Yesterday Roxane Gay tweeted out a link to the full text of the keynote address she recently delivered at Winter Institute about diversity – or, rather, how conversations about diversity have instead become conversations about absolution and will be meaningless without active learning and work, which requires us to be “uncomfortable”. Because change is almost never easy. It reminds me of what Hayley always used to tell me when we were working out: “Be comfortable being uncomfortable”. It makes sense when it comes to your body. You know that if you’re training for that half marathon, or getting up that hill, or losing weight to be healthier, it’s not going to feel good. You accept that it won’t feel good – when it comes to physical pain and struggle in service of positive change. But it’s harder to accept things that won’t feel good when it’s about character and belief. No one wants to confront the places in their minds where they might need to admit that they haven’t done enough. (And to be clear, this is not about mental health but about perspective.) That’s when it becomes, as Roxane says, “uncomfortable” – but, also, essential.
And yet, uncomfortable does not mean “unsafe”. One of my biggest takeaways from her remarks was about the solace she has, for her whole life, found in books. And in bookstores. She describes the act of reading as “sacred”, the bookstore as a “sanctuary”, where ideas are exchanged and challenged, where imagination is encouraged, where understanding feels achievable.
Roxane’s latest book, Difficult Women, came out a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been making my way through it slowly because, yes, it is uncomfortable and also because I don’t think the point is to race through that discomfort. I’m also reading Cat Marnell’s How To Murder Your Life. Cat Marnell used to write for xoJane. Her pieces were entertaining, and uncomfortably entertaining, because Cat refused to apologise for her drug addiction, complicating the writer-reader relationship to the point where it felt like we were trapping her and ourselves in a cycle of provocative enabling. Eventually Cat was fired and she moved on to Vice, and it was more or less the same. Cat is trying to put all that behind her. Her book is about the excesses and the trauma of that old life and how she’s trying to manage her new one. How To Murder Your Life comes out tomorrow.
Finally, every night for a week or so, Jenny Zhang has been my last read before shutting down. Sometimes it’s been her essays. Sometimes her poetry. Google her and you’ll fall into the Jenny Zhang rabbit hole. And definitely spend some time with her poem I Would Have No Pubes If I Were Truly In Love. Jenny is the first writer to be published under Lenny, Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s imprint. Her collection of short stories, Sour Heart, is scheduled to be released in August but you can get to know her work before then.
Yours in gossip,