Tag Archives: Chicago

Unfinished

You don’t need to hear all this to get my point, but I want to savor this particular memory and the details, so humor me.  Many years ago, in the final months of my partner’s ownership of her wonderful feminist bookstore–her shop (that means she) hosted, and I attended, a talk by the great feminist crime/mystery writer, Sara Paretsky.   It was an event that my partner knew would be a big draw.  She rented a meeting room in a hotel about a block from her bookstore for the event because her little shop could stretch to accommodate people for an event, but not that much.  The house was packed that night– with almost all women.

I adored Paretsky’s work and I only say it in the past tense because it’s been a long time since I’ve read something of hers.  Long enough that I should pick up a book of hers again.  All of her mysteries are set in my hometown, Chicago, and the descriptions of the city and places known and unknown to me are great gifts to me– like having someone else take all your jumbled photos of your earliest years and making a great album out of them and then presenting it to you.  I also loved and felt an interesting kinship with her main character, V.I. Warshawski and with V.I.’s beloved older woman friend and mentor–Lotty Herschel– a Holocaust survivor.

The talk she gave that night was about her journey as a woman writer.  It was a painful talk about the long, cruel, sexist invalidation of her by father.  And it was about the steps she took and what finally allowed her to go ahead despite the deep, ongoing meanness and invalidation she had faced–to go ahead and become a writer.  She is a woman who is not light and bubbly– the mark of the sexism and the antisemitism she faced growing up– all show on her (we all bear the hoofmarks of oppression, a teacher and mentor of mine used to say).  But she triumphed and has these amazing books to show for it.

At the end of her talk she took questions.  This was a very long time ago and I wish I better remembered the exact question and her exact answer, but I remember it fairly well– I’ve been quoting it for years.

She was asked, by a younger woman, something along the lines of what did she think was the most important gift, or skill or attribute, that a woman– in particular– needed to have, in order to succeed as a writer.  I will never forget her answer though I wish I remembered it verbatim.  She said that for a woman she thought it wasn’t talent, and it wasn’t something else or something else (I don’t remember what the other somethings were)– it was the ability to start and to persevere and then to finish a project.  

Although she didn’t say exactly these things, she did frame this in the context of sexism.  And if having the ability to finish something that matters to you is isn’t a description of one important swath of damage that sexism does to us– I don’t know what is.  Whether it is because our confidence has been undermined, or our ability to really know what we want to do has been taken from us, or because we do so much caretaking (and not just of family, but of organizations, schools, community gardens, childcare coops, pets, sick friends and relatives, you name it) or because we are treated as though our projects aren’t important and we get interrupted a lot– we have trouble finishing things.  I do.  I have so much trouble.

Although I wasn’t writing five days a week– I was rarely writing even three days a week– while I was a stay-at-home mother, I wrote more.  And I finished what I wrote and posted it right here.  Now, working full-time for a man– in my personal, at-home life, and my writing life– unfinished is the name of the game.  So when I went to begin to write again tonight, I pulled up the authors section of my blog with all my unfinished as well as posted/ published drafts– and there were a record-breaking (for me) five posts started but unfinished.   And there are so many other things unfinished too; the insurance forms that need to be completed, the literal messes that need to be cleaned up and closets and drawers gone through and culled.  There are the long talks I am waiting to have with different people, and the walks I want to take and the exercise I want.  The community organizing I would like to do someday, the good night’s sleep I want every night.  There is still a longing to get an MFA in creative writing and a longing for the second child I wanted to bring into our family and raise.  Unfinished are whole articles I’d like to write and also unfinished is the reading and playing and active and special time things I want to do with my daughter.  And more.

Despite all that is unfinished, I toast.  Here is to my female sisters and to myself– here’s to finishing things, to blogging and to writing and to publishing and to raising children and making our schools run and all the zillion other things women do.  And here’s to ending sexism so that we can get on with it–whatever of many, many, many things we really want to get on with.

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Working out with iPod– Kidd Russell

On the first leg, the San Francisco leg of our spring break travel, I went to the YWCA several times with my friend, L.  She has mostly, throughout our long friendship in different cities, been more devoted to regular exercise than I– though I was, for a long time, a very regular two-to-three mile runner.  But a nerve problem in my foot and an infant put an end to that about 10 years ago.  L.’s children are older than my one child is– so for her it has been longer since the demands of parenting have required totally giving up on so many things that one does for oneself and while visiting I thought it would be great to follow her back into exercise.

On our first morning after we arrived, she said she was going to the Y to go to a spinning class and I said I was going with her.  I’d never been to a spinning class.  I’m not in the greatest shape.  When I do things like running or spinning on my own, I come up against a wall of hard feelings– feelings of it being too hard and feelings of it being impossible to go on.  In some ways I’ve understated this; I had very bad asthma as a very young child and sometimes when I’m exercising, that same feeling comes over me– same as when I was young having an asthma attack; “I can’t; I’m going to die.”  This feeling has certainly hindered my ability to get regular exercise that involves pushing past that feeling.

But L. has a wonderful sense of humor and this unstoppable, cascading laugh and with her on the bike next to me, looking over periodically and laughing hysterically about the absurdity of spinning and sweating all together, I found I was able to keep going way past the point I could have done on my own.  Not as long as the best of them but 38 minutes isn’t bad for someone as unexercised as I have been lately.  And I had to admit I kind of loved it.

When I came home I decided I would join a gym– I’ve not had a gym membership in years.  Recently strangers here and there have just begun acting very strangely toward me– it’s the particular sexism directed toward women who are, in someone’s eyes, older.  I rode the bus at rush hour the other morning with my partner and two 30-ish people asked my partner and me if we wanted their seats (we were standing).  I said, “oh no, thanks, I’m fine.”  But it didn’t end there and they must have interrupted our conversation three more times on a 10-block ride to see if we wanted their seats.

When I went to visit three gyms in order to choose one– they did something similar.  They talked in these strange condescending tones.  They asked me slowly if I’d ever belonged to a gym before (yes, yes, I have) and what I liked best about working out.  I laughed out loud and said, “I hate working out.  I hate it.  That’s why I’m so out of shape and why I’m looking to join a gym today.  Does that answer your question?”

Despite these silly, deflating sales pitches, I did join a gym.  I joined the one that was the cheapest, that is around the corner from my daughter’s school, that is walking distance from home– but has metered parking right out front where it is easy to park at most times of day.  I joined the gym with ugly tee shirts and no incentive to browse their “pro shop” and the one that doesn’t have lovely pitchers of water with mint and lemon wedges throughout the gym.  I joined a gym where I go in my sweat clothes and put my backpack down beside the machine and get aerobic exercise for about 40 minutes.  Then I pick up my stuff and go to another area and stretch and then I go home.  I don’t generally shower there, I don’t make friends, I don’t buy things and I don’t do anything except work my body harder than I do sitting at the computer.  I’m loving it.

Since I don’t have L. at my side, laughing– I generally bring my iPod.  I find music with a kind of lightness and a good, happy beat, or a driving soul or disco beat.  I recently found this guy– Kidd Russell– who’s from Chicago and whose song, She Feels Like Home to Me– does feel like home to me and keeps me moving– not quite, but a little like a friend to cheer me on.

Happy Birthday, Dad

It snowed here yesterday.  Second big snow of this winter, in our city which doesn’t, unlike where I grew up, get much snow at all.  Here we can go all year without any snow at all.  I miss the snow.  A lot. 

So I love a day like yesterday when it snowed all day.  And like today when you wake up and it is bright, white all around and the snow makes our rooms brighter.  Through the closed window I can hear that familiar sound of someone’s shovel crunching through the snow and ice, the drag and scrape along the cement, and the silence while the shovelful is dumped, and then the next crunch and scrape.  That first look in the morning, of the neighborhood, covered in snow, and that sound of shoveling– those must be two of my earliest childhood memories.  For me that look and that sound are profoundly good and deeply reassuring. 

Today is the birthday of my father.  He was born in Chicago and if he hadn’t died, almost 7 years ago, he would be 84 today.  I miss him terribly sometimes.  I always imagine him being born in the middle of a Chicago winter and I imagine the next day being a day like today, white, bright, covered in good snow, but a little bit of a project for his dad to travel through to go back to the hospital where he was born.   I imagine what the weather must have been, and what the world looked like when he was first taken outdoors, when they left the hospital and brought him home. 

He and I were born in the same hospital on the south side– now known as Obama’s neighborhood.  I think that it is possible that the last winter of his life was the only winter of his adult life, when he gave up shoveling snow.  He loved that kind of physical labor.  So, it is only fitting and right that today, on his birthday, it is clean and white and fresh and cold outside and that soon I will get a sweater and coat and boots and go downstairs and start shoveling.  Happy Birthday, Dad.