Quality Time

"His account of fiction-reading as “quality time” builds on the feminist ethnographer Janice Radway’s counterintuitive 1984 thesis that clawing back time from housework to read romances asserted women’s right to an inner life. No matter how patriarchal the content of their pulp paperbacks, Midwestern housewives made the act of sitting down with a book revolutionary."

            -Leah Price, NYT Book Review, 10/19/21, re. 'Everything and Less' by Mark McGurl


This made me pause, and eased something in me.  I have been thinking a lot - a LOT - these past two years (two years!! more, actually) of how we value our time and ourselves.  The pandemic pulled the rug out from under us and left us in limbo, blah blah, collective trauma blah blah. I'm not AT ALL diminishing the pain of this experience but I am so tired of this still being true and trite and yet there it is.  I want a different damn story.

(Gotta redirect before I head down the Twilight Zone path noting 1,000,000 deaths in the USA while folks around me blithely take their masks off, oh wait, they never wore them)

Here's the point.  I stopped working when the schools shut down in March 2020.  And by "working" I mean at a paying job, because hey, I was still working to take care of my kids and myself and my house and so forth.  But that's not "work" in any validated way.  So that was ok for a while, we could manage financially, I got unemployment, my days were relatively full, it was new enough that a time out still seemed temporary.  But.  But.  You know what happened, right, it wasn't actually temporary, it's STILL going on! 

So.  The kids went back to school, and I did not go back to work.  I didn't need to go out and get a cashier gig or some such, and we had (have?) plans to travel, to build a house, to do things with life that made it impractical to get a meaningful job.  And there's the rub:  how to find meaning?  Why are we here, what is life all about, sing it Eric Idle.  Let me dust off my philosophy degree (or we could just watch The Good Life?).

If I sit around for an hour and read the newspaper or a literary book, that's a good use of time.  If I practice music or exercise, that's a good use of time.  Go for a hike, good. Clean the house,  good.  If I watch TV or read schlocky fiction, that feels like a waste of time, almost shameful, right up there with day drinking (...it's 5:00 somewhere...).  But why??

What is the value of one hour of my life?  Or all the hours?  Why is it better to do something productive or practical - wouldn't I rather hang out in a hammock for an hour than scrub the bathroom?  So why does that feel wrong?  I can read Thoreau and the Idler and all the stuff about slowing down and self-care and meditation and agree but it still *feels* wrong.

Actually, the productive and practical stuff makes a little more sense.  The newspaper v. TV is harder for me to parse.  Or even playing music - because there is no end goal or benefit in a practical sense, I'm not going to be a professional, so why is that a better way to spend time than just lazing about listening to a podcast?  This is not a new or profound question, and I'm sure there are some very thoughtful answers out there about high/low culture and of course it all comes back in some way to the damn Christo-fascist white supremacist patriarchy, that's the new roads leading to Rome thing, but I'm just trying to find my own internal guideposts.

Basically I'm looking at myself and my place on this planet and in this society and feeling pretty nihilistic.  But also optimistic?  

I had somewhere I wanted to go with this, and there is a lot swirling around in my mind, but these days I have trouble focusing and articulating my thoughts. There's a whole midlife crisis peri-menopausal meaningful work/identity abyss piece that ties in. Finding the thread, or weaving together the various threads, seems out of reach.  Maybe I'll come back to it, and over time, will be able to tease it out more effectively.  To get back to the original quote:  thank you, Janice Radway, via this book review.  Asserting my right to an inner life is the validation I didn't know I needed.  


Rage, Rage, Against the Dying of Our Rights

The SCOTUS draft leak re. reversing Roe v. Wade is all over the news and social media.  I don't really have anything to add to the discourse, certainly no expert angle or insight or analysis, just parroting those I've read and respect, and fuming at those I don't.  

I feel outraged, angry, infuriated, fill-in-your-Roget-of-choice.  And incredibly sad.  And terrified.  And frustrated.  And hopeless, which in some ways is the worst.  Because I'm not likely to be personally impacted by any new laws; I'll always have the ability (by which I mostly mean money, along with white cishet privilege) to take care of myself.  All this storm-the-gates-and-lock-arms-and-get-arrested energy has nowhere to go.  So we march, again, and nothing happens, again?  How many fucking posters with clever slogans can I paint?  Why bother?  What substantive actions are there here for me?  Why can't I find them?  (Typo-ed that as fund them, which is actually one useful thing I do.)  Ok, go vote, yes, of course, of course, but when the people we vote for aren't actually doing the things we voted them in to do, what then?  Calls and letters, no signs that they're making a difference.  Not to mention voter suppression in the places it matters most.  This country is off the rails, headed exactly in the direction we've been promised, no surprises here, actually.  And the hypocrisy continues to be stunning.

This is bleak.  There are signs of light, of fight, of promise.  And the occasional cleansing dog with a hula hoop, or beaver having a birthday at the zoo.  

Justice Alito cited Matthew Hale, a 17th century jurist who supported marital rape and sentenced women to death for witchcraft.

Misinformation and disinformation are rampant and dangerous.  Thankful for those putting out accurate info.  A fetus is not a person, and a coat hanger is not necessary.

Ben Franklin included a recipe for an abortifacient in a popular math textbook (via Molly Farrell in Slate, 5/5/22)

Anyone should be able to get a safe, affordable abortion for any damn reason at all, and it's nobody's business.  It's just healthcare.  And it's just one piece of the reproductive freedom/justice picture.

Things are already dire in several states, for women, for POC, for LGBTQ folx, especially trans youth.

This is the civil rights movement of our age.  


Flash Fiction

From Rebecca Makkai's daily writing prompts on twitter (#365prompts)

Day 62:  No one knows where this underwear in the living room came from. We just did laundry, and there it was, in the basket, but it's not ours.  So...?  Laundry at home, not a laundromat, so that's not an answer.  No recent sleepovers for the kids, but even so, this is a big pair of granny panties with unicorns on them.  Not likely to belong to pre-teen boys (no judgment, I'm just talking about the size here). It's quite disconcerting.  Should we post it to NextDoor?

Day 63:  Patricia admits, mid-dinner party, to believing in Bigfoot.  "Look, when you find a pair of panties this big in your living room *and* there are the giant footprints outside, well, if it quacks like a duck...!"  Argument ensued over the likelihood of Bigfoot's underwear choices or even wearing any at all - but not over his (her? their?) presumed existence.  Hm.  

Day 64:  The same purple bicycle has been locked to a bike rack at the edge of campus since 1997. If you were observing it carefully, you'd notice the occasional shimmer in the air nearby, and suddenly you'd see a person where you're pretty sure nobody had been a moment ago.  This person would invariably be dressed oddly, just a bit off the norm, as if they were a tourist who'd read about local customs but not quite gotten them right.  Since the development of in-home fabric recyclers, it's gotten harder and harder to come by the old stuff.  Thrift stores have had to go underground and museums have snapped up the best of what's left.  Even so, visitors cobble an outfit together and find their way to the purple bike, for an adventure in the past.

Day 72:  The genie who lives in the Arizona Iced Tea bottle is kind of trashy.  Can't even keep track of their unicorn underwear, dammit.

Day 79:  Hector's first Scrabble championship is off to a worrisome start.  He thought he'd had it all figured out, studying the dictionary, learning all those words-that-aren't-really-words (come on, nobody says "za" for pizza, it's ridiculous, language is alive and all that but there are limits), working through the mental math of triple word scores... he's got this.  And then.  Well.  Then he sits down at the board, makes respectful eye contact with his opponent (more on her later), and goes completely blank.  Like, completely.  Beyond blank.  He draws his tiles and doesn't recognize a single squiggle on them.  

Day 85:  The Botanic Garden benefit ends in bloodshed.  Women run, screaming, tripping over their heels and sprawling, hats flying off, pearl necklaces flying apart.  A deep voice laughs:  it is the plant at the heart of the mayhem, a "new" species the Garden Club was so proud of, a relative of the Venus fly trap but oh, they did not realize that they would be the flies!  

Day 89:  After all these years, Mia is finally learning to play the accordion.  Her grandfather left it to her, and it's been in the closet, gathering dust and layers of guilt, ever since.  


Um... hello?

 Yikes.  I knew it had been a long time since I'd written/posted, but I hadn't realized it was quite that long. Almost 10 years.  So many ramblings in my head that could have been written down for... who?  Why?  Turns out as we move more and more into a put-it-all-out-there world, that's not what I want.  But obviously it's not just a diary I want, either, or I wouldn't be typing this online.  Hmm.  

I guess it's really for me, but also with a sprinkling of accountability, sort of.  That's not quite right, since nobody is holding me accountable, but knowing other people *might* read it keeps it a level above cringeworthy (I hope!).  But man, why anybody would want a Twitter etc account with hundreds or thousands or millions of followers is beyond me.  I just want a few friendly folks to laugh at my jokes and share in my rage and withhold judgment.  

In the Lynda Barry and Austin Kleon and Neil Gaiman way of the world, the thing is worth doing for itself, and may turn out to lead down some unexpected and worthwhile paths.  So here we are.  Again.

Oh, but I don't eat as much cheese anymore, sadly.  



Happy New Year

Well, I admit I feel a certain compulsion to write something today, but I don't know what.  Not an end-of-year reflection or highlight reel.*  Not resolutions.  Not anything especially meaningful; I just want to mark the day.  Too many days have gone by unnoticed, just like every other day, and sometimes it seems important to step out of that routine.

So.  Another jaunt round the sun, and here we are.  Not just another day, even though it was just another day.  A little tricky to explain why we celebrate to my little one.  He is more excited about it being our dog's birthday - bacon cake!  At least I can watch the celebrations somewhere further east so I don't have to stay up until midnight.  Hooray, it's already 2014 in most of the world!

Ok, I think that's what I've got for now.  After all, tomorrow is another day.

Here's to peace, joy, love, and adventure.

Happy new year, y'all.

*but maybe outtakes, the blooper reel?  I'll think about that.


Bikini Lines

Spring has sprung, at least according to the sunshine and flowers, and all the flesh on display around town.  Although I'm not a prude, I always surprise myself by being slightly shocked when we go from bundled-up to spaghetti straps and short shorts.  People just seem so naked after a winter of layers.  It  takes me a little while to adjust, and then bring on the sundresses!

Except.  This year I've still got my post-baby body flapping around.  It irritates me constantly because nothing fits, and then as soon as something does fit, it all changes again.  Grump.  And I hate shopping - maybe because I've always had a hard time finding clothes that fit well and look good.  But even more, I hate that our celebrity-obsessed society does its best to make us feel like crap if we don't look a certain way.  Lots of folks have written about this (and yet plenty of girls are stressed and starving themselves) (yes, some boys too), so here's my angle:

The Aztecs (I think it was them, anyway) used to treat women giving birth as warriors, with all the respect and admiration and recognition of courage and danger it involved.  That's sort of how I feel - more than the beautiful new-age images of dolphins leaping and flowers blooming, birth is sweaty and messy and scary and angry and loud and wonderful and painful and bloody.  And we should wear that with pride:  Look at this body - these stretch marks, this flappy belly, these saggy oversized boobs - they created life!  From scratch!  Fuck yeah!

Instead of looking for clothes that flow and drape and cover, I want to go out into the world in a skimpy outfit and be admired for it.  I don't want to rush from locker room to swimming pool, but to strut proudly.  This should always be true, regardless of the cause for the shape, but in this case I want everyone to know, because it's a big deal.  I should wear that bumper sticker:  I'm so crafty, I make people.  These are my battle scars, my medals of honor, and I want them to be seen in that light.  Look upon this body and feel awe!


Lives to be Lived

I just got around to reading the final 2012 issue of the NY Times magazine; they always end the year with "The Lives They Lived," a collection of bios of people who died that year.  It's a good mix of interesting lives, some that ended too soon (the Beasties' Adam Yauch) and some right on time ("Oh, God, there are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready." --Maurice Sendak).  Didn't seem like there were any that went on too long - but that's a topic for another post, another day.

Mostly extraordinary folks, with a smattering of more ordinary.  But the thing that I kept thinking as I read was that every one of them started out as a little baby, perfect and innocent and with a whole life ahead of them.  (No, this is not going to segue into anything about Newtown or related incidents, though that was mentioned in the magazine too.  It's just too sad, there's nothing I can add to that except more heartbreak and anger, which is not where I want to go with this post.)  All those people were once a tiny bundle of need, of adorable, of instinct and emotion and raw materials. Someone took the time to feed them and respond to their cries and find tiny socks to fill their tiny toes with sock fuzz, to watch them grow, to clean up their poop, and, hopefully, to surround them with love.

And those babies responded by transforming.  Their baby survival tactics (be cute and be loud!) got them through those first months, got them standing on their own two feet and making their way in the world.  And they made good choices and bad choices, and they continued to grow and change and become, reacting and learning and adapting to the world around them.  Until they got to the end, and we read about them in the paper, and reflected on their lives and our own.

As I stare at my own baby, now 3 months old, with his oh-so-kissable chubby cheeks and enormous grin and quivering lips and grasping fingers - and I do stare, all the time, all day long, and there is no better view in the world - that's what I see:  a whole life of possibility ahead.  He's still so totally unformed (and yet so perfectly formed, right down to the eyelashes and ear folds; how does that happen?  It's completely ridiculous and amazing and miraculous.  Go biology!) - even my 3-year-old has begun to narrow his paths simply by becoming who he is, so far removed from the babe he once was.  (Nature?  Nurture?  Surely some of both, and we may never know the difference)

I realize this is no great insight, that all adults were once babies, that all babies have a future wide open ahead of them (well, some have more width in their future than others; once again, another post...).  But I just can't stop thinking about it, thinking back on the paths that all those written about took.  About how it all comes back to a tiny seed, bursting with hope and joy and wonder.  Something so small - accidental, even, in some cases, and really hard work in others - turns into something so great.  Who will you be, little man?  As Dr. Seuss says: "You are you, and that's truer than true!"