Saturday, April 1, 2017

Finding the Courage to Tell

Last night, I missed a charity event that I really wanted to go to: People Eating and Giving. It was hosted by The Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas, 'a community of devoted volunteers to write and read and study and connect, through programs ranging from writing workshops and publishing programs to on-site collaborations with local schools.' That's what their website says anyway.

I can get with that. I'd like to think I bring that kind of energy to my high school students when we work together on Wednesdays. I'd have liked to benefit fearless ideas and the kids that have them, except that I got the date wrong for the event.

I really wanted to go so I could meet Lindy West and Nancy Pearl. 

For years, I've been avidly listening to Nancy Pearl's book suggestions on Public Radio. Sometimes, I'd stop by the side of the road so I could write down the name of the next book I'd reserve at the library. I'm sure that if the King County Library were to run an analysis on their book lending trends at particular hours of the day, it would be seriously influenced by the moments when Nancy Pearl recommended a book on the radio. I know. I was one of the links in that chain. Nancy Pearl is one of my favorite librarians, and I can tell you that I love my librarians, Jane, Maria, Kristin, and so many others that I frequently ask, "What are you reading? What book have you loved lately?" Nancy Pearl always has an answer that I like.

And there's Lindy West. Do you know of Lindy West? 

Last week, I was clueless as to who she was. Oh, you do. I must be a little late coming to the table. Sorry about that. 

Last Tuesday, on my way out of the library, a title on the Choice Reads shelf leaped out at me: shrill.

What a great fucking title! Why hadn't I ever thought of that title? 

I'm a title maker from way back, way before I ever managed to write a single story. I'd list titles in my little blank book, titles that I would eventually write or not. Mormon Norman, Love in a Canoe, If there Were Leeches in the Sand A Mouse in a Duffle Bag, titles like that. 

Shrill was the very best title ever, I thought, so I picked up the book and added it to Mike's pile of movies at the self-checkout stand. 

In the car, I began to read Lindy West's book on feminism, misogyny, fat-shaming, and comedy. I couldn't read fast enough. I managed to drive home without reading. (I'm telling you - reading while driving is not advisable, ever.) While still holding her book in my hand, I rumbled up the stairs and looked her up on the Internet. The Stranger, The New York Times, GQ, and a blog! How had I missed this woman?

But she had a few appearances coming up and maybe I could catch up with what I'd missed. There were two in Seattle, Talk of the Town, a fundraiser cocktail party, and People Eating and Giving. I don't have the wardrobe or the endurance for cocktail parties, but People Eating and Giving felt like it was right down my alley. It was! I was going.

But no. Three days later, I looked it up again. I remembered the date wrong and by the time I realized it, the thing was already 51 minutes along and I'd be at least an hour and a half late and under-dressed even if I threw on real pants and jumped into my car to see if I could get them to open their doors to me.

An hour and a half is rude, beyond what I could carry off with my vague cheerfulness and ability to be a dupe.

I am the dupe, most of the time anyway but even I have my limits.

So, I stayed home and time crawled on tiny hands, reminding me often that the people I'd missed were probably gathering to be seated, then later, one of the speakers, Nancy Pearl or Lindy West would take the stage. Even later, I realized it was probably time for questions at which point I would have most certainly raised my hand with a question I had formed in the forty-five minutes drive in the car on my way there. I would have totally smoked the room with my question and the speaker would ask herself, "Who is this amazing questioner?"

Right. Sure she would.

Even after I was certain the event was over and the speakers were safely snuggled at home on their couches with their televisions on, my mind kept going back over how I could have missed this chance to meet such amazing people. The television droned on. Mike went to bed. I paced.

I was tired, but I couldn't stop thinking. 

Why did I so totally need to meet Lindy West? What would I have to add to her already full docket? Why should I matter to Lindy West one iota?

Then I realized it was all the misogyny I had experienced in my lifetime. 

Do you know how you tend to find books in seasons? There were groups of dystopia books I seemed to read one after another, another series of books on space exploration, mysteries, spy books, rape books, travel books, and apocalypses. They all came in groups of three or five or sometimes seven. I had to actively work to get out of the apocalypse books. They were getting me down. 

Right now, it seems as though every book I pick up talks about how women are still harassed, repressed, and outright assaulted. Remember, I was telling you about Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis? Good book. Assault and repression. And Aspen Matis can hike like a motherfucker, thirty miles a day. Still, it brought up a lot of memories, being a young woman in a technical field, being on my own, and the ravages of dating. Ultimately, I thought I had escaped those treacherous years for good, but there they were, as fresh and as foul as the day they were pressed upon me.

Ultimately, I blame Trump when he said that he, and by extension any other white male, had a right to reach out and grab a woman by the pussy. I have been in a funk since that comment made it to the Oval Office. The reason I've been in a funk is that I have stories to tell about being harangued, repressed, assaulted, threatened, and I fucking don't want to tell them.

I've gotten past that part of my life. Right? I'm happy in my marriage. No opinion about my looks, my sexuality, or my place in this world matters to me beyond that of my family and friends and I don't have to work very hard to be relevant where I am right now. Right?

So why is Lindy West so stuck in my craw? Why all this incredible urge to connect with her regarding her book?

I paced. The television was a lame distraction. Images floated to the surface. I tried to flush them back down, but there they were, my horror stories, my unreported harassment issues, my dating traps, my unnamed-misogynist-asshole battles, some won, some lost. The sad thing is that, like Lindy West, I have had to deal with more than one misogynist asshole. I had a whole slew of them, though in my time, there were no buzzing text messages and Twitter notifications in the middle of the night. At least I had that. 

Eventually, I'll write all of these stories. I may publish them, if I'm brave like Lindy West. I may not. I may have told you before that I am not all that brave. I try, but I am not.

Maybe that's why I so desperately need to meet Lindy West. Maybe I need to see what courage looks like in person. Maybe I need to shake the hand of a courageous woman who has most certainly made our lives better, even if it's just to get women to write out our horror stories so that we can acknowledge them even if no one else ever does. For now. Thank you Lindy West.

Thank you for listening, jules

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