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””

My sweetest friend

My sweetest friend

In the early 1990s, in the weeks that led up to our departure to America, I remember walking with my father and cousin on the big stadium across from our building in Kiev. The nights were clear, and something about the lights from the more well-lit blocks of town made the sky above our heads look like a giant bowl – darker and deeper in the middle, full of stars that seemed to have been pulled down there by gravity, lighter on the edges, burnished with a reddish glow like a false dusk or dawn.

This same cousin bought a nice apartment right outside the city and we recently sat in his kitchen and drank Jameson while our sons played in the next room, occasionally interrupting a discussion where everyone did a very good job of steering clear of politics with screeches of delight as a toy train raced around the track.

My cousin and I are still in the “gathering” stage of our life, when people tend to gain more than they lose, when enough doors stand open that one doesn’t feel boxed in and claustrophobic from choices made earlier.

We are also both petulantly jobless at the moment, people who have been knocked around so much professionally that having faith in our careers feels childish.  Continue reading “My sweetest friend”

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”

A decade without

A decade without

When starting a letter to the other side,
I first want to point out that things are mostly fine
I mean, sure, there’s a war on, thousands have died
But I grew some nice boobs while you were away, Sir Robin (ha ha).

The economy you always lamented
Is somehow even deader
Than you could have imagined.

The clubs are still bad.
The roads are the worst.
The rich look like sores about to burst.

I’m penniless and getting older
My home is mostly a man’s shoulder.
I don’t mind.

You were right about my first love
You were right about what men want
The dead are never wrong.
You don’t feel dead to me, though
You’re just carbon no longer
You’re brighter than photons.

I’ve earned so many badges since I saw you last
I’m running out of space for letters on my chest
But it’s like what you always said
What unmakes the mind first unmakes the bed.

My son was playing the piano with his nanny
I walked into the room and had to walk right back out again
Made manifest to me
A message from you in precise calligraphy
Signed with a heart and that half-smile
On my little boy’s DNA
Oh, you’d love him, darling
And he you
Your beauty has so many unexpected homes
From piano keys to the way a bee drones.

There were many wounds I’ve minded.
Many times I’ve said
“What is this goddamn arrow lodged in my chest?”
My armor goes all the way to my bones, as you know
But every arrow eventually finds its way home
And when mine does I think I’ll be less afraid than some
Haven’t I always had you to lean on
When the tower falls
When the hanged man hangs
There it is, there is your face.