A long way, Baby

Anyone else remember the ads? In the somewhat self-satisfied, still also somewhat defensive, waning-Women's-Lib days of the late 70's, back before we were all convinced that the fact of second-hand smoke existing somewhere in the universe would be the death of us all, there were these Virginia Slims ads. (What I remember most about this ad campaign was the billboard on the way home from school - and how amazed I was that it could still be there, day after day, with my mother aiming such ... uh ... hostile "vibes" at it every time we drove by.)

At the time, I was too young (and too privileged) to understand the concept that women were ever really paid less money for equal work - it was like hearing tales from the days of slavery or prohibition whenever I heard about it, even though it was still happening everywhere. But it hadn't happened to me. I was too young. What we had then were the fading sounds of a very bitter fight dying away (not that people on both sides aren't still holding grudges), and the assumption - a kind of "well, duh - who doesn't know that?" - that equal meant equal. Like I said - I was young.

The other thing I thought back then - back before the Pleasure Police worried us out of wine consumption and the Health Monitors worried us back into it - was that "all" I would ever want for my life would be to get married and have babies. Everything else was just consolation prizes to me.

It's an oddity of the female psyche perhaps, but that's precisely how the narrative went in my head. Get married and have babies. It lived in the same place in my brain as the romantic kiss, which always faded safely to black before "the next thing" could seriously threaten its romantic haze. (I know - hard to believe anyone ever grew up that clueless. But I did.)

Then I went to college. And then I got married. And then I had babies. And then, you know what happened after that? (Well, first of all, there WAS an "after that." That was the first surprising thing. The romantic kisses stopped fading to black after I'd met the man.) Anyway, after that, the babies grew up and turned into people with lives and ideas and plans and imagined scenes of their own. (The nerve of them!) It's amusing that such a thing can happen with all my help, my energies, and my focus making it happen, and it still ends up being a surprise.

Now, during all of this, there was this husband person in my house, not fading away at all. He is a little older than I am, and he's a lot more of a Women's Libber. He has never wavered from his position that women, even wives and mothers - perhaps especially wives and mothers - are people in their own rights, and ought to have interests and pursuits of their own, and ought to use their talents and skills in as many ways as it pleases them to do so. He EVEN thought they could be "employed outside the home" without giving up their stake in the family! What can I say? The dude's crazy, all right? He has introduced me to Monty Python, and to foreign films of all languages and genres, and ... well ... I gotta say it. He even introduced me to wine drinking. He's a madman, I tell you.

He's also a writer. Not professionally - just naturally. And he reads all the time - really fun stuff - like ... the entire set of Durant's History of Civilization in one summer ("for a break"), or England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, by Bartlett, or The Siege of Mecca:The forgotten uprising in Islam's holiest shrine and the birth of Al Qaeda, by Yaroslav Trofimov. Stuff like that. The man always has his hands on a little light, bedtime reading right before he falls asleep - while I'm all curled up with weightier matters. Harry Potter - or the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The really intellectually challenging things.

To be fair, the contrast between his heavy hardbacks and my nighttime reading isn't always so stark. I do read non-fiction, and the fiction I read is generally really "about something" - and he's been known to pick up a novel once in awhile. (But it has to be a really good one, and most modern ones make him want to take a red pen to the pages and send them back for revisions.)

But here's my point. For the whole of this marriage - 25 years and counting - I've owned the title Reader of Pulp, and I've ceded to him the elevated position of He Who Knows. He's taught college level writing, and I've taught the ABC's. He has been reading the books I have used for pressing flowers. Stuff comes on the news, and he (joined now by our son) launches into the historical precedent or the logical fallacies, and I listen while I do the day's Sudoku out of the newspaper.

All in all, I haven't taken my own level of expertise or literary prowess or knowledge of a larger perspective (or my ability to articulate these things) very seriously. In my head, I've just been a passenger in the car, on the way home from school, with someone else at the wheel opining about the billboards - I never realized that somewhere along the way, I have been forming my own opinions about the world - and learning to articulate them.

Yep, apparently, after all this time, I've come a long way, Baby. It's not that the husband ever thought of me as The Little Woman. He's pretty allergic to the clinging vines among the females of the species. And he doesn't believe himself to have married a stupid person. He is the feminist around here, remember - he's always believed more in my powers than I have. So I'm not going to tell you that I've finally learned to overcome the ways in which my man has held me back - because he doesn't do that sort of thing.

What I'm going to tell you is that in another 25 or 30 years, I'll think what I'll be saying is this.

Back when I was young, (I'll say, when I am old) I read a lot of books. Then, when I was a teenager, I got a journal for my birthday. When I was a girl, I did a lot of reading, and I did a lot of writing.

Then I got married, and I wrote about it in my journal, and I had a baby, and I sent off a children's story to a magazine, but they didn't want it - and I was too stupid to realize that the handwritten note from an editor was good news. So I just wrote in my journal after that. And I read a lot of books to my children.

Equal turned out to be a good idea - and so did Monty Python, wine drinking, and a husband who still reads impossibly heavy books right before he falls asleep at night - those were all good ideas.

And when my babies grew up and went away into their own lives, I went back to school, and that time is wasn't just as a stop on the way to a romantic kiss. And I wrote some more. And not just in my journal.

That's what I think I'll be saying someday. Now I know what happens after the scene fades to black.

No comments: