The Reasons I Changed My Name. And Changed It Back.

The Reasons I Changed My Name When I Got Married

  1. It was a symbol that we were a single family.
  2. A sign of love and devotion.
  3. Almost every woman I’d ever known had done it.
  4. I’d planned to change my name my entire life.
  5. I wasn’t far enough along in my career for my last name to be widely recognized.
  6. To make it clear I was the mother of my children once they came.

The Reasons I Changed My Name Back When I Got Divorced

  1. It was mine.
  2. I missed it.
  3. Turns out, no one cares if I have a different last name from my kids. Forms aren’t any harder to fill out, conversations aren’t more confusing, life isn’t tougher.
  4. I’d never taken the time to really think about changing it when I did it the first time, and now that I had time to think about it I realized it was the wrong choice.
  5. F—- the Patriarchy. 
  6. If I get married again to a feminist who wants to take MY name, it’d be nice if it was actually mine.
  7. During all those years when I was waiting to replace my name with another one that I imagined would be a better one, I didn’t realize what I had and how much it meant to me.
  8. People call me “Mrs. Severson” or “Graham’s Mom” or whatever, but that’s okay. People call you things and it doesn’t change you. What matters about my name is what I write down and how I identify myself.
  9. Changing your name, even when your name is recognized and you’ve started to build a career with it, is okay. It’s called “rebranding” and these days it’s pretty common, so I wasn’t afraid people would forget who I was.
  10. It was a symbol of reclaiming myself.
  11. I realized that I wanted to be just one person and stay that person. I will not change my last name again.
  12. I like being at the end of the alphabet. And having the nickname J-dub or J-Wo or whatever someone comes up with tomorrow. And telling people it’s “bury as in bury the hatchet.”

 

Living Another Life and Living Mine

For two weeks I played pretend. I had the kind of normal life most bloggers have, or at least something approximating it.

I drove a minivan. I dropped the kids off at half-day camp. I worked at the dining room table whenever I got a free minute and took work calls in my bedroom. I stayed in a house with 4 (four!!!) bathrooms. There was a dog running around, and a pool in the backyard that we played in each evening as the sun got low. There were other adults around so someone could run point on getting the kids lunch or taking them to the bathroom. One night someone even put the kids to bed for me while I went out. 

It was a quick visit to the life most other “mommy bloggers” have. (I hate that term, but it shows no sign of dying.) I have never really had that life, I’ve had bits and pieces of it at one time or another, but it never materialized the way I thought it would. 

I feel the distance from that life more than I should. It feels like opposition more than it should. Especially when people buy houses with big backyards and celebrate anniversaries and take vacations. (Vacations! Besides a couple of weekends away that I squeaked out back when I was married, I haven’t had a real vacation since my honeymoon. And even that was just a 4-hour drive away.)

I am working on feeling the distance less. I am trying to compare less and focus on my future. But that’s hard.

I told someone the other day that my life feels like it’s finishing a chapter. Then they asked, “So what’s the next chapter?” 

I have no answer for that. If there’s anything I know, it’s that I can’t say how things are going to go. I never could have predicted the last 10 years. Even if I caught a glimpse of a couple things on the horizon, nothing has gone the way I thought it would.

How can I say what the next chapter will be? 

I honestly don’t even think about what it’ll be. I know some things I want to accomplish, I know some things I’d like to be lucky enough to get, but I also know that none of that is a guarantee even with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. 

8 years ago I thought I knew exactly how my life was going to play out. I won’t make that mistake again.

I take things a day or a week or a month at a time. Just little steps forward, occasionally a step back, then some more little steps forward. My eyes are on my feet, not the road, trying not to slip, trying to stay steady.

Not knowing what’s going to happen is actually one of the things I like about my life right now. And there are a lot of things I like about my life right now (independence, career, city life, time with my kids, time away from my kids) just like there are things I don’t like (loneliness, no vacations, debt, bad dates).

Who knows if one day the minivan life will be mine? Maybe it will. I can’t rule it out. I can’t even rule out the possibility that I’d love every minute of it.

Mission Impossible: Dude Nation

Last night I went to a movie. I don’t get to do that too often, so I try not to be too picky. If it isn’t a movie for children that I am seeing with my children, I’m usually good to go. Last night I was on a date, he’d mentioned wanting to see the new Mission Impossible and that was totally fine by me. 

So here’s the thing. I am not particularly militant about my entertainment because it would mean I could watch very little. Most of what we have to watch, especially in movies, is very heavy on white guys. But I felt that, in this day and age, there’s probably a little more gender parity. And in the first few minutes of the movie I thought, well why don’t I see if that’s really true.

So I counted the number of women in this movie with speaking roles.

The thing about this movie, and most action movies really, is that the parts can pretty much be filled by any race or gender. They aren’t heavy on character development, they just need bodies. Occasionally when a bankable actress is on board with one of these projects they’ll actually flip the gender of the main character with no damage to the story. (Example: Jodie Foster in Flightplan, although I’ll warn you, reading articles about how the movie was more “sympathetic” with a mother than a father might make you slightly stabby.) In a franchise you get an actor in and they stick, obviously, but any character new to the movie is basically a blank slate. With just 4 returning characters, that left lots of room.

I started counting. 

And as I’m sure you can guess, the results were not happy-making. If they had been it would’ve been fodder for a pleased tweet. Instead, it’s a post. So yeah.

The final numbers: 8 women who spoke. (9 if you include the opera singer singing, but I don’t, really. She didn’t get a closeup or have her Italian translated so she remained background.)

To give you a little context, more than 8 men speak IN THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF THE MOVIE. 

And it’s even worse than that. Of the 8 women who spoke, only 2 had lines that were more than filler like “Stand by,” or “Yes, sir.”

Only 1 of them appears regularly throughout the movie as a main, named character. 1 woman.

There are 13 men in this movie who are named, central characters. But 1 woman.

2 government agency heads face a subcommittee of senators in a hearing. Everyone in the room is a man. (I know women sadly only make up 20% of congress, but you couldn’t make room for one lady in there?)

This happens over and over again, to the point where nearly every scene without our 1 woman is a scene made up completely of men. And when she’s there, she is the only woman in the room time after time. And yes, she’s kickass and mysterious, but she feels an awful lot like token eye candy when every single other person is a dude.

 

The second (and only other) woman with decent lines should matter, but unfortunately she remains unnamed “Record Shop Girl.” This is part of the deal with action movies, of course. There are many, many unnamed characters with parts like “Lead Biker” and “Drone Technician #1.” But there are only 7 women among these hordes, and it gets to the point that it starts to feel like a very strong and unrecognized bias or a conscious choice. I lean towards the latter, especially since every lady in this movie is pretty darn gorgeous, even the one woman who’s supposed to be an older character, the wife of a head of state, is ridiculously gorgeous. 

It seems pretty clear that you’re not looking to put any women in your movie, and when you throw a handful of them in there, they’re mostly just to look at. When it comes to your other needs? Dudes.

Security guards? Dudes.

Assassins? Dudes.

Politicians? Dudes.

Lab techs? Dudes.

Airplane pilots? Dudes.

Power plant employees? Dudes.

Police officers? Dudes.

People behind a desk? Dudes.

Bodyguards? Dudes.

People here to kill you? Dudes.

Your boss? Dude.

Your nemesis? Dude.

The movie was fun, quite jaunty and light considering how much chasing and fighting there was. But once I started counting, it was rather depressing. Which is why I don’t make this a regular habit. 

Many people criticize the Bechdel test, including me. (For a movie to pass the Bechdel test, two female characters must appear, speak to each other, and have that conversation be about something besides a man.) But it remains necessary when so many movies don’t even seem to acknowledge that women make up half of the world.

To be honest, I got in this frame of mind in the first place not because of this movie but because of the previews. They were VERY heavy on dudes, including several period pieces and some true stories. And the thing about period pieces is that they are almost always about white dudes, since it was white dudes who had all the power for most of history and we still tend to fall into the pattern of assuming that these are the stories that matter. Those stories just get boring, honestly. I didn’t get excited by any of these previews. Tom Hanks is a white dude who saves the world. Leonardo DiCaprio is a white dude who is in the wilderness. Michael Fassbender does a Steve Jobs impersonation that looks decent but still doesn’t make me want to spend 2 hours watching a movie about a guy who seems to have been a raging asshole. Daniel Craig is James Bond and there’s a whole bunch of dudes, with the occasional cut to a hot chick. (I liked the one for Black Mass, which was of course filled with white dudes, and sadly it appears that Benedict Cumberbatch will join the long line of actors doing terrible–no, seriously terribly terrible like it may be up there as one of the worst–Boston accents in movies.)

The trailers were sending me a clear message that this was a dude movie, which is why I thought to undertake counting the women in the first place. But as I said earlier, I honestly thought it would turn out okay. It’s not a period piece. It’s not a movie where gender plays any real role. (Although I did wonder how long it will take for us to have a gay action movie hero who doesn’t get involved with the mysterious hot chick, but the mysterious hot dude. I would totally go for that even if it means more dudes!) 

It looks like nothing has changed at all during my years away from the movies. And honestly? That doesn’t get me super excited about going back. 

My Tribe of One

You are who you are. This is a thing I know, and yet I keep waiting for things to be different. I keep waiting for circumstances to change and reveal the me that’s been hanging out just waiting to make an appearance.

I went to New York for BlogHer this year. Blog conferences can feel a lot like high school. Where out on the street everyone was the same, inside these walls there are now groups. There’s cool kids, of course, with pageviews and social media followers standing in for popularity. And like high school groups form based on similar interests or location. Then there are the people who float from group to group. I have always fallen in this last category, ever since high school. 

That doesn’t mean that I won’t walk into every conference hoping this will be the one where I’ll be at the center of a cozy group who checks in regularly and makes sure no one’s ever going it alone. 

This never happens. Of course it never happens. And it’s not because the circumstances are holding me back, it’s because that’s not who I am.

If I had a group, I would probably be sneaking off to get some alone time or to say hi to someone I haven’t seen in a long time or to go watch a musical with an ode to an old school butch lesbian.

I don’t actually like being in a cozy group who does things together. When I’m in one I feel self-conscious. I start to worry that no one actually wants to hang out with me, that they’re just humoring me. Or I can’t help but focus on how different we are and how I don’t really want to do what the group wants to do and I wish I was on my own. 

It’s really a grass-is-always-greener situation. But I always feel my lack of a group acutely when I’m on my own at a conference. That is the norm now, especially since I’m working at almost all of these conferences so I have my own schedule and my own room. 

With all that said, BlogHer was kind of a turning point. It was the first big conference I ever went to, 3 years ago. Back then I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted out of blogging. I was still learning my way around all the trappings that went along with the writing and soul-baring, which was why I got into it in the first place. 

But I’ve worked hard for the past 3 years. Really hard. I’ve even built a career. 

It turns out, all that work means something. At BlogHer it meant that I would walk around for only a few minutes before I saw someone I knew or someone stopped me to say hello. That would’ve been unheard of to 2012 Me, whose only friends were people I’d met already in Boston or the small group of Autism parents I’d bonded with on Facebook. Even knowing two dozen people feels like knowing no one when you’re in the giant crowds of BlogHer.

This year’s conference experience was great, actually. I got to see the people I wanted to see. I had long conversations with people I’d just met. I skipped sessions that didn’t excite me. I didn’t worry about anything that wasn’t important to me. And I didn’t care if I looked silly when I was dancing. I got my Broadway fix, which was terribly overdue. I read books in bed. I had a drink or two or more if I wanted to.

People talk about their tribe when they talk about blog conferences, especially BlogHer. I don’t have one tribe, but many. And that makes sense for me. It feels right, if I take the time to think about it.  So for the next conference I think I’m just going to read this post again and remind myself that this is who I am. 

Questions and Answers on Go Set a Watchman

GSAW Instagram 300x300 Questions and Answers on Go Set a WatchmanOn Tuesday, I posted on Instagram that I was starting Go Set a Watchman on audio. The comments included this one from Kristina, “I’m so nervous to read it. I can’t wait to hear what you think.”

Everyone was nervous. In the book world, the build up to GSAW’s publication day was ridiculous. I wasn’t nervous, actually. I did not fret. I paid only cursory attention. I wasn’t even going to read it. But the day it came out I was able to follow along in real time as people read and reacted and I just got too curious not to. It was the readers who got me interested, not the author or the book. So when Harper Collins said they’d send over the audiobook for review I knew I just needed to dive in and see it for myself. (Links are to Amazon & Audible, if you purchase I make a small commission.)

So here’s some of the questions out there about Go Set a Watchman Questions and Answers on Go Set a Watchman and what you need to know.

Is it terrible?

No. Honestly, the first half of the book was so lovely that I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been edited and felt like it really was a worthy companion to Mockingbird. The second half is different, partly because the last third is made up almost entirely of long conversations and could definitely use some editing, and partly because the subject matter suddenly becomes very difficult and hard to read. 

Because Atticus is a racist, right? I heard about that.

Yes, that’s the short version. It’s much more complex than that. But that’s the general gist. As you can imagine, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for us and for Scout.

Oh, Scout. I love her. Is she still awesome?

Yes. Yes, she is. One of the gifts of Watchman is the chance to see Scout go to her first dance, get her first period, and glimpse other childhood flashbacks. As a grown-up she wears pants when she feels like it and lives in New York City. So yeah, she’s still awesome.

 Questions and Answers on Go Set a Watchman
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What about Jem? And Dill? And Calpurnia? 

Too many spoilers. Can’t say.

Is it just a bunch of stuff we already know from To Kill a Mockingbird?

No, there’s some overlapping text but not nearly enough to even be noticeable.

Is it a good audiobook Questions and Answers on Go Set a Watchman?

Well, since there’s difficult material it makes the audiobook difficult sometimes. As a reader, I tend to skim when I’m uncomfortable to try to get the bad things to go away. But as a listener? No such luxury.

But if you’re definitely going to read this book and you like audiobooks, it’s a good choice. Reese Witherspoon is the reader. I was highly skeptical. But she is fantastic. One of the best readers of any audiobook I’ve read this year. She just felt RIGHT. They must hire her to read To Kill a Mockingbird immediately.

I feel like you’re not really giving me that much information.

I know. I’m sorry. It’s hard because half of this book is just what you want it to be and the other half is just HARD. And it gave me a lot of very complicated feelings. And I’m not sure everyone is ready to jump into those. I have a feeling there will be a lot of book clubs that get heated over this book. Many of its characters are actively, outwardly racist but believe they are doing good. This is a real thing. These people still exist and they’re all around you. And there may be people in your book club who are convinced by their arguments that they really are good people. If your book club is usually a gentle place for chit chat and dessert, it may suddenly become very awkward or angry or who knows what. It is hard to talk about race and racism with your friends and family. I believe it should be done, but that doesn’t make it easy. 

I am torn between telling everyone that their book club should read this immediately so that we can move forward on the difficult work that is talking about race, and telling people to maybe be careful about reading it in book clubs. I know those conversations can go to bad places and lead to bad things and it’s hard enough to follow along with Jean Louise as she discovers that the people she loves are not who she thought they were, doing it in real life is much harder. Then again, if your book club read GSAW and then completely ignores race all together in your discussion, that is troubling as well.

This book gives you lots of feels, and many of them are profoundly difficult. It has been less than 24 hours since I read it and I’ve written over 2000 words about it now because I just have to do something and process it and I still don’t really know how. (No, this post is not 2,000 words long. I wrote a couple others, including this one for Book Riot.)

Usually I am all for taking a book knowing as little about it as possible. But with this book, I think you need to be ready. I knew from watching people read it that it took a hairpin turn. And I spent much of it thinking, “I don’t see how this book can make me turn against it,” only to realize later, “Oh, that’s how.” 

Over a million copies of Go Set a Watchman have sold, it’s a huge event in the book world, and yet I can’t help but think that no one will be standing around the water cooler or the playground saying, “Did you read it? Me, too! What did you think?” Instead I have a feeling we won’t be talking about it much at all because of all the hard things there are to talk about.

So that’s your info. Do with it what you will. And if you have read the book, consider the comments a safe space to get your feels out. Because I know I’m not the only one who needed to word-dump them somewhere.