Musings of an Inappropriate Woman

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Park Life

When I told my friends I was going camping last weekend, they responded in a mix of amusement and horror.

“What will you do without your hair straightener?” one asked, with mock aghast. “What if a rat crawls up next to you while you’re sleeping?”

“Firstly, that’s why I get keratin treatments,” I replied chirpily. “And secondly, rats are city animals.* I’d be much more worried about one crawling over my feet on the subway than turning up in my tent. Besides, I’m only camping for one night, and it’s next to a farm house with a kitchen and running water. It will be fine. This is not an episode of Sex and The City.”

“But what will do you if you need to go to the toilet in the middle of the night and the house is locked?” And, well, my answer to that question is not suitable for publishing online. Nor is the below paragraph, but here I go anyway.

My friend was (wildly) overstating things, but she had a point. I am not known for my love of the outdoors. When I was in high school, I wrote one of my creative writing assignments about an aspiring actress who was forced to return to her small town roots after failing to make it in Hollywood. It was a satire, but the character’s behavior may have been loosely based on my own during a family holiday the previous summer. When I was 20, I turned down an opportunity to go zorbing because I didn’t want to get my hair wet. In retrospect, my hair looked like something akin to a clown’s that day anyway, so I probably should have just bit the bullet. But you live and you learn, I guess.

On a weekend trip to Bath shortly after moving to London, I met a woman who told me that she wouldn’t be able to live in the city for too long, because she needed trees. I remember thinking that I would never grow tired of the city. As for trees, wasn’t that what parks were for?

And yet here I find myself, four years later, craving time communing with nature. Hence the camping.

It’s not that I’m tired of cities, per se. I just moved to one, after all, and I have no plans to leave any time soon. But over the past year or so, I have started to feel that my desire for “city-ness” – for people, and speed, and serendipity, and frictionlessness – has been sated. That I now have so much “city” in my everyday life that when it comes to what I want to do to get away with that life, my answer is no longer “New York!** Paris! Tokyo!” but “How about we go look at some rocks?” I’ve been lucky enough over the past four years to see a lot of what Western cities have to offer. Now I’m interested in seeing the things I haven’t yet experienced.

For the record, my camping experience (brief as it was) was great. I fulfilled my dream of swimming in a river before the end of summer, and summoned the courage to jump off a waterfall. I felt a calm wash over me as I watched the river and trees sweep past me on the train out of the city. And no, I didn’t take my hair straightener. (Like I said, keratin works a treat.)

The world is a beautiful place. Here is to many more trips like it.

* Not true, it turns out, but I didn’t encounter one anyway.

** Well, duh.

Related: Big City Lights (Welcome to New York)

I never really bought into the whole “raunch culture” narrative, but I did buy into the idea that sex was something very important. That it said something about the kind of person you were: how liberal you were; how desirable you were; how pure you were; how well you fit in with the people around you.

Two years ago, I interviewed the lovely Luann Algoso for my book. Now, she is interviewing me for Persephone Magazine. And reminding me that apparently we sang Hanson songs together in a public place. Totes professional. 

You can read the interview here.

Ask Rachel: Life is not determined by who is “winning” at 19.

Georgia writes: Hi Rachel, I was wondering if you could give me some advice? You interviewed me two ago for The Sex Myth. Now I’m 19 and studying journalism at uni. But I’m struggling. It seems like my classmates all command attention while I shrink away into a corner. I don’t think they are necessarily better than me, but I constantly worry that I’m not good enough. I just feel like I’m not achieving enough. My marks are average and I feel like my writing skills are too. It’s just really plaguing my mind with all this self-doubt, and I worry that I won’t be able to survive in such a competitive industry. I know I’m young and uni is a different environment, but I was hoping you had some words of wisdom or something? Thanks for taking the time to read this.


Hi Georgia. If I could tell you one thing, it would be this: the trajectory of your life is not determined by who is “winning” at 19. It’s not determined by who is best at 25, 30 or 50 either, because the truth is that being “the best” is an illusive and temporary state. But it is especially not determined by where you are when you are 19.

When I was 19, I was shy enough that I had a crush on a guy for a year and managed to speak about fifteen words to him in that time. I didn’t know how to write a cover letter, because no one in my family had ever had the kind of job that had required them to write one. I wasn’t totally hopeless: I got good grades, started conversations with strangers in lecture theatres (I’m still friends with several people I tried that with to this day), and was just starting to strike up the courage to put myself forward for the things I wanted to do. But I don’t think most people would have looked at me and said, “That girl over there is going to be a shining success.”

It takes most people time to figure things out. And at 19, you’ve got plenty of time to do that.

So here’s my thought. Use this time you have at university to figure out what you like and what you’re good at. Stick your hand up for things. Get involved in clubs and societies. Start writing for - or running - the student paper. Apply to do work experience everywhere, and keep showing up after your tenure has ended if you have to (that’s how a couple of my uni friends got their jobs in TV). Make a podcast. Volunteer for a cause you care about. Contact someone who is running an event that interests you and offer to help them organise it. Force yourself to speak in public, even if it terrifies you, because if you do it enough, someday it won’t scare you anymore. Start talking to the kids in your class who intimidate you and realise they’re just as confused as you are. Even if they’re really good at pretending they’re not.

I say all this because the only way I have ever known to reliably build confidence is to throw myself into the deep end, and realise each time to my surprise I do in fact know how to swim. Confidence isn’t about believing that you can do everything already. It’s about trusting that even when you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll have the wits to figure it out.

And another thought: sometimes it’s nice to be in an environment where you’re average. It doesn’t have to mean that you are failing, it can just mean that you are surrounded by bright, capable people who are doing interesting things. I feel pretty “average” compared to some of the writers my age in New York, but I find that exciting, not intimidating. It doesn’t make me bad. To the contrary: it forces me to be better.

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Beyoncé isn’t Beyoncé because she reads comments on the Internet. Beyoncé is in Ibiza, wearing a stomach necklace, walking hand in hand with her hot boyfriend. She’s going on the yacht and having a mimosa. She’s not reading shitty comments about herself on the Internet, and we shouldn’t either. I just think, Would Beyoncé be reading this? No, she would just delete it or somebody would delete it for her. What I really need to do is close the computer and then talk back to that voice and say, Fuck you. I don’t give a shit what you think. I’m Beyoncé. I’m going to Ibiza with Jay-Z now, fuck off. Being criticized is part of the job, but seeking it out isn’t. That’s our piece to let go.

Kathleen Hanna 

I endorse this philosophy.

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