So. July. A new month looms around the corner and I find myself standing on a precipice being propelled ever forward as my feet scramble to gain purchase on the rocky soil.
Remember when you were younger and time couldn’t go fast enough? You wanted school to be over, dinner to come, summer to arrive, to finally turn 8 instead of being 7 and three-quarters STILL. I would hear adults say pithy things like “Oh my, September already! Where does the time go?” and I would think “Are you kidding me? It can’t go fast enough! I have things to do tomorrow, morning can’t come fast enough let’s gooooo!”
And now I am one of them, “How is it already July?” I heard myself musing aloud yesterday as I surveyed the calendar in our office. How did this happen?
Yesterday I had a three hour conversation about life, struggles and the billions of people trying to make it. The ever-present need to move forward forward at all costs, to move on to the next thing, to attain the next goal, to achieve the next milestone. I touched on this subject a bit here, but it seems to be a recurring theme as I get more and more itchy sitting here, in the same place STILL. It’s something I discuss a lot with my friends who are searching for a partner, I stand back and look at their lives from the perspective of someone who hasn’t been single for ten years, and I say “Enjoy it. Enjoy it.”
I look at them, these incredible, smart, funny, vibrant and accomplished women and I know, I can guarantee that they will not be single eternally. It’s simply not possible. And I know that at some point, perhaps ten years from now, they will look back at their twenties as I now look back at my teens, and think “That was fun!” And they won’t necessarily envy their former selves - because envy is the wrong word, because they have moved on and are experiencing the other side, and also because they are genuinely happy with where they are now -but they will remember that time fondly.
So I think about my life now, where I have a great deal of flexibility even as I am stuck here and I get to have my mornings to sleep in and write, and spend my afternoons and evenings with (more often than not) delightful, intriguing and hilarious teenagers and I think to myself Enjoy it. There will be a time, perhaps ten years from now where I am frantic with children and I would sell my eye teeth for a morning to sleep in or be able to leave the house to go to work, and I will remember all of the aspects of life that now seem so difficult - the renting, the work, the money that doesn’t stretch far enough sometimes - and I’ll remember it fondly, because it’s fun. It truly is.
- I picked up several used condoms (not, like, USED used, just opened and discarded)
- I interrupted a conversation being had around the pool table that included waaaaay too much ball innuendo…as in “Man you have a lot of balls” “Yeah look at my balls!” “Man I hit those balls so hard” “Do you think you could fit those balls in your mouth?” by poking my head out of the office and saying “Yeah yeah we all get it , those are called balls and you guys have testicles … can we move on?” and then got heckled by 10 teens for being “perverted”.
-I answered the following question from our question box “What’s a qweef?”
-I watched in amusement as a 13 year old boy cut the sleeves off his shirt and then, after proudly surveying his handiwork announced “I feel like a new man!”
”—Just a typical Wednesday at my job. Man, those four years studying ascribed status, anomie and Durkheim have really come in handy lately.
the weight of words, or,why I will never buy an e-reader
Never I say! You’ll have to pry books from my cold, dead hands.
It’s not often I say never but when it comes to my books all bets are off. In most cases I’m not a big fan of stuff, of things. In any other situation I’d gladly trade three hundred things for one that served the same purpose. But in this case I can’t even get past the initial thought, “What would I do with all that space, were bookcases not occupying it?”
Books have always been my backdrop. When I moved to Calgary at the tender age of twelve, I remember our mum taking us to the public library to get our own library cards. As I carefully signed my shakily handwritten name, I asked the librarian how many books I was allowed to check out at once.
"As many as you want, dear" she said, smiling kindly.
AS MANY AS I WANT? Like, 99? 300? A THOUSAND? My mind was blown, I felt like I was reeling, staggering backwards with the weight of all these theoretical books. They could be mine! All mine! All of the words and ideas and plots and characters in that entire dumpy concrete building were available to me. I’ll never forget that feeling.
Ah, you might be saying, but Madeleine that’s the SAME feeling you’ll get with a kindle (or one of its blue-light emitting brethren), the entire contents of hundreds of libraries, all at your fingertips!
No. Just…no. I can’t even begin.
Okay, first, the paper. Even nowadays this is a rarity but every so often, trailing your finger along the spines in a bookstore, you’ll catch an unusual weight. A book made with raw, uneven pages that look like they’ve just been cut. The paper is thick and creamy and I admit I am guilty of immediately thinking “This book must be incredible, needing such weighty pages to hold its words.” I judge that book by the pleasing heft of its paper and I, more often that not, bring it home with me.
Our town used to have a bookstore (the “used to” part makes my heart hurt, but that’s the topic for another post. One about the death of independant businesses in our small town, about the only subject which I have ever found myself penning impassioned letters to the editor. About the empty spot in our main street where words used to live.), in this bookstore they had an impressive used books section. Call to mind if you can, feeling the well-worn pages of a second hand book, years or even decades old. The soft, muzzy feeling of the pages, littered with thumbprints and smudges from dozens of other readers before you. Small tokens bearing witness to the absolute power of those words that each reader was unable to put the book down even long enough to eat - choosing instead to absentmindedly wolf down a sandwich, or maybe even just a coffee, while raptly devouring the story.
Second: The people. I mean “people” in an all-encompassing sense, enveloping librarians, bookstore owners, readers and authors all. We live in such a cold faceless world already, (Drive through banks? Really?) please let’s not take people out of this equation as well. All the googling in the world couldn’t replace the ten minutes I spent with our bookstore owner, describing a terrifying book I remember reading as a child.
"It was set in the North," I began, "The children were Inuit and wore fur-hooded coats. They were warned not to play by the ice but they didn’t listen…something happened and sea witches captured them, they took the children to live under the sea and they froze. The children froze, they couldn’t find their way out from under the ice. It was horrible."
She helped me search and patiently listened to me describe the garbled, hazy plot of a story I hadn’t read in twenty years (AND, I should hasten to add, had no intention of buying if she did in fact have it. I told her this. I told her this before we began searching and she gladly helped anyway. +1 BOOK PEOPLE). It turns out the book was a disappointingly thin-paged Robert Munsch story, but where would I be without her? Still googling “scary sea-witch book” probably.
Also under people: seeing strangers read. Short of peering over your shoulder, I can’t see what you’re reading on a kindle and perhaps thats why you like it. One more way to remain indistinguishable, anonymous in public. All the easier to not be judged for reading Confessions of a Shopoholic instead of Anna Karenina, I suppose. But it also takes an element out of people watching, and dare I say, out of humanity. I love looking at people and being surprised by what they have splayed open in front of them. Women who could be my grandmother engrossed in smutty romance novels, or the latest Twilight saga, young men cracking the spine of a virgin copy of Mrs. Dalloway. I love that surprise and with it the risk of my voyeurism - the chance meeting of eyes over a book.
Third: The historical element. The heritage element. I remember standing in front of my parents bookshelf and selecting what to read, reflecting, as I waded through books light-years ahead of my comprehension levelc that my mom had read these same words. My dad had puzzled over the same ideas. Sometimes I would find a hastily scribbled note in the margins or a dog eared page and it marked that moment of time for them. It was the secret signal of a thought they deemed too important to let go, or a sudden interruption (perhaps by a baby? perhaps by me?) and a hasty place-marking, throwing the book to be picked up and resumed later. I want my children to have my books. I want them to hold them as I did, see where I smudged, spilled tea and underlined. I want them to take them into the bath as I often do and have a few wrinkled pages as their biggest concern should they drop them.
Fourth: Because I can’t imagine a feeling of accomplishment greater than holding a book with my name on the spine. Seeing my name typed on a screen is something I can do already.
To conclude: I’ll never do it. I’ll never let go of my books as BOOKS. Paper and words, tangible, substantial things. You’ll have to pry them from my cold dead hands.
This is the story of a nervous girl and a secret poop. It all began when we drove west for my brothers wedding. Adam, Gus and I in one car, three of my sisters plus significant others and mom in another. As we descended upon Edmonton our fourth sister joined us and, reunited, the chaos began. Like most of our family gatherings it didn’t subside until we hauled our alcohol-soaked bodies back into our respective vehicles at the end of the weekend, stuffed with delicious wedding food and sore from laughter, hangovers and shame.
I have four younger sisters and one older brother. The youngest of all of the sisters is Poopie. And although this (obviously) isn’t her real name, it IS her real nickname and as you shall soon see it fits in rather delightfully with the theme of story (see what I done there? We done call that foreshadowin’).
SO. Poopie. Poopie is 19, has a tattoo of a Llama and is generally hilarious. We arrive in Edmonton and after few days of shopping and carousing and sibling squabbling, the big day arrives: The Bridal Shower. To this day I am curious about what heinous LIES my brother told his new wife’s family about us, because two weeks before this very bridal shower I received a worried email from the bride’s sister. She wanted reassurance from me that my sisters wouldn’t show up with a four foot tall penis, or make the bride demonstrate her fellatio skills to a roomful of shocked (shocked!) great-aunts and mothers.
It was a lovely email and I assured her that of course, nothing of the sort would be occurring. And then I made an emergency phone call to the second youngest (and biggest shitshow) sister and had the following conversation:
Me: Hilly you guys aren’t planning on bring giant penises or anything to Kate’s bridal shower are you?
Hilary: ….um, why?
Me: Because I just got a really sweet email from Beth and she’s worried about the party being appropriate and environmentally friendly, so she doesn’t want anything obscene or made out of plastic or anything.
Hilly: Well fuck, the deposit on the male-stripper is non-refundable! What the shit am I supposed to do now? I’ll make the giant dick out of papier-mache, it’s biodegradable so that’s still fine right?
I warned all of the sisters to be on their BEST, classiest behaviour so we could prove to my ne’er do well brother and his new extended family that we could be civilized. (More foreshadowing: HA!)
It began well, we five sisters showed up looking appropriately pretty in dresses and heels, we made our rounds, introduced ourselves to the aunts and cousins and childhood friends and nary a penis-straw was to be found. We delicately nibbled on cupcakes and homemade chocolates and I began to think that maybe, just maybe we would get out of this unscathed. It was then, as I stood by the champagne station pondering our newfound dignity that it all began to unravel. Poopie approached me, making this face:
"We have a problem!" she whispered frantically. She lifted her arms and I gasped involuntarily as I saw the huge, sopping pit stains that had bloomed through the thin fabric of her dress.
"What the hell’s wrong with you?" I hissed angrily. "Why are you sweating so much?" Couldn’t she see she was going to ruin this for all of us?!
"I’m prairie dogging!" she cried, "I don’t know what to do!"
"What?" For a few sweet seconds I was cloaked in a blissful state called Ignorance and didn’t understand what she meant. And then. And then I did.
I glanced from my baby sisters stricken face to the bathroom, mere feet away from the table laden with sweets and cheese platters. The table everyone was congregated around.
"Maybe no one will notice?" I tried, helpfully.
"Oh, they’ll notice" she replied, "It’s a stinky one I can tell and I’ve already checked out the bathroom - no fan!"
A deep weight descended in my chest. It was becoming all too apparent that my sisters and I were going to ruin this fancy party like we ruin all fancy parties, by shitting too close to the cupcakes.
At this point, summoned by the panicked look on my face and our conspiratorial huddle, my other sister Lizzie joined us. “What’s going on?”
"Poopie has to drop a deuce, emergency styles."I informed her.
Lizzie glanced from us, to the bathroom, to the colourful food platters and understood immediately. “What are we going to do?”
"What about an upstairs bathroom?" I cried suddenly, "They must have an upstairs bathroom, you could sneak out and do it and no one would even know!"
Poopie was not a fan of this idea “What the fuck am I supposed to do, just tiptoe away (here she made exaggerated sneaky tippy-toe movements) to snoop around the house of a person I barely know? What if someone comes upstairs and catches me? What would I say, ‘Hi I just needed to shit myself in your master bathroom. Nice hand towels’?!”
At this point the ridiculousness of this situation met the champagne that Lizzie had been forcing on me all evening and that, coupled with Poopies exaggerated tiptoe mime was enough to set me going. I started giggling uncontrollably and after a few seconds Lizzie joined in.
"Stop it!" Poopie cried, "It’s not funny! What do I DO?". Her wide-eyed panic just made us laugh harder until she, spooked by the stares we were garnering from other guests, stealthily slunk away. We didn’t see her again for fifteen minutes. I have no idea what happened during those 15 minutes but I imagine it looked a little something like this:
When she reappeared, looking significantly less sweaty I looked at her quizzically and she gave me a relieved thumbs up. Success!
Later in the evening the bride’s sister generously gave us a tour of her beautiful home. As we walked down the polished hardwood hallways and peeked our heads into various rooms, we came upon the upstairs bathroom. “Look familiar Poopie?” Lizzie whispered and received a vicious elbow to the ribs.
The bathroom was beautiful; white and immaculate. A vintage tub stood gracefully on clawfoot legs, tasteful art hung on the walls and there was just the faintest whiff of excrement still hanging in the air.
(No mom I’m not pregnant. And please don’t comment on this post telling me to DO IT ALREADY! either)
I don’t know whether to have a baby or not. I mean, I know I want to have a baby or two or three or even FOUR! But it’s a matter of when, of how. Every time I contemplate this decision and whether the timing is right, whether we should wait, I can hear a chorus of middle aged women sipping coffee and saying conspiratorially “You can never really plan for a baby, dear” and “Honestly honey whatever time you choose will be the right time” . For some reason they have the raspy, certain voices of hardened cigarette smokers and I am afraid to disobey them, but middle-aged cigarette smokers be damned, this is not a decision to be taken lightly. It just took me three months of obsessive searching to find a shower curtain I liked. A SHOWER CURTAIN. So, obviously some deliberation is in order.
I thought about opening it up to a poll, but then my mum would be forced to lurk on my site frantically counteracting any “No” vote by voting “Yes” twice and how could I do that to her? I’m sure she has other, better things to do with her time. Like turning 58 tomorrow. Or evicting otters from her floating house.
So naturally I do what I always do and I research. I get a stack of books from the library; anthologies filled with women’s essays about childbirth, challenges of balancing work and children and one charming book called “How to Babyproof Your Marriage”. I picked up this doozy, and all of the others, because I want desperately to know what we are getting into by any means necessary. This obsessive compulsive researching behaviour is much like it was before we got Gus, when I trolled message boards filled with hysterical dog owners writing all capitals posts about the shit their horrible dogs were doing, because by preparing myself for these events, my logic goes, I shall prevent them from ever, ever happening to me.
(How’s that working for me you ask? Well if you had asked me two years ago as my 120 lb idiot teenaged dog took off running and barking after a toddler and scared him so much that he FELL OFF HIS TRICYCLE I would have said it’s not working very well at all why would you ask me that can’t you see I’m upset enough already? A TRICYCLE! But lately, with my older, calmer, sweeter dog I say SUCCESS! My obsessive research paid off!)
The book about baby-proofing your marriage is written in that cutesy “Hey girlfriend!” style that I loathe. I don’t know how to explain it except by saying that the tone combines a chipper, throw your hands in the air, boys-will-be-boys amirite ladies? type jokery that sets my teeth on edge. One of the most hyped suggestions in this book was The Five Minute Fix. They kept referring to it over and over: The Five Minute Fix is a lifesaver! The Five Minute Fix saved my marriage!
Intrigued I skipped ahead and discovered that The Five Minute Fix consists of giving your husband a blow job so he will change the diaper/mow the lawn/take out the garbage without being asked.
…..? I don’t know where to start with that one so I’ll just add that they also thoughtfully provided a cost/benefit analysis spreadsheet for The Five Minute Fix (because nothing says sexy like cold hard logic) I kid you not the first item was “Cost: Potential loss of dignity”. AMIRITE LADIES?
So, book discarded the research continued, this time with my best friend Google. I googled “What do you wish you did before having kids?”, “What do you wish you knew before having kids?” and even “I regret having kids.” . With the latter search I discovered forums dedicated to Childfree advocates. After taking some time to educate myself about this choice, I started reading and was absolutely stunned by the vitriol with which posters spoke about those who have children.
Obviously I am only reading the opinions of a small and vocal minority within the Childfree movement but the vicious us/them dichotomy seemed totally unreal. There seemed to be a complete dehumanization of those who decide to have kids, referring to them as “Breeders”. There were posts mocking parents whose children had died and blasting those who were having issues with fertility (Don’t you think this is a sign that nature didn’t mean for you to have children? GET OVER IT.)
I mean I get it, all the “When are you guys going to start a family *wink wink*” queries can get exasperating even when you are eventually planning to take that step. I can only imagine how infuriating it must be to be to have to constantly justify your choice to friends and family that may be less than supportive and a society that seems all-consumed with everything Baby. But shit, can’t we all just get along?
I got lost in that quagmire for a bit and then I started lurking on forums for new mothers and with this I think I scared myself into childlessness for another year. Never again do I want to read about vaginal tears and hemorrhoids and sore nipples, new fathers who don’t help and nosey mother-in-laws that make you feel inadequate. Also did you know that stroller envy is a thing? How is this a thing?
There’s no point to this ramble except that it gives a fairly accurate representation of the thoughts in my head surrounding this subject. The only thing left to add is how all of these fears and doubts and opinions are completely and utterly silenced when I hold a baby and smell it’s tiny downy head, or watch as she focuses her eyes on mine and smiles, or when I imagine what our child would look like - thick dark hair and his smile.
At that point I think “You can never really plan for a baby. Whenever we decide to do this will be the right time.” And then I have a cigarette.
One of my friends has just broken up with her boyfriend of 6 months and I couldn’t be more jealous. To clarify, although Adam does sometimes make me want to pack it all in because do I really have to explain why sleeping on a mattress in the back of your cube van isn’t camping? I am still happily married. He keeps me on my toes but I also adore him in a way I can’t express without sounding deranged.
No, I’m jealous because my friend is currently undergoing the most wonderful metamorphosis, ladies you know what I’m talking about. The blissful stage beyond a breakup when the tissues and heartbreak have faded into the rear view mirror and you decide “Fuck it! These last 6 months were bullshit, I’m going to get back to ME!” and like a diva, all conventions are thrown off, all desires are made known. The future peels open, unknown and exciting.
"I got stuck in this little domestic rut" She says, "But now that I’m single I just need to stretch, I need to push myself out of my comfort zone." and I think to myself "Ohmygod, she feels like this after 6 months…I’ve been in a relationship for almost 10 years…what the hell does this mean for me?"
If you are single and searching or haven’t been in a long term relationship in a while and yearn for one (I am qualifying these descriptions because I know that there are blissfully happy single people out there who have no desire to couple off like dumb animals on Noah’s Ark- and to them I say “Please share tales of your incredible life without 3 separate boxes labelled ‘Cords and Wires’”!) , it’s easy to forget the drawbacks of being in a relationship and I feel it’s my duty to share the “cons” to give a well-rounded view of the situation - it’s not all spooning and long walks holding hands.
Let me preface this by saying that for me at least, the benefits of being “coupled” far outweigh the costs and I would wager that this is the case for most people in relationships, otherwise they wouldn’t still be there, right? But that being said there are aspects I struggle with almost daily and these things that cause the wistful envy for my newly-single friend.
The first and the biggest struggle is Compromise. Capital C. This may be a bigger issue for me than it is for other couples because Adam and I are both extraordinarily opinionated and pig-headed, convinced that our way is the Right Way and almost pathologically unwilling to see others side (also known as the Wrong Way, Jackass). I have to admit that I out-jerk Adam in this department. Yesterday we were trying to create a line graph to represent sales trends and I was so offended by his suggestion that I reverse the axis that stomped off and made him do the whole thing by himself. It’s hard to have a second opinion on everything from what to buy in the grocery store, to what to do on your one day off, or whether to keep the dog on leash or off during bike rides through busy streets. The big decisions are fine, they are when I am so grateful for his input and his contributions and I respect his opinion above all others but in the million minuscule daily decisions I just want to do it by myself thankyouverymuch.
The second difficulty, is that obviously I haven’t gone through that single-girl-getting-back-to-me stage in forever. And maybe I need to, just without the break-up part. Is that even possible? The first thing my friend did was create a Bucket List for the summer, she decided it was finally time to do all the things she’d been putting off because her boyfriend didn’t agree with them, or didn’t want to do them. Her list includes things like bungee jumping, starting a dance class, biking the Seawall in Vancouver.
"You should do one too!" she said excitedly when I told her what a great idea I thought it was, "I totally should!" I replied, and then I realized I have no idea what I’d put on it. It feels like there’s nothing I really want to do, but that can’t be true.
What do I want? Who would I be if I was just me, not us? This is something I think about often, and I think that in some small ways you do have to sacrifice yourself, subsume yourself in a relationship. There some aspects of what I would love to be doing (traveling the world, unencumbered and unimpeded) that are just impossible and indeed unfair when I consider that my husband would be stuck here tied to a failing business without my help. We’re a partnership, a team. I would want his help if the situation were reversed.
But this doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have a bucket list. Even within - especially within- relationships there needs to be growth. The realization that I have no idea what I want to do is a signal to me that perhaps I have sacrificed too much, I still need to exist as me. This is the third struggle, the balance between individuality and “we”.
The weather here in British Columbia, Canada has been shit lately. No summer to speak of, I’m still wearing socks and shutting all the windows at night, huddled in a swearing bitter mass under down duvets.
To compensate I have developed an internet shopping addiction. I think I’m about 5 years tardy to the party on this one, but here I am, fashionably late, and broke too!
Here is what I have frittered away my money on lately (I did this for YOU!):
I have a total obsession with old Samsonite suitcases, this is a harvest gold Samsonite silhouette train case complete with tray AND key! Omg! I’m going to pop this in my bathroom and use it for makeup, skin cream etc. From Etsy, of course.
Woodland Garden Shower curtain from Urban Outfitters. know that UO is for dirty try-hard hipsters, but I LOVE the colours and the deer and oh my god guys! It’s a peacock!
Also from the crack den of the evil fake-boho hipster are these luscious curtains…I am having a first world white lady crisis where I don’t know whether to get these in curtains or a duvet cover…help?
Pillow made out of this fabric which I can’t buy because it’s too expensive for my giant pillows ($65/ea) and thisiswhyIdon’thavenicethings.
This ring, also from Etsy, because, well, obviously.
Ugh. I feel dirty, like a disgusting little consumerist trollop (at least until until I get all of my pretty new things at which point all thoughts of capitalist schemes to keep the common man down by continually motivating him to purchase more and more useless consumer goods, thereby ensuring his eternal existence on the hedonistic treadmill disappear from my mind in an orgy of wrapping paper and bliss)
Adam has started watching a terrible show called “The Big Bang Theory” He has all the disgusting seasons and is working through it chronologically, beginning to end (There IS an end right? This shit can NOT still be airing). At his request I gave it a chance and managed to squirm though a whole seven minutes before forking myself in the eyeballs. HOW IS THIS ON TV?
I loathe it as much as I loathe “Two and a Half Men” and a few minutes in I realized why. Both these ridiculous excuses for comedy sprung forth from the evil hell-dwelling loins of one Chuck Lorre . Oh Chuck I curse you I CURSE YOU! Finally, Charlie Sheen, something we agree on!
Sample dialogue from one such eposide of fuckery:
Nerd 1: You’re in my seat
Laugh track: HAHAHAHAHAHA
Nerd 2: What do you mean?
Laugh Track: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
Hot blonde: What’s so special about this seat, anyway? *hair toss*
Laugh track: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
Nerd 1: (pseudo-science related joke about the physical/chemical/historical properties of aforementioned seat)
These are the days that unfurl themselves before me, the slow solid mounds of time that I need to chip away at. Slowly, softly.
I wake at an obscene hour, a bad taste in my mouth. Slow stumble to the bathroom, water splashing away sleep. Then a clumsy amalgamation of clothes, an approximation of beauty.
I mix myself the lumpy green concoction, mouth it down without tasting it. Spit to get the scent out of my mouth. I rinse the glass, the sounds of soap and water echoing too loudly.
Then I start reading the words of others and despairing of my own. I write dozens of emails I never send. I stare blankly at the screen and wait for the inspiration to hit.
I got a letter a few days ago from a man I used to know. He said he had been thinking about me and running over what-if’s in his head. Hadn’t expected to be missing me as much as he did. Realized I meant more to him that he knew.
I don’t know what response someone writing these letters expects. A bold declaration of similar feelings? A missive telling him to wait for the next flight home, cause I’d be on it? “Just let me pack my bags and dispose of this pesky relationship I’ve lived and loved for the past four years and I’m yours baby.”
I have no patience for these things anymore. You live your life once. There are 24 hours in a day and a million moments in each to make a move, there’s no excuse for not taking a chance on something you truly want. If you’ve lost that chance, then you’ve lost it. Circumstances change, you can’t continuously live your life as if the chance you didn’t take so many years ago is still open to you.
Doors close darlin, and its been so long since this particular one was open that I don’t even know what to make of this nonsense. I respond in kind. Write pedantically about how much snow we’ve had, how my job is going.
Today there was a wolf loping alongside the road outside my window. He runs this route every day in silence and is usually completely unobtrusive. Today however, as a rusted tan pickup passed, he lunged into the middle of the road, stopping it in its tracks. He bared his teeth and started barking furiously, circling around to the drivers side and jumping up, pawing at the window. The driver honked a few times in an effort to scare it away, then carefully wove around him and continued on his way, as did the wolf after staring after the receding truck for a few moments.
The moral: Sometimes events are meaningless and that’s alright.
I entered a twilight zone last night when I accidentally googled Dooce instead of typing her address into my web browser. What came up as I finished typing the “e” was that now-ubiquitous list of google suggestions and number three was “Dooce Haters”. Intrigued I clicked and was lost to the world for two hours.
What I discovered (besides the usual spectacle of women tearing each other apart over bathroom tiles and parenting styles) was a fascinating discussion about the rise of mommy-blogging and whether or not these blogs prolong or exacerbate the Feminine Mystique, the happy housewife ideal. Women desperately doing everything in their power to maintain a perfect facade while everything beneath crumbles behind closed doors.
Here discourse seems to be split down the middle, with some arguing that the mighty Dooce was one of the first to break through this barrier by writing openly about her struggles with depression, checking herself into a Psych ward post-postpartum and her frequent feelings of being overwhelmed. Half of the blogosphere holds her up as a shining beacon of truth, honestly relating the experiences of motherhood, while the other just as enthusiastically denounces her as a fake, a sell-out. The latter half argues that Dooce is pushing a sort of reality unattainable to most. They charge that her blog has grown to such behemoth proportions that the content has become wholly unrelatable. Earning a rumoured $40,000/month from blog ads and endorsements, the subject of Dooce’s posts has remained much the same -life’s daily foibles and frustrations- but these days her readers (some of them at least) are painfully aware that this is the woman with the power to simply tweet her dissatisfaction with her Maytag washer and have it replaced free of charge by a rival brand. This is a woman who now earns a million dollars a year, still blogging about mess and children while simultaneously posting pictures of an immaculate magazine-ready home.
Do mommybloggers, at least the successful ones, unknowingly contribute to the idea of the perfect home, the happy housewife, even if they themselves admit their occasional dissatisfaction? Is it disingenuous to continue marketing yourself as just another mom-down-the-street when you now earn six figures? When does a blog become a brand?
Jess and caught up on gmail chat the other day and ended up discussing this while talking about another big-time blogger, SouleMama:
Jessica: What else, I commute to work by bike (45 mns each way)and i still hate london and want to live on a farm like Soule Mama
me: Oh me too. Don’t you just DROOL every time she posts a pic of her gorgeous floors and organically painted walls?
Jessica:I know, it’s disgusting isn’t it she even makes motherhood look nice.1:08 PM And she has maple trees! And pigs! I want pigs
me: Oh my. it’s too good! I almost wish she would occasionally blog about the struggles, the hard parts…it’s too easy to believe that everything is perfect
Jessica: i knooooooow I think she doesn’t because it doesn’t make sense business-wise you know?
me: yeah, she’s selling a brand, an image
Jessica: Like,she’s not Dooce, she can’t cash on the drama, it needs to be lovely and nice and positive1:10 PM which isn’t bad per se, but you’re like… surely your life isn’t THAT great yo! her husband sounds real nice too her knitting makes me feel inadequate
To be fair Soulemama does have a section in her “About Me” page where she offers the disclaimer that there are frustrations in her life, there is yelling and mess and discord. But, she explains, her blog is a place to escape that and record the good times.
Still. Here we are, women (millions of us) reading each of these blogs and being presented an image of perfection. Dooce with her designer styled house and steezy clothing, HGTV endorsements hiding behind the scenes. SouleMama with her earth-mother sewing, cooking, crafting it all from scratch lifestyle.
Do we feel inadequate? I would argue that presented with these images, if one is prone to comparison, yes. But is this their fault? And would we do any different? I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t jump at the chance to quit my job and write all day. Isn’t that the dream? Isn’t that why we’re doing this?Is this just another case of women tearing down those of us who have succeeded at what we have not (yet)?
So, welcome to the second most boring topic to talk about other than dreams… my CLEANSE!
I was going to link to a page explaining why I am embarking on a Candida Cleanse, but every single one of them without fail mentions the term “chronic yeast infections” and guys, I promise I do not have this symptom although I was intrigued by a book offered on one site entitled “Yeast Infection No More!”. The chipper formerly-yeast-infection-riddled woman on the front cover looks happier than I have ever been.
What I DO have is a holistic-health minded coworker who regularly talks about working on her chi and dealing with her vata imbalance, yet also manages to remain one of the most easygoing and open people I’ve ever met. I trust her implicitly, so when she swears that all of my fatigue, irritability, headaches and pretty much everything else that is wrong with me is due to an imbalance of Candida Albicans, I believe her and sign up to do a 30 day Candida Cleanse.
What’s on the menu? Um..not a whole lot. No sugar, no pickled or fermented foods, no dairy, no gluten, no coffee or tea unless it’s freshly-ground or herbal. No processed or canned foods, and definitely no salsa con queso eaten directly out of the jar.
My approach to self-denial can best be summed up by Oscar Wilde, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” and I’ve never been good at resistance, especially food-related. If I want a cookie I eat a cookie, enjoy it and am done with it. Why spend fifteen minutes denying yourself a bite, torturing yourself, going back and forth and back and forth only to break down, snatch it off the plate, scarf it down and become become riddled with guilt after? Who has the energy for that? Eat the damn cookie and enjoy it. Move on.
So. That said, we’ll see how I do after a few days without dairy or pickled items. Don’t worry I won’t be keeping a daily Cleanse journal…I do have some dignity left.
I was at work the other day and a teenage boy asked how old I was. I answered that I was 27 and he made the predictable fuss about ohmigod you’re so OLD (and then bumped himself up to #1 on my favorites list by saying he originally thought I was 18. STILL GOT IT).
I don’t know why, but as I walked away time slowed and the words sunk into my head…I am 27. I will be 27 for six more months and then I will never be 27 ever, ever again.
I started to do what you should never do if you wish to remain sane and happy. I started to take stock. I ran down life’s little to-do list to see what, exactly I’ve accomplished in these 27 years. I am generally a happy and optimistic person (perhaps as the result of getting every ounce of depression out of my system during a prolonged Emo phase before we even knew what Emo was) but despite this, there are boxes unchecked. Is it just me or simply human nature that I immediately zoom in on the items that sit glaringly empty while all around me my peers busily check them off?
Someone I’m too lazy to google once said “It is possible to have it all. Just not at the same time.” And I wanted to fist-pump as I digested those words. PREACH!
Right now I can check: happy, married, fulfilling job, well-behaved dog. Two years ago I could have checked: happy, job. Two years from now I might be able to add the North American dream: owning a home. It’s disgusting though isn’t it? Unsavory, this rush to the finish line, like once you check off everything you will ascend to something unimaginably better. No. Lies I say, lies! The only thing waiting for you once you’ve checked everything off is…all the stuff you checked off! And you’re stuck with it and you call it your life: the house, the career, the stale marriage, the geriatric dog, the whiny children (what was that about optimism?)
Truthfully though it’s like when I hear people talking about travelling and they refer to “doing” countries, “Yeah I’ve done Japan and Thailand, but I still want to do Greece and South America.” Check, check. What of the experience? What of the process? What of those other quotes about the journey being more important than the destination, about life being what’s happening while you’re busy making other plans?
This is the trap I remain vigilant about falling into and sometimes, like you, I fail. I compare myself mercilessly with those who have more, or different, or better. But I keep reminding myself that I can have it all…just not all right now.
One of my friends is single. She often laments this fact, she’s tired of riding solo, she desperately wants a partner, someone in her corner rooting for her. She has told me she envies my relationship but when I look at her I don’t see sad single girl, I see freedom! Indulgence! Never having to compromise! Not finding beer cans behind the toilet!
I tell her if I were her, I’d be backpacking. I’d be hitting the road without looking back, no one to miss or call or write letters to… I can taste the adventure and it tastes like tequila and heavily-accented foreign men. She tells me if she were me she’d be getting busy and having babies, what am I waiting for?
So. Lesson learned. Check.
Here I am, enjoying the journey. Enjoying all of what I have, right now.
I took the advice of dear Lainey and took out “Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century” from the library. Devoured it in two days. Brangelina doesn’t have anything on these two, I so wish I could have been around to watch this play out in the press.
We have this idea about modern decency and morality (or lack thereof) and tend to look at our contemporaries and even to Hollywood, tsktsk-ing that things like adultery, scandals and five-second marriages “just weren’t done” fifty years ago. Lies!
I don’t kid myself that it’s not happening, but these days publicists, managers and handlers have ensured that the really smutty stuff gets locked down and paid off most of the time before it can ever reach the press. Today you’d never hear about whole productions being shut down for hours while the two stars had wild make-up sex.
I think my generation missed out on these two, I had certainly heard their names but had no idea about the explosive nature of their romance, their two marriages, the yachts and diamonds, children and dogs. How terribly disappointing that I am living in an era where we pretend that couples don’t fight, rather than delighting in the friction, the atom bombs.
Years ago I took four months off and traveled around Australia. Sort of a delayed gap year, the sort of trip I should have taken after high school but finally set out for one and a half years after graduating university.
A friend and I decided to escape our lives. I needed an out from the small town I was desperately resisting falling in love with, biting and scratching at the familiarity of its inhabitants, the self-imposed confines of my life.
We set out with full backpacks and came back completely different people. Away from my family and my then-boyfriend (now-husband) I became someone else. Leafing through the journal I kept during the trip I am struck by a list hastily scrawled in the back pages: Things I Learned in Australia. #4: Messy is more interesting.
There seem to be two popular archetypes in popular culture, the messy, creative, wild bohemian (read: irresistible and interesting) and her opposite; compulsively organized, neat, punctual (read: boring and bad in bed). I think about this often. I thought of it when I was the last person in the world to watch Black Swan last night. I am engulfed by it when I visit my younger sisters, who live this delicious, sink-your-toes-in-and-wiggle existence, flying by the seat of their pants as I play the mom, worrying and fretting. It makes my heart hurt as I try desperately to let go, go with it, try and bite off a little of their juicy lives for my own.
I thought of this today as I swept, arranged and tidied our home. At times I feel as though I am fighting a battle within myself about which archetype to identify with, to embrace. I so desperately want to be the wild bohemian, I genuinely want to be flexible and spontaneous and accepting. I want to not give a damn, to embrace those sickening coasters that proclaim “Dance As If Nobody’s Watching”. Yet something in my inner nature finds it impossible not to plan, to colour-coordinate, file and sub-file my life into categories. Impossible not to worry about the neighbours when I crank the music, impossible not to be painfully aware that people are watching and what will they think?!
I stop and look at my white furniture, my bookshelf arranged by genre. I note how my hands twitch when I see disorder, how my heart races when I don’t pay my visa off in full. I think I am losing the battle.
Is there beauty in boring? If I’m predictable and sensible am I doomed to beige? Are there no redeeming qualities, save being that boner-killing word, dependable?
Deep inside I think this is why I married Adam. He lends me some street cred. With him my house will never be clean, my life will never be boring. Right now one of the rooms in our house has undergone a guerrilla takeover and been transformed into a “Media Cave” featuring two computers, five screens and our old mattress lying on the floor. It’s hideous, it’s embarrassing. It looks like a flophouse. It’s just what I need to keep me from fading into the background completely.
I sat in a booth at our local Farmer’s Market all day Saturday as part of the gardening program I run at my work. I try and entice teens to care about growing organic fruits and vegetables, and I bribe reward them for their efforts with either money, school credits or a few of the 100 volunteer hours they need to be able to graduate.
Typically I’d be sitting at the booth with one of the kids, who would have joined me the night before to harvest veggies for the market, but we’ve had a shit growing season so far, and thus, no veggies, no teens, just me.
Let me get intimate with y’all, lets hold hands and talk about the ENERGY of the Farmer’s Market. Let’s talk about the VIBE. Mm’kay? But seriously the energy IS amazing! And there IS a vibe and it is totally, distinctly positive and friendly and warm.
Observe my metamorphosis: I arrive in the morning sullen and surly, speaking monosyllabic sentences. I am bitter that I’m spending a whole Saturday sitting at the market, I’m angry that I have to haul all the shit from my car to the booth and set it up by myself and navigate around dogs and children (both on leashes) to do so, and I (staunch tea drinker) want to mainline a strong cafe mocha IMMEDIATELY.
Cut to five hours later and I’m smiling so hard my cheeks might split, laughing and getting to know folks on a first name basis, calling people “folks” and I swear I’m one “buying local produce is like hugging a farmer” conversation away from knee-slapping and saying golly! It just transforms me, I love being there and I can’t believe that it’s part of my job.
As I sat in hour 2 of 5 -a key period in the metamorphosis where my people watching turns from vindictive critiques of fashion and parenting styles to a Free to Be You and Me type communion with humanity- I saw a couple approach with their two children.
I wish I had a picture of them and could post it in a way that wasn’t creepy because I can’t even begin to describe them. I love love LOVE them and have met them literally two or three times in passing but their attitudes are just sublime. The mom is Australian and has short-cropped hair but in a very funky rock-style way, totally unaffected and unpretentious. The dad looks like a faded surfer dude, but still fit and attractive. Their two children are blonde and precocious and the eldest is a girl about 4 who has one of those short-shorn haircuts with the long curling tendrils around the ears and the nape of the neck…again, if only a photo.
I strike up a conversation with the dad while his wife admires the handmade leather journals being sold in the booth beside me, and overcome by my metamorphosis I confide to him that I adore, no ADORE, their parenting style and how they are raising their kids. I tell him he’s doing an amazing job and I want to be them in like 5 years. I almost keep talking but am starting to feel like this is a little weird, when he leans in close and he’s like “Man, it’s hard.” And I start to smile because of how timely this conversation is and he continues “It took me so long to adjust to being a parent, to not feeling like I had to fight to see who was going to come first and it took me even longer to realize that there was no contest, it has to be them.”
I pause, and am struck by his candour and am slowly digesting these words as he goes on, ”the one thing I was never prepared for was how much and how fiercely I would love them.” He looks over at his daughter as she taunts her little brother with sips of her snow cone , “Totally unprepared.”
We chatted for a few more minutes as his wife returned and they called their kids and they walked away.
In hour 4, a woman came towards the table eying the basket of homemade biscuits that we were selling as a fundraiser. Little peanut butter dog cookies stamped into bones, hearts and stars, two for a dollar. As she neared the table she made eye contact and said ”I lost my dog three days ago.” and her eyes immediately welled up with tears. She said ” I really miss her” and before I could stammer a reply, some form of condolence or commiseration or comfort, she left and merged into the crowd.
I am constantly struck by how much people will tell you, how much they (we) need to share, to vent and compare notes. Ours is not a solitary experience and it makes me feel a little less weird for keeping this blog.
We drove for 12 hours through mountains and vast expanses of logged landscapes, houses mere feet away from four-lane highways. Billboards, small towns, all faded into the blur of our rear-view mirror as we headed east.
A wedding, a baby.
Every few hours we stopped so Gus could get out and pee, so Adam and I could stretch our legs. As we opened the back door Gus would tumble out in a cloud of fur, the OCD in me couldn’t even look.
We drove, we drove. And finally, we arrived.
So. A wedding. My brothers wedding. He was marrying the sweetest woman, I’d never seen him happier. And amidst the wedding dinners and stag/stagettes we were squeezing in a visit to friends of ours who had just had a baby, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I turn the thought around like a smooth pebble in my mouth, “a baby…”
When we arrived at their house, the thee men immediately left again under the guise of getting takeout sushi. Us three ladies were left behind to peek at the tiny baby girl, marvel over her toes, her little lips. My friend A. looked incredibly at ease, she is one of the most capable, ambitious women I knew and I fully expected to see her breezing through motherhood and she was. Except, except.
Ladies, we weren’t meant to do this alone. Permit me to reminisce like a hippie… where are the days of the birthing tent? Where’s the sense of “It takes a community to raise a child” ? Where are the female relatives not taking no for an answer, stepping in, doing laundry, holding babies while the new mum showers, regains some sense of normalcy? I wish I were there, I wish I could do more. I wish I could offer some sort of assistance instead of just commiserating, listening, trying to share in an experience I have only read about
A. is doing an incredible job. Her and her husband are a hilarious, loving, complementary couple, fully devoted to each other and in what I perceive as a fairly typical male-response to having a family, he has thrown himself into work trying to help in the best way he knows how. So there was a moment before the men returned, the baby was crying, small lusty squalls. A. was rocking her back and forth, trying to soothe her, comfort her. She was bouncing her, shushing and us two childless idiots sat and watched, helpless to assist in any way. It hit me: this is your day. This constant, sometimes frustrating struggle against a tiny, uncommunicative, being, this is the fabric of your day. And it suddenly made sense, why people say having a baby is so much work.
I remember in my old blog, writing about the work of marriage. Musing that although everyone is happy to tell you that a great relationship takes work, no one gets specific about the type of work. It’s not satisfying, “overcoming obstacles” and “triumphing as a team” work. The work involved in marriage is often unbelievable petty. As in not being a dick when your wife has shrunk the FOURTH (and incidentally, last) of your expensive wool sweaters when you should really just be thankful she’s doing your laundry at all, ADAM. For example.
It’s making the choice to put the gun away and stop sniping rather than just adding a silencer.
When you live with someone and see see them day in and day out occasionally they bear the brunt of your bad moods, bitchy tendencies. And as he endures your snark, your sass and (hopefully) avoids judging you too harshly as you sit in a reality-tv coma, eating nacho cheese from the jar, that’s the work of marriage. Not being a dick in those moments, choosing instead to bring you a blanket and join in making judgy comments about TV whores even as you shove him away complaining that he stinks like gin and sweat - that is the hard work of marriage.
This is my impression of parenthood too, at least in the early stages. I’ve always heard it was hard, but as I observed this beautiful woman and her beautiful child, it struck me in much the same way that motherhood isn’t hard in terms of skill level, or ability. It’s hard in the rote monotony of your days. It’s hard in the isolation, the judgement, the knowledge that in some undeniable biological way you are sole provider for this helpless infant.
I think get it. But in the same way that I’d never trade my sometimes gin-soaked man, I was thoroughly besotted by the bond between them. The sweet cocoon of intimacy that surrounds them now, a family. I still want that.