The Ropes Have Been Unbound

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Top 5 Books of 2k17

The story that my parents always told me is that I’ve been reading since I was a year and a half old, enrolled in a neighborhood preschool because I was too precocious to stay at home. From the very beginning, I tore through everything I possibly could, literally banned for reading too much as a kid and used books as an escape during my adolescence. So it goes, you can’t be a writer without being a reader and well, I am irrevocably both those things. I want to be remembered and I’m good with words and the English language so I guess that’s what I’m going to do, write and write and write more, most of all when I’m heartbroken and can’t imagine writing another word.

This is my list of the 5 most memorable books I read this year. They range from an Australian new adult novel, to a memoir really about motherhood, to something I can’t even quantify but loved all the same. There is something about being a reader and a writer where I feel the need to have everything written down for future reference. I don’t trust memory when it’s not mine and other people lie and hide and shade the truth in a way that suits themselves. That being said though, I find reading accounts of other people’s lives to be extremely valuable in understanding humanity as it is and how it could be, which I guess is why there are two memoirs on this list.


  • Summer Skin by Kathy Egan

I’m starting this list with this book which I read once but feel like it lives in my skin like no other I read this year because of how it wrote about sex in particular but also how it talked about love. It’s an Australian new adult romance but there’s something so deeply humanistic and lovely about it and I’m not just talking about in a sexual way. Early on, there’s an exchange where the main guy goes ” I don’t do girlfriends” and Jess, the protagonist responds “Your own or other people’s?” and my jaw dropped open because well, that’s precisely how I would respond. The characterization is much stronger than I expected it to be, it’s staunchly feminist in its understanding and description of sex and love and well, for me anyway, I can’t really differentiate between the two, at least not beyond a certain point.

  • Hunger: A Memoir of my Body by Roxane Gay

As for Hunger as a book, it was awful for me to read because I couldn’t shake my revulsion and my anger at Gay and at society itself. At some points I wanted to shake her because she was knowingly behaving in self-destructive ways, whether it was through eating too much or having sex with people that didn’t love or value her or whatever else she detailed. I guess I can’t be talking though because although my history of violence against myself is different than Roxane Gay’s, it is no less insidious. I was never a creature of excess but was rather one of restraint. I saw it as an accomplishment to punish myself, a deeper sign of my self-control and my future of self-care. And of course, I saw how badly the world treated fat people so I was deathly afraid of receiving the same treatment. As I have said before, I wanted the privileges of being thin and I saw it as an achievement that I was able to stop eating to the point I was severely underweight. For the record, no adult looks good at 85 pounds.

My favorite quote is the one that follows:

“This is what most girls are taught—that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to disappear, but it’s something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we can resist surrendering to what is expected of us.”

And isn’t that the most real thing? We can’t disappear I refuse to let it happen to me or to anybody I love. In any case, this book is an essential read for anybody who wants to broaden their empathy because honestly, it really piqued my limits of empathy for the reasons I previously articulated. And I hope that you can muster the strength to read this book as well.

  • The Conqueror’s Saga by Kierstien White

These two books were the most violent books I read this year but also one of the best. They are a reimagining of the story of Vlad the Impaler if he was a girl named Lada and god, she is one of my favorite characters this year. Lada is feral, to say the least, physically and emotionally unreal in how violent she is but also unreal in how she loves, and love she does.The general plot is simple, Lada and her brother Radu are wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised by the Ottoman courts. Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright while Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. But then they met Mehmet and they both fall in love with him despite the fact he’s the heir to the kingdom Lada despises.  Her brother Radu is first of all, soft in every way that Lada is hard, entirely transforming the expectations of gender set forth by them but is also gay, completely in love with the sultan Mehmed, who is unfortunately in love with Lada who loves him back albeit in her own way that just causes pain for all involved. It’s a love triangle unlike any other because all three parties deeply love each other and are aware of their love for each other and at the same time, have no idea the scope of each other’s affection and respect for the other.

I couldn’t help but love this series and I absolutely tore through it but that being said, major trigger warnings for violence because while the sex is almost pure and downright romantic, the violence is nothing but extreme in comparison, think beheadings and stabbings and betrayal galore.

  • Problems by Jade Sharma

Easily my favorite book of the year, Jade Sharma, in Maya, wrote the book that speaks to the worst parts of my character. I finished it on the morning I had my first date with the guy who would become my boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend) who absolutely broke my heart and I can’t help but feel that I should have known. Maya rages against men, against white people, and I fully get it. The thing about Problems is that it’s “darkly humorous” in the best and worst ways possible. I laughed but felt bad in doing so because Maya is so FUCKED UP. She’s selfish and blatantly wrong in everything she does, she’s a downright terrible person who takes advantage of everybody else’s good will but at the same time, there’s something deeply relatable about her. There was a passage that I will remember for the rest of time and I’ll quote it here

“It’s not fair how you could be this white girl with a busted face and still be picked last in the gym class of life before all the pretty brown girls. It didn’t matter how smart and cool you were. All these chill liberal guys who were all PC but only wanted to put their cock in white girls. They could be unfair with their love and there wasn’t a damn thing you could do about it.

The whole world wants young white girls. 
You have to play dumb. Guys like being smart and funny. If you want to compete with white girls, the least you can do is learn to laugh at jokes, not make them up. To ask lots of questions and not tell stories.”

I mean GOD. I just feel a deep association with Maya and by extension Jade Sharma at this time because she says what I’ve been scared to because well, some of my best friends are white women. I deeply love them but I sometimes think they don’t get what it’s like to be a woman of color in a world that as Maya says, loves young white girls.

  • The Rules do not Apply by Ariel Levy

I don’t know how I felt about this book. I mean, I read the whole thing which is more than I can say for many others I attempted this year but at the same time I didn’t entirely enjoy it. There were parts of it and quotes from it that I really enjoyed but on the whole, I did not get the hype about it. An early quote that I earmarked (or rather highlighted in my Ebook) was “Nothing really bad could happen to me in my movie, because I was the protagonist.” I think that in general was Levy’s manner of thinking about the world which is a lot more unattractive in her than it is in myself if I’m being honest if not entirely fair. I don’t have it in me to critique Ariel Levy though because I think she is as self-aware as I am so she knows exactly what I’m going to say. She knows herself at her very best and her very worst so I think that I will refrain from adding to that in a way that is inappropriate at best if not downright heinous. I described this book to my father as a “lesbian motherhood memoir” and if that turns you off from reading it, I would entirely recommend that you pick it up. I’m glad I did in any case.







Perfect All-American Girl

Joan Didion is for American girls, so the saying goes. I’m American in the sense I’m an American sense but I’m about as un-American as you can possibly imagine. I was born in Mumbai, India, back when it was still Bombay and I have mixed feelings towards my homeland but I’m still inclined to call myself Indian rather than American. Anyway, I recently reread Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didon’s best (in my opinion) book of essays and read for the first time The Year of Magical Thinking and I was deeply content for a short while doing so. There was something comforting about reading the worst things that happened to somebody else that made me feel at peace, at least for a little bit.

Bethlehem is a collection of essays about California so to speak but it’s about more than that. Rather than writing on the whole book, I thought that I’d focus on my favorite essays in the book because I’d rather do them justice than to brush over important aspects of the book in general. My first essay that I loved in the book, even more than the eponymous one was “On Keeping a Notebook,” and it’s on, you guessed it, keeping a notebook. But really, it’s about so much more than that. The thing about keeping a notebook is that there’s a written record of who we were on a given day and the dissemination of a notebook demands that people care about us at our best and our worst. Didion writes,

“Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.”

Growing up, I’d keep notebooks but since I was 15, I’ve maintained a blog, which is different because it’s irrevocably public but at the same time, extremely private. I can say whatever I want on my blog but obviously, I maintain a modicum of privacy because I don’t want the world to know my deepest and darkest secrets. I feel the need to be remembered so to speak as well as to remember. I want to go back to a particular date and figure out who I was and what happened on a particular day because I want proof that what I did and what I said and who I am mattered on a large scale. Didion goes on to write that as Americans, we’re taught that we’re the least important people in the room, as Jessica Mitford’s governess hissed in her ear before she entered a room, and it takes years to stop thinking of ourselves in that manner. But the key word here is Americans, and I am not an American, at least not in the traditional sense.

The most important aspect of the notebook is the terminology of the “I” and that segues into the next and perhaps my favorite essay of them all, “On Self-Respect.” In it, Didion writes,

“Like Jordan Baker, people with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things. If they choose to commit adultery, they do not then go running, in an access of bad conscience, to receive absolution from the wronged parties; nor do they complain unduly of the unfairness, the undeserved embarrassment, of being named co-respondent. In brief, people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues. The measure of its slipping prestige is that one tends to think of it only in connection with homely children and United States senators who have been defeated, preferably in the primary, for reelection. Nonetheless, character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life—is the source from which self-respect springs.”

I absolutely love that passage. For the record, Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City fame does not have self-respect while Samantha Jones from the same program definitely does. Carrie is sleeping with Big while he’s married to Natasha and she’s in a relationship with Aiden and after their affair is discovered, Carrie attempts to go to Natasha, the wronged party in question, and receive forgiveness of a kind and thankfully, is spurned and promptly rejected. Like, what kind of message would it send if Carrie were forgiven? Not a good one I’ll tell you that. She was a grown ass woman sleeping with a taken grown ass man while she attached and there is no excuse for it. From a fictional standpoint, it’s fascinating how the showrunners attempted to make us as an audience sympathize with Carrie but personally, I think she got what she deserved, abject humiliation to say the least.

As for The Year of Magical Thinking, I read it very quickly and I don’t have much to say about it except this: grief is a funny thing and people process it differently. In Season 2, Episode 13 of Gossip Girl, the Upper East Side responds to the death of Bart Bass and his son Chuck is the most affected. Immediately prior to his father’s funeral, he gets extremely drunk, refusing help from his friends and lashing out at Dan Humphrey, expelling him from the church. Celia Rhodes, the grandmother of Serena Van der Woodsen, says “It’s his father’s funeral, he doesn’t have to make sense” to her granddaughter’s protestations that Chuck is being unfair to Dan. And I guess that is the crux of grief: it doesn’t make sense at all why bad things happen but yet they do, to good and bad people alike, and there is nothing we can do as human beings to prevent them from occurring. All we have at the end of the day is somebody to love us, hold us in their arms while The National plays in the background and I guess, that’s all I can really ask for.


On Life and Death and Pain Again

I deeply respect and appreciate A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara but I fundamentally can’t bring myself to enjoy or recommend it. It details the history of Jude St. James, complete with the extreme abuse he undergoes at an early age that cripples and expressly traumatizes him for his entire life. I cried so much reading the book, I would read a few pages and then scrunch up into a little tiny ball hiding my face in my knees because I couldn’t deal with the prospect of Jude being hurt even more than he already had been. The explicit descriptions of abuse that Jude undergoes and enacts on himself were side by side with depictions of extreme love and affection between Jude and his friends, his found family, and I felt a feeling of real whiplash reading it because I didn’t always know what I was supposed to feel at a particular time. But despite my love for the book, I couldn’t help but think, what if Jude had been Judy? It irks and frustrates me that the trauma of women, rape victims and sexual abuse victims and everything in between, is almost commonplace, as if it’s just what we should grow to expect being female. It’s as if the suffering of being a woman is a common coming of age narrative we all ought to come to terms with and it’s ultimately not worth writing about because somebody has probably done it before and probably done it better than we ever could.

There’s something very notable about being a woman who’s been in a lot of public pain- you start to realize that you can’t really escape the identity. I want people to take me seriously despite my experiences but at the same time, I want them to be valid portions of my past, things that I can bring up and discuss without fear of social retribution. I want people to stop asking me “Has your condition returned?” but I want them to be aware of its existence, not judge me but to understand me for what I’ve been through. The balance that has to be struck when writing about the wounded woman is between acknowledging the voyeurism associated with female pain but also realizing that no matter how reductive the image may seem, we must acknowledge the various needs and sufferings that yield pain and attack them at their cores instead of focusing on the unsavory ways they may be displayed. It’s almost as if my pain makes me all the more feminine, as if it’s a constraint for my womanhood to be in deep and unforgettable pain. I think about Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams and the continual trauma he witnesses and how it changes him, how he swears to God as a little boy that he will never die. I think about Hemingway himself and how much I can’t help but relate to him, his inability to escape from his own mind that eventually led to his sorry suicide. I deeply empathize with him and I love him in a way feminists on the Internet would scorn me for doing so but at the same time, I can’t help but think that men in pain are allowed to be more than their pain. Hemingway is still a great writer who committed suicide, Sylvia Plath is that woman who stuck her head in an oven and was probably a terrible mother to boot. Her writing is almost an afterthought despite its extensiveness and nuance. Men are allowed to be more than how they’ve been hurt, as women it feels like we’re scarred by what we’ve been through in a way that makes us anathemas. But the thing is, we’re never alone in our sorrow.

What I’m trying to say is that I can’t really deal with the lack of female characters in A Little Life despite its many merits. I have some questions about the book itself and the implications about literary fiction that it raises. Hanya Yanagihara is female but what does it say about literature that for a woman to be so lauded she must write about men? Are female issues and characters not enough? The Neapolitan novels are resolutely female but to what extent? They are about economics and social mobility as much as they are about the relationship between the two female protagonists. Moreover, I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the depiction of male versus female pain in the novel. We all know that I’m a huge proponent of “The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” but I’m just fixated on the portrayal of Jude’s pain compared to that of women in other sources. It just feels so extreme and I didn’t even read the whole thing, I just felt this overwhelming dread and I couldn’t bring myself to read something that I knew I would hate. I read the reviews, and I completed about 400 pages of the book but I stopped right before the bulk of the detailing of Jude’s abuse.

There’s also something strange about how the love that Jude inspires feels almost as a reward for the pain that he’s been through which I really fundamentally dislike and disapprove of. It’s really not a no sum game, it’s real life and it doesn’t work like that. Pain doesn’t make one a better or worse person, it just is and it’s horrific obviously but I don’t need the unequivocal lauding of Jude to tell me that. He didn’t bother me as a character but rather what he represented. I felt as if his pain was more important than that of other people and I dislike that notion. I compared his experiences to that of Theon Greyjoy in ASOIAF because the both of them undergo horrific torture and are forced to live with their pain. But the difference is that Theon was forced to compartmentalize his torture in order to survive, to help Jeyne Poole, while Jude wasn’t required to do so. In other words, I felt that Theon’s narrative was more blatantly truly feminine while Jude’s was almost a male impression of a female narrative if that makes sense. I got the impression that Yanagihara was trying to inspire empathy in her readers but it didn’t feel as if they’d truly have to try to care for Jude simply because of how abjectly pitiable he is. It wasn’t like Theon who committed such heinous sins and had to be truly forgiven in order to understand his storyline.

As for me, I’m conflicted in my pain though because on one hand, I believe it makes me special that I can see and feel such profound things about the world I live in. I know things about people that they never told me, I know who they’re sleeping with and why they hate who they hate even though they never told me. I can see it in their eyes, the way they move around and play with their hair, and I can’t be rid of the pictures in my mind no matter how much I might want to be. I can relate to other people who I have no overt connection with because pain is universal, I can empathize in ways that aren’t taught in the schools even though they ideally ought to be, and I have so much to give in a world that clearly needs it. But at the same time, I feel spent; my emotional labor is going unpaid and I feel like I’m suffering more and being rendered more pain than any I might cause or heal. I feel the pain of other people and it doesn’t feel remotely fair because honestly, I’m burdened with enough of my own. Am I being punished for what I’ve done to others? Am I being punished for how I’ve hurt myself? Nowadays, unlike in my past, I sort of deal with my pain in the ways that I’m supposed to, I read and I smile and I sleep, I dance and I laugh and I cry, but only in secret where nobody can see me rather than on public buses like I used to, yet nothing really takes it all away.

Despite everything I have forced myself to endure, my pain belongs to me because I have claimed it like no other, because I have resolved to take ownership of it for all that it’s worth. And I don’t know if Jude has that same frame of mind. I know it’s wrong to impose my ideas on how to deal with trauma onto others but sometimes I can’t really help it because it doesn’t feel natural or real. I don’t think the book was tragedy porn per but at the same time, it was too much for me. Maybe some day I will be able to handle it but right now, I’m too hurt on my own self to be able to stomach the ways that somebody else has been viscerally destroyed.

I think about the ugly ways we deal with pain, cutting and inhaling and breaking hearts, allowing our hearts to be broken in return. The faces of the people I’ve hurt flit rapidly through my mind, and I physically feel the lingering consequences of long-standing pain that I caused myself. I think at the end of the day, pain and trauma are neither transitive nor sustainable, but are bitingly human in their very existence and we cannot live without them. Every relationship is bolstered by pain, the remnants of what we used to be and what we are today, and what remains to be understood. Kendrick Lamar raps “A fatal attraction is common/and what we have common is pain” and he’s right in his assertion. It brings us together, it tears us apart, and it ultimately defines us with regards to who we are to be.


Hazy Rotten Musty Evenings

I guess I think a lot about girlhood and portrayals of it. Currently, I’m en route to India to see the family, and I just finished Emma Cline’s The Girls and Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me, and I have a lot to say about them both and not all of it is good. I feel a lot about the state of young girlhood because I’m finally, finally growing up past it and at the same time, I’m a little hesitant to critique any aspect of it because I don’t want to take away from what girls enjoy and take pride and joy in. It’s a thin line between critiquing something in a misogynistic manner and coming across a truly misogynistic piece of media and in these two books, I found myself exploring that line.

The Girls was honestly underwhelming. I was reading it on the plane and my mother was reading over my shoulder and we had the same reaction: “Why is this book so celebrated?” In particular, there’s this scene involving two underage girls having a threesome with a middle aged man and I literally couldn’t stomach reading that scene and I’m not somebody who regards herself as squeamish. That being said, the prose was absolutely lovely and it pains me to criticize it in such a manner because I truly believe that Emma Cline is capable of writing something much more original and much less sensational. She writes about love better than she writes about sex in my opinion or rather writes about the absence of love in people’s lives.

“The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get. The treacled pop songs, the dresses described in the catalogs with words like “sunset” and “Paris.” Then the dreams are taken away with such violent force; the hand wrenching the buttons of the jeans, nobody looking at the man shouting at his girlfriend on the bus.

But as for the rest of it, I’m so tired of reading about sex and drugs to be blunt about it. I’ve been around and I’ve seen it all, I’ve had sex, I’ve done drugs, and it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be but at the same time, it’s not the end of the world either. I’m not looking back on my days of rebellion with a dewy eye of “what could have been” but then again, I didn’t almost commit heinous acts of murder.

I got to thinking about why the book is being so celebrated among literary circles. I think it’s partially the prose itself is absolutely glorious that it’s easy to forget the plot is well, forgettable. There’s the wannabe stepfather and the rebellious teenage daughter and the well meaning but disgustingly oblivious mother and for what? There’s not a single person in the book I feel remotely positive towards and that includes Evie herself and I’m not one to disdain unlikable protagonists. She is unlikable in a pathetic way which well, isn’t appealing whatsoever when I look back on it, and I literally couldn’t stop myself from blaming her for the events that occurred although I know I’m fully wrong in doing so. Perhaps it’s my own biases that prevent me from truly empathizing with Evie, perhaps it’s that we aren’t intended to empathize with her as a rule. I just became increasingly angry with her that she still looked back on her days with Suzanne and Russell and the rest of them with almost a dewy eyed mentality and that fundamentally frustrated me. Then again, the end of the novel was a dead giveaway (no pun intended) so the suspense was almost nonexistent.

What personally most interested me about the book was the idea of sex as kind of this gross entity to be done solely for the sake of men. I mean, I never got the impression that Evie or really any of the girls in the book ever wanted to engage in any sexual activity except perhaps with each other and yet, it was a commonplace occurrence in their lives. The quote “All the books made it sound like the men forced the girls into it” is well and good, but the whole novel came across to me as if the girls really were forced into sex and I don’t know what to really believe. Is Evie an unreliable narrator unable to see when she’s really being taken advantage of? Or is sex to girls really just something to be done? Personally, I’m inclined to believe it’s the former but at the same time, I can’t shake the impression that it’s truly the latter and I’m just fooling myself.

Megan Abbot on the other hand, makes me believe in the concept of real adult novels about children, if that makes sense. I read the entirety of You Will Know Me in one sitting on an airplane and I well, I liked it. I mean like, liking a book to me is slightly an ambiguous concept because it’s impossible to say what you really like or dislike about it in such a simplistic statement. I found this particular novel far more predictable than her other works but I don’t think that’s really a bad thing. It was far better organized and plotted than The Fever although I think that both it and Dare Me were stronger novels in some way, in terms of how compelling they were. But, You Will Know Me had its charm. There were notable turns of phrase and it reminded me of a Jodi Picoult novel in the best of ways, the artistic decision to write the book from Katie’s perspective and the focus on adult politics when the subject or rather the object, Devon, is a young girl. I found the focus on family interesting because I’m very close to my family but I’d like to think we’re not nearly as toxic as the families explored in the novel. I am slightly proud to say that my parents value me too much to allow me to focus so wholeheartedly on something no matter how much I may love it.

And, while reading this book, I got to thinking about the sexualization of female gymnastics as well when I was reading this book and I don’t know, it fundamentally frustrates me. These are little girls whose bodies are being focused on to an almost extreme level and there’s literally no excuse for the way that people talk about them, the way that even their own parents discuss the girls and the progression of their lives. Their bodies don’t belong to them anymore, they’re a collection of limbs and muscles and skin and bone, glitter and sinew and satin leotards, and well, there’s a reason women’s gymnastics is one of the most watched sports in the Summer Olympics. But I think that I should refrain from commenting on it in detail because I am not part of the inner circle of competitive sports and I don’t and will never know the true details of it.

The only real criticism of the novel that I have is that the characters weren’t nearly as fleshed out as in Abbott’s other novels and it hurt the book in some ways. It was less scandalous, less dramatic, less “OMG” and I strangely enough could predict the twists long before they occurred. Perhaps I’ve read too much fiction, maybe I just know too much about the world as I see it for anything to truly be a surprise to me so I’m possibly biased. Katie in particular was very much a Jodi Picoult protagonist and again I say, I don’t mean that in a bad way. Thankfully there was no dramatic legal trail with background romance to distract form the main plot because I honestly don’t think I could have dealt with that. In particular, Dovon herself served as more of a symbol of a prodigy, of perfection, of something to be strived for and simultaneously feared rather than a character in herself. Even with regards to her relationship with Ryan, it didn’t feel as the sheer tragedy of the affair was about her, a teenage girl involved with a grown ass man but about how everybody else around her was affected by it. Although, perhaps that’s the point that Abbott was trying to make in including it.

I call this piece “Hazy Rotten Musty Evenings” because both these books encompass that part of adolescence we don’t really like to talk about. As I said, I think The Girls is a bit of overkill and overemphasis on the scandal element of it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it covers embarrassing, disgusting aspects of youth that nobody likes to consider even when looking back at their own lives. Everything is sort of vague and I think that is ironic given that You Will Know Me is about competitive gymnastics, which is such a precise sport. It reminded me of Abbott’s The End of Everything rather than The Fever or Dare Me, and I think it was all the stronger for it although as I pointed out, it does have its drawbacks. It has more of a crossover appeal, to adults as well as teenage girls and it didn’t hurt to read in the way I think it was supposed to. But again, I’m not a typical reader which I suppose is why you’re reading this blog in the first place.

The Age of Uninnocence

One of my favorite books of all time is Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Interesting fact: I wasn’t sure if Wharton was a man or a woman for the longest time and I still don’t know at the time I’m writing this and can’t be bothered to look it up. But I saw this post on Tumblr about how the woman of color is often the love interest who understands the protagonist better, but who’s openly morally ambiguous and presented as the “wrong choice” and often ends up dying. In other words, Marvel’s Daredevil, with Elektra Natchios and Karen Page. I got to thinking about women who are always the wrong choice, who don’t get the guy, and I settled on Ellen Olenska from The Age of Innocence, played by Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1993 film.

But Ellen Olenska is someone to write home about. She isn’t described as beautiful but attractive in the way one can’t help but care about her, a divorcee in a time when divorce was entirely unacceptable for a woman, and in my opinion, one of the most memorable characters in English literature. Alana Massey wrote about what it’s like to be a Winona in a world made for Gwyneths and Ellen is the Winona in question while May, Archer’s fiancé, is the Gwyneth. But as Massey realizes, life isn’t exactly easier if you’re a Gwyneth but merely different. I’m not a Winona or a Gwyneth because I encompass ideals from both sides of the debate, I’m a Dhaaruni, but if I had to choose, I guess I’d be a Winona, dark haired and lissome, and entirely the wrong choice, or so it seems.

I don’t regard myself as particularly a bad choice romantically, but I feel that in the past, I’ve often been regarded as such. “I’m the girl you’ll die for/She’s the girl who’ll die for you” in the terms of both Marina Diamandis and Dhaaruni Sreenivas. I mean let’s be real, I’m an Ivy League educated, etiquette class attending rich girl with long pretty hair and flowy tops and bright pink nails. Not really a dangerous choice. But there’s something to me that drives people away and I’m well aware of it. I’m sharp in more ways than one and well aware of it, slightly too thin for it to be natural, and inclined to lash out when I’m hurt, all qualities that aren’t ideal in a good wife. My friend Ben used to say that as men grew up, I’d become more and more attractive as a partner because of what I had to offer to them, a real brain and a wholly empathetic persona but I’m still waiting for that day. I used be wholly stressed out that I wasn’t girlfriend material despite spending far too much of my life as a girlfriend, but I’ve grown to not embrace it exactly but come to terms with it. I’m a person like no other and I’m okay with who I’ve grown up to be, good wife or not.

Society is an important subject in The Age of Innocence. I’m not entirely society obsessed because I’ve never been good at fitting into it but it’s always fascinating to me. Wharton writes,

“In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs […] quite as, in the books on Primitive Man that people of advanced culture were beginning to read, the savage bride is dragged with shrieks from her parents’ tent.”

In other words, Wharton attempts to take an anthropological outlook on New York society. It’s so incisive and insidious, and feels impossible to escape because of its power but Archer almost does it for his love for Ellen. Gossip Girl takes on The Age of Innocence in the form of a school play in Season 2, and it’s entirely apt. The modern adaptation of being constantly watched by an unseen force, unable to escape society’s pull and ultimately, the choosing of love over what’s dictated. That’s what makes Gossip Girl work at least to a point, the unconditional love between Blair and Serena especially but also between Chuck and Nate, and the prioritization of each other over what society expects of them. Anne Boleyn chose love and got her head chopped off for it and her daughter Elizabeth I remained unmarried for her country but Blair Waldorf chooses love again and again, and survives for it because she’s stronger than what is expected of her. I mean, it’s not a perfect metaphor because Dan Humphrey is no Newland Archer but the point remains sound.

The love in the novel is real though, especially between Archer and Ellen but it’s eternally destined to fail because of the time and place where they live. “We can’t behave like people in novels, though, can we?” But I was asking the entire time, why not? I cried while reading The Age of Innocence because it made no sense to me when I was 16 why they couldn’t just be together. I’m older now and wiser, I get it but it doesn’t make me any less disappointed. It’s entirely romantic to me, that they can’t be together and Wharton writes better love scenes involving a kiss on the wrist than any romance novel writer with sex and hands everywhere galore. “I swear I only want to hear about you, to know what you’ve been doing. It’s a hundred years since we’ve met-it may be another hundred before we meet again.” I mean, I can’t imagine loving somebody that much, or well, I can but pretend I can’t because it hurts too much to think about it. Either way, I think that it’s a perfect novel to read as a couple if only to give thanks that in this modern age, we’re not constrained by society in that manner, or are we still?

We live in a society that prioritizes male preferences over female needs and that won’t change for a long time. I mean, one day love may prevail but on the whole, I don’t have faith in it. I will take on the position society has dictated for me and so will they, the men that I have the misfortune to fall in love with and that’s just the way things go. But sometimes, I hope, I pray, I anticipate that there could be more to it all but I don’t really have faith in it, at least not anymore. I’ll keep you posted though.

With a Little Help From My Friends

I’m a girl who wouldn’t be where she is without the unconditional support from my female friends. I can’t bring myself to list them all because it hurts me to think about some of them and there are too many of them to count, but I wanted to write about Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and Rufi Thorpe’s The Girls From Corona del Mar because those relationships have been some of the most formative in my life. I’ve been very much in love before but when that went south it was the girls (and boys) who I platonically love who got me through it all.

Elena Ferrante is regarded as the foremost writer of female friendship today. I’ll be honest though, I read My Brilliant Friend and simply wasn’t driven to read the other novels in the Neapolitan series. I mean don’t get me wrong, I loved Lila but at the same time, I found Elena herself almost mundane in comparison. People who are wiser than me love these books because apparently that’s reality- there are women who write and who get things done and there are the women who are written about. And I don’t know how I feel about that sentiment. Elena sometimes didn’t seem real to me, not a caricature exactly but rather a construction of what Ferrante believed a relatable protagonist was like. But I didn’t, I couldn’t relate to her. Instead I kept on wondering what was going on inside Lila’s head because she was both more ambiguous and yet, made more logical sense to me.

Ferrante writes:

“Although she was fragile in appearance, every prohibition lost substance in her presence. She knew how to go beyond the limit without ever truly suffering the consequences. In the end, people gave in, and were even, however unwillingly, compelled to praise her.”

I’m not going to come out and say that I’m a “Lila” and not an “Elena” because I’m not interested in simplifying the very complicated nuances of my personality to that degree but perhaps I am not the target audience for these novels or really for any novel. I’m too much, too intelligent, too self-aware, too beautiful to be thinking so much, or at least that’s what the boys say. The thing is, girls like Lila aren’t supposed to waste their time reading novels written about them because they’re like Chuck Bass, “People like me don’t read books, they’re written about.” But as somebody with such a profound level of anxiety, I can’t help but be obsessed with what people are saying about me. Do they want me? Do they love me? Do they understand me? Sadly enough, the answer to all those questions is usually no, but at the same time, they love watching me because I’m entertaining, funny without meaning to be. I’m a show, not a person and that makes me strangely sad but I’ve learned to embrace it to some degree.

I think that the value in the Neapolitan novels isn’t in the characterization itself though but on the observations that Ferrante makes about society and its structure. Italy in the 1970s is a different world than what we live in today but some things remain the same. My favorite quote from the novel is as follows:

“They were more severely infected than the men, because while men were always getting furious, they calmed down in the end; women, who appeared to be silent, acquiescent, when they were angry flew into a rage that had no end.”

I really value women’s anger but Ferrante is unequivocally right. We have been stifled and put down for literally thousands of years we’ve been forced to learn to fight in different ways. Addison Montgomery says it in Grey’s Anatomy: “Oh I intend to fight like a girl. I’ll let them kill each other and then I’ll be the only one left standing.” Things are different if we want to be successful and well, alive and thriving as women. We don’t want to abandon our gender but at the same time, we want to be taken seriously. It’s a conundrum faced by our foremothers and unfortunately, I’m no closer to finding an answer to the problem than they were.

The Girls From Corona Del Mar is in a way an answer to the Neapolitan novels but it’s different, and in my opinion, simpler but harder than them as well. I mean it’s possible to sum it up as two girls’ coming of age story but it’s also just wrong to do so. I preferred the beginning of the novel to the end but at the same time, looking at the novel as an entity I become much sadder than I was as I read it. I don’t really know why that is. Mia and Lorrie Ann are both relatable in different ways and at times, as the reader, I wanted to grab them both by the shoulders and shake them because what they were doing made no logical sense. I’m especially referring to Mia’s abortion but also the events leading up to it. As with many other books featuring young girls, I wrung my hands at their life decisions because in my mind, so much of their pain could have been avoided if they just sat down and thought about what they were going to do before doing it. But then, on retrospect, their age played such a huge role in the events in their lives I was perhaps judging them too harshly.

Lorrie Ann in particular though struck me as somebody who was old from a young age, someone who never got the chance to grow up properly. As it says,

“It wasn’t that Lorrie Ann was becoming a Goody Two-shoes. It wasn’t that she wanted to be perfect or loved or approved of. No.

She wanted something much more dangerous. She wanted meaning. And she thought it could be gotten by following the rules.”

That particular passage was something I marked because I’m the same way although I’m disinclined to respond the same way. I became self-destructive in my search for meaning. I drank a lot, I smoked cigarettes, and I didn’t love myself because I didn’t see the point of it. Nowadays, I’m different, more solid and safe but not the least bit complacent and I like who I’ve become. But I had the chance to grow up because I didn’t do anything unfixable like Lorrie Ann did; I could erase my past mistakes and start all over, which is what I’m in the process of doing. The fact remains though, I’m still in search for meaning and I’m scared that if I think too deeply again like I used to, I will revert to my past antics and so, I refrain from thinking too deeply. I put my nose to the grindstone, I work and I work and I work, I don’t think if I can avoid it about what I can’t understand, and things are okay. They have to be.

Female friendship is such a complicated topic and it’s been discussed to excess in recent times. Everybody and their mother has an opinion on Taylor Swift’s squad (I couldn’t care less who she chooses to be friends with and I refuse to put effort into evaluating whether her friendships are calculated), on the nature of cliques and what it all means for feminism. But I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy lately and in my opinion, nothing exemplifies true friendship more than the relationship between Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang. They’re each other’s person, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Real friendship is simple, like real romantic love is as well. Everything else than isn’t real friendship, or real love is what’s complicated and what makes us fixate and obsess to an extreme degree. In the words of Jacob Clifton,

“Real love doesn’t make you act crazy. The reason we act crazy when we are infatuated is because we want it to be real so badly — we want to jump over the distance of time that makes real love what it is. That’s the trick of romance: The crazy infatuation love is so much brighter and turns so many more corners so quickly. Much more exciting than the real thing. But real love, at its finest, makes you feel like you are bursting open, like this: Like hearing a beautiful song, or reading a beautiful poem, or hearing a wonderful story, and the tears come and you don’t know precisely why. It doesn’t hurt; it hurts in a way that isn’t hurting, that we don’t have a word for. Largeness. Enormity. It takes a real strength, a real grace, to stand up straight in the face of that. Especially if you’re not familiar with it.”

If I remember right, Clifton is talking about Blair Waldorf and Serena Van Der Woodsen, another example of true love. Or friendship or whatever, since they’re basically the same thing when it comes down to it. But honestly, what I’m trying to say here is that as a species, we seem to overcomplicate this whole friendship thing, and I’m including authors like Ferrante and Thorpe in this. There can be relationships between complicated women that are simple, rooted in love and in nothing else. And I don’t know why everything has to be analyzed to death in order to be considered valid.

But I ask you to consider, what makes female friendships tick? From Meredith and Cristina to Carrie and Samantha to Blair and Serena, why are they so important to us and why do we believe that they say so much about society as a whole? Even Jane Austen said that friendship is the only balm to the pangs of disappointed love but is that what all our female friends are good for? To bitch about the boys who don’t love us? I’m over simplifying but you know what I mean.

All I know is that I love my girls to an extreme degree. I can tell them anything, their approval is more important to me than the approval of men, even men whom I love, and my relationships with them are forever. We can not talk for months on end, and it’s all okay in the end and I have faith in those relationships. But I feel as if I need to be more complicated sometimes as a woman, as if I’m behaving more like a stereotypical guy. To me though, it’s simple: love and let love. And that’s that.

We Can’t Stand the Thought of Watching Ourselves Die Out

I talk the big talk about reading books by and for young women because we’re the majority minority, starved for representation as not beautiful creatures but as human beings and I’ve read my share of absolutely horrendous literature, which is why I’m so excited about this pair of books I’m reviewing. Amy Zhang was a high schooler from Sheboygan, Wisconsin when she wrote “Falling Into Place,” a stalwart mediation on life and death and what it means to be an adolescent girl in this era, and Brandy Colbert wrote “Pointe” which contains what might be my absolute favorite teenage girl protagonist of all time.

I hate physics and “Falling Into Place” is all about physics, the laws that govern our very movement from the moment we wake up in the grey morning light to the moment we fall asleep at the end of the day. Force equals mass times acceleration, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For somebody who has taken a sum total of three years of physics, it’s downright embarrassing that it’s all I really remember, that the lighter I am, the faster I have to be in order to accomplish what I want and I want so very much, too much. I must be wittier and darker and quicker and play the game of life better than anybody else since I’m so small and thin and fragile, inclined to fall apart at the first hard touch I don’t expect. Liz is not a sympathetic protagonist, but none of the good ones ever are because on the whole human beings are not sympathetic when we know their every ticking thought. We’re mean and petty and selfish, strong and weak in all the wrong ways and somehow eternally wrong in our constructions in a world that doesn’t really seem to be meant for us.

What does it mean to be a bitch? I hate using that word because it feels ugly, and I think it’s supposed to be no matter how blasé it’s become in common culture. This novel explores what it means to be a bitch, to be unfaithful and disrespectful and to not care in a way that bypasses the posit of not caring; “Liz discovered bitchiness, decided selfishness was essential to survival, and became the person she would come to hate. But that was okay, because everyone else acted the same way.” It’s so hard to toe the line between being righteously self centered and wrongfully self-involved and so much of adolescence is coming to that balance, and I personally often erred too far on either side and I paid for it. My personal favorite character in the novel was Julia though because although I’m in reality a combination of Julia and Liz, my best qualities are personified in Julia, “She was a little too smart, a little too graceful, a little too conscientious for this hammered crowd.”

I have a tendency when I’m drunk to be an exaggerated version of myself so it’s never as if I’m a different person but merely inclined to act when I otherwise would snarkily comment on the sidelines. My friend says I’m always nice to girls except if I have good reason not to be and excruciatingly polite but baseline flirtatious to boys, which unfortunately makes them believe I’m in love with them. (Spoiler alert: I’m usually not and if I were, I’d never even deign to speak to them because I’m too proud, read: cowardly, to approach them even for the sake of possible happiness.) In that way, I’m almost a Kennie, “She’s the kind of person who says things that make jaws drop. She likes it when people stare and talk and judge, because it means that someone is always thinking about her.” Or rather I used to be because these days, I’m nicer and calmer and sweeter not because it’s expected of me but because it’s more relaxing for me to not face the umbrage of hate I previously endured for speaking my mind. It’s a form of growing up, and at 21, I’ve realized it’s not a good trait to casually call myself a bitch in the way that means I unequivocally hurt others with and without meaning to because I must coexist with all 7 billion people on this planet and it is better for the health of me and those around me that I at least try to play nice. It’s a novel state of being, and I enjoy it.

“Pointe” was to be quite blunt about it, one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read as both as someone recovering from an eating disorder and as someone who’s a young woman who has learned first hand just how difficult and hurtful men can be on an individual level. The protagonist is a young black ballerina named Theo who had an affair with a grown man when she was only 13 years old, and suffered from trauma induced anorexia after he abandoned her and kidnapped her best friend Donovan. Chris lied about his identity to a precocious 13-year-old Theo, plying her with compliments to her maturity and grooming her in a way that befits only the rapist he was rather than the loving boyfriend he was playing at being, and it was quite surely, chilling in the reality of it. I went through the Goodreads reviews which were, predictably enough, reeking of sexism and racism because how dare a traumatized teenage protagonist show signs of her trauma, compartmentalizing and focusing on silly teenage drama rather than the main issue plaguing her mind, how dare she return to her previous anorexic behavior when faced with the reemergence of the man who triggered her into it in the first place? It says something that the worst thing Theo actually does is sleep with a boy with a girlfriend, not ideal obviously, but absolutely paltry compared to grooming and raping a girl and yet, Theo receives more criticism for the former than Chris does for the latter.

I personally found the dichotomy between Theo’s affection for Hosea and her fixation on Chris to be highly telling, since clearly, her experiences haunted her making her almost unfit for a proper relationship, which she seems well aware of. I didn’t get the impression she even wanted to date Hosea, because she was a very smart girl; she knew she wasn’t ready for it but she was still inclined to sleep with him because she needed somebody and sex is complicated enough to simplify things. At least that’s what it feels like as a confused teenager. But, I can tell you first hand that it never fixes things because sex is never just sex because we have sex with people and even if the sex itself doesn’t matter, the people we have sex with do matter, and we can’t simply forgo humanity just because we’d rather be inhuman and invincible. There was a quote from “Falling Into Place” that I think is appropriate here because substance abuse is the same as sex when it comes down to it, “She could feel the alcohol in her blood, making the world oddly delicate, as though everything had turned brittle and was on the verge of falling apart and Liz Emerson was the only substantial thing on the planet. And it was nice, being invincible.” The tragic part is though, we’re not God, and as somebody that tried to play God for a while as a teenager, it only causes more trouble.

Obviously, the novel is also important in that like “How to Get Away With Murder” on television, it grants the emotional nuance of a white man to a black female protagonist. Theo’s eating disorder was chillingly relatable because like Marya Hornbacher emphasizes in “Wasted,” anorexics never entirely starve. Instead we pick at our food and develop “quirks” that grow increasingly disturbing, only eating fruit for lunch, scraping the inside out of bagels for breakfast, substituting dinner with an energy bar and coffee because we’re studying since anorexics are often high-achieving and competitive to an unhealthy extreme. By deriding eating disorders as poor little rich (white) girl problems, we refuse to acknowledge the diversity of those who suffer from them, rich white girls yes, but also middle class black girls and upper middle class Indian girls because the trauma is universal especially when the world that inspires it isn’t as exclusive as it would like to think of itself. “Trisha is tall and thin, but not the type of thin that makes people want to send you away” is how Theo describes her classmate because those who face a sense of dysmorphia don’t ever really escape from it without actively trying to, since it squats down and festers in every pore of us and refuses to leave. Everything is about thinness, even when it isn’t, and the most tragic aspect of it is the world almost lauds that behavior as a sign of moral self control impossible for mere mortals.

Most of all, Theo isn’t villainized by the narrative the way a lesser author might have derided her because it’s her story and her story matters. She is a victim but she’s not victimized in a voyeuristic way, and she doesn’t win per se but she’s not punished for her sins the way some of detractors on Goodreads would have liked her to be. She doesn’t get the guy but the guy doesn’t deserve her and he knows it; teenage boys make mistakes and they often don’t suffer the consequences for them the way that teenage girls do because society pinpoints and targets girls for the insecurities and magnifies them solely because it can. The most empowering passage I’ve possibly ever read comes from this novel and despite every miserable, harrowing, cringe-worthy thing that happened in this novel, I had to smile when I read it.

“He cared about me but not enough. Hosea said I was special, but words don’t mean anything without the actions to back them up. And maybe I am special, but it’s not because he said so.”

If I could get every single young woman to read one passage, it would be that one. I’m not going to sit on my soapbox and pretend the opinion of boys doesn’t matter because it often does but more than anything, people have to work to earn respect, they have to work to earn love. In the words of Toni Morrison,

“You do not deserve love regardless of the suffering you have endured. You do not deserve love because somebody did you wrong. You do not deserve love just because you want it. You can only earn – by practice and careful contemplations – the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it.”

In other words, words are wind, they disappear into thin air, but people don’t forget what you do for them and how you treat them so make it count.

            These two novels are both relatively short reads, I read them both in one sitting on weekday evenings, and I read fast, but their length and nuance are not related. They both remained with me in ways that thousand page novels did not because their characterization and thematic structure was both impressive and relatable without being pedantic or reproachful. Teenagers drink and fight and do drugs and fall in and out of love and those are facts of life and refusing to acknowledge them in books supposedly targeted to teenagers does nobody any good. I wholeheartedly recommend both and if you read them, please let me know what you think because I’m always interested in talking about books and these were some of my favorites in 2015.

I Changed My Mind, Now I Feel Different

I keep on thinking about that article which discusses the prevalence of the first person narrative in the age of the Internet. I fundamentally cannot be vulnerable and brave in that way to write about the worst things that have happened to me, and I don’t think it’s fair that it’s expected of me as a writer even in this day and age. I value my privacy in a way that seems contradictory given the nature of what I fall back to writing about on my personal blog and on here, and I’ve been reading books that pique my deepest fears and express some of my most open secrets that I still will refuse to openly discuss. In 2015, I have read 99 books so far, one away from my goal of 100 and in the last few months, my concentration has shifted away from fantastical escape and morbidity to something more about self-actualization, what is most personal to me and what strikes me as most important in my emotional growth. I read all the books that are on the top 10 lists (and hated some of them in turn) but I also seek out the books that I know were written with me in mind, and not only the me of the present who is far more stable and balanced than I ever have been but the me of my past who was nothing if not a wreckage with sharp glass pieces sticking out waiting to explode. I read Marya Hornbacher’s “Wasted” and Kate Zambreno’s “Green Girl” in the last month and the former was surprisingly enough a more engaging read than the latter albeit far more difficult to read on an emotional level.

“Wasted” was written when Marya Hornbacher was 23 and is the account of her decade long struggle with anorexia and bulimia. When reading the reviews of it, I was slightly put off by the criticism that she came across as not being entirely over her illness because to me, the fact she was still struggling with made it all the more poignant. When it comes to chronic mental illnesses like eating disorders, what is all the more bolstering than the rosy diagnosis story is the tale of survival because life doesn’t end with a label, and it has to go on after the dust settles and the well wishers dissipate and all you’re left with is the “crazy girl” label. I don’t know what’s really wrong with me with regards to my eating habits since I’ve never had a formal diagnosis which has been an utter relief to me when attempting to not discuss it. I’m not anorexic because I was never thin enough to fall under the criteria even though I was barely eating, and I was one of those stereotypical figures at risk for an eating disorder, upper middle class, pretty, and in the words of Hornbacher “Extreme people, highly competitive, incredibly self-critical, perfectionistic, tending towards excess” all of which look they were written precisely about my during certain terrible times in my life.

I was both an extreme control freak and absolutely terrified of not having an out, which leads to acting out in ways that are both inappropriate and dangerous for my health. As Hornbacher says, those who are most susceptible to eating disorders are both high achieving and competitive but will also quit without warning because they are terrified of being found out and they are terrified of being reproached for their behavior which they’re well aware is wrong. It’s not as if they’re children, unaware that they’re hurting themselves, they simply reason that they’re doing it for a reason, to be beautiful or more in control and the voice inside their head goes ignored. The reason that eating disorders are so dangerous is that they are not only an exercise in control but also a self-imposed suicide in a way that is resolutely refusing to call itself as such. When it comes to cutting or other physical forms of self-harm, there are physical signs people are not okay with themselves, but with eating disorders, it often takes time for others to notice, and thinness is so pervasive in our society, people are even lauded for their behavior. There is no precise recovery for an eating disorder, like pills for bipolar disorder or depression or surgery for other physical ailments, because it takes the subject to make the conscious decision that they don’t want to die anymore, which is easier said then done when it’s not even a habit, but abjectly a lifestyle.

“Green Girl” is about a different type of malaise although it goes hand-in-hand with the gory destruction of eating disorders and their after effects discussed in “Wasted.” Zambreno’s work took me some time to get through, surprising in that it’s such a short narrative and it was almost boring to me despite the interest I have in the subject material. There was a certain discomfort I had in reading the novel though because it seemed so akin to my frustrations with womanhood and femininity, all of the same struggles I have with control in my own personal life. There is a decided feeling of being watched all of the time when you’re a woman and feeling obligated to fixate on the image of things, how they were and how they seem and how they ought to be, and that’s what this novel conveys.

“The green girl necessarily pines for the past, because the present is too uncomfortable to be present in and the future, unimaginable. The need to long, to desire that which she cannot have, that which has eluded her, because she deceives herself that it was this person, this chance, where she would have found happiness.”

I was obsessive about people from my past, former lovers and old best friends I’d now cross the street to avoid, and it fundamentally wasn’t healthy for my own self-esteem or in turn even my physical health. I grew so angry with it that I deactivated a lot of my social media, my Facebook and my Instagram in particular because I didn’t want to be eternally comparing the worst parts of my life to the best parts of other people’s. So what if some girl gets 200 likes on her profile picture and I only got 75? I shouldn’t be panicking about things like that but yet I was, and I saved myself from that turmoil by removing myself from the narrative. I have my Twitter and my blogs but they’re more of a study in my mind and not in my body and face so they feel more in my control; I like my face and my body most of the time but still, they’re not my entire being.

The book “Green Girl” is about being watched, during our best and our worst. “She is such a trainwreck. But that’s why we like to watch. The spectacle of the unstable girl-woman. Look at her losing it in public.” And I was that girl once, we all were that girl at different times in our life unless we have been extraordinarily lucky, and we almost want to see other people fall down because we are never entirely aware of their own fallacies and insecurities and we only see what they want us to see. Sometimes it isn’t even that people like to watch other people fall; they like to watch others fall and skin their knees and force themselves to get up, wincing all the while because pain is what defines our humanity and pain is what makes us relatable, or so we assume. The question at hand was uncomfortably the same question that society asks women with eating disorders, “Were you trying to kill yourself or just get a reaction?” To this day, I don’t particularly know what the answer is because it feels like the only response was “both;” I wanted to be understood in my multitudinous but I also wanted to be left alone, free to stew in my own self-destruction.

It was fortuitous that I came to the realization that my lifestyle wasn’t sustainable or healthy in the long term, and I abided by that realization unlike many others. I regress and I move forward in equal amounts sometimes, and it feels like my progress is stagnant but I’m still alive and I intend to remain so which is a lot more than I used to be able to say about myself. I keep on telling myself “Things will be okay, and if they’re not okay, it’s not the end, it’s the low point of my story and there will be some metaphorical fairy godmother or twist of fate, because I’m not allowed to have a miserable ending, because that is not what I’m meant for.” It’s a borderline immature line of thought but it works at keeping me motivated and sometimes, that’s all that I can ask for from myself.

I’m a Girl in a World in which my Only Job is to Marry Rich

In the last few weeks, I completed Candice Bushnell’s “Sex and the City” and began a full rewatch of the show. Sex and the City is weird. I understand why it was so much a part of the Zeitgeist but it holds up strangely in that details of Carrie Bradshaw and her friend’s lives are often unrelatable and even obscure but the underlying sentiments remain constant over the passage of time. I’m conflicted on the phenomenon as a whole because I agree with a lot of the criticism that it is a slice of white, wealthy Manhattan that refuses to acknowledge differences in race or class or sexuality but I enjoy it more than I probably should with my highly honed protofeministic sensibilities. Everybody who I’ve told that I’m watching it gave me a look, either physically or metaphorically, because I’m supposedly intelligent or something and I should know better than to immerse myself in the problems of a child woman in her 30s from a decade and a half ago.

Candice Bushnell’s original work is dry and sharp and witty, and sounds like how I would write a gossip column if I wrote one. It’s brittle in its beauty, like the Upper East Side WASP mother who drinks an excessive amount of wine and tells her burgeoning womanizer of a teenage son he won’t amount to anything more than what he achieves, cementing his future treatment of women for decades to come. The book initially comes across as almost reveling in the lack of love in modern society because love does nothing but make fools of the men and women weak enough to succumb to it, filled with gems like “These days, everyone has friends and colleagues; no one really has lovers – even if they have slept together.” The underlying sentiment of the book seems to be that battle of the sexes won’t ever end because men and women both ultimately desire companionship and in some way, the women who admit to it are far braver than their lovers who would never deign to confess their true feelings. In fact, maybe that’s the thesis of the book: men are weak.

I feel about Sex and the City similar to how I feel about Gossip Girl, although I’ll admit, I have a greater attachment to the latter due to the inimitable Blair Waldorf and her tendency to dig herself into deeper and deeper holes because of her own selfishness and tendency to lash out. The difference between Sex and the City and Gossip Girl is that Gossip Girl comes across as a lot more aware than Sex and the City, with its opulence not regarded as the norm but odd and obscure to be ogled at and not the ideal or expected of humanity. In reality, no newspaper columnist could afford Carrie’s show closet and it was an example of voyeuristic glamour that wasn’t really held up as such. However, both of the series owe their success to the snippets of deep humanity that eke their way through the materialism and the commercialism and pettiness that characterize the bulk of the series, and perhaps because I’m younger, I relate to Gossip Girl more than I do to Sex and the City. That being said, I have a lot of appreciation for Carrie Bradshaw herself because most of all, she’s so profoundly flawed that I can’t begin to defend her but I see kinship in her because she shares some of my worst qualities.

The thing that made Sex and the City tick was Carrie Bradshaw. In the intro to the show, she’s portrayed as the two worst things that a woman can be, a child in her frilly tutu skipping the streets of New York City, and a sexpot, clad in a sexy dress on a public bus. She doesn’t come across as aware or in control of either identity but driven by the world around her because she doesn’t really know what she wants so she has no idea how to get it. On one hand she craves love, but she refuses to work for it like I did when I was 16 because she’s never been denied what she wants and it shows in her behavior. Not to mention, for all the talk about sex on the show, the sex scenes themselves are profoundly unerotic because they always are overanalyzed to the brink of exasperation. If two people have sex in a forest and never talk about it, did they really have sex? The ultimate drive of shows like Sex and the City or Gossip Girl for that matter are the underlying mantras of what makes human beings tick and what we ultimately care about it other people, what they do and don’t do and what it means when they fail to measure up in a million ways. It matters because we force ourselves to care and that’s the beauty of watching women get worked up about things that ought not to be issues in an ideal world, but as we all know, our world is far from ideal.

And of course, then there’s Mr. Big. I went into the book and show expecting to loathe him because he would surely offend my long-standing moralistic sensibilities but I liked him, possibly because I was so often frustrated with Carrie and her behavior. Big looks like someone I used to be involved with, and he probably is an older version of him character wise as well but if anything, that ought to prejudice me further against him. I’m not justifying his infidelity which Carrie was an active participant in if we have to get nitpicky, but there’s something to be said for the critiques of emotional unavailability that are so often thrust onto men like him that I don’t fully agree with. I don’t think that as women we can expect those whom we love to be eternally available to us because they’re human beings who have the right to privacy of their bodies and their minds. Of course in intimate relationships, those lines are blurred, but the things that Carrie does, scoping out his ex wife in a false publishing meeting, abandoning him at a society party she feels insecure at, are not the behaviors of a grown woman. But, the possible difference between Carrie and I is that I have been very much in love before and I got out my crazy in my teens so now, I tend to be significantly more withholding regarding love than I ever was before.

The mistake that Carrie makes in Sex and the City is that she dates a man who she can never initially be herself around, all neurotic ephemeral glory. She says it herself, “I’m not like me. I’m, like, Together Carrie. I wear little outfits: Sexy Carrie and Casual Carrie. Sometimes I catch myself actually posing. It’s just—it’s exhausting.” But what she misses is that he never really expects it of her, at least not to the extent she prepares herself for. Big to me always seemed very affectionate to Carrie, truly liking her in a way that I never would have believed had I not read the book or watched the show. It’s strange but as women, I believe we refuse to believe that we deserve affection to the point we forgo it even when it’s actively given. It’s hard for men to be vocal about their feelings but it’s hard for women as well and that’s why I always had a lot of appreciation for Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy who always spoke her mind even to her own utter pitiful heartbreak. We should take a page from her book and it would probably avoid a lot of the miscommunication that characterizes so many of modern relationships.

The rest of the women in the show, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda are interesting to me in how they differ from Carrie herself and also how they’re variations on stereotypes that are so tried and true they remain relevant to this day. Samantha reminds me of my friend Lora in a way because they’re both the person I would approach when I mess up in some big unfixable way because as humans, we tend to do that sometimes. Charlotte remains the only woman of the core four that I think men would be able to stomach because she’s the most traditional and most conventionally attractive but at the same time, she’s also the most difficult to imagine spending a life with because at least at the beginning, she never sees beyond the aesthetic of the matter, which isn’t a flaw in in of itself but ends up emotionally crippling her until she learns to grow past it. Miranda might be my favorite on an objective level because unlike the rest of the women, she rarely does anything wrong but still suffers for the sake of being female and of a certain age. She’s a high powered lawyer who does everything right but faces the most trauma regarding marriage and children that nobody ought to go through and her struggles are played up for laughs but I wasn’t really laughing after a time.

In fact, I think that would be the thesis of the show. No matter how beautiful or brilliant or sexy you are, no matter how rich, men will always deign to treat women like complete and utter shit just because they can. They will lie and cheat and act like children because as women, we’re scared by society into believing the most important thing we can be is a wife or girlfriend and so, once we’re in that position, we will do anything to stay in it. It’s a power thing first and foremost. But what Sex and the City did differently than other shows is that it told women that they didn’t have to stand for it, that there was more than being the doormat. Women’s sexual pleasure used to be a taboo and it still is even in 2015 but moreover, what’s the taboo that I can’t seem to get past is what women truly want including sex but also beyond it, in relationships and in love and life. I said a while ago that it made me sad that I knew so many girls who had sex when they didn’t truly want to and it makes me sad that grown women continue to do so. Maybe by my daughters’ adulthood, the gap between the sexes will have been reduced but at this rate, I’m not sure if it’s even possible because it’s not me who suffers from it that is causing the divide but the men who enforce it, and I am not remotely for it.

My Gift to the World is my Capacity to Love

I don’t write about love. Well, that’s a lie. I write about loving my parents, I write about loving my friends, but I don’t like writing about romantic love because I’m a coward. In my post today, due to the complete awesomeness of gay marriage being legalized throughout the United States, I want to talk about Jeanette Winterson’s books “Gut Symmetries” and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. The former is a love affair told in three, and the latter, the latter is a story of a life that seems miraculously unreal but is about love as much as anything else.

In “Gut Symmetries”, Winterson writes,

“The human heart is my territory. I write about love because it’s the most important thing in the world. I write about sex because often it feels like the most important thing in the world.”

My problem is that my fear overrules my love. I value my privacy such that I want the details of my vulnerability to be silenced because I like to believe I’m a person who is strong in a way that others are not. I can discuss love in a detached, forthright manner but to name names, to draw on specific hurtful details of past relationships, that’s where my cowardliness comes in. I have this sinking feeling that once I write something down, it becomes irrevocably true; I’ve written long text messages and emails to people whom I loved, and they went unreplied but in some twisted way I won because I said what they never could. But, the contents of those messages are private and I would never dare share them on a public medium. But as Winterson also says, “I am much better at saying it when I no longer feel it.” I loved you instead of I love you, you hurt me rather than you are hurting me, it’s a form of diluted bravado I’m learning to embrace.

On the other hand, Winterson’s memoir was a force to be reckoned with. It was almost precocious when she wrote in the voice of her teenage self, and it bespoke a loss of innocence in a way that few adult authors can convey. She writes “To tell someone not to be emotional is to tell them to be dead,” and she carries out that claim. In her life, Winterson refuses to forgo any of the magnitudes of emotionality granted to fictional characters as she makes her way through relationships and the ups and downs of human existence. She doesn’t loathe herself for her responses to tragedy and triumph but she accepts herself for them in a way that I’m still learning how to do.

Winterson’s peak is that her version of love is what she wrote about in “Gut Symmetries” and she doesn’t hold back at all.

“Love is vivid. I never wanted the pale version. Love is full strength. I never wanted the diluted version. I never shied away from love’s hugeness but I had no idea that love could be as reliable as the sun. The daily rising of love.”

It’s so big and wild and frightening that it is a love beyond love, and I think I’ve felt it before and I never want to feel it again. How can we come to terms with these emotions so great and so vast? Winterson’s answer and mine is to write about them. We keep all these records to prove the love was real and when it’s over, we pore over these records to prove that if we overcame such sorrow once, we can overcome it again. And if it’s the first time we’ve been so seemingly irrevocably broken, we look again and again for a sign or signs of ruin and we dwell until we realize the futility of it and we close the books.

I had leftover Chipotle for dinner tonight and on the bag was a quote by Amy Tan that said that in her writing, she carries the intuition of all deep emotion she’s ever felt, and Winterson and I both agree. It’s as if writing is a form of salvation for people like us, who feel more than is safe to in real time. Perhaps that’s the thesis of Winterson’s work, literature is the only mean of deliverance for sinners large, and sinners small, and sinners not at all. I write a lot about what I read because like Winterson, books were there for me at a time where nothing else was. I could lose myself in the worlds of Narnia and New York City and Middle Earth and I could forget my own outside even existed.

But as Winterson said, literature isn’t a hiding place, it’s a finding place, where we find our true selves nestled in the mysteries and the secrets and the hiding places of everybody else. It’s not cowardly at all because to quote Winterson “A tough life needs a tough language—and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is.” And, maturity is being able to see the world as it truly is and face it head on, to not run away like a scared little child but to come to terms with all that was and will ever be. Do not let your suffering become your skin so that you cannot remove it, let it become your armor so it protects you from worse. And, allow yourself to be scared and to be brave and to be everything in between and everything else will fall into place.