Oprah magazine

Caitlin Flanagan irritates me to my core. Last year she published a book, To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife, which made her the darling of the nano-second with the Right Wing talking heads. Although it stops short of endorsing the shoeless, knocked up and slaving over a radiating microwave conservative mantra, it is a load of poser crap because as nearly as I can ascertain Ms. Flanagan is not, and never has been, a housewife. Her husband is filthy rich. She has a nanny and a housekeeper. She works. Okay, from home. But if the woman has a job that necessitates the need for a nanny and a housekeeper, them ain’t mother’s hours. 

This month she has a featured article in Oprah Magazine. I love O and I hate it. I love it because it provokes me and gives me good blog topics. I hate it because while it professes to be a tool for female empowerment, it completely buys into the same garbage about what being a woman is that all the other women’s magazines do. It is the deeper end of the self-help pool perhaps, but it isn’t helping because it makes the assumption that all the others do. If there is something wrong in your life from your relationship to your children to your job the root cause of this dysfunction is you, and though sometimes it is, a lot of the time it’s THEM. Anyway, the title of the article is You’re Middle-Aged. But Are You Done? Discuss. Oy! Where to begin with that! There are so many issues to be taken with the idea that 40 is some kind of huge mile-marker and that the decade that it kicks off is the precurser to Depends undergarments. Good lord, at 40 you still have a dozen or more years of tampons to buy. 40+ year old women are not near as wrinkly as the cosmetic industry would like us to believe (unless you smoke and were/are a tanning addict) and with a little bit of vigilance we can stave off the first bits of facial hair growth and graying. It’s not the wonder years of that the mid to late 30’s are but as Shrek says, “It’ll do.”

Flanagan yips a bit about not having the same drive or need to do and succeed that she did as a younger women and then wonders what her friends think about this decade of crisis. So, she fires up the old Rolodex and invites a few of her “average” friends over for party favors and wine and Q&A on the burning questions – marriage – money – sex and how this effects their ability to keeping dreaming about their lives and futures. Now, given who she is I didn’t expect her friends to be like mine. My best friends is a home health care nurse who is almost finished with her MSN despite having a full-time job, husband and two kids. Another very close friend is a middle school teacher whose husband is a farmer, her three girls are 22, 19, and 16 and has also just finished up her MA studies. Flanagan’s friends include a successful novelist, a performance artist, a television personality, a professional organizer , a temporarily retired entrepreneur, and she  throws in a SAHM as a bone for we merely ordinary women to relate with.

I truly went into the reading of this article with an open mind. I thought, “Hey, this is Oprah, right? She isn’t going to tolerate some vacuous shit. These women probably discuss some really important topics. The pressure on women to stay young looking and thin. The difficulties of juggling career and kids. Getting back into the workplace after taking time off. Being taken seriously in your profession.” Yeah, I was wrong, but I read on. And just made myself so crazy that I cornered my poor husband with a diatribe that lasted a good half-hour or so on how I would have answered this idiot woman’s questions. 

Although the entire article is not worth the paper it is printed on, there are a few topics that particularly galled me. One of them was sex. Not one of these women viewed sex with their husbands, or other significant mate, as important. It was an afterthought or worse, an inconvenience. One of them even quoted from a book entitled I’d Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido whose author actually told her husband that she was unilaterally scaling back the number of sexual interactions in their relationship, and what’s more incredible really…..he agreed with her. Furthermore the group on the whole was intrigued with the notion that instead of women visiting their doctors to get help with increasing their low libidos (I am assuming that the 40’s are a low point hormonally for many women …. though I don’t personally know any such women) men should see their physicians to see about decreasing their sex drives instead. Sex with one’s love is a chore? Granted, I was married for a goodly while to a man too ill to be intimate with in any way, but even if that wasn’t the case, I would still want to make love as often as possible with my husband. Sickness, exhaustion, child, selling a house, packing, moving to another country. None of these present any sort of insurmountable obstacle to passionate interactions and this I know for sure.

Another topic was money. Money spent wisely and money thrown away. Most of the participants discussed some purchase of clothing as the best investment they ever made and were thankfully shamed into silence by the women who said that the money she spent on fertility treatments was easily the best investment she ever made. When the discussion turned to money they thrown away, it was predictably things that they regretted splurging on like outfits of clothing, furniture, interior decorators. The money  that I regret spending is on the grave site and headstone I purchased for my late husband. $1300 that I really couldn’t afford, but I did it because he wanted to be buried somewhere that his family, mainly Katy and I, and his friends could come and visit. Sadly, Katy and I were the only ones to really visit his grave and had I not interred him I could have brought his ashes along to Canada with us. Now he lies alone in a little cemetery that it is unlikely I or his daughter will get back to for long while. Who knows really? Maybe even never. I regret that money a lot now.

I thought about conversations I have had with my friends about the state of health care and education. About the night my women’s writers group discussed the realities and ins and outs of dating and how one’s relationship history influences our choices and views. I suppose that “depth” is one of those eye of the beholder things, but I am irked that such a completely shallow person was given an opportunity to have a frank discussion and blew it so definitively. 

On page 194 of the September issue of Oprah, there is a small article on fountain pens. I saved it because it reminded me of my husband.

Will loved pens. He hated shopping unless it was for a new pen (or Pittsburgh Steelers paraphernalia). He didn’t write much in his line of work. Mainly he took orders and filled in inventory files, but he insisted on having a good pen to do these things with. Before his illness took hold of him, he had printer perfect block letter penmanship and his cursive was small and impossibly neat. He would leave yellow post-it notes for me with little messages and I Love You’s that were basically the extent of the writing he was willing to do.

He had a pen-pal though. A foreign exchange student he met in high school and their correspondence spanned about seven or eight years. He stopped writing to her after we were married. Not because I asked him to but because she reappeared in his life about two months before our wedding expecting him to be free to pick up their on/off more romantic on his side than hers relationship. I think something about seeing she and I together made him finally realize that he had been used.

Periodically he would initiate a shopping trip strictly for the purpose of acquiring new pens. He would normally purchase several at a time because as a route salesman he knew that they would eventually be left at a stop or lost in the seat of the truck or dropped from his pocket as he loaded and unloaded.

I still have his favorite one. And though it doesn’t work very well anymore, I can’t throw it away. Our daughter seems to have inherited his love of writing utensils though she loves mechanical pencils as much as she loves pens. We are forever collecting them, and she has her favorites that tend to the girly with sparkles and feathers.

It never ceases to amaze me how much she is like him when she never really knew the man that I fell in love with. He was long gone by the time she was born. She only ever knew her father as a sick man. Confused. Frail. And then wheelchair and bed-bound. Unable to talk, see, feed himself.

“Daddy never talks to me,” she would say when I asked her if she would like to visit him in the nursing home where he spent over a year of the last fifteen months of his life.

The pen I save is one she uses sometimes though often she will decline to use it because “that’s Daddy’s.”

It’s funny the little things that pull up memories you forgot you even remembered. Articles in Oprah, god would he have laughed about that, and fountain pens.

I have always loved getting ready for the first day of school. There is nothing quite so wonderful as wandering up and down the aisles of Target with a school supply list and choosing just the right tools for a successful academic year. Binders and dividers or pocket folders? College or school ruled? Mechanical or wood? Crayons or markers?

As a child and as a teacher, I felt the same eagerness for the first day, carefully preparing and arming myself for the new year. There are few things that match the promise of an empty spiral. Clean and neatly rowed. Waiting for the thought that will transform it. Read Full Article