the bed-sharing weirdos and other dangerous people like me

A friend shared the article on Facebook. It was about me, and how I’m irresponsible and dangerous and possibly a smidge un-American. How I make bad choices. Isn’t it crazy, how someone could be as crazy as me? A bunch of people agreed, in the comments underneath. Under the article itself, back on its host site, a fierce, self-important debate raged. “Anyone who acts like this is an idiot and should have their citizenship taken away. We don’t need people like you in this country,” announced “ArmyMom” from North Carolina.

“If you met me, you might not think that,” I wanted to say. I always want to say that and I never do.

It wasn’t the first time an article like that has been written and shared. And of course they’re not really about me, individually (although this has actually happened once or twice, too! But usually on someone’s blog, not, like, in New York Mag). They’re about people like me. Weird people who do weird things. A representative from the League of Normal People has to come along and write a chastising explanation about why we are bad.

Sometimes it leans towards tough love: “I know you think you’re doing yourself a favor now, but you’ve got another big, loud, smack-in-the-ass think coming REAL SOON, honey.”

Sometimes it’s sneering: “What is WRONG with these people? Do they have any contact with reality? Um, hello. Reality is over here, weirdos, with the normal people. Get over yourselves and maybe we’ll consider one day sharing our cold, hard, real-American pizza with you.”

Sometimes it’s scientific: “Recent Conclusive Statistics show that your weird behavior is more likely than our normal behavior to result in death and lower SAT scores and also bad breath.”

Sometimes it’s defensive: “APPARENTLY, according to the weirdos, we’re SUPPOSED to do this crazy thing…And I felt pressure from the weirdos to think about my life differently. But then I decided not to, because that was too hard and weird, so I’m doing the normal thing but I’m mad at the weirdos for even suggesting that there is another way to do it!”

I am amazed by the volume of articles in this last category. I see them everywhere. People proudly defending their right to do the totally expected, ordinary thing against the imagined onslaught of opinionated weirdness.

But where are all the opinionated weirdos? I wonder. I glance around hopefully. Anyone? Hello? Where are the influential, popularizing weirdos who are marching at the front lines, waving their banners and demanding that everyone follow suit?

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(source)

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Things I want to change by the time Eden notices

(This is not at all a comprehensive list. It’s just the first stuff that came to my mind. And my mind is all over the place.)

I want more movies and TV shows to have female protagonists even when they aren’t about “girly stuff.”

I want the way coolness works to stop being about not being sensitive. Sensitivity and vulnerability are healthy, crucial aspects of being a fully operating person. Without them, we miss out on the things that make poetry timeless and life rich. Making fun of ourselves and other people is not necessarily a bad thing, but there needs to be plenty of room for caring automatically and whole-heartedly and even just a little about stuff, too. Or maybe we can just all care less about being cool?

I want it to be a lot harder to find gross photos on the internet. I feel like we should all be able to google without running into graphically documented surgical procedures and abused animals and car crashes and unusual, dramatic skin conditions.

I would also appreciate it if there weren’t so very many photos of sexy mostly/totally naked women online and everywhere else. And if those women didn’t all look so particularly similar that it feels easy to assume that there must only be one good way to be a mostly/naked woman.

I want there to be more swimsuit options. Why do they all demand that I pay a lot of attention to what my pubic hair is doing? Mandatory bikini waxing is ridiculous. If we can’t get over the fact that adult women have pubic hair, let’s at least wear swim trunks.

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(googling for “bikini” resulted, predictably, in a million examples of the last topic, too. maybe I just wanted to see the bathing suit? maybe? source)

I want porn to actually be varied. I keep reading about how it is. Whenever someone writes an article about porn, they’re always like “you can find any crazy thing out there! If there’s a fantasy, there’s a video of it on the internet!” But the reality is that most of the readily accessible porn is endless repetition of the same themes, and popular among those themes is total female submission and, often, humiliation. Yes, some women like to be humiliated, but that’s not the point. We need a lot more versions of female sexuality, and it’d be much better if they popped up, too, upon a casual googling.

I want girls to be able to run around and study and make friends and play and goof off and think and look in the mirror without having to prioritize their appearances. Being embodied is about a lot of stuff, not just the way we look. I want girls to enjoy their bodies without having to think first about whether or not other people find them attractive.

I want this for women, too, but it starts with girls.

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what older women should look like

“Sharon Stone Tells Shape She Doesn’t Want To Be ‘An Ageless Beauty,’ Is Still One Anyway” goes the Huffington Post headline. It’s refreshing, says the reporter, that Stone doesn’t long for eternal youth. It’s refreshing, also, we’re clearly meant to agree, that she looks eternally youthful.

This is how we, as a culture, celebrate older women, when we celebrate their beauty. And often, unfortunately, we are celebrating beauty first and the rest later, in a smaller room in the back. We praise those women who, like great illusionists, amaze with the magic trick of their appearances. We are impressed with women over forty for looking like they’re not yet. We admire women for confusing us at first sight, we show respect to the ones who can manage, mysteriously, to look nothing like nature suggests they should look.

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(source)

I am in my late twenties, and it would be nice if the future of my face wasn’t so dire.

But maybe that’s just life. Maybe these are the cold, hard, disappointing facts. You get older, you look worse, so deal with it.

OK, fine. I think that would be fine, if we could all agree that looking “worse” isn’t a big deal. Actually, I can imagine a world in which everyone agreed that we all look crappier and crappier with each passing year, but simultaneously, we care less and less about the way we look, so it’s practically irrelevant. Sounds like fun! I picture myself, seventy-seven and sloppy, my hair buzzed for convenience, sunbathing in the floppy nude on a European beach. Now that’s the life.

The problem is, we can’t agree on this vision for the future (what? The rest of you don’t want to see me naked on the beaches of my sunset years?).

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Kate on April 2nd 2014 in beauty, body, fear, perfection

i am twenty-eight

Katy Perry was singing “You’re hot then you’re cold! You’re yes then you’re no!” on the radio and Bear and I were driving towards the mountains on our fourth date. “I like your sunglasses,” he said, and when I glanced at his profile, it was adorably boyish. He was blushing faintly and his little smile was the helpless kind, where you can’t not smile. Everything is too good to not smile. I didn’t know anything about him except that he felt completely right and I felt completely right with him. I started singing along with Katy Perry, even though it was the first time I’d heard the song. He joined in.

We were yes! We were not even a little bit no.

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I was twenty-three.

I had never made a reservation at a restaurant because I’d never, as an adult, gone to one nice enough to need a reservation.

Bear was twenty-five. That seemed well into the totally grown-up range. He’d made a reservation for our first date, even though the restaurant was not in fact very nice, and I was impressed with the casual way he gave his last name, like he was used to eating out. Eating out impressed me (I either made all of my own meals or got a slice of pizza somewhere). Taking a cab impressed me (they did that on TV but everyone I knew exclusively rode the subway). Wearing ragged New Balance sneakers paired with Cargo pants did not impress me, but I thought it was cute that he didn’t own any jeans because he thought they were too fashion-y.

“I’ll buy you jeans,” I said, indulgently. I felt lavish, magnanimous. “You’ll like them.”

I was pretty sure I could blow this guy’s mind—worldly table reserving and all.

*

A few days ago, we were driving on the highway in Florida, headed back to the airport from Bear’s aunt and uncle’s home, where his ninety-five year old grandmother lives, too. We finally made it down there, for the weekend, so that Eden could meet her.

Eden hates the car so much. “Babies love the car!” people say, speaking of the accomplished babies of legend whose parents are always fresh-faced and proud.

Eden started to cry the second her butt hit the car seat. And now she cries “Mama! Mama! MAMAMA!!” lifting her chubby little arms in an anguished plea for help. It’s a little bit heartbreaking.

We were running late, naturally, and there was no time to pull over and comfort her. Nothing short of freedom works.

“ABCDEFG! HIJK, LMNOP!” we sang at the top of our lungs. “THE ITSY BITSY SPIDER!! WENT UP THE WATER SPOUT!”

“MAMAMAMAMAMA!!!” she wailed.

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“I can’t do this,” said Bear, his face crumpling.

“Stay focused!” I said. “Keep driving!”

She cried for forty minutes. I was hunched forward. Bear’s face had gone tight.

“So,” I said, looking at his profile. “We made a baby!”

He didn’t respond.

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Kate on March 26th 2014 in family, life, motherhood, uplifting

what do women do all day?

“What do you do all day?” asked someone who reads this blog. Shouldn’t I post more often, since I must have so much time? And then later, in a follow-up comment, this reader wondered why I hadn’t published that book I’ve mentioned working on. What have I been doing instead?

There it was: the question. The moment I’d been dreading.

When I had Eden, I chose to work part time and spend the rest of my time with her. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have this option. It feels a little like a dirty secret.

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(yes, this is part of what I do all day)

I am embarrassed, sometimes, that I haven’t gone further in my career by now. I would prefer to have succeeded in ways so obvious and succinct that they would fit on a nametag. I would like to have fulfilled the potential that feminism and social change and modernity have given me. That my mother gave me. That my father believed I had just the same as my brothers.

I know the SAHM rhetoric—this is important work, too. Women’s work doesn’t always pay. You are doing something essential. You are doing the work of shaping an entire person! But it doesn’t stick to me, it slides right off. I feel like I’m cheating on my ambitious self with this new role. And yet I’m actively choosing it. I am unable, somehow, to not spend this time with my daughter, knowing I have the chance. I am unable to believe that work is everything, even as I’m unable to believe that motherhood is everything. I flounder somewhere in the middle, in a gray area where balance and confusion circle each other with territorial defensiveness.

I stared at the question on my phone while nursing the baby. I could practically feel my milk turning sour. I thought about how to answer as I tried for forty minutes to convince Eden that, no, really, she should have a nap. Finally, she was asleep, and I hadn’t eaten yet that day because there hadn’t been time, but under the microscope of the question, I felt abruptly like I was doing nothing.

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Kate on March 19th 2014 in feminism, life, motherhood, new york, work, writing

man beaten in the street on a beautiful day

A woman was attacked by four boys a few blocks away from where I walk every day with my baby. She was hit on the back of the head, for fun, I guess, and she is OK. Except that I wonder if she is really OK, because how could she ever feel safe again? It was the middle of the day. She was walking her dog. What did the dog do, when it happened, I kept wondering. Did they try to hurt the dog, too?

I read a report from Mother Jones about how sippy cups are giving kids cancer. How BPA free plastic is maybe even worse than whatever BPA itself is. Which is like, shit, do I have to start learning how to carve wood or throw pottery or something in order to raise a healthy child? There’s already the whole thing about hormones in meat and chemicals in everything else we eat and toxic flame retardants in all of the foam that’s in everything we ever sit on and parabens and just the plain old fumes coming off the highway right outside our building. You don’t want to get paranoid, you want to be practical. But you want to be wary and aware, I think. You want to be alert.

And then a few days ago I saw a man stomp on another man’s face in the street. It sometimes feels like such a dangerous world, I wonder how I keep blithely going outside, and here I am flinging a child into it.

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(Bear carrying Eden earlier that day)

It was a beautiful day. Flirtatiously warm, thrillingly close to the border of spring. We decided to walk all the way down the east side of Manhattan, from Madison Square Park, across the Brooklyn Bridge. Why not? We switched off with Eden in the carrier, and she was on me when it happened. We hadn’t gotten very far. At the corner of 15th St and 1st Ave, a man shoved another man down, and the second man rolled into the dirt of one of those half-hearted planters near the curb.

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Kate on March 12th 2014 in family, fear, life, new york

the only spiritual thing that’s ever happened to me

I am not spiritual. I don’t really know what it means to be spiritual, but I’ve guessed “no” when I’ve been occasionally asked. I am uncomfortable with the unknown. Maybe that’s why I write fantasy books, because the mystical, magical space my brain craves is self-contained, manageable—delicious but reassuringly confined to my own rules. I don’t know.

My mom thinks I’m spiritual. She also thinks I probably secretly believe in God. We’ve argued about this before.

“I would know it if I did,” I say.

“You just don’t like the way it’s described,” she says, “that doesn’t mean you don’t feel something.”

I shake my head and think she just wants her daughter to have religion. She doesn’t want me to miss out.

I don’t want to miss out, either, but my mind stays strictly on its path. I listen when friends talk astrology, but only out of politeness and sometimes, if I’m feeling wild, fun. I don’t want to miss out, but much more than that, I’m proud of my straightforward rationalism.

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(source)

This story I’m about to tell is one of the only spiritual things that’s ever happened to me. The others were tiny. (I’m defining “spiritual” like this: it felt spiritual.)

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Kate on March 5th 2014 in being different, life, pregnancy, uplifting