The phenomenon that results when hundreds, sometimes thousands, of middle-age thoughts fly in swooping, intricately coordinated patterns through the sky
From my Instagram
This Seems Like a Good Idea
Getting the third dog is the equivalent of opening the second bottle of wine.
I Can’t Right Now, I’m Working
When one’s ageing parents retire they cease to recall anything about the nature of work within a surprisingly short space of time.
It seems very naive of me now, but I honestly assumed all the video gaming would make this generation of teenagers easier to teach to drive.
If you haven’t been finessing hand to eye coordination all that time, then what have you been doing?
Checklist for Middle-Aged Women
Do you still care about holding your stomach in when naked in front of your partner? If yes, you are middle-aged. If no, maybe you are dead.
Do you wish you didn’t care about holding your stomach in all the time? If yes, you are middle-aged. If no, there are too many elements being measured simultaneously in that statement, and the results are confounded.
Do you despise passwords? If yes - oh my fucking god how annoying is it keeping track of all this shit with everything - then you are middle-aged. If no, don’t bother telling me about your amazing system for passwords, I am too middle-aged.
Do you feel like your life is a finely calibrated machine, where you are constantly needing to tune all these different settings or the whole thing seizes up immediately? If yes, you are middle-aged. If no, you thought that was too many different machine analogies at once. And you don’t have anxiety.
Do you still have something so crappy in your home from when you first moved out, that you thought would be temporary, such that it is now ridiculous and/or humiliating to you? If yes - I still have the cheap towels I got in my twenties, and why hasn’t my life got a bit more extravagant yet - then you are middle-aged. If no, you are either young or rich, or you went through a catastrophic breakup or breakdown at some point.
Do you respond to most advice columns and articles about domestic or workplace dilemmas with the words ‘oh for fucks sake’? If yes, you are middle-aged. If no, you are either very young or very old.
Do you marvel at words you still can’t spell correctly after four or more decades of attention being paid to them by you? If yes, you are middle-aged. If no, you are probably posting Wordle scores.
Do you want to follow my new hashtag called #lyingdownsocialising? If yes, you are middle-aged and are more inclined to accept a social invitation if it involves daybeds on verandahs, adult sized beanbags in conversation pits with fireplaces and views of snow, picnic rugs & cushions on soft grass, or texting from one’s bed. If no, fine then1.
Do you find yourself thinking ‘this too shall pass’ really is exceptionally wise advice? If yes, you are middle-aged. If no, but you regularly use the term ‘it is what it is’ then you are just a middle-aged man.
The Solitary Child Problem
I had such a moment of insight while reading this article, ‘The Harsh Realm of ‘Gentle Parenting’’ by Jessica Winter in The New Yorker.
Before I share a quote, let me share my opinion that the problem with a lot of the good work being done by us through social movements at the moment, is that some people seem unable to hold more than one person’s perspective in mind at a time. It can lead to a kind of selective empathy or an over-simplification of complex problems. This part of Winter’s article on gentle parenting illustrated for me, on a micro level, something that I see happening on a bigger scale, elsewhere.
Once, a mother asked about her young son, who hit and kicked her after she told him that she would be taking a break from playing with him to do some cleaning. “He’s telling you very clearly that right now he needs your presence,” Einzig replied—the housework should wait. (So much for setting firm boundaries.) She went on, “If you don’t want him to hit you (perfectly reasonable), look at your part in the things that result in that.”
What is bewildering about some tenets of gentle parenting is their presentation of a validated child as a solitary child, and a mother as only Mother. When Lansbury counsels the mother of a child who hits, there is no acknowledgment of the little sister’s experience being hit, even though she may also feel “attacked”; there is no expectation of her mother “being really curious about what’s going on” inside the girl after she’s been hit, no recognition that the girl may wonder why her brother hitting her should not be “judged,” no thought given to the social consequences of being known as a hitter or of how those consequences might adversely shape a child’s self-perception. The housework that Einzig says to put off is a synecdoche for everything that the gentle parent—and, perhaps, the gently parented child’s invisible siblings—must push aside in order to complete a transformation into a self-renouncing, perpetually present humanoid who has nothing but time and who is programmed for nothing but calm.
In the broader context, it feels like our perception got better vertically (ie. we go deeper into our understanding of a suffering person’s perspective than we used to), but not horizontally (ie. we tend to be myopic and only comprehend one person’s needs and suffering at a time, when in fact, the world is complex and a bunch of different people’s needs and suffering are all colliding at once). Worse still, we live in a time when many want simple patterns and rule-making, so there’s this sense of religious doctrine about it all.
We see the validated perspective as the solitary perspective.
The most interesting, authentic people I’ve ever met, they’re not pleasing to be around. We can’t handle (them). We want to take those original ideas and give them to the hottest person. That’s how we consume.
I drew the Lovers card for my tarot reading for my husband. Nothing to see here, you’re just incredibly happily married, I told him.
True, he agreed, though he shared that he also saw a man trying to convince a woman of something, and a woman looking hesitant in response. “She won’t even let go of that pole she’s holding”.
The puppy collects the shoes of whomever it is feeling most aligned to at any given moment. There is a birkenstock sandal and a converse sneaker in his bed. I am the most loved.
Being a Middle Aged Woman
I cannot be bothered finishing this argument. I will book a weekend away by myself with a woman friend instead. Let my absence sort this one out.
I have never felt more expert in my taste. One of the nice things about this age is that my taste feels real and substantial. I know what I like and why or why not and I don’t care if it is too popular or not popular enough. I love my obsessions more than almost anything else about me.
It is very difficult not to share parenting advice with younger parents. I don’t want them to suffer. I want to share hard won wisdom. But, I remember that advice mostly feels undermining as a parent. I wait close-lipped until I am asked directly for it, and I almost never am.
By now I know that when I cook something and it doesn’t work that there is a scientific explanation. I take it less personally.
If I can’t afford to travel as much as I’d like, I will at least spend money on special, hard-to-find ingredients and learn recipes from other countries.
Knowing I intimidate some people and no longer caring.
But, I also fret about sounding immodest.
Did you know you can follow Isabella Rosellini on Instagram and that she posts photos of her little farm? You think you two could actually be friends if you met.
Worryingly, but also pleasingly, I discover that I am going a bit deaf in one ear2. If I am sleeping on my good ear I don’t wake before my husband does to the puppy crying to be taken outside to the toilet in the middle of the night. All those years of being a light sleeper and being the one to get up with babies3, to tend to sick children calling out, to close the doors that have blown open in the night are drawing to a close for me. I am finally finding equality in night care work; not through insight and negotiation, but through retreat.
The Unashamed Display of the Secret Self
Deep in my own middle age, I’ve taken to a fascinated observation of women belonging to the generation or two ahead of me. I’m aware that I’m uncomfortably watching my future self.
What I’ve seen occurring quite often, among the pairs or groups of older women I see nattering loudly behind charity shop counters, or on the bus, in markets or coffee queues is a kind of jostling, a bursting forth of need: to be seen, to be heard. To take up space.
At a café, a friend and I furtively watch four women who look to be aged between 70 and 80 – lively, fashionable, middle-class older feminists at play. They must be old friends, because normal rules of politeness appear to be out the window. They interrupt each other the instant they grow bored. One snatches a menu from another’s hands. Another bellows at her friend to chew with her mouth closed, for god sake! On one hand, I’m repelled by all this, but another part of me is riveted by the unashamed display of the secret self – that self we all have somewhere beneath our layers of approval-seeking and ambition and yes, love and compassion. The secret self lies at our deepest core, and is closest to our infant self. It’s the self that wants to explode into tantrums when our desires are thwarted, that wants love – all of it, greedily, now.
Time is Not a Resource for Your Personal Use
God, I love a good acid trip story.
Teenagers, Why I Deeply Dislike Your Older Boyfriend
This is brilliant.
I Am Honestly Recommending This Song on Your Headphones Next Time You are High or Drunk4
The Strong Boss is a Disaster
Remember all those stupid ideas about good strong leadership we used to see kicking around? The virtues of bosses who tell their staff ‘don’t come to me with problems, come with solutions’. The awe bestowed upon men who ‘demand respect’. The adoration of the Steve Jobs type CEOs, whose brilliance requires no collaboration. God, I hate that kind of management rhetoric.
Anyway, leaders who can’t hear difficult things remind me of children who can’t sit with difficult feelings. One could draw a link here with Dr Becky’s analysis of what’s behind ‘entitlement’ in some children.
Back to bad bosses…
But we’re now relearning an old lesson: Sometimes, what looks like strength is actually a source of weakness.
Still, economic officials and independent experts in Russia should have warned Putin in advance that “Fortress Russia” was a deeply flawed idea. It shouldn’t have required deep analysis to realize that Putin’s $630 billion in foreign exchange reserves would become largely unusable if the world’s democracies cut off Russia’s access to the world banking system. It also shouldn’t have required deep analysis to realize that Russia’s economy is deeply dependent on imports of capital goods and other essential industrial inputs.
But again, would you have wanted to be the diplomat telling Putin that the West isn’t as decadent as he thinks, the banker telling him that his vaunted “war chest” will be useless in a crisis, the economist telling him that Russia needs imports?
The point is that the case for an open society — a society that allows dissent and criticism — goes beyond truth and morality. Open societies are also, by and large, more effective than closed-off autocracies. That is, while you might imagine that there are big advantages to rule by a strongman who can simply tell people what to do, these advantages are more than offset by the absence of free discussion and independent thought. Nobody can tell the strongman that he’s wrong or urge him to think twice before making a disastrous decision.
I know I linked to this article by Paul Krugman in my last newsletter, too, but the point is so important that I wanted to revisit it.
How I Spend Time with My 12 Year Old Son
Lecturing him, unpleasantly, on how being bored is underrated.
Lecturing him, pleasantly, on Bauhaus. (He got an A afterwards for his art assignment).
Showing him Never Cry Wolf (1983). It held up very well from my childhood.
Realising my son is too old now for my husband and I to get away with sharing innuendo in front of him. For example, I was telling my son why I don’t like the superhero films that he and my husband love - “I don’t like all those climaxes, it’s just one climax after another, it’s monotonous”. My husband raised his eyebrows and said, “I don’t think that is true of you.” And my son grimaced.
Agreeing to repeat the fart sound I make with my mouth when he asks me for something that I have no intention of agreeing to, just for his amusement. It is a sound I usually reserve for when I cannot even be bothered saying the word ‘no’ because your request is that ridiculous and unlikely. My son says he finds it very endearing.
If you want to buy some art then this exhibition, A Room of Her Own is donating a percentage of sales to Ukraine and it is all women artists. There are some stunning pieces in this collection.
Is it Mary Oliver?
How I laughed.
Or you thought ‘lying down socialising’ meant sex.
Too much loud live music in my youth.
My husband and I are remarried, so we had our babies with our exes and not each other. But, I still woke to his children when they were sick on nights they slept over and he slept deep with oblivion.
Only legal stuff, of course.