The Second (and Third) Shift

Serena Williams cover photo from Vogue - in a flowing light blue dress on a beach with her daughter holding - and peeking out from behind - her train

This week, I’ve (finally) been reading Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming, while at the same time, Serena Williams’s deeply moving and personal article about her impending – and not fully wanted – retirement from tennis came out in Vogue, and Bloomberg published a piece on how “work from home” has turned out to be a trap for a lot of working women, moms in particular.

In between Ms. Obama’s heart-warming stories of her childhood growing up surrounded by a large and close-knit family in Chicago, her recounting of her own academic and career accomplishments and success, and her sweet tale of falling in love with “Barry,” we also get a glimpse of how difficult his ambitions made her life, particularly once their two daughters came along.

Or, as Ms. Williams put it in Vogue:

Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family. Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity.

(Not for nothing, Tom Brady WISHES he could be as awesome as Serena Williams. But I digress.)

Meanwhile, the other night at boxing, there were only three of us in class – all women, good friends – and shit got a little too real for our male coach when we were bemoaning the idea that we’ve had to “train” our male partners to not live like feral hogs and, as I pointed out and my friends affirmed, most of us would be unwilling to do that again, which is part of the reason women often don’t remarry after divorce or widowhood.

Relatedly, Spouse and I had one of our very rare fights about a month ago on this very issue.

(Briefly, one of the benefits of running my own business for many years has been schedule flexibility, which I’ve been able to use for things that benefit me and things that benefit us. And in the first six month of the pandemic, I pretty much had NO clients while, due to the nature of Spouse’s work, he was INSANELY busy, so I took on more. Thing is, my project drought ended more than a year ago, and the “us” work never re-balanced. About a month ago, I finally lost it and mentioned – rather energetically – that I was sick of being treated like the maid. Things have since improved.)

To credit the Bloomberg article, the author, Anne Helen Peterson, recognizes that this is far more than a personal issue:

There’s one significant catch in this WFH utopia. That additional flexibility opens up a space, and that space is quickly filled with responsibilities that were once more equally distributed: between partners in a relationship, but also between citizens and the society of which they are a part. (emphasis added)

Because while this is definitely about who always ends up running & emptying the dishwasher (and feeding the cats & the fish and taking out the trash & recycling and paying the bills and scooping the litter boxes & cleaning the tanks and doing the laundry and doing the meal planning & writing up the grocery list and running the social calendar & scheduling all the appointments AND AND AND) AND taking a stand on putting the kids to bed at a regular time and it being on Dad to make sure he gets home in time to see them AND who actually has to do the work of, you know, BIRTHING the kids, it’s about WAY MORE than that, too.

Again quoting Ms. Peterson:

But at this point, the infrastructure of care has been crumbling for decades, and, in many places, has been completely wiped out by the pandemic. Most corners of society are still stubbornly organized as if every family includes a person who attends to the needs of the family full time. (emphasis added)

I don’t have the answer. Neither do Ms. Peterson, Ms. Williams, or Ms. Obama, sadly. I do know that, as Ms. Peterson points out, we must, as a society, “fundamentally reorient the way we’re able to organize, share, and distribute care and domestic labor.” And the first step is probably recognizing that it’s happening in the first place (which was eye-opening to say the least for my spouse).

Turns out, those “the personal is political” second-wave feminists may have been on to something. It’s a shame we’ve made so little progress in the 50 years since then.

GORGEOUS photo of Serena Williams and her daughter from Vogue, of course!

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter @MrsWhatsit1.


Words for Wednesday

Picture by Melissa Mary Duncan

Corn Maiden

~ Adryan Rotica

Listen closely-

to a cornfield

for it speaks

in low hushed tones

to soothe the leaves

that rustle in

deep knowing whispers

of a time

in an age

when lightning could

kidnap and stow you

below the earth

as did happen to

the ”Corn Maiden”

who still

to this day

is held captive

under this ground

where animals

continue to help

dig her out

so she can

burst out into the sun

and be ready

to feed the world.

Too Late for Tuesday?

Picture found here.

Recently, there have been an increasing number of calls for workers to return to office buildings. If you prefer to work there and find it safe, then by all means, go to the office. But I think there are good reasons for most people to resist that.

First, avoiding the daily commute is a huge benefit. It puts time, often hours of time, back into your day. It saves the cost of the commute (gas, parking, wear and tear on your car, bus fare, etc.) And it’s much better for the environment.

Second, it makes life easier because you can, for example, fold the laundry while on a conference call, run outside to weed on your lunch break, pick up the dry cleaning while you dictate a memo. Not to mention not having to get dressed up for the office. When I was working, any task that I could get done during the week freed up some actual “me time” for my weekend.

Certainly, there are costs to working from home. You’re running your heat or air conditioning, printing with your printer ink, drinking your coffee. And those costs need to be balanced against the savings from not commuting, not having to wear dry-clean clothes, not having to eat lunch out, etc. And some people just like the company or find it easier to focus at the office.

But if employers want their workers back in the office, they should at least acknowledge that commute time is time “on the clock” and that the commute, made for the employer’s benefit, is a reimbursable expense.

Monday at the Movies

Or, as we sometimes call it, CPAC before there was CPAC.

The “Exhausted Middle”

Graph showing plurality of Americans fall in a "politically disengaged" middle

Apparently, just as Chuck Schumer was getting Krysten Sinema on board with the Inflation Reduction Act (which, as a reminder, will be largest investment the US has ever made in combating climate change and would DRASTICALLY reduce our carbon emissions), St. Bernard of the Snows decided it was the PERFECT time to make cranky speech on the Senate floor about how the IRA doesn’t do enough because it doesn’t include every last thing on his wish list, intimating that he might not vote for it.

And it got me thinking about the “exhausted middle” concept.

The graphic that heads this post references a study titled Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape, published in 2018 by a group called More In Common. Although there are some methodological problems with the study, as detailed in this Vox article, that mean that the conclusions the study’s authors draw about the impact of “tribe” (their word) membership versus partisanship on specific voting behavior may not be entirely accurate, the larger point – that most people fall somewhere between the extremes of “Progressive Activist” and “Devoted Conservative” – rings true.

To quote the study (pg. 11):

The Exhausted Majority contains distinct groups of people with varying degrees of political understanding and activism. But they share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political
viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.

I think those points about varying degrees of activism and lack of voice are both pretty important.

According to the report (pg. 12), the five non-extremes categories, who represent fully 86% of people surveyed, are fairly to very unlikely to have done anything political other than vote in the prior year (and the fact that Passive Liberals are the lowest voting category aside from the folks who are Disengaged explains a lot of electoral outcomes).

Unlike all us nerds who know the names of obscure elected officials in places we’ve never lived and can discuss the finer points of how IRA differs from Build Back Better without even having to hit the Goog and follow every tiny shift in the ratings on Cook Political Report like the score of the goddamn Super Bowl, most folks just aren’t paying that much attention.

Most people, to quote someone I follow on Twitter who protects her tweets, want “vanilla politics,” or, as the Hidden Tribes report details, leaders who are willing to listen to others and compromise.

Unfortunately, “vanilla politics,” listening, and compromise don’t lead to social media clout.

As detailed in a recent article in The Atlantic (and I do urge you to take a minute to read the whole thing), changes to social media have completely upended the way we all relate to each other, leaving us all “putting on performances” and “managing [our] personal brand,” so that it “impress[es] others” rather than attempting to make any type of personal, authentic connection.

What “changes to social media”?

Facebook’s “Like” button and Twitter’s “Retweet” function, both of which were launched in 2009. As author Jonathan Haidt goes on to describe:

Shortly after its “Like” button began to produce data about what best “engaged” its users, Facebook developed algorithms to bring each user the content most likely to generate a “like” or some other interaction, eventually including the “share” as well. Later research showed that posts that trigger emotions––especially anger at out-groups––are the most likely to be shared.

In other words, in order to get more eyeballs to spend more time on the site so they could sell more ads for more money, Facebook started intentionally promoting the most divisive content its algorithm could find, while on Twitter,

Users were guided not just by their true preferences but by their past experiences of reward and punishment, and their prediction of how others would react to each new action.

Twitter mobs started to descend, on “newly tweaked platforms [that] were almost perfectly designed to bring out our most moralistic and least reflective selves.”

As I’ve written before, I am certainly NOT arguing that calling on “Twitter, do your thing” about a cop who’s harassing and threatening (and even injuring or killing) someone just because of the color of his skin is a bad thing. Just so we’re clear, using the power of social media to hold institutions and authorities, particularly those who have the state’s blessing to hold the monopoly on the legal use of violence, to account is a GOOD thing.

But should a poorly-written joke that sounded racist while attempting to make fun of racism blow up a random individual’s life? Probably not.

Again quoting Haidt:

Is our democracy any healthier now that we’ve had Twitter brawls over Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s tax the rich dress at the annual Met Gala…? How about Senator Ted Cruz’s tweet criticizing Big Bird for tweeting about getting his COVID vaccine?

Spoiler alert: Our democracy is not, in fact, healthier.

I myself am a relatively experienced Dem activist who finds herself trending a bit more towards the “Traditional Liberal” column and away from the “Progressive Activist” one as I get older, and I follow a lot of folks on Twitter who are proud to call themselves “establishment Dems.” And they write a lot about acting (including voting) from a place of HARM REDUCTION rather than PURITY.

Or, as another person I follow on Twitter who also protects his tweets put it recently:

Half the liberal-left discourse on this platform is daily dedicated to “your stance isn’t alienating enough to normal people – here, I have an even more terrible way of phrasing things to alienate even more people & you’re a sell-out if you don’t parrot it.”

So back to ole St. Bernard up there: Would you rather be right or be effective? Or, to put it another way: Half a cupcake is better than no cupcake at all.

And again, let’s be clear: the polarization we’re experiencing is asymmetric. Going back to Newt Gingrich’s Contract With (On?) America, only ONE party is determined to ensure that government doesn’t work, by whatever means necessary, in order to “prove” their nihilistic ideology, and it’s not the Democrats.

But ultimately, the Hidden Tribes report urges us to seek ways to “create empathy and put people’s opinions and beliefs into a more human context.” (pg. 15) Because right now, those folks are tuning us, the nerds who live and breathe politics, out. And it’s not that they’re dumb or don’t care or are all closet Trumpers. Indeed:

Pundits sometimes characterize people who recognize complexity and see two sides of an issue as either indecisive or overly intellectual. Our conversations with everyday Americans in the Exhausted Majority suggest that this is a false characterization. Many in these segments do not engage deeply with these issues, but they recognize their complexity. Because their sense of personal identity is less attached to a group that has an unambiguous view on these issues, they tend to approach those issues with more flexibility and without the lens of tribalism. (pg. 111)

Approaching complex issues with flexibility and without the lens of tribalism? That sounds like a good place to start to me.

Image source for the header graphic.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter @MrsWhatsit1.

Some Thoughts on Thursday

(Belated) Words for Wednesday

From the Witch’s Bedtable

Picture found here.

Gardening My Way Home by Beth Macy in August/September 2022 Garden & Gun

“Some people cart around their grandmother’s dishes from house to house. I carry around Marge’s perennials, which are tall and regal. They brighten the stand of lilacs I planted in homage to the secret garden of my youth — a cave-like bank of lilacs near the corner of my childhood home. There, I would plant myself amid the bushes, and write down copious notes about passersby, just like the main character from Harriet the Spy, and dream of becoming a writer.

Part heirloom and part journal entry, our plants not only connect us to the earth; they connect us to younger versions of ourselves. My giant cedar reminds me that it’s ok to take a break. I carted it home in the back of our Subaru — a great vehicle for plant hauling — from what my gardener friend and I called our annual “plant hooky” excursions. One Friday in early spring, we take the day off and hit as many nurseries as we can.

That cedar now towers over our front yard, providing shade for mom’s hydrangea and the background for all our family pictures, from the first day of kindergarten to the last day of college.”

A Voice for the Wild by Jonathan Miles in August/September 2022 Garden & Gun

“‘I don’t see myself leaving this place, ‘[Richard] Powers [author of The Overstory] says. ‘When I moved here, it was the first time ever as an adult that I’ve lived where I live.’ To belabor a tree metaphor, Powers finally feels rooted. The very architecture of his days has changed; they’re no longer built around his old thousand-word [a day] quota. They start, instead, like this: ‘I open the window, I check the temperature, or maybe I’ve been sleeping outside on the deck. I look at the sky, I look at the weather forecast. Where do I want to be? What’s goin on out there right now? Let’s go have a look. But usually what happens is I get out and walk around and then I have to get to the computer or to pen and paper because now the ideas are coming. So it may be that I make my thousand words anyway, but that’s not the day’s purpose.’


‘I just learn more and more about what’s out there, and about how absolutely astonishing and tenacious and inventive and resourceful and mind-boggling it all is. An then I just try to identify with that, and live among all those incredible neighbors.'”

This Is a Prayer for Lughnasadh. This Is a Prayer for Resistance.

Picture found here.

This is a prayer for Lughnasadh.  This is a prayer for the Resistance.  Lughnasadh is a fire festival, the first harvest, the beginning of our look towards the dark.  Lughnasadh is the time of plenty, the time to gather in, the time to store what we have.  Lughnasadh is a prayer for the Resistance.

This is a prayer for hopeful people who plant saved seeds in the chilly ground, in the February dark, charging the seeds and calling Ceres — people who want a clean harvest.  This is a prayer for the Resistance.

This is a prayer for mothers bearing children, poets birthing poems, engineers who see how to strengthen a bridge.  This is a prayer for the Resistance.

Lughnasadh is a fire festival, the first harvest, the beginning of our look towards the dark.  Lughnasadh is the time of plenty, the time to gather in, the time to store what we have.  Lughnasadh is a prayer for the Resistance.

This is a prayer for the scholar in her garret, making the cleanest translation, for the teacher setting off sparks, for the whistleblower who takes the risk.  This is a prayer for the Resistance.

This is a prayer for the farmer who grows an extra row for the food bank, for the activist in plastic handcuffs, for the nurse who ignores the insurance company’s orders.  This is a prayer for the Resistance.

Lughnasadh is a fire festival, the first harvest, the beginning of our look towards the dark.  Lughnasadh is the time of plenty, the time to gather in, the time to store what we have.  Lughnasadh is a prayer for the Resistance.

This is a prayer for the coder who fends off the hack, for the politician who doesn’t take the bribe, for the paper ballot.  This is a prayer for the Resistance.

This is a prayer for phone bankers, demonstrators, people with signs in their yard.  This is a prayer for early voters, people who call Senators, door-to-door canvasers.  This is a prayer for the Resistance.

Lughnasadh is a fire festival, the first harvest, the beginning of our look towards the dark.  Lughnasadh is the time of plenty, the time to gather in, the time to store what we have.  Lughnasadh is a prayer for the Resistance.

And, of course, this is a prayer for yarrow and Black-Eyed Susan, for summer squash and basil, for peaches and corn, for fat blackberries and seedy dill.  This is a prayer for Resistance, because Lughnasadh is a festival of Resistance.

Lughnasadh is a fire festival, the first harvest, the beginning of our look towards the dark.  Lughnasadh is the time of plenty, the time to gather in, the time to store what we have.  Lughnasadh is a prayer for the Resistance.

Lughnasadh is how our ancestors said that they would resist winter. They would have less now, but they would store up what they did have against the long, dark nights when tummies rumbled, illness went untreated for lack of herbs, old people died from the cold.  And our ancestors said, “No.”  Lughnasadh was a fire festival, the first harvest, the beginning of their look towards the dark.  Lughnasadh was the time of plenty, the time to gather in, the time to store what they had.

Lughnasadh has always been a prayer for the Resistance.

I am praying it now.   Will you pray it with me?

Music for Lammas