Authors@Google: Ayelet Waldman

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 15.04.2010

Okay so, today we are very fortunate to have Ayelet Waldman here with us to speak. Ayelet
is the author of New York Times best seller "Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes,
Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace"; "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits",
"Daughter's Keeper" and the "Mommy-Track Mysteries". Her personal essays have been published in
a wide variety of newspapers, magazines including the New York Times, The Guardian, The San
Francisco Chronicle, Elle Magazine, Vogue, Allure, Cookie, Child, Parenting, Real Simple,
Health and Her radio commentaries have appeared on "All Things Considered" and
"The California Report". The film version of "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits" with
Don Ross as screen writer and director and Natalie Portman in the lead role is set to
premier at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2009. Her books are published throughout the
world in countries such as England and Thailand, the Netherlands and China, Russia and Israel.
So, without further ado, Ayelet.
Ayelet: You gotta tell me what's up with the guy eating his lunch over there. That's just,
we're just all gonna pretend we're not noticing?
[inaudible response].
Ayelet: Ah, I get it, Hi. Hi there actually. So thank you so much [inaudible] for inviting
me. I've always wanted to eat in your cafeteria ever since I saw that Google chef wipe out
so dramatically on Top Chef. Did you guys see that? She seemed really nice, her food
seemed a little iffy, but I have, I was inspired. And um, I actually when um, when I tweeted
that I was coming down to the, you know, to talk here today, I don't know how many people
immediately said are you going to go eat in the cafeteria? And there are, this is probably
not news to you, but there are a number of employees of Google who take a photograph
of their lunch every day and upload it to a flicker stream. [Laughter]
Yeah, yeah, it was a good lunch. I don't quite know what that says about how much time y'all
have on your hands. But um, alright, so I'm going to uh talk a little bit about my last
book, which is called Bad Mother. Um, and in particular, one area that I never get to
talk about this cause I never know whether any body in my audience will really get what
I'm talking about, so it's a pleasure to be here and I assume you all are going to understand
what I'm, my reference is. So, when I first got pregnant with my son Zeke, who's my second
kid, who's 13 years old now, the first thing I did; absolutely first thing I did even before
I verified that I was pregnant was, I joined an on-line support group for mothers due in
the month of June, 1997. Okay, so that was like, totally dark ages, right, way back in
1997. There were no Yahoo groups, there were no Google groups, nobody had even heard of
you guys. Those were the days when we were using things like Alta Vista and Ask Jeeves
no less. For navigation through the ether I don't know how, how many of you live in
the East Bay but there was an Ask Jeeves billboard up for just forever, long after it became
sort of the poignant reminder of the early days of the internet. But that's when I joined
this first email group. Um, there wasn't even a web yet. People were just, people who knew
what the web was were starting to talk about it, but to everybody else, we just called
it the internet. Um, and there certainly were not 500 million blogs with information about,
you know, the genesis of toenail fungus, whether Matt Smith can really step into David Tennant's
shoes, anybody? [applause] Thank you.
[female voice]: He can't.
Ayelet: No, I know, it's a heartbreak. Those were more innocent times before the proliferation
of Mommy blogs and online parenting magazines. Andy Lamont was still over at Mothers Who
Think and Salon. Do you remember those long-ago days when she was blogging about her baby
Sam; and it was before she'd even published any of those books that made her such a superstar
and um, just to give you an idea how long ago that was, Sam, the baby, she was writing
articles about because they were not blog posts then, just had his own kid. Okay, so
that's how long ago we're talking about. Now I had a group of friends at the time, who
were using email regularly and this was not common, I mean sure, all of you probably were,
but this was not really common. They didn't use it as much as I did maybe because they
had yet to quit their time-consuming and intellectually-satisfying jobs for the more mundane pleasures of killing
time while the baby naps, but there were 13 of us some of us knew each other from Wesleyan
University some had gone to school at Columbia Journalism School. It was this little, we
had, I had my Junebug list and I had this little internet group of women who [skips]
most of the group of friends, I don't know if I should tell you the name of that group,
what we called ourselves. But suffice it to say that this was a time when Cyber still
had kind of a cache about it and um, the literary genre of Chick Lit had not taken over the
front tables of bookstores, so if you put that together you can see what horrible name
we came up for our little group.
Um, my, on all my buddies and I were very regular emailers. Sometime, each of them shot
off as many as, wait for it, 10 to 20 emails per day. But, if you're a fast reader and
you suffer from graphomania as I can do, then 13 correspondents just is not enough no matter
how prolific they are. And, I can email with those women, but we can talk about things
like whether, you know I don't know what my baby had done to turn her shit that exact
shade of Easter Egg Blue, [Laughter] I know, right? I don't know, still to this day. It
happened periodically, and no one has ever understood the genesis of it. But I wanted,
what I wanted, was companionship with women who were going through exactly the same thing
at exactly the same moment. I wanted the, I wanted to be around a bunch of mothers whose
babies were going to be born in the same month. So I joined towards, like I said before I
had even gotten confirmation that I was pregnant, and this was the listserv expectant mothers
due in June of about 50 women in at the time that I joined. Over the course of the next,
of that first trimester it fluctuated in size increasing as more people discovered they're
pregnant or discovered the listserv ebbing at the eight week mark which, you all probably
know why, some people found out they weren't pregnant anymore, that first ultrasound.
There were people from all over the English-speaking world, most of us were American. They were
obviously women of all economic classes, single mothers on welfare, wives of investment bankers,
waitresses, pediatric nurses, neurosurgeons, these were some of the few that I remember.
There was almost no racial diversity but with a few exceptions, all women were white but
in other ways it was a pretty diverse group of people, right? There was, pretty much anybody
who had a computer who got knocked up in the September or October [laughter] of 1996. And
as you, I'm not telling you guys anything you don't I know many of you were also back
in those early days member of those listservs or are now. It was, for me it these were all
women that I was not likely to come across during my day-to-day life. At that point,
my life had kind of constricted to this tiny universe of playgrounds and Gymboree classes
in West Los Angeles. [INAUDIBLE] there was one woman whose husband left her second month
of her fifth pregnancy leaving her to raise all five of her kids without any financial
or emotional assistance. That was pretty amazing. There was a pediatric oncologist who left
her practice when she got pregnant with her, and here's what we call them, Junebugs, got
pregnant with her Junebug and became the first and surely the most overqualified lesbian
Brownie Troop leader in Hercules, California. There was an internet entrepreneur supporting
her agoraphobic DH, I assume you all understand the reference who, by the time her husband
or her Junebug was born was neither a D nor an H. And then there was my personal favorite,
the reason I stayed with the group I'm sure is the poly-amorous frequent poster who just
kind of never understood why her partner's other partner was not as excited about the
pregnancy as she was. [Laughter] So, needless to say, I loved communicating with these total
strangers, even as they occasionally drove me nuts. Come on in and sit down. Because
they were whining about hemorrhoids and breast tenderness, but I was whining about hemorrhoids
and breast tenderness. And so, it was just this wonderful way to go online and whine
about hemorrhoids and breast tenderness with people who cared about my hemorrhoids and
my breast tenderness. Everybody else in my life kind of rebelled at this soul crushing
self-absorption that seems to come over me whenever I'm pregnant or alive, but I was
rapt. I was rapt by all of these conversations. And, um you know, that period of pregnancy
I don't think I'm unique in feeling like it's a time of your life where you are completely
absorbed with navel gazing obvious, for obvious reasons, because your navel is becoming ever
more prominent. But you know you spend all your time that you're not working considering
being pregnant and rubbing cocoa butter all over your belly so it's nice to be with other
people who are doing the same thing.
So this was a really sweet and supportive group. Right? We took up a collection for
that mother of five. We bought her car seats and strollers and everything she needed to
have that baby. Whenever anybody shared bad news, we were always sympathetic. Um, at that,
those early days, we had yet, most of us to come across an internet troll. There were,
I think there were just fewer of them back then. But even in those halcyon early internet
days, we got into flame wars. They were over the usual subjects and usually anybody who
had spent even an hour on the Mommy websites knows what they're like; breast feeding versus
bottle feeding, cloth diapers versus disposable, the safety of anal sex during pregnancy [laughter]
okay that was the poly-amorous mom, although I'm willing to bet there were some people
who were kind of glad for the sharing of information on that particular subject. I tried very hard
not to start flame wars myself, but I do have to admit that I was fairly often the first
to launch a spirited defense of any member who I thought was being unjustly attacked.
But, like I said, this group never generated into true hideousness, because, and here's
the most important part, we were not anonymous. We all used our real names, and I'm sure that
it's possible that there was some Julie or Joanne who was really a troll named Phillip
wearing crusty boxer shorts and a coffee spattered wife beater hunched over his laptop in a cockroach-infested
studio apartment in Van Nuys getting off on pretending to be a 28-year-old Mormon woman
from Salt Lake expecting her third baby on June 14th, it didn't seem likely. And even
if there was such a troll, that Phillip did such a good job, you know [laughter] of supporting
us and talking about his baby that it just didn't really matter whether he was real or
not. We believed it and we needed it. And we got what we were looking for, we got reassurance
that we were normal, we got someone to listen to us, we were made to feel, by one another,
that we were good enough. We were all going to be good mothers, right? Then, after that
initial glory days of early internet, I expanded my web communities beyond this fairly personal
list and of course the level of discourse deteriorated. [INAUDIBLE] sense of well being.
[INAUDIBLE] a show of hands. That's it? [INAUDIBLE] You people must be so busy.
[laughter]. You know they still give great information, you know you can buy discount
Robeez, those little slippers, but they do seem to generate all the time and at an ever
increasing into full pitch hysterical battles, the subtext of which not only do you and I
don't agree with each other but your opinion [INAUDIBLE] and fundamental idiocy makes you
the worst mother in the world. And it's in this kind of poisonous sludge in the comments
section that we're all seeing the worst in people. I will say that some of the [INAUDIBLE]
Urban Baby? I've never, I've never gone onto the discussion board but my husband did after
he, someone called and said there's some emails you really need to take a look at this, he
goes in his office, he comes out after an hour. He's like pale and shaking and he gets
me to promise that I will never ever put my name into the search bar at Urban Baby. [laughter].
Um, so I got my editor to do it, and she also was, she's, apparently there's, my favorite
part of all the horrible things they says is that whenever anybody says anything nice
about me or my books someone always says, according to my editor, 'Hello Ayelet we know
it's you'. [laughter]. Like I'm spending all my days on Urban. I mean there was a time
in my life where I probably would have spent more time on Urban Baby, but not so much now.
So during 2005 and 2006 I had a column on that kinda replaced the Andy Lamont
Mommy column and in that column I wrote on all sorts of subjects. I wrote on motherhood,
yes, but I also wrote on, for example, my own mother's battles with Medicare, the rights
of juvenile defendants, how much weight I gain every Christmas season. I tried to be
timely, I tried to be honest and I tried to write with humor about difficult subjects.
By the time I published my second column I had completely stopped looking at the comments
section so many people wrote, and while many responses were sort of vaguely complimentary,
or even vaguely respectful the vast majority of them were laced with this unbelievable
venom, this loathing for everything about me, and I just couldn't stand to read them
anymore. For somebody who writes with so much narcissistic self-absorption, I am very thin-skinned
and I respond to almost all criticism, at least personal criticism, by falling into
a pit of self-loathing where I'm convinced that the person doing the criticizing is absolutely
right, and I am as awful as she, and it's almost always she, says. So, um, but today,
I'm going to be reading, in the interest of, you know, full disclosure or whatever, I'm
going to be reading a bunch of hate mail, hate comments from Salon. [laughter]. I thought
that might be fun. so, here's some of the things, I went and searched that people said
about me in the comments section. "Yet another article that reinforces my impression that
Ayelet Waldman is in laymen's terms a freak! [laughter]. I hope Salon's remittance goes
directly into some kind of trust fund to the poor kid's future psychotherapy." [laughter].
Here's another one; "Please, with lots of Es, please, please take her away! She's ruined
Michael Chabon for me. I'll never read another of his books, ever! I won't be able to, just
thinking of him married to her makes me ill!" [laughter]. And another personal favorite,
"I always need to take a shower after I read Ayelet Waldman's pieces." And I assume that
he's going to go into the shower and beat off because he's so excited about me [laughter]
maybe not. Um, but you know look, just even reading those now, as I'm doing it as a joke,
but I'm still gives me this, kind of like ah, in my stomach and I think really, really
shower, why? Um, that was not, obviously, my first experience with being loathed on
the internet, which is, as you can tell, the subject of today's little talk. Um I had,
as some of you might have known, might have ready many, I guess it was about 5 years ago
now. I published an essay in the New York Times that really kind of brought me, not
a lot of people read Salon, so they were haters on Salon, but with the New York Times, it
turns out that more than 5 million people read. And I wrote this essay, I wrote it for
a literary anthology, and we're going to do a little experiment now. How many of you have
ever read a literary anthology? Okay, so, this is an educated crowd. That was like six
hands. How many who broke, how many of you read the whole thing? Yeah. Three. Okay? [laughter].
There's my point. What happened was two friends of mine were putting together this literary
anthology that nobody was going to read and they, it was all about motherhood and they
called me and said, alright Ayelet, we've got mothers writing about divorce, and we've
got mothers writing about having twins and we've got mothers writing about breast cancer,
but we don't have any mother writing about sex. And since you're the only person we know
that's having any [laughter] you have to write about it. And, um I decided that I would for
this anthology that nobody would read and at first I wrote this kind of Dr. Ruthie how
to maintain an intimate relationship with your husband when you have 4 children piece.
But the more I got into it, the more I always can, I can always find that sort of corrosive
sense of ribbon of self-loathing in every topic and I realized that this whole idea
of my sex life made me feel horrible. It made me feel like an awful mother, it made me feel
bad about myself, and I wrote about that. So, I'll just give, I'll read you like the
very just the first couple of sentences of it so you can see what this essay was about.
In case you didn't read it. I have four children, four children with whom I spend a good part
of every day bathing them, combing their hair, sitting with them while they do their homework,
holding them while the weep their tragic tears, but I'm not in love with any of them. I'm
in love with my husband. If a good mother is one who loves her child more than anyone
else in the world, well I'm not a good mother. I am, in fact, a bad mother. I love my husband
more than I love my children. And it went on from there, and on.
Female audience member: I just have to say one thing.
Ayelet: Yeah.
Female audience member: We were talking about your coming here someone mentioned that incident
and then a person who's probably here said, "I love her husband more than kids!" [laughter].
Ayelet. Well you know, it's interesting, because that is, I just, just as an aside that, I
mean that's really what it's about. He's a really great guy, and moreover he's like,
he is an absolute 50% share in the domestic life of our family. So after this essay came
out in the New York Times and I did not submit it to the New York Times, they picked it up.
I got, I mean thousands of emails. And among the thousands of emails were the emails from
men saying, "so how do I, you know, make my wife a little more like you because I haven't
gotten laid in 3 years. [Laughter]. And, um, oh and I always wrote to these guys, you know
like they're looking for me to give them some secret, you know butterfly position or something,
but all I said was, you know, you want to get laid? Here's a trick unload the dishwasher
my friends. Push the Swiffer around the floor. There is nothing sexier to a woman with small
children then a man folding laundry. Right? That's why I'm so crazy about my husband,
because I don't cook, I barely clean, he is, he not only you know works and has a job,
but he also is responsible for more than half of the domestic world. So um, when that essay
came out, I mean I had been toiling in utter obscurity before then, I mean really I don't
even know how many, I think my, my murder mysteries sold in hard cover about 3,500 copies
each and then a tiny bit more in paper. Really, nobody knew who I was. And that essay landed
with this kind of hysterical thud. Um, the first thing I knew about was a friend of mine
called me, so it was in the Sunday Times in the Modern Love column. So a friend of mine
called me on Monday morning, and she said don't watch The View. Well, I wasn't planning
on it. Star Jones is taking off after you, and I thought Star Jones is critizing my marriage,
[laughter]. Star Jones who husband's waiving that rainbow flag and, but, okay. Phone rings
almost immediately later and it's a friend of mine calling from a Starbucks in Chicago
and she's like, I don't know what you did, but the women at the next table are tearing
you to shreds. And one of the things about having one of those names is that it doesn't
belong to so many people is that all of my friends all over the country were hearing
people scream about Ayelet, Ayelet or Eyelet, Eyelet, Eyelet. Um, my favorite story was
my agent who was in the Union Square Cafe in New York city and was talking to her lunchmate
about the essay and someone from across the room screamed out, I hate that essay that
woman is a complete, and then there was a fight! In the restaurant with people taking
sides and it's a very quiet, sedate place and um, my agent was seriously bummed because
she couldn't go there for like weeks afterwards.
But, anyway, so and, of course, the web went insane. Gawker began what had seemed like
a 6-year devotion to tearing me to shreds. Um, I don't know what they said there, but
um, but they were, you know, ridiculing me, and I actually feel like Gawker is my, every
time I feel like nobody reads me or I'm not successful or my career has been a failure,
at that moment, reliably Gawker will like publish one of my tweets in this you know
huge screaming bout of Ayelet loathing. And it just reminds me that I'm like alive, you
know, and that I'm still out there. But at least some neurotic envious crazy 22-year-old
writer want-to-be in New York City knows who I am. Um, Andrew Sullivan, who um at the time
I wasn't so fond of it but then after the Obama, the election I became very fond of.
He also took off after me and at one point, so this stuff, there's stuff on the web, there's
emails, thousands of emails. The New York Times is calling saying they've never had
this much response. It was, they're forwarding me all these awful and also some great but
lots of awful emails. And at one point my husband was kind of lying face down on the
bed, moaning. Why? Because he had just met Grail Markus. Do any of you know who Grail
Markus is? He's one, he's the best writer about rock and roll in the history of music
writing. He's, he's um, I would says he the grandfather but he's not that old. But he's
like the first guy who wrote about rock and roll in this really intellectual but also
fun way and he is an, my husband idolizes him, and he had just begun to exchange emails
with him and that morning an email had come in from Grail Markus that was addressed, Dear
Sex God. So, my husband was kind of like, what have you done to me. And, he just rolled
over and he says, God well, at least I should be grateful you didn't go on Oprah to talk
about our sex life. And um, that afternoon I was like, well honey, do you mean what you
said because look who's on the phone. And it was, in fact, the Oprah show and I did
go to be on Oprah, yes I did. I have nothing to say in my defense other that I am venal
and I really really wanted to sell books. And Oprah sells a lot of books. That's why
I went. I also went because they told me that Oprah was on my side, and I thought I was
going to go on the show and Oprah and I were going to like have this conversation which
we talked about how great my points of view are and how brilliant I am and that I was
going to go off and sell 800,000 books and that's not quite what happened. Um, what happened
was, well start at the beginning, on the plane to Chicago I got this horrible pimple. Right
here. And, of course I was like in the bathroom popping it the whole way, so by the time I
got to the set of the Oprah show I've got this like red zit, like, it precedes me into
the room by a good 3 inches. So all I'm thinking about at that moment is all, is the makeup
department on the Oprah show going to be able to spackle out the rest of my face, so that
this zit does not cast a shadow. So I don't really pay attention to what they're saying
to me, so I don't hear the producers, and the first thing I really notice that there's
something wrong is that there's this kind of like yowling noise a sort of hysterical
shrieking and I'm in the green room and it seems to be coming from the vents. And I looked
at the producer and I'm like what is that it sounds like the, you know the three witches
over the cauldron passing their eye back and forth. [INAUDIBLE] we are assembled a group
of 24 women, they hate you, there also seems to be a [INAUDIBLE] defense attorney, Ayelet,
you'll be fine. So, I go out, so they take me out on the stage, by the way perfect if
you go look on the web, no zit, no zit, complete, I don't know what they did, magic, every time
I have a pimple now, I ache for them. [laughter] Um, they lead me out onto this, this sound
stage and there's like producers all around me, and as I'm getting on the soundstage,
they're choosing women from the audience who can sit up on the stage, and one woman flings
herself across the seats shrieking, let me at her! [laughter]. And that's what I saw
when I got on the stage. It was, it was unbelievable, I mean these women were so angry, I mean they
were just, they wanted to, they had been like, you know, blogging about me for 3 days and
now was their chance to tear me limb from limb. And I, I sat there listening to it for
a little while and I thought, you know what, I don't need this. I didn't go on Jerry Springer,
my goal here is to sell books, I don't need to do this. I am out of here. And I'm just
about to like undo myself I'm undoing the mike when this whole end of the sound stage
opened and in this kind of halo of golden light [laughter] walks a being, I swear to
God, from another planet. Oprah just is not human. I mean her head is bigger than a human
head. She smells better than a human person, her skin is like light from within, it glows
a kind of golden, anyway, I was so, my heart just stopped. I was like, it was like you
know, like if you were an absolute born again Christian and Jesus walked into your bedroom.
That's what it felt like. [laughter]. So, she sits down next to me and she leans over
and in my ear she whispers your husband's book, the Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and
Clay, is the best book I've read all year. And what am I thinking at that moment? I am
thinking Oprah Book Club! I am thinking four children's college educations. I am thinking
I am set, I'm going to be rich, I'm going to guy a bigger house, it's all. So I am not
going anywhere. And, the whole time she was like every break we would be whispering together
and we were like sharing little jokes and the women, and the women are totally tearing
me to shreds. My favorite woman says um, she raises her hand and says that she has four
kids but she's a good mother and the reason that she knows this because she never has
sex with her husband [laughter] and on the rare occasions where she allows him to do
his business, and that is a direct quotation she watches T.V. [laughter]. Yeah. Okay, so
you and I, we hear that and we're just like, what? Oprah hears that and this is why she's
actually better than all of us, is she without missing a beat says, what do you watch? [laughter]
To which the woman replies, Jeopardy. Which, from now on, every time you watch the show,
and you think about buying a vowel, O, O, O, it's going to completely change your life,
trust me. You'll never see it the same way again. Alright, so but, you know Oprah did
agree with me, right? She was on my side and having Oprah on your side means that all of
the women in the room by the end of the show it was like a cruise ship, you know sailing
along and it just kind of turns around in the water and it takes about 45 minutes, but
at the end of the turn they're all like oh, we love Ayelet. We totally agree with her,
she's the best friend we've ever had. Um, and just, I think this whole talk is an aside,
but just on another aside, so I get off the stage and I call my husband and I'm like Oh
my God, Oprah and I connected, in this amazing way. I mean like I, you know how you meet
someone and you just know you're going to be friends? I mean we had that kind of soul
connection that bond, and you know dude, you going to have to learn to play golf because
you're going to be golfing with Stedman while Oprah and I are hanging [laughter], doing
girl things. And he's like uh-huh. So, I go home and I write her this letter like Oprah,
you and me and the bond and connection and the soul mates and the instant and the blah,
blah, blah so blah, and I get this letter back I swear to God it is mimeographed on
that purple, I swear to you and it's off center and it says, Dear Guest, thank you for sharing
your story. I know. I know, it's so sad. And, and I really thought, but then, you know,
just to show you that I'm not a complete moron, I called up a friend whose book was an Oprah
Book Club pick and I was like Isabelle, Oprah Winfrey? And she said, your best friend for
48 minutes. [Laughter]. And it's true, and it I know it was real. I know that I wasn't
the only one in the room, because I think she felt it, I know she felt it, but only
for 48 minutes. And then I even met her after, and this was really the soul crushing thing
because I thought, at least I'm memorable, right, if I'm not her best friend, but I met
her after during the Obama campaign, I'm like oh, I, and she was like, okay, and clearly
no recollection at all.
Anyway, where was I? talking about hate mail? Okay, so, right. I was talking about how I
was no neophyte to insults, that I, like, have been insulted frequently, I live in Berkley,
people! I know what it's like to be the butt of other people's insults. Um, but there is
something really special about the comments section of the Mommy Blog. There is something
unique about that vitriol. I think it's like there's this moment in history, how shall
I describe it, it's as if when, um, the world, the stars align in this certain way to create
the perfect medium for something. So, the analogy I like to use is dogs and cars. So
dogs, we have been training canines whatever, 10,000 years I don't know how many tens of
thousands of years. We have been creating this thing, took wolves and we made them into
companions and this whole thing, right and we did this for whatever reason, for hunting,
for companionship but, it turned out what, what a little over 100 years ago, when the
first automobile was created, that the actual thing dogs were meant to do, the thing that
expressed their soul most perfectly was to stick their head out of an open window on
the highway and have their tongue waving in the breeze. Every dog, that's what a dog was
meant to do, that's the perfect expression of dogdom and I who would have known until
we invented the automobile. And that is what I feel like the internet is for maternal self-loathing.
I think that we probably always existed. There was always this kind of you're a horrible
mother, I'm a horrible mother we eat our hearts out, but when the internet was created, it
was this perfect paradigmatic exquisite universe of bad mother vitriol. Like, the perfect place
for it. So, like, and I want to be really clear, I am not a Luddite. I'm not one of
those people who believe that she's allergic to Wi-Fi. Do you know there are in fact, people
who believe that Wi-Fi is called, gives them migraines, I don't believe that. I love the
internet. I'm going to read you little list of recent Google, this is one day's worth
of Google searches, 1 24-hour period, for you all. This is what I looked up: The maximum
speed of a classic single hull wooden schooner; current presidential polling for Colorado,
Florida, Ohio and Minnesota -this was during the election; how incomplete grades are awarded
in Harvard College; who on my street gave the maximum donations to which presidential
candidate; the hours of low tide in Blue Hill, Maine on July 4th of last year; the square
footage of the average boxing ring; the hours of operation of a Two Birds Cafe in San Geronimo;
what percentage of Americans are idiotic enough to believe that Barack Obama is Muslim; the
cost of custom designed vans; the winner of last year's National's Book Award; the cost
of a set of sails for above-referenced schooner; which of Paganini's caprices is more challenging
to play, number five or number 24; the names of string quartets; the starting time of the
movie The Hulk; the relative merits of local Ethiopian restaurants; Golden Glove rules
regarding the composition of boxing gloves; the average weight of 5-year-old American
boys and the correlation of emaciation with delayed cognitive development -one of my kids
doesn't eat; the efficacy of Cetaphil as a remedy for lice infestation; whether frequent
lice re-infestation has ever been used as a justifiable defense in a case of assault;
the cost of a flight between Oakland, California and New York City; the cost of a flight between
New York City and Bangor, Maine; nutritional information on agave nectar; and the average
number of puppies in a litter of Dachshunds. And I don't know if that was complete. That
was 24 hours of my Google history. And, to further prove that I'm not a Liddite I was
an early G-Mail and Google calendars adopter, maybe not as early as you people, but I was.
I Tweet, yes, I do, I Facebook and I have been involved in a myriad of listservs and
on-line communities. One, for owners of Bernese Mountain dogs; another for devotees of raw
dog food -yes be quiet, I know it's stupid. [laughter] Myriad lists about the 2008 presidential
elections; one for treatment and caring for children with ADHD; up-to-the-minute information
and photographs of women's high-heeled shoes; the side, one devoted to the side-effects
of psychotropic medication; one on writing; one on skin care; one on the proper treatment
of plantar fasciitis; and I will say that they all get ugly, all of them. Even, the
raw food one, definitely. They all get ugly, but the vitriol is the worst of all, when
the topic is motherhood. And, um, I don't know why that is. I mean, other than that
it's a perfect manifestation of everything we most hate, I, this kind of nexus conjunction
of maternal anxiety, misogyny, guilt, leisure, technology, I don't know what it is, but it
is a vial place at times. There is even a study, it's not just me complaining about
how people h ate me on the internet. The University of Maryland published a study in 2006 that
showed that women are 25 times more likely to be the target of malicious on-line attacks
than men. This is true. This, so, it's not just that the web brings out the worst in
us, it brings out the most misogyny and the most self-loathing. And like I said, you know,
maybe it's true that women have always been nasty to one another, on occasion, but, you
and maybe now, you know you used to once have known somebody to be bitchy about her or at
least know someone who knew her and now, you can be bitchy about anybody, anywhere who's
involved in any literary community. But, at the same time, I think I just, I'm almost
afraid to say this. If I have any goal in the time, in the 30 seconds I have left before
I devote myself to parent-teacher, just to parent-teacher conference, that's where I'm
going now [laughter] to question and answer, God. I just want to call for like a, a cease
fire, if possible, just a, or at least a raising of consciousness that we are doing this to
ourselves and each other and that we're doing this especially around the topic of motherhood.
And I know, I'm never going to give up on the web, I mean on and particularly on those
listservs. When I was, when Abe was born, my youngest, has this jaw defect that meant
he couldn't breast feed and I joined this listserv called Pump Mom, they're not called
list serves anymore, Google groups called Pump Moms, and I got more information from
those women than I got from every lactation consultant -yeah, excellent! Than I ever,
I mean those I paid people a hundred bucks an hour and got nothing and those Pop Moms
saw me through 6 months of pumping. So, I'm not saying we need to stop, you know, joining
in these motherhood online communities and I am just begging, and I know what's going
to happen is Gawker will see this little video and they'll be like oh Ayelet Waldman, just
like Rodney King why can't we all just get along. [laughter] But really, why can't we
all just get along? Um so with that I'm just going to open for comments. If you're my mother
you can criticize me, if you're not my mother you can criticize me too. Questions.
[Female audience member]: So since the ensuing time is the vitriol is less frequent?
Ayelet: Against me, personally? Yeah. Weirdly, yes. Um, well yes and no. I mean Google just
did put Michael and me on named us third most loathsome literary couple or Gawker, not Google,
the third most loathsome literary couple. Which I actually, was kind of pissed off about,
because, why, why are we only third, why did, what did Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss
do to be more loathsome than me? I don't think anything. But, so it still rears it's head,
but mostly I think that there actually has been a little bit of a shift in how we think
about motherhood, in the time between when I wrote that essay and when the book Bad Mother
came out, because what I saw a lot of when Bad Mother, which is just kind of, the book,
the book Bad Mother is really in a way I have a kind of a perversity. There is this Yiddish
word called "oyftsulokhes" which means, you know like just to spite you, really. So, oyftsulokhes
you everyone gave me grief for this essay, oyftsulokhes. I'm going to write a whole book
on what a bad mother I am. [laughter] See what happens then. But actually, it's been
much more positive and I do think it's because this Good Mother paradigm, that kind of, you
know the aggressive imposition of the perfect mother image on women has, there's been a
little bit of a backlash against it. And I like to think if I've done anything in my
literary career, it's going to contribute to that backlash, so that, um so that now
I have noticed that the women showing up at the bake sale with the perfect cupcakes, she's
the one embarrassed now. So, which I think is all good. Can I ask you a question? How
come so many people at Google wear Google-labeled attire? [Laughter]
[Off microphone]: It's free. It's comfortable.
Ayelet: It's free. Excellent. I don't notice any Google attire in my schwag bag, but I
don't know. Fleece vest. Anybody else?
[off microphone]: So I was not a mother when your article came out so I don't know the
Ayelet: Uh. Huh.
[off microphone]: Of course I'll go look it up when I get back. What were people so upset
about. You read that intro and so.
Ayelet: Why, why do they get so angry?
[off microphone]: What were they so angry about?
Ayelet. You know, it's so interesting, I think it, I had a conversation with a friend of
mine's who's a, writes for the magazine section of the New York Times named Lisa Belkin. And
she wrote a piece oh probably almost a decade ago, maybe 6 or 7 years ago about, it was
a cover magazine piece about um, privileged mostly white women going back to work; leaving
work and going back home. Like you know, all these successful women leaving their successful
jobs and becoming stay-at-home mothers. I don't know if any of you remember that piece.
And she got so much grief for that. I mean hate mail and so much of it. There was this
one ridiculous instance where her mother was the dean of a college was sitting in the college
cafeteria and these two women were like, raging about how Lisa, and they said, "She's just
jealous because says, she's just a stay-at-home mom." And her mother -because she's her mother-
couldn't resist said excuse me, "My daughter writes for the New York Times Magazine. She
actually writes cover pieces. They don't usually just let you do that if you're a stay-at-home
mom, in your pajamas. Yeah, that's actually a career people." Idiots. But anyway, when
I was talking to Lisa, I asked her why she's not hurt these people got so angry and she
said thought that she had had this experience that anytime you write about women of our
generation, women in their 30's and 40's now into their 50s it's like you're writing a
Rorschach blot. What you say is nowhere near as important as what they are experiencing.
They like, they read they're lives and a criticism of their lives. Everybody is so knotted up
with this sense that they're screwing up somehow. That they read anything as an indictment.
And I think you know, they're probably, you know so what am I writing? I'm writing like,
hey I'm gettin laid, you're not gettin laid, and why is that. I mean that's already offensive
you know, like I. Well, I'm not, just because I'm not getting laid, doesn't mean I'm not
better than you. You know. So I think there was a little bit of that but I think fundamentally,
any time you talk about parenting, the, we as readers tend to look on those, those words
as somehow personal attacks. It's not just that somebody else lives her life, it's an
indictment of the way we live our lives and we're so anxious and neurotic about that in
particular, that it's a causes this kind of eruption. The only thing I can think of, otherwise,
who cares, really? You read something by someone disagree with and you think, ugh, what an
idiot, and move on. I actually had a woman come to me at a book signing a year after
the essay had come out and said, my husband made me come. And this was a book signing
where you had to buy the book for $25 and have lunch. Like you had to be in my presence
for an hour and you had to pay $25 bucks. That's not nothing. Right? And she said um,
she said my um, my husband because he says I won't stop talking about you and I've been
so obsessed with you and so angry that he just felt like I needed to finally confront
you. And I'm just like, what is your? Get Over It! You know, God. Okay, hate me, whatever,
but really, is it really so important. But, I do think it's that element of, you know
of just writing, writing this Rorschach blot. They were just reading something, they were
reading something other than what I had written or what I had written had triggered something
in them? Yes, anybody? The men, both men, we should call on them. Ooh three men. Yes,
[off microphone]: I just wanted to ask you sort of a man related, your husband Mike writes
essays about men and.
Ayelet: Fatherhood.
[off microphone] Fatherhood. Does he get any of the same kind of?
Ayelet. Oh, no! He's God incarnate. Michael writes, it's the same this as like, well he
is a father, right? My, my favorite story is when he's standing on line in a cafe, he's
got the baby in a baby Bjorn and he's just getting coffee. That's all he's doing. Not
paying attention to that baby, he is getting coffee, right? Getting coffee. He might even
spill the coffee on the baby, [laughter] who knows. And some woman taps him on the shoulder
and she's like oh, you are such a good dad. And I'm like, you really, what would you have
to do as a mother to have someone in the street tell you you are such a good mom, and I know
what it is, okay? You have to perform an emergency tracheotomy with you Bic pen on one kid, while
breast feeding another [laughter] and helping the third with their homework. Then you'd
get the good mom thing. Other than that, nothing. So his essays, and yes he's a better writer
than I am. Maybe that has something to do with it, but people are just like, Oh he's
so wonderful. He's such a great dad. And he can, nobody ever gives him grief for revealing
stuff about our children, even though he does, and, it's just so unfair.
[off microphone]: You mentioned, you talked about earlier one of the reasons you thought
the listservs, the original listservs, to be more civil was because people were under
their real names.
Ayelet: Yeah.
[off microphone]: [inaudible]
Ayelet: Yeah. The New York Times, well see the New York Times letters were primarily
positive. They were overwhelmingly positive, really. The stuff that you, that actually
went to the New York Times, where you have to sign your name, was mostly fan mail. Its
the stuff that comes to me that could be anonymous that was so loathsome. And the stuff that
went on the comments section. So I just think anonymity has a lot to do with it. I mean
look, if you come up to someone's face and say my name is Ayelet Waldman and I think
you're fat and ugly [laughter] is really different from like, it's 2:00 in the morning and you're
in your pajamas and my name is Badmomma and I think you're fat and ugly. It's just a lot
easier to do that, so, I think anonymity plays a large part in it. But I do think there is,
I mean there has been this, you know, disastrous thing that's happened to civility. I mean,
I there are a some people who say awful things on the web who are awful people. I'm sure
that's true. But, there are a lot of people who say awful things on the web who are not
awful people and there's just something about that environment, that stew, that toxic sludge
that is contagious. I mean, I know that I have participated, like I said in inflamed
battles, and then I found myself saying, what are you doing, did you really say, and then
I have to go apologize. Like one time I, no I won't take the time, but, you know, so I
think, I do think this, this, there's something particular about the web and anonymity plays
a large part in that that makes it so much easier to be your worse self. Anybody else?
[off microphone]: So, I'm just curious about that. The essay, the problem with that.
Ayelet: Um hmm.
[off microphone]: Was it that you didn't love your kids enough?
Ayelet: Well no it was.
[off microphone]: Or was it you loved your husband too much?
Ayelet: That bothered people, in particular?
[off microphone]: Yeah, what was the thing that bugged 'em?
Ayelet. Well, I mean I think there was one line that was particularly problematic. I
had just finished writing this book called Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, the one
that's going to be a movie staring Natalie, it is a movie staring Natalie Portman, out
sometime before the end of the year in your local theater. It will probably be there for
a minute and a half, so go that weekend. It's a fabulous movie.
[off microphone]: [inaudible] by Sandra Bullock.
Ayelet: Yes, that too, but it's.
[off microphone]: [inaudible] movie?
Ayelet: It's a great movie too, do both, do both, great movie. Um, what was I saying?
[off microphone]: The one sentence.
Ayelet: Oh, so the one sentence, so I had just finished this book and and that's the
book about a woman who's baby dies of SIDS. And I had been immersed for a year in this
world of like, of maternal grief. What does it feel like when your baby dies. And what
I wrote in that essay was that while I could image, like I could, I could run a movie,
I always run these movies in my head, sort of the worst case scenario movies and all
these terrible things that happen, you know every time my kid goes on a bike ride I'm
you know is there a child molester down the, and I could run these movies of their death.
While I can could run that movie in my head and see the other end, I had no, I have no
capacity to imagine what my life would even be like without my husband, like I can see
having a life, God forbid is what I wrote, but I can't see that, without, if my husband
had died. And I think that it made people, that it felt to people that I was saying I
would throw my kids in front of the bus to save my husband's life, which I obviously
wasn't saying. And also, there's this great quote by Nietzsche. You didn't think I was
going to quote Nietzsche did you, but I am, [laughter]. Um, it requires a shattering exaggeration
for the world to hear even half the truth. And I think that part of what I was doing
in that essay. Like, you know, I was responding to this thing that I saw and so my response
was, do I really love my husband more than my kids? No, you know, how do you compare
that? I don't want to sleep with my children. I don't want to have sex with my children
or sleep with them frankly, but [laughter] you know, and I do want to have sex and sleep
with my husband. So you just like varied different kinds of love and you can't compare them.
So, really that's sort of the truth, but what I was responding to was a world of hierarchies
and that's why I spoke in a language of hierarchies and that's what, I think made people so angry.
Let's take one more question and let's let you people go back to work. Someone be the
last question after I've said this.
[off microphone]: I really about the Rorschach comment about how people hear and I feel like
no matter how carefully I couch things the other mother is -we don't watch TV in our
household- the reason we don't watch TV is because my youngest before she could read
could identify words like 'Lexus', BMW and Porsche. This child is just, she sees brands
and she consumes them. We watch movies, we do computers, we not such purists but we don't
want that. This other mother was going to have them all over and my kid is younger and
they were all going to be watching TV and it's TV for 13 year olds my kid is six and
I'm like, "Well you know", and I say, "Here's the [INAUDIBLE] that's a problem. So we don't
watch a whole lot of TV with her. Well she sent me an email saying that they watched
"The Simpsons" last night. It was a special episode about Jerusalem and they had a really
important family conversation about it. That she can't wait until her youngest is old enough
to watch "The Simpsons" so they can all share that together. And, in fact, she thinks "The
Simpsons" I quote, "is a national treasure".
Ayelet: I mean I think "The Simpsons" is the national treasure too, but do I feel like
there's anything wrong with it? You mean, but that's just it, what she heard was not
my daughter is such a nut job that we can't watch T.V. otherwise she's going to be like
insisting that she get Captain Crunch for breakfast. What she heard was, what's wrong
with you, that you let your children watch T.V.? And that's what we always hear, right?
We don't ever hear this is how I do things, we hear, you're doing it wrong. And it's just
crazy. It's crazy. I don't know how to make it stop, because I do the same thing, I swear,
if you, my kids um only watch T.V. on the weekends, but they're allowed to watch whatever
they want. If you, I feel so guilty about that, I bet I would have been like, "The Simpsons"
is a national treasure! [laughter] Or, I would have felt it in my heart, but because I'd
written this whole book urging people to put breaks on their internal, you know, not to
say bad things only about themselves in public then I would never have said it. But it, it's
like that thing, you know and I missed this, it's all about her own anxiety, it has nothing
to do with you and your kid.
Um, so thank you all for coming. Thank you. I have to give a special shout out to the
men in the audience, just because oh my God, how brave and wonderful. [Laughter]. Um, or
else, just how lazy, and you really didn't. Or, you wanted to know how to get laid, and
you thought this would be the perfect opportunity. [Laughter] I have they're mostly home cleaning
related, so come and see me after. Thanks, guys.