The Grace Year

I preordered Kim Liggett’s new novel The Grace Year as soon as I could, and was riveted the moment I had it in hand to devour.  There is simply no other way to consume this book — heart in hand, fully devouring this tale of girlhood and womanhood.  Liggett’s speculative fiction expertly weaves a world where women have no power or agency, save the magic they must be rid of in their sixteenth year, the grace year.  the_grace_year_coverIt is a survival story, a modern fairy tale, a coming-of-age, a resistance manifesto, and a terrifying horror yarn all at the same time, deftly told and hauntingly realized.  I could not put it down.

There are so many ways that women and girls tear each other apart and lift each other up by turns, and this novel  explores those dynamics in interesting ways.  What does power come to mean when you are entirely deprived of it?  How do we define ourselves within the rhythms of family, society, friendships, and love?  What does that mean for our self-hood?  How can we push for meaningful change?  All of these are questions I turned over in my mind as this story unfolded.

Besides a fascinating macro look at a society described by some as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Lord of the Flies, I thoroughly appreciated Liggett’s attention to small details.  The language of flowers in particular made for a beautiful leitmotif, further strengthening her world-building.  Flowers make for a common language, but they also prove to be a perfect metaphor for the girls themselves.  Fragile, beautiful, unique, prized, just as easily crushed as admired — the Grace Year girls and their story will haunt you long after Liggett’s last page.

balance point

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Paris, 2019

 

balance point

 

In some ways you are good for me
these turning twisting wider horizons
in which I can feel myself opening
broadening, stretching,
a cat just awoken.

And yet,
it pains me to be in your world and not of it
a phantom voice without sound, only words
adrift in maybes and if-onlys
hopes dashed
feelings bruised
hands bereft
of the warmth
of you.

My heart smiles and aches.
Two sides of the coin
that is loving you
from the sidelines
of your life.

They say perspective is everything.
Perhaps I feel I am haunting your margins
but in your world
I am writ large…

And yet,
there I am
falling into the trap
of maybe,
with steel jaws to crush me
if I dare hope.

I struggle in that vicious in-between.
I am too much and not enough.
You would think I could be enough, be just right —

And yet —
I am both and nothing.

If only I were to find the fulcrum,
that razor of a balance point,
I might finally
be your perfection
writ large.

–Charla M. DelaCuadra

Optimized?

At this point I think it is safe to say I have become a total Jia Tolentino fangirl.  (Jia, you’re amazing!)  Her articles are thought-provoking and so on-point, I can’t help but share another.

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A couple weeks ago her essay Athleisure, barre and kale: the tyranny of the ideal woman was published in The Guardian, and I have been thinking about it ever since.  I highly recommend taking a few minutes out of your day to read and ruminate.

“Figuring out how to “get better” at being a woman is a ridiculous and often amoral project – a subset of the larger, equally ridiculous, equally amoral project of learning to get better at life under accelerated capitalism. In these pursuits, most pleasures end up being traps, and every public-facing demand escalates in perpetuity. Satisfaction remains, under the terms of the system, necessarily out of reach.”

–Jia Tolentino

With the expectations of womanhood becoming more insane at every turn, in this era of Instagram and curated feeds and “lifestyle” branding, have we optimized ourselves out of the possibility for genuine contentment?  I myself find it very difficult to feel satisfied and contented, but perhaps it has less to do with any personal failings to “choose happiness” and much more to do with the insidious all-encompassing hamster wheel society has convinced us is necessary.  And at the particularly insidious intersection of capitalism and patriarchy, it becomes even harder.

If capitalism didn’t ingrain in us that we always need more, better, pricier things to signify success, or if the patriarchy didn’t force us to gauge our worth by our attractiveness, youthfulness, and willingness to accommodate, aka our “fuckability”… what then?  Tolentino is correct, I think, that the ultimate question is to ask what we ourselves really want, whether within or despite the systems we live in.  What will make us content?  What will let us feel whole and happy?  Perhaps that becomes the most difficult thing of all —  to find out what our own real desires are, rather than simply wanting to be desired, admired, and optimized.

 

 

Tuesday

sonia_delaunay_colored_rhythm
Sonia Delaunay, Colored Rhythm, 1946

 

Tuesday

 

I’d like to package up my life

all the bits that make it up

and place it on a shelf

in a white box

tied up with a golden satin ribbon —

leave it there

safe

for a while

while I try on something 

new.

–Charla M. DelaCuadra

“a few good (woke-ish) men,” or vulnerability as an act of courage

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On this beautiful sunny Friday, I’d like to take a minute to talk about vulnerability.  It is perhaps the bravest act one can take, to be vulnerable with someone else, is it not?  To open up, to show someone something real and deep and true, and risk rejection or ridicule when all you desire is to be seen.  Seen and loved.

I watched Brené Brown’s Netflix special The Call to Courage the other night, and I am still thinking about it days later.  Her research on shame, vulnerability, and courage is amazing, but her humor and compassion make it that much more poignant and powerful a presentation.  Brown is witty and insightful, bringing her research together with anecdotes from her own life to show us that we are in it together, we need each other, and we can only forge those connections by being brave.  Highly recommend.

With that in mind, I found Melanie Hamlett’s excellent article to be especially timely.  Hamlett discusses toxic masculinity and the ways it forces women to take on a hugely unequal amount of emotional labor.  This is certainly not news, per se, but in her take, she explores a new wave of men’s groups that are encouraging vulnerability, communication, and mutual support.  Our #MeToo era of “wokeness” seems to have more men thinking hard about their own emotional needs.  Drinking, trying to “get laid,” ogling women, and playing contact sports have traditionally been the only socially-sanctioned ways for men to connect with each other, all of which reinforce painfully toxic tropes about “being a man.”  Furthermore, the idea that men should only be emotionally open with women, and that they should find “their one and only” to connect with, left many female partners shouldering far more emotional work than they could handle.  These small, intimate new men’s groups offer the opportunity for healthy emotional connections, and have the side benefit of easing some of the emotional labor burden off of the women they love.  Win-win.

Perhaps we’ve been onto something all along with our ladies’ nights and brunches with the girls — and thankfully, many men are starting to catch on.  Emotional support networks are necessary for all of us, and outlets for vulnerability — as brave as one must be to go there — can only make us stronger.

Art by Explicit Design via society6.

Beginner-ings

As you might guess, my drive for perfection makes it difficult to be a beginner.  Recently I started taking ceramics classes, though — and when you start something new, you have no choice but to start at the beginning.  Time for beginner-ing.  Ooof.

I’ve wanted to learn to throw pottery for ages.  Something about the instant gratification that comes with a guided touch on clay, the graceful turning of forms and hands on a wheel, and the wabi-sabi imperfections that make up a particularly stunning glaze — all of these things have beckoned me for quite some time.  Rather than wait until I had some time, I finally decided to make some time this month to make it happen, and I am so glad I did.

The wheel and the clay both have their own learning curve, I have realized.  Gravity and centrifugal force have their own demands as well.  There is a sweet spot to be found between clay that is wet enough to become what you envision, and too wet to maintain the form you’ve shaped.  There is a strange satisfaction in trimming a piece, leathery clay spinning in ribbons off the wheel as you uncover the shape you’re imagining.  And there is a magical alchemy to glazes — the way minerals and heat combine to transform into something unexpected and beautiful.  That minty-green goop you just dunked a bowl into?  Of course it is going to be cobalt blue when fired.  Fascinating, yes?

Beginner’s mind is a challenge to get into as an adult.  Our society demands knowledge, know-how, swagger, confidence, momentum.  Being a beginner requires curiosity, surrender, awe, wonder, and acknowledgement of another’s superior skills.  It requires you to be open, vulnerable, and even silly.  It requires resilience.  A beautiful bowl can become a lopsided twist of clay in a heartbeat, and all you can do is laugh, smush and knead, and begin again.  I’m working on squishing down my irritation along with my misshapen clay, working on laughing and shrugging my shoulders, working on going with the flow, working on embracing a “flawed” piece as one I can learn from and experiment with.  And you know what?  It’s fun.  It’s hard and messy and fun.  And I am learning.

I have yet to fully complete a piece yet, so this is all about the journey so far.  Considering how results-driven I can sometimes be, I am surprised how much I am relishing it.  Each step is new and different and hard and exciting.  I’m eager to see how my work will turn out once it’s been fired, of course, but (shockingly) I’m even more excited to keep learning and creating — because there is so much to enjoy along the way.