About a week ago, I finished Kate Zambreno’s Heroines, and I’m so full. This book is a gamechanger for me. When I finished, I didn’t know what to do — write? Write about the book? Talk about it? Blog? Sit in a coffee shop and marinate/meditate on Heroines?
Instead, I marked Heroines as “read” on my Goodreads profile and gave it 5 stars. And then I made the mistake (it’s ALWAYS a bad idea, ALWAYS) of scanning the reviews. There were many good ones, and there were those who completely missed the point of the book. Many of them focused, as a point of ire, on Zambreno’s dislike of the Midwest, which isn’t even close to the point of the entire book. If you’re going to single out that aspect of the book, at least get it right and/or thoughtfully engage with it. And anyway, her descriptions of the Midwest are her experience. Of isolation, alienation, in a place that’s supposed to be the heart of the U.S. A place where people are, allegedly, friendly and open and welcoming. And her experience doesn’t reflect any of that. So deal with it.
I currently live in the Midwest, and I identify with Zambreno’s experience of the Midwest closely. I live in a great town full of good food and festivals and hippie stores and co-ops and farmer’s markets. And I’m trying to love this landscape as much as I love the place I grew up in, but even on my best days, this place feels isolating, toxic, barren.
My beau and I used to go for walks on a thing called the B-Line Trail, only to find that the entire trail is saturated with arsenic, far past any legal limit. They say it’s okay though, because no one will have to “touch the ground.” We go hiking at Brown County State Park and McCormick’s Creek, and the trails take you through forests that feel magical, but the scenic views are rarely vista-worthy. Sometimes they look out into the tops of trees. Not even over the trees, but into them. Some viewpoints are viewpoints only at certain times of the year.
Where I’m from, a viewpoint lets you gaze over a valley in every direction. One of my favorite vistas is the top of Winnemucca Mountain. In one direction, you see how small my hometown is. Behind you, a bed of sand dunes stretches out, like wrinkled, shifting sheets. To one side, patchworked farmland. To the other, the road west and the sparkling threads of the Humboldt River. That’s a fucking view.
Not only is it a fucking view, it’s a chance to, literally, rise above everything. Your shitty little town, every component that makes up your tiny life — everything that feels huge down there is nothing up here. You get perspective. If there’s a place in Indiana that gives me the same thing, I have yet to find it.
So all this is to say that the Midwest lament is not the fucking point of Heroines. Not to me. The point is feeling claustrophobic. About getting emotional and feeling guilty or bad or unprofessional about getting emotional. About witnessing the lives of women whose voices were snuffed out. That we, as women who write, are living the legacy of these women. We’ve internalized these pathologies, these diagnoses of insanity, of unevenness. The fear that I’m almost 30 and I haven’t figured out how to write or what to write or is what I’m writing good enough or I’m writing about my ex-boyfriends from my late teens/early twenties, whatiswrongwithme.
Nothing is wrong with me. I’m writing about how I lost myself. I’m writing to my broken-hearted, self-destructive self. I’m trying to take her back. To love her and tell her it’s okay that she (is so) fucked up. That she needs time to think things over, get her shit together.
I’ve been working toward an acceptance of my voice, form, subject. I’ve been telling myself that, no, what I’m writing and how I’m writing isn’t academic, isn’t like the writing I love or don’t love. And it’s okay. This writing is me, and I can’t/shouldn’t try to write like anyone else, even the writers I love. I have to do me.
I picked up Heroines at exactly the right moment in my (writing) life. Her exhortation to be brave, to be emotional, to be excessive, to write ourselves, to fight against silence and erasure, to be our own heroines. This is the only way I can be. We have to cultivate whatever support we have in whatever ways we can — long, rambling emails, hours-long Skype calls, Facebook (gasp).
And write, goddammit. In whatever form it comes. Write, and don’t be afraid. Be messy.
So here’s to being brave enough to say/write what you need to. Here’s to no apologies. Here’s to crying at the movies, or at dinner, or in the middle of the day in your office with my door open or closed, or at home at the end of a long day. Here’s to writing my shit out. Here’s to re-visiting my young self, here’s to telling my self that I am okay (and believing it). I am not crazy. I am a full human being.
Thank you, Kate Zambreno.
I wrote all that about a month ago. Why didn’t I publish it immediately? Because I was trying to find the photos I took from the top of Winnemucca Mountain to go with it. I couldn’t post this damn thing without the photos, because I have some need to prove to the reader that: 1 – the view I’m talking about is amazing, and 2 – I use the urge to polish my writing before I post it as an excuse for not putting it out there at all.
Which is the opposite of the sentiment of this entire piece and my lessons learned from Heroines. So I’m posting this without the photos. When I find them, I’ll put them in. That’s the beauty of the internet. I have to be unafraid.