Women We Read This Week

Dena Rash Guzman’s “All the Things: Can You Describe the Ruckus?” in Whole Beast Rag

The recent media fury to examine how women can or cannot “have it all” has produced a number of infuriating articles. Mainly, I keep wondering why nobody is writing about men and why they can or cannot “have it all.” It is as if the challenge were particular to women, and men really never had to wrestle with it (as if the question of balancing child rearing and work really had no relation to men). When I read poet Dena Rash Guzman answer the question “How do you do it all?” I wanted to run out into the streets and yell it at the top of my lungs.

Really, what kind of a question is that? Do it all? You don’t. No matter how much money or knowledge or birthright or help or luck you have, you can’t do it all. You don’t really need to do it all, but if you want to do everything you possibly can in your life, know that you can’t. You might not even want to try, but if you do try to do all the things, know that sometimes you will find yourself slacking on some very important things.

Guzman also writes about something I have found to be essential to my writing life. Up until quite recently, I was my own worst enemy, always criticizing everything about my work and myself. In the end, it is a waste of time and energy, but took a lot of work to change my negative mental patterns.

Be your own best friend. Celebrate yourself, don’t denigrate yourself. Number nine is the hardest one. In the face of an ageist, sexist, racist, and judgmental world, try to be your own best friend. Don’t make yourself fit any molds. Let’s say you don’t like making things yourself. Don’t. Buy the cupcakes for the block party. Wear some lipgloss or shine your shoes if you want. Don’t if you don’t want. Be a beauty addict or an Etsy culturist or one of those amazing creatures who only ever rides her bike everywhere. Or don’t. Just be nice to yourself. If you don’t like yourself, no one else can either, and that comes back to community.

In writing, as in life, I am trying to be kinder to myself and to others.       — Alice

Jenny Diski’s “Learning how to live,” in the New Statesman

An astonishingly eloquent piece on the subject of work, life, and leisure. Invoking history, politics, religion, and her own stories (“I never doubted that retirement killed my grandfather,” she writes), Diski asks not just why “not doing” is “so terrifying in our culture” but why devotion to work is so revered – especially when, after all, “It has always seemed to me that even those with the most worldly and desirable or admirable successes in their working life end up disappointed.” This is a piece of writing that feels necessary, timely, and ultimately empowering.

Driving ambition might just be a way of staving off the vacuum, rather than a sign of bottomless greed for more when you have enough. An unquenchable passion for work might be a panic-stricken way of concealing the fear of a lack of passion for life itself. If you are what you do, what are you when you stop doing it and you still are? There are people who don’t find this a problem, who have not entirely or even at all identified existence with what they do and how they make a living, but they are evidently a great problem to those – the majority –who do.


Katy Butler’s “The Ultimate End-of-Life Plan,” in The Wall Street Journal

In this personal essay, Katy Butler writes about her mother’s “good enough” death and examines the way our society typically treats death, and how it’s “transformed from a spiritual ordeal into a technological flail.” When Butler’s mother was 84, she declined treatment for a developing heart issue. Surgery to replace heart valves could have given her the chance to live until 90, but she was concerned about strokes and dementia–“two real and often underplayed risks” of the surgery, as Butler explains. Instead, she chose to continue with the risk of having a heart attack. Butler tried to talk her out of it at first, but eventually accepted her mother’s perspective.

That day I stopped pressuring my mother to live forever and began urging her doctors to do less rather than more. A generation of middle-aged sons and daughters are facing this dilemma, in an era when advanced medical technologies hold out the illusion that death can be perfectly controlled and timed.

At the end of the piece, Butler writes:

“She died the death she chose, not the death anyone else had in mind. Her dying was painful, messy and imperfect, but that is the uncontrollable nature of dying. I tell you her story that we may begin to create a new “Art of Dying” for our biotechnical age. She died a good-enough death, and she faced it head-on.”



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