Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"The Rules Do Not Apply" by Ariel Levy

"When thirty-eight-year-old New Yorker writer Ariel Levy left for a reporting trip to Mongolia in 2012, she was pregnant, married, financially secure, and successful on her own terms. A month later, none of that was true." 

[Flyleaf copy, "The Rules Do Not Apply"]

*** *** ***

A couple of years back, I read an absolutely stunning first-person article by Ariel Levy in The New Yorker called "Thanksgiving in Mongolia."  Nineteen weeks into her first pregnancy, on a business trip to Mongolia (!), 38-year-old Levy delivered a tiny baby boy on the bathroom floor of her hotel room. He lived for just a few minutes.  And, as the passage above suggests, after the loss of her baby, Levy's life fell apart.

I found myself nodding throughout the article -- especially as I read, near the end:
...the truth is, the ten or twenty minutes I was somebody’s mother were black magic. There is no adventure I would trade them for; there is no place I would rather have seen.

I still find myself thinking about the article, more than three years later.

*** *** ***

"The Rules Do Not Apply" includes and expands upon the material from "Thanksgiving in Mongolia," including Levy's memories of growing up with her unconventional parents in the liberated 1970s and 80s, the aftermath of her fateful trip to Mongolia, and revealing some details that hadn't been included in the article (including a bit of a surprise twist near the end).  It's not a long book, just over 200 well-spaced pages in a generous type size.  As with the article that preceded it, the writing is beautiful, at times stunning in its impact.

Like so many young women born in the latter half of the 20th century, Levy grew up feeling unencumbered by the "rules" imposed by society on past generations. But also like many of us, she discovers that freedom still has its limits and limitations. Her story of how swiftly a carefully constructed life can fall completely apart is something those of us who have experienced traumatic loss will well relate to. (Although I will admit that, for me, the trip to Mongolia & its aftermath were more interesting and compelling than the earlier part of the book.)

I nodded as I read:
When I hear that someone has lung cancer, Did he smoke? comes into my head midway between the syllables can and cer. Obviously, I don't say it out loud, but I want to know, because I want to believe that if only my loved ones and I refrain from smoking, we will be ineligible for lung cancer (and, ideally, every other kind of cancer).  
"Have they figured out what happened yet?" people keep asking me about my own medical defeat.   
"Yes," I tell them. "I had bad luck."  
That is not what they want to hear. They want to hear that I had a bad obstetrician. Or that I took something you are not supposed to take, or didn't take something that you are. They want to hear that I neglected to get an ultrasound. Or that I have some kind of rare blood disorder that can be fixed with the right medicine or surgery or iPhone app. They want to know what they have to eat to keep from being me.   
And since I have done something that sounds bad, people -- even people who really love me -- persist in saying things like "Next time, you're not getting on any planes." It doesn't matter if I tell them that every doctor I've consulted has said unequivocally that there's nothing wrong with flying when you're five months pregnant. They want to believe that everything happens for a reason.  
Some people need to believe this to indemnify themselves -- against miscarriage, or misfortune in general. Some people need to believe it so they can say, "You'll get pregnant again and everything will work out fine," because they want to comfort me.  
But in a strange way, I am comforted by the truth. Death comes for us. You may get ten minutes on this earth or you may get eighty years but nobody gets out alive. Accepting this rule gives me a funny flicker of peace. 
Pre-Mongolia, in her early 30s, Levy interviewed New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd -- then 53, single, a Pulitzer prize winner with an amazing apartment. She was "intoxicated by her peculiarity, independence, and success."
I asked if she'd ever wanted children. She told me, "Everybody doesn't get everything."  
It sounded depressing to me at the time, a statement of defeat. Now admitting it seems like the obvious and essential work of growing up. Everybody doesn't get everything: as natural and unavoidable as mortality.


(So far as I know, Levy, now in her 40s, remains childless.)

This was book #6 that I've read so far this year, bringing me to 25% of my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.

Monday, March 27, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Binging

I've never really been one for "binge-watching" television. It certainly wasn't a thing when I was growing up. Your favourite shows came on the air, and if you missed an episode, too bad, maybe you could catch it in reruns. VCRs weren't a "thing" until I was in university. We got our first one in 1989. BIL & SIL gave it to us as a thank-you gift for being Oldest Nephew's godparents.

We don't have Netflix (although we're considering getting it, because I am dying to see "The Crown"...!), and until we moved to our condo last year and switched cable providers (& got an excellent package deal), we didn't have a PVR. We did still have an old VCR (not the original, but its successor), but when we got a fancy new box for our cable system a few years ago, we couldn't figure out how to incorporate the VCR into the hookup. We actually weren't using it that much anyway in those last few years. We didn't have a DVD player for many years, and we don't use it that much either. I have a few DVD boxed sets that I could presumably bingewatch (the Beatles "Anthology" series, season one of "The Muppet Show," the entire series of "That Girl"), but in fact, we still haven't hooked up the DVD player since we moved here. (!)

Then, about two weeks ago, "Designated Survivor" resumed after being on hiatus since Christmas (one of the few new shows I've been watching this season). I had missed but PVRd the last few episodes. Or so I thought. When I went to watch them, I realized there were actually FIVE episodes I'd missed, only two of which I'd PVRd. I wound up cramming in all five episodes in one afternoon (while dh was out, visiting his father), two on PVR & three online on my laptop, before the new episode aired later that night.

This past weekend, our local PBS station aired a "Downton Abbey" marathon, the entire series from start to finish, starting Friday & ending early Sunday evening. As I've mentioned before, I didn't start watching DA seriously until the final season, so this was a great opportunity to catch up on some (not all, but some) of the seasons/episodes I'd missed (& relive some that I'd already seen). I sobbed once again as Mary & Edith finally came to a truce, the children played by Sybil's grave in the cemetery, and Mrs. Hughes led the servants in a chorus of "Auld Lang Syne" as the clock struck midnight and Edith & her Marquess drove away for their honeymoon, happy at last. 

After that concluded, I watched a two-hour movie about the Bronte sisters & their alcoholic brother, Branwell, called "To Walk Invisible." It was beautifully filmed -- but intense and bleak (like the sisters' novels) -- and I found myself straining to listen to and understand the thick Yorkshire accents. Needless to say, by the end of it all, I was drained. I still feel a bit off-kilter, physically & emotionally, this morning. Time to get out of the house for a while...!  ;)

Are you a binge-watcher? What you have you binged on lately?  What's in your viewing queue?

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Monday, March 20, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Equinox odds & ends

*  When in doubt re: what to blog about, bullet point odds & ends always work in a pinch. ;)
* (My apologies for the lack of true posts lately, let alone ALI-related ones. My blogging mojo seems to be on vacation. :p  )
*  It's the first day of spring... about time!!
*  I survived last week's root canal (although I'm not sure my credit card can say the same... OUCH.... and it seems I have already maxxed out my dental coverage for this period, with regular checkups/cleanings still to come -- not to mention two crowns, which are not covered at all). My jaw was sore & my mouth was tender for days afterward, though, and I only just started eating relatively solid food again (lots of soup last week!!).  I feel like I lost an entire week in recovery. And I'm still trying to be careful until I can get crowns placed on the tooth with the root canal, as well as on the broken tooth I had repaired a few weeks back.
* Adding to the "getting back to normal routines" vibe, spring break is over & the kids are back in school today. :)  The weather is also starting to get a bit nicer. Looking forward to starting a regular walking routine again, and exploring our new neighbourhood, and working off the extra pounds that have crept up on both of us (& dh in particular). We have both been way too sedentary over this winter...
*  SIL was supposed to return to work today too, but she's still not feeling 100% (recovering from surgery in late January) and has had her leave extended another few weeks. She was complaining to us about how HR screwed up her short-term disability payments, and as a result, her first week back will be unpaid. I wanted to tell her I know ALL ABOUT how HR can screw up a leave, but decided not to dig up an old personal grievance (and an uncomfortable reminder about my lost pregnancy) and make it all about me.

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Your loss is a loss

A Facebook find. By the way, Tim Lawrence rocks!! :)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Monday, March 13, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Dental daze

Three weeks ago, I broke a tooth -- a molar on the lower right side of my mouth. On a piece of lasagna, of all things (!)(an overcooked piece of pasta at the edge). (This was the fourth time I've broken a tooth -- and the second time that same tooth has been broken. Twice a popcorn kernel was the culprit, once it was a hard candy -- but lasagna??)

Fortunately, the dentist was able to see me the next day & fix the tooth, but recommended I get a crown put on it. Before making an appointment for that, we sent a treatment plan to my dental insurance company to see what they would cover (nothing, as it turns out -- I opted for the cheapest plan when I retired, the others being eye-poppingly expensive. Figures...).

Meanwhile, this past Thursday, I started noticing some sensitivity to both heat & cold on the upper left side of my mouth. This has happened before, but it's usually been temporary. The sensitivity continued Friday, and subsided slightly by Saturday afternoon. But then Saturday night after supper, I brushed and flossed my teeth, and OWWW!!!  The pain ebbed & flowed all through Saturday night and all day Sunday. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say it ranged from about a 4 up to about a 7 at some points. I popped ibuprofen, I rinsed my mouth with saltwater, I applied ice packs. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn't.

Of course by then, our dentist's office, which is open on Saturday mornings, had long since closed. It's not open on Sundays. There is an emergency dental office, about a 20 minute drive away, but obviously, I preferred to have my own dentist look at it, if at all possible.

So I suffered through approximately 36 hours of intermittent toothache until my dentist's office opened on Monday morning. Thankfully, by Sunday night, it had started to subside again, and my mouth was feeling relatively normal by the time I called the dentist. Luckily, he was able to see me a few hours later. The verdict? Root canal, to be followed by a crown (which will be my third).  (The crown he originally recommended after the broken tooth three weeks ago will have to wait).  This office doesn't have a full-time root canal doctor on staff, so I was referred to another office. Luckily (??) again, they were able to squeeze me in later this afternoon. I am writing this at home between appointments, before we head out again. I figured I might as well get it over with ASAP (& hopefully get back to some semblance of order). Plus, just to make things interesting, we're expecting a snowstorm to start later this afternoon & continue through tomorrow.

I know stuff happens. But it's another unwelcome reminder that I'm getting older, and stuff (MY stuff) is wearing out (like my knees :p ). (The exception to this rule being Aunt Flo -- she just keeps chugging on & doesn't seem to know when to quit...!)  Of course, since when has my body actually worked the way it should, right??

But, as I try to remind myself, getting older it is a privilege denied to many. Yet another friend of ours, not much older than I am, was recently diagnosed with cancer. So I will try to quit whining. Thanks for listening to/reading my vent, though...! ;)

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The stigma of a childless/free life

Amanda Marcotte at Salon recently posted an interesting article, flagging a new study that examines attitudes towards childfree people. Despite the fact that an increasing number of people remain childless/childfree, the social stigma attached to a life without children remains strong.

Marcotte was citing new research done by Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. (You can read the entire study here, and a press release about it here. Childfree by choice blogger & author Laura Carroll also posted about the same study, here, as did Karen at The NotMom, here.)

"Our data suggests that not having children is seen not only as atypical, or surprising, but also morally wrong, "Ashburn-Nardo said (emphasis mine).  Not only are people expected to HAVE children, they are expected to WANT to have children -- and those who don't conform with these expectations are viewed not just with disapproval but with "moral outrage" (!).

The press release continues:
The findings are consistent with other studies of backlash against people who violate social roles and other stereotypic expectations. When people violate their expected roles, they suffer social sanctions. Given that more and more people in the U.S. are choosing to not have children, this work has far-reaching implications.
(Ummm, yes, I'd say so...!)

In the study, Ashburn-Nardo notes the perception that children are a necessary ingredient for a fulfilling life -- despite the existence of several studies showing that parents are significantly less satisfied with their marriages than non-parents.

Apparently those of us who are childless/free not by choice get a pass and are viewed somewhat more favourably than those who dare to buck social norms by deliberately rejecting parenthood altogether. (Yay?)  (Interestingly, there appears to be no significant difference in the level of scorn heaped upon childfree men versus childfree women.) 

But even if people recognize that it is or may not be our "fault" that we don't have kids, I would venture to say there's still an element of judgment (and perhaps even superiority) involved when they compare our life to that of parents (including, presumably, themselves).  They "feel sorry" for us because they perceive our lives to be lacking/lesser-than in some important ways.

I don't think Ashburn-Nardo's conclusions are news to those of us without children (for any reason). But her study does provide some concrete evidence to back up our perceptions of stigma.

There were some interesting and thoughtful points made in the Facebook comments on Marcotte's page (so far, anyway...!) (versus the Salon FB page (don't even go there), or the comments made on the article itself).  Some remarked that perhaps it's not surprising that 18-year-olds would be so idealistic about having kids in the future "before having to really think about what sacrifices that might entail."

One commenter noted the "dearth of articles from people past childbearing age about their childfree lives. A lot of stuff I see is from people in the 20's and 30's who may just be delaying childbearing (not saying all, very aware there are people who know from a young age they don't want have kids.) Just think more narratives from those on the other side of it (past childbearing age) would be meaningful."  One more reason for those of us in the childless/free world to keep writing and speaking out about our experiences (particularly as we age)! 

Ashburn-Nardo plans to continue her research about the growing childfree demographic. I look forward to hearing more!