“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.
I am really loving the FAQs on Ina Garten’s website.
Today, I moved out of Illinois. I write this from a hotel in Indianapolis. For the past week I have not slept. I have been so busy and stressed. I have lost so much weight simply because I have been exerting myself and I’ve been so busy. My pants keep falling down. My belt is confused. It’s unpleasant. I sweated about a gallon today. Tomorrow, I will see the apartment I rented sight unseen. I am nervous.
Friday, I will move into that apartment if all is well. The movers showed up this morning after they got lost. The driver said, “Damn, this is the country,” and I raised an eyebrow because he is from the small town where I am moving and if he thinks where I just left is country, it really is as bad as I thought it was. The movers were supposed to pack today and pick up tomorrow but I really don’t have much stuff save for books. They realized they could do it all in one day so that’s what they did. When they saw all my books, I think they wanted to cry. I entertained some fantasies about them as they labored. I was interviewed for NPR’s Weekend Edition in the middle of today’s activity.
I was not happy in Illinois. This was not entirely the state’s fault. I moved there under pretty emotional circumstances at a pretty complicated time in my life. Then I rebounded into some man mediocrity. I never really found my people there though I did make a handful of good friends. I will miss them but we will still see each other. I am not moving that far. I was not happy in Illinois but I had the most creatively productive years of my life. I wrote a novel I am so fucking proud of and that I love. I am sure it is not cool to say that but I love Miri and Michael and Mona and Lorraine. I love their story. I wrote that book, staring out onto a grassy field, a meadow day after day, for hours a day, during a summer. I wrote that book because I needed to. Writing that book helped me. It gave me something to do. It allowed me to pretend I was not living in a placed I really hated. That’s one of the reasons why the book means so much. And as I said before, it’s the truest expression of who I am.
When she read my novel, and my essay collection for that matter, I held my breath because I didn’t want to scare her away. I didn’t want to disappoint her. Because of how she knows me, all my skin was gone when I gave her those books.
I fucking hated Illinois. I am really allowing myself to feel that tonight because I am so tired that I have no filter. I never met one of my neighbors in four years. Part of that is me. I am not good at meeting people. Once I know you, yes, I am good but getting there is a challenge. They never talked to me. I have never experienced more racism in my life. That town is fucking racist. Every single day I swallowed some petty racist bullshit. Now that I no longer live there, I feel comfortable saying this. The world is racist, but that town is extra racist. I loved my job, and particularly my students, but my soul was dying in that town. I am not being melodramatic when I say this. I hated living there.
I don’t know if I am going to a better place. I am going to a different place. I am going to a different school. It doesn’t feel like the right home for me but it feels better than the place I have left. It feels much, much better. I am so grateful. I am excited to get to know my new colleagues and students. I hope I make some friends. I will very much try. I am going to be working on my body. There was this honest, necessary, sort of scary but very good conversation we had that made me realize it is time. I’ve known it is time and I’ve said it is time but something in that conversation made me feel, in my bones, that it is time. I’ve never been able to have such open, difficult, loving conversations with anyone. I am so confused, mostly because I didn’t know that this kind of connection with someone was possible. I just… did not know and now I do and it’s amazing and terrifying. Nothing else comes close.
I don’t know how long I am going to be in the new place but I do know if and when I leave it will be because I am almost forty and I can’t have my job be my whole life anymore. I need more. I want more. I know where I want to be. I may not ever get there. I don’t know. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Worst isn’t the right word. There is no worst.
None of this is making sense. I’m tired.
Today I signed with The Tuesday Agency so I now have a speaking agent. Amazon.ca included An Untamed State as one of the best 25 books of the year so far. This magazine, Bookaholic, included An Untamed State as a potential contender for the Pulitzer. I mean, there’s no way but that someone even thinks such a thing feels good. It feels amazing. A part of me, the foolish part of my heart is given over to absurd fantasy because come on… it would be a dream of all dreams. But it was just nice to see that inclusion. I’m set. Good things are happening for Bad Feminist and I will tell you about those things soon. I have worked so hard. I have been relentless. I am writing an essay about why. It hasn’t felt like hard work because I love reading and writing. I love what I do. I am grateful I can do what I do. The past several months have, professionally, been indescribable and far beyond what I hoped for when I was drowning in rejection.
It feels greedy but I don’t want to experience all this goodness alone. I want to share it. I want too much but I own that. I want too much.
There is someone. It feels more and more real. We keep falling deeper. Is there a bottom or will we always be falling. It’s been this way for a long time but now it’s becoming clearer. It’s complicated beyond measure but I’m not alone in this. I know this to be true. For the first time in my life, I do not doubt where I stand with someone else. That may not mean what you assume it does. I say a lot here but there are some things I’m not going to say here because this blog is my choice, not ours. Because some things don’t belong here. Because I have no idea what I am doing.
But success is not just hard work. There is luck involved, timing, convergence, I don’t know. All of my writer friends work hard. They deserve this kind of thing too, whatever this is, however fleeting it might be. I am greedy for all of us.
i am just a girl who writes.
Here is the world in the cup of my hands. Take it.
I keep thinking about my twenties which were so incredibly shitty in so many ways. I was really depressed and insecure and I made some horrible choices. I did things I’ve never told anyone about because I was still punishing myself. I don’t need or want to write about these things but they stay with me. It’s not shame… it’s something else because I understand who I was then. I understand why I was that way then. I forgive myself. I say that and realize it is true. I forgive myself for the choices I made back then. That girl had been through hell and then more hell and she didn’t know how to ask for help.
And I was broke. I remember the pay day loans with the outrageous interest. There was so much ramen. Filling the car with like $5 at a time. Phone getting cut off. No health insurance for years and rarely going to the doctor. I had to get a cat scan once, I can’t even remember why, and it took me years to pay off. I didn’t go to the dentist for years. This is not a sad story because I am lucky. This is just life and frankly, I’ve had it easy in terms of material comfort. I am privileged. I always have been. I had a safety net because my parents would never have let me starve or be homeless, but I was on my own, as an adult should be, and I was often very very broke. I was writing and no one was interested in that writing. I know, now, that I was putting in the work. I still am, of course, but back then I was just beginning to figure out how to use my voice in both fiction and nonfiction. I had a lot to learn and so I wrote and wrote and wrote and read and read and read and I hoped. I was going to school and then working and getting better and better jobs and then more school and I was becoming a better writer and very slowly, a better person. I became less broke and then I was fine, not making that much but always being able to handle my business. Today, I moved and moving is expensive but I could afford it. As I stood in my empty apartment before heading out, I sobbed. That is not something I am prone to doing. I allowed myself to feel everything. I allowed myself to acknowledge how far I have come. This isn’t bragging. This is an atlas.
During my twenties, my personal life was the hottest mess. The hottest. It will never be that messy again because I’ve grown up and I finally give enough of a damn about myself to avoid burning myself in that kind of fire. I’m still a mess but I’m a different kind of mess now. I can generally identify what the mess is and where it’s coming from. I am learning to ask for help, slowly. I am learning a lot of things.
My eyes are wide open. They are prepared for whatever they might see.
I am always afraid to say I am happy. I don’t feel like I deserve to be happy.
I… am happy.
I try to keep all this feeling in a safe place, a neatly contained place because that is where it will always have to stay. And then there is the intensity of want. Raw urges. Engulfing. Crushing. Tenderness and fierceness, both. Possession. The container is a lie. The container has been shattered. She has found the way to my warm. She has taken my atlas into her hands. She traces the wildly arcing lines from beginning to end.
"I couldn’t talk about it, because the slightest intrusion into the book, the slightest ‘objective’ opinion would have erased everything, of that book. […] The illusion one has—entirely correct—of being the only one to have written what one has…
When I heard that Roxane Gay was releasing a book called Bad Feminist, I flipped. I was familiar enough with her nonfiction to know it was going to rock. I couldn’t wait for it. I was thrilled to wake up one morning to an email from Goodreads congratulating me on winning an advance copy of the book back in May.
It has rained all day. It is dark outside. I don’t mind. It seems appropriate.
I wrote an essay for The New York Times about the beach. It’s humor. I mention this because I have already received an e-mail, from a stranger, explaining to me why I am wrong about the beach. Thank you.
Here is the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey. It makes the movie look like it is going to be awesome and ridiculous, in the way of the books. I wrote an essay about Fifty Shades of Grey. You can read it in this book I wrote called Bad Feministthat comes out on August 5.
I was at the grocery store and there were new corrections. Of course. Le plus ca change.
Last night, I baked a brownie pie because earlier in the week, Ina baked a brownie pie along with some other man foods because she was having construction workers over for a manly lunch—tiny, individual meatloaves, buttermilk mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts with pancetta, and this brownie pie.
This was a particularly amazing episode because Ina made a centerpiece for her guests out of “construction materials.” If you are not picking up what Ina Garten is serving, I do not know what to tell you.
I don’t really love chocolate so it was safe to bake a brownie pie. First, I buttered and floured my pan. I was in a bad mood so I was extra meticulous about preparing this recipe. There is a certain submission I enjoy in following recipes. You are given exact quantities and exact instructions and your only task is to follow those instructions. Your only task is to do as your told. There are times when I want my only task to be doing as I am told. A pan was never so well-floured in my kitchen as this pan.
Next I added 3/4 a stick of butter to a bowl over simmering water. I’ve often seen real cooks do this sort of thing and I have found it intimidating so in general, I have avoided working with chocolate. Last night, I was not deterred. How hard could it be?
Yesterday, sports personality Stephen A. Smith ran his mouth about the women in his family and how he has always cautioned them to not provoke their men into violence. Smith was running his mouth because he is paid to run his mouth and also because he is a misogynist with no imagination and even less heart. He was referring, of course, to the “punishment” handed down to Ray Rice by the NFL, a two-game suspension for an incident where he knocked his wife unconscious and dragged her limp body out of an elevator.
Le plus ca change.
When the butter melted, I added two cups of chocolate chips and combined them until I had a creamy chocolate situation.
Smith’s bullshit was galling on so many levels but for women, this is not a new message. Our job, throughout our lives is to not provoke men into beating us, raping us, cat calling us, whatever. Men, so many people would have us believe, simply cannot control themselves so it is our job, as women, to not only live our own lives but make sure men don’t hurt us.
What I know about relationships is that they are hard. I know that when we are arguing with our significant others, we can do terrible things. We can say terrible things. We hurt each other and hope that there’s a way back from that hurt.
When physical violence enters a disagreement, though, something changes. I don’t think it’s ever right for one person of any gender to nonconsensually strike another person of any gender. Violence is not a reasonable option.
Some pundits have said that Rice’s wife, then fiancée, struck him and he was simply defending himself. He has the right to defend himself but I am unclear as to when self-defense becomes knocking a woman unconscious. I am particularly unclear about how a professionally trained NFL football player who outsizes his partner significantly, cannot make a different choice.
Over at the mixer, I added three eggs, a tablespoon of instant coffee, a cup of sugar and a lot of vanilla. I do not pay attention to instruction when it comes to vanilla or basil. My submission is, in all circumstances, complicated. I will submit, but I also love to push. I love to see how far I can push before there is push back. Push me back. I dare you. I want you too.
Sometimes, when my youngest niece is acting up, her mom very calmly says, “Is there a better choice you can be making here?” It’s adorable and so loving. It is hilarious to witness because a two-year old, melting down, is not going to make a rational choice. And yet. For whatever reason, this approach works in its own way. My niece will quiet and look at her mother and consider her options. She finds a way to make a better choice.
Perhaps, we should pay more attention to the ways of two-year-olds.
In the throes of an argument, it’s hard to make the right choices. It’s hard to do the right thing when you’re all hurt and anger and instinct. But. We are humans. We are not animals.
As women, we should not have to live our lives with this Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads as to whether or not our partner is going to be human or an animal. We shouldn’t have to try to not provoke. In some relationships, anything becomes a provocation—saying something, saying nothing, how you dress, how you act, how quickly you do or don’t answer the phone, your tone of voice, how you clean the house, how you drive the car, how you look someone in the eyes, how you avoid looking someone in the eyes. There’s always a finger on the trigger.
The chocolate was set aside to cool because if I added it to the egg mixture while it was hot, it would have cooked the eggs. This is another little thing I picked up from Ina. She teaches me things.
I’m not trying to make any grand pronouncements about domestic violence. This is not an issue we can neatly intellectualize. Relationships are complicated. Shit happens. People fuck up. People endure. People hurt people. But, don’t think violence is acceptable. Don’t think there is any circumstance that justifies what Ray Rice did. Don’t think that if we’re all good girls, if we’re properly meek, if we don’t provoke our men, we’ll be safe. Good girls get hurt all the time.
We are not the problem.
I refuse to quietly accept that there is one set of rules for how men live and another set of rules for how women live. And still, at night in a dark parking lot, I will walk to my car with my keys splayed between my fingers like blades. Ain’t that some shit?
Once the chocolate cooled, I added it to the egg mixture and let the mixer do its work.
In tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine, there is an interview with me by Jessica Gross for this week’s talk column. It feels like a big deal in the way of such vanities. A recent interviewee was Chrissie Hynde. Another was Laverne Cox. I have no idea why I’m in the mix but I am going along for the ride.
It is a lovely interview, I think. I am proud of it. And also, there is a full-sized picture of me. This is my body. This is what I look like. I am changing my body but this is my body.
There are all kinds of pictures of me out and about and it has been harder than I can explain, to feel so exposed. It’s one thing to write as if you have no skin. It’s another thing when photography is involved.
As I’ve said before, I don’t think I am ugly. I don’t hate myself in the way society would have me hate myself way but I do live in the world. I live in this body in this world and I hate how the world all too often responds to this body. I hear the rude comments whispered. I see the stares and laughs and snickering. I tolerate relationships where I am dating someone too ashamed of me to acknowledge our relationship. The list of bullshit is long and boring and I am, frankly, bored with it. Whatever. It is what it is. This is the world we live in. Looks matter and we can say but but but. But no. Looks matter. Bodies matter.
In a separate bowl I combined a cup of walnuts, a cup of chocolate chips (but I again, bad at submission, freestyled and used half a cup of white chocolate chops), and a cup of flour, some baking powder, and salt. I mixed it all together. Do you want to know why? Ina says that the flour will keep the walnuts and chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the brownie pie. I am guessing Ina knows everything. Then I added these dry goods to the chocolate batter and folded them together. The idea of folding, in baking, seems kind of sexy.
With pictures of myself out and about there, are inevitably, all manner of cruelties directed at me. Mostly, I don’t talk about it. What the fuck is there to say? Wah, a bunch of assholes were mean to me on the Internet? I mean, honestly. That’s every day. And yesterday was just another day. One troll took the care to include me in his thoughts about my appearance, saying something like, “She’s fat and gay, is anyone surprised?” I don’t remember the exact wording and clearly, this is someone who is not terribly bright. We all see that.
Ignore the trolls, we say, and mostly this is true. Trolls need to be ignored. They are there to poke at your tender places because they have nothing better to do.
But this is more than trolling. I don’t care about that guy, but when I hear things like that, all my worst fears about myself are confirmed. When I hear such things, I am reminded that no matter how hard I work, no matter what I achieve, in most ways, these accomplishments mean nothing. I can be cut down. I can be put in my place. I was, I guess, put in my place.
Don’t think I’m going to stay there. You have no idea what I can take.
I put the finished batter in my perfectly floured pan and then put that in the lie oven for 37 minutes at 350 degrees.
It’s always going to be something, right? Fine. I don’t have to smile my way through it.
Or, maybe this tears at a raw and open wound. There is someone in my life who reminds me that everything I’m doing is well and good but won’t matter as much until I lose “the weight.” This person means well which is why I am referring to them as this person. I don’t want you to think less of them. But for nearly twenty years, I’ve been told this with every new job and every new accomplishment. It’s draining to the point where I mostly don’t talk about anything I accomplish with anyone. What’s the point, until I lose “the weight.” Nothing I do matters until I discipline my body, until I submit to society’s will.
The brownie pie came out of the oven and it smelled delicious. It looked good. This was probably the best thing I’ve ever baked. I took a picture. I inhaled deeply. I threw my beautiful creation away. I know how to submit. I will submit. You have no idea what I can take.
I did nothing this weekend so today I will be working my ass off and then I will rinse and repeat for the rest of all time. Or something.
We have places that can be marked on a map with bright red Xs and beneath those bright red Xs are memories and moments we have shared. This could mean nothing. It could mean everything. We have places.
I baked last night—cherry brown butter bars. I don’t know why. I was bored. I had a lot of cherries. I still have a lot of cherries.
First, I melted some butter and I did it in a pan instead of the microwave because I was like, “Let me keep stepping up my cooking game.”
No sleep last night. None. I was up thinking and staring at the ceiling. I was mostly up because I have chronic heartburn. I take medication but sometimes my stomach stares down that medication and laughs, cruelly.
All night, my stomach churned with acid. My stomach is still churning.
When the butter was melted, I added sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt.
I have chronic heartburn because I used to make myself throw up after I ate. There’s a word for this but it always feels strange to use that word with regard to myself. I didn’t do it for that long, I tell myself. That’s not really the truth. I did it for about two years which isn’t that long but it is long enough. Or, maybe I don’t want to use the word because it was so long ago, which is absolutely not the truth. I stopped making myself throw up about three years ago.
Next into the butter sugar melt went flour.
When you’re fat, no one will pay attention to disordered eating or they will look the other way or they will look right through you. You get to hide in plain sight. I have hidden in plain sight, in one way or another, for most of my life. Willing myself to not do that anymore, willing myself to be seen, is difficult.
I was not fat and then I made myself fat. I ate everything and I felt safe. I needed to feel safe. I needed my body to be a hulking, impermeable mass. I wasn’t like other girls, I told myself. I got to eat everything I wanted and everything they wanted too. I was so free. We lie the most to ourselves. I was free in a prison of my own making.
With the flour added, this thing started to look like dough. I pressed it into the bottom of a parchment lined pan. I don’t have a square baking dish so I used a round baking dish.
I got older and I kept eating mostly just to keep the prison walls up. It was more work than you might imagine. Then I was in a great relationship with a great man and I was finishing my PhD and my life was coming together and I thought I could see a way out of the prison I had made.
We suffered a loss and it broke me. I needed to blame something or someone so I blamed myself. I blamed my body for being broken. My doctor did not dissuade me of this blame which was its own kind of hell—to have your worst fear about yourself affirmed.
I put the crust in the oven at 375 for 18 minutes and set to pitting cherries. Here is my cherry pitter. I am very fond of my cherry pitter.
My body was to blame. I was to blame. I needed to change my body but I also wanted to eat because eating was a comfort and I needed comfort but refused to ask the one person who could comfort me for that comfort. This was something I had long known so well. Before then I had often joked that I wasn’t bulimic because I couldn’t make myself throw up but when I really want to do something, I get it done. I learned how to make myself throw up and then I got very good at it.
I pitted a quantity of cherries—enough to fill the bars. I eyed this visually. I am not so much with measuring things that feel complicated to measure. See also: parsley.
When the crust was ready it had puffed slightly and was lightly browned.
I am fat so I hid in plain sight, eating, throwing up, eating, I am perfectly normal and fine, I told myself. One day, my boyfriend found me in the bathroom, hunched over the toilet, my eyes red and watering. It was a nasty scene. “Get the fuck out,” I said quietly. I hadn’t said more than a few words to him, to anyone, in months.
He grabbed me and pulled me to my feet. He shook me and said, “This is what you’re doing? This?” I just stared at him because I knew that would make him angrier. I wanted to make him angrier so he could punish me and I could stop punishing myself. He deserved to punish me and I wanted to give that to him as penance. He is a good man so he wouldn’t give me what I wanted. He uncurled his fingers and let go of me and backed out of the bathroom. He put his fist through a wall which only made me angry because I wanted him to put his fist through me.
It was time to prepare the filling so I cut up a stick of butter and put that in my saucepan.
After that, he tried to never leave me alone. He tried to save me from myself. Ha! Ha! Ha! I’m better, I told him. It’s over. I was better, I suppose. I was better about hiding what I was doing. He couldn’t follow me everywhere. I learned how to be very quiet. We were better or as better as we ever were going to be and then I graduated and I moved and I was finally living alone and I could do whatever I wanted. I was an accomplished professional so it was easier than ever to hide in plain sight.
In a separate bowl, I whisked two eggs and some sugar then added vanilla, a bit of flour, a pinch of salt and I went rebel by adding some almond extract.
In the new town no one really knew me. I had “friends” but it’s not like they came over to my apartment or knew me well enough to know anything was off. When out to dinner, friends remarked on why I went to the bathroom after I ate. “I have a bad stomach,” I politely demurred. It was a half-truth.
I was, immediately, extraordinarily on the rebound, involved with a guy but the one time he caught me throwing up he said, “I’m glad you’re working on the problem.”
For him, the problem was my body and he never let me forget it. He punished me and I liked it. Finally, I thought. Finally. He made his cruel comments and gave me “advice” which only reminded me that everything wrong with my body was, indeed, my fault. “Why are you with this asshole?” so many people asked. The longer I stayed with him the worse he made me feel and the better he made me feel because at least, someone was telling me a truth about myself I already knew.
I added the cherries to the cooled dough. This was relaxing, carefully placing the cherries.
Something had to give. Something always gives. My grief began to subside. I was way too old for this shit, I realized. The heartburn had started up and I realized I needed to stop punishing myself. I had finally, after more than thirty years, found a best friend who saw the best and worst parts of me and even if I didn’t talk about what was going on, she was there and I could have told her what was going on and it would have been fine. That’s a powerful thing, knowing you can reveal yourself to someone. It made me want to be a better person worth revealing.
I wanted to stop but wanting and doing are two different things. I had a routine. I starved myself all day and then I ate a huge meal and then I purged myself of that meal. I made myself empty and I loved that empty feeling. I ignored my yellowed teeth and my hair falling out and the acid burns on my right fingers. “Why is my hair falling out?” I asked the Internet, as if I didn’t already know.
The butter needed to brown and I wasn’t entirely clear on how I would know the butter had browned but I decided to go with common sense and my eyes.
I became a vegetarian about three years ago now. People always ask why I became a vegetarian, particularly so late in life. “I’m not a moral vegetarian,” I say. “I just loved meat too much.” And my mom has been a vegetarian for most of my life. These things are all true.
When the butter was browned, I whisked it with the eggs and then poured the mixture over the cherries. I may have overbrowned the butter a wee bit but worry not.
The truth was more complicated. I didn’t know how to tell people the truth because it would mean confessing this secret that really, no one knew about me and that no one would probably want to know about me because a fat body is a problem that needs to be solved by any means necessary. We have to worry about the emaciated girls being fed through a tube in the nose, not girls like me. And also, I was really so old to be dealing with what we think of as an adolescent problem. I was embarrassed. I am embarrassed. You can’t look up to me. I’m a fucking mess.
I can’t even believe I am writing this right now but I was up all night with my stomach killing me and also I had seen The Purge 2: Anarchy and I guess I needed to purge in a healthy way. I became a vegetarian because I needed a way of ordering my eating in a less harmful way. I needed something to focus on that didn’t involve bringing my guts up every day. I thought I would only be a vegetarian for a year but it seems to be sticking. I am finding better ways to change my body. My body is not a problem. My body is my body and I am ready to live in this body without keeping it a prison.
I baked the bars in my lie oven for forty minutes and when they came out they were probably a bit overdone. I just really hate my oven. It never can make up its mind about how to perform. Regardless, the bars are delicious and I recommend making this for brunch or something. Ina really loves brunch. She likes to brunch with friends.
The word heartburn is rather misleading. It has nothing to do with the heart. Or it has everything to do with the heart only not the way you might think.
I was watching Barefoot Contessa and she made a pasta dish, pasta with pecorino and pepper, that looked delicious so I decided to make it. In case you were wondering, Ina’s three favorite herbs are chives, basil, and parsley. I approve.
First I boiled some salted water for the pasta.
This week has been long. To come back to this life after living that life is like going from technicolor to black and white. We. Us. Me. I am quieted without you. A best friend. A best everything. I don’t have easy answers but I am here. We are deserving.
Then I chopped a quantity of parsley. The recipe said something like two table spoons but who has time to measure that in terms of parsley? Not I. Then I added two scallions because I wanted to give a little kick to the dish. I love freestyling on Ina recipes. It makes me feel like such a rebel.
This has been a really good year. I’ve been afraid to say that aloud, but man, this has been a really good year. Great things keep happening. I can’t wrap my mind around it as a whole so I focus on the smaller pieces of good and try to fit them all together. I am allowing myself to enjoy this. I’m allowing myself to believe I’ve earned this. Yes, luck is involved, but I work hard. I will always work hard. It means so much to be able to share it with you, in the ways I can.
I wrote my novel with my whole damn heart. An Untamed State is the clearest representation of who I am as a writer, as a woman. That book is my whole damn heart.
The recipe called for a thick egg pasta. I don’t like thick pasta. I like angel hair but I wanted to be as true to Ina’s intentions as possible. I used fettucini which I don’t love because it is so thick but I made sure to boil it extra so it would be soft. BOIL BOIL BOIL.
When the pasta was ready, I drained most of the water but left a little because Ina said so. Then, I put the pot back on low heat and I added a lot of cracked pepper, butter, parsley, the rebel scallions, heavy cream, and some parmesan. I couldn’t find pecorino. Whatever, hard Italian cheese is hard Italian cheese. I tossed the deliciousness together.
You have questions. I have answers I hope might help.
Hi Ms. Gay,
I’m a 21-year-old virgin. Sort of like Mireille (though she was a bit older). But different than her, I’m a virgin in all senses of the word. I’ve never kissed a boy (or anyone) or really gone past any of the ‘bases’ or anything. And I know that out of all the things to be, this is not the worst. I’ve realized that a lot of it has to do with me—being scared about what happens when you enter the uncontrollable situation that is the realm of love. You described it so very aptly in the first round of question-answering that you did (big girl self-esteem issues—though I wouldn’t classify myself as a big girl, I certainly have those issues. I think maybe ultimately, it all stems from not feeling worthy, regardless of what it was that spawned the issues). I’m bad at asking questions of life and better at just responding, but here I am asking you. Because I think of myself as a feminist when I have to give it a title and I don’t think virginity necessarily makes anyone more valuable or less valuable. I also don’t think that men should be the defining factor regarding the worth of a woman, but I often feel that this lack of experience means something about me, that I am somehow unloveable and undesirable and never will be loved in the way that I want. I’ve had situations that have hinted at possibilities different from this, but at the end of the day, I always come back to this lonely feeling of being unwanted. This isn’t really a question anymore. I’m just not really sure how to deal and was hoping that maybe you could lend some insight.
Thanks, Not Cinderella
Dear Not Cinderella,
Call me Roxane. I’m just a girl, who will try to answer your question. You are not unlovable and undesirable. You are only twenty-one. There is a lifetime between you and being unlovable or undesirable.
Virginity is kind of a foreign territory for me because I never really got a chance to be a virgin. I only say this because I don’t want to lie and tell you, oh I know exactly how you feel. I don’t. But. I do know you are lovable. I know this because you’re gutsy and I love gutsy people. I know you’re gutsy because you reached out like this.
I do understand thinking, “I am never going find someone who wants me.” This is something most people feel at one time or another. During long spells of being single, I find myself thinking, “I am going to die alone.” I’m not proud of this and it is super dramatic but it’s hard to feel differently when there is no evidence to the contrary. It is hard to have hope when you don’t see any potential for evidence to the contrary. It’s hard when you don’t believe you deserve any evidence to the contrary. Self-esteem is a motherfucker.
Conventional wisdom tells us we shouldn’t put our self worth into whether or not we are desirable to others but our human hearts really don’t follow conventional wisdom. It’s nice to be wanted. It is nice to be loved. It is absolutely okay, in my book, to want to be wanted and loved. We deserve nice things.
Right now, please know you are not unlovable or undesirable. I know, without a doubt that the right person, nay, the right people, are going to come along and you are going to rock each other’s worlds. Try and allow yourself to get out in the world and be in situations where the right people can find you. Meet new people! Go to events and stuff. This is me winging it because I am shy and I don’t know what outgoing people do to meet others. I mostly use the Internet. Eeek.
Virginity is this THING in our culture but it doesn’t have to be. Your virginity has absolutely nothing to do with your self-worth. Try and hold onto that which I absolutely know is so fucking hard to do but please do try. Your lack of experience only means that there are a lot of good things ahead of you. You are a glorious, undiscovered country.
I added some more cheese to the tossed pasta and then tossed all that together and I started getting excited because I could tell that there was soon going to be a party in my mouth.
I am not one to normally email people I’ve never met. But you tweeted a bit ago about people emailing in for love advice. Well, you’re a great writer and blogger and I enjoy reading all that you write — so here goes:
Love is sometimes a road paved with unanswered questions, and maybe questions that will never be answered at all. My road is 500 miles long and leads to a boy named S. We went to college together and at the end of senior year I fell for him (I wish it had been sooner). Graduation came and we went our own ways. Now, 4 years on, we live in different states but are still very good friends. We text, video chat with other friends, tweet, etc. I miss him. He isn’t happy where he is and would like to live where I am. But finding a job out here in his field is easy to want, hard to achieve. I want him to be happy, so I hope he moves soon, even if it’s not to here. But I will see him soon at an event. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything about my feelings (I don’t think he knows; maybe he does), but I am so excited/nervous to see him. Any advice on how I can at least show him I care? Should I make a move? Would it make our friendship awkward if he only sees our relationship as platonic? And, of course, there’s the distance problem. Gah! Unanswered questions galore, Roxane.
Q without the A
Dear Q without the A,
Thank you for the compliments! You make me blush. I think you already know if you should make a move or not. When a friendship turns into something more, it can be terrifying. What if the feelings aren’t reciprocated? What if they are and you embark on a relationship and that relationship doesn’t work out? What if the friendship is then ruined? Was the relationship worth sacrificing the friendship? There are so many questions without easy answers. What are you willing to sacrifice to tell him how you feel? Once you can answer that question, you will know what to do.
To show him you care, maybe you could be more affectionate than you normally are. Or you might look at him in a certain way. I’ve found that even when we want to hide what we feel, we can’t, not really.
I do think the friendship will still be there if you declare your feelings for him and he wants to be platonic because true friendship is a foundation that can withstand most anything.
My opinions on distance have changed in recent years. Distance is inconvenient and often painful but it is not insurmountable. When the relationship is strong, when the relationship is something you both need and cannot get away from, distance is nothing.
Here is what the dish looked like when it was done. It was delicious, absolutely delicious. Total date night dinner. Very rich, though, and not something I would put in the regular rotation. Maybe someday I will make this for you.
Here is one last letter:
Anyway, there is this guy that has just really, really blown me away. I just started taking a karate class in my town, and he’s one of the black belts who helps Sensei with training us. He’s smart, funny, a geek (the first time he came in, I *heard* him before I saw him and he was ranting about Spider-man in the movies versus the comics, then proceeded to make a Princess Bride reference) and it doesn’t hurt that he is incredibly kind and patient with not just me but the other students as well. He loves dogs, and he actually brought one of his fur babies to class, which really made my day.
My problem is that I want to find out more about him/possibly make friends/possibly ask him out, but I don’t have any real relationship experience, I’m not sure how or if him being a more experienced student and me being a beginner would be problematic or not, and he is incredibly attractive and I feel like he is WAY out of my league. I’m not small and thin, I’m trying to develop some appreciation for my body’s shape (it’s hard) and from past experience I’ve dealt with guys who absolutely do NOT like girls who can (in this case, quite literally) throw them, even though every time I end up tossing him, he bounces right back up with a smile and laughs.
I’m just a mess inside because I really, really want SOMETHING with him, even if it’s just friendship, but I’m afraid of approaching him because for all his talking, he’s never mentioned a girl friend (or boy friend, I certainly wouldn’t judge). I’m also a bit of a mess when it comes to him because I just found out that he is somehow a person I have no problem turning my back on, and having him put his hands around my neck from behind (for practice and such). I CAN’T do this with the other people in class- I start shaking, I tense up, and instead of doing what I’m supposed to, I panic. When I was a teenager, I had a nasty experience with an older guy who, after giving me a ride home, grabbed the back of my neck and tried to force my face into his crotch. I got away by twisting and breaking his fingers and booking it.
So…I’m kind of a messed up ball of emotions. I’m happy because he’s nice and I enjoy seeing him, I’m frustrated because I’m a coward and insecure, and I’m confused because I’ve only been in two month’s worth of classes with him and somehow I trust him to such a degree already.
Any advice or suggestions would be welcomed at this point, before I drive myself bonkers.
Dear Bad Ass Finger Breaker,
I love that you are taking karate. I want to drop about a hundred lines from The Karate Kid, but I will try and control myself.
WAX ON WAX OFF!!!!
Clearly, self control is not my strong suit.
It’s good that you trust this guy in ways you can’t trust others. It means you’re letting someone in and it is good to let people in, to break down force fields.
This league thing keeps coming up and it sucks that we have this way of thinking about how people pair off. She’s out of his league. He’s out of her league. He’s out of his league. She’s out of her league. Fuck all that, she says, recognizing this is far easier said than done.
I tend to believe I am in the paltriest, most unworthy of leagues. I am generally the person who thinks she wants someone who is way out of her league. It’s a terrible feeling, particularly when it is tied up with body issues. What right do I have, I often tell myself, to want him or her? What right do I have to express that want when I am just me? It takes courage to overcome these harmful things we do to ourselves, to believe we are worthy and deserving.
It is so damaging that we equate small and thin with attractive. This is not true, she says, recognizing that this, too, is so hard to believe.
It’s amazing that you can flip this dude around. He might think so too. You won’t know unless you find out. I wouldn’t dwell on the conflict of interest thing. It’s karate not college, you know? What you need right now is courage. You dig deep down and you reach the best parts of yourself. You do what you do when you want to look and feel good, whatever that might be. Ask him out for coffee or to go to a comic book store or a movie. Find the courage to look him in the eye whether he says yes or no. The bravest thing we can ever do is ask a question for which we do not know the answer. I already know you are that brave.
As per usual, there was a correction at the grocery store. I sure did take a picture. I move in like 11 days! I have so much to do! It will get done because it has to get done. This weekend, though, I am just taking some time to breathe and to be.
I know now why we found each other. We earned it. Here is a glass of all I want for you. Open your eyes. See how it swells with so much want and possibility, how it threatens to shatter but holds steady and strong. Close your eyes. Drink.
The cars, though, are ridiculous. I am not a car person but I have brothers so I know some basics about ridiculous cars. I saw a Louis Vuitton Bentley or somesuch and I thought, “Why would you do that to such a pretty car?” It basically looked like it was covered in tacky decals. It was truly the worst thing one could do to a car. Why would Bentley even allow that?
I saw a Maclaren and it seemed cool, sleek, worthy of James Bond. I saw a black Lamborghini that basically looked like Batman’s car. I peeked inside and there were all kinds of buttons and gadgets and consoles and I wondered how that car is even driven.
I drive a Ford.
Coming home is always a coming down.
This place feels like a different planet. This place is a different planet. This is my backyard. I stand on my balcony sometimes during the day, and sometimes during the night, and remember that you are there and I am here, but we live beneath the same sky. I too have mapped the distances between us. There are tolls but I am willing to pay them.
A photographer came to my house today. I am loathe to have my picture taken under any circumstance, so it was trying. It was also a lot of fun. “Let yourself enjoy this,” I reminded myself, and so I did. She and her assistants were here for two and a half hours, posing me like an action figure. I am a writer. It was all surreal. I took pictures of them taking my picture.
Speaking of Bad Feminist, let’s do a giveaway.
The first SEVEN people to buy Billie the Bull by xTx and forward me the receipt (roxane at roxanegay.com), will get a GIFT BAG including Bad Feminist, An Untamed State, a t-shirt, a tote bag, a magnet, a key chain, and a pin. Along with the receipt, send your name, address, and t-shirt size.
The next oh, EIGHTEEN FIFTEEN FIVE people to buy Billie the Bull by xTx and forward me the receipt at roxane at roxanegay.com, will receive a magnet, key chain, pin, and copy of Bad Feminist. Along with the receipt, send your name and address.
Last month, in Los Angeles, these buildings were covered with an ad for the iPhone 5C. This month, the ads had been painted over. It was a blank canvas and startling to come upon, these huge swaths of nothing, and how temporary that nothingness is.
Something I Googled: How do you let someone go? The answers were not satisfactory so I moved on to another search, recipes, probably. Who knows? I am always searching for answers. I am an inquisitive person. I enjoy the delusion that the most difficult questions might be easily answered.
I had dinner with my friend Mallory and we enjoyed these Parker House rolls that also had parmesan cheese baked on them. It was kind of a holy experience. I can’t even get into the burrata but it was so good that Mallory shouted, “I hate you for not having put this in your mouth yet.” It was… that good.
I love murals. I love how bright the colors are. I love how they remind us that art and beauty can be found everywhere and anywhere.
In a Westwood cemetery, rests Marilyn Monroe. All the marble slabs around hers are gray. Marilyn Monroe’s marble slab has turned pink over the years because when people make the pilgrimage, they touch the stone. They caress it with their lips. The marble of her memory has pinked with human oils. She has been dead for more than fifty years and still, people mourn her. They leave a piece of themselves with her. It is astonishing, the hold love can have on us, how unwavering and constant it can be. It is not something you can let go of, whether you should or not.