In recent entries on this blog, I mentioned being troubled by people’s tendency to invest intellectual energy in illusions instead of analyzing the real world carefully. Janice Erlbaum’s memoir of her troubled teenage years (of which the paperback edition was released last month) is a great exception to that tendency. It’s full of ugly yet utterly familiar moments of depraved human behavior — family conflict, crime, drug use, homeless shelters — and Janice, bless her, describes it all in detail with humor but without sugar-coating any of it. While the book might be eye-opening for some people who couldn’t imagine a smart, spunky girl ending up homeless, it would probably be even more eye-opening for people who think homeless teenage girls have hearts of gold, sort of like Oliver Twist’s. It’s hard to keep thinking of them that way after they do things like try to stab our heroine Janice.
Even when describing more mundane environments, Janice is unsentimentally frank. She has the honesty to note that in her high school, as in essentially all high schools, there was a clique of tough, brutal, often sadistic males who had fawning female groupies, Janice among them — while most of the girls scorned the majority of their own suitors. We also get to see the painfully cyclical nature of Janice’s mom’s attraction to abusive boyfriends who became abusive pseudo-parents to Janice. And we see Janice escaping some of the worst parts of her existence only to wander unreflectively into some pretty hardcore drug use — an aspect of the book as revealing as the glimpses of homeless shelters, at least for those of us who were lucky enough (as I see it) not to be teens in New York City during the 80s. All this street-level rough-and-tumble stuff is something of a welcome break from the usual theoretical-type-stuff I read, by the way, with the grittiest and realest volumes usually no scarier than, say, Laura Vanderkam’s Grindhopping, not to be confused with Grindhouse (which may actually have made less money), about how to use real-life job experience to start your own business. No stabbings in that book, interesting though it is.
Despite all the violence and trauma in Girlbomb though — and a few well-earned poignant moments like Janice’s brief glimpse of her vicious, seemingly inhuman, teen-girl attacker’s teddy bear — Janice turned out to be a swell human being as an adult and, as the book does not say but as I’ve seen with my own eyes, she has become a talented stand-up comedian in addition to being a successful writer and volunteering at a shelter for homeless teens. In fact, despite my recent anti-feminist blog entry, I liked Janice’s act the first time I saw it in part because it was overtly feminist, resulting in a couple memorable jokes such as (this may not be verbatim, and my text won’t hold a candle to her delivery): “It bothers me when people call lesbians man-haters — I mean, what do lesbians know about hating men?” and “My feminist demands aren’t that extreme; I just want the simple things — like to be able to eat a banana in public without feeling self-conscious.”
And speaking of likable feminists, I should mention two others: (1) Jen Dziura, one of our debaters at Lolita Bar last week, who displays an admirable grasp of economics in her almost Seaveyesque new list of ten reasons to reject feminist arguments that housewives “should” be making over $130,000 for their labor, and, more important, (2) my very new girlfriend, Koli, who, as some of you will be unsurprised to hear and others (mostly less-charitable or simply less intelligent readers) will be shocked and confused to hear, is a smart, tough, outspoken, argumentative lawyer who considers herself a feminist, leans Democrat, says she’s become slightly more sympathetic to religion with age, teaches homeless kindergarteners without getting paid for it, and thinks she may eventually want kids but seems to be enjoying putting up with me in the meantime (she even saw Spider-Man 3 with me, and a nerd can’t ask for more than that, if he knows what’s good for him, so precise political positions are secondary). In any case, she’s rational, kind, funny, and emotionally even-keeled, and that is rare, despite all that stuff people try to tell you about everyone being created equal. (We met through a CitizenJoe.org event, so here’s a big thank-you to its organizer, Julia Kamin.)
Perhaps I should devote more time on this blog over the summer to talking about concrete things like relationships — and some science — and leave the political theory aside for a bit (once I get back from a trip to DC tomorrow for one of my thrice-a-year visits to the brilliant writers and editors at the Phillips Foundation, that is). And I’m not just suggesting that shift in emphasis to help keep the girlfriend happy — though she hasn’t actually gotten around to reading the anti-feminism entry yet, and it might be wise not to try her patience too much right off the bat.
(Did you know, by the way, that founding anarchist William Godwin was married to founding feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and that their daughter, Mary Shelley, was arguably the first science fiction author and was in turn married to poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, co-founder of Romanticism? Surely there’s a lesson in co-existence there for us all — or just another, very, very extreme reminder that talent is not equally distributed between families. What have your close relatives accomplished lately?)