Becoming (2018) is a memoir by Michelle Obama. And I really, really liked it.
It turns out, that memoirs are my thing – but only IF that person has done something in their life to merit writing one. Michelle Obama was First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. She is married to the 44th U.S. president, Barack Obama, and they were the first African-American family to live in the White House.
Everyone on earth, they’d tell us, was carrying around an unseen history, and that alone deserved some tolerance.
Let me take a quick digression here and talk about other memoirs I read: I loved Born a Crime, about a mixed-race boy growing up in South African apartheid, written by a now-famous comedian residing in the US. I loved Educated, a memoir of a girl growing up with survivalist mormon parents, who stepped into a classroom for the first time at age 17 and went on to get several academic degrees. She has a PhD and no highschool diploma. I loved When Breath Becomes Air – a neurosurgeon who is diagnosed and dies of brain cancer at the precipice of his career.
Our stories connected us to one another, and through those connections, it was possible to harness discontent and convert it to something useful.
What I absolutely do not condone is the disaster of a memoir written by a millenial who has achieved nothing and the only struggles with which she deals with are hair removal and the imagined struggles of her parents’ move from India to Canada – parents who, btw, she bluntly disrespects and patronizes after every few pages. I’m still not over how much of a disaster and waste of time One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of this Will Matter was. It needs to be pulled off the shelves because it’s enabling millenial nagging.
Now, I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child – what do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end
I like that she starts her story at the very beginning (can’t help but sing a very good place to start, as I type this). Her backstory was one of my favourite parts of this book. I really connected with Michelle Robinson from the SouthSide. I related so much to her single life, and life with friends (this was so interesting compared to my friends with kids who related to the part after her marriage to Barrack). This is where all her discussions on education came in, which is a cause I feel very powerfully about.
Michelle demonstrated to her readers the way one bad teacher in second grade can mean the difference between Harvard or a bleak future. Not that those are the only two options out there, but it shows how a small lift impacts the rest of your life. People may trivialize grade 2, but when I look back at my life I can pinpoint teachers at grades 3,4,7,9 and 10 that all did something to change my life. Never think, ‘oh they’re young and preschool doesn’t matter’. Every step matters, and that’s why the calibre of teachers in every classroom is so important.
Even when it’s not pretty or perfect. Even when it’s more real than you want it to be. Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.
I think what was best about my reading experience that I don’t really focus on American politics, and so most of what she says is new to me. It’s funny though, the things I knew about the Obama run were as follows: rumours kept popping up that Obama is Muslim, Michelle’s arms are big, Michelle is a leader in fahsion, Obamacare was a big fail, and they supposedly withdrew troops only to deploy them elsewhere and cause havoc on the Middle East. It’s funny that those are all topics she mentions and explains in her book. All the rumours worked, that was all I knew going in.
The way she explores motherhood, sacrifice and the role of wife is important. Even when the outside looks like you gave up everything for your husband, she shows that the truth is always that you’re your own person, that you’re ALWAYS more than a single role.
There was a lot of female empowerment discussions that really resonated. “These were women who knew their own voices and were unafraid to use them” This quote is exactly how I feel about bookstagram and each book club meeting. Michelle shows us that owning and sharing your story has power. She found strong female role models, she showed us that even just being a wife and compromising your career doesn’t mean relegating yourself to a secondary role. She found her story.
That being said, sometimes she writes too heavily from her feminist retrospect: memories of childhood friends is “WOMEN EMPOWER WOMEN”. Talking to the First Lady Bush during her transition is “A STRONG BOND AND SOCIETY OF WOMEN”. It felt a bit forced, because I’m sure you didn’t subscribe to feminist rhetoric at age 9.
It was one thing to get yourself out of a stuck place, I realized. It was another thing entirely to try and get the place itself unstuck.
Another thing that stuck with me is how failure is a feeling long before it’s a reality. When people give up is when things start to go wrong. Leaving, quitting, thinking that your efforts won’t make a difference. That’s the start of failure. The general stink that permeates the air when all hope is lost, when doom is the perceived outcome – that’s a powerful effect, and being demotivated is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome.
So, everyone, keep striving. Keep learning. And remember, it’s okay to “swerve” because you don’t have to get it right the first time and it doesn’t have to be right forever.
Time, as far as my father was concerned, was a gift you gave to other people