The internet being enormous and all, I don't remember where it was I saw this, but somewhere I saw something, once, about how Idris Elba is the actor white women who don't much pay attention to black male beauty (or who don't consume much diverse or black-oriented media) give as the example of a good-looking black man. Like, to the extent that it is, if you are a white woman, borderline racist to say that you find Elba attractive, his name in this context having evolved into a trope of sorts, of the exception.
I have no idea if this is true, but if it is, that would seem like all the more reason he'd be a shoo-in as James Bond. If indeed they still make those movies (I've only ever seen one, years ago, on what was probably my only high school outing with straight 'guy friends'), which apparently they do, because this morning Twitter erupted with the news that Anthony Horowitz, probably the same Anthony Horowitz as is behind some of the better, earlier Midsomer Murders episodes, gave a not particularly borderline but rather straightforwardly racist (if coded) reason why Elba, in his view, shouldn't be Bond. The word "street" is used, which is going to seem particularly odd to anyone introduced to Elba via his role in the US version of The Office.
As tends to happen in these cases, intense, multi-hour research (or, rather, clicking the link from the Independent to the original Daily Mail interview) suggests a bit of outrage-stirring on the part of the press. The "street" remark had, it seems, been immediately preceded by Horowitz naming a different black British actor, Adrian Lester, as a possible Bond. While the thing it seems as if Horowitz said (namely, that Bond can't be black because any black actor, even Elba, is "too 'street'") and the thing he actually said (a sort of casting equivalent of 'some of my best friends are black,' and then the "street" remark) are both racist, the former is so much more so that it might be tempting to cry Misplaced Outrage and dismiss the whole thing, except... the outrage is merited. The "street" remark is still racist!
The trouble is outrage fatigue. After years and years and years of offensiveness going unremarked, there's now this flood of remarks. Justified ones, but the sheer repetitiveness of the 'can you believe X said Y?!' headlines has ended up numbing too many readers to what are, at least in my opinion, real and important concerns about representation, subtle bigotry, and so forth. People then end up sympathizing with the gaffe-maker, who will inevitably have said something a notch or two less offensive than first thought. And so the conversation will get diverted from issue at hand. My question, then, is really one of strategy. If you support the politics of the 'can you believe' headlines, but wonder about their efficacy... what's the alternative? Is there one?
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
The internet being enormous and all, I don't remember where it was I saw this, but somewhere I saw something, once, about how Idris Elba is the actor white women who don't much pay attention to black male beauty (or who don't consume much diverse or black-oriented media) give as the example of a good-looking black man. Like, to the extent that it is, if you are a white woman, borderline racist to say that you find Elba attractive, his name in this context having evolved into a trope of sorts, of the exception.
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Seeing as the plan is to be walled off up north, these are mainly Toronto-specific:
-Every show by Sally Wainwright. Having already watched all of Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley, I was beyond thrilled to come across Scott & Bailey, one I hadn't even known existed. Feminist soap operas set in some part of England that I, as a not-quite-Canadian, can totally relate to.
-Neo Coffee Bar. A gorgeous space, and instead of selling the same (too-often-stale) Toronto coffee shop cookies and the like, there are these amazing Japanese roll cakes. And all shockingly reasonably priced, likely because it's kind of out of the way.
-Baldwin Village. Fine, yes, another Japanese food recommendation (Konnichiwa sukiyaki hot pot specifically...), but it's also just a neat little area.
-Courage My Love. Vintage-and-more in the Kensington Market. I've already bought two necklaces there, and that's restraint, because there's a whole bunch of other stuff as well, and quite different from equivalent stores in the States.
-Am I allowed one more thing that's Japanese food? Sanko, the grocery store nearish my apartment. Went today to get bonito flakes, and was recommended a variety that a man who works in the store told me are the best ones, as well as the ones he feeds his cat. As these were less expensive than the ones I'd been considering, and apparently contribute to pet longevity, why not? Dashi stock and Bisou treats await.
Posted by Phoebe at Sunday, August 30, 2015
Friday, August 28, 2015
We are, all of us, children of wherever we're from. While I spent my earliest childhood in a neighborhood-name-free part of lower-mid-Manhattan, I mostly grew up on the Upper East Side. Why? For that, you'd have to ask my parents; I, as a 3-year-old, was, quite understandably, not consulted. But anyway, that's where I grew up, and I neither liked nor disliked it - it just sort of was. But it, and things like it, will always feel like home. It will always feel normal to me to be in a neighborhood where, for example, I can't afford anything in 99.99% of the stores. Where 99.99% of the women have had every square inch of their bodies somehow cosmetically attended to. The things that ought to be off-putting read as kind of comforting.
As an adult, I've never been drawn to living in such a neighborhood (although such places can be startlingly affordable, because of the uncoolness factor). But I do always somehow end up wandering around in them. In Chicago, what was it, the Gold Coast? In Paris, Passy.
I just now stumbled across Toronto's version of this. Yorkville, I think, if I got the borders right. Gone were the 20-something men with the undershave slicked-back-ponytail hairstyle and black flowing-robe minimalist clothing. All of a sudden, there were posh women everywhere. Waiting impatiently on line behind me at Zara. (Where, alas, the faux-leather pants didn't fit.) Then - because the ultimate in relaxation is a department store - Holt Renfrew, a palace of sorts, with signs about "privilege" in a positive sense in a shoe department I observed from a distance only because shoes, and where I tried on a discounted (but still, I ended up determining, out-of-budget) and not especially flattering pair of black jeans, while two women of a certain age (but really, aren't we all) assessed how a pair of jeans looked on one of them. Yes, I could tell that the staff had (correctly; is it the Eastern Mountain Sports backpack? or just the fact of a backpack?) decided that I was in the wrong store. I asked where the jeans were, and was told a list of brands of jeans, in a way that conveyed, I promise this is not some sort of neurosis, you are not J. Brand material. As stretchy-flattering as that material might be, I'll live with that.
Monday, August 17, 2015
Just read and really liked Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs. Goodreads people were less enthusiastic about it. I'll make the case:
Spoilers below, so click on the post title for the rest...
Friday, August 14, 2015
There's an article I've read variants of over the years, and that's currently circulating in Styles article and Jezebel post form. It's the Silver Linings of Aging piece; the specific age anchoring it can vary, but if it's anything much under 30, people will just laugh.
The point will inevitably be that getting older means caring less. It will come from a place of, everything's kind of sorted in life. The 'I'm old and haggard now' will be part self-deprecation, part genuine anxiety, and part humble-brag about having ticked whichever list of personal and professional achievements. Much of Tracy Moore's list on Jezebel amounts to, she's too old to have no money. Which is a great sentiment, if one that relies on upward mobility, or on aging meaning higher earning. The proverbial basement-dwelling millennial will also reach 30, if he hasn't already.
Other aspects, though, are not financial, but follow the same general pattern. For example: Being "too old" for parties and bars and casual friends one doesn't even like is a great big euphemism for having already found a partner. Plenty of people "too old" to be at the bars are there all the same, for the same reason younger adults are, and some who now think they're "too old" will, at 45, post-divorce, wind up back at them, and it won't be because they've gotten any younger.
On the one hand, yes, people do, on average, sort their lives out as they get older. On the other hand, life isn't just this smooth upwards progression of self-improvement. The physical-decline bit is unavoidable, but there's no guarantee of a corresponding raise for each wrinkle.
A too-old-to-care that addresses this, though, I'm OK with. And Dominique Browning's NYT one does:
The key to life is resilience, and I’m old enough to make such a bald statement. We will always be knocked down. It’s the getting up that counts. By the time you reach upper middle age, you have started over, and over again.This could well be why, like memoir, the too-old-for-this genre works better coming from someone a bit older.
But my initial reason for this post, which I seem to have lost track of, relates to the whole issue of "caring." In an ideal, rational world, getting older would mean caring less about nonsense. And on the whole, it does. But not in the neat, done-with-that-silliness way these articles suggest. The stupid, neurotic sort of caring - the unproductive, time-suck kind of GAF - may wane, only to (what's the non-clichéd version of 'rear its ugly head'?) return unexpectedly. You can go for years without much worrying what you look like, or whether you've been included in some social gathering, and think everything's going great professionally, and then for whatever reason, something internal or external brings those feelings back. Anyone who's been an adult, or who has witnessed adults while "off" (that is, at home) is going to be aware of this phenomenon. OK, not anyone. But enough people that it seems somehow off - or maybe just aspirational? - to declare non-caring an inherent perk of getting older.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Whenever a lowest-common-denominator straight male desire gets cast as sophisticated, my thoughts inevitably turn to the Seinfeld where Jerry's sleeping with his maid, and by the end of the episode accepts that he has, in fact, been paying for sex. His defense, when friends call him out on it, is that the arrangement is "sophisticated." This is a standby euphemism in hetero sex work marketing - there are gentlemen's clubs, and the silk robes, and fine European ladies (white women?), and men are going to be escorted, as though hiring a sex worker were akin to being accompanied to a cotillion. It's a way of drawing a connection between whatever Mr. Schlub is up to, and the activities of various French prime ministers. It's all incredibly sophisticated. If it were a movie, yellow subtitles would definitely be involved.
Which brings me to this latest entry, from Dan Savage's letter of the day. A 35-year-old woman is being cheated on by her 50-year-old husband, who was still with an earlier wife when they got together. There's a young child involved. What should she do? Buried in her letter, but crucial, is the following: "I don't care that much that he had sex with these women—in fact, I had brought up the possibility of having an open marriage, but he wasn't into it." Now why do we think this man, who slept with everybody and has no plans to stop, "wasn't into" the very arrangement that allows for such behavior? While the thing we're supposed to say in such a circumstance is that it's surely dude's sexual proclivity to sneak around, the common-sense reason is that there's a double-standard. Not for dude-the-individual. In society. A 'traditional' marriage model allows him, but not her, to have other partners. That's what he wants. For him to have a wife means to have a woman who's fully his, whose children are of course his, because who else?
Savage offers up a precedent for the letter-writer, should she choose to stay in her marriage: an elderly (now-deceased) British duchess married to a serial philanderer. This duchess, it seems, considered divorce a "bore," as well as - sniff - American. (Side note: why do upper-class British people find everything so tiresome? Or is that just on "Upstairs, Downstairs"?) And... I guess I'd be OK with "sophisticated" as a euphemism for that which is adult, that which only adults understand, and that which perplexes the simple, childlike bourgeoisie (of which I - someone who would have borrowed the DTMFA acronym if advising this woman - am probably a part), if it could just be used in a gender-neutral sense.
Monday, August 10, 2015
There was a time when I enjoyed buying clothes, and was good at it, and did it regularly enough that I was always well-dressed. Or maybe there wasn't. Like all golden ages, this is some mix of a conflation of several eras that really did exist, and a rose-colored revisionist history of that which really took place.
Sunday, August 02, 2015
There's a branch of feminist journalism that involves protesting insecurities that a great many women didn't know they were even supposed to have, thereby introducing new ones into the general population. Exhibit A: "thigh gap," an anxiety I first learned about through articles and blog posts about why women shouldn't be worrying about this. (And yes, how meta, this post is probably adding to the problem.)
Exhibit B: "resting bitch face." This one I had heard of, and that had registered enough that I'd thought, heh, that's me! It seemed like - as Dan Savage might say - a superpower. Yes, it means getting told to smile for years on end, but it probably deflects a whole bunch of irritating interactions. But thanks to the Styles treatment, the idea has now been planted in my insufficiently-grinning head (and who knows how many others'!) that women who don't smile at strangers on the bus for the heck of it are perceived of as older/uglier/masculine, as versus simply... bitchy, which could also be interpreted as snooty or haughty, which, while not ideal, aren't synonyms of unattractive.
To be clear, I don't get the sense at all that the piece's author, Jessica Bennett, is advocating that women go out and get Botox (the cure, apparently). But again, it's this whole planting thing. While squeamishness/cheapness alone would keep me personally from going that route, this is so now going to be a thing, in a way that it probably wasn't and probably didn't need to be.
Saturday, July 25, 2015
When I first saw the thing in Vogue about how a Toronto neighborhood near where I live/the one where I live (unclear on borders) was the second-coolest in the world, after one in Tokyo, I was... unconvinced. I hadn't moved here yet, and didn't quite see how a handful of boutiques plus a coffee shop plus an American Apparel amounted to anything of global interest. Really, it was supposed to be cooler than all the ones in north Brooklyn?
Now I think I'm starting to understand. Today I walked west on Queen Street, and west, and west, through an underpass and west some more. And it stayed "cool" or hipster or whatever one might want to call it the entire way, probably longer as well, but at a certain point (here, to be specific) I just could not even, as the cool kids probably don't say in this context; bought myself an iced americano; and sat for a few tired-30-something minutes before back east. Hipster row just keeps on going: third-wave coffee shops, vintage shops, minimalist clothing boutiques, minimalist furniture boutiques, vintage furniture shops, hipsters-make-your-food cafés, bars where you can go see indie bands (if that's still a thing/still the name for it) play, and some galleries, and some gift/objet shops, and the next thing I knew it was just a blur of minimalist space with terrariums and pastel hair and all-black outfits and I just felt very, very old, and very much like someone who'd spent the last four years in Princeton, NJ, the last three of them going around by car.
Anyway, back to the question of second-coolestness: There is no equivalent of this in New York, none, and from my relatively limited experience of equivalent areas in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, none there either. Nor Montreal, now that I think of it. It just keeps going. And it doesn't change. It continues to be geared towards the same milieu, whatever it is, block after block after block. And it's not even just Queen Street! Dundas (parallel) and Ossington (perpendicular) continue along the same lines. So much cool. I don't know why, or how, or what to make of it, other than that Vogue wasn't kidding.
Friday, July 24, 2015
So I was on my way to buy garlic chives in Chinatown when I passed a store that had, in the window, a dress I'd seen on a woman on the streetcar. When I'd seen it on the woman in the streetcar, I remember thinking, hey, there's that fabulous dress (so similar to the dress) that was in the window of a wholesale store in Chinatown! Also that, seeing as it was on someone near the store in question, it was probably not strictly wholesale, as in, it could be mine. But I promptly forgot about it. Until there it was: that window, and that dress. A maxi dress, which isn't something I'd normally attempt, but this is the rare one that's actually proportioned for a woman my height. (Hemming is also potentially an option, but given that this, unlike The Dress, is sleeveless, maybe it works as is.) It is, if not as close an approximation as exists on this planet, as close as exists within a short walk of my apartment and in the $30 (CAD) range, for sure.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
When I started this blog, I was young. At 20, too old to be a runway model, but young all the same. Young, and in the grand scheme of things, a nobody. I had a column in my college paper, but no sense whatsoever of how to make it in the writing world off-campus, a world that, from what I could tell, seemed to require a mix of a trust fund to bolster unpaid internships and family connections to hire you into them. It just didn't seem worth the bother.
But I did enjoy writing, and would do so almost exclusively on WWPD. Whose audience, as best as I could guess, consisted of relatives; family friends curious about what someone they knew as a toddler was up to; ex-boyfriends curious about what someone they knew a few weeks/months/years ago was up to; and... that's about it. I remember being genuinely surprised when friends - friends! people I hung out with in real life! - would tell me they read my blog. It felt like writing into an abyss. I was very clear (note, again, the imagined audience) that I wasn't going to write anything all that confessional, so I wasn't opening myself up to the sort of thing where suddenly a future employer knows that you, I don't know, who even knows what I would have had to confess at 20, but it probably wouldn't have been all that interesting.
But here's where the abyss sense did enter into it: There are things I wrote earlier - and have sometimes found myself considering writing but deciding against more recently - that come pretty directly out of that sense I had that anything properly published was fair game for a wrong-on-the-internet. I remember mocking a NYT health column in a way that I can't see doing today. Not because I read the column any differently, and not because I've grown wary of criticizing lifestyle writing that I think is actually doing something harmful. (Such as, food writers advocating for unattainable locavore purity.) Just because I had no grievance with the column other than finding it smug.
Part of what's changed is that, having published articles myself, I've come to learn that those who do are not all-powerful entities immune to criticism, living it up on the cash their musings receive. I mean, some may be, but the fact that a thing has appeared in a place far from guarantees it. But the bigger issue is that I now have a different sense of where I fit into this system. That I'm not by definition - brace yourselves for the dreaded expression - punching up if I respond to something that's been published in a legit publication. Certainly not if I respond to it in a legit publication.
Which brings me to Mary Elizabeth Williams's Salon piece about Gawker, found via Noah Berlatsky. What Williams describes happening to her - Gawker repeatedly called her (published) writing hack-like, during a time when she was suffering from a serious form of cancer - is of a different nature than those other Gawker posts that involve revealing a random person's secrets, or teasing someone who put something hilarious on social media that they hadn't particularly meant for the world to see. Some of WIlliams's beef with Gawker - "They went full fury over a friend who wrote a lighthearted Styles piece" - seems a bit... I mean, that is so many miles away from, say, outing someone.
Hamilton Nolan, the Gawker writer in question, is standing his ground. Which... technically yes, published means fair game. If the line were simply set there - no more random "outings," no more combing social media for obliviousness - that would be progress, and putting a firm line anywhere beyond that does seem, as Nolan says, like a bad idea. But maybe the missing piece here isn't one of ethics, just one of good taste, or good sense.
Monday, July 20, 2015
Predictably, the Internet is denouncing Jessica Valenti's column about her feminist qualms with missing getting catcalled. Predictably, because for the tell-it-like-it-is pop-evo-psych crowd, it's too easy: Aha!, they exclaim, Women do like getting catcalled! And extra-aha, even professional feminists realize 36 is over the hill!
But allow me, a woman who will - knock on wood against streetcar derailment - see my mid-30s sooner rather than later, to come to the piece's defense. Online feminism has long tilted maybe a bit too much to a very specific plight: that of the pretty young woman. I'm not talking about issues like assault and domestic violence, whose disproportionate impact is on women, period. Nor am I talking about the sort of street harassment that's about intimidation (generally of young girls). When I, someone to whom the 'if you look 25 or under, you'll be carded' signs don't apply, opt not to go deep into a city park at night, this despite that being my country dog's preferred toilet, it's not because I'm concerned that someone in the park will find me spectacularly good-looking.
What I'm referring to are cases like... the plight that is getting ogled and hit on constantly even though you're engaged. This is quite simply not an issue for all women.* I point this out not to hurl a YPIS (your privilege is showing) at online feminism (it's awfully contextual whether male attention is even "privilege"), but because of the "all women" meme, hashtag, etc., that's developed around these topics. As comes through clearly in the comments threat to that post, quite a few women get why constant attention would be annoying, but who haven't been harassed and can't personally relate, and aren't entirely pleased that this isn't something they experience. (And then there are the women with "resting bitch face," who fall somewhere in between; we're the ones who know our day is up when men stop asking us to smile.)
So yes, there is some value in an online feminism that recognizes female ambivalence to male street-attention. Is this, as topics go, a little slow-news-day? Yes. Might Valenti have pointed out that "lascivious stares" can be an ego boost to those of all genders, and, at that, even if the admirers aren't of the gender you yourself admire? Yes, that too, but the fact that she did not doesn't negate the rest.
Anyway, something I've found, as I've become moderately ancient, is that my personal style has shifted more towards looks that are... conventionally attractive? flattering?, and away from more eccentric styles. Not for would-be street harassers, who I'm quite confident won't confuse me with Gisele no matter how I dress or do my hair. Just for, I don't know, what was referred to, in my distant childhood, as "self-esteem." It's as if I have some subconscious desire to balance things out - whereas I used to be able to rely on youth as an accessory, and to wear (or buy with intent to wear**) sillier outfits, not to deflect the Male Gaze, but because I liked the looks, I now think, hmm, that dress from the cool Korean store may be $29 (CAD), and have a floral, Elaine Benes quality, but it also fits like a potato sack... and then end up down the street at the yoga store that shall not be named (cheaper in Canada, but still not cheap), where I instead buy a fitted tank top. Not an adventurous choice or an interesting one, but it has the potential to make me look, if nothing else, non-sloppy. And (not to get too practical, weather- and appropriateness-wise) to be worn as a base layer under other things. It's not a mutton-dressed-as-lamb (to use an awful expression) thing, exactly, since neither the Before look nor the After one is particularly va-va-voom. It's just... the dress was so fun! And so clearly not the right choice. To me, this - more than the absence of street harassers/street admirers - is the real disappointment.
*OK, a caveat - according to BBC Woman's Hour, which I take as infallible, "100%" of women who ride the Paris Metro report harassment, which, having spent the summer when I started getting called ma'am/madame in Paris and deflecting street harassment beyond what I'd experienced in New York since my early teens, I don't find particularly hard to believe. A lot does come down to where you live, and my anecdotal (and thus probably way off) impression is that in Paris/France/Europe/not-America (and fictional Midsomer, especially), women of a certain age keep on getting attention from men, of the good-attention and bad-attention varieties.
**It's entirely possible that these clothing-related reflections are actually more about some recent KonMari-ing of my wardrobe, and the reckoning that can encourage. That dress had "going, barely worn, to thrift store" written all over it.
Monday, July 06, 2015
-It's a very good thing that the Dollarama (a store that sells absolutely everything, for usually just over a dollar; extra useful if you've just moved) is next to the expensive but excellent coffee place. Or, perhaps, that the expensive but excellent coffee place is next to the Dollarama.
-It took me longer than it should have to realize that a corner of the University of Toronto campus was dressed up as the Upper East Side for a movie, and not just oddly New York-themed. There were "schoolchildren" in "uniforms" and everything. As someone whose dreams are very often still set in that neighborhood, at one of its private elementary schools, if this is going to be a regular thing in this city, I'm going to be very, very disoriented.
-The problem with cities - or maybe the great thing about them - is that there are distractions. On an otherwise strictly practical outing this morning, I somehow ended up stopping one place for a hipster-bakery cream puff (which wasn't great; next time will stick with the Portuguese custard tarts) and another to impulse-buy some camembert. And now I'm thinking, I could eat lunch at home, and almost certainly will, but I could also, in principle, go to any number of Chinatown hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Some of which serve dumplings. Of course, there are also the street sausage stands, one of which I may just happen to pass while walking Bisou... In my tepid defense, it's not just that walking allows for more spontaneity (for me) than driving. It's also that, if you're walking all day long, you get a lot hungrier. While the goth-minimalist Canadian clothes are also kind of interesting, this is, thus far, mainly about food.
Saturday, July 04, 2015
I love where I live. Everything about it. Everything I'd ever want to do (or, ahem, eat) is within walking distance, tram distance at most. As anyone tethered, in whichever way, to the academic job market knows, you move where you move. That it turns out to be amazing where we've landed is, well, amazing. It seems like a vacation-destination city, and I can't believe I actually live here. Probably not for people who don't like cities, or the cold, but as someone who actively sought out college in Chicago, these are not my concerns.
Moving itself, however? Slightly less fabulous. There was (and still is) a bunch of new-country bureaucratic stuff to address, but all expected, and if you hum to yourself about how you're off to see the prime minister, the prime minister of Canada while waiting on line at Service Ontario, it can go quite smoothly.
No, the complicated thing has been the actual moving of stuff - some from our last place, and some from the Ikea where we'd done a spot of very elegant shopping last weekend. Our building has - understandably - limits on when such deliveries can happen. Also understandable - entities like movers and Ikea have their own restrictions. I think you can see where this is heading. After a week's worth of phone pleading with various powers-that-be, I'd started to kind of despair, and then to reconcile myself to a future in which "furniture" would be limited to two folding chairs and an air mattress.
That everything eventually lined up - that is, that everything actually arrived within the prearranged time blocks we'd signed up for in our building - still seems like a miracle. I mean, that I'm typing this using a table is just the very height of decadence. When I'd thought before, in the abstract, about life beyond the furnished apartment, I'd thought in terms of decor choices. Now I truly can't imagine caring. As long as whatever we've got enough surface area to store the entire contents of several Chinatown grocery stores plus the St. Lawrence Market, this works.
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Hello again my many Weblog-readers. It's been a bit of a haze, but I'm now settled-ish in Toronto. There were just a few small practical matters to sort out immediately - dozens of international-move-related bureaucratic details (a work still in progress, thus my near-unusable US phone), plus the thing that happens when you move from a furnished apartment to an unfurnished one (a halfhearted look at nearby furniture stores that sell slabs of wood for thousands of dollars, followed by the inevitable trip to IKEA). Still awaiting the furniture itself (the couch, bed, etc. may be in stackable boxes, but this was beyond what a streetcar could handle) as well as all our other belongings, but there was a silver-lining moment when I realized that a suitcase we'd brought that I thought contained only paperwork and my wedding dress actually had, in addition to this, a second pair of jeans. The height of luxe! Also very luxurious: the Canadian Tire air mattress (thank you, commenter Alison for the suggestion!), and the IKEA pillow and throw that have made it almost comfortable. And wireless - a new addition that, along with the folding chairs from yesterday, has made this all slightly less like camping.
Like Borat at an American supermarket, I have no idea how to buy groceries. Milk is incredibly expensive, or it comes in a giant plastic bag. There's apparently a YouTube video explaining how that works. Which I did not know when at the store. Garlic scapes, however, are ridiculously cheap, so I now have a ton of them. The options seem to be a) the expensive yuppie supermarket close by, b) the dream-come-true Chinatown supermarket close-ish by that may or may not stock Western-style groceries, and c) the farmers' market and giant indoor affiliated market, both of which are wonderful but out of the way. I have a lot of romantic notions about European-style browse-shopping (with a fabric shopping cart, which currently tops my wanty list), but can already foresee not having time for that, and having to accept that the supermarket with $17 (Canadian but still) moderate-sized pieces of cheese can't be avoided entirely.
The restaurant situation, however, is so excellent as to make me think maybe cooking isn't worth the bother. For the price of a thimble-full of Canadian milk or a shred of Canadian parmesan cheese (I exaggerate; it's not Princeton prices but would still add up eventually), you can have a two-meal-sized portion of any East Asian cuisine you choose. (I exaggerate once more. I'm sure there are parts of the region not represented. Maybe.) So far there has been Korean food, Vietnamese food, and a regional Chinese cuisine (Yunnan) that I don't believe I'd ever had before. Restaurants and grocery stores of the sort I used to drive for hours (or it felt like hours) to get to are now more or less right downstairs. Japanese food... is around, but seems not as common here, for obvious immigrant-population reasons, but there is a Japanese grocery store, which is more than I can say for the many miles around where I used to live. That will probably come in handy once there's more than a saucepan and a stack of disposable plates to work with. And coffee shops! So many, so far all excellent. And there are Portuguese (?) custard tarts that taste just like French flan, which segues into another observation: there's no easy place to go running. So be it! Oh, and the meal I've taken to calling "street sausages," but that's probably called something more appetizing. The veggie dog with hot peppers, BBQ sauce, onions, and mustard is just so fantastic, and so cheap, and basically everywhere.
As for more profound cultural observations, or just things that don't relate to the practicalities of getting through the first few days of a move... I want to say that Canadians are less preppy than Americans, but I'm comparing the center of Toronto with Princeton, NJ, so who knows. There are definitely some Canada-specific fashion subcultures that remind me of the goth and raver looks popular at my high school, but kind of different and worn by adults. Wearing all black, in the not-quite-goth sense, is a thing here in a way that it isn't in New York, where it's supposedly what one does. Men's fashions are more noticeably Canadian than women's - there isn't that same thing (again, at least in the parts of Toronto I've seen) of dressing as macho/unfashionable as possible. The typical men's business suit is sort of fitted, I guess, and there isn't that same gender divide of women caring and men ostentatiously not caring. As you can see, my profound cultural observations are all about clothes. I am very, very sleepy. Apart from a man almost running me over at an intersection, but putting down his car window to offer up a "sorry," it seems... different yet almost exactly the same as the parts of North America I'm used to. And absolutely nothing like Montreal, which had been my reference point for Canada.
I gather that a lot has happened in the world in the past few days, and will now catch up on that, for personal-interest and professional reasons alike. Please, reader(s), bear with me as I try to resync with the news cycle.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Greetings from Day # who even knows at this point of moving to Canada. A variety of steps are involved, considering that a) it's another country, and b) the move involves flying with a dog. There's also the slight possibility we'll arrive two weeks before our mattress does, and the question of where to buy an air mattress in Toronto is surprisingly un-Googleable.
But the main thing has been just sorting through all our... stuff. What sort of stuff? Every sort of stuff that we own for no obvious purpose, and clearly shouldn't move. For several uninteresting reasons, we brought over a ton the last time we moved, by which I mean, the usual sorting-through of knick-knacks, papers, and stained t-shirts happened, but not sufficiently. And then there was the brief blip of living in (what seems to me to be) an enormous apartment. The last week or so has been spent figuring out where or how to recycle or donate, whom to give or sell, all manner of stuff. (Word to the wise: Staples of all places will take your broken blender, whereas a long-since-unused microwave needs to go on a special day to the county dump.)
It's not so much that we were keeping things for sentimental purposes (well, some) as that the huge apartment meant not having to make a decision about anything either way. Not sure what to do with whichever thing? The study! The study was always the answer, and thus not especially useful for... study. It discreetly kept the broken hair iron, the broken blender, the broken cellphone, and so much more. But the rest of the apartment always looked reasonable.
In any case, there's no The Study where we're moving to, which is probably for the best. As someone who defies the laws of human nature by feeling calmer in a busy city and more comfortable in a small apartment, I'm happy with this development. As for the one really unwieldy bit of stuff - the car - that I'd thought I'd be sad to part with, but as the day of carlessness approaches, I'm actually quite OK with it. The lower danger of stuff-accumulation is just a side benefit.
Cue the discussion, I suppose, of KonMari, of snobbish minimalism, and of the fact that too much stuff is (if that's even still a thing) a first-world problem. It means some combination of that you have/once had disposable income, or people with disposable income who care enough about you to give you gifts. Except in the age of cheap crap and credit cards, it doesn't necessarily mean anything of the kind. I mean, always a little bit. To be swimming in a sea of broken appliances and old newspapers, you probably once had working appliances and that day's newspaper. But if you are (ahem) a woman with oh so many pairs of shoes, of which most turn out to be unwearably worn-out ballet flats, loafers, and others that wouldn't be repairable even if shoe repair were a thing where you lived, you sort of do and don't actually own a lot of shoes.
Too-much-stuff seems like such a non-problem, and yet even if it's objectively not the biggest thing you've ever had to deal with, it's daunting. There was this sort of streamlining, out-with-the-old satisfaction getting me through the first few rounds of this, but you can only Google 'how to dispose of...' so many times before you start thinking those people whose only kitchen implements are a knife and a saucepan have the right idea.
What I'm saying, I suppose, is that there's a paring-down that isn't quite at the level of throwing out everything that doesn't "spark joy," but that does involve tossing some things that aren't necessarily garbage.
But still there is guilt. There is frozen mango that's going in the trash, as well as more nearly-full spice containers than I care to discuss. (I'm sure I had a reason for buying marjoram however many years ago, but I now couldn't even begin to guess what it tastes like.) After a truly vile pantry use-up lunch yesterday, a "soup" of sorts that may have ended up wasting more fresh ingredients than properly using up pantry ones, I've come to terms with the fact that moving to another country means the time does eventually come to stop agonizing and start just throwing things out.
Tuesday, June 09, 2015
And not all writing needs to meet social-science standards. If someone wants to write a book about why she thinks it's a terrible thing that Upper East Side women work out all the time (note: definitely not what I'm writing a book about), I guess I'm OK with their not having actually measured a statistically significant sample of the population in question with calipers. Indeed, sometimes the quasi-necessity of including statistics in an otherwise personal or subjective essay ends up ruining the flow and turning something never meant as an Argument into an unconvincing, biased polemic.
Friday, June 05, 2015
Going away for two, but what ended up being more like three, weeks set me behind in the various controversies. Catching up, kind of, but also trying to write-and-move, so it's not the very first priority. In case anyone was wondering where I stand on the issue of the day: Yes, it's brave of Caitlyn Jenner to come out. Yes, she looks great. Yes, it's unfortunate that this is demanded of her. True, few trans women (or, indeed, cis women) have access to her resources in the beautification department. No, she should't be blamed for using said resources. Yes, she's a both a trailblazer and a self-promoting celebrity. No, there are no new angles on this.
Except... all of this does kind of connect to something I'd wanted to write about earlier, regarding Sarah Maslin Nir's two-part series on the horrible conditions behind the scenes at NY nail salons. Atrocious, illegal wages, combined with dangerous working conditions, with some racism in the mix. Amazing reporting (and the translations - brilliant!), but plenty upsetting to read. The series is, happily, making an impact beyond simply causing the well-manicured to experience a twinge of guilt for a week or so, until their polish chips and they've by that point moved on to some other issue.
When a similar (if less persuasive) piece about nail salons appeared in the British press, I'd responded here, wondering, among other things, why these stories must always lead people to conclude that the problem is beautification, or conventional femininity, and not specific health concerns or labor violations.
This came up again in Leonard Lopate's interview with Monona Rossol, who came on to explain that all personal-care products are toxic. Nail polish especially. If you're buying the ones free of specific toxic chemicals, you're actually exposing yourself to even more dangerous untested chemicals. How dangerous, if you're using it at home, near an open window, every week or so? More dangerous than it would be to not use it, which is a non-zero amount, and is nail polish really necessary? Dan Savage has this line about how, when it comes to sex, people often view zero risk as the only acceptable amount, whereas these same people are just fine with skiing, driving, etc. Well, so too with beauty. Conventional femininity is simply unacceptable, and is therefore an inconceivable reason to go to any kind of risk - any kind of trouble, even. Even if salon workers in no way enter into it.
Anyway, where this relates to Caitlyn Jenner is that I'd long thought that progressives kind of got it when transwomen (or gender-non-conforming boys/men) embraced conventional femininity, but were squicked out when cis* girls/women did so, because what possible reason could there be for this apart from submission to the patriarchy/the beauty industry. Not so! It's apparently a problem (see: the entire internet) that Jenner's preferred version of womanhood for a magazine cover is different from how an avant-garde poet might look while grocery shopping at Zabars. What amount of conventional femininity would have been acceptable? Eyeliner? But a woman not in eyeliner is still a woman, so why expose yourself to toxic eyeliner chemicals and fund the rapacious eyeliner companies, when you could have just left your eyes unlined and still be every bit as female? Would it have been better if Jenner had presented looking just as she had prior to her transition, but come out with a bold statement about how what matters is that she identifies as a woman, and there's no set requirement for what a woman must look like?
But back to Lopate. Rossol included this digression about her own nails, which (the radio listener will have to trust) go unpainted. She then remarked, "You've got time to write books if you don't fix your nails!" And... if you do paint your nails, you don't?
Which, in turn, brings me to Lauren Maas's excellent Into The Gloss post about female artists and makeup. It's very much in keeping with the Susan Sontag shopped at Sephora news from a while back. It seems that it's possible to produce Great Work and not to present as masculine. Who knew?
Now, I'll provide the necessary caveat about how, if women didn't have to primp, we'd have more time for other things. That's not so far off. But this seems more relevant when it comes to things like dieting (which requires an every-waking-moment weight-think) than things like painting your nails.
Wednesday, June 03, 2015
-I'm writing a book! Living the bloggy dream! The official announcement is on Publishers Marketplace, which I don't have access to, but my name plus "perils of privilege" in a search will get you to it. It's about the idea of privilege. It's going to be fantastic.
-My husband and I are moving to Canada! Toronto, specifically. Sometime this summer, still sorting that out. Happy about this because, among other reasons, a) I will never, ever, ever need to drive (although I did my first-ever drive through a car wash today, and that was quite fun), and b) there will be a dog run and a Japanese kitchenware and grocery store within walking distance. (The only thing that will prevent me from doing too much shopping in the clothing stores that will suddenly be right there, and not in some mall I can't figure out how to park at, is their proximity to the kitchenware utopia. Priorities...) And, yes, a ton of cultural institutions, pastry shops, restaurants (although I can already see just returning again and again to my favorite). And the St. Lawrence Market, which is some sort of cheese-shop dream come true. Cold winters, yes, but Chicago was manageable.
Monday, May 25, 2015
More substantive posts to come, but in the mean time, here's what you're getting:
I know one shouldn't care about things like this. And normally, in my older-end-of-Millenial adulthood, I do not. But my hair looked awful the entire time I was in Norway. Which is, again, a stupid complaint - I was in Norway! In Scandinavia for the first time ever! It was gorgeous! There were fjords and mountain goats! But somehow appreciating the rest didn't stop me from caring about this.
And in fairness, my hair did look unusually terrible. What happened was, not checking bags plus packing light more generally meant that rather than the usual set-up (the right shampoo, conditioner, hair oil, and then, if feeling decadent, hair iron), I was using a "normal"-hair-oriented 2-in-1 that the CVS in town happened to have in travel-size; a very old container of Frizz-Ease, a product that for whatever reason stopped working for me a few years ago; and the occasional hotel blowdryer. Then, on top of that, there was the weather - the daily rain that would stop every so often, but there was always just enough mist that whatever smoothed-out or vaguely ringlet-ish situation I'd achieved (mid-century starlet waves, for the occasional fleeting moment) turned into frizz. And by frizz I don't mean curliness, kinkiness, or any other hair texture one might Embrace. I mean the classically middle-school result of using the wrong hair products for one's hair texture. The last time my hair had looked this terrible was probably when I was 12.
What didn't help matters was that the women of Norway didn't appear to have this problem. Around me, as my hair grew frizzier and frizzier, packs of Norwegians would pass by with long, glossy, hair-commercial hair. Because our society so often defines beauty as Scandinavian-looking-ness, I suppose, the percent of women who resembled supermodels beyond just hair was substantial. Or maybe just felt substantial, because I was so keenly aware that my own hair wasn't having its finest hour, and was selectively not noticing the women who weren't Uma Thurman to my Janeane Garofalo. That said, in Bergen there was this amazing poster I should have taken a picture of, in front of a hair salon, with a photo of the same young blonde model, a Before and an After. The Before showed her with long, straight Marcia Brady hair, and the After with a light-haired version of what my hair was looking like on the slightly-less-misty moments of the trip.
Monday, May 18, 2015
Hello from sunny-ish Norway! My husband and I decided to visit not-just-Belgium, and are making use of the fact that we'd already crossed the Atlantic to see a part of Europe neither of us yet had. We arrived in Bergen on the Norwegian national holiday, which was a bit of a concern because it just sounded like everything would be closed, but it turned out to be the best possible time, given that the entire town (aside from us and a few other tourists) was in traditional dress. A woman we met in our hotel lobby, a fellow guest who'd come for the big event, explained to us that everyone gets one of these outfits at confirmation (a Christian bar/bat mitzvah, I'm led to believe), and you wear the one from your mother's hometown. (What, I wonder, is the traditional dress of Brooklyn?) Men, meanwhile, were in these amazing felt (?) vests, shorts (?), knitted socks, everything incredibly involved. Outfits included special shoes. Everyone was waving a flag. Even the dogs had patriotic ribbons. According to the woman in the hotel, who is the ultimate authority as far as I'm concerned on all that was going on, Norwegians are nationalistic but not militaristic - a relief when all these young boys marched down the street bearing what looked like, but presumably weren't, arms.
Predictable observations: The fjords are beautiful - more so, even, than I would have guessed. The people are very, very blond - a man working at the tourist-oriented fish market asked us where we were from, guessing France, then, when we didn't respond, Italy and Spain - the obvious white-people-with-dark-hair assumptions in Europe, maybe, who knows. And everything is really, really, really expensive. A casual cafe sandwich or salad will be something like $25, anything in a restaurant-restaurant maybe $40, so what you have to do (unless you're paid in this currency, I suppose) is to shop at a supermarket... which is also expensive, so the thing to really do is purchase half the contents of a Belgian supermarket (packaged waffles, waffle cookies, chocolate, bread, and, less successfully, sliced cold cuts) for the price of one Norwegian cafe snack and just eat that for your entire trip.
Unpredictable, for me, was that Norway and Flanders aren't interchangeable. I'd just sort of assumed, being a provincial American, that Germanic-language-speaking Europe was all basically the same culture. It's hard to articulate exactly how these places are different, but it does seem they are. See also: New Jersey is not Texas. People do not march through my husband's hometown in Belgian traditional dress. There was once a thing where everyone in the main square was dressed as a circa-Liberation US soldiers, but that's something else entirely.
Belgium, meanwhile, did not have fjords, but did have family I hadn't seen in ages, as well as (as hinted at above) amazing food, coffee, and beer, the last of which they were (of course) giving out samples of at the supermarket. It was a new (?) beer called Waterloo, and the display included a life-size Napoleon cardboard cut-out with a space where you could put your face and pose for a photo which (of course) I did.
Sunday, May 03, 2015
There isn't that much to do in the part of NJ where I live, but today there sure was something - a dog show! With poodles! The toys were very early in the morning, so I didn't actually see them, and the miniatures were... one dog, which I suppose must have won that competition. But the standard poodles, my goodness! That was the show to see. (Photographic evidence in the usual place.) The dogs themselves were pretty spectacular, and then whoa, a celebrity poodle-handler! Westminster winner Kaz Hosaka was there, which maybe isn't all that surprising if he lives in Delaware, but watching him in action, it's clear he's some kind of poodle-handling genius, which, as someone who is not that, I find impressive.
The dachshunds were adorable, but I didn't get any good photos. The cutest of the bunch was a longhaired miniature black-and-cream that some woman was holding in one of the tents. How it rated in terms of breed standard, who knows. There were also very nice and fox-like shibas, but only in crates - didn't see them compete!
The show itself was part typical NJ-area fair (fried food and gyros), plus opportunities to buy exquisite grooming equipment, including something called a "competition table." It turns out you can bring your own non-show dog if you're just going as a spectator, which would have been good to realize, maybe, but Bisou would have probably found some way to break the concentration of her hairspray-coated counterparts.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Recently, a beer company you've almost certainly heard of, whose product you maybe last consumed at a frat party 1,000 years ago, had an ad campaign urging customers to use their beer to facilitate rape. Shockingly this didn't go down well - even the not usually outraged were all, what's that about? So the beer people apologized, leading me to theorize, on that great theorizing platform that is Twitter, that this was the marketing campaign - offend, cause controversy, apologize.
Maybe something similar was afoot when a newspaper you've almost certainly heard of decided to run an op-ed by someone identified in the headline as "Name-of-Sexy-Celebrity's Ex-Fiancé," about a beef between the two. This was a bad idea for so very many reasons (more on those in a moment), and the paper replied with a public editor's note about debate having been sparked, but with an admission that this was indeed celebrity dreck. That piece also allows comments. Given that the celebrity in question is among the few globally with a break-the-internet physique, her mere name is clickbait.
To be clear on what was wrong with this, it's first necessary to state what the problem was not. It wasn't that this venerable institution had chosen to cover something lowbrow. Yes, there are terrible things going on, globally and nationally, yet style coverage exists. As well it should - different sections serve different purposes. I've never understood the people who go to the fashion pages and leave comments complaining that they're not reading the front section.
No, the problems were a) publicizing a private dispute, b) giving one party only a platform, and c) choosing to intervene on a massively controversial topic through the lens of an absurdly biased observer. But mainly that first one. Did they consult the actress herself before running this? Has anyone in the history of op-eds ever come across worse in theirs as dude did in his? But there will always be sleazy, conniving people. Newspapers don't have to publish their grievances.
Because... what were they thinking with this? Was the idea to publish something in the mold of the Angelina Jolie cancer and genetics columns? As in, Big Issues, Big Celebrity? Because those were completely different - admirable, useful, and not about an interpersonal spat which many of us (including some of us who do read the occasional bit of dreck) had not heard of previously. That someone's in the public eye doesn't mean their relatives get to put their ongoing family drama in a newspaper.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
-On Baltimore, you'll want to read Ta-Nehisi Coates and Elizabeth Nolan Brown.
-Is Stella McCartney showing the world that she wears Stella McCartney going to help garment workers in the developing world? Does showing proudly that one's Burberry coat was made in England aid some noble cause? Installment who even knows at this point of ethical fashion as an excuse to promote designer shopping.
-Can a massacre be a "narrative"? Does it matter if not all the "white" victims were actually white?
-What exactly makes Jason Brennan think underpaid adjuncts aren't already trying in vain to get jobs at Geico?
-And finally, in the area of dream interpretation, the alarm this morning interrupted one I was having about a discount on $18 nail polish. Specific $18 nail polish that is not, in fact, on sale, and that I'd admired recently at ABC Carpet, the eco-posh Sephora alternative that one should never enter if one is not prepared to discover a new and useless product of any kind.
How to interpret? 1) My unconscious is very basic. 2) If you look up a product online, ads for it cover everything else you look at online. Facebook is just now reminding me that this nail polish ships free from Nordstrom. Because I'm suggestible, that nail polish is already on the list, as the reward for once I've Marie Kondo'd my stuff from the study.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
I don't believe I'd ever seen a dig at a specific publication in a different publication's submission guidelines page before, but hey, what do you know? The New Rambler Review does look interesting, though, and smart people I know and don't know are involved, so I won't hold this against them. (Their statement about not paying contributors, that I might, but maybe it's an academic publication? Kind of?)
From that same submissions pages, I learned the following: "The New Rambler Review publishes reviews of serious books about ideas, including literary fiction." This means that they probably wouldn't be interested in my (Miss Self-Important-inspired) review of British crime shows available for Netflix streaming. Well, not so much a review as a downward spiral:
-"Last Tango in Halifax." Excellent highbrow (who am I kidding) soap opera, with a crime backstory, but mainly a lot of technically legal bad behavior. Two easy-on-the-eyes actors. A fantasy world depicted, in which middle-aged women have their pick of good-looking, often-younger men and women. A show I was genuinely sad to have reached the end of.
-"Happy Valley." More from the excellent Sally Wainwright and Sarah Lancashire. So much heroin in picturesque England, who knew? People in England, probably. There was recently a news story in Princeton about someone ODing on a bench in town, so it really does seem to be everywhere. Apart from that, the thing to know about it (or not, if this ruins it) is that it's basically "Fargo."
-"Broadchurch." Weird twist of an ending I hadn't seen coming, but otherwise not memorable. I must have enjoyed watching it enough to finish it, though.
-"The Fall." Starring the woman from "X-Files" (which I don't think I've ever seen) and the male model from "Fifty Shades of Grey" (which I also haven't seen). There are think-pieces about whether or not it's feminist - does the often gratuitous centrality of Mr. Abs's torso cancel out the serial-killer-of-professional-women plot? Discuss, or just watch the abs, and listen to the cool Irish accents. I like how they say the word "why"?
-"Hinterland." Accents posed a challenge. Star was too brooding. But having recently read some (literary) fiction set in Wales, and having once reviewed a book for a Wales-based journal (which I think involved sending a copyright form to Wales?), and having once learned how to order coffee in Welsh from an office-mate, I enjoyed the virtual trip to that part of the world.
-"Midsomer Murders." Evidently big in (early-2000s) Belgium. Not particularly striving for realism. (Candlesticks as murder weapons!) Was going to praise it for progressive-for-its-time gender politics, but it's actually not an old show. But whatever it is, I'm enjoying it.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
On the one hand, the most extreme example of parental overshare yet is in the NYT Magazine. On the other, pointing this out in an article would require linking to nude images of her children, and not just the long essay in which she defends her choice, so I think I'll pass. WWPD and no links is my compromise.
Anyway, the point of the essay in question is basically that what she's created is Art, and that her kids consented (impossible - they were children, and *her* children). But then if you question this at all, it's clearly that you're either a puritan who thinks babies should emerge from the uterus in full Amish/Hasidic/pious Muslim garb (how's that for a mix-religious metaphor), or - worse - one of those people who judges parents. She loves her children! Which... that's not even the question. It's entirely possible to love your children and to do make a very public ethical-though-not-professional mistake in your parenting, namely choosing to use your kids as your own nude models.
But the nudity's... not necessarily the least of it, but not all of it. There are also photographed having tantrums, etc. The text (especially the "pinworms" bit - why???) actually upset me far more than the images - images I wouldn't have otherwise realized were by these kids' parent, and that indeed don't seem particularly sexual. As in, if I were a guest at someone's house and their kids were running around like this, I'd probably think these were hippies, not child abusers.* The whole but-what-about-pedophiles?! angle seems like a bit of a distraction (although not completely, as the article gets into). A series of just photos like the one of a (clothed) child refusing to eat flounder would have also squicked me out, but again, for the usual parental-overshare reasons (giving kids lifelong reputations as brats; screwing up the parent-child relationship).
To me this is at least as much about these being her own kids as about them being children. She seems genuinely not to have put it together that just because the kids had the expectation of privacy when running around naked *at home* doesn't mean that photographs of them doing so wouldn't cancel that out. The issue is less the nudity specifically (although, yes, that) than the fact that the only reason she had access to the means to taking these photos was that these are her kids.
It's interesting that in the linked 1992 NYT article on this, so many years before viral articles and so forth, a journalist totally got it: "Can young children freely give their consent for controversial portraits, even if — especially if — the artist is their parent?" Also interesting: that it's only possible to have a conversation about the ethics of oversharing about kids if the specter of pedophiles is evoked in some way. Why can't the flounder photo have been enough?
*I love how, in the NYT comments, "Europe" is this place where everyone's naked.
Saturday, April 11, 2015
When I read that a Bon Marché-type French food hall would be coming to lower Manhattan, I was (I, ahem, may have mentioned this on Facebook), torn. Part of me was like, where was this I lived in Battery Park City? Another part of me thought this sounded like some bizarre, Vegas-style recreation of Paris, as well as the final step in a finance-ification of what is, yes, the Financial District, but still. It's an area I knew quite well before 9/11, given its proximity to my high school; avoided (for obvious reasons) for a while after; then ended up living in through one of those flukes of New York real estate where affordable-for-grad-students apartments pop up in unexpected locales.
Because of course, Le District is located exactly where there used to be that sneaker store that gave discounts to bankers. Those were, it turns out, the relatively simple days. In the time since I was there last - which was maybe last summer? - the rest of the Financial Center mall became super-high-end. No more Banana Republic, Starbucks, and Ciao Bella. (It was never exactly shabby.) Now it's Hermes, Gucci, and others of that ilk. The relatively-accessible options are (another "of course") J.Crew and Lululemon. Lululemon had a woman - as in, a real woman - stretching in the display window. When I say "a real woman," I don't mean in the sense in which "real" is used to distinguish regular women from those who are or resemble models.
Le District itself is, apart from a really nice cheese shop tucked away within, kind of a mess. I'd been expecting a market (and a companion who shall remain nameless had been expecting a chocolate mousse bar), but these things don't seem to have opened yet. Existing dessert items were a bit all over the place price- and quality-wise. (A chocolate mousse cake was something like $3 and apparently really good; a Liège waffle was $5 and... not.) The main thing about the place was how polished-and-finance the people there looked. Even by new New York standards. It didn't help that I was still in my I-work-from-home clothes, featuring gingham flannel. (Heritage-chic? Pajamas? You be the judge.) The place seemed to be an after-work finance-sort hangout. Which, fine, but then maybe it wasn't quite the NJ-Transit-worthy replica-of-Paris destination I'd imagined it would be.
But despite all the intimidating spiffiness, the prices themselves weren't all that high. Or maybe they were, but I was expecting them to be so much higher. We ended up having kind of a big meal unintentionally - an attempt at getting a post-dessert-as-dinner snack at a wine bar (the more casual of the two dinner options) led to a variety of service mishaps (not 'the waiter didn't smile' - more like we didn't get our food, then saw the fur-coat-wearing woman next to us who'd arrived later receiving part of our order), which we didn't actually complain about, but a waiter who eventually asked about our order felt bad about this, and suddenly appeared with extra food on the house. That, plus the (large, and also unsolicited) cheese samples the cheese place was handing out meant this was arguably one of the most affordable feasts in New York, although, again, for reasons unlikely to replicate themselves.
Will I return? Perhaps - it's trip into the city that doesn't involve Penn Station, or even going outside. (NJ Transit to Newark, then the PATH, leading to an underpass, then there it is.) But seeing as they also sell cheese in New Jersey, I can't imagine I'll be heading back any time soon.
Friday, March 27, 2015
I've written a bunch of articles this week for The New Republic. Please read them!
This is a big deal because one of the reasons he promotes monogamish for straights is as a way to have couples stay together for the sake of the kids, even if doing so means having a companionate marriage and a piece (or several pieces) on the side. But the fact that someone isn't a primary partner doesn't mean they can't, in turn, bring about a pregnancy. It's not, of course, that a child born to such an arrangement is doomed for life, but even by Savage's own framework, it's a non-optimal situation.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
In the interests of writing a coherent article, as versus a transcript of everything that goes through my head when thinking through one, I ended up not fully addressing David Brooks's "logical endpoint" argument in my piece about his op-ed. While the "logical endpoint" of all bigotries is violence, it's true that that of anti-Semitism is genocide (what with the Holocaust), while that of anti-black racism is enslavement (what with slavery), and that of sexism, the subjugation of women. In this sense, anti-Semitism is different in that, at its most extreme, it's about wanting everyone of the group in question dead.
But "logical endpoint" arguments are only of limited use. While they get at something (and here's where I get fuzzy) about the psychological underpinnings of different bigotries, they don't tell us anything, for instance, about how much violence any particular group is actually dealing with at any given time. And dwelling on worst-case-scenario anti-Semitism has the inevitable effect of leading people to dismiss instances that fall short of Hitlerian.
Monday, March 23, 2015
-Is there a "safe spaces" epidemic on campus? I'm skeptical.
Because I spoke up, my son got effective treatment and is now back in a mainstream school with friends who are totally fine with his bipolar disorder. In fact, they—and I—admire his self-advocacy and think he is brave for speaking out and sharing his story. We were also able to connect to an amazing community of mental health advocates. No one has ever approached us in the grocery store and said, “I know who you are. You’re that mom and kid who talked about mental illness after Newtown. You are horrible people.” It doesn’t work that way.What she doesn't say is why it was necessary for her to speak up to such a wide audience in order to get this help. If silence and stigma are preventing you from reaching out... to doctors, teachers, friends, family members, etc., about a concern along these lines, then that's a problem. What I'm having trouble picturing is at what point it becomes necessary to reach out to the world at large.
And she also doesn't seem to grasp the harm people are worried about. It's not necessarily about being shamed at the supermarket. (Note that her theoretical example involves her being harmed, not her son.) It's about her son perhaps one day wanting to enter whichever social, romantic, or professional setting as someone whose full medical history isn't easily Googleable. There are a lot of facts about just about any of us - not just illness, certainly not just mental illness - that we have no reason to be ashamed of, but that might not want to lead with. Parental overshare doesn't leave these children with the choice.
Saturday, March 21, 2015
I'm not sure if this even counts as a YPIS cycle, because it's just so ridiculous, but here goes: a Jezebel-affiliated piece takes down an xoJane personal essay about tipping, one introduced with the heading - all-caps - "UNPOPULAR OPINION." The essay is by-and-about a young woman who refuses to tip. (For maximum future author-shaming, it includes a photo of the author, in a restaurant. Because a really great thing to do is to proudly declare your aversion to tipping with an accompanying photo.) The Jezebel "Kitchenette" post is about why people who don't tip are assholes. So far, so predictable. But! The xoJane author a) lives somewhere where there isn't a lower minimum wage for tipped workers, and b) is a retail worker making minimum wage. These details combined do kind of cut against the idea that this opponent of tipping is some rich lady oblivious to the plight of low-income workers.
But how can an anti-tipping piece go without a YPIS critique? What the Jezebel affiliate comes up with:
I'm going to put this as plainly as possible: restaurant jobs are harder than retail jobs. I know it hurts to hear that, but it's true. Sorry, Sarah; your lot is not the harshest one, and you are far from the special snowflake you see in yourself. You can resent the implication all you want, but I'm not implying, I'm straight-up telling. Your job is easier than a job waiting tables, and if you'd ever worked in a restaurant, you'd damn well know that already.
I've worked multiple retail and multiple restaurant jobs — on average, there is absolutely no comparison of which one is more physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding, and it's not even particularly close. Do you get breaks at your job? Generally-speaking, do you have regular hours? Is your pay directly dependent on your ability to put up with harassment and abuse from customers (not should it; is it)? Oh, you do, you do, and it isn't? Kindly have a seat, please.Take that, minimum-wage retail worker! How dare you be so stingy with your tips, what with the pile of gold that Old Navy or whatever is surely paying you, except that you're getting minimum wage, but... yeah. It would seem that if restaurant and retail workers get at least minimum wage in a certain locale, but only the former also get tips, servers are if nothing else getting paid more. But no! Here's this pampered, princess, minimum-wage retail worker, paid no doubt a ton to write an essay for xoJane (#sarcasm), and where there is privilege, it must, of course, be checked.
Friday, March 20, 2015
I was listening to an old DoubleX podcast earlier, and learned that I'm many news cycles late to an interesting conversation about drag and minstrelsy. Is drag akin to blackface? This is, admittedly, something I'd wondered about before, not enough to be offended by drag, but enough so to Google the comparison, and find that this is an ongoing debate. But this latest discussion began when Mary Cheney, daughter of the charming Dick, made the comparison on Facebook.
The Internet responded with a great big how dare you, as if Cheney had made a gaffe betraying ignorance of gay culture (gay male culture, that is), and not... raised a reasonable question. In eras when taking offense at entertainment wasn't as common as it is today, things were more anything-goes in that department. Today, performers are taken to task for even relatively subtle forms of cultural appropriation. So yes, it is worth exploring why a genre that involves men dressing up like women for a laugh is celebrated. Even if that exploration leads to an assessment that no, drag isn't quite like blackface (which is - spoiler alert - where I end up), it's a question that ought to be asked. It's a shame that the person who asked it is this symbol of the Republican party, which gay people - men included, have good reason to be annoyed at.
Anyway, on this podcast, the guest brought in to explain the topic, drag performer Miz Cracker, had written a piece arguing - contrary to what further Googling tells me was the prevailing view at the time - that the question itself wasn't totally off-the-mark. But it wasn't clear, exactly, why. What does it matter that drag queens are caricatures of women, and not shooting for realism? Is/was blackface any different? And having a drag queen on is in a sense a guest expert, but also a way of answering a question upon asking it - obviously they wouldn't have had a blackface performer on to discuss why it is black people and their allies might find blackface offensive.
A few thoughts, whose profundity might have been greater had I not just spent three hours getting from NY to NJ:
-Drag and female impersonation pose similar but distinct concerns. With the latter, I think - perhaps because June Thomas mentioned Britain - of Monty Python. Straight (or, in one case, gay-but-not-out-to-audiences) men dressing as women, to comic effect. I remember hearing somewhere along the line that I was supposed to be offended, as a woman, by these performances. But I have trouble identifying with Terry Jones in a dress, and can easily put this into the same category as other comedy that I can recognize, in the abstract, is at my expense. I don't think women should feel obliged to be offended by female impersonation, but I also think telling women who are to get a sense of humor about it is very much akin to telling black people who aren't keen on blackface to do the same.
-The fundamental difference with drag - the reason it's a different conversation - is that the man is (always? usually? unless-otherwise-specified?) gay. And yet, a man all the same, and not a gender-non-conforming man, just a man - cisgender is, I believe, the term we're looking for. (Someone like Justin Vivian Bond - who's great, by the way - would be a different story, since Bond doesn't identify as male offstage, either.) Either drag is the gender equivalent of cultural appropriation, or it's a marginalized group poking fun at one with relatively a lot of power. And it's not that it couldn't be the latter. A drag queen risks hate-violence in a way that a white performer of blackface presumably wouldn't have, because there's some relationship between the femininity of the performance and the non-straightness (seems wrong, as a straight person, to write "queerness") of the performer.
-So the question comes down to whether gay men are more marginalized than straight, conventionally-feminine woman. I feel like Jamie Kirchick might have the answer, but I, for one, have no idea. It's possible for a gay man to be misogynistic, and a straight woman homophobic. This isn't something like "reverse racism" where one can just point to obvious power structures and say that discrimination's only possible in one direction.
-It could be, then, that drag is a way for gay men to punch up, as it were, at people who are able to live openly feminine, openly attracted-to-men lives in every society. Straight women have the advantage of being born into bodies/identities that allow them to be attracted to men without being ostracized, without having to come out. Consider that the classic act of straight female homophobia is the proverbial bachelorette party at a gay bar in a state without same-sex marriage. That, or the Sex and the City-inflected "my gay" phenomenon, where a gay man lives his romantic life vicariously through a female friend. It could be all of this, and a performance/the phenomenon could still feel like punching down by women in the audience.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
A certain coffee company has been in the news lately for encouraging discussions about race between baristas and customers. While this has inspired some thoughtful and interesting articles - see especially those by Conor Friedersdorf and Tressie McMillan Cottom - I've been reluctant to join the conversation, essentially because I keep coming back to the sense that this is a brilliant ad campaign. What could be wiser for a company that sells spaces where you can surf the internet than to launch a thousand think-pieces with its name and perhaps logo throughout?
But the story is interesting. For a conversation that was meant to be about race, it's quickly become one about class. About the labor baristas already must provide, and now there's this, but also - less obviously - about the class of the chain's typical customer. The 'bucks customer is thus - much like "middle-class" - an archetype that can mean just about anything. The old cliché - from long before McDonalds had started serving kale - was that lattes were for the rich. This still gets repeated - Ijeoma Oluo refers to the chain's customers as "people privileged enough to spend $5 a day on their coffee." Elsewhere one finds the implication that the $5 is a splurge for poor people. Chain coffee as fast food and all that. Because... clearly you don't need to be rich to sometimes spend $5 on breakfast, and with debt an option, doing so daily is even a possibility. Rich people are, by this estimation, either thriftily making their coffee at home or super-splurging on single-origin and third-wave made by hipsters who've been trained in the Barista Arts in Sydney or wherever. So perhaps the customers somewhere in the middle - the whole "basic" thing? Rich enough to spare the $5, but not upscale enough to make their way to Williamsburg, or to know that it's cool to avoid - rather than seek out - brands?
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
I keep going back and forth on these sandals:
-They might be more fabulous in brown, but they're only available in black.
-But they're actually maybe better in black? And they have this cool, south-of-France vibe, and for only $80!
-Actually, $80 is kind of a lot for glorified flip-flops.
-But they're so Gwyneth! So timeless!
-They're so impractical. It's not sandal weather, but even once it is, it's not sandal country. These are not poodle-walking sandals.
-But they'd be fine for, like, driving somewhere. (To the supermarket.)
-What makes you think they'd even fit? This is a place that charges $5 for returns!
-But free exchanges! And the t-shirts are definitely nice, so if an additional size doesn't work out...
-$80 worth of t-shirts?
-But... that leather belt from them is gorgeous, and similar!
-Do you ever wear that belt? Do you even know where you put it?
-But the thing with them is, they might sell out.
-This is a website that doesn't post reviews, and the Googled reviews seem to be PR-journalism written by people who've never so much as seen the sandals in person. (And are you sure those Facebook ads for the company aren't influencing your thinking?)
-Perhaps, but everything's advertised. Surely the day will come when some sandals are necessary.
-Yes, and when it does, the Naots from before grad school will do.
-No, actually, those have long since disintegrated and don't stay closed.
-Which doesn't change the fact that you don't need sandals.
-You make a good point, although I'm not entirely convinced.
First up, Philip Galanes, answering the following:
My daughter lost her wallet on her college campus. Someone returned it to the campus police. (With all of its contents!) But when my daughter picked it up, the officer berated her for having a fake ID. Her driver’s license was in plain sight, so there was no need to rummage through the wallet. He told her possessing a fake ID was a crime, but he wasn’t going to charge her. (Is he even an actual police officer?) Instead, he would report her to the dean, who may put her on probation. I think he was way out of line; she wasn’t using the ID. You?Galanes gets the essential right - the officer wasn't out of line. "[W]e’re not exactly talking about the march on Selma here." Indeed. It's not the job of police officers, campus or otherwise, to return illegal items to their rightful owners. I might have added an analogy - would you expect the campus police to return your lost cocaine, or whatever the kids are using these days*? No, you would not.
But Galanes also takes the opportunity to lecture the letter-writer on alcohol:
Of all the complexity surrounding the epidemic of campus sexual assault (for the “epidemic” angle, see the blunt new documentary “The Hunting Ground”; for the complexity, pick up anything by the brilliant scholar Catharine MacKinnon), one factor is really clear: booze. Rather than belittling the campus police, you should thank them. Underage drinking is not your daughter’s friend.This, just... so many issues here. The first and most obvious is that "booze" doesn't magically start having a different impact on the body at 21 than it did at 20, and plenty of college students are drinking not just moderately but legally. Or is the idea that women shouldn't drink during college? Another: the absence of a fake ID hardly means underage drinking isn't taking place. Again, lots of college students are 21 and over - the notion that there'd be separate parties for classmates above and below the legal drinking age is one of the many absurdities of having it fall smack dab in the middle of traditional-college-age.
But the big one, of course, is the one Galanes is getting taken to task for elsewhere - he suggests that a woman who drinks is asking to get raped. I'd push this further and emphasize that he isn't just saying that getting blackout drunk is dangerous. He's saying that consumption of a non-zero amount of alcohol by 18-20-year-old adult women invites rape. It seems clear to me why this would be iffy even to those who are OK with the Emily Yoffe-type arguments against passing out at parties. That the drinking age is as high as it is may well be contributing to the interrelated problems of binge drinking and campus rape. (Lest you think that's a pro-libertine, out-there position, here's Ross Douthat saying the same thing.)
I get that in an advice column, there's a need for a life lesson. But why couldn't it have been one about how college students and their families shouldn't think they're above the law? About certain parenting choices, even of adult children, that encourage entitlement? It's like he almost arrives at that conclusion, but gets sidetracked.
Anyway, back to Yoffe. Here's a recent Prudie letter about interracial dating:
I am a black woman for whom culture, race, and politics are very important and sometimes painful subjects. I love my partner of two years very much. He is a white man in his late 30s who has very little experience with these matters, and our differing views have caused many arguments. Now we avoid the subject of my culture completely, and it is killing me that he does not understand this important part of who I am. Occasionally he will make generalizations and comments that I find worrying or insulting. He is not a racist, merely ignorant—he thinks we are all one as humans and should not pay attention to differences. If the playing field were equal between all people, I would agree with him, but it is not. Except for this, he is a sweet and gentle man—intelligent, trustworthy, and a blessing in my life. I love him, but I feel I am betraying my politics and community. Mostly, I just want to talk—but I can see why he avoids it, with all the shouting that’s happened. Help.Yoffe, too, gets the essential correct - this guy is never going to know firsthand what it's like to be black, and if the obliviousness that's all but unavoidable in someone who hasn't personally experienced a certain form of bigotry (if, it sounds like, especially pronounced in dude) is a dealbreaker, the deal should be, well, broken. And what Yoffe says about the ability of someone who isn't Other in the same way you are to be "an oasis from the often troubling issues that you spend so much time on in the rest of your life" has more truth to it than some might want to admit. (To those who'd ask how I, a white person, could possibly know about such things, see the post below.) But there's also an aspect of this that comes up in all opposite-sex relationships - a man can never really get sexism (well, a man assigned male at birth, as the vast majority were), so the best a straight woman can generally hope for is a man who gets it when it's pointed out to him. Except... straight women are stuck dating men. This letter-writer is neither stuck dating white men nor stuck dating this white man.
Where Yoffe goes astray is in the last sentence: "Or you conclude having a partner who reflects your own views and experience is so central for you that you must let this good man go." It's there that she takes a stance that the letter-writer would be wrong to end the relationship for this reason. That's a man-shortage argument. (How much worse it is to make a man-shortage argument in reference to a black woman than to a woman whose race isn't specified I couldn't say.) Man-shortage arguments are ones that go like this: Men are so terribly hard to snag that if you've found one who doesn't beat you or drink away the paycheck, you should hang onto him for dear life. According to man-shortage theory, a woman should never dump/reject a man for reasons like, she's not attracted to him, she finds him boring, or - apparently - he holds incompatible views on a political issue with tremendous personal significance. Is this man "good"? It's advice-column cliché that a major complaint about a significant other will be accompanied by a disclaimer about how wonderful the person is. The disclaimer is there, but it doesn't sound as if she finds him all that wonderful.
*I'm trying to make sense of this article, a personal essay by a journalist, the takeaway of which is, as best as I can tell that she's simply too straight-edge (if that's still an expression) to properly report on campus drug use. Since when are journalists bragging about being too squeaky-clean for investigative reporting? Since when are newspapers encouraging journalists to confess to ineptitude? Why would you need to have used drugs to write about those who do? Why do readers need to know either way about a journalist's past drug use? And why the hedging about having never "really" been offered drugs in college? Is the issue that the author is - thank you, Google - a Kennedy, one of JFK's grandchildren, and thus someone born with a reputation to protect? (If nothing else, should that biographical detail make me feel better about having not been offered cool reporting assignments at 24 by any major publications?)