A long time ago in, quite literally, another life, I lived in Los Angeles. In Brentwood, on the corner of Montana and San Vicente, with its tree-lined meridian that slopes gently down to the ocean (a perfect six-mile run to the beach and back.) My life happily fulfilled many LA stereotypes: At the Whole Foods across the street, I’d regularly bump into my “neighbors”: Jennifer Garner, or Ted Danson, or Reese Witherspoon, or Brooke Shields (one time when I saw her and happened to be wearing a Princeton t-shirt, I stalked her around the store, hoping she’d start up a conversation, “Oh, what year were you?”) And, of course, at yoga I’d see dozens more celebrities: Kerri Russell, John Cusak, Lisa Rinna (is she a celebrity?), the guy who played Kramer from Seinfeld, and most notably, Gwenyth, who practiced ashtanga next to me for two ego-bashing weeks. I was friends with both an honest-to-goodness raw-food vegan and a successful television writer and producer who threw parties in the Hollywood Hills (where you’d park your car down the hill and a private bus would shuttle guests up and down to the house all night long.) When I catch an essence of Eucalyptus or see a purple that reminds me of the spring jacaranda, I miss Los Angeles terribly – I miss these friends, too, who sadly have slipped away along with this former life.
Many aspects of my life in Los Angeles were pretty fabulous. There was, of course, the wine – $10-a-bottle, incredible wine that doesn’t necessarily get exported out-of-state. I wasn’t working too, too hard at the time. Despite being a high school teacher and/or freelance writer (and despite all the wine), I found plenty of time also to be fabulously in shape. Not only did I run on the beach almost every day, but I spent my weekends hiking in the Malibu hills, I had a twice-a-week personal Pilates trainer (what?), and, of course, I did yoga. Religiously and fervently. I went on yoga retreats to the desert in Joshua Tree and to Brazil. I actually meditated. And for a stretch, I got up every morning at 5:30 for a two-hour Mysore practice. I stopped eating meat, most dairy, and wheat. I read the Bhagavhad Gita. I had a mantra.
Like any other addiction, I suppose, my devotion to/obsession with yoga was filling another hole in my life. But when I left Los Angeles, the hardest thing for me was leaving behind my yoga studio and teachers. When I started practicing again on the East Coast, it was hard for me to abandon the rigors of an ashtanga practice, as frustrating and sometimes un-enjoyable that practice was for me.
I did find a great studio in Cambridge and, for a time, got myself devoted again (sweating through a teacher training retreat in Hawaii, practicing for 40 days straight, volunteering at the studio, going on a fruit fast…). I realized recently, however, that I have not practiced yoga since before the holidays. Getting to and from class is a 2+ hour endeavor. In that time, I could step out my door, run six miles, shower, and still feed my baby. Nevertheless, the words of my aforementioned vegan friend have been circling around me: “When you think you can’t find time for yoga is when you need it the most.” My eight-month-post-baby body is aching (shoulders, back, neck from nursing, picking up an increasingly heavy child, lugging the stroller up and down steps, working, etc. etc., sob sob), I’ve had a low grade cold for a month, and my mind is restless. It’s time to go back, though obviously I cannot commit to a 90 minute class, five times a week. I’ve been focusing on running recently: it’s a quick-fix, an immediate endorphin booster, instant gratification in so many ways, physically and mentally. Is running my new yoga? I hate that time forces me to choose between them (in my Los Angeles days I would practice ashtanga for two hours and then run for another. I was 10 pounds lighter, yes…but – a good lesson learned – certainly no happier…exercise can be an excellent avoidance technique).
When I started this blog, I created a category called “yoga.” But this is the first time I’ve had anything to write about it – two years ago, this blog would have been mostly about yoga: how my practice went that day, what I was eating, what was up at the studio, and replete with links to every yoga publication out there. Yesterday, I posted a query on a mom’s listserve I belong to for a recommendation for a good masseuse or chiropractor for my back. A woman wrote me back a long message about some Eastern treatments she has been getting for similar problems. We began an all-day email exchange about our experiences with alternative medicine. I’ve never met this woman and probably never will, but this serendipitous exchange stirred up something in me. So this evening, instead of hitting the gym for a six-mile run, I may take my mat two blocks further to Back Bay yoga and see what’s up over there. Or I may get real with my current life: 20 minutes on the living room floor will do.
You know that the saga of Britney Spears is a lasting cultural phenomenon when the Times (deigns to) write about it (here). Makes me want to move to L.A. and be an entertainment lawyer. Just think of all the craziness! You could set up the contracts, licensing deals, irrevocable trusts — the whole deal.
My night of Oscar-viewing was kind of a bust. We took the Little Bug out for an early dinner (5:30!) at Charley’s, and then after putting her to bed flipped on Barbara Walters. We didn’t even make it through her whole show, and by 7:45 were both in bed with the remnants of the Sunday Times. And by 9 p.m., were sound asleep. I had not seen any of the nominated movies this year — violence, blood, and suspense are not my thing. Movies like Juno are my thing, and I did manage to see that over Christmas. And on Saturday night we watched Gone Baby, Gone. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it at all (see above re: violence and suspense), but Tim convinced me that I needed to if only because it was filmed in Southie. And, indeed, he got very excited at the scene that took place in the bar Murphy’s Law, which was just down the street from his old house.
The movie raised some sharp ethical and moral questions, and the ending was perfect: I was wholly conflicted about what I would have done in Patrick’s situation — my gut instinct was tempered by the final scene. To the big “you” out there: Netflix it asap! Anyway, there was one scene in the movie where Patrick asks an older detective where he’s from. “Louisiana,” the detective replies. Patrick says (in his thick, thick, but spot-on Boston accent), “Oh, I thought you were from here.” And the cop says something to the effect of: “I’ve lived here longer than you’ve been alive, so how do you define ‘from here’?” That’s a question that has long interested me, and especially as it is portrayed in literature (and, I suppose, film). Inspired and awed by the mountains during my first summer in Sun Valley, I wrote my senior thesis on Wallace Stegner (a thesis whose title, which Lindsey actually came up with, shamefully escapes me! “From Myth to Mountain”? “From Mountain to Myth”? Something like that — sorry, Linds!) and how one’s attachment to landscape and geography has been manifested in the genre of “Western-American” literature. Gone Baby, Gone was as much a movie about one’s attachment to one’s geographic roots as its underlying mystery. The characters’ ties to the city inform many of their actions. While I haven’t seen or read any of Dennis Lehane’s other works, I understand that Boston is as much a character in them as any person. Perhaps this is also why I love the Spenser mysteries of Robert B. Parker — the minuscule details of life in Boston are perfectly captured. But I loved these books even before living here; indeed, when I finally moved here, in some ways the city already felt familiar.
A milestone on Saturday: after a big snowfall, by afternoon the streets were relatively clear, or at least the snow was well-packed. The sky was brilliant, but the light was fading to glowing by the time I went out for my run. I ran down the Comm. Ave. Mall and through the Public Garden, around the Common to Tremont street, all the way down Tremont to the Aquarium and the waterfront; past Long Wharf and down through the North End. At some point, not really knowing where I was but guided by a vague sense of direction, I turned left, and ran out of the North End, popping up by the Boston Garden. I ended up on Cambridge Street, running along the West Side of Beacon Hill (past the new Whole Foods), and then headed out over the Longfellow Bridge and the left along the Cambridge side of the Charles, past the Mass. Ave bridge, all the way down to the B.U. bridge, where I finally turned around and ran back, now along hard-packed snow, to the Mass. Ave. and back over it — as the sun set on the financial district and Beacon Hill to my left — to Back Bay. Eight miles! I didn’t set out to do that much, but I neither did I set out with a clearly defined route. Amazing that Boston is small enough that eight miles could take me over so much ground, criss-crossing the river. I think what kept me going was my own unfolding sense of place: I live here now. I am a Murphy, my daughter was born here, and, after far too many moves between both coasts and in between, I’ve (finally) planted roots. I still may neglect the Boston Globe for the Times, but slowly, New York City is fading as my geographic touchstone. As the character in the movie suggested, nativity is not the only thing that makes you “of” a place. The thrill of the first dusting of snow on the Sawtooths, the green Malibu hills falling into the Pacific, or, seen from across the wide Charles, the Hancock building glowing a firey orange in the sunset, roots me to my geography. And this sense of place triggers an elusive, almost heartbreaking, ping of inspiration that I find nowhere else.
Public service announcement: My hilarious friends at Pax Aracana have alerted me to an alarming development over at Starbucks. Not only do the baristas need a quality refresher, but they are actually going to CLOSE next Tuesday! Help!
This week’s Newsweek cover story is a profile of Michelle Obama. It was a thorough story, and I think more interesting than the actual story itself (as a piece of ground-breaking journalism or anything) was the choice to put her on the cover. Would they do that for Cindy McCain? I can say with some certainty: obviously not. Michelle does play a significant role in her husband’s campaign. But more important, her appearance on the cover almost celebrates that she’ll be a wholly different model of First Lady — she will reflect the growing cadre of us out here: women who live first and foremost with intelligence and integrity and, in doing so, can love their jobs, children, and husbands equally.
To underscore that idea, even more compelling was an accompanying first-person essay by Raina Kelley, “A Real Wife, In a Real Marriage.” Kelley writes:
Part of Michelle’s strength is that she has been immune to the mommy wars that tripped up Hillary during Bill’s campaigns. The baking-versus-working tension is irrelevant for her; black women have never been burdened with the luxury of choice. Our heritage does not include the gilded cage, and we certainly never fought to labor outside the home—black women have always worked. This is why many of us never inherited the remorse about balancing work and family that plagues our white counterparts. For Michelle, voters have read this as self-assurance—appealing to young voters who are optimistic that they will find a balance between career and home.
This particular passage struck a real chord with me: how fortunate I am to have the option to work or stay home with my child in the first place. This hand-wringing and remorse that saturates the internet (blogosphere), fiction (see, e.g., Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It), journalism, and even current television shows (hello Lipstick Jungle/Cashmere Mafia) about women who try to have it all (and, as the story line would go, find out we can’t) is experienced really only by a privileged minority of (white? upper class?) working women. Yet because it has been built up to have such a modern cultural prevalence, do we perhaps assume this remorse without even truly feeling it? I think about my own working-mom friends: amazing women who run their own businesses, practice law, are intricately involved in the world of finance — they know there are sacrifices, but they don’t spend their days going back-and-forth about it. I particularly think of my doctor friends, who have just six weeks of maternity leave (five if the baby was late!), and with the purpose-driven stoicism so characteristic of physicians, drop their babies at day care and go save lives.
The “baking-versus-working” tension became culturally relevant during the 1992 Clinton campaign, and Hillary’s clumsy handling of it did nothing to give it any complexity. At the same time, I can’t blame her: it probably caught her off guard. Like Michelle Obama, she had been a high-achieving lawyer and, until others foisted the issue on her, probably engaged in very little back-and-forth remorse about working or staying home.
I read with some sadness — but little surprise — how isolated and uncomfortable Michelle felt at Princeton; indeed, her senior thesis (which, the article notes, is no longer publicly available at Firestone. I simply cannot imagine that someone would actually want to read my own thesis, which I can guarantee will never, ever leave those archives…) was entitled “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community.” By illuminating this cultural difference, then (why had I never thought of it? I feel like Kelley hit me over the head…), Kelley’s analysis of Michelle Obama’s example for a new generation of women articulates a new cultural touchstone. Instead of “you have to choose, but if you don’t choose, you’ll fail at both,” Michelle’s shining example reframes the issue: “you are going to work, you are going to have kids, and you are going to find a balance.” (Even if, as in the Obama’s situation, right now that balance is largely achieved with the help of Michelle’s mother — that’s OK too!) No hand-wringing, no drama, no remorse. As one of my favorite law professors and mentor tells me often: never, ever be defensive about or second-guess the peace of mind that comes with providing for your family when, in fact, for you that might be as an important a part of motherhood as being home with fresh baked goods at 3 o’clock. That is not, of course, to demean those who are able to provide that. Rather, what Michelle Obama has crystallized for me is that working — whether as a babysitter or waitress or lawyer — doesn’t have to be labelled (as our society is so wont to do) a right, or a privilege, or a burden, or a luxury. If it’s what you are going to do, it just is. Stop over-thinking it and go be a kick-ass lawyer.* Just get it done.
*Her choice to leave her big-law firm for lower-paying community-focused endeavors is a whole other posting…
“When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.” — Shunryu Suzuki (a Zen priest)
I admire people who are much more facile with quotations than I and who share them freely. I stumbled upon the above quotation this morning. It is particularly apropos to some recent thinking about my life’s decisions and resolves, my commitment to being a mother, writer, lawyer, and wife, and my inability to consistently sustain a complete focus on any of the above (a small but frequent e.g., checking email with a baby on my lap, or, worse, relegated to the exersaucer…)
Lest all five of my readers think I have lost my journalistic edge, stay tuned for a long-overdue post on Michelle Obama — lawyer and mother (and, dare I forget to mention, Princeton alumna!)
The winter flu season has inevitably struck down our wonderful babysitter, who, her other employer tells me, has never missed a day of work due to sickness in four years. So when Janet said she was feeling sick on Tuesday, I told her to head home immediately. Everyone in our house is finally healthy, and I’m a big believer that when people start to feel sick, they should get in their own beds before infecting everyone else. So I’ve had a few bonus days with the Little Bug. I was going to get two papers written during this Winter Break week, but that’s obviously not going to happen (was it really going to anyway?) Instead, I went to music class yesterday — for whatever music class can really be worth to a seven-month-old. Actually, she was totally engaged with the other babies and bouncing to the music. And I really don’t mind spending how ever much I’m spending so that she and Janet can wave some jingle bells around and do the hokey pokey every week. After watching a 60 Minutes segment on Sunday about a brilliant young composer — how he was inspired by his early violin lessons and the passion he now brings to classical music — I called my mother to ask where and when and how I was first exposed to music. I know that we had a scratched, hand-me-down, upright piano (that probably was never truly in tune) in our family room, and by the time I was four I was clamoring to learn how to play it for real. Those four-year-old lessons didn’t work out so well, but the next year I tried again and was hooked, taking lessons through my senior year in high school and then even for a semester in college (what?). Music at some points has been a consuming passion (like, in high school? When I locked myself in my room and made mix tapes featuring deep, deep songs by Billy Joel and Pink Floyd?) and other times has been one of the main focuses, for better or for worse, of my extra-curricular life (Tigressions). I do know that my parents sang to us all the time: we used to joke that we could name a word and my mother could come up with a song for it (“Mustard! Try mustard!”), and my father taught us to harmonize in his beautiful baritone. I want to give my daughter the exposure I had — singing around the house, music in the car, a piano to experiment on — so that she can choose for it to someday infuse and enrich her life as much as it did (does) mine. They key word here, though, is choice. I don’t want to force it on her, but just want to provide the environment that allows her to discover and hopefully embrace it on her own. I think that’s why it stuck with me: my parents never forced me to take piano. But music was in some form or another always around me. After I started lessons with much enthusiasm and success, they did insist that my sisters take lessons, however, and I think that’s why they rebelled and didn’t last more than a few years. Although Jennifer, who took lessongs much longer than Erin, did end up in an a cappella group in college, as well. (I also remember one car ride when a three-year-old Erin tried to sing “ABCD” and we were all horrified — horrified — that she couldn’t sing it in tune (how awful is that?)) I’m not really sure what my point is, other than to immediately contradict myself and wonder if maybe a little direction actually might not be so harmful. If you have to start by forcing the issue, perhaps you can open a child’s eyes to something they might eventually enjoy? Isn’t that a theme of parenting in general?
Anyway, one of the (many) things I love about my husband: while he may not have been in an a cappella group (or even close to it!) he, too, loves to sing and sings around the house (and, in fact, it is he who finally got me to watch American Idol after years of protesting in principle). Most sweetly, he sings to our daughter, making up songs just for her.
Someone once asked me: if you had the choice between either only television or music in your home, which would you choose?
So, it turns out that when you are not at work, at your desk, it is a bit harder to post on your blog. Especially when that day-away-from-work (or four in a row) roughly consist of: waking up at 6:30, nursing the baby, giving the baby apples and oatmeal, watching the baby roll around on the floor as she tries to crawl (but can only scooch backwards, getting herself stuck under the chair or the ottoman somehow, even though every pillow in the house is making a homemade barrier in front of dangerous and un-childproofed furniture…), checking email and showering or maybe even getting in a short run while the baby naps, helping the baby jump in the jumper, having a “playdate” with another seven-month-old (where they try to poke each other’s eyes out), doing laundry and cleaning the kitchen and making phone calls during nap #2, taking a stroll outside, feeding the baby rice cereal and gross-smelling peas, more crawling practice on the floor, dancing to your seven-month-old’s favorite song (“Skip to my Lou”), bathtime where you introduce bubbles thinking it would be fun but the baby tries to eat the bubbles, a story, feeding, some adorable “chatting” as the baby quite literally gives you kisses before she arches her back to let you know that she’s ready to go in her crib thank you, and then listening to her sweetly talk to her stuffed elephants as she thrashes to sleep. Then you make dinner. And then you collapse on the couch with a bottle of wine and “Hardball.” And then, after said bottle of wine (albeit shared with your husband), you’re up at 6:30 to do it again.
In all seriousness, it’s wonderful. And exhausting. Working 10-hour-days as a lawyer is less exhausting, I’m sure. And gives you much more time to play on the internet (without feeling guilty that your child is languishing in the jumparoo while you sneak a peak at Perez, whom you haven’t quite abandoned…) The whole work-or-stay-home dilemma has been written about, discussed, and blogged to death, but four days as full as the last four I’ve had with the Little Bug illuminate just why the dilemma is so sharp. I’m so grateful to have this entire year as an almost-lawyer and to have so much more time with her than I might were I working full-time; being a “real” lawyer is an itch I know I have to scratch to be any kind of whole person and thus good mother, but these days with my baby fly by so sweetly that sometimes I can’t imagine how I will be able to limit them to errand-packed weekends. As my mother often tells me, however, my job is not to make my child need me, but to make her a child who can be a happy part of the world. As long as she gets there, whatever path I choose for myself is the right one.
A girl I go to law school with gave up Facebook for Lent. Interesting choice of addictions (though if she plays Scrabulous, I kind of understand it.) I was reading a post from another woman who gave up celebrity gossip for two weeks. She saw it as a moral crusade: she would not support the crazed paparazzi, nor the press who hound normal families such as that of Heath Ledger. (Her account of her abstinence, here, is funny.)
So I’ve been thinking about my own role in this. I mentioned at work the other day that I used to write for People magazine and people looked at me with shock, as in “how did a celebrity journalist end up in law school?” I couldn’t tell if they were horrified or secretly impressed (in this crowd, probably the former.) But I think there are many links between the law and “celebrity journalism.” (My ulimately abandoned Law Review note was going to discuss them; I’m sure it would have been brilliant.) Whether or not publications that have themselves begun to take a moral stance on buying pictures that put people in dangerous situations (e.g., speeding cars chasing Britney) — such as the UK gossip site Holy Moly — are truly honorable in their intentions, maybe I should rethink my own role in this somewhat. I regale people with tales of my days asking innane questions to celebrities on the red carpet in Hollywood, but in the moment, I also was embarassed and self-conscious when I had my tape recorder in their faces. We had a symbiotic relationship, those (mostly A-minus) celebs and I: I needed them to give me a good quotation that would please my editors and keep me employed; they needed to get in People. So we kind of smiled knowingly at each other and played the game. But that was almost seven years ago: after the death of Diana, but before the days of Britney-esque public melt-downs.
In the aforementioned post, the writer ultimately erases her bookmarked celebrity gossip sites. If only for the sake of productivity, I could start out small by doing the same (sorry Perez). But give up my Friday afternoon People and US Weekly (yes, I get both. But the US subscription is in Tim’s name!)? I can recycle and give up meat, but that might be going too far. For now.
I am writing a paper on the perception of women lawyers in the media. I am happily going to lift from (footnoted and documented properly, of course) this post: papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/11/the-hillary-index