Just before summer 2011 — a year after first writing for The Awl — I got the sudden desire again to write things that weren’t college papers (however much I loved doing that). In retrospect, it was probably a combination of summer anxiety (please, please give me an assignment to write!) and wanting to engage with a community that would talk back. Choire asked, and I wrote about how the Times covered women’s suffrage. It remains one of my most research-heavy posts, though it didn’t make much of a wave when it went live, nor did I expect it to, as my posts rarely did the summer before. I am not very funny, not what you’d call a “natural blogger.”
Five days after the suffrage piece went up, however, I received an email with the subject line: “hello! from CAAF.” CAAF was Carrie Frye, the unbelievable thinker, editor, and friend who would come to edit, meticulously and with generosity, every piece I’ve written for The Awl since. Nearly two years after that email, I’m still unable to read anything I wrote that precedes (and includes) the suffrage piece. As Carrie has said to me, “I won’t let you go out in public feeling ‘ick,’” but it’s been more than that — she always let me go out feeling not just not-ick, but rewarded and, at the best of times, excited.
Today is Carrie Frye’s last day as managing editor of The Awl. Maria Bustillos has written a beautiful tribute to our dearest CAAF for the site, and her closing sentiment rings nothing but truth:
Carrie is leaving her post here to focus on making more words herself, so the only thing that tempers my great (my very great) sadness at losing her as an editor is the utter delight of knowing that the result will be more of her own writing.
In an email about Carrie’s leave-taking, Lili Loofbourow tells me, “there are no words for how much I admire her writing. she’s one of the greats.” I can’t wait for all the delightful sentences and thoughts (and asides) that will fill Carrie’s future book. Sometimes, I can already imagine the feeling of reading it just by remembering something like her Polidori piece. It will be bubbling and effervescent, and deeply wise, as all of Carrie’s thoughts are — some mix of the pathos of Charlotte Brontë, the wrenching absurdities of George Gordon and Dickens, and the cutting wit of Barbara Pym or Muriel Spark.
Personally, I’ve been quite the baby about Carrie’s departure, for obvious selfish reasons, for will there ever be as creative and generous an editor as her? Online editors seem for the most part experts at avoidance and passive aggression, but as Brent Cox reminds me, “She’s the best editor ever. (And the only one that actually returns my emails.)” Patient she is, warm and kind, encouraging and guiding. When we yakked about “House of Cards,” I jokingly told her that I wish I had an internal CAAF, because she could get me through any kind of day or slump, with verve! The Frye and Hu co-byline is something I’m intent on resurrecting, but it’s not just for selfish reasons — perhaps being around Carrie makes a person more generous oneself, which strikes me as especially Sedgwickian. Being around and beside Carrie makes one want to be kinder, better, brighter.
In Carrie and Maud Newton’s reckoning with Thelma and Louise, she recalls:
I have an acute memory of going to a packed lecture that Eve K. Sedgwick was giving my junior year and springing out of my seat right before the lecture started and skulking out of the auditorium, because I’d realized my ex-boyfriend was in the row behind me and I couldn’t stand to sit there all night. That was my own conflicted feminist college self right there. I used the word “hegemony” a lot; I wore overalls; but I thought Victoria’s Secret had really pretty bras. But what was even considered feminist—or ‘feminist enough,’ maybe—then was up for grabs and contentious (as it continues to be!).
Carrie is someone who can make anything feel as though it continues to be. She’s reparative, and so a goodbye, while sad (how I will miss pitching her, nudging her, seeing those bolded edits always returned in that signature Gill Sans font!) also feels like many kinds of hellos. Or, as Carrie first wrote to me “Hi, hi Jane!” — the double salutation that I’ve since adopted (she also taught me the wonder of changing it up, “Hello, hi!”). These are the little, but forever implanted, lessons I’ve learned from Carrie, and truly there are too many to count, or even register right now. “Just being chatty!” I write, to those that I feel I’ve prodded too much (Carrie used it, though she never, ever over-prodded).
Everyone who has worked with Carrie knows she’s a treasure, but perhaps I’ve childishly cathected so much to my experience working with her because, in ways, she helped me grow up not just as a writer, but as a person, these things being so related. Looking back at that initial email with Carrie, she comes off brilliant and subtle, while myself sounding a presumptuous dolt. I was about to graduate undergrad, and cringe now when reading these lines to her in that first exchange:
My one concern is for my academic obligations this summer (and how far I can wander from them!). I’m working on turning my thesis into an article, and also developing my MA project.
This, remember, is after I asked to be allowed to write for them again.
Guess what? I’m still developing my MA project, and guess what? I like it better when writing on different and unexpected topics. Carrie would suggest “a history of gerbilling” or an in-depth look at a Wikipedia page, and somehow, miraculously, we always found new and interesting things to say, even when I entered the topic utterly blank, even when I sometimes balked. This is what the best editors teach you about writing, and yourself as a writer. There is more there than you think, especially when you’re afraid or unsure — keep trying, return to things over and over again. Carrie has reread Our Mutual Friend eight times now. These days, I’m reading it for the first.