On Hope: Outtakes From My Interview with Angela Garbes
“Don’t talk about it, be about it.”
On Friday, I published an essay over at Slate on Angela Garbes’ new book, Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change. There is a lot of rallying around this book, for so many reasons. It’s a nuanced and thoughtful approach to a subject—mothering—that desperately needs a new narrative.
But also: Angela is a force, someone you meet and immediately feel at home with. While I was working on the essay, I had the immense privilege of speaking to her. It’s not just that she’s a maternal presence, but that you know immediately while talking with her that she knows, she gets it, all of it. It’s clear we could all learn a lot from her wisdom, but also her precision in articulating it.
While listening to her speak during our conversation a couple weeks ago on Zoom, I was reminded of a phrase I’ve been turning over in my mind for a few weeks. Maybe this phrase is no better than a passing tweet, or maybe it’s a profound thought. (Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference!) Either way, the phrase has been haunting me, actually kind of hunting me, as of late, while I move, sort of, out of the rage and depression and tenderness that took hold of so many parents during the pandemic. Many of us having been buzzing with a frenetic angry/sad mood that is now threatening to extend itself indefinitely into this next era, one of forced motherhood and controlled parenthood, still without any material or social support for those raising children.
The refrain in my mind goes something like this: we don’t need to always, at every moment, believe in hope, but we have to do it.
I can’t remember a book that made me cry as frequently and easily as Essential Labor. Maybe it’s because I keep picking up the book close to my period, and after “doing my nine” two times, NBD, my body’s entire emotional and physical landscape has been changed by pregnancy. Maybe it’s because, like many mothers, I’ve been depressed so long, and this book feels like being held. I know I’m not alone in this feeling, if only because everyone lifting this book up accompanies their praise with little crying emojis. Mothers have been holding a lot. All parents have.
Maybe it’s because Angela captures so well in the book the mundane beauty of parenting, situating the mess, the physical labor, and all the talking and listening parenting requires within a social, political, economic, and historical context—something more sentimental or scathing (or, as I argue in my Slate piece, advicey) discussions of parenting usually miss.
But the tears also come because Essential Labor is imbued with hope, and a hope that isn’t rooted in blind optimism or that manic, sometimes performative need to cover over or make something of the deep losses so many have endured, senselessly, over the last few years (I speak here of vibes I get on social media sometimes).
I understand people’s urgency to do something. I am overcome by those feelings quite often, too. But hope is not a mood or an affect. It’s also not just the opposite of anger or rage or even overwhelm or ennui.
Hope is hard to come by right now, when everything looks bleak. As I write in my essay on Essential Labor, we are running out of ways to describe and cope with our pain. Our stories fall on unlistening ears because for many people in charge of this place our suffering is the goal, as is the consumption of our pain.
Hope has also had an optics problem ever since we invested so much in it, back in the 2008 presidential campaign, only to wind up, a decade later, you know, here.
But when I spoke with Angela, as we talked about her book and about parenting, we were both on the edge of tears a few times. Maybe that was hope running through us, or just human connection, or a mutual understanding of the work of raising and being with kids, even though we come from very different backgrounds. Maybe all these things are related.
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