I finished Brené Brown’s latest, and not surprisingly, I loved it. With each of her books, I find that her writing voice and arguments are getting stronger. She’s the only author whose books I want in all forms — audio, electronic, and hard copy. I love listening to her read, because her Texas accent and expression makes it sound like she’s in the middle of a conversation.
There are SO MANY parts of the book that stood out, but here’s a favourite passage that’s mean a lot to me, especially lately. This segment comes from an interview she did with a minister who went against church doctrine, and stood up and supported the LGBTQ community:
I suspect the wilderness is a permanent home for me, which is both happy and hard. A dear friend sent me a text during those harsh first steps out, having broken party lines irreversibly after publicly wrestling through a fragile doctrinal interpretation.
There is this wonderful and strange story in Genesis 32 about Jacob physically wrestling with God all night in the literal wilderness, and upon realizing that Jacob was positively not giving up and in fact hollered, “I will not let you go unless you bless me!,” he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of socket, a permanent reminder of the struggle of a determined, stubborn, dogged man with God; an absurd and ballsy move, as outrageous as it was impressive.
My friend texted me: “You are like Jacob. You refused to let go of God until He blessed you in this space. And He will. You will indeed find new land. But you’ll always walk with a limp.”
So I’ve chosen the wilderness, because it is where I can tell the truth and lead with the most courage and gather with my fellow outsiders, but this limp will remind me of the cost, what lies behind me, what will always feel a little sad and a little bruised.
Was it worth it? Unquestionably. And I hope the limp shows my fellow wilderness dwellers that I’m acquainted with pain and didn’t make it out here unscathed either. Outliers, I suspect it won’t hinder our wilderness dance party in the slightest.
I love this passage, so much. I know exactly what it feels like to metaphorically “walk with a limp.” My body and heart are indelibly marked with these wounding occasions, and I won’t ever be the same because of them. But — I don’t regret the times I’ve had to wrestle, and I don’t resent the injuries that have resulted. And yet, I do feel a little sad about them.
Lately I’ve had some really difficult days where I’ve felt like I’m in “the wilderness,” and I’ve added a couple more bruises to my heart. It can be a lonely place when you stand up for yourself, and you’re not understood. It feels especially heartbreaking when you’re not understood by people who you love.
I like reclaiming the story of Jacob and his wrestling angel, in terms of my own struggles. I’m no longer going to think about difficult experiences as a means to build up my internal calluses and “get tougher” when it comes to numbing my wounds.
Instead, I want to have that “strong back, soft front, wise heart” and recognize that having a limp won’t stop me from moving forward. Or from occasionally dancing.
One of the more recent books I’ve read was the autobiography of Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West. I’ve followed her work, off and on, for a number of years and I’ve long appreciated her voice and (often hilarious) candor. It was interesting to read her book right after reading Roxane Gay’s memoir — both of them strong women, yet both having very different approaches when talking about body image.
Here are some of the parts of Lindy’s work that stood out to me, and that I want to remember/mull over, going forward.
“Mike made me feel lonely and being alone with another person is much worse than being alone by yourself.”
Gah, I know this feeling, maybe more than I’d like to admit. Lindy talks about many relationships she found herself in where the person she was with wasn’t able (or willing) to accept her for herself. It wasn’t until she was able to find a secure place of self-acceptance that she was able to find the connection she was looking for. (which, yes, sounds incredibly cliche — but there’s some lessons there that I’m still working on, cliche or no)
Lately I’ve been really embracing the quiet alone moments that I can find for myself. I haven’t always been in a place where I enjoyed being alone — but now I can honestly say that there are many times when I wish I had MORE time to enjoy some solitude.
“All I had to do [to get an abortion] was wait two weeks, or have an awkward conversation I did not want to have with my supportive, liberal, well-to-do mother. Privilege means that it’s easy for white women to do each other favours. Privilege means that those of us who need it the least often get the most help.”
When it comes to discussions of privilege, I struggle and wrestle and feel guilty and angry and then want to go out and address societal change. And then I start the process all over again. I worry that I’m being too much of “a Becky,” and then at the same time get angry that I’m identified with such a label.
But when Lindy put privilege in such terms as she did above, I got it. There are times when I feel disadvantaged, but then when I have a gut-reality-check, I realize there’s so much that I have access to. How I choose to use and acknowledge those privileges is what I need to be more aware of.
“I always thought that if I just never, every acknowledged [that I was fat] — never wore a bathing suit, never objected to a fat joke on TV, stuck to ‘flattering’ clothes, never said ‘fat’ out loud — then maybe people wouldn’t notice. Maybe I could pass as thin, or at least obedient. But, I was slowly learning, you can’t advocate for yourself if you won’t admit what you are.”
This is one quote that really resonated with me — especially the last sentence. Lately I’ve been working through lots of self-issues, and I’m working on understanding what it means to like who I am, and not to be ashamed or feel guilt over what I’ve done (that has, in part, made me who I am).
Maybe a big part of that process is being able to admit some of the parts of me that could be perceived as weakness — and instead of letting others tell me how I should view myself, I can instead claim that label for myself.
Something I really admire about Lindy is how she’s able to embrace who she is, often unabashedly so. I want to have some of that same confidence when it comes to how I see (and advocate for) myself.
On standing up to injustices (“How to make a Rape Joke“):
One of the best parts of her book was when she describes what happened when she decided to speak out against Daniel Tosh’s idiotic rape joke(s) a number of years ago. She writes:
“My point was that what we say affects the world we live in, that words are both a reflection of and a catalyst for the way our society operates. Comedy, in particular, is a tremendously powerful lever of social change. […] When you talk about rape, I said, you get to decide where you aim: Are you making fun of rapists? Or their victims? Are you making the world better? Or worse? It’s not about censorship, it’s not about obligation, it’s not about forcibly limiting anyone’s speech — it’s about choice. Who are you? Choose.”
Of course, as soon as she vocalized her objection, many male comedians started circling the wagons and crying censorship. Lindy then quotes part of an essay by Molly Knefel, and what she quotes really gets to the crux of the issue. Knefel was addressing the fact that many of the male objectors to Lindy’s argument (“nothing is sacred and everything can be joked about”) were the same ones who also said that some subjects were “too soon” to be jokes (ex:/ the Boston Marathon bombing and Aurora theatre shooting).
The suffering in Boston, as horrifying as it is, is largely abstract to a nation that has, for the most part, never experienced such a thing. On the other hand, in every room Oswalt performs comedy in, there will be a rape survivor. Statistically speaking, there will be many. There will be even more if he is performing at a university. If exceptional violence illuminates our human capacity for empathy, then structural violence shows the darkness of indifference.
Again, the last sentence!
I keep thinking back to the public outcry for the victims in the recent Las Vegas shooting — how horrific and evocative the media coverage has been for this story. And then, I think about the statistical reality that anywhere from 1 in 4 (or 1 in 5) women will have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime — and somehow, this is a stat that isn’t getting the public (or media) just as horrified and empathic for the women who have experienced that kind of abuse. It’s stunning.
And finally, I really liked what Lindy had to say about what it means to “love with an open hand.” She quotes her sister, who says to her:
“Dude”, she said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world, “don’t you know you have to love with an open hand?” […]
“If you have a bird that you love, and you want the bird to stay and hang out with you and sing for you, you don’t clutch it in your fist so it can’t get away. You hold your hand out, open, and wait for it to perch there. If you’re holding it there, it’s not your friend — it’s your prisoner. Love with an open hand. DUH.”
So yeah. The analogy of setting what you love free does sound like something so simple (and cliche) to do, but it’s a lesson that I’m also still working on.
I like the idea of what it means to love (and be loved) with an open hand. I don’t think I can be loved in any other way.
i love listening.
its one of the only spaces where you can be still and moved at the same time.
– Nayyirah Waheed
Our inner lives, William James announced, are fluid, restless, mercurial, always in transition. The transitions, he speculated, are the reality, and concluded that our experience ‘lives in the transitions.’ This is a piece of information difficult to absorb, much less accept, yet it is transparently persuasive. How else account for the mysterious shift in emotional sympathies that, at any hour of the ordinary day, brings a marriage, a friendship, a professional connection that has repeatedly threatened dissolution, to a ‘sudden’ actual end?
The withdrawal of feeling in romantic love is a drama most of us are familiar with and therefore feel equipped to explain. In thrall to the intensity generated by passion, we invest love with transformative powers; imagine ourselves about to be made new, even whole, under its influence. When the expected transformation fails to materialize, the hopes interwoven with the infatuation do a desperate dissolve. The adventure of having felt known in the presence of the lover now bleeds out into the anxiety of being exposed.
In both friendship and love, the expectation that one’s expressive (if not best) self will flower in the presence of the beloved other is key. Upon that flowering all is posited. But what if the restless, the fluid, the mercurial, within each of us is steadily undermining the very thing we think we most want? What, in fact, if the assumption of a self in need of expressiveness is an illusion? What if the urge toward stable intimacy is perpetually threatened by an equally great, if not greater, urge toward destabilization? What then?
from The Odd Woman and the City
by Vivian Gornick
But of all the thoughts which rushed upon my savage and undeveloped little brain at this crisis, the most curious was that I had found a companion and a confidant in myself. There was a secret in this world and it belonged to me and to a somebody who lived in the same body with me. There were two of us, and we could talk with one another … it was a great solace to me to find a sympathizer in my own breast.
So, I’m reading again.
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to have the luxury of time and mental energy to dedicate to personal reading. And while much of my interests of late have turned to self-help-y type books, I’m also finding time to read some fiction and biographical books. One such book I picked up last week was The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick.
I’m not sure where this book was first recommended to me — but I’m so happy I took the time to read it. It’s a memoir of Gornick’s life in NYC, and reads like the perfect introvert’s memoir: a combination of people-watching/observing and navel-gazing. There were so many good parts to the book that I found myself having to stop and bookmark! Here’s some of what I decided to read (and reread):
In college, the girls who were my friends were literary. Every one of us identified with either George Eliot’s Dorothea Brooke, who mistakes a pedant for a man of intellect, or with Henry James’s Isabel Archer, who sees the evil-hearted Osmond as a man of cultivation. Those who identified with Dorothea were impressed by her prideful devotion to ‘standards’; those who didn’t thought her a provincial prig. Those who identified with Isabel admired her for the largeness of her emotional ambition; those who didn’t thought her dangerously naive. Either way, my friends and I saw ourselves as potential variations of one or the other. The seriousness of our concerns lay in our preoccupation with these two fictional women.
The problem, both in Middlemarch and Portrait of a Lady, was that of the protagonist — beautiful, intelligent, sensitive — mistaking the wrong man for the right man. As a problem the situation seemed entirely reasonable to all of us … Among us were young women of grace, talent, and good looks attached, or becoming attached, to men dull in mind or spirit who were bound to drag us down. The prospect of such a fate haunted all of us. We each shuddered to think that we might become such women.
Not me, I determined. If I couldn’t find the right man, I swore boldly, I’d do without.
Later on in the book Gornick talks about meeting a man where the relational arraignment was suddenly reversed, and she became “the interesting, conflicted personage and he the intelligent, responsive wife.”
BOOM! How many times, I wonder, have I found myself in that latter role of being the responsive one in a relationship? (answer: ALL my relationships) For once, *I* want to be the one who takes the role of the interesting, conflicted personage, and NOT the one who’s carrying all the emotional labor of conversations and care taking and relationship maintaining.
As I read on I found out that, for Gornick, the reversal of roles didn’t last long for her in that relationship. She later writes:
It was then that I understood the fairy tale about the princess and the pea. She wasn’t after the prince, she was after the pea. That moment when she feels the pea beneath the twenty mattresses, that is her moment of definition. It is the very meaning of her journey, why she has traveled so far, what she has come to confirm: the unholy dissatisfaction that will keep life permanently at bay.
… We were in thrall to neurotic longing, all of us — Dorothea and Isabel, my mother and I, the fairy-tale princess. Longing was what attracted us, what compelled our deepest attraction. The essence, indeed, of a Chekhovian life.Think of all those Natashas sighing through three long acts for what is not, and can never be. While one (wrong) man after another listens sympathetically to the recital of a dilemma for which there is no solution.
Maybe that’s the gist of why I’m more happy being on my own than in a relationship. This “neurotic longing” of mine for someone who understands me and can meet me where I’m at — to be honest, I don’t think this person exists.
And by being honest enough to admit that, and starting from that point, maybe that’s the healthiest way for me to move forward and grow up and embrace who I’m meant to be.