*Warning: this collection contains content related to sexual assault.
“i should like the project to be a mess as i am a mess”
An authentic unfurling of truth cannot be contained to a single genre. So proves Jamie Hood in her debut hybrid collection, which seamlessly moves from open-veined diary entries to astute literary observations, all in asking what exactly it means to be a woman. In unpacking societal conceptions of ideal femininity, Hood also inspects her own relationship to self, love, and self-love, forcing open the reader’s eyes, ears, and mind for the absolute best.
How to Be a Good Girl: A Miscellany. By Jamie Hood. Grieveland. 2020. Paperback.
How did I get the book?
You can purchase the book for yourself here!
What did I think?
The collection weaves itself around the question its title raises: how exactly is someone a good girl? Hood defines this character as rather frail, a “commodity—a fetish in its fleshiest & most perfectible forms” that is dependent on asking and then doing what a man wants (desire is her “singular power”), whose orgasms without witnessing men are comparable to trees falling in empty forests and whose body can be “made reducible to…symbology; the moral form in decay.” Yet Hood is fascinated by her ability—or lack thereof—to mold to the type, valuing “nothing so greatly as the certainty of my goodness.” She doesn't entangle becoming a good girl with satiation of desire, but rather as a kind of legitimization of her personhood in a manner that’s “usual and useful,” something that would be worth perfecting in therapy if she could afford it, that might make her write “as if my mouth were full of mfas rather than dicks.” Broadly, though, the obsession is more tied to trans identity. Hood describes her transness as feeling “circumstantial rather than originary,” something that makes it easier for her to understand the separation of body and mind, though she would still “barter any thing to feel everything,” some small part of her believing perhaps she does need to fix something. “i have convinced myself each relationship failure is a failure on the level of my personhood,” Hood writes. “not what did we do but why am I unlovable this is; why am i i.”
This line of thinking bleeds into a separation of “my” and “self” that Hood upholds throughout the collection. She argues that we are “founded on fracture” and that “a thrill of purpose” can be found there. “every day i wake up & wish i would stop telling on my/self & go on doing it,” she writes. “i am writing toward a being or; away from my undone-ness each project a configuration of a me in utterable tapestries.” As Hood dreams of having health insurance and what it might be like to go to a doctor, she cares for her “my” and her “self” through her writing, crawling into bed and crying or finding a “good fuck to elaborate my personhood” when necessary. “i pride my self in the pleasures i earn,” Hood writes. Still, the solutions are imperfect. “i am a good writer but only inasmuch as i am good at writing about my small self.” She continues, “what is the opposite of a something that still somehow manifests…a not-nothing which is also a nothing.” Separately, there is also a worry about if Hood can really provide everything she needs on her own. “so at ease in taking control of my body when i most needed it, & so careless in anything else having to do w my personhood,” she writes, musing if it’s too much to ask from men and from love, if she will find someone who understands what she means when she says, “i think how in brooklyn what are ur cross streets is an erotic inquiry...my cross streets are wherever ur dick hardens...my cross streets are asking yeah? is response to my whimpers my mouth parts my breath catches on the hook of ur rhythm.”
Hood litters ruminations on love throughout the work, constantly willing “the body towards love or; something like it…[imagining] a good man joining himself to me before a god i do not believe in & people i sometimes do,” only to later reflect on how “every instantiation of love is a precursor to mourning,” and that often there was never love in the situations she remembers at all but instead, “an insinuation…which was only ever a haunting,” followed by a grieving not for the person who disappointed her but for the foolishness that he would not. Out of this realization also comes a confrontation of trauma. “rape has happened to me more often than love & there are days this appears me usual; also boring,” Hood writes. “every book is my rape book.” These experiences are harder to grieve than her lost loves because trauma “disorganizes time disorients & displaces us from the coherency of narrative,” a power that makes it easy to wonder “what is a beyond to trauma; is a getting over ever directional; a side-stepping across time.” As Hood untangles this understanding, it makes her desire “to know love which does not clever me in its outset as a future loss” even deeper, that she worries she could die without ever having been loved well. However, this fear resolves. Ironically for Hood, “in the process of finishing a book on lovelessness, longing, & loss, i have managed a rather strange thing i have fallen—unanticipatedly, quietly, quickly, wondrously—in love,” she admits, though even as she talks in the language of lovers and feels that immense, unique pleasure she’s craved, she remains in terror that her partner “will lose sight of me before we fall for one another properly & learn our way home.” “it is entirely likely there is more pain in future,” she continues, “but i have always been the sort of woman to live, even if stupidly, in perpetual hope.” It almost makes me believe I could do the same.
🌟 4/5 — Great
This is the first book I’ve read that addresses the pandemic, “a world in the dulled throb of need” that Hood illustrates perfectly. She alternates between doom-scrolling on Twitter and masturbating (“i am thinking i need to be touched & that it is more illegal than it has ever been”), declaring working from home “one more exploitation,” and admitting to feeling high all of the time through “the publicity of this collective grief its disorienting spectacle.” Hood has the ability to name all of the feelings we’ve certainly had over “whatever damned year this is” of “out-of-time time” and to criticize them astutely. For instance, she writes, “in a moment we have been denied the capacity to narrate ourselves in our usual social contexts...to make new worlds from all this pain, this cavernous desire, this collective fear...perhaps only a more circuitous variation on a contemporary obsession w productivity-for-its-own-sake,” adding, “revealing an aloneness which was there before always just spackled over in the obtuseness of the everydayness the mundanity of the just-my-luck.” The fact that she makes these points in a form that utilizes shorthand, crossed-out text, and question marks in lieu of dates exhibit just how trying to think and express is in quarantine, that is can only be depicted accurately in “survivable past-tenses.”
Hood also makes stellar use of references to writers who have influenced her, interspersing their quotes with her own ideas. “i am a perfectionist obsessed w the incomplete i feel the only writers i have felt intimacy w lately are those who are endlessly citational; who show their work,” she admits. This is particularly true of women, such as Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, of whom she specifically wonders how they would feel about their ex-lovers exploiting their deaths in their work. “i think i write an awful lot about women artists who killed themselves considering i am j a bitch whose depression does not manifest in suicidal ideation,” she writes before admitting that it makes her sad her books cannot love her back (aren’t we all…). It’s also endearing when Hood imagines how poorly Susan Sontag would’ve felt about the confessional nature of her work, if she will ever write about anything other than herself. Whatever Hood decides, I can surely say I will be picking up a copy.
Beyond the book.
If you don’t want to take my word that this book is a must-have for your shelf, perhaps you’ll trust the folks over at Vogue, who interviewed Hood about the process of writing, specifically during the uncertain days of the pandemic. You can also learn more about Hood and her work by following her on Twitter and Instagram (and also Bookstagram).
See you again soon!