Scrabble, Sweet Valley High, and Feminism

I’m always reading. 

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.”

Connecting With ‘The Pretty One’

The latest book on my “just read” list is Keah Brown’s The Pretty One. 

I first saw the book at Target and was immediately intrigued by the author’s smile and subtitle – “On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons To Fall In Love With Me.”

Keah Brown and I are different.

She is in her twenties; I am in my forties.

She is black; I am white.

Her disability is visible; mine is invisible.

However, her book proves a very common theme – the more specific you can get in your writing, the more you’ll find it relates to so many different people. You don’t have to be like Keah Brown to read this book. In fact, maybe it’s better if you’re not. Because then you’re forced to go along with Ms. Brown for this ride; to get a sense of what it is like when most of the movies you enjoy watching don’t feature a character that looks like you. (Although, like Ms. Brown and her sister, many of my friends did refer to my younger sister as the “pretty one.”)

Here are a few takeaways I’d like to share with you this week:

“The loss of control is where the true manifestation of my anxiety begins: the fact that you’re put under and you have no idea what is being done to your body, but you lead with the hope that it is the right thing, as strangers cut into your body in an effort to make it better. The reality is that I frequently cut myself open in the figurative sense when I share bits of myself with readers and audiences, but the idea of being cut open in real life will never not worry me despite the many experiences I have had.” 

“The pain is still there when it wants to be. The pain is one of the factors of disability that I cannot control. All I can do is try my best to take back the narrative about what living with disabilities is like.”  

“I like that my journey has not been easy, because then I would not have my stories to tell. Getting to that place of thought was hard, but so much of my life makes sense in these terms.”

“Imagine if we gave ourselves the same sort of love, attention, and understanding we give the people we love. If we allowed our vulnerability to fuel us to be better people, to say and do more, to feel in and navigate a world that champions tears as much as it does strength, to see tears and crying as signs of strength, even.” 

“I have always believed it is imperative that we learn from the experiences and histories of other people to better understand each other and ourselves.”

 

Finding Parts of Myself on the Page

There were so many parts of Mary Laura Philpott’s collection of essays, I Miss You When I Blink, that felt like she wasn’t writing about her life, but mine.

That’s part of what makes a good book. You get lost in the story. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Whether it’s based in the past or the present, or even the future.

And I got lost in this story. I saw myself on page after page. At times it was unsettling. At times it was reassuring.

“When you internalize what you believe to be someone else’s opinion of you, it becomes your opinion of you.” 

“If you’re twenty-three and twenty-one and you tell me you’ve just gotten engaged, I will tell you that you’re insane and too young, because when I look at twenty-one- and twenty-three-year-olds now, they look like babies. But at the time, when I was twenty-one, I could not foresee any reason not to marry him. I pictured the timeline of my life ahead of me – inasmuch as a twenty-one-year-old can look at her future life, which is to say in hazy, imaginary terms – and saw no circumstance in which I’d want not to be married to him.”

(Side note to my readers – when my husband and I were married, he had just turned 23, I was a few weeks shy of turning 23.)

“I felt like vapor in need of a shape to contain me. Who was I if I wasn’t that person busy with a hundred tasks and a dozen phone calls to return every day? Who was I if no one needed me to make their lunch anymore? And what good was I – what quantifiable measurement could be there of my worth – without these value systems to calculate it?
These questions didn’t excite me. They terrified me.”

“That’s one of the strange things about life: Even when we know how much worse it could be, everyday pains are still pains.”

“But one person’s more-sad doesn’t cancel out another person’s less-sad. The fact that an earthquake took out a whole city block doesn’t make it hurt less when you trip and snap your ankle.”

“You wish you could take a break from carrying everything. It’s all so heavy. You are so fucking tired.”

“What I can say is that my early forties are ticking by at an alarming rate. The idea of making my days count makes me feel like I’m not wasting them.”

“Children hold you accountable on their own. They keep a tally, and they remind you. There’s no dodging these little accountability officers. They report for duty – and report on my duties – every day.”

“But maybe the trick isn’t sticking everything out. The trick is quitting the right thing at the right time. The trick is understanding that saying, ‘No, thank you’ to something you’re expected to accept isn’t failure. It’s a whole other level of success.”

An Essay Collection for the Panini Generation

Do you remember the “Cathy” comics?

The famous comic strip “ran in newspapers 365 days a year from 1976 to 2010.” Now, the creator of Cathy has written a book. And it was her title, Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault, that first caught my attention.

I read through this collection of essays and while I didn’t enjoy them all, I did find several to be both amusing and relatable. 

This week, I’d like to share just a few of the “stand-out bits” that resonated with me.

From the essay titled “The Build-A-Boob Workshop”: 

Yesterday, the Build-A-Bear Workshop. Today, the Build-A-Boob Workshop.” 

(You’ll have to read the entire essay. It’s entertaining and rings oh-so-true!)

 

From the essay titled “Infidelity”:

“I woke up with the exhilarating urge to cheat on my Fitbit fitness tracker.”  

(Which made me think about my own personal essay about “breaking up” with my Fitbit. You can click here to read it.)

 

And the one that just screamed “Wendy,” from the essay titled “I’m Flunking Retirement”:

“They call it the ‘sandwich generation,’ but it seems much more squashed than that. More like the ‘panini generation.’ I feel absolutely flattened some days by the pressure to be everything to everyone, including myself.”