Her Bad Mother

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Groove Is In The Heart

In a comment to my last post, SlouchingMom asked this: "Do I get points for thinking that your "I'm ovulating" post was unusually, umm, revealing for you?"

You know I love you, SlouchingMom, but no. Unless you consider boob-shots and engorgement chatter and actual pregnancy test results (a revelation that caused my mother-in-law to suggest to my husband that he might exercise better editorial control over my writing) and the like unusually unrevealing. I'm no Motherhood Uncensored in the no-holds-barred-no-truth-unbared blogging department, but I've been know to share a grotty detail or two about my life.

But her question got me thinking: what would I consider too revealing?

As it goes, sharing something like our decision to go ahead and upgrade the Bad Family to Bad Family XTM is not, in my books, particularly revealing. It falls into the category of things that I can't help sharing because I can't help writing about them because they're so much on my mind. So it is that I would not be able to wait until after a positive pregnancy test, let alone twelve weeks after a positive pregnancy test, to write about the emotional roller-coaster of making the decision to re-enter the world of pregnancy tests and taking those tests and waiting to see if a positive test results sticks. Couldn't do it. I'd have to stop writing entirely.

The posts that, for me, have felt most revealing have been those posts in which I confess some aspect of my bad motherness. For all that I cheekily trumpet my bloggy identity as Her Bad Mother, I am deeply sensitive about actually being a bad mother. The posts in which I reveal my fears and anxieties, in which I admit to feeling powerless or anxious about my ability to mother... those posts are difficult to publish. And the most difficult post in recent weeks - the one that caused most hesitation over publishing - was the one in which I admitted to having judged another mother, and to having missed an opportunity to reach out to another mother who might - might - have needed or wanted to be reached. That, for me, pushed the boundaries of what I was prepared to reveal of myself.

Still. I did cross those particular boundaries. I revealed.

There, has, however, been one arena of revelation into which I have long been reluctant to step. Into which I have very consciously avoided stepping.

The Music Meme.

Long has this meme circulated the blogosphere, and many are the bloggers - mommy and otherwise - who freely share their playlists and Top 20 and All-Time Favourites. Who reveal their musical tastes happily, with the same ease that they might reveal their preference for dark chocolate over milk chocolate, or peonies over tulips, or lattes over americanos. Who tell the world what voices, what melodies, whisper through the wires of their iPod earphones. Who bare the groove of their souls.

Clearly, I have issues about music. I love music. Loooove. I'm that weird chick who bursts into song on the subway, suddenly, unable to keep the lid on the melodies bubbling and frothing in my head. (This, without the iPod. With the iPod, I lip-synch, silently. But animatedly. Very animatedly. I'm not sure which is weirder - the unprovoked songburst, or the mimed aria. You tell me.)

(Also, you want evidence of this bizarre behaviour? See here, number four. Outed.)

What was I saying? Right: music, for me, is (notwithstanding my public displays of performance) a profoundly intimate thing. What's playing in my head right now? To tell you that would be to give you a snapshot of the state of my heart and soul. Perhaps it's as light-hearted as the theme to The Backyardigans, or as bouncy as old De La Soul. But it might also be as dark as Johnny Cash covering NIN's Hurt (soul heavy, eyes wet, fingers twisting worries to shred, this song tells me the story of the pain of someone that I love. Soul, heavy; heart, sore.) It might be sweetly nostalgic, swaying to an old lullaby. It might be sadly nostalgic, strumming the chords of a memory of old, lost friends.

It might be dancing.

Whatever the state of my heart, its soundtrack is an intimate thing. One that I'm reluctant share openly. Because it is so intimate, but not only for that reason (I am, after all, not one to shy away from intimacy in my writing): I'm reluctant to share because it is, potentially, a little embarassing. Revealing my playlist or what is on my DVD turntable reveals me, as a classics geek (Bach's Cello Suites in multiple recordings) and a creature of habit (Johnny Cash Children's Album) and stuck in the 80's (The Smiths) and relentlessly girl-centric in my love of jazz (Nina and Ella and Shirley) and relentlessy girl-centric, period (Imogen Heap and Feist and Madeleine Peyroux) and an uncool dappler in contemporary pop (Mika and Peter, Bjorn and John.)

That is, it would reveal me as such, if you could shovel past the stacks of Teletubbies DVDs. Mommy first, in all things. But still, revealing. Too revealing? Maybe not. My stubborn insistence that my musical tastes are more private than my underwear drawer is probably just one more weird Bad Mother glitch. (A glitch that sounds like this, no doubt.)

But then I never told you that I was normal.

(So, Bon, does that count as having done the meme?)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Cautionary Tale

Consider this scenario, oh ye bloggers, and learn:

So, one day, you and the husband are sitting around, tapping away at respective laptops when you notice that said husband is transfixed by something on his screen. Transfixed. Staring at the screen. Staring, blinking, and then leaning in to get a better look.

You watch, for a minute. You wonder what he's looking at. Can't be YouTube, because he hasn't got the sound on, and what's the fun of that video of the cat playing piano without the sound? And he's not really the Internet porn type. Strange e-mail maybe? Unusually bizarre spam?

He's not speaking, just peering at the screen of his laptop. You shift, slightly, inching yourself along the sofa so that you can catch a glimpse of what it is that he's looking at. He looks at you, you look at him, and he looks back at the screen.

You lean over slightly, and see a familiar green checkered background. He's looking at your blog. He's looking at this:

He looks at you, and says, unnecessarily, I'm just looking at your blog...

You say, mmm hmm?

And he says, and I'm wondering what this means?

What what means?

What this means. (turns laptop so that screen is in full view.)

You fix him with a blank stare. You know what that means.

THAT YOU'RE...?!?!

Ovulating? Why yes, I am ovulating. We discussed this.


That's an OPK that you're looking at, there.


Not a pregnancy test.


You think that, if - or when - I get pregnant, I will tell the Internet before I tell you? Dude.

Because, please. I might be tempted to just go ahead and trumpet the news to the Internet, but I really would tell my husband first. And family, and a few close friends. Then the Internet.

Because we don't want to give anybody a heart attack.

(Sorry, honey. Hopefully all of the sex makes up for the near-coronary.)


Thanks all for the wonderful encouragement on this new and terrifying endeavour. But, please - is it really terrifying? Someone - only one, mind you, but still - left a comment to the effect of do not do it! you can't handle it! it's hell!. Which, grain of salt and all, but still. Way to freak me out.

Expanding the brood isn't that bad, is it? Cuz, you know, the first one has been a breeze... I'd hate to think that this motherhood gig would get, you know, all hard and shit...

Easy like Sunday mornin', bizatches.


(PS, please, go! Visit the Basement!)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Real Moms...

... feel the fear and do it anyway.


(Real mom-bloggers share life-decisions with the Internets. Real mom-bloggers share everything with the Internets. Not because they're narcissists. Because bigger, whip-toting bloggers - and the occasional cheeky red-head - tell them to.)

(Real mom-bloggers like cracking the whip themselves, but this mom-blogger is late to the meme and so must settle for just vaguely brandishing her own whip in the air and insisting that anyone who has not yet exposed their real-momness must do so immediately. And report back.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Narcissus and Me

Edited/updated below. Because I am in love with my words and can't get enough of them.

I've been thinking a lot about Narcissus lately.

Narcissus, Ovid tells us, was condemned by the gods to fall in love with the reflection of his own image, and to waste away in that state, forever enchanted by that image, unable to break away from the posture of self-regard.

So it was with Narcissus, so it is with bloggers, we are told: narcissists, all of them, but especially the mommy bloggers, who are so enchanted by the minutiae of their personal lives that they are compelled to lay them bare upon the screen. Photographs, stories, reflections, all manner of fecal anecdote: we cast these upon the reflective waters of our virtual pond and gaze and gaze and gaze, unable to break away. Narcissists, the lot of us, or so we are told.

And not only narcissists, but privileged narcissists, as all narcissists must be. Who else falls in love with their own image, with their own story, if not those whose images and stories are struck through with sparkle and glimmer and gold? Who else has access to the pond? We are, all of us, privileged children of pride, are we not?: vain, bourgeois, convinced of our worth, enchanted by the reflection of our image, our words, our stories, in love with all that is our own, determined to expose and share that love and able to expose and share that love. Look, look, look at me! My stories are fascinating; my ideas are fascinating; I am fascinating.

I'm reluctant to cop to being narcissistic - however self-regarding I might be, I don't believe myself to be hopelessly infatuated with myself. I have not, I do not think, damned myself with my self-regard. But I am self-regarding. I am extremely interested in my own thoughts, my own ideas, my own stories. I spend a lot of time in contemplation of these. I write them down, the better to contemplate them. I sometimes get lost in such contemplation. My ideas, my words - these are my reflection. Even when their subject is someone, something, other than myself, they remain reflections of me.

I cannot say, of course, that I do not love these reflections. No writer, no artist, can say that they do not love their own reflection: their words, their stories, their art is that reflection. ('The inventor of painting... was Narcissus... What is painting but the act of embracing by means of art the surface of the pool?' Battista Alberti.) Why else do we put our thoughts to words, and cast those words upon the page, the screen, the reflective pond, if we do not love them?

Perhaps love is not the right word. Attachment? Whatever it is, it is a kind of love. It is not always constant; it is, sometimes, harsh; sometimes, it is bound, untidily, with frustration and self-recrimination. But it is, I think, a kind of love. And so, I must admit to being, in some (I hope) limited degree, narcissistic, if we understand narcissism simply as a sort of love of self that is made manifest in self-regard.

I must also admit to being privileged. Most of us, who have the skill and the equipment and the time and the inclination to write, to blog, to indulge ourselves in 'embracing the surface of the pool,' are in some measure privileged. We might not be rich, we might not be powerful, we might desire neither of these things - but we have the means, the ability, the support, to pursue this indulgence, and that is no small thing. We have, in some form or another, rooms of our own. This is not to say that we do not struggle; this is not to say that our lives are not, at times, difficult. It is simply to say that we are at enough of a remove from struggle and difficulty, enough of the time, to devote energy and resources to what is, in some respects, a form of self-indulgence. That is, at least, true for me. I am privileged.

I've been thinking a lot about narcissism and privilege, since last week's posts and the wonderful, thought-provoking comments that attended those posts. I've been thinking about how resistant I am to both 'narcissism' and 'privilege' as terms of description, about how both terms cause me to tense up, to become defensive. I've been wondering why I am so resistant. Narcissism is the more obviously problematic of the two words, and so my resistance to it is easier to explain: no matter how finely I slice it, no matter how neatly I reposition its connotations, 'narcissism' remains a synonym of vanity, of the worst kind of vanity. I can only embrace narcissism if I purge the term, the story, of its connotations of damnation. It only works if I see only the pool, and the reflection, and the figure bent in contemplation. So it goes with narcissism: I must make it serve my purposes.

Privilege, on the other hand... what (as some of you asked in response to my mother's description of mom-bloggers as privileged) is so terrible about laying claim to privilege? In fact, isn't there something troubling about declaiming our privilege, about refusing to acknowledge that we are privileged? About refusing to acknowledge that we are fortunate to have the means, the resources, the opportunity to practice our art/craft/business/indulgence - to have rooms of our own? It is a privilege to be able to write, to be able to read, to be able to tell and share our stories, to be able to build community and mobilize community and be in community. Whether we came by our privilege through hard work or good fortune, however understood, it is something to be thankful for. It is something to bear responsibly. It's a kind of power. Soft power, maybe, but power nonetheless.

And it's power that we lose if we declaim it. We privileged ones, we write and we talk and we share; we indulge ourselves in the luxury of examining and contemplating our ideas, our stories, our selves. If we deny that this activity is a privilege, if we deny that this activity emanates from and demonstrates what must be, if not an outright love of self, a powerful sort of self-esteem and self-regard, then we deny everything that is empowering about this activity. What is radical about being a 'mommy-blogger:' it is a way of stepping up and saying I have something worth saying. I have the capacity, the ability and the will to say it. I hold my words in the highest esteem; I know that my words matter. And I know that yours do, too.

Hello, my name is Her Bad Mother and I am a privileged narcissist and proud of it, sort of.

And, I'll show you my reflection if you show me yours.

You are all correct, sweet commenters, that narcissism carries the connotation of overweaning self-regard, of self-regard to the exclusion of regarding others, of self-regard to the point of pathology, of self-regard that - at least from the perspective of the classics - warrants punishment. As I said above, I'm aware that the term 'narcissism' cannot be purged of those connotations, and I'm also of the belief that the term, in its full, classical sense, cannot be and should not be applied to mommy-bloggers. But I wanted to advance the argument that there is something of the 'you're a narcissist' charge that we should accept and embrace - inasmuch as we can claim that charge and rework it to emphasize our attachment to/love of our own ideas, stories, words. Because as writers - and we are writers - we must love those words, in whatever complicated manner. Otherwise, why do we write? To share, of course, to find community - but we use our words and ideas and stories in that outreach because we do, at some level, consider those to be, if not the best part of ourselves, a most important part of ourselves.

Obviously, I can't purge and twist the term 'narcissist' to make it mean what I'd prefer it mean, but I can try to pull meaning from it, which is what I did (emphasis on TRY). 'Privilege,' on the other hand... I set it against 'narcissism' because I wanted to suggest that 'privilege' need NOT carry the negative connotations of the latter term. I can claim my privilege positively - all the while remaining aware that it is relative privilege, that privilege refers many things etc, etc, - and DO, without worrying about damnation from the gods. (Well, maybe just a little bit...)

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