On the Eating of Tails by Lily Hoang – The Feminist Wire

On the Eating of Tails by Lily Hoang

On the Eating of Tails

Once I wrote a miniature book that I called a novellete that I called Webcam Sex and it was about webcam sex and it was written in a style that was a mockery of Tao Lin and Marie Calloway because I was bitter and this was years ago and does anyone even care about Marie Calloway anymore? and a publisher offered to publish it and I was very happy about this. The publisher who offered to publish it wanted to publish it electronically and Webcam Sex would launch the press’s eBook series and this made me rather pleased. I was pleased because he is a model literary citizen. I wouldn’t call him a hero but I admired him greatly and he did all sorts of good things for indie lit and I liked him immensely although I’ve met him only once. Maybe once, maybe never, but I’m pretty sure once I have shaken his hands and maybe spoken a few sentences but I can’t remember, not for sure at least and I have a terrible memory and Xanax and certainly doesn’t help improve my memory but it does feel awfully good and often I wonder if this is what people without anxiety feel like but no—it’s just another chemical euphoria and I don’t think of any consequences, I can feel only the standardized immediate relief, its predictability: how calm will slip through my body and in. I take Xanax but I don’t take it often because everyone else loves it and I only like it but I take it when I need it and I take it for fun and when I need it sometimes I don’t take it at all so I can save it for fun and anxiety is an explosion and it is a crushing and I don’t take the Xanax then. I reject amelioration. I reject feeling better. I fester. I deserve it. And once a blog accused me of cronyism because on another blog many years before I had written a comment about how I don’t like to submit to journals because I hate rejection and the person took this to mean that I never submit to journals and every single one of my publications must’ve been printed on the back of cronyism and this was obviously ridiculous or I was in my hotel room crying because people can be so hateful and they can be so mean and I don’t take a Xanax and the person who wrote the blog sent it to my chair and I had only had the job for a month and already—this. Maybe I met this publisher once but I can’t even remember and so let it be known that it was not through cronyism that my book on webcam sex called Webcam Sex was accepted for publication. Except that it was solicited.


Webcam Sex is not going to be published because I pulled the manuscript because recently a series of fingers were pointed and a number of names were called and this all happened under the bright lights of social media and gossip is unavoidable even though I avoid the news. One very prominent finger was pointed at Tao Lin and years ago when I read his book Richard Yates I thought I would be sick but my fingers kept on turning the pages even though I thought it was reprehensible I kept on reading and this embarrasses me, which is why I write about it here. Everything about me embarrasses me and everything else embarrasses me too and I feel empathetic embarrassment as real as my own embarrassment and I wish I could just walk around totally invisible except that we all write for a disgusting hope of immortality even if we are not gods. And we are not gods and I am no god too. Something that really embarrasses me is that I smoke cigarettes and I never smoke cigarettes at work because I think it will make people think less of me and it will make people judge me and all I want to do is fit in and all I want to do is pass for one of them and when I first got here they used to invite me out and now they don’t anymore and to Dorothy I’m like I’m too weird for them and she’s like in total agreement with me and so she doesn’t say anything even though we both know I want her to say that I’m not too weird and that I’m ok and all I want is to be ok. And it’s totally stupid that I care if my colleagues know I smoke cigarettes and it’s neurotic and it’s insecure and I am so insecure and even my boyfriend tells strangers that my biggest problem is my insecurity to total strangers he says this and he’s right and I have imposter syndrome and I want to capitalize that like Imposter Syndrome because it is real and it is harsh and I wonder what will happen to me when I’m revealed as an imposter, how bad it will hurt and where. Dorothy texts me one morning and her name isn’t really Dorothy she’s asked for a pseudonym and I’ve written about Dorothy is dozens of essays and now she wants to be a pseudonym and I don’t want this to hurt my feelings but it does and I understand and I’m calling her Dorothy because they both want to be where they are not now, which is here, and here is hardly a facsimile of Oz but with me, and Dorothy texts me one morning and it is early and she tells me a guy we both know has been implicated in the sex scandal that featured Tao Lin but fires being fires only spread wide and now—this. I don’t respond to her text. It is, after all, still early. But even more than early I wanted just to ignore the text and ignore the name because the name that Dorothy texted me was a name we both knew but even more than that he was a good literary citizen and he was going to publish Webcam Sex and it was slated for release and soon. And there was all this sex scandal and I don’t do research. I don’t find out what’s been said or by whom. I just know that his name is in the circus ring and the feminist in me wants nothing to do with any sex scandal where the issue at hand is consent because consent sometimes is meaningless and I know this and I wish I didn’t know this but I do and I want nothing to do with any sex scandal, especially one with Tao Lin and any of his people. The good literary citizen editor is not one of Tao Lin’s people but his name was billboarded anyways. The sex scandal started on Twitter or maybe it was Tumblr and it definitely made its way to Facebook and I just want to turn off my iPhone sometimes but Dorothy is deep with gossip and I rely on her for news if gossip is news and it is. I talk to Dorothy about the publisher and I talk to her about Webcam Sex but I don’t talk to her about webcam sex even though we are best friends and I would tell her anything. I ask Dorothy for advice and she says pull the book and she says I don’t need a book so bad as to support this publisher who we both used to think of as a model literary citizen and I don’t even know what he did, just that it was a sex scandal in a day of too many sex scandals and maybe feminism is associated somehow but all my spotty information it can’t be related to feminism or maybe it is but really I am just ignorant. Dorothy says to pull the book and I get an email from the editor who solicited Webcam Sex and the editor says the publisher is innocent and I believe him and I remain ambivalent. I talk to Molly about the situation and she says the young feminists are schooling us on the definition of consent and she wonders out loud if an unvocalized no means rape. If silence equals consent. I talk to Molly and she says I should publish the book now because if I don’t publish the book now people in the future will think that I only wrote the book because of the sex scandal, that I was using the sex scandal as fodder, that I was capitalizing on it, and I don’t really care what people think but just for the record I wrote Webcam Sex two years ago two years before any stupid sex scandal. I talk to JMW about Webcam Sex and it is especially good to talk to him not just because he’s a stud but mostly because he has heard me read Webcam Sex when I read in Tucson with Mike Young and we read on a porch and it was full of grad students and the desert is lovely there and JMW sports a pool and a hot tub in his backyard and after the reading we are all intoxicated and in the hot tub and I am not disappointed that I go to bed alone. JMW says I should write about this whole thing and I should post it on HTML Giant and I say that I’m sad HTML Giant is closing down and it’s not because of the sex scandal at all but the timing connects the dots even when they are just two dots, floating the fuck around. JMW tells me I should write about this and it should be big and this could be my last contribution to HTML Giant and I could go out like an explosion like boom like jazz fingers simmering down and I get all riled up and then I never write the post.


I tell JMW about how HTML Giant used to be this escape for me back when I was in a shitty marriage living in shitty towns being miserable and then HTML Giant happened and I jumped into the Internet and there, I made friends when I couldn’t make real life friends I made Internet friends, writing friends, friends who are still real life friends today, if only on the Internet, or: I have always been afraid of snakes and in Vietnam snakes are considered lucky and they are a sign on prosperity and peace and snakes eat mice and I guess there must be a lot of mice in Vietnam and I am a lot more American than I’d like to admit but here I am admitting it: get that snake away from me! And I tell JMW that I think it’s notable that two women of color writers are telling me two very different things about Webcam Sex and in Vietnam and in other places including here snake is used for medicine too and the publisher is a white man and there are all these sex scandals and do I think any of this really matters? Is this an issue of race and gender and all those other oppressions too? Is it ever about anything but? JMW tells me I should start my own HTML Giant but it should only feature hot women of color and he doesn’t mean hot as in sexually attractive but maybe he does and he probably does like ninety percent but also ten percent hot as in intelligent and full of feist. Right now I am sitting in my sunroom and there is a fire going and all across the country there is snow and just last weekend I was in Houston with my boyfriend and we biked all around town and now I am back in the desert and there is a fire because the night is cold and I am lonely. JMW suggests I put Webcam Sex up on HTML Giant in its entirety as a free download and I think about it and I ask Dorothy what she thinks and she doesn’t use the word dumb, per se, and Dorothy and I work at the same school and now I am Associate Department Head and now Dorothy is Director of the Creative Writing Program and don’t all these titles make us sound so legit? and we both wish we were just professors again sans fancy titles and loafing around my house writing emails and gossiping. Used to be I’d sit in my hammock for hours and read Joyce and I was never trained for this position and I spent the first two weeks of the semester weeping every day after work. Whereas I didn’t know it at the time I bought a bicycle and the bicycle saved me—no exaggeration, I stopped weeping when I started biking—and fuck you it’s a fixed gear and once I was in Boulder and Mathias came up from Denver and I remember walking with him and his bicycle and I liked how the pedals moved as the bicycle moved and that was when I wanted a fixie because Mathias had one and we have tattoos together and he gives the best hugs. I was weeping for August and in September I had my fixie and I don’t really care if you’re judging me because I ride every day and I am hungry all the goddamn time and I am sitting in my sunroom writing this essay and there is a fire going and above the fireplace there is a painting my friend Stevie made me back when we both lived in South Bend when he was a grad student in print making and I had already graduated and was adjuncting and then I was Visiting at Saint Mary’s and he painted the painting on particle board and he painted a pile of crushed PBR cans and there’s a devil man with a chicken foot meditating and he thinks Acid rules and there is a rattlesnake man he thinks Ride the snake and back when we lived in South Bend together Stevie used to be married and I used to be married too and I guess the past tense is just another thing we now share. For Christmas this year I would like to ask my boyfriend for a Houston bicycle and for him to not break up with me again. I don’t deal well with rejection and he doesn’t care about money but if I had to choose—I can buy my own fucking bike. In less than two weeks I will go to Iowa to teach at a college and the title is fancy and it tickles my pride a little—Visiting Distinguished Writer—and there is nothing distinguished about me except maybe my gray hair and it’s really only because I’ll be Visiting Distinguished Writer that I can afford another bicycle, my lifestyle being just outside what my salary can afford, and recently I’ve been thinking more and more that I would give up the tenure track if my boyfriend asked me to move to Houston and all he’d have to do is ask and he won’t, I know he won’t, and all he’d have to do is ask and I’d give up this tenure track job that is the carrot and its cake too. The first time I read from Webcam Sex I was reading at Brown and Cole Swenson and Renee Gladman were teaching my book Changing and it’s crazy that anyone reads my books and every more wild that people are teaching it and those two heroines and at Brown of all places and at dinner Renee was explaining astrology and she explained fire signs and she used cups as figurines and in one the Fire sign is in the middle and everyone congregates around them and in another the Fire sign is the leader and everyone follows and then she gets to Aries and she lines everyone into a huddle, and Aries, she says—and she throws my Fire sign right through everyone and I am the smash—I am the brick the shatters glass windows. Aries is fire and the year of the snake is fire and I was not born in the year of the snake but according to the fairy tale the animals of the zodiac were crossing a river to win a race and the snake was not a good swimmer so he was a stowaway on the horse and the horse was not winning but he was not losing either and the horse crossed the river and was about to cross the finish line and then the snake jumped and EEEE and that is how the snake beat the horse and the first time I read from Webcam Sex I was reading at Brown and I got off the plane and texted my friend Michael who was teaching and I’d see him later, after dinner with Renee and Brian, and it was seasonable in my b&b so I took a nap and inside my nap I had a nightmare and I never talk about dreams but this one was special and in the dream I was in a house and it was kind of like the house in Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves as in the exterior was smaller than the interior which was expanding as I was walking and then I was running and I was being chased and I knew I was in dreamscape and so I wasn’t scared and I lofted around even though I was scared but it was just a nightmare and I was safe and it was fine and then I woke up because I needed to pee and I looked up the house and I found it right there on Google Maps and I texted Dorothy and we FaceTimed and I was like Isn’t that weird? and I was like Want to see? and I flipped my phone around so she could see my laptop screen and instead of the house there was a webcam recording me sleeping and I could see myself having the nightmare and I could see my eyes flute and I could see my fear right there on the screen and then the recorded me opened her eyes and looked at the real me and that’s when I woke up for real. None of this is in Webcam Sex, which will not be published, not any time soon at least. For the time being, it will sit in my DropBox and occasionally I will open the file and scroll through the pages and I will regret that HTML Giant closed down when it was the only space for me on the Internet and it was a space for so many writers of my generation and now it is gone and even when it comes back it will not be the same it will never be the same because there is only the one and replication is not duplication and a snake dumb enough to eat its own tail will die too.


Lily Hoang picLILY HOANG is the author of four books, including Changing, recipient of a PEN Open Books Award. With Joshua Marie Wilkinson, she edited the anthology The Force of What’s Possible: Writers on the Avant-Garde and Accessibility. She teaches in the MFA program at New Mexico State University, where she is Associate Department Head and Prose Editor for Puerto del Sol.
First published in Litscapes: Collective Writings 2015.