“Oh boy! I’m so smart it’s a disease!”

Parts 1 and 2 of the new Mildred Pierce tripped my lobe into a sudden epiphany last night. Not having seen the original, I didn’t have any Joan Crawford-y preconceived impressions, and while the film is full of chewy radfem nuggets — Mildred’s marriage ends and she’s fine! She raises two daughters, overcomes tragedy, and builds her own business! — what I got out of it is that human lives often parallel the jagged trajectory of sociological/economic history. To wit: Mildred was born between 1900-1905, the absolute worst point in American history (so far) to be born. Why? The horror of World War I spanned her adolescence, with a short break before the Great Depression and a brief respite prior to World War II. This Crap Interlude, as the history books call it, lasted for 17 years between 1929-1946, and by the time it was over, poor Mildred was hitting menopause while people juuust slightly younger than she were starting college via shiny new G.I. Bills and buying affordable houses with cash. I mean, goddammit.

But, you know? These things are cyclical. Let’s say you’re Mildred’s younger neighbor, Betty, enjoying all the postwar 50’s boom stuff and feeling like all is right with the world. Everything’s going to go cattywampus again in about 1967, leaving you feeling betrayed and disconnected. All the kids are shooting pot! You don’t trust these newfangled convenience foods! Who is that skinny black man doing outrageous things to the national anthem on an electric guitar? You’re having a very hard time, and you will not feel better again until Reagan takes office in 1980, whereas Mildred already knows that life can go any direction it wants. She’s relaxed, like a cat falling 32 stories to the sidewalk. By the time the recession hits in 1983, you’re collecting Social Security and playing golf so the whole thing has resolved itself. But let’s say you’re Betty’s’s granddaughter, Jenny, born in 1974. Everything looks Clintonian and rosy when you graduate college in 1996, but then…

And so it goes. If you’re currently having a hard time, just think of it as your own personal 1929-1946. Try to retain all the survival skills you’re learning, like Mildred becomes a great waitress even though she hates it, and bide your time: Your 1950’s are coming, with their plenitude and hope, and maybe the creative explosions of your 1960’s, which will give you the momentum to live through the malaise of your 1970’s, etc. It will be up and then it will be down. You’ll grow and bloom and wilt; rinse and repeat. Someday all this will be a long time ago; the stuff of memory and miniseries.

3 thoughts on ““Oh boy! I’m so smart it’s a disease!”

  1. Rather inspiring there!
    Overlook this shitty gloom period that we are currently in. Not sure about the 1950s though, when the consumerism and wife-chained-to-kitchen-sink thing was going on. The 1960s was better, with the birth of the 2nd wave. That is what we need again.

  2. Much love to the 1960’s! I think there was something about the dawning of the 50’s, though, even for women — the feeling that, finally, all the Depression/war crap was over and something new and hopeful was underway. Then, of course, the disappointment of the Problem That Had No Name.

  3. “cattywampus”. I LOVE that word. and this post. Dave Squirrel’s right, it’s inspiring. I think my 50s were the 70s. But i wasn’t old enough to make the most of ’em then. guess the 70s will come around again…but better, without so much Rat Pack.

    Bless them.

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