I had written a bit too much, so I started scrolling through the notes on my iPad, thinking I should really get to the denouement. I started talking about gentlewomanly living as a catch-all for a philosophy that is about feminism, about ethics, and about our own success and desire to live well:
Of course I’m a feminist, but there are other social justice issues out there, as well as my general life quest to promote good spelling and grammar, my desire to fight the ever-growing narcissism in our culture, and my desire to be a good citizen, and to bring back and redefine the idea of citizenship in a way that makes sense in an inclusive society.
I talked about the difference between being a lady and being a gentlewoman. While dictionaries will tell you that one definition of gentlewoman is “lady,” I think we should reclaim this word:
Being a lady means not offending; being a gentlewoman means acting against injustice; being a lady is all about behaving in a way that other people, mostly men, find palatable; being a gentlewoman is about hoisting yourself to a position of enough power that you can use that power to remake the world for the better.
I pointed out that Gertrude Stein was not a “lady,” but she was a gentlewoman. I mentioned Nina Simone. I wondered how many students knew who Nina Simone was.
I believe I lost consciousness sometime around discussing the gentlewomanly qualities of Josephine Baker (“Her response to racism was to move to Paris, which is a pretty good response to most things.”)
What actually happened was that I started feeling dizzy and lightheaded, and I realized that removing my fierce but highly corsetlike cage belt would be a good idea. I even commented while I did it that I needed to remove my “very unfeminist” belt. And then I started seeing black spots. And then I slurred the words “gentlewomanly living.” I wondered if I could take a break, and then thought, “Silly, you can’t take a break during a speech.”
The next thing I remember, I opened my eyes: I was on my back, and could see a large video screen from the Dartmouth auditorium. My fiancé was looking down at me, and I thought, “HAHAHA this is a dream! I get a do-over!” Because that always happens to me. I do a horrible job at something in a dream, and then I wake up and realize that the thing hasn’t even started yet, and I get a do-over! And when I wake up and my fiancé is there, that generally means that I am in bed, because I’m normal like that.
But then I saw the paramedics. Oh, my god. This is not a dream. This actually happened. A woman from the audience who knows CPR volunteered herself. I moved my fingers and toes and drank some water, and was ultimately escorted off the stage to the sort of applause the social contract requires us to provide in these circumstances.
Everyone was very nice. There was a gift bag. There was room service. I was sick the rest of the night, and kept telling my fiancé that I was sure I was going to die in my sleep from “bleeding on the brain,” something I learned about either from an episode of ER or from the game “Operation.”
I learned via text message that my best friend Molly Crabapple had been arrested for (peacefully) standing on a sidewalk at Occupy Wall Street. I then felt bad for feeling bad, since I had a king-sized hotel bed with at least nine pillows, and Molly was eating stale bread in a jail cell while, as she notes, other people (also jailed for no good reason) were being treated much worse than that.
So, passing out onstage was basically the most mortifying thing ever. Oh, and my way of processing embarrassment is to compulsively talk to myself, so the whole night afterwards and the whole drive home was punctuated with my going, “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Rrrrgh. OHMYGOD.” My assistant empathized via email that she had once fainted during a presentation in high school.
There was supposed to be a Q&A after the speech, which I had really wanted to do. In fact, there was going to be Q&A, and then a small group discussion where I had agreed to walk around and chat with women at the different tables.
But, other than the Q&A, I think this is actually the only part of the speech I didn’t say:
So I think it’s a feminist act to talk to women about how to make more money, how to position themselves in the market in an imperfect society, and to say that you don’t have to be a martyr or a suffering ascetic for the cause. You can do it while enjoying the fruits of your own work, relishing the expertise and power you’re able to build over the years, and while drinking a good scotch. When you’re 21.
It’s been an honor to be asked to do this. Thanks to Jessica and the Center for Women and Gender for having me, and thank you to all of you for letting me get kind of intense during your dinner. I hope you’ll remember something from tonight and that it will make your path a little clearer and easier.
That’s it. I was so close! And yet so unconscious! Thanks to Dartmouth for having me, and to the women who were there – you and I shared a moment, didn’t we? I still remember speakers I saw when I was in college, and none of them had medical emergencies, so I feel like, well, you’ll probably remember that part. I wish I could’ve answered any questions you may have had. It’s not too late – I’m easy to contact.
The next morning, I left Dartmouth pretty early to ensure that – despite a tornado warning – I made it to my show in the Brooklyn Book Festival. I was doing my educational comedy piece ¡The Punctuation Show! (How to Use Tiny Symbols to Make Meaning Without %$^&#* Up), which – at least in part due to driving rain and said tornado warning – was attended by thirteen people, one of whom took this photo (I’m wearing the gold jacket, on the left.) I really liked those thirteen people. I did not pass out even one bit.