“She had little pieces of paper and notebooks filled with her round, girlish hand, with her proper cursive.”
Last week, I read a Vanity Fair piece about the making of Thelma & Louise written by Sheila Weller. The name sounded vaguely familiar and a search led me to another piece I had read in Vanity Fair, an excerpt from her book Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—and the Journey of a Generation. While I am almost wholly unfamiliar with the work of these women, other than peripherally or accidentally, Weller’s rich prose stuck in my mind. So much so that I chose my twitter handle, and name for this blog, from a quote about Mitchell’s habit of leaving lyrics and poetry everywhere – something I used to do in the analogue days.
Except, here’s the thing. I got it wrong. It’s “proper” not “perfect” cursive. I had revised the quote in my head, giving the speaker an almost scolding tone. “Proper cursive” sounds respectful – amazed at the writer’s technique that stands out in a sea of slanted or illegible scrawl. “Perfect cursive” has an edge of derision; this good girl who pursues straight As, who lavishes on her homework and keeps the torch of meaningless excellence burning, would write in nothing short of perfect cursive. Even with no one watching, she wouldn’t want to disappoint.
The narrative I’ve invented with this misquote is no doubt a reflection of my own. A character transformed and diminished through the years; the pre-lapsed Catholic; the teenager who never smoked, drank or fucked; the woman awaiting permission to tell stories. A song comes up on shuffle, an article flickers in the ether, a book’s spine leaps out in a beam sunlight and I remember the hurt girl I was for so long. The one I felt I betrayed by moving on, getting better, falling in love. The one inspired by others, not overrun by jealousy. Over time, the list of people I admire turned into an acrid catalog of authors, screenwriters, and filmmakers who are better than I will ever be.
Sitting today felt, for the first time, an obligation – in the lighter sense of the word. It was something I had to do, because I do it – not because I was afraid of the repercussions if I didn’t. “Routine” can have negative connotations but at a certain point the things we do become borderless, absorbed. I didn’t want to sit today, but I did. The permission I’ve been waiting for is the permission to fail. And now I’m learning to strive to be…not perfect, but proper. A proper writer.
Best online thing I read today: A Feminist Timeline by Kara Vanderbijl / This Recording
Song I loved today: Frankly, Mr. Shankly / The Smiths