Monthly Archives: March 2007

Wide Open Spaces

My day really starts at noon today, because of an appointment, so I’ve moved my blogging slot to now.

I lived in Jerusalem for more than a year. I lived in Israel for more than 2. You’d think that given that it was my choice to be there and that I felt incredibly privileged to be able to do so, I might have some sense of a power of place. I was living in a state the size of New Jersey but still at the center of the world. I was hyper-aware of its significance while I was there, for sure, but if I closed my eyes and tried to feel where I was, nothing special happened. I had to open my eyes and see the people around me, to really know where I was standing.

My hometown, however, is different. I can shut my eyes there and still feel exactly where I am. My oldest friend and I used to test this in our neighborhood. One of us would shut her eyes and the other would lead her somewhere, anywhere in the neighborhood, and then see if she could first, identify where she was, and second, find her way home with her eyes still shut. We always could. Later when we drove, we repeated the test, in the car. One of us would drive somewhere, and see if the other could identify where we were, and then drive home, eyes still shut (I’m kidding).

The other day I tried the test by myself where I now live. I wanted to walk the block to the gym, just straight down the street, with my eyes shut and still know when I arrived at the door. Not even close. First of all, I didn’t have my friend, so I was nervous I might trip. But even had someone been there, I’d have peaked. I don’t have the sense of belonging anywhere else I’ve lived, like I do to the place I spent my first eighteen years.

Still, I am certain that I will never live there again. Certain places have a certain character, and perhaps if you live there long enough and experience enough, you can sense it, even if you can’t see. I shouldn’t care that my hometown is ugly. I gave directions from the hotel to my wedding to friends using strip malls (many of them abandoned) & empty storefronts as landmarks instead of street directions. I admit I was trying to amuse them, but it worked. I shouldn’t care that the public schools I attended are a disaster, and that my former high school ranks as the least desirable school in the city. I really shouldn’t care that a private college in town is nearing bankruptcy, and that its board members decided to sell artwork and rare book collections to raise money. And yet, I do.

I care so much that I get excited when I hear, from over 300 miles away, that a new dinosaur exhibit at the natural history museum is well attended. When I hear that the new mayor, just a few years older than me, plans to fix up historic downtown and finally facilitate a high speed train route from the nearest big city, I think maybe he can do it. And I’m sad when I hear that a community theater has closed down or that another restaurant has failed. I read the local newspapers online, even the one that is a Gannett publication. Every attempt to improve the city that fails, I shake my head and say, “Well that’s [blank].” Anything that goes well surprises me, because it seems like a place with desperately hard luck.

An old friend emailed the other day, having heard about Natan through a friend. She asked whether I’d ever move back there. I answered honestly, no. I told her there are no decent jobs for academics there. And I don’t have the energy to create them. That’s not true for other places. I would happily join a faculty at a college in need of rebirth and rebuilding in another city, if I thought it was possible. But the physical I feeling I get when I enter the city’s borders tells me it is impossible there. As the miles between my hometown and me grow smaller, I close my eyes and sense its character. And to me, it feels like emptiness and despair.

Unpredictably Predictable

That’s what Leroy called me (or my post) in the comments a few days back. I’ve been puzzling over what that means. I thought at first, dependable. Like the friend who always shows up, the employee who always works hard, and the student who always gets it done. But how would anyone in blogland know that’s me? And the online persona called Leroy seems friendly enough, so he would probably have kept any thought that I’m boring to himself.

As I walked to campus today to hide out in the library (too many business deals going on in my coffee shop these days — must be the weather), I wound my way around a few streets I don’t normally walk down. I saw a closed shop with a sign in the window, “Hurry! Last days Jan 1 – 3!” I thought, wow, how did they know? No, I don’t really believe the world works in a way that I could have seen that sign as a portent. For lots of people those days were the first days.

I have a good post planned for tomorrow. A Real. Original.

To celebrate my 5 pages

I took a test, got these results:

You Are Incredibly Logical

Move over Spock – you’re the new master of logic
You think rationally, clearly, and quickly.
A seasoned problem solver, your mind is like a computer!

How Logical Are You?

And then spent 30 minutes messing with “BlogThings” sloppy html because I didn’t like the aesthetics of their code on my page.

According to the site’s standards, I am also apparently a “pretty serious non-conformist” 72% of the time, and I “live a life hardly anyone understands.” That may actually become truer every day.

Motivation, pt. 2 (or maybe 3)

Seeing as it is almost 1pm and I have still achieved nothing as far as work goes today, evidently I need a new system of motivation. Is anyone out there willing to give me a dollar a page?

Probably not. I’ll have to try something else. My favorite system allows me to check blogs and email and other online stuff for one hour, right after I work out in the morning, and then get to work. Prior to that, I tried 4 hours of work after working out, and then online leisure. Each of those system worked for about one day. Today I tried working out, reading online stuff, 2 hours of work, blogging, 2 hours of work. But the the chapter I’m writing still has not seen a single new word, or even much in the way of revisions, in the past week and a half.

Apparently, I can quite successfully sit here for 4 hours NOT looking on the internet and still not produce anything. But I’m still rewarding myself for that time.

My new system, starting tomorrow: I will not write a word on email or this blog, read a blog, OR comment on a blog until I have five new pages in my chapter, or have revised existing pages to the point that I can turn them in. Clearly I need punitive motivation.

And I am only boring you all with this banal post because maybe if I publish it, I’ll stick to it.

What to say

When Msfitzita first commented on my blog, she said she wished the losses had stopped with her Thomas. It’s been almost three months since Natan was born/died and over three months since I went into pre-term labor. It still seems so present to me that it seems impossible that other couples would have already had time to lose their infants. We should have been the last. But then it occurs to me that given statistics, I wasn’t even the last on the day Natan died. It was early in the morning on January 3rd, so there was time for probably seventy other babies to be born still or die in the US on that day.

I wish the deaths had stopped with Natan. What a funny thing to say, since I wish the losses had never started in the first place. I can’t bring Natan back, and at this point, we can’t bring back the babies who’ve died since. But while wanting our babies back might be wishful thinking, wanting the losses to stop is hope.

[This post was inspired by my stumbling onto “Vegetarian Mom with a Vegan Baby” and realizing her Birdie was born two months after Natan. Why why why]

Bread and Puppet Circus

Their bus is parked outside my house, with a big poster promoting their show, “How to Turn Distress into Success,” in its window. Unfortunately, I’m too late for that. It already played. But I do have time for “Everything is Fine Circus.”

I’m still thinking about Rebecca Walker’s Baby Love, and another quote from the article about it.

“[F]or Ms. Walker, being a stepparent or adoptive parent involves a lesser kind of love than the love for a biological child./In an interview, Ms. Walker boiled the difference down to knowing for certain that she would die for her biological child, but feeling ‘not sure I would do that for my nonbiological child.”

Indeed, it is an especially bizarre statement given that in a previous relationship, Walker’s female partner gave birth to a son whom they have raised together. Now that she has a new child, from a relationship with a man, she says about her other son, “The good thing is he has a biological mom who would die for him.” What does this say about fathers? Does their sperm do enough to create a similar connection? I doubt the two mom families I know would distinguish this way between their children.

Is parenthood some sort of bizarre cult of Romeo and Juliet?

I don’t understand how “dying for” your son, or anyone else, is a measure of your love for him. It seems like an empty, melodramatic and self-serving statement, and I hope/doubt she will ever have to live up to it.

I would die for a child of mine, but I would also die for other people’s children. So would my brother-in-law, who’s a police officer. We’ve both risked our lives for other people’s children – although obviously he’s done it more than I have. When I taught kindergarten in Jerusalem, we had to be careful about security. Once after school had ended, as we waited for parents to pick up their kids, a man parked his car on the sidewalk and ran off, right in front of the building. Given where I was, we all immediately assumed the worst. In fact, my ovaries twinged sharply in this weird way they do when I get a scare. The four kids still there all ran to the gate to get a look at the car, and I ran after them, shouting, and knew right then that I would use my body as a shield if it came down to it. I loved those children with a fierceness and I felt an anger at the threat to them like I’d never known.

The other teacher was still inside, and saw it from the window, but couldn’t get out fast enough. Thankfully, the car didn’t explode and I got the children inside, where they stood around confused as we actually threw up into the short little toilets. It turned out to be a recent Russian immigrant’s car, and as I’ve since learned, sidewalks are parking spaces in Russia (in response the fence is now a reinforced cement wall).

That’s as close as I can come to imagining having to “die for” anyone. I can’t imagine very many situations where it would be a conscious rational choice, where we had time to consider. I moved without thought to protect those kids, and I’m just a teacher, not a hero. Walker’s words seem trite to me – “Oh that son of mine, he’s to die for. And so are those shoes.” I don’t know why her description of her love has to be about trumping someone else’s. Utterly unreflective of parental love.

An altar of broken fragments

In a previous post, I said I don’t need to find meaning in Natan’s death. I can’t believe that G-d needed another angel or that I survived because of a special plan for me. I guess I don’t believe in modern-day miracles, at least in the form of individual events revealing divine agency. My sense is that I’m not really so significant that G-d would need me to do particular things. But even still, losing Natan has spurred an epistemological crisis for me. My sense of my own self has changed, because obviously my plans for the future have been corrupted unalterably.

I have, for example, entirely lost interest in what I do, which at the moment means being a doctoral student writing my dissertation. It’s not depression, because I am motivated to do so much else – write this blog, talk to friends, read anything not having to do with what I work on. I just no longer am interested in the meaning the topic I write about previously held for me.

I want to do something else. Problem is, that something else I want to do is actually what I’m already on the way to doing. I want to teach at a university level. It’s not like I want a new career, I just want to be there already. I’m not prepared to set the clock back 3 years by starting a new project. So what can I do to make what was my life before pregnancy meaningful again? Because I am finding that academia is not just a job, nor is it like “school” in earlier days where I could just write the damn paper or exam regardless of any passion. But it’s nearly impossible to just sit down at my computer and plug away for the sake of finishing a project that before my pregnancy encompassed most of my time and happily dominated my thoughts, but now seems utterly uninteresting. The only real choice is for me to just finish the thing, but I seem incapable of just doing anything, of trying just to get by.

This post’s title refers to a quote from Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid, “I will build an altar from the fragments of my broken heart.” But not only is my heart broken, the fragments themselves are broken. The pieces of my heart before this loss – my family life, my plans for children and for a career – I know they are changed but I’m not sure yet how they fit together.

Dear Rebecca Walker

In last week’s Sunday New York Times, the “Sunday Styles” section included two articles that caught my interest (beyond the wedding and engagement announcements which I for some reason have to read first every week). The first article was about an “Easter Dress” sold at the St. Louis Woman’s Exchange for the past fifty years. If we have any more children, they won’t ever dress for Easter, but they might very well wear this dress on another occasion. Especially if we have another son, I want the boys’ version.

The second article, “Evolution of a Feminist Daughter,” was not nearly as fun. Rebecca Walker, the daughter of Alice Walker and Mel Leventhal, has written another book to follow-up on Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self, titled Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence. She writes in the book that motherhood is “the first club I’ve unequivocally belonged to.” That’s fine. I wish my own membership hadn’t been revoked. But then she goes on to state in an interview,

You need to plan having a baby like you plan your career….Because we haven’t been told that….I’m supposed to be…this feminist telling them, ‘Go achieve, go achieve.’ And I’m sitting there saying, ‘For me, having a baby has been the most transformational experience of my life.’

Walker has an ambivalent relationship with her own mother – the two are currently estranged. I have benefited from Second Wave Feminism’s emphasis on career and self-fulfillment, but I was not the daughter of two famous public intellectuals. Nor did my mom drag me around the country, resenting me and privileging her own ambitions above my happiness and security. I know perfectly well that my parents sacrificed some of their ambition for us, but I haven’t been plagued by their regret.

Even still, my entire life I have also heard on television that I can have it all – but I didn’t hear it as more than the silly slogan that it is. I’ve never felt it would be easy, or wouldn’t take planning. In fact, I think the emphasis on planning is unfair because it exaggerates our responsibility and ability to influence the future given the current state of medicine, especially obstetrics/gynecology.

If we aren’t told that we have to plan for having a baby, why would searches for “pregnancy” and “motherhood” bring up over 146,000 books on If you search motherhood, the first book to come up (as of today) will be The Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes Our Lives and Why We Never Talk About It. Walker is spouting tropes. Watch one day of the View or a few sitcoms and you’ll realize that we are constantly being told about the difficult but life-changing wonders of parenthood. In fact, a few weeks ago while watching the View at the gym, I learned that I won’t be a “real woman” UNTIL I’ve stayed up nights with my sick baby (I didn’t get the feeling that babysitting or sitting with nieces and nephews counts).

It has never been okay for women to forego motherhood. While childlessness no longer makes us automatic suspects of witchery, we have not gone so far as to encourage it. Have you seen the commercials for Dead Silence? The trailer includes these lines from a poem: “Beware the stare of Mary Shaw; she had no children, only dolls. And if you see her, do not scream, or she’ll rip your tongue out at the seam. Women who don’t have children are not an admired demographic.

If I hadn’t known I was supposed to plan for motherhood, I wouldn’t have gone on prenatal vitamins and folic acid 4 months before trying to become pregnant. I wouldn’t have given up alcohol, coffee, soft cheeses and sprouts. Or purchased an armoire, crib, travel crib, “aquarium series” swing, and so on. I don’t regret being conscientious of course, but I wish I had been more prepared for the reality that the most careful planning promises nothing. I am exceptional, I realize, because of my background, education, privilege and medical insurance but Rebecca Walker’s primary audience is the female undergraduate. She is talking to younger versions of me – young women who should get the knowledge they need about pregnancy without this bombardment of information from others about what it does/should mean for them to become a mother. Information that is somehow commercially shallow and reductive.

And when I get that feeling

Last night we had drinks with friends. This morning I had coffee with a friend before taking her to the airport and, since she’s in our department, we talked about some of the asinine things other colleagues have said to us lately. Then as I drove home alone, I sang along to the radio and danced in my seat. A middle-aged man caught my eye and laughed (kindly). I hope he couldn’t tell it was “Sexual Healing” on the radio.

I laughed, a lot, in the past 24 hours. I even laughed at the socially inept idiots in our department. To read this blog, you might think that I don’t laugh. You might think that I’m not handling this as well as I could be.

I wonder what it would mean though if I appeared to be taking what’s happened to my family “well.” I might think I was sick. I might worry about what I might do to myself if I couldn’t even express my most miserable thoughts on an anonymous blog.

Apparitions still won’t leave me alone

I decided to listen to music while working today, and a particular song came on – a song I sang along to while pregnant (only if I was alone). Out of nowhere, I felt a fluttering kick sensation in my stomach. Just for a second, and then it was gone.