I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Diana Joseph

Posted: June 20, 2009 in Book Reviews
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imsorryyoufeelthatwayREALDiscussing her book, Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids, and Life in a Half-Changed World, writer Peggy Orenstein states, “Motherhood silences women.  The kryptonite words for women are fat, slut, bad mother and selfish.  The words make us lose our powers just like Superman loses his in the face of kryptonite.”  After reading Diana Joseph’s memoir in essays, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Tale of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man and Dog, it’s apparent that these kryptonite words fail to cripple Ms. Joseph.  Instead, she examines the language used by the men in her life, in addition to their actions, to explore themes pertaining to the various roles that define her.

Joseph chronicles her relationships with the men in a series of hilarious character sketches.  And as the subtitle suggests, she profiles her father, brothers, husbands, son, colleagues, friends, ex-boyfriends and, of course, her dog (who can’t quit humping everything in his path).  While the essays focus on males, they uncover more about the writer—her desire to understand these men in an attempt to gain self-understanding.

Raised in a blue-collar Pennsylvania town, Joseph’s father owned a towing and auto body shop.  One of her past boyfriends painted her name in gold on his demolition derby car and proposed to her by hiding the engagement ring in a bean burrito.  She has worked her way up from waitress to college professor, observing differences in class throughout her journey.  As a single mother, Joseph preferred smoking and reading during her son’s Tee Ball games, while the helicopter moms cheered on the team and left her alone.  As an Adjunct Professor, she attended parties where her colleagues discussed nature and talked about their cats.  These people and their conversations didn’t interest her, and she tried to let them know it.

…the phone would ring, and [the boy would] run toward it, crying, It’s Dad! It’s Dad! only he was superexcited so it came out sounding like It’s Sad! It’s Sad!
“That is sad!” a cat-talker said.  She was the trim, fit athletic wife of someone in the math department.  Or maybe geology.  Hers was a happy life.  Her cats were named Cutie, Kiki, and Beaner.  I had interrupted her cat story with my boy story, and now she was empathizing with me, and I didn’t like it one bit.  What was her deal?
“Oh, it’s sad all right,” I said.  “Nine times out of ten, it’s a collection agency calling.  I don’t have any money, so it’s actually tragic.  For them.”

She also contrasts herself with friends and close colleagues.  There’s the Satanist who’s deeply rooted in his family.  Joseph fears for his soul and worries about this young man because her religious upbringing and the people who contributed to it have remained with her since childhood.  And there’s her snarky colleague who wears designer clothing and takes art photos of nude women.  While Joseph tries to conclude whether he’s a pervert or a romantic, she never forgets about her desire to knee him in the balls.

She continues by drawing parallels between situations pertaining to family members.  In separate essays, she writes of the sex talk she received from her dad and the one she gave to her 5-year-old son.  Her dad’s was vague and indirect, while her talk was extensive and included a lesson in mythology.  Joseph also shows how different her two brothers are—one’s a crude police officer, the other’s a quiet doctor—yet, she reveals how they both have similar desires in life: to meet a nice girl, start a family.  Even if she doesn’t know everything about these men, she understands enough about them to show compassion and empathy.

But she still seeks answers, and getting the men in her life to open up isn’t always easy.  Her son often refuses to give her straight answers, while she expresses timidity about asking her father anything too personal.  Her brother, Mitchell, hardly says a word over the phone, while her brother, Bye-Bye, responds obnoxiously, often disclosing the details of his sex life.  Despite the lack of communication that can occur, Joseph provides meaningful insight about her relationships with men.  She questions her effectiveness in each role, while attempting to understand and define the meaning of those roles.  At times, she seeks reassurance that she’s doing a good job, while other times she just wants a break. This memoir shows that Diana Joseph is a person who’s not afraid to poke fun at herself for the purpose of discovery.  Along the way, she invites readers to laugh along with her.

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