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Viv Albertine’s Book is Yet Another Stealth Memoir About Rock ‘N Roll Motherhood

Maybe it’s a literary version of wishful thinking, but lately the only thing I really want to read as a new mama are rock biographies and memoirs. Parenting books make me feel anxious and overloaded, I don’t have the attention span for serious novels these days and anything truly new in terms of non/fiction feels very “in one ear, out the other” if it’s something I don’t have much prior knowledge about. (My new information absorption abilities have been seriously challenged since early-onset parental insomnia, as I call it.) 

But rock books are easy: I usually know a bit about the music, band or person thanks to years of reading music mags, books and blogs. And books about musicians are usually FUN. Fun is easy to get through and makes the nights of baby tending and sleeplessness much easier to deal with. Fun is very doable.

Luckily, we’re in kind of a golden age when it comes to rock bios and memoirs, especially if you’re a lady of the punky/feminist persuasion. I already read Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band in the early throes of parenthood, and found it surprisingly insightful and inspiring about motherhood, creativity and identity. A few weeks ago I finished the Slits’ guitarist Viv Albertine’s book Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. and was also surprised by how deeply it affected and resonated with me. I liked the Slits, though I wasn’t a huge superfan. Still, I had nothing but mad respect for them and liked quite a few of their songs, and so I was curious to read about the early history of punk from ground zero — and from a feminist and feminine perspective.

On that tip, Viv’s book is excellent, both on the gossip front — she dated Mick from the Clash and knew Sid Vicious very early on and even went to art school with my early 80s crush Adam Ant! — and on the musicology front as well. And it’s inspiring on the feminism and creativity bit: sometimes I think the best bits about any biography are HOW artists find their voices and inspiration and guts and bravado, and Viv goes into great detail here about the experiences and people who made an impact on her.

But surprisingly, there’s very intimate, vulnerable detail about Viv’s experiences with infertility, parenthood, marriage and divorce — and it’s this second half of the book that proves to be most riveting and arresting. It’s partly because it is so very vulnerable, open and honest, and also because it’s always a pleasure to read about a creative being trying to be actualized while also raising a child and balancing a marriage. 

In some ways, though, Viv’s story is a cautionary tale — I don’t want to judge, but it reads as if Viv withdrew from creative life to focus on her marriage and child. It’s very understandable in some ways — she went through such trauma and hell to become a mother. And damn, after all that — IVF treatment after treatment — I don’t blame her for just wanting to focus on her personal life. It was so hard-won. 

But she paid a price in terms of identity and livelihood, and suddenly she had one of those moments where she looked at herself and her life and wondered what the hell happened? She found herself in a bit of that Talking Heads “beautiful life” feeling, where you look around and you’re like “How the hell is this my life? And who am I now anyway?” As someone who, at this moment, often wonders just how I’m going to achieve anything creatively anymore and worries about being devoured by motherhood, this is my biggest fear and reading about someone who went through this is so raw and resonant. It’s a scary experience.

Viv did manage to claw her way back to herself, playing music again and performing, though it seemed to have cost her her marriage — which makes me sad, especially after reading about Kim Gordon’s divorce. (Please someone tell me a rock mother memoir of someone who had a happy marriage and had a child and was creatively inspired and isn’t a trust fund kid so I don’t get discouraged.) 

All this makes me — well, not exactly think, but perhaps ruminate in between feeding the baby and going for long walks and working and writing. I always hated the whole concept of “having it all,” because sometimes I just don’t think it’s humanly possible to be all things to all people all at once. 
And yet here I am, trying to “have it all.” Of course, it all depends on how you define “all,” I suppose. I haven’t even attempted frivolous things like being well-dressed or “get back in shape.” (I do dream about clothes, though.) I don’t even aspire to cooking or a splendid home or public recognition or whatever. 

But creative, intellectual and emotional progress is important to me, as are my child, relationships and my family, not to mention just trying to feel somewhat healthy and thriving again. Oh, and financial serenity and prosperity, because it’s not just about me anymore, but what I can create for my family. And already this feels overwhelming to me! The journey back to the things that made me feel like me seems very slow and halting now. I still go back to that feeling of being adrift at sea and seeing the shore of the island that used to be me…and the tides and winds sometimes push me back closer but sometimes they just suck me back away.
(Ugh, I tried so hard not to write about parenthood, and yet here I am, blah blah blah.)

The important thing is to have hope, and you do come away from these middle-aged lady punk memoirs with a sense of it, however fragile it may be. Humans have a vast capacity for venality and cruelty, but they have an equally resilient ability to find meaning and happiness in whatever life throws at them. And so I read Clothes, Music, Boys with a beginning intention of diversion and fun, but found some real hope, a little fear and a rare feeling of comradeship in a fellow creative person trying in her way to fulfill the possibilities of her life for love, growth and family, especially in unconventional ways. I don’t know exactly what my own path will be, and I worry if I’ll find my way, but I only hope to come out of it with something beautiful, surprising and magical. I hope.

  • In other news, I had the pleasure of guest-editing an issue of Storychord! It was a true pleasure to do. I had the privilege of featuring a heartbreaking story by Lisa Ko, as well as the stylish sounds of Folding Legs and a stunning photo by Cari Ann Wayman. Please do check it out, share with your friends via social media, etc…all the work deserves the biggest possible audience!

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Art + Culture on June 30th, 2015 | No Comments »

An Insomniac’s Survival Guide To New Parenthood

There is a lot to be petrified about when you’re getting ready to give birth and become a parent. Hemorrhages, depression, exhaustion, psychologically ruining a small, innocent human being: pick your damage! Yes, I jest, but all those are valid fears to face when preparing for parenthood. But for me, the biggest fear was much more mundane: I was most scared of not sleeping. 

I know, I know: sleep is the most basic casualty when it comes to becoming a parent. Everyone knows you just never sleep when the presence of a squalling, demanding yet adorable wee one arrives in your life. It’s part of the deal: you lose sleep (and often your sanity), but you gain an oceanic, overwhelming and sometimes transcendent love. But as someone who’s struggled with insomnia all my life, returning to a fractious, troubled relationship to sleep seriously scared me.

After all, I’d spent so much time, effort and willpower to defeat my insomnia and develop healthier sleep habits. While I had the occasional slip-up, I was much more able to recover faster, but it’s been a lot of hard work. There’s nothing like getting to the other side of insomnia to know just how beautiful, enriching and blissfully restorative sleep is — and how I can’t take it for granted, and how you have to be pretty vigilant at times to stave off insomnia. How was I going to do without it? What would happen once the baby came?

The standard advice is “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” But as many insomniacs know, that’s easier said than done. That advice assumes you can fall asleep easily, with the wiggle of a nose and a kiss on the elbow. But sometimes just falling asleep is an epic battle of will and frustration — and sometimes sleep just does not come, no matter how hard you try. Couple this with the fact that a lot of my previous mental health measures — exercise, meditation, yoga — went out the window for awhile in the throes of early parenthood. So it’s so surprise that my insomnia flared up again, and I was just a bit more challenged at this point in my life to deal with it.

I’m in the middle of it now, but here’s what I can tell you: being a new parent as a former, still struggling insomniac is hard. Sleep now is often broken-up shards of 2-3 hour intervals, punctuated by feeding, changing or playing. I can carve out 6-7 hours of sleep with a few naps a day, but there is a huge difference between a 2-3 hour chunk versus a longer block. You really physically understand the importance of quality of sleep — I’ve read that you really need a solid block of about 4 hours to reap the benefits of sleeping, and now, well, I can really attest to that. My ability to be patient, calm and just happy and content is so much stronger on a 4-hour block of sleep versus a shorter one. It’s almost better to get five hours of continuous sleep than seven broken-up ones. 

Sometimes I think the very real psychological collateral that women experience in the early nights and days of a new baby — baby blues, mood swings, jags of crying, anger, resentment, unmitigated rage against your partner — can be chalked up to a lethal combination of no sleep, hormones and societal pressures. I mean, we’re all aware of how prisoners are tortured by robbing them of sleep — imagine doing that for MONTHS, just at a time when women feel the press of societal perfectionism to be an ideal mother the most, and there’s a very real, very vulnerable baby to care for. It’s honestly more of a wonder that women don’t crack up in higher numbers.

At the very beginning, in the round-the-clock “feed/poop/sleep” phase, I was so tired that I fell asleep easily, though my sleep was pretty haunted in some ways: by dreams so vivid I’d wake up from them feeling drained, or by any little noise, as if I were extra vigilant about protecting my new baby from whatever primordial danger lay out there. 

Then Baby started sleeping more solidly, which you think would be a godsend — except I’d lay awake in those newly free hours, mind racing with anxieties, plans, worries, memories, emotions. I went through a spell a month or so into parenthood when I’d wake at 4am, feed Baby…and then be unable to sleep afterwards. It was heartbreaking and frustrating, and I wanted to cry so badly. Part of it was the growing light of dawn when I finished; part of it was dealing with the thoughts and doubts and worries that parenting-while-exhausted bubble up.

It didn’t help that I could hear Baby’s little gurgles, snores and heavy breathing from the bassinet, punctuating the never-ending mental movie running through my brain. And all the subtitles of this mental movie read “YOU NEED TO SLEEP!” But of course, yelling at yourself in your head to fall asleep is pretty much a guaranteed way to keep you awake. (And eventually for sanity’s sake we had to move the bassinet into Baby’s own room in order for me to get some non-anxious sleep.)

Luckily, little babycakes is now approaching four months (growing so fast!) and my sleep ability is starting to come back. But getting through this latest insomnia slugfest was rough. What helped — and I hope this helps any other insomniacs dealing with the early flush of a new baby — was embracing the idea that babies change and grow so fast that these challenging, hard circumstances will pass eventually as well. Baby will sleep more in the future at some points, and so will you. I know it’s little consolation in the moment when you’re up at 3 in the morning and up to your elbows in burp cloths and dirty diapers — AAARGH! But I told myself in those early endless nights that Baby would never be this little and precious again, and that it was nice to be awake to soak it all in and cherish all those little things: how they yawn and then sprawl in your lap, milk-drunk, how the little hairs at the nape of their neck stick up all ducky-like.

(And also, if you’re nursing and not sleeping anyway, embrace all the TV and reading you want, because you’re going to be plopped on that sofa for a very long time with nothing else you can do. Man, Baby nursed for soooooo long in the beginning — and so why not take the opportunity to binge-watch “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” on Netflix?)

And everyone says this as well, but: get as much support as you can, whether that’s friends and family who will hold Baby so you can do stuff (like nap!) or make meals (so you can nap!) or clean up (freeing you up to nap instead!) I know for me this was hard, but luckily I have a super-intrusive family (half jokes!) and they were keen on coming to play and hang out with Baby. And if there is no one nearby to offer this kind of support, save up money to hire cleaners, get a meal delivery service or whatever — it is worth it. And don’t feel bad about using that extra time to sleep!

But many insomniacs know that sleep is kind of a mental and psychological game, and it’s very easy to find yourself with mind racing when you know you should be sleeping. The big thing that helped was being able to share my worries and experience the emotions I was going through — just letting myself feel what I felt. There are so many “shoulds” when it comes to motherhood in particular. The subtleties, ambiguities and shadows are accompanied by a huge sense of guilt and doubt — and there’s nothing like those two feelings to feed the insomnia monster. The thing I had to do, I found, was just facing them down and give them some breathing room to exist, then to dissolve and dissipate. And then deep breath, and deep breath, and again and again.

Parenthood is profoundly unpredictable, and the lack of routine — along with the huge emotional adjustment, swirling hormones and rollercoaster of changes — is a perfect breeding ground for insomnia. But it’s helped to let go of the hope and expectation of getting a perfect or ideal night’s sleep. A whole solid eight hours is such a rarity now. Instead, I think now in terms of “good enough” and cherish those solid 4-hour chunks — and am so amazingly grateful on those rare nights when seven-plus hours happen. I still don’t get enough sleep as I’d like, but there’s just a bit less angst about it. It still feels exhausting, but it’s not an existential calamity. (Well, sometimes it is, but try to wait till the next significant nap before you decide to throw yourself off a bridge.)

And there’s also the consolation of watching the little one sleep, so peaceful and cherubic with the little snores and wadded up fists and feathery eyelashes — it really does make this kind of hardship worth it in beautiful and tender ways.

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Soul + Wisdom on May 30th, 2015 | No Comments »

A Craving for Clothes

camillebidaultwadd 

I have fashion on the brain these days. Not in a musing, semi-intellectual art-nun kind of way, but like how when you’re a little kid and you’re like “I want red shoes! I want a ruffly blue dress!” Want, want, want, want, want!

Maybe it’s because during pregnancy I felt like I couldn’t enjoy clothes as much as I usually do. It wasn’t like I had it bad during my baby-incubation months — my style always gravitated towards a silhouette with a looser top and a tighter bottom, so I wore a surprising amount of pre-pregnancy clothes for much of my pregnancy. (I got away with my regular jeans and pants with the help of makeshift waist expanders made of hair elastics until my third trimester, when I caved and got two pairs of maternity jeans. So that was the extent of my fashion accommodation: maternity jeans from H&M, because I hated the idea of spending money on clothes I couldn’t wear forever.)

Now, though, the craving for clothes is emotional, almost spiritual even. It’s a pattern of mine — I daydream about what clothes I’ll buy for a season in times of identity flux, a way to mark off a new stage of existence. I’ll even dream about clothes at night unconsciously. (I’m vaguely mortified to think about how many of my dreams are about shopping for things, and how amazingly visceral and pleasurable they are. I once dreamed about buying perfume and smelling the most exquisite orange blossom and jasmine scent in this dream…and now I’m like WHERE CAN I FIND THIS FRAGRANCE IN REAL LIFE?!! It was pure beauty! But I digress.) 

It’s very basic to use clothes to feel out the changing parameters of identity, at least for me. I used to love to figure out my first-day-of-school outfit, taking time and care in figuring out my year’s persona, like “cartoon heroine glamour” or “English garden party grunge” or whatever. (Those were legit fashion statements I tried to make during my high school and college years, though honestly, I probably just wore the same style year after year: striped shirts, black tights, boots, army parka.) Sometimes I think identity is sort of a tension between who you want to be and who you really are — i.e. a pas de deux between self-acceptance and life-as-creative-act — and style is a visual, tactile, concrete and a sensuous way to figure out those boundaries. 

It was easier to figure out and play with this tension when I was younger, and experimenting with your self is just part of, well, youthfulness. But this new stage of my life — being a mama, yet somehow trying to integrate it with my past artsy-adventuress self — feels tricksier. I look at the list of things I feel drawn to or am intrigued by, and it makes no sense. It’s a mishmash: Nike Pegasus 83s, leather totes from Madewell and Everlane, pink and grey striped sweaters from Uniqlo, mustard yellow Vans Sk-8 high tops, a navy blue cotton lawn dress, an artsy-looking slate grey cocktail dress. Some things I hope embrace the changes in my life; others are kind of pure denial. I’m inspired by random things: Sofia Coppola in her Cali/married to Spike Jonze days (pictured below), stylist Camille Bidault Waddington (pictured above), a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker taking her daughters to school. Again, mishmash.

I do find a pleasure in dressing my baby. Contrary to what you’d think for a former fashion-y obsessive, I actually haven’t bought much for him — my baby inherited a lot of baby clothes from older cousins, and I’m too practical to lay out for things that will only be outgrown in a few months. (I also figure the baby is too wee to care much about hand-me-downs now, so I should take advantage while I can.) I love the innocence of children’s clothes: rounded collars, happy colors, tiny charming embroidered details. I don’t want to match my baby, nor do I want to dress like a child — but I do find myself interested a kind of sincere, innocent joy and happiness in clothing now. 

Finding that — and integrating that with my past fashion selves — is a bit of a challenge, though. One of the strange existential challenges is delving into this whole new life while often missing my past life and self. Perhaps I’m looking to clothes as a concrete, sensuous way to do this — dressing as a way to honor my past but still accommodate my present reality.

Truth is that I don’t really know how to dress anymore, or what to dress for: my body is still changing every week, my spirits soar then flag depending on how much sleep I’ve gotten and how hormonal I feel, sometimes I get out of the house and other days all I do is sit on the sofa and read and watch TV and feed my baby. But I do know the days I “make an effort” tend to be better — fashion as ballast during a tumultuous, beautiful and challenging time in my life.

The other day, while the baby was sleeping, I dug up the storage bins of clothing I put away for the season, or when I was pregnant and couldn’t fit into them anymore. I ended up culling about a third of my wardrobe — things that I knew I wouldn’t fit into for awhile, or seemed too jejune or just “not me.” But who is “me” now? I don’t know. Part of my reasoning for axing some clothes was “That’s not how a new mama facing down 40 dresses,” which I found weird and interesting. I’m smart enough to know that being a mother doesn’t mean I need to dress in capri pants, a fanny pack and some little button-down shirt — but I do need to think practically (spit-up is a new challenge) and I do want a little dignity and grown-up-ness. 

Of course, as I write this, it’s 5 in the morning and I’m up after feeding the baby and I’m wearing sweatpants, a t-shirt and a hoodie. So maybe my cravings will remain simply a craving for the time being. Or at least a way to dream while awake. Which is what great clothes let us do, of course, no matter where we are in life.

Other things:

  • I’m experimenting with using my Tumblr to keep track of what I’m listening to, reading, watching, etc. I never quite figured out how to use Tumblr or what it was for, but it’s so easy to use on my phone, and ease is pretty much the crowning criteria of nearly all things these days.

 

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Fashion on April 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Kim Gordon: Girl in a Band, Patron Saint of Stylish Art Damage, Beacon of Post-Partum Comfort and Inspiration

kimgSo guys! Guess what? I had a baby! Yes, I was pregnant for over half of last year and then gave birth this February.

Pregnancy and birth were experiences I chose not to be public about as they were happening for various reasons. Which is funny, because in the past I’ve blogged about things as personal as my love of obnoxiously patterned underwear, grand makeout experiences, horrible exes and other revealing things. There was something a bit sacred about pregnancy and birth for me –though people write beautifully and honestly on the Internet about these things all the time. I guess these experiences involved other people and relationships to enough of a intimate degree that I felt it wouldn’t be fair to them to publicly document them. Writing on the Internet: what a strange beast it’s become!

Suffice it to say that giving birth and becoming a parent is a life-changing, beautiful thing — as well as really stressful, heart-rending, soul-shattering and strangely fragile-making in the weirdest ways. More later? I’m still feeling it out how to write about these things without feeling like I’m compromising something, or somehow invading someone else’s privacy.

Instead I’ll talk about Kim Gordon’s new memoir, Girl in a Band, which I managed to finish in a post-partum haze of sleep deprivation, post-operative recovery and oh, yeah, learning to care for a newborn. Just the fact that I finished the book should be testament to how good it is and how much I enjoyed it — it’s surprisingly vulnerable, really smart and thoughtful about art, life and other things, and Gordon’s writing is both minimalist and often poetic. It’s like if Joan Didion joined a post-punk band in the early 80s — there’s something kindred between their two voices, kind of a bone-dry precision, understated emotion and wry, almost cutting sense of observation, with vague intimations of superiority. And the name-dropping is pretty superlative. (Favorite bits include a cameo by Keanu Reeves and learning how Chuck D did his guest part on “Kool Thing.”)

(My favorite Sonic Youth album is actually Experimental Trash, Jet Set and No Star, believe it or not. I think it’s a nice combo of their DGC poppier things and their earlier art-damaged plus-avant stuff.)

Kim sits at a pretty cool intersection of art-damage, fashion, punkishness and bougie boho, so her book is peppered with discursive art talk, personal revelations, proclamations of hot vs. not and bits of gossip. My favorite parts are the fashion talk — viva X-Girl! — and her thoughts on motherhood and rock ‘n roll. Some people found the discussion of her marriage’s breakdown fascinating but mostly it made me sad and uncomfortable.

But the most resonant parts for me — the ones where I felt Kim’s thoughts echo mine in a kind of choral harmony — was reading what she wrote about New York, and the pleasure in seeing familiar bits of my NYC past remixed into someone else’s narrative. Nikita, Liquid Sky, Other Music, Lafayette Street, Tramps, Luna Lounge, the Cooler, buying shoes on 8th Street: it’s just fun to be reminded of these places in my past, of a time of wide-open, tremulous possibility, when self and identity seemed improvisational and deliciously malleable. You grow up hearing you can be anything you want, and for me, Kim Gordon and a million other people, NYC was the perfect palette of experiences to make that happen.

It was poignant and almost bittersweet to read Girl in a Band and be reminded of a time of libertine freedom, especially at a time in my life when I’ve given over my time, body and attention to caring for a tiny vulnerable being with no means of communication outside of cries and squalling. The weight of that responsibility — and that all-encompassing wave of love as well — is almost crushing in its intensity, and there are moments when it’s dizzying in its radicalism. I’m bleary-eyed late at night now and it’s not because I was out late kicking it up at some club, rock show or art thing — it’s because the baby won’t fall asleep and wants to feed every two hours, so I’m plopped on the sofa surrounded by blankets, croissant-shaped nursing pillows and burp cloths, holding him in my arms and hoping he’ll pass out soon so I can grab a morsel of sleep.

But Kim Gordon’s book proved an odd beacon of comfort as well — at a time when I feel faraway from my past self most, it’s nice to read about a woman who became a mother and managed to hold onto (or maybe recover) her creative drive, intellectual adventurousness, stylish brio and thirst for experience. It’s not really “having it all” — a phrase I’ve come to despise in a way — but it is living with the fullest sense of yourself as possible, which is something I think we all want, parents or otherwise.

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Art + Culture on March 23rd, 2015 | 2 Comments »

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