San Francisco's Michelle Tea is a goddess. She's also a writer and literary arts organizer who examines queer culture, feminism, race, class and prostitution in her work.
Her new memoir “How to Grow Up” is delightfully breezy. It's also brave and unexpectedly wise.
Tea tells the tale of how she spent her youth drinking, smoking and snorting, working for minimum wage in dead-end jobs, dating indiscriminately, organizing poetry readings in dive-bars – and always scrawling in her notebooks.
“I have spent the past decades alternately fighting off adulthood with the gusto of a pack of Lost Boys forever partying down in Neverland, and timidly, awkwardly earnestly stumbling toward the life of a grown-ass woman: healthy, responsible, self-aware, stable,” she writes.
Those wild days informed Tea's previous books, such as “Valencia,” “The Chelsea Whistle,” “The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America” and the graphic novel “Rent Girl.” Tea, meanwhile, also has given voice to marginalized people by editing groundbreaking anthologies, including “Pills, Thrills, Chills, and Heartache: Adventures in the First Person” (with Clint Catalyst) and “Sister Spit: Writing, Rants and Reminiscence from the Road.”
Familiar with Tea's work, I figured “How to Grow Up” would offer little that was new. Boy, was I wrong.
Always refreshingly frank, Tea describes her attempts at Alcoholics Anonymous, therapy and other life-changing activities as she slowly, arduously begins to believe in herself and reinvent herself.
She learns to enjoy cooking, eating right, exercising, establishing a stable relationship, and becoming a mother.
I loved reading about her passion for clothes and would have appreciated more about her spectacular collection of tattoos. I especially identified with her confessions of a complicated relationship with money.
Another important theme is her compassionate relationship with her former self. “I'd rather not say anything at all to young, freaked-out Michelle. I'd rather just pull her close and pet her cropped head. ‘Don't worry,’” she writes.
One through line is her exploration of her eight-year relationship with her rapper ex-boyfriend: the mistakes they made, possible reasons for them, and what she has learned as a result.
By presenting her own authentic self, she encourages the readers to search for their own honesty and integrity. I learned a lot from Michelle Tea, including how to grow up.
How to Grow Up
By: Michelle Tea
Published by: Plume
Note: Michelle Tea’s RADAR series, in a free event presented by the Beat Museum, features Lil Miss Hot Mess, Baruch Porras Hernandez and Emer Martin in “An Evening of Edgy Literary Performance from San Francisco’s Underground” at 6:30 p.m. April 7 at InterContinental Mark Hopkins, 1 Nob Hill, S.F. Visit www.kerouac.com for details.