On Stealing Time


As those of us in the northeaster dig our way out from Snowmaggeddon 2015, I have to admit I’m missing the sunshine from last week’s vacation. My husband and I took each other to Mexico for a Christmas present, and it really felt magical. We spent the week sitting in the sun, reading books, swimming in the ocean, and eating tacos. I might have cried a little bit when it was time to leave. We were lucky enough to be staying right on the beach and I declared before we even boarded the plane that I would be waking up early one day to watch the sunrise. My husband smiled, a little doubtful that this would happen, but mostly relieved that I wasn’t asking him to wake up at 5:45 in the morning on vacation, too.

Each evening I would diligently set my alarm before bed, and each morning I would hit snooze for 30 minutes before shutting it off entirely. This is not a pattern unique to vacation; I cannot count the number of times I’ve signed up for an early morning yoga class or planned on writing, reading, or going for a walk before the work day begins, only to spend the morning hitting snooze and reveling in just how soft and warm my bed can be. I don’t think there’s something inherently bad about this; I don’t think that morning people are better or more moral than night owls. But on those mornings that I do manage to sneak out of bed early, and start my day with yoga or writing or just a quiet cup of tea before the maddens begins? It always feels like I’m unwrapping a treasure. So I continue to set my alarm ambitiously early, and occasionally google “how to be a morning person” while dreaming of a lifetime or quiet, productive, peaceful mornings. And my bed continues to be it’s softest and most alluring between 6 and 8am.

This was my predicament on the second to last day of vacation, hitting snooze, trying to convince myself to stay in bed, to get out of bed, telling myself, “Just five more minutes and I’ll be ready.” (“Five more minutes!” has become a bit of a joke in our house because of my consistently slurred, sleep-drunk delivery of the request to my husband when it’s time to go to work.) And then I thought–in a that striking way that only happens when you’re half dreaming–if you really want something you have to be willing to get a little uncomfortable in the process. And the sharpness of it pushed me out of bed.

If I’m sitting on my couch, comfortable, the likelihood that I’ll get up to make a cup of tea is directly tied to how badly I want that cup of tea. I mean, this is obvious, when we think of it in regards to the mundane. But what about other desires, the wants we carry around in our heart, that whisper to us in odd moments–when we’re in the shower, when we’re feeling brave after a glass of wine or two, when we’re setting our alarm clock, full of the promise of a tomorrow? I hear them, and I keep waiting for the convenient times to respond. I’ll go to yoga tomorrow, when I don’t have as much work to do. I’ll write later, when I feel more inspired. I’ll meditate when I don’t feel so stressed and frantic. I’ll see the sunrise when I’m not sleepy.

I once had a great professor in college who gave an inspired lecture that must have been under-appreciated by the room full of 19 year olds staring back at him for whom time was infinite, but his words still stayed with me ever since. I thought of him that morning on the beach. Rich Murphy told us: If you want time to be creative in life, to write or paint or make any kind of art, you have to steal it. The world will not give you this time; you have to steal it.

The beach was cold that morning, and the sky was so overcast that I never saw a sunrise. Just a gradually brightening grey sky. In other words, it was very different than what I expected, than what I thought I wanted, when I shuffled down the hotel stairs to the beach–and I was so very glad to be awake. To be uncomfortable, stealing time, writing in my journal on a rainy morning at the beach.

Publish, damn it!

I have spent the past few weeks writing half blog posts. I’ve scribbled them on the back of receipts, in tiny notebooks and big notebooks. I’ve made lists of post ideas and articles to link to. I’ve written entire paragraphs in my head in the shower. I even sat on a train and spoke into the voice-to-text tool on my phone. And yet all I’ve shared with you is an (admittedly awesome) Liz Lemon gif.

In note-form I have lots to share with you about: Lean In, Girls, those horrible slut-shaming NYC posters, that horrendous New York Magazine article about “feminist housewives” that managed to offend and misquote everyone (except Rush Limbaugh),  how many freaking times women cops get almost sexually assaulted in Law & Order/NCIS style shows, and Hanna Rosin pretending it’s a new idea to say we don’t need feminism anymore. (Hint: People have been forever.) And don’t even get me started on the new Pope. Yet I refrain from hitting that damn publish button because there’s always more polishing to do.

I have a really bad habit of starting something with enthusiasm, and abandoning it when it gets hard, or boring, when some new project comes along, or there’s a marathon of [redacted for embarrassment] on TV. My bookshelves are littered with books, and I’ve read the first few chapters of a lot of them. I’ve read the last chapter of very few. This very post? I abandoned it to go work on another half-finished essay, that I have since abandoned in frustration.  And whatever, we’re all flawed. This is a roundabout confession that I’m a classic perfectionist, who leaves a lot of things unfinished because they are not [fill in the blank] enough yet.

Like this blog.

The problem is part laziness (Reality tv has a way of sucking you in, people!), but a bigger part of the problem, I think, is an unwillingness to trust that what I have to say is good enough/important enough/strong enough. In truth, there is always more that can be done.  I could write a whole book called Lean In: The Fallout*.But what good are those ideas doing, hidden in a notebook?

All of this is confessional, but I also think it speaks to the various ways I have responded to the social pressure women often face to “play nice” and “make everyone happy/like me.” If I scrutinize my own word choices enough, then I will settle on the perfect combination: I will convince everyone that I am right (and therefore good/valuable) and escape all scrutiny or criticism (which, if I were to receive, means I am bad/less valuable). Which all adds up to: silence.

This is silly, at best, and suffocating at worst. I wrote a while ago about the power of awkwardness, and at the time I was thinking of intentional awkwardness; those moments where you chose to make someone ever so slightly uncomfortable to prove a point. But lately I think that vocally attempting to affect change, in which you risk pissing people off, saying something stupid, or a combination of the two, is a different—equally powerful—kind of awkwardness.  So at the risk of sounding self-helpy, is there something you’re holding back, because you think it needs more polishing? Because you’re afraid of pissing people off? How have you overcome the pressures to be nice and/or perfect?

In the meantime, I’ve got some imperfect blog posts to share.

In which I ramble and lay-out some objectives for Tea & Strumpets

Sorry about the silence of late. I have a  whole series of half written blog posts*, but it turns out balancing a full time job, a blog, and those few final grad school projects is somewhat tricky. I’m really committed to carving out this space on the internet, so please bare with me through any moments of silence that may arise in the beginning.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want this space to be. Obviously, you’ll be subjected to my various interests around gender and sexuality, which include politics, popular culture,** and religion. In addition to general commentary on gender and the news, I’m hoping to address certain absences I see in feminist spaces–namely, the way we talk about personal stuff and the way we talk about academic stuff.

In the 70s there was a lot of conversation about how the “personal is political,” and I think that’s certainly an important and valuable message, but one side-effect of how that slogan has been read is that we spend a lot of time talking about the political implications of “private” gender issues. I don’t think there are a lot of spaces, however, to talk about the really personal side of being a feminist today.*** Internet feminism, for example, doesn’t always have dedicated space for discussing things like: learning that someone you work with is a total misogynist and deciding what to do about it, changing or not changing one’s name upon getting married (if you get married),  learning how to be assertive when the whole world tells you to be agreeable and nice. What does feminism look like in our everyday world? How are we putting theory into practice?  I’d like to spend some time really focusing in on the personal, because it is political, and a whole lot of change can be affected in the space of how interact with the world on the micro-level.

I should also share that I’m a total nerd about feminist theory. I felt all warm and fuzzing inside when I realized Caitlin Moran’s book, How to Be a Woman, is titled after a Simone de Beauvoir quote (and not the post-feminist crap I originally feared). I have a tendency to head straight for the Gender/Critical Theory section in my bookstore,**** and swoon over the selections. And I think people are doing a lot of really interesting things in their study of gender and sexuality in academia, bigwigs and graduate students alike. Unfortunately, I think that the all those brilliant ideas don’t always make it far beyond the “Ivory Tower.” There are many reasons for this, including the incredible anti-intellectualism of this country, and the snobbery of certain academics. I also think that we just don’t have enough places established to have conversations between academics and non-academics about gender, so we’re stuck with this sort of trickle-down theory. I’d love to try to make this one of those spaces.

I’m not 100% certain about how to accomplish these goals, especially the latter, but I have a few ideas (one of which includes podcasts! a personal favorite). Suggestions more than welcome.  Here’s to carving out the spaces we’d like to see in the world.

Apparently this is the post of  footnotes: 
* I have a few remaining thoughts on the DNC, specifically Elizabeth Warren’s speech, so I might put those up here, even though I’ll be decades late in internet-time
** For all that I am invested in discussing gender and popular culture, you should know, my knowledge of celebrities is so poor my friends’ have at times suggested I am an alien. I grew up in one of those houses that banned MTV and sugary cereal, and I’ve never quite made up the resulting knowledge gap. 
***I think Meg, over at apracticalwedding.com does a really great job of this (This whole week is dedicated to feminism over there!), and I think she’s had a real influence on the way we talk about weddings in America. She pushes the envelope to talk about marriage, relationships (with family, friends, and partners), and careers within the context of gender expectations, but there’s still a lot of ground to cover when it comes to personal feminism. 
****I live in a college town, so bookstores have sections like this.