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Girls Get Busy Review: Gabby Bess' Alone with Other People

Ana engages with Gabby’s book, a long with other works of art.

I first read Gabby Bess’ Alone With Other People almost three months ago. I had just moved to a new city. I applied the mask of the “young female creative professional living in Brooklyn.” I exerted ambition and self-assurance, and openness, and confidence. My rituals of greeting new acquaintances, my Internet activities, my movements through crowded subway stops, entailed performative acts of self-realizing. Selfies, social media, silent stares from strangers. Fake it till you make it.

Alone With Other People combines a selection of varying poetic formats that evoke the very displacement Bess expresses within her writing. I read the book in one sit and felt a little sad and a little lost afterwards. Filled with sad humor and disillusionment, I felt like Bess reflected something I have felt and could not put into words—the displaced exhaustion following all of the emotional labor necessary in performing myself. Bess’s novel is in conversation with the various iterations of self-portraiture that have left women straddling between the burdening freedom of self-making with the continually engrained mandate to perform the Young-Girl. Bess writes:

From here I constructed my identity
and set it aside for myself and others to admire.
When I give advice it is essentially saying, “Oh,
be more like me” and I can say that and point
to a diagram that I have drawn up in the time
that I have spent alone, bettering myself.

If we follow Judith Butler and call gender a performance with no final act, only an eternal reprise of self-making, at what point do we separate performing for others from performing alone? Self-portraiture, particularly when the self in making is female, has deformed into an act of alienation, of severing and denial. Bess’s collection, if read as a form self-portraiture, manages to reveal both the emotional labor of this performance with the bruised and lonely confusion meddling within. I saw in Bess’s poetry what I saw in Goldin’s bloodied eyes—a female gaze, eternally performing for the camera, peering with despair, hoping for someone to look back and see themselves within.

Buy Alone With Other People by Gabby Bess here.

- Ana

(Source: girlsgetbusyzine)

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