“Carpet is Mungers” is an influential (influential on me, certainly) essay by Meghan Daum from her 2001 essay collection My Misspent Youth. It would probably take you less time to read it than for me to sum it up, and you should read it, if you haven’t. I think about it a lot. I believe it’s one of the essays in that book that leads people to leave aggrieved Amazon reviews that call the author selfish and shallow and “very, very young.” Basically, you are either someone who gets it or you don’t. If you don’t, god bless, enjoy your carpeted existence. If you get it, “Carpet is Mungers” explains everything. It’s about how seemingly meaningless aesthetic details, like wall to wall carpeting in a rented apartment, can make Daum feel “‘other’ to her own self,” fundamentally divorced from something crucial about her identity.
I’m not saying there’s something good about being, like me or like Daum, a Carpet is Mungers person. It’s inconvenient and hard to explain, and there is something sad — simultaneously snobby and overreaching –about it; as Daum so ably explains, it’s much less about being “classy” than about being highly attuned to details that connote a fantasy of a specific kind of classiness. But the cool thing about this essay is that it’s not a judgment, it’s a diagnosis, and this is a condition that I have. And I was strongly conscious of having it today in the changing room at the Mashpee Commons Gap as I tried on four on-sale items from the maternity section.
The problem was not the Gap, really, or being in the suburbs; Gaps are the same here as they are in NYC (except much less crowded and sloppy). I’m not too cool for the Gap and even though the Gap is probably Mungers by a strict Daumian definition I don’t feel un-myself there. The Gap reminds me of a whole set of positive associations; Bennett worked at the Gap in high school and college and I often visited him there; I even sort of associate the Gap Smell (whatever it is, their particular sizing chemicals) with him, and Bennett is one of my oldest most familiar friends, basically the anti-Mungers.
No, the problem was me. As I prepared to try on jeans that are just like my ordinary Gap Leggings Jeans, but with two little elastic panels at the waist that will make it possible for me to wear them buttoned, which is no longer possible with my ordinary pair, I got a look at myself in the dressing room mirror and just felt like, whoa, who the fuck is that?
I was wearing the North Face jacket I bought last year on the eve of the blizzard, which is mega dorky. Unlike all the brightly colored, stylish, thrift store “vintage” outerwear I’ve worn over the years, it actually keeps my torso and limbs warm when it’s cold out, but there is nothing else to recommend it. Until this winter, though, I hadn’t regretted it. I’d even joked about it, that it was my “mom coat,” a joke that seemed funnier last winter, when the idea of actually being a prot0-mom in this coat seemed like science fiction. On the bright side, in a few more weeks I will be too fat to wear it! But today, in the mirror, it contributed mightily to the impression that I was a thirtysomething white woman with glasses and a slightly unwashed ponytail who was wearing leggings out of the house, leggings tucked into sheepskin boots that, while they are heeled and not the “classic” model, might be recognizable to the trained eye as Uggs. How did this happen to me? I thought. Slowly, I guess, and then all at once.
I tried on the jeans, feeling bulky and unwieldy, trying to avoid eye contact with my mottled pink legs in the mirror. They fit and so I got cocky and tried on the other things, which included another pair of jeans that are for much pregnant-er women, the kind that have a huge beige panel of elastic instead of a waistband and are really only “jeans” because the manufacturer can’t call them something more accurate, such as “denim-colored sack for your flesh.” I tore them off so fast I almost broke them. Then I put on my own familiar leggings and tried on the tops, which I had only bothered with because they were $11. They were both the kind of garment that I like to wear while not pregnant: plaid and somewhat voluminous. The recent redistribution of my torso meat has rendered this genre of shirt off-limits to me, I now realize. Something about the breadth of my shoulders and the new farm-animal-ish quality of my chest renders these smocky things unflattering to the point of disturbing on me, like I am trying to camoflage myself as a plaid item of furniture, perhaps so I can spy on something taking place in a Man Cave.
I understood suddenly why new moms sometimes dye their hair pink or get new tattoos. In the moment of standing there in the changing room with that heinous smock on, I wanted to get a new tattoo on my face. IMMEDIATELY.
I mean, it’s okay. It’s no big deal. I know that as alien and gross and distant from myself as I feel right now, and even given how dramatically these feelings are bound to increase, I will get through this strange time and come back to feeling like “myself” eventually, if probably a bit stretched-out. I will also likely find clothes to wear for the next six months that don’t make me feel like Kim Kardashian at the 2013 Met Gala. But in that moment I thought again, as I have often thought lately, of all the women throughout history and right now who’ve felt these awful ways but with the crucial difference of not wanting to be pregnant, and who have been forced to stay trapped in rebellious, alien bodies by laws made by men who think they understand everything that’s at stake.
Those women’s plight is a state far beyond Mungers; it certainly puts the ordinary Mungers-ness of pregnancy in perspective. Still and all, though. The mindfuck aspect of these changes is supra-puberty-level and not for the faint of heart. It’s lucky for men that they can’t do this; they would not be able to handle it for one second.