Rosa Lyster

Cape Town, South Africa

Tag: pierce blue eyes which i love

Essay 33: Potential, Potential, Potential

I used to know someone who thought I was very smart. It was, he made clear, the big deal about me. I was so clever, I had so much potential, I was remarkable for my age. It is possible that he was a little bit in love with me. I was very young, and I thought he was just the bee’s knees.

He would raise his eyebrows at things I said. He made a series of weird remarks about the clarity of my soul. My friends were sure that he wanted to sleep with me. I was sure that they were all the worst kind of sexist pigs, sexist bitches, for saying that. How could they think that he wanted to sleep with me when all he was doing was telling me over and over again how smart I was? It was so typical of this terrible world, really, that an old man couldn’t tell a 23 year old girl how brilliant she was without some dreary old naysayer, some mom, suggesting that there might be something else going on there. It didn’t occur to me that I was wrong.

If you haven’t heard of negging, it’s when a person gives with one hand and takes with the other. This is done with an eye to future sexing. Negging is when, for example, you are in the club and you see a girl. She is standing there chatting to her pals. You go up to her and stand on the fringes of the group. No one thinks this is weird or embarrassing. You nod along for a bit, and then you look at the girl’s friends and say, like “Wow, do you ladies ever get a word in edgewise? It seems like she never stops talking,” thus indicating to her that you are not interested. Thus making her feel the bitter sting of being just like everyone else. Negging is when you make her think that her looks have no power over you. The idea is that you “lower her social value in relation to yours” and she has no choice then but to give you the first of many blowjobs. This is all freely available on the internet. Anyone can read this.

There are lots of men who swear by negging. The internet heaves with them, all of them on forums writing “I am right, negging works, tell a girl she looks like your little sister and it’s BLOWJOB TIME, PAL. It WORKS.” A normal person looks at all this crazy bullshit and wants to dismiss it out of hand. Any normal person, surely, wants to believe that it’s a myth. I so, so wish it was.  I have never been negged in the club, but I have been subject to a sustained campaign of negging by the man who thought I was very smart, and I am telling you that it works. It made me feel like shit, but it also made me think I was in love with him.

His version of negging was to tell me that I was so, so smart, so much potential, but that it was always going to remain as potential. I was always going to be the girl that wasted her giant brain, because she couldn’t do any work. She couldn’t get it done. See how good that is? Smart, but a fuck up. Brilliant, but who cares?

It works. It made me think all kinds of stupid shit, like for example that he was the only person who understood me.  Like maybe we should just get married.

It took about five years for me to realise what was going on, there. I got sick of it all at once, just bored with all this stuff about my beautiful dying brain. A person with a more robust self-esteem would have got the shits with it much earlier. Still.

It took another two years for me to stop being angry. It was so long ago, and as it turns out, I am grateful to him. He was such an old creeper, and I ended up disliking him in a way that made it possible for me to dismiss everything he said. The whole business of whether or not I was smart just went out the window. He made it so I never, ever wanted to think about it again. As it turns out, this was a gift. I haven’t thought I was smart in years. I haven’t worried about my potential once. It just does not come up for me, anymore. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me, and all it took was one old creeper.


Urging a Luncheon Companion to Accept a Cool Lima Bean

Everyone has their blind spots. Mine is JD Salinger. I reread the nine stories this weekend, and most of Franny and Zooey, and I loved them so much, again.

There’s a bit in Experience where Kingsley Amis is talking about “Don Juan”:

I had a strange experience with Byron the other night. There was an hour to kill before a dinner party in Chelsea and I went into a pub and started reading Don Juan. After half an hour I couldn’t believe how absolutely marvellous it was. I knew I liked Don Juan but this was oh, something of a completely different order. By the time I had to go I was looking round the pub wanting to say, ‘Has anyone here got any idea how wonderful “Don Juan” is?

That’s me, reading “Before the War with the Eskimos”, and “The Laughing Man”. I want to take people by the sleeves and force them to read Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters. I want them to admit how much they love it. “Just admit,” I want to say. “Just admit it.”

In the next paragraph in Experience, it’s revealed that Kingsley Amis was so enamoured with Don Juan because he was drunk. His point is that you can’t really get so woozy about a book, especially not a “classic”, especially not one that you’ve read before. Maybe this is true if you are Kingsley Amis, but it’s not true if you are me. People say that JD Salinger is twee, and Cute, and obsessed with the Glasses. Joan Didion, for instance, said that

“Franny and Zooey is finally spurious, and what makes it spurious is Salinger’s tendency to flatter the essential triviality within each of his readers, his predilection for giving instructions for living. What gives the book its extremely potent appeal is precisely that it is self-help copy: it emerges finally as Positive Thinking for the upper middle classes, as Double Your Energy and Live Without Fatigue for Sarah Lawrence girls.”

This is a bit Rich, coming from Joan Didion, but it is unassailably true. I don’t care though, and neither should you. I need to have my essential triviality flattered. I enjoy it very much, and I believe that everyone else would enjoy it too. I try to press these books on people without success.

There are some obvious parallels to be drawn here. People in JD Salinger are always pressing food on those who don’t want to eat it: the brother in “Eskimos” tries to get Ginnie Mannox to eat half a chicken sandwich; the waiter and Lane Coutrell try to get Franny to eat another chicken sandwich in Franny; Bessie Glass tries to get Franny to eat chicken soup in Zooey; and the narrator in “Esme” offers the titular girl a bite of his cinnamon toast. She declines: “I eat like a bird, actually.” The brother in “Eskimos”, especially, is insistent that she have at least a small bite of the chicken sandwich. He keeps telling her how good it is, and she keeps, for some reason, not wanting it. He doesn’t understand why she won’t just try.This is how I feel about people who refuse to love Salinger. They won’t even try.

It is my belief that Salinger was aware of this phenomenon. For evidence, I submit his dedication in Franny and Zooey:

“As nearly as possible in the spirit of Matthew Salinger, age one, urging a luncheon companion to accept a cool lima bean, I urge my editor, mentor, and (heaven help him) closest friend, William Shawn, genius domus of The New Yorker, lover of the long shot, protector of the unprolific, defender of the hopelessly flamboyant, most unreasonably modest of born great artist-editors, to accept this pretty skimpy-looking book.”

Accept this book. You’ll love it. Just admit.


Edited to include the information that Janet Malcolm said that “Rereading Franny and Zooey is no less rewarding than rereading The Great Gatsby” 

Essay 20: Pierce Blue Eyes Which I Love

One of the best things I ever read was an extremely invasive article in Vanity Fair about Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng and Tony Blair. As much as I loved it, and I loved it a lot, it seemed like the most incredible breach of journalistic ethics. When I say “invasive” what I mean is they published extracts from Wendi Deng’s diary. They don’t use the word “diary” in the VF article. They say it’s a “note she wrote to herself.” This is misleading. Here are some recent notes I have written to myself: “Adults who like Harry Potter”, “Don’t have a haiku where it says like ‘a pen never runs of out battery”, “It was all very hard luck on Margaret”, “Phone Lee.” Those are notes. Reminders to oneself that are sometimes private, sometimes not, but never a narrative. Never a story with you in the centre of it.

Here, on the other hand, is part of Wendi Deng’s note:

“I achieved my purpose of Eric saw me looking so gorgeous and so fantastic and so young, so cool, so chic, so stylish, so funny and he cannot have me. I’m not ever feel sad . . . about losing Eric. . . . Plus he is really really ugly. Unattractive . . . and fat. Not stylish at all try to wear hip clothes. . . . I’m so so soo soooo happy I’m not with him.”

That is no note. That’s a diary entry. That’s Vanity Fair publishing bits of the unhinged Wendi Deng’s diary. No mention, in the article, of how the writer came into possession of the note. No mention, also, of any questions around its authenticity. There are probably good legal reasons for this.

There is something mesmerising about the prose of the unsinkable Wendi Deng. I imagine old Wendi coming home, triumphant. She has achieved her purpose of Eric saw her looking so gorgeous and so young, so cool, so chic, so stylish, so funny. AND he cannot have her. Not stylish AT ALL try to wear hip clothes. She is so so soo soooo happy she is not with him.

The article goes into exhaustive detail about the breakdown of her 14 year marriage to Rupert Murdoch. The writer has a lot to say about “shifting power dynamics” and insists that the most important questions that needs to be asked is “who blindsided whom?” But who cares about that? The most important question is Please can I read the rest of the diary ASAP. The writer tries to make it interesting, this boring story about two people getting divorced where you can’t believe they ever had sex even once. He tries to make you believe that this is a tale of intrigue, that you will somehow care more about their tedious divorce if there a few question marks over who was using whose private jet to go to whose sad old ranch.

His heart isn’t really in it, though. The writer knows just as well as everyone reading that the real point of the article is Wendi, Wendi, Wendi. Rupert Murdoch, apart from being obviously bad, possibly a devil, is not remarkable. Wendi, though. A different kind of bad. A powerful and compelling wizard.

A little while ago, Jonathan Franzen wrote an essay for the New Yorker about Edith Wharton. He said that Edith Wharton was impossible to like because she was a) ugly, b) not charming, c) rich. He got given an extremely hard time for it, because a) that’s a very strange thing to say, b) pot, kettle. Of all people, Jonathan Franzen shouldn’t go around talking too loudly about someone being impossible to like. Poor man, even the people who like him find him insufferable.

Besides from these obvious problems, it was a good essay. The best part was this: “Apparently, all a novelist has to do is give a character a powerful desire (to rise socially, to get away with murder) and I, as a reader, become helpless not to make that desire my own.” The examples he gives are Becky Sharp, Raskolnikov, Tom Ripley, Mickey Sabbath, and The Jackal. Humbert Humbert should be on that list as well. Also the Judge from Blood Meridian, Patrick Bateman, Hannibal Lecter, Dracula, Kurtz, Sher Kahn, Cruella De Vil, and Satan in Paradise Lost. It’s not a new explanation, but it’s a good one. It’s easy to identify with want.

Franzen, in this discussion, makes a clear distinction between fiction and reality: “One of the great perplexities of fiction…is that we experience sympathy so readily for characters we wouldn’t like in real life.”  When he says “characters we wouldn’t like in real life”, he means, obviously, “characters we shouldn’t like in real life.” Fiction, then, is a way of maintaining your moral conscience. It acts as a release valve in that it allows you to expend sympathy and interest on characters you wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, like in real life. It’s not a new explanation, but it’s a good one.

It’s true that I don’t know Wendi Deng in real life, and so maybe I am somewhere kidding myself that she is really a fictional character. But, Wendi Deng exists. She is out there. It is clear to me that she is deeply wicked, verging on some kind of maniac, and exactly the kind of person you aren’t supposed to like. If she was a character in a novel, that would be fine. She would remind you of Becky Sharp. But Wendi Deng exists, and still I experience a deep and ready sympathy with her. I wouldn’t say that it’s an affinity, or even that I would want to be stuck in a lift with her. I just like to know what she’s up to.

In the first place, you could say that I take a keen interest in the progress of Wendi Deng for the Franzen reason. Wendi Deng wants a lot of things, a lot, and I as an observer become helpless not to make that desire my own. That’s one reason.

Another is that I am easily swayed. I have a long, long history of being drawn to highly unsuitable people, who even though I know they are bad, I still find them to be funny, or charming, or have wolflike incisors, or swear nicely, or dress in a way that I admire, or have good taste in music. It’s not that I want to marry them or anything, or even be stuck in a lift with them. I just like to know what they’re up to. Wendi Deng is evil, but she is also a hoot. Look at her go! The woman will stop at nothing.

Here’s the third reason:

“Oh, shit, oh, shit. Whatever why I’m so so missing Tony. Because he is so so charming and his clothes are so good. He has such good body and he has really really good legs Butt . . . And he is slim tall and good skin. Pierce blue eyes which I love. Love his eyes. Also I love his power on the stage . . . and what else and what else and what else . . . ”

Another note. I think about “pierce blue eyes which I love” once a day. It’s a triumph. Today is my 20th essay, and I know that if I wrote 50 more, I would never be able to come up with something as amazing as “I achieved my purpose of Eric saw me looking so gorgeous and so fantastic and so young, so cool, so chic, so stylish, so funny and he cannot have me.”  I would give anything to read that diary.