-Hannah Leffingwell, New York City
Two years ago this March, my best friend and I wrote a manifesto.
It was a brisk spring day in Paris, and we were sitting on the banks of the Seine, equipped with a bottle of cheap rosé, a box of Prince cookies, and a Moleskine notebook.
It was sunset. Of course it was sunset. Who writes a manifesto at any other time of day but sunset?
Yes, it was just as picturesque as you might imagine. The light was orange and pink over the water. The street lamps of Paris were beginning to light up, one by one, across the city.
It was perfect, okay? No need to wax poetic (for once).
We were half a bottle in when the writing began. I wrote the first sentence, she the second, I the third… and we went on like this for what seemed like hours, passing the notebook silently back and forth, taking sips of wine and watching boats pass on the quiet water.
To understand why, on that particular evening, we had decided to write a manifesto, it is important for you to know a few things:
1) I had just turned 21: a ripe, rebellious age.
2) My best friend had been living alone in a small chambre de bonne in Paris for almost two months: plenty of time to ponder existence.
3) I had just fallen in love with a girl for the first time: love makes you do crazy things.
4) Wine is cheap in Paris: cheap wine makes you want to write.
So there we are, about to pen the last sentence of our manifesto (switching off every other word now, just to make it extra special), and we see a boat coming towards us on the water. A man screams at us, waving his hands, but we have no idea what he’s saying.
In the boat’s wake, a wall of water surges towards us. Remember, we are drunk: slow reaction time. The wave climbs up the concrete wall, splashes over our feet and legs, soaks the notebook, and carries the empty bottle away—not the first or last to be lost in that river.
But the manifesto, that we managed to save. We could hardly complain. A manifesto baptized in the waters of the Seine? The stuff of legend.
In the months to follow, I would repeat this story to my friends, adding certain details, and taking others away. “Ah, to be young in Paris,” I would conclude, eyes looking dramatically off into the distance.
But the truth is, it wasn’t just the wine, or the sunset, or even Paris that inspired us to write the manifesto. We wrote it because we truly believed that together, we could make the world a better place.
We weren’t the first to think so, and we certainly aren’t the last.
Feminism, in particular, has a rich history of manifestos. Dismantling the patriarchy is no piece of cake. It takes guts, hard work, and a lot of angry (drunken) writing.
Dismantling the patriarchy is no piece of cake. It takes guts, hard work, and a lot of angry (drunken) writing.
Last year, Eileen Myles and Jill Soloway also happened to find themselves in Paris, and also happened to write a pretty badass manifesto. Their solution to a world of male privilege and domination? For starters, film, television, books, poetry, song-writing and architecture created by men will be outlawed for the next fifty years. Oh yeah, and “male constructed governing must cease for one hundred years (one century).”
Now that’s what I call a manifesto.
“Wait, wait,” some people might say, “is that really necessary? Not all men are evil, you know, and they make a lot of good art.”
You better believe Eileen Myles has an answer to this question. A manifesto, she recently explained, is not meant to be taken literally (although that would be ideal). A manifesto is meant to be “a piece of abstract art that prods… a movement has to begin with the hyperbolic.”
It’s been two years since my best friend and I wrote our manifesto on the Seine. Reading it now, I feel distant from the hopeful energy of that day. So much has changed since then, so many things have happened that I never could have imagined in that moment.
But it is for that very reason that I am glad the manifesto exists.
“We will not shrink,” we wrote that day, “We will not minimize. We will not apologize. We will live as we mean to live, so brightly that our light explodes the sunlight on the river. And we will move, covered with flowers.”
Rereading those words, I am reminded that the hard work of making the world a better place can never be accomplished alone. That may seem like a cliché—and it is—but it also happens to be true.
The hard work begins here. It begins with the people you know. The people you already love. It begins with the lives you dream up together, at sunset, in a foreign city. It begins with the words you share with your best friend on a crinkly, water-soaked page. It begins with the fantastical, the dramatic, the hyperbolic.
We may not be able to ban men from literature for the next fifty years, or walk around the world covered in flowers. But we can harness the energy of these beautiful dreams, and stand our ground, even when waves of doubt come rushing towards us. We can laugh as they splash our feet, and soak our clothes.
we can harness the energy of these beautiful dreams, and stand our ground, even when waves of doubt come rushing towards us.
We can live as we mean to live: bold, and unafraid.