“The Summer of Everything” Is a Fun and Heartfelt Teen Summer Rom-Com
Summer tends to be the most fun time for teen coming-of-age stories because some of the best ones take place outside of school.
The movie High School Musical 2 and Claire Kann’s book Let’s Talk about Love immediately come to mind. Now, Julian Winters’s The Summer of Everything is adding a new story to the teen summer coming-of-age lexicon, one that takes place in Santa Monica in the fictional used bookstore Once Upon a Page.
One aspect of the book that immediately drew me in was Wesley Hudson’s internal voice. He sounds chill, anxious, and nerdy all at once due to the pressures of adulthood towering over him. A bit of internal dialogue that demonstrates this goes, “Frankly, Wes doesn’t know who he wants to be in five minutes. An influencer? A teacher? Alive after suffering through that last chapter of his mom’s book?” Wes’s voice is also evident in the various lists he makes to weigh his options and determine how much he likes someone or something. For example, his list titled “Five Things I Love the Most” has Once Upon a Page at number two. He calls the store his “safe place” where he doesn’t have any stress and can be himself.
In addition to Wesley himself, there is a wonderful cast of characters that play a role inside and outside of the bookstore. Wesley’s best friend and crush, Nico Alvarez, is a kind and compassionate skateboarder and a good foil to Wesley’s flaws. Ella Graham is a fat bestie with sarcastic wit who is something of a slacker. Kyra is a Black lesbian who organizes the events for the bookstore. Zay functions as a sort of music DJ for the bookstore. Lucas, one of the youngest bookstore workers, is a shy comic book lover. There are other notable characters, too, like Wes’s inscrutable older brother, Leo, but the main teen cast stands out due to their fun personalities and diverse queerness. They are a near perfect cast for a coming-of-age teen rom-com.
With the help of all the characters, Wesley eventually grows into a more mature and level-headed person. One notable aspect of Wes’s coming of age is how the book shows that it is impossible for anyone to be completely sure of what they what with their life by a certain age. There is pressure on teens and twentysomethings to have certain things done in a certain amount of time, such as going to college or having a particular amount of money in savings. As demonstrated by dialogue between Wes and Zay, kids of color feel an intense pressure to live up to their parents’ expectations. Although Wes’s personal circumstances can’t be applied to everyone, there are moments of uncertainty and lack of direction that will resonate with the reader.
Providing the backdrop for Wesley and the others is the bookstore and the Santa Monica area where the story takes place. Both places come to life through sights, tastes, and sound that will even make the most unfamiliar reader feel as if they are right there with Wesley and the others. As someone who has frequented big chain and some small chain bookstores, I found the bookstore interactions were realistic and enjoyable to read. There are stressed-out parents telling their kids to hurry up and pick a book, coworkers “canceling” each other’s music selections for the store, and tender one-on-one conversations.
A particularly endearing aspect of the character interactions is how no particular type of relationship is depicted as more important than the other. This is especially notable given that some teen rom-coms tend to make the romance the central focus of the plot. Wes does have a crush on his best friend, but he also has to work on being a good friend to Nico in the meantime. Furthermore, Wes has to make a relationship with his brother, Leo, work in order to get his help to try to save the bookstore while he helps plan Leo’s wedding. Meanwhile, the group interactions are just as hilarious and heartfelt outside the bookstore as they are inside it.
My only issue with the book is how unrealistic Wes’s living situation seems at times. Even though he does have friends and family who bring him food, has his own job, and can live alone unsupervised, it felt a little weird to not see his parents check up on him more often, even if they are working abroad. It would be more understandable if Wes were living on campus in college, but his having barely any adults around seemed unusual.
All in all, The Summer of Everything is a fun and heartfelt teen summer story. If you’re looking for a bookish, geeky, and queer teen summer novel, then this four-star book should more than satisfy your needs.
Julian Winters is a best-selling and award-winning author of contemporary young adult fiction. His novels Running with Lions (Duet, 2018) and How to Be Remy Cameron (Duet, 2019) received accolades for their positive depictions of diverse, relatable characters. A former management trainer, Julian currently lives outside of Atlanta where he can be found reading, being a self-proclaimed comic book geek, or watching the only two sports he can follow—volleyball and soccer.
The Afro YA promotes black young adult authors and YA books with black characters, especially those that influence Pennington, an aspiring YA author who believes that black YA readers need diverse books, creators, and stories so that they don’t have to search for their experiences like she did.
Latonya Pennington is a poet and freelance pop culture critic. Their freelance work can also be found at PRIDE, Wear Your Voice magazine, and Black Sci-fi. As a poet, they have been published in Fiyah Lit magazine, Scribes of Nyota, and Argot magazine among others.
I understand and appreciate the amount of work and love and labor you have put into raising us.
You and dad came to this country as newlywed young professionals, and together you were always fighting as a team.
You were twenty-one and scared and fought your way through the racist, sexist, classist, homophobic spaces of the west coast, carving a nurturing space for yourself and our family.
You are the lioness, protecting her cubs from each element that is threatening.
You and dad are the first to take on the offender when something fucked up happens to one of us, and I love you for that.
Your words are like tiny swords, each one cutting slightly and swiftly, but deeply.
What I would like for you to understand, though, is how deeply you wound me.
Every time I come home, you comment on my body. I have struggled with my body image issues since I was ten years old.
It doesn’t help me that you were the charismatic 100-lb, 5’4” beloved beauty queen of your community.
Or that even now, after having three grown children, and two grandchildren, you don’t look a day over thirty, thanks to daily applications of Oil of Olay and vitamin E.
But my body? My body is a road map of stretch marks, and I shrink and grow depending on stress, work load, my thyroid acting up, the time of the year.
Every time I come home, I am subjected to your close readings of my body.
Oh, beta, you would be so beautiful if only your belly were flat.
Oh, beta, don’t wear short skirts around the house. Nice girls don’t show their legs to anyone but their husbands.
Oh, beta, why are you single? All of your cousins are married. Your younger brothers are engaged. If you lost thirty pounds, you would find a nice boy.
MOM! You have no idea what my life has been like. I have internalized your words to the point where I wake up thinking about my midsection.
Your voice haunts me. I go to bed wondering when the weight training will start affecting change properly.
The last time I was in fantastic shape, I killed myself every day. I swam and played tennis and danced and ran five miles a day. I broke my body over and over.
I fucked up my back during a period of weight training. My body hasn’t been the same since.
I don’t drink soda, I don’t eat desserts, I don’t eat red meat, I don’t eat white flour, I don’t eat or drink any dairy, I don’t eat fried foods. I cook for myself every day, and I am doing what I need to do in order to survive.
You want to know what my pain is like? This bodily transformation I have undertaken has resulted in a pinched nerve, and a bulging disc, and nearly constant sciatica with shooting spirals of pain running from my lower back down my leg and ankles.
I could barely sleep, much less walk. I have done everything that you and dad said. Education above everything, no? Two BAs, two MAs. I finished a PhD.
All of this financed by myself, through grants and fellowships, based on my merits. And I am not yet thirty.
Graduate school has broken me in so many ways, and constantly being around blonde-haired, blue-eyed, slender, pale, privileged, entitled pieces of flesh does not help my body issues. You try living in X for five years, one of the ghostliest cities on earth.
You try teaching undergraduate students from the wealthiest feeder schools in X, who have never been in the presence of a woman of color who holds power over them.
These students look like Barbie and Ken. I cannot compete with them. I won’t compete with them. The worst part about your words is that you say them with genuine love and concern. You don’t have a malicious bone in your body.
You will tell me these things while we are taking a walk or while you are putting coconut oil into my hair. We can talk about everything under the sun, but when I react to your words with anger and offense, you claim to not intend to hurt me. You say that as my mother, you have every right to say the things you do.
I disagree. I call these microaggressions. Your biggest concern is for my wellbeing, but you seem to believe that I am starved for companionship.
You are haunting me. Your words echo inside my mind, constantly.
I don’t know if it is because there are three weddings happening at the moment in our enormous, multigenerational desi family.
I don’t know if it because you yourself are haunted by your mother’s words.
I’ve seen what Nani says to you. I’ve seen the pain that etches itself on your features.
I’m the oldest grandchild and the only single one, and I am a disappointment in spite of my many achievements.
I wish you wouldn’t bring this stuff up anymore. I don’t quite know how to tell you all of this and have you actually hear me. Crying doesn’t help. Threats to you that I won’t come home to visit don’t help. I’m tired of taking it and it is affecting my wellbeing. I wish you could hear what I am saying. I wish you would stop. I love you more than anything on earth and I wish you could love me the way I do you.
You Have a Body features personal essays on the the ways we reconcile our physical forms with our identities. This series explores how our bodies sometimes disagree with us, how the world sometimes disagrees with our bodies, and how we attempt to accept that dissonance.
I’m twenty-seven years old and have never had a “good night’s sleep.”
From childhood through early adulthood, I struggled to fall asleep at night and fought to stay awake during the day. At its most extreme, my body would demand twelve-hour sleep-wake cycles: refusing to wake up until 3 p.m. and finally caving in to sleep at 3 a.m. Whether it was blamed on technology, caffeine, or another culprit, family, friends, teachers, and medical providers were convinced that it was me choosing to be this way. Part of me believed it, too. TV shows and movies reinforced these stereotypes in my mind. Yet, part of me found flaws in their accusations. The spontaneous bursts of nocturnal energy started long before I ever took a sip of soda or owned a cell phone.
When I turned twenty-three, I started to notice a shift: I began to never feel completely awake. Other chronic illnesses had prevented me from fulfilling my longtime dream of volunteering overseas for the Peace Corps so I did the next best thing: work with international students at a university. My body can’t handle humid tropics or arid deserts but a rural college town would be smooth sailing (or so I thought).
On one of my first days, I attended an early morning meeting with staff from another department. We started off with introductions and I enthusiastically scribbled each person’s details in my notebook, eager to foster this new partnership. Then I felt it. Unbearable sleepiness crept down my body, weighing my head and eyelids down like tar. I wasn’t sure what was worse: “admitting defeat” by putting my head down into my arms on the table to sleep, or enduring the awkward ebb-and-flow of my head with eyes rolled back and mouth hanging open. I figured that at least in the second case, I was somewhat upright and “attentive” (though probably appearing more like a propped-up zombie than a well-meaning professional).
This was my wake-up call. I knew something was definitely wrong. It’s hard enough to be taken seriously in the workplace as a woman of color spawned in the 90s. I am fueled to surpass expectations by every click-baity gripe about millennials on my news feed, every microaggression I’ve swallowed behind a forced smile. Embarrassment, frustration, and desperation drove me to seek answers from various doctors and test quirky tips from online listicles. I had cut out caffeine due to the onset of an unrelated heart condition. I tried wearing orange-tinted glasses to block out wakefulness-promoting blue light from electronics (but mostly just made me feel like a rebel pilot from Star Wars). Nothing worked. I would be so tired that the times that I could manage to call or email in to my supervisor to request a sick day, my slurred speech and nonsensical text led them to jokingly say that I sounded drunk. Coincidentally, the onset of my chronic illnesses had led me to become intolerant of both caffeine and alcohol.
After multiple misdiagnoses, two overnight sleep studies, two afternoon nap studies, and twenty-three years of self-doubt, I was diagnosed with narcolepsy. It took an average of seven minutes for me to fall asleep during the nap series; in one nap, I fell asleep after just 12 seconds! I had also experienced early rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in two of the nap sessions: one after 5.5 minutes and another after just four. To put this into perspective, it typically takes ninety minutes for a person to reach REM sleep after sleep onset.
My narcolepsy diagnosis was a double-edged sword. It was validating because I finally had “proof,” albeit just a medical term, to validate my struggles with sleep to those that had doubted me. I could get a doctor’s note to request accommodations at work. Yet, I soon realized that a simple diagnosis wouldn’t magically make the world empathize with me or work with my new lifestyle. I remember being stuck on the word “narcolepsy” when my doctor first diagnosed me. The only times I had heard it before were in comedic situations. A teenager face-planting into their bowl of Captain Crunch before school. A person slumping down into their chair mid-conversation with a friend. It was more of an old wives’ tale than a potential reality. I can see the gears turning in people’s heads when I tell them that I have narcolepsy. I feel like it’s a word that most folks have heard but never really processed. Narcolepsy is more complex than extreme bouts of sleep and people with narcolepsy are certainly more than running gags.
Sleep can be emotionally and physically draining for people like me. Some aspects of sleep can even be traumatizing. Recurrent, vivid nightmares throughout the night have left me feeling paranoid and jumpy well into hours after waking up for the day. Sleep paralysis is another symptom straight out of a horror film: I’m awake and blinking but I can’t move my body, speak, or breathe. Some folks see demons or hear scary voices when experiencing sleep paralysis. The unfortunate reality is that I have an unrequited love with sleep. I crave it constantly but only receive fractured, unrefreshing sleep in return.
Looking back on my life, I realized how little sleep hygiene was encouraged outside of family and doctors reprimanding me for my personal issues. In elementary school, we had school-wide “fun run” fundraisers and jump-rope competitions. Messaging on milk cartons, cereal boxes, and snacks emphasized each respective product’s contribution to a “balanced diet.” National campaigns promote physical exercise and conscious eating habits to people of various ages and backgrounds. Why doesn’t sleep carry that same weight? Would I have had a quicker, smoother route to diagnosis, treatment, and accommodations with more community education and societal advocacy? Would I have been spared from years of feeling like a delusional, worthless burden?
I had struggled with depression and anxiety since adolescence. At first, I blamed my chronic illnesses for further aggravating my mental illnesses. I resented my nervous system for its inability to function properly, especially at the so-called prime of my life. I wasn’t one to say “no” to adventure. I wasn’t one to flake out on plans. I wasn’t one to show up late to work. I had become critical of myself for becoming the antithesis of the values I grew up with.
As I became more involved with disability rights, I realized that my embarrassment and frustration stemmed from the ableist structures and perspectives I encountered and internalized. Despite being regularly recognized for my initiative, efficiency, and innovation at work, I would be patronized for showing up thirty minutes late or sleeping at my desk during my lunch breaks. I hadn’t known about my rights to reasonable accommodations like flex time, restructured work hours, or nap breaks until I did my own research years later. Family would chastise me for spending family gatherings hidden away sleeping on a couch, rather than acknowledging how much effort it took for me to get ready, show up, and say my rounds of sincere “hellos” in the first place.
Friendships were the most painful gripes. Long-time friends grew uncomfortable with the new “fine print” that came with hanging out. If we went to a concert, I’d need reserved seating (no more mosh pits for me). If we went to a bar or coffee shop, I’d need to stick with water. If we planned a day of sightseeing, I’d need to schedule nap breaks in the afternoon. I’d still be excited to spend time together but these minor accommodations were deemed “boring” or “inconvenient.” If you think about it, many of the things our culture views as “professional” or otherwise “socially acceptable” are unnecessary, ableist, and classist. If there’s one positive aspect of having chronic illnesses, it’s that they’ve allowed me to become better at filtering out fleeting friends, silly “rules,” and shallow activities to prioritize the people, values, and hobbies that are worth my limited waking hours and energy.
Since the onset of narcolepsy, I’ve devoted more time to self-discovery and pursuing what fits my new lifestyle. I used to love the thrill of the outdoors, especially travelling to national parks across the U.S. Of all of the travels I’ve had, it’s the natural scenic areas that are most cherished and ingrained in my memory: from the humbling, giant sequoias of Muir Woods to the tranquil, almost surreal lotus paddies of Cambodia. It’s challenging for me to leave my house outside of work obligations these days because of my chronic illnesses. However, I’ve found that I can bring the outdoors in by tending to houseplants. Many people admire plants for their visual appeal or alleged purifying qualities. I appreciate them for their diversity and tenacity. Contrary to popular belief, many plants can be rehabilitated and eventually flourish with the right care and environment. You’ll often see mushy succulents, ratty ferns, and droopy begonias all bunched together on the same rack in the garden section of a big box store. You’d be surprised how many of those sad, worn-out plants on the sale rack can actually be salvaged.
Like humans, plants are not one size fits all. Even within the same family, different plants can have different needs. If you picture someone taking care of a houseplant, the image that pops into most people’s mind is someone watering it and maybe placing it near a sunny window. Like diet and exercise for humans, there tends to be a limited focus on water and light. The appreciation and corresponding care for each plant’s unique light, water, soil, aeration, humidity, and feeding needs allows them to thrive. It may be different or a bit more work than what you’re used to but there’s nothing like spotting a tiny new growth on a plant that you put effort into. This observation helps me push through times where I feel like I’m being “dramatic,” “inconvenient,” or “selfish” due to my narcolepsy symptoms. I can thrive, as long as my basic needs (however unique they may be) are met and the environment I’m in is conducive to my growth. People with narcolepsy can achieve great things and we need our families, friends, schools, workplaces, and communities to recognize and support that potential. Wakefulness does not equal worth.
You Have a Body features personal essays on the the ways we reconcile our physical forms with our identities. This series explores how our bodies sometimes disagree with us, how the world sometimes disagrees with our bodies, and how we attempt to accept that dissonance.
You are sitting in your friend’s car and you both look exhausted.
You have just left an event where women are telling stories about their sexual assaults. You left that event in the gentrified neighborhood that you no longer recognize, and you are in Rogers Park, another neighborhood where gentrification is being claimed in block-sized bites, but tonight, you and your friend Nikki are staring at the dashboard of this parked car as if it is a small universe. Both of you are grieving and venting.
As a friend, I do not feel comfortable telling her story, but I will tell mine and what her advice was to me.
At this point, I am visiting Chicago during spring break and quietly visiting old North Side haunts—The Green Mill, Rogers Park around my alma mater, Wicker Park, and walking around Belmont. It is 2014. I am ABD, an official Ph.D. candidate, and the dissertation is almost done. I am planning to teach and write.
As I’m walking solo in these somewhat familiar streets since I moved out East ten years ago, I miss this place as a woman who is single again and does not want to support someone else’s career. I am weeping because I am tired of being called angry, crazy, and people assuming that I am intimidating. I feel myself literally curling and drooping because I am home. I find myself looking at so many projects and people that I had touched, and I still feel that struggle for recognition, or at least some affection and a better salary.
The longer I talk to Nikki, the more I finally feel compelled to blurt it out. I’m tired of helping these men who move on to someone else. It’s as if they needed what my friend Lauren called “emotional training wheels” until they were done with me. I completed most of the application for the first fellowship one boyfriend got. I typed another’s first manuscript so he could get it to the publisher. Yet another expected me to clean up behind him and never paid a bill on time while he was writing about another woman. I wrote free press releases and updated the press contacts list of the musician with whom I was briefly involved. I just keep telling Nikki never again.
What she suggested was simple. Write it. Write about how angry you are. Write about how unfair it is, and how you’d like them to feel, even if it’s violent. Even if no one ever sees it. You need to do this. As someone who grew up in a house with an abusive father, avoiding my own anger has been tantamount to saying I will be different, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s been more about being “nice” and “professional,” and the ideas of sincerity and loyalty are very different from what they were in the small town where I grew up.
I thought people said thank you, and if you had someone’s back that they had yours.
I thought people would stop asking me about whether or not one of my partners had “helped me write” something, even if I had more publications and degrees than them. I thought people would not be allowed to act like women are dispensable (because there are always more coming), especially when I know I am a human being with unique talents and inherent value. So, yes, I was angry, but instead of yelling, screaming, neck rolling, eye-popping, or even throwing a blow or vandalizing something, I was finally weeping because I have been trying to be strong and never cry and break down in public. Successful people do not do that. That’s what a nervous breakdown looks like, but the reality is such tears are a release of grief and pain.
You see a book that professes to be about the history of women as writers that is written by a woman, but Nina Simone is mentioned in one sentence.
Another woman of color is mentioned in a list of contemporary writers at the end. You ask yourself, was the Combahee River Collective fighting for such slights? You want to throw the book across the room.
How do I begin to talk about how I cursed out loud at the television when I heard women discussing how the pay gap between men and women is not so significant.
I wanted to tell them that my ex-husband and last boyfriend both made more money than me and only had bachelor’s degrees. I want to tell her that even though my husband promised me that we’d have children, I now have none. Unless I find a job post-Ph.D., I will not meet the financial requirements to adopt, much less pay for artificial insemination or freezing my eggs.
I am angry that I cannot make this decision now without someone else being able to withhold a bodily fluid. I am angry that people have insisted that I burned bridges when they stopped speaking to me. I am angry that divorce apparently means that there is some unwritten protocol that makes women (and some men) like me pariahs among people who knew her before the relationship that culminated in a divorce. I have had other divorced friends literally say, “It’s as if people think divorce is contagious and run away.” I am angry that a promise that I only planned to make once was broken casually, like I don’t want to play anymore. I am angry that people have insisted and suggested everything I need to change in order to find someone. You should smile more. You should dye your hair. You should lose weight. You should try online dating. You should do a personals ad. Can’t you be nicer? Can’t you cook more? Can’t you exercise? Have you dated outside your race? The only thing I have been told NOT to do is try Craigslist, and I have no desire to do that.
I think of a friend in college who told me that she was raped by a crush, I look at writing by young women where they describe what people have said girls cannot do, the names that they get called if they try to be attractive or express themselves, or the stories about abusers of all sorts—boyfriends, parents, strangers, and so-called friends.
I understand women who cannot move on like nothing happened. Things have happened and continue to happen, whether they were inflicted on my mother or men in my own life. I find myself counting moments when men are kind without wanting something in return. There are too many times when I have considered myself “lucky” that I was never penetrated without my consent or concern for my comfort. “Lucky” that I have not been frequently cajoled into doing something more than I might want to do. “Lucky” that I was only slapped once and pinned to a bed by a college boyfriend that I lived with, and “lucky” that I was never sexually abused. “Lucky” that a thirteen-year-old boy was only able to halfway cram his hand down my pants before I fought him off at age seven.
As I meet more women with more intensely violent experiences, I imagine that post-traumatic stress disorder is like someone slapping you so hard that your ear keeps ringing. Then again, I kept waking up with nightmares of my own after the divorce, where I was being shaken, laughed at, and pointed at in dreams that left me in tears. No one physically hurt me, and so people say it is not a crisis.
I have found myself turning off Game of Thrones and CSI: SVU where rape is common fodder for the plot line when other women are in the house. Usually, there are not other men in my house, but I know that they may be harboring their own secrets and pain. I am angry for my friends when I change the channel because their stories have been dramatized on a superficial level. I wonder who else is watching, and if they laugh at these scenes. I want justice and healing for each victim I know, but I am also afraid to hear them shaking.
I am watching Kelis’s video for her 1999 single “Caught Out There” since it is one of the pop music representations of anger that stands out in my memory.
This is the video that Nas claims made him want to know his future wife. I want to know why no one asked if he should have reconsidered, but I know that a woman who asserts herself is attractive, even when people do not want to admit that.
When Kelis’s orange and hot-pink corkscrew curls pop into the frame, her face beneath the profusion of curls talks directly to the viewer as she watches doctors desperately attempting to resuscitate a man who is probably her boyfriend. One would think she would look sad or worried, but instead she says:
“Yo, this song, yo, this song is for all the women out there that have been lied to by their men. I know y’all have been lied to over and over again. This song is for you.
Maybe you didn’t break the way you shoulda broke, but I break, you know what I’m sayin? This is how it goes, yo. Damn…”
She offers physical cues of beating this man. While she sings the first verse, his still body lays on the floor, presumably unconscious, as she burns a love letter. She is asking what she is supposed to do when he doesn’t come home. She screams directly into the frame and throws records, books, couch cushions, chairs all over the apartment. “I hate you so much right now” is punctuated with her repeatedly growling arrrrrrrggggghhhh. The next scene shows Kelis in a bathtub looking at Polaroid photos in which her boyfriend is with different women in role-playing outfits in different clubs. Who has not felt like doing some of the things Kelis does in this video when a lover randomly leaves cues of infidelity?
In the next scene with Kelis, her role is a woman in a dank cell in a dark leather straitjacket. The next scene cuts to her with her hair in braids while she’s wearing pink and sitting on the therapist’s couch, and the bruised boyfriend sits in a chair behind her and takes notes. The scene doesn’t shift until she gets up and starts pushing him. Even though Kelis is toying with the idea that an angry woman has mental problems, she is still angry and pushing away this role of a passive analysand where someone who will never be a black woman attempts to fix her.
Gradually, as the video begins to wrap up, women of different races, ethnicities, and ages are marching out of their houses and into the streets with Kelis leading them. They are carrying signs that say “NO!” and “No More Lies!” Some of the women look like mothers and grandmothers, much older, and some of them in church clothes or bathrobes and hair rollers. It makes me think of the older women I know who have told me that times are different now. We do not have to tolerate that same horrible behavior of infidelity, dismissing and omitting women from discussions and benefits in the larger world, and all sorts of abuse. Then again, I keep thinking that women do not have to enact those same behaviors either, which is why I’ve avoided being angry or acting out the fantasies detailed in Jazmin Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows” or the sadly still relevant imagined violence against police brutality in Audre Lorde’s poem “Power.”
As the accumulated scenes conclude, I realize that the only way I am physically attacking anyone is if they physically attack me. I know I am avoiding beating anyone or vandalizing their property, because I’d just leave. But not everyone leaves, and I understand why they do not, and I understand the anger that does not dismantle male privilege and only temporarily allows one woman to vent about her individual situation. Then, I am reminded of Chris Rock saying he would never hit a woman, but he would shake the shit out of her. It might have been funny, but maybe a man should laugh after someone shakes him.
I have to wonder, what would that anger look like if it was not stereotyped or rendered in creative works?
What if we do not vilify black women as verbally emasculating, sexually available, childishly vindictive, or a stereotypical militant? What if an angry black woman does not have her fist in the air like the horrible 2008 New Yorker parody of Michelle Obama with an afro, a bullet belt, combat boots, and an AK-47 strapped to her back? What if the “angry woman” is silent? What will she look like if she is not crying? That “angry woman” might look like any woman you know.
You are the bloodPoolingWhere I fellYou are the woundBlossomingYou are red lipsSmudged in a circle- Japan.
You were a snowy morningThe likes we woke up to as kidsYou were a clean paper sheetBlinking cursor and a click. ….
(Now I know you are a strawberrySmashed on the spotless floor.)Now I know we are the strawberriesSmashed on your spotless floor. .
You are the red button of panicAnd someone cut the wiring,You are the red zone of dangerOn the maps of dreamsYou are the red targetFull of broken darts tips.
And now I know our heartsAre garbage you don’t know how to sort.
REJECTIONS:NO ONE SITS NEXT TO THE FOREIGNER
The city flickers
through the windows,
the train is panting
with people and silence
I try to worki try to livei try to lovei try to tastei try to be one with youi try not to taketoo much spacei try to fold myselfin an origami cranei try not to be angry whenyou reject me
Hey, foreigner!“you can’t use thisgym, you’ll scare theelderly”“We don’trent to foreigners”“Sorry, it doesn’tmatter that you canspeak Japanese,foreigners are notallowed to live here”“We don’t sell travelinsurance toforeigners”
“we don’t cut blonde hair”“we don’t know how todye foreign hair”“we are a Frenchbakery, but we hireonly Japanese people”“Your name is toolong.”“Your Japanese is toogood, there’s no wayyou wrote this email”
as words bruise our badly hidden heartsas rejections break the strength in our bones that empty seat is the last crackbetween us and youthe last crack that sends us crumblingand no amount of kintsugi* can repair us.
Someone today smiled at me.For a second, I wasa partof this.Whole.Home.The cracks in my heart – gold-filled.*kintsugi: a traditional Japanese art of mending broken ceramics with liquid gold as a bonding agent.
When you say ‘slovenly’do you mean ‘lovingly’?After all, there is LOVE in the center of it,dancing, jumping celebratinglovingly and slovenly as Slavs inviting you to their homesto feast?When you say ‘slovenly’ so passionately,do you mean ‘stormingly’?Slavs have been known to drink thundersand speak lightings, crash into lighthousesand washed away on strange shoresthey’ve also been known to pull peopleinto friendships.When you say ‘slovenly’ so hastily,do you maybe mean ‘sloW-ingly’?As time slows downfor usas we discuss,give our timeto everyone,wander behind the clocks.
When you, so ‘slovingly’ say ‘sLOVEnly’,do you mean ‘heavenly’?To honour the Slavs in space, among the stars,from where borders are blurred?From where we cannot tellthe real meaning of your words.
The way to remove darkness from a room is simply to turn on a light. In the same way to rid yourself of any difficulty, concentrate on the solution rather than the problem.
—Daniel Levin, Zen Oracle Deck
I’m a renewed fan of the manga Fullmetal Alchemist. I watch each episode now with more conscious eyes. View anything from a conscious eye, and it sparks questions of how it relates to life in real time.
Alchemy—a transformational process of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. In the manga, all alchemists create a transmutation circle which allows them to transmute the energy of one source to another of equal mass. However, Full Metal, the code name for Edward Elrich’s character, can do this without a circle—a “secret” he acquired during a risky transmutation exchange.
I considered the art of transmutation with anger, another form of energy yet to be mastered.
Passion, the root of anger, is an intense, driving force of feeling or conviction. Merriam-Webster includes the word “overmastering” in their definition, so it is possible to master our anger through passion?
Feelings of anger tend to be triggered by incidents left bottled up in our belly—the seat of our emotions. The bottled-up feelings burst and transmute into destructive behavior. The aftermath unearths a rebirth that’s not always positive.
Could it be the Phoenix was an angry bird, tired of her old life, and allowed herself to combust to cleanse her spirit of what no longer served her?
My own angry narrative reads of dismissal. Emotions categorized as erratic behavior. People made a point to remind me I have so much to be grateful for, and they aren’t wrong. Just wasn’t where I was at the time. Didn’t have an “anger manager” to teach me how transform those feelings into something useful, so the fire regressed back into a bottle of repression. Anger soon became this misunderstood feeling I couldn’t quite grasp or verbalize. The source undetermined. A dangling feeling that would manifest as manic words on a page or nasty ones spewed at a loved one or unsuspecting innocent.
To say anger is only allowed to those who experience trauma minimizes the experience of another. Being a woman of color, specifically, our anger is constantly minimized as unwarranted banter, but Solange Knowles says, you gotta right to be mad… From Serena to Cardi B, even fellow colleagues in the workplace, all treat their anger as side-hustle emotion with no room for growth and scale.
“Angry” Woman Archetypes
I’m sure the woman with metaphorical platinum spoon gets a deep side-eye when she expresses distaste with her controlling parents. Their constant need to silence her voice and impose upon her an “adult path” absent of her own mind and beliefs. Although their intrusive behavior could be the result of financial codependency or her parents trying to live life through her, we’ll never know, because her anger is dismissed. I mean, daddy pays her way, so what is her real complaint, right?
Lack of individuality becomes an issue here, and the expectation to build relationships off a family name is daunting because no one seems to see them outside of that. Fear of expressing their own free thoughts because it may be misquoted in a public forum for likes and reach.
I contemplate how frustrating it can be. Afraid to speak out and assert their need and desire for individual happiness without being “cut off.”
Maybe the woman in the underserved community never sought to have multiple kids and lose sight of her dreams. Spend half her childhood caring for her brothers and sisters because grandma worked twelve-hour shifts or because mom couldn’t juggle the responsibility alone or because her dad chose the hustle over parenting.
These are only surface issues, though, because I’m sure her story runs deep.
Because many of us only look at the surface, see her pop out that EBT card in Whole Foods, ’cause at least she’s trying to be healthy, we judge. Give her the bootstrap lecture and do our due diligence to hold her accountable for her lack of action. Is she wrong for feeling as if the same government programs geared to help her, enabled her due to lack of resources, restricted funding, or case managers who play favorites and fudge numbers to maintain federal assistance?
A seed to consider.
Then there’s the working woman. She works her ass off for those racks of cash, three weeks PTO, and the self-care indulgences each quarter, but that hard work hasn’t netted her anything besides net pay. The proverbial glass ceiling, quite the reality, and the need to take a leap became the daydream that keeps her up a night and doped up on caffeine. She fears trotting down the same path as the woman she saw at Whole Foods swiping the EBT card—though secretly she wishes it was her. The anger courses through her belly and grows. At her break point, she expresses her disdain with the economy and tax bracket disparities during her monthly girls’ brunch, but her friends quickly remind her should be grateful she can even afford brunch.
But should she?
Each day, she navigates through the “big boy” terrain, shattering glass ceilings left and right. Constantly planning her next move, only to be told she isn’t qualified to make one but too qualified to stay where she is and can’t seem to get the qualifications that would make her qualify for the qualified.
Angry they can’t seem to break through. Angry that friends and family minimize their experience into simple affirmations to be repeated three times, while you spin around and touch the ground, but that isn’t always realistic. Their feelings, our feelings, in this moment, right now, are realistic, and it behooves us to constantly tell women they must wish them away as if they never existed. As if their anger, no matter the source, is invalid.
When did we become Justice?
An Angry Solution Prescribed by Alchemy
I sought alchemy as the perfect resolution to our anger because it requires us to master our emotions yet doesn’t dismiss or minimize what we feel. Our anger evolves into a solution, not a problem. The fuel we need to propel forward. The idea of alchemy requires our focus on passion as the source and to reconfigure it into useful matter. Full Metal uses his alchemic power to emerge an iron staff from the ground and fight against his enemies.
Are you willing to use your anger as a means to fight against your enemy?
In this case, the enemy is self: woman vs. woman. Anger as an alchemic formula for healing requires us to be like the fire bender and redirect the energy into a new passion. We deconstruct the old path and reconstruct a new one.
If you are the woman in the underserved community, can you take that anger and use it as fuel to push through the roadblocks? Make those “superiors” your footstool. Demand your worth because, deep down, you’re worth more. Are you willing to see yourself as the Phoenix, burn down everything you thought you knew, rise from the ashes, and soar?
As the working woman, can you wrangle your anger and create your own position or start a company of your own? Design a way to kill the narrative that you are only as good as your last good deed, master your finances and carve out the best life you can possibly live. Are you willing to accept that you alone are the master of your destiny?
To the platinum spoon baby, you are not your parents’ name. Understand that an angry woman with money longer than a man’s peen is the world’s greatest threat. Can you tap into the likes of every woman who’s played the boy’s boardroom and be the Queen you are? You run the board. Allow your anger to be the leverage to attain your “pawns,” find you a good rook and work the hell outta that board. Money and status may be an access key, but it is your passion, through anger, that will set you apart from all the other players in the room.
Instead of a lightning bolt of rage, we must create a metaphorical transmutation circle and transmute our anger to solutions. Anger is rarely, if ever, viewed as a gateway to a solution because it is seen as a fault. “Miss Which” in A Wrinkle in Time gifted Meg with her faults as a superpower. We when accept our anger as a solution, as opposed to a fault, we become “passion alchemists” and use that energy as a portal to set ourselves free. When you claim agency over your faults, no one or thing can own you.