GUEST BLOG: Jennifer Armstrong’s Favorite Short Story

Posted on 11. May, 2011 by in Blog, Guest Blog

Here is Lorrie Moore’s version of advice: “Whisper, ‘Don’t go yet,’ as he glides out of your bed before sunrise and you lie there on your back cooling, naked between the sheets and smelling of musky, oniony sweat. Feel gray, like an abandoned locker room towel…Wonder who you are.”

That’s from the story “How to Be an Other Woman” in her aptly, ironically named collection, Self-Help. It was published in 1985, but I first read it twenty years later as I forged an adult life for myself in New York City. I was not, never have been, and hope to never be an “other woman,” but it got to me anyway. I felt like I’d been another woman, having read this. Not just because Moore is an extraordinary writer who can make you feel things, but because it spoke to me even in my non–other–woman–ness. It spoke to the heartache of loving a man who doesn’t love you back quite enough, to the messiness of sex and love, to the absurdity of being a young woman without all the answers (without any answers).

Moore’s work, and this particular book, came to my attention thanks to a particularly messy paramour of mine, a significantly younger, impossibly smart author I sort-of dated after ending a longtime engagement. I was searching for female voices to emulate, women writers who did more than squeal, “Yay, shoes! Yay, men!” This guy said Moore would do the trick. He was, obviously, right. At least he gave me that.

Now, six years later, re-reading that story nauseates me, taking me right back to a time when I did at least one embarrassing thing per week in the interest of getting or keeping a man’s attention. I just didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know you don’t do it; it just happens when you don’t do it. Every day then, I was following Moore’s take on “self-help” without even trying: “Feel gray, like an abandoned locker room towel.” “Be strange and awkward.” “Use his toothbrush.” “Wonder who you are.”

I’m so grateful to be far past that phase in my life, to be in a relationship that doesn’t make me feel like a locker room towel. But reading it again, it still gets to me in the same places. It makes me ill, and yet it makes me want a thousand drinks and a big cry. It is a great story.

Good stories put us in someone else’s skin. Great stories make us think someone else’s skin is ours.

To read an excerpt of Jennifer’s short story, “Dating Writers”, CLICK HERE.

“Dating Writers” is now available in its entirety in MEMOIR, VOL. 1.

One Response to “GUEST BLOG: Jennifer Armstrong’s Favorite Short Story”

  1. Ina Chadwick 12 May 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    The rereading a story years later is one of the more interesting exercises. I totally appreciate this writer who is “grateful to be far past that phase,” in her life. But the imagery that she uses to depict what made that story stay in her mind…well, it’s all about the “feeling.” Isn’t it?
    The writer pushed her fist into the reader’s gut and tho the story was sort of about love, the gut that gets injured when one is humiliated by one’s own youth and desire, blushes years later.
    Good commentary here.


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