Fuck the bread

I read an excellent piece by Sabrina Ora Mark back in May, and it resonated with me. Her piece, Fuck the Bread. The Bread is Over., is a rumination on this bizarre moment we are living in, on motherhood and identity, on self and work and obligation and fulfillment. I’ve been thinking about it often lately, as the pandemic stretches and contorts time and the realities we are facing draw in ever-sharper focus.

“I’ve wanted a job like this for so long, I barely even know why I want it anymore. I look at my hands. I can’t tell if they’re mine.”

If there is anything I think I am gaining from quarantine, it is perspective. I’ve been considering my future, what options I might have, what contentment looks like — and those answers are becoming simpler. I used to think I had found my dream job. And for that self in that time, maybe I had. But now, like Mark, I barely know why I want that job anymore. The days I spend here at home working, one after the other? I no longer feel like those hands are mine. In some ways, they are not. I am just going through the motions. I began thinking that my depression had reduced me to this — a shell devoid of motivation. The couple hours I spent doing my own creative work on a day off recently were a revelation in that regard. I felt more vivid and engaged than I have in a long, long time. There is more to this life than “getting this bread.”

What does it mean to be worth something? Or worth enough? Or worthless? What does it mean to earn a living? What does it mean to be hired? What does it mean to be let go?

“I can’t pinpoint what this lesson is exactly. Something about identification and possession. Something about buying time. As I empty the bags and touch the moss, and the leaves, and the twigs, and the berries, and a robin-blue eggshell, I consider how much we depend on useless, arbitrary tasks to prove ourselves. I consider how much we depend on these tasks so we can say, at the very end, we succeeded.”

I am so lucky to have my health, and a kind, healthy husband, and funny furry pets to keep me entertained and grounded. I want more time for these things that matter. Really matter. Life is too short to waste on miserable, interminable days that are dictated by people without my best interests in mind. I want to carve out time for real engagement, and for the things that remind me that this life has so much capacity for joy and fulfillment. I want to feel as though I have intrinsic worth. I shouldn’t have to earn the right feel alive.

“But also I wanted an office with a number…. I wanted the whole stupid kingdom. “And then what?” says my mother. “And then nothing,” I say as I jump off the very top of a fairy tale that has no place for me. “You’re better off,” says my mother. I look around. I’ve landed where I am.

I like it here.”

In the coming weeks and months, I am hoping to land someplace new. Someplace where my days can be more “mine.” Days when I can stop just existing and start living again. Days when I can enjoy some contentment. I don’t know what that will look like yet, which is scary. Terrifying, really. But I will never know if I don’t make the leap. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, I can fly.

Wow, No Thank You.

via samanthairby.com

Somewhere between two days and two months ago (time has basically ceased to have meaning or proper flow these days, amirite?), I had the privilege of enjoying a conversation between Samantha Irby and Jia Tolentino. My Jia fangirl status was cemented a while ago (as exhibited here and here), so it was extra fun to hear her interview an author live. And someone as hilarious as Samantha Irby? Thank you, Free Library of Philadelphia! Razor-sharp wit combined with the intimacy of a chat between friends made for a delightful listen. I hit “purchase” on Irby’s most recent book before the chat was even finished.

Wow, No Thank You is one of those books that manages to deal with racism, classism, sexism, sexual orientation, body issues, and and number of other -isms with such a deft and humorous touch that you don’t even realize it isn’t pure brain candy until after you’ve put it down for a bit. Irby is hilariously blunt, occasionally raunchy, and always painfully, amazingly observant. Why do we women feel pressured to buy cream specifically for our necks? If your family never had the privilege of owning a house, does gutter maintenance magically find it’s way into your conscience when you sign a mortgage? Are Hot Pockets and self-care really mutually exclusive? Why waste energy on that person who hates you, when they realistically would add nothing of value to your life even if they did like you? Can anyone utter the phrase, “are you familiar with my work?” without feeling painfully awkward about it? Questions and answers to laugh at and ponder and nod along with abound in this collection of laugh-out-loud essays. Irby also provides an excellent annotated playlist, for those of you hungry for late 1900s nostalgia mixed with a heretofore unmatched level of hilarity.

In a nutshell, Samantha Irby is one funny lady, and you should buy her book immediately. “Because we live in a fiery hellscape,” to quote her directly, and we need all the clever hilarity we can get. And this hilarity even comes with a dose or three of contemporary awareness, so you can feel virtuous while you indulge. You’re welcome, and enjoy.

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swallow it whole

vintage_portrait_eyes

swallow it whole

 

I’m not eating much

want to be thin

fragile

wanted

and yet

I want to be 

               reach 

               touch 

               have

      it all

–Charla M. DelaCuadra

 

Friday links

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Happy Friday everyone!  We made it!  I just had to share some really excellent links from this week — happy reading and please enjoy.

Why you should rescue a dog.  This will make you teary at the very least.  Maybe make you sob.  But in a good way.

Women are still being punished for being unapologetically competent.  If we don’t apologize for being good at what we do, we get punished.  Elizabeth Warren is only the most recent.  Bonus: a poem on this topic by the ever-amazing Kate Baer.

Coronavirus advice for kids (and all of us!)

It’s going, my friend.  Yes! Exactly.

So so happy for Henry James Garrett for getting his book published!  I cannot wait to read this book on empathy and kindness.  Also, if you are not following him and his delightful comics on Instagram yet, here you go, and you’re welcome.

Hope you have a lovely weekend!

 

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Suffrage

I was having a conversation with a friend recently about movies and nostalgia, and childhood. Somehow we got to Mary Poppins, which I haven’t watched in years but remember very fondly. I feel sheepish even typing this, but all of a sudden a realization hit me like a thunderbolt — Jane and Michael’s mother was a suffragette. I remembered (barely) her “votes for women!” line in the song Step in Time, but I never connected the dots. Mrs. Banks was depicted as a bad mom, neglectful and flighty, because she spent her time blithely campaigning for a woman’s right to vote rather than staying at home with her children. She had a nanny. A nanny who had to show Jane and Michael love and care with a sprinkle of magic, because their parents were blind to their emotional needs.

I’m not sure if it is sadder that this movie depicts a suffragette as a terrible mother, or that it took me decades to realize it. Sexism, female subjugation, and the expectations of motherhood are so deeply ingrained in our patriarchal society that even a self-professed feminist can be blind to things that are painfully obvious. That Mrs. Banks trades in her sash and signs for kite-flying with her family at the end of the film seems obvious, the perfect ending. Another woman perfectly tucked away, motherly and nonthreatening. And I didn’t even notice.

Women, the vote, and societal expectations are big topics on my mind these days as we head through the primaries and towards Super Tuesday. We have two remaining female candidates for the Democratic nomination, both of which have bucked the societal expectation that women shut up, stay home, and mother their children. And there is a nation full of women who have the right to vote, when less than 100 years ago we did not. I don’t want this moment in time to go unnoticed. And I don’t want the sacrifices of so many women a century ago to go unnoticed. Send in your ballots, get out and vote next week, and make sure people take notice. Let’s make this our time.

Is there really a “right” answer?

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I am in life and where I am headed, and whether I am ready to make a leap into something new.  I’ve been agonizing over finding the right decision, over and over as is my wont.  All of sudden on my commute home the other day, though, I had a real moment of clarity: what if there isn’t actually a right answer?  Or, more importantly, what if there isn’t actually a wrong answer?  I immediately felt a weight lift off my shoulders at the thought.  Perhaps, after all is said and done, each path I might choose has potential.  Each path has its own validity.  And no matter what I choose, I will be okay.  I will be okay.

I think perhaps I have tried to “do what’s right” for so long that doing something I want ceased to be a consideration.  Or what I “want” became conflated with “wanting to make the right decision.”  Either way, what will actually make me feel happy and fulfilled has gotten lost in the shuffle.  I cannot explain how revolutionary it is to consider that perhaps there is no one right answer.  And now, armed with that insight, I finally feel like I have permission from myself to move forward in a way that will make me happy.  I don’t have to feel obligated to check the “right” boxes.  Of course, in the abstract I am aware that there isn’t a right or wrong answer for many things.  We exist in perpetual shades of grey, where things are often subjective.  For some reason, though, it has never really occurred to me that was the case for my life.

It occurs to me that the patriarchy has insidious finger-holds in so much of our societal consciousness.  As a woman, we have rarely had the luxury of asking ourselves what we want.  And even though, in theory, we have progressed to a point where that is an option, can we really make those choices freely?  So much of our self-worth and happiness is tied up in making others feel happy and cared-for.  A spouse, children, our aging parents… they have needs we are conditioned to want to meet, and our own needs be damned — or at least, swept under the rug into unobtrusive invisibility.  I’ve decided I don’t want my desires to be forced into invisibility any longer.

I am incredibly lucky to have good people around me — people I love and trust and can rely on.  Maybe it is time to release the vise-grip I feel like I have to maintain on my image, the way I want people to see me, and the way I feel like my narrative should unfold?  Part of my fear in choosing wrong is that I will be judged, or seen as wanting somehow.  That not choosing correctly equals failure.  But then, so what?  No matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise, I truly have no control over how people see me, feel about me, or whether they will judge me.  Nor can I possibly please everyone.

So, as we embark on a new year, I am thinking a lot.  I am beginning to plan ways I might like to move forward with me in mind.  Not what I feel I should do, not what I think I have to keep doing, but what will fulfill me.  It is a strange feeling, I have to admit.  I feel selfish (I’m not) and perhaps a little bit adrift.  I’m going to try to move through that discomfort to a place of discovery, though, and I’m looking forward to the ride.  See you on the other side.

Girls’ weekend

I’m in the process of planning a getaway in December with a few girlfriends, and we are all seriously looking forward to a few days away to relax, recharge, and savor some quiet.  Currently we are scouting out some AirBnB locations, trying to decide.  Beachy location?  Desert oasis?  Mountain escape?  Regardless of which we choose, I do have some essentials in mind.

Alice Munro’s Dear Life, for short stories to dip in and out of all weekend long.

A hair band in the perfect ochre for easy-yet-cute hair.

Comfy velvet wide-leg pants for lounging, because duh.

Softest hoodie that is ideal weight, ethically made, and beyond comfortable.

Faux fur mules that will be equally stylish outdoors as in.

Cozy candle with a hilarious boyfriend-y backstory, for all the comfort and none of the inconveniences of toting our menfolk along.

 

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The Grace Year

I preordered Kim Liggett’s new novel The Grace Year as soon as I could, and was riveted the moment I had it in hand to devour.  There is simply no other way to consume this book — heart in hand, fully devouring this tale of girlhood and womanhood.  Liggett’s speculative fiction expertly weaves a world where women have no power or agency, save the magic they must be rid of in their sixteenth year, the grace year.  the_grace_year_coverIt is a survival story, a modern fairy tale, a coming-of-age, a resistance manifesto, and a terrifying horror yarn all at the same time, deftly told and hauntingly realized.  I could not put it down.

There are so many ways that women and girls tear each other apart and lift each other up by turns, and this novel  explores those dynamics in interesting ways.  What does power come to mean when you are entirely deprived of it?  How do we define ourselves within the rhythms of family, society, friendships, and love?  What does that mean for our self-hood?  How can we push for meaningful change?  All of these are questions I turned over in my mind as this story unfolded.

Besides a fascinating macro look at a society described by some as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Lord of the Flies, I thoroughly appreciated Liggett’s attention to small details.  The language of flowers in particular made for a beautiful leitmotif, further strengthening her world-building.  Flowers make for a common language, but they also prove to be a perfect metaphor for the girls themselves.  Fragile, beautiful, unique, prized, just as easily crushed as admired — the Grace Year girls and their story will haunt you long after Liggett’s last page.

 

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Optimized?

At this point I think it is safe to say I have become a total Jia Tolentino fangirl.  (Jia, you’re amazing!)  Her articles are thought-provoking and so on-point, I can’t help but share another.

jia_tolentino_guardian_optimized

A couple weeks ago her essay Athleisure, barre and kale: the tyranny of the ideal woman was published in The Guardian, and I have been thinking about it ever since.  I highly recommend taking a few minutes out of your day to read and ruminate.

“Figuring out how to “get better” at being a woman is a ridiculous and often amoral project – a subset of the larger, equally ridiculous, equally amoral project of learning to get better at life under accelerated capitalism. In these pursuits, most pleasures end up being traps, and every public-facing demand escalates in perpetuity. Satisfaction remains, under the terms of the system, necessarily out of reach.”

–Jia Tolentino

With the expectations of womanhood becoming more insane at every turn, in this era of Instagram and curated feeds and “lifestyle” branding, have we optimized ourselves out of the possibility for genuine contentment?  I myself find it very difficult to feel satisfied and contented, but perhaps it has less to do with any personal failings to “choose happiness” and much more to do with the insidious all-encompassing hamster wheel society has convinced us is necessary.  And at the particularly insidious intersection of capitalism and patriarchy, it becomes even harder.

If capitalism didn’t ingrain in us that we always need more, better, pricier things to signify success, or if the patriarchy didn’t force us to gauge our worth by our attractiveness, youthfulness, and willingness to accommodate, aka our “fuckability”… what then?  Tolentino is correct, I think, that the ultimate question is to ask what we ourselves really want, whether within or despite the systems we live in.  What will make us content?  What will let us feel whole and happy?  Perhaps that becomes the most difficult thing of all —  to find out what our own real desires are, rather than simply wanting to be desired, admired, and optimized.

 

 

Three Women

three_women_coverWhile on vacation this summer I read Lisa Taddeo’s new book, Three Women.  To say it was arresting would be an understatement.  It is a striking non-fiction work about women and desire, women and sex, but most of all, women and loneliness.

Taddeo spent eight years researching this book, covering the lives of women across the U.S. in their most intimate spaces.  The result is a portrait of three women in very different places in life, but all desirous, lonely, empty and fulfilled by turns.  Lina pulls away from a loveless marriage and begins an affair with her high school sweetheart.  Maggie endures a statutory rape trial while mentally reliving the relationship she shared with her high school teacher.  Sloane is a happily married woman whose husband enjoys choosing other men for her to sleep with.  All of their swirls of emotion are painfully familiar despite their varied situations: an ache for acceptance, a reckoning with the past, isolated loneliness and attempts to escape it, lusty desire, self-doubt and self-examination in equal measure.  Taddeo does a masterful job of creating something far beyond journalism; she paints the lives of these women in a way that is both personal and universal, and she makes sure to give each agency over her own story in the process.

Three Women is a must-read.  Add it to your summer reading list if you haven’t already, and prepare for a book that will affect you profoundly.

 

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