Art by Thany Sanches & Words by Elizabeth Ellen

A Mutual Friend Told Me He Had Read More Feminist Books Than She Had

… which I found amusing as I was unsure I had read any, unless you could count The Color Purple or The Bell Jar.

This is a coming out piece. I am forty-four, forty-five, most likely, by the time this is published. I was listening to an interview with Harry Dean Stanton yesterday while walking through the snowstorm for coffee. It was forty-five minutes each way, and treacherous in the way I like. I like testing myself with the weather in ways I have failed to test myself in other avenues lately… I was passing the Dairy Queen, which had opened the week before, when I lost my embarrassment regarding my age. Suddenly I had the opposite feeling. I couldn’t wait to be seventy, eighty, ninety. To have young people make the trek to my house to interview me while I coolly smoked my cigarettes and disregarded my past.

Marta and I have weekly discussions about being ‘an artist’. This is how we refer to ourselves: not as writers, but artists. We are concerned with being perceived as ‘greater artists’ than the company we keep, e.g. the men we sleep with. Which is a tough task for Marta now that she is engaged to what’s-his-face. Already people are referring to her as what’s-his-face’s girlfriend or what’s-his-face’s fiancé. She is concerned she will continue on to be what’s-his-face’s wife or Mrs. what’s-his-face.
            I tell her I never had any worries like that since no one ever knew ____ and I were seeing one another and no one seems to know I am married to Oscar either.
            To be frank, I think Marta likes being referred to as what’s-his-face’s fiancé, even if she wishes it were the other way around, that what’s-his-face were referred to as what’s-her-face’s partner or what’s-her-face’s husband or Mr. what’s-her-face.
             (I don’t know what what’s-his-face says to Marta but ____ was always saying things to me like “you are a better artist than I am” even though I knew he didn’t believe them (and I was unsure myself).)
            I am experiencing déjà vu while writing this part.
Even the last sentence about having déjà vu is part of the déjà vu, so much so that I wonder if I have I already written these sentences sometime in the five year duration since I last saw ____.
I tell Marta I used to concern myself with cultivating the respect of a male artist. Not that I wanted a male artist’s respect, but that I wanted to be respected in the same way a male artist is by the general public or other male artists or whatever. Consequently, I asked Oscar to move out of the house six years ago. I had read of Diego Rivera living next door to Frida Kahlo, of other male artists (and Hollywood actors!) who insisted on similar separations of their work and living spaces. I wanted only what a male artist felt himself entitled to. (Perhaps I thought acting in the manner of a famous male artist would ensure I became one.) I procured for Oscar a nice apartment across town, prepaid a year’s rent. In the summer months I drove there frequently to make use of the pool. It was along the river and occasionally canoeists came up the bank to swim in the water, which was clear and chlorinated unlike the water of the river, which seemed murky whenever I gazed in its direction away from Oscar. I thought it a fair arrangement, sex on the apartment floor, swimming in the sparkling clear pool…only years later did Oscar complain, insinuating I had ‘accidentally’ or ‘incidentally,’ I cannot remember now which word he used, emasculated him.

This is a coming out in another way: I love my husband. it does not bode well, I have never believed, for my ‘art’ or persona to say that so I typically don’t. But there it is, the truth, and why should I not? My husband has never had to say explicitly I am the greater artist because it is understood I am.

Once, when Oscar was out of town I used the apartment’s Internet (since I had cancelled mine at the house) to email with another male artist with whom I had - ‘over the years’ -built an infatuation. (It is possible I believed that consorting with male artists – great or otherwise – would inspire me to become one – the former.) That male artist wanted me to meet him in Russia, and I almost went. I had the visa, the passport, all the necessary paperwork…in the end I sent a telegram. I pictured someone (a Russian) reading it aloud to my (American) friend (who spoke Russian). I imagined all the words mumbled except the word “stop” which I imagined pronounced very distinctly and loud as in an old movie (“Blah blah blah blah blah STOP blah blah blah STOP blah blah STOP”).
            I went instead with a woman to Amsterdam, ate hash brownies and ran in the rain between museums and sex shops. I was constipated and spent an inordinate amount of time in the hotel bathroom. I often forget that trip entirely now, tell people I have been to Europe only once, when I was sixteen and in Paris and in love with a gay boy named Mario. (I did not know at the time Mario was gay. He was from Venezuela or Costa Rica, and I did not think of Latinos as being homosexual. I thought only that he was unordinaryly shy.)


Marta says there should be no rules when it comes to our art. She says, “Why not use the emails? Be like Sheila Heti.”

“But I am not Sheila Heti,” I tell what’s-her-face. “I do not know how I should be.”

I tell what’s-her-face to be careful who she tells what. “Every interview I have ever given has been full of lies,” I say. I was unsure if I meant it as a warning or a handbook on how to conduct oneself as an artist, femme.

When I let Oscar back into the house last year I had forgotten about the pool. I drove by it yesterday in an effort to recall some feelings from the past. I parked the car in the lot between the two buildings. I had not premeditated my next steps but there I was taking them! I thought, how wonderful to be emasculated as I turned the key and stepped inside. It was a different apartment from Oscar’s but with the same layout so that I was able to point to areas where we had had sex in the various rooms, on the kitchen floor and toilet, to make literal chalk outlines of our bodies. It was spring now and winter storm warnings were continuing but soon it would be summer and I would stand ceremoniously (as a great artist does everything!) in the pool, watch the young canoeists come up from the river, knowing the key to the apartment was in my possession and that therefore I was one step closer to becoming a great American artist!

Thany Sanches lives in Sao Paolo, Brazil  Elizabeth Ellen lives in Ann Arbor, MI

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