In the mid 1980s I fulfilled a lifelong fantasy I never thought would come true. I joined the writing staff of the Village Voice. Our editors were the best. They treated us all as important writers, giving us and even encouraging creative freedom while enforcing linguistic and intellectual (same thing really) coherence and discipline. They were brilliant individuals, none more than Ellen Willis, whom I used to read in the 60s, back when being a New York writer seemed as distant a dream as traveling to Mars.
She was tough. Being edited by her was not exactly a love-in. She called me on all my shit and I could not charm my way out of rewriting what was sloppy. She was serious and she took me seriously, which coming from someone I so admired was far more flattering than if she had thought all my writerly sleight-of-hand was cute. It was an amazing learning experience.
At some point in our editing sessions the issue of machismo came up and she encouraged me to write an essay about it, which would’ve been, edited by her, an unparalleled opportunity. Alas, like other such windows that opened for me at the time, I was not ready for it, and we agreed it was better for me to pass on it than to write something trite — not that any triteness would ever get past her.
Well, Ellen, if there is an afterlife where you check up on those you influenced, I’m ready now. In memoriam Ellen Willis, here is my ensayo, which in Spanish means essay, ergo attempt, as well as rehearsal. To be posted here in installments.