I don’t like February much more than January. But I do love the way days earn one more minute of daylight, staving off the evening until just a little while longer, giving us a rose-grey-lavender sky, this one seen from the N train.
At the gym this week, half-listening to a throwback workout playlist, it struck me how casually misogynist—or at the very least, patronizing—the lyrics I grew up on are. The song that stuck me was BTO’s “Taking Care of Business” which heralds the working man, while dismissing “the girls,” who were “just trying to look pretty.” Other hits, all anti-female anthems: “Some Girls” (Rolling Stones, who also gave us “Stupid Girl”), “California Girls” (Beach Boys) and “Fat Bottomed Girls” (Queen). By contrast, “American Woman” (The Who), lets the “girl” grow up only to turn her away with:
“Don’t come hangin’ around my door
I don’t wanna see your face no more
I got more important things to do
Than spend my time growin’ old with you.”
And there’s everybody’s favorite date-rape Christmas Carol, “Baby It’s Cold Out There,” just a tale of a girl trying to leave, only to get roofied by a guy who wonders, Weinstein-like, “What’s the sense of hurtin’ my pride?” while she wonders, woozily, “say what’s in that drink?”
It’s the Seventies in Iowa City and my sisters and friends, Mindy and Jocie, and I are putting on a variety show in the basement, which concludes with “You Are Sixteen…”—basically an Aryan youth mansplaining life to a girl just a year younger than he is. The big finish:
“You need someone, older and wiser, telling you what to do-ooooo (sing it out). I am seventeen, going on eighteen, I-I-I-ll, take caaaaaare of you-oooooo!“
In the past year—and at no point before this—I realized that women and money is an abiding interest of mine. I won’t go into my history of money: growing up with enough, but not feeling that way, my Dad’s (I now see) reckless relationship with money, especially paying taxes, and my prior attitude of money as a somehow distasteful topic. I won’t go into because I believe we have to forge our own adult attitudes about money, not blaming—or at the very least rely on—inherited feelings on the subject.
So I read with interest Stacy London’s essay on “going broke”—after having taken a year off from employment due to back surgery, time spent mostly online shopping. It made me remember an editor in chief for whom I worked at Self, Alexandra Penney, talking about her bag lady complex. Years later she would lose the money she had invested with Bernie Madoff and write a memoir about it, “The Bag Lady Papers: The Priceless Experience of Losing it All.” The reviews of her book were infused with the impatience I felt reading London’s article, a litany of bags and shoes purchased and a lengthy trip to Europe, for which she bought a new wardrobe, so as to take better selfies. From Booklist on Penney: “When the bags are emblazoned with gilt-edged logos from Prada and Gucci, it’s hard to muster up much sympathy for Penney’s woebegone tale of having to sell the Palm Beach and Long Island vacation homes, sleep on reduced thread-count sheets, and downsize her Starbucks order from venti to grande.”
Indeed, an interview with Penney had her answering questions about putting up for sale houses in Florida and the Hamptons, but keeping her Manhattan apartment, which is still cleaned by a maid, three hours every day. So I guess losing “it all” is relative. I will read on.
I’m quoting Roz Chast’s bleak advent calendar for this darkest of all months: January 22, “Still January.” It is one of the few months that I want to pass quickly, though it never does.
Here’s a useful new word to describe that guilty feeling you harbor for, like, forever over some small, shitty thing you’ve done. It comes from a “Wait But Why” blog post about a guy who’s Grandpa bought his kids Clue, the board game, and was super excited about introducing it to them. They watched him set it up, listened to what was probably a boring recitation of the rules, then disappeared as fast as they could when they got a better offer from some neighborhood kids.
“He pictured his father sitting there at the table, now alone, with all the cards and pieces laid out. He pictured him waiting for a little while before accepting that it wasn’t gonna happen today, then collecting all the pieces and cards he had laid out, putting them back in the box, and putting the box back in the closet.”
Here is where I would insert my own Cluey moment but I can’t come up with one. That’s OK., I’m just glad to have a word for this “weird kind of sad.”
A blog post from The Ladders about “What 50 year-olds Know That 20-year-olds Don’t.” I object only to the photo of a woman who’s, like, 80, which makes me suspect that someone who’s, like, 20, chose it. Also, these two are just not helpful.
There’s a specious survey about Americans and New Year’s Resolutions claiming that while 48% of millennials are taking on resolutions only 5% of baby boomers are doing so. I say specious because I read about it on one of those elevator TV screens and I just don’t believe anything on those screens. Also because I can’t be bothered to look up the actual numbers so my reporting of them is specious too.
Anyway. I found a journal entry from last year exploding with inspirational thoughts: write more, judge less, that kind of thing. Good intentions fairly shimmered off the page. This year, I’m just not feeling it. My annual cleanse has also been ever so casual. Essentially, not drinking and not eating red meat (oh except for once). But otherwise there’s been daily milk in my coffee, tortilla chips, some cheese, a little chocolate last night. Ambivalent about both it and its rewards. But not drinking, that’s something.
Burn them, burn them!
Make a beautiful fire!
More room in your heart for love, for the trees!
For the birds who own nothing—the reason they can fly.”
~ “Felicity,” Mary Oliver
I read this while Oliver is leaving again. As is his pattern, home for Christmas and those first, dark months in January. And then, like a bird, he’s often again, carrying so little in exchange for doing so much.
Even while men are looking backwards, fearful that past workplace behavior will be mis/construed as harassment (or assault), women I know are reconsidering their acceptance of office-inappropriate words and deeds.
I thought about this while reading “Can Hollywood Change?” The New Yorker article by Dana Goodyear, who takes on the same topic. A Friends assistant was fired, she suspects, for not being “game” about writer-room banter. Along the same vein, another source, a script writer who was “game,” now feels ashamed of her complicity, a “betrayer of my feminist values.”
With 30+ years in the workplace, I’ve seen and accepted behavior I now cringe to recall. I wrote about the most egregious incident in an essay called “The Boss of Me,” about my first magazine job (and boss) for TueNight. That was harassment. But what of the years of intra-staff hookups, locker-room banter and, overall, iffy (and icky) stuff I wrote off as part of the landscape of working at Time Inc., a company led by men? Here, a short list of the iffiest, ickiest stuff, some of it as recent as, say, last week. All colleagues referenced, unless otherwise noted, are male.