Another Week Ends

1) Heather Havrilesky, at it again, this time over at Aeon. Writing from the perspective […]

Ethan Richardson / 7.12.13

Tootsie movie image Dustin Hoffman

1) Heather Havrilesky, at it again, this time over at Aeon. Writing from the perspective of a “successful” middle-ager, she describes how nothing can really be enough nowadays. The avenues for comparison are as numerous as the avenues for self-expression. She has this to say about her own experiences:

This is the shape my mid-life crisis is taking: I’m worried about what I have time to accomplish before I get too old to do anything. I’m fixated on what my life should look like by now. I’m angry at myself, because I should look better, I should be in better shape, I should be writing more, I should be a better cook and a more present, enthusiastic mother.

I go online looking for inspiration, but all I find is evidence that everyone in the world is more energetic than me. Thanks to blogs and Twitter and Facebook, I can sift through the proof that hundreds of other people aren’t slouching through life. They’re thriving in their big houses in beautiful cities, they’re cooking delicious organic meals for their children, and writing timely thank you notes to their aunts and uncles and mothers for the delightful gift that was sent in the mail and arrived right on time for Florenza’s third birthday.

This country is apparently populated by highly effective, hip professional women, running around from yoga class to writing workshop, their fashionable outfits pulled taut over their abs of steel, chirping happily at each other about the upcoming publication of their second poetry chapbook — which is really going to make the move to the remodelled loft a little hectic, but hey, that’s life when you’re beautifulish and smartish and hopelessly productive!

It’s not enough that I know all about their countless hobbies and activities and pet projects and book clubs. I’m also treated to professional-looking shots of their photogenic families, their handsome, successful husbands and their darling children who are always hugging kitty cats or laughing joyfully on pristine beaches, children who are filled with wonder around the clock. Their children never pee in their Tinker Bell undies by accident and then whine about going commando, just for example. But maybe that’s because their children have parents who never lose their tempers or heat up frozen fish sticks for dinner or forget to do the laundry. Their kids have parents who let them sleep under the stars at Joshua Tree, and no one soils her sleeping bag or has a bad trip from too many corn-syrup-infused juice boxes.

This is apparently the feelings of perpetual inadequacy that Dustin Hoffman describes, too, when he played a woman in Tootsie (this video went viral this week, ht EH):

It is no surprise that we think these things, and Havrilesky’s description is masterful. What changes in middle-age, though, is that your flaws are no longer prescient to a cooler, hipper you later in life. You are later in life now—all the old habits ought to have been kicked, the bucket list ought to be emptying. Not only do the flaws not leave you, Havrilesky says, even the accomplishments are less accomplished-feeling than you had hoped. Though she ends on a note that really just furthers the self-critique, who can’t relate to this?

I am not physically capable of being that effective or that effusive. I can’t knit and do yoga and smile at strangers and apply mascara every morning. These people remind me that I’ll never magically become the kind of person who shows up on time, looks fabulous, launches a multimillion-dollar business, and travels the world. When I was younger, I thought I might wake up one day and be different: more sophisticated, more ambitious, more organised. Back then, my ambivalence, my odd shoes, my bad hair seemed more like a style choice. When you’re young, being sloppy and cynical and spaced-out looks good on you.

But my flaws are no longer excusable. I need to fix everything, a voice inside keeps telling me. It’s time to be an efficient professional human, at long last, and a great mother and an adoring wife. It’s time to shower on a predictable schedule.

No matter how fervently I try to will myself into some productive adult’s reality, though, I’m still that 43-year-old superfreak in my driver’s licence photo. Some day, one of my daughters will hold this licence in her hand and feel sorry for me, long after I’m gone. ‘She was only 43 in this one. But, Jesus, look at that awful hair. And that look on her face. Why does she look so down? Or is that fear? What was she so afraid of?’ I don’t want my daughters to look at me — then or now — and see someone who’s disappointed in herself. At the very least, I have to change that…

2) This American Life will dish out its 500th episode today and, in an interview with Buzzfeed, Ira re-hashes some of his favorite moments in the show’s tenure. (Of course, we have some of our favorites in mind, too—Ira, if you’re reading, write us back!) He had this to say about the show’s success:

“I don’t have very bask-y feelings in general about many things, and I feel like maybe if I were psychologically a little better adjusted, I could have that about this, but for whatever reason, I don’t. Truthfully, I think if the show weren’t going well right now, this’d be a moment where I would be feeling a tremendous amount of nostalgia for the early days of the radio show. But I feel like the last two years or so of the show have been the best, just in terms of the number of good shows and the variety of things we’ve done and the ambition of things we’ve done. I don’t feel myself looking back very often. Including now, when it would be appropriate to.”

Also, Slate interviews Ira Glass, asking him about the art of interviewing, some of his favorite parts of the show, and this part, about the atomic element that makes the show so lovable: that it is fun, entertaining, and humanly self-conscious. Because it is expressly meant for entertainment, storytelling, because it doesn’t need to capture an analytical factsheet from current events—“taking the broccoli out of the air”—the show can humbly be about hitting emotional chords with the listener.  Also, the counter-effects of his parent’s expectations about his career choice, which then propelled him more deeply into the work (ht MS).

3) Well, it could be on Portlandia (or in the Onion), but it’s not. From The New York Post: “Hipster Urban Farmers Learn that Chickens Are Hard to Raise, Animal Shelters Inundated with Unwanted Hens.” I don’t know how much explanation this requires—but can we say, Choking the Chicken, Part Deux? Not only is this kind of a caricature of the “American” consumer trope—that we throw things away when they stop giving us what we want—but it’s also just too fitting a reversal of the self-identifying traits of the localvore lingo (i.e. “sustainable”), not to mention verifying the identifying traits given by others (i.e. “smug, naive manchildren,”)…so does smugness about this imply hipsterdom? (ht SMB)

chickenriskstabilityRaising chickens in backyard coops is all the rage with nostalgia-loving hipsters but apparently the facial hair obsessed faux farmers often don’t realize that raising hens is loud, labor intensive work because animal shelters are now inundated with hundreds of unwanted urban fowl.

From California to New York, animal shelters are having a hard time coping with the hundreds of chickens being dropped off, sometimes dozens at a time, by bleary-eyed pet owners who might not have realized that chickens lay eggs for only two years but live for a decade or more.

…The birds are among the 400-500 abandoned chickens that arrive each year with some suffering from malnourishment and disease.

“They’re put on Craigslist all the time when they don’t lay any more,” said National Shelter Director Susie Coston, “They’re dumped all the time.”

Speaking of such topics, take this one for a ride, from The New Inquiry, an academic essay on the Man-Child, his (or her) place in the realms of authenticity and hypocrisy (ht SZ).

4) “Hubris is terminal,” says Eliot Spitzer on Morning Joe this week, in reference to the past five years of shame, as he looks to make a comeback in politics. It is an interesting fifteen-minute interview, one in which Spitzer tells that his run will be a chance for the electorate to “make the determination.” It is a squirmy video to watch, most notably because the scalpels are coming from multiple camera angles. At one point Spitzer is asked if he believes there are certain trespasses that would discount someone from being re-elected, to which he says yes. In being asked what those trespasses are, he responds that he is not the position to answer because “the position I’m in is a bad one.” Talk about the understanding of need for compassion…albeit in the face of Law (ht JE).


5) Closing on a note of inner-crazy, this is a story on PsychCentral, from Shannon Cutts about a “crazy neighbor,” one with whom she comes to find she fears because of their resemblance. Her mentor suggests this, that coming to terms with her neighbor must happen first by seeing her own “inner crazy” and thereby being able to relate to her. She tries it out:

It didn’t take me long to figure out which part of my neighbor was truly pushing all my anxiety buttons. It wasn’t the yelling, the slamming doors, the name-calling, even the “you are a bad person” versus “I think you did a bad thing.”

It is her. She is a lonely person who doesn’t appear to have a single friend other than her dog. No one ever comes to visit her. She told me when we first met that she didn’t feel attractive enough to date and that she didn’t know what she would do without her dog. She spends most of her time (judging from her continual commentary on how I spend my time) watching us – the other three inhabitants of our fourplex – out of her windows and then judging us accordingly.

The rest of her time (which I can tell from her nightly preferred volume settings) she appears to spend watching television.

To be truthful, I am terrified – rationally or not – that her life will be my life someday. I am not married. I have no kids. I too rely tremendously on my pet parrot (the prettiest, smartest, sweetest, cutest parrot in the whole world I might add) for companionship and support. I am an introvert and a writer who works out of her home – which can be a deadly combination for one’s social life – and I do spend much of my time alone and not always by choice.

So my inner crazy – 5-10 years into one possible personal future – looks a lot like my neighbor’s life looks today. No wonder she freaks me out.

So I am now working to accept my own inner crazy. I am working to respect her, to welcome her into my life, to hear her thoughts and concerns, to comfort her in her sorrows and disappointments. I am working to accept her in advance – both to be prepared if she one day becomes me, and also to guard against that day ever coming.