Saturday, September 30, 2006

Funny moment in a tough week

Phew! I made it through the week. I am getting my bearings back and hope to really get back to work on Monday. My daughter had minor surgery on Wednesday, and we learned that there is no such thing as "easy" surgery. She had a little umbilical hernia repair, which went okay, but she reacted badly to the medicine that accompanied the surgery, and she broke out in hives and swelling in the recovery room. The doctors had to watch her for about four hours after she woke up, giving her multiple doses of benadryl and steroids, in addition to painkillers.

Needless to say, she was feeling grumpy and crummy that first day after we got home. But there was a moment of humor even in the toughest day. As a get-well gift, Grannie gave Little T. something she'd been eyeing at our local mall for a long time: a self-inflating whoopie cushion. It produces very realistic and exaggerated fart sounds in rapid-fire succession--a perfect match for the 7-year-old sense of humor. My daughter was really excited with this new toy and played with it all afternoon long. We were exhausted and she fell asleep around 6 pm, and I went to sleep at 8 pm that day. Well, 9 hours later, it was 3 in the morning, and when my daughter woke up from her slumber, she came into the guest room where I was sleeping to keep an eye on her, and I was the victim of a massive whoopie cushion attack as she fired it off over and over again in the general direction of my head.

It was such a long, tiring, worrisome day, and I really didn't appreciate having her wake me up in the middle of the night. At the same time, knowing that she was going to be okay, and so happy with her $2.99 whoopie cushion, it was all pretty funny--especially the next morning.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The kind of week I'm having

Do you ever find yourself having the kind of week where the fact that you are in charge of coordinating dinner for 26 people on Friday night is actually the least of your worries?

That's the kind of week I am having.

More later....

Monday, September 25, 2006

Mojo Mom on

I have a new Op Ed piece that's been posted to My article is a critique/review of Linda Hirshman's book Get to Work.

The title of my piece is "Linda Hirshman's Middle Finger Raised to Gen X Values" which gives you a pretty good idea of how I feel about Hirshman's work.

[Update in 2010: Literary Mama has revamped their website and wiped out a lot of their archives, so I am publishing the whole body of my op-ed here.]

“Literary Mama” Op-Ed, September 25, 2006

Linda Hirshman's Middle Finger Raised to Gen X Values

By Amy Tiemann, Ph. D.

Linda Hirshman’s argument that mothers betray feminist ideals when they leave the workforce to raise their children is far from true or accurate, but as someone whose life path was a target of her criticism, I was surprised to find how much I agreed with some of her insights. Unfortunately, Hirshman buries the kernels of a good idea inside a thick layer of incorrect assumptions and unkind judgments. She presents her case with the confidence, logic, and selective focus of a trial lawyer making a closing argument before a jury. Hirshman sets the stage, frames the debate, states her definition of what a constitutes a meaningful life, and then specifically asserts, "A life of housework and child care does not met these standards." She balks at the idea that anyone in her right mind would choose to stay at home, and in fact labels it as a false choice.

As a writer and cultural critic, I am accustomed to reading work that I don’t agree with, usually finding that if I read enough varying opinions, a sense of truth emerges like the Zen concept of “a finger pointing at the moon.” Hirshman’s new book, Get to Work, points at a truth—unfortunately, her argument comes across like a middle finger raised in opposition to the idea that Gen X won’t follow the Boomer ideals of climbing the corporate ladder. I believe that Hirshman’s disagreements with younger women are as much about generational differences as they are about philosophies of feminism.

Hirshman's definition of success suffers from a profound lack of imagination, as it is built entirely on the male model that gave us the corporate ladder, the tenure track and partner track in the first place. She looks down on idealism and seems to recoil from anything that smacks of an artistic bent, whether it materializes as an impulse to be a "painter, writer or do-gooder." In her former profession, law, over half of all law school graduates are leaving the profession within six years of graduation, with men “opting out” the partner-track at almost the same rate as women. Is a lawyer turned bookstore owner less of a feminist traitor than a lawyer turned stay-at-home parent?

So what exactly is the insight I gained from Hirshman? She is on target with the key ideas that men and women need to share childrearing more equitably. I would expand this idea to include all forms of family caregiving. Hirshman’s idea of moving away from “choice” as a dominant value in the feminist movement has a significant application to politics. If we look at childrearing as a purely personal choice, then there is no need to support parents with family-friendly public policies. Most Americans cannot afford to lose their jobs after adding children to their lives, and our country has been extremely negligent in creating policies to deal with these realities. Without paid family leave or health insurance, many families are living on the edge, one bad break or health crisis away from financial ruin. In my continuing work as the author of Mojo Mom, I have argued that the emerging Mothers’ Movement needs to form cross-generational coalitions with all people affected by caregiving needs. Doing so will elevate the status of family needs to an issue that affects all of us, something that is more than “just a Mommy problem” or “just another lifestyle choice,” if we expect our country to take caregiving seriously.

There is a tremendous opportunity to create common ground with the Boomers on this issue. The emerging wave of elder care can become a societal equalizer, as the 77 million Baby Boomers confront the need to support their elderly parents, and then face their own elder years. Framing policies as family leave takes choice out of the equation. No one chooses to have a heart attack or get Alzheimer's disease. None of us chooses our parents, just as no one chooses the challenge of having a premature or sick child. On a societal level, childrearing is not optional, as all of us will rely on the care and products provided by the next generation of workers.

Creating family-leave policies that will help each of us continue to participate in work and civic life in the face of inevitable family obligations would create a fairer distribution of total labor. Our current system is built on the model of the ideal unencumbered worker that shunts the caregiving load disproportionately to women, while men continue to work their paid jobs in overdrive. My hope is that executives who have never stopped to think about the crews who clean their offices after-hours will begin to see the world differently when they find themselves in charge of providing basic care for their parents. Childfree couples who looked down on co-workers for leaving early to pick up a sick child will learn to empathize with parents’ unpredictable family obligations. Men will come to understand just how much work women have provided at home once husbands are charged with caring for ailing wives.

Caregiving in its many forms is a crucial part of what Hirshman calls "the hard work of holding society together." We need to make the invisible work visible, and then divide it fairly. This would be a victory for feminism and humanism. On that point, at least, I hope Linda Hirshman and I can agree.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Broadsheet on : Where are the women writers?

Related to my "More Daves than Women" benchmark I blogged about yesteday, Broadsheet reports a study done by Ruth Davis Koningberg, deputy editor at Glamour and founder of the blog, that found that in major "thought leader" magazines, there were three times as many articles written by men than by women.

Both the Broadsheet posting and are worth a read on this one.

On her website, Davis Koningsberg says:

I picked the following five magazines to track: The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair, the so-called “thought leaders” which also happen to identify themselves as general interest. (I omitted the newsweeklies because so much of the copy has multiple bylines.) Over the course of a year, the overall average shows that these magazines publish stories by male writers three times more often than they do stories by female writers, thereby supporting Ursula K. Le Guin’s hypothesis that “there is solid evidence for the fact that when women speak more than 30 percent of the time, men perceive them as dominating the conversation.” At The New Yorker, the ratio was four to one. At Harper’s, it was almost seven to one.

Friday, September 22, 2006

"The Daily Show" is breaking the "More Daves than Women" rule

I am a huge fan of The Daily Show. Lord knows that with their revolving door between Jon Stewart's kingdom and The Office I am one satisfied viewer. Not only is Ed Helms now joining Daily Show alum Steve Carell on The Office, but Rob Riggle, who was great as Captain Jack from "The Booze Cruise"" is returning the favor as a new Daily Show correspondent.

But, The Daily Show urgently needs more women. Samantha Bee is wonderful, but there is only so much funny that one woman can deliver. This week I realized that The Daily Show has violated a sure indicator that women are pathetically lacking representation. Back when I was in college at Brown, we used to bemoan the fact that the larger computer science classes would contain about 7 guys named Dave and only 4 women. "More Daves than Women" became my mental shorthand for gender imbalances that had gotten out of control. I was scanning this week's Daily Show on TiVO and I came across Jon Stewart, new correspondent John Oliver, and guest Johnny Knoxville. Daily Show, you now have "More Johns than Women." Come on, give us a chance! Your show's co-creators, Madeline Smithberg and Lizz Winstead, are women! Get some funny females out there, now! Really, we're funny, I promise, and not just because we have vaginas.

Jon Stewart, I'll see you in Boston in two weeks! I love you guys but it's time to answer to Mojo Mom on this one. Your show is too funny and relevant to remain just a boys' club.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Review: "The Office" Season Two on DVD

Yes, my love for The Office has truly become an obsession. But it still feels like a healthy outlet. My husband has been gone for two whole weeks, and I am looking forward to having him back home and having my real life get back to normal. And I will report that while he's been gone I have been spending time with my friends as well as my daughter. So while my obsession is veering dangerously close to a junior high crush on the whole show right now, I expect to pull myself back from the brink after the season premiere on Thursday.

The last time I was so captivated by a cliffhanger was back in May of 1983 when I was waiting for Return of the Jedi came out. Though I doubt that George Lucas really thought about it that much, making newly adolescent girls wait three years to get Han Solo unfrozen was truly mean. I seriously used to worry that I was going to die before Jedi came out and never find out what happened. (Okay, that was a very embarrassing revelation so if anyone else experienced anything remotely like it please post a comment!)

Back to my Office review, which is also posted on Amazon. If you think it's a worthy review it would be great if you could vote for it. I am working to make my reviews as helpful as possible. (You can access all of my reviews by clicking this link.)

Mojo Mom's review of The Office Season Two
5 stars: Hilarious, emotional, absurd, sweet -- and great on DVD

For new potential fans of The Office, the DVD set of the break-out second season is a must-see. Start recording the third season now (premieres Sept. 21) and save those episodes, but don't watch them until you've watched the complete second season.

For devotees like myself, the DVD set is a just reward for loyal viewing. The show came into its own this year. I had watched fitfully until the stretch of episodes starting with "The Injury," "The Secret," and "The Carpet" hooked me for good. I am now going back to watch the whole season again and the shows hold up very well upon repeated viewing.

Strengths of the season: Steve Carell gets the award for Most Improved Characterization. It took about a dozen episodes (starting with 6 in the first season) for the show to settle on a tone for Carell's incompetent boss. For a while I wasn't sure what to make of him, which kept me from getting attached to the show. But this season he evolved from a mean jerk to a clueless, lonely man who really just wants everybody to be his friend. While the Michael Scott character still has plenty of totally inappropriate behavior and tons of cringe-worthy moments, his core of pathos and vulnerability humanizes him. I am even rooting for him to find love with Carol or Jan. As we saw this season, the fumbling results will surely be funny.

Now that Carell provides a solid anchor for the cast, the rest of the supporting actors can truly come into their own. From Rainn Wilson's complete dedication to the serious idiocy of office suck-up Dwight Schrute, to the smaller roles of wild-card Creed and eternally suffering temp Ryan, the ensemble has truly gelled.

And of course the slow-motion unfolding of Jim & Pam's romance provided the heart of the show throughout the season. Just about anyone over the age of 30 has been either Jim, Pam, or Roy at sometime in their life, and the bittersweet agony of the whole journey provided the summer's biggest cliffhanger. In my online poll to find the "Top Mom Crushes," both John Krasinski and Steve Carell have been nominated.

Finally, the DVD extras are truly great. The deleted scenes for each episode range from about 4 to 11 minutes and they are really funny. The discipline of 22 minutes works in the show's favor keep the stories tight, but the extra scenes are a worthy bonus for true fans.

This is a fantastic show, and a great DVD set. Even if you didn't watch the British version of the show (which I could never quite get into) give the American version of "The Office" a chance. What separates "The Office" from any other current "sitcom" is that much of the humor comes from what is left unsaid, rather than having a barrage of lame one-liners hitting viewers over the head. "The Office" is absurd, laugh-out-loud comedy with a heart--and if you are part of a couple, it's appointment TV that Mars and Venus can both love.

Monday, September 18, 2006

More Spinach crisis & media critique

Though the spinach contamination story is a serious situation, I do have to add that it is pretty funny to see the media trying to come up with appropriate photos to illustrate it. This is a major news story, so it calls for major coverage, but how can you come up with a compelling visual image of spinach? This morning had photos of piles of spinach but now they've changed over to this bright yellow label that has the look of "POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS" tape.

It makes me reflect once again on how many news stories are image-driven, not content driven. If you want to be famous, you really have to be unusually beautiful, thin, attractive, and all that. At one point I had a producer of a nationally-broadcast talk show interested in having me as a guest expert to discuss Mojo Mom, but he had a condition first: "Could you grow your hair out to shoulder length?" (Answer: No.)

Spinach, your moment in the spotlight has come, but where is your publicist when you need one? It's time to photoshop yourself into submission and get ready for your close-up.

Mojo recharge!

I am back from the first Mojo Mom Retreat Weekend, and I am full of ideas and ready to get back to work. Putting on the weekend was work, but being away with eight friends was such a joy. My goal was to create an environment that would give each woman time to allow her mind to roam freely, to connect with others, and to truly come to rest for just a day or two. Free mind space is a genuine luxury for any busy mother.

Last week my own life felt like a spinning top that was losing momentum and was about to fall over. By getting away, unplugging from the internet, TV, and phone, I reconnected with my own center. I really and truly needed that experience right now. Now my goal is to spin more slowly, more evenly, and while staying centered as much as possible. I have been extending myself so much that this winter I am hoping to hibernate a bit, spiral inward, and get a start on my next major writing project.

Not everything was perfect this weekend, and that was okay. At least half of us had to deal with last-minute changes in plans with our spouses in order to get away. But everybody did make it. And I had to leave early on Sunday morning because my daughter hurt her neck the night before and woke up nearly unable to move. So instead of wrapping up the retreat we spent four hours in the emergency room. Thankfully, she was okay, but that was impossible to discern over the phone. It was one of those no-other-possible-decision times that a parent had to be home (Grannie was sitting for the weekend while my husband was working in Europe). Thankfully, I was less than a half hour drive away, and the women on the retreat were really understanding. They not only said "Go!" but they held their own retreat closing ceremony and cleaned up. I can't imagine a more responsible group than 8 Moms, and I truly appreciated their understanding.

Spinach e. coli contamination is a crisis, not a "scare"

I have a bone to pick with the news media about the coverage of the current wave of e. coli contamination in the spinach supply. My local news called this an "e. coli scare" which I thought was really strange. Isn't a "scare" when you thought something bad was going to happen, but it turned out to be a false alarm? A bomb scare means you thought a bomb was going to go off. A cancer scare means you thought you had cancer but didn't. So in my book, an e. coli scare means that we were worried that there was widespread contamination but there wasn't. reports today that so far 109 people have become sick, in 19 states, and one person has died.

That's not a scare, that's a serious contamination of the food supply.

The Raleigh news wasn't alone using the "scare" label. I did a Google New search for "spinach e. coli scare" and came up with 265 results.

Ironically, I am usually critical of the media for overly inflaming potential dangers, but in this case I believe the choice of the word "scare" was imprecise because it didn't go far enough in describing the situation.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Getting my Mojo back....

Just when I had blog-posting momentum going I have been hit by a perfect storm of Mojo-depleters over the past few weeks. I won't go into all of the details, but several crisies coincided with my huband traveling for 2 weeks, so I'm just happy to be keeping my head above water at the moment.

I let my husband know that things are rocky at home while he is gone. I told him that I generally don't believe in "frequent parenting miles" (Faulkner Fox's invention for keeping score) but this month I am making an exception, and he has reached the Platinum level. We both took in in good humor and I appreciate the fact that he knows that when he gets home, he needs to be invested in family responsibilites.

In the meantime, help is on the way! This weekend is my first Mojo Mom Retreat, a pilot program I have created that I am trying out with a group of close friends. I am looking forward to a weekend away, in the country, with amazing women. It's taking a lot of energy to preapare and lead the program, but I have a feeling that once we get going I will feel energized by the experience as well.

Next week I am looking forward to a return to normalcy and producing the first new episode of fall season of The Mojo Mom Podcast featuring my guest Karen Maezen Miller, author of Momma Zen.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Marrit Ingman and non-Platonic "Mom Crushes"

Thanks for the comments and emails you've sent in for Mom Crush candidates. Jon Stewart is getting a lot of love. I'm sure he'd be embarrassed to know that!

I was searching to see if other writers had discussed Mom Crush targets and I came across Marrit Ingman's hilarious take on Steve from Blue's Clues and Franklin the Turtle's father--so, he's a turtle and a is a fantasy after all. It reminds me that my first crush ever as a very little girl was on Alan from Josie and the Pussycats.

Marrit even mentions Mr. Rogers as an old-school Mom Crush. [Let that one sink in....No, not sinking. Ew. Even platonically.]

Marrit's "Mom and Pop Culture" column on crushes is titled Legions of Lust and you should know that she's talking about some non-Platonic fantasies here. The other Moms' comments about what they'd like to do with Steve from Blue's Clues were rather....well, blue. As a crush candidate, he definitely has the vulnerability factor but maybe a little too much. (Plus in my case, our pediatrician looks exactly like him.)

Keep those nominations coming in. John Cusack and Matthew MacFayden (from Pride and Prejudice) are now on the ballot.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Nominate your favorite "Mom Crush"

I hadn't had a crush on a celebrity since high school. Remember the cute guys from the 1980's--Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford? I can embarrassingly pinpoint the onset of puberty by the exact moment that my crush on Luke Skywalker morphed into a crush on Han Solo. After that the drama of real life took over. I am not sure if it's because at this point in life it's a fun distraction, or because I have a great friend to swoon with, but crushes are back on my radar. As a Mom, I think we've all been there at one time or another. You're watching Zoboomafoo and compared to the other PBS stars--puppet, animated or otherwise--the Kratt brothers start to look pretty good.

Here's my list of nominations for the top Mom Crushes. Who would you add? If we get enough nominations I'll set up a poll and we can vote.

Jon Stewart,The Daily Show
Steve Carell, the actor, not his character on The Office
John Krasinski, Jim on The Office
The Kratt Brothers, Zoboomafoo
Matthew Fox, Dr. Jack Shephard on Lost
Patrick Dempsey, Dr. Derek Shepherd, aka Dr. McDreamy on Grey's Anatomy (hey, what's with ABC dramas and hot male doctors named Dr. Shepherd?)
Isaiah Washington, Dr. Preston Burke on Grey's Anatomy

(Lost and Grey's Anatomy could have their own subdirectories. Any Sawyer or George fans out there?)

What makes a good Mom Crush? It seems to me that there is an element of vulnerability that I find attractive now that I didn't appreciate when I was younger. Jon Stewart and John Krasinski are the most puppy-dog-adorable men ever.

Also important is total unattainability. Unlike say, The Freebie List on Friends, this is totally a romatic, platonic ideal. If you meet anyone on the Mom Crush list they are disqualified.

My fellow fanatic Sheryl Grant and I are going to see Jon Stewart perform in Boston in October, but we're up in the nosebleed balcony, so I think our chances of actually meeting him are nil. And yes, we are already excited!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Secret of the "Pam & Jim" mystique

I'm blogging from the road so this will be a quick post. This week I was thinking about Jim & Pam's cliffhanger on The Office. We'll get to see the resultion on September 21st.

A few things came to mind:

First, I think I've figured out part of the attraction of Jim & Pam, and why we are so attached to their story. In real life, few of us will get to be part of a "Pam & Jim" couple. Perfect for each other, working together, yet stuck in our previous commitments and unable to break out. Even when we find our future spouses, it rarely plays out with the drama and longing of their situation. Pam & Jim are a romantic ideal, and I can't wait to see how the writers advance the story.

On the other hand, the story is so relatable because many of us have been part of a "Pam & Roy" couple. Pam and Roy are the epitome of immature first love. I read that the characters met in high school, and their families are friends and hang out on the weekend. Roy is an insenstive dolt, but Pam's whole life and identity are tied up in this relationship. To leave Roy for Jim requires the courage to break out on her own--something she doesn't have yet.

My first love was my college boyfriend, and while we were clearly not meant to be, it was so hard to break up. I left him. Even though I was quite happy with that decisoin, I felt incredibly guilty about it for months, and he fanned those flames. We'd get together for dinner once in a while and I'd always end up crying. It was emotional enmeshment at its worst. But when you are young, romantic, and clueless, that's the way it goes.

So what will happen on The Office? Thinking as a writer, this is what I predict: The show takes place in real time, so the show will pick up after the summer of Pam's planned wedding. I think that Pam will have confessed to Roy that she kissed Jim, and the wedding will be postponed, but Pam & Roy will not have totally broken up. Roy will be angry. Maybe he'll try to strengthen his hold on Pam now that it's threatened. They will be in hellish relationship limbo, while Pam feels to guilty to break it off for good. Poor Jim will have to wait a while longer, with awkward moments galore in the meantime while Pam makes up her mind. It shouldn't be easy. It wouldn't be in real life.

But in the end, they'd better get together!