i’m a bad girlfriend i guess
Oh, hi. I am Meaghan O'Connell.
if you need to email me, that's fine (depending), just send it on over: email@example.com
I have been writing and reading here since 2008. (For proof: see all the Tumblr posts I've liked here). I actually worked at Tumblr for awhile, in the early days.
Here are some of the more, er, extensive things I've written.
For more extensiveness, you can buy the Coming & Crying e-book, which is a thing I spent a long time co-editing and -publishing and -rallying around in 2010, here. If you like sex and feelings and have $8, well, you're in for it!
You can also follow me on Twitter if you want, you pervert.
i’m a bad girlfriend i guess
We’re looking for our Peggy—someone to help create unforgettable ad campaigns and web experiences. This job would be in SF or LA, but we will pay moving expenses. Is it you?
HA. I love the ridiculousness of this tweet. I mean in a way it’s completely unremarkable and standard trolling fare, we barely notice it. And the review is interesting (and, it’s worth noting, never once uses the word “against”). I like Alice Munro but certainly have never sat down and read all of her work at once, or interrogated it too much. I can imagine its potential to be tiresome, and understand the (relative) value of examining work that is deemed “unquestionably good” or whatever it is. (Speaking of: I’m reading Leaving the Atocha Station right now and I want to punch it in the face. Shut up already! Grow a spine! Stop whining! I hate this book, and yes, I hate this “unlikeable character.”)
But anyway, I love the underlying notion of this tweet, the bald-faced sincerity of it, that purporting to put work out into the world is entering into an argument w the reader over the worthiness of your work. As if when you publish work people are either for you or against you, and this critic has decided he is “against Alice Munro.” I don’t think he ever says that in this tweet, who knows who constructed this tweet, I’m sure people say this all of the time. But it is beautifully absurd, or lazy, or honest. Meet Alice Munro and her entire body of work, a big question mark standing before you, a shrugging of the shoulders, asking you what you think. “Are you for us or against us? Please tweet your answer!”
Ha, actually that sounds pretty right on. Maybe this is less reductive than a distillation.
— Annie Dillardddd
I’ve been having a recurring dream, where I go into the office, sit at my desk, and start working. No one says anything to me, and I think nothing of it. I notice after awhile that most everyone is avoiding me, and if I speak directly to them they answer very delicately. In last night’s dream, it wasn’t until I was standing up at my desk and trying to corral people into going to get lunch with me, that I realized I didn’t work there anymore. I had left weeks ago but had forgotten, and by force of habit, through the near unconscious following of routine, I ended up back there at my desk.
In the dream, and now, I am struck by how sad this makes me, how I cringe at the thought of it. The thought of being a fool, of not belonging.
It is strange after all this time to not belong to something. I haven’t learned to not say, “we” when I refer to the company. I imagine people laughing at me in their heads when I do this. “She just can’t let go.” As if people care at all. I quickly correct myself. “They” or “you.” When we were a little bit drunk in the middle of the day over the weekend, I accidentally referred to D’s dad as “dad” instead of Will. IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. Which is hilarious but recounting it now makes me want to scream. But there was that same split second — that beat between the misnomer and the possibility for correction when you do a panicked calculation: does correcting the mistake only bring to it more attention? But you cant resist it.
“We, uh, they…” “The look on Dad’s face — uh, WILL! WILL!”
How embarrassing it is to sit here, my brain subconsciously tugging me back toward safety.
The strangest thing lately is the time between things when I am deciding what to do next. I don’t mean on any grand scale, oh god. I mean in the smallest way, just the order of things (on many levels). I chant soothing things to myself as I go about my day now, small pep talks that go over and over how I would like to go through my day. “Okay now you will get up. Okay, or in a minute you will get up. You’ll get up and put on shoes and go to the coffee shop. Just go get a coffee. Bring a book. It’s okay, you don’t have to write anything.” Then I’ll go to the coffee shop and I’ll write my daily entry on 750words.com and I’ll get antsy and anxious and then I’ll say Okay you’re (we’re?) going to go home and make lunch and you’ll make this and that and then you’ll go to yoga. After yoga you will read in the park if it’s nice and then you will come home when you get sick of it and you’ll clean the kitchen and take a shower.” I’ll have my daily smallish thing I want to get done around the house and I will tell myself it’s okay if I don’t do it. I tell myself that if I write my words and go to yoga or go for a run that’s good enough. That is enough. And I take the next step and sometimes, after the shower or between places I’ll sit on the bed not knowing what to do next. I will walk over to the closet to put on shoes then stand still there not knowing where I should go. I stand there with my hands clasped in front of me (my “nun hands” as D calls them — a sure sign of discomfort) and I’ll walk back over to my computer, half lying in bed, propped up on an elbow and I’ll tab back and forth in a panic, and get distracted by something, and time will go by and I’ll notice and then stand up and pace around not knowing what I should do. The post office, a museum, the gym. This is probably when I should be writing. When the pacing sets in I should be sitting down to write. Running abates the anxiety — I come home and feel new and spring into action — cooking, the dishes, putting clothes away. But then I get back to where I was.
It was Dustin’s birthday this weekend so we went camping at a hike-in place. That’s the sort of thing he loves. It’s funny because sure I went camping a few times as a kid, for family reunions on the cheap and Girl Scouts and the like. I have some fond memories I guess but most of the memories involve scary walks in the middle of the night to go pee. This weekend of course was no different. I got what I think might be the worst night of sleep in my life. I sleep pretty well as a rule but still. I heard people unzipping our tent probably five times. I peed twice, not knowing where to flash my flashlight while I was doing it, because I damn well wasn’t going to turn it off.
Peeing outside though, while terrifying, remains a huge thrill. I guess that’s like any transgressive act. You approach the boundary and having this running thought about how this is not something people do and you are not “allowed” to do it and then you yank down your pants and everything is fine — thrilling even. You might have a little urine on your leg or in your shoes, but freed of the burden of having to pee and freed of the fear that you’ll get in trouble, it’s no doubt worth the price of admission.
We had so much fun this weekend. How to say that so it’s not so banal. We went for the five-hour hike but somewhere mid-downpour we missed a turnoff and never got back on the red trail. We laughed and laughed, marching through the rain, completely soaked through, stomping in the mud and staring at rocks and rocks and rocks, trying not to slip, imagining all of our heads hitting rocks and ankles twisting, estimating how long it would take to get one of us out there. My anxiety gave way to waves of euphoria and calm (they sort of feel the same to me at this point) and there was not much to say but, “wow.” Part of why, or how, Dustin and I love each other, how we manage to entwine our lives so effortlessly, (okay maybe “effortlessly” is a misnomer/fate tempter, but I mean to say it works, despite ourselves) I think, is that we both love to be quiet. We joked with his dad and sister on and off and Dustin led us and cheered us on again and again, but for long stretches we just quietly followed each other, punctuated only by my sharp stops, staring at wet rocks and trying to devise a way through. We found a pattern wordlessly, him going ahead of behind me, whichever way I needed, and putting out a hand. I don’t know why I freeze up so much, or if it’s tied in some way to my personality, if that is ‘the kind of person I am,’ or if it’s just that I’m afraid to die on a hike, but no one let me get far, or hang back.
When we went the wrong way for over an hour and ended up at the bottom of the mountain nowhere near our camp, we all just stood there in the rain in disbelief. We searched each others’ faces for a clue as to what the other person wanted, at the edge of four different losing-it’s. We walked into town and sat on the sidewalk of some neighborhood and ate pistachios. Somewhere in the middle of that the sun came out. Dustin threw his shells down the drain of a gutter. I hid mine in my pocket. His dad called a cab while cars slowed down at the stop sign and we looked the other way and looked for any dry spots on any parts of our body. We closed our eyes in the sun and laughed a little and were mad we didn’t finish. Dustin turned around, pointed to the mountain we just came down from and said, “Hey! We just climbed to the top of that thing and down from it, for no reason whatsoever!” It was a really weird thought. I laughed despite myself, impatient for this cab, who would drive us to the right spot and let us out so we could climb back up the fucking thing again, but from a different angle. We finally made it, though. I strung a happy birthday banner up and we put on party hats while Dustin was off buying bug spray. Arranging our campsite just so, surrounded by trees, made us feel calm and proud and together and powerful. What did we climb the mountain for, if not that.
Meaghan O’Connell is the editor-in-chief of meaghano.com:
“I regard novel-writing with a heady combination of awe and dread, so when debut novelist Ted Thompson wrote about his book’s eight (eight!) year journey to completion last week, I opened it in a tab and walked away from my desk immediately. ‘The Evolution of a First Novel’ is as fascinating as it is generous, and takes us along as his book about a retired Connecticut divorcee went from plausible deniability, to short story, to MFA application, to self-doubt, despair, long dog walks, and longer grant applications. The story ends as all real stories should, with an air of peaceful resignation and a book deal. The people mentioned (Thompson most of all, I suppose) seem to be from a bygone literary era, but aren’t—or so we’ll keep hoping. I took from it what is either a reminder, a threat, or a revelation, depending: that people will forgive you when you get in your own way, and make way for you when you get out of it.
Okay my bio looks a little more sad than funny here — but if you haven’t already, check out Ted’s post about his novel, which Longreads let me blurb for their newsletter.
Tonight is my first Sunday without a job to go to tomorrow in awhile. I really like it. In fact, this whole weekend, while being nothing out of the ordinary, has been wonderful.
I had a really good job that I think shaped me into a full adult human with mad skillz, a fire within me, and a new seriousness I know is important. Knowing when to turn these things on and off will be, I imagine, something I never truly master (whether or not I want to is still up for discussion).
The past few weeks have felt like a big breakup, like graduating college, or moving away, or getting a divorce, or going on a permanent vacation. The whole thing has been complicated and I am walking away from it without ever solving it, or winning, or “being right.” Because oh boy have I argued about this in my head a lot but ultimately it doesn’t matter, because it’s not what I want, however enthralling I find, and found, all of it. However engaging and difficult and thrilling and important and FUN I know it to be. No matter how much I straight up adore most of the people I worked with, it never will be how I want to spend my days, if given the choice. And I know that about myself.
So however wildly ambivalent about this decision I was initially, or more truly, wildly afraid I was of making it, I did it. I don’t know with what grace I pulled the whole thing off, though I do know I walked in on my last day and my coworker blared “The Final Countdown” on the office speakers, and then Bonnie Raitt (and then famously, later, “Wind Beneath My Wings”.) I know when I finally said I was leaving I felt power in myself I barely recognized. And I know that younger and newer people in the company told me how important to them my point of view was as they figured things out, or how inspiring my constant speaking up was to them as a woman, or just that they’ll miss my sass or my jokes in too-serious email threads. So I know I wouldn’t take any of that back, however much it may have chipped away at my credibility or indefensibility. And I know it sounds grandiose but being anything but that would have broken me much sooner.
I just hope the void I leave is felt and then filled with better insight and more humility, more detachment, and more grace than I had.
So tomorrow the whole thing will go on without me, and I will be on a park bench reading Infinite Jest for the first time ever, finally. Then I’ll go running midmorning, make lunch at home, and with any goddamn luck, spend the rest of the day writing for my life.
And eventually someone else will have my job, and possibly do it better, or at least have a much easier go of it. And all of the why of this will matter less and less. Less and less and less.
Because, and here is the important part, for the first time in a long time, I don’t have the nagging feeling that there is something else that I should be doing.
And I’ll deal with all the anxiety and pressure and self-doubt and unfathomable luck and privilege of that situation tomorrow. Tonight, I am happy I don’t have to go to work in the morning, though I know I’ll miss it.
“This is so brave.”
I have started to notice the way people say that when women write memoir-y things. This is a thing people do and it’s annoying but now I can’t stop seeing it. And I like to write these memoiry things, on whatever small scale (does twitter count?). I absolutely have that compulsion, and am fairly aware that I have a knack for it, and I find it really rewarding to do. It’s so funny to me though because, while I can’t speak for others, it seems to me like the least brave thing.
I guess any courage I have is just knowing that everyone is really fucked up, and we’re usually fucked up in similar ways, so who cares. That’s not bravery so much as self-awareness? And it’s really not narcissistic so much as it requires empathy. It’s narcissistic to think you are the only idiot with money problems or love problems or work problems. If you look around and realize everyone else has variations on your same theme, it’s very liberating. And true!
And so from there, writing about something crappy that happened to you - especially if it was your fault, if you did it! — and making it funny and compelling and entertaining? That is just advantageous, on a lot of levels — that’s just opportunity, baby. And it’s such a human compulsion to me, to confess. It so transparently satisfying on the basest level. Not in a bad way — I don’t think it’s boring (when it’s good), or any more self-involved or indulgent than anything else. I love reading this shit, and so does pretty much everyone else. It’s about the human fucking condition and it teaches about ourselves and the world. It helps us cope. It’s all there is.
But brave? Come on. You are taking something crappy and either making literal money from it, or sharing it with the world, who will then tell you they love it. You are benefitting from the bad thing! You have fulfilled the great promise of writing: you have transcended the crappy thing by imposing a narrative on it, you have made art from it, and you are loved more for it.
You took a risk that people would hate you for it, sure, but the promise of their love for you outweighed it. Your desperate need to be loved by everyone in the world outweighed it.
“So brave!” Oh shut up. Unless you are a whistleblower or calling out a tyrannical government or a murderer or something (all legitimately brave!), say it’s good or funny or deft or revelatory or fascinating or compelling or “I just really love knowing that you fucked up and it gives me great satisfaction and makes me relate to you even more, and feel less bad about my own human self.”
That is enough! That is all there is!
Know that while you may feel it’s brave to overcome the fear that others will judge you, once you get over that, it is really fun and really a thrill and really psychologically satisfying to be loved for all the reason you fear you’ll be hated. It’s a great, desperate delusional shtick. “Oh you think you love me? Well, let me show you the worst parts of my brain and my self. Oh, you still love me? Ha! Wow!” <— not brave. Kind of pathological actually.
It’s fun to do, though, and fun to read. It really helps people — readers — sometimes. I believe that. But I don’t know about brave. You’re a fucking writer. You basically are inept enough that you can’t function in your life without mediating through your own brain and then imposing it back on the world and expecting to be loved for it. Ha!
Brave is getting out of bed in the morning and just living your life, and living with your choices. Brave is making choices without asking the public to affirm you for making them.
Or at least right now I am convinced of that, though I am kind of drunk tbh, and really having a hell of a time lately.
I just don’t think it’s fair to hold writing to “brave.” I don’t think that’s necessarily what it sets out to do. If we were brave, we wouldn’t need it.