Sunday: a day of rest, a day of fried chicken according to a handful of country songs (and sometimes for cutting coupons if you’re my father), and this Sunday – March 8th – is International Woman’s Day.
Without going on a #feministing rant about the subject, because I’m fully capable of doing so, let’s just say this day is more than a hash tag. It’s a collection of women’s voices that were seen as property even after slavery was nullified in America. It’s a collection of women’s voices from depths that we don’t even yet understand about each other (what could I possibly know of the woman’s trials in a crowded India or tribal Africa other than the power of love, the power of strength, and the power of innovation in a woman’s burning soul).
This is the importance of this day, if just to get us talking about what it means to be a woman (in all the glorious forms). And I have a new book for this. It’s a collection of essays from one woman’s experience, but one thousand women’s voices.
Body Home is a collection of essays by Chelsey Clammer (OUT NOW HERE) really about the toll we take on our own bodies, and how that toll becomes how we view these bodies that we are housed in. Some of the essays focus on the hurt that we display through our body, others focus on how we cause hurt to ourselves through our body, and others show the power of just having a body that can overcome. We don’t usually thank this vessel, but we really should take a moment of silence for the form of ourselves at least once a week.
What I liked most about these essays is that they felt very real to me and by real I mean “organic” (because I’m a basic white girl), but no, something like visceral. It was like I knew her skin while I was reading because she does such a great job of describing the body and how it moves, rattles, scrapes, and even just the smells associated with a used body that we don’t normally think about. A few of the essays moved me more than others, a few I thought were just fillers (but rarely). The ones that I found turned me were “Diving In,” “Objects of Desire,” “Linda,” “Seven,” and “Hands.”
“Linda” is the only story on that list that doesn’t show the author as the starring role. Instead, the author works in an institution (I don’t know the politically correct term for this) and is the only health worker that has not been screamed at by a patient named Linda who is schizophrenic, but worldly. Through Linda, the reader gets a sense that the things that happen to our body (rape, assault, self-harm) can have an affect on our mind and our presence. It takes the amount of this story for Clammer to find the right words to understand Linda, but I was thankful to know Linda on the page. I feel like Clammer never “got” Linda per say, but she had an empathy for Linda that could only be learned through the story.
“Diving In” is my most favorite story in the entire collection. AND every reader girl should read it. Fan girls, secret readers, romance ravens, mystery gals, need to read this brilliant story. It was like she was speaking to me on the page. Honestly, I feel like it was stolen right from my own mouth, or it escaped somehow and ended up in the luminous hands of Chelsey Clammer where it became its own body entirely. Just read a few of these lines and tell me you don’t want to immediately a. be the girl in this story and b. go immediately to the nearest book, open it to page 77 and inhale.
“Smoking isn’t a normal part of my life, but when I read delicious words of a woman having a 4am cigarette, instantly it integrates itself into my morning ritual. Because it feels right. Because it pulls my flesh closer to the words. Puffing into the shivering air and grabbing hold of the wispy thoughts that swirl like smoke up to the black sky, I sink my body into the memories of words, those elements of this world that keep me cozy, keep me breathing. Alive. (Clammers, 12).
“The effects of a reading obsession would probably be eased if books were not a hoarded thing. But they are not eased. And while the compulsion to share beloved texts with the beloved people in my life is always present, lending a treasured text, relinquishing what’s cherished from its home on dependable shelves is not something one should do, because once released, the book might never come back. Just expect this. And please, learn from my mistakes and never do this. Too many books that formed my identity have been lost to ex-lovers” (Clammers, 18).
“There is reading, and then there is experiencing. There is understanding a story, and then there are the ways in which words can hold up a mirror. Letters create a reflection” (Clammers, 19).
“Diving In” is like a reader’s instruction manual, a how-to on putting together a body of words. I read that story (it’s the second story in the collection) and just knew that I was going to love this book. And now you get what I’m saying about the visceral. The reader can feel the words tighten and balloon inside your body as she forms them on the page. It is true, what she says, authors have said it, always. Anais Nin said words are meant to be tasted and that’s why we write (direct quote here) and her journals read like an awakening.
Authors who write so that the readers can feel the movement of the words like wind on their skin, are authors to be treasured. Because only if a book makes you cringe, weep, turn, think, just respond, is when it’s a true story. Those are the books that should be passed down, those are the books that come from a deep stone of oral tradition. Those are the tasted.
Also in this story is a really well-developed double action plot. Chelsey is simultaneously smoking a cigarette to emulate an author that smokes a cigarette at 4am and talking about how words impact a reader. It’s such a wonderful and true double meaning making the essay that much richer.
In “Hands” the reader gets a walkthrough of an everyday sexual assault. I don’t mean to say that to belittle it, I mean to say that this happens to women every.single.day and I don’t think these assaults that don’t end in rape are given enough notice by society. I think the phrase “boys will be boys” is the most infuriating thing on the planet when it comes to assaults like the one written about in “Hands.” Unless I invite you to touch me WITH MY WORDS, you’re not invited. Men are like vampires, they need to understand that they can’t come in unless they’re invited. That’s why “Hands” is such an important story because it details this common experience for women everywhere and the emotional aftermath of this avalanche in Clammer’s life.
I loved the story “Seven” because it connects girlhood to adult womanhood. If I made a timeline of my life I’m sure I could explain away some of my feelings, and my actions, based on things that I did or almost did when I was younger. It’s a “what you’ve done has taught you” type thing. I found this to be true for Clammer’s essay “Seven” but also that the connections are actually deeper, and shallower than we make them. She never actually connects the two things – walking in the woods behind her house when she’s seven and running long distance marathons as an adult woman – but the reader can infer all kinds of things by how the story is told. I love a little mystery in anything I’m reading, so finding the connections on the page was both exciting for me, but also enlightening because it made me look at the connections in my own life.
With “Objects of Desire,” it just has to be read. As a woman, I felt like this was one of the most important essays in the collection because it outlined my inner feelings -that are supposed to be shut out, locked away, dust in a corner – loudly on the page. I was so glad with this essay that Chelsey told it like it is, with little shaming. She wasn’t hiding things from the reader, she wasn’t half-discussing the sexuality, she was putting it all out there and as a reader and a want-to-be writer, I can really appreciate that. Someone who’s blunt and honest on the page, is someone you should want to know in real life, I believe.
Side Note: A lot of these essays contain the outcomes of, behaviors associated with, and the feelings that are purged based on self-harm. And by self-harm I mean eating disorders, cutting, and other forms of body harm. If that is something you experienced, I think that you would really appreciate Chelsey’s honesty AND her outlook of hope, but I wanted to give a cautionary note just in case I have squeamish blog readers.
I recommend this collection of essays not only because they’re true to Chelsey, but because they’re true to the lives of so many women that may not have an avenue to share these stories or their experience with these same topics. Chelsey doesn’t lay low and expect you to find the blaze, she strikes the match and blows on it a little to grow the burn. I am so appreciative of her writing, and her honesty for women, because the more we can get books like this out there, where the truth might hurt but it’s true, the more power we will gain.