There’s this awesome Bikini Kill lyric from the album All-American Reject that goes something like, “See yourself as others see you, in reverse red can appear blue.” This could be taken a couple of different ways but for me it always reminded me that how I see myself is probably nothing at all how others see me. And the older I get the more I know this to be true. We all get stuck in a certain mindset of who we think we are (for me it is weird, chubby, and shy) and depending on our backgrounds, we are never able to let go of those stories that became attached to us at a young age. For example my family still likes to say, “I can’t believe you are eating that, you never used to like that.” I just roll my eyes because, yes, it’s true, guys! When I was 6, I pretty much only liked ramen noodles, but thankfully for my health and for straight culinary cred my taste buds have expanded (although I still LOVE ramen). The point is no matter whom we become or even no matter how others see us, sometimes our brains try to keep us trapped as that abandoned child, or as that kid who got her heartbroken way to young, or whatever your own personal story is. For some reason (and you may be shocked to hear this if you know me in real life), self esteem has never come easy for me. It is always a constant struggle to remind myself to love and care for myself above certain others and to get it through my thick skull that I am worth and deserve love as well. Sometimes I get it right. Sometimes I have to put in great amounts of work and pain in order to remind myself. And that’s all right. I mean, it's who I am, but I also think that is one of the main reasons I love reading so much. Sometimes you need a book to change your mindset, and that doesn’t always mean it has to be a happy book. Sometimes a book that makes you uncomfortable will go a million times more toward changing your outlook than any self-help book will ever do. The best thing about books is that they don't judge and the right book can help free your brain from itself sometimes. It's nice to read a book and remember that we all suffer from these things in varying degrees and that we aren't alone in them. Books are a great reminder that no matter what a person is going through we all need community and that there is solace in numbers.
Binary Star by Sarah Gerard
A beautifully written book of prose that is somewhere between storybook and poetry. An uncomfortable lyrical journey between the lives of an anorexic woman and her alcoholic boyfriend, their long distance relationship, road trips, lies, and hopes of love with someone else even though they have none for themselves. It is lying in the grass with bottles of beer, consuming, astronomy, purging, hotel rooms and Hydroxy Cut. A girl who never eats or sleeps and a man who never works and can’t keep his promise to not drink. It is a journey to seek life while constantly and quietly inviting death. The combination of faulty relationships, fragility, and the vastness of the universe make for a buzzing, heartbreaking, yet lovely novel that will remind you just how lonely the planet can be, even in the company of other people.
Learning to Love You More by Harrell Fletcher/Miranda July
Learning to Love You More was a collaborative public art project created in 2002 by Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July and consisted of art gallery shows, radio broadcasts, a blog, and a website. Participants were given specific assignments to respond to and then those answers were displayed/posted/read for public viewing. The project was also made into a book that is available for check out at your local library. Some of the assignments posed to participants were as heavy as, "Give advice to yourself in the past", "Spend time with a dying person", and "Write your life story in less than a day." While others were light and fun such as, "Braid someone's hair", "Draw a constellation out of someone's freckles", and "Make an encouraging banner." This book and art project, are great reminders of community and connectedness. While the project is no longer open to participants the website is still available (along with the book) to peruse. Side note: Miranda July also wrote a strange, very original and lovely novel entitled, The First Bad Man that speaks on the need for love on a universal level that is definitely worth checking out as well.
Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness by Ariel Gore
I've never been a big fan of self-help books, and while this one isn’t exactly that (it’s more of a study on women and happiness) it does somewhat have that feel. It’s a quick and easy read with many insightful bits along with a glimpse into the author's personal life which does help to make it not as dry as a book on psychology might otherwise have been. The book discusses important points such as that women frequently put others' happiness before their own and therefore happiness does not always come as easy for them because their hapiness is also mixed up with things such as privilege, marital status, children and social issues. The main message that I liked from the book is that we have to work hard at happiness, sometimes in order to free ourselves from the constraints that our emotions and brains limit us to. This echoes the Buddhist belief that life is full of suffering and you cannot fully experience happiness without it. That it is all in how you respond and react. I think sometimes we have been led to believe that happiness should be simple and easy, but in reality that isn't always the case.