In her memoir Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, Kate Bolick shares lots of labels for a single woman: Old Maid. Single Woman. Ex-Wife. Girl Bachelor. New Woman. Femme Fatale. Barbizon Girl. Grande Dame. Gregarious Recluse. Bag Lady.
There are more that she doesn’t mention that I use: Llorona. Solita. Chingona.
The one that sticks is: Spinster.
“I am a Spinster!” – was my sigh of recognition after reading this book. I am in good company. Bolick and her five “awakeners” make me want to write more, read more, and embrace my spinsterhood more. Watchate. This book is an anthem that will awaken every single American woman that reads it. Damn. I’m going to grab a microphone during the height of Fiesta at Market Square and throw a grito: “Que Viva la Spinster!”
Although Bolick comes from a privileged background even though she says she doesn’t, she offers insight about being a contemporary single woman in the United States that reverberates cross-culturally. Sort of. She has a childhood room to return to, for instance. A luxury few in my circles have.
The book is part history lesson, part confession. Even though Bolick uses first initials to refer to past loves, her confessions are real. The book is an intriguing read, mixing the evolution of American feminism with chisme.
Bolick poses an important question: “What if a girl grew up like a boy, with marriage an abstract, someday thought, a thing to think about when she became an adult, a thing she could do, or not do, depending?”
I first thought of marriage when I was five year-old. I sat with my mother in the car outside Crest Fruit Co. in Alamo, Texas, waiting for my father to get out for lunch. My mom stayed at home and raised five kids; we ate home-made tortillas every day. “I found my husband,” I remember saying to Mom. “His last name is Barrera, too, so we’re getting married.”
Thirty-eight years and seven marriage proposals later, I remain unmarried. Because no man has agreed to a separate alone space. I dream about having Frida and Diego’s set up in a marriage.
It is women who whisper “Ya se paso el tren” behind my back at family gatherings. Seems like my family has given up on me marrying. As I get older, these whispers have become almost nonexistent. They know what I have known all along: I let the train pass me by intentionally. Bye-bye train. I’ll hop on and hop off when I want.
Bolick writes her decision not to marry by threading the lives of five American writers into her own. She calls these five women her “awakeners” and describes how each one has made an impact on her life: “I’d encountered each awakener at my own coming-of-age as an adult,” Bolick writes. Each of these five awakeners were also single and they are now part of my reading list, (along with numerous other book references she springs up throughout the text).
Bolick’s five awakeners and their pivotal works-to-read include the following listed below. These writers taught Bolick how to “think beyond the marriage plot.” You will need to buy the book or find it at your library for the complete Works Cited and Consulted page, because Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own creates an instant reading list.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay: Poet. Born 1892. Wrote A Few Figs from Thistles, the first book Bolick hid under her mattress. Won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923. “To know her was to be seduced…her era’s version of a rock star,” writes Bolick. “In a world that still takes for granted that ‘respectable’ people either repress their emotions or flat-out lie about them, [Edna’s] insistent truthfulness was just as radical as her sexual adventuring.”
- Maeve Brennan: Essayist. Born 1917. Wrote The Long-Winded Lady – “the poetry of everyday life, but in essay form.” Bolick writes, “Maeve embodied my longings – for an independent self, a writer self, an elegant self.”
- Neith Boyce. Columnist. Born 1872. Wrote “The Bachelor Girl” column for Vogue Magazine at the tun of the 20th Bolick describes that Neith “invited readers to ponder the true stories of a real-life happily unmarried woman.” A Bachelor Girl must “be confident…wear clean clothes…surround herself with like-minded people, …[and be] self-sufficient.” Neith also wrote novels; Bolick’s favorite is The Bond.
- Edith Wharton. Novelist. Born 1862. Wrote The House of Mirth. First published at thirty-five years old. Won the Pulitzer in 1920. Bolick writes that Wharton taught her “to live happily alone requires a serious amount of intentional thought…(Bolick) had to break whatever chains were holding me and actually start writing for real.”
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Born 1860. Social Visionary. Wrote The Yellow Wall-paper and Herland. She decided not to marry at age twenty-one, but ended up married in 1884. Bolick describes Gilman as having “a will so ferocious that even bad luck couldn’t weaken it.” She was in the Rhode Island School of Design’s inaugural class.
I am amazed that I connect with Bolick’s experience of being a single woman in the U.S. She even equates being a single woman to being an artist (like me): “Just as the artist arranges her life around her creativity, sacrificing conventional comforts and even social acceptance, sleeping and eating according to her own rhythms…so a single person needs to think hard to decipher what makes her happiest and most fulfilled.”
Bolick writes in vivid language, even when it’s a sad memory: “My mother was a deflated life raft in a sea of white sheets.” She was twenty-three when her mother died. Bolick writes: “I can’t erase the fact that the first day of my adult life was that morning in May my mother took her last breath.”
I was the same age when my own dad died of cancer. One of our final conversations at the hospital concerned me marrying R, my first fiancée. Instead of engagement rings, we did engagement tattoos. The R is still visible, but fading away, on my upper ass. We never married.
When Bolick writes, “I’d ruined a perfectly good relationship for no good reason,” I can totally relate. I did that. Just last month.
Like Bolick found her awakeners, this book found me.
The author arrives in town for the San Antonio Book Festival. You will probably find me sitting in the back row at her talk embracing my spinsterhood with chardonnay in a coffee cup. Join me.
Full Disclosure: San Antonio Book Festival Executive Director Katy Flato sits on the Rivard Report board of directors. Learn more here.
Top Image: Image Courtesy of www.latimes.com