In our house, we have just begun month three of our stay at home orders and I am deep into boredom busters, brain candy, anxiety balm, whatever you want to call it. I have raided and depleted my fabric stash to make dozens of masks, but in the process, I found some thinner cotton and decided to make cloth napkins. Cloth napkins are better for the environment and it means our house won’t contribute to the hoarding of paper towels. Not to mention, the detail work of ironing, pinning, and sewing mitered corners offers a brief respite from doom scrolling my newsfeed.
A quick Netflix search led me to the Taylor Swift documentary, Miss Americana. I know I am late to the party; it has been on Netflix for a while, but it’s quarantine so time is meaningless, right? I chose it for the background noise.
I’m the kind of Taylor Swift fan who could sing along with her songs on the dance floor at a wedding, provided the chorus featured in an over-aired credit card commercial. The documentary served as a reminder of all the times Taylor Swift floated to the front and center of the zeitgeist. It was a fun, “oh yeah, that happened” trip down pop culture memory lane. By the end of the documentary, she’s 30, at the top of her profession, powerful, successful, acclaimed — an icon.
The documentary was meant to be background noise, anything to drown out the constant worry and uncertainty, but something caught my attention. Taylor, wearing an oversized sweatshirt with her hair pulled back into a ponytail, was sitting on a couch with her feet tucked under her, mimicking my quarantine uniform and power stance. She was holding back tears.
Taylor had decided to speak out against Marsha Blackburn’s, ultimately successful, race for the senate. Here, this woman, icon, Taylor Swift, had to beg to be heard. In a room of mostly older white men, Taylor was made to listen to reasons why acting on her values could potentially lead to a loss of album sales. These men were quick to remind her that she might not satisfy the expectations of everyone, they wielded it like a threat.
I felt it then, that fire in my belly, a slow burn that accompanies the feeling of being misunderstood, the feeling of being stifled. And as the fire burned and I had an instinct to curl my hands into fists, I looked down and I couldn’t because they were busy. Of course they were, I’m a working mom married to a working husband during quarantine. We’re always busy. But what was I doing in that moment? I was sewing cloth napkins with mitered corners. And all of the sudden I felt so ashamed and so confused. How did I get here? How did I get to a place where a Taylor Swift documentary and mitered corners made me feel like I was so twisted around the expectations I was supposed to meet that I couldn’t tell which way was up?
Is this what I should be doing? I feel helpless in this pandemic. I’m wrought with guilt and anxiety as I sit on the couch in an oversized sweatshirt with my feet tucked under me, reading article after article about COVID-19. My privilege keeps me and my family safe and I don’t know what to do with that. My instinct is to do something. I can stay home; I have the means to be comfortable. I feel like I should make the most of it. I have a sourdough starter, I planted a garden, I’m limiting my son’s screen time, I’m writing. But then I see that may be contributing to other unrealistic expectations. I should be easy on myself and focus on just surviving.
Would my time be better spent researching state and local candidates for the upcoming election? Should I be starting a 30-day yoga challenge or a 90-day yoga challenge? Should I be binge watching Tiger King and eating take out? Should I call my grandmother or take a nap? I turned on a Taylor Swift documentary for background noise and I started an easy sewing project in an attempt to turn off my brain, for the length of my baby’s nap, but it didn’t work.
Be new to us, be young to us, but only in a new way and only the way we want. Reinvent yourself, but only in a way we find to be equally comforting and a challenge for you. Live out a narrative that we find interesting enough to entertain us, but not so crazy that it makes us uncomfortable.”
— Taylor Swift, Miss Americana, January 2020
Is what Taylor said groundbreaking? No. But does it need to be said? I think so, because here I am in quarantine, in the middle of a pandemic, sewing mitered corners into cloth napkins and feeling judged for it, thinking about giving it up and feeling judged for it, listening to Taylor Swift and feeling judged for it, thinking that maybe I don’t like her music, and feeling judged for it. Because the expectations on women are too much. So, maybe what Taylor Swift said isn’t groundbreaking for feminist scholarship, but there is truth to it.
Whether you’re a mega pop star, or a mom during a pandemic, when the whole world is reflected to us in a newsfeed or a timeline, people still make their expectations known. As we’ve all been pushed inside, I thought some of this would be kept out, but that’s not what happened. It cut through the background noise. But there is no right way or wrong way to do this, any of it. Taylor Swift is not doing too little, nor is she doing too much. I am not doing too little, nor am I doing too much.
You are not doing too little; you are more than enough. So, now I’ll go back to making cloth napkins or maybe I’ll just use a paper towel, or maybe I’ll write a song, or maybe just listen to some Taylor Swift.