It began with my ponytail phase. Every picture in my mom’s photo album shows me with my hair pulled back into a ponytail. The photos didn’t capture the back of my head and the way I carefully color-coordinated my ponytail holder with the day’s outfit.
When I entered my teenage years, I attempted to dress my hair with a variety of colorful clips and barrettes. I hoped to turn eyes away from the red pimples on my forehead and cheeks.
By my senior year in high school, I had grown my brown-M&M-colored hair down to my waist in hopes of distracting from the worsening acne on my face.”
The paragraphs above are from my most recently published essay, “A Soft Strength.” You can click here to be re-directed to HerStry and read the essay in its entirety.
This book has a special place in my heart. It was the first time one of my personal essays (“5 Things I Wish Every Parent Knew Before Sending their Child to Kindergarten”) was published in an anthology.
I won an advance reader’s edition from a Goodreads Giveaway (the only time I have won from the many giveaways I have entered). You’ll find my copy is full of sticky notes marking the many encouraging statements. A book I’ll return to again and again.
I consider it an act of serendipity that I discovered this important book. It is a must-read for anyone living with a chronic illness. (I have read it more than once and emailed a fan letter/thank you note to the author!)
I always have at least one magazine going and two books on my bedside table.
And though I’m always reading, I’m forever adding books to my “want-to-read” list. It means I’ll never run out of reading material. But it also means I sometimes read a book after a lot of the hoopla has fizzled out.
Such was the case with Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. Published in 2014, it’s not in the news per se, but many of the topics written about are very much in the news.
It wasn’t just what she had to say, but how she said it. In one book, Ms. Gay wrote essays on topics such as Scrabble, race, the Sweet Valley High series, rape, and feminism – just to name a few.
This week, I wanted to share some of the passages that stood out to me.
From the introduction:
“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the high moral ground.”
From “Typical First Year Professor”:
“This is the dream, everyone says—a good job, tenure track. I have an office I don’t have to share with two or four people. My name is on the engraved panel just outside my door. My name is spelled correctly. I have my own printer. The luxury of this cannot be overstated. I randomly print out a document; I sign happily as the printer spits it out, warm. I have a phone with an extension, and when people call the number they are often looking for me.”
From “What We Hunger For”:
“All too often, representations of a woman’s strength overlook the cost of that strength, where it rises from, and how it is called upon when needed most.”
From “Beyond the Measure of Men”: “If readers discount certain topics as unworthy of their attention, if readers are going to judge a book by its cover or feel excluded from a certain kind of book because the cover is, say, pink, the failure is with the reader, not the writer. To read narrowly and shallowly is to read from a place of ignorance, and women writers can’t fix that ignorance no matter what kind of books we write or how those books are marketed.”
From “Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response.”:
“Every day, terrible things happen in the world. Every damn day too many people die or suffer for reasons that defy comprehension.
“All too often, suffering exists in a realm beyond vocabulary so we navigate that realm awkwardly, fumbling for the right words, hoping we can somehow approximate an understanding of matters that should never have to be understood by anyone in any place in the world.”
From “Bad Feminist: Take Two”:
“Bad feminism seems like the only way I can both embrace myself as a feminist and be myself, and so I write. I chatter away on Twitter about everything that makes me angry and all the small things that bring me joy. I write blog posts about the meals I cook as I try to take better care of myself, and with each new entry, I realize that I’m undestroying myself after years of allowing myself to stay damaged. The more I write, the more I put myself out into the world as a bad feminist but, I hope, a good woman—I am being open about who I am and who I was and where I have faltered and who I would like to become.”
I admit I’m not a big poetry reader. But there was something about Naomi Shihab Nye’s collection Cast Away: Poems for Our Time that called to me.
How wonderful it is to read the reminder that everyone can do something to help our planet. Everyone has the ability to go out into the world, and at the very least, pick up trash. And everywhere we look, there are stories to be found.
This week I’d like to share just a few of the jewels in this collection:
From “Three Wet Report Cards on Camden Street”:
“feeling great sadness
for the hard work of teachers
filling in so many little boxes
dreary evaluating and judging
when what teachers love best
is that spark of discovery
that great question
the shy person
finally speaking from the stage”
From “Central School”:
“On top of the can right there, a hand-lettered dictionary,
flipped open to the L page, and every
most important word
of life lined up handwritten — Love, Learn, Lose, Laugh —
and thrown away. How could anyone
throw that away? A neat little dictionary —
I took it. Thought about second grade being the
best grade, how the world opened wide in second grade,
and we stood in dignity reciting poems to one another,
Loving Language, and our teacher Mrs. Lane told us,
Don’t worry if you make a mistake. We had Smile Day.”
“Now, my bandaged leg was tender and sore, and walking was more like a slow, laborious shuffle.
‘I know it’s hard now, but it will get better. This will pass,’ Ryan said. His tone was soft. Soothing.
I bit my lip, took a breath, and smiled.
Those were all the same words I have spoken to Ryan each time he’s been sick. Reminders that he’s not alone. Reminders that I’ll see him through it. Reminders that the discomfort (whether it was a high fever, a bout of vomiting, or a hard coughing) would pass and wouldn’t last forever.”
The passage above is taken from my personal essay, “Lessons Learned,” a reminder that our children are always watching, always listening, always learning from the adults in their lives. I’m proud to say my essay was recently published at MUTHA Magazine. Click here to read the essay in its entirety.