Archive for the 'life' Category

what really matters (my last post)

“People like you more when you’re attractive,” said a friend of mine who has spent a lot of time losing weight and getting fit. “It’s been proven. There are a lot of studies. You’re more likely to succeed.”

“Okay,” I said. “That stuff about CEOs? Where they’re always tall?”

“Yeah,” she said. “That too. They’re always tall and have all their hair. It’s practically a law.”

I thought immediately of my dad, who is admittedly not the CEO of a fortune 500 company, but who has been successfully running a business for close to forty years. He is short and bald and didn’t go to college. He should probably be a failure. According to some study.

“It matters,” I said, slowly, “But I’m never sure just how much.”

“A lot,” she said, her voice hard.

“Maybe,” I said. “But maybe not.”

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(I made a little cake for this post. I am a shitty baker. Shitty is probably exactly the right word, based on how this looks…)

When I started writing this blog about four years ago, I was positive that beauty mattered a lot. That’s why I wanted to write about it. I wanted to do something. I wanted to fight back, even if it was in a small way. How many of my friends were going to confess that they’d struggled with disordered eating back in college? More than I could imagine at that time, and it was already plenty. I had gotten cosmetic surgery to change my face, because I’d become convinced that if I could only get a little prettier, my life would improve exponentially. Oh, it sounds so superficial, doesn’t it, when you’re being quick and dismissive and morally superior. We’re all good at that. Plastic surgery is for weaker, sadder women. Except that I am one of them. And I know so many more. People I never would’ve guessed. People I never could’ve predicted.

I’ve always blamed the whole world for this. Biology, culture, misogyny, TV, advertising, ancient history, patriarchy, agricultural development, school, work, horizontal social groups in childhood that emphasize peers over mentors, the human tendency to instinctively dichotomize, our cocky refusal to admit how many problems remain even after women were finally admitted to Harvard, and so much more. The messages about just how crucial and big beauty is come from absolutely everywhere. They come all the time. They are quiet and loud and insistent and just a subtle suggestion and most of all, they are effective. They get in. They stick. They stay. And they trap us on our surfaces, agonizing over details, fretting, pinching, shaming ourselves. Because we have learned the obvious lesson: beauty matters. It matters a lot. Sometimes it matters so much that people stop eating in order to force their bodies to change. Sometimes it matters just enough to feel occasionally disgusted by your own flesh. It feels normal to dislike our appearances because it is normal. It’s completely ordinary. It’s the way things so often go.

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But I find that I am some sort of pathetic, yearning optimist after all. Four years after I started writing about beauty, about a year after I had a daughter, I find myself thinking that beauty also doesn’t have to matter that much. I inch away from it. My face in the mirror is the same one I once hated, but older, of course, and maybe even more complicated. And yet I find myself forgiving it. My body, rearranging itself again after pregnancy, is a celebration. It has transformed so dramatically. Like a movie star who suddenly gets a PhD, it’s hard to keep up, but someone should throw them a party. The things that separate me from models and even from the women who everyone automatically thinks “wow” about are less significant in my own mind right now. I saw myself in the trailer for this film my doula is making, and I think I look TERRIBLE and weird and like I don’t know how to move my own mouth and like I maybe have suffered some sort of traumatic brain injury that I am only just recovering from and like I don’t have a chin and like I am not at all normal, and also, even though I think all of that, I think I sound fine. Maybe even a little smart. And I am also proud of the way I look. Maybe not there. But here, in real life. Sitting here in my wrinkled shirt from Old Navy that has a smear of banana on it from the baby, writing at my laptop. I like myself. I am happy. I am proud of being this person. I am proud of looking like me.

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I look around and I see that people find wild, fulfilling love without being stunningly gorgeous. That people are happy or sad in proportions that don’t seem to really correlate with their appearances. That I admire people or find them boring without their beauty having too much meaning. People are successful all the time without being very thin. And then some of the types of success that people like to measure don’t even look that interesting to me.

I’m going to stop writing this blog now.

I argued with myself over this decision for a long time.

And I’m bad at this sort of thing. At graceful exits.

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I’m not going to stop writing, ever. I can’t. I’m a writer. But I think I’m done being a blogger.

I have loved connecting with people from around the world. I’ve loved meeting them in person, sometimes, when they visited NYC or I visited somewhere else. I’ve made good friends this way. I’ve heard many hundreds of life stories. I’ve gotten recognized a few times on the sidewalk and felt cool. I’ve knocked professional goals off a stubborn list. I’ve gotten very fast at writing essays. I’ve proven to myself that I could build something out of nothing. I’ve been amazed by how many people were interested in reading my words. I’ve embarrassed myself and distinguished myself and gotten furious and hurt and once someone wrote to me to tell me she hated me and we talked and talked and she changed her mind and apologized and told me her story. People I’ve never met have told me I suck and I’m stupid and I’m shallow and I’m harmful and I’m generally a huge humiliating failure. People I’ve never met have told me that they are grateful for me. Once someone offered to tithe to me. People I’ve never met were happy for me when I was happy and sad for me when I was sad. Thank you so much for that. When I started blogging I’d literally never read a blog. Four years later, I think this experiment has taught me a lot about my own worth.

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I’m stopping because I feel done. I feel ready to focus on other things. I thought that this blog might one day lead to a memoir and I worked for a long time on a book proposal, but when I had the chance to finally sell the book, I realized that I didn’t want to put it into the world anymore. I don’t want my legacy to be about my childhood, about my struggles and issues and little triumphs. I don’t really want to expose myself in that way anymore. I don’t want to read the Amazon reviews about how self-centered I am. I don’t want people to notice the story and forget about the writing. I don’t want my daughter to think of me as a woman primarily concerned with her own self-esteem, her own dramas. I don’t want my daughter to grow up watching me analyze beauty. I want her to see me being comfortable with who I am, creating new stories instead of pulling apart old ones.

For the time being, I’m still going to write over at the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life, and I still write a column for Home Education Magazine, and I am working on transitioning this website into something more general, that will include all of my preexisting posts and my e-book and the beautiful cake eating photos that I treasure, and also have room for the new things I want to eventually do. I’m not sure how long they’ll take. I know the internet moves very, very fast, but I want to go slower. I want to watch Eden sit on the kitchen floor and thoroughly delve into her first nectarine. And I want to wait until she’s finished without thinking about what I should be doing instead. I want to keep the promise I made to myself a long time ago, that I would write fantasy novels with strong, awesome girl protagonists.

Anyway. I’m not sure what else to say. Except thank you, again. And if you like my writing, please stay tuned.

I didn’t convince my friend, by the way. At least, I don’t think I did. She is doing her best to tease a successful life out of the tangle of human experience. We all are. Me too. Except for me, right now, there’s a lot less looking in the mirror.

So much love,

Kate

edenwalking

Unroast: Today I love my eyes. Just for being mine. They’re interesting.

P.S. To the people who have been emailing me to see if everything’s OK– I’m sorry for not responding to you individually yet. I hope I can soon! I appreciate your messages so much.

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Kate on June 19th 2014 in beauty, life, writing

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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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

what happens when you aren’t a piano prodigy

You have to understand, my dad is a brilliant pianist. He could always play, from the time he was a little kid. For no reason that anyone could explain or understand, he could sit down and make music. He never learned to read music, but if he heard something, he could play it right back, so when he finally took lessons from a local teacher, he fooled her for months. “Can you just play it for me so I can hear how it should sound?” he’d ask when she gave him a new assignment. She’d play the piece through, and he’d instantly memorize it. Later, he’d pretend to be studying the notes on the page. She was furious when she discovered his trick, or so the story goes.

When he grew up, my dad bought a grand piano and then was too poor to fix his car for a whole winter. My parents were barely in their twenties, proud of their tiny square house, running their own tiny business out of the basement, and there was this sleek, giant Yamaha grand filling the whole living room. Almost a decade before I was born, that piano was my dad’s baby.

When I was a baby, he sat me on his lap while he played, my hands on his hands.

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(I don’t have a photo of that, but here I am as a baby, with my hair looking much like a wig, playing)

And of course, when I was old enough, he taught me some pieces, and eventually signed me up for lessons. He still couldn’t read music very well, but he wanted me to learn, so I was sent to a piano school that specialized in early classical training. The word “pedagogy” floated around in the halls.

I don’t know where my ferocious competitiveness came from. It’s been there for as long as I can remember, an engine too big for my body, eternally revving. It wasn’t enough to just play—I wanted to be the best.

I dreaded the finger exercises. I was bored by the endless arpeggios. The flick of the thumb under the third finger going up the scale—the movement had to be perfectly smooth, subtle, the arrangement of the hand needed to stay even. I wanted to play Rachmaninoff, with the crashing depths of the low register. Lush, chocolate-y Brahms. I wanted to play cascading Debussy, with the blur of rich sound, and Chopin, of course, with the delicate right hand trilling up at the very top while the left hand ran darkly around the bass. I wanted pounding drama and thunder and thrill. I wanted to close out the annual recital with a show-stopper. I was jealous of the kid who got to do it, while I was still playing in the middle of the pack. I was also terrified of performing.

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