I have read a lot of memoirs, and How to Grow Up by Michelle Tea is one of my favorites. Michelle Tea is an author, performer, mentor, and advocate for women who write, create, and break the rules. She founded Sister Split, a series of events and programs for female and feminist writers/performers of all persuasions. She is very proactive and someone I admire. At the point in which this memoir opens, she never would have imagined that she would have a fan club. She grew up poor, confused, addicted to various substances (with an ongoing fondness for alcohol), and unsure of her purpose. In this book, one in a series of memoirs, she chronicles her journey into a life she considers adulthood, or, at least, a state of feeling together—like a person with a family, a career, and a community of diverse individuals who look up to her. I have read this book four, or maybe five times, and each time, I remember great things about it and discover new connections with it.
First, I need to state a disclaimer. I get very agitated when my students refer to female artists by their first names and male artists by their last names, as it seems like a diminishment of the status of the women. But I want to refer to Tea in this review as Michelle, because her writing is so accessible, so welcoming, and so full of details of everyday life for her, that instantly, I felt like I wanted to be her friend. I want to meet the characters, some shady, some endearing, with whom she shares various apartments at the beginning of the book. I want to hang out with her on the couch, sip lemonade (or one of her other delicious concoctions), and share stories about living, journaling, and believing our lives are filled with adventures worth writing about. I want to be invited to dinner at her house, at the end of the book, where she lives with the love of her life, Dashielle, and their child and pets. I know my husband, Paul, would find the couple fascinating, engaging, and amusing. He could share his knowledge of vegetarian and vegan food, which is vast, because of the years he spent working in the kitchen of Whole Foods. We could all talk about music, cocktail drum sets, visual and performing art, and how life itself can be an art form.
At first, I would feel like my background, compared with Michelle’s is . . . well, I’ll just say mild and relatively privileged, but then I could relay my own funny stories. I could share my best fashion rebellion—when I had my best friend dye my hair jet black at age fourteen. My mom cried, and so her mom, my grandma, came over a said, “I don’t know, Patty, she just looks Italian.” My grandma was hilarious. I have always been a good student, and my teachers, family members, and friends have looked up to me, yet I could share with Michelle my most amusing story of high school disobedience; In ninth grade, I cut school with my good friend, Chad, who had a reputation of being a “hood” or “bad boy,” and we just went to the mall to walk and scoot around. Someone saw us. Everyone was so shocked and horrified when I was sent to in-school suspension, but I just took the extra time to get ahead on my homework and to read books. I could relay to Michelle the adventures and relocations I have written about, especially in my blog post titled “Ann’s Skirt Hangs Here,” and I know she would love talking about my many experiences with and knowledge of art. I could show her examples of my colorful paintings of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and animals. I would love telling her about the two times I have played roles in Joel-Peter Witkin’s lavish, theatrical photographs . . . But this blog is about her book.
I want to know more about her Stevie Nicks god, fake Johnny Depp, and the Internet girlfriend. Paul and I could share our stories of the Eye of the Tiger jogger, Strawberry lady, Sideburn guy, and the You-Go-Girl girl. Michelle and I would gab about self-publishing, retail therapy, and our unconventional and fun weddings, as well as our mutual need for exercise and the endorphins it produces. If she had time, I’d love to chat with her about our simultaneous attraction and resistance to Buddhism, because of its restrictions. We could bond over our conflicted histories with vegetarianism and our love of well-prepared salads and kale.
How to Grow Up is well-written, detail-oriented, funny, sad, and exciting, and I think Michelle Tea is fabulous! I decided to make a collage in tribute to Michelle. One of the foods she said she enjoyed eating was squash. I printed an image of my painting “Butternut Squash,” which now serves as my right leg in a self-portrait installation. I am greatly inspired by bold female artists who painted objects from nature as if they were animated, like Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe, both of whom created fantastical fruits, vegetables, and flowers that resemble the artistic human anatomy. I pasted the squash composition on a sheet of paper I picked up at the Scrap Exchange that has an awesome 1960s, glittery flower wallpaper design. I think Michelle would dig it.
I also drew a frame with a black permanent marker and a pink ruler. My two hands held either end of the ruler in place, and then, while securing the ruler with my left hand, I used both of my hands to make the mark . . . I realize now, that I don’t even think about the logistics involved, because my actions are so automatic. After I scanned it, I typed the title of the collage on my laptop, a bit furiously, as I was impatient and hungry. I believe Michelle would like my shorthand use of an “x.”
This collage, “Thanx Michelle Tea,” as well as this blog, compose my tribute to Michelle Tea.
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