Melissa Febos is the author of the memoir Whip Smart and the forthcoming essay collection Abandon Me. Her essay ‘Kettle Holes’ was published last month by Granta. She shares five things she’s reading, watching and thinking about right now.
I’ve been listening to this song the way I’ve been listening to songs since I was eleven and keeping myself awake under the covers with a flashlight and a boom-box whose battery was held in with a swatch of duct tape to record Jodeci and Concrete Blonde songs off the radio. I’d fill an entire side of a 90-minute cassette tape with a single song to save myself the 5,000 rewinds per day. Ocean’s voice hums my chest with every refrain, as if he’s singing from inside me: I thought that I was dreamin’ / when you said you loved me. Like my favorite soul songs (which are my favorite songs of all), he swings from murmuring nostalgia to anguish – I could hate you now / it’s all right to hate me now. It’s a perfect song for fall in New York, whose electric smell and heartbroke beauty is still sharp enough after seventeen years to cut through my thickest skin and remind me how soft my insides, how sweet the weight of every love past, how You ain’t a kid no more / we’ll never be those kids again.
Henrietta Hudson is one of the last lesbian bars in Manhattan. When I was 19, I used to have to sneak in before the bouncer came on duty. I haven’t had a drink in twelve years, but once in a while I’ll stay until 2 or 3 a.m. just downing seltzer with lime, if the music is right. On Thursdays, the DJ plays a mix of 90’s hip hop and R&B, soul, Motown and dancehall. Dancing, especially to dancehall, is my joy. For me, the glory of getting down to a good song surpasses the pleasure of any kind of winning, a great meal when very hungry, and most sex. For a chunk of years in my teens and early twenties, I was afraid to dance. I hated my body. I wanted to disappear it, or at least control how it appeared to other people, and dancing was the antithesis of control. Which is exactly why I love it now. Around the time when I realized that shooting heroin was bad for my health, I realized that dancing was good for it. I’ve never looked back. Writers don’t have a lot of hobbies. But if a hobby is something you do for love not mastery, then dancing is my hobby. I’m a twerk hobbiest; a booty-pop hobbiest; a bruk-out hobbiest; a drop-it-low hobbiest. I don’t care if anyone is watching and that’s the point.
3. Powdered Creamer
The eccentricities of our palates are a particular kind of narcissism. Objectively, I know that our ‘taste conditioning’ is determined by a confluence of biological and (mostly) experiential factors, but nonetheless I am still shocked that I am the only person I know who keeps packets of powdered creamer in her purse (a habit that typifies the qualities my mother recently claimed will soon transition from ‘quirky and cute to simply eccentric’). Look, I know that it’s basically edible plastic dust. All of its ingredients are incomprehensible to me (silicon dioxide? dipotassium phosphate?) other than ‘corn syrup solids’, and even my understanding of that is largely speculative. Yet I remain incredulous that other people do not find it delicious. Irresistible, even. O, buttery nectar of hydrogenated oil poison! Your ability to lighten my coffee without cooling it is the perfect answer to at least one problem, and how many perfect answers does one find in a lifetime?
As something of a hack expert in sexual deviance (my first book was about the four years I spent as a professional dominatrix) and a veteran of twenty years of consecutive monogamous relationships, I am here to announce that elective celibacy is the final frontier of sexual radicalism. At least, for me it is. After a particularly tormented two years of trying to make a relationship work and examining the psychological underpinnings of all my love patterns (see my second book, Abandon Me, out this winter), it is the happiest I’ve ever been. It is three hours of reading before bed, changing my plans as many times as I want, eating meals exactly when and of whatever suits me. It is wearing comfortable shoes and no make-up most days. It is discovering for the first time in my adult life what my preferences are without the interference of my need to accommodate someone else’s. It is being more available for my work, for all my non-lover beloveds, for my health, for my family, for my job. I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but right now it’s for me.
5. Tara Clancy’s The Clancys of Queens
Tara Clancy is a raconteur, a renaissance thinker and a really good dancer. She’s also written a memoir about her working-class upbringing in Queens that is a miracle of voice. My favorite books are the ones that me laugh and cry in equal measure, often at the same time. I read hers in lavish gulps and you can, too, when it drops this October.
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