Hey there. It's been a minute. This newsletter did end up going on hiatus for the rest of August and, as it turns out, the beginning of September (Labor Day and all that jazz). What have you missed while I was away? My home internet was out for more than three weeks, the bulk of that time. (The thunderstorm I mentioned in my last letter came with a lightning strike that fried the cable!) My oldest dog had minor surgery last week and seems to be recovering nicely. He's eating canned dog food for the first time in his life (doctor's orders) and the insistent way he barks at me to fill his bowl faster either means he's angry that he wasted almost fifteen years eating the dry crap or he thinks he's died and gone to doggie heaven and this is how he shows his appreciation. (Could be a bit of both.) It has been an exceptionally wet late summer. My migraines persist. I started Neti Potting again recently.
Is this your first time receiving this newsletter? Welcome! The archives are located here. In general, you can expect to receive these e-mails twice a month, on Fridays. I've got some exciting guests lined up for fall (as if these missives from me aren't enough for you—pfft!). Be sure to add this e-mail address to your contacts so these don't go to your spam folder, and please share this with any readers in your life. You have no idea how much joy it brings me to see the "You have a new subscriber" alerts in my inbox. Plus, you'll want to tell your friends because only subscribers are eligible for our very first giveaway.
Yahdon Israel started the #LiterarySwag movement in the summer of 2014 "as a way to expand the reach and visibility of literature to make it cool and accessible." #LiterarySwag combines a love of reading and a love of fashion. It's "literature as style." I was an early adopter. When Yahdon meets writers and editors, he asks them (us?) to name their (our?) three favorite authors and three favorite designers, and he records short videos of these interviews that he then posts on Instagram. (You should follow him there!) In my video, I name Joan Didion, Janet Malcolm, and Natasha Trethewey (a fellow former cheerleader, holla), followed by Tory Burch, Kendra Scott, and Kate Spade. (I have also played cameraman for Yahdon, recording the video for his interview with Gregory Pardlo.) #LiterarySwag has grown to include a variety of events, including a book club that meets at The Strand, one of my favorite bookstores, and I am determined to attend one of these if I'm ever in NYC at the right time.
So you can bet I was first in line (all right, twentieth) when Yahdon rolled out the Literary Swag Enamel Pin 1. The pins are numbered and signed, and they come with a note from Yahdon telling you how special you are for joining the movement (as if you didn't feel special enough already just sporting the pin). Mine arrived just in time for me to represent at a writers' conference this summer.
One lucky subscriber will win a Literary Swag Enamel Pin 1 of his or her very own, and the winner will be announced in Yahdon's guest post. Entry details are at the end of this letter. (Are you as excited about this as I am? I'm not sure that you are. You really should be. This is a big deal. These pins are only available this year—they are year 1pins. When they're gone, they're gone.)
1. "I knew that one day you'd be gone for good. I knew that in the end, I'd raise Laureano on my own. We were twenty-five years apart. I had no doubt one day I'd have to give Laureano the news of your final departure. I'd played the scene in my mind so many times. I'd even practiced, trying different faces before a mirror like in a crappy flick: devastated, mad, resigned. Always the same line: Laureano, Daddy's gone to heaven.
"You insisted on having him baptized and sending him to a Catholic school, so I thought that if I said: Laureano, Daddy has died the first thing he'd ask would be whether you'd made it. I knew I'd hesitate, and that would mortify him. In my rehearsals, you were granted instant forgiveness, eternal salvation.
"I liked to think that once you were gone, I wouldn't have the nerve to keep sugarcoating shit for him, like I still do. I'd see myself becoming the badass honest mom I've never been: No, Laureano, God doesn't exist, and neither do heaven nor hell. That's the bullshit Daddy wanted to believe in because it made things easier for him. And, no, Mommy and Daddy were never married.
"That wedding picture on my bedside table is not authentic, it's the fakest wedding picture ever.
"The first time you asked to see a picture of our nuptial ceremony, I rented the dress at a costume shop and Daddy dressed in a tuxedo that wasn't bought for the occasion or anything stupid like that, and we got that picture taken at a photo studio near his office at lunchtime. And when I saw myself in that dress I wished we'd actually married, and when the photographer prompted us to smile I had to fight back the tears and I thought what the fuck am I doing in this hideous dress? Why am I ruining my life like this? And Daddy was constantly away from home not because of his job, but because he had another family and he lived with them, even after his wife died. Yes. Daddy loved you, Laureano. I think he really did, but he didn't love you enough. He didn't love me enough either. He said he did, but he didn't. He loved us the same way people like him love pedigree dogs, expensive cars, time-shares in Acapulco. We were his pets. An extravagant hobby he could afford.
"And yet, I loved him. I really fucking did. It wasn't a matter of being smart or idiotic or brave or weak or strong. I only hope this never happens to you, my son. That you know you're falling fully, immensely, grandiosely, irreparably for someone who's going to fuck your life wholly, and still you can't help yourself."
I heard Antonio Ruiz-Camacho read from his story "Better Latitude" a few weeks ago and I knew immediately that I had to get my hands on his book, Barefoot Dogs, in order to read the entire story for myself, as well as the others in his collection. And I am so glad I did. I wish I had known Antonio when I lived in Austin, but no matter; now I know that his writing exists and I am better for it. You will be, too.*
*I feel duty-bound as a native Texan to include a link to this post by Antonio, "10 Books About Texas," which I did happen upon and share enthusiastically on Twitter before I met him. Longtime readers of this newsletter will recognize number six, Bret Anthony Johnston's Remember Me Like This, from my very first post.
2. "Okay," the people behind William McKinley asked, "what if we made Sam the Eagle human? Would it be horrifyingly weird-looking or would we elect it president?" / "Only one way to find out." This, by Alexandra Petri, was a big hit when I tweeted it yesterday.
3. What do you use to hold your place when you have to step away from a book or magazine? Do you buy fancy bookmarks, the laminated kind with tassels? Does a simple dog-ear do it for you? I mostly use playing cards nowadays. Recently a friend brought me a set from this taxidermy shop in Paris that have different varieties of mushrooms—sorry, champignons—on one side and a photo of the shop on the other. I love casting about for just the right card to match the book I'm reading.
This brings me back to the #LiterarySwag giveaway. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about what you use as a placeholder in your books. The most inventive thing you've ever used, the most reliable method you've come across, that bookmark you wish you had bought but didn't and it still haunts your dreams—it doesn't matter. The winner will be chosen at random. You have until Monday, September 19 to submit your entry. Entries may take any form you choose, as long as they arrive via e-mail (text, video, pic, all are acceptable). Be creative! Winners must be current subscribers.