Friday, August 31, 2012

Female Chauvenist Pig

          Once upon a time on a dude ranch far away, the big boss man, tired of all the fussing and chest beating between the sexes, made the wranglers and cabin girls switch roles for a day. We girls wrangled the horses while the cowboys stayed at the lodge to do the dishes, serve the meals and make the beds. Of course we did everything perfectly—even if I did tie the wrong knot and let one horse out for a little joyride—only to come down the mountain and find that all of the beds had been made—twice. The wranglers had put new sheets on right over the old ones. Still, we had to grudgingly admit that the western Freaky Friday was a valuable lesson. We saw how the other half lived and began to appreciate them more for it.  

            Which is what has been happening around my house lately, if in a more long term, less organized way. While I’ve been working longer hours, my husband’s been picking up more of the grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and childcare.  A few weeks ago, after getting home from a particularly long day I found myself standing in the midst of a pile of half crocked art projects, found objects from the river and science experiments gone wrong. I tried not to hyperventilate. “Why isn’t my dinner on the table? Why is this house such a mess? What have you been DOING all day?” And then it hit me as I flashed on all of the stereotypical scenarios of the working dad berating the stay-at-home-mom. My God, I thought. It’s happened to me. I’ve become a female chauvinist pig!

Though I’ve always considered myself a progressive, modern woman—a feminist-- I’ve recently started to examine what’s really brewing beneath the surface of the buzz words I’ve dressed myself in. And what I’ve uncovered is at least as much cave woman as modern woman. “Me, Jane! Me want big man to kill buffalo, pay mortgage AND take care of kid!” Beneath my “let’s not stereotype according to our gender roles” façade, I secretly think my husband should be responsible for the lion’s share of the finances, all of the manual labor, a lot of the household chores and half of the childcare. In other words, not only do I want to have my cake and eat it too, I want to eat it with two scoops of honey vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and wet walnuts. Who doesn’t?  

            I love the tri-fold sense of empowerment, freedom and creativity I get from my work, but deep down part of me feels I should do it only because I want to—sort of for fun-- not because I have to. I should also get lots of room for me-time, self-exploration and mini vacations—while he pays the mortgage, does the dishes and checks over the homework. When and if I do choose to work, I should come home to a hot meal, a sparkling house and a foot massage. Not that I provided any of that for him when he worked all day. Oh, no. That’s when I pulled the feminism card. But thankfully, my husband is a feminist, too. He’d be just as happy to give me all of the responsibilities I’d like to give him. Which is why, in a sometimes civilized, sometimes barbaric way, we’re doing our best to work it out—so that we can both have it all—or at least a little tiny bit of each part of most of it. Without score sheets or time cards, we’re dividing up the work it takes to run a marriage, house and family in as egalitarian a way as possible.

To get a sense of the division of labor, at least in the childcare department, I recently asked an impartial judge for his opinion. Well,” said our son, “it’s 50-50. Actually, it’s 51-49.” I didn’t ask who got the extra 1% because of course, to keep everything in perfect balance, I still need to believe it’s me. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Write Now I Am: A Collection of the Year's First Sentences

Right now I am trying to breathe, write, chew gum and digest the sensation of being thrown off a cliff.

Right now I’m glad we’re writing even in a circle of two--- what did Jesus say about gathering in his name? We gather now in the name of Getting It All Out.

Right now I’m glad there are lights and fans and streams of running water, diesel in the tank, gas in the generator, milk in the fridge, people in the seats, my family right where I left them.

Right now I feel like a squatter in an occupied house, no vacancy.

Right now my feet are on solid ground, even if it’s solid ground on a boat out at sea.

Right now I’m shocked at the person I saw in the mirror this morning; a woman who went to DMV took out the recycling and updated the family health insurance plan all without any hail Mary’s or histrionics.

Right now I’m half in the head of the hunter who wants to kill a blind woman in the story I’m writing.

Right now I’m trying to figure out what to do while laughing at what I’ve already done.

Right now I don’t want to write about the exact same things I do want to write about.

Right now I am happy and full, perhaps too happy and too full, wrestling with the idea that I should be miserable and starving to produce anything good.

Right now I am glad to be out of the vortex I had no name for until Julie supplied it for me; it’s as if I’ve returned from Siberia to a Walmart All You Can Eat Buffet.

Right now my head is full of big nebulous, unformed possibilities rising up amidst the tiny seeds of details, burrowing down.

Right now I am thinking about the jugular and what it means to go for it; to go in for the kill, that moment when we can decide to duck and hide from the wild beast as it charges us or face it and pull it in to use it for our own purposes, for its own good, for the hide and the meat but also the life blood and the spirit.  

Right now, I’m in what feels not like a rut but on a plain, a long stretch of prairie with no peaks or discernable valleys just endless flatness, not accounting of course for the smaller ridges of rear ending the old lady, H swallowing mercury, the cat rolling in silly putty.

Right now I’m thinking about my friend saying, Let’s just marry each other, my friend who says the things I can’t.

Right now I am here but it feels like my frontal lobe is wrapped in a layer of saran wrap that has been folded under by a layer of tinfoil, rolled in mud, left out in the rain and then kicked down the street like a band of kids playing with a pebble.

Right now I’m thinking about my friend saying it’s like putting your baby in a seat on the rollercoaster without a seatbelt and hoping for the best.

Right now I’m wishing writing were more musical like composing or more physical like surfing but while we write we make the music and the motion happen even if it’s later through the voices and bodies of the characters we’ve created.

 Right now I am happy to be here at this table feeling I can at last properly use the word languid since it’s actually hot out and I’m dreamy, sad, prepared to clutch onto the good though it’s sometimes still so hard for me to let go of the bad.

 Right now I’m soft and blurry like a cup of tea with milk, aware of the rain, wishing I was in it, pooling in gullies, swirling down gutters, falling out of sky like a parachute shot down.

Right now I see myself sprinting through a bunch of big empty rooms trying to get from here to there, find the shortcut or the exit sign but no matter how fast I run I’m still where my feet are in the one room I can occupy at a time.

Right now I feel maybe for the first time that family is right up there with art.

Right now I’m reminded that I have a body with skin and blood and muscle and tendons connected to the stomach, the organ of appetite that demands the most attention of all, wanting to be full, to be fed, to be tended to like a starving baby bird.

Right now it feels like there’s a small orchestra pounding out joy right behind my collar bone- sheer weird, loud rambunctious joy and I think it’s because everyone has finally picked up their instrument. We may be out of tune, totally discordant but it doesn’t matter because the effect is a certain mad beauty, like all of the zoo animals and circus freaks and sideshow performers and grizzly old men operating the tilt-a-whirl and Ferris wheel have finally started to play at the same time.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


That's my cake. 37 candles. Count 'em.

I knew I was getting older when I had a come to Jesus moment with my dental hygienist; a few weeks shy of my 37th birthday I rededicated my life to flossing. Once upon a time my crucial decisions hinged upon song lyrics or lines from literature. Now they are tempered by a desire to remain intact.

Words and art and music still motivate me, but now living long enough to see what motivates my son plays a role, too. If you’d told me as a teenager that I’d be amongst the first of my friends to get married and have a baby I would have cut my own hair and eaten it, instead of just cutting, bleaching and dreading it. I not only wanted to grow up to be a writer, I wanted to grow up to be a bitter, detached, maybe alcoholic, perhaps starving writer with no strings attached and no obligations to anyone.

Just prior to my Dorothy Parker years when I was still in the single digits, my friends and I played a game called “Fresh out of College” in which we acted out glamorous lives involving high heels, convertibles, boyfriends and, most importantly, unchecked freedom. More often than “eat your vegetables” my mother said to me, “Don’t wish your life away,” encouraging me to slow down, breathe and enjoy the perks of childhood. I, however, wanted to manage my own life, one in which, if the spirit moved me, I could stay up all night eating candy. When I finally reached the magical age of Old Enough to Move Out, I didn’t stay up all night eating candy, but I did stay up all night doing everything else. Naturally, there was a price to pay—a debt I owed well into my twenties. Those experiences both shaped me and gave me a deep well to draw from. I don’t regret any of the detours I’ve taken along my path--- nor do I want to retrace them.

While my twenties were about taking the world apart, putting it back together, marrying a man, having a son and finding myself as a writer, my thirties have been about the marriage of writing and reality. But I’m not only uncovering the occasional pearl of wisdom, I’m unwinding sticky, tangled knots of red tape. A recent hallmark of maturity is my willingness to tackle tax returns, health insurance, a business license and the DMV--- God forbid all on the same day. My current goal is to dot the i’s and cross the t’s—while still trying to write a sentence worth reading.   

I think it’s safe to say that integrating all of my selves will be a life long mission.

This week, my husband, excited that he remembered to take the trash to the curb on the right day was immediately besieged with shame for feeling excited that he remembered to take the trash out on the right day. Personally, I feel like Super Woman if I manage to return my library books on time. To be fair, early on, neither of us had overwhelming expectations for ourselves. By thirty, I thought I’d be divorced and homeless and he thought he’d be dead, so we’re in unimagined territory, accepting responsibility for lives we never thought we’d have. And it’s a beautiful, albeit, messy life.  

 I have younger friends that could run for president and older friends that could use a babysitter. Me, I’m both. I have a house, a family, a career and a beautiful community of friends and acquaintances but my husband didn’t give me the superhero name “Fatal Leap” for nothing. Ask me to balance my check book accurately or look at me funny and I need all the help I can get. In the midst of learning to balance the responsibility, the creativity, the beauty and the chaos, I still want to stay up all night eating candy. But before I go to bed, I’m going to brush—and floss-- my teeth.