Women We Read This Week

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s “Towards a Fight” in The Rumpus

It’s difficult to summarize Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s “Towards a Fight” not only because it is so wide-spanning, but also because it is infinitely quotable. Marzano-Lesnevich writes about gay rights in the North and the South; she writes about New Orleans, a place fraught with challenges post-Katrina; and she writes about being an outsider and an insider, welcome and rejected, saying:

It’s not that I think I myself will die if I live in a place that won’t let me marry a woman I love, that won’t let us raise children together, not without being the town freaks, the tolerated characters, the weird ones and the lonely.

Only this: I won’t be able to live.

When her door freezes shut during a Boston winter, Marzano-Lesnevich takes this closed door as a sign, leaving her graduate program and moving with her cat and dog to New Orleans. There she starts a women’s group and for the first time feels like she has community, saying “In this band of people fleeing one story to make up another, I find a home. I stop wearing the earrings, the mascara, the lipstick. I buy one necktie and then I buy another.” This essay is, in many ways, a coming-of-age story where Marzano-Lesnevich becomes herself and figures out who she wants to be—at the same time it’s the story of a place and the people that inhabit it, a microcosm for larger American society.

I waited two weeks to write about this essay because so much happens. By leaving behind the trappings of her East Coast life, Marzano-Lesnevich finds a home, but by fleeing she also learns that “you go towards a fight.” And so she goes toward the fight—she packs up, once again, and heads back to Boston.

At the end she takes the essay even further out of the microcosm, acknowledging that the “fight”–what she has been, ultimately, talking about the whole time, is happening inside and around her simultaneously: “Maybe if I didn’t carry the fight inside of me, none of it—the cop, the nurse—would matter the same…Until the world finishes changing around me, there can be no moving towards or away from it.”


Rachel Toor’s “What Writing and Running Have in Common” in The Chronicle of Higher Education

This one’s pretty simple: it was just what I needed to read this week. “At the beginning of every track practice, when the coach gives us a workout, I think: I can’t do that. No one could ever do that,” Toor writes. “Which is exactly how I feel when I’m starting on a book project. It’s impossible.” That sense of impossibility is familiar to me. I felt it when I was starting my book, and when I was writing my book – in fact I felt it every day until suddenly, one day, there actually was a book, and I was holding it in my hands. I feel it, to a greater or lesser extent, every time I write something (even, yes, a short blurb about something I read this week). I’m certainly feeling it now, as I face the fact of having to produce a thesis in the next year. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that I’m running regularly again, for the first time in years, and discovering that in spite of physical resistance, I like the mental exercise of longer distances; it takes me awhile to get going, to stop thinking that at any moment I might just stop and turn around and walk back home. How do you start? How do you keep going? How do you finish? “I trick myself,” Toor writes. “One mile. One true sentence. You go on from there.” It’s not so unlike Anne Lamott’s famous advice for writing: take it bird by bird. One step at a time. It’s not revolutionary, but it does bear repeating, again and again and again, until you reach the finish line, until you’re holding the book in your hands.


Emily Rapp’s “Transformation and Transcendence: The Power of Female Friendship” in The Rumpus

Rapp writes about how friendship among women has shaped her life and about how those bonds, which are often culturally represented as weak or depicted as catty, are the narratives that make us whole.

Here’s the truth: friendships between women are often the deepest and most profound love stories, but they are often discussed as if they are ancillary, “bonus” relationships to the truly important ones. Women’s friendships outlast jobs, parents, husbands, boyfriends, lovers, and sometimes children.

Rapp made me think of my own love story, one I hadn’t considered in those terms. A few years ago I was traveling with Tien, my best friend of 15 years, in Bali. We were lost, out on a hot road, arguing about which direction to go. “You aren’t independent. I need my space. Go away,” Tien said. And I went back to the hotel and cried myself to sleep in a pool of sweat. I woke up to a tiny little rumble on my belly. And when I opened my eyes, I saw Tien there hovering over a purring kitten. “I’m sorry. I found this kitten in the alley. It is for you. I love you.”

I think we often focus on men, on finding “love” and “the one.” But Rapp reminds us of the transcendence of female friendship, that “a friend can take you out of the boxes you’ve made for yourself and burn them up.”


Laurie Woolever’s “From Botanical Gardens Intern to Anthony Bourdain’s Assistant” on The Billfold

At first, I wasn’t sure what kept me captivated by Woolever’s narrative of  her work life as an adult living in New York City. As the title indicates, Woolever found herself interning at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in her early twenties, “I guess, because I’d worked on farms and interned with Green Guerillas, a community gardening non-profit.” From there she goes on to do administrative work for food PR firms, starts to do some freelancing, works as a private chef, in a trendy restaurant, as an editor for Wine Spectator… and so on, up to working for Anthony Bourdain. Essentially, it’s a rundown of  where she worked, what she got paid, what the experience was like, and in what ways each job was tremendously dissatisfying. I found myself eager to know which job she went to next, how she dealt with the various assholes she encountered, and how she went about finding a way to meld her two passions–writing and cooking. Although I’ve never lived in NYC, and at times some of Woolever’s salaries seemed enviable to me (although, I supposed I’ve never had to contend with outrageous rent prices), I found her experience of moving from job to job familiar. It was comforting to see how someone else dealt with struggle, with figuring out how to do what she wanted to do (or what, perhaps, that really even looked like), how she managed to fuse two passions into a unique, patchwork career. It’s not the outrageous success story of someone’s first novel being a bestseller, but it’s a pretty satisfying success story. It made me feel better about my own wayward career (okay, job) history, and it made me feel hopeful that I can somehow, eventually, carve out a niche that satisfies all my interests. Oh, yeah, and it’s freaking hilarious. A must read for any aspiring writer or chef, anyone trying to make it in NYC, or really, anyone who’s struggled a little to figure it all out.



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