I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how they spend the day.
February 1, 2024: T Kira Madden
If you’re interested in the different selves we’ve been or in childhoods and how they turn into adulthoods or in families and truth, and you haven’t yet read Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, T Kira Madden’s debut memoir published in 2019, add it to your list. After an author’s note and a preface, here’s the first sentence, “My mother rescued a mannequin from the J.C. Penney dump when I was two years old.” T Kira (no period) describes her mother as a “Chinese, Hawaiian, pocketknife of a woman.” Although the first piece is called “Uncle Nuke,” which is what T Kira calls the mannequin, the takeaway is that T Kira and her mother are wrapped in their own special world. Here, at the beginning, the author asks us to remember
[A]ll the reasons she [her mother] did anything–the wrong things, the strange things, the dangerous, the sublime–the reasons she does any of it, still, is to protect me.
What I love almost as much as the memoir is the story of how this book came to exist in the world–that T Kira had planned on writing a novel, but that after her father died, it was these stories that had to be told. The memoir rose up out of loss (“Just last week I had a father”). And it was written as an offering to others. As stated in the Acknowledgements, “because once, a little girl needed more stories like her own.”
When T Kira was nine years old, her grandmother gave her a typewriter and told her to write about her life. Instead, T Kira wrote about a girl named Joni Baloney who was just like her except she was “white and athletic and people tend to grope her.” After recounting a few of Joni’s exploits, T Kira added, “I can do things like that when I write–pluck any thread of want and create a whole world.” The pages of this memoir are steeped in want–in need and in desire. And each essay creates a whole world.
The writing is extraordinary–sharp sentences, descriptions that are fresh and alive, and honesty and heart in equal measure. Here’s one of those sentences. “The day stings against my arms.” And one of those descriptions, “fingers like ginger root.” Take a look at this sentence, one of my favorites for all it does.
[My father’s] eyes are wet and wide in that orange glow of night-road, that perfect combination of street lamp and moonlight that casts a terrific sadness, or wildness, on any face in its spell.
This next example shows the honesty and heart I was talking about. It comes after a middle school dance where the date turned out not to be a date, and it begins with her mother’s response, “To hell with middle school dances. We”ll have our own dance.”
The three of us dance in a circle, facing one another on the gum-bald carpet, snapping our fingers, throwing the dice. My father lets me stand on his feet as he shuffles and grooves. He holds me tight. He dips my body backward till the room tips over. He says, One day, you won’t even remember this night ever was.
A few years later, a wildly different situation but that same honesty and heart.
By nine p.m., almost a hundred people arrive at our Porn Star Party. Public and private school kids, a couple of dealers we know, the older boyfriends of girls in my grade… Harley, Nelle, and I take every shot we’re given… We lie down on my pool table and begin to kiss one another while the boys and men cheer us on.
Cousin Cindy once asked me, What do you think love really is?
I think it’s being able to kiss someone whenever you want, I said.
I can kiss Nelle whenever I want. And I do.
There’s more, so much more. The memoir is also a story of addiction and trauma and family secrets…
If we’re lucky, we use our childhood and adolescence to try on different versions of our self. If we’re lucky, we get closer and closer to who we really are.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, a finalist for the LAMBDA Literary Award for lesbian memoir, and is now in development as a feature film.
T Kira Māhealani Madden is a Chinese, Kānaka Maoli writer, photographer, and amateur magician. Her gorgeous wedding was profiled in The New York Times. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in design and literature from Parsons School of Design and Eugene Lang College. She’s also the founding editor of the journal No Tokens. Her debut novel, Whidbey, is forthcoming with Mariner/HarperCollins.
Come back on FEBRUARY 1st to read how T KIRA MADDEN spends her days.