Today’s issue of The New York Observer ran an article about me by George Gurley titled “Who’s That Girl? It’s Rebecca Schiffman!” Maybe I’ve been out of school too long because lately I’ve had the urge to write letters to Harper’s Magazine responding to various articles. Once I begin the effort, however, I quickly become discouraged because I know Harper’s usually publishes responses from people of some related scholarly authority, and unless I have some revelatory insight on the subject, which has not yet happened in these mere self-assigned challenges, I will not be saying anything new or worthwhile. But now an article exists on which I might be a leading authority! So here is my response.
George interviewed me over the last several weeks and I must first say that he did a great job of parsing the hours and hours of taped rantings to output this fairly accurate and vivid (graphic!) depiction of where I am in life.*
Illuminating some references:
Title: I am assuming George based the title “Who’s that Girl?…” on an article in Vice Magazine that he alludes to when he mentions he saw my bare ass on the internet, called “Who’s That Ass?” The April, 2007 issue of Vice Magazine featured a cover photo by Ryan McGinley of my and Lily Wheelwright’s butts sporting fox tails, and an interview with us inside.
Randy: During the interviewing process George was indecisive about what alias to use for his friend. For a while we were going with “Tommy” but on the last day he said we should try to think of something better. “How about Randy?”
The way he said it, which was nonchalant, made it seem like “Randy” was one of many casual name suggestions. I never particularly cared for the name Randy, but after a few seconds when I realized it’s obvious function as a charactonym (which should be made clear to the reader from the scene in the taxi cab where Randy unzips his fly,) I said yes. And I wonder if George’s mind is so well-exercised at these writing assignments that he can subconsciously come up with this kind of literary device.
Stands: I am pretty sure I said my brief relationship with Randy was the longest one in a while past a “two-night stand,” which is a phrase I like to throw out now and again. Since George has everything I said on tape, I do not accuse him of misquoting, but merely selecting one quotation when I would have selected another.
Painting: The only part of this article that made me cringe (well, not including the part about buying lube, but even the word “lube” alone, along with “pube,” which incidentally is also used in this article, makes me cringe) is when I read that I have “a style reminiscent of Lucian Freud in its tactile depiction of nudity.” Well-phrased, perhaps, but the main thing I dislike about Lucian Freud is the gross, pasty viscosity of the strokes he uses to form nudes in his later work. My paintings depicting nudes are all done in watercolor, the least tactile of the paints. I would describe my method of rendering as quite the opposite- using flat color fields to create the illusion of a three-dimensional naked body.
Missing shpiel creates unwanted slant: I talked to George about so many parts of my life, but I honestly cannot remember if I gave him my whole Upper East Side shpiel. Whether I did or did not, had he included it, I do not think he could have gotten away with the epithet “Park Avenue-bred” to describe Charlotte Kidd, who is probably one of the coolest Upper East Siders either of us (yes, I will venture that on his behalf) has met. So I’ll include my shpiel here as briefly as possible:
I grew up on The U.E.S., thought it was lame, went to college downtown, realized that was even lamer because everyone thought they were not lame, moved back uptown and discovered The U.E.S. anew. I started a photocopy zine in 2005 called The U.E.S. Journal which I sold at St. Marks Bookshop and which I now maintain as a blog. In short, I’m proud to be an Upper East Sider, and you can’t use that tone on me, you know the one, where you say that I’m from uptown and I’m supposed to feel ashamed.
When I met Charlotte she was introduced to me as a writer who grew up in my neighborhood. I asked her if she would write something for the zine and she wrote a great piece.
Missing credit: The Observer did not photograph me for this article. I recognize the photo included in the online edition as one I took of myself in Paris two summers ago to show a friend via e-mail the sunglasses I had just purchased near Les Puces. I am guessing they nabbed this photo from my MySpace page. But, more importantly, in the print edition, they used a photograph by Tim Barber, also on my MySpace page, of me performing at The Canal Room. This photo was not credited and should have been. This should have been taken care of by the permissions/licensing department.
My jeans are from APC not ABC. A forgivable mistake since, even had a fact checker contacted me I cannot imagine he/she saying “And Ms. Schiffman, just to be sure, who makes your jeans?”
Mexian food: George writes “They picked up some fish tacos then stomped up the stairs to Randy’s East Village apartment.” Since anyone who knows me or reads my TNB posts knows that I do not eat seafood, I just want to ensure everyone that we did not pick up fish tacos. Randy picked up fish tacos, I picked up “Macho Nachos.”
Woody Allen: George quotes me as saying “I just feel like he’s a great contemporary example of a decadent figure … and so far in the head that his body is sort of in decay and not very healthy. And the thing with Soon Yi is sort of decadent, you know, just go for it.”
I would like to clarify that I know nothing of Woody Allen’s actual health. Besides the fact that he is pale and thin, and clearly not a tan rock-climbing surfer, I imagine he takes good care of his health. I was mostly referring to his self-portrayal in his work which I think makes him a contemporary version of Nietzsche’s and Huysmans’ decadent figures- a person overly intellectual, obsessed with death to the point of morbidity, and who loves women- and my point in all of this is to embrace decadence- a decadent person can still produce great things for the world, and probably will more so than someone who constantly meditates- and Woody Allen is awesome.
Welbutrin: In case the reader wonders how it is that I ended up “taking too many anti-depressants” so that I was up all night twitching, here is what happened. First of all, anti-depressants are prescribed for OCD at a higher dose than for depression, so there is already a greater potential for side effects. One night in Paris I took my medications, and then an hour later forgot I had already taken them, and took them again.
I cannot decide which part of this article I worry will upset my father more- the details of my sex life and nighttime escapades or the fact that I say “like” so often. It honestly might be the latter.
My mother and her friend are concerned that I come across as a slut. That is their first reaction. It is funny because mine was that I come across as a prude, someone who goes home with men but does not sleep with them. It is difficult for me to gage how I will be perceived, especially by other generations, although I am a little surprised at my mother because I think she likes the show, Sex and the City.
As regards safety, the bars I frequent are not like those in a movie, near an airport where a serial killer may take home a prostitute (I have no particular movie reference for this). They are scene-based establishments where you always meet someone through someone who knows someone, etc. This is illustrated by the fact that I first met George through his relative and then by chance hooked up with his friend during the course of the interview. In fact, this particular scene is so incestuous that I am pretty sure within five years everyone who hasn’t been filtered out through a committed relationship, moving, or death will have hooked up with everyone else. Of course a serial killer could be among us, just like an anvil could fall on my head while crossing Park Avenue, or my plane might crash.
Regarding my promiscuity or lack thereof, the reader may judge for his/herself based on his/her personal knowledge of how Americans do or “should” live, where I sit on the spectrum, whether or not I sit there with crossed legs, etc. I can only give you the facts.
I go out dancing and drinking every week and this is where I get much of my “fodder” for writing, music, and painting. I can never tell if I will meet someone I like enough to go home with next week or next year, but let us say, just to say something, that I might go home with someone every few weeks. Maybe we just go to sleep, maybe we kiss, maybe we fool around, and just maybe we will “do it” (still one of my favorite expressions) as was the rare case with Randy (which makes it all the more strange that we continued to see each other at all if you believe certain common wisdom.)
I recall a dinner conversation from when I was around 12 years old, where I learned that for each of my parents one of their greatest fears was embarrassment. Hearing them say this later in life left an impression on me. At this time I was as a very shy person and felt inhibited by fear of embarrassment. When I learned that this inhibition might not go away on its own, I began making a conscious effort to rid myself of it. Although I still have much work to do regarding inhibitions in certain social situations, when it comes to sharing information about myself, I can no longer find any line telling me what to keep inside and what to reveal.
One rule I would like to follow in life is to never do anything of which I would be ashamed if the whole world knew. Shameful acts include things like lying or manipulating for selfish reasons, and being a bad friend.
Here, I would like to point out that there is a difference between shame and embarrassment. Some friends have asked if I feel embarrassed about this article. I am not a linguist and do not know if there is an actual etymological relationship between the English word “embarrassed”, and the Spanish word “embarazada” which means pregnant, but I am giving it a metaphorical relationship right now. Being embarrassed is like a blushing, or a timid pride about a natural secret you have to let out. Yes, I feel a little embarrassed or self-conscious, but those are feelings I thrive on.
I am not, however, ashamed of anything George wrote about, and I knew I would not be, since unless George were to completely fabricate something, and that too I knew would not happen, I did not tell him any of those secrets. I am still working on those. The reader here is privy to a small step for me in that I am even writing that I have certain memories or thoughts of which I am ashamed.
To elaborate further, since I can:
A continuing theme in my artwork, music, and writing, is the overlap of specificity and universality. I have written previously about first grasping this sentiment in Andre Breton’s Nadja. What I have gathered is that within the field of art and expression, the subject upon which I have the greatest authority, and where I have the most potential to offer something truly interesting, is in relating those events that could only have happened to me, and me alone, based on my individual place and time in the world. I find that the more honest I am with myself and others about these experiences, the more people can relate to what I am sharing. In fact, this paragraph is my footnote to George’s mention of my painting “Endearing Moments…#1.”
I just realized that while George has been politely referring to me as Ms. Schiffman, I have been calling him by his first name. I suppose it’s necessary to do that when writing for a big, legitimate newspaper. But since I am a mere blogger in the wild wild west that is the world wide web, I make no apologies.
I think George Gurley and I are on a similar page, or share a sentiment, that being the value in revealing oneself. His honest inclusion of his own experience while interviewing a subject, for me, makes his writing, and the fact that he wrote it, more worthwhile. One root for this sentiment, historically speaking, comes from art critics like Walter Pater, Gianfranco Baruchello and Henry Martin, who realized the futility in trying to describe an artwork or artist objectively. Instead, they put forth their personal reaction to their subject, along with their own prejudices, so that the reader could then add or subtract these two things at his/her will.
George was quick to realize that I am eager to try to answer any question put to me as honestly as possible, and I appreciate him for recognizing me as a worthwhile mine for information. I also personally like how he and his friends, including Randy, still carry that musky scent of the old-school reporter who drinks, is a bit of a lech, and can get me a seat at Elaine’s 45th Anniversary.
*To make this post even more Talmudic (in its cylcical references,) I will add this footnote. “Parse?” “Output?” Yes, I’ve been reading computer language manuals. But I found the best one I have ever read in my life. Why’s Poignant Guide to Ruby. Not only is it a great tutorial, it’s a great novel! You have to read it to understand. And, I don’t have to tell you, (or do I?) that the Talmud is widely regarded as an early model for the internet.