Not Another Marie Kondo Thinkpiece

Those who come by me passing

I will remember them,

and those who come heavy and overbearing

I will forget.

This is why

when air gushes between mountains

we describe the wind

and forget the rocks.

-Saadi Youssef | Attention

Like a lot of people, I've been watching the Netflix special Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. It's been presented as a kind of home makeover show, but I feel very deeply that that presentation does it a tremendous disservice. The families on the show are all shoring themselves up against the incoming wall of a major life change: the grieving widow trying to figure out where to go from here, the wives with a lot of internalized messages about how she "should" manage her household and guilt when that becomes overwhelming, the immigrant mother feeling alienated from her culture, the pair expecting their first child and approaching a major stage of adulthood, the newlywed couple trying to integrate their things into a home. Major life changes that come with major identity changes. Marie Kondo doesn't just encourage them to sort through their things and throw stuff away; instead, the focus is on what they should keep, what they want to bring forward with them into their futures. The things in our households should be part of us and who we want to be, not just things we drag along behind us. With an attitude inspired by her Shinto animism, Kondo greets homes and the objects within them as unique beings, and when she asks her clients to thank the objects for the service they've offered, she means it literally. Thank them for holding the memory of a loved one, thank them for protecting us from the cold, thank them for the way they've helped us show gratitude to others.

When I started writing this newsletter several years ago, it was with the loose intention of creating something similar to Claire Comstock-Gay's Madame Clairevoyant horoscopes column: something kind, and thoughtful, and a little bit inspirational. Something that, if I was doing it right, felt like it was about you. Along the way, though, that's changed. This letter is, most of the time, mostly about me. I try to turn my stories into some wider lesson, something applicable to more people, but I don't know that I always do it. I do my best at sharing what I'm learning from myself along the way in hopes that it becomes something useful to someone else, but I don't know how much it works.

It's gotten harder lately. Since I got pregnant nearly two years ago, I often find myself coming up against the same wall Jean Hannah Edelstein described in her latest Thread (which isn't yet available on the archive list, but presumably will one day be), in which she writes: Is it internalized misogyny that makes me think that now my full-time life is Mother, at least for now, I no longer have anything interesting to write to you? Probably! For surely we all believe to some extent that once women become mothers, their selves are subsumed. No longer interesting now she's a mother seems like a thing that people think, an opinion that people don't challenge. My new self as a mother feels so wholly involved in motherhood that while I have done some new things lately (I play D&D now! I occasionally send pitches to editors and am trying to get my writing out in the world in more formal ways! I swear I do stuff!) I find myself feeling like I have little to say because so much of what I think about is this little person, her life, how she relates to the world and to me and how I relate to her. And those thoughts are so insular, so much about us as a pair, that it's difficult to find ways to relate them to other people. 

Objects accumulate, and the dust of our pasts accumulate with them. Making room for Rowan in my life, my home, and my heart has taken a lot of sifting through the dust and choosing the things I want to move forward with, and what I leave behind. What I don't think people realize before becoming parents, or at least what I didn't realize, is that mother is an all-consuming identity, but not really in the way we think. What "mother" means to me is defined largely by the mothers I've known, and none of those versions are quite everything I think myself to be. But for Rowan, the very first definition of "mother" she knows will be every single thing I am. To her, I am mother. Not just hers, but the entire concept. The word means nothing but the way I live it. To her, at least for now, a mother is someone who hugs her and reads to her and feeds her, and also someone who writes, who likes to hike, who talks to dogs, who greets the neighbourhood with a little song every morning, who plays D&D with her friends twice a month. 

I bring these things with me into our future. I bring my friends, I bring our books, I bring some dice. I bring my partner and my family and my daughter. I bring my feelings and my history and a deep need to get out of the city during harvest season. I bring a refusal to fold t-shirts and a deep love of sleeping in on weekends. I'm Mama, and I have a mom life, and I take forward only what brings me joy. 

Getting Through It

So Much of Any Year is Flammable