Eileen: A Novel

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A Year in Reading: Melissa Lozada-Oliva

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At the beginning of this year I told myself I would read one book a week and that by the end of the year, all of the exhausted synapses of my phone-addled brain would be robust, I would have the memory of an elephant & I would be on Twitter no longer. It turns out that READING SUCKS, my memory gets worse by the day, and I still love over-sharing in 260-character increments to 30,000 people. Something I did do, however, because I am a virgo who will never get over how violent the passing of time feels, was keep track of everything that I was reading in a Substack I started called READING SUCKS. In this Substack, I talk about the books I read & everything that distracted me from reading them. Terrance Hayes once said that distractions are useful because they tell you something about yourself. As a writer, I feel like I am always on my way to writing or on my way to reading. Those are the big loves of my life but I am also interested in all of the things that pull me away from those loves. Below is my year in reading, month-by-month, where I acquired the books, and everything that distracted me from them.

January

“We share our dream from afar. Or one dream at least, embroidered in white thread on the bib of a checkered school smock: Estrella Gonzales.” —Space Invaders, Nona Fernandez

The Topeka School By Ben Lerner (borrowed from my boyfriend)Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda (purchased in L.A. with Olivia after a funeral) Space Invaders by Nona Fernandez (purchased at Books Are Magic the previous September with a gift card, for my birthday)

DISTRACTIONS:

-At 2 p.m. every day a woman starts playing her accordion in her car.-Caught up in the way some people say “ant” and some people say “awnt” (I am the latter).-Devastated by the leaves on my favorite plant that I named Whitney Houston (because I will always love her) starting to turn yellow because my boyfriend didn’t water them while I was gone even though I asked him to (we will fight about this later). I am concerned about her eventual death.-Walk to Fort Greene in freezing weather to pick up books Puloma sent me for Christmas. The journey to the books keeps me sane. Somewhere, in a warm shop, there are items waiting for me that somebody thought would be perfect for me. Somebody was thinking of me and I must keep walking.-Scrolling on my phone thinking who is this? What is this? Who are you? How do I know you? What are you mad about? How is the same white man getting engaged to every girl I went to high school with?- Have to water Hannah’s plants every Monday. Shuffle back and forth to the sink with a mason jar, giving all the plants, exhausted from the heater, a drink. I wonder when she is coming back.

February

“A person is a tangle of nerves and veins and relationships, and one must untangle the tangle like repairing a knotted necklace and wrap oneself at the center of the mess.” —Temporary, Hillary Leichter

The Hole (a gift from Puloma)Temporary by Hillary Leichter (a gift from Rego)My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (picked up at Playground Coffee Shop’s Free Library)

DISTRACTIONS

-I hate the snow and new information.-You said something funny; I already forgot it.-Send out 37 individually-made valentines to strangers partially because I need money and partially because I need connection. Some of the valentines have little confessions or secrets, some of them are about being in love at the end of the world, some of them are about fictional end-of-the-worlds where people find each other anyway.-Need to keep Hannah’s plant from dying, place her in a bowl of water for six hours and she emerges fresh, new. Is Hannah ever coming back?-Decide to get into making candles & order eight pounds of candle wax. I rip up rose petals & put them in hot wax inside of a mug that my stepmother got me for Christmas that says “Chill Vibes.” The candles don’t smell like anything. My boyfriend admits that my candle-making is one of his “least favorite” pandemic hobbies of mine.-More walking: to see Julia, Sarina, Arti, Delilah. We shiver together in the cold on benches and the conversations always go there. I miss the cream of people’s lives, the fluff, the stupid gossip.-Talk on the phone to my therapist while walking thru Bed-Stuy because all of my roommates are always home (where else would they be?)

March

“And just like that, the time when we talked to the dead came to an end.”—The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, Mariana Enriquez

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez (acquired at Café Con Libros a few days after a snow storm with Daniale and Arti)The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (borrowed from Rego)

– A panic attack on the 6 train, make my boyfriend and Rego walk 10 blocks in the cold to the miniature store in Upper East Side.-We hold tiny canes and tiny strawberry shortcakes there, tiny microphones.-Waiting in a virtual green room to do a virtual reading with a real beer in my hand.-I’m sorry, but it was warm out. Impossible to read when it’s beautiful. We eat donuts in Herbert Von King park. I ask Rego for relationship advice: the pandemic, all the time together, etc. The grass beneath us grows in patchy.-An OCD spiral that keeps me from sleeping: I feel itchy: mentally & physically.-My sister’s uncle passes away from Covid.-Concerned with Whitney Houston—she has mites. I wipe them off but they keep coming back.-Worried I will be arrested because I lied about my job in order to get the vaccine.-Obsessively documenting everything with a 35 mm camera so that I can “live in the moment more”

April

“In that moment, the faces fazing across the ‘invisible line’ at each other become two-sided; there is a surface and an interiority, an outside and an inside – on both sides. In this double interface, who is looking at whom?”—Stranger Faces, Namwali Serpell

Stranger Faces by Namwali Serpell (Playground Coffee Shop)Black Diamond Queens by Maureen Mahon (Greenlight Book Store, Arti recommended)

-I plant three little flowers that came in a Cheerios box & I see those little bitches sprouting, absolutely reaching towards the sky!-Have to support men being creative and help my boyfriend construct a human-sized cocoon for a music video he’s making.-Samuel & I eat vegan food in his Jeep with the windows up. Later in the book store visiting Arti, I walk away from mid-conversation to fart in the children’s section.-Must wash Hannah’s sheets (she’s finally coming back!) because my cat has been sleeping on them while she’s been in Michigan. I lug the sheets in a cart to the laundry empire down the street. Gary our neighbor stops me & asks where Hannah has been. I’m like, “I’m actually washing her sheets!” He’s like “…Okay.” Realizing it kinds of seems like we’re dating or she died.-Posting selfies because I need attention.-I go on a retreat with a dozen Very Cool Artists and I am afraid that when I open my mouth I will say something problematic and that they will all hate me. What has the last year done to me? All this concern with being a better person in the world without realizing other people live in it.-Somebody catches my eye; I make a show of reading books. These books feel so awkward to me. So stuffed with theory and history that made me smarter and cooler but I also struggle to describe them when anybody asks. Are you looking? Are you watching my eyes flicker back and forth?

May

-Broke up with boyfriend, read nothing at all.-Somehow immediately get scouted to do an Armani commercial.-Can’t talk about either thing without sounding like an asshole.-Googling & asking everyone I know if it’s okay to drink while taking antibiotics for a UTI.- The person who drives me to the set in L.A. (I don’t know how to drive) is a very funny PA who is also an actress. I tell her I’ve just broken up with my boyfriend and she says she also had a pandemic break-up. During the last fight, she couldn’t stop laughing at what he was saying. He was trying to make a point and she was just laughing and laughing, tears in her eyes. She says she doesn’t like to read, actually she hates it, but maybe, she says, she’ll read my book. She tells me about her new apartment, how this will be the first time she’s living alone, how she’s so excited about her eco-friendly toilet brush & her eco-friendly bed that isn’t arriving until July because it’s made without glue.-I never see the bottom half of her face because her mask is on the entire time. Saying good-bye to her, I almost wanted to ask her to lower her mask, but then what if I was disturbed by what I saw?-On the way back to the hotel, zipping through a desert, I tell her that “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” by Caroline Polachek has been stuck in my head for the last few days, how I don’t know if it is a break-up song or a crush song, that I just like to dance to it and feel full of certain kind of gorgeous despair. I play it for her and when it’s done she says, “Let’s listen to it again!” So we do. “I am the kind of person,” she says, “Who can listen to something over and over.” So we listen to it over and over, unabashedly, the song stretching out for us and back, each time with new meaning.-My phone buzzing, a crush asking questions and answering mine.

June

“My husband touched my face and said something I couldn’t understand—I couldn’t hear anything then except for the magnificent thunder of the falls—but I looked at him like I did. The guide produced a camera, and my husband put his arm around me. He had the guide take photos from every angle imaginable; it went on for so long, smiling became painful. The whole time, my husband kept talking to me. I watched his lips move, but I missed every word.” —The Isle of Youth, Laura van den Berg

DISTRACTIONS:

-A woman on the plane moves her wrist this way and that, as if she were checking each side.-I write postcards to people that I want to love me, walk half-miles to mailboxes to send them.-In Chicago, I fall asleep under Puloma’s weighted blanket while she and her husband sleep in the next room. The safety of this, the comfort.-Is my crush watching my Instagram stories?- Horny!!! Horniness is perhaps the biggest distraction from reading, and from everything. The thought of a new mouth on yours! The idea that somebody new wants you! All of that breathing. The Greeks know this. All those wars! I don’t know, is that true? I wasn’t paying attention in junior year English, because I was horny.-Puloma hands me Isle of Youth and it is the kind of thing that is just there at the right time, ready to be filled up with you. I guess there is a problem with things like this: you need to realize when things and people are simply band-aids, because you need to reckon with the wound underneath.-A date with a man from Tinder, to distract myself from a crush (a distraction from a distraction) This man cuts his hair by setting it on fire & who has a low white blood cell count because he’s taking “experimental anti-aging drugs.” He also lives in a house of clowns. Sometimes the clowns have orgies. He thinks that’s weird, though. Clown orgies is where he draws the line. He tells me he wants to start a family but also that he wants to spend the fall hopping freight trains across the country. He reads a lot of theory.

July

“Now that I’m older, and can recognize that not every pain is a death knell, I’d like to revisit that time in my life when I was equipped to give the hideousness of human emotion its respectful due.” —Tacky, Rax King

Tacky by Rax KingBeautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (galleys)

DISTRACTIONS

-My cat takes a revenge shit on the staircase as my ex is moving out. My ex steps in it and walks all over the house, dragging shit everywhere. Cleaning it out of the carpet later, I understand that I am capable of hurting people.-Have panic attack while I’m getting my blood drawn. The doctor is kind to me, holds my hand and says that I remind her of her daughter and that I don’t look 28 at all.-I continue to cry in a Macy’s waiting for Hannah to pick me up, incredibly moved by all the stupid things people think they need to buy, like mug warmers and tights with holes in the toes.-The security guard at the Macy’s has long, pink acrylic nails that she absent-mindedly drums on the ATM machine. She gives me advice on the best way to get to the train in the rain.-I have to suck it up and throw out Whitney Houston the plant. I cut off her branches and shove her into the trash can. When she was around, her arms stretched throughout the entire living room, and now they are conveniently crushed at the bottom of a garbage bag.

August

“I explained the catharsis of this to you – being hollowed out by something that had nothing to do with me.” —Objects of Desire, Clare Sestanovich

Indelicacy by Amina Caine (recommended by Arti, purchased at Playground) Objects of Desire by Clare Sestanovich (sent by an editor)

DISTRACTIONS

-Watch my friend’s band Really From perform live and cannot stop crying. It comes over me in a large, violent wave: I’m so proud of them and so sad about all we have missed and so happy to be alive.-Obviously, I go into states of despair. I picture everything I love about my life crumbling away from me. It’s almost a meditation. Like: okay, can I live without this? Exactly how miserable will I be? I live in an empire & very likely, you’re reading this from one. Despite all of my parents’ struggles & my own, my life has been good & I have never known the exact horror of uncertainty, how it makes every passing moment, every drink with a friend, every laugh, every bad dance move, every unfinished coffee, precious.-Sylvie shows me an account called FaveTikToks420, a curation of cringe TikToks of hot Gen Z people being lonely, horny, and lip synching. I can’t get enough.-Heartbroken; what else is new?-I arrive in L.A. with no sleep and puffy eyes. Olivia has dinner for me waiting. She pours wine & says, “Tell me everything.”-At Puloma’s bachelorette party somebody says, “Nobody ever talks about how the apocalypse is so beautiful,” as the smoke from a fire meets the California sunset.-Sometimes I don’t even want to write down my distractions because I want to leave it to the Melissa in the past. She can have all of it, those memories. She can enjoy them.

SEPTEMBER

“Here is how I spend my days now. I live in a beautiful place. I sleep in a beautiful bed. I eat beautiful food. I go for walks through beautiful places. I care for people deeply. At night, my bed is full of love, because I alone am in it.” —Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh

Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh

-Puloma’s wedding week. A lot of being unhelpful at Puloma’s house while there is chaos but making her nihilistically laugh when she’s extremely stressed by being like, “Did you know that they’re trying to clown mammoths?”-A brief affair.-Two people next to me on a bench talk about how everyone will know soon, how he wasn’t being careful enough, how there will be an article about it, how it will all be very obvious to everyone.-Run into my friend Ryan on the train to Boston. We drink beers as the sun sets in the dining car.-My mom sends photos of flowers from her garden.-Ex does not text me happy birthday. “And that’s fine!” I tell my roommates and then my sisters and then my mother and then several group chats.-Hannah asks me, “What would you think if somebody showed up to your book release wearing a dinosaur costume? That would be insane right?”

October

“The Doha Villa still makes me cry and it takes a decade to understand what my parents always knew: all the love in the world won’t buy you what you wanted in the first place.”—Hala Alyan

The Right to Sex by Amia SrinivasanThe Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala Alyan Latitude by Natasha Rao Sensor by Junji Ito

-Hannah arrives at my book release, which is Dead Celebrity Themed, wearing a dinosaur costume.-My dress, freshly altered, rips all the way down the back. I waddle onto the stage with safety pins holding me together.- In the morning, over breakfast, Puloma’s sister describes how my dad took off his glasses and wiped at his eyes while I was reading because he was crying. “And then I started crying!” she said, “Because I know you!” And then Puloma said, “Now I am going to cry.” My mom and my sister both had tears in their eyes. “Alright, everybody.” I said, “I love you. Enough.”

-We have to pick up Abuelita in New Jersey because the airline messed up her trip from Guatemala. Sister and I fight about something but forget about it as soon as we pull up to Newark Airport and see our small abuela, who we haven’t seen in two years because of the pandemic, in her leopard-print sweater & two disposable masks, holding a bag that says WORLD WIDE HIP-HOP DANCE CREW. My sister is laughing so hard. “How long has she had that bag?” She has her hands on her knees, laughing, tears in her eyes, “I stopped dancing years ago. She was just carrying that bag all around Guatemala?”

November –
December

“Although the universe’s incarnations may be infinite, my time within said universe is not. I haven’t always been here. And I won’t always be here. In fact, this universe is my last go- around.” —I’m Fine But You Appear to Be Sinking

Terminal Boredom by Izumi Suzuki (Molasses Book Store, hot Barista said book looked interesting)I’m Fine But You Appear to Be Sinking (Searched high and low for this one and ended up having to order it directly from a publisher. Obviously did all of this because someone hot said it was his favorite collection.)

-Girl waiting for the train talking in Spanish FaceTiming her mom says she is going to Manhattan to get her things. Her mom is hyping her up in Spanish, tells her not to cry. The girl starts to sob. Her mom says you have to chalk it up to experience, then asks, “Y cuantos años tenia el tipo?” The girl goes, “Cuarenta y ocho.” She keeps crying on the train and asks her sister over the phone to Venmo her $38 because the man wants money for the concert tickets he bought her. “No, don’t tell mom. She’ll be mad.” She hangs up.-Jamie is texting me gossip.-Scrolling through screen shots of conversations, scrolling through somebody’s ex’s page, disguising myself online to see if somebody is over me, Googling my book to seeing if it made any new lists.-I find a seat on the B38 bus. I take out a book, the one that Puloma got me for my birthday, that I still haven’t had time to read. I try my best to read but somebody next to me on their phone is laughing very loudly & I like the way it sounds. I try again.

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