The first time I read Rubyfruit Jungle, I was 19 years old, recently out, and head-over-heels in love with my girlfriend. I devoured the book. It was mouthy, cocky, and brash—most of the things I wasn’t but really wanted to be. But most importantly, Rubyfruit Jungle offered me the gift of seeing some of my own life experiences, my thoughts, my pain reflected back to me on the page. I was represented in this book. And I was there for it. 100%.
24 years later… Rubyfruit Jungle did not disappoint. I’d forgotten about the immediacy of the narrative, the precise turn of phrase that feels like a gut-punch, the poignant moments that remind me who I am (and how far I’ve come). It’s all still there.
But, as a grown-ass woman, Molly Bolt read different. I saw less of her bravado and more of her tenderness. One scene with her mother toward the novel’s end slayed me—and it hadn’t really even been on my radar the first go-round. But it spoke so clearly to my own pain in coming out and navigating fractured familial relationships… I wonder how I could have missed it. But another interlude between Molly and a young lover, that I’d played up in my mind so much that I was sure the entire novel revolved around this relationship, seemed entirely insignificant to me.
Turns out that Rubyfruit Jungle was still speaking to me after all these years… but offering entirely different insights.
Sometimes I get too big for my britches. That’s just cold hard truth.
In a short, succinct, and damn powerful book, Austin Channing Brown managed to make me take an honest look at my relationship to whiteness and how I manage that in spaces where I’m working toward racial justice—hell, in any spaces at all. And she kinda took me down a peg.
This book is a hard read. Because it’s honest. But it’s crucial for white folks invested in ending racism. Because that shit is pervasive. And difficult to stamp out, even with the best of intentions. And what will render me totally ineffective–and even harmful–is thinking I understand what it’s really like to move through America as a person of color. And thinking that the systemic racism that pervades America culture has somehow been washed clean from my psyche. This book fully disabused me of that notion. And reminded me that it is a fight every day to undo the assumptions, the misconceptions, the prejudice engrained in me as a white woman.
I champion reading because I believe it changes us to our core. Books can offer perspective entirely different from our own. And because books expect nothing of us, we can process our feelings, our confusion, our defensiveness in the quiet of our own mind. Which is what, if you are white like me, you are going to want to do with this book.
Because my best friend is an epic vacation planner, my family & I spent Spring Break in Costa Rica this year with 20 of our closest friends. Literally.
I could go on and on about this vacation. But that’s kind of reminiscent of the 1970s slide shows that over-enthusiastic travelers would share with their bored to tears friends.
Not cool, man. Not cool.
But I will share what’s been playing over and over in my mind. It’s something our tour guide/transport driver extraordinaire said about the Costa Rican people: They work enough to earn a living. And that’s it. No need to accumulate things. Or buy a bigger house. Or work overtime to climb the corporate ladder. Enough is actually the goal. Not more.
I guess I feel convicted by that, because it won’t get out of my head. I’ll let you in on a little secret: 7 times out of 10, I’m in a complete tailspin about money. I never, ever feel like we have enough. That scarcity mode of thinking is so toxic. But it’s hard to shake. I grew up in it. And, although we have always gotten by, Simon & I have experienced some pretty lean times.
But we’ve always had enough.
Now, back in the States, I’m considering my own consumerism. What do I have that’s extra? What does having enough mean to me? Have I ever really NOT had enough? Where does my privilege come play with my perceptions?
Recognizing enough, being grateful for enough, not striving for extra, sharing what I have… I am 100% convinced that this is the key to happiness.
I know these things, and still… I forget them all the time. So, I’m soul-searching for the stuff that really matters to me. The stuff that is enough. The stuff that is joy and goodness and contentment.
I was in the library, minding my own business, when Capitalism in America: A History called out to me. No kidding. I saw it and tried to walk away. But I was pulled back to the shelf—completely against my will.
I am whole-heartedly uninterested in economics. And I’m skeptical of capitalism, in general. Also, it was written by Alan Greenspan, so I figured I’d die of boredom before finishing all of its 450 pages.
Good news! I’m still in the land of the living. And I couldn’t get enough of this book. It’s strong history component keeps it infinitely readable. Which, co-author, Adrian Woolridge likely deserves the credit for—since he’s a historian and a journalist. Capitalism in America broke down the basics of the upward and downward trends of a capitalist economy in a way I could digest without my eyes glazing over.
But the best part was that the argument so skillfully posited in the book ran counter to some of my most deeply held beliefs. So, it did what great books should do: it made me think and question my position. Ultimately, it made me want to know more and prompted a desire to seek out an alternative viewpoint to Greenspan’s. Which means reading more about economics. By choice. How very odd.
In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this one. It’s a great primer on both American History & economics. And it’s surprisingly engaging. And you’ll feel smarter if you read it. Pinky swear.
Jane has developed a slight listening problem lately.
Don’t be alarmed. I’m sure it’s not permanent. Symptoms include not hearing me tell her to do something the first (second or third) time, an inability to cut that shit out when I tell her to, and a profound misunderstanding of what “put your stuff AWAY” means.
As you can imagine, this new affliction she’s developed is trying for the whole family. For instance, “Jane put your boots & jean jacket away” might mean they they end up in the closet where they belong. OR they may move from the dining room to the center of her bedroom floor. Because obviously that’s where I wanted her to put them.
And if I tell her to, let’s say, make sure she wipes her face off before school–because she has ketchup from the day before smeared faintly across her cheek–she may or may not do it at all. Which I take kind of personally. Because now I’m that mom that sends her kid to school with day old food on her face that she’s apparently saving for later. In case there’s a run on ketchup in the cafeteria.
But the one that is about to drive me bat shit is when I tell her to stop doing something–invariably something hella annoying that she KNOWS is annoying–and she does it just one more time before she stops.
The truth of it is that all this not listening bullshit, the doing whatever she wants whenever she wants, makes me feel disrespected. It makes me feel undervalued and under-appreciated. And it hurts my feelings.
Simon and I strategized a few times (as parents do) about how to deal with Jane’s Not-Listening-Itis. I, for instance, threatened to throw everything she leaves laying around the house into our front yard. She isn’t sure I’d do it (I would TOTALLY do it). I’ll keep you posted on how that one unfolds. Simon & I also outlined some effect-her-piggy-bank consequences for not tidying her room and bathroom before she leaves for school and before she goes to bed. (Money 100% talks for that kid)
But I went a little rogue yesterday on the way to school…and I just told her how all this not-listening business makes me feel. Honestly. Like she was a real person with capacity to feel empathy and to understand the nuances of a situation.
I copped to the fact that there are books ALL OVER THE HOUSE (apparently, that’s what happens when you hatch a scheme to open a used bookstore). But I also told her that I’m writing like I always do and prepping for the bookstore–which is a lot like having TWO jobs. I am trying the best I can–but I can’t always keep my (book) mess confined to one room.
And then I asked her if she was trying as hard as she could to be a helpful member of the family.
It took her less than a second to say no. Not guiltily. Not even sheepishly. Just straight up: No. And she told me she’d do better. Unprompted. Let’s be real: I both believe her and I don’t. Because she’s a kid. But I do believe she will try to do better.
I try to approach life with gratitude. I think Oprahtold me to do that once, and I listen to Ms. O. Also, the AAers may have mentioned it…. So, yeah, Attitude of Gratitude over here.
The gratitude portion of today’s programming goes something like this:
I am grateful that my body is healthy and strong enough to run. Also super grateful that my foot healed–and that my incredible massage guy taught me how to properly care for my body before & after a run. Running brings my mental, emotional, and spiritual life into balance. For that, I have much gratitude. And for Spring in Atlanta… it’s beauty far outweighs the threat of impending death by pollen.
See me? So grateful. Legitimately.
Gratitude gets me get out of my own head–and helps me stop creating my own problems and my own suffering–long enough to take stock of the world around me.
As I was running through my neighborhood, full of gratitude, nose running from crazy amounts of pollen, taking in the Spring morning, here’s an ugly truth I ran right up against: toxic masculinity SUCKS.
This is not news. I get that. But there’s a direct way that it’s impacting me lately–and it has to do with my ass.
You read that right. No reason to read it again. My ass is the issue here. Okay, not really my ass… the comments about my ass while I’m running are the issue.
Right now, you’re probably thinking “You’ve GOT to be kidding me.” Nope. Wish I was.
In the past two weeks, every time I’ve run some wanker finds it necessary to comment on my ass, turn around to stare at my ass, ask me if I can run back by so he can see my ass again, make his whole group of wanker friends laugh at some lewd comment about my ass, or whistle or shout at me (always after approaching me from behind–no pun intended).
Some of these guys probably genuinely think they are paying me a compliment. Fuck that. Objectifying someone is never a compliment.
Some of them like to sexualize random situations and intimidate women. Fuck that doubly hard. Because it DOES scare me when someone catcalls me out the window of his van as he drives slowly by. And what I want to do is flick him off or tell him to fuck himself. But I don’t. Because I can’t. Not without putting myself at risk for physical violence. Men have killed women for telling them no. So what does that leave me with? Impotent rage. A need to grit my teeth and fight my way through it.
Men, you have to do better.
It is absurd that I can’t run in my own damn neighborhood without fending off lewd comments. Not one but two men today found it appropriate to comment on my body. That is fucking infuriating.
Guys, my body is not yours to comment on. Not ever. It’s not yours to ogle as I walk by. My ass is none of your business. I don’t care if you like it or if you don’t. I don’t want to hear it. At all. Ever again.
If all the events of the last 4 years hadn’t shaped me into a much more indomitable spirit than I used to be, I’d probably consider just not running.
Let’s stop there: at a different point in my life, I would have considered giving up something that brings me joy and balance, that enhances my mental health, because toxic masculinity taught guys that it’s fine to make comments about a girl’s ass as she runs by.
I will spare you the litany of profanity that this inspires.
But I will say this: If you are a guy, you have a moral imperative to do something about this. And don’t even tell me that you’d never act like this. I don’t give a shit. I know not all guys catcall women. But you have a responsibility to call out your friends, your coworkers, your brother, your dad when THEY do it. Tell them to STFU. Tell them they are assholes. And, while you’re at it, go on and tell them that what women feel when they are catcalled is likely not flattery at all but an intense desire to take a baseball bat to their car.
I spent the last 2 days hanging around writers, booksellers, and publishers.
I think, as humans, one of the very best things we can do for ourselves is find our little group of like-minded weirdos. Everybody is weird (some prefer “unique,” but whatever). Being in a group of similarly weird people makes you feel connected and understood. You don’t have to explain yourself, or search for just the right words to make someone understand your point of view. Your Weirdo Tribe is just going to GET IT.
Me, I walk through the world thinking about words about 85% of the time. See, weird. But I’m a writer and an aspiring bookseller–that’s, like, ALL the words.
But 2 things happened during my sojourn with these bookseller/writer types that gave me that blissful feeling when you see something of yourself in someone else–when the very innermost parts of you feel represented and seen:
#1: One of the presenters from Southern Fried Karma (“a multi-media production company developing projects in music, films and books”–but c’mon, isn’t that just the best name?!?) started talking about the power of books to establish community. Because we know that reading builds empathy. And empathy paves the way for community and connection. The more you read, most often the wider your worldview. The more you see similarities and understand the way other people experience the world, the less strong your impluse to “other” people. The more likely you become to reach out, to seek diverse communities, to support people–even those seemingly unlike yourself.
And that’s precisely what the dude from SFK was expressing when he told the story about white supremacists coming to his small, Georgia town to have a rally–and the black and white communities uniting to keep out the white supremacists, creating a space where hate could not thrive. And as he talked about the power of books to create this kind of empathy, to unite two seemingly disparate communities in rural(ish) Georgia, he began to tear up.
And OH. MY. GOD. Yes.
I tear up when I talk about books all the time. Because they are so powerful. And stories–every story–can change the world (that’s why the tagline for Bookish is “Every Story Matters.”) And hell yes, that’s something to get emotional over.
We need change. Books ARE that change. We just need to get them into the hands of the people and remind them about the magical ability of stories to change lives.
#2: On the Bus Tour of Atlanta Bookstores, I met an author from North Carolina who’s debut novel is coming out this Summer. That’s a BIG DEAL. We chatted about how tough the writing process can be (there are no bon-bons involved. It is NOT, in fact, a cakewalk). And I gave her the brief rundown about the progress on my middle grades novel. Honestly, I’d never talked to someone who was just a short stretch ahead of me on the road to becoming published. Most folks I meet are either established authors… or they are going to write an book someday. But this woman had just emerged from the trenches of rewriting, revising, and editing… and now she had a BOOK that other people were going to READ. I just found it all so hopeful. Like maybe it would happen for me, too.
The next day, the same woman was a presenter at the conference I attended. She spoke about the blurry line between memoir and fiction that is autofiction. And that was amazing in and of itself, because I’ve been thinking about memoir writing, but hesitating because–for real, y’all–once upon a time, I drank so much that my memory isn’t entirely trustworthy. But autofiction opens up a whole new world where things can be true AND not true. Whoa.
But, also, in describing the ways that readers react to autofiction (often by trying to determine how much of the fiction is “true” and how much authority you really have two write about certain themes), she shared part of her story with us. And I swear, it was just like my story. And nothing like my story. And the things she said made me feel so visible, and I thought she was so brave to have shared them, that I ran right up to her afterwards to give her a hug. Because how often does someone tell your story that isn’t your story and remind about so much of what was and what isn’t but what always is?
Rarely. And oh my Lord, is it a gift.
Stories are so much bigger than us. They take on a life of their own. They reach people in ways we can’t begin to fathom. And they do change lives. Hell, they can change the whole world.
(And, yes, I totally cried the whole time I wrote this. Whatever.)