Cover image for Love and trouble : a midlife reckoning / Claire Dederer.
Title:
Love and trouble : a midlife reckoning / Claire Dederer.
ISBN:
9781101946503
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.
Physical Description:
241 pages ; 25 cm
Contents:
You, now -- A geography of crying -- How to have sex with your husband of fifteen years -- A kiss may ruin a human life -- Pomegranates -- The, you know, encroaching darkness -- Dear Roman Polanski -- The love square: a cautionary tale -- Josephine in Laurelhurst -- Scratch a punk, find a hippie -- Recidivist slutty tendencies in the pre-AIDS-era adolescent female: a case study -- Jump cuts -- A is for acid: an Oberlin abecedarium -- Repulsion! -- Syllabus -- How to be in Seattle in the '90s -- Dante and Virgil in L.A. -- Three kisses, in the passive voice -- Don't tell anyone -- Uchronia -- On victimhood -- Dear Roman Polanski, part deux -- Consolations and desolations.
Abstract:
"From the New York Times best-selling author of Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, a ferocious, sexy, hilarious memoir about going off the rails at midlife and trying to reconcile the girl she was with the woman she has become. Claire Dederer is a happily married mother of two, ages nine and twelve, when she suddenly finds herself totally despondent and, simultaneously, suffering through a kind of erotic reawakening. This exuberant memoir shifts between her present experience as a middle-aged mom in the grip of mysterious new hungers and herself as a teenager--when she last experienced life with such heightened sensitivity and longing. From her hilarious chapter titles ("How to Have Sex with Your Husband of Seventeen Years") to her subjects--from the boyfriend she dumped at fourteen the moment she learned how to give herself an orgasm, to the girls who ruled her elite private school ("when I left Oberlin I thought I had done with them forever, but it turned out ... they also edited all the newspapers and magazines, and wrote all the books"), to raising a teenage daughter herself--Dederer writes with an electrifying blend of wry wit and raw honesty. She exposes herself utterly, and in doing so captures something universal about the experience of being a woman, a daughter, a wife"-- Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses , a ferocious, sexy, hilarious memoir about going off the rails at midlife and trying to reconcile the girl she was with the woman she has become.

Claire Dederer is a happily married mother of two, ages nine and twelve, when she suddenly finds herself totally despondent and, simultaneously, suffering through a kind of erotic reawakening. This exuberant memoir shifts between her present experience as a middle-aged mom in the grip of mysterious new hungers and herself as a teenager--when she last experienced life with such heightened sensitivity and longing. From her hilarious chapter titles ("How to Have Sex with Your Husband of Seventeen Years") to her subjects--from the boyfriend she dumped at fourteen the moment she learned how to give herself an orgasm, to the girls who ruled her elite private school ("when I left Oberlin I thought I had done with them forever, but it turned out ...they also edited all the newspapers and magazines, and wrote all the books"), to raising a teenage daughter herself--Dederer writes with an electrifying blend of wry wit and raw honesty. She exposes herself utterly, and in doing so captures something universal about the experience of being a woman, a daughter, a wife.


Author Notes

CLAIRE DEDERER is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses , which has been translated into twelve languages, and which Elizabeth Gilbert called "the book we all need." A book critic, essayist, and reporter, Dederer is a longtime contributor to The New York Times and has also written for The Atlantic , Vogue , Slate , The Nation , and New York magazine, among other publications. She lives on an island near Seattle with her family.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this edgy, frank, and at times outright hilarious tale of lost youth and midlife angst, Dederer (Poser), a wife and mother of two who lives on an idyllic island a ferry ride away from Seattle, describes finding herself in a funk at age 44 in 2011. Dederer is "inexplicably sad" (as are many of her middle-aged friends); the high point of her day is nibbling pomegranates (while cloaked in a stained gray hoodie) and drinking bourbon. She wonders what happened to the feisty, adventuresome, and sexually promiscuous young woman she once was. Inspired, in part, by an unexpected kiss from an older writer, Dederer journeys into her past, lining up 20 diaries ranging from age eight (a 1975 Peanuts diary) to the night before her wedding. Though she deems her diaries "a pageant of stupidity" and her former self a "clueless bitch," she longs for the heightened sense of time, place, and sexual excitement she finds in their pages. The memoir takes readers through Dederer's childhood in suburban Laurelhurst (her mother and father divorced when she was five and her mom took up with a younger hippie), her teen obsession with boys, and her days at Oberlin College, where she felt "trapped and anxious." The author briefly lived in Australia before returning to Seattle and eventually choosing a life of "constraint." This candid memoir will resonate with women (and quite possibly men) of all ages, but particularly those in midlife. Dederer brings a startling intimacy and immediacy to her version of growing up female in America. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

MARRIAGES OFTEN APPEAR more fragile from the outside looking in, possibly because the daily exertion of staying married entails wildly different calisthenics from couple to couple. The open communication that keeps one couple thriving would tear another couple apart within minutes. The delineation of tasks that keeps one couple safe from destitution and filth would feel horribly rigid to another. The mutual teasing and sly insults that make one couple feel more alive might have another reduced to fisticuffs in seconds. Thus, to be married is to view other couples through divorce-colored glasses: Even when they're engaged in the very exercises that hold them together, they might as well be huffing spray paint and sleeping with the nanny instead. That said, Dani Shapiro could make even a moment of weakness with a can of Rust-Oleum sound like poignant revelry with some timeless yet romantically volatile elements. In the first pages of "Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage," her latemiddle- age, state-of-my-union memoir, the author gazes out the window at her husband on the lawn in his white terry-cloth bathrobe. He has purchased a gun so that he can kill a pesky woodpecker destroying the exterior of their home in the Connecticut countryside. But she doesn't like guns. "A gust of wind lifts the hem of the bathrobe," Shapiro writes, "exposing his pale legs as he stands on a sheet of snowcovered ice." We quickly grasp the real problem: Our fearless heroine finds herself married to an aging, not-so-Wile-E.- Coyote. One with pale legs. Soon this moment of disillusionment dissolves into a larger portrait of loss and regret. But even though the basement floods regularly, even though the cold wind flows through a crack in the door, even though the couple have seen tough times - their son had a near-fatal illness as a baby, her mother died of cancer, his mother suffers from Alzheimer's - Shapiro clings eloquently to her faith that they'll make it through it all. The biggest struggle, though, seems to lie in her perspective on the somewhat unfamiliar man her husband has become. Once a courageous foreign correspondent, M. (as Shapiro refers to her husband in the book) has spent the past 18 years as a screenwriter - one who, like most screenwriters, sometimes sells his work and sometimes doesn't. Shapiro has certainly had her share of career highs: Three popular memoirs and a televised interview with Oprah represent the kind of success most writers only dream about. But while Shapiro seems to worry more about their financial future, M. handles the finances and has been known to make mistakes. The health insurance lapsed and he didn't tell her; she finds herself frustrated and nervous about what the future holds for them. Such brutal honesty is the bread and butter of the marriage memoir, yet Shapiro still manages to make her husband sound quirky and tenacious in the manner of the best romantic comedy leads. And her prose has a way of making even mundane disappointments feel portentous and universal, if a little melodramatic: "I'll take care of it, M. said. A familiar refrain, one I have always loved and longed to believe. . . . The creaky house, the velocity of time, the accretion of sorrow. The things that can and cannot be fixed. I'll take care of it." But M. does not seem to be taking care of it. He spends six months writing a TV pilot that might never get made, and the couple have no savings and no retirement plan. This is where the record scratches to a halt. Shapiro is 52 and her husband is 59; they live in what sounds like a big house in "the wilds of Connecticut"; they founded a writers' conference in Italy; they fly to the West Coast to have lunches with studio executives. Yet they don't have a cent saved for retirement? Suddenly the title "Hourglass" seems less apt than, say, "Time Bomb." The nostalgic tone feels less freewheeling and poetic than dark and suspenseful now. Even the charming son who is "funny and kind" and has a "vast network of friends" can't lighten the mood, nor can the vague musing ("How do you suppose time works?"), or the scattered reflections on unexpected misfortune ("Where does hope go when it vanishes? Does it live in a place where it attaches itself to other lost hopes?"), or even the weighty-sounding but abstract quotations ("'A mosaic,' writes Terry Tempest Williams, 'is a conversation between what is broken' "). To Shapiro's credit, by the end of her short book, we want to know what will happen next - but we come away with more philosophical musing instead. "Time is like a tall building made of playing cards," she tells us, meaning we're all in this crazy, unpredictable mess together. But we're not quite buying it. "Use sturdier building materials!" we want to tell her. Then again, maybe this is the true lure of the marriage memoir: We are gathered here today to witness a two-person catastrophe in motion, a leap of faith that ends, at least half of the time, in a cloud of dust at the bottom of a tall cliff. IN "WEDDING TOASTS I'LL NEVER GIVE," Ada Calhoun takes a much more lighthearted approach to the toils and snares of marriage in the hazy light of midlife. Springing from a New York Times Modern Love column, Calhoun's memoir reads like a series of light and funny essays, formed from original, engrossing anecdotes interspersed with somewhat more predictable life lessons. Calhoun and her husband have been married since they were in their 20s, and she writes, "I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be single again." When their son was a toddler, her husband confessed that he had feelings for another woman. Later, Calhoun had a brief dalliance with a handsome colleague while she was out of town on a book tour. Even so, the stakes never feel that high: The couple decide together that seeing other people is a bad idea. In spite of his own brief emotional entanglement, her husband comes across as a charming weirdo who seems just as willing to own his blind spots and weaknesses as she does. Calhoun offers marital anecdotes rich with the alternating warmth and pathos that typify a long-lasting union: When her husband discovers her on the floor sorting Playmobil pieces from Legos and asks "What are you doing?" Calhoun memorably replies, "A dramatization of why there are no Great American Novels by women." But her attempts to summarize the eternal themes of marriage present a jarring change in tone, one that constitutes the book's weakest passages. It's as if every time we downshiftfrom the delightfully odd specifics of Calhoun's family life to the sweeping, perfume-infused inquiries of lady magazines ("How might we learn to appreciate our spouse's quirks in the moment?"), a little angel trades in its tramp stamp for a waffle iron. But considering the fact that wedding toasts are either surprisingly moving or hopelessly dull, it probably makes sense that Calhoun's extended paean to marriage is a little bit of both. IN HER MEMOIR of "midlife reckoning" called "Love and Trouble," Claire Dederer sidesteps both theatrical prose and broad clichés in favor of frank and colorful admissions of impatience, lust and guilt. Maybe because Dederer never tries to sweeten her suffering with sentimentality, it feels less onerous to ride sidesaddle on her journey through the barren flats of holy matrimony. Dederer's midlife struggle is also less focused on disappointment or frustration than it is on her own shifting identity: She feels older but still wants to be ravished. She feels liberated from outdated expectations of herself but still wants more excitement in her life. And alarmingly enough, work doesn't provide the same refuge it once did. "A new inertia has overcome you," she writes. "You are shaken and insecure, and simultaneously enervated." Dederer is struggling with an odd mix of writer's block, midlife crisis and sexual reawakening. But just as a potential affair seems to present itself, Dederer swerves into an extended reminiscence of her reckless formative years as a sexual conquistador. These pages are more detailed than expected, and include, among other things, an elaborate map of the Seattle cool-kid hangouts from her high school years ("all the dishwashers at Pizza Haven were heavy metal guitarists"); a recollection of her first serious boyfriend, who had "floppy Steve Prefontaine hair" and manual techniques that leftmuch to be desired; and a veritable laundry list of drugs taken, sexually transmitted diseases treated, and attempts at achieving True Lust thwarted. Dederer's comical, erratic storytelling is nuanced and unpredictable, dwelling on the recklessness of youth without ever selling short the courage and daring it took to be so reckless. She brings all of the arrogance and longing of early sexual exploration to vivid life with real empathy and verve. But there's darkness in the mix, here, too: After her mother's adult male friend climbs into her sleeping bag when she is 13 years old, her understanding of her own desire is muddled irreparably. This explains why we're offered not one but two chapters that are open letters to Roman Polanski, an indulgence we might be more willing to endure if the book's initial seduction weren't dropped and never revisited, while another encounter in a hotel - which serves as a kind of climax to her crisis - remains unnervingly vague: "A man slips into the room with me before I can stop him." Wait - who is this stranger? Is this an assault? She never explains. Instead, Dederer offers up a chapter analyzing the reasons for her sexual proclivities. "My agent wanted an answer, so I did this: I traced my hypersexuality back to an incident. It's because Jack Wolf got in the ol' sleeping baggerino in 1980." The odd use of cute language (baggerino?) seems like an attempt to evade her discomfort with the subject at hand. Even so, Dederer leans in - way in - with an extended analysis of her desire to be dominated in bed: "Whether I like it or not, as I grow older and lose my beauty, I also lose the opportunity to be victimized in the particular way I crave and fear." Dederer is an excellent writer who spins her prose with the casual grace and easy humor of a seasoned professional (she has been a critic and journalist for years and wrote the best-selling 2012 memoir "Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses"). Yet by the end of the book, her strange, nonlinear tour ends up feeling a little rushed and incomplete. We don't get to peek behind the curtains that are central to the story (Who is this mystery lover - or is he an attacker?) yet we're invited to ruminate on Roman Polanski's past at length, analyze Dederer's libido in uncomfortable ways, hear her agent's questionable directives, and learn that her husband wants her to hurry up and finish it so she can get paid ("Sell a book, he said. I'm going as fast as I can, I said"). As brazenly honest as these passages might be, perhaps they suggest that in a marriage memoir - as in marriage itself - total honesty is at once necessary and the biggest liability of all. We are gathered here today to witness a two-person catastrophe in motion. HEATHER HAVRILESKY is a columnist for New York magazine and the author of "How to Be a Person in the World."


Library Journal Review

What and why women want persist as questions that intrigue or nag, depending on who's asking. Here, three memoirists write about what they want and how they figured out how to get it. Beset by tearful miseries and strong yearnings at age 44, journalist and critic -Dederer (Poser) set out to determine what was happening to her-and why. In search of the reason for her erotic jump-start, she digs out her youthful diaries and revisits the Seattle of her sexy, "pirate girl" teenage years as well as the Oberlin of her angst-ridden college years and several other (literal and figurative) hot spots from her past. In unvarnished prose, she unravels the threads holding together the domesticated wife-mother-writer-persona she had assembled and examines the woman, formerly wild child, underneath. Her elegantly structured, expansive, and unapologetic account captures the sense of one woman's self about as honestly as it is possible to do on a page. Grey, a pseudonymous British columnist for the Guardian, documents her experiment in online dating after her unexpected, unpleasant, and unwanted midlife divorce. Determined to achieve coupledom again via the matchmaking powers of online dating, she endures years of inaccurate profiles, deceptive photography, misleading emails, disappointing first dates, awkward sex, and requests of an extremely personal nature involving Skype. Grey's report of her odyssey through the world of men thought to be appropriate for her is hilarious and detailed. She kisses her way through a whole house full of frogs in search of a prince and, luckily for her readers, keeps notes on the process. Woven throughout the chronology, however, are strands of dating fatigue and skepticism about the process as a whole. After all, she reasons, would a dating website have suggested her polar-opposite type parents to each other? Nevins, a veteran documentary producer and president of HBO Documentary Films, presents a series of essays, poems, and brief sketches intended to capture her more than 50 years working in the media industry. The 77-year-old author is coy about whether or not she is the featured character in the pieces yet promises that all of the stories she tells are true, even if she is hiding behind other names. She discusses topics as disparate as how a "Cosmo girl" style evolved into something less dependent upon the trading of sexual favors in the workplace, to the guilt heaped upon working mothers by others (including other women, and in one comic case, a hamster). Her tone is conversational and her powers of observation sharp, whether discussing the terrors of waiting for a mammogram or skewering a philandering male. VERDICT Grey's and Nevins's titles will appeal to anyone in similar circumstances, but Dederer's memoir speaks eloquently to questions all women have.-Thérèse Purcell Nielsen, Huntington P.L., NY © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

1   You, Now   You did everything right!   You made some friends you could count on. You got a job. You found a mate, a really nice one, and you bought a house and had kids. You didn't even think about it that much, you just did it. You worked really hard, all the time. You were a faithful wife and, it's okay to say it out loud, an above--average mom, and you dressed cute but not too cute. You were a little afraid. You were a lot afraid. You could feel your chaotic past behind you. You could hear the girl you were, a disastrous pirate slut of a girl, breathing down your neck. You wanted nothing to do with her. But sometimes late at night, while the babies and the husband were asleep, you drank Maker's Mark in your living room, even though you were still breastfeeding, and you listened to music alone in the dark, and that girl came closer and closer until you turned off the music and went to your marital bed and slept your dreamless, drunken sleep. You woke up and your teeth felt like nervy stubs from all the grinding. You had a headache that lived inside your teeth.   You accumulated this life over a decade, maybe two. Like a midden, or the nest of a bowerbird, or a creepy shut--in's collection of nail clippings. Anyway, it all piled up, accreted, because that was the way you wanted it. You are the kind of person who gets what she wants. You wanted to accumulate this beautiful life, a life that---for all its beauty---ignored the person you'd been. You worked your ass off getting here.   You moved to the country, or that's what you called it. Just because you take a ferry to get there and you have farmers for neighbors, that doesn't make it the country. It's just very, very picturesque suburbs. In the fake country, there was all the nature you craved. You had woods in your new backyard and a badminton lawn and a poorly kept garden that you described to yourself as romantically overgrown. Also, the schools were terrific. The house you bought was a bit bigger so your daughter and son didn't have to share a bedroom, even though it's great for kids to share a bedroom, but maybe a little uncomfortable as they get older. You bought a nice new couch, because toddlers left the old one as stained with shit and vomit and blood as the backseat of Travis Bickle's taxi. You had orthodontia for the children, who got really large, really fast. In your safe, pretty house in the alleged country, across the water from the city where you grew up, you mostly forgot about the girl you were, the lost soul. She was such a clueless bitch, you didn't really want to think about her anyway. Maybe you conjured her at parties with new friends, parents from your kids' school who laughed, politely, at your crazy stories. You woke up embarrassed the next morning.   And then one day it's as if a switch is flipped. This day comes in April 2011, the spring you are forty--four years old. You don't know it yet, but on this day, your season in hell has begun. You stumble out of bed. Your husband, a journalist, is headed somewhere far away on assignment, but before he leaves he brings you coffee in bed and then yells up the stairs at your children. You rise and go into the kitchen, lean dizzily against the counter, and watch them come in their multitudes. Well, there are only two of them, but they seem like more in the morning.   Your daughter, solemn and big--eyed and possessed of a slyly wicked sense of humor, is twelve; just around the age you were when you started going off the rails. Does her twelve--ness fill you with anxiety? If so, you're not quite admitting it to yourself. She grows more beautiful every day, even as you grow homelier, no matter how many chaturangas you perform. A friend discovered, at the health food store on your island, something called emu oil. As far as you can tell from the gnomic description on the tiny bottle, it appears to be secreted from the glands of emus. Which glands? Unknown. Whatever, it makes you and all the other ladies in your neighborhood look great. Glowy. Everyone goes for it in a big way for a month or so, but after a while it just seems too gross. Meanwhile your daughter appears to be coolly lit from within by some tiny inner moon. Does her comparative glowiness make you feel that your own mortality, your own youth, is drawing inexorably to a close? Again, not in any way you care to admit.   Your son, for now, is a simpler matter: nine years old, cherubic, and uncomplicatedly loving and gleefully loud. And here they come, every morning, with their crazed hair and vacant eyes. They are like sleep--hot monsters who need to have the wildness of dreaming smoothed and fed and nagged out of them.   Your husband is picking up his suitcase and heading out the door and the kids are looking for their shoes. Because from the time they're born until they're eighteen, there will be one constant: lost shoes.   Your life is relentlessly communal. You are necessary, in every conceivable way. This is how you wanted it to be. Blessedly alone at last, you sit down at your computer to work on an overdue article. Your focus is shitty. Through the open window you hear the call of a spotted towhee, which sounds exactly like the Austin Powers theme song. The spring air is the very gas of nostalgia. It reminds you of schoolrooms, of wanting to flee your desk, of the escape artist you used to be. As you sit there, you find that all of a sudden you can't stop thinking about her, the girl you were.   The thing is, you don't really remember her that well, because you've spent so long trying to block her out. You suddenly want evidence of her existence. You go down into the basement, as one in a trance, and start rummaging through boxes. You kneel penitent--like on the cold cement floor, looking for her.   Letters are easy to come by. There are boxes full of them. They overflow plastic bags, they fall out of books like flat fledging birds. Letters were the way you and your friends found one another when you were young; you stuffed your little all into an envelope and dropped it in the box and waited. Friendships were kept alive for years in this manner. Letters weren't rare and precious; they were the papery stuff of life, or emotional life anyway, and that's really the only life you cared about when you were young.   You stack the letters neatly in a pile and you keep looking, rooting around like a truffle pig. Photos are a little scarcer; people didn't use to take photos for everyday entertainment. When you were young, seeing a photo of yourself was an event. Oh my god, you'd think, I'm backward! Because of course you only ever saw your mirror image, which was a lying bastard.   Your diaries, which are a multivolume situation, prove strangely elusive. They aren't all stored together. Each move from house to house has scattered them into different boxes. It's as though you've hidden yourself from yourself. You begin to tear through boxes. You find a diary crammed into a carton of old concert T--shirts, T--shirts that themselves could be read as a diary: the Rolling Stones's Tattoo You tour, Beat Happening, Died Pretty, the Melvins, the Presidents of the United States of America. You find another diary wedged between layers of your children's baby clothes, which you are saving because you are a sap; you find three mixed up with books from college by people like Clifford Geertz and Michel Foucault. Whenever your hand falls on one of these diaries, you feel a whoosh of luck. It is the book you most want to read.   You haul all this stuff out to your backyard studio, a tiny building a few necessary yards from your house. This is where you come to while away the hours by yourself, avoiding your family, like one of those emotionally withholding British husbands who spend their days in the shed at the bottom of the garden, pursuing who knows what obsession: Porn? Philately? You, on the other hand, come out here to write and cry. It's luxurious to have a little house where you can go to weep, though your actual surroundings are pretty humble: salvaged windows, plywood floor, spare furnishings. You give an experimental little sniff and smell what is unmistakably an animal tang. There's a nest of raccoons living under the shed.   You spend too much time out here; it's one of your escape hatches. Without admitting it, you've been building a little collection of these over the last few months---ever since around the time you turned forty--four. Maybe they're starting to get out of hand. You've always been close with your best friend, Victoria, but suddenly you're on the phone every day, like lovers: "I had tuna fish for lunch." "I cried instead of eating lunch." You're both married to men who are smart and loving and tall and funny. Even so, you and she travel together like a couple. Why do you leave these excellent men at home? You're not sure exactly. It has something to do with valves; with escaping pressure. Anyway, she joins you on book tour and you accompany her to openings (she's an artist); in all instances you drink too much. Speaking of lovahs, you have a slew of inappropriate e--mail friendships with men. They're not quite romantic but you shouldn't have to say that. Even sex with your husband, which has always been a point of connection, a relief, a release, has become an escape hatch, infused with the outsiders who are starting to cluster in your imagination. You don't quite imagine them when you're fucking your husband; except you do, actually. Sex is changing and becoming dirty again, just now when you are getting truly old and bits of you are lumpy that ought to be smooth. You find yourself over his knee, or with parts of him in your mouth, and you want to sort of rub your eyes and say: How'd we end up here? You know it's not this way for all women. For every person like you, with this crazed gleam in your eye, there're three other women who say they'd be happy doing it once a month, or less; they'd be happy with just a cuddle. You get it. You know how they feel. You've felt that way yourself. But not now. Now you feel like this: Jesus Christ, we're all going to die! Get it while you can, you morons!    Most surprising of all---for a woman like you, a woman who's been keeping her shit at least somewhat together lo these many years---is your diminishing sanity, your diminishing energy, your diminishing competence. A new inertia has overcome you. Once upon a time, you used to come out to your office and work hard, beavering away at your current article. Since you published your first book, though, you find work more difficult than ever. You're not sure why this is. Many people said nice things, in print and elsewhere, when your book came out, but like a real writer you care only about the mean stuff, the indignities. You received a savage e--mail from a mentor and former editor of yours, who told you the book was so unreadable she had to stop midway through. She sent what she called "a note, maybe a goodbye." That left a mark, bigger than you care to admit. You are shaken and insecure, and simultaneously enervated.   So you sit there in your office, staring out the window at the fuchsia that for some reason no longer blooms. You are too enervated to prune it back to fecundity. You're like a windup toy that can't get wound. You find yourself able to achieve gape--mouthed catatonia, a state you haven't known in decades. Working mothers of very young children are not allowed catatonia; it's a country they can't get a visa to. Proud Catatonia, flying the flag of idleness and melancholy. You find yourself suddenly not just wanting to do nothing but somehow needing to do nothing.   Maybe a woman's version of a midlife crisis involves stopping doing stuff?   It's not like stopping doing stuff is new to you. You were basically non--utile for many years, from about age thirteen to age twenty--three, and were beloved in spite of this undeniable fact, or maybe even because of it. You did nothing, and it was more than enough. Then you decided you wanted to be valued for what you could do---writing, mothering, housekeeping, editing, teaching, gardening, cooking---and you worked hard at acquiring those skills. And now you've gotten your wish: You are loved for your usefulness. Is it an achievement or a curse? You and your husband's love for each other is based on profound reciprocity: What can you do for me? What can I do for you? This is considered a healthy marriage; you think about each other's needs. You cover the bases. He does money; you do food. Like that.   The two of you pass the big tests: You still talk; you still fuck. But sometimes you ruefully recall Ethan Hawke's character in Before Sunset, when he describes his marriage: "I feel like I'm running a small nursery with someone I used to date." You resent the fact that you've been forced to relate to Ethan Hawke. Of all people. And anyway of course it's worth it. Your family isn't some kind of chore, or even some kind of mere consolation, though it's both those things as well. It's the whole deal, the great love, the thing in this life that was supposed to happen to you. Even so, your family members certainly require a lot of work. From you. And so sometimes you wish you could be loved just for being. You find yourself yearning to stop. Everything. Doing nothing is suddenly on the agenda in a big way. You like nothing so much that you occasionally lie in bed all day and think about nothing. (This is not optimal, financially speaking, and your waning earnings are not doing a lot to make you popular with your husband.) You have a lot of nothing to think about, for the first time in a long time. You are interested in nothing.    Just now you are interested in this, though. This basement evidentiary material. There in your studio, you lay out the photos, the letters, the diaries, and read them, and look at them. They look totally fabulous, exercises in superfluous beauty. The letters are covered with tiny drawings and declarations of love and unnecessary curlicues. The photos are silly and gorgeous and everyone looks skinnier (their bodies) but at the same time chubbier (their faces) than they do now. The diaries are intricate woolgatherings, collections of meandering self--thought, involuted as a vulva, spiraling as a conch shell, thought and self making a net or a trap. And there she is. That horrible girl. Excerpted from Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning by Claire Dederer All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.