Journal of Writing & Environment

She Writes about Change: Women on Breaking Up and Moving On

by Stefanie Brook Trout

As a reader, I don’t usually think about authors’ gender.  Obviously gender often colors our perspectives, and the gendered perspective can be important in analyzing texts, but in terms of what I like to read, gender is irrelevant.  Yet for some reason I found myself drawn to women writers this week.  Each of the writers I have featured explores in some way what it means to be a woman, specifically in the face of change.  I hope you enjoy these nonfiction, fiction, and poetry selections as much as I did, regardless of your gender.  Happy reading!

“Breaking Up with the Sierra Club” by Sandra Steingraber (Orion)

In this open letter, the author of Living Downstream ends her fourteen-year relationship with the Sierra Club.  The Sierra Club once embraced Steingraber as “the new Rachel Carson” but has recently been caught in bed with (i.e., taking millions of dollars from) Chesapeake Energy.  What the frack?  Instead of merely indicting the Sierra Club, however, Steingraber calls for “reparations” and reflection on what John Muir, the Sierra Club’s founder, would say if he could see his brainchild now.

“A Woman Writer Aging” by Toi Derricotte (TriQuarterly)

In this wonderfully written essay, Derricotte considers the entropy of the body with age but also the growth of the soul that accompanies such decay.  The problems associated with aging are often exacerbated for women and then again for writers, but Derricotte has found a way to turn base metal into gold.  Here’s a glimpse at one of her many brilliant insights about overcoming self-loathing:

I was working with my young assistant today, laughing and complaining about my over-the-top commitments, and she said, also laughing, that’s the price you pay for ambition.  And it stays in my mind, that these long hours each day and through the night, for all these years, consistently performing my tasks, going down my list of commitments, responding in the most efficacious way to letters, requests, e-mails, phone calls, writing recommendations, reviews, evaluations, calling people, even for the friendliest reason, putting myself in the position to be visible, has been excruciating.  I who have spent my life not only responding but, first, before responding, double-checking myself again to make sure everything is spelled right, everything sounds intelligent, everything does not reek of my stupidity or anger or want.  I who have so carefully phrased my want, so terrified that a ragged longing might make itself evident.

I raggedly long for you to read this essay in its entirety.  It will be time well spent.

“Good Form” by Michelle Valois (The Massachusetts Review)

“Good Form” is composed of two parts, the creative nonfiction essay “Why You Write Sestinas” and the poem “The Burdened Sestina.”  The narrator is an English teacher, a writer, and a cancer patient.  She writes sestinas for her students, for her partner, for her doctors, for other patients, and for herself.  She writes sestinas because “all cancer patients have a story to tell, even if it is just muttered in their sleep or whispered late at night in their lover’s ear or scribbled in journals never to be read.”  Who knows?  Maybe “Good Form” will compel you to write sestinas to tell your own story.

“Fourteen Tips for Selling Real Estate” by Dana Fitz Gale (Quarterly West)

In this short story, Gale satirizes the patina of normalcy and dispassion the aged must superimpose upon their homes in order to sell them to a new generation.  To pretend that your identity is not tied to a place is challenge enough without disease, in this case Alzheimer’s, further complicating the issue.  This story manages to be funny, sad, and heart-warming all at the same time.

“Approach of the Horizon” by Louise Glück (The Threepenny Review)

In this poem, Glück compares life to a “short flight” into the horizon, “At which point my soul will have merged / with the infinite, which is represented / by a straight line, / like a minus sign.”  The poem is essentially a meditation on the end of life.  But for me, the extended metaphor and the other uses of well-crafted figurative language in this poem evoked neither a sense of despair or disappointment nor a sense of inspiration but rather a matter of fact appreciation for the facts—what is.