Monday, January 26, 2015

Permissive Playground/ Menacing Nightmare

I interviewed writer Dylan Landis over at Electric Literature. I loved "Rainey Royal," a book about a tough but vulnerable teenage girl making her way through 1970s New York City. Landis talks about writing in a way that is both instructive and inspiring, and she also talks about pre-gentrification New York City in a way that acknowledges that there was real danger with the grit, but that's not necessarily something that turns off a teenage girl.

"Rainey Royal" was the first book I'd read in a long time that I felt truly represented what it was like to grow up in New York City. There's actually a Latina in the book! If you go by the fiction published in America you'd think there were no Latinos in New York City.

Something that Landis talks about in the interview is how dangerous New York was, but that didn't stop teenagers like Rainey Royal from treating New York like a playground. We also talked about sexual assault and harassment and how it is and isn't talked about. There are definitely people and things I encountered that I should have told an adult about but I didn't because freedom seemed a tradeoff for safety (up to a point, I'll say--I'm lucky in that I've never been sexually assaulted). When I worked at the Strand when I was nineteen I used to take my break outside and eat a banana on the corner of 12th street. I wasn't trying to be provocative, I just liked eating bananas. Anyway, I was just minding my business and despite my giving no indication that I was interested, an older co-worker repeatedly tried to buy me candy bars and ask me on dates. I wondered what I was doing wrong that he didn't stop bothering me, but he should have stopped after the first time. And then there was the sweaty man with the crooked glasses who asked me if I would come to his studio to have my pictures taken. He asked me once and then forgetting that he'd already asked me, he asked me again the next week and was startled to recognize me once I showed my fear and anger at being harassed by a creep. All I could think was, this fucker thinks I'm going to let him take naked pictures of my like Coco from the movie Fame! The worst, scariest thing was when I stupidly let a co-worker from a telemarketing job drive me home. He was so much older I just assumed he was taking a fatherly interest in me (how naive I was to think men older than 40 thought 18 year olds were off limits). It became clear that he had other ideas when he told me that his last girlfriend had been 17 and that he liked a girl to be a lady on the street and a tiger in the sheets. Yes! He actually said that. This was pre-cell phones so I just prayed to all the gods in the pantheon of gods I'd ever witnessed in any house of worship that he simply drop me off at home and not take me to the Bronx where he said he lived. He did simply take me home but not before scaring me and making me vow to myself to never get into a car with a man again. I didn't tell my mother but I immediately called a friend and she yelled at me to be more careful. I was. I tried to be. When we don't talk about these things we think it's just us or that these are isolated incidents, but they happen to women all the time and not just when you're 18, 19, whatever. In the fall I took a yellow taxi home and after some idle chit chat the cab driver said that I was very sexually attractive and that if a man didn't think so, not even viagra would help. Men can't possibly think that this feels like a compliment--there has to be a part of them that knows that this feels like a threat, even if that knowledge is subconscious, it's there, and still, they say these things.

Read the interview. She's great.