Monthly Archives: October 2010

Work; On my sweetheart, mothering and paid work, whatever is next. And a poem– someone else’s.

Part 1. I have written so little about my sweetheart.  It is not that there isn’t a lot to say or that she doesn’t interest me anymore.  Very much the contrary.  My partner, M and I have been together 23 years.  I still adore her, as I did at the beginning.  Our 23rd anniversary of what we both count as our first date, just passed less than a month ago– although it was a day taken up by the Jewish holiday with barely a moment to note it as an anniversary.

Actually, setting out to write this about her, pushes me harder than anything else has, since beginning this blog– about the challenges of the convention of anonymity.  It is hard to even think about her, let alone write something without declaring her first name–so worn, comfortable, simple and familiar to me.  She is a working class woman, through and through.  Doing things rather than talking about things is how she makes the world around her go well, and she is a workhorse in many, many ways.

Although it is clear to me that this (her endless willingness, even more than willingness, her default mode being work) isn’t always good for her–nor for the people around her, it is nonetheless an admirable thing.  More admirable than many other sometimes harmful habits, let us say.  I cannot match her for work, for speed of work around the house, but she keeps me honest about work and the nature of work in some way, because she just does so much of it.  I do too.  But it is different and not what I set out to write about here.

Part 2. Not going to a paid job every day has left me a bigger space to tackle some parts of the good work of mothering.  What do I want to have offered my daughter and my family at the end of each day?  What does she really need from me to survive an oppressive world, to flourish as a person, to recover from her own losses and to have a good perspective on the world and the crazy things that go on around us all, all the time?  I am thinking not romantically, but more strategically about the work of mothering.  If you have no idea of what I am talking about here are two examples.   It has become clear to me that in order to help with certain things I need to really understand her perspective.  And after some trial and error, I have figured out that if I get her right after school and either walk or drive her home– with absolutely no other agenda– no groceries to buy, no mail to mail, no need to get my dry cleaning or a prescription– she will talk honestly to me about what is percolating about her day.  I do not succeed every day, but I have tried to organize this time, so that I can pick her up with my time and my mind organized around that one thing– a free space to hear her out.  When it works it’s quite remarkable.  It’s a luxury but I also view it as a very disciplined piece of my work as a mother, which for now doesn’t have to compete quite so much with all the other things of my day and my life.  So I am trying to tackle that piece of work, over and over.  I  also have people who I think are smarter and more knowledgeable than I am about parenting and young people who remind me over and over that active play and laughter are part of the grease that keeps the machine of our relationships working with young people.  Or something like that.  So I am more regularly building in time to play chase, pillow fights, wrestle.  It’s a hustle but a real pleasure; a hustle worth hustling to do.

Part 3. I don’t know what I want to do next work-wise.  I will not write about all the things that have crossed my mind at this point.  But I am thinking as deeply as I know how to about the question.

Part 4.  All of this reminds me of a poem though, which seems worth posting here.  There are so many poems that are so familiar to me it feels almost cliché to refer to them– they were so much part of the fabric of my first learning poetry, feminism and learning things about how to think for myself, what do I actually think?  Yet some of these wonderful poems are not at the forefront these days.  I am close to many younger people who are fellow or sister travelers, writers, readers, who have never heard of many of the things that are standards for me. Actually, for the record, my friend D who is among my closest, oldest, most beloved and reliable friends, lost a close friend of hers recently– a 44-year-old woman, mother of twin 7 1/2- year-old daughters.  She posted this poem on something she had written about her lost friend which brought it back to my mind.

To be of use

by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best 
jump into work head first 
without dallying in the shallows 
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
 They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals 
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again. 

I want to be with people who submerge
 in the task, who go into the fields to harvest 
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
 who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters 
but move in a common rhythm
 when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud. 

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

“To be of use” by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982.

From CIRCLES ON THE WATER © 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and Middlemarsh, Inc. 
First published in Lunch magazine.



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On my sweetheart, mothering and paid work–whatever is next. And a poem– someone else’s.

Part 1. I have written so little about my sweetheart.  It is not that there isn’t a lot to say or that she doesn’t interest me anymore.  Quite the contrary.  My partner, M and I have been together 23 years.  I still adore her, as I did at the beginning.  Our 23rd anniversary of what we both count as our first date, just passed less than a month ago– although it was a day taken up by the Jewish holiday with barely a moment to note it as an anniversary.

Actually, setting out to write this about her, pushes me harder than anything else has, since beginning this blog– about the challenges of the convention of anonymity.  It is hard to even think about her, let alone write something without declaring her first name–so worn, comfortable, simple, beloved and familiar to me.  She is a working class woman, through and through.  Doing things rather than talking about things is how she makes the world around her go well, and she is a workhorse in many, many ways.

Although it is clear to me that this (her endless willingness, even more than willingness, her default mode being work) isn’t always good for her–nor for the people around her, it is nonetheless an admirable thing.  More admirable than many other sometimes harmful habits, let us say.  I cannot match her for work, for speed of work around the house,the pace at which she can get a meal on the table–but she keeps me honest about work and the nature of work in some way, because she just does so much of it.  I do too.  But it is different and not what I set out to write about here.

Part 2. Not going to a paid job every day has left me a bigger space to tackle some parts of the good work of mothering.  What do I want to have offered my daughter and my family at the end of each day?  What does she really need from me to survive an oppressive world, to flourish as a person, to recover from her own losses and to have a good perspective on the world and the crazy things that go on around us all, all the time?  I am thinking not romantically, but more strategically about the work of mothering.  If you have no idea of what I am talking about here are two examples.   It has become clear to me that in order to help with certain things I need to really understand her perspective.  And after some trial and error, I have figured out that if I get her right after school and either walk or drive her home– with absolutely no other agenda– no groceries to buy, no mail to mail, no need to get my dry cleaning or a prescription– she will talk honestly to me about what is percolating about her day.  I do not succeed every day, but I have tried to organize this time, so that I can pick her up with my time and my mind organized around that one thing– a free space to hear her out.  When it works it’s quite remarkable.  It’s a luxury but I also view it as a very disciplined piece of my work as a mother, which for now doesn’t have to compete quite so much with all the other things of my day and my life.  So I am trying to tackle that piece of work, over and over.  I  also have people who I think are smarter and more knowledgeable than I am about parenting and young people who remind me over and over that active play and laughter are part of the grease that keeps the machine of our relationships working with young people.  Or something like that.  So I am more regularly building in time to play chase, pillow fights, wrestle.  It’s a hustle but a real pleasure; a hustle worth hustling to do.

Part 3. I don’t know what I want to do next work-wise.  I will not write about all the things that have crossed my mind at this point.  But I am thinking as deeply as I know how to about the question.

Part 4.  All of this reminds me of a poem though, which seems worth posting here.  There are so many poems that are so familiar to me it feels almost cliché to refer to them– they were so much part of the fabric of my first learning poetry, feminism and learning things about how to think for myself, what do I actually think?  Yet some of these wonderful poems are not at the forefront these days.  I am close to many younger people who are fellow or sister travelers, writers, readers, who have never heard of many of the things that are standards for me. Actually, for the record, my friend D who is among my closest, oldest, most beloved and reliable friends, lost a close friend of hers recently– a 44-year-old woman, mother of twin 7 1/2- year-old daughters.  She posted this poem on something she had written about her lost friend which brought it back to my mind.

To be of use

by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best 
jump into work head first 
without dallying in the shallows 
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
 They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals 
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
 in the task, who go into the fields to harvest 
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
 who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters 
but move in a common rhythm
 when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

“To be of use” by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982.

From CIRCLES ON THE WATER © 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and Middlemarsh, Inc. 
First published in Lunch magazine.



 

One fall day

Yesterday, a gorgeous fall day.  Dry, clear, sunny,warm in the sun, but cool enough that I can wear my favorite jeans and a long-sleeved shirt and sweater for the day.  Without a full-time paying job, I am out and about during the day and I keep noticing the mothers with their babies out in their front carriers.   That was me, 9 years ago, I think to myself.

My daughter was about 4 1/2 months old at this time of year in 2001 and I think of that fall and of going places with her and of being, not a young mother, but a new mother and being in love with her and with new motherhood.  I see the mothers out in their jean jackets and sweatshirts and thick cotton sweaters, with their babies, just old enough to hold their heads up and their middles steady as they look out at the world from their good vantage point in their front carriers, snuggled against their moms.  I miss that time in many ways.  And I love this time that we are living in now– this differently complicated and interesting 9-years-old time.

There are more school troubles– more meetings, more worry and the fight on my part to keep everyone thinking, flexible, open, connected and on track– myself, my partner, daughter, her teachers and in this case the assistant principal.  These are the kinds of troubles that come with all these confusions about young people and the increasingly huge emphasis on getting them to sit still and to work harder and faster.  Teachers are under so much pressure, the schools are stretched thin and we’re all paying the price.

This morning was another inelegant morning, going along beautifully and then in the final minutes a snag, me yelling and my daughter crying.  But for once I felt like, “oh well, it happens sometimes” and felt neither angry with her nor too terribly angry with myself.    I thought about her starting her day after that upset at home and I mused to myself, just mused, what would the school day be like if each child got greeted individually, enthusiastically– at the door each morning, by a teacher saying and meaning– “how did your morning go so far?  I’m so glad you made it to school today.”

What would it be like if each morning began with a different child picking some favorite thing of their to do for the first 15 minutes each day– a game of tag, an art project, a short walk outside, a story read aloud?  There are so many different ways to do things.  We have only to reach for each other and for trying new things.

At the moment I have a terrible cold.  Or a sinus infection.  And despite no paid work my life isn’t exactly a stretch of free time.  If you thought unemployment would mean that I had a lot of time on my hands, would take a nap when I was sick, or would just sit and watch a little tv– well, it really isn’t going that way.  But on the other hand, I am noticing these nice fall days, writing and studying law and chanting in Hebrew, thinking about my life not so long ago as the mama of a brand new baby girl.  I am plenty scared some of the time, about money, about my own future as a working person.

What I love most about these fall days unemployed is not that I have free time, I don’t.  But I do somehow have my mind more to myself.  If you know what I mean.   Yesterday I arrived at school to pick up my daughter from her drama group– just a little early.  There was the drama teacher– a thin, long-haired, beautiful young Latina– an actress herself and the mom of a baby herself– sitting on the floor with a circle of girls– her drama group.  The teacher’s back was to me, but I could see the faces of most of the 9 and 10-year-old girls, laughing, talking.  I know and like so much, quite a few of them.  And the beautiful face of my own daughter, also talking, smiling, engaged, just part of the crowd.  And me, the mama of a beautiful 9-year-old, with a little time on my hands.  Watching.  Watching.

 

Whale Rider

I think a lot about girls.

We began the weekend before this one, as we often do, after lighting Shabbat candles and eating, by watching a movie together in our living room on Friday night.  My daughter chose a movie we own and one she has watched before–but something not typical of her choice when given the choice.  She chose Whale Rider.

Whale Rider is the 2002 movie about a young Maori girl who has a dream about learning what are referred to in the movie as “the old ways” and about assuming the role and the power of a chief.  It is a beautiful and deeply complex movie about one version of the brutality of sexism and about a girl who will not give up.  (Make no mistake– I don’t believe sexism is worse in someone else’s country or culture than in yours or mine– just different from place to place.)    The story is a beautiful, complex and very emotional story.  I realized after seeing it, that it has a deep resonance for me, for many different reasons.

It is about rejection and about purpose, about the girl’s complex relationship with her grandfather, who both adores her and also holds her and her dreams in contempt.  Because she is a girl.

The girl in the story is 11.  My daughter is 9.  Paikea (the protagonist in the story) is born along with a twin brother.   Her mother dies in childbirth as does her twin brother, who dies just after birth.  Her father, presumably because of his loss, takes off and leaves New Zealand to pursue his career as an artist in Europe, leaving his daughter Paikea with his parents– her grandparents.  So she loses her birthparents and brother, as did my daughter.  (Although my daughter has found one of her brothers and has him in her present time life.)

Whale Rider is an interesting story for many reasons.  For one, Paikea’s unstoppable, determined desire to learn the old ways and assume the knowledge and skills of a chief, and to participate in things previously reserved only for boys and men, has nothing to do with the things we generally think of as a desire for “power”.  She pursues her goals with absolutely no hesitation and at times in the movie, at grave personal cost.  And ultimately she pursues her dream and in doing so risks paying the ultimate price– her life.

She wants, not dominion over anyone or anything, in the way we think about that idea in Western culture, and what drives her doesn’t seem to be a desire to escape from the pain of sexism although that would also be a reasonable goal.  Rather she seems to want a kind of self-discipline, self-knowledge and connection to her ancestors, a deep knowledge of and connection to the natural world, which was the world of her ancestors.  She pursues the kind of strength and belief in herself that comes with discipline, education of certain kinds and mastery of things that matter to you.

Both of her grandparents are deeply devoted to her.  She adores her grandfather and he adores her.  But her grandfather is steeped in a version sexism, that is, if we are honest, not unfamiliar to any of us who are women.  He is not only contemptuous, but enraged by her desire to learn things that he views as male-only.  And as she pursues these things, he grows angrier and angrier– such that at one point in the movie, her grandmother moves her out of the house for a little while to live with another relative.  Her grandmother adores her and fights for her– and I love the character of both grandmother and grandfather, but her grandmother does not go very far, it seems, in challenging what comes at her granddaughter.  She sees it and she clearly disagrees with it, but the steps she is able to take to truly challenge it are very limited in many ways.  I cried through parts of the movie crying for Paikea, for my daughter and her losses,  and for girls everywhere as well as my own losses as a girl.  This story is one of triumph and redemption, though not all stories of this kind of struggle end this way.

Thinking about it the next day I better understood one aspect of the meaning of my decision to study for a Bat Mitzvah.  I chose this in part because of my desire to have what Paikea wants– the deepest connection to my people, the potential strength that may come of this fuller connection to my past and my people, and the standing, so to speak, to bring my own thoughts about the world and the future, to my Jewish world.

Paikea has an extraordinary well of of resolve  so that there are many interesting moments when she shows this singular purpose, and yet you, as the audience, fear for her, wondering, “at what price will she pursue this?”   Her resolve, her stubbornness reminds me of my own daughter– in ways that I admire and in ways that are not always comfortable for me, nor always easy in our household.  I am so proud of my daughter and I also worry, as a mother, hoping her judgment will be good as she grows older.  I think about the terrible losses of playing it safe and about the losses of some who have not played it safe.

Keisha Castle-Hughes, the actress who plays the young girl, Paikea– was 11 years old and not an actress , when she was “discovered” and cast in the movie.  Besides the power of the story and breathtaking beauty of the people and the cinematography, the movie is very much worth seeing for her breathtaking performance and those of several others of the actors.  I don’t actually know of any other movie about the Maori people and felt honored to have that glimpse that the movie offered.  If you bring a DVD home to watch, be sure to watch the special features as well– all interesting and beautiful– from the information on the amazing special effects to the interviews with Keisha Castle-Hughes and others of the actors.

And tell me what you think.