A Canadian living and writing in Dublin

Archive for December, 2011

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Top Ten Books I Read in 2011

10.  Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares
by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Leviathan and Cohn’s third collaboration is my personal favourite. Basically Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist with books instead of music and wacky family members in lieu of crazy exes, the book follows Dash and Lily’s fateful meeting through the New York hipster scene. A fun, light read that stirs up nostalgia for happenstance romance.

9. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence
by Inga Muscio

While not quite the life-changing experience I’d been prepared for, Cunt is certainly a worthwhile read. This book disappointed me in that I didn’t find it really changed my thinking or presented me with anything new. Though I support most of the ideas in it, I was already familiar with them. Had I read this book when I was 18, it probably would have woken me up and blown my mind, but compared with other feminist perspectives I was exposed to this year, I felt Cunt lacked a certain groundbreaking quality. Still, I’d consider it an essential for anyone who respects women.

8. My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands
by Chelsea Handler

It feels more than a little sacrilegious to include Chelsea Handler on a list alongside so many inspirational women. She doesn’t pretend to be politically correct or feminist for a second, and I was certainly offended more than once, particularly by her views on consent. Sexual violence was an overarching theme for me this year – so much of what I read, wrote, heard, did, worked for and talked about seemed connected to sexual assault in some way. Though not particularly well-written, this book made me laugh and reminded me that sex doesn’t always have to be so serious. Handler’s no literary genius, but I respect her ability to go after what she wants sexually and make no apologies for it.

7. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto
by Chuck Klosterman

Though overly self-important and politically incorrect at times, Klosterman presents several humorous and thought-provoking comments on popular culture in this essay collection. My favourite part is “23 Questions I Ask Everybody I Meet In Order To Decide If I Can Really Love Them.”

6. A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan

The 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner’s winding narrative between loosely related characters in veritable chronology is full of energy and a delightfully tragic cast. The wacky situations continue to spin out of control without any sort of resolution. Egan takes readers on a fun ride, but the lack of any real plot left me wondering what the point was.

5. It’s Kind of a Funny Story
by Ned Vizzini

Written following Vizzini’s own five-day stint in a psychiatric hospital, this delightful story takes a tastefully lighthearted look at mental illness and reminds readers that we’re all a little crazy now and again.

4. Infinite Jest
by David Foster Wallace 

I couldn’t help but wonder where this book was going the entire time I was reading it, the fear rising in me that I was going to become engrossed only to find myself suddenly dropped in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly what happened. Once I get past the infuriating inconsequentiality of the story and the hundreds of pages of rambling, indulgent footnotes, I can appreciate the dark humour, effective shifts in perspective and interesting educational tidbits. It’s a testament to Foster Wallace’s strong writing that I was able to get so into such a long book without a clear destination or payoff.

3. Fall on Your Knees
by Ann-Marie MacDonald

I generally prefer contemporary fiction and was surprised to find myself hooked by the complex tale of a Halifax family in the early 1900s as it weaves through generations of secrets. MacDonald does a wonderful job highlighting this heartbreakingly poignant story with racial tension, sexual undertones and religious overtones.

2. Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Empowerment and a World Without Rape
by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti

I read this book after meeting Friedman at a conference about rape in war this summer, and it absolutely changed my life. A world without rape is a pretty lofty goal, but the contributors in this collection of essays will restore your faith just a little and inspire readers to take control of their sex lives. This book is basically the Coles Notes on sexual assault activism. More of my thoughts here.

1. Laid: Young People’s Experiences with Sex in an Easy-Access Culture
by Shannon T. Boodram

This collection of stories and poems about young people’s sexual experiences is shocking, touching and, above all, honest. Divided into five chapters: negative experiences, positive experiences, consequences, rape, and abstinence, this book explores all sides of hook-up culture from the viewpoint of those engaging in it. There is no judgment or hidden agenda here, simply the message that everyone should feel free to choose the sexual lifestyle that is best for them, and accept whatever feelings they have about their decisions as valid.

 

Four-Letter Word

by Sarah Bunting

Slut —  1: a slovenly woman : SLATTERN

2a: a lewd woman; esp : PROSTITUTE

b: a saucy girl : MINX

Ah, “slut.” A compact little word, forceful even in the way it sounds, starting out with a hissing sibilant and pushing off of the tongue through the L and U, and then that nastily crisp T. “Slut.” Say it a few times out loud. Roll it around in your mouth. “Sssslut.” “Sss…lllut.” Say it again. Notice that it’s difficult — almost impossible, in fact — to pronounce it neutrally. It’s got a sneer built into it, that word. It’s not as twangy and unthreatening as “tramp.” It’s not as easy to yell as “whore.” “Whore” is built for screaming rage and dishes flying through the air, with a nice gusty H at the front and a big old roaring R bringing up the rear. Not “slut,” though. “Slut” is muttered. “Slut” is whispered. “Whore” comes in like a punch, but “slut” tingles, like a slap. “Slut” hides behind the teeth. “Slut” is for when your back is turned.

“Slut” is for when you don’t act like a lady. “Slut” is for when you sit with your legs apart. “Slut” is for when you wear it short, tight, without a bra, cut up high and down low and around the side, because, see, “slut” is also for when you have the nerve to enjoy your body in front of women who hate their own bodies. Don’t strut. Don’t dance with soul, or lick your lips. Don’t look too good; don’t think you look too good. Digging your own self is slutty. Making your own good time is slutty. Who do you think you are, anyway? Knees together, slut.

“Slut” is for when you forget to hate and fear boys. “Slut” is for when you talk to them, flirt with them, hang out with them and watch kung fu movies, pretend they don’t suck at guitar, sit on their laps, cut their hair. “Slut” is for when you don’t remember that you can’t have a male friend unless he’s your brother or gay, because your male friends want to fuck you, and you can’t handle that. “Slut” is liking sports and belches and messy apartments — or, rather, “liking” those things, because you couldn’t really like those things. You just pretend to like them so that you can get attention from men, because you have no personality of your own, and even if you did, men only want you for your action anyway. That’s pathetic. Get a life, slut.

“Slut” is for when, in spite of everything you’ve learned from Cosmo and your sorority sisters, you just love men, for when you want to look at them and talk about them and burrow your nose into their necks and lick them from head to toe and hop right on them when they walk in the door like that scene from Raising Arizona where Holly Hunter clings to Nicolas Cage like a wood tick. Ugh. That’s so undignified. That’s so unfeminine. “Slut” is for walking down the street and talking to a friend on your cell phone and watching a cute boy walk past in the opposite direction and looking at him and looking away and looking back and then turning around in mid-sentence to keep looking. “Slut” is for thinking of stubble burn and biting your lip. “Slut” is for remembering the way your first true love used to pin you up against his car door and flushing clear up to the roots of your hair. “Slut” is for big hands and deep voices. “Slut” is for on top of you and under you and behind you, in the closet, on the floor, under the piano. “Slut” is for liking it. “Slut” is for wanting it. “Slut” is for going after it. Men hunt, women gather; men chase, women wait. Look it up, slut.

“Slut” is for kissing boys with tongue. “Slut” is for kissing lots of different boys with tongue. “Slut” is for craving kissing lots of different boys with tongue. That’s not right, you know. It says so in the Bible, and in social hygiene films. “Slut” is for loving sex. “Slut” is for needing sex. “Slut” is for thinking sex isn’t shameful. Sex is for married people, for diamond owners, for nice girls in twin sets whose mothers hid the Erica Jong, for people totally and completely, like, in total and complete love, and it takes place behind closed doors, with the lights out. Sex isn’t fun. Sex isn’t casual. Sex is a deadly serious, disgusting, dirty, degrading business. Just lie there. Don’t move around. Don’t use your fingernails or moan or anything; that’s slutty. Don’t get on top. Don’t go down. Going down is really slutty, especially if you like it as much as he does. Ew. That’s so gross. Only a slut would like that. That’s so sickening. I bet you masterbate, too. Ew, I can’t even think about that. That’s so foul — touching yourself down there like that? That’s — well, it’s dirty and sticky and gross, dude! Nobody does that. Well, boys do, but that’s different.

“Slut” is for sex outside a committed relationship. Sex outside a committed relationship is a cry for help. It means you have no self-respect, obviously. You’re, like, a total nympho, man. I can’t believe you would even do that. God. Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about it. Don’t miss it. Don’t daydream about doing it with Josh Hartnett in a waterfall. I mean — yuck. That’s totally slutty. Are you, like, desperate or something? Why else would you just have sex with a guy? That’s so wrong. You’re so wrong. You’re such a slut.

“Slut” is for fucking on the first date, giving head instead of your number, not caring if he calls, caring if he calls but fucking another guy to pass the time. You do that stuff, well, clearly you’re a slut. What’s even worse? You, like, enjoy it. It’s so show-offy, too. Like, “look at me, I think I’m a guy,” like Samantha on Sex & The City, like, get over yourself, hon. And, I mean, Samantha brings home at least one new guy every week, but she’s, like, obviously so miserable and empty inside because she never settles down. Don’t you want to get married? How do you ever expect to get married if you keep slutting around? You have to save yourself. I mean, no man’s going to want you if you’ve slept with, like, a million other guys before him. You’re used. You’re dirty. He’ll fuck you, but he’ll never bring you home to his mother, because you didn’t stay pure and go to bed only with guys you loved. And you can’t have more experience than your husband; that’s just not done. What if he gets insecure about it? You’ll scare him off. You don’t want that, do you?

And you’ve probably got diseases. I bet you don’t even use protection. Remember? How you have no self-respect? And don’t use condoms and birth control, because you just want guys to like you, so you just fuck them? That’s so sad. I feel really sorry for you. Yeah, you say you enjoy it, but it’s just a compulsion, and it’s pitiful, really.

Just stay away from my man, okay? Don’t even talk to him. Women have to look out for each other, because men would never look out for us, because we don’t deserve their respect and fidelity. We women have to stick together. If he steps out on me with you, that’s not his fuck-up. It’s yours. I mean, you’re the slut here. You obviously came onto him all barracuda-style and lured him into bed, so I blame you completely. So just don’t even go over there to talk to him. He’d never treat me right, and if I left you two alone, something would happen.

God, I can’t even look at you. You just prance around acting all carefree like you don’t care what happens, like it doesn’t matter, like you have the right to sleep with whomever you want or something — you make me ill! I hate you! Fuck you, slut!

If you found yourself nodding along in sincere agreement with any of what’s written above, you have a serious, serious problem and need to report to your nearest therapist for a course of self-esteem rehabilitation and double-standard deprogramming. The rest of you may continue to wear your sluttishness with pride. Here endeth the lesson.

Tiny Beautiful Things

This brought me to tears when I heard it at an open mic a few weeks ago. Original text here.

Dear Sugar,

I read your column religiously. I’m 22. From what I can tell by your writing, you’re in your early 40s. My question is short and sweet: what would you tell your 20-something self if you could talk to her now?

Love,
Seeking Wisdom

Dear Seeking Wisdom,

Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this, sweet pea.

In the middle of the night in the middle of your twenties when your best woman friend crawls naked into your bed, straddles you, and says, You should run away from me before I devour you, believe her.

You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart.

When that really sweet but fucked up gay couple invites you over to their cool apartment to do ecstasy with them, say no.

There are some things you can’t understand yet. Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding. It’s good you’ve worked hard to resolve childhood issues while in your twenties, but understand that what you resolve will need to be resolved again. And again. You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.

One evening you will be rolling around on the wooden floor of your apartment with a man who will tell you he doesn’t have a condom. You will smile in this spunky way that you think is hot and tell him to fuck you anyway. This will be a mistake for which you alone will pay.

Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.

You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.

Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

One hot afternoon during the era in which you’ve gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up with heroin you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do.

Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you.

When you meet a man in the doorway of a Mexican restaurant who later kisses you while explaining that this kiss doesn’t “mean anything” because, much as he likes you, he is not interested in having a relationship with you or anyone right now, just laugh and kiss him back. Your daughter will have his sense of humor. Your son will have his eyes.

The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.

One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life.

Say thank you.

Yours,
 Sugar