Friday, August 16, 2013

Notes From the Nightstand: How to Be a Woman

I was introduced to Caitlin Moran through The Bloggess, one of my favorite bloggers. Moran is British and has been a  music journalist and TV presenter since she was in her teens. I can't believe I'm just now hearing about her. The Bloggess (AKA Jenny Lawson) raved about her, so I picked up her book How to Be a Woman. If you like funny women ranting humorously and telling vulgar jokes and talking about their UTIs, you'll like it. And if you don't, yeah. Don't.

The blurb on my copy calls it "The British version of Tina Fey's Bossypants.", but I wouldn't really compare the two women. The only similarities are that they both are funny, both are women, and both talk about feminism. So, totally the same, of course! Caitlin Moran reminds me more of the Sedarises - more profane than Fey, more eccentric, and less of an overachiever. The one thing about Fey that makes me cringe is the sense I get that she does everything better and more efficiently than I do. Moran gives me the comfy feeling that she's even more of a wackadoo than I am. I love that quality in other women.

That is also exactly why her vision of 21st century feminism as outlined in this book is appealing to me as well. Her premise is that feminism doesn't need to be merely the domain of academics and self-serious activists. In order to revive modern feminism, feminists should feel free to easily, conversationally, tackle issues like Brazilian waxes and thong underwear and plastic surgery, in addition to pay equality and family/parenting leave and domestic abuse. Feminists could just be people who support women who also like to have a laugh and drink a beer.

I fully agree with her that all feminists need not be all things to all people - wonder women who save the world from all evils simultaneously with superhuman strength and focus. And when they don't succeed at this overburdened perfection, we shouldn't have to dismiss them as misguided failures. Ironically, even as she argues this in the book, online commenters and Goodreads reviewers criticize her for not addressing women of color, GLBTQetc.etc.etc. women, class issues, global women's issues, and so on, ad infinitum.

It's a humor piece, people. And a memoir more than a women's studies class term paper.

Really the best praise I could give this book is that I laughed and laughed and I could quote you whole passages gleefully, except that this blog is kind of a family show. Still, there are plenty of paragraphs that made me want to scrawl "Amen!" in the margins in red ink, like this one:

To be frank, childbirth gives a woman a gigantic set of balls. The high you get as you realize it's all over, and that you didn't actually die, can last the rest of your life. Off their faces with euphoria and bucked by how brave they were, new mothers finally tell the in-laws to back off, dye their hair red, get driving lessons, become self-employed, learn to use a drill, experiment with Thai condiments, make cheerful jokes about incontinence, and stop being scared of the dark. (pg. 218)

Or this:

Women who, in a sexist world, pander to sexism to make their fortune are Vichy France with tits. Are you 34GG, waxed to within an inch of your life and faking orgasms? Then you're doing business with a decadent and corrupt regime. Calling that a feminist icon is like giving an arms dealer the Nobel Peace Prize. (pg. 247)

Or this:

(On women who get plastic surgery) To be as privileged and safe as they are - but to still go through such painful, expensive procedures - gives the impression of a room full of fear. Female fear.

...I don't want that... I want a face that drawls - possibly in the voice of James Cagney, although Cagney from Cagney & Lacey will do - "I've seen more recalcitrant toddlers/devious line managers/steep mountain passes/complicated dance routines on Parappa the Rapper/bigger sums than you'll ever see in your life, sunshine. So get out of my special chair and bring me a cheese sandwich."

...Because there is an unspoken announcement commensurate with that look. Women who've had the needle, or the knife, look like they're saying: "My friends are not my friends, my men are unreliable and fainthearted, my lifetime's work counts for nothing, I am 59 and empty-handed. I'm still as defenseless as the day I was born. PLUS, I've now spunked all my yacht money on my arse. By any sane index, I have failed at my life." (pg. 282 , 286)

And yet, there are places where she and I diverge, just as Tina Fey and I aren't twinsies, just as Moran herself argues that all feminist icons can't be all things to all people. While I cheered her chapter on pornography, I had to shrug my shoulders at her chapter on strip clubs. And while I entirely defend her right to her position on abortion, I must admit that I could not relate to her experience or her conclusions at all. Plus, I suspect that her taste in music is not as good as mine. Ahem. This is the reality of women - we are not all the same. Our cause is not a monolith and one size feminist does not fit all.

I'm still putting Caitlin Moran on my short-list of women that I would like to have one too many bourbons with. On my imaginary crazy-lady-date, we would have a long, overwrought convo about UTIs and childbirth, taunt some college-aged boys about their jukebox selections, stagger arm-in-arm down the street cackling over tasteless jokes, share an ill-advised late-night burrito, and then someone would lose a shoe.

That's highly unlikely to happen, but a girl can dream. In the meantime, I'll just put another of her books, Moranthology, on my book store shopping list. Cheers!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Last month, my country music lovin' cousin suggested a band to me that I might like, and consequently I wrote about Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers here on my blog because they really are seriously great! Now it's my turn to return the favor. Ames, if you haven't heard any Brandi Carlile, check her out...

I have her last two studio albums (there are several others as well), and I like Give Up the Ghost from 2010 a little better than the most recent, Bear Creek. Give Up the Ghost was produced by Rick Rubin and features Elton John, Amy Ray (The Indigo Girls), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers). Her album before Ghost, The Story, which I don't have yet, was produced by T-Bone Burnett, so she certainly has got a lot of industry power-hitters pulling for her.

This performance on Austin City Limits is mostly songs from Give Up the Ghost, all of which are so great, but if you only watch one thing here, skip to the end (19:10) and catch her cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Stellar.

And here's a more recent live in-studio taping of her band at NPR doing newer songs from Bear Creek with a string section. Bear Creek seems a little more country than Ghost, but all her music is fairly genre-defying, in my opinion. Maybe it's just "singer-songwriter" like all those people from the 70's; like James Taylor and Cat Stevens and Carole King - but more rocking, and with a band. Maybe more Sheryl Crow/Melissa Ethridge/ Bonnie Raitt honky-tonk with a Patsy Cline voice. Whatever.

I first heard of her listening to Gill Landry's song "The One Night Hotel" from Piety and Desire. Her voice was just so startling and beautiful, I had to look it up and see who was singing with him.

Then I happened to hear about her singing "Country Roads" with Emmylou Harris on The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver, and was again amazed by her voice.

This isn't really my usual "type" of music. I'm not big on lady singers who belt out songs about love (I wasn't quite sure at first that Adele was worth the money, either), and Mike is definitely not convinced yet. But she's got enough Patsy Cline and Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou in her to make me put her albums on and sing along in the car at top volume. Sold!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Katie Sez...

... Is it alright to be six years old and still have a Bearby?

Kate at 16 months - pjs, shoes, paci, Bearby on her head, watching TV. Classic.

Mike: Of course. You can keep your Bearby as long as you want.

Kate: It's just that I'm kind of afraid of the dark sometimes a little bit.

Mike: Even some grown ups are afraid of the dark sometimes.

Kate: I'm also afraid of canyons, earthquakes, ghosteses [rhymes with hostesses], avalanches, spiders, and old mines.

Friday, August 9, 2013

"Aug. 5, 2013"

The date was all I wrote on Monday. I was enjoying a day out alone at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth while Mike was at a conference and the girls were with their grandparents. These days it seems I'm constantly, desperately in need of time to spend wandering aimlessly on my own schedule, reveling in uninterrupted thoughts, basking in silence. I sat in the museum's secluded community garden and pulled out my notebook to try to get down some of my feelings about being alone, having quiet, and the freedom those bring.

I wrote the date at the top of the page and paused to think of how to begin... but then, two women burst into the garden. They stood ridiculously near me, nearly hovering over me, the only other person in the sheltered space, and proceeded to SHOUT out a conversation on gardening. THE ANNUALS ARE NOT DOING TOO WELL RIGHT NOW. SOME-PLANT-NAME-IN-LATIN MAY NOT STILL BE ALIVE WHEN WE GET HOME. HAVE YOU TRIED THIS BRAND PLANT FOOD?!? OH, YOU SHOULD! YOU REALLY SHOULD!

I folded up my notebook, put all my things back in my bag, and left. The spell was broken, the golden silence smashed. Is it the universe that is against me or is it just humanity?

The two women ended up following me (haplessly, let's graciously assume) from building to building. Every time I'd escape to find quiet and solitude in another random exhibit, here they'd come like homing pigeons, cracking open my bubble of peace with their SHOUTED CONVERSATION.


They reminded me of the birds in our neighborhood that chirp manically every morning just before dawn. Without central a/c, we often sleep with the windows open and have front row tickets to the 5 AM bird cacophony. I was frantic about it when the girls were infants. At sunrise I was usually collapsing back into bed after finally settling them down to sleep after hours of crying, only to have the bird freak-out wake us both up again.  My anger and desperation and self-pity were extreme in the away that only the exhausted mother of a colicky newborn can muster. I remember reading an online forum in which some other beaten-down new mother complained bitterly about the birds, and was then immediately devastated by someone else's response that, "It's just birds for god's sake. How can you be so angry about birds? That's just normal life, after all."

I felt so alone, undone by the everyday frustrations that others barely acknowledge.

And here I found myself again, so desperate for stillness and solitude that I was entirely driven out of a museum by the squawking of two old birds. Henpecked by the everyday drama of life. Hounded by enthusiastic conversation. Devastated by insignificant slights.

How did I become so fragile?

I know it's only weariness. Just like the me of four or six years ago cursing the sunrise bird brigade for stealing what little sleep I might have had, the me of today is shaking my fist at intrusive people for cheating me out of my quiet time. Back then, I was sleep deprived by my little babies, and today I'm noise polluted by my youngsters. They bicker, shriek, squeal, tattle, shout-sing, holler down the stairs, stomp across the landing, bang on the kitchen table, wail at the top of their lungs about nothing. They tell winding, endless tales about real or imaginary incidents and then quiz me to make sure I was really listening. They demand that I tell them stories about every conceivable stage of my life. They recap cartoons we just watched together, episodes we've probably already even seen several times before, just to make sure I caught every line of dialog, I guess. They say, "Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!" and "Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?"

For an introvert like me, it's just as exhausting as the nights when I only got three non-consecutive hours of sleep. It messes with my brain. I feel like it's impossible to string whole thoughts together or read critically. I forget to return calls or schedule appointments. I never finish anything. I cringe when my phone pings or there's a knock at the door. I feel like I turn further and further inward as the noise level rises until I'm peeking at the world out of my eyeball holes, like a ghost in an attic window.

And now you all think I'm losing my mind - "dropping my basket," as my mother would say. Oh well, it may be that I have a little less solid of a grip on my basket than other people do. I'm usually pretty reasonable, though, so I think it's at least a temporary situation. Time is marching on, and once I get a little bit of a break, I'm usually more philosophical and less hysterical.

After the Squawking Sisters ended my afternoon at the museum, I returned to our hotel room to hide out for a while. I lay on the crisp, white sheets under the air conditioner, rested my achy feet, and closed my eyes. Instead of napping, as I would have done gluttonously five years ago, I now just listened to glorious silence. No TV, no music, no phone calls. Peace and frickin' Quiet.

By the time Mike returned to our room I was feeling sane, so we set out on an adventure to find dinner and drinks. We sat at a table eating sushi, watching the Piscataqua River rush by outside the restaurant windows, taking inventory of life and checking in with each other as we do whenever we have a chance to go out alone.

We're feeling like things are going pretty well, all things considered. We have enough of everything we need. The girls seem normal and happy, generally speaking. Our relationship has never been better. And, we agreed, we are definitely both starting to feel like regular people again as the girls leave the Age of Infant Dependency. They are kids now with long legs and big vocabularies, settling into school, making their own friends, pouring their own cereal. No more naps, no more strollers, no more cups with lids. We're graduating from survival mode where two insane, small people are trying to kill two wrinkly, tired old people into - what? - I'm not sure yet, but hopefully a family of four whole, increasingly independent individuals.

For me especially, this means joining the land of the living once more. I've been in a fog, a cocoon of baby mothering and self-sacrifice. I very much feel that the next phase of my life is just beyond the horizon and moving towards me at a rapid clip. Kate has one more year of Pre-K and then both my chicks will fly away to full-time public school. Here comes Life 2.0 (or, I don't know, what are we on now, 4.0? 5.0? Life XP? Amanda LSE - Luxury Sport Edition? Actually, that last one seems doubtful.) Time to reinvent myself again. Time for my mid-life crisis reboot.

I have no idea what this will entail. I'm not sure at all where I'm headed or who I'll become. Given a couple of days to actually sit still and have thoughts, I didn't find any definite answers. All I know is that I'm looking forward to it. Who know what tomorrow may bring? I just hope whatever it is, it's much, much quieter.