art culture politics music humor love

number 3

Love and War Bread

by Manning Peterson

Ten years ago, I started writing a screenplay for a spy thriller: a group of young radical feminists meet every week to plot social change. After a series of small local victories, they set their political sights higher. But one by one, each woman meets the man of her dreams and falls in love. They get married, have kids, learn to knit and bake bread. Of course they no longer have time for social activism.

Our heroine is happy for her friends, but is worried by the pattern. When her own “dream man” appears out of nowhere (he’s leftist, feminist, funny, smart, and an old punk rocker), her suspicions grow. She uncovers a CIA plot—the men are all sleeper agents. With the Cold War over, the intelligence focus turns to “domestic” enemies, and what better way to disarm the women and disorganize their movement than to give each precisely what she personally, secretly desires?

I never had the most positive outlook on marriage and domestic life. I found happiness itself suspect. Not only was a domestic life “not for me,” I was certain it must be bad for other women too. I was kind of an asshole about it. Happiness was always, necessarily a lie.

But my paranoid screenplay asked this question: What if those women WERE happy? Would my heroine destroy their happiness for affordable childcare? Would she really want to sacrifice individual happiness for the greater collective good?

In real life, our heroine met – against all odds – the man of her dreams (leftist, feminist, funny, smart, and an old punk rocker). She fell in love, got married, and bought a house with a yard. He gardens. I’m learning to knit. We both bake bread. I’m becoming convinced that these are the radical activities of the 21st century.

My husband taught me how to bake bread. He makes his Grandma Peterson’s Swedish Rye, and it’s the very best smell I know. When I first watched him knead, I was amazed how easy and productive it was. Just one more ancient simple thing that’s been complicated, commodified, mechanized, and then sold back to us at a very high price.

Today I made war bread. During olden wars people had to ration their white flour, and they stretched it with whole wheat, corn meal, oats. Now they tell us it’s patriotic to shop, to drive, to spend, to consume, to borrow, to owe. Is it patriotic to forget what you knew, what your parents, your grandparents knew? To want and buy and never make, never love?

I never finished the screenplay. Happy endings are so unbelievable.

Manning Peterson lives in Oak Park, Illinois, and works in banking.

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