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Friday, November 9, 2012

In Which I Break Up With Martha Stewart




"Every child's holiday will be made infinitely more magical if your holiday décor features a homemade gingerbread replica of your home, and don't they deserve a magical Christmas, you lazy slacker?"

That was printed in the lifestyle magazine that showed up in my mailbox yesterday. Well, it basically said that. Pretty much. A magazine I felt guilty sitting down to read because there was probably some linen I should be ironing or yogurt I should be culturing or fresh evergreen wreath I should be fashioning out of clippings from the indoor ferns I didn't kill because of course I'm an excellent horticulturist and I even know what a horticulturist is. (You believe me, right?) But since this magazine held wisdom on perfecting my technique of all of the activities above and the holiday spirit was upon me, I settled into the guilt and flipped away at the glossy pages.  

You know the magazine – it's the one that suggests stuffing your Thanksgiving turkey with figs and pancetta and roasted artichoke hearts with butternut squash (not slathering a half-frozen bird with Jell-o powder and orange juice like I do) while you wait for the sautéed escarole on the stove. I'm not sure what you're waiting for the escarole to do exactly because I don't even know what escarole is and I'm too busy trying to figure out where to find fennel and endive for the fennel-endive-pomegranate seed salad every decent human being can whip up for a light lunch when having surprise company.

You know the magazine. Martha Stewart Living.  



Because of Martha, I know how to make handmade marshmallows in Christmas-y shapes and create my own hand-beaded bag, which I should be making unique for each outfit or at least for every day of the week. Page 3 tells me I need a $10,000 oven to ensure my cream puffs are baked with the most even heat distribution possible, which must be true even though I've never baked cream puffs in my life, but I still feel good about myself for a split second because at least I know what a cream puff is, which is more than I can say for the endive. I'm pretty sure the oven in the Dollhouse retails new for about twelve bucks.

With every page, I wonder things I hadn't even thought of until this very minute. Things like whether my hair is thick enough or my kitchen mixer can make pasta. I start realizing things I need that I never needed before. A hybrid. A wine cellar. A sheep whose wool I can make into fashionable winter clothing for my family. I see things I probably should make because I'm sure every other person in the universe is making them and the instructions are right here! In my hand! Page 26 alone gives me all I need to know about making both a catmint pillow bed and bracelets/tassels made with the hair cultivated from five Friesian horses…and I'm not even making that up.

Page 69, spice-infused milk and sugar-dusted macaroon trees. Page 71, scented tree ornaments. Page 37, a $520 makeup bag. Page 45, perfectly complected laughing children in matching outfits. Page 53, hand-punched paper doilies. Page 55, patterned men's socks, folded, lined up in a drawer and organized by shade. Page 61, handmade bell jar terrariums with miniature skiers and tiny penguins on snowy glitter mountains. Page 62, toast in the shape of the USA. Page 82, chamomile-yogurt panna cotta. Page 112, a hand-carved menorah. Page 124, a miniature winter forest in a $172 bucket. Page 145, a "simple desert" – lemon mascarpone crepe cake made with 62,789 layers of crepes and lemon curd made with eggs from your own personal chicken who is also a designer poultry model.

Plus 186 other pages I didn't mention.

None of this resembles my life. Martha's calendar (which she graciously shares with us on page 2) features twice-weekly appointments with her personal trainer and other ridiculously unrealistic pursuits like "harvest citrus from greenhouse," and "write thank-you notes."

But somewhere during my mental vacation to Bedford Farm, I become overwhelmed and tired. Those hand-beaded purses are kind of ugly. Escarole sounds a lot like cooked snails. I have zero desire to dust or even possess a collection of tiny skiers in glittery jars.

This all is the brain-child of a woman who might as well live on another planet, a woman with a team—nay, an enterprise, dedicated to this kind of fluffery. I don't have a maid or a stylist, and my entourage is populated with small people who still pee themselves. She wears tailored pantsuits; I pick kid boogers off the knees of my mom jeans. She hand-glitters her letterpress holiday cards; I haven't sent a Christmas card since 1998. She loves propagating rare plants from cuttings (her words); I kill silk flowers. She has an entire day marked off her calendar for Frederic Fekkai's birthday; I get my hair cut once a year...at Walmart.



Like so many others, this magazine is designed to make me want this life, to be convinced that I need this life, and even more, that I should spend time and energy and loads of money in the pursuit of it. But the whole thing really makes me want to climb back into bed, on my drug-store sheet set in my thrift-store pajamas, and give up the glittery ghost. I don't want to live at Bedford Farm and I don't want to be Martha. I don't want chickens with headshots or a beagle in Tartan pajamas. I don't want to teach Snoop Dog how to cook or practice perfecting the recipe for chocolate kugelhopf (or give myself a headache trying to pronounce it). I don't want to tolerate the message that I am not enough and don't do enough, and I sure as hell don't want to pay for the privilege.

So here it is. So long, Martha. Your pantsuits are lovely. Your home is impeccable (both the gingerbread and brick-and-mortar versions). Your holiday table is splendid. Your cider-braised slab bacon looks delicious. But we have to break up.

Because here's the thing. My bacon is just fine like it is. I would rather strangle myself with tinsel than create a to-scale gingerbread replica of my home. Sheep stink and so do chickens. You should consider changing the name to Martha Stewart Can't Even Live Like This magazine, because at least it would be truthful.

Consider my subscription cancelled, my ticket for the guilt-trip torn to bits.

How's that for Living

33 comments:

  1. ha ha! so true - and not just about this magazine. most magazines make me feel bad about myself. i got a free subscription from a friend and recently one of the articles was about a lovely lunch for her granddaughters 1st birthday. it was crazy! nothing about it said child friendly, or 1st birthday at all! in fact, i don't think there were even any children there. all i could think was, "this person does not live in reality."

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  2. In the UK we don't have Martha, but we do have Pinterest which gives us a similar guilty glimpse into the lives of the perfect ones! I LOVE your line: "my entourage is populated with small people who still pee themselves." That is so hilariously put! I'm grateful for this perspective and for your honesty in owning up to not 'doing it all'. xxx

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  3. Loved this! I laughed out loud at 'I haven't sent a Christmas card since 1998'!

    I've broken up with those magazines, and I've also broken up with the ones that tell me Jennifer aniston has the tiniest bit of flab if you look at the right angle on her beach holiday pictures, and tell you how to dress for your shape. I dress for warmth...

    Much love to you and your brood and your books! X

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  4. Love this! I have a similar relationship with PInterest.

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  5. Christie @ Random ReflectionzNovember 11, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    Great post. This is how I feel about shopping lately. I have been avoiding most stores (except the grocery store) as much as possible for the past 6 months or so. I find that the minute I enter them, I feel stressed about what I am lacking or the ways in which I am not living up to some societal standard. Enough, I say. I have resorted to online shopping for necessities so that I'm not tempted to buy a bunch of things I don't need and so that I am not bombarded with messages of how I should look and all the things that I should have. I have also been avoiding tv as much as possible for many of the same reasons.

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  6. Oh my word so much AMEN! This is the article I've written in my head but haven't been able to find actual words for. I could quote the whole thing, but this, THIS "So here it is. So long, Martha. Your pantsuits are lovely.
    Your home is impeccable (both the gingerbread and brick-and-mortar versions).
    Your holiday table is splendid. Your cider-braised slab bacon looks delicious. But
    we have to break up." says it all. You and me both, so broken up with perfection and embracing the chaos of normal :)

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  7. oh my!!! So true! How many times have we allowed some picture perfect magazine, tv show, etc form what we believe it normal and what we should pursue for perfection? Great post!

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  8. I love your boldness and courage to give up the things that keep you from truly living. LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS!

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  9. I scraped a booger off a wall yesterday. No joke. I gave up Martha and all magazines a few years ago and I give myself a small pat on the back as I pass them at the checkout stand while buying frozen chicken nuggets in the shapes of dinosaurs knowing that I'll be spending my extra time playing on the floor with my kids. Thank you for your REAL life look into REAL living!

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  10. Amen, Sister! Love this post! Brilliant! I remember a number of years ago being shocked! Shocked I tell you!! when I read an article she wrote in Living and she mentioned her Maid. Ok, you can laugh at my naivete. I thought she did all this stuff herself... Ha ha ha! Talk about guilt and pressure and unrealistic expectations! She has a crew of people and endless piles of money. I broke up with Martha too and was released from the resentment and dissatisfaction that had crept in. And the reality is that there is one convicted felon in that photo of Snoop and Martha.... ;) Aaaah, the mirage of perfection...

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  11. Ohhh... This was just absolutely delicious. An utter delight to read. I could never handle the stress of picking up the magazine to begin with and this pretty much sums up why, but your words here and the way you've played with them: Better than chocolate!

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  12. I.LOVE.THIS. Such a fabulous post!!

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  13. I love this!!

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  14. Ha. Oh cara. Yes. This is EXCTLY why I love you. You are more than enough and your house puts mine to shame. So keep your head beautifully high and keep doing it your way, I've heard of Martha's before that got too hung up in the preparations and not focused enough on the "living".

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  15. Brilliant! It's a welcome relief to not find Living on the shelves here in Switzerland. I don't know a single person who has ever lived up to that ridiculous standard. Not even Martha herself.

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  16. Oh I love, love, love this! Especially scraping kid boogers off your pants - I thought that only happened to me!

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  17. wahahahaahah this is awesome! WELL SAID CARA ;) thank you for easing the guilt for all of us in this pre-silly season warm up... big hug!

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  18. What a great post! Between blogs, Pinterest and people like Martha, I get caught up in this all too and then remind myself that I am trying to live a simpler life and I don't need all this fancy "fluff."

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  19. You know, I heard Martha speak at a blogging conference in NYC, and it was a fascinating interview. She exudes confidence, she is immensely curious, and she has achieved remarkable things as a woman entrepreneur, even during an era when women were told there were things they couldn't do. She just said she never listened to anybody say she couldn't do things.


    And yet. She acknowledged that the life she lives came at great cost--it cost her a marriage, she said. And for all the glitter and show, she struck me as a profoundly lonely person.

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  20. Wonderful! Amazing! Made my day. I could be a Martha Stewart, but It's not worth giving up my family and the life God has for me to pursue a life of grasping bits of this dying planet that won't even last a week, never mind eternity.

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  21. Laughed all the way through this. It wouldn't even be funny if it weren't so true. Love that you wrote it. Thanks for making me laugh.

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  22. Hysterical. And so true. I get this feeling when I read Real Simple magazine, cuz oh my goodness, it does the same thing to me. It's not simple at all. Loved this, Cara. Love it!

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  23. My land! This is the first time I've been here and with an attitude like yours, you can bet your britches I'll be back.


    I have ole Martha the heave ho in college (some 12 years ago) when my neighbor mimicked Martha to the extreme... her hair, her clothes, her decor habits, etc. Said neighbor lady sprayed water down the hand railing and stair steps of our condo in the middle of January in order to make it "pretty like Martha does."


    Some of us came out scathed and with an additional crack to the one God already gave us (if ya know what I mean) over that icicle disaster.


    Blessings.

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  24. Oh, I'm giggling big time! The cliche "to each his own" probably applies. But yes, I believe it's all fluffery, too. (Love that word!) There may be those who think she's a role model for homemakers everywhere, but I've always felt the program was designed to generate discontent... to make women believe they aren't enough unless they can do it all. After she did her stint in prison I never watched another episode and I don't think I've missed anything by having never picked up a copy of the magazine.

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  25. As one who has been in her Bedford kitchen (oh my word the lined-up milk bottles in her glass-front refrigerator - be still my heart), I love this article so very much. Because when I was vying to be an apprentice to the Diva herself, I was impacted most by the lack of genuine love, and warmth, and heart. It was so very steel and veneer and empty. I ended up writing this in response: http://hillpen.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/amanda-from-texas-2/ I really loved the post. So so funny. I wish I could invite you over for tea. :-)

    Amanda over at www.hillpen.com

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  26. You are awesome! Thank you for telling it like it is! I am now a new follower.

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  27. Are you kidding? You don't have a maid? Girl you need one, even a lot of us middle classers have someone help with the housework! Martha actually taught me that no one can do it alone. As a charter Martha subscriber, and young homemaker, I did learn how to roast the perfect bird, grow a productive garden, and enjoy entertaining and decorating--not that I do it all well! I never felt inadequate though, that's a personal choice, and waste of emotional energy. Just remember, you're not expected to be everything or do everything Martha or anyone presents. Take what you like and enjoy learning what interests you. Besides that, your home is even more fabulous than Martha's! And I bet you can cook up an amazing Thanksgiving dinner in that gorgeous kitchen of yours--even if you use Jello powder and O.J!

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  28. I can't believe you don't have time set apart each week for thank you notes. Shameful!

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Your comments are such an encouragement. Thank you for sharing your valuable words.