Each month we'll feature a new TinyLetter writer, chat with them about their newsletter, and republish one of their recent issues. (Previously in this series: Teri Vlassopoulos , Brandon Taylor , Sarah Mirk , Alvin Park .) This month we're featuring Catapult instructor Laura Goode, author of a collection of poems, Become a Name , Sister Mischief and a novel for young adults, . Laura also co-wrote and produced the feature film Farah Goes Bang , which premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and won the Nora Ephron Prize. Her nonfiction has appeared in BuzzFeed, Longreads, ELLE, Refinery29, New Republic, New York Magazine, Fusion, and Bright Ideas, where she is a contributing editor. She lives in San Francisco.
“Rooting for Your Rebirth”
I feel I’ve been out of touch—not just with this community, but with the world, sort of. I’ve recently emerged out from under a deadline-shaped boulder, which was revising the novel I’ve been working on for seven years. The story of how that novel has come to be is one I’ll save for another day; suffice it to say, for today, that I had an epiphany about how to construct the story, ripped the whole thing apart at the seams, took it from 3rd-person past to 1st-person present, and arrive now, six months after that epiphanious moment, at my favorite, most rewarding stage of the process—waiting for other people to judge the result! JK waiting is fucking terrible and now I have to distract myself by writing something else.
Recently an old friend told me a secret that she needed not to be a secret anymore. What an act of courage that is—a secret is a gift of trust, and a risk, and a weight. Her voice shook as she asked if I judged her and I said Christ, honey, of course not. As if I could sneer at her gift: I would never. I was so honored that she trusted me enough to share her difficult truth. And she is so much a part of me that to judge her would be to judge myself.
When we graduated high school, this same old friend plastered a trash can with pictures of us and called it The Trash of Laura and gave it to me as a gift. Now, The Trash of Laura is kind of my Proust’s Madeleine: I look at those teenage girls and despite myself, without meaning to, I hear myself speaking to them, telling their fortunes. I hear myself saying, in a year or two you will leave here and never live here again. If you’re lucky—and you will be, mostly—you will exchange monthly emails with these people who have made revelations out of you, who have offered you their own. You will have days that make you feel not just tired, but older. You will have a miscarriage. An abortion. A late, heavy period you'll never know how to classify. You will cheat on your husband. You will fall ill in faraway countries. You will call in tears, out of money, stranded on a horse farm. Two years from the date of this picture, you will be violated by a man you thought was your friend. Your friends will sometimes fail you while doing their best, and they will sometimes fail you out of sheer laziness. You will say the wrong thing at the critical moment. You will be exactly like your mother. You will be nothing like her.
And, just as truly: you will have a son, unimaginably perfect. A daughter, as miraculous. You will spend the entire first month of your first child’s life blissfully ensconced in bed in a one-room apartment watching Keeping Up with The Kardashians . You will not marry many of the people you should not have married. You will never have to see again many of the people you’ve seen every day for the last 12 years. You will lose some—many—intimate relationships, but you will look up in wonder at the ones that remain, as to stars. Ten years from now, your dearest friends will describe groping each other as teenagers in the very same park where this picture was taken, and you will marvel at how easily you could have met, but didn’t. You will sell your book. You will spend long-light summer days, some of the happiest of your life, making a movie with your friends for the price of only what you all can carry. Years after that, someone you’ve never met will watch the movie, read the book, and tell you it helped her come out to her mom, or realize her name was beautiful. You will form unexpected, life-altering connections by secret lakes and in the back rows of airplanes, at debutante balls and backyard barbecues, over text messages and inside maximum security prisons. You will welcome epiphany. You will take hard things and let them make you tender.
Our trash is as essential as our secrets; mine sits beside me in that vessel a friend once named for me, still so charged with adolescent feminine energy, while I write this. Our trash is our tradition. “Tradition is not what we think it is,” writes another of my friends, the poet Harmony Holiday, in her luminous new collection Hollywood Forever . “Do we think it is?”
Elsewhere in the collection, Harmony writes, “I can interrogate any woman’s dream and find blood at the roots.” She writes, “She is rooting for your rebirth I mean.” That’s how I felt when my friend told me her secret, or even how I feel when I gaze nostalgically at those bright-faced girls beaming at me from the trash: honey, I’m rooting for your rebirth. Every story is a birth story. Even yours: your trash, your traditions, your tenderness. Even today. We live in a sequence of ten thousand birth stories. The best we can do is keep getting born.
A chat with Laura Goode about her TinyLetter, Ovaries and Bovaries: The Hell of A Dame :
When did you start writing Ovaries and Bovaries (BRILLIANT name, btw), and why?
I sent my first edition in March 2015, and have sent subsequent letters roughly monthly since then. It’s funny—I started the newsletter mostly just because it had started to get annoying to remember, manually, who I wanted to send my pieces to when I’d get something published. But then, about a year into writing it, I sent out a letter that was much more meditative and digressive and vulnerable, between bylines, that was just sort of like “Hey, I feel totally insecure about my writing career, and today I’m going to write to you about that instead of just sending you a bright shiny link to read.” And people really responded to that in a different way, and started writing back to me about how they felt insecure too. So since then, I’ve grown attached to using the newsletter both as a vehicle to send out new published work, and as a sort of public journal about how we're all fucking terrified all the time but also doing our best.
About how long do you spend on each issue?
How long I spend on each letter varies with the subject matter, but because I resist the idea of large swaths of unpaid writing labor, I try not to spend more than 1-2 days putting the whole thing together. I condense the writing time by waiting to write until I have a letter-shaped idea that’s going to flow out of me pretty holistically; I sort of write them in my head first. I like the writing to be polished, but emotionally raw, so I have to convince myself that probably no one will ever read it while I’m putting it together and then press Send with my eyes squinched shut. I try not to overthink them. They have to feel a little immediate and risky to me.
What do you find most valuable about the TinyLetter format? How do you decide what you want to include?
The TinyLetter format has compelled me in a way that blogging never did, even though I spent years feeling guilty that I couldn’t make myself blog. I think maybe this is because I’ve always been kind of naturally epistolary—I love writing letters, and I love directly addressed writing, and I love the intimacy cultivated by an ongoing, collective written conversation. There’s a tone of confidence, or confidentiality, in letter-writing—like, come closer, I’ll tell you anything —that really appeals to me. And because of that tone, I think, friends and strangers write back to me privately in a way that I doubt they’d ever do in a comments section, which I love. So even more valuable to me than a vehicle for self-promotion is the forum TinyLetter’s opened up for me to share vulnerabilities and confidences.
Also, whenever I read something I love, I email myself the link in a different self-thread for every newsletter. It’s been surprisingly delightful to record my media diet there—to collect all the great writing I read on the internet, and share it in a cumulative way, which also makes it easier for me to return to it later. The links I round up always tend to crystallize around my primary obsessions—female-driven TV, midcentury women poet gossip, first-person essays on sex and bodies and gender and motherhood, how language shapes the struggle for racial and social justice—and I fall more deeply in love with intersectional feminist writing with every newsletter.
I also—and this is one of the only/best job perks of being a writer—get a ton of free books in the mail from various friends and publishers, so in the last few months I’ve been offering readers free copies of books I love as incentives for forwarding the letters to new people and expanding the community. So in a sense, all of the media collection I do in the newsletter just speaks to this urgent impulse I’ve always had to shove pieces of media I love at people: like, OMG you HAVE to read/watch/listen to this so I have someone to talk to about it. I can’t contain myself.
Last question! What are some must-read TinyLetters you subscribe to?
Helena Fitzgerald’s Grief Bacon
Brandon Taylor’s Virgin Wool
Laura Hazard Owen’s I’ll Be Right Back
Emily Gould’s Can’t complain
Mikki Halpin’s actionnow
Anna Pulley’s AnnaGrams
Todd VanDerWerff’s Episodes
And of course, Queen Bae Ann Friedman’s The Ann Friedman Weekly , which basically invented the genre.