Reading Circles

I’m happily reading the new Our Bodies Ourselves this week, and have the luck to also have a 1973 copy of OBOS to compare it to. So, pretty much, I am high on what happens when women get together to talk about health.  I wish I was around 40 years ago at the start of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, described in the preface of the 1973 book under the heading “A GOOD STORY.”

In the begininning we called the group “the doctor’s group.” We had all experienced similar feelings of frustration and anger toward specific doctors and the medical maze in general, and initially wanted to do something about those doctors who were condescending, paternalistic, judgmental and non-informative. As we talked and shared our experiences with one another, we realized just how much we had to learn about our bodies. So we decided on summer project–to research those topics we felt were particularly pertinent to learning about our bodies, to discuss in the group what we had learned, then to write papers individually or in small groups of two or three, and finally to present the results in the fall as a course for women on women and their bodies.

As we developed the course we realized more and more that we were really capable of collecting, understanding, and evaluating medical information…the process of talking was as crucial as the facts themselves. Over time, the facts and feelings melted together in ways that touched us very deeply, and that is reflected in the changing titles of the course and then the book–from Women and Their Bodies to Women and Our Bodies to, finally, Our Bodies, Ourselves.

The honesty and eloquence of both editions are so swoon worthy–the articulation of confusion and paradox that you know arrives from a group of people thinking hard and digging to find words–for uttering in the first place, and showing the process of it.  Amongst all the tropes (often perceived negatively) of women’s sharing circles (I know I have a huge file of uncool cliche’s in my head, even though it also sounds so damn nice), The Women’s Collective built this wonderful resource–its wonder lying in not only the facts, but in the gut-swinging honesty that it presents them in.  In some ways, OBOS is like the best aunt in the world who has answers for everything, always lets you have sip of her wine, and respects you immensely. Like Tavi Gevinson’s blurb for the new editions says:

My brain was fist pumping the whole way through.

The reason I bring this all up is because I am also reading Jaclyn Friedman’s What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety.  I’m only in chapter one, but danggummit, it’s wonderful! (Just like Yes Means Yes!).  When I looked for it at my local bookstore, I was initially a smidge embarrassed, worried that the clerk would have to awkwardly walk with me over to the sex section, perhaps surrounded by Taschen books about boobs and penises. Maybe you are more brave than me, but sex and bookstores, it’s too much of a clash of the public and private.  Maybe I can get over that after I read this book.

Maybe after we all read this book? So far, it’s like a great gift from the same wine-sharing Aunt that I have assigned to OBOS.  It’s compassionate, well-written, insightful, stern, and really really understanding.  The introduction takes head on the trepidation of reading such a book publicly.  Nobody wants to be seen reading a sex guide, right? We all want to look that we have that shit in gear–no worries here–my engine is fine!    But Friedman smartly takes on everybody, starting off with a quiz about attitudes and conceptions about sex, safety, and the personas we build around them.  Her argument is that if the book has gotten into your hands, one way or another, you are ready to get to the nitty gritty about sex in your life, and sex in society.  She promises big rewards, a map through the messiness of reality, and omits anything resembling a tip or a trick to better sex.

My favorite thing so far about the book is that while it looks like a regular paperback, it’s really a bit of a bootcamp.  She asks things of you that the cool part of your brain wants to cringe at and reject (journaling every day, committing to the entire book), but she acknowledges your possible wonkiness, and then tells you to get over it.  If the text ever leans sentimental or mushy, it also immediately proves how valid the act is.  Friedman writes like a good teacher lectures.  You trust her. You will do what she tells you to because she is not wasting your time.

At then end of the introduction, Friedman recommends reading the book with a group, both as a way to expand discussion, and as a way to keep up momentum as you move through the book.  I bring this up for two reasons–I’m interested in being part of such a group, and I want as many people as possible to read this book.  I’m not sure the blog is the right place to have a discussion–I’m all for documenting process, but perhaps it is too permanent of a forum for this? G-chat, Skype, plain old email…I’m interested. Or if you don’t join up here in whatever unknown form is out there (and fair warning, I don’t know how deep What You Really Really Want goes), consider starting a small discussion group with a few friends wherever you are. How nice would that be?

I am in the thrall of a giant crush on conversation.  I promise there will be no speculums, unless you want to talk about that, too.

Go See a Show

Dear Millicent,

You know I am all for sitting inside the house and letting the world carry on while I’m happily snowed in by novels and long lost mini-series.  But, after last night, I’m going to have to change some of that. And, I call on all MCF readers to help me.  We have to go the theater/theatre. It’s important.

Remember how in the superb Slings and Arrows (get thee to your Netflix, or latenight IFC right now if you haven’t seen it yet),  a major plot point is the fact that all of the theaters ticket subscribers are old. I assumed this was exaggerated for the sake of plot points like this misguided attempt to pull in a younger audience with billboards like this:

Since I never go to plays (they’re expensive), I wasn’t in on the joke. The joke that it’s all true.  Due to a deal on tickets, I went to the Geffen Playhouse here in LA, which from its fanciness looks like a supremely endowed-theater. I saw The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, a play about 1980’s childhood nostalgia, pro-wrestling, race and capitalism in America. It was full of rap music. At several points, the entire audience was filled with the unhappy elbows of people covering their ears. There were no young people.  There were no middle-aged people. It was the New Burbage Theatre Festival.

I do not particularly like  young people.  But that’s neither here nor there. I had no idea how many people weren’t going to see plays. That sounds crass. What I mean is, the tradition of theater-going seems like it might be lost.  Younger generations aren’t theater-going, theater-finding, theater-thinking.  Concerts yes! Plays, no.

Theater is where we get our broad strokes on, where themes have to be present, where politics get to be stated proudly. Where we have monologues that are actual monologues! We have to go to the theater because if we don’t, by my hasty estimation, there will be no more ticket subscribers in 30 years, max. And we want plays like The Elaborate Entrance… to get made because they are all thinky and sweaty and compelling.  I have to say, from the grumbling I heard in the audience (“what’s this play about?” “I hate the music.” “Why can’t they keep their clothes on”) I assumed the audience hated the play.  I was wrong. They gave it a standing ovation.

Am I wrong? What was the last play you went to? What was the audience demographic? There is a strong chance my observation based on one night out is totally overblown. But I trust Slings and Arrows. 

Let’s all go to one play in the next 6 months. That gives us till March.




Dear M.,

I’ve been working on a novel for a few years. It is very much about this:

It’s an embarrassing thing, to admit the attempt of a novel. But that’s not the point. I wanted you to see this film because it is really lovely. And it’s a surprise window into what I’m writing about, something that is finding the pockets I have been feeling for. Something that is keeping my fingers crossed.



Film via @Brainpicker

Dear M.,

Here is a famous writer quote:

The task of an American writer is not to describe the misgivings of a woman taken in adultery as she looks out of a window at the rain but to describe four hundred people under the lights reaching for a foul ball. This is ceremony.

–John Cheever

To which I say: SHENANIGANS.







36 Things That Did or Did Not Happen While My Partner was Out of Town

  1. Fruit molded in the sink
  2. Four episodes of Mrs. Marple were watched (the good one, with Joan Hickson)
  3. Sometimes, I slept with the lights on.
  4. I woke up every three or so hours thinking I heard a noise.
  5. The cat began sleeping on top of me.
  6. The cat and I invented a new game where a blanket hangs off the couch, which he then hides behind to hunt the string that I walk by with.
  7. I accepted every social invitation.
  8. I got a Dixie Chicks CD out of the library, and it was about all kinds of unpop things: infertility, divorce, parents with Alzheimer’s, and the crappiness of fame.
  9. I also got a Prince CD out of the library, on the cover he is wearing a bandanna, a leather jacket, and a thong.
  10. All these discs got stuck in my car CD player when it decided to pretend it had no discs. NO DISC. NO DISC. NO DISC.
  11. I also checked out a library book that came up as another book called “Swimming,” which I did not check out. But, according to the library computer, I have this invisible book.  They can’t find it on the shelf, and are sure I have it. This CD eating is not going to help my case.
  12. I made an effort to talk to a person every day.
  13. I wrote an episode of Friday Night Lights where Hastings is gay, and Tami has to teach Sex Ed.
  14. I allowed some pretty mediocre BBC into the house. Monday Monday, Inspector Lynley, Waking the Dead.
  15. The vegetables I bought at the market pretty much rotted in the fridge.
  16. I ate cookies for two days of meals.
  17. I bought a teapot.
  18. I carry the teapot around the house with me like a small dog.
  19. I did not want to eat the barley soup I had made too much of. I did not want to make Daikon greens and soft rice with miso.
  20. I got pissed that I have seen all the costume dramas on Netflix instant.
  21. I did not meditate every day.
  22. I did not go visit any museums, or bring my laptop so I could work there.
  23. I did not go on any kind of amusing adventure by myself, unless buying tea at Whole Foods counts, which it doesn’t.
  24. I didn’t remind myself of myself the last time I lived alone, almost 10 years ago.
  25. I had no epiphanies of unfiltered self, except for mess.
  26. I did not buy potholders, plants, or new sneakers.
  27. I dyed my hair practically white. On Skype, a friend’s baby thought I was his grandmother.
  28. I decided blooming peonies look like sushi–either the ginger, or salmon sashimi.
  29. I trashed the apartment in the most boring of ways: clothes on the bathroom floor, mail everywhere, chopped vegetables left on the counter, every drawer open, really no place to land a foot without stepping on some kind of paper.
  30. I did not drink.
  31. I did not have nightmares.
  32. I’m pretty excited about sleeping in the dark again.
  33. My only revelation is that it was not a wild vacation, or a grand reform.
  34. I will still probably clean the house tonight like a teenager expecting their parents home.
  35. Does age  reduce all delights to modge-podging while listening to the dulcet tones of Arrested Development repeats?
  36. I made a list.



The Best Time I Didn’t Deliver A Baby

Dear Millicent,

I now know what kind of person I am in an emergency.  Yesterday morning, I went to meet a couple who I would be doulaing for, ready with my bag of tricks.  I had my lavender oil, my breath mints, my mantras and my own sense of calm. When I got to the door, the baby was crowning, and would be born two minutes later on the bathroom floor.

This happens, and homebirth is not by definition an emergency.  Planned homebirth is awesome.  Doulas are trained for what to do in an emergency delivery, but it is the kind of training that my brain did not hold tightly. I absorbed it like learning how to punch a window out if your car falls off a bridge and is submerged into water: it is big time useful, but also something that only happens in movies.  Except that it all actually happens sometimes.

This was an emergency in the sense that there was no control. Whatever this would be, it would be, and it was happening RIGHT NOW. The dad asked me if I knew what to do. I said what my gut said. “No.”

And then I got thwarted by the fact I don’t know how to use an I-phone.  Me and 911 kept saying “hello” to each other. I was waiting for all those important instructions to pour out–look for this, look for that. But I couldn’t get the damn speaker phone off, and asking for directions about a phone is stupid compared to the fact that a baby is coming out, right now. And it did.  The baby came out. And started crying. It all worked the way it’s supposed to work, and firemen came, and everything got taken care of.

The Iphone never made sense.

For the entire 2 minutes, I had no idea how to help.  I felt like the clumsiest person in the world.  It was all very slow, and very fast. It was all high panic, and incredibly calm.  A part of me surrendered, knowing that I had no idea what to do. And a part of me insisted that there were practical things to do. Look for towels! Pay attention. Watch. Look around for clues. Look for bad things.

But there were no bad things. We weren’t called on for that kind of adrenaline. It worked. It was a household event. Not a crisis. The firemen seemed happy to have such an easy emergency to attend.  All was well. Babies are born every day.

I can’t believe that is how I spent my morning.

When I got home and looked up emergency home birth on the internet, all of the instruction guides (which I imagine freaked out people reading with the laptop set up next to the birthing woman, pissed that the screensaver came on because now they will have to click, then wash their hands again, and that baby is coming!), were amazingly soothing.  They promised that this was rare, and that it usually happened with very healthy moms and babies.  That birth, often enough to hope for the best, took care of itself.  “When in doubt,” one content farm version of instructions said, “do nothing.”*

In the best of emergency circumstances, delivering a baby means lightly holding the head, making sure no cord is around the throat, and catching it. Then, putting newborn on mama’s chest. There are other facts. Babies are blue when they’re born. If the baby isn’t crying, to press its nostrils downwards. To keep the umbilical cord attached.  There is a lot of information, but the basic instructions for a routine birth are simple enough to fit into a small bullet list.  The internet could get you through it.

For myself, I’m not sure in that moment I would have remembered how the internet worked.  But, I now have even more trust in what the body can do.  This was the first non-hospital birth I have been at. It wasn’t an ideal birth. It was scary, and fast, and the amount of adrenaline drenching the house was insane.   I don’t know if the mama is going to remember it as traumatic or wild.  The experience brought home how birth is really about the woman and her body, and that the hospital is an accessory, a location. A minor distinction, one that I had not realized before this, emphasizing how disempowering many hospital spaces are for laboring women.  Also, the immense blessing of people who actually know how to deliver babies, be they nurses, firemen (firepeople?),  midwives, or OBs.

So, lessons learned:

  • Time gets slow in crisis, but crisis keeps moving.
  • Figure out how an I-phone works.
  • Trust women.
  • Babies don’t give a shit about your plans.
  • Sometimes, things work out seriously fine.
**As for the “do nothing” style, there is a whole kind of  planned solo birth where the mother attends herself.  Often, a midwife will be present as backup for complications or support, but the birthing mother will actually deliver her own kiddo.

Art and Conversation

Dear Millicent,

Have been thinking of high art and low art, and the in betweens. You and I come from the academic tradition, and this tradition celebrates the makers of fine things.  Thus, the MFA. Thus, John Cage and Gaddis and many people that we actually know, and who we also like to drink with and smile at.  I have always stopped short at  the creation and criticism of the heavy/complex: of the things that are so whacked out that, while they might be breaking boundaries, they are also the sole voice into the void which they create and map by sonar alone. And, with blogging and my own approach to fiction, I am starting to realize what this distinction is. Why I don’t value the avante as much as others, and why they might look at what I do with a pat “cuteness” as if I am scrapbooking while they are sculpting raw emotion. (Oh shit, scrapbookers, I think what you do is mighty. Forgive the example!).

They don’t care if the cake is edible.  I want delicious cake that I can eat forever.  I love talking about things besides cake with people who make good cake. Like, come to my house because the cake is so good (I lured you there! ha ha! cakebait!), but then, tell me about the Vatican astronomers, or about how tourism is an ethical quagmire.  I think art/cake’s most powerful moment is exchange, cuz that makes, get ready–I’m about to drop a huge broad word that is so sappy it will make your teeth hurt more than icing–compassion.  And you get more exchange if you make more.  Thus, internetting is wonderful.  I am done with writers thinking that blogging is small potatoes to noveling or poetic experiments.  I get more conversation and readers and actual ideas by doing more, and by being less concerned about the deep sweat of it all.  In a sense, fuck publishing.  There’s no money in it, and if you aren’t going for money, then you might as well go for making by making and making.  And if anybody is going to be snide about what kind of making anybody is doing, then I want a carpet, the loudest most calling up on carpet ever.

Let’s be wickedly proud of what we write and where we write it.  Let’s blame them (those who suggest we are quaint hobbyists) for not getting it. We have readers who read us because they are interested in our ideas! We read other people because they are eloquent and smart and writing about things that make us angry or take our breath away! The exchange is times a thousand. Google Reader does more for me than AWP ever did, and is diverse and lovely and not sweaty. Let’s write novels and blogs and essays and lists that have glimmery lives in links or word documents.  There are lots of way to make new maps.

That is winning the workshop.

And now, please, run around your living room with your hands in the air, pumping them up and down to the chant “we win! we win!”

And now back to regular programming.



Oh, the Votes!

Millicent and Carla Fran are in the running for the 3 Quarks Daily 2011 Arts and Literature Prize: Millicent for her take on what The Social Network isn’t about, and Carla Fran on the VIDA stats.  Honestly, we nominated each other, because we like what we do and we want more people to know about it. However, our self-promotion (shameless, of course) can only go so far.  We need your votes to get into the semi-finals, and getting there would be quite great. If you vote for us, we promise the cafeteria will have pizza for lunch every day, and that all the school desks will be painted with glitter (like bowling balls and old cars).

So, please, visit 3 Quarks, look at all the very fine stuff to be found there, and vote before March 10. We’ll send you pounds and liters of appreciation for your time, your interest, and  your vote.

Fondly and Yours,
M and CF

And because hot wine cooler tea says it all:

Pictures of Walk For Choice Los Angeles

Starting up at Pershing Square

LA Showing Off

Truer Words.

We got lots of honks, especially from Priuses!

Joining Up with the Labor Rally. Lots of people, lots of cheering, lots of chanting "Pro-Union, Pro-Choice"

This sign made me pause. It was the right idea, but still felt...grabby?

The All-American Jumpsuit, in case you haven't seen one before.

On Housewifery and Muscles

Hi. I don’t have an official job right now. Somebody in an email recently asked if I was still a “housewife extraordinaire,” which kind of sucked.  So here’s my add-on to the entire stay-at-home girlfriend conversation. Never say never. And, if you’re avidly looking for a job (sending out resumes, etc.) are you really stay-at-home, or just at-home? Because as somebody at-home, it felt kind of shitty to read opinions by women with awesome jobs (jobs I lust after), telling me that I was being an idiot for not working while my partner works.

The deal: I had a job that was the academic version of catering.

My dude got an amazing job, so amazing that it made my paycheck look tiny (it was always tiny, but now tiny wasn’t half our expenses as much as a drop in a big money bucket). Like it made my paycheck look like I was doing my job because it was fun. And it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t even as much fun as catering.

And my job sucked so hard. There was no chance of promotion, and I’m pretty sure adjuncting  was actually hurting my long-term earning potential, and since universities are falling apart and tenure is a ghost of Christmas past, I’m betting my crap job will be there for me if I need it again, or at least something else crappy like it. Seriously, catering is the world’s second oldest profession.

So I quit.

And here’s my guide to survival.

  1. Wake up after your partner goes to work. That way, when you wake up, the house is all yours and you feel like you live alone. You don’t have to start the day with conversation. You can approach your day in a mindset that only serves you. Really, this is a huge luxury, and increases overall productivity by a billion pounds of productivity.
  2. Don’t clean the house unless you want to procrastinate.
  3. Whatever domestic science existed in the house before your stay-at-homedom shall continue. There is no reason to spend more energy on things that you were both comfortable with beforehand. Meaning there are still long stretches between bathtub cleanings, etc.
  4. Feel no guilt about undone dishes, unless you haven’t cleaned the kitchen in about two years.
  5. Do take on the errands that only you can do because of your flexible schedule (like go to the DMV), not because you’re a girl or at home, but because you’re a decent human being.
  6. If you’re feeling generous, make generous offers (like, don’t worry about dinner, I’ll cook! or, hey, don’t worry about that thing we had made plans for if you’re tired), but recognize that generosity is not a part of daily living (if it is for you, awesome!), and expected generosity becomes demanded taking.
  7. It’s stressful to work, and it’s stressful to be un or underemployed, so both parties are doing heavy lifting.
  8. Don’t feel bad about being pissed off if partner comes home early and disrupts your sense of time. If you showed up at his or her workplace s/he wouldn’t have as much headspace available for you, either.
  9. Sex is harder when one person in a relationship is tired but satisfied, and the other person is wound-up but unsatisfied with their daily output.  Conversation can be harder, too.

And, then there are the things you can’t say out loud:

  1. It’s awesome to work on my own schedule and develop projects that I find REALLY exciting! It’s like I won a writing fellowship from myself, though unfortunately one that won’t make my CV sparkle.
  2. Financial security is astounding! I’ve never had it as an adult, and now I can do things like donate $5 to the Awl trip to Wisconsin and not freak-out about whether or not that $5 should really go to my credit debt first.
  3. I always thought I would be the one to rake in the big bucks.  When we married, the conversation we had was that I was the one who wanted a standard career. We assumed I would be the one to land us health insurance. But it didn’t work out that way, yet.
  4. People would approve more of what I was doing if I had a baby. CV gap explained, maternity wiping my slate clean, parents relieved that I was doing something.
  5. Some people are relieved that I’m not working.  They are relieved to see me on my man’s dime, especially since I am always spouting off about feminist things.
  6. I sometimes don’t know what day of the week it is, and say things like “do people who work have today off?”
  7. Every time I don’t get a job I applied for, I feel like I have all this use that is not being used.
  8. I’m really jealous of my partner, and it’s not because I am bored at home. It’s because he has his dream job, hell, my dream job, and he gets externally validated all day long.  It’s hard to watch somebody else eat the exact meal you’ve been craving.
  9. I am afraid of being relegated to the role of wife. As in, the funny wife who can say smart things and charm when necessary, but nobody ever considers her for a job.
  10. I take an exercise class that is me and a bunch of rich wives at 12:30 in the afternoon. The good part? I have muscles now, and they are serious. The bad part? I got ashamed of my 1998 Corolla, and nobody puts Rolla in a corner.
  11. This is a lucky, if complicated, place to be.
  12. “I need to keep working my crappy job in case I find out you gave me your mistress’ syphilis one day” is not the easiest of sentences.  Safeguarding against divorce is really scary, and I get it, necessary, but again, I am not burning my life away right now by being at home. I’m not stupid, I’m not getting stupider, and the idea of keeping my crap job for fear of divorce feels like the 10 o’clock news telling me how my belt is the most dangerous part of my day. Hopefully all spouses know their shit, and knows their finances in case of a divorce.
  13. I’m not satisfied, but do feel like I have an actual chance (my lottery ticket, arriving from my partner’s lottery win) to make satisfaction (and it ain’t found in the home, the home is just where our stuff is, it’s where I take baths and pee.). My domestic place right now, at-home, might be the best shot I have at actually developing a career with financial potential, with retirement, with anti-soul-killing properties.  It might not work, but I wasn’t going to get it at all with what I was doing before.  And, I’m trying to use the opportunity to its fullest, to live that rare dream: to be like a non-guilty creative person with a full bank account. Pretty much, to live like all the people I have hated and been jealous of and discounted for every year besides this one.