thebitterbabe

never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: meaning

bored games

http://theroadlesstravelledlb.blogspot.ca/2008/03/do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-200.html

The thing is — the structure of our lives may not have changed very much. But the point is, we wanted it to change. We were ready for it to change. We had established our careers, bought a house in suburbia & gotten a start on paying down the mortgage. We did the “DINKs in the city” thing. We were ready to embrace 2 a.m. feedings & sippy cups. We were ready to turn the spotlight over to a new generation, to have the world revolve around someone else besides ourselves for a change.

And yet here we are, stuck back in the land of the eternally childless/free, while everyone around us is moving on, skipping happily off down the yellow brick road of family life, picking up one child after another along the way, sharing new kinds of experiences with other parents — and not giving those of us left behind much thought. (I keep thinking of Monopoly: “Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.” Sitting in “jail” & waiting out a turn, while everyone else advances around the board & gets richer.)

dwelling places

http://politicsofthehap.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/even-when-i-know-youre-not-coming-im-still-waiting/

Waiting then serves another related purpose, to hide us from the fact we cannot win. For waiting is hopeful and can be the better option when the avenues to express one’s desires are unsatisfactory, limiting and repetitive, when it feels like you’re going in circles (Lewis, 1961). But this then begs the question: What is the grieving person waiting for? In the double-bind of the love affair, the waiting is the hope for a change in circumstances (he/she will treat me better, I will be happy again etc), it is a naïve belief that ‘everything will work out’. It is a better road to follow than one that says: ‘he won’t love me like that’. But of course in grief, he/she cannot ever love you like that ever again. The waiting then is the ‘invisible blanket’ that keeps us situated in the numb sense ‘like being mildly drunk or concussed’ (Lewis, 1961, p5), of not quite being part of the world.

To detach from what is not working, to stop waiting is perhaps then to come face to face with no recovery. But no recovery offers no narratives or objects to follow. It is to lose the anchors one had in the world, to lose one’s dwelling place. This why it is threatening and awkward to detach from what is not working (Berlant, 2011). This is why it so feels like fear (Lewis, 1961). To believe we do not lose others – though a ‘house of cards’- provides a future for the friendship. When grief reveals to us the pointlessness of it all, indeed it is easy to think ‘what does it matter?’ and allow laziness to prevail (Lewis, 1961 p.7). So in vacating the life we once knew (or it vacates us?) creates fear and anxiety. I would propose anxiety is a negative affect that emerges at the emptying out of the imagination. When everything becomes equivocal, anxiety floods to fill the space, that terrifying space of non-signifiers, of the meaningless, the death of the imagination. Anxiety is restless, ‘I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much’, it tries different paths but they don’t stick. Anxious habits become a way of clinging on to give a structure in the horrifying swirl of what is not in the desperate attempt to stop the self-unraveling. And throughout, the anxious mind is plagued thinking: What’s next? What are we becoming?

surveillance

http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2013/04/happiness_is_a_feminist_issue

To create a convincing shopgirl identity, then, involved detaching my feminist self and replacing it with a smiley face. I was nudged into these norms of being, sometimes explicitly: “You need to smile more”. At other times I picked up cues from my environment that told me acting a certain way would produce bigger sales, which in turn would lead to financial rewards and positive encouragement from my peers. Actively managing one’s emotions and surveilling one’s self for bad feelings became a daily practice necessary to work productively and efficiently. What results is not a self devoid of emotion but a self full of emotions deemed appropriate, in this case “happy” emotions. However, these emotions were often quite distinct from how I actually felt on a day-to-day basis.

[…]

Happiness is increasingly a project of self-management, and not only for the shopgirl. The government’s interest in measuring our well-being and the growth of organisations such as Action for Happiness have reinforced the belief that happiness is an attainable object that we all deserve to pursue in the name of autonomy and self-empowerment. But whose happiness are we working towards? And is happiness even something we should desire? Happiness is often attached to particular objects, like getting married, having children, a steady job and a mortgage. An unmarried, childless, irregularly employed woman may not sit so comfortably in this vision of happiness. The legacy of the female hysteric and the persistence of depression diagnoses in women suggests that happiness is not always an easy object for women to attain. Just as the shopgirl is trained into conducting herself appropriately, to silence our unhappiness is to become complicit in validating a way of life that might be contrary to our ideals as feminists.

So what would a happy feminist future look like? I suggest it should involve the exploration of a form of happiness that did not work towards certain objects, that did not silence itself, that did not seek to avoid or overcome unhappy feelings. It might mean being a troublemaker, ruffling feathers and brushing people the wrong way. It might mean seeing depression not necessarily as pathological but in some cases as a form of resistance to conventional norms. It might mean encouraging the shopgirl to stop silencing her bad feelings and salvage her unhappiness as a political statement. It means claiming happiness as a feminist issue.

the alarm

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/03/24/the-depths-rottenberg-depression/

Perhaps what we call depression isn’t really a disorder at all but, like physical pain, an alarm of sorts, alerting us that something is undoubtedly wrong; that perhaps it is time to stop, take a time-out, take as long as it takes, and attend to the unaddressed business of filling our souls.

endurance

I spread my financial documents out a few days ago and found I was correct that I might be able to retire as early as eight years from now. Ten or twelve would be better from a financial viewpoint (with, of course, twenty being best of all), while six would be the lowest possibility.

I have some fun plans lined up for the rest of this year, but after that, I don’t know what is going to keep me engaged until I move to the retirement phase!

Some people might wonder what I will do with myself in retirement and if I will be happier. Having just had a trial run of being unemployed, I can say with confidence that I can keep busy and am happier not working. Yesterday, for instance, I dragged myself out of bed, hurriedly ran some errands on the way to work, made a bit of small talk with coworkers while multitasking like a maniac, and then trudged home from work at the end of the day, managing to get to the farmer’s market on the way back. Had I had the day to myself, I would have gotten those errands done and also finished my pile of books and made a trip to the library, gotten my laundry done and the house cleaned, done some cooking, gone to the beach, done some yoga, and possibly gone out that night to do something interesting. The latter scenario is the one that appeals.

Anything can happen, of course, over the next eight years. There’s a slight possibility I could meet someone, although I admit that seems less and less possible. The other big unknown is how long my mother will live. Will she make it to a “normal” old age (mid-late eighties) and then peacefully pass away? If so, that would coincide with the time period in which I want to retire and would ease those plans. Or will she live to an old old age, with all the long, drawn-out health problems that could ensue? That will impact my options.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we are all living too long and the structure of the job market makes the problem worse. Should we work for forty-five years straight with only two weeks off a year so that we will be okay financially in our seventies, when we are truly old? I have several friends like myself who have older mothers who are miserable and lonely in their old age. How does one raise kids if one is working all the time without a break? If you have them early and remove yourself from the workplace, you lose valuable investment years, and then you have to compete with all the younger folks when you try to get back in. If you take a break later in life, in your forties, you will hit the ageism issue when you try to return. And because they are trying to save for their old age, people aren’t retiring, so there aren’t jobs and opportunities for younger people.

I refuse to be hard on myself for not having kids under these conditions. It’s a very difficult thing to figure out.

Related articles:

http://www.nytimes.com/1996/01/14/magazine/living-too-long.html
In the years after she retired, for example, Aunt Millie followed the pattern of labor, leisure, travel and volunteer work that dominated most of her adult life. In her 70’s, she went to camp in the Berkshires, worked with young children and the blind, did some part-time bookkeeping, spent the winters in Florida and filled her evenings with movies, concerts and plays. In other words, she kept busy, which seems to be our society’s answer to questions of meaning and existence.

Meanwhile, the years passed and now she is truly old, too infirm to shuffle off to Miami Beach or to read to second graders or to take in a light opera the first Tuesday of every month. The life of the “oldest old,” as those over 85 are known, is marked by what gerontologists call the “dreadful D’s” — decline, deterioration, dependency, death. From second summer to chill winter.

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/apr/19/opinion/la-oe-rodriguez19-2010apr19
The Japanese, with their healthy diet, good healthcare and advanced medicine, have the highest life expectancy in the world. In 2008, nearly a quarter of the population, or 28.2 million people, was over 65. By 2030, 1 in 3 Japanese will be senior citizens. If civilization is the struggle against death, then surely Japan’s high life expectancy is a triumph of human culture.

But according to Florian Coulmas of the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo, the Japanese are “exhausted” and the mood in the country is “depressed.” They are burdened by the lengths of their lives.

And in fact, Japan, a place where suicide isn’t utterly taboo, has seen a dramatic rise in senior citizens taking their own lives.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/living-too-long-is-a-risk/
The odds are 31 percent — almost one in three — that one member of a 65-year-old couple will live to age 95. The odds are one in 10 — 10 percent — that one member of this couple will live to age 100.

But most people aren’t financially prepared to live that long or deal with the uncertainty of their actual lifespan. Retirement planning would be easier if you knew exactly how long you’ll live. So what can you do to protect yourself against the risk of living too long? Stay tuned for my next post.

escapism

Wonderful analysis of Lolly Willowes here:

http://furrowedmiddlebrow.blogspot.com/2013/04/sylvia-townsend-warner-lolly-willowes.html

The novel became a surprise bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic when it was published in 1926 (it was the inaugural selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club). This might in part have been because there were so many unmarried women in the post-World War I years—“women living and growing old, as common as blackberries, and as unregarded”—who could relate to the character’s situation and savor her fantastic refusal of the role of demure, helpful, but largely invisible spinsterhood (a refusal, without doubt, that was—and still is—considerably harder to pull off in reality). In fact, another highly entertaining novel about a woman similarly resisting repressive social norms (though not by selling her soul), Rose Macaulay’s Crewe Train, appeared the same year.

[…]

When I returned to the novel a year or so later for a fourth (or was it fifth?) reading, I started imagining that a third possibility might exist (and this is where it may have gotten a little academic and egg-headed, but I still wonder about it, so I’ll share it here regardless). I started wondering if Warner was really doing something pretty postmodern—if she might be intentionally leaving the “reality” of the novel in doubt in order to focus instead on the whole idea of fantasy itself—of (in this case) a woman’s fantasy of escaping from a rigidly-controlled and ultimately male-dominated culture in which her only value could be as a wife and mother or as a permanent babysitter and domestic servant. Maybe she was questioning the politics of this escapism (Warner herself sympathized with Marxism and might well have been suggesting that fantasizing doesn’t make the world a better place)? Or maybe she was questioning if it was even possible to escape in any meaningful way from the culture we live in?

After all, whether Laura is dreaming comforting dreams or whether she really becomes a witch, it strikes me that the life Laura chooses for herself is really, when you think about it, only a sort of lonely, wide-open prison instead of a socially enforced, tightly constraining one. When her nephew Titus becomes engaged to be married, Laura thinks of the engagement as a business transaction, an engagement between the country estate Titus already owns and the woman he is about to own. She has no understanding of—or, perhaps more accurately, no trust in—romantic love—or, for that matter, much of any other kind of social interaction. Laura’s escape from society and social oppression has been a (surely somewhat bittersweet) escape from any meaningful human interaction whatsoever!

the unnoticed

And they think how they were young once, and they see new young women, just like what they were, and yet as surprising as if it had never happened before, like trees in spring. But they are like trees towards the end of summer, heavy and dusty, and nobody finds their leaves surprising, or notices them till they fall off. If they could be passive and unnoticed, it wouldn’t matter. But they must be active, and still not noticed. Doing, doing, doing, till mere habit scolds at them like a housewife, and rouses them up– when they might sit in their doorways and think– to be doing still!

–Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes, p. 240

assumptions

http://candormagazine.tumblr.com/post/211502843/woman-writer-writer-mother-a-conversation-between

RZ: I was a writer and teacher before I was a mother but so much of my mental and physical energy is spent in my role of mother. Am I more a mother than a writer now? I’m not sure. I don’t think I can really separate them enough to measure them against each other.

It is interesting that despite our many similarities, we don’t know each other very well. Over the years our paths have crossed from time to time, but we’ve never become friends. Is it because I have children and you don’t?

I know that I’ve made assumptions about you, about the kind of nonmom you are.

I’ve always imagined that you went to parties and stayed out late and slept with various handsome men (and maybe women too) and had beautiful clothes that were not machine washable and that your body functioned in ways that did not surprise, alarm or amaze you. I felt sure that you went to sleep late, woke up late, and read the newspaper at breakfast. Your apartment, as I pictured it, was quiet and peaceful but not very tidy. Your life was your own. Your read books voraciously but were sometimes lonely. You traveled and went to writer’s colonies and applied for fellowships and teaching jobs that might require you to move to other states or countries for a few months. Your mother worried that you weren’t married and you told her that her alarm was antiquated and sexist.

SM: I think we both made assumptions about each other based on the popular stereotypes associated with New York women. I certainly did. I thought your life consisted of reading banal storybooks, making instant oatmeal, and doing laundry. I couldn’t imagine how that would feel fulfilling. I considered an obviously complex and evolved person but went straight to the stereotype, which is basically a failure of my imagination.

You’ve read my memoir now, so you know that my life and my relationship to my body are not as you describe above.

I don’t know if the severe limits on my life have been greater or lesser in degree, or similar or different in type, to the limits on your life, a mother’s life.

RZ: I agree that most assumptions about mothers and nonmothers are erroneous.

For example, a few months ago I sent a YouTube link to a movie I made about my son’s home birth out to everyone on my email list. I was surprised when you responded. I had assumed you wouldn’t be interested in my movie. I thought you might find it overly sentimental or possibly disgusting. But you said it inspired you. How? Why?

SM: “Inspires” as in fills me with breath and hope, as in somehow both increases and decreases the mysteries surrounding motherhood and birth.

During a high school internship program at a local teaching hospital, with a teenager’s total assurance that I would be a doctor when I grew up, I watched a vaginal birth and came close to fainting. The attending doctor had to take care of me while the mother was in labor. It was almost funny. So I was surprised by how clean and simple the birth process seemed in your movie.

I am genuinely interested in the lives of mothers inasmuch as I am interested in the lives of people in general, but I’m separately fascinated by some mothers’ apparent conviction that nonmothers are shallow, that mothers suffer and feel more deeply than nonmothers. It seems as if these mothers want to shun me because I’m not a member of their sorority—hell, I didn’t even show up to rush.

RZ: I’ve never thought that you or nonmothers in general are “shallow” but clearly I’ve made a lot of other uncomplimentary or idealized assumptions. Perhaps I should have spent more time thinking about what you and I have in common or about what I have lost in the years in which I signed on so completely to the world of mothers and the idea that we are different from nonmothers. How does such a perception affect women? What can we do to change things?

SM: The problem with sustaining the dichotomy between mothers and nonmothers, of course, is that in doing so we weaken all women against the reigning culture of men.

James Baldwin is supposed to have said at Berkeley, that no white man, no matter how wretched, would want to trade places with him. Well, no man, no matter what color, would want to trade places with me.

RZ: Maybe because I’m trying to justify my own path or maybe because I truly feel this way—I don’t know—but I’ve spent my whole life assuming that (to bring it back to James Baldwin) no mother, no matter how wretched, would want to trade places with a nonmother. So I’m back to the dichotomy.

SM: I find it hard to understand that feeling.

RZ: Obviously I’m exaggerating. Some women do not want to be mothers. Women have abortions or give children up for adoption or responsibly avoid pregnancy, but by and large, despite the fact that motherhood is not physically, logistically, financially or socially supported, most women do become mothers at some point even if they don’t choose a particular pregnancy or child.

Is this because of a cultural message that motherhood is the ultimate goal for women? Why do so many women become mothers?

And how can I discuss my feeling of having chosen the “right” way, the only path that makes sense to me without being offensive? Motherhood, it seems to me, is both extremely difficult but also and ultimately, the greatest privilege. I guess I fear nonmothers’ scorn and envy when I say these things.

SM: It is hard for me to understand mothers who assume I envy them, or who assume that motherhood is my goal.

But the problem here is that the dialectic of mother versus nonmother isn’t a perfect one. Every mother has also been a nonmother, so only they know the difference. Nonmothers simply can’t have this perspective.

It’s generalizing an individual belief—that my, or anyone’s, experience of womanhood should be considered the ultimate experience for all women—that’s the problem.

RZ: I can see how my assumption that motherhood is (or should be) your (or anyone’s) ultimate goal would be offensive and problematic. I need to think about what’s led me to embrace such an essentialist view of womanhood.

SM: My friend J., the mother of a severely disabled child, finds the mother/nonmother dialectic deeply problematic. She knows that not all mothers are in the same boat.

I find that dialectic problematic, too, because I know that not all nonmothers are in the same boat.

There’s a vast difference between the life of a committed artist and the life of a person who gets paid to take orders forty hours a week and spends the rest of the time entertaining herself.

There are very many ways to live a nonfulfilling life. I have found several. But from where I’m standing, plenty of mothers seem to have found them, too.

What I want to know is: what do thoughtful and insightful mothers know that I can’t know?

RZ: So much of being a mother is learning to tolerate discomfort. There is an athleticism to motherhood, a kind of torture-victim’s resolve. Nursing a child is like a spiritual practice, a meditative disciple, a consecrated patience. I imagine I might feel this way about yoga if I had time to do yoga. Also, I would give up my life for my children but not for my husband and not for my parents and not for my friends….

SM: That might be it — the essential difference between us. I don’t know anyone I’d die for. That is a fascinating dialectic

the cosmic

http://candormagazine.tumblr.com/post/211502843/woman-writer-writer-mother-a-conversation-between

Even now, with my IUD, I feel very much like an egg-box. I feel, even when not pregnant or nursing a baby, that the making, bearing, and nursing of babies is what my body was meant to do.

I know, of course, that I can do many other things with my body, be many other things, but it still means something to me that this is the original or truest function of my body.

SM: Your fertile female body seems a key determinant to your identity.

Fertility seems a fairly important part of our cosmic process, but it becomes fascinatingly problematic when we look through the other end of the telescope and consider individual particles in that process. Fertility is irrelevant to the lives of my friend A., a gay man; D., an infertile woman; R., a severely disabled kid.

The body absolutely determines the course of our species, but not necessarily the course of the individual. And we relate as individuals. I think what we’re talking about here is simply the problem of empathy between different categories of women—which is of course just a subset of the general problem of empathy between different human beings.

candor

http://candormagazine.tumblr.com/post/211502843/woman-writer-writer-mother-a-conversation-between

SM: Well, we have that much in common: our adult identities were formed at least in part by the ways we observed and experienced our own mothers’ identities. After she graduated high school, my mother stayed at home while taking classes at a local college, then worked for a few years, still living at home, before she was married. I don’t have all the information on what she did for the nine years she was married to my father before I was born, but afterward, she was a full-time wife and mother. She responded “housewife” when asked to identify her career on official forms. For as long as I can remember, I felt depressed by that. I sensed (imagined?) her depression and boredom. Later on, her rage and despair became even more obvious (imagined?) to me. I swore I would never get married—my parents have been married forty-four years and counting—or take on any dependents. I left home and became financially independent a few days after I graduated college.

My fear of becoming the woman I perceived as my mother—trapped, frustrated, helpless, enraged—is what has impelled me to make most of the major decisions of my life. Then again, an older woman friend said to me—offhand, but it became indelible—“She’s probably happier than you think.”

It fascinates me that so many women continue to choose motherhood. Does this mean I want to remain a child myself?

Do mothers perceive women without children as, essentially, children themselves?

RZ: I will speak for myself. I think that when I think of women who are not mothers I both fear and pity them. I feel threatened and confused. I am fascinated by and ashamed of these feelings. They probably have more to do with ambivalence about my choices then with theirs.

Is this because, despite feeling that I would never trade places with women without children, I worry that I am throwing my life away? I worry that the hours and hours of child care and domestic child-related tasks I do day after day and year after year are a waste of my time?

SM: What’s the threat? As for the confusion, I guess I feel confused about what people do if they aren’t workaholics, but then I think, well, they run marathons and go on trips and play softball and have healthy, well-rounded, rewarding lives. And they have children.

RZ: Making art sometimes feels highly indulgent and narcissistic. So does having children. At the same time, making art and having children sometimes seem to me like the only valuable things to do. I feel confused about what gives nonmothers’ lives meaning. Is that terrible? Condescending? It’s hard to admit that I wonder about this. The tone and attitude remind me of how fundamentalist Christians talk to me when trying to tell me “the good news.”

SM: Making art can often be indulgent and narcissistic, but if one is doing it right, the ego doesn’t necessarily participate.

I understand your position, I think—I can’t imagine calling my life meaningful without as much time for silent contemplation as I have. It’s hard to imagine fitting parenting into the life I’ve devised, and which seems like the only way I can remain alive and sane. Yet I know there must exist a deep fulfillment in being a parent.

RZ: I have this idea that if I didn’t have children I would read a million esoteric books, and I would become so smart and interesting. I do sometimes wonder if I’ve “wasted” my education. Once, a friend of my father jokingly said to me, “oh, you went to Yale to get your M-R-S,” I wanted to slap him. In dark moments I fear it’s partly true.

I obviously want things both ways. I feel defined by my role as a mother and wife and am grateful for the ways these identifications give my life a sense of purpose. At the same time I intermittently feel a festering restlessness, a self-loathing for what I’ve become: mother of three living on the Upper West Side. A good girl.

There are all sort of contradictions for me: becoming a mother made me a feminist but being a mother means I spend a lot of my time doing menial domestic tasks. I’m not sure how my mothering—the daily aspects of caring for my children—fits into my ideas about feminism. I hate the way motherhood seems to separate me from women who don’t have children, and I hate the way motherhood separates mothers according to the choices they make about birthing, nursing, economics, parenting philosophies, working, etc. At the same time I feel that motherhood brings me into a crucially important and sustaining sisterhood with other women, especially other mothers.

SM: It amazes me that a mother would think my life is not fulfilling. I truly appreciate and admire your courage in admitting that.

My psychiatrist tells me that many mentally retarded people report internal fulfillment. Did you feel unfulfilled before you had a child? Is having a child what led to fulfillment? Do you think anything else could have led there?

RZ: For a long time I believed that the world was divided up into two groups: mothers and nonmothers. I had friends in the second group but more and more they seemed foreign or even burdensome to me and I disliked the way I imagined I seemed to them. Becoming a mother awakened in me a strong interest in feminism, but to be honest, for several years this interest was pretty much confined to feminist issues that concerned mothers.

SM: Yes. I tend to prefer the company of people who share my values. It’s convenient not to have to defend oneself. I remember being challenged by a woman who asked me if a yearlong university fellowship required that I live on campus. When I told her it did, she railed that it wasn’t fair, that she had a husband and a daughter upstate and couldn’t leave home, and that she wanted the fellowship, too. I couldn’t believe this woman—how could she not see that I had made sacrifices in order to be able to accept the gift of such a fellowship, that I had no house, no partner, no child, no health insurance? That the fellowship existed to help people like me, writers who had chosen writing over the comforts of family, writers who actually needed money and a place to live? It infuriated me that this woman’s sense of entitlement blinded her to this. She took for granted the comforts she’d chosen.