Hey white friends: We aren’t above the newly “woke.”

by renegademama

Lately I’ve been hearing, “It’s different this time.” “Something is really changing.”

Our Trump-supporting family members are using the word “murder” in reference to George Floyd. Those of us with Trump-supporting family members know what a big deal this is. People we would expect to really come to the rescue of Target are sharing MLK Jr.’s “language of the unheard” quote.

Sure, everybody’s favorite Florida boomer still pops into the thread to bring up the fact that Floyd did coke and wasn’t exactly a model citizen—because model citizenry is apparently the baseline requirement for not being murdered by police—but now, Florida boomer just seems pathetic. The desperate gasps of a dying racist.

Makes me think of Bob Dylan singing, “Get out of the new road if you can’t lend a hand.”

In other words, we are moving on with or without your NASCAR-weeping ass.

Statues are toppled. Kids are done asking cities for permission they’ll never get. Kaepernick was told, “There are other ways to protest.” 2020 agrees.

Eight minutes, 46 seconds. Handcuffed, face-down. Two officers kneeling on his legs. One man casually kneeling on his neck—one hand in his pocket, serenity washed across his vaguely smiling eyes. The face of evil? Nah, the face of white supremacy. Also evil, but not uniquely so.

White people, tell me, do we not recognize that smirk? Just a little? In our uncles? In ourselves? Deep down in our blood, the smirk that rests in the knowing that most likely the state is on our side.

Our ancestors took their children to watch lynchings of Black Americans. They dressed in their Sunday best and drank Southern cocktails while young Black men hung from trees behind them. They took photos and sent them to family members who had moved out west. You know, to remind them of how things were back home. Model citizenry, etc.

They grinned. They smirked. Their eyes casually rested in the knowing that the state is on their side.

It lives in our blood though we hate to admit it. We hate to see it.

Uprisings in every city of America and 200 countries worldwide. NASCAR bans confederate flags. Ben & Jerry’s somehow pens a manifesto. Mitt Romney marches with Black Lives Matter. We tilt our heads to one side and try to process.

The whole world in a tidal wave: You will join us or we’ll roll on without you. Make a choice.
Here we are, witnessing the moment many of our white family, friends, and acquaintances are scooting off the fence. Family and friends wondering if there’s “maybe something to this Black Lives Matter thing.” Lord.

And we, we are the ones at the crossroads. We are the people they will encounter first. We are the ones on the other side of the fence, and our job is to get uncomfortable and get inconvenienced. Our job is to remember that white supremacy is woven through the fabric of our brains and bodies and lives. The water we swim in and never have to see. The smirk that knows.

In other words, we are the ones who need to deal with their bullshit. Who else could it be?

And yet, in my travels around the internet, I hear a lot of attacking of people quite clearly grappling with the extrication of what they’ve always known to be true. Sure, it’s fucked up. It’s also real. Is the goal to help move out of racism or is it for us to be the wokest in the room?

And friends, I see it in myself: Some idea that I’m better than, elevated. Hey, Janelle, shall we remind you of how you wanted to know why there was no “white club” in your high school? That happened, that was real. You really meant that.

YOU LEARNED SHIT IN GRAD SCHOOL, ya fuckin revolutionary.

We talk about how we want to be “allies,” we want to help, we want to do something, but the second our third-cousin twice-removed starts mentioning mixed feelings about the statues being toppled but shows genuine concern and openness, we attack the motherfucker for failing to embody the lexicon we learned in our Race & Gender class at UC Berkeley back in 2007.

Do we need to talk for a moment about the bullshit Black people endure every day not only overt racists and middle-of-the-road racists but also Super Woke White Women who figure it’d be best if they just kinda, you know, took over the local Black Lives Matter chapter?

They read Ta-Nehisi Coates, okay? They know things. And yet we somehow can’t work with the clunky, awkward friend who discovered she’s white a week ago?

I’m not talking about Florida boomer. Fuck that guy. Wrap him in his confederate flag and bury him. But there is racism and a refusal to listen, and there is a moving away from racism and a former refusal to listen.

If anyone is required to make this distinction, it’s us.

Times are either changing or not. We are undergoing a mass expansion of white minds or we are not. We see ourselves as the problem or we don’t.

How can we see the face of George Floyd against pavement, claim to be allies, yet lack the stamina and patience to understand that the road to a new way of thinking is awkward, clunky, and downright “offensive.”

ARE.WE.SO.DELICATE.

Before I taught my first university class on my own—which was an English class I divided into four sections (race, gender, class, and power), featuring the writing of Baldwin, X, hooks, and others—my advising professor told me this: “Your students are going to say inappropriate things. They are grappling with hard ideas and they do not yet have the vocabulary for it. Don’t attack them. Ask them questions. Keep asking questions until they are forced to trace their idea back to its beginning.”

These are not students who said overtly racist things. Slurs, etc. That’s different.

What I’m saying is that the road out will be messy, complicated, and nuanced, and it is our job to open doors, get out of ourselves, help others the way we were helped. I don’t think it’s our right or place to adopt the justified anger that may exist in people of color who are absolutely done dealing with white nonsense, and extend it into our own interactions as if we are the same.

We are the people who need to humble ourselves and remember the person who woke us up.

Because somebody somewhere woke you up. If it was your parents, somebody woke them up. If it was your grandparents or great-grandparents, well, somebody handed those badasses a pamphlet. Nice work. But still, at some point, we had to be pulled, possibly dragged, from our soothing pool of white.

We are the people whose ancestors took their kids to lynchings. We are the descendants of slaveowners. We are the ones who told Martin Luther King, Jr. that though we agree with his cause, we just wish he’d wait.

We are the ones who could wait.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT GUILT. This is about seeing ourselves as a member of a vast history, a larger whole, a single voice responsible for lifting our brothers, sisters, friends, family, and acquaintances, out of the web of a brutal lineage. We need to get into the new road and lend a fucking hand. It won’t be clean and it won’t be easy.

In 1962, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his nephew just before the Civil Rights Act, on his nephew’s 15th birthday.

In it, he wrote the following:

“In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.”

Heaven and earth shaken to their foundations. A world recognizing the smirk of a white man during a lynching, some of us within ourselves. It is a terrible witness, a piercing truth, but it is ours, and we can welcome the shivering sun.

 

Love to you from the parking lot

by renegademama

I’m writing today for one reason alone: To recount for you exactly how fucked up my days are, how poorly I’m functioning, in case you suspect everyone is doing better at this than you are.

I find myself secretly believing that all the other humans are quarantining better than I am, as if they all have some Secret Pandemic Insider info that was handed out—you know, at some point—and I, unfortunately, was absent. This is why they are coping like adults while I watch 15-year-olds do the same dance on Tiktok for three hours straight while telling myself I’m a loser.

I know it’s a sort of ego trip to think I am more fucked up, more disturbed, more deeply affected or deficient than others. To think, in other words, that I’m special. I know this, but knowing things is so damn useless sometimes.

And intellectually I know I am not wholly alone in my strange numb space. I’ve read a hundred accounts of people saying they feel brain dead, unable to focus, hyper-angry over nothing, in a time warp, etc.– and yet my self-repulsion is intact.

I feel like I “should” be doing better.

Who defined how we “should” be behaving?

MY BRAIN, obviously. Reliable guide that it is.

My friend Jack used to say, “We’re all in various stages of ‘my case is different.’”

As in, as you grow up, you realize you’re just like every other goddamn person on the planet. You aren’t better or worse. Being one among many is annoying as hell until you break through the immediate shock of realizing you’re quite standard. Then it’s the freest place possible.

I’m just another asshole on the planet. I’ve nothing to prove. I’m as well or poorly equipped as every other person handling or not handling life.

But sometimes, goddamn, I just feel like I’m the only one “here.”

 

Here’s my typical day: Wake up at 4am for no apparent reason. Look at my phone. Feel bad about that. Read until 5am or 6am. Listen to an audiobook until I fall asleep and sleep until 8am, or just get up at 6am and feel like shit all day. Have coffee. Have more coffee. Say good morning to George, the only kid who gets up before 9am now. Tell myself we should get Arlo into bed earlier (he’s probably sleeping until 9 because he’s up too late). Sit on the couch and/or get in my bed and listen to a book while playing stupid games on my phone. Until 11am or 1pm or 3pm.

I get up occasionally to eat or help my kids. Shower. Sometimes I tell myself, out loud, “GET UP JANELLE,” and I shake my head and ask the dog what’s wrong with me and feel like shit.

I’ll tell myself to write. DO SOMETHING! I’ll go downstairs to grab my laptop. Then I’ll come back upstairs to my room, to work, set my computer down and pick up my phone again.

At some point I try to invent one thing to do: Clean my room. Do the laundry. Vacuum downstairs. Respond to work emails. And I usually do that thing. Sort of. And then I’m so exhausted I feel I can’t do more.

What the hell.

Once a day I tell the kids we’re getting off screens and we do chores and they play or I send them outside. Sometimes this is three or four hours. Sometimes it’s one hour. Sometimes I enforce this “healthier alternative,” sometimes I hear them back on their screens and don’t care.

Every now and then I have a burst of energy for half a day where I feel almost clear-headed and okay again, and I’ll do work or write or catch up on adult shit like bills or whatever. But mostly I walk around in a state of uselessness, malaise, and soul-tired weirdness that I’ve never known before. I can’t follow a train of thought. I literally stare at walls sometimes. I particularly hate the wall-staring. Complete blank space in my brain.

WHAT IS THAT?

Mac and I were joking that they should start a new game called “Is it depression or regular quarantine life?”

My mental health has been a bit, in peril, for a few months now, and it worsened when this all started. Because my feelings of depression have been getting worse since October, and I’ve entered a state of apathy that was a bit terrifying, I called a doctor to discuss.

She said “Well, we can give you medication, but it’s hard to tell if it’s circumstantial or chemical. Everyone is so messed up right now.” I’m paraphrasing.

For now, I’m waiting it out, but it’s nice to know she’s there. And how shocking is it that we are living a reality that causes a mental state akin to those that require medication?

I just feel so cut off: from you, my brain, my loved ones, my whole life.

 

On Saturday, April 25, Mac’s cousin Chris was killed in a car accident. He was 30 years old with a fiancée and toddler son, and we love him and his family very much. They are in Kentucky and Mac was going to try to get there to be with them, but we were told that immigration “couldn’t promise” that there wouldn’t be a problem with him returning. So he stayed, and on Wednesday, we “attended” the funeral via Facebook live video.

Within two minutes of the video starting, Mac and I were choked with tears after reading a comment, “Love to you from the parking lot.”

Love to you from the parking lot.

And the comments streamed in. “We’re right here!” “Sending you prayers from our car!” “Love you, brother, from just outside.”

Ten people allowed inside, just immediate family members, and Chris’s friends sitting in the parking lot, circling them.

“They showed up anyway,” Mac said, looking at me.

We showed up anyway too.

Ava’s school sent the email letting us know about Ava’s “virtual graduation ceremony.” About the caps and gowns we can pick up. About the senior trip to Disneyland they officially canceled. Reading about the sad replacement, the pathetic “streaming event” to “honor my child,” it felt ridiculous and enraging. Fuck your online bandaid.

My rage masked a heart breaking for my child. It all turned to outright crying. Sobs. I’m not much of a crier. Especially like that. But it all shattered for her, her disappointment, what she’s losing—the final ritual culminating twelve years. My little girl.

And I can’t do shit about it.

Love to you from the parking lot. 

 

We’re all sitting in the parking lot right now, aren’t we? Waiting outside the circle where life seems to be, held up in strange, liminal gestures that feel half-human.

I don’t want to be in the parking lot. I want to be hugging Chris’s parents and I want to feel the sun on my face at Ava’s graduation and see her between her grandparents’ beaming heartbroken pride and I don’t want to wait for a future that may also be a strange replacement.

And yet we show up anyway, don’t we? We sit in the parking lot. We send the love we’ve got. We scramble up walls we never asked for, grieve, and wait.

I suppose someday I’ll accept this isn’t a proxy life. This is real life. And we’re all here.

Maybe I’ll let go, hang out with you wherever we are, one among many again, where things feel warmer and a lot safer and I can see your eyes.

Until then, love you, brother, from just outside.

***

This is a painting by Wendy Kwasny. It’s a rendering of a photo of my son Arlo. You can find more of Wendy’s work at www.wendykwasny.com or on Instagram.

****

Bored? Join us for my memoir workshop: FROM MEMORY TO MEMOIR.

This workshop usually sells out with a waitlist in 48 hours, but we start next week and there are four spots left.

I’m also offering a $50 quarantine discount.

Just sign up and I’ll send back $50. Or email me and I’ll send an invoice with the discount.

 

“I live a hope despite my knowing better.” What else can we do?

by renegademama

I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who says something helpful in times like this. I say to myself “Janelle! You have created this channel to the world, now do something with it. Say something profound or insightful or at least funny.”

I want to be the person who rises up, scans the world, and speaks to the soul. Instead, I’m more the person who starts eating a lot of gruyere and watching YouTube videos of groundhogs eating carrots.

Like Dan Rather. Fucking Dan Rather always knows what to say. You read Dan and you think, now this guy, this guy knows how to stay chill in the apocalypse. 

All I did was start a free blog in 2011 while I was supposed to be working, and then I wrote what I wanted to read about motherhood but couldn’t find (to paraphrase Toni Morrison), and I never expected anybody other than my mom to read it. And she always has.

So, I’ve never been prepared to be the voice of anything, though clearly I have no trouble using mine. I’ve written things I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole now. I’ve regretted my flippancy. I suppose I’ve “grown,” but I’ve never known what to say when the world feels so raw, so burning, so without a place to land. When kindergarteners are shot at circle time. When a young black American holds a cardboard sign that reads “I can’t breathe” for the fourth or hundredth year in a row. When California burns.

When we’re all thrown into the cosmos, untethered, clinging to hope in the future; and in the meantime, to people singing to each other on balconies while their elders die in overcrowded hospitals.

You see, I hate the fucking platitudes. I just can’t do it. I can’t tell you to be strong or take care of yourself or go outside each day (I literally did that the other day on Instagram), because the fact of the matter is I’m not doing anything that’s elevated or enlightened or demonstrating some greater self.

Any talk from me about how to endure this with grace or deep knowing is just sort of funny. I suggested that people really TRY to go outside because we went to a park and I felt like a fucking warrior for putting that together (with Mac).

But it did help. And I made myself go because so many people had insisted that it helps, so I try to write if I have anything to offer.

But in general, I’m more the one looking at “helpful suggestions” and thinking “oh fuck off and let me play Two Dots” than I am the one picking myself up and Doing Better.

Although I always, eventually, pick myself up and do something, which is better I guess than doing nothing.

You’re welcome. I’m available for life coaching if anybody is interested.

Lately my mantra has been “Just don’t make anything worse.” Because sometimes I start fights with strangers in Wisconsin or lash out at people or use my tongue to slash people because I feel like shit and I’m tired and my head hurts and they crossed my path at the wrong time.

Luckily, I’ve learned how to own that shit and apologize, but I get sick of the apologizing, too.

The truth is I’ve spent most of my time staring at walls or my phone, playing games on it (the phone, not the walls) and listening to audiobooks. I’ve been preferring old, sweeping novels like Middlemarch and The Brothers Karamazov, and nonfiction that really fucks me up, like Noam Chomsky’s collected speeches or Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism.

The novels are entertainment. The nonfiction a desire to understand. Both are escape.

In my house, I’ve told myself that the ONLY thing I absolutely must do each day is keep my dishes washed. Everything else is extra. And when I wake up, I say to myself “I’m going to do the dishes,” and then I can’t seem to get off the couch or dressed or out of bed, but I tell myself “just do the dishes.” And I do. And then, once I’m up, I seem to do other shit.

I turn the television off for a few hours a day. I turn the music up loud. I send the kids outside no matter what to ride their bikes. When I run out of underwear, I do laundry. I invite the kids to cook with me. But the dishes are my only real goal now.

Ava was supposed to come next week for her Spring Break. I’ve been looking forward to it since Christmas. It is a strange, strange feeling to be separated from my daughter in a legal way. As in, the EU won’t let me. It is a strange feeling to wonder if she’d be safer here.

She’s a senior. Her prom, senior trip, and graduation ceremony may be cancelled. She is angry, heartbroken, unsure, and without her Mom, her Dad, her brothers and sister.

The other day she and I got in a big fight, and when it was done and she was chatting about her day, and the kids were yelling “goodnight, Ava!” over my shoulder, I just dropped my head and cried in a way I haven’t in a long, long time. She couldn’t see or hear me. She didn’t notice it in my voice. Mac watched me from across the kitchen table.

Here I am, away from my baby and my parents. Here I am. Why.

I wasn’t doing so hot before any of this happened. I was barely functioning after having done that slow march into apathy and gray isolation—five hours a day in bed, ten hours a day on a screen. I’m ashamed, sort of, but it is what it is.

After our neighbor and a friend independently told Mac they thought I was depressed (and I thought I was hiding it so well!), and I started wondering if maybe I should start drinking again because I’m in a new country and fuck it and the relief might be worth the destruction it would bring, I started making some changes that were helping a lot.

I got into a physical therapist for my pain. I signed up for a little Dutch class. I got a therapeutic lightbox (thanks, renegade mothering Facebook page). And I found a therapist.

She asked me what I wanted out of our work together. I said I wanted to be nudged into new perspectives just enough to survive this. I don’t want the pain gone. I don’t want to be “fixed.” This isn’t a fucking self-empowerment seminar at a Los Angeles Marriott (why am I like this).

I know these things pass. I know we get through them.

I just want slivers of light in my brain to keep me going, to keep me from blowing up my life.

I want to not make this worse. I want to maybe help somebody. I want to not miss time with my family. I want to not scream at them. I want to face the shit inside myself instead of run from it. I want to write to my friends on that blog I created.

 

“Janelle,” she told me. “Look what you’ve gotten through. There’s strength and resilience in you. You just can’t find it right now.”

And she said that when we’re all numb and down in the black and terrified, we lose access to our own inner strength. We just can’t find it. We look into ourselves and seem to find nothing but confusion, fear, that insidious flat-lined gray.

So we look outside ourselves: To screens, to booze, to fights with loved ones or strangers in Wisconsin. We look to control things. We look to understand things. We look to politics and the tribes they create. We look to Russian literature or the news. We look, really, to anything.

And none of it works.

She reminded me we already have what we need. She reminded me we always have. She reminded me that it’s not that I don’t have strength, it’s that I’m looking for it in the wrong places.

It’s good news, I think, to know that the grit and love are within us, and we just forget sometimes. We forget about the resiliency we’ve demonstrated the entirety of our lives or even the nine years we’ve been together here on this silly website, living through those babies dying in kindergarten and the crumbling of our nation and all the times we thought for sure this time there is no way out.

Yet we’ve always gotten out, or through, haven’t we? Until it passes.

“I live a hope despite my knowing better,” said James Baldwin.

I’ll meet you there.

 

Arlo living his hope by setting up a busking gig down the road.

***

Need a distraction?

I’m teaching two online writing workshops in April and

offering a $50 quarantine discount. 

30 Comments | Posted in 2020 deserves a category of its own | March 27, 2020

I’m finally “enjoying every moment,” even the time when I wasn’t.

by renegademama

I became a mother eighteen years ago and it seems like every day since then, somebody has told me to “enjoy every moment.” I’ve moved from vague pity to nonchalant disinterestedness all the way to outright disdain in response to the advice.

Early on, I thought it was just kinda sad that the women looking at me with a knowing smile were just so, you know, old. Seasoned mothers whose kids had grown, looking at me, twenty-two-years old, all fresh and shit, and there they were with their Old People Regrets.

It’s funny how in your twenties, the suggestions of “old people” are distant whispers from strange humans you’ll never become. It’s strange how we don’t yield to them, recalling how, if all goes well, we’ll be them one day, and maybe they’ve learned something.

Or maybe other people do that. Maybe other people hear these words and think “I shall listen to you because you probably know shit.” I don’t.

But my special talent is somehow always believing myself the exception to the rule. Sure, you look back and wish you’d “enjoyed every moment” because “it goes so fast.” But I won’t. Fuck off.

Why? No clue. How exactly would I be different? No clue. Please don’t bring reason into this.

But something happened to me the day the baby born on November 21, 2001, left our home to finish high school in America, and I found myself surrounded with three of my four kids, feeling always just a little off. She may come here for college. She may stay in California. The letting go snuck up on me, the massive distance. It sounds ridiculous to say.

Something changed in me the morning I saw in her brow a nervousness and sorrow that looked a little like being let down. The day I saw her steel herself and keep on going to the airport—her purse, a bag that used to be mine, crossing her body over her jean jacket, beneath two braids she’d made that morning while singing along in the bathroom to Johnny Cash, and I listened from the next room, my head in my hands, crying, enjoying every moment of her voice.

It all dissolved that morning, what my family had been for so long, and at my own hand, or the passing of time, if there’s a difference.

It was all suddenly different and I saw it. Rocket, fourteen-years-old, standing taller than me. One teenager gone, one taller than me. My nine-year-old, the way she worries what the kids at school think. The way she still has little projects: notes to her friends, drawings, shortbread cookies made all by herself.

Ava used to do that.

 

And I looked at my little one, Arlo, five-years-old. The tail end. The last whisper of little guy. The imaginative play. The curling against your body almost like they’re three. The way they fit in your arms just barely.

There’s a chance I’m a little weird around him now.

I ask him to sing me his school songs and notice the lisp he’ll lose someday. I watch him play with airplanes and knights and dragons and call Mac over to watch him in his little world. Look at him.  

“I know,” Mac says, sighing. He whacks my arm. I tell him I hate him. We both look like we’re about to cry. I think this is how mature adults handle emotion.

I could listen to Arlo’s stories for hours. It’s not hard. Keep speaking. Keep going. Tell me more of your plans.

When I’m cooking and he wants to stir, even when I’m tired and fed up and just want it to be over, I tell him to grab a stool and show him how to hold the spoon and remind him that the pot is hot and I kiss his head when he looks at me and I don’t really ever say, “No, not tonight.”

When he hears me in the bath and asks to join, just when I begin to relax, I remember the way I used keep the door locked and wonder how they always found me. I still wonder that, but it makes me smile. I keep the door cracked. “Yes,” I say. “Just give me ten minutes in here alone.” I say it because I really want him to come in with me. I don’t mind at all.

I want to watch him play Batman under the water. I want to feel his little hug against me. And when he’s there, I’ll remember how I labored with him in the bathtub, how I brought him with me in the bath as a newborn, an infant, a toddler, and how he used to nurse partially submerged, and I’d lay a warm washcloth over the part of his body exposed to the air.

I cuddle with him on the couch and put my phone away. He sleeps in our bed just about every night and I stick my face an inch from his and watch his little hands do nothing under his chin. He falls asleep on my arm and I smell his head, his neck, stare at his bare feet curled behind him.

I tell Mac to look. Look at our baby.

 

So here I am, world, finally, doing what you told me. I’m enjoying every minute! I’m all in, assholes. SOAKING THIS SHIT UP. It’s not that I’m uniformly joyful, never annoyed, never yelling. And I don’t think that’s what they meant when they told us “it goes so fast.” I think they meant, be aware always how quickly this will end. 

That’s where I am now, and thank god it wasn’t always this way. Thank god I didn’t live all these years in this condition—every minute some butterfly just touching down, some joy about to fly away.

I wouldn’t have wanted to live all those years in the full knowledge of what they would mean to me when they were gone, because there was a freedom there, an energy—we were both young.

I don’t think you can be told when your first baby is six-months-old—when you’ll never sleep again and your life has become a pattern of monotony you quite possibly hate and you’re talking too long to the checkout guy and wondering when the baby will crawl—you can’t be told “enjoy every moment; it goes so fast,” because that understanding comes when the non-crawling baby waves at you from a passenger seat on her way into her own life. It comes from the pain of the other side.

It comes when you’re snapped into the finality of it, because there really is a day, you know, when they leave. An actual day. It is very concrete. They are around every day, and then they are not.

 

I couldn’t have lived with this kind of pull on my heart. I couldn’t have taken it all this seriously. I couldn’t have endured the work of those early years if I had to stop every fifteen minutes to enjoy my five-year-old’s nose. The way his curls fall over his eye. The blocks he left in my bed.

Who can live like that? In some state of awe at the little dude jumping off a branch, watching him ride a bike like it’s a fucking symphony. Who can hold this much devotion to something so fleeting, an ache burning always somewhere, a silent grip on what isn’t yours, an hourglass on the counter mocking your old sense of permanence.

I didn’t ask for this shit. I didn’t learn it or guilt or self-talk my way into it. It came one morning when I wasn’t ready, when my first baby sucked the air out of the room and flooded her siblings in light.

I’ve never been very good at learning things without pain. Never been good at listening to others and anticipating and being smart about it. But maybe we learn what we need to learn as life presents itself. Maybe we see more when life becomes more, or less. Maybe that’s how it should be.

I won’t tell a new mother to enjoy every moment. I’ll watch her not enjoying them and remember when I had the luxury.

I’ll let him sleep on me as long as he wants, and love it all. When I knew what it was, and when I didn’t.

 

18 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | February 19, 2020

Invisible labor and the “small space” that’s ours.

by renegademama

Alright, I’ll admit it. I am having a rough time. Here’s what’s up: When I left California, I left the support network I’d built over 18 years to help me raise four kids and work as a writer. And now I’m without that network, starting over, and the domestic load is fucking killing me.

I used to have close friends within walking distance, my mom, and Mac’s mom. I used to have an office out of my house. I used to know how everything worked in my world, so I could get it done fast or easily send somebody else to do it. Now, I’m feeling quite alone with all this.

The details of my situation here are irrelevant. I could go through my day and the particulars of our marriage and house and schedules but it doesn’t matter. It’s not a fucking competition, and the more details we share, the more we’re held up for uninformed scrutiny from the masses. As soon as you say “This is hard,” half the world looks down on your sorry self and instructs how you could manage better, how they’ve learned what you haven’t, how if you’d just try harder you wouldn’t be having such a hard time. There’s so much you want to explain, so much nobody sees.

And I’m sure from the outside a person looks at me and thinks, “You live in the Netherlands surrounded by cobblestone and affordable healthcare. Shut the hell up, ya ungrateful shitbag.”

And that is true. Occasionally even the shitbag part.

But some things don’t change no matter where you live. In fact, for me, in this particular arena, life is quite a bit harder here.

The most difficult part of talking about the unequal division of domestic labor is that there’s no way to do it without making your husband sound like an asshole. There’s no way to talk about the bulk of the invisible labor on your shoulders without implicating the person you’ve partnered with, are happy with, and love, a lot.

So, we keep silent. But this isn’t about an individual man and it isn’t about my particular marriage or the idiosyncrasies therein. It is an oversimplification to say, “Your husband should do more.” It is a minimization to say, “Some men are better than yours.” This mentality is not understanding how deep this problem lives within him and within me.

We are products of the world that raised us.

For example, when I said “I do” at age 22, I didn’t come up with the idea that I would assume responsibility for damn near everything from start to finish. I didn’t go into marriage telling myself “You know what? THIS IS ALL MY JOB AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE.” I just knew it was. I didn’t even question it until I’d been married a decade and saw that my career, a career I cared about all the way to my bones, would be eradicated and impossible unless we, as a couple, changed.

If it involves the kids, finances, health, school, the house, overall social and familial relations, I tend to assume I own it. As in, it is mine. Sure, I can delegate it, but I will then manage the delegation. I will make sure it gets done. I will follow up, because it’s still mine, it’s just parsed out to somebody else temporarily. Ultimately, I feel it is on my shoulders to complete. And in fact, it is.

Who the fuck decided that?

In other words, the invisible labor of thinking, remembering, asking, tracking – the mental space required for all that – is still consumed in my brain. All the space in there feels taken up, largely by shit I never asked for and probably don’t care about.

It isn’t that I particularly enjoy or am uniquely interested in household organization and cleaning out drawers and getting new lightbulbs and making dentist appointments and planning playdates, it’s just that somewhere along the line, this became “women’s work” in addition to our regular work and I, for one, pretty much just do it. Or did it, unquestioningly. Some women find this stuff interesting, and that’s wonderful. I do not.

Here in this new country, I’ve started at zero again, and my whole brain is taken up.

Do you know what writing takes? WIDE OPEN FUCKING MENTAL FUCKING SPACE.

 

Motherhood is always more immediate. It’s always right here right now. And Mac’s work is outside the house. He has people who he’s building things for. Of course he needs to leave and do that work. But it feels sometimes a touch unreasonable that I, too, have work, hard work of a different kind, plus the burden of damn near all household management.

This arrangement feels a bit shitty for women and a bit awesome for men.

I was thinking recently about something I did a few years ago that felt like a radical act. I was trying to write my book and it wasn’t happening. I quickly realized “write book” was simply added to my to-do list, as if I could just carry on doing all the things I did before plus write an 80k word manuscript that didn’t suck.

After a small breakdown one Easter, I began leaving on occasional weekends to write for 18 hours. I knew something had to give. I just said FUCK IT and left my life, the mess, the kids, all of it. I booked myself into a motel room and worked. I got my whole book done that way. During the week, I’d barely write.

Now, my whole life looks like those barren weeks, and I don’t have the money to run off and write. I am erased again, it seems. How quickly we get eaten up if we aren’t paying attention.

Anyway, around that time, when I was fed up, I began asking every one of my kids’ teachers to add my husband’s email to their lists and always email both of us. This was a tiny, obvious step in making sure he had access to the same information I did. Despite my requests, many of the teachers still didn’t email him when problems arose.

So, I simply replied with a copy to Mac and a message that said: “My husband is handling this.” Sometimes I just emailed back “Please tell my husband.” Or I would forward it to Mac with the words: “Yours.”

It’s interesting that our default is to email only the mother. It’s interesting that even when I asked, people forgot to include him. It’s interesting that I didn’t fight this default setting for a full seventeen years of motherhood. It is all very fucking interesting.

 

Do you ever wonder how many things are simply assumed to be the woman’s job? Do you ever wonder how much more we could do if our brains weren’t consumed by so much monotonous drivel of daily life? By activities so opposite creativity and possibly individuality? By things that take and take and take and take and do you ever wonder why Sylvia Plath put her head in that oven?

Yes, depression. But could it also have been that she couldn’t bear a life of erasure? That her art, her writing, her purpose, was impossible in the context of her life and she couldn’t go on? A room of one’s own, indeed.

I don’t have answers. The truth is I move from resignation to gratitude to rage and back again. I look for words in stolen moments. I give up again. I ask somebody and nobody, “When the fuck did all of this become my job?”

I read the women who’ve gone before me, like Toni Morrison:

“I have an ideal writing routine that I’ve never experienced, which is to have, say, nine uninterrupted days when I wouldn’t have to leave the house or take phone calls. And to have the space—a space where I have huge tables. I end up with this much space [she indicates a small square spot on her desk] everywhere I am, and I can’t beat my way out of it. I am reminded of that tiny desk that Emily Dickinson wrote on and I chuckle when I think, Sweet thing, there she was. But that is all any of us have: just this small space…”

Sweet thing, there she was.

There we were.

How do you look at something and see your whole beloved life and the threat of erasure at the same time?

 

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Speaking of carving out spaces for ourselves, there are five spots left in my Memoir writing workshop in April. We need your story.

Oh, and here’s my book. If you’ve read it, would you consider reviewing it on Goodreads or Amazon? And if you haven’t, maybe consider doing so if you like my work. I’m still over here talking about it because this book’s sales help me get the opportunity to write another.

I HATE MARKETING SO MUCH BUT I SURE LOVE YOU.