never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: role models

the anarchist

This biography seems more at ease with the contradictions between an unsocialised, self-protective, independent self, and the highly gregarious metropolitan journalist and partygoer. LeFanu quotes one of Macaulay’s better poems, on the clash between a desire to run amok and run free, and the middle-aged, responsible performance that we all grow into: “I might forget the world’s a place / Where I must run a strenuous race, / And make my mark, and use my wit, / And earn my bread and do my bit. / I might forget that I am human, / An earnest, grown-up, working woman…”

That opposition between secret anarchy and public responsibility is an underlying theme of Macaulay’s novel The World My Wilderness, which had a powerful effect on me as a young reader, growing up in postwar London. Its landscape of bombed churches and derelict streets powerfully expresses Macaulay’s sense of desolation during and after the war, for herself (her own home was bombed and she lost all her books) and for Europe.

Macaulay’s memory of her free childhood in Italy is reflected in the half-wild character of the young girl, Barbary, who – sent to England to be “civilised”, for complicated family reasons – finds her true home among the ruins.

the multi-dimensional

Eliot sometimes referred to her books as her children, and the writing of them as a form of parturition. She once wrote in a letter of the experience of completing a novel: “the sense that the work has been produced within one, like offspring, developing and growing by some force of which one’s life has served as a vehicle, and that what is left of oneself is only a poor husk.” The image of a new mother as dried out and used up is one of the few places where Eliot’s comprehension strikes me as limited. There are doubtless many new mothers who do feel this way, but it seems to me that a more typical experience might be that which combines utter exhaustion with an unprecedented sense of vitality. (Nothing has ever made me feel so alive as actually producing a new life.) Perhaps this image of being devoured or despoiled by a voracious, needy infant helps explain why Eliot did not follow a conventional course of motherhood. The way she describes it doesn’t sound particularly appealing. Eliot may have decided that she could meet the needs of only one incessantly demanding voice, and that was the voice of her inner creativity.

And yet in her fiction she was able to give expression to an entirely different experience of motherhood than the one she sketchily characterizes in that letter. As I write in my book, one of the most moving moments in “Middlemarch” occurs when Fred Vincy, the mayor’s son, is dangerously ill. Suddenly his mother, the silly, frivolous Mrs. Vincy, is catapulted from her mundane diversions into the direst fears for her firstborn. “All the deepest fibres of the mother’s memory were stirred, and the young man whose voice took a gentler tone when he spoke to her, was one with the babe whom she had loved, with a love that was new to her, before he was born,” Eliot writes. The precision and comprehension in that characterization floors me. How did she know so well, and so exactly, what that experience was like? In a few, perfectly apt words she expresses what was for me at least the most dumbfounding surprise about motherhood: the way in which becoming a mother granted me access to—forced me into—an entirely new sphere of love, care, selflessness, and terror, a dimension that I had no idea was there. From out of nowhere, I knew a love that was new to me.


Last week researchers at the University of New Mexico warned that girls rely too much on romantic relationships for their self-identity. The study found that girls are at greater risk of depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts the more their relationships diverged from their ideal. There was no evidence that such romantic disappointments affect boys, who were shown to gain their self worth from sport or other achievements.

For these girls, Cameron Diaz is a good role-model. It is a great shame that these American teenagers are fortunate enough to live in an era where their future no longer relies on meeting a prince, yet they fail to utilize this. Perhaps they should be enlightened to the fact that just fifty years ago in some states of their country, women couldn’t take out a loan or a mortgage without the signature of a husband. Perhaps they should be reminded that in the 1970s a woman could be sacked simply for losing her looks and no one would bat an eyelid. It’s no good having all these victories in the battle for emancipation of women if we still send out a message that finding Mr. Right is the only route to utopia.


For the first half of Townsend Warner’s novel, Laura looks set to follow their example. A tomboy in childhood, she is soon “subdued into young-ladyhood”, and after the death of her parents she joins the London household of her unimaginative brother, Henry, where she becomes the spinster “Aunt Lolly”, slightly pitied, slightly patronised, but “indispensable for Christmas Eve and birthday preparations” – an embodiment, in other words, of an old-fashioned female tradition for which her up-to-the-minute niece, Fancy, who has driven lorries during the war, has fine, flapperish contempt. But Laura has depths unsuspected by her deeply conventional relatives, and with her move to Great Mop she grows ever more subversive. She quietly rejects her family. She refuses to be defined by her relationships with men. She breaches the social barriers between gentry and working people. And, though she enjoys being part of the Great Mop community, her intensest pleasures are solitary ones. Again looking forward to Virginia Woolf, the novel asserts the absolute necessity of “a room of one’s own”, and Laura gains a clear-sighted understanding of the combined financial and cultural interests that serve to keep women in domestic, dependent roles: “Society, the Law, the Church, the History of Europe, the Old Testament . . . the Bank of England, Prostitution, the Architect of Apsley Terrace, and half a dozen other useful props of civilisation” have robbed her of her freedom just as effectively as have her patronising London relatives. It is this analysis that informs her conversation with Satan near the end of the novel, in which she unfolds her memorable vision of women as sticks of dynamite, “long[ing] for the concussion that may justify them”. If women, Townsend Warner implies, are denied access to power through legitimate means, they will turn instead to illegitimate methods – in this case to Satan himself, who pays them the compliment of pursuing them and then, having bagged them, performs the even more valuable service of leaving them alone.


We can find relationships that can serve us and that are good for us,” she explained. “We don’t have to stay in something if it’s not the right relationship. If something doesn’t work you don’t stay there and I think Carly knows that for herself.

“She leaves the relationship as soon as she finds out he’s married, she doesn’t try to get him to explain to her why he did it or say that he was going to leave his wife [Leslie Mann] for her.

“She just really owned it and said I have to get out of here and says the same thing to her [Leslie’s character] – you can’t change this person.”

“She is self-possessed and she knows what’s good for her,” Cameron added. “I think it’s important that that’s reflected.”

Neither does she have a fixed opinion on motherhood. “I’ve never said never to anything in life. If I wanted kids, at any point in life, I would have them. But I’m certain that if at any point I wanted a child, that child would find its way into my life, whether through adoption, or through being in a relationship with somebody who has a child. I can’t see the future, but one thing I do know is that I’m not childless. I have a ton of children in my life. I can have a kid any second, if I want. All my friends would be like, ‘Sure, come and get them,’” she says with a laugh.

“I also, by the way, have a lot of girl friends who don’t have children. It’s not like I’m the spinster who didn’t have a child. I just didn’t do that in life, and I’m OK with that. I know the choices I made. I know why I made them. I’m very much a person who lives in the moment. When you come from where I do, there are so many ways my life could have gone.”

the deal

You were married when you started in the Pixies, and you were credited as Mrs. John Murphy. Do you ever regret not having that simple, domestic suburban life?

Why do you torture me? [Pretends to weep] Yes, I’m lonely. Yes, I’m single. And yes, I’m childless. What more do you want? Yeah, of course. But I can’t do anything about it. I was married briefly to a nice guy, but he wouldn’t quit dating. Awkward.

But you bounced back — you were in relationships after that.

Not a whole lot. I was busy. I read this article on a plane, in, like, Newsweek, about women breaking through the glass ceiling in business. It was an editorial where she was saying, “I have regrets, and one is that I waited so long and I’m now childless.” It reminds me of a Roy Lichtenstein shirt: “Oh my God, I forgot to have a baby!” Well, I was in my early 30s when I read this, and I thought, “Note to self: Got it. Won’t let that happen.” And here I am.

Was it hard to slow down?

No, I felt like I was available. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I look like a guy — it’s true! You know, they like girly-girl people, for real, and I can’t — I’m just like, whatever, friend zone is cool.

Does that bother you? Looking back, would you have done anything different?

It used to. Now it’s just too damn late. But in the late ’90s, it was really bothering me. I was using a lot of drugs. You know, I think I was available, but maybe I wasn’t. Obviously. But I’m really jealous that guys making the same career decisions I made find themselves with children running around their house and a woman making them dinner: “Honey, no, you go work. You’re an artist, that’s what you do. You’re a poet.” Sometimes I think I need a wife.

lip service

One of the fascinating things about the book is the portrayal of your friendship. Our cultural reference points for female friendship seem to be either the Sex and the City ideal or the folksy Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Or, we’re talking about “frenemies” and the “toxic friendship” aspects of how women can relate. But yours is such a loving portrait of your day to day; I found it hard to believe that a friendship that close wasn’t competitive or codependent at times.

But it was! We did have that; the difference is that we dealt with it. Caroline and I had both suffered those terrible breaks that women have, that empathic failure–the, Well, never mind then, goodbye, and you start to drop away from each other. We were so attached, and both of us were so loyal, and our MO in the world was to go toward a problem as opposed to away from it. I really wanted to write about the struggles that we had, I could hear Caroline saying to me, “You can’t make this all happy.” We were incredibly competitive and all we did was sublimate it. We arm-wrestled and she beat me; I’d try to beat her in the pool. I knew I had to talk about the struggles and how piercing they can be.

One of the most heartfelt aspects of the book is the way you write about your love for her–it feels very clear and pure and unapologetic. And you’re not writing about your parents or child or partner; you’re writing about your best friend. We often give lip service to the importance of female friendship but we don’t talk about the possible depths of that kind of love.

That was paramount for me, and I’ve been really appreciative of the reviews that have gotten that. In a reading the other night, someone asked me if I ever had that horrible disappointment where people would go, “But it was just a friend.” It’s jaw-dropping when someone does that, because if your friendships are primary, as this one was–grief is not a stair-step of who gets the most attention.

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scarlet letters

Yes Amy is a fictional character, but she is nevertheless my hero. I adore her. I love how perfectly flawed she is and how she has no choice but to wear her flaws on her sleeve like a bright scarlet letter since her very public breakdown. She has endured the worst kind of humiliation and downright plummet from grace than most ever will and yet she keeps right on trying day after day.

media relations

I’m in the midst of a big push to secure a job by the end of the year, and as such, I haven’t felt it wise to write about my life in any kind of detail lately. Let’s just say that searching for a job tends to make one paranoid.

I will say that, in terms of my personal relations during this period, I’ve experienced everything from cautious displays of empathy to condescension to the silent treatment. It’s been disheartening, to say the least. I’ve been let down. Mostly I feel like I’m completely on my own in all this. I did talk to a single friend recently who told me she’s had the same experiences in her dating and social life, which helped me feel less alone.

The only thing I feel comfortable sharing at the moment is some of the media I’ve come across on the Gateway Women forum and other places. I did get some relief and laughs out of watching the relationship between Hannah and her gay roommate go to pieces on the second season of Girls. I’ve also enjoyed some recent podcasts in which childlessness has been discussed: (near the end)

Happy viewing and listening!

growing pains

My new favorite quote:

“The longer I live, the more I realize that I am never wrong about anything, and that all the pains I have so humbly taken to verify my notions have only wasted my time!”

–George Bernard Shaw