never married, over forty, a little bitter

Month: August, 2013

control freak

After a year in Los Angeles I realized that two of my main reasons for moving there– finding a relationship due to the bigger dating pool and/or making a career change– were looking unlikely to happen. I then shifted my focus to the things I could control– learning the history of the region, traveling around the state, taking surfing lessons, going to shows, and so on.

I’m employing that same strategy here. I applied to four jobs yesterday that, if I have to return to full-time employment, would be good deals for me, but I can’t control the outcome. Nor can I control any kind of outcome when it comes to dating and my social life. I’m holding up my end of the bargain though by continuing with my classes and making plans to volunteer on an organic farm in the fall. At least my time here won’t be a wash; in fact, I will probably look back at this opportunity for self-enrichment fondly.

My advice for anyone contemplating a location change would be to make sure that at least some of your reasons for moving are things that are within your control.

Another thing I’m trying to do lately is make this blog into a book using a nifty website called Blurb. It has all the features I need, but during the “slurp” it continually crashes. I’m going back and forth with tech support and hoping one day the bug is resolved. In the meantime, I gotta “let go and let God.”


“Ah,” he said, “the speedup.”

His old-school phrase gave form to something we’d been noticing with increasing apprehension—and it extended far beyond journalism. We’d hear from creative professionals in what seemed to be dream jobs who were crumbling under ever-expanding to-do lists; from bus drivers, hospital technicians, construction workers, doctors, and lawyers who shame-facedly whispered that no matter how hard they tried to keep up with the extra hours and extra tasks, they just couldn’t hold it together. (And don’t even ask about family time.)

Webster’s defines speedup [4] as “an employer’s demand for accelerated output without increased pay,” and it used to be a household word. Bosses would speed up the line to fill a big order, to goose profits, or to punish a restive workforce. Workers recognized it, unions (remember those?) watched for and negotiated over it—and, if necessary, walked out over it.

But now we no longer even acknowledge it—not in blue-collar work, not in white-collar or pink-collar work, not in economics texts, and certainly not in the media (except when journalists gripe about the staff-compacted-job-expanded newsroom). Now the word we use is “productivity,” a term insidious in both its usage and creep. The not-so-subtle implication is always: Don’t you want to be a productive member of society? Pundits across the political spectrum revel in the fact that US productivity (a.k.a. economic output per hour worked) consistently leads the world [5]. Yes, year after year, Americans wring even more value [6] out of each minute on the job than we did the year before. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Except what’s good for American business isn’t necessarily good for Americans. We’re not just working smarter, but harder. And harder. And harder, to the point where the driver is no longer American industriousness, but something much more predatory.

Sound familiar: Mind racing at 4 a.m.? Guiltily realizing you’ve been only half-listening to your child for the past hour? Checking work email at a stoplight, at the dinner table, in bed? Dreading once-pleasant diversions, like dinner with friends, as just one more thing on your to-do list?

Guess what: It’s not you. These might seem like personal problems—and certainly, the pharmaceutical industry is happy to perpetuate that notion—but they’re really economic problems. Just counting work that’s on the books (never mind those 11 p.m. emails), Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year [8] than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans. The differential isn’t solely accounted for by longer hours, of course—worldwide, almost everyone except us has, at least on paper, a right to weekends off, paid vacation time [9] (PDF), and paid maternity leave [10]. (The only other countries that don’t mandate paid time off for new moms are Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Samoa, and Swaziland. U-S…A?)


the squeeze

The CPAG says parents face a “growing struggle” to provide a decent standard of living for their families.

“This research paints a stark picture of families being squeezed by rising prices and stagnant wages, yet receiving ever-diminishing support from the government over the course of the last year,” said Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the CPAG.


The cost and the scarcity of day care has helped create what the sociologist Joya Misra calls “the motherhood penalty.” While women without children are closer to pay equity with men, women with children are lagging behind because they find that working doesn’t always make sense after considering the cost of child care. When women earn less than their partners, they are more likely to drop out of the work force, and if they do so for two years or more, they may not be able to get back in at anything approaching their prior job or earnings. The cost of taking care of one’s children outside the home is now so high that many women cannot be assured of both working and making a decent income after taxes and child care costs.

Professor Misra, who teaches sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has analyzed data from thousands of parents from different social classes. One study of middle-class academic parents was based on hundreds of surveys and focus group interviews and 17 one-on-one interviews. Many talked about the shock of day care costs, which can eat up 30 percent of one income in a two-salary couple, Professor Misra says.In 35 states and D.C., even the cost of center-based day care (let alone a nanny) is higher than the cost of a year of a public college. More anecdotally, day care costs for middle-class New Yorkers can easily equal from $25,000 to $30,000 per child. In New York, child care is the single greatest expense among low-income families in the city, surpassing both food and housing.

But as Joan Walsh points out on the twitter, the story screws up by viewing daycare costs as something that one must deduct from the mother’s salary in two-parent households.

Well, it’s not really the story which screws that one up, it’s us, the society, when we view the dilemma as having two solutions which are 1) a stay-at-home-mother or 2) daycare. Because these are the only visible options, the costs of daycare obviously should be compared to the mother’s potential salary.


The increased visibility and acceptance of women who choose not to have children is just one part of a social evolution away from the limited “traditional family” model, and into a world where human beings with a diversity of needs can create family arrangements that work for them. That’s not just good for the child-free; it’s great for feminism – and even better for society and families.


To see some nebulous, grainy, other potential for which there are few mainstream models and say, “I want that,” takes courage and imagination. That vision is behind many of the struggles for social justice in America: a vision of a gender-egalitarian world that has never before existed; a vision of living as one’s true self, including one’s true gender, when you were labeled something else at birth; a vision of equal rights and opportunities regardless of skin color; a vision of public and private spaces accessible to those whose bodies are deemed outside the norm.


Extremes like child abuse aside, the normalization of a child-free lifestyle would simply give us a wider variety of acceptable lifestyles to choose from. There is, of course, always peril in choice, as there is some psychological ease in just going with the assumed flow of things and accepting one’s circumstances as inevitable. Choice means knowing there are doors left unopened and paths not taken; choice always offers the potential for regret, or at least wondering what might have been. But working through that, and owning the choices we make, are how we get to happiness, instead of simple satisfaction or complacency.


The “selfish” narrative about child-free people also sheds light on many of our cultural dysfunctions. There’s little angst over the many men who choose not to have children, and little social condemnation. Consider simply the difference in meaning of “bachelor” versus “spinster”. Women who don’t have children are particularly offensive because part of our cultural understanding of the ideal female hinges on being nurturing, emotional and care-giving. To reject childbearing pushes back on the basic assumption that women have an obligation always to make their lives about someone else.

There are 7 billion people on the planet. It seems unlikely that all of them would be inherently and necessarily more fulfilled, more mature and better-off if they all made the exact same choice – whether that’s to run a business or start an organic garden or practice yoga or do any other particular thing. So, why do we assume that having kids is the universal choice of the unselfish and the personally transformed?

Normalization of being child-free is a gain for all of us, whether we choose to have children or not. It reminds us that kids are people, who deserve to be raised and nurtured by adults who proactively want to have them. And it reminds us that women are people, too – that we exist once on this planet, and we have one life in which to seek happiness and pleasure and goodness. Making choices that center on our own needs and desires isn’t selfish. It’s radical. It’s transformational.

the ticket

Currently I have no one friend I’m checking in with on a regular basis, and no one I’m having particularly deep conversations with, so I’m surprised to find myself feeling less anxious and lonely lately. Perhaps living in a smaller city is helping, or the fact that I’m not currently in a stressful job.

I could be perfectly happy never going back to work again, in fact. Sigh. Perhaps I should start buying lottery tickets.

swimming circles

I wrote long ago about swimming at a popular natural spot here and listening to a middle-aged man converse with his friend about his worries that he’d never be attracted to another woman again– that maybe his sexual life was over. And he was cute! After I moved to L.A., I came back to visit this city and that same swimming spot again and he flirted with me. Too late.

I haven’t seen him since I’ve been back, but today he reappeared! I’m not sure if he remembers me, and he’s definitely aged in the past six years, but who knows what could happen, right?

I indulged myself with an extra-expensive suit at the beginning of summer because it was the one that looked best on me. Most of my flirting has happened at the swimming holes, so it’s been a good investment.

I do think the secret to life at this age is to immerse yourself in learning and the things you love, whether that is a sport, a hobby, a new skill, or whatever. After forty, forget the bars. Forget the dating sites. Forget anything that involves standing around hoping to be noticed. Find your loves and maybe love will find you– and if not, you may be too immersed in your life to care.

At least, that’s my theory today.

will work for free

“When negotiating,” Sheryl Sandberg writes of the male-female corporate income divide in her bestselling book Lean In, “Think personally, act communally.” Write that down, young lady. When navigating the land of the unpaid internship, however, women should remain obedient underlings. Why else would Jessica Bennett, editor at large of Sandberg’s Lean In foundation, post this listing on Tuesday, August 13?

Wanted: Lean In editorial intern, to work with our editor (me) in New York. Part-time, unpaid, must be HIGHLY organized with editorial and social chops and able to commit to a regular schedule through end of year. Design and web skills a plus! HIT ME UP. Start date ASAP.

Such rich material – luckily, Baffler contributing editor Susan Faludi is already on the case, with a dazzling essay in our new issue. “Even when celebrating…examples of female leadership,” Faludi observes in “Facebook Feminism, Like It or Not,” “Lean In’s spotlight rarely roves beyond the uppermost echelon.”

This internship posting is yet another example. Not to point out the obvious, but the kind of work experience and time commitment that the Lean In foundation is looking for – prior editorial, design, and social media skills, combined with the capacity “to commit to a regular schedule through [the] end of the year. . .start date ASAP” – is something that only the rich or the subsidized can provide for free.

Jessica Bennett, the responsible party behind the posting, forgot about community momentarily to instead reply to the inevitable backlash. Why would a billionaire self-help huckstress be all too happy to have women as undercompensated underlings (which is also, as former employee Kate Losse explained to Faludi, the corporate philosophy of Facebook)? “LOTS of nonprofits accept volunteers,” Bennett wrote in another Facebook post. “Let’s all take a deep breath.”

But unpaid internships, like unpaid work of all kinds, are overwhelmingly a gendered issue. Women are 77 percent more likely to take on an unpaid internship, according to a 2010 study conducted by the research and consulting group Intern Bridge, which also found that women from lower-income families are more likely to take internships from nonprofits (the top provider of unpaid internships), while women from higher-income families are more likely to hold paid internships in for-profit industries. The Lean In foundation, a nonprofit, is leaning on and exploiting these potential interns, ignoring the fact that, historically, “women’s work” has rarely been paid. For the ambitious young woman who has diligently read her Sandberg, this listing reads as a slap in the face: community, it turns out, only matters when it’s making Sandberg money. But errand running is better than ironing, right?

the flip side

Navigating through the New York dating scene and perpetually striking out with husband/father material, Davenport makes the life-changing decision to try in vitro by convincing one of her friends to donate his sperm. A circle of nurturing friends and family, all suggesting genre stock characters, surrounds the filmmaker with unwavering goodwill and enthusiasm toward her goal. Conversely, there are those in Davenport’s life who display skepticism toward her maternal ambition, even outright rejection in the case of her father, and because of the film’s superficiality they function more as antagonists. When the final outcome reveals a stable vision of single motherhood, Davenport and her son look down on the naysayers as they sit on the pedestal of “I Told Ya So.”