I once discovered a box of my mugs hidden in the basement. I hadn’t put them there. But there they were anyway, stacked in the middle between denim button up shirts, books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover and mugs that read, “Write like a Motherfucker”, “I’m just a girl who likes to write” and one festooned with the faces of famous Democrats, given to me by a friend as a joke. I’d been missing them. But of course, if a dish goes missing, especially in a house with two kids where you are the one who takes care of things, you think it’s your fault. And you are so busy, how do you have time to track down a mug. Maybe it got put away in another cupboard? Maybe you misplaced it? Maybe it’s in the office? And so months go by. The mugs stay missing. And you are just a little troubled every time you go for coffee in the morning.
When I discovered the mugs, I knew they’d been hidden. We went to therapy. But you know the story, seven months later, I moved out.
I told a friend, a writer, who sent me two matching mugs from the David Brook’s wedding registry. They were beautiful. And a joke. And I love them very much.
As I kept telling the story, more mugs kept coming in. They were all of a kind. A feminist kind. Such as the Emily McDowell, “The Patriarchy Won’t Fight Itself” mug. I loved them. I drank a lot of whiskey out of them.
A year after I discovered the hidden box of mugs, I went to the Association of Writers and Writing Program Conference (AWP), where, in my former role as the managing editor of the literary magazine, The Rumpus, I sold mugs at a table. That year, the magazine unveiled a new mug. No longer were we just selling “Write Like a Motherfucker” mugs, but we had a new one that read, “White Male Writer’s Tears.” That mug had been my idea. After a year of running the site, both the EIC and I had a lot of experience with men getting mad at us for rejecting their stories. Or suggesting edits. One man, who sent in a submission through a mutual editor friend, threatened to commit suicide when we passed on his work. He said he’d committed himself to a mental institution. He was tired of rejection. And his work was good and we wouldn’t reject him if he was a woman or person of color.
The EIC called the friend and had her go check on him. She reported back that he was in his apartment and was very confused about why she’d be concerned about him.
Of course women got mad too. One of my favorite stories was a woman sending in a book review that trashed a book, which had already been out for a year. I’d read the book, which was about the authors experience with rape, and the review. And while I am not against a negative review, we decided to pass, because it didn’t seem like the writer had actually read the book. When we sent the rejection she wrote back aggressive emails accusing us of being rape apologists.
The best part of the whole exchange was she called me a different name in every email. Lynn. Lyn. Liz. Leah. But never Lyz. In our final exchange I wrote, "PS My name is Lyz.”
She shot back, “Oh sorry, you are so forgettable it’s impossible to remember.”
It was an excellent retort and any reply I had was swallowed because I represented a magazine and needed to just leave it alone.
But the vast majority of the angry responses seemed to be men. And we got other emails too. Men angry that we were publishing stories about sexual assault. “Enough is enough!” one email read. Other men took it upon themselves to let us know how bad the founder of the magazine had been. AS IF WE DIDN’T KNOW. So we came up with a mug. And sold it.
People came up to the table to take pictures with the mug. One woman walked up to me and yelled at me because she thought the mug was in bad taste. I told her it wasn’t worse than the taste of men’s tears. She stormed off.
A couple of weeks after the conference, I started seeing a professor at a local university. I told him the story of the mugs and he told me that our “White Male Writer’s Tears” mugs were corporatizing feminism. And I was like, “Look! We need to keep the magazine alive.”
You will be shocked to discover that a month later, I ended it with him. The day I called it off, he was at my house and I made him coffee. I poured the coffee in the David Brook’s mug and explained the story of their origin. We talked. And he decided to leave. As he walked out the door, he carried my mug with him.
“Wait, I have a to-go cup you can have,” I said watching him walk down the steps.
“It’s okay. I’m fine!” He waved.
Two days later in therapy, I was crying over my mugs. “I guess I’ll just get a new David Brook’s mug,” I said.
My therapist was having none of it. “These mugs are important. You will get mug back! You will demand it back!”
So, we came up with a plan, I’d meet him at a neutral third party location, solely for the purpose of getting the mug. That was it. We met up at a brewery. But he refused to hand the mug over until we’d had one last drink. It was the longest hour of my life.
He finally handed over the mug in the parking lot. I snatched it and ran. When I got home, I blocked his number.
If Milan Kundera is right and each individual organizes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of deepest distress, then one of my laws of beauty is a law of mugs. Chipped. Corporatized. Messy. Coffee stained. Mismatching mugs.
I know this is a messy email. But I’m thinking a lot about the messes I make today because I published perhaps the most embarrassing essay of my life. It’s embarrassing because it’s needy and weird and sad and hard and real.
But then, isn’t everything?