The Man Who Lied to Dogs

 

(Note: Sometimes, when I’m going to write a serious piece, as I am doing later today, I will “warm up” with silliness, just playing with words. Kind of like stretching. That’s what this was. Enjoy!)

Rosa had a radar for wretched men. They always sought her, she never sought them. They sniffed out her niceness and moved in from there, polar bears towards a seal, with their noses in air. Her best friends despaired at her frequent mistakes. They offered advice, but she never would take…it…at…all. So one day Patricia came by with a pit bull, wrapped in pink ribbon, said, “She will protect you.” Rosa took to the dog, like her ex took advantage. Feeling protected, she tried new romances. The pit bull, named Shirley, she growled at cabrones, and bastards, and assholes, and then, as a bonus, she wagged for the one who was worthy of backrubs, plopped down at his feet and so Rosa fell in love. She danced with this man and together they cooked, sipped wine and chopped thyme and boom, she was hooked. His shyly sweet smile was a dopamine shot, but in time she realized, “He’s not what I thought.” For this man was worse than the worst of worstest, his lies lay grenades in her mind and they burst…it…hurt…her…deep. Most mendacious men cannot lie to a dog, for dogs can find lies like a plumber finds clogs. But there are some monster-men whose lies smell true, true to a dog, even truer to you, their conscience, compunction, these are but a speck – of unused gray matter, predator, unchecked. His kind rise to power in business and in art, in politics, and these dicks, will tear you apart. The bad men among us, they’ll all lie to you; but the worst of the worst will lie to your dog, too.

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Clarification – I Did Not Fuck Junot to “Get Ahead” You Fucking Idiots

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This was the Junot Diaz I knew. We were both 26. He had not power then.

These past couple of days have reminded me of the many reasons why I took down my original blog post about Junot Diaz more than 10 years ago. The horrendous backlash and attacks that come when you stand up for yourself as a woman, the “slut” shaming that goes on if you admit to having had sex at all, the anger. I had managed to build a peaceful, small life for myself in the past couple of years, a life where, no, I wasn’t in the spotlight as a writer anymore, and that was okay. It was nice, actually. It was really nice not to have the adrenaline of anger bubbling up whenever someone who did not know me misunderstood me and attacked me, which is what happens when you’re “famous” I guess. It sucks. People fucking suck. Not all of them. A lot of you are cool. But the ones who aren’t cool are goddamned dangerous.

A few of you have lashed out at me because of your interpretation of something I wrote in my original post. That’s probably partly my fault, because when the Washington Post mentioned the piece I wrote they also made the same assumption. Maybe I was in such a rush to get the piece out that I didn’t word it in a way that fucking idiots would be incapable of misinterpreting in the worst possible way. But probably not.

So I am going to clarify what I meant.

When I met Junot, he and I were equals and he was in no position to help me and I was not then, or ever, the kind of woman who thought she needed help and certainly not the kind who would fuck someone for a favor.

Let me repeat that. Just in case some of you dumbasses read that and somehow heard “Alisa fucked Junot for her career.” When I met Junot, he and I were equals and he was in no position to help me and I was not then, or ever, the kind of woman who thought she needed help and certainly not the kind who would fuck someone for a favor.

I did not meet Junot last year. Or 10 years ago. I met him 22 years ago, in 1996. To understand my story without fucking it up you have to imagine Junot before he was a fucking star.

We were equals. I was actually the one helping him, by writing about him in a major newspaper, and it wasn’t done for sex.

It was 1996. His first collection of short stories had just come out. He was not famous. I was not famous. I was the youngest writer ever hired on staff at the Boston Globe, and I had been hired directly into a coveted position as a longform literary nonfiction feature writer. I was a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, where I had been thought of as a gifted literary writer, referred to in recommendations by one professor as “a pugilist whose mind gives off sparks like flint on steel.” Upon graduating from J-School I had job offers from the Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald and Boston Globe. By the time I was 28, I was named the No. 1 magazine essayist in the nation by the Sunday Magazine Editors Association.

Many of you seem to think I am narcissistically bragging when I mention facts about my writing career. I’m pretty sure none of you do the same for an egotist like Junot Diaz. But, you know, penis.

I’m not fucking bragging. I’m REPORTING FACTS. I’m happy to honestly list all of the ways in which I suck as a person. I can’t draw. I’m not good at laundry. I curse in front of children. I overeat. I cancel plans at the last minute because even though I wish I were the kind of person who likes hanging out with other people, I mostly prefer hanging out at home with my dog and my cat and my garden, and this is mostly because people far too often suck. Including me. I suck at lots of things. I’m really crap at just about everything.

Except writing.

I am a good fucking writer. I was a good fucking writer when I was a child. And I’m a good fucking writer now, as a middle aged woman. If it makes you angry that I feel entitled to acknowledge a thing about myself that is true, if me saying I’m a good writer when I’m actually a good writer makes you feel uncomfortable, if me saying I’m a good writer inspires you to send me an email or to comment on this blog telling me to pipe down and be modest and stop being a narcissist, here is what I have to tell you: Fuck off. You don’t like confident women, and that’s your fucking problem. For decades I was bullied by people like you, into minimizing myself, into taking up less space so YOU would be comfortable. For decades I gave away my power and doubted myself and felt scared and insecure and questioned my own interpretation of reality. I will not let you invalidate me anymore. I will not make myself smaller in public just to make you comfortable. Your comfort means shit to me now. Now, I am 49 and I don’t need you to like me.

In 1996, Junot Diaz was not the Pulitzer winner. He was a nerdy dude from New York who was on book tour. A press release came across my desk. The paper was not even going to write about him at all. I had to convince editors he mattered. I had to convince editors he wrote in English. And I did this because his book caught my eye for its Spanish surname, and I read it, and he was great. If I hadn’t been at the paper, there would not have been a Boston Globe piece about that book at all. I was part of the early media coverage that helped him eventually become well-known enough to be nominated for the Pulitzer at all.

So, no, I did not see him, then, as someone who could or would help my career. My career at the time was better than his. I was doing just fucking fine.

I fell in love with Junot’s writing, and I felt him to be a kindred spirit. That’s all that happened. I wasn’t some young thing hoping he’d help me. He wasn’t some super powerful man on the prowl. Not in 1996. I was his equal. That was how I saw it, and that was how I thought he saw it. When I told him I was interested in transitioning at some point to fiction writing, it was as a well-known literary feature writer for one of the top newspapers on earth – and I was only 26 years old. I had been working on a novel. I told him about it. He said he’d love to read it. I believed him. He came over. I thought he was coming to read my book. And while he didn’t force himself on me, I had not expected him to seduce me. I was flattered when he did, because I had a crush on him. End of story.

When I mentioned Junot asking to have sex with me, and, later, gently offering in the way friends do, to introduce me to people at The New Yorker, it was to show two things.

  • One: That I THOUGHT I was involved with someone I thought was my boyfriend and that he, like many boyfriends, was being supportive, and that he was being supportive because he liked my writing. That’s how I took that whole situation.
  • Two: It took me a while to understand that this was not Junot’s reality about the situation, at all. In time, I understood he saw me the way too fucking many of YOU idiots see me, which is that he thought he was worth more than I was, and assumed I agreed, and his offer wasn’t supportive, it was intended to be coercive, so he could feel powerful and dominate me.

Both realities were true. Mine was true for me. His was true for him.

I am lucky to have been raised by a feminist father. A feminist Cuban father, who was my greatest champion. My dad is a professor of Latin American sociology and history, and New Mexico history and sociology. It had never even occurred to me, at 26, that a man could or would think as Junot did – or as you fucking idiots who think I “exchanged sex for literary favors” do.

I have NEVER doubted my writing ability and I never FUCKING NEEDED Junot to do me any favors.

When I say he never had any intention of doing as he said, with regards to introducing me to his editor at the New Yorker, it was not in a tone of disappointment – I was NOT saying “I fucked him and he didn’t even get me published wah wah wah.” OH MY FUCKING GOD. I was saying, and read this next part slowly so you really understand it, that Junot thinks women think he’s a king who will dole out favors and he therefore promises favors to get women into bed and then doesn’t follow through.

One thing about writing fiction is that you must be able to take on the perspective of different characters. The idiots who think I fucked Junot Diaz for my career are incapable of taking my perspective at that time. They only see his. Too simplistic.

From my perspective I was a writer, he was a writer. We were both really good at writing. I was excited to be dating a man who I thought was my equal. I did not know he thought any differently about it until I had known him long enough to realize he was full of shit and using me. I never, ever, ever thought loving Junot Diaz would “help” my career, nor did I think I needed help. Then, as now, I believed myself to be a badass who would succeed all on her own. And I did.

The worst part about speaking out publicly about being used by people like this is the judgment from idiots. To get through it, I go back to one of the many wise things my father always tells me: “People can only understand what you’re saying, to the level of their own evolution.”

And while I am grateful for the kind responses I’ve gotten here, I am dismayed by how many of you are still dismally un-evolved, incapable of comprehending what actually went down. Dismayed, by not surprised.

What a fucking world.

On Closed Skin and Broken Glass

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Yesterday evening, as I made dinner for me and my son, I got sidetracked in my study. So many emails, direct messages. So many broken hearts reaching out to say thank you. Thank you for writing about it. About him. Junot Diaz. He did the same thing to me. Your strength gives me strength.

On the stovetop, broccoli and cauliflower left to steam. Forgotten.

When I write, time disappears. I forget where I am, who I am, what I am – I become Billy Elliott at his audition, I dunno, it’s like I’m ‘lectricity, yeah, ‘lectricity. That is the beauty of the creative thing, and the danger of the creative thing. It’s why I escaped into writing as a damaged child, because I disappeared in it. It’s why that same damage never quite heals enough to allow me to live in this world in a way that remembers the broccoli, and all my relationships are broccoli. Writing is my blessing. Writing is my curse. It isn’t what I do. It’s what I am. When I am writing, I am writing.

I smelled the burning, and snapped to. Stopped typing and scowling and disappearing. Jumped up. Ran to the kitchen to find the clunky metaphor, slung at me by the orishas. Smoke from the pan, all the water gone, everything green turned to oil, turned to coal, turned to curling shadow ghost. I’d shown him the sprouting thing in me, and he’d asked to take a closer look, with his stiff, solitary, blind wet eye.

I grabbed the pan and put it in the sink, ran cold water over it, a desperate attempt to make that fever go down. And the glass top, the glass top that came with the pan, the one meant for cooking, was too hot then, too hot for that water. And it just…shattered.

Thousands of pieces of glass. It was a beautiful thing to see. First the webbed birthing crunch of the cracks, alerting me to spiderspirit. I turned the water off. But it was too late. The damage had been done. Every little piece of the thing, a thing that had seemed so solid when I bought it, recoiled, bunched back, retreated into its shell. A rain of blood diamonds in the sink, and many of them tumbling down into the garbage disposal.

You think a shatter, a thing like that, will be loud. But sometimes when things shatter, they whisper. Sometimes, they say nothing at all. This shatter was near silent. A murmur. A private tap of intimate rain.

I left the stack of salted stars in the sink, to deal with later, it was too much just then. Too much blatant metaphor. Too much risk. Too much perhaps-bleeding, and last night, more than any other, I needed my hands whole. Last night, more than any other, I needed to know I could keeping hanging on. I wanted to keep typing, without pain or bandages. I was done with that. Done.

I made a salad instead.

This morning, I cleaned up the broken glass. I meditated first, and took the proper Buddhist mindset, where any chore, no matter how disgusting or dangerous, done methodically and with loving kindness, can be a teacher.

I stood, feet planted and bare, and considered the shards.

The thing about broken glass is – well. It’s the same as the thing about broken people. You want to fix them. If there is anything orderly in you at all, you want this. And in your eagerness to do this, in your race to perfect, you might move too fast, or squeeze too hard. But you must remember this: The broken glass, as the broken person, will retain its shape no matter what. Your fingers, your palms, those soft and helpful things, these will yield. These will open up. These will bleed.

Stigmata.

And so I realized a thing. I could do this. This impossible seeming task – clearing a garbage disposal of hundreds of tiny razorboxes of broken glass. I could do this, if my goal was not to fix the problem quickly, or, indeed, to fix the problem at all or, indeed, to see this as a problem, period. It just was. It was a thing that happened. That’s all.

I could do this only if my goal was to preserve my skin, to go slow.

It took two hours. I plucked them up, tweeze-fingered them with loving care, one at a time, mindful of their shape, size, predicament. I observed without judging. I breathed. I slipped my hand into the gooey knifey dark, and felt for the blades of the machine. I flickered my fingers over the fragments in the hole. I did not grab. I coaxed. I did not clutch or pinch. I brushed. One. By. One.

I dealt with it.

I do not wish to say he is blameless. A grown man that smart, that sensitive (in his own way), surely he knows better than to shatter. And yet, he was broken glass, probably because someone, escaping into something, forgot him, too. I do not seek to make excuses for him. But also, I do not seek to do him harm. Glass never breaks with the intention of cutting skin. Glass is unthinking. Breaking is just what glass does. The skin does not call to be cut, but to help. And there you have it.

It was not our fault. And maybe, in some strange way, it was not his fault either. Maybe the essay about his own abuse was true. Maybe he can be a beautiful writer even if he cuts his stories into the leather of our backs. Maybe Wagner was a great composer and still a Nazi. Maybe I, too, was shattered. Maybe I, too, have cut people with my diamonds. No, not maybe. I have. I know this. And I’m sorry.

And maybe I am too old now to despair when glass breaks. Too old to condemn myself for forgetting what fire and ice can do when placed in certain order. Maybe all I want anymore is the slow soft quiet of my own breath at the tip of my nose. Dinner with my son. A sink that works.

I got every last piece of glass out of that dark and dirty hole.

And not one cut.

I Tried to Warn You About Junot Diaz

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An old colleague from the Boston Globe sent me a link to today’s article about the flurry of women coming forward about (alleged, I guess) sexual misconduct towards them by Pulitzer-winning novelist Junot Diaz. My friend sent the article out of kindness, the way an old pal might place a comforting hand on your shoulder by way of saying, “I believe you. I always did.”

Author Zinzi Clemmons sparked today’s uproar across social media when she tweeted about Diaz cornering her and forcibly kissing her when she was a graduate student of just 26. After she tweeted this, two other female writers, Carmen Maria Machado and Monica Byrne, both came forward with similar tales of misogynistic abuse at the hands of Diaz. I wasn’t surprised. But anyone who has followed my own literary career knows that.

I publicly said Diaz was a misogynist opportunistic liar more than ten years ago, after he mistreated me, and I was severely punished for it – by Diaz, and by the publishing and Latino communities.

More than a decade ago, after I had become a NY Times and USA Today bestselling novelist and Diaz won the Pulitzer, I wrote on my own blog about the painful experience I had with him when I was in my 20s. He reacted badly to that post, calling me a bitch, denying my account, and badmouthing me to many people in NY publishing. The Latino power establishment was quick to slap me down. Who did I think I was? How dare I say anything bad about saintly Diaz, our Latino literary hero! Clearly I was just trying to drum up press for myself, right?

He blocked me and to this day never returns a single email from me – even the ones where I tried to make peace with him for the sake of the Latino writing world, which is woefully small and very chatty. He refused. And if this had been a divorce, he got all the friends – including most of NY publishing, many of my readers, and much of the Latino power establishment.

My experience with Diaz was this.

I was a young reporter at the Boston Globe when his short story collection DROWN came out. I read it and was floored. I interviewed him in Boston on his book tour. I was starstruck and excited to meet him, took him to a Dominican restaurant in the barrio, because I loved that place and thought he’d appreciate it. He wrinkled his nose at it, and said he thought the Globe could afford to take him somewhere nicer. “I’m staying at the Park Plaza,” he said, as though to say “Don’t you know who I am?”

This reaction was in direct contrast to the man-of-the-people I thought he’d be from his writing, and told me he was actually more of a social striver who pretended to be about the ‘hood, for the street cred he’d need to become a Latino lapdog for the New Yorker. It is an assessment I stand by to this day.

Still, I thought he was a great writer.

I apologized for taking him to the mom and pop restaurant in Jamaica Plain. He said it was okay, and then leaned towards me and asked me to tell him about me. I told him I wanted to be a novelist and short story writer. I told him I wanted to move from journalism to books. He suggested he finish the interview at my apartment after his reading and signing, so he could look at my manuscript and give me feedback. I said okay.

Junot came over that night. I had the book out – it was the first 100 or so pages of what would later become THE DIRTY GIRLS SOCIAL CLUB, called MERENGUE back then. Diaz sat too close to me on my couch. I remember being super uncomfortable, crossing my arms defensively, and him moving them, opening them, and his staring at my chest.

“Why are you doing that, you’re so lovely,” he said.

We were more or less the same age, and he wasn’t my teacher, but there was still a strange power dynamic. He was the NY literary writer, the darling of the New Yorker. I was a rising star in literary nonfiction, longing to enter his world. He told me, sincerely I thought, that he loved my writing, that no one was writing with my voice and it was much needed. He said he’d do what he could to help me get it to the right people when it was finished.

And then, he said I should have sex with him.

And I did.

Because I thought we were soul mates. Two bright rising star Latino writers. Similar politics. Similar styles. I told him this. He said he agreed. It was a lie.

I visited Diaz a couple of times after that, taking the train down to New York, thinking I had found a kindred spirit. But he quickly became misogynistic, demeaning and cruel. He also had a girlfriend he had never told me about and, once he did tell me, said wasn’t a big deal because he cheated on her all the time and she put up with it.

Side note, added May 6, 2018: The Washington Post and several other folks have grossly (intentionally?) misinterpreted what you just read, so I answered with a new post here: Clarification: I Did Not Fuck Junot to “Get Ahead” You Fucking Idiots. You’re welcome.

Once, Diaz even asked me to clean his disgusting kitchen before I left back to Boston, telling me his severe depression made it hard for him to pick up after himself.

There were literally hundreds of empty iced tea bottles on the counters and the floors. He had just told me about the girlfriend, and thought I would still want to clean his kitchen. When I asked him about this, he laughed and called out from his futon on the floor in his bedroom: “Sweetie, you can take the man out of the D.R., but you can’t take the Dominican out of the man.”

I left without touching his filthy kitchen, and never returned.

It was painful and upsetting. I had admired him, and thought he cared about me, but he was just using me for … I don’t know what for, honestly. Just using me. He had no intention of ever introducing me to anyone in publishing, and he never did.

I managed to write that novel on my own, and get it sold, after a five-publisher bidding war. It debuted on the NY Times bestseller list, and many people reached out to congratulate me. Diaz was never one of them.

When Diaz won the Pulitzer a few years later, I wrote to congratulate him.

He emailed back, saying I seemed to be doing well in my own right, that “lots of girls in my classes like your books.”

Girls.

Girls like my books. Girls in his classes like my books. Not the guys, of course, because he’d never, you know, tell anyone about my books. Just girls read me.

But the world – the WORLD – likes his books.

Of course.

I was pissed.

I was pissed that the New York literary establishment coddled this vindictive, woman-hating machista writer, allowed him a high profile, sanctimonious podium from which to present himself to the world as some sort of grand liberal with a bleeding heart for injustice, a profound voice we should all listen to.

I was also pissed off that the Pulitzer committee rewarded Diaz with a prize for a book that, in many ways, wasn’t that different from my own debut novel.

I was pissed because I knew the same committee would never even consider a “chica lit” book for the prize, no matter how well written, because my writing did not adhere enough to the “downtrodden immigrant” paradigm so beloved by white liberals. I wondered whether Diaz, with his ponderous headshots and highbrow writeups, had ever been told by another literary writer, as I was, that I, Alisa, was “everything that’s wrong with publishing today,” even though that writer had never read a single word I’d written. “How do you know I’m what’s wrong with publishing if you haven’t read me?” I asked. He scoffed. “I don’t have to. Look at the titles and the covers. Garbage.”

So that’s what I was. Though I had been nominated for the Pulitzer in features as a newspaper writer, as a novelist, in Diaz’s world, I had now somehow been downgraded to someone who clearly wrote garbage, for girls.

I was pissed, because I had known I wanted to be a writer when I was nine years old, and I did not pick my book covers.

I was named the nation’s top magazine essayist at age 28. My former agent, who had also been the head of the Collins division of HarperCollins, once told me I was the fastest writer he’d ever met; I could write an entire book in six days, and it was good. My first essay ever published was in an anthology that included Curtis Sittenfeld and Rebecca Walker; several reviews had said mine was the best of the bunch – but that was before candy colored stripes on my book jackets, and racy, albeit ironic, titles. I wasn’t a hack. I was a real writer. Period.

I was pissed, because none of my literary talent or accomplishments mattered to a literary community that shrugged off women, mocked commercial writers and ignored POC who did not write only about oppression – all of this, without ever reading them, yet celebrated sexist, lying creeps like Diaz.

Yes, I was angry.

Angry that Diaz had seen my talent but been threatened by it and used my hunger for kindred spirits to coerce me into fucking him; angry that the male-dominated, “literary” publishing world had no problem embracing his street-wise Latina characters, who sounded a lot like mine, but dismissed me without ever even reading a fucking word I wrote, because vagina, because pretty covers, because racy sexy titles, because Latinas who did NOT live in the fucking barrio.

My Latinas were ballsy, funny, sarcastic, independent, professionals – the kinds of women Diaz likes to take down, the kinds of women guilty white liberals think are “selling out” because they’re just enjoying their lives (“like white people,” apparently, tsk tsk) and not constantly being downtrodden; you know, PEOPLE, regular-ass people. Diaz’s Latinos were smart, but their smarts were always in bas-relief against the acceptable (even laudable) stereotypical miseries of immigration and the ghetto (where we belong, don’t ya know) with a sort of “golly gee, honey, who knew a barrio kid could be a well-read nerd – fascinating!” In my world, everyone knows that already; none of us are amused or surprised.

I wrote a blog post back then, saying the only difference between me and Diaz, as writers, was that he fit the (comforting?) white liberal stereotype of Latino other-ness and misery, and I didn’t.

I dared to say I was every bit as good a writer as he was (because I fucking am) but that because he was a guy and his ironic-barrio-brilliance books were “literary,” and I was a woman and my comedic friendship books were “commercial,” that he was welcome to dine (‘sup?) at the NY literary elite table and I…wasn’t wasn’t even invited to bus the tables.

Diaz didn’t like that post. He was deeply offended and angered, and needed to put me in my place.

Finally, Diaz wrote back. And it wasn’t nice. He said I was arrogant. He wasn’t the only one. Many Latinos who loved him, his readers, wrote to me to tell me I was a horrible person for bringing down “one of our own.” They wanted me to sit down and shut up, to stop making waves, to leave him alone, to stop being tan “envidiosa,” to not bring a brother down. So what that he treated me like shit. That was irrelevant. I was irrelevant.

Diaz promised to ruin me. And maybe he did.

Things got hard, then. The feedback was so terrible that I deleted my Twitter account and blog. I had 11,000 twitter followers then. It would be years before I had the guts to get back on Twitter at all.

Things were hard. Harder than they should have been. People posted about how “crazy” I was. Truly vile and abusive shit. I had become a writer in part because I am an introvert. I never wanted the attention to be on me as a person, only on my writing. But there I was, being dragged through the mud. I was named one of the 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America by Time magazine because of my books, but still could never get a call back from the New Yorker, or the NY Times, when I pitched poems or stories or op-eds. Maybe it was Diaz. Or maybe it was something else. My vagina. My book covers. My lack of an MFA. My honesty. My unwillingness to write in a way that made white liberals feel sorry for me while admiring me.

Maybe it was me. I used to think it was me, because that’s what happens. I blamed myself. I took down that post. I apologized to Diaz. I begged him to be my friend again.

He ignored me, punishing.

Thank you, Zinzi, Carmen, Monica, for giving me the courage to know it wasn’t just me. Or me at all. It was him.

Me too, chicas.

Goddamn.

Me too.

(Note: here’s a followup post I wrote about this: ON CLOSED SKIN AND BROKEN GLASS.)