Monday, July 28, 2014

How to Build a Girl Week 3: “A chrysalis is hung in the dark.”

This week's low came when the hammer finally dropped and the Morrigan family’s benefits were suspended pending an investigation into their situation. This can only mean that their meddling neighbor took it upon herself to report Dadda for washing the car that one day.

Oh the damage wrought by misguided do-gooders

The family income will drop by 11 percent until the powers that be determine whether they qualify for continued assistance.
Eleven percent is not very much—but, when you are very poor, it may form the bedrock of your survival.
And now you are standing on so much less than you were before. You are unstable. You are liable to fall.
Johanna reminded her parents that she'll be getting some money from the reviews she’s written and can help supplement that deficit. But the elder Morrigans put on their Responsible Parent hats and insisted that she open a savings account and put aside half of everything she earns (“You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, Johanna”). This was a redeeming moment for Johanna’s parents and further evidence, I think, that they're just people, trying to do their best and occasionally succeeding.

As for the high, Johanna’s trip to Dublin to interview John Kite was a doozy.

Let's DO.

That was a really fantastic day. But she’s fallen HARD for this man who’s really just a motherless boy and still perhaps a little too old for her. And we don’t yet know whether he’s interested in her the same way she’s interested in him. Or if we even want him to be. Because as sincere as he seems (“Duchess, this is one of those great afternoons where you make a friend for life, isn’t it? We just seem to be . . . a lot the same.”), he’s not the picture of stability and that fur coat probably smells not-good.

But I think the most important thing about him as he relates to Johanna’s story is that he’s the type of person who allows others to be just who they are. And Johanna is getting drunk on that, because she’s not used to that level of acceptance, to the idea of someone (a man, no less) being unreservedly delighted by who she is.
John Kite was the first person I’d ever met who made me feel normal. That when I talked "too much," it was not the point where you walked away, going, "You’re weird, Johanna," or "Shut up, Johanna,”—but that that was when the conversation actually got good. The more ridiculous things I said—the more astonishing things I confessed—the more he roared with laughter, or slapped the table and said: "That is exactly how it is, you outrageous item."
I felt some of Johanna's giddiness as I was reading that chapter because it took me back to my own youth, when I was equally starved for male attention and uncertain whether I was even acceptable to the opposite sex. I know how much a day like that would have meant to me then.

I also remember how much of a naïve idiot I was at her age, and I’m in constant amazement that my crippling insecurity, paired with a naturally trusting nature, didn’t land me in a shallow grave before I reached adulthood.

What comes to mind is one particular concert I went to when I was about 16. There was no stage, so the band were on the same level as the audience, and we were all just standing in a circle around them. I was front and center on the inner ring of that circle, and the guitarist/singer, during an instrumental portion of one of the songs, showboated around a little and landed directly in front of me, where he lingered for quite some time, pressed right up against me, his front to my front. I remember that he looked me straight in the eye the whole time he was standing there, and the back of his pick hand as he played the guitar was quite literally in my crotch. But instead of recoiling at being singled out for a ritual groping by a man in his mid-20s who was a complete stranger to me, I was flattered. The sweaty musician had picked me.

The thing about hearts for eyes is that they impair your vision.

After the show, I somehow ended up in the band’s RV. (I KNOW.) But in an absurd twist of fate, in their offstage lives these guys were sober vegans and perfect gentlemen. They sat me at the pull-down table with a pile of potatoes and a knife. They (literally) armed me against a threat I hadn’t even registered.

So Past Me and Present Me are arguing with each other as I read Johanna’s adventures in Dublin and London, in pubs and at parties. I understand both sides of that coin now. Sure, every night out seems brimming with excitement and possibilities. But I see a little too much of my foolish streak in her. And then there's this:
I have made my notes, now, you see, on how to build a girl, and put her out in the world. Everyone drinks. Everyone smokes. . . . You come into a room and say things, like you’re in a play. You fake it till you make it. You discuss sex like it’s a game. You have adventures. You don’t quote musicals. Whatever everyone else is doing, you do that. You say things to be heard, rather than to be right.

Just hoping for the best at this point
This continues to be a readalong hosted by Emily at As the Crowe Flies (and Reads!) and made possible by the lovely people at HarperCollins. Are you convinced you need this book? Of course you are. Preorder from Odyssey Books or your favorite indie bookseller.


  1. Yeaaaaah, I have John Kite issues in that, when that guy was like 'I wonder how much of him is just acting up to his own legend?' I was like OMG ALL OF HIM. However, I do also get Johanna's infatuation and desperate need for validation, so.

    I like how much we're SHARING in these posts. This is good sharing.

  2. I am wondering if Violet actually acted on the information because it's been 2 years now and that's a long time to bide your time before acting right?

    "But I think the most important thing about him as he relates to Johanna’s story is that he’s the type of person who allows others to be just who they are. And Johanna is getting drunk on that, because she’s not used to that level of acceptance, to the idea of someone (a man, no less) being unreservedly delighted by who she is." <----- YES, YES, YES, YES. At this point I don't have any reason to dislike John Kite (and I think he's actually quite charming in a probably-would-grow-tired-of-the-affectation-within-days kind of way) but I also don't want Johanna to go down that path, dude-wise. Nor the critic with the mouth. He was squickly.

  3. Okay, all I could think at that first GIF was "Oh my god, how did I never realise that Michael Banks looks exactly like a tiny version of my grandfather?"

    I like John Kite, even if his fur coat should probably be, y'know... burned. I don't think I've EVER met a guy where I've had that kind of open acceptance and genuine rapport so quickly, so I definitely appreciate Johanna's happy feels there. In this frenetic new world she's fallen into as Dolly Wilde, it's got to be a good thing that she's found someone who's got his feet firmly planted on the ground, particularly given the general level of asshattery going on in the magazine office.

  4. I'm totally with you on the naïve idiot thing, which had me wondering how much of John Kite we were really seeing or how much of John Kite we were seeing through Johanna's perspective (and has me worried).

  5. Emily@AstheCroweFliesJuly 28, 2014 at 5:29 AM

    So first of all, I'm sorry for reading too far this week and being spoilery about it. But I love how you shared your story of your own rock concert and how our views on "a ritual groping by a man in his mid-20s who was a complete stranger to me" can change as we realize the wrongness of things and otherwise just learn the basics of healthy physical boundaries. That's one reason I wish I had this book when I was young. On the other hand, I'm also very happy that both your musicians and John Kite ended up being interesting and respectful post-show.



    Re your tags: some of us were too busy singing along to Phantom of the Opera in our brother's bedroom to go outside and be possibly groped. Darwin's theory of survival of the nerdiest. Or something.

  7. "And we don’t yet know whether he’s interested in her the same way she’s
    interested in him. Or if we even want
    him to be." YES. He's a wonderfully interesting character, but it's a bit worrisome that he's hanging out with a 16-year-old girl.

  8. Ugh, I can smell John Kite's coat through the pages of this book, and it's making me feel faint. THANKS A LOT FOR THE EVOCATIVE WRITING, MORAN.

    That band van story is epic, and if you're ever on a late-night talk show, you should rest easy with that one in your back pocket. It's a crowd-pleaser.

  9. Yeah but the guy who SAID that about John Kite is so clearly a large-mouthed, no-good cynic. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up being the dark to John Kite's light.

  10. That's a fair point about Violet. But you SAID we need an Umbridge in this story. I'm just trying to be helpful.

    The critic with the mouth is SO squickly.

  11. I was living vicariously through Johanna for the that whole John Kite chapter. I cling to him unabashedly.

  12. I was worried, too, but mostly just that he would forget about Johanna after that day because he has so many days like that with music reviewers. But when he sent the letter with the Serge Gainsbourg album, it eased my concern a bit.

  13. I FORGIVE YOU. It's almost impossible not to read ahead, but I'm holding out. And then I'll probably reread it immediately after so I can just barrel right through.

    I hadn't realized until recently that I was STILL remembering that concert fondly, even as an adult. And then one day, it was like, " That wasn't...good at all."

  14. I am in agreement with you on this! Never fear. I'm not sure I want to ship him and Johanna romantically, but I ship them as friends for life. In a heartbeat.

    I sometimes wish that YOUR adolescence had been MY adolescence. But we both survived in the end, so there's always that.

  15. At least there was no hint of sexual attraction during that entire day. Even when he kissed her goodbye at the party, it was a friend-y sort of kiss.

  16. It smells a bit like a damp Muppet, I know.

  17. I thought she was devoting part of her checks to the family and putting half in savings? I know she wanted to give the whole thing to her parents, but they advised against that. At any rate, it doesn't seem like she's being selfish with her income. Even the TV was a purchase for the whole family, not just for herself.

  18. If she's waited two years she's DEFINITELY our Umbrage.

  19. Yes to Johanna's parents. They make a lot of bad decisions. Her dad makes a lot of selfish decisions. But they're just people and they are trying to do their best and they do love each other. It's nice to see that they aren't villains.

    I was so worried for Johanna, both during her interview with Kite and the party later. Man, things could have gone real dark, real quick.


    *ahem* *smooths skirt* I have finished Part 2, and I'm relieved to report that I still love John Kite.

  21. Fair point about the fur-coat-hygiene factor in terms of Kite's suitability as a match for our Johanna.

    "The thing about hearts for eyes is that they impair your vision." OH, TINY MEG. I just want to clutch you to my chest. Would that be weird? Because it's happening.

  22. Weird or no, I'm totally fine with it. *settles in*