How to Be a Woman

“I want a Zero Tolerance policy on All The Patriarchal Bullshit.”
– Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

I was raised feminist.

15moran-articleLargeNot that my parents were burning bras or anything, but it came without question that I was just as strong, powerful, and great as the boys. Growing up, my mom and dad advocated for me when I pushed some gender-traditional boundaries (but yes, I may have also been the one to push them too far…I still hold that the entire talent show laughing incident was Dusty Robinson’s fault, but I digress).

For these and many other reasons, reading Caitlin Moran’s feminist reflections/memoir/soapbox was such a treat.

With raunchy snark she dispatches with many of the central assumptions of someone who picks up such a provocatively titled text:

“But, of course, you might be asking yourself, ‘Am I a feminist? I might not be. I don’t know! I still don’t know what it is! I’m too knackered and confused to work it out. That curtain pole really still isn’t up! I don’t have time to work out if I am a women’s libber! There seems to be a lot to it. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?’
I understand.
So here is the quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants.

a) Do you have a vagina? and
b) Do you want to be in charge of it?

If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”

While I find putting her in the same mold as Tina Fey (A British Tina Fey! the book jacket attests) is a gross mismatch, it actually proves one of her central points – you can’t essentialize what any of this means. To be a ‘feminist’ is different for everyone and can be empowering for everyone. As Moran puts it, she just “thumbs up for the six billion” rather than pro or anti anyone.

A bit of an autodidact, she also frankly reflects on growing up incredibly poor, struggling to find herself and eventually realizing how to be herself: “as the years went on, I realised that what I really want to be, all told, is a human. Just a productive, honest, courteously treated human.”

In fact, this is my central take-away from Moran: if what we do comes from joy and freedom, then it is most likely an empowered act that begins to tear down the constructions that keep anyone from their true potentials.

“Any action a woman engages in from a spirit of joy, and within a similarly safe and joyous environment, falls within the city-walls of feminism. A girl has a right to dance how she wants, when her favourite record comes on.”

And although it’s far from a ‘perfect’ text or a reflection of everyone’s views, Moran adds her voice to a group of modern women so sadly underrepresented in literature: those who protest, who contradict, who struggle – and still live.

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 27: Weekly Book Review! Wherein I attempt to reach my goal of 63 books this year:

The Books Around: 2014

1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
2. Home by Toni Morrison
3. Grandville by Bryan Talbot
4. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
5. Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott
6. Viktor Frankl Recollections by Viktor Frankl
7. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
8. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett
9. Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
10. A House for Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul
11. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
12. On the Mystery by Catherine Keller
13. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz by Michela Wrong
14. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
14. King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild
15. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
16. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
17. The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami
18. Quantum by Manjit Kumar
19. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
20. Dispatches by Michael Herr
21. Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard Edited by WH Auden
22. The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
23. Wool by Hugh Howey
24. Black Boy by Richard Wright
25. Embracing Defeat by John W. Dower
26. Cane River by Lalita Tademy
27. The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders
28. kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata
29. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
30. The Permanent Revolution by Leon Trotsky
31. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
32. Trinity by Leon Uris
33. Omaha Blues by Joseph Lelyveld
34. Airships by Barry Hannah
35. Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
36. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser
37. Passionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse
38. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
39. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaurder
40. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
41. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
42. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
43. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
44. The Brothers K by David James Duncan
45. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
46. Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
47. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
48. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
49. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
50. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
51. Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
52. Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
53. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
54. World War Z by Max Brooks
55. Blindness by Jose Saramago
56. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre
57. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry
58. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
59. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
60. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
61. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
62. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
63. Dune by Frank Herbert

Vulgar Vintage Deux

In the most recent round of my newest favorite flea market habit, we have the second installment of Vulgar Vintage!

These ladies’ bad-ass expressions just spoke to me and evoked the spirit of a dear friend I met in my hardest year of grad school.

I was slumped over my internship desk, quietly bemoaning my fate, when this fine woman drug herself into the office, obviously having seen better days. She sent one of our undergrad minions to the corner store: “OJ and a Vitamin Water, STAT.”

The unwitting UMass student scuttled away, quickly returning with the sought out beverages. Taking the OJ, this specimen of the human spirit chugged the OJ, slammed it down and yelled “COLLEGE! …I’ve always wanted to say that.”

She then picked herself up, dusted herself off, and managed a full day of refugee resettlement without batting an eye. No easy task.

This one, is for you.

Vulgar Vintage

IMG_2941

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 26: Handmade, idle hands are the devil’s playground. This one’s for you, Aly!

Buffalo Nickel

2006.

Just back from studying abroad in El Salvador – reeling from my first real experience of confronting poverty, of cultural immersion, of building communities of hope out of a shattered, violent recent history.

Finding my place back in the rich, resort-like campus of my college. Worried I wouldn’t find where I fit again, after such experiences I still struggle to put into words.

Late nights spent alone in the gardens, under the palms, just thinking. Listening and thinking – without resolution.

Dancing as hard as I could at amazing concerts, the windows rolled down all the way into SF.

Reconnecting, expanding, and moving in with eleven (yes eleven) of the best people I’ve known.

Late nights of laughter out in the shed, kitchen sing-a-longs, and learning how to move with and among one another.

Realizing that you never really know exactly where or how you fit, but that you become more flexible, always finding a new, exciting, more comfortable ways of being.

Falling hard in love for the first time, and feeling those contours around the hard shell I cultivated around myself.

Biking through the ‘darkside’ after class, smelling the honeysuckle and perfect warmth.

Having absolutely no idea where my life will take me.

IMG_0027

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 25: Buffalo Nickel, Dig through your couch cushions, your purse, or the floor of your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find. What were you doing that year?

The Art in Everything

Honestly 50SPA, I didn’t think you had it in you.

A few bursts through the webosphere this week have got me thinking about Art.
With a capital A.

The type that you think you enjoy, but in your heart of hearts you feel like you might not “get.”

Or is that just me?

My former abode in Jamaica Plain, lovingly nicknamed 50SPA, is full of many things – beer, friendship, pants-off-dance-offs – but not, to my knowledge, classical musicians in full performance mode.

All that changed recently when my ‘gansett-swilling, wine-box loving pals hosted Groupmuse in the bonus room.

ks021414_groupmuse_07

While I didn’t get to take in the performance myself, it looks like a blast. As the founder says, “The goal of Groupmuse is to revitalize the role of classical music in contemporary society by emphasizing and accentuating its inherently social nature,” Bodkin said. “And to create lots of legitimately fun, stimulating, and enriching opportunities to encourage folks to expand their minds and their social circles.”

Another new launch in the YouTube world this week clicked with this very idea of experimental art. The Art Assignment is a PBS-funded conversation attempting to get people to think about and create art in their lives.

The first episode did just that by presenting two artists whose “performance” (if it can be called that) is to meet in the exact middle of two locations. After deciding on the location, they cannot communicate in any way. The only rule: don’t be late.

As prompted by the video: then, what is art?

Who decides what are the proper forms, locations, performances, or acts of “Art”? In a post-post-modern world, if art is everything, then is it nothing?

Go with me here: I love pushing on boundaries. I love the very act of creation. But I also value distinctiveness and purpose. And maybe that’s it: the intention.

I mean, I can go outside dressed in a gigantic lobster costume and hack down a tree in front of Key Bank, but I don’t have a good reason for that action (or do I?).

Even if the purpose is to prove that there is no purpose, I still think of art as somehow based on the creator’s intent – no matter how it’s seen, processed or accepted by the public (if it’s ever seen at all).

All I can say for the Groupmuse musicians, however, is that I hope Tim bought toilet paper.

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 24: Art Art Everywhere! And not a drop to drink.

Gone Fishing

You never know how a project will end.

In high school I bought an ambitious cross-stitch, thinking it would be perfect for my grandfather’s office.

And then college happened. The project got left in the Candies shoebox (no judgement, I’m a solid 90s child) under my canopy bed.

I would pick it up time-to-time on breaks, and eventually it moved, almost by accident, with all my things to Boston and graduate school.

After making it through the cross-country cleaning gauntlet, I restarted it with gusto. And stopped again.

By 2011, my grandfather had been dead for four years.

Yet, needing a project, and being the kind of poor that only comes with student loans and a social work job, I picked it up again. I had recently discovered the snarky fun of modified cross stitching and had an idea of how to pay homage to my grandfather and the raucous house of six men I’d found myself in.

To date, it’s still one of my favorite projects – even though its odd size has left it unframed.

Perhaps I’ll learn that skill next?

IMG_2934

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 23: Handmade, idle hands are the devil’s playground.

Boringly Normal

 

We all have that person.

That person who does everything, goes everywhere and seems to just, somehow, be and do all the things.

If we’re lucky, that person is also someone we befriend, admire and perhaps get taken along for the ride. Otherwise, the evil-jealousy-juices can get nasty.

However, I contradict the construct of the ‘boringly normal.’ I know some amazing people who create magic out of everything – from taking the kids to school or their morning coffee.

Some of my favorite writers have found unparalleled depth and nuance in a blade of grass, or the stoop in front of their house.

This doesn’t mean we all stop dreaming of other things, but there can be a playful excitement to ‘normal’ lives.

I’ve been pretty lucky –  I’ve been given some amazing opportunities, and I’ve created even more with others.

This week, one where I worked 9-5, dug out the car (twice), paid the bills (ow), and generally ‘kept on’ – it ended on a unique and amazing note:

I got my first tattoo.

At the age of 28.8 years, in the midst of decisions about my career, life and locale – a group of us got wonderful, nature-centric memorials for our friend Kristin, and for many other layers of our lives.

You nosy-nancys will get to see more later, once it’s been shaded – but it’s really incredible.

Plus, whenever I’m feeling down, or put upon, or scared, I can now say: it’s you and me, chickadee. [hint as to content for the curious].

It is also (even in the past 24 hours) a vivid reminder that those we encounter are often more than they seem, even, or especially, if their unique power, vulnerability and influence aren’t immediately visible.

And always, far from ‘normal.’

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 22: Far from normal – Many of us think of our lives as boringly normal, while others live the high life. Take a step back, and take a look at your life as an outsider might. Now, tell us at least six unique, exciting, or just plain odd things about yourself.

Bobbles and Bubbles

IMG_2900Knitting and beer – could it get any better?

Some of the ladies and I decided Thursday was the perfect night to get out of town (well, to the next town over), drink some craft brews and get our craft on.

Growing up, I was always surrounded by stories in knit form. My Unk (great-uncle) was sick as a child, and in the 30s there was obviously less television, and to keep him busy my great-grandmother taught him to knit.

His famous slippers are given out to everyone from the family every Christmas to his favorite Sherry’s waitress.

Unk’s afghans adorn all the family’s couches and he makes the most useful dish cloths.

All that said, Unk taught me to knit at a young age. Unfortunately, it never really stuck.

Moving to Norway, however, I’ve made great friends with the woman who owns and runs Fiber & Vine and is teaching me all the basics (again).

Just to get in the swing, and to multi-task with the drinking and chatting, she gave me a simple assignment: to knit a square patch. Great re-start on such a fun (and functional)  pass time.

IMG_2901

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 21: Handmade – (re)learning how to knit.

The Face on the Mantle

“But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantlepiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.” ~ George Orwell, Why I Write

I have a bad memory.

To the point that my partner often makes fun of me for “not listening” or that he gets to tell the same story at least a few times before I’ll remember it (hey, keeps things fresh!). It also may have a bit to do with my obsessive list-making and impulse to journal.

It’s one of the reasons I’m so fascinated with people’s stories.

Stories reconstructed from blazingly clear recall, or hazy, frost-covered part-truths.

Ones we piece together no matter our ability to recover the ‘reality’ – building, tearing down, molding with each utterance.

Times that we call ‘defining’ then struggle to grasp her name, his exact hair color, the sound as they sang.

Seemingly insignificant moments that break through, the feel of the raw wood, the color of the grass, the heat of the sun.

Taught by our history that some meaning lies amongst the scattered fragments, it is up to us to define it.

I do not recognize the girl I once was, nor the woman of even a year ago. I forget exactly how she feels, how she moves in the world, what it’s like when she breathes deep.

Yet I am her, and she me.

At some point we may find our convergence, our meaning, our one singular story.

But not yet.

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 20: Old faces, new places. Do you recognize who you used to be?

The Lion’s Roar

If our hearts are ready for anything, we are free to be ourselves.
There’s room for the wildness of our animal selves, for passion and play.
There’s room for our human selves, for intimacy and understanding, creativity and productivity.
There’s room for spirit, for the light of awareness to suffuse our moments.

The Tibetans describe this confidence to be who we are as “the lion’s roar.”

Some days I feel like a lion.

Others more like a small cat – still shifty-eyed and crafty, but not so big and loud.

During those lion-days, however, I feel free. Bold enough to use my voice unafraid, playful enough to cartwheel in the snow, and rooted enough to feel peace in my life.

There is power in these days.

Not a power that overwhelms others, or tries to force everything into a mold of its design. Rather it is a power of release.

Of finding my way back to that essential self that flexes its muscles within the very real body, space, time, love and hurt that surrounds it.

Of being honest and real with my expectations, my shortcomings, my successes and my beauty.

It is a power of not being lost, even if for only a moment.

It is not a power of certainty, but rather resting with ambiguity and smiling in the face of it.

The lion’s roar is real. It is hearty, but it is fleeting.

Yet I know it will return, each time surprising me with its force, and delighting me with its presence.

And I’m a goddamn coward but then again so are you, and the lion’s roar, and the lion’s roar.

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 19:  Inspired by and quoting this post by Tara Brach, and my soul singers First Aid Kit.

Jammin

I’ve never taken a “vacation” as an adult.

In the sense that whenever I’ve taken time off it’s been for seeing family, active “traveling” (different category than vacationing), or a reunion, wedding or some other event.

When P suggested this trip (and bought the tickets) I was elated – for obvious rum-related reasons. But also because I could just sit. On a beach. And do….nothing.

I never really got why that sounded so good until now. And that’s exactly what we did.

As I watch the snow (again), I wish I was back in that water…

***

The Art of the Everyday – February 18: Offbeat, Outside and in Jamaica!