Ever wish you could wake up as someone else? Make a wish to be thirty, flirty, and thriving, toss around some fairy dust, and wake up in a monstrous apartment on Park Avenue? The world of rom-coms provide countless examples of women wishing for a drastic change, only to get exactly what they ask for, and discovering what they really wanted, they had all along (cue sappy sigh). I’m still waiting for Judy Greer to be my BFF over here. And DR and DD, our favorite dynamic duo, are hoping for a transformation of their own come tomorrow morning, something only a fairy godmother could bestow. And while the club could whip out their Mary Poppins’ tape measure and tell DD and DR are practically perfect in every way, I think it’s natural to hope that tomorrow will bring a better and brighter day, and a better and brighter us. Especially after this dumpster fire of a year (this phrase is so overused, and yet it’s so perfect).
At our last gathering during this dumpster fire of a year (I can’t help myself), we discussed our assigned reading, a novel that dissects the concept of identity. And by discussed, I mean we complained about the ridiculous wait at the NYPL to check out a copy. The book: The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah, one of the Great American Read’s Top 100 books. First published in 1999, Souljah takes readers to Brooklyn in the early 90s to the world of Winter Santiaga, a teenager growing up in the projects whose life, in her eyes, is perfect. Her father is the drug kingpin of the neighborhood, so Winter and her family want for nothing. She envisions herself at the top of the social hierarchy in her neighborhood forever; the girl with the best clothes, jewelry, car, and boyfriend. When her father’s entire operation is brought down by rival dealers and dirty cops, the family falls apart, leaving Winter to pick up the pieces and fight for her life.
It only takes a few pages in to understand that the rules we think govern society do not apply here. In case you hadn’t guessed it already, The Club might be the whitest group of white girls to organize a book club. None of us have any clue what it is like to live in Winter’s world, where the social order balances so precariously, and the systems and people that are supposed to help are wolves in disguise. The only way to build something for yourself in this neighborhood is the drug trade, as we see with so many of Winter’s family members and friends. It takes a herculean amount of dedication to choose another path, as we see in the characters of Sister Souljah (we’ll get to that in a minute) and Midnight, who uses his position in the Santiaga business to earn enough to get away when the empire collapses and start a new life. Souljah’s honest, unembellished portrayal of life in the ghetto, the destruction of the drug trade, and the cunning it takes to stay on top make this book necessary reading. And, it makes Winter a literary protagonist for the ages.
Winter does whatever she has to (literally) to build her life back up. She is a master manipulator and schemer, not above lying and cheating to get to the next step. And you love her for it. You want her to succeed, even if the risk is too great, because of her unyielding tenacity and ambition. It’s her drive to stay on top, plan the next scheme, tackle the challenge in front of her, that creates the propulsive plot of the novel. Sister Souljah the character, on the other hand, is a stark contrast to Winter. Soft spoken and trusting, Souljah welcomes Winter into her circle during a particularly harrowing point in the book to help her get back on her feet. Winter barely tolerates Souljah, and makes it known. Her philosophies on sisterhood, brotherhood, black identity, community, and drugs do not mesh with Winter’s lifestyle. Making herself an unlikable character (in the eyes of the protagonist) is an interesting choice for Sister Souljah the author. By the end, it’s clear it’s to encourage her philosophies of how the black community can break the cycles of drug culture and fulfill their potential. What I think this ultimately accomplishes as well is showing that there are many ways to be. Identity does not have to be singular or fixed; we have some choice in deciding who will be become, and that any culture and group of people are multifaceted.
And who will The Club be in 2019? World travelers–we spent a good portion of our last meeting planning our next grand adventure. Thailand, Japan, and Chile are at the top of MM, DD, and my bucket lists. Here’s hoping we get our acts together and start planning over the next 12 months. Others envision new jobs, and new relationship statuses on Facebook (so that family member who likes everything you post can like this too). LL also asked the group how we would feel about attending a New Orleans wedding (we hope she talked to her boyfriend before she polled us). Hopefully, 2019 will give us the space to create the people we want to be, and the world we want to live in. After all, MV’s coworker’s astrologer says 2019 will be the Year of Healing.