I spent the nineties fantasizing about powerful female editors. Other writers shared this habit: not the most wasteful expenditure. It can help a writer, to imagine that at the top of the masthead, a sympathetic goddess sits, fitfully attentive, sometimes able to be charmed, though more often in the mood to reject the insufficiently prepossessing.
I hadn’t belonged to Mr. Shawn’s cult, so Tina Brown’s arrival at The New Yorker didn’t appall me. From afar, I worshiped her aura of reckless executive aplomb: I pictured her in the country, on weekends, wearing jodhpurs. I used her in my imagination as a paragon of busyness. If I felt overworked—too many deadlines, classes, appointments—I’d tell myself, “Buck up, Wayne! Just think of how busy Tina Brown is!” President Clinton was my other paragon of busyness. Bill and Tina—how aggressively and suavely they moved through the world of work (meetings, parties, rendezvous), while at home I dithered around, wearing jeans, washing dishes, writing poems! Tina epitomized the well-adjusted adult; I imagined a Town Car picking her up every morning and whisking her to work, and I thought, It’s a wonder she can sleep at night, she’s so busy!
A few times, I published in her magazine, but only met her once, briefly. She was wearing a suit I remember as ecru: Its understated hue seemed punishment’s antithesis.
Eventually, she began to appear in my dreams: Her sharp, quick, forgiving face, all angles and prescience, came to me out of nocturnal miasma as a force of protection.
Anna Wintour, too, visited my imagination as a figure of reserved, imperial judgment. I was not the only citizen of Manhattan to fetishize her bangs, her small, focused, unblemished features, her furs, her indecipherability.
Her name especially fascinated me. Here is my Anna Wintour phrase book, the words that surround her in my lexical unconscious: Winterthur, Turandot, tournedos, tournament, turnabout, High Tor, torrid clime, ritorna vincitor. Anna alone is a palindromic joy.
I wrote occasionally, and happily, for Vogue, though I only met Anna Wintour twice—so she remained for me an idealizable, fear-and-rapture-inducing figure of eroticized editorial karate. I first met her at a Vogue Christmas party, at Balthazar. She was greeting guests at the bistro’s door. I introduced myself, shook her hand, said, “I write for your magazine.” She cooly replied, “Of course you do.” What did she mean?
(a) Of course I know who you are. (b) Of course you work for me. Everyone here does. (c) Of course I don’t know who you are.
Soon after September 11, I had a dream about Anna Wintour. I dreamt that 9/11 shook Anna to the core. Altered by apocalypse, she became down-to-earth, folksy, easy to please. People noticed the change and remarked, “9/11 made Anna ‘nice.’ ”
A writer’s fantasy is an omnipotent editor, with the power to confer prominence. The editor—in my fantasies, she is always a woman—will lift me into breathing life, into giddy, unwavering notoriety. Later, she will banish me; but, for the moment, her business is merely to anoint me. In the fantasy, I meet Tina Brown and Anna Wintour at Da Silvano for a light supper. We order a bottle of Greco di Tufo and a plate of mussels for the table. Tina asks if I am writing new poems. Anna asks my opinion of the collections. I like being anointed, though it sometimes hurts, afterward.