Writing in her late twenties, Meghan Florian is not quite writing from middle-age, or from a mid-life crisis. So what does it mean to her to be in “the middle of things?” The second essay in this slender collection, “What about Breakfast at Tiffany’s?” contains the line for which the book is named, and helps illuminate the place from which Florian writes.
In the essay, Florian is trying to understand the appeal of Holly Golightly, Audrey Hepburn’s character in the film, especially to contemporary feminist women. As she sees it, Holly is a strong woman, but still dependent upon men, and the happy ending she gets in the film is incomplete. Florian wants more for her - wants to believe that “we could belong to each other without hemming each other in,” that love and freedom are not mutually exclusive. It’s for this reason that the film doesn’t satisfy her. She doesn’t want a happy ending that is just the beginning of a new relationship; she wants to know what happens next. “Holly believes in happy endings,” she says, “but me? I think we’re still in the middle of things.” For Florian, to be in the middle of things is to have come to a realization that adulthood and romance and faith are not quite what she had been led to believe they would be, and to be engaged in what she’s realizing will be the life-long task of figuring out what these things will mean for her.
To be in the middle of things is also very much about the materiality, the thing-ness of life. As a woman with a bent towards gnosticism, towards living in the mind and spirit more than in the body, part of Florian’s coming of age requires a new engagement with the body. We see her buying furniture and dishes for an apartment after nearly a decade of plastic dorm-ware and a twin bed. We watch her learn to love her hair, and come to grips with what it means (or not) to dress professionally as a woman in male-dominated academic spaces.
The stand-out essay in this collection is the first, “Camp Kierkegaard.” Moving skillfully from a present tense account of hanging out with a band in Minneapolis to accounts of her college and graduate school experiences, Florian manages both to illuminate her spiritual life and write about existential philosophy in an accessible way. A kind of intellectual bildungsroman, the essay left me thinking of half a dozen undergrads I know who would identify with its account of faith lost and found.
Many of these essays feel familiar, like something Roxane Gay would write at The Rumpus, or like conversations I’ve had with students and friends over the last decade, asking questions like why can’t we have graduation showers instead of bridal showers? and should I really give internet dating a try? and how am I going to survive being the only woman in this class/department/office? Florian paints a genuine and relatable picture of what it’s like to be a feminist woman of faith coming of age within academia. Many readers will recognize themselves there with her, in the middle of things.
Amy Peterson teaches and works with the Honors program at Taylor University. With a B.A. in English Literature from Texas A&M and an M.A. in Intercultural Studies from Wheaton College, Amy taught ESL for two years in Southeast Asia before returning stateside to teach in California, Arkansas, and Washington. Amy has written for River Teeth, St. Katherine Review, Relief, Books & Culture, The Millions, Christianity Today, The Other Journal, The Cresset, and Art House America, among other places. Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World is her first book. She will complete her MFA in Creative Writing through Seattle Pacific University in August 2018.