Tag Archives: growing up

Companion Texts, or, How Good Books Saved My Life Thanks

14 Jul

Hey! I know it’s been a while, like literally years! Hi! I don’t know if you read this anymore but! I feel smarter now! Qualified to write! I am nineteen and off to university to do medicine and to pay a lot of money to stop thinking as much for myself and maybe also learn something about bones, but I feel prepared for it. Like my life is on track. Like I know who I am.

And why might that be?

It is my accumulated hoard of books, books.

(Also, like, life experience and better mental health. There are many things.)

They are my children (and somehow also my parents?). My paper sorority. My boxing gloves. My teachers. And, as Sara Ahmed puts it, my “companion texts”.

Companion texts guide you, wait to be referred to in times of trouble when none of your friends, maybe, know, but the living paper holds the answer.

They do not have to be feminist in an academic sense, a weighty sense, but when I think of these I think of writing that inspires me to be strong. Stronger. Enjoyable to read, a breeze, does not mean that it isn’t educational. Some of the best lessons are through humour.

Reading is so good for me because it feels like an active process. When I went through a phase of writing out endless lists of Pros and Cons about myself to Truly Understand Who I Am, No For Real This Time, I would always write “reader” on the good side. I take it in and churn it and the knowledge hardens like a fist.

I must thank my older sister for a large proportion of this list. Thanks! However, I can also thank myself for wanting to learn and making it my hobby to stretch out my mind and love myself when I could easily not. Thanks, me!

So – I recently had this conversation with a friend on a train. A male writer who is famous.  She loves him. I have tried three of his novels and am Uninspired. She is trying to convince me and I am talking out why I don’t want to be convinced.

I realised that – and this almost certainly makes me a Nasty Feminist™ (how dare I let my politics interfere with my appreciation of art?) – beyond any artistic concerns  what really Ground My Gears was the blandness and predictable perspective of the inevitably male protagonist. He dreams after women, projects his everything onto them, hopes that they will sort out his life and its beigeness without contributing anything himself.

I said, hey, maybe this is why I don’t really read books written by men any more!

It clicked into place.

Once I thought this, other thoughts followed as they are wont to do.

  • Is this why I haven’t been enjoying the Classics™ like I used to?
  • Is this why all the books I’ve read recently have been by women?

And then the meta of:

  • Is this why I am saying sorry less?
  • Is this why I am getting into more fights?
  • Is this why I am less craving of approval?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I have moved towards and am gravitating towards women and PoC and queer writing to help understand the world. The new views split apart what we know. What I know. As a white woman there are lots of worlds that I don’t know, and literature helps me to understand them and grow accordingly.

My list as follows consists of what I have read that I think falls into this category – of strength giving, teaching, world opening. If you have any others I would like to know. And I hope this lists keeps extending through my life, amen.

  • Living a feminist life, Sara Ahmed.

Because this book basically inspired me to start this list I have to put it first. So. So good. It made me get into my first argument with my dad about him speaking over the female members of my family. So make of that what you will. But! I resurfaced incandescent from reading it!

  • Anything by Octavia Butler. Especially Dawn and

As well as being compulsive reads, the science fiction is remarkable for its 1) brown woman characters 2) really smart explorations of the world we are falling into. Exactly what sci fi should be!!

  • The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin.

Especially the last one! Amazing amazing fantasy but the last in the series just puts a Big Ol’ Dollop of all the women we needed in it, and IMO the best.

  • Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™, Donna J. Haraway.

It’s technical and you might need to read it with a glass of water and a dictionary, but for me as a prospective doctor being introduced to the idea that science is not infallible (!!) and that it is constructed, like anything else, by history and culture, was really important to think about!

  • Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde.

I started reading this again after receiving it for Christmas and devouring it in one (1) sitting. Yes. Yes, yes.

  • A little life, Hanya Yanagihara.

TW: graphic descriptions of sexual abuse and child abuse. Fucking heartbreaking. I cried in work reading this, but delightfully my manager had read it too and understood the struggle.

  • Fun Home, Alison Bechdel.

A Classic. Subtle family and art and everything and

  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi.

One of the first books I read that changed how I thought about reading. So fun! Like a friend telling a good story and you gasp and cry! So good to read as a 12 year old and now as a 19 year old and hopefully again and again until I’m 80!

  • The mushroom at the end of the world, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing.

About mushrooms (matsutake to be precise) but also about everything that connects humans with nature and commodities and culture.

  • Are Prisons Obselete?, Angela Y. Davis.

Small but groundbreaking. Filled with restrained and measured anger at a system we cope with because we haven’t the bravery for anything else.

  • Staying with the trouble, Donna J. Haraway.

We cannot give up. We have to stay with it, and work with it, and hope. Whether it’s the environment or capitalism, the ways that we have destroyed the world can be not reversed but acknowledged, and to survive means finding radically new ways of doing it.

  • Beloved, Toni Morrison

Like a piece of poetry. Like a spell. Thank you. Can’t believe its my first Toni Morrison book but ya gotta start somewhere I guess.

 

As I turn 18

2 Jan

I feel like I am totally alone in this fear but like so many things I am afraid to talk about, many others probably share it.

As I turn 18, my mind is full of worry, hopes, dreams and fears for the future. Most are what you would expect, scared of becoming more independent from my family, worrying about school and so on but there is another fear in the back of my mind. This niggling voice saying “now you’re fair game, there’s nothing to protect you”.

You have probably seen in the media many a disgusting countdown to some child celebrity turning “legal” at 16 or 18, old enough that the old men leering over them are accepted readily by both the law and society.

You may have seen the kerfuffle around the “women who eat on tubes” facebook group a while back, a group where non-consensual pictures of women innocently sustaining life are mocked and shamed.

How are these related? you might say. Well these are both voyeuristic, misogynistic situations where women and girls are viewed as sexual objects without their consent and sometimes even knowledge. They violate a woman’s privacy, they encourage violence against women by disregarding the fact she is a human being with rights and feelings.

These are both situations where I, as a child, would have some degree of legal protection, or at least the illusion, but would not as a woman.

One day I was waiting at a bus stop in Hampstead Heath, leg hair flying in the wind and enjoying the last bit of summer warmth. A balding man of about 35-45 years old struck up a conversation with me about the weather, “thats nice” I thought “you never get strangers talking to each other in London”. Oh how innocent you were Lilipop.

Conversation quickly turned to my leg hair and got very very creepy. I felt desperately awkward as his eye contact shifted from my eyes to my boobs and he questioned me on my reason for growing leg hair (because no woman can do anything without it being to sexually please a man) and if I was hairy “all over”. He offered to buy me a drink from the Starbucks opposite and I said no. That no was totally disregarded of course and this man kept asking.

“I’m 15” I said quickly, then turned and ran away.

He didn’t follow but some have. This situation has played out in 100 different places, with different people and different outcomes. What if it happened again? Where is my “top trump”, my “get out of jail free” card? What can I say or do that will get rid of these weird men because saying no doesn’t work.

As a child, I do not legally have the capacity or say yes or no. It is Paedophilia, it is Statutory Rape. Headlines in the Daily Mail and 5 years in jail. Men can respect this but not me.

As a woman, I can legally say yes or no but it doesn’t make a difference. I said no but I smiled at him when he said hello so really I mean yes, right? He wants a yes so he will get it by any means necessary. Now I am no longer a child I don’t even feel like I have the right to say no at all. I feel unresonable for being a person.

As I turn 18, I am scared for a future where attack feels imminent.

There is nowhere to hide anymore.

I’m scared.

20 Apr

Jelly speaking.

I’m scared out of my mind.

The last two days, the last week, the last month, I’ve been scared. I’m an almost 15 year old girl, ready, apparently, to start living in the real world in only a matter of years, and it keeps on hitting me that I have no idea what I’m doing.

Yesterday evening we had a discussion at my school about GCSEs, about Year 11, about Sixth Form, about university and getting jobs and the importance of everything we do everyday and how we need to choose carefully, and I hummed in my head to the tune of my tapping leg: ‘what is the point what is the point what is the point what is the point’.

You see, we’re going to pass all our exams and then go to university and sweat nervously through our interviews. Some of us will go to Oxbridge. Some of us will get nice jobs in advertising or insurance or become doctors and teachers, and maybe we will fall in love (or not at all because there’s 7 billion people in the world and what’s the chance that you’ll meet the Mystical One?) and it will be comfortable enough until we retire and finally die, and there you go, that’s your one shot, congratulations.

I want to be a scientist – making medicines to help combat diseases so I can save lives and going against everything my mum believes in. Maybe I should be bean astronomer, or an oncologist, or fight the pollution problem from the back of my lab. I’m a self-confessed nerd, and this personally sounds like heaven, and is probably what they mean when they say a ‘fulfilling career’. Despite my pipe dream however, I know I’m not going to leave an impact beyond perhaps a scientific paper or my maybe children. After I die, I’ll be dead and gone and in a few decades everyone I knew will be dead and that will be that. That will be the end of moi.

It’s a depressing thought. I know I’m not really destined for great things, but once upon a time I believed that when I grew up I could be happy all of the time. No school, I thought, no bullies, no people telling you what to do, no worries about money or hanging out with people you don’t like. There would be someone sitting by your bed every morning who would look you sincerely in the eyes and tell you that you’re beautiful, and life would be exactly how it should.

A theory that has been disproved by extensive analysis of every adult I’ve ever known. It turns out that there’ s many ways things can go wrong. I’m scared to grow up because I think I’ll turn out like a secondary character in a bad movie. Or like my parents. Or like everyone who knew from early on that life wasn’t easy but who kept on pushing because they didn’t know anything else and because all they knew was in a meat suit at the back of two eyes.

My tapping continues and the tune gets louder. Someone is saying something about UCAS applications and my mum is taking notes, and I am thinking what a gloriously superfluous existence I lead and what a useless life I’m planning.

The only thing that saves me from crying continuously in my room, my head in the sand until it all stops swirling, is the thought that people are people, and if you sift through the dungheap of humanity enough you can find someone to cry on in the middle of the night, and that might be the best feeling in the world.

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