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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

a thought from anne and a dream

Last night I went to see Anne Lamott discuss her new book, Grace (Eventually). She was reading at Barnes and Noble in a fancy schmancy suburban mall, and the place was packed. Seriously—hundreds of people lined the aisles, trying to get a glimpse of Anne and her crazy dreadlocks. (The fifty or so people who actually got seats had been there, waiting, for two hours!)

My questions: Did B&N not expect so many people? Did they not care? I don’t know. But all those bodies in such a small space made it excruciatingly hot, and of course, since it’s been an annoyingly cold April, I was dressed for winter: a heavy sweater and jeans. Sweat was, literally, dripping down my back for the better part of two hours. (I know—TMI.)

Still, it was worth it. I had never seen her read or speak, and she was exactly what I expected: funny, self-deprecating, irreverent, political. She read a chapter about forgiveness, made us laugh, and answered questions and just talked. The thing she said that struck me most was this: “It is an act of resistance to demand the right to be heard.”

I’m sure she said lots of other wonderful things last night, but that is the one thing that stuck with me because I’ve been thinking about this, how hard it often is (and how hard it has been) for women to find a public voice, to find the courage to speak about private things in a public sphere, or to speak at all.

Last Saturday night, I got into an argument with a friend. (Argument is maybe an understatement, but I’ll get to that in a minute.) D. and I were at our friends’ house because they were having a small get-together. Well into the evening, the husband starting talking about how hard it is for women these days if, after a graduate degree or two, they decide to stay home with their kids. Everyone judges them. (This happened to his wife.) Wasn’t it easier, he said, when there weren’t so many expectations on women? (Meaning to me: when we were expected to stay home and take care of the kids and not have careers at all.)

Of course, there is only a small portion of our society that can afford to make this decision, and I know they are often judged for it. I also know that women who go to work when they could stay home are judged just as harshly. (I’ve seen as much Parenting surveys.)

I flipped out on my friend. Seriously, screaming. The thing that made me so angry was his assumption (or so I gathered) that because the general public and men didn’t hear about the struggles women had (because these were private struggles, because we didn’t have the options we have today, and because we weren’t allowed a public voice), that these struggles didn’t exist.

Should women be judged for deciding to stay home or work—of course not. But I’ll take that—as I flip the f***ers off—rather than not having the choice. I think about how hard my first year as a mother was, and I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have made it through if it were not for my writing, for poetry, and for the promise of returning to graduate school in the fall. If I thought the crying, the reflux, the lack of sleep, and the constant worry was going to be it, I don’t know what I would have done, really.

I would not feel whole if I didn’t write, but I didn’t even realize I wanted to write until I was in my late twenties. And this is what I imagine: in 1950, I married a man. I stayed home with the kids. I was fine, probably, but was there ever an emptiness? Did I ever wonder what if?

I have to return to Adrienne Rich here, even though I recently posted about her. In Of Woman Born she writes: “I have a very clear, keen memory of myself the day after I was married: I was sweeping a floor. Probably the floor did not really need to be swept; probably I simply did not know what else to do with myself. But as I swept that floor I thought: ‘Now I am a woman. This is an age-old action, this is what women have always done.’ I felt I was bending to some ancient form, too ancient to question. This is what women have always done.”

She writes: “I became a mother in the family-centered, consumer-oriented, Freudian-American world of the 1950s. My husband spoke eagerly of the children we would have; my parents-in-law awaited the birth of their grandchild. I had no idea of what I wanted, what I could or could not choose. I only knew that to have a child was to assume adult womanhood to the full, to prove myself, to be ‘like other women.’”

Don’t ever tell me that we’re worse off.

This is my dream: that all women can someday make these choices for themselves and for their families. That all women have the space and resources to discover their hearts. That all women someday demand the right to be heard.

5 comments:

Sari said...

Oh my goodness! I was at the reading too! I wish I'd seen you. Wasn't it crazy? I wanted a rock climbing harness so I could repel from the second floor and dangle above those lucky enough to have seats. I’m a big Lamott fan, but I was less enthralled. Maybe I was cranky about sitting on the floor. We’ll have to talk Lamott some Friday lunch.

But I digress. Great post. It’s so frustrating that women still have to fight these battles. I’m sure the man's question was well intended and it bites that people question their choices, but really! Did he honestly think it was better for women back in the day? I’m glad you told him off.

kate said...

He was well-intentioned, and was really angered by the ways women are judged today, but he missed it, that fact that we've always faced judgments and struggles, but that they have not always been so public. And just because some of what we are struggling with now is public, does that make it worse or harder than what we've always done?

Mardougrrl said...

Applause!

First off, Anne Lamott was here and I missed her? I weep. I LOVE her work!

Secondly, this post resonates deeply with me. I'm really in the thick of this decision myself. How seriously can I take myself as a writer right now, while mothering a very small child? Would it be different if it was a career? Or schooling? Will I be able to start a career, or go back to school, as she grows? Will it be too late?

*sigh* Just thinking out loud (in your comments, sorry).

Once my brain adjusted from the sleep deprivation, I started reading Adrienne Rich and other seminal texts on motherhood (I also recommend "The Mother Knot" by Jane Lazarre)--and my husband mentioned something about those "uber-feminist" books I was now reading. I went off on him too, because of his sneering tone--why was it so terrible to look at my experience and question the instition itself, instead of just accepting that, what, a women's natural place is in the home?

He's usually not a neanderthal, so I was amazed. I can only assume he was feeling like I was looking too closely at the thing, and he didn't understand why I was struggling (and keep struggling) with the choice to stay at home.

But I am glad that I HAVE that choice to struggle. Having choices is what keeps us adult, after all.

Whoo, post hit a nerve. Thanks for that.

tarakuanyin said...

I don't remember how I got here. I was following links that started in Sunday Scribblings, but I wanted to say that some time ago I was reading a friend's blog and some of the commenters were very smug about being stay-at-home moms and about that choice being "the only right choice." (My friend does not feel that way herself, though she chose to stay home.) I chose to work, partially because I had to, and partially because it's in my nature to work. My daughter is now 14 and none the worse for it, and my friends' kids are now a little younger than 14 and also wonderful people who benefited from their mother's presence in their life. Like you, I wish we could live in a world where whatever our choices were, we wouldn't be judged. This was a moving and thoughtful post.

Bri said...

Hi Kate,
I've heard "Annie" Lamott read in person quite a few times. The best was held in a big beautiful space, the Chapel at Macalester College, back when the Hungry Mind was just across the way. Room to stretch, breathe, and listen.

I have met her each time, as well, but in a crowded and hot Barnes and Noble, I probably would have left. It's too bad that B&N didn't do her justice!

Your post resonates with me on many levels but especially the flashback to NICU days. I've been there. It never fully leaves you.

Hugs,
Brina