Photo by Hermann Kaser

Women We Read This Week

Gerri Hirshey’s “Even Sex Goddesses Get the Blues” in New York Magazine’s The Cut

I’ve always loved Helen Gurley Brown for her essential role in dismantling stereotypes about women’s sexuality: that women are fragile or frigid or generally joyless about sex. I remember learning about her Sex and the Single Girl in high school, and even then, in the late ’90s, parts of it seemed so radical. She’s always stood tall in my mind: Sex Goddess Helen Gurley Brown. I tried to be her for a short-lived stint, like I imagine many women have at one point or another, but found that I had all these darned feelings. What I love about Gerri Hirshey’s portrait of Brown in The Cut is the way she shows this part of Brown, too, this interior life. Not weak or fragile, by any means, but a sex goddess with feelings. A woman who could get swept up in sex, a woman who, like many of us, wasn’t always as in control as she would like to appear:

Helen saw herself as a prisoner of sex. “Whatever the emotional problems, I feel still that sex is such a dynamic incredible happening that your brains go bye-bye if you’re mad about this person,” she said. “You can’t be sensible, you can’t say, ‘Well, I’ll just sleep with him but I’ll go have somebody else who’s nice. I’ll marry somebody else and I’ll keep this person as a playmate.’ You can’t do that. If you’re sexually zonked, that’s it.”

In Hirshey’s hands, we still see the Brown we know and love, but we see more, too: a nuanced sense of the personal relationships that drove her, the casual relationships that weren’t, and the love she finally found.

–Katie B.

Lindsay Lynch’s “Sad Books That Will Rip Your Soul to Pieces” on LitHub

Lindsay Lynch once inadvertently recommended her father read The Things They Carried right before going into a pretty invasive surgery, and it broke her heart to see him all bandaged up in the hospital bed, book in hand. She now works at a bookstore, and feels conflicted about recommending books to people that she strongly suspects will make them cry. She has a spotty history of book recommendations, but I think she deeply understands the need for individuals to have a cathartic emotional experience with the book they’re reading. “We crave the emotional labor that comes with reading a book that is particularly difficult or sad. But what I also notice is the sense of camaraderie between readers that comes with a particularly trying text.” When she goes on to list a few titles that have moved her emotionally, I was thrilled when she mentioned books I’ve also shed tears to, including the fifth Harry Potter, Claire Vaye Watkin’s Battleborn, and Maggie Nelson’s Bluets.

Lynch goes on to reflect that part of the importance of crying while reading is creating a space in which it’s okay to feel sad for the small things:

I worry that we don’t let ourselves express sadness as often as we ought to. And I don’t mean my-grandma-just-died-and-I’m-inconsolable-sadness or my-boyfriend-of-three-years-left-me-and-he’s-taking-the-dog-sadness. Don’t get me wrong, those are very valid types of sadness, but what I’m interested in is boring, monotonous sadness. We tend to reject sadness that doesn’t have some tangible cause. We are not offered many opportunities to feel communally sad for no reason whatsoever.

There’s something so necessary about picking up an author like Alice Munro, whose stories are equal parts beautiful and devastating, and realizing that someone sees the sorrow in everyday occurrences. I cry when I read Alice Munro and I don’t even cry at the sad parts. I cry when a character gets too drunk at a party because she doesn’t know anybody and makes a fool of herself. I cry when a woman tries on a dress at a boutique and feels bad for wanting something nice for herself. I cry because these moments seem so trivial in isolation but so meaningful in Munro’s capable hands.

Kate Kiefer Lee’s “Putting Work in Its Place” in The Manual

I recently quit my job to move across the country. Within my new job search, I’ve found heaps of useless advice about interview questions and resume mistakes and endless tips about how to become the perfect candidate, but little about how to reconcile conflicting ideas within the job search. Until I came across this piece.

The Manual is a journal dedicated to design, but the message of Lee’s essay resonates with anyone attempting to pursue a career in creativity, or really anything else. She first tells the story of Ricky Scott, a full-time Director of Public Works and volunteer firefighter, who dedicates a few hours on Thursday afternoon to do what he loves: smoke a pig and sell the barbecue to his neighbors. Sure, he could leave his day job and become a full time pitmaster. But he probably also likes the benefits that are typically associated with a day job: health insurance, paid vacation time, retirement savings.

Creative individuals with the right combination of determination, work ethic, and inspiration–aspiring writers, artists, musicians, designers, jewelry makers, and even restaurateurs–might be a website, a Twitter, and/or a Kickstarter away from turning those dreams into a career. But what about those who lack a safety net? Those whose passions can’t be leveraged into an income source? Lee goes on to examine the problematic mantras and inspirational speeches about quitting your day job or doing what you love:

Mantras like “do what you love” and “quit your day job” often presume the listener has one clear creative passion that they can ultimately profit from. But not everyone has a calling. It’s a myth that in order to be truly happy, you need to find and pursue your one true passion. Many people have joyous lives filled with interests and hobbies and people they love, but not passions…Some people aren’t comfortable turning their passions into a career. Maybe they want to keep their passions for themselves. Maybe they practice their passion as a way to relieve stress, and the experience would change if they made it their job. Maybe their full-time job funds their dreams, and they want to pursue their passion while relying on a steady paycheck…Some people have passions that are inherently unrelated to work. There are many among us who’ve always wanted a family. They go to work every day; and every night, they follow their dreams home to their families. Passions can also take the form of hobbies, fulfilling people emotionally or intellectually outside of work.

Lee encourages readers that it is okay to only love your job sometimes, or only love parts of your job. She confesses that her job isn’t what she loves most in the world. Sometimes it’s more important to be engaged at work, and to look for meaning in the work that you’re actually doing.

–Amanda P.

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