What Slate doesn’t want to do anymore is work for work’s sake, or continue in jobs just because she’s afraid of saying she can’t do them. “There are times for me when I can’t act,” she says. “I’m too uncomfortable. And there’s something deep inside of me that does not believe in pushing through a certain type of discomfort.” Rather than endure that discomfort, she says, “I guess I fail! I fail. I get fired, or I apologize and say, ‘I don’t think I’m good at this.’ And that feels like the one thing you’re not allowed to do. You’re supposed to just silently hold your shame and go until exhaustion. But I really don’t want to! I mean, we’re all gonna die, right? I don’t know why you’d wear yourself out for some shit you’re bad at.”
As a child, Slate often felt like she didn’t quite fit: Both among her peers (“I’ve really always felt like I had a different personality shape than everyone else”) and inside her own skin (“I can remember most of my childhood just really wanting to have an adult body”). She liked summer camp, but school was hard. “My memories of school aren’t good, at all. When I think about school, the refrain is like, ‘There’s not enough. It’s not here. I don’t have the friendship that I want, I’m not being seen for myself, there isn’t a place for me to be myself.’”
Perhaps that’s why she’d like to help kids in similar situations, to be a mentor to someone now. “I want to be the elder or a parent or an adult who is somebody you can ask things of, and they can actually help you,” she says. “I’d like to be a parent to some sort of cool person who’s going to make something good.” Last year, she gave a commencement address to Gwen Lynch, the sole graduating eighth grader of Cuttyhunk Elementary, a one-room schoolhouse on Cuttyhunk Island, off the coast of Cape Cod (Shattuck runs a writers’ residency on the sparsely populated island). “I spent some time with Gwen, who was taller than me,” Slate says. “She was confident. She pretty much knows what to do. So my speech to her was like, ‘You are starting your development, you’re at the beginning of your arrival into the rest of everything else. But you have the blessing of your island, your community. You have everything you need. You are mineral rich in personality and heart.’”
The sun is setting, the time coming closer to when Slate has to drive to the Largo to do her set. She is talking to me about dancing and how much she loves it, but how if she tried to dance now, everyone would laugh at her. She stops, recalling something else. She wants to tell me about something she saw recently that she’d been thinking about ever since, but she prefaces it all by saying she’s probably going to regret bringing it up because it sounds like maybe she was on drugs at the time, which she definitely wasn’t.
“The wind was blowing really hard from outside, and there was a curtain cord, and it was going up and down, up and down, and it was really rhythmic, and I was like, man! If I were some hotshot choreographer, I could do something at the Brooklyn Academy of Music or whatever, where I make a film of this cord going up and down, up and down, and then all of a sudden the film goes off and the light comes up on stage and there’s a huge replica of this night table and a huge lamp and a huge phone, and the plastic end of the cord is actually a dancer in a white leotard, and they’re on a fuckin’ harness and they get slammed against the wall, and you see that, and then the phone starts dancing.” She’s getting excited just picturing it. “And I was like, well, I’m not ever going to be able to do that, because I’m not a performance artist and I’m not a dancer, and people will just laugh at me.”
“But the fact is,” she continues, “I’m obsessed with that image now! And I’m happy that I could think about it. I’m happy that I could care about it.”
Maybe she could write about it, I offer, in that next book of hers that she wants to write?
“Yeah, maybe I could describe the dance,” she says. “I don’t know if I have the guts to be like, hey, anyone want to do this thing with me? Or if I really want to spend nine months of my life making some kind of weird, new age ballet about a window shade cord. But I could write about it. Because I do want to write about every single thing that I’ve ever thought about.”