Saturday, August 15, 2009

Guide To Life

In October of 1994, your MatchGirl was about to be 19 years old, attending a small, private university in the suburbs of Boston, MA. Every week, gentle readers, for the past year and a little bit, I had run to the student center every Thursday morning to pick up that week's copy of the Boston Phoenix.

The Phoenix was something, that, as a teen in NH, we would pick up at the local college or indie record store and peruse for news of cool new bands and read the XXX advertising section out loud to each other in the noisy cafeteria. In college, I discovered Caroline Knapp and her amazing character Alice K. (not her real initial). As a young woman of Generation X, even though there was plenty I had yet to experience, Alice K. spoke to me in a way that I really felt I could relate to. And in October of that year, when her story was collected in book form as Alice K.'s Guide To Life, I absolutely had to have it.

I devoured it.

Sitting in my Brooklyn apartment in 2009, dear ones, my life is a lot closer to that of Ms. Knapp's protagonist than I ever could have imagined it to be when I was 19 years old. There is no way that, as a Sophomore in college, I could have ever imagined how things would have turned out.

The thing about Alice K., who preceded the shopaholic Carrie Bradshaw and friends into the literary world, was that she was real. Not NYC Upper East Side real, but real life real. She had a mediocre job. She had a perfectly nice boyfriend who didn't quite send her. She ate cereal for dinner, sitting on her couch watching crappy TV. She obsessed over weight and friends and men and finding the "perfect pair of shoes" like all young(ish) single women tend to do, no matter the city. But she was real. Caroline Knapp pulled Alice's story from her own experience and from that of those around her.

There were no glamorous parties, no millionaire Mr. Big with a driver. No fairy tale Prince Charming to save her in the end.

Don't get me wrong. I loved the TV show Sex & the City. I waited in line with girlfriends to see the movie in Manhattan on opening night. But it's not real. It's a fantasy. For every Carrie Bradshaw, making her way in NYC (or some other, relevant, big city), there are a thousand Alice K.'s, just getting through, day by day.

I pulled my dog-eared copy of Alice K's Guide to Life: One Woman's Quest for Survival, Sanity, and the Perfect New Shoes off the shelf this morning. It's been a long time since I've revisited her.

I think we'll have a lot more in common this time around.

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