Sunday, October 25, 2020

"Rage" by Bob Woodward

"Rage," the new book by legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, offers a behind-the-scenes look at the latter half of the Trump presidency.  His first book about the Trump White House was 2018's "Fear," which I reviewed here

Woodward began examining the administration's national security and intelligence operations in the fall of 2019.  Former Cabinet members James Mattis, Rex Tillerson and Dan Coats were obviously primary sources. But his focus necessarily shifted in early 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic intervened and quickly became the defining story of the Trump presidency.  

More than in some of his previous books (that I've read, & that I can remember, anyway), Woodward inserts himself into the story, sharing verbatim excerpts from the transcripts of his 16 taped conversations with the president (plus one more where he just took notes). And he weighs in at the very end of the book with his personal judgment of Trump's presidency. (You can probably guess...)

This book, like all of Woodward's books, is meticulously researched and documented. It's well written, readable (in terms of the quality of writing, anyway) and insightful. And yet... I have to admit, I had a tough time slogging through this one. It took me forever (more than a month, anyway). I chalk it up to the subject matter, the heavy use of verbatim quotes (with Trump rambling all over the place as usual) and perhaps the timing (just before the U.S. election -- plus other stressful distractions competing for my attention). I'm a political junkie, I like to be well informed and I love a well-written book on politics &/or political figures -- but seriously, there is only so much about Trump that even I can take -- and this close to the critical U.S. election, perhaps it was just a little too much. Your mileage may vary...! 

I debated the Goodreads rating for this one, but I ultimately settled on four stars (because it really is an important & well done book). 

This was Book #36 read to date in 2020 (Book #1 finished in October), bringing me to 120%!! of my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 30 books. I have completed & now exceeded my challenge goal for the year by 6 books, and am (for the moment, anyway...!) 12 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2020 tagged as "2020 books." 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Friday night odds & ends

  •  All day yesterday, I kept looking for Mel's Friday blog roundup. I usually read it on my phone as I'm eating breakfast -- but it wasn't there. I kept checking during the day, and still nothing. I thought, "Gee, that's odd -- Mel hardly ever misses a roundup!"  Then it finally hit me:  IT WASN'T FRIDAY. (lol) The days all run together sometimes when you're retired, and even more so in COVID times...!  (The round-up was there as usual this morning.) 
    • My gynecologist appointment was Wednesday... when we got home, my family doctor's office returned my call about flu shots & asked if we could come Friday morning. We said yes. But Fridays are usually housecleaning days for us. Thursdays we do laundry (if there's going to be lint flying around, it might as well happen just before we vacuum, right?  lol).  So we did the laundry Wednesday night and cleaned on Thursday, by which time I had no idea what day it was anymore...!
  • We recently discovered that CBC-TV has been showing "Downton Abbey" reruns, late on weekday afternoons. Some days it's on for an hour, sometimes an hour & a half and sometimes two hours (two episodes). (I suspect the episodes have been trimmed a bit to allow for commercials that weren't shown on PBS, or the original-original BBC showings -- but, whatever! -- I'll take it, lol.)  We stumbled on to an episode just before the end of season 1, and we're now early in season 3.  I started watching later in the series when it was on PBS (although -- thanks to my friends' chatter in the office and online, I was already pretty familiar with all the characters and the main plotlines...!), and we caught up on several previous seasons during a PBS marathon weekend ;)  but we have yet to see the earlier episodes of season one. It's a great distraction from things like COVID-19 & U.S. elections & fibroids (although we just came through the episode about the Spanish flu pandemic earlier this week...!). Dh -- who used to scoff & roll his eyes and then head off to bed early while I watched -- is now completely hooked!! (lol)  
  • Lyz Lenz had a great article in Glamour last week:  "The Power—And Threat—Of Mothers Like Amy Coney Barrett."  The subhead reads:  "In America, “motherhood” is a credential for a certain kind of mother. The bad mothers are the rest of us."  (Waving wildly:  Hello... And those of us who aren't mothers at all...?? Where does this leave US?) (There is one brief mention in the article of "women who are not mothers.")  I really like Lenz's writing and her argument is bang on -- as far as it goes -- but I do wish she'd stretch her logic just a wee bit further, and spare more than a single thought for those of us who aren't mothers at all when she talks about the deification of motherhood (but only certain types of mothers). 
    • That said, it's a great article & worth a read. Sample passages: 
      • "She’s a mother, so you can trust her. She’s a mother, so she must be good. Never mind that motherhood should not be a factor in a person’s job interview. No, it should not be used against someone. It is also not a qualification."
      • "But in touting the motherhood of Coney Barrett, Republicans haven’t just insulated Coney Barrett from Democrats’ questioning. They also remind the public that a woman’s worth is primarily a measure of her reproductive capabilities."
      • "America has long lauded this certain kind of mother—white, successful, walks into church holding hands with her husband, has dinner on the table at 6 p.m., with a circle of children around her. Most mothers in America do not look like this." 

The Pandemic Project, Part 4

Back in March, I posted about my voluntary participation in a survey from the University of Texas. The Pandemic Project is studying how people's lives are being affected during the COVID-19 pandemic, how they are coping and how reactions are changing over time. When I responded to the first survey, I consented to be contacted for followup. I received an invitation to complete a second survey in May (and posted about the results here), and a third survey in July (results here).  

I consented to be contacted for another follow-up survey, and received (and completed) my fourth survey today (although the title of the email read "The Pandemic Project Version 5"?).  :)  The surveys take about 15-20 minutes to complete, and at the end, you receive scores in certain categories and suggestions on coping strategies (which can be emailed to you). 

It's been interesting to track my scores in the same categories from survey to survey to survey! 
  • On a scale of 0 to 10, my Social Connection score was 7.3, which is higher than average. "This is a very good sign given the restrictions on social behavior," I was told. This is the same score I received in the second survey in May and the third survey in July.  In the first survey, my Social Connection score was not quite as high -- 6.2, or average. 
  • My COVID Obsession score was 4.8 this time around -- in the mid-range. My score here has dropped considerably -- from a whopping 10 out of 10 in the first survey in March (!), to 7.1 in the second to 6 in the third. This is a good thing, I think. ;)  (Although I also think that perhaps my U.S. Election Obsession might have taken over, and my score in that department would probably be of more concern...!)  Nevertheless, I've still been advised that "In the days and weeks ahead, it might be healthy to pull back from your habits of watching all of latest news, rumors, theories, and stories about the outbreak... Watching or reading too much news about the coronavirus is bad for your health." 
  • My Healthy Habits score was 5.4 -- the same as it was in the July survey -- which means that my general health habits are about average. In other words, my life style is generally good but there is still room for improvement. This score was down from 6.2 in the first two surveys.  
  • My COVID-related Anxiety and Distress score was 6.7 -- mid-range, and similar to the average person. "Your score suggests that you have some anxiety and distress about the outbreak which makes sense." This was down from 7.3 in the second and third surveys, although up just slightly from 6.6 on the first survey.
Did you take the quiz?  What did you learn from your results?  (If you haven't taken part yet but this has piqued your curiosity, check it out here.) 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

State of the uterus: Waiting

Yesterday was my appointment with the gynecologist. I went fully prepared for the endometrial biopsy that my family doctor had asked for -- took some extra ibuprofen before I left, wore a pantyliner. 

And... he didn't do it. Didn't even have to take my clothes off, lol -- we just chatted. He wants to do a hysteroscopy & d&c instead. He explained that the endometrial biopsy would only be able to sample a small area of tissue. This way, he can take a larger sample of tissue (the ultrasound showed some slight thickening of the lining), remove any polyps that might be there and generally have a look around... especially since my bicornuate uterus sometimes makes that difficult to do. 

So that will be Friday, Nov. 27th. It's an outpatient procedure at a local hospital (the same one where my SIL had her hysterectomy three years ago with the same dr).  They will put me under to do it. He said they could also do it at a clinic, but because I have high blood pressure, it's safer to do it in the hospital. I'll need to go to the hospital about a week in advance for bloodwork, and self-isolate 48 hours in advance. (I said that wouldn't be a problem since I'm at home for days on end these days anyway...!)  

I'm not especially thrilled about it, but, whatever. I'm glad things are progressing. I just wish I didn't have to wait five weeks. Hopefully I won't have to wait too long after that for the results. My mother said, "He'll probably do a d&c on you"  when I told her what was going on. She was right! 

I did like him. He was quite thorough in his explanations & answered my questions -- didn't seem like he was trying to rush me out the door. He asked about my reproductive history, of course, and when I told him I had one pregnancy, no children, and why, he shook his head and said, "That's a terrible thing to go through." Thanks, doc. 

No spotting today or yesterday. Today is four weeks (!) since the spotting started. It doesn't seem like it's been that long... so perhaps those five weeks until my procedure will pass by just as quickly? I hope so... 

Off to our family doctor's office tomorrow for flu shots! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Blogging & branding

As I was mulling over the subject of "coming out" as a childless person, and who we tell our stories to and why, Brooke had an interesting post about the book she is writing about Eliza (yay!), and the subject of self-promotion. Here's part of what she said (but do go over & read the whole post!):   

A couple of years ago, I started looking into agents and publishers and what I discovered is that to publish nonfiction, they mostly want you to already have some kind of platform on social media.

Here's the thing, though: I don't want to be a public figure. I don't want to run social media like it's my job. I want to have private accounts, to accept followers I know, and to post photos of my toddler eating a hunk of cheese without second guessing whether it's the kind of content people want to see (of course it is, right? We're all here for the cheese content). I don't want strangers to DM me and criticize me/my kids/my parenting/my grief. I do not have thick enough skin for that nonsense.

So I started talking to a friend and fellow baby-loss mom about the process of self-publishing. I'll be honest: as someone who reads a lot and got my PhD in a profession that is known for the slogan "publish or perish" when it comes to academic publishing, my initial feelings about self-publishing were that it was a kind of failure. It was what you do when you can't really get published. But the thing about really getting published, especially nonfiction memoir books, is that it takes more than writing talent. It enormous effort, lots of rejection, and a willingness to market and brand yourself.

That last part is where I hit a wall. I don't want to sell my book. I don't want to market it or advertise it or ask people to pre-order it. I don't want to be a brand. I don't want that pressure. I just want to make it available. 

I get this.  I've always said that I blog first and foremost for myself.  My blog is more of a "personal" blog than a "crusading" or promotional blog. As someone who will soon hit 60 (!) and who will mark her 13th (!!) blogoversary this month, I guess I now fall into what Gateway Women's Jody Day terms the "childless elders" segment of the childless-not-by-choice (CNBC) online community.  I'm really happy to know that so many people have found my blog over the years and relate to it in some way -- that at least some of my posts resonate with them and have even helped them. It's been pretty amazing to have been among the first few women blogging about this CNBC life, and to watch our community grow and flourish. I'm floored by the numbers of younger women taking up the torch these days -- maybe not on blogs, but on platforms like Instagram and Twitter and on podcasts (I think podcasts are the blogs of 2020;  it seems like everyone is starting one these days...!). 

I love my blog;  I'm so happy I've had it as an outlet for the past 13 years. I'm comfortable with it as a way of expressing myself and connecting with others who are childless not by choice -- and somehow, I keep finding things to write about. I reach out and comment on other people's blogs, if I think I have something to say, and I "like" & sometimes comment on CNBC social media posts. But as far as actively promoting/marketing my blog -- creating a "brand," building a "platform," trying to build an audience and monitoring my stats anxiously -- that's not me.  I'm not knocking those of you who do any of those things;  in fact, I admire you for putting in the time & effort and having the energy and the marketing savvy. 

But, as I admitted in the comments to Brooke on her blog post, when it comes to self-promotion, I'm basically lazy, lol.  I'm still not "out of the closet" enough to share my posts on my current (personal) social media accounts. Most of my "real life" family members & friends still don't know about my blog (although some of them know that I have "online friends"), and I'm still not comfortable sharing everything in it with them.  I know some people keep separate accounts for for public/CNBC & personal stuff, but that seems like a lot of extra work to me (plus, I think I'd live in dread as to whether I accidentally posted content meant for one account on another!). I don't want to live by a posting schedule and then feel the pressure of writing to meet those deadlines (I did enough of that at work! lol). I like being able to write what I want, when I want, when the mood strikes me. I do try to take part in Mel's #MicroblogMondays, and to write a "Right Now" post at or near the first of each month, and reviews of the books I read, shortly after I finish them, but if they don't get done, or done exactly on time, it's not a big deal.  

As Brooke said, "I don't want to be a public figure. I don't want to run social media like it's my job... I don't want to be a brand. I don't want that pressure. I just want to make it available." -- "it" in her case being her book;  in my case, my blog.  

What do you think? 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

"Coming out" as childless/free

October 11th was National Coming Out Day in the United States, marking the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. According to Wikipedia

National Coming Out Day (NCOD) is an annual LGBT awareness day observed on October 11, to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people (and sometimes other groups typically grouped within the LGBT community) to "come out of the closet". First celebrated in the United States in 1988, the initial idea was grounded in the feminist and gay liberation spirit of the personal being political, and the emphasis on the most basic form of activism being coming out to family, friends and colleagues, and living life as an openly lesbian or gay person. The foundational belief is that homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance, and that once people know that they have loved ones who are lesbian or gay, they are far less likely to maintain homophobic or oppressive views.

HRC (Human Rights Campaign) says 

...one of our most basic tools is the power of coming out. One out of every two Americans has someone close to them who is gay or lesbian. For transgender people, that number is only one in 10.

Coming out — whether it is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer — STILL MATTERS. When people know someone who is LGBTQ, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other.

In honor of National Coming Out Day, HRC celebrates all who have come out as LGBTQ – that takes bravery, and we commend you. Every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds, and creates new advocates for equality.

The Awareness Days entry for NCOD says: 

There is no question that homophobia and ignorance builds on silence so it is time to end that silence. Being proud of who you are and who you live will make you happier within yourself. Research has shown that if somebody KNOWS somebody who is part of the LGBT community, they are much less likely to be homophobic.

*** *** *** 

Now, I'm not "coming out" as LGBTQ.  :)  I'm happily heterosexual (or cis-gender, or whatever the current terminology is). 

But I think there is a lot that many of us within the childless-not-by-choice (& likely also the childfree by choice) community relate to when we talk about the LGBTQ community, and "coming out."  People without children may be a minority group -- but we're a large, growing and unrecognized one (not to mention often misunderstood). As CNBCers, we have struggled to define who we are, if we aren't parents, to make our presence and voices and unique concerns heard within highly pronatalist societies, and to assert our rights to fair and equal treatment in the workplace vis-a-vis parents. In doing so, we've drawn strength and inspiration from examples of the LGBTQ rights movement and other social justice movements that have worked to bring greater equality to under-recognized and under-supported minority groups. Some of us have talked about the parallels, and our belief that, as a community, as a movement, childless and childfree people today are where the civil rights movement was in the 1960s, and the gay rights movement was in the 1970s & 80s.  Jody Day of Gateway Women has called us "the biggest diversity group HR has never heard of."   

Some CNBCers have spoken or written about "coming out" to our friends and family members. This was the subject of discussion recently on a private forum I belong to. 

I said that I think "coming out," for us, is a somewhat different thing than "coming out" as LGBTQ. (Would our use of "coming out" qualify as co-opting LGBTQ language? I wonder, would they resent others using this terminology? Or maybe they don't care?) People might suspect that their son or daughter or sibling or friend or co-worker is LGBTQ -- but there's no way of knowing for certain unless that person chooses to "come out of the closet" and tell you. 

As a CNBCer, most of the people in my life know I don't have children. Those who don't know usually ask & find out pretty quickly. My lack of children may be something that I find difficult to talk about sometimes, I may (still) feel a certain amount of shame about it -- but it's not a secret;  it's not something that I try to hide. (You won't get very far pretending to be a parent, right?)  So I don't think the simple fact of telling someone I have no children qualifies as "coming out" as CNBC. 

What do we mean when we talk about "coming out" as a childless/free person, then?  I suppose different people might have different qualifying criteria. (If you've been trying to conceive but decided not to continue with fertility treatments or adoption efforts, and then break that news to your family, I think that might qualify as "coming out.") What am I telling people when I tell them that I don't have children? What do they THINK I'm telling them?  What do they think they know about me when they hear that?  What kind of a picture do they get about my life?  And how accurate is it? 

Because, of course, there are sooooo many stereotypes that parents have about people without children. You know: we didn't want kids. Or maybe we wanted them -- but not badly enough to try IVF, or to adopt, or to use a donor egg or hire a surrogate. We're selfish. We're focused on our careers. We have lots of money!  Our time is our own!  We can sleep in on weekends! We can take fabulous trips!  (At least, in non-COVID times.) We can do whatever we want, when we want!  

Maybe they don't know that we did want children, very badly. Or maybe they know, but they don't know the full story of why we didn't -- that we never met the right partner to have a baby with. Or that we struggled with infertility &/or pregnancy loss -- how many rounds of IVF we did, or how much money it cost us, how many mornings we got up at 4 a.m. to make it to the clinic for bloodwork and ultrasounds and still make it into the office relatively on time. Do they know how many miscarriages we had, or how long we waited on the adoption list before withdrawing our names? Do they understand how difficult it is for you, still, to attend that baby shower?  

To me, "coming out" as a childless/free person means speaking out, frankly, to the people in our lives about the realities of childless/free living, both the good and the bad. Screwing up the courage to confront them about these stereotypes and correct their misguided assumptions. Educating them about the reality of our lives and our childlessness, and how it has affected us. Confronting them with the privileged (yes, privileged) role they enjoy as parents. Helping them to understand the pronatalism we face and how difficult it is to live without children -- even by choice -- in this kind of atmosphere. Enlightening them that being childless is not all about sleeping in and having extra money to spend, and that yes, as a matter of fact, we DO mind that it's always us working overtime and coming into the office over Christmas week while they spend time with their families. (We have families we like to spend time with too, even if they don't include kids that we gave birth to or parent.) 

These can be... are... difficult conversations to have. 

Do I practice what I preach? Am I "out of the closet"?  Do I speak my truth and live authentically and openly as a childless-not-by-choice person.  

I have to admit... ummm... no. Not entirely. I'm getting better at doing it, as I get older. But there are others who are far more open about their childlessness and the impact it has had on their lives. 

Someone on the forum where we were discussing this mentioned "coming out" in terms of (nervously) sharing some CNBC content on social media during World Childless Week -- and being surprised by the supportive responses she received. "Coming out" on social media is certainly one way of doing it -- and it's not quite so direct/in your face as confronting people personally... so perhaps it's a good way to dip your toe in the water, so to speak. I have posted and shared a few things around Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, and our daughter's "anniversary" dates -- and I too have been surprised by the number of "likes" and "hearts" and sympathetic comments I've received.  For some reason, I find it easier to post about my stillborn daughter and pregnancy loss generally than about being childless, though. Clearly, I have further progress to make on this front...! 

My blog is certainly one place where I can be the authentic childless me. Some people choose to "come out" by being open with their family & friends about their blog and about their involvement in the childless/free community. There are only a few of my "real life" family & friends who know about my blog, although a few have stumbled onto it by accident -- and one posted the link to one of my posts on our family Facebook group (!).  When that happened (8 years ago now), I panicked & took my blog offline for a few days until the dust settled. These days I'm a little more laid back on the subject (I think?) -- although I'm still not handing out the URL, lol.  

By and large, we probably have more to gain than to lose by being honest with ourselves and those around us about the truth of our childless lives. But at the same time, we have to recognize that everyone's situation and comfort level is different.  I don't think we owe it to anyone but ourselves to "come out." We don't owe explanations to anyone. It's your right to choose who gets the privilege of hearing your story, and how much of it. (The director's cut with all the gory details, or the Reader's Digest version?) 

I'm still mulling this all over... these are just a few initial thoughts. I would love to hear what you think! 

Monday, October 19, 2020

#MicroblogMondays: Annoying things & small pleasures

Annoying things: 

  • Still spotting. :p  (Going on four weeks now.) And feeling vaguely PMS-y, and tired.  Both dreading & looking forward to my gynecologist appointment on Wednesday, and to getting some possible solutions for getting rid of these fibroids (hopefully for good!). 
  • Another gloomy day outside. It's 10:30 a.m. as I'm typing this and I'm still in my pajamas, which gives you an idea of what kind of day it is and the kind of mood I'm in...! 
  • People who (still!!) aren't taking this pandemic (and the need to wear masks and maintain social distancing) seriously. 
  • The amount of time it's taking me to finish my current book. (It's well-written, but it's about the Trump presidency... need I say more??! lol) 

Small pleasures: 

  • Being able to stay in my PJs until late in the morning (one of the perqs of retirement...!)(not to mention retirement during a pandemic, lol -- not much chance of having people drop by unexpectedly to visit, etc....!). :) 
  • Chatting (via Zoom) with several different groups of ALI & CNBC friends on the weekend.  There is strength & comfort in numbers!!  
  • Also: sitting in on a Zoom discussion about L.M. Montgomery's "The Blue Castle," along with 60+ (!) other LMM academics & "kindred spirits"/fans.  Most of it will be posted on YouTube (although the conversation continued for another half hour or so after the recording was turned off). 
  • Dh surprised me with some Lindor chocolates on his last trip to the grocery store. :) 
  • Admiring the beautiful fall colours in the treetops behind the townhouses in back of our condo building. 

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