… From Vivian Gornick, author of the memoir The Odd Woman and the City, in an interview at Vice. In it, she tackles the “having it all” myth and tells us how to actually get there:
Every two minutes, there’s another prescription: Lean in, lean out, do this, do that, you can’t have it all, you must have it all—I don’t know what the hell it all means. You know, it’s an illusion, “have it all.” Now one of the reasons you can’t have it all is because there is, as yet, no achievement of those early goals. It’s generational work; it’s work of a thousand years.
That’s what you’re living through—you’re in the eye of the storm, and you will be as long as you live. I never hope to see much more than I see now in my life. The question of equality for men and women is so unbelievably fraught it brings to the surface anxieties that are absolutely existential in nature. Metaphysical. Really the heart of things. So people come up with prescriptions every two minutes. And that’s the journalistic need, to make news. Every five years the New York Times announces we’re post-feminism.
They’ll be the last to know.
They will be the last to know. That’s right. You’ll be the first, they’ll be the last.
You’re living in a world whose rules we helped reduce without replacing them. So everything’s up in the air, and you’re all on your own. But! There’s so much more room for you to struggle in an open field, to find your way. You’re freer than ever before to ask: What makes me feel exiled within myself? What doesn’t? What feels good? What doesn’t? What’s exhilarating, what’s depressing? That’s all that you have. And it is true that people on the left, for instance—all my life—have been looking on women’s rights as an instrument of capitalist manipulations. And I can’t see it that way anymore. What we want is not revolutionary. On the contrary, what we want is a more perfect democracy. We want what the democracy promised. An equal shot at being equally miserable. An equal shot at being just as unhappy as anybody else, but not because of race, or sex, or whatever.
So there’s an increased freedom. But once you go to exercise that freedom, you still haven’t set the terms of the world you live in.
Well, you may, eventually. It depends on which way a critical mass develops out of all this. First that has to happen. That’s why it’s incumbent upon each of you to become the best person you can be, as whole a human being as you can be. It’s the only thing you’ve really got, but you do have that. I believe firmly that that is how you change the world. And as old as I am, I take that as my responsibility. And I will take that until I die.