Archive for November, 2010

Quick! How many shopping days left?

Wait. Before you answer that, I have a point to make. (By which I mean: I have a rant to… rant.) Am I the only one who’s still digesting the last of the turkey leftovers? Who’s still in possession of one final, lonely slice of pumpkin pie? These are rather delightful things, you know, the remnants of a triptophan coma, the taste of that once-a-year treat, but they become hard to enjoy when one’s airwaves are saturated with headlines about Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and god knows whatever other manufactured shopping marker days we’ll soon come across–days which seem to have lost all significance other than their relation to some other day in the future.

What about Fall, for the love of galoshes?

My irritation here isn’t just about the woeful disregard for a near-entire season, delightful though this poor, readily-forgotten season may be (crunchy leaves, hot toddies, holidays devoted exclusively to food and clothing devoted exclusively to disguising the sins borne of holidays devoted exclusively to food, hats… what’s not to love?). Nor is it even about the consumerism that reduces everything to a marker on the shopper’s calendar, but something more. This hurry-up-and-break-out-the-tinsel business kills me because it is emblematic of our refusal to live in the moment. Our addiction to living in the future.

Some might say you have to plan for the future, lest you meet a terrible fate. Save for retirement or become a bag lady! Get to the dentist every six months or plan on forking over a significant chunk of that retirement money for Super Poli-Grip. Make sure the salmon has enough time to defrost or subsist on Ramen. All of which is fine, to a certain extent. But where is the line between responsible personhood and letting your life pass you by?

When I was a kid, looking forward to Christmas, the only way to temper my rabid anticipation was to mark each of the preceding 24 days with the yanking open of the properly-numbered window on my Advent Calendar. I’d wake up each morning and scream down the hall: “What’s my numberrrrr?” Anticipation is a sleep-killer; I would wake up early, and I would yell until I got an answer. Whichever parent was less irritated with my antics would give me my number, and I’d suck down the chocolate drum or bell or whatever it was so quickly I barely allowed my taste buds time enough to register its flavor. And then I’d wait, desperately, for that day to pass. Rinse, repeat.

(One year, so excited I perhaps convinced myself that quicker consumption of the chocolate would somehow influence the space-time continuum in my favor, I opened all of the windows, and downed every last chocolate. Alas, it didn’t work. Which was a bummer, as then I was left with no daily treat to look forward to. Only far-off Christmas. And the in-between time to mark.)

I marked entire years by holidays back then. How much longer until Christmas? Until Summer? Until my birthday? Until my sixteenth birthday?

Don’t wish your life away, my parents would say.

I hated that line. Like I was a fool; like they somehow knew something I didn’t. I’m not wishing my life away, I’d think, daydreaming about how much cooler my life would be once Santa brought me my roller skates, or when I could drive myself to the mall.

Now, of course, I look back and wonder, where did all of the time go? How many todays did I spend counting down to the arrival of how many tomorrows? How many carefree autumn afternoons did I fail to savor, how many crispy leaves did I forget to notice as they crunched under my running feet, ferreting me home to write my letter to Santa? Now, I can admit my parents might have had a point. (Might have had a point. I still hate it when they’re right.)

Happiness scholars might view this affliction in terms of what they call the hedonic treadmill. It’s a trap, really, characterized by when-then thinking. Like: when I lose 20 pounds, then I’ll be happy. When I make a million dollars, then I’ll be happy. When I get married, have a baby, get promoted, retire… You get the point. Of course, the problem with a treadmill is that, run as you might, you never really get anywhere. And what such scholars have found is that, no matter how much we believe winning the lottery or getting laid or changing jobs might make us happier, and now matter how giddy the anticipated thing might make us immediately, before we know it, we’re right back to where we started. Happy as we ever were. But in a way, not, because, no sooner have we broken in those new roller skates than we’re chasing after the really cool roller blades we can’t wait for Santa to bring us next year.

Rinse, repeat.

Buddhists might serenely explain that the problem with futuristic thinking is that, by definition, it diminishes the value of the present. They’re right, of course. Which ultimately sucks. Because the future never comes. It just hangs out there, in the future. And in the meantime, while we’re focusing on it, we’re missing today.

And so, I ask you. Must we really spend the remainder of this season, beautiful, slow, lovely Fall, focusing only on one day in the future–an admittedly splashy, gift-wrapped spectacle of a day… a day that, it’s worth pointing out, happens to fall a couple of days into Winter? Please, let’s not. As they in their imminent wisdom like to say, the present is a gift. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could somehow take the focus off the future and instead focus on unwrapping what’s right in front of us? And at the moment, what’s right in front of me is that one remaining, not-yet-stale piece of pumpkin pie. And it is delicious.


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Here’s how it breaks down at our house.  Our thanksgiving feast includes a cast of many (this year we’ve maxed out at 29 family and friends) and comes with two unbreakable rules:

The first is the rookie rule:  the newbies get first crack at doing the dishes.  We keep this rule on the down-low, for obvious reasons.

The second is our Thanksgiving toasts.  Over our first course of oysters and champagne, we go around the table and ask everyone to offer a personal thanks, which are alternately silly, spiritual, simple, funny  — and by the last of the toasts — sometimes pretty rowdy.  This year, I’m all about simple:

Thank you God for hope.   Pass it around.

Cheers and love to you all.

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We embarked on some personal archeology this past weekend.  Which is to say, we cleaned the garage.

We do this periodically.  What’s interesting is that we get rid of stuff in layers: our own private dig.  We keep things we don’t use, if we have a place for them somewhere, only to finally send them off to junk heaven a few years down the line.  And so every time we tackle this job from hell, we get yet another reminder of the way we were.

Among the things we excavated on Sunday (some of which we chucked, some we saved): An ornate, heavy 70’s-era wrought iron wine opener, the kind with a fat lever, that stands three-feet tall on a bar (Never used it.)  A paper shredder.  (Never used that either)  A year’s worth of paper grocery bags equivalent to all the days we forgot to bring our cloth bags.   Black garbage sacks of deeply unattractive clothing and shoes.  Florist vases.  Coffee mugs with stupid sayings.  The cedar-lined foot locker my husband brought to college when he was 17.  Early edition Nancy Drew books.  My grandmother’s cutglass punch bowl.  Of course we saved this one, though we haven’t made punch since we were newlywed and broke.

(At this point, I should probably mention that just before my husband left for an emergency coffee run, we had a CSI moment when he chucked a box of old files into the overflowing recycling cart — along with his car keys, which fell to the bottom of the bin.  Guess how we got them out.)

But the most revealing was the stuff left over from our family’s youth.  Fisher Price people that came with us twice to Europe.  Boxes of picture books. Plastic trophies with signed softballs.  Cabbage Patch Kids.  A disco ball and lava lamp from one kid’s college days.  A box of hippie posters, Tarot cards and the like  from the other’s.  What we didn’t find — had we thrown these out at the last go-round? — were the numerous boy-band posters or boxes of 80’s era cassette tapes.  Bell Biv Devoe, anyone?

So there you are.  We could wax nostalgic about a lot of these things.  But there’s a lot of blackmail material, too (ahem:  boy bands?)   But here’s the thing.  No matter how embarrassing these artifacts are, how incongruous with our current self-image, we deny at our own peril this roadmap of who we were that has led us to who we are.

All this crystalized for me when I clicked onto Maureen Dowd Wednesday morning and found a reference to Tuesday’s Oprah, which reunited Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand, the stars of 1973’s iconic love story, “The Way We Were.”   Surely, you’ve seen the movie.  If not, you probably recognize the lyrics of the theme song?   Misty watercolor memories. Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind…

Anyway, Dowd led me straight to Oprah where I found Redford talking about why he repeatedly turned down one of the most romantic leads ever.  His role, a good-looking preppie and would-be novelist for whom things had always come easy, was too one dimensional, Redford said.   100 percent true to type.  And thus, uninteresting.  He kept saying no — until he found that flaw, that inconsistency that suddenly made the role real.

And here’s the point.  Staying completely true to type, refusing to own our inner geeks, denying those hints of who we were or those embarrassing inconsistencies is not only dull but exhausting, too, when every decision we make — from what we wear to what we do — must conform to the standards set out by some arbiter of taste.  Or type.

Look no further than Facebook, where the individual presentation of self is often calculated and predictable.  One-dimensional.  Which is too bad, really.  Because how much more interesting, for example, is the intellectual who can talk about both Donnie Darko — and The Hangover.  Or the feminist who once played with dolls and can teach you how to hide your under-eye circles.  Or the fashionista who laces up her soccer cleats once a week.  Or the big city scenester who also loves cheesy holiday movies that make her cry.  Or the foodie who loved doughnuts even before they were declared cool.  Or the writer who can freely admit she doesn’t have a novel in the drawer — and likely never will.

Something we heard over and over again when we were researching our book was that one sure route out of the choice conundrum is to know yourself.  Your real self.  That’s not who you’ll find on your Facebook page.  It’s more than likely the self that’s hidden in the back of your garage.

But meanwhile, back to Redford:  The flaw he excavated?  Deep inside the facade of the preppie for whom everything came easy was a guy who was terrified of expectations, especially the ones pushed on him by Streisand’s character, who wanted him to be, well, more.  And there it was.  The crack that made him real.  That gave his character depth.  And there, too, was the clash that ultimately led to one of the most heartbreaking moments in movie history.

Whew.  Cue the music.   (Note:  spoiler alert)

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Here’s a scary thought: What if there were a formula that could take your age, education level, income level, proximity to a city center, and field of employment and spit out a prediction for how skinny the jeans you’re wearing right now are? Or how likely you are to eat organic? To drive an SUV? To believe a car crash would make a more beautiful subject for a photograph than would a woman-with-kitten? To be or not to be… a hipster?

Well, hate to break it to you, you delightfully original little snowflake you, but there kind of is. And it’s been around for a long time. In this Sunday’s “The Hipster in the Mirror,” from the NYT Book Review (ahem, how predictable is it that I save that section for last? eek!) Mark Greif writes about he and his colleagues’ experience investigating “the contemporary hipster”–and the fiery debate that arose, once they went public with their endeavor:

The responses were more impassioned than those we’d had in our discussions on health care, young conservatives and feminism.

(No! Not feminism!!)

I wondered if I could guess the root of their pain. It’s a superficial topic, yet it seemed that so much was at stake. Why? Because struggles over taste (and “taste” is the hipster’s primary currency) are never only about taste. I began to wish that everyone I talked to had read just one book to give these fraught debates a frame: “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste,” by Pierre Bourdieu.

What’s so fantastic about Bourdieu’s work? Check it:

Bourdieu chose to make it his life’s work to debunk the powerful classes’ pretensions that they were more deserving of authority or wealth than those below. He aimed his critiques first at his own class of elites–professors and intellectuals–then at the media, the political class, and the propertied class.

“Distinction,” published in 1979 was an undisputed masterwork. In it, Bourdieu set out to show the social logic of taste: how admiration for art, appreciation of music, even taste in food, came about for different groups, and how “superior” taste was not the result of an enchanted superiority in scattered individuals.

…Over several years in the 1960s, Bourdieu and his researchers surveyed 1,200 people of all classes and mined government data on aspects of French domestic life. They asked, for instance, Which of the following subjects would be most likely to make a beautiful photograph? and offered such choices as a sunset, a girl with a cat or a car crash… The statistical results were striking. The things you prefer–tastes that you like to think of as personal, unique, justified only by sensibility–correspond tightly to defining measures of social class: your profession, your highest degree and your father’s profession.

Ahem. Rather a harsh blow to the ego, no?

I mean, of course we are each of us a special little snowflake. And our work in this world is to figure out who we really are, way deep down, and then figure out a way to be her. Which is why this is so disturbing — I mean, I kinda thought becoming my own little special self was what I’ve been doing: I attributed the fact that I like to listen to NPR on my morning jog to the fact that I am a news geek. That I only eat meat that I get at the farmers market to fears over hormones and Food, Inc.-spawned disgust. That I have bangs because if I deal with them, I can rightfully ignore the rest of my hair and still look cute–and a little bit younger. That I think a car crash might make a more lovely photo than a cliche sunset or girl-with-cat to the fact that I made a brief cameo at a photography school in the early ‘aughts. But… is that really the truth? Or am I just a pawn??

In a way, the whole thing gets me thinking about the best (in my clearly conditioned opinion, anyway) exchange in The Devil Wears Prada, when a decidedly unstylish, somewhat uppity, real-journalist-wannabe Andy is knocked down to size by the evil editrix Miranda. Check the dialogue (thanks Wikipedia!), and you’ll see what I mean:

[Miranda, To Andrea] This… stuff? Oh.. okay. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out–oh, I don’t know–that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean. You’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002 Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St. Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? (I think we need a jacket here.) And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Causal Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff.

That’s what’s so funny–especially in light of the almighty hipster. That even when we’re styling ourselves as above-it-all, well, we’re just not. Which is not to say that we are all mindless followers, because I don’t think I really believe that, though I do take issue with anyone who chooses to order a PBR when there’s Guinness on tap. I guess my point is this: everything is worth thinking about, everything is changeable. Even who we think we are. And if that’s the case, perhaps we’d do well to cut everyone around us a little bit of slack, too.

I have this friend who lives in San Francisco, in the Marina–a very nice neighborhood. She loathes hanging out in the terminally trendy Mission–not because it’s beneath her, but because she feels the hipsters are judgmental. They say they’d never live in the Marina, it’s too uppity. Yet they also won’t talk to her when she finds herself there and in need of a coffee fix, because she’s a lawyer and dresses as such. So, who’s uppity?

Here’s a bit more from Greif:

The attempt to analyze the hipster provokes such universal anxiety because it calls everyone’s bluff. And hipsters aren’t the only ones unnerved. Many of us try to justify our privileges by pretending that our superb tastes and intellect prove we deserve them, reflecting our inner superiority. Those below us economically, the reasoning goes, don’t appreciate what we do; similarly, they couldn’t fill our jobs, handle our wealth, or survive our difficulties. Of course this is a terrible lie. And Bourdieu devoted his life to exposing it. Those who read him in effect become responsible to him–forced to admit a failure to examine our own lives, down to the seeming trivialities of clothes and distinction that, as Bourdieu revealed, also structure our world.

So, perhaps the moral of the story is this: Live and let live; Be hip and let be hip. Who is any one of us to judge?


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So have you heard about the big dust-up caused by the Wall Street Journal essay written by Erica Jong in which she castigates what she calls “motherphilia?”  I’m sure you know exactly what she means, but let’s let her spell it out:

Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know that we have endured an orgy of motherphilia for at least the last two decades. Movie stars proudly display their baby bumps, and the shiny magazines at the checkout counter never tire of describing the joys of celebrity parenthood. Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life’s greatest good. Never mind that there are now enough abandoned children on the planet to make breeding unnecessary. Professional narcissists like Angelina Jolie and Madonna want their own little replicas in addition to the African and Asian children that they collect to advertise their open-mindedness. Nannies are seldom photographed in these carefully arranged family scenes. We are to assume that all this baby-minding is painless, easy and cheap.

Ms Jong, she of “the zipless f*ck fame” then goes on to talk about the new mommy bible, “The Baby Book” that advocates attachment parenting.  Not just a clever phrase:  Your baby is your life.  Back to Jong (we love her, by the way):

You wear your baby, sleep with her and attune yourself totally to her needs. How you do this and also earn the money to keep her is rarely discussed. You are just assumed to be rich enough. At one point, the [authors of the book] suggest that you borrow money so that you can bend your life to the baby’s needs. If there are other caregivers, they are invisible. Mother and father are presumed to be able to do this alone—without the village it takes to raise any child. Add to this the dictates of “green” parenting—homemade baby food, cloth diapers, a cocoon of clockless, unscheduled time—and you have our new ideal.

All of which reminded me of a thank-you note I received from the daughter of a friend for a baby gift of green baby stuff that noted, just slightly sardonically, exactly that:  you not only have the obligation to be a good parent these days, but you have to be environmentally conscious while you’re at it.  Whew.  Another ideal to live up to and other way for women to be judged.  But that’s beside the point.

You can surely predict the fallout to Jong’s essay.  Over on the Motherlode, the responses were hot, heavy and not at all surprising.  This came in, an essay cowritten by Katie Allison Granju,  the author of “Attachment Parenting”, and mommy blogger Jillian St. Charles:

Jong’s stock in trade as a writer and a cultural observer has always been to provoke outrage via the outrageous. These days, however, her ability to shock via suggestions of sexual boundary-pushing have become more than a little passe. Thus, she’s apparently now decided to attempt to stir the pot by singing the praises of some sort of detached, Jongian-style “zipless parenting,” in which — as she says — “there are no rules.”  It’s a convenient position from which she can throw bombs at any target that doesn’t reflect her own choices.

Okay, point taken.   As for the “no rules” part,  wait for the punch line.  But what made me cringe was this:

I do not sleep with my baby because some “guru” told me I should. In fact, lots of experts continue to tell women that we absolutely should NOT do this very thing. No, I sleep with my baby because after a day spent away from her at work, I enjoy feeling her snuggled next to us at night. And while I feel guilty about a whole lot of things as a mother — as Jong admits she  also does in her essay — I don’t feel one iota of guilt about my decision to breastfeed or spend plenty of time with my kids. I am not imprisoned by my parenting. I enjoy it, most of the time.

Sleep with my baby? After a day spent away from her at work? That’s what made me think.  Is all this trophy parenting, this uber-attachment, this need to spend every sleeping moment with your baby, the inability to spend any time away from your child when you get home from work,  a reaction to the fact that our culture, our policies, our work-life structures have not evolved to the point that there’s time for both work and life over the course of daily life?  That mom is still the one doing it all and doing it obsessively?  And where the hell is dad?

All of which led me back to a “big think” interview with the glorious Gloria Steinem a few weeks ago, where she said, as always, a lot of smart stuff.  But check what she says related to this issue, specifically:

For instance, we’ve demonstrated in this and other modern countries or industrialized countries that women can do what men can do, but we have not demonstrated that men can do what women can do therefore children are still mostly raised, hugely mostly raised by women and women in industrialized modern countries end up having two jobs one outside the home and one inside the home. And more seriously than that children grow up believing that only women can be loving and nurturing, which is a libel on men, and that only men can be powerful in the world outside the home, which is a libel on women. So that’s huge step we haven’t taken yet.

Right?  Don’t get me wrong.  I loved having kids, and (ahem, fishing here), I think I did a fairly decent job of it.  One reason may have been that I also gave myself permission to have a life that was attached to neither work or parenting.  But back to where we started.  Let’s give Erica the last word:

In the oscillations of feminism, theories of child-rearing have played a major part. As long as women remain the gender most responsible for children, we are the ones who have the most to lose by accepting the “noble savage” view of parenting, with its ideals of attachment and naturalness. We need to be released from guilt about our children, not further bound by it. We need someone to say: Do the best you can. There are no rules.

Amen, sister.  I’ll be happy to say it.   Do the best you can.  There are no rules.  And that, dear readers, goes for everything.  Not just parenting.

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Just when you thought it was safe to take a peek at what everyone’s favorite bad girl’s been up to…

When I opened this Sunday’s New York Times, flipped straight to the Styles section (as I do when I have a blessed nearly-whole day of couch planned) and saw the headline: “Courtney Love: ‘I’d Like to Be Trusted Again,’ I had to wonder. Would this be one of those predictable Fallen Star Rises Again mea culpa type things? An I’ve-Seen-The-Errors-Of-My-Ways-And-Hey!-I’ve-Also-Found-God/Lost-Weight/Launched-A-New-Fragrance-variety profile? Happily, the answer is no. Not even close, in fact. For while author Eric Wilson is sympathetic to Ms. Love, all did not go as planned. After waiting for her in her hotel room at the Mercer Hotel–and snooping enough to discover a stash of curiously titled self-help books, Love made her entrance. And what an entrance it was.


Shortly after 8p.m., Ms. Love burst into the room with the Marchesa dress slung on one arm and the noted German Neo-Expressionist artist Anselm Kiefer on the other. She was entirely naked and leaning on Mr. Kiefer for support. She made one lap around the room, walking in front of a photographer, an assistant, a hairstylist and me. She pulled over her head a transparent lace dress that covered up nothing, and demanded my assistance–“Not you,” she said to Mr. Kiefer, who was bent over trying to help her–to stuff her feet into a pair of black Givenchy heels that were zipped up the back and tied with delicate laces in the front. Then she applied a slash of red lipstick in the vicinity of her mouth.

“I really must get out of here,” Mr. Kiefer said.

“Just a minute,” Ms. Love said, as she pushed her feet, shoes and all, through a pair of pink knickers that she said cost $4,000. She grabbed a trench coat, walked through the hotel lobby with her breasts exposed to an assortment of prominent fashion figures, including Stefano Pilati, the Yves Saint Laurent designer, and then exited the hotel.

This is not at all how this story was meant to begin.

The piece goes on. The scene described above was an anomaly, but only kind of. And this post of mine is not going to praise Love for the afore-detailed behavior. (Or to worry over what became of those shoes. Shudder to think.) Nor does the NYT piece: the picture it paints is of someone who is simply herself. A self that can often be described as FUBAR, yes, but also intelligent, open, talented, and funny. A self that has been a pariah and a darling. That has crashed and burned and risen and crashed again. That has been beautiful and a hot freaking mess.

A self that is full of contradictions, much like most of the rest of us.

Interestingly, elsewhere in the paper (but still on the couch), I found a profile of Debra Winger, who’s reappeared on the scene as of late, starring as the troubled, aging actress Frances on the HBO series “In Treatment.” Much of the piece centers around why she hasn’t been acting despite an impressive career that began with her superhero role on Wonder Woman, what kind of roles appeals to her, what kind don’t. And to that, here’s a bit of what she said:

Heroes–costumed or otherwise–hold little attraction for Winger. “Most of the real ‘heroes’ I know are women who would not get called heroes,” she said. “They are deeply flawed, and what’s within that human spectrum–feeling weak, crying, messing up, being angry–is much more exciting to me.”

Again, I come not to hold up Courtney Love as a hero. But she certainly knows how to rule the range of that human spectrum. Two days before the incident Wilson detailed above, “Courtney Love told a reporter from Style.com that she was trying to take better care of herself.” A couple of days after the incident:

So here was Ms. Love, 16 years [after her husband Kurt Cobain killed himself], the toast of fashion. At one point, she took me upstairs to her room to show me some clothes. The bed was unmade, and there was an overflowing ashtray on the night stand next to five prescription bottles and some junk food. “These are my wakeup cupcakes, some anti-depressants and a cellphone book,” she said without embarrassment.

“I speak to you as someone who doesn’t want to be perceived as a train wreck,” she said.

But, as Jenna Sauers points out in a fiery and fun piece over on Jezebel, the twisted beauty of the story of Courtney Love is that she doesn’t seem to care how others perceive her at all. She writes:

I might even argue [Love] is in certain ways admirable. What other woman in recent memory, having been given (hell, earned) the media’s Bad Girl label, has snarled at the designation–and then continued on her own, misguided but apparently basically contented, way?

Courtney Love is unwilling to become boring… and for that alone, it seems some must condemn her. Perhaps she realized that women are judged for their personal lives in a way that men in the public eye rarely are–where male rock stars who are neglectful parents with histories of drug abuse are concerned, the press narrative is, shall we say, markedly different–and that trying to please those strangers who have come to feel they have a stake in her family, her personal life, or her choices is a losing game… Perhaps she just doesn’t give a fuck…. We truly don’t have enough women capable of or willing to play the bad girl with a smile — and without a trace of victimhood.

She writes that, despite the fact that Love’s a bad singer, a bad mother, and does some stupid stuff, she loves her. Loves her because she’s not a role model and never wanted to be,

Because she auditioned for the bloody Mickey Mouse Club at age 12 by reciting Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy.” Because she is subjected (and subjects herself) to industrial-strength moral and legal scrutiny at every turn and still gets up in the afternoon, applies lipstick in the vicinity of her mouth, and faces the world.

And that is nothing short of impressive. I mean, how many times have you made an idiot of yourself–and then gone into self-imposed exile so you could beat yourself up about it? How many times have you realized you’ve been walking around with lipstick on your teeth all morning, and refused to leave the confines of your cubicle for the rest of the day? Maybe you got a little too drunk and made a fool of yourself among friends–and then opted to spend the remainder of your hangover reliving the spill/fall/unwisely chosen words under the covers, rather than venturing out for a breakfast burrito with the rest of the crew? Love’s a (wildly) extreme case, but a good one for the rest of us who allow our fear of judgment to hold us back from being ourselves–or who’d prefer to beat ourselves up when we could be dusting ourselves off, and going back into battle. If she can put herself out there, why on earth shouldn’t we?

More importantly, to a certain extent, we’ve all been there–most of us to a lesser degree (and likely in far less expensive shoes)–so when a sister blows it, well, who are we to judge? Perhaps the trainwrecks of the world would have an easier time making their way out of the wreckage if we didn’t.


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On this day of dreary election post-mortems, I couldn’t help reflecting on an article from Bloomberg News that I read  last week.  It reminded me of the ways in which the constant noise messes with our ability to think for ourselves.

I’ve got a larger point here, but indulge me while I take a detour: call it politics as metaphor.

Bloomberg Business News — hardly considered a pillar of the “liberal press” even by those who try to pigeonhole news orgs as necessarily left or right — conducted a poll in late October that found that by a margin of two-to-one, prospective voters believed that in the past two years of the Obama administration:

taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) won’t be recovered.

You may believe that too.  And clearly, the poll’s findings were borne out by the results of Tuesday’s election — the biggest Republican upset, by the way,  since the Truman administration.

But here’s the thing, as the Bloomberg piece points out.  Those popular beliefs, the ones that may well be responsible for what Obama called Tuesday’s “shellacking”, are at complete odds with the reality.   It’s as if it’s sunny outside, but people are continually being told it’s actually raining, so all they do is bitch about the weather.  Let’s check back in with Bloomberg, shall we?  (This is business news, remember.  Not a partisan editorial.)

The Obama administration has cut taxes — largely for the middle class — by $240 billion since taking office Jan. 20, 2009. A program aimed at families earning less than $150,000 that was contained in the stimulus package lowered the burden for 95 percent of working Americans by $116 billion, or about $400 per year for individuals and $800 for married couples. Other measures include breaks for college education, moderate- income families and the unemployed and incentives to promote renewable energy.
In an October report to Congress, released as TARP turned two years old, the Treasury said it had recovered most of the $245 billion spent on the Wall Street bank part of the rescue, and expects to turn a $16 billion profit. In the Bloomberg poll, 60 percent of respondents say they believe most of the TARP money to the banks is lost and only 33 percent say most of the funds will be recovered.
The perceptions of voters about the performance of the economy are also at odds with official data. The recession that began in December 2007 officially ended in June 2009, making the 18-month stretch the longest since the Great Depression. In the past year, the economy has grown 3 percent and is expected to show improvement in the second quarter of this year.
Bloomberg’s point was that Democrats have done a singularly lousy job of getting their message out and would pay the price on election day. True that, as we found out Tuesday.  But my point goes beyond the ballot box and here it is:  Are we so surrounded by noise, engulfed in mind clutter, that the message flat out gets lost?

Do we get sucked so far into into the rhetoric that we never have time to think for ourselves?  Do we buy a seat on the bandwagon without even without even considering whether we want to be there?

When it comes to making political decisions, the noise comes at us from all directions: straight news, op-eds, blogs, cable TV, campaign ads, facebook share tags, tweets, bloviators, opinionators and blahdeblah.  The list goes on, but the bottom line is this.  Too. Much. Information.   And the result is that all of it, every bit, becomes so confusing that it becomes a real chore to sort the real from the rhetoric.  So that we’re tempted to  just walk away and say:  Screw it.  I’ll just have what she’s having.   (We know how that one ends)

And so I wonder.  As in politics, so in life? Does this constant state of TMI, this state of confusion, super-saturate us when it comes to life decisions, too?  Consider the cacophany: opinion pieces, media images, personal essays, status updates, tweets upon tweets,  messages from everyone from family to friends to Suzy from Ohio, all selling their own version of “ought.”  Small wonder, then, that going quiet, taking the time to figure out what’s real and what’s not, deciding who we are and what we want to be becomes a pretty impossible task.

Unless, of course, we cover our ears.


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So, last week, a couple of conversations got me thinking.

One, with C, an extremely preggo woman, divvying her time between readying her professional replacement and getting the other little duckies in a row (when she’s not taking maternity-modeling gigs) ahead of the impending wee one’s arrival, was talking about how she thinks she’ll come back to work… no, she’s pretty sure… no, she’s planning on it… but really, she kind of wants to stay home with the baby. Her husband makes enough money that she can do that, and has told her he’s totally cool with it… no, has encouraged her to do it…  if that’s what she wants to do. Which, C said again, she kind of does. But, she said, she feels like she can’t. Like it’s somehow not acceptable for an educated, capable woman who’s been a professional for most of her adult life to opt out of the working world.

The other was with A, a frequent hiking partner of mine, who’d recently earned an advanced degree, but has yet to take her exams. She’s driven–graduated from college suma cum laude–and has always been an overachiever, working her way way way up at some household-name variety corporations. But when that calling of hers got loud enough, she gave it all up, and went back to school. Loved it. Like, LOOOOOVED it. But since that part ended, she’s been racking up her hours–and finding herself feeling less than enthused. Downright ambivalent, in fact. She took another gig recently, which has nothing to do with that degree of hers. She’s procrastinating the exams. And, on this particular hike, during this particular conversation, she declared: “Sometimes I think I should have just been a bookkeeper.”

And no, A’s degree is not in accounting. As a matter of fact, it’s the anti-accounting degree: psychology. She said she recently confessed this ambivalence over her next move to an acquaintance, who replied, Geez, don’t you feel like all that school was a waste?

Interesting, no? And it makes me wonder, is this something we all do, in certain ways? Whether doing what “any educated woman” would when our heart’s tugging us in a different direction, or achieving as much as we can, angling for those symbols of achievement, the markers of success, when we’d kill for an average 9-5 job we can leave at the office–one that promises a measurable degree of Yes, You’ve Accomplished Something Today, rather than the impressive and grueling one that offers approximately zilch in the way of checklist-measurable achievement.

A talked a bit about her husband’s gig during that conversation, too, pointing out how he just has a job that makes a lot of money. He doesn’t especially love it. But he likes it just fine. And that’s enough.

It all makes me wonder. Where does this pressure to perform come from? I have to say, my male friends don’t seem to struggle with these sorts of questions the way the women do. We were born to achieve, told we could do anything. Told how lucky we are that we can do anything. But it seems like, for many of us, whatever that “anything” is, we don’t quite feel like it’s enough. Maybe, because a man grows up knowing that his ultimate job is to provide, a paycheck is more easily enough. Maybe, because we grow up knowing we can do anything–and how lucky we are to be able to do anything, nothing ever feels like enough. Men don’t perceive it as a choice, but maybe, because we do, we always feel on the hook. Responsible.

I don’t know how either A or C’s futures will pan out. But I do know this. No matter how ambivalent she may be, A absolutely loved going to school–and that’s the furthest thing from a waste.


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