Thursday, October 30, 2008

ARM: The Gossipy, Name-Dropping Piece

It was dark and chilly and before six in morning. There was a cab waiting for me in front of the house because I was flying to Toronto for the Association for Research in Mothering conference, and I didn’t trust myself to drive that early. I spent the car ride listening to the driver, an amiable enough guy, tell me how, at 50, he doesn’t know why 20-year-old women find him so attractive. With that living example of The Patriarchy at work, I was off.

Damn, it was fun. I’m going to write about the ideas in the conference (“You Say You Want a Revolution?” it was titled) in the winter issue of Brain, Child, but I have to say: Half of the stimulation was the social stuff.

I had lunch with Amy Anderson from Mamazine and Amy Hudock from Literary Mama shortly after I got there on Saturday, and I had already missed a few days of the conference (argh, but the work, the family, etc.). I got to meet the organizers of the whole shebang, Andrea O’Reilly and RenĂ©e Knapp. They’d been running full steam keeping everything going, and at some point on Saturday, a university patrol officer came in and informed Andrea that her car—which she left at seven that morning in the lot in the middle of a downpour—had been running all day long, at least six hours. There was a metaphor for the mothers’ movement there, she told the group.

During the conference, Joy Rose, Lynn Kuechle,and Rebekah Spicuglia were interviewing and filming the people there to make a movie. And because I cannot interact socially without saying something regrettable at one point, this time I did it on film. I was trying to explain how, when I was a new mother, how much I resented being invisible and condescended to. Suddenly, back then, everyone was calling me Mom. “I’m sorry, but unless you came out of my vagina …” I said to the camera. Oh, no. It’s never a comfortable idea to make reference to one’s own vagina, unless you’re in a much different line of work than I am. So there you have it: I was the Eve Ensler of the 2008 ARM conference.

The panel I was on—with Joy and Lynn, Amy and Amy, and Juliana Forbes and Beth Osnes of Mothers Acting Up—was a lot of fun. We—me and the Amys—worried about it a little, talking about creativity and art, after hearing the other discussions about women in prison, say, or the future of child-making. But if I can say so myself, we did just fine.

Afterwards, ARM held a reception. I got to meet a whole lot of people that I’d heard of, and probably that you’ve heard of, through the magazine, and also some people whose work I didn’t know but I want to. I spoke with Lisa Chiu (whose panel I really regret missing), and Lori Slepian (one of the founders of the National Association of Mothers’ Centres), and a ton of other women whose email addresses I imagine I’ll be looking up for months into the future.

Later, Amy, Amy, Lynn, Jocelyn, and I went out for beers. We drank our Stella, and you know what? It was one of those very rare occasions that we could just segue right into real talk, like a discussion of mothers and abortion (and the essay by Elana Sigall in the current issue of Brain, Child). I’m trying to find words to describe what it was like to experience this in person, but suffice it to say that maybe for me, it was just the perfect storm: Good conversation, fun people, beer, more beer.

The next morning I would have breakfast with Joy and Amy Richards (writer and co-founder of the Third-Wave Foundation) and Mary Olivella (VP of MomsRising), and it would be another stimulating interaction, my last one before I had to catch my plane. Joy would send a clip she’d made of the conference, although I’m not in it, because by that time, I was standing in the customs line, worrying that I’d miss my flight.

But that night, we walked back to the hotel and went to our respective rooms. I’d bought a new travel-sized thing of contact solution, and the plastic seal wouldn’t budge. I looked around the bathroom, around the suite. I flew, so I didn’t have any sharp objects on me and the room didn’t seem to hold any either. So I stood there for what seemed like twenty minutes and gnawed at the plastic, my contacts blurry, my eyes sleepy. I thought about the conference and all these mothers, like me, trying to care of business the best way they know how.


Lisa said...

Hey there! I'm so glad we met at the conference. I loved hearing your thoughts during your panel. Brain, Child is awesome!

Caroline said...

This sounds so fabulous -- I'm sorry I missed it! and you know, good for you for being the Eve Ensler of ARM. Someone's got to do it.

amy said...

You summed up my feelings about the conference exactly!

And remember this: I always have a Swiss Army knife on my keychain (I check it in my luggage when I fly). I apparently have a fear of being w/o the ability to open wrappers. So next time you're stuck in a hotel, gnawing at a wrapper, call me.

Jennifer said...

Hey, they're having another one in NYC in May--maybe we can all do it!

Anjali said...

Oh, that sounds absolutely lovely. Glad you had a nice time!

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