Monthly Archives: February 2016

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

First, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein made me incredibly nostalgic for my graduate school in creative writing at Bellingham, Washington. It made me grateful for my best friend, whom I met there. It made me grateful for the training I received there. It made me grateful to be part of the contagious creative energy of that place.

image from nytimes.com

Sleater-Kinney is a group composed of women. With some privilege. Who were highly intellectual. And well-educated. They understood the conversation, their conversation, the conversation that was happened around them, the way everyone was getting it wrong, or right. Beyond all that, they were a band making good music, and I think that’s an important takeaway from the book, which is worth owning, by the way (and I don’t say this lightly as someone who hates “things” and loves the library).

There are some lovely lines, some deeply insightful lines. I loved the descriptions of fanzines and the embarrassingly long letter writing of yesteryear–something that generations with access to the internet will never understand.  And there were great vocab words (metonym, diffidence, jocose, internecine, lugubrious, interstices, peripatetic)! The book was informational. It was moody. The end is triumphant, while simultaneously sucking the air out of the room because that is life no matter now stupidly depressed or optimistic we are in our tender little human brains.

I can’t tell you how important it is for me to look to female artists, who aren’t trying to be particularly female, nor artist, nor political, but are all of these things and end up providing a path, an option, an expression that is contrary to the rest of it–the blinding, crushing, deafening roaring messages. The dominant voice is so overpowering that you feel all alone thinking it’s wrong, they’re wrong. You search desperately for some whispered message, some quiet, lovely beat, an undertow more powerful than the surface waves, a person across the way who is looking at you and nodding her head to the same lovely beat.

Carrie Brownstein and Sleater-Kinney–they’re looking back and me and they’re nodding.

Here are a few lines from the book that I loved:

  • “[T]o be a fan is to know that loving trumps being beloved” (3).
  • “It is difficult to express how profound it is to have your experience broadcast back to you for the first time, how shocking it feels to be acknowledged, as if your own sense of realness had only existed before as a concept” (55).
  • “Books grounded me, helped me feel less alone” (115).
  • “A nomadic life fosters inconsistencies and contradictions within you, a vacillation between loneliness and needing desperately to be left alone” (150).
  • On the difficulty of relationships: “When do you ever get to be alone? To think, to read, to reflect, to not have to be “on,” to do nothing to just…be” (152).
  • I feel this in regards to teaching: “An audience doesn’t want female distance, they want female openness and accessibility, familiarity that validates femaleness” (166).
  • “In the end, all I could manage was the kind of shoulder dance moms do when they make shrimp scampi in the kitchen while drinking white wine and listening to Bruce Hornsby” (175).
  • “If you’re ever wondering how sad I was…you would know by the fact that I won the Oregon Humane Society Volunteer Award in 2006” (226). – I have my own similar life markers that look like success, but are mostly a reflection of a deeply sad time in my life.
  • “If the fake crow were looking down on us, he would see a woman in her thirties, living alone, jobless and aimless, with animals to fill the space and to patch the holes” (228). – It’s taken herculean strength for me not to patch the holes with innocent mammals.
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Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

As you know, one of my favorite genres is a memoir from a female comedy writer. It’s like hanging out with a really funny best girlfriend all weekend. Is it weird that I artificially fabricate this experience through reading? Maybe. I don’t care. I read Mindy Kaling’s first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? during a frantic “pleasure reading” phase I went through between the time I submitted my dissertation and the time I graduated.

This time, I am realizing (perhaps late) that Kaling writes, plays, (and maybe is?) just one character. But, like Jack Nicholson and James Franco (maybe I’ve only seen his stoner films?), nobody cares because it’s such a good character. The Office’s Kelly Kapoor, The Mindy Project’s Mindy Lahiri, and the identity Kaling develops in both of her books are all basically the same person. She’s a myopic, worst/best basic bitch kind of person, and it’s hilarious. She’s always simultaneously doing great commentary on gender and femininity. She describes the persona best: “Mindy is…a combination of Carrie Bradshaw and Eric Cartman” (75).

image from books.google.com

Here’s the take away of Why Not Me: First, you will want to eat McDonalds. And yes, there is some filler content. All of these books have filler. Like, okay, I’ll read a script that’s not going anywhere and a commencement speech that you gave. And, yes, the book was probably written by a ghost writer (but that ghost writer does a great job maintaining Kaling’s voice throughout!) And regardless, Kaling writes some grade-A jokes for these books, and even inspires her reader a bit toward the end. I was thinking, “Hey, yeah, why not me?!” Then, laced up my running shoes and achieved my dreams.

Here are some of the lines I loved:

Real Talk

  • “I’m skrilla flush with that dollah-dollah-bill-y’all” (4). This is the single best description of me on payday.
  • “[T]he gulf between a friend and a best friend is enormous and profound” (27).
  • On breakups: “So, the only decent way for him to have broken up with you is to not break up with you and stay with you forever” (39).
  • “As someone who enjoys secrets, exclusivity, and elitism…” (40).
  • People don’t say “Give me your honest opinion” because they want an honest opinion. They say it because it’s rude to say “Please tell me I’m amazing” (125).
  • “[R]ecycling makes America look poor” (139).
  • “[H]ard work must be rewarded with soul-replenishing gossip” (139).
  • “I have a terrible habit of impulsively sending text messages that reveal my true feelings” (140-41).

On Body Image

  • “One of the great things about women’s magazines is that they accept that drinking water and sitting quietly will make your breasts huge and lips plump up to the size of two bratwursts” (10).
  • “I cannot imagine a life more boring and a more time-consuming obsession than being preoccupied with watching what I eat” (194).
  • “But my secret is: even though I wish I could be thin, I don’t wish for it I don’t wish for it with all my heart. with all my heart. Because my is reserved for way more important things” (202).

I want to say some more about the body image stuff. So, I can work to get the sick body, the one with that weird vein between your lower ab and hipbone, but it does require me to think about what I’m eating and get regular exercise. It takes time and mental energy–time and mental energy I’m not always willing to give. Take graduate school, for example. I knew I would take four years and focus my energy on learning. And, so I didn’t think much about what I ate, and I taught and practiced yoga several times a week. I gained weight. I felt fine. This lasted four years.

Now, I can focus more time and energy on my body. Most people I know who pour 100% into looking good look great, but aren’t very interesting to talk to. Additionally, I simply have the kind of brain that requires me to spend time thinking about the meaninglessness of life and experiencing existential angst. I simply can’t/don’t want to transfer that energy into diet and exercise. I liked when Kaling wrote, “I don’t wish for it I don’t wish for it with all my heart. with all my heart” (202), and I think that’s a healthy approach. Anyway, I certainly haven’t found a balance, and I sort of don’t think a balance is possible (for women), and that sucks…is the way I’m going to end this post.