One Question with Lindsay Zoladz

If you’ve kept up with new music in the past few years, then you’ve likely come across the writing of Lindsay Zoladz, who’s been churning out album reviews, interviews, and features for Pitchfork since 2011. (She has a knack for writing about artists’ breakout albums, reviewing biggies and indies like Grimes’ Visions, Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt, and Lana Del Rey’s conversation-starting debut.) In addition to her Ordinary Machines column on the popular music site, which addresses “bizarre and fantastic ways music, technology, and identity intersect in the 21st century,” Zoladz has also contributed thoughtful pieces to places like Rookie and Slate. Here, she was kind enough to share this very personal ode to the essay that changed her life—and the person to whom it once belonged. —MML

What one piece of writing has changed the way you think about your own work?

I quit a job because Audre Lorde told me to. It was 2010 and I was working in an office and it was not really doing it for me. But I was a Young Person and this was the Great Recession and by all accounts you were supposed to be grateful that you had a job at all. Nevermind that you do not find it “fulfilling”; don’t be greedy. A curse word that was in the air a lot back then was entitled.

Around me I saw a lot of my friends submitting to jobs that were making them zombies, working 12 or 16 hour days, unpaid internships, “paying their dues.” I tried to do this too. I tried to turn down my internal dialogue of resistance and just be a decent office worker, but I always felt like everyone could tell I was wearing the wrong kind of pantyhose or something. My dread about going to work felt like it was taking over my entire life. I explained this to a friend once, in a cafe over iced teas. “Don’t stress out too much about work,” he said. “All that matters is that you keep writing.” That clicked. He had this brilliant way, when he was alive, of making everything sound stupidly simple. I was in my cubicle when I took the call two weeks later that he’d been killed. I went home and stretched out paralyzed in my bed, and for weeks and weeks and weeks I couldn’t write a word. But at some point I realized I was betraying him by keeping quiet. He had been a writer too, not just a writer but also the best reader I’ve ever met. I still have some of his books that I borrowed and never got to return, and sometimes I open them to look at the sentences he underlined. I kept writing, because he couldn’t. Often during downtime at work, in the body of Outlook emails I’d send to myself so as not to look suspicious. I dedicated my first published piece to him, silently. I dedicate everything to him. I still think all the time about the things he never got to write.

On the six-month anniversary of his death I paid tribute to him the only way I knew how, which was making up a lie to leave work early and going to that same cafe to re-read Audre Lorde’s essay collection Sister Outsider. I started with my favorite one, “Uses of the Erotic.” I was getting a decent amount of assignments at that point and my gut had been telling me that although it was scary, it was time to quit and try to be a full-time freelance writer. This essay put me over the edge. “Uses of the Erotic” is about trusting in intuitive knowledge; “the erotic” as Lorde defines it is not (entirely) sexual, but anything deeply and powerfully and kind-of-orgasmically felt. And the very provocative thing she asks in this essay is what if we demanded this kind of feeling not just from sex but from every aspect of our life? Even… work? It sounded impossible, but Lorde had found that kind of fulfillment in writing. “Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors,” she writes, “my work becomes a conscious decision—a longed-for bed which I enter gratefully and from which I rise up empowered.” That sounded nice, I thought.

I quit my job very shortly afterwards, “to write.” I did not plan it out well and I would not advise doing it exactly as I did, but somehow it worked out. People ask me sometimes if I have advice for younger writers and I never know what to tell them but I think I would just say while you are still young you should take some kind of stupid, daring leap of faith and figure out how to land on your feet. And also maybe read Audre Lorde. “Once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives,” she writes, “we begin to demand from ourselves and our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with the joy which we know ourselves to be capable of.” This is an incredible challenge—and sometimes even a curse, to want that much—but I am grateful to the people who made me confident enough to stand up and demand it from my own life. Thank you, Audre. Thank you, Andy.