I’m at a loss. There is too much to process, to metabolize, to grieve. I’ve been meaning to write something about the election disaster for a long time, but I haven’t had it in me. I’ve cried, I’ve marched, I’ve called law-makers; but I haven’t been able to write about what happened until now.
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!
“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?
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.”
Who knows how many of this blog’s followers are bots? Quite a few, most likely, but I’m disinclined to sift through and count.
When I get a notification that “X is now following your blog,” X is often (ostensibly) a young woman, comely in a mild, girl-next-door sort of way. At first, I assume she’s a real person—and am often disabused of this notion once I visit her profile. “Her” blog may have a name like “How to Make 100K a Year Blogging,” and feature posts with titles like “The 10 Keys to Personal Power,” “Becoming a Person of Influence,” and “Getting Rich is Easy,” accompanied by pictures of gloating, middle-aged white men. I wonder if these women even know that their pictures are attached to scammy websites. I also wonder who’s actually taken in by “unlimitedprofits.com” and “your50Kformula.com.”
Like most people, I would love to be rich. Or, more accurately, to have enough money not to fret about my family’s healthcare needs, to send my as-yet-still-gestating child to college (assuming they want to go), and to travel. So, I guess my aspirations are actually pretty modest.
But I’m under no illusions that I’m going to make money by monetizing my blog. I suppose it’s a remote possibility—but the path I envision to writing success certainly doesn’t entail following the advice of Internet wealth gurus whose claims blend New-Agey self-help-speak with Randian bronomics.
So I’m just going to keep doing what I do, unburdened by the quixotic illusion that writing about nothing in particular and posting pictures of my ridiculous self-administered haircuts will somehow be remunerative.
There’s this guy who I see sometimes, on a bench by the canal. He has an old-fashioned radio, complete with twiddly knobs and a broken mirror taped to the top. He holds this ensemble very close to his face, while he raps along to the music quietly issuing from the radio and grimaces into the mirror. Sometimes he does this for hours at a time.
There’s another guy who I often see walking the canal trail. He may be carrying grocery bags, or he may be empty-handed. He is extraordinarily thin, he walks very fast, and he is always dressed for cold weather. Yesterday, it was in the mid-eighties; still, he was wearing a wool hat with ear-flaps, a winter coat, and bulky black pants. He never looks at me, or as far as I can tell, at anyone. He appears entirely single-minded in his walking.
The behavior of the first, I find incredibly disturbing, whereas that of the second elicits curiosity, pity, a strange sense of protectiveness. I dread the thought of Mirror Man observing me observing him, whereas I would welcome an acknowledgement from Walking Man, the opportunity to meet his eyes and smile. Why should this be so? Each man exists apparently outside of the social world, absorbed within his own reality. Both exhibit signs of what is commonly understood as mental illness. Why, then, does one man provoke feelings of threat and revulsion, whereas the other strikes me as completely innocuous?
I have a story that I’ve made up about Walking Man, most likely wrong. In this story, he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, which is the impetus for his walking. Although he’s skinny and worn-looking (he does, after all, spend his life walking briskly from place to place), he has a home that he returns to, where people—probably parents—love him, and make sure that he is fed and clothed and sheltered at night. In reality, he’s probably homeless (though he may well have OCD.)
I don’t have stories about the other man—yet. I haven’t seen him as frequently, for one thing. Also, because of my response to him, he’s remained, thus far, an Other, not a person with a history and a family and a context. I assume he’s in the grip of drugs and delusions, feeding and enriching one another in a continual cycle of disordered fixation.
The walking behavior seems innocent. With his slight frame swaddled as if for winter, his hands occupied by paper grocery bags, his posture upright, Walking Man projects a kind of harmless self-possession, a stoic vulnerability. Mirror Man, on the other hand, seems like he’s practicing for a confrontation. Shirtless, hunched over his radio, head jerking, gaze fixed on his own image in the broken mirror, his performance seems like a metaphor for the aggressive solipsism to which so many of us succumb.
Of course, I know nothing about these people. My assumptions have no factual basis, and my instincts might be all wrong. I’m used to having my perceptions shown to be grossly distorted—reflections of myself, as much as of those I’m perceiving.
Yesterday was logically impossible. It was magic. It was a miracle.
I’m talking, of course, about the Seahawks’ ridiculously improbable victory in the NFC Championships against the Packers. Down 16-0 at halftime, Seattle made an insane comeback in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points in the last 2:09 of the game, and winning in overtime.
Now, I know barely anything about football, so I won’t embarrass myself by trying to analyze the game or dissect anyone’s performance. Suffice it to say, for the first three quarters, Seattle sucked (okay, I will also say that, according to the people who actually know what they’re talking about, our defense – AKA the Legion of Boom – did a good job of keeping us in the game). But they refused to give up, and made a stunning comeback.
With just a few minutes left on the clock, Seahawks fans everywhere were dejected and somber. At four minutes, I almost said aloud, “it’s over.” But something told me not to. A stubborn voice in my head insisted, “it’s not over til it’s over!”
And it wasn’t.
As anyone who’s read this blog before has probably figured out, cynicism comes easily to me. Faith and positivity and warm-fuzzies are nice and all, but they don’t seem particularly reflective of reality. And yet… As skeptical and detached as I can be, I want to believe in serendipity, in the power of faith in yourself and your (literal or metaphorical) teammates, in seemingly impossible victories, in miracles. Yesterday, the Seahawks made me believe.
All my life, I’ve known that I would end up accomplished and successful. I was raised with the idea (common among children born in the 80’s) that I was brilliant, special, could do anything, be whatever I wanted. I had many aspirations: I wanted to be a scientist, an artist, a doctor, a writer.
I did well academically, from elementary school through college, where I graduated magna cum laude with the highest GPA in my major (not saying much, since there were only six of us. But still – I got a fancy medal!). Surely great things were in store for me!
In my last year of high school, inspired by a trip to Kenya and the story of Paul Farmer in Mountains Beyond Mountains, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor, with a focus on inter-cultural medicine and medical anthropology. I went to Lewis and Clark college my freshman year; it was a good fit academically, and I enjoyed my classes. But I was desperately lonely, on account of my alienation from my peers (having already lived on my own and traveled extensively, I felt older than my silly, immature classmates; coupled with my natural loner tendencies and the fact that I took the Greyhound to Seattle every weekend to visit my
emotionally abusive, alcoholic boyfriend, it was a perfect recipe for complete social isolation). So I transferred to Seattle University (decidedly less academically rigorous) to be close to the aforementioned emotionally abusive alcoholic dude.
I didn’t fare much better, socially speaking, in Seattle. I exchanged the ne’er-do-well boyfriend for one who was really nice to me, albeit a terrible match, and spent all my free time with him for the better part of a year. I did some cool things: studied kung fu, conducted original ethnographic research, lived in a lovely house with a garden where I grew food, cooked a lot, and experience a surreal and mind-bending early-twenties love triangle.
I excelled in school, majoring in anthropology and participating in the departmental honors program. Even though I still wanted to be a doctor, I declined to take any pre-med classes, opting instead to study English metaphysical poetry of the 16th century and all the anthropology electives I could get my hands on. I figured I’d just squeeze in organic chemistry and microbiology “later,” after I graduated.
I graduated. And promptly decided that I didn’t want to go to medical school; how could I possibly face another two years of science classes, plus four years of med school and three years of residency?
I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do instead, simply that it would involve acclaim and riches. How could it not? I was, after all, special.
As it turned out, I was unemployed for six months before landing a job as a waitress at a sushi restaurant. Since then, I’ve bounced around between different foodservice jobs, some in the front of the house, some in the kitchen. I’m still working part-time, still barely scraping by, still desperate for anything resembling a living wage and an intellectual challenge.
Don’t get me wrong: I have had amazing experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything, and lived a full, rich life since I graduated college. Living alone in rural Southwest Colorado, working on a farm, being on the fire department (among other things) were incredible opportunities that have changed me for the better.
The breadth of my experience, though, cannot negate the simple truth: that I have failed to achieve any kind of measurable success. I can barely pay my rent. I haven’t published anything of note. I have no major artistic accomplishments to my name. Yes, yes: I’m young, there’s still time. Yes, money is not the only marker of success. But the life I’m living is a far cry from what I always expected for myself: I should be Dr. Klein by now.
For a long time, this tormented me. Living amidst the artistic and cultural vibrancy of a big city filled with young people making their mark, doing things of note, being cool artists or rich yuppies, made me feel like a total loser. I still feel like a total loser, but lately, it’s stopped bothering me so much.
I’m slowly coming to the realization that maybe I’m not so special. That maybe I don’t have to do anything spectacular just because I’m intelligent. That maybe just getting by, slogging through life until my number’s up, is all I have to do. This thought is strangely comforting, and relieves a lot of pressure. For as much as I know that I have some germ of artistic talent, some measure of intellectual giftedness, I’m severely lacking in drive. Maybe because school was pretty effortless for me. Maybe because I grew up thinking that the world would be handed to me. Maybe because I’m just plain lazy. Whatever the reason, I like to spend time sitting around. Taking walks. Feeling the sun on my skin. Eating. Lying on the floor next to my dog. None of these activities lend themselves to fame and fortune, but the anxiety and guilt that accompanies that knowledge is receding.
The knowledge that I don’t, in fact, have to “do” anything, to “make” something of myself, is very freeing. It’s bittersweet and seems kind of pathetic, but I’m beginning to resign myself to a life mediocrity.