She decided to write a story. It would cure her, she thought, or if not
that, at least it would be a real thing to produce and leave as a
legacy. She could try to have a child, she supposed, but you really
can’t control what they turn out to be. At least, with a story, she had
control over its contents even if she couldn’t control its ultimate
influence on every reader. And in that way, it served her purpose.
The thing about deciding to really write is that you either tell
everyone about it or you don’t tell a soul. If you do tell people, they
might harangue you for updates and will almost certainly think you’re
pretentious. If you don’t, they may wonder how you’re using your time.
(the actual beauty of the thing is that one shouldn’t care)
(does the writing of a story transform a person like the having of a
child might anyway?)
She had always been obsessed with reading. She collected information,
she reveled in language, she was deeply curious, and she studied
humanity. She was literally a humanities student at university.
She had a beautiful rattan chair she sat on as she drank her multiple
cups of Darjeeling to prepare to write. It had an old fashioned feel,
which she loved because it reminded her of older homes in India, or
Thailand, or Vietnam. Ideally, you’d have a lazily rotating ceiling fan
or the smell of frangipani from a neatly placed courtyard waft in, but
the mild whiff of Dettol from the floor cleaner and the lingering
fragrance of her tuberose-based Diptique was what existed. Mind you, the
Diptique was called Do Son, and inspired by Vietnam, which in turn
inspired her to buy it.
(Nice, mixing the prosaic Dettol with the poetic perfume)
It wasn’t even the most comfortable chair in the house, but if you
haven’t put a finger on it already, she allowed for atmosphere over
comfort at times. She had decided she would write while seated in this
chair, though that was the limit. She wouldn’t have a writing uniform
like a certain elucubrating Jo March.
So many of her ideas were obviously tied to her own life that Barthes
would do cartwheels in his grave. She had developed a dread of people
becoming very angry, or worse still, passive aggressive and suspicious,
if they discovered she had based a character or even a tiny trait on
them. You need to know that as with any woman of any fight and
substance, she did have enemies. Confrontation became tedious over the
past few years. She thought herself a warrior who had left it all out on
the field and was now better off on the sidelines.
(yet she repeated Audre Lorde’s words to herself so often. If I didn’t
define myself for myself…revolution is not a one-time event...)
It was a certain age, she started, four hours and six months after this
decision. So much hemming, ever so much hawing. Honestly, she had now
run out of excuses to dither. Other writers will understand, she knew.
It was a certain age, and women were beginning to glow.
(she was rather proud of this first sentence - first sentences are so
important. Best of times, worst of times, clocks striking thirteen, Mrs.
Dalloway, Meursault with his dead maman, and of course the wonderfully
apt ‘all this happened more or less’)
It was a certain age, and women were beginning to glow. Glow was a good
word because you could be flashing, or blazing, or softly gleaming, or
loud, or quiet, or crackling, or hissing, or attractive, or frightening,
or radiating, or igniting, or smoldering, or combusting, but you were
steady, and there was heat and life.
She would pick four characters, she decided.
It occurred to her that her mother had always wanted her to write. The
funny thing is this wasn’t going to be the sort of story her mother
(daughters often disappoint)
Back to it. The characters are Molly, Kala, Rosa, and Gitanjali.
Let’s start with Molly. Molly has a child, whom she loves deeply, as do
(do they? the world sure wants to hammer that one in. You’re glowing my
No, he was a little joy ever so often, and had just the right mix of
features that might end up looking handsome when he was older, and he
was already drawn to flowers and crayons instead of screens, so all in
all, Molly did feel happy about deciding she wouldn’t abort. She was a
different person after the birth, but didn’t the idea of aging
gracefully involve transformation?
(she recalls Rebecca Solnit describing something as an anguished
butterfly, transforming. How do you do all that and be graceful?)
(if she misquoted someone here and there, or sounded esoteric, she
wasn’t going to care)
One of the characters should probably be obsessed with a particular
artist, she thought. Let’s say, Baldessari, yes, that would make it
intriguing. Prominent, but still odd enough, and relatively recently
mort and maybe in public memory. Hopper might have been perfect, but he
was oft-used, so she wouldn’t, even though that would have been a nice
little nod to the solitude seeking aspect of a character.
(oh dear, was it pretentious to fling in some French where it wasn’t
absolument necessaire? How could it be pretentious if it came naturally?
It’s so hard to care about things like this all the fucking time)
So, Molly. Baldessari-obsessed Molly would discover that she could glow.
Softly at first, but menacingly too, blindingly; you couldn’t see her
face, like in a Baldessari piece. What makes Molly do it though?
Molly had been having panic attacks in supermarkets for about four years
now. It took her hours to buy basic items because she could not bring
herself to buy plastic packaged things.
(seriously though, it limits a regular consumer in any regular place if
you put that principle in place)
This time, a man in the deli had wrapped her container in cling wrap
film. She had written three reminders to herself to pack the reusable
container even though it made her bag bulky, imagining some sea creature
somewhere would live because of this. She knew the burden should be on
polluting companies and government regulators - mostly in countries with
white people in them. She had stopped flying so much, and started
composting, but no amount of browning banana peels would take her
individual guilt away. The glow helped.
Next up, Kala, who like her name, was artsy and skilled. It’s not
“Kay-lah,” it’s Kala, oh no, people would have to look it up. She loved
the ceramics of De Waal, bought fabrics wherever she went, and had them
made up into gaudy, fun smocks for herself.
(would someone who wore fun smocks like the restrained ceramics of De
Waal? These and other discords)
Kala read one hundred and twenty books that past year and was most
awfully erudite. She didn’t want children for a host of reasons, not
that the decision hadn’t plagued her for every day of her life since the
age of 27. Most thoughtfully and analytically, and with feeling and
careful parsing, she had decided it was not something she would do.
(likely more consideration than was ever put to having a child, she
thought, with a detached frustration as she typed this sentence out)
The world wouldn’t let up. Strangers asked her about her reproductive
plans - shock, horror, and dismay on their faces when she would bluntly
say it was her choice not to have any children. People sometimes assumed
she hated children or that she was too full of it. Didn’t she crave the
joy of children, the joyless wretch that she obviously was without them?
(don’t you love those sad attempts to bring people down or defend one
way of life? There’s some delight in seeing how transparent they are)
It’s not for me, said Kala, this life where I am stepped on. Where
people make me feel small and presume, and assume, and insult. And then
one day as she was doing her daily yoga (it’s like medicine, they say!),
she felt it. The glow.
Rosa, dear Rosa. Her parents named her after the famous one on a bus,
but there is so much more to Rosa Parks than a bus. This Rosa was
incendiary too. She would bear no insult, no aggression, just like her
namesake. Okay, well, also literally.
Rosa had tumbled into a career hiring people for supposedly brilliant
companies. The best and the brightest, the dewiest, the glowiest! She
knew much about human nature as a result. Left alone to do it right, she
would have wanted to change the nature of work itself. There was no
point in that sort of career unless you try to dismantle discrimination
and make people’s lives better. One day, she found out she had been
discriminated against too. She roiled in flames of fury and indignation,
at first metaphorically, and then quite realistically. Her bedsheets
were charred when she woke up one morning - the glow in her was strong.
Should she add more details, like the music Rosa listened to or what she
wore? People love knowing what women wear, don’t they? Too much would
spoil the effect. If there was an effect!
Gitanjali is next. It was a collection of poems written by Rabindranath
Tagore, so did that mean this character is Bengali, or at the least,
Indian? No, it doesn’t have to.
Her hormones always caused so many issues. It was a travesty that there
was not enough attention to female medical needs. Never enough research,
Gitanjali thought, as she looked at herself in the mirror despondently.
But that wasn’t reason enough unto itself to kindle the glow. It was
more that her third start-up failed to raise any money. It had nothing
to do with her business plan, her ability, or the product in
development, but everything to do with the bunch of white men in the
room who decided whom to give money to.
She tired of this story arc, all the story arcs really, because they
were all the same person and all the same thing and all the same shit
and just a circle of never-ending dullness and subjugation to remember.
It was all getting rather too despairing but thankfully she had started
re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark recently. So, from the
edges, came Gitanjali’s glow, lighting her up like a beacon, she wrote.
She wanted this to be published because it felt urgent, so she checked
it for typos like the careful woman she was and sat back to see what
would happen in this, a certain age. Not every story has to be too tidy,
so there didn’t need to be anything else neatly tied to the rattan
chair. What had tidiness ever gotten women like her but more errands to
run and lesser paid jobs?
(dare she follow up? was it enough? what exactly did the glow bring to
the women beyond a bit of sustenance? could she add one more character
who was perhaps severely distraught by the coronavirus, or another who
worked three jobs and couldn’t pay the bills, or another who dealt with
racial abuse all the time, or another who kept getting called by her
husband’s last name though she never changed hers? could she embellish
further with pretty sounding stuff like the museum details or the
Diptique bit earlier? nobody would publish this. It was all too female,
and hesitant. All these parentheses would be judged harshly and maybe
that harshness would be warranted. impostor syndrome in women is real.)
She closed her laptop, white harsh light sinking into the darkness of
the room as the screen closed in on her words. And then, she realized,
there was a glow in the room.