Inspired by Annika’s post last year, I decided I wanted to challenge myself to read only women for a year. The quest began last November, and if you consider technicalities to be what brings the challenge to an end, then I wrapped up the challenge earlier this month as I picked up a few books written by men for a committee on which I’m serving.
I expected to read a lot of wonderful books. I expected my to-be-read pile to winnow a bit. I expected to find some new-to-me voices.
What I didn’t expect was how much my own life changed in the last year.
At this same time, I picked up Pénélope Bagieu’s Exquisite Corpse, a graphic novel that not only hit upon the things I love in a book — a woman gets revenge on an older man who has been using her as his muse, complete with a great twist at the end — but it inspired a piece of creative work I’ve been mulling over for years and years. I then blew through Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise and Anne Thériault’s heart-shattering, powerful memoir My Heart is an Autumn Garage. Moreno-Garcia made me see magic in my life and Thériault reminded me the power in living and telling my personal truth, especially where it comes to my own struggles with mental health.
It was and continues to be Thériault who inspires me through a dream project currently on deck for me.
It was at this time of the year I began practicing yoga. I’d wanted to, really wanted to, for a long time, but I was afraid. I don’t have a “yoga body” like you see on TV, in magazines, across the internet. I’m a bigger lady. But it was the women I was reading who gave me the encouragement to do it. Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It reminded me that my time is mine; I owe it to no one but myself first and foremost, and that subtle shift in my thinking encouraged me to not only get my ass on the yoga mat, but it encouraged me to put myself first whenever I needed to — and whenever I felt like it. That shift from others first and me last rocketed my confidence and rocketed my empowerment. I don’t owe anything to anyone until I want to give myself to others. It’s not about being selfish. It’s about living my life on my terms and not on the terms others,
including especially the patriarchy, put upon me.
Shonda Rhimes cheered me on in this revelation, too, with her Year of Yes, and I hugged that book harder and harder, returning to it in my mind when the going gets tough and when I want to put myself last and others first. Shonda reminds me to say yes to me first.
And it was here, a few months into yoga, a few months into reminding myself my dreams matter and my health and well being are first and foremost, that I picked up my camera. I’d always wanted to try photography but never did. I had every excuse in the book: too expensive, don’t have time, won’t be good at it, who am I kidding. It was Tracy Clark and the contributors of Expressive Photography: Shutter Sisters’ Guide to Shooting From the Heart who told me to shut up and shoot.
It was magic in the stories I read that made me keep at photography and keep at yoga. It was magic in books like When The Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, The Girl Who Could Silence The Wind by Meg Megina, and Brenna Yovanoff’s Places No One Knows that encouraged me to keeping looking and keep seeking. They showed me magic is around any corner, lingering, waiting to be noticed. To be acknowledged. To be pursued.
And it was books like Wrecked by Maria Padian, In The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero, The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace, and a slew of nonfiction for young readers like Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes, Bad Girls of Fashion by Jennifer Croll, and others, which reminded me my life is a story and I am the one who gets to write it. That I’m the one who pursues, who dreams, who makes those things happen.
I’m the one, too, who has to choose to keep on fighting. To keep on developing my path and ensure that the path forward for other women is something they, too, can pursue. These books reminded me everyone has a fight, everyone struggles against restrictions (real and conceptual), and that it’s imperative that I stand up for the things I believe in. That I keep on moving. That I keep on pursuing.
That I keep on being an advocate for the voices, stories, and perspectives other women have.
In reading only women, I’ve done both. I’ve captured this moment in my life, one where I’ve pursued those dreams, taken those leaps, took some wrong turns, stopped to focus on my own breathing, held my whole self on one foot solidly and balanced the desires I have with the world at my fingertips.
And I’ve told a story: one of reaching out of my comfort zone, one of pursuing my dreams even when they make me shake, one of acknowledge and accepting my body sometimes will be in pain or sick and I have to breath through it even when I want to throw in the towel. Because it will get better. Because it’s a reminder to check in.
Because it’s time to sit down with books by inspiring, bold women living their lives and sharing them. Real or fictional, women telling stories, their own or those created in their heads, remind me that my own story has value. And that there are ups and downs, plot twists, new characters, things I can predict and things that I cannot, and it’s okay.
I couldn’t have found any better lessons this year than I have through reading only women. I’m excited to keep listening to their stories, to keep sharing them, and to keep incorporating pieces of those lives into my very own.