Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Selfish, shallow and self-absorbed"

I haven't read this just-released book yet, although it's already in my gargantuan to-read pile. But I saw this interview on Jezebel with the editor, Meghan Daum, that I wanted to share.

Like Daum and the writers in this essay collection, the interviewer, Karyn Polewaczyk, is childfree by choice (although many of the essayists admit to some ambivalence on the topic). Maybe that's why she asks some really excellent questions.

Here's a few excerpts from Daum's answers. Does any of this sound familiar??:
  • "We live in a culture where busyness is revered and often equated with importance... And, for various reasons, parenting these days has become an exercise in time management and, in some cases, letting people know how incredibly busy and overwhelmed you are... I've noticed that, often, non-parents feel like they have no right to complain about being busy or tired or stressed because, after all, there's this huge thing we're not doing... I went through a phase where I felt like I had to be some kind of extra-achiever—on a professional level, a personal level, a moral level and even a housekeeping level (what a joke) because surely I had all this extra time that my friends with kids didn't have (i.e. I had no right to have a messy house because, hey, I didn't have kids!)" 
  • "Frankly, the "why" mandate kind of irks me. I'm not someone who gets off on being coy and confrontational in social settings, so I'm probably not the one who's going to answer the "Why don't you have kids?" question with "Why did you have kids?" But I think that's a fair answer if you're inclined to give it."
  • "It was essential to me to make room in the book for ambiguity and ambivalence. Again, one of the problems with this discussion has been the either/or nature of it. If you've chosen not to have kids, you're supposed to champion and celebrate that choice every moment of every day. But life doesn't work that way. Do parents champion and celebrate the choice to have kids every moment of every day? Not any that I know—though, of course there, too, is a stigma about expressing moments of doubt or even regret."  
  • "We must get away from the idea that parents and non-parents are adversaries. I think this notion is in many ways a media creation—nothing generates clicks like incendiary articles along the lines of "I didn't know real love until I became a parent"—but unfortunately this kind of logic has seeped into the public consciousness and became part of the conventional wisdom... That message [that childless people are selfish] is so ingrained in the culture that even people who question lots of other things often never think to question it."
I wish Daum had included a few childless/free-not-by-choicers in this collection -- although I appreciate her nod to ambiguity and ambivalence in her comments and in her choice of contributors.  I believe that the line separating those who are childfree by choice from those of us who are childless not by choice (or whatever labels you want to slap on us) is a lot thinner and more flexible than most of us (on either side of the equation) realize. Yes, there are die-hard CBCers who intensely dislike children (and parents), and enjoy hurling around unfortunate terms like "sprogs" and "breeders." But the vast majority of people who are childless/free, for whatever reason, like children and respect the hard job that parents do.

And whether childless/free living was your first choice or not, I think there's a lot we can learn from each other. We may come to this life from very different places, but I think we face a lot of the same issues, questions and pressures. I think the structure of our lives are probably a lot more similar than different;  the differences may be more psychological -- how we view our situation and how we feel about our lives.

As Karen Malone Wright of The Not Mom (a blog for people women without children, by chance or by choice) recently said, "...if we are just one-fifth of American women, surely there is more that unites us than divides us. Personally, it means that although I dreamed of spawning a houseful of little me’s and didn’t, I stick up for the women who never wanted children, too. I never pretend to know exactly how they made the decision to live childfree, but I do know they have the right to make it. I don’t have to be Russian to support Pussy Riot." 

What do you think? What did you think of this interview & the premise of the book?

Monday, March 30, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Emerging from hibernation

Last Wednesday morning, a friend/retired coworker called & asked if I'd like to meet for tea that afternoon. I happily accepted, and we had a lovely visit over tea & scones at a local tearoom. :)

I had barely hung up the phone before it rang again. A high school friend was in town (downtown Toronto, more specifically), accompanying her husband on a business trip, and wanted to know if I could meet her for lunch. She was only in town until Thursday, so I had to decline, but we had a nice chat, catching up.

I couldn't meet her for lunch Thursday, because I already had plans to meet another old friend at a gigantic springtime craft show that we have often attended together in the past. We spent two hours wandering the aisles and another two hours having lunch, then tea, and (of course) talking. :)

It never rains but it pours, right? I spent a very long, cold winter cooped up in the house and, yes, sometimes bored out of my skull -- and now, suddenly, everyone is coming out of the woodwork all at once (emerging from hibernation?). 

Spring MUST be on its way! :)

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.       

Saturday, March 28, 2015

So many books, so little time... ;)

(OK, I'll admit, there's more time than there used to be, since I lost my job. ;)  But since I got my first computer in 1996, I also spend a lot of time on the Internet that I used to spend reading books and magazines. Anyway...)

The stack of unread books beside my bed is multiplying faster than the dust bunnies underneath it. I see a new book that I MUST HAVE NOW!! Buy it (especially if it's on sale, or the paperback version I've been patiently holding out for), bring it home. And then something else captures my attention, and I buy THAT and bring it home. (Some people spend their money on alcohol and cigarettes... dh & I spend our money on reading material.) And I'm torn -- which one to pick up first??  Decisions, decisions... (Anyone else feel this way sometimes??) 

Right now, I'm hellbent on getting through "The Two Mrs. Abbotts" -- book #3 of the "Miss Buncle" trilogy by D.E. Stevenson. (Book #1, "Miss Buncle's Book," is reviewed here.  A review of book #2, "Miss Buncle Married," will be forthcoming.) My Yahoo group (how I joined up with them is an interesting story, described here) is almost finished discussing "The Two Mrs. Abbotts,"  and will be moving on to "The Four Graces" -- which I gather is tangentially related to the three Miss Buncle books;  hence, my desire to finish TTMA -- starting the first week of April. And I would really like to take part in the discussion, having chased the group unsuccessfully for the past three books. :p

I want to get through both these books, ideally over the next week & a half (!) -- & then get started on Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" -- because the BBC adaptation begins on PBS on April 5th, and I like to at least TRY to read a book before I see the movie (or TV show, in this case). I figure I will only need to read the first few chapters before the first episode, right? ;) 

And then, in June, PBS is supposed to start showing another BBC costume drama -- "Poldark" -- set in Cornwall in the late 1700s/early 1800s. I read all the Poldark novels (by Winston Graham) as a young teenager. The BBC adapted the first several books back in the mid-1970s, with a charismatic actor named Robin Ellis in the title role, and it was a huge hit there, as well as on PBS. In Canada, the series was shown on CBC, after the national news broadcast (which was then at 11 o'clock), on a school night. And my mother (who had also read the books) let me stay up late to watch with her. :) 

The new adaptation, starring a buff young Irish actor named Aidan Turner and covering the first two novels in the series, is already a huge hit in Britain.  And of course, since it's been (cough cough) awhile since I read the books (I did see a rerun of the original TV series as a newlywed), I would like to refresh my memory before THAT show begins.

Meanwhile, my recent purchases (some in store, some online, all of which I am dying to dive into) include:
(Not to mention the other books in the "to read" pile(s) that came before them, lol.)

Have you read any of these? What are you reading right now, and what's in your "to read" pile or reading wishlist?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book: "Girl in a Band" by Kim Gordon

Confession: While I've heard OF Sonic Youth and Kim Gordon, I would be hard pressed to name one of their songs, let alone identify it in a game of "Name That Tune" or sing along to it.  They formed in 1981, when I was still at university, and Gordon (who is now 61, seven years older than I am) is sometimes identified as one of the "Riot Grrrrls" of the early 1990s -- but by that time, I had graduated, gotten married and started working. I think most of us tend to listen mostly to the music that was popular when we were in high school and university, and while I listened to a popular radio station that played "today's best music" for many years after my marriage, I don't think Sonic Youth ever got much commercial radio airplay. ;) 

So why would I want to read a memoir by a musician I know so little about? Because I'd heard a little about Kim Gordon and the book had some good buzz around it. Because I'm a feminist and I applaud any woman who manages to survive (let alone thrive) in the boys' club that is still rock and roll (for almost 30 years!!). Because I wish more girls would embrace their inner rock goddess (a la Joan Jett and Chrissy Hynde (who apparently has her own memoir coming out this fall) ). ;)  Because I harbour secret dreams of being in a rock band myself. ;)  Because I was curious and wanted to learn more. Because I liked the cover. Because I thought it would be interesting to go into a book knowing next to nothing about the subject, a blank slate, and see what I thought about it.

I've since read some reviews of Gordon's memoir, "Girl in a Band," in the media and on Goodreads. Some Sonic Youth fans raved -- it was everything they'd hoped for. Some were disappointed -- TMI, or (flipside) not enough disclosure. If you're a Sonic Youth fan, caveat emptor.

My opinion?  I liked it. It's not a difficult read. It's well written, with short chapters, just a couple of well-spaced pages each, illustrated with black & white photos. Some people have compared it to Patti Smith's memoir, "Just Kids," which I reviewed here.  Both artists, both musicians, both women in a men's world, both writing about New York, albeit different time periods. Smith's book is longer and more in-depth. 

If you're hoping for a comprehensive history of the band, this is not that book -- but Gordon does discuss how certain songs and albums came together.  She writes honestly about her childhood (I was surprised to learn she grew up as a surfer girl in California, and that she briefly studied art here in Toronto at York University, in the early 1980s), her schizophrenic older brother, her life as an artist, musician, fashionista, rock and roll mom -- and, finally, divorcee -- and yet you get the feeling she hasn't revealed everything. She's obviously trying to be circumspect in what she says about her ex-husband and bandmate of nearly 30 years, Thurston Moore -- perhaps for the sake of their daughter, perhaps because the wounds are still so fresh.  Her hurt and anger about his infidelity is clearly evident, but overall, I think she's pretty fair to him. She does write candidly about several other musicians, including Kurt Cobain, with whom she felt a spiritual kinship and adored in a kid-brother kind of way, and Courtney Love (whom she most definitely does NOT adore).

Since reading the book, I've checked out a few Sonic Youth videos on YouTube. They're not exactly easy listening  ;) but they had a discordant, punk rock sound reminiscent of some of the punk/new wave stuff I heard back in the late 1970s/early 1980s. I guess we just missed each other the first time around. ;)

This is book #3 that I've read so far in 2015.

Monday, March 23, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Go with the flow

I'm late posting today, and almost didn't have a post at all. Have you ever gotten so absorbed in a project that you didn't realize what time it was and oops, somehow two hours has just slipped by?  And then you have to pry yourself away and give yourself a shake and try to refocus on the next task at hand that's begging for your attention?

That's me today.  I got looking at some genealogy stuff yesterday afternoon, and one thing led to another, and I've been walking around in a bit of a fog ever since then. 

It happens when I'm working on genealogy, but it also sometimes happens when I'm deep in the middle of a particular blog post or other writing project, or sometimes a really good book. It used to happen once in awhile at work, if I was lucky. I would become so absorbed in what I was doing that I'd look up and it would be 3:30 & I'd missed my usual caffeine break.

(Technically, I still could have gone for a tea, but my general rule of thumb was not after 3:30. I left the office at 4:30 and even though I always made a pit stop at the ladies' room on my way out, I learned that too much liquid too late in the day was not a good idea. Believe me, you do NOT want to have to use the bathrooms on the train unless you can really help it. :p )

It's a concept called "flow," or "the zone."  At its best, "flow" is a mental state "in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does." It's a concept popularized by a psychologist called Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  Brigid Schulte wrote about flow (and our sad lack thereof in these hyperactive, multitasking times) in her great book "Overwhelmed:  Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time," which I read last summer & reviewed here. Not having kids to interrupt helps, of course. ;) 

When was the last time you found yourself "in the zone?" 

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.     

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book: "The Next Happy" by Tracey Cleantis

Disclosure: I first got to "know" Tracey Cleantis through her blog, originally known as La Belette Rouge (and now part of her website). I'm among the Facebook friends she mentions in the acknowledgements, "who endured a year of me asking questions about their grief."  I am quoted in the book, albeit under a different name.

That said...

I loved this book. I knew I probably would, because the subject matter is right up my alley, and because I love Tracey's blog, but it was great to finally have a copy in my hands and to read it for myself.

"The Next Happy" grew out of Tracey's personal story, which in some ways resembles my own. Like me, she wanted a baby -- and like me, she didn't get one, despite 20+ rounds of IUI, four-and-a-half IVFs, a failed adoption, and $100,000 down the drain.  And yet (and also like me), she will tell you that her life today is happier than she ever thought possible.  And that your life can be, too.  

The really great thing about this book is that it isn't just an infertility survival guide or memoir (although Tracey does refer to her own story throughout the book to illustrate some of her points). It's applicable to anyone who has had to let go of a a cherished dream and try to find happiness elsewhere. In its pages we meet people whose dreams included running a hotel in Atlantic City, earning a master's degree, being an entrepreneur, being a martial arts expert, owning a dream home, hosting a talk show (a la Oprah), attending West Point, being in a committed relationship with the seemingly perfect partner, and  becoming a diplomat.  All of them had to let these dreams go.

Tracey refers to herself as "the Dr. Kevorkian of dreams," which sounds kind of ominous -- but the book is highly readable, full of common-sense insights, practical advice, humour and empathy. Writing in a warm, chatty style, Tracey examines topics that include:
  • our "never give up" culture,
  • the consequences of not giving up,
  • when and how to say goodbye to a dream,
  • acknowledging just how much this sucks (grief work),
  • "the ugly stepsiblings of emotion" (envy, fear, shame) and how to deal with them,
  • getting support from family, friends, professionals and others,
  • the search for meaning,
  • identifying the symbolic meaning of your original dream (what were you really hoping to get, and how else can you do that), and
  • getting to your next happy.
Each chapter includes case studies, Tracey's professional observations from the therapy couch, a checklist of self-help questions and suggestions to get you thinking, and (best of all, IMHO, as an avid moviegoer), a "Movie Rx" -- a movie recommendation which reflects the themes of the chapter. Among Tracey's picks: "Silver Linings Playbook," "Ordinary People," "Amadeus" and "It's a Wonderful Life."

"There is always hope for a happy life," Tracey says near the book's end. "It takes work. It isn't easy. But if you believe in it, if you are open to all possibilities, and if you do the work, it does happen." I agree! I so wish that a book like this had been around when I was making the transition from fertility treatments to childless/free living.

This was book #2 that I've read so far in 2015.

(Actually, it's #3, but I'm still working on a review of #2, lol. So to make it easy, we'll call it #2.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Wild oats, anyone??

Anyone seen or heard about this new book?

Disclosure: I have not read it. (Yet?)(And perhaps I should, before I start writing about it...) But I stumbled onto it at the bookstore this past week, and the title and cover design alone were intriguing enough to catch my eye. 

And then I read the inside cover flap: 
The project was simple: An attractive, successful magazine journalist, Robin Rinaldi, would move into a San Francisco apartment, join a dating site, and get laid. Never mind that she already owned a beautiful flat a few blocks away, that she was forty-four, or that she was married to a man she’d been in love with for eighteen years. What followed—a year of sex, heartbreak, and unexpected revelation—is the topic of this riveting memoir, The Wild Oats Project.
    
 An open marriage was never one of Rinaldi’s goals—her priority as she approached midlife was to start a family. But when her husband insisted on a vasectomy, she decided that she could remain married only on her own terms. If I can’t have children, she told herself, then I’m going to have lovers. [emphasis mine]
Well. 

I know of many situations where couples haven't agreed on whether or when to have children. Or they started out on the same page, but when push comes to shove, one of them changed their mind. And in some cases, the marriage has ended, in full or in part as a result of this disagreement. In other cases, there has been a quid pro quo -- OK, you win, we won't have kids, BUT... I'm going to buy that two-seater sportscar I've always wanted... or, I'm going to quit my job and become a yoga instructor, etc. etc.

But I've certainly never heard of any couple striking a deal quite like this. 

While I haven't read the book, I've read a few articles/reviews about it and interviews with the author. More than a few people are scratching their heads about what, if anything, not having a baby has to do with taking lovers (other than lashing out & trying to hurt the partner who denied you what you most wanted... although Rinaldi's husband agreed to the arrangement). A Washington Post review makes an interesting observation:
One of her oldest friends calls her out. “How is sleeping with a lot of guys going to make you feel better about not having kids?” she asks. Rinaldi’s answer: “Sleeping with a lot of guys is going to make me feel better on my deathbed. I’m going to feel like I lived, like I didn’t spend my life in a box. If I had kids and grandkids around my deathbed, I wouldn’t need that. Kids are proof that you’ve lived.” It’s a bleak and disheartening rationale, as though women’s lives can achieve meaning only through motherhood or sex.
In an interview with Salon, Rinaldi explains:
"I really felt like I was on this mission to find my own feminine energy... deep, fierce, primal feminine energy. The shit the patriarchy was invented to stomp on. That is what I really was searching for, and sex is a very primal and powerful way to get in touch with that... What I found is that I didn’t necessarily have to go through men to get that. I also thought a baby would be a route to that, because of course that’s such a deep, primal, feminine experience to birth and nurse and care for a baby. I found that in community with other women." 
What do you think?

The book is about more than childlessness, of course (although the husband's vasectomy is the catalyst for what follows).  As I understand (without reading it yet), it's also about a woman exploring her sexuality (a trendy topic right now, of course -- I debated whether I should title this post "50 Shades of Childlessness," lol), a midlife crisis (women have them too), a marriage. But of course, it's the childless theme that caught my attention.

In some ways, this is a familiar story for those of us who find ourselves living without the children we wanted. When we realize that children aren't going to be in the cards (for whatever reasons), we look for other ways to find meaning and purpose in our lives, to leave our mark on this world (i.e., proof that we've lived). We think about whether we want to change our lives and, if so, how.  Knowing that we're not going to have children, not going to be living a traditional family life, gives some of us the courage to lead an unconventional life in other ways too. 

Rinaldi's way of coming to terms with her childlessness is perhaps a little more "unconventional" than some. (Most??) It may not be my way, or yours. But it doesn't have to be -- we all take different paths to finding what Tracey Cleantis calls "our next happy." And Rinaldi does seem to be in a good place in her life now.

We've really only just begun to talk about living without children (by choice or otherwise), and what that means to women, to couples, to families, and to society. We're fumbling our way in the dark, finding what works, sometimes through trial and error, sometimes shocking others (and even ourselves) as we buck the status quo.  Hopefully, future generations of women will be able to benefit from our stories and what we've learned. 

I do wonder about what people who have never had to face unwanted childlessness might think when they read or hear about this book. (Yes, I know, I shouldn't care about what others think... old habits die hard...!)  Media hype being what it is these days, the subtleties of complex stories like this one often get lost, with the focus being on the more salacious details. And women without children have enough of a PR problem as it is, and face enough misconceptions, without people thinking that this is a "norm," that our marriages will suffer without the binding tie of children, that we're out looking for Mr. Goodbar and drowning our sorrows about not having kids with extramarital sex.

If anyone reads the book before I do, I'd love to hear your thoughts. (And of course, if/when I do read it myself, I will write about it here!)