Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bare Arms, Not Bear



The woman in the black cardigan is my Italian grandmother, and she's standing next to her sister outside of their ramshackle house in the small town of Cosenza in the Calabrian region of southern Italy. I imagine it's nearly 100 degrees outside despite the heavy clothing, but they're all protected from drafts, the kind of wind that grabs the neck and kills you if you're not careful. I have lately begun baring my arms after a period of many years. My attitude is a sort of screw it, I'm fifty years old and who the hell cares if they look like my Italian grandmother's? Covered or uncovered, my grandmother was a very strong person physically, if not mentally. Legend has it that she carried bags and bags of groceries for many blocks in New York City and then up many flights of stairs unassisted. I, too, have pretty decent upper arm strength which has come in handy with the disabled child, but my arms are just not cut in that sinewy way that comes from exercise or genetics. They look soft, and they are soft and their strength is buried deep, like the plastic king in the middle of the dough of a King Cake. How's that for metaphor? This summer I was inspired by a friend of mine at Expressing Motherhood who made an amusing video about baring one's arms, and for three days in a row I've worn three different outfits and bared my arms and am now crafting a post about the act.

That leads me to something a bit more substantial -- or should I say as substantial as my bared arms?

Anywho.

Last night, Cheryl Strayed, the mega author of Wild, posted an interesting article by Katie Roiphe on Facebook. Listen, I'm not really friends with Cheryl Strayed, I just "liked" her Facebook page, and every now and then I'll "like" what she posts along with tens of thousands of others. Roiphe's article was about the very hot (both literally and figuratively) Karl Ove Knausgaard's new series of memoirs that are slowly being translated into English. Her article basically proposes the question "what if a woman wrote it?" Knausgaard's memoir evidently outlines in minute detail his every personal struggle, including the minutia of his daily life as father. He talks about diapering his babies, I think (I haven't read it), along with philosophy and whatever else is going on in his life and mind. The books are a huge sensation. I want to read them, frankly. But, yes, what if a woman wrote it? Roiphe makes an amusing case that a Karla Ove Knausgaard would probably receive a far different response than her male counterpart were she to publish the same, and much of that negative response would come from women.

Generally, I'm beyond bored by things like the mommy wars and the work vs. nonwork stuff. I think the extreme parenting I've done has given me a sort of trump card that I admit to periodically over-using, but this article by Roiphe really struck me, particularly in the context of my own recently published ebook. Now, I'm not comparing myself to these fancy pants writers. I have a $2.99 ebook that is about 36 pages and covers roughly one and a half years of my life. I've gotten a great response to the book from people of all persuasions, and I've also gotten some criticism that I believe was considerate and worth absorbing. However, one person made the comment that she (a woman!) didn't see it as a book, really, for a literary community but rather as a "passionate article for a mother's community." I've been thinking about this statement for days, actually -- not in any obsessive, upset way but more in a curious, cud-chewing way. There's a tiny ding in that statement, a criticism not so much of my writing's literary quality (which is always arguable) but rather in the suggestion, however faint, that a mother's community holds nothing literary.

Like I said, I'm chewing on this quite placidly. With bare arms.

13 comments:

37paddington said...

The connection you make here is stunning! Since I am clearly an interested party, I will leave it at that.

Ms. Moon said...

I am a bit weary of the way women's work is denigrated, whether that work is child-tending or nursing or teaching or as an artist of any kind. It is a sort of hangover from days which I swear to god, I hope we can leave behind us at some point. I fear that time is not here yet.
P.S. I am baring my arms as well. Fuck it.

Steph(anie) said...

I only bare my arms in yoga class. We move slowly enough that drafts are not an issue.

I admit that I have been avoiding your ebook for fear it will make me sad. (I am a chicken.) Our daughters do not have the same challenges now, but they started out similarly. Maya had infantile spasms but now at 17 is pretty (fairly?) high functioning, mildly intellectually disabled.

Vesuvius At Home said...

I am weary of these suggestions that women are doing all the oppression of other women. I see it all the time lately--"the people hardest on women are other women." It's not true. It's never been true. Some women have absorbed the patriarchy to survive, yes. They are not the problem. The patriarchy is still the problem.

Denise Emanuel Clemen said...

Open those bare arms and let it go, if you can. Women's writing is often tossed off as girl stuff. I hate it. Writing is writing. Your story is a big story. It does not lessen it that you, Sophie's mother, wrote it. It's a story about love, loss, courage, coping, terror. All big things. And yeah, maybe if a guy--any guy wrote it, it would be in print in hardback.

And re the arms, yeah, fuck it. Go bare.

A said...

The percentage of families in which women are the primary earner and men
keep the household running and take care of the kids is growing rapidly,
so I expect to see more and more reflection of those experiences by men.
I've always loved 18th and 19th century accounts of homemaking, diaries of pioneer women, etc., for
a certain straight-ahead quality of their relation with the work. I could imagine men's descriptions of domestic life briefly dominating that subject matter before it disappears altogether as the next century unfolds and robots are ubiquitous. Has anyone programmed a computer to write a novel yet?

Elizabeth said...

Vesuvius at Home: Your point is well-taken, and I agree with much of it. Oh, except for when I opened up Huffpost this morning and saw a giant photo of the vile Sarah Palin exhorting about something or another.

Carrie Link said...

And this is why we hate people and need to drink more.

Noan said...

What Carrie said.

And Elizabeth, I strive to cover my arms also. You are causing me to re-think that position.

Anonymous said...

I am one of your other " critics" but I found that barb about a "mothers" article to be just plain sillyand seemed to have been made by someone who doesn't really understand what literature is. Some of the scenes were so vivid so compelling Especially the scene involving those young doctors at the tine Sophie was diagnosed. I may have found the work too unfocused and incomplete even for an e book. But a literary work is clearly in there.

Your anonymous

Steve Reed said...

Absolutely. Bare those arms! Mothering and literature have certainly gone hand in hand in the past and I don't see why one excludes the other in that person's mind.

blogzilly said...

I'm sorry, but maybe I should slurp up my coffee before posting cause I always regret this...but who the fuck gets to decide what is LITERARY and what is not LITERARY in these United States of America?

I'd like meet these self-righteous mf-ers who can make statements like that, ask them how they received their lifetime appointments to this prestigious position.

These are the same asshats who would say that Maus is not literary because it is a comic book, or the works of Dr. Seuss are not because they are Children's Books, while I would have to remind them that both authors won a Pulitzer Prize and other awards and both had their impact on their genres.

You are writing in a specific genre, at least for this particular work. That's all. To suggest that it is an inferior genre, or unworthy to be called literary, is the biggest pile of stinking horseshit I have ever heard in my life and it pisses me off to no end.

That kind of thinking just spits in the face of all of us who take the time to write about our experiences with our disabled kids, published or not.

End of rant. Sorry. I didn't need time to chew on it. ;)

Lisa said...

I have received the same dismissive literary tone with regard to several pieces I have written about what it is like to parent a child with special needs. I am with you....and can't help but feel like many folks do not want to read about our pain and be reminded of the world's inability to validate our presence. Like our children, we are placed in substantially separate (literary) environments to commiserate only with those who share our "misfortune".....!

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