The Ropes Have Been Unbound

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.

I am Not Always Rational, or Always Nice, But I Am

I don’t know whether I liked “Nobody Is Ever Missing.” I loved certain phrases so much they’re engraved into the bedrock of my skull but at the same time, the book made me uncomfortable. I want this phrase to be written on my forehead so people are warned when they meet me- “I don’t have a smoother version of me tucked into other people’s memories.” The ebbs and flows of my youth and adolescence have convalesced into an amalgamation of ideas that seem borderline grotesque when considered individually but fit righteously into this construction of myself that I have cultivated. I have come to accept that people are held together by blood and bone and sinew but also by less concrete concepts, love and hate and fear and despair, and that was difficult for me to come to terms with when every bone in my body was screaming for reason. I want the world to make sense, I want it to correspond to my passions and set opinions about what it ought to be like, and adulthood for me was letting go more than I ever imagined that I could.

It was a well constructed existential novel but more than anything, “Nobody Is Ever Missing” resonated with the parts of me that I shut down because I’m not supposed to be that way as a young woman and even as a person. I want to pack up all my stuff and run away sometimes, live with my dying grandmother in India and somehow pay her back for what she did for me as a child when my mother was too young and I was too precocious for my own good, or just leave every semblance of academia that I’ve ever known. Elly is similar to me, well educated and seemingly has done everything right but she isn’t right in some ways. She dwells, she has a form of melancholy normally reserved for elderly white men with salt and pepper beards telling young people how they ought to think, and she’s sorry to her husband for hurting him but not sorry for the actions that she took because she knows in her heart that it was the right thing to do.

The New York Times called it the “novel of the post-wounded woman” and I don’t know if I agree. I loathe putting something in a box as if it can’t be enjoyed by anybody who doesn’t fit into that precise box. I personally can be labeled as post-wounded but at the same time, I am not interested in being defined by my pain and what I have done to overcome it because honestly, there are far more interesting things about me. But the part of Elly that I most resonated with is that she is a wound dweller in the same way that I am, which isn’t a characteristic of post-wounded women but of people, both wounded and not beause it’s just a major part of our humanity.

“I am or we were (or still are) the kind of people who can never quite get away from our losses, the kind of people who don’t know that magic trick that other people seem to know—how to dissolve a sense of loss, how to unbraid it from a brain.”

She plans out what to say to her husband, she thinks about him almost obsessively and she does what I do, she plans out what she’d say to him even though she’s never going to say those things. The issue is that it’s seen as inherently “crazy” when women are this way, even if we don’t act on these sentiments. We are supposed to get over things, to let things go, not for our own comfort and well being but for that of others because it makes people uneasy when women dare to want so much what that they supposedly do not deserve. She asks her husband rhetorical questions, which I characterize as Love, because that’s what love is to me, caring so much that we worry about what the person is doing even when they’re ostensibly memories of the past. It’s not so much about permanent echoing affiance of infinite second chances but a simpler relationship, being a part of each other’s origin stories and accepting that status and keeping the other person’s secrets no matter what.

Are you sleeping these nights?

Is your life livable?

Do you eat—do you eat anything at all?

Do you believe anyone cares if you are alive at the end of the day?

And where did our want go?

And who set fire to our wanting?

And who invented want and why?”

I don’t know whether I’d recommend this book to anybody because the level of unease and simultaneous profound affection I feel with the novel makes me feel almost protective of this book; I almost think that it would give too much away of my own personality if I allowed others in my life to read it. But it’s important, a young woman on an existential journey of the sort that women have never been allowed to take in literature or in real life, up until now. And that deserves to be documented.

Thematic Aphorisms on Recent Literary Endeavors

Of late I’ve been reading a lot of romance novels, in the young adult realm but also the sort of book traditionally targeted to underwhelmed housewives who’ve never had an orgasm with another person in their lives. I believe in honoring what women want and find appealing but at the same time, I think it’s hugely important to objectively evaluate the nature of what women are socially conditioned to want and find sexually appealing. I’ve been snapchatting the pictures to my friends because the content of the novels is appalling and maybe I’m far too feministTM to enjoy them, but I’m utterly disturbed by what young women are being told to find attractive. Perhaps it’s my abject lack of social conditioning but I don’t like romance novels and how they treat their subjects, and I especially don’t like young adult romance novels that talk down to their readers and even when attempting to be progressive, end up alienating portions of their audience in ways that are so easily avoidable.

Another trend I’ve been seeing in YA literature that makes me extremely uncomfortable, for lack of better terminology, is the treatment girls who are wanted. That phrase doesn’t truly capture the biting annoyingness of the sentiment behind it but there’s this whole trope of novel, ranging from Judy Blume’s “Summer Sisters” written in the 1970s to “Ugly Girls” by Lindsay Hunter and “All our Pretty Songs” by Sarah McCarry which are modern day adaptations of the age old story. They’re indubitably told from the POV of the “normal” self-insert who is best friends (or sisters) with this beautiful, vibrant shell of a girl because nobody can write her POV since she supposedly doesn’t exist. It’s not that the trope itself is inherently terrible and I don’t believe this was the intent of the narrative initially, but the crux of the impression I took from the novels is that the “beautiful, vibrant, wild” best friend doesn’t deserve to live because she’s beautiful and wild and most of all, wanted. The best friend always dies, or ends up raped and destroyed, a shell of what she once was because she attained that prime attribute associated with femininity, approval from the male gaze, and she wrecked it by being a bitch and not being properly thankful of it. Men eat her alive, not as a statement for what men do to women but what women do to themselves by wanting to be loved and desired as both a sexual being and as a human being, and being brave enough to seek it. And it makes me angry.

“Relatability” is a deathtrap because by forcing relatability, you alienate people. Write for yourself, write for people like you, and demand empathy of your readers because the beautiful thing about human beings is that they are capable of real empathy. Reading literature is an active exercise in seeing the perspective of those who aren’t us, and it’s downright embarrassing that so much of young adult literature and other literature targeted to women is focused on forcing women down into some arbitrary distinction of what is normal and ends up cutting out the nuance and beauty of all that we can be. We don’t have to be scared of anything outside the norm because the norm isn’t predestined; human beings create it and enforce it. Beautiful women and ugly women, contemplative women and impulsive women, brave women and frightened women, we’re all women and we all deserve to be heard and not fetishized or metaphorically pointed and laughed at.

“Icy-Manic Hyper-Repressive Benzodiazepine-Heroine” was somebody’s description of Betty Draper from Mad Men and it really resonated with me because at this point I do not know who I am apart from who I’ve created myself to be, similar to Betty Draper, to Blair Waldorf, Cersei Lannister. The vulnerable bitch who is on enough drugs (wine counts) to be a drug mule even if she’s far too classy to descend to that level, who is a full and complete person worthy of your attention and respect despite supposed unlikability. I am everything I was told to be and at the same time, everything we’ve been taught to condemn in women and women of color.

Recently, I said to a girl who hates me: “I can be you. Can you be me?” I am not your girl next door- I’m the girl you die for, and that in itself is not sin enough to be condemned to death. It reeks of jealousy, of bitter entrenched resentment that a girl who is wanted dares to crave more than base desire, and moreover, it isn’t fair, it’s just simply not fair. The girl who is written about isn’t supposed to write her own story; she’s not supposed to exist beyond the scope of other’s imaginations because she supposedly doesn’t exist. But I’m that girl. I was either supposed to die a violent death at 17 or be saturated so much by the world and by other people’s perceptions of what women ought to be, but I wasn’t supposed to end up the person I am today. Not fully together or the ideal of existence, but for the most part, alive and still interesting in that disgusting way that makes men want me, and still pretty and small and vivacious, and desirable. But I am alive, and I’m going to stay alive, if only to make other people irrationally angry and viscerally uncomfortable. Is that unlikable? Well that’s too bad.

What is Love if not Political? Worthless

I do not like talking about race. I’ve reached the point of plain and simple exasperation, not the performed anger that so often characterizes social justice circles but just eye-rolling annoyance since it’s 2015- people should know better and it’s not my responsibility to enlighten them.

I read Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie last October around my 20th birthday, and I wasn’t able to write an extended piece on it until now because I didn’t know where to begin and I still can’t definitely explain why the book is so important to me. It’s about race, it’s about gender, and it’s about the immigrant experience, but on some level, it transcends every arbitrary distinction we have fashioned in order to establish and maintain power over our fellow human beings, love and longing and faith and other such sentiments that exist far beyond the definitions of what is and what isn’t and what cannot be. Adichie reminds me of Maya Angelou, who’s one of my favorite people of all time because she makes me feel that I’m allowed to be who I am and for a long time, I didn’t believe that. I’m not going to ever say that my womanhood transcends my race or my race transcends my upbringing because I shouldn’t have to do that for people to have consideration for those aspects of my identity as well as the conglomerated identity that results.

I hate intentional diversity, by which I mean the practice where white people applaud themselves on being diverse, consuming media about people of color without understanding the nuances to race and being so self congratulating and defensive of their goodness and separation from the “bad” white people. I don’t need something to be branded as DIVERSE or FEMINIST for it to be that way, and I’m not interested in calculating the p-value for every aspect of human existence and academizing these issues to the point where we neglect to acknowledge that first and foremost, it’s all about individual people, and that’s more important than so-called righteousness personified. Americanah is about Ifemelu, a Nigerian immigrant to the United States who deals with all the issues associated with being black in America, and it’s about her love affair with Obinze, the lover she left behind when she left Nigeria, and it’s about reducing the most complex, intricate issues of race to what can be understood by all. The point is, until we stop regarding women or people of color or LBGTQ people as the eternal “other”, we can never progress since it feels like most of the time, so many refuse to see other’s experiences as valid and real and human, especially when it might reflect poorly on their own group.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of rap music because a good deal of the frustration the blockage from actualized personhood due to a variety of factors, race, gender, etc. is something that I relate to a great deal. And I talk fast and I think even faster so it’s a medium that ideologically makes a lot of sense to me. I’m not black and there’s an excess of anti-Blackness among Indian and Indian American communities, but I’m female, and I’m an only child who was raised without the social conditioning that women are often raised with in our society so I often feel like a little girl, a pretty doll who should be thankful for what the world has given me but I endlessly want to stomp my foot in frustration and scream at the injustice of it all even though I know it won’t do any good for me or my cause. I pseudo seriously said a while ago that if I was famous, I’d be a lot like Kanye West, controversial and outspoken even when I would do better to hold my tongue, but also more often than not, objectively right in my convictions. I’m not excusing his misogyny but I’m sitting in Chicago O’Hare right now and it’s barely 7 in the morning after I haven’t slept and I’ve been listening to West’s “Homecoming” on repeat for the last few hours, and all I can construct in terms of a thesis on why I like Kanye West is this vague concept that I want to and will be remembered because I am worthy of it, which is a radical statement for a woman, and especially for a woman of color.

Kendrick Lamar just released To Pimp a Butterfly, and I genuinely loved “i”, the first single from the album, because that was the song that 16 year old Dhaaruni desperately needed and wasn’t given, but the upbeat optimism of the song makes a lot more sense in the context of the very obvious struggle of mental health and external conflicts with society that characterize rest of the album. I like Kendrick Lamar because he, along with the aforementioned Kanye West, is uncomfortably honest and he covers it with bravado but of a transparent sort, and it’s revolutionary for one who’s marginalized in any way because women who show emotion are inherently crazy, the conceptualization of the Ophelia, and black men who dare to show anger and thugs and almost seen as animals to be put down. I really, really, love “King Kunta” because it’s as real as it’s humanly possible to be, confident and angry and honestly speaking, balls out arrogant but not without reason, and infused with such emotional heaviness it can’t be forgotten. “Straight from the bottom, this the belly of the beast, From a peasant to a prince to a motherfucking king.” It’s also notable that he referenced Kunta Kinte, the protagonist of Alex Haley’s Roots because as a society, we like to forget that part of American history happened because it makes us look bad. The “We’d never cut off a guy’s foot how barbaric do you think we are” mythos that people like to spin about “good slaveowners” is actually inane and it’s embarrassing that people still adhere to it. And of course, “Black man taking no losses”, which actually might be the thesis of the entire album, especially in the downright chilling “The Blacker the Berry”, where Lamar apologized for his misplaced comments on Ferguson, with the “I’m black as the heart of a fuckin’ Aryan.”

Kendrick is not apologetic in this album, because vulnerable is not the same as apologetic, and neither is Ifemelu in Americanah and one of the things that black men share with women is that we’re both conditioned to be nice, to apologize constantly and not cause a snag in the lives of our so-called superiors. Be the Daisy Buchanan, be the pretty girl with a waist that men can span with their hands, who doesn’t speak out or dare to openly condemn the actions of others, be the good black man who is fatherly and magical and honest but always stops short of threatening societal norms dictated by whiteness. It’s complete bullshit, and unlearning this narrative takes active effort because it requires actively ignoring the contradictory demands from every side and even that is counterintuitive in a society that thrives on unwritten directives. It’s distinctly freeing to be allowed to be someone who’s free of the rules and mandates but at the same time, it’s lonely because very few are brave enough to openly advocate your platform even if they agree because it’s risky and as human beings, we’re more often than not, inclined to save our own skins. But sometimes, sometimes our innate empathy wins out, and at the end of the day, that possibility of human kindness, no matter how small and elusive, is what makes the struggle and working against the grain worth it, and we can’t abandon hope because hope isn’t childish or trite. It’s the only way we can ever progress and I’m disinclined to ever give it up.

I Don’t Look A Thing Like Jesus

Stories and storytelling have been a defining aspect of what constitutes power in a society at large since the dawn of time. Those who are designated to record the stories of an era are those who write history, and those who write history are those who are remembered as heroes and their enemies are irresolutely condemned as villains. In other words, the stories of the marginalized and the oppressed, women, people of color, the disabled, the weak, the mute, fall through the cracks and are only passed on through oral legend and what becomes myth. Whatever we may say about the status of women in fairytales, ultimately they’re primarily about women, about good plucky girls who rise up from poverty through the conviction of their beliefs, of vindictive jealous stepmothers done in by their own vanity, of crafty old women rendered capable by a long life of avoiding censure and everything in between. And, for as long as they’ve been in existence, fairy tales have been the domain of children, intended to simplify the most complex and humanistic of ideals for young, untoward ears.

I seek out retellings of fairytales as much as possible and I obviously prefer them to various degrees. In recent months, I read both Catherynne M. Valente’s Six Gun Snow White and Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird. I loved both the books for different reasons and they are both retellings of Snow White, which construct racial arguments for the hatred of the Snow White figure in question. But, the ending of Oyeyemi’s work felt sour in comparison to the intricate compassion evoked in the rest of the novel and the characterization of the stepmother in Six Gun Snow White made her a more compelling villain while her counterpart in Boy Snow Bird was merely misunderstood and long suffering, made dispassionate by her society, compared to the inexcusably evil but still sympathetic mother in Valente’s novel. There’s something that I found chilling about Six Gun Snow White; I could feel deep rooted kinship with the arguments made regarding the state of womanhood in society, and Sylvia Plath’s “being born a woman is an awful tragedy” came to mind.

“This is what it means to be a woman in this world. Every step is a bargain with pain. Make your black deals in the black wood and decide what you’ll trade for power. For the opposite of weakness, which is not strength but hardness. I am a trap, but so is everything. Pick your price. I am a huckster with a hand in your pocket. I am freedom and I will eat your heart.”

When you’re born a woman, sometimes, you don’t get to shuck it off; you can’t retreat into your books and extreme intelligence and absolve your femininity and you can’t throw on cargo pants and hiking boots and stop being seen as a sexual object. It’s why I reiterate: fairy tales are about women, fairy tales are about hope, fairy tales are about unequivocal yearning without respite, and never, ever giving up on what you know is the right, and the truth and the real.

I learned a lot from fairytales growing up, and I consumed far more than what was given to me by Disney or portrayed as the ideal by the tellingly misogynistic Grimm Brothers. I was a very loved child, and I was a very lonely child. I was the only child of two parents that loved me so much I didn’t think I ever could deserve it and to this day, I have a hard time believing that I do. I grew up wanting for nothing, which conversely made me ask for far too much. I wanted unconditional love and total freedom since those were the rewards granted to the self-insert lonely princesses who made friends with fluffy animals and plucky stable boys in the stories that I told myself to abate my loneliness and those tales were what kept me from losing myself. And unfortunately, so much of adulthood is accepting that we often don’t get what we want when we want it, and doing what we don’t want to do for people we have to keep on our side.

As I grew into adulthood, it became less about making up stories to keep myself from getting bored and more about writing my own story to keep myself alive. I have this perverse belief that if I keep telling my own story, I can’t die, no matter how much I may momentarily not particularly want to live. I have a lot of issues with Elizabeth Wurtzel, namely her brand of intellectual elitism that permeates all her work but an idea of hers that resonated with me is that during the peak of her depressive episodes, she swore to herself that she had to live, solely so she could document her experience and help others who suffer in similar, unseen and pervasive manners. I also have a lot of appreciation for Taylor Swift because she, through the continued existence of the metanarrative “I remember” in her music, repeatedly validates her right to tell her story and claiming that her version of the truth is the only one that matters. She might be the girl in the dress still but that abject femininity doesn’t invalidate her strength. The insults parried at women that tell their own stories are just clichéd and pathetic at this point and sadly still extremely common: “She didn’t write it. She wrote it but she shouldn’t have. She wrote it, but look what she wrote about. She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art.”

And at the end of the day, I just can’t let go of the conviction that I have the right to tell my own story, to portray myself as I perceive my character and to cast the heroes and villains as I see fit. It’s decidedly because I was raised as an only child and it never struck me that there was anything I couldn’t do or that I actually couldn’t get what I want, and that’s been a major blow that I had to come to terms with growing up. In some twisted way, no matter how I choose to write my story, if I’m irrevocably honest and true, I know that I’m going to face slander. I’m too harsh on women, I’m unfair to the men, I demand too much from the world around me without giving back in equal amounts. Because here’s how it goes: by continually demanding that I apologize for telling the truth, all you’re doing is suppressing it and eventually, it’s going to come out and it’s not going to be pretty. By claiming that I, or Taylor Swift, or any other female artist from Artemisia Guarnaschelli to Sylvia Plath tell our stories wrong, you’re calling us liars, and it’s no wonder we have so many built in self-defenses. “I remember”, “You and me and I and us”, “Once upon a time”, “do you remember?” “Do you think about me now and then? Because you know I deserve to be remembered.” It’s the explicit intimate personalization of universal sentiments and that’s how you tell a tale that will endure far beyond your own lifetime.

It’s also that by and large, stories and narratives and learning to write my own were how I made sense of the world because honestly speaking, to this day, very little of the universe makes any logical sense to me when I sit down and think about it. I had to simplify it and make it palatable to my delicate sentiments because the world was always too great and too powerful and I was just a little girl who was really good at math. I still fundamentally don’t understand why anybody wouldn’t want me because I never thought to think that anything was inherently wrong with me until other people started pointing out my flaws. I don’t mean to hurt people but I end up leaving a wake of singed fingers and bruised egos in my wake and forgiveness is a privilege, not a right. I forgive far too easily because I feel as if I’m obligated to for the people I’ve hurt and neglected to acknowledged but to quote Valente again, it’s not that simple:

“For there are two kinds of forgiveness in the world: the one you practice because everything really is all right, and what went before is mended. The other kind of forgiveness you practice because someone needs desperately to be forgiven, or because you need just as badly to forgive them, for a heart can grab hold of old wounds and go sour as milk over them.”

I refuse to forgive and forget what I should really get over because petty grudges are so embarrassingly childish and I ought to grow up, and sometimes, I brush away what caused me extreme pain and turmoil because I need to be allowed to love the person again. When you’re raised on fairy tales, love is the only currency for existence. You learn that love is the crossroads at twilight and the shapeshifter that refuses to transform and remains the monster with gleaming yellow eyes boring into your deepest, darkest, most shameful secrets, the sharp grating into your skin that doesn’t dissipate no matter how many baths in the blood of virgins that you take, the piercing look in the eye that says “I will love you in just the right way, no more and no less and I’ll instantly take it away when you step out of line.” And that love, that ugly, pointed, very real and very painful love, is what I had to forgive, most of all in myself, because when you bind together a conglomeration of clichés, all you get is a girl, a real girl, and that’s all I am when the lights are out, or even when the spotlight is on and there’s no escape, just human, nothing more and nothing less.

In the Name of Being Honest

On my last birthday, I tore off all my black acrylic nails one by one; my nailbeds were bleeding and I could barely text or type or hold a pencil for a week until I got them redone. The reasons for this fit of self-harm are layered but ultimately mundane: a boy didn’t love me, a boy loved me too much, my statistics class was disgustingly difficult, and I was fed up. But what I remember the most from that evening is wanting to be hurt because I couldn’t feel anything else and I didn’t even feel any real pain when I tore my nails off which frustrated me even more. I was bleeding so why didn’t I want to cry, why didn’t I care that blood was getting on my cognac leather jacket, why didn’t I want to stop doing it to myself? I share a birthday with Oscar Wilde who wrote “A sentimentalist is simply one who desires to have the luxury of emotion without paying for it.” Very clearly, I have paid for my emotionality and I’ve been trying to find a purpose to it except to validate my humanity and I don’t know how successful I am.

Taylor Swift released “1989” this year and the most disturbing reaction I’ve seen is “I like Taylor Swift so much more now that she’s jaded and not singing about love.” I find it telling that what we deride Swift and her fellow female singer-songwriters like Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, and Fiona Apple as being too much: too emotional, too sad, too angry, too much of an open wound, to use Leslie Jamison’s phrase whose collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, inspired this piece. I remember that a lot of the so-called feminist criticism of Swift was concerning the song “Fifteen,” which details the events of her freshman year of high school and includes the line “Abigail gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind.” The internet blogosphere went wild, “Taylor Swift thinks that young women are worth nothing more than their virginity.” I believed these critiques when I first read them because I internalized what society had told me about what it meant to be an emotional woman: your feelings are silly, your pain is unimportant, so grow up and stop being sad about things that don’t matter. I conveniently ignored that when I lost my virginity at 15 years old, the day after I took the SAT for the first and only time, I didn’t get out of bed for three days, so traumatized I couldn’t even cry even though the act was fully consensual, convincing myself it was because I mixed up rancor and rumination on the verbal section and would have to take the exam again. When I got my scores back three weeks later, I missed one math question in all, scoring a 2370 which was 99.96% percentile, and the only thing I could ask myself was “If I’m so smart, why did I have sex and why am I so weak that I feel bad over it?”

I’ve realized that the issue isn’t necessarily about Taylor Swift but with society as a whole: we hold emotionality and rationality as mutually exclusive entities and we find it difficult to respect those who are affected by their emotions and for better or worse, so many of us are driven by them. But in order for humanity to progress, we have to care. We must commit ourselves to a set of behaviors and sentiments greater than the sum of our natural inclinations because for all the talk about politics and ideologies, to quote Che Guevara, the revolution is an act of love. We must actively force ourselves to love what we aren’t instantly attracted to; it’s not necessarily romantic but it’s imperative in order to become more ethical than the society we were raised in. There has been so much uproar about the validity of rape victims’ claims, in Steubenville, in UVA, and no matter how many times detractors are given the statistics regarding rape versus false accusations of rape, the structure of the legal system forces us to have these arguments ad nauseum. It frustrates me that while so many people can acknowledge that rape is bad, and that rape victims have suffered an unspeakable crime, we’re so reluctant to condemn rapists since we don’t trust the source of the accusation. The empathy we feel towards rape victims doesn’t come across as truly genuine because we want them to prove that their suffering is real, and even when there is concrete proof of the crime such as in Steubenville, instead of extending our unwavering support to the victim, we go through the motions of “if she hadn’t been doing _____ this wouldn’t have happened” or worse, simply gain a voyeuristic pleasure in punishing the perpetrators, reveling in the fact that “well brought up boys with promising futures” lost the game of life. It disgusts me as a young woman, it disgusts me as a person, and most of all, it disgusts me that it doesn’t disgust people the way it disgusts me.

My friend asked me a while back what the bravest thing a guy I know had ever done, and my answer was a half-serious, “Me.” Don’t get me wrong, on some level I’m utterly a coward: I broke up with someone our one year anniversary because he told me loved me and I dragged him through the dirt for another year and a half until our relationship was unsalvageable;  I haven’t replied to a text for four months now that will eat me alive until I achieve a semblance of closure on it. In a twisted way, my blatant acknowledgement of my vulnerability and my weaknesses makes me braver than those who brush them to the side and those who externalize it. I’m not Hannah Horvath or April Ludgate or the character Taylor Swift plays in the “Blank Space” video, “Darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”, but in some way, my acceptance and embracing of “the girl in the dress who cried the whole way home” inside of me, to continue the Swift-isms, is a bravery of its own. 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. With regards to Taylor Swift, “Dear John” and the image of the girl in the dress, I can understand how the refrain “Don’t you think I was too young” may come across as petulant or cloying, but at the same time, that doesn’t invalidate the sheer nerve shown by a teenage Swift in calling out John Mayer by name as emotionally abusive and singing that song in front of millions since she’s absolutely right: 19 is too young, he should have known better, and it’s a testament to her own strength and growth that she held herself over him, fireworks over his sad empty town.

My favorite line from Jamison’s “The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” is “Keep bleeding but write to something beyond blood.” In some way I guess that’s my purpose in this essay because I want there to be record of the pain I’ve endured and moreover, I want it mean something.There are two kinds of pain, pain that you can grow from and that makes you a better person and pain that cripples you. Sometimes, I am bolstered by negative experiences and want to do better, whether academically or interpersonally, and sometimes I’m so run down that I can’t do anything but cry on the phone to my father asking him unintelligibly why I don’t deserve to be loved and at that point, I have to metaphorically walk away. Put myself back together, uncrumple the mess of papers I’ve allowed myself to become, accept that I won’t ever be the person I used to be but also allow myself to grow.

On some level, I think my personal experiences are universal and my take on them is objectively accurate but they also feel private and shameful because I still haven’t fully been able to cast off the sexist idea that a woman who believes her feelings are valid must be crazy and not living up to some imaginary Gestalt Whole. In reality, the self, both male and female, is contradictory and discordant, rife with sharp edges that cut anyone imprudent enough to probe it. I don’t think I’ll ever be in full control of myself because let’s be real – I’ve run on anxious death drive since the day I was born, but I’m coming to terms with the mortal coil I live by. It’s a work in progress.

She’s the Only Evidence of God I’ve Ever Seen

I’ve never considered myself a “not nice” girl. In fact, I never even considered nice as an obligation to femininity until my boyfriend when I was 13 years old told me I wasn’t very nice for a girl but he was okay with it because I was pretty. I’ve read a lot about likability politics in literature and I’ve observed people my entire life and done a lot of analysis about personality types but the fact remains: likability is a hugely gendered issue. The rule has been that when a man is unlikable, he’s deemed an antihero, showing the depths of his humanity and when a woman is unlikable, she’s an anathema. It’s something I’ve played with in my own constructions of identity, how far can I go in my snark, how much does my socio-economic status and my physical appearance give me the privilege to act like a white man instead of deferring to them, and it’s complicated. I was raised on Anna Karenina and Ellen Olenska and Becky Sharpe, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Scarlett O’Hara, women who aren’t likable and aren’t easy to love and anybody that said otherwise was lying but I related more to them than I ever did their “likable” counterparts. But today, I want to talk about teen girl books, in particular “Dare Me” and “The Fever” by Megan Abbott and “Cracked Up to Be” and “Some Girls Are” by Courtney Summers. I regard the young women in these four novels as in the same vein as my childhood literary heroines, sometimes mean and petty and cold and hyperemotional on varying intervals but afforded the depth of emotional range usually only granted to men. The most important lesson I want to bestow on girls as a 20 year old who just left adolescence is that  they are allowed to be human, as funny and brave and intelligent and sexy as they want to be and they are not obligated to be anything more or anything less than they are.

Both “Dare Me” and “The Fever” are written by Megan Abbott, who adapts noir tropes from the Golden Age of Film to teenage girls who are as hungry as the hard boiled antiheroes of the original films. Her books are about girls wanting validation in both masculine and feminine manners, from their friends and loved ones and most of all from themselves, because in some twisted way, they can’t love themselves unless they are first loved by others. “Dare Me” has that oft misunderstood line “There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.” It’s no secret that I loathe the trope of the Reverse Lolita, the teenage strumpet that deserves to be abused or manipulated because she totally has the capacity to be so much worse than her abuser, not to mention the overt romanticization of Hades Persephone Narratives. (Sorry, but you really can’t reclaim a rape myth as subversive and empowering when somany real girls are being mistreated in such a manner to this day.) The thing is that these girls are made dangerous by that wanting but most of all to themselves and any other victims are simply caught in the crossfire. They aren’t sadistic or cartoonishly mean but their machinations are subtle, driven by ugly emotions and deep rooted insecurities that they often don’t even realize in themselves and that behavior is so realistic it’s terrifying.

“The Fever” is more fantastical than “Dare Me” because it uses natural symbolism to evoke the depths of female desire. I’m not solely referring to sexual desire but obviously, the expressions of sexuality represent the possibility of an emotional backlash there’s no coming back from, and that’s why the acknowledgement of that empty wanting that exists in so many young women is important. Personally, I never played it safe growing up no matter what image I tried so hard to convey; I’ve been told I’m subconsciously manipulative because I’ve had so much practice balancing what I have to risk to get what I want and whether the opportunity cost is worth the reward that it’s become second nature. Yet, I wasn’t ever told that bargaining with God or rather myself as God was normal, and I don’t think the level to which I acted was healthy, but the feelings which drove my behavior were as human as they come, and honestly, if I was given that validation growing up, I would have saved myself a good deal of actualization if I was actually as crazy as people said. Spoiler alert: I definitely was not.

On the other hand, “Cracked Up To Be” and “Some Girls Are” are about girls that aren’t exactly unlikable, or the sort of mythic that characterizes Megan Abbott’s protagonists and antagonists but are more grounded in their construction as well as their motivations and implications. I had this conversation with Courtney Summers on Twitter about Parker and Regina and I think it’s very interesting how people respond to the two girls. I think it’s telling we condemn Parker far more than Regina, genuine meanness versus a very valid and realistic response to trauma. Regina encouraged an eating disorder in another girl and was a direct catalyst to another girl’s suicide attempt, and those actions definitely don’t excuse Donnie for attempting to rape her or the abuse she endures from her former friends but like she’s told when she begs for forgiveness: “You’re not sorry you’re guilty. That’s why Liz didn’t forgive you. Because you just feel sorry for yourself.” I’ve noticed that as human beings, we obsess over suffering as redemption in a way that’s not conducive to true progress; we want people to be punished for their sins but we neglect to take the steps to ensure those sins aren’t committed again. Feeling annoyance and anger and resentment for how we are treated doesn’t mean we’re remotely sorry or guilty for what we’ve done and those we have hurt, either by intent or inadvertently. But, it must be noted that Regina is bluntly informed that she isn’t forgiven for her past actions while we bend over backward to excuse men who have committed crimes as having learned from their mistakes and truly changed their ways. Let’s talk about Sean Penn, who literally broke into Madonna’s house when he was married to her, tied her to a chair and physically and emotionally abused her for nine hours, hitting her with a baseball bat, until she managed to escape but who is lauded as a “good Liberal” for appropriately condemning the Iraq War and campaigning for marriage equality and awarded two Oscars in the 20 years since. The world isn’t fair and adulthood is coming to terms with this inequality and fighting the battle upright instead of becoming resigned to it.

There’s a quote by Catherynne M. Valente from “The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There” that I think is applicable when discussing forgiveness: “For there are two kinds of forgiveness in the world: the one you practice because everything really is all right, and what went before is mended. The other kind of forgiveness you practice because someone needs desperately to be forgiven, or because you need just as badly to forgive them, for a heart can grab hold of old wounds and go sour as milk over them.” One of the things I most hate about myself is how quick I am to forgive those that decidedly don’t deserve it and hold unreasonably strong grudges towards those I ought to forgive but who hurt me in a way that exposed my flaws and insecurities in ways that I wasn’t able to arrange as remotely positive aspects of my being. I almost instinctually hurt others when I see the possibility of being hurt and I have to actively stop myself from wondering who has and who hasn’t forgiven me because that sort of thinking is detrimental to my own psyche and doesn’t achieve closure. Another aspect of adulthood: accepting that things don’t have pretty ends a lot of the time and moving on without regressing to our past selves but also being willing to regress when need be. But personally, I forgave Regina for her actions not because of her suffering but because I believe she developed the empathy she previously lacked but I never even thought Parker had anything to forgive, perhaps because I resemble Parker far more than Regina. Parker wasn’t nice, but her ambition and reclusiveness aren’t things I see as terrible, and while Regina was more active in her awfulness, Parker was reactive and I found myself going: “Well if you didn’t go touch the fire, then you wouldn’t have gotten burned.”

Anyway, I’m biased because I’m a lot more Blair Waldorf than Katniss Everdene but I want you to read about teenage girls since humanity is complicated and these four novels express every ugly facet of it. And if we can accept and even laud it in men, we can stomach it in girls.

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

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.

Sing a Song of Six Deaths, a Girl With Hands Cut off, A Pair of Evil Children, Baked In a Pie

I hope that’s not too morbid a title. Then again, Titus Andronicus is violent and morbid and it’s one of my favorite Shakespeare plays so I’m writing a piece on it anyway.

One of my favorite phrases I’ve ever written is the “protofeministic existence of voyeuristic sadness,” used to describe the image that women like Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and of course, Lana del Rey portray of explicitly “feminine” unhappiness: passivity, bitterness, emotional enmeshment, resentment and crippling grief. It’s about how the individual nature of a piece of their work, a poem or a song, isn’t what’s important when analyzing their importance on a societal level, since there are so many “problematic” elements in them all and I’m not saying we should ignore those aspects, but the acknowledgment of their characters and psyches in total as valid expressions of humanity and also of intellect is hugely significant.

Sad girls aren’t allowed to be competent, sad girls aren’t allowed to be intellectuals, sad girls aren’t allowed to be more than the Ophelia or the Woman in the Attic, or in the case of Titus Andronicus, the Lavinia, whose narrative importance catapults when she is raped and mutilated and physical silenced by having her tongue cut out. The play is one of Shakespeare’s shortest and most violent, and my last post it note lists the number of deaths in the last scene and ends with “wtf just happened?” Because the thing is, the amount of violence in the play is so extreme that it almost becomes not about the individual acts of violence similarly to how Lana del Rey stops being about seducing old men for money, no matter how much both pieces dwell on those elements.

Titus is just… straight brutality from the very first scene where the protagonist kills his own son and kills his enemy’s son in spite of her pleading to save him. I became desensitized to it in a way because I knew every action that was committed, Tamora encouraging her sons to rape Lavinia, Aaron murdering the nurse out of cold blood, Titus’ final revenge where he murders Tamora’s sons and feeds them to her in the pie, was about something bigger than the perpetrators of the cycle of Senacan violence. It was about the cycle itself, and how the rise and fall of Rome parallels the rise and fall of the Andronici, and how, in the very end, it is a turning of the screw, from Classicism to Shakespeare to the modern era, and if we don’t abandon our inclinations towards bloodlust, our life cycle will be terminated.

There’s validity in Titus as an extremely ironic morality tale, and it includes Tamora and Lavinia who represent the dichotomy of the Madonna Whore Complex women have always been relegated to, and the crux of it is that neither of them are saved by it. In a sense, that’s my take on Titus and Lana and Sylvia and them all: we aren’t in control sometimes, and governed by greater forces and when we refuse to acknowledge our subservience to them and sometimes, just let it go, we doom ourselves.  Anyway, Titus is my second favorite Shakespeare play after Lear, and you should definitely read it. I haven’t even started talking about the importance of all the classical references in the play, with Lavinia as Philomena, Tamora as a highly twisted amped up to 11 version of Dido and Medea and it’s shorter than most other plays, about half the length of “Hamlet,” which makes it all the more jarring. Well obviously, just look at the amount of violence in the first scene.

(And by the way, the Freys being baked into pies by the Northmen and fed to their kinsmen in A Song and Ice and Fire serves as a direct parallel to Titus’ vengeance on Tamora. Not usually my area of interest but that single element always intrigued me.)