Friday, November 25, 2011

Unsung Lullabies

I had written the following blog a couple of weeks ago, and I didn't want to post it because it would open old wounds and make me feel vulnerable.  Now, I'm not sure if it's ironic, sad, or unseemly to post it, but here it is.

I don't like self-help books, but one day, I was browsing and this book showed up under "Recommendations for You."  I didn't know if I should laugh or cry.  The book is titled, Unsung Lullabies and provides coping strategies for those suffering infertility.  I ordered the book mainly because its focus on fertility narratives appealed to me.  I read the book in one sitting, feeling all the while like someone finally got it.  Someone understood how I feel.  I cried and cried.  The first time I had allowed myself to cry for an absent baby in a very long time.

The book accurately explains that for someone who suffers infertility, it isn't just about the inability to conceive.  The real problem is the fertility narrative we tell ourselves (and that society tells us) from the time we are children.  We imagine ourselves rocking a child, holding a child, singing them lullabies.  Essentially, we tell ourselves, "When I have children, fill in the blank."  For some, "When I have children, the nursery is going to look like this."  For others, "When I have children, we are going to have early morning Christmas traditions."  And still others, "When I have children, I will sing them the songs my mother sang to me."  Or, "When I have children, I am going to give them the childhood I didn't have."  There are so many stories we tell ourselves throughout our lives.  Also, having a child is one of those milestones that let us know that we're adults.  That we are responsible.  That we are...well, enough.

I have been taking care of my niece and nephew since I was thirteen, so my fertility narrative began early.  I took care of them when they were sick, when they were happy, when they were sad.  I was always there.  And I dreamed of the day when I would have my own child.  As I sang to the beautiful babies I held in my arms and watched them grow, I knew that I wanted children of my own.

I am an educated woman, and logically, I know that I am not less of a woman for not having children.  I can even push down the nausea and heartbreak that washes over me when people ask that most dreaded question, "Do you have kids?"  I see the look on their faces that tell me that they simultaneously feel sorry for me and feel superior to me.  (Trust me, they feel this way). Some even think, because they don't know my story, that I'm one of those selfish feminists.  I know all of this is not necessarily true.  I am still a woman.  But my heart rebels.  It tells me that I am incomplete.  I feel the emptiness of my womb all day, everyday.  I feel that selfish envy and soul-crushing shame when I see pregnant women.  And I hate myself for it.

But all of these things, I could perhaps deal with.  It's the stories that are unbearable.  For eight years, we have tried to get pregnant.  I have had surgery, charted my cycle, taken my temperature, lain with my legs in the air, taken round after round of hormones.  Still, nothing.  (and last week I found out once again that not only am I not pregnant, but I can no longer take hormones.  And it seems that the endometriosis has returned.) I have run out of options.  I'm open to adoption or IVF.  But both are immensely expensive and can take years.  There are so many logistics involved with both that it is absolutely impossible right now.

So, the hard part is that my fertility story has ended. Yet, all the stories are still in my head.  The book advises that you tell your friends how you feel, but what the book doesn't consider is that your friends may not understand.  Certainly, they will try to understand.  But they can't. Unless they have been there, they don't understand how frustrating it is when you have turned sex and conception into a science, knowing what your temperature is and what your ovaries are doing at any given moment. They don't understand that you're not being selfish when you don't attend baby showers, when it's hard to talk about babies, or when you can hardly look at a pregnant woman without crying.  They don't understand that you're not selfish at all. You're heartbroken.  You don't know how to keep going through the day like everything is normal.  You don't know how to smile anymore.  Or when you do smile, it's painful.  They don't know that the holidays are brutal.  Christmas is one of my stories.  I always imagined sitting around the Christmas tree with my children, unwrapping gifts and drinking hot cocoa.  It may seem cheesy, but the gifts and hot cocoa seem empty when you don't have the children you imagined sharing them with. 

We are all book lovers, and it's the story that drew me to this book.  Imagine having worked for years, writing a book, only to have the last half of it destroyed.  What do you do?  Do you start over? Do you give up?  Re-writing is painful and hard.  And it will never be the same.  Unsung Lullabies focuses on the idea of all the songs you plan to sing to a baby that never comes.  For me, it's not the songs.  It's the books that I will never read to my child.  I'm afraid I will never share my favorite stories and novels with them.  It's all the unread stories that cause my heart to break.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Men and Women

As you may or may not be aware, HBO has created a new series based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. (The HBO series is titled A Game of Thrones which is the first book in the series)  I have wanted to read the series since it was first published, and because I always like to read a book before I see the movie/show, I was torn when the first episode aired.  But, I watched it anyway.  And I was hooked!  I bought the book and finally started reading it after the first four episodes. I found it boring!  Not because the book is bad (not at all!!!), but because the HBO series is so true to the book, I was ready to find out something new.  Well, yesterday, I finally hit the new stuff, and wow!

I immediately wanted to write a blog/review of the book, even though I'm not finished.  While I thought I could wait, something happened this morning that encouraged me to go ahead.  Before my first class this morning, I saw an old student of mine.  He was in my World Lit class last semester, and he too, is reading the series.  We began discussing the first book, the HBO series, and ultimately science fiction/fantasy genre in general.

I've always loved sci-fi/fantasy, both in television/movies and books. But, I have to admit, I haven't read as many books in the genre as I would like. Namely, because I'm a woman, I find that I enjoy reading books written by women about women as opposed to masculine lit.  And the sci-fi genre is dominated by men.  (It also turns me off when a title or cover is cheesy, and let's face it, many fantasy novels have cheesy covers and titles.  I know, I know, don't judge a book by its cover). I read an article yesterday on Salon that addressed the  issue of women writers, and I guess it justified my feelings somewhat about my proclivity for women novelists AND made me feel ashamed for doing what so many men do.  In her article about V.S. Naipul's recent slam on women writers (particularly Jane Austen), Mary Elizabeth Williams explains:

Let's forget for a minute the millennia of restrictions that made a life of letters impossible for almost all women throughout history. Ignore the questions of whether women have had equal opportunity to write important books, and get right to the heart of Naipaul's assertion -- that they're incapable of doing it. Because what he's really getting at is a persistent attitude that runs rampant not just in the arts but in business, in sports, and anywhere men and women congregate: that the feminine is automatically unimportant and inferior, that "size and weight," so to speak, are the only criteria worth measuring.
Bravo! I literally cheered. Williams goes on to explain what we already know, that of course women write differently than men do; they even write about different subjects, because the female experience is unique; it is not the male experience, but that doesn't mean that it is less than.  As a woman, I like it when I find someone who points this out, who speaks up.  But, then I had to think about my wariness of male writers.  I typically (and wrongly) don't want to read contemporary male authors. (Men like Dickens, and Collins, and Twain, and Hawthorne) don't bother me so much.  So, I wondered, am I doing exactly the same thing?  I do read male writers' works, but if put in front of me, I would probably gravitate more to the woman writer. And I don't think that's fair. Just because it is different does not make it less important, or even less aesthetically pleasing.  The real reason I don't like to read many contemporary male authors is because it makes me feel better if dead men who lived in a less tolerant time make quibs about women, but when  modern men do, it infuriates me.

So, now back to A Game of Thrones, a book written by a man. And it includes some really strong female characters, characters to love--and hate as the case may be.  The novel is written in short chapters which are focalized through different characters, so the story comes together piece by piece.  And I'm proud to say that I don't even try to rush through the male characters' sections.  Perhaps there is hope for us all to become even more enlightened!

BTW, I highly recommend the book, and the summer is the perfect time for reading it--after summer, winter will come. (That makes sense once you've read the book). And I promise, I will write a real review of it as soon as I'm finished!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wistful Words on Women

By an unlikely twist of fate, I was given the chance to teach Women’s Studies this Fall. As one friend commented when she heard the news, “That’s right up your alley.” And she is right. I have spent my life reading women, studying women and in general, being fascinated by women. In her bestselling novel, The Red Tent, Anita Diamant wrote, “If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully. Stories about food show a strong connection. Wistful silences demonstrate unfinished business. The more a daughter knows the details of her mother’s life—without flinching or whining—the stronger the daughter” (2). Well, I never knew my mother. She abandoned me when I was still a baby. The woman who raised me in her stead despised me and never missed an opportunity to remind me that she was not my mother…

It is hard to describe the pain a child feels from being abandoned by her mother. It is something all consuming and, I believe, deeper, sharper than the pain that comes from being abandoned by one’s father. Perhaps Lily Owens, the protagonist of The Secret Life of Bees, describes it best: “My whole life had been nothing but a hole where my mother should have been, and this hole has made me different, left me always aching for something” (Kidd 293). To ease that ache, I went in search of a mother. I idolized and impressed my teachers. I fastened myself to friends whose mothers, to me, seemed perfect. I prayed, but even God could not fill that void. I was a mother myself, many years over, before I learned that I could never replace her.

Adrienne Rich wrote, “The loss of the daughter to the mother, the mother to the daughter, is the essential female tragedy” (Of Woman Born). My life-long interest in women, that thing that “has made me different,” is a response to that tragedy. But as Anita Diamant predicted, it has also made me stronger. I may not know my mother, but I know our mothers. Their stories fortify and uplift me. Their history is my history. In a very real sense, I am my mothers’ daughter.

And so, when I stand in front of a room that (I predict) will be made up entirely of women, I will begin by asking them—without flinching or whining—to tell me the story of their mothers. To correct the silence left behind by indifferent scholars and sexist historians. I will listen carefully. And with their help, I will work to create a generation of stronger daughters.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Just Venting

I've never thought of myself as a pessimistic person...until recently.  Lately, I feel as if nothing is ever going to get better.  As Heather P jokingly remarked when we had coffee, my glass isn't just half empty; it's bone dry.  And I'm really thirsty. 

It's kind of funny that I was just telling Danielle today that a couple of weeks ago I began meditating, and it's helping.  But this afternoon, I finally had to admit that a Ph.d is not in my foreseeable future.  And it makes me sad. More than sad, but unfortunately, I can't think of any synonyms or strong enough adjectives that work right now.  (Grading brain sucks!) I was depressed when I found out that I wasn't accepted anywhere this go-around.  But I thought to myself, "There's always next time."  Now, I know that it's not going to happen.  The finances to do everything we need to do just aren't there.  I'm making shit, and Tom's making less than shit.  And today, we  acquired over $1000 more debt each and every month.  I'm having surgery that we have to pay for, and because I'm a loser who couldn't get into school (or get a full-time job) I have to start paying student loans.  There's no realistic way we will have the money to make the repairs on our house to sell it, Ph.d. 

Not only do I feel disappointed, but I'm afraid all of my mentors will think I'm such a waste and such a loser.

I envy Tom's ability to focus on the "right nows" of life.  I see the big picture.  I'm goal oriented and see all of the many things we need to do, want to do, and alas, can't possibly do.  What do you do when you have no obtainable goals?  The last 8 years of my life have been leading toward a Ph.d with a lot of mini-goals sprinkled in between.  Get a B.A.: check. Get into M.A. program: check.  Make money: check. Present at conferences: check. Get grant: check. Get awards: check. Make connections: check. Teach: check. Finish Thesis: check. Get M.A.: check. Submit article: check. Apply to Ph.d programs: check.  Now what? It all led to that.  And I feel as if I'm stuck now. It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't want it soooooooooooooo badly.

I've never liked treadmills.  If I'm going to walk or run, I want to be outside.  I like to be going somewhere.  And I'm going nowhere now.  All I see in my foreseeable future is continuing to adjunct to pay bills.  No extra money to travel.  No money to renovate the house.  Nothing to look forward to.

You know, all of this started with my stupid attempt to create my own "Happiness Project." What a fool I am!

I need a full time job making real money so that maybe, just maybe I can start making baby steps back toward my original goal. But even then, I wonder if taking so much time off will look badly to the programs to which I'm applying.  Who sucks.  Just thought I'd let you know.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Feeling Steampunky

Recently, I have become really interested in Steampunk fiction--or rather motivated to pursue my interest in it.  When I took Molly's class, we read a little, and as you all know, I have always loved Sci-fi and fantasy (things like Buffy and Stargate and X-files).  So, it seems I should have read more of this stuff.  I'm so glad I have bookclub to experiment!

When Danielle asked me to give her a definition of Steampunk, however, I couldn't really give a satisfactory one.  But the author of a blog I follow does. The Steampunk Scholar defines it as follows:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of "the path not taken" of such technology as dirigibles or analog computers; these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or with a presumption of functionality.

Steampunk is often associated with cyberpunk and shares a similar fanbase and theme of rebellion, but developed as a separate movement (though both have considerable influence on each other). Apart from time period and level of technological development, the main difference between cyberpunk and steampunk is that steampunk settings usually tend to be less obviously dystopian than cyberpunk, or lack dystopian elements entirely.

Usually , Steampunk is characterized by its interest in Victorianism and is therefore often referred to as Neo-Victorianism.  If you are interested in looking at some scholarly articles about the subject, the online journal, Neo-Victorian Studies is wonderful and will give you an idea of texts in this genre.

The Anubis GatesI say all of this to explain why I chose The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers for my next bookclub selection. I have to confess that I've never read it before, so if you hate it, don't blame me! 

If you are interested, I also recently read Gail Carriger's Changeless and found it tremendous fun.  Not high literature by any means, but a quick, fun read. It's the first book in the Parasol Protectorate Series, so if you like it, there's more fun to follow.

I will wrap this post up by saying that I mainly wrote this one in order to break our long silence in blog-land.  So, I expect others to follow suit soon (do you catch the passive aggressive hint, ladies?) And for Danielle, "Eat Paste!" And now you can write!