Reads for the Weekend: Creative writing as therapy, Sinead O’Connor & Teju Cole on White Saviors

The phenomenal poet, Adrienne Rich, who died this week at age 82. I’m glad she was with us for as long as she was. I found her work to be tremendously beautiful and profound. I found this interview from 1994 on Tumblr:

Q: June Jordan has this great remark in one of her poems, “I lust for justice.” You have that, too. Where does it come from?

Rich: Sometimes I think it’s in all of us. It gets repressed. It gets squashed. Very often by fear. For me, I know it’s been pushed down by fear at various times.

Q: Fear of what?

Rich: Fear of punishment. Fear of reprisal. Fear of not being taken seriously. Fear of being marginalized. And that’s why I think it’s so difficult for people on their own and in isolated situations to be as brave as they can be because it’s by others’ example that we learn how to do this. I really believe that justice and creativity have something intrinsically in common. The effort to make justice and the creative impulse are deeply aligned, and when you feel the necessity of a creative life, of coming to use your own creativity, I think you also become aware of what’s lacking, that not everyone has this potentiality available to them, that it is being withheld from so many.

A great article in the New York Times last week about creative writing as therapy: “What matters is that she and her comrades have found a way to face the toughest truths within themselves, to begin to make sense of them, and maybe even beauty. In a world that feels increasingly impersonal and atomized, I can’t think of a more thrilling mission.”

Sinead O’Connor on Trayvon Martin, Racism & Popular Culture, (h/t Davey D.)

My heart goes out to the family of Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old who was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer in Chicago.

I’m didn’t have a chance to read this lovely, important essay by Teju Cole when it was first published, but I urge you to read it. One of my favorite sentences: “Marginalized voices in America have fewer and fewer avenues to speak plainly about what they suffer; the effect of this enforced civility is that those voices are falsified or blocked entirely from the discourse.”

Lots to think about. Kind of a heavy week. Maybe this will lighten the mood: Gentlemen, a cocktail may inspire your creativity.

Single Lady Quotes: Kelly Clarkson

I’m not even sure how I became obsessed with Kelly Clarkson. But I think my love for her probably means I should just go ahead and confess to loving popular music. Plus, there’s the fact, that she’s a Texas woman and she can sing her tail off. She’s got the healthiest combination of cowgirl swagger and down-to-earth appeal.

She is not technically a single lady at the moment – since she’s dating after being single for 6 years. But her songs still give me life. So, there you have it ladies and gentlemen.

But here are some of the things she’s said about being single for awhile. These totally resonate with me — I’m sure you can relate, even if you don’t have 1 million Twitter followers like Kelly:

“People are really concerned about my relationship status. When I tell people I’m happy being single, they don’t believe me. They say: ‘You have to be miserable being alone’.”

(Addressing rumors that she had been single for so long because she’s a lesbian)

“I get that all the time. People are like ‘Are you secretly a lesbian? Because I’d really love it.’ Lesbians tell it to me all the time,” Clarkson once said in a 2009 interview with AOL’s “I’m like, ‘I’m glad it works for you and I wish I liked women like that because oftentimes men are very hard for me, but I happen to like boys.’ I could never be a lesbian. I would never want to date someone like myself, ever,” she added.

Here’s the thing: Most of her music doesn’t have lyrics that are super inspirational all by themselves. But these are some of my favorite songs; and if you’ve never heard Beautiful Disaster Live, you need that in your life. Enjoy:

Gizmodo: Nope, Men don’t have to worry about becoming extinct

I’m not a big science person — if anything, I’m a social science nerd — but this Gizmodo post intrigued me. The snark in the Gawker media family gets tiresome, but every now and then, they have a good find:

For a long time, biologists have predicted that the Y chromosome—the DNA that makes men men—was gradually dying out, and that it would eventually lead to the extiniction of the male of the species. Fortunately, a team of researchers has proven that isn’t the case.

It used to be, a long time ago, that the X and Y chromosomes were the same size and shape. Then, about 166 million years ago, a huge chunk of the Y chromosome was turned upside down and reinserted. Nobody quite knows why. Since, the Y chromosome has lost 781 of the 800 genes it originally shared with the X chromosome, all thanks to mutation. It’s this which led to speculation that it would eventually disappear.

But according to research from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that’s not the case. A team of researchers has compared the human Y chromosome to that of the rhesus macaque – a primate that diverged from humans around 25 million years ago. The monkey’s Y chromosome contains just 20 genes, and 19 of them are identical to those of the human Y.

Phew! What a relief. Dear dudes: Do not become extinct. That is not what we want. This is just a note to your DNA, apparently.

Kate Bolick on Single Women at The Hairpin

Kate Bolick, Lounging, from an Observer photographer.

This pair of interviews with Kate Bolick was published last fall, after her Atlantic cover story. I could relate to some of the things she mentioned in the email exchanges and wanted to post some of the interesting highlights here:

Should I talk way up at the start about how mine is NOT a story saying there are no good men left? I’m terrified of people reading it that way — when in fact the reality, as I see it, is much more subtle and complex. Statistics are indeed showing that more men are struggling now than in the past, which is a result of vast economic forces, as well as social ones (Christina Hoff Sommers wrote very presciently about “The War Against Boys” in 2000). And this is serious, and needs to be paid attention to.

I worry about this all the time, but I work hard to get that voice out of my head. It’s the voice of a very irritated man saying, “All you single women are the same. Just mad you’re single.” But I am fully aware that there are many good men in the world, they are just having a harder time than men used to have in social, economic and religious spheres. Here’s more:

 …the argument that there are fewer “marriageable” men than in the past relies on an archaic definition of “marriageable”: husbands who are higher-earning, better-educated, have more status, and are taller than their wives. (The “taller” thing keeps cropping up — just because it’s a very concrete and measurable thing.) The very good news for everyone is that women tend to be much more flexible in what they find attractive, so they’ll love and marry men in spite of any new so-called “failings.” And who knows — perhaps even prefer them? I for one have never been drawn to the “traditional” catch — the captain of the lacrosse team, etc. — but I know I’m weird like that.

Me, too, Kate! Me too. I am almost 6 feet tall myself, so statistically, that significantly cuts into the marriageable pool when height is involved. I have no problem dating shorties, but…depending on the man, this is an issue. (I don’t actually ever call them shorties aloud, by the way. I realize how demeaning and self-sabotaging that would be in the dating arena.)

Seriously, I thought that what Bolick wrote here about the inferiority complexes of men is pretty central to part of the shift we’re seeing:

A darker aspect is that this new power balance/imbalance means men are having to grapple with feelings of inferiority that they’re not quite accustomed to, and this can be hard on couples, particularly in a world that almost presumes women will have inferiority complexes.

If women believe and think they’re powerful, basically, and men think that they’re useless, our world starts to look a whole lot more matriarchal than ever before. It would be hasty to say that we’re on a fast train headed in that direction, considering the male-female wage gap and the lopsided gender make-up of politics, corporations and decision-makers in pretty much every significant sphere in American life. But we are in the midst of dealing with some significant changes that have deep emotional ramifications.This is true even if we don’t think we’ll be married — the inferiority thing shifts even how we relate as men and women to each other in workplaces, in sacred spaces and as friends.

I love that in the second part of the interview, Bolick talks a little bit more about what she would have added to the piece, which she wrote in a little over a week after six weeks of research. She also goes on to say that one of the critiques of her work was that she didn’t say anything new, but the truth is that she elevated a conversation that needed to be addressed in a different way. She talks about the need for “relationship ed” or ways to educate our ourselves about how to navigate these new social changes that are underway, which sounds like a fabulous idea. And then she says something that I could completely relate to, when she talked about wanting to marry someone who shares her values:

“Values” is a loaded word, isn’t it? I just meant a guy who sees the world similarly to how I do, who prizes things like honesty and communication and absurdity and new experiences.

But here’s the thing: I never once say in the piece that I never want to get married! I’m not against marriage. I’m just against its being our only and highest ideal. Our public rhetoric and internal monologues need to catch up to the on-the-ground fact that more and more of us are getting married later, or are creating “alternative” lifestyles, or are getting married and then getting divorced, and therefore spending a much longer period of time single than ever before. So how do we create a conversation that reflects and speaks to this new world we’re already living in?

The new anti-man movement

Critiquing men and manhood is not declaring war, but since there are millions of single women — more than single men — in America, I have been turning this over in my head for a little while now.

Nicole Jonson wrote a few months ago at The Good Men Project that women should stop declaring war on men:

There is not a war between men and women. From my vantage point, there are not battles, bombings, or bloodshed between the sexes. Men and women are not plotting carnage against each other. Furthermore, men are too smart to declare war on women.
Most men understand they can not survive without women. Ladies, can you say the same about men? I hope so. The truth is we would die without each other.
If there is any type of “war” going on it’s the new anti-men movement. To the ladies waging this campaign against men, I’m begging you, please: drop your weapons. You are fighting a losing battle, and ultimately, you are harming yourself and the female gender. Regardless of your sexual orientation, you need men; you can’t live without men. Moreover, I believe a portion of your disdain for men stems from internal strife and discontent.
Labels are limiting and lugubrious. We label people as a way to contain them, as well as to create a consistent, pre-determined expectation. This is tremendously unfair…
Degrees of inequalities will always exist between the sexes. Ladies, stop fighting this truth. Concentrate on your strengths, and address the internal battle with yourself before declaring men the enemy.

Because there has been a lot of talk about the Republican War on Women, in Texas and elsewhere, I wondered what others thought about the idea that there is a new strain of anti-man writing in our society. I think that patriarchy as we have always known it is starting to flatten like other hierarchies (the economy, corporations, education) in part because of deindustrialization. As that has happened, the definition of manhood has shifted, so that it cannot solely depend on women, children and job status as a man’s sole indicator of how manly he is.

In this transition, it seems that men have become vulnerable to being categorized as good men and bad men in most media coverage, with little room for the average guy. Does it seem that way to you?

When Maiden Ladies Live it Up: Lessons from Zelda Kaplan

In an interview recently, I was asked what my driving passion is in my life now.

For years, my answer to that question was always the same. I want to write. I am a writer.

What I’m evaluating now is the idea that I want to live my life to the fullest. What is the point of being untethered in any way if you don’t use that freedom to get to know yourself, to give of yourself in all the ways you were meant to?

This is fundamentally why I’m writing a book about being contented as a single person. The goal is not to disparage relationships or companionship, which I believe are their own gifts, when you find the right one. It’s to celebrate the moment you find yourself in, single or not. Celebrating yourself is not, nor should ever be considered, disparaging someone else’s life choices or predicaments. Being happily single is not a critique of people who are not.

I thought of this in February when I read the New York Times obituary for Zelda Kaplan, who sounds like she was a riot. A couple of things stood out for me in her obituary. She was married twice times, but it was after divorce that she seemed to steer her life in a more vivid direction:

It was not until she and Mr. Kaplan divorced in the late 1960s that Ms. Kaplan moved to New York, finding work as a ballroom dance instructor and as a framer in an art gallery. At parties she would demonstrate the fox trot and other dance standards. “To me the dancing that young people do in the clubs is exercise,” Ms. Kaplan said.

Living largely off her inheritance from the sale of the family horse farm and the proceeds from investments, she developed a passion for indigenous cultures and began traveling to countries like Mali, Ghana and Ethiopia in search of the woodcarvings and fabrics from which she made her designs. She made many trips on behalf of the World Culture Society, an organization she founded and financed.

On her foreign jaunts she would hire a driver to take her from village to village to speak to tribes about the perils of female genital cutting and to lobby for a woman’s right of inheritance. Like her tireless partying, her humanitarian efforts attested in part to an appetite for novelty and adventure.

“I’m a curious person,” she once said. “I want to keep learning until it’s over. And when it’s over, it’s over.”

That about sums it up. I believe we do ourselves a disservice complaining and whining about the single life when it’s completely possible for you to find more useful, joyous ways to spend your time. She lived to be 95, after all — that’s a ton of living to fit into a maiden lady’s life.

Reads for the weekend: Swingle women, Empty Hands & Full Hearts and How to deal with Fear of Missing Out


(This is a picture I took of Talib Kweli during SXSW. He is in no way endorsing anything I write about, I’m just a fan.)

Politics isn’t really my favorite topic but I can’t avoid it. Maybe because I’m one of these fun new swingles?

“The single woman, or “swingle,” as pollsters are now calling her, is already one of the largest voting blocs at 55 million, and that number is growing by almost 1 million voters a year—faster than any other group of voters broken out in the polls,” reports Hanna Rosin at Slate. “They may think like Republicans but they live like a Republican’s parody of a Democrat. They struggle financially, and living alone has given them a kind of ‘ambiguous independence,’  as (Kathy Edin, Harvard sociologist) likes to say.”

I cannot wait to study sociology so that I can use fantastic phrases like ‘ambiguous independence.’ It sounds so fancy.

Speaking of fancy, in my efforts to succeed at adulthood, I read Get Rich Slowly often. This is a great post from April Dykman on how to handle your fear of missing out (or FOMO).

One of my favorites: Leo Babauta at Zen Habits on empty hands and full hearts: “Having empty hands but a heart that is full of love leaves us prepared for anything.”

Single Lady Quotes: Coco Chanel

Audrey Tautou as Coco Chanel

When I was little, I used to sketch women in pretty outfits from magazines.

For a period of about four years, I was obsessed with the idea that I would grow up to be a famous fashion designer. (True story: I once stalked Byron Lars at Macy’s in New York and spent our entire interaction covering my mouth with my hand like Celie in The Color Purple.)

All I knew about Coco Chanel at the time was perfume. In the Plaza Hotel, where mom and I would stop to use their gorgeous and decadent ladies’ room, we could not only wash our hands, but we also could spritz perfume — perfume! That wasn’t in a can! — on yourself.  We would hoard those little thimble-sized samples of perfume from Saks Fifth Avenue and use it during special occasions. But at the Plaza? You could put on a little Chanel No. 5 like it was nothing.

So when I watched Coco before Chanel a few weeks ago, I thoroughly enjoyed it, subtitles and all. It made me want to dedicate myself to learning French one day, though I’m not sure I’m capable of that level of elegance in real life. I also gained a new appreciation for Coco Chanel from watching the movie, since she was apparently bent on not marrying in her life:

From the wise Coco Chanel:

“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”

“It’s probably not just by chance that I’m alone. It would be very hard for a man to live with me, unless he’s terribly strong. And if he’s stronger than I, I’m the one who can’t live with him. … I’m neither smart nor stupid, but I don’t think I’m a run-of-the-mill person. I’ve been in business without being a businesswoman, I’ve loved without being a woman made only for love. The two men I’ve loved, I think, will remember me, on earth or in heaven, because men always remember a woman who caused them concern and uneasiness. I’ve done my best, in regard to people and to life, without precepts, but with a taste for justice.”

“If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing.”

Tracy McMillan (Not Terry!) on Why You’re Not Married coming soon

Initially the book title was way more offensive. In October, I believe it was scheduled to be called:

Why You’re Not Married … Yet: How To Stop Acting Like a Bitch And Start Getting Hitched

Naturally, I hated that, for obvious reasons. When it’s released in May, it will be called something much calmer:

Why You’re Not Married… Yet: Straight Talk You Need To Get the Relationship You Deserve

Never underestimate the power of editors.

But it was not that far off from the blog that launched the bidding war on her book at The Huffington Post. When this was first published, I posted it on my Facebook page, because I liked the way it was written and I could relate to her history in foster care, etc. But I didn’t appreciate the tone, if that makes sense. I just don’t like being blamed for being who I am. Men don’t have to put up with this crap:

The problem is not men, it’s you. Sure, there are lame men out there, but they’re not really standing in your way. Because the fact is — if whatever you’re doing right now was going to get you married, you’d already have a ring on. So without further ado, let’s look at the top six reasons why you’re not married.

1. You’re a Bitch.
Here’s what I mean by bitch. I mean you’re angry. You probably don’t think you’re angry. You think you’re super smart, or if you’ve been to a lot of therapy, that you’re setting boundaries. But the truth is you’re pissed. At your mom. At the military-industrial complex. At Sarah Palin. And it’s scaring men off.

The deal is: most men just want to marry someone who is nice to them. I am the mother of a 13-year-old boy, which is like living with the single-cell protozoa version of a husband. Here’s what my son wants out of life: macaroni and cheese, a video game, and Kim Kardashian. Have you ever seen Kim Kardashian angry? I didn’t think so. You’ve seen Kim Kardashian smile, wiggle, and make a sex tape. Female anger terrifies men. I know it seems unfair that you have to work around a man’s fear and insecurity in order to get married — but actually, it’s perfect, since working around a man’s fear and insecurity is big part of what you’ll be doing as a wife.

Anyway. As of late last year, ABC bought a comedy based on the blog post from McMillan who has done television writing for Mad Men and the United States of Tara. Good for her. I hope it’s funny? I’m curious about the book, but no amount of emailing has yielded a review copy. Perhaps one day. I mean, it’s obvious to me why I’m not married yet. But it sure would be helpful to hear a woman whose been married three times explain it. It’s the female Steve Harvey, ladies and gentlemen!

Next stop: New York Times Bestseller list!

The Single Life Survey: Washington Post

Well, there are 96.6 million unmarried Americans, but here’s the title of the Washington Post magazine article:

“The single life: Some people never find the love of their lives. And live to tell about it.”

Oh. No wonder I didn’t read that last month. Check out the blog about the survey results, though, which is pretty cool.

Even though the title makes it sound like living to tell the tale of single life is part of a bleak soldiering through daily existence without a partner, it’s actually quite good and actually includes a wider range of voices than I expected:

Ninety percent of us will marry — often repeatedly — on the belief that marriage can add something fundamentally good to our lives.

Certainly, there’s a huge biological imperative to pair up — procreation and protection of the young used to demand it. But reproductive technologies have expanded our baby-making options, and security systems do a good job of deflecting predators. And we still want the ineffable. We want love.

The hope is for a constant companion who will bear intimate witness to our lives. Who will heighten our joy and ease our suffering. Who will be our designated collaborator and caretaker, sparing us the effort of constantly fending for ourselves.

And we’re promised as much. There is a lid for every pot, they say. Someone for everyone.

Hollywood promotes this idea and so do our overbearing aunts and women’s magazines. And so do I. Each week for this newspaper I write the story of two people who met, fell in love and married. When I sit down with couples, they often say things like, “When you know, you know.”

And I believe them. But I also know it doesn’t happen for everyone.

The question is, what does that mean? Am I one of those it won’t happen for? Are you? Do you worry about it?

My hero in this story is Bella DePaulo, who calls herself “single at heart.” I want to read her book, “Singled Out.” I’d be interested in hearing from any of you if you’ve read it, or read this article.

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