I will be hosting this discussion and event with Rachel Bertsche at Open Books in Chicago. Would love to see you there!
After her bestselling first book, MWF Seeking BFF, Rachel sets her sights on the glamorous lives of movie stars. In Jennifer, Gwenyth and Me, she embarks on a quest to emulate her Hollywood role models—while sticking to a budget—to see if they really hold the keys to happiness. In discussion with local writer Britt Julious, Rachel will explain the preparations behind the project, her own relationship to Hollywood, and her biggest takeaways from writing Jennifer, Gwenyth and Me.
In addition to her books, Rachel has written for the New York Times Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, More, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Fitness, Women’s Health, New York, Huffington Post, CNN.com, and more. Rachel has written about everything from porn films to shark skin, and her work has been included in three of the O, The Oprah Magazine annual anthologies.
Host Britt Julious is a born and bred Chicagoan with a devotion to snappy pieces of really, really good writing. In 2014, Britt founded Inland, an online and print publication examining contemporary Midwest culture. She also writes for a variety of different publications and organizations including Vice, where she is the Chicago contributor, The Guardian, WBEZ, Pitchfork and Rookie. She currently serves as the senior editor of literary site This Recording where she is free to expound on the merits of Ishiguro and Whitney Houston equally. In 2012, The Chicago Reader named her the city’s “Best Local Writer Who Excels at Social Media.” She is a champion for the underdog, a lover of sequins and a proud Black Hippie.
“You must think you’re cute or something. That’s the only way you’d look like this right now.” This was one of my cousins.
“I don’t,” I said.
“That’s right. You ain’t cute. So what’s this about?” she asked.
And then she began to grab at first my clothing, my cheap dress, the fabric a mix of things both flammable and not. And then she began to grab at my body, my arms, lined with muscles, and my legs, much sturdier than I felt.
“Stop it!” I said.
“Stop WHAT?” she asked. “I’m just letting you know who you are, who you’ll ALWAYS be.”
“Who am I?” I replied.
"Nothing special," she said. "I’m not special and neither are you."
It’s best to remember that, she seemed to be saying.
A trick of the mind will fool folks before they get a chance to read you. And, you see, someone told her she could not see greatness in herself. That’s not her role. That’s not where she rests.
But who are all of these women finding divinity in their skin, their bodies? Who are these women who can look and feel and touch and taste and think: everything I sense is right and good? Everything about me is right and good.
My eyes were my greatest weapon, my defense against the sites before me. You learn to soak it in and process, but never too much. If my life was a series of processes, I would be nothing but a being of hate, a culmination of hate for others and hate for myself.
No, you must see and then unsee. See and then shred. See and then sacrifice. Sacrifice the reality of the world around you and instead build a world that sees you as perfect and divine and good. Revel in that world. Build upon that world. Make it grow into something true and from that truth you will find something realer than yesterday.
I pretend that I don’t need to see things to appreciate them, but that is not true. The act of longing, of visibility is an act of giving new value to even the most mundane or simple or kitschy items you own.
On my bedroom wall is a disco ball I purchased from RR #1, a perfect little gift shop on Chicago & Ashland. I purchased one for myself and one for Gabe, one of my best friends. He lives in New York now, but we talk most every day and looking at the ball is a reminder of what we had when we was still here and what is missing now that he is not.
Next to the disco ball are intricate, skeletal harnesses, body chains that invoke a serious sexuality and confidence of self. My dear friend Alysse designed them and I made my first purchase even before I felt worthy of the detailed breast plates, the dangling, delicate chains, the shimmer and shine. To me, they told the story of who I wanted to be and what I had lost.
I wore the gold one in 2012 in the midst of a bout of depression caused by the inevitable age of change. I was post-college and pre self-assurance. People were leaving. I came home and looked at my space and felt haunted by rooms and walls that were not my own. Sometimes, I woke up in the middle of the night in a state of panic.
But the harnesses showed me who I could be: sensual and aggressive and strong. Because it was at risk of falling apart due to too much push or pull, I had to reacquaint myself with my limbs. I wasn’t changing myself so much as finding new methods of moving. I will not cower from this piece. I will love it. And I will love myself in it. And later, I will not cower from myself. I will love myself and everything I encompass.
I think I know who wrote this, but thank you. <3 I truly appreciate it.
A desire to cultivate a world that didn’t exist in my everyday.