But What if I'm a Donkey?
Scattered thoughts on heartbreak, cages, and Glennon Doyle
My little cousin has suggested I read Untamed by Glennon Doyle. He reads aloud to me from the prologue over speakerphone as I sit in a Starbucks parking lot off I-66. I place his voice atop the dashboard of my car. The book’s opening pages tell the story of a caged cheetah.
“Before I go on, vibe check?” he asks.
Insofar as cheetahs indicate divine guidance and I just spent an aimless Wednesday afternoon in search of clean underwear at Pentagon City Mall, the vibes feel right.
Once upon a brief time, I used to work out of The Wing — a buzzy all-women’s co-working space now defunct. A worn copy of Love Warrior sat reliably nestled atop color-coordinated book covers a similar shade of deep red. Splayed out on the $30,000 couch, I would reach for Doyle’s prose in pieces.
The Wing’s brash feminist branding never quite resonated with me. But I do miss stepping into that shower after a yoga break across the street and wrapping myself in a freshly laundered bathrobe. I miss overpriced $5 chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with sea salt, the scent of Bumble & Bumble and Gabrielle by Coco Chanel.
Behind floor to ceiling windows that overlook the C&O canal, the décor and furniture still sit there, untouched.
Am I the one who’s changed, in the years since?
The God talk in Love Warrior can feel a bit heavy handed, but there was a self-awareness to Doyle’s earlier writing and a gentleness to her platitudes that rendered the book comforting and worthwhile.
Grief, she would say, is proof that we loved.
Now a hardcover copy of Untamed purple-pink sits atop my nightstand, but its message strikes me as overly facile and unabashedly one-note. Yes to the deep corporeal knowing that can emerge by quieting the chaos around you and even to pain as a leading indicator.1 No to reducing friendship to a transactional game of never ending ping pong.2 No, even, perhaps, to the unnuanced desire for freedom Doyle places upon that cheetah. (I can’t help but think of the Polish movie EO, wherein a well-meaning animal rights group rips a circus donkey from its cage, thrusting both trainer and donkey into a deep spiral of depression.)
By the time Doyle throws in a chapter on antiracism for good measure, I feel a bit like I’m reading spiritual advice from the spoiled twin sisters in Joyce Williams’ “The Girls” — a recitation of all the right words belied by a worldview that places her firmly at the center. It’s a scattershot collection of motivational phrases and quotable pseudo-therapy. A philosophy so blinded by the gospel of self-love that it fails to really consider the inner life of another until Chapter 10.
When she talks about her friendship with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, I’m not surprised.
Do I react so negatively to these books because they hit too close to home?
My sister-in-law tells me I don’t need to get my life figured out, I just have to get myself to Munich. My former matchmaking client tells me she has an empty bedroom waiting for me in Venice and I think of the irony — my falling apart on her couch and leaning on her psychoanalysis skills for comfort because This Love Thing is Hard. I’m spending my days exchanging lengthy voice notes with a friend in London who tells me, baby girl, it’s all going to be OK and because she says it with a British accent I almost believe it’s true.
I fell asleep listening toin conversation with Deborah Treisman on a plane to Paris. He reads Raymond Carver’s “Where I’m Calling From.” I’m not an alcoholic, but I think a lot about the ways I’ve become addicted to the idea of life as a collection of short stories — how adept I’ve become at endings that stay buried in the heart and mind for much longer than the time they took to read. No doubt there are things in my life for which I, too, need to make amends.
Or maybe heartaches, like hangovers, simply get worse with age.
“…even though I can’t know what will come next in my life, I always know what comes next in the process. I know that when the pain and the waiting are here, the rising is on its way. I hope the pain will pass soon, but I’ll wait it out because I’ve tested pain enough to trust it. And because who I will become tomorrow is so unforeseeable and specific that I’ll need every bit of today’s lessons to become her.”
“I am not a good friend. I have never been capable or willing to commit to the maintenance that the rules of friendship dictate. I cannot remember birthdays. I do not want to meet for coffee. I will not host the baby shower. I won’t text back because it’s an eternal game of Ping-Pong, the texting.”