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Perhaps you’ve heard of a little thing called the Ryan Gosling “Hey girl” meme. Or maybe not, if you aren’t female and/or a fan of his work in Half Nelson (excellent) or The Notebook (good God, ugh!) and his abs’ work in Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Copy editor aside: what’s with the punctuation there? Why are there commas and a period in that title?) There are many strains of Ryan Gosling meme, and the one of him with a cat riding his back is perhaps the weirdest/most awesome I’ve seen, but the one that most applies to my life is undoubtedly this one.

I’m not a huge Gosling fan, so the idea of him saying, “Hey girl” to me about anything makes me shrug, but the craft meme speaks to me as someone who always bites off more than she can chew craft-wise. The fact is that I like crafting in theory much more than in practice. I love looking at something and saying, “I made that.” But the process of making it – that, I kind of loathe. This is why it took me about six months to make a set of curtains for my bedroom. Now they’re hanging in there, and I can honestly say that they look great to anyone who is not a seamstress. But what possessed me to make them in the first place? Just because one of my friends makes beautiful curtains regularly and gave me advice on what kinds of fabric to buy and where to put the seams doesn’t mean I have a natural affinity for lengthy and involved sewing projects. And the stuff that I can do quickly, like homemade Play-Doh?

It may be a mess, but it sure looks pretty!

Let’s just say that mine remained sticky enough to tar and feather someone, if you’re into that sort of thing. My advice to you is, don’t pick whatever recipe fits the ingredients you happen to have, even if it is missing one component that all the other recipes have. That one missing ingredient may be the only thing keeping you from getting covered in a thin layer of turquoise goop.

I mention all of this because of a book I’m reading right now, Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. This book has been heavily debated and heatedly reviewed in print and online, which is largely why I wanted to read it. But I’m not interested in contributing to the fray (nor am I qualified to since I haven’t finished it yet). Instead, I’m finding it a great read partly for the ideas it brings up about how much our expectations of motherhood and parenting are culturally constructed versus what we may actually want to do. Do we middle-class Americans want to be attachment parents or are we peer-pressured into it? Do middle-class French mothers secretly want to breastfeed but are peer-pressured out of it? Basically, how much of what we do is culturally predetermined? As someone who generally thinks she is deciding the course of her life, this is a fascinating question, and for some reason, the crafting part of my life is where I am in clearest conflict with myself over the answer. It’s as if I keep trying to be crafty and do lots of nesting-type stuff because I think I should like it, even though I often don’t. I wonder how frequently this happens to people, especially in the areas of life that are inherently important and controversial, like choosing a career or a mate or raising kids. It seems easy to say that you decide these things yourself, but you can only pick from among the options you know you have, right? It’s hard to be aware of your choices at every single moment, so you end up doing what seems familiar at least part of the time – and what seems familiar is what you’ve been exposed to, which is usually what’s typical in your culture.

Clearly these are huge questions that aren’t going to have their answers decided in the span of one brief blog post. But I do wonder how it all works, how you make things come together in a life that is authentic and comfortable to you, yet also fits into your world, whether it’s Boston or Paris. Finding even temporary answers to these questions is what has me racing through Druckerman’s book. Maybe I should read Stumbling on Happiness next and see if it helps… Any thoughts, readers?