Don’t trust Pinterest pregnancies

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Before I was pregnant, I had a lot of great ideas about how I’d do pregnancy.

First, I would surprise Mr. B with a positive pregnancy test and something cute and clever I’d seen on Pinterest, like maybe a bunch of balloons with the test tied to them, or a t-shirt with “Best Dad” on it, and his eyes would light up and we would toast to our success and then casually go about our business.

In reality, what happened was that by the time we decided we wanted kids, we were desperately yearning for them. Wanting to have kids is not something other people can impose on you by constantly nagging you about when you’re going to have kids. It’s not something that happens overnight. But when it does and you’re ready for it, it is the most pressing, urgent feeling in the world.

For me, what happened was that everything that used to be interesting to me became boring. We booked tickets to Hong Kong and I thought, great, another vacation, just the two of us, alone together. Sitting in coffee shops reading alone slipped from fun indulgence to mindless luxury. Watching other peoples’ children grow up on Facebook became painful. Despite the fact that I had a successful career, was in school and active in the tech community, my life seemed dull, uneventful, like I was growing older for no apparent reason, without a purpose. It was like being in a Woody Allen movie.

We were really intensely ready and trying to read any and all signs that might mean the start of something new. I stared at the two faint pink lines on the pregnancy test, squinting. Was this really a positive test? It seemed so normal and innocuous on the counter. I called Mr. B in. “Hey, I think this is positive,” I said, as if hoping he could interpret it better than me.

He walked in eating a banana, carefully avoiding all of my sample specimens laid out on the counter. “I don’t know,” he said, “maybe you should take another test.” I took another test. Same faint pink double-line. But no certainty. I started Googling. Well, not so much Googling as opening an anonymous browser, starting up a VPN proxy, and using DuckDuckGo, because, privacy. “It says we should buy an electronic test,” I said. What kind of mother was I, buying pharmacy brand? Mr. B went to get cash from the ATM, in case the test came up on our credit card statement, and bought three.

It said pregnant.

“Congratulations?” I said to Mr. B.

Even though our bathroom at this point looked like the beginnings of a meth lab, I still didn’t believe it. How can a simple pharmacy test determine the rest of your life?

I waited with Mr. B and the doctor’s office, feeling completely unpregnant.

A kind woman asked me the last date of my cycle and told me I was due in January. “Congratulations,” she said, handing me a Toys R Us catalog. “Wait, you’re not going to test me?” I said, incredulous. “You did take a pregnancy test at home, right?’ “yeah, but isn’t there something more official you can do?” I asked her. She looked at me like I was insane. “We can take the same test here, but it will charge to your insurance.” “And there’s nothing else?” “No, congratulations again,” she said, shooing me out of the office.

“What a scam,” I told Mr. B. “We can’t tell my parents yet, then. I’m still pretty sure I’m not pregnant.”

Two weeks later, while we were taking a morning walk, I threw up on the sidewalk. “That’s definitely pregnancy,” Mr. B said. “Or cancer,” I said, wiping the prenatal vitamin spitup off my chin.

I didn’t believe I was pregnant until I heard the heartbeat at my first official appointment. Then I squinted my eyes hard to stop the tech from seeing me cry with relief and awe.

The second thing I thought I would do is write a cute post on my blog that many bloggers do, starting with a coy allusion to “BIG CHANGES” and then maybe a picture of Mr. B and me and our shoes and another tiny pair, like they always do on all the lifestyle blogs. But for the first 17 weeks, I was too exhausted to even read the news. I was throwing up every other day, figuring out a new job, driving to class three times a week, and then slithering onto my couch and trying to gestate quietly without the room spinning. I never realized I could get this used to throwing up.

“How are you feeling,” everyone asked, and I tried to come up with a viable metaphor, but there is none. For me, the first trimester was like being hungover every day. Starting with the possibility of throwing up, followed by faint waves of nausea where you have to be prepared to dart to the bathroom at any time. One week, I could only eat chicken nuggets. Another week, it was Lifeway Kefir. A third week, only a specific cereal brand. Every day was like walking through quicksand: enormous and unimaginable.

Mr. B handmade me water with lemon juice mixed in for three months because I couldn’t drink regular water. He drove to the store on almost a daily basis because I couldn’t get off the couch. And if I didn’t eat, even though I wanted to, bad things happened. When I showed up at my parents’, not having eaten for three hours, and my mom didn’t have food I could eat, I broke down and cried. When Mr. B tried to dash out to the grocery store, I sat down at his foot and held his leg and cried, because I was worried he wouldn’t get a chance to eat first.

Every time I sat down to blog, I became drained, exhausted, and stupid. There was nothing interesting going on in my life, and nothing public worth sharing without giving it all away. Everything I’d written before seemed dumb and every analogy or allusion I could possibly write seemed trite, already written about pregnancy before.

And, there was no way I could write a cute post with a baby announcement, because of the third thing I’d thought about pregnancy, which is that I was constantly terrified. I thought I would do when I was pregnant is be happy that I was pregnant, and just become really nice and mellow. And there are some moments where I am. But mostly, I am anxious. Not terrified, but anxious. Anxious that the baby is developing fine. Anxious that the baby getting enough nutrition. Anxious that I am not in situations where I could expose the baby to harm.

Only chill American moms who aren’t anxious can write posts with cute baby clothes and baby plans looking out to 9 months ahead. Russian Jewish moms who are genetically imprinted to remember pogroms, cholera, the Mongols, Eastern European family heath histories and other tiny tragedies of every day life cannot be this blasé about babies.

In addition to the fears I knew from my own every day life, I was terrified of things I had read on the forums. “Don’t read the forums,” Mr. B said, but the forums were mostly helpful. Just sometimes, people would announce that they had had a loss at 7 weeks, 12 weeks, 13 weeks, and just when I thought I was safe, I saw their messages. I constantly checked myself between checkups for signs that my baby was ok, that it was growing and healthy. Every time I threw up, I breathed a sigh of relief afterwards because it meant everything was fine.

When I stopped throwing up and before I started feeling baby movements, I tried to read big fantasy books to keep my mind busy. Blogging about a process that was so fraught with terrifying potential avenues, that was so new and fragile, seemed like tempting fate, and it still does, but I’m getting to the point where I can’t not write, because writing is also my life.

When I did want to write, I was worried about privacy. I saw hundreds of naked babies on Instagram and Facebook, and didn’t want that to be me. Where do those baby pictures go when Instagram dies and Facebook becomes dismantled? Where does my privacy end and where does my child’s begin? I don’t know, and as someone who likes to document her life, it makes me worried. But I also didn’t want to not share, because it felt like was living life with a gag across my mouth. I’m trying to toe the middle line. (Maybe I’ll repost pictures of those Instagram babies as a compromise.)

So anyway, surprise blog post ending, I’m pregnant, and there is no certainty to anything about being pregnant like there was in every other part of my life, and it’s scary. But I am certain (knock on wood, tie the red bracelet, spit over your shoulder) that we are having a healthy, happy daughter in January and I could not be looking forward this part of my life more.

P.S. Don’t believe the sunshiney-happy-belly-rubbing pregnancies people tell you about in social media. Social media, especially Pinterest, was invented by Americans.

 

Why does American radio suck so much?

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Every time I start driving to get to work, I get progressively angrier. Thankfully, this time my new job’s only 25 minutes away, but that’s 25 minutes of either radio or audiobooks. I love both audiobooks and public radio, and would highly recommend both to anyone doing a commute, but sometimes I get tired of  NPR gently telling me that global warming, racism,  ISIS and gluten-intolerance are all my fault,  and I  just want to listen to music.

The problem with American music stations is they SUCK. There is no other word for it. Which is why, when I’m at home, I usually listen to European radio. But it seems unfair that the American listening public is subjected to the same 20-not even 40-songs over and over again, and even those songs are all the same.

Every day as I drive, I wonder in rage, not about measles outbreaks or genetically-modified vegetables, but why the hell the American public is ok with shitty radio.

I did a little digging, and aside from the fact that the American music industry is completely messed up, I was surprised to find that I’m the key demographic for this bullshit:

The Top40 format is generally targeted toward Women 18-34 years old. So, if you don’t fit into that life-group, you’re not likely to be interested in a lot of the music we play on those stations. Of course, Top 40 attempts to reach a broader audience as well including Men and most target teens/college students at night….Women 18-34 are our bread and butter there.

These women are generally very busy. Often they’re trying to balance career, kids, appointments, etc. They’re in the car a lot but for relatively short periods of time. In order to keep their interest, we try to keep things very fast paced content-wise. We’re also doing our best to make sure that as soon as they turn on our station, they’re going to hear a very popular hit song. We don’t waste time with a lot of “filler” on these stations. Thus, most of the music you’ll hear is relatively new – released within the last two years or so. The DJs keep their breaks quick. We know we don’t have a lot of time to reel in these women.

So basically I am listening to the music that’s targeted directly to me.  And I have to say I hate it, for the exact same reasons that Jia Tolentino rages against it in this Hairpin piece on the newest terrible American song, “Rude”:

The first time I heard “Rude” I thought it was a 1-800-411-PAIN ad, because Detroit radio is currently running one that sounds sort of like a more palatable version of “Rude.” The next couple of times I had the sort of physical reaction I associate with suddenly coming in contact with bees; before my mind could process what was happening, I pawed at my radio dial quickly, ahhh, get it away!

Get it away from me, and by it I mean mindless American radio. I suppose I could subscribe to Pandora or Spotify or play Grooveshark mobile, but that defies the whole point of this rant which is that I’m a music snob and all 50 million or howevermany 18-34 women there are should listen to the stuff I listen to, which is all this stuff. Get on it, radio stations.

NPR, if you’re listening, maybe you can throw some of this in between alarmist reports of ebola or farming bluefin tuna. Or better yet, instead of.

Don’t pageclick on this

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In the pre-industrial age, the most valuable commodity was time. Would you have enough time to plant a harvest? Were there enough hours in the day before the sun set and the candles needed to be lit?  People spent days and years making things-watches, dresses, meals, cathedrals. John Donne wrote whole poems about how the sun decided the day.

 BUSY old fool, unruly Sun, 
        Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ? 
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ? 
        Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide 
        Late school-boys and sour prentices, 
    Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride, 
    Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime, 
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time. 

In the YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU CLICK THIS LINK age, despite what millions of frantic lifehack articles tell us, we have enough time to do everything we want. We only don’t because we make our own lives harder by filling them with modern fluff (soccer practice for kids (paywall) and networking for adults are two that come to mind ) because we need to monopolize the time we’re not using to seem busier and more valuable.

Idleness has always been a negative trait. If you weren’t planting fields, it meant you wouldn’t eat. But we can get food whenever we want, so today’s idleness in the Western world is superficial, and because we are scared of death.  We need to be occupied by whatever we deem most important to us not because it’s essential for life, but because of our ego.

Today’s most valuable commodity is attention. Seth Godin, who writes some gimmicky stuff but also some gems,  wrote recently, “There’s a gold rush for attention going on. We are all in the media business.”  I’ve written before about how much I hate the current shape of the mainstream media, an issue that impacts most people who live on the internet and let the internet shape their world views.

A couple weeks ago at WordCamp Philly, I talked for 45 minutes about how SEO, Twitter, and Buzzfeed are ruining good quality writing, and that if you really care about writing well, you should be writing consistently good content about things you care about because you’re passionate about them, not because you want to whore yourself out for pageclicks.

I begged people who were starting blogs not to care about making money, to write good, interesting things, and that, possibly,  money might follow. I told them to write about how they grew their tomato plants or about the house they built for their cats, or about how they lived in Germany ten years ago. As long as they were interested in the topic, their sincere interest would shine through, and eventually, others would pick up on it.  At the end of my talk, a man raised his hand and asked, “But you can make money off blogs, right?”

Pageviews are ruining the way we understand and process news, the same way that live CNN feeds ruined it 20 years ago.

Readers’ interests are to get as much of the story as possible, from different perspectives, written by people who truly care about reporting. The business side of the magazine is interested in pushing out sensational, stupid stories, the kind I see in my Facebook feed every morning, with increasing regularity, now that Ukraine and Israel/Gaza are heating up.  The more comments and shares a post gets, the better it is. The more people click on it, even better.

By the way, the best things so far I have read on Ukraine and Gaza in the English-speaking Internet don’t come from traditionally mainstream sites. Here’s Ukraine, and here’s Gaza.

I’m posting a specific example, not to pick on people who have posted it (at least two or three in my timeline, either because they agree or disagree with it…I have no idea, I didn’t click on it), but because this exemplifies exactly the type of shit I’m angry about. Sensational image, misleading headline, all encouraging you to CLICK CLICK CLICK.

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These are fun to flip through on the train or in minutes you have spare time, but really all they do is stress you out, make you angrier, and worst of all,  lead to colossal misunderstandings of how the world works. I have to read at least five different sources to corroborate Israeli and Palestinian claims, and not because the issue is so complicated, which it is, but because journalists are plain lazy and editors need pageclicks faster and faster.

As a news consumer, I am just plain exhausted. I refuse to click on anything from BuzzFeed, Upworthy, or any of those stupid viral sites.

We are only solving this problem very slowly. The latest solution has been to start a hipster data journalism site. As of last count, I know of at least four: The Upshot from the New York Times, FiveThirtyEight, Vox.com, and the Washington Post just launched one last week whose name I can’t remember because I don’t care. These sites try, but they don’t do much better. For example, Nate Silver is currently writing about burritos.

The only solution is to write good shit, to hire people who genuinely care about writing good shit, and most importantly, make money doing that. Oh, and don’t forget getting people to read your content.   It takes time to build up credibility, too.

There’s no way around these things, and that’s why it’s so hard. Building a good media source could take just as long, maybe, as building a cathedral or growing a tree.

I can never go back to real life

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When my classes end for the summer, I always quip to people that I’m on summer vacation because the only thing I’ll have to do now is go to work 9-5, and then have five blissful hours of freedom in the evenings.

I’ll think to myself that it’s not a true vacation unless you’re doing absolutely nothing, like you used to do in the summer before school started, but then I remember back to my summers in middle and high school. They were filled with summer work: English books to read, history essays to write, current events to synthesize.

We would get the work on the last day of school, or during the first hazy days in July, a package would come in the mail, the dreaded assignments. No matter how I tried to finish them ahead of time, there I would be, the last couple weeks of August, frantically writing, terrified I wouldn’t get an A and be off to a bad start with my new teacher.

This past summer semester was my hardest one in school  yet: I started a new job almost exactly at the same time as three classes started, and I signed myself up to give at talk at Philly WordCamp in the middle of the month. As a result, my June was hell.

These days, I truly am doing nothing.  Or, I’m only do things that aren’t annoying: as you can tell, I’m not blogging, I haven’t picked up my novel since last week.

I have no commitments other than to my friends and family.

I come home, maybe make some dinner, maybe eat some watermelon. Maybe Mr. B and I go for a nice long walk around the neighborhood, maybe we watch some bad Russian tv.  Maybe I eat a popsicle.

My calendar is clear of any school/teaching/tech obligations until late August.

I lay on the couch and read books. I’ve already finished The Luminaries and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.  I start long, thoughtful, angry, poignant blog posts and don’t finish them.  I start short tweets that have jokes and don’t tweet them.

Sometimes I get manicures.

Sometimes I just open the windows and smell the sweet grass Mr. B is mowing.

I have never been this unbusy in my entire life.

And it’s scary how good it feels.

Purim in Moscow

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Purim is one of those American Jewish experiences that most Russian Jews missed out on growing up in America. That’s what I always thought, at least, until Anat sent me an email that she was making a documentary about her experiences with purimspiels, Purim plays that retold the story of Esther,  in the Soviet Union.

Anat is an Israeli filmmaker who was born in Moscow. Her family was 9 when they left the Soviet Union. Before that in the late 1980s, they were part of a tight Jewish student group in Moscow, and somehow got the idea that they should be putting on these plays for friends, family and kids.

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I was thunderstruck by the idea that this happened. First, religion was completely verboten in the Soviet Union, and anyone caught in religious  situations would immediately go to jail. Granted, this was close to the fall of the Soviet Union, but still. Second, I didn’t realize there were Jews in the Soviet Union who knew anything about being Jewish, or about the story of Purim. Third, I have no idea how anyone was able to buy a camera, let alone keep the film for that long, in the Soviet Union.

The documentary Anat made about these secret spiels, interspersed with interviews with her parents and other participants now living in Israel, is touching, and, for me, reflects an entirely different universe from the Soviet Union I knew.

I watched it a couple times, still in disbelief, emotional.

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Here’s the trailer, and the whole documentary (~15 min) is available online for $1 if you’re interested.