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Is it getting old? My husband feels like some of the activism and fervor for “women” is diffuse, unfocused, maybe a little misplaced. I’m paraphrasing, and will come back and clarify if I misspoke. But I understand that position. American women, speaking generally, have so many freedoms, today. Opportunities their grandmothers would be dazzled by, and that women in many other parts of the world will not see in their lifetimes. Yes.
But one thing I’ve found to be a huge obstacle in my white, middle-class life as a mother is this: I have become the one in our family that engages in hours upon hours of unpaid work; work that is unseen, unmanaged, receives no raises or accolades, and is mostly solitary. I know I complain about it a lot, and am a real bitch for doing so, since it’s something I can “afford” to do—many women don’t have partners who make enough money for them to stay home and do unpaid work for the family (take care of children, make meals, etc.). Most of the poorest women in the world do heavy shares of unpaid work (taking care of children, the family, food, housework) WHILST returning to paid work. I’m lucky, and feel rich most of the time. But the fact that my work is difficult…and yet does not get the kind of honor, in our money/career-driven society, that paid work gets, has been hard for me to process.
I’m not sitting around wishing I could get medals for wiping butts and picking dirty clothes up off the floor. I’m not cleaning the fifth mess of the day off the kitchen floor with gritted teeth, so bitter that I can’t get a raise for this. I don’t walk into the tenth cloud of the day of baby whining, baby songs, baby questions, baby toys, and baby-throwing-a-crying-fit-in-the-middle-of-the road-while-cars-are-waiting-for-us-to-cross, jockeying inwardly for First Prize in Enduring Brain-Deadness. Nope. I’ve moved into what I truly believe is a healthy appreciation for the work I “get” to do. I’m finally mentally and physically healthy enough to find that the joy of being a mother is simply enveloping, simply transformative—thank God. Bye, PPD.
HOWSOMEVER. It is impossible for my husband to understand the work I do all day, since he hasn’t experienced it firsthand, and since I can’t explain why taking care of a baby/toddler should be so difficult that I just can’t get to the sixth kitchen floor mess, or clean the bathroom, or get to the dishes in the sink, there’s a lot he just can’t understand about my daily work. I’ve done a terrible job of trying to explain it to him. Not because he doesn’t care or want to know, but because I just find it hard to articulate why this job is so hard. And I’ve been unwell enough that we now have a track record of pretty awful fights originating with this very issue: Why is the house such a mess? What did I do all day???? Marriage 101: Fights with the purpose of showing that one’s work is more difficult than one’s spouse’s work are unproductive and there is no moral high ground to retreat to when things get loud. Make a note of that.
So a lot of the work I do at home every day continues to feel invisible to everyone in my life … but me. (And I suck enough at Peaceful Joyful Parenting that the idea of this being my & my daughter’s “secret life” doesn’t really do it for me, either.)
But when I come to today—International Women’s Day—and re-watch Hillary Clinton’s iconic “Women’s rights are human rights” speech, and remember that billions of other women are walking our common path, doing paid work for public view, and unpaid work that’s hidden deep in the underground of history, I can do my work with a sense of community and support. Even if I don’t participate in the strike. I can honor and advocate for societal changes that will support women and the work we do: like paid parental leave, which will benefit fathers too, who need it and often don’t get it. Like equal pay for equal work, and a recognition that mothers can and should contribute their skills and knowledge to the “workforce,” with more help from employers. Like childcare not COSTING A SHIT-TON and basically being unaffordable for most people. I could go on. These are causes I stand up for.
Today I’m working: I’ll be taking care of my daughter at home this afternoon. Probably doing some cool stuff like looking for our favorite snails under our favorite snail-hiding rocks. I’ll be working for a couple hours at my place of employment (notice how this phrase implies that anywhere I’m not being paid, I’m not working? Thanks ‘merica.), Care of the Earth Community Farm, which is owned and run by a woman and her husband, and is shaped and buoyed by her generous vision and principles—I’m inspired by her and her husband every day. I’ll also be doing some unpaid volunteer work for a nonprofit, Nourish Knoxville, that does excellent work and is steered by another hard-working and visionary woman. These women, and all women who do good work, I want to honor today…with my work.
And yes—it is the job of a feminist to honor women, and work for equal rights and opportunity, and it is also a job of feminism to recognize the value of ALL peoples’ work, including that of people of color, lgbtq people, fathers, indigenous people, veterans, etc. When there are days to honor the paid & unpaid work of another group, I want to hear about it, and participate. It’s not the job of feminists to ignore other groups who need recognition. I always feel like that goes without saying, but I think I’m wrong about that. There’s so much pushback that I’ve experienced, in the past couple of years, against “feminism” that I do see the need to be as clear as I possibly can about what I mean.
Go forth and strike; alternately, go forth and work. Either way, know that your work has iceberg-like value: only 10% is on top.
P.S.! A shout-out to the women who organized and continue to run the childcare programs at First Presbyterian Church and Washington Pike United Methodist—these programs run (so lovingly and well!) on a shoestring, and have impacted my life deeply. More generous women for which I am SO thankful.
I’m up early again this morning, early enough to light candles on the table and have them glow richly against the walnut (veneering?) tabletop. And the horizon was a thin band of rose and pale blue, the rest of the sky was still dark. I’ve decided—once again—that as long as I can, I have to keep getting up this early.
I wanted to talk about how I’ve been inspired by American politics and this election particularly, to quit pretending I can’t influence the world around me. I’m at the most limited I’ve probably ever been—more than grad school or recovering from surgery, even. Having a kid and a husband with a chronic illness will do that (not to mention I’m still recovering from PPD/PPA). But I look around at things like the president, the conditions under which he was elected, the enormous protests and demonstrations that blew up after the election, the confusion and debasement of public discourse, the rising violence against people of color and immigrants, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent report of the tripling of American hate groups, and I think, “I have to do something this time.”
So I’ve started volunteering an hour and a half a week, until I start back at work in April, at a local nonprofit that serves local farmers and connects people in our region with them: Nourish Knoxville. Small, diversified farmers (and small farmers MUST diversify to make it, these days) are vulnerable to the changing winds of public opinion, government protections (to a lesser extent), and most of all: climate change. I may not be able to make it to the Climate March on Washington this spring, but I’ll be doing what I can, where I am.
I’m also going to dedicate 2-4 evenings a month to volunteering as an adult literacy coach/tutor with another local org., Friends of Literacy. Another problem I see in the world around me is a lack of knowledge about how to read widely & critically, and research information to see that it is true—many simply don’t have the resources or time. Again, lack of resources and time that a sense of powerlessness can really aggravate. Immigrants and non-native English speakers are part of this population. But even among natives, a large percentage of Tennesseans haven’t finished high school, and another large percentage finished but life swept them off their feet and they never got a chance to develop their learning skills so that they could grow into adulthood with self-education along for the ride. I want to help. I think this is going to be fun. My older sister has been doing this for a while in Nashville, and I’ve been inspired by her to give it a try.
Lastly, I’ve swept Black Lives Matter and many conversations about race in America under the rug, these past few years. But now I’m inspired—again by the new administration—to listen. If there has ever been a time to choose to listen, it’s now. As a white, middle-class Southerner, my life is astonishingly separate from the lives and concerns of “the black/POC community” in my city. So much of the South is still segregated. I used to look at that fact and shrug, thinking, “nothing wrong with like communities sticking together.” But I’m seeing now that those with an amount of social and economic privilege are often the ones (if not always the ones) who should be listening first, and asking questions later. I’m aware, to some extent, of the lasting results of Jim Crow and the residual stereotypes and fears from the terrible centuries of slavery and abuse and repression and deprivation and denial. But as NPR & PRI ramp up their coverage, here in the last few years, of racial disparity in American, I’m learning more about the concrete actions that result from those residual stereotypes and fears.
I’m learning that discriminatory housing laws and rules about drawing local district lines (“redlining,” “blockbusting,” to name two such—google them!) are largely to blame for the segregation of neighborhoods and much of the poverty that’s characteristic of black communities. I’m learning that proven bias against young men of color has resulted in unfair police harassment and imprisonment, and that this fact has resulted, itself, in an enormous sense of powerlessness and anger in those communities. These are examples of “systemic bias/racism,” that have helped to deprive people of color of a sense of power and, in too many case, of justice. All of these things are important, if we want to be proud of our democracy.
The extent to which Knoxville is still so segregated makes this an opportunity for me to change my life a bit, since I don’t often rub shoulders with or speak to people of color, and especially since people must often live together (be neighbors) before they can get to know each other, and our neighborhoods are the most segregated of all our local arenas, I think. One of my bosses is from Mexico, and I’ve learned a lot about Knoxville’s hispanic immigrant population from him, but it’s my choice to go home and forget what I’ve learned…or go out and make new neighbors. I’ve occasionally heard Christians say that that they are praying that God would put needy people “in their lives” or “bring opportunities” to them—when Jesus didn’t wait for the marginalized to come to him (because they likely wouldn’t come—social class, social status, and religious mores are such strong social dividers): he went to find them.
These are causes that I find compelling in the Year of Trump. We can’t know what will happen as the year goes on, except that we will find people to help if we go looking for them. I haven’t often done that. I will, now. What has the election inspired you to do?
I wanted to write today, but have been pretty down this week so far, and nothing is really poking up above the water (except the inexorable nightmare of politics, ugh, no more facebook today!!). Maybe it’s the fact that Marshall and I are both equally on board with marriage counseling/couples therapy, now, and so we actually have to make an appointment. When it comes to therapy, I’ve always encouraged ALLL my friends to do it, saying ‘everyone should get therapy,’ but not meaning mySELF. Like, everybody else should do it. But I’m coo.
Actually, I do believe we need a third party, but in the past I’ve used long silent afternoons or evenings of solitary thinking, praying, and writing to be that third party. But I don’t write anymore, I’m hardly ever solitary anymore (usually if I am, I feel compelled to do things like food prep, phone calls, cleaning, etc.), and since I’m used to doing my deep thinking via writing … I don’t really think deeply that often anymore. So—let’s pay for an actual human person third party. And since there are talented and empathetic people who act as third parties for their livings, let’s get one of those. K.
I actually opened this tab up to talk about a couple of cardinals, though. The steel-gray sky is so oppressive that I want to close all the curtains, while Mary is at PDO, and make a warm little cave of this room. But the walls are dim and blank, the lights are wan and weak, and I feel like I should be rushing around doing productive things. Especially things to make money, cause money is tight. So I was looking absently out the window, trying to decide what to do with the morning (a luxury that still startles me, sometimes), trying to not be so depressed by the gray fog sheeting the world so coldly, and up in the window pops the brightest red beak, followed by a russet head and black eye. A female cardinal hopped across the outside sill, looking in at me at every hop.
This is what poetry is (just typing that phrase, tears have come to my eyes): into of the cage of the mind, the anxiety-ridden, sad, overwhelmed mind, a red beak and brown feather come. A bright eye, like nothing the mind can remember, glistens, saying, “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (slight re-phrasing mine).
I have a friend who seems to always (i.e., probably actually about once a month) be sending me links to great episodes of the On Being podcast—a podcast which we can all agree does this work. Tippet (host) is consciously trying to break into the little hamster-wheel cages of our minds, where we do our daily anxiety exercises, to show us rifts in the fabric of time. Life is overwhelming, so I’ve stopped reading poetry, stopped listening to these podcasts, and stopped reminding myself that there is an unworld out there, a place outside of time, where God lives and beckons.
The female cardinal hopped to the edge of the sill and flew off. Ten seconds later, a bright scarlet head with another glistening otherworldly eye popped into view where she had been: a male cardinal was following her.
I still don’t know what to do, today, except to try to leave the door of my mind open. If God is there, then I will know.
And I called my senators about Jeff Sessions ALREADY so I’m officially staying OFFFTT of facebook for the rest of the day I swear to god. If you know me, feel free to text me asking if I kept to my promise. Haha.
My sister and her boyfriend in the top photo, and another sister on the far right of this photo.
Brother-in-law, then two friends from church…
Friends I wish I could have marched with in Nashville…
Knoxville turning up the heat. I hope we can show up in the same numbers and with the same fervor for immigrant & refugee rights and dignity, for climate change action, affordable housing advocacy, and whatever else is gonna need a spotlight this year. I’m trying to not be sensationalist (a word?) and alarmist, but an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.
This is one of those terms that I’ve googled three times and still can’t remember if I’m using it correctly: occultation. You tarp over some ground, forcing grass to die and weeds to get leggy and pale. You come through with a tiller, turn the plant matter into the soil, let it decompose, till one more time & then you’re ready to plant.
I’m trying a version of this, since I’m putting a 30’x40′ garden bed in the middle of our crabgrass backyard, and I ain’t got time to cut up no sod. THAT is a workout. And leaves you with piles of grass and grassroots. I’m hoping to till in my organic matter in March, if we keep having warm spells like the one we’re in now (highest high was 69F I think…).
I read a blog essay that a friend on facebook (with whom I haven’t caught up in 10 years?) posted about the women’s marches, yesterday. It was written by someone that’s part of a “Christian Orthodox” group, and the blog’s “About” page was as clipped, testy, vinegary, and theologically narrow as the post had been: “We support traditional Christian Monarchy and Hierarchic social order, as the true pillar of Christian Patriotism,” for instance. A list of “we believe” items followed, whose main concern was to isolate “we” from “them,” casting “we” in the purest most righteous light, and “them” in the darkest and most lost/misguided shadow.
One of the most-used “weapons” in the traditional Christian arsenal, as I experienced traditional Christianity growing up, was this “us versus them” tool of the mind, an easy and clever trick that allowed us Christians to isolate ourselves from “the world” by thinking of ourselves as “found,” “set apart,” “saved,” etc., while our unbelieving neighbors were by the same token “lost,” “of the world,” “damned,” and so on. It gave us both the satisfaction of knowing we were always “right,” or at least “ok,” while slowly pushing us further and further from our neighbors around us, ultimately resulting in fear and ignorance of much of the world around us. I speak generally—I can at least say of myself that I grew up fearful and ignorant of much of the world around me. It’s only in the past years that I’ve been able to move further away from this dualism of “us versus them.” I don’t know why it took me so long, since Christ himself rejected this kind of thinking, immersing himself in his culture (while questioning or rejecting parts of it that were damaging), and drawing people to himself that his friends the Jews considered “lost,” “of the world,” “damned,” and so on.
In this woman’s essay, she castigated the “modern feminists” of the women’s marches for being pro-abortion (not all were), for being exhibitionists (very few were, I imagine), for turning the natural order upside down (indeed), and other grave irreligious crimes. A short string of “Well written!” and “I wish every woman would read this!” comments dropped off the bottom of the post, and I commented as well, defending the marches as unaffiliated, spontaneous expressions of unity, peace, and goodwill, and questioning the author’s assumptions that “feminism” is the opposite of “Christian values” or Christian love.
In fact, as lovers of the gospels know, Christ broke societal norms several times, in shocking ways, to make it clear that women were more important to him than they were to Jewish culture at large. He tacitly worked to re-define Jewish “holiness” when he taught Mary in her home, as women weren’t allowed near the teaching that went on in the synagogues. By talking to lower-class women (even former hookers) in rough neighborhoods, letting them touch him and follow him, eat with him, he was creating a new ethic for “holy women,” and by cancelling a public execution of a woman who broke religious law he … what would you say was his goal? I can only guess. And my guess is that he was still about his work of raising up the destitute.
One of my favorite stories in the gospel is Christ’s appearance to Mary after the resurrection. Why did he choose a woman to be the first to see and hear him? Why did he create for her the task of spreading “the good news” (“gospel”) of his resurrection, rather than appearing in the room of disciples himself? What would you say was his goal? I can only guess, that it was important for him to entrust a woman with the job of spreading news. I heard someone say once that Mary was the first preacher, and I like to roll that idea around in my head. Can you imagine how it must have hurt Peter’s feelings that Mary was the first to see him, though? I mean really.
And I was going to find some thread to tie the above conversation up with the occultation method of soil preparation, but the baby’s up. I’ll leave you to tie them together…
It’s been so wet and cloudy this winter, which is wonderful (we’re still in D3 drought last time I checked, hoping we make up some ground before spring). But this is my first morning back from the Missouri roadtrip, and I’ve gotten up early, and I kinda wanted to see a colorful sunrise. I’m having coffee, whose tang and richness is like a splish of sun. The leaves in my occultation plot in the backyard are still orange and burnt sienna, and the grass is faded but still has green shadows. I’ll take it.
Now that I have myself looking out into the backyard, I’m starting to make lists of things I want to do out there, like till the leaves into the garden bed, get rid of trash/junk, clean and repaint the toolshed—the list could go on for pages. But the purpose of getting up in the morning is to regain guilt-free solitude, and get a handle on my life.
So, to go one step deeper than making jumpy to-do lists, I’ll make an I’m-doing list:
1. I’m realizing that it doesn’t matter so much what I write, I just have TO write, to feel like I’m contributing to the world. Mary’s growing so fast, now, that I can add “mothering” to this category of things, but I honestly still feel like I’m barely scraping by in the mom department, and have this horrible dread of finding out that, in fact, anyone could be raising my daughter better than I am. WRONG! I know! UGHH!! Regardless. While I realize mothering is much more important, I feel like I suck at it, while I’ve always felt I was good at writing. One has to feel like they can do something well in life. I think I’ve finally got to a point where I can see that writing, while not as significant as parenting, will help me to parent better if I can just make time to do it. Ergo:
2. I am writing. Getting up at 6:30 is proving to be practically painless. Thanks in part to the fact that Mary is now sleeping through the night 70% of the time. (Only took 2 years!)
3. I may not be publishing poetry collections or children’s books, but I’m instead trying to organize my head and spirit, and that’s the actual best work that I have to do. And I’m doing it.
4. I’m trying to bring my body into better health (along with my head). I’m going to bed a little earlier (you can’t imagine how late we’ve stayed up, this past year, ffs!). I’m drinking herbal tea before bed to wind down. I’m eating things I make, except for chocolate, etc., and freezing CSA veg in pestos and broths so I waste less food. I’m drinking more water. I’m getting back into yoga … and since I’m getting back into yoga I really have to get my wrists x-rayed because my wrist problems are getting worse with age/more yoga. Dammit.
5. I’m becoming a more honest person, and that comes across as negative & brash at times … because the inside of my head is pretty negative and brash, these days. Pretending that I’m stoked and #winning is too tiring, feels fake & gross, and keeps relationships from really growing. The next step for me, after the work I’ve already started in the “make time to be with the women you really care about” arena, is to try plugging back into groups that I want to be a part of. I finally feel capable of this. I’d like to be politically active (already beginning), I’m curious about getting involved with the local writer’s guild (freaks me the fuck out for some reason), I want to head up a new committee at the farm where I work & possibly help with fundraising (though I hate fundraising with the fire a thousand suns), and I’m officially going to start volunteering with Nourish Knoxville, the little nonprofit that issues our local food guide. These feel like good places to start.
Sun is up. Looks like the heavy wall of gray is opening up a bit—nice.