return of flotsam friday
Friday, March 27, 2009
To start, some research that caught my attention:
I like this study from the University of Toronto that points out that many people find uncertainty much more stressful than clear negative feedback. Oh yes, oh yes. It’s true. I would much rather know the worst than wonder. Of course, I much prefer praise and strokes to negative anything, but if you don’t like something I did or said, fergawdsake just tell me. If you waffle or leave me to wonder, my overactive imagination is likely to put far harsher words in your mouth than you would ever manage, unless you’re a real SOB, which I know you’re not. No, don’t argue. I just know it.
Another study, this one from the University of Michigan, considers whether we’re better off ruminating or forgetting and moving on when we’re depressed or upset. Well, OK, they don’t use the word “ruminating.” They use “analyzing.” But really, I find that unless we have learned tools for analyzing our own feelings, we’re much more likely to ruminate (and by that, I mean just chew things over in an unproductive manner) than analyze.
Anyway, what these researchers find is that the best thing to do is try to step back, disconnect your emotions from the problem, and analyze if from a psychological distance. Which is easier said than done, I know, but it’s a worthwhile skill to develop. Or perhaps it comes naturally as we get older.
I try to use a technique like this when I receive a writing critique. No matter how kindly spoken or written, a negative critique of any kind initially is a knife through my heart. So the first thing I do is just acknowledge the ripping, bleeding pain of it, then I think, “OK, so I’m not perfect, nobody is,” and then I literally think about taking a step back, setting emotion aside, and just listening. It’s actually an exercise in visualization and it helps me.
Then, when the critique is over, I sob quietly into my pillow for a few days, and get back to work.
Here’s a nice item about a couple of New Yorker cartoonists who are a couple—as in, married. Watch the video. They’re just lovely. I’m always on the lookout for good depictions of long-time marriage and this is a great one.
Not married or coupled? Here’s a great article from New York magazine about living alone and how urban alienation is a myth. (I wrote a World Hum blog post about big city vs. small town life, see here)
Jennifer Senior writes,
“In American lore, the small town is the archetypal community, a state of grace from which city dwellers have fallen (thus capitulating to all sorts of political ills like, say, socialism). Even among die-hard New Yorkers, those who could hardly imagine a life anywhere else, you’ll find people who secretly harbor nostalgia for the small village they’ve never known.
Yet the picture of cities—and New York in particular—that has been emerging from the work of social scientists is that the people living in them are actually less lonely. Rather than driving people apart, large population centers pull them together, and as a rule tend to possess greater community virtues than smaller ones. This, even though cities are consistently, overwhelmingly, places where people are more likely to live on their own.”
And we’ll wrap up today’s flotsam with the cartoon du jour. It’s so me.
midlife crisis du jour
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
OK, so now I’m looking down the barrel of 51 and you know what that means, don’t you? I’m almost 60.
Life is still good but I really hate the birthdays after milestone birthdays. The anticipation (fear, loathing, horror) of the big birthdays is so great that when I get through them without the world crashing around my ears, I feel I should be allowed to simply stop aging—at least for a few years. OK, I survived 50. Now let’s take a breather. We can resume the aging process in a year or two. Or not. I’d be OK if we stopped here.
This is the first year I’ve noticed stuff hurting. The first thing to go is the feet. I enjoy looking at the blog about stylish seniors, Advanced Style (although I think they often set the bar a little low). But I’ve noted that no matter how stylish (or not) these advanced stylistas are, they all are wearing comfortable shoes.
It seems a little rude that my feet should hurt since I’ve never been one for cruel shoes. I didn’t wear heels at all for many years and I haven’t tottered around on anything higher than about three inches since I was a teenager. Am I paying a penalty for my five-inch disco heels now, all these years later?
A friend told me that lose fat on the bottom of our feet as we age, which is why they hurt. Somehow the fat defies gravity and moves up, I guess, to our bellies. But if this is the case and our feet do lose a comfy layer of fat, how about all those people who are perfecting ways to inject fat into our lips start concentrating on fattening up our feet instead? Much more practical.
Not that I would wear them out of the house or anything, but I’m wearing Crocs as I write this. They’re comfortable. And a sure sign that I’m pushing 70.
women and writing
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
One interesting point Showalter makes, as discussed in the review, is that historically, European women writers tended to create greater works of literature because they had servants. American women writers were so busy with housework, they had less time for writing and their field of experience was proscribed by the demands of their lives. Reviewer Laura Miller writes:
The obvious subject for such women was what they knew: home life. But, as Showalter observes, "Domestic fiction has been the most controversial genre in the literary history of American women's writing, an easy target for mockery and an embarrassment to feminist critics who wish to change the canon." Margaret Fuller articulated that ambivalence when she announced that she wanted to "not write, like a woman, of love and hope and disappointment, but like a man, of the world of intellect and action"; she never managed to pull it off. … Even socially influential writers, like Harriet Beecher Stowe (teased by Abraham Lincoln for starting the Civil War), got sniffed at by the critical establishment, and it only got worse when the 20th century ushered in the cult of the he-man novelist as personified by Ernest Hemingway. (The leftist writer Meridel Le Sueur complained that an editor rejected one of her stories for lacking the requisite amount of what she called "fishin', fightin' and fuckin'.")
… many critics and editors, especially male ones, make a fetish of "ambition," by which they mean the contemporary equivalent of novels about men in boats ("Moby-Dick," "Huckleberry Finn") rather than women in houses ("House of Mirth"), and that as a result big novels by male writers get treated as major events while slender but equally accomplished books by women tend to make a smaller splash.
This is clear and obvious to me—and the review points out that critical acclaim leads to the kinds of grants and gigs that allow writers to support themselves to write, and those go primarily to men.
I’m still sorting out in my mind, though, the difference between women’s literature and chick lit and what allows traditionally told female-centric stories to transcend the chick lit label. Jane Smiley has broken out, has Anne Tyler? Annie Proulx, definitely, although I struggle with her. I read her book Postcards on a trip once and found it relentlessly bleak. I left it in an airport when I was finished (I often do that when I travel) and then felt guilty because someone else would pick it up and end up as depressed as I.
Is Nick Hornby chick lit? Was Edith Wharton chick lit in her day? As I recall from the monumental biography of her that I half read, she saw greater success than her friend and contemporary Henry James, but did she get the same critical respect? (I don’t remember off the top of my head. Anyone? She certainly has my respect. I adore her.)
And I recall a friend telling me about being told by agents and publishers that because her novel was about a teenaged girl, it could not be sold as an adult novel and needed to be recast as a young adult novel. Yet the male coming-of-age novel is a literary institution.
Of course, Showalter points out that changing attitudes about domestic fiction is only one way for women writers to gain more respect. The other is for us to seize the big canvases.
Sigh. I don’t think I have the big canvas in me. (And of course you realize, this is all about me. It’s my blog.) Maybe I do. Maybe I have to get all my little stories out of me first and eventually the big story I have to tell will coalesce.
I guess I just have to live long enough and keep writing.
i'm totally milking the introversion thing
Monday, March 9, 2009
this and that re: relationships
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Hm, really? That’s sad, isn’t it? Is that why our divorce rate is so high? Gosh, if Tom let all my annoying little habits get to him, we would never have lasted this long. But instead, he just turns the oven off when I leave it on; he gets the mail when I forget to; he cooks dinner most nights since I consistently conveniently forget that a guy’s gotta eat; he mostly ignores my nagging. And, for my part, I let him go to sleep way too early every night. Too early by my standards, that is. He’s always been an early-to-bed/rise guy and as annoying as I sometimes find it, that’s who I married.
On the other hand (another of my overused phrases), I often enjoy the hours after he’s gone to bed--now that I’ve finally figured out that I’m not compelled to go to bed at the same time. That epiphany was decades coming. Somehow I got it into my head that my wifely duties included climbing into bed with him every night, even though he just wanted to sleep. I would fall asleep early but never could stay asleep. Now that I go to bed on my schedule—two or three hours after Tom—I sleep all night.
My friend Peter posted another spin on relationships on his blog, advocating the “good enough philosophy” of marriage. Put that way, it sounds a little depressing, but I can’t argue with him. To an extent, deciding to forsake all others is settling, I suppose. Settling for what you have rather than what you can imagine. Settling for an authentic human rather than an idealized vision. Settling for the comfort of security over the thrills of possibilities. “Settling” is a terrible word, isn’t it? How can we spin it to sound better?
Another aspect of settling are those “how did I end up with…?” moments, when your mate says or does something, or reveals a gap in knowledge, that is so shocking, you can't even imagine how your life took the strange turn that linked you with this person.
I had one of these just last night, as we watched A Night at the Opera. I grew up watching and loving the Marx Brothers—it’s partly a Jewish New Yorker thing, I think—but they simply were not part of Tom’s experience. I remember once, not long after Tom and I moved in together, one of his brothers came to stay a weekend. As part of the weekend’s planned entertainment, I rented a Marx Brothers movie. The two of them looked at me like I’d suggested we spend an evening at Chuck E. Cheese. They could not have been more puzzled as to why I imagined this would be entertaining for them. (We didn’t watch it.)
OK, I already knew that Tom is not a Marx Brothers aficionado, but I was still unprepared when I turned to him last night during the movie and said, “You’ve heard of the famous stateroom scene, right?” and he had not.
This was one of those “…how did I end up with” moments. How did I end up with a man who has never even heard of the stateroom scene? Incomprehensible. I’m pretty sure I was introduced to the stateroom scene the moment I left my mother’s womb.
I am relieved to report that Tom and I will be able to stay married because he laughed through the scene. His favorite line: “Come on in girls and leave all hope behind.” If he hadn’t laughed at least once, I might have contemplated divorce.
Remember the movie Diner, when Steve Guttenberg wouldn’t marry his fiancée until she passed a football trivia test? The idea doesn’t sound entirely outlandish when you have those “how did I end up with…?” moments. In fact, I enjoy playing “Name That Broadway Show” with Tom, since he claims to hate Broadway musicals but a lot of the crooners he does like (Frank and Tony and such) often sing show music. I am proud to report (and he is ashamed to admit) that he’s getting pretty good at the game.
And so, in conclusion, relationship-related cartoon du jour.
travel photo cliches
Monday, March 2, 2009
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