Roxane Gay’s Fangirl

Fangirl.jpg

In July of 2013, Roxane Gay wrote “ What men want, America delivers,” on Salon.com. I had my first introduction to the essay while trudging on my treadmill as part of my dogged determination to be fit enough to join my brother for nearly a month on the Appalachian Trail this coming March.

To say I am becoming a Gay “fangirl” is putting it lightly.

In her 2014 book Bad Feminist, I find myself humming the lyrics “strummin’ my pain with her fingers, singing my life with her words…” as over and over again, Gay articulates the very ideas that I have never been able to put into words.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m slow in coming to read feminist writing. The careful line of “one of the boys” and “Stayin’ Alive,” tiptoed by all women in the military made my interest in these things nothing short of a null set. It’s really too bad I waited so long.

One moment where Gay expresses an idea I’ve had, on a different topic, is when in the course of critiquing the “sometimes no means yes” content of Robin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines,” she admits, “In truth, I like these songs. They make me want to dance. I want to sing along. They are delightful pop confections. But. I enjoy the songs the way I have to enjoy most music—I have to forget I am a sentient being. I have to lighten up.” She admitted to liking the song she is critiquing. What a revelation! I feel the same way.

She goes on to dispel the need to lighten up, but the problems with the lyrics don’t change her pleasure in the dance-inducing music. In another essay (The Trouble With Prince Charming or He Who Trespassed Against Us), she admits enjoying the terrible prose found in E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Gray. It makes her laugh, even when the content sometimes angers her.

Perhaps these observations are what I’ve loved most about reading Gay, and I can’t wait to dive into her memoir Hunger. F. Scott Fitzgerald has been quoted as saying, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  My life feels like one big narrative full of this cognitive dissonance.

I love the Outlander series, most young adult dystopian novels, and some really cheesy country music. How can I feel this way and try to pursue meaningful writing and a serious life of the mind?  Roxane Gay is showing me the way.

I’m giving my own life a hard look as I’m trying to sort out how best to write my life story.  It took me 49 years of being a girl and a woman before I picked up a book like Bad Feminist, which I honestly chose for the title that seemed to describe me.

I love Gay’s bold and passionate voice whose relevance hasn’t changed even years after the shorter pieces that make up the book were published. Seeing the world through her eyes is giving me a new lens for my own experience.

I am unabashedly Gay’s “fangirl.”

“Sadness and Food are Incompatible”

Polish Sugar Bowl

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness. I always think of food.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that it was Mikhail Bakhtin, Russian philosopher, literary critic, semiotician, and personal hurdle to leap in graduate school who once said that “sadness and food are incompatible.”

I completely agree with autobiographer Charles Simic who writes, “One could compose an autobiography mentioning every memorable meal in one’s life and it would probably make better reading than what one ordinarily gets. Honestly, what would you rather have, the description of a first kiss or of stuffed cabbage done to perfection?” I for one can bypass stuffed cabbage but wax philosophical about a good peasant soup.

I’ve mentioned Daniel Gilbert before and the scientific study of happiness, how we tend to imagine our happiness as something deferred, about to happen to us, a future goal. I think these ideas are linked.

What makes food incompatible with happiness?  After all, Bakhtin, who is writing about French author Francois Rabelais, immediately adds the parentheses “(while death and food are completely compatible)” to his claim about sadness. He is writing about the banquet scenes in Rabelais’s fiction while Simic is writing about his own life.

Maybe it comes down to the moment, the one that is not deferred. Perhaps, when we think of meals as opposed to food, we’re close to recognizing the incompatibility of the moment we break bread, particularly with other people, with enduring sadness.

Just yesterday, when we sat down to waffles turned moist by sour cream and made decadent by pure maple syrup, that moment was enshrined in happiness. Was it the texture of the dough, formed by a thoughtful combination of ingredients?  How flour and egg whites with some sugar and dairy was transformed?

Perhaps it was the satisfaction of sitting across a sun-drenched table meeting laughing, coffee eyes while my heart and love was nourished by my meal? Would the happiness of the moment have been the same if we subtracted the distant shimmering lake or molten-drenched mountains?

I was fairly certain I never thought I would hear myself say that Bakhtin is right, perhaps with a small modification to acknowledge Simic: sadness and meals are incompatible.

Bhabha-land

I’m both the prairie mouse

And passenger behind the window.

In the world, of the world

Encased away from the world.

Am I looped into the

Third Space?

A white girl temporarily

Experiencing Bhabha-land?

I know better.

I know my cultural shift

Between two same cultures

Bears no colonial oppression.

I remember a sodden Northwest Day,

My heart friends and I,

Zoka and the moment.

A realization at once familiar.

We don’t have to be “either/or,”

We can be “both/and.”

Mid-sip on a sugary coffee

There isn’t, can’t be, a clear dividing line.

This morning, coffee again,

I am at home in a glorious sunrise.

I am also in our mountain “chateau” sunrise.

I am also at a literary conference sunrise.

I am witnessing a sunrise in my heart.

Soon I will part with more

Tangible objects with emotional significance,

And rend a few more holes in my heart.

The best way to let the sunrise shine through.

Change II

The mouse carcasses surprised me even though we planned their demise.

Seeing the barn dismantled from a small, functioning stable to a rectangular building has been like my heart is being scrubbed of emotion until it’s becoming numb.

It’s a broken clean heart, and that’s a dramatic representation. Change really is hard.

Gus is in training and making amazing, fabulous progress. That’s positive! The home we’re driving up to sign the lease on today is inspirational. Vern is starting a great job. George, Vern’s youngest son, is a happy addition to our family, and I’m starting a low-residency MFA in writing. Things are really good.

We’re driving over Berthoud Pass at the feet of snow-capped majesty stunned silent by the beauty. I’m so excited to move here in two weeks. I’m filled with dread about moving here in two weeks.

Change. Change is required for every really great leap in life. And for every great loss. But we can usually have a sense of what is on the other side of the jump. This leap seems to be a panorama of plenty.

Closing my eyes to the mountains, trees, and meadows, I toe the edge and prepare to fly.