"Get out of your head," she tells me. "Write something."
I was in my apartment last Friday, commenting on stories from the graduate student I am advising this semester. I had been having stomach pain all week but I am often having stomach pain so I paid it little mind. Eventually, I went to the bathroom and experienced a very intense wave of pain. “I need to lie down, I thought.” When I came to, I was on the floor and I was sweaty but I felt better. Then I looked at my left foot, which was facing in an unnatural direction, the bone nearly poking through the skin and I realized, “This is not good.”
When you’re fat, one of your biggest fears is the fall while you’re alone and need to call EMTs scenario. It’s a fear I have nurtured over the years and now that fear has finally come true. “And you’re still alive,” she said. I suppose that’s the thing about fear. You dread it but you have little choice but to endure.
Thankfully I had my phone in my pocket, so I pulled myself into the anteroom of the bathroom where I could have a signal. My foot was starting to hurt but nowhere near as badly as I thought it should hurt based on lots of ER viewing. 911 answered promptly. At the same time, there was a plumbing crisis but I couldn’t cope with that and my fucked up foot so I just moved it to the corner of my mind. While on the phone with the kind 911 operator I blurted out, “I’m fat,” like, it was some deep mark of shame and he said, “That’s not a problem.”
Many EMTs showed up and 83% of them were hot. They were kind and full of empathy and they winced each time they looked at my foot. Eventually they splinted it sort of and dragged me out on this contraption and lifted me onto a gurney and from there it was fine. They had trouble finding a vein so I have bruises in all the wrong places. While waiting for the EMTs, I texted redacted that I had encountered an accident. I wanted to play it down but I was slowly realizing that I had really fucked myself up.
At the hospital, I got X-Rays and the technician said, “Your ankle is very very broken,” which is not to be confused with just regular broken. My ankle was also dislocated. They couldn’t operate that night so they had to realign my foot. That is exactly as horrifying as you think it is. They gave me that stuff Michael Jackson took to sleep and told me I wouldn’t remember a thing. They were right. When I regained consciousness I asked, “Are you going to do it yet?” I got a nice little pat on my leg for that.
Two other strange things were going on. My heart was in an irregular rhythm which I am pretty sure it has been for years and I had a really low hemoglobin count. They were not going to send me home so I got a room that I AM STILL IN. My ass is so sore I am ready to remove it surgically. I haven’t slept since then either so as you might imagine, my mental state right now is great. Every so often they take my “vitals” and poke and do other shit. I hate being touched so you know that’s fun too. I got into a hospital gown, more fun. There is so much indignity to being helpless. So much.
They take vitals at 11 pm and 3 am and 7 am so… I’m not sure when sleep is supposed to happen. They also take vitals throughout the day. I know so much about the hospital routine now. I am basically an expert. In the next room over is a woman who says, “Hey,” every twenty or so seconds. She likes to pull out her IVs and is a troublemaker. She is elderly and I feel bad for her because I don’t think anyone visits her.
The night of the accident, I texted my sister-in-law and brother and said, “DON’T TELL MOM AND DAD,” because I knew my parents would freak. They did, of course, tell mom and dad. They live in Chicago, so they rented a car and drove down to see about me. Saturday was a blur of pain and confusion. They couldn’t operate because of the hemoglobin so I got my first blood transfusion! SOMEONE ELSE’S BLOOD IS INSIDE OF ME.
The orthopedic surgeon is mega hot and has mega hot surgeon swagger.
Sunday, I got another blood transfusion so now I carry the blood of at least two others. Then they decided to operate because the ankle was unstable. When they rolled me to the operating area, I told the anesthesiologist that she should knock me out EXTRA because I have seen the movie “Awake.” She shook her head and said, “I hate that damn movie.” And I said,”But still, make sure I am super asleep.” While all this is going on, I am talking with Redacted on the phone, on text. She is freaking out in the calmest way possible. She wanted to be here with me but circumstances made that impossible. She has been there in every way that matters and I am grateful for it. I need to make that crystal clear in case you make an incorrect assumption. My loved ones have really all been here, in fact. I’ve received e-mails and flowers and packages and tweets and Facebook messages. I feel so very loved. It’s a new sensation to feel this way. I won’t take it for granted. I will not. Thank you.
I thank you. I thank you.
Anyway, in the OR, I don’t remember jack shit other than the oxygen mask descending upon my face. I woke up in another room with a lady staring at me and I didn’t want her staring at me so I said, “Look away.” I heard, from my brother, that the surgery went well but that my ankle was even more broken than the doctor originally thought. A tendon was torn, this and that and other other. I have hardware now. I am cyborg.
My niece continued to eye me suspiciously. She is not a fan of the huge cast on my left leg. She gave me a very reluctant air kiss and went about her business. She also doesn’t like hospital beds. She does, however, like, the rolling chair. When I got back to my room, my parents had magically appeared, along with my other sister-in-law and niece and my cousin and his partner. I mean, talk about it taking a village. I am loved.
I was groggy as hell but I kept mumbling, “I need to text Redacted,” but I used her actual name. Like, I’m not that weird. That whole thing actually started as a joke and now it’s just this thing but it’s only on the Internet. In my real life, I use my words. No one could understand me but my brother, who knew exactly who I wanted to speak to handed me my phone and I think I texted, “Hi,”and then she said a lot of words and then I fell asleep. When I woke up we talked some more. She has spent all week fielding questions from people who sniffed her out and giving people updates and being supportive and worried and telling me I can be scared and lots of other things. She is ride or die.
Things are complicated. This has certainly made certain complications more pronounced. I am being vague here but I’m not. I don’t know how to talk through it. Or maybe I am afraid to talk through it for fear of losing this.
Other people on this floor snore very loudly and make growly sounds. The temperature fluctuates wildly. Things are backed up in a certain area. I want to shower very very badly. I would pay about half a million dollars for a shower. I don’t have that kind of money but if I did, I would pay it.
Over the next few days I was given lots of good drugs. I am still getting good drugs. I like that part. I have also been forced to realize the severity of the injury. I am basically on bed rest for 4-6 weeks. I’ve had to cancel a few gigs and I’ve disappointed people and I feel shitty about it but like, my leg is spectacularly fucked up. I will be teaching my classes online, thank goodness, so I can at least do that part of my job. I suspect I will be writing A LOT. New novel perhaps.
Today has been a hard day. I feel hopeless. I feel like they are never going to let me out of here. The medical staff here is really excellent but they are not good communicators. I am a throbbing mass of neediness and it scares me to feel this needy, to feel so out of control, to have all my trigger points being pressed at the exact same time. I miss clothes.
Accidents happen. This one has certainly staggered me. I am human, after all. I’ve always known I am human but I go go go and now I am being forced to still and it is unnerving.
She sent me chocolate covered strawberries because I love them. And roses because I love them. And I’ve gotten lots of other lovely things but I really love chocolate covered strawberries.
I was absolutely terrified going into surgery. I realized I have so much life yet to live. I did not want to die. I thought, “I don’t want to die,” and it was such a strange thought because I’ve never actively wanted to stick around as much as I do now. There are things I want to do. There are words I have yet to write. I don’t want to lose all this good stuff that is just starting to happen. I don’t want to lose my family and friends. I don’t want to lose her.
I don’t do fear very well. I try to push the people I love away. I worry that I’m not allowed human weakness, that this makes me not good enough, less attractive as a partner. And I may have met someone who can’t be pushed away and I know I cannot be pushed away and I want to say, “Don’t you see?” and I would be talking to both of us.
“You never know when or if you’ll get a big break as a writer. You write and write and write and hope that someone out there will discern what you believe is in that writing, and then you write and hope and wait some more. I think I am having my big break right now. This year I published two books—a novel, An Untamed State, and an essay collection, Bad Feminist. Both books have received positive critical attention. The latter book has been on the New York Times bestseller list twice. Articles about me keep telling me that I am having a moment, my big break. My friends and loved ones tell me that I am having a moment. Part of me recognizes that I am having a moment, while the more relentless part of me, a part that cannot be quieted, is only hungrier, wanting more.”—Read the rest of this essay: The Price of Black Ambition | VQR Online
Another day, another city, another hotel room. Criminal Minds is on. Serial killers are everywhere. I am in Texas, Austin. I am here for about eighteen hours. On the flight here, I read short stories from students in my workshop. I tried to at least mentally plan my craft of fiction class on Tuesday. I have to be efficient to make any of this work.
At the airport, two of the American employees said, “You’re not going to LA today?” I laughed. I said, “Not today.” The TSA employees at the airport also know me. This is what happens when you travel too much. You have fewer secrets. Your heart is laid bare.
On Facebook, announcements, pictures of sonograms. Facebook calls these things “life events.” That is such a corporate way of trying to explain the most significant moments in our lives. Sometimes, it is a reminder of all the ways you are being left behind.
In ten days, I am turning forty years old. This is supposed to be a significant milestone, a “life event.” This is the age when people start sending you Over the Hill cards with images of gravestones like we’re still in the 19th century and 40 meant not much time left.
I will be traveling home from another speaking engagement on my birthday so I guess I’m not celebrating this year. It’s a day. Whatever. I am not afraid of forty. The last few years have been great. I am looking forward to forty. What I fear has nothing to do with age.
On the first airplane today, I read a tweet from someone who recognized me, she was 99 percent sure. I let her know it was indeed me and we took a picture together in the terminal when we landed. I cannot believe what my life is becoming.
I gave myself a paper cut beneath the fingernail of my right pointer finger. It is shockingly painful and there is no easy comfort from this very specific discomfort.
This has been a week of revelations about certain men in the literary scene. These various situations cannot be conflated but it’s easy to look at the sum of the revelations and think, What the fuck? I don’t have any grand pronouncements to make but I have been thinking a great deal about consent and how men, mostly, love to complicate consent, either implicit or explicit. It is not confusing. If you are confused, take a look at that. It also drives me crazy when people act like focusing on consent is basically asking someone to sign the Magna Carta before getting down to it. Stop being terrible. Consent is not confusing. It’s about people unwilling to stop when they are all in the heat of the moment. It’s about entitlement. All of this exhausts me. It breaks my heart that these things still fucking happen. It breaks my heart that too many women are socialized to just lie there and let him finish because that’s just easier. I’m frustrated because it is so hard to talk about these things and I’m frustrated because I don’t think we should offer up judgments about the personal experiences of others. We can’t help it though. That’s what happens when these disclosures happen online. The court of public opinion begins and it is merciless and all too often, it is heartless.
Why is everything so damn hard? Why do I want so much? When will that stop? Am I the world’s biggest fool? Yes. That is likely.
Hi There: A) I love your work, B)I am a 5th grade teacher at a very small, very rural school in NC. I'm trying to integrate as many women and people of color into our curriculum this year as possible, because these kids live in a very racially/ethnically non-diverse world, despite the fact that 10 miles down the road is the largest Latino population in the state. Do you have a piece of yours you'd think would work for 10 year olds? I've been digging but figured I'd go to the source. Thanks!
This is a good question. Off the top of my head, I’d suggest the short story “More Hers Than HIs,” that appeared in the Chatahoochee Review.
Hi Roxane with one N, This may be a tall order... I'm currently devouring Bad Feminist, it's refreshing, thought provoking, and just a fantastic read. I keep finding myself wanting to also read many of the novels and essays you reference throughout the book. Is there any way to get that list? Are there any other books you'd recommend? I rarely find time to read but your words have actually made me want to read and learn more. Thank you!! <3
Yes, an enterprising person did compile such a list. You can find it here: http://jamiecanaves.tumblr.com/post/98080377555/bad-feminist-book-list
Earlier this year you spoke at my schools Undergraduate Conference for Multiethnic Literature. I will never forget that day, one because it was the first time that I read a paper to a crowd of people, but more importantly because it was beyond amazing being able to hear you read and give us advice on writing. They just sent out another call for submissions for next years conference, and Id like to ask you: if you had to do a paper on any multi-ethnic persons from the americas, who would it be?
Thank you for the kind words. It was a pleasure to speak at that conference! It was my first time in Fresno and the first time I had In N Out. But on to your question—I would not pick a single person. Instead, I would write a paper on the exciting activists of color who are using Twitter to create social action and awareness.
I have an inordinate amount of work to do but I also have so much I need to say. Two Fridays ago, I went to NYC for the beginning of a ten-day, three city trip to promote Bad Feminist.
My schedule in NYC was fairly brutal in a cushy way, which is to say, I had publicists accompanying me to events in fancy black cars, so there should be no tears in Argentina. Still, it can be a lot of work. On Sunday, I appeared on the Melissa Harris Perry show, which I was terrified about but which went well. She is a great television host and interviewer. They did my make up and I felt like a girl and it was both terrifying and kind of awesome to see a different version of myself.
Later that day, I did a panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival with Jennifer Baumgardner, Leslie Jamison, and Elissa Schapell. We talked about feminism and writing and it was a packed auditorium. The line to enter stretched three blocks. For women, talking about feminism! That night I had a reading at Book Court, also standing room only. I was in conversation with the glorious Anna Holmes who is, it must be said, one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. She brought champagne for us and was an expert interviewer and it was a lovely event.
Monday and Tuesday I had more events and media. I saw Ashley Judd holding a dog and looking graceful at the Sirius XM radio station and then I saw Mark Harmon strolling past the studio where I was being interviewed, and then I saw Al Roker carrying his bike up some stairs while wearing a dapper suit. I visited Buzzfeed and called Isaac Fitzgerald “muffin,” and met many of my favorite writers. They were all so pretty. I had an interview with a woman who told me to get angry and I said, “Uhh. I am not angry.” That was awkward but I was so tired that I did not have the energy to educate.
On Tuesday evening, I did a panel celebrating Harper Perennial’s 50th anniversary with other Harper Perennial authors and had one of the more humiliating experiences of my life. There was this stage like two or three feet off the ground and no staircase, so there were five excruciating minutes of me trying to get on the stage while hundreds of people stared awkwardly. Sometimes, my body is a cage. I was filled with self-loathing of an intense degree for the next several days. Honestly, I still am. I was also irritated with the venue because I shouldn’t have been put in that position. Surely I am not the first fat person to read there.
After hauling myself up on stage, I sat down and the tiny chair cracked and I realized, “I am going to vomit,” AND “I am going to fall on my ass,” but after the humiliation I had just endured, I realized I was going to have to stay silent on both counts. I threw up IN MY MOUTH, swallowed it, and then did a squat for the next two hours. I am not sure how I did not burst into tears but I guess Beyoncé was with me.
By the time I got back to my hotel room, my thigh muscles were shredded but I was also impressed with how strong those muscles are. Good work, team.
In my hotel room, I sobbed and sobbed. Talk about an ugly cry. Whew. I thought, “This is why I am going to die alone, and unloved,” which is still a hard sentiment to shake. I felt so worthless and so embarrassed. Words cannot convey. I sobbed because the world cannot accommodate a body like mine and because I hate this body and no longer need it and want a better body for me, for the sake of enjoying the second half of my life, for the person I love. My body is changing. I see it in my clothes hanging looser and buying smaller sizes but it is a slow process and I am being confronted by the limitations of fat in some horrible ways. That was a very shitty night, I must say. I felt utterly alone in this world.
It’s not all fun and games.
The next morning, at the crack of dawn, I had to get on a plane and fly to San Francisco on a very very long flight. When I landed in San Francisco, I rented a car, and found my hotel, realized, “There is no way I am staying here,” and then checked myself into an extravagant hotel on my own dime because I was slightly broken by the stage debacle and I needed to be pampered. I couldn’t sit long because guys, I went to Facebook and had lunch with Sheryl Sandberg. This actually happened. A while back she emailed me saying she loved Bad Feminist. I didn’t think it was really her but it was. And then I went to Facebook. Did you know they have their own restaurants on the campus? You don’t even need money. You just walk in and order food and then walk out. Free beverages are also abundant. We had a great conversation and I left with a bunch of Facebook swag. I also brought three books for her to sign. I had no shame. I leaned the fuck in.
That night I read at Mrs. Dalloway’s in Berkeley and my friend Mallory came and wore polka dots and my brother and his family came and I met my longtime friend and one of my favorite writers Ethel Rohan and her insanely hot husband and I was introduced by another writer I admire, Ayelet Waldman, and it was beastly hot and standing room only and a great event. The next night I read at City Lights in San Francisco, My brother and his wife came again. Standing room only again. The way people continue to respond to Bad Feminist, means EVERYTHING to me. I wish I could more adequately express my gratitude but do know, I thank you for reading, for engaging with me, for showing up, for the outpouring of kindness I am shown in every city I visit. I feel seen and heard. I see and hear you.
It is weird to be having this moment, and I do recognize that this moment is happening, and to still also just have to deal with the daily grind. Your problems, insecurities, and fears, don’t disappear when you have a moment, just so you know.
After all that, I needed some time off and so I went to Los Angeles to see her. All week, I thought, “I just need to get through this to get to her.” I was nervous, though because she makes me nervous. Because I want to impress her. I am absurd. I probably try too hard. I was nervous for this other reason. We were going to meet at a fancy restaurant. I picked it out of bravado for the nervous reason but also because the food was supposed to be delicious and it was. When I arrived, the hostess told me my party was waiting at the bar, and I walked into the darkened room and saw her, that lovely silhouette, and she turned and looked at me and the world fell away. It was like Pretty Woman but better because it was real and Richard Gere wasn’t there. Her eyes were shining. If I could capture how she looks at me… She gave me Gerber daisies, pink, which I love. There was also a surprise, and it was a grand one. For the next days, we traversed the city. We beheld amazing views. There was drinking. There was quiet. There was no space between us, and no need for it. On Saturday, I hosted a screening of Love & Basketball and got to interview Gina Prince-Bythewood, a writer/director I hold in the highest esteem. We went to a castle, of sorts, and saw glittering people and we talked. Always, the truth with us. There were the same old conversations about what I should do and won’t do and visceral reactions reaffirming my decisions because nothing is worth seeing that. This won’t make sense to you but it means everything to me. We had a perfect weekend. I don’t use that word lightly.
Normally, when we part, there is so much sadness. This time I left happy and that lingers. I left with longing and I miss her terribly but I also left with the calm hope of a next time. I left wanting to become the best version of myself. I left greedy, wanting so much more, wanting no distance ever, wanting it all. I left afraid of the inevitable and the pieces of myself I will have to gather. I left knowing that won’t keep me from going back.
“Publishers are like, ‘We don’t know who your market is, we don’t know who we’d sell your book to,’ and I’m like, ‘What do you mean? Like… People with reading skills?’”—Roxane Gay, talking about writers of color at the “This Woman’s Work” panel at the 2014 Brooklyn Book Festival (via yeahwriters)
There are few things more humiliating than shopping for clothes as an overweight woman. We hear the statistics about how obesity is a major problem in the United States and still, there are a handful of stores where we can buy clothes. At most of those stores, the clothes are hideous and if you are under fifty, the hideousness increases by a factor of ten.
I hate clothes shopping and have for years because I know I’m not going to find anything I actually want to wear. I don’t like patterns. I don’t like appliqué. I don’t like bright colors. Fat girl clothes designers never got this memo.
I have many dreams about the clothes I would like to wear—maxi dresses, tailored slacks, sexy camisoles, whatever. I lack the courage to wear such things. Jeans and dark shirts it is.
Today I went to a clothing store. I wanted to find a few nice things to wear for someone I want to look nice for when I see them soon. I am caring about my appearance. I am caring about myself, maybe. This is new and I think I like it. It’s embarrassing. Nothing makes sense anymore. I am blushing.
I was at this store, looking for things when a young woman came out of the dressing room crying. I won’t get into the details of it because it’s her story but she was so upset and her mother was treating her in quite a humiliating manner and I wanted to sob right there in the store because I am not having the best day and it was just too much to see such a familiar and painful scene.
I’ve been that girl, too big for the clothes in the store, just trying to find something, anything that fits, while also dealing with the commentary of someone else who means well but can’t help but make pointed, insensitive comments. I cannot even get into the details. It’s too much.
I hate shopping.
People try all manner of tactics to make us lose weight—tips and “help”, diet and exercise advice, nagging, harassment, shaming. There is this idea that if you shame a fat person enough, you will somehow move them to discipline their body. That is not how it works. What you see is the fat. What you cannot see is so far beyond what you can understand.
I am not a hugger but I wanted to wrap my arms around this girl. I wanted to protect her from this world that is so unbelievably cruel to overweight people. There was nothing I could really do because I know this world. I live in it too. There’s no shelter or safety or escape from the cruel stares and comments, the too-small seats, the too small everything for your too big body.
But I followed her to the dressing room and I told her she was beautiful. And she was indeed beautiful. She nodded and tears were streaming down her face. We both went on with our shopping. I wanted to tear her mother’s face off. I wanted to call my person and hear a kind voice. I wanted something to pull me out of the spiral of self-loathing I felt myself tumbling into. I wanted to burn the store down. I wanted to scream.
When the young woman left the store, she was still crying. I cannot stop picturing her face, that look in her eyes that I know too well, how she was trying to fold in on herself in a body that was so visible. She was trying to disappear and she couldn’t. It is unbearable to want something so little and so much.
“Nearly every day, a friend or acquaintance tags me on Facebook, asking me to share a list of 10 books that have influenced me. Nearly every day, I read such lists from the same circle of friends and acquaintances. I understand the tidy pleasures provided by such an exercise, but in truth, I am not merely influenced by books. I could not limit a list of important books to a number or a neatly organized list. The list, whatever it might look like, would always be changing because I too am always changing. I am not influenced by books. Instead, I am shaped by them. I am made of flesh and bone and blood. I am also made of books.”—Read the rest of this essay The Books That Made Me Who I Am
My first relationship was my worst relationship. I was desperately young. My first relationship was with the boy who turned me into the girl in the woods. He was a good boy from a good family living in a good neighborhood but he hurt me in the worst ways. People are rarely what they seem. The more I got to know him, the more I realized that he was always showing who he really was and the people in his life either saw through him or closed their eyes. After that boy and his friends raped me, I was broken. I did not stop letting him do things to me and that remains one of my greatest shames. I wish I knew why. Or I know why. I was dead, so nothing mattered.
Since then I’ve had many other relationships and none nearly that bad but the damage was done. My course was set. And it’s a shame that the measure is what is not so bad instead of what is thriving and good. I look at some of my worst relationships and think, “at least he or she didn’t hit me.” I work from a place of gratitude for the bare minimum. I’ve never been in a relationship where I’ve had to hide nonconsensual bruises. I’ve never feared for my life. I’ve never been in a situation where I couldn’t walk away. Does this make me a lucky girl? Given the stories I’ve seen women sharing via the hashtags #whyIstayed and #whyIleft, yes.
This is not how we should measure luck.
I have had good relationships but it’s hard to trust that because what I consider good sometimes doesn’t feel very good at all.
Or I am thinking about testimony and how there has been so much over the past day and some—women sharing their truths, daring to use their voices to say, “This is what happened to me. This is how I have been wronged.” I’ve been thinking about how so much testimony is demanded of women and still, there are those who doubt our stories. There are those who think we are all lucky girls because we are still, they narrowly assume, alive.
I am weary of all our sad stories—not hearing them, but that we have these stories to tell, that there are so many.
I have been thinking about a specific person who is no longer in my life since yesterday. Our relationship was not good but it was “not that bad.” I have been thinking about how sometimes emotional abuse is even worse than physical abuse. I don’t mind getting knocked around. I don’t say that cavalierly. There are simply some things to which I am numb. This person, though, wanted to break me down, which became interesting because I did not realize I could still be broken down further. Who knew? They did, I guess. They smelled it on me.
There was nothing dramatic or violent between us. It was simply constant criticism. Nothing I ever did was good enough. I was in my twenties and desperately insecure so I thought this was what all relationships were like. I thought this was what I deserved because I was so worthless.
I couldn’t be taken around this person’s colleagues without a rigorous critique of everything wrong with me that I needed to try and improve. Most of the time, as you might imagine, we were not together in public because I was just not good enough. I never looked nice enough. I talked too loud. I breathed too loud. I slept too loud. I was too warm while I slept. I moved too much while I slept. I basically stopped sleeping. I just hugged as small a sliver of the edge of the bed as I could and I stayed awake so my sleeping wouldn’t be such a nuisance. I was always tired.
I didn’t wash dishes correctly. There is a right way and a wrong way to wash dishes. I know that now. Don’t get water on the floor. Drain the dish rack. Be careful how you organize the dishes in the dish rack. One of my favorite things to do now is to wash dishes any old way. I spill water on the floor and I smile at it because these are my fucking floors and these are my dishes and NO ONE CARES IF THERE IS WATER ON THE FLOOR.
I didn’t eat food correctly. I ate too fast. I chewed too loudly. I chewed ice too much. I didn’t put things away correctly. I didn’t arrange my shoes by the front door correctly.
I swung my arms while walking. I would be told these things and then have to try and remember all the things I shouldn’t do so I wouldn’t be so upsetting, by just existing. We would be walking, and I would remember, okay, hold your arms at your side. Do not swing your arms. I would spend all my time just reminding myself, don’t swing your arms. And then I might get distracted and forget and accidentally let my arm move an inch or two and I would hear this exasperated sigh so I would redouble my efforts to make myself less upsetting to this person I loved. DON’T SWING YOUR ARMS, ROXANE. Sometimes, I catch myself trying not to swing my arms even now and I get so angry. I get so fucking angry and I want to swing my arms like a windmill. THESE ARE MY ARMS. THIS IS HOW I WALK.
One day I went to a department store and got my make up done. I thought I looked pretty. I wanted to look pretty for this person. I bought a bunch of make up so I could be a better girl. I went to their house to surprise them and they looked me up and down and told me what else I could do to be more tolerable to them. I stood there on the front porch, wanting my body to collapse in on itself. I had been so excited, so happy I had made myself pretty and it wasn’t good enough. I certainly didn’t try that again. I went home with all my expensive make up and my pretty face and then I cried that make up off. The make up is in a yellow bag in my closet even now. Sometimes, I take it out and look at it but I don’t dare use it.
I was never going to be good enough but I tried so hard. I tried to make myself better. I tried to make myself acceptable to someone who would never find me acceptable but kept me around for reasons I cannot begin to make sense of. I stayed because they confirmed every terrible thing I already knew about myself. I stayed because I thought no one else would possibly tolerate someone as worthless as me. I stayed through infidelity and disrespect. I stayed until they no longer wanted me around. I would like to think at some point I would have left but we always want to think the best of ourselves, don’t we?
But I am a lucky girl. I think most of my sad stories are behind me. There are things I will no longer tolerate. Being alone sucks but I would rather be alone than be with someone who makes me feel that terrible. I am realizing I am not worthless. Knowing that feels good. My sad stories will always be there. I am going to keep telling them even though I hate having the stories to tell. These sad stories will always weigh on me, though that burden lessens the more I realize who I am and what I am worth.
Sometimes, a person with bright shining eyes and warm hands tells me how amazing I am. They tell me they love me exactly as I am. I can hear the truth of these words in their voice. I believe them. It is the greatest gift and that’s why I fight for it. I allow myself this exquisite pleasure. I am a lucky girl.
“I hate writing about the terrible things that happen to women, or I suppose it is more accurate to say I hate how I feel obligated to write about the terrible things that happen to women. I feel this obligation because terrible things have happened to me and because for too long I stayed silent. I was scared and ashamed and humiliated. My silence only amplified these feelings, the self-loathing, the isolation. If speaking about violence against women makes other women feel less alone, I am going to use my voice. And still. I hate writing about the terrible things that happen to women. I hate the inescapable feeling that writing about such issues accomplishes so very little. I hate the exhaustion I feel when I see yet another news story about a woman who has suffered at the hands of a man. I hate the guilt I feel because I am exhausted. Exhaustion is such a luxury.”—Read the rest: Why I Hate Writing About Janay Rice
So, I'm a college student on a budget -- not a unique circumstance, I know. Still, as such, my first avenue for reading books is reserving them from the library. About a page into Bad Feminist, I decided that owning your book is something I am willing to splurge for. Thank you for sharing your writing.
That is so flattering to hear. E-mail me your name and address at roxane at roxanegay.com and I will send you a copy of Bad Feminist. Save your money.
I learned today that Bad Feminist is entering its fifth printing. It is gratifying to see the book selling so well. Thank you for reading. Thank you for engaging with my ideas. Thank you for recommending the book to your friends. Thank you.
Lucy McKeon reviewed both An Untamed State and Bad Feminist for The Boston Review.Here I was on MPR’s The Daily Circuit. It was a lively conversation. Lots of people are worried about what feminism will do to menfolk. I was interviewed for Australia’s Daily Life and also xoJane. There are reviews of Bad Feminist also in Brooklyn Rail,Autostraddle, The Miami Herald, and the AP.
I was bored so I decided to bake Ina’s amazing brownies. I was assuming they are amazing because we are talking about Ina Garten here. I don’t really like chocolate so I knew I wouldn’t be tempted to gorge myself on them.
To kick things off, I pre-heated the oven to 350 and buttered and floured a pan. And then I sifted together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Sifting is really quite relaxing and I love seeing how fine a powder is made.
I’ve just finished my second week of teaching at Purdue. The students are wonderful, both undergraduate and graduate—lively, engaged, interesting. I’m making my way around town.
There is no denying, though, that it is lonely here and I have reached my limit for how much loneliness I am willing to tolerate. It’s simply hard to make friends at my age and my travel schedule doesn’t help matters and I also know my heart isn’t this place. Don’t read too much into this. I am simply saying that it has basically been nearly a decade of living like this and I am not sure how much longer I want to or can do it. The weekend is stretching before me right now—four days with nothing to do, with no one to see. It’s partly a nice idea but it’s also four very long days.
In another bowl, I combined six eggs, three tablespoons of instant coffee (which, Ina says, brings out the flavor of chocolate), the sugar, and vanilla. Ina said to stir not beat, so I stirred and stirred.
On the stove, I melted a pound of butter (an absolutely ridiculous quantity of butter,) the baking chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate chips over simmering water.
Here is an essay I wrote for O Magazine, which you can find in the September 2014 print issue. It’s about trying to make peace with where you are in your life (literally and figuratively), which I am trying to do. I am trying to be grateful for the beauty of the plains and the quiet I am afforded. But in truth, place is not my real problem. Isolation is. And also longing—with all this time to myself, I think way too much about a person. Or maybe not too much, but it’s something.
But I’m in a place where I can begin to address the isolation or at least create a compromise for myself. Next year I think I’m going to split my time between here and another city, one where I know people I am comfortable socializing with. Given what I’m spending on hotels anyway, I might as well rent a small apartment. I have to think through the where and how and also take ALL THE FREELANCE WORK so I have a nice cushion. I just know I can’t sit alone in an apartment in rural Indiana for four days a week for the next decade. I simply cannot do it. Living in Charleston really just broke me down and I am burnt all the way out. I like having a plan rather than just wallowing.
After letting the chocolate cool a bit, I added it to the eggsugar and let that cool to room temperature.
This week I took the stairs in the parking garage and parked on the sixth floor and right now my calves are tender to the touch. Even walking hurts. That will teach me.
I am trying. I am trying. It is so hard.
In a small bowl, I went rogue on the recipe, combining a quarter cup of flour, some chopped white chocolate, chocolate chips, and lavender flower walnuts my novel editor Amy Hundley sent me from her vacation to Hawaii.
I’ve gotten a couple new questions and I will do my best to answer them.
Perhaps on your blog or in a reply or maybe not at all, I was wondering if you could talk about rejection. I remember when your tagline used to be something like ‘I have become accustomed to rejection.’ How did you find the will to keep trying? How did you realize/understand that rejection does not mean that your writing is shit and that your voice is unnecessary and that you are unworthy?
My previous blog was, indeed, called “I Have Become Accustomed to Rejection.” Writing about submitting my work and being rejected helped me to deal with rejection and make sense of my place in the writing world. In the heat of rejection, I absolutely got down about my writing but I am also an editor, and I know what goes into selecting work for a magazine. Once my sulking passed, I was and still am able to remember that when editors are making decisions, they are usually considering tone, aesthetic fit and the composition of a given issue. There are a lot of people submitting work to magazines and some of those people are submitting equally good or better work. It’s important to understand this.
However. Giving up doesn’t accomplish anything. Working harder, being relentless, putting my work back out there does accomplish something. You have to be persistent. You have to trust and have faith in your writing. That voice you hear telling you that your voice is unnecessary and unworthy is fueled by fear because it is fucking scary to put your work out into the world and have that work rejected. Allow yourself to feel the fear and then dig deep into your stronger self and keep trying and keep writing and keep reaching for what you want. Don’t hide from your ambition. Own that shit.
When the chocolateegg mixture was cooled, I added the sifted flour to it and stirred it all together. At this point, my arm was like, “Roxane, stop this immediately.”
I added the nutchocolate (ha) to the cooled other chocolate situation and stirred it all together. Then I poured the batter into my baking pan and it looked pretty. Then I baked all that for 35 minutes.
Here’s another question.
You are amazing. I just wanted to start with that. I read all your posts and you often talk about someone, that you love but you aren’t together. I know this is personal and I understand if you don’t wish to answer this, especially receiving hundreds of asks a day, but… I was wondering if you could talk about romantic love and its meaning. What would you recommend after a bad breakup and when you don’t know what to do or how to move on even when you don’t have the strength to do anything?
I suppose much of my writing here comes off as lovesick because I am asked, quite a lot, about who I am writing about and what the deal is. Awkward I guess! I don’t know what my deal is. I never used to be like this but as of late, I find myself with all my cards on the table. I worry I come off as pathetic but then I realize I don’t really care. I don’t need to feel shame about how I feel. There is someone I love, yes. I am vague about certain things because some things I keep closest to my heart. I believe our ancestors called this privacy.
After a bad break up, the most important thing is to take care of yourself and to be kind to yourself. You don’t need to know what to do at first. You don’t need to have the strength to do anything. You just need to breathe and get through one day at a time. If it takes months, it takes months. Don’t let anyone else put a timetable on what it takes for your heart to mend. And then, when you can finally breathe easier, be even kinder to yourself. Start remembering who you were before the break up and before the relationship that ended. Try and get back to that person without abandoning what you have learned between then and now. When you are ready, get back out there. Maybe you won’t really be ready, but don’t close yourself off to someone else.
On a more realistic note, fuck their shit up, sell all the shit they left behind, burn pictures, cut their faces out of pictures, talk shit with your friends, get sloppy drunk, and behave badly.
Romantic love, I have no idea. Right now I feel like a fucking teenager. I am completely out of my depth. My palms are sweaty. I am writing a name on lined notebook paper. I am dreaming. I am drowning.
Maybe romantic love is both selfish and selfless in that I don’t want to be selfless. I want to be selfish and greedy. I want her all to myself because I do not like to share. But. If it was in her best interest, I would try to be the best version of myself. I would try to be selfless even though it would feel like I was cutting the most necessary part of myself out.
It’s getting tongue tied when we talk on the phone because the sound of her voice is home. It’s the rush of pure joy when I see her name anywhere. The way my head spins during those first moments each time we see each other and how it feels like electricity is just pulsing through my skin when she is near. Being made to blush at an age when blushing is absurd. It’s the softness of skin and the warmth of lovely hands. It’s my heart pounding when I write to her or read something from her or think of her or breathe the same air as her. It’s the quiet I feel when we’re together, the sense of absolute completeness, where I want for nothing. Understanding greeting cards and feeling no embarrassment about that. It is opening my hands and saying here is the world, if you would let me give it to you.
Jealousy, white hot jealousy, over both trivial and nontrivial things. Some people have mature and evolved theories about jealousy and what it means and you know, I don’t really care. I am not that woman. I get jealous, possessive, not unhealthily, just enough to remind me of what’s at stake.
There is desire and [redacted] and [redacted] and [redacted].
Being unafraid to show the ugliest parts of myself and bear witness to the ugliest parts of someone else and being willing to hold that ugly gently. We. Us. Together. Knowing you can be both strong and fragile. A willingness to tear down the walls you no longer need. Letting someone reach your warm. Reaching for their warm.
Maybe romantic love is knowing how something is going to end, knowing what is inevitable, and jumping in heart first, rib cage torn apart, blood rushing, anyway.
I don’t know how the brownies taste but they look gorgeous. The brownies are, perhaps, a metaphor for wanting what you cannot have.
in my craft of fiction class, we’re looking at sentences and paragraphs this week. These are some I’ve highlighted as favorites from contemporary fiction:
Thirty Girls by Susan Minot:
Jane was sufficiently bewildered by what kind of person she was, so it was always arresting when someone, particularly a stranger, summed her up.
Forgotten Country, Catherine Chung
My mother did not want to go to America: this much I knew. I knew it by the way she became distracted and impatient with my sister, by the way she stopped tucking us into bed at night. I knew it from watching her feet, which began to shuffle after my father announced the move, as though they threw down invisible roots that needed to be pulled out with each step
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt:
Mrs. Barbour was from a society family with an old Dutch name, so cool and blonde and monotone that sometimes she seemed partially drained of blood. She was a masterpiece of composure; nothing ever ruffled her or made her upset, and though she was not beautiful her calmness had the magnetic pull of beauty—a stillness so powerful that the molecules realigned themselves around her when she came into a room…
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones:
“Silver” is what I called girls who were natural beauties but who also smoothed on a layer of pretty from a jar. It wasn’t just how they looked, it was how they were. The name came from a song my mother sang sometimes when she was getting dressed to go out somewhere special. She sang along with Aretha Franklin at the end: “Sail on, silver girl… Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way.
Zazen, Vanessa Veselka
I tried to map the cultural trends leading up to it but as I did they grew, interconnecting and weaving backwards and sideways out to everything. Next to the megalithic institutionalized shredding of people’s humanity, marked by tombstone malls and scabby hills, the Styrofoam gullets and flag-waving god-chatterers casting their votes for eternal paternity on the lap rapists - next to all of that, the intimacy between a terrorist and his target was almost a beautiful thing but I still couldn’t solve that moment when they did it anyway so I grabbed more paper and widened my field of vision
Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush:
One thing she knew and Ned did not, was that there is no permanent friendship between men, among men. Something goes wrong, somebody marries the wrong person, somebody advances too fast, somebody converts, somebody refuses good advice or bad advice, it didn’t matter. It went up in a flash, it went up in a flash like magnesium paper set on fire in a magic show. She thought, It’s not always great with women, either, but it can be. Women can have friends, it’s more personal, she thought. Although in the great design of things, women were getting to be more like men. There were more tough cookies around, and liars.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks. Her mouth was large, her nose upturned.
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Besides, humility had always seemed to him a specious thing, invented for the comfort of others; you were praised for humility by people because you did not make them feel any more lacking than they already did.
The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner
People who are harder to love pose a challenge, and the challenge makes them easier to love. You’re driven to love them. People who want their love easy don’t really want love.
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now: the street is this, the doorway is this, the stairs are this, this is Mamma, this is Papa, this is the day, this the night. I was small and really my doll knew more than I did.
Come Together, Fall Apart, by Cristina Henriquez
Her brand of meanness was of the temperate variety. She threw little punches but they were never the sort to leave bruises.
We The Animals, Justin Torres
This is your heritage,’ he said, as if from this dance we could know about his own childhood, about the flavor and grit of tenement buildings in Spanish Harlem, and projects in Red Hook, and dance halls, and city parks, and about his own Paps, how he beat him, how he taught him to dance, as if we could hear Spanish in his movements, as if Puerto Rico was a man in a bathrobe, grabbing another beer from the fridge and raising it to drink, his head back, still dancing, still steeping and snapping perfectly in time.
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, Danielle Evans
When people don’t hide things, it means they don’t care enough to be afraid of losing you.
Savages, Don Winslow
If you let people believe that you are weak, sooner or later you’re going to have to kill them.
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
Women don’t realize how much store men set on the regularity of their habits. We absorb their comings and goings into our bodies, their rhythms into our bones.
The Lover, Marguerite Duras
Suddenly, all at once, she knows, knows that he doesn’t understand her, that he never will, that he lacks the power to understand such perverseness. And that he can never move fast enough to catch her. It’s up to her to know. And she does. Because of his ignorance she suddenly knows: she was attracted to him already on the ferry. She was attracted to him. It depended on her alone.
Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward
We crawled through time like roaches through the linings of walls, the neglected spaces and hours, foolishly happy that we were still alive even as we did everything to die.”
May We Be Forgiven, A.M. Homes
We retreat back to the sofa and watch more television, and I find myself thinking that I now understand what the perfect use for TV is—it gives people who have nothing in common something they can do together and talk about: it gives us familiar territory. I have a new respect for what George used to do, how television binds us as Americans—we are what we watch.
A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter
Certain things I remember exactly as they were. They are merely discolored a bit by time, like coins in the pocket of a forgotten suit. Most of the details, though, have long since been transformed or rearranged to bring others of them forward. Some, in fact, are obviously counterfeit; they are no less important. One alters the past to form the future
The Wife, Meg Wolitzer
Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend, they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites picking up the slightest scrape of dissatisfaction. Wives bring broth, we bring paper clips, we bring ourselves and our pliant, warm bodies. We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves or anyone else. “Listen,” we say. “Everything will be okay.” And then, as if our lives depend on it, we make sure it is.”
The Brutal Language of Love, Alicia Erian
Love was never easy, she knew. And if it was, it wasn’t love—friendship maybe, but not love. What she felt for Leonard was something limp and slack. It had no charge, no current running through it to hurt her if she wasn’t careful. The reality was, you only knew you were loved if you were left and returned to, if you were ignored and then craved. Occasionally you would be seen for slightly less than the sum of your parts, and that was love, too. Love announced itself with a sting, not a pat. If love was love, it was urgent and ripe and carried with it the faint odor of humiliation, so that there was always something to be made up for later, some apology in the works. Love was never clean, never quiet, never polite. Love rarely did what you asked it to, let alone what you dreamed it might do, and it most certainly did not know that your favorite color was blue.
Dare Me, Megan Abbott
I guess I’d been waiting forever, my palm raised. Waiting for someone to take my girl body and turn it out, steel me from the inside, make things matter for me, like never before.
Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
I’m sure we were all feeling blessed on this ferryboat among the humps of very green—in the sunlight almost coolly burning, like phosphorus—islands, and the water of inlets winking in the sincere light of day, under a sky as blue and brainless as the love of God, despite the smell, the slight, dreamy suffocation, of some kind of petroleum-based compound used to seal the deck’s seams.”
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
Then the fight went out of control. It quivered their arms and legs and wrenched their faces into shapes of hatred, it urged them harder and deeper into each other’s weakest points, showing them cunning ways around each other’s strongholds and quick chances to switch tactics, feint, and strike again. In the space of a gasp for breath it sent their memories racing back over the years for old weapons to rip the scabs off old wounds; it went on and on.
Airships, Barry Hannah
Jane truly liked to talk to fat and old guys best of all. She didn’t ever converse much with young men. Her ideal of a conversation was when sex was nowhere near it at all.
“Don’t get too high and mighty, ladies. Don’t step out of line. Don’t do anything to upset or disappoint men who feel entitled to your time, bodies, affection or attention. Your bared body can always be used as a weapon against you. You bared body can always be used to shame and humiliate you. Your bared body is at once desired and loathed.”—Roxane Gay: The Great Naked Celebrity Photo Leak of 2014 is just the beginning (via guardian)
I have been busy. I have overcommitted. I have disappointed editors. I will be spending the weekend trying to catch up. I taught Tuesday, did a reading in Chicago on Wednesday, taught Thursday, did a reading in St. Louis, which is far, on Friday. I need a personal assistant. I need to learn how to say no. I need to do this sooner than later.
I am also trying to make the time to go to the gym. Frankly, that matters more than almost anything else so yeah, I am taking time to work on my fitness as the song goes.
I am slowly figuring out how to get home in this new town. I always make it but I know I am not taking the most efficient route yet. Regardless, when I see this building, I know I am near my apartment.
I did a radio interview at WGN, while in Chicago, with an interesting host. He was very attractive in the way I like—good Midwestern stock. My sister-in-law came along for the ride. We were talking about Bad Feminist and the host asked me, “Do you really think I, as a white man, am more privileged than you?”
Heh. That actually happened.
Whenever I see the number 33 I have to take a picture. She is always with me and everywhere, there are reminders. This is an unexpected comfort.
In Chicago, I read at the lovely store Women and Children First. Before the reading, me, my brother, sister-in-law, and niece went to dinner because my niece was about to melt down. Basically as we sat down, we requested french fries. The waitress brought this bowl of pita bread and my niece attacked it like a velociraptor. She may only weigh 23 pounds, but when she is hungry, she is HANGRY. She was wearing sneakers that light up when she moves I cannot handle how adorable those shoes are. So tiny! At 7:30, we walked back to the bookstore which was insanely packed. I don’t know, 200-300 people. And it was HOT. Every reading has been unbearably hot. I have sweated off at least 15 pounds in the past couple weeks.
Anyway, as I walked in, the audience began applauding. I just don’t even understand. It felt fucking great.
I went on stage and read and took questions. A young woman thanked me for writing about being fat and disordered eating and I almost cried. Then there was a crazy signing line that took, god, an hour and a half. People stayed for all of it. In addition to my brother’s family, my cousin (who is more brother than cousin) and his partner were also there. It was so nice to be around my people and to share what I do with my family. My niece was really well-behaved. For the most part she sat and listened and babbled. A couple times she did her ancestor sigh, which just made me laugh. I get it, kid. I need to wrap this up. The store owners gave her toys to play with during the signing and she was quite content because there were so many people! Paying attention to her!
There were some very… umm intense fans at that reading. It was eye-opening. And flattering. And surreal. I am still trying to wrap my mind around this new phase of my life.
The latest re-print of Bad Feminist looks like this, minus the pin, that is just a pin, sitting on top of the book.
Last night, I read in St. Louis at Left Bank Books. Another great reading. More than 100 people in the audience. INSANELY HOT. I was sweating buckets. It was just. so. fucking. hot. I was sweating buckets. I am repeating that to express how hot it was.
Before the reading, I was at home, rushing to the radio station to participate in this On Point conversation about Beyoncé and feminism on NPR. My co-panelists were Tanya Steele and Jessica Valenti. It was an interesting, thought-provoking conversation though it felt hard to fully express myself at times because the host kind of cut us all off at times.
Before I did that, I was feeling really low and exhausted. I don’t know why but this weekend I am feeling the distance more than I usually do. I am shrouded in longing and loneliness. I miss her. She’s just so much fun to spend time with. She is so good for me. I think I am good for her. I want that goodness always. I want it all. This is greedy but I don’t care. Fuck it. I want it all.
Anyway I was just not in the perkiest mood and beyond all that I am also feeling stressed out of my mind because I was feeling just how much I have overcommitted this semester. I made an executive decision. There was no way I was going to be able to drive to St. Louis with my sanity intact so I hired a driver. I sure did. It’s gonna get me in trouble but sometimes, self-care is important. The driver came and picked me up in a Cadillac and ferreted me to my reading and then brought me home. At one point, we stopped at a gas station and he hopped out to open my door (which I kept saying he didn’t need to do and which he ignored), and then he stood and waited and it was kind of cool to have a handsome white man waiting on me. As I walked out of the gas station, this brother said, “Damn. Are you a celebrity?” I just laughed and said, “No, I am a writer.”
Then I met Curtis Sittenfeld who wrote American Wife, which is one of my favorite books. I tried super hard not to be awkward.
One of my former graduate students drove three hours to see me read so I had dinner with her after. It was so great to catch up. She is doing really well and that makes me happy.
I stole this big version of the Bad Feminist cover. I mean, I asked for it and they gave it to me but I would have stolen it.
In the signing line, I met a young woman who thanked me for talking so openly about the fluidity of sexuality and as is often the case in these moments, I urged myself not to cry. She also brought me cupcakes!
Someone else brought me pink letter stickers. I did not know people bring writers gifts but now I know and it is GREAT.
But I felt the cupcake woman’s gratitude so deeply. (I know her name.) And I understood where it was coming from. My sexuality has not really ever stressed me out but it has baffled me at times. I am openly, eagerly bisexual but I was done with women after my last relationship with a woman! I was fucking done. This is what I told myself. And then there was her. Here I am in uncharted territory.
This young woman, Jenny (Jenni?) introduced me at Left Bank Books and she was wearing the most amazing shirt and SHE MADE ME A TEAM PEETA arts and crafts project that I will cherish forever. I think we are super friends now.
Then I posed with the staff at Left Bank Books and I saw two unicorns, I mean, black booksellers.
During the Q & A a black woman who works in Ferguson asked me how we can get more people of color at literary events and I did not have an answer but she did invite me to read in Ferguson and I said I would, happily and I meant it, so that’s going to happen at some point.
I feel I look okay in this picture. It takes a lot for me to say that.
Last Sunday, I went out and bought the New York Times and saw my book listed on the bestseller list and I did that dance Miss Celie does when she sees the house she inherits.
The book is still selling well. It’s on a bunch of local bestseller lists. Booksellers keep telling me amazing things about how the book is selling. I am thrilled.
I like to bake but when I write about baking men (exclusively) send me e-mails, telling me that I’m never going to lose weight if I make such things. That’s what happens when you choose to talk about food while fat. It’s fine. I mean, it’s not but whatever. Most of the time, I’m not even baking for myself but I should not need to qualify my life for anyone.
I understand nutrition, concerned men of the Internet.
I decided to bake cookies for my brother because he likes cookies and I like bossing him around so I thought the cookies would help with that. I combined room temperature butter, a cup of brown sugar and half a cup of white sugar.
What’s strange is that my heart catches when I see her name on my phone, or in my inbox, or on Twitter. I cycle through checking these various devices, craving these moments of connection, these points on the map. You are there. I am here. You are there. I am here.
I added a large quantity of vanilla and two eggs to the buttersugar.
We’re trying to figure this out, together and separately. We have similar and very different concerns. It’s hard to get this right when we’re not sure what it is or we are sure what it is and the surety of what this is is something that is terrifying and thrilling and too big and so unexpected. I did something careless that hurt her and I eventually realized I had done this hurtful thing and I had not done it intentionally but that doesn’t lessen the hurt and we were able to talk about it and it certainly won’t happen again because I made a decision that I was already wanting to make but regardless, it made me realize, this is real. This has long been real. This isn’t going away.
I don’t want it to go away. Ever.
Then I added flour, baking soda, and salt to the wet ingredients.
Ha ha wet ingredients. I am not mature.
I want in ways both grand and small, to show her how important she is, how much she matters, how special she is. At the same time, I don’t want to overwhelm. I want her to have the space she needs. It’s a delicate balance. I am not so delicate a woman. I am just me. For the first time in my life, though, I am okay with all of this, who I am, who I want to be with, the why of it all.
When all these ingredients were combined, I added some white chocolate chips and some semi-sweet chocolate chips and MIX MIX MIX!
My new oven is not a LIE OVEN. It bakes things at the proper temperature in the proper amount of time so that’s cool I guess.
Here are some weird things about my new apartment.
1. The ice tastes like dirt.
2. The hot water smells like sulfur so I basically take devil showers.
3. The intercom to ring my apartment rings into someone else’s apartment and that guy is PISSED.
4. The garage is full of spiders and grossness.
5. The building is haunted by the spirits of serial killers.
6. The elevator is paneled with wood and grime.
7. The property manager sent each tenant instructions on how we should clean our floors. I promptly threw that shit out.
8. The washer is awesome but the buttons are confusing and many.
She is adrift at sea without a compass, not knowing which way to go or how to get there. What I want to say is I am the shore, waiting, warm, a safe harbor, so much more. If you look, just so, you might see the edges of my land. This shore will always be here if she finds a way to reach it.
*So, I went to the Roxane Gay reading in Chicago tonight. My feelings and thoughts are everywhere but, I needed to write about this. I’m sorry there are a bunch of grammar and spelling errors. I wrote this on my iphone, on the train ride back home. If you read the whole thing you get to see the selfie I took. I hope y’all like it.
Tonight I had the opportunity to cook in my new apartment for the first time. I was sick of sandwiches and shitty food. Before I moved I was telling Twitter I basically only have one knife, and it is serrated at that. They shamed me, appropriately, so during the move, I bought a big girl knife set with a German name and also used my new knives for the first time. Well, I used one of them, and the first order of business was slicing an onion and then I sautéed that onion in olive oil. I was craving Mexican and I needed protein but I also wanted something resembling healthy.
As I was cooking, I was thinking about flirtation and how women have been very ummmm friendly with me at my readings lately. I have been friendly back. I am flirtatious. I am and it is especially fun when flirtation is mutual. It has done my ego good to be flirted with by lovely people. When you reach a certain age, it’s nice to have reminders that you’re still interesting to at least a couple people. Tattoos are always a great conversation starter and for whatever reason, they compel people to reach out and touch. “What’s the story behind this?”
Oh this old thing, smile, batting of the eyes. Well, let me tell you.
It’s interesting…women will walk right up to me in public and make their interest known. Men send pictures of their dicks. I’m not always opposed to the later but the contrast is kind of funny.
The thrill of flirtation will never take the place of the magnetic pull of you, always you.
I took a can of Amy’s refried beans and added them to my softened onions. It looked absolutely horrifying. I’m sorry but refried beans look like dog shit. I was really dismayed staring down into my pan.
I had a conversation with my mother this evening. With all the press that’s out there, I have no secrets and my parents have been tentatively trying to talk to me about The Thing. For the first time in my life, she blurted out, “I need to talk about your rape.” There was no more talking around it. There were no vagaries or using someone else’s story to have a conversation about me or our family. She asked, “Have you gotten help?” She said, “Give me their names.” She asked, “How could I not know?” She asked, “Are you okay?”
It’s hard for me to have this kind of conversation with my mother because she is an exceptional mother and I don’t want her to feel hurt or responsible. I don’t want to shatter what she knew of my childhood though I suppose that illusion is no longer possible.
She asked, “Why did you go public with the story? Is that because you’re over it?” I said, “I haven’t been private with it for quite some time, but really, I’m as over it as I’m going to be and I cannot stay quiet anymore.” She was quiet for a moment and then she said, “I understand how something like this, you never really forget or move on from.” She said, “Your father is struggling with this.” She said, “It’s strange how children never tell their parents the things they most need to tell them.”
Then we moved on to other things and I stopped holding my breath but as with the last sort of conversation we had, I instantly feel lighter. They understand me more now, I think, and that’s good. I want them to understand me.
I want to be understood.
I added fresh Roma tomatoes and cilantro, salt and pepper and chilli powder to the beans and let that simmer. I loved the pop of green the cilantro provided.
I was on the radio in Ireland. I was interviewed by BUST and I have a considerable bust so that worked out well.
I was on KCRW today (if you scroll down the page you can listen to my segment, or you can listen to the entire episode, which was really good). The interviewer asked me about The Thing. There was an uncomfortable moment where my voice caught in my throat, where I just wanted to vomit and run away from the radio station. There are moments when time collapses and there is no preparing for that moment, none. Will that horrible feeling truly never go away? This, is a life sentence but I try not to live my life like i have been sentenced.
Eventually, the beans were ready and I was ready because I was hungry.
There is a tattoo I have been thinking of getting—two letters, two numbers that are really one number, an infinity symbol, bold lines, surrounded by tribal ink work. Right now the tattoo is an idea. It might always be an idea but I know what it looks like.
Bad Feminist was #13 last week and it is #16 this week and it is sold out in many stores and it is going into a fourth printing. I ordered groceries on the Internet and a strapping young man in tight khaki pants delivered them to me. This tumblr now has more than 100,000 followers.
I keep trying to feel worthy. The boss of me gets rather testy when I say that. She made me write out, “I am worthy,” thirty-three times. I repeat this as a mantra. I try to believe. This is not humility. This is overwhelm and surprise. I won’t Taylor Swift this. Soon, I will accept all of this, as best I can. Soon. And I will make sure to do something good with whatever this is, not for myself, but for others.
I made little tacos withe lettuce and light sour cream and cheese and raspberry chipotle salsa and this was a very delicious dinner. Everything in my new kitchen works as it should.
The new semester begins on Monday and I am nervous and excited and not even a little bit prepared so that’s what I will spend the rest of my week doing.
I do wear a ring on a certain finger. I am often asked about it. Sometimes, a commitment is silent and it may never become spoken, may never become anything more than an idea of what could have been, but that commitment is still there, beneath the ring and the pale tan line, in the skin and in the blood and in the breath and in the beating of a heart.
Fuck you for spoiling Gone Girl. I spent real dollars on your book only to get to page 94 and stop reading it, because I now hate you. Which is ironic because the chapter that contains the spoiler is discussing how likability of a character is unrelated to literary worth.
Let me know your PayPal address and I will refund the purchase price of the book, but Gone Girl has been out for three years.
It was one hell of a trip. So much happened. First we had an hour, a little more, all we would have for the trip because timing is everything and this time, timing was our enemy. We had an hour and the world fell away, our hands clasped together, words falling out of our mouths and then an unexpected but lovely moment hurtling us forward. We had an hour and we tried so hard to make that hour last forever and it was enough and it was not nearly enough.
That night I had a reading at The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. I wasn’t expecting many people to be there because it was Friday night and the bookstore is downtown and that’s just how I roll, always thinking the least of myself. I was lucky to read with seven amazing women—Kima Jones, Antonia Crane, Pamela Ribon, Nina Bargiel, Mallory Ellis, Kate Spencer, and Karolina Waclawiak. Our host for the evening was the always soulful and generous Zoe Ruiz. Something special happened that night. Every reader was fierce and electric. There were hundreds of people crammed on two levels, standing, sitting, crouching, several deep in all the balconies.
It was a hell of a thing, being in that store that night.
The room was unbearably hot but miraculously, people stayed. I read last and when I was done, I got a standing ovation, the crowd rising to their feet in this gorgeous wave of energy. It was, by far, a Moment, one of the biggest moments of my life. I stood there and I felt this rush of everything. I felt how far I have come. The signing line lasted ninety minutes and it was still hot and people stood and waited just to talk to me. Words cannot express anything about how overwhelming, unexpected, and gratifying that night was so I can only offer up these meager paragraphs. I will never forget that night. My god. I cannot believe what is happening with my writing.
I had a bunch of media interviews on Saturday morning, one after the other and by the end, I was absolutely over myself. I am grateful for the press but so interviewed out.
L.A. and I talked on the phone for a while and then I had lunch with Mallory in my hotel room and we talked and talked. Mallory has perfect skin and perfect teeth and gorgeous eyes and she can wear the hell out of a dress. Just know that. We have a delightful time when we hang out. Our Twitter followers ship us and it’s adorable. I get it. We’re pretty interesting ladies. Twitter keeps saying we are OTP. While we were hanging out, I said, “Mallory, what is OTP?” She laughed but she also explained the lingo and then I laughed. I am SO OLD.
Which reminds me. At the reading, Mallory’s grandmother was in the front row and she simply beamed with pride as her granddaughter read about how to deal with criticism and also male novelist literary jokes. It was so cool to see that. You couldn’t tell grandmother a damn thing that night. She knew, and rightly so, that her grandaughter is the shit.
There was also, during the Q & A, a woman who wondered why all the readers talked about sexuality (not so accurate), because she was deeply concerned with global economic inequality. I answered her question and I’m still pleased with my answer.
Saturday evening, I saw my friend Amber in Neil LaBute’s Reasons to Be Pretty which is showing at The Geffen Playhouse. Amber is an actress but I actually know her as a writer. I published a poem of hers at PANK and we’ve done literary events together and so on. Anyway, it was really cool to see her doing her thing on stage. The show is interesting. I am not a fan of LaBute but there’s a lot to chew on about gender and beauty and relationships—a very dense script. GO SEE IT. The cast is stellar, the set is basically a Transformer, and the theatre seating is comfortable. I went with my friends Zoe, Casey and Josh. Casey and Josh were also in LA for my reading and having them there throughout the weekend was the loveliest.
After the play, we went for a drink with Amber and her friends, one of whom is a TV show creator and we then proceeded to have a peak Los Angeles experience that I am still giggling about. That city is ridiculous in the best possible way.
I was riding on the high of being in my favorite city but the weekend was also laced with melancholy. I felt every emotion ever. I was hurting. We both were. I was a little angry at circumstance. I was frustrated at things I don’t understand and things that are out of my control.
I had a meeting Sunday afternoon with an amazing woman writer/director/producer where we talked about Things and Possibilities.
It was a weekend of events where I kept thinking, “I wish you were here.”
Sunday evening, I went to dinner with Casey and Josh and we had amazing Chinese food and drinks and conversation and they were really good to me. We also beheld an amazing view of the city at night, all glitter and glam.
The next morning, there was so much traffic but I did something impulsive, found us one last moment.
Later, on the drive home, I offered a way out, as I have done probably too many times. I was crisply told to make that the last time.
I do not particularly enjoy feeling things. I shut myself off for many years so this allowing myself my emotions thing is kind of new and kind of a pain in the ass. For the past several days, I have been drilling into myself, “See the world as it is. See the world as it is. See the world as it is.” I want to write these words one hundred eleven times. Or is it a hundred and thirty three times? I want to burn these words into my skin and tattoo them on the insides of my lips and eyelids.
Or I remind myself I need to be patient, I need to be patient, I need to accept that I do not get to shape the world as I want. That sort of thing only happens in fiction and this is not fiction. This is a huge, messy, exhilarating life.
I would not choose anything but this. I’m probably not supposed to say that but while we may not get to shape the world as we want, we do get to feel what we feel.
Sometimes, emotion is too much. I wish myself to be a robot. I wish to break myself of hope, the allure of possibility, needing reassurance, the foolishness of fairy tales, of hearing words and hoping the truth behind those words will be enough to overcome. I want to break myself of everything that makes me human but then, what would I be?
No. I don’t want to break myself of these things. I want to allow myself these things while also seeing the world as it is.
In truth, my ability to hope is such an indelible part of who I am. No matter what has happened, I have always held on to hope, even when it was the frailest glimmer of a thing. I wrote a whole novel about it, in fact.
That hour and some was everything. And enough. I will always want more. We, I think, will always want more. May we be so lucky as to get that more someday. This is not fiction.
Roxane Gay: Obama called for peace and calm. But we are beyond peace and calm. Silence is not an option
"I am stunned but I should not be. I recognize the luxury of my disbelief. I will never allow myself such luxury again. Today, I truly understand privilege.
I am outraged but I do not know what to do with my outrage that might be productive, that might move this world forward toward a place where black lives matter, and where black parents no longer need to have “the talk” with their children about how not to be killed by police and where anger over a lifetime of wrongs is not judged, but understood and supported.
The mainstream media is trying to report on this travesty, and all too often, they are failing. There is a preoccupation with the actions of a few, with the salacious discussions of looting and a people run amok over the plight of the many living in an occupied community.”
Welcome to What Would Twitter Do? the ninth and three-quarter edition with Roxane Gay! Next week will be Week 10, the final interview. In this series, I talk to some of my favourite people on Twitter about their Twitter philosophies and practices. Roxane Gay, in addition to…
Another young black man has been gunned down. His name was Mike Brown. He was unarmed.
My [redacted] e-mailed me because she knew I would be upset about this story, because she knows all of my heart, and all I could say in response was, “I am numb.”
I don’t care if Mike Brown was going to college soon. This should not matter. We should not have to prove Mike Brown was worthy of living. We should not have to account for the ways in which he is suitably respectable. We should not have to prove that his body did not deserve to be riddled with bullets. His community should not have to silence their anger so they won’t be accused of rioting, so they won’t become targets too.
It should not matter if Mike Brown was a good boy but I have no doubt that he was. His life mattered, no matter how he chose to live it. He had family and friends who must mourn him and who must now worry about who will be murdered next. Every life matters. There are few things I believe more passionately. Unfortunately, we live in a country where your worth and safety are largely determined by the color of your skin.
Yesterday, a young black man was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri. Every day, this happens. This is the value of black life. We are targets. Our children are targets. This is the scarred reality in which we must raise our children.
The media, as usual, has no idea how to talk about Mike Brown’s murder ethically. They do not know how to talk about his community’s grief and anger ethically. They do not know how to overcome the profound cultural biases that have shaped how they understand the value of black lives or the tenor of black anger and grief.
Yesterday, NASCAR driver Tony Stewart hit and killed Kevin Ward Jr. with his car during a sprint race on a dirt track. Not much of that sentence makes sense to me because I don’t really follow car racing but I have been struck by the story and how clearly the proper language has been used to describe what took place. One man killed another with his car. It is a tragedy. Did Kevin Ward Jr. go to college? That will never be part of his narrative because we inherently assume his life matters. He is white.
There is no comparing Mike Brown and Kevin Ward Jr. not really, but I am still keenly aware of the differences in how their deaths have been reported. I am keenly aware of how deftly responsibility has been placed squarely on the responsible party in Kevin Ward Jr.’s death. The police officer who murdered Mike Brown is on “paid administrative leave,” while an investigation is conducted. This is what always happens. An unarmed young black man is shot multiple times and his murderer is given the compensated benefit of the doubt.
As we try to make sense of this latest tragedy and as we try to prepare for the next one, and there will, certainly be a next one and one after that for the whole of our lives, I think about how we rally and how we try to express our solidarity. We are. We are. We are.
We are not Mike Brown. We are not Eric Garner. We are not Renisha McBride. We are not Trayvon Martin. I understand the sentiment behind these cries of solidarity but we are not these men and women who have been murdered in different but similar ways for the exact same reason. I worry that we diminish their lives, their deaths, and the grief of those who loved them when we think we can simply say we are those who have been so cruelly lost.
We are not these people.
Maybe it is better for those of us with brown skin to say we might someday endure a fate like the one suffered by Mike Brown, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and countless others. Maybe it is better for those of us who could never possibly endure such a fate to say, “We will never know what it is like to live with such danger in a seemingly safe place.” These statements aren’t as catchy as “We are,” but they are more accurate.
What on earth is there to say at this point? Outrage has done nothing. Protest has done nothing. Grief has done nothing. Doing or saying nothing is not an option, and yet.
At last night’s reading, during the Q & A, an older woman recounted a story of how she once couldn’t get a credit card because she didn’t have a husband. I think she said the year was 1969. I thought about her story all night and kept thinking, “May I be worthy of the work you have done to make my life possible.” I recognized that any woman who reads, writes, votes, has a banking account or credit card, owns a home in her own name, owns a car in her own name, signs any business document in her own name, and the list goes on, is, whether she is a feminist or not, standing on the shoulders of a great many feminists.
At last night’s reading, I met a 17 year old girl named Teighlor whose mom brought her to the reading. She sat near the front and her eyes were shining the whole time. I threw her a Bad Feminist tote bag and she held it tightly in her hands. She was first in the signing line and she told me how she looked up to me and she was wholly adorable and I felt my eyes burning at the corners because I was so moved. I kept thinking, “May I be worthy of your respect and admiration.”
At last night’s reading, I met a young man named Robert who also brought his mother. She began speaking to me in Creole so I responded. They were Haitian and they were just so excited to meet another Haitian from the Midwest. The bookstore had sold out of my book but they wanted to meet me anyway. They apologized, as if they owed me something. Their presence at my reading was all I could ever ask for. I gave them my copy of the book and signed it and they asked if they could take a picture with me and I kept thinking, “May I be worthy of your respect. May I be worthy of our people’s history.”
At last night’s reading, I met a woman who was effusive in her words to me. She said I have the cutest smile. She asked me to sign her books. There was a Haitian man who used to teach at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and he gave me his card, told me to stay in touch. The signing line was long and everyone was so kind and so full of praise and I kept thinking, “May I be worthy of all of this.”
After last night’s reading, I had dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant, Sala, with two dear friends, Kate (and her husband Al) and Molly, who drove up from Chicago just to see me read. Molly, in fact, made the drive with me. Whenever I am in Chicago, she is there. She has beautiful eyes and long red hair. She has a mermaid denim skirt I love. She is a good listener and a good talker. Throughout dinner, I kept thinking, “May I be worthy of such friendship.”
After last night’s reading, I came back to my hotel. I said goodbye to Molly. I had choices. Most of them would have been bad choices. I got a drink at the hotel bar and continued contemplating my choices. I brought my drink to my room and realized there was only once choice I wanted to make. I am a fool that way.
On my second day in the new town, I went to Best Buy to buy a telephone. In the store, I asked a salesperson, “Do you have old fashioned telephones as opposed to cellular phones?” He knew exactly what I meant and pointed me in the right direction.
I have a landline in my new apartment because, turns out, my cell phone connection is really shitty in this place. I will never know that phone number but the phone I bought will magically connect to my cell phone. I haven’t set it up yet but I did read the box thoroughly.
I like electronics. I’m alone in a new town. My impulse control is nonexistent.
After I picked up a phone, I saw a PlayStation 4 and I thought, man, I want one so I bought one, and there was some promotion going on where a video game called Killzone, I think, was free! I like free things.
I paid for everything with a friendly salesperson in the video game area because that’s what you have to do with certain items. Then I went to the bathroom and then I headed for the front of the store. Now, the game was still in its security case. When I got to the front, I showed my receipt for the case to be removed. The young man studied my receipt like it was the most important document he had ever seen. My skin started prickling because I knew something really frustrating was about to happen. I just knew. Anyone who has been racially profiled knows that feeling.
He set the receipt down, still holding on to my bag of purchases, and called for the salesperson who had sold me my stuff.
I have NEVER in my life experienced something like this. My receipt was right there. My purchases were plainly identified. For whatever reason, that was not proof enough?
I asked him what the problem was and he ignored me. I asked to speak to a manager and he ignored me. He literally acted like I was not there. I was calm and quiet. I shouldn’t even have to note my demeanor but nonetheless, there it is. An older couple strolled out of the store, set off the alarm, and he quickly deactivated the security device on their purchase and waved them out of the store so that was also infuriating.
Because I thought he might have been confused, I explained that the video game was part of a promotional package I had purchased. He ignored me.
All the while, I was on Twitter because I was so frustrated. I was kind of vague about what I was buying and later this would become a Thing because people are the worst. I was being vague because I was embarrassed to be 39 years old, buying a Play Station. I felt guilty for being so consumeristic. I am struggling with no longer being broke all the time and what that allows me to do. I was also feeling awkward because I only use my Play Station 3 to watch movies and Netflix and play Lumines so the purchase felt extra ridiculous. (As an aside, this makes my brothers so mad and I like that part.) There’s no fucking conspiracy here. I just didn’t feel like telling the Internet what I was buying.
Meanwhile, in the store, the young man kept requesting the salesperson who made my sale on the intercom. This went on for quite some time. He continued to ignore me. During this entire exchange, I don’t think he said a single word to me. It was like I wasn’t even there.
The salesman finally came to the front of the store and verified I had indeed made this purchase. He pointed to the video game and said, “That is on the receipt,” and the young man said, “I know, but…”
Let me repeat: My receipt was not good enough. I have never heard of needing to have a salesperson verify a purchase when a receipt has been proffered but I shouldn’t be surprised. The rules are always different when shopping/driving/walking/existing while black. The experience was particularly galling because this happened over what was both a significant and an insignificant amount of money.
Finally, he removed the security case from the video game and handed me my receipt which I snatched out of his hand because I finally had enough. I said, “I just spent $700 dollars in this store. Are you serious?” And I walked out. He still had not acknowledged or spoken to me. It was humiliating to stand there, being treated like a common criminal, everyone staring like you’ve done something wrong. Racism was absolutely at work.
Some conservative website picked up my tweets and for the past day, I’ve received all manner of bullshit. The e-mails I’ve received are appalling. The tweets directed at me are appalling. There are a great many amateur investigators wanting me to explain the situation in detail. They are contorting themselves to find a reason why race was not a factor in this situation. Then there are the people with their “race card” jokes, and the homophobes and the jokers who talk about how they have been asked to show their receipts and they’re white so they, too, must be victims of racism. It would be more frustrating to deal with if these people weren’t so banal and predictable.
One person asked, “Who is Roxane Gay?” Who indeed? I could drop some science on who I am (see: New York Times, NPR, The Guardian), but for the sake of this incident, I am just a woman who was trying to waste her money in peace.
A reporter from CNN asked if I wanted to do a phone interview about the incident and I declined. I was venting on Twitter, not trying to be part of a news story.
I was venting on Twitter because the situation was infuriating BUT I was still mindful of how privileged I am. I was mindful that racial profiling happens every single day, in far more distressing ways. I was mindful of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride and Eric Garner who lost their lives to racial profiling. Of course I was venting on a social network. It was the appropriate venue for being angry about a trifling incident of racial profiling.
I am not writing this to explain myself. Know that.