term for “wench, hussy, slut.” And I now comprehend that it’s pretty commonly understood that “minx” is misogynist. Needless to say, I won’t be using this word ever again in describing anyone.

Use of “hatched”:

“Emily Gould was hatched in Silver Spring, Maryland on October 13, 1981: the bouncing daughter of a public relations man and a self-employed lawyer and mediator.” This sentence does not refer to Gould’s body in any way.

Use of “dewy newborn hands,” et al.:

“Had social media and smartphones been around more than three decades ago, it is almost certain that her dewy newborn hands would have stretched out with hollow hunger to replace the default egg avatar on her Twitter account not long after overworked doctors snipped her umbilical cord.” Again, this is a reference to baptism and birth.

Claim, ¶7: “Minutes later he tweeted a picture of a bridge walkway.”

FALSE. I never tweeted an image of a bridge walkway on June 26th, 2014. This suggestion of intent is recycled from an erroneous article published by an equally irresponsible writer named Miles Klee at The Daily Dot on June 27th, 2014, which took a tweet that I published on June 20, 2014 (and later deleted), claiming that this was evidence that I was going to kill myself. I had no suicidal thoughts when I took this picture, but very much enjoyed the view. I am sure you would too, if you ever have the honor or the good fortune to walk across the Triborough Bridge. And if you examine the tweet timestamp, you will find that the time I tweeted the picture was June 20, 2014, at 8:10 PM

4

Claim, ¶10: “Millions writer Maureen Murphy offered up a screenshot of a comment Champion had directed towards her: ‘Learn how to think or you’ll end up dead and useless.’”

MISLEADING. The claim here is used to suggest that I threatened Maureen Murphy with this line, but within the context of what Murphy quoted, I clearly proffered a philosophical question, whereby one is alive and thinking or dead and not thinking. This is no different from Max Müller’s sentiment in Science of Language: “Words without thoughts are dead sounds.” Or Samuel Johnson’s idea of existence without thought: “He that lives in that torpid insensibility, wants nothing of a carcase but putrefaction.” Murphy never claimed that I threatened her. This observation is used by McArdle to buttress Maud Newton’s unsubstantiated claim in the same paragraph: “The venom is so widespread and continuous few people keep up with the extent of it.” Here is a link to Murphy’s tweet and to the Millions comment in question.

5

Claim, ¶11: “’Middling Millennials,’ the collective voice of my Twitter feed suggested, did not come out of left field. How long had this been going on? I wondered. Why hadn’t anything been done about it? What could be done now? And who would be the person, or people, to do it?”

followed by ¶12:

“When he very publicly disparaged another woman online in September, it looked to me not like a duplicate of what had happened in June but like the prolonged conclusion of what June had begun: an individual and an industry coming to grips with a pattern of abuse that stretched back over a decade.”

FALSE PROPOSITION. McArdle’s willingness to play armchair shrink with someone she has never met or spoken with belies her baleful intent. The suggestion here is that my Emily Gould essay was the peremptory cri de coeur of an abusive and threatening man who terrorized the literary world for more than ten years. McArdle suggests that there is a “pattern of abuse,” yet the examples that she serves up throughout the essay are easily debunked by her specious evidential support and the actual correspondence I had with the interviewed parties.

Claim, ¶14: “The catalyst, according to Khakpour, was a comment Champion had written on her Facebook page that disparaged Slate senior editor Dan Kois, a man on his lengthy list of personae non gratae. Khakpour deleted it, perhaps signaling to Champion that she had finally sided with his many censors—had, in fact, become one herself.”

FALSE. Aside from the preposterous suggestion that I maintained a Nixon-style “Enemies List,” the argument against this claim could very well be that McArdle was not entitled to conduct due diligence. But this is nevertheless a one-sided account that fails to tell the full truth. The catalyst for what set me over the edge was the combination of alcohol, mental health issues, and Porochista Khakpour calling me “shockingly nasty” and then railing against me as “cruel and abusive,” suggesting that I was a stalker, when in fact this was not the case. (See Appendix A: The Porochista Chronicles, which documents the entirety of what actually happened. I am ashamed of my reaction.)

Claim, ¶18: “Every agent in the world was rejecting him…That’s why his final tweets where he’s outing me, being really nasty to me, what he’s really saying is fuck you publishing. I’m just a weird symbolic sacrifice.”

FALSE. Aside from the astonishing narcissism driving the “symbolic sacrifice” claim, I establish in Appendix A that Khakpour’s venomous and frenetic communications helped inspire me to crack and do something stupid and horrific. (Again, this reaction was my fault, my gormless and insensate alcohol-fueled decision, my crackup.) Moreover, I only submitted my novel, They Came for Blood, to ten agents, many of whom requested the full manuscript. This is a comparatively small number of agents to query and a decent conversion rate. This unsubstantiated line is adopted by McArdle to paint me as a failed writer.

Claim, ¶22: “’It’s hard to overstate what a positive, moderating force she’s been for him,’ said blogger Eric Rosenfield. Weinman ‘practically defines the term ‘long-suffering.’”

FALSE AND MISLEADING. In my modest friendship with Eric Rosenfeld, he was consistently rude, antisocial, and outright clueless, even though I fondly remember a few times where we sang Bowie songs in his apartment. I introduced him to one of my well-loved, longtime friends who moved out here from California and we all spent time together. There was one time, when we went out to eat in Chinatown, where Rosenfield harassed an overworked restaurant worker who was on his break and demanded to eat his soup. It was some of the most heartless and debasing behavior I have ever seen imparted to an underpaid blue-collar worker from someone I knew. And as someone who grew up relatively poor, this outrageous conduct pretty much signaled to me that I could not have this man in my life. Furthermore, when Rosenfield and I hosted the short-lived Wold Newton reading series at Word Brooklyn, Rosenfield made several science fiction/fantasy writers feel uncomfortable. I did my best to smooth things over with publicists and authors alike. I quietly extricated myself from my involvement with the reading series, but fulfilled my responsibilities. If he considered Weinman “a positive, moderating force,” it was only because I vocalized our collective horror and she didn’t.

Claim, ¶28: “This seemed to go well for a while, but the stream of work trickled to a stop ‘as he began progressively alienating the people who he needed to get freelance work from’ around 2011.”

MISLEADING, UNSUBSTANTIATED. Eric Rosenfield was not privy to my relationships with editors. Thus, he is not a reliable source. McArdle did not appear to contact any of the editors I worked with for this piece. This is, in short, sloppy and unfounded journalism. I had cordial relations with most of the editors I worked with (but with full candor, I will report that there was one unnamed editor, who I became angry with after he did something especially cruel to my former partner: a case where I was very unprofessional), but book review sections were being ruthlessly cut around the same time period, with freelancers among the first to get the axe.

Claim, ¶30: Jason Pinter’s claims. “I could hear Ed in the background screaming and ranting.” “He was completely unhinged.” McArdle sourced from three tweets below:

From September 30, 2014, 9:22 AM:

pinter1

From September 30, 2014, 9:24 AM:

pinter2

From September 30, 2014, 9:25 AM:

pinter3

A SUBJECTIVE MESS. PARTIALLY DISPUTED. I was certainly shouting that evening as the tweets came in. The only acts of violence I committed that night were punching a file cabinet and sliding my phone across a hardwood floor. I had no desire to be physically violent to anyone. This doesn’t excuse what I tweeted to Khakpour. At one point, Weinman called the police, but the police, seeing me sit quietly if sodden and near catatonic on the couch, told Weinman that they couldn’t do anything. So was I unhinged? Or was I in a state of shock? Does such a man deserve compassion or is he a monster who cannot possibly be forgiven? The atmosphere of the apartment was a bleak climate of fear, especially because the tweets from others were menacing. But what did Pinter actually hear? He wasn’t there. Was he permitting the impression generated by Twitter that evening to color and influence his viewpoint? More accurately, was he allowing his justifiable concern for a friend (Weinman, not me; despite the fact that I had nothing but positive things to say about him, Pinter viewed me as some stray diseased dog accompanying Weinman that he had to endure) to cause his own fears and perceptions to run wild? It seems very likely.

In an email exchange I had with Pinter on June 29, 2015, here is what he had to say:

It’s easy to splice and parse every moment of that night in hindsight. But you’re looking to make me the aggressor here, or blame me for not being able to talk you out of it, which is childish and cowardly bullshit. And that’s all this email chain is – you looking to deflect blame, to demonize people who criticize your appalling actions. If this ‘herd’ means not standing for sexual threats or bullying any longer, then fuck it, I’m in the herd. I don’t think you’re a monster. So blame me for whatever you want to blame me for if it helps you feel better about yourself, and so you can keep believing this false narrative that you’re this misunderstood man chased by angry villagers wielding pitchforks and torches. You brought every iota of this upon yourself. You did something unspeakably awful, and while I’m sure some of what was written about in all those articles was also or blown out of proportion, a lot of it was true. And I could write thousands of words trying to get you to see how misguided you are in, nine months later, reaching out solely for the purpose of blaming me for, what? I’m still not exactly sure. Defending your behavior? I’m not going to do that.

I never asked Pinter to defend my behavior. I wrote to him, “I am aware of my transgressions and am more punitive towards my own monstrous behavior than you ever can be.” He wrote, “You’re constructing a narrative to fit whatever story you’ve made up, that I’ve viewed you as a monster for years, or whatever else you need to view yourself as a victim here (you are not).” It never occurred to Pinter that I was drunk and having a nervous breakdown on that night, that I could be both a transgressor experiencing a crackup and a victim of vigilante justice erected by an online impression that was wrong, which I responded to with behavior that was also wrong. It never occurred to Pinter that asking him about the night in question might have been a way for me to come to terms with the full horror of what I did. It never occurred to Pinter that he and McArdle were also constructing a narrative, that all of us create narratives. Can you forgive a man who lost his marbles? Jason Pinter can’t. But Edward Champion sometimes can’t either. That’s why I’m writing this rebuttal, and I’m not liking what I see in myself. Or to quote Gandhi, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

What Pinter does do quite helpfully with his response is to demonstrate that there is no possible redemption for the transgressions of one night, that all perceived and invented transgressions outside that night are solely interpreted through that night, that any efforts to reckon with what I did represent a “false narrative,” and that the lies and conjectures promulgated by McArdle of a sustained performance of “sexual threats or bullying” are nevertheless “true.” Is this how we contend with troublemakers? Is this how we help people who we perceive as awful? Is this how “monsters”are “reformed” in the digital age? Do we not forgive people even when they’re actively working to change? Do we not listen to people? Or do we simply create largely mythical articles that nest like punitive parasites in the top Google search results?

Claim, ¶31: “Though the suicide attempt was reported in the Brooklyn Paper, few in publishing connected the Friday morning bridge closure with Champion.”

WILLFUL EFFORT TO EMBARRASS AND HUMILIATE. This is a deliberate effort to embarrass me. I do know that Laura Miller, who delighted in her blinkered and error-prone condemnation of me in Salon (“countless obsessive grudges,” unsubstantiated “horror stories”), was probably aware of my suicide attempt, as were others. But to their credit, they underplayed my suicide attempt. Because some part of them still believed in respect and noblesse oblige. McArdle, however, does not. It is humiliation to reinforce the image of suicide thirty paragraphs later. (She also repeats my Facebook note at ¶32.)

Claim, ¶43: “His first episode featured David Mitchell, who has since appeared on the show a total of four times.”

FALSE. Three times (one in two parts). She can’t count.

Claim, ¶46: “…but at the same time you could see his some of his personality flaws coming through. He could get self-aggrandizing with guests. Sometimes he asked questions that were challenging in the wrong ways, trying to make a point for himself.” Quote from Jacob Silverman.

SPECULATIVE, UNSUBSTANTIATED. Silverman has, in his quotes, largely confined his ideas about me to speculation. But he never cites a specific example of my “personality flaws,” how “self-aggrandizing” I was as an interviewer (and, hell, aren’t most interviewers self-aggrandizing in some way?), or how my questions were “challenging in the wrong ways.”

My interviews were certainly challenging and quite intellectual. It was likely my rigorous engagement, my efforts to conduct interviews that were unlike anything else and that didn’t fall into PR boilerplate, that caused people like Silverman, who frequently interpreted my work falsely, to be “challenging in the wrong ways.” But I think the late David Rakoff, a terribly kind man and a first-class wit, probably summed up why authors sometimes felt scared:

To: Edward Champion

From: David Rakoff

Date: 11/26/2007 11:39 AM

Subject: Re: Thanks!

Ed:

Many thanks right back to you. I’d say yours was among the smartest and most exhaustive (and therefore scary: my Helmut Newton hackdom still rings in my ears) interviews I’ve ever had/done.

Hope all the deadlines are being conquered.

david

Claim, ¶48: “She spoke of conflicts that took place on individual Facebook pages, in direct messages, through at-reply conversations on Twitter. ‘You might see parts of it but not the whole megillah.’”

FALSE, CIRCUMSTANTIAL, AND UNSUBSTANTIATED. There are no examples cited by Jennifer Weiner. What conflicts? As a former journalist, she should know better. But then this is the same writer who invents conspiracies playing out at The New York Times.

Claim, ¶49: “Over the past few months, I’ve spoken to twenty-four people by phone and nineteen more by email. Nearly every person I spoke to had a story about Champion: how he threatened them by phone and by email, on Twitter and in DMs, in comment sections and on his own blog; how he contacted their bosses and publishers and family members; how he created a reputation so toxic people—still—fear drawing his attention. Though his most public clashes have only occurred in the past year, Champion’s history of misbehavior stretches back to the early 2000s.”

MISLEADING, CIRCUMSTANTIAL, AND UNSUBSTANTIATED. This paragraph is used as the basis for the fabrications, conjectures, and rumors that follow. It attempts to establish:

1. Ed Champion threatens people by phone and by email.

2. Ed Champion threatens people on Twitter and in DMs.

3. Ed Champion threatens people in comment sections and on his own blog.

4. Ed Champion contacted bosses and publishers and family members.

5. Ed Champion created a toxic reputation.

6. Ed Champion has been misbehaving since the early 2000s.

This is where the claims start to go south in this deceitful piece, turning into an elaborate inductive fallacy that can be summed up as follows:

1. If Ed Champion had a breakdown and terrorized Porochista Khakpour on one night, then Champion must have done this to other people.

2. We have heard a few things about Champion and we really don’t need to corroborate.

3. Therefore, Champion terrorized nearly everyone he encountered for more than a decade.

McArdle has every right to comment upon the quality of my writing or to even report upon my despicable tweets to Khakpour or my suicide attempt. She does not have the right to stretch the facts so completely out of proportion so that my bad behavior, mostly confined to one night, is symbolic of an entire life. To parrot McArdle: Reader, this is defamation (although grounded on something more than a subjective opinion).

Claim, ¶50: “’We were friendly—and I think this is how a lot of these stories start—he and I were friendly,’ Jessa Crispin told me. ‘I had one of the first breaks with him in that community.’”

FALSE AND UNSUBSTANTIATED. As is clear from Appendix B: The Jessa Crispin-Edward Champion Correspondence, which contains the entirety of my emails with her, it was Jessa who often contacted me, expressing umbrage. I replied back with several kind and largely cordial messages. She undermined the blogging community, accused me of “talking shit,” and I responsibly corrected a blog entry when she brought an error to my attention. I also sent a condolence email when one of her family members died. I even lobbied for her inclusion in the Litblog Co-Op despite her vituperative emails and her dismissiveness of its members. Despite not contacting her at all for a seven year period, she continued to mention me.

Claim, ¶51: “’Ed sent this incredibly unhinged email to Steve,’ Crispin described, ‘and I thought it had to be a joke. Ed essentially threatened him because he wasn’t formatting his paragraphs properly on the blog. That was literally the complaint.’ (Almond has ‘a vague recollection’ of the incident.)”

FALSE. Crispin can’t produce the email, but I never threatened Steve Almond. The “email” was public, part of my old blog, Plight of the Reluctant. The entry was circa mid-September 2003. Since this was more than thirteen years ago, I have been unable to locate it in my archives, but, without evidence, this is a patently false claim. It is interesting how she echoes Pinter’s “unhinged” for an invented transgression, almost as if the narrative established on Twitter is the only one that matters. Elizabeth Loftus’s Eyewitness Testimony is an excellent volume that documents in stunning detail how easily words and details can be implanted in a witness’s memory. The longer that the eyewitness moves away from the events, the more easily manipulated the testimony becomes. It is for this reason that, in reconstructing what I have actually done (and I am not entirely innocent, as can be seen with ¶55, ¶56, and ¶79), I have been very careful to stick with notes and emails that I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the events.

Claim, ¶52: “He sent one of these crazy emails saying ‘You will live to regret this’ and on and on and on. It was terrifying. I immediately deleted it. I didn’t go in the room for two days. It’s just words and he lives in another city, but there is something so violent and body-based about it. You feel so unsafe, like he is behind you with a knife.”

FALSE, MISLEADING, UNSUBSTANTIATED. As Appendix B demonstrates, I never used the word “regret” in any of my exchanges with her. Nor were my messages drenched in “violent and body-based” imagery. That McArdle uses this false and unsubstantiated claim with the “like he is behind you with a knife” claim to suggest that I am some homicidal maniac is outrageous, defamatory, irresponsible, and damaging.

Claim, ¶53: “I started noticing things.” Quote from Laila Lalami.

FALSE AND UNSUBSTANTIATED. What did she notice? No specific incident is mentioned.

Claim, ¶53: “E. Max Magee.”

FALSE. The editor’s name is C. Max Magee.

Claim, ¶54: “Over the years I heard the same story. The details might change and the people might change, but the story was always essentially the same. Somebody would say something that they thought was completely innocent or innocuous, then Ed would take great offense, and then would confront them and demand something, an apology or taking down a post or putting up a post, and if his demands weren’t met then he would become extremely angry. Frankly it was frightening.”

UNSUBSTANTIATED. Why isn’t there a specific incident cited? This is a speculative template. It is not concrete evidence. This is designed to create a myth, to get people believing in a phony pattern suggesting that this is the only way I communicate with people. Yes, I have confronted people when facts are wrong. But there is nothing cited here to buttress this “same story.”

Claim, ¶55: “He flew off the handle at me ages ago (don’t remember when) for a perceived slight,” book marketer Kalen Landow told me in email, “He had put together a list and I shared it on Facebook. For whatever reason he thought I’d stolen his content and I got a blistering series of DMs about it. I clarified with something like, ‘Uh, I posted a link.’ He apologized and that was the end of that. It was a red flag for me.”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY, AND GROSSLY MISLEADING. Here is the Twitter exchange with Kalen Landow. As you can see, the exchange was far from “a blistering series of DMs,” but a misinterpretation on my part which I calmly expressed when I was very tired:

kalen

kalen2

kalen3

Claim, ¶55: Elyssa East’s claims.

TRUE. What’s missing from this story, however, is the email I sent to Elyssa East on July 1, 2014 at 10:20 PM:

Elyssa:

Just so we’re clear, on November 1, 2012, I sent you two emails during the turmoil of Hurricane Sandy.  I was deeply impassioned, extremely worried about people I knew, and concerned about the plight of the poor and sent you a strongly worded email.  This was, by no means, intended an attack or threat upon you personally. Nevertheless, I apologize for my tone and language at the time.

Sincerely,

Edward Champion

I never contacted her again.

Claim, ¶56: Emily Mandel’s claims.

TRUE. The tweet in question was intended as satirical. Months later, in realizing how my satire was being misinterpreted, I made amends through this exchange:

To: Emily Mandel

From: Edward Champion
Date: 7/30/2014 3:47 PM
Subject: An apology

Emily:

My apologies if you receive this message twice. I don’t wish to pester you, but I do want to be sure that you get this important message.

On August 30, 2013, I tweeted the following: “Victory is not resorting to the subtweet. I don’t respect you either. Why don’t you go swallow a glass of cyanide?” The intent of the tweet was to present a physically impossible proposition in a satirical context. I never wished for your death nor did I intend to threaten you. I have been on the receiving end of several death threats in response to an essay I wrote, and now understand that my words, despite the jocular intent, were inappropriate. I have deleted the tweet and offer my sincere and heartfelt apologies for any distress that the tweet caused you.

Thanks and all best,

Ed

To: Edward Champion

From: Emily Mandel

Date: 7/30/2014 4:47 PM

Subject: Re: An apology

Thank you, apology received and accepted.

I never contacted her again.

Claim, ¶58: “I’m not saying that Champion could do a lot of damage, but the fear of damage he could do, even by manipulating Google searches, is real.” Quote from John Freeman.

FALSE, ASSUMPTIVE, AND CIRCUMSTANTIAL. John Freeman, one of the most imaginative and defamatory liars quoted in this piece, makes a lot of false assumptions and libelous claims about me. He contends that I could manipulate Google searches, but, if I knew how to do that (and I don’t), I wouldn’t be writing this rebuttal.

Claim, ¶59: “Fear of intimidation, physical safety, and career backlash kept people quiet.” Quote from Rebecca Schlinsky.

SPECULATIVE, ASSUMPTIVE, NO EXAMPLES CITED. The piece never establishes a convincing case for where I threatened anyone’s physical safety. The “intimidation” angle is repeated by Porochista Khakpour’s publicist two paragraphs later. This piece becomes less and less a work of journalism and more of an elaborate smear campaign as it continues.

Claim, ¶60-61: “Every publicist has been harassed by [Champion] at some point,” Summer Smith, associate director of publicity at Bloomsbury, also said on Twitter.” AND “He bullies & threatens, intimidates & insults, that is how he gets interviews.”

FALSE AND DEFAMATORY, PARTIAL EVIDENCE. No incident is cited. I was not in the habit of harassing publicists. Much to my amazement, some even reached out to me after the September incident. I landed interviews because I respected the work and the schedules of authors and publicists.

From a March 19, 2008 email to Summer Smith:

Thanks for getting back to me. Unfortunately, as much as I’ve enjoyed Meg’s work, this is one of those cases in which deadlines and other interviews have precluded me from committing the time, quality, and energy that I usually invest in these conversations. So I’m sorry that I have to pass this time. But I’m happy to touch base the next time around. And again, please feel free to let me know about other authors.

From a June 10, 2010 email to Summer Smith:

It was a pleasure to chat with you on the phone yesterday. This email confirms that Scarlett and I are set to talk on the 22nd at 3:00 PM. Location TBD. It just occurred to me that you’re probably now on summer hours. So what time would your office at Park Avenue South be closed on Friday in order for me to pick up the book?

From a November 11, 2010 email to Summer Smith:

Thanks so much for getting back to me. And I hope all is well! This would be like Scarlett. Around 45 minutes or so. Some public place that’s convenient for him. In person, anywhere in the five boroughs. So if there are a few good time windows and neighborhoods that you have in mind, that would be a good start! How long is Andrew in town for? And what times are looking good? Also, I should add the proviso that I’ll be doing a live interview with Paul Murray at Word Brooklyn on the 5th. So the 7th would probably have to be our earliest day for this.

From an April 18, 2011 email to Summer Smith:

I was wondering if you could direct me to the person handling Susan Freinkel’s PLASTIC: A TOXIC LOVE STORY. This very much sounds like a book that I could generate some coverage around. Additionally, are there plans for Susan to come to New York?

From a June 19, 2013 email to Summer Smith:

Apologies for being slightly late on the draw, but I’m writing to see if we can squeeze Anchee Min into the Bat Segundo lineup when she’s in NYC. My understanding is that she’s here on Monday. I have the book. But I’m also doing two other interviews on Monday without a lot of flexibility for a massive Follow Your Ears show. It is possible for me to meet up with Anchee between noon and 2PM, and even maybe right before her event at B&N. (But we would need a quiet room.) My instincts suggest that this would be an intriguing conversation. Let me know if we can swing this! If not, happy to work with you both on another author.

From an August 13, 2013 email to Summer Smith:

That sounds like a plan, Michelle. And, yeah, I figured Jesmyn’s schedule was tight. You know, we could do this at the Bloomsbury office to make things easier — perhaps scheduling this around signing stock. If we had an office that was quiet, that should work for radio. Let me know if that works and I will get back in touch with you in a few weeks!

I was certainly persistent in my efforts to get interviews, but I was not in the habit of bullying, threatening, intimidating, or insulting. Additionally, Smith has served as Porochista Khakpour’s publicist, a fact and a conflict of interest that goes unmentioned in McArdle’s piece. Moreover, Smith is the only publicist (outside of Shannon Browne in ¶111-115, who is used to impugn Weinman) directly quoted in this piece. I have also spoken with two other publicists to rebut the Joanna Rakoff claim at ¶62 and the Sloane Crosley quote manipulation at ¶160. It is clear that I was a journalist in good standing.

Claim, ¶62: “Elon Green, in his article on Champion for The Toast, reported that writer Joanna Rakoff appeared on The Bat Segundo Show unwillingly this past June. “I had a couple of awful incidents with him, and asked not to do his (awful) show this time around.” Her publicist said, “We don’t want to make him angry, as he might go crazy and smear you.”

FALSE, PARTIAL EVIDENCE. The only communications I had with Joanna Rakoff before she appeared on The Bat Segundo Show was for my Shteyngart Blurbs documentary in which she appeared. Everything went fine. She did ask me to clarify the nature of the documentary over the phone before talking with me and I did so in a courteous and respectful manner. Which was presumably why she agreed to do it. (In a telephone conversation with the publicist on the morning of July 26, 2016, I asked the publicist if she had said anything along the lines of “We don’t want to make him angry.” The publicist told me, “These are words that I would never speak.” The publicist said that Rakoff felt that I was being overly persistent in my efforts to schedule the interview, even though my requests were courteous. “[Rakoff] felt like she was being slightly harassed,” said the publicist. “She was feeling a little bit worried that there was an element of, I don’t know, contentiousness.” Of course, a book publicist’s job is to protect her author. The publicist, who is a highly accomplished veteran who I worked with many times, also told me that most authors feel skittish about interviews and insinuated that such trepidations were normal. She did feel that my persistence was aggressive, if only because there were two simultaneous email exchanges going on, one with her and the other directly with Rakoff, in an effort to schedule the interview. I apologized to the publicist if my persistence was interpreted that way, pointing out that I never intended to come across as aggressive and that journalists do have to be persistent if they want to land interviews.) Rakoff is also very good friends with the man I threatened to name on Twitter on the night of September 25, 2014. So her statement, delivered second-hand, is partial and tainted, even though her sentiments are completely understandable. I bear no bad feelings whatsoever towards anyone who was sticking up for a friend, much less an accomplished author dealing with the butterfly nerves of publication. But it’s clear that this never happened.

Claim, ¶65: “Levi Asher, who calls Champion his best friend…“

FALSE. I love the man formerly known as Levi Asher to death, but he’s not my best friend and, according to Asher, he never said this to McArdle.

Claim, ¶68: “Referring to a period of time in which Champion decided to award “brownie points” to the New York Times Book Review on an issue-by-issue basis and then mail their office actual brownies, Weiner said, “there is a universe in which it’s creepy,” but another “in which I could see myself doing it.” Why not, after all, bring pies representing VIDA’s gender-based pie charts to male-dominated publications?”

NOTABLE OMISSION, TENDENTIOUS: For three years, I conducted the Tanenhaus Brownie Watch on an intermittent basis, whereby each issue of the NYTBR was judged on three criteria: (a) the fiction to non-fiction ratio, (b) the quirky pair-up test, whereby I observed what interesting voices were assigned to reviews, and (c) years before VIDA, the ratio of male to female reviewers writing for the NYTBR. Why is (c) important? Because I was doing a version of McArdle’s “pie charts” as part of the Brownie watch more than a decade before. In other words, between the years 2004 and 2006, I was doing the VIDA count five years before anybody else was. If McArdle were a responsible journalist, she would have observed this, instead of suggesting with her elision that gender balance was never one of my considerations. But of course, this championing of women writers does not fit in with her false thesis that I am a repugnant and unrepentant misogynist going out of his way to attack women.

Claim, ¶70: “When Champion assumed the role in public, Johnson said, ‘it was a scary character. He had a booming voice, very loud, very abusive. He’d come up and say ‘I’m Bat Segundo, who are you, bitch?’”

batsegundoFALSE, DEFAMATORY: I only performed the role of Bat Segundo once in person (pictured) on the evening of May 15, 2006 at The Big Hunt in Washington, DC, accompanied by a reporter who now works for a major newspaper who was in on the joke. It’s true that he was a loud and annoying Tony Clifton-like character. But he was not abusive and, to the best of my knowledge, he never said, “I’m Bat Segundo, who are you, bitch?” (I reached out by email to a few people who attended the party to be absolutely clear on this point.)

Claim, ¶71-72: “He’s a big guy, a pretty stocky guy.” Johnson, who is 6’2”, described Champion as a few inches taller than himself. “He has this huge voice, and he would lean over these women and call them names. It was borderline violent.” At one BEA event, Johnson was asked by a few women “to get [Champion] out of there because he was terrifying people. I ended up escorting him out of the party.”

batsegundo2FALSE, DEFAMATORY: Not only is Dennis Johnson a liar inventing a story that suits McArdle’s phony narrative of me as a relentless misogynist, but he gets several key details wrong. Bat Segundo appeared at The Big Hunt, part of a Litblog Co-Op party. He did not lean over women and call them names. As can be seen from the photo, he was making people laugh. But perhaps Johnson is consulting the below photo of “Bat Segundo” smiling and talking with Weinman, in which I am seen talking with Weinman, leaning over and falling in love with her. It’s a rather terrible poetic irony, given that this was the evening that my flirtations with Weinman began. Which is why I remember the evening so well.

“Bat Segundo” must have captured Johnson’s imagination. Because my height is 6’2″, not “a few inches taller” than Johnson. Additionally, much as Johnson would like to cast himself as the maverick gunslinger hurling the bad dude at the bar into the dusty street, Johnson did not escort me out of the party. I was kicked out because I briefly left the establishment and, when I returned, I refused to show my ID to the bouncers. I figured this would be in character for Bat Segundo. I called them “blackguards” and, as I recall, my over-the-top performance had the bouncers cracking up. It was a comedy performance, not an opportunity to hurt or abuse people.

Claim, ¶73: “The book he is shopping around is very violent in nature,” Khakpour tweeted on September 26, 2014, “which normally I would never bring up, other than he wrote me many times saying that he was starting to become the main character, who I believe is a murderer.”

FALSE, SPECULATIVE, DEFAMATORY: Khakpour was only sent the first two chapters of They Came for Blood: the first on March 26, 2014 and the second on April 18, 2014. She knew only scant details about the full story, much less the actual character. In the chapters sent to Khakpour, the main character does not murder anyone. He is ruthlessly beaten to a pulp in a bar. He is confronted by the mother of his child. He informs a married woman he is having an affair with that her husband is dead after he sleeps with her. If you want to mine for autobiography in an author’s work – and you probably shouldn’t then this theme of self-loathing and the pain associated with being part of a broken family is probably a bit more accurate of where I was at mentally. I was in deep anguish dwelling on these issues. Much as an actor will use the Stanislavsky Method to summon emotional energy to inhabit a character, a writer will very often summon comparable energies. The suggestion here is that, in writing about violence, I was becoming more violent, when in fact I was never physically violent towards anyone — other than myself when I tried to take my own life.

I’ve reviewed my correspondence with Khakpour three times and I cannot find a single instance where I said that I was “becoming the character.” I did speak with Khakpour on the phone on the evening of January 27, 2014, in which I discussed the progress on my novel, but my notes don’t reveal anything about “becoming the character.” Weinman did once observe me speaking like the character while having quite a lot to drink and had the good sense and the effrontery to confront me during this unsettling episode. But that is the extent of “becoming the character” that I am aware of. The closest passage I can find is from this encouraging email I wrote to her on September 22, 2013, after she had emailed Weinman and me about “a strange group that has formed to hate me suddenly”:

It has been widely observed by several sharp blades that most writers are crazy. Most of the time, this is manageable and (in most cases) charming eccentricity. I mean, we all go into rooms and create weird worlds, right? That’s a really weird job description. But there are a handful of people in the literary world are craven, mean, attention-starved, and truly miserable. We’re not talking people who are in clear need of serious psychological help like Ayelet Waldman, but the slow leeches who project their moribund obsessions on people who are “successful” in some sense, who have little more than crass competition as their raison d’etre. In most cases, these types have lost the ability to marvel at language. In nearly all cases, these types are socially clueless. I’ve had more than a few encounters with these people. No matter HOW nice I am, they still view me as devil incarnate. It’s a no win proposition. So why bother?

The only thing you can do is ignore them. Or call for backup (Porochista, you DO understand that we’re on telephone standby for you, right?) if you feel any impulse to give them power by acknowledging their presence.

But there’s one other thing you can do that these people can’t.

They can’t do the work.

They can’t do the work even when natural forces try to stop them. They can’t do the work even when the world ignites in madness.

But YOU and I can. I wrote close to 500 words of fiction today in a very uncomfortable train, as my stomach quivered with mild motion sickness. And I know you’ve done the same. THAT’S how you win, Porochista. And the brilliant thing is that it’s a victory that is simultaneously constructive and something in which you don’t have to acknowledge the people who want to tear you down. Because they CAN’T take away that.

I want to be clear. It goes without saying that you have done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG in soliciting help for Lyme disease. Only a heartless or incorrigible type — someone along the lines of what I’ve described above — would demand accounting or, heaven forfrend, a “reward” (Christ, isn’t your life enough?) for having the audacity to say, “Guys, I REALLY need help.”

Claim, ¶74: “On at least two occasions Champion called his threats of violence towards other writers ‘performance art.’”

SPECULATIVE, MISLEADING. There are only two “threats of violence” that McArdle can conjure up and, even here, these are predicated upon the mythical assumptions that there were dozens more. I have responded to McArdle’s wrong, patently ridiculous, and outright defamatory ideas of violence in ¶90.

Claim, ¶76: “Champion made a practice of violating the boundaries between public and private. When some would ignore him, it was not usual for him to contact their siblings or spouses. The message would inevitably reach its intended recipient, Champion’s original target, and speak its true meaning: no one is safe.”

PATENTLY FALSE AND DEFAMATORY. She cannot cite any true example to uphold her claim that I terrorized families or contacted siblings and spouses with malicious intent, especially with the “no one is safe” interpretation. The Freeman story is patently false and debunked at ¶77. The Lennon story (¶79), which is the second worst transgression I ever committed to anyone in the literary world of a mere four that I have concretely determined to be over-the-line and in which I am contrite and ashamed about in every way, involved Lennon’s wife approaching me to mediate between the two of us. Beyond this, these claims, even if true, don’t really do the job of getting a transgressor to own up to how he has actually sinned and what might have triggered him to do so (which I take up at length in ¶79). The Kiesling interpretation in ¶92-93 of a satirical April Fool’s Day comment is a family member reacting to it, not me going after her family. But the article is framed to make it look as if this was my intent all along.

Claim, ¶77: “Champion, who attended high school with Freeman, has written over 100 blog posts that mention the critic since 2004.”

FALSE, MISLEADING. I have published nearly 8,000 posts since December 2, 2003, largely about the book world. John Freeman was an omnipresent part of this and he practiced as a highly prolific critic swirling around in dozens of newspapers. Thus, by Freeman’s sheer ubiquitous presence, he was inevitably going to be mentioned on a regular basis if I wanted to cover the books world properly. I have conducted two independent searches through the entirety of my website. A mere 72 items show up. Many of these references are positive or neutral. Most of these references are part of link roundups I used to do, daily collections of useful articles that litbloggers often assembled in the days before Twitter which would often contain as many as 25 links in one post, such as this October 11, 2007 roundup (note the URL as well: “roundup-193”) in which I wrote, “John Freeman has a surprisingly decent report on the Frankfurt Book Fair.”

Claim, ¶77: “After Champion moved to New York around 2006, he began to show up to Freeman’s events, taking pictures of him, confronting him. Freeman made it a practice to ignore Champion, and so the blogger started reaching out to Freeman’s family members. ‘I wrote some personal essays about my family,’ Freeman told me, ‘and my mother was dying. Ed found my younger brother and started posting comments on his blog.’ Freeman, who had already endured some of Champion’s most extreme attentions, was shocked by this last violation.”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY, MISLEADING. I’ve tried to be very careful about this because I really want to be accurate. Because a source has informed me that Freeman once told the critic Carlin Romano that I was “stalking” him, which is the same suggestion implied by McArdle here. I’ve looked through past calendar entries and many years of emails, and I have concluded that I attended a grand total of four Freeman-moderated events, two during the same weekend when I was covering BookExpo America: (1) a June 1, 2007 BookExpo America panel on ethics in book reviewing (of which I wrote a two part report: Part One and Part Two), (2) a June 3, 2007 BookExpo America panel on the “crisis in book reviewing” (written about here), (3) a June 13, 2007 National Book Critics Circle panel called “Save Our Book Reviews,” in which I asked Freeman why book reviews were so dry and without any vibrancy, and (4) a January 23, 2008 event at McNally Jackson, attended with Levi Asher, largely because the two of us were curious about Lee Siegel (Freeman happened to be interviewing him) and this was a pit stop on the way to an event at the Boxcar Lounge. Why was I taking pictures of him? Because, as the links above demonstrate, I was reporting on the panels.

Tim Freeman, John’s younger brother, actually reached out to me through comments he left on this blog. On October 14, 2009, after I posted a video of an acting performance from my college days, Tim Freeman wrote, “Hah-hah, I like this! That’s exactly how I remember you.” He also left affectionate and cordial comments on another post, when I had put up a video from 1993. I liked Tim. He was a nice and enthusiastic kid. So I left some comments over at his blog not long after this cordial colloquy, which I regrettably can’t corroborate because Tim has made his blog private. (I emailed Tim Freeman to determine the date when I first left a comment on his blog. He did not respond.) John Freeman’s writing had nothing to do with this exchange.

It’s true that I did read some of John Freeman’s personal essays and wrote about this as an example of confessional writing’s dangers on February 8, 2007, in which I referred to Freeman twice as “a good guy” and openly asked “if Freeman’s personal confessions were creating more rancor than resolution.” But in McArdle’s characterization of my reporting – which involves taking pictures, asking questions, and writing lengthy dispatches – she is being outright defamatory and misleading with her language. And Freeman, claiming that my exchange with his brother had to do with him and by suggesting motives that he never took up with me and that were entirely nestled in his deranged imagination, is McArdle’s willing executioner.

Claim, ¶78: “Champion also made a practice of contacting his targets’ employers and—regardless of how unhinged he might sound in those emails—raised uncomfortable conversations for them in their workplaces.”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY, UNSUBTANTIATED. Her examples are fallacious, as the forthcoming responses will reveal.

Claim, ¶79: “On one trip to New York, however, [J. Robert] Lennon had become absorbed in a particularly painful family issue and emailed Champion explaining why they wouldn’t be able to meet up. Champion rejected Lennon’s reasons, called the family issue ‘a first world problem,’ and broke off the friendship. Then Champion forwarded the email in which Lennon had described this dreadful, and clearly private, situation to every contact he had at Graywolf Press, Lennon’s publisher. Champion demanded that they drop Lennon as an author: Graywolf could not in good conscience support the work of a person whose family was involved in such circumstances.”

PARTIALLY TRUE, PARTIALLY FALSE, MISLEADING, A RECKONING FOR WHAT I REALLY DID WRONG. In late 2012, Weinman and I were trying to help Lennon find another agent. We had hoped to meet with him. This was a series of misunderstandings on both sides, one in which Lennon’s wife, Rhian Ellis, attempted to intervene nearly two years later. I had total sympathy for his family situation, but I never sent these details onto Graywolf during our initial exchange. Still I did not appreciate it when Lennon emailed me on November 12, 2012, “Are you insane?” That was the source of my anger. I replied, “Only an inconsiderate and judgmental asshole spouting his litany of fairly legitimate First World problems would further sully the waters by broaching the question, ‘Are you insane?’” Note that, even with my vitriol, I did say that his problems were legitimate.

I never forwarded Lennon’s 2012 email to Graywolf, nor will I publish the details here, nor did I demand that Lennon be dropped as an author. (In fact, I interviewed Graywolf authors Kathryn Davis on September 9, 2013, Dorthe Nors on February 12, 2014, and Leslie Jamison on March 21, 2014 – a very long conversation that I never aired for stupid and irrational reasons chronicled below.) I did, however, contact Graywolf about Lennon two years later.

On March 29, 2014, Graywolf editorial director Ethan Nosowsky tweeted at me, suggesting that I could not read an essay by Geoff Dyer. He was egged on by Lennon. There had been an ongoing feud between Nosowsky and me. In a now deleted tweet, Nosowsky had belittled a thorough investigation I had conducted into the affairs of Dave Eggers, his former employer, in which I had discovered financial improprieties and reported on Abdulrahman Zeitoun’s violent assaults.

I wish I could say that I responded gracefully, but I didn’t. I tweeted, “Yes, @nosowsky, I read it through to the end, you imperious, cowardly, tweet-deleting, shit-talking, midcult cunt.” I was extremely stressed, writing a very difficult chapter, and was nearing the home stretch of finishing my novel (which I completed the next day, on March 30, 2014). I was very sensitive about my work. I should never have been on Twitter. I should not have tweeted what I did to Nosowsky. I also should never have telephoned Lennon that night to confront him about what he was doing on Twitter, in which both of us reacted to each other with outsize theatrical outbursts: he laughing diabolically and me responding with some melodramatic impression of a villain. This doesn’t excuse my behavior, for which I remain ashamed and slackjawed, but it does point to the beginnings of the burgeoning anxieties and path to self-destruction that led me to crack on the evening of September 25, 2014. Because the email I sent to Erin Kottke and Fiona McCrae – demanding an apology, not Lennon dropped as an author — makes absolutely no sense at all:

To: Erin Kottke

Cc: Fiona McCrae

Date: March 29, 2014, 7:51 PM

Subject: Unprofessional conduct from Ethan Nosowsky

Erin and Fiona:

I am very sorry to send this email, but Ethan Nosowsky is absolutely out of line.  He has spent much of Saturday harassing me on Twitter, tweeting abusive remarks at me and then deleting them.  Admittedly, I stepped over the line and responded with forceful language.  But Mr. Nosowsky has continued to badger and malign me, even as I have curtailed my efforts. This is absolutely unacceptable.  It’s worth noting that this is a continuation of Mr. Nosowsky’s efforts to impugn me for my journalism over a two year period (specifically in relation to an investigation into Dave Eggers’s The Zeitoun Foundation). He has also solicited J. Robert Lennon, one of your authors, to perpetuate these childish games.   I am sorry that one of your authors has to suffer, especially when she has produced a remarkable volume, but I refuse to air my Leslie Jamison interview (a two parter of 90 minutes) unless Mr. Nosowsky immediately apologizes for his misconduct.  And I will have absolutely nothing to do with Graywolf in any capacity unless Mr. Nosowsky (and Mr. Lennon) issues a public apology by Monday morning.  His conduct has effectively secured a Graywolf boycott unless Mr. Nosowsky can illustrate that he is an adult.

I cannot believe that Graywolf, a press that I have held in great esteem over the last several years, would allow one of its employees to make slanderous public remarks.  But if this is the way that it must be, then it is Mr. Nosowsky who has forced my hand.  And I will pursue with additional remedies if this egregious conduct continues.

Sincerely,

Edward Champion

Producer, THE BAT SEGUNDO SHOW

Nosowsky’s remarks were critical, but not slanderous. My ultimatum was ridiculous. In my self-loathing, my persona began to become a desperate place of refuge rather than a character to perform. It was to culminate in my total breakdown on the night of September 25, 2014, when, greeted with all manner of falsehoods on Twitter, I gave the crowd the villain it always wanted in a savage act of psychic break.

Lennon’s wife, Rhian Ellis, had sent a number of very kind, conciliatory, and compassionate emails, trying to bridge the divide. I had received a lengthy email from her on March 30, 2014 that I had intended to reply to in the morning. I wanted to sleep on it. But her husband beat me to the punch with a hurtful email that shocked me, revealing that Kottke (for whom I had nothing but kind and positive feelings and had several friendly conversations with in person and on the phone) and McCrae both viewed me as a crackpot. I have reproduced Lennon’s email below, along with my note to Kottke. I have elided the personal details that were inadvertently forwarded to Kottke, feeling shock at the news.

To: Erin Kottke

From: Edward Champion

Date: March 31, 2014 9:02 AM

Subject: Fwd: Twitter

If indeed you and Fiona consider me a crackpot, as Lennon claims in this nasty and accusatory email, I would appreciate the courtesy of a direct reply instead of hearing it from someone else. 

Sincerely,

Ed

——– Original Message ——–

To: Edward Champion

From: J. Robert Lennon

Date: March 31, 2014 8:44 AM

Subject: Twitter

Hi Ed—

I’ve publicly apologized to you on twitter for hurting your feelings. You won’t see it in your feed, because I have (and will always have) you blocked, but here’s a link: https://twitter.com/jrobertlennon/status/450613325303275520

I’m writing this against my better judgement, but I feel as though it’s necessary. I really am sorry that I hurt your feelings. But, true to form, your reaction was bizarrely, scarily extreme. Ethan gently mocked you on twitter and you called him a cunt. I told him to ignore you and you rage-subtweeted me and blasted off emails to my publisher and wife, saying god knows what. It doesn’t make sense.

When you originally decided to cut me out of your life, it was because I forgot to answer an email at a time when my personal life was in utter turmoil. I told you that [PERSONAL DETAILS REMOVED], and you said that you didn’t want to hear about my “first world problems.” It’s hard to imagine a more callous and insensitive response to the utter horror and tragedy my family was enduring. So, needless to say, our friendship was over. But I continued to get emails from people I know—writers, editors—telling me I should go see what you were saying about me online. Why, Ed? I forgot to answer an email (in fact, I never did find it, and suspect it never arrived). I was mildly rude to you, by accident. In exchange, you exploded with rage at me in public. (I still don’t know what you said, because I don’t read what anyone says about me on the internet, like any sane person.) People forget to answer my emails all the time, because they have complicated lives. I forgive them, without question. Because they’re my friends.

This is why you aren’t widely known as a writer. Your rage permeates every aspect of your personal presentation and your writing. Even your praise for writers is contextualized by this strange “us-versus-them” attitude. You do people “favors” that they didn’t ask for and don’t want and then you feel slighted when they’re insufficiently grateful, and they become “enemies” and you try to destroy them. Healthy people don’t conceive of the world this way. You’re an intelligent man who should be of real influence in the literary sphere, but you’ve opted to tear things down instead of making things of lasting value. Giving a shit that mediocre writers are famous is a waste of time. Who cares if Dyer wrote a boring essay, or at least an essay you think is boring? Who cares if Eggers and Franzen are overrated? Hell, man, Eggers actually, substantively hurt me back in the day, and do you see me denouncing him in public? I even positively reviewed one of his books in the LRB, because, to my surprise, I actually liked it, and was forced to man up and admit that a guy who was a jerk to me one time might actually write a decent book.

It genuinely shocked me to hear that you had written to Erin and Fiona, people I love, and with whom I have had an excellent relationship for five years. What makes you think that a bunch of invective from some random crackpot could change their minds about me? Because that’s what you are, to them. And now you have permanently lost the potential respect of these wonderful women.

In other words, you are not making my life a living hell. You are making your life a living hell.

I’m sure this will enrage you, but I want to beg you to try to get control of your life, to get some better meds, if you can (and this is not condescension but genuine concern—it’s obvious that you are at the very least bipolar, and I assume under care for it, but if not, please get help), and make amends, publicly, to the many, many people you have bewildered, hurt, and frightened. Rhian won’t tell you this, because she is too nice, but right now she’s in western New York with her sick mother, whose cancer has come back to kill her. That’s the real world your hurtful nonsense is casting its shadow over—it’s distracting my wife from her final months with her mother. I don’t want you in my life, but I care enough about you to tell you how things look out here in the world outside your head. It looks like this: people think you are crazy and dangerous. I know you’re a good person, but most people are not going to give you the benefit of the doubt. They’re just going to shun you.

I’ll unblock you from my email for the day, if you want to reply, but I won’t write again. It is too stressful.

Good luck—

John

I sent this email to Ellis on March 31, 2014 at 9:13 AM:

Rhian:

I received your email last night.  I had intended to sleep on it before responding, but this email from John is absolutely nasty, judgmental, out of control, and not reflecting the truth.  I greatly appreciate your kind efforts to intercede.  You have been nothing less than reasonable, cordial, and fair-minded.  I wish to point out that I never wanted to hurt anybody.  But when John is this obsessed with smearing me, backbiting, and trying to paint me as a crackpot who is off his meds, it is abundantly clear that I cannot communicate with him in any way. 

I am sorry that you have had to contend with this situation, as you face a very difficult time in Buffalo.  Again, I offer my greatest hope that your mother will recover swiftly and my gratitude for your efforts under the circumstances. 

Sincerely,

Ed

What was happening in March 2014 was this: I was a frail man who didn’t know what to do with his life, a man who had tried to evolve as an artist, but who was contending with the demons of his own self-loathing — demons that I confessed to and later came to terms with with this December 19, 2015 essay. In November 2012, I had shuttered The Bat Segundo Show. I needed to move on. I wanted to do more important and more serious work. I wanted to do more positive work. Because I was tiring of some of the anger and the negativity that was coming out in my writing. I began work on a documentary on Gary Shteyngart’s blurbs in the next two months, a positive work celebrating the silliness of blurbs and Shteyngart’s sense of humor about this, which was uploaded to YouTube on January 3, 2013. Then, when I was morally appalled by the Sandy Hook massacre, I started a new podcast, Follow Your Ears, opening with a two part episode on guns. While I enjoyed making this new radio program, it also became clear that the show was taking far more time than Bat Segundo to make.

So I started a benign Indiegogo campaign on March 18, 2013 to walk across the nation and collect oral history and was deeply humiliated. I only raised $3,185 of the $25,000 that I needed for six months of support – this after I had conducted three trial walks ranging from 25 to 40 miles (complete with photographs, audio, and written reports) that took every bit of mental, emotional, and physical energy I had. My best and my most good faith and my most ambitious work was not enough. It was a failure and that failure felt like the worst thing that could happen to me at the time. And I hated myself for being a failure. I also hated that my partner at the time had to live with me like this: the pathetic man pushing forty who had nothing to contribute. For by then, she was the one supporting us, not me. And that was equally shameful and loathsome to me. The only thing I had left was the beginnings of a second novel (the first had been rightly rejected by agents who were nice enough to read it). But I also had something else.

I revived The Bat Segundo Show, airing the first new episode in May 2013, when it became clear that my Indiegogo campaign was a wash. I needed something that I could do for which I could save face. But even though my interviews were always impeccably conducted, this was a step backwards. And, as I toiled to finish my second novel, I became increasingly sensitive to criticism.

Is any of this forgivable? Why wasn’t I grateful for what I had? I had a kind and tremendously understanding partner and a great deal of time to work on whatever I wanted to (and I worked sixteen hour days). Who was I to believe that I was entitled to some reward for good work when many artists, far smarter, more brilliant, and decidedly more talented than me, go decades without a shred of recognition? Why didn’t I reach out to more people? Why was I so obsessed with going it alone? Why did I throw myself into my labor with the resolute work ethic of a Victorian sweathouse?

Is this the mark of some awful, self-absorbed person? Maybe. Can that person be reformed? Yes. I have seen people more troubled than I am go on to do incredible things. And if he is reformed, if he does recognize and address his own failings in the worst way possible, how much punishment is enough? I’ve asked myself these questions hundreds of times in the past two years as I’ve learned why it’s important to stay grateful and humble and to be as kind as you can. Clearly, for Kevin Nguyen and the 182 people who want me dead (who include writer Warren Ellis, Metafilter founder Matt Haughey, Los Angeles Times books editor Carolyn Kellogg, The Theory of Everything‘s Benjamen Walker (a merciless opportunist who exploited me when I was recovering in the winter of 2014, by repeatedly hectoring me by telephone, feigning friendship, pressuring me for an interview shortly after I was released from the hospital and then humiliating me when I didn’t have a cent to my name by trying to cram my story into his preordained thesis and by showing up with one cup of coffee, just for him, as I took him to the place on the bridge where I tried to kill myself, and then editing the segment to make me look as lousy as possible), B&N Review editor Bill Tipper, writer Kelly Link (who I never uttered an unkind word to and for whom I once helped break down the Small Beer booth at BookExpo America one time), Slack developer Garrett Miller, transgender comedian Avery Edison, New Republic culture editor Michelle Legro, Quartz editor Jean-Luc Bouchard, “perspective counselor” Leah Reich, and Verge entertainment editor Emily Yoshida), who favorited an anti-intellectual December 19, 2016 tweet claiming that something I wrote was “a nonsense Ed Champion complaint” without actually unpacking it, no amount of humiliation is enough. The only thing I can do now, after divulging the underlying facts and emotions of this episode, is to not do anything like this again, to now publicly apologize to Ethan Nosowosky, the people at Graywolf, and J. Robert Lennon – for this very lengthy document is the more definitive and truer assessment of my character. But I’m pretty sure it’s not enough. I’m convinced that, no matter how hard I am on myself here (and I am doing my best to show no mercy), I will never be viewed as a human being. I am fated to be condemned to a lifetime of walking death, for which the parties I’ve cited in this very long piece would happily provide the pistol so that I might blow my brains out on a livestream for the benefit of maximum lulz from the public, ideally broadcast during the holiday so that the family can enjoy this bloodbath with some egg nog and a nice hummus spread just before going to mass. We can even hire James Urbaniak to narrate it! “Will he kill himself or won’t he? Find out if Ed Champion will figure out how to unlock the safety after this message from Blue Apron! Be sure to use the hashtag #killyourselfmisogynistscum!” But, of course, I can’t let that happen. I do, in fact, want to live. And, as someone who enjoys throwing dinner parties and attending potlucks, I certainly don’t want a company that makes cooking too conformist to be involved with sponsoring my death.

This was never about Lennon’s family. The above evidence and the soul-searching that I’ve just excavated makes that clear. This was about the considerable hatred I felt for myself. Before the Emily Gould essay published on June 27, 2014 and my subsequent suicidal ideation, before my Twitter meltdown and my subsequent suicide attempt, before the nine month debasement after I lost everything, I already had plenty of shame and self-destruction that I was inflicting on myself. It turns out that I had to lose everything to find out who I really was and how I needed to live.

Is this candor enough to overturn my mistakes? Or will this document be inevitably compared to the very long and quite frightening manifestos written by Jared Lee Loughner or Elliot Rodger? I haven’t killed anyone, nor did I ever have the desire to kill anyone other than myself. Instead of confirming my absolute misogyny, the hope here is that I’ve addressed some of the modest bits of misogyny, mostly expressed through a few sentences in my essay on Emily Gould, that are perhaps ineluctably intertwined with the unfettered and uncontrolled anger that I’ve tried not to summon (although I haven’t been entirely successful; I can cite one incident from September 2015 in which I got very heartbroken and very angry and very drunk after learning that a writer who I was once friendly with and had nothing but respect for had compared me with a creepy professor sleeping with his students and I made a phone call that I don’t remember and, after the recent presidential election, I did leave an angry voicemail to an Apple employee who called my family “racist”).

Claim, ¶81: “In Champion’s email to Nguyen’s supervisor, he claims he’s trying to take the high road. ‘Then he threatens physical violence against me,’ Nguyen told me. ‘It’s a gem.’”

FALSE AND DEFAMATORY. Kevin Nguyen has a wild imagination. I never threatened physical violence against him. I didn’t want to confront him, possibly in person, with harsh invective. And I had hoped that one of his co-workers, a very kind and far from retaliatory man who I was friendly with and who I will not name, might be able to intervene and find a peaceful resolution. Presumably, Nguyen is too graceless or too stupid to understand how clearing up matters works.

To: ______________

From: Edward Champion

Date: November 15, 2013, 12:45 PM

Subject: Kevin Nguyen

____________:

I’m sorry to involve you on this, but I was hoping you could help me clear up a matter with this guy you work with at ____________ named Kevin Nguyen, who has been tweeting about me in a manner unbecoming of an ____________employee.  I’ve never met the guy.  But it all started with this tweet back in August 30th:

Kevin linked to a tweet of mine directed at Emily Mandel, but did not comprehend the satirical intent.  (I was rereading ULYSSES at the time and was inserting various false interpolations in the style of “Wandering Rocks.”  As any basic chemistry student can tell you, it is physically impossible to swallow a glass of cyanide, let alone pour cyanide into a glass.)  Kevin decided to smear me as “the worst person in publishing.”  I didn’t respond, in large part because I was curious to see if anybody would question the premise of swallowing a glass of cyanide.  (A few did off the grid.)  I also wanted my Twitter feed to become a riskier place and I was simultaneously testing out some ideas about passive-aggression and subtweets that I later incorporated into this Salon essay:

http://www.salon.com/2013/10/22/how_subtweets_are_ruining_twitter/

I ignored Kevin.  But he decided to keep at it, with this tweet from a few days ago:

I’m emailing you because I’m trying to take the high road here. If Kevin’s behavior continues, he is going to have face some very serious repercussions from me, likely face-to-face.  As you know, I’m not the type who takes who takes this cavalier smearing, which is patently false and arises out of circumstances that Kevin does not and refuses to comprehend, lightly.

So I was wondering if you — or, even better, one of his direct superiors — could have a talk with him and get him to stop.  It’s not worth my time to pursue this.  It’s not worth his time to perpetuate this nonsense.  And it’s not in anyone’s best interest to disseminate invective when it’s not predicated on fact.  (And if only my 2006 self heard my 2013 self typing that last sentence! Maturity or something close to it, who knew? Ha!)

Again, my apologies for bringing you into this.  I do hope that all is well.  Looking forward to more of your editorial efforts and, of course, your writing!

Thanks and all best,

Ed

To: Edward Champion

From: ______________

Date: November 18, 2013, 11:11 AM

Subject: Re: Kevin Nguyen

Hi Ed,

I would just let it slide — I’m sure Kevin will, too. We aren’t actually colleagues — I know him more from the writing world — but when I see him next I’ll talk to him.

To: ______________

From: Edward Champion

Date: November 18, 2013, 11:38 AM

Subject: Re: Kevin Nguyen

Thanks, ____. I appreciate any words you can offer.  You going to be at the National Book Awards?

All best,

Ed

I certainly didn’t want Nguyen to lose his job. I wanted his smearing to stop. I knew this contact to be a kind and reasonable man. But of course, this didn’t stop Nguyen from spreading the lie on September 26, 2014 that “Ed Champion tried to get me fired because I subtweeted him.”

Claim, ¶82: “I want to take a moment, here in the middle, to remind you that as Champion harassed, stalked, and threatened various members of the literary community…”

FALSE AND DEFAMATORY. A real journalist never has to remind her readers of the claims. But since McArdle has assembled more of a patchwork quilt of shoddy and unfounded allegations, she must drive home a thesis that is largely fallacious. So far in her essay, McArdle has failed to establish a clear case of stalking. I’ve debunked every single one of these claims except for four. Of the “threats,” one is a satirical tweet to Emily Mandel and another is a misunderstanding with Elyssa East (both of which I apologized for long before the publication of McArdle’s article and my crackup). The only real case that should trouble anybody, aside from Khakpour, is my reaction to Ethan Nosowosky and J. Robert Lennon, which we have already established never overtly involved revealing Lennon’s family secrets to his publisher.

I have owned up to the streaks of misogyny in the “Middling Millenals” essay. This leaves (so far) four outright factual errors, several cases of deliberately misleading the reader, insufficient psychoanalysis from a person who cannot count or spell the names of prominent online editors correctly, an overall failure to conduct due diligence, quotes from someone who was not privy to my professional life, a “witness” who reveals his partiality and his willingness to condemn quite easily, efforts to embarrass and humiliate, endless speculation from prominent authors without evidence, a thesis based on post hoc ergo propter hoc and inductive reasoning, defamatory accusations and suggestions of intent without evidence from (1) an aspiring media personality with 47,500 Twitter followers, (2) a book marketer, (3) a partial-minded publicist, (4) the head of a prominent independent publisher, and (5) a former literary critic who spews lies to sustain his precarious hold in the books world, insinuations that my work reflected my desire for violence from someone who has not read my novel, and three outright misunderstandings that have been forged into a conspiracy theory. And we are only halfway through the piece.

Claim, ¶83: “Fairly constant throughout his career, however, is the threat of physical violence, which seemed to hang about Champion like a shadow.”

FALSE, SPECULATIVE, DEFAMATORY. Once again, McArdle does not offer anything specific. She frames the threat against Khakpour on one night when I was having a nervous breakdown as indicative of a pattern that is reflected in all of my correspondence. This is just as defamatory as the claim in ¶49, where McArdle writes, “Nearly every person I spoke to had a story about Champion, how he threatened them by phone and by email, on Twitter and in DMs, in comment sections and on his own blog.…” I have rebutted all of these stories (the lies of Jessa Crispin, the unsubstantiated claims of Summer Smith, the gleeful misinterpretation of Kevin Nguyen, et al.) using the actual correspondence, the actual exchanges, and by corroborating the impression of my communications with other parties. The additional phrasing “which seem to hang about Champion like a shadow” suggests that threatening people was an inescapable part of my being, and is also defamatory.

An Interlude on the Subject of Violence and Satire

Is Jessa Crispin (or her critic J.C. Hallman, who parroted the same words to Crispin) “violent” for writing “I want to drown her in a bathtub” (arguably more severe than expressing a preposterously mock desire to put out a cigar in someone’s mouth)? Or what about Molly McArdle herself, who expressed a desire “to kill Thomas Jefferson” in order to change the course of history, suggested that Matt Mullin kill his doppelganger, and wanted to punch Jenn Northington’s ex-husband? By McArdle’s own standards, it sounds like she’s a violent monster with a “long history of physical threats” too.

Just as one would never accuse a standup comic who “killed” of harboring a murderous impulse, I don’t believe that we should hold the “homicidal” way in which we express certain frustrations about people up to such interpretive rigidities.

In May 2009, the writer Sherman Alexie got into trouble with the books world for saying that he wanted to hit a woman who was sitting on a plane with a Kindle. I recognized his remarks for the conversational theater that it was and made a point to contact him about it. Is John Lennon “threatening” when he sings “Well, I’d rather see you dead little girl / Than to be with another man / You better keep your head, little girl / or you won’t know who I am”? Or how about Brotha Lynch Hung when he raps “Cut niggas up, sector by sector / Next to her dead first cousin and nephew / Next to her head, bloody intestines / Next to her bed, other intestines”?

In a 2015 Supreme Court decision, Elonis vs. United States, the Court ruled in a 7-2 opinion that Anthony Elonis, in writing Facebook poetry shortly after a divorce (“There’s one way to love ya, but a thousand ways to kill ya / And I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess”) and serving prison time for it, did not commit an actual threat. The ACLU’s amicus brief in Elonis offers a very useful breakdown of the current free speech problem:

Online communications can easily become decontextualized by third parties. A speaker might send an email to one person, only to see that person forward the message to dozen of others or post it on a public mailing list. Or a speaker may post a comment on his own Facebook profile page, intending it only to be seen only by those friends he has allowed to view his page, and later find that one of those friends has taken a screen-capture of his comments and posted the image to an entirely different website. These actions, completely beyond the control of the speaker, place the speaker’s statements in front of audiences that the speaker had no expectation or intent to reach. Further, such decontextualization circumvents any effort by a speaker to provide additional context, outside the plain words of the statement, that would make the non-threatening intent of the statement clear. Different online communication fora will often develop their own conventions for expressing emotions and sarcasm.

It seems especially incumbent now, especially in an age where freedom of the press faces severe danger under a Trump administration, for any journalist examining a perceived “threat” to know precisely what its intent is before reporting on it. And as I have sufficiently established, McArdle (a) failed almost completely to get the words right, much less the context behind all this right and (b) failed to understand that sarcasm and satire have different conventions in different communities.

Nevertheless, in an age where cyberbullying and aggravated harassment is distressingly and increasingly more the norm, we should probably consider the context and the recipient whenever we do express violence in a verbal way. The point of satire is to expose human follies and vices through exaggeration. If there is an obsession or a relentlessness attached to satire directed at one person, especially satire that imparts violence in some way, then it seems fair and reasonable for the satirist to take some care to let the recipient in on the joke if it is misperceived.

In 2015, Jace Connors (aka Jan Rankowski) made a satirical YouTube video claiming to crash his car while he was on the way to Brianna Wu’s home. It caused Wu enough alarm for her to contact the authorities.

Wu, a prominent game developer, had every reason to fear for her life. She had been mercilessly targeted by 8chan, where users violated her privacy during the GamerGate campaign. She had received multiple rape and death threats. She was so frightened that, depending upon how many threats she would receive on any given day, this would determine whether or not she would sleep in her home or in a hotel. It is harrowing and despicable that any woman would fear for her life and have to adjust her daily existence this way.

Rankowski was not associated with GamerGate. He had uploaded videos of himself brandishing knives. And given Wu’s history, one must legitimately ask why she should be the subject of edgy satire. Is making fun of a frightened woman’s clear fear an act of cruelty? And if the violent impact of any expression is lessened or rendered more ridiculous – such as Bill Hicks’s famous bit asking advertisers to kill themselves – is the satire more acceptable?

Rankowski also suffered consequences for his videos, although hardly as severely as Wu. He was harassed and doxxed, forced to sign an agreement at work pledging not to make any further videos. “I didn’t take this situation seriously,” said Rankowskio to BuzzFeed, “but I see what it means now to be in the other person’s shoes. What her life must feel like. I have this newfound respect for the people who are having to deal with GamerGate, Brianna Wu and Anita [Sarkeesian].”

The question of where satire should function now is underscored, I think, by the following questions: (1) What is the nature of violence expressed in the satire? (2) Is the target of satire in a reasonable position to brace it? (3) Has the target of satire been made aware of the intent? And how close to the actual release of the satire was the underlying intent communicated? (4) How plausible is the violence?

In order for me to come to terms with a strain of writing and performance that has involved the satirical and comical expression of violence, one interpreted to be “threatening,” I am forced to examine the question of whether immediately informing the recipient of your intent and/or apologizing to the recipient actually lessens the perceived “threat” of the expression. I am forced to ask why so many people believed me to be violent when I was not a violent person.

At the time that I made jokes to Boris Kachka, Matt Zoller Seitz, and Mark Athitakis (see below), GamerGate did not exist. The ongoing harassment campaigns initiated bv trolls, as we now know and observe them, were inconceivable. Public shaming on Twitter, as documented by Jon Ronson, was in its infancy. I confined my communications to words and voicemail and I did inform Kachka and Seitz of my true intent. In the case of Mark Athitakis (or even the absurdity of the comments I was leaving at The Millions, although editor C. Max Magee comprehended the comic message), I probably should have contacted him at some point to inform him of my intent. Since these people did not contact me, I had no reason to believe that they were being interpreted any other way other than in a light context. Had I known that my words were harassing people – and in the case of Athitakis, I was not informed until July 15, 2011 — I would have stopped or let them in on the joke.

There’s likely to be a contingent of people reading this essay who may very well ask, “Well, what possessed your mind to spout such crazy talk in the first place?” My immediate answers are “I don’t know” and “Because it’s fun” and “Because when I expressed similar sentiments to my friends, they thought it was hilarious.” Humor, of course, is subjective. Certainly, the outrageous and angry humor in Paul Beatty’s The Sellout was potent enough to rightly earn that comic masterpiece the Booker Prize. I’d like to think that the literary world is intelligent enough to draw distinctions. I can only reply that I did not mean any harm by my comments and I felt that any reasonably intelligent mind would be able to suss out my theatrical hyperbole for what it was. It’s worth pointing out that C. Max Magee, editor of The Millions, did contact me on April 1, 2014, stating, “Can I get you to cut it out in the comments? I get your sense of humor and play and that you like to challenge people, and I think that’s great.” And I agreed to do so. We had a friendly exchange. (For more on what transpired with Magee, see ¶¶92-93.)

In the case of Ron Hogan, I was genuinely concerned about the situation because I feared for the safety of Sarah Weinman. In the case of Glenn Kenny, who continues to troll and obsessively delight in the misfortune of others, I was standing up to a bully who was disruptive to my work and that of others.

Claim, ¶90: “to punch blogger Ron Hogan in 2007”

MISINTERPRETATION; MY SIDE OF THE STORY. While working unhappily at Kinko’s in the 90’s, Ron Hogan spent a good deal of his spare time posting hateful messages under the pseudonym “Jesse Garon” — the misspelled name of Jesse Garron, Elvis’s twin brother who died at birth. “I’ve taken the Usenet by storm!” declared his website. Presumably, his hateful behavior came from a humiliating job.

Nasty messages under both “Ron Hogan” and “Jesse Garon” were both attributed to the email “grifter@primenet.com.” There were some 13,575 of them when I conducted a USENET search on April 5, 2009.

What were some of Garon’s stunts? Well, consider this testimony:

David joined in with Hogan (Garon) because he loves try to enlist people on his side, no matter how slimey. Hogan/Garon became infuriated when someone alluded to a bathroom tryst at the infamous party. The reference was so obscure no one would have ever guessed that anything had occurred if Hogan/Garon hadn’t made sure that everyone did find out. He attacked everyone who so much as liked the people he decided were his enemies, much like David did (and does). He even repeated [sic] taunted a woman, who had never done anything to him at all but was known to like the people he hated, for a miscarraige she had. He found out about it from searching dejanews (when it was called that) and finding posts from her to a support group and then he mercilessly taunted her from then on, although she had never done anything to him. And this was the person that David holds up as an innocent victim all the time. Ron/Jesse posted home addresses and did everything he could to destroy ASG for everyone there, attacking those involved and anyone who was friends with them no matter how they avoided the quarrel. All because of an obscure hint. Sure things escalated and the affair was spelled out eventually, but only because Garon/Hogan pushed the people involved into these actions that they are so vilified for.

Posting home addresses? Taunting women for their miscarriages? Humiliating someone by publicly mocking their efforts to seek support?

But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and the helpful archive of Google Groups provides us with ample and concrete proof that Hogan used USENET as a blunt tool for harassment.

Here’s Hogan (as Garon) on June 8, 1997, making threats towards Melody Clark:

And if you persist in this attitude, we’ll have to find your home address and phone number and post it, which is okay, since you’re not famous.

Here he is again, weeks later, on June 25, 1997:

On the other hand, if you’re a private citizen they happen to resent, then ASG has no problem posting your home address and telephone number or issuing threats of physical violence. But stars are special, unless of course they’re conservative.

On February 1, 1998, here’s Garon responding to the idea of posting another poster’s home address:

Perhaps you should. I certainly have no objections to you doing so, and I gather that Judith cares even less for Desiree than I do.

Here’s what Hogan had to say on October 30, 1997 to Melody Clark:

If Melody Clark wants to run around telling people that she has the FBI investigating me for kicking her ass in a flame war, then tells people who disagree with her that they must be part of the plot against her, if they aren’t actually me in disguise — you know she’s still trying to convince people I’m Stephen Wellington? –, well, I’m just going to have to tell people what a fucking loonytoon she is. Apparently she either took too many drugs in the 60s or isn’t taking enough in the 90s. Either way, this doesn’t end until she admits her mistakes and stifles herself.

If you don’t like that, Monysmom, fuck you. Nobody asked to hear your useless opinion in the first place.

There are countless other incidents, including the following:

In which “Jesse Garon” attempts spin control concerning the bathroom incident.

Or consider this thread, in which someone from alt.showbiz.gossip left the group and Hogan responded with the heartless “Actually, the problem is that Melody Clark seems to have had problems getting her daily dosage of Zoloft calibrated, and runs around telling perfect strangers that (1) the I does her favors and (2) if you don’t agree with Melody Clark, you must be Ron Hogan in disguise.”

The late Steve Gilliard, a man who wrote with conviction, was forced to declare:

It’s time you take your leave of ASG.

Besides your mysoginist [sic] treatment of ASG women, both online and in person, you waste bandwidth.

Look, it’s no big deal you can’t deal with real women, have a small penis or can’t tell the difference between civil behavior and acting like a lovesick spoiled child.

You have no social skills, OK. We can all deal with that. But, you simply can’t call women bitches, beat up on them online and expect to be treated like a human. Sorry.

All this tapered off around 1998 because of the bathroom incident.

I was aware of all this creepiness when, at a cocktail party hosted by St. Martin’s at ThrillerFest on the evening of July 13, 2007, Ron Hogan took a picture of Sarah Weinman and me without permission and then boasted to her about publicly posting it, knowing very well that she was sensitive about such matters. She was Jewish. I was not. This was a delicate matter for Weinman’s family that I went out of my way to respect. Weinman and I had been photographed before by others, including Gawker, but the photographers at least had the decency to ask us if we could be snapped by a camera. But Hogan captured us in a private moment at the corner of the room. Hogan was drunk and slurring his words, lumbering up and down on the floor. It is possible that Hogan’s drunkenness contributed to his insensitivity. As my own incident on September 25, 2014 with Porochista Khakpour confirmed (see Appendix A), alcohol and mental affliction are a toxic mix.

Seeing Hogan glowing about the photo and seeing how hurt Weinman was, and witnessing Hogan’s failure to back off as Weinman became more visibly bothered and as we were both telling him that this was not okay, and observing his unceasing desire to hurt a person I deeply cared about, I couldn’t stand seeing Weinman hurt and humiliated. I walked up to Hogan and said, “If you fucking do anything to fucking hurt Sarah, I will beat the fucking shit out of you. You think that what you did over there was cute? You are persona non grata. Again, if you do anything to hurt Sarah, I will kick your fucking ass. Do you understand?” Hogan never offered an apology. All he said was a sheepish “Yes.” Sarah and I then left the party.

Is it acceptable to confront a man with a clear documented history of terrorizing women on Usenet in this way? I can understand why I said what I did, even if I’m not entirely proud of it. But this was a defense against a man who I knew for a fact to have harassed women online for years and who I had also heard stories about on the party circuit, which included terrible anecdotes of Hogan groping women, that I have been unable to corroborate. I didn’t want him to harass Sarah. And since Hogan was unremitting with the photograph, I reacted with strong emotions.

I believed in 2009 and I believe now that everyone (including Ron Hogan) is worthy of forgiveness. But forgiveness is tough when the transgressor continues to commit the same behavior in the present. This is why I have done serious work on myself to ensure that any behavior I commit which might even be perceived as a threat isn’t a part of my existence. The tricky problem with this, of course, is that the goalposts change from person to person.

The next day, after contemplating what I said, I emailed Hogan and apologized, making an effort at diplomacy:

To: Ron Hogan
From: Edward Champion
Date: July 14, 2007 2:55 PM
Subject: Last night

Ron:

I speak only for myself here, but I feel that at least one of us should take the high road.

First off, I apologize for my words to you last night.  I am not fond of seeing people I deeply care about hurt — particularly when the subject of the offense tells you in explicit terms that what you are doing is wrong, and you continue to do it anyway, and when you act without so much as a shred of empathy or human decency, or even attempt to patch things up on the spot (which you could have easily done; I’m not unreasonable).  Nevertheless, my own reaction was not the ideal one.

I was prepared, after you acted as if I were an eidolon for the second time — when I was standing right next to Sarah (the first, of course, was at the Mediabistro party at BEA; I had thought that rudeness more or less rectified after our friendly voicemail exchange; I had intended to follow up with a meetup; alas, health and freelancing circumstances got in the way, if this somehow contributed to your most recent spate of rudeness) —  to simply go about my business with other folks who were friendlier.  Being a more or less affable fellow, this is generally what I do in such circumstances.

But (and this is important) without discounting my own behavior, please understand that you stepped over the line in a very big way.  You crossed into a territory of inconsiderate behavior that good people do not wander in if they are interested in keeping the peace, as you have regularly claimed — falsely, I must now presume.  I am wondering if some similar event transpired between you and Dave Itzkoff.  I am wondering if you truly comprehend how many people don’t care for the way you conduct yourself.  (And I should point out that I have often defended you to these naysayers.)  You took me aside one BEA ago to admonish me about this sort of behavior.  And now I am asking you to consider long and hard about some of the reasons you’re in the spot you’re in right now.  And I don’t just mean between you and me, or you and Sarah.

To speak directly to the situation between you and me, I don’t know what particular personal circumstances you are going through or what has warranted your ongoing passive-aggressiveness towards me — which I trace back to December.  Before your actions last night, I was open to resolving these circumstances in some peaceful manner. But now I feel that this is no longer possible.  Thus, I feel that it would be best if we simply not speak with each other or refer to each other again, thereby ensuring that we can inhabit the same settings, as will likely be the case as long as you and I are on the literary beat.

The upshot is that I cannot trust you in even the smallest sense.  Your inability to own up to your own actions, your failure to come to me directly with any problems you’ve had with me, your propensity for passive rapids and rivulets over active resolution, and, to be perfectly blunt, your emotional cowardice leaves me to believe that you and I simply aren’t meant to tango.

But, more than any pedantic quibbles that I have, you hurt someone who is very important to me.

I’ve done my best over the years to highlight your achievements, to draw people your way, to treat you seriously as an author by opening up a Segundo slot for you, and to funnel your name under the radar.  Under the present circumstances, this is no longer possible.

I find this all to be a great shame.  But as Andre Gide put it, “It is better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you are not.”  I am more forgiving than Gide.  I do not hate you, but since you cannot be true about who you are or what you feel towards me — well, Gide does have a point.

Sincerely,

Ed

Hogan chose not to reply. But he did reply to Weinman, accusing me of “morning after” behavior:

To: Sarah Weinman
From: Ron Hogan
Date: July 14, 2007, 11:56 AM
Subject: [None]

Just before the two of you left the party, Ed came back into the room and suggested to me that you had been upset by the incident with the photo. I had not sensed any genuine discomfort on your part, and I’m sure you know that I would not have run any photo of you without your approval, no matter who was in it, so I’m genuinely sorry for any distress you felt during that situation.

You should know, however, if Ed didn’t inform you of this himself, that in order to communicate what he perceived as your emotional state, he interrupted an informal interview with two writers and threatened  to “beat you to a fucking pulp” if I “ever pulled a stunt like that again.”

Setting aside the issue of your boyfriend threatening your friends–it is totally Not Cool for your boyfriend to threaten your professional colleagues with physical violence, no matter what your emotional state may have been. It is beyond comprehension that he would do so while your colleague is working, no matter how informal the setting, and in the presence of your industry peers. Obviously, I’m not going to hold Ed’s behavior against you, but if he ever pulls a stunt like that with Dylan or any of your other editors, the consequences for your career as well as his could be much worse than ensuring that two thriller writers now know Ed primarily as “Sarah’s psychotic boyfriend.”

I had hoped to be able to speak with you directly about this last night, and was concerned that I was not able to reach you until I realized what night it was. Please do touch base with me this weekend when you get a chance.

Yours,

Ron

I regrettably don’t know the identities of the two thriller writers who Hogan was talking with. And I really wish I could corroborate what happened with them. But I wince at the threatening tone that Hogan uses against Weinman, hoping with all my heart that my own communications have not been perceived the same way. But the one thing I am capable of doing, that Hogan is not, is sincerely apologizing when I do wrong and owning up to my bad behavior in the most forthright way I can.

Claim, ¶90: “to punch New York magazine writer Boris Kachka in 2008″

FALSE: Boris Kachka regularly harassed me. In addition to leaving vituperative comments on this website during 2009 (“Hey loser, did you even read the whole review?”), he also called me multiple times at insanely early hours (6:00 AM) on the morning of September 14, 2005. Since Kachka would not stop, it became necessary, at least to my mind at the time, to have a bit of fun with him. The one thing I did not do was threaten “to punch Boris Kachka.” However, I did leave a highly theatrical voicemail to him, which Kachka understood within hours of my message to be “an interesting and frighteningly convincing homage,” as is reflected in the below email exchange.

To: Edward Champion
From: Boris Kachka
Date: April 21, 2009, 4:26 PM
Subject: Threats of physical violence?

I think this proves my point–there is indeed something wrong with you that can’t be worked out no matter how many convoluted Thesauran passages you spew at the expense of others. Now you have to leave profanity-laced tirades on my voicemail. Stay classy, bud. My recommendation: start smoking again, or consider the patch.

I wasn’t being anonymous, you idiot. I just didn’t want your assinine [sic] website showing up in my Google alert. How many Borises who despise you are in regular contact? Wait, don’t answer that. You’ve posted on my stories, I’ve posted on yours. So I don’t see what there is to get huffy about. The only difference is I’ve only posted on yours when you’ve personally attacked either me or other people. But fine, let’s agree we’ll never be in touch in any form, ever. If I ever meet you, I won’t be throwing the first punch. I have other things to get excited about. That said, I’m sure you wouldn’t amount to much in a fair fight, in person, in print, or anywhere.
Now back to work…

To: Boris Kachka
From: Edward Champion
Date: April 21, 2009, 4:55 PM
Subject: Re: Threats of physical violence?

It doesn’t prove anything, except that you are so literal-minded that you did not hear the specific aural clues I placed in that voicemail. Play it again if you haven’t deleted it (I presume you have). You assume my tone to be rigid and sociopathic, but are you so certain? Do you truly know the full range of the emotional spectrum from the sad small sinecure from which you now sit? If you weren’t anonymous, why then did you not leave your last name or your URL at New York Magazine? (Oh, that’s right. There’s this thing called the yearly review, not to mention keylogged emails.) And why did you feel entitled to call me at 6:00 AM Pacific Time so many years ago? That was quite rude. You chastise me for resorting to ad hominem, and yet here you are with “idiot” in this email and “loser” in the comment. I have specific observations. You have hollow schoolyard nouns that mean nothing. All cowardice and hypocrisy. Just as you assume that writing a book about a publishing house that hardly anyone in Middle America knows or cares about — will it even sell a thousand? — represents some meaningful journalistic contribution. Oh, to be so enslaved to a day job you clearly despise and a medium you clearly loathe. To feel not one ounce of joy about books! No, you’re too uncomprehending for pity.

To: Edward Champion
From: Boris Kachka
Date: April 21, 2009, 5:16 PM
Subject: Re: Threats of physical violence?

Of course I didn’t delete it! It’s fucking hilarious! I’m playing this thing at parties, then for the authorities if a restraining order is deemed necessary.

Well, I hope whatever books you end up writing do fantastically (maybe you’ve written some already–I don’t know, and I don’t really give enough of a shit to find out. Because I hate books, they give me no joy!). I’m sorry to disappoint you by writing about an obscure topic. Here I thought I was at fault for only covering the big stuff–but there’s no pleasing you, no matter how hard I try!

To: Boris Kachka
From: Edward Champion
Date: April 21, 2009, 5:25 PM
Subject: Re: Threats of physical violence?

Well, let me know if you need a remix.  Not sure if you’ve heard this clip, but I am known to do mash-ups that turn out to be quite prescient months from now.

Anyway, Boris, you’re a funny guy.  I’ll make sure they name a drink after you at a bar in Peoria.

To: Edward Champion
From: Boris Kachka
Date: April 21, 2009, 5:38 PM
Subject: Re: Threats of physical violence?

Okay, you can’t expect me to pick that up from a simple string of profanity (though I’ll grant you “What don’t you fucking understand”). I don’t see the leap from “have you heard the Christian Bale rant” to “sad small sinecure,” and all the hating my life stuff, and it’s those little leaps of logic that concern me.  (I don’t know what it takes to make you believe that being paid decently to read books and see plays and do interviews is really not all that bad.) But I grant you, it was an interesting and frighteningly convincing homage…

Claim, ¶90: “to put a cigar out in critic Matt Zoller Seitz’s mouth in 2010”

FALSE, MISLEADING. On the evening of November 16, 2010, Matt Zoller Seitz tweeted a number of sentiments that I interpreted as comical tough guy trash talk.

seitza

I replied back with equally preposterous imagery. This was never a threat. I truly did not comprehend how any mind, especially one who had been been a Pulitzer finalist, would take the idea of “using a mouth as an ashtray” seriously, and was careful to preface my ridiculous description noting the “faux trash talk.”

seitzb

seitz1

seitz2

seitz3

But Matt Zoller Seitz is a violent and deeply angry man. Unlike me, he actually has inflicted violence and bullied upon the weak, openly seeking out violence. He wrote about this in an August 19, 2014 essay called “Different Rules Apply” that was published on rogerebert.com:

When I came out of the deli, this man said something about my shoes and my hat, and because I was looking for a reason to hit somebody, I put my grocery bags down and confronted him. We cursed at each other for a while, puffing up our chests and barking threats, and then he poked me in the chest with his index finger.  I knew the second he did it that he didn’t actually mean to touch me, that he was probably just jabbing at me for emphasis and misjudged the distance between us, because it wasn’t a hard impact and the contact seemed to surprise him, too. But I hit him in the face anyway. He stumbled backward, turned around in an attempt to regain his balance, tripped and fell face down on the sidewalk. I jumped on his back and put my forearm around his neck and locked it, to keep him from getting up again. It was a chokehold.

Seitz, in his own words, was “looking for a reason to hit somebody” and went out of his way to be violent towards another man. This is arguably a far worse transgression than anything I have ever done or am alleged to have done (where’s the McArdle hit piece on Seitz?), yet Seitz’s essay was highly commended upon its publication as “one of the best, most compelling essays I’ve read about white privilege written by a white man” and “the difference between knowing and understanding.” But has Seitz truly reformed? And does he really know and understand? He remained so much a bully, presumably “looking for a reason” to be angry, that, on the night of my suicidal ideation of June 26, 2014, when I was recovering and when even my most vociferous and nastiest critics had long stopped commenting upon my Emily Gould essay, sending me the following message to me at a very late hour threatening to beat me up and insisting that my very real emotional problems involved “pretending.”

Contact Form Submission
Date: June 27, 2014, 1:30 AM
From: Matt Zoller Seitz

Message:

Anytime, anyplace, Flatbush Eddie.

I am so confident in this that I promise not to put my hands up.

Stop pretending.

Ed

I decided at this point that the best thing to do was to own up through a peaceful and good faith resolution. What followed were more threats by Seitz.

To: Matt Zoller Seitz

From: Edward Champion

Date: July 1, 2014, 11:20 AM

Subject: Re: Contact Form Submission from matt zoller seitz

Dear Matt:

On November 16, 2010 — nearly four years ago — we had an exchange of tweets on a late night. I was drinking. I suspect you might have been too. I replied to your tweet with macho imagery intended to come across as preposterous, “I’ll be happy to use your mouth as an ashtray for my blunt to keep it real.” You responded with a series of tweets in which you took what was intended as a joke seriously:

There was also a comment I left at the L.A. Review of Books on a Calum Marsh piece, but it appears to have been scrubbed. So I can’t reference the context.

Because you have intermittently nettled at me ever since, and won’t let this go — even going to the trouble of threatening me with the below email on a night when I experienced a suicidal ideation, which I foolishly expressed online — I haven’t exactly felt inclined to apologize for what I tweeted. It is a low blow indeed to want to inflict violence upon a man who has hit his lowest point.

Nevertheless, I was the first to strike. More importantly, it was a low blow for me to ridicule your Salon memoir to your late wife. That was tremendously insensitive of me, even in the impulsive heat of the moment. Who the hell am I to tell anybody how to grieve? What kind of a prick does one have to be to dictate feeling like this?

I sincerely apologize to you for these tweets.

Please understand that I am working very hard right now — with current therapeutic help — to understand how my behavior sets people off. But I cannot issue empty apologies. Because that would satisfy neither of us. I need to understand what I have said and, more importantly, how the other person felt so that I truly feel the searing sting of my impact.

This may not be enough for you, but it’s the best I can do during this time of healing. I assure you that I’m far more effective than you can ever be in destroying myself.

Take care, thanks, and all best,

Ed

To: Edward Champion
From: Matt Zoller Seitz
Date: July 1, 2014, 2:12 PM
Subject: Re: Contact Form Submission from matt zoller seitz

Ed:

Does Ed Champion, writer, understand that words have meaning? The answer, apparently, is no. You thought you could insult a fellow writer who live less than a mile from you on social media and it would not provoke a response. Then you thought you could challenge me to a physical confrontation and I would not accept. You were wrong. Now you come at me with the contrived language of therapeutic apology, though filled with mealy mouthed excuses and passive-aggressive “but remember, you’re just as bad” formulations, and characterize the cigar line as “a joke.”

There are a great many people in this world who do not joke about violence. I am one of those people. I don’t make jokes about that. I respond to threats.

You are a bully. Since your most recent public meltdown I’ve been contacted by six people, two of whom I barely know, who have shared their own versions of being harassed, insulted, stalked and threatened by you, at home, at work, and on social media. One man was reduced to tears by your viciousness. A woman feared for her safety.

My response to bullying is simple: destroy the bully.

Don’t peddle your emotional manipulation here. That email was sent knowing nothing except that you’d melted down (again) and that, unbeknownst to me, you’d been insulting me in the comments thread if the LA Review if Books. I don’t know you. I know nothing of suicide threats or your private demons and I don’t care.

You insulted me, my work, and my marriage, publicly. You pissed on that which is sacred, and you did it knowingly and with glee. When I challenged you to put actions to your words, you hid for for years. And now I recently discovered, through that ridiculous comment on Marsh’s piece, that you have been representing your cowardice as mercy, the classic move of a bully who’s been called out.

Bottom line: I’ll give this “new Ed” a year and see how it goes. If you haven’t terrorized anyone I’ll accept an apology from you, provided it is free of emotional manipulation, equivocation, excuses, and thinly veiled critiques of me that you don’t currently have the moral standing to offer. Until then: don’t write me or contact me or tag me on Twitter or so much as say my name out loud. If you see me coming, cross the street. If you are ever in the same room with me, leave immediately. I consider you a violently disturbed person, and I will deal with you swiftly.

I am saving this email, so that in the event that I ever need to deal with your in person, there will be a record of my warning you exactly what would happen, and under what circumstances.

Matt

Seitz then followed up this violent message with the following two emails:

To: Edward Champion
From: Matt Zoller Seitz
Date: July 1, 2014, 2:49 PM
Subject: Re: Contact Form Submission from matt zoller seitz

You know what? On second thought, I’m sorry about everything, including my own anger management failures. I apologize unreservedly for anything I’ve said or done that might make your healing harder.

I’m in Dallas with my Dad, who just suffered a stroke and might not play piano again, so my own judgment is poor.

My Dad just said, apropos is nothing, “Some depressed people feel better when they act line assholes, but not me,” and of course I instantly wished I could take that email back.

I bet we’re the same person in a lot of ways.

I withdraw any and all promises, threats and bad vibrations.

Matt

Sent from my iPhone

To: Edward Champion
From: Matt Zoller Seitz
Date: July 1, 2014, 3:23 PM
Subject: Re: Contact Form Submission from matt zoller seitz

Also I’m using an iPhone in a hospital, so my typing sucks.

Sent from my iPhone

To: Matt Zoller Seitz
From: Edward Champion
Date: July 1, 2014, 2:52 PM
Subject: Re: Contact Form Submission from matt zoller seitz

Matt:

First and foremost, I’m really sorry to hear about your father. That can’t be an easy situation and, when it comes to ailing family, all emotions are on the table. I do wish you and your father the best. My grandmother has gone through several strokes. So I’m well aware of how they can change people and how important it is to encourage the people you love to live.

I know that words have meaning and that, very often, attempts to communicate sincerity come across as trite, especially through instantaneous mediums like Twitter. I have not stalked anyone. I have never been in a physical altercation with anyone. One can only come across as a defensive lout when there is a witchhunt. But I’ll just say that my partner and my friends can back me up on this, and I will leave it at that.

The suicidal ideation I experienced was real. It was certainly selfish, but it was too caught within the mesh of raw absolutist emotion to be consciously manipulative. I am seeing a therapist.

I don’t think you’re a bad guy. And I certainly haven’t felt any anger towards you. I recognize the same fierce desire to fight when provoked. But I think that the people who love us in the real world need both of us. So I’m going to sign off, wish you well and your father a speedy recovery, and again offer my sincere apologies for any impulsive sentiments that hurt you.

Thanks, take care, and all best,

Ed

Despite this good faith exchange, Seitz continued to express no empathy, even as he continued to spout forth the lie that I had threatened him, not pointing to the above exchange. He has shown a complete incapacity to not only present the facts as they actually happened, and the context that I carefully explicated to him directly at length, but to feel any compassion for a man who he continues to view as one of the greatest villains in the New York culture world. Matt Zoller Seitz is forgiven for actions far worse than mine. I am not. I still forgive the man, even though he threatened multiple times to fight me.

Claim, ¶90: “to promise ‘serious consequences’ to critic Glenn Kenny”

FALSE, MISLEADING. Glenn Kenny is an irascible and often compassionless critic whose Twitter feed is a one-man three-ring circus for vitriol and invective. He has sustained an indefatigible feud with Hollywood Elsewhere blogger Jeffrey Wells extending for years that can be beningly described as overzealous, nasty enough to mock Wells’s sex life and make other untoward suggestions that are decidedly below the belt. He is a self-professed troll who revels in violent imagery, such as presenting Mike Daisey’s scalp to Ira Glass, and telling Emily Gould, “Um, not to put too fine a point on it—and believe me, I know this is going to sound ‘mean,’ but there’s just no way around it—but could you do the rest of humanity the favor of, like, throwing yourself in front of a bus or something? Thanks.” (Kenny later apologized for this.) When the distinguished critic Scott Esposito attempted to inform Kenny that he had written for several esteemed places, Kenny ridiculed him and has gone on ridiculing him, as recently as November 20, 2016 – more than three years after the exchange. Kenny is a man who cannot let things go. And this behavior comes not from some hopped up kid trying to make a name for himself, but a man who is nearly sixty, one who is widely published. He is a prominent example of what I never want to become.

So when Kenny loudly badmouthed me in public, as I was attempting to cover the New York Film Festival, I sent him this email on September 22, 2011:

Glenn:

I’m writing to you with a calm and level head, so that I might give you the benefit of the doubt. This email is written in confidence. It is between us and not to be forwarded to anyone. And if I hear you talk of it, then I will consider it rescinding on good faith.

Here’s the deal: I’m trying to cover a film festival. And that means using those intervals between movies to compose my thoughts.

You are an ostensible professional, but in recent days you have demonstrated a full-fledged commitment to amateurism, speaking loudly of “Guys like Champion” while I was sitting a few rows away. And this behavior has to stop. You can have any thoughts and feelings you want about me. I don’t care. But I will not tolerate efforts to disrupt my work. I certainly would not do that to my worst enemy. If you talk about me in earshot (as you did a few days ago before the Nicholas Ray film) or you encourage a peer to read my tweets aloud while I’m working,then there WILL be serious consequences. If you do not say a word about me, then we can both go about our work and there is no need for either of us to speak with each other or mention each other ever again. As part of the deal, I will not mention you at all at Twitter. Nonoverlapping magisteria is the operative term.

I trust that this clears up this matter. And I trust that both of us can work the rest of the festival in a professional manner rather than give into petty personal grievances.

Thanks,

Ed

Kenny replied on September 22, 2011 at 9:37 AM:

To Edward Champion:

I apologize that my voice carried as it did. But as it happens the discussion to which you refer pertained to matters that, for better or worse, had become part of the public record. I suggest that if you don’t want your tweets or writing discussed, you do not tweet or write.

If I receive any further threats from you referring to “serious consequences” they shall be conveyed to parties appropriate for dealing with threats. For the nonce, though, I will conditionally accede to your request pertaining to confidentiality. I get one phone call that’s a hangup, however, and I’ll have to reconsider. You have crossed a line here, Ed. You can’t not be aware of that.

I HAVE shared your threats with a family member, for that person’s information in the event that anything happens to me. And that is our “deal.” And that is all.

Glenn Kenny

I replied on September 22, 2011 at 11:47 AM:

To Glenn Kenny:

Thank you for your apology. To reiterate: You can have any thoughts and feelings you want about me. I don’t care.

The issue here is behavior along the lines of a few days ago: “in earshot” harassment, which I will not tolerate from you or anybody else. You have just confessed that you knew I was there. Please know that I am fully aware of New York Penal Code Section 240, recent legislation passed in Albany, and that I am prepared to consult with third parties if there are any continued infractions on your part.

So long as you keep your mouth shut about me in my presence and as I am trying to work, we won’t have any problems. It’s as simple as that.

Sincerely,

Edward Champion

Kenny replied at 12:00 PM:

I did not confess that I knew you were present. I was both unaware of your presence AND unaware that you were in earshot. You have now gone and created a situation wherein I absolutely do not wish to be made aware of your presence in any way.

We have no “understanding” from hereon in. I consider you a threat to my personal safety going forward. I will take appropriate steps as I deem necessary.

Glenn Kenny

I replied on 12:28 PM:

To Glenn Kenny:

This correspondence, like all, is personal and confidential.

As a point of clarification, please be advised that I have not made any “threats” to you at all. These emails were sent to rectify a grievance in a civil and timely manner, and adhere to [sic] the standards of information gathering and dissemination followed by reasonable parties. I presented you with a solution and you have responded with false and defamatory assertions.

Please be advised that I will seek appropriate remedies in numerous venues if you continue to slander, libel, defame, and harass me, or if you proceed to mischaracterize my actions as “threats,” in any form and in any medium.
Sincerely,

Edward Champion

Kenny replied on 12:43 PM.

Let it go, Edward. You’re clearly enjoying this far too much. If you don’t believe that your emails are threatening, I’d be glad to take the matter up with Lincoln Center security (for starters) which I shall do if I receive one more email from you. Now. Do YOU understand? We’re done.

Kenny, an angry and dishonorable man responding to Champion, phrasing a request in aloof and bizarrely formal terms, was quite happy to twist a civil if oddly worded effort to clear up a grievance into a “threat,” did not respect the “personal and confidential” nature of this preposterous exchange and willfully violated it on September 30, 2014. It is unknown whether Kenny forwarded the part to McArdle where I clarified that I did not make any personal threats, but his accusation that I was “enjoying [Kenny’s harassment] far too much” speaks to his obsessive mind and his willingness to demonize, which is further buttressed by his own threats.

To his credit, Kenny did once ask for compassion for me. But it seems pretty evident that his obsessive streaks of behavior greatly outweigh whatever benevolence he may possess. Kenny is a man who, like Seitz, is deeply enraged, unwilling to own up to his own part in his many vituperative exchanges and unwilling to see how his own nasty remarks might be perceived as “threats” to the many people he has insulted over the course of many decades. Glenn Kenny, a man now wasting his time and talent on insignificant and often invented beefs through Twitter, is what happens when you live a life where you hold onto grudges and refuse to grow. I feel nothing but empathy for him and hope one day that he will stop being such a mean-spirited person.

Claim, ¶90: “His history of explicit physical threats is long: to punch blogger Ron Hogan in 2007, to punch New York magazine writer Boris Kachka in 2008, to put a cigar out in critic Matt Zoller Seitz’s mouth in 2010, to promise ‘serious consequences’ to critic Glenn Kenny and decapitation to blogger and critic Mark Athitakis in 2011. Athitakis was one of the very few people who notified the police of Champion’s threats. Champion took to his blog to mock Athitakis for overreacting to what was ‘really a bunch of silly performance art.’”

FALSE, MISLEADING, AND DEFAMATORY. I have already addressed the illusory “physical threats” issued to Kachka and Seitz and the justifiable defense against now documented predator Ron Hogan. I have done a website search of Athitakis’s blog in an attempt to determine when or if I (jocularly) called for Athitakis’s decapitation. Aside from the comment for which I’ve provided a screenshot below, I can find no trace of directly “calling” for Athitakis’s death. Here is an excerpt from a December 9, 2011 essay, “2011: The Year in Broken Windows,” in which I articulate the truth behind the Athitakis spat:

On the afternoon of July 19, 2011, I was contacted by a detective from the Cheverly Police Department. The detective was a nice and reasonable guy. He explained to me that blogger and critic Mark Athitakis was accusing me of harassment. What was so harassing? Several comments — all under my real name, really a bunch of silly performance art that I had been leaving intermittently over the last few months, nothing intended to harm and more than a bit absurdist — one evoking a fictitious Shakespeare quote reading “let’s kill the critics” and the like. I told the detective that these comments were clearly satirical. That a comment containing the lyrics for Rebecca Black’s “Friday” could not possibly be written with violence or threats in mind. The detective agreed that he and I both had better things to do with his time. He was merely checking up on the complaint that he received.

At no time did Mark ever contact me personally to (a) clarify the beef that he has with me, (b) state that I was harassing him. He did email me on July 14th, writing, “Your behavior is abusive, disrespectful, and unacceptable. It has to stop.” I emailed him a suggestion on how to clear things up, writing, “If you want to use this email as an opportunity, then I’m all ears.” He repeated the same line in another email on July 15th. I replied, “This comment is not abusive. Here are the facts: you have no sense of humor, you are disrespectful of my thoughts and voice, and you cannot take criticism.”

That was the last direct contact I had with Athitakis. I did not visit his site again until July 19, 2011, when I was attempting to explain the situation to the detective. So Athitakis must have filed the complaint with the Cheverly Police Department after this exchange.

Claim, ¶92-93: “In response to a March 31, 2014 post, Champion speculates on where he’ll be in a year. ‘I am certain that it will involve answering a judge in a courtroom as Lydia’s attorneys stare at my manacled bulk with an admixture of vengeance and purchased alacrity. It will be ‘a hell of a legacy.’’ ‘This comment made my mom call me with real concern,’ Kiesling tweeted on June 28, 2014. ‘I’ve fielded plenty of critical comments without wanting to pack it in; the ones he left during his feud with the Millions made me dread opening my email the day I posted something.’”

MISCHARACTERIZATION, MISINTERPRETATION, MISSING CONTEXT. In October 2011, after a Year in Reading entry on “overlooked books” proved very popular with the readers, I spent a great deal of time writing an essay for The Millions on 20th century critic Dwight Macdonald. I pulled the essay due to editorial differences I had with C. Max Magee, who wanted to play it safe and remove the political elements and unethical conflicts of interest that I had included, which I felt were essential to understanding Macdonald. (The essay can be read here.)

In hindsight, I’m sure Max meant well, but his remarks rubbed me the wrong way. I declined his subsequent request to participate in the Year in Reading series. Magee approached me again in May 2012 to write a polemical piece about science fiction and I was bothered by the request, given that I was asked again to neuter my voice, which seemed contrary to the whole purpose of writing an essay that would work people up..

I suppose all this rankled me because I really liked The Millions and still feel that it publishes quality essays. But I started a playful comic feud with The Millions shortly after this problematic exchange to protest The Millions‘s failure to publish dangerous viewpoints. I left deliberately strange and increasingly odd comments in response to threads, which were taken seriously by people who didn’t know the backstory or who didn’t like my writing. (Mark Sarvas, who was one of my most obsessive haters, as chronicled below in ¶161 and ¶166, left numerous comments under pseudonyms.) Amazingly, Magee let all these comments stand, which I think is a tribute to his tolerance for other viewpoints. This “feud” culminated in an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke on April 1, 2014, in which I left comments on nearly every single thread, which includes the comment cited by Lydia Kiesling (time stamp: April 1, 2014, 12:03 AM). Magee emailed me shortly afterwards asking for a truce, which I agreed to.

Had McArdle actually interviewed Magee (whose first initial she cannot even get right; see ¶53) or even paid attention to the timestamp, she might have learned about this vital comical context. I was not “speculating” on where I would be in a year. I was playing a character. I was not going after Kiesling’s family. Kiesling’s mother, who falsely interpreted it without seeing the time stamp, reacted to it.

Claim, ¶96: “’It’s 100 percent mental illness,’ Porochista Khakpour agreed, ‘and I write a million tweets about misogyny.’ She paused. (We were on the phone.) ‘But Ed actually,’ she said, ‘there’s definitely a sexually violent angle to how he attacked Emily [Gould] and I.’”

FALSE CHARACTERIZATION, SPECULATIVE, UNSUBSTANTIATED. I have addressed the irresponsible and problematic approach of asking a person who is not an expert in psychology to opine upon my mental health in ¶136. And I establish, in ¶4, that my Gould essay, which contained some subconscious misogynistic language that I now own up to, was more rooted in baptismal imagery rather than a desire to inflict sexual violence. As I establish in Appendix A, what sent me over the edge were the lies that Khakpour was disseminating about me. If there was a “sexual violent angle,” then it clearly did not have anything to do with inflicting sexual violence on either Gould or Khakpour, but, in the case of Khakpour, using a humiliating piece of information to retaliate against someone who humiliated me by leading a campaign on Twitter to destroy me with misinformation. But I was drunk and not in my right mind on the evening of September 25, 2014. This was wrong.

Claim, ¶99: “In his writing, Champion regularly drew from a deep well of sexual hyperbole. Though men were subject to this kind of attention, women—far more often—have been subjected to Champion’s explicit descriptions of their bodies and of sexual acts involving them.”

along with Claim, ¶100: Jessa Crispin quote: “There’s something sexual in the way that he imagines a woman and writes about her.”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY, UNSUBSTANTIATED, NO QUANTITATIVE MEASURE, REBUTTED BY EXAMPLE: This rebuttal is very much about reckoning with who I am, and who I am alleged to be. I do not believe that writing from a place of sexual hyperbole automatically makes one a misogynist. But to consider McArdle’s viewpoint, I have cited below every example from my blog of how I described a woman from January 1, 2014 through September 25, 2014 (the night of my crackup), under the theory that examining how a man (i.e., me) describes women in his worst state is probably the better benchmark for what kind of “misogynist” he happens to be. I have omitted the Gould essay (already covered above in ¶4) because this has already been trotted out as the casus belli against me. If the below results damn me, then I clearly have a problem that I need help with. But if they do not, then McArdle is clearly at fault here for (a) not producing evidence and (b) falsely smearing my character to feed a monstrous and libelous myth that has perpetuated to the present day.

The below table is also a solid overview that demonstrates what I was spending most of my time doing: reading and writing about books, conducting journalism, and thoughtfully interviewing authors.

January 14, 2014 Operating Instructions (Modern Library Nonfiction #99) “as brave women document their battles with cancer and callous columnists bully them for their candor” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “It is also true that she attracts a large reading audience, a sin as unpardonable to hoity-toity gasbags as a man of the hoi polloi leaving the toilet seat up. Much as the strengths of Jennifer Weiner’s fiction are often dwarfed by her quest for superfluous respect, Anne Lamott’s acumen for sculpting the familiar through smart and lively prose doesn’t always get the credit it deserves.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Yet one is fascinated not only by Lamott’s unshakable belief that she will remain a single parent for the rest of her natural life” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Compare Lamott and Dooce‘s Heather Armstrong (perhaps the best-known of the mommy bloggers) as they describe contending with a breast pump:” VERDICT: Not sexualized. This is an effort to show the influence of Lamott on mommy bloggers.
February 5, 2014 Diane Johnson (The Bat Segundo Show) “Diane Johnson is most recently the author of Flyover Lives.”

“Diane Johnson is best known for her comic novels centered around France”

VERDICT: Not sexualized.
February 13, 2014 Jenny Offill (The Bat Segundo Show) “Jenny Offill is most recently the author of Dept. of Speculation.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Anyway, so the wife — I’m going to call her “the wife” because she’s the unnamed protagonist of this novel — she has this very unusual relationship with John Keats.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.In fact, Offill even cracks a joke during this chat that McArdle would likely interpret as someone possessing “violent impulses.”

Offill: That’s why I’m holding the knife to your throat and making sure that you start to praise the book really soon. But I do think…

Correspondent: Can’t I just give you twenty dollars instead? Maybe a hundred?

Offill: Are you kidding? Yeah, when I’m done. I’ll take twenty dollars.

February 17, 2014 Sarah Churchwell (The Bat Segundo Show) “Sarah Churchwell is most recently the author of Careless People.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
February 24, 2014 RIP Harold Ramis “coaxed Imogene Coca to appear as Aunt Edna in National Lampoon’s Vacation, despite Coca’s reservations about the character being too vituperative.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
March 11, 2014 Julia Angwin (The Bat Segunod Show) “Julia Angwin is most recently the author of Dragnet Nation.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
March 13, 2014 Save NYPL: How an Organized Movement to Stop the Destruction of Libraries is Being Ignored by Mayor de Blasio “I was fond of the Raging Grannies. Despite the insinuated belligerence, the Raging Grannies were a calm and lively group of women with an affinity for music.” VERDICT: Not sexualized, although I suspect describing these women as “calm,” even if it is meant to clarify the Raging Grannies’ temperament in relation to their name, would likely cause McArdle to declare me a “sexist” for “being fond” of calm women.
March 19, 2014 Dorthe Nors, Save NYPL, and Blake Bailey (The Bat Segundo Show) “Dorthe Nors, who is most recently the author of Karate Chop.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Locking Liv Ullmann up. “ VERDICT: Not sexualized. If anything, this was a pushback against Ingmar Bergman locking Liv Ullmann up when they lived together.
March 20, 2014 Fred Phelps, Hateful Homophobic Monster, Dead at 84 “When Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, was asked how she felt about Phelps, she replied..” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
March 25, 2014 Dinaw Mengestu (The Bat Segundo Show) “It’s the first of your novels to feature the first-person perspective from a woman, “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “So Helen. It’s interesting that it takes a woman for you to say, ‘I’m an American too!’”

“She’s a young American. She’s still trying to figure out how people work and how relationships work and where one’s place is in the universe. And I’m wondering why a woman’s voice was the best way for you to really show to yourself and show to the world that you were, in fact, an American as well. “

VERDICT: Not sexualized. Why was I asking Mengestu about writing from a women’s perspective? Well, because I was trying to offer a counterpoint to women writers who are often asked if they can write from a male perspective.
April 23, 2014 What Will Become of Uninformed Muttonheads Who Promulgate Misinformation on Slate About Public Libraries? “he once compared Lena Dunham’s artistic growth with ‘a kid playing with this incredible new toy.’” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Again, I was pushing back against a sexist dismissal of a woman showrunner’s artistic growth.
    “To say that Agresta gets public libraries very wrong is an understatement. It is like saying that Brad Paisley does not understand racism or Jenny McCarthy does not understand science. “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
April 25, 2014 The Infinite Jest Review That Dave Eggers Doesn’t Want You to Read “this grown man remains a timid and irresponsible bumpkin who would rather pretend that his writing didn’t harm an innocent woman “” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Standing up for Kathy Zeitoun.
April 28, 2014 Yiyun Li (The Bat Segundo Show) “Yiyun Li is most recently the author of Kinder Than Solitude.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “All of the inferences she made are essentially thrown back into her face. And I think this novel dramatizes belief culture in very interesting ways.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
April 29, 2014 Evie Wyld (The Bat Segundo Show) “Evie Wyld is most recently the author of All the Birds, Singing.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “How much physical work have you done?” VERDICT: Not sexualized. An effort to ask Wyld about whether her compelling descriptions of physical exertion were rooted in experience.
May 13, 2014 Nikil Saval (The Bat Segundo Show) “Back in the late 1970s, Jane Fonda met Karen Nussbaum, a remarkable figure who organized women clerical workers in this Nine to Five movement. And Fonda and a screenwriter spent an entire evening talking with 40 office workers. “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
May 14, 2014 Porochista Khakpour (The Bat Segundo Show) “Porochista Khakpour is most recently the author of The Last Illusion.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Older women?” VERDICT: Not sexualized. A followup on Khakpour’s observation on older women complaining about animal abuse.
    “And here you are blonde as well.” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Remarking on why Khakpour is unexpectedly blonde. Or is that too image conscious for McArdle?
May 19, 2014 Will the Cecily McMillan Sentence Dampen Occupy’s Future? “Cecily McMillan, a young woman who had been found guilty of assaulting a police officer on the most draconian and iniquitous of pretexts,” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    ” She is, after all, on a leash. Can she still be a revolutionary?” VERDICT: Not sexualized. I suspect McArdle’s disturbed and wildly imaginative mind would interpret “on a leash” as something kinky, but it’s clear from the contex that I was reporting upon a revolutionary’s activities being needlessly constrained.
    “I chatted with an African-American woman who identified herself as Aanis. She was waiting for another case in another chamber. She wondered if this seemingly indomitable group would stand up for her the next time she was arrested. But most ignored her.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
May 21, 2014 Why Trigger Warnings Threaten Free Speech, Original Voices, and Thoughtful Discourse “Loverin cited her own discomfort sitting through a film, one which she has refused to identify, depicting sexual assault. “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Loverin has stated that she’s a survivor of sexual abuse, but she has not suffered from PTSD“ VERDICT: Not sexualized, unless quoting how a woman is bothered by sexual assault in a piece on trigger warnings counts as sexualization. Which was certainly not the point of this essay.
    “She is a second-year literature major who has become an unlikely figure in a debate that threatens to diminish the future of free speech.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “In her thoughtful volume A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit examines numerous instances of people reacting to disasters.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “features the professor pushing Joan Short, one of the Christian activists and the person operating the camera, after she attempts to retrieve her sign from an elevator” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “But if an artist or a professor has to consider the way her audience feels at all times, how can she be expected to pursue the truths of being alive?” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Use of “her” as default pronoun.
May 28, 2014 Paula Bomer (The Bat Segundo Show) “Paula Bomer is most recently the author of Inside Madeleine.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Many of your stories here feature side characters who have their skin pocked or acned or stretched or otherwise maimed in some sense…. How much do you need to know a character physically before knowing her internally? How does a damaged physical appearance help you find unexpected internal qualities about a character?” VERDICT: Not sexualized. This question does concentrate upon Bomer’s aesthetics and resulted in an unsurprisingly thoughtful answer from Bomer related to Flannery O’Connor. A fixation on how people look in fiction does not necessarily mean that the person observing this is sexualizing characters. In this case, I clearly wanted to get a sense of how Bomer imagined her internally persuasive characters.
    “I love the way you fixated on a physical part like that.” VERDICT: Not sexualized, although asking an author why she started a story with a back is undoubtedly going to summon the people who think I am overly fixated on the body (thus, a misogynist), even though I used this observation to point out how I connected the hardened back to a Dorothea Lange photo.
May 28, 2014 How BookExpo America Turned Into a Ponzi Scheme for Booksellers, Exhibitors, and Readers “The annoyingly peppy moderator Dominique Raccah kept referencing a “pre-interview” she conducted with the five participants, as if this atoned for the vapid predictability of her questions.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Tattered Cover owner Joyce Meksis was rightly cheered for the 500 to 600 events she organizes yearly.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
May 30, 2014 BookExpo 2014: The Future of Gender Balance and Why Conversations Need to Grow Up “the justifiable grandstanding is getting in the way of building on heartening truths: namely, that women have gained significant (and in many cases dominant) ground as authors, as editorial tastemakers, and as reviewers in the past year. “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Paul picked up a recent issue of the Review and shuffled through the table of contents.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Later in the panel, Paul was to correct Weiner, claiming that the Review had full editorial independence.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Because unlike Paul, Weiner was willing to use case examples to bookend her thorny ideological sentiments.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “An amental agent, whose superficial sensibilities are writ large in her most recent sale.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “And the Women’s Media Group suggested that I was oppressing the room with my loud voice:” VERDICT: Nothing was being sexualized. I asked an honest question about ambitious novels written by women, which people were offended by.
June 3, 2014 Casual Sexism: The Author Gender Breakdown for the New York Times Daily Reviewers   VERDICT: No women was sexualized during an attempt to study gender balance in the New York Times.
June 5, 2014 Joanna Rakoff (The Bat Segundo Show) “Joanna Rakoff is most recently the author of My Salinger Life.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
June 19, 2014 Mimi Pond (The Bat Segundo Show) “Mimi Pond is most recently the author of Over Easy.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
June 27, 2014 Amanda Vaill (The Bat Segundo Show) “Amanda Vaill is most recently the author of Hotel Florida.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Virginia Cowles, on the other hand, she headed into the Nationalist zone and not only covered it, but did so when a Nationalist staff officer said, ‘You probably shouldn’t be writing about this.’” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
July 4, 2014 The Liminal Landscape of Valeria Luiseli “the perspicacious young writer Valeria Luiselli” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “the slipstream flow of an unnamed woman who has worked as a translator” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
July 5, 2014 Robin Black’s Parable of the Old and the Young “Between Black’s novel and Clare Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, characters named Nora are swiftly becoming the literary answer to NORAD, revealing cold domestic wars nearly as underestimated in their body count as some matter in the Balkans that will be surely resolved by Christmas.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “The book’s 47-year-old protagonist, Augusta, is known as “Gus” by her husband Owen — a teacher and writer whose birthday is strongly insinuated as Bloomsday — and “Augie” by everyone else.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “We learn she is an artist of some kind, yet she is diffident about the projects she has painted. Augie is Jewish.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Augie is hiding something: not dirty laundry, but an inner turmoil.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “For Augie, making art becomes a strange, seemingly liberating narcotic, a curious, ego-flexing gauze to throw over the more important gaze you need to direct at the world.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Black introduces a new neighbor named Alison, who has temporarily rented an adjacent house after retreating from an abusive husband.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Laine, the daughter of the man she had an affair with, offering her pointers on how to be a painter and she hasn’t told her husband about this.” VERDICT: Not sexualized. The novel is, among other things, about having an affair. Should I elide this detail from my description because the Literary Scooby-Doo Squad finds even an oblique reference to adultery “sexual”?
    “Nora, Alison’s daughter, who becomes smitten with Owen and who understandably takes up more of Alison’s time.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
July 17, 2014 The Journalist and the Murderer (Modern Library Nonfiction #97) “Malcolm is really exploring how journalistic opportunity and impetuous judgment “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “found MacDonald’s wife Colette, and their two children, Kimberley and Kristen, all dead in their respective bedrooms” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “she has called upon all journalists to feel ‘some compunction about the exploitative character of the journalist-subject relationship,’ yet claims that her own separate lawsuit was not the driving force in the book’s afterword. Yet even Malcolm, a patient and painstaking practitioner,” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “even if she believes herself to be morally or factually in the clear, the journalist” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Note again my tendency to use “her” over “his” as the default pronoun.
    “she is struck by MacDonald’s physical grace as he breaks off pieces of tiny powdered sugar doughnuts” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “another excellent book which sets forth the inherent and surprisingly cyclical bias in writing about Sylvia Plath” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Malcolm confessed her own disappointment in how Ingrid Sischy failed to live up to her preconceptions as a bold and modern woman” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “lining the crisp and meticulous forms of her svelte and careful arguments” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “other middling men who are inexplicably intimidated by women who are smarter, have attempted to paint Malcolm as a hypocrite, an opportunist, and a self-loathing harpy of the first order.” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Protesting sexism.
    “Malcolm is not James Wolcott; she is considerably more thoughtful and interesting” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Malcolm is not as relentless as her generational peer Renata Adler, but she is just as refreshingly formidable. She is as thorough with her positions and almost as misunderstood. She has made many prominent enemies for her controversial positions” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Adler was ousted from The New Yorker, but Malcolm was not. In the last few years, both have rightfully found renewed attention for their years among a new generation.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “One of Morris’s documentary subjects, Joyce McKinney, claimed that she was tricked into giving an interview for what became Tabloid” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Brabantio over why he had eloped with the senator’s daughter Desdemona” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
July 22, 2014 On the Cowardice of Literary Omphalskepsis “attacked Roxane Gay” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “cited Gay’s Goodreads review of Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams (offering the additional claim that Gay never read the book), Gay’s response to an AWP questionnaire” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “This was not only disrespectful towards Gay and Taylor” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “or because of any allegiance I may have for Roxane Gay or Justin Taylor” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
July 23, 2014 The Human Value of Cultural Preservation “Petrusich is kind but keeps her distance. She does not encroach upon or judge her subjects, never painting them as freakish. She heeds their advice and is never condescending, even when they belch in her face.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Along the way, Petrusich is candid enough to contend with her own music listening issues as a young critic” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Petrusich levels, by her own admission, some shaky Asperger’s charges near the end of her book, but her vivacious reporting is better at answering these questions more than any armchair psychoanalysis.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “she is at a loss to pinpoint the methodology behind his passion VERDICT: Not sexualized.
July 24, 2014 Native Sons in Philadelphia: Why We Need More Novelists LIke Jean Love Cush “Malik’s mother, Janae, who works as a cafeteria worker, tries to rescue her son between work stints she is barely able to reduce to half-shifts. She cannot afford an attorney who can offer the appropriate defense on her meager salary.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “As Janae becomes a more uncomfortably visible participant in her son’s story, she comes to understand how the media has built a regressive belief culture on racial bias:” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
August 4, 2014 On Sworn Virgins and Albanian Tradition “a former woman who becomes the male household head in exchange for a vow of chastity, dressing as a man to earn the respect granted to a man” VERDICT: Not sexualized, although this is an essay on the “sworn virgins” of Albania and one must be clear in describing gender roles..
    “Sworn virgins, who are found mostly in northern Albania, act and carry on as men, but do not undergo any surgical change.”” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Declaration of facts.
    “The bride and the groom do not meet, with flirtation considered a boorish quality for a man. The bride sheds demonstrative tears when she leaves her family home and, as a wife, a woman is expected to perform quite a bit of labor, often more than the man.” VERDICT: Not sexualized. This is an anthropological description. Of course, those who wish to declare me a misogynist will use the description of gender to further declare me a repulsive oppressor of women.
    “Hana’s early years in America in 2001-2003 and her time in Albania, in which she becomes a sworn virgin (1986, 1996).” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “There is also the fragile health of Aunt Katrina” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “we see how swiftly Hana has changed, wondering if it will be easy for her to establish yet another new life. She must contend with shaving her legs and skirts that are too wide and operates having ‘no real experience of femininity,’ and she must figure out the new rules of the game before her job interview.” VERDICT: Not sexualized. This is an anthropological description. Of course, those who wish to declare me a misogynist will use the description of gender to further declare me a repulsive oppressor of women.
September 4, 2014 Battling the Digital Babysitter: The Case for Reading and Curiosity “he has gone out of his way to document his reading experiments with his daughter, Olive” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “through the statements of Lisa Guernsey,” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “If a parent is too beleaguered, perhaps she can find a bedtime solution with the physical book,” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Indeed, the pronoun choice I am fond of using is the female “her” rather than the male “his.”
    “Boog is extremely diligent in limiting his daughter’s digital usage” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Betty Hart and Todd Risley conducted a famous study” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Judy Blume’s oft-quoted suggestion that children should be allowed to read” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
September 9, 2014 Giving the Upscale Types the Graphic Novels They Want “Corrina Park, a young woman who works in an advertising agency. There is nothing interesting or unusual about her, unless you believe the occasional pilfering of a magazine from a convenience store to be jaw-dropping criminal mayhem.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Corrina is no different from millions of young bourgie aspirants whinging throughout North America.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
September 13, 2014 The Zombie Adulthood Ideal of A.O. Scott Was the choice of the accompanying photo featuring Scott with a leggy woman an attempt to sexualize her? It certainly wasn’t, but because McArdle is losing this quantitative count big time and I’m feeling generous, let’s say that it was and give her a complimentary “Sexualized.” VERDICT: Sexualized.
    “Rebecca Mead rightly called out Ira Glass…” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Ruth Graham telling Slate readers that they need to be ashamed of reading YA (a charge adeptly parried by the Washington Post‘s Alyssa Rosenberg) “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “He can commend Walter White on Breaking Bad as a seductive monster, but not examine Olivia Pope’s comparable qualities on Scandal.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Olivia Pope is arguably a “grown-up” character. Is it not fruitful to examine how Shonda Rhimes depicts adulthood in our culture?” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Olivia Pope is arguably a “grown-up” character. Is it not fruitful to examine how Shonda Rhimes depicts adulthood in our culture?” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
September 17, 2014 The Cultural Redemption of Stefan Zweig, Anthea Bell, and George Prochnik (The Bat Segundo Show) “Anthea Bell, one of the best translators working today.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Anthea Bell is Stefan Zweig’s most renowned translator” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “why Lotte Zweig wasn’t just a factotum, attempts to undermine Lotte’s legacy” VERDICT: Not sexualized. (An attempt, in fact, to stand up for Lotte Zweig.)
    “the rigidity reinforced by this woman who goes to a luxurious hotel, is confused with upper-class, who then has to deal with the fact that she can’t pass that way, and is then forced back into this terrible existence where she has to work in this post office.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “And not even her fault. Because her family actually got a bad rap and she fell into this rote impoverished kind of existence.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
September 25, 2014 Merrit Tierce (The Bat Segundo Show) “Merritt Tierce is most recently the author of Love Me Back, a lively and fierce debut novel about a young single mother who works as a waitress and disguises her pain and humiliation behind a smile.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Although in Marie’s case, it becomes just utterly painful to read and to see what she’s going through.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “where Marie subjects herself to self-harm, to cutting” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Marie’s life has been thrown into this degrading trajectory because, well, she’s been thrown into the wilderness without a handbook” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Marie has to learn much of this at the behest of men.” VERDICT: Awkwardly phrased to demonstrate patriarchy, but not sexualized.

In the nine month period before my mental breakdown, outside of the Emily Gould essay, I described various women 114 times — never in sexual terms, never in body-based or violent imagery (except when the conversation pertained to descrbing an anthropological phenomenon). This proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that both Crispin and McArdle are absolutely inaccurate in their assessment of me. It also concludes that I did not sexualize women in my writing. These two casual defamers are relentless and inveterate liars who don’t have the evidence to back up their claims. A further quantitative breakdown of my “obsession” with sex can be found at ¶103.

Claim, ¶101: “In 2004, he talked about what he’d do to a then 27-year-old assistant at a literary agency in exchange for a look at his manuscript. “We here at Return of the Reluctant have offered to give 24-7 cunnilingus to Kate Lee, if only she’d check out our wares. She’s declined. She doesn’t like our tongue action.”

TRUE, TENDENTIOUS, TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT: This is taken from a satirical May 26, 2004 post and omits the fact that the post was celebratory of another woman – namely, Maud Newton – who was experiencing anxiety at the time. The idea was to cheer her up. Is a jokey reference to cunnilingus enough to mitigate a non-sexual paean of encouragement to another? You make the call. The commenters on the post certainly didn’t think so. Nobody had complained about this post, more than a decade old, at all until McArdle did. We have already established in ¶99 that I was not in the habit of sexualizing women. McArdle’s deep dive excavation is, in short, a desperate effort to find some scrap of evidence that will fit into her smear campaign like a stray number in a Sudoku puzzle.

Claim, ¶102: “But Champion did not reserve this pattern of deeply inappropriate sexualization to the relatively unknown and powerless. He describes a 2008 video conversation between America’s only living Nobel Laureate in literature and the then-editor of the New York Times Book Review with an equally repugnant image. The interview was so fawning, Champion writes, Sam Tanenhaus’s ‘lips nearly lick[ed] Toni Morrison to a needlessly sensual premature death.’”

TRUE, TENDENTIOUS, TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT: McArdle, in her eagerness to depict me as a repulsive satyr, fails to detect the clear John Updike parody contained within the December 8, 2008 post in question. This was a critique of then-NYTBR editor Sam Tanenhaus’s tendency to favor review coverage of books published by Knopf and used sexual imagery (in large part because this was a stylistic response to Tanenhaus’s love for John Updike, who was infamous for injecting strange sexual imagery throughout his books). It not only contained an “update” appended a month later describing “the concerns satirized below” to alert readers that this was a joke, but it was also careful to point to a well-written review of a book more pertinent at the time: Alison Bechdel’s The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. . I selected an incredible book by a gay woman to serve as counterpart for Sam Tanenhaus’s white heteronormative male emphasis. It’s a judgment call whether my Updike parody was “repugnant.” Certainly many considered Updike’s prose repugnant. I guess this means that I parodied Updike accurately.

Claim, ¶103: “Fun fact: if you search Champion’s website for the word “cunnilingus,” Google returns 187 results—twelve pages worth.”

FALSE, INACCURATE, INAPPROPRIATE CONTEXT, LIBEL, DEFAMATION: Fun fact: if you search Gawker for “cunnilingus,” Google returns 586 results.

Fun fact: if you search Thought Catalog for “cunnilingus,” Google returns 577 results.

Fun fact: if you search HTML Giant for “cunnilingus,” Google returns 32 results. So perhaps they are more enlightened than me. But I have been around many years longer. So maybe not!

Fun fact: if you search my website for “cunnilingus,” Google returns 121 results.

(The numbers reported above were from searches conducted on December 19, 2016. It is possible that the results may differ by the time that you read this. I have provided links above so that you can corroborate the data yourself.)

Fun fact: I have conducted two independent searches on my site. I have used the word “cunnilingus” a grand total of – hold on to your hat! – twenty times (not counting this referential essay). And what was the most recent usage of “cunnilngus”? February 23, 2010, in an interview with Kevin Sampsell, used in an informative context. Since McArdle has not been able to use her “Sexualized” card at ¶99 and six years is too long time a time for any self-respecting writer to refrain from writing about cunnilingus, I shall now give McArdle a more explicit opportunity to impugn me for generosity towards the genitals. In our age of selfish men who, despite possessing a plethora of online information (and we ain’t talking porn) on how to make a woman happier, never consider how light darts and angled lashes of the tongue sustains some orgasmic gender balance in the sack, one might think that anyone writing about this regularly in some capacity might be a blessing.

Fun fact: Google counts my use of “cunnilingus” many times because many posts are counted multiple times because of all the keywords.

Fun fact: Molly McArdle, in addition to not being able to count, is terrible with data and likes to fudge her numbers so that she can smear and libel a writer who wasn’t any more celebratory of “cunnilingus” than any other oddball website operating at the time.

This is the linchpin for which McArdle paints me as “a disturbing picture of a man who habitually describes or refers to women in a sexual manner in decidedly nonsexual contexts. Readers: this is misogyny.”

Readers: This is libel. This is defamation. This is reckless and absolutely irresponsnible journalism. This is the very sophist claim that people have used to falsely sculpt my largely innocent musings as the ravings of a misogynist. This is the sham onus I appear fated to carry for the rest of my life.

Claim, ¶111: “In 2007, when Little, Brown publicity manager Shannon Browne wrote a blog post for the National Book Critics Circle website critical of blog culture, she received a pointed email from Champion. ‘I’ll be sure to remember these words the next time you’re seeking an outlet, either print or online, for a thoughtful interview with Michael Connelly,’ a novelist who Browne did publicity for.

MISINTERPRETATION: This was clearly an ironic and self-deprecatory joke. Michael Connelly, being a best-selling author, hardly needed my help with publicity.

Claim, ¶124-126: “By the time Ed left an abusive comment on Book Riot, where Schinsky is content director, in May 2014, ‘I had heard enough versions of this story to know it was likely that he would respond publicly and that I would hear from Sarah privately as a follow-up.’ ‘I notified my colleague (and boss) Jeff O’Neal that I had deleted a comment from Ed and that he should keep an eye out for an angry email about it. And that’s basically what happened—Ed and Sarah both responded to me publicly and in DMs.’ Weinman criticized O’Neal and Schinsky for their zero-tolerance policy for abusive comments. (Champion had called another commenter a ‘preposterous and illiterate child’ and an ‘unthinking oaf’ among other things.) ‘Have a nice time on Sanctimony Island,’ she tweeted. Must be lovely out there.’”

PARTIALLY FALSE, MISLEADING, INCOMPLETE, A PROMINENT EXAMPLE OF WILLFUL DISREGARD FOR THE TRUTH. First off, this was a public dispute and my Twitter records indicate that I never sent a DM to Schinsky. So this is an outright lie from Schinsky. Second, it is clear that McArdle saw the full exchange behind this incident, as she quotes from the conversation in which I confessed my pain and the “zero-tolerance” moderators at Book Riot deleted a comment in which I had said some very forthright things about experiencing abuse. This pivotal context, of course, was elided from McArdle’s article. Because the article’s intent, carried out executed with the idea of leaving out any information that would mitigate the gravity of an alarming charge, was always make to me look bad.

On May 25, 2014, a commenter at Book Riot – one who was completely ignorant of PTSD – denied that I had experienced abuse. So I left a comment drawing upon incredibly difficult emotions about a physically abusive incident in the past and it was deleted. The claim by Book Riot was that, in using relatively mild language like “preposterous and illiterate child” and “unthinking oaf” while attempting to summon the horrors of being beaten by my father, I was being abusive. I received an extremely nasty and insensitive corporate response. The especially condescending message from Jeff O’Neal (“Repost your story without insults if it is important to you”) enraged both Weinman and me, and the whole “if it is important to you” line was extraordinarily callous by just about any standard. For it remains my belief that, when people are hurt or abused, all emotions, provided that they aren’t outright lies or wanton defamation, must be expressed in order to aid the victim in coming to terms with the suffering and have a thoughtful discussion. O’Neal then trotted out my attempt to stand up to someone who had denied my experience, which was akin to someone denying the Holocaust, and this was used to bolster the fictitious “Ed Champion threatens everyone” template upheld by McArdle. But it is clear that my anger had more to do with someone deleting and denying and cheapening a painful personal story.

Claim, ¶135: “It is impossible to ignore the current that runs through this whole story—that Champion is not well. Again and again I heard code words about his mental health: eccentric, unstable, manic. I also heard more explicit descriptors: mental illness, crazy.”

UNSUBSTANTIATED, HEARSAY. It is also impossible to ignore the current of assumption and speculation that runs through McArdle’s bumbling drive-by shooting. What McArdle is doing here is no different from what Pentagon contractor Camille Chidiac did in 2012, smearing journalists Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker by casting aspersions on their character when they reported on “information operations” campaigns. It is no differernt from the Baja California smear campaign this year against reporter Navarro Bello that tried to undermine her work by revealing “disgraces” about her private life or the intricate fake news recently used to tar Anne Applebaum. As Applebaum wrote:

As I watched the story move around the Web, I saw how the worlds of fake websites and fake news exist to reinforce one another and give falsehood credence.

As I have already documented, descriptive adjectives such as “unhinged” used to uphold these falsehoods were gleefully lapped up not by right-wing news sites, but by people who actually read books.

Did the people who uttered “eccentric” (and I certainly am a bit eccentric, but that adjective, which my Random House Webster’s unabridged defines as “something that is unusual, peculiar, or odd” or “deviating from the recognized or customary character, practice, etc.” is certainly no bearing on a person’s mind) actually mean to use it to describe my mental health? We’ll never know. Because there are no actual sources cited. And, as I document at ¶160, McArdle’s sources often did not espouse the positions that she imputes to them.

Claim, ¶136: Porochista Khakpour: “People aren’t crazy the way Ed was crazy. This is absolutely a story of severe mental illness.”

PARTIAL, UNSUBSTANTIATED, OPINION FROM SOMEONE WHO IS NOT AN EXPERT. Should I call Porochista Khakpour an unstable person driven by severe mental illness because she has confessed to suicidal ideation? Or because she expressed depression and a desire for “someone in NYC to calmly walk me to a psychiatric ward” in a Facebook thread from June 2014?

I shouldn’t. Because I am not a psychiatrist. If you present a case in court, and you wish to establish the defendant as someone who is suffering from “severe mental illness,” then you need evidence and an expert witness who can affirm the claim. If you were an attorney who brought in some unqualified person — whether a writer like Khakpour operating from a place of vengenace or some rando clod at a bar — to opine upon the mental fitness of the defendant, the judge and jury would laugh you out of a courtroom.

There might have been a ripe opportunity for McArdle to frame her speculations about me by actually talking with a psychiatrist who specializes in how suicidal people express themselves on social media. Had I been a journailst writing this article about Champion’s social media outbursts, I would have contacted Dr. Jan Kalbitzer of the Charité-University Medicine Berlin to get a sense of whether social media can accurately predict a bipolar episode or asked Dr. Vasanth Kaliasam and Dr. Erin Samuels to offer thoughts on Champion based on their work looking into how social media can anticipate and prevent suicide. I would have asked these psychiatrists if one can sufficiently diagnose a person through social media. I probably would have chatted up this trio, who have some fascinating thoughts on how social media can be used to diagnose someone (and who offer the caveat that a diagnosis via Twitter is not entirely reliable). Such an emphasis would have spawned a far more thoughtful, more interesting, and more credible article, steering McArdle away from her thuggish prerigged thesis to find some compassion or understanding for her subject, considering the ways in which social media is both accurate and inaccurate in drawing conclusions. Lacking the chops to conduct such basic background work, McArdle instead asks the victim of my crackup, who is not a psychiatric expert, for her opinion on my mental health.

Claim, ¶142: Eric Rosenfield: “he had a tendency to see slights where they didn’t exist, to see someone bumping into him as a personal attack rather than an accident, for example.”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY. To the best of my knowledge, I have never expressed any sentiment to Eric Rosenfield in which I told him that a deliberate bump into me was a “personal attack.” Having experienced physical abuse in my childhood, I am certainly a little sensitive to touch. But as I have documented here, the people interviewed in this article have clearly gone out of their way to make up lies about me and to use this as the basis for personal attacks on my character.

INTERLUDE: I shall ignore many of the speculations on my character contained in ¶¶142-171, including the completely insensitive remarks from Emily Gould on suicide (who publicly longed for my death on Twitter before she deleted her tweet; I truly did want to die after losing everything).

Claim, ¶146: “ so many people have warned me away, expressed concern and shock, or (helpful but alarming) encouraged me to call the police if ever I felt threatened”

UNSUBSTANTIATED. Who are these people? On what basis would they make these base suggestions?

Claim, ¶152: “’The isolation of it,’ she said of being targeted by Champion. ‘The fact that nobody would talk about it in public. The way that there were real life repercussions to talking about it.’”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY, UNSUBSTANTIATED. We have already rebutted Crispin’s claims successfully at ¶¶51-52, Appendix B. But maybe there weren’t any “real life percussions” because I wasn’t actually a threat. (See ¶160 below.)

Claim, ¶154: Jennifer Weiner: “He was a scary abuser who was also a thoughtful, committed reader. What do you do with that?”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY, UNSUBSTANTIATED. Weiner continues with her unsubstantiated claims, carried over from ¶48, not citing a single example. Shall I accuse Weiner of trying to revive the Matamoros human sacrifice cult because someone told me that she’d visited South Padre Island and because some scabrous hack looking for dirt in the literary world wouldn’t stop pestering me?

Claim, ¶160: “Generally, people I spoke to who lived in New York City knew about Champion’s history of abusive, inappropriate behavior. ‘No one had to warn me about Ed,’ said essayist Sloane Crosley, who appeared on his podcast in 2008. ‘By the time I sat down to speak with him, I had been working in book PR for about seven years.’”

FALSE, QUOTE MANIPULATION, LEADING QUESTIONS, ASSUMPTIVE. In an email to me on November 24, 2015, Sloane Crosley told me that her statement had been willfully manipulated. “As I recall, the reporter asked if anyone had ‘warned’ me about you and I answered her. No one had to give me a heads up about anyone because I worked in book publishing, where everyone knows everyone. You have a sense of all these big personalities after a decade, good and bad, short and tall, everything in between. ‘Warn’ is obviously a loaded word and the better thing for me to do would to have just ignored her request.“ (See also ¶¶60-61 for a representative exemplar of my communications with publicists.) Crosley confirmed with me that, being a well-connected publicist, there was never any reason to fear me when she agreed to talk with me for The Bat Segundo Show. Because she knew everything I had done and everything that had been said about me, which did not include threats.

If McArdle phrased most, if not all, of her questions with such recklessly loaded verbs as “warn,” then this would account for the inaccurate, assumptive, and sensationalistic answers that did not reflect the truth. And speaking as someone who has conducted more than 900 interviews in his career, it is often important to be fairly open with your questioning at times, especially if you hope to get an accurate answer. In 1973, Richard J. Harris conducted an experiment which demonstrated that the wording of a question affected the answer. When his subjects were asked “How long was the movie?” his subjects responded with an average estimated running time of 130 minutes. When his subjects were asked “How short was the movie?” his subjects responded with an average of 100 minutes. There’s a big difference between asking, “Did anyone warn you about Ed Champion?” and “What were your feelings about Ed Champion?” One is a leading question that stacks the deck and misrepresents the subject’s position. The other allows the subject to accurately articulate how she feels.

Claim, ¶161: “I guessed—rightly as it turned out—that if I took away the oxygen and refused to engage with him, he would get bored and move on. That’s more or less precisely what happened.” Quote from Mark Sarvas.

FALSE, MISLEADING. For many years, Mark Sarvas was obsessed with me. To cite one of many examples, he became infuriated when I would not text him back within minutes (such as the fusillade of texts I received from him on January 5, 2009, to which I replied by email, “If you’re going to blow up at me over this, then, again, I think this says more about you than it does me. I’m going to chalk all this up to something else that is going on, something I’m happy to talk about with you. I’m not the one who wants to cut off the conduit here.  And I’m certainly not being the stubborn and inflexible one.  I suggest a cooling off period.  If you want to talk, I’m here.  If not, well then that’s your decision.”). I had to clean up many of his messes during the Litblog Co-Op days. I was never obsessed with him; it was quite the reverse, as the @drselfabuse Twitter feed that Sarvas co-created with Tod Goldberg demonstrated (chronicled further in ¶161).

When I sent him an email asking for a civil telephone conversation to resolve the @drselfabuse fiasco, Sarvas responded with the below email on August 13, 2009:

Gentleman? Civil? You are neither, not now, not ever.

How dare you write to me after your horrible, evil posts about me? You asshole. Go fuck yourself.

I apologize if I ever did anything to give you the impression I give the slightest shit about anything you say or do. I assure you I don’t.

I return to my policy of ignoring anything to do with Ed Champion and will not respond to anything else you say, however nasty, you evil goon. Harrass me [sic] and I will block your email and report you as a cyberstalker.  

Sent from my iPhone

Claim, ¶165: “When I saw he had interviewed Merritt Tierce [in September 2014]—how come nobody told her? What happened there? Reaching out to someone in retrospect saying ‘Ugh, I’m so sorry’—you know, no. That’s so pointless and useless. I think of them differently than I used to.” Emily Gould quote.

FALSE, MISLEADING. The Merritt Tierce podcast was not defamatory or threatening in any way. (The introduction pointed to 2 Broke Girls‘s sexism and celebrated Tierce’s novel as a corrective against this regressive portrait of women.) Merritt Tierce was not harassed, threatened, or bothered in any way. She agreed to talk with me of her own initiative. What precisely is the point of this quote other than to smear me? There are no examples taken from the podcast that could be used to demonstrate that I was a sinister misogynist interviewer.

Claim, ¶166: “Even giving him a taste of his own medicine—Mark Sarvas, with a partner, started an Ed Champion parody Twitter account, @drselfabuse, in 2009—failed to teach Champion a lesson. There was nothing you could do to make yourself safe, at least, not on an individual basis.”

drselfabusetitle

FALSE, MISLEADING. Mark Sarvas and Tod Goldberg created a vulgar feed that harassed me 24/7. It got very ugly. It often went above and beyond many of the claims that McArdle and company have made about me, as the below screenshots reveal:

drselfabuse1

drselfabuse2

drselfabuse3

drselfabuse4

Sarvas revived the @drselfabuse account in March 3. 2012. (I apologize for the poor quality of the screenshot. While I was able to save the tweets, I was not able to snag the accompanying graphics.)

drselfabuserenewed

I was more concerned for Sarvas’s well-being than anything else. I sent the following email to a friend of his, who shall remain nameless:

To: ____________

From: Edward Champion

Date: March 4, 2012, 6:58 AM

Subject: Mark Sarvas

____________:

I hope that all is well. I’m writing to you because I’m concerned that Mark Sarvas, who recently heeded your advice to join Twitter, may be in need of serious help.

You may be partially familiar with our previous history and our fallout, which arose after Mark harassed me through numerous text messages and emails. I’m not asking you to choose sides. This email is about Mark.

Mark and I had a lot of intense communication. But it got to the point where I was being used. I finally had enough and publicly called him out about his behavior in May 2009. I have not mentioned him since.

Shortly after my post, Mark started a number of pseudonymous Twitter accounts which attempted to defame me — for example, the @drselfabuse account in August 2009 (with a few others), the @AlfredYule account in April 2011, et al. He has left references to “champion” and “reluctant” in many of his Elegant Variation posts. (And, honestly, I’m not seeking this information out. Others have been sending along this stuff for years.) My response has been to ignore him and to never engage him publicly — a policy which I will adhere to, because attention is the very drug he craves.

I have learned this morning, however, that Mark has again been posting under the @drselfabuse handle. My present theory is that my recent appearance in the New Yorker may have tipped the balance. I realize that it has to be quite difficult for Mark right now — especially, because he doesn’t have a second novel and there have been radical changes to online literary discourse in the last three years. I also understand that there may be additional extenuating personal circumstances.

But I really think that Mark’s behavior needs to stop: not because I care about what he has to say, but because of the effect it’s clearly having on him. So I’m reaching out to you. Because I know he’ll listen to you.

When you’re bombarding Twitter with endless @ replies and you’re only getting a few polite responses back, that can’t be easy if you view online interactions as primary, rather than incidental elements of your life. The easiest solution for Mark would be to simply ignore the Troy Pattersons, the Bret Easton Ellises, and the Ed Champions of the world and get back to whatever is is he wants to do: literary criticism, fiction, whatever. That’s what well-adjusted and mentally healthy people do.

I realize that judging someone through online behavior is not always the truest indicator of where they’re at in the real world. But I’ve had my share of stalkers, and Mark’s obsessive behavior towards me has been going on for years. My hope is that you, as a friend, might be able to gently point this out to him. There’s no need to invoke this email at all, if you do decide to talk with him. And my apologies for getting you involved in something you may neither have the time nor the energy to pursue.

I’d be happy to speak about this by phone with you, if you require any further clarification or information. My number is (718) _____________ I’m sorry that it’s come to this. But I’d be plagued with considerable remorse if I didn’t do something to help someone who was clearly troubled.

Thanks again and all best,

Ed

Claim, ¶167: Quote from Khakpour. “These are only the stories we know. There might be double that number. This is a serious, dangerous situation.”

FALSE, MISLEADING, SPECULATIVE. This implies that I have been spending all of my time calculating how to hurt people. I was spending most of my time reading and writing.

Claim, ¶171: “I am more scared of silence than false or petty speech. At least, with the latter, we are talking.”

WILLFUL ADMISSION OF INCOMPETENCE. I can’t think of any self-respecting journalist who would willfully celebrate the possibility of being wrong like this. And yet, astonishingly, this fake news practitioner, who is as guilty and as invidious and as inveterate as any hate merchant toiling at Breitbart News, has parlayed this defamation into gigs at GQ, Travel + Leisure, and Nylon, leaving one to wonder if Jim Nelson, Nathan Lump, and Melissa Giannini actually care about journalistic integrity or maintaining quality control. Let me tell you about what’s truly scary and what’s really worth talking about.

When I was homeless, I discovered strands of invisibility and humiliation that I never could have envisaged when I was domiciled. I was debased, humiliated, further humiliated even after I had been thoroughly humiliated. Homelessness is a seemingly inescapable abyss that causes anyone locked within this sorrowful perdition to feel angry and shriek all manner of profanity and fierce words leagues beyond any of the remarks attributed to me. Even if you manage to escape this state, there is still a great deal of luck and chance involved. But grace is always the other side of rage. Grace is passion and the will to live applied in a more positive sense. This is something that our society does not observe because the homeless are always placed in an undignified and an invisible position.

We choose not to see them. We cavalierly cut benefits — such as Obama signing an $8.7 billion cut in food stamps in 2014 — and because this callous and inhumane bill is enacted with a pen stroke from a mighty hill, tall and far from the huddled throngs who long with every throe for a better life, we cannot acknowledge our potent culpability in this indignity. What nobody understands is that dignity is the way in which we transform rage into grace.

Now I am in another abyss. It is better than the pit I occupied before. But this one is more indomitable, more contingent upon other people granting me dignity. I have been fortunate enough to find some respect with the forty incredible actors who have graciously agreed to work with me on my audio drama project, somehow believing in my vision and tapping the heart that I poured into my stories in ways that exceeded my greatest expectations, and with those in the audio drama community (and a few literary people who took the trouble to meet me and communicate with me) who did not shut me out, knowing that the kind, smart (if a bit difficult), and humorous man is who I really am. But because McArdle’s article nests at the top of Google and because many of us only judge people by what Google says, I am fated to be hated and condemned. When I spend countless hours with potential new friends and we share a number of wonderful moments, and someone Googles my name, I cannot even convey the pain of seeing all that bonhomie painstakingly piled over a long period instantly demolished. How can I not be indignant?

When such compassionless industry people and willful liars as Emily Hughes, the social media person at Penguin Random House, accuse me of racism, misogyny, and homophobia that I have abundantly debunked above, how can I not be a little angry?

Calling Lisa Lucas a “cult leader” (not entirely true; I didn’t call her a cult leader, but used this as a metaphor in a December 15, 2016 email in which I wrote, “You’re as unifying as a tendentious cult leader who considers any view outside her own poison.”) or sending an email to Laura Olin with the subject header “Fuck you!” days after the 2016 presidential election (true) represents the rage I want to transform into grace. I had my anger mostly in check until Trump became President, where I was subsumed with a fury that I had not felt since my breakdown. I was reminded of the first abyss and began to see its connection to the second. The nation I loved was dying, careening towards an ineluctable despotism. But people like me are not allowed to be angry, are not allowed to be passionate, are not allowed to work through emotions, are not allowed to atone, are not allowed to apologize, and are not allowed to be themselves. In a 2003 essay, the great Tom Bissell described a pre-Twitter literary world that was decidedly friendlier than the junior high school online/real world amalgam that exists today. In addition to smartly observing that all literature is written by outsiders, he writes, “One explanation for why writers enjoy hanging around other writers is because writers often instantly forgive one another for being difficult or weird.” This is no longer the case. Among most people, I will always be known as the misogynist literary crank who terrorized women and tried to kill himself. There is no redemption. There is no forgiveness. There is no compassion. There certainly isn’t anyone considering the actual facts. There is no achievement or essay or positive gesture I can ever offer that will overturn my Google curse.

This lengthy rebuttal represents my efforts to finally put the many false claims that have been bandied about me to rest, to tell the truth (and if you’re looking for the real dirt, my real crime is contained within Appendix A), and to reveal the publishing world for what it is: a McCarthyist den where one’s every minor indiscretion is used in lieu of the actual work to impugn a voice who offers an opposing viewpoint, a place where one’s sins are neither forgiven nor forgotten years after a setback, a realm where insignificant and childish minds lash out at each other for small scraps, and where any perceived transgressor is considered the most vicious villain alive instead of a human being.

I have not suggested that women should be “grabbed by the pussy.” I have not sexually assaulted anyone like Devin Faraci. I have not tried to force my way into anyone’s bed like Stephen Elliott. These are thoughts that I have never had and actions that I have never committed. As my 2014 data breakdown in ¶99 clearly demonstrates, I have been a proponent of women writers, purely on the basis of their minds and their work, for more than a decade. My worst crime, memorialized below in Appendix A, was getting drunk and doing something stupid and unthinkable and wrong on Twitter.

All these lies, which grow with the ignoble horror of a flesh-eating virus to the present day, have made me very angry. I do not deny or doubt that. But if I’m to be judged, it must be on what I have actually done. But there’s no escaping the dreaded Google algorithim. Thankfully (and amazingly), I have not had any desire to kill myself. Some friends have described me as the strongest person they know. I don’t know who the hell they’re talking about.

I can’t control how people perceive me, much less the vile myths they wish to ascribe to me. Undoubtedly, most people reading this article, should they get this far, will have no compassion whatsoever for me, much less the other parties revealed here who are even more monstrous than I am, and will still despise me, even after everything I’ve meticulously documented and memorialized. And why not? In an era where fake news reigns over facts and the President-elect willfully tweets misinformation, it’s more comfortable, even among left-leaning literary types, to believe that someone’s an irredeemable monster rather than a human being. It’s more important to condemn a man rather than contemplate what he actually did or how he might contribute. It’s far easier and much more satisfying to wish that he did the world a favor and threw himself off a bridge. And should the sinister villain have the misfortune to live, it’s vital to ensure that he is considered purely as the awful troglodyte that the rumor mill claims him to be rather than the flawed and far from valueless human being he truly is.

But I’m going to forgive these people, including McArdle. And I’m hoping that you will too. It is Christmas Eve, after all. It is said that the purple saxifrage grows in the world’s roughest mountains, blowing bright purple stars from its stems with a sweet smell even while smothered by rocks and battered by the harshest snow. And if forgiveness is the fragrance from which a garden of crushed flowers might rise from the trampling boots of a brutish digital age, maybe all of us have a lot of potential blooming inside us, blooming that will not wait for a surefire spring to exude grace and plant a new field brimming with the beauty of inclusive dignity.

Appendix A: The Porochista Chronicles

SARAH: 98 was a bad year at that school. Either you were being bullied and picked on or you had to turn around and become the bully.

JULIA: Yeah. There was something toxic. Something dark.

SARAH: I think normal bullying, if there’s such a thing as normal bullying, you can identify the perpetrator and the victim and the, like, but it was just so pervasive.

JULIA: Do you remember the day that you realized I was gone?

SARAH: I don’t actually. No. I remember feeling like you were just sad all the time.

JULIA: I remember you being sad too.

SARAH: Yeah.

JULIA: One thing I remember, people would call you “Tubby Taba.”

SARAH: Doesn’t surprise me. Yeah. I remember a lot of stuff like that. I…I can’t help but think that our grade’s behavior had impacts on the staff.

JULIA: What do you mean?

SARAH: Well, actually, I assume — I’m assuming you knew this, but maybe you didn’t. But Miss McDonald killed herself the following year.

JULIA: [DEEP BREATH] Yeah.

NARRATOR: Miss McDonald was Julia’s favorite teacher. And Sarah’s too. Miss McDonald had gone to the school as a student and later returned to teach biology. She was the fun teacher. Who wore frog earrings.

JULIA: You think that there was something to do with what was happening in the school that caused her to, to commit suicide?

SARAH: I think it had a role in her, in her depression. She left right in the end of our good eight year. She…cause what I knew of her. And with her school, it was her passion. It was — she was an old girl. She was there teaching. She wanted to instill this love of animals and biology in all of us. And we were a bunch of brats. I remember there being a lot of associations between that pig that she had on top of her TV and her. A lot of comments about her weight. Yeah, it had an impact.

NARRATOR: Miss McDonald had been hospitalized over the summer. And when she came back in the fall, she was no longer the biology teacher, but a substitute. The last period of the last day she taught before she killed herself was a class called “Personal and Religious Communication.” The students considered the class a joke.

Heavyweight, “Julia”

On September 23, 2014, I left a lighthearted remark on a Facebook thread in relation to a Slate/Whiting Second Novel List celebrating second novels. Regrettably I don’t have a copy of the comment, but there was nothing ad hominem contained within it. I merely suggested that this would permit Dan Kois, the man behind the contest, to celebrate the overrated novelist Lev Grossman (who famously doesn’t list his first novel, Warp, in his credits). Khakpour deleted the comment and then immediately DMed me on Facebook. Here is the exchange:

porochista-facebookexchange

I sent the following email to Khakpour later that afternoon:

Porochista:

I apologize for my contributions to the fracas. It seems utterly stupid for the two of us to blow up some crossway above the River Kwai over what was essentially a miscommunication on both sides. What follows is an attempt to impart where I was coming from:

You deleted my comment because you placed what was essentially a modest spitball standing positively for literary standards on the same guttural level as the misogynistic venom from some #gamergate creep. Your followup IM to me was nebulous. So I clarified by replying, “Gee, thanks.” You then barraged me with more IMs, in which you ascribed some Machiavellian intent to my remarks (“you were commenting negatively so he’d see it”). If there was any subtext, and it seems especially odd to get into such an a posteriori speculation at this point but what the hell, it was my justifiable worry that you would fall into the same trap as Jennifer Weiner, Ruth Graham, Michelle Dean, and various other women who Kois has edited or distorted to look worse than they are for Slate clickbait. Kois is one of those guys who does “something nice” for someone, but who never defends or makes his writers or his purported inspirations look good — and he does so when these writers only collect a mere $300 per piece. He’s one of those despicable hucksters who deliberately promulgates anti-intellectual garbage, such as the “eating your cultural vegetables” nonsense, and actively contributes to a cultural landscape that is hostile to the kind of ambitious and quirky and alive literature that people like us tend to throw off our clothes for. Knowing that Slate has a certain reach, he pits certain literary crowds against each other — such as YA and literary or those who speak only English vs. those who speak multiple languages — because he knows that he can get clicks for fractious division. (Honestly, in thinking about this, he’s probably got a more devoted mission to making people feel upset than I do.) It’s true that he has used his position to foment lies and misinformation about what an “awful” person I am, much as Jessa Crispin did with her three-day torrent of false charges and defamation, but I am vocal about him, perhaps inordinately so, not because of his smears towards me, but because of his attempts to present himself as a legitimate house organ. (Ergo, “who cares if I despise the guy?” We all participate in threads in which people we don’t like show up. Can’t we have discussions anyway?) I will grant that I’m probably one of the only people considering the long-term ramifications of a Slate/Whiting admixture, but, for better or worse, I am fond of anticipating the chess game several moves ahead.

Which brings us back to idiocy, and why your deletion and ancillary charges greatly rankled me. Perhaps it’s overly idealistic of me to believe that those who read books or who are familiar with “stet” on a regular basis are capable of either accepting a comment, challenging a comment, ignoring a comment, or otherwise carrying on a conversation about what the Second Novel news means in various tones and forms. But I don’t think so. After trying to find out why I was so pissed off this morning, Sarah rightly reminded me that Facebook is not a medium where people can work out their differences, whether through IMs or threads. Like its more sinister cousin Twitter, Facebook turns even the finest minds into ravening monsters. The issue I have here is how you have tossed me into some inexplicable troglodyte category — namely, that I am some dilettante (probably) or arriviste (certainly not) whose every vaguely provocative sentence should be flensed from public consciousness and that your impression seems to be predicated on the summer’s events. Three months ago, I had one ideation that lasted five minutes. One. Five minutes. No more, no less. I never made any attempt to kill myself. I have learned in the subsequent months that this is more common than we care to know (and certainly Robin Williams’s suicide put much of this in perspective) and that there are plenty of people out there, people whom both of us know and love, who have it much worse than I ever did. We both know there’s no need for me to belabor the point, because I know you are doing far more research on this than me right now.

I sought therapy, have been writing my ass off (I have written, polished, and submitted four of the five short stories), and reclaimed my bridge walking through the 30 Days project — a kind of improvised exposure therapy — which was necessary after a tabloid jackal attempted to ascribe suicidal intent after the fact and made several false statements that were then mangled out of proportion by reporters from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and various parties with prominent influence. And even though we are both very aware by personal experience that there are people in the literary world who are far worse than me, I was still diagnosed by the armchair Scooby-Doo Squad as some lunatic stalker. The literary world regularly misreads my playfulness as baleful intent (much as you did this morning), overlooks the crux of an argument to find bits deemed misogyny (incidentally, the “slimy passage” line referred to a gender-neutral orifice), and has refused to rebut my argument at length. But then this world is composed of cutthroat jackals fighting for scraps. I’m not a depressive. I’m a very positive person, as I think the lion’s share of the essays and conversations I have published since (most of them women writers) demonstrate. PTSD is what I have, and, in lengthy and tearful talks with my therapist and through a great deal of painful off-the-grid writing, I have been forced to stare at the threads leading back to an especially traumatic and deeply hurtful childhood, likely one of the reasons I am five to ten years behind everybody else. But I persevere anyway, even when I had one agent last week mutter inappropriate comments about my appearance and blurt about having my manuscript in earshot of prominent publishing people at a bookstore. It was deeply humiliating. When I returned home, I withdrew my manuscript from her submission. I offer this as some context as to why I am especially touchy right now.

On that June day, I could handle the many beeps and blurps and buzzes of hate and death threats that spurted from my phone for nine hours — it was hardly anything compared to the hell that Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn later went through, but quite rough all the same. When so-called friends joined the unthinking mob (they had books to hawk and crowds to court, after all) and went out of their way to condemn me, that was especially hurtful and led me to consider that I should throw myself off a bridge. So at the risk of coming across as melodramatic (although I prefer to see it as the mark of a highly sensitive person; it comes out when people I am fond proceed to backstab me, defying the Wildean definition of a real friend), when you elided my comment and continued to refer to it as “nasty” and “hurtful” — as if I had made some unseemly rape joke about Dan Kois’s family — this felt to me like a very deep betrayal, especially because I spent quite a good deal of time persuading people to read and/or talk about THE LAST ILLUSION and ensuring that people were aware of your prestidigitation on several fronts. I realize in hindsight how my rapid unfurling of “co-opted” (without the Kois intelligence expressed above) caused you to push back, much as I pushed back at your suggestion that my playful comment at the behest of upholding standards was a conspiratorial attempt to make Kois upset. The Facebook IM kerplunks that boomed through my speakers this morning, which I attempted to ameliorate by suggesting we take this to email, were a reminder of that unpleasant day of relentlessness in June and your words reinforced this infuriating impression that any vague razz I offer is a hundred times worse than the laziest Internet troll. That weighted consideration deeply infuriates me and make me feel that I am being unduly penalized. Yet I cannot allow my writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, to be defined by anyone else but me. I blocked you because you would not let this go.

I’m about to abandon the Internet for a while and I’m leaving my phone at home, as there are a few meetings this afternoon and I really do need a break from brawls on the battlefield of blips and pixels. But I am genuinely contrite. In the past, we’ve moved past bigger flareups than this. It would be utterly foolish if both of us permitted something this small to get the better of us. On the other hand, we’re both passionate people. I’ve been as transparent as I can about my part in this exchange. So however you want to resolve this, I’m cool with it.

Thanks and all best,

Ed

There was then the below exchange:

From: Porochista Khakpour

Subject: Re: one last note:

To: Porochista Khakpour

Date: 9/23/2014 1:12 PM

Ed,

I’m sorry my deleting the comment upset you and I’m sorry I’ve upset you in any way.

I don’t believe I barraged you with comments or “I would not let things go.”. My reading of our exchange reveals the opposite actually. It is clear from the transcript you though I called you an idiot and that’s why you blocked me in the end. I did not. And I actually had to go. I was very pressed for time and had to get to a meeting.

I also did not intend to bring up your past or this summer at all. YOU did with “I didn’t see you defending people when they declared me misogynist.” So then I had no idea why you were making this about something bigger. My feeling is that because of what happened last summer, you think people are constantly thinking of that and reacting to it. It makes you defensive and paranoid. You’ve sent me a few emails since then that seem to imply you think I am mad at you or don’t like you or am not your friend. I think you’ve been overly concerned about it and that’s what happened here. 

I’m only explaining what I think here, because you spent many (more) words below explaining what you think happened, or I would have preferred not to reach out today at all.

From: Edward Champion

Subject: Re: one last note:

To: Porochista Khakpour

Date: 9/23/2014 5:22 PM

Porochista:

Just to be clear, I was never mad at you before this morning.  I don’t know where you’re getting this impression from.  I didn’t hold any negative feelings against you at all (although I was very pissed off at you this morning). Maybe this is something that should be clarified and resolved with a phone call or a coffee or something?  Let’s pick this up later. You have a big HarperPerennial shindig tonight and I’ve got a cold and a few deadlines to beat.

Take care and all best,

Ed

There was no response from Khakpour until September 25, 2014 at 12:55 PM:

khakpourtweet1

I emailed Khakpour at 5:54 PM that day. At this point, I was heavily drinking due to a series of attacks orchestrated that afternoon from Emily Gould in response to my Merritt Tierce interview, to which I tried to reply with grace:

I was in low spirits. My initial email to Khakpour was reasonable, but I overreacted in my subsequent reply:

From: Edward Champion
Subject: Shockingly nasty?
To: Porochista Khakpour
Date: 9/25/2014 5:54 PM

Saw your tweet.  I was not “shockingly nasty.”  We apologized to each other, but apparently you prefer to shit talk me rather than hash things out.

From: Porochista Khakpour
Subject: Re: Shockingly nasty?
To: Edward Champion
Date: 9/25/2014 8:35 PM

Yep, “FUCK OFF” is “shockingly nasty.” I’ve never said that to anyone. Plus the deleting and blocking. That’s not shit-talk. That’s reality.

From: Edward Champion
Subject: Re: Shockingly nasty?
To: Porochista Khakpour
Date: 9/25/2014 9:10 PM

Porochista: “Fuck our banks & our public transportation.”  (https://twitter.com/PKhakpour/status/506969004934561792)

Porochista: “and i’m fucking proud to be “NPR” by yr def. violently fuck up any racist, misogynist, homophobe that gets near me, the end” (https://twitter.com/PKhakpour/status/490217577725960192)

Porochista: “oh fuck that trash, I’M TALKING SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, DUDE (had to google that)” (https://twitter.com/PKhakpour/status/479827698248728576)

Porochista: “It’s not even food. It’s just . . . WHIMSY or some shit. Fuck yr whimsy.” (https://twitter.com/PKhakpour/status/477466513356505088)

Porochista: “also fuck Amazon while i’m at it, but that seems obvious” (https://twitter.com/PKhakpour/status/470256377211125760)

Porochista: “Men can all go to bro hell for all I care, but when you fuck with young women, I take that seriously.” (https://twitter.com/PKhakpour/status/469495249094864898)

That took all of 20 seconds, by the by. 

Don’t paint yourself as the virtuous sweetheart, you shockingly nasty, shit-talking hypocrite. 

I didn’t delete a goddam thing.  YOU did.  THAT’S reality.

Don’t contact me again.

Have a nice life.

From: Porochista Khakpour
Subject: Re: Shockingly nasty?
To: Edward Champion
Date: 9/25/2014 9:15 PM

Yeah there are many uses of the word “fuck.”  I don’t say it to my friends.

You are now being an embarrassing asshole, Ed. With some time I thought I could come around but now I can’t.

You did EVERYTHING. 

 I am not alone in the long list of people you have alienated and frankly many times I thought this day would come.

You are the one who FUCKING contacted me. You are delusional to think I contact you. Please stop.

From: Porochista Khakpour
Subject: Fwd: Shockingly nasty?
To: Sarah Weinman
Date: 9/25/2014 9:21 PM

I’m sorry, Sarah, I no longer can do this. I took your advice to not contact him and he contacted me repeatedly and I replied. Today was too much. He has been monitoring my twitter for a misstep and frankly “shockingly nasty” was the kindest way I could put his behavior.

Please know I adore you hugely. I have incredible respect for you. I just can’t do this anymore with him. He is abusive I am now seeing, to pretty much everyone–I just hope not you.

In the last month two agents and two editors–unrelated–came up to me to ask me about Ed, knowing I was his friend. I recommended him hugely, wrote them long emails, begged them to give him a chance (they had ALL read of the summer’s events, all it takes is a google) and one even said “It is not great for your rep to be associated with this crazy person.” And still I pushed for him.

But to see his hugely awful behavior, now firsthand–I’m done. I’m sorry. Because I think the world of you–and really did Ed as well. But I’m sorry he’s being so reckless. This is not good for him in the least. But he obviously knows this. I cannot do this many favors for someone, be such an intense ally, and see him crash and burn everything after he made a disgusting misstep on my FB page.

I am cc-ing because I have nothing to hide here. I don’t want to go behind his back. But I will go public with this if he keeps pressing and provoking me.

I totally understand if you choose not to talk to me again. But I will miss you and I am grateful for all your kindness.

thanks, P

Khakpour is establishing a narrative that is grossly out of proportion with the crime, a false narrative that was later lapped up by McArdle: the idea that I was abusive to everyone, that I am a “crazy person.” I also overreacted and was lubricated by drink. While I take full responsibility for the unspeakable mistake that followed, this exchange, and the events that followed, might have ended if Khakpour and I had talked it out over the phone like regular people. At this point, I had said nothing public about the exchange.

Minutes after this email to Weinman, at 9:35 PM (please note that the below screenshots were taken with Twitter reflecting Pacific time), before Weinman even had the time to compose a response, Khakpour took to Twitter to memorialize what an apparently horrid person I was:

porochistatweet2

And this was just the beginning of Khakpour’s distortions. A volley of tweets from Khakpour followed, suggesting that I was a stalker, that I was “abusive and cruel,” of committing “horrible things behind closed doors” when, in fact, the worst of my sins was telling Khakpour to “fuck off” and calling her a “shockingly nasty, shit-talking hypocrite.”

And when Khakpour wasn’t spinning an incredibly wrong and remarkably malicious portrait of me as a monster publicly, she was doing so privately in emails to Weinman, who was painfully fighting a two-front war involving my anguish at the response and the remarkable Twitter shitstorm that followed Khakpour’s baseless charges. Khakpour, claiming that Weinman had been cast under the spell of a “dangerous” man, was incapable of independent thought, and was not a strong woman. As someone who knew and lived with Weinman, I can assure you that this was absolutely wrong.

From: Porochista Khakpour

Subject: Re: Shockingly nasty?

To: Sarah Weinman

Date: 9/25/2014 10:28 PM

See, Sarah, at the end of the day we are all human. Ed is not the only person who gets to be human. He namecalls, harasses, insults. Ruins people’s days. For me, much of this week has dissolved in his manic hysteria. Never sees any real consequences. Helplessly, people can only tweet. This is the bare minimum I can do to stay sane. Sorry if that seems too much.

He crossed way too many lines over and over.

You have done way too many years of damage control.

I considered you a strong woman and even a feminist. But you seem to me like someone under siege.

I understand and except you not to be my friend. But I do feel for you. You are allying yourself with someone who has now proven—to all sorts of people, no patterns, many who were originally his friends (HOW CAN WE ALL BE WRONG??!)–that he is unstable to the point of dangerous.

I went public because I don’t trust him. He freaks me out. That is an acceptable reaction. And now I see why others have gone public.

I will be happy to talk to you again once he is not in your life. I do believe that day will come, but for now, I totally understand.

I am not in the mood to talk to anyone on the phone or spend another minute on this. Thanks, P

Upon seeing this email and all of these malicious tweets from someone who I had thought my friend in a highly drunken state, I cracked and, at 10:50 PM in a terrible act of self-destruction and harm that I have spent two years regretting and hating about myself and trying to come to terms with, one that I have already issued many apologies for, tweeted sentiments (now deleted) that were absolutely over the line, catered to the very charges that Khakpour had leveled at me, and that was the worst mistake of my life:

From: Porochista Khakpour

Subject: Re: Shockingly nasty?

To: Sarah Weinman

Date: 9/25/2014 11:06 PM

Okay, his fucking twitter went too far. There will be police and lawyers–I ACTUALLY HAVE EXPERIENCE WITH THAT. IF HE WANTS TO GO TO JAIL, CONTINUE. I KEEP ALL FILES TOO.

I confirmed with the New York Police Department that Khakpour did file a complaint on September 27, 2014. The investigation did not result in any criminal charges against me. It scarcely mattered. Because I was locked up in a psych ward, having lost everything I had: my home, my partner of nearly nine years, my reputation. I was homeless for nine months. I applied to nearly 200 positions and went on dozens of interviews before I landed the job I have now.

If McArdle’s article had focused on these facts, it would have been fair game. I have certainly received any number of unwanted and often hostile attentions from the media and from numerous parties pining for my demise by email.

It is not for me to answer whether any of the consequences for my abominable act, which I assure you were felt very painfully by me, are punitive enough. But it is clear that, more than two years later, I will only be known for what I did to Khakpour. In the eyes of the literary and media worlds, I am a savage mongrel who must be put out at the pound. I must continue to suffer because I am apparently beyond repair.

This is what social justice and reform is in the digital age. This is what “community” means in the literary world.

I have confessed to everything, which, notwithstanding the awful response to Khakpour, is far lesser than what McArdle has charged me with. I have been forced to expose what others have done in an attempt to provide the complete context. It is all a wretched and sad business, one predicated on a belief that people cannot change, because none of us can forgive or understand each other. We cannot believe in redemption. We cannot believe that we can learn from our mistakes. Not when there’s a vile social medium that allows us to channel our inner id without reflection. Believing the worst in people is the most seductive part of expressing yourself online.

Appendix B: The Jessa Crispin-Edward Champion Correspondence

Two reliable sources close to Crispin (I am protecting their anonymity because I don’t want them to experience any defamatory retaliation) informed me that she spent every day reading my website because she hated me that much. The following Google Instant Search screenshot, taken on August 6, 2014, is a good litmus test for how obsessive Crispin had become:

jessacrispingoogle

For a three day period, beginning on June 28, 2014 at 10:57 AM PST and concluding on July 1, 2014 at 9:20 PM PST, Crispin spent nearly her entire time on Twitter writing about me, expressing outrageous untruths about me over the course of three dozen tweets. The spurious charges included the false claims that I stalked John Freeman in 2007 and 2008, showing up “to every event John Freeman hosted for months, simply to intimidate and harass” (untrue: as established above in ¶77, I attended a grand total of four Freeman-moderated events, two while I was reporting on BookExpo America. Crispin’s charge is an insult to bona-fide stalking, such as the one that Helen DeWitt wrote about for the London Review of Books), that I had “threatened friends” (conveniently, no friends were named and no examples were tendered), that I had sent “threatening emails” to Crispin in 2003 (Crispin, of course, could not produce evidence and wrote “I really wish I had not deleted them”; unfortunately, for Crispin, I have the tendency to save everything and I have produced the entirety of our correspondence below, dating back to 2003: it is clear that there were no threats).

When Crispin posted her defamatory tweets, I emailed her for the first time in six years, respectfully asking her to remove her tweets and issue an apology. Instead, she continued to promulgate untruths.

Crispin’s reckless recalcitrance inspired Jane McGonigal to spread defamatory untruths about me, including such extravagant claims that that I had sent her an email that I was a “huge fan” and proceeded to threaten her. Not only have I never sent McGonigal a single email (I don’t even have her email address), but I have never claimed to be a fan of her work. All of my communications in setting up the interview were through the publicist. Here is the email that I sent the publicist on November 15, 2010:

Edward Champion here from The Bat Segundo Show here. Hope all is well.

I’m looking at 2011 guests right now, and I was wondering if you could direct me to the appropriate publicist who is handling REALITY IS BROKEN. I understand that Jane has an event at Fordham on 2/2/11, and this definitely sounds like the kind of book/guest I’d be interested in covering. Can you let me know about what the current galley situation is and so forth?

McGonigal also claimed that her publisher, The Penguin Press, had stopped sending me books or booking authors on my podcast, The Bat Segundo Show, because I had written a lengthy criticism of her book, Reality is Broken. This too was the kind of delusional thinking that runs counter to the facts. I worked closely with The Penguin Press, an imprint that I respect, to include many of their authors on Bat Segundo since, including Eric Schlosser (airdate: September 24, 2013), Sarah Churchwell (airdate: February 17, 2014), and Ben Tarnoff (airdate: April 22, 2014). The truth of the matter is that I had done a great deal of research on Reality is Broken for a Bat Segundo podcast, discovering many lines of specious reasoning and sloppy thinking. I had hoped to discuss this with McGonigal. I am a journalist, not a publicist. McGonigal canceled at the last minute. Because I had spent about ten hours of my life reading about gamification, it seemed profitable to reclaim some of my lost labor by writing about it. McGonigal took offense to her views being challenged, because she lacks the maturity to have a conversation with anyone isn’t a fawning sycophant. I publicly challenged her to a debate on Twitter in a playful nod. She blocked me. She continues to block nearly anyone who disagrees with her (including a few friends of mine). Years later, I continue to receive emails on the McGonigal essay from frustrated grad students contending with lackluster assigned reading, video game designers, and numerous other readers. Instead of responding to my essay, McGonigal has opted to invent libelous untruths. As we have seen, this is a common tactic in the literary world: if you can’t challenge someone on the facts, sketch a fresco of him as a monster.

But the true source of this defamation is Jessa Crispin, an incoherent fabulist who is so conspiratorial minded that she can’t even represent the facts in an essay for the L.A. Review of Books:

Every other issue of The Atlantic carries a cover story on the topic. “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” “The Confidence Gap.” “All the Single Ladies.” Then there are the checklists. How many women are heads of Fortune 500 companies? In Congress? Published at The New York Times? Is this men’s fault or women’s fault? And then the surveys. How many women in positions of power at work are married? Unmarried? Have children? Is having children hard? Do women feel conflicted? How is their work-life balance?

The Atlantic essays were respectively published in July/August 2012, April 14, 2014 and November 2011. Three articles published over a three year period do not constitute a cover story that appears “every other issue.” As the complete correspondence between Crispin and me will reveal, not only does Crispin take offense at anything that enrages her, but she maintains the kind of wild and childish grudges that have no clear source of enmity and no grounding in facts.

The first time that I ever contacted Crispin was over a Laura Miller review of Chuck Palahniuk’s Diary, which Crispin was condemning on her blog on August 2003. I had emailed Crispin because she claimed that Salon had not printed her letter to the editor.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 8/21/2003 11:19 AM
Subject: The Salon flap

Jessa:

Thanks for chronicling the Miller piece.

I’m going to write Salon a very thorough letter about the Miller piece, but I’m wondering if you can send me a copy of the letter that you sent Salon. I suspect there’s more going on here than we realize, but I’d like to be able to respond with as informed an opinion as I can muster.

Additionally, I would suggest that if you want to get Salon’s attention, flummox them with faxes or physical mail. Blockading their phone banks and offering some physical indication of their failure to conduct proper criticism is the way to draw attention to this issue. (Even if 500 people were to send them a letter, and they ended up in some physical form, that would certainly give them food for thought.)

Their fax numbers are:

San Francisco
(415) 645-9204

New York
(212) 905-6138

The addresses are:

Salon.com
22 4th Street, 16th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103

Salon.com
41 East 11th Street, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10003

Talbot’s in SF and I think Miller’s in New York. Might be wise to hit both of them by fax AND snailmail.

All the best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 8/21/2003 12:35 AM
Subject: Re: The Salon flap

I wish I had kept a copy of the letter I sent. Here’s basically what it said:

I know that Salon.com has a long history of giving review assignments to people you know will write negative reviews. Stephanie Zacharek seems to have a personal vendetta against Wes Anderson, which she chronicles through her reviews of his films and also brings up how much she hates him in reviews of other movies. And yet you continue to assign her to review his movies. Charles Taylor has written articles basically stating there hasn’t been a good movie released since 1960, and yet he continues to review films, spewing his bile all over my screen.

And now you give a Laura Miller the new Chuck Palahniuk book to review. She spends the first two paragraphs detailing how much she hates him. It almost appears to be personal. I mean, she uses the word “execrable.” And then someone decided to make this review the lead story. Isn’t there a war on? Wasn’t there something more important you should be covering?

Perhaps you were simply trying to get people’s attention. Writing a review like that certainly gets people’s attention, especially a cult writer like Palahniuk. You get word of mouth, your hits go up, and maybe some of those people nod in agreement and decide to stick around. Unfortunately, it makes you look like the crazy old man in his bathrobe, yelling at his college aged neighbors to, “Turn that noise down!” It’s a cheap way to get attention, and it makes me embarrassed to be a subscriber to your premium program.

Jessa Crispin
Bookslut.com

When you send me a copy of the letter you send them?

Jessa

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 8/21/2003 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: The Salon flap

Jessa:

Thanks for the summation. I think I should be able to proceed with it. But on the flip side, dear me, ALWAYS keep copies of your outgoing correspondence. You never know when you might need to clarify something you’ve said, particularly if, like me, you’ve done the human thing and come across as an idiot. 🙂

I’ll send you a copy of the letter either tonight or tomorrow. However, the more I think about this, the more I may want to frame this with the Believer essay, Orwell’s “Confessions of a Book Reviewer” and the larger problem of book criticism, and why Dale Peck’s New Republic piece (which I’ll have to nab from the library because it’s not online) works as a rant that attempts to clarify, while Miller’s piece is attention-seeking vitriol.

All the best,

Ed

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 8/21/2003 1:20 PM
Subject: An age-old dilemma

Jessa:

Speaking of this, have you checked out Jack Green’s “Fire the Bastards!”?

It goes out of its way to illustrate how inefficient the reviewers were for Gaddis’s “The Recognitions.”

Here’s the complete text:

http://www.nyx.net/~awestrop/ftb/ftb.htm

All the best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 8/21/2003 2:51 PM
Subject: Re: The Salon flap

I usually do keep copies of correspondence. But I’m running on very little sleep. Here’s a hot tip: Don’t ever take an important freelancing assignment that is due three days before you move across the country. It slipped my mind.

Your letter sounds very involved. Good luck with it. I look forward to reading it.

Jessa

[EDITORIAL NOTE: On an old blog (“Plight of the Reluctant”), I had written an open email to Steve Almond, published around mid-September 2003. Unfortunately, I lost many of the blog entries in a data crash and have not been able to find the specific blog entry referenced by Crispin in the following email.]

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 9/19/2003 3:22 PM
Subject: Your comments to Steve Almond

Honestly, I was surprised to read your e-mail to Steve. It seems much more hostile (over typography? Is it really worth getting pissed over?) than I would have expected from you.

Jessa

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/2/2003 1:17 PM
Subject: e-mail

I’m not ignoring your e-mail. I’m about six weeks behind on responding to anything that’s not from my writers. I just haven’t had time to write back to anybody.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/2/2003 1:17 PM
Subject: e-mail

I’m not ignoring your e-mail. I’m about six weeks behind on responding to anything that’s not from my writers. I just haven’t had time to write back to anybody.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/2/2003 1:17 PM
Subject: e-mail

I’m not ignoring your e-mail. I’m about six weeks behind on responding to anything that’s not from my writers. I just haven’t had time to write back to anybody.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/2/2003 1:19 PM
Subject: e-mail

I’m not ignoring your e-mail. I’m about six weeks behind on responding to anything that’s not from my writers. I just haven’t had time to write back to anybody.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/2/2003 1:20 PM
Subject: e-mail

I’m not ignoring your e-mail. I’m about six weeks behind on responding to anything that’s not from my writers. I just haven’t had time to write back to anybody.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/2/2003 1:26 PM
Subject: e-mail

I’m not ignoring your e-mail. I’m about six weeks behind on responding to anything that’s not from my writers. I just haven’t had time to write back to anybody.

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 12/2/2003 12:36 PM
Subject: Re: e-mail

Not sure if the five replies I received were automatic replies to all remaining emails in your inbox or not, but it’s all good. Just pointing out that unreasonable people like this Badgley dude sometimes need strange placating that you can never possible anticipate or predict (and of course the fact that HE’S not on the cover probably pisses him off to no end).

Plus, because of the lack of response, I wasn’t sure if you were still pissed about the Steve Almond thing (a truly idiotic move on my part).

Regardless of all this, congrats again on the Chi Reader cover. And to hell with this Badgley punk. The thing about the book world is that, for no apparent reason, sometimes columnists feel the need to make personal attacks. And they will continue to make personal attacks the higher you go.

(Witness the ridiculous Tom Wolfe-John Updike-John Irving thing from years ago, which had established authors calling ad hominen potshots, or, most recently, the King-Bloom thing, which was less about pointing out the strengths or the flaws of King than it was about Bloom making a ponderous appearance.)

Anyway, will stop blabbing. We cool.

All the best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/3/2003 10:59 AM
Subject: Re: e-mail

Sorry about the multiple mails. I was using webbased mail for a while, but it was deleting messages and sending multiple copies so I broke down and started downloading my mail at work. Tricky, but better than losing everything.

Did you see Neil Gaiman linked to the whole fiasco? Made me feel all warm inside.

Best,

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 12/3/2003 11:19 AM
Subject: Re: e-mail

Jessa:

Wow. Just read Gaiman’s entry. The man’s a class act. I don’t think you could ask for a better write-up than that.

On an altogether different note, have you considered having someone at Bookslut review the 3,299 page Vollmann treatise? (Assuming, of course, that someone would be that devoted or masochistic.) Perhaps you can get seven people to review one volume a piece and then attempt to explain how it might make sense as a whole.

All the best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/4/2003 7:19 AM
Subject: Re: e-mail

McSweeney’s won’t send us review books. Too small, I guess. Ironic, eh?

Anyway, ain’t no way in hell I’m paying $120 for one goddamn book.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/6/2003 10:40 AM
Subject: Re: e-mail

Hey, any idea why you were included on an invitation list for the Austin Chronicle holiday party? Or for that matter, why I was invited?

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 12/10/2003 10:11 AM
Subject: Re: e-mail

Jessa:

Was meaning to ask you this, but, outside of the Vollman suggestion, are you interested in more reviewers for Bookslut? I’d be happy to review “Everything and More” or “Wolves of the Calla” or the new Didion, or something else recent in my bookpile.

All the best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/11/2003 10:07 AM
Subject: Re: e-mail

I could use a review of Wolves of the Calla. Do you think you could have it to me by Dec 20? I prefer text attachments.

J

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 12/22/2003 1:02 PM
Subject: Re: Calla?

I sent you a “Wolves of the Calla” review on Sat. and you’ve been incognito via email, though posting public on your blog. I’m forced to conclude either (a) you’re swamped in holiday madness, (b) you didn’t receive it, or (c) you concluded that the review was terribly written, printed it off, tore into small bits, and burned it in a pyre with leftover copies of random mission statements. Vot hippent? 🙂

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/22/2003 2:00 PM
Subject: Re: Calla?

That would be a I’ll get around to it.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 1/6/2004 3:51 PM
Subject: calla

Just so you know, I really liked the review. It’s going up with only minor changes.

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 1/6/2004 3:52 PM
Subject: Re: calla

Okay. Cool beans. If you’re interested in any additional reviews (I spy with my eye the Clarke/Baxter collaboration, the new Leonard, the new Wolfe or Wolff — that is, “Wizard” (hubba hubba) or “Old School,” — a potentially disastrous run-in with the Tyler book, or “The Lady and the Unicorn” or that “Hunt Sisters” book with the little girl on the cover that’s everywhere all of a sudden), let me know.

All the best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 1/6/2004 4:51 PM
Subject: Re: calla

The only one I would say no to is Old School, as we’ve already reviewed it.

But I would run any of the others you mentioned.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 1/27/2004 2:18 PM
Subject: hunt

Sorry, I’ve had two author interviews over the past three days. It was pretty hectic. But I have some marks on this review. If you could get me draft 2 by this weekend, that would be great.

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 2/10/2004 5:27 PM
Subject: Ollie Ollie Tivoli

Has anyone called “Confessions of Max Tivoli?” If not, I can get you review late next week.

Hope you landed the job.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/11/2004 9:37 AM
Subject: RE: Ollie Ollie Tivoli

Already been claimed.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: On February 23, 2004, I made a modest joke about a feud between Jessa Crispin and Terry Teachout and received the following email. Note how Jessa implies that I “get snippy” when I don’t respond to her emails, inferring that my jokey blog post meant that I was upset at her. I wasn’t.]

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/24/2004 7:43 AM
Subject:

I know you get snippy when I don’t respond to each of your e-mails. (This is what, the second time?) But no hard feelings. I went after Terry Teachout because he’s smug and he tries to lay down too many laws on the blogging community. I don’t feel that “poaching” links is on par with plagiarism, which evidently many bloggers do.

Anyway, sorry there is animosity and you will not be submitting reviews anymore. I enjoyed having you write for me.

Best,

Jessa

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 2/24/2004 12:59 PM
Subject: Re:

Jessa:

I’m sick as a dog, but, I’m going to try and answer in brief:

1. As far as I know I haven’t nailed your photo to a dartboard (even with the antibiotics), nor have I removed a link to Bookslut or stopped regularly linking it or suggesting it as a place to go for people who need more. The major thing I took umbrage with was the blogosphere comment. And was surprised when Terry framed what I said as “shooting prisoner.” See most recent entry for attempt to clarify. As I said, this ain’t Manichean.

2. I’ll have to go into the link poaching argument and the e-mailing thing later. Because it’s a complex issue, and I would like to address it. But I’m trying to rest right now.

3. Never have I said that I would no longer write for Bookslut. I don’t know where you got this from. I queried you on the Max Tivoli thing. You told me someone had it. Was meaning to get back to you on that. But then I got sick. Plus, this big Fringe thing happened. Bad timing. So apologies on my front for being non-responsive on my score. Needless to say, no, there aren’t hard feelings here at all. Disagreement, yes. But nothing to start a Montague/Capulet style feud here (as I tried to preface my entry, contentiousness was last on my mind). And I can understand the immediate emotional impulse to respond to Teachout’s entry. I was definitely guided by a similar one when you singled out the blogosphere.

Anyway, hope this makes some sense. Will try to respond more completely when I’m feeling better.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/25/2004 12:00 PM
Subject: Re:

A little background on my reaction:

In the past week, I have gotten many e-mails accusing me of stealing their links. Without exception, they were from blogs I never read. Also, I dislike Terry Teachout. I dislike him a whole lot. His first round of “rules of blogging” got on my nerves, so his second round just infuriated me. His constant references to his favorite bloggers and then a snide comment about “other bloggers” that he disapproves of didn’t help.

And I don’t like the idea of a blogging community. I’m with Jennifer Howard on this one, and I still feel a bit bad about not supporting her while she was being ripped apart on blogs. (And not just because she’s my editor at the Washington Post and has twice thrown work my way.)

Anyway, get well. Rest, fluids, all that bullshit.

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 2/24/2004 12:59 PM
Subject: “Love Monkey” review

Jessa:

Will respond to other emails later. But, for now, here’s a review of “Love Monkey” for Bookslut if you’re interested.

All best,

Ed

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 2/26/2004 1:21 AM
Subject: Re:

Jessa:

Okay, getting better. Will address first part of these e-mails.

I didn’t realize the level of enmity you had for Terry. But as I said in previous post, it was a highly emotional response.

Personally, I think the whole link-poaching issue got a little out of hand — largely because there are limited newspapers and limited book coverage, and Google News ensures that almost everyone gets the same tags to cut and paste. However, stealing phrasing or context — that’s a whole different ball of wax. I think Ron over at Beatrice.com said it best: “My actual words, now those are copyrighted.” And since the context comes somewhere between the two extremes of something anybody can find and something an individual applies context to (itself, a form of discovery), when another person appears to abscond with that context without credit, the initial individual is probably going to feel a little miffed.

You may not realize this, but I’ve received several e-mails from people (well before and entirely independent of of the Terry post, along with a sizable deluge following my response to your post) who have been extremely upset by what I think is a perceived context theft. I’m not so much bothered by it, but I can certainly relate to their feeling. Particularly when it comes with a habit of not returning other people’s e-mails over issues that involve carrying out a favor, which, I’m sorry to say, is just plain rude. (What’s the old quote about wandering large in the world by saying something as small as a thank you. Can’t remember.)

The more aggravated ones react like Shawn Badgely. And this is the kind of thing you can either blatantly disagree with (and maintain enmity) or work something out by finding a microscopic, exceptionally minor compromise within yourself that will get you more respected and probably a lot farther. (Would Robert Redford or Lorne Michaels have been the butt of so many recent attacks if they hadn’t kept people waiting so long?)

The most immediate context analogy I can use is with roommates (or relationships). You wouldn’t walk into your roommate’s room, grab his keys, and run off with the car just for the hell of it. Just as you wouldn’t directly intervene in the way they come to a conclusion in their personal lives. You respect their space, their property, the way they make particular decisions, and their tics, and they (in turn) respect yours. You communicate when necessary. You put everything aside to make the living situation work, to talk things out, and to hash it out for the greater good of everybody.

The blogging community may not impress you as an idea, and you may not relish being part of something crudely formed or vague in nature (and there’s definitely a side argument over whether the blogging community is as abstract or as delineated as its supporters or naysayers expostulate). But I would contend that dismissing a community runs counter to the nature of blogging. Because blogging, and definitely topical blogging, is link-heavy, special interest based, and networked by nature. Other blogs support you, and you support them. Sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. And since in the book blog world, everyone here has the common goal of pursuing the same ideas and exposing the same stories, many of the lit bloggers go beyond the link, pull up their sleeves, and try to apply context. And in the process they recognize or refer to each other, the same way that decent people do in everyday life. (If Tommy is an expert at the cross-stitching club or Alexia has the killer chicken recipe and you publicize it among friends, well, the decent thing to do is to point to them.)

Of course, a community, not to be confused with an amorphous, all-agreeing gestalt, also means that you can have healthy disagreement and discussion on particular issues (such as the whole link poaching thing or the Naomi Wolf deconstructions). It doesn’t preclude you from agreeing with Jennifer Howard or Caitlan Flanagan or, in Terry’s case, trying to work out some ground rules for blogging, even if he may not realize that people have tried this before. But why not encourage others to take the positions you might completely oppose? To stand on one’s own feet without a sense of community is to turn one’s face to the development and open discussion of topics. To not acknowledge one’s peers and jump off the boat giddily with their context is to say no to a really nifty developmental valve. And I highly encourage you to reconsider. Because you may find discoveries higher than the Post in the process.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/26/2004 12:59 PM
Subject: Re: “Love Monkey” review

Sorry, but I’m really not interested in running a review of this book on the site. It’s not our thing.

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 2/26/2004 8:34 AM
Subject: Re: “Love Monkey” review

So callout titles before? Ollie ollie oxenfree? Current Bookslut policy? Let me know.

Thanks,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/26/2004 9:33 AM
Subject: Re: “Love Monkey” review

That’s usually best, if only to make sure that no one else is working on the same review.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/26/2004 2:25 PM
Subject: Re:

I think something needs to be explained. I’m not really like the other litbloggers. I don’t have a day job that I blog during, something to fill the time. Not anymore. My schedule is to only be on the computer from 8:30 to noon. Instead of just blogging during that time, I’m contacting publishers, editing, working on my website template, screwing with Movable Type, proofreading, writing for other publications, transcribing interviews, answering e-mails, etc. E-mails from readers and other bloggers are my lowest priority. I get a hell of a lot of e-mail in a day, and most of it cannot possibly be answered. If I’m not off the computer by noon, I get frustrated. Today I’m only on at one because I was gone all morning, and I’m about to go to the living room and finish my book. The rest of the day I come in every once and a while to see if something needs to be taken care of, and the rest of the time I’m reading. Because it’s the books I’m interested in, not the community. So I didn’t have time to read the entire story, yes, I took your word for what happened in it, didn’t notice it was tongue in cheek because I was busy. Yeah, it was dumb. No, I didn’t credit you because I’m not religious about that and I don’t see the overwhelming importance of it, and I wanted to finish up the day so I could get to reading. I didn’t reply to your e-mail because I didn’t see why it was important. You corrected me, I changed it, done.

The blog is my least favorite thing about Bookslut. But that’s where the links to Amazon mostly come from, which gives me enough money to keep the website running and that’s where the attention comes from. That’s the only reason I blog as much as I do. So I don’t see myself as a lit blogger. I’m much more interested in the other parts of Bookslut.

I’m also not interested in getting all personal on the blog. I don’t write about my life. I provide links. But the lit blogging “community” seems to be all about talking about “cute little Maud” or Terry Teachout’s penis or dishing on which blogger had lunch with Old Hag this week. It’s boring. I stopped reading several of the lit bloggers a while back once I realized they were never going to stop writing about their mothers. I don’t want to participate.

I have had links poached. Months and months ago, a story I dug out of the archives of a website and linked to showed up on both Maud and Old Hag without mentioning me. Neil Gaiman links to things he found on my website frequently. But I don’t approach them and say, “Hey, you got it off my site, link to me.” It’s not important to me. After all, all I did was do a goddamn Google search. If someone quoted an interview I did on Bookslut without credit, yeah, that would piss me off. But that’s about it.

This is the most tiresome conversation I’ve had in months. Feel free to respond, but don’t expect any more from me. I was never interested in this in the first place.

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 2/27/2004 12:16 PM
Subject: O’Hara

Jessa:

Would you be interested in a Yardleyesque John O’Hara retrospective? Not his New Yorker stories mind you, but covering his work as a novelist, the idiosynchracies of his prose, the way his characters carry burdens and interesting vicious qualities, and the like. Dealing primarily with “Appointment in Samarra,” “Butterfield 8,” and “Hope of Heaven.” If so, let me know. Turnaround time frame — probably week and a half.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/28/2004 12:136 PM
Subject: Re: O’Hara

Sounds good.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The following email was sent by Crispin in response to one of my blog posts, where I criticized Jennifer Howard, who wrote an article complaining about the blogosphere’s “coziness,” only to turn around and pimp her newspaper’s articles during a guest turn at Bookslut’s blog.]

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 3/2/2004 9:46 PM
Subject:

Lay off. Jesus. I asked Jennifer to guest blog because she’s a friend and she’s in the book business. She’s not a blogger.

First you attack Steve Almond for not putting enough lines between paragraphs, now you’re attacking Jennifer for referencing one of the most influential book reviews in American newspapers. Don’t you have anything better to do?

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 3/8/2004 1:19 PM
Subject: O’Hara update

Jessa:

To assist with your timing, which I don’t know, it’s coming your way by Wed., Thurs. at latest. Will involve both stories and novels, and eschew the “Art of Burning Bridges” angle to dwell on the work (which apparently even Ben Schwarz overlooked). Sorry it’s slightly later than I initially promised, but I had to mop up some other deadlines this weekend.

On a side note, has anyone claimed “The Epicure’s Lament?” If not, I’d be happy to cover that one for April.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 3/9/2004 5:06 PM
Subject: Re: O’Hara

Epicure is already being reviewed.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 3/9/2004 10:31 AM
Subject: Re: O’Hara

Please note that I’m withdrawing my planned O’Hara profile.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 3/9/2004 11:25 AM

Subject: Re: O’Hara

Okay. I’m beginning to think your taste in review books doesn’t really match up with what I want to cover on Bookslut, either. I read about the memoir you suggested, and it really doesn’t sound like the type of book Bookslut would review. I know we do the occasional fluff review, but your submissions have consistently been books I have no interest in for the site. I just don’t think you can be a regular reviewer.

Jessa

[EDITORIAL NOTE: After the above exchange, it did not seem especially fruitful to contact Crispin again. This did not stop her from contacting me over the years over any perceived slight. Nevertheless, I still wanted to give her a chance and, in the following excerpt of an email I sent to The Litblog Co-Op on November 18, 2004, I argued for Crispin to be approached and included in the group.]

From: Edward Champion
To: The Litblog Co-Op
Date: 11/18/2004 5:34 AM
Subject: [litblogs] Greetings and an opening sally

III. The Jessa Crispin/Michael Schaub Question

Many of you are aware of my position w/r/t Jessa Crispin. I have, in fact, had email discussions with her before hoping to argue for a sense of community rather than inexplicable anger and solipsism. To understate the obvious, they did not go well.

The fact of the matter is that Jessa doesn’t share the same values that we do. Or so our PERCEPTION would dictate.

However, I think it would be hypocritical NOT to invite her into this group. I like Michael Schaub too, but Bookslut’s editor is not Schaub. It’s Jessa Crispin. And like her or not, Jessa Crispin was one of the earliest voices in the litblog community.

If Jessa acts uncivil or spiteful, or exploits this group in some fashion, then a case can be made for her expulsion. But I truly think she deserves a chance here. It is important, I think, to include voices who are passionate about literature, but also varied voices (say, for example, a Banville hater or a Mitchell hater, both of whom I’d welcome). I’d hate to see a group that failed to include dissent amongst

its members. And for that reason alone, I think inviting Jessa (and perhaps Kevin of Collected Miscellany) would be an attempt to fulfill some of the unique possibilities envisioned.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: On April 19, 2005, I published a blog post pointing out that many of Bookslut’s contributors were unpaid and received the following email from Crispin, claiming that I had “talked shit.” As the correspondence (and the updated blog post) show, I updated the entry to reflect the correct information.]

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 4/19/2005 4:11 PM
Subject:

Oh, Ed. Talk shit about me if you like, but do some fact checking first. Bookslut pays for features. We don’t pay for reviews or columns as of yet, but we’ve been paying our writers for features since January.

Jessa

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 4/19/2005 6:02 PM
Subject: parasites

Jessa:

Thanks for letting me know about your payment procedure. I’ve updated the entry.

As for talking shit, this is yet another classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. You were the one who called us “parasites.” I felt the need to clarify what a parsite truly was.For what it’s worth, despite the fact that I’ve experienced nothing but solipsistic rage and rudeness from you, I was actually one of the people who suggested that you be included in the Litblog Co-Op. Not that I’d ever expect someone who has remained continually belligerent and dismissive of the litblog community to understand such a nuanced position.

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 4/19/2005 5:11 PM
Subject: Re: parasites

You should check the article again. I did not use the word “parasite,” Joy did, which you seem not to have noticed. And that whole conversation was taken way out of context anyway, not that I’m apologizing for it.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 4/19/2005 5:35 PM
Subject: Re: parasites

A journalist’s job is to provide context. And I’d be inclined to agree with you, IF your direct quote hadn’t undermined the efforts of other people, while showing a wholesale lack of knowledge about the many reviews, interviews, and essays that are posted on a DAILY basis completely independent of media outlets.

And, if you don’t apologize for how you were portrayed, then you’re essentially agreeing with the statement.

If you’re “hurt” about why you weren’t included in the LBC, then you might want to examine the lacuna curves regularly spouting out of your mouth. Your continued lack of consideration for others often leaves them disinclined to consider you. That’s hardly rocket science. Without naming anybody specific, there’s more people than you think who you’ve brushed the wrong way.

But then that’s not really my problem, is it?

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 4/19/2005
Subject: Re: parasites

I never said I was hurt. Just to clear that up.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 6/6/2005 5:26 AM
Subject: your mention of sacco

It’s not actually a follow up. It’s two previously comic book-length pieces being collected. The material is actually about ten years old, I believe. (One of them was the first Sacco I ever read.)

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 6/6/2005 10:12 AM
Subject: Re: your mention of sacco

Jessa:

Thanks. I will correct this. The laptop was dying and I was speeding through my transcribing. Did you see the new small-sized reissues of Sin City (with the oversized slip covers) at the Dark Horse booth? The guy there, Lee, was very cool and I passed along your name to him.

Good meeting you.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 6/6/2005 11:22 AM
Subject: Re: your mention of sacco

I did see them, but I was disappointed in the quality. The binding is cheap, and the size makes some of the lettering difficult to read. But they are pretty from the outside, that’s for sure. I had the distinct pleasure of having drinks with Frank Miller during BEA, which was definitely the highlight for me.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 6/6/2005 12:07 PM
Subject: Re: your mention of sacco

And by the way, if you want to know what happened at the 18 to 34 year old panel, let me know. It was a freak show of the highest order from the very beginning stages to the minute where I lost the will to live. Since you keep referencing it, I thought you might be interested.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 6/7/2005 10:12 AM
Subject: Re: your mention of sacco

Jessa:

Big-time backlog here. So pardon my inconsistent response time.

You lost the will to live? Jesus, what happened at the panel? People kept mentioning it to me. What I heard from several folks was that there was a good deal of craziness from the crowd concerning what 18-34 readers actually read. In fact, at the Generation Text panel, pretty much all of the editors there were adamant about not confining their work to just 18-34 titles, but, rather interestingly, they were very willing to dismiss this audience altogether with moribund ideas about video games and the like.

The big impression I got out of BEA (and this is reflected in one of my longass posts) is that the publishers not only don’t know anything about their audiences, but that they seem to view the 18-34 label as some all-encompassing demographic, rather than an interesting confluence of MANY types of people (there are your genre geeks, there are those who could care less about reading, there are those who are staunchly literary, et al.). It really is all about the mass demographic (the people who shop at Wal-Mart), rather than the subcategories of audiences and how some of these subcategories cross over. It’s pretty damn hilarious to me that the publishing industry STILL flourishes despite being completely disconnected from people who read.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 6/9/2005 12:35 PM
Subject: Re: your mention of sacco

If you want to know what I did for fourteen hours yesterday, you can see Bookslut’s new issue. Now that it’s up, I can finally write some e-mail.

So Mark asked me to chair the panel, but I was, of course, not given any input into who was asked to participate. When I saw that three of the five participants worked at least somewhat in young adult books, I called Mark to find out why they were all invited, and I was told they wanted to talk about finding the bridge between YA writers and the 18-to-34 demographic. But when I got there, they didn’t want to talk about that at all. All they wanted to talk about was how YA novels like Gossip Girl are “really big” with my “demo” as well as self-help books. I tried to steer the conversation into something at all interesting, but there was no hope. There was some clashing, and about halfway through it I kind of just gave up and we just did audience questions. Many of the audience questions were along the lines of “What the hell is wrong with you people?” mostly directed towards the woman responsible for the Gossip Girl series.

It was really painful, especially considering there was just no hope. Audience members started leaving, I was called names by one particular woman on the panel, and there was no real discussion. The marketing folks really wanted to stay on message and just keep repeating the same bullshit over and over again. “The 18-to-34 year olds don’t read books, unless it’s YA or self-help.” After the panel, I was stopped over and over again by people at BEA saying they felt bad for me having to moderate that crap.

I don’t think I’ll be asked to moderate anything again. Mark saw me later on, said, “I heard about your panel!” and just started laughing…

J

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 06/11/2005 11:47 AM
Subject: RE: your mention of sacco

Jessa:

No worries. I’m still trying to conquer this vicious post-BEA email backlog right now and it’s still kicking my ass. As if the FedEx packages of booty weren’t enough, there was this morning’s balancing act from PO box to apartment. Quite literally, I had about five feet of books that I was only able to carry back by taking all of the tomes out of their packages and stacking them in a precarious vertical pile. Incredible, these publicists. They move quick. Now I have a sense of the mail you’re getting.

Anywho, wanted to say really quick that the new Bookslut issue looks nice and wanted to thank you for the interview. The wine had gone to my head too and I tried to make that clear in the edit by including my own rampant stammering.

As for the panel, I’m very sorry to hear about what happened. You mean that you didn’t get to hand pick your panelists or get an email dialogue going on in advance to at least acclimate these folks into thinking about the question you were propounding? What in the hell do YA writers have to do with the 18-34 demographic? The big question: was the 18-34 approach locked in when you proposed the panel? It makes no sense to me whey they would do something like this.

For what it’s worth, the blog marketing panel I attended faced a similar identity crisis. The panel attracted people who wanted to use blogs as marketing tools, but they didn’t understand them and MJ Rose was left there resorting to mighty pronouncements of how blogs are important without actually engaging the crowd, much less the panelists, about the conversational niche. I was about to jump in myself and point this out to these folks in the form of an audience question, but I had only just arrived that morning and I had only had about a half hour of sleep on the red-eye and was still figuring New York and the BEA out.

The sense I’m getting here is that the people who run the panels aren’t completely connected to the audience who pays for these panels. They’re shelling out meager resources to get information. Not all of the panels were like this, but much like the publishing industry itself, it seems that some of the BEA panels completely misunderstand their audience. If you have a panel on the 18-34 audience, you get people who write for that audience (a hot young writer, I suppose one of the “young hybrid editors,” and someone who does publicity for that crowd). If you have a panel on the marketing of blogs, you prepare case examples in advance and get the appropriate people to talk about them.

Unbelievable.

All best,

Ed

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 10/24/2007 11:05 AM
Subject: Re: Condolences

Jessa:

Sorry to hear about the death in the family. Please take good care and be gentle to yourself.

All best,

Ed

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 6/9/2008 9:02 AM
Subject: Re: Condolences

This Mary Roach item has been showing up in your feed since April. Thought I’d bring it to your attention.

http://www.bookslut.com/blog/index.rdf

All best,

Ed

jessaattachment

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 6/28/2014 3:44 PM
Subject: Re: Libel and defamation

Jessa:

I have all of our correspondence going back to 2002. [Editor’s Note: This was a mistake. I communicated with a different “Jessa” in 2002 and it was in the same folder. My first correspondence with Ms. Crispin was in 2003.] Attached is a screenshot of one of our exchanges from 2003, pointing out how you “usually do keep copies of correspondence.” It is clear from my files that I never sent you any threats.

I did not stalk John Freeman. He and I resolved our differences years ago.

I did not write an “inappropriate” takedown of Boris Kachka. I stuck with the facts.

You did not name “your friends” that I purportedly threatened. You have not produced proof.

This is outright defamation — unfounded statements that you cannot back up, a combination of deliberate untruths and actual malice, seen clearly in your tweet to Boris Kachka — and, since you are in Germany, even more defamatory under Criminal Code §186 and §187, which affords greater protections for defamation of character and deliberate untruths. I am sure that either a German or a United States court would be interested in how you set out to deliberately malign me with malice and that you did not stick to the facts, especially after my (now deleted) tweets on Thursday night.

It is one thing to use ad hominem or declare me “monstrous” or proffer any number of opinions. That is perfectly within the legal limits. It is also perfectly reasonable to offer an opinion, even a belligerent one, on established facts. But you are now making claims that run contrary to facts. You are most certainly acting out of malice. New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) established the malice standard for defamation. If you don’t have the emails or the specifics, then it is clear that you, as publisher of the tweets, are acting in reckless disregard of the truth.

I respectfully request that you remove your tweets and issue an immediate apology for your lies and defamation. Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation.

Sincerely,

Edward Champion

jessaattachment2

Stone Arabia Roundtable — Part Five

(This is the fifth of a five-part roundtable discussion of Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia. Additionally, Spiotta will be in conversation with Edward Champion on July 20, 2011 at McNally Jackson, located at 52 Prince Street, New York, NY, to discuss the book further. If you’ve enjoyed The Bat Segundo Show in the past and the book intrigues you, you won’t want to miss this live discussion!)

Additional Installments: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four

Edward Champion writes:

In an effort to address Paula’s question about Stone Arabia’s significance in the Revolutionary War, I located this biography on Google Books published in 1884: Colonel John Brown: His Services in the Revolutionary War, Battle of Stone Arabia.

The first paragraph intrigued the hell out of me:

The residents of the Mohawk valley will ever feel a deep interest in the career of Colonel John Brown, who in the fall of 1780, under the inspiration of a lofty patriotism, came with his Berkshire Levies to this valley, to protect its fields from pillage, its dwellings from conflagration, and its early settlers from the cruelty of a savage foe. This interest is doubtless enhanced by the consideration that when he first engaged actively in the business pursuits of life, he was a resident of this valley, and that he fell while fighting heroically on one of its battle-fields, near which his ashes now repose.

Now doesn’t that sound a bit like Nik’s Chronicles? This got me thinking about whether Nik’s Chronicles represent a new lofty patriotism, or whether the act of plucking a lily (Paula’s question causing me to plunge further, not unlike Ada’s documentary filmmaking) from the vast swaths of electronic fallow is really what Spiotta is remarking upon. If the Battle of Stone Arabia can’t be remembered, if Colonel John Brown’s heroic actions stand no chance of being committed to memory (and we’re arguably living in a nation where our political figures commit more historical gaffes than ever before), then does Nik stand a chance?

I’m glad that Susan has brought up one overlooked facet of the book: Denise’s tendency to diagnose from the Internet (Spiotta’s own answer to WebMD?). It’s a woefully insufficient and darkly humorous response to the present healthcare crisis. You don’t have the dough for a doc, but maybe you’ll stand a modest chance with unreliable online info. Perhaps there are unseen Battles of Stone Arabia going on around us —- people dying or getting sick or, in Denise’s case, seeing their emotional life break down because this is the new method with which we survive by our bootstraps. “Pain tourist” is indeed a suitable term.

As Porochista says, even in her refreshingly honest takeaway, it’s not just the points about memory that drive this book. It’s about a place associated with a Revolutionary War battle -— maybe not on the level of Bunker Hill or Valcour Bay -— inevitably transforming into a small hamlet with an Amish contingent (the very opposite of war) without anybody truly observing the changes. So perhaps there remain remain plenty of under-the-radar facets of our culture hiding in plain sight! Like Judith, I feel the impulse to go to the library and drag books off the shelf when there is a name or a memory pertaining to another subject. And yet there’s no way that any Chronicles, or any life, will contain it all! I wasn’t kidding when I said that I would “read forever or die trying” when I threw down the gauntlet for the Modern Library Reading Challenge. Maybe this is why, when it comes to life and it comes to literature, perhaps we really do have the obligation to finish it.

Thanks again to everybody for such a great discussion!

Robert Birnbaum writes:

I read Stone Arabia (a title I expected nothing from) as the story of a savvy and functioning middle-aged white woman narrating (reliably?) the story of her life, which includes an idiosyncratic and increasingly dysfunctional brother, a mother whose faculties (and thus her ability to live independently) are diminishing and a grown-up daughter who seems the healthiest in this cast of characters (she got out and moved away from the family’s melodrama).

In the context of this story, I find Denise admirable for her support, her concern for her kin and for her sensitivity to the outside world (the mother arrested for taking her infant to a bar, her reaction to Abu Ghraib, the Chechnyan school tragedy, and one other instance I have now forgotten). I wonder if any of us had anything more than a a passing reaction…

On the other hand, I don’t have much sympathy for Nik. He may or may not be talented in an accessible way. (And I don’t award him much for his ability to mimic various elements of the creativity business.) I am not certain whether he was easily thwarted by any resistance to his ambitions (on the verge of success, his band was apparently sabotaged by one of those sharpies with which the record business is infested), but his nearly three decades as a barkeep in a Los Angeles dive bar is, at best, evidence of a pathetic lack of self-preservation. His substance abuse, which he refers to as his consolation, provides ample evidence that, whatever the obsession to fantasize a life of creativity means in his life, it does not offer (much) relief for what ails him. Did Nik kill himself? By that point in the story, I had stopped caring.

Denise’s (failed?) relationships don’t strike me as particularly telling, except in the pleasure she derives from escaping into the world of old movies with her useful paramour Jay. Her concerns about her mother’s decline meld into her not unreasonable midlife anxieties of her own mental diminishing. That’s life. She appears to be a caring mother — either I missed it or her bringing up the younger Ada was not part of this narrative.

Apparently, Stone Arabia was sufficiently engaging for this group of dedicated readers to call forth a plenitude of analysis and interpretation as well as some brainy cultural references. I thought the title fell slightly short of being useless in my reading and the cover art may have referenced the quintessential punks, the Sex Pistols. But the cutout newspaper typography was not original to them -— not to mention, did I need to get these references to Nabokov and Byron to reasonably enjoy Ms. Spiotta’s meticulously spun tale? Also, while Nik’s (artful?) mimicry could lend itself to hypertextual adaptations and flourishes, I think such gimmickry is incidental.

Hmmm….did I like this book? Not in particular -— though I respect Dana Spiotta’s rendering, I am not much impressed with what I see as Nik’s parroting of the music business. That his sister is devoted and supportive turns out to be too small a story to really engage me. I certainly do not regret reading this and I am pleased to confirm the variegated subjectivity, which I note this group of readers brought to this Medusa-headed conversation.

Darby Dixon writes:

Here’s a handful of tossed-off points, because I can’t help myself:

  • Does Jay actually like Kinkade? Or was that more of an ironic thing, a quirky little thing that happens between a couple? I’ll be able to actually review passages over the weekend, but I suspect I either read this point wrong the first time through or I read it way differently than everyone else did.
  • How does Spiotta do with endings in general? This is a question for those familiar with her whole body of work. Again, full disclaimer: it’s been a while since I read Eat the Document, but I kind of remember question marks going off over my head around that book’s ending.
  • The idea that women should be behind other women writers 100% makes me feel like I need to go read a stack of Tom Clancy novels. I mean, I know, I know. But. (It’s a perpetual point of shame that I’m not reading enough women writers, etc., etc., etc., embarrassed my current stack is male-dominated, etc., etc., etc., to be rectified in the coming weeks/months/years, etc., etc., etc.)
  • I like Ed’s notion of Stone Arabia representing an unknown place in plain sight. The history we’ve lost is, what, billions of times more in pure quantity than the history we’ve kept? Reading The Chronicles as a form of patriotism seems a little like a reach to me. Nik is free to do what he wants. And if he wants to spend his life writing a fake story about himself that nobody reads, well, people have died so he can. Are there more depths plunge into here?
  • Speaking of Nik (because he’s the flashy guy who can’t help but steal attention from anyone else in the room) has the term “self-portrait” been used here yet? I ask because, in my current drawing class, we’re working on self-portraits. And I spent four hours last night staring at a three-foot-high developing rendering of my own face, Nik couldn’t help but come to mind. His Chronicles are essentially a self-portrait in words, aren’t they? (What’s to stop me from critiquing my own artwork?)
  • Speaking of myself -– and by extension, all of us -– on a meta level, I’m totally fascinated by the weird tension between reading the book as a text and reading it as a reflection of ourselves. Not that I have anything interesting to say about that, other than I like it.
  • And there are so many other things I want to ponder, review, and discuss further. Ed and all, you may have ruined me for books for which I can’t participate in a roundtable like this. Thank you!

Paula Bomer writes:

Ed: I agree that Stone Arabia is not a random place she picked, nor a random title. Spiotta is far more deliberate than that and she loves hidden meanings.

I thought it was pretty clear that Jay’s love of Kinkade was ironic.

Whether I liked this book or not? I’m happy I read it. I found the second half very engaging. It had some weaknesses, but very few books don’t. Emily Nussbaum wrote that Mary Gaitskill’s first novel “flawed” and disparaged it. I love that novel, love it, and I know it’s flawed. I think Stone Arabia is a very smart book, brimming with the author’s intelligence and compassion. Quite frankly, the flaws are minor in comparison to its strengths. In general, I doubt it’s a book I would have picked up on my own, but I’m very glad I did, thanks to Ed. I should read more things that aren’t my thing (meaning, I need to stop rereading Tolstoy, Greene, Gaitskill, EJ Howard, and so on). 

Bill Ryan writes:

Does Jay actually like Kinkade, or was that more of an ironic thing, a quirky little thing that happens between a couple? I’ll be able to actually review passages over the weekend, but I’m suspect I either read this point wrong the first time through or I read it way differently than everyone else did.

We never get a lot of info on whether or not Jay’s in love with Kinkade. We only know that his “obsession” was “pure.” Jay “wasn’t a very good looking guy.” He wore sweaters that gave him “an off-putting, almost creepy diminutive effect.” Just about the only positive thing Denise has to say, other than his between-the-lines, non-threatening nature, is that his obsession is pure. We get that in the Kinkade and the James Mason movies. Denise goes on to say something about how the world is full of “fake obsessions” and there’s little that’s more terrible to her than faking an obsession. We would hope it’s an ironic obsession, but aren’t “irony” and “purity” antonymic? 

Denise says, “I am drawn to obsessives.” No shit.

Sarah Weinman writes:

This is both on-track and off-track, but it’s interesting to juxtapose Porochista’s question (“but did you like the book?”) with Darby’s observation about Stone Arabia taking place in 2004, the year of Facebook’s birth, with all the talk of memory and fakery and the sheer number of intense personal narratives we’re sharing (and how I feel tremendously honored to be one of the share-ees, so to speak). Because even though I didn’t think that it was Spiotta’s intention, the mere fact that I’m connecting these disparate strands demonstrates why Stone Arabia is so damn relevant and necessary: it’s a book to admire, that inspires both deep emotional responses, but also this wealth of analysis that travels as far back in the past as 1780 and as far forward as, well, 2011. When we’re all thinking about what it is to be “authentic” and “true” and whether the word “like” has been corrupted by Facebook (and also the word “friend”) when “follower” is now a social media buzzword more than a description of someone leading disciples (which, in this case, means Nik is the cult leader and Denise is his ardent acolyte; I will refrain from stretching this metaphor to needlessly thin Jesus/Paul comparisons, however).

Truth in art has been on my mind — in particular, with respect to documentary films. The last few I’ve seen have really cemented my belief that the form is suspect, that it is impossible to have a reliable narrator, and that facts are wilfully misrepresented and contradicted with a Google search or two. Which, of course, makes fiction “truer” — at least to me. So when Spiotta explores memory, its boundaries, and its limitations, her quest becomes that much more meaningful. Sure, there’s artifice. But there’s also tacit acknowledgment of this artifice. We can’t trust “facts” and “truth.” So why not do something greater, whatever that entails?

Roxane Gay writes:

Does Jay actually like Kinkade, or was that more of an ironic thing, a quirky little thing that happens between a couple? I’ll be able to actually review passages over the weekend, but I’m suspect I either read this point wrong the first time through or I read it way differently than everyone else did.

I didn’t get the sense that Kinkade was an ironic thing that develops between this couple. Because Denise and Jay weren’t that kind of couple. They were all business. So they couldn’t even have the kind of interaction that would make this strain of charming irony and history possible. The way Jay was written makes irony, on his part, rather implausible. Or maybe I just really hate the character and Kinkade so much that I’m hoping there’s no irony in the obsession.

Paula Bomer writes:

Roxane: I’m very curious (and I did try reading all of the comment threads; so maybe you’ve already explained this) as to why you dislike the Jay character.

I think that irony — or kitsch — is implicit in the Kinkade collecting. It serves as a counterpoint to the writing of music that includes “Soundings.” It is the opposite of that sort of “art.” I honestly believe that Kinkade himself made his work with a strong sense of kitsch, knowing that he was mocking “real” art. As little as I know of LA — and I appreciate all the people who have commented on the LAness of this book — people in LA are much more likely to gravitate to this type of art and the collection of items that may seem lowbrow, than the classical musicians I know in Vienna.

I’m going to throw out some ideas that I don’t completely believe. Delillo. Spiotta loves him. I’ve never managed to get through one of his books. My bad, for sure. But let’s say I see this book as a woman’s book wrapped in a man’s book. There could be many reasons to do this. Women’s books are not taken as seriously because they deal with the domestic. Men’s books deal with world issues, with structure and language, and with abstract notions. Hey, men are better at math. So Spiotta utilizes this slightly weird framework, chews on ideas (as opposed to the inner lives of humans). She contemplates ideas of art, the meaning behind these ideas, and history (thanks Ed, for elaborating on the title). She’s mocking, she’s ironic, and so on. But to me, the meat of the book is the story of a damaged family. A woman wrapped in a man. Yet it’s a woman’s voice, wrapping herself around a man’s self indulgent life. There is so much “bothness” in this book — a favorite term of mine, coined by David Foster Wallace.

I read as many male writers as I do female writers. I often feel that male writers — and maybe “often” is unfair, maybe “sometimes” is a better word here — use technique and literary pyrotechnics to avoid getting at the emotions that rule our daily lives.

All of the above is offered to continue the discussion. I’m truly on the fence about it. But I felt the need to throw this out there.

Porochista Khakpour writes:

Paula: Interesting!

I’m not sure I agree on the gender divide stuff at all ( for one thing no male writer I know has touched Gertrude Stein in levels of experiment). Interestingly enough, I would have killed for more literary pyrotechnics here! The opportunity was there and it was not taken — at least not all the way. She made a gesture in that direction but backed away from really going there…which, yes, my beloved (maybe favorite writer) DFW would not have done. But since I don’t trust today’s big publishing climate,  I have to consider, to be fair,  that maybe Spiotta wanted things to be more experimental and she was pushed out of it. Who knows? From reading her other book, I’m inclined to think she shied away from it. Even Egan I wanted to be more experimental! We need female experimental writers to be recognized because lord knows they are out there. The industry allows white males to be more wild and intellectual and experimental; the industry recognizes and nurtures the desire in them. So I think we all have to write about things greater than just ourselves and our own personal experience. (I mean, without fail, nine out of ten editors want me to dish on minority female experience, are interested in reading me for anthropological insights on the Iranian-American experience, want to hear me go on about men and dating and relationships because I am still “youngish,” etc.)

And finally, I want to confirm that it’s true that LA people have a high tolerance for cruddy, campy, and kitschy shit. Maybe even Kinkade garbage. But Kinkade, while he must have realized he may profit from the joke, was not originally in on it, I believe. At least that’s what the 60 Minutes segment on him once made me believe.

Alex Shephard writes:

Apologies about entering this (really, really insightful and wonderful) thread so late! I’ve been on vacation this week, and have a sinus infection that’s left me feverish and incoherent. Hope I don’t derail anything.

I want to talk about cliche, kitsch, and rock music. From the very first sentence, Nik’s story is explicitly linked to the dominant narratives of the “golden age” of rock ‘n’ roll, the 1960s — “he changed in one identifiable moment.” A Hard Day’s Night is cited by a number of groups (esp. the seminal LA band, The Byrds) as a formative moment in their evolution; similarly, John Lennon and Paul McCartney have linked their decision to begin playing music to a moment just after seeing Jailhouse Rock (“now that’s a good job,” John Lennon would say later about Elvis). The sudden appearance of a guitar, and it’s immediate transformation into an object of obsession, is also inked onto the pages of rock lore. Over the course of Stone Arabia, Spiotta links Nik’s experience — his actual experience (the manipulative managers, the strange left turns, the substance abuse) and his Chronicled experience (the motorcycle crash, “every person who did see them live seemed to have formed a band of their own,” the substance abuse) to dominant (and very cliched) narratives that characterize so many biopics and biographies about rock music, both popular and underground. Interestingly, these narratives, manipulative and often tacked on as they are, are what define the “authenticity” of ’60s and ’70s rock music. It’s why The Killers grew mustaches and went out into the wilderness to record their second album, why The Kings of Leon will always remind you of the fact that they’re all related, and how they grew up traveling the Bible Belt with their preacher father. At this point in time they’re kitsch narratives — harkening back to a time that never really existed, imitating a narrative that was already mostly a lie.

There are Easter eggs — connections to archetypal rock lore — on almost every page of this book, and the relationship between the narratives that run through The Chronicles (perhaps also a nod to that perfect rock “memoir” of (probably) mostly fiction, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles) and the narratives offered by musicians and journalists to explain rock music is crucial to my reading of the novel. What happens when you have a series of fake narratives that echo real ones that both signal authenticity and are, frankly, composed of bullshit? These are narratives that either heighten or diminish reality, that often make reality seem more dangerous and comforting at the same time. This, in my mind, is the connection between Nik Worth, Denise’s anxiety about her memory, Thomas Kinkade, and the “Breaking Event” chapters. Each provides a narrative that converts “real experience” into something that both signals a kind of authenticity and that is kitschy. They all are meant to “identify and fulfill the needs and desires of his target audience,” to borrow a description of Kinkade’s work. The Aladdin Sane birthday cake also illustrates this connection nicely. 

Of course, Worth is positively subterranean, and the conflict between life underground and the rock ‘n’ roll dream narratives within The Chronicles is what I find most interesting about Stone Arabia. Nik is as authentically underground as it gets, but both his “real” life and his second life in The Chronicles all mirror cliches. He’s authentically underground, while also exemplifying the inherently inauthentic narratives that determine one’s status as authentically anything. In his interview with Ada, he says “Imagine doing whatever you want with everything that went before you. Imagine never having to give up Artaud or Chuck Berry or Alistair Crowley or the Beats or the I Ching or Lewis Carroll? Imagine total freedom.” Of course, all of those things show up as formative cliches for the Beatles, Dylan, and Morrison (among many others). Perhaps Nik’s project is a way of trying to free himself from anxieties about authenticity itself, an attempt to both hold on to talismans and rid himself of their power? And what is authentic experience anyway? That’s the dominant question of the Breaking Events chapters, and a crucial one within the novel itself. 

My fever is back, though. So I’m going to cut off here. A few quick notes before I go: 

  1. When thinking about Nik’s life and music, I kept thinking of people like Brian Wilson, Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett, and Daniel Johnston. Interestingly, all of these artists are mentally ill. I’m not suggesting Nik is mentally ill. I’m just somewhat surprised that I kept instinctively making the link. Did anybody else have that experience? I suppose it may just be that these people all spent significant time “underground.” Arthur Lee, the Godfather of L.A. underground, was also on my mind. 
  2. I have no idea what Nik Worth’s music sounds like. While I had my problems with the Richard Katz sections of Freedom, I ended up getting an idea of what The Demonics and Walnut Surprise (easily the worst fake band name ever) sounded like. His list of influences was diverse (and aweseome! Can, the Incredible String Band, and The Residents? Sweet. He does lose points for hating on Wings, though.). Denise and The Chronicles tend to use genre (or cliche!) as a substitute for description: “power pop,” “progressive” “unique sound to counter to both commercial progressive rock and punk rock,” “dark lyrics and art rock dissonance,” “fatal hooks and crafted melodies,” “unique, intense,” “proto-glam,” “crystalline gorgeous harmonies got them compared to the Beatles,” “perfectly rendered songs of herartache and youth,” “unprecedented path of experiment and innovation,” “full of cryptic and hermetic references,” “Who would have guessed what we were all waiting for was a collection of atonal, arrhythmic assualt compositions mixed with concept sound poems?” “A Futurist sound experiment, a dada poemlet.” That’s just what I found in the first 94 pages. None of it helps me hear Nik’s music, though I do think some of it is relevant to what I talked about earlier. 

There are three songs that were on my mind when I was writing this post:

Wilco – “The Late Greats” (The best band will never get signed / K-Settes starring Butcher’s Blind / Are so good, you won’t ever know / They never even played a show / You can’t hear ’em on the radio)

Bad Company – “Shooting Star” (The ultimate rock success cliche song!)

And a parody of the Bad Company song (and others like it) by America’s Beatles, Barry Dworkin & the Gas Station Dogs (as performed by Ted Leo)

Dana Spiotta writes:

Thank you to Ed for doing this roundtable. I am so grateful for all the time everyone put into the discussion. I knew this was a book that would elicit complicated reactions, but I was so pleased to see people found so much to discuss. What thoughtful and interesting responses. How generous you all are to read the book so carefully. With so many books in the world, and so many other things demanding attention, a novelist is extremely lucky to get serious readers.

I can’t help imagining Nik getting the roundtable treatment for his life’s work. He would love it. It is glorious to have deep and long attention to your work. But then he would hate it — because you can’t control responses. People bring their whole long lives to it; it is as subjective and complicated as any creative act. That is one of the book’s concerns: artistic creation and response. Nik would have fun making up his own roundtable, and part of the fun I had in writing the book was taking an artist’s desire for control to an extreme. Maybe there’s no one who is more of an obsessive control freak than a novelist. You sit in your room and play god for years. Then you emerge with this crazy thing — not unlike Nik’s Chronicles, which is a kind of long autobiographical novel. You live in this made-up world as you are creating it. Everything you do and are interested in relates to your secret world. At least that is how it works for me. It takes over my dreams and my rhythms and my speech. Its defects become my defects, which can be a little traumatizing. For me, writing novels is a strange and antisocial thing to do. But I feel more attentive and closer to people when I am writing. So it is complicated. In this book I was interested in the world within the world, and the cost of being close to a person who does that kind of work. So the first big question you all asked — is Nik a “real” artist? Of course he is. Who can say he isn’t? Which doesn’t mean he isn’t a narcissistic freak. I was quite deliberate about leaving the quality of his work ambiguous. I was mostly interested in his devotion. The challenge was suggesting this lifelong, hyper-elaborated art piece. (It meant writing as Nik pretending to be someone else, a sort of double fake that still had to be convincing. It couldn’t be boring or badly done. So Nik is as self-reflexive as I am, he likes contradictions and inside jokes. For example, the irony of his wanting to escape criticism but then needing to create a kind of mean snarky critic within so it feels real to him.) I showed various clips from his Chronicles, but I needed to leave a lot out because I wanted, as I describe below, to focus on Denise’s perceptions of it. I wanted to show just enough, but I didn’t want the novel to be the Chronicles. I didn’t want an iPad app with his music and album covers. That is one possible way to go, but I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want this to be a novel of tricks and games. I really didn’t want it to be cheeky and cute and merely clever. I wanted it to be about being human, about how humans cope with the given terms of this cultural moment, and I wanted it to be about family: the hermetic, complicated, intimate, and relentless idea of family. Even the novel’s very deep concerns about memory and identity are rooted in the strange romance of family.

I am only interested in writing about things I haven’t figured out. In other words, I usually start with a question. And rather than discovering an answer as I write, I try to make the question as deep and complicated and honest as I can. The momentum, if it exists, is in that increasing complication. I think some people perceive this as ambivalence — I tend to undercut everything with its opposite — but I don’t see how anyone meditating on anything deeply can feel only one way about it. People in my novels have strong desires, but they don’t only go in one direction. So I think I begin with ideas, and then it changes as I get into it. In Stone Arabia the inaugural idea was of an artist who doesn’t achieve success in the world, but then he keeps going. And like many isolated artists, he has one person who believes in him and acts as his audience, in this case a sibling. So I wanted to see what that was like twenty-five years in. And I wanted him to be the real deal, but I also wanted him to be a “loser.” I wanted it to be as complex as family is: a long elaborated relationship from which there is no end (or beginning, for that matter).

I started with that. Then, as I was working, I realized that the sister — the audience — would narrate it, had to narrate it. And the thing became a novel of consciousness. As a writer I am really interested in the depiction of consciousness in fiction. I think the novel describes — enacts — the experience of a mind better than any other medium. I also like how a novel is relentless and inescapable the way a mind is. (I really like that you can’t click through to something else. Of course you can always throw the book across the room.) I wanted the book to be claustrophobic and distorted by emotion and doubt and subjectivity. As I worked I wanted the story to be emotional — practically deranged with emotion — but I also wanted it to be unsentimental and uneasy.

All of the structural decisions came out of these concerns. I wasn’t trying to be experimental or conventional. I wasn’t concerned with realism or metafiction or postmodernism. I think of those things as a reader sometimes, but as a writer I try to be more intuitive. I try to “go to the jeopardy” as Gordon Lish used to say (or that’s how I misread him to suit my purposes). I try to be brave about proceeding despite my own shortcomings and limits. All I can do is make myself relentless. My deformations are my own — just go there and go deep. So the form came out of necessity. The form came out of my interest in the interplay of Denise’s consciousness and the idea of a long elaborated fantasy life. Of course the shape also came out of the difficulties, failures, and deceptions of using language as an organizing force. How to tell a story necessarily becomes part of the novel’s deep concerns. Since the novel largely consists of a first person “written” narrative created by a mostly self-taught and self-conscious woman on the edge of emotional collapse, I really needed those third-person narrative breathers (primarily at the end and the beginning) to frame it, even if they never move all that far from Denise’s consciousness. Denise, Nik, and Ada all have specific language strategies. The challenge was in distinguishing all these documents and pieces without losing the connective thread of the human emotion. I don’t know how close I came to achieving my ambitions for this book. But that is what I was going for. I like having everything at stake, and then if I fall short (and I always will), I still end up somewhere interesting.

By the way, I did not see Nik as mentally ill at all. Maybe that shows how crazy I am. He is fully aware of what is real and what isn’t. He is certainly an alcoholic (by an decent standard), but he is unapologetic and I see him as a resister. He has found a way to be the person he wants to be. He seems immune to the judgment of others. He is deeply unconventional and eccentric, albeit very self-obsessed. I admire Nik’s ability to create his own artistic world. He was supposed to quit and get a real job, or he should have gone out and promoted himself. But he isn’t interested in that, and he pays the price. He isn’t bitter — he has been content in his odd way. I personally hate the way novelists are expected to self-promote. How everyone is expected to self-promote. I hate feeling helpless about how to sell books to people. Wah wah wahhh, right? That is another thing Nik has going for him. He isn’t full of self-pity and complaint.

Of course your life is never just your own, and your choices have consequences. I am obsessed with consequences, and what moral — yes — obligations we have to each other. So Nik makes a decision in his life to be intransigent and live at the margins. By the time he is fifty, he is falling apart. I was very aware that these characters lived in America of 2004. A specific time and place. There is no room in the US of recent years for people to live eccentric lives, especially as you age, because of money. Money was one of the big complicating factors. I wanted this to be a book where money weighed on everyone. (I thought of Joyce and how he wanted no one in his books to be worth more than 1000 pounds. He wanted to have Bloom and Stephen counting every penny. He wanted the ultra-realism of money and bathrooms. So far I have left out the bathrooms, but I too have no interest in the lives of the rich.) Health insurance, second mortgages, food stamps, WIC, medi-cal assisted living. I wanted the details of money to play a big role. Because one reason being an artist is so difficult is because of money. And especially without national health insurance, trying to live at the margins becomes nearly an act of suicide as you age. Denise and Nik didn’t get the education they should have had, given their potential. Their mother always had to work, their father left, so they are under parented. They are almost feral children, self-taught and self-raised. Money was clearly a big force against them. I do think being an artist — especially if you are not a mainstream artist, or a born promoter — is harder than ever. I chose Topanga for Nik’s garage because it is one of those American places with a history of off-the-grid artists, a place that encourages eccentricity. Good luck finding a cheap place there now, and good luck trying to live like a bohemian anywhere.

I don’t see Nik as a bad guy. He is just an eccentric human being. Denise gets a lot out of being his sister. She made different choices. She had a kid — which I think made her more responsible as well as more ordinary. But it also gave her so much comfort, and it gave her a concern for the future and the world beyond her own life. Partly the book became about how we manage to comfort ourselves in the face of mortality. As we start to fail, how do we cope? Denise is trying to cope. I think her anxiety gets located in the barrage of information and media she subjects herself to. Another thing that came up in writing the book is the difference between information and art. Nik’s work — whatever its worth — is satisfying and something she understands. She gets all the inside references and it is meaningful to her. She is moved by it. But the flow of intense and relentless information, the bombardment of the external, is really annihilating for her. It is not all that far from Nik’s substance issues. She should resist it, but she can’t. It is destructive. It is chaotic in an infertile way. She becomes stronger when she writes her Counter Chronicles, when she answers back, when she addresses/organizes things with the force of her consciousness. (This is also like novel writing for me, a way to answer back.) Another question the book is interested in is How do we resist the parts of the culture that will annihilate us? How do we stay human? And I think Nik has one way — a kind of retreat — and Denise’s is another. She tries to look at the world and figure it out. She even tries to dive in. The end of the book — the Stone Arabia scene — came up organically. She is, in fact, approaching a different place mentally, and she is also reacting — as Paula said — to her profound grief about losing Nik (and her mother). She leaves her home and reaches — bodily — out in the world. The novel is interested in consciousness, but also how the body relates to memory and mind. Her watching a body fail (Nik) and a mind fail (her mother) puts these connections in high relief. Denise is losing it, and she makes a kind of desperate leap. I wrote that scene slowly and carefully. I knew it was a risk, but it had to happen. Denise tries to reach out beyond herself. And I knew, as it happened, that her desire for connection would fail — of course it would — but I knew she would try. And Stone Arabia was the place where people disappear (her connections are associative), so it tied into Nik, and it was far away and so different from her life. People are like that, we are — we think geography will change our lives. That physical distance will give us spiritual distance. So she fails, but it is touching to me nonetheless. I chose that town because I discovered it driving one day. It felt magical to me. (I suppose I have that magical belief in place as well. If I lived here, I would be different. It is true and it isn’t. Just as Mina runs away in Lightning Field only to return. She has changed and she hasn’t at all.) I was resisting this idea of an epiphany, a revelation. But I also didn’t want it to be simply an anti-epiphany. I wanted her to go, she had to. I wanted it to be a raw gesture. I wanted it to be about our desire for something to change, which we have, and how the idea can almost be enough, failed or not. Stone Arabia itself is an austere, beautiful place with a long, mysterious history. It has this evocative name — both solid and exotic. I love that name, Stone Arabia, and the sound of it, the feel in the mouth as I say it, it draws me in. It is beautiful, which is reason enough. After, Denise goes back to what is left. She steps out so she can step back in. Maybe she can even be somewhat content with what is left. Not the Chronicles — which are almost a burden — but her daughter, her own life, her endurance, her mind.

So the first part of the end is about adult longing, and the last part of the end is about childhood longing.

The very end was intended as a memory/reverie. I wanted to end on the art, the glimpse of transcendence you can get from art. But it is fraught and melancholy, because it is in the deep past. The very end contains a mini version of the whole book — Nik leaves her (or she leaves him). She is alone with her thoughts. I didn’t plan it that way, it just came out and then I noticed it when I read it all together. Young Denise puts on some music she has never heard before from a band she doesn’t know. She goes from her desire for another to her own desire for herself to just pure desire. It is response to art as a kind of salvation, but it is located in longing and a glimpse of possibility. I wanted it to be innocent. I wanted the last note to be the (remembered) innocent longing of a young person.

The book had to end with a memory, as the novel is also a novel of memory (as any novel of consciousness is). She has the physical experience of being in her old house — memory for her is located in the body as well as the mind. Then she has this vivid dream of the past. The irony, of course, is that Denise has an excellent memory. Her fears are not rational. She does remember.

Thank you for reading the book. And thank you if you got through my rambling response to your responses. Writers are the worst readers of their own work, right?

— Dana

PS I agree with Alex that Nik shouldn’t have been hating on Wings. But that was very young Nik. Adult Nik loves Wild Life. (And you are dead-on about Nik’s use of rock-and-roll tropes and clichés. They are deliberately planted all through his Chronicles. I wasn’t sure if many people would get all the references, but it doesn’t matter if you do or you don’t. It made it feel right to me as I wrote it. Nik would have all these tropes in his head and play with them.)

PPS Sorry, I forgot a few things. I meant to say that all the interpretations are interesting, and I wouldn’t want to shut down any possibilities. Novels are meant to mean different things to different people. Explaining a novel also feels like a really bad idea for the novelist. (One last parenthetical: as far as what is given in the book, Nik doesn’t commit suicide. He does kill himself in the Chronicles, but in his real life he just leaves, which is very different from killing yourself. I was toying with this Ray Johnson idea of enacting your own death as an [insane] assertion of art over life. But then I realized Nik can, and would, have it both ways. He would author his own death in the Chronicles [because the Chronicles are high romantic drama], but he would just disappear in his actual life. How could he resist writing his own obituary? It is what he has been working toward his whole life.)

Stone Arabia Roundtable — Part Three

(This is the third of a five-part roundtable discussion of Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia. Additionally, Spiotta will be in conversation with Edward Champion on July 20, 2011 at McNally Jackson, located at 52 Prince Street, New York, NY, to discuss the book further. If you’ve enjoyed The Bat Segundo Show in the past and the book intrigues you, you won’t want to miss this live discussion.)

Additional Installments: Part One, Part Two, Part Four, and Part Five

Lydia Kiesling writes:

First of all, thanks, Ed, for putting this together and for giving me a reason to read something new.

Levi, I was interested to hear your thoughts about Nik: specifically, that he can in no way be considered an artistic success. It actually never occurred to me that he could be seen as anything but, since my rather rudimentary sense about what makes an artist is largely based on (a) being really weird and (b) creating a body of work.  Item (b) is crucial here.  I’m not saying Nik Worth is Emily Dickinson, but I think there is always something compelling about a person who puts in such an astounding amount of work for a limited or nonexistent audience, at the expense of health, happiness, and personal relationships (Nik also fulfills another category in being a dick and causing his family heartache).  Of course, the fact that the only judgments of Nik’s musical output come from his sister and niece (they laugh about this over pink champagne) is suspect.  That said, the nature of Nik’s work — the cross-referencing, the album art, the storylines — takes him out of traditional musicianship and cleverly elides the necessity of getting a ruling on the merit of his output.  If someone spent thirty years ruining his health and his sister’s finances writing a twenty-volume novel sequence, we have to see the novel to know whether it was “worth” it (see what I did there?).  But in Denise’s descriptions of Nik’s output and the alternative reality he has created for himself, he’s more of a performance artist than a musician. It’s a convenient way of leaving us (or me, anyway) unable to decide whether Nik is a genius or what.  I’m sort of on the “genius” side, but I guess it doesn’t matter so much.  

While I’m on your comments, Levi, I was also intrigued by your Byron-Augusta reference. I don’t have siblings. So I don’t know what’s what about brother-sister relationships. But Denise and Nik have something that seems more like an unsatisfactory romantic relationship, without sex, and with one partner withholding commitment, household contributions, etc. As another panelist pointed out, Jay fills the sex niche. The fact that Jay is, in and of himself, not your average sex-niche-filler — for one, he has very specific, effete interests that he and Denise actually share — is, to me, a testament to the overwhelming power of the sibling relationship here.  Which is not to suggest that Denise should just be happy that she has a man. But Jay seems like a good fit.  How often to you meet a guy with an unavailable 1950s film in the trunk of his car, a film that you actually want to watch too?  (Maybe it’s a Los Angeles thing.)  So this Jay is kind of a character and maybe a catch, but she’s just not that into him.  We don’t know what Denise is like when she is in love — with the father of her child, with her second husband.  We only know what she is like in love with Nik (she’s “Little Kit Kat, the wonder tot”).

What else?  I get a kick out of the fact that we are discussing this remotely (and that when I received the first response, I was in the middle of uploading Facebook photos).  I’ve never met you fellow readers. I Google you to see what you’re about, and I owe the Internet to my very presence on this panel.  Like Ada, and later Denise, I identify “audience” (such as it is) in page counts, or in disembodied comments, which could, for all I know, be left by one intrepid, shape-shifting troll.  I think Spiotta deftly invites us to consider the new confusion about fame and art/not-art in the Internet age, without belaboring the point.  She gives a couple of sample inane comments on her daughters’ blog, for example, and for me these conjured up a decade of confusion and anxiety and gratitude to the Internet.  Nik’s work and persona make it onto the Internet and generate interest, but people who use the Internet, or who try to cultivate their own small fame plant, know how little his 5,000 YouTube hits might turn out to mean in the long run.  He hasn’t been made. He’s just been archived in the digital cabinet of curiosities (did I steal that phrase from Denise?).

Darby, I love your comments about Stone Arabia as a non-postmodern novel with postmodern stuff in it.  As I read, I kept thinking that I should feel as if I were deep in Paul Auster territory (frustrated, scared).  Despite its frames and edgy preoccupations, the novel felt like a good old-fashioned look at relationships.  The plot and the external details of the characters’ lives were, I thought, sort of incidental.  I didn’t buy the trip to Stone Arabia — it didn’t feel necessary to me.  The fun-uncle dad and Ada’s married lover are just stand-ins, Daddy Issues props.  What really moved me was Spiotta’s ability to transmit a feeling that might be your own — sadness over a parent, anxieties about memory and loss.  I have to say I did a little crying over this novel (the crying factor is not the only thing this novel shares with some episodes of This American Life, incidentally).  Most of all, I immediately recognized the sense of yearning, what Spiotta calls want, that she transmits through Denise.  I was amazed at the way she was able to recreate the humming-wire feeling of adolescence — the way you want to destroy your ears with loud music, and be beautiful, and do something.  And maybe, because I read this book, this is why I had two beers, put on headphones, and revisited some seminal tracks of my high school years the other day.

To add one more name to the mix, Sam Stone: original bassist for the Demonics, ruined veteran in the John Prine song of the same name. Take it or leave it.

Levi Asher writes:

I like your criteria for what it means to be an artistic success, Lydia.  When you put it that way, I can’t disagree.  But yes, I was surprised to find Ed focusing on the question of whether or not Nik had artistic integrity, because it had never occurred to me that anybody could be impressed by Nik’s career — and I mainly mean this in relation to what the characters in the book must feel, not so much to what readers can feel.  Even if we can be impressed by Nik (though, like Darby, I wasn’t — been there, done that, was embarrassed about it), I still feel sure that Denise, Ada, and their Mom were not proud of Nik.  And most importantly, Nik wasn’t proud of Nik.  Maybe some of Nik’s girlfriends were for a few minutes.  Anyway, Roxane’s reference to the TV show Hoarders hit it exactly right for me — I was planning to bring the same comparison up.  Nik is a “funny obsessive,” like the people we gawk at on Hoarders, and that’s what’s sad about his YouTube popularity.  

A couple more things: I’m glad Lydia said she doesn’t buy the trip to Stone Arabia, and I’d like to take this further — did that trip across the country even take place?  It seems unreal.  I wonder if the author put that “trip” there (and named the book after it, sans any explanation or justification) as a signal that this narrator is more unreliable than she may otherwise seem.  What do all of you think the book’s title is supposed to mean?

Finally, to answer Darby’s question about the album cover: well, I think Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols must be the reference point for an album cover with titles composed of kidnapper-style cutout letters.  An ironic reference point, since this album helped introduce punk rock to the world (and thereby helped to kill Nik’s earnest mid-1970s musical innocence).  

Edward Champion writes:

I’m fascinated by Levi’s obstinacy here, which I now feel compelled to rectify in light of Roxane’s sharp observations about Nik being “a blogger before there was blogging.”  Levi seems to be pushing the notion that artistic integrity is inexplicably connected to commanding the respect of an audience.  To which I reply: is the respect of one person (in this case, Denise) enough to justify artistic integrity?  In other words, what kind of artistic integrity are we talking about here? You’ll note in my opening salvo that I mentioned the “right side” of artistic integrity.  And since Diane has brought up the abominable Lee “Lux” Smith — the increasingly extinct (and banned?) incandescent who is described by Denise as having “long lurked at the periphery of the various Los Angeles scenes,” who has “always had his icky fingers in an anthology or documentary,” and who started off as a songwriter, penning a few jingles for a group called the Ginger Jangles — I’m wondering if Lux might have ended up on the “right side” of what I’m going to style “exclusive artistic integrity” if he had not pursued money or had not been so content to crown crap as hype (such as the “uncomfortably handsome singer from Canada”). 

Diane suggested that Stone Arabia was “about loving somebody who is incapable of returning that love.”  Well, what better description is there of the fan’s temperament?  What’s interesting is that Spiotta doesn’t quite get at the issue of how the artist must smile and nod when presented with a fan’s unabashed (and uncurated) ardor.  But I’m going to go out on a limb and offer the theory that Spiotta’s “exclusive artistic integrity” — which all of us are capable of, even though it’s become increasingly harder to find outsider art in an age in which nearly every phenomenon goes viral or becomes a sensation “known by all” — is what ultimately puts an elaborate response to art (which Nik’s Chronicles may very well be, as some folks here have already mentioned) on the same footing as art.  I think this fits in with Lydia’s idea of being impressed by “a person who puts in such an astounding amount of work for limited or no audience.” (And, Lydia, isn’t that just what we’re doing with our respective efforts to read the entirety of the Modern Library 100?  I’m now raising the champagne flute in deference to another quirky soul!)  I think Our Man Birnbaum is smart to bring up the idea of how we can even complete the prospect of reading or writing about a book.  How many of you feel that the act of artistic engagement has become almost a full-time job these days?  And do you think Nik has created the ultimate solution for this?  I guess I have more sympathy for Nik as a “funny obsessive” than Levi does.  Keep in mind that Nik is creating these personae in order to survive — even though his own diminishing returns swell like gout.

I also feel that I must intervene in the apparent “disagreement” between Bill and Diane.  Why can’t Jay live “in the moment” (there’s a phrase that defines polyamory for you) and be a fill-in? Keep in mind that you’re talking to a guy who spent thirteen formative years in San Francisco.  I saw quite a lot of this type (and even slept with a few): the person who throws herself into an affair or an unusual sexual arrangement (and Jay does fulfill the role of a secondary, doesn’t he? who do you think Denise’s primary partner is in this polyamorous relationship?) that feels “different” or “alternative” from the apparent norm, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s right for that person.  Remember, this is “an affair without urgency or agenda, it seemed.”  It seemed!  Two key words suggesting that Denise knows exactly what she’s getting into (who wouldn’t with Thomas Kinkade, the most unsubtle American artist, involved?), but doesn’t wish to be honest.  What does Denise really want?  I mean, she tells her own daughter, “So you are eighteen, on quaaludes and dressed like a whore — I don’t have to explain that this often led to a less than fulfilling outcome for young women.”  What we’re pussyfooting around here in this discussion is how Denise’s relationship with news headlines and photos is just as problematic.  Not especially fulfilling, yet very much an “outcome” rather than something that can be changed.  Or can it?  Darby has brought up Jennifer Egan (it was bound to pop up), but, since we’re establishing comparisons with last year’s books, I’m almost tempted to compare Denise’s journal against Patty Berglund’s “Mistakes Were Made” in Freedom.  To my mind, this seems a more fitting parallel, if only to see how Denise is both oblivious to the root cause while very aware that memory might very well provide some pivotal context for it to emerge, whereas Patty is ostensibly ordered to write the damn memoir by her therapist.  Is a greater cure for the unfulfilled life likely to emerge from active straightforward writing?  Perhaps. But what happens if you’re living in the shadow of a brother who will always write more “elaborately” than you?  If Denise really is the book’s emotional core, as Darby suggests, then I’m wondering the degree to which Denise’s legitimate feelings can be asphyxiated by a bustling culture of commentary — to which all of us here are quite pleasantly guilty! 

To briefly return back to the “Ada” dance that Levi and I were involved with, I’ll see your Ada Lovelace and raise you Nabokov’s Ada!  With Nabokov, you’ve got some reliable incest, a hundred years of history, and a manuscript contained within a book.  Fun for the whole family!  Did the Stone Arabia trip actually happen?  Well, do you speak Stone Arabic? 

Darby Dixon writes:

Finally, to answer Darby’s question about the album cover: well, I think Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols must be the reference point for an album cover with titles composed of kidnapper-style cutout letters.  An ironic reference point, since this album helped introduce punk rock to the world (and thereby helped to kill Nik’s earnest mid-1970s musical innocence).

I’ve obviously totally outed myself as not having a punk rock background, pre- or post-popularizing, yes? The red in that cover is now the red in my face.

Bill Ryan writes:

Levi briefly touched a question I wanted to ask: 

How do we take the narrative interludes that break up the Counterchronicles? Are they from the some omniscient presence who drifts over Denise’s shoulder? Denise’s Id? The way they literally interrupt sections of the book, the jarring quality of being pulled out of the first-person “looking back” and tossed into a third-person “present” — is this “reality” as Denise would prefer we all stick to? Or is this all another rabbit hole within Nik’s Chronicles? It struck me as odd that we’d begin with Nik’s letter, then never once step back into the Chronicles

It seems like the author calls so much attention to the act of making art — that the vast majority of the book is neatly sectioned off as pieces of “art,” whether diary-style Counterchronicles or those odd, ordered “permeable events” — but then the narrative sections are just “there.”  

I’d guess that I’m sniffing at the wrong scent on the wrong tree in the wrong forest, but still, it caught my attention. 

Darby, at least you have the stones to admit your lack of punk. I spent the majority of my high school and early college years pretending I’d lived with a permanent sneer during the Whitesnake and the Damn Yankees years, and loved (or even knew about) the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. 

On the Jennifer Egan note, I’ve a plainer question for people in the know: to what degree can/does the publisher dictate how much Egan-ness (or, for another example, Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) can go into a book? I’d guess that, relatively speaking, those sections that require the PowerPoint presentations or photographs (or even blank pages!), anything that isn’t simply text, would cost more to produce — if for no reason other than that these sections take up space where words would traditionally go. Would someone with less clout than a Jonathan Safran Foer or a Jennifer Egan get away with inserting pictures or lines and graphs or a silly drawing of a kitty cat in a “traditional” novel? Case by case, I’m guessing, of course. But I wondered if the author had wanted to put more of the Chronicles into the book, if her editor would’ve “gently persuaded” her to stick with text only? 

Apologies for drifting off into hypotheticals, but I was interested in the push-pull of the actual business decisions and how they reflect the “vision” of the artist. Like if we would have benefited from seeing more of the Chronicles, and the author’d created the work, is this a case where multimedia, or even ebooks, would be a better medium for the story? Would it be tacky to add “to see more of Nik’s art, go to www.StoneArabia.com”? 

Paula Bomer writes:

I’m getting into the discussion late and honestly was unable to read everyone’s responses — which I plan to do later — but I wanted to just give my few reactions to the book itself and then to the few responses I was able to read before the week was over.

I agree very much that this book is about Denise primarily, and that Nik is her obsession, but frankly, we learn very little about him and only see him through the eyes of others.

I found the first half of the book slow going but was won over with the second half. I realize Spiotta — in many ways, with the idea of the Chronicles, Ada’s film, her Counterchronicles, etc. — is trying to examine storytelling, truth, and memory. I found the most compelling parts to be the first person Denise, writing the Chronicles — and the small framing device of third person, although symbolic, almost not necessary. For one, the voice is exactly the same. Secondly, I got confused and the payoff — when I figured out what she was doing — didn’t feel huge.

I wondered about the whole chewing on purity and authenticity in art — obscurity vs. well known, impenatrable music; Nik’s experimental style, the ridiculousness of “Soundings” (those were funny; I find that parts of this book are very slyly mocking). Because Spiotta clearly wants an audience. And as someone else here mentions, this book, despite all of its framing, is a conventional, realistic tale of a family. And I like that. I like that much more than the framing, just as I generally like more-or-less conventional pop music. (I’ve been listening nonstop to PJ Harvey’s new record about World War I: here is a woman who does whatever she wants, with no real regard for stardom, and has a real career anyway. She’s a successful Nik, a less “fuck you” Nik.)  Compare this with Laurie Anderson, who I loved in high school. Can we talk about how many people, and not just myself, grow out of the novelty of “boundary pushing” or people trying to do something different and “new”?

I agree this book is as much about memory as it is about middle age: how we feel our lives slipping away, how Denise’s mother’s mind is slipping away. I was really moved by the way Denise takes her mom’s medicine, and fears her own memory loss, because of her mom’s illness. This is the exact same thing going on with me. My mother has severe dementia and I keep thinking I’m developing it. Which brings me to the intense bonds of family that this book is also about. Nik became all that Denise had because of the loss of her father and her mother working nonstop. And, to me, that is the ultimate tragedy of the book — not being able to move on because you never had enough. Someone mentioned that Jay is a lukewarm fuckable Nik. That’s an interesting point. Denise can’t have a healthy relationship — a real committed one — because she committed to Nik. I see these types all the time. They make all sorts of excuses about why they aren’t in healthy long-term relationships, but it’s often as simple as not being able to break with their primary families. I never had a wedding, but the symbolism of a father “giving away” a daughter isn’t just a symbol.

Lastly, I like how people mention the reality of their own lives coloring their reactions to certain aspects of this novel. I recently went through a massive revision to try to make an editor happy. I haven’t elevated the obscure outsider art since my teens or maybe my twenties. And, even then, I didn’t elevate it much. But so many people do. It’s an interesting issue with art, but, as I believe, one that I believe is secondary to the human issues in this book.

Regarding The Ontology of Worth, whether Nik’s work is worth anything, the Fakes, and the question of authenticity in relation to Nik’s work (in particular the Fakes phase), I truly feel that these are questions that Spiotta leaves unanswered for a reason. I don’t believe she thinks there are any answers. And if this is the case, I agree with her for the most part.

Lastly, people have commented on the Stone Arabia ending/title issue. I agree that it seems slightly off, but I read it as a not-so-subtle (and I love how not-so-subtle much of this book is) way of having Denise deal with her grief and sadness about the love of her life (Nik) by projecting her emotions elsewhere. She grieves through the news, and even, God bless her, the Lifetime Movie Network, which I obsessively watched — meaning six hours a day — after my dad died. So it works for me on that level, even if it feels a bit forced. Grief makes us do strange things. If life is stranger than fiction and fiction has its own rules, perhaps this can be too lifelike, feeling slightly off in the land of fiction.

Also, does anyone want to chime in about the significance of Stone Arabia? Historically, it was a famous spot during the Revolutionary War. But is Stone Arabia’s obscurity part of its importance? That’s a good metaphor for the book, I think.

Darby Dixon writes:

“I’m not familiar with Spiotta. So I did not know what to expect from this book. But I found it very timely. I read Nik as a blogger before there was blogging…”

That, Roxane, is an awesome insight/reading, which prompts my own incredibly half-cocked response. Is this an apropos place to mention that Facebook was launched in 2004? Facebook itself stands firmly against the kind of identity-manipulation games that Nik plays through his Chronicles. Video killed the Radio Star. Mark Zuckerberg killed Nik Worth.

Flash back to the Net (or your local BBS scenes or whatever) in the late ’80s and ’90s (and however further back it went; yes, I was young when I first stumbled into it at speeds nearing 300 baud), when it was possible to be whomever or whatever you wanted to be. You could recreate your identity from whole cloth for an active audience of anyone technologically elite enough to join in.

Today, that model of identity has lost. We demand the truth about you (far be it for you to be more complex than you need to be, James Franco, cough cough) and we’re tying it all up into any available social network. What you are is the sum of all the actions you take online. Nik is a relic — if he tried to do the Chronicles as a Net piece, complete with invented reviews and reviewers, he’d eventually be outed, labelled a fraud, and run out of cybertown. (Is there a band working today that doesn’t have some modest thread of legitimate authenticity in their relationship to the world?) Not that it isn’t or couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be possible to do that today. I suspect there’s still a chance one could spend the time required to make an alternate life seem real. But.

This is where I begin to question and probe my own interest in Denise as the emotional core of the book. From this angle, she reads as a full subscriber to the post-Facebook model of identity, authentic, honest, sincere in her presentation of her identity to the world. And, yes, that may have always been the mainstream model all along. She is the future, and she desires the comfort of a future in which the people on the television are real people with real problems (problems that she could, in theory, help solve). She desires a future in which she is nothing but herself, her real self, and her fears of senility or dementia play against that. A sick mind that gets it wrong would interpret her to be more perilously close to being like Nik than she might like. (Though he does what he does for his own reasons, at least). Is it ideologically telling that I used the word “wrong” like that? Am I revealing my own issues with sincerity? In reading Denise as someone unable to be anybody other than who she is?

Review: The Karate Kid (2010)

Age has always been a dicey variable in the Karate Kid universe. In The Karate Kid, Part III — perhaps the most preposterous entry in the series — the 28-year-old Ralph Macchio passed himself off as a “kid” abandoning college, with his character dating the 17-year-old Robyn Lively (thus lending a creepy and statutory quality to the relationship). One of Daniel-San’s adversaries was the 27-year-old Thomas Ian Griffith, a scenery-chewing babyface who tried to pass himself off as a military man who served in ‘Nam with the 43-year-old Martin Kove. Meanwhile, the 57-year-old Pat Morita claimed battle experience for a war that went down when Morita was a preteen.

But these mathematical discrepancies are harmless solecisms when compared to the remake’s shaky moral framework. This time around, the “kid” is truly a kid — even if the “karate” is kung fu and not karate. (I must assume that Hollywood’s rule for any Karate Kid film is to get just one of the two right.) The martial arts here, a watered-down take on Yuen Woo-ping, are both hilarious and disturbing. Here is a film that asks us to celebrate Jaden Smith beating another 12-year-old in the face — a move that would surely have disqualified him from the 1984 original’s All Valley Karate Tournament — shortly after he has pinned his opponent on the mat. The remake’s aggressive sound mix invites us to revel in the bone-crunching prospects of children being thrown into the air and viciously attacked, demonstrating that America’s post-Guantanamo moral laxity has expanded considerably since Jack Bauer first waterboarded a suspect. And I’ll certainly be curious if some family values moralist emerges from the log cabin to condemn the film’s fondness for having kids beating the shit out of each other.

Here is a remake that imbues ridiculous infographics into the tournament finale, where digitized avatars of the participants rotate like some Ritalin-happy bastard progeny conceived between Mortal Kombat* and FOX News, and every round’s most violent moment is replayed for the crowd. This is all quite amusing, but it’s worth pointing out that John G. Avildsen only needed ringside cutaways, medium shots of the fighting, and Joe Esposito’s silly song, “You’re the Best” to generate suspense. (Watch that linked clip and you’ll see that Avildsen, who co-edited the movie, was smart enough to avoid long shots of the crowd. He photographed the tournament more as a vicarious experience. And because Robert Mark Kamen’s script was smart enough to layer Daniel’s predicament with serious stakes, we were very much invested in the outcome. It became surprisingly easy to forget that The Karate Kid was a film directed by the same guy who helmed Rocky.) The remake, by contrast, is more concerned with making the arena loud and large, rather than giving us ringside seats for a conflict that we hope will end all the needless violence.

Director Harald Zwart feels more compelled to give us spectacle with this remake. He scores some points with the supporting cast. If Jackie Chan’s Mr. Han can’t hold a thespic candle to the Oscar-nominated Pat Morita, Taraji P. Henson’s single mother is good enough to match Randee Heller in the original. (Heller was drawn to California for a computer job. But here’s one unsettling aspect of the remake. It’s intimated that Henson’s character, who has moved to China from Detroit and works in an “auto factory,” is a manager at some plant paying Chinese workers a pittance. I can only speak for myself, but the film’s inadequacies might best be expressed by the fact that I found myself far more troubled by this narrative aspect than anything that Jaden Smith was going through.) Even better is newcomer Wenwen Han as Meiying, Jaden Smith’s love interest, who displays a strong talent for expressing contained emotions, even if the material doesn’t give her the opportunity to slug a caddish boy in the face. (I feel compelled to point out that Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface” replaces Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” for the film’s Golf N’ Stuff-like moment. This is an acceptable choice, but a DDR-like machine is hardly a substitute for a hockey machine’s conversational possibilities.) Zwart has a decent cinematographer (Roger Pratt) rigging some impressive Fincheresque dissolves between several shots using the same computer-controlled camera motion and opting for a more handheld feel for the coverage. Zwart is also sensible enough to hire a composer (James Horner) who is just as overblown (if not more so) than the original film’s composer (Bill Conti).

The problem here isn’t Zwart’s direction, but Christopher Murphey’s workmanlike script. While Murphey offers a few new spins on Miyagi’s “wax on wax off” training techniques and skillfully transposes many of the original film’s scenes (and even a good deal of the dialogue) into the new China setting, Jaden Smith’s Dre Parker isn’t nearly as winning as Daniel Larusso. Where Daniel was a decent kid from New Jersey who immediately introduced himself to a crazy old woman in the apartment building and brought her dog a bowl of water, immediately securing audience sympathy, Dre is more of a spoiled brat who drops his jacket on the floor, whines too much, and doesn’t even have Daniel’s soccer ball bouncing moves to impress the girl. (Instead, Dre, after attempting a vicious top spin move in a ping-pong match, gets his ass handed to him by an old man.) It also doesn’t help that Jaden Smith has an annoying habit of mugging for the camera. He rolls his eyes and folds his face to the spectator instead of inhabiting his character the way that Macchio did. Perhaps the charm Smith offered in The Pursuit of Happyness was less rooted in acting and more associated with being in close proximity to his real-life father. Whatever the case, in all my years, I never thought I would ever write the next sentence. I actually longed for Ralph Macchio.

Because of this, even though it’s more entertaining than most remakes, 2010’s The Karate Kid can’t come close to matching the original. And that’s because the 1984 movie was something of a masterpiece. Aside from the original’s clever method of using the Protestant work ethic as a pretext for “training” (one might make a case that Daniel’s dawn-to-dusk shifts are one of Hollywood’s greatest portrayals of efficacious slave labor), the movie was a sneaky parable about cultural appropriation. Kreese (the Martin Kove character), the military man turned dojo master, and the Cobra clan, with its Erhardian “No Fear! No Mercy!” mantra, not only presented us with a shameful bastardization of karate’s peaceful roots, but it certainly helped that Kreese, Johnny, and the various lieutenants acted like a cokehead asshole brigade. Miyagi lost his wife and daughter for reasons that involved a Japanese internment camp — one of the most disgraceful moments in American history. And the class divide between Daniel and “Ali with an I,” when taken with the feminism of Ali pursuing Daniel (rather than the reverse) and clocking the boorish Johnny, created an environment where hard work and a commitment to discipline could pull you through the American nightmare. Sure, these were Protestant values. But it did the trick for mainstream audiences.

But the remake has done away with most of this. Like Miyagi, Han has lost his wife and daughter. But it’s not rooted in historical precedent, and the scene is played out with Chan sobbing with overwrought tears. Avildsen was right to portray the moment in one long take, not have Miyagi break down, and center the scene around Daniel’s discovery. But in the remake, Dre exists to comfort Han. And the film itself exists to comfort the audience, who will instantly forget it.

All this is too bad. Because had the remake’s script considered the original film’s underlying principle — that resorting to violence is only applicable when there are no other choices — it might have packed a greater punch.

* — Maybe some reader can confirm this. This review has become much longer than I anticipated and I’m too lazy to look it up. But I understand that the first cultural usage of “Finish him!” originated in the 1984 version of The Karate Kid. Mortal Kombat then appropriated this phrase. And, sure enough, the phrase has returned to the 2010 remake. So the Mortal Kombat infographics do make a certain amount of sense. The only real surprise is that nobody thought to include this in 1994’s The Next Karate Kid, which appeared in theaters two years after Mortal Kombat enticed kids in video arcades.

Reminder: Live Conversation with Sarah Hall on Tuesday!

sarahhall2This is a quick reminder that Sarah Hall and I will be in conversation tomorrow night (i.e., the evening of the week commonly referred to as Tuesday) at McNally Jackson at 7:00 PM. Since there is a good deal of weather within Hall’s most recent novel and weather forms the bedrock of all good small talk, it is very likely that we will be introducing meteorological patterns, either literally or figuratively, into the conversation at some point.

Hall’s fourth novel, How to Paint a Dead Man, was the subject of a roundtable discussion on these pages. And I should point out that this conversation will not be recorded or released as a future Segundo show. This is a “one night only” performance.

For background information on Hall, you can listen to my previous conversation with her from last year. I also wrote about Sarah Hall’s first three novels for the Barnes & Noble Review.

Scene from a Mall (1993)

In 1993, I took a film class and was grouped with an amicable ragtag crew. We filmed little shorts with the Panasonic PV-535, the only consumer VHS camera that had chroma key and that was compulsively used at just about every opportunity. The camera had a little mini-camera that you would mount on the top. You couldn’t directly feed in a video signal into the camera, but those who used the camera certainly improvised around the limitations. I would make long-distance telephone calls to video engineers and technicians around the nation, wondering if a converter existed to transfer the signal. I even attempted to persuade Panasonic to send me the blueprint, but they weren’t exactly flexible to some 19-year-old kid trying to hack their proprietary system. The camera had been given to me and I certainly wasn’t in the position to purchase another one to reverse engineer it. But it did serve me and several other folks quite well during the early 1990s.

As the guy with the equipment, I somehow ended up being the one who organized the shoots. I certainly never intended to seize control. I was just the guy who ended up with logistical ideas. I rotated crew duties, shifting directorial, editing, and photographic duties after I asked our crew members specifically what they were interested in doing. In Sacramento, we had a small ensemble of actors that included several friends, my sister, and all of the crew members. I solicited ideas from the group, often stepping in to help others flesh out their stories into a screenplay. I had spent much of high school studying screenplays (I once had my Terminator 2 screenplay book confiscated by my English teacher after my friend Tom and I were geeking out as the teacher delivered a lecture), writing scripts, and even attempted to make a feature film (called Three Kinds of Respect). Armed with this experience, I’d often sit next to a writer at a computer, asking the writer questions about the characters and the situations. We’d then bang out an intricate shooting script.

The above film, “Scene from a Mall,” was one of many films made during this period. It was built around an improvisational situation in which I played a disturbed man and Misa Whiteford played a woman waiting for her boyfriend. We shot this at the Country Club Mall in Sacramento, California, about ten years before the renovation. I suppose we approached this mall because, like Sunrise Mall, the 1960s aesthetic appealed to everybody. (It certainly reminded me of the original version of Dawn of the Dead.)

I’ve revised the film slightly, taking out about 40 seconds from the original version. At the time, I was editing these little films using two four-head VCRs. So you’d be able to cut two shots and get it roughly within a half second of where you wanted. This was trickier than it sounds. Because you had to anticipate that the output VCR would begin recording at precisely one third of a second after you pressed the RECORD button. And it therefore took multiple attempts for each cut. When I later learned how to cut and splice Super 8, and when I worked on flatbeds, it was a luxury to be able to cut on the exact frame. The present generation is spoiled with their NLEs.

Of course, now that I’m working with NLEs, I thought I would exonerate my 19-year-old self and offer the cuts that I had intended all along just before getting this film up on YouTube. What once took patient hours now takes about one twentieth of the time.

The editing limitations never stopped me from being ambitious. I would eventually make another short film that would contain more than 100 shots and would be filmed in San Francisco, Folsom Lake, and various points around Sacramento. (I even managed to shoot some video with an ancient black-and-white video camera, but the camera was on its last legs and it actually shocked the cameraman and never worked again. My mother yelled at me for this technical deficiency, as if I had deliberately killed the camera. But that’s another story.)

I’m going to slowly get some of these old films up onto YouTube — in large part because the videotape sources are starting to deteriorate. And if I don’t digitize some of this footage now, it may be gone forever. (These films are from fifteen to seventeen years ago. Given that videotape is known to deteriorate within twenty years, it appears that I’ve got my hands full.)

I don’t know if I still have the original sources for this film, but I wince at all the mall chatter contained within the audio. I may revisit this film again and do my best to filter out the background noise and boost the dialogue. But however I mess with these films, I promise that Han Solo will not shoot first.

When I Had Hair

In the mid-1990s, I made my way around various film and theater circles. My interests were mainly centered around the prospect of putting on a good show. I enjoyed being one of those wizards behind the curtain executing an illusion. And it didn’t matter whether it was coming up with a wacky storyline or perfecting a visual detail that only a handful of people would notice. But because I was often so lively when I worked on sets, friends began to insist that I should act in their projects. One even promised me a bottle of vodka for a day of work. And it seemed impolite to say no. I would begin to point out to them that, although I had taken several acting classes to understand the process, there were plenty of people out there who could act.

But no, they wanted me. I had something that these actors didn’t. Or maybe they just liked seeing me ham it up. So in my early twenties, I would often be enlisted to act in short films and plays. I would either play authority figures (attorneys and doctors) or completely crazy characters (psychotic killers and lunatics in a sanitarium). I would develop an intricate character backstory far exceeding anything the writer had intended, and I would often work out elaborate character relationships with other actors so that we would have additional facets to work from during a scene. And it was all a great deal of fun.

Recently I discovered a videotape containing one such scene. I was twenty-two. It was 1996. I was enlisted by my pal Han Lee to play a scene from Glengarry Glen Ross for his film directing class at San Francisco State University. The other guy, playing Shelly Levene, is Eric Gibboney. At the very least, the clip demonstrates to the world that there once was a time in my life in which I did indeed have hair!

Ellen Ruppel Shell’s CHEAP — Part Four

cheaprt4(This is the fourth of a five-part roundtable discussion of Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. Other installments: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Five.)

Edward Champion writes:

I’m going to attempt to address as many of these interesting points as I can, even as we await Levi’s answer with book before him and take up Miracle Jones’s sensible advice on how to live cheap.

Early into the discussion, Peggy mentioned that she thought Ruppel Shell hadn’t entirely considered the idea of community-based commerce.  I’d like to go further and suggest that the fault doesn’t entirely lie with Ruppel Shell, but with Nicholas Kristof’s blunt sentiment (quoted in the book) that “anyone who cares about fighting poverty should campaign in favor of sweatshops.”  For anyone who’s curious, and to partially answer Whet’s question, Kristof’s entire piece can be read here.

kirstofIn her endnote, Ruppel Shell points out that Kristof’s been pro-sweatshops since the late 1990s, co-authoring articles titled “Two Cheers for Sweatshops: They’re dirty and dangerous.  They’re also a major reason Asia is back on track.”  (Rather interesting, this attention-seeking and extremely callous subhead appears to have been expunged from the New York Times’s archive.  But it’s also worth observing that Ruppel Shell is careful to call Kristof “a generally insightful and sensitive reporter.”)

The workers who toil for long and dangerous hours in such hidden economies are very much on my mind, for I am presently doing my best to work my way through William T. Vollmann’s massive Imperial.  It isn’t just a matter of time always being reframed as a monetary value.  It’s the way in which we defend our lifestyles, whether it’s assuming that a book attempting to plunge deeper into an important issue is “telling us what we already know.”  And it’s evident in the way Kristof writes such pat summations as:

This is not to praise sweatshops. Some managers are brutal in the way they house workers in firetraps, expose children to dangerous chemicals, deny bathroom breaks, demand sexual favors, force people to work double shifts or dismiss anyone who tries to organize a union. Agitation for improved safety conditions can be helpful, just as it was in 19th-century Europe. But Asian workers would be aghast at the idea of American consumers boycotting certain toys or clothing in protest. The simplest way to help the poorest Asians would be to buy more from sweatshops, not less.

Our enviable lifestyles would appear to trump any and all inquiry into those who toil to sustain it.  We think that, if we mention a sweatshop, we can purport to comprehend what it is like to toil and suffer in that sweatshop.  But how are we any better than Kristof in our assumptions?  To what degree does contributing to the labyrinthine network of cheap cut-rate goods produced in exploitative situations actually help the Third World?  Should we be concerned with our Faustian bargain?  And did Ruppel Shell, as Peggy has suggested, not adequately represent these many labor categories by degree?  No, the Walmart worker can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods.  But then the sweatshop worker can’t afford to shop at Walmart.  Does consumer confidence help the worker who is below us?  Or is this all part of the same Shell game?

Which brings us to the issue of necessity, both real and fabricated, initially raised by Colleen and expanded upon by several others.  Like Miracle Jones, I too admire Ruppel Shell’s personal honesty.  And I think that understanding and vocalizing the ways in which we spend money are just as important in understanding the bigger economic picture.  If such an approach amounts to “telling us what we already know,” then I would say this:  If I asked each of you to publicly report the annual income that you entered into your 1040, then chances are you wouldn’t do it.  That would be an invasion of your privacy.  If I asked each of you to tell me precisely how you spent your money over the last week, complete with an itemization of costs and expenses for each day, chances are that you probably haven’t kept track.  And yet, thanks to those dependable Gruen transfers, we’re happy to cling to a remarkably shifting sense of the deep discount deals we’re getting.  To the point where Amazon consumers have been tagging eBooks with $9.99 tags because that’s the price they now want to pay.  Never mind that, as Publishers Weekly reported back in May, Amazon actually loses money at that price point.  Does Amazon get a fair pass, as Miracle Jones suggests?  Yes and no, I think.  One could make a similar case for Starbucks.  On one hand, I wish that Ruppel Shell had delved into Amazon’s parasitic stranglehold on the industry.  But at the possible risk of comparative oversimplification, I think it could be argued that IKEA’s ubiquity falls into more or less the same rub.  As documented by Ruppel Shell, like Amazon, IKEA spends a tremendous amount of time framing the message, whether in the form of a twee Spike Jonze commercial or a slick and colorful catalog.  More questions to the group: Should we look at discount culture on a case-by-case basis?  Or is this all monolithic?  (Yes, Amazon is online and caters to convenience.  IKEA, on the other hand, is a big box store.  Should it matter whether we physically or virtually participate in these Gruen transfers?  The labor is still unseen, whether it’s Amazon workers being exploited, as the London Times reported back in December, or IKEA’s illegal cutting.)

nikeoutletTo address Erin’s track suit dilemma, after thinking about this a bit, I’m inclined to agree — particularly in light of Our Man in Boston’s provocative remarks about elites and elitism.  But I’m wondering if Ruppel Shell’s stereotypical descriptions are somewhat defensible, because outlet stores, discount stores, and shopping malls are, by way of their respective designs, spaces that prey upon our cognitive abilities to process numerous aesthetics.  I don’t want to let Ruppel Shell off the hook on this point — and certainly Janet Maslin didn’t by suggesting that Ruppel Shell needed to “bring a professor of marketing to a Nevada outlet mall to tell her that bargains are phony,” although I think this anti-intellectual assessment isn’t entirely fair to what Ruppel Shell dug up.  Much as casinos are specifically designed to keep us gambling (no clocks, no windows, lots of lights, free drinks), I’m wondering if outlet stores might be working in a similar way.  Consider this 1998 article from Retail Traffic, which outlines very specific design decisions to convince the customer that she’s getting a good deal.  It’s quite possible that this may be just as vital, if not more so, as brand name manipulation.  And so I ask some of the pessimists in the peanut gallery this: If the book “tells us what we already know,” then just how aware are you of a store’s aesthetics when you go shopping?  Bargain hunting may very well be a harmless American pastime for some, but if we’re more concerned with price and acquisition (instead of say the human souls who work at the store or the way the store is designed), then it would seem to suggest that we don’t know as much as we think.

Good Christ, I’ve been a wordy bastard.  And I’ve only just begun to address all the interesting thoughts on the table.  So I think I’ll stop for now, see what others have to say about all this, and return later, possibly after Levi has offered his informed answer to Colleen’s question (which I certainly look forward to hearing!).

Colleen Mondor writes:

I did want to point out one thing about bargain hunting. A lot of people bargain hunt at garage sales and thrift stores (I have seen some amazing things scored this way), which is another deal altogether and not at all related to bargain hunting at IKEA or Walmart. There can, in fact, be different types of bargain hunters and I don’t think they should all be grouped together in one large mass.

There’s one other interesting idea to think about as we consider poor in this country: how you live poor depends on where you live. Miracle’s rules would certainly not work in Alaska where poor folks eat King Crab and catch wild salmon, shrimp etc. — food that would be considered beyond the reach of the poor and/or middle class in the Lower 48.

And many middle class and rich folks love their pit bulls too. I’m just saying.

Robert Birnbaum writes:

Books like Cheap, et al raise the question that subsumes the pretext for the traditional liberal education (i.e., “knowledge is power”). By the way, David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College 2005 oration is worth looking at on this point.

The relentless (some might use the banal modifier “24/7”) chimes of commerce create such a shitstream of noise that whatever we think we know is disabled in the face of the symphonic chord (think Mahler’s 10th): BUY THIS, BUY NOW.

Some of you all sound like you think you are immune. Good for you. I’m not. Not that I am siting on a pile of junk. But I am sitting on a pile. Did I mention the hoodies, the socks, and the caps?

The only antidote I have found effective is exhibited here:

Also, for those of you unaware of John Crowley, his new opus Four Freedoms should, if there is a modicum of reward for good works in this disinterested universe, gain him a proper audience.

Erin O’Brien writes:

(1) “Sex, conversation, art, and games are what actually make people happy.”

“Become cheap. Don’t fight it. Go so deep into cheap that you become competition for these eeeeeevil discounters. Become so cheap that you are affordable to everybody in all your favorite activities (sex, conversation, games, art), both rich and poor alike. You will have a good life.”

Miracle, I see that you are a genius like me. Remind me to send you my zucchini soup recipe. And as a side note: DO NOT purchase inexpensive marital aids. Just trust me on this one. Contact me off-list for more specific information.

A related Erinism: Buy your plates for $0.50 a piece at a garage sale. You’ll never have a matching set, but, once in a while, you may be able to afford to plop lobsters on them.

pokerchips2(2) Ed, regarding casinos, the poker chips are a trick as well. Your money has been subtly taken from you from the get go and you’re left with piles of inane plastic disks that go up and down with each spin of the wheel.  To me, credit cards are a not-too-distant relative: a thin piece of plastic that magically gets you stuff, stuff stuff!

(3) Her Amazon comments aside, Ruppell Shell didn’t poke very hard at the implication of the Internet price comparison and the way it’s changed price shopping forever.

(4) On bookshelves:

So I’m on one of my endless walks and I pass some guy’s garbage pile. There’s two bookshelves in it.

“Shit,” I say, because they’re pretty good books shelves.

I keep walking, hoping that the bookshelves will be there after I’ve walked the 2.5 miles back home and returned with my Mini Cooper in order to heist the cast-off loot. As luck would have it, a buddy of mine is drives by and pulls up next to me to say hello. He’s in his pickup.

So, yeah, I have cheap bookshelves.

IKEA? I’ve never been to IKEA. Why would I drive all the way to Pittsburgh to go to someplace called IKEA?

Levi Asher writes:

I’ve now carefully reread the IKEA chapter, and I’m ready to respond to Colleen’s question from last week.

First, I think Janet Maslin scooped my answer when she wrote this in her mostly negative review of Cheap:

At the end of a chapter largely devoted to the horrors of Asian shrimp farming, she describes being in a Red Lobster restaurant with friends and being enlightened enough to eschew cheap shrimp in favor of chicken. Yet cheap chicken-farming isn’t any less ghastly. It just doesn’t happen to be addressed by this book.

I consider myself a very socially aware person. And I definitely think it’s important for me to make personal choices that are not harmful to others, or to the planet’s ecosystems.  Of course, this is easier said than done.  We each have our own ways of dealing with this uncomfortable truth.  My own brand of social awareness places heavy emphasis on issues of global politics, war, and genocide. These are probably my own “pet topics,” and I think it’s interesting that the last time Colleen and I disagreed about a book, we were discussing Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke.  I felt Baker’s book presented a very powerful argument that the Roosevelt-Churchill strategy in World War II led to far greater death, destruction, and genocide than was required to defeat Hitler, while Colleen (I hope that I am remembering correctly) did not feel the book presented a solid argument.

I also vividly remember one of the biggest disagreements I’ve ever had with Ed Champion.  I thought Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine presented a solid and important argument about the insidious underlying purpose of the American misadventure in Iraq, whereas Ed had nothing but criticism for Klein’s work.  So it’s funny that now Ed and Colleen seem to be bowled over by the arguments in Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap, while I stand here saying, “What?”.

cabinI don’t think Cheap is a bad book, and I like Ruppel Shell’s basic mission in making us aware of the choices we make when we shop.  But her case against IKEA, like many of the cases presented here, feels underdeveloped.  She writes of declining forests and environmental sustainability problems, but this is a problem for all woodworking industries.  She ends the chapter by swooning over a heavy (non-IKEA) oak bookshelf, but this bookshelf was also made by cutting down a tree. And even though it will last longer, Ruppel Shell knows there are not enough antique bookshelves around to furnish the world. Sure, if IKEA is committing environmental offenses, then these ought to be addressed and stopped. But Ruppel Shell only hints (and never establishes) that these offenses take place more at IKEA than at any smaller furniture provider.  She also shows us that IKEA does try to be environmentally conscious, that they “use every part of the tree”, monitor their suppliers, etc.  I see innuendo weaved into these sentences. But I find no clear case, no smoking gun.  And Cheap is not a book about the environment or about the problems of an overpopulated world. So the environmental points especially come off as half-baked and incomplete to me. 

What I was trying to point out in my earlier post here is that IKEA has an appeal beyond dumb cheapness.  It is a positive lifestyle choice for people like me — mobile adults who like to travel light.  If IKEA has problems — environmental problems, labor problems, quality problems — than these problems should be addressed and solved.  But nothing I read here seems to add up to a call for a wholesale rejection of everything IKEA represents. I could take Robert Birnbaum’s suggestion and build bookshelves out of spare planks and bricks — but, Robert, have you ever seen photographs from the Chinese and South Indian infernos where bricks are produced?  It’s not a pretty picture.

Finally, I have to complain about some shoddy work on Ruppel Shell’s part in this IKEA chapter.  On pages 126 and 127 she goes on at some length about the Spike Jonze commercial that reminds consumers that furniture has no feelings, and then points to the irony that IKEA tries to create an emotional attraction to furniture by giving its pieces pet names.  Then, on page 140, she repeats the exact same point, as if we’d never heard it before.  “Doesn’t a name connote intimacy? Of course it does, and IKEA knows well the power of intimacy to move us.”  It’s hardly such a powerful point that she needs to fully develop it twice in two separate parts of the book.

Often, when I read Cheap I felt as if I was being filibustered.  Going on about the trivial issue of IKEA giving cute names to its objects, Ruppel Shell specifically mocks the store for “naming a wok after a girl”.  But, reading the notes for the chapter, I discover that the wok in question is called “Pyra”.  Clearly, this wok is named after the Greek term for fire, as every consumer who sees a wok named “Pyra” will understand. Ruppel Shell couldn’t find a better example than this?  I don’t understand why she didn’t at least pick a better example (say, a bookshelf named “Billy”).  It’s ironic that a polemic against “cheap” should have such problems with quality control.

I also feel personally put off after reading and rereading Ruppel Shell’s lush paean to the sturdy oak bookshelf “groaning with books” that her friend bought after rejecting the IKEA lifestyle.  My cheap bookshelves “groan with books” too.  Ruppel Shell’s poor friend will spend the rest of her life lugging that heavy piece of furniture around. This book absolutely fails to inspire me to want to follow her example.

Nina MacLaughin writes:

In response to Robert’s point about immunity to the chimes of commerce. It’s impossible to be immune; even if you’re a conscious shopper, sensitive, responsible, the siren song (or “shitstream of noise”) penetrates.

pricegougeA quick example (and I’m on the side of folks who appreciated Ruppel Shell’s personal anecdotes): There was a Whole Foods located less than a 10 minute walk from my house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I passed by the store on my walk home from work. It was where I bought my food. I knew it was more expensive, but it was a matter of convenience. Time and money. It was worth it to me to spend the extra bucks to save myself some out-of-the-way trip to a cheaper spot. About three months ago, I moved to Somerville, and the closest supermarket is an expansive, always-crowded Market Basket. It’s got all the same brands as Whole Foods. My first time inside the store, buying the same combo of foods, and more or less the same brands that I would at Whole Foods, I was staggered at how much less it cost. What would’ve been $18 at Whole Foods was a little over $7 at Market Basket. Unbelievable. There is definitely a delight in that. And yet, somewhere in the back of my head, there’s been a gnawing sense that the veggies are saturated with pesticides, that the yogurt is rife with hormones, and that it’s cheaper at Market Basket because the food is poisoned (obviously a little overstated, but you get the idea). And I’ve been sort of wowed about this, in the sense that, holy shit, Whole Foods has done a pretty powerful job marketing themselves. It also speaks to the the complications of price and worth and quality and value that Ruppel Snell explores. Would I rather pay $3.49 for a pint of cherry tomatoes at Whole Foods? Or $2.10 for the same pint at Market Basket? I’d rather pay less, but it does put a doubt — a completely irrational doubt — in my head. Am I getting something that isn’t as good (or, in the case of food, something that isn’t as safe)? Is this doubt borne from the power of Whole Foods’ marketing (and my action buying into it) or the mysteries of price and quality? Or a combo that is hard to know? Whatever it is, it’s certainly interesting to consider.

Edward Champion writes:

To respond quickly to Levi:

(1)  Maslin actually got that detail wrong.  She was never in a Red Lobster restaurant with friends. I’m surprised that not a single fact checker at the supposed Paper of Record got off his ass to grab the book, flip to the “Red Lobster” entry in the index, and confirm that Maslin was indeed quite wrong.  (Damn those bloggers sitting in basements in Terre Haute!)

(2)  My problems with Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine had more to do with her assumptive approach to the subject — specifically, tying nearly every one of her investigations to the “shock doctrine” brand name after the fact.  As Richard Flanagan suggested in his novel, The Unknown Terrorist, journalism is not a sudoku puzzle. It was not unlike Gladwell’s “tipping point” or Anderson’s “long tail.”  Ruppel Shell’s book, on the other hand, demonstrates substantive journalism, as can be gleaned from the solid and often detailed endnotes.  (I mentioned, for example, the fairness she gave to Kristof.)  I do have problems, as others have pointed out, with some of Ruppel Shell’s quasi-elitist descriptions.  But if we look to the facts, the findings, the quotes, and the data, I believe that there’s much here in this book to consider, whether you think you know where you stand or not.  And as Birnbaum said a few messages back, some of you think you are immune.  (I’m sure as hell not.)

booksandbookshelves(3)  The many problems with IKEA, and it is all thoroughly documented in the “Death of a Craftsman” chapter (and I would suggest consulting the endnotes), is that it represents one of greatest manifestations of discount culture.  IKEA’s founder is Ingvar Kamprad. He is the seventh richest man in the world, but he still haggles with vegetable vendors and he still flies coach. IKEA has single-handedly altered Western ideas of interior design, perhaps to the same degree of Postrelian plaudits rightly derided by Jackson.  Let me tell you a story.  When I moved from San Francisco to Brooklyn, I had to leave behind all of my bookcases.  These bookcases were hand-built by a team of craftsmen in the Castro.  A place I highly recommend, if you’re ever in the market for bookcases in San Francisco, called Books and Bookshelves.  The guy would custom-design them for you.  And these shelves were built like houses.  They wouldn’t wobble or fall apart like the IKEA bookcases.  I was able to store a considerable amount of books, while ensuring that I had some wall space in my apartment that wasn’tt occupied by books. When I moved cross-country, I was forced to get rid of these shelves. I initially put up a Craig’s List ad for $50 a pop, which was a little less than one-third of the price that I paid for them.  Very few people wanted them. And some people emailed me thinking they were IKEA bookcases.  They literally hadn’t experienced bookcases built out of real durable wood.  When I couldn’t get any buyers for the last few, I gave them away on the street.  And again, people came up to me — in a seemingly civilized city like San Francisco, no less — asking where I had obtained these bookcases.  They pounded the sturdy wooden sides.  And I told people that they could store their DVDs in there if they wanted to. 

The upshot is this.  These people were mystified by real oak bookcases.  Yes, the bookcase was made by cutting down a tree.  But the difference is this.  These bookcases last decades.  An IKEA bookcase, by contrast, falls apart within a few years (at best) and the amount of wood is wasted.  Furthermore, the discount culture keeps IKEA running around the world and engaging in illegal and decidedly non-eco friendly cutting practices.  You tell me how that’s a positive lifestyle.  Would you rather spend $200 on a sturdy bookcase that will hold thick Vollmann books and last a lifetime?  Or $90 on a Billy bookcase that will fall apart because its not made to hold anything other than thin mass-market paperbacks (at best)?  If your main complaint, Levi, is that Ruppel Shell’s poor friend is going to be lugging around a heavy piece of furniture every couple of years, well, that’s a specious position to take, given all the interim years of sturdy quality.  But if you’re happy with your paper-thin particle boards, Levi, by all means, sing a song to IKEA.  At the end of the day, we’re all singing hymns to the corporate empire.

Robert Birnbaum writes:

A quick question: Are the IKEA shelves actually made of wood or particle board?

By the way, in between Eddie’s elitist custom book shelves (suitable also for CDs) and the IKEA items,  are the inexpensive unfinished pine shelves that I’m sure are available in every city in the mainland USA. You can even paint them colorfully so as to distinguish your self as artsy. Or is it craftsy?

Erin O’Brien writes:

“But her case against IKEA, like many of the cases presented here, feels underdeveloped.”

And when you consider that some event references in Cheap happened just a few months ago, it’s obvious that book was turned around at lighting speed. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it as I read it, but Cheap felt dense and rushed at the same time, perhaps because Ruppel Shell is very smart and Penguin wanted her to write very fast. I suspect Penguin didn’t want to wait around too long only to see the recession cool its heels, along with the sales of this book.

Peggy Nelson writes:

I will have to strongly disagree with the voices who argue that books like this are hypocritical luxury items, preaching to the converted readers who have enough disposable income that they can indulge themselves in a little passive system-bashing before bed.   I disagree.  The work of demystification is lengthy, heterogeneous, and necessary. And it has taken, and will take, many books, many websites, and a significant amount of talking so that we can see clearly what we are dealing with.  This work does not take the place of social/economic activism, but doesn’t delay it or prevent it.  Demystification runs parallel to activism, and is just as necessary.  Empowering people without a clear analysis of exactly where they are in the system only paves the way for greater misery, and perhaps does more harm than good as people become discouraged, decides that the culprit is greater awareness itself.  
 
I have been trying to stay abreast of the economy and our respective places in it, ever since I was a labor activist in the late ’80s. But there are still things I do not know — for example, the historical trajectory of retail commerce, its philosophy, and its pervasiveness — that I learn from books like this one.  Cheap doesn’t go as far as some other books, either in reportage (like Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed) or in systemic analysis (like Rushkoff’s Life, Inc.), but it does occupy its role well.  My only qualm was the book jacket. That fast-food yellow is repellent.  I know it’s about cheap, but does having it look cheap further its aims?
 
In terms of Kristof’s pro-sweatshop arguments, we heard a lot of those arguments in my union days too.  “Well, they’re better off than they were.” Or words to that effect.  This was not made to justify a $12 hoodie purchase, but as part of a global labor discussion. Should we be reaching across national borders to organize? (Yes.) And did we? (No.) (I was with the UAW organizing clericals during that time.) 
 
profitmagI think that this is a difficult argument to combat within the framework of a growth economy.  Companies need to get bigger. Companies need not only profit, but profit that’s greater than the last quarter, and a profit rate that’s continually increasing.  Buy more, spend more, acquire more, consolidate more, grow more, more, more.   This philosophy of “More” (maybe that’s the next catchy title in this series!) does not align itself well, if at all, with other values — like preserving and maintaining limited resources on the planet — and accommodating, perhaps even promoting, other types of values, such as community, creativity, being loved, and playfulness (with kids or just generally).
 
I credit the environmental movement with giving this analysis greater scope by demystifying systems on Planet Earth, including global and regional and micro, and showing not only the interconnectedness of natural systems, but the interconnectedness of natural, economic and cultural systems.  Without a general framework of sustainability (instead of “More”), I think the way out is not possible.  But within sustainability, I think discussions like this can be actively fruitful.   Levi, you are right in pointing out that, despite following the IKEA supply chain back to China and Romania, Ruppel Shell does not fully explore or incorporate the environmental angle here, and that she needs to.  I think that’s part of her not addressing the larger overarching points, as I’ve mentioned before.   Even smaller, more spotlight-style books like Cheap need to set themselves up correctly in relation to the larger themes, indicating where they fall within a larger spectrum of analysis and action.
 
(Re: my personal experiences with IKEA. I too move around a lot and don’t want some giant antique monster as a bookshelf.  But I also dont’ want to support clear-cutting even in places I can’t see.  I’m going to have to do some investigating of my own when it comes time to get my stuff out of storage again.)

Levi Asher writes:

Ed, you’re correct that Janet Maslin slipped up in describing Ruppel Shell in a Red Lobster when she decided to solve the problems of the world by ordering chicken instead of shrimp.  It was a seafood restaurant, not a Red Lobster.  BUT … the spirit of Janet Maslin’s point remains completely valid.  The only reason Rupell Shell was able to feel comfortable ordering chicken instead of shrimp is because she had been studying the problems with shrimp instead of studying the problems with chicken. 

And, Ed, that’s nice that you like heavy furniture so much.  I also know that you like heavy hardcover books, and that you don’t mind lugging around heavy video equipment book conferences.  Milan Kundera wrote eloquently of the choices we make between “heavy” and “light” lifestyles.  I am decidedly a “light” person, and I will indeed continue to sing songs of love to IKEA.  We haven’t even talked about the great Swedish meatballs and lingonberry jam yet.

Jackson West writes:

Well, apologies for my strident tone.  Ed has a way of managing to time these roundtables to my mood and frame of mind rather ruthlessly. Last time, with the Human Smoke roundtable, I was literally in the process of losing my last family link to the era described in the book with the death of my grandmother.  This time, I’m essentially living with my parents off in the hinterlands after finally drowning under the cost of living in San Francisco and figuring I needed to get out of the pool long enough to let some invoiced checks arrive for a breath of fresh financial air. (Good news. It seems I’ll be selling microwaves for General Electric soon, if a tad indirectly. But I digress.)

I think what I was trying to get across is that in a book like this, which attempts to elucidate a history to explain contemporary reality, a teleology is implied.  In this case, the implied argument is this: In a society where everything is easily commodified and competition becomes one of quantity over quality, invariably there will be a race to the bottom in terms of both pricing and marginal profits. Environmental and social degradation hijinks ensue.

This is, in Ruppel Shell’s estimation (and many of our estimations), a bad thing.  Of course, there was a guy way back in the industrial revolution, a student of capitalism if you will, who also noted the trend.  What was his name again?  Something German.  Got a lot of people worked up. Led to some bloodshed (though, of course, not nearly as efficiently as that wrought by capitalism). Now he’s pretty much persona non grata in the wake of a bunch of nationalist revolutions that ended in autocracy, but cloaked their intent in his ideology.

Hence, like the Kristof example above, there are those who would defend the depredations of a sweatshop because they believe, “Hey, at least it ain’t feudalism!” (And of course, they’re not the ones sweating.)  This is a sentiment which, oddly enough, the likes of Lenin, Friedman, Trotsky, and Rand would agree. It’s like the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Panthers getting together on the issue of gun control.  Counterintuitive, but true.

The problem is, when an industrial capitalist society bent on growth at all costs essentially runs out of room to grow — as it has now that it is truly global — then what’s next?  Well, for starters, it seems that wages stagnate even as productivity grows.  Because “sweatshops for all!” really means just that — an equilibrium in which which the working class works for crappy wages to produce cheap shit to sell to the rest of the working class, with the difference accruing to the owners of the means of production.

Progress!

But in America we still have the luxury of sitting on the fat side of the trade balance, meaning our working class can maintain the delusion that they’re actually middle class because just look at this sweet bedroom set I just bought on my credit card even though I’m underemployed and lack health insurance.  A delusion that we’re only too happy to perpetuate, to misquote Dick Cheney as Malcolm X, by any means necessary.  Again, Ruppel Shell lays this all out (and succinctly so). I’m just paraphrasing.

In all this aspirational class alienation, however, a petit bourgeois strain of thought persists. And I felt that this impulse formed the crux of Ruppel Shell’s concluding arguments.  Namely, that if we return to the somewhat sentimental capitalism of our forefathers (and they were all fathers), we can turn back to a Jeffersonian ideal of libertarian utopia.  The argument goes something like this: “Capitalism isn’t bad, per se. Just industrial capitalism. And if it weren’t for the state colluding with certain corporations to corrupt the market, we wouldn’t be in this unsustainable clusterfuck that we’ve now found ourselves in.”  Also: Sex slaves.

The funny thing is that my homelessness brought me to the family cabin as very much the prodigal son. I’ve actually found myself in what I imagine to be something near the image of postindustrial capitalist utopia that Ruppel Shell and her peers seem to be pining for — a small scale organic paradise with broadband Internet.  A sort of info-agrarian mash-up of self reliance, sustainability, and all the free porn you can stand.  For those who’d like to stay in the cities, well, you’ll be making the porn (natch) and selling the advertising in order to pay for the delicious goats and tomatoes that rural types bring to market.

Perfection!

To go back one last time to my original entry, the question that’s bedeviling me (and, to Ruppel Shell’s credit, it would probably not be so damn devilish if I hadn’t read her book and instead was rubbing myself sore with the porn and such) is whether there are enough cabins to go around, or whether this enlightened and entrepreneurial information age that our best and brightest are so eagerly striving for will simply be crushed under the weight of peak oil and slums and drought and war and all the sins of the industrial age which we (and I mean we, us here, and presumably Ruppel Shell’s intended audience) love to hate.

But I think trying to answer that is my book to write, in which case I may milk the middle class for my piece of the pie and buy a garden of my own to tend. And maybe a shotgun to keep the hungry hordes off my garden. The freeloading Commie bastards.

Ellen Ruppel Shell’s CHEAP — Part Two

(This is the second of a five-part roundtable discussion of Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. Other installments: Part One, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five.)

Kathleen Maher writes:

cheaprt2I am not quite finished reading Cheap, but I have to admit that I’m finding it more interesting than I expected, seeing that I generally don’t read non-fiction and can’t stand shopping — especially for bargains.  

I enjoyed the quick history of American department stores and such trivia as the invention of the price tag.  But it’s hard to imagine this book will capture the popular imagination in the way that other quasi-academic books have (Malcolm Gladwell, et al). The sum of all these anecdotes and quasi-scientific studies seems like a great big “Well, duh. Cheap? You get what you pay for.” 

Miracle Jones hit the nail on the head with his preliminary preoccupations: First, that there is some downright weird stuff in Cheap that weakens Ruppel Shell’s argument, like the masturbation studies and the flying excrement neighborhoods.  And second, as Miracle so aptly put it, I suspect most of America lives in a perpetual “Gruen transfer,” mindlessly wandering in search of the next siren call.  I live in a cheap shopping district in Manhattan and I’m seeing shoppers walk by my window right now.

So I am stuck with a feeling that I know all this already. Ruppel Shell portrays our culture with a certain perspective that most of us may not have appreciated before, but it’s still the same old picture. A culture of mass consumerism in which intelligence, wisdom, quality, and beauty are devalued and degraded.

The depressing fact is that Ruppel Shell is preaching to the choir. We readers, the shrinking “elite” who take the time to actually read, know what she’s talking about. But can we possibly have any effect on the global corporations who are ramming the culture of cheapness down our throat?  I doubt it very much. Global capitalism is brutal, ruthless, and backed by overwhelming military might. Ruppel Shell may be right in her assessment, but Cheap probably won’t make an impact. (Of course, the pertinent question here is: Will it sell?)

Colleen Mondor writes:

Levi: I’m curious. Does reading Ruppel Shell’s sustainability argument about IKEA change the way you perceive your shelving units? Since you are someone who is aware that you are getting a “cheap” product and you’re fine with it because it works best for your purposes, did her discussion of its larger cost come as any surprise? And does it affect how you feel about the product or company?

Edward Champion writes:

I’ll have a lot more to say in response to the many interesting points offered so far. But I wanted to reply very briefly to Levi’s remark on not seeing the problem or the ethical violation of fixing prices. I’m wondering what he (and others) think of the following episode from Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide. The book is a tad too popular science for my tastes, but it does feature a very interesting profile of Herman Palmer, a Bronx financial counselor who helps working-class people manage their debts for a nonprofit organization.  One of Palmer’s chief strategies is to cut up a debtor’s credit card and place the plastic remnants in a large jar containing other shards.  Here’s the excerpt outlining the pernicious pitfall:

When Herman talks about the people who have been helped by his financial advice, his face takes on the glow of a proud parent.  There’s the plumber from Co-op City who lost his job and started paying rent with his credit card.  After a few months, his interest rate was above 30 percent.  Herman helped him consolidate his debt and get his expenses under control.  There’s that single mother who couldn’t afford daycare.  “We helped her find other ways to save money,” he says.  “We cut her expenses by enough so that she didn’t have to charge everything.  The trick is to notice whenever you’re spending money.  All that little stuff?  Guess what: it adds up.”  There’s the schoolteacher who racked up debt on ten different cards and paid hundreds of dollars every month in late fees alone.  It took five years of careful discipline, but now the teacher is debt free.  “I know the client is going to be okay when they start telling me about the sweater or CD they really wanted but they didn’t buy,” Herman says.  “That’s when I know they are starting to make better decisions.”

Most of the people who come to see Herman tell the same basic story.  One day, a person gets a credit card offer in the mail.  (Credit card companies sent out 5.3 billion solicitations in 2007, which means the average American adult got fifteen offers.)  The card seems like such a good deal.  In big bold print it advertises a low introductory rate along with something about getting cash back or frequent-flier miles or free movie tickets.  And so the person signs up.  He fills out the one-page form and then, a few weeks later, gets a new credit card in the mail.  At first, he doesn’t use it much.  Then one day he forgets to get cash, and so he uses the new credit card to pay for food at the supermarket.  Or maybe the refrigerator breaks, and he needs a little help buying a new one.  For the first few months, he always manages to pay off the full bill.  “Almost nobody gets a credit card and says, ‘I’m going to use this to buy the things I can’t afford,'” Herman says.  “But it rarely stays like that for long.”

According to Herman, the big problem with credit cards — the reason he enjoys cutting them up so much — is that they cause people to make stupid financial choices.  They make it harder to resist temptation, so people spend money they don’t have.  “I’ve seen it happen to the most intelligent people,” Herman says.  “I’ll look at their credit card bill and I’ll see a charge for fifty dollars at a department store.  I’ll ask them what they bough.  They’ll say, ‘It was a pair of shoes, Herman, but it was on sale.’  Or they’ll tell me that they bought another pair of jeans but the jeans were fifty percent off.  It was such a good deal that it would have been dumb NOT to buy it. I always laugh when I hear that one.  I then have them add up all the interest they are going to pay on those jeans or that pair of shoes.  For a lot of people, it will be around twenty-five percent a month.  And you know what?  Then it’s not such a good deal anymore.”

These people aren’t in denial.  They know that they have serious debt problems and that they’re paying a lot of interest on their debts.  That’s why they’re visiting a financial adviser.  And yet, they STILL bought the jeans and the pair of shoes on sale.  Herman is all too familiar with the problem: “I always ask people, ‘Would you have bought the item if you had to pay cash?  If you had to go to an ATM and feel the money in your hands and then hand it over?’ Most of the time, they think about it for a minute and then they say no.”

Levi Asher writes:

Colleen, I want to give this a well-thought out answer, but I’m away for a few days without the book in front of me.  I want to reread those sections of the book and then respond in a few days.

Erin O’Brien writes:

We readers, the shrinking “elite” who take the time to actually read, know what she’s talking about. (Kathleen Maher)

I drink shitty beer. Does that affect my newfound “elite” status?

I live in a suburb just south of Cleveland. The Walmart I shop at is about 6 miles away. It’s adjacent to Parmatown Mall, which you can visit vicariously here.

walmartI only go to Walmart when I need to buy Suave shampoo, Saran wrap, Q-tips (I buy the generic ones) and two or three dozen other really irritating things. I usually put said purchases on my credit card, which I pay off monthly in order to earn the one percent rebates.

There used to be another Walmart about 8 miles away. It was built on a landfill. The landfill started leaking noxious gasses that were finding their way into the land of Low Prices. They had to close that Walmart.

In each of the older toilet tanks in our home, you’ll find plastic bottles filled with water and sand that displace some of water therein and lessen the volume of every flush. We put these bottles in right after we moved into this house almost 17 years ago. We conserve everything where we can, but neither my husband nor I would ever leave less than a 20 percent tip. Since we do not want our kid to have to take out a college loan, there is no AC in our house. Vacations are long weekends to places like Mammoth Cave. And if you think my beer is shitty, you should try a cup of my coffee. I drink it with a smile.

Life. Is. Beautiful.

Peggy Nelson writes:

Ed, I’m glad you brought the credit card angle up, which is totally insidious. Ruppel Shell doesn’t get into it much, perhaps because she’s so focused on discount retail.  If anyone has time, I highly recommend the documentary Maxed Out. (You can watch it online via Amazon and also on Instant Play on Netflix.) [EDITOR’S NOTE: With great respect to the lovely Ms. Nelson, I’m afraid I must note the discount culture irony. The film is also available on DVD, but at a higher price. Do the filmmakers get more of a cut through the DVD or the cheaper on-demand option?]

familycreditcardCredit card companies target the poorest, and least credit-savvy, segments of the population to make their money.  They do not make money on you if you use the card responsibly and pay in full every month, or if you hold it in reserve only as an emergency fund.  They do make money off you if you run it up to the limit and then only pay the minimum, or, better yet, miss payments and run up fees and penalties.  

Providian anyone?  Capital One?  MBNA, who is one of the top contributors to the Republican Party?  These predatory lenders have a business model that’s just like the check cashing places out by the strip mall. Once you’re in their system, you will pay and pay and pay.  Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard bankruptcy lawyer interviewed in Ruppel Shell’s book, plays a large role in Maxed Out too, explaining how this works.  It is counterintuitive. How can they make money off the little people who have almost none?  And yet, they do.  Lots of it.

This all plays into something in us that is very difficult to resist. And I’ve been there, as have some of you. Hey, a little extra for free!  Just for now.  This will so help me out, get me over the hump, and I need some stuff.  Yeah, I have to pay it back, but only eventually. And I can do so in little bits.  Meanwhile, the total climbs higher and higher. Until things are worse than at the beginning. And now you don’t need a little help. You need a lot.  And they’ve started calling your family. And your boss.

There is one more insidious thing about credit cards (well probably more than one) — you need one for your social reputation.  I don’t mean that as some abstract thing.  You need one to rent a car, to buy an airline ticket, to stay in a motel, to rent an apartment (in some places), and, in some places, even to get a job.  You need one as a second ID, the “real” ID, that validates your active membership in society.  Without a credit card, you have no reputation (or worse, a bad one).  You cannot do things.  You are suspect.

Kathleen Maher writes:

Erin, so maybe you’re not elite — it’s my problem. The truth is, I’m so elitist that I don’t even like fireworks. Even as a child, they impressed me as bombs bursting in air–more martial than anything else. We’re free to accept or reject superficial labels like “down to earth” vs. “elitist.” I certainly didn’t mean to insult anyone.

I did think, however, that this book — which so carefully describes the lengths that shoppers will go (the outlet malls, for one) to score a designer label or a brand name — was referring to the “elitist” that runs rampant in so many psyches. Or maybe not. I don’t shop at outlet malls. It’s not worth the time and trouble. And here again, I can be called an elitist for not joining the outlet crowd.

To me, elitism is not a soul-sickness. It’s not a vice. It’s more a matter of not being able to get with the big group. Not belonging; not joining. I know there’s the connotation that real elitists think they’re better. I do not think I’m better. I do think I’m different. And admitting that sets me up for criticism, as if by different I mean special. I don’t necessarily mean special. Just different.

Erin O’Brien writes:

suaveadKudos to Peggy’s “great unasked question” and the subsequent points she raises. Life Inc. sounds like a book I need to visit. But I need to bellyache about the government for a bit anyway. As Ruppel Shell copiously notes in her book, many of us are hard-wired to find a good value or a good price. To that end, I shop at a discount grocer and Walmart.  But I also ride pretty far left of center for a reason. I just don’t think that enough people will shop responsibly or self-regulate to make a difference. I try to be conscientious and I try to conserve. Many others do. But it is simply not enough. This is why we need government. I want legislation that supports fair minimum wage. If the best price around is a few cents more in order to pay that wage, I have no problem shelling out $1.25 for my Suave shampoo instead of $0.99. Furthermore, I’m happy to pay taxes that support Medicaid and food assistance. I’d love to see Medicare gradually expanded to relieve the private sector of the choking health care/health insurance behemoth. I’m all for college becoming part of the public school system. I’m for a government that supports effective regulation and inspection of imported food and goods. The list goes on and on. Yes, I know all this means more taxes. I’m okay with that. I am happy to have a little less in order to live in a society that respects and values human dignity. Sorry about the flag-waving, but somewhere along the way, taxation became a dirty word and unfettered capitalism/consumerism became the new golden idol. Call it the bastard child of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics coupling with eight years of Bush’s crazed deregulation.

I am not naive. I know the lobbyists, the big corporations, and the big money are all staggering entities. There’s also plenty of regular red-blooded Americans who would decry every assertion in my previous paragraph. They usually vote Republican. All I can hope for is that the blue push which we saw in the last two elections starts the juggernaut moving slowly but surely leftward.

A few more notes:

I thought Ruppel Shell’s recounting of discount retailing history was interesting, but that she devoted too much space to it.

Sarah: Point well taken about publishers wanting books such as Cheap to be personalized. Unfortunately for me, Ruppel Shell’s brand of personalization did not necessarily warm this subject matter.  For instance, when she references people “wearing T-shirts emblazoned with slogans” on page 97, the tone felt condescending. That’s purely subjective on my part, but there it is.

Regarding the notes, I did find them valuable, but also distracting. I always knew they were lurking back there. Whenever I came upon something that intrigued me (the liquified manure for instance), I had to decide whether or not to interrupt my read and see if there was more to be had in the back of the book. When there was worthy content, I had to wonder why Ruppel Shell didn’t just incorporate it in the general text.  The notes also struck me as just one more reason that we should be reading ebooks. We all seem to be able to handle embedded links online. Books like Cheap beg for the convenience of a click and a shift of the eyes instead of the intrusive page fumbling begged by the elaborate notes. But all that said, 232 pages of text followed by 63 pages of acknowledgments, notes and bibliography was stunning to me. Of course, had this been an eBook, I wouldn’t have been comparing the thickness of pages devoted to text to the thickness of pages devoted to explaining said text, now would I?

Colleen Mondor writes:

Honestly, while we could pick out certain points we wish were expanded upon or not, I think the purpose of the book was to make the general reader think before they buy. We haven’t talked much about the social history Ruppel Shell presents here on department stores and malls. This was all very interesting — especially how outlet malls in particular are designed to keep people moving and to a certain degree uncomfortable (no covered walkways, etc.). I also thought that her passages on pricing and the example of the mattresses was very well done — we don’t want an inexpensive mattress; we want an expensive mattress that is priced inexpensively (even though the prices are all, to some degree, made up).

One thing I was worried about was that this would be a big Walmart bashing book. But it’s not. I appreciated that Ruppel Shell even framed Whole Foods in a less than flattering light. It’s not as if people need to aspire to go there for the good stuff. Ruppel Shell makes a point that the expensive stores are just as culpable as the dollar stores in manipulating the public.

wholefoodsTo me, that was rather key in the book. It also addresses this “elitism” issue. (That is a word that I think will be a lightning rod for some time due to the election.) Ruppel Shell’s point seems to be that the bargain idea crosses socioeconomic lines. While a bargain for some folks might seem crazy expensive to some (the Whole Foods example), it is still another person’s bargain. But then, as she explains in various ways, the bargains are revealed not to be bargains at all — either in their value to you (they won’t last long or flat out aren’t worth it) or in the true cost to others (or the environment, etc.). Levi is right that, for some items and some people, a cheap price for a short-term purchase may be worthwhile. But as Ruppel Shell shows, there is still the fact that the true price isn’t being exposed to the American consumer. It’s like how some of us are enjoying cheap energy while West Virginia and Kentucky pay with environmental destruction, health problems, etc.

I think Ruppel Shell did a very good job of writing a thinking person’s book that will appeal to anyone who shops — in essence, to pretty much anyone. You could argue that folks who have to buy cheap because they don’t have much money wouldn’t bother reading this book. But I don’t think that’s true. As I stated earlier, that’s the life I was brought up in. And I know that both my parents would be very interested in this book. No one likes to be manipulated. And at its heart, this is what Ruppel Shell is exposing.

I thought the endnotes were excellent also. But as a historian, that’s something I look for in a book like this one.

Robert Birnbaum writes:

Here’s the OED (that’s the Oxford English Dictionary for you non elitists)

elite noun & adjective. Also élite. L18.
[ORIGIN French élite, use as noun of fem. of obsolete pa. pple of élire, †eslire from Proto-Romance var. of Latin eligere elect verb.]

► A noun.
1 The choice part, the best, (of society, a group of people, etc.); a select group or class. L18.

K. M. E. Murray Oxford still catered…for the social elite, who could afford to go to the University as a…luxury. R. Rendell She…spoke of her family and its immediate circle as of an élite.

social elite: see social adjective.

► B attrib. adjective. Of or belonging to an elite; exclusive. M19.

 elitism noun advocacy of or reliance on the leadership or dominance of a select group elitist adjective & noun (a person) practising elitism 

Here’s American Heritage:

e·lite or é·lite 
n. pl. elite or e·lites
A group or class of persons or a member of such a group or class, enjoying superior intellectual, social, or economic status: “In addition to notions of social equality there was much emphasis on the role of elites and of heroes within them” (Times Literary Supplement).
The best or most skilled members of a group: the football team’s elite.

e·lit·ism or é·lit·ism 
n.
The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.
The sense of entitlement enjoyed by such a group or class.
Control, rule, or domination by such a group or class

I am pretty certain that I am an elitist — and people, I think that all of you are too.

This pow wow, as such things are inevitably driven to, has devolved into a cross-hatching of confusions and personal defenses. That’s all understandable, as examining human behavior reveals all manner of anomalies, illogics, and base behavior; none of which we are comfortable admitting are parts of our own persona (in the spirit of [sort-of- ]full disclosure, I own more socks, baseball caps and hoodies than anyone should).

Bad boy Eddie introduced the subject of our behavior around credit (cards). That’s a whole other ball of wax— and whatever irrationalities are manifest you can bet that the shylocks and the money changers have worked out an elaborate rigging of the system so that we (you and me) can’t win. Remember: The House never loses.

Levi talked about the practicality of IKEA. Which makes sense. Except you can, for example, do bookshelves for less (cement blocks and lumber and unfinished pine shelves). May be that’s too much work. Personally I think IKEA and such outlets contribute to a stultifyingly dull sense of habitat.

jimmychoobahTo me, the big unaddressed issue is how we perceive value. Price is not about value. And I don’t think it ever really has been. What determines the price of a Hermes scarf, a Brioni suit, and Jimmy Choo shoes? Workmanship? Quality materials? Or the campaign that convinces some people that $5,000 or $6,000 is okay? Or that $25 or more is the price of a good cigar? (By the way, with workers, farmers at the bottom of the pyramid of production of luxury goods don’t fare better than the those making whatever products end up in Walmart, which, by the way, is no great bargain past a select number of items that are promoted.) And apropos of nothing, Whole Foods is vastly overpriced and oddly managed. (Did you read about the Whole Foods worker who was fired for planning to eat a tuna fish sandwich? Then Whole Foods tried to impede his collection of unemployment comp.) But Whole Foods is apparently well branded. I work part time at a Trader Joe’s and I can declaim on this subject at length if prodded.

Anyway, there will not be a revolution — certainly not by consumers. (By the way, Cheap is part of a long line of books about (us) dumb and benighted consumers going back to Vance Packard’s Nation of Sheep in the early ’60s.) Nope, the correction that will dismantle the mass market will be the slippery downward slope of peak oil and the reconstitution of society circumstantially deprived of energy to sustain the oil-based industries and products. Which is to say that James Howard Kuntsler (The Long Emergency) has me convinced.

For those of you who believe that reading these types of book make us smarter consumers, well, good luck.

P.S. One thing that continues to bother me is the rapid decline in the price of books (clearly an example of the disparity of price and value). Go to Amazon and see what some recently published books are being offered at. And remainders! There’s a surefire way for the book publishers to commit suicide.

Nina MacLaughlin writes:

Janet Maslin has some dismissive things to say about Cheap in the New York Times, where she pairs it with Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price. “Neither author is entirely to be trusted,” Maslin writes. “And neither author has written a book that is as sharp as its one-word catchy title.”

I wonder about Robert’s most recent point about whether these sorts of books can actually be effective tools of change, and whether these books can serve in making us “smarter consumers.” I think I may tilt more towards Robert’s pessimistic take. Being more aware is one thing. We know now that we should care whether our apples were flown all the way from Argentina, and we know that it’s not a good thing to pay $4 for a T-shirt if it means that 11 year-old kids were involved in making it. But being able to care about the backstory of a product — the circumstances it was made, how far it had to travel to arrive on the shop’s shelf, &c — and being able to make choices based on those facts are two completely different things.

But this feels like a pretty obvious point, and so did many of Ruppel Shell’s examples. Some of her examples were mildly illuminating (the shrimp discussion, for example, if only for its gross-out factor). But as Janet Maslin points out in her response to the book, Ruppel Shell boasts that she decides to opt for chicken over shrimp at a Red Lobster dinner. As Maslin writes, “Yet cheap chicken-farming isn’t any less ghastly. It just doesn’t happen to be addressed by this book.” It’s all about picking your battles, I guess.

I have been thinking a lot about what Levi has said about IKEA and disposable shelves. It makes some sense, and, not to overstate the case, perhaps it helps in making us less attached to actual things (even if they do have cute Swedish monikers). For me, though, as someone who loathes shopping to an extreme, I think I’d rather pay a little more for the shelves, if only to avoid having to go back to IKEA to buy replacements.

Kathleen Maher writes:

I’ve finished reading the book, and I enjoyed reading the history of buying and selling stuff in this country and just how we got to the grotesque place we are today. Many of Ruppel Shell’s investigations into cognitive psychology either confirmed my intuitions or struck me as obvious. For example, I am already acutely aware that the “Winner Takes Nothing.” I know about deforestation, the pitiful working conditions, and these policies the world over. I’ve tasted that muddy, medicine-tinged shrimp. And while I may have been naive about that one word, I know full well that nobody around here is a “worker.” They’re associates and representatives with whom I’ve shared three-hour there and three-hour back bus rides. Except they get off the bus at the Woodbury Mall while I continue to the next stop to visit a friend who rents a bungalow outside Monroe, NY during the summer.

In the evening, the same passengers join me on the bus returning to the city. They’re now weighed down with glossy Dolce and Gabba shopping bags, along with (and there’s no real way not to notice) Coach, Tommy Hilfiger, and Versace shopping bags. And aside from whatever name brand clothing and leather goods these people may have bought, they’ll carry those high-end, name brand shopping bags around on the subway until it’s time for their next day trip to the designer outlet mall.

Overall, this book made me as anxious and as unhappy as shopping does. Count me an extreme case of HNFC: If I happen to hit upon a “bargain,” I do not enjoy it. I do not feel richer and frankly it would amaze me if the pleasure paths in my brain lit up. For I am all too aware that my personal bargain means another person’s loss. Yet I’m no happier knowing I’ve lost money in an institutionalized swindle.

When I’m feeling tougher, I don’t have time to figure gains and losses in percentages of pennies. As I’m more apt to see it, I indulge myself in that luxury — without counting pennies. For if I were truly poverty-stricken, I would need to empty trash bins, as people are doing right now outside the Dunkin Donuts across the street. My shopping cart would be the one I’d somehow procured in order to spend my days and nights accumulating recyclable waste and other junk. Scrounging for “bargains” feels like the high-end version of that activity. And as Ruppel Shell says, it’s work.

The extinction of craft and creativity for the sake of “smarts, drive, ambition, and speed” depresses me. A world without appreciation for craft, skill, and patience is not a happy one for me. Give me fiction and I’ll get out of here.

P.S. Nina’s remark about “cheap chicken” awoke a horrifying description I once read about how corporations breed poultry so that their beaks are barely existent. The birds’ throats are then wired open and liquefied feed, antibiotics, and hormones are poured into them, propelling the already genetically engineered birds to grow up faster and fatter in dirtier quarters.

Bubbles: A Consideration

On June 12, 2009, I attended a bubble battle in New York. But the event wasn’t really a battle — at least not in the traditional sense. Hundred of people who didn’t know each other gathered in Times Square to blow bubbles. It seemed like such a simple act, but it turned out to be so much more. And I hope that the above film, “Bubbles: A Consideration,” gives anyone who wasn’t able to attend a sense of the possibilities.

The Other Bald Man

Whenever I go to a party, particularly one with lithe lads and lasses who are a good five or seven years younger than me, I feel a great sense of delight when another bald man arrives. “Aha!” I cry. “One of my kind!” Any lingering nervousness lifts. And I often single out my bald compatriot with a cheery hello, sometimes offering a telling wink or a gentle, avuncular nudge. It is my hope to imbue any bald man with a sense that they could be as badass as Samuel L. Jackson or Patrick Stewart or Sean Connery if they really wanted to be.

I should point out that my thatchy crescent has not yet completely receded. It has remained, much to my shock, recalcitrant in some places and skin-abdicating in others. For example, there remains a small but stubborn patch two inches above the outer edge of my left eyebrow that does not wish to yield to the fleshy inevitability just over the hill. I have taken to shaving my hair off every few months just to see how much of the hair will grow back. And to keep things quite fun, I have also grown more beards in the past year than I have in all the years previously. (The beard growing/hair shaving gambit is also my way of adjusting to the pronounced shift in seasons, which I am truly unused to — this being my first year living outside of California.)

But the balding is slower than I imagine. A friend who hasn’t seen me in two or three years will often refrain from telling me how much hair I’ve lost. And while I’ve long accepted the fact that I’m balding and would not take offense, I’m honored by this politeness and hold my tongue.

But back to this business of the other bald man: sometimes, when the other bald man is younger than me and has balded more substantially than I have, there is something of a social impasse. Particularly when the other bald man is experiencing some crisis of confidence common to a young man in his mid-to-late twenties. And instead of returning my good-hearted cheer, the other bald man’s eyes dart upwards to the hairy isthmus at the top of my head and widen with a sense of fear and panic. And whatever words I have to say on the subject (“Don’t worry. I’m sure it will be gone in a few years.”) are nulled by the sense that I somehow got a better deal. When in fact, the degree of one’s hair loss has no real bearing.

A few evenings ago, I encountered another bald man of this type and began to conduct some social experiments. I would move to a corner of the room he was occupying and beads of sweat would appear on his forehead. He would then move away. I would shift again. He would move away again. I had never met this guy before. And he certainly didn’t know me. I was a bit boisterous, as I usually am at such occasions. But I was polite and did nothing out of the ordinary.

Since the other bald men wished to ignore me, it became necessary to take things to the next level. I began talking to several young ladies, determining which ones were single, and, for those who did not appear to have a date or a steady man, I started suggesting that they talk to this other bald men. I made oblique references to a great act of courage that I had heard about. I pointed to the other bald man’s wit, écalt, and other factors, and even managed to cajole a few of them to walk across the room and start talking with him. And I would watch the other bald man blow these opportunities in minutes.

I suppose I sympathized because I was that bald man once, before I snapped out of it. Regrettably, balding is one of those things that we’re expected to sneer down on. The same way shallow and myopic types concern themselves over those who are fatter, older, or some needless aesthetic qualifier that ends with -er, and feel the compulsive need to expend a good deal of time, money, and energy over this when it’s far simpler to accept others as much as one can.

Because of this, you’ll always find me saluting and encouraging the other bald man at a party. He may very well have his act together, but it never hurts to remind him that there’s a hell of a lot more going on than “Who loves ya, baby?”

I Need a Husband!

About six months after I continued to remain happy and childless, I saw a woman sitting with her son on a blanket. Her name, I later discovered, was Lori and she was there with her friend Caitlin. It was a sunny summer weekend, and there were parents and kids picnicking nearby.

The day had been going fine, until Lori started checking out my ass in a really intense way. Which was odd, because I have an okay ass. Nothing to write home about. I guess it was an ass you could settle for. Of course, when pressed, I can shake my booty as well as anybody else. Still, it was somewhat disheartening to have someone checking out my ass without even having the courtesy to introduce herself.

“Excuse me,” said Lori. “Are you married?”

“What? Why, no,” I said.

“Do you shout ‘Bravo!’ in movie theaters?”

“Sometimes. When it’s an action movie.”

She introduced herself. She then asked if she could smell my breath. I told her that I needed one minute to suck on a breath mint. She told me that breath mints weren’t necessary. I informed her that her request was quite unusual. And she then grabbed the roll of BreathSavers out of my hand and stomped my mints into chalky powder. She insisted that I had halitosis. This was not true.

“Hey, you owe me a buck for those BreathSavers!”

“I want a husband,” she said.

“What for? What do you really long for?”

“An angle for this Atlantic article I’m writing. Well, actually, a husband. I’m very worried about that. Every single woman I know feels panic about this. I need to marry and reproduce.”

I then noticed that she was taking notes.

“You know, you don’t need a husband to be happy,” I said. “Mr. Right often comes along when you least expect it.”

“I need a husband now.”

Lori didn’t blink as she said this. I was starting to get an Ira Levin vibe.

“Yeah, and I’d love to write for The New Yorker. It’ll probably never happen. But that doesn’t stop me from writing or living.”

“You don’t understand. I need a husband now.”

“Well, if that’s the case, go get one.”

I started to walk away. I considered calling 911. Lori was starting to give me the creeps. There was a wild look in her eyes.

“Will you be my husband?”

I was unnerved by Lori. I knew many well-adjusted single women in their thirties and forties who were living fantastic lives. And they were doing this entirely without partners.

“Are you The One?”

“No!” I shouted.

She then consulted a complicated Powerpoint presentation on her laptop. There was a red text box with the words MUST MARRY MAN NOW! flashing in bright white text.

“Are you my soul mate?”

“Look, Lori, I don’t know you, but I think you need help.”

“I need to marry somebody. Someone who can help me pop out 1.2 children from my uterus. Will you marry me and help me pop out 1.2 children? I have one son. I need 1.2 more so that I can live the perfect dream. Are you Mr. Good Enough?”

“I’m Mr. Champion.”

Lori then complained to her friend Caitlin that I wasn’t cooperating. Caitlin suggested that they should go home and watch the final episode of Friends to get some additional ideas for Lori’s article. And that was the last I saw of them.

I didn’t understand Lori’s problem. If only she would stop with the whole “I need a husband” nonsense and accept that life happens when you make other plans, maybe she might get her wish.

But it was good to meet someone who wrote for The Atlantic. I was pretty sure that Lori would read a few books on the subject, talk to some noted experts on relationships and human behavior, cite a few studies, and write a very thoughtful article without a single generalization about gender. After all, The Atlantic was a respected magazine that attracted only the best writers.

Conscience and Integrity

He was a passionate devotee of David Foster Wallace, Rick Moody, and many others who he sensed were writing the Great American Novel. He made acquaintances with a few of his heroes, attending workshops and the like. And he spent eleven years working on his novel. Because he needed his novel to be perfect. To his mind, this was the only way he could live up.

He didn’t realize that great novels — and indeed great art — often happen by accident. By routine. By turning around work and getting better at what you do. Even the best ball players can’t hit a homerun every time. He caused himself and a number of other people close to him some grief. It’s all there in Chip McGrath’s article. And it will all be there in a forthcoming installment of The Bat Segundo Show.

I bring Charles Bock up in light of Carrie Frye and David Ulin’s responses to the Zadie Smith controversy. Both suggest that Zadie Smith’s decision was exacted with, respectively, conscience and integrity. Anyone who writes knows that writing can be a tough and unrelenting business. That you’re going to get “no” (or, more often, no reply at all) more often than you get “yes.” Which is why it’s important to keep on writing and not let anyone stand in your way.

Now it’s certainly important to demand the best out of people, no matter how small the stakes. When friends and acquaintances offer me their manuscripts, they know damn well that I’m going to be hard and ruthless with their words. Writing is too important to be taken for granted.

But I believe that it’s also important to be encouraging with people who have the basic nuts and bolts. To leave some wiggle room for another writer to work out a problem and to find her voice in her own way. To encourage a writer, particularly a good one, to carry on writing, however difficult the process, however much the writer’s writing may not speak to you, and whatever the extant fallacies you perceive. The only way that a writer can get better at writing is to look that white whale right in the eye. To produce without fear of judgment and without fear of failure, but with an upturned ear. Judgment and failure come with the territory.

A wholesale dismissal of a manuscript without reason is less helpful than an honest and reasonable excoriation, which might provide the writer some clues on how to get better or where the writer went wrong with one person. Writing, like many things in life, benefits from failure as well as success. So I can find little conscience and integrity to Zadie Smith’s actions. Had she bothered to highlight the deficiencies of these manuscripts using very specific examples — and, for that matter, had the print people damning blogs used very specific examples — we might be having a pugnacious but ultimately well-intentioned discussion. But Zadie Smith, lest we forget, is just one voice. She is not the final arbiter of taste. The very idea that art must be perfect fails to take Michelangelo’s maxim into account: “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”

Casablanca, you may recall, was just another studio picture. Picasso was frighteningly prolific. On the Road was written in three weeks. Dostoevsky quite famously wrote his novella, “The Gambler,” because he had to meet a crazed deadline in order to meet his debts.

The Charles Bocks of our world are left to sweat when they might benefit from writing with a sense of urgency. They continue in this way because instead of being true to their voices, they feel the need to adhere to some ridiculously high standard proscribed by others. When the high standards should come primarily from the artist, guided in large part by an intuitive subconscious.

So what role then is the critic or the judge? I think Mencken was pretty close:

A catalyzer, in chemistry, is a substance that helps two other substances to react. For example, consider the case of ordinary cane sugar and water. Dissolve the sugar in water and nothing happens. But add a few drops of acid and the sugar changes to glucose and fructose. Meanwhile, the acid itself is absolutely unchanged. All it does is to stir up the reaction between the water and the sugar. The process is called catalysis. The acid is a catalyzer.

Well, this is almost exactly the function of a genuine critic of the arts. It is his business to provoke the reaction between the work of art and the spectator. The spectator, untutored, stands unmoved; he sees the work of art, but it fails to make any intelligible impression on him; if he were spontaneously sensitive to it, there would be no need for criticism. But now comes the critic with his catalysis. He makes the work of art live for the spectator; he makes the spectator live for the work of art. Out of the process comes understanding, appreciation, intelligent enjoyment — and that is precisely what the artist tried to produce.

Breaking News: Snobbery Ain’t Cute

Dear Zadie Smith:

Well, this isn’t a difficult thing to write. Because the kind of sanctimonious attitude you espouse with your open letter really doesn’t tell us the whole story.* Really, what happened here? Did you actually read all of the entries? Or did you shoot them down on sight because the first sentence wasn’t some florid specimen of “originality?” You know, “One may as well begin with Jerome’s e-mails to his father” wasn’t exactly the kind of sentence I’d write home about. (And neither, for that matter, was Forster’s original line.) But I gave On Beauty a chance and stuck it out, despite its cheap reliance upon coincidence and a few implausible relationships, and I enjoyed it. But I gotta say that it took some hubris there to rewrite Howard’s End. Almost as cocky as Gus Van Sant remaking Psycho shot-for-shot. But then you’re Zadie Smith. And, hey, it won you the Orange Prize and got you on the Booker shortlist. And I’m just some crazed blogger who writes on a medium that you won’t deign to capitalize.

Anyway, this isn’t about your novels, which I think are fantastic. This is about something else. I don’t have a prize to hand out. I’m just a guy who likes literature. And I too look for quality and am known to masticate upon wretched manuscripts when the cupboards aren’t stocked with trusty tins and I feel a pressing need to be tortured by a dentist. But if you honestly believe that not one manuscript out of hundreds was worth something, then just what the sam hill were you doing judging a contest anyway? I mean, I thought that I was Mr. Crankypants. But you take the cake! And apparently you want others to eat it too.

So let’s conduct ourselves a little basic math here. There were 800 stories in this contest. And let’s say that the average length of each story was roughly ten pages a piece. So we’ve got ourselves 8,000 pages total. That’s a lot of reading material, I know. But let’s be utterly brutal and cut it down to 1%. That’s eighty pages left. Or eight stories out of 600. If you want to say .05%, that’s four stories. Surely, even you, Ms. Smith, in your hard-pressed quest for “quality” could cop to .05% of all the material coming in being worth something. Surely, even you, Ms. Smith, could count one sentence in that crop as amazing.

So you and the judges don’t want to read all the other crap that comes in. Okay, that’s cool. But surely you understand that when you sign on to judge a reading contest, inevitably, you’re going to have to wade through a morass to get to the really good stuff. This is, incidentally, what an editor of a literary journal has to do. And, by editor, we’re not talking about asking top talent, who could write amazing things in their sleep if they had to, to submit stories for The Book of Other People. We’re not talking about having Dave Eggers email you some article that you simply say yes to for The Best American Nonrequired Reading. We’re talking about real editing by aspiring writers, good and bad, who want to be published. The kind of pull-up-your-dungarees-and-wade-into-the-septic-tank hard labor that involves vertiginous slush piles. Oh, they’re nightmarish. But if you’re a glass-is-half-full kind of person and you have even a remote love of literature, you’ll know that every now and then, something good comes through. And it makes the job worthwhile. Do you think you’re exempt from this basic vocational reality because you’re Zadie Smith?

And incidentally, who are you to complain about “pseudo-literary fictio-tainment” when your dear husband offered just that with Utterly Monkey? Not that I have any problem with “pseudo-literary” offerings. But I’m just saying.

Really, Zadie honey, you’re in your thirties now. You really should know better than this. Particularly after all the trouble you got into by declaring England “a disgusting place.” (Aha! A common theme here!) But if this is really one of those cases where you vant to be alone, then please, just stay away from journalists and judging reading contests and concentrate your attentions on what you’re really good at: writing novels.

Yours sincerely,

Edward Champion

* — The “whole story” was, incidentally, relayed by Bilal Ghafoor — if indeed this is the “whole story” and not just another case of CYA.

Dave Itzkoff: The Genre Dunce Who Won’t Stop Dancing

Dave Itzkoff has been an embarrassment to the New York Times Book Review for some time, imbuing his “Across the Universe” columns with a know-nothing hubris that one expects from an investment banker who considers himself an art expert simply because he’s had his secretary send in a tax-deductible donation to the opera. Never mind that he hasn’t once listened to Verdi. But Itzkoff’s latest piece truly demonstrates that the wretched and rackety well has no bottom limit. Reading Itzkoff is like being paired up with some otiose oaf on a field assignment who will cluelessly drill into a septic tank and spew all manner of malodorous shit without recognizing how incompetent and disgusting this is. Unlike someone like quarterback Eli Manning, Itzkoff’s instincts can’t help him win the game. Not even accidentally.

Itzkoff first tries to be cutesy with this column, comparing his subway rides to “Bruce Campbell dodging zombies,” when in fact the Evil Dead films concerned themselves with the backwoods, not an urban setting, and it was the supernatural (as opposed to zombies) that Bruce Campbell dodged in the Evil Dead films. He might have had a decent comparison on his hands had he evoked something along the lines of Lamberto Bava’s Demons. But a tired and clumsy reference to Bruce Campbell? Clearly, this was one of those “hip” comparisons that Itzkoff sneaked into his column not with the intent of relating to his audience, but to desperately pine for a geek chic he clearly does not and can never possess.

And then we have the telltale phrase of a dolt signifying everything: “I sometimes wonder how any self-respecting author of speculative fiction can find fulfillment in writing novels for young readers.” I wonder how any “critic” could write such a clueless sentence. Bad enough that Itzkoff invokes two books that have been out for many months (one more than a year) and is about as current on science fiction as a high school jock trying to crib tips from reluctant geeks who recognize a flagrant pettifogger. But this ignoramus also has the temerity to suggest that speculative fiction authors can only write speculative fiction and that there is nothing of value in YA books. Further, Itzkoff can’t seem to understand that selling millions of books may not be why an author turns to the form. As it so happens, China Miéville was once good enough to tell me that he didn’t write Un Lun Dun with money in mind. But he didn’t need to inform me about the artistic satisfaction he found in creating worlds for kids. It was, despite my quibbles with the book, nascent on the page. You’d have to be a tone-deaf dilettante out of your element not to see it.

Then there is Itzkoff’s ignorance in quoting Miéville’s previous works. He doesn’t cite the New Crobuzon books (were they just too long and too filled with big words for Itzkoff to ken?). He seems to think that a fantasy audience is more likely to know Miéville for King Rat and his short stories. When in fact, the reverse is true. And what should Miéville’s polemic on Tolkien have to do with the imaginative strengths of Un Lun Dun? Is Itzkoff taking the piss out of Miéville’s socialist views by comparing this essay to “one of the most imaginative young adult novels of the post-Potter era?” When, in fact, Miéville argued:

As socialists, we don’t judge art by the politics of its creator – Trotsky loved Celine, Marx loved Balzac, and neither author was exactly a lefty. However, when the intersection of politics and aesthetics actually stunts the art, it’s no red herring to play the politics card.

Un Lun Dun is not a case where the environmental politics stunt the art. And if this is Itzkoff’s crass attempt to be clever, to equate Miéville’s politics with his art, then why doesn’t he just fess up to what a pinko author Miéville is?

And then there is this bafflingly obvious observation:

When Miéville hangs a crucial story element on an alternate definition of the word “phlegm,” he does so not only to educate his audience about its forgotten second meaning, but also to acknowledge that kids love the word “phlegm.”

You think, Itzkoff? That’s a bit like writing, “When Miéville titled his book Un Lun Dun, he does so not only to suggest phonetic transcription, but also to acknowledge that kids love to misspell words.” It’s the kind of dull conclusion I’d expect from a burned out undergraduate taking on some hack assignment of dumbing down literature for a Cliffs Notes volume. Not something from the New York Times.

When Itzkoff brings up Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves’s InterWorld, the book is “still something of a departure,” presumably because Itzkoff remains incapable of fathoming why a fantasy author would be found in the children’s section. Bafflingly, Itzkoff writes that the book “falls into the same broad category as ‘Un Lun Dun.'” While you’re at it, Itzkoff, why don’t you tell us that the book is “published by the good people at McGraw Hill?” These are utterly useless sentences. Itzkoff can’t seem to accept a book as a book. He feels the need to pigeonhole it, even to suggest that Gaiman and Reaves had a specific type of reader in mind, when, in fact, the book’s origins have a completely different story. But Itzkoff is too lazy to conduct even the most basic of research. Again, he would rather assume and drop in a reference to Heavy Metal.

Itzkoff writes that InterWorld “isn’t sugarcoated for its readership” and describes how it “wastes no time in putting its young heroes in mortal peril.” Which leads one to wonder whether Itzkoff is even familiar with this little story called “Jack and the Beanstalk,” which featured this giant chanting for the blood of an Englishman. As nearly every bedtime reader knows, children’s stories have a long history of putting young heroes in mortal peril. See, for instance, the tales of Grimm.

Why someone like Itzkoff has remained continually employed at the NYTBR for nearly two years is no mystery. Nobody at the NYTBR gives a good goddam about science fiction, nor do they care about incisive coverage of genre books. I doubt very highly that Sam Tanenhaus or Dwight Garner have read one science fiction book in their entire NYTBR tenure. There’s certainly no evidence to suggest that either of these two have open minds on the subject. Garner once described Philip K. Dick as a “trippy science-fiction writer.” Which is a bit like calling Dylan “a trippy singer.” A New York Times search unearths not a single article by Sam Tanenhaus with the words “science fiction” in it.

So if Itzkoff, Tanenhaus, and Garner are failing on the science fiction front, why then should one give credence to them? Because Tanenhaus actually had the hubris to tell me (and a large audience) that the NYTBR is “the best book review section in the nation.” But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. To my mind, if you are an editor striving to be “the best book review section in the nation,” you should take genre as seriously as you do mainstream literature. You should not pollute your columns with clumsy cultural references that have no relation to the material.

And, above all, you should not hire a dunce like Dave Itzkoff.

[UPDATE: Andrew Wheeler writes: “Perhaps the problem is that Itzkoff has a whole page to fill, and, given that he’s only read two fairly short books in six months, he doesn’t have much actual content to fill that space with. So once again I will suggest a tightening of Itzkoff’s assigned space. One word every decade would about do it.”]

Class Distinctions

Back in the days when I played at the gilded trap known as the nine-to-five rap, there were often times in which my failure to distinguish social hierarchies was at odds with policies practiced off the clock. There was a night when I went out to dinner with my fellow co-workers. One of those terrible fusion places. The kind of place not so keen on food and atmosphere and social camaraderie, but where the individual goes to be seen. I have never cared too much about being seen, but I do like to have a good time, even if my own social tendencies sometimes get me in trouble.

waiter1.jpgThe place pounded bad house music at deafening levels. There was very little light, save for a strip of green neon snaking around the perimeter of the bar. The waitstaff were clad in black, murky figures who sneaked up on tables like highwaymen descending upon a stagecoach. I kept feeling around for my wallet just to be sure.

It was clear from the stray sentences that managed to penetrate through the deplorable four four beat that my co-workers had class aspirations. Their fun was tied into the consumption of material goods. Whether spending every spare dollar on needless decor, drinks tabs that extended into a three digit sum in mere hours, or the blow that one secretary snorted in the restroom with a file clerk two decades her junior. (“I still have my tits,” she once said to me, little realizing that my interest in breasts had to be justified with some minimum but by no means unreasonable level of smarts.)

waiter2.jpgI lost interest in the talk of a reality television show I had never watched and began observing a server who reminded me very much of one of the attorneys at the firm I was then toiling at. She had spent a good deal of time perfecting her posture, had carefully kept up her skin, and was in her early thirties. Roughly around the same age. The resemblance was so similar to me that I could imagine her replacing a tray with an attache.

I pointed out these physical and behavioral similarities to the group. They looked, conceding that there was some resemblance. But the secretary, slamming down her fifth straight shot of Jamison’s, waved her finger imprecisely in my direction and insisted, “But [attorney name’s excised] is beautiful!”

The waitress and the attorney were indeed both beautiful. But I didn’t really see why one would be more beautiful than the other. The only real difference was the vocation and the amount of take home pay.

But I suppose that if you look through a haze of drug and drink and drudgery, your sense of the world grows distorted. The ugly takes on a sudden allure. The tendrils of stasis start to resemble upward mobility. And beauty, which takes on many forms great and small and shouldn’t have a price tag, is hopelessly cross-stitched into commodity.

The U.S. Copyright Office

  • Paramount Pictures Corporation holds co-copyright on David Foster Wallace’s “Host.”
  • Nicholson Baker’s first two records, registered in 1981, were for two stories: “Snorkeling” and “K.590.” Both stories have not been collected. But the former appeared in The Little, v. 13, no. 1 and 2, p. 74-81. The latter appeared in the December 7, 1981 issue of The New Yorker.
  • George Romero has been busier than you think. Romero is understandably meticulous about copyright — perhaps because Night of the Living Dead was, quite famously, issued without a copyright and entered into the public domain. I’m extremely curious about what 1994’s Jacaranda Joe might have been. There is no reference in the IMDB. This was a 23 page script — presumably for a half hour anthology series. Actor Andy Ussach even has a picture of him and Romero “during the Jacaranda Joe filming.” So if something was shot, was it simply not completed?
  • Did Good Man Park author a book on psychological self-defense? This might explain his exclamation marks!
  • Will Stanley Kubrick’s Lunatic at Large be turned into something? The entry reads: “Statements re transfer space, address & corres.” More info on this lost treatment here.
  • Is it the same Tao Lin who wrote Overconfidence and Asset Prices?
  • A screenplay written by Pablo Guirado Garcia called I Pass Like the Night: Serial Fucker based on the Jonathan Ames book?
  • I’m curious about Neal Pollack’s play, Chicago on the Rocks. Was it performed?
  • I have typed in about twenty-two women into this search engine, but I have unearthed nothing lost or unknown. I find the gender disparity troublesome.
  • I could be here all night. Really, I could. There are mysterious works here that were never published or saw the light of day. Some of the copyright documents have mysterious exhibits attached, and I imagine that this is not necessarily the diligence of a cutthroat attorney hoping to protect his client’s interests, but that some of these writers offering eccentric riders to their manuscripts for those who take the trouble to go down to Washington to examine these documents in person. A bonus for anyone wishing to go the extra mile — a consolation prize for the truly obsessed.
  • There must be other copyright obsessives out there right now. Perhaps their partners are now in bed and they find the same solace I do typing in search terms into the WebVoyage interface. They may have the same admiration for the neat organization, the helpful annotations throughout the database (“Notes: play”), the specific dates, the letter code which precedes each copyright number (TX for text, V for recorded document, PAu for dramatic work and music; or choreography), and, like me, they may be pondering why the recorded documents have two sets of numerals (VxxxxDxxx).
  • Then again, if you work at the Copyright Office, the taxonomic structure with which I am now finding some strange appeal would likely become insufferable. The same way that a file clerk mindlessly puts away files and, in the worst of cases, doesn’t even have the benefit of music. I suddenly have great sympathy for the folks who work at the Copyright Office, particularly those who must ensure that the records are put away accurately. And yet it is the top-tier executives who we pay more money.
  • Did the clerks have any say in the way this system was set up? Or were they at the mercy of middle managers who insisted that V had to represent “recorded document?”
  • Furthermore, how much time was devoted to typing in all of this data into a computer? Is it really worth the $45 registration fee for all that pain? Or are the top men at the Copyright Office getting a good chunk of that cheddar? Perhaps the clerk spent three minutes typing all of the necessary data into the Copyright Office computer. That means that the clerk should rightly be earning $900/hour. But such an hourly rate is inconceivable. So where does this extra money go?
  • I think I will copyright a few things this year myself.

Beware of the Owl

owl.jpgThe reports promised snow but prevaricated. My mind marinated. You get that feeling when you are conned into picking away at a slice of red velvet cake because it’s there and you have only poor penmanship instead of an able fork. Never mind culinary sullies. The owl’s snooty hoots belied a ballistic solipsism suggesting the sword was mightier than any midnight rambler. And we were rendered into spittle and drivel hoping that flurry would scurry and leave us with some natural marching power.

Do not attempt this at home. This is an experiment to be carried out in the field.

The mind’s confines are best addressed with cardboard forms of demarcation. One expects lobes to spill but finds an ungracious appreciation for cerebral aerobics. To expand with substance, or to impute that other substances were snorted, is to fall prey to the owl’s howling mantras.

And yet the owl’s maxims mean much to many. An internal stare avoided for fear of the external. The febrile zeal to fit in when best adjudicated by entropy. The enameled mammals flensed their telegenic teeth because this mattered more than a whore. First person prima donnas not comprehending their spending and, worse yet, failing to feel the beats of their hidden hearts in a playground for the rich and a salvo for the stitch. Small wonder that my soul resembled an over-tossed baseball.

Thus, I retreated into gibberish, what they felt was folderol. My sentences became longer and the owl still did not understand them. The owl merely responded to big billboards and bright lights. The owl offered me a script.

“HOO HOO! Say these HOO HOO! words and HOO HOO! you will HOO HOO! be a HOO HOO! success.”

“He was on first,” I replied.

“HOO HOO! Stop that HOO HOO! they’re beginning HOO HOO! to turn away.”

Idle talk amidst the unfulfilled flakes. Damp matches struck sulfur and the owl’s paper package transmuted into a capable conflagration. No one was more surprised than me. There was, after all, the slush.

The owl offered another script. I took it, but the words were the same.

Sprezzatura the Maligned

It’s been more than a year since the manboy cultural critic Lee Siegel was temporarily suspended from The New Republic for allegedly posting anonymous comments on its blog, under the name “sprezzatura.” And while Boris Kachka has interviewed Lee Siegel, Filthy Habits recently received an email from an individual claiming to be “sprezzatura.” He wished to set the matter straight. Sprezzatura’s email, which contained three mysterious JPEG attachments (among them, a picture of an alpaca in a compromising yet family-friendly position), claimed that he had been misrepresented, that Siegel was not “brave, brilliant, and wittier than [Jon] Stewart,” and demanded immediate reinstatement to the New Republic message boards. It remains a mystery to me why sprezzatura thought I had the keys to the New Republic castle. But this was a desperate email written in a desperate time.

“It is there where my shallow invective flowed best,” wrote sprezzatura of the New Republic website. He offered to send me $100 if I would interview him. I declined on moral principle. Then sprezzatura demanded an interview with me gratis by email because “Kachka had proved to be a wuss with his softball questions.” And I agreed, only because I had no wish to receive an email from sprezzatura ever again. I have been unable to confirm whether this “sprezzatura” is the same “sprezzatura” unleashed on Siegel’s blog. Indeed, I do not how many “sprezzaturas” there are. But I suppose it’s pedantic mysteries like this that have many of us wasting long hours on the Internet.

sprezz.jpgWhy don’t you just get a blog?

Because that would be too easy! And if I had devoted a blog just to clarifying my identity, I would have been thought a kook!

Actually, most bloggers are cranks. I speak with some expertise on the subject. But I don’t see how you’re making a case here, Lee.

Do not address me with that name! Those days are far behind me! We must forget that regrettable episode!

So you are Lee Siegel.

If you’ll pardon a metaphorical leap, Lee Siegel is a tuna melt poorly prepared with half-melted cheese. John Battelle never responded to any of my thoughtful queries. Therefore, he is an imbecile who cannot recognize my genius. David Brooks rested his argument on the flimsiest of premises. I do not need to inform you what these premises are. Just trust me. They’re flimsy. And when Cox wanted to draw attention to herself, she used the word “cunt” to make a point. Plus, she made more money than I did. And she’s a woman two decades younger than I am. It’s not fair!

Lots of invective there, sprezza baby. But can you cite any specific examples? Some might argue that you are using “cunt” to make….well, not exactly a point, but to stand out with an irrational Dale Peck-style explanation.

It doesn’t matter! Malcolm Gladwell’s hair was adopted for television as American Idol. I have tried to stop them from supplying him with shampoo, but they keep arresting me!

Lee, step away from the Internet and get some fresh air. We’ve had some unseasonably warm weather in January. Go for a walk.

I love the Internet, I’m on it all the time. I couldn’t have written my book so quickly without it. Thanks to the Internet, I didn’t have to think. I could just cut and paste some boilerplate, bang out a book and make a quick book and show those New Republic bastards exactly who mattered. I don’t think it’s making more people connected than they were before, not at all.

It didn’t have to be this way, Lee.

I react very badly when mediocrity is associated with my name.

Well then, write well!

That is hard when you are “sprezzatura” and you have been banned from your own magazine’s message board. Will you give me a hug?

Only if you stop using the moniker “sprezzatura.”

Mothlight and the WGA Strike

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America’s troubled soul snaked around two building corners on a late Monday afternoon. It read books. It offered quizzical pikers when WGA strikers handed out pink papers containing the phone numbers and emails of eight Viacom head honchos. It took pictures of the fourteen placard-holders as if on holiday. But there were no visible signs that it was registering the hypocrisy of standing in line for a show that was allegedly progressive (and pro-union) in tone as strikers quietly expressed their rights with signs. Maybe the strikers were performance artists or buskers who had escaped the subway. I kept vigorous watch, hoping that a few audience members would feel disgusted and walk away, only to be readily replaced by those in the standby line. But they held onto their tickets like hard-won candy.

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The eager audiences waiting to see Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert lob a few unscripted bons mot about the state of politics remained uninvolved. They were there to be entertained. A bald man in his early forties disseminated circulars. He told me that the strike had been a success.

“Is it?” I asked. “These people are still standing in line.”

He didn’t give me his name and he declined to be interviewed at length. But we did talk for a few minutes.

I was interested in this man, because I had seen him trying to quietly persuade people in the Daily Show standby line, who appeared to take these flyers more readily than those who had tickets. One young man told him, “If we’re close in any way to the front, we’ll do what we can.” “Do what we can.” It essentially amounts to nothing.

To be fair, The Daily Show admitted its audiences at the pre-determined time, permitting its audience to see the WGA strike. The Colbert Report, by contrast, shuttled in their audiences well before the 5:00 PM start time so that the strikers would not be seen or, at least, endured as infrequently as possible. “What a mess!” proclaimed a plump woman standing protectively near the Colbert Report doors. She complained that there had been no progress in two months. The strikers were gnats to be swatted away on a wintry day.

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With the exception of a funny interviewer from Associated Press TV who quipped to one Colbert Report audience member, “Enjoy the show,” shortly after challenging his need to be entertained, the media was, for the most part, out to lunch. A New York Post reporter spent most of her time talking on the phone. “Sorry, I’m so spacey!” she said as she talked with WGAe President Michael Winship. The outlets who came included CNN, NY1, and me — if I am indeed an outlet.

“It’s only ten after four?” bitched one reporter. “I thought I’d been here for a day. Jesus.”

He had arrived only fifteen minutes before.

I was extremely saddened to see that nobody waiting in line really cared. There was no reaction from these audience members. No acts of dissent. The pink flyers were folded inside newspapers, deposited on the sidewalk like stray trash. Just as American audiences had chosen Leno over Letterman, despite Letterman busting his hump to cut a separate agreement with the Guild, the audience here opted for entertainment over integrity.

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The strikers silently holding up placards circled up and down the queue, appearing to be mostly comprised of WGA members from other productions. (One writer I talked to was from All My Children. There’s a podcast interview below.) If there was a Daily Show writer in the bunch, the writer did not announce himself. I asked a few strikers if there was anyone here from The Daily Show and they told me they did not know. One gentleman declined to answer. Perhaps answering involved a confession of failure.

Since the bald flyer man refused an interview with me, I approached the WGAe publicist Sherry Goldman, asking if I could interview her. She wouldn’t talk to me on tape, snapped at me, and turned briskly away to answer her cell. I had seen her talking in front of a camera. I approached her again and said, “Excuse me. You’ll talk to CNN, but you won’t talk with me?” She then very kindly led me to WGAe President Michael Winship. I also talked with All My Children writer Kate Hall. You can listen to the podcasts below.

[display_podcast]

Winship: And let me say that all of these guys have been very supportive of the strike thus far and that we are not protesting them as people. They’ve been great. They’ve been supportive of the strike. They’ve been supportive of their writing staffs. But their companies — the big companies, the media conglomerates, the penny-pinching producers if you will — will not allow them back on the air because they won’t bargain a fair and respectful contract.

Correspondent: Now do you consider Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to be hyphenates. Are they actually, by going back to work, kind of going against the nature of the strike here?

Winship: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are both members of the Writers Guild of America. They have both been given copies of the strike rules. They know the kinds of work that they’re not allowed to do. And they know that there are penalties that can take place if they, in fact, perform what we consider struck work.

Correspondent: But if The Daily Show were to show a clip in advance, if they were to design it in advance and have Jon Stewart comment on it, would that constitute an act of writing in your eyes or…?

Winship: If Jon is spontaneously ad-libbing and responding to a clip that’s on the air, we don’t consider that struck work.

Correspondent: What would you consider out of the boundaries of what he can do today?

Winship: Well, in terms of things that he can and cannot do, one of the things that he could not do is to write a monologue in advance or go on the air with material that appear on cue cards or a teleprompter.

Correspondent: Yeah. Gotcha. But anything else pretty much? Ad-libbing, he’s fine then.

Winship: Well, the rules are pretty specific about things that he can and cannot do. He cannot write questions in advance for interviews, for example. He cannot write the monologues, as I said. He cannot write any kind of sketch material for the show.

Correspondent: But let’s say that there’s a guest who appears, who has like a book or something like that. He’s going to have to read it in advance. Does that constitute writing or preparation?

Winship: I don’t think reading constitutes writing. If he was writing down his questions in advance and so forth, that would struck work. But if he has a guest on the air whose book he has read and he asks questions off the top of his head, that is not struck work.

I was fascinated by Winship’s criteria about what “writing” entails. One cannot prepare a show entirely in one’s head. There must be the need to write words down. And nearly all of Jon Stewart’s clips feature those trusty blue pieces of paper. Or are these sheets mere props?

As it turned out, the January 7, 2008 episode of The Daily Show did indeed have a guest: conflict resolution specialist Ronald Seeber, presumably a friendly nod to the WGA strike. But did Stewart take notes before this interview? Did Stewart prepare his questions in advance? And if he did, is there any real way for the WGA to enforce this?

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It’s also important to observe the distinction put forth by WGA. In the WGA’s eyes, Jon Stewart is not the enemy. Viacom is.

From my interview with Kate Hall:

Hall: We’re not striking The Daily Show or Jon Stewart. I think everybody here for the most part — I can’t speak for them, but I would imagine that they’re all big fans of his and the show. So we support him. We just won’t support Viacom’s decision to put him back on the air without the writers.

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But if the WGA wasn’t striking The Daily Show, what were they doing in front of The Daily Show building? Is not Viacom providing the resources to run The Daily Show? And is not Jon Stewart, in going back to work, complicit in allowing Viacom to continue running The Daily Show? It seems to me that he gets off on a technicality.

But let’s take a look at the strike rules, as Mr. Winship suggested.

Since Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are hyphenates, Rule 12 applies to them:

The Guild strongly believes that no member should cross a WGA picket line or enter the premises of a struck company for any purpose. Under applicable law, however, the Guild may not discipline a hyphenate for performing non-writing services. This legal restriction only extends to services that are clearly not writing services. (Emphasis in original.)

If Stewart or Colbert write so much as one word on a sheet of paper, either before the show, during the show, or after the show, then they are in violation of the agreement.

It is impossible to imagine either The Daily Show or The Colbert Report succeeding in any way without writers or a scrap of paper.

However things ended up, the moths were there, attracted to the light. Unconcerned with who provided the electricity.

(Many thanks to