Things about me which please me (and even occasionally make me proud).

The other day I wrote about things I do of which I am ashamed.

This shame is based in my personal, and particular, experience with patriarchy and my understanding of feminism, and it’s real, but it’s dawned on me in the meantime that it might have been useful to note that I don’t exactly live my life soaked in shame or guilt. I have moments. The third and fourth things on the list plague me to a greater or lesser degree fairly regularly, but I don’t walk around in a morass of self-loathing. Mostly, on most days, I’m pretty ok with myself.

But if I think about it, expressing shame or guilt — while honest and I think even important (we can’t deal with something until we admit to ourselves that it’s a problem. Hello, daughter of the 12 Step Programs here!) — is hardly revolutionary. In fact, it’s kind of part-and-parcel of the Judeo-Christian (I cannot believe I just used that term) worldview, and — even more problematically — part-and-parcel of Western social norms and mores for women. We talk about what we’re doing wrong all the time, frankly.

What would be revolutionary, perhaps, would be to talk about what we do right.

This came to me yesterday after wandering around at Eat The Damn Cake, through the posts of ETDC blogger Kate & her guest blogger, Anna. Kate has a regular feature at the end of each post that she calls an “Unroast”; in each one, she expresses love for some part of her body or appearance. Recently this has included “Today I love the way I look in baggy shirts” and “Today I love my ankles. They’re an almost exact combination of my parents’ ankles,” both examples indicating a certain looseness and creativity to the idea which I love.

The attitude behind the Unroast (and, frankly, the attitude behind the blog’s name) leads me to visit Eat The Damn Cake frequently. I have even written in response to Kate’s work in the past, but yesterday, it was guest blogger Anna’s posts that really grabbed me.

Anna was veryvery pregnant as she wrote the posts in question, grappling with the reality of moving as a veryvery pregnant person through the world, and these are the two bits that made we want to go out in search of her to ask her to be my lawful wedded wife. The first is from We are already normal (a very pregnant post), the second from We owe it to little girls (emphasis Anna’s):

Women’s bodies. Want to know what normal is? Look around you. Working women. Mothers. Students. Friends. Teenagers. Grandmothers. We are normal already.

and:

Our attitudes influence more than just ourselves. If we’re going to change our body culture, we have to change our habits. Even those that are socially reinforced, even those that can be pleasant and bonding, as negative body talk so often can be.

And finally, we get to my point (which I swear, I have):

If I’m going to speak publicly about my feelings of shame, I should also choose to take the rather more revolutionary step of tooting my own horn. And thus, hereunder you will find a list of things about me in which I find pleasure, and even, occasionally, pride.

  1. I have genuinely taken on-board the notion that if an article of clothing doesn’t work on my body, the problem is not my body, but the article of clothing. This seems small at first glance, but I think it’s actually kind of big. That moment, that moment when you stand in front of a mirror trying to take some piece of clothing (that you have been assured is gorgeous and all-the-rage) and make it look “right” on your own body and it’s.just.not.working — that moment is a moment of such deep intimacy with ourselves, a moment in which it is perilously easy to further swallow the lie that all bodies must look like one kind of body in order to be worthy, a moment in which it is so easy to get angry with our very flesh — it took me more than 40 years, but I have finally reached the point that when I start to hear those voices, I tell them to shut the fuck up, and I mean it. And I’m proud of myself, because it wasn’t easy.
  2. I regularly contribute to the social dialogue about women’s rights, women’s bodies, and the fact that — given that we make up half the world — these are not “women’s issues” but human issues. In fact, there are days when I act like this is a job. I’m not particularly aggressive in my approach (often leading with versions of “I see why you’re saying that, but…”), but I am dogged. I write, I tweet, I confront, I question. I am part of the process by which society is undoing its assumptions about rape, women’s autonomy, our reproductive rights, and the essential human right of all people to make their own choices and live their lives precisely as who they are.
  3. I am raising my children to be aware, thinking feminists. Our family talks all the time — at the dinner table, in the car, while watching TV — about how the world treats people, what society’s expectations are, and whether or not those expectations are fair or just or even reflective of the reality that we see around us — and the husband and I see the fruits of this labor all the time.For instance #1: The girl recently complained that a very cool construction toy she’d gotten for her 8th birthday had no pictures of girls on the box, and when she found one on the instructions, she noted, with sarcasm positively dripping from her voice, that the model had built a princess crown “because all girls ever do are princess things.” For instance #2: The boy prepared this speechin honor of Martin Luther King last year for school (when he was all of 11), writing: “I have a dream that one day no one in this world will be able to push you down, regardless of any stereotypes. I have a dream that in all 50 states Muslim Boys and Muslim Girls and homosexual boys and homosexual girls and rich boys and rich girls and poor boys and poor girls and all of the boys and girls of America will join together and nothing in the world will be able to stop them.”It matters that our girls and boys grow up to be feminist adults, but it also matters that they be feminist children. We need only look at schoolyard bullies to see the impact that children can have on people’s lives — loving, caring, egalitarian-minded children can help heal the world. And of course as their parents, it matters very deeply to us that the boy and the girl gain the tools they’ll need to shake off the world’s damaging messages. I am proud of the way that I am raising my children.
  4. And finally, in the spirit of the Unroast: I love my hair. It’s long, of a vaguely once-was-blonde-now-is-brown color, streaked with bits of silver here and there and now that I’ve stopped using shampoos with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate has returned to the kind of softness and luster it had for almost all my life. It feels like a crown on my head, particularly when I wear it loose, and I love the way that makes me feel.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles and Feministe.

No great gain without some small loss, Or: On Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna

I can’t speak for other parents, but for me, about 91% of being a parent is either wonderful, or worth the effort (for instance: Watching your 7 year old son scream in pain as his badly broken elbow is examined — not “wonderful” per se).

Much of the remaining 9% pretty much comes down to being whiny: Diapers – eww. Vomit all over the crib mattress and still-sleeping baby – ewwww! Not being in charge of when you get out of bed for years on end – dude, not fair!

But some of it is real loss, and you know: That’s the way it goes. Even wonderful things come at a price, and it’s no good lying about it.

I’m one of the lucky ones: Becoming a parent didn’t narrow, but rather expanded, my circle of friends. It’s probably harder to stay in touch with these friends than it would be were I not a parent, but I had my first child within a year of leaving one country and settling in another — I have no sense for how much my kind of “keeping in touch” results from that move, how much from cultural differences, how much from the sheer time involved in caring for children. So that just feels like The Way Things Are.

So the losses — the genuine knife-in-my-gut losses — come down to two:

  1. Not listening to music very often.
  2. Reading far less for my own pleasure.

I have about 1,000 CDs in my collection. The vast majority are pre-2003 — the birth year of the second child. I don’t know what it was about having a baby (because it started with the first) that turned putting a CD in the (rather fancy and not cheap) stereophonic equipment into a Herculean effort, but there you go: It did. In the past 11 years, I’ve been known to go days or even a week without performing this simple task — and this in a person for whom “What music do you like?” is still the first question that springs to mind upon meeting someone new.

And then you have two kids. And the house is small-ish. And the stereo is in the same room as the single TV. And you don’t have speakers in the home office where you spend your working day. And the kids want to listen to World Playground or High School Musical or Daniel Kirk’s Go! (all of which are, frankly, fine [the first and last actually excellent] but how many times can you listen to the same thing?). And… you know, like that. I finally called the handyman to set up office speakers a couple of weeks ago, and my music listening instantly expanded exponentially. I’m even considering buying something new. (I know!)

The other — frankly even more painful and certainly more difficult to resolve — loss has been that I rarely read for pleasure anymore. I used to read to the boy, and now I read to the girl, and these books are always pleasurable, else I wouldn’t read them (Harry Potter, The White Mountains, Betsy-Tacy-Tib — it’s really hard to go wrong), and I read about 20 books a year for review, all in the field that claimed my heart 25 years ago (the contemporary Middle East, writ large). Most of the latter are fair-to-good, some truly awful, some genuinely marvelous. But it’s work. I often have to sit down and power through whether I want to or not, and that does not = “pleasure reading.”

And you’ll note there is rather a dearth of adult novels in the foregoing.

All of this — all of this — to say: I finished a really, really good book the other night- The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (author of The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven and The Poisonwood Bible, among others). It’s lovely, it’s touching, it sneaks into your head and your heart and says things you didn’t expect, hours later.

But I don’t know how to review fiction, and feel I would be doing damage to brilliance if I were to try anything beyond that one sentence. I’ll let the New York Times do it for me:

Breathtaking…dazzling…The Lacuna can be enjoyed sheerly for the music of its passages on nature, archaeology, food and friendship; or for its portraits of real and invented people; or for its harmonious choir of voices. But the fuller value of Kingsolver’s novel lie in its call to conscience and connections. She has mined [the main character]’s richly imagined history to create a tableau vivant of epochs and people that time has transformed almost past recognition. Yet it’s a tableau vivant whose story line resonates in the present day…. Kingsolver give voice to truths who teller could express them only in silence.

And, interestingly, the story deals (in its latter third) with the last time in American history that the US House of Representatives decided to investigate people for their thoughts and beliefs, the McCarthy era, and thus also served for me as a powerful reminder that as awful as our current wave of Islamophobia is — this country has seen, and fully participated in, worse. We are, almost despite ourselves, growing up.

But that’s not the point. The point is: If you enjoy fiction, if you enjoy beautiful language that exists not for its own sake but to further a story of deep, echoing humanity — read The Lacuna.

It’s a marvel.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.