Saturday, March 21, 2009

March is Women's History Month

At Drunken! Careening! Writers! last week at KGB, I met a young woman whom I quickly came to admire. Her name is Jami Attenberg, and her third book is about to be published. We struck up a conversation about the characters in the piece she read - about some kids in a bar in Portland. They were authentic, well crafted and likable. They pulled you into their slice of the world in a way that made you want to stay.

Jami said she structures her life around being able to write. The places she lives, the jobs she does - everything practical and logistical about her life revolves around her commitment to writing. When I was younger, making career decisions (such as they were), it never entered my mind that such a choice was possible. I don't regret the choices I made at all, except that it would have been nice if I had had faith and confidence in stuff like Talent, Art, and Myself.

As much as I often lament the fact that my mother was not a bit encouraging when it came to me being a writer, I have to admit that from a practical standpoint, she was right. My mother never once told me to get married since she is philosophically opposed to being financially dependent on a man. The time I wanted to blow off college, my mother told me:

Patricia, the same man who says he'll love you and take care of you forever when you are cute and nineteen might get up and leave you when you are fat and thirty five. THEN what are you going to do?
I had enough sense to recognize The Truth and never considered dropping out of college again. It is worth noting that the world and I all accepted as a given that I would be getting married and having children, and any career ideas I had were secondary to that mission. When I discussed the possibility of being a writer with relatives and peers, the general consensus was that I was going to have to marry somebody who made a good living because most writers are broke.

The point I'm trying to wind around to is that although I didn't become a Real Writer when I was young, I'm finally in a position to turn my attention in that direction, and I have accomplished other things. For example, I can write lots of letters behind my name: BA, MAT, MSEd which means I have a decent, secure day job of my own with insurance. My marriage didn't last, but it could have been worse. We have a great kid, and he's off to college. I'm still young(ish). I have my own property. It would be nice to have a portfolio, but lots of people who had focused on retirement accounts and portfolios are thinking the same thing.

Years ago, when Velvet was a toddler, I was national advocacy chairwoman for a group women who had altered their career paths to care for their children called FEMALE. Formerly Employed Mothers At the Leading Edge. It's called Mothers and More now. The basic idea is balancing career and family. FEMALE believed in Sequencing - a woman can "have it all" just not all at the same time. Sometimes you throw yourself into your career; other times, you concentrate on your family. My own feeling is that in this society, no matter what anyone chooses to do with his/her life, a chorus of voices rises up to criticize. You can't help but feel guilty - and you'll probably feel fat when you stop to think about it - because no matter what you do and where you go, everything you do is wrong. It therefore becomes imperative to create your own support systems in order to counteract these critical voices. FEMALE was that kind of system.

Through my position with FEMALE, I was able to be a guest lecturer at Columbia Graduate School of Business in an entrepreneur class in 1996. The other Advocacy chair and I gave the class a reality check on the impact of children on your business plan. Watch a bunch of Ivy League grad students piss themselves when told it cost $22,000 for private kindergarten in New York City. Or $400/week for an illegal nanny. The whole experience was a bit disturbing, though, because the professor opened the day's discussion by showing a clip of some newscasters talking about the influence of old TV shows like Donna Reed on prevailing attitudes about Families. When it was my turn to talk, I introduced myself by saying, "Hi, I'm Donna Reed," since my entire lifestyle had just been held up as a stereotype in the clip.


A couple of weeks later, the prof sent copies of the reflections the students had written on the class, and fully 1/3 of the students in that prestigious academic institution thought I was really Donna Reed. No doubt they became investment bankers and stock brokers.

I haven't thought about that episode in a long time, but talking with Jami Attenberg reminded me that I've been Sequencing. And if you ask Velvet, he would think our little family really is a 21st Century version of Donna Reed. Imagine me having coffee with Donna in the sunny kitchen, me bursting with pride over Velvet studying environmental engineering in Boulder, Colorado - but pissed off because he swiped my dang bong.

For my next trick, we have to determine if we are relocating the kitchen table at Menopausal Stoners World Headquarters to Austin, Texas this summer or if we're sitting out the economic clusterfuck here on Central Park West. Meetings with real estate agents are already scheduled.

While Velvet is checking out SUNY college of Environmental Sciences and Forestry next weekend - where he has been admitted with an academic scholarship - I will be attending the New York Premiere of Why We Wax


Kimberly and her friend Amy made this documentary, and I'm in it. Women in Film and Television is sponsoring a film festival for SWAN Day. That's Support Women Artists Now. Apparently March is Women's History Month. Who knew?

5 comments:

Gail said...

Hi Trish-

Great post. Ya, Donna Reed with erotic flare and fierce purpose. I enjoyed your insight about sequence. Timing, so to speak. And that group, FEMALE, wow!

You are SO colorful - real and daring. A pioneer it seems for many years.

Love Gail
peace.....

Liberality said...

honey you just blew me away. you have talent and you have drive so just go--the baby is raised and now it's time for you to shine.

PENolan said...

Friends, thanks for the vote of confidence.

Kitty said...

'Sequencing'. I like that. That's what I've been doing too, and will continue to do - I hope - until the day I die. Having the luxury of choosing one's sequence instead of having it foist upon one, would be a cool option - I guess that happens after the kids have gone to college, and the ex stops being a royal pain in the butt?

Great post Trish!

x

Comrade Kevin said...

I envy anyone who is able to make writing a career, even if it's later in life than she might have wished.

I consider myself a writer but try to adhere to the Renaissance Person ideal so much so that I go through writing binges, then move on to try to master some other discipline.

I wish I had the patience and attention span to write short stories. The few I did write were always for college classes, and the threat of deadline was enough for me to complete them. Since then, I've written maybe one or two. Short shorts and poems are about all I have the ability to produce on any consistent basis.

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