"I figured they were lying to me when they told me I was good. I was a loser who had flunked out of school for being sad. I was a phone sex worker who lived with my mother. All of a sudden I was in the casting office of the guy who had discovered Macauley Culkin. Seriously, what the fuck?"
If you've ever seen Gabourey Sidibe work, or cackled at her Twitter, or loved on her Instagram, you probably have a sense of how effervescent she is. She comes across as one of the coolest people on the planet. But even if you've never heard of her, her memoir, This is Just My Face, Try Not to Stare is well worth putting at the top of your to-read list.
I got this book for Christmas, and was really excited to finally read it after it had been on my TBR for the entire year of 2017. I immediately started reading it, and it didn't take long to devour the whole thing. Gabourey writes in a conversational tone, but her unique (and utterly engrossing) voice is unlike any I've read.
Her writing embodies a central conflict: that between simultaneously possessing tons of confidence and none at all. While she really seems to know, and live comfortably in, her intelligence, beauty, tenacity and drive, she also battles depression, self-doubt and the lingering psychological effects of the eating disorder that controlled her life in her early 20s.
As humans, we like to categorize things into neat boxes and lines. We can find it hard to grasp that the same person who not only projects confidence, but really feels it, and knows that they have immense intrinsic value, can also feel worthless. At the exact same time.
This inner conflict is something Gabourey writes around and through, and the very fact of this illustrates how awesome she is. It also acts as evidence for her acting talent. She is curious and observant- about herself and other people, about the world around her. I'm not expert, but I feel like this is pretty crucial when it comes to acting.
I loved reading Gabourey's stories. She writes about her childhood, how she felt about her parents, her family life, and her African-American and Senegalese identities. She writes about being ever-confused in her own views on dating and marriage: "Getting married is so fucking normal, and in the right case, a healthy way to grow. Normal? All of my instincts tell me you run in the opposite direction." I relate to this sentiment particularly hard.
She tells of her years-long job at a "phonesexery," where she felt both degraded and depressed as well as smart, responsible (she earned decent money and inadvertently built her acting skills), and grateful for the inner power she cultivated by learning from the many plus-size Black women who populated the office. Her view of this time in her life as both horrible and amazing fits with the theme of complexity that runs throughout the book and describes both her own life and the world in general.
Gabourey also recounts her many random, almost unbelievable encounters with psychic strangers on the streets of New York, all of whom insisted to her that she was special and destined for great things. Her relationship with her body and her lifelong anxieties and desires surrounding money and fame is revisited throughout the book. Her mother has been fairly famous all of Gabourey's life, commanding a confidence, drive, and amazing singing voice that garnered her an enthusiastic following from singing in subway stations, and later an agent who had her touring the world and singing. Gabourey's complicated relationship with her mother, who she adores and also partially credits for her financial anxieties in childhood as well as an adult, is as knotty as any mother-daughter relationship, and another highlight in this highlight-filled book.
Through all of her essays, Gabourey maintains her own crackling sense of humor and shining voice. Also, you won't believe some of the coincidences that happened to propel her out of the throes of depression and desperation into the homes of millions and greater peace with herself. It almost makes me believe in the power of the universe. I will be ready and waiting for her next book!
"How many psychics does it take to convince a sad little girl that she can be much more than the world is telling her she is? None. She's got to be able to convince herself to show up for her own life."
I rate this book 5/5 mermaid tails- go read it!
Here's what else I read
- We Were Witches by Ariel Gore. READ THIS. It is so good. Poetic, yet easy to read. Full of stony truths and humor. It's been called genre-bending, which is a phrase I dislike because it implies inaccessibility, which is something this book is not. It is a fast read, but you probably won't read it fast, because you'll be busy underlining and dog-earing and wanting to read passages over and over. It's also extremely well-structured, carrying its themes and nuances and repeated phrases all the way through from the first page to the last. And the language! Just... here:
"Can I stop over tonight?" he asked on the phone now. "I got a hundred bucks."
I knew it didn't matter if I said yes or no, but for the record, I said, "Yes." I said, "Sure." And maybe that's the part I shouldn't tell you: as often as I tried to lock it out, I invited male violence into our home.
I invited it in, again and again.
I felt sorry for it, I guess.
Poor little angry, hurt boy left out in the cold.
Poor little male violence.
You can climb my hair.
War or skinned knee or sexual illiteracy, mama feminism wanted to hear about it all. She wanted to dust us off, end our racism and our misogyny, bring us to orgasm, and send us on our way to succeed or fail with love.
- Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton. I'm not done with this yet, but I love it so far. It's haunting but gorgeous and hopeful. The characters are all marooned in literal and figurative ways, from the arctic circle to the outer space, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how their paths will cross.
- Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is a good listen for anyone feeling open to a little creative pep talk. I could tell how genuine Elizabeth Gilbert was in her voice, which was nice. But I would give the caveat that by the end of the book, it feels like you've been listening to the same thing for 5 hours.
- We're Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union. Highly recommend this one. Gabrielle Union is a near-perfect human, and listening to her tell her own stories was a total joy. Trigger warning for sexual assault.
- I'm Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi. Another total winner. Luvvie is so funny and insightful. Totally worth listening to.
- The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. I have mixed feelings. I liked listening to an accent-appropriate reading of a book so firmly rooted in a specific place (Orkney, which is an archipelago I really want to visit, also because I'm obsessed with Scotland's landscape). Amy's story of recovering from alcoholism really effectively showed the dullness, pain and monotony of the daily struggle, interspersed with magical moments of appreciation for the natural world around her back on Orkney. But I found some parts kind of boring.
- Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson. This is the month of listening to some rad pop culture women read their stories out loud, and it has been fantastic. (I wrote a little about the case for women's voices in audiobooks over on violetthings.com, because I've been thinking about it). Mara Wilson's Twitter is a magical wonderland, and so is this book.