Steaming and Streaming: The Wondrous Rants of Laurie Stone


Simone de Beauvoir notes in the opening of All Said and Done, the fourth volume of her autobiography: "[S]ometimes I wake up with a feeling of childish amazement -- why am I myself? What astonishes me, just as it sometimes astonishes a child when he becomes aware of his own identity, is the fact of finding myself here, and at this moment, deep into this life and not in any other. What stroke of chance has brought this about?"

And by what chance, after finishing de Beauvoir, are we lucky enough to be able to jump into Laurie Stone's own explorations of self through sex (with both strangers and known quantities), film, womanhood, feminism, Sex in the City, the joys of catering, dogs (both dead and alive), life with "the man I live with," plus the invigorating power of Nature:

"Alongside a roadside, I dug up a clump of wild rose, soaked the roots in a tub of water for several days, and planted it in the front yard. Most of the branches turned brown, but a few spindly ones retained their leaves, and after some time one of the tiny branches sprouted new leaves. It was thrilling."

Little deaths. Little births.

Streaming Now: Postcards from the Thing that Is Happening (dottir press) is an oft-laugh-out-loud collection of Ms. Stone's daily Facebook takes on the world’s carryings-on as prismed through a staunch feminist's eyes. One should also be aware that this, the latest of her memoirs, coincides somewhat with the emergence of COVID and the author's move from New York City to more rural environs with a gent quite brilliant in his own right.

If you are not excited by now, you might for some reason be unfamiliar with Ms. Stone's muscular prose. For decades, her take-no-prisoners judgments have brightened the pages of the Village Voice (1974-1999), The Nation, Evergreen Review, and numerous tomes such as Laughing in the Dark: A Decade of Subversive Comedy Ms. Stone was even honored by The National Book Critics Circle.  More acclaim should be forthcoming.

Ms. Stone began recording these daily thoughts while her sister was slowly passing away. These were in a way "postcards" to her sibling, a desire to show where she, Ms. Stone, had landed and how she got to where she was. Each section is labeled with a date, and a locale, and sometimes a mere word or phrase such as "Give Peas a Chance" or "Apartment."

I never read more than one entry a day, spacing them out over 60 days, so I could enjoy savoring this volume for as long as possible. . . and delight in it I did.

Of course, sometimes reading a nonfiction book by someone you know is a bit unsettling -- and I do know Ms. Stone, although distantly in recent years. Why? Because you can't respond as you would over a latte at Starbucks.

I found myself highlighting a sentence or two on nearly every page as I did with her other works, making comments or doodling stars in the margins. Places to return to. Then if she mentioned a composer (e.g. Scriabin), I'd listen to the same, trying to perceive that Stoned moment as she did herself.

Other times, when she had me laugh, for example with The Rabbi Joke that begins on page 92, I couldn't wait to phone someone and share.

Each section of Streaming often tops or at least equals the previous one, but wait until you get to page 142 where "Friend" begins, a remembrance about an impassioned friendship gone wrong, a dead dog, a story written about a dead dog, and so much more. You can't help but chortle through Laurie's tears. She has that type of talent. If this tale had been written as fiction, it would be making one of those annual collections of best short stories. Which reminds me that Audre Lorde once wrote: "When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak." And speak this author does on Facebook, relentlessly adding by the hour new reminiscences, cultural critiques, and ripostes to the day's political shenanigans.

Only a person as self-assured as Ms. Stone would be so brazenly verbose, so fearlessly uncensored. Yet often she lets us know that she can get hurt and she can hurt as when she quotes Joan Didion: "Writers are always selling somebody out."

Or after reading a friend's obit who was quoted as saying "feeling love had been the best of life," Ms. Stone recalls:

"Reading the obit made me happy. What a great way to look back on a life! Then I remembered I love hating. Or am I good at it. Who knows the difference?"

Last week, at an SRO reading in the Fulton Street McNally Jackson bookstore, a young woman praised the author as "brave" for being on the frontlines of the feminist fight for decades, not just with words but also in her daily actions. Ms. Stone, sitting in front of shelving hosting bios of Hitler and Stalin, and not far from Eleanor Roosevelt’s, tried to argue that she wasn’t brave at all. She lost that battle.

However, more memorable that night, at least to me, was the conversation my two godsons had after the event. The brothers had listened intently as Ms. Stone read a metaphorical, tongue-in-cheek tale of her supposedly having sex with Orthodox Jewish men who washed her female sexual residue off their penises while admitting they would never have children with a woman like her. "We [women of that era] thought it was so sexy!" What follows in the same paragraph is a detailed putdown of the doggy-style approach to lovemaking: "This was supposed to be the hottest of hot sex positions -- it said so in all of the movies and all the TV shows -- and we knew it was the worst, but hey, who were we to argue?"

The elder brother noted in awe, "I never heard about sex from a woman's perspective." The younger sibling nodded. Once again, Ms. Stone, who might not have sold as many books as she should have that night, had continued to transform lives.

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