Turns out, I AM Don Draper. And a teenage diary author.

Dear friends,

Tuesday night as Mr. Mom and I were riding in the car, he told me how much he liked that day’s post about Kate. I smiled and said I noticed that he had shared it with his friends on Facebook, which is rare for him.

Then he told me a long story I won’t go into here about some of his Facebook friends and their behavior, which drives him nuts — the bottom line being that he finds it distasteful to engage in showy promotion or affection of spouses while social networking.

I get it. Doesn’t hurt my feelings. (Although I will note that all writers crave the praise of their loved ones more than any other reader.)

Anyway, I was surprised to notice on my Facebook page the very next day that he “liked” my post titled Incarnation. So I asked him about it because, you know, we just talked about his public restraint and here he is liking my post two days in a row. I wondered if he found my prose especially lyrical, my imagery particularly evocative, my phrasing unusually sublime.

Joan: So what was it you liked about my post? You must have considered it special since you hit “like” a day after you told me how you try to refrain from that.

Mr. Mom: I enjoyed how introspective it was and I thought you were really insightful. I mean, a lot of your posts read like “what I did on my summer vacation” diary entries. But in this one, you really seemed to have a clear view of yourself, which is rare for most people. Especially the part about Don Draper. I haven’t watched the show, but you seem to be a lot like him, the way he recreates himself at everyone’s expense. You’re always remaking your life and putting the rest of us through the paces along the way.

Joan: <walks from the master bedroom to her closet because, really, she’s heard enough to get the gist of it>

Mr. Mom: <undeterred by his wife’s absence, keeps talking, only louder> I mean, one day you’re a vegetarian and everybody in the family is eating vegetables. The next day you’re Macrobiotic and everybody’s eating Miso soup. Or you’re on a running kick, or a redecorating kick, or a graduate school kick — whatever it is, you’re putting the rest of us through the paces to keep up with your odyssey.

Joan: <moving heavy things in the closet in an attempt to make noise and drown out her literary and existential critic>

Mr. Mom: So I just thought you really hit the nail on the head.

Well.

Here’s to seeing yourself clearly.

With gratitude {for brutal honesty of all varieties including self-imposed and conjugal},

Joan, but you can call me Jo-Don

Incarnation.

Dear friends,

I have a recurring dream that has punctuated most of my adult life.

The details vary from occasion to occasion, but the theme is the same: I’m in between semesters, in between jobs, in between places to live. I don’t know exactly where to go or how to support myself. Graduation is still a few classes away, so adulthood is just around the corner, but not quite here yet.  Sometimes I imagine I will go back to my mother’s home and other times I imagine my father’s. (Neither landing strip is attractive to me so I try to keep moving.) Always, I am unsure – how to stay afloat just a little longer until I can earn my degree and get a real job.

Unlike a lot of my friends, my college experience was not idyllic. I worked three jobs and took out loans to get myself through, so I was certainly not carefree. Honestly, I don’t remember having much fun. I remember stress and worry. I remember being restless and melancholy and impatient. I remember getting my heart broken by a boy and feeling adrift. I remember just trying to get through another semester, then another, and another, just hoping something better was in store for me beyond graduation.

It doesn’t surprise me, then, that the old anxieties of my early 20s come back to me through dreams.  What does sometimes surprise me is how far I’ve come since then, how a girl who didn’t have a clue who she wanted to be or how to be it managed to find her place in the world and put down stakes,  how the ennui of my youth became the equanimity of my adulthood.

A friend of mine started an interesting thread on Facebook the other day about graduation memories, in which he said: “I think my 1988 self wouldn’t be comfortable with my 2012 self, but could recognize him dimly.”

His words gave me pause because it’s the opposite of my experience. I’m pretty sure my 2012 self isn’t comfortable with my 1988 self, or any of my selves before it.  Sometimes I think my recurring dream is suggesting that my 2012 self is still trying to outrun my 1988 self.

Maybe that’s why I’m so fascinated by the AMC series “Mad Men” and its protagonist Don Draper, a man who recreates himself at will, over and over again, at no small cost to those around him.  I’d like to think I’m not nearly as self-centered and detached as Don, but a piece of me understands his shark-like instinct to keep swimming or die.

Middle age (as I define it) officially arrives for me in 2012. My “big” birthday is in December and after I cross that line of demarcation, I am no longer young. But I often think youth, except for the stamina and the slenderness – and, lord, that taut, tan skin – is vastly overrated.  I think I’ve arrived at a place unimaginable in my teens and 20s  – a place amply comfortable, and peaceful, and stable, despite my peripatetic beginning.

Maybe I didn’t really run away from myself as much as I ran into myself, into the heart of a girl who couldn’t see the destination but clung to the path anyway, jaw set, hopeful the margin would widen over time, only to look up one day and see the self she never imagined but whose reflection is startlingly satisfactory.

Or maybe my previous selves coalesced, a collage of incarnations, each of them contributing a piece of my existential puzzle that is never really solved but whose mystery is nevertheless a glorious, curious, amaranthine quest for the single self which eludes us all.

With gratitude {for all my selves},

Joan, who offers many thanks to her friends and fellow lovers of words, Dave and Maridel, whose sentence and word, respectively, inspired this post

“And only the enlightened can recall their former lives; for the rest of us, the memories of past existences are but glints of light, twinges of longing, passing shadows, disturbingly familiar, that are gone before they can be grasped, like the passage of that silver bird on Dhaulagiri.”

— Peter Matthiessen, in The Snow Leopard

“I am no Hindu, but I hold the doctrine of the Hindus concerning a future state (rebirth) to be incomparably more rational, more pious, and more likely to deter men from vice than the horrid opinions inculcated by Christians on punishments without end.” 

— William Jones


Mad (wo)Men.

Dear friends,

I mentioned yesterday I have a new obsession.

Her name, like mine, is Joan. And she and her friends and lovers are a cohort that I can’t get enough of.  You see, I’m mad for Mad Men.

Now I realize Season Five is about to begin and everyone’s abuzz about it. Thing is, I just started watching Season One and I’m only 10 episodes in.

I’m always, always late for the smash-series game. I didn’t starting watching the West Wing until five years after it went into heavy syndication. I caught on to 30 Rock less than a year ago. So I know the whole world had been crazy about Mad Men for a long time, but, hey, I’ve been busy remaking my life.

Anyhoo, I’m absolutely fascinated by the whole thing. I was born in 1962 (two years after when Season One begins). The furniture, the cars, the fashion — especially the hats and gloves and stockings — all seems so familiar and comforting to me,  a welcome dose of my grandmother’s house in many ways. But since I became a young woman after women were liberated, I am stunned, floored, by the portrayal of a woman’s place in that world — that world that has disappeared in my lifetime.

I have a graduate degree. I have executive status. I have responsibility for leading a large team and managing a substantial budget. Thus, I am more like Don Draper than Joan Harris. I’m even lucky enough to come home most nights to a home-cooked meal prepared by a stay-at-home spouse, who’s more than willing to poor me a drink and always asks me how my day was. So I can’t help but thank my lucky stars (and consider it a bit freaky, frankly) that your everyday office evolved from being run by a guy like Don to a gal like me in 50 years. Don’t call me baby, but I guess I have come a long way.

Especially when I watch Joan at work. Man, has she got it going on. She figured out to how wield power long before the world and Affirmative Action gave it to her. I can’t imagine navigating her environment as deftly as she does, while keeping my big mouth shut.  Had I been of age in that era, I can’t help but think I am more likely to have been Midge Daniels, Don’s bohemian mistress, than his wife, Betty.  Though it’s not lost on me that the photos of my supper tables and baked goods, which I plaster all over my blogs and my Facebook page, put Betty’s to shame. I’m just dabbling on weekends, while the Bettys of the world were expected to do it most nights. How in the world did they keep their sanity, the housewives of that era?

And don’t get me started on how anybody else managed, like people of color or anybody else outside the white male heterosexual mainstream. I’m captivated by the portrayal of Salvatore Romano, a gay man locked in the closet. Even the poor divorcee Helen Bishop can’t catch a break toward respectability in Mad Men’s world.

I could go on and on about everything that fascinates me on this show, about the age-old vices — the smoking, the heavy drinking, the infidelity — or the long-lost cultural/technological artifacts — the elevator operators, the sandwich carts, the switchboards, the IBM Selectrics (which, sadly, I’m old enough to have used in my first job). But if you’ve watched the show, you probably know more about it than me.

There’s one thing, though, that hasn’t changed.

“Oh my god” I said last night to Mr. Mom, who hasn’t watched the show with me, “I can’t believe the way the men in the office talk about the women in the office!”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“They’re constantly commenting on the way the women dress and the way they look,” I said.

“Like what?” he said. “Like ‘that woman’s hot and I want to do her?'”

“Yes!” I exclaimed.

Mr. Mom laughed and said “Well, I don’t know what world you’re living in, but that hasn’t changed. That’s pretty much what all men are still talking about.”

Um. Good to know.

With gratitude {for a brave new world that allows women like me to get ahead while being wildly entertained by dramatized cultural dinosaurs, some of whom have apparently survived},

Joan, not-Harris