e.b. bartels

Open Letter to That Bra I Lost During Senior Week 2010 by E.B. Bartels '10 (@eb_bartels)

This is the fourth in our Open Letters to Wellesley College series, commemorating Wellesley Underground’s five year anniversary. If you are interested in writing your own Open Letter, please email wellesleyunderground@gmail.com!

Dear Gap Body Hidden Underwire T-Shirt Bra Size 36B,

By now you’ve probably disintegrated as much as synthetic shiny material and wire can disintegrate. By now, at least, you are very, very mushy. That is, assuming you weren’t carried off in the mouth of a professor’s dog or tossed in the trash by Wellesley’s fastidious buildings and grounds crew or tacked up as some as some weird trophy by current members of the Wellesley student body. I know that my friend group at least would have made a bizarre shrine to a bra we found in the mud outside of Instead, but maybe that was just us.

I didn’t mean to leave you there, in the mud, behind Instead that night. I promise you. I never intentionally abandoned you. I was just having so much fun – as you remember, my friends and I had rigged up a kiddie pool – a biddy pool, as we called it – full of bubble bath and hot water pumped in through a hose from the Instead kitchen sink, and sat in the warm spring night under the Massachusetts suburb stars, soaking and talking and passing around bottles of wine and Jim Beam.

It was the last week of May, and we were free. We had finished all our work for our classes. Many of us had jobs. We were ready for graduation, which was the next day. It was the time for us to feel excited, empowered, and ready for whatever was next, but mostly we just wanted to sit and soak and talk. We were comfortable with our bodies and each other, secure enough to take off our bras and toss them to the side as we climbed into the biddy pool. Most of all, we were comfortable in this serene Wellesley College bubble that had been our home for four years. We could do anything here: we could skinny dip in Lake Waban or streak on the golf course or climb the fence to get onto the boat dock and share a flask of whiskey. And we were told we could do anything when we left as well: we could be artists and lawyers and academics and mothers and secretaries of state or even the president herself. Rules didn’t stop Wellesley women.

We were just starting to realize what a special thing we had at Wellesley – just how not-the-real-world it was. That revelation wouldn’t fully sink in, for me at least, until many years after I had been away from campus. But that night held the beginning glimmers of appreciation. At Wellesley, during Senior Week, Campus Police might show up by the biddy pool and look at the empty liquor bottles and students in various states of bathing suits and underwear and nudity and shrug and sigh. No arrests, no fines, just a: “Quiet down a little, okay?” And so we continued to lie in the warm, flowery water, talking and drinking and pretending that Senior Week was much longer than a week, and that the ceremony the next day would not change anything.

When finally the bottles were all empty and the water cold and some sensible person suggested we all sleep a little before donning our tams and gowns, I remember walking back to Claflin across campus. That thick foggy mist had settled over Severance Green, and there was something spectacular about the hazy silver air. It seemed only further confirmation that we did not live in the real world at Wellesley College. I was so taken with the beauty of the campus that night, I didn’t even notice that I had failed to put my bra back on under my t-shirt.

I woke up a few hours later in the bright, harsh morning light of my Claflin suite to my roommate standing over me, adjusting his bowtie. “Don’t you have that Russian Department breakfast soon?” I gasped when I saw the time – my parents were probably already sitting in the small, cozy department office on the fourth floor of Founders that had been my second home next to Claflin, and I scrambled to get dressed, trying to ignore the mix of last night’s leftover buzz mixed with the beginnings of the worst hangover of my life. I grabbed my graduation dress and slammed open my dresser to pull out fresh underwear, only to notice that I didn’t have a bra. I had already packed and sent home a large amount of my things, and I had left myself only one bra. The bra I had been wearing the night before. The bra that now sat in the mud somewhere behind Instead. You.

I panicked and threw on the top of a bikini that I happened to have in my drawer – it would have made more sense to wear that to the biddy pool the night before, but Senior Week wasn’t about being practical and planning, it was about spontaneity – and made myself as presentable as possible before rushing to the Russian Department, where both my parents and my three favorite professors gave me a knowing look.

But, for it all, I didn’t miss you. It was tragic, yes, to leave you behind. Bras are expensive, and I wished you were with me when I had to go back to Gap Body in the Ville later to get myself a new bra. And wearing that bathing suit top under my graduation dress and gown all day was not exactly comfortable, but still. If you were collateral damage for one of the best nights of my college life, so be it. Your loss will always represent those perfect Wellesley nights, still far from the real world but full of so much excitement and potential, strong and ready, spontaneous, drunk, happy, full of love, and free.

Please don’t take it personally.

Love,

E.B.

Alternative Class Notes: EB Bartels ‘10 (@eb_bartels)

In October 2014, E.B. Bartels ‘10 graduated from Columbia University’s School of the Arts with an MFA in creative nonfiction writing. Now she spends most of her time trying to explain to people the difference between “creative nonfiction” and “journalism” without much success. This frustrates her, but not as much as the fact that she is nowhere near the point she thought she would be with her manuscript by now back when she was an idealistic, optimistic, and idiotic MFA student. Writing is slow and hard, huh. Plus she is extraordinarily good at finding other things to do instead of writing, such as bathing her pet tortoise, Terrence, or vacuuming her apartment, or responding to all her emails with lightning-fast speed, or writing alternative class notes for Wellesley Underground. She should probably get back to working on that manuscript.

WU Review: Brief Thoughts on Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind Of Girl and Then Let’s All Move On With Our Lives by E.B. Bartels ’10 (@eb_bartels)

Good nonfiction needs not just the THEN but also the NOW. When a writer tells a story from her past, if the story is really weird or funny or excellent, it is tempting to tell the story and leave it at that. But to make nonfiction really thoughtful and powerful, a writer needs to reflect on the story from her past as her present self and write about, “Why does this story matter? Why am I writing about this now? Why am I still thinking about this all these years later? Why do I think anyone except for me would care about this story?” I am aware of the importance of this because this was the number one criticism I would receive about my work in my MFA nonfiction writing workshops: “E.B., this is funny, but what’s the point? What does current E.B. make of all this?”

Lena Dunham, in her book Not That Kind of Girl, has got all of the THEN but very little of the NOW. Dunham likes to tell a story, but then let it hang. That works sometimes, to let the reader draw her own conclusions, or when the context and commentary around the story as it is being told makes the meaning of the story so obvious that by the time you reach the end, the reader knows exactly its point. But the letting-it-hang happened so often in Dunham’s book that sometimes it felt Dunham was dropping stories for shock value and nothing more. I found myself often thinking, “And….?” while turning the page and seeing that was it. The story was over. Figure out what it means yourself. But instead of this being deep and thought-provoking, which sometimes can happen when a writer lets a story stand for itself, because this happened with almost every story in the book, it made everything feel sort of flat and superficial. Funny, but surface level. Dunham isn’t afraid to tell all her most embarrassing and humiliating stories, but, at the same time, I felt that she seemed afraid to get into the messy darkness of what the stories mean and the purpose they serve.

My favorite moments were when Dunham would actually stop and look at herself, like when she realized that her distraught reaction to her sister’s coming-out was her own self-involved grief over not knowing her sister as well as she thought she did. Additionally, I thought her essay about the confusing stress and anxiety one feels as a rape victim was the most powerful piece in the book. But that essay felt like an anomaly. Moments of self-reflection and analysis were rare, which is too bad, because self-analysis would also help Dunham look less like a privileged child of the New York art world. For example, she drops casually that she hosted a dinner party at age seventeen that was featured in the New York Times style section, with no commentary on how rare and absolutely nuts it is that a TEENAGER’S DINNER PARTY would be featured in the NEW YORK TIMES STYLE SECTION.

I also think including more self-reflection and self-analysis in the book would help especially in situation where the world interprets one of your stories as you molesting your sister. In order to prevent that, throw in some commentary on that right in the heart of the essay (“Looking back on this now, this seems extremely inappropriate…”) instead of just letting the story stand by itself. Cut off the critics before they have a chance to say anything, by writing, right in the piece itself, “I know, this was so fucked up, right?” (Also, if you didn’t want to be compared to a sexual predator, maybe don’t make that comparison yourself? How did that simile get by her agent/editors/readers?)

I think this book had the potential to be much better than it was – just like, in general, I feel Dunham has the potential to be a much better feminist and activist than she is. I enjoy Girls. I find it entertaining. I can relate to a lot of the feelings of being a twentysomething-white-woman-living-in-New-York. But it’s not groundbreaking for me, it’s not a show I need to watch again and again because I connect to it on such a deep, personal, emotional level. It’s surface level funny in a lot of ways, which is exactly how Not That Kind Of Girl felt to me. Same shit, different medium. Which is a bummer, because I was hoping for something more. I also think that the book fell short because a lot of it felt rushed, like the publisher was trying to get it out ASAP because Dunham is relevant right now, and many of the chapters felt like filler (the lists, the annotated emails – I felt they could have been funnier or more in-depth and mostly they just seemed like the editor said, “Shit we need another essay but don’t have time, throw in some lists to make the book longer!”) I also think the rushed feeling made for some sloppy decisions, such as the sexual predator metaphor (see above).

Well, at least the cover design is cool?

I had to take a break from reading the book which is why it took over a month to get through, and, in the end, I only finished it to learn what NOT to do and say as a white feminist.

As a white feminist myself, I would like to avoid being of the problematic variety.

Wellesley Underground Presents: New Year’s Resolutions by Some of Your Favorite Wellesley Alums #WomenWhoWillResolve

Wellesley Underground asked some Wellesley alums about their resolutions for 2015. Tweet @wellesleyunderg with your own resolutions and the hashtag #WomenWhoWillResolve.

Hailey Huget ‘10:

1. Repeat resolution from 2014: be a better mother to my window plants. (How are they still alive??)

2. Stop forgetting to cancel free trials of services before they start charging you money. (I’m looking at you, Naturebox.)

3. STOP CLICKING ON CLICKBAIT.

Ashleigh Georgia ‘05:

Investigate options and restructure my student loans (from law school, not Wellesley).

E.B. Bartels ‘10:

In 2014, I read 41 books: 20 by women, 3 by people of color, 2 by women of color, and 4 by people who openly identify as gay or queer. Even though I had grad school professors dictating what I read for the first half of the year, that is no excuse, and even with making an effort to read almost exclusively books by women the second half of the year, these statistics are pathetic.

In 2015, my goal is to read 50 books by women, with the majority of those by women of color. Tweet me recommendations at @eb_bartels!

My other goal is to read The New Yorker as soon as I get it in the mail, instead of just adding it to the big old pile of unread New Yorker magazines on my desk.

Oh, and to go to the gym or whatever.

Shayla Adams ‘08:

Focus. One word. That means I’m really just trying to be present in whatever I’m doing.

Ali Barthwell ‘10:

My resolutions for 2015 are:

Write a ten minute play. Write a one woman show. Write a one man show starring me as Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State. Tell men I like scotch to impress them. Take cardboard boxes to the trashroom in a timely fashion; I’ve had this humidifier for three months and I’m still staring at the box. I’m a fucking animal. Stop having sex with guys who smoke who just broke up with their girlfriends; I will end up in my nightgown with no underwear at 2am on my fire escape listening to some guy tell me how he can’t promise me anything right now or talking to him through my bathroom door while he has a panic attack because my nipples are a different color than his ex-girlfriend’s. In two months, I’ll be unfollowing him on facebook because he’s dating some girl named Katie or Kate and they won’t stop taking pictures kissing in front of vintage pinball machines. When anyone tells me I’m single because my standards are too high, I resolve to punch them in the god damn face. Figure out how to keep lettuce from going bad. Contribute to my Roth IRA on a regular basis, I have an IRA, a mortgage, and I asked for a blender for Christmas – my childhood is over. Donate money to causes I care about; it makes me feel good and gives me something to brag about on Okcupid dates. When a white person says “bae,” I resolve to punch them in the god damn face. Go to more of my friend’s shows. Only go to my friend’s shows if there’s a person of color in the show; I’ve spent too much time in my life watching a series of indistinguishable white men pretend to be women call each other cunt onstage. Live, Laugh, Love.

Shelly Anand ‘08:


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