It’s holiday season and the end of the semester, which means I have the most things to buy and the least amount of money I’ve had in months. Perfect! Given this, I’ve been thinking about what I would spend unlimited dollar bills on. And I’ve got it: a food subscription that never runs out.
I’m scared of buying food. It goes bad so quickly, especially fruits and veggies which are the most expensive. And food shopping is overwhelming. I could spend hours under those fluorescent lights and still feel like I’ve forgotten something.
Going home for a break to my parent’s house is the closest thing I’ve experienced to this dream reality, besides generally my childhood. I arrive, the pantry is full, and I did not pay for any of it.
So in a perfect world, I could pay an assistant to do all the shopping for me. My panty would be constantly refilling, magically. I don’t have a car, too, so food shopping has to be scheduled around when my friends with cars can drive me. Or I take the bus.
But I’d still rather pay for unlimited food than use this blank check to buy a car.
How many times will I get married? I’d like to be coy and say “hopefully at least once!” but after our class, I feel like that’s the least of my worries. I guess in the back of my head I had registered the fact that about half of marriages end in divorce, but somehow I had never applied that fact to me. Divorce? Not I! I am the outlier! The exception!
Statistically, the 50/50 shot of divorce holds true even in my immediate family. My mother divorced once before she met my father–actually, this is a lie. She actually met my father while she was still married (they had only been married for a few months and it was falling apart), and went home and asked for a divorce that SAME NIGHT. Wild. Her parents were also divorced, and both remarried. My father’s parents were both only married once, to each other.
Why do I feel like I won’t get divorced? It’s probably due to my dating history, currently featuring a 3-year-long relationship, which I realize at my ripe age of 20 doesn’t mean much. But maybe it does; after all, because of my long-term (and long distance) dating experience so far, I couldn’t imagine marrying someone who I hadn’t dated or known for at least this long first. It always strikes me as incredible that people meet, date, and marry someone who they’ve only known for a few months, or even a year. Although it can’t be helped, each person has so much life story that the other doesn’t know. But maybe this keeps things fresh and interesting.
It might also be because I’ve seen the mistakes that lead to divorces, and will be intentional in trying not to repeat them. For example, my mother divorced her first husband because she married a man she cared about deeply, but wasn’t in love with. Her parents just didn’t have a good or healthy relationship. Having been in a healthy relationship for a few years now, hopefully I’d be able to know the signs.
But who knows. Maybe I’ll find this post in 15 years, and glamorously cry over it while signing my divorce papers, devastated but comforted by the fact that I’ll never have to see my terrible, cheating husband again. Our prenup has made me filthy rich, and I’ll never have to work another day in my life. I rejoice.
When I am old and rich, I am going to buy my dad a state of the art stone pizza oven. I believe, outside of health and happiness for our family, it is what he desires most in this world.
I actually don’t know how my dad learned to make pizza. His mother, my grandmother Natalie, cooked during his childhood, but her recipes are more Italian American than Italian, with biscotti pronounced “bis-cot-ee” and celebrations on Christopher Columbus day. He could have learned it from his grandmother, Natalie’s mother, who immigrated from Italy and spoke mostly Italian. Or he could have learned it in his twenties, when he was writing the movie Big Night with his cousin Stanley, and spending all of his time eating Italian food and watching food related movies.
Regardless, I grew up eating and making homemade pizza. Me and my brother Ben would accompany each other down to the scary basement as kids to set the bowl of covered dough next to the warm furnace to let it rise. Then we would roll it out with my dad, and laugh at each other when it rolled too thin and holes poked through. Then came the sauce (homemade of course) mozzarella, parmesan, oregano, and whatever toppings we wanted.
When ate as the pizzas came out, Ben habitually leaving the table to run and peer through the oven door to declare how many more minutes were left. Everything was up for discussion: crust thickness, sauce quality and consistency, (what type of tomatoes did you use this time, Dad?), the origin of the basil. So snobbish, yet so fun.
I’ve had to let my snobbery go a bit in Ann Arbor. Inwardly I do not consider Pizza House and Pizza By The Slice to really be pizza as I understand it. (Joe’s Pizza is acceptable.) Mostly I just avoid pizza out here whenever I can, and wait for the moment when I’m back home, and collecting that bowl of dough from the warm basement.
When I think about “what work am I culturally/temporally farthest away from but still have a personal connection to,” there are a lot of things that come to mind. My dad, a former screenwriter and definite movie snob introduced us to old comedies when my brother and I were still in elementary school, and when 70% of the jokes sailed far over our heads.
One of our infamous family memories is when we were watching The Gold Rush, a 1925 silent Charlie Chaplin comedy. In one scene, Chaplin’s character meticulously prepares a meal for woman he’s enamored with and her friends, setting up the table just right and anxiously checking the clock. Of course, in some fun dramatic irony, the audience knows that she is not coming, and never intended to.
Watching as an 8-year-old, the tragedy of this scene absolutely destroyed me. I ran upstairs crying, asking my dad through tears why he had ever thought to show us something so upsetting. Dad couldn’t stop laughing. Ah, childhood.
But one family favorite I loved at the same age was The General, a Buster Keaton film. Keaton plays a train engineer rejected from the confederate army, and determined to win over his love, who of course, believes he refused to enlist and refuses to see him until he joins to the army. It’s an action-adventure flick and a comedy, packed with some of Keaton’s most impressive stunts, and one of the most expensive shots of the time where Keaton crashes a locomotive into a river.
Even though it’s a silent movie, and set during the Civil War (and from the perspective of a confederate), the movie has remained one of my favorites since childhood. Keaton’s physical comedy is just hilarious, and understandable to all ages. And the stunts are breathtaking. If you ever have 75 minutes to spare, The General is a good way to spend them.
When thinking about how I could delve into some higher stakes material in my topic of motherhood, most of the questions I came up with had to do with the question of motherhood and different identities.
I remember hearing as a kid (in 2008) about a story about “the man who gave birth.” It was the story of a transgender man, Thomas Beatie, who despite transitioning to a man had all the necessarily anatomic and biological mechanisms to give birth. He was interviewed by PEOPLE and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Since the birth of his first daughter, he has since given birth to two more children.
While the stories focused mainly on the biological aspects of this unconventional birth story, I wonder now about the implications for the meaning of motherhood. Specifically, do you have to give birth to a child to be and feel like their mother? In the case of Thomas, he birthed the child but identifies as male. His wife did not birth their daughter, but from a legal and genedered perspective is the girl’s mother.
Of course, the idea that you can not birth a child and still experience motherhood isn’t unusual: surrogacy, adoption, etc. But I am interested in the tension between the biological and social ideas of motherhood, especially in contrast to fatherhood. For Thomas, does he experience a mix of motherhood and fatherhood? What about a lesbian couple–how is motherhood shared, and different between the woman who birthed the child?
In this way, I am also interested in whether or not motherhood is or must be something that is learned, and how patterns of motherhood continue or are broken. Will I be like my mother when I have children?
For my last experiment I was thinking of writing a personal essay examining my relationship with my own mother in adolescence. In thinking about how I could incorporate these questions into my last experiment, I think that the question of learned patterns of motherhood would be relevant, as my mother’s relationship with her mother is often projected by her onto our own.
As well, I’m sure there would be a place to tie in the history of my mother’s newly discovered half-sister. When my mom visited her this year, she texted me describing some eerie similarities between her sister and her mother, despite the fact that they’d never met, and between her sisters’s family and ours. This raises the larger of question of how mothers and daughters are connected biologically, and how the two sisters have experienced motherhood differently given their histories.
When I wrote the script for my first experiment, a podcast titled Listen To Your Mother, I already had the tone of the podcast in mind. The podcast would address two thoughts from mothers I thought existed: “why did no one tell me this about motherhood,” and “I thought that this was just me.” But these were issues that I was assuming mothers faced, and because of this assumption, every episode was tailored around reaching these same realizations.
This limited my listener base based on the political and societal ideas I had formed about them. What if a mother was listening thinking “no, motherhood is exactly what I expected, there are no issues or surprises, and I enjoy it every day” ? It’s hard to create an authentic conversation, or plan for one using a podcast script of questions, when you’ve already decided what authentic revelations are going to happen.
While I want the revelations to be uncomfortable and thought provoking, I also don’t want to police the content. Now, I imagine an episode where two mothers are talking about, for example, childbirth. What if the pain of childbirth is exactly as they predicted? Rather than push for some kind of “I wish I had known this” moment, it would be more authentic to encourage a discussion of, perhaps, what mothers feel like they innately know about the experience. Perhaps my topical issue with authenticity and motherhood is not the mother’s uncomfortability with the topics, but my uncomfortability with hearing things outside of the narrative I’ve already constructed.
Last July, my father, a Yale graduate with a degree in English, a professional editor who has spent the last 20 years of his life supporting our family with his way with words, announced to us at dinner that he was finally going to get through David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, god damn it. The book made it into the trunk as we packed to leave for Cape Cod. And then the beach bag. And then the moment, as all moments do, finally arrived.
“Want your book?” I said as I extracted my own, much thinner reading choice from the beach bag. He pretended to consider it, stretching his toes in the sand, leaning back in the beach chair. And then subtle, poorly concealed smile appeared.
“Not today.” Spoiler alert: tomorrow, and the day after that, were also off the table.
Alright, Dad. So what I’m saying is if I have a complex about reading David Foster Wallace, it’s only because I’ve been taught to. It’s always nice to assign some blame right off the bat, and especially nice to put it on your parents, n’est-ce pas?
In actuality, the limited David Foster Wallace that I’ve read–Ticket To the Fair–I didn’t find particularly difficult to get through, albeit its length and the fact that I was reading it in a classroom setting. But still, Wallace’s name conjured up unknown terrors for me–terrors that apparently even my father could not bring himself to face.
But now I had a reason, nay, a command to take up the challenge. So I searched “David Foster Wallace essay” (a very refined search) and came across Consider The Lobster. Lobsters? Zero interest. Perfect.
So I read it. And I survived. Except now I can’t stop thinking about our 2011 family trip to Maine.
The essay was structured similarly to essays I had read and written last year in my Creative Nonfiction class, which was comforting–Wallace starts with a specific event/situation (The Maine Lobster Festival) and then zooms out to discuss the ethics of and cultural attitudes towards boiling a lobster alive.
It was an uncomfortable topic to think about because I, like Wallace, struggle to find a way to defend my meat eating outside of my own selfishness. (Hang on–a commonality with Wallace? Could it be? That he is a human just like me?)
I didn’t believe from the get-go that this essay was written exclusively for lobster lovers, as usually nonfiction essays hold a deeper point than just their subject. But, having no prior interest in lobsters, the title would still have put me off from choosing to read this essay, if not for this assignment.
But then a weird thing happened–the longer I read, the less uncomfortable I felt. I don’t want to make more of this than there is. I am not a super reader who believes I am invincible. I searched up a writer that I thought was outside of my usual scope, read an essay, and discovered that at least one of his essays was understandable to me after all.
Was that the complete opposite goal of this assignment? Have I learned the reverse of what I was supposed to? I probably could have found something more difficult, more obviously not for me. (My initial instinct was to read an essay about retirement, but it was hard to find one.)
But for now, I can cross one more fear off of my long list.