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Tuesday
Jan012013

An Unlikely Manifesto: Stories of Being a Girl

I am just stubborn enough to refuse to make New Year's Resolutions. Instead, I'll call them "goals" or "aspirations" or "manifestos". The more I think about declaring this, for myself, the Year of the Girl, the more I am dedicating to it. Everything starts out as a small idea, right? What that means for me this year is that I won't bash other women or share stories online that lend to the narrative of what the world says about women. It begs the question, then: why not Year of the Woman? I suppose it's because I have daughters (who are, of course, grown women themselves) and sons who I want to teach to be more aware of the narrative. It is also because there are a generation of girls who, right now, are growing up with few places to share their stories. How does one grow up into a woman, then? It's a question I often asked myself when I was a girl.

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When I was a freshman in high school I got pregnant and had to quit all of my activities. When I say all, I mean all of them. Show choir, baskektball, softball, track, cross country, jazz dance class.

When I was a freshman in college, I hauled my then-3-year-old daughter with me to an apartment the size of the kitchen and living room in the house I now own. There were concrete walls and a linoleum floor for one bedroom, one bathroom, one living room, and a tiny kitchen with mini appliances. Everything was tiny. The front door was a large, heavy brown door with a faded gold mail slot in the center that opened right to the outdoors so, in the winter, it was very cold. We spent a lot of time in the bedroom, me and Mallory, because we could close it to protect ourselves from the elements that made their way into our living room. It was Married Student Housing, but they let single moms live there. Honestly, it should have been called International Housing because everyone was from another country. Mallory's best friend, a Chinese boy named Pei Pei, used to flip open our mailbox door and peek into our tiny apartment. He only caught me walking around in my underwear one time because after that I invested in a bathrobe whose function was two-fold: (1) it helped me not flash the nosy, poke-your-eyeballs-through-my-mail-slot neighborhood children and (2) it helped me stay warm in our freezing little apartment.

Pei Pei couldn't pronounce English very well and so he said her name as best he could. He called her Mow-ray and came over to play on the cold days and asked if she could play outside on the warm days. Most days he stuck his fingers in the slot to flip up the door, peek in at me as I typed papers on my typewriter at the tiny kitchen table, and yell, "Can Mow-ray come out to pray?"

Play. Of course.

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As a freshman, I needed to take a class for P.E. credit. I chose a dance class because, well, it was offered and would give me the credit I needed.  I wasn’t about to run out and buy tights and leotards because I had enough clothes leftover from the 80s to make a pseudo-Flashdance outfit and it worked. I felt all girly and sexy, striding across the floor and letting my arms make movements they hadn’t made in years.

After that, I needed another credit and my American History professor, a man, told me I ought to take up golf in case I ever needed to play with future clients (maybe he thought I would grow up to be a banker?) or if I ever needed to portray the perfect trophy wife.

I took golf. I figured out the game, learned to keep score, and sucked totally and completely at the game.

I should have stuck with dance class. I should have yelled at him for that.

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It's a good thing I've kept journals all these years. I had forgotten about Pei-Pei and his mother, a lovely and quiet woman who also had a younger baby on her hip if she wan't in the courtyard of our apartment complex in her squatting position. She squatted for hours at a time watching the baby learn to walk while Mallory and Pei-Pei prayed outside. Most often, I could be found on a bench reading textbooks and banging on my typewriter.

I had forgotten that I had these stories. There was no place to tell them except to myself so I wrote them down, in chunks and fragments. It's almost like a poem. At the time, Mallory didn't realize how funny it was that her friend mispronounced words and I found it humorous as this young boy asked for her to pray and how he innocently violated our privacy by looking right into our home.

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Today, I am stronger than I’ve ever been.

Today, I am wise and covet wisdom like a thief.

It is my favorite part of myself.

That does not scare me.

I have shaken off the shame and drawn a line in the imaginary sand surrounding me that protects me from feeling bad about myself just because someone suggested it.

Confidence

Mistakes

Growth

I can be the woman who tries something and fails BUT she gets back up once the dust settles to try it again because that is where learning happens

From the place between the dusty ground of failure

Near the edge of failure toward the precipice of victory

Between those two spaces

The fear of failure no longer frightens me, but succumbing to the desire to comfort and coddle the insecurities of others does

Coup

*format taken from The Manifesto Manifesto by Kimberly Mok

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Storytelling. The Year of the Girl, 2013. I think I've just mapped out some writing exercises for myself.

« Manifesto: That Thing You Want To Say | Main | 2013: The Year of the Girl »

Reader Comments (4)

Amazing Kelly. Simply amazing. I’m printing this out and putting it in my journal as a reminder, as inspiration, to keep me determined and focused on my narrative and encouraging others to own and share theirs. Thank you.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterA'Driane Dudley

I needed one credit to graduate college and I ended up taking golf. It makes me smile when I can throw that out there. "Hey, lets go play 9 holes!"

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeShanee

I think you should take another dance class... I know the perfect instructor!! ;-)

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGina Russell

you are smart and savvy and strong and i love this new year on you.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commentererin margolin

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