July 14, 2020
➔ Read the New York Times Magazine interview with Charlie Kaufman, who published his first book last week (Antkind). If I were to distill the interview into one key piece, it’s this about his approach to writing:
This was one simplified understanding of who Charlie Kaufman was: He was someone who valued truth. When he detected the absence of it, it pained him. He would prefer, for example, if film critics prefaced their negative reviews by disclosing that they’d just had a fight with their spouse, or: ‘I don’t like this guy because I don’t like the way he looks.’ Because those things are true, he said. Our thoughts and feelings are true. They are facets of the world at whichever moment we attempt to describe it.
“You’d be called self-indulgent, which I am all the time,” Kaufman said. “But if it’s done in a way that’s expansive, to me it’s very interesting. Because that is what’s going on. Because it’s true.”
➔ Honest piece from RO Kwon on women choosing to be childfree (note the specific nomenclature there).
Throughout history, people without children – women, especially – have often been persecuted, mistreated, pitied, and killed for their perceived lack. In ancient Rome, a woman who hadn’t borne children could legally be divorced, and her infertility was grounds for letting a priest hit her with a piece of goat skin. (The blows were thought to help women bear children.) In Tang Dynasty China, not having a child was once again grounds for divorce. In the Middle Ages, infertility was believed to be caused by witches or Satan; worse yet, an infertile woman could be accused of being, herself, a witch. In Puritan America, it wasn’t just having no children that was suspect. Giving birth to too many children could be perilous, too, and grounds, yet again, for being condemned for a witch.
Also in the US, enslaved women were expected to have babies, and were routinely raped, their potential future children considered a slaveholder’s property. Some of the only times women without offspring have garnered respect might be when they have formally devoted their lives to a god, and to celibacy: nuns, vestal virgins.
Which brings us to a word I haven’t yet used, but which often is levied against childfree women like me: selfish. Despite everything, it’s still common to view parenting as a moral imperative, to such an extent that voluntarily childfree people can be viewed with such outsize emotions as anger and disgust. Pope Francis, a lifelong celibate, has said: “The choice not to have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: it is enriched, not impoverished.” Such judgments might be even more available now, at a time when so much, especially including parenting, has become more difficult for so many people.