Inferno, the latest from Eileen Myles, published by OR books is not so much a novel nor a memoir as it is an awesome mess: beautifully drunk at the prom—no inhibitions and no pretenses, only a stuttering of female sexuality on the precipice of unraveling.
“She’s like this exposed nerve.” My friend Chris passes Inferno back to me. I bury it deep into my purse before opening up the door to the historic City Tavern in Philadelphia. “Yeah, I know, I really admire that.”
On the Internet trailer O/R released, sixty-something-year-old Myles, hair disheveled and glasses thick, says,”A lot of people aren’t gonna like this book. The tone is allover the map. It’s almost porn.”
It’s all so candid you shouldn’t look, but you’re so going to look.
Eileen’s actual life is dressed up as a novel—and I think this is main allure of the work. All the names are real, yet that’s the performance or the poetic part. It’s a reaction to the mashed up state of genre, identity, or intention these days.
Consider James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces.
Alice Marshall comments, “I’m disappointed not that Frey is a liar but that he isn’t a better one. He should have said, ‘Everyone who writes about himself is a liar. I created a person meaner, funnier, more filled with life than I could ever be.’ He could have talked about the parallel between a writer’s persona and the public persona that Oprah presents to the world. Instead, he showed up for his whipping.”
I show Chris the O/R trailer for Inferno on my iPhone. It’s a close-up of Eileen saying, “The first fiction is your name and I think that’s why I use it in my books all the time … you know, Eileen Myles. Am I Eileen Myles? I mean that happens to be what my parents called me, but most people write novels under their own name, and then inside the novel there’s a lot of other people, but it’s never them, you know?”
Chris and I want to order the 4 dollar drink because we’re broke, but that’s like … without any kick. “Shit man.” Add the bourbon and its 7 dollars. Chris laughs, “This is totally the ‘Dad’ drink— splash a little alcohol in there and jack up the price.”
Eileen Myles continues, “I prefer to use my own name because in a way there’s nothing falser than Eileen Myles, you know? And … like everybody else … I don’t really know who I am.”
I put my phone away. Chris and I order two “Dad” drinks. I can’t believe we’re in our 30s. Our friends are dads. Our friends have kids. I remember coming to this restaurant as a kid with my dad.
On television, recently, an aging celebrity confessed she stopped recognizing herself in the mirror. Passing by her reflection, she’d think, “Who is this old woman?” So, she got plastic surgery, and now, apparently, she looks more like herself: more like how she feels or identifies.
My dad always loved the idea of America being a young country, starting here—not with war or rebellion, but with a bunch of intellectuals sharing beers at the table.
Sometimes, plastic surgery makes celebrities look more like the drag queen version of their younger selves and less like their actual younger selves.
I suppose we’d rather have the fiction than the reality.
Although we are getting older, people still consider America to be very young.
Our waitress wears clothes indicative of the time period: a long apron and fluffy white hat. Just being in the bar is historic enough. A smattering of colonial costumes doesn’t necessarily whisk me away from any modern day hardships, yet there’s our waitress Clara calling me “Missus”— sharing stories about the bar’s main patron, Ben Franklin, who liked to concoct his own recipes and hand them over to the bar for improvements. Isn’t that great? It’s like, what a jerk.
As Inferno suggests, “Performance is spending. And it’s always a huge loss … . Just look at the day. Going, going, going. Nothing but loss. That’s life, and obviously that’s performance.”
My first job was at a movie theater. I loved wearing the uniform: vest and bow tie. I was a fancy reject. I scraped gum off the floors with Glen, a 50-year-old who believed that Ozzy Osbourne wanted him to join Black Sabbath.
Glen urged us to call him “Cool Dude” because that’s what Ozzy called him. They had a secret language, Glen and Ozzy. It went something like “two and four” and “two and four.” Glen’s fat thick hands would flicker dueling peace signs whenever he demonstrated this secret language, which was fairly often.
When I think about spending time, I think about scraping gum with Glen. When I think about performance, I think about after my shift—wearing a sloppy tuxedo outside the Piggly Wiggly, sitting on the curb, and drinking milk out of a waxy paper carton.
Waiting for my life to begin, not realizing that I’m already acting in it.
When I get back to Los Angeles, Paris and I go and see Eileen read Inferno at Skylight books. It’s pretty packed. I don’t say “hello” afterward. I can’t do it. It’s always some sad nightmare. You stand there and the author looks at you like a stranger. You really are a stranger. It’s almost shocking—especially after you spent so much figurative time hanging around inside their stories.
You feel like you should say something clever. As though cleverness will somehow transform the relationship, but it doesn’t. Then, you feel slutty for even trying to be clever—it’s sickening. It’s a weird disconnect, and it’s nobody’s fault. Just forget it.
I don’t think we can ever understand a life in fiction or a life that exists at all.
Yet, we all have this dream of the world falling apart while we dance on the stage with one another—and this is how everyone’s novel begins.
At home, I flip on the television. Lady Gaga is dressed up as a 1970s activist, like Gloria Steinem. She’s speaking at some press conference regarding Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She might declare her outfit a fashion “homage”, but I am calling it so postmodern it’s practically a farce—inappropriately satirical, like Vegas. Awesome.
Nostalgia, in some cases, especially in relation to popular culture and art, can thwart the creative process of actually becoming you. It pollutes the original story—shallows it, or it can. But, if we’re lucky enough to be Eileen Myles then we move beyond nostalgia, and into something messier: another artful manifestation where reality meets unreality.
However, this has to come from the core. It has to move beyond acting or dressing and into something else.
Myles sums it up perfectly at the end of her book when she says, “These little things, whether I write them or not. That’s the score. The thing of great value is you. Where you are, glowing and fading, while you live.”
Stacy Elaine Dacheux spent half her childhood outside Boston, getting beat on by tough girls. The other half was spent outside Birmingham, getting beat on by Southern Baptists. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she gets beat on by life. She writes articles for Flavorpill with Paris Lia, the latest of which was mentioned in The New Yorker’s Book Bench. She is also the co-founder of Slack Lust, which you are reading right now. Other publications include: BUST Magazine, Venus Zine, Thuggery & Grace, Versal, and Past Simple. Her short story, “The Sociology of Containers” was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.