Monday, November 12, 2007

HOLY COWS, CHILDREN, AND OTHER ANIMALS

I'm having dinner with a Romanian friend at the newly opened Cafe RUCola on the university's campus. The Weissbier is a good Hoegaarden, and as expected, whereas the so-called Italian food is not so Italian. We talk about children. My friend is on the verge of handing in her PhD dissertation at the University of Warsaw, and tells me that while on her research semester in Denmark, she couldn't understand why all of her Danish female colleagues were on maternity leave. Now she works part-time at Roskilde U, and she has observed that things aren't any different here where the 'have-children-while-studying' phenomenon is concerned. Beats me, I say. When I was a PhD student at the, then, University of Odense, now University of Southern Denmark, my female colleagues were also on maternity leave. Almost all the time, and without exception. I decided then that it was a particularly Danish tradition enabled by the handsome state grant for PhD researchers. During three years of good salary women could in principle squeeze in at least two children. Which most of them did. Except me, but then I am still a Romanian in a certain regard, in spite of what my passport says.

I disclose that I like other people's children, for about one hour at a time, and that I intend to have none of my own. I can tell that she is surprised, but not that surprised. Curiosity takes over. I engage in a quick tirade. While my verbosity doesn't necessarily explain anything about my motives, it says something about my opinion about people with children. I tell my friend that there are three things which irritate me in parents. These things are based on personal experience and on the fact that I have as yet to meet a couple with children who deviates from any of the three: (1) feeling sanctimonious (2) feeling righteous, and (3) feeling sacrificial. People having children often invoke tradition in their defense. In this demurral scheme tradition prescribes that children mark a sacred way of life which one must honour by ensuring that one does the right thing, such as making sure not to contribute to the world's doomsday, so there'll be something left for generations to come. Sanctimoniousness and righteousness are easier to handle as they involve the parents' emotions that are smaller in scope and do not call for the attention of the rest of the world. Parents please themselves by procreating and feel good about being concerned with what happens to their offspring. The third feeling, however, is more complicated as it is something which parents serve not only non-parents, but also their own children. As it goes, in the name of having sacrificed their freedom, parents call for respect from the likes of me, egotistical non-parents (I've been told). And I comply. Respect goes where respect is due: I admire women who want to be pregnant 9 months and then worry for the rest of their lives (imagine some mothers' disappointment when after having decided on their son's 5th birthday that he must study at Lund University, 15 years down the road they discover that all their son wants at the age of 20 is to become a truck driver. This is a real life scenario). Right, my friend says, and then rhetorically asks: isn't the greatest arrogance on earth comprised in the narcissistic thought that (1) our children continue our line and (2) that anybody gives a damn? Right, it's my turn to say, and we both turn to our pasta. I think to myself: it is a fact of life that life is meaningless, hence having or having not any children is hardly going to make a difference once we'll all lay dead in the ground. And the thought that, for once, I'm not accused of being arrogant, makes me humble. I suddenly get optimistic: I'll get myself a cat and train it to eat the holy cows surrounding my life, or at least help me box conventions out of their goatly skulls.

5 comments:

Bent said...

"Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of tickytacky
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same
There's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses all went to the university
Where they were put in boxes and they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and there's lawyers, and business executives
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course and drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp and then to the university
Where they are put in boxes and they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same..."

I guess some people would rather be a round pig-let in a round hole, than a square cow in a square box...

Søren said...

In relation to your reflections on the phantasms of the culture of reproduction, I am sure you will enjoy reading Frank O'Hara's funny poem about fertility, William Morris and (a) Million Worries:

Cornkind

So the rain falls
it drops all over the place
and where it finds a little rock pool
it fills it up with dirt
and the corn grows
a green Bette Davis sits under it
reading a volume of William Morris
oh fertility! beloved of the Western world
you aren't so popular in China
though they fuck too

and do I really want a son
to carry on my idiocy past the Horned Gates
poor kid a staggering load

yet it can happen casually
and he lifts a little of the load each day
as I become more and more idiotic
and grows to be a strong man
and one day carries as I die
my final idiocy and the very gates
into a future of his choice

but what of William Morris
what of you Million Worries
what of Bette Davis in
AN EVENING WITH WILLIAM MORRIS
or THE WORLD OF SAMUEL GREENBERG

what of Hart Crane
what of phonograph records and gin

what of "what of"

you are of me, that's what
and that's the meaning of fertility
hard and moist and moaning

Camelia said...

Right, Bent and Søren. Both of these poems (song) make good points. One way in which we can make sure that we don't perpetuate uniformity or idiocy is precisely by staying away from procreating. I'm glad to see that the men in my life don't follow patriarchal orders, and above all these days, you don't, like everybody else - almost - try to convince us, women, that having children is good for us, women. Apart from that, I have to say that I laughed a whole day and a half at your quote, Bent, and Søren, yours made my day today - I'm still laughing. Well done.

Camryn said...

Wow. For the first time in my life, someone has made a commanding articulation of what so many childless women want to say. And your words are met with accusations of 'arrogance?' I hope you call them out on their 'jealousy.'

While I'm not like 'them'... or you for that matter -- my desire to one day have a bunch of babies is more short-sighted. I love the little ones, but once they outgrow their cuteness, I'm afraid I'll be dropping them off at Lund Univ. about 15 years too early.

Camelia said...

A friend and colleague today has sent me a mail with this comment, which I allow myself to publish, by unwarranted proxy, as it were. Hartmut Haberland is one of those rare people who just make you literally literarily happy. So he says: "à propos your blog on pregnant ph. d. students, ever heard this one, "Children are the collateral damage of original sin"? (This is my translation from the German, but I think it's better than the original.) It's said by an Archbishop of Cologne in Peter Hacks' play "Das Volksbuch vom Herzog Ernst".