Posted in Music, relationships

Playlist for the brokenhearted – or songs I play when I just want to feel the feels ;)

London weather often lends itself to emotional reflection. So I decided to make this playlist on Spotify as a soundtrack to when I just want to emote. Let me just say that I have not had reason to be heartbroken in a while, but that’s probably because I’ve decided to have a heart break and just stop trying for a while. I have been able to relate to most if not all of these songs at one point or the other in my life, but I’ve mostly gotten over it.

So here’s my playlist, aptly titled ‘Hurt’ with a sad face emoji.

I love most of the songs on this playlist. And I think its just got a good mix in there, from the first stage of broken heart when everything just hurts so much that you can’t imagine  ever getting past it, to the time when you’re mostly ok and ready to go back among the living again. Let me just say though, and I speak from experience, that the decision to ultimately live your life again will only come from you. You take as much time as you like to process your feelings, do not allow anyone to rush you. However, don’t take too long wallowing in the past and things that can never be that you forget to enjoy the promise of tomorrow, and the hope of what else is still to come to your life.

Here’s my personal favourites from this playlist, with the lyrics that have really resonated with me when I was struggling with my own broken heart. 😉

Gravity – Sara Bareilles

“…I live here on my knees as I try to make you see that you’re everything I think I need here on the ground. But you’re neither friend nor foe, though I can’t seem to let you go. The one thing that I still know is you’re keeping me down.”

Oh Sara, sometimes you just have to know when to let go when you love someone so much that you start to lose yourself.

Baby Don’t You Break My Heart Slow – Vonda Shepard

“I’d rather you be mean than love and lie. I’d rather hear the truth and have to say goodbye. I’d rather take the blow, at least then I would know. But baby, don’t you break my heart slow.”

I think there’s nothing worse than being in a limbo of uncertainty. If its over, I’d rather just know.

Boys Don’t Cry – Plumb

“I used to hold your hand, so tight there was no question. But now even when you’re near, I’ve never felt so alone.”

Ah, that feeling of desperation when you just know something’s wrong but don’t have the courage to ask or know for certain.

Congratulations – Blue October

“I came to see the light in my best friend, you seem as happy as you’ve ever been. My chance of being open is broken and now you’re Mrs. Him. My words they don’t come out right but I’m trying to say I’m happy for you. I think I’ll take that drive, I wanted to give you something I’ve been wanting to give to you for years: my heart”

When I first heard this song, I think I was 21 at the time and still getting over the fact that my best friend (whom I’ve been in love with for the better part of 5 years) is with another girl. I think I nearly died from heartache (insert eyeroll here). I’ve mostly gotten over it. But I’ve also promised myself I will never fall for a friend ever again, its just a special kind of hell. Shout out to Stephenie Myers for recommending this song when she posted her Twilight reading playlist.

Keep Breathing – Ingrid Michaelson

“I want to change the world instead I sleep. I want to believe in more than you and me. But all that I know is I’m breathing, all I can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing now.”

Yep, this is the first phase. That curling up in bed, crying your heart out and ignoring the world phase when even breathing seems to take up all your energy. This one was famously played on the Grey’s Anatomy Season 2 Finale and its still one of the most epic scenes I’ve ever seen on telly.

Gale Song – The Lumineers

“…and all this too shall pass, this loneliness won’t last”

It will pass, hang in there.

Not As We – Alanis Morissette

“Day one, day one: start over again. Step one, step one: I’m barely making sense. For now I’m faking it till I’m pseudo making it. From scratch begin again, but this time as I and not as We.”

Whenever I feel like I’m finally ready to move on from whatever heartbreak I’m going through at the time, this is the first song I listen to. I think its just got such beautiful lyrics and everyone can relate to it. Anyone who tells you that its easy to get over someone is lying. Sometimes you’re only pretending to live your life again, but that’s ok. Eventually, you’ll stop pretending and start living again. Until then, fake it until you make it.

I Got You – Leona Lewis

“Coz this is love and life and nothing we can both control. And if it don’t feel right, you’re not losing me by letting me know.”

“Go ahead and say goodbye, I’ll be alright. Go ahead and make me cry, I’ll be alright. And when you need a place to run to, for better or worse I got you.”

This. This is the way to break up or get over someone who hurt you. Really, most of the time no one sets out to intentionally hurt another person, it just happens. We want what we want, we love who we love. We can’t force ourselves or other people to feel something that’s not there. I came to the conclusion, even as I was wallowing in sadness, that I value my friendship with the guy far too much to lose it over something neither of us could have controlled. So to you, you know who you are, despite everything, I got your back.

I’ll Be Okay – Amanda Marshall

“I’ll always have the memories, she’ll always have you. Fate has a way of changing, just when you don’t want it to.”

“You can’t hold on forever baby. I’ll be okay.”

And you will be. Stay strong. Have a glass of prosecco, hang out with your friends, take up a hobby. You are bigger than your heartache, you’ll be okay.

 

 

Posted in Books, Feminism, relationships, Women's literature

Review: Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye and the dynamics of female friendship

There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women
-Madeline Albright

This is the second in my series of reviews of Margaret Atwood’s books. The more I skim through her body of work, the more apparent it becomes that women – their roles, their relationships with men and with each other, and their daily struggles – are central to her writing. Cat’s Eye is heftier than The Handmaid’s Tale and it took me longer to finish this book. It also took me a while to sink my teeth into the writing, but when I did I was hooked. There were moments when I wasn’t quite sure what I was reading, but the prose was so beautiful and lyrical that I just felt compelled to continue.

The quote above was famously posted by Taylor Swift during her beef with Tina Fey (who wrote Mean Girls, interestingly enough) after the latter made a joke about her during the Golden Globes. I confess that I myself don’t have a lot of close female friends. I don’t know why, but I’ve always gravitated towards male friendships because I just find it more…simple. I’m not sure I’m using the right word. Let me try to explain.

I always feel like I can be fully myself around men. I have a lot of female friends and some of those are friendships that I know are for keeps. However, its not always easy for me to open up and be vulnerable with other women because I’m always afraid of being judged and found lacking. I get that that’s probably a symptom of some unresolved issue, possibly from my childhood, rather than a reflection on the kind of friends I have. But its the truth nevertheless.

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Cat’s Eye tells the story of Elaine Risley, a somewhat famous Canadian painter who’s come back to her hometown of Toronto for a special exhibit. While there, she’s haunted by memories of her childhood friends, particularly Cordelia, who was the little ringleader of their group.

The story alternates between the present and flashbacks of Elaine’s childhood, starting with the day her family moved to Toronto after a sort of nomadic lifestyle (her father, I just learned from Wikipedia, was an entomologist. I don’t know why this was never clear to me while reading the book). Elaine’s a bit awkward when it comes to social situations probably because she’s only ever had her brother to play with. She also seems to be more comfortable playing with boys than with other girls.

After about a year of living in Toronto, and just when Elaine probably felt like she was finally getting her sea legs with it comes to her friends, Cordelia moves into the neighbourhood and becomes the Queen Bee of the group. I think she must be like a young version of Regina George from Mean Girls.

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The title of the book was taken from a special kind of marble (the toy) that Elaine has and proceeded to keep in her little red purse, which gave her comfort whenever she felt like life was getting her down. It was her little secret, something that no one else has and no one else knew that she was keeping it, and especially not Cordelia.

Sweet little girls, my butt.

Cordelia’s presence changes the dynamics of the group. Elaine, because of her obliviousness and awkwardness, becomes a target for bullying. And its the kind of bullying that girls at that age seem to specialise in. I know this because I was probably once one of those girls. When I was 10, I was a part a group that consisted of the most popular girls in our year. Other girls looked up to us, they all wanted to be part of us. I always felt like a fraud back then because I could not see what was so special about me. The other girls in the group were all prettier, richer, funnier. I was just the smart one. I was too young to realise there was power in being smart and clever. I always felt like I wasn’t good enough. And just like what the other girls did to Elaine, there were times when I was deliberately excluded and alienated because I did something that the group didn’t approve of. One time I apparently got too friendly with a guy our queen bee just happened to have a crush on, I wasnt even aware of this and yet they made me feel like rubbish for a week. I think that was my first insight as to how hurtful group think among women can be. 

And just like Elaine, I knew that the worst thing in the world would be to tattle. I mean, I was never driven to it. I eventually grew a pair and started to come into my own power. The worst thing was that when I did, I perpetuated this cycle of bullying by turning into one of them. We zeroed in on the other vulnerable members of the group and just teased them mercilessly. Wow, this is the first time I’ve ever had the chance to recollect these memories and I am really ashamed of myself.  We made other girls cry. We called someone fish-face behind her back and proceeded to spread the nickname to the other people in the class, and it caught on like fire. We got the telling off of our lives when the girl we were calling “fish-face” cottoned on to it and decided to do the right thing and tell her mum about us. I suppose we were contrite, not because we felt bad for calling her fish-face but because we had been caught doing it. We then proceeded to ignore her afterwards. She became a pariah for like a month (which is like a year when you’re in middle school).

Elaine went through a more traumatic experience when the group decided to throw her hat into a ravine and when she was then forced by Cordelia to fetch it. They had all been told tales of bad things that happen when someone goes down into those ravines. But nevertheless, it was hard to stand up to peer pressure. So Elaine went and nearly freezes to death. In her delirium, she thought she saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary which enabled her to stand up and somehow get home. Her mum suddenly became fully aware of how much the situation has disintegrated, and the girls eventually apologised albeit insincerely. There was the sense that Elaine had betrayed the group by bringing a grown-up into the situation. It was after that that Elaine finally had the courage to “break” with the group.

You never really get over it

Elaine kind of repressed the whole episode. She would eventually move on to high school, do quite well, get into art school, do quite well, have a husband, get divorced – you know, the cycles of life. Throughout all that she would meet Cordelia sporadically, and the repressed experience would influence most of her life choices and especially her art. You know that girl we called “fish-face”? There’s no telling just how much we’ve altered her life because of that episode. God only knew whether she had fully internalised the whole thing. I can only apologise for making her a victim of my attempt to cover up my own insecurities back then. Because if they were busy bullying her they wouldn’t be bullying me. 

What it all comes down to…

I have a somewhat simplistic credo in life that I apply in all my interactions with other people, but particularly with other women; and its that I will never say anything about them behind their back if its a thing that I can’t say to their face. I also now choose friendships on the basis of whether I can truly open up and be myself when I’m with them. However, it is my belief that – just like love – you can never really be open enough to give something of yourself if you’re not whole. Like, allowing yourself to be bullied or to pretend to be someone you’re not just to be accepted is a symptom of someone who’s not comfortable in their own skin. You have to love yourself first before you become involved with others, whether its relationships with men or friendships with other women. If Elaine had loved herself more, she would never have allowed her life to become what it was. She would not have needed to use her relationships with other men as a crutch for when she was feeling unhappy or empty. She would never have allowed herself to be defined by who she was to others. She would be happy just being Elaine.

I guess the greatest compliment I can pay this book is that it will make you think, and it will mean different things – and be given different interpretations – by different people. It will resonate with anyone who’s ever had to go through the dynamics and politics of childhood friendship.

Happy reading, bookworms!

 

 

 

Posted in Books, Feminism, Politics, Women's literature

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale and what it means to be a woman

I went through a phase last year where I suddenly felt like I should start reading books that are grounded in reality, books that will actually teach me something rather than books that merely perpetuate the myth that a woman needs a man to feel complete (ahem, romance novels). It then got me thinking about feminism, how far we’ve come in terms of achieving equality between the sexes. At the same time, there’s a sense that there’s still so much more we’ve yet to learn.

The Romance Novel: One step forward, two steps back?

Take romance novels, for example. To be fair, they’re no longer the bodice-ripping rompers that they once were. There are less plot lines of women being captured by barbarians-masquerading-as-heroes who are then imprisoned in some castle in the middle of nowhere and virtually raped. Johanna Lindsey is an author that gets a lot of flack for her love scenes, and to be honest when I was younger I never even thought about what her books meant or what message it sends to young girls like me. On average, girls of my generation probably started reading Ms. Lindsey’s books at around 13-14. That is a very impressionable age, and its around that time period that we form a mental image of what kind of woman we would someday like to become. Its at that age where we need strong positive influences more than ever.

I loved Johanna Lindsey’s books when I was younger and to be honest, I don’t think I’m the kind of girl who would internalise whatever it is that I read from these books. I was fully aware that these books are fantasies. I also had strong role models growing up. My aunt is unmarried, but she’s achieved so much in her life that no one would ever say her life is somehow less just because she’s not a wife or a mother. She’s worked for 30-something years, on her own I might add, in the United States to provide a roof over her brother’s heads (including my dad) when their parents died. When our family business was failing about 15 years ago now, she came out of retirement, went back to the States and resumed her career as a teacher even though she was nearly 50 and dammit, deserved to be relaxing in a beach somewhere after all her efforts. But she unselfishly took on the problems of the family on her undeniably strong shoulders, and I am where I am now because of her courage and selflessness.

The point is, not all girls would have role models like that. For some girls, these heroines that they read about in books form the backbone of their mental image of what it means to be a woman. So I get the backlash now, with the maturity that comes with age. Books like Prisoner of My Desire are not appropriate for young girls to read, and thankfully, young girls these days are so conscious about feminism that those kind of books would probably have less of an appeal anyway. We’ve come that far at least.

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Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale

This brings me to Margaret Atwood. I would recommend her books not just for women but for readers of every gender because they deal with subjects that are so relevant in society today. The best book to start with, and undoubtedly her most famous published work, is The Handmaid’s Tale. There is so much discussion surrounding this right now because it was recently adapted for television on Channel 4 (in the UK anyway). I’ve never seen the series but I read the book late last year and it gave me the creeps. That was my first impression of this book: it gave me the creeps. 51VHe12RxJL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

This story was described by Margaret Atwood as not so much science fiction as it is “speculative fiction”. By doing that, she’s basically saying that it doesn’t take much of a stretch for this book to become our new reality. In some developing countries, it probably already is. The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, who lives in a time where birth rates are falling and where women are basically useful only for their ability to give birth to a child. They are sent to some kind of school that teaches them to handmaids. It teaches them to be submissive, to be obedient and subservient; it basically stamps out any sense of individuality they might possess and turns them into nothing more than vessels of procreation. When they ‘graduate’ they join an official’s household and takes on the name of that official. So Offred is literally of Fred. In that household, she might as well be just a uterus. She exists only for the monthly ‘ceremony’,  where she engages in sexual activity with the ‘husband’ while his wife holds her hand.

The alternative to this demeaning existence is exile and death. A woman has no choice but to submit basically. In addition, there is a finite number of years for her to achieve the goal of childbirth because these women are not taken into schools in the first blush of youth as I initially thought. Through flashbacks, it turns out Offred was previously married and had a child of her own. Then some kind of war or revolution happened and the whole world changed. Anyway, they’ve got about 5 to 6 years before menopause happens and they outlive their usefulness in society.

There are so many themes to explore that I don’t even know where to begin. I guess the overarching theme is that of the woman’s place in society. Its like the novel is saying, who are you if you’re not a wife or a mother? In this world that Margaret Atwood has created you can only be either one or the other. This really resonates with me because I’m nearing 30 and I am in no hurry to settle down and procreate. Never mind the fact that I’ve not met anyone I can imagine spending the rest of my life with, I just feel like there are so many things I still want to do. I haven’t even found my life’s passion yet. I don’t think nursing or even teaching is my passion, although I am quite passionate about the latter. All I really know is, I would like to have the opportunity to explore what it is that gives meaning to my life.

It would be easy to vilify the wives in this story. After all, they seem like they have a cushy position. They don’t live in fear and they don’t have to submit themselves to a demeaning ‘ceremony’ every month. However, they are just the other side of the same coin. All the women in this book are victims. The handmaids because of the role that’s been set for them, but also the wives because of the sheer nothingness of their existence. They are barren and therefore useless. They can’t even be partners to their husband because they don’t get to have a say, or to make decisions. They’ve given up their right to expect fidelity from their husband because of their inability to bear children. So, what are they really? I don’t think there’s anything more painful than a life lived in perpetual inconsequence. 

A slow and painful death

There’s this one scene in the book where Offred is just staring at the walls. I think she was carving something on the bedposts for lack of something better to do, I can’t remember what exactly it was she was doing. The only thing I remember was the overwhelming feeling of boredom that I felt when I read about how she spends her days. I think about the days when I don’t feel like going out, I just want to stay in bed and be alone for once. But then, I have the option of watching television, or reading or writing a blog. Because I am allowed to cultivate my mind and to enhance my knowledge. The women in this book are barred from anything that might stimulate them to think. God forbid they should have one original thought, or any thought. They can’t even read magazines, for crying out loud, not even Cosmo? You would think Cosmo would be encouraged. Isn’t it all about pleasing men? Buy this product, wear these clothes, learn this sex position and the man will be your slave. I could be totally wrong here, I haven’t read Cosmo in a while, they could be all about empowering women now for all I know. I just make it a point NOT to read fashion magazines anymore because it just does nothing for my self-esteem.

God, I can’t imagine a world where I am not allowed to read. But then, wasn’t it only in the last century that there was a big to-do about women being allowed to enter into universities? In the 1950s, weren’t there separate colleges for women in universities such as Oxford and Cambridge? Even now,  I sometimes get comments about hiding my intelligence when I meet a prospective date because apparently an intelligent woman intimidates and drives away men. That’s absurd. Any man that I would even consider dating would have to be strong enough to handle the fact that I have a brain and am not afraid to use it. I don’t suffer fools.

What’s in a name?

The women in this book are not allowed to use their given names. They are instead identifies by the name of the head of the household that they enter. So there’s Offred (Of Fred), OfWarren etc. I would like to say with conviction that I find this demeaning. But then I remember a conversation I had with one of my Italian friends about taking on your husband’s surname when you get married. I was raised in a culture where I just assumed that this was an automatic thing for you to do. You get married, you take your husband’s name and so do your future children.

Apparently, in Italy (and other major European countries) this isn’t a given. You have a choice to keep your surname (or hyphenate). At the time, this was a major revelation for me. It made me think about how I would probably rush to change my name and how proud I would be to wear my husband’s name. Is this a step back from feminism? Am I somehow less of a feminist because I see nothing wrong with changing my name when I marry? Is it somehow seen as a mark of ownership, that I am a property of my husband or something?

I don’t see it that way. Maybe I do still have an idealised view of marriage and being a woman. Those Johanna Lindsey novels may have influenced me more than I thought. I just think of marriage as having a sense of belonging, like you entrust your life to this person who you know will support you, keep you safe, cheer you on, celebrate your achievements and will always have your back no matter what. Taking the name of your husband is a symbol of that trust and that joining. I don’t know, I could be totally wrong here, but that’s how I feel. If my feminist card gets revoked because of it, then so be it. I can’t pretend to change my opinions to please anybody.

Feminism and fighting for women’s right to make their own choices

The Telegraph published this great article about why The Handmaid’s Tale has made such an impact. The truth is, this book hits closer to home than we would like to think. An Anti-abortion bill is now either being passed or has been passed by the Trump administration in the US. In the Philippines, the church is still adamantly against any form of birth control other than the calendar method. The use of a condom is akin to murdering an unborn child, never mind the fact that its just safer these days to use one. I suppose because the church is still under the impression that people don’t have sex outside of marriage (let us all laugh). Women have been fighting for control of their bodies for ages and its a fight that doesn’t seem to have an end. For as long as women can bear children, men seem to think they have a say in what we do with our bodies.

Okay so women are educated now; they can even have careers. But when they marry, they’re still expected to prioritise taking care of the child. I get that, but shouldn’t the husband have equal responsibility? Here in London, I know couples who work on alternate days so that one of them will always be around to care for their children. I suppose that’s because no one can afford to raise a family in London if only one parent is earning money. I find that practice admirable. However, in the Philippines, I know a few women who, back when I knew them in school, were one of the smartest women in our class. They graduated with honours in university and had several prestigious job offers. They gave all that up because their husband was earning enough money and expected them to stay at home to take care of the children. Meanwhile, my other friend postponed her wedding to her rich boyfriend because she insisted on going to Canada and getting her residency there. She refuses to waste 4 years wherein she studied Nursing, just to become a housewife.

It all comes down to choice

All these women that I know had one thing that the women in The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t: the right to have a choice. I think for me, that’s the kind of feminism that I’d fight for: the right for women to make their own choices. Do you have what it takes to make it as a lawyer? Great, apply to university and get a degree. Its your choice. Don’t want to marry? Don’t. Its your choice. Don’t want to take your husband’s name? Don’t do it, its your choice. Don’t want any more kids? Have a tubal ligation, its your choice. Accidentally pregnant and don’t want a baby? Have an abortion. Its your choice. I may not necessarily agree or see the reason behind why women do the things they do or make the decision they make, but I absolutely agree that it should be the woman’s choice. No one should get to coerce or make these decisions for them.

Make the choice to read The Handmaid’s Tale if you haven’t already. Enjoy, bookworms!