Thursday, September 25, 2008

I can’t let September pass without wishing Alexis Stewart a Happyish Birthday. She turns 43 on the 27th.

I know many readers of this blog (and many Martha Stewart fans in general) have a hard time with Martha’s only daughter. But I actually think Alexis has been one of Martha’s greatest teachers, just as Martha has been for Alexis. They are opposites in so many ways, very similar in others, and the friction that exists between them is something only the universe, with its warped sense of humour, could ever dream up. Yin and Yang should be so lucky. As an article in New York magazine asked, “How did Martha Stewart end up with Howard Stern’s baby?”

An auburn-haired Martha holds little Alexis after a bath. (1965)

In the long, complicated history of mother/daughter relationships, theirs is typical of most: a love/hate balancing act that can often teeter on the verge of being vindictive and enraging. Past wrongs that nag the subconscious, recurring misunderstandings, longed-for affection from both sides - sometimes granted and sometimes withheld.

The difference in the Alexis & Martha saga is the enormity of the shadow cast by Martha’s achievements, an accumulation of influence so great that it affects popular culture, the American marketplace, commerce, journalism, the arts and beyond. Any person (even those with the strongest sense of individuality and strength) coming into the world under that kind of maternal umbrella would have a hard time finding individual ground, much less the drive to compete with it all. Talk about daunting.

And yet, Martha cannot and should not be blamed for her accolades and self-made successes. Similarly, Alexis cannot and should not be blamed for being born into her circumstances. She didn’t ask to be born. She didn’t ask for her mother’s fame and fortune. It was there, and Martha has been generous with it, even though it must have been hard for Alexis at times to find her own voice in the midst of such ambition.

The cake on the left doesn't look much like the pound cake Martha baked for Alexis one year, with no icing, decorated only with a single pillar candle.

I know Alexis feels that not many people like her. That may be true. Many people, it seems, do not. But the first time I saw Alexis on Larry King Live in 2004 defending her mom after the guilty verdict was delivered I felt something of a connection to her: her deadpan delivery, her unfiltered opinions, her sarcasm, her wit, and far more masked than anything else - her love.

I’m really not a fan of sex with women, but that night I kind of wanted her.

More than this, though, it is Alexis’s humanity that I think most endears her to me. Cut through all the studied attitude, the haughty, superior condescension and the icy-cold demeanor and you have a woman who loves puppies and yoga, who enjoys baking, who is a talented decorator, a loyal (but demanding) friend and someone who wants very much to be a mom. She combats persistent sadness with excellent form and doesn’t ever give up.

I have little doubt that if Alexis and I were closer in age (and residence, and circumstance) that she and I would be friends, if given the chance. I get Alexis. I was a lonesome child, too, awkward and ill at ease much of the time. I used to put ear plugs in my ears at childhood slumber parties and tell the other kids not to breathe so I could sleep. I used to leave my own birthday parties just to be alone and I've never been a phone person. I like minimalism and simplicity in the home, leaning toward the modern but classic lines that she, too, loves. In short, I've lived an Alexis-like existence in some respects and it's therefore very hard for me not to be sympathetic and admiring of her.

So, I hope you have a Happyish Birthday, Alexis. I’m in your corner. I wish you continued success. I haven't seen the new show yet, but I'm looking forward to the day I do.

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