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””

Pornhub’s 2015 insights on Russia: My Little Pony smut on the rise, “porn nationalism” is not a thing, MILFs are popular for a reason

Pornhub’s 2015 insights on Russia: My Little Pony smut on the rise, “porn nationalism” is not a thing, MILFs are popular for a reason

Note: I watched My Little Pony porn for the sake of research. It is not my thing, and I have Pony Traumatic Stress Disorder now (and can’t even take credit for that phrase). You can honor my sacrifice by liking, sharing, tweeting, donating, or sending Tom Hiddleston to my house with a bottle of whiskey and a box of jelly doughnuts.

There is much to learn about Russian porn trends from Pornhub’s 2015 year in review stats. We are first going to first zero in on the elephant in the room. No getting around it. It is too massive.

We must talk about My Little Pony (MLP) porn. Continue reading “Pornhub’s 2015 insights on Russia: My Little Pony smut on the rise, “porn nationalism” is not a thing, MILFs are popular for a reason”

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”

Nobody’s hopeless, everything is broken

I woke up today and immediately saw two bits of news:

The Russian Patriarch gave Dmitry Kiselyov, Russia’s top propagandist, a church award. I was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church and, even though the church has always taken orders from the government in Russia (it was never the other way around, as many people think), such acts still somehow sadden me, especially because I still go to church, and still find it a powerful experience. Churches have always been horrifyingly imperfect – I suppose they’re forever making up for it with rhetoric about hell, and casting undesirables out, etc. – but there is something about this particular church, right now, that rubs its imperfection in your face so much that it tempts you to despair. When even your conservative, God-fearing relatives are bitterly saying that “the patriarch is a bad one,” it really makes you wonder, just how bad it’s all going to get in our lifetime.

On a related (yes, related) note, Russia’s Investigative Committee, the most loud and loyal of the oprichnina, has now opened a criminal investigation against the wife of an Alexey Navalny ally (Navalny is Russia’s most prominent anti-corruption crusader; the latest politically motivated case against him will see him go away for a decade if the prosecutor has his way), who organized literary festivals. The Investigative Committee’s statements and criminal investigations oftentimes seem deliberately farcical, but the farce involves real victims, people with families. Writers are often curious about what goes on in the heads of people who victimize others in the name of carrying out orders – but the truth is, compartmentalization is an awesome tool.

I have this idea that a lot of us should be grateful to be alive in this horrible time – and not because, as the constant refrain goes, “It can always get worse.” It can, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about how this time has forced so many of us to turn mental corners we were too lazy or too scared to turn before. How this time has burrowed into our hearts like a worm, a reminder that the number of heartbeats is finite, always finite. And what will you do with your nearly imperceptible, finite heartbeats? And what will you do? Goodness, for example, can never attack, it can only defend itself. A lot of people have forgotten about that right now, but one day, they’ll remember.

Every day is a chance to turn it around. Every day that we are alive. Tick tock. Don’t despair. Don’t despair. You’ve no right.

Temporary shelters

The snow falls silently on the graves of the people I love
On the graves of the people I would have loved
If given half a chance
The sky above my house is made of remembrances of raven wings
And amethyst
The pear trees my dead grandfather planted
Offer their bark up to be kissed.

*****

I was in London recently and I was very happy – in a way that I’ve never been before while in London, my unattainable city, the place I’ve always loved and which had never loved me back. I think this happiness came from not caring.

“You’ll love an Englishman, of course,” my grandmother’s fierce cousin, the late Yevgeniya Andreyevna, told me once. “And loving him will be like cracking open a snail shell – that is to say slimy and cold.”

I was seventeen, had never had a boyfriend (yet alone loved anyone), and didn’t realize she was making a prophecy. She was very fond of making casual prophecies back then, as easily as she refilled my wine glass at dinner, and every one came true eventually.

I remembered her when I walked through Mayfair, when I couldn’t tell what it was that beat inside my chest – my heart or a pair of dark raven wings.

And I drank champagne in her memory when the city lay beneath my feet – a scattering of rare jewels, satisfyingly hard to the touch.

You cannot love London too much. You have to turn your back on it and scowl at it over your bare shoulder and then turn away again. Possibly for years. And London, being London, will be proud for a while, but then it will ask you back for a spell, and it will make you very happy during the whole of it. Only you must always say goodbye first and close the door very firmly behind you. Go under the cover of darkness, go, go, one boot in front of the other. Life is getting shorter, life is thinning out and chipping on the edges, all you can carry away with you is, as usual, God and love. Everything else will be too damn heavy and not worth the strain on your shoulder.

*****

Øystein Bogen and I gave a joint seminar on the Ukraine crisis & the propaganda war surrounding it in Oslo a few weeks ago. I think we did a good job – well, Øystein certainly did, I think I became too emotional in places – and I think it was that evening, in that beautiful city where candles burn on tables throughout the winter, that I accepted that the world has changed irrevocably, and there is nothing I can do about it, except tell the truth as I see it.

I associate a lot of pain with my background these days. These veins that run through me – Ukraine, the U.S., and Russia – they all bleed quite a startling red. For the obvious reasons.

I’ve struggled against the new normal, “You can’t be real,” I said. It was like arguing with weather. And it was Oslo that whispered about the futility of that into my willing ear. So dark it was and so lovely. I know now why they call Norway troll country. Or I almost know. (Will I come back? I seriously hope to come back)

*****

In Moscow, even before the ruble starting crashing, there was already electricity in the air. Static. Hands touched in ways that made you gasp.

I lit small lanterns and Christmas lights and listened to the wind lashing the khrushchyovka. Nothing says “temporary” like a khrushchyovka – nothing says “shadows and dust,” nothing says “only love and God.”

I went to the theater and saw my own work up on the stage – or a reflection of my work – and there was joy and outrage in the audience, and I was so grateful. My husband introduced me to the coat check ladies as “the author.” He would do that, of course. He would drag me backstage afterwards, too. If it wasn’t for him, I’d just leave anonymously – but he’s a different breed of person, not shy, and not ashamed of me. This is something I will also always be grateful for (I think I am now at that age when I can begin to use the word “always” and actually mean it).

I’ve been so bitterly disappointed with Moscow, but even so I have clutched its gifts to my chest. Would I have dared to become a mother anywhere else? It was the wildness of this place, the bones exposed through the supple flesh of civilization, that said “Jump!” Now Lev has gotten to be very tall for a toddler, and is mastering sarcasm. The top of his head smells like last night’s dreams. He seems to be growing so fast that I want to hit “pause” – already looking longingly at babies in prams and remembering when he was tiny.

And I am constantly saying “Oh Moscow” and it comes out differently each time.

*****

The book is going well so far. (What book? THE book. Or possibly A book. I don’t know right now)

*****

And I woke up again in my father’s house and the night was already dented in several places, losing out to one of those slow, scruffy winter dawns. And I said, “I am not prepared to go on this journey, but I am always going on it anyway, I’m not sure where the journey ends and where I begin. It feels like a dress rehearsal for death. Or life eternal. I can’t tell anymore.” And there was nothing anyone could say to that, but there was still good coffee in the offing, and sometimes, that’s the best that any of us can hope for.