Tag Archives: Biography

Chapter Four: Becoming a Woman

If you didn’t read that in a calming, soothing voice akin to Counsellor Diana Troy’s voice from Star Trek: Next Generation, then you have failed me. Go back, read it again, and come back to me with a fresh perspective and better attitude towards the piece I’m about to write. Back? Okay, thanks for that. If you’re male and/or slightly squeamish and are reading this with increasing trepidation that I’m about to go into a Vagina Monologue style rant about my first period or the first time I touched myself, then don’t worry, because I probably won’t. But then again, I might do, because I’m cruel and also because I’m trying to practice literary improvisation.

A lot of the things I read online tell me that gender roles are established very early on in life, depending on what toys you play with, thus, modern parenting techniques advise that parents don’t force their kids to play with toys depending on what part of the toy store they’re in; let kids be kids and choose their own way in life is the mantra. Anyway, I never had that. I played with Barbies and dolls (well, I smacked their faces against walls) I played with prams (ran over bees with the wheels) and played with toy make up and jewellery, as well as girly arts and crafts – I never grew up feeling that my place as in the home or in the kitchen (unless the fridge was fully stocked) and I don’t hold any kind of resentment towards my parents now for me playing with gender specific toys. Granted, I had both of my parents telling me on the daily that I would be a smart, career driven, independent woman who would be able to drive, tell the time without getting confused when the afternoon rolled in and never forgetting which way is right and which way is left, meaning I would just point in directions and say ‘over there’ by the time I was twenty six. Parenting successful, you guys, you can retire now… Anyway, I never felt that my toys were a suggestion of my future to come, nor did I think they were sending me subliminal messages, telling me that I’d make a great home maker/mother/wife, because my parents screamed even louder in my face that I would be AMAZING and BRILLIANT and high fived me when I didn’t wet the bed… In a way, I’m pretty pissed off that my toys didn’t have more of an influence over the adult I’d become, because my favourite toy, Barbie, had an amazing life and other than the subsequent body/self esteem issues I’d undoubtedly acquire by being too influenced by the blonde babe I played with daily, I’d still have been pretty happy with the outcome.

My Barbie dolls were awesome and their lives were pretty sweet. They lived in a giant mansion, all together with their best friends and enemies alike and they’d go on all sorts of adventures and divorce and marry people within a week. Imagine that life? It’d be like Dyansty! More to the point, I’d have been married to a Ken doll and we would have been amazingly well dressed and matching at all times. He would have enormous pectoral muscles, which I don’t agree with, and a questionable crotch region, which I agree with even less, but with the wealth of Barbie and Ken and the abundance of available plastic in the world, we’d be able to sort that kind of thing out, no problem at all. Life would be sweet. I’d also have an entire wardrobe style house full of clothes and every single day would be my first day at a new job. It would be like that first scene in Clueless where Cher is sorting out her outfit du jour via her amazingly technologically advanced computer; the only difference being, that my outfit match would be what I’d be doing as a job that day. My work week may have even looked like this:

Monday: Palaeontologist
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Tuesday: Canadian Mountie
Wednesday: Yoga Teacher
Thursday: Surgeon
Friday: Ambassador for World Peace
Saturday: NASCAR Driver
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Sunday: Princess

I mean, that’s way better than any of your careers, right?

Unfortunately, my toys had very little influence over my life. Unless you count my Speak and Spell which taught me how to spell swear words correctly and maybe my doll pram for killing all of those bees.

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Do you remember watching ‘coming of age’ movies and TV episodes in the likes of Sister Sister, where they’d discuss womanhood like it was some kind of amazing journey we were about to go on, filled with love and romance and in the end, a tub of ice cream and laughs with our best friends for life humans? Then, as it got closer, all it really entailed was a lot of general hysteria at not only your perpetually changing body, but at the entire world around you for being so selfish by not realising your CONSTANT DAILY STRUGGLE WITH EXISTENCE!!! I was expecting magic carpet rides and new found responsibilities that had absolutely nothing to do with shaving my arms or legs, or being metaphorically thrust into the world with new squishy bags on my chest, thus suddenly agonisingly aware of my SELF and the perpetual gaze of the male ascending on me every time I chose to leave the house. It was awful.

Suffice it to say that I didn’t enjoy growing into a woman very much at all; I mean, I love it now, because I’m a woman and I firmly believe that is a great thing to be. I can’t think of anything that wields as much power as a woman’s vagina, except maybe her cleavage in a bar. Or more important things like what a woman has to go through to bring life into the world. There are some people who champion the sheer genius behind sperm and go into advance scientficit discussions about how far the sperm has to travel and out of the millions and millions THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE that assists in the creation of new life.

I’m not sure about you, but when I hear that, I’m sitting there metaphorically patting the head of which ever idiot has come out with that one, before retorting with what actual reproductive heroics actually entails. Firstly, women only have a certain amount of eggs and they start depleting from the moment we start our periods – did you guys know this?! – so when people start talking about biological clocks ticking, they don’t mean that one day you’ll wake up and have an overwhelming urge to reproduce and maybe, potentially steal a baby off the street, like I thought happened… Oh no: It means that you only have a certain amount and that the more periods you get, the more you lose them, because they just disappear. So if you only have like thirty eggs in your uterus and you’ve been a woman since you were like, eleven, then maybe you won’t have eggs in you at all and you’ll be BARRON. Which is really unfair when you think about it, like men can just wank incessantly on the daily for their entire lives and even when they’re like, ninety, they can still use that sperm to impregnate someone. I’m foaming I can’t do that with my vagina eggs.

I genuinely expected that becoming a woman would bring with it some kind of epiphany and that my entire life’s purpose would suddenly become abundantly clear, but other than the fact that I woke up in a pool of my own blood wishing I was born with a penis and that I could now house babies in my womb (ones that were grown there, not just put there as some kind of horrifically upsetting babysitting service) and that the concept of ‘babies raising babies’ suddenly became very clear to me, nothing else really changed. I still liked cartoons and I still believed in Santa Claus and cried when I didn’t get my own way. When I think about it now, I think of it in terms of history and how women throughout life were treated once they began menstruating, relief washing over me when I realised that upon having my period, my dad didn’t trade me in for a few goats to a middle aged man, I was lucky that my dowry remained very much non-existent. I was also lucky that my period coincided with the new millennium; otherwise I may have potentially been procreating for a well over a decade now and making food for a much older man, whose sweaty body had no concern for mine at all (what? The nineties were weird, man!). In a way, becoming a woman for me, meant staying a child, and I found that pretty awesome.

Me, on my 12th birthday, seducing babes, being a woman.

Me, on my 12th birthday, seducing babes, being a woman.

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Yes Please by Amy Poehler

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Being a life-long fan of making people laugh, I grew up believing that female comedians weren’t a thing; I believed I had developed a man-gland that made it possible for me to not only make people laugh, but make men laugh. I thought myself to be quite individual and relatively unique in this department. My comedy heroes growing up were all men and I didn’t resonate with female comedians at all – the only ones I really knew embodied a repertoire that mostly discussed their sexual activities with their husbands and an underlying element of feminist humour that, unless you are particularly feminist, doesn’t win you any giggles on a grand scale and at the time, being a youngster, I didn’t really feel that this brand of comedy, or indeed feminism represented me or my comedic style (I use the term ‘comedic style’ incredibly loosely). When I first discovered Tina Fey and then her work-wife, Amy Poehler, everything changed. These were women who lived and breathed improv comedy and made it their life’s work. They became heroes of mine and I have followed their careers with an almost obsessive compulsion ever since. So, when I heard that Amy Poehler was releasing a book, I had it pre-ordered for months before it turned up on my doorstep. Having read Bossypants by Tina Fey years beforehand, I had incredibly high hopes.

First, let me make it clear that Yes Please did not disappoint me… at all; I devoured it like a hungry wolf and find myself regularly flicking back and forth through the book to find bits I liked and read them again – but I will admit that I did begin reading it expecting to find an almost page for page likeness to Bossypants and I believe that I was almost certainly wrong in that department. Let’s not be naïve here, whilst Poehler and Fey embody a relatively similar sense of comedy, they are entirely different in their delivery and ownership thereof. Whilst I feel that Fey doesn’t own her comedy and seems like she is constantly conscious of her audience, thus making almost every line in her book a punch line, Poehler is the opposite. Whilst Fey’s novel reads like a comedic series of essays with elements of life, work, love and motherhood interspersed, Poehler’s does not. That’s not to say that Yes Please isn’t a laugh a minute, because it really is, I just feel that it is executed in a more effortless manner than Fey’s. Poehler seems to own her sense of comedy as much as she owns her sense of self and reading through Yes Please really feels like reading through the memoirs of someone who is completely and unabashedly at ease with herself in every sense.

To me, Yes Please didn’t feel like reading through a biography at all and when I got past the fact I expected Poehler to use comedy to embellish her life story, it felt really like an inspirational memoir aimed at women who want to feel more comfortable in their own skin. Poehler’s narration feels like an old friend who is subtly encouraging you to be a better version of yourself by coaxing an element of happiness and comfortableness out of your sub-conscious and making it an active sense of your conscious self and is set out into three categories which all read like inspirational slogans for a well-being poster:DSC_0186

SAY whatever you want

DO whatever you like

BE whoever you are

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Each chapter is thus filled with anecdotes, essays and life lessons Poehler herself has learned throughout her life and career in comedy; it reads with relative ease and flows together so effortlessly that you find yourself becoming endlessly inspired by her candidness and gracefully uncomplicated comedic rhetoric that seems entirely unique to Poehler. Whilst reading about parts of her life that she has been hurt or affected by, she manages to make it seem less upsetting or tragic by piling on the inspiration, or using a quip or slice of comedy to lighten the blow – it seems entirely effortless and not at all a conscious attempt to make her seem less vulnerable; instead it just seems like this is the real Poehler – deflecting sad feelings with humour, thus owning it and making it okay. I do exactly the same thing and I have to admit, it helps.

Whilst I have been a fan of Poehler’s for over a decade now, I still found myself learning a lot about her – she is endlessly supportive to her co-workers and peers and has created an almost tour de force of comedy pals that in turn, not only support her but love her endlessly. The piece Seth Myers wrote about her and how they met is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever read, not only affirming that Myers is an absolute angel, but that Poehler is not only a joy to work with, but a joy to know too. I also enjoyed the part she wrote about Tina Fey, in response to Fey’s own excerpt in BossyPants about Poehler – their work-wifery is inspirational and in a sense such a feminist attitude to have towards one’s co-worker/hero/best friend – they are the epitome of women in the workplace, which is such a stark contrast to the media’s representation of women in work, life and play – we don’t actually all hate each other and are, actually, pretty much our best friends’ cheerleaders every chance we get. I enjoyed the graphics that accompanied the piece and her own admission that she would have Fey re-write it for her to make it better; the supportive nature of their friendship is potentially one of the most important pieces for any woman to take away from the novel.

Poehler also has an incredible manner of taking a mirror up to women in society and showing them their true colours; her piece about motherhood in particular was hilarious because it was, in fact, true. Every woman I know who has reproduced and decided to stay home and raise the child and not go back to work, is met with a sense of trepidation, superiority and smugness by women who either have chosen not to have children or who have gone back to work. I myself was in a situation like this a few years ago when I, shock horror, explained I didn’t want to have children until I’d established myself in a career that I felt comfortable and supported in so that I could take ample time off, but then go back. I was met with looks that wouldn’t be entirely out of place from someone who happened to have grown three heads over night. Poehler writes candidly about that in her novel and the life lesson that anyone can take from that is that we’re all different – there is no set rule for women or for mothers, you do whatever it is that you want to do for yourself and no one else.

In short, I found Poehler’s memoirs hilarious, intellectual, inspirational and brilliant; it read like an old friend greeting you over a cold glass of Pinot Grigio and you find yourself becoming sad as it reaches its conclusion. Poehler inspired me and I found myself wishing that I had the same courage and candour to strive towards my life goals with the same unabashed passion and can do attitude that Poehler seems to embody without even realising it herself. As far as my quest goes into reading novels written by hilariously inspirational, confident, independent, feminist women, I have to say that Poehler trumps even the (in my opinion) queen of awesome, Tina Fey. I loved Yes Please and would urge anyone looking for a literary comfort blanket to pick it up and embrace it like the inspirational piece that I’m not sure it was intended to be. I can guarantee you won’t regret it.

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Chapter One: My Glorious Birth

I once said that if I was ever going to write a biographical account of my life, that I would begin with the closing chapter, so that people would be left guessing, rubbing their chins and huddling in dark corners of libraries or book clubs, pouring over the first (last) chapter, wondering if I was a time traveller, or if I had a very specific car that required plutonium, then bits of rubbish and eventually, a train, to work. Mainly because my introductory chapter was going to entail a very specific account of how I died. It would be like that chapter and also scene in The Time Traveller’s Wife where he flashes into the present and he’s bleeding profusely, causing everyone to panic. But, to save this kind of undoubted social upheaval that would pour into the media and social networking networks like a fine, but dangerous wine and vilify me as some kind of monster for the rest of eternity (oops, another plot twist/spoiler: I’m immortal), I thought I’d change tact and start at the very beginning: My glorious birth.

But first, we’re going to need a little background, I didn’t just appear in my mother’s womb unexpectedly, that is nonsense and only believable if it happened in the olden days when apparently everyone fell pregnant at the hands of THE LORD, who was more than a little cavalier at his seed sowing back then, if you know what I mean… anyway, let’s continue:

When my parents first met, they were just a couple of crazy kids living in the midst of the only decade that everyone remembers with heart-warming nostalgia for unbeknownst reasons, given the neon colours, strange pants and terribly big and crunchy hairstyles: The 1980s. Now, I’ve only heard this story from my parents, who, you’ll learn throughout the course of this process are inherent liars, so this may not be entirely true; they may have lied to my sister and me all these years, forcing us to believe in the bittersweet concept of falling in love at first sight, which is apparently what they did. Apparently, my beloved dad was a little smitten with my mam from a distance for an indeterminate amount of time and it wasn’t until he happened upon her one morning as she was waiting for a bus, did he take his chance and bedazzle her with his 1980s moustache and his own car. Anyone who knows me, knows my undying passion for romance and love stories, so undoubtedly this story is my favourite: She was waiting for a bus and he happened upon her and decided to take his chance at love. Like, if John Hughes had been wandering through a tiny, sleepy village in the North East of England back then, he would have definitely cast Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy, or maybe even John Cusak to play my parents and it would have been a truly amazing piece of cinema, with an even better musical score (Side Note: For the rest of the post, I would be happy if you could hum Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds, perhaps the epitome of the 80s right there).

It’s not often that my parents talk about when they met, or really, life before my sister and I, but when they do, they seem to go misty eyed and they look at each other with looks that only two people who know the true meaning of love can look at each other. It would be sickening if it wasn’t so damned romantic and when I see the love they have for each other, I can’t help but thinking that I’ve been so unlucky in love in the past because of my sheer unwavering desire to fall in love at first sight (which, eventually happens to me, but you’ll have to wait a few chapters to get to that part. Or go and read the rest of my blog, whatever) and eventually, hopefully, marry someone I would also call my best friend, like they did. To me, it just makes the fact that I exist that bit more important, knowning that I was conceived in an environment where two people were so in love that about twenty seven years later, they still look at each other all funny when remembering how they fell in love. Aside from the knowledge that they had sex, of course, it’s good to know that I’ve been bred from two people besotted with each other, which not everyone can say, I guess.

I am told that other gloriously romantic and comedic things happened during the period of them meeting and me being born, which pads out the John Hughes movie plot slightly: My mam stubbed a cigarette out onto my dad’s hand and laughed hysterically right in his face as he nursed his injured hand. He lied about being allergic to dogs, to hide a presumably un-masculine fear of a tiny little girl boxer dog (which he would own for the rest of his life, which might just go to show where I get my enormous sense of hypocrisy from! And my ability to tell lies to get myself out of situations I don’t want to be in, too, I guess!) and there’s also a story about salted popcorn being propelled down the aisles of a cinema, shoulder shuddering giggles ensuing,w hcih would be another, very sweet comedic aside for the movie John Hughes would have directed. Maybe my mother (Molly Ringwald) would say something in a voice over akin to ‘From the moment that popcorn spilled down the steps of the cinema aisle, I knew I would marry either Andrew McCarthy or John Cusak, depending on casting, and we’d have two amazing children and a very happy life together… everything became clear then.’ End scene.

Anyway, back to the important part of the story, perhaps the main part of the opening chapter, considering that, without it, I’d not actually be here writing this at all, unless I went the route of the usual blogger and hired a ghost writer (oooh, I went there!), but even so, without the main event, I couldn’t hire a ghost writer, and now I’ve officially ‘Inception-ed’ myself.

I was born on Christmas Eve, which was a full eleven days before my due date and as a result, I have given my mam an amazing story to tell to everyone who mentions the fact that I was born on Christmas Eve. She grins, leans towards the person to whom the tale she is telling and states, “Yes, she was supposed to be born then, but she just needed to be here for Santa coming, didn’t you petal?!” and then she looks at me all proud, because as my mother, of course she is proud for having given birth to a human, but also because she’s proud for telling the joke like it was the first time, but also, I’m guessing, because she remembers it word for word every single time, which is actually a very applause worthy accomplishment, given her forgetfulness. Personally, I don’t mind that I was born on Christmas Eve, but other people absolutely hate it and offer me condolences and pitiful glances before telling me that it must be absolutely terrible to have been born then, because people will undoubtedly skimp on presents, given that it’s the time of giving and whatnot, which always seems a little odd to me… why would one skimp during this time? I’m not going to apologise for being born then if people aren’t going to apologise for their blatant cheapness on the day before Jesus’ birth… Bastards.

Obviously, I can’t remember anything about being born, which is probably just as well. I would feel deathly sorry for anyone who can actually remember being cast into the world via means of a vagina, screaming and crying only to me released into – depending on the birthing process, I guess – what I can only imagine being rivers upon rivers of blood and potential excrement… who the hell wants to remember that freakshow?! According to my dad, I was a really intelligent baby and general medical marvel from the moment I was eventually released from the womb and into the real world (absolutely no shit to be seen, I’m told!). Apparently, I didn’t cry at all, just looked around with wide eyed wonder (or, if I was aware of where I had just exited, absolute terror), and later on, when he was tapping my incubator with his finger, I followed his every single tap with my eyes… let’s face it, if that’s not a sign of a genius baby, then what is? I was also told that I was very long and skinny, which looking at me now seems like a genuine impossibility and I often think that I’m told I was long and skinny with a certain sense of scepticism, like my parents have active conversations behind my back, wondering if they brought the correct tiny human home with them, or if they’ve made a terrible mistake. Because, even though my limbs are pretty long, they are also significantly padded, hence their potential disbelief. But, I guess I look far too much like them for that to be a plausible explanation for having a fat twenty six year old child-woman, so that theory is a bit knackered. It’s still good to know that I was skinny once, though (and will be again! My poor, aching skeleton shouts).

In conclusion, this insightful, entirely truthful, if not slightly melodramatic for literary purposes, chapter on how I was born gives you a little taster of what you’re in for over the coming weeks, months, years, decades (depending on how long it takes you to read this), of what’s in store within my biographical process. It will be, hopefully, a good journey, as long as you remember this: You are literally reading the life story of a nobody… that’s what you’re doing right now. Think about that.

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