As soon as I saw episode 4 of Game of Thrones, I came across Jessica Chastain’s tweet slamming it with the sentence: “a woman doesn’t need to be victimized in order to become a butterfly.” I agree with Chastain’s statement, however I also do not feel that Sansa Stark’s character construction glorifies rape and abuse as a tool to empower women. When the young Lady of Winterfell tells the Hound that, “Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would’ve stayed a little bird all my life,” I immediately thought about Nietzsche’s quote: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Game of Thrones presents a violent world from the very first season, where both genders (think of Theon Greyjoy’s brutal emasculation), have to navigate a survival of the fittest. This is the same gut reaction I had while reading Jade Sharma’s ‘Problems,’ that was published a few years ago in the USA and was just released in my country, Italy. Perhaps, being a European who was lucky enough to live for a while in New York, I had the chance to nurture my personal matriarchal ideals from both cultural perspectives.
Feminist historiography is important to deconstruct patriarchy, but we should aim for an inclusive world where neither gender prevails on the other. This can be achieved by reminding ourselves that in fiction, as much as in reality, both men and women can either be frail and be destroyed by tragic events, or embrace a combative spirit to emerge as phoenixes from their ashes. Along these lines, Jade Sharma, presents this crude reality through her female protagonist. ‘Problems’ unveils the story of a troubled heroine who is overwhelmed by drug abuse, but seems to fight like a warrior through a world of perdition she has chosen to helm.
The Indian-American author introduces us to Maya, “a thrifty, generic brown” woman full of self-destructive complexities. She has a low self-esteem and is a lymphatic bulimic, heroin junkie and is addicted to a zillion other drugs. Maya is also an unrealistic writer and bookseller, who is married to an alcoholic and has an affair with a professor who is over sixty years old. The literary style adopted, for this harrowing coming-of-age tale, is a stream of consciousness that is fiercely physical, both from a lustful and scatologic standpoint. The way the writing flows almost seems to be taken from a stand-up comedy stage: it’s sardonic, irreverent, raw and current with millennial psychology.
‘Problems’ is fraught with sharp thoughts, that obviously pertain to those struggling with addiction, but also to people pondering upon the challenges of intersubjectivity. For instance Maya brings to the readers’ attention the weariness that can come out of an unhappy marriage when she says: “Seeing the same person so much it makes you not see them at all.” She also struggles with body appearance when she declares: “Age is meaner than death,” and reminds us all, how conflict sometimes can be a trigger for people craving for attention, when she admits: “I can’t handle not having someone around to tell me I look hot or get mad at me or just acknowledge my existence. It’s like, what’s the point of being alive if no one is there to see it? If there’s no one to disapprove of my behavior, then why bother doing it?”
Those who have pursued a career in the arts, moving to New York City, without necessarily being addicts will definitely identify with Maya’s reflections on the subject matter: “You live in New York, and you’re cool. You have an apartment in the East Village, and you call yourself an artist. But after a while, you forget what it was you were excited about. There is nothing here for you. You feel like a sucker every day paying fourteen bucks for a pack of smokes. You take stock of your resources, and you don’t have anything. You call yourself an artist, but you work fifty million hours a week just to sleep in a room where only a bed fits. You go to bars where you can sit down or hear anyone talk. You’re a hipster in New York City. There are a million of you, and it doesn’t matter that you believe you’re talented, because no one cares and you’re only getting older. The thing you didn’t realize when you were fourteen and thought Kurt Cobain was God was that not every weirdo with an ironic tee from Urban Outfitters makes it. There are a lot of people in their sixties, toothless, broken and poor, who have stories of almost making it. At what point do people hear ‘loser’ when you say ‘artist’?”
Our narrator truthfully grasps the struggles of living that New York artists have to confront. She equally dissects mercilessly and authentically the life of a junkie: “One of the greatest myths of addiction is that it’s interesting. It’s the most boring thing anyone could ever do. There is a slight glamour in the beginning, a feeling of doing something wrong, of indulging in a weird world populated by ghosts who used to be struggling musicians but don’t make music anymore, or writers who need write. And then your whole life is getting high and being numb, and there’s absolutely no reason to leave your bed except to get more money. Your life becomes a triangle of elemental needs: get money, get drugs, get home. Dope is a tease. It makes you not want anything else. There’s no freedom in the end, it’s just another jail.” Maya, besides the profound observations also manages to be humorous about life in rehab, venting out: “Sometimes it feels like you are being punished, and the real program is to make you so miserable that you don’t try to use or off yourself again because you may fail and have to come back. That’s pretty much the lesson you take away: next time kill yourself properly, or don’t try.”
The conclusion of this psychotropic chronicle is summed up with Maya’s query: “When did I confuse hedonism with lousy old self-destruction?” But whether we have addictions or not, the ultimate lesson Maya teaches us is to embrace the hardships knowing that the ebb and flow of life will knock you down, only to teach you to stand up again and not give up. As the book beautifully ends: “You will feel waves of sadness and you will let them run through you because that is what they are: passing waves.” To stay in line with Game of Thrones our Maya seems to adopt Arya Stark’s mantra to the question “What do we say to the God of Death ?”… “Not Today!”