Hi, Hello, Hi

Long before I published books, I was a failed diarist.

As a child I was obsessed with diaries—fictional ones, actual ones. I named my own (sporadically kept) diary Kitty, on account of the white Persian cat on the cover and the fact that Anne Frank had called her own diary Kitty.

Keeping a diary felt very in line with who I imagined myself to be. The reality, of course, was that I was lazy and easily bored. I neglected the diary for weeks and months and years at a time, reappearing only to complain about other kids and record for posterity that my favorite animal is “horse/dolphin” and that my favorite subject is—health???

Two side-by-side entries scanned from a child’s diary. The first entry is dated Sunday, February 2nd, 1996. Groundhog’s Day. There is a frowny face above the date. The entry reads, “Dear Kitty, Talk about neglect! I have been forgetting you for a whole month. Today I got sick. Cramps, mostly. I might be getting my period! Love, Carmen Machado.” The next entry is dated Tuesday, February 4th, 1997. There is a face with a straight-line mouth drawn above the date. The entry reads, “Dear Kitty, Today went okay. [REDACTED NAME] was pressuring me with boys. [REDACTED NAME] was making a big show that she is having a sleepover everyone but me is invited to. But other than that, I was fine. Love, Carmen Machado.” This entry is followed by a list of “favorites” in various categories. Favorite food, pizza. Favorite animal, horse/dolphin. Favorite color, yellow. Favorite number, 12. Favorite book, The Giver. Favorite movie, Little Women. Favorite “eco setting,” the rainforest. And favorite subject, health. On the right side of this column is a little drawing of upright and inverted hearts in a chain.
It’s a bit dramatic to black out those names but I don’t want [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] hunting me down for spilling their secrets.

When I was fifteen, I started keeping a Livejournal. At first, it was just friends from school reading it, maybe a relative or two, but within a few years, there were hundreds of people subscribed to my journal updates who didn’t know me, strangers who had been linked from elsewhere and decided to stay. Despite the fact that I was more exposed than I’d ever been, I loved writing for an audience. It was never fiction—I knew and followed a ton of fanfic authors, but I was not among them—but something more akin to essays.

In those days, I was painfully earnest, extremely honest, stupidly vulnerable. I was not a good writer, but I was—slowly—becoming one. People commented. They argued with me. They argued with each other. They told me the entries were good, or sad, or sucked. I met lovers, friends, enemies, people I still am in touch with. I wrote about losing my virginity, losing my faith, losing my dog. I wrote there until my mid-twenties, when I finished grad school and began to write essays and fiction for new and different audiences.

I’ve been off Livejournal for almost a decade now. I’m staring down the medium from the other side of writing a book of nonfiction. It’s intense! It is hard to answer, or want to answer, all of the questions people ask me. I keep a very tight rein on my social media and the other ways people might contact me, for my own mental health. But I still get a thrill from writing for and at people, firing off thoughts in real time, and letting people ask me questions. And I’m looking forward to having a space to do that again.

What is this newsletter going to be, and why should I pay for it?

I somewhat deliberately don’t have a hard-and-fast plan for this newsletter. The fact is, I left Twitter a few years ago and have been itching to have a space to talk about what’s on my mind, or meditate on something in a more long-form way. (Twitter was not particularly good for either of those things, mind you, but it was something.) The fact is, I need a text-based space that I can access when a thought is burning inside me.

You do not have to pay for it! I plan on having a mix of free and subscriber-only content, delivered at intermittent intervals. This is not the Substack where you get a new entry every Monday. This Substack is behind on her deadlines and in love and grieving her dead dog and way too horny for her own good and occasionally wants to roll up to your table and tell you something with a lot of feeling in her heart. If you are here for that—or if you’re a fan and you’ve just been looking for something other way to support me—you’re in the right place.

Wait, sorry, who are you?

I’m the author of three books: a short story collection called Her Body and Other Parties, a memoir called In the Dream House, and a graphic novel called The Low, Low Woods. I’m currently at work on a fourth—a linked story collection called A Brief and Fearful Star—and an untitled novel. I publish fiction and essays all over the place. You can read more about my work here.

Why “Cup of Stars?”

This is one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite novels, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

“Eleanor looked up, surprised; the little girl was sliding back in her chair, sullenly refusing her milk, while her father frowned and her brother giggled and her mother said calmly, 'She wants her cup of stars.'

Indeed yes, Eleanor thought; indeed, so do I; a cup of stars, of course.

'Her little cup,' the mother was explaining, smiling apologetically at the waitress, who was thunderstruck at the thought that the mill's good country milk was not rich enough for the little girl. 'It has stars in the bottom, and she always drinks her milk from it at home. She calls it her cup of stars because she can see the stars while she drinks her milk.' The waitress nodded, unconvinced, and the mother told the little girl, 'You'll have your milk from your cup of stars tonight when we get home. But just for now, just to be a very good little girl, will you take a little milk from this glass?'

Don't do it, Eleanor told the little girl; insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don't do it; and the little girl glanced at her, and smiled a little subtle, dimpling, wholly comprehending smile, and shook her head stubbornly at the glass. Brave girl, Eleanor thought; wise, brave girl.”

I talked to The Atlantic in 2017 about why this scene is so important to me. You can read it here.

Who drew that gorgeous cup of stars illustration in your icon?

Thank you for asking! The artist is the brilliant Katie Kalahan, whose work you can find over on Instagram.

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Essays, nostalgia, big feelings, writing thoughts, rage.