Author Archives: Chanel Dubofsky

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November 21, 2013 by

My “Good Woman” Brain

medium_7177015747I grew up on tea. Lipton, with lots of milk and sugar.  I didn’t know about the herbal kind until college, which, it turns out, I don’t actually like; everything but that sugary, almond colored tea tastes like hot, wet grass.

Yesterday  I drank a lot of green tea. I spent the previous 24 hours sicker than I’ve been in a very long time. (The kind of sick you don’t want me to describe in a blog post.)  The kind of sick that made me terrified of anything but dry toast, ginger ale and tea that I don’t even like.

Today was my foray back into dairy. It was fine, mostly, except for the part of my brain that was triggered by the fact that for the last few months, I’ve avoided dairy. Not because of my stomach (I am not among the lactose intolerant Jews), but because I’ve been kind of vegan-y lately.

I have a lot of qualms about veganism. There’s the class privilege piece–protein substitutes and the loads of fresh vegetables are expensive and not accessible to everyone. There’s the judgment and fat shaming piece that tends to rear its head–if only you could control yourself, if you only had your priorities straight and right, if you could only be less selfish and less wasteful.

I kept kosher for ten years. I stopped for a few reasons–I couldn’t find meaning in it anymore, I was no longer invested in halacha (it’s doubtful that I ever was, no matter how much I tried to convince myself that I wanted to be), but mainly, I was using kashrut as another way to control food, and not in a holy way. I wanted to be a person, a woman, who controlled food. A good woman.

A good woman shows everyone that she is trying, one way or another, to be better. She talks about going to the gym, how much she goes, how long she spends there. When her coworkers bring in baked goods or other treats, she will ignore them, or she will eat one and then say, “Oh, this is so bad for me!” She will say to others who do not eat it, “You have so much self control!” A good woman feels badly about her weight, no matter what it is. As long as she knows that she is not okay the way she is, she is good.

It’s this “good woman” brain, sexist and awful as it is, that comes back when I do things like tell myself I’m going to stop eating dairy. I recognize it. It’s the same thing I used to do when I kept kosher–I would never, ever eat a cheeseburger again. Look how strong I am. I am a person who does not need a cheeseburger. Even better, I don’t want a cheeseburger. I am a good woman. I have strength.

I ate a cheeseburger. I ate dairy. I’ll eat them again. I’ll eat them because I know what the bottom of that hole of “ not eating that ever again” looks and feels like. Doing that makes me hate myself, which is exactly what the sexist machine wants- to distract us from being powerful by making us believe we are never good enough.  I ate it because I don’t need to be a good woman or a good Jew,  I need to be a real person.


photo credit: michael+yan via photopin cc

 

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October 2, 2013 by

Putting My Mother Back Together

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Really, I am just trying to put her back together. The woman I knew as my mother was dismantled, by illness and by fear and trouble, but there’s the person I didn’t know, ever, and I am trying to find her.

I made one phone call, to G, my cousin, the daughter of one of my grandmother’s sisters. I sent one email, to my uncle.  It took me a long time to do this, and I finally managed it in one of those middle of the night seizures of bravery. All you require is one moment of insane bravery, someone wrote. Or at least something that can pass for insane bravery.

The email I wanted to send to my uncle, my mother’s only brother, was something like, “Can you tell me what the hell happened?” Instead, it was kind of desperate, admitting to him that I had never asked her certain questions while she was alive (How had she met my father? Why hadn’t she gone to college after she’d been accepted? What else had happened to her in her life?), and hoping he could tell me something. The specific questions I had had no longer seemed terribly important. Anything he could do to fill out my hollow picture would do. 

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August 29, 2013 by

A Blue Slip and a Bag of Letters

medium_19705415There are two new things of relevance. First is a blue slip, belonging to my grandmother, which I unearthed from a bag of other things of hers in a closet. (Also in the bag: letters and cards I sent her, a sweater of hers which used to be mine.) I kept the slip, and threw away everything else. The slip is narrow and stiff, and even though I aspire to be the kind of person who’s daring enough to wear it as a skirt, I never will. It’s strange that I’m keeping it, the memories that it carries are the least pungent.

The second thing is a set of wooden bookends in the shape of ducks. Mallards, I think, but really, I don’t know ducks. My uncle sent them to me after I replied yes to his email: “Your aunt and I are doing some cleaning and we found these bookends. I bought them for your mother years ago at Johnson’s Bookstore. Now that you have your own place, would you want them?”

I remember these bookends from our house- heavy, but oddly slippery on the bottom. They probably can’t be trusted to support too many books. They’re kitschy. When I said yes to them, I was thinking about my grandmother telling me that one day, when I had a house, I could put all the antiques she collected and would leave me in it. I couldn’t imagine owning a house and filling it with so many things that were so beautiful and so cumbersome. But these are just bookends.

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July 24, 2013 by

Part 2: Inheriting Our Mother’s Fears

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Read Part 1, On Not Knowing, here

I always think about my mother when I’m on an airplane, because she was terrified of them. The first time I was ever on a plane was when I was eight years old, and I flew alone from where my aunt lived in Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, where I lived. On that first-ever flight, I felt like I was just sitting in a room. I had no concept of anything short of invincibility.

On a daily basis, the things I don’t know about my mother don’t necessarily impact me. Occasionally, there are awkward questions. It’s hard to respond with brevity that’s not also brutal when people ask me where my parents live, what they do, why I’m not spending holidays or vacations with them.  Sometimes, though, like when I’m on airplane, or in another city, or doing any number of things that she may have wanted to do but never did, I think about not just the things I don’t know, but the things I do.

From my mother, I learned fear. Not healthy skepticism or gentle caution, but fear, and paranoia, and the idea that it was perpetually dangerous to ever be too comfortable, to push too hard, to go too far. One should never trust people, or stop looking over one’s shoulder. Intellectually, I understand where this comes from—she was surprised by thyroid cancer at fifteen, struggled with infertility (or so I’m told), then cancer again and divorce, both while raising a child. It seems logical to me that she would think nothing was safe, and at the same time, the most pervasive feeling I have these days in regard to her is resentment and the perpetual question: What do you think of what I’m doing right now?

I have this picture of my mother as someone whose life was never within her control, for whom bad luck was the norm, and had constructed an identity based on victimization. If she were alive now, what would her advice be to me for my life?

I inherited my mother’s fear of flying. As soon as I was old enough to realize that there were things to be afraid of while 35,000 feet in the air, I was afraid. Whatever the logic was to the safety of flying, I managed to be unconvinced by it. The thought of getting on a plane filled me with such complete terror that I cancelled a trip to Israel in my third year of college. (This was shortly after my mother’s death, and my grandmother, alarmed by the thought of me leaving the country or even the state, did not attempt to talk me into going.) I didn’t actually manage to get on a plane successfully until I was 23, after realizing that the alternative was never leaving the country. I wanted desperately to travel, but what ultimately pushed me onto that plane was knowing that my mother had not, because of circumstances, and also because of a fear that I had assimilated but didn’t want anymore.

The older I get, the more questions I have for my mother. Did she think fear would protect me? As far as I can see, it did not protect her from anything except living her life, but there is maybe a different explanation. If I can’t know what it is, perhaps the best thing I can do for myself is to make it up. 

 


 

zachstern via photopin cc

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July 17, 2013 by

On Not Knowing

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Information about my mother can be divided into three categories: things I know, things I don’t know, and things I have been told. Here’s a clue about where this piece might be going: the “things I know” are few.

Here’s what I do know: My mother was born in Los Angeles. When she was 15, she had thyroid cancer. Her thyroid was removed. She took synthetic thyroid for the rest of her life. I remember seeing that pill bottle every day. She graduated high school in 1963. (I have her graduation picture.) I was born when she was 33. When she was 40, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. My parents divorced when I was 7.

My mother died when she was 53 and I was 19. Her death was long in coming. It had been a steady march to the end since my senior year of high school when her breast cancer, which she’d had in various spates since I was very small, metastasized.

I have few memories of my mother that are not somehow tinged with guilt, or fear, or resentment, the result of years of acting like her parent, performing emotional caretaking, and trying (and failing) to be just a normal kid. My grandmother, who lived with my mother and me, stepped back while I accompanied my mother to doctor’s appointments.

Around the time that my mother died, I started to notice a change in the way my peers were relating to their parents. They were excited when parents came up to camp on weekends. They were learning things about each other—romantic disasters, pre kid shenanigans. Parents were becoming people, fleshed-out humans with personalities.

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April 16, 2013 by

Early Abortion: A Papaya Workshop

I’m a little concerned that the bags under my eyes might be permanent, but more than likely, they’ll go away soon.

This happened last year, too, when I spent two and a half days in the hermetically sealed radical bubble that is the CLPP (Civil Liberties and Public Policy) conference.

My adrenaline is so high all day that it takes me hours at the end of each day to settle at the end of every day that it takes me hours to settle down enough to sleep, and when I can sleep, I resent it, because it takes me out of the space.

CLPP is held every year at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. The full title of the conference is: From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom. It brings together folks (read: troublemakers) to strategize, present, discuss and build around reproductive justice.

On Friday, April 12th , I got on a bus in New York at 8 am, singularly (creepily) focused on getting to CLPP by 4 pm, which is when the first workshop slot of the conference began. I had planned to attend “The Papaya Workshop: An Introduction to Early Abortion,” presented by the Reproductive Health Access Project, since seeing the conference schedule. In the workshop, we would watch a simulation of an options counseling session, and learn how both early abortion procedures work, including a demonstration of a manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) abortion on a papaya.

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