Tuesday I woke up exhausted and voiceless; I wrote a quick lesson plan for the substitute, texted my principal, and then went back to sleep until noon. I woke up feeling marginally better (the internet tells me it’s likely laryngitis; i.e., I’ll sound like a smoker for a week) and ready to read something. Twitter came to the rescue and told me that Blair Braverman’s “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube” was on sale (still is!) so I downloaded it and dove in.
I started following Blair on Twitter maybe five months ago, when I stumbled on her footage of the minis and the maxis meeting for the first time.
I’ve been a devoted member of #uglydogs ever since, laughing at the antics of Blair and Quince’s sled dog team, crying at probably most of the threads, too. In fact, R has told me I’m not allowed to read Blair’s threads unless I’m home with my own dog, because inevitably I turn to her with teary eyes and go “I love dogs and I just love Rilke so much and I want to kiss her big perfect face.”
One of the things I love most about Blair’s Twitter threads is the way she sees all the living creatures around her with such love. It is not an impractical or blind love; but you can tell she’s someone who is investing in seeing the world as it is. And seeing is an act of love.
So I was excited on Tuesday to curl up with this big baby and Blair’s memoir.
The story begins with an encounter between Blair and a dying man on a beach in front of a bonfire. The man asserts, over and over, that “he could have fucked her” if not for his illness. Stoic, Blair remains silent. It is the first hint: this is not a story about ice axes and daring rescues on a mountainside. It is about a different, particularly female, kind of survival.
Over the course of the narrative, Blair travels back and forth to Norway, where the bulk of the story takes place: with her parents as a 10 year-old, on an exchange program in high school, at a folk school the year after high school, in her mid-twenties as a traveler and then a part of a community. She also spent two summers in Alaska.
The examination of “What does it mean to be in the world, in the body of a woman?” runs throughout the story. Blair writes the reader into the complexity of questioning, “Is he good or bad? If he’s good, why doesn’t this feel good?” It feels very deeply female, this questioning. It feels true and sad and naming it also feels necessary. When she writes about her host-father in Norway during high school she describes, “I doubted myself so violently that I split into two: the part that was afraid, and the part that blamed myself for my fear.”
That moment reminded me of parts of “Educated” by Tara Westover — a desire to reconcile the halves, to square the inner truth with what the world (or the men in our lives) said was true.
Along with a story about female survival, though, the book is a story of community. Blair’s friendship with a general-store owner in northern Norway is the spine of the narrative. Arild and his store become the heart of Blair’s growth towards herself. In Norway, she helps him feed lambs, visit far-flung customers, and open a local museum. She builds a place for herself at the coffee table with the other regulars.
One of the strengths of the storytelling is Blair’s ability to hold both the moment and the reflection in a balance such that the reader is within the narrative and they know where they are in a larger context. Near the end, Arild, who has been nothing but kindness and platonic support for Blair, makes an off-color sexual remark. Shaken in the moment, a few paragraphs later Blair is able to use that moment to help us (and herself) understand both Arild and Norway more deeply.
Dog sledding (mushing) is a part of the story — Blair sleds throughout Norway during her folk school year, and by the end of the book, I feel like I’ve made it (almost) to where I picked up her story on Twitter — happily training a team of joyful dogs alongside her husband, Quince (who, it turns out, is allergic to dogs but supports Blair’s dream because LOVE).
Blair and Quince’s relationship felt like such a gift, too. Honest and based on so much healthy communication. But I’m blabbering a bit, I think.
TL;DR: “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube” is a beautifully written, reflective, and complex story about what it means to be human. I stayed up late to finish it and you should read it!