meditating on mothers who read blogs

Haven’t been blogging as much since my mother started reading my blog…. since she started commenting, it’s been impossible.

Hi, Mom, I love you, but…

So I’m here on the subway on my way to some job, some place of employment where I employ myself, and I wasn’t sure if I should bring my laptop, and I wonder about those writers and PhD candidates and secretarial students who had to carry around their actual portable typewriters which were portable only in as much as they had handles. I got a seat on the train, so I’m glad I brought it. This is time. I try to make use of this time.

Last year I took time off from the various employments to employ myself in novel writing, writing a novel, which I did, which I have done, and the world is much the same as before I started writing except I have some 80 thousand words more that I’ve written. Feels… feels.

Thinking about motherhood. Thinking about the divine mother and child. What it means, what an ideal that signifies two over one means. What does it mean to hold close to another that needs to be cared for, that needs intimacy, that needs room to cleave to and cleave from…

Having had mothers, and currently being a mother, and thinking back to how I was personally mothered, thinking about my mother reading my blog…

I read a post on a feed this morning, a woman had read her teenage daughter’s journal and wasn’t happy w the contents, the notes and comments on lovers she’d had (lovers?! Oh my baby!) And I think about my own secrets, the yearning to spill one’s secrets grows big and strong in all the gray areas as one ages.

What does it mean for the divine to be two? What does it mean for the ideal to be two = one? I had a serious talk w my 8 yr old last night, it lasted about 5 minutes, but it was the utmost in serious. I explained that he was a big kid now, not a little one anymore, a big kid like the big kids we used to see on the playground and we’d say “look at how the big kids play,” and now he is one. I told him that when he was a little kid, he needed parents to comfort, protect, encourage snuggle, all that stuff, and that now, in addition to that stuff, which he will decide he needs less and less, in addition to that stuff he needs parents who will challenge, who will push, who will advocate, yes, and encourage him to advocate for himself. He needs parents who will steer him from bad habits, make him learn to take care of himself, to be discerning. He said “okay, mom.” Okay, mom.

For some reason the more this blog project has gone on the more inhibited I feel about writing it. It’s like, when I first started, and I didn’t think anyone was reading it (before I learned how to check my stats), it was easier to write and submit said words to a public forum.

Hi, lady who is reading over my shoulder. I reduced the doc to 75% but you’re still following along. More power to you, I guess.

There’s a thing that happens where my wants are so loud in my ears I think everyone can hear, and when turns out the wants are a silent fire pulsing through my own neurons I feel more alone, near abandoned. Abandonment is a theme w me, I think, but that’s another story for another day.

There was this one Easter where it was some special thing because I was allowed to wear pantyhose instead of tights. They were magenta maybe, violet, violent. If I was asked if I wanted to wear pantyhose, I’m sure I said yes, bc I thought I was supposed to. But honestly, people, I didn’t care, and even now, I hate hose, as my Gram used to call them. I got a run in them after church, before the party, and I got into trouble for that run in my hose. I had to change into other hose. I don’t know why I needed hose at all, wearing a long ish dress, at least knee length, but that was the deal. So uncomfy. Such a horrid invention, all these fabrics designed to keep ladies pushed in and plumped out. I spent most of that Easter hiding under the dining table.

Why is it that parenthood and marriage brings with it flashback to my childhood? I feel like I relate to my child self more than I relate to other adults, or to adult experiences.

There’s a thing where I feel trapped inside my skin. I don’t feel like my body is my own. I feel like I’m flying above this train and all the people in it, and crash back to earth with my hair in my face, warm bodies of old women on either side of me. Reconciling soul to body is never easy, harder now that the mind body split is being codified into social dogma and ideologies. For a while I was with the physicalists, everything that happens, from every soul scream to in grown toe nail is a causation of a physical reaction. Makes sense, that we are chemistry sets, biology experiments.

Final thought for this commute, nearing my stop. Was at the Museum of Natural History the other day. Love that place, the monument to learning that Teddy Roosevelt built. Watched the Deep Space show in the Planetarium, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Two things he said stick in my ears.

I’m paraphrasing–-

Wherever you are in the universe, it looks like everything else is speeding away from you. Like, from whatever perspective, vantage point, it feels like you are standing still and everything else is moving away from you at top speed.

It totally does feel like that in life.

And the thing where he says out planet is orbiting “…an unremarkable star.”

Unremarkable.

But what makes our star remarkable is that we are here to remark upon it.

There’s a way that we want our mothers to see us, and we don’t always know what that is. We want to protect them from ourselves, from our darkness, from our oddness, from our intrinsic somethingness, we want to keep them at bay, just as we want them to love us unconditionally, with no sadness about who we are, or how we turned out, or whatever choices we made.

To be a child and a mother simultaneously. To want to let my son know how well I understand, just as there is so much that he wants me to not understand, bc it is new, it is his discovery. To be in orbit, without remarking on it, unable to help but remark upon it. The glow, the warmth, it is so very remarkable.

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We’re not great gift givers.

We’re not great gift givers.

When it’s my birthday, I tell D exactly what I want. And I ask him to go get it. At some point during this conversation, whether over weeks or a few minutes, we argue about it. D doesn’t like to be told what to get for me, but my goal is to remind him to go get me something, and that it doesn’t need to be a big deal. “Just get flowers!” I have said over and over.

This year, D said he was going to go get me a cake. I quizzed him on where he was going to get it, and when, then said “I don’t like that place, I’ll make a cake.”

That’s how I ended up making my own bday cake.

When D’s bday rolled around, he said “I don’t want anything.” And so I made him a cake, too.

One Christmas we agreed not to get each other anything, but then I got him something, and he ran out on Christmas Eve to find a gift for me, at the video store, which was the only place open. I still treasure that copy of Annie Hall.

It happened again a few years later, and from that I got a pair of leather gloves, the seams of which I have stitched and restitched.

Our trouble with gift giving and gift getting is not entirely our fault.

When I was a kid there was a Christmas one time where my step mom wouldn’t open the gifts I had bought for her. She told me I didn’t deserve to have her open my gifts. At the time this felt like a knife in my chest. I was really hurt by it, even while I was thinking “I’m pretty sure that’s not great parenting.”

I thought about what she’d said about not deserving it. Is that how gift giving works, I wondered? Is gift giving an earned privilege? Despite knowing that this was an absurd thing to say to a kid on Christmas morning, a kid who was graduating from gift getter to gift giver, I barely ever gave gifts after that, and when I did give them, they were not on holidays.

I wanted to avoid the transactional element of gifting entirely. I didn’t see my brother N much, and rarely on holidays or his bday, so I started giving him gifts randomly, whenever I saw him was an opportunity for a little gift. When I met my sister, and it turned out I’d missed a million years of gift giving occasions, I took her shopping whenever we spent time together and let her pick out whatever she wanted. The nice thing about this, I realize now, is that if you give a gift to someone who isn’t expecting it, there’s no time for them to reject it. First impulse with a gift is to take it, unwrap it, and say thank you.

I didn’t come up with the idea for random gift giving on my own. My mom is notorious for haphazard gift giving. Every year around Christmas she calls and says she’s not getting anybody anything, and I basically say “okay mom, you do you.” And then she’ll grand gesture a big beautiful trip Italy, or Grandma summer camp for our son C, or be like “hey, can I buy you a new bed?” One thing I like about my mom’s gift giving style is that it’s always honest. She doesn’t buy a gift for someone unless that gift demands giving, and then she goes out of her way to make sure it happens.

D has had equally odd childhood gift giving/getting experiences, but since he’s internet famous these days, I’ll leave him to divulge his own secrets, or not… probably he won’t do that.

There’s an anxiety that’s alleviated when you take your gifts into your own hands. For one, you know you will like it. For two, you know you will get something, you will not be forgotten. And for three, you know you will not reject your best efforts.

Enter my son. I thought about the whole gift giving nightmare and was hoping that if I just act natural, the whole enterprise would feel less fraught, or perhaps would not feel fraught at all. In this, it appears I have failed. C is very concerned with gifts, both getting and giving.

When it is some holiday, whether religious (Christmas), or fictitious (Arbor Day), or family (birthdays), C is right there ready to make something to give. He’s made ornaments, cards, and little toys, and he’s terrible at waiting to give the gift until whatever the appropriate, allocated time is supposed to be. Mothers’ Day cards are given as soon as they are completed, and my job (I think) is to be very excited about these works and display them in a prominent place, which I do.

The other day, however, C gave me a straw that he had formed into the shape of an M, for Mommy, and I was in the middle of a million things and, well, I did not treasure this M shaped straw. What happened was that he got upset, chucked the straw, and looked at me with eyes that said I’d destroyed every semblance of self-confidence that I’ve been trying so hard to instill. We were both crushed, all because of a straw that, once chucked, was only a bent out of shape straw. I didn’t know he’d be so upset.

I know that kids give what they are able, and that the gift is coming from a place of kindness and wanting to share, and in my defense I save all the gifts, all the cards and stickers and little things. I know he gives what he has to give, and I respect, appreciate, and treasure that impulse. Even so, the amount he had invested in this straw– well, it looked like a parental failure for sure.

C’s birthday is coming up. We went to visit his Ellen (my aunt, but he calls her “My Ellen,” which come on that’s the best), and she let him pick out a gift from her toy shop. He asked if she could wrap it, and they picked out the paper and ribbon together. When we got home, a two plus hour drive, he asked me to put it aside so he could open it on his birthday, over a week away. To be clear, this was a gift he had picked out for himself, and helped wrap, and he wants to save it to open on his birthday.

I fear that someday he’s going to find himself making his own cake.

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the illusive M

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the waiting gift

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the cake I made for my 42nd birthday.

Right this very godforsaken minute beneath a city of millions

Arrive at subway station. Wait 15 minutes for N train.

Q train arrives instead. Board Q train.

Feel okay about progress, both trains go to Union Sq.

Make next station stop.

Bw that stop and the next we are informed that train will go local from here on out.

Proceed very slowly to local stops.

Arrive at express stop. Everyone gets on, bc there’ve been no express trains.

Proceed slower than my walking pace to next stop.

On the way, stop in tunnel for 15 minutes to let several express trains pass us.

During this time, a woman faints on our train car.

Arrive at local stops. No one gets off, bc everyone who boarded wanted an express train.

People begin to lose patience as even more express trains pass us, and we are told that we are delayed by train traffic ahead of us.

Wtf are you doing mta? Are you trying to reduce the population of the city? Get us all fired? Show how much power you have over every aspect of our daily lives?

Why do you hate us lowly commuters, oh mighty nyc transit?

The subways are the arteries of this city, w express and hub stops so many little hearts keeping the blood, all us people, flowing through it. You are bleeding us out. We are fainting on subway trains stuck in tunnels. I am so angry I could scream, but out of respect for my fellow subway riding new yorkers, I will not.

Oh my god, woman, stop sucking that hard candy before I have to hurt you. I can hear the sick sound over The Runaways. That’s loud, belligerent, agitated, passive-aggressive sucking.

I’m dying. She’s unwrapping another one.

Every time the conductor gets on the loudspeaker to say “after blah blah blah something something on the bridge there are delays on N Q R D B lines,” she sounds angrier and angrier, as if we keep asking “are we there yet,” instead of quietly fuming. Except for this woman and her hard fucking candies.

I may never make it where I am going. It has been an hour and fifteen minutes into my hour long trip and I’m not even half way there.

I wish I’d brought some water. And a way to get off this train.

There goes another express train while I stand here crammed in w hundreds of people bw two local stops where no one will get on and no one will get off.

So far the amount of time this train has spent not moving is about 40 minutes. I’m supposed to be at work in 6 minutes.

That is all.

I finished.

I finished my book last night. My novel. It feels strange to say, like after you get married and say “husband” for the first time.

I finished the first real finished draft. There’s still bits and pieces, like I know there’s a thing I forgot to put in near the end, and some moments and small threads that need to drop in and weave. But I got to the end and I felt… well I felt I needed to commemorate that. It’s been years I’ve been writing it. This story about a girl and her best friend, and what they go through together, and what she goes through alone, and the perils of a divided heart, and the dangers of truly pretty, deadly things, like comfort and flooding basements full of missing books and library databases with as many citations as there are drops in the ocean.

I ride the subway to work. I try to avoid being late, on this crowded subway. When you have a gig that is one day per week it’s essential to keep up appearances. I imagine each one these commuters as books, each of these people, bundled and gloved, holding coffee cups, playing iphone games, carrying lunches, checking their twitter, as writers finishing up books of their own. Gah! If we could all tell our stories… I’ve told mine, time and time again, pages using pages. And I’ll tell it again, bc what are we if not the stories we tell, the stories we consume, the stories we heroically lead through our own defiance against the slow, plodding March of consumption.

Soon I will be miserable. I will come down off this high of feeling fulfilled, feeling finished. I will panic about getting an editor, a publisher, a lit agent. But for now, for this moment, stuck in a bridge in a tin can perched high above the frigid East River w it’s roiling currents, I wanted to acknowledge what I have done. It was excruciatingly difficult. I wrote encouraging missives to myself in my notebook, and gilded them w gold and shining watercolors. “You can do this!” I wrote. “Trust that the book is good!” I wrote. I wrote enough that I believed it.

I look forward to beginning again. But for this moment… for this moment there is this.

giving gifts: bah! humbug.

My son’s backpack came home from school yesterday stuffed full of gifts. “Christopher gave me a Playmobile guy!” He said, “and Valentina gave me an activity book. I got Hershey kisses, and candy canes!” He was so excited, but with every addition to the list of loot the knot in my stomach tightened.

Why? Why do parents send in all these stupid gifts that turn into garbage as soon as they hit my house? Candy wrappers and torn papers, crushed crayons and little bits of horrible glitter, litter my home. Plus I feel guilt for not having sent in anything for my son’s classmates.

I asked my husband if this makes me a Scrooge, and he hesitatingly said “a little,” which makes me think that yeah, I’m a super Scrooge. But that’s fine. I wish we could dispense with the gifts. Instead, let’s share a snack, or a layer cake, or some bread pudding with fresh whipped cream. Let’s raise a glass and have a toast. Let’s take all those gifts and give them to children that don’t have.

I’ve had friends who are really into gift giving, and it makes me feel bad because I am really not into it. I’d rather get some time with friends, instead of gifts let’s buy travel and actually see each other.

Please don’t expect me to get you anything for Christmas. Sorry.

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Reinforcing trauma based delusions on DS9

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Kako and Chief O’Brien, traumatized future Molly

I’ve been using this year’s round of holiday malaise as a great opportunity to rewatch some Deep Space Nine. I’m up to Season 6: Episode 23, Time’s Orphan (I’ve been skipping around), and while I remember watching the episode previously, this time through it really rankled. Like I was sitting there yelling ‘wtf, O’Briens,’ at my phone.

Here’s the gist– O’Brien and Kako take their two kids, Molly (eldest) and Yoshi for a picnic on Bajor after the end of the Dominion occupation of DS9. This is a poignant picnic, because the family has been separated for a while– for the whole war, in fact– and this is the first time they get some idyllic ‘this is why we love each other’ times since they’ve been back altogether on the station.

What happens? Molly goes tumbling into a well, or rather a time vortex, and by the time they get her out, she’s aged 10 years. Not only that, she spent those 10 years in prehistoric Bajor, and has gone completely savage.

The O’Brien’s first thought, upon meeting their tree-dwelling, pre-verbal 18 year old daughter, is to transform her back into the 8 year old girl she was earlier that day. Makes sense. Seems like the only logical option. Because of an accident, the child was transformed from someone who is 8 years old, verbal, social, educated, and well-adjusted to someone who has experienced extreme trauma and barely survived to make it out the other side. If you could return your child to the state before that trauma, isn’t the right thing to do to do that? If a child is hit by a car, wouldn’t everyone involved rather reverse time and return to before the car accident and prevent it from happening? If such a thing were possible, I bet AAA would cover it with road-side assistance.

Instead, the know-it-all Dr. Bashir tells the O’Brien’s that such a reversal would be unethical, “because someone has to grow up to be this Molly,” meaning the savage. And he smiles at them condescendingly, with a look that says he has the advanced, more humanitarian view. The O’Brien’s go along with it, and try to get used to this new Molly. They get her set-up with a false forest in a cargo bay, and take shifts staying with her. They try to bring her back around to space station life. They bring her crayons and toys from her childhood room, and are thrilled when she starts drawing.

It is Bashir who points out that her trees have faces, and that she’s anthropomorphized nature. This Molly thinks trees are her parents, and is desperate to return to nature. The O’Brien’s do their best to sympathize and to provide what she needs. They get some holosuite time and recreate Bajor, and the location of the ill-fated picnic. It is as though she is an infant all over again as they rejoice when she learns to use a spoon, and potty-training an 18 year old sounds like a nightmare.

That her parents do not try to give her back her life, but sink down into the primordial muck with her is one thing, but when, in the end, they decide that the only option is to send Molly back down into the time portal, it is as unforgivable as when Audrey Hepburn lets her cat out of the cab in the pouring rain because she’s afraid of commitment.

If, only gone for a few Bajoran hours, ten years had passed on the other side of the time portal, then how much time has passed over the course of a few days when Molly was back aboard DS9? They’re not sending her back to the same time period that they extracted her from, and she’ll be retraumatized all over again. They don’t know what they’re sending her back to, yet they do it anyway, all because Bashir wouldn’t allow them to undo the trauma.

Also, what about the Prime Directive? Everyone’s always so gung-ho to preserve the indigenous land and the natural unsullied origins of planets. Doesn’t a little Earth girl landing in the prehistory, pre-human Bajor disrupt the time continuum? Didn’t they read the story about the squashed pre-historic butterfly and then everything’s orange and totalitarian back in the future?

Why is the acceptable move, the one that all the Star Trek people in the episode know in their heart-of-hearts is the right, non imperialist thing to do, to reinforce Molly’s delusion? When curing her of her savagery is difficult, they give up on her and say well that’s that, she must be better off in the prehuman beginnings of Bajor. How is the right thing to do to give up on your daughter, accept her delusion, and push her back into a time vortex? By doing this, they give her a death sentence. She will never see another human being (unless centuries have passed on Bajor and people have emerged from the ooze), she will never experience the love of other people, or even of her mother and father, ever again. She will not be a mother, not have a career, not read a book, ever again. This is not a reasonable fate to bestow upon your traumatized daughter simply because it appears to be what she wants after a few days of a really difficult transition back to real life.

It also doesn’t make any sense that the O’Brien’s, who have dedicated themselves to very advanced pursuits, that of engineering in Miles’ case and botany in Kako’s, believe that the natural, pre-human culture that Molly has been living in is better than the big bright present of DS9. Can’t they be even a little culturally imperialist? After all, they live on a space station orbiting an alien planet, you’d think they’d have some respect, appreciation, and pride in where human beings have landed in the Alpha Quadrant. Instead, they equivocate their advanced way of life with one in which humans are barely more than animals, barely aware of their own consciousness.

Certainly, Avery Brooks’ Capatain Benjamin Sisko would not have made the same choice. In Season 6: Episode 21: The Reckoning, Captain Sisko watches his son fight an insane battle when he is possessed by a Pah-wraith. He has the opportunity to stop the fight, to push the entity out of Jake’s body, but he chooses instead to let Jake fight his own battles. A big difference is that Jake is a grown man, who makes his own choices, and fights his own battles. Captain Sisko knows this, and he watches on in agony. Were he an 8 year old boy instead, Captain Sisko would have jumped in.

In sending Molly back to the past, the O’Brien’s steal her future, imagining that the trauma she’s experienced will never be undone, no matter how much therapy, time or attention they put in. They should know better, after what they saw on the Enterprise with Captain Picard and the Borg, than to assume the effects of trauma are unable to be overcome.

In fact, when they go back to the time vortex to shove their traumatized, delusional daughter back into it, they find original, 8 year old Molly. Presumably she’s been sitting on the other side of the time vortex for several days, while her grown self was on board DS9. She hasn’t had any food, or socialization, in that whole time. Yet she is not horribly traumatized and falls back into life on the station with no problem at all. Other than that her drawings show trees with smiley faces, there is no indication that she is connected to savage Molly at all.

The Sexual Harassment of Lily Bart

Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, over a century after its publication, is a transcendent work exploring the trauma of sexual harassment. It was criticized in its time as a ‘novel of manners,’ while its proponents called it a social satire.

Maybe it’s about manners, maybe it’s a scathing commentary on wealthy socialite culture, but mostly what it’s about is a single, broke woman trying to navigate a career, life, and society while being continuously and solely valued for her sexual attractiveness and perceived availability. She was trained to be a rich man’s wife, but she can’t stomach the men to whom she could be wed.

Miss Lily Bart, heroine of the novel, is from a fallen New York family. Well-connected but broke, beautiful but desperate, plodding the path of privilege and wealth for which her shoes were made, Lily is of the fashionable set of late 19th Century New York. What she’s got is is beauty, charm, masses of debt, and that most cursed of all things, standards.

Older, married, well-connected men make passes at her, and though she turns them down so much of the time, her reputation is sullied by the existence of their advances at all. Friends and enemies alike ask what she could be doing to lead these men on so, and answer with a wink and nod.

Miss Lily Bart is a hanger on of power, a socialite with her body and cunning as her only assets. Try as she might to wield some of that power on her own terms, without giving over her body to men, she is unable to gain any traction. It’s simply not allowed.

What we do to our women! What we have done, what has been done, what women have been put through. Yes, fragments, not sentences, because these were lives lived in fragments, lived according to proscribed principles. Women of standing who were socially and financially crippled by their perceived association to men who wanted docile, easily manipulated, willing young women in secret corners, in their beds.

With no fortune of future of her own, Miss Lily runs from fashionable country house to fashionable town house, perfectly made up, well coiffed, perfectly clothed, expensively jeweled– this is what’s expected, and she’ll deliver no matter what, no matter how much debt she has to take on. (MFA, anyone?) But like many women when faced with a job for which they have prepared and interviewed, for which they have worked and sacrificed, she is faced instead with men who take every opportunity to thrust their sex upon her, ignoring everything about her but the wants they impose upon her.

If Lily Bart were facing down her career prospects today, she would have been one of the endlessly talented, fierce women who were never given a chance because they did not go along to get along, did not stand idly by for sexual harassment and abuse. Just as she was in her day, she would have been cast off, obliterated, defeated by men of power and influence who don’t give a damn about the women they tread upon to secure their own aims.

Critics at the time painted Wharton’s heroine as someone who eschews passion and love for money and security. But when the men in control of all of it demand she be used according to their aims, and not her own, she refuses them. Time and time again, Lily holds tight to what she knows to be right, and in not letting herself be used by men, she is destroyed by them.

Why did critics hate her? Why is she still considered a vapid socialite of American literature? Because even in the stories we tell ourselves, we blame women for men’s unwanted advances. We blame women for our perceiving them as slutty and too available. We blame women.

The tables are starting to turn on this, as we’ve seen with all of the men being brought down through the exposure of their illicit actions and unkempt desires. Let’s bring back Lily Bart, sexually harassed throughout House of Mirth, and for a century of criticism afterwards. She is every woman who has been forced to submit to sexual harassment in order to achieve job security, and tossed to the gutter when she doesn’t play ball.

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Gillian Anderson as Lily Bart in Terence Davies’ The House of Mirth.

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Edith Wharton as a debutante, circa 1862