Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Girls Like Us
Now that my dissertation recital is behind me, I have immediately turned to time-wasting pleasure reading in the five or so spare minutes a day that have opened up. A couple of months ago I downloaded Pope Benedict's encyclical Spe Salvi and started carrying it around with me, intending to read it on the subway; but it weighed down my bag like kryptonite, and for some reason was equally unapproachable. So when a friend emailed me a link to an article in Vanity Fair that was an excerpt from the book Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon -- and the Journey of a Lifetime by Sheila Weller (pictured above), I immediately used the back of Spe Salvi to print it out. I devoured the article, and requested the book from the library. It came yesterday, and, in spite of the fact that it's a 500-page hardcover, it feels much lighter in my bag than the few dozen printed pages of the encyclical did.
The book is a compelling read for me, not only because I love the music written by the three artists (especially Joni Mitchell), but also because their lives, as described by Weller, are symbolic of the tremendous disappointment that women have reaped since the 1960s. Although Weller is apparently approving of her subjects' experimentation with the new ways of love, sex, and romance introduced in that era -- ways that ultimately brought grief and even devastation to the three artists (King was married four times; Mitchell bore her only child alone in the charity ward of a Toronto hospital and gave her up for adoption; Simon lived in a codependent marriage to the desperately-addicted James Taylor, until it ended), she also interjects statements that hint that all was not rosy for girls who were "too busy being free." She quotes one of Joan Baez's guitar-strumming college friends, who says obliquely, "There were tears over boys, and a harrowing trip to a doctor who was supposed to be able to 'fix' things . . . It felt like we were both the initiators and the victims of the sexual revolution," and observes ruefully, "If only feminist fortune cookie sentences could, as ordered, change the heart. They couldn't."
The legacy of the sexual revolution has changed the lives, but perhaps not the hearts, of women like me in complex ways. I think sometimes of my fellow female doctoral students and the lives they may be living, and the life I lived before my conversion. I felt as if undergoing devastating loss was part of being a woman, something that a sophisticated and highly-educated woman would have to understand and accept, and that somehow, in the face of irrevocable loss, I would become a superior human being. I wish now, however, that I had never had to lose all that I did.