A gathering of some of the best pieces by women we’ve read this week.
Here at Vela, we celebrate women’s writing pretty much constantly, but we’re feeling especially passionate about our weekly round-up today, International Women’s Day. We invite you to celebrate with us by giving these beauties a read.
Jill Talbot’s “Emergent” in the Paris Review Daily
As someone who moves annually, across state and international borders, I’m hyper-conscious of the effort and energy required to create a real physical and psychological sanctuary for my children, to create a home out of thin air and the unfamiliar. So I appreciated Jill Talbot’s white-knuckle short memoir “Emergent,” up this week on the Paris Review Daily, which applies a cool gaze to an incident of the sort that haunt mothers in those few empty hours of night that we can fully dedicate to abject dread, an incident where some variety of danger sneaks through the cracks of our vigilance and affects a child. I admire that Talbot, the author of an addiction memoir (Loaded, 2007), does not make excuses or assign blame or plead ignorance. She just tells the whole hard story of failing to keep danger at bay, a story that is hers, but only because it didn’t happen, this time, to be mine, or yours. — Molly
Brittany Julious’ “When Will You Come Home?” in This Recording
In this simple, understated piece, Julious explores some pretty heady topics: race; demarcations among races; socioeconomics; gentrification; family complexities; urban geographies. What I appreciate most about Julious’ handling of these topics is that she doesn’t attempt to resolve these tensions; she simply portrays them in the interwoven way in which they exist. As someone who’s always felt cleaved between cultures, this handling felt very accurate. As someone who’s watched their hometown gentrify, this depiction one-hundred percent nailed the types of exchanges I’ve had: “To the Chicagoans who were born and bred here, a mention of Austin is a point of fear and respect. Even they don’t meet a lot of people from that side of the city. It shuts them up. There is no question of authenticity.”
It would have been incredibly easy for Julious to fall into something really didactic or scene-cred-y, which I find is often the case when these types of issues are tackled in personal narrative. But she manages to avoid the trap and get at something realer, deeper. There’s so much going on here, but at the same time the piece is very quiet. That’s a hard thing to achieve and I think Julious has done it here. — Lauren
Cheryl Strayed’s “Baby Weight” in Brain, Child (reprinted from their archives)
By now, it’s no secret that we — along with the rest of the reading world — love Cheryl Strayed. But I couldn’t resist including this gorgeous essay in this week’s round-up, which touches upon what is, for me, both most exciting and terrifying about the prospect of becoming a mother: that the love we feel for our children the moment they’re born overshadows any other passions that have driven us in life. I don’t know this first-hand, but I have watched my best friend, whom I’ve known since I was 16, be transformed by her baby boy. It seems like such an obvious truth, but one, I suppose, you can’t quite understand until you’ve had a child. As Strayed says: “It was, by far, the most shocking thing that has ever happened to me.” Once her son was born, Strayed, entirely consumed by him, couldn’t seem to find the motivation to finish her first novel. “All of my life I’d believed that writing was my calling, my passion, my reason for being, my greatest contribution to the betterment of the world, but that theory of my life unraveled completely when I became a mother. I had a new passion now. A new reason for being.” I am hungry to know that purpose and love, but as a young writer, I fear it too. And yet I have feeling that the two passions will find a way to live together, even complement one another, fill out my life entirely. For Strayed does return to her book, because without writing, she says, “I wouldn’t feel complete, and that would make it impossible for me to be the kind of mother to him that I wanted to be.” — Simone
Jane Braxton Little’s and Winifred Bird’s “Radiant Wildlands” in Earth Island Journal
These two science/environment writers come together to bring us news from the world’s radioactive forests. Meeting biologists who study wildlife around both Fukushima and Chernobyl, Little and Bird’s article is one of several in an issue dedicated to the Anthropocene–our current geologic epoch, which is defined by how humans shape landscape, environment, and wildlife. “Nuclear forests may be the ultimate Anthropocene environment,” they write, as they meet biologists who are examining how decaying radionuclides, which damage cells and potentially cause DNA mutations, are effecting species.
Pale grass blue butterflies still flutter in the Fukushima countryside, unaware they may be flirting with danger. Barn swallows dart around the forests of Chernobyl oblivious of the contamination they are carrying. For the hundreds of thousands of people forced to leave their homes in Japan, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, the radiation cycling from soil to treetop is an unnerving omnipresence. The forests they knew and depended upon now threaten instead of soothe, hiding unknowns where they once nurtured a community.