Category Archives: about books

being pregnant isn’t all bad…except when it is

i keep forgetting to tell funny stories about interactions i have related to my pregnancy because i get all caught up in the obnoxious interactions. okay, so sometime last week i went to the gap because they were having a big 60% off sale. i had a bought a t-shirt there a few weeks before & it’s kind of extra-long & has an adjustable neckline & it is pretty much PERFECT as an early maternity shirt. plus it’s some kind of magical cotton that stays really cool on my skin even when it’s over 100 degrees out. i wanted to pick up another in a larger size, to accommodate more of the time i will be pregnant.

i also found a cute striped hoodie that was a size or two larger than i usually take & especially baggy in the belly area. it was marked down & once you add the 60% off sale, it was like $6. how could i resist? so i brought them up to the register & the clerk was ringing me up & this conversation happened:

clerk: “oh, i love these hoodies. they are so soft & comfortable, aren’t they?”
me: “yeah, i just hope it still fits okay in the fall when the weather cools down.”
clerk: “oh, totally, because hoodies…can…shrink…when the weather gets cooler?”
me: “um, i’m pregnant. i mean i hope i’m not too big for it by the time i can use it.”
clerk: “OH! congratulations!”
me: *stifling guffaws*

& then the other day i went to walgreen’s & bought myself the intelligender test i wrote about recently–the urine test that purports to tell you the sex of your baby weeks earlier than an ultrasound can? yeah. so, i plunked it down at the register & this happened:
clerk: *picking up the box & marveling at it* “oh my god, is this real?”
me: “um, inasmuch as i am buying it, yes.”
clerk: “i mean, does it really work? can it really tell you if you’re having a boy or a girl?”
me: “i guess i’ll find out the hard way, huh?”
clerk: “oh wow, i didn’t know this existed. this is so cool. which one are you hoping for?”
me: “girl.”
clerk: “wow, this is so cool. good luck!”

endless amusement at the walgreen’s clerk being amazed by the merchandise in her own store. i also find it really amazing how often i have been asked if i prefer a boy or a girl. i’ve been asked by other pregnant women, random strangers, even the nurses at my doctor’s office. apparently it’s not taboo to talk about gender preference anymore. when i say something like, “i just hope it’s healthy!” people look kind of disappointed, like they’re talking to an android sent here from 1994 when that was the appropriate response. now everyone wants to gush about their preferences.

i haven’t done the intelligender test yet. i’m supposed to wait until ten days after my last day of progesterone support if i don’t want to risk a false boy result. but of course i will share the results when once they’re in.

yesterday was a not-so-fun day. i told jared that we needed to start making some decisions about prenatal testing because i am rapidly moving out of the window when the nuchal translucency screening (can identify down syndrome risk factors early) can be performed. he was all, “whatever you think, it’s up to you, don’t ask me, whatever makes you comfortable,” etc. i didn’t know what to choose because i don’t know that i would necessarily abort if prenatal testing turned up birth defects. maybe i would, i honestly have no idea & all i want out of life is to not have to make that decision at all because my little fetus looks perfect. but then he started talking about how having a baby with down syndrome would really change things, & it’s already going to be hard to write a dissertation with a baby full stop, but a disabled baby will complicate things even more, & maybe he would have to reconsider his career goals & give up on being a professor & just teach high school instead because it’s less demanding, etc etc etc. so i was like, “it sounds like you would at least like to be pre-warned.” long story short, we decided to do the NT scan.

i needed to schedule a sonogram anyway to follow up on the chorionic bleed incident from a month ago, make sure the placenta is looking good. so i called up my obstetrician’s nurse & she’s all, “oh yeah, we can schedule that for thursday morning, blah blah blah.” i was pleased. but then she said, “let me just pull up your chart…” & then she was like, “oh, we actually can’t do the NT scan until next week, the 11th or the 12th. what would you prefer?”

i was all, “why the hell not, i thought you could do it anytime between eleven & thirteen weeks?” & she was like, “yeah, but you’re only ten weeks.” i said, “no, i’m eleven weeks four days.” she was all, “well, according to your due date of january 23…” & i was like, “yeah. i know. you have my due date wrong.”

see if you can follow this madness: okay. based on the actual date of conception, which i know to within two days because i was doing infertility treatments, my due date is january 17. my first sonogram, to gauge gestational size, put me pretty much on target with a due date of january 19. the follow-up due date two weeks later (to make sure the embryo was growing properly & appeared viable) showed a slightly smaller embryo & my due date was readjusted to january 23. five days later, i had that bleeding incident & was scheduled for an emergency sonogram to check out the placenta. the embryo had grown like gangbusters since the last sonogram & my due date was readjusted again to january 18. needless to say, this shit is far from an exact science, which is fine with me, i get it. but what is NOT fine with me is that the most recent gestational age estimate was apparently never recorded in my charts, so my doctor is working with the wrong due date & is pushing back my NT scan until i’m twelve weeks, six days along–almost out of the window where it’s effective.

it doesn’t REALLY matter in the greater scheme of things, especially because the baby is more than likely perfectly fine. it just makes me wonder what other simple, obvious thing they’re going to get wrong. these are, after all, the same people who turned up a negative pregnancy blood test when i was indeed pregnant. one more dumb mistake & i’m really going to start wondering if they even have a firm grasp on where babies come from. i am SO tempted to switch doctors, maybe go with the birth center in topeka instead. the only thing holding me back is the fact that i’m due in january & i’m reluctant to take the chance on having to drive to topeka in labor, in a blizzard.

but my irritation has a happy-ish ending: i felt that i needed to take a walk to work out my frustration, so i went to the library, & someone from the local paper was there, interviewing people about their reading material for the “person on the street” feature in the local paper. & she asked me while i was paging through a book on how baby clothing & gear has become so stratified along gender lines. i looked totally sweaty & grumpy in the photo (as in life), i am sure, but hey. it’s always fun to be in the paper, as long as it’s not for, you know, something gruesome & weird. i just feel like a complete doofus because when she asked about my job, i said, “growing a baby.” ugh. i mean, i don’t have a job, & i don’t like to advertise the fact that i’m on disability to strangers, but that was such a stepford wife 1954 thing to say.

a meditation on useless baby gear

sometimes i sleep like a rock, & sometimes i have really bad insomnia. it doesn’t help that the baby has decided that my bladder makes a really nice ottoman. i got up five times last night to pee, which is pretty typical at this point. i know this is one of the most routine & mundane pregnancy symptoms, but i kind of hoped it was another one that people were exaggerating a little (see previous post about the woman who is constantly pissing herself due to pregnancy). every time i went back to bed, i would start thinking about baby gear & what’s necessary & what’s a scam & how we can possibly afford it & where on earth we’re going to put it.

i’m reading a pretty good book right now called parenting inc., which is all about how parents get bamboozled into buying all kinds of useless junk for their babies. i love books like this! even though they pretty much all say the same stuff, & every single one of them devotes an entire chapter to debunking the marketing of baby videos like baby einstein. this book talked about the advent of luxury brands for infants, & the author specifically called out the stokke sleepi, a “sleep system” that can take your baby from birth to seven years as it can be transformed into a bassinet, & then a crib, & then a toddler bed, & then a kid bed, & then a pair of “stylish” chairs. i had never heard of this thing before & looked it up. & then…i admit it…started drooling. it’s not easy to find a non-ugly (read: plastic, augmented with flashing lights, built-in noises, & tacky mobiles) bassinet. & of course i got sucked into the idea that it can be converted for further kid use. i was all, “sure, it costs $700 but it’s an investment!” which is ridiculous. i too plan to use my bed for at least seven years & i would never spend $700 on it. don’t worry, guys, i’m not going to blow my entire baby budget on a sleepi. even though i did find a woman a craig’s list selling hers for $150. that’s how much a new ugly plastic bassinet costs & i vowed i’d never spend that much, but when it’s a $550 savings off retail price, your eyes start to cross & you start to rationalize poor decisions.

i have thrown the question out to parent friends: what do i REALLY need for my baby? what are the bare necessities, especially for a couple that plans to do some form of attachment parenting? how many onesies does the average baby require? how many cloth diapers are good to have on hand? is there any baby purchase you made that proved to be especially useful? is there anything you were led to believe you needed that wound up being completely useless?

one of the first answers i got was, “every mama i know swears by the sleep sheep, which is a little toy lamb that emits white noise & helps baby sleep.” um…that is like the definition of a useless piece of baby gear that parents are bamboozled into wanting because a) they think it provides a useful function (what parent doesn’t want to help their baby sleep, & will do almost anything to make sure the kid stays asleep once it’s down?), & b) it’s fucking adorable. but in no world can a sleep sheep be considered a necessity. i asked if my box fan or humidifier or air conditioner couldn’t achieve the same function, since i use them for white noise for myself. i guess the sleep sheep is helpful because it’s portable. toss it in the car seat with the kid & it’ll stay asleep even while you’re out running errands.

i don’t know, dude. people have been running errands with their babies for a long time & somehow they got by without a sleep sheep. jared said it should be called the “don’t wake up sheeple”.

a couple of other friends were like, “well, besides the necessities (diapers, onesies, crib), it’s also helpful to have…” blah blah blah. wait, what? since when is a crib a necessity? i had specifically asked what we need if we want to co-sleep, which by definition cuts a crib out of the equation. & even some moms i know who didn’t intend to co-sleep did anyway because it seemed easier in action, & their kids never used their cribs. one of them–totally not a crunchy earth mama at all–named her crib as her #1 most useless baby purchase. i read a book about “organic parenting” that went on & on & ON about how great it is to breastfeed & baby wear & cloth diaper & dress your little one in organic onesies, but it also listed a crib (& all its attendant matching bedding sets) as a necessity. how did we get to this point that otherwise thinking, hippie parents (way more hippie than me!) just roll with the idea that every baby needs a crib? get a crib if you want, but it’s not a necessity the way diapers are a necessity.

though i was telling jared about the american-made versus chinese cloth diaper controversy & how one buy USA cloth diapering mama went so far as to insist that if you can’t afford made-in-the-USA cloth diapers, you should let your baby go diaper-free & just hold it over the toilet when it looks like there’s a proverbial train a-comin’. jared said, “if you managed to time it right even like 60% of the time, that would be like a superpower.” i told him, “it’s far more likely that i would be really cocky about knowing when the baby needs to go & i’d whisk it off to the bathroom & you’d pop in like five minutes later to see how things were going & you’d catch me holding the baby’s hand in warm water.” so, according to some people, diapers are a bourgeois indulgence. but pranking your baby is forever.

the existential crisis prompted by filthy lucre

so, last week i talked jared into driving us to topeka to bask in the wonders of the baby industrial complex that is babies r’ us. but wouldn’t you know it? as soon as we pulled off the highway & into the city, the car started making this awful clunking noise & kind of shuddering every time it changed gears. i know next to nothing about cars & i figured we’d just driven over an especially egregious bump in the road, but jared knew better & suspected the worst of all possible car repairs: a bad transmission.

we tried to enjoy ourselves anyway, hoping that sitting unused in the parking lot for an hour or two would magically heal the car, but of course we both felt anxious, which made the babies r’ us experience even more horrible than it would have been on a good day. & trust me when i say that babies r’ us is a very depressing place. the topeka store has an especially distressing dollar store vibe to it. actual dollar stores can get away with being kind of plasticky & depressing because, hello, everything costs a dollar! but when i’m looking at stuff that costs hundreds & hundreds of dollars, i want a somewhat more luxurious environment. nothing says “aspirational consumer experience” quite like shopping for supplies for your first baby. so let’s see fewer pacifiers embossed with the words “future diva” & more silk-stuffed organic crib mattresses, please.

this all transpired last tuesday. on thursday, we finally got around to calling mechanics, & i was shocked when they all wanted us to make an appointment to bring our car in. & all available appointments were several days into the future. i’ve only had to take the car to the mechanic once, & they not only allowed me to bring in my car immediately, but they had it fixed & ready to roll within a couple of hours.

our appointment was for monday, & the mechanic finally called us late on tuesday with his diagnostic: bad transmission. he gave us the option of replacing a few broken parts & a fluid flush for around $1400, or a complete transmission replacement (with a used transmission) for $2200. bear in mind that we only spent $2800 on this car when we bought it. i know there’s probably some punk rocker reading this, feeling all smug because he gets around solely by bicycle, thinking the chickens are coming home to roost thanks to our yuppie asshole car-owning ways. when that punk rocker becomes an arthritic pregnant woman who lives three miles away from the closest grocery store in a town with very patchy public transportation that nonetheless is routinely 95-105 degrees for four months out of the year, maybe then we can talk about poor life choices, okay? we don’t use our car much, probably only about 2000 miles a year, but it’s helpful to have it for things like grocery shopping, going to the airport, visiting friends across town & not being beholden to other friends to give us rides, doctor appointments, etc.

luckily i have been hoarding money like a great depression survivor because i still have no idea how much all of my prenatal care & baby delivery is going to cost me out of pocket. the payment info i got my from my doctor said that an uncomplicated vaginal delivery costs $3000, & of course they will bill my insurance before they bill me, but that price doesn’t include any medications, anesthesia, hospital stay, IV fluids, prenatal care, sonograms, et al. & of course we will also have to buy a separate insurance program for the baby & hire a pediatrician, & i couldn’t even begin to guess how much that will cost. i doubt any of it will really plunge us into poverty (so long as the baby does not require the services of the NICU), but it’s going to require some shuffling around of budgetary priorities & i don’t know how bad the hit will be. the baby may also be eligible to collect social security as a child of a disabled parent, which would really help, but we still need to see a lawyer about all that stuff (another expense).

suffice to say that i have been a little bit freaked out about money lately.

i am reading this personal finance book that is supposedly, according to all the reviews i’ve read, really life-affirming & not scary, etc etc, but right now, just thinking about money even in the abstract sense is scary to me, & the book isn’t helping. it asks good questions, like, “what do you want your money to do for you? are you spending your money on what you truly value?” the author is trying to get readers to rethink the traditional wisdom that you should be spending like 45% of your income on housing & transportation costs, for example. maybe you value having a large/expensive home less than you value being able to travel, so maybe you can downsize into a less expensive home & use the difference to travel. it’s good advice, but housing & transportation (even accounting for occasional catastrophic emergency car repairs) is only costing me about 22% of my income. compared against the approximately 30% of my income that goes straight into a savings account for emergencies. i did try to use the book to figure out what i value & what i want my money to do for me. this is the boring shit i came up with:

i want to be able to pay all my bills without going into debt.
i want to be able to buy whatever i want at the grocery store.
i want to be able to go out to eat pretty much whenever i want without worrying too much.
i want to be able to buy a monthly pool pass.
i want to be able to pay all my baby-related medical bills without going into debt.
i want to be able to buy all the start-up stuff we need for the baby without going into debt.
i want to be able to do all of this without dipping too heavily (or at all) into my emergency savings.

this kind of makes me feel like a loser. i don’t have bigger dreams than this? i don’t want to, say, spend a week in paris before i’m 35? or have the funds to self-publish a book? or even buy a family membership to the kansas city zoo or something? my only “experiential” expenses (which experts say inspire more happiness that object expenses) are going out to eat (by which i mostly mean being able to order pizza like once a week) & going to the pool. i mean, the pool is awesome & pizza is delicious, but damn. life has beaten me down & the bar is now very low. i basically just want to be able to afford to put one foot in front of the other without leaning on my credit card. a worthy goal, to be sure, but also a very quotidian one.

the one where my readers put CPS on speed-dial

one of my facebook bros posted a link to this news story, along with some color commentary about how the teacher is guilty of child abuse. i read it, did a google search for it, read a few other related articles, & then strolled into the bedroom, where jared was working on his computer.

ciara: “jared? i have a parenting a question for you.”
jared: “oh, good. that means that if i don’t answer it right away, it’s not a big deal.” (hilarious, because i am still only about seven weeks pregnant.)
ciara: “so, hypothetically, let’s say our kid is born. & now it’s eight years old. & it’s the end of the school year & the kid’s teacher organizes a little awards ceremony & gives our kid an award for having the most excuses for not completing its homework. what would you think about that?”
jared: “where did the teacher get the award?”
ciara: “at the store. i don’t know. it’s just one of those teacher certificate things.”
jared: “they make certificates for that? it seems so specific.”
ciara: “yeah, i assume it’s a ceremony where each kids gets a specialized award for something about its personality or behavior or something.”
jared: “but that seems so specific to be printed on a certificate.”
ciara: “oh! no. dude. the teacher just bought blank certificates & wrote in the categories. i mean…duh. you’re ridiculous.”
jared: “oh, that makes a lot more sense.”
ciara: “so what would you think if our kid brought home this award?”
jared: “well, it would mean our kid wasn’t doing its homework.”
ciara: “i guess. probably.”
jared: “& going to school & lying about it.”
ciara: “i guess.”
jared: “& probably lying to us about it, because we would probably be asking if it had homework to do.”
ciara: “yeah, i guess.”
jared: “well, i wouldn’t be happy.”
ciara: “because of the award or…?”
jared: “about the lying! & the not doing the homework!”
ciara: “that’s it? you wouldn’t be worried that the award was, like, shaming the kid? or embarrassing it?”
jared: “i really feel that being ‘shamed’ by a certificate is ancillary to the larger problem, which is that our kid is a lying sneak.”
ciara: “would you do anything about it?”
jared: “yeah, i’d be instituting regular homework checks & letting the kid know that lying is not okay.”
ciara: “i mean, would you complain to the school at all?”
jared: “about what? about the fact that our kid is a liar?”
ciara: “about the award?”
jared: “you mean, would i complain to the school because it heckled our kid for bad behavior? no way! kids get made fun of in elementary school. it’s just…what happens in elementary school. if the worst thing that happens is that your teacher gently heckles you for being a liar, you’re getting off easy.”
ciara: “i guess it’s true that any kid that can’t handle getting heckled is no kid of ours. we heckle the cat like every day.”
jared: “i heckled her like ten minutes ago.”
ciara: “man, i am really relieved that we are going to be parenting this kid together. i totally agree with everything you said.”

maybe i am missing something, but i really don’t see anything wrong with this award. sounds to me like the mom was embarrassed that her kid got publicly busted for trying to weasel out of doing homework. my facebook bro was like, “what if the girl has learning disabilities & that’s why she’s not doing her homework? this teacher should be ashamed.” well, what if? wouldn’t it make an even more compelling “bullying teacher” narrative if the teacher was busting the chops of a kid with learning disabilities? you’d think the mom would have thrown that in while she was making a federal case about everything. i’m not sure how teachers are supposed to teach when they are expected to walk of eggshells around something as basic as trying to enforce the fact that homework is supposed to be completed & turned in. in the absence of any indemnifying evidence that this teacher was lashing out at only this one little girl & had constructed a whole elaborate shame ceremony, perhaps in which the teacher gave the other students rotten vegetables with which to pelt her, i’m gonna go ahead & say that i hope my kid has a teacher that feels comfortable joshing around like this when it gets born & starts going to school. if i wanted to raise a selfish, entitled, “look out for my delicate self-esteem” crybaby, i’d just unschool it & set it loose on tumblr for language arts class.

that reminded me of how last week i read this book about “organic parenting,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: surrounding your child with only the most organic of all materials, food, & life experiences. according to this book, everything off-gases. give your kid a plastic teething ring & you have only yourself to blame when your baby immediately develops eyebrow cancer or something. i was telling my therapist about this & i said, “so apparently, everything i do is going to give my baby prenatal autism or make it turn inside out or whatever.” she said, “oh my god! what illness would make your baby turn inside out?” i tried to explain, “oh, that’s just my go-to ‘something bad will happen to my baby’ thing, just because it’s so absurd, it makes me laugh,” but i was thinking, seriously, lady? you have two kids of your own, do you really think there’s seriously a condition out there that makes babies turn inside out?

anyway, my favorite part of this “organic baby” book was the sentence, “do you have a game plan for what you’ll do if your child starts running toward a play structure made of pressure-treated wood?” i guess the concern is that some pressure-treated wood contains traces of arsenic. so i guess my game plan would be to NOT hand my child a knife & fork & call the guinness folks over because my kid is going to attempt to set a world record in pressure-treated wooden play structure-eating? otherwise, i’m not real worried. i mean, cory dollaganger in flowers in the attic had to eat a shitload of donuts powdered with arsenic before he finally snuffed it. i don’t think a good solid lick of the play structure is going to have much impact. & this is why i continue to read terrible books: there is usually some funny buried in the terrible, somewhere.

opting in…by co-opting the original research & writings of other feminists

well, this book could not possibly have been more disappointing. the subtitle is “having a child without losing yourself,” & based on that & the back cover blurb, i guess i was expecting a book about balancing motherhood with one’s feminist principles, & trying to create a society that values the contributions of mothers as people as well. amy richards is one of the co-authors of manifesta, a popular third-wave feminist book that i found aggravatingly simplistic, elementary, & watered down. i had hoped that she would get a little more specific in writing about motherhood. i had hoped that she might have learned from some of the critiques of manifesta & succeed in writing a book that speaks to more than just the experiences of her specific cohort: white heterosexually partnered women in their early 30s living in new york city & enjoying the relative financial privileges of making a living in a creative industry. alas, if this does not describe you, you are unlikely to get much out of opting in.

the book was written in response to a piece in the “new york times magazine,” called “the opt-out revolution”. it was a very widely-debated piece about the phenomenon of a certain type of mother (well-educated, reasonably class-privileged) choosing to eschew career for a life of stay-at-home motherhood. when i say it was “widely-debated,” i mean that a lot of people threw around a lot of opinions about it without having actually read the article. i read it. i thought it was very well-written & interesting, & far from being the first cannon fire in the new round of early oughts mommy wars or a screed about women shortchanging their kids by going back to work, or wasting their promise wiping noses all day, it seemed to examine the flawed underpinnings of the mommy wars & conclude that success & satisfaction can be defined by the individual.

add richards to the pile of folks who did not seem to actually read the article. she seems to have skimmed it with a lot of pre-conceived notions about its content & then taken umbrage with the conclusions she assumes the author was making. so, from the start, the book is based on a faulty premise. adding to the shaky foundation is richards’ conception of herself as a voice for the modern-day feminist–& she is a classic third-wave “i choose my choice/everything i do is a woman’s movement” feminist. she had a baby, so suddenly being a mom is an area of feminist inquiry. i do think that being a mom can be an area of feminist inquiry–it just bothers me when people don’t realize that until they themselves are moms. especially when they have made a career out of watering feminism down to become basically just an amusing phase for single freewheeling college girls.

even if the book had been less about how to “be a mother without losing yourself” & more a memoir about richards’ own experience balancing motherhood & feminist activism (such as her work is activism–does it still count as activism when it’s basically your career?), it would have been better than what we actually got. the book is really just an incredibly boring, tedious rehash of the research on achieving work-life balance. allow me to say that the phrase “work-life balance” is essentially code for “reasonably class-privileged women feel guilty about everything & manifest that guilt as endless judgments against one another & complaining about how difficult it is to be true to yourself in between the latest board meeting & little madison’s ballet recital”. i’ve pretty much never heard a poor working mom get all fluttery about work-life balance. it speaks to the privileged bubble that richards lives in that this is where she took her book.

she essentially wrote nothing but an annotated bibliography. the text is a tapestry woven of other writers’ research & ideas, & at no point does richards offer anything new & original. she liberally employs barbara ehrenreich’s writing about the medicalization of childbirth & misogyny in medicine in the chapter on birth options. she synopsizes judith warner’s obnoxious perfect madness when she writes about parenting strategies. it’s as if she just camped out in the new york public library like a diligent undergraduate, read her way through a shelf on motherhood, & then regurgitated it all into a manuscript. & because she is a professional feminist, it got published. she includes only the most cursory acknowledgment that there are mothers in the world that are not white &/or class-privileged–clearly hoping to avoid falling into the trap she set for second-wave feminists in exorciating them for snubbing poor women & women of color. but her efforts here are almost painfully tokenizing, & of course, her conception of feminist history is inherently self-serving. richards herself has done rather a lot to help erase the legacy of women of color in second wave feminism by parroting back the viewpoint that they didn’t exist or were shunted to the sidelines & it’s up to the good white feminists of the third wave to welcome women of color into the movement.

richards also has an obnoxious habit of seeming to celebrate her own ignorance. again & again, she writes about how she didn’t realize how serious such & such an issue was until she got pregnant or became a mother. while i appreciate her attempts to not portray herself as an omniscient feminist overlord, some of the shit she never considered until it was directly affecting her is just embarrassing. i personally would be embarrassed to admit that i’ve been a full-time feminist for fifteen years but had never really thought before about the complications of finding good, affordable child care. i’ve written before about richards’ essay on undergoing a selective reduction when she found herself pregnant with triplets, & how she wrote about being completely unfamiliar with the concept of selective reduction until she needed one herself. really? REALLY? it’s like she’s admitting to fashioning a completely solipsistic activist career & everyone is applauding her for it!

a quote from the book that kind of sums things up: “i had read susan faludi’s backlash & considered myself well-versed in how the media systematically works to undermine women.” really? you read one of the most well-known feminist texts in the history of the english language, which is all about how the media works to undermine women, & now you’re “well-versed” in the subject? i love how she consumes the research & writing of other women & then spits it back out again, completely unadorned with her own original analysis, & claims that it’s knowledge she now possesses. if you want to read 250 pages of this kind of bargain basement “i read a book! now come to my class at the learning annex!” bullshit, this is the book for you. but if you, like me, prefer to spend your time reading books by people who can not just consume & repeat, but can also think, philosophize, & WRITE (seriously, richards is not a great writer–half the time, she employs overwrought sentence structure peppered with words that i don’t think mean what she thinks they mean, & the rest of the time, she falls into the jessica valenti camp of hyperbolizing everything until she’s not even coherent anymore), give this one a wide berth.

how i started to worry about my consumer choices

this is kind of a scary article.

i have never been a fan of amazon. in 1999, i moved from ohio to portland, oregon, & immediately landed a job in the genre room at powell’s books, one of the world’s largest independent bookstores. i headed up the romance, thriller, nautical fiction, & books on tape sections, & eventually took over erotica. in this era of protesting the WTO & anarchist summit-hopping, agitating for local stores versus huge corporate behemoths was a no-brainer. & for me, living in portland & working at one of the best independent bookstores around, it was all too easy to relax upon my high horse & exhort people to shop local.

for over ten years, i did as little business with amazon as i could. which isn’t to say i did no business with them. i definitely ordered things from them, including things i could have gotten at local independent shops. when i got hooked on the harry potter series, i pre-ordered them from amazon instead of standing in line for a midnight release at a local shop. not because there were no local shops doing midnight releases, but because i was just too embarrassed to stand in line with a bunch of little kids. (i did do the midnight release thing for the seventh book. it wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as i expected it to be, although i think jared disagrees, because he just walked me to the bookstore & refused to wait with me.) i bought all ten seasons of “friends” on DVD from amazon, even though i could have purchased them at a local music shop that sold movies. i don’t even have a good excuse for that one. maybe buying from amazon saved me a few dollars. when you’re living on $525 a month (as i was at the time), even $2 or $3 in savings can make a difference.

but since i moved to kansas, my good intentions have gone right out the window. & especially since jared & i started trying to get knocked up. there’s a company called formosa medical that sells unbelievably inexpensive, reliable, bulk pregnancy tests & ovulation tests. a bag of fifty tests costs $15 on by comparison, a box of three generic drugstore tests will cost at least $4–& if you want to get fancy & splurge on a box of five digital pregnancy tests, you’re going to be spending $17 for the privilege. buying cheapo tests on amazon has saved me literally hundreds of dollars–because, trust me, when you have been trying for months on end to get pregnant, no amount of logical thinking & common sense is going to stop you from testing three, five, ten, fifteen times a day. i also console myself with the knowledge that the cheapo tests are tiny slips of paper with no ecologically destructive plastic casing…but amazon’s super saver shipping makes it too easy to start shopping around for a few more items to add to your cart to take that $15 pregnancy test order up to $25 & qualify for free shipping. why not throw in some fancy french bubble bath, or a pair of jeans on sale, or an obscure book about conception that isn’t available at the local library, or a box of typewriter ribbons that i’d have to mail order anyway? this is but a small sampling of things i’ve purchased from amazon in the last year–justifying it by telling myself that i wouldn’t have been able to get these things from a local independent store anyway.

but that doesn’t mean i couldn’t have mail ordered these items from an independent store. maybe i would have spent more for the items in question, or for shipping, & i would have had to piecemeal the orders rather than doing convenient one-stop shopping…what i’m trying to say is that even though i recognize the consumer tricks amazon uses to trick people into spending more money with them (after all, i ran my own business–a zine distro–for seven years & i used some of these same tricks myself), i have fallen for them over & over again.

one thing i haven’t done is purchased an e-reader. don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind. i have severe arthritis in my hands & holding books & magazines is routinely a painful experience for me. i have often wondered if having an e-reader that i can prop on a pillow & only touch to turn the “pages” might save me a lot of stress in the joints of my hands, because i read A LOT. but i haven’t done it. for a lot of reasons. i am really attached to the aesthetics of books. i like page weight, paper quality, the smell of a book. i don’t want to fuss with another electronic device that i’ll have to remember to keep charged. & all the restrictions around e-readers confused the hell out of me. some platforms only let you download books in their stores. it seems like no platform features every book i could ever want to read. for more obscure titles, i’d still have to track down paper copies. i wouldn’t know what to do with titles i didn’t want anymore. you can’t sell a used e-book to a bookstore or pass it off to a friend. i like to read books in the bathtub, which isn’t something i’d chance with an expensive e-reader. & i read dozens upon dozens of books every year from the library. how would that work with an e-reader? i have no interest in shelling out $10-$20 for every book i want to read, when i read well over one hundred books a year.

& add to this the fact that so far there is no small, independent e-reader company. to jump on this bandwagon, i’d inevitably end up supporting a huge corporation. ironically, books are pretty much the one area where i haven’t fallen under amazon’s spell. i don’t judge other people from getting in on the e-reader craze–everyone has their own priorities as a consumer & i recognize that being a paper book hold-out is going to make me something of a dinosaur within the next twenty years. but it really scares me to think that this monumental technological development could totally change the entire culture of publishing & bookselling.

(caveat: this is not a topic about which i know a lot, but i do know that i’m not making any novel critiques here, & that people are working on solutions to a lot of the issues i bring up here. maybe they will be solutions that enable me to go crazy with an e-reader; maybe they will just end up making me commit to paper books even more. i’m just trying to nip any condescending “let me tell you about why e-readers are so awesome” comments in the bud before they start.)

the journal of best practices: it’s not asshole disease

arguably the most exciting thing about this book, for me, is that it’s a memoir by a guy who diagnosed himself with asperger’s syndrome using an internet quiz. this is something i joke about all the time! i used to be a member of this online feminist community, & one of the most annoying members in the community had diagnosed herself with asperger’s using an internet quiz. every time she got called out for saying something stupid, she was always like, “stop being mean! the internet says i’m neuroatypical!” my favorite was the time she wrote a long, gushing post about how she helped deliver her friend’s baby because the birth clinic the friend had intended to use was closed for the weekend. yes. i forgot about how birth clinics maintain 9am-5pm monday-friday hours & all the women that go into labor on evenings or weekends get stuck doing unintentional home births with no one to help them out except for their bedraggled hippie friends. she also posted about food not bombs all the time & was like, “hey guys! there’s this awesome organization that feeds homeless people using dumpstered goods! maybe you’ve heard of them but i don’t know because they’re pretty underground & obscure. they’re called food not bombs. i think they’ve only been around for like 35 years or so.” that girl was so obnoxious that diagnosing yourself with asperger’s via an internet quiz couldn’t help but become a joke.

i wonder how ol’ david finch here feels about the fact that his book was released the same month as the news that autism is being wildly overdiagnosed these days became front page news from coast to coast? especially in light of how the book is all about how his marriage was teetering on the brink of collapse until he realized that he was autistic, & then he & his wife worked together to help him learn how to behave in more socially acceptable/neurotypical ways (even if he was just playacting his way through it).

i guess i should also note that after the internet told him he was autistic, he saw a doctor who confirmed the diagnosis. but, you know, doctors are the ones behind the over-diagnosing epidemic…i’m not saying this dude isn’t actually autistic, but a lot of shit he writes about in the book sounded more like a dude that is kind of socially inept, a little bit self-centered, & goofy, & less like a dude that is autistic. then again, i’m not an occupational therapist, so maybe i don’t know what the hell i’m talking about.

i kind of feel bad for the dude’s family. someday his kids are going to be old enough to read the book & finch doesn’t really come off as a great, involved dad. though i guess by the time his kids are old enough to read & understand the book, they’ll probably have already caught on to that fact. finch writes about how part of being autistic is that he is very obsessive about his daily routines. his morning routine involves getting up a full hour after his wife gets up with the kids, having a glass of water, downing some vitamins, & luxuriating in a hot shower for at least an hour. meanwhile, his wife is getting the kids dressed & fed & ready for the babysitter, while also getting herself dressed & ready for work, trying to fit in some bathroom time in between the dude’s crazy shower schedule…so he decided that it would be a nice husband thing to do if he got up earlier & took over some of the child care duties. this involved running off to the bathroom to check in with his wife about every little thing the kids needed. he seriously asked her if the kids were allowed to have juice after they requested juice. he asked if the little girl was allowed to wear the dress she had requested. once the kids finished breakfast, he plopped them down in their pajamas in front of the TV rather than getting them dressed & ready to go to the babysitter’s house. not exactly what i would call helpful, you know?

which he acknowledges. but rather than being amused by the foibles of this clueless dad, i instead felt sad. his older kid is like four years old. how does a person share his home with a child for four years without having any awareness of whether or not it’s okay for that four-year-old to have some morning OJ? it sounds like the dude has been completely checked out, & while a disability will certainly do that to a person, it still made me feel sad for everyone involved. but the way the book was written, i didn’t get the sense that i was supposed to feel sad. i got the sense that i was supposed to be chuckling & enjoying the hijinks.

he also writes a lot about how he brought a lot of pre-conceived ideas about gender into his marriage. he assumed that his wife would do the lion’s share of the child care & enjoy every second of it. he also assumed that she would take on most, if not all, of the housework, leaving him free to pursue his busy schedule of hour-long showers & nightly wanderings around the house to make sure all the lights are off. this, despite the fact that both he & his wife work. he would even have the gall to suggest that “we make an effort to keep up with the chores” when the laundry was washed & dried, but not yet put away, & to compare his wife unfavorably to the stay-at-home mom next door who always manages to have fresh cookies baked & a pork loin ready for dinner. he seems to be implying that his autism was somehow responsible for these sexist ideas–that this is how his parents’ relationship functioned, so it became a routine in his life that he expected his wife to maintain.

i was reminded of an incident a few years ago in which i volunteered at an anarchist bookstore with a woman who was being stalked. the bookstore was contemplating the possibility of banning the stalker from the space for, you know, stalking & terrorizing one of the volunteers. he explained to a couple of other volunteers that he didn’t mean to scare the woman; he was autistic & not great with social cues & thought he was just flirting. my response was, “it’s autism. it’s not Asshole Disease.” since when does atypical neurological functioning make it okay to be a fucking misogynist?

& granted, finch does acknowledge his sexism & begins making an effort to change it. it’s just amazing that his marriage lasted as long as it has, you know? long enough that he could begin the process of transformation & write this book. i wish him & his family the best of luck, but i am legitimately concerned that other people will read this book, diagnose themselves with autism on the internet, & use it as an excuse to behave selfishly.