Tag: Reading Reflections (Page 1 of 4)

BAD FEMINIST by Roxane Gay (part 2)

Bad FeministThe first set of quotes I highlighted from Roxane Gay’s BAD FEMINIST can be found here. They are, as one might guess, very feminism-focused.

This set, on the other hand, is more varied. Less political, I suppose, and more personal.

I am quite content to be in my thirties, and nothing affirms that more than being around people in their late teens and early twenties. (26)

First: I have loved every decade of my life, each for different reasons. Also: I’m only just beginning my 30s, so I’m hardly an expert.

But there does seem to be something different, more comfortable, about this era already. At 30, adulthood feels like a pair of shoes that I’ve finally broken in. I’m not playing dress up anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a work in progress. But I’m more the person that I want to be than ever before.

“Self-absorption is different from self-love.” (111, quoted from Diana Spechler’s novel SKINNY)

This struck a chord with me because I know a few people who don’t fully comprehend the distinction between these two things, or can’t cross the bridge from one to the other. (And perhaps I’m guilty myself at times.) It’s kind of ironic how much you can focus on the self, and it comes off as ego, when really it’s more reflective of a deep well of insecurity.

It makes perfect sense that many of us obsess over our bodies. There is nothing more inescapable. Our bodies move us through our lives. They bring pleasure and pain. Sometimes our bodies serve us well, and other times our bodies become terribly inconvenient. (113)

I’ve gone through ups and downs with my body image over the years. (What young woman hasn’t?) Puberty is notoriously tough, but pregnancy has been surprisingly fraught too. My body is doing incredible things for my baby girl, and I am extremely grateful for how well it is “tolerating” pregnancy. (My OB’s words, haha, not mine.) But at the same time, my body has also morphed into something unfamiliar, seemingly overnight. And it continues to grow, becoming increasingly foreign and uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally.

In the end, the price cannot be separated from the gift, so I will pay it. I will even embrace it, for the strange and wonderful marvel that it is.

But I won’t pretend that it doesn’t also trouble me sometimes.

Just because you survive something does not mean you are strong. (144)

I like this as a counterpoint to the famous saying, What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I don’t think one is more true than the other; I just think it’s worth acknowledging that both are possibilities.

Too often, we fail to ask ourselves what sacrifices we will make for the greater good. What stands will we take? We expect role models to model the behaviors we are perfectly capable of modeling ourselves. (169)

I keep typing and erasing my thoughts in response to this quote. Obviously I haven’t quite sorted them out.

The one piece I can clearly express: The people I admire most tend not to look to others for greatness, but rather hold themselves to the highest standards, and constantly seek to improve.

We all have the capacity to do hurtful things, but we differ from one another in terms of scale — how much we can hurt others, how far we will go to make a statement about our beliefs, how remorseful we might feel in the aftermath of committing a terrible act. Most of us, if we are lucky, will only commit petty hurtful acts, the kinds of hurt that can be forgiven. (296)

This feels like a really important thing to understand. Basically: We are all capable of some degree of “evil.” But do we permit those weaknesses within ourselves, or strive to overcome them? Do we deny, or atone?

This is the modern age. When tragedies occur, we take to Twitter and Facebook and blogs to share our thoughts and feelings. We do this to know that maybe, just maybe, we are not alone in our confusion or grief or sorrow or to believe we have a voice in what happens in the world. (297)

Very true. And overall, I think it’s a positive thing — this sense of connection, this ability for everyone to have a platform. But it does come with drawbacks. Everything gets magnified, sometimes beyond recognition. I think we have to be careful not to just build an echo chamber around ourselves. And we have to be willing to listen and learn as much as we are eager to speak and be understood.

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BAD FEMINIST by Roxane Gay (part 1)

Bad Feminist I read this book ages ago, and I’ve had two or three drafts with quotes from it sitting in my WordPress queue ever since. I keep thinking I need to add my own reactions or thoughts like I usually do, but whenever try to do so, I find myself thinking that Roxane Gay’s words are pretty close to perfect, and thus much more impactful on their own.

Feminism has helped me believed my voice matters, even in this world where there are so many voices demanding to be heard. (x)

I believe women not just in the United States but throughout the world deserve equality and freedom but know I am in no position to tell women of other cultures what that equality and freedom should look like. (xii)

Discussions about gender are often framed as either/or propositions. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, or so we are told, as if this means we’re all so different it is nigh impossible to reach each other. The way we talk about gender makes it easy to forget Mars and Venus are part of the same solar system, divided only by one planet, held in the thrall of the same sun. (96)

Disagreement, however, is not anger. Pointing out the many ways in which misogyny persists and harms women is not anger. Conceding the idea that anger is an inappropriate reaction to the injustice women face backs women into an unfair position. Nor does disagreement mean we are blind to the ways in which progress has been made. Feminists are celebrating our victories and acknowledging our privilege when we have it. We’re simply refusing to settle. We’re refusing to forget how much work there is yet to be done. We’re refusing to relish the comforts we have at the expense of women who are still seeking comfort. (102)

It’s hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining thing. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that one of these things is happening; it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly. (189)

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Places I Stopped On The Way HomeI link to Meg Fee’s blog occasionally, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned her ebook. It’s a short collection of essays about life and love in her 20s in New York City. It’s about home — leaving it, seeking it, creating it. Some of the essays started as blog posts on her site; some are brand new. All were thought-provoking and enjoyable to me.

A few notes from my reading:

“The female doesn’t want a rich or a handsome man or even a poet, she wants a man who understands her eyes if she gets sad, and points to his chest and says: Here is your home country.” – Nizar Qabbani

Those aren’t Meg’s own words, obviously, but it’s a good thesis, so to speak, for everything that Meg does say. And the qualities that she’s seeking in love and in a partner? I have them, with Andy.

I’m not sure how I got so lucky — between him and my parents — but I know what a difference it has made in my life.

The best people I know are comfortable with failure, willing to hang out in discomfort. They aren’t interested in looking cool or terribly concerned with fitting in. They understand the value of listening and are willing to apologize and admit wrong. They are engaged in the very active thing that is fighting for the life you want, and fighting for the love you think you deserve. And at the end of the day, when asked what they bring to the table, they know the answer.

This is the type of person I strive to be. Some days I succeed, some days I don’t. But hopefully the don’t days are getting fewer and farther between.

Occasionally I am rendered breathless by how much there is to look forward to.

I probably cry an average of once a day about something terrible that has happened in the world. And I worry. And I rage. But in spite of everything, there is still hope, joy, goodness, and endless possibility. That’s what we live for. That’s the how and the why. That’s everything.

And now, many months after I originally read and saved Meg’s words, that’s what I feel when I place a hand on my growing belly, and my baby girl moves inside me.

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On Monday I decided to ignore the computer and silence the phone, and to just read instead. Partly because I have a book club meeting coming up, and partly because I could feel that my mind and body needed this. It’s so easy to be a slave to the screen, to social media, to all the alerts and messages vying for my attention. I wanted to assert my freedom. I wanted to establish a boundary.

It was wonderful. I read ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes in its entirety. (And I used up the better half of a tissue box while doing so!) I can’t remember the last time I sat and focused on one thing that way, for that long. It felt great. Almost like meditation.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I don’t have favorite lines from it to share and reflect upon. It wasn’t quotable in that way. I think part of the reason it could make a great movie is because it’s more about the plot and less about the prose. Also because Emilia Clarke has been perfectly cast as Louisa.

How to Be an American HousewifeAnyway, I do have a small backlog of books that are quotable, so I’m going to highlight one of those today instead. First up, my friend Margaret Dilloway’s debut novel HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE. This book came out a few years ago, but the subject matter is timeless to me. It’s about a Japanese woman reflecting upon her early life and what led her to marry an American man, as well as about their daughter’s journey back to Japan to reconnect with family and culture.

“You are right to be afraid,” he said, “but where does this fear lead you? Nowhere. You must let go of fear.”

It’s easy to tell someone, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” But the truth is, there’s plenty to be afraid of, so I love the idea of accepting fear as reasonable and real, but then setting it aside anyway. It’s hard — but valuable — to be able to sit with an uncomfortable feeling without letting it overtake you.

Forgiveness is a skill that, like cleanliness, should be learned early and practiced often.

What a smart and beautiful analogy. I’ve read a little bit about forgiveness lately — especially in the wake of the Charleston shooting, here and here. I’ve also been thinking about forgiveness in the context of an old friendship that soured. What I realized is that I may not fully understand the nuances of it. I think I’m better at forgetting, burying, “moving on.” But maybe that’s not the healthiest way? Maybe I need to practice more.

“Is it funny to feel homesick for a place I’ve never been before?”

In my opinion? No. Because that’s how I felt the first time I explored Madrid. I recognized it as a home of my heart, even though I had never been there before. (At least not in this lifetime…)

“If you wait for happiness to find you, you may be waiting a long time.”

I think I’m good at this one. My whole life, I’ve gone after what I wanted. I’ve failed often enough, but I try not to let that deter me. I guess it’s the whole “you can’t win the lottery if you never buy a ticket” thing.

Do not protest against life’s strains, but let them unfold and carry you through wherever they may.

This one is harder for me. I’m an emotional person, so life’s disappointments and injustices do hit me hard sometimes.

Sometimes letting go brought more peace than holding on, I realized, though it was harder to do.

And this, to me, seems very interconnected with the previous quote, as well as with forgiveness. All I can say is, I’m working on it. On all of it.

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My Heart and Other Black HolesI don’t typically observe “book birthdays,” but this one is special. Today is the day that my dear friend Jasmine Warga celebrates the release of her debut novel.

It has been such a fun and valuable experience watching Jasmine’s journey to publication over the past year and a half. More importantly, it has been a pleasure getting to know her, talking with her about writing and the creative process, and bonding over our halfie experiences and immigrant parents. She is always so thoughtful and grounded, so purposeful and generous. Without question, Jasmine has been a positive influence on me, and for that I am immeasurably grateful.

I think her book will be a positive influence on its readers, too. MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES is the story of two teens who feel irrevocably broken, but who find a spark of hope when they meet one another. It’s an unflinching look at sadness of various kinds and degrees. It shows how depression can isolate you and warp your perspective. It’s about not fitting in, and the human need to feel connected.

What I love most about MHAOBH is its authenticity. You can tell that Jasmine poured her heart onto these pages. The book isn’t designed to romanticize the problems that these characters face. It doesn’t sugar-coat the difficulties that lie ahead for Aysel and Roman. It’s hopeful, but truthful too.

You’re like a gray sky. You’re beautiful, even though you don’t want to be.

Beyond the poetry of this sentiment, I also just appreciated the shoutout to “gloomy” weather, which I happen to love.

It’s funny how once you like someone, even the unattractive things they do somehow become endearing.

So true. Andy has one bad habit in particular that I could do without, but mostly his quirks just make me laugh. If you took them all away, he’d be a different person. Or at least, a blander version of himself.

You know, it’s probably worth turning that gentle, appreciative gaze on ourselves too.

Maybe we all have darkness inside of us and some of us are better at dealing with it than others.

I don’t think there’s any “maybe” about it.


Overall I would say that I’m a pretty upbeat person. (Or at least even-keeled.) But there was one time in my life that sadness threatened to squash me. And for a short while, I let it. I carried that boulder and let it push me down, bend my back, until I was almost sinking into the ground.

Then one day I realized it wouldn’t stop. Not on its own. I had to decide to be stronger than my sadness, because it for sure wanted to be stronger than me.

The decision was instantaneous, but the strength wasn’t. It took months to build myself back up, to push off the boulder, to be happy and healthy again. But I did it. It’s possible. And it’s so worth the effort.

I wonder if that’s how darkness wins, by convincing us to trap it inside ourselves, instead of emptying it out.

I don’t want it to win.

Of course, battling sadness isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. But every victory counts. Every victory helps.

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