chalcedony_cat: fan from the v&a (Default)
[personal profile] chalcedony_cat
This goes a long way around through my kitchen and feminism but it gets to books eventually.

I was in the kitchen just now, making myself toast, considering the drudgery of being a housewife & stay-at-home-mother. Not mine in particular, which is remarkably minimal, but the general case of it -- I just started watching Mad Men a few weeks back -- and how it has and has not changed, and how even in my own exceptionally privileged case, the assumption is still that I am the person in the household who manages everyone's schedules and institutes the routines and sees that they are carried through. My partner may well take the children to school, but I am the one who reminds him to pack my daughter a lunch, and yes peanut butter is okay, and if I forget (as I did today) to remind him to send breakfast with my son, then my son is at preschool without breakfast.

So why is it that I am the one who must remember all these things? What are the vitally important matters on my partner's mind that keep him from tracking the fact that our son ought to eat breakfast every single day, and thus breakfast must go to preschool with him? This is snarky, yes, but I was also thinking about it seriously. He works full-time at a complex job managing complex things, which perhaps leaves no room in his mind to remember bananas. But then, I work as time permits trying to write novels, which is also a complex job -- so why is it so very obvious that, of the two of us, I'm the one who has the time & energy to keep track of the bananas, whereas he does not? Is it anything other than male privilege? Furthermore, isn't it very strange that by choosing to have these children (which I do not regret in the slightest), I have also signed up for years of buying shoes and remembering bananas, and my partner, somehow, has not?

Then I thought, how strange it would be, must have been, to be a man who takes it for granted that his wife will do all this enormous load of work, managing the household and children and so forth, and then suddenly she realises that she was signed up for a job she hated and that she could quit. Not that every woman can, of course, but some can, and do, often at enormous personal cost --



And in my head it connected up to Jo Walton's My Real Children, which I read a few weeks ago. While reading I never wanted to put it down, but afterwards I was felt very unsatisfied without knowing why. Now I think I do -- much of it simply did not ring true to me, down deep. Standing there in my kitchen this morning I felt how, despite the fact that I am very nearly forty and have been a feminist for much of my life and live in this world which at least pays lip service to many feminist ideals, I still felt an enormous charge at the very radical notion that being a housewife was a job and that one might choose to walk away from it. But when Tricia reads The Feminine Mystique all the novel has to say about it is, "How had she been so accepting of so much for so long?" There is no charge, because there is no specificity - how did she feel about it? Where in her body did she feel it? When it is difficult for her "not to castigate herself as she read," what is it she is reading that makes her feel that way? And the entire book is like that -- I know Pat loved gelato and some of the flavours, but what did they taste like, did it coat her tongue afterwards and did she like that or drink water to take off the taste? On and on -- there are times Walton does it perfectly, when Tricia had just thrown Mark out and she is sitting there staring at her china and her hands are shaking so hard she cannot drink her tea, that is a lived moment, I can inhabit it. But most of the rest of the book, no.


So now I know what it is that did not work for me, and knowing that, I am a little closer to having my own aesthetics of prose, which is important to me as I grow into my own writing. For a very long time I was unwilling to dislike the craft of things -- I might say I did not enjoy a novel, or that I disliked the ideology of it, but I could not say that I thought there were problems in how a work was put together; I both lacked the language and the courage. Now I have the latter, and I am developing the former in my own way, not entirely reinventing the wheel, but somewhat -- my degree in English Literature did not involve any classes in aesthetics, it was all cultural studies and the like, which I adored and am very glad for but does me no good at all in trying to understand why I experience some books as breathtakingly beautiful and others as dull. Or, really more importantly to me, some books as deeply true, and others as meretricious.


What, then, do I love in books? Truth and beauty, I suppose, ridiculously reductive, but that is what it comes down to. I find beauty in specificity of detail, and I find truth -- well, that one I am not sure of yet, but I think it is also about specificity, and what lives in the body. I want the books I read to be utterly real, even if they are fantastic.

I love Candas Jane Dorsey's Black Wine and Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and Nicola Griffith's Hild and Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria and Jill Paton Walsh's Lapsing because in each of those books there are true things being said, and they are being said in part by the description of what it is like to see patterns of light moving on the wall in a strange room, or feel a flutter in your stomach that seems like fear but might be something else, or to smell the spices in the market of the country you have spent your entire life yearning to visit, or to feel the pine needles under your body as you wait to see if you are going to live through the next few minutes. Not every moment is described, but enough are, and when things are told rather than felt (I am thinking of the Dorsey in particular here), they hit with doubled force, because the author makes the reader complicit in the knowing of that moment, she suggests that it does not have to be described, we already know.

I am sure there are many more books out there which combine these things. I hope that I can find them. More, I hope that I can write my own.

Date: 2015-04-27 05:14 am (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
Yes! "True things being said" is a good way to phrase it, I think.

I haven't figured out the early socialization of gendered household remembering, either. Sucks. (In my household's case, I was brought up to do everything and my partner to do nothing not much--his mother hired a housekeeper, for one--so I just . . . . know some stuff that it is nearly impossible for him to catch up to. But food, basic food for a household dependent ought not to be in that category.)

Date: 2015-04-28 01:48 am (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
good art and bad art are incredibly easy to tell apart

Right--one may respect good art while not enjoying it subjectively, frex.

Good point also about not being bound definitively by the past. (How else are we all to act as adults, anyway.)

Date: 2015-05-01 01:59 am (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
Best wishes for parity in watersheds, also. (As I recall, your partner is a few years younger than you; mine is a few years younger than I, similarly.)

Reason is almost exactly four and a half now.

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