Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"The Unmade Bed" by Stephen Marche

I picked up "The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth About Men and Women in the 21st Century" by Stephen Marche because of (a) the intriguing cover (both text & design) an (b) the intriguing prospect of getting a glimpse of what we in blogland have called "the elusive male perspective" on the rapidly evolving state of male-female relationships in the early 21st century.

As promised on the cover, Marche's wife, Sarah Fulford, editor of Toronto Life magazine, adds a running (and often tart) commentary in the footnotes, expanding on her husband's observations and sometimes offering an alternative opinon or version of events as he described them. ;)  ("The best thing about Stephen Marche’s new book on gender politics is his wife," says Maureen O'Connor in The Cut. "The second best thing is that he knows it.")  I found myself wishing there had been more of her comments included. A "he said, she said" book with alternating viewpoints might have been a more interesting way to tackle this subject.

It's not a long book, a little over 200 well spaced pages of text in a readably large font, plus footnotes -- and yet it took me a while to wade through  because the prose in some parts got pretty dense. As Elizabeth Renzetti summarizes in her Globe & Mail review of the book (with footnotes from her spouse, Doug Saunders!): 
Marche’s central thesis, told through eight linked essays, is that men and women have come to an impasse of sorts, where women’s power is increasing, but not quickly enough, and men’s power is crumbling, and not in ways they fully understand or like. The project for men, as they suffer through crises of loneliness, undereducation and shifting power dynamics, is “how to be a proud man without being an asshole about it.”
The book starts off with a discussion of mansplaining (Marche makes the wry observation that he's mansplaining about mansplaining) and the idea that men and women cannot understand each other. Further topics discussed include what Marche called "the hollow patriarchy," modern fatherhood, gender differences and hyper-masculinity, personal politics/political correctness & outrage, and the differences in raising boys vs girls. And then there's a chapter on porn that actually made my eyes glaze over (I'm still not entirely sure what point he was trying to make). The final chapter takes on that most contentious of subjects: who does the housework. (And if you need a hint as to what Marche thinks about it all, the title of the chapter is "The Case for Living in Filth.")

(As an aside, re: the book's title:  I remember Mel once asked her readers if they made the bed every day. I was absolutely dumbfounded by how many people said they didn't. To me, a room with an unmade bed looks messy... and there is nothing nicer than climbing into a bed that's been made up, versus wrinkled, rumpled up sheets & blankets. It just feels so much nicer. Even better when the sheets have been freshly laundered...!)(Of course, I was brought up by a woman who went to nursing school and insisted our beds be made daily before we went to school in the morning -- WITH hospital corners, lol.)(Fortunately for me, dh is equally in favour of making the bed daily -- albeit considerably less enthusiastic about hospital corners, lol.)

There were some thought-provoking points made throughout the book, and I marked a couple of passages with post-it notes. From a childless-not-by-choice perspective, I was intrigued by Marche's theory that
The prevalence of the absent father distorts, in turn the perception of mothers. As fathers become symbolically vital  but physically absent, mothers are exalted beyond all reason and degraded beyond all sense:  the exaltation begins early, raising mothers to vertiginous, nauseating heights... (pp. 57-58) (emphasis mine)      
Final verdict: It was interesting in parts, dragged in others. The addition of Fulford's side commentary was an interesting touch, but I would have liked more of it. I gave it three out of five stars on Goodreads.

This was book #9 that I've read so far in 2017, bringing me to 38% of my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  Apparently that makes me 2 books behind schedule. :p  ;)  

Monday, June 26, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: "The Handmaid's Tale" season finale

** CONTAINS SPOILERS** 

Last night was episode 10, the season finale of "The Handmaid's Tale" on Bravo Canada. It ended exactly as the book did -- and if that was the end of the series, I would have been satisfied. I rather liked the ambiguity of the book's ending -- that we were allowed to form our own opinion as to whether June/Offred stepped into the darkness, or into the light, as she herself put it.

That said, I am looking forward to the next season. Generally, I don't like it when movie or TV adaptations of a book I loved make significant changes or expand beyond the original material. But so far, that's worked pretty well for "The Handmaid's Tale." The fact that Margaret Atwood is a "consulting producer" on the show is a good sign, I think.

The relationship between June/Offred & Serena Joy, the Commander's wife, was at the centre of this episode.  As usual, I swung between feeling sorry for (& empathizing with) Serena Joy and yelling "YOU BITCH!!"  at her on the TV screen, lol.  When Fred told her "Go to your room" and she left -- but not before telling him Offred's baby was not his and knocking the Scrabble board & pieces off his desk -- I was cheering her on. (Although, as even she herself admitted, she helped write some of the rules that are now used to oppress her.)(The look on Fred's face when he hears that Warren's wife asked for the harshest punishment for his extracurricular activities with Janine was priceless. You could almost hear him thinking, "Uh oh...")  I could even understand her hurt over discovering that Fred had been taking Offred on "outings" beyond the monthly "ceremony" (although it didn't seem fair to take it out on Offred as she did).

But when she showed June/Offred her daughter -- while June/Offred was locked in the car, screaming & clawing at the windows -- able to look at, but not to touch or speak to her daughter -- and then cooly got back into the car & resumed her knitting with the threat, "As long as MY baby is OK, yours will be OK too"  -- she deserved every curse word that June hurled at her through the window (along with the ones I was shouting at the screen, lol). (That was something that went beyond the book material... I remember Serena Joy showing Offred a photo of Hannah, but not making any explicit threats.)

For me, one of the key lingering images from this episode was Serena Joy prostrating herself on the floor in front of Offred's developing pregnancy test, praying for a positive result. OK, I know many of us have prayed over a pee stick ourselves. ;)  But it brought home to me her desperation to have a child, and how high the stakes were. In a world where women are only valued for their fertility and their relationship to the men in their lives (if Serena Joy weren't married to the Commander, what would her status be in Gilead??), what else is there for her?  If you want to put it in the Biblical language used by Gileadeans (terminology??), it struck me that Serena (& Gilead) had made an idol (a false idol?) of fertility, of pregnancy (albeit not of the handmaids themselves, who were endowed with these powers & carrying these babies...), & was worshipping at its feet. Isn't that something of a sin itself?

I was also struck by the scene where Fred comes to Serena as she is setting up the bassinet in the nursery (already!! -- the pee stick is barely dry...) and promises her that once the baby is born and Offred is sent away to her next handmaid posting, "we'll be a family."  This is something that Janine shouted to Commander Warren as she teetered atop the bridge in the last episode: that he promised her they would take the baby & run away together and "be a family." In Gilead terms -- and in the minds of many today, still -- "family" equals man, woman & child (preferably children, plural). A couple alone is not considered a "real" family. A woman is not a "real" woman if she doesn't have a child.

Gilead may be a fictional creation -- but as Atwood said when she wrote it (30+ years ago!), everything in it has happened somewhere in the world at some point in history. And it's still happening today (more than ever, it seems, in some ways), even in North America.

This is beyond a "microblog" post, but it's what I'm thinking about today. ;) Have any of you been watching? Thoughts?  (Any Emmy nomination/award predictions?? -- I think there are quite a few deserving performances here, most especially Elisabeth Moss as June/Offred.)

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Life is short... go for the preferred seats!

Last week, I booked our flights for a visit home to my parents (which we generally do twice a year, Christmas and summertime). We've always flown economy, generally the cheapest fares we can find for the dates & time frames when we want to fly.

For the past 20 years, though, we've always paid extra to "select" (i.e., reserve) our seats. We started doing this after one memorable (for the wrong reasons...) incident at the airport where we discovered (at the gate) that the flight was overbooked and we might not make it on board -- i.e., we were essentially flying standby, even though we'd paid for our tickets months earlier and arrived well before boarding. (We did make it onto the plane, but we were NOT HAPPY to deal with the additional stress!)

These days, not only can you select your seat (for a fee), you can choose between "standard" and "preferrred" seats -- which cost double the amount of a standard seat ($34 per person, vs $17 pp -- or an additional $68 per trip/$136 per round trip for both of us, vs $34 & $68)(!!), but offer more legroom and (slightly) more space between you & the seat in front of you. (They're still not as comfortable as the seats in business class, though...!)

I mentioned to dh that we had a choice, & he immediately said, "Book the preferred seats!"

Initially, I balked.

Now, I don't consider myself "cheap" or overly frugal. Believe me, I know how to spend money on the things I really want/value, lol.  I like to eat out at least once a week, and while it doesn't have to be La Scala, I appreciate something nicer than McDonalds with a waiter serving me, lol. I buy books instead of using the library. My closet is overstuffed, and I still have enough lipsticks to keep an army of supermodels supplied for at least a year, even though I seldom wear makeup since I stopped working.  I use fairly expensive brands of skin care products (although I try to wait and then stock up while there's a gift with purchase offer on, lol).

But I get pissed off at having to pay $17 (let alone $34) for a seat that I've already paid several hundred dollars for and that used to be "free" (along with checked baggage -- now $28.25 for your first bag -- a nice meal and so many other things...!).

Growing up, I was influenced by what a friend & I have labelled "the Prairie Depression mentality." We were both born several decades after the Great Depression -- but we still found ourselves living in its shadow, because our parents &/or grandparents lived through it, and never forgot the lessons they learned then. Our families were not wealthy (although most of our peers' families were in the same boat, so there wasn't quite the same peer pressure that kids today grow up with), and we learned the value of a dollar early on in our lives.

And so, even today as an adult, things like adding a bit of water to the shampoo bottle to use up the last few drops... or using a dryer sheet twice before throwing it away... or driving a few blocks further to save a few cents on gasoline... are second nature to me. Unless it's a book I MUST HAVE NOW, I usually forgo the hardcover and wait for the paperback. I dump my change from my wallet every night, then occasionally sort & roll up the loose coins and take it to the bank. It's like found money, and you'd be amazed at how quickly it adds up (especially here in Canada, where we have $1 & $2 coins). We went for dinner on our first anniversary and bought our first microwave with money saved up this way.

My determination to squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube and use up the last few drops of milk in the carton before putting it in recycling drives dh crazy sometimes. I often tell him, "You be anal in your way; I'll be anal in mine," lol. Paying attention to the pennies makes me feel better and gives me "permission" when I do splurge money on other, more important things. (Although even then, I am probably looking for or waiting for a sale or a coupon, lol.)

But as I hesitated on the subject of preferred vs standard seats, I realized he was right.  Dh is not a happy airline traveller at the best of times. If a preferred seat with extra legroom makes him happy, why not spent the extra money?

We both worked hard for 30 years, we saved our money, and we have enough to live comfortably, and to splurge -- maybe not for a villa in Tuscany or a beachside cottage in Tahiti (damn!), but certainly on things like preferred airline seats. We're old enough now that by some definitions, we are senior citizens (!!). If we're not going to start spending and enjoying some of our hard-earned money now, then when?

We didn't get the child we wanted so much -- but we CAN have some of those little luxuries that make life more fun and pleasant. So why not?

Life is short.... pay for the preferred seat!

(But I'll still pick economy vs business class, though (especially for a simple 2.5 hour flight to see my parents that already costs way too much)... gotta draw the line somewhere!! lol)

Monday, June 19, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

  • It seems I am in one of those blogging lulls that rears its head every now & then, where my mind is as blank as the screen in front of me and nothing (or very little) comes to mind to write about, ALI-related or otherwise. I haven't finished any books lately to review. I couldn't even muster up an 8-line #MicroblogMondays post last week. :( Thankfully, these lulls have never lasted too long in the past. (In almost 10 years of blogging, there's never been a month when I haven't posted at least once;  I think two or three posts in one month would be my lowest point.) I trust that this lull will also end, eventually. ;)   
  • Hop over to Sue Fagalde Lick's Childless by Marriage blog for the most believe-it-or-not story I think I've heard yet about pronatalism run amok (with the childless woman, as usual, getting the short end of the stick...!)...! (As you might remember, I just came through a long string of dental work myself, so this had me completely cringing...!!) 
  • After plowing through season one of "The Crown" on our new Netflix, my next pick was "The Keepers." I devoured all seven episodes over two nights this past week. I love a good true crime story/mystery, and this was extremely well done. As I watched, I realized that my great-aunt had lived in Baltimore during the time the events shown unfolded, and her daughter (my mother's cousin) was the same age as the women in the program -- both she & her husband graduated from (public) high school there in the early 1970s. Beyond the compelling mystery, I absolutely loved seeing all these ordinary 60-something women driving the investigation forward (and doing a better job of it than the police!). And seeing their classmates rise from the ashes of horrible abuse to heal and help others -- one even went back to school in her late 40s and became a lawyer! Girl power, indeed!! :)  Anyone else watch it? 
  • I just watched episode 9 of "The Handmaid's Tale" on Bravo Canada last night (episode 10/season finale next Sunday night). There was a scene in the kitchen between Serena Joy, the Commander's wife, and Martha/Rita, the housekeeper/maid that resonated with me: Serena complains that Naomi Putnam (the wife of another commander) has been complaining that her (Handmaid Janine/Ofwarren's) baby girl has been keeping her up at night, since Janine/Ofwarren's departure. "She shouldn't complain about such a blessing," the two women agree bitterly.  (Oh boy, does this sound familiar...)   
  • Of course (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!), the main, climactic event of this episode was poor Janine's leap off the bridge, despite Offred/June's best efforts to talk her down. 
    • From the Harper's Bazaar recap of this episode:  "Janine was never really going to jump off that bridge with her baby [not so sure about that myself...], but by taking the baby up there with her, she ensured she’d be given the chance to say her piece. A fitting visual reminder of the fact that a woman’s life in Gilead only has value when she’s carrying a baby."  (Boldfaced emphasis theirs, not mine.)  
    • From the Baltimore Sun's recap:  "...in this week’s most horrifying moment, we realize that Janine is being kept alive on a thread, if only because she is still a fertile woman who can bear Gilead future children. And if you think they would have made any effort had she been infertile, you have been watching a very different television program that I also may be interested in recapping."  
  • Yet another person I know & love has been diagnosed with breast cancer. :(  Her prognosis is good, but still... It's getting scary how many women I know who have fought this battle over the past couple of years. Fuck cancer. :p 
  • Over Father's Day weekend, we went to visit FIL, and I called my own dad. There were no movies dh wanted to see on Sunday (our usual choice of avoidance activity on these occasions), and he didn't have any other ideas about how he wanted to spend the day, so I suggested a little road trip to visit Katie. :)  We drove to the cemetery -- which was very busy, but not in the section where she is, thankfully. Then we went for lunch to a little cafe we used to frequent when we lived in the area (they make great chicken caesar wraps), and then to our old favourite haunt, the local mega-bookstore. :)  And then home again. 
  • And there... a  post! ;)  (When in doubt, try bullet points, lol.)  So much for blogger's block...! ;)
  • ETA:  And, bonus!  Apparently this is post #1,200!! Yikes!! 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"The lost tribe"

You would think that it would be pretty hard to ignore a group that represents 1 in 5 women -- but that's exactly how those of us over-40s who live without children -- some by choice, but many more not -- often feel in a world where parents are the majority and the sight of an adorable infant or a baby bump sends people into a tizzy.   

Jody Day of Gateway Women calls us "the lost tribe" and "the biggest diversity group HR hasn't heard of" -- and she recently gave us eloquent voice at a TEDx Talk in Hull, England, now available on YouTube. She covers a lot of ground in a very short amount of time, and I daresay that most of those non-tribe members of the audience learned something new from her. Watch/ listen, learn and share! :) 


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Odds & ends

  • I went to see Jann Arden earlier this week, the final "lecture" in the Unique Lives & Experiences series that a friend & I bought season's tickets for this year. (Previous speakers included Julia Gillard, Linda Ronstadt, Susan Aglukark and Lara Logan.)  Not sure how many of you outside of Canada know her, but in addition to being an amazing singer/songwriter, she's a well-known -- and hilarious -- media personality. (She is also single and has no children.)  She often appears as a guest host on "The Social" (Canada's version of "The View" or "The Talk") & has made many memorable appearances on "The Rick Mercer Report."  Her "lecture" was based on her memoir, which I reviewed here, including stories & life lessons about growing up in rural Alberta, how she got started in music, and how the last 10 years of her life have been consumed by caring for her aging parents. It was the best-attended lecture of the series (almost a full house).  
    • As if she needed to further endear herself to me, she complained about being "55 years old and still spending $80 a month on sanitary products," as well as joking about not being able to wear white pants and ruining restaurant chairs. A kindred spirit!! lol  
  • On a related note, I had my annual checkup/Pap with Dr. Ob-Gyn this week (who hinted he may be contemplating retirement.... nooooooooooo.....!!). All was well. I did complain about the fact that I'm 56 & still getting more or less regular periods... he promised me it WILL stop, someday, and sooner vs later!  I told him, "It hasn't been anything I can't handle... it's just that, after 45 years of this, I'm getting JUST a little tired of it!"   
    • The waiting room was PACKED with pregnant women and new mothers with their babies. Of course. It actually didn't bother me as much as it sometimes does. Thank goodness... I guess after almost 19 (!) years, you become a little inured to these things.
    • After my appointment, I went shopping. :) And treated myself to some cute new summer tops. :) 
  • We signed up for Netflix this week. (I know, I know, I'm probably the last person on earth... hey, I'm an aging baby boomer/borderline GenXer, give me a break...!) It actually wasn't as complicated as I was afraid it might be to set up.  Any suggestions to add to my queue (although Netflix Canada doesn't offer all the stuff that's available on Netflix USA)? Right now I'm watching season one of "The Crown."  Any idea when we can look for season 2?? 
  • Love this post from Jess about "the mountain that got away." The mountain in question was in Myanmar, but I kept thinking about Everest and Jon Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air," and how so many people perished because they were so determined to reach the summit, even when they knew that dwindling oxygen, bad weather, darkness & plunging temperatures were upon them. Sometimes, "giving up" can be the smartest thing you'll ever do.  

Monday, June 5, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: 10,000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire...

(Add this to my list of "annoying things"...!)  About five years ago, I started noticing that many of my T-shirts (& even a few of my sweaters) were developing tiny little holes -- always in the same spot (so I very much doubt it's moths), right in the front, near the bottom hem. Not just one brand of T-shirt, either: I have had holes in T-shirts from American Eagle, Old Navy, the Gap, Reitmans, Northern Reflections, Lucky Brand, H&M... I've come to the conclusion that they develop when the fabric rubs against the button on my jeans/shorts (some have suggested the seatbelt in the car is a possible culprit too). 

I'm sure it doesn't help that T-shirts these days seem to be made from the thinnest, flimsiest fabric possible. (I guess there's a reason why these T-shirts are so low priced (some as low as $10-12)... you get what you pay for...!!) (although I've paid a fair amount more for shirts that STILL get holes in them...!)  Until our move last year (when I did a thorough closet cleaning), I still had a couple of 10+-year-old T-shirts from the Gap and a few other stores, and there was a noticeable difference between the fabric they used then and what they're using now. :p  

It drives me nuts to see a hole emerge on a T-shirt that I've worn exactly once or twice and sometimes haven't even washed yet. :p  I don't mind wearing a hole-y T-shirt around the house, but out in public is a different story. :(   (Although I am still wearing some T-shirts with holes in them, just because I like the shirt so much & I hate to throw it out after just a few wears. I just cross my fingers & hope that it's not too noticeable. ;)  When I find a T-shirt that I really, really like, I've resorted to buying a second one as backup, so that I know I'll have it for a little longer. :p (Hmmm, maybe there's a method in the retailers' madness...) 

I did some Googling on this subject before I wrote this, and I know I'm not the only one out there with this issue. Have you noticed this too?? 

(And does anyone recognize where the title of this post comes from?? -- I thought it was timely this week, lol.)  ;)  
  
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMonday posts here