Among the books I loved most this year was Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply, which walks some of the same roads as The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. But I loved The Rules Do Not Apply more, because the way it covered rejecting academe’s obfuscatory language to try to create a fuller, truer identity as a woman is more adamant, clearer, and more gorgeous. What I liked best about it was that it didn’t lie, when so much written or said about being a woman, and growing older as a woman, is about lying, or leaving out information. I wrote down some of my favorite parts:
As we reached our thirtieth birthdays, my friends and I were like kernels of popcorn exploding in a pot: First one, then another, and pretty soon we all bursting into matrimony. There were several years of peace, but then the pregnancies started popping.
It felt as if I had conjured her out of the dark. Not just the bewitched darkness of the blackout, but all nights that had come before then, when I went to bars and parties, searching for someone who wasn’t there. But she was here now.
When Lucy was little, they used to go to a cabin on the Toutle River during the summertime, and her father lifted giant rocks and rearranged them to make her a paddling pool. He would introduce her to people by saying, “My daughter is six years old”—or “seven,” or “thirteen”— “and she’s never done a single thing wrong.”
I had sort of hoped that once you’d made a declaration of commitment to someone you truly loved you would stop being sodden with lust for relative strangers. But also I sort of thought, who cares? Who cares if sometimes you sometimes bring out your seduction skill set briefly, for a person other than your spouse, and you have a little adventure with your body? Why did that have to be at your spouse’s expense? Couldn’t you promise your deepest love, your first allegiance, to your favorite person without locking yourself in a chastity belt and presenting her with the key?
From the minute the dragon of our fertility came on the scene, we learned to chain it up and forget about it. Fertility meant nothing to us in our twenties; it was something to be secured in the dungeon and left there to molder. In our early thirties, we remembered it existed and wondered if we should check on it, and then—abruptly, horrifyingly—it became urgent: Somebody find that dragon! It was time to rouse it, get it ready for action. But the beast had not grown stronger during the decade of hibernation.
Lurching between lives is hell. Even if one life is manifest, and the other is mostly hypothetical, the inability to occupy your own reality is torment, is torture, it is sin and punishment all in one.
Mary said she would pray to god to talk to me, too. I thought: I will never have that.
You want someone to look at you with lust—after years of laundry…
…someone who I alone had known, during his whisper of a life.
I had become a cautionary tale, like the women Elizabeth Hardwick described in Sleepless Nights who “wander about in dreadful freedom, like old oxen left behind, totally unprovided for.”