Memory works strangely for me. I have difficulty seeing things linearly and, oftentimes, my timelines get mashed up and hard to parse through. The three therapists I’ve seen over the last decade told me over and over again that this is common for people who have experienced trauma, especially when that trauma is linked to family and identity. So this experience isn’t unusual, yet a lot of our conversations about memory and telling our stories are so focused on telling those stories in a way that “makes sense” both chronologically and emotionally. When we read the stories of others, we expect a seamless and clear narrative account of their lives even though we mostly couldn’t do that with our own.
In Juniper Fitzgerald’s debut memoir-in-fragments, Enjoy Me Among My Ruins, she bypasses the expectation to tell her story in a neatly contained narrative. The book is composed of ten major sections, each just a few pages long. The sections are interspersed with pieces of her teenage journals — all addressed to her diary, named after The X-Files‘ Gillian Anderson — and loving accounts of some of the most important women in Fitzgerald’s life. Although the book is only 100 pages, Fitzgerald creates an intimate and lyrical archive of the contents of her memory that, on the outset, seem somewhat disconnected but work together to form a holistic view of Fitzgerald’s experiences as a scorned child, a sexual assault survivor, a radical sex worker, a devoted mother, and a “monster.”
Through the various lenses of her life experience, Fitzgerald explores the ways women are treated, disregarded, and vilified because of the choices they make, the people they become, and the way they express themselves. To do this, she takes us through her adolescence growing up in Nebraska, her time spent in the Midwest and Las Vegas, her work on porn sets and in graduate school, her relationships with men who harmed her, and her deep, deep respect for the responsibility of motherhood.
As the memoir progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that the thread connecting her examination and understanding of these pieces of her life is the intersection of her identity as both a sex worker and a mother. Because of this frame, the book also becomes a work of auto-theory, expanding the reader’s perceptions of both of these statuses. In a particularly powerful section of the text, Fitzgerald describes a situation where a break she took to breastfeed her child on the porn set she was working on led to a discussion among the rest of the sex workers and crew present about their lives as mothers and sex workers. From that conversation, she concludes:
When the wife-and-mother class is also the whore class, patriarchal domination is so threatened, so ultimately blanched and blinded by its own precarious ideology, that it digs its claws in deeper, threatening not only the safer of sex workers but of our children as well. […] And so those of us who occupy these two classes simultaneously, those of us who must mourn the stigma and violence against sex workers on a daily basis, will continue to push back with images of lilies, of the fleur-de-lis, reclaimed and reimagined as both Madonna and whore.
In a later section, she discusses her work as a phone sex operator and braids it with a striking reading and interpretation of Madeline Miller’s Circe. It might sometimes feel as if the view of sex work and the people who do it have shifted dramatically, but Fitzgerald’s work here is a reminder that this is far from the case. People pass moral judgment on the work she does — either by thinking it evil or by assuming she is being taken advantage of — and do so more harshly because she is also a mother. However, for Fitzgerald, this is something she can do easily to supplement the meager income she makes in academia: “I do not mistake the incorporation of feminism into my sex work for liberation. This is merely one underpaid, shitty job in a long line of underpaid shitty jobs. But ‘shitty job’ is not the same as ‘sexual exploitation’.” Where the character of Circe was forced to turn the men who tortured and abused her into pigs so that their power could be stripped from them entitrely, Fitzgerald does what she has to do to survive in face of a world that is rooting against her.
While there are many significant and powerful moments in the text, the most impactful moments come in the eighth section of the text. Here, Fitzgerald talks the most straightforwardly about her tumultuous relationship with her family, her queerness, and the family she is building outside of her family of origin. She says early on in this part that “Queerness means surviving and escaping the spaces we were not meant to survive or escape” and then goes on to discuss her family’s treatment of her gay uncle, Victor; the trauma she’s inherited as both a child of people who have experienced trauma and a receiver of the abusive behaviors that trauma often breeds; the kind of friend-family she’s built for herself and for her child; and about the importance of radical narratives about queer life. She quotes theorist and writer Laura Westengard’s work about how Gothic texts often present queer sex as “monstrous, abnormal, and pathological” and takes it further:
But it is also precisely at this intersection of monstrosity, abnormality, and pathologicality where queer liberation lives: not poster children for homonormative narratives about fucking consumption and property ownership and child-rearing. But instead, monsters with peeling flesh and scandalous bodies, helping one another navigate fields of hemlock under a harvest moon.
Even though Fitzgerald is investigating and guiding the reader through some of the most pertinent and difficult conversations about our society at this time, it never feels as though the issues she presents the readers with are too hard to carry. The text showcases Fitzgerald’s resilience through it all and gives us a visceral analysis of what it’s like to exist within the context of marginalization and persecution. She models not only a will to survive but also a will to create better conditions for the people around her and for the ones who come after her.
Enjoy Me Among My Ruins by Juniper Fitzgerald is out now.
this sounds INCREDIBLE and i cannot wait to read it!
Sounds like this will be a great book. I love the allusion to Madeline Miller‘s Circe. That book rocked my world since I was once fascinated by Greek mythology, before I realized just how patriarchal it is usually told.
Thanks for this smart and beautiful review Stef! I love your point about us expecting memoirs to show us a life in a way that we couldn’t do with our own lives.