It’s been about a month or so since the last newsletter, so let’s catch up. How are you? How is that (project you’ve been working on)? I hope that (any tricky dilemmas) got sorted out and this weekend you’re (doing your favourite thing). And me. I’m fiiiiiiiine.
Starting this editor’s letter and looking at the square inch-age of digital blankness in front of me, it’s hard not to purge out some bad, black feels, to turn this into a very public diary entry. It’s very tempting. And it has precedents.
Marie Bashkirtseff wanted to be famous. She was rich, she was a noblewoman and she was a fashionable Ukranian emigré in Paris who came of age at the tail end of the 19th century. She tried singing. That didn’t work out. She had modest success as a painter (one of her pieces hangs in the Museé d’Orsay, though many were destroyed during World War II). She occasionally wrote for La Citoyenne, a feminist newspaper, under an assumed name.
But Marie Bashkirtseff was a weaponised woman. When she was a teenager, she started keeping a diary. These diaries revealed the true extent of her personality; her precociousness, her knack for critical analysis and complimentary self-reflection, most of all, her then-unseemly lust for experience and frustrated railing against the social constraints that stopped her. She was brash and brave and brilliant. She lived inside her own head. She feared death and hoped that fame would keep her from being forgotten.
“To live, to have so much ambition, to cry, to fight and at the end, forgetfulness… as if I had never existed… one life would not suffice, mine especially. To touch everything and leave nothing after oneself. Ah! My god! I hope better than that. Ah! I am very cowardly, and under the blow of such a terror, I am ready to believe in priests.”
When she died at the age of twenty-five, her diaries were published as per her wishes. Readers were shocked at her candour, perplexed that a woman could have such a rich interior life.
Mary MacLane knew that she was singular, but a quiet life with her family in the arid, sandy landscape surrounding Butte, Montana, was not one she wanted to lead. MacLane was convinced that she was a genius, and maybe she was. What does a female genius look like? Maybe it’s MacLane, staring malevolently out from under her eyebrows on the cover of her diary/memoir, I Await the Devil’s Coming. The book opens like this:
And carries on much in the same vein, a literal vein, an artery, a heart swell of passion without catharsis. Mary waits for happiness to be bestowed upon her. She begs the devil for some kind of release.
Diaries never end, really. They don’t end until the author dies because the book is still being written with every thought they file away, every joke made, every small interaction stored in the memory banks. But there is a happy ending, of sorts. The book sold 100,000 copies in the first month, and Mary left Montana for good.
So Sad Today started out as a Twitter account and now it is a book. It was a way for Melissa Broder to anonymously broadcast short blasts of self-doubt, suicidality and despair. The subsequent book of essays, which are all about Broder’s experiences of anxiety and depression, are so good and funny and painfully honest and real. (That’s my Goodreads review right there.) I missed my Tube stop reading it (twice) and tweeted about it (twice) and the So Sad Today account favourited my tweets (again, twice) which made me very happy.
We seem to think that ‘honesty’ and ‘authenticity’ in women’s writing is a trend that started with Plath and ended in platitudes. It isn’t. Ever since women were taught how they wrote about themselves. You write what you know, and when, through the law or society or having a particularly domineering parent, you are denied a public voice, you retreat to the interior.
That is what happened when someone tried to get into my email and social media accounts.
It started with Gmail. It’s happened before, I changed the password and enabled two-step verification. I temporarily shut down all my accounts. I got an email saying that my Twitter account had been reactivated and if I didn’t authorise that, maybe I should change my password. Then it was Instagram. A LinkedIn breach happened and I had to change passwords again. Facebook. I woke up one morning and found that someone had been trying to access my Apple ID and the cloud storage, which has everything – photos, music, writing, memories.
Over the past month, I’ve been wondering: why is this happening? It could easily be someone I know back home in Ireland, or maybe it’s some anonymous hacker in God Knows Where. I have no money. The only currency anyone is interested in is information.
That is why things have slowed down here. That is why you haven’t seen a newsletter. Every time my mother rings me on the phone and asks me how I am, I say, “Fiiiiine” but my jaw tenses up a bit.
But I am fine. I have a voice now, and so do you, and so does everyone writing for The Coven. Use that voice. Don’t let yourself be scared out of it.