Friday, February 13, 2009

I Just Can't Help It

S and I had breakfast this morning at a new cafe in City (Mom, it's your favorite restaurant's new cafe, and if you haven't been, you'll love it) (Phantom, it's the new cafe from the restaurant where we had the vegetarian tasting menu) (how's that for in-group blogging?!). It's a lovely little cafe, wood-ceilinged and sun-dappled, with delightful not-your-usual-cafe-food fare, except I did not like the tomato jam which had some kind of spice which left a bad taste in my mouth, but the spice doughnut and leek turnover and fried feta and Greek yogurt were delicious.

But every single person in there was a cliche of a self-important cliche, and not only that, but an unaware cliche of a self-important cliche. Especially the two women my age sitting next to us, discussing their dysfunctional families. But also the middle-aged white gay men. And the private school moms. And, for goodness sake, me and S, the working couple stealing away for a quick Friday morning breakfast.

Now, it is totally OK to be a cliche. I am so much a cliche. You would not believe how cliched and ordinary I am, in my particular brand of liberal, literary, angst-filled, feminist, Jewish mom (yes, I'm talking about you, and you, and you too, even though you're not Jewish). Really, there are about a zillion of me. Which is why my prose is so filled with disavowals and parentheticals.

So I have no problem with being cliched. But thinking you are unique? I have a huge problem with thinking you are unique. Take my word for it, people: very few of us are unique. And those who think they are unique: perhaps the most likely not to be unique.

Now, there are certain life stages in which it is de rigeur (where do the e's and u's go in that word??) to think one is unique. It is completely acceptable to think one is unique in one's adolescent misery. But adolescent misery ends.

It may also be ok to think you are unique if your misery does not end, because misery does feel so wholly individual--even if you know it's not--that its powerful pain may be impossible to conceive of as shared, because the idea of others feeling it is too horrific to bear, on every front.

But...and now we're getting to the point, which perhaps only Libby has anticipated, Judith Warner, you are not weird, you are not unique, and your daughter is not the only girl in the world who does not wear Uggs. You are a typical angst-ridden writer who is a little out of the norm and thinks about things too much. Get over yourself! And, please, do not write about your adolescent daughter's weirdness in the NY Times, because this time next year, or even next month, though you may find it impossible to imagine, she may very well be wearing Uggs and hating you for exposing her to the universe. (And, really, you know that proudly professing your weirdness is simply an invitation for others to reassure you that you are special--or, if you don't...oh god, just go back to therapy already.)

She makes my blood boil. (And, yes, as someone who attempts to be self-aware, I know that I could just not read her, and that my compulsive reading and my fury have some of their roots in my own issues, which I choose not to broadcast at this particular moment, but still!!!)

Edited to add: (Why can't I just let this go?) My point is not that there aren't norms, but that "weird" is its own category, not some dramatic deviation.

7 comments:

Libby said...

So do I get to be an honorary Jewish mother?

More to the point, yes, that piece was annoying. As you know, I find JW a little less annoying than you do, but in this one, how could she be so profoundly un-self-aware?

Phantom Scribbler said...

Do I actually have to read the column to keep my in-group status? And can I put my in-group status on my resume? Because I'm pretty sure it makes me unique and special! Even if my daughter decides to wear Uggs. (Even if my daughter eventually grows to a size that allows her to wear Uggs, I should say. If only to keep my misery-related claim to unique and special.)

Lucy said...

The other day I saw a girl wearing boots that were not like those of the other girls at the mall. At that moment, I made my daughter promise to conform. Of course she said yes - she is as shallow as me! The Uggs, the tight jeans - I am just that type of mom! Call your friends - snub the other girls. She's almost ready for a push-up bra. I am so normal, and I love myself.

Jackie said...

I feel the same way about this column that I do about a lot of her columns and others like them-- at the heart, there is a kernel of truth that I can connect to, but that kernel is buried in so much privilege/entitlement/bullshit/whatever, that I just can't swallow it.

For example, I can totally relate to the feeling of being weird, and having always been weird, and not feeling a kind of pride or glory in my weirdness, but still resolving to just be weird and not try to be the perfect version of myself anymore. And wondering whether to try and help my girls fit in, or whether they will be weird like me, or whether they will be totally normal and I'll still be weird. And feeling weird for even thinking that much about it, or writing that much about it in a comment box :).

But that column? with the un-self-awareness and the semi-smug stuff about how her kid will never wear Uggs (which I felt about crocs, and now my girls each have two pairs), and the "special snowflake" syndrome that seems so endemic these days? No thanks.

Anonymous said...

There's a lovely photographic project (and I can't remember the name of it now, and it's driving me crazy that I can't) in which a dutch photographer took pictures of different groups. Some were obviously normed (like islamic women in saudi arabia). But, the funny ones are the retro-punks and others who think that they're being outcasts and outsiders, but look exactly like each other.

I think this is a fundamental human need, that we need to be somewhat like other people, so that even if we think we're different, we're still like them (unless, we're actually neurally atypical, and the differentness is more profound).

bj

Anonymous said...

Exactitudes, BTW,

http://www.exactitudes.com/index.php

(the dutch photographer)

bj

Anonymous said...

AN UPDATED TREATISE ON THE NEED FOR A SEMITIC MODERN MASTURBATION MENTALITY


By Rebbe Moshe “hung so lo“ Rabeynu, March 23, 2009
comments

CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS MUST BE INCULCATED AS TO THE BENEFITS OF MASTURBATION IN THE ATTAINMENT AND MAINTENANCE OF A HEALTHY MIND AND A HEALTHY BODY! PENT UP SEXUAL FRUSTRATION IN CHILDREN HAS NEVER BEEN HONESTLY AND ADEQUATELY DISCUSSED AND DEALT WITH IN JEWISH DISCOURSE AND DOCTRINE. MODERN LIFESTYLES AFFORD INDIVIDUALS THE PRIVACY AND HYGIENIC FACILITIES NECESSARY TO MASTURBATE IN A PRIVATE, DIGNIFIED AND SANITARY MANNER. ONE CAN WELL UNDERSTAND THE IRE THAT WAS AROUSED BY MASTURBATING INDIVIDUALS FOUR THOUSAND YEARS AGO WHEN AN ENTIRE LARGE FAMILY LIVED TOGETHER IN A TENT IN AN ARID LOCATION. NOBODY WANTED TO HAVE A WAD OF FLYING JISSUM HIT HIM IN THE EYE OR LAND IN HIS HUMUS. WATER WAS SCARCE AND ONE HAD TO WALK , SOMETIMES LONG DISTANCES, TO THE WELL TO GET IT, IF IT WAS AVAILABLE AT ALL. UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES IT WAS A CHOICE OF WATER FOR DRINKING OR WATER FOR WASHING EJACULATE OFF OF ONE’S HANDS. THIS IS WHY THE EARLY SAGES WERE SO VOCIFEROUS IN THEIR CONDEMNATION OF MASTURBATION. WE JEWISH PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A HORNY BUNCH AND, IF THERE WEREN'T THESE SEVERE STRICTURES AGAINST MASTURBATION AT THAT TIME, THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN ERRANT CUMSTAINS ALL OVER THE PLACE AND THE SMELL OF FRESHLY RELEASED JISSUM WOULD HAVE WAFTED FAR AND WIDE, EVEN WITHIN THE HALLOWED HALLWAYS OF THE SACRED TEMPLE ITSELF. TIMES HAVE CHANGED. IF PARENTS TODAY STRESS THE BENEFITS OF MASTURBATION TO THEIR CHILDREN, THEY WILL HELP LESSEN THE OCCURRENCE OF STDs, AND UNPLANNED PREGNANCIES. SCHOLARSHIP LEVELS WOULD INCREASE DRAMATICALLY WITH THE RELEASE OF PENT UP ADOLESCENT EJACULATORY TENSION. .WHAT PARENT HASN’T FRETTED AND WORRIED OVER THE MOODINESS AND SURLINESS OF HIS ADOLESCENT OFFSPRING? THERE IS REALLY NO MYSTERY AS TO WHY THE LITTLE BASTARDS ARE ACTING OUT SO WILDLY. THEIR HORMONES ARE CAUSING THEM HIGH LEVELS OF DISCOMFORT AND FRUSTRATION. INSTEAD OF MAKING THEM MASTURBATE FURTIVELY UNDER THE BEDCOVERS IN A NIGHTLY GUILT- RIDDEN FRENZY OF PENT-UP SEXUAL DESIRE, THEY SHOULD BE GUIDED TO A CIVILIZED AND GUILT-FREE MASTURBATORY REGIMEN. IF NECESSARY, PARENTS SHOULD SET AN EXAMPLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN AS TO THE PROPER METHODOLOGY FOR THIS ACTIVITY AND FOLLOW UP AND MAKE SURE THAT THEIR CHILDREN ARE MASTURBATING REGULARLY AT AN OPTIMUM FREQUENCY. KEEPING A MASTURBATION DIARY COULD BE A VERY USEFUL TOOL IN MAINTAINING THE PROPER SCHEDULE. EVERY PARENT SHOULD ASK HIS CHILDREN ON A DAILY BASIS, "DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND MASTURBATE TODAY?" OH, OF COURSE, THE CHABADNIKS AND THE FRUMNIKS AND THE HAREDINIKS WILL YELL OUT, "BUT RAMBAM SAID THIS, AND RASHI SAID THAT AND RABBI AKIVA SAID THIS, AND THAT, ABOUT THE EVILS OF MASTURBATION." PROBABLY ALL THREE OF THEM WERE MASTURBATING WHILE THEY WERE WRITING THESE STRICTURES, ANOTHER CASE OF "DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO". WE MUST NOT CONTINUE TO LET OTHERS DO OUR THINKING FOR US UNDER THE GUISE OF DIVINE REVELATION AND RELIGIOUS EXPERTISE. WE CANNOT LET BACKWARD LOOKING ZEALOTS WITH THEIR ARCHAIC, OUTDATED AND ANACHRONISTIC MORALISTIC MISCONCEPTIONS CAST THEIR PALL OVER THE HEALTH-CONSCIOUS MASTURBATORS OF THE WORLD. SHALOM AND ZEI GEZUNT!

Rabbi Rabeynu is available for additional advice and discussion on HTTP://theyeshivabucher.blogspot.com