Why don’t you treat men this way? The false dichotomy of “mother vs. artist”

Why don’t you treat men this way? The false dichotomy of “mother vs. artist”

This post of on combining art and motherhood made the rounds this past winter. There were a lot of responses, public and private. Two of the more recent responses made me feel like revisiting the issue:

1. The Divided Heart is a more honest exploration of what it’s like to be a mother and an artist. I’m sorry, but I think you are over-compensating and it shows. For decades, women have been quite open about how combining great art and motherhood is almost always an impossibility. One blog post on the matter from someone who sold one play is not going to convince society.

2. All due respect, Natalie [sic], but people like you lure promising artists towards breeding, and the results are almost always disastrous. I wonder if you’ll change your mind when your kid is on the therapist’s couch, discussing the ways in which mum neglected him so she could make her Art, and he almost certainly will be.

So to address all that:

Who the hell are you to argue that women can be both mothers and great artists? You’re nobody! But it’s not about me.

The idea that you can’t reconcile being a mother with being great artist is, today, a peculiarly Western concept. In many other parts of the world, women just get on with it.

One of Russia’s greatest poets, Anna Akhmatova, was a mother. Nobody goes around wringing their hands on her behalf. One of Russia’s greatest painters, Zinaida Serebriakova, was a mother – and, once again, people really didn’t make a big deal out of it. Continue reading “Why don’t you treat men this way? The false dichotomy of “mother vs. artist””

Kyiv’s PostPlayTheater: of “Rebels,” Donetsk, and discomfiting narratives

Kyiv’s PostPlayTheater: of “Rebels,” Donetsk, and discomfiting narratives

If you are interested in the (somewhat frozen) conflict in parts of eastern Ukraine, you should hop on down to Kyiv’s brand new PostPlayTheater and check out the documentary play “Rebels” (“Ополченцi” in Ukrainian. The word itself usually has a slightly different meaning in English, but “rebel” is one of the standard terms for the separatists out east, so I am using it for now).

Rebels is the story of one man, recorded on a dictaphone by some kiosks on a late night in central Kyiv. The man used to be a part of the Russia-backed uprising in Donetsk, a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced over two million people.  Continue reading “Kyiv’s PostPlayTheater: of “Rebels,” Donetsk, and discomfiting narratives”

On the work of Kate Atkinson

On the work of Kate Atkinson

When I was fourteen, I bought a copy of “Human Croquet” after reading about it in a magazine for girls (unexpected choice by the editor, I’ve come to realize). I had the original receipt for a while and jotted down the exact time, down to the minute, and place where the book was purchased.

I came back to that inscription in my senior year at Duke, when I was writing my (let’s face it, terrible) honors thesis on “Human Croquet.”

“Acquired at 7:33 p.m., May 17, 1998, Barnes & Noble, Arboretum, Charlotte, NC.”

There wasn’t much I understood at twenty, but I did understand why I wrote down the contents of the receipt. I was recording a life-changing moment. I met Michael Cunningham once when he came to give a talk at Duke, and he jovially discussed having his life upended by Virginia Woolf, and I was grateful for that, because it meant I wasn’t weird. Kate Atkinson just happened to split my particular atom.

Her work has changed over the years, gone both wide and deep, but some familiar themes have circled back this year: the handsome RAF pilot, the complete disaster of men and women, the cruel and lovely ambivalence of nature, the question of death and stepping sideways out of time, the tedium of children and how there’s nothing more important, Englishness (and how observing it changes it), the strange way men separate passion and love (like unspooling threads), the importance of getting on with it even when you’d rather lie down and melt back into the landscape again, lying down and melting into the landscape at a later date (though perhaps having helped someone in a way, so as to not have your existence be entirely without point), the fact that we are all so fragile as to almost be fiction.  Continue reading “On the work of Kate Atkinson”

Giant hogweeds on the rampage, that one rape movie you should watch (if you can stomach it), and the general state of Russia’s film industry

I have been writing for your benefit, dear reader. This is for you – all for you.

First of all, stay away from the freaky plants that look like Queen Anne’s lace that had been watered with bovine growth hormone (and find out what they have to do with the worst dictator in Russian history).

Second of all, here is a review of “Twilight Portrait.” No, it has nothing to do with sexy vampires who enjoy stalking underage girls. Instead, it’s probably one of the most well-made films to have come out of Russia in recent years. It’s also not the kind of movie you watch if you don’t think you can handle some pretty horrific depictions of rape.

And speaking of rape and such – here is my take on why Russian dramas are not doing too well at home. I think it’s a combination of a lot of factors, including the general state of the market, and I really hate the simplistic explanations of the cultural elite that amount to, “Well, people are just stupid nowadays, and can’t appreciate good cinema.” Not quite.

Notes to the wannabe Carrie Bradshaws – from the raggedy edge

Taylor Cotter, the author of this gem, is hurt and surprised by the amount of vitriol the Internet has now dumped on her. I’ve got no desire to join in a public pile-on at a time when someone is already upset by the negative attention, but I did feel serious secondhand embarrassment upon reading her lament that life is just not “adventurous” enough now that she has a full-time job, a car and a 401k – and all at the age of 22. I think it’s perfectly normal to bitch and moan about a general lack of adventure – even I do it sometimes – and it’s not that I find Cotter to be “ungrateful.” I don’t think she’s a bad person, she just wrote an unfortunate post that managed to combine just the right amount of popular misconceptions about the age we’re living in that felt like a slap in the face for a lot of people who are genuinely struggling – in the U.S. and beyond.

First of all, equating financial stability with adulthood is ridiculous in this day and age. There are plenty of people who are decades older than we are, who’ve lost their savings and/or their homes. Some have had spells of living out of their cars and “bathing” in rest area bathrooms. For some, those spells have become day-to-day reality. This isn’t happening because those people are immature and silly and spent too much time playing Xbox.

Second of all, we don’t choose financial stability – most of the time, it chooses us. I think it’s healthy to pat yourself on the back every once in a while, but guess what? Being able to do internships that translate into a well-paying job out of college is a mark of privilege for most people, as most internships tend to be unpaid. That’s just one example of how kids from poorer families tend to get screwed even before they enter the job market. I think it’s fine to say that “Hey, I worked my ass off to get where I’m at right now.” But not acknowledging the element of luck – and luck is a capricious thing, darlings – just perpetuates the same damn stereotype of some people being “good enough” to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and others “not good enough.”

Also, there’s nothing romantic or adventurous about financial instability – or downright poverty. Hey, I got a little adventure for ya – how about losing teeth in your 20’s due to lack of access to preventative care? Sexy, huh? How about people who pile on the pounds because they have no time or energy or money to be able to eat a balanced diet? Can you still be Carrie Bradshaw if the Dior don’t fit? That’s not the worst of it, really, some people, for example, blow their brains out when faced with a mountain of debt, unpaid medical bills and layoffs. I’m sure that those closed-casket funerals are awesome, character-building experiences for their friends and relatives to attend.

And what’s up with this ridiculous notion that adventures are easy? I live a life of intrigue and danger – mostly not by choice, I might add – and let me tell you, I shed copious amounts of sweat and tears (and blood too – like the time I cut myself while trying to eat at a movie festival, because I flew in after spending most of the night up with a fussy baby, was tired as balls, and had no one to hold my steak knife for me.). Just because something makes for a good story doesn’t make it a good experience. An adventure is not a shampoo commercial – though that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth having. It’s just also worth having it in perspective.

And while we’re at it, can we please recall that Carrie Bradshaw is a fictional fucking character? And while fairly admirable as far as fictional fucking characters go – nobody could afford those clothes on an average journalist’s salary.

I’m just sayin.