I’m Not Staying In My Play Pretend, Where the Fun Ain’t Got No End and Thank God For That

by dhaaruni

I don’t like being vulnerable, which is something you can probably glean about me within a very short period of time. Leslie Jamison wrote one of my favorite essays “A Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” the last essay in her collection of essays called “The Empathy Essays,” and she touches on a type of woman that’s become almost stereotypical in modern discourse, the “post wounded” woman. I’d recommend the whole article to everybody, and the whole collection to be quite honest, but the passage that most struck me on reading it was this one:

“These girls aren’t wounded so much as post-​wounded, and I see their sisters everywhere. They’re over it. I am not a melodramatic person. God help the woman who is. What I’ll call “post-​wounded” isn’t a shift in deep feeling (we understand these women still hurt) but a shift away from wounded affect: These women are aware that “woundedness” is overdone and overrated. They are wary of melodrama, so they stay numb or clever instead. Post-​wounded women make jokes about being wounded or get impatient with women who hurt too much. The post-​wounded woman conducts herself as if preempting certain accusations: Don’t cry too loud; don’t play victim. Don’t ask for pain meds you don’t need; don’t give those doctors another reason to doubt. Post-​wounded women fuck men who don’t love them and then they feel mildly sad about it, or just blasé about it; they refuse to hurt about it or to admit they hurt about it—​or else they are endlessly self-​aware about it, if they do allow themselves this hurting.”

I’m barely 20 years old this passage resonated with me more than it ought to because I’m just so very done with being hurt. I’m done with crying over silly things that don’t matter and profound things that do, I’m done rubbing salt into wounds that were rent a decade ago when I first came to this country, and I’m very done with being open and warm and nurturing towards others when I’m disinclined to believe people ever had anything resembling sympathy towards me.

It might have been why I started reading Sandra Cisneros again, because for all the pretenders, nobody does post wounded like Sandra Cisneros. I was forced to read “The House on Mango Street” as a freshman in high school and it exhausted me; I wrote my third quarter paper on Esperanza’s rape and since this was also the time I discovered Sylvia Plath, I ended up quoting Sylvia: “Being born a woman is an awful tragedy.” Sandra and Sylvia and Esperanza and all of them were what I was conditioned to loathe because I was raised in a world where the concrete semblance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics was prized over all; but what attracted me, even more than math which I’m admittedly fantastic at, was the ugliness of it, raw emotion and embarrassing feeling. The thing is, I’m still not inclined to express these sentiments directly, and I discuss it all in a detached, borderline clinical way. “Emotion is healthy!” “Feelings are natural” but god forbid, I ever tell somebody how I feel about them without covering it up with a splash of Latin and insulting them where it hurts the most in the process. Maybe that’s because I’ve made myself too guarded, and yet as someone who has the potential for deep emotional pain, I feel like I have to be.

With regards to Sandra Cisneros, in the last few weeks, I read “Woman Hollering Creek,” a collection of short stories, “Loose Woman,” a poetry anthology, and “Caramelo,” a novel. As far as form goes, I adored Cisneros’ poetry; I found it vicious and emotional in Bronte manner, while I saw The House on Mango Street and Caramelo as “Austen-esque” so to speak. And, I am about as far from a fan of Jane Eyre as can be (husband who locks up his mentally ill wife who’s a woman of color to be seen as the romantic hero no thanks) so when I say Bronte, I’m primarily referring to Wuthering Heights. It’s not to say one is more valid than the other, but as a rough estimate, the Austen sort of literature is what I’d discuss at tea with people my grandmother’s age, and what I feel comfortable saying I like in “good” company. Bronte works are what I turn to when I’m not inclined to be rational, and when I more resemble these women who we’re inclined to loathe, the wound walking out of the hospital, the wound that we’re giving up on. I would gossip with Jane Austen over skim peppermint mochas, and talk shit about girls who aren’t smart enough to rationalize their love affairs but I’d run out into the moors on five shots of Jack Daniels mixed into my Diet Coke (never regular) screaming my love for some broken emergency, and Emily Bronte would probably cheer me on.

My favorite lines in Ciseneros’ anthology are from “One Holy Night,” a story in Woman Hollering Creek, and the eponymous last poem in “Loose Woman,” and they’re both similar in meaning. “I am a woman without shame” and from the poem, “I am the woman of myth and bullshit/(True. I authored some of it.)/I built my little house of ill repute/Brick by brick. Labored/loved and masoned it.” To be quite honest, I regard the first as a life goal, and in my opinion, so should every one. It’s very tiresome to eternally be apologizing for aspects of our being we cannot control, for things that other people think are wrong with us, and we have to live with ourselves so we might as well revel in it. But to expand on that concept, we write our own fairytales; nobody else is responsible for the reputation we covet, our loves and our hates and the myth we become is in our control and we should make ourselves people that we are proud of. It’s the manifesto of the woman who’s post-wounded and aware of it; she’s saying “I have made my mistakes and commited sins if you want to call them that and they are a part of me.” To us, the goal is to make a joke of it, laugh about it, and the secret is that we all know it’s a joke, and we’re here for your wounds, even if everybody else is going to be fooled by your nonchalance. But perhaps I’m projecting.

I said at the beginning of this piece that I hate being vulnerable and I think people misunderstand my definition of vulnerability. I write about the literature I read and I respond to it in what may come across as overtly personal but full disclosure: this is the myth of myself I am comfortable with people telling. And when I say people, I mean my parents, my family, my old teachers, my boyfriend, my long list of ex-lovers who’ll tell you I’m insane. This brand of not possessing artifice is an artifice in itself; I claim that I’m an emotional being but all you see is a girl who writes as if she’s a doctor analyzing the concept of deep pain and you search for signs that it’s all real but they’re as murky as the ocean green and blue.

Maybe someday, I’ll be as brave as Sylvia Plath who wrote “At twenty I tried to die, to get back, back, back to you”, as doggedly determined as Elizabeth Grant to be the image of Lana del Rey, how you get that way, who covers up what very clearly is deep depression, suicidal tendencies and a chain of abusive relationships in a pretense of extreme Americana that so many of her fans miss, as Taylor Swift who called out John Mayer in “Dear John” to the ridicule of millions as that crazy ex-girlfriend who couldn’t deal with her boyfriend moving on. I’m tired of women who are brave enough to be that vulnerable in the public eye being scorned as making victims of themselves, which is nothing more than gaslighting.

Or maybe, I’ll find some sort of balance. I taste like nectar and salt, and pollen and stars and for all the bitterness I may hold, I still taste of hope, which I’m unreasonably proud of.