Archive for the 'work' Category

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.

photo (14)

(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

the one thing you think gives your life meaning

I sang at a bar mitzvah recently. The boy was very nervous, but he did well, and it was all the more victorious after because he’d been so nervous. Everyone was cheering for him. When he finished his Torah reading the whole congregation let out a collective sigh, half laugh, of relief and support. He was pleased, but he wasn’t thrilled. Towards the end of the service, he leaned over and whispered to me, “I was really hoping my friend would come, but I don’t see her.”

There was a certain girl.

He’d mentioned her at the beginning too, assuring me that she’d be there to witness his passage into Jewish adulthood. But hours later, after the bulk of the Hebrew had been chanted, she was still missing. “I’m a little disheartened,” he told me, during the mourners kaddish. “I don’t see her here.” I didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry,” I said. “But you’re doing an amazing job.”

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(it’s really hard to read Torah. source)

Sometimes you are doing fine but the one thing you most want to happen doesn’t happen so it doesn’t feel like enough. It doesn’t feel finished.

There have been a bunch of pieces recently, and since I became an adult, about my generation and whether or not we are spoiled and entitled and obnoxious or just totally screwed. Or maybe we’re delightfully free-spirited? I remember when Yahoo started publishing those lists of college majors that would result in homelessness and starvation. My major tended to be on those lists, or wasn’t even important enough to make them.

Next came the articles about how it didn’t matter what our majors were—we were never going to catch up.

Then there were the articles about how we were never going to catch up but instead we were going to sit around complaining about how we deserved to be famous and stuff. Because we had inflated egos and we’d all been given a trophy and now we all thought we all should win.

Now they’re saying we’re all looking for meaning.

I don’t know. I think it’s really hard to describe a whole generation, because of all the individuals in it. Because of all the legitimately different situations.

But here’s me:

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Kate on December 11th 2013 in being sad, fear, motherhood, work, writing

i wrote a book and it’s coming out (for preorder) today!

So I wrote a little book.

This is the story about it:

One night when I was four months pregnant I was lying in bed and feeling like a failure, as is my tendency. This time, I felt like a failure because I hadn’t yet published a book and I was going to have a baby and it was now too late to publish a book before having a baby. For a lot of my life, I told myself that I had to publish a book before having a baby because I was pretty sure that the rest of life ends when you have a baby. A baby is a lot like a cliff in the mist, I thought. One day you drive your car right over it, and you have to really believe that it’s just a short drop and then there’s an even better road right there to catch you. But, let’s be real, probably not.

I’m not sure why I’ve always thought that publishing a book was the most important, meaningful thing anyone could ever do. I think it has something to do with me being essentially uncreative. And reading a lot of books as a kid. And being self-centered. And sort of introverted. And snobby about literacy. But I’ve always been like this. All paths in my fantasy of my life lead to published books. For example, if I start a fantasy with “Let’s say I just won 100 million dollars,” the next thing is, “I could start my own publishing company and publish a book!” And then the thing after that is, “And I could hire really fancy publicists to advertise it. I could get a billboard!” And then the thing after that is, “And I could combat world hunger!” Shit. I’m a selfish prick.

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i am one lucky cow

I am writing with my laptop balanced on one knee, tilted against a stool, as Eden sprawls on my lap, mostly asleep for a few hard-earned minutes.

This is her third diaper in about an hour. She pooped on my leg somehow. Damn cloth diapers. I put a disposable on her, casually contributing to the destruction of the environment to avoid poop on my legs.

I am thinking about Maine. I have never been there, but it is paradise in my mind. Maine is the land of milk and honey.

Not breastmilk, though. It shouldn’t squirt like that, but it does. I walk around, milk spurting freely from my nipples, cascading down my ribcage, unstoppable. I think of myself as a cow. Eden’s cow.

She cries— “Come here, cow,” I say in my commanding Eden voice, “Ready your udder. I require sustenance.”

“Right away,” I say obediently, in my cow voice. “Your cow is here, at your service.”

“I am displeased, cow. You are slow.”

“I’m sorry. I am just a humble cow. I’m not very fast-moving, like a horse.”

“Hmm. Indeed. Still, you annoy me.”

“Yes, m’lady.”

“Enough, cow. Feed me the milk.”

Bear and I imagine Eden as a bit of a future galactic conqueror and possible Empress of All Things. She will command great fleets of battleships, bigger than the Death Star.

wide eyes

I am writing this on a Monday morning, and I feel that I should be working. It occurs to me that this is the first time in a very long time that I have not worked for longer than a two day stretch. It’s been over a month now and there is still no time. But strangely, I’m not as stressed out about that as I expected I’d be. I feel just as ambitious, in the sense that when I contemplate my mortality, as I do with neurotic frequency, I think, “I have to write books! Then I can die.” But I don’t feel quite as sharply that I’m failing right now, or not succeeding enough. Or maybe it’s just that I’m thinking more about other things and so my potential failure doesn’t seem as pressing.

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Kate on September 4th 2013 in life, motherhood, new york, uplifting, work, writing

women’s work

Someone left a comment on my first pregnancy post that went “Oh good, now you’ll never have to get a job. Perfect.”

I’d been waiting for it.  I deleted it quickly, as though I could unsee it. And then I sat, paralyzed, and tried not to cry.

My biggest immediate fear about this baby is that I won’t be able to work for a while afterward. Or, more confusingly, that maybe I won’t feel the incessant push to work.  I’ve had a regular job since I was fifteen. Before that, I babysat a lot and ran this summer day camp for little kids with my friend Meg (our schedule was DETAILED). I tracked every dollar I earned in a journal with a shiny blue cover. The first serious purchase I ever made was a giant purple trampoline from Sam’s Club, when I was ten, and it was very upsetting when our dog bit holes in the tough, black fabric, in her desperate effort to participate in the fun as we bounced.

(I kind of miss it now…source)

So many people my age are not doing what they think they should be doing with their lives. I know lots of people who are working a job that isn’t a “real job,” yet, and they’re unhappy. I am not exactly sure what I should be doing, but I am usually sure I’m not doing enough. That I should have more to show. I have this urge to apologize to the world for not being far enough along. For not being obvious enough in my successes. You know, like Lena Dunham. We writers and creative types are always talking about her. She’s so conveniently successful! We all want to be her a little, so that we can relax. We imagine that we could relax at that point.

There’s lots of talk about women “having it all” or not being able to “have it all” these days. Arguments back and forth about what that even means, and if it is indeed possible, and for whom it’s actually possible if it’s at all possible. Really, I think we’re expected to do it all, whether or not we have it all.

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Kate on February 21st 2013 in life, pregnancy, work

the only one eating all of the doughnut holes (a story about choosing a career)

Louie CK does a bit about cookies at a party- he keeps sneaking back to take another, pretending to “rediscover” them every time. “Oh, look! Cookies! I should probably have one…” Bear said it reminds him of himself. Brenda said it reminds her of herself. It reminds me of myself, too, so I don’t know who all of the other people at that party are. The ones who aren’t taking the cookies. But I wanted to share a story about a time when this happened to me.

It starts during the time when I still didn’t know what I was going to be when I grew up.

When I went to grad school, my plan was to grab the Master’s degree on my way to the PhD, and head straight through to the end, where I’d be a professor in a foggily half-imagined future full of diplomas and a sense of quiet security. But then, a few months into grad school, I realized that no, I’d gotten the whole thing wrong, I wasn’t going to become a professor, ever. I wasn’t cut out for it. I didn’t have that drive that the other students had—that urge to burrow into a text, that finely honed focus. I wanted to talk in broad swaths, and I couldn’t ever make up my mind. I wanted to study big, wide-open topics, and I didn’t care if I never read in the original text. And worst of all, I was bad at theory.

So, with only half a year of my Master’s left, I had to scramble to figure out the rest of my life. Or at least a viable beginning for it.

My thesis advisor said, “Maybe you should try to write,” but before I listened to her, I decided to go to cantorial school.

I had been a lay cantor at my synagogue in NJ since I was a teenager, so I knew I liked it, and actually, I’d once been so sure I’d become a fulltime cantor that I picked my college for its music school and proximity to my synagogue, so I could work all the way through. I started college as a vocalist in the music education program, because I’d heard that a music ed degree was desirable in cantorial school. And then I was miserable. And I sat in a practice room after music theory class crying and writing a poem about the grand piano with its comforting bulk and its sharp, punishing teeth, or something. At juries, the voice faculty told me that my voice was not “bel canto” enough. I googled it. It meant “beautiful singing.” It was beautiful singing enough for the congregants, damn it! I thought bitterly. Then I went on a bitter walk in the rain.

“The cantorial influence is too strong,” said my voice instructor, an enormous, barrel-chested man with a red beard who sang with the New York City Opera and told tales of his own grandeur. “You have to give up singing at your temple if you want to be a true classical singer.”

I didn’t want to be a true classical singer. I wanted to sing haunting, ancient Jewish melodies. That was the whole point.

(singing Jewish music makes me feel mysterious and sexy, like this. source)

So an academic year after I arrived, I stood up and walked out of a piano test.

“I’m done,” I said to the panel of judges. “I quit.”

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Kate on December 4th 2012 in fear, food, life, work, writing

the hope scale

My therapist said people who are high on the hope scale (I didn’t know about it, but I think it’s a scale that measures how good you are at being a person) succeed more. There was this study.

I said, “Shit. I’m screwed.”

“No, no,” she said, laughing. “Your hope will just look different. It will be subtle.” I think that’s what she said.

But seriously, it is lame to be a champion worrier, and to wait and wait to check my goals off the list that runs my life. Especially because goals change so fluidly, without you even noticing. It makes it hard to trust yourself. It makes it hard to figure out what’s actually important.

For example, when I was twelve or so, my dad took me to Carnegie Hall to see Oscar Peterson play. My dad is a jazz pianist, and he loves Oscar, and so I loved Oscar, too. I played classical, then, and I took it very seriously, like I take absolutely everything because I am probably a robot. At intermission, I went up to the stage and I touched it. It was golden brown wood, maple? I don’t know my wood colors very well, and deeply scratched, which I hadn’t expected. I’d thought it would be shinier. I whispered, “Someday I will walk across this stage.” It was a vow.

(eep. source)

And I kept it, but not really. I sang in a choir once at Carnegie Hall, in college, but that didn’t count. I’d meant that I would walk across the stage to a grand piano, and then I’d sit down alone and play, like the fifteen-year-old girl I’d heard of who was already doing that and who I hated passionately for it. I am not good at keeping my vows, apparently.

But the thing is, by the time I sang with the choir, I didn’t even care who was sitting on the piano bench. I didn’t want that anymore. Not even a little. Instead, I wanted to get into grad school. More than anything, I wanted to prove that I was smart enough for Harvard (spoiler alert: I wasn’t). Recently, it occurred to me that I’m not so concerned with being that kind of smart anymore. And now I want to be this famous writer. It’s always something, isn’t it?

It all seems a little silly when I think about it for a second. Being this kind of person. The kind of person who is always rushing towards something, who is always scrabbling for a handhold, trying to pull herself up a little higher, towards something she can’t quite see.

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Kate on October 17th 2012 in fear, life, new york, work, writing