Hi.
So it’s been a while, and there’s some Yeatsian upheaval going on, to the tune of my spending winter break alone with the two kids in a house snowed in by a freak blizzard, barely eking my way to the local grocery every couple of days when my heroic dad appeared in his bechained Prius to relieve me for a morning. Christmas day — and yes, we still don’t celebrate Christmas, but you know, we respect the Jesus, and it is a holiday — was an epic low, spent alone and disconsolate, milling about the house wishing the snow would stop for long enough so that we could take the bus to Powell’s and mill about disconsolately in the company of other people abandoned on the B.J.’s birthday, but resigned to the fact that there was no way I was going to brave the blizzard for a bus on holiday schedule when Transit Tracker said “there is no data on arrivals” and the two small children were terrified of falling down in the snow.

Where, you ask, was their father?

Well, on that very day, he was over at his high school pal’s house, eating fondue and smoking the Mary Jane. I know because I called him. But in general, he was gone, living in a sublet a couple miles away. A sublet that just happened to belong to the woman with whom he’d been exchanging flirtatious Facebook messages and sharing the occasional late night out before he told me, on December fifth, that he wanted to get divorced. Without preamble.

I could go into the litany of ills, real and perceived, that I feel he’s perpetrated. Or I could talk about the Bipolar II diagnosis that I just learned was given when he was 20 and now, seven years later, seems to be rearing its ugly head in a variety of ways, including an oracular certainty that “we never loved each other as we should” and that “we were never happy” and that “we’re just wrong” and a frighteningly reactive pattern of discipline (including explaining to our three-year-old, when he was acting up during an early visit, that “Daddy is leaving because he doesn’t like the way you’re acting,” in the wake of Thing One’s having articulated that he understood that Daddy was staying at a different house and that he wanted both his daddy and his mommy home with him) and anger with the kids (to the tune of “The baby is so annoying! The toddler is such an asshole! He just needs to be punished!”).

There’s a long, long story there. And I could list all the ways this doesn’t make sense to me, all the reasons I’m bewildered that the one rock in our life, the certainty of our longevity as a couple and as a family, the articulated consensus that divorce sucks and is a never-to-be-imagined resort, has been abandoned so rudely. Or my shock and hurt at the fact that he is now saying “we’re getting divorced. I’m never coming back. The decision has been made.” But I’m not going to do that. Because what really matters to me is that we are a family. I thought. And that I am still married to this person who has disavowed all relationship with me. And that I believe that the only thing I can do as a spouse and as a parent is to try to love him and to love and protect our children and to continue to suggest that perhaps this is not the time for him to make such a life-altering and unequivocal decision. And that as I was driving home from work today, I took his wedding ring out of the ashtray, where he tossed it when he ceremoniously took it off on that Friday, December 5, and I held it to my lips.

Gold is warm to the touch. Even when nothing else is.

The Mr. and I were arguing about the word “Humvee,” which I put in a prose poem. The necessary context: the prose poem mentions The Governor of My Great Homeland, California, who, as you may know, was the first civilian to drive a Humvee in the U.S. Here’s how our conversation went:

K: You mean Hummer. Not Humvee, Hummer.

Me: I mean Humvee. As in High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle. Which Schwarzenegger was the first civilian to drive in this country. So you can kiss my yellow ass.

K: Honey, your ass is kind of taupe.

Always the wise guy.

When my single friends ask me what marriage is like/whether they should get married, I always remind them that marriage is not about the commitment of souls and emotions but about the more primary (sociologically speaking) commitment of two fortunes and financial legacies. It took me a long time to realize that marriage is all about capitalism…

…and it’s taking me a longer time to reconfigure my communist tendencies. I keep leaving little traces of them around, perhaps in the hope that someone will notice, denounce me to the authorities, and send me away to be reeducated.

The family I babysat for from age 11 to 19, a stunningly successful power couple with three lovable and reasonably-behaved children, pots of money, and excellent hair (both of them) provided me with an example for marriage that easily outshone my parents’ (not hard, since my parents’ marriage imploded only two years into my tenure as a babysitter). It may have been the way they called each other ten times a day to whisper sweet nothings while she was busy being a perfect, attentive, thoughtful mother dressed in the latest French fashions or the way he manfully bought and sold empires in between squiring her to symphonies, Democratic Party fundraisers, and restaurants with $10 mineral water. She was sensitive, beautiful, artistically inclined, and fluent in French (which made the shopping easier), with a storied past of dating future geniuses and Middle Eastern princes; he was handsome, tall, and just a little bit brooding (or maybe cranky; they looked the same to a teenager), with a taste for German automobiles and a fascinating, immigrant childhood. I never went so far as to wish they were my parents, but that is only because I was an adolescent; I wished I didn’t have parents (especially given the ones I actually had). And I never forgot one thing he said to me, during one of the private chats we always had on the ride home:

“Divorce is not an option. Death is an option.”

It’s a line that echoes in my head to this day. At the time, I interpreted it to mean that he would consider homicide if things got to that point, which they of course would not; it now occurs to me that maybe suicide was in the offing. At any rate, I’ve been thinking about the idea a lot lately as I’ve negotiated the murky waters of year four of a marriage that is as much the result of fate or chance, depending upon what you believe in, as anything else; as I see it, I am in an arranged marriage with the universe as matchmaker. And due to my sino-inscrutability, and the fact that I don’t see anything worse about arranged marriage than any other kind (come on! Look at all these chumps around you arranging their own marriages and then having those marriages die ignominious deaths after six weeks – or months, or days. Don’t you think they should get a professional to do the job?), I’ve been mostly OK with that.

But I have my moments. Moments when I think about how death is an option. Like this morning, when my husband, who promised to take care of the taxes weeks ago, was ignoring Thing One, who has been very high-maintenance lately, like a thoroughbred, needing a lot of currying and brushing and occasional blinders in order to avoid completely losing his shit and trampling his trainers to death. Why was he ignoring our son when I was supposed to be getting time to work? Because he was looking for a bunch of tax forms he lost in his desk in the hopes of making an 8 p.m. appointment with H&R Block tonight so that we could avoid late fees. Because he completely flaked on the taxes for months on end. Because time management is not his strong suit, and so our son is running around the house with no pants on screaming bloody murder and throwing random objects at walls and our daughter is responding by bursting into tears and their father is digging through piles of cut-up Vanity Fairs and letters from old girlfriends hoping he will find the tax forms that he has actually lost due to massive incompetence and carelessness and I am realizing why, in the past, I have always done our taxes: because the man I married has never dealt with his own paperwork, and in fact, when I met him and he was a multiple-offending college dropout his mother routinely filled out the FAFSA for him, and apparently even driving all our forms to H&R Block is too complex a task and my head is echoing with the refrain that death is an option, which is the point where your survival instinct kicks in and you start to understand why so many people pick divorce instead, and you take a deep breath and step back from the abyss you’re staring into, but it’s a close call.

A very close call. And let me just be clear on this: I still think, all things considered, the universe did a decent job tricking me into marrying someone. I mean, look at Britney Spears.

I mean, I love my husband. And come to think of it, he strongly resembles that guy I used to babysit for. He’s kind of cranky, and he has excellent hair. Too bad he’s poor.

In honor of the fact that this is Monday and it’s a cruel, cruel world out there, and the only other things I have to write about are 1)how disgusted I am at being made to feel that I must jump on the Obamaniac train as a way of validating my self-worth (and this commentary, despite its flattering take on McCain, does a great job of pointing out how Obama’s self-aggrandization is as oxymoronic as that Dr. Pepper commercial that says “Be you; do what you do” and implies heavily that “be you” is code for “drink a mass-produced vehicle for high-fructose corn syrup”) and 2)how disgusted I am at the petty back-stabbing of the preschool parent community (see previous post; Frannie is still Avoiding My Gaze as though it’s battery acid), I’ve decided to take a break from parsing the evils of everyday life for a change and present you with the following email, received this weekend from my grandparents-in-law, ages 76 and 75. It was sent from her email account but clearly written by him; titled “What the ____ Book Won’t Tell You,” the book in question being a book of family bios we all collaborated on; and made me think that either a)those people have better drugs than I do or b)there is hope for the future of mankind:

Hi all,
If you read the ____ Book page 100 it explains how we met: So we went to see Charlie Chaplin in “Limelight.” She cried and I loaned her my handkerchief.
Afterwards I walked her home to her house. She invited me in and we sat on the sofa in her living room. We kissed for the first time and that was very nice, Now about 10,000 kisses later it is still very nice.
A friend suggested that we sign up for the $5 per month NetFlix plan so we did. The first movie we ordered was “Limelight.” Friday night we watched this 55-year-old movie and thoroughly enjoyed it, It has drama, dance, philosophy, comedy, and pathos. If you ever watch it, you have to figure out where in the movie I had to loan Peggy my handkerchief. Anyway, who knows, without this movie perhaps we would never have gotten together. I don’t know where that would put all of you?
Love to all the family, James

Isn’t that sweet? And don’t you wish you were a septuagenarian sniffling over “Limelight” rather than a Gen-Xer worrying about inevitable apocalypse (when you’re not employing your generation’s famous nihilism to court inevitable apocalypse)?

Hells yeah, is what I say. Happy Monday.

I am often amazed that I am still married, because a stable relationship, to me (as a child of ugly, ugly divorce), seems improbable at best and, in my particular case, you have not just the normal impediments to the marriage of true minds, but extraordinary ones. My impediments are rare, strong, and really, really costly; I am the Johnny Walker Blue Label of issues, from my vacuuming OCD to my caustic criticisms to my bouts of depression to my secret desire to stop participating in the messy and inefficient business of everyday life in favor of subsisting on Buck Rogers-style “meal packets” and living in a completely controlled environment. Yesterday, for example, I treated my spouse to a half-hour diatribe because he mixed up the boxes of New York and Shakespeare magnetic poetry that I was sorting, because God forbid that Times Square should rub up against forsooth, and his actions, I explained, were somehow emblematic of a blatant disregard for my personhood and autonomy that could only result from mammoth solipsism. I then proceeded to rail against the word “concupiscence,” which I find both phonetically and semantically irritating; the high levels of benzene pollution in our town, which are causing our children’s lungs to shrink and atrophy; the ethical and intellectual bankruptcy of consumer-focused preschool education; and conventional meat farming practices and how they are going to kill us all with genital cancers from the artificial hormones.

And that was before lunch.

But my husband, whose ability to remain almost totally unaffected by just about everything around him gives him an edge when dealing with a member of the high-strung and hyper-vigilant ‘worrier class’ such as myself, takes it all in stride. And somehow he manages to spend at least half the time feeling concupiscence for me, even though I won’t let him say that word, plus I’m too busy lead proofing our home to put out. And this morning, when we stopped at the grocery store, he surprised me with a copy of the new GQ, because the cover features Bill Clinton, and he knows that I can’t resist any coverage of my favorite ex-president (“He’s a lover, not a killer,” says my stepdad, and truer words were never spoken), and he even let me refuse to share it with him in the car.

Sigh. What a sweetheart.

Like most people, I frequently wonder what I’m doing married or, as I was telling my uncle-in-law the other day, what to do with the person I’m married to, because after I’m done working and vacuuming and getting spit up on and reading stories and issuing positive discipline and paying the phone bill and filing my taxes there’s often not a lot left over for my long-suffering spouse, who persists in claiming to find me attractive despite my general state of haphazard disarray. The last few days have been especially busy, and I had a meeting for our son’s co-op playschool last night that started at eight, so when I dashed out of the house just before bedtime I figured this would be yet another night of one of us crawling into bed to find the other long unconscious (although usually I’m the one who passes out before prime time). So imagine my surprise when I dashed home, exhausted and slightly drunk from the 1.5 Sapphire and sodas I’d consumed at the meeting (hey, even ‘curriculum planning’ deserves a little party, right?), and feeling a little maudlin about the fact that the one time I got to hang out and consume alcohol with some friendly adults, it was at the cost of missing yet another opportunity to have ‘adult time’ with my spouse, to find the lights still on and the house all clean and my husband kind of wandering sheepishly around the kitchen, waiting for me, and I was glad because if he’d been asleep, I would have missed him.

“I am not a crapweasel. I am a supportive and loving husband and partner.”

I like to think I have a reasonably Zen-like humility, at least in my good moments. I like to think that I am capable of at least having enough perspective to realize that, in the long run, any slights to my own self-importance are simply reminders of my infinitesimally small place in the universe, reminders that both free me and allow me to more fully live my life without the intrusion of ego.

Still, it bothers me that my in-laws don’t remember my name.

Oh, they remember my first name. But they keep sending me cards and checks addressed to some mythical person with my husband’s last name or, sometimes, with my last name demoted to a middle name, à la Hillary Rodham Clinton. (They’re big ones for checks. Birthday checks, anniversary checks, Christmas checks, birth of a child checks, etc., and while I feel a smidgen the ingrate getting snarky when I’m holding a check in my hand — I know the bank will cash it, they always do — I can’t help it, because this mythical person who took my husband’s last name exists only in their imagination, and I am not sure I like her.)

It boggles my mind. Really. Because we reiterate, several times a year, that my last name is not the same as theirs, that I did not change my last name when I got married, that we are a two last name household. Recently, it’s become even more of an issue, because we gave our daughter my last name, and for the more than seven weeks of her existence she has been the recipient of dozens of thoughtful gifts, all misaddressed; she has his last name as a middle name and mine as her last name, and somehow all the relatives on his side manage to blithely invert this in favor of the patriarchy.

Now, part of me knows that they are probably well-intentioned, it’s just that people have a hard time divorcing themselves from their expectations, and their expectations are that We Will Carry On the Family Name of the Adult Member of this Household Who Has A Penis because That is The Way Things Are. I get that. I understand it. But another, larger, part of me wonders how anyone can be so colossally dense, in the year 2007, that they don’t see the way things are rather than simply the way they expect things to be, that they can’t wake up and smell the century of civil rights expansion and realize that a few aspects of life have changed, maybe for the better. We no longer levy poll taxes on African Americans. We no longer refuse to admit the testimony of Asian Americans in court. And we don’t have to change our names if we get married, which is part of a larger cultural change that allows us to not change our identities if we get married and, specifically, to not subordinate our personal identities to our marriages (any more than is absolutely necessary).

So, yeah, when they forget that I elected not to become Mrs. So-and-so I’m a little surprised. Faintly amazed. Mildly appalled.

I shouldn’t be. We had been talking about marriage for weeks before, in the course of a casual conversation (I think about checks again, which just goes to show how we’re ruled by our bank accounts), my then-boyfriend revealed that he thought I’d be taking his last name. Or, more to the point, that it never occurred to him that I wouldn’t. He was amazed that I was amazed. Me, I was just. dumbfounded. Totally. You know when you think you know someone, you feel comfortable in your understanding of them, and then they go and do something totally out of character, like when you found out that the Dalai Lama ate a hamburger and then you learned that he was eating meat all along and he was not the person you believed he was? Yup. Like that.

So one of the major points of our engagement was the name talk. “Why wouldn’t you change your name?” he asked. “Why wouldn’t you change yours?” I riposted. We agreed that, in this case, separate but equal was inherently equal.

Of course, when we discussed naming our first child the same thing happened. “So, what last name do you want to give the baby?” I asked. After he finishing picking his eyeballs up off the floor, he gave me to understand that he assumed his son would have his last name. That was a longer talk, but eventually we agreed on my name as the middle name, then his as the last name. I gave in out of compassion for the fact that this was all very new to the poor man, he was obviously thrown by the concept of doing anything other than giving everyone, including the family cat, his last name, and, though he was trying to stretch his imagination to include a world where woman aren’t the factotum/sex toy combo plate in the restaurant of men’s lives, and he was almost making it there, there was still a little bitty comprehension gap.

But of course he eventually came around, which is why we’re still married, and when I proposed that we flip the middle name/last name combo for our second kid, resulting in her legal last name being the same as mine, I detected only mild resistance (“Don’t you think our kids should have the same last name?” “Not really; we don’t, so why should they?” “Well, okay then”), and I was very proud of him for overcoming his unreflective adherence to the status quo.

But his family is another story.

I’m actually stunned that his mother took his father’s name; they were married in 1978, both students at Reed College at the time, supposedly very liberal, enlightened feminists. I used to wonder what in the world possessed her. But we were talking about it the other day, and she remarked, “You know, when I got married a lot of people were shocked that I changed my name. But I had no problem with it.”

This is a statement that continues to haunt me. I know it seems innocuous, but it’s not; it’s insidiously anti-feminist and, in fact, anti-change of any sort, the kind of argument used to maintain school segregation during the Civil Rights movement, and all the more effective because it makes it difficult to disagree. After all, you wouldn’t want to be a person who had a problem with it, would you? You wouldn’t want your mother-in-law to have a problem with it when she was clearly over her issues and it was those pesky, interfering feminists (men and women, I might add, which is probably obvious to those who know anything about the Reed College scene in the late ’70s) who had a problem. The day after that conversation, I woke up with the phrase echoing in my head and I thought, hell yes, I have a problem with it. I have a problem with the implication that anyone who encourages a woman to consider keeping her name when she marries is somehow a troublemaker, or emotionally disturbed, or unable to just be cool and enjoy life. I have a problem with the idea that the only reason you should keep your name when you marry is if you have a problem with the idea of taking your husband’s, like maybe if his name is Hooker or Fuchs or (I swear this is a real name) Dumbkowski. I have a problem with the idea that a decision that is about identity and individuality should signal to others that you are somehow conflicted, a person with issues, unresolved, deficient.

But I was unable to articulate exactly why it bothered me so much, so I just went around with that little phrase working its way deeper into my skin like a tick that will eventually give you a bullseye rash and a dangerous disease, until I read this letter in Cary Tennis’s Salon advice column. Cary’s advice is gorgeous in its accuracy: choosing to keep your own name is “a way of extending a certain idea of freedom into the future and into future generations. It is a powerful step. It is a reminder.” He goes on to remind the letter writer that “every time we encounter a woman who has a different last name from that of her husband we are reminded: Yes, you can do that. Whereas when we encounter a woman who has the same name as her husband, although this, too, was a choice, we are not reminded, oh, yes, you can do that. Not so much. We more slip into the historical slumber of the status quo.”

Before I read that letter, the closest I got to stating why it was so important for me to keep my own name, and to pass it on, was to wax eloquent about the five thousand years of Chinese culture, about the fact that my name is the first of the Hundred Names, about how I’d spent my childhood being teased and ridiculed for my name and my epicanthal folds on the playground and, now that I’d finally grown into the name, I’d be damned if I was going to give it up. These things are all true, but they are not the whole story.

The whole story is that even though a lot of people, a lot of women even, think “feminism” is a dirty word or think “refusing” to take your husband’s name means you don’t love him or you have issues or you’re just a castrating bitch, I don’t think that’s what it means. I think it means you recognize the importance of both your history and your future. I think it means you view marriage as a partnership and not as a transfer of property. I agree with a reader who wrote in to respond to Cary’s column, describing her predicament as a national of a country that does not allow married women to keep their names and saying “There are many options that are consistent with a feminist world view. Taking his name, is not one.”

So this week, I’m grateful to Cary Tennis. My ‘problem’ is now something a lot more affirmative. I am a reminder. I am a person who reminds others of the way it is possible for the world to be, of the values of acting on ideals rather than out of pragmatism, of the importance of examining your choices and not sinking into complacency or cowardice. I knew this about myself — I do, after all, have a day job that motivates me chiefly because it gives me the opportunity to remind young and not-so-young adults of all the choices they have and all the knowledge that’s available and all the things education can be — but I haven’t often put it into words. It’s hard to lay your idealism on the line. It’s not cool. It opens you up to ridicule, to prejudice, to the suggestion that maybe you should just get over your problem. Get over it, and bake some muffins.

Well, I’m happy to do the baking (especially since I’m the one with the sweet tooth). But I wish more people would think about the implications of these conventions we have and consider starting new conventions, ones that more accurately reflect what we’d like marriage to be. And I’m keeping my name.

Now if only I could get my in-laws to remember it.