Category Archives: Housewives

Determined, Bold, Apparently Cool.

I am not an atypical college student. When I return home for long weekends, I bring my laundry and my appetite. After satiating both my demand for clean clothes and my desire for my mother’s home cooked meals, I then engage in the traditional reminiscing one does when she finds herself sipping hot cinnamon spice tea at the kitchen table.

Last night my mother and I engaged in a conversation typical of the times- that of marriage. A girl I used to tutor and occasionally babysit for had just held her engagement party. My mother’s response, “Wow, everyone is so grown up.”

ME: “Um, are they? And if they are, does that mean they are also ready to assume the role of baby manufacturer?”

MOTHER: “Well, clearly you are a long way from engaging in large scale production of Jewish children.”

Clearly. Amidst said conversation, I began flipping through my 8th grade yearbook and happened upon a caption of me diligently working on my Jewish law report. It was an analysis of the biblical law to kill witches. I was analyzing its significance in relation to contemporary literature. Would Harry Potter, which encouraged the wonderful world of witches and wizardry, fall within the Old Testament delineated understanding of witchcraft? Though I am certain my conclusion was no, and that my rabbi vehemently disagreed with my conclusion, this is just an aside.

The caption– the relevant portion of this narrative– read, “Determined. Bold. Apparently Cool.” And at 13 I was the epitome of first two descriptors. Convinced I would someday be a senator from New York, representing both Jewish and female interests in a male dominated political arena, I was definitely an audacious middle-schooler. But the “apparently cool” bit caught me off guard.

I recognize I was hardly Miss Popularity in those awkward tween years, marked by bulging braces and acne worthy of a game of connect-the-dots. However “apparently” was an odd modifier. I was either cool, or, well I wasn’t.

My mother, as she often does, launched into a lecture regarding my daily dichotomy– how I juggle and juxtapose two often contradictory realities: secular and Orthodox. As a result I am hard to define. Words, such as apparent, reflect a certain modality, a particular hesitation to characterize me as one way or another. I defy the norms, and as my mother concluded,  that made me “kind of wonderful.”

In returning to the theme of this week’s entries– relationships– I began to realize that my dichotomous character might be contributing to my single status. In pitching me to potential contenders, as my grandmother does, she often struggles to find the appropriate adjectives. Every adjective is preceded by some carefully selected modifier.

I used to believe this made me intriguing. I now realize that intriguing and marriageable are two very different categorizations. I have become the girl you date for intellectual amusement, but I am most certainly not the woman you introduce to your parents. “This is Yaffa, and well, she is kind of hard to define” does not spell Mother of My Future Children.

Instead, it calls into my question my domestic housewife duties. Can I assume a Donna Reed identity, or will I– in a desire to climb metaphorical professional mountains– resemble this gem:

The most exciting part of my week: Being friended by a fictional character on Mad Men.

While many of you suppose that my absence from the blogosphere has been prompted by an inundation of senior-related stress, I must confess that there is an additional culprit, and his name is Don Draper. He is the quintessential bad boy you love to hate and hate to love. He will knowingly and deliberately cheat on you countless of times, but the minute he flashes those pearly whites… Moses, have mercy.

Hence, this morning when Twitter greeted me with the following words: “DonDraper has requested to follow you,” I engaged in a 45-minute happy dance session worthy of some incredibly awkward youtube video. Being that it is Monday, the start to an inevitably long and challenging week, I have learned to take my thrills where I can find them, which in this case is an AMC show about hot men and their hot messes.

Since viewing the show, I have started to crave things I have never craved before. For example, the typewriter. Upon dissecting the anatomy of the AMC drama, I realized that in 1964 the typewriter was the defining feature of an independent woman on the rise. As a 2010 version of said woman (I hope!), I believed it was time for me to engage the technological antique. Given the rarity and expense of an actual typewriter, though, I recently settled on the Anthropologie equivalent, featured below:

When in doubt, type it out.

It is my literary inspiration. Each night, when I tackle some of that senior-related stress, I adorn the t-shirt and get into my Mad Men frame of mind, minus the chain smoking and vodka breaks. Instead, I settle for espressos and vente lattes, much healthier and cheaper substitutions, or so I rationalize. Then I assume the role of student and engage in dense academic analysis on the role of water in 1960s neo-realist Italian cinema, as well as the value of post-modernism in contemporary political debate regarding the positioning of women.

In between these academic endeavors, I take breaks, and by breaks, I mean I stalk the twitters of the fictional characters on my favorite show. I even retweet the most memorable or controversial, and watch as those tweets ignite a series of 144 character debates amongst my friends online. But now it is time for me to return to my home base, and rechannel that creative/mindless cyber-energy towards maintaining a blog that fulfills its duty to chronicle my love affair with Starbucks and the caffeinated drinks they supply every day, multiple times a day.

A controversial Calvin Klein ad once read, “Nothing comes between me and my jeans.” I would like to reappropriate that expression now: “Nothing comes between me and my grande skinny vanilla latte.”

“You’ll be married by August 31st.”

Yes, I knew that title would grab your attention. It certainly grabbed mine, when my employer, a highly successful journalist, bid me adieu on Thursday with those parting words. On route to Chicago to relive a summer gone by, and perhaps introduce myself to Ms. Gaga, I departed from my internship with a new understanding of myself and the impression I make on others. Apparently, when people think “Yaffa,” they think New York’s most eligible bachelorette. And by eligible, they imply the kind of desperation I feel between the time I awake and the time I arrive at Starbucks– the period of severe caffeine deprivation during which I may not be held accountable for any of my actions or decisions.

And while I know a good ten matchmakers in Brooklyn who would agree with that assessment, or at least the desperation part of it, I am not sure that accurately describes where I would place myself on the relationship spectrum. In the past few weeks, I have experienced a new round of shidduch (matchmade, in this case by friends) dates. Though they have been entertaining, and provided much fodder for future blog entries, they have also reaffirmed the fact that I am definitely not ready to make a death till us part vow, not now and not in the not so distant future.

This recognition– of my own position on marriage– came to me in the middle of a Chicago karaoke bar, during which I found myself on stage belting out Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” to a crowd of rowdy Midwesterners, shocked that a white girl like me would tackle a classic Motown song like that. I must admit, if you had told me a year ago, I would ever agree to sing in public, on stage, with a live band, I would have thought you had lost your mind. But somehow, with little to no alcohol in my system, I believed that Saturday night would be the perfect night to show the world that Lucy Ricardo and I have a little more in common than a propensity for 50s housewife dresses– we also lack the ability to carry a tune.

Energized and inspired by my first attempt at live performance, I also proceeded to do a rendition of  Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me.” What I didn’t realize was that a certain someone was watching me with innocent ex-Amish eyes, and he was planning to engage me in conversation upon the conclusion of my second and final performance of the night.

Ex-Amish boy– we’ll call him Daniel– greeted me, as I exited the stage and said, “You and me, we’re a lot a like.” Assuming this was a pathetic attempt at a pick up line, I nodded politely and moved in the direction of the bar. But he pursued the topic further. “No, seriously, I can tell you grew up in an insular world not so dissimilar to my own. The way you started out the song, really unsure of your surroundings and questioning how you actually got there. You’ve got the look of a girl raised in an Orthodox setting.”

Though it is entirely possible Daniel tells all the ladies he stalks at karaoke night in dingy pizza bars this line, my curiosity was piqued. We began a lively discussion about the challenges of balancing our traditional value system with a fairly secularized culture, and indeed he was correct– we faced a similar daily dichotomy. In his case, he had chosen to leave Lancaster, PA behind at age 18 because his father had arranged a not so pleasant marriage for him and a girl he could only describe as “dull and with child-bearing hips.” After chastising him for criticizing a woman with a little extra junk in her trunk, I let him continue.He basically did not want to marry; he knew the world beyond his Amish bubble had something to offer, and until he fully explored and discovered it, he would be discontent settling down into any marriage, Amish or other.

I completely empathized. Even though no one had arranged a marriage for me, I had certainly had my share of bad dating experiences, i.e. a boy who kept exclaiming, “Oh, you’re too cool. Too Cool. Too Cool.” Yes, he was a tool. And I learned from those experiences that I was far from ready to wed, start a family, and put my child-bearing hips to good use.

Appreciating each other’s similarly awkward positions, we agreed to let go and for one night only, “Just Dance.” And yes, ladies and gents, I did see Lady Gaga up close and personal at Lollapalooza this weekend:

The Woman, the Myth, the Legend.

“Shut Up and Read,” or, The Long-Awaited Guest Post

Hello, faithful readers of The Green Straw. It is I, Torie, also known as Yaffa’s “Beloved Roommate,” filling in for her while she is having adventures in the Windy City. I have nothing better to do, because while she has moved on to bigger and better things (Chicago or New Jersey, take your pick),  I am still living life in the Heights. To further illustrate, when Yaffa returns she will have thrilling stories of seeing Lady Gaga up close and personal; the most exciting thing that happened to me today was that a creepy shirtless man watched me from his ground-floor window as I walked by. Though my life may not be as glamorous as that of my favorite Starbucks addict, I do have lots of time to practice making double beds and waxing poetic to anyone who will listen about the vices (he’s a jerk!) and virtues (but he’s such a pretty jerk!) of Don Draper.

As much as I enjoy the quiet life, though, my desire to emulate the life of Don & co is not what brought me to New York City this summer. I was lucky enough to land a summer internship at Writers House, a kick-ass literary agency with rockstar clients like Neil Gaiman and Sharon Creech and a bunch of authors who are less well-known but of rockstar quality nonetheless (also Stephanie Meyer, but that can of worms is better left for another entry entirely). It’s lucky for all of you, as well. If not for this internship, I would probably have to resort to guest-blogging about how much Yaffa loves me. (You may laugh, but there’s precedent for this. In her blogging infancy, I hijacked her livejournal and wrote an ode to myself.)

Yaffa’s adoration for me aside, I do have a point to this entry, a point provided to me by Writers House. When I’m not busy reading and evaluating manuscripts or going on late-afternoon M&M runs (yes, I mean the chocolate candy. This is not some super-secret publishing term…that I know of), I attend a series of tutorials designed to give me and my fellow interns an overview of the publishing industry. At one of these, I learned a disturbing fact: physical book purchases are dropping noticably every week. Not every quarter, every week. As in, every seven days, there is a discernable decrease in book sales from bookstores around the country. Though this isn’t all bad news – e-book sales and books bought over the internet are rising at a similar rate – I find this disturbing nonetheless. I know that iPads and Kindles and Nooks and whatever else are shiny and cool and convenient.

Visual evidence of the iPad's sexiness.

Forget about the technology’s sexiness, though. Ask yourself, are e-books really the same as an actual book? Think about a favorite book from your childhood. Would it be the same if you had spent hours staring at an electronic version? Maybe I’m a nerd, but there are few things I like better than walking into a bookstore or library and losing myself amongst the shelves until I find something that catches my interest. Somehow, staring at an open browser and clicking around doesn’t have the same appeal.

Picture these shelves full of Kindles. Not as fun, huh?

So, to steal one of Yaffa’s new life philosophies, I am here to implore you to shut up and read a book. Find a local bookstore, pick a book. Feel the weight and smell that new book smell. Lose yourself in an imagined world and, by doing so, do a little to insure that the kids I babysit for will grow up knowing what it means to read a book that isn’t electronic. Speaking of those kids, they just woke up from nap. Maybe I’ll go read them a book.

If I were Don Draper’s wife…

I would hire Sampat Pal Devi, the leader of the North Indian Gulabi Gang, to beat the philandering Mad Man into submission. For those unfamiliar with Sampat, let me explain. In Utter Pradesh, a northern province of India, misogyny is the norm and patriarchy reigns supreme. Women have little education, and even less money to pursue higher knowledge. Often they are forced into arranged marriages with men who use and abuse them. Sampat is one such woman. In a story I covered for the World Policy Journal, I wrote about the strength of this one woman, who though illiterate, determined to take back her body and take control of her life.

Organizing a group of disenfranchised ladies, Sampat– yes, we’re on a first name basis– formed the Gulabi Gang, which literally translates as the Pink Gang. She chose the name because the identifiable mark of a Gulabi member is her pink sari, and in some cases pink laathi, or bamboo stick, which she employs when beating an abusive husband into obedience. Though many have claimed that her gang is criminal and worthy of severe punishment, I find myself supporting Sampat. In a region where women have no rights or access to legal recourse and where the government refuses to hear their pleas, they have no choice but to play the role of vigilantes. And unlike many vigilantes, their attacks are targeted at a very specific subgroup for which most individuals would have little sympathy– philandering and/or abusive husbands.

Now how different is Utter Pradesh from 1960s New York?  In those days, what recourse did women have when their husbands cheated or abused them? The law was made by men, for men. Women like Betty Draper had little opportunity to respond within a formally instituted framework, which is why I think it’s a shame Betty never met Sampat. And yes, I know Betty is a fictional character. But I am certain that she existed in some form in some suburb somewhere in America. I just wish she could have had the strength of someone like Sampat and defied the Good Housekeeping’s Guidelines for a 1950s Housewife which include a number of memorable gems:

– “Don’t ask him questions about his actions or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house, and as such will exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.”

– “Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first- remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.”

-And my personal favorite, “A good wife always knows her place,” as summarized in the below graphic:

I bet you the woman above knew how to make a double bed. And while that means she possessed certain skills I may never acquire, I can honestly say that I am content with that reality. I will have to bring home the bacon (in my case, veggie bacon), and be my own breadwinner. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is more rewarding than a 4 PM chocolate chip cookies and milk break with the kids after school.

Note: A special thanks to Torie, the beloved roommate, whose brilliance and love of Don Draper inspired this entry.