24 January 2013

Thank U, Kate Bolick: Single Life and Educated-Class Grievances, and Non-Fiction

This post is, perhaps, long overdue. But such are the wages of grad school, one might say.

I really enjoyed "Uncoupled: Kate Bolick and Michael Cobb Talk About Singles," the Center for the Humanities event last semester on November 29. Kate Bolick and Michael Cobb are old friends from their days at Colby College in the 1990s. They're both doing work about being single in today's world.

Bolick knew she wanted to write about women and culture, she told me, and figured that, with her interest in design, a way to support herself was by contributing to the women's magazine market. This strategy was so successful that Bolick became an editor at the (let's be honest) design fetishist holy writ Domino magazine.

Bolick wrote the article titled "All the Single Ladies" for The Atlantic Monthly. In the November 2011 issue, I want to say. This issue, frankly,  was lying around the apartment during the Spring 2012 semester for weeks and weeks before my then-boyfriend brought its merits to my attention.

The crucial point for his English major self was the way Bolick's article pointed to the importance of friendship. Friendship--and, of course, community--had been a crucial theme in his thinking and mine. Community is become the holy grail of liberals/progressives. Friendship, though, not so much.

Friendship fascinates me. Over the years, I've read books and articles like Ethan Watters's Urban Tribes. But I did not want to be the one to split that Thursday night's air with the word "quirkyalone." Yes, maybe this maybe-single-folk-ought-not-be-second-class-citizens zeitgeist, if you will, bubbles up on the regular. (Or maybe it has since Xers like myself started acquiring cultural capital?) And, yes, it was I who, lo! back in the mists of time when, forty-ish folks will remember, there was a such thing as Friendster, organized Madison's first International Quirkyalone Day party.

I recall in college very (self-)consciously not throwing over plans with female friends for date-like activity with guys. (As Bolick or Cobb said: "It was the nineties.") Because I knew from my Y chromosome-lacking companionship being dropped like so much of a hot potato the instant one of my female friends "landed" a boyfriend.

What we had seen over and over again in our own lives or in reading about others' was that people are people. E.g. there may be norms, ideals, and even laws, but those abstractions mean little when they run up against human beings chock-a-block with contradictions, desires, emotions, thoughts, and universes.

It would be feckless of me to talk about nascent friendship studies (I kid!) without talking about queer and alternative cultures. I believe Dan Savage when he says straights are becoming more like queers. Straights are learning there's more than one way to organize life, that it isn't necessarily dyadic or be damned. Yes, these currents or alternatives have been there for a long time. (See Bertrand Russell. See Bertrand Russell's parents in the 19th century.) But now, perhaps, they dare speak their name in the mainstream.

What's so threatening about talking about the fact there might be actual value in being single and/or the importance of friendship? Well, lurking in the background is the discursive Pandora's box that will unleash non-monogamy, open marriage, married folks who don't share a household, and all manner of anarchy that will be the kindling that sends the good, decent society as we know it up in godless flames.

If the price of holding civilization together is treating the single folks like second-class citizens in the social, political, and economic spheres, some will figure, well, so be it. The match for the kindling, though, others would counter, has already been struck and is, in fact, at work.

The very personal, idiosyncratic value of going to this Center for the Humanities event was encountering what for me Bolick embodies as the passion of non-fiction. That is, she presented herself as writing from a place of deep commitment. Which, unsurprisingly, caused me to reflect, to want to be like her in some way--to be passionately engaged in life, in discourses, and in writing.

And the thought crystalized: that has something to do with non-fiction. The individual's passion/talent and the world's need converging, and all that.

Which makes me really glad I get to take Rob Nixon's non-fiction class this semester.  What a lucky girl I am...


  1. Single? Make the best of it as long as it lasts. Don't think too much. Avoid excessive amounts of anything. Do your dishes right away.

    1. Dishes, yes! But c'mon. Single folks are totally vilified; or do you disagree?

    2. "Vilified?" If it is happening to me, it must be happening behind my back. I don't experience vilification openly. However, my sense of it is women are more likely to fall prey to it because our society is a tad skewed. But "totally vilified?" I don't believe even women are totally vilified. This is not to say it isn't painful. I'm only saying that "totally"" allows no wiggle room. "Absolutes" tend to be problematic in any discussion.

    3. Hmm. Perhaps this could be a fruitful research project for you, Howard. Maybe you could ask women you know well from various age demographics if they ever felt or had other people make them feel they were not ok/normal/worthwhile/etc. because they were not in a relationship or, at the very least, dating someone. I'd be interested to know what they say. :->


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