Monday, June 30, 2008
I know Emily through my husband, who used to play music with her ex-boyfriend a few years ago when he was still her boyfriend. We were not by any means close, but our meetings were always friendly, with a lot of sympathetic eye-rolling when our partners got a little too deep into discussions of four-tracks or King Crimson. (Did they really talk about King Crimson? I don’t know, but I seem to recall, at one time or another, progressive rock being an issue.) I remember that my husband hung out at their apartment once, bringing home to Manhattan the opinion that they were a really nice couple as well as a copy of a fun novelty book from Emily’s publishing company. Emily, if you read this, I think we still have that book – do you want it back?
I also remember meeting up with her and her then-boyfriend on Second Avenue once to go to a verité music flick at Anthology. It was hot, hot, more than hot, and I hadn’t been able to eat much of anything all day, finally managing to choke down a strawberry popsicle on St. Mark’s Place. (I am an epic, ugly sufferer in the heat.) I’d had a hard time deciding what to wear, because I wanted to do my husband proud in front of the music friends who I knew would be at the movie, but I also wanted to not die of heat stroke. I ended up wearing a floral dress with crochet trim, which felt overly correct and schoolmarmish next to Emily’s slightly grubby ribbed white tank top and black jersey skirt – I think it was the kind with the fold-down waistband that was only just starting to be popular. Once at the film – endless, grainy, unedited footage of hairy Japanese musicians doing nothing much – I continued to writhe with discomfort, heat streaking up and down my body despite the air conditioning, and I finally ran to the bathroom and puked up my popsicle. My husband told his friends that I had the flu and took me home. I can’t remember now if I really had the flu or not.
Finally, I also remember going bowling at Port Authority with her and her then-boyfriend and a couple of other friends on my husband’s birthday. Neither she nor I were very good bowlers, and I seem to remember her being nice but not a whole lot of fun, but I can’t really blame her for that, as how fun is it to have to go to Port Authority and do something you’re not really good at for the birthday of someone you don’t really know?
A few meetings of that sort were all there was to my personal contact with Emily. Some time later, I saw online that she had become an important person at Gawker, and then I heard she wasn’t anymore, and then I heard she broke up with my husband’s music friend, and then I heard she was writing all sorts of things online about her relationships, and then I heard about this New York Times thing, which I finally read yesterday afternoon.
I expected to be completely revolted by the article for several reasons:
1) While I was not AT ALL part of the situation IN ANY WAY and thus have no real need or right to take sides, I took Emily’s ex-boyfriend’s side in their breakup on the principles that A) a breakup requires one to take sides, and B) I know him better than I know her.
2) Thinking about it in an offhand sort of way, I find Emily’s career arc to be slightly distasteful – the lack of general seriousness, the rise to public prominence for no meaningful reason, the dependence on celebrity/gossip culture, the exhibitionism, etc. (Public school teachers in high-needs urban areas find most people’s career arcs to be slightly distasteful. So watch out when you are talking to a public school teacher in a high-needs urban area. Chances are she is judging you.) Also, and this is probably unfair because I don’t actually know anything about Emily’s background, but it just seems to me like the career of a child of privilege because, well, because that’s how it seems.
3) I really hate the self-importance of the New York media echo chamber and the continuous implication that what they’re doing is REALLY CENTRAL to everything. To jump ahead into the article for a moment, Emily writes that Gawker has all the “information about being young and ambitious in New York.” Sorry, no. No, no, no, no no. A certain type of youth and ambition, perhaps. But, young and ambitious as we may be, I can say with confidence that neither I, nor my husband, nor most of our friends find ANY of the information in Gawker necessary or even pertinent to our pursuits.
4) (This is really the most important reason.) THE TATTOOS. Emily, if you read this, I am so, so sorry, I truly am, but HOLY GOD THE TATTOOS. Yes, I know I have a tattoo also, BUT IT IS NOT OF THE SEQUINNED FLOWERS ON GRAM PARSON’S NUDIE SUIT. IT JUST ISN’T, OK? Emily, if you read this, you totally know that there is a difference between just getting a tattoo and getting THAT TATTOO. I know you know there’s a difference, because that’s why you got that tattoo, but you think it’s a GOOD DIFFERENCE and I think it’s a BAD DIFFERENCE. AND KNOWING ABOUT IT MAKES IT REALLY HARD FOR ME TO TAKE YOUR WORK SERIOUSLY. I’M SORRY. There. I said it. (But not really. I typed it. Your article is sort of about the difference between those two things. Maybe it would have been a better article if it had been more specifically, thoughtfully about the difference between those two things. I don’t know. I’m just glad I didn’t have to write it.)
However, as much as I expected (and maybe hoped) to, I did not come away from the article thoroughly disgusted. Yes, I was annoyed by the media thing, but that’s old hat. Yes, there’s a certain vapidity to it in the sense of, who the hell really cares about the minutiae of this girl’s life? But it’s not really Emily’s fault that the New York Times Magazine offered her a cover article despite the fact that her story is essentially free of interest to the general public. Hey, I wouldn’t have turned it down either, no matter how little I had to say, and I bet you wouldn’t either, so I can’t work up any true indignation over that.
The worst thing I have to say about the article (and also Emily Magazine) is that it’s often not particularly compelling writing. (Emily, if you read this, I am really sorry. I have no wish to cause you personal pain, even though that is of course what I might be doing. Really, I should just shut up and go back to staring moodily at my sleeping baby or at least write about something more bloggy, like my perineum or my new sandals or my recent trip to Ikea. Because who elected me Ms. Critic of the Universe and gave me the right to talk trash about other people’s creative productions? Nobody, that’s who. But I’m going to keep writing this anyway, and then I’m going to post it online where everyone can see it forever. Because, just like you did, I feel driven to do it, and I feel like it’s some sort of innate right. I feel you, girlfriend. I really feel you. Though, Emily, if you read this, you probably hate the fact that I just called you “girlfriend.” Sorry for that, too.) She is not an especially bad writer, and I guess I ought to salute her for that, as there are lots of especially bad writers out there, but she is not amazing either. For the most part (and there are exceptions), I cannot hear a strong, lively voice behind her words; I cannot pick out the clear, individual consciousness that makes any piece of writing more than just the story that it tells, thus lifting it out of tedium. That, to me, is the most inexcusable part of this whole Emily-Gould-brouhaha-in-a-teapot – if you are going to write endlessly about the excruciatingly private details of your own and others’ lives, oughtn’t you work really hard to WRITE THE HELL OUT OF IT, rather than just providing a serviceable narrative? But on the other hand, I guess WRITING THE HELL OUT OF IT is not really the way that this medium – blogging – works. You just sort of write it from wherever you are at the moment, and everyone - including you - gets to decide later if it’s tedious or not. Like I'm not sure I wrote the hell out of this essay, and I can't figure out how important it might be to do so. I don’t know. I just don’t know.
Anyway, I was really not especially revolted by the article, though I really would have re-thought those photographs, don't you think? Instead, I just felt a little sad. (Or “hollow and moody,” as Emily characterizes her own occasional reactions to Gawker before she became its editor.) Mostly, the article was about making a bunch of foolish choices that seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, and who doesn’t identify with that? Whether or not Emily should have made those decisions (maybe not), whether or not she would take them back now if she could (maybe not) – these things don’t really interest me. What interests me is the idea that ALL of us do the same thing. We do things because they truly seem like good ideas, or because we feel that we ought to, or because we can’t stop ourselves, or because we’re being urged on by other people. Each thing we do, correct or incorrect, wise or foolish, shapes our options for the future, and at every moment, we end up where we are, like it or not, with no choice but to set out again from there. And yes, I know that I’ve written about this idea before. Shut up already.
The comments that follow the online version of the article are mostly negative and mostly toe one of the following lines: Why write an article lamenting exposure if it just exposes you more? Or, Oh boo hoo, now you’re super famous and you’re SO SAD – some people have real problems, you know? Or, why do you think we care about your life anyway? Or, THIS IS ALL YOUR OWN DAMN FAULT! Or, I can’t believe you’re still profiting from the flagrant unprofessionalism and personal betrayal you have shown so uniformly throughout your career.
There is obvious truth to these criticisms – so obvious that I’m not sure why anyone bothered writing them. The thing that really strikes me, though, is that, at this point in the game, there’s not a whole lot that Emily Gould can do that wouldn’t be open to such criticism in one way or another. She could, of course, just disappear – stop working in media altogether, or write only under a pseudonym known to no one at all, or join a Buddhist monastery (abbey?) – but I think we can all agree that these are not particularly satisfying, sensible, or realistic options. Just like everyone else in the world, Emily did what she did, and now she is where she is, and while we can perhaps criticize the former, it’s sort of redundant to criticize the latter.
Really, though, personally speaking, I feel hesitant to criticize at all, because I can sense how very close I stand to the shaky ground on which Emily stood. (And still stands?) When I began this blog, I had the idea of maintaining strict anonymity. But I ran into a problem right away, because I had to tell people about the blog, and then I wasn’t anonymous to the people I told. And then I went and posted my own picture, so theoretically, strangers could now recognize me on the street. (Though I don’t know how many “strangers” are reading this blog. Reader, who are you? Do I know you? Avast, and identify yourself!) Also, I’ve gotten pretty close to over-sharing. I’ve told you about my underwear, my depressions, and my conflicts with my husband, and I know these are not things that normal people just walk around sharing with everyone. Even right now, in writing this essay, in linking to a talked-about article and an infamous blog, I am thrusting myself into a large, public discourse. And in doing that, of course, I’m taking advantage of Emily’s fame, which I have criticized in this very essay. And I’ve done this on purpose, because it made sense at the time. There may come a day when I regret all of it - the sharing, the pictures, the linking, everything - but there will be nothing I can really do about it. On that day, I will just have to do what Emily Gould and all the rest of us all must do every day - take stock of where I am and then move on.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Another depressing feature of the last day of school is the check line. Teachers, sweaty, hot, and irritated, line up, as though at a soup kitchen, to beg their summer checks from the payroll secretary. Today, when I got to the front of the line, I found that, due to some sort of confusion about my maternity leave, the Department of Education had elected not to issue me my summer checks – over five thousand dollars of pay, the sole reason I returned to work before the school year ended. I knew then that I was finished. There were still three hours left in the school day, but I entrusted my small pile of personal belongings to another teacher’s care, went downstairs, and walked out of the building.
Monday, June 23, 2008
To be honest, this lifestyle is pretty nice. It is true that my attention is divided between my household and my work, but this is the sort of strain that is just bad enough to complain about but not so bad that it causes true, grinding unhappiness. Moreover, the challenge of the work/home division (and not feeling like there are enough hours in the day for both) is old hat, just recast in a different light by the baby. In exchange for taking on this familiar challenge, I no longer have to deal with the newer, more intense challenges that come from being at home with the baby. I do not have to deal with the sometimes killing tedium; I do not have to look at the clock, thinking the day is almost over, and realize with a sinking heart that my husband won’t be home for hours. I do not have to decide what to do next; I do not have to feel the guilt of wanting to do nothing. I do not have to force myself up and out; I do not have to take responsibility for shaping my days and making them meaningful.
Even when I come home after work now, I feel a certain distance from the baby. I don’t mean that I love the baby less or want to be away from him. It’s just that I feel less attached, less seamlessly joined, simply because I am. It feels normal – as it didn’t before - to hand the baby over, having someone else hold him while I’m cooking or washing my face or typing or reading or sitting around spacing out. It seems normal for someone else to be feeding the baby warmed breast milk in a bottle while I sit nearby pumping more. It seems normal to leave the baby with someone else when I walk the dog or run little errands to Duane Reade or the post office.
So, yes, there is a certain luxury here – the spaciousness brought by any kind of detachment from anything (material goods, your parents, your ex, Project Runway, etc.). But even as I sense – and maybe enjoy – this luxurious distance, it frightens me, because I do not want it. So when I am at home, even if my mother or my husband or a friend is there too, and even when I’m not sure I really have to or want to, I make a point of holding the baby close, keeping him on my hip, taking him with me when I leave the room, nuzzling and tickling him, watching the expressions cross his face, watching his little hands shape the air around us. I do not want to feel detached from my baby; I do not want to feel normal when I am away from him. I want to miss his warm little bulk against my body; I want to miss his smell wafting around me. Not missing him feels unstable and risky, as though I am a boat about to become unmoored and float adrift on wide, dark water.
I am not advocating martyrdom or masochism, and I am not saying that babies must always be with their moms. I mean only to suggest that when a mother and young baby are separated, a certain level of discomfort is perhaps natural, and that the lack of such discomfort mightn’t be a particularly positive development.
It seems to me that the baby also instinctively feels the danger of detachment. Even as he goes happily from arms to arms with a dimply delighted smile during the day, he now nurses long when I get home, settling in at the breast to drink for at least twice as long as he used to, gazing dreamily into my eyes as he hasn’t done since he was a brand new nursling. I can’t help but think that he is lingering to remind himself that for now, despite all the bottle warmers and capable caregivers in the world, I am his mama and he is my baby, and the correct order of things is for us to be together.
If it were a year ago, I would start a fight right now. I know the words I could say to do it. I could turn to my husband and hiss, “Why didn’t you take care of it days ago?” I could turn to my mother and whine, “Leave us alone! It’s none of your business!” And then we’d be off, maybe momentarily pleased to blow off steam and be distracted from the traffic and road, but then quickly trapped in the horrendously warped logic of arguments, furious at each other and ashamed at ourselves.
But I don’t do it. I don’t even let myself say the fight words in my head. I’m the mama now, I tell myself, blinking away tears of frustration and exhaustion, and the mama has to keep it together. I say it to myself, then I say it out loud a couple of times. “I’m the mama. I’m the mama.” Inspired and considerably cheered, I try something else. “OK, family,” I tell the windshield, “we’re going to be home soon! Just hang in there!” My husband and mother probably think I have gone crazy, but they don’t say anything, and it makes me feel better to say it, so I say it two more times. We are over the bridge and on the West Side Highway. Everyone begins to breathe. We are on Broadway – we are on 145th – we are on Adam Clayton (this, not this) – we are home. My mother brings the baby up, my husband and I unload the car. My husband returns the car, I pick up the dog. We order veggie pizza. My husband feeds the dog. I take the baby to the bedroom and he nurses to sleep, clutching my shirt and patting my tummy with his feet. My mother sets up the air mattress. We have not fought, none of us. I think I have matured about 100 years in the past seven hours. I’m the mama now.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
I remember an acting teacher I had in high school saying, “No magic fairy is going to come down with a magic wand and say, ‘You are talented!’” This is pretty much why I abandoned acting for academics, where every single report card is a magic wand saying, “You are talented!” Validation, in the form of getting what I want, has come very easily to me in the academic world. I am a good student, so I got into the schools I wanted to go to and got good grades there, which got me urban teaching fellowships, which got me all sorts of teaching-related work. But these are all things that I pursue with the continuously-reinforced knowledge that I am indeed one of the best candidates out there for the positions in question. When I send out a resume, transcript, and cover letter, I can be sure that they contain precisely the things that my audience is seeking – solid professional experience, good grades at reputable institutions, good grammar, good spelling, and buzzwords. The resume, transcript, and cover letter would tell me that I’m good enough, and whoever I happened to send them to would respond by agreeing.
On the other hand, when I self-publish a piece of personal writing on the internet, I have no idea if it is good enough. Maybe it is stupid. Maybe it is trivial. Maybe it is boring. I have no idea, and because the quality of writing is not objectively quantifiable, I never will. So publishing my writing here has truthfully been one of the biggest risks I have ever taken. It is also one of the only things that I have done for its own sake, with absolutely no expectation of any return, monetary or otherwise. I have been writing this blog solely for myself, for the pleasure, as I have said before, of making meaning of my own life, and for the satisfaction of having created something that is mine alone and would not exist in the world if it weren’t for me.
To have my efforts then recognized in a way that I had not even sought – to have someone out there decide that I am good enough and then decide to back that opinion up with the offer of money and a legitimate professional assignment – to actually have a magic fairy come down with a magic wand and say “You are talented!” – I was shocked into speechlessness, and I sat down and cried for a really, really long time. It is true that I have been very successful as a student and as a teacher, but I have finally admitted to myself that I have not truly enjoyed either of those roles. I have, though, found the profound enjoyment in birthing, mothering, and writing about my life. It almost seems like too much good fortune that I might be rewarded for turning away from the sure-but-not-happy in favor of the happy-but-risky. It almost seems like too much good fortune that other people might want to become part of what I am doing, and even help me along the way.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
1. You should have a lot of underwear. “I have at least twenty-eight pairs of panties,” she said to me in all seriousness over the phone the other day. “You should have the same. Go to The Gap and get some more. I’ll pay.” Actually, oddly enough, PANTIES is the only category of clothing in which I am not comically overstocked. Now that I have a washing machine in my apartment (in Manhattan! I know! Amazing!) and do laundry about every two minutes, I just don’t need more than a few pairs, and unlike, say, T-shirts or handbags, the general public doesn’t really see panties, so I can’t motivate myself to buy a lot. Although I did go to Victoria’s Secret the other day, where I discovered that A) high-waisted panties are in vogue, which is a great thing for long-waisted, short-legged women like me; and B) Victoria’s Secret does not carry red panties. Who knew?!
2. You should be wearing something under that. “What are you wearing under that?” my mother likes to ask me, pulling my skirt up. She will do this even in front of other people, in public, and God help me if I am not wearing a suitable slip. This means that I now habitually wear a slip with anything that is unlined or made of light-colored or thin cloth, and that means that I am constantly occupied with yanking my slip up or down and bending over to see if it shows, and that means that I often walk around looking like a spastic camel.
3. Don’t let your underwear show. No slips hanging out from skirts, no panties sticking out of jeans, no bra straps hanging out of sleeves.
This last principle is basically common sense – it is, after all, called underwear. So for most of my life, I have taken this pretty seriously and turned my nose up at people who don’t. It seemed to me mere laziness to be walking around with visible underwear. Hey you, I would hiss in my mind, put your clothes on. (The only exception is the case of the deliberate bra-show, which I discussed at length once with my friend KG, and is only acceptable if the bra in question is cute/colorful/ornate/clothing-coordinated and clearly meant to be on display for aesthetic reasons.)
This all changed, though, as soon as the baby was born. As a nursing mom who is always yanking her shirt down in public, I have come to see my bra as outerwear. I have become so immune to my bra showing that I now find it completely acceptable to walk around town like this:
My mother is coming for a two-week visit in a couple of days, and I can only imagine the pain that my new bra-exposing attitude will be causing her. I am considering trying to make up for it by wearing several pairs of panties and one or two slips every day, but I may just settle for taking off all of my jewelry and trying not to look too grownup.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Overall, I was feeling overwhelmed by the drudgery that inevitably follows the excitement of a career change - the drudgery of footwork and paperwork, organization and logistics, and most of all, the drudgery of anxiety, old and new. Why, I wondered, did I ever think I could do this? This AND childbirth education certification? AND yoga teaching certification? I must, I concluded, be insane.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
So that must be OK.
*Cookie is this parenting magazine to which I subscribed right after the baby was born, because I thought it seemed fun, and I really liked the review sections at the back. But, after receiving a few issues, I can't recommend it wholeheartedly, because it tends to feature things like toddler-sized Dolce & Gabbana party dresses (really), panic-inducingly upscale houses and apartments, and impeccably groomed celebrities like Christy Turlington and Liv Tyler romping with their impeccably groomed children in a slightly smug manner. Mothering, of course, is the magazine you're supposed to read if you're a (comparatively) wakilana mamma like me, letting your kid run around pantsless during the day and sleeping with him at night. But in all honesty, Mothering is sometimes a wee bit dull and noticeably repetitive. (YES I KNOW to wear my baby and use cloth diapers. GOD!) I actually really love Wonder Time, but I just found out like two minutes ago, while finding the link to put in this post, that it is a production of evil Disney, so now I don't know what to say.
1. Rice pudding. (Kozy Shack.)
2. Chocolate pudding. (Kozy Shack.)
3. Yogurt. (YoBaby.)
4. Fruit - all kinds, but most frequently apples and watermelon.
4. Soft-shell crab.
5. Ice cubes.
6. Sweet potatoes.
Food aversions that I had when I was pregnant:
1. Japanese steamed white rice at home. (OK if at a restaurant.)
2. Ethiopian food.
3. Raspberry leaf tea. (Towards the end of my third trimester.)
Food cravings that I had immediately postpartum and that have continued on and off since:
1. Sweet potatoes.
2. Dark chocolate.
3. Spinach pancakes. (Dr. Praeger's frozen; these are like potato pancakes, only with spinach in.)
"Little Bear! Little Bear!"
"I have a good name for a bar or a liquor store!"
"Yeah. Wanna hear it?"
"Alcohol for Dummies!"