These “immortal” words were penned by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of “Eat, Pray, Love”). They’re probably not immortal at all, actually. She probably just penned them to publicize her latest tome “City Of Girls”.
If you’ve been reading my ramblings for a few years you probably already know that I’m a big fan of EG. She’s a darn fine writer and more importantly, a damn clever girl. And truth be told, it was her famous memoir that compelled me to write this blog. In my own voice. As she had written her adventures. Once I realized that I didn’t have to BE a “writer” and all I had to do was communicate my thoughts truthfully from MY perspective, well, the words started tumbling out. Or I guess rambling out might be a better turn of phrase.
So I just started reading Ms. G’s new book and I’ll admit that much like her previous work of fiction (“The Signature Of All Things”), this one is a slow starter. So slow, in fact, that after about 50 pages (and dwindling optimism) I almost gave up on “City Of Girls”. I didn’t. And I haven’t. And I’m happy to report that now, more than a third of the way in, I am becoming more interested. The characters are more interesting. More rounded. More compelling.
C of G starts out in the 40s, when good girls were just that … good. Women were supposed to be virgins until marriage. Moral propriety was instilled from a young age. Wanton behaviour was unacceptable and a reputation was something definitely NOT to be ruined.
At least that’s what I think. You see, I wasn’t around in the 40s. I’ve just read books and watched movies and listened to my mother. There were rules. Rules were meant to be followed.
This new book (at least so far) takes an entirely different approach. New York City is a veritable den of brazen delights, meant to be sampled nightly by our gorgeous heroines, soaked in gin and cigarettes, jazz and juke joints, countless pliable males and sex, sex, sex!
Which got me to thinking about my (misspent) youth.
You see I kind of straddled the sedate 60s (hey, I was a baby) and the swinging 70s (where I grew up in a hurry) and even the easy 80s (before HIV scared the hell out of us all). I was a late bloomer sexually and yes, there was a very real part of me who believed my first lover would become my husband. Now even if he had, my mother would have been none to please that we consummated our love prior to wedlock. As a matter of fact, when she found out I had gone on the pill she didn’t speak to me for two weeks. My father, on the other hand, said “That is something you tell your father and NOT your mother!”
Well … okay then. The truth is I always had some rebel in me and by the time I reached the end of high school said rebel could not be contained. She was ready to take the wanton world by storm!
Maybe an exaggeration. I actually did marry the second guy I slept with. That blessed union lasted an entire year and it was then and only then that my wild child was born.
I embraced freedom (from my parents, from a husband, from society’s outdated codes) with a fevered ferocity. I was always honest and I was always kind (I hope) but I wasn’t always a good girl. I mean, I think I was a good girl. I was a good friend and a good daughter (TO my parents, not FOR them) and I was a good sister and a good roommate (I had the best – oh God, the adventures she and I had!). But I no longer attached sex to love. To happily ever after. To husband material only. Sex was interesting. Sometimes fun. Sometimes entertainment. Sometimes a crashing disappointment and sometimes duller than bad TV on a Saturday night.
But sex was MINE to choose. Mine to orchestrate. Facilitate. Enjoy, turn down, rinse and repeat or even confuse with love.
What, who me?
Of course, me.
Because all those earlier life lessons didn’t just go quietly into that good night. They still nagged. They whispered. Sometimes they barked like a Doberman.
I usually drank them quiet.
Much like the nubile young showgirls in C of G.
I have no idea how this book will end. Ms. Gilbert’s book, I mean. I do know that I am (finally) interested enough to find out.
As for my own story, it is most definitely a long, winding and vibrantly colourful road. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll write it down. What I have learned – about myself and dare I say most women of my generation – is that straddling that line between being a “good girl” and having a “good time” wasn’t always easy. And don’t get me wrong here. When I say a “good time” I don’t mean a licentious and corrupt pursuit of carnal pleasure. I mean FREEDOM. Freedom to act as men have acted throughout the ages.
Freedom to explore. Freedom to experience. Freedom to choose. Freedom to be 100% human in all its glory.
No, it wasn’t always easy.
And it didn’t require alcohol either.
It required fortitude. It required belief. Belief that men and women don’t “get” separate rules. Belief that sometimes pleasure in itself is a highly worthwhile pursuit. Belief that my mother’s rules are not my rules.
And most importantly belief that just because my mother’s rules are not my rules I am NOT a bad person.
Yes. I learned long ago (even without the help of Elizabeth G) that YES – you can be a “good person” and not be a “good girl”. You can choose your path and walk it without apology, all the while still being good. Good to your family. Good to the people around you. Good to the world.
My personal “book” has brought me to a wonderfully fulfilling place. Do I regret certain escapades? Of course. Do I remember them all? Yes I do! If I could would I change anything?
Yeah, here’s where you think I’m going to say no. But that’s just dumb. Of course I would change certain things. Wouldn’t we all?
The point is, I had the freedom to choose to make mistakes. The freedom to live by my own definition. The freedom to participate in my own life by my own rules.
For that I make no apology. For that I express deep gratitude.
As for that City Of Girls, who knows how it will turn out for them? My gut tells me some will thrive and some will lose.
I’m pretty sure that in the grand scheme of life, the same goes for us all.
Good girl or not.