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I Love Claire Vaye Watkins But If Two Female Writers Each Choose Darkness Are They Enemies or Friends or Something Other: a review, a love story, a confessional photo

First confession: this review or essay is more a confessional, more autofiction than nonfiction (read: more all about me than all about Claire, but also it’s a little about Claire).

Second confession: I was driving back from Key West by myself recently after my third husband left me on our honeymoon when he ran out of drugs and thinking of Claire’s novel, which I had read a week prior.

I was thinking how I chose darkness when I left my second husband, a man Claire once spooned with as the narrator in I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness spoons w a female graduate student.

I was thinking how my (third) husband chose darkness when he chose pills as the great American love of his life decades before we met.

I was thinking how my second husband would roll his eyes at all these confessions, at the idea of choosing darkness … though I know – via Twitter – he read and liked Claire’s novel.

I was thinking how I chose darkness by not flying back to Michigan with my (third) husband, by not snorting Adderall et al. with him.

I was thinking how once I was in a car with Claire and another writer (read: Chloe Caldwell), when Claire suddenly announced to no one or herself or all of us present in the foreign vehicle: “Everyone knows fiction is the highest art form.” (This didn’t sit well with Chloe who was writing a nonfiction book at the time, though none of us, Chloe or I, to my recollection, argued Claire on the point. Nor am I arguing it here.)

I was thinking how the protagonist of I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness (read: Claire?) is seated on a plane to fly home to her husband and baby when she has a rather severe panic attack or existential crisis and gets out of her seat, demands the plane door be reopened so she can get off the place. That scene sat with me as the ultimate example of female strength and liberation, one, because of my great claustrophobic tendencies on plane (you can do that? you can ask or demand to be let off once the doors have been locked?), and two, because I used it to reinforce my decision to drive the rental car back to Michigan, solo, alone, by myself.

What I was really thinking, though, while driving 1500 miles from Key West to Ann Arbor (a drive I made by myself back in March of 2019 when I’d driven down sans cell phone during my own elongated panic attack or existential crisis) was how choosing darkness or lightness is relative and dependant on others in the equation. That is, it would have to be said I was choosing lightness in not joining my (third) husband on the plane back to Detroit. But I am not a person who chooses lightness. Like Claire, or like Claire’s autofictional protagonist, I am a person more often than not who chooses darkness.

If solitude is darkness and being half of a partnership is lightness.

But maybe that definition is not right. That equation is too simplistic. As most equations outside of mathematics are.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is, lightness, darkness, they’re all relative, more meaningless words out of context. Though I adore this title. And I desperately want to know if Claire came up with it or if an ex “in real life” did, as is suggested in the book. I guess it doesn’t matter. I just want to know.

 

Let’s take another tactic: Claire once wrote a now infamous essay on pandering. Specifically, the essay was about female writers pandering to old white male writers. Also, rather famously, the essay was about Stephen Elliott – who wasn’t then old but was male and white - maybe wanting to spoon in bed with Claire. (A question I have always had since reading that essay is why did The Ohio State University not put up an author – that is, pay for a hotel room for a writer they invited to read or give a talk or whatever; why did they ask students to house him?) (And, yes, the essay was also about Stephen Elliott referring to Claire in an emailed newsletter as a student, which she was, and referring to Kyle Minor as an author of published books, which he was: and for this crime, and others alleged, he, Stephen Elliott, is no longer affiliated with the website he created, The Rumpus, nor has he, to my knowledge, published a book since Claire’s essay was published, while Claire has published two; ah, revenge is indeed sweet!)

I have my own Stephen Elliott moment. As Claire said in her essay it is likely many female writers do or did. She was right! Many many many years ago, perhaps almost twenty years ago, I was a young(ish) struggling writer/single mom living in a small apartment in a small town in rural Michigan. I’d only published a handful of flash fictions on the world wide web. I was obsessed with all things (books, writers, daily humor pieces, DAVE EGGERS, cough cough) McSweeney’s and McSweeney’s had just published a book – Happy Baby – by Stephen Elliott. Stephen Elliott was a hot name then in the indie lit scene. All the S&M business. He and J T Leroy. They were it. So when I saw Stephen Elliott was coming to Ann Arbor for a small literary festival, I emailed Stephen. I don’t know how I came across his email address. A friend of a friend of a friend, maybe. Or maybe it was linked to on McSweeney’s. Who knows. But I emailed him, why? To say I was coming to his reading? To flirt? Because he was one of the IT writers then? because he was cool and I wanted to be cool or to know cool people? why does a lesser known person contact a more well known person? because the lesser known person wants to be better known, wants to know people worth knowing, wants to increase opportunities for oneself, via the “who you know” theory of success. We or I won’t speculate as to why Claire volunteered to house Stephen Elliott. I will just say I wanted to hang out with a cooler, better known writer who had been published by my then dream publisher. Which is how I found myself a few sunny late spring days later lying in the grass on the University of Michigan campus with Stephen Elliott’s head on my lap. Nothing else of importance or interest happened. He asked if he could lay his head on my abdomen and I said yes and that was that. I think maybe we got a muffin or a cold beverage before or after this interaction in the grass. I think I was reading a book (his?) while he rested his head in my lap. I don’t know that I ever saw him again or emailed with him again after that. But I had my Stephen Elliott story. Connect the dots if you feel like it. Gender equality is not always pretty. Pursuing a better known person because you’re a lesser known person is not something most of us wish to brag about. But there it is, I’ve said it. My interest in Stephen Elliott then was his leading the life I wanted. The subconscious takes over from there! (Or, as Finola Hughes famously said to John Travolta in Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever: “Everybody uses everybody – don’t they?”)

 

When will we (read: I) get to Claire’s book, novel, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness? Because I really think we should, and soon. I have quite a few things to say about it. Unlike many I have spoken with, I found it riveting, and, yes, a bit messy, but who doesn’t like messy? As long as the mess is riveting, I mean. And unlike Claire’s first novel Gold Fame Citrus, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness is nothing if not riveting (once you skim the letters, of course, it goes without saying, the letters could have been omitted, are of interest only to the author, not the reader; an editor should have told her this). [On edit: a couple friends have since told me they read and liked the letters.]

But first, another confession: I have known Claire a long time (“known” “Claire”). I have known Claire since at least 2009 as there is a photograph of us at the Chicago AWP that year, smiling, side by side, Claire holding my first chapbook: Before You She Was a Pit Bull, in her soft, young hand. But, no, we have had to have known each other longer than that.

I remember first hearing about Claire from a friend in the writing program with her at Ohio State. He said to me and my then-husband, Aaron, “There’s this young writer in our class who is a really talented writer and whose dad was in the Manson family.”

I’m sure this is something like how most people then were introduced to Claire.

I’m sure her agent was hoping all these years she’d write a memoir.

But as she announced to Chloe and myself: the novel is the higher art form.

Hence, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness.

Or maybe autofiction, now, is the highest art form? (I laughed the first time I picked up Claire’s novel in the front of Barnes & Noble, turning it over in my old, not-soft hand, reading the jacket flaps, I thought to myself, “Ha! So Claire’s writing autofiction now, too!”)

I guess it was the happy compromise, between novel and memoir, of how to write about what everyone wanted her to write about – her dad’s involvement in the Manson family – while not giving them exactly what they wanted, I.e. not selling out completely, I.e. not a memoir.

[Incidentally, we could have a whole discussion about Claire’s father as rapist, about whether or not the “underage” under eighteen – as our current society views underage – girls, runaways, girls capable of reproduction but, okay, girls were capable of consent and if they weren’t, what sort of monster that does or doesn’t make Claire’s late father, but we don’t, we don’t have that complicated, grey area (?) conversation, discussion, whatever; I think it is even referred to, by the author, by Claire, as “casual rape” – the sex Claire’s father and Charlie [read: Charles Manson] and the other men have with the under eighteen year old girls; does such a thing exist: casual rape? more questions I sort of/kind of tried to ask in 2014 in my own semi-famous, but not-at-all championed essay, the one that got me sorta/kinda tossed out of the literary community, but I digress.]

Then-boyfriend, later-husband, now-ex-husband Aaron Burch and I were the first to publish a story by Claire, in our then-young literary journal, Hobart. I say this not to indicate Claire owes us anything but as more back story, more Wikipedia literary history. I remember editing it, Claire’s story, “Graceland,” something about a young woman and her sister dealing with the death of their mother. I remember bonding with Claire over tales of our divorced, troubled, hippie moms, our childhoods at our troubled mothers’ feet, worrying over our troubled mothers.

And then I remember Claire coming with another female friend of mine to stay a weekend with me the summer Aaron and I broke up. I remember us prank calling people from our phones. I remember giving Claire Aaron’s number so she could prank call him. It was months later I discovered Claire’s number on our phone bill, the bill listing for me each phone call and each phone call’s duration precisely down to the minute… Years later Claire confessing in front of several other female friends of mine, “We only spooned. We were too sad about you to do anything else,” of a night she spent in bed with my second husband, who wasn’t yet my second husband, who would become my second husband some months after the spooning.

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness.

This is going to get/be messy.

 

What I love most about Claire’s new novel is how much fucking her protagonist does. Unapologetically, as they say of female characters who fuck without apology (one does not need to make such declarations of male characters, it simply goes without saying, without apology…).

Not too long before reading I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness I re-watched Silver Linings Playbook. What I hated about that movie was how Jennifer Lawrence’s “promiscuity” (another word reserved for females and sex) was explained or rationalized as a result of her grieving the loss of her husband. of course by the end she had come to her senses and fallen into a committed, monogamous relationship with Bradley Cooper (God, help her). Promiscuous women, crazy women, are only promiscuous because they are crazy.

Claire’s protagonist is promiscuous, one gathers, because she is horny. (she may also, incidentally, be crazy, but the crazy is, as I said, incidental, in this regard.) She likes to fuck. She likes fucking and to be fucked.

What the fuck more explanation do you need? Claire seems to be saying (to the reader: read: you and me).

[applause] [standing O]

I have known Claire a long time but I don’t know Claire. I felt the same about her protagonist. I guess this is part of what is so riveting about the novel. about “her.” her the protagonist of Claire’s second novel and her Claire. I am and always have been riveted by Claire. Her mystery. Her, bear with me, persona.

A younger version of myself? maybe. A bit. We grew up similarly, we are both Aries, we have both time and again chosen darkness, we both have our Stephen Elliott moment (haha, that’s a joke, laugh), we have both spooned with Aaron Burch, we have each written a talked about essay…though Claire is much smarter than I am. Claire knows which way the wind blows. Claire is not dumb (read: dumb like I am).

 

Confession number one hundred and ninety six: I was eager to read I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness because it was – in autoficitonal terms – set in Ann Arbor in the time period in which I was hanging out with Claire, ostensibly friends with Claire, doing “rich bitch yoga” with Claire, in a small book club with Claire, making Christmas cookies in my kitchen with Claire.

I read as much for information about that time period, activities I was not then privy to, if such activities actually took place or were fictionalized, imagined, made up!, either way it was nice envisioning them happening “behind the scenes” so to speak. (Was my then-husband, Aaron, I speculated, I wondered, one of the characters the protagonist plays kneesies with under a table, or, was he one of the characters fucked or who fucked, anally or otherwise, the protagonist? It was fun to speculate!)

(Q: Is Claire Stephen Elliott in this essay? Is that what you’re thinking? Hmmm. That would mean Claire is a bigger name than me, than I, than mine. hmmm.)

Confession number who-the-fuck-cares: Claire was one of the three women, feminists, writers, I emailed (Roxane Gay and Lena Dunham the other two) in a hysterical moment, on the verge of a breakdown, one day, after sobbing in the shower, wearing only a towel, after my infamous essay came out, asking, begging them to talk with me in a roundtable discussion, meaning: publicly, about some of the grey area questions my essay uncomfortably posed, and for which I was, in my opinion of course, unfairly demonized, lionized, whateverized. Roxane and Lena politely (respectfully?) declined. Claire called me. After all, we lived in the same town, and were, as I said, ostensibly friends. though I never felt truly close to Claire, though it is hard to feel close to Claire, or maybe it is hard to feel close to me. I don’t know. maybe we’re too much alike, that old saying, whatever.

Claire called me, “Well, do you want to talk or not?” Claire can be blunt, gruff, but also generous of spirit. I did want to talk. We talked. (I was grateful just to be listened to.) But not, as I had hoped, publicly.

Grey area questions are way too risky to dive into publicly. I think we can all affirm that!

Hence the avoidance of, the eschewing of intellectual discussions currently, the eschewing of rigorous exploration of thoughts/ideas/proclamations. Safer to keep quiet, mum, to think or to think publicly in black and white terms only. Safety, safety, safety!

 

This is going to be a mess. THIS IS A MESS. But is it riveting?

Where was I? I seem to have lost my/any train of thought…

So, yes, I did rich bitch yoga with Claire in Ann Arbor. But we were not close. I wanted to be close. I don’t know what Claire wanted. Female writers don’t have to be Cinderella besties, always smilingly supportive, cheerleading one another like mindless, well, cheerleaders on social media and book jackets. Female writers can have complicated relationships too (as the old white male writers Claire referenced in her essay have been afforded for years). Animosity even. Moods. Changes of feeling… respect without affection, admiration from a distance…

Oh yes, I remember now. I watched the movie Rope while reading Claire’s second novel. As you are probably familiar, Rope is based on the Leopold and Loeb case, murder, whatever…, another obsession of mine. The film, upon re-watching, I was disappointed to discover, rather too simplistically explores the Nietzschean ideas of superiority and inferiority, but I couldn’t help transferring the questions raised by the young men in the film to Claire’s novel, to Claire’s pandering essay, to Claire…

I have always had the sense Claire has a feeling of superiority, rights granted her because she is smarter, different, more independent than the average female, gruffer, blunter.

(In the past she/we equated this difference with maleness.)

(Even, to an extent, in her current novel, she seems still to believe this, her protagonist admitting to wanting to be “like a man, sort of bad man,” whatever that means, whatever “like a man” means or how a bad man is different than a bad woman… I don’t know, you tell me, Claire.)

I recognize in her something my mother taught me, something I used to embrace: only a select few of us females are allowed into the boys’ club and that makes us special, unique, interesting, dynamic, unlike the others, those simpletons who stay home and tend children and wait for husbands to return from whatever fun/risky/scandalous activity they are engaged in with these other men and this one unique, Virginia Slims smoking woman.

You see, Claire and I are different (from you, not from each other).

We choose darkness.

Where you choose light and goodness and partnership and family, we choose ourselves, we choose solitude, we are selfish, we are artists, and that makes us special.

We are like men. Famous men.

Like Gauguin. Like Hemingway.

Abandoning a family/families/spouses/children.

We are artists.

We love you, but we choose darkness.

We love you, but we are selfish, we choose ourselves.

Of course, abandoning families isn’t strictly a male pursuit.

There have, over the centuries, been women who have done this too…

I don’t know who, specifically. Virginia Woolf wanted that one room. Doris Lessing also wrote of a room. Did either have children? Virginia had a husband…

What I love about I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness is how selfish the protagonist is because I too am selfish. I love her drinking and smoking weed and fucking and solitary travels. These are what we in society consider selfish pursuits. What we growing up female in past generations considered male pursuits. Again, only the unique solitary interesting woman pursued alcoholism, drug addiction, solitary travel, sexual promiscuity, liberation, liberty, her art.

There is something Nietzschean in Claire, in me.

 

If Claire’s pandering essay is – in part – about being slighted by a male writer, I can relate. I have felt myself slighted by many female writers over the last eight years, since I wrote and published my controversial essay. Ignored. Shunned. Un-acknowledged. I believe myself as good a writer as Claire, as Lauren Groff, as Roxane Gay.

But I was being purposefully overlooked, my books ignored, by the same female writers who had once praised me, my writing, my books.

My role as small press founder/editor/publisher – of many up and coming female writers - was ignored likewise.

When Lena Dunham championed a book I published – Women by Chloe Caldwell – she mistakenly referred to the publisher as Kevin Sampsell (Future Tense books) who published Chloe’s – and my – first book (s). She made this mistake in a magazine or newspaper. But once corrected (by Chloe or myself in an email, I forget which), she never once publicly mentioned the publisher again, despite the publisher being female, a woman, something she would normally make pains to champion, I suspect.

It could be noted – and I’m noting it here (I told you upfront this was going to be all about me) Claire was the only female writer I knew who didn’t pull out of the anthology that ousted me for my controversial essay (others who did pull out on my behalf: Roxane Gay, Cheryl Strayed, Amelia Gray, Lindsay Hunter). Claire stayed in. There is a little undercurrent of self-hatred to the female used to being the only woman in the room with the boys. (My paternal grandmother, after years of fighting for equality, after years of trying to empower her female grandchildren because she lost opportunities her brother was granted due to her gender: left all her personal wealth to her only grandson, left us three female grandchildren nothing.) (My mother, after marching for equal rights for women, for years, had only male friends, admitting she preferred the company of men; now, in her seventies, she has finally embraced female friendship.)

Dismissal of fellow women as writers/artists and the complete and utter ignoring of their work/art due to complicated, complex, and yes, even controversial thoughts or ideas or questions they put forth in essays –or on social media or in novels or in the bedroom -  should not be celebrated, encouraged or a normal, accepted practice of any culture that seeks to truly empower women. (the great irony of my being “dropped” from the anthology in question is that the theme of said anthology was “provocative women writers.” Provocative: causing annoyance, anger, or another strong reaction, especially deliberately. Um. Yeah.)

“I already pulled out of the anthology on your behalf,” was something like what Roxane said when I asked if she’d engage in public discussion with me. “What more do you want?” was the implication. (Hint: a lot more/everything!)

Yes, but if you and the other seven women pulled out only to thereon pretend I and my work don’t exist…. After praising it for years…. I am supposed to continue being grateful? While my career – as a result of silence – is vastly – for all or most intents and purposes – in the dumps?

Not all Black people think the same. Not all Hispanic persons think the same. And not all women think the same. We have vastly different definitions of words, different and complex ideas around subjects pertaining to us. We should be free to express these ideas and engage in discussions about them with other women without fear of alienation from the group.

What I’m trying to say is: it’s not only male artists, male writers who hold female writers down, as Claire’s essay was asserting (it didn’t say women don’t do this, it just didn’t address this issue at all and instead focused solely on men doing it). We do a fair share of it ourselves. for a variety of reasons. One of which is deciding whom amongst us is a good feminist (read: good woman) and who among us is a bad feminist (read: bad woman).

When I said: I have some questions. Claire and others may have heard: I’m not a real feminist, I don’t support women.

When I said: let’s just take a minute before we rush to judgment. Claire and others may have heard: I’m not on your side. I’m on the other side.

It sucks to have words put into your mouth.

It sucks to have your words (purposely) (mis) interpreted in a way you never meant them.

It sucks when asking questions is equated with enemy behavior.

 

But, whatever, enough of the pity party. Back to Claire’s novel. which one can assume was written for women. Or with women in mind. Good timing, too, since most of the literary world is run by and for women now. if ever there were a time to swerve from pandering to men to writing for women, now would be it!

I was six percent into Claire’s novel when I started texting my gfs to see who’d read it. “I started it but I thought it was boring so I stopped.” “I haven’t read anything lately.” “It started strong but quickly fell apart after that.” “I cannot believe that book got published in the shape it’s in. a complete mess. The system is rigged.”

At first I wanted to agree. I was all in on the Claire/woman falling apart/postpartum stuff at the open but once the novel transitioned into the Manson shit I was less enthused. I just wanted to get back to Claire. “Claire.”

But I kept reading, and I got more and more into Claire’s novel. I liked the messiness. I thought, wasn’t Ulysses messy? Lol: Person/a? Aren’t all great works of art messy? All great artists?

I hate neat.

The person who texted me that Claire’s book was messy hates neat.

I don’t know what she’s talking about.

I think Claire’s novel is not easily digestible.

I think books written by females, particularly memoirs, tend toward the extremely simplistic.

Like how a scientist on a podcast was saying all our faces and jaws are growing weak and ill formed from generations of eating processed foods. We’re getting uglier. Because we don’t eat meat. Raw produce. Crunchy foods. Foods that require lots of chewing.

Claire’s book requires lots of chewing.

It requires a slowing down.

A rereading of sentences. A thinking.

We are all getting intellectually uglier because we don’t want to think.

 

And then there is the question of motherhood. And how it does or doesn’t fit into the feminist narrative, into our ideas of ourselves as liberated women.

One way to view pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood is as a biological unfairness we can seek in modern society to right.

In I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness, the husband does if not 50/50 of the parenting, 75/25…the modern couple: keeping score of what once was so natural you did not need pen and paper.

But I was equally riveted by Claire’s (autofictional) version of motherhood as my own. My own which was, one could say, in direct opposition to Claire’s, more akin with the character of Ivy in Claire’s novel:

I missed Ivy so bad, sitting beside her…

            She and I loved but no longer understood each other. Motherhood had wrenched us into separate spheres – she the attachment parent, me the detached mother. I had hoped she might be the first person I told about my teeth. But she’d been breastfeeding for four years straight. She’d slept in the same bed with her children every single night of their lives. I was trying not to judge her, but the Madonna radiance rolling off her scared the hell out of me. She’d been at home, unschooling her free-range babies since we last saw each other. I dropped mine at daycare forty hours a week, hours I spent at yoga, fucking around with various Innocents, or smoking weed in my hammock, crying and wondering what my baby thought of me. No, I didn’t have to wonder – I knew.”

My motherhood experience had been more like Ivy’s. Claire knew this.

I had stayed at home, breastfed four years. (didn’t drink: alcohol or coffee – or smoke - for five!) I co-slept for six. I had no postpartum depression. No feelings of angst or restlessness. Maybe it was all the breastfeeding, the let downs, that soothed me into my maternal coziness, my six years of mothering bliss.

I’m not trying to brag.

I’m just adding to the discourse. Adding my voice. (The first five years of my daughter’s life were the coziest of mine.) While appreciating Claire’s. I found Claire’s views fascinating. As I said, riveting.

I see a tendency in the culture (read: in myself) to view disillusionment with motherhood as intellectual superiority, Leopold and Loeb, Nietzcsheism.

There’s not much of interest to write about in a contented woman.

Angst always lends itself more aptly to art.

Also, how could a woman of strong intellect be sated by motherhood? One might ask oneself.

I don’t know. but I was. I leaned into learning the scientific names of my daughter’s small plastic dinosaurs and mammals. I leaned into rereading the children’s classics from my youth. I leaned into watching cartoons and musicals and family classics with my daughter. I leaned into making snow cream after reading about it in a Little House book. I leaned into baking muffins and cookies and breads. This all may or may not surprise you. I want you to know a woman can be several versions of herself in her lifetime.

This isn’t losing yourself.

This isn’t abandoning yourself as artist.

This is a brief period of time in which other parts of you are leaned into, opened, honored, celebrated.

In psychological terms, I’m sure also I was healing the child inside of me through parenting my own.

I wonder about Claire’s inner child. perhaps it was too painful to address her. I’m no psychologist, that’s for damn sure! This is just positing. This is just me asking questions again. [ducking]  But I did wonder why the protagonist was running so far, so fast…

Running is usually but not always about pain.

Or at least discomfort.

What is Claire trying to tell us with I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness?

I think it is an important work of literature. I was going to say an important feminist book. But why limit it? I was never keen, to tell you the truth, on separate literary sites for women such as Broadly or The Toast. Why limit one’s audience? That’s just one way to look at it, of course. I get the other way too. I’m not dense. Just because I propose two sides to an argument or a way of looking at something. I’m not the enemy or your enemy either. Let’s be friends.

Whatever Claire is trying to tell us – and I appreciate some retained mystery, I do! – I’m riveted, as always, by her complexity, her offputtingness even.

A “strong woman” is often (by nature?) offputting.

Case in point: the last time Claire and I hung out it was to take her daughter (mine was away at college) to a Hillary rally in Detroit shortly before the 2016 election.

I remember the day felt special to me: that Claire had chosen me, for whatever maybe-not-as-romantic-as-I-want-to-make-it reason, to go with her to see Hillary. I was a bit honored. Claire was the popular gal, woman, about town. The more well known of the two of us at this point. The one with a tenure track job at the university. The young hotshot. The one who had written that infamous (read: viral) essay.

My essay was the offputting sort.

I know I shouldn’t sexualize this essay, that it’s wrong to bring sexuality into this discourse, but I remember saying to Aaron more than once: if Claire were a man I’d totally want to fuck her.

I think I meant the tension between us, the I-can’t-tell-if-we-dislike-or-like-each-other, the irking and interesting each other (well, I can only speak for myself on these issues; Claire may have felt quite differently), was a bit intoxicating.

And the fact is, sexual feelings are often an uncomfortable truth, something, like motherhood, that doesn’t quite fit into modern society as we would like to view it, in how we wish to view ourselves: neatly. Safely. Everything in its proper place.

So there was that undercurrent also. on my part at least.

The night of the election we were all – Aaron, me, Claire, Derek – going to hang out at their house. Then Claire texted to clarify something like, “come over if it looks favorable, but if it starts looking bad, I don’t think we’ll be up for company.”

Needless to say, we never made it over.

I was up crying by myself in the basement til two or three in the morning and then got up at nine to drive to meet my daughter for lunch in East Lansing. The night before she had texted me a photo of herself wearing white in line to vote. It was her first election. “A beautiful night for a glass ceiling to break!” was something like the text that the next day would break my heart when I read it over, again and again.

Sometimes, not often, but on occasion, I wonder what would have happened to Claire’s and my friendship had Hillary won.

Something else I’ve often wondered reading and rereading Claire’s essay: when she says of her story collection Battleborn that “the whole book is a pander,” that “I can write hard, unflinching, unsentimental.” Why does she ascribe these literary attributes to male writers? When I think of hard and unflinching and unsentimental I think of a woman. I think of Joan Didion.

Isn’t it pretty to think so?

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