Thing, a short biography

Thing, a short biography

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had an official name – the name on her birth certificate, a name for bureaucrats and people who didn’t know her well – and a true name. The true name was Thing.

Thing was taught charts and graphs early on. She knew one’s beautiful years must be maximized for profit.

Thing was not symmetrically beautiful, but this too was an asset to be maximized – rich men with brains got bored of traditional beauty, the same set of breasts, the same set of lips, they weren’t collectibles. If you broke one, you could always get another.

Thing’s looks and intelligence made her a collectible. Rich men with brains came up to her at parties and lit her cigarettes for her and informed her of the fact. “If I broke you, I couldn’t get another of you,” they said.

Intelligence was problematic, though. It wouldn’t be bought. Instead it cried out inside her like a child lost in a fairy tale forest, worried about the possibility that there were creatures with teeth in it.

Intelligence wouldn’t let Thing sleep at night. And the men next to her couldn’t sleep either. And men like that valued sleep.

To be perfectly honest, intelligence always had it in for Thing.

It caused her much suffering when she was young, because she couldn’t figure out who she was. This upset the boys.

Things were supposed to be things, boys knew that, their mothers and fathers and gods and televisions had taught them, and a thing that didn’t act accordingly was engaged in false advertising.

She deserved to be punished, and punished she was, painfully and repeatedly, in a way that left marks.

The marks of pain spread inside Thing and grew darker. The darkness covered more and more territory and became a breakaway republic. There was war there, and death, and yowling cats, and cockroaches whispering across cracked plaster inside lightless buildings.

Thing liked it, though she would not say so, aware of the fact that nobody would light her cigarettes at parties if she let on about what was going on inside her, and lighter fluid was expensive, truth be told.

In high school, Thing had been an ugly duckling – you’d think that this would’ve forced her to open up to the possibility that if no man wanted her to be his thing, she could try being human. But nobody taught a class on being human. There weren’t any pamphlets she could read.

So Thing went through life and paused in the archways of the night and listened for the wolves who could always smell the darkness on her. Continue reading “Thing, a short biography”

International Women’s Day and some women writers I admire

International Women’s Day and some women writers I admire

For some reason (possibly because I’m very lucky or because I have the habit of ignoring the world around me), I get surprised when men say sexist stuff to me about my work. I was in a Moscow bar recently on a dark and stormy night, and a typical twatty overpaid British expat man of the sort that should be displayed at the zoo with a plaque reading Typical Twatty Overpaid British Expat Man told me it must be “quite nice” to have “such a fashionable hobby” as writing plays – with zero irony, of course, because I must be a bored rich girl (ahahahaha) who must go through a phase of thinking she’s the next Beckett before moving on to pottery or adult coloring books or whatever it is that bored rich girls do. Oh, and he “used to have a girlfriend who wrote plays” but “she’s in marketing now.” I do hope that “in marketing now” is a euphemism for “slept with his best friend.”

Anyway, although sexism with regard to women writers surprises me every time, and although I rarely pay attention to whether or not the author I’m reading is a woman, it must be said that not everyone thinks like me. So here’s a list of some of my favorite female writers, and their books and plays, because it’s IWD, and because whatever. They are great not because they are written by women. They are great because they are great.  Continue reading “International Women’s Day and some women writers I admire”

Bug, tooth, moon

Bug, tooth, moon

There once was a woman who gave up financial security, doctor’s appointments, decent living conditions not involving very large bugs, and other important things in order to become the true version of herself.

And the true version of herself was a version that no one was particularly interested in. Aside from a handful of men who correctly surmised that her struggle to become who she really was left her exhausted and her exhaustion left her desperate and her desperation made her available to them in ways they could enjoy.

Until the teeth started wobbling in her jaw, that is, and the circles darkened under her eyes into night.

And then she was alone. Unless you counted the very large bugs.

And one of the bugs said, “I guess you feel pretty stupid now.”

The woman took a rotten tooth and threw it at the bug and missed. Then the woman started to laugh. The bug also started to laugh.

The woman and the bug became very good friends and the woman wrote a play about their friendship and it didn’t sell. Winter came, the heating pipes froze solid, the bug died of old age.

Moonlight fell through the window, fell on the woman as her lovers had done before. She watched the smoke from her pipe curl upward and upward. One day, she thought, human beings would live on the moon. And the bugs would follow. She wouldn’t live long enough to see it happen, but she still wished all of them well.

No guilt-trip, just good times

On the work of Kate Atkinson

On the work of Kate Atkinson

When I was fourteen, I bought a copy of “Human Croquet” after reading about it in a magazine for girls (unexpected choice by the editor, I’ve come to realize). I had the original receipt for a while and jotted down the exact time, down to the minute, and place where the book was purchased.

I came back to that inscription in my senior year at Duke, when I was writing my (let’s face it, terrible) honors thesis on “Human Croquet.”

“Acquired at 7:33 p.m., May 17, 1998, Barnes & Noble, Arboretum, Charlotte, NC.”

There wasn’t much I understood at twenty, but I did understand why I wrote down the contents of the receipt. I was recording a life-changing moment. I met Michael Cunningham once when he came to give a talk at Duke, and he jovially discussed having his life upended by Virginia Woolf, and I was grateful for that, because it meant I wasn’t weird. Kate Atkinson just happened to split my particular atom.

Her work has changed over the years, gone both wide and deep, but some familiar themes have circled back this year: the handsome RAF pilot, the complete disaster of men and women, the cruel and lovely ambivalence of nature, the question of death and stepping sideways out of time, the tedium of children and how there’s nothing more important, Englishness (and how observing it changes it), the strange way men separate passion and love (like unspooling threads), the importance of getting on with it even when you’d rather lie down and melt back into the landscape again, lying down and melting into the landscape at a later date (though perhaps having helped someone in a way, so as to not have your existence be entirely without point), the fact that we are all so fragile as to almost be fiction.  Continue reading “On the work of Kate Atkinson”