|How to Grow Up: A Memoir
3.5 / 5
"I chose the apartment because of the persimmon tree outside the bedroom window."
A gutsy, wise memoir-in-essays from a writer praised as “impossible to put down” (People)
As an aspiring young writer in San Francisco, Michelle Tea lived in a scuzzy communal house; she drank, smoked, snorted anything she got her hands on; she toiled for the minimum wage; and she dated men and women, and sometimes both at once. But between hangovers and dead-end jobs, she scrawled in notebooks and organized dive bar poetry readings, working to make her literary dreams real.
In How to Grow Up, Tea shares her awkward stumble towards the life of a Bonafide Grown-Up: healthy, responsible, self-aware, stable. She writes about passion, about her fraught relationship with money, about adoring Barney’s while shopping at thrift stores, about breakups and the fertile ground between relationships, about roommates and rent, and about being superstitious (“why not, it imbues this harsh world of ours with a bit of magic.”) At once heartwarming and darkly comic, How to Grow Upproves that the road less traveled may be a difficult one, but if you embrace life’s uncertainty and dust yourself off after every screw up, slowly but surely you just might make it to adulthood.
I have long been a fan of Michelle Tea, which is why I picked this book up even though I don't tend to like memoirs. So, Tea's voice in this book balanced out a lot of my disinterest in learning "life lessons" from people. I found it to be, overall, a good read, although certainly nothing life-changing. Tea had a few great pieces of wisdom to impart, particularly (for me) in her chapter on "How to Break Up," advice I really could have used around the time I lived in Boston with a particularly loveless & selfish person. (Although knowing my neediness at that point, I probably would never have heeded it. - Which Michelle Tea also totally understands; she's like a wise & "been there" aunt.) I also really enjoyed "Beware of Sex and Other Rules for Love" (Tea makes herself quite a few ground rules following her "crazy sexual period" where she decides what she really wants in a partner she plans to share her life with). And I had to laugh at the first sentence of the "WWYMD?" chapter: "What would Young Michelle think of today's Michelle? -- Who cares? That Michelle was a jerk.") Tea doesn't take herself too seriously, and has learned to question the beliefs and ideals she once had, which I do appreciate. I also did enjoy how well the author was able to make a memoir - essentially, her collection of essays - flow into a pretty cohesive and overarching life story.
However, I have to admit I was a little bored by other parts of the book, those that just didn't engage me. While I could relate to her adoption of the punk rock fashion and "lifestyle" in her teenage years, I wasn't all that interested in the story of when she achieved her lifelong goal of attending Paris Fashion Week, or purchasing a $900 leather jacket. I was interested in her rationalization for experiencing those things, and I understand that growing up with nothing and suddenly having money can make you see the world differently, but I had to say I cringed when she risked her job to do something that felt so...frivolous. Maybe she knows something I don't know, though. Besides, it is her life, her money, and her passion. So what if it isn't mine? That's okay. (And I actually think that is one of the things Tea tries to express in her book.)
Tea's frank discussions about how she feels about not having gone to college, her recovery from drugs and alcohol, and her newly-established family life were all quite engaging, and I think the true meat of this book. It was what kept me reading, even through her chapters on affirmations (a 12-step concept), her take on Buddhism (kind of yawn), and her validations for getting Botox (blerg). And despite the wildly varying quality and quantity, each chapter did have something valuable to impart on the reader. Tea was able to learn from her life - both her mistakes and her triumphs - and has come out the stronger on the other side. Which is why I think she felt the need to write this, and why I think many will get something out of this.
My three favorite quotes from this book?
"...I was haunted by the question, What do you want to be when you grow up? I never wanted to be a nurse, or a truck driver. There was only one job in the whole world that I had ever heard of that sounded good to me: I wanted to be a librarian."
Not going to college does not mean you've opted out of educating yourself." [Nor does finishing school, at whatever level; you should always be choosing to learn & improve!]
"I try to make choices that will align with my highest beliefs. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't and in between I try not to have a panic attack over it."
I'd suggest picking this book up if you need some inspiration, especially if you worry your life has maybe gone in the wrong direction. Michelle Tea's life has gone pretty much every direction possible, and yet by anyone's standards she is pretty darned successful. It reminds us all to reflect on our own lives more impartially, for some true perspective.
P.S. While poking around online looking for an image from her wedding (beautiful couple), I stumbled across a photo of the jumpsuit she wears on the book jacket! -- http://elisashea.com/post/5781067153/michelle-tea-tap-dancing-on-her-birthday-at-her
P.P.S. I am including the list of chapter titles here because I typed them all out as I read them in an effort to remember things, and I figured why not share them if the work has already been done?
1. You Deserve This
2. Fashion Victim
3. My $1,100 Birthday Apartment
4. I Have Trust Fund from God--and So Do You!
5. Beware of Sex and Other Rules for Love
6. How to Break Up
7. Too Cool for School
8. The Baddest Buddhist
9. Getting Pregnant with Michelle Tea
10. Ask Not for Whom the Wedding Bell Tolls
11. You Can't Fire Me; I Quit
12. WWYMD: What Would Young Michelle Do?
13. Eat Me
14. I'm So Vain
15. Confessions of a Gym Rat
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