100 memoirs project #11: Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain

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Kitchen ConfidentialI’ve had this book for a while, but when the world lost Anthony Bourdain on June 8, I was devastated and forced myself to read it, finally, even though I knew it would hurt.

It definitely hurt. Tony’s first book, the one that made him famous, made me ache, made me belly-laugh, and made me hungry. Usually all at once.

I was on vacation, sweating in a kayak on Lake Erie, when I read about the author’s life-changing first slurp of oyster, the pre-adolescent moment that made him a foodie. “Everything was different now,” he wrote. “…I had had an adventure, tasted forbidden fruit, and everything that followed in my life…would all stem from this moment. I’d learned something. Viscerally, instinctively, spiritually—even in some small, precursive way, sexually—and there was no turning back.” Continue reading

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Still here: Reacting to Kavanaugh as a survivor, voter, former smoker

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CW: Physical and sexual assault bc hey, America

Sometimes, even when no one is calling to check in, and maybe especially when no one is, I feel this urge to stand up on something and wave my wild arms above my wild wavy-haired head and proclaim, hey, I’m still here! Still surviving! Still writing! Still me! If anyone cares!

This isn’t a pity party, either. It’s feminist ire.

Our government doesn’t give a shit if we’re here, us women. It hasn’t cared for a long time. Those of us who enjoy other types of privilege besides being male, like being white and/or being cisgender and/or being heterosexual and/or being middle-to-upper class and/or being able-bodied and/or being mentally well and/or being documented citizens, have known before the women who look and live and love like me.

For women who look and live and love like me, the world has felt only moderately, episodically, hostile toward us. It’s felt like there have been some misogynists on the fringes of government and the realms of law and order. Like a small minority of rednecks were driving around flying Confederate flags and ordering their women around, while most men were probably ok, if a little rough around the edges.

When I learned about misogyny and sexism as a teenager and college undergraduate, I thought I was learning about a system of oppression that was dying out, and that feminists like me were necessary to ensure its continued destruction. Continue reading

100 memoirs project #10: Goodbye, Sweet Girl, by Kelly Sundberg

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CW: brief mentions of domestic violence

Kelly Sundberg’s Goodbye, Sweet Girl is the memoir I’ve been both waiting and dreading to read.

If you are a survivor of domestic violence (or any kind of abuse), and especially if you aren’t silent about what you’ve endured, chances are you have at some point felt like your survivor status is consuming your entire identity. That it defines you now. That everything is about the abuse. Maybe you’ve been told, you sure talk about it a lot or why don’t you try focusing on the future instead of the past? Maybe you’ve been attacked, accused of being addicted to drama, to attention, to sympathy, to being a victim. Maybe you’ve internalized some of those accusations and, on your bad days, considered that they could be true. Maybe even on good days, you think, I’m so sick of being a survivor, then realize with an even more sick and sinking feeling that the alternative is to have not survived at all.

See, we didn’t choose any of this. Remember that. These identities were beaten or screamed into our skin and bones and synapses. We’re all doing our best to recover, in our own ways.

Speaking about them, writing about them, is a release valve for some of us.

For some of us, un-silencing is how we move from victim to survivor. Continue reading

Year four of a new self, day xx of a new life

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June 15 roses

I might be blogging exclusively about memoir lately, which I’m good with, but I can’t let a June 15 go by without personal commentary, without taking stock, without holding myself and, as always on this day, buying myself flowers (also my favorite kombucha was on sale so I bought that, too).

Four years ago today, I took my life back. Or did I choose to come back to life? Or did I choose a new life and leave an old one behind? Did I die?

I touched on this conundrum in last year’s June 15 post, when I decided to call it a birthday instead of an anniversary, “a rebirthday, because despite this ongoing healing process, I still feel—I am, I was—ripped into two halves: me before domestic violence and me after.” (Quoting myself is ew but it’s my bday, I’ll do what I want.)

I read the previous three years’ June 15 posts before writing this one, but I didn’t have to do that to know that here I am, a long way out from hell, and I don’t feel that heat anymore. I feel only my own fire, forging a new life. Continue reading

100 memoirs project #9: Whip Smart, by Melissa Febos

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febosPeople are going to pick up and want to buy Whip Smart because it sounds salacious, gratuitous, sexy. I picked it up because I thought, holy shit, how brave to admit this. I will learn something about how to write the stuff that most scares me to share about myself (spoiler: I’m not a dominatrix).

I was right and wrong. Febos is brave, and makes brave admissions—but not only in the way you think. Her entire tenure as a dominatrix was marked by her attempts at distancing herself from this work she did to put herself through college.

Whip Smart is an addiction narrative. And the addiction isn’t kink or sexual power trips, but every drug you can think of, most notably a serious heroin addiction.

What’s different about this particular addiction narrative is how well the narrator hid, while creating even more elements of her life to hide, all while hiding nothing from the reader. Continue reading

100 memoirs project #8: Heart Berries, by Terese Marie Mailhot

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Mailhot.jpgI’m behind, because life, but I’m reading!

I’m actually bumping a memoir I read two months ago to write this post because the book’s so good that I’ve been talking about it and now someone wants to borrow it. Must write this post before I lend the book away for who knows how long!

I recently visited Midtown Scholar, an acclaimed indie bookstore in Harrisburg, PA. It’s shameful that this was my first time—I, a native central Pennsylvanian—stepping foot into this space, but hey, now I’ve been there. And I’ll be going back.

In a 2010 Publisher’s Weekly review, Alison Morris described Midtown Scholar as “a cavernous space filled with some 100,000+ second-hand, out-of-print, and scholarly (…) books” that combines with an enormous warehouse inventory to make “the largest used book collection between New York City and Chicago.” The store also houses a coffee shop and its owners regularly host readings, workshops, and author events. It’s basically Disneyland for writers and readers.

I walked in, ordered a mocha and a chocolate peanut butter brownie, and immediately found a memoir to curl up with for the afternoon—one that had been on my Amazon nonfiction wish list for some time.

Roxane Gay calls Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries a “memoir in essays,” among other things. Continue reading

100 memoirs project #7: Love and Trouble, by Claire Dederer

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dedererI haven’t done a memoir post in a bit, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading memoir.

I’ve been reading a lot, actually. Since I finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’ two books, I’ve completed my fifth re-read of Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water (someday I will be courageous enough to write a post about what Lidia’s memoir means to me). Based on her recommendation, I then bought and blazed through Whip Smart, by Melissa Febos (another forthcoming post), almost immediately after I finished Dederer. I’m reading essays by Hanif Abdurraqib and poems by Danez Smith and Greek mythology by Robert Graves. I’m reading Carl Jung. I’m reading tarot and headlines.

There is so much to take in, so much to keep us up at night, that I might as well stay up late reading instead of worrying. Most days, this works out.

I worried a lot while reading Dederer. Love and Trouble comes with a subtitle: “A Midlife Reckoning.” At first I thought, I’m not going to relate to this. Silly me. I am almost 37. I’m unafraid of being 37, but it should be noted that while I am approaching what we think of as middle age, I don’t feel like I am. I am often mistaken for a college student on the campus where I work. I still get carded more often than not. I climb mountains and blast the same music I blasted 20 years ago—and I dress like it’s 20 years ago, too. I don’t feel 37.  Take that for what it’s worth to you, even hate me for it, if you will.

For so many women, being hated is nothing new. Continue reading

100 memoirs project #6: The Beautiful Struggle, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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coatesTa-Nehisi Coates is a writer I’ve followed for some time but who I am thoroughly intimidated to write about. He is superlatively intelligent when it comes to the violent racism of American history, a history I am glimpsing and uncovering more and more every day. I will never, can never, know a fraction of what Coates knows, but I swear I will read everything he writes from now on.

The Beautiful Struggle is a beautiful book. (Shit, see? I can barely write this.) Continue reading

100 memoirs project #5: The Telling, by Zoe Zolbrod

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CW: molestation, incest, child abuse, domestic violence

About a month ago, I took a vacation day from work, checked into a hotel for seven hours, and wrote 6,000 words of truth that I’ve never told anyone before. At least, not in so many words.

I had just started reading Zoe Zolbrod’s memoir The Telling, and it was clearly affecting me. I have some stuff to tell. This entire undertaking of reading 100 memoirs is about informing how I will tell it.

But the telling itself is important. It is power reclaimed, transformation, revolution. It is survival. Continue reading

100 memoirs project #4: Rise, by Cara Brookins

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Rise cover

 

CW: Domestic violence

In my few and precious windows of down time, when I’m not reading memoir, I’m watching HGTV.

Tiny House Hunters. Fixer Upper. Property Brothers. Love It or List It. I love me some Love It or List It.

I’m saving for a house, see, and I know I won’t be buying a turn-key, move-in ready, ultra-modern sanctuary. There’s gonna be demo. Mudding. Sanding. Scraping. Replacing. Upgrading.

This TV viewing is research. If I’m having a bad day, I turn it into a drinking game: one sip of red wine every time someone says “open concept,” asks for a large kitchen island, or muses “this space has a lot of potential.” Two sips for every mention of shiplap or subway tile. Three sips if they find asbestos or want a wall blown out but can’t understand that it’s load-bearing and they’ll need to pay out the ass to install a steel beam.

I first heard about Cara Brookins’ memoir Rise from TV, in fact. In January, Brookins was on The Today Show after her book was released, filmed in her 3,500-square-foot labor of love.

The amazing thing to me is that she did the grueling, round-the-clock, self-directed work of building a house based solely on watching youTube videos and then pulled off writing a great book about it. Continue reading