Excerpt from



After work I ride a couple stops to the main branch of the public library, where a young and pretty and famous European writer I wish I could trade lives with is giving a craft talk. I didn’t invite Poppy and I know she’ll be hurt, but I haven’t had a moment of free time alone since we got the dog. Being at the craft lecture won’t really count as being alone, but I tell myself it’ll feel that way.

In the basement of the library, about sixty people sit in chairs. Many of them have great coats and great haircuts. Every hot guy is already sitting next to a girl, cooing at her. I pick a seat toward the back, at the end of a row, and take out my phone. I go to my secret Instagram. One of my Mormon mommy-bloggers has posted a picture of her five-year-old holding a fat stack of money to advertise the fact that she’s doing a giveaway—winners can pick either fifteen hundred dollars cash or a Louis Vuitton Neverfull. All they have to do is like and follow and tag three friends and share to stories and subscribe to the mommy’s newsletter about the best Bible verses for raising godly children.

“Hi,” says a voice next to me. My first thought is that Poppy has found me. But when I turn to face the voice, I’m looking at a stranger sitting a few seats down from me. She’s about my age, red in the face, with thick curly bangs and a huge gummy smile.

“I’m Katie,” she says. “With a K.”

“Hi,” I say. Katie has a stack of the author’s books on the seat beside her. “Have we met?”

“Oh, no,” says Katie, still smiling, “I was just saying hi.”

I smile. “Hi.”

“Have you read a lot of her work?” Katie asks me.

“Um,” I say, “yeah.”

“Me, too,” Katie says. “I’m a completionist. Like, I’ve read everything she’s written, even the random online stuff. She’s so cool.”

“She is.”

“I’m always telling people: ‘I want to be her when I grow up,’” Katie says, somehow spreading her lips farther back from her teeth than they already are. I hate that I’ve had the same thought. “Her or Ottessa Moshfegh.” I’ve had this thought, too.

The lights dim.

Katie leans in and whispers at me, “So, are you a writer?”

“Oh,” I say, “no, not really.”

“I’m getting my MFA,” Katie says. “It’s only my first semester, but I’m really loving it.” She reaches into a tote bag at her feet and digs through it ungracefully. I notice that the tote bears the name of the school where she must be getting her MFA; the same school from which I got mine not four years ago.

“That’s cool,” I say.

“It’s really, um, scrappy and hands-off and self-directed? Like, I barely know any of my classmates and we only meet once a week, so all the work is on your own, and then you, like, come to class and share it and go back home. But, um, I think it’s a good model, you know? Because they really want you to hustle and get out there and make your own connections and really live that New York writer life, like, right off the bat?” She pulls out a lavender Moleskine and opens to a new page. I watch her write ~* NYPL TALK *~ at the top.

When I first moved to New York, I was like Katie. I had big dreams but no friends, and this seemed like the great failure of my life. Desperate to find one friend, any friend, I would go out and tromp around the city in hopes of making the right kind of eye contact with the right person at the right moment. I would walk to the Meatpacking District every weekend and visit the same few stores, try on armfuls of clothing I couldn’t afford, talk to the shopgirls, feel ignored when they ignored me, imagine that things were different, go home, hate myself, pick the edges of my fingernails bloody, cover the wounds in ointment and bandages, stress about infection, cry.

Now Katie turns to me. “Do you need a piece of paper?” she asks, still whispering loudly.

“No,” I say.

The person behind me shushes us. I keep thinking: And this is my night off.

Over the course of the craft lecture, we’re told that to enhance our manuscripts, we should change all our characters from people into cats, just to see what it brings out in our pages. Cats or dogs. We’re told to freewrite with crayons held in our nondominant hands, so that as we’re writing, we feel like children again, we unlock something new and old at once in ourselves and our work. We’re told that even if other people—other writers—are talking about the things we’re talking about or thinking about the things we’re thinking about or writing about the things we’re writing about, we shouldn’t be intimidated. No one but us can write our version of the world.

I look over at Katie. Her face is happy in the glow of the stage lights. She’s writing without looking down at her notebook. She believes. I want so badly to be moved by the famous author’s words. I want to be nice to Katie, to show her a cool bar after this, or at least not to talk to her like she’s diseased for being friendly. I want to live in someone else’s brain.

“Under your seat,” says the famous author, putting on a sneaky smile, “there’s something I want you to reach for.” Surprise: it’s crayons. I hold them in my hands and stare. In my head I hear Poppy’s voice saying Art is dead art is dead art is dead.

Halfway through the talk, I spot an extremely of-the-moment actress sitting across the aisle. I hope Katie doesn’t notice her. Katie seems like the kind of person who might ask me to take a picture of her with this famous woman after the lecture.

When the Q&A starts, I pull out my phone. Poppy has texted me lots of times to ask where I am.

shes foaming at the mouth

i think shes fuckign dying

like she’s literally foaming at the mouth

ok wait google says that it could just be shes dehydrated

im going to give her some water

ok she’s drinking she’s like super thirsty


i was like what am I going to do with this dog’s dead fuckign body lol

what do you want for dinner?


I reply that I’m just now seeing her texts, that I’ve been in a lecture, that I’ll be home in an hour.

“Excuse me,” says the person behind me, leaning up so that their chin is nearly on the back of my folding chair, “there’s no recording allowed.”

I turn around to face this person: a youngish man in a bad hat. He looks mean. “I’m not recording,” I say.

“We’re not supposed to have phones. They said at the beginning to silence our phones.”

I hold my phone up. “I’m on silent.”

“It’s distracting.”

I don’t feel happy with my alone time. I don’t feel like myself. I don’t even feel there’s a self to return to. I pick up my bag and leave.

“Bye,” I hear Katie say. I look back at her and wave. The look on her face tells me she was hoping we’d become friends. I can see her mourning the end of the whole night she’d envisioned: she’d ask me if I wanted to grab a drink or a coffee sometime during the week, to talk about the lecture, because she’s new to the city, because her program sucks, because she’s just been through a breakup, because things were supposed to be one way and they’re another, because she has a shelf of Moleskines waiting to be filled the way she’s seen other, better writers on Instagram and Twitter post pictures of their shelves of Moleskines full up with their brilliance, because she can’t keep going to these kinds of things and saying hi and meeting people like me, people who ruin the illusion that New Yorkers look out for one another, that it’s not so hard to make a home here after all.

Back home, after the talk, I open my computer and sit down to write for the first time all year. I flip through a folder full of screenshots of the mommies, willing an intelligent thought about America to come to me. Not a single one does; I’m not surprised. I never really thought there’d be a project, a website, an essay about the Internet and femininity and identity and personhood and capitalism and nationalism and anti-Semitism. I just wanted an excuse to feel like the way I looked at the Internet was different than the way everyone else looked at the Internet; like the way I wasted my time was special. But there’s never been a reality in which I could be a serious thinker, a serious writer. I’m a Floridian. I’m a consumer. I’ll never blossom into the woman of ideas I like to imagine myself as late at night. It’s not that art is dead. It’s just that I’m not going to be one of the ones who makes it.

Alexandra Tanner’s stories, essays, and reviews appear or are forthcoming in Granta, The New York Times Book Review, The Baffler, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Jewish Currents, among other outlets. Worry is her first novel.
© 2024 Forever Mag
All Rights Reserved