Sunday, August 3, 2014

How to Build a Girl Week 4: In which I hold forth on the subject of lady-plumbing

I’ve been relating a lot with Johanna throughout this book, but this week—this week she became my Patronus.

Here’s the thing, friends: Most women get 1 urinary tract or bladder infection (aka cystitis) in their lifetime, maybe a handful if they’re not careful. I’ve had . . . somewhere closer to 50?

I started getting them in my late teens, and anything could set one off. In college, I figured they were flaring up more often because I was drinking too much coffee and not enough water and getting so engrossed with my studies that I sometimes forgot to pee in a timely manner. And when I got married, hoo boy did I level up because of reasons—to monthly UTIs and even the occasional kidney infection. My mom tells me that the propensity for this affliction goes way back among the women in her family.


I feel as teenage werewolves must, the first time they explain the hereditary nature of lycanthropy to their adolescent peers, the night after something awful happened with the full moon and a friend’s cat.
"It’s passed down from my mother’s side," they would say, apologetically—collar still hanging from their mouth, displaying a small bell and a disc bearing the legend TIBBLES.
Caitlin, if you’re reading this, I have tried and failed for half my life to describe the very particular agony of such an infection, often to a concerned party on the other side of the bathroom door as I drink my 10th bottle of water and my legs go hopelessly tingly from sitting too long on the toilet. I have often considered investing in a cushioned, heated toilet seat. I started AND finished The Poisonwood Bible whilst sitting in a tub of scalding water. And I have never, ever, ever seen the humor in any of this, but I can't very well ignore it now, can I? Also, I can mark this passage and present the book to people by way of explanation before I disappear into the bathroom for 8 hours:
I begin my tinkle, and have the exciting chance to watch my face contort in sudden and total agony. HELLO. This piss is apparently made of boiling poison. Boiling poison, a billion Lilliputian arrows, and a wildly rotating whirligig, made of Satan's pinlike teeth.
Shhhh...pain is your home now.

I also really enjoyed the focus on Johanna and Krissi’s relationship in this section. When they hung out in Johanna’s room, bonding over music, it made me miss my brother. (Hi, Ryan, if you’re here! Sorry about when I talked about my bladder.) We never really had any discussions about music, as the elder Morrigan siblings do on this occasion, but some of my fondest memories of my brother come with a specific musical soundtrack: the day we hung out in his attic bedroom at my grandparents’ house, listening to Smashing Pumpkins and Rage Against the Machine and feeling grievously misunderstood; the times I snuck in to clean his room while he was out (cleaning is my love language, yo), singing along to his copy of No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom or Green Day’s Dookie; any number of occasions that warranted our top-of-the-lungs belting of songs by a Star Wars theme band called Twin Sister (WE DON’T SERVE YOUR KIND HERE, WE DON’T SERVE YOUR KIND).

But aside from these two points of personal significance that I spent all my time talking about this week, Johanna was really busy in this section getting her first kiss and then kissing all the kisses, pretending to be sexually liberated, writing brazen letters to John Kite (who's still wonderful, BY the way), making poignant statements about the nature of cynicism and the most important aspect of sex (“You get a whole person to yourself, for the first time since you were a baby. Someone who is looking at you—just you—and thinking about you, and wanting you, and you haven’t even had to lie at the bottom of the stairs and pretend you’re dead to get them to do it.”), making oblivious comments to her obviously gay brother about the Bee Gees being so gay and how if there were any gay people in Wolverhampton they would probably be shot . . . very busy INDEED.

All that’s left now is to finish the book, and I simultaneously cannot wait and am so sad to see it end.

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. Look, you. Stop mucking about and preorder the book from Odyssey Books or your favorite indie bookseller.


  1. "Maleficyst" Ahahahaha I love you.

    Also I'm glad you have a thing to relate to so hard in this and now i'm terrified of UTIs because good lord.

  2. Yes! You win all the wins for Maleficyst! I too have been afflicted by too many UTSs to count. But they weirdly disappeared after I pooped out a baby.

    I agree that "pretending to be sexually liberated" is DEFINITELY the proper description of her behavior.

  3. You SHOULD be... they're the worst thing in the world. :) #Sunshine :)

  4. I agree. I feel like it's kinda sending the wrong message IMO. I get what Moran is doing by pushing the envelope but fear for what will happen to Johanna

  5. Maybe the baby...rearranged things in there? Like a tiny plumber. SO USEFUL, BABIES.

    It feels like she's going through the motions a bit, but it all goes down as Experience I suppose. As long as she survives it.

  6. You proooobably don't have to worry about UTIs if you haven't had one by now. I tentatively pronounce you "in the clear." *waves sparkle-wand with great flourish*

  7. I'm not sure if she's sending the wrong message...because she's not glamorizing promiscuity? She's more just saying, "Well here it is. This is what it's like." Because Johanna has this IDEA of sex as this transcendent thing, and she's learning the reality of it. And maybe she'll take that information and adjust her perspective/behavior accordingly. I hope.

  8. I am so happy John Kite is still wonderful and not being skeevy or hurting Johanna.

    I am also suuuuuuper sorry about your UTI pain and while I want to commend Moran for nailing what it feels like, I also want to cry that OMG THAT'S WHAT IT FEELS LIKE?? That just seems unfair.

  9. Dude I feel all you feels. UTI's SUCK, maleficyst indeed.

    I am so happy that John Kite is still an upstanding fella. There's still a section for him to fail us, but I feel justified in liking him last week now.

  10. I've had kidney/bladder infections and thought that Johanna was either being kind of a drama-queen, or that she was diagnosing herself wrong... but maybe no? Cause it sounds like yours SUCKED. I'm still mildly worried that she has an STD or something...

    She is definitely pretending to be sexually liberated, and it's kind of driving me crazy. She's SUCH a smart girl, with all the reading and listening to the lady musicians and whatnot... it seems insane that she still has such skewed ideas about what sex is. She reads romance novels, she knows it's not ALL about the dudes.

  11. We all have our cross to bear, and mine is lodged squarely in my pee organs.

    John Kite! He was so gracious about her clearly inappropriate and awkward lost-virginity letter. Just a little while longer and we never again have to worry about him disappointing us.

  12. We're totally justified. Because even if he does a boo-boo in the next few pages, it will be a mere hiccup on the Road of John Kite, Who Is in General a Stand-Up Chap.

  13. I've had a couple of friends who didn't seem to think their bladder infections were too bad, either. Maybe it's one of those things, like childbirth, that hits everyone differently depending on body chemistry and/or pain-management abilities. In my subjective opinion, Johanna wasn't exaggerating at all. And kidney infections are another matter entirely. They can do permanent damage to your kidneys and spread to other organs and eventually kill you, and they FEEL like they are doing that. It's an intense throbbing, relentless lower-back pain. Serious bizness.

  14. *dons lab coat and spectacles* *consults clipboard*

    They can totally hit overnight, especially if she fell asleep without using the bathroom and flushing out her urinary tract. All it takes is a little bit of bacteria in the wrong place, and then BOOM. It's a party.


    Just make sure you don't forget to breastfeed them.

  16. "Pretending to be sexually liberated" is pretty much all that was available to Johanna, y'know? Especially in the "fake it till you make it" sense. She didn't have a big sister or really ANY positive female influence in her life, and let me tell you those romance novels are NOT the way to learn about being true to yourself even if they are a good way to learn how to spell areola (thanks Jean Auel).

    Growing up, I thought that sexual liberation meant that I could have sex with who I wanted, when I wanted. That is in DIRECT opposition to the dictates of my church, which were pretty clear about "one man, one woman, forever and always after marriage ONLY here's your purity ring, girl-child." It wasn't until after my own stint of pretending that I realized liberation extends to *how I feel during sex.* And she's got the added issue of being fat, which she thought meant she'd only get laid a few times ever, as she talks about.

    I hate that girls learn about sex this way. It's incredibly unfair and damaging. But if there's one thing I learned teaching HS students, it's that they'll find information about a topic they're interested in one way or another - which is exactly what Johanna is doing.

  17. I have pretty much changed my mind about John Kite (because I've finished the book now but shhhhhhhhhhhhh) so I am with you on this stand up guy thing. He's alright, he is.

    You and Caitlin have made me totally terrified of cystitis (which I have never had TOUCH WOOD) so thank you for that! *holds self in fear*