Monthly Archives: April 2009

Thank you and please

I want to thank everyone for your remarkable responses to yesterday’s post.  I will reply more fully in time, but for now I have a favor to ask.  Many of you already have, but if you have not yet been over to Slouching Mom’s place, please go now and offer her condolences on the passing of her mother.

The Biggest Loser

Forgive me.  I know this is long and self-indulgent.  But, this has been a long time coming, and I hope some of you will read it all.  Plus, it sure gives you a lot of background info on me, should you be interested in applying to be my stalker.

          My sophomore year of college, I wrote and directed a one-act play.  It had three characters: a stylish career woman watching her fertile days disappear, her single gay friend who wanted her to have a baby with him, and a perky little waitress.  The play wasn’t half-bad.  I have a good ear for dialogue, and – despite the fact that I was clearly not writing about what I knew – the premise was interesting and plausible.  The ending was a little weak, but during one rehearsal, the main actress suggested her closing line should be the woman’s decision: cheesecake.

            It was the second of three one-acts I would write and direct.  I’m a solid director and it is work I enjoy, and for a time I aspired to be a playwright.  I applied to graduate programs in playwriting.  But, I applied to only the few top programs, under the theory that since I probably wasn’t good enough to get into those, I should give up playwriting. I was rejected.  It makes sense.  By then, I was already 21 and had little formal experience in playwriting, other than a couple classes and an independent study with the very gifted Romulus Linney. 

            So, I went to Ed School, instead.  I got a Master’s in Education and proceeded to teach high school English for three years.  But, I was edgy.  See, I’d always been the girl with all the shimmering potential, the promising writer that everyone just thought might be famous someday or the sharp mind who brought whole new lights to the books we were reading.  And, so high school teaching seemed dead-end, because the only place to move up was administration, and I figured if I were going to enter administration, it might be easier to simply inject arsenic directly into my bloodstream.  If there is one thing I am not, it is a leader of people.

            So, I applied to graduate programs in English.  This time, my attitude was a little different.  I knew how hard it was to get into Ph.D. programs in English.  I knew I had gone to the lesser Ivy, hadn’t published, hadn’t taken theory classes, hadn’t been working in an academic press.  I just hadn’t carefully groomed myself for this.  I figured my smarts and my test scores would help, but I knew that (had I but known how to do it) I could have spent the past few years building towards this career.

            I applied to 20 schools and got into two Ph.D. programs and one M.A. program.  I was thrilled.  This would wipe out the sloppy career trajectory.  They would train me to be a professor, give me exactly the path I needed to take.  I could stop feeling like the kid who started baseball two seasons later than everyone else.

            I started my Ph.D. program the fall I was 26.  All I had going for me was my intellectual gifts, my strong work ethic, and the fact that those two things were still more than enough to start a career at 26.

            I spent the next six years in graduate school, working very hard at learning that I did not want to be a professor.  I did well, professors saw a lot of promise.  I got articles published like I was supposed to, but I was not at Harvard, so I knew I would have a limited choice of career options, and that all of my hard work was simply to assure I could get a job somewhere.  Anywhere.

            Unfortunately, I was not married to a man who could just move anywhere.  He had a career, too.  One that would not flourish in North Dakota.  And I didn’t want to put my kids through Mommy working 80 hour weeks for crap pay living in the middle of nowhere with Daddy having either sidelined his career or being gone all the time because he couldn’t work where I did.

            So, I opted out.  Remember them: the Opt Out Generation?  Except that I was going to pursue a different career rather than give up my career completely.  I started looking for jobs as Zach’s first birthday approached.

            I managed to land a job as a contract speech writer, due to the help of a contact, because by now I was 31 and most people were just not all that interested in hiring me without relevant experience.  I loved the work.  I adored my direct supervisor.  The only problem was that this was the most dysfunctional office on the planet and it was clear to me that I was out of favor with the boss’s leading lady.  I gracefully declined to renew my contract on the grounds that I was moving to London and having another baby, both of which were true.  Six months after I left, my amazing supervisor fell victim to the office politics, demonstrating to me that I had gotten out just in time.

            I lived in London and had Benjamin.  I knew we would only be there two years, so finding a job once he was a year old (when I would have wanted to return to work), didn’t make sense.  I couldn’t teach because I wouldn’t even have a full year, and I couldn’t write speeches because I didn’t know the culture or the voices well enough, and I didn’t have any experience in anything else.

            So I wrote a book.  A good one.  And I threw all my effort into finding an agent, which I found.  And she was going to get the damned thing published, I just knew it.  All it would take would be more hard work and talent, the only two things I ever seem to have going for me.  Except for the contact who helped me find a good agent, of course.  And then my career would finally be on a clear path.

            And then this crappy economy happened right after we moved back and I had another baby.  And now I am 35 years old, and my resume doesn’t look all that shiny because it has nothing on it.  The six years earning the degree only made me six years older unless you are searching for someone with a Ph.D.  The years raising kids weren’t years off from my career, because somehow it never got launched before I had them, even though I was in my early 30s.  And the book I wrote?  Isn’t all that impressive since I can’t get it published.

            I can’t even figure out how to land all those paid writing gigs that other bloggers mention all the time.  Seriously.  You people go on about how much you love my writing, but anyone know how the hell I can get someone to pay me to do a couple articles from home?  Yeah, I’ve been to elance, but those are not exactly career-building gigs, and I don’t win those, either.

            And, all of this is to say that I was trying to make peace with forever being the kid who started baseball two seasons too late by telling myself that I was still young, but then I realized something.

            Everyone else who went to school with me is as young as I am.  And you assholes are rocking your careers as legal counsel for Senate Committees and using art to inspire kids to be eco-friendly and making millions and getting books published and running businesses and in the FUCKING PRIME OF YOUR LIVES.  And I am supposed to be your age, but somehow you all got your damned careers in order while I was fucking around with my piddling self-esteem and complete lack of ability to close a goddamned deal.

            And then I saw this, published in a news source I admire.  And you know who the woman who wrote this is, apart from a famous movie actress?  She’s the goddamned perky waitress I cast in my fucking college one-act.  

Theology

             If one does not believe in God, one should probably think twice before sending one’s children to a synagogue preschool.  Yes, they will learn all the cultural shit about Purim and Passover and Shabbat.

            They will also come home talking about God.  A lot.

            The scene is bathtime.  All three slippery little people are in the tub.  Benjamin spies a speck of dust on the wall.

            “Mommy, what that?”

            “What?”

            “That black thing.”

            Mommy inspects, sees nothing.  “What black thing?”

            “That black thing.  That Lilah’s gina?”

            “Um, no sweetie.  Lilah’s v@gina is on her body.  It is where your p-nis is on you.”  I find it amazing, by the way, that he hasn’t brought this matter up before, as he’s been bathing with a baby girl for seven months.

            “Why, Mommy?” Ben wants to know.

            “What does Lilah have a v@gina?”

            “Yep,” he nods conclusively.

            “I know!” Zach pipes up.  This could prove very interesting; there is a damned good chance I am about to hear about X and Y chromosomes from a preschooler.  I wait.  “Girls have v@ginas and boys have p-nises,” he explains to his brother, “because God decided to build them that way.”

            Now, what the fuck?  We don’t talk about God in the house, mostly because we subscribe to the whole lotta hooey school of religion.  (And don’t go getting offended.  I don’t think other people are dumb for believing it, just like I don’t think other people are dumb for liking blue cheese.  It’s just not in my life.)  I guess the preschool talks about God, but I am pretty sure they did not explain human genitalia theologically.

            But, my curiosity has been aroused.  He’s been bringing up God a lot in conversation as an explanation for things, and I want to know exactly what he thinks he is talking about.  “Zach, who is God?”

            “He’s someone who lived in Egypt.  A long, long time ago.”

            So, there you have it, folks.  A long, long time ago in Egypt, a guy named God decided to give little girls v@ginas and little boys p-nises.

Bea and Eve

             I have a disproportionately high number of gay male Facebook buddies (although I may lose some after this post).  J and I did a lot of theater back in the day, an extra-curricular activity that seems to attract more homosexual men than in the general population.  J’s college theater group, come to think of it, had the additional draw of being all-male, which meant that any female roles were played by guys in drag.  That may explain some of my Facebook demographic.

            Perforce, I was among the first to learn about Bea Arthur’s passing.  It seemed as though half the gay contingent of my Facebook crowd was posting about Bea Arthur before I heard about it from any mainstream news source.   For reasons I don’t quite comprehend, Bea Arthur seems to interest to my particular subset of gay male friends.  I am sure there is an interesting sociology paper in there somewhere.

            While I cannot explain Arthur’s appeal to Homosexual Men Who Know Emily (HMWKE), I can explain why they ought to care about Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.  She was a pioneer of queer theory, a woman who helped earn LGBT Studies a place at the table.  Yet, only one of the men who posted about Arthur’s death had posted about Sedgwick’s two weeks earlier.

            But, you argue, they didn’t know about her.

            And this is exactly my point.  For all the hoopla about the internet expanding our news sources and Twitter being the way we’ll all get our news in the future, we’re still just paying attention to the Entertainment section.  All hail the power of the New Media!  We are using it to… gossip about the old media.

            Now, before you get all huffy and call me homophobic, please understand that my point is simply that of these two women, both of whom could be for one reason or another significant to this demographic (HMWKE), only one was repeatedly posted about on Facebook.  I am not saying gay men are especially vapid; in fact, when I compare HMWKE to SFWAKE (you know, Straight Folks Who Also Know Emily), I find that no straight people posted about the groundbreaking scholar at all, but there were plenty who jumped on the bandwagon to post about the actress. 

            As far as actresses go, I liked Bea Arthur fine.  She was tall, she was funny, she gave good face.  Maude was pretty damned feminist, and Dorothy was without a doubt my favorite Golden Girl.  And I loved the Golden Girls, although they seemed a lot older back when I was a lot younger.

            But, come on, people.  Don’t try to tell me the New Media is changing the world in meaningful ways.  If you didn’t know who Sedgwick was back in the days when we all got our news from CNN, you still don’t know who she was. No one re-posted my link to her obit, that I saw.  We’re all still as celebrity-obsessed as we were back when everyone sobbed over Princess Diana and John-John Kennedy.

            Don’t believe me?  Go search for #beaarthur and #evekosofskysedgwick or #sedgwick.  Go ahead, I’ll wait. 

Since Mother’s Day is coming

To my husband,

I know that you have pretty much given up buying me gifts.  Truly, I don’t blame you.  I am a pain in the ass to shop for, mostly because there is so little I appreciate.  I have tried to cut sugar out of my life, so you can’t buy me chocolates unless they are very dark chocolate.  But, the chocolate has to be fair trade because any other chocolate makes me feel like I am eating little child-slaves.  I don’t like getting cut flowers because all I can think about is the resources that went into growing and delivering them.  I seem to be missing the jewels gene, which is just as well, because if you spent money on gems in this economy I’d be seriously pissed off.

Once upon a time, I convinced you to buy me books.  “I’m reading biographies,” I told you.  “Just get me an interesting biography.”  By “interesting,” I did not mean 973 pages on Hans Christian Andersen, who had about the most boring life of any writer.

If you were on Goodreads, you could check out my “to read” list and decide what to get me for Mother’s Day.  I did suggest that to you, but since it took you until last month to join Facebook, I am not holding out hope you’ll be joining any other social networking sites anytime soon.

So, let me be direct.  I would like to read something by Margaret Diehl.  Her books are out of print.  Go to Alibris.  (The rest of you can click on her name and get to her blog.)  I also want to read Mama, Ph.D. and The Bitch in the House, both very good choices for mother’s day.  Finally, if you’d like to stoke my homesickness for Philly, get me LOVE Park, by Jim Zervanos.  You’ll remember that I taught with him my very first year of teaching, and I’d love to read his first book which, given the title, is most likely set in Philadelphia.

But, um, if you buy me a new book, could you try to go through an independent bookstore?

Love,

Your Wife

The everyone’s sick and jetlagged, my husband is traveling, Benjamin is biting again, and I have no help this week blues

Please be forewarned; I am about to whine when I ought to be grateful. This post will consist of bitching about little things and will not end, as it should, with gratitude for healthy children, an income coming in, or even the fact that I have an au pair arriving tomorrow night (cue singing angels).

Eh, never mind. I just talked myself out of bitching. I’m such a killjoy.

Cold feet

             My in-laws have a shoes-on house, but old habits die hard and Zachary and I usually take our shoes off anyway.  Benjamin, my little nudist, is in good shape if he’s wearing pants, so footwear is pretty much shooting for the moon.

            One evening, as J bathed the kids, I emptied the diaper pail.  We emptied it every night as a courtesy to the noses of our hosts.  I went down to the garage and stepped out onto the cold concrete floor.

            The memory was vague and elusive, yet it was as strong as it was instantaneous.  Something about that cold concrete floor came from long ago, that other time, that other house, that other life when I was the child but there were not any parents.

            That was all the memory I got that time – just the recognition of cold concrete on bare soles.

——————————

            We are having a heat wave in Los Angeles.  My laundry, hung out at two in the afternoon, is folded and put away by four o’clock.  (That’s a lie; it sits in the basket for at least five hours, and when I put it away, I mostly shove it unfolded into drawers.  But, I pull the dry clothes in by 3:20, crisply baked from the sun.)  I keep the blinds closed and even resort to the air conditioner.

            Lilah, sniffling from the cold her grandfather shared, sleeps hard in the afternoon and then nurses with gusto.  Her brothers sound disconcertingly friendly in their play, and when I come out from feeding her, it is clear they need to get out of the house.  It is too hot for a playground, and I am not brave enough to take all three anywhere else on my own.

            The mall is three blocks away, and there is a soft play area on the third floor.  If we use the double stroller so the boys alternate riding and walking, we can make it there with little risk of dehydration.  I pack a cup just in case.

            I try to make sure Benjamin is riding and Zach is walking when we cross Pico and Overland.  Ben has a dangerous habit of looking anywhere except where he is going, and the intersection is too busy for him to be on foot unless I can grasp him firmly by the hand.  Zach, obedient child that he is, will hold onto the stroller as we cross.

            As we cross, I urge him to go faster.  The lights are quick here, and we need to make it across in time for the next light or we may all get sun stroke waiting for the next WALK signal.  His skinny legs hustle.

            This time, the memory is more detailed.  The combination of thin legs, oppressive heat, and the mother urging the little child to run faster.  I hear my stepmother on her bike, forcing me to run faster, feel the heat of the summer in my lungs, the desperation of a child who cannot go any faster but has to.

            Zachary has my body; looking at him sometimes evokes the abuses meted out on my thin limbs.  Benjamin’s body is so different from my own, and I relish the sturdiness that seems unassailable. 

——————————————–

            Lilah has my sister’s eyes, and something about her sweetness reminds me of my sister.  Maybe my sister looked at our mother this way, pausing from her nursing to touch the face always just above her own.

            Looking at her, I see my sister.  I cannot decide if the emotion I feel is poignant loss or another chance.

            These are my children.  They are the next generation, touched by family tragedy but one generation removed, as if Faulkner had created a whole new batch of Quentins.