Becoming Eve

January 29, 2024

Photo by Joshua Rush 

I think the urge to escape life, to fall into unattainable stories in unattainable timelines, is especially rapt when life is all too tangible.

There is something to be said about creating an idealized image of your life through picturesque scrapbook clippings of other people. It’s wistful and addictive. It’s why I am so easily enthralled by the likes of Eve Babitz and Coco Mellors and even Taylor Jenkins Reid. What their stories lack in fast-paced plots, they make up for entirely in essence.

When I read Eve Babitz’s work, I am instantly transported. It’s LA, the 70’s, the scene, the heyday of effortless party girl Eve in Hollywood. I can smell the smog and feel the gusts of Santa Ana wind brush against my face. I can taste the champagne she sips on in between trysts and affairs. I’m there in each frame watching her life. Soon images of Studio 54 parties and vintage magazine clippings fill my Pinterest boards. I’m inundated with idyllic images of 1960s LA bungalows and the Chateau Marmont poolside. My headphones feed my ears a continuous loop of the Mammas and Papas and Fleetwood Mac. 

I’m designing the life I want to live. If first comes the vision, then next comes the execution. Yet, I have to wonder, at what point does idealizing and romanticizing evolve from manifesting an aspirational life to full-blown escapism… and what exactly am I trying to escape to?

“Sex and Rage” is a narrative fiction novel from Babitz following the life of a meandering writer who falls into bed with horrible men on purpose and falls into authorship almost entirely by accident. It was the first of Babitz’s writing that I truly fell in love with, but far from her best. The majority of Babitz’s work is actually found in the form of her paperbound collections of short stories. Her true bread and butter: Black Swans; Slow Days, Fast Company; and Eve’s Hollywood. Each containing pages upon pages of love letters penned to L.A. through the decades.

Photo by Joshua Rush

“Slow Days, Fast Company” is her especially devotional work to 60s and 70s Los Angeles with chapters named after various locations around the city, each place acting more as a character than a setting. I read “Slow Days” over the summer while on a study abroad program in Rome. Every morning on the bus, on the metro to and from class, at cafes, and on park benches, I consumed her words as gospel, completely enveloped in the world she created. There I was, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, head buried in a book, nose diving into the rabbit hole of the Sunset Strip and enigmatic heiresses.

It’s hard for me to pinpoint what exactly it is about Babitz’s storytelling that speaks to me and draws me in. I don’t exactly fit into the aesthetics of Babitz or her literary contemporaries, like Joan Didion. I'm certainly not a petite Americana blonde. The mainstream success and glamorization of women who look like me in her time was the exception and not the rule. I obviously don’t belong to this time, yet I often feel it belongs to me. It's sewn into my heartstrings, and it seems the pages Babitz compiles only feeds my delighted fascination. I suppose where I falter in finding relatability, I find escapism tenfold.

Not to say there isn’t some degree of relatability woven into the tapestry of Babitz’s storytelling as well, because despite being so obviously dated, her work is in many ways timeless. It’s in the way she writes about sex. Like it’s the centerfold of the human experience, but equally as mundane as taxes. It’s found in the way she writes about herself, her body, and self image. I too have written diatribes about my reflection with great contempt for how cliche it is to hate what I see in the mirror. It’s certainly in the way she writes about people. She describes the characters in her life as glamor and eccentricity personified and herself a “boring square,” merely an observer of the glam rather than a participant. I’ve experienced much of the same.

Perhaps, most of all, it's in the way she writes about writing. It’s almost as if she tripped and fell into a career that others spend their entire lives pursuing with everything they have. She's breezy, but never cavalier, and always so honest.

In “Black Swans,” she confesses guiltlessly, “I loved doing art, but everyone who knew me said ‘you should be a writer.’ I took this as an insult to my art and not at all practical advice. I didn’t want to be a writer; it would scare men.”

It would scare men. She goes on to explain how she doesn’t know how she might fit into the archetypal molds of other female writers; she doesn’t see herself as Virginia Woolf or a Joan Didion (not thin enough). She doesn't think she's French enough to be a Colette nor silent and mousy enough to be a New York writer. She laments, and there is exceptional relatability in her assessing her vibe as a writer before ever assessing her actual literary skill. 

Photo by Joshua Rush

This is what makes Eve Babitz a woman who gets it. She understands that living isn’t about the reality of your situation, nor about practicality and daily doldrums. Life is about vision. She has no hesitations about writing; her hang-ups are about the optics of being a writer.

That's where she and I fall into step. Sure, it’s easy to get lost in her pages, her ideal lifestyle translated directly into brief airy chapters of sex, drugs, and parties, but it's even easier to get lost in her thoughts. When I read Babitz’s work I find myself effortlessly following her lines of logic, her methodical, at times neurotic thinking about herself and the characters which parade around her; her need to know how interesting she is, how beautiful. Vainly, I wonder the same. How interesting am I? How beautiful?

I think the urge to escape life, to fall into unattainable stories in unattainable timelines is especially rapt when life is all too tangible. When life gets too real, I manage to find a great deal of comfort in relating to the experiences of a woman whose life could not be more different than my own, but whose mind feels almost identical to mine. I have never rubbed elbows with the Hollywood elite, and I will likely never find myself entertaining an old fling at the Chateau Marmont. I don’t belong to this time, but if I can find the slightest bit of reality or relevance in a completely fantastical version of the past, then that might make the present a bit more bearable. I find the greatest comfort in escaping my own neurosis by reading, annotating, and absorbing line-by-line the neurosis of someone else entirely. ■

Model: Mimo Gorman
HMUA: River Perrill
Stylist: Kyle Porter

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