Emily Gould on ‘And The Heart Says Whatever’
“Maybe we can get the truffle fries,” Emily Gould says with a smile, glibly referring to Lynne Hirschberg’s recent and controversial New York Times profile of artist M.I.A. “We’ll do a dramatic reenactment.” No stranger to controversy herself, Gould has biked through the rain to Five Leaves, a restaurant in her old neighborhood, Greenpoint, in order to show me some of her favorite haunts. Greenpoint is also the setting for many of the most memorable chapters in her new memoir And the Heart Says Whatever (Free Press, May 2010). Gould was living here when she got her first nine-to-five job in publishing, when she left publishing to co-edit Gawker—New York’s premier online media gossip rag—and when she moved out on her longtime stoner boyfriend and into a hippie loft. For airing the details of her personal life, especially early on in her blogging career, in such an public and, some argue, self-involved way, Gould has accrued many admirers and many detractors. And yet, in her memoir, where she describes deliberately hurting and manipulating people, she writes, “I would be lying if I said I was a different person now. I am the same person.”
The restaurant is crowded with hipsters in small lace-up sneakers and skinny ties. The waiters, unfazed by the photographer taking pictures of Gould, have to squeeze by us as we drink our Bloody Marys. Gould shifts comfortably between talking, posing, and sipping her drink. She has the qualities of an actress: gregariousness, charm, and an unnervingly natural disposition. She doesn’t seem at all like the self-conscious narrator of her memoir, which was unfavorably reviewed by The New York Times Book Review this past weekend. “My editor made it seem so much worse than it was,” she says. Still, she feels lucky to have been reviewed by the Times.
Gould’s book explores her experiences as an excruciatingly aware, unrelentingly ambitious twenty-something new to the big city. I tell her I think it’s honest of her to say that she’s the same person she was then. “I’m reformed. I’m not saying that I go out and try to reenact experiences I had when I was twenty-three. But people want to believe that the best moments of their lives are happening right now,” she says. “Getting older has a lot of great things associated with it, but it’s great to be young. It was great.” And while she avers that being overly aware makes life more difficult, she says, “I wouldn’t want to be less aware.”
Gould has recently returned from a book tour that included cities along the East Coast and stops in L.A. About touring and reactions to her book in general, she says, “It became apparent to me really quickly that some people really love it and have an intense connection to it, like a favorite album. Some people cried. And some people just didn’t get it or were like ‘Oh this is ridiculous, it’s so vapid.’” To the New Yorker blogger who wrote that her book should only be read as a parlor game, she says, “That stuff is my heart.”
By the time we’re ready to order, the waiter, who is new, mentions that the Breakfast/Lunch menu is no longer available, and replaces it with “In-Between menus.” “Let’s do the blue-point oysters,” Gould decides. She’s unabashedly self-possessed, though not invulnerable. Her language is peppered with terms of empowerment. When she discusses a trip she took to Russia, she states that what she loves about Russian women is their assertiveness, comparing the way she’d act in a subway (she’d apologize to a person who stepped on her toe) to the way a Russian woman would act (Gould holds her head high and neck straight, conveying unflinching composure). When I ask her about listening to feedback, negative feedback in particular, Gould says she tries not to stop and listen to it because “no matter how great you are, you’re also really powerless.” In a blog post (she has three Tumblr sites in addition to Emily Magazine) she states: “I am a good cook. That is actually the one area that I feel completely comfortable in saying that I excel. But none of this explains why I have been known to pack bag lunches, unbidden. Why am I trying to make another person rely on me for food?. It has to do with loving to cook and eat, sure, but mostly for me at least it has to do with control.”
A Fleetwood Mac song starts playing. “I asked them to put this on,” she says and smiles.
As an elevated seafood stand is placed on our table and our empty Bloody Mary glasses replaced with a Pimm’s Cup for me and Shandy for Gould, Emily looks out the window. We discuss a panel on feminism she recently attended. It seems she’s thought a lot about the particular predicament professional women are forced to face. “Women think and say they want agency in their own lives, but agency comes with responsibility. It’s easier for women to have power in the traditional domestic realm and a lot of people—me included—struggle with the idea that we’ll have to give that up if we want power outside it.” Gould reaches over and lifts my glass of Pimm’s Cup, taking a sip. “Oh, that’s good,” she says.
These days, Gould seems satisfied with life. She continues to blog daily, teach yoga, and do intermittent gigs related to literature and/or blogging (she sits on the Blog Hard panel during Internet Week). Yet she seems wistful when talking about the person she was when she was working as an assistant editor at Hyperion, a person whose goals were different. Gould sums up those erstwhile ambitions as follows: “Go forward at Hyperion, kick ass there, be an executive editor, be making six figures, get married and move to Park Slope, have adorable children and a really understanding husband.” She pauses, then adds, “But I think on some level I was conscious of the fact that I was dating a pothead in a band.”
While she’s not a huge Twitterer, she swears by Tumblr to self-publish. (Her three blogs are Cooking the Books, Things I Ate That I Love, Salad for Breakfast) “It’s very performative, writing online,” Gould says. “You really are there and can notice when your audience stops paying attention and responding.” It’s easy to see why she has a large following. She’s a curious, thinking person who articulates her thoughts with intelligence and charm—and a person who likes to engage. While most of her blogs these days are devoted to her personal interests, such as cooking, her Tumblr allows her to indulge in other whims, like The Daily Otter. It “puts cute pictures up every day. A new otter. How wonderful is that?”
After we finish lunch, Emily puts on her blue windbreaker, hood and all, and heads off umbrella-less in the rain to Café Grumpy. Checking Twitter when I get home, I see I have a new follower and a new @reply. It was from Emily, and read: “at my interview with @Ruschka today we ordered ironic truffle fries. At least I hope they were ironic. They were tasty, anyway.”
Photography by Shoko Takayasu.