It took her an hour to write “Mississippi Goddam.” A freewheeling cri de coeur based on the place names of oppression, the song has a jaunty tune that makes an ironic contrast with words—“Alabama’s got me so upset, Tennessee made me lose my rest”—that arose from injustices so familiar they hardly needed to be stated: “And everybody knows about Mississippi, goddam!” Still, Simone spelled them out. She mocked stereotypical insults (“Too damn lazy!”), government promises (“Desegregation / Mass participation”), and, above all, the continuing admonition of public leaders to “Go slow,” a line that prompted her backup musicians to call out repeatedly, as punctuation, “Too slow!” It wasn’t “We Shall Overcome” or “Blowin’ in the Wind”: Simone had little feeling for the Biblically inflected uplift that defined the anthems of the era. It’s a song about a movement nearly out of patience by a woman who never had very much to begin with, and who had little hope for the American future: “Oh but this whole country is full of lies,” she sang. “You’re all gonna die and die like flies.”
From “A Raised Voice: How Nina Simone turned the movement into music” by Claudia Roth Pierpont in The New Yorker.
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If sex is dangerous territory for memoir writing then it is surpassed only by motherhood. Mothering is so wrapped up in notions of sacrifice that it can scarcely sustain even the mildest critical eye without some controversy. Rachel Cusk, one of my favourites in this field, is completely vilified for her memoir writing. In fact, a scathing review of her latest memoir, Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation won Hatchet Job of the Year. Sometimes the criticism of her motherhood writing is about her taking domestic life too seriously; something that is notably considered “brave” when done by a male author.
But more often it is about Cusk being insufficiently cheerful about domestic life. In depicting herself as a mother in Aftermath, Cusk is devoted to her children but you are still invited to consider her selfish. Cusk describes an argument around shared parenting revealing her own monster. For Cusk to pursue her writing career, her ex-husband had given up his job and become a stay-at-home father. Now that they’re divorcing, Cusk is horrified to discover her rights as a mother aren’t enough to allow her primary care of the children. Cusk was roundly criticised for this moment in the book – oblivious, nasty and domineering.
But you only know this information because Cusk gave it to you. She realises her sense of injustice is perverse. She is exploring a wider point about how ill-equipped early attempts at feminist living are for the emotional bonds of motherhood. She is thinking not just about what the moment means for her but what it means for everyone else, too. If you think she’s selfish because of this anecdote I have to wonder how well you’ve received the gift of confession. Because personal writing, more than anything else is a favour of empathy.
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There are many interesting stories to be told about the experience of being a single parent, not least of which is being a single parent by choice, but the story I am interested in at this time is about suddenly being a single parent – about the transformation from partnered to single. When you go through a serious relationship break-up you are inevitably changed as a person. Some of that change is a kind of growth but much of it is loss, too. What happens when that self-discovery and reinvention is happening within the constraints of being a parent?
I interviewed three thoughtful, joyful friends about becoming single parents.
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One way to counter this has been to attempt to recuperate the supposed vice of idleness—to hymn napping, daydreaming and sheer zoning out. Samuel Johnson is sometimes counted among the champions of faffing, perhaps simply because of the name of his essay series The Idler. Yet he looked sternly on occupying oneself with “trifles,” as he describes his dilettante friend Sober doing in one of those columns. The guiding principle of The Idler, as Johnson described it in the farewell essay, was to encourage readers “to view every incident with seriousness, and improve it by meditation.” So meditating seriously is not idleness.
On the other hand, Johnson noted sagely in an earlier entry, one can be idle while appearing anything but: “There is no kind of idleness, by which we are so easily seduced, as that which dignifies itself by the appearance of business and by making the loiterer imagine that he has something to do which must not be neglected, keeps him in perpetual agitation and hurries him rapidly from place to place … To do nothing every man is ashamed and to do much almost every man is unwilling or afraid. Innumerable expedients have therefore been invented to produce motion without labour, and employment without solicitude.” Does this not perfectly describe our modern saturation in fatuous busywork?
“Against the insufferable cult of productivity” by Stephen Poole in New Republic.
Thanks to @10rdBen for the link.
“Feeling what you feel is an ability that atrophies if you don’t use it.”
“No time to think” by Kate Murphy in The New York Times. Thanks to Lori Day for the link.
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This weekend we had a child to stay for a sleep-over and I am really a bit worn out and I wondered what we could offer in the way of fun things to do at our house. Because I can’t even get movies to play on the TV at the moment. And I don’t have the spare energy to figure it out nor the spare cash to pay someone else to figure it out.
But it was Anne Lamott who said something like you play to your strengths as a parent and this is what I’m good at… pulling unusual ideas out of my arse. So, I remembered an abandoned house I’d noticed on my morning walks and I asked the kids if they wanted to explore a haunted house and … bingo!
Doesn’t it look like something out of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road?
“Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”
Back at my home..
I have exceptional taste, yes. I bought the arse tea cosy here.
Last month my father came back to Australia and stayed with me for a week. He was exhausted on the first night and after he went to bed I stayed up and wrote my column at the kitchen table. The next night I was incredibly tired and he stayed up alone for the very sad task of writing his mother’s obituary.
He read that obituary at the funeral the following morning. His writing was beautiful. It was all about how accomplished and yet unappreciated his mother had been for her domestic talents. My column about being accountable one day to my children’s future therapist was published that same day, and in a way, I realised my father and I had both written about feminist motherhood.
Every time I look at my kitchen table now I remember how we both sat and wrote our words there, one night after the other.
A doctor friend collects these little empty bottles from his surgery and gives them to me to use as tiny vases. Morphine and Ketamine can be the name of our hipster home decorating shop.
Posted in cormac, fatherhood, feminism, feminist motherhood, i like walking, lauca, motherhood, motherhood bliss, pop culture, school kids, single parenthood, slow parenting, work and family (im)balance, your guide to perfect play dates | 4 Comments »
I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. – T.S. Eliot
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Child neglect is filtered through a lens of bias that makes black mothers and poor mothers particularly vulnerable …all the more so when they parent in public space.
“In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.” – Anatole France.
“Mother jailed for letting her daughter run free – at the playground” by Brentin Mock in grist.
For the Harrell family, going to the playground is a luxury. The adults who could afford to be there that day assumed that her mother’s choice was irresponsible. Given the girl is black, they may have assumed worse: Mom’s a crackhead? Prostitute? Whatever the case, the child’s answer, that her mother was at work, was not good enough.
The adult who snitched Harrell out made another assumption: that parenting means around-the-clock supervision of children, and anything less is uncivilized. It’s those kind of gentry values that the creators of city public park systems were trying to avoid. They wanted a safe space accessible to people of all classes and backgrounds to enjoy recreation. Instead, in too many places it’s become a place where black and brown youth are made to feel they don’t belong — and certainly not without supervision.
“We’re arresting poor mothers for our own failures” by Bryce Covert in The Nation.
You’ve probably heard the name Shanesha Taylor at this point. She’s the Arizona mother who was arrested for leaving her children in the car while she went to a job interview. Her story went viral thanks likely to a truly heart-wrenching, tear-stained mugshot. Taylor, who was homeless, says her babysitter flaked on her and she didn’t know what else to do while she went to a job interview for a position that would have significantly improved her family’s financial situation.
“My son has been suspended 5 times. He’s 3″ by Tunette Powell in The Washington Post.
“Stolen Generation survivor had a long journey to love and care” by Martin Hoare in The Age.
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