Lydia Davis Hates Me

Pablo Tanguay
January 21, 2014
Comments 0

Tonight on an elliptical machine facing an enormous mirror beneath a bank of television screens playing, from left to right, The Kelly File, Mike and Molly and then Mom, Hollywood Game Night, Piers Morgan Live, Baylor vs. Kansas, and The Bachelor, I got intimidated by a piece of Lydia Davis fiction called “How I Read as Quickly as Possible Through My Back Issues of the TLS” in which a narrator announces what subjects she would and wouldn’t want to read about in The Times Literary Supplement (“I do not want to read about the life of Jerry Lewis”). The piece is included in the “Readings” section of January’s Harper’s, between a transcript from a recently declassified roundtable featuring a group of senior female CIA agents and a reminiscence from the English travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. I’d had the iPod cranked up loud, the White Stripes’ Elephant, and so had been feeling unduly cocky when I got to the Davis.

Over the last week, I’d been thinking a lot about this blog. The past two months, what with the holidays and trying to sell and buy a house and taking on an extra job, etc, etc, I haven’t posted much. But now that the good people at KR have extended my option, as it were, I’ve been trying to figure out how best to approach this next half-year of blogging. Before KR, I’d never blogged before. I’m still not exactly sure what blogging means, as opposed to, say, regular writing. More freedom, maybe? Less formal? That sounds good to me. But then so does singing in the shower, and trust me, no one wants to hear me sing in the shower. On the other hand, should I regularly do the research and the especially the revision normally required of published essays, even short ones like this? There are writers, I know, who can knock out a thousand words in a couple hours, all the words right and all in the right order, as if they were flipping pancakes. I’m most assuredly not one of them. Hunter Thompson, in Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, I think, makes much of the idea that all the political beat writers he was surrounded by were able to file intricate, nuanced stories daily while he, writing for Rolling Stone and so filing just once every couple of weeks, always sweated out his deadline, locked up alone in a room for the 48 hours prior. I know that feeling.

Anyway, there I was with the White Stripes and the mirror and the TVs when I read the title of the Davis. Even before I started reading the piece proper, I felt intimidated. It occurred to me, not for the first time—maybe it was the first time I really dwelt on it—that people (like Lydia Davis) have lists already made in their head of what they do and don’t want to read about. What you’re reading right now, in fact, may be the kind of thing you have no interest in, even loathe, as I do, mostly: writer writing about writing process, insecurities; writer tricking you into reading writing about writing by beginning with “action” paragraph; writer admitting to trying (in the end, he will fail by 283) to come up with a thousand words in two hours. What I mean is, I started thinking about all the subjects I wanted to write about in the next six months and just knew Lydia Davis wouldn’t want to read about any of them. And once Lydia Davis didn’t want to read about any of them, neither did anyone else, which means, really, in the way that these things go, that you, Reader, along with Lydia Davis, hate me. More, you wonder how such a boob as I even got this gig. This is what was in my head as I stopped staring at my body in the giant mirror to notice that the more substantial folk on Hollywood Game Night sit on the edge of their couch while the skinnier ones sink back into it. And into my ears Holly Golightly, God bless her, sang, “Why don’t you go off and love yourself?” And Jack White, God bless him twice, sang back, “If I did that, Holly, there won’t be anything left for anybody else.”

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