Sunday, June 5, 2011


So, quite unintentionally, I've been reading two books back-to-back that both deal with the angst of women who married, had two kids, and found themselves in lives that were not what they thought they would be.

I started with Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, but put it aside for a while and read Stephanie Staal's Reading Women. Now I'm back to finishing up RR. They are very different books: one fiction, one a memoir; one published in 1961, one in 2011. The struggles of the women, however, are strikingly similar to each other and to feelings I recognize in myself. Most of it is a sense of loss of personal identity and one that the men connected to the women do not experience. One would hope that Reading Women, especially with the (overly) ambitious subtitle of "how the great books of feminism changed my life," would have some pithy solutions -- or even observations -- but it really doesn't. The message of both books seems to be "it is complicated, there is no right answer, and since you won't really figure it out, the best you can do is to muddle through and try not to be so hard on yourself" (especially in April's case) I suspect there is also supposed to be some message about the role of society in all this, but it is present but surprisingly not active in the stories.

I don't, of course, really need anyone to tell me that life as a 30-something mother is tough. What I have been thinking about is the role of momentum in shaping this experience. Motherhood interrupts the momentum one has developed as an adult and creates its own forces that, once rolling, are hard to check.

Last week, I was trying to explain to a friend that I was thinking it was time to get more engaged with my career. As someone who has recently left corporate world to seek greater validation in other parts of her life, she stared at me with a certain disbelief? surprise? disdain? I think what she heard me saying was that I was going to work more, which is most decidedly not my goal. I just want to use my time differently. I feel like I spend and enormous amount of energy trying to restart work that I have let grow cold, especially research. Deadlines and trips that provide research opportunities force me to frantically try to pull my shit together and while that frenzy results in a decent (though not outstanding) quality and quantity of 'deliverables' I have found myself thinking that if I could just keep plodding along and stay engaged, it would be so much easier and rewarding. To do this, I will have to counter the frantic-ness of academic life during crunch times at the beginning and end of every term and bring some more discipline into my summer work.

From there, it occurred to me that there are some other big and important areas of my life that need a similar treatment. They need better shape and structure. They need to be moving forward and that movement needs to be established well enough that the inevitable forces that crop up and get in the way can't derail the whole project.

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