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Can the Subaltern Speak?: Gayatri Spivak and Post-Colonialism

While she is best known as a postcolonial theorist, Gayatri Spivak describes herself as a “para-disciplinary, ethical philosopher” though her shingle could just as well read: “Applied Deconstruction.” Her reputation was first made for her translation and preface to Derrida’s Of Grammatology and she has since applied deconstructive strategies to various theoretical engagements and textual analyses: from Feminism, Marxism, and Literary Criticism to, most recently, Post-colonialism.


My position is generally a reactive one. I am viewed by Marxists as too codic, by feminists as too male-identified, by indigenous theorists as too committed to Western Theory. I am uneasily pleased about this.[1]

Despite her outsider status — or partly, perhaps, because of it — Spivak is widely cited in a range of disciplines. Her work is nearly evenly split between dense theoretical writing peppered with flashes of compelling insight and published interviews in which she wrestles with many of the same issues in a more personable and immediate manner. What Edward Said calls a “contrapuntal” reading strategy is recommended as her ideas are continually evolving and resist, in true deconstructive fashion, a straight textual analysis. She has said that she prefers the teaching environment where ideas are continually in motion and development.


Of Grammaology – an English translation of Jacques Derrida’s De la grammatologie – introduced and positioned her as a postcolonial critic whose deconstructive interpretations of imperialism and the struggle for decolonization seek also to interrogate the very premises of marxism, feminism, and Derridean deconstruction that underwrite her own work.


Encompassing literary criticism, a learned application of European enlightenment philosophy, as well as ambitious forays into economic problems of labor and capital, Spivak’s eclectic and often contradictory critical scope resembles her shifting position as an academic “subject.” Simultaneously privileged as an elite, even esoteric intellectual currently teaching at Columbia University, and marginalized as a “Third-World woman,” “hyphenated-American,” and Bengali exile, Spivak uses deconstruction to address the ways in which she is in fact complicit in the production of social formations that she ostensibly opposes. In the following passage from “Bonding in Difference,” an interview with Alfred Arteaga, Spivak describes her indebtedness to deconstruction in order to explain the postcolonial critic¹s responsibility to question the assumptions not only of the social formations under their scrutiny but their own critical and institutional allegiances:


So right form the beginning, the deconstructive move. Deconstruction does not say there is no subject, there is no truth, there is no history. It simply questions the privileging of identity so that someone is believed to have the truth. It is not the exposure of error. It is constantly and persistently looking into how truths are produced. That’s why deconstruction doesn’t say logocentrism is a pathology, or metaphysical enclosures are something you can escape. Deconstruction, if one wants a formula, is among other things, a persistent critique of what one cannot not want. And in that sense, yes, it’s right there at the beginning.[2]


While Of Grammology jumpstarted her career, her 1988 essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” redefined it and post-colonialism at large. The essay, initially presented as a lecture and then later published, introduced questions of gender and sexual difference into analyses of representation and offering a profound critique of both subaltern history and radical Western philosophy.


Spivak’s eloquent and uncompromising arguments engaged with more than just power, politics, and the postcolonial. They confronted the methods of deconstruction, the contemporary relevance of Marxism, the international division of labor, and capitalism’s “worlding” of the world, calling attention to the historical and ideological factors that efface the possibility of being heard. 

Since the publication of Spivak’s essay, the work has been revered, reviled, misread, and misappropriated. It has been cited, invoked, imitated, and critiqued.


Benjamin Graces, an industrious and brilliant Brown student, introduces Spivak’s seminal essay quite critically and astutely:


Spivak’s essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” – originally published in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg’s Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1988)[3] – perhaps best demonstrates her concern for the processes whereby postcolonial studies ironically reinscribe, co-opt, and rehearse neo-colonial imperatives of political domination, economic exploitation, and cultural erasure. In other words, is the post-colonial critic unknowingly complicit in the task of imperialism? Is “post-colonialism” a specifically first-world, male, privileged, academic, institutionalized discourse that classifies and surveys the East in the same measure as the actual modes of colonial dominance it seeks to dismantle?


According to Spivak, postcolonial studies must encourage that “postcolonial intellectuals learn that their privilege is their loss” (Ashcroft. et al 28). In “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, Spivak encourages but also criticizes the efforts of the subaltern studies group, a project led by Ranajit Guha that has reappropriated Gramsci’s term “subaltern” (the economically dispossesed) in order to locate and re-establish a “voice” or collective locus of agency in postcolonial India. Although Spivak acknowledges the “epistemic violence” done upon Indian subalterns, she suggests that any attempt from the outside to ameliorate their condition by granting them collective speech invariably will encounter the following problems:

1) a logocentric assumption of cultural solidarity among a heterogeneous people, and

2) a dependence upon western intellectuals to “speak for” the subaltern condition rather than allowing them to speak for themselves.[4]


As Spivak argues, by speaking out and reclaiming a collective cultural identity, subalterns will in fact re-inscribe their subordinate position in society. The academic assumption of a subaltern collectivity becomes akin to an ethnocentric extension of Western logos–a totalizing, essentialist “mythology” as Derrida might describe it–that doesn’t account for the heterogeneity of the colonized body politic.


Spivak’s essay should be required reading for everyone. But if you don’t have the time or if you do have the time and want a critical companion, there’s one listed below for you.




“My view is that radical practice should attend to this double session of representation rather than reintroduce the individual subject through totalizing concepts of power and desire.” (279)


Fourfold Argument of the Essay:


  1. Problematize the Western subject and see how it is still operational in poststructuralist theory (Foucault and Deleuze)
  2. Re-read Marx to find a more radical de-centering of the subject that also leaves more room for the formation of class identifications that are non-essentialist (Derrida, also)
  3. Argue that Western intellectual production reinforces the logic of Western economic expansion
  4. Perform a close reading of sati to analyze the discourses of the West and the possibilities for speech that the subaltern woman has (or does not have) within that framework


Arguments 1-3 are addressed in the first half of the essay, which address Spivak’s theoretical framework and argument, while argument 4 is addressed in the second half of the essay, which serves as an example of Spivak’s argument and her conclusion.


Spivak’s article moves from a critique of current Western efforts to problematize the subject to a still more radical de-centering of the subject implicit in Marx and Derrida. It makes the point that western intellectual production is complicit with Western international economic interests, and finally raises the question of how the third-world subject is represented within Western discourse, using the example of sati (widow sacrifice).


The juxtapositions brought into play over the course of the article emphasize how ‘benevolent’ Western intellectuals can paradoxically silence the subaltern by claiming to speak for their experience (by asserting that the subaltern ‘knows’) in the same way that ‘benevolent’ colonialists silenced the voices of the women who ‘chose’ to immolate themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres i.e. it is in the appropriation of the voice of the subaltern that s/he is silenced.


Foucault and Deleuze (Guattari):

  • Spivak’s criticism:
    • They [Foucault and Deleuze] short-circuit the radical implications of the ‘crisis of the subject’ by introducing the concept of ‘subject effects,’ which differ in name, but not in function, from traditional subjects (273)
    • She criticizes Foucault for emphasizing the pervasiveness and heterogeneity of power while ignoring how power produces ideology, and instead filling the place of ideology with a generalized notion of ‘culture’ (274)
    • Spivak finds a contradiction between Foucault and Deleuze’s valorizing of the concrete experience of oppression while providing little explanation of the baggage of the intellectual in the conflation of the ideas of ‘representing’ (as in politics/speaking for the interests of a group of people) and ‘re-presenting’ (when what is presented becomes fused with its signified and takes on an immediacy of presence) (274-275)
    • Spivak’s response:
      • While many of their contributions are useful, their political effectiveness is impaired by systematically ignoring the question of ideology and their own implication in intellectual and economic history
      • She objects to their use of ‘master words’ such as ‘the workers’, which generalize the experience of a diverse range of people (272)
        • Conversely, her own use of the term ‘subaltern’ is emphatically multiple
      • Beginning with Deleuze and Guattari’s implementation of an undifferentiated ‘desire’ supporting all kinds of revolutionary movements and acts, Spivak demonstrates how the unspoken and un-interrogated assumptions behind these totalizing theories end in reinforcing the subject positions of the theorists themselves (273-274)
      • To Spivak, the idea that desire and interest may work in opposition to one another under the effects of ideology seems to escape Deleuze and Foucault (273)


Marx and Derrida:

  • Spivak refers to Marx to demonstrate how his concept of class formation clearly differentiates between darstellen (re-presentation) and vertreten(representation) (276-278)
    • Darstellen
      • Re-presentation
      • Rhetoric as trope
      • Class as a descriptive concept, class in a system
      • Class consciousness
      • Vertreten
        • Representation
        • Rhetoric as persuasion
        • Class as a transformative concept, through substitution/representation
        • Transformation of consciousness
    • Spivak uses Derrida as a tool to deconstruct and de-center, particularly when it comes to Foucault (primary motives of the essay and of Spivak’s work generally)
      • “I have tried to argue that the substantive concern for the politics of the oppressed which often accounts for Foucault’s appeal can hide a privileging of the intellectual and of the “concrete” subject of oppression that, in fact, compounds the appeal.” (292)
      • Following up this passage, Spivak notes that: “though it is not my intention here to counter the specific view of Derrida promoted by these influential writers [Anderson and Said], I will discuss a few aspects of Derrida’s work that retain a long-term usefulness for people outside the First World…yet he is less dangerous when understood than the first-world intellectual masquerading as an absent non-representer who lets the oppressed speak for themselves.” (292)
    • Spivak cites a chapter of Derrida’s “Of Grammatology As a Positive Science” (a book she famously translated and provide a critical introduction for in 1976)
      • For Spivak: Derrida = Deconstruction







[1] Sarah Harasym, The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues (London: Routledge, 1990)

[2] Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean, ed. The Spivak Reader (New York and London: Routledge, 1996), 28.

[3] Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, et al, eds. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988) 271-313.



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Thank God I’m Not One Of Lena Dunham’s “Girls”

As usual, I’m behind the curve. But at least I’m catching up.

I’ve managed to finally get around to watching a few episodes of HBO’s “Girls.” If you don’t wade into the blogosphere or subscribe to HBO, then you may not be familiar with the Lena Dunham created and written and Judd Apatow produced half-hour dramedy. I’ll sum it up for you: “Girls” is Lena Dunham’s “Write your diary like Diablo Cody fanfic” fantasy come to life. Four twenty-something white women braving the Big Apple with jerk boyfriends and a mixed nuts group of friends and acquaintances in tow. Yes, of course it sounds familiar. Yes, the “Sex and the City” comparisons are played up and chum for glossy magazine reviews. But the show isn’t original, gritty, groundbreaking, or any of the other overly magnanimous modifiers pinned to it like a tacky corsage to a cheap prom dress.

The only success of the show is that a show with nothing new to offer managed to get made, managed to get a slew of shockingly good reviews, and managed renewal for a second season. Most of the positive reviews for “Girls” are from women. I don’t mention this to say that female critics like the show only because it’s written by and is centered on women. I mention this to highlight exactly what is wrong with this show and the portrayal of women on television generally. Noted often, and with a correct amount of amazement, is the fact that this is a show created by, written, and directed by a woman. A rare feat indeed in Hollywood. But is that reason enough to excuse the faults? It’s great to see a woman in charge of a show on a major network, but that’s not enough reason to support the show.

The most common praise improperly heaped upon “Girls” is that it’s a snapshot of young women making their way in the big city without a lot of gloss and polish. (I suppose that’s what bloggers mean when they say “gritty.”) People unaccustomed to reading their children’s twitter feeds or having an unadulterated or pre-formulated experience themselves have called “Girls” “real” and “frank.” True, the Vogue editorial panache of SATC is nowhere to be found here. Upper East Siders these gals are not. I suppose we can applaud “Girls” for being the antithesis of “Gossip Girl;” even if it accomplishes nothing else. Hannah (Dunham) and her gal-pals rolled through an Urban Outfitters on their way out of an Anthropologie catalog and hit the streets of Brooklyn with the confidence only Millennials could express with a straight face. It helps that the actresses themselves have the luxury of being from New York without actually being from New York. Children of an artist (Dunham), NBC’s Nightly News anchor (Williams), and a film and theater multi-hyphenate (Mamet). Children without the need for skill and education to back up and support their ambitions staring in a show about children without the skill or aptitude to support their ambitions let alone themselves.  

It’s not without some sense of humor that I write this piece while I watch the amazing Marina Abramović documentary. Here is a artist who uses, displays, abuses, manipulates, tortures, praises and honors her body by turning it into definitive performance art. Without knowing it, Dunham is beholden to the legacy and ongoing evolution of performance art. Body as canvas, life as art work. But where Abramović (without getting off the point too much) transformed a dialogue and paradigm with her work, Dunham reinforces everything she thinks she’s breaking. The female actress portraying a female stereotype, young woman making it (or attempting to) in the city, unfiltered discussion of sex and sexuality as mode of “realness” or “authenticity.” I could go on, but I think the point is made. Dunham’s formula isn’t new and worse it’s been done better. “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Murphy Brown,” hell “Cybil” and “Designing Women” were better than this. 

I rarely care for HuffPo, but in this instance I think the review hit the nail on the head (and not just because it agrees with me and I with it, though that helps):

“Girls feels less like a commentary on this generation and more like an indictment on it,” John Kubicek wrote for “These characters have been raised believing that they’re special and that they can do anything they want. The problem is that none of them seem to want to do anything. There’s nothing particularly special about Hannah’s life, no reason that her memoirs would be remotely interesting.”

Many writers found the characters unsympathetic, mostly on account of their privilege. (Dunham is photographer Laurie Simmons’ daughter and plays the daughter of two professors on the show. Brian Willliams’ daughter Allison plays Dunham’s roommate).

“Laurie Simmons’ daughter’s best friend is Brian Williams’ daughter. She is uptight, pretty, straight-laced, and has a boyfriend who’s just too nice and loving. She wears a retainer when she sleeps, symbolically,” John Cook wrote on Gawker. “Laurie Simmons’ daughter says Brian Williams’ daughter’s boyfriend ‘has a vagina,’ a notion that isn’t at all hackneyed and retrograde when it’s uttered by a self-aware 24-year-old girl who has tattoos of illustrations from children’s books all over her body.”

I could go on, I really could. But if you’ve read any of my pieces before (especially my piece on SATC or Vogue, etc) then you probably already have a since that myopic narrow-mindedness is the fuel to my cultural rage. If you want to live in a bubble, go ahead. Enjoy your bubble. But don’t tell me that your bubble is the real world and that you’ve some how become enlightened in your bubble, from your bubble. That’s bullshit. And “Girls” is one big, privileged, white, myopic bubble. Dunham manages to insult and enslave the vary audience she thinks she’s speaking to. Is this what twenty-somethings are? Should be? Can be? More importantly, is this what we all are? Hardly. Not even close. “Girls” is Dunham’s fangirl diary experiment come to life for her and her friends’ amusement. Such a terrible, insulting, damaging shame it is for young women everywhere who now must bear the burden of this nonsense and the nonsense of brainless women posturing as generational mouthpieces. 

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This is exceptional! LOVE Basquiat. Enjoy!


Last night I watched a DVD documentary on the 1980s artist Jean Michel Basquiat, called “The Radiant Child”, which included footage from an interview done in 1985 in LA.  The picture above is from another interview, I’d guess around 1982, and I just liked it cause he’s unexpectedly wearing the Wesleyan shirt (my alma mater).

In recent years I’ve come to appreciate his work more and more.  He grew up in Brooklyn in relatively well-off circumstance, but apparently had quite a complicated relationship with his businessman father, and ran away from home several times.  He ran away for good at age 17 in 1978 to Manhattan, and his initial efforts were doing graffiti with a friend under the name SAMO.  This was not standard graffiti – SAMO had messages for the world which were legibly written on building walls in block letters.  Despite being mostly homeless, he had a…

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And So I Begin, Again…

In June, having returned to my childhood home in the arms of my mother, on the heels of a university approved medical leave; I wrote a blog post that led, ultimately, to my silence and the desire never to post again. I resisted, at the time, the rising desire to end this blog in its entirety – to remove it, excise it from my life. Instead I walked away. I abandoned my once omnipresent Twitter voice. I silenced my furiously tap-tap-tapping fingers on my laptop keyboard. And I withdrew in all senses of the term.

My silence had less to do with others than with myself, though, of course, this was discovered in hindsight. At the time I felt wounded, mortally, by a perceived tidal wave of animosity. The post of contention dealt with, in its final section, an event that had unfolded some time prior on Twitter. I had found myself acting seriously in the wake, in response, to a flippy and snarky quip executed off the cuff by a friend. I, not being in a humorous mood at the time, responded with what amounted to a defense of the quip’s target. What ensued in the aftermath of such quick and unconscious tweeting was one party feeling as though the other grossly over-reacted to a joke and the other party feeling distinctly unheard, unappreciated, and dismissed. Neither was entirely right and both proceeded to behave poorly.

For my part I internalized the tone, demeanor, and language of a friend, a confidant, as being deeply personal and dismissive. I objected to the hissing tone of anger and frustration without stopping to ask myself why I was engaging him at all, why I was making him angrier and more frustrated with a situation that needn’t be complicated at all. I could have, and should have, walked away. Chalked the whole mess up to crossed wires and different-strokes-for-different-folks. But no, I didn’t do that. I made the whole situation worse by caring too damn much about a silly misunderstanding and not realizing I should have just said “Hey, smart joke, good turn of phrase.” But hindsight is 20/20, yes? It’s always easier to Monday-Morning-Quarterback than to play the game. I played badly. I lost. And instead of saying “My bad, no worries,” and shaking it off, I sulked.

With that said, I stand behind the idea expressed in the last post. There has been a rising trend of sentiment amongst women that lends itself not to “feminism” in the Ms. Magazine or Gloria Steinham way, but to a new chimera of Third Wave that takes as much pleasure is regaling its members with support as it does in taking them done a peg, or four. As Margaret Thatcher once noted: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support women.” The post wasn’t perfect, few posts ever are. The ideas weren’t fully formed and the argument was underdeveloped, to say the least. But the broad strokes remain true, I believe, and for that I won’t apologize.

My summer in Texas, with my family away from Twitter and blogging et al, was less a vacation and more a summer of healing. I had, in the wake of more than a year of cancer treatment and surgeries, fallen slowly and then rapidly into a depression that I was ashamed to admit to and embarrassed to be experiencing. My life, as I knew it, came to a sudden and drastic halt. I hit a wall going 90. Not only was I incapable of picking up the pieces, I had no desire to. I withdrawn completely from my studies, my research, my academic pursuits, and I did not leave my apartment for days on end and had no desire to. I was in such a rapid state of declining mental health that I was sleeping hardly at all or for 12-16 hour intervals. My appetite nearly vanished. My desire to engage the world, to have anything to do with other people all but left me. I could not be happy if someone paid me to be. Without the assistance of a psychiatrist and regimen of medication, I don’t think I would still be here. Seriously. If it weren’t for a medical intervention, my inability to engage with other people would have taken me to take my own life.

Home in Texas, with the support and comfort of my parents, I was able to enter an outpatient program at a local hospital. To begin, slowly, to work my way back to life. It was a long, slow, arduous road frequently marked with debilitating panic attacks and fitful, body-wracking bouts of sobbing. I had to face not only the mechanisms of my depression but my intrinsic inability to handle myself in the wake of them – my lack of coping skills, my inability to address and deal with conflict in a healthy and beneficial way.

Now that I am back in Boston, my strength returning more and more each day, I am slowly engaging my Twitter voice more and more. The final step now that I am on my own in Boston again, is gaining my voice back, both scholarly and more colloquially on the blog. The blog may not be exactly the same as before. But then, of course, I am not the same as before, and thank whoever-there-is-to-thank that I am not the person I was six months ago. Hell, I’m happy not to be the person I was two months ago.

Though my depression isn’t gone – it will likely never be “gone” – it’s manageable. My life is once again manageable, after such a prolonged period of not being in control of my body and my emotional response to it. I am just happy to be in my skin again. To feel, in so many ways, like myself again.

And so, here I am, writing again. Having shed the weight of shame and embarrassment (for the most part) of a depression that had crippled me for so long, I am free to stand unwavering in my convictions, my intentions, and my desires. Gone is the desperate desire to be heard, validated and understood. Fuck thee who care not what I write, for he suffers from an unopened mind and an unwilling spirit.

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Date A Man Who Reads

A couple weeks ago I blogged a great piece called “Date A Girl Who Reads.” I had read it on tumblr and had to share. The response has been huge. So here’s a response: Date A Man Who Reads.

Date a man who reads. Date a man who spends more on books than on video games, electronics, or car “accessories.” Date a man with a library card, a man who’d rather carry a book than a gym bag. Date a man who keeps a running list of books, poems, essays, and reviews in a Moleskin in his back pocket. Date a man who’ll be so excited over an essay in The New Yorker or Hitchen’s latest piece in Vanity Fair that he can hardly contain himself waiting for you to finish reading. He’ll fight you for the NYT Book Review every Sunday but it will be worth it, if for nothing else then the smell of newsprint on his skin. You’ll be stashing books on every stationary surface in your apartment but the joy of swapping books, of sharing spine-broken, dog-eared paperbacks will be euphoric.

Find a man who reads. He’ll be the one who drifts quietly through a bookstore looking for a book he read about on an obscure French literary website, or  yet another copy of The Divine Comedy, Beowulf, or On Love. Date a man who smiles broadly and gleefully when he finds exactly what he was looking for. You’ll see him sitting quietly in the corner of a coffee shop drinking from a ceramic mug because he can’t bring himself to waste a paper cup on a latte he’s going to wallow in while wading into Steinbeck, yet again. Crack a joke about the yellowed scotch tape holding his copy of East of Eden together and his heart will probably stop beating. Share your scone with him and spark up a debate about Michiko Kakutani’s latest review and you can probably bend his ear for hours.

Date a man who reads. He’s the kind of man who’s calendar is full of lectures at local museums and universities. His “bookmarks” and browser history are full of indie bookstores, book dealers, literary blogs, free-trade coffee roasters, and library catalogs. He can’t pass a bookstore without popping in “just to see.” He’s got a stack of library books on his nightstand and knows all the librarians at his local branch by name. He shops at co-ops and farmer’s markets because he wants to stay connected to his community.

Date a man who reads. He’s flawed, like every man, but he tries his damnedest not to be. Rest assured though, when he screws up he knows the power of a well-worded apology because he knows that the greatest heroes often trip on their capes. He knows he’s no different than a good novel; he unfolds a chapter at a time. Date a man who reads because he’ll cling to your every word likes he clings to plot developments. He’ll lean across the dinner table with a glimmer in his eye as you challenge him on…well, anything.

Date a man who reads. He’ll understand your need to keep the bedside lamp on till 2 in the morning because you couldn’t possibly go to sleep before reading the last chapter. And when you’re done with that last chapter, he’ll consume your thoughts as voraciously as he does your body. Date a man who will lie languidly in bed with you on a rainy or snowy weekend day with you and an anthology of Neruda or Cummings.

Date a man who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a man who will be your Mr. Darcy, who will square his shoulders against the world for you, who’ll sweep you off your feet. You deserve a man who smells of books. You deserve a man who’ll whisper in your year on the sofa or as you walk hand in hand through the years. Date a man who reads because a man who reads is the perfect hybrid of the blissful fantasy of literature and the comforting strength of reality.

Or better yet, date a man who writes.


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Date A Girl Who Reads

I just had to share this. You can see my follow-up, “Date A Man Who Reads,” here.


Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag.She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilightseries.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.


Rosemarie Urquico via billets-doux


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Post-Boobie Wednesday

Thank you for all the support and well wishes over the past week. Last Wednesday I shared in a post my experiences with breast cancer. What followed was an avalanche of love and support from readers. I cannot tell you how much it was all meant to me.

I wanted to continue the effort, partly for myself and partly for all men and women out there who afraid of the aftermath of cancer.

Several people commented last week that breast cancer awareness isn’t the problem, everyone is aware of breast cancer. The actual problem is medical professionals needing to be better at reading mammograms, etc, to prevent unnecessary biopsies or surgeries. I agree. I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through needlessly. But I’m not going to stop beating my drum of self-exams, yearly check-ups, and mammograms in the hopes that we’ll eventually find a cure. In the meantime women need to have an honest conversation with their doctor about their family history, their personal risk factors and the appropriate screening measures for them. So please continue to screen yourselves and encourage the men and women in your lives to screen themselves too.

I want to talk a bit more about the decision process that went into choosing a mastectomy and then talk about the lengthy and still developing aftermath of my surgeries.

Deciding to go through with the mastectomy wasn’t an easy decision. I thought about it for months. I was a young woman, I had just turned 24 when I had the surgery. I wasn’t married or in a serious long-term relationship. I didn’t have children. These were all things to consider. If I had this surgery would I find a partner who could overlook the scars, overlook the lack sensitivity in my breasts and nipples? If I had the surgery would I be okay with not being able to breast feed my child(ren) if I had them? Would I be happy with the outcome? Comfortable with my body? These questions weighed heavily on my mind and I feared that my new body, my new scar-ridden body would be a turn off to prospective sexual partners and that I would grow to regret making such a big decision at such a young age.

I was buoyed in my decision by my mother. An a amazing woman who had beat breast cancer herself and had chosen the mastectomy herself. A month before my surgery we had a very intimate conversation in which she told me that my father had struggled with her “new breasts” and that it took him awhile to be okay with her unresponsiveness. I didn’t want to hear about my parents’ sex life, what child does, but I appreciated my mother not sugar-coating the process. She was honest with me. She told me that the surgery was infinitely more painful than child birth, that recovery is long and difficult, that I would not feel like myself for months, even a year or two, and she wanted me to think long and hard about how this will play out in my later sexual relationships.

I ultimately decided that the surgery was important to me. It was important for my immediate peace of mind and my long term peace of mind. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life looking over my shoulder and wondering when the hammer was going to drop. I wanted the peace of mind of knowing that my risk of a second bout was virtually none. That was really important to me and that was ultimately what made the choice easier for me.

My reconstruction, as I mentioned last week, was a long and winding road. First surgery was 22.5 hours, and I had a week long hospital stay after, and using a walker for a month. Second surgery was 5 hours and the result was the loss of my left breast. I had a Wound VAC for a month. Wound VACs have to be changed in the hospital every other day. I was at hospital for an 1.5 every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a month. Showering was a bitch. I had to set my machine on the toilet and could not turn around in the shower, otherwise I would add too much tension to the tube and I could pull the machine off the toilet seat. I had to sleep with the machine plugged in, charging over night. And if you think for one minute that the machine was silent…Well, you have another thing coming. After the VAC came out I still had to treat my stomach twice daily at home and once a week for two months at the hospital.

The third surgery was 17.5 hours and left me weak and unable to lift my arms above my shoulders for a month. I was in the hospital for three days, getting out just in time for Christmas with my family. The long, thick scar across my back opened in two places. I had to have specialized wound care for 7 weeks. I could not get the wound wet at home because I could not change the dressing myself. So I took sponge baths and washed my hair with a detachable shower head for 7 weeks. The fourth surgery was 14 hours and left me in a compression garment from my knees to my bust for two months. I had bruises like I can’t even describe. It hurt to breathe, to sit, to stand, to lie down. Going to the bathroom, getting in and out of the garment was blindingly painful. My skin was painful to the touch. The fifth and final surgery was 10 hours.

It took five surgeries, 69 hours, and a whole year to finish my reconstruction. Am I happy? Yes. So to speak. My left breast is shaped differently from my right breast. It has an implant as opposed to my flesh and tissue. My right breast is soft and round, shaped exquisitely. To say I’m obsessed with it is an understatement. It’s better than my God-given breast. My left breast is flat on top. It doesn’t have the same roundness and drape of my right breast. It has a different feel and weight to it. I choose a silicone implant and I’m glad I did. I think if I had a saline implant I would be even more disappointed.

As to the question of how others have responded to my body. I will admit to being very nervous about this. The first time I had sex after the surgeries I was racked with anxiety. Will he be disgusted by me? Will he be upset that I don’t responded to his touch or his mouth on my breast? It was hard to push those thoughts out of my head. But so far I have been lucky, my partners haven’t run screaming from my bedroom. It’s easy to say in theory that any man who has a problem with my body the way it is now isn’t a man worth having, but I will admit to still being scared of the day when someone does have a problem with it.

I hope that by sharing what I have gone through more women will know that there is life, sex, happiness after breast cancer, after a mastectomy. I don’t feel like less of a woman or less sexy. In fact I feel sexier now that I know what my body is capable of enduring. So many people respond to cancer with an “I’ll never be the same” attitude. It’s true, I’m not the same. I’m better. Really. I’m stronger and braver than before.


UPDATE: See related posts, “Boobie Wednesday” and “Let’s Talk About . . .


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