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Inspired by my friends over at Queering Motherhood, here’s a snapshot of where I’m at:

Loving: the feeling of being home in many places. And clean laundry.

Reading: Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, by Chris Hayes, which is articulately and compellingly confirming my gut feelings about U.S. institutions and the pitfalls of meritocracy (read more over at Rolling Stone; definitely a post of its own to come upon completion). To balance out the wonkiness (uber readable wonkiness, but wonkiness nevertheless), I’ve also just taken My Antonia, by Willa Cather, off my shelf. Oh, and Labor Notes newsletter, Ms. Magazine, and Bitch.

Watching: political debates, the Rachel Maddow Show, If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (fascinating), Look Both Ways (heartbreakingly wonderful and moving), Winter’s Bone (intense and painful and good), Foyle’s War (British mystery! Sam and Foyle are my favorite characters).

Thinking about: how I am going to start eating healthier, the advances of modern medicine, the sorry state of health care, what I want my career to look like in the coming years, how cold my toes are, the word and the concept of weltschmerz, writing.

Stressing about: finding balance, the feeling I have right now that I am forgetting something, returning e-mails and phone calls, not having things done that should already be done, uncertainty (useless, I know).

Looking forward to: paying off my credit card debt, being part of a dear friend’s wedding at the end of the month, having three days off next weekend, movie night with my roommate, cozy knitting.

Making me happy: letters in the mail, end-of-dock conversations, homemade macaroni and cheese.

American Wife

Curtis Sittenfeld's newest novel

Curtis Sittenfeld is a brilliant writer. I was first introduced to her work by the short essay “Your Life as a Girl,” a heartbreakingly poignant—and arrestingly well-written—piece about what it can be like to grow up as a woman in this society. I was captivated by Prep, her coming-of-age novel about a girl with working-class roots that attends an exclusive boarding school in Massachusetts. Sittenfeld’s adeptness at conveying the anxiety and pain and wonder of adolescence is remarkable. I am especially interested in the class and gender dynamics that inform and are repeatedly examined in Sittenfeld’s work.

In her newest novel, American Wife, she takes on the perspective of a certain American first lady. Loosely based on the life of Laura Bush, the novel follows the life of Alice Lindgren, a polite girl from Wisconsin who survives a tragic accident in high school and, through a series of events, finds herself in the White House. The narrative shows how, little compromise by little compromise, a person can get so far away from certain values they hold dear, in service of others, and what it’s like to live your way into a life virtually unrecognizable to oneself. It shows what it is to be charmed, swept away, and the long-lasting effects of that. It shows how hard it is to live a life of contradictions.

This is a book that’s hard to put down and hard to let go of when you’ve turned the last page. That I would ever say that about a book loosely based on the life of Laura Bush is testament to Curtis Sittenfeld’s serious talent for effectively portraying the complexities and nuances of a person’s life, including the rich inner life.

I just ordered the anthology This Is Not Chick Lit, a collection I’m excited to check out that includes a piece by Sittenfeld. It will have to wait until I’m done with my newest read (which I just started and am already mesmerized by), though—The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.

National Novel Writing Month

Ready to write?

Always wanted to pen a novel? Ready to make your own contribution to the literary greatness? Well, it’s your month: National Novel Writing Month—”thirty days and thirty nights of literary abandon,” as they say.

Affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, the project aims for participants to start writing on November 1 (but you can still  start now!) and churn out 175 pages (or 50,000 words) by midnight on November 30. Intense. But just think of the great benefits: lots of writing (a whole book!), a convenient excuse to avoid any undesirable Thanksgiving obligations or social events you’d rather avoid (“Sorry, I have to write a novel. It’s due next week. Otherwise I totally would have loved to be there.”), and being able to say you did it.

What I’d admire about NaNoWriMo is that it’s all about sitting down and writing. Getting it down on paper. Editing, crafting, refining—that can come later. You have to start somewhere, and NaNoWriMo gives you the opportunity to do just that. While I’m not participating myself (not this year, at least), I think it’s a pretty awesome phenomenon.

If your answer is no, I’m not surprised. I had never heard of her until my friend Gabe enlightened me. Get this: first female Secretary of Labor, first female Cabinet member, hugely instrumental in so much of the New Deal that FDR gets credited for. I just finished reading a new biography about her, The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience, by Kirsten Downey. Highly recommended.

The Woman Behind the New Deal

The Woman Behind the New Deal

As Downey lays out in the compelling (in that I-just-have-to-keep-reading kind of way) prologue, FDR called Frances Perkins into a meeting to offer her the position of Secretary of Labor. She told him that she would accept the position only if he backed her up on achieving the following:

  1. A 40-hour workweek
  2. Minimum wage
  3. Worker’s compensation
  4. Unemployment compensation
  5. Federal law banning child labor
  6. Direct federal aid for unemployment
  7. Social Security
  8. Revitalized public employment service
  9. Health insurance

By the time she left office, items 1–8 were complete or in the works. She spearheaded programs that people today take for granted. She immensely improved the lives of working men and women in our country, in especially rough times. She even fought to allow more refugees from Germany into the United States as Hitler rose to power. All this in a culture that often dismissed her based on the fact that she was a woman. And a culture that barely remembers who she is now. Here’s to remembering, celebrating, spreading the word, and continuing the legacy.

Check out the Frances Perkins Center.

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