Titanic Parenting: The Risk of Listening to Pundits Under the Age of Eighty

telegraph.co.uk

telegraph.co.uk

There are a lot of parenting pundits in the world. But when I survey these voices, I find an important one missing or at least not broadcast with equal volume—that of the senior who has made the oceanic voyage from start to finish safely, who can look back on an effective life cycle of parenting with true perspective.

I’ve heard of tiger parents, attachment parents, biblical parents. What these and innumerable other self-titled parenting styles share is titanic risk. They are dispensing advice in medias res, when the outcomes of their methods are still unknown. It’s like claiming your hand-made raft is unsinkable when you are less than half way across the ocean. Alas, hubris has sunk far sturdier ships.

Here is my appeal to seniors: Yours is the parenting voice I don’t see enough of, hardly ever really. You have not only been a parent but are now a grandparent, so you can see the legacy of your parenting. You have more answers concerning how your own children turned out, how they as parents seemed to accept, reject, modify the style of parenting they received from you, how your grandchildren have grown up.

Young parents are often quick to dismiss the perspective of seniors because technologies have changed in the interim, or the kinds of drugs that are available, or the selection of sports teams, schooling, whatever. But these are variables that in the long view should not invalidate the voices of those who parented forty or fifty years ago.

I am less interested in parenting advice from young parents whose kids are still kids; in other words, parents who still have no idea how all their strategizing, philosophizing, training, guiding, coaching, educating, is going to turn out. Bravo TV’s new show, An Extreme Guide to Parenting, is extremely entertaining if nothing else. It puts a spotlight on a series of well-meaning (hopefully) but very ideological parents. The producers at Bravo are hip to the fact that dispensing parenting advice is generally more entertaining than it is instructive or enlightening.

I realize there are two inherent problems with my request for more senior parent contributions and they have to do with limited vision.

1) An eighty year-old may not really recall that many details of their active parenting years. If they didn’t keep a journal, they may only be able to speak in broad, general terms about events that took place fifty years prior. This is when the added perspective of grown children comes in handy.

2) As a young or new parent, you have a great ability to speak in detail about day-to-day experiences and methods that you are currently using. However, you are as they say, in the trenches. You’re in the middle of it, and therefore unable to see up and over that trench line to the next few months, the next few years, how they turn out as adults. Your vision is also limited.

By way of disclosure, I have two boys ages fourteen and ten. I have declined to read most parenting advice columns and books because when I encounter them, they are typically authored by people who are discouragingly close in age to me and usually with younger children. By today’s trends, I had my babies relatively young, while I was in graduate school. Many people my age are just starting out with their families, but there is a pervasive cultural din when it comes to these voices and parenting.

The illusion of authority

I can see how new parents who are in their late thirties and well into their forties can be tempted to speak authoritatively on parenting. People in this age group (who also exhibit the trait to publicize their thoughts) have likely experienced success in other areas of their life by this time. They can speak authoritatively on college and graduate school, career development and advancement, real estate, even pregnancy.

Success in other areas of our life seduces us into thinking we are authorities on parenting and family when we are no such thing. We are just active participants who, at best, can provide entertaining commentary on an experience that remains in progress for a good long time.

I can imagine what many parenting authors are thinking right now—that even an eighty year-old grandmother might eschew the mantel of authority on parenting or family. Plenty of seniors may feel like parenting failures, far from authorities. There is certainly no such thing as a true expert on the topic. There is no right way; that is an illusion. All true.

However, given the inherent margin for error, the impossibility of a perfect authority on parenting, the voice of someone who has lived it and watched their offspring beget more offspring must carry more weight than the voice of someone whose children are still children.

That is what I am seeking to publicize. If I were inclined to read an article or a book on parenting, I would favor that of a seasoned elder. This is probably why I currently don’t read many articles or books on this subject. The ones I have read contribute to my theory that their claim on expertise is mostly aspirational.

The lack of a senior voice on this topic is symptomatic of the larger phenomenon wherein we have few statesmen or stateswomen in American culture. Few real sages (that get recognized much anyway). The Internet’s democratization of information and sources has made it increasingly challenging to fish out the valid and wise from the sea of babble, self-promotion, and fakery. Thus, my sentiments on the need for elder voices extends to a great deal of topics beyond parenting. I trust information derived from a legacy of experience and outcomes more than the rhetorical equivalent of an Instagram uploaded from a raft in the mid-Atlantic that may or may not be dangerously close to an iceberg just outside the camera frame.

 

See also, a recent WBUR Cognoscenti article, “Living Longer: The Untapped Skills of Senior Citizens,” by writer, Barbara Mende here.

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Home Grown: Turning that Old Play Set into a Vegetable Garden

Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Suburbia is awash in outgrown children’s play sets. Those wooden and plastic structures, some very elaborate castles, some very simple v-frames, that blight the landscape for years after their prime. Getting rid of one can be as daunting a task as setting one up (arguably more so). Rejoice, for here is an alternative. Per the growing trend of urban and suburban homesteading, those play sets can be deconstructed and repurposed into frames for vegetable gardens, even chicken coops if you are so inclined.

Here is a little photo essay of my project that took two summers to complete. The first summer, I simply took the swings off and started planting underneath the rest of the play set in tact (see below). I used old window screens to frame part of the base area to create an outdoor bunny hutch. Thus our house rabbits, Chloe and Grapes, could join me while gardening. Tall plants that needed support, like the tomatoes, could run up stakes or lines that were attached to the ladder above. Those are blueberry bushes in the foreground.

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This past summer, we deconstructed the whole thing and I built new beds and frames for vining plants. If you look closely, you may also notice four repurposed Ikea Billy bookcases that are raised beds (I took the backs out). Those are the westies, Ozymandias (aka Ozzy) in the foreground and Ophelia in the back.

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Here is a close up of the upside down ladder from the play set. Now it is a support for tomato plants and vining cucumbers. The vintage trellises are all from the Brimfield Antiques Show, held three times a year in Brimfield, Massachusetts. I am an addict and go at least once every year.

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And here are some gratuitous pictures of my harvest!

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Vintage enamel bowl also from Brimfield

Vintage enamel bowl also from Brimfield

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Hyena in a Bodysuit? A Vindication of the Rights of Beyonce

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Fixed Show

Beyonce’s recent VMA performance is an example of what BluestockingRedCarpet is about. By now, the media is abuzz with reactions from fans, music critics, and scholars. It seems that the responses are generally limited to two choices: approval or disapproval. And, one’s approval or disapproval is based on whether or not one agrees that Beyonce is a feminist — to examine her credentials.

I cannot pretend to know Beyonce’s thoughts behind the performance on stage, but I would hope that she was not intending to provoke a simplistic discussion over just her own personal or artistic identity as a feminist. It’s nice to see her as a possible model for modern feminism, but this seems irrelevant. I would hope that she was (and, sadly, this is what most discussions have elided) provoking a broader discussion about what modern feminism is, what it means, where it’s going. To put a spotlight on the word itself.

Because if we’re only going to focus our response on Beyonce, and whether she is a worthy representative of the word, feminist, or as Dr. bell hooks has charged, that she is in part a “terrorist,” or merely another slave to social codifications of the black female body, then we may be missing a queue for richer discussion.

Scholars love to lay claim on the rights to define feminism. But, one of the original feminists—and I don’t mean from the 1960’s women’s movement or the 1920’s suffrage movement that was itself an outgrowth of the 19th century abolitionist movement, I mean pre-1800—risked everything just to claim that she (like men) had a soul.

In her 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft laments a process of women’s character formation that results in a being that is a mixture of cunning, softness, outward obedience, and childlike propriety. Wollstonecraft believed in the connection between strong bodies and strong minds. For privileging the concept of universal humanity, she was publicly labeled a “hyena in petticoats.”

When Horace Walpole used the term “hyena in petticoats” on Wollstonecraft, he was leveraging the classical (Ovid) and biblical (Leviticus) connotations of hyena as a mimic, scavenger, unclean, and even bisexual.

This is a telling criticism particularly with regards to Beyonce and critics such as bell hooks. Hooks and Wollstonecraft align on the belief that the female image as crafted for male sexual attraction is a form of slavery. However, hooks’s criticism, like the 18th-century “hyena,” doubts Beyonce’s free agency. In other words, if Beyonce is just a slave to the commercial standard for female beauty, and thereby a terrorist to her young female fans, she does not have the right to call herself a feminist.

Unfortunately, for Wollstonecraft, her demands for the equality of women were rejected on the basis of similar questions to her agency and sexuality. Instead of allowing our gaze to fixate on Beyonce as legitimate or illegitimate object of feminism, I hope that we can remember her spotlight on the word and reignite a vibrant discussion on the many meanings that term has for today and for the future.

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Put a Book on it: Birdhouse

Recycle, reuse, repurpose.

Catcher in the Rye Birdhouse

Catcher in the Rye Birdhouse

One of my favorite independent bookstores, Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard, carries a selection of these decorative book birdhouses for sale. I treated myself to one this summer and it occupies a place of honor in my home.

Artist Dave Vissat makes these and I found more available online here, just in case you’re not in Vineyard Haven anytime soon.

Vissat stumbled upon this idea when he was making a birdhouse for his mother. He ran out of wood, so he resorted to using an old book as a roof. Then he began incorporating interesting text and illustrations as well. Now, Vissat searches and scavenges flea markets and libraries for discarded and vintage books, then he scans the cover, makes a print and affixes it to the exterior of the house (bio from uncommon goods.com).

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Interview Q & A on the Post-Colonial Setting for the Novel Middle Tide

Williamsburg

Williamsburg

I spent this summer finishing the draft of my historical fiction manuscript, Middle Tide. Next, in between teaching classes this fall, I will revise and start the query process. A student asked me this question recently and I decided to post my thoughts here.

Q: What makes the post-colonial period in America the chosen setting for your novel manuscript Middle Tide?

A: The colonial and post-colonial period in America is a surprisingly under-treated period for fiction. We have some well-known books like The Last of the Mohicans and films like The Patriot, but the period could sustain so much more than has made it into popular consumption. By comparison, we have a lot of well-known published material that treats the Civil War period and the nineteenth century. I think that, traditionally, topics such as the slave trade, the flaws and greed of those birth years of the nation, the governing supremacy of commerce, the invisibleness of the Native Americans within the territories of the eastern states, overall the moral shortcomings of those icons of Enlightenment—the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution—have been considered too depressing and controversial to float popular stories.

I have always been drawn to literature that explored incompatibilities of all sorts, whether they were of a social, psychological, or religious nature. For example, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Last Man, Jekyll and Hyde, all treat the Romantic dilemma of divisions between self and other, civilization and chaos, sublime transcendence and degradation. Likewise, I’m drawn to those works and writers that treat rebellion and dissent, Milton’s Paradise Lost, the poetry of Shelley and Blake. I’m fascinated with the concept of social vampirism but don’t want to write a straight up vampire novel. I want to more deeply investigate ideas of who is a real monster, what is monstrous. Monstrous, by definition, refers to something that is not easily contained, defies categorization and order, threatens the status quo. In this sense, the post-colonial period in America was monstrous: it was pursuit of happiness and brutal enslavement, it was self-sufficiency and commerce, it was naive and patriarchal.

Also, I was born and grew up in the Washington DC area. The colonial landmarks of the Maryland and Virginia area were my stomping grounds. I spent my childhood being dragged around on countless tours of Mount Vernon, Monticello, Williamsburg, and so on. It’s fun to merge my scholarly expertise with the period and my familiarity with the land in this novel.

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Summer Read: Crazy Rich Asians

On the bluff overlooking Lambert's Cove, Martha's Vineyard

On the bluff overlooking Lambert’s Cove, Martha’s Vineyard

If you haven’t picked it up yet, I recommend savoring the remaining days of summer with Kevin Kwan’s debut novel Crazy Rich Asians, preferably with a Pimm’s Cup as shown here. The British drink makes a perfect companion for the social novel whose characters have been likened to a Pride and Prejudice ensemble. I favor the comparison with George Eliot, as the novel is a bit like an upside down Middlemarch, breezily indexing a vast community of jet-setting yet provincial debutantes, social climbers, aloof old monied, sophisticates, self-mades, scholars, and the hopelessly naive.

It’s a light, quick read. Kwan’s dialogue carries the reader from London to Singapore just as easily as his characters’ private planes.

 

 

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Artistic License and Censorship of the Independent Writer: An Epistle

John Milton

John Milton

Dear J.J. (or, she who shall not be named),

Allow me to convey my gratitude as both a fan and a corresponding legal target. I recently received the most flattering letter from your IP lawyers in which they allege that I committed a federal crime of TM infringement by mentioning your name in a blog post. Yup, mentioned your name one time. That’s it. That they would devote time and energy to catching my blog in their social media dragnet and do me the honor of writing a cease and desist letter is thrilling.

I am flattered by the attention that your lawyers think my independent blog, bluestockingredcarpet.com, deserves. Though, I am a little saddened that their gaze takes the form of an erroneous TM infringement charge and therefore compels me to clarify and defend myself.

The article in question posed a dinner party rhetorical question: what would your pro-wrestler name be? My friend’s name would be The Iron Hand, a.k.a. The Dictator. For costume and entrance ideas:

“Picture Sacha Baron Cohen in, what else? his movie The Dictator. Elaborate General’s outfit, hat, etc. He walks in flanked by half a dozen sexy female soldiers inspired by the Rhythm Nation video.” (quoted from http://www.bluestockingredcarpet.com)

The complaint, references the TM “Janet Jackson” specifically, and I fear it may be poetically unaware of the irony in calling out this singer and song citation—that the song, Rhythm Nation, is about breaking down inappropriate and abusive boundaries set up by those in authority. It is pro-revolution, pro-democracy, pro-independence, pro-social progress. Perhaps your lawyer is a lesser fan than I.

If anyone were going to pipe up about this post, I would have thought it would be the WWE or Sacha Baron Cohen (but not really Cohen because he seems totally awesome). Maybe they’re just better sports.

You see, humble as it may be, I take my writing very seriously (as, apparently do your lawyers). I have a Ph.D. in English, teach college writing and literature courses in Boston, and am working on my first novel manuscript. For anyone to allege lightly and insubstantially that my writing infringes on any kind of TM is personally insulting and slanderous. WordPress’s lawyers have proven their worth by establishing promptly that your lawyer’s charges against me are entirely unfounded. I will not burden this article any further regarding the ins and outs of IP law and this case. WordPress understands the importance of protecting independent writers and free speech from corporate legal bullies.

What I will burden this article with is, in fact, the age-old burden of countless writers, what Harold Bloom has termed The Anxiety of Influence. I warmly invite your lawyers to read Bloom’s book, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, as it provides a historical long view on the topic of artists and their inherent struggle to produce unique and original material.

In short, once Shakespeare and Milton printed their work, just about every writer to follow would squirm under the weight of their comprehensiveness and have to come to terms with producing some thing that would in some way always be indebted to some one. What could any writer do that Shakespeare hadn’t done already? The Romantic poets were among the first to express this anxiety under Shakespeare and Milton’s immortal shadows. The list of writers who actually published essays on this topic of artistic anxiety is long, including P.B. Shelley, R.W. Emerson, and T.S. Eliot. You see? I can’t even in good conscience, make this rhetorical point about artistic influence without giving credit to another scholar, Harold Bloom.

The point being, any writer-artist who sincerely believes they work in a vacuum, purified of all possible influences, is naïve.

This is the most common red carpet and radio interview question, is it not? We ask, “Who are your greatest artistic influences?” as a matter of interest. For an artist to Trademark their name, which in turn will subjugate fans who mention that name to legal action, is beyond disingenuous.

This is why it is so important for IP law, and the execution of it, to be thoroughly understood for its uses (when measured and valid, as in damaging plagiarism) and its misuses (this recent case with my blog being a perfect example). Above all, I believe that writers, artists, musicians—people whose work is, by nature, dependent on a relationship between speaker and audience—should refrain from taking themselves too seriously. Otherwise, it is the death of community and the death of imagination.

Of course, Shakespeare spoke to the current TM complaint when he wrote Juliet’s speech to Romeo:

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;

Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.

What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,

Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part

Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,

And for that name which is no part of thee

Take all myself. (Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene I)

Sincerely,

Jennifer Krusinger, PhD, Childhood fan

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