Four-Question Interview: Feminist Author Confidential
I’m honored to have the second of my series of Four-Question Interviews be with author Deborah Siegel. Deborah is a Ph.D., writer and consultant specializing in women’s issues. She is the author of the new book, Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild and has written about women, sex, feminism, contemporary families, and popular culture for a variety of publications, including The Guardian, The Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Psychology Today, The Progressive, The Mothers Movement Online, and on her blog, Girl with Pen.
I was introduced to Deborah through Miriam Peskowitz, also an author I admire who is now becoming a colleague and friend. Another academic feminist now writing “on the outside,” Miriam is author of The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars and the forthcoming Daring Book for Girls, with Andrea Buchanan, with whom she also founded Mother Talk. (BTW, I got a sneak peek at the Daring Book when Miriam asked me to do a little story editing of her early chapter drafts — I can tell you it’s a must-read, soon-to-be-classic!)
Knowing this group of women is exciting, because they have much to say that matters, about many topics, including Having Enough. Deborah’s answers to my four questions blew me away — her candor, knowledge and insight made me stop and just breathe for a bit. I bet they do the same for you…
1. What does “having enough” mean to you?
Nothing says “retool” like a bout of bad depression. Depression was horrid (wouldn’t wish it on my enemies), but depression was also my teacher. Like marriage or childbirth does for some people, depression divided my life into a “before” and an “after.” Before, my goals were all about an end. After, everything became about the journey. Before, I could not have defined “having enough”; there was always something more to achieve. After, the most important goal in my life became to love well and be well loved.
Having enough, to me, means awakening to that boundless sense of compassion we are all capable of feeling—for ourselves, for others—and realizing that we are already, with all our human imperfections, enough.
2. What do you think about the concept of “having it all” in our culture?
It’s interesting to me how the lexicon around “having it all” keeps changing. In the 1980s, having it all meant shoulder pads, diapers, and the corner office. Then came “juggling,” the flipside of which, of course, was “dropping the ball.” There was also “balance,” which similarly implied its opposite: falling down.
Now we have “sequencing” (you can have it all, just not all at once!) and its still more recent correlative, “on ramping and off ramping” (a terminology which shifts the burden for making work and family work together to workplaces instead of individuals). Instead of talking about “work/life balance,” some now talk about “work + life fit” —a vast improvement, in my opinion. What I find most heartening, though, is the way we are finally beginning to widen the conversation about “having it all” to include men.
To me, having it all never seemed possible unless there was a partner—male, female, or hired—in the picture, doing their share to keep things going at home. I remember coming across a book once called Halving It All, which focuses on the ins and outs of shared parenting. I think that’s a very clever—and much-welcome—riff.
3. How do you define success?
Borrowing from a writer I admire, I would say that “success” means living in chapters and giving yourself fully to the chapter you are on. It means embracing the present, learning to cohabit with discomfort, and paying attention to your heart.
4. Can you describe a defining moment in your life when you had to choose between “having enough” or pushing for more? (And how did it turn out for you?)
I took an extended break during graduate school, when I was ABD (all-requirements-for-PhD-completed-but-for-the-dissertation, or, in layterms, all-but-done). I had hit a point where I just couldn’t push myself any further and needed a change of path.
I took a 6-month leave of absence as a precursor to a possibly more permanent leave, left the Midwest, moved to Manhattan, and gave myself full permission to be satisfied without completing the degree. That license liberated me. After six years of pushing myself toward a single goal that had lost its meaning once I knew that I didn’t want to go on the academic job market, I allowed myself free reign to reinvent.
The irony was this: Once I allowed myself to say “no, enough,” I was finally able to
choose “yes.” I finished my dissertation, graduated with my PhD, and went on to become a writer–my longtime dream.
How do you relate to Deborah’s answers? Have you had a “having enough” turning point?