Monday, September 12, 2016

podcasts for my middle years

Lately I’ve been binge-listening to The Jackie and Laurie Show, a Nerdist-network podcast by comics Jackie Kashian and Laurie Kilmartin about women in comedy. I’ve seen Kashian perform locally a bunch of times, including once in someone’s backyard. A thing I love about both of them is that they love comedy so much, and are so eager to hone their material, that any shred of diva behavior goes out the window. At the same time, they’re both refreshingly honest about their envy, ambition and exhaustion, three major motifs in my life that are often swept under the rug by artists when they talk about their work.

"Standup is making fun of podium culture."
The general mood of the podcast is “I want to do gigs and learn things and think and make people think, and also goddamn it I’m tired and want to just sit in my favorite chair.” That’s how I feel pretty much all the time.

Kashian and Kilmartin are both about ten years older than me. As a pigeon mom/writer seeking viable role models for my middle years, I have big admiration crushes on these women. (Kashian talks about perimenopause sometimes, referring to it as “middle-aged lady time”; even though I ripped off the menopause band-aid a few years ago, I like that there are people making the next era in my life cool and funny instead of cringe-worthy.) They are scrappy. They are realists. They talk about what it was like to come up in comedy during a time when most lineups featured one woman, but they’re also sufficiently tuned in to the youngsters; their take on the Lena Dunham/Odell Beckham Jr. thing was the closest I’ve heard to my own. They’re open-minded, they question themselves, they’re too old to put up with shit and they are hilarious. I do a lot of literal lol-ing.

Their take: This is what it sounds like when you've always been told that everything you say is really special. I agree, although I also generally like Lena Dunham and think the overall backlash against her is weirdly hateful. She's talented and thoughtful and seems like a nice person who's willing to learn from her mistakes. So let's not act like she's Johnny Depp.
When I run out of episodes and return to my regularly scheduled programming, here is what I will listen to:

99% Invisible: Exquisitely produced, this is a podcast about “the built world” that folds ample doses of history and social justice into the realm of architecture, planning and design. From gentrification in East New York, to the woman who photographed the Bauhaus, to the man who designed “the worst smell in the world,” this podcast will give you lots of weird but relevant tidbits to talk about at parties. Plus host Roman Mars has a beautiful voice.

Check out the episode about Floyd McKissick, the civil rights leader who built America's first (only?) city by and mostly-but-not-exclusively for Black people.
Keith and the Girl: One of the oldest podcasts out there, this one has a simple format. Keith Malley and his bestie/ex-girlfriend Chemda Khalili shoot the shit about current events and invite other New York comics on to do the same. Imagine a morning radio show that wasn’t sexist, racist and annoying, and you’d have Keith and the Girl. Chemda especially does an amazing job of calling out people’s ideas about gender, pulling no punches but never lacking humor. They’ve introduced me to a diverse group of up-and-coming comics that a West Coast girl who doesn’t get out much would never encounter otherwise.

Chanel Ali (top left) is one of the funny people I've discovered thanks to KATG.
The Longest Shortest Time: Hillary Frank’s This American Life-esque parenting podcast is going through some growing pains. Most notably, it spawned a huge Facebook group that proceeded to implode as an alleged casualty of the so-called Mommy Wars. You can Google it. The show switched networks and lately has been short on fascinating interviews with parents of all stripes (a multi-part series called “The Accidental Gay Parents” is one its best) and long on shows about placentas. I know I’m biased as an adoptive parent, but I really couldn’t care less about placentas. That said, I admire a show that takes risks, and the beauty of the world outside network television is that there is time and space for a show to find its way. I’m hanging in there to see what’s next. Oh, and check out the episode in which W. Kamau Bell interviews his mom about her dating life as a single parent.

Mom and Dad Are Fighting: Hosts Allison Benedikt and Dan Kois are both Slate editors; they are smart, thoughtful people who are not especially spectacular parents, nor do they express ambition to be the “best,” which is part of the show’s secret sauce. The show is one part journalism (I especially liked their interview with Nikole Hannah-Jones about school integration and gentrification) and one part real-time memoir. They open each episode with a parenting triumph or fail, from rescuing a daughter’s birthday cake from ants to fighting with a spouse in front of the kids. I especially like Dan, a book nerd dad of two daughters, whose blend of practicality and sensitivity is kind of aspirational for me.

Except in Dan's story, the ants weren't chocolate.
The Mental Illness Happy Hour: Paul Gilmartin’s deep dive into mental illness is my old friend. It’s gotten me through some tough times. As a host—interviewing fellow comics, celebrities and regular citizens like yours truly—Gilmartin is simultaneously gentle and sincere and also funny and dark. He’s had guests who have survived horrific abuse and others who struggle mundanely toward a sense of self-worth. On this show, they’re all equally deserving of love.

London "match girls" who went on strike in 1888.
Stuff You Missed in History Class: This show is the opposite of 99% Invisible in terms of production values. Its hosts are two women with non-radio-friendly voices who read their stories from the page. But the stories are great: Harriet Tubman’s career after the Underground Railroad; the British tradition of trashing brothels; a female serial killer who poisoned a series of husbands in the 19th century; an experiment with importing hippos. Periodically the hosts get emails from listeners complaining that they “only cover women,” to which they respond that no more than fifty percent of their episodes have ever centered on women, and thanks for the feedback, here’s another episode about a woman. The big takeaway from this podcast is the stuff you missed in history class was all the good parts.

What are your favorite podcasts?

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

house, work

1. tgif

A couple of Fridays ago, I came home from work, relieved AK of Dash duty, fed him, put him to bed and set to work cleaning the house while she caught her breath after a day of childcare. I picked up the remnants of the day’s Dash-nado: blocks, balls, plastic eggs, a floppy-limbed Angels monkey, a squeaky Lamb Chop that is actually a dog toy, multiple Wubbanub pacifiers, keys, clothes and so many books. He likes sitting in our laps while we read to him (and if I teach him to love reading my life’s purpose will more or less be fulfilled), but he also likes flinging the ones he’s not interested in from the shelves till he finds his favorites. He also likes stacking them on top his toy drum and occasionally drawing in them.

I changed the sheets on our bed and ran a Swiffer Wet cloth over the floors. I wiped down the sinks and toilets (it’s still weird to me to live in a house with toilets, plural) and did a couple of little extra things: dusted some floorboards and hung a picture. It gave me a high I can’t quite explain. First, cleaning on a Friday night meant I would get to wake up to a clean house on Saturday. When your child wakes you up every morning, you pretty much start each day running behind. I’ve tried to get up before him. I always fail. A clean house means you’re only a few paces behind instead of a mile.

Dusting floorboards and hanging pictures also communicated a couple of untrue but satisfying things to me.

1) Surely a person who was taking care of details like this must really have her shit together.

2) Maybe I hadn’t earned the money that paid for the house I now pseudo-owned, but look at me caring for it—I would earn this house I didn’t deserve one strip of moulding at a time.

Cleaning and organizing my physical surroundings makes my scattered brain feel more orderly. My mom cleaned the house when she was stressed out, and I am very much her child. I’ve been cleaning a lot lately because of the new house—because of the false moral equation in my head, but also because it cleans up a lot prettier than a bare-bones duplex with nine years worth of dust in the corners and a splotchy wall where the handyman didn’t match the paint right.

2. master of none

As I’ve cleaned, I’ve thought about cleaning. It’s something I spend a lot of time doing. You wouldn’t necessarily know this to look at our house. It’s a beautiful place, but mostly for reasons that have very little to do with me. I’m certainly no decorator (except on Polyvore, which is basically Fantasy Football for femmes). And while things are generally sanitary, generally orderly, it’s not hard to find boxes full of completely random objects—computer cords, vases, bundles of AK’s business cards, probably Dash’s toothbrush—and there are small tumbleweeds of cat hair under most of the furniture.

And yet I spend so much fucking time cleaning. I don’t hate it, but I certainly don’t love it—not like writing, or talking to my friends, or sex, or painting, or cooking. Or even exercise, which I don’t like all that much. But cleaning takes up more hours of my week than any of those things. If we could afford a house cleaner, it would probably make sense to hire one, but I take a certain amount of pride in doing what most healthy mammals and birds manage to do, which is maintain my little nest.

Does this mean that I’m more of an expert on cleaning than I am on writing? Have I logged the 10,000 hours necessary to achieve mastery? I still think I’m a better writer than housekeeper, for the simple fact that you can build on a piece of writing, and you can build on that skill, whereas cleaning is the same damn thing over and over. A woman’s work is never done, right? And when all the males in your house are either under the age of two or lack opposable thumbs (not to mention a work ethic), cleaning is a woman’s work.

There was a time when I would have said—with a mix of bitterness, pride and martyrdom—that I did more of the housework than AK, although she always took care of the yard. This hasn’t been true for a while. She still leads the charge in the yard, plus she does more of the laundry, mops the floors, takes out the trash, makes sure we’re stocked with toilet paper and paper towels, and probably some things I’m forgetting.

I imagine most middle class households have some variation of this life (rich people have help, poor people often have multiple jobs and probably don’t have much time to clean, although some make it a priority). But people don’t seem to talk about cleaning a lot. Because it’s boring? But we live in a world where people Instagram every meal, so “interesting” doesn’t seem to be a high priority for sharing.

I do see a few proud before-and-after pictures in my feed from friends who’ve tackled a particularly arduous garage or neglected basement. But it’s worth noting that these achievements more often fall under the banner of “home improvement” than “cleaning,” even if significant cleaning is involved. And home improvement is cool, right? It’s manly, sometimes glamorous. There are channels devoted to it. It takes money and strategy, and there is a reveal. Cleaning is just maintenance, and maintenance isn’t sexy.

3. “housework, if you do it right, will kill you.” –erma bombeck

Cleaning is part of the domestic sphere along with childcare, but while there is mommy literature and mommy blogs and mommy comedy, and all of the above may contain jokes about cleaning up after kids, there is no such genre as housework lit or housework blogs (unless you count those hack videos that show you how to make a phone charger out of a dish detergent bottle). Erma Bombeck, maybe?

Obviously raising children is more important and more interesting than keeping a tidy house, but since the two acts often inhabit the same physical space, I can’t help but think of them as competing for attention. I certainly feel the tension between the two. Lately I’ve been a little paranoid that I’m taking Dash for granted, letting him do his thing (throw his toy cars off the porch) while I do mine (pick up his toy cars). I have to remind myself that he is not dessert, to be enjoyed only when the broccoli that is laundry is done. He is the meal.

To parent a toddler is to surrender to chaos over and over. To clean the house is to swim against that current. I don’t think I’ve neglected Dash (so far) in any way that he’ll bring up to his therapist later in life, but I’d fare better if I could tell myself, Cool, we’re just gonna be covered in yogurt for a while.