Photo: Sjoerd Lammers

Women We Read This Week

Sarah Viren’s “A Moment’s Pause” in TriQuarterly

This five minute video essay begins with Viren narrating the story of her and her partner, Marta, holding a buzzer while waiting for their sperm in a hospital lab. It’s one of those light-up buzzers, the kind you get at restaurants like Panera when your food is ready, and Viren opens with the buzzer–well, really with this moment where her partner is about to be inseminated–and uses it to describe the whole process of waiting for her baby to be born. The essay–and this moment–begins with the waiting and ends with the birth, and, in between, Viren tells the story of every step: the LH count, the pregnancy test, the nine months of waiting, Marta’s water breaking, and then the baby.

Viren uses still images to accompany her story, and, at first glimpse, I thought they were going to be just obvious reflections of what was being said–a picture of windows when she says “window,” for example–but she soon diverts from this exact representation and starts to play on words. The fourth time she mentions the lab, she flashes a photo of a Labrador retriever; when she tells of she and Marta sharing a chocolate bar, a picture of conjoined twins. The joke goes on for about a minute, and then the nature of the photos changes again. Suddenly, we’re getting baby photos, of the same baby, and it’s not hard to deduce it’s Viren’s baby. It’s weird–the story continues on as normal explaining what happened, but the photos start to take on a life of their own, almost as if we’re viewing Chapter 2 while listening to Chapter 1. It’s odd because it almost doesn’t feel as if what’s being said matters anymore, but the juxtaposition of the two create all sorts of possibilities in the storytelling–the images are Viren’s subconscious, perhaps, a reflection of her deepest desires, or maybe it’s a secret little trick to let the viewer know that, despite all the convoluted events of fertility and pregnancy, everything turns out well in the end for these two. The result is charming, funny, and incredibly creative.

Amanda G.

Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye

My grief counselor recommended Meghan O’Rourke’s 2011 memoir, about her mother’s slow–and yet too fast–death from cancer, to me a few weeks after my own mother died. I waited six months to read it, not feeling ready to dip into the world of grief literature quite yet. That sets me apart from O’Rourke, who coped in part in the weeks and months afterwards by immediately plunging herself into memoir, poetry, fiction, and academic research about grief.

The result of that immersion is a book that’s both a devastating personal memoir and a meticulous study of a phenomenon, the experience of grieving, that we in the West these days know too little about – and discuss even less. I don’t know what it would be like to read the book as someone who hasn’t yet experienced the loss of a major figure in their life (I suspect it would be valuable, eye-opening in some ways, but ultimately maybe a little bit inscrutable), but as someone who is currently making my way through the process O’Rourke describes, it was eerily familiar. Some moments, even the grim ones, were so recognizable to me that I–improbably–laughed out loud when I read them. Others, like the revelation that studies have shown mourners often feel the desire for death themselves, weren’t funny but were comforting in their truth–they made me feel less alone.

The New Yorker published two features by O’Rourke that eventually made their way into the finished book. You can check them out here: “Good Grief” and “Story’s End.”

Eva

Debby Miller’s “The Secret Life of Prince” in Rolling Stone

Tributes and memorials for rock and roll legend Prince are still taking up plenty of space on the news cycle after his passing last week: celebrities retelling stories of their quirky interactions with him, fans recounting their favorite concerts and albums, journalists pondering over his impact on the music industry and his charitable giving. The man even had his own color.

Writer Anne Friedman included a link to Debby Miller’s 1983 Rolling Stone article in her column for New York Magazine’s The Cut, “The Queens of Nonfiction: 56 Women Journalists Everyone Should Read,” two weeks before we lost Prince. Reading Debby Miller’s account of what the world did and did not know about this 23-year-old chart topper is sprinkled with specific and detailed anecdotes: “[In 1982], when Prince won an award from a Minneapolis weekly newspaper for Minnesota Musician of the year, he showed up in his most formal clothes — black trench coat and white go-go boots (his acceptance speech: ‘When do they give the award for the best ass?’)”. She continues that Prince’s shyness and aversion to confirm or deny rumors about himself fueled even more speculation about his personal life. Is he straight or gay? Black or white? For aspiring performers coming of age in 2016, privacy is a luxury many are not afforded. Miller’s feature is a superstar time capsule, 33 years before we lost the Prince we all knew and loved.

”Nobody made a big deal of it when Prince walked into First Avenue, a club in downtown Minneapolis last summer, a rock club where images of Grand Master Flash, the Human League, the Clash and others flash in montage on the walls. What’s new? somebody asked Prince. Sheepishly, he held up a test pressing of 1999 that he had tucked under his arm. Later on, he asked the DJ to throw his new song, “Delirious,” on the turntable. And then, with his hottest record filling up the enormous room, Prince took Vanity out onto the middle of the dance floor to give his own record the ultimate test. They wiggled around, they strutted, they dipped. And Prince looked happy. It had a good beat. It was easy to dance to.”

Amanda P.

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