Women, Writing, and Grief: My Imaginary Literature Class

Sometimes I pretend I’m a college professor and it’s my job to write a syllabus for a class. (See how the imagination soars when you give up TV?!) As a pretend professor, my goals are to attract lively, insightful, and curious students to sit around and discuss books I want to talk about.  Also? Gotta screen out anyone suffering from misogyny, small-mindedness, fear of sharing ideas out loud, or general douch-baggery.


My summer class would be called Writing Grief: Contemporary Women Writers Explore Grief in Memoir.  We’d spend a week on each of the following: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Cut Me Loose by Leah Vincent, Splitting the Difference by Tre Miller Rodriquez, Invisible Earthquake by Malika Ndlovu, and Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor.  We’d explore the different ways these process, narrate, cope- and ultimately transcend– the losses they faced.

I’m thinking I could cross-list my class in Women’s Studies, English Literature, and Cultural Studies (Is that a thing or did I just make that up?).

How to get an A in my class:

First of all, you have to take issue with Magical Thinking.  Are you fucking kidding me with Didion’s restrained response to the awful tragedy of her daughter’s coma and her husband dropping dead at the dinner table (after just visiting daughter in the hospital)? Where’s her messy, thrashing, juicy, Steele Magnolia-style grief?  I could barely finish that book because it was all too polished and upper-class-ish for me.  Anyone who fawns unabashedly at this book can’t take home an A.  Maybe not even a B.

I’m pretty sure I’d give an A to any student brave enough to talk about the sexual acting out from Cut Me Loose.  Someone has to start us off because fully 89% of that book depicts the lost and abandoned-by-her-parents Vincent acting out sexually to deal with the grief and trauma of being ousted from her ultra-Orthadox family. How many times did I have to squint at the page because it was so hard to watch her degrade herself over and over with men? Same with Rodriquez’s year following her husband’s sudden death—at one point she called herself a four-letter word for her various sexual exploits as she tried to outrun her grief.  Come to think of it, Ms. Strayed had some wild times following her mother’s death (before she got on the PCT).

God forbid, I ever face similarly tragic circumstances, I pray that I turn to something other than casual sex and cocaine for comfort.

Oh, who am I kidding? I am much more of a curl-up-with-chocolate-and-self-pity kind of person.  I’d never have the wardrobe or the babysitting money to slut it up or snort it up if I was a widow.

If class got slow, I’d asked erudite, open-ended questions like “how did each of the writers understand her own alterity through grief?”  Then, I’d just sit there and beam my intense brown eyes at the students.

At the end of the semester, I’d ask each of the students to bring in a song that best captures the mood of one of the books.  Super extra bonus points for anyone who brings in a Willie Nelson song.  I’m thinking You Were Always On My Mind or Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.  The end of the semester party will take place at Costco.  I’ll buy.

Without that pesky PhD, however, I doubt there’s a college that would hire me (though University of Phoenix sends some promising e-correspondence), so for now college students are safe to take their accounting, computer science, or modern English lit.  But you never know, if they ever let lawyer-Mommy-bloggers take over universities, this is so happening.


19 thoughts on “Women, Writing, and Grief: My Imaginary Literature Class

  1. Long time reader, first time commenter. First of all, don’t discount your JD. Academia is looking for qualified people. And adjuncts fit their bill because they are cheaper than full time faculty. ~an under-employed PhD who refuses to relocate due to family

  2. I would take that class too! The Year of Magical Thinking got me through the year that my dad died. I would say that my style of grieving was more like hers, and I found it helpful. But her next memoir? Blue Nights, which is more focused on her daughter’s death… That one did much less for me.

    • This is incredibly enlightening. I had no sense that YOMT could be helpful but clearly it was. ML is right — it’s so personal. My class already has robust debate. Love it.


  3. I’m with AT…You can also teach at a community college. Only need a Master’s–which you have–and/or 18 hours of graduate work in the area of teaching. Wasn’t your Master’s in English or was I dreaming that? It’s very fulfilling and you reach all kinds of students with great life experiences…GREAT for literary interpretation. Think about it.

  4. Pingback: NS&W: | The Dragon's Lair

  5. I would totally take this class and i’m pretty sure you might be able to teach it at Chicago’s very own Columbia College! At least, you could’ve when I went 20 years ago (holy shit I got my BA 20 years ago!!!).

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