Saturday, August 16, 2008

Did you say Prada or Osh Kosh? -- Gillian Parekh

_The Devil Wears Prada_; Weisberger, Lauren

Having received the parameters for this project via email, I left my computer running and quickly headed towards my modest, if not that meager, library of collected works I proudly claim to have read (and mostly remembered). The size of this collection is to a large extent due to how few books had managed to survive my frequent moves and undisciplined lending habits. As my eyes glanced across each title, moments came to me --where and when each treasure had been experienced -- either at the beach, on the train, or crammed into the wee hours of the morning between down duvets with squinted eyelids, hours before a pressing classroom review or book club meeting. The selection process, however, came to an abrupt and decisive conclusion when I reached The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger.

I have in fact rarely ventured close to the "ChickLit" offerings of bookstores or libraries and for a long, rather snobbish, period of my life, have refused to delve into any reading material that could not boast of wide critical acclaim. Yet, at nine months pregnant, I found myself in the company of the book The Devil Wears Prada, a novel featuring the ins and outs of the fashion industry, an industry that was as foreign to me as the politics of the trading floor would probably be to a member of a monastery. With the exception of the fashion magazines I flipped through in the checkout line, and the incessant cries of my bride-to-be girlfriends settling only for Vera Wang, my industry knowledge of this enterprise was, well, limited.

This book had been recommended to me by a friend whose advice in reading material I highly value. Taken aback somewhat by its seemingly trivial content, I figured while burdened with a bad case of "pre-baby-brain", a light read was all I could properly digest. I opened the cover and was soon immersed into a life that could not have been more different than the one I was currently experiencing. However, the main character is someone I could relate to fairly well. She is a young aspiring writer who has just returned from India. I, too, found myself still in my twenties, toiling with the pen and had also recently been to India on a whirlwind excursion, although avoiding, thankfully, her episode of dysentery. Thus, an immediate bond was established whereupon I traipsed alongside her enjoying her adventures vicariously in downtown New York, at the clubs, and the swanky parties all from the privacy of my own room.

As the pages flew by, the original fondness for this read was giving way to my own realities. My interest in her struggles with her boss and the grandeur of the parties and the brooding intellectuals she encounters was quickly fading. I was beginning to imagine her slim figure sporting a three thousand dollar pair of Gucci pants in trendy Manhattan while I, with swollen ankles and huge belly, was just fortunate enough to sport pants at all without resorting to the looming decision of switching to a muumuu. With every movement, the roll and kick of the little being inside me anxiously wanting to make her entrance (or, more appropriately, her exit), I realized that all aspirations of the independent life depicted in these pages was soon to be an impossibility. In but a few days, my life would have an entirely new focus, ready or not. And the only type of intellectual stimulation available to me would likely have to come in the form of Raffi or that horrid purple dinosaur that, I swear, is secretly convincing our young to form an entire movement of mind-controlled juvenile malcontents.

Even though I could not boast of a life -- pre-marriage, or pre-baby -- where I was remotely as "cool", accomplished or interesting as the heroine of this story, Weisberger only drove home the point that if I had ever wanted to lead a life swimming in the sea of affluence and unbridled excitement, it was too late. With this realization, I began a period of somewhat pathetic grieving. Here I was, in the prime of my youth, perhaps at the apex of my creative fortitude and my respective pursuits were now being cut short. In the midst of my hormonal nightmare, the life I had never had, or had ever really been all that aware of, was now lost to me forever and would be a pipe dream I could never achieve. (My only fashion-related goal from here on in would be to squeeze myself back into my lululemon yoga pants without the Lycra being stretched so far its sheen would cause corneal damage to anyone who dared look upon them.)

I now held this book as a symbol of my spent youth, my wasted talent and my life as a freethinking individual. I was determined to complete it before the delivery as a representation of my acceptance of my now very distressing fate.

Unfortunately, the stars were aligned in such a way that my little one decided she would prefer to arrive sooner than later and thus thrust my methodical intentions for closure into outer orbit. As I was in bed anxiously timing the minutes between contractions, I would glance at my night stand and see my book with over one hundred pages left to be read in a certain way mocking me in my predicament. When the contractions were precisely five minutes apart, I grabbed my pre-packed hospital bag, and while making a last glance around my room, swiped the book certain I could finish it in the next few hours or so while I endured the discomfort of labour.

The "discomfort of labour" I felt upon leaving for the hospital became the gruelling agony of near torture upon arriving. The next twenty-five, I repeat, twenty-five hours of labour sans medication, despite insistent pleas, were spent in the hospital hallway crying, contracting every two to three minutes, and begging for a swift out-of-body experience. As my husband rifled through my bag, he came across my book. With an empathetic smile, I could tell he knew my labour was not going quite as I had expected. Through my tears, with a blotchy face, runny nose, all I could mumble was “I thought I would at least have been able to read.”

Roughly around seven that evening, the dark clouds of anguish parted with the much-anticipated arrival of the anaesthetist. Within moments of the spinal, I began to regain my senses. I scarfed down a (forbidden) muffin and was told to take advantage of this time to sleep. As my husband arranged my things, my dingers and ringers, my measly glass of ice chips, I requested that he put the book within reach, just in case I couldn’t sleep. He nodded sternly, but reiterated the nurse’s advice to try to nap. As he curled up in the cot at my feet and quickly fell unconscious, I nabbed the book and began my frantic speed-reading. I knew the clock was ticking. I had just a few hours to say goodbye to my old life and embrace the new one bearing down on me with an intensity I could not have predicted. I scrambled through the chapters as fast as could, racing against the growing pressure. With each sound of the door opening, I would hide the book under the covers and feign sleep while the nurses checked the monitors. But with their last examination of my progress, I was pronounced "ready to push" and only moments away from my new life as mother. As the tools came out and the doctor was paged, my husband cleared my bedside table and found the book I had attempted to conceal. He smiled and shook his head as he packed the book, far from finished back, into my overnight bag. I knew I was in no position to argue, but there it was, my unceremonious closure to my previous life, unfinished and crammed into a satchel shared only by feminine products and nursing bras.

Within the hour, we welcomed our new baby daughter into the world and an entire new dimension to our existence began. It was as if someone had added colour to the wind. An invisible force that had once been inconceivable had saturated our beings and had suddenly created incredible new aspects to our lives. It. Was. Wonderful.

The nurses had been right about one thing: I should have slept. The next few days were a marathon or better described as one long day with the occasional nap. Caught up with the newness of our miracle and with the unmentionable post-partum agonies, we were so distracted my hospital bag had remained packed in the corner of our room, untouched for days.

Between the countless visitors and well-intentioned phone calls, baby demands and dinner preparations, I declared the need for an emergency time out and hid in the refuge of the bathroom. I ran the bath with a foggy memory of the bathing rituals of my previous life, retrieved my book from my bag, and set it on the edge of the tub. Sinking into the warm water, I eyed it suspiciously. Should I even bother picking it up? Attempt to finish it? What if I couldn’t even make sense of it anymore? What if the language hidden between its covers only communicated to a single, unmarried, "unbabied" audience and when those who no longer fit the criteria tried to pry open the pages, they would find only words written in hieroglyphs? What if the last few days had changed me so entirely I could no longer relate -- like looking at an old photograph of yourself and having no memory whatsoever of where you were when it was taken?

I pondered for a bit, dried my hands and picked it up. As I sank into the water and allowed the chaos to circulate on the other side of the bathroom door, I opened the pages and began reading where I had left off. The connection between author and reader returned amazingly quickly. I soon realized I had not lost one iota of my previous self. My brain, although somewhat slowed from sleep deprivation, was still delighted by the same humour and I could still, as far as I could tell, read critically. My mind hadn’t liquefied into mush and, not knowing why it came to mind, my disapproval of Barney had remained undiminished. After doing all the necessary checks, so far, so good.

So yes, life as I knew it had completely changed. My ability to experience the "finer qualities" of life had been dramatically reduced. I may have exchanged my push-up bras for nursers, my espresso for decaf, and my Anna Karenin for Goodnight Moon, but as someone who still has a passion for reading and dabbling with the creative word, my core remains unaffected. I’m indebted to Lauren Weisberger for having provided the literary link that grounded me from my frenzied anxieties of losing myself, reassured me that the unique elements that define who I am have remained intact.

The Devil Wears Prada
Lauren Weisberger

Gillian Parekh

I'm a juggler of pursuits, a full-time student, a part-time writer and of course, a full-time mother. Originally from eastern Canada, I was raised on the coast of the Atlantic and, in 2001, moved to the even rougher seas of urban Toronto. I now live in east Toronto with my husband and two baby girls.

No comments: