So I was watching Martha Stewart

I don’t really feel one way or another about Martha Stewart because I’m not crafty and I’m not interested in having the best most perfect ice cubes on the block, which is also why I don’t read many magazines and why I have never done a very good job of hanging out on Pinterest. But anyway, I was watching it a long time ago because my daughter’s cold was making her cough and I had to hold her while she napped to keep her upright  so I was stuck in the rocking chair staring at the television.

(This was a very long time ago. My daughter has not been small enough to be rocked in my lap for years.)

It was her “commit to be fit” or “fit to be tied” or some such week where she’s lecturing about what she eats for breakfast and how she does two hours of Ashtanga a day and I’ll admit the bit of bossy, oblivious Martha was amusing me but then this poor woman gets on and they do a moving video of her sad trials as a woman who wants to get healthier for her kids and who wants her kids to be healthier, too. The woman, however, has some daunting challenges. One is her reliance on convenience foods. Two is her lack of exercise routine. But the biggest — and what plays into both of those things — is that this woman gets up at 6:30am to get to work and doesn’t get home until after 7pm.

Well, now things are getting interesting. I’m looking at this woman’s life, which is making my life look positively leisurely, and I’m thinking that Martha is really going to pull some Martha-magic. I’m waiting for some really useful info because this is Martha and she’s going to give us something original, some Good Thing that really will improve this woman’s life and I can’t wait because I could use a little more healthful living in my own life so I’m just about ready to take notes except for the deadweight of a snoring toddler on my lap.

You want to know what they told this woman? Are you ready? Here it goes:

Cook more, exercise more, eat more whole grains. Oh and here’s this magazine subscription, here’s another magazine subscription, here’s a membership to a gym, and here’s a whole spiritual take on connected eating or some such.

You know, some of that is helpful. You want to get more fit then I’d say cooking more and exercising are the way to go. And when the special guest (some doctor-type) said that one reason they were giving her a subscription to one of the magazines was to reset her thinking, I thought that was ok. After all, reading about cooking veggies can help you start adding veggies to your menu, right? But the big piece missing is when in the hell is this woman going to do all this? When is she going to hook up with her new trainer? When is she going to fix these healthful meals for herself and her kids?

And there’s all this shame underlying their messages to her because they’re not acknowledging how busy she is; they’re just acting like she’s lazy.

It’s one thing if they’re just saying, “Hey, if you don’t know how to cook vegetables or whole grains that’s all right because that’s what cookbooks are for.” But it’s another thing when they’re saying all that and not acknowledging that when you’re gone from home for 12 hours a day and probably getting ready to leave for a couple of hours before that and then getting everyone settled in for a couple hours after (because she has kids and they have homework and she has a home and it needs vacuumed and people need laundry and she probably needs to stare into space now and then just to stay sane), it leaves precious little time to peel carrots.

So I was watching and wondering when they were going to help her find some time in her day. Like how old are her kids? Can they take on some of the work? Does she have a partner? Could her partner help? Could she join a cooking co-op? Can she afford housekeeping help? Could Martha buy her housekeeping help and a cook and maybe a vacation so she could catch her breath before making major lifestyle changes?

It’s like when I was teaching at a daycare and went to a mandated training about handling stress. The leader took us to our “happy space” (the usual suspects: ocean, breeze, sun, etc.) and said that the next time the kids were giving us fits we should go to our happy spaces. Great. But who’s going to watch the class of 21 preschoolers while we’re deep breathing in the supply closet?

That pretty much sums up what I think when I see most of this “improve your life” advice in magazines and magazine-style television. I think that a lot of the time the little bits of information they give us are just more flotsam and that becomes more jetsam when we get next month’s issue inevitably about decluttering.

Here’s a way to declutter: Stop buying the magazines. Stop hoarding the tips. Stop thinking, as we are all prone to think, “If I could just figure out how to clear out this junk drawer I might finally have a handle on my life.”

Life is messy and that’s fine. Small children are hectic. Twelve hour days are a problem and it’s way bigger than any gym membership will solve. Small steps are big enough and you don’t have to solve everything all at once.

There you go. Go easy on the Pinterest, people, because a little goes a long way.

This post was originally published in a slightly different form on my old blog, this woman’s work.

Comments 13

  1. It’s cultural imperialism, really. Except that most people who go into developing countries and create more problems than they solve are doing it out of a misguided belief that somehow hooking people without clean water on expensive soda and destroying their social support systems is actually helping them. I just don’t believe that Martha has a show to help people. She’s in it for the money and the glory. No amount of jail time, even elbow to elbow with real people, is going to shake that out of her.

    I think it would be way more helpful if, instead of having experts on nutrition, they had someone who could help this woman walk through her own life and analyze her own schedule and problems. I’ll bet that this woman could find for herself (with some assistance from someone who’s good at helping people think through problems) two or three little tweaks to her routine that would make a difference for her.

  2. I hope no one who over the age of 35 ever comes on her show in need of help for her infertility (‘scuze me for picking a personal topic). Martha would probably sagely advise her that, “Start having your children in your 20’s the next time,” to which I would have to reply, “Do I look like the Dali Lama to you, lady?”

  3. That’s sad. Especially since there actually is a lot of good advice they could have given her. I caught a few episodes of really good show a while ago (wish I could remember what it was called) where the experts came in to rescue people who never had time to cook. They would basically teach them to cook in a different way. They’d give them meal plans based on a weekly schedule complete with shopping lists and charts of who was going to do what and what needed to be done each night. Then they would go through the plans and show how to prepare each meal. They also did a lot with meals from similar ingredients where two or more could be prepared together in only a couple more minutes than it would take to do one so they could toss the additional meal in the freezer for a different night. It was really good – wish I could find it again.

    So not all of that stuff is hopeless, but yes, a lot of it seems designed just to catch people’s interest and then fill up space on a page or take up time in a show without actually being helpful.

    I actually do have plenty of counter space to keep my most used appliances. My problem is that I don’t have enough storage space so I don’t have the option of putting them away 🙁

    And I can’t stand Martha, personally.

  4. i want advice on how to do those things! my work schedule is roughly the same, and while i don’t have kids to deal with, i have a ton of things i DO do, and cooking just totally escapes me when i get home and feel like i need to go right to bed half the week.

  5. Too bad Martha didn’t give her some investments or something instead of the gym membership, so she could work less. That would be about the only thing that would help!

  6. Same sentiments shared here. I never have liked Martha. My mother was obsessed by her, watched her every day. And then we watched The Big Fall of Martha Stewart. I’ll admit that I was captivated by her during that entire process. And I do admire and respect her strength and fortitude to make such a gigantic comeback. But she’s not a “real” homemaker. I mean, that’s what she advertises herself to be–a teacher to all homemakers, on how to make your homes better. Well, I’m a “real” homemaker, my friend, and she has rarely (if never) offered any advice that I could follow. Perhaps we need a new breed of Martha–a REAL Martha. 😀 (Okay, stepping down from my soapbox.)

  7. I love Martha Stewart! I am going to take her assvice and “the next time” I am going to be born into an extremely wealthy family so I can afford a big name college, vacations in Europe, a house in the Hamptons as well as a full time housekeeper and nanny and gardener. The whole problem with my life thus far is poor planning on my part in being born into a school teacher’s family.

  8. I love Martha Stewart! I am going to take her assvice and “the next time” I am going to be born into an extremely wealthy family so I can afford a big name college, vacations in Europe, a house in the Hamptons as well as a full time housekeeper and nanny and gardener. That way I will be able to plan my kitchen and have it built to order. The whole problem with my life thus far is poor planning on my part in being born into a school teacher’s family.

  9. Cyndi Lauper should have told Martha to watch out for insider trading indictments in 2003. HA!

    But I know what you mean about those destressing-type classes. Once a company I worked at had one, and we all had to go, and all they told us was to not load ourselves up with so many tasks. Then we all went back to our desks and slaved to try to make up for the hour we were forced to spend listening to someone tell us we should somehow find a way to magically convince our bosses to give us fewer tasks. Yeah. That’s why I work at home now!

  10. I love Martha, but she sure is clueless when it comes to real women’s problems. How did that woman respond? Did she seem to feel like it would help her out? Hope is right – someone should develop an advice/talk show for REAL women, with segments like “how to hide the dust bunnies before guests come over” or “if it LOOKS clean, it’s close enough.”

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