It’s not an epiphany

(And if it is, ur doin it rong.)

This article really pissed me off. “[M]enopause delivers a mind-blowing mid-life recalibration – one with a valuable message of growth and expansion.” Uh, what? My mind is still here, unblown. Life trundles along the way it has for years. Maybe it’s being a professor: growth and expansion come with the territory. New students, new ideas, new courses (or new ways of doing the old ones), new research.

“[F]emale bodies are powerful intuitive barometers and mine was trying to tell me something.” Probably every body is a powerful intuitive barometer, whatever its sex. I count on mine to tell me when I’m hungry, thirsty, sleepy, and so on.

“I routinely put others first which meant racing through my life over-achieving and under-prioritising me. Exhausted and running on empty, letting go of my expectations of me would be the first positive move.” Okay, now you’re finally getting to your problems. Don’t suggest that those are everyone’s problems. (And by the way: dangling modifier. That irritates me, too.) You could have set a higher priority on yourself at any point, however; there’s nothing magical about menopause. Maybe that’s what got your attention, but in someone else’s life, it might have been a parent’s death or a child’s starting school, a change of jobs or a milestone birthday. I think Franklin’s realizations are not uncommon in midlife, actually, but the menopause thing is coincidental. I know women who went through menopause very early due to medical treatments or just because it happens early in their families, and they pretty much carried on as usual until their fifties, when the reality that life is short became more than just a phrase to follow with “so eat dessert first” or “don’t drink bad wine.” Men do this too. What do you think the sports cars are about?

“In menopause our body roars. All these years it has put up and shut up and now will not tolerate abuse or disrespect any longer. This commotion is simply a demand by your newly awake self for quality not quantity, for re-evaluation and re-balancing. Perhaps (when your time comes) you plan to put your hands over your ears? Think again, there is nothing so primal and immediate as your body’s hormonal call to action.” Our body? Speak for yourself. You have yours, I have mine. I wouldn’t say that mine put up and shut up. It has made its needs clear for decades. I treat it kindly. My self is as awake (or maybe not-awake) as it has been for years. I can’t say that I’m experiencing a hormonal call to action. Hot flashes, yes, but they don’t move me to much action beyond reaching for an ice pack. I always thought I’d enjoy getting up to room temperature, that it would make a pleasant change from being freezing most of the time. The problem isn’t the hot, it’s the flash, the sensation of being suddenly dumped into a sauna. I do not experience them as power surges, just as a passing nuisance. They definitely do not roar.

“Post-menopause needs renaming and reclaiming for what it truly is, a magnificent time of curiosity, creativity and rank. It’s not surprising that some societies have been threatened by this natural female evolution to leader and mentor. In Pagan times of Goddess Worship, female tribal elders were respected and celebrated but with the introduction of Christianity came the brutal persecution of middle-aged women as witches and heretics. As feminist history explains, older women were simply channeling their menopausal force to intervene in an oppressive culture that undermined female wisdom and equality.” Gag me. Where to start? Is there seriously any historical evidence for a pagan feminist paradise before the coming of Christianity? I used to have this argument with my mother, who blamed Christianity for everything that afflicted women (in her later years; when I was little, she was as conventional as they come: we both wore white gloves to church). In the medieval and early modern periods, an appalling number of women died before they made it to menopause. I can hardly bear to tour medieval churches any longer, despite the lovely architecture, because of all the plaques and gravestones from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, memorializing women who died in their thirties after bearing nine, or eleven, children, more than half of whom preceded them to the grave. Such a waste. At least Catholicism offered the option of the nunnery, where a woman could have some sort of intellectual life, and not have to go through childbirth.

Probably I’m simply the wrong audience for this sort of essay. I never went for the Powerful Female Experience rhetoric, whether it was attached to menstruation, childbirth, menopause, or any other natural process. There are lots of bodily processes that we could bond over. Some are universal human experiences, shared with men, and even with other animals. How come we never talk about the profound experience of digestion, and how at one with the universe we feel when we are replete after a good meal, or about the pleasures of relieving a full bladder, or making one’s mark on the world by taking a dump? Oh, wait, those aren’t mystical; they have nothing to do with the process of bringing another life into the world, which is the real power of women. Of course. And that must mean that I, as a childless-by-choice woman, am not a real woman. Never mind my double-x chromosomes, my years of living in a female body with (almost) all that that implies, my experiences with sexism overt and covert. I’m not sure that I’m even allowed a powerful menopause, in this model: if I haven’t sacrificed myself to others, if I haven’t given birth and suffered sleep deprivation while looking after a newborn and exhausted myself raising children while having a career, then probably what I’m going through isn’t really the hormonal wake-up call that Ms Franklin is on about.

OK, then, fine, never mind. Nonetheless, I think it’s sad if you haven’t managed to put yourself first before your mid-fifties. I thought that was an affliction of my mother’s generation, not of my own. I have a variety of friends (women and men) who have children. A few inhabit the martyr role. Most of them think about their own needs as well as those of their children. The second set are happier. How’s that for a powerful human experience?

“Happiness exists, and it’s important; why refuse it? You don’t make other people’s unhappiness any worse by accepting it; it even helps you to fight for them.”



Yes, done

I have submitted the last chunk of the MMP (whatever number it is) that remained homeless.

One piece is in print. The companion-piece is in print. Another piece is that terribly tardy R&R to which I shall now turn my attention.

I started work on this project seven years ago, which seems like an unconscionable amount of time. However, the project, which began by seeming simple, turned into the above-listed four essays. What’s more, during those seven years I have also written three other unrelated articles. One is in print, one is forthcoming (proofs have been corrected), and there’s another R&R, which will be the second thing up, after the super-tardy one. Somehow it feels like I haven’t done anything but the MMP-1 (3?) for years, but that’s not true. If I can get this one accepted, and get my two R&Rs done and in print, I will have averaged a respectable one article per year for the past seven years. It’s just that they clump up oddly instead of appearing tidily spaced on my CV.

One lesson from all this is to do your R&R as soon as it comes. At the time I got the one on the MMP-3 (or 1?), I couldn’t stand to put down whatever I was working on (I think it was the just-submitted chunk of the MMP, but maybe it was a different piece altogether), because I was sure it was almost done and I was afraid of losing momentum. But “almost done” can drag on, and on.

And on.

I feel like doing something to celebrate, though I have a stack of papers to grade and a lawn to mow. If this essay gets accepted, there will be champagne all around, IRL for sure, and a virtual party with both a chocolate fountain and a champagne fountain for my blog-friends and readers (neither calories nor hangover for the virtual stuff!). I don’t really like being drunk (ask a glass of water . . . ) but finishing off seven years of servitude to this project (fingers crossed; maybe I haven’t done it yet) seems to demand getting drunk as a lord. Or something epoch-making. Suggestions?

Seven hours!

I slept straight through the night last night. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

It may be down to the change in weather. But if it was the result of a four-mile walk, followed by pizza, wine, Oreos, and staying up late to finish a jigsaw puzzle . . . well, I think I could get used to that lifestyle.

(Most of those things are fairly routine in my life, so it’s probably the weather.)

Done? ? ???

Earlier this week, I gave a draft of the MMP-1 to a colleague to read. Since then, I have continued to flesh out footnotes and tweak bits and pieces. Now I need to print it out and look for the sorts of things one never sees on-screen. I expect I’ll find a few more things to tweak, and my colleague may have suggestions. I certainly hope he’ll catch any places where I have repeated myself, or, worse, left out a key point I was sure I’d made because I made it in some earlier draft, and in my head it’s still there. As I always say to students, “I’m sure it makes sense in your head, but I have to look at what made it onto paper.”

At any rate, I think I may actually submit this piece again, soon. I’d love to be done with it. I’ve lived with it for a long time, and enjoyed working on it, but the researching and writing (and re-writing) of it has been like another dissertation. I could have written a book in the time. Sadly, I don’t think this piece is a book. It’s one of those dissertations that gets boiled down into a single solid article.

I can’t decide if it’s brilliant or a serious case of over-documenting something nobody else will care about. It is, at any rate, documented to a fare-thee-well. There is no hand-waving.

Have I learned anything from this process? Like, how to get a sense of the scope of a project, or how to outline it so as not to have to re-write multiple times, or anything useful like that? I’m going to be contemplating this question for awhile. I suspect that I’m going to go on being myself: struggling to see the big picture; unable to imagine starting out with a topic like “perceptions of time in the Middle Ages” or “queenship,” but needing to look at a single text, or manuscript, to see what I think is interesting about it, and then needing to compare it to other similar texts or manuscripts; pulling on a thread that turns out to be both very long and attached to the tail of something with claws and teeth; researching in all directions instead of limiting myself to what I already know. I guess I know more, now, which might be handy for the next project, unless it goes in all different directions again (which it assuredly will; the next thing already addresses topics I haven’t read about before).

Sometimes I feel delighted to send an essay out into the world. This time, I’m hopeful but wary. If projects are children, the MMP-1 has had a hard time in adult life, and has sucked up a lot of my resources; some of the younger kids have suffered because of the attention this one needed. But it can’t live with me forever. It needs to go out and try again.

Where I put that stack . . .

A few weeks ago I cleared my desk (and other surfaces) by creating stacks of paper in the guest room, with the plan that I would sort them out when I was procrastinating on grading. Well, this weekend we have an unexpected but delightful house guest. I shoveled the stacks into the drawers of an empty file cabinet. This post is to remind me where they are, when in a few weeks or months I am cursing my inability to find this or that important bit of paper that has gone missing.

Footnotes proceed. I am up to number 70 on this my first pass through the document, though I will still need to go back for some that require more searching through files and shelves.