Photo: Jaroslav A. Polák
Photo: Jaroslav A. Polák

Women We Read This Week

Karalynn Moran’s “On Rubbernecking” in apt

In her lyric essay, “On Rubbernecking,” Karalynn Moran revisits the experience of witnessing multiple trucks destroyed: her own Jeep, which burst into flames; the aftermath of an accident on the highway, which she passes during a road trip; and the truck her high school boyfriend crashed and died in. “On Rubbernecking” depicts the movement surrounding stillness.

Traffic is slowing, congesting like sick lungs halfway through New Jersey. Clayton’s girlfriend calls, tells us there’s a terrible accident further west on I-78, we’re an hour from the chaos, that we should try to find another way home. Eastbound and westbound closed for over four hours, fire and smoke, three people died, two burned to death in their vehicle. An hour away and traffic is already showing signs. Westbound opens up shortly after the call. We catch the tail end of the traffic snag. Under the bridge, the only other way home, Old Route 22, is at a standstill from all the diverted traffic. We creep by, and then we smell it. The air is heavy, the stench of burnt engine and car interior.

Moran and I attended the same writing program, and it was there that I first discovered her work. This piece has just as much raw emotion as the work of hers I read in school; she writes devastatingly about universal ideas like coping with the loss of love and how unfair it seems when someone close to you dies. Although Moran sets her images of motor vehicles in specific places like Maine, Pennsylvania, a KOA near Kinzual Dam, or the Tappan Zee Bridge, her story speaks to a more universal feeling of youth, voyeurism and vulnerability that can be found in most of rural or suburban America.

Sarah Sweeney’s “My “Ghost World” years: Confessions of a teenage AOL catfisher” in Salon

What I love about Sarah Sweeney’s depiction of her youthful catfishing attempts is that at 15, she was actually very cool—emailing bands haikus, trading mixtapes in the mail with 20-somethings in San Francisco, listening to Bikini Kill and quoting Pavement lyrics. In my first voyages to the ends of the Internet, I think I tried online dating, but mostly I watched Pop-Up video reruns on VH1, looked at cat pictures and struggled to find things to instant message people about. When I first got AOL, I hadn’t even discovered Harry Potter yet. So the character that Sweeney presents as her 15-year-old self does feel fully formed, almost like something out of a graphic novel.

Sweeney writes about the thrill of abandoning your identity behind the invisible wall of the Internet, lying about your age, and finding respite from the confines of youth (in her case, living with an unreliable dad in a small, sleepy town). But this piece is also a time capsule, maybe even a love letter, to an era in Internet history when being anonymous online served the purpose of self-discovery instead of horrible trolling.

Some Saturdays Marie drove over, though she lived just a few blocks away, and we’d hammer out songs on my bedroom floor. Afterward, we’d steer her car to the bookstore, or the downtown record store, where the amiable mid-30s clerks said we reminded them of the teenaged troublemakers in Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel “Ghost World.”
“It’s about two bored girls who do weird things to men,” my favorite of the clerks informed me.
I’d never heard of the book, and this was years before the Thora Birch adaptation, but I remember smirking, feeling flattered, and then thinking: You have no fucking clue.

Sweeney’s new collection of essays comes out this month from Barrelhouse Books.
Amanda Pleau

Riane Konc’s “Why my first year of parenthood was like a year at sea” in The Washington Post

Unfortunately, I really identified with this portrayal of the first year of parenting as being lost at sea. Like the baby in the essay, my first son was also colicky: only soothed by nursing, and even then, not always. The author talks openly about all the ways the metaphor of new parenthood as seafaring works, and where it doesn’t:

The metaphor breaks down at a certain point. For one thing, it mentions nothing about how unwise it is to sail into shark-infested waters when you’ve been bleeding for six weeks into an adult diaper. It also says nothing about what it’s like when your first mate has colic.

Essays such as this that speak honestly about the more difficult aspects of parenting while still not totally disavowing the experience are crucial to breaking down the persistent myth that babies bring only happiness. It’s hard to fight the sense that everyone else enjoys new motherhood and you don’t. It’s also hard when your friends all seem to have “easy” babies and yours is incredibly clingy and fussy.

I guess having a baby with colic is actually like seeing a rapidly sinking ship that you are biologically wired to save, only when you get closer you discover that no one on the ship speaks English, and for some reason patching the holes only makes it sink faster, and everyone on the ship is screaming at you to save them, but nothing is working, so you do the only thing you can do, which is to jump on board and just be there while everyone screams. On the surface, this sounds like a beautiful metaphor on motherhood, but what it really means is that having a colicky baby feels as though you’re constantly going to drown in the ocean.

Olivia

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