Carol’s cooking sucks (& so does her life!) – OR – Housewives as Heroines

May 29, 2008

Well, so I’ve got it a little off. The precise term is “Stinks,” not “sucks” but the implication is the same. I’m referring to an otherwise unidentified woman, who herself made that statement about her own cooking, and wrote of her life in a similar manner. The story appears in a great book called: Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote by Janet Theophano.

Although there are many more positive women in Theophano’s book – which focuses not on the cooking and cuisine, but rather on the mostly-anonymous women behind cookbooks of all sorts, from about the 1700s through the 1900s.

Carol stood out to me because of her frustration, and her willingness to write about it – her cookbook doubling as a diary. Carol is a 50 year old woman, living, cooking, writing and “venting” sometime in the 1960s or 1970s. She appears to be desperately unhappy. Her husband does nothing. She works at a full time job, then comes home and works. Dinner is the biggest chore. Housework is a second job with very little compensation – and apparently very little appreciation. She uses the term “dingbat” – so I wonder if she wrote while watching All in the Family – that term used by Archie Bunker to berate his wife. Did Carol’s husband do the same?

Carol, through her cookbook/diary, reminds me of another woman of the same time period, who is the major character in the documentary film called 51 Birch Street who kept journals for decades through a mostly-unhappy marriage. Granted, there were parts of that woman’s story I didn’t want to know, but what emerged through that film was a woman who longed to break free from the roles society, her husband, and family, had placed upon her, as rigid as a prison. Carol seems to inhabit a similar prison. Both women were trapped by their times and paid a heavy price.

I believe that within the next, say, 10-20 years, a new vision of women in the 1950s and 1960s – after World War II and before the “women’s movement” – will emerge that shows the heroism of their everyday lives, their struggles for self-determination, the stubborn refusal of society and their husbands (and perhaps their kids) to grant them a mind, a heart, and indeed a space of their own – and the courage of these women to continue – to fulfill not only their responsibilities to others (it’s always about others) -but to finally grasp and proclaim their own dignity and worth, as individuals, irrespective of husbands, children, or others.

I never thought of housework or preparing dinner as courageous acts – but after reading Carol’s story – I see how preparing dinner every nite was such an act of conformity – which grieved her soul – and an act of courage – “doing what had to be done” despite a desperate desire to flee. In her cookbook, her unhappiness at her situation is clear. She talks of suicide and divorce, all because of the immense weight of the double burden of working outside of the home full time – and working inside of the home, almost equally as much – and her husband’s distance, emotionally as well as his lack of involvement in household tasks.

The more I learn about the *real* lives of housewives in the 1950s and 1960s, the more I am grateful to them for what they did, and the burden they carried as our mothers and grandmothers. We have this “blissful” “nostalgic” idea of the smiling mother, dad with his pipe and a sweater vest, and a boy and a girl cheerfully smiling at the dinner table, but what we don’t see is that Mother is clenching her teeth in a frozen spiteful grin – polite, as always – but seething inside that Dad has his houseslippers on and is relaxing reading the paper, while she has to cook for four in high heels and a silk dress after she has been on her feet all day. (oh, her aching feet!)

I’m not writing this as a rant, or even a diatribe against housewives then or now, or working women or moms, or even the “traditional family.” Not at all, and quite the contrary. What I am saying – and this through what Carol shares about her life, and others like her – is that all of these women deserve our respect and admiration. Housewife and mother are the most taken-for-granted roles and tasks there are. Those women need an award or medal – just like loyal employees who have a perfect attendance at the factory or an accident-free year on the assembly line. All those housewives of years ago – are heroines!!

P.S. I realize some of my readers may in fact be those very housewives – today or years back. Thank you for your courage and dignity in your everyday lives!!!

©2008 writingreading

Swimming the Ocean

May 21, 2008

I believe writing a book is like swimming the ocean. At least, it feels that way. I swim and swim and swim, thinking I must surely be at the half-way point by now – but I look behind me and see that I am only about 500 yards off-shore. The pull of the tide pushes me in, then pulls me back out, so that I no longer have a sense of distance. My muscles ache and tire, the sun reflecting off the waves is blinding, yet I know I cannot give up. I allow myself to drift for a bit, and relax, but I cannot give up completely, lest I drown.

I’ve been working on a non-fiction book now for over six months, probably longer. I’m talking writing, here, not counting time doing research which is a whole different ballgame entirely. It’s like treading water. Even though I know I can’t write much more than maybe a couple of pages a night, on a good night, and maybe not much more than 10 total in a week – it feels so grindingly dullingly slowwww. And I’m talking about the process and progress here – not the reading-pace of the book. (It’s still a first draft anyway, and that comes later.)

The truth is, I’ve got probably 70-100 pages altogether, written – and so maybe I’m 1/3 or 1/2 way through the book, with however much more to go. But at this point, it so often seems like I will never, ever get finished – so much so that at times I’m tempted to say “forget it” and let my dream die. I know that this book is important to me, that it is something that I am truly passionate about – that it is one of the few things that can break through my daily cynicism and give me Purpose and Meaning.

So why is it that I find the going so difficult? That I can have an entire day stretched before me, just waiting to spend the endless hours writing — and not even begin to get started until 5pm? Or wail and thrash about, shuffling papers or surfing blogs and websites, and then wonder why I didn’t get anything done at all today?

I think writing must be like crossing the vast states of Tennessee, cross-wise, or Texas, in any direction, or going lengthwise up the coast of California. It takes forever!! And it’s usually when you are getting close to the end, when you feel the most like you’re never going to get there! But I’ve made enough road trips to know – you just have to keep going, you will get there!

Maybe it’s all in my perspective. I’m all wrong to think I’m swimming the ocean. I’m just a blind woman in a swimming pool, swimming in circles, and I don’t realize I’ve already traveled so far.

©2008 writingreading

Blogging as an Act of Faith

May 12, 2008

I’m not much for faith or religion of any kind. I tend toward the existential, skeptical, doubtful and cynical. That’s where I feel the most comfortable. Among the questions, not among the answers.

But I realized today that what I’m doing by creating a blog, as both a practical matter and from a more philosophical point of view, is in fact an act of faith. And in many ways.

Faith in myself –

  • That I will “commit” to myself (and to others, if there are others) to post often enough to sustain my blog and my readers. That I won’t neglect The Blog to the extent that it becomes a dead carcass.
  • That blogging helps me to create and maintain the discipline I need as a writer (even if drawing time away from my Primary Mission – offline writing!)
  • That I have something to say, even when I think I don’t. Dare myself to try. (and not just “fill space” – nobody wants that!)

Faith in the Web of the universe –

  • That “if I build it, they [readers] will come.” I’m not out to be a Big Blog – that’s obvious enough. But I do hope that I will have some visitors who stop by for a spot of tea now and then, maybe like what they see, perhaps tell another soul, and grow a small but interesting group of readers.
  • That although my blog is still in its infancy, with its features unformed, its voice still a shrill squeal, and uncertain of its bearings, that over time, it will grow and mature to learn, have fun, and eventually take its place in the larger society of the blogosphere.

Like in the real world, I often have my doubts. “Does it matter? (does anything matter?)” “Is there meaning in what I’m doing? (is there ever meaning in anything?)” And sometimes, even if I answer “no” – I still keep searching, and asking the same question(s) again. By asking the very questions, repeatedly – I reaffirm my doubtful faith that surely there must be some purpose, some meaning, some reason…for everything…for anything…for something, even just one thing. For me. For all of us.

Even though I say “There is no reason. Never has been. Never will be. It is just a farce to think there is a reason, and if I didn’t believe it, or try so hard to find one – and just accepted the absurdity of it all – I’d be a lot better off.” And yet I find myself asking the same question(s) again, all over again. My persistence in Asking must indicate I have at least a microscopic mote of Faith in Purpose, and an equally microscopic element of Doubt in my Doubt.

I know from my work with archives and history and similar resources and materials, that it is often not the single “valuable letter” that makes a collection of materials special, unique, or important. It is the accumulation of materials relating to daily life – letters written about the crops, the weather, Aunt Betsy’s hat – that are often of more interest and significance to historians – precisely because of their everyday ordinariness. Just a single letter about Aunt Betsy’s hat might not be all that interesting – but taken in context, within the larger whole, it may gain in significance…because you later find out that her hat marked her involvement in the suffrage movement, for example – and then you get a whole lot more out of it! It is the accumulation of things that marks its significance, not a single item (or post).

In a similar way, I have to have faith that my occasional labors in the blogging world will someday be of interest not only to myself, as a retrospective, but to others, and that as my blog begins to grow – so will I.

I have the Faith – skeptic tho I am!

©2008 writingreading

Cinderella’s real reason for leaving home

May 8, 2008

I think the real reason little girls dream of being a fairytale princess is to avoid housework. They know at a very young age that part of their lot in life is (still, even in the early 21st century) doing the bulk of the cleaning necessary for day to day living. Cinderella might have had a cruel stepmother, but I think it was being on her knees scrubbing the floor that made her long to escape her everyday life.

The handsome prince of course is nice to look at, but I think the emphasis must be more on his social and economic status (hey, honey, we have maids to do this! so you don’t have to!) rather than his rugged good looks. But even though Cindy lives “happily ever after” and leaves her old life behind – does she treat her maids with any sympathy? Probably not. She’s just so glad to get a manicure and relieve her aching red dry hands from the daily dose of cleansing powder and scrubbing, she probably doesn’t think about those who toil for her. After all, she’s made the leap to the upper class in the twinkling of a glass shoe!

Of course, the fact that her prince rides a beautiful stallion doesn’t hurt, either. C’mon, did they really take a pumpkin-carriage to the ball? The Cinderella I believe in would have jumped at the opportunity to ride one of the carriage horses with her date through the forest to the castle. Imagine, Cinderella thinks, riding that handsome steed through the forest and across the countryside, racing to her freedom. Maybe she flashes a mischievous smile to her prince, and races away without him. She has her freedom now – why stick around?

Ask any 8 year old girl – she wants a horse of her very own. She, too, longs for her freedom, and the horse brings it – like a bike, only faster, and more adventurous. Maybe a prince, too, for the same reasons. It’s all about “escape.” But what her older (much much older) sisters don’t tell her – is that the housework never ends. And the escape is only a fairytale.

©2008 writingreading

Guilt Trip – or, Blogging as Procrastination

May 5, 2008

I knew this would happen, and that being new to blogging, there would be some semi-significant startup time – but I spent virtually all day yesterday getting underway. I don’t mind it, and it was my choice of course, but the truth is that I should have been writing on My Book (a large non-fiction work in progress, which probably won’t be described in much more detail) all day yesterday. As much as I was wanting to start a blog about writing, I knew it held great peril for me as an excellent and enticing procrastination tool. And of course, I’m doing it again tonight.

That’ll be OK I think, in the long run. After all, doesn’t it “count” – as long as I am Writing?! I think it must – but the nagging doubts remain. I’m hopeful that blogging will enable me to write about things I normally wouldn’t, to engage in conversation with far-off (and maybe far-out!) friends, and to keep my fingers and brain nimble and writing away, even when the words don’t seem to come for my other projects. That being said, I really do have other offline projects I must be diligent about, so I’m hopeful that after the first few initial posts – just for me to get the hang and feel of things – I might not post more than maybe once a week or so. That way, for both me as the writer, and you as the reader, things won’t get too stale or forced. We’ll see, and thanks for taking the journey with me!

©2008 writingreading