Dingus of the Week: The Art Friend

I am a victim of the discourse, time to drink

Hi! Welcome to the Weekly Dingus, my Friday newsletter, where I round up my internet reads, share a drink, and yell about a dingus. Is that dingus a politicianA boat in a canalMy dog? Or maybe it’s just pants. You can read about past weekly dinguses in the archives.

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If I can impart one truth to you. Never be friends with writers. Never date writers. Never go near writers. For the love of god, don’t marry writers. Don’t breathe on them. Don’t look them in the eyes. If you should suddenly stumble upon one in the wild, hold still until they leave. A writer cannot observe you unless you are doing something aberrant and quirky or have soulful eyes that reveal something mysterious. Should you have eyes like that, immediately close them when you get around a writer.

Writers are cannibals. They’ll consume your life. Your details. Your moments. And render them on the page in a way that is unflattering, upsetting, and worst of all, possibly true.

I am telling you this because, y’all never seem to learn. 

Just months after Slate published an essay, where a young woman revealed that a famous writer used details from her life to write an even more famous short story, comes another tale of a short story, where details were, once again, taken from someone else’s life.

The story is of the case of Dorland v. Larson. Where Dawn Dorland is suing Sonya Larson for using a letter Dorland posted on Facebook in one of her short stories.

The story is written by the very talented Bob Kolker, whose book Hidden Valley Road is a masterpiece. Kolker is a true-crime writer. And that’s what he does with this story. He takes it, and in his hands, what is sordid literary gossip becomes a thriller that ignites a conversation about who is good and who is bad in the story. 

I have no takes on that. I don’t want to moralize about people I don’t know in a very real story.

But I love how Kolker shows us from the beginning what he is up to, when he introduces the characters. Dorland first: “There is a sunny earnestness to Dawn Dorland, an un-self-conscious openness that endears her to some people and that others have found to be a little extra.”

And then Larson: “Larson’s ability to create ‘characters who have these big blind spots.’ While they think they’re presenting themselves one way, they actually come across as something else entirely.”

Each person presented with both clarity and ambiguity. The story then becomes a Rorshach test, one we can endlessly debate and ponder because the stakes are so low and the humanity is so real. We know this person. We’ve been this person. We are this person.

And do you see what I did? I just took a story about a human life and turned it into a writing lesson. Actually, hours after reading the story, I earnestly texted with another writer friend (who is a genius), where we debated how Kolker reveals his information, how he introduces his characters. The man doesn’t need a thesis. He needs no nut graf. The story’s reason for being answers itself in our confusion. A masterpiece. “If there is no manipulation, it’s not a good story,” my friend wrote.

And that is why bad art friend is the dingus. We are all the dingus. The discourse is the dingus. We never learn.

A writer I once dated found himself very briefly mentioned in this newsletter. Although I used no identifying details, I received a volley of texts telling me that I was awful and terrible and to stop immediately. I blocked him. I found out later he was trying to date another writer friend of mine. WE NEVER LEARN.

We are all the bad art friend. We are all the bad friend. We take each other down for parts. For scrap. To rebuild into the stories of our own making.

So ask not who the bad art friend is, the bad art friend is thee. 

(With my apologies to John Donne.)

PS There are a lot of takes and responses to bad art friend. I am not linking them here. I hated all of them. Much like, I assume, you all hated this.

What I Am Reading:

Well, I got to the part in the Feminine Mystique where it would have been great if Betty Friedan had talked to one gay person or even one person of color for her book. Her insights into sex are very simplistic and, really, make homosexuality a pathology. She also has some really bad moments when she accuses housewives, who love their kids too much, of creating autism. Oh, and there was the moment when she used an anecdote about traumatized soldiers in the Korean War as evidence of infantilization and blamed it on the mothers. And she seems to hate Tennessee Williams. 

But I did absolutely scream when she talked about how corporations, desperate to keep profits at wartime levels, began to create a rash of consumer goods and sold them to the American housewife as a way to create a science out of motherhood. Bisquick. Jell-O. Betty Crocker. All became part of a new era of educated professional wifery. But years later, those same goods, the ones marketed to trap women into a cycle of housewifery, would be accused of making our children unhealthy. And how dare mothers do anything but give their children whole and organic and pure foods? So, the cycle begins again, costing money and time, and all at the expense of the American woman. It makes me want to punch a wall.

I remember once being on a panel and hearing two very famous Iowa men rant about how people are just too lazy to cook and that’s why Americans were unhealthy. I got mad. In order to get to that panel, I had to feed my kids frozen chicken nuggets (all I could afford at the time) and frozen corn. In order to be in that space, with those men, it cost me money I barely had, and time I sure didn’t have, only to show up and hear how I was ruining America. I did say something. One of the men apologized immediately. The other man, after the panel, refused to shake my hand.

Anyway. What else am I reading this week? Well, it was Nobel week. And my favorite nerd tradition is reading Alex Shephard’s predictions, which are always a little cheeky. Friend of the newsletter Talia Lavin launched her own newsletter: the Sword and the Sandwich. 

Chuck Grassley talked. 

And he’s talking again this weekend at a Donald Trump rally.

Loved this CJR bit on how what’s happening in DC isn’t actually fractious. And the failure to cover the left.

I had completely forgotten about Marie Calloway, until Scaachi Koul wrote about her this week. It’s worth reading because it shows how the way writers write about women and sex has evolved.

The Nation talking about the new leaders in the pro-abortion movement. And heck yeah.

My Substack work wife, Anne Helen Petersen, wrote a very thoughtful piece on divorce. And I spent a good two hours Thursday morning fervently TEXTING HER MY THOUGHTS ABOUT IT ALL. She of course, did not need them. She is a thought machine. And I am glad I read her religiously.

Also, happy workaversary. I celebrated the one-year anniversary of this being my mostly full-time job. (I still write for another newsletter and am writing a book, but hey, three jobs down from a million is great.) I also wrote about how we are all one disaster away from financial ruin, and bootstraps aren’t gonna help us.

What I Am Drinking:

Last weekend, I snuck away to DC to visit some friends and to see one of the most perfect babies ever created. This baby should be a toddler, but she refuses to walk, because she’s smart and knows no good can come of walking. What next? Running? SPORTS? Truly, a slippery slope. I personally believe she held out because she wanted to still be a baby when we met. I got to meet lots of people and make some great jokes. And I believe I drank some bougie Paloma. It was great! But people are better, and that’s what I remember. So, hello to everyone I met; you are lovely. Especially the person who was like, “I had to subscribe before I met you IRL.” You are amazing and so charming and I loved your dress.

This weekend, I’m back to the basics with an old-fashioned but made with maple syrup instead of simple syrup. I learned this trick last year. Honestly, I am out of ideas. I keep googling fall drinks, but I don’t want to make something complicated and apple cider with bourbon is pretty good, but I’m already on it. Maybe Negronis? Is it Negroni time? I am sports mom all weekend, so maybe just Irish coffee? What are you all making?

Men Yell at Me is a newsletter about the places where our bodies and politics collide and yes, the occasional yelling man. Learn more about it and me (Lyz) here. You can sign up to receive the free weekly email, which includes interviews, essays, and original reporting. The Friday email is a weekly round-up of dinguses, drinks, and links. On Monday I have a subscribers-only open thread where we discuss politics and our bodies and more.

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