Archive for the 'writing' 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

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 Jews in Williamsburg

Rode the backway through Williamsburg to meet R for lunch, and it was bleak and raining and there were no non-Jews for about 15 blocks. No trees, either, except for a few helpless scraggles. It felt like entering a different time, an older world.

The boys, preparing for Shabbat, were all carrying the same tallis bag. They can’t carry umbrellas, though, on the Sabbath, so their hats were wrapped in plastic bags. The girls went with their heads bare. A pregnant woman in the long, traditional black stood at the door of yet another rusty, tired apartment building, staring out into the grim street scene. It must be so safe, though, because I saw a girl who must’ve been only nine or something, pushing a baby in a carriage, alone. Probably not going far. No one seems to be going far—it is a universe in ten blocks, a cosmos in fifteen.

TB 110-B Black

(source)

A building had a plaque by a door that read “ladies’ entrance.” Some signs were in Hebrew. It struck me that I am living right next door to this community. I am within walking distance, though I never walk that way. I am Jewish. I am a married mother, too. My life looks nothing like this.

I sat in the car and stared and wondered what it is like to be a girl here, so close to my home. What is it like to be a woman? To be anyone?

“There are a lot of cities in this city,” Bear said, later, when I mentioned this. He said that NYC is a compilation of all of these little, insular communities. Ours is one, too. It’s strange to think about.

The parents in my neighborhood are always talking about preschools—which are prestigious, which are better, have I signed Eden up yet, for the wait list for the more exclusive wait list for this one down the street? It’s important because of the matriculation rate to Harvard. It’s important to have put her on the path to Harvard, now, at six months. It sounds like a joke, but it actually isn’t. I think I am supposed to have planned for her whole life, already. Or at least through twenty-two or so.

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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

birth story (also my book is officially out today)

My little book is officially out today! Please buy it! Please read it! Please like it! Please don’t tell me if you don’t like it, because I will feel like crying and have to walk around pretending I don’t care when I do care and then I’ll get mad at myself for being so damn sensitive and then I’ll be like, to myself, “Well, come on, you know it’s not even that good…”

I’m nervous because my little book feels a lot like a little journal, and it’s sort of discombobulated and not particularly professional or neat. So I feel like I’m admitting to the reader that I’m not particularly professional and my mind is messy and I am not an expert at all. I hope that’s an OK thing to admit.

Information:

Here is the home page for the book with links to where you can buy it.

You can buy it on Amazon or iBooks, or Kobo  or Barnes & Noble. Oh, or Amazon UK,  and iBooks Australia too.

This is what the cover looks like:

Growing Eden

Growing Eden is an ebook right now. It might be a print book sometime soon, and I will let you know if that happens. For now, you can read it on your phone or computer or kindle or wherever you can read text on a screen. You can download a free kindle app for your phone or computer if you don’t have one.

Here is an excerpt. It’s from the epilogue, which is the birth story (full disclosure: I ended up choosing to have my baby at home. There’s actually a chapter in the book about how I arrived at that decision), but since you guys are special readers, I want to share a bit of the end first, like eating cake in the middle of the day, or right before vegetables.

best_chocolate_cake_recipe_from_scratch(source

My doula said the day before that there was some astrological thing happening and that if I willed something to happen, it would happen. She said it half seriously, with a smile I could hear over the phone. She is really pretty down to earth. I said I was willing to believe, just this once, because I was so tired of being pregnant. Anyway, I was like, “OK. I will myself to go into labor tomorrow.” And then I changed my mind and wished for a billion dollars and a cure for diabetes. But then I changed my mind again and wished to go into labor. It was two weeks before the due date.

But it worked. I mean, I woke up the next morning, and I was in labor.

I was very cool about the whole thing. I met a friend from birth class for coffee. We were both hugely pregnant.

“How are you?” she asked.

“I think I’m in labor,” I said. It was 10:00 a.m. and already ninety-five degrees out.

“Oh my god!” she said. “Are you okay?” Then she said, “Oh my god, I am not ready to go into labor!”

“Maybe you should get ready today,” I said. “Just in case.”

“I probably should,” she said.

I got a peanut butter breakfast bar and an iced coffee. I figured the contractions would go away soon, the way early labor often does, especially for a first timer. I had read so many books.

Walking out of the coffee shop, my friend stopped me and, looking intensely into my eyes, said, “Hey, I know we’re both cynical New York women, but really, you should just be a goddess.”

“I’ll try,” I said.

Then I went home and ordered a pizza.

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Kate on November 5th 2013 in fear, life, motherhood, pregnancy, 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