Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Tag: Cheryl Strayed

Marissa Korbel: “The Thread: Down Girl”

 

Marissa Korbel wrote her essay “Down Girl” to address a bad review by Alexandra Fuller of three female-authored memoirs received in the New York Times: Pam Houston’s ‘Deep Creek;’ Reema Zaman’s ‘I Am Yours, A Shared Memoir;’ and Sophia Shalmiyev’s ‘Mother Winter, A Memoir,’ and, more broadly, to discuss pandering and misogyny in literature.

“[The reviewer] basically called their books therapy,” one of my dinnermates summarizes. By which she means: the writers were doing something for themselves more than for the readers, writing to save themselves rather than to demonstrate that experience on the page as literature, as art, worthy of praise, writing that could be construed as private, emotional work, journaling of some sort, embarrassingly displayed for the world, a tumble of private details which do not—in the reviewer’s opinion—rise to literature

“Three women’s memoirs criticized for oversharing? I’m sure I’ve read this review before, and yet all three books are brand new. I’ve read two out of three of them, and I’ll take home Houston’s Deep Creek tonight. I take out my phone and search “NYT review Zaman.” Because Reema Zaman, a Portland-based writer, performer, and friend, is one of the reviewed.”

The Thread: Down Girl

Because we love your work and we thank you…

A lot of people included only men on a best-of-writers list going around FB, so other folks mentioned these women/genderqueer and trans folk as their recommended/favourite/influential writers. (There are some repeats.)

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Annie Dillard, Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, Mary Oliver, Jamaica Kincaid, Rebecca Solnit, Terry Tempest Williams, Alice Walker, Olga Broumas, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Zora Neale Hurston, Eden Robinson, Louise Erdrich, Alice Munro, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Lee Maracle, Toni Morrison, Stephanie Bolster, Mavis Gallant, Joyce Carol Oates, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joy Kogawa, Elyse Gasco, Charlotte Bronte, Lucy Maude Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Sylvia Plath, Miriam Toews, Vendela Vida, Maya Angelou, Danzy Senna, Han Nolan, Nancy Gardner, Maira Kalman, Anchee Min, Louise Fitzhugh, Bett Williams, Laurie Colwin, Jane Bowles, Colette, Sappho, Marilyn Hacker, Heather O’Neill, Eliza Robertson, Marianne Boruch, Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, Alice B Toklas, Adrienne Rich, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Tracy Smith, Ruth Ellen Kocher, Virginia Woolf, Louise Labe, Marguerite Yourcenar, Olga Broumas, Jeanette Winterson, Moniq Witting, June Jordan, Fleda Brown, Irene McPherson, Virginia C. Gable, Alice Walker, Lidia Yuknavitch, Kate Gray, Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Joy Harjo, Zsuzsanna Budapest,Toni Morrison, Monica Drake, Leslie Marmon Silko, Alice Walker, L.M. Montgomery, Alice Munro, Dionne Brand, Joy Kogawa, Sharon Olds, Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, Elizabeth Hay, Adrienne Rich, Isabel Allende, Marge Piercy, Sappho, Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir, Nina Bouraoui, Nicole Brossard, Kathy Acker, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Jeanette Winterson, Zoe Whittall, Marnie Woodrow, Marilyn Hacker, Lydia Kwa, Gertrude Stein, Olga Broumas, Monique Wittig, Marguerite Duras, Joy Kogawa, Jamaica Kinkaid, Lidia Yuknavitch, Maxine Hong Kingston, Beryl Markham, Jane Smiley, Alice Walker, Ntokake Shange, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Katherine Dunn, Cheryl Strayed, Lidia Yuknavitch, Toni Morrison, Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte, Jamacia Kinkaid, Amy Tan, Rebecca Skloot, Amanda Coplin, Miriam Towes, Rene Denfield, Louise Erdrich, Joyce Carol Oates, Mary Gordon, Annie Dillard, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ann Patchett, Sharon Olds, Arundhati Roy, Toni Morrison, Amber Dawn, Eden Robinson, Warsan Shire, Annie Proulx, Ntozake Shange, Mary Gaitskill, Shirley Jackson, Eudora Welty, Gish Jen, Ann Beattie, Flannery O’Connor, Shani Mootoo, Tillie Olsen, Miriam Toews, Lorrie Moore, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Nathanaël, Sappho, Anna Kavan, Sylvia Plath, Myung Mi Kim, Bessie Head, Caroline Bergvall, Anne Carson, Lisa Robertson, Liz Howard, Soraya Peerbaye, Jean Rhys, Clarice Lispector, Nella Larsen, Brecken Hancock, Audre Lorde, Emily Brontë, Natalee Caple, Natalie Simpson, Larissa Lai, Gertrude Stein, Unica Zurn, Sarah Waters, Maureen Hynes, Andrea Routley, Jane Byers, Tina Biella, Wendy Donowa, Emma donaghue, Rita Wong, Ali Blythe, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Betsy Warland, Daphne Marlatt, Persimmon Blackbridge, Gabriella Golager, Dionne Brand, Chrystos, Lee Maracle, Robyn Stevenson, Monique Grey Smith, June Arnold

We’ve left out far more stellar writers than we’ve included. I love that there are a few I haven’t heard of/many I haven’t read. I also love that if I could read no one else but the above-mentioned for the rest of my life, I’d be in superbly talented/skilled hands.

Thanks to: Sami Grey, Susan Briscoe, RF Redux, Ann Ireland, Celeste Gurevich, Cate Gable, Lisa Richter, Ellen K. Antonelli, Rene Denfield, Nikki Sheppy, Arleen Paré

Cheryl Strayed and the double standards for women’s writing

JEHhand

sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2006

Women understand there’s a glass floor on which male authors walk, while women walk below on a separate tier with its own glass floor, while on a third tier down walk queer women writers and writers of colour.  But Cheryl Strayed puts it infinitely better than I could:

Is There a Double Standard for Judging Domestic Themes in Fiction?

A second link to an essay by Meg Wolitzer on the same topic:

On the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women

Literary Mothers

A list of short essays about the writers who inspired.  I would add dozens to the list, but this morning I’ve been thinking about Jane Rule, who directly inspired me by taking me under her sizable wing, kids in tow, and giving me not just a role model, but a mom.

Inspirational Women Writers

Diving Into the Big Dipper

Jane, swimming

Diving Into the Big Dipper

Squid ink sky, long creaky dock, September night swim, a cool enough evening that I was wrapped in a blanket at the campfire, and I was still cocooned now at the end of the pier, over a jacket, a leotard, pants.  I had dress shoes on because they were all the footwear I’d brought to Saltspring.

The flames had come off the wood like excited insect wings.  In the past year, I’d had a heart attack and open heart surgery with complications, and I was still pretty sick, both with worsening cardiac disease and asthma I couldn’t kick, getting sicker, but I’d been overseas, and I’d been to New York and California, and I’d been in love with two women, and I’d enjoyed the heck out of my younger kid, and admired her, and missed her older sister til the missing throbbed in me, and I’d painted some, and even though I hadn’t been able to write anything, and even though all of that wasn’t all I wanted, and I often felt I was letting myself down, I was happy.

I was grateful for Heather and Lynn’s wedding with all its extravagant expressions of love; I was still mulling over the declarations of admiration and tenderness from the brides’ friends and loved ones.  I was still being rubbed by poignancy’s long graceful fingers. I’d wept (which Heather maintained was just a thaumaturgy, a wonder-working from all my pent-up sorrows).  I had been thinking, also, about the woman who had somehow wiggled her way from being my fling into being my girlfriend, Jules. I’d been missing her quite a bit without that hurting at all.  Like Sartre said to Beauvoir:  “I love you with the window open.” I was thinking about the week we’d spent on Saltspring together a month earlier and how, then, I’d skinny-dipped at night with Jules on the dock and the bats winging low around me.  As I’d floated, not paddling, ears under water, all that I was narrowed down to an inverted bowl of stars and the inside-out sound of my wonky heartbeat drumming.  That beat of life that had gone off its own rails, and above me all that flash and dazzle that was our galaxy, which made me contemplate Earth, which my physicist friend Martin noted was in the suburbs, really, along the Milky Way, an infinitesimal speck, and I’d been reading the book Eaarth that Jules had recommended, which confirmed that we were messing it so far up that it needed new branding, a new name, and above the Milky Way, sight unseen, other massed stars, unfathomable.  The world narrowed down:  My heartbeat and forever galaxies.  Somehow out there in Cusheon Lake with that beautiful woman on the dock waiting for me with a towel, my gorgeous reality spun me on my axis three times three times three.

Wood smoke stung my eyes and I looked at the sky instead of the fire, and thought the sloppily romantic Jules gave me the stars.  I meant it literally, because we’d crab-walked through a hobbit hole into in a physicist’s observatory on top of southern Californian mountain together, and looked through his powerful piece of glass at galaxies and nebulae, inconceivable things for a dolt like me even when I was gazing at them, but I meant it figuratively, too, in the way that her love kept expanding me.  One of the brides kept noting that once love is the right love, it was easy, and my friend Leah said the same thing about her gal.

In my first house on Saltspring on Blackburn Road, back in the 1980s, overlooking what was then a sheep farm, and the lake, which was often wreathed in mist, and where I paddled with the girls and my then partner in a blow-up dingy we bought at Mouat’s, we heated with wood, and every year we’d have seasoned wood dumped in the driveway, and C would split it and stack it, and we’d hope all winter that it would last through spring. I walked away from the coals, away from the ring of stones and the bigger ring of chairs with my small flashlight beam.  Everyone had gone to bed except Charrisa, who would wait for me.

Some of the things I thought of:  Jane Smiley’s brilliant writing in A Thousand Acres.  Pam Houston’s first book of stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness.  Jayne Anne Philip’s Black Tickets.  Best American Short Stories, every year.  They were some of the books that had sustained me, that made me stop in my tracks and say:  Shit, yeah.  My eldest child in Utah.  My youngest’s dying cat.  Julia’s smile and how I’d give a lot to see it again, how it came through a door or over FaceTime and I filled up like a windsock and fluttered.  How there couldn’t be sharks since it was a fresh water lake, but still, it would be diving into utter blackness, cold utter blackness, a September lake on a chilly night, and how my flashlight had picked out really disgusting algae bloom along the north side of the dock that looked like massive installations of green candy floss.  How my sister was hurting on the anniversary of her child’s death and how I was looking forward to seeing her.  How I loved my friend Glynnis and how glad I was that she had Gilli.  How I missed making paintings, and writing, and being some kind of a contributor to living.  I thought about the transformation of the resort’s Beachhouse into a reception hall and how beautiful a group effort had made it, and how the brides had just trusted our impulses.  A woman named Maggie had been essential for the success of the flowers.  I thought about how charming all the guests were, except for a few, and I thought about Charrisa, my roomie, and her generosity of spirit and her uncanny connection to animals, how as we walked, she talked to every one that sounded. I thought about the dead pig Charissa and I had seen on the side of the road by Blackburn Lake.  I wondered why I was almost always very happy.  I’d been gutted by my marriage’s unexpected cracking a few years before, and three months later, I had already started back towards happy when I stumbled across a violinist playing Water Music under a blooming cherry tree.  Six months after that, when I was undergoing exploratory breast surgery, I asked my ex to stand beside me.  My wife said she had no interest.  I’m not sure why this was the final straw in her garbage dump of straws heaved my direction, but I disconnected from the emotional slum that had been loving her, had four surgeries and the news was good, and I didn’t even tell her.

Of course, while that news was good, the other, cardiac news was getting worse and worse.  As I stood on the dock, stripped of my clothes, shivering and pretending bravery, I thought how I had once thought concurrent diagnoses impossible, inconceivable.

I thought about Lauren Slater’s writing, and then Annie Dillard’s.  And then I thought of E Annie Proulx’s.  And Cheryl Strayed’s.

Somewhere in my life, around 2002 or 2003, I’d taken on happiness as something I wore like a veil.  I found life difficult, and I found some people hard to be around, and I kevetched mercilessly about irritations and disappointments, but because of my medical frailty I was whole and content, plump with self esteem and gratitude.

Then I thought about my cat who kept jumping into the tiny backyard pond in my new digs, spronging straight up covered with duckweed like a small green antelope.  I thought how if she could do it, so could I, even in this cold, even when I knew St Mary’s was far from Saltspring’s warmest September lake.  I didn’t want to let myself down, but for a long time, even with the pressure of Charissa probably chilled waiting for me, I couldn’t do it.  (Balk, balk balk balk balk.) Then I thought of the brides, and I thought of how they had done this themselves the day before, diving in when maybe good sense and the wisdom of age should have kept even the contemplation from their hearts.  Love badly, I thought, then love well. When I lifted my arms to shape the dive, I noticed the Big Dipper was riding the black water, twinkling in the small movements of lake current.  I wondered if I’d gain something, magic, maybe, some necromancy skill if I dove through Ursa Major. Dubhe, Merak, Phecda, Megrez, Alioth, Mizar, Alkaid, each from 58 to 124 light years away, unimaginable, yet here just beyond my feet so that in the water, I surely ought to be able to reach out and pull one of them to my bosom. I aimed exactly where a person’s lips would go on that diamond drinking gourd, and I launched.

-Jane Eaton Hamilton

Cheryl Strayed in Vancouver

I had the deep pleasure of hearing Cheryl Strayed during her event this week in Vancouver.  The author of “Wild” and  “Tiny Beautiful Things” compiling her Dear Sugar columns is witty, engaging and bright.  I know many of us wish we had done something as brave and personal as walk the Pacific Crest Trail alone at 25, and the rest of us are just glad Cheryl did so that eventually she could write “Wild” and we could read it.

 

CherylStrayed

Cheryl Strayed and one of her fabulous columns as Sugar

Dear Sugar

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