My daughter is two.  Already sounding out letters, she’s learning the concept of reading, taking pleasure in memorizing  shapes and sounds, proudly scrawling the first few letters of her name.  On the night before “take-a-book-to-school” day a few weeks ago at her daycare, she had difficulty choosing from her favorites. Three feet tall, chubby-faced, she towered over the picture books she’d spread on the living room floor like a colorful hopscotch grid, her dirty blonde hair frizzing around her head in wild curls, her glasses cockeyed. “This one,” she kept saying. “No, this one!”

When do we begin to decide what books we love? At what point do we start choosing to read books about one subject, but not another?

We’re in the midst of the latest in a series of Work-Life Balance eruptions, from Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” to Sheryl Sandberg’s admonition that women need to Lean In, to Marissa Mayer’s recent diktat that everyone needs to “get back to work,” no more of this “phoning it in.”

Will we see real progress this time?

When I began telling people that I was pregnant, people said ominous things like, “Your life will never be the same again,” and “This will change you forever.”  Others (generally parents themselves) took to more back-handedly complimentary, self-satisfied sentiments like “This will make you a better person!”  Or “You’ll find that pregnancy and parenthood are humbling experiences.”

(Wait.  Did you just call yourself a good, humble person for having had kids? I think you did. No. Really. I’m pretty sure you did.)


I think the ominous sentiments are probably inescapably, terrifyingly true. I think the smug sentiments are probably just there to warn me that some of my friends and acquaintances are smug.


Physically, I have escaped relatively unscathed.  No serious complications and so far free and clear of the more common, inconvenient, and uncomfortable but generally harmless physical complaints as well.  No nausea, no frequent headaches, no stretch marks, and no sign of the dreaded FATs, thank you very much.  Fiber, fiber, fiber.


Pregnancy is a fuckin’ breeze.


Or not exactly.  Not the part where I go considerably more insane and become an entirely different person, both in fact and in the perceptions of others.


I’ve quit enjoying music.  And the internet, for some reason.


The only straight man in my office has started treating me differently, cloyingly; he is less trustful of my opinions, less heedful of my warnings and advice.  He pushes back at me where I’m pretty sure, prior to my pregnancy, he found me intimidating and accepted that I was the expert on matters related to my job.

He is seemingly confused about whether the baby is in my uterus or in my brain.  About whether I am  expecting a child or I am the child.


It doesn’t help  that, as Tawni Freeland observed elsewhere, most maternity clothes look like oversized baby clothes themselves.  Lots of ruffles and lace and empire waists and baby-doll lines and floral patterns.  An overwhelming cutesy-feminine-preciousness that is simply not befitting of the fearsome creature I can be.


I’m the she-goat.  I AM YANG.

I AM SETH I AM KALI I AM CHAOS I AM THE COLD AND THE DARKNESS AND I AM HAVING TROUBLE REACHING MY TOES COULD YOU TIE MY SHOES FOR ME PLEASE WHENEVER I BEND OVER I FART AND ALMOST PASS OUT.


You can totally run, and you can probably totally hide, too, since I barely even fit in a restaurant booth these days. Pretty much anywhere you go, if it’s at a pace faster than “shuffle,” I won’t catch you.


I do my best not to wear shirts actually made for pregnant people unless I am entering a situation in which I think it is somehow to my advantage to be perceived, potentially exclusively, as the cute and helpless pregnant girl.  That or a disabled person.  This is not to say there is never such a situation.  But it needs to be strategic decision, not one made for me by the dearth of sane fashion options in maternity sections of the Twin Cities metropolitan area.


A friend of mine related to me that her husband had enjoyed her being pregnant because it seemed to “even out” her temperament.


In my case, my own father said to me today:  “You were mercurial, at best, to begin with; throw this in the mix and…well…It’s okay.  It will be okay.  It will be over soon.”

Thanks, Dad.

But he’s right.  My stubbornness has become inflexibility, my stoicism, iciness.  My frankness has become tactlessness, my willfulness has become belligerence, and my driving, for some reason, has gotten really, really aggressive.


I am largely free of misgivings.  About anything. My will is a juggernaut.  My resolve a bunker.  When I say “I don’t give a shit,” I am startled to realize how sincerely I mean it.  My single-mindedness is staggering, and the power and control people are granting me now fill me with a terrible, addictive euphoria I can’t quite describe.

Makes me feel, maybe, just a little, like a god.

It’s probably not good for people to just do what I say like that.  But if they don’t, I lose my shit.


Standing there in my preppy, pretty khakis and ruffled seersucker blouse, skin glowing, smelling of rose lotion and clean laundry, belly swollen with the miracle of new life, fists coming down hard on top of the washing machine, my makeshift pulpit, my eyes wide enough to look like the balls may just explode from their sockets:

“THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU OR HOW YOU FEEL OR ME BEING OUT TO GET YOU OR WHATEVER THE HELL YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!  I JUST WANT IT DONE!  DO YOU GET IT?  DONE!!!  THIS ISN’T PERSONAL AND I DON’T GIVE A SHIT HOW! MAKE IT BE DONE!!!!”


A bunker in an lacy empire waist.  A missile silo with pink siding, a window box, and a picket fence.  Venus flytrap.


Sorry baby, but your soft blond mama is a loaded gun.




It’s all so incongruous.  Me.  Pregnancy.  Me. Femininty.  Me.  Nurturing vessel.


I struggle to salvage my Self.

I knew this would happen.


Part of this is hormones, I suppose.  But part of it is an adverse or compensatory reaction to being treated–suddenly–differently.  A reaction to people, even my own father, reaching out to touch my stomach without asking.  People seem to think there is no longer any reason to be afraid.  As a result, something in me is compelled to take up wanton displays of my capacity for sheer, unapologetic force.  To show that I can marshal the peculiar attributes of this “mellowing” condition to make myself even more awesome and terrible.

To show them that “for the better” is relative.  Better at what?  Throwing the viciously crazy quotient of any given situation totally off the charts?

Pregzilla.


Everyone be cool, this is a pregnancy.

Any of you pricks move and I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of you.


My dad spoke to me in baby-talk not long ago.  He said “My wittle girl is having a wittle girl!”  Mere weeks later, having forgotten he said it to me, he tried to tell me my mother said it to him about me.  Maybe she did.  Maybe people go around calling me a “wittle girl” to each other now.  Maybe he just wanted an excuse to say it again.


No one in their right mind would speak to unpregnant Me in baby talk. They would have to have a death wish.  No one should ever speak to any woman in baby talk unless she is actually a baby.


Later he said, “How’s it goin’, Mommy?”

That one I couldn’t let go.


“NO! GodDAMNIT! You don’t do that! Grown men don’t get to call me Mommy!”


This startled him.  My dear old dad is as sweet and lovable and generous and kind and well-intentioned as they come.  But I have grown up a tomboy, his only son, and I was not about to let him infantilize and hyper-feminize me.

My mother frowned at this.  He is approaching 70.  I am his daughter.  I have a daughterly obligation to allow him, in his dotage, to reduce me to an infant.  I am obligated to humor a cooing, high-pitched sentimentality that casts me as the lynch pin of a million-times recycled and fairly sexist Hallmark moment.

Well fuck that.

Mom can frown all she wants.

She knows better.  I’m her daughter.


An unexpected boon to my new-found dispassionate and largely unbending relationship style:  Like a lot of humans, the dog has become incredibly obedient.

Some archetypal energies, I’m tempted to believe, are universal.  Even across species.


I wonder if the birth of my child will cause setbacks in her training.  That is, I mean, if my temperament ever evens out.  If I am ever sane-ish again, I wonder if she will stop respecting me.

I think about her constantly.  Worry about whether or not she’s feeling fulfilled in her essential doggy-ness.  I bawl inconsolably at ASPCA commercials.  The little puppies with crusty eyes and no one who cares enough to wipe the boogers away.

You could show me a thousand videos of human children with distended bellies covered in flies, and I would not react with such abject sorrow and soul-clutching existential despair as I do to one 3-second shot of a dog with matted fur shaking in fear.


My fixation on dogs has been clear and curious.  It is basically harmless, so I’ve felt no need to stifle it.

It’s not unusual, I guess, for pregnant women to develop these kinds of fixations.  I was prone to fixation anyway, so it only stands to reason that this tendency, too, would be amplified.

It’s just that now my fixations are even less interesting to other people than the ones I used to get.


My husband appears slightly concerned that I love the dog more than I love him lately, and I very well might.

I suspect it is some primordial urge driving me towards the most vulnerable, needy thing in my home, commanding me to provide for it, instruct it, protect it, stroke its head, value it above all else.

At all costs, if need be.


Do not fuck with my dog.  Do not say mean things about my dog.  Praise my dog and her incredible good looks constantly.  As far as I’m concerned, compared to my dog, your dog and everyone you know sucks, including all your children, Mozart, and baby Jesus.  So just watch it.



It will be interesting to see what happens when my attention and concern are forcibly split between an infant human and my irrationally beloved Sydney dog.

I expect to feel a great deal of guilt and anxiety, no matter what.


The only other question that remains is whether I should continue trying to fight it or stop kidding myself and just let go.  Just go Full Lunatic right from the outset.  Revel in it.  Roll around in it.  Maybe if I let go, stopped fighting, I would become less, not more, crazy.

But, probably, I would just be different crazy.  Crazy like all those other parents I know, running around bragging about the humbling power of parenthood without even the slightest sense of irony.


I already have plans for a Christmas card that involve, potentially, putting clothing on my dog.

Maybe I’ll get one of those strollers for twins.  Buy matching bonnets, cut ear holes in one of them.


Change?  Yes.

Amelioration?


Let’s just say some small shred enough of Me remains to  have some very, very serious doubts.



Here in Australia, the International Comedy Festival has just passed. The newspaper sponsoring the event made a big push to cover every event, and as a result journalists who didn’t normally cover comedy were recruited to have a go.

It was a bit of a bloody disaster.

A lot of sub-par reviews came out, and in particular, this:

@simonjongreen Herald Sun sexist comments in Jen Brister review removed, angry comments remain. No mention of edit http://t.co/J2DNjB8

Thus was kicked up the stupid old debate of whether women are funny.

I think women are funny. I think it’s stupid to cleave the entire population of the world in two and then say one half aren’t funny. Some men are funny, some women are funny. Some people are funny.

I think women weren’t perceived as funny for a long time because men were in charge of hiring comics, and due to the attitudes of the time they simply didn’t hire women. No exposure means women don’t appear to be funny.

I have a sub-theory that I’d like to share. I think for someone to be funny, they have to have a degree of silliness: an ability to let themselves and their ego go and do what’s necessary to elicit a laugh. I think if someone wants to be seen as pretty or handsome, and that is their driving force, they’ll struggle to be funny, because in order to be pretty or handsome, there’s a requisite dignity and poise. This dignity and poise gets in the way of flopping around or admitting amusing secrets about your hygiene to make the audience laugh.

This isn’t to say funny people can’t be pretty or handsome. I just think someone can be funny if they’re willing to do what needs to be done to be funny: to let the conventional modes of carrying oneself fall away and for humour to emerge. If someone does that, and is also just naturally pretty or handsome, but their driving force is to be funny, then they’ll also have the fortune of being funny and attractive. Humorously boinkable.

Back in the bad old days, the wayward men who were hiring talent were happy to have the handsome and ugly funny men, but were looking mainly for the pretty women. They might hire a girl to be funny, but she’d need to have that main drive of being pretty so the wayward men could check that box. As a result, a lot of those women weren’t funny, and the wayward men could turn around and remark that women simply weren’t funny. A perpetual cycle, unbroken until the angry women of the nineties.

So I Got My Period Today

End of theory.


CONTEXT: On February 5, 2011, David Shields and I spoofed jocks in The Nervous Breakdown. Less than two months later I wrote an article at TNB about a dubious competition run by a Seattle sports radio station, KJR. Then I sent a link of the article to KJR, and they responded. This is the next chapter: 

According to Forbes Magazine, Seattle is the most miserable sports town in the United States. As a Northwest native and long suffering fan of the Mariners, Seahawks, and the now departed Sonics, I cannot disagree.  Our bad teams are complemented by Seattle sportscasters with Moobs (Manboobs) and Seattle whiner-fans griping about East Coast Bias. Yet I never have minded being the underdog. Unfortunately, the Seattle sports scene has deeper problems. As a father of three daughters, and a lifelong sports junkie, I’m having a mid-life crisis.

THE JOSH LUEKE “RAPE”: In May of 2008 two baseball players on a Texas Rangers farm team met a woman at a bar and took her home. The woman, unidentified, promptly threw up and passed out in their apartment.  She woke partially clothed and physically violated, and went to the authorities. The results: DNA from her jeans, tank top, hair, and semen on an anal swab matched one of the athletes, Josh Lueke. He was arrested, charged with rape, but eventually pleaded guilty of a lesser felony, the obscure False imprisonment with violence. He emerged relatively unscathed, his career intact.

Last summer the Seattle Mariners traded for Lueke, and he is now on the big league club. His presence makes the transgressions of other Mariners tame (one has battled domestic violence accusations and another shoved last year’s manager). I’ve had it. This year I will not listen or watch Mariners games, and if the team does not get rid of the scum, I will not watch next year or ever. Our family will now enjoy baseball games played by the Everett AquaSox.

THE MORAL PLACEBO: Okay, I’m boycotting the Mariners. So friggin’ what? Sex crimes happen across the spectrum of society. Every city has their scandal. Pittsburgh Steeler Ben Roethlisber has similar trouble, but this just gives me one more reason to hate the Steelers. It’s true there are two sides. Gold diggers like Karen Sypher, who was sentenced to 7+ years for extortion after an affair with Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, are an element, but her egregious actions in no ways justify a defense of the creeps.

So what’s a moral placebo? A “moral placebo” is when an individual makes a pledge or action on ethical grounds, yet the main beneficiary is the individual: he or she feels better about him or herself. Examples: Swearing not to drive an SUV; praying really, really hard for the well-being of starving children in underdeveloped countries; or boasting about how your eight million-dollar mansion “saves” energy because it has solar panels, even though you consume twenty times more energy than the average citizen. Yes. Words and action have a relationship (perhaps the person praying will actually send money or volunteer), but without action these stands are useless. Call me cynical, but brandishing a candle against the proverbial darkness often comes off as bullshit.

Nevertheless, I brandish, I spout, and thus I’d like to add a few words about my other “moral placebo,” a boycott of KJR Sports 950 and their sponsors. My previous TNB post took on KJR’s Mitch “Dork in the Morning” Levy and The Bigger Dance. I sent a post of this article to KJR, and soon after a few members of the KJR Society for the Legalization of Date-Rape responded. One KJR DJ took the time to engage me and defend his right to objectify women.

EXCHANGE BETWEEN KJR DJ & MYSELF:

Caleb Powell: KJR supporters have revealed themselves in the “Comments” section.

KJR DJ: Wow. Nice to see such an intellect using the proper narrow brush.

(He pasted from my interview with David Shields)

Powell: Angelina Jolie or Katherine Zeta-Jones?

Shields: Uhhhh…Angelina Jolie or hmmm…I would say Katherine Zeta-Jones.

Powell: Beyoncé or Britney?

Shields: Uh…I must admit…Britney.

I think it’s the consistency in your point of view that I find so refreshing. By the way it’s “Catherine” with a C.

CP: It’s a Spoof on Barkley. Thanks for the ‘C’ tip. Didn’t you notice the intro: “Using questions often directed at jocks, specifically Charles Barkley, we did a quick Q&A…”

KJR DJ: Ohhhhhh. I see. When YOU do it it’s a spoof. Got it.

CP: Didn’t know the Dance was a spoof.

KJR DJ: So you think we take it seriously? Honestly…it seems wildly hypocritical of you to ask David Shields what you asked him and then trash us and our listeners for what is in fact a harmless little contest. Then you play your deal off as a spoof but still want to take ours seriously.

If you don’t like the contest then there’s an easy way to deal with it. Don’t pay attention to it. But don’t demand that every other person has to see things your way…or that one or two people who respond to your post are suddenly representative of the entire listening audience of KJR.

CP: Representative? Even one KJR fan thinking like that should make you worry. “Wildly hypocritical?” That’s hyperbole. My piece with Shields ridiculed the “dumb jock.” “Harmless little contest?” Bullshit. You and KJR take it seriously. The contest is not a spoof, it’s a cash cow for KJR; sure, to you it’s fun and for the most part harmless, but it objectifies women. That’s a problem. Men that objectify women are more likely to be violent. There is a direct correlation, the evidence is there, and yes, I’m giving you a conclusion, but the studies behind it are complex and cogent.

And even though, for the most part it’s harmless and most guys that get off on the Dance are okay, enough of them are “date-rapes waiting to happen.” Those comments here at The Nervous Breakdown are frightening, aren’t they? You want those guys dating someone you care about? Hey, I don’t know if you have a daughter or a sister, but would you want any woman to have to deal with men that think objectifying women is “harmless?” It’s not.

KJR DJ: And it’s pretty damned convienient that YOU do this and claim you were just ridiculing the dumb jock. But we’re doing it and we’re equated to rapers (sic) and murderers. THAT my friend is bullshit. Tell yourself anything you want.

CP: You’re not rapists, but rapists feed off your schtick.

KJR DJ: But no rapist read your interview with David, right?

CP: What? Another non-sequitor?

That’s it. KJR DJ at least thought about the issues, yet his argument was hampered by a rudimentary use of rhetorical modifiers and his inability to understand irony. He chose to remain anonymous. I don’t listen to KJR, and though I’m boycotting their sponsors, like Mike’s Hard Lemonade, big deal, I never drank it, anyway.

Yet maybe I’m wrong. Maybe beliefs and stands matter. My wife backs me, our oldest daughter plays T-ball, and I’ve discovered other parents agree. Seattle Mariner attendance is down, and a young struggling team is not the only reason. The lit candle might not be a mere platitude. Our views influence how we raise our children and treat our peers. They’re not just token moral placebos.

When Alexandra Wallace posted a YouTube video of herself complaining about the “hordes” of Asian students at UCLA and how their existence on campus interfered with her student performance (in the video Wallace mocks the way Asian students speak on their cell phones in the library. “Ching Chong, Ting Tong, Ling Long” she sneers, holding an imaginary phone up to her ear) the response was venomous. Tons of insulted students of all races, creeds and genders logged online to insult her back, oftentimes relying on racist and sexist stereotypes designed to insult and intimidate. Most of these insults drew attention to her cleavage and the fact that she was a “stupid, slutty little white girl”, rather than a bigot. Though the rage that Wallace provoked was certainly merited, as noted on blogs like Racialicious and Colorlines, the use of equally appalling slurs to shame her begs the question of what kind of dialogue we aim to promote in our current culture. Though there has been considerable backlash about what is politically correct and incorrect to say in our culture, the constant influx of these type of insult matches demonstrates how often discussions about racism, sexism, orany other “ism” end with piled on insults and relying on hurtful stereotypes in order to shame the other. This is the current landscape of 2011, a far cry from the days where politically correct labels were slapped on to anything in order to minimize conflict. These days, people want their conflicts right out there in the open. The question is, are these types of conversations actually working to minimize hate?

Here are some quick, belated thoughts on why the Star Trek universe (which should be celebrated) is appropriately analogous to Columbus Day (which should not be celebrated):

One of Star Trek’s main purposes is to revise the tenets and practices of imperialism and colonialism, to promote the idea that humans can perhaps explore the world (the universe) around them without actually conquering it.

My mother says that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. She says that beauty is only skin deep.

My mother says that I’m gorgeous. She says that I’m adorable. That I’m not fat, no, she swears, it’s the truth. My mother says I wish you could see yourself the way I see you.

Right, I say with a smirk. Through love cataracts.

My mother says there will be days like this. There’ll be days like this, my mother says.

* * *

We are one. An undulating mass of freshly shaven legs, glitter eyeshadow, cheap taffeta and hormones.

We are women. We are thirteen.

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are playing. Or possibly Sugar Ray. “Bad Touch” or “Mambo No. 5.”

When a slow song comes on, people pair up. Pair off. Mary Nash with Roger, Anna with Alex. No one comes for me, though and “we” becomes “I.” Alone, I stand around for a minute, nervously picking at my dress. But I’m not stupid, not blind. I beat a hasty retreat.

I walk fast, with purpose, to the bathroom. In the mirror I can see that I am not what I thought I was. Under the fancy dress, I’m just me. Ugly.

I lock myself in a bathroom stall and hang my head between my legs waiting for the moment to pass.

I am, in fact, intimate with ladies’ rooms. With powder rooms and lounges, the loo and the john. In fact, sometimes I feel as though my life has been nothing more than a long line of evenings spent hiding in bathroom stalls.

* * *

My face is the shtetl. I am Galicia. I am the Warsaw Ghetto. I am Zabar’s. The new Woody Allen film. I am some tertiary Philip Roth character.

Because my eyes are dark and brown and heavily-lidded, they are often described as soulful. Or mournful. Sorrowful. There’s something of Susan Sontag in them. And there’s a bit of Rosa Luxembourg in my long, hooked nose. Or maybe Emma Lazarus. In my smile, there are echoes of Anne Frank.

I invite comparisons- not to movie stars- but to Holocaust victims and Ellis Island rejects.

Even my body is foreign: fleshy and puckered. Tits and ass and hips. I have unruly brown pubic hair. One part ChiaPet, one part steel wool. I have a faint mustache that I bleach faithfully. My hair gets greasy and my skin is dotted with fading pimples. I am neither svelte nor toned. It’s telling: there’s no English word for zaftig.

I am much too much.

* * *

I am not a pretty girl. I know this, but, at the same time, I’m hoping someone will come along to contradict me.

I’m not a pretty girl and the most I can aspire to is “striking.”

Striking. Or “unusual.”

In college, a friend asked me to be in her student film. “You have such anunusual face,” she said.

But everyone knows, of course, that “unusual” is the polite word for ugly.

* * *

Pretty is as pretty does, the saying goes. But the thing of it is, pretty does well.

Studies show that being attractive comes with plenty of benefits. Pretty people make more money, more friends. They get more sex and better jobs.

And while my mother would have me believe that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, science says otherwise. Beautiful people, they say, have symmetrical faces. Lithe bodies. Wide-set eyes and generous mouths.

Even babies know this.

In 1989, psychologist Judith Langlois found that infants have an innate sense of what is and is not attractive and act accordingly. The babies in her study stared significantly longer at attractive faces than at unattractive ones.

Which is to say that I am- and always have been- doomed.

* * *

Pretty is as pretty does, the saying goes. But women have always known this to be a fallacy. We know that all we’ve got is the curve of our ass. That a pretty face is worth more than a Ph.D. We know that when our looks fade, we will be irrelevant, obsolete.

We know this and so we spend our lives, our money, trying to be beautiful. We tweeze and we pluck and we shave and we wax. We curl our eyelashes and we host Botox parties. We starve ourselves or we corrode the pipes with our vomit. We go under the knife again and again. We buy, buy, buy.

And we never give up the hope, propagated by Hollywood and children’s books, that we will wake up one day and be- quite suddenly- transformed. A swan.

* * *

For women, looks matter. Pretty is pretty damn important.

* * *

I always knew this. And when I was sixteen, I decided that if I wasn’t going to be beautiful, I’d better be thin. If I was thin enough, I reasoned, no one would notice that I was ugly. Models, after all, are allowed to be unusual. To have crooked noses that meander leftward and asymmetrical faces. So I’d be thin.Yes.

Yes.

And for a while, I was. I was very thin. I was 95 pounds and then, for a moment, 88 pounds.

But I was also starving. I was puking in the shower and cutting my stomach with razor blades. And I wasn’t any prettier.

* * *

My friend Lacey recently tagged this awful photo of me on facebook. I detagged it.  Because I’m vain and I’m insecure.

“I look hideous,” I wrote on her wall. “And fat.”

In the picture, I’m in the midst of a story. In full flow, prattling on about something or other. I’m clasping my tote bag. Emily Martin’s The Woman in the Body is poking out. Maybe I’m extolling its virtues.

My breasts look enormous and so does my nose. I look heavy and cow-like and the photographer has, unflatteringly, shot me from below. Also, it’s my bad side.

And so I detagged the picture. Of course I did.

But I’m giving the picture a second life here. Because, when it comes down to it, this is what I look like. Living and breathing and reading and yes, eating.This is what I look like. Caught up in the moment. This is what I look like.

It’s not pretty, but it’s the truth.