Hey pals, I published two pieces elsewhere this week that I’d love you to check out:
-This op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle arguing that we need to acknowledge our current reality of school segregation
-This essay in Romper about Sarah Polley’s beautiful film, Women Talking, consent and the female body, and whether anything has changed in a generation.
What phrase do you repeat, 4000 times a day, to your kids (or partner, or self)? For some parents it might be “indoor voices!!” others, “no permanent marker!” and still others “I interrupted my professional life, fell into a deep depression I am maybe just coming out of, and destroyed my pelvic floor for you, you can spread your own apricot jam.”
These days, it seems that all I do is ask people to say what they need. “Mommy doesn’t listen to complaints, but she takes requests!” “Is your yelling trying to tell me you need something?” “Do you need some love?” “Do you have a bug and a wish?” I explain to my children, in great detail, at all times of day and night, that I have a lot to give them, but that when it is demanded of me, I shut down. “I love to help you, when I can,” but when you ask me like that I hate it. Whether I am enabling a culture of co-dependency or helping my children develop the sense and expression of their own boundaries that I feel I never had, I do not know.
I am also, at almost 40 (6 months to go!), still having difficulty asking for what I need. No one tells you that the hardest part of asking for what you need is knowing what you need. I am just learning, no joke, how to notice that I am hungry, and then, with much more difficulty, how to stop what I’m doing (googling “witch candles near me”) and actually find something to eat. And now that I think about it, that involves being aware, at the grocery store, that I will never make a salad, that I will only eat a salad kit at worst, and if I’m really being kind to myself, a ready to go salad. To me, this is high-level challenging shit.
When someone makes a request of you, you can take it or leave it. And you only have one job—fulfilling (“I want another pair of socks!”— doable) or not fulfilling (“I want the kind of mac n cheese we had two years ago at a roadside diner in Massachusetts” —not gonna happen) said request.
But when you ask yourself for something, yourself has to answer. And you know who is not very generous? Myself with myself. “Could you please stop typing on the toilet and return to your weird but somewhat ergonomic shelf-desk so as to avoid a headache?” Nope. “Could we possibly exercise during this amorphous hour, rather than put items in online shopping carts and then abandon them.” Sorry, no. “Could we talk about this?” Shut up.
Asking for what you need feels domain-specific. I’m really good at it when playing Go Fish. I’m getting better at it with my mother. And being, as we say, “in community” with my neighbors has made me pretty decent at doing it with them. I have no problem making and fulfilling requests in this context. In fact, it brings me deep satisfaction.
Things I have offered my neighbors recently:
A loaf of bread
A movie screening
Zucchini bread for breakfast
Things I have asked for:
Someone to watch my kids for 20 minutes while I pick up burgers
A car to take to synagogue
A ride to the airport
After school pick up
Help getting an LED frisbee off of the roof.
Things people have offered me:
A mid-day dance break to a weird electronic mix of “Wicked Games”
Rapid covid tests
A 3D-printed lamp
A ride home from a birthday party for my kid
Things others have asked for:
Donations to the funeral preparations of their contractor’s son
Rides to the doctor
A drain snake
A “simple wood desk or dining chair”
A car to borrow to take to a wedding
Help recruiting participants for a research study
A red candle
A friend shared recently that, in one home she shared with roommates in her youth, people made requests on a piece of paper posted on the fridge. Some were small, like “stacking the plates more neatly,” others were ambitious, like “I would like to meet a Kung Fu movie star.” Something about these things being framed as optional, as wish lists, opened others up to try and fulfill them. They did clean-up their plate-stacking acts, with alacrity. They didn't manage to arrange a meeting with the Kung Fu master, but they all shared together in the dream of it, which I imagine brought them closer.
Maybe when myself asks myself for something, a “wish” is a better word than a “need.” There is something important that gets communicated with the latter, of course, an urgency that sometimes needs to be included. But I have never liked anyone telling me I need to do anything. I am pretty sure that if you did a research study with 1000 Mes and told half of them they needed to sign their kid up for the Mary Poppins session of summer theater camp today and the other half that it was your wish that they would, only the wish-fulfillers would be on track to see their offspring sing “Chim Chim Cheree” this June and the need-fillers would be dragging their kid to the Y.
My husband and I recently purchased two copies of Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are Workbook (she has some free worksheets here), designed to help people learn about and work through their hang-ups and deepest joys surrounding sex. (My husband agreed to my writing about this, as long as I clarified that it is because our sex life is too good, and we worry that if we don’t change, it will start to make others feel inadequate.) My four-year-old daughter is excited that we seem to be in some kind of book club (and also that the book we are reading is pink). We are, I suppose, trying to articulate our needs and our wishes, as they pertain to physical intimacy.
Nagoski teaches readers to identify and communicate their sexual “accelerators” as well as what makes their drive hit the “brakes.” We think about the conditions, both in and out of the relationship, that make sexual experiences positive or negative for us. We learn about five “initiation styles” and tell our partner which ones are a yum and which are a yuck.
As the sex/love columnist Dan Savage explains in this rich, thought-provoking interview with Ezra Klein (I love Savage, and he can be a little-too himself for me sometimes, but Klein brings him down to earth and pushes the conversation to places I found very relatable), often in hetero couples, our partners are the last people we express our sexual needs and wishes to. It is mind-blowing to sit across from someone you have known and loved more than half your life and feel deep anxiety for saying “I prefer the bedroom to be warm when I take my clothes off.”
More importantly, it’s also mind-blowing to learn that no one has died because you asked for something, and the person you love is happy, as the conditions in this case are right for wish-fulfillment, to buy you a heated mattress pad.
I have been going through my favorite short films to show some friends this weekend, and boy, there are just so many! A good short film is a very special, very satisfying art. I thought I’d share some with you. The first is a fun one, the second is a hard one, the third is a bonkers one. All are great. Enjoy!
FEELING THIS: “No one tells you that the hardest part of asking for what you need is knowing what you need.”
YES! I am still trying to find a closet in my house where I can go in and actually feel what I need. Which is to say, I think our challenge at knowing what we need has so much to do with how energetically and emotionally porous we feel, which has so much to do with how we were raised, which leads me back to: how do we raise our kids to know what they need AND be interested in what other people around them need? Our forever conversation...