1/10/18

Things to Read - Six Interesting Articles From Around the Web (on the husband stitch, monstrous men, Woody Allen, raising kids, and cat person).

(1) Raising (Young Children) - I loved this funny, abstract New Yorke piece about life with two kids.

"A year ago, I only had one kid. And I am a-hundred-per-cent certain that my wife has only been pregnant once between then and now. But I look around my apartment these days, and there are babies everywhere. I'm only supposed to have two. We had Simon. And then Sara had one more after that. I remember naming him Jasper. But I got home from work on Friday, and my wife was missing, and there was one kid in the bath, and two were watching Elmo on TV, and one was eating dinner, and one was crying, and they were all calling me daddy. Or at least the kids who could talk were. Some were babies, and some were toddlers, and they all had diapers that needed changing."
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(2) The Husband Stitch - I had never heard of the husband stitch before this article, have you heard of it?

I was first introduced to the husband stitch in 2014, when a friend in medical school told me about a birth her classmate observed. After the baby was delivered, the doctor said to the woman’s husband, “Don’t worry, I’ll sew her up nice and tight for you,” and the two men laughed while the woman lay between them, covered in her own and her baby’s blood and feces. The story terrified me, the laughter in particular, signaling some understanding of wrongdoing, some sheepishness in doing it anyway. The helplessness of the woman, her body being altered without her consent by two people she has to trust: her partner, her doctor. The details of the third-hand account imprinted into my memory so vividly that the memory of the story feels now almost like my own memory. Later that year, Machado’s “The Husband Stitch” was published, and sometime after that, I read it, and the details of Machado’s scene were so similar, down to the laughter, down to the words “don’t worry” (though in Machado’s story they’re directed at the woman), that I’m not sure now what I remember and what I read.

. . . .

But this is not an essay about the husband stitch. It’s an essay about believing and being believed.

. . . .

Why are we disbelieved? Why am I skeptical of women’s chatter? Why does my husband think I don’t smell gas? Later, in the same piece, Baldwin writes, “There was a moment, in time, and in this place, when my brother, or my mother, or my father, or my sister, had to convey to me, for example, the danger in which I was standing from the white man standing just behind me, and to convey this with a speed, and in a language, that the white man could not possibly understand, and that, indeed, he cannot understand, until today. He cannot afford to understand it. This understanding would reveal to him too much about himself, and smash that mirror before which he has been frozen for so long.” Maybe this is why we don’t believe women. If their experience is true, we can’t stand to see our role in it.
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(3) Monstrous Men - In the Paris Review Claire Dederer asks, "What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?" (There's a lot to unpack in this article, I suggest reading the whole thing).

"A great work of art brings us a feeling. And yet when I say Manhattan makes me feel urpy, a man says, No, not that feeling. You’re having the wrong feeling. He speaks with authority: Manhattan is a work of genius. But who gets to say? Authority says the work shall remain untouched by the life. Authority says biography is fallacy. Authority believes the work exists in an ideal state (ahistorical, alpine, snowy, pure). Authority ignores the natural feeling that arises from biographical knowledge of a subject. Authority gets snippy about stuff like that. Authority claims it is able to appreciate the work free of biography, of history. Authority sides with the (male) maker, against the audience.

Me, I’m not ahistorical or immune to biography. That’s for the winners of history (men) (so far).

. . .

"My friend and I had done nothing more monstrous than expecting someone to mind our children while we finished our work. That’s not as bad as rape or even, say, forcing someone to watch while you jerk off into a potted plant. It might sound as though I’m conflating two things—male predators and female finishers—in a troubling way. And I am. Because when women do what needs to be done in order to write or make art, we sometimes feel monstrous. And others are quick to describe us that way.

Hemingway’s girlfriend, the writer Martha Gellhorn, didn’t think the artist needed to be a monster; she thought the monster needed to make himself into an artist. “A man must be a very great genius to make up for being such a loathsome human being.” (Well, I guess she would know.) She’s saying if you’re a really awful person, you are driven to greatness in order to compensate the world for all the awful shit you are going to do to it. In a way, this is a feminist revision of all of art history; a history she turns with a single acid, brilliant line into a morality tale of compensation.

Either way, the questions remain:

What is to be done about monsters? Can and should we love their work? Are all ambitious artists monsters? Tiny voice: [Am I a monster?]"

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(4) Woody Allen - Speaking of monstrous men, the Washington Post reported on Richard Morgan's reading of Woody Allen's 56-box archive, which, according to Morgan, is filled with misogynist and lecherous musings. (Full disclosure, I've never liked Allen's movies, mainly because I find them boring and I could never relate to them, but I know many people really love his work).

"According to the staff at Firestone Library’s rare-books wing, I’m the first person to read Allen’s collection — the Woody Papers — from cover to cover, and from the very beginning to the very end, Allen drips with repetitious misogyny. Allen, who has been nominated for 24 Oscars, never needed ideas besides the lecherous man and his beautiful conquest — a concept around which he has made films about Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Manhattan, journalism, time travel, communist revolution, murder, writing novels, Thanksgiving dinner, Hollywood and many other things — because that one idea bore so much fruit for his career.

In many ways, Allen frustrates people because he seems to relish dancing on the edge of the outrage. There’s nothing criminal about an 82-year-old’s fixation with 18-year-olds, and it’s not whip-out-your-penis, button-under-the-desk bad. But it’s deeply, anachronistically gross. More than that, he seems not to care about bettering or changing himself in any way. He lives and thinks and creates as he did in the 1970s, nearly a half-century ago. He’s a reminder that our future, however woke it becomes, will not be full of social-justice valedictorians quoting James Baldwin and Roxane Gay. There will be 22nd-century dunces lagging by a half-century or more. Allen is worse than an augury of those trolls of tomorrow; he is a model for them, a validation."

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(5) Raising Teenagers - I loved Elizabeth Weil's short essay on raising a teenage daughter.

"The goal, now, is not just to keep your child alive (though there is that, too) but to steer your child through the hormonal hell-waters of adolescence onto the firm shores of adulthood where, with luck, your child won’t be an idiot or an ass.

It’s a tough task. How well do you know your child? How well do you know the situations your child is getting into? What makes it all seem so impossible is that you need to allow your child to get hurt because if you don’t, your child won’t be resilient and will definitely be an ass. But we’re not talking about losing at Candy Land. We’re talking about … it’s hard to say out loud.

. . . .

Hannah is the most competent person in our house, and she’s a puddle.
She wants to know the correct answer, what other people would like her to say, but she’s furious if she thinks the right answer is untrue.

I want to say: I’ll give you all I’ve got, but I wasn’t that great at being a teenager, and I’m a pretty flawed adult, too."

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(6) Cat Person - Kristen Roupenian's New Yorker short story, Cat Person, already went viral. But if you haven't read it yet, it is really good.

"Margot sat on the bed while Robert took off his shirt and unbuckled his pants, pulling them down to his ankles before realizing that he was still wearing his shoes and bending over to untie them. Looking at him like that, so awkwardly bent, his belly thick and soft and covered with hair, Margot recoiled. But the thought of what it would take to stop what she had set in motion was overwhelming; it would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon. It wasn’t that she was scared he would try to force her to do something against her will but that insisting that they stop now, after everything she’d done to push this forward, would make her seem spoiled and capricious, as if she’d ordered something at a restaurant and then, once the food arrived, had changed her mind and sent it back."

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