“Dare” to Not Buy Crappy Makeup!

My last few attempts at posting were made while my son was napping, or sort of napping, and were about his naps (or lack thereof). But describing the minutia of our sleep travails (suffice it to say that they have been many and excruciating) has gotten really boring. And, while it’s not inconceivable that someone, somewhere might want to read about them – I’ve certainly drawn comfort from other people’s accounts of a baby who only naps while being nursed/held/rocked/worn in a sling in a pitch-dark 71 degree room while their parent does squats and recites The Iliad from memory – I’m sick of writing about them. So, I’m going to at least try to write about something else. (Although, at the risk of jinxing this miraculous event, my son is, at this moment, asleep; in his crib!)

So. Hi! It’s been a while. In the time that has elapsed between this and my last post, I’ve experienced the sublime agony of childbirth, become a mother, moved in with my parents, and reacquainted my liver with alcohol. I’ve made a buche de noel, savory phyllo pies, a Swedish tea ring, chocolate truffles, a Sachertorte, and innumerable cookies, breads, cakes, and pies. (Baking and eating are strong contenders for my favorite pastimes; although I style myself an artist, I probably spend ten hours cooking for every one drawing.)

Over the past (almost six!) months, I’ve exulted in my baby’s smiles, blamed myself for his sleep difficulties, and learned why it’s so damned hard to write about the love you feel for your child in anything other than unctuous cliches. I’ve experienced a previously unimaginable fixation on another person’s poop. I’ve discovered the wonders of breastfeeding and the joys of babywearing.

I’ve also listened to a lot of Brian Eno on Youtube (it’s great nap music). According to my demographic profile, Youtube thinks I wear makeup, which I guess I do – but it’s confined to a single tube of lipstick, a mascara that I bought five or six years ago, and a little 99 cent thing of gold glitter. I am not what you would call “in the market” for Maybelline’s “The Rock Nude” eyeshadow palette (do they have The Rock‘s blessing for this travesty?). That doesn’t stop this one particular ad from popping (I initially typed “pooping,” which isn’t much off the mark) all over my video feed.

Why do I hate this ad so?

Let’s start with the obvious: in no way can these colors be considered “nude.” There is, granted, the deep blue of dark circles under under a light-skinned person’s eyes after an all-nighter. But, last I checked, human skin doesn’t come in metallic purple or silver. So, why nude? Annoying.

Next up: the nauseating voice-over. “Dare to Rock. Nuuuuude,” intones a female voice as cloying as margarita mix from a pouch. I gather that this voice is meant to be scintillating, to make me feel adventurous and frisky and incite me to put on my tiniest skirt and most towering heels in the endless quest for beefy, Axe-scented manflesh. But its syrupy. sing-song artificiality is essentially sexed-up motherese. Ew.

Finally: I gather that the waifish, vacant-eyed teen models are supposed to represent an all-female band who Dares! To Rock! I know that makeup is aspirational, that advertisers are selling fantasy, blah blah blah. But seriously? What, exactly, is so daring about caking on makeup designed to maximize your conformity to an oppressively narrow standard of beauty? How is it rock n’ roll to flaunt a socially acceptable body in revealing clothes? The women in this ad, far from fierce and sexy rock n’ roll badasses, are mere props, ciphers embodying a flat, cookie-cutter beauty, a bland and bloodless sensuality calibrated to the male gaze.

I’m not impervious to artifice, nor immune to aspiration: I can be (and am) moved by conspicuous displays of hotness. Every image of Grimes, for instance, makes me want to do something wild with my hair and abandon my earth tones and simple lines for the dadaist flamboyance she wears so well. Perusing Beyonce’s instagram account makes me lust, I’m sorry to say, after the lush opulence of her fabulous life. And I’m sure that I’m affected by advertising. And yet, the mockery that this ad makes of women in rock and roll really chafes. The rich domain of music is thickly peopled with brilliant, innovative, weird women. People who defied the misogyny of rock and roll culture and mainstream society to create on their own terms. I know that “authenticity” is a very slippery concept, and that folks have been co-opting and sanitizing rebellion since before Constantine took up the cross. But still… this ad absolutely galls me.

And now my poor babe is awake and screaming. See ya!

Yeah, Yeah, I’m Supposed to Be “Glowing”.

My life is no longer my own.

This fragile, needy entity growing inside my body will henceforth circumscribe every part of my existence until I am dead.

Even as I experience physical changes—flesh meeting in unfamiliar places, a new creakiness and frailty in my joints, unaccustomed heaviness and slowness—I’m aware that they’re nothing to the other changes that are imminent.

Insofar as I’ve ever had a stable sense of identity, it’s been wrapped up in feelings of isolation and aloneness that sometimes occasion bitter sadness, but just as often a fierce and exuberant sense of possibility.

Since my family never pressured me to achieve anything more concrete than “happiness,” my disappointment with myself has revolved around my failure to make art, to achieve financial security, to write prolifically enough. Still, I’m fine! I’m not incarcerated or destitute or friendless or miserable. The crushing sense of failure I’ve often experienced has been largely a function of too much time and analysis, too little grace.

From now on, though, things will be different. My failures will have the potential to damage a tender and porous little human for whom I am responsible. It’s terrifying to think of the power I’ll have. I want to purge myself of every particle of dysfunction so as to protect my child and insure that I won’t hurt them. But even if I could accomplish this (and I can’t)—the world will hurt them. How will I cope with that failure?

Even as I reflect on my hopes and fears about parenthood, it still seems very abstract. I don’t feel like a mother yet, and I can’t relate on any level to the women who write gushy letters to their unborn children, signed “mommy,” and accompanied by a photo of a beaming woman next to a cutesy chalkboard illustration of the vegetable or fruit to which her fetus is supposedly comparable in size.

What is not abstract is my feeling of loss. Loss of autonomy, of youth, of the ability to be willfully irresponsible, of aloneness.

Of course, this would all occur sooner or later, with or without children. Maybe the sense of isolation at my core, the origin of which I could never quite determine (was it self-imposed? An intrinsic feature of my character? An indicator of maladjustment? A combination of factors?) is, as much as it feels like an essential part of me, an unwholesome and ultimately poisonous indulgence.

Who knows…

But today, I grieve the loss of the fantasy that I answer only to myself, that I can do anything I want to do at any time, that I can abdicate all responsibility and just disappear. That I can be really, truly, alone.

sad sack selfie

Joyous Childbirth Changes the World: A Review

“Women and men are totally different. They are different to the same extent that moles and foxes are different.”

“Women working outside the home have mannish expressions.”

“The coeducation system is a plot hatched by governments and industrial societies… it actually means transforming all girls into boys.”

“Childbirth is the most important process that can enable a woman to become a Mother and a true Woman.”

Were these lines plucked from an ISIS pamphlet on the proper role of women in the Caliphate? A Hassidic dissertation on the impermissibility of educating girls? A Quiverfull tract on women’s jobs as baby factories?

Nope.

They’re straight from Joyous Childbirth Changes the World, by Japanese obstetrician Tadashi Yoshimura. And no, it wasn’t published in 1958: it was published in 2008.

None of this would be terribly surprising if the book were a self-published treatise by a marginal nut-job working in obscurity. The shocking part—the thing that led me to pick up the book in the first place—was a hyperbolic endorsement from the godmother of contemporary midwifery herself, Ina May Gaskin, and from Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom (which—full disclosure—I haven’t read. From what I gather, it seems maybe a little pseudo-sciency, but certainly not at odds with feminism). In a blurb on the cover, Northrup calls the book “A masterpiece of truth and wisdom and hope,” and in her forward, Gaskin compares Yoshimura to Joseph Lister, lauding his “courage and vision.”

Browsing the Ballard library this afternoon, I was looking for something light and easy. I’ve got birth on the brain, and I’m always looking for new insights and information, as well as positive stories about natural, unmedicated childbirth. The title of the book caught my eye: “Hmmm,” I thought. “Joyous Childbirth! Sounds delightful.”

Imagining it would be filled with feel-good anecdotes about the joys and benefits of natural birth, I was shocked to discover, almost immediately upon opening the book, a wackadoodle anti-feminist screed.

While purporting to empower women and wrest them from the oppressive norms of patriarchal society, Yoshimura’s philosophy somehow manages to be simultaneously misogynistic, misandrous, and insulting to anyone with a brain in their head. Which I guess makes sense, given his affection for people without brains: Early in the book, Yoshimura tells the heartwarming story of a baby girl who was born without a brain and went on to “[live] her life as a fully fledged human being… a great life.” (For a couple of hours, anyway.) In reference to the doctors who recommended that her mother get an abortion, he muses, “They were going to kill the baby as something useless, which is exactly what they did in Auschwitz. Doesn’t this mean that modern medical science is the same as Auschwitz?” (Emphasis mine. Resounding *splat* of jaw hitting floor, also mine.)

According to Yoshimura, the only way to become a “true Woman” is to experience natural birth with no interventions. Women who have not given birth, or who have experienced a caesarian or other intervention, are not, therefore, “true” women. Similarly, the experience of birth is supposed to make previously hard, intimidating, “masculine” women more feminine. (Yoshimura isn’t shy in asserting that “Women should be feminine, men should be masculine.” About men who “obey their bosses pliantly, content simply to receive a paycheck,” he wonders: “Can such a prideless man father a child? Can he make a woman pregnant?” Given that the ability to produce viable sperm isn’t exclusive to mercenaries and Bering Sea fishermen, my money’s on “yes.”)

Here are a few more gems:

“Only in giving up our lives for women, will we become men… If you cannot give birth to a baby by yourself… I wonder if you deserve to have a man give up his life for you.”

“The purpose of the female sex is to generate, nurture, and bequeath life.”

“…women in their natural state cannot adapt to male society, so men established the coeducation system to masculinize women. Without masculinizing women and forcing them to work, modern society couldn’t work.”

“Pregnant women must not work.”

There is so, so much more… but I have to stop before my head explodes. (Stress isn’t good for pregnant women.)

How did this retrograde claptrap even get published? How did it end up in the Ballard library? And what the actual fuck were Ina May Gaskin and Christiane Northrup—luminaries in women’s health and staunch advocates for women’s self-determination (or so I imagined)—thinking when they put their stamp of approval on such pernicious nonsense?

I happen to agree with a few of of the book’s key contentions: that vigorous physical activity is good for pregnant women, that natural, unmedicated birth with minimal intervention is the ideal, that childbirth has become over-medicalized. But the bulk of it is such patently ridiculous twaddle that I would laugh, if only it weren’t so resoundingly offensive.

On a scale from “blissed-out water-birth in a crystalline stream surrounded by chirping finches” to “three-day-long, heavily medicated labor” I give this book a rating of “retching into a bedpan after a botched epidural while confined to a hospital bed and catheterized.”

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Summer Bread Baking: Part 1

Summer is my favorite season. Tomatoes, berries, stone-fruit, salad, cold wine, days that stretch from 5am to 10pm (at least in the Pacific Northwest), bare skin, swimming, barbecues, sunshine. I’d rather be hot than cold; I’ll take sweaty and sluggish over frost-nipped and shivering any day.

me ayla ice cream

And yet, this year, it’s a little more challenging: As of today, June 12th, 2015, I’m 30 weeks pregnant (that’s 7-and-a-half months for you non-preggos). I’m bigger than I have ever been in my life, my blood-volume has almost doubled, everything is hard. And I am hot.

Opening the three windows that actually open in my apartment doesn’t accomplish much beyond letting in the aromas of vehicle exhaust and my neighbor’s overflowing ashtray, baking in the sun. At night, I’m down to just a sheet, promptly kicked off.

The upshot of this is that I really, really don’t want to turn on the oven. This is problematic, since my summer diet is fairly sandwich-centric, and I’m getting really sick of mediocre store-bought bread. Don’t get me wrong: Seattle is replete with good bakeries. But nice bread is expensive, I’m more squeamish about dumpster-diving in my present condition, and the artisanal hearth-loaves that make such exquisite toast often fall short when it comes to sandwich-making.

When I looked at the weather forecast (which I do obsessively) and discovered that today was only supposed to hit 68 degrees, I jumped at the chance to make bread.

sponge

Bread baking, unlike many other kinds of baking, is not an exact science. I relish the opportunity to add a little of this, a little of that, and to vary my rise times. Today, I decided to make a large batch, fermented in several stages. I started with a wet sponge: a couple quarts of lukewarm water, a mix of all purpose and whole wheat flours, and about 1 ½ teaspoons of yeast. I let that sit for a couple of hours until it was bubbly, then added more flour, ground flax seeds, and salt. I kneaded the resulting dough to smooth elasticity while listening to an archived episode of This American Life.

i love flax seeds

dough

kneading

Lacking a bowl large enough to let the dough rise, I resorted to a stock pot; miraculously, it fit in the fridge. (I wanted to keep the dough cold to allow for a long, slow rise in order to develop more flavor—and so I could hold off on baking until nightfall!)

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I’m going to proof and bake my loaves later this evening. Heck, as long as the oven’s on, maybe I’ll even make a pie…

Please don’t take my pastry away.

I wanted to avoid medicalization of my pregnancy. I’ve chosen to work with midwives, to give birth outside of a hospital setting, and, as far as possible, to avoid interventions.

Now I’m sitting at my midwives’ office, just having chugged a foul, cherry-flavored syrup, feeling betrayed.

During the routine screening for gestational diabetes (GD) they gave me at 28 weeks, my blood glucose measured 139—over the cut-off of 130.

The only risk factor I have for GD is being over the age of 25. Everything else—my ethnic background, family history, and BMI—puts me solidly in the “low risk” category. According to my research, 3-14% of women develop GD during pregnancy. Of those women, 40-60% have no risk factors.

I could go on. I’ve been drowning in percentages and probabilities for the last few days, scouring medical journals and pregnancy forums (fora?) and WebMD. My (perhaps ill-advised) internet trawling only led to increased confusion and anxiety. Last night, I dreamed of the test.

After finding out that I *might* have GD, I reduced my consumption of carbohydrates dramatically and completely eliminated added sugar and refined grains from my diet. I’ve felt envy and resentment and something approaching grief upon seeing anyone eating pastry or an ice cream cone. It’s certainly much healthier to avoid refined sugars and starches, even for people who don’t have diabetes. But, if I’m honest, that wasn’t my real motivation: I was hoping (irrationally) to influence the test.

Now I’m sitting at home, eating granola with fresh strawberries from the farmer’s market and organic, non-homogenized, grass-fed whole milk (which I’ve learned, since embarking on my hypothetical-diabetes journey, actually contains a fair amount of carbohydrate in the form of lactose). It’s delicious.

They told me today at the midwives’ office that they weren’t worried about me; that the three hour test was essentially insurance to prevent my baby from being immediately whisked away in the unlikely event of a hospital transfer and treated as if it had been born to a diabetic mother.

I’m all for minimizing risk, but being consumed with anxiety for several days, then forgoing food, drinking a toxic-looking beverage made with 100 grams of glucose, and sitting still for three hours felt distinctly unhealthy. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t necessary, probably for the best, etc. I just really, really didn’t like it.

I probably will try to be more conscious of my diet now (although I’m certainly no slouch when it comes to healthy eating), replacing my beloved conventional pasta with whole-wheat and eating smaller portions of it, cutting down on my gelato consumption, upping my protein intake.

Still, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I get good news tomorrow; I don’t want to be petulant when my partner tells me he made peach pie at work. And although sugar is the nutritional boogey-man du jour… YOLO.

Everything in moderation, including moderation... right? (Goat cheesecake with blueberries <3)
Everything in moderation, including moderation… right? (Goat cheesecake with blueberries <3)

Hi, I’m Back

I wasn’t chastened into silence by the Seahawk’s Superbowl loss (although, at the risk of sounding like a total chump, I will admit to having shed a couple tears).

What did lead me to stop writing (as I’ve done many times before, though never, perhaps, for so long a duration) was a combination of things: the self-reinforcing cycle of failure to produce, which eventually calcifies into a habit of defeat. Pure and simple laziness. And, probably most of all, pregnancy.

It’s almost as if the generative processes occurring within my body obviated those that may have occurred outside of it, all of my creative energy bound up in the creation of a tiny human. It’s weird. And hard to write about. This state that’s been the central fact of my life these last seven months has defied exploration via the usual channels (prose, poetry, drawing). Even my journal has been barren.

At first, it was easily justified, explained away by the intensity of my condition. Although being pregnant is pretty damn normal, that doesn’t diminish the world-shaking significance of the experience. So I gave myself some slack (see the “Resignation” post a couple of entries ago).

It’s time to begin again, though I don’t quite know where to start. So I’ll just start with this.

Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity (Plus, Pie!)

Lately a hyper-awareness of my own mortality has brought with it a sense of the futility of all human endeavor. It may have started with reading this story in the New Yorker, which reminded me a lot of dreams I’ve had in which I’m about to die (usually via trauma): there’s an instant awareness that “this is it,” that “my time has come.” It doesn’t bring sadness, just resignation, a recognition of death’s inevitability.

It’s one thing to think about death and finitude as abstract properties that exist in the world, outside of one’s immediate experience: even when someone close to you dies, it happened to them, not you, extinguished their consciousness and put an end to their experiences. You’re still around to feel the agony of grief, to be irritated by your body’s continued demands in the face of consuming psychic suffering. The cliche of young people thinking themselves immortal has its basis in a profound truth: it can be really, really hard to wrap your head around the idea that you, like everyone else who has ever lived or will ever live (unless certain transhumanists get their way), will die.

But I’m starting to get it. My waking hours are shot through with the knowledge of my certain demise. What was once a highly theoretical proposition with zero emotional resonance has become a frequent refrain in my mind, popping up whenever I think of anything remotely long-term. Artistic achievement, for instance.

Talking with a friend last night, I realized that any desire I hold to gain recognition is simply a thinly cloaked bid for immortality. This probably seems obvious. But I had never really felt the truth of it on a deep level. Since everyone (and probably eventually everything) is going to die, what is the real point of trying to get approval and affirmation from others? I’m convinced that there isn’t one.

This may sound depressing. It’s not. Quite the contrary: the more I come to terms with these realizations, the freer I feel. Freer from the judgments of others and from my own judgment of myself, freer of the need to judge others. Freer to create things that are true to my heart and increase my understanding and amplify my joy and make me a more empathetic and honest person, rather than feeling constant pressure to create things that will bring me acclaim. Because when I try to make art with other people’s responses in mind, I don’t make art.

Similarly, the knowledge that, one day in the not-too-distant future, my body will be dust, is helping me to heal from a deeply distorted body image. I’m starting to relate to my body more as my own precious vessel, a miraculous thing of inestimable value that enables me to move through the world.  That there exists visible fat on my body is starting to recede into irrelevance. Deciding when and what to eat is beginning to have more to do with when I’m hungry and what I want, rather than an anxiety-addled calculus that has little to do with my actual health. Instead of seeing it as a malleable, and ultimately perfectible, reflection of my worth as a person (when I achieve a coveted sculpted thin shape everyone will think I’m really great!), I recognize my body as the part of my self that enables me to experience the sensory pleasures of which I’m so fond, to do work that has meaning to me. And I have the great fortune of having a very strong and healthy body that also happens to look pretty good (for now).

I’m going to die. But I have pie!

i'm still alive and it's still summer! peach and blackberry pie (farmer's market peaches, ship canal trail blackberries) also the tonsure had to go.
i’m still alive and it’s still summer! peach and blackberry pie (farmer’s market peaches, ship canal trail blackberries). also the tonsure had to go.