Go Ahead

[photo via Gothamist]


On the train down to New York Thursday, in the seats across from me, a 26-year-old American soccer player who works on an organic farm and a 30-something Turkish artist talk to each other for most of the trip. The soccer player tells his age when he says he feels old. The artist laughs at him.

The soccer player then confides that his girlfriend is the daughter of his boss. Also, she reminds him of her father, who he met first, and who set them up and wanted them to be together.

I try not to stare. “I see him so clearly in her,” he says. “It’s almost eerie.”

No, I think. It actually is eerie.

Watching them talk of it, it looks like courtship. They are shy and flirtatious with each other, each mentioning their girlfriends but soon they are beside each other playing a game on the computer of the artist. Their heads leaning in.

I want to stand up and say Go ahead.


With no internet connection and a broken phone, I work on the train uninterrupted for 6 hours on editing the manuscript of my second novel, which, when I review it, looks nearly complete.

Otherwise, the broken phone is a blight on my whole trip to New York.

The train arrives in Penn Station, and as I exit and walk to the subway, I feel a little like Amherst is the outermost borough of New York.

I take the train to Chelsea for a party for John Freeman of Granta, celebrating his new book, The Tyranny of Email. The irony of being at this party after spending the train ride down in a media fast isn’t lost on me. I leave after eating some truly incredible chocolates that Nicole Aragi made and passed around, with Maud Newton, the person who first told me about Freedom, the program that turns your computer off for 8 hours so it can’t go online, also in attendance. We get a little dinner, and then I see her to a cab afterward and  go to meet up with Marie Mutsuki Mockett, who has been at Der Rosenkavalier.

As I walk into Lincoln Center’s plaza, the renovated fountain shoots up in a curtain of glowing water that feels like a welcome just for me. I ask the guard if it’s okay for me to sit there. He reassures me it is. I ask if the fountain is smaller (it looks smaller to me) and he insists it isn’t, but then points out where some of the jets are tipped over. “Boy, are they pissed about that,” he said. We watch it quietly for a few moments.

You can only see it from certain angles.

I begin to read John’s book by the light of the fountain while I wait for Marie. He speaks of how email has become a to-do list that you don’t set for your own day. The truth of this horrifies me. Marie emerges from the theater and we go to Jackson Heights, where I’m staying with her.


The next morning I check my email. Almost 200 messages, just as John Freeman mentions in his book as the average.

Checking in with my students posts on the class blog, I must keep correcting them on their use of the qualifying phrase “it seems almost as if.”

This is the language of a political smear, I tell them. It has no place in literary analysis. It is a way of saying something without saying it. It’s innuendo.


In my email, a friend writes with a question about Twitter.

what is the deal with the thanking of the retweets? I have noticed you and many others doing a big thanks for retweets. Is this something that is just “done”? Do you think it important for me to do with ______ and _________?seems like an ego thing to me, but I am the newbie and want to respect the culture. thanks in advance.
I write back:

Many do, some don’t…

As a rule, I think your social media use is most successful personally and professionally when you feel like it doesn’t compromise your personality. If you feel like a creep thanking people, then don’t thank them. Does that make sense? My friend M___ never does #FF recs because it creeps her out, for example. My approach comes from how in my life, I basically feel that not thanking someone is rude. I do it because I’ve never been given to think it was anyone’s responsibility to help me…. so when they share my links or work on Twitter and FB, I always thank them. I’ve tried not thanking them and I feel like a dick, so I went back to thanking people. And maybe I’m too conscientious of it or whatever, but for now I at least get to feel like myself all the time.

He likes this, writes back, says, Put it on your blog for people like me.


On the way back, the train to New Haven is bursting as it leaves Grand Central. A young man who looks to be a painting MFA student at Yale sits down next to me.  It turns out this is the day everyone wanted to go to Connecticut. There are no empty seats.

From New Haven, the bus I take is full of rows of girls drowsily checking cameraphones full of pics of themselves drunk from presumably the night before, and they alternate smiling or frowning, saving or deleting. The boys apparently on the earlier or later bus.


  1. Oh, what a great picture of Lincoln Center. It is one of my favorite places in Manhattan because it holds so many memories for me, dating back to early early childhood.

    You were in NY this weekend! I hope you weren’t caught in the torrential rains of Saturday. But Thursday was rather perfect. Though I suppose Amherst is probably prettier for the beautiful fall sunshine filled days…

    I have a Twitter, but it really confuses me. I don’t think it’s meant for use by common folk like me. 😉 But when I finally have cultivated a mass following, I shall keep your post on etiquette in mind. Good to know.

    1. Amherst is also pretty in the rain. The other day I walked across the quad and there were gold leaves above me and below on the dark green grass, the trees were black with rain, it was amazing.

      I have to say, I’ve met some amazing people through Twitter, and found material I’d never have found any other way. Some of the hype around it IS annoying, but I’m basically pro-Twitter right now.

    2. Also, re: Twitter….I just kind of went on. I don’t remember why. I started by seeing what was offered—I noticed there were a lot of excellent links to cultural and political news, and short bursts of opinion that I liked. Also, people were making friends.

      So, now I use it really for keeping in touch with friends at a distance, the old ones and then the new ones. Also for said cultural and political news, which is often there well in advance of any news outlet or blog. I often find inspiration or comfort in the posts of the people on my feed. Or they’re just plain hilarious.

      I think if you find a way to relate to it that you’re happy with, you’ll find the point to it. Like many scenes, it requires just hanging out lurking to figure out how to have fun with it. I think it’s at its worst when people feel excluded for not having said ‘following’ (I dislike that language, and I do resent them for making it institutional). But just find a fit with your personality. So many writers make trouble for themselves with social media by doing things they don’t like to do, blogging because someone told them to instead of doing it because they like it, so… don’t go that way at least.

  2. Our friend Jason D recommended I follow you on Twitter to learn proper T-etiquette. Somehow I am still more comfortable blogging.

    I love your story about homo-social travel bro-mances. There’s an odd symmetry with the female co-eds of the return trip. Take care!

    1. I’m glad he likes what I do enough to send you along and glad you liked the post and the Koreanish Stars one also. Thanks for the link, and thanks for coming by.

  3. I don’t even have a very active facebook account and, just like most Europeans, I only got curious about Twitter after the Iran election when the news here in Germany started mentioning it more often. I opened an account and was rather shocked by the nonsense I read on the real-time results. I was trying to figure out how to find some decent people to follow and how to escape from Brittney f*ck following me all the time, when I bumped into Alexander Chee! He was tweeting from a Greek island about the moon, the myth, and the sea. I’m Greek feeling homesick sometimes, so I was hooked instantly. He wrote his vacation stories in 140 characters, sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny, sometimes informative, always interesting. He was welcoming and sharing, and I followed him from Sifnos to Amherst. I will never regret crossing the Atlantic with him. Since then, I’ve T-talked and T-listened to some quite interesting people and I’m now many books richer. All written by exciting writers I discovered by being Alexander’s Twitter shadow. Edinburgh was of course the first I’ve read and after reading it Alexander Chee was not just my Twitter crush anymore, but also a writer I plan to follow reading even after I lose my enthusiasm for Twitter.
    His T-etiquette reflects his polite manners. He is a good mensch to follow. After a while one finds his own voice and tweets alone.

    1. Maria, Thanks. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you via Twitter, and I really appreciate the compliments here.

  4. Hi. I dropped by via Janet Reids blog. I’m pleased I did. Twitter’s tough. I think I have an audience of one. I keep myself confused/amused. Cheers, Simon.

  5. Wonderful photo and post. I also found you recently, here via Janet Reid’s blog and a few days before that via a link to your essay about writing in Annie Dillard’s class.

    I plan to find your books next!

    Cheers from Sydney (and sometimes Paris).

  6. I just now saw this, and am particularly struck by two things. That, after six hours work on your novel, the manuscript looks almost complete to you. What a gorgeous feeling. And that you took the train to New Haven and then changed for a bus. Did you take the bus all the way to Amherst? I usually do Amtrak to and from Springfield, then Peter Pan to Northampton, but the connections are often a problem.

    1. No, on this occasion I just did the train the whole way. But MTA North to the bus at New Haven back to Amherst can work if you miss Amtrak.

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