Typically, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. But as you’ll remember from a post I wrote a few weeks ago, I have a weakness for advice-giving self-helpish types of books. At the time, I was reading How to Grow Up, by Michelle Tea. As things often go when I read non-fiction, I took some breaks to read new fiction I was excited about. Long story short, I finished How to Grow Up this week and I want to recommend it because I thought it was so good, but I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how to go about doing that.
Of course I’m going to give it a shot. That’s why we’re both here, right? Let’s start with the basics:
Michelle Tea is a writer and an incredibly impressive person, especially given the circumstances under which her prolific creative work has been produced, and How to Grow Up showcases a lot of that. The book is a series of essays that chronicles a lot of how Tea worked with, through and around a lot of “life stuff” to become someone with a stable life. I think the Goodreads blurb gives you most of the basic info you need to know:
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 Up proves 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.
It’s probably not surprising to anyone that someone with Tea’s creative ability has had some wild (and sometimes sordid) adventures; I think we all assume that a certain sect of creative folk delve into life’s dark spots and create from there. So you could read Tea’s memoir and enjoy it a lot from the point of view of someone who hasn’t ever experienced anything like that. I definitely think that’s possible. Tea is a talented writer and I think almost anyone would find her writing moving and interesting.
That’s not the place I read this book from though. I read this book as a girl with a dark past of her own –one with some low, low places in it. I’m not in those places anymore, but I’m not quite where Tea is either (Bonafide Grown-Up is still a ways up the road for me). Tea has a few years on me though and reading this was like listening to a big sister, a soul sister tell me how it gets better.
I don’t need to get into the ways in which my twenties were all messed up here, but I’ll say that they were not nearly as wild as Tea’s, but a lot darker than average (at least from what I can tell). As someone who is (on the outside) a high-functioning adult, but who is still dealing with all the complexities that a decade of messy living creates, Tea’s stories made me laugh, cry, and murmur “yes!” “exactly” and “I’ll get there.”
The chapters in which Tea describes her romantic relationships especially resonated with me. I have that person in my past that I loved desperately, but that was incredibly bad for me. Like Tea, I couldn’t figure out why if we loved each other so damn much we couldn’t stop fighting (believe me, I know now). And similarly, I’m lucky enough to have had that shining moment where I found the person who could be my still point when everything is out of control and I am grateful beyond measure for the happy life we have together.
Tea’s chapters about inadvertently putting together a career during dark times, simply by working hard at what she loved, made sense to me too. Chipping away at things, even when I could barely get out of bed has always been my thing. I found Tea’s resilience inspiring, but my resilience inspires me too. Honestly, How to Grow Up was an affirmation for me that there are other people out there with brains as messy as my own who make it, who pick themselves up and keep going and that there’s an end result to that work that doesn’t involve running out of energy to keep going. Tea’s life may not be perfect, but she’s learned to love herself and that’s something radically awesome for any woman.
So I want to say this: if you are a girl who has a dark past and a messy brain, who makes lots of mistakes, who loves Stevie Nicks, who reads tarot and her horoscope, who believes in creativity, who believes kindness is a critical life skill, who always feels a little outside what’s normal… This book is totally for you. No matter where you’re at in cleaning up your mess, Michelle Tea can make you feel like you can do it.
You can do it.
Allison Carr Waechter is still here and that’s an accomplishment in itself. Holler if you need something.