Authenticity. Or the problem of the far away faraway.

When I told my sister I wanted to cut my nails because my manicure made me feel like Barbie, she looked me square on and said, “Mandy. That’s a good thing.”

While staying at her place over Christmas, I came home one night to find her on the couch with the dogs. She was wearing pink leopard flannel pajamas and drinking a mango margarita from a Butterbeer mug and watching The Voice. This is what I like about her: nobody else inhabits their preferences that joyfully.

She has kind things to say about every performer on The Voice, even as she critiques their wardrobe. And I think this is what other people like about her, too. She has specific tastes, but feels no obligation to defend them. She is like the anti-hipster, wholly sincere, consistent to the core. She can wax happily about the luminance of someone’s skin in a Manet painting and the cake-to-icing ratio of a Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cake. She is intelligent, hyper-feminine, quick to laugh, and quick to point out her flaws.

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I have always wanted to say what I intend to say with no thought for others’ judgment, to feel not an ounce of self-consciousness when someone scrolls through my iTunes library. I don’t want to be the person who works SAT vocabulary into the conversation when she meets someone smart, as if desperate to say, “See! Me too!” But I am.

I’ve been thinking about authenticity in this new year. Going from Vancouver to Appalachia and back seems to do that, to call up the space between what’s meaningful and what seems constructed to incite a sensation akin to meaning. Take, for example, the Contemporary Christmas Eve service at the Methodist church. There was bread and grape juice (Methodists don’t do wine), the Lord’s Prayer, a reading from Luke, an acoustic guitar, candles and Silent Night. But no altar, no hymnals. Instead two large projectors aired a slickly-produced video about the many distractions of the holiday season. It’s fairly standard Christmas sermon stuff, but it felt especially hollow up on the screens. I wanted to hear the pastor talk, to dwell in the sanctuary of a sanctuary. As a devout teenager, I could always summon gratitude at church, especially when the lights went down for the candlelight service. Maybe I was hoping for some echo of that. But I only felt the fullness of the evening’s chicken casserole and that last glass of pinot grigio.

Sometimes I worry that the longer I live in Vancouver, the more alienated I become from the place I grew up. It begins to feel too far away. I notice Food City sells Duck Dynasty beer koozies and home no longer feels like home but instead like a satire of rural America. But two weeks later I’m at Vancouver’s Whole Foods grasping a $5 organic chocolate bar while examining a slab of soap that looks like Jell-O and I wonder how this life feels any more authentic. Continue reading

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how to be kind

The problem with writing about someone you once loved—about someone you simultaneously wish never to be moved by again and to love forever (because you want to honor the part of yourself that used to love him and to remember the thing that fluttered and pounded between you)—the problem with this is that if you really want to be honest, you have to dive back in to that love.

About a month ago I submitted my final grades and set out to write every day—and that’s when I stumbled into this problem. I was trying to write about our best day: zipping around an Aegean island with the man I once loved. “Man, it must suck to be everybody else,” he said as we took the switchbacks up the hill toward our tiny studio. We agreed that we even felt sorry for the people we were before we arrived, with their busy lives that didn’t include riding a scooter past limestone cliffs in the long after-dinner light of late June.

More than once that week I woke up in a sweat, dreaming about house parties where, apparently, invitations were sent to anyone who’d ever broken my heart (and, oddly, one ex-boyfriend’s father…). Writing about the man you once loved means living with this man again. And living with the version of yourself who loved him, someone you know intimately, but might be better off forgetting for a while. It is a profoundly uncomfortable place to be. And I wasn’t sure how to manage it. Continue reading

On CWILA, writing, and raging feminism

Last week I told my friend Erin that, when I grow up, I want to be a raging feminist. Of course I’m already grown up, but I’m starting my part of the CWILA count today and I am increasingly convinced this is important work–that I can’t teach or write without being aware of the larger literary world. This instinct is reinforced when my male students protest that they can’t identify with a female protagonist and I worry that I don’t have the credibility (I’m another woman writer after all) to effectively critique their myopic views. I don’t want to be angry in my feminist rage–that’s the easy part–I want to plow through the assumptions that underlie such comments.

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The Globe and Mail in 2011

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my CWILA assignment

When I was a kid in rural Virginia, it was easy to accept that feminism had swept through a decade before and accomplished its goals. As the daughter of both coach and cheerleader, I played rec-league flag football on Tuesday and stood by the varsity girls with my kid-size pompoms on Friday nights. At eleven, I was deemed old enough to drive the tractor so I could help with yard work, but I was not yet allowed to pierce my ears. My sister and I modeled our ambitions after both parents, playing school (like Dad) and office (like Mom–who earned more and worked longer hours). I could see that most administrative assistants were women and most doctors were men, but I believed this would change by the time I reached adulthood. The plan was working.

But now, twenty years later, I am less sure.

Continue reading