I love Michelle Tea. I can’t say much more than at 22 years old I read Valencia and finally found a literary voice that sounded like my own. Kind of breathless excitement about life, stories and a fascination with other people and my feelings and how they affected one another. Reading Michelle Tea told me I could be a published writer, too. It also told me I could maybe one day be an artist and have an amazing group of inspirational kind of reckless friends and all of those things came to pass.
How to Grow Up is her latest memoir. I have read much of her work over the years and I think it is my favorite. Her writing has evolved a bit, it’s still chatty like a friend telling you a story over coffee rather than writing a story and letting you read it. But the sentences are tighter, shorter and the sentiments are clearer. Also, she has a lot of really deep self-reflection and self-compassion that sharpens what she says through lessons learned. It is familiar to her early work but it is a different and more developed literary voice.
It’s written in essays, which makes it easy to read in chunks, but it is also very difficult to put down!
I thought at first that the book was basically going to be an almagamation of her great column in xoJane Getting Pregnant with Michelle Tea. (I remember a road trip a couple of years ago where I would take breaks from driving at gas stations and read a couple of articles on my phone.) I was totally wrong about that, the pregnant stuff is only a couple of chapters and it is in a more nuanced, self-reflective tone than the columns.
Her book covers so many topics like doing the work on yourself so you stop dating people who stomp all over your heart, going to Paris fashion week, deciding whether or not to drop being a full-time artist in exchange for steady employment, getting over a huge break-up, having a wedding without spending a fortune, and so much more. I related to so much of it on such a deep level.
In November 2007, I had just been dumped by my fiance. I was devastated. My friend Mamone was in DC (I was in NYC) at the Sister Spit show and, knowing what a huge Michelle Tea fan I was, asked the group to pose with this sign to make me feel better! It was such a wonderful gift to receive this photo!
If you out there are reading this blog post, I think you should buy Michelle’s book How to Grow Up. However, these people in particular are going to love it:
Working class folks.
I love how much Michelle Tea talks about money, her feelings about it, growing up working class and oh my goddess how being an artist with an uncertain income is affected by that working class upbringing. I have never read anyone talk about the intersections of those two realities about money–working class/poor childhood and taking the leap to freelancing. It is scary as shit and I need a lot of tools in order to navigate this. I’ve already begun using one of her tools, which is to invite her higher power into
Spiritually curious people.
Michelle opens up about her spirituality, including a Stevie Nicks higher power that helps her through things. Tarot readings, how she meditates, explores Buddhism and explains some Buddhist principles in terms of hilarious real life examples of her love life. She also talks about how meditation has really helped her navigate life with more stillness. And the weird fears we get when we venture into a new kind of deeply religious or woo place with ritual and worrying about getting it “right.” I related so intensely to that I put that sentence in “we” and I’m not going to edit it.
I’m a super spiritually curious person, I’m always interested in hearing folks spiritual practice and woo modalities, so I loved that thread throughout the book.
12 Step People.
I’m paraphrasing Michelle in a blog post I can’t find that I read a few years ago that she breaks the 11th tradition of AA about being anonymous at the level of press, radio, TV and films–being transparent about where her tools for sobriety came from–because she couldn’t have gotten sober without it. Not telling people about her work in AA would be like lying and acting like she could have done it all on her own.
Anyway, she has so many great recovery gems going on in the book in some ways I felt like I was reading really engaging sobriety stories. I found a lot of good tools for my work in my own 12 step program (for family and friends of alcoholics) and I will recommend this book to my pals in recovery.
I have been thinking a lot about whether or not people who don’t like 12 step language or tools would be put off by the book and I don’t really think so. (I know a lot of folks who had parents or former partners in recovery who have been really damaged by recovery language and don’t like it.) It doesn’t overwhelm the content, and if you take what you like and leave the rest you’ll still enjoy it.
Political people like queers or femmes who critique the fashion industrial complex but also love it.
There’s a whole chapter about Michelle buying her first designer piece, a leather hoodie, and all of the feelings that come up about it from her working class background and history being a vegan punk. How her deeply committed political beliefs are complex and how she had to learn to lighten up a little in order to actually enjoy life and eat enough food to live off of. Um, also there’s a whole chapter about Michelle deciding whether or not to get BOTOX.
On a personal note, this was the first time I read a Michelle Tea book and actually knew some of the people she talked about because our queer worlds are very small. I had always wondered if I would read a Michelle Tea book one day and know people in real life, and then it happened. Knowing who they were did not change how I perceived them independently of the book and also it did nothing for deepening the story since Michelle writes very well from her own perspective and experience. I kind of thought if I knew someone and read about them it would be a thing but it wasn’t.
(I am always curious about how people talk about people they know and use pseudonyms and all of that because of my blog and the memoir I’m working on. My privacy ethics are very nuanced after years of blogging, but I still sometimes feel nervous about people’s reactions to being in print.)
I highly encourage everyone to buy Michelle Tea’s How to Grow Up and savor it. You will love it.
And then consider picking up Valencia because it rules.