The Read Along: Laura Goode

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Laura Goode is a true Renaissance woman. She is a novelist—her book Sister Mischief being “the world’s first interracial gay hip-hop love story for teens.” She is a filmmaker—producing 2013’s Farah Goes Bang, in which a young campaigner for John Kerry attempts to lose her virginity while securing crucial red state votes. The film won the Nora Ephron Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival the year it debuted. Goode is also an essayist, writing fiercely about women in Hollywood, beauty standards, motherhood, and other mainstays of feminism. And now, she’s a published poet, with her chapbook Become a Name published by Fathom Books this year. And somehow, in the midst of all of this, she reads an impressive amount of nonfiction by women, with a little Sesame Street thrown in for good measure.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

In the weak early-morning light, I read Nick Denton’s statement on Gawker’s denouement, “How Things Work.” My two-and-half-year-old son crawls into bed to watch Sesame Street, in which Big Bird is momentarily persuaded by realtor Lin-Manuel Miranda to leave the Street for a new habitat. “Habitat” is the Word of the Day; the kiddo softly practices H words next to me.

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While writing an application letter, I reach for a Baldwin passage and reread his “Letter from A Region in My Mind.” “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”

After lunch, I read two essays on The Rumpus. First, Edward Helfers’s “Distance Devotion”: “If I understood the difference between good and great in that moment, it would be years before I came to accept it.” Then I have to reread Chloe Caldwell’s “The Last City I Loved: NYC” so I can send it to my friend Vickie to hard-sell her on coming to my conversation with Chloe at Green Apple Books on Dec. 12 instead of going to hear Rebecca Solnit at City Arts. Vickie is a sucker for NYC and I know Chloe will strike right in her tender parts.

Around 5 p.m., I read my friend Katy Steinmetz’s new article for TIME about Hillary and the etymology of gendered language while Jed watches another Sesame Street: Grover leads a game of dress-up and everyone learns to push against “superhero” and “princess” gender roles. The best part is when Cookie Monster bursts out in a tutu bellowing BALLERINA COOKIE MONSTER. I swear Sesame Street is the wokest show on television.

 

Wednesday, August 24

This morning’s Sesame Street witnesses Super Grover 2.0 unleash his powers of observation on a pitcher of pink lemonade that has mysteriously grown hard and cold, served by two moose in a snowy forest with familiar upper-Midwestern accents. This episode includes a composer credit for Miranda. Making a typically obsessive detour into Wikipedia, on Miranda’s page I learn that at his wedding he surprised his wife with this adorable rendition of “L’Chaim,” from Fiddler on the Roof. (I was crying by 0:53.) It’s especially great if you know Fiddler, which I do, very well, from a ninth-grade turn as Fruma-Sarah, dead wife of Lazar the butcher. In my previous life as an actor, I got cast almost exclusively as hookers and dead women.

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In an email to a screenwriter friend, I tell him to write like a motherfucker, so obviously have to reread that Strayedian tour de force. “The first product of self-knowledge is humility.”

I determine to do better than yesterday at actually writing. While working on an essay I’m writing about parenting and empathy, I reach for a passage from the Bhagavad Gita that Meera [Menon, filmmaker] sent me in a 2011 email exchange about losing a mutual friend, processing our religious identities, ego, and our friendship. It is:

These bodies of the embodied One,
who is eternal, indestructible and boundless,
are known as finite…
(The embodied One) is not born,
nor doth he die, nor having been,
ceaseth he any more to be;
unborn, perpetual, eternal and ancient,
he is not slain when the body is slaughtered…

As a man, casting worn-out garments,
taketh new ones, so the dweller in the body,
casting off worn-out bodies,
entereth into others that are new…

For certain is death for the born,
and certain is birth for the dead;
therefore over the inevitable
thou shouldst not grieve.

In the same email exchange, I find a passage I sent her from Dorothy Day’s memoir The Long Loneliness, a book I finally read earlier this summer. “Why was so much done in remedying evil instead of avoiding it in the first place? Where were the saints to try to change the social order, not just to minister to slaves, but to do away with slavery?”

On the BART I crack open Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and find it boasts maybe the best opening sentence I’ve read in a decade:

Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.

I mean, that is some Cien Años de Soledad-level first-sentence work.

During evening Sesame Street (rated ME for Mixed Emotions), I read this interview, “It’s Kinda Creepy Because I Am,” with the writer and artist Myriam Gurba, on whom I have a giant Instagram crush. Anybody who’s tried to tell her parents queef jokes has my admiration.

 

Thursday, August 25

We all wake up late today—a relief, since the last few weeks have been morning-dark with a jetlagged toddler transitioning to a Big Boy Bed—so no lazy Sesame Street and feed-scrolling. “Late” in my house, at our present moment, is 7:20 a.m.

At my desk, I scroll through Lauren McKeon’s “Best Sisters,” this disheartening update on Big Freedia, and Sarah Smarsh’s masterful “Poor Teeth.” “I am the bone of the bone of them that live in trailer homes.” Sarah’s lyricism and self-awareness of her intersectional position amaze me; I’ll read anything she writes.

After lunch, I read three essays on mothering: one by Chloe Schama on parenting a child who’s slow to talk, another by Tracy Clark-Flory on people freaking out and mom-shaming on Instagram, and one about visual artists defying the myth that babies make it impossible to work.

In a rare, quiet, solitary minute at home, I entertain a happy hour date with Americanah. Then husband and son return from the park, with the toddler singing a song he learned at daycare, “La Lechuza.” I Google it to decipher his baby Spanish: La lechuza, la lechuza, hace “sshhh,” hace “sshhh, hágamos silencio, como la lechuza, que hace “ssshh.” Also on the Internet: Katy Perry used the word “misogynoir”?!

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From about 8–10 p.m., with Little Butt asleep and husband making pickles in the kitchen, I plow through a hundred more pages of Americanah, riveted. Jesus Christ, this book is like, Toni Morrison/Susan Sontag good. This book is first viewing of Beyoncé’s Lemonade good. This book is Simone Biles good.

 

Friday, August 26

My morning alerts navigate me to a piece by Amy Fox in TIME about her experience writing the film Equity, in which she makes a very sweet allusion to my essay “Unicorns in The Wild.” Dropping Amy an email, remembering the love of mysteries she mentioned when I interviewed her, I recommend my favorite Amanda Cross feminist-noir novels and thus have to revisit the Wikipedia page of my great white whale, Carolyn Heilbrun.

I’m researching Mexico’s Madonna/whore complex for a dramatic project, so I pull up Octavio Paz’s “Los Hijos de La Malinche,” from El Laberinto de la Soledad. This reading consumes most of the morning, because the essay is long and mind-blowing, and because I have to read both the English translation and the original Spanish to get my mind around it. “La blasfemia, dice Machado, es una oración al revés.” Blasphemy, as Machado writes, is a prayer in reverse.

My favorite passage is this, in which Paz deconstructs chingar, to fuck:

In our daily language there is a group of words that are prohibited, secret, without clear meanings. We confide the expression of our most brutal or subtle emotions and reactions to their magical ambiguities. They are evil words, and we utter them in a loud voice only when we are not in control of ourselves. In a confused way they reflect our intimacy: the explosions of our vitality light them up and the depressions of our spirit darken them. They constitute a sacred language like those of children, poetry and sects. Each letter and syllable has a double life, at once luminous and obscure, that reveals and hides us. They are words that say nothing and say everything. Adolescents, when they want to appear like men, speak them in a hoarse voice. Women also repeat them, sometimes to demonstrate their freedom of spirit, sometimes to prove the truth of their feelings. But these words are definitive and categorical, despite their ambiguities and the ease with which their meanings change. They are the bad words, the only living language in a world of anemic vocables. They are poetry within the reach of everyone.

I end the day with three pieces on fucking: Curtis Sittenfeld’s New Yorker story about a traveling academic fucking her airport shuttle driver, “Sex and Dating: Now the Thinking Gal’s Subject” (I hate this condescending headline) in the Times, and Kristin Dombeck’s “Letter from Williamsburg” in the Paris Review, which really buries the lede, because it’s all about threesomes.


Kelsey Osgood has contributed pieces to publications including New York, The New Yorker's Culture Desk blog, Harper's and Longreads. Her 2013 book, How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia, was chosen for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program. She lives in London. More from this author →