Monica: Why do you think it's harder for women than for men to cash in on the cache of cool?
Eileen: The cool thing is a great topic that's central to what I do, and to this book for sure. The first thing I think of is something Holly Hughes said about lesbians: "Let's face it, the only cool lesbian is a dead one." And I guess she meant cool on its way to being ice cold. They'd rather see us dead than call women cool. Men work hard against women and/or dykes being seen as cool because that's their domain--the toss-off, the cavalier, the unstudied. If a woman attempts it she's lazy, self-indulgent on some ultimate fucked-up level women are supposed to be good, and men are supposed to be bad. As we know, good and bad are false categories. Women should be helpful is more to the point. So if a female is a dreamer or angry or, say, critical of the incredible bullshit men get away with, the whole culture turns against her because she needs to get in line and get out of the way for Hitler or whoever.
Cool really works for me because I'm reckless and awkward and will do non-productive romantic things like write poetry for years and novels that are not plot-driven and take drugs and drink until I almost died. Rather than going to graduate school, I hung around with other writers and artists and became a member of a scene. Still, that probably looks shabby and tired and scary and excessive to a thirty-something business type who works as a mainstream editor today, so I can't even be marketed as cool like, say a guy of my generation might be.
When I think of the poets who immediately preceded me, the male poets of the '60s generation, they were supported by and large by their wives who had jobs. That was cool.
The culture is always perched to punish us [women] as soon as they get the chance. The punishment might just be that we get old. The culture really cracks down on women for aging. Female invisibility comes over you walking down the street, suddenly, maybe in your mid-thirties, and then stronger and stronger. Men get old too, but men aren't so endlessly valued for their bodies.
On the positive side, I think there is a massively cool female scene right now in all the arts and it's a genuine underground, because every time it's written about or talked about, people get it wrong because its really hard for people beholden to a male-based art world to understand that a female-based art scene is completely underway. I think females are each other's stars right now and it's just very hard to see that if you would prefer women to be down there looking up at you. Women are totally cool. Everything is sort of the opposite of what our culture is still trying to shove down our throats.
What was the impulse behind your presidential campaign?
I ran for prez in 1991-2 because I knew I would spend that year and a half of the American presidential campaign hearing about these four or five white guys, then two men ultimately demanding we all think about them for the final months. Guys who would reflect none of my values and needs as a woman, a lesbian, an artist, a person earning under $50,000 a year, from a working class background without health care. The current president [Bush] never spoke a true word.
It was a fool's mission, I was a candidate out of step with the official profile of power in our great land. More than anything because I am a woman. A female can't speak up at that level of celebrity. So I did. I wrote my own speeches. My candidacy was a large public extension of my poetry. I talked about my life, my money problems, my girlfriend, my memories, my plans for the American economy. As a poet I shall morph public and private until I die. I see it as my freedom. As long as I'm alive I shall be turning my inside out like a starfish.
My Cool For You tour feels like a campaign too. I'm furious about the way the voting in Florida was interrupted. In any other country we'd call it coup d'etat. I don't care about those two guys. It's not about them, it's about us. I vote for everyone.