Why Marissa Mayer rocks

Have you heard about Marissa Mayer’s two-page spread in the September issue of Vogue magazine?

Photo (c) Mikael Janssen from Vogue
Photo (c) Mikael Janssen from Vogue

She looks gorgeous, doesn’t she? And you know who Marissa Mayer is, right? She’s the new CEO of Yahoo!. She also worked her way up the food chain at Google, a self-declared girl geek who says that she just likes to code. Maybe that’s true, but she’s definitely done a lot more than coding in the past few years. She obsessively helped design Google’s front page. She got hired at Yahoo!. She became a mom. Within the year, she posed for the photo above.

I like Marissa Mayer. She challenges herself. She’s tough. She demands a lot. Did you hear that she recently reversed Yahoo’s work-from-home policy? Maybe that’s a little harsh, but she’s right there working too. She says that she likes to be in over her head, that when she pushes through that feeling, “something really great happens.”

I hope that Marissa Mayer is enjoying all the debate over her photo spread. She strikes me as someone who would. She’s earned her place at Yahoo!, fair and square, no one is questioning that. And her commitment to her young family is clear. What I find most impressive about Marissa Mayer is her commitment to herself. It’s hard to juggle so much, and it’s often hard to enjoy what we’ve accomplished in the moment. Vogue managed to capture an image of a woman who is unapologetic about celebrating herself. Ladies, we all should follow her lead.


Have you read this?

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer

It was a birthday gift from a friend who reads this blog. Thanks, S. I liked the book very much. I also like that you get my project here. You understand me.

The book is a work of art, its narrative cut, literally, from the pages of another story, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz.

Tree of Codes works, loosely. It is an exercise in taking away, a practice of editing. The result is a translucent tale, bordering on illegibility, that includes as it excludes.

Here are a few good lines:

– “children greeted each other with masks on their faces”
– “we passed the chemist’s large jar of pain.
-“a face from which life was walking, a pale network of lines on an old map of distant lands wandering over memories which would suddenly blow away.”
-“he became almost insane with mother.”

The story is somewhat strange and dreamlike. Reading is difficult but quick. It leaves me wondering about the rest of the story, the scraps of edits tossed on the ground in the process, not to mention the whole wide world excluded from the original text of The Street of Crocodiles.

So, have you read it? What did you think of it? If not, you should check it out.

Losing my religion

When I was a kid, we celebrated all the holidays. Our menorah went next to the Christmas tree, and our Easter dinner often included ham and matzoh. Go ahead, laugh. Just don’t judge me.

Let’s generalize and say that I was formally, publicly, Catholic. I attended Sacred Heart Elementary, where I learned to love Jesus, to recite Our Father and Hail Mary, and where I colored xeroxed copies of the stations of the cross. At home, my mom, my sister, my Bubbie all cursed in Yiddish and ate corned beef. I didn’t question it until much later.

As a teenager, I abruptly decided to give up Catholicism, and celebrate only Jewish holidays. I felt that the main point of religion was to honor your ancestors, never mind spirituality. I still agree with this to a point, but I have long since realized that I wanted my Bubbie to love her more. I thought that if I were more Jewish, like her, that she would. Did she? Did it work? I don’t know. She was inscrutable.

On Christmas as a kid, my mom would take me to midnight mass. I remember one year seeing a young couple kissing in their pew. That beautiful image has stuck with me all this time, that joyful and spiritual togetherness. Sometimes the memory is sweet, sometimes it breaks my heart. I never talk about it.

My mom taught me that all religions are just different paths to the same God. I agree, but I still grew up feeling confused and slighted for not having one singular religious identity like my friends did. Why did my mom choose to walk two paths at once while raising me, between the Judaism that she grew up with and her chosen Catholicism? If she were still alive, I would ask her. In her absence, I have to guess that those childhood memories are powerful and it was her instinct to share them with me. But what I would like more than anything is to experience that shared faith, that certainty in that which cannot be seen. My mom found her spiritual source in church, but she chose not to force that source on me. I understand why, but I can’t help feeling that that intangible piece of religion, the faith, is lost to me.

I’ve long since made my decision on religion, and Geoff and I basically agree: We’re happy to belong to our synagogue, to send the kids to Sunday school, and to see them developing their singular religious identities. They deserve it. And even though their Grandma does occasionally take them to church, they know they are Jewish. I’m glad to offer that certainty to them. But as for the other piece of it–the faith that I’ve only ever felt in church–how can I ever share that with them?

Breaking the rules

I’ve been thinking a lot about rules lately, and I’ve been breaking more than a few. Sadly, even some of what I write as a blogger breaks some of the rules of my marriage. Last week, I read this article by Molly Crababble on money and success. She contends that to accomplish anything above and beyond the marriage-big-house-two-and-a-half-kids pipe dream, women have to break the rules. I agree.

In her article, Molly Crabapple talks about how artists in particular have to transgress established norms. Artistic success, she says, depends on “doing the ambitious work everyone said you weren’t ready for, then getting mocked and rejected for it, until, slowly, the wall began to crack. You could never do what you were supposed to, never stay quietly in your place.”

I’ve mentioned this before, but if you’re new around here, one of my reasons for blogging is that I want to return to work. I want to work as a writer, and I want to write creatively. My plan is to start with writing about myself and move on to separate characters. I find myself in a unique position: well-educated, with some decent experience on my resume, and with several years away from the workforce to raise my kids. Not to mention that I have a certain level of financial freedom.

Since I stopped working full-time when my daughter was born, my husband’s opinion has been that it doesn’t pay for me to work. Truthfully, by the time we pay for childcare and our ridiculously high tax bracket, there would be very little money left to make my efforts worthwhile. This is the “official” reason that I stay at home full-time. It doesn’t include my strong desire to be at home with my kids when they are little, to start them off with a strong emotional attachment. It doesn’t begin to cover all the fun that we’ve had together over the past seven years, and it certainly ignores all the skills that I’ve learned as a mom.

Stepping out of the workforce has given me clarity about the pros and cons of paid employment and what I really want out of a job. I want to do what I love. It’s a sacrifice to hand over part of your life to a manager. I’d love to have the freedom to write as I like, indefinitely, without any consideration of pay. But I think that’s impractical. And honestly, I think it will serve my marriage well for me to once again receive a regular paycheck.

So here I am, on the cusp of changing nearly everything about the daily structure of my life, of my kids’ lives, of Geoff’s life. I want to savor this time as I transition from full-time to part-time mom. But I’m constantly reminded how much I have come to expect of myself in this unpaid role. It’s nothing short of perfection. I am used to filling my days with taking care of my family’s needs, with making their lives special and fun. I do love that job, with all my heart. But I just can’t do it all anymore. And to change, I need to break the rules.

To write this blog, which I hope to craft into a portfolio, I need time away from my kids. Rule #1 broken. I need to hire a sitter during the day, which means spending money. Rule #2 broken. I need to make time to do what’s important to me, and I need to do it before I take care of anyone else. Rule #3 broken. This is unfamiliar territory, and I only know that to succeed, I have to make up new rules as I go. Do you think it’s easy to make up new rules? Does it sound like fun? Maybe. But it’s also hard, like running uphill. Sometimes a nice life, with enough money, a loving husband, and three cute kids, can act like a trap.

I’m going for the impossible here: I want to have the family and a job that I love. Do any of you have an axe I can borrow?

There’s this blog I like

So, I’ve been blogging since March. And a couple of months ago I started following the blog link-up over at Yeah Write. Like most new bloggers, I’m trying to drum up readers, so I try to make the rounds and read what everyone posts once a week. Sometimes I’m better at it than other times. But there’s one blog that I really like, and I always check it out when I see it in the lineup.

Joe, over at Living in Kellie’s World, caught my eye right away, because, well, he’s hot. Check out his photo if you don’t believe me. He knows a thing or two about women. He’s good, for a guy. And he’s funny, which keeps me coming back. Plus, he’s smart. He reads.

The best thing about him is how much he truly seems to love and want to please his wife. From what I know about men, very few take the time to create a whole blog documenting their efforts to please their wives. Joe, I wish you were friends with my husband, Geoff. I have a feeling you’d be a good influence on him.

Here’s the thing. Week after week I try to comment on Joe’s blog. I craft friendly-but-not-too-friendly compliments, I suggest that he submit his posts to a publication with a larger audience. I do all the things that groupies do. And every week, no matter which format I use to submit, Joe’s blog rejects my comment. It’s weird.

Joe, what’s up with that?

Once I hated a girl

I hated a girl once. I almost got eaten alive by my hate for her, until at long last we parted ways forever.

We worked together for two years. I was 23, just out of college. She, too, was 23, just starting out, like me. We first met at orientation on our shared first day. Looking back on it, we had more similarities than differences.

She was startlingly beautiful. She had the kind of looks that made you want to stop and stare at her. She had long silky black curls, large eyes, delicate features. She was small, but strong. She exercised religiously, ate nothing. Her body was incredibly sexy. She had tons of cute clothes. She was Jewish — the real kind, not my sorta kind. She was unattached, no husband, no boyfriend, no girlfriend. She lived in the city with roommates.

She talked, at length, on her phone in her cubicle across from mine. She talked about her exercise schedule, about her dates, about her trips to museums by herself. She flirted shamelessly with my boss.

Now, let me explain something. I flirted with my boss, too. He was just a little older, funny, and hot. But I did it guiltily. I was already engaged. Back then faithfulness was a primary concern of mine. Plus, this was my boss, not hers. She was just removed enough to be able to do as she liked. They bonded over workout tales.

Everything about her ate at my soul. She was the me I wanted to be in so many ways. And she was interesting to me. I wanted her as a friend, as a more-than friend. At the time I didn’t, couldn’t, know it. I only felt, I couldn’t think. My jealousy of her, my envy for what she had made me hate everything about her.

Did she hate me, too? I think so. I think we both exuded a vibe that repelled the other. Perhaps she was similarly attracted to me. Maybe she wanted what I had: a fiancée, a close working relationship with the hot boss, security. Who knows?

Have you ever truly hated someone? It feels like I imagine it would to fall into quicksand. It’s annihilating. Sooner or later, it comes down to an ultimatum: you or it. And if you don’t want to end up in a therapist’s chair, you’ve got to make the call. You.

Just when I’d finally realized that things had to change, she left the company for a better job. It was providential. Once she was out of my life, I felt instantly better. And honestly, I’ve never had a reaction like that to anyone since. If I did, I hope that I would recognize it and confront it. Hatred is a dark dead-end street in a bad neighborhood.

My kids need a black grandma

(Sorry, this post isn’t politically correct. Please don’t take offense.)

The kids were fighting. Gabe smacked Anna, and she was crying, milking it as usual. The tour guide, a grandmotherly black woman, came over, concerned.

“You don’t hit your sister like that,” she said, serious. “You’re the man,” she said to Gabe. A look of surprise passed his face, then he smirked at me, embarrassed.

Just as quick, the tour guide lightened up. “But I saw you messing with him,” she laughed, looking at Anna. It was obvious that she wasn’t angry, just admonishing. She turned to the baby in his stroller. “And you? Are you stayin’ out of it?” she asked. Nate grinned.

When I was little, my mom and I lived downstairs from a very kind black woman. She had a grown son and no grandkids of her own, so she sort of adopted me. I remember spending a lot of time with her. She was large and soft and often laughing. Black ladies like that just ooze love. But here’s the thing: There’s something in their size, their strong voices that commands respect.

Kids know this. They take one look, and they feel the dichotomy of fear and attraction. They want the laughter and they need the authority. They want the unequivocal love they find in her gaze, the soft squishiness of her hug, even the strictness of her directions.

A black grandma preaches it like it is. She doesn’t try to win favor and she’s demanding. Kids never get the better of her. But she always cuts her edge with a smile or a treat. She has a thing or two to teach the kids and she dives right in. Then she hugs, she kisses, she tickles. She’s an expert at bandaid application. She sings. She shows you God. She refuses to take any crap. She feeds your soul.

Do you have a black grandma?

Snapshot: Little blue car

I notice them before I notice the car. They are a sight. A guy, tall, thin, short dark hair, thick beard, pierced septum. He’s wearing a leather vest with nothing but tattoos underneath. Short, dark-haired girl, also tattooed, in a short, filmy white dress. Red-haired beauty with a long black dress revealing yet another set of matching full-body art.

Then I notice that the guy is pushing a little blue car. You know, like the kind I use for the baby. Kid aboard, thrilled with life. Awesome.

On preschool and secret languages

My five-year old graduated from preschool today. They had a little ceremony and marched in to Pomp and Circumstance, received diplomas. It was sweet.

My son, Gabe, is ready for kindergarten. I’m excited for him to start full-day school in a few weeks. He’s on the brink of learning to read, which is so great to witness. I love that he almost, but doesn’t quite, know how to put the letters together to make words, or how to translate the letters that are there into sounds. But he tries so hard.

The teachers at Gabe’s preschool speak Spanish. All are native Spanish speakers, and most of the kids in his school have parents who are native Spanish speakers. My daughter also went to this preschool, and now attends a Spanish-immersion program in our city’s public school system. Gabe will start there in August. He already speaks and understands lots of Spanish, thanks to preschool. He and his sister speak to each other a little, and I look forward to them sharing it more as they get older. Neither Geoff nor I is fluent in Spanish, so for the kids, it will be like their own secret language. I like that. I love the sounds of Spanglish floating around my house, and I love that my one-year old calls all cookies and crackers galletas.

I love that as my kids grow, the sounds of Spanish anywhere — here in our city, or in any other place — will always bring them back to being a kid in preschool. There is something so magical about the memories of early childhood, and how a sight or sound or smell can take you back instantly. Childhood seems somehow more vivid than the rest of life, and I like that my kids will have a whole language as signifying fodder.

I also love that the Hispanic teachers at my kids’ school treat them like family, that the kids know what it’s like to have a huge family with lots of cousins even though we don’t. The kids in Gabe’s class are relaxed, and no one is forced to make art projects or complete other tasks. They play. Parents can come and go in the classroom as they like, and the kids seem genuinely happy. Singing is nearly constant.

When Gabe starts kindergarten in six weeks, he will be comfortable with being on his own in a classroom. The sounds of Spanish around him will calm him, and he will be ready to learn. I’ll bet that he’s reading by October.