I’ve been having trouble getting through a book called, “Think and Grow Rich.” It’s said to be the Bible of self-help/how to become successful books. I had started reading it last month, and I swear, it has never taken me this long to read a (relatively short) book that wasn’t for school. Looking back, I should have realized that it wasn’t really helping me like I thought it would. Yes, I did get inspired to dream bigger and to set goals for myself. And there are really great tips on what it takes to follow your passion (or burning desire) and become a success.
But it didn’t inspire me on a deeper and more visceral level. I didn’t want to cry or tell anyone about what I was reading. I didn’t want to buy a copy of the book or look into the author’s life like I would with a novel. And I didn’t realize this until now, because I didn’t have anything to compare it to.
I just watched The Help for the first time today, and I loved it. I loved pretty much everything about it. I loved that almost all of the memorable characters were women. I loved that it displayed the humanity within all of us: our fears and our weaknesses, our courage and our strength. I loved that it portrayed the amazing relationship between women, and how each woman was her own person.
There were a few things that made me uneasy, though. How things haven’t changed so much that we can say that we’re finally past all of the racism and hatred. How a woman’s place in the world still has strict boundaries on all sides. How Minny and Aibileen would still face economic uncertainty (i.e. inequality), and Yule May will still be in prison for pawning a ring so she can send both of her children to college.
There was something else about the movie that made me feel the fire inside. Skeeter Phelan wanted to be a writer, and got her start in a housekeeping column of the paper. But then she had an idea to interview all of the maids – the help (and this is interesting to me, because in Tagalog that word, “katulong” is still used to describe caregivers and housekeepers) – about their perspective about working for white families. It was something she had never done before, and it must have been all kinds of scary and exhilarating. I really identified with Skeeter, because I’m still at that beginning stage of writing and I’m searching for something that I find important, something that really matters to me. And also because she’s the only one in her group of “friends” who isn’t in a relationship.
That, too, was a big deal for me. Skeeter felt out of place in her hometown, in her family, and in her circle of friends. I’ve felt that way a lot, and I’m still dealing with what I can do about it. She let herself become vulnerable and fall for somebody, only to have him end the relationship because he couldn’t deal with who she is. She published her first book, got offered a job as an editor, moved to New York, and would start an exciting chapter in her story.
I can’t help but be jealous of her. Not for being white, but for having the guts to write about something she’s passionate about and scares her, for leaving her friends and family behind, for pursuing her dreams and leaving a mark on her community. And it made me wonder, will I ever get to do that? And how will I get to do that?
The thing, though, is that Skeeter didn’t even write that book by herself. She just took the stories of over a dozen women and sent it for publication. And in the process, she got to support these loving, hardworking, angry, passionate women by sharing their stories. And in a way, that helped her with her story.
Isn’t that how we get anything worth doing done? By helping each other? By inspiring each other and reaching out to share our stories, hoping that this act will peel off another layer of humanity so we can see ourselves reflected back?