Women’s History Month is resonating strongly with me this year. Not since the 60s have women’s collective voices been so clear and purposeful, as evidenced by the Women’s March and beyond. The political climate seems to have opened a channel, empowering women to candidly share their deepest emotions, their challenges, their fears.
Listening to Ariel Levy’s actual voice narrating her new memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, I felt that this was one of those times when the audiobook surpassed the written version of a woman’s poignant, wrenching story.
The Rules Do Not Apply
In her brave but vulnerable whiskey-husky voice, Levy opens with this:
“In the last few months, I have lost my son, my spouse, and my house. Every morning I wake up and for a few seconds I’m disoriented, confused as to why I feel grief seeping into my body, and then I remember what has become of my life.”
Suffused with shock and grief, she obsessed over the choices she had made over the course of her life. Before the tragedy, she had always laughed in the face of convention, finding her own interpretations of sexuality, work, love, marriage. Loss had never figured into her life plan. But then, does it ever?
Levy began her career doing scut work at New York Magazine and landed the plum job of staff writer at The New Yorker in 2008. Her beat was often the offbeat: traveling to rural South Africa to track down Caster Semenya, a female Olympic runner whose gender had been under pubic scrutiny; reporting on a gang of lesbian separatists named Lamar Van Dyke. As she wrote in “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” the New Yorker essay for which she received the 2014 National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism,
I’ve spent the past twenty years putting myself in foreign surroundings as frequently as possible. There is nothing I love more than traveling to a place where I know nobody, and where everything will be a surprise, and then writing about it. The first time I went to Africa for a story, I was so excited that I barely slept during the entire two-week trip. Everything was new: the taste of springbok meat, the pink haze over Cape Town, the noise and chaos of the corrugated-tin alleyways in Khayelitsha township. I could still feel spikes of adrenaline when I was back at my desk in New York, typing, while my spouse cooked a chicken in the kitchen.
In fact, it was in Mongolia, on a reporting assignment (and the topic of this essay) that Levy lost her baby. A nagging pain in her abdomen became stronger, and then excruciating. Her baby was born in the bathroom of her hotel room and died minutes later.
Later, her doctor told her the miscarriage had been caused by placental abruption, a rare problem that usually arises from high blood pressure or heavy cocaine use. Or because of the pregnant mother’s advanced age. Levy was 38. It could have happened anywhere, her doctor assured her. Traveling was not the factor. Nonetheless, Levy was wracked with guilt.
Her mother came to stay with her for a while. When Levy asked her, what will become of me, her mother answered, you will be fine. Other times she said, you are not alone. During Women’s History Month let us celebrate the voices of women who can share the universal emotions of grief and loss and survival that let others know that we are not alone.
The Rules Do Not Apply is painful, honest, revealing, and intimate. Levy is unforgiving of herself, but you will want to hug the person behind the voice.
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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible.
The opinions and text are all mine.