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With the next sentence, any hipster cred I might have will evaporate like cool water in the Austin sun: 

I feel sorry for Martha Stewart.

There it is. My shy confession now hangs in pixels in front of you, my own scarlet "A" to pin to my ample bosom. Modern grrrls donít dig Martha, Iím told. This one, however, does.

Rest assured that I harbor no illusions about this former untouchable domestic goddess. I am fully aware that her magazine, TV show and countless products are not based in any recognizable reality. Even if I styled my life after what she demonstrated, until I had a staff of 200 and almost endless access to cash, I could never have what her brand of home improvement promised. In my real world, there would still be cat puke. Toilets would still overflow. Clutter would still invade.

Once I realized that my homemaking skills could never reach her levels of sheer outrageousness, the world that she created was a welcome one. The magazine was porn for a homeowner, an air-brushed, art-directed vision of a drool-inducing kitchen or a chintz settee. The world in Livingís pages is as real as Playboyís, with Martha playing the Hugh Hefner role. This isnít a bad thing. Wild fantasies are just as important to life as realistic goals and whole wheat bread. Most men are well aware that Pamela Anderson is not going to call them up for a quickie in the back of some hay loft. Most women are hip to the fact that they will never pluck cerulean eggs from beneath their own Aracuna chickens or stitch gorgeous monograms onto their fine linens. Assuming otherwise is to also assume that either reader is dumber than a bucket of hair. And while there are some that dim, the vast majority of us are aware of the divide.

Until the Diva entered my life, I didnít have time for the television show. Martha in person was just too unctuous. Her studied diction made it worse. In the flesh, Martha was hard to watch, even when she was lampooning herself on Saturday Night Live or Rosie. Plus, it was on during the hours that I wasnít home.

But during the first three months of my momitude, when I was home full-time with the Niblet, I became a Martha-teer. I scheduled around that blessed hour of home-making tips and soft, yet rich pastels. If I was lucky, the wee child would sleep through the show and give me some precious time to swoon into the idiot box. Even awake, however, the baby seemed soothed by the very things about Marthaís voice that set my teeth on edge.

It was more than mere entertainment, then. The show, broken as it was into easily digested and generally unrelated segments, was the perfect match for my postpartum attention span. There was no plot to follow and character development was marginal. While that alone was nice, my addiction was really to the comfort the show provided. It was reassuring, somehow, that someone gave two craps about the perfect way to fold bed sheets or the perks of molding your own soap. In Marthaís world, there was order and control, which gave me hope that mine could have that, too. At a time when I couldnít get through a day without bursting in to tears, Martha suggested anything healed with busy hands or fresh paint. I still donít think sheís wrong.

And life did improve, of course. When I went back to work part-time, I started to tape the show and would watch it during late-night feedings or early-morning awakenings. What was nice about video was that I could fast forward through all of the commercials and segments that didnít really appeal. There was a downside, of course. My husband thought that Iíd really flipped out. Eventually he realized Martha was a cure, somehow, more than a symptom.

One of the bigger blows resulting from our recent move is that the new cable system doesnít carry a Martha channel. At first, I was devastated, feeling like Iíd lost another good friend. It passed. Now when I infrequently catch the show, all of my initial irritations with it return. Even though I donít watch it anymore, Iím still saddened to hear that it is going on indefinite hiatus while Marthaís legal issues are resolved.

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What I also am is pissed-off. I have no doubt that Martha is guilty. I also have no doubt that she is everything rumor alleges she is -- cold, driven, controlling. But no person is only one thing. Most of her magazine and TV associates have been with her since the whole project began, despite the fact that they could have jumped ship once theyíd made their names. You donít spend that much time with someone you despise. No one on the outside has ever seen the real Martha Stewart. Even if she is a shrew both inside and out, that isnít a crime.

Perjury, however, is (just ask Bill Clinton). But her punishment, when other like criminals are compared with her, doesnít fit the crime. Clinton lied about a continuous affair with an intern in the Oval Office, when he was responsible for an entire fucking nation, and received no real penalty other than embarrassment. The Enron gang, who lied to their corporationís employees, still have yet to see their real punishments meted out. I somehow suspect theyíll do okay, frankly, and that also pisses me off. Yet Martha faces prison, unless the recent developments about a lying witness earn her a new trial. Still, Marthaís sins are minor in comparison to what some powerful white men are up to.

Gender may be the crux of the issue. Here was a woman who made a frightening amount of money, who built a business dynasty and kept it growing for the better part of 20 years. That alone put a big red target on the chest of her tasteful linen button-down. Add to that her overlying message, that what women do to, and in, their homes has some merit beyond keeping her man happy; that there could be some satisfying, artistic element to her inner life is the stuff that can fuel a revolution -- where a housefrau begins to realize that her contributions are urgent and valuable, even if they never achieve Stewart-like grandness. That is seditious talk that  must be muted. Now it has been, at least in the public arena. But in private, where we hide our most basic hungers, an inner-Martha will always be alive, waiting for her next opportunity.
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About the Author:
Adrienne Martini has been a theatre technician, apprentice massage therapist, bookstore bookkeeper and pizza joint waitress. Eventually, someone started paying her for her words and an editorial mercenary was born. She has written theatre reviews and features for the Austin Chronicle, blurbs about tofurkey and bottled water for Cooking Light and a piece about knitting summer camp for Interweave Knits. She is a former editor for Knoxville, Tennessee's Metro Pulse and recently picked up an AAN award for feature writing. During the day, she fields freelance gigs and crams knowledge into the heads of college students in Upstate New York. At all hours, she is mom to Maddy, and wife to Scott. Email Adrienne at: shaken@austinmama.com



 

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