In a speech she gave to the National Society for Women’s Service, Virginia Woolf commented on how strange a thing it was that “there is nothing so delightful in the world than telling stories.” This quote made it’s way into a recently released memoir called The Rules Do Not Apply, recommended to me by a coworker at Sunpreme (that's the bifacial solar panel supplier in Sunnyvale).
The Rules Do Not Apply was written by Ariel Levy, an LGBTQ staff writer at the New Yorker. It is a memoir with all the wisdom that 38 years can supply written by a woman of privilege who felt that she lost it all. It is fast, delicious narrative. Most of all, it is shamelessly entitled, so much so that it speaks volumes of how the wealth of the American coasts have created large swaths of microcultures that cling to the notion of misfortune because of its scarcity. Here was a bright, fast living New York woman, receiving food deliveries, writing for a living (a privilege in itself), enjoying the bubble of densely populated coolness that minions like me can only yearn for. She was/is a lesbian and financially independent. Between all the words glowed the pride of her freedom from the shackles of the female past. “Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary,” she writes. “It’s also a symptom of narcissism.”
For those not familiar with the significance of the New Yorker magazine, it is the intellectual high-brow rag for New York insiders. So much so that the jokes are hard to understand. It is also one of the glowing crowns of arrival for a creative writer to have their kind words formed into print by that rag. It is the epitome of elite New York literati.
This takes me back to the Virginia Woolf quote about telling stories. I have a story about meeting the fiction editor of the New Yorker once. My late professor, Leonard Michaels, had one of his books reprinted by the Arion Press, probably the last functioning printing press in our country. This editor was there. We exchanged a few facts about how we knew the writer (she, obviously, published him) and it turned out that she was a Comp Lit major from Cal. I was an English major from Cal. In age, we might have been one year apart. I left the immediacy of the moment and saw this woman as the path not taken, the pinnacle of the power I could have achieved if I had slogged it out as a writer and settled for editor instead. “What do you think about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” I asked her.
“I don’t,” she said. And there it was, the arrogance of the literati, living off the last of the intangible perks the dying industry has used to make up for poor compensation. “What do you do?” she asked.
“I work at a hedge fund,” I said.
“You probably make a lot less than you used to,” she said (this was after the financial crash.)
I didn’t answer. I thought it best not to engage in this one.
The party was in an old, lived-in apartment in the Upper West. Moisture trapped books lined the wall. Antipasti and soft drinks were offered up in the kitchen. I took my plastic plate and put it down in a spot with more oxygen. In the time it took for me to greet someone else, a German cockroach might have crawled on and off my plate and scurried back down into its netherworld behind the baseboard that didn't quite accommodate the slope of the floor.