Thursday, December 20, 2012

Women and power tools

Oh, how I wish I felt more competent with power tools.   This is not a particularly profound article, but it does tap into a major component of singleness that partnered people tend to forget: when you're single, you're responsible for EVERY bit of household management, all on your own: scrubbing the bathroom, doing the laundry, cooking the food, checking the oil in the car, trapping mice, climbing on a ladder to trim the tree branches off the roof of the house, shoveling the snow off the walk and the driveway, paying the bills, fixing the fence... if you don't do it by yourself, it doesn't get done. 
"As the country’s demographics shift, more women are making more money and staying single longer than ever. Consider this seismic shift: There are nearly twice as many single female home buyers as there are single male home buyers, according to 2011 data from the National Association of Realtors. These women don’t have to rely on men to financially support them — but somebody still needs to rewire that light switch and unclog that drain. That somebody is them."  Read it all.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Four-legged friends

So as I’ve been thinking about Elise’s recent post (below), it has occurred to me that one of the things that helps me live fully is the presence of a certain four-legged creatures in my life.  Being around sentient creatures who are totally in the moment helps me to be aware and in the moment as well.  Also, the single academic life can be soul-crushingly lonely.  More than anything else, the one factor that has helped to mitigate that loneliness in my life is this: 

I’ve never been a cat person, but The Archbishop adopted me as much as I adopted him, and every single day I am grateful for it. 

On days when I can hardly get out of bed and can’t manage to accomplish anything substantive, I have the satisfaction of knowing at least I can provide him with food, water, a clean bathroom, and a scratch under the chin… which is really all he wants.  The Archbishop follows me around the house, greets me when I come home, helpfully sits on whatever papers I’m trying to grade, and lets me talk to him as much – or as little – as I want.  When I wept over the recent news from Connecticut, he simply leaned his head on my arm and sat very still for a long time.  

And then there are these comedians, Spot and Speedy, in the backyard: 

I have loved horses since I was a little girl, and the incredible gift of having these majestic creatures around all the time takes my breath away.

Something about having to care for the material needs of other living creatures helps me to get out of my self.  To have a purring cat curl up next to me on the sofa -- The Archbishop does not believe in sitting ON laps, only in sitting next to them -- is soothing.  Watching the raw physical joy of Spot and Speedy racing and bucking around the pasture makes my own heart leap.  If there is anything more comforting than the warm, sweet horsey breath, or more exhilarating than an autumn canter through the woods, I don’t know what it is.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What does that MEAN?

The other morning I was working from home and so had the rare fortune of being on Skype at the same time as my college buddy E-Dubs, back in the States. As always, conversation was both edifying and ridiculous. Love that girl.

One of the things we talked about was the idea of "living fully". You can insert modifiers of any sort you wish: living fully... as a mother, as an atheist, as a divorcee, as a Christian, as an adjunct prof, as a single adult, as one of those first-time-on-the-job-market-and-I-want-to-plunge-myself-into-a-deep-dark-bottomless-pit people (for which, THIS).

Part of this blog's quest is to figure out what it means to live fully as a single, and as we talked I realized I thought it meant, in some measure, "being at peace". But E-Dubs reminded me that that can't be it, in part because as a Christian a full life must somehow be reminiscent of the life of Christ, yet Christ himself lived a life of sorrow, of solitude (both sought and unsought for), of frustration at the myopic lives of his closest friends--the men and the women who were his disciples.

Anyway, we all know to be wary of the Grass is Always Greener: I'll be at peace when___ (I get tenure, I have a husband, I have a good job, I own a house, I learn how to cook a decent risotto, When Christ Comes Again To Earth, etc.). That's no good, yet it's not bad to live in hope of those things. (Here's me whipping out the theology: it's about learning to live fully in the midst of eschatological tension--the historical era between Christ's first coming (hurrah for Christmas!) and his second).

So here's the question for discussion. If "being a peace" has less to do with living fully, then what DOES? What does that phrase really mean, anyway? And what if you just..aren't...getting...there (whereever "there" is)?

Help a sister out; tell me what it means, in some small way, for us to live fully.

(Note: you may now leave comments anonymously on this blog-- this is to encourage more dialogue)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Quick! Have a baby! (Or not.)

So there I was, driving down the road, minding my own business, listening to NPR, and this story came on the radio.  It's stayed with me.  Or rather, the sense of shock I felt as I listed to it stayed with me.  I wasn't surprised to hear that wealthy women in Manhattan are freezing their eggs, or that it's hard to get pregnant at 40.  I was surprised at what I didn't hear: any mention of the ethical, economic, and health issues involved.

Now, I'm not an ethicist, so I'm not going to weigh in here except to say that the ethical issues around freezing eggs, surrogacy, IVF, etc. are real, and deserve to be taken seriously.  I do think that well-meaning, intelligent people can come to different opinions about what is or is not ethical, but for heaven's sake, let's have the discussion, rather than pretend that there's not really a decision to be made here.

While we're discussing things, let's talk about the economic issues as well.  I was absolutely floored to listen to a doctor advocate procedures that could very easily hit $40,000 to be standard for women in their twenties.  Who can afford that?  How can she afford it?  To whom, precisely, is all that money going?  Also, that is a LOT of money; what are the ethics involved with spending it in such a way?  People may certainly decide that this is an appropriate use of their financial resources.  But what was staggering to me was how glib every single person in that story was about the cost.  As far as I could tell, they were not actually talking about Monopoly money.

And now, while we're having meaningful discussions, let's talk about the long-term health effects of undertaking what is, essentially, a very unnatural process.  We do all sorts of unnatural things with our bodies.  I get it.  In the best case, we make informed decisions about what we're going to do to our bodies, even if we periodically and unnaturally have cheeze puffs and skittles for dinner.  But there are, surely, very significant potential health issues for both parents and child in undertaking this sort of procedure.

And all that leads us to Judith Shulevitz's "The Grayest Generation" in the latest New Republic. Shulevitz is concerned with the wider health issues around advanced parental age, particularly the challenges faced by children born to older parents.  It's an interesting piece, and one that raises some fascinating problems... without proposing a single solution.  The implied solution seems to be "just have babies already... or better yet, ten years ago." But Shulevitz makes a few fatal assumptions.  First, she assumes that most people of childbearing age who want to have children are in stable relationships (or, second, if they're not, they're willing to have a child solo) and finally that potential parents are in stable economic circumstances.  

In my world (single! graduate student living very close to the poverty line! 30 years old!), none of those assumptions are accurate.  I am not in a stable relationship;  I have a hard time going on a dinner date.  There's absolutely. no. effing. way. I'd have a child on my own.  Quite apart from the moral and ethical issues involved there, I live alone, hundreds of miles from extended family.  And I, like so many people in my generation since 2008, am not wrapped in a cocoon of financial security.

So what, precisely, am I supposed to be doing? 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You're such a nice girl; why aren't you married?

A little reminder today from the blog Her-meneutics
"Marital status does not reflect the loveliness of one's personality--or God's special favor.  The world is more complicated, marriages are more diverse, and God's ways are more mysterious than that."  Read it all.

And then, for a lighter and more crass version of the same messagetry this oldy but goody.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Don't clean up.

The attentive ones among you may have noticed that this post first appeared a few days ago.  Still trying to figure out precisely how blogger works... *sigh*

Several years ago, when I was at the major conference for my discipline, I attended a session on Women in the [Field].  There was a panel discussion among five or six scholars at all ages of their careers, and they provided witty and insightful advice about navigating the gender gap in our field. When I asked what advice they would give a graduate student or untenured professor trying to sort through the gender dynamics in a hostile environment, the panelists all hemmed and hawed a bit, deferred to each other, and then the most senior scholar, professor emerita after a distinguished career, looked me straight in the eye and said:

“Don’t clean up.”

Her words stuck with me.  If you want to be seen by your [male] colleagues as a colleague, then you behave as they do.  They don’t clean up, so you don’t clean up.  If I am here as your peer, I will not do your dishes nor your laundry.  I will not take messages for you, or organize the transportation to other events.  I. Will. Not. Clean. Up.   

And I thought of her again last night, as after a department reception, I looked around and saw I was one of four students who had stayed to help clean up: three women, one man. 

When I first arrived in the department *cough* years ago, 2/3 of it was comprised of men, 1/3 of women.  That's evened out now to roughly half and half, and yet the women in the department still do the lion's share of set up and clean up for every event, as they did when they were the significant minority when I arrived. Especially clean up. 

I know all this, and it is crazy-making, and yet I do it.  So why do I clean up?  I've figured out a few reasons: I'm good at it, I notice when it needs to be done, I have a strong sense of community loyalty, I like to do what I'm requested to do, I feel terribly guilty about leaving someone else with a mess to which I (by virtue of eating cheese and crackers and drinking a glass of wine) contributed...

And there are all sorts of subsidiary problems here, particularly problems of class and economics.  Why is cleaning up such a menial task?  Why do we disparage those who do it?  What kind of privelege are academics embodying if we are defined as people who can't pick up after ourselves? 

Is the best solution really to plead senior student status and retreat before the time for cleaning up draws near?