A Short History of Weird Girls

Caroline Hagood
July 13, 2017
Comments 8

A few weeks ago, Jill Soloway wrote about being a “weird girl” in Lenny. The piece was more battle cry of a brave soul in the wilderness than your typical web essay, exploring how we’re all on trial for our weirdness and Soloway’s response to this, the creation of art “with a sort of weaponizing feel, something zealous meant to raise hackles.” This is the sort of artist’s statement we’re all kicking ourselves for not having written, which would effectively electrify those in admissions asked to read so many of these usually deadly documents. It’s important to note that Soloway identifies as non-binary, preferring to be referred to with the singular pronoun “they,” and that I therefore read this weird girl figure as one that transcends any conventional notion of gender. In other words, I suspect that many men also may have an inner weird girl.

This weird girl concept dates back to long before the advent of Shakespeare’s wonderful Weird Sisters, before the first woman was ever accused of being a witch, even; but this particular Lenny essay refers to Soloway’s television show (created with Sarah Gubbins), I Love Dick, and the source novel of the same name by feminist cult icon Chris Kraus. In particular, Soloway’s piece refers to the fifth episode of the show, “A Short History of Weird Girls,” which is a televisual masterpiece. It’s a piece of fiction that feels almost documentary in its surveying of the experience of various women. This virtuosic piece of television meditates on the intricacies and ferocity of female (identified) life. Each of these women stares right into the camera and tells me the history of her desire—the story I always want to hear whenever I meet any woman, especially the weird ones.

I’ve been a weird girl and studied other weird girls for my whole life. I like to strip people’s inner life down to text so I can read them. I try to decipher their lingo. I linger over each sentence and then dive into their miniature life. I stop at a period, rub up against the raised curve of a comma, sit quietly beside a semicolon. Yes, this makes me feel like an intellectual pervert and makes my life feel like exegesis, a footnote to someone else’s far richer text, but it feels inevitable. I can’t stop trying to find out how women live, how they cope with this world, how they deal with the daily ups and downs that are funny and sad.

In my spy work, or what some refer to as being a writer, I like to break my subject down into many pieces that I then reconstruct into writing. I often love the pieces of the thing more than the whole, love the things most that appear to be broken or cracked, but are really just multifaceted. It’s why I gravitate towards poetry with its fragmenting line breaks and film with its slashing cuts; it could even be why I have a crush on the aphorism, which Susan Sontag declared to be “proudly selfish”; and it’s certainly why I am obsessed with weird girls.

This mosaic process is how I write and live. I think it might even be how I made my children. This sense of deconstruction and reconstruction is even related to what I thought I’d be when I grew up. Fresh out of college, I was crestfallen to find nothing in the want ads for an entry-level obsessive, versed in the art of taking things apart and reconstituting them into ravishing monsters. The really sad thing is I still can’t find anyone who wants me to do this job.

Both the TV show and book I Love Dick explore women embracing their inner “monsters,” which is yet another way of referring to their inner “weird girl.” In her book Skin Shows, Judith Halberstam suggests that the monstrous is tied to excessive interpretability. She cautions against imprisoning it in any single signification, linking it instead to a proliferation of otherness. So the monster is not Frankenstein (another mosaic), but the maddening way a subject slips out of the confines of definability, like, I would say, weird women always seem to do.

And what of my own inner weird girl, my own inner monster? Like most, I love and fear her; I hide her, and I show her off. Even the mention of her sends a thrill through me. It electrocutes me in the best possible way to watch thoughts of her marching from afar like a terrifying army. Sometimes I want to join a support group for people who feel like they’ve been in a bar fight after staying up all night trying to write about her.

The worst part is I have to feel ecstatic, wounded, or half mad to write anything that gets anywhere near her, to make my mind swerve, zigzag, or tilt in her direction, but I’ll try here anyway. Perhaps it’s merely a question of intensity, and the “weird” girl is the “normal” girl but taken up a thousand notches. The only way I can put it is to say that, while riding the subway for instance, I often wonder if the people next to me are also buzzing, bursting with a dynamism that spooks them even as they want to write hymns to it, whether, when asked if they’re ready to do something, they too have to suppress the urge to say, ready? I’m throbbing.

But I’m scared to tell you too much. It seems risky to let you too near her. Like all monsters, her survival has depended on the distance I’ve given her from society. What would happen if I did finally write all about her? Ouroboros? Armageddon? Orgasm? What fascinates and frightens me, though, is I’ve gotten to a point where everything I write is tattooed with her escape attempts.

It makes me shudder to envision the instant she finally gets loose and I’m able to show you her whole ontology. I’ll have to make up new words to talk about what it feels like to walk around with a cantaloupe on my shoulders I call a brain, something so impenetrable a lady actually tried to use it in a fruit salad the other day. I pause here, ponder editing out the fruit salad part, but then choose to leave it. The ultimate act of revolution: leaving the weird girl in.

Sometimes the best parts of us are the weird ones we can’t share with anybody, let alone force into the requisite shapes to make the bestseller list. A professor of mine once gave a great talk on editing where he used the metaphor of a whale taking in tons of water a day and filtering out what it doesn’t need with a comb-like device called baleen. The thing is, despite his good advice, nothing I write will ever stay neateven after intensive editing. What would happen if I liberated my whale, my inner weird girl, ripped the muzzle-like baleen away and let the ocean rush in?

Please leave me your weird girl histories and thoughts in the comments section. We all have an inner weird girl, and I’d love, more than you will ever know, to read about yours.

8 thoughts on “A Short History of Weird Girls

  1. Oh Caroline. Your cantaloupe is an absolute joy to behold. When I have the privilege of getting a glimpse of the pulpy juice that flows through that large fruit, I am in enriched in mind and spirit. You make me tsk, you make me sigh, you make me ponder and mull, and you make me smile. As I wrote to you a while ago about what it was like to play with you so many years ago, I told you about the chaos and energy I could see and feel even when you were only six and how it pulsated through everything we did. I never saw you or it as weird, but rather, as what I wished all girls could be. Luckily for all of us who have the pleasure of knowing you and reading what you produce, you cannot be who you are not. You must be you. For those of us who love you, your weird girl has always been apparent and, in a circular sort of logic, because she has always been apparent, we love you. How wonderful it is and how lucky you are to have such a dynamic weird girl inside. Let it continue to be wonderful and lucky for us to be able to experience her.

  2. Thank you for this. I, too, especially love the part about doing spy work to uncover others’ inner weird girls. You’re a brilliant detective! Let us all embrace those parts of ourselves that we tend to hide but which are actually our greatest treasures. Long live weird girls!

  3. This is fabulous and so resonant (and familiar), Caroline. Our “weird, writerly “spy” work is mostly what fuels my existence and I make no apologies for it. We don’t need things to stay “neat”: we need them to stay real, raw, and rewarding in sometimes unexpected ways. I think we comb through others’ lives like greedy scavengers because we’re looking to find ourselves among the ruins and remnants of other lives. Whether we seek empathy, acceptance, or just familiarity is left to be determined. But the “weird girl” in everyone, I think, is simply trying to carve a space where he/she can belong without feeling judged or analyzed. It is a place where questions are invited and answers are manifold and multitudinous because there is no end. Fear the endings, the solutions, the “neatness”: life is what happens at the ragged ends of days, behind the eyelids that just won’t stay shut for fear of missing something. Yes, we want to devour the world, and others, and even ourselves–but that’s just because we love so much.

  4. Great piece! A joy to read. I love the “spy work” line (and also the one mentioned above). I published a novel about a weird girl who had an exaggerated version of my weirdness. Thank goodness novelizing and journalizing justify my habits. (Oh, I redesigned my website so feel free to take a look and you’ll see what I mean.)

  5. Another thought provoking essay by Hagood! And yes I have a weird girl inside of me too. My favorite line: “I like to strip people’s inner life down to text so I can read them. I try to decipher their lingo. I linger over each sentence and then dive into their miniature life. I stop at a period, rub up against the raised curve of a comma, sit quietly beside a semicolon. Yes, this makes me feel like an intellectual pervert and makes my life feel like exegesis, a footnote to someone else’s far richer text, but it feels inevitable.” Such unique and great writing! Can’t wait to read more!

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