While I read Rebecca Traister’s feature on recent memoirs by young, single American women (it’s one everything from the wonderful Carlene Bauer’s Not That Kind of Girl to the upcoming Bitch Is the New Black), I gradually became aware of the fact that I was not alone in the room. There was a persistent, monotone buzzing sound – the kind that signaled the arrival of a Moscow mosquito, one of those things with a “True Blood”-esque appetite. I got up and plugged in my little Raid anti-mosquito heater unit thingie, and kept reading. The monotone buzzing sound persisted. In true slapstick comedy fashion, I had to admit that the buzzing was actually confined to the insides of my head. In other words, I was annoyed, dear reader.
I wasn’t annoyed with Traister’s article itself. I think her observations are all very valid. She opens by talking about an essay by Sloane Crosley, in which Crosley takes a solo trip to Lisbon after randomly pointing to it on a map. It’s supposed to be fun – but it isn’t. Cue major life lesson.
It’s not that I don’t relate – I am privileged enough to do just that. But when Traister talks about how “the possibilities of success, wealth, happiness, true love, close girl-friendship and super-awesome spontaneous trips to Lisbon carry their own oppressive weight, the awareness that none of us can possibly live as cheerily and as gaily as we might fantasize about doing,” all I can think is “Anyone who doesn’t realize that past a certain age I honestly WANT TO SMACK.”
A little over a year ago, I took a trip to Britain. My then-boyfriend’s family generously allowed me to stay with them in London for a few days, and then I went up by myself to Edinburgh (just in time to catch the initial swine flu panic!), then traveled to Liverpool, also by myself, and then went down to visit a friend in Devon. It was a great trip, especially the Devon part – and the going back up to London to see my then-boyfriend part.
But I also felt the loneliness creep up – in Edinburgh, in Liverpool. I read my morning paper and drank my coffee. I bought postcards I used as bookmarks. I shined my boots before going to sleep at night. I was, for those few days, genuinely alone.
Why should anyone be surprised? Why is this even a revelation? Bear in mind, I’m not saying this to diminish Crosley’s writing itself – I just enjoy it for different reasons, I guess. I like the confessional style, not so much for its social underpinnings, but for the stories it tells. The moments it gives shape to. What it memorializes. What it discards.
I don’t need a book written by a young, single, American woman to shock me with some seminal truth about femininity – it shocks me first and foremost with its humanity. And I”m not saying that because I believe that all is dandy in American publishing and we can discard all of this gender stuff altogether (hell, I thrive on the gender stuff, being “fiercely feminine” in the finest tradition of random Tom Robbins phrases that stick to the insides of your brain for years). But neither do I pick up these books because I want my own lifestyle to be validated – or else explained to me. I’m too old for that now, that horse durn left the barn. I pick up these books when they happen to be damn good books.
And maybe I just don’t see anything brave in the actual, literal admission that life is kinda ordinary. I mean, even my life, fairly extraordinary in the right light and from all sorts of angles, is kinda ordinary, I realize as much. I enjoy reading about ordinary lives, if the stories are told well – but not because I want to secretly pat myself on the back for using the freedom bestowed upon me to, like, make mistakes, and spill coffee on my dresses. And I’m not even saying this as one of those stereotypical “liberated American women” everyone loves to prattle on about. Hell, plenty of people will tell you that I’m anything but. From the sort of men I favour and down to the crap I put up with on a daily basis. *shrug* Whatever, you know? A week in my life can still makes for a good story to tell in bars, but only because I take the trouble to tell it right. It’s important to care about the telling, I think.
I also realized this: Maybe, even as a young, single, educated woman with hair nicely-dyed-for-a-reasonable-price, I still just don’t believe in “expecting” happiness. Happiness is angelic. It comes and goes of its own accord.