The Give and Take of Writing and Womanhood: An Introduction

By Emily Alexander

st peters stairs
The stairs of St. Peter’s Basilica.

A note about a note I wrote in the empty Saturday/Sunday space in my planner: “Now I take notes all the time, but I couldn’t say why exactly, except that maybe after you become conscious of how you see the world — not from outside yourself, telescopically, but from painfully within — the intent will always be to analyze it.” Several months ago, after discovering a deep and unexpected love for creative nonfiction, I found this essay by Lucy Morris, and started obsessively collecting notes. I’ve always written things down—usually on receipts or mostly surrendered them to lost-ness in pockets or messy desks almost immediately after setting my pen down. I’ve become somewhat more dedicated in my note-taking these days, or at least I’m trying to be; I’ve made an effort to write down everything (a note I found from a tipsy and warm past self, quoting my best friend: “I finished my wine and simultaneously farted. It just happened.”) and tuck it into my journal for safekeeping. These weird saved moments don’t usually go anywhere, but I can’t help but want to keep them.

I’ve been wrestling often lately with why I write and I think I’ve settled somewhere near this idea—this desire to keep these moments, to stay in them somehow. I’ve always been a writer (though I still feel like some kind of imposter when I claim that title as my own; it feels kind of itchy and uncomfortable), as a very shy child (and teenager and young adult, though not to the same painful, red-faced extent of my middle school years), writing was a means of communication and self-expression, the only place I could be loud. To check out more of what I do as a writer, click here!

I started college as an English major. Since then writing has become more a craft and an art form than the uncontrollable mess of feelings I needed it to be as a kid. I think my love for and my desire to write and be a writer (the best writer, dammit) has expanded in my chest, and is undoubtedly, as my poetry professor said, the thing I cannot not do. That being said, I’ll be the first to admit that far too often, I find myself making any and every excuse to not do this thing I supposedly cannot not do. So that’s why I’m here; to embrace and expand in both writing as well as womanhood.

I took a Feminist Theory class a few years ago, which opened my eyes to the important aspects of the movement, as well as what it means to be a feminist. Since then, I’ve thought a lot about what it means to identify as a woman; what that means to me as an individual, and how that fits into this larger idea of womanhood and equality. I am trying to be as honest and self-aware in that as possible, which is my own very broad and summarized version of what it means to be a feminist.

Adrienne Rich wrote, in an essay that had me open-mouthed and wildly thrashing around alone in my apartment, that honesty, for women, is something of a radical, political act. “We have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other,” was a note I copied down and hung on my wall. So writing is a way of not just keeping my moments, but a way of giving as well; a way of sharing what it means to navigate a weird world.

A few weeks ago, I returned to Moscow, Idaho after spending two months in Europe. A note I took after climbing (coffee-less) St. Peter’s Basilica in the early hours of less crowded morning: “all the hands that have run along these walls, and I am running my hands along these walls, touching.”

I want to keep that morning’s view and the coffee shop we finally found later, after descending that endless staircase. I want to keep my best friend’s outline leading me purposefully down a crowded street in Rome, and also the steadiness of missing streets easier to cross. There are smaller places I want to tuck into my pockets: my favorite corner of my favorite coffee shop or the grayed man who orders a bacon omelet 86 potatoes every Monday morning or my best friend’s couch, our skin damp from pressing into each other, the hangovers that lingered through those sleepy summer afternoons. And I want to share them, too. This is what womanhood means to me; this exchange of stories that may or may not be angry, may or may not be boring, may or may not be sad or tired or joyful.

I am 22 and a senior this year. I am a waitress and a roommate and a writer and a woman who often says the wrong thing and doesn’t quite know how to tuck my feet and knees in gracefully. I like waking up early and riding my bike when it’s warm and almost night. I like taking care of people and honestly, above all these things, I love eating.

A note from last night: “The slipperiness of this happy. How do I hold it?”

There’s a lot of goodness around me right now, which is the greatest and scariest blessing. I want to fit it all in my chest and never let it go, but I don’t really know how to do either of those things. I’m at a loss for what exactly I’m supposed to do with it all; the grin from my favorite customer when he sees me walk into work, the lights glowing above my bed and the distant chatter of the nearby bar, my girlfriends and I eating together until we are full. I wake up and go to sleep the same as always, without any kind of grandness other than my small self. This writing is the only way I know how to hold. And how to give. And this is what I want to do as a woman, what I want us all to be doing as people; to give and take whatever goodness we have in whatever way we know how, so we all may grow more fully into our own good hearts.

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