I just got a text message from my wonderful collaborator, Jaki Bradley, that we handed in our registration, so I can go ahead and announce: What Every Girl Should Know is going to the New York International Fringe Festival! We got news of acceptance a few weeks ago and have been rushing to put together our materials and make plans. We don’t know dates yet, or even our actors or crew—just that we’re doing it, and that we’re committed to doing it really fucking well. We also had to come up with a name for our production company on the fly, and so, on Monday at Kinko’s in the rented computer booth, The Order of St. Margaret Sanger was born.
Jaki is amazing. She’s not only been my partner in applying, but she’s also going to direct, which makes me happy beyond words. I got to know her as part of the Delta Boys avant garde cohort from a few years back—she was going to play Desdemona, and I Bianca, in an adaptation of Othello that got delayed indefinitely—but we became friends and stayed in touch as both of our lives accelerated. She went to Malaysia on a theatre Fulbright; she interned for TCG and currently does graphic design for Signature Theater; she was awarded a place at this summer’s Lincoln Center Director’s Lab. In other words, she’s on fire. And deservedly so.
So, I hereby introduce The Order of St. Margaret Sanger, composed of Jaki Bradley, me, everyone who made the original production, everyone who loved the original production, and everyone who will take part in future productions for all time to come.
This Mother’s Day, I realized I’d never have written The Girl in the Road if my mother hadn’t died.
Which is a difficult thing to realize about something that gives me so much joy. Last night, out of the blue, it hit me very hard that while I’m so happy with my life, how I’ve built it is very much a response to my mother’s death. I know it’s not the same thing as being glad it happened. God knows I’m not. But the weepy feeling remains, a balance on a seesaw, neither side ever landing.
I wonder what my life would look like now if my mother were here. Maybe instead of writing this novel, I’d have written another novel. Or maybe I wouldn’t have become an artist at all. Maybe I’d be a pro softball player. Maybe I’d be married.
As Aslan says to Lucy in the magician’s house, Child, no one is ever told what would have happened.
I’m in the penultimate phases of novel editing now, and at this stage, I need to outsource some expertise in a few areas. If you or anyone you know would be a good fit for the subject areas below, please get in touch at email@example.com and we can talk scope of work and payment. Thanks so much!
(1) A native Hindi speaker. I’m especially interested in Hinglish, colorful expressions, slang and curses, with an eye towards how the language might evolve in the next fifty years.
(2) A native Malayalam speaker (a language spoken mostly in Kerala, in southern India). Same as above: I’m especially interested in Malayalam slang, curses, and colorful expressions.
(3) An obstetrician or midwife who has performed or is very familiar with C-sections, especially in cases of obstetric trauma.
Picture: Wellesley archives.
HowlRound this week is devoted to discussions of gender parity in theatre. The week’s not up yet, but I feel like its very premise is still stuck in a place of hand-wringing and helplessness, operating under the assumption that women are—not are constructed as, but are—a special subset of human being. While somewhat useful in the short term, resulting in women-only prizes and reading series (and colleges—of which I’m a beneficiary), this framing is not useful in the long term. It reinforces separatism (“women are fundamentally different from men”) and essentialism (“women write fundamentally different stories than men”). Same goes for any kind of gender or racial categorization: “Y is fundamentally different from X and will write fundamentally different stories.” These assumptions then allow for categorical criticism and dismissal based on supposedly inalienable characteristics.
Instead, I would love to see the community operate under the assumption that women are human. Full stop. Then we’d see clearly that half the artistic contributions of the human race are ignored for no reason. Then we’d see clearly that the current state of theatre is quite embarrassing. Then we’d see clearly that all explanations for discrimination along the lines of “quality,” “readiness,” and “artistic freedom” are bankrupt.
And when we have data—which are forthcoming, as far as I understand—we will see clearly those who’ve taken conscious measures to dismantle internalized sexism and those who haven’t. As it is now, when my play gets rejected, I never know if it’s for the reasons they say it is, or if it’s because I’m a woman. The unfortunate thing is, often, neither do they—that’s the nature of unexamined bias—but it’s still discrimination. And the only antidote to discrimination is to put systems in place that protect against it.
Here’s what I want to see: by the end of 2014, a boycott of theaters that haven’t demonstrated or made a public commitment to gender parity. For our purposes, gender parity is defined as follows: a season of playwrights, directors, choreographers, dramaturgs, actors, musicians, and designers that reflects the gender makeup of the available labor pool to within a certain percentage; the percentage depends on the size of the theater and its workforce. (As for the statistics, theaters are responsible for tracking and reporting them. VIDA tracks these data for literary journals. Strange Horizons tracks these data for the speculative fiction journals. If they can do it, individual theaters can.) A boycott would take both the bravery of those with more power, because they will necessarily be taking stands against friends and colleagues; and the bravery of those with less power, who know that speaking up against institutions may endanger their opportunities going forward.
Speaking for myself, I’m fine with that. I’m a resident playwright with an amazing company, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, that is committed to gender parity. I don’t want to work with a theater that doesn’t practice gender parity. I don’t want to send them my work and I don’t want to see their shows. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve disqualified themselves from the conversation.
Who gets to define the conversation?
Because I’ve decided I do.
You do, if you decide you do.
That is how systems change.
My illuminated letters took a hiatus while they were with my friend Allie, who took beautiful portraits of the letters for the Etsy shop I plan to open. This is the last letter I made in Belize: E is for Estrellas. Dear to my heart, as the star is my birth symbol.
The book deal happened four weeks ago. It feels like four years ago. Thanks to the hedonic treadmill, I’ve absorbed it into my day-to-day bloodstream very quickly.
I think this kind of adaptation is a peculiar feature of sudden good fortune. For that reason, it’s at least as important to practice gratitude in good times as in bad.
The other day, I sat down to sign my book contract before heading out the door to cycling class. I realized I was about to rush through it. So I put my pen down and closed my eyes and leaned my forehead against the edge of my writing desk, and started remembering things, like…how difficult Ethiopia was. And then the remembrances turned immediately to thanks, which started to snowball: “Thank you, Sisay, for taking me to dinner in Addis at a place I never would have found on my own. Thank you Melissa, my boss at Catalent, for hiring me even though I insisted on 40-hour weeks and it cost you, later. Thank you Steffi, my writing partner, for reading a first draft of the novel that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Thank you, all beings seen and unseen whom I enlisted for help along the way. Thank you, my dear friends. Thank you, my dear family. Thank you, Mom. Thank you, God. Thank you, spirits. Thank you, universe. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Once I started saying it, I couldn’t stop. Like a dam had broken.
Above: Wounded Amazon by Franz von Stuck.
These days I’m thinking a lot about my body and my relationship to it for two reasons. One, after the book deal, I’m aware of being a more visible public figure. Two, after a traumatic hiking experience in Belize, I started working out pretty intensively, just because I wanted to be stronger and healthier. Pilates, weights, cardio, yoga, strength, cross-training, cycling…you name it, I’m doing it.
Meanwhile, I’m observing the body-related thoughts that pass through my head. I notice a pattern. For example:
1) I wake up in the morning without clothes and stand in the sunlight in front of my mirror. I think I look amazing. Muscled but soft, like a cross between an Amazon warrior and a Rubens goddess. Then I step on the scale and it reads 184. I’ve heard that that’s “bad.” I have an impression from media noise and social cues that it’s “bad.” So then I feel bad.
This is an absurd situation.
2) I do Warrior One pose in yoga class in front of a full-length mirror. My upper arms are thick, almost like calves rising up out of my sleeves, and my tummy rounds out from between my T-shirt and drawstring pants, and I feel strong. But again, I have the impression from media noise and social cues that these are “bad.” That these are “problem areas” I need to “work on.” So I feel bad.
Then I clear my head and focus on my alignment instead and happen to see another woman in the class, in the mirror behind me, and find myself admiring her gorgeous body. Then I realize she has a body just like mine.
This is an absurd situation.
3) A friend posts a blog that contains pictures of herself working out. She’s my workout hero and has a body I consider gorgeous and attractive. But in the post, she criticizes various aspects of her body. Her X is not okay, she says. I think: her X looks like my X. Does that mean my X is not okay, either? Does she imagine how others might feel, reading that? So I feel bad.
And then I think: I wonder whether she would insist that my X is not like her X. That my X is fine, or better somehow. That I don’t have to “worry” about it.
And then I would insist that her body image is distorted.
And then she would insist that my body image is distorted.
This is also an absurd situation. The absurdity stems from the dissonance between my instinctive love for the human body and the message that there are only some bodies I should love, and that my own is not one of them.
Recognizing this inherent absurdity is useful, going forward. After all, I know whose side I’m on.