Friday, January 30, 2015

"Nuts, how many in one serving?"

Elle addresses a topic new to women's magazines: what is it, exactly, that's "making us all fat"? Who exactly is meant by this first-person-plural isn't clear - the accompanying photos (of models, of the author) show slender women. Are we really all fat? In womensmagazineland (and Elle is usually the best of the bunch!), yes, we really are all fat. All of us are works in progress, in need of some kind of cleanse or lifestyle change or euphemistic improvement. Or so it was - the pendulum seems to have swung, and we're no longer in euphemism territory. We're back where we started, with already-slim women shaming one another for having not chucked entire food groups. Women's mags, too, have joined the backlash against PC, and are now back to triggering disordered eating through a more direct approach.

Two things jumped out at me about the piece. The first was the title (or maybe just the Twitter title, Twitter being where I found it), which had something to do with "green juice," which is apparently making all of us fat. Even those of us who still haven't gotten around to trying it. The strip mall with the Japanese supermarket and Trader Joe's won out as today's excursion. But I shouldn't get complacent; sushi is also making us fat. And bagels, although that's not going to surprise anyone who's ever come across an article of this genre before.

Actually, Justine Harman's framing of this piece - which is an interview with a lecturer in This Is Why You're Fat Studies - is brilliant. The gist of it is that all of the "Cleaneatalian" foods are - paradoxically - the ones that are making us fat. Skim lattes, green juice, and almonds - almonds! - are the problem. (Typing this reminded me of some almonds a few feet away; they're now at hand. Said almonds are at this very moment in the process of making me fat.) Of course, what sort of "problem" are we talking about? The article's aimed at the kind of woman who is not, in fact, fat. Or it's aimed at flattering the reader into thinking she's already slim but could be thinner still. It's not (just), in other words, a service-journalism piece alerting readers that the proverbial lowfat Snackwells are actually more fattening than fruit, especially if you respond to the reassuring packaging by eating the entire package. It's more along the lines of, you think you're doing everything? You're not - there's more.

Which brings us to the other thing that jumped out: Harman describes the diet-peddler she's interviewing as "the kind of glowing brunette you might see shopping at Whole Foods in lightweight cashmere while you're wearing your linty Lulus and snacking on Snapea Crisps." This is some of the most impeccable lifestyle writing I've ever seen. Harman managed to make wearing Lululemon to Whole Foods sound shabby.


Dashka Slater's article about a let's say hate-motivated crime on a bus illustrates the challenges of writing that type of piece. The story's both upsetting and timely - timely, that is, because it's about two different left ideologies being in conflict. Who gets your sympathy - the agender middle-class white teen who was set on fire and is now doing better but was still, you know, set on fire? or the teen who set the other kid on fire, who's black, working-class, and a self-identified homophobe? Or maybe they should just both get neatly-divided equal amounts of your goodwill - both being Others in this harsh and unforgiving world. Or maybe... setting someone on fire (the details are chilling) is sufficiently terrible as to fall outside the usual privilege analysis? Maybe?

Reading the comments - which take the author's lead in their approach - you'd think that the kid who'd lit the other kid on fire had, I don't know, failed to use the proper, liberal-arts-college language to refer to agender individuals. And not... set such an individual on fire. (Nice touch, though, how the one kid's lawyer refers to the victim as a boy in a skirt.) This isn't about cultural relativism, and how different communities understand gender, and the need (which does exist!) to be understanding of those not up-to-date on the cutting edge of gender self-identification. It's about violence. The right to, I don't know, publish offensive cartoons, shop at a kosher supermarket, or ride the bus as a gender-non-conforming teenager and not be physically assaulted.

And to those who point out that they, too, engaged in teen hijinks, and that their hijinking-while-white privilege saved them from falling into the criminal justice system... yes, that's a very worthwhile conversation to be having (and that is being had, if not nearly enough) about things like pot, underage drinking, shoplifting, etc. About attempted murder? Let me think about this for a moment... no. This is not a case where a no-big-deal act has been overblown because of racism. It's one where we can all well imagine getting angry if a white kid committed an equivalent crime and didn't get into sufficient trouble.

That said, nuance is needed, because of the issues (to put it mildly) with trying underage teens as adults. But this is a question of how a society should respond when someone under 18 commits a terrible crime. The answer to that question can't possibly be reducing everything a 16-year-old does to the status of "prank."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why drive when you can write about it?

-I was just alerted to Adam Gopnik's learning-to-drive-as-an-adult essay: "There’s a rich literature about learning to drive written by women, for whom it represents a larger emancipation from the feminine roles of enforced passivity, of sitting in place and accepting helplessness," writes Gopnik, surprising those of us who'd thought that literature consisted of Katha Pollitt's essay and various failed attempts at reinventing that power-steering wheel. Gopnik has instead produced some learning-to-drive literature for men, which involves unfurling a long  New Yorker essay (sample observation: "Writing a book seemed as mysterious a process to him, one as much in need of elaborate advance and afterthought, as driving a car was to me.") about wanting to drive to Cape Cod (not the Hamptons), and feeling (but not actually being) privilege-checked by a road-test examiner of the black and female persuasion.

Now, my learning-to-drive essay, which I will sell to the highest bidder, will be quite different. It won't be a tale of feminist triumph, at least not in the usual sense - I had to learn because I'd relocated for my husband's work, and he's the one who taught me. (That means no folksy story about connecting with the Common Man via driving lessons.) Nor will it end, as Gopnik's discreetly does, with an announcement that, the license now secured, the time has come to muse about it over however many thousand words, but not to actually, like, use it to drive somewhere. Getting the license is not quite the same as learning to drive. That's the main takeaway from the last two years of my life, and most especially of the last few days.

-Speaking of driving (are there other topics?), this evening was my first time ever pumping gas. While my husband helped me figure it out, I'd already been prepping, which is to say I Googled it and watched a couple YouTube videos. I also read the comments to those videos from incredulous and vaguely irritated people who can't fathom how anyone (who'd be in a position to need to know) wouldn't already know how. I also read the other comments that offered the very reasonable explanation: New Jersey law. It's not about having a butler who does this for you or whatever it is these commenters might imagine.

-Also on the agenda: trying this green juice they speak of. It sort of must be done, for when-in-Rome purposes. I'm working my way to it slowly - I got a soy espresso drink one day, which was actually quite tasty in a yuba sort of way, and am making my way through tremendous amounts of non-pulverized fruits and vegetables (and chocolate croissants). I want the full aesthetic experience, which involves leggings and green juice. I want to announce - on the basis of pseudoscience - that I glow.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Several items of varying importance

-The Big Essay about the new political correctness has been written and responded to at great length all over the internet. See Miss Self-Important, or see Chait's essay. I haven't been online as much as usual lately (more on that in a moment), so all I know is that this is now the topic. And... I know I once had thoughts on it, but I'm maybe a bit YPIS'd out. The problem with YPIS, PC, or whatever we're calling it is principally that it's an internal argument on the left. As such, it has no hope of convincing anyone on the right of anything, other than perhaps that the left is, indeed, ridiculous. I say this as someone on the left.

-Andrew Sullivan has stopped blogging. Obviously a big deal in terms of journalism, blogging, politics. A specific big deal to me as well, seeing as I worked at the Dish, but also as one of the many bloggers inspired by Andrew's example in those early blogging days. I wish all my former colleagues there the best. While I don't agree with every single political position Andrew has taken, I... got to post my own thoughts on Zionism, female sexuality, and more during the guest-blogging (now out from behind the paywall, it seems), so I can vouch for the Dish's openness to dissent firsthand.

-If my thoughts on everything are a bit fuzzy, it's because today was kind of all over the place. I went running in the morning and got... not lost, exactly, but went much further than I meant to, and ended up in some kind of surfing enclave. I'm not sure I'd ever seen surfing before, at least not surfing-culture surfing, the kind that involves blond dreadlocks, yet there it was.

But the big adventure was driving around alone on the freeway. The real one this time - the 101. I even took one freeway to another freeway at one point. Once I was doing this, it hit me that these are just roads, and that what I was doing was if anything less complicated than the driving I normally do. But it felt as if a whole world was opening up. I'd say I should have done this ages ago, but my sense is that while the driving I'm doing now may prepare me to take the NJ Turnpike alone to Mitsuwa, the reverse order wouldn't have worked.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The deep end

Before I'd started the process, I'd imagined that learning to drive would be a binary sort of thing. Either you know how to do so - in which case the entire world of driving-related possibilities opens up (all of that "take Exit 3 and bear right") - or you don't, in which case you either live in New York City or sit around waiting for a ride from one of those people who has this magical skill. How wrong I was. There is, in fact, such a thing as semi-knowing how to drive.

What happened back home in New Jersey was I sort of plateaued. I got to the point where I could drive anywhere I absolutely had to, and do so quite well if I may say so myself, but whichever sense of (or tolerance for) adventure took me from being incapable of driving around the block to being fully capable of going 50 miles an hour on a country road... that sense/tolerance didn't extend to any further exploration. Let me give an example: my most frequent "long" drive will be to HMart in Edison. If I'm driving alone, I always go on the 27 and not on Route 1, which would be less direct but much faster. I never turn onto the main drag in New Brunswick along the way, even though it looks like it might be interesting, because I'm convinced I'd get lost and OMG driving. Mostly the car is for supermarkets and, at a distant second, coffee shops. I might say I buy clothes in New York for some chic reason, but honestly it's because driving to the very same mall stores closer by would be too stressful. 

Here in Santa Barbara/Goleta/wherever this is, I find myself plunged into the deep end of the driving experience. If I want to be able to drive anywhere during the day, I need access (of course) to the car, which means dropping my husband off at work and picking him up. This is a short, direct drive in light traffic... but it involves a highway. No! A freeway. Prior to yesterday, I'd been on the highway alone exactly one time - driving from Princeton to Lambertville (and, ahem, back). While that had been uneventful, I hadn't ever seen the need to repeat the experience. (There's... very little in Lambertville.) But there I was yesterday, and again today, suddenly going 65 miles an hour and ahead of me were, like, mountains. This tremendous landscape, and the person driving was... me! That inspired such confidence that I drove all the way from Goleta to Santa Barbara yesterday, without knowing precisely where I'd park, all spontaneous-like. 

The GPS helps - or I should say, helped, since just after I figured out how to use one, it stopped working - but I don't think that's the main thing. It's more... a sense of necessity. I also have a secret city-person advantage - willingness to walk the extra block or so to a main street. This is good both for avoiding having to parallel park (I know, I know) and for not having to pay for parking. While I'm still not at 100%, I seem to have nudged myself from 85% to 95% in record time.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ranch to mouth

Apologies in advance, East Coast, for what I'm about to say:

I just ate a citrus fruit directly from the tree. I say "a citrus fruit" because I don't know what kind, only that I had permission to take one. It felt very biblical; upon eating it, I came to the sudden realization that I was wearing leggings as pants.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Alvy Singer 2.0

Today was most unusual in WWPD history. It included:

-Driving on the freeway. In California. With me driving. Uneventful (thus far, knocks on wood, prays to all the world's deities) but challenging because this was my first real experience driving a car other than my own. (Driving lessons don't count.)

-Impulse-purchasing a giant (Zutano?) avocado at a farmers market, basically because it seemed amazing that avocado could be a local food. The giant avocado represented not being in New Jersey even a little bit. Bought some limes as well, in part for that reason, and also, of course, to go with that and the regular-sized less-impulsively-selected avocados.

-Having fried-fish tacos for lunch at a Sundays-only pop-up taco place.

-Walking by the Pacific Ocean. (!!!!!!)

-Walking around in leggings and a sweatshirt and finding myself vastly overdressed.

There was some usual as well. I have yet to switch from coffee to green juice, and I've already been to a Japanese supermarket.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Off to Greenjuiceland

I'm going to be spending the next month spousally trailing to Santa Barbara, California. I've never been there before, so if you have and have suggestions, comment away! Thus far my plans include eating fresh local produce and cluelessly asking the rest of America why it isn't spending its winter doing the same.

My main sense about this trip is that having learned how to drive will come in handy. A quirk of learning as an adult, though, is that you can kind of forget that you did. I still have this thing where I automatically ignore whichever suggested directions involve driving - not around here in NJ, where of course that's how I'd do so, but when contemplating being anywhere else. I just immediately go to how one would get from Point A to Point B on foot, maybe by bike - assuming public transportation's not an option. While there are advantages (ecological, toned-ness-ological, cheapnessological) of that approach, my sense of where we're staying is that it's one of those places where you really need to drive. Granted, I've walked across many such places in my day (Tempe, AZ and Los Angeles come to mind), but not absolutely needing to do so seems like it'll be a plus.

Making a go of it

-David Schraub has a fascinating article about British anti-Semitism, the law, and more. Read it.

-Rachel Hills has a sweeping feature about female sexual fluidity. Read that, too. Yes, I arrived at the story with a few preexisting gripes about how the topic is generally covered, but Rachel addressed basically all the ones I might have come up with. Although I do have one remaining question - for Rachel, but also for WWPD readers: Why are the onscreen same-sex couples of erotic interest to straight women lesbians rather than gay men? It makes sense what Rachel found, about straight women being put off by scenarios that are demeaning to women or about enforcing gender roles, but this doesn't explain why two women, as versus two people of the gender to whom straight women are, by definition, attracted. I wonder if - and I realize this is a bleak interpretation - this isn't just a case of women being socialized to look at images of women's bodies, in the non-sexual realm. (Fashion magazines, thigh-envy, etc.)

-Obligatory self-promotion: Today was my radio debut. Veronica Rueckert invited me on "Central Time" on Wisconsin Public Radio to talk about undersharing. Given the number of public-radio podcasts I've listened to while walking Bisou, I figured I'd have some sense of how this sort of thing goes, but was still petrified for the first minute or so. I now have a newfound respect for everyone who goes on these shows and manages not to babble.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

French Jews, French tips UPDATED

-Have questions about French Jewry? I have thoughts. A short version, and a long one; a mid-length one is in the works. Much as a stopped clock is right twice a day, an obscure research topic proves to have broader significance once in however-many news cycles.

-And back to your regularly-scheduled deep thoughts: Philip Galanes seems awfully confident "that hair dye and eighth grade do not mix." He OKs dress-up that involves a wig, but tells a letter-writer to turn his or her 13-year-old daughter's interest in going blonde into a discussion "about depictions of women in society."

I know it's very much the thing to be outraged whenever girls' parents allow them to express traditional femininity, and all self-expression-through-appearance apparently counts as such. We're supposed to lament the era when gender roles and the desire to primp and all that sort of thing managed to hold off until 16 (or 30?). When young boys and girls alike played in the dirt, explored in the woods, built those proverbial forts that so epitomize the ideal childhood. Why can't kids just be kids?

(I see that I repeat myself, but I really do think part of this is the concept of "virgin hair" - as if something sexual and adult happens when hair color is changed. Which... no. It's just hair, and however you dye it, it grows back your natural color.)

While I do see the skepticism surrounding a world in which young children feel entitled to expensive beauty treatments (and professional hair dye, at least, is a splurge, she writes, having just splurged on some), eighth grade seems exactly the right time to be experimenting with at-home Manic Panic, weird nail polish, etc. If not then, when? There's this brief blip of time when you're old enough to want to do such things, but too young to need to look office-appropriate.

Maybe, then, the issue is helicopter parenting. It seems inconceivable today - but didn't in my day - that kids might be bleaching or dyeing their hair unsupervised. These days it would almost have to be at a salon. And salon means the resulting look will be a tasteful, pretty look rather than the kind a 13-year-old could very well have in mind.


Re: helicopter parenting, there's quite the thread here, of commenters recalling their own "free range" childhoods. (So. Many. Forts.) What's frustrating about the comments is that they're each one presented as scrappiness oneupmanship, rather than as examples of how life just was, quite recently. ('My mother let me blow-torch the creme brulee as a toddler!' 'Oh yeah! Mine let me ride a motorcycle without a helmet while in utero!' I paraphrase but slightly.)

There's a huge divide, but it's not about seatbelts or curfews. It's not about today's parents being more fearful than earlier ones. It's about smartphones. It used to be impossible for parents to know what their kids were up to much of the time - even the kids whose parents tried to construct a panopticon out of guilt. Today, everything's documented, and everyone can be in touch at all times. It's become irresponsible not to use one of these devices. A constantly-monitored childhood was always the fantasy of some parents (we all had those classmates...), but is now the default.

Friday, January 09, 2015

And now for something completely unserious

As surprised as I am to say this, a couple years after mostly losing interest in the genre, I have a new favorite personal-style blogger. Madeleine Alizadeh lives in Vienna and (thus) writes in German, but that's neither here nor there. What's exciting for me is that she's the first such blogger I've found who has my build as well as my coloring. She has far better taste than I do, however. Better, but similar, and making her blog the perfect resource for coming up with ways to style what I already own. And that's really what you want in a personal-style blogger - someone who has (give or take) your wardrobe, looks (give or take) like you, but knows how to put outfits together.

So! Outfits I plan to shamelessly copy using clothes I've already got on hand include pairing a button-down shirt with a motorcycle jacket; a loose gray t-shirt with a black pencil skirt; a tough-shade-to-wear blue sweater with black jeans and a navy jacket; camel with navy (yes! it always looks odd, on me at least, with just black); and camel with camel. Oh, and pairing everything with black sunglasses, although I feel this is only a borderline already-own, since I just bought these and have yet to wear them. All of these combinations may sound obvious, but somehow, on a day-to-day basis, they're not.

On France

In light of some recent news, a couple thoughts:

-Americans following this story need to refrain from projecting American notions of race onto France, which has its own history. I, an American Ashkenazi Jew, am white. French Jews who look exactly like me aren't... whatever the equivalent of "white" is in France. The white privilege framework maybe doesn't apply to groups of white-by-US-standards people who are being attacked as a historical scapegoat minority where it is they actually live.

-It's possible both to worry about backlash against Muslims, and to avoid leading with that concern. That said, France hasn't been, ahem, all that fantastic about integrating its Muslim-or-of-Muslim-origin minority. Any analysis of these events that can't get past Terrorism is unlikely (as history has shown) to make much headway. Explain but not excuse and all that.

How to shop your way to frugality

The BBC Woman's Hour has taken on the question of minimalism, bringing in anti-stuff advocate Teresa Belton. At one point Jane Garvey asks Belton about whether all of this let's-get-rid-of-everything is, in a sense, a class luxury - something for those who've always had enough and then some to ponder. Stuff, Garvey was saying (or was this just how I interpreted it?) is perhaps more appealing to those who can't take it for granted. Belton seemed to think Garvey was asking her whether it's materialistic for those who have nothing to dream of a roof over their heads; you'll be relieved to hear that the answer is no.

More frustrating, though, was the discussion throughout of "modest" consumption. "Modest" spenders were asked to call in, and call in they did. Some mention was made of there being a range of what "modest" means, but I'd hardly even classify it as a range. It's like "low-maintenance" - virtually no one's going to admit to being the other way. Everyone (with the exception of cast members of certain reality shows) points to the people who spend - or primp - even more. What's my hair iron and eyeliner compared with that lady's Botox and extensions!*

Anyway, my point is that I don't feel right discussing Cheapness Studies from the perspective of someone who has all the answers. I have yet to be able to teach myself to enjoy eating most legumes, so the proverbial pot of lentils isn't in my repertoire.

But what I will say is that Marie Kondo's thing about how you should love everything you own makes sense. I'd even go so far as to say that (with certain caveats) you should - for frugality's sake - own everything you love. With the I-hope-obvious disclaimer that "love" for objects is different from love for people, although analogies can (and will) be made. A further disclaimer: this is about clothes, makeup, jewelry. If you're a masculine-of-center individual, this may not be the post for you.

So. First, let me reiterate that loving what you own doesn't have to mean shopping at expensive stores. Just as people admire famous actors and models but love their partners, it's possible to appreciate the objective beauty of a Prada dress, while loving a particularly soft and well-cut t-shirt. And (to keep on mining my own shopping history for examples) as much as I can accept that there's beautiful expensive jewelry out there, I remain beyond thrilled with these splurge-for-me earrings I bought over the summer. And while I'm sure there are higher-end versions of the same (Céline? Eileen Fisher?), my grayscale-minimalist wardrobe is mostly Uniqlo with some Muji thrown in. (Note: none of these places paid me to promote them, or sent me free stuff. I should be so lucky.)

But why have, as a goal, owning all the clothes you want? Because - and here's what's either a brilliant thought I had while walking Bisou in the cold without headphones, or nonsense - it defines one's wanty list (credit for that oh-so-useful term, as always, to Kei) as finite. Or, if not finite, then temporarily achievable. Rather than assuming that every season, every lunch hour, you'll discover something new, figure that you have a limited list of things you simply must have. And once you find the pencil skirt or the corduroys, or the cap-sleeved black t-shirts that somehow make you feel like Angelina Jolie, you've checked that box, and the hunt is over. Having this approach doesn't make you immune to wanty-creation upon entering a store or checking out a fashion blog. But it does keep things from getting out of hand. Also: Owning everything you love doesn't mean going out and buying it all at once. Love isn't lust. It needs to be something that you've thought about, mulled over.**

More caveats: Yes, things get worn out, or go out of style. Yes, there's such a thing as the laundry cycle, thus meaning with stuff like t-shirts, you're not buying just the one. And no, you never really know which items you'll end up wearing for years. What I'd say on that front, though, is that you should avoid the ubiquitous advice to purchase "classics" or "basics" (which tend to be the very things where the silhouette will most quickly look dated - jeans and dress shoes especially). Instead, the thing to do if you want to wear something for years is to buy something you love. If you were super-excited to buy the thing, if there was sufficient mulling-over beforehand, you may very well keep on wearing it after it's no longer the thing, or (ahem, Petit Bateau Breton-striped shirts) after it's definitively worn-out.

*Indeed, I sometimes wonder if the point of those reality shows isn't just the straightforward product placement for whichever companies are ostentatiously named, but also to set the bar higher and encourage spending/primping more generally. Not because viewers will emulate the people they see onscreen (fine, some will), but because every indulgence that falls short of what's onscreen starts to look restrained.

**There are certain constraints. If the object is something general - alpine hiking boots, to give an example from my own stash of long-anticipated purchases  - you can wait for ages. But if it's one-of-a-kind - which can include fast fashion, given the turnaround, thus the never-purchased and still-regretted Uniqlo camel cape - you may not have that luxury. Thus why items seen while traveling cause such angst. Or did before globalization and e-commerce meant that those Japanese cosmetics are probably on Amazon.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Status updates: ethical imperative, signaling, or both?

-My thoughts on this day are already summed up in something I just posted to Facebook:

Yes, the NAACP attack should get more coverage. No, the fact that the Paris attack (killing 12, as vs thankfully zero, and with major international implications) is more in the news isn't unreasonable. Nor (ahem, Twitter) should it be interpreted as evidence that The Zionists control the media.
What else can I say? I could add that it's upsetting to me for personal reasons when the staff of a publication that takes a stand against political correctness gets massacred, seeing as I was working at such a place until recently, but I can't imagine anyone in their right mind not being horrified by this.

-Tangentially related: Some journalists responded to my article about Facebook's sharing imperative by asking for more information about where I stand regarding the ethics of refraining to speak out politically on Facebook/social media. I've been giving this a lot of thought, and here's how I see it, at this particular moment in time; thoughts may evolve, or become less rambling...

There's a certain impulse to dismiss political status updates as either smug or pompous, or, conversely, as evidence of a foolish lack of discretion (one never knows what might upset a current or future employer). Armchair commentary has never had a good name, but social-media activism somehow has a worse one, quite possibly because the people status-updating about how a horrible thing in the news is horrible aren't risking much, and may even be motivated by a desire to seem caring or plugged-in, yet may appear to think that they're somehow saving the world.  This had long, at any rate, been my own impulse. As I've believe I've mentioned once or twice before, I'm no great fan of personal-life overshare, and thus tend to be biased in favor of discretion.

But political status updates aren't the same as cover stories about one's own family drama. Yes, it may be "signaling" when people strive to seem plugged-in, but... people should be plugged-in. I'd rather live in a society that gently pressures people (at least those who can do so without losing their livelihood) to speak out, or just to share news stories, than in one that treats social media like a stuffy dinner party, where anything even mildly controversial is to be avoided.

I do feel strongly, however, that no individual should be condemned for withholding any sort of information from any social-networking site - or, indeed, for avoiding these sites altogether. Friend A isn't a racist for failing to post about Ferguson - I mean, Friend A may well be a racist, but that's not good evidence. Publications can be taken to task for ignoring a story, as - I suppose - can demographic groups. Not individuals.

-Also tangentially related: My Tablet profile of Corey Robin, which also deals with questions of social-media political speech, can be found here.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


There have been brunch protests. They involve black people and non-black allies going into posh brunch places, speaking for a few minutes, then leaving. (From the video I saw, it's approximately as disruptive to brunch as when a live band suddenly starts playing at a coffee shop. No waffles, it seems, were harmed.) Gawker commenters are discussing whether the place anti-racists really want to target is upscale NY restaurants, whose patrons are (the commenters' assumption, ahem, not mine) progressives, and not the predominantly white, working-class establishments where one might (again, paraphrasing the commenters) find racists, cops, racist cops. That line of argument... makes me very pro-protesters.

Because when I first saw something about this, I wasn't sure - it sounded like hipster performance art. Hating brunch is cool, not because brunch is racist, but because it is - for lack of a better term - basic. I mean, this even comes up in an early episode of "Girls" - the Lena Dunham character is assuring her (also-white) on-again off-again dude that she doesn't want a guy to take to brunch.

But taking a broader view, the percentage of people avoiding brunch because they think they're above it is tiny in comparison to those who are avoiding it because it's expensive, because they have to work when it's brunch time (perhaps... at a brunch-serving establishment), because they have family responsibilities, because it's not a thing in their neighborhood, etc. The demographic brunching at these places... the Gawker commenters don't quite have it right. It's not that the customers aren't racist - it's that they probably aren't resentment-racists. It's a safe assumption that they're of the demographic that identifies neither with a young black man shot by the cops nor with the cops.

Protesting at brunch - and not, as the Gawker commenters suggest, a white working-class hangout - is a way of challenging the all-too-common view that systematic racism is upheld by the white people who, all told, benefit the least from (again, for lack of a better term) white privilege. Rather than addressing the GOP set, these protestors are talking to the GOOP crowd. Doesn't seem like a bad idea.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Fiction is better, Installment #748,923

Jessica Valenti has located "the worst man in America." Scott Lemieux has a similar reaction to the dude in question. As does much of the rest of my Twitter feed. These all being writers I like, I had to see what the hubbub was about. And it's about William Giraldi's personal essay about a misspent paternity leave. Specifically, this passage:

My son was born in March, and my sabbatical went from early May to mid-January, which, in a tidy coincidence, is nearly nine months. But since his care was taken care of by his mother—whose apparent willingness and capacity to do almost everything for him flooded me with awe—I spent those nine months trying not to be bored while not writing a novel that was coming due.
And so ensues a gently self-deprecating tale of macho drink-consumption and sloth. What, with a different tone, might have read as a Very Serious confession of alcoholism, or a meditation on the dangers of having too much free time, comes across as "[c]lueless male privilege." Passages like this one don't help:
Okay, the university made me sign a document that swore I’d be incurring more than 50 percent of parental duties. But let’s be honest: even in self-consciously progressive households, it’s a rare new father who does as much baby work as a new mother.
The idea behind paternity leave is, one might imagine, that the other parent - typically the mother, and typically the person who just gave birth - can return to work. It's hard to see past the dismissal of paternity leave and get much out of the various musings the essay kind of feels like it wants to be about. And so begins the first feminist 'Gate of 2015.

Giraldi, meanwhile, is apparently a great fiction writer. Perhaps a better one than he is a personal essayist. And what struck me - of course, and thus the post title - was how much better this story would have worked as fiction. A man who takes paternity leave and finds himself with too much free time, and experiences a brush with substance abuse could be a flawed but compelling character. That the author here is the character does no one any favors.

New material

-Trace Barnhill has brought frugality to Into The Gloss, a site whose usual influence is to make spending $40 on luminizer seem like a great idea. Barnhill makes an interesting point about there being two kinds of thrift:

Some people prefer to cut out personal, almost invisible purchases—things no one else will see but you. You get the generic panty-liners. The veggie Ragu instead of the Italian-import truffle-infused sauce. I’ve personally not had a headboard on my bed since high school, unless the wall counts. Switching to generic allergy drugs. [...] 
But then sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes you only want to spend money on things just personally, intimately for you. Your coat can be shabby-chic consignment (and you know it’s actually really ugly), but you’ve got Chanel in your bathroom cabinet. No TV, but unlimited HBO Go. Little secret purchases while on the outside, you’re a quiet, thirsty soul.
I'd never thought about it quite like that before, but it makes sense. I think I fall into the second camp more than I'd like to, but in principle would want to be in the first. I'll very often be found in a pair of $30 corduroys from five years ago, but my cupboard (and, ahem, hair-product collection) shows evidence of splurgy trips to Japanese supermarkets. There's probably some deep, psychological meaning behind which category one falls in, but what that is isn't coming to me at the moment.

-I've been thinking about Miss Self-Important's second resolution from last year: "Get some new ideas so I can stop infinitely repeating things I've already said in my non-academic writing." The appeal of one's old ideas - for me, at least - is that one has thought through every aspect of them. Figured out all the counterarguments. From an impostor-syndrome-ish perspective, this is immensely satisfying. Sure, there will still be the 'this is the dumbest thing I've ever read' brigade on Twitter, but they'll fail to convince the author of his or her (her) own idiocy.

The trouble with a new idea - and I've just given one of those a gamble - is that one hasn't spent months analyzing it. I'm still trying to sort out exactly what I think about certain aspects of the undershare question, and at this point think the most compelling thing about it is that it's even a question.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Day in review

-Slept in.
-Dressed up (that is, wore my better workout-wear) for the elliptical machine, on which I enjoyed some Proust, by which I mean "Millionaire Matchmaker."
-Tried to try out the hipster coffee shop in Highland Park, only to drive the 45 minutes or so and find it closed for maintenance.
-Drove an additional few minutes to Edison for Paris Baguette, which was no great sacrifice. The berry-custard tart is if anything better than it looks.
-Did some work once the wireless kicked in.
-Took note of the excellent highlights on some of my fellow (similarly-dark-haired) customers. Contemplated asking them where one goes to get this done. Decided against - I'm too much looking forward to getting this done in Williamsburg (when? who knows), inconvenient though that may be.
-Bought a milk bread. That it can be done at home doesn't meal I'm about to do it.
-Ate tremendous amounts of hot-pot at Little Sheep. (I can't decide if it's very American or very not American that I suggested this dinner option because it's in the same strip mall as we'd already parked in for Paris Baguette. Lazy, yes, but also a case of reluctance to drive.) Noted to self to skip the tofu skin next time (yuba it's not), but to double up on pea shoots.
-Drove back in the dark, in the rain. Whined about the difficulty of seeing the lane lines. Accepted assessment that my apparent ability to stay in the lane just fine the entire time suggested that I could, in fact, see the lane lines. Drove a good bit under many a speed limit along the way. Got passed on the right.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

"Seriously Spoiled on Long Island"

-Clickbait, outrage-bait, I should not be reading this, let alone the comments, where I of course began...

-Congratulations, parents who think hiking and volunteering are better activities for children. You have cultural capital that the spa families do not. This is not some sort of glimpse at the One Percent, nor even necessarily the richer 50%. You're not scrappier than these people, you just have better (that is, more upscale) taste. (See this exchange.)

-If a French woman explains that she learned as a young girl how to apply eye cream, or if a Korean woman speaks of having learned a 12-step skincare routine while still a child, it's this beautiful thing, and we the American women who used only Dial soap until college are to gasp in awe. But if this is 'merican girls getting facials, clearly the apocalypse has come. I'm with the commenter who says that this spa thing is at least better than parties for kids to go shoot guns.

-Referenced in the article: "Seriously Spoiled on Long Island." OK, technically the place is on Long Island, and called Seriously Spoiled. But still. If there were a "Seriously Spoiled in New Jersey," I might have to investigate.

-Maybe if all of these parents pooled the money that goes to spa treatments for children too young to know what they are (note: I'm 31 and not exactly sure what happens at a spa), those funds could go towards something noble, like trips to the hair salon for adult women who'd look a bit... refreshed if they actually went to the hair salon? Because that's much of what's at the root of the outrage, right? It's frustrating when young children go to a spa, or wear designer clothes, etc., and we may say that the kids are being spoiled, when actual spoiling is more about giving kids the things they ask for (which can, according to the article, be a spa day, so perhaps...). The issue is more that these are things adult women need to budget for, and it feels wasted on children too young to appreciate it.

-If the NYT Style section ever finds out how much Bisou's grooming costs, I'm screwed.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Reading materials

-I'm halfway-ish through Women in Clothes. I figured I'd better read it after I was lent it by one person and then given it by another. It is, in principle, a book I should love. And I do very much like it. The idea behind it is to examine how women feel about their self-presentation - to treat clothing as a serious undertaking. It's a window into class, body image, gender, self-esteem, everything. It's all the guilty-pleasure voyeuristic enjoyment of Into The Gloss, but you're reading a book. Also ITG-esque: there was this one essay that I kept alternating between thinking was the most pretentious, too-cool-for-school thing I'd ever read, and finding endlessly compelling and inspirational.

The drawback to the book's approach is that it almost by necessity excludes the frivolous or generic. There's a lot about nostalgic relationships to mothers' wardrobes and gender as performance, but nothing (thus far) that gets into the head of the girls I saw in Penn Station yesterday in a North Face fleece and Lululemon headband uniform. There's a section - very cool visually - with photos of women's hands, to show their rings (or lack thereof), and oddly enough, no one's fiancé went to Jared. Poverty is acknowledged (Cambodian garment workers; broke writers) but ordinary tastes are (thus far) absent.

The closest (again, thus far) I've seen to a blunt, not-at-all-earnest-or-signaling entry was the one that just documents a woman's e-commerce browsing, site by site, item by item. It feels real, but also demonstrates the challenges of turning the real into the readable.

The book somehow evokes - for me at least - a certain kind of Cobble Hill woman, chic but intellectual, New Brooklyn but more polished than hipster, 30-something rather than 20-something. Maybe it's all the references to clogs and literary readings? Of course, perhaps the second half of the book ventures into mall-ier territory...

-Yesterday I came across a newsstand full of free issues of the latest Chopsticks NY. "Home cooking issue," reads the cover, "with 12 comfort food recipes." Oh! "Let's Cook At Home with Japanese Ingredients," suggests page 9, and they had me at hello. Yes, the magazine is ads, but it's ads for basically everything Japanese in the New York area, and is full of incredibly useful information. I now know about several more Japanese supermarkets in New York and New Jersey, and a Japanese kitchenware store in Long Island City that - unlike it's Manhattan equivalent - has some weekend hours.

-Take a moment to process this, from Marisa Meltzer's Styles article about shampoo alternatives:

The once-odd idea of using cleansing conditioners (they clean but don’t foam) as a substitute for shampoo became increasingly in vogue in the last year. 
“It comes out of the new insight that shampooing every day is not for all consumers, especially those with curly, kinky, wavy hair or color-treated or processed hair that might be more susceptible to damage,” said Ron Robinson, an independent cosmetic chemist and founder of beautystat­.com.
Yes - the standard for haircare has for far too long been based on what works for one hair type. Perhaps the time has finally come to question whether the women who achieve shiny hair by washing their hair daily (but can air-dry) are actually lower-maintenance than those who only need shampoo once a week (if that) but do require heat-styling or products of some sort to reach the same goal.

But I'm not convinced that the answer is daily hair-washing with some other product that isn't, but probably costs more than, shampoo. If "forgoing shampoo in this sweaty SoulCycle era is simply not an option," perhaps the more stylish (and frugal) alternative is taking advantage of the cold weather and running outside, something that's safe and easy to do in the kinds of locales where SoulCycles tend to have branches.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


I was going to write something about that bizarre Styles article accusing married people of "undersharing about our spouses," but I think Flavia has it covered:

Most normal people don't think that literally everything needs to be shared or that it's pathological to consider one's marriage a private affair. But I was struck that there was no acknowledgment that those in distress might be turning to real, live, in-person friends for advice--or that those friends might be more valuable than several hundred virtual ones.

In my own travels through the academic internet, I often find myself wondering something similar: where are your real friends? Why are you posting for 500 people what should be a three-to-five-person bitch session over drinks? I'm not talking about catastrophic oversharing, or the merely mundane; I'm talking about posts that fall into that catch-all category, "unprofessional," which includes everything from the possibly-legally-actionable to the merely tacky. You know: using Facebook to snark about your department chair or other easily-identifiable colleagues; mocking your students; complaining about what a shithole town you're forced to live in.
This is something I've wondered about as well - what's happened to the middle ground between broadcasting something and keeping it secret, i.e. that thing where you speak to a few friends, relatives, or - if needed - professionals? Are we really now supposed to assume that because something isn't out there on social media, it's festering and altogether unaddressed?

As to Flavia's specific (if rhetorical) question, "where are [their] real friends," it got me thinking that, as convenient as it would be for the narrative if social-media oversharers were the real-life-friendless, that's not, at least according to my own anecdotal troves, the case. The same people who share with all on Facebook also share with some at a bar. Perhaps the issue is, in part, that nothing feels private anymore. All sharing can end up on social media. What may look like uninhibited oversharing may actually be a situation where the same crafted, guarded, curated self is making its presence known in public and private alike. The distinction is, increasingly, gone. Indeed, the only places it may live on are within marriage and a few very-well-established friendships.

Resolution time

2014, for me, was basically two different, very different, years. The first half of it I didn't always have enough to do, while the second I spent compensating (overcompensating?) for the first, and was busy more or less every moment of the day, with work of one sort or another, plus the volunteering I'd begun earlier. I became one of those people who fantasize about having time to go to the supermarket or the gym. It was exciting to reunite, I suppose, with a work ethic that - as can happen in the post-coursework parts of grad school - started to fade when my only task for an entire year would be my dissertation. My main resolution for the new year, then, is to stay as professionally active as I was this summer and fall.

Others include, in no particular order:

-Learn to read Japanese, if only for poodle-and-cooking Instagram.
-Learn Dutch. Like, actually sign up for a class and do it.
-Write (finish writing?) a novel; first step is getting over the fact that the material I've got to work with is admittedly overrepresented in literature.
-Find a day - a day! - to go to Williamsburg and get my hair cut and colored like so.
-Elegance! I have some very elegant friends, and they've inspired me to be a bit more put-together.
-All the usual stuff about sunscreen; not letting vegetables go bad in the fridge but actually eating them even though pasta's so much easier; working out; and not getting cranky (or, ugh, hangry) around loved ones.

Monday, December 29, 2014

On discovering that WWPD the novel has already been written

The feminist dilemma of our age - at least according to certain articles I came across through my work over the past month or so - is that high-achieving women marry even-higher-achieving men. Something about a study, Harvard Business School... It's not quite the Second After Sartre problem (that is, being a female genius overshadowed, for gender reasons, by a lesser-but-male genius), but it can be. Why, one might wonder, don't elite women pair off with less-accomplished men?

The articles about Harvard Business School graduates (and now, Stanford graduates) do somewhat make my eyes glaze over. But this question is more entertainingly addressed in The Mind-Body Problem, Rebecca Goldstein's 1983 novel, which I just read, maybe reread, although I could be conflating it with Fear of Flying. Both involve questions of female identity as relational, and discuss Jewish female beauty as resulting from racial intermixing via pogroms. Both also have a few more oddly specific overlaps with my life (general biographical details, not from the racy bits!) than I'd have thought possible in fiction. Except for the bit about looking somewhat Slavic - these blondness-providing pogroms evidently spared my ancestors, unless that's where the pallor comes from.

Spoilers below; click on the post title for the rest...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Chinese restaurant post

Last night my husband and I got Chinese food. As usual, we asked for soy sauce to go with. Also as usual, the request was met with a look of disgust. And finally - again, as usual - when the server returned with the soy sauce, she'd also brought along two forks, which we, as usual, declined.

As far as I can tell, the soy sauce-fork connection is that no one familiar with proper Chinese food (or these particular dishes) would ever ask for such a thing. If you're that cuisine-ignorant, you're probably unfamiliar with chopsticks. (Perhaps you'd like a shovel?) Alas, the combination of the sauce on one of these dishes and a bit of soy sauce is the most delicious taste to ever exist, ever, so the routine keeps on repeating itself.

It's apparently somewhere between weird and insulting to order soy sauce on the side at a Chinese restaurant. Where on the weird-to-insulting spectrum it falls, I couldn't say, although a quick Google suggests it's closer to the latter. I mean, it's obviously not a really odd request, as in, it's not like going in and asking for an ingredient that isn't part of the cuisine in question. They do have a spouted, customer-ready bottle of soy sauce, if not several. That is, it's not like going in and asking for, I don't know, ketchup or wasabi. And I doubt it's the cost - if that were the case, there'd be the annoyance but not the forks. And it's not all Chinese restaurants - at hot-pot places, you're encouraged to take a bowl and fill it with as much soy and other sauces as you'd like. (One reason among many that I'm always lobbying for hot-pot...) It seems like part of the problem, in our case, is that the dish with the sauce isn't from the Chinese-American part of the menu, so we seem for this one brief moment to be on a quest for authenticity, and then we ruin it.

Maybe it's something like ordering a cappuccino with dinner at an Italian restaurant? Cappuccinos being, of course, Italian, but apparently not to be consumed in that situation. Or maybe - probably - it's like when (high-end; I've only actually ever heard about this) chefs refuse to provide salt, because you're insulting their technique if you think the seasoning wasn't perfect already. There had been this delicate balance of flavors. Ruined! Ruined, perhaps, but so very, very delicious.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

King for a day

When I checked out ITG yesterday, I noticed that the "Top Shelf" profile recipient was wearing the very same t-shirt that I was. The similarity, alas, ended there.

Did that stop me from briefly wondering if perhaps I should style my t-shirt with, if not ripped black jeans (I don't have any ripped pants - as far as I know - and have no plans to rip any), then maybe my regular black jeans, before the part of my brain that remembers models are people paid to make outfits look good kicked back in. There's a rational part of me that understands full well that the difference between me and model-turned-actress Jaime King is not, in fact, that I'd paired my white pocket tee with intact navy corduroys. But there was still that glimmer of a moment when I honestly considered basing my styling choices off hers (or those of whoever styled her for this).

I guess the hope with these Top Shelf profiles, if they are in fact selling something (if I understood the exact mechanism, I'd be a more marketably-skilled individual than I am), is that you see that King's "approach to skincare is to always wash your face before bed, even if you don’t want to," and figure (with the non-skeptical part of your brain) that the difference between your face and King's is that she's better about nighttime face-washing. The idea is to be so swept up in the narrative that when you get to the part where she endorses a $300 "‘Skin Caviar’ Luxe Sleep Mask," or a $70 concealer, you'll think, aha, that's why she looks like so, and if you follow suit, some of that perfection will transfer to you.

But it's not even about wanting to look like a different person. It's not even coming from a place of low self-esteem, exactly - it's more that you mistake 'that woman looks nice' with 'that purchasable thing looks good on that woman.' The more unattractive the thing being sold, perhaps the more beautiful the woman needed to sell the thing. Thus all those ads with Olivia Wilde in brightly-colored eye makeup that even she can't quite pull off.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Peak "privilege"

Callie Marie Rennison is absolutely right that "[t]he focus on sexual violence against some of our most privileged young people has distracted us from the victimization of those enjoying less social and economic advantage." Unfortunately, the headline writer went with the following: "Privilege, Among Rape Victims."

Why is that headline  - which, to be clear, I'm assuming the author didn't choose - a problem? After all, didn't I just get through saying that I agree with Rennison about the dangers of focusing on campus rape rather than the greater problem of off-campus rape? That systematic inequality totally impacts which crime victims get cover stories, etc.? Because this is an important issue, and one that keeps getting forgotten in the coverage suggesting that attending college increases a young woman's chance of being the victim of rape. The headline detracts from that point.

The problem is in the headline's implication, an implication that's all-but-unavoidable once "privilege" comes into play. If some rape victims elicit more concern than others, is that relative lack of disadvantage really best classified as "privilege"? I suppose having people care that you were raped is a kind of unearned advantage, inasmuch as people whose rapes don't make the news don't deserve to be ignored. But privilege, really? If the categories up for comparison are 'terrible' and 'slightly less terrible', we shouldn't be using words that evoke luxe.

The headline gives the impression that being the victim of a campus rape is some sort of first-world problem. Something to be classified alongside green juice, toddler Mandarin classes, and whatever else signifies haves lording it over have-nots so as to further entrench their advantage. It evokes a room full of rape victims, some of whom are looking down their noses at the others, on account of insufficient pedigree. It just doesn't sit right.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


-The PETA (?) people in New York sure had it in for my fake-fur hat. The downside to authenticity; perhaps the protestors would also have it in for that so-good-you'd-think-there-was-meat-in-it vegan hot-pot as well. In other news, there's this odd lime-green stripe stain thingy across the top of said hat, who knows why, but predating the encounter with protestors. No idea what to do about that (how does one clean a faux-streimel?), but I'm leaning towards wearing the hat anyway and not worrying about it.

-So I've now been to COS's new Spring Street store twice, and bought nothing either time. As excited as I was about the place finally opening in the States (although I think they were already in LA?), and as lovely as the store itself is, I continue to like the idea of COS more than its reality. OK, there was the dress I ordered online, back when they had some big sale, which I've worn a ton. But on the whole, they really seem to specialize in seductively-displayed minimalist potato-sacks. Shapeless, but not in a forgiving, Eileen Fisher-esque way. To be fair, there were some more items that would totally work on someone (this skirt, and this other one), but that someone is far taller than I am, and spends far more on clothes.

-Men's gift guides in women-oriented publications (or mainstream ones that are assuming women are the ones who buy gifts): hmm. Men, it seems, like knives, scotch, meat, watches, gadgets, flasks, and useless objects in a general brown-leather-or-plaid-flannel lumbersexual color scheme. Do these guides ever in any way relate to the interests of actual men?

-Joshua Tucker's letter here, calling the difference between stuff and experiences a construction, has it right. As does Anna North's post, here. As did I, if I may say so myself, here. I will likely have more on this, once I've figured out how to articulate the point that's at the tip, as it were, of my brain.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Reading and writing

All of my recent (and future) Dish guest-blogging can be found here. Photographic evidence, here. If you'd like me to write for your publication, is the place to go.

Requisite self-promotion out of the way, I'm going to share the entirely un-pitchable observation that the 1998 novel I bought randomly in Montclair (a day trip chosen similarly at random) turned out to be excellent. Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats is quite unlike any book I'd ever read. I'd say read it if only for the fireplace scene, but it's... I mean, ambitious doesn't begin to describe it. It's about classic Japanese literature, food safety, domestic violence, rural America, urban America, filmmaking... and so very much more. Yet it somehow works.

I was reading My Year of Meats on the train recently, and then just after that, while walking around in New York, I spotted a different Ozeki novel on the ground. Didn't seem like anyone was looking in it, and no owner info. in the book itself, so finder's keepers.

As for the earlier novel's conclusion... Spoiler alert here, I suppose:

Monday, December 15, 2014


As something of a writing experiment, I decided to write quickly and succinctly about something I'd only ever tried to write about at length. I can already feel that I'm going to have missed some key point, perhaps a really key one that will mean that I've come across as saying the very opposite of what I meant. I feel that so deeply that I read the first-thus-far Twitter mention of this, my latest Dish guest-post, and assumed I was being called WRONG, when upon an extra second's reflection, it seems more likely this was someone agreeing with me.

In other news, I had a dream recently that I'd gotten highlights. Not something I'd done or seriously considered doing since I was, I think, 13, but in my dream they looked fabulous.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


This fall has been the busiest season of my life. It made the months leading up to my qualifying exam (or, ahem, NJ road test) look like a breeze. I did whatever the professional equivalent is of that oft-heard social advice to say yes to everything. What shall come of all this remains to be seen, in so many different respects, but that's not the point of this post.

The point of it is that it's now December, and I haven't had a haircut since July. An every-other-day workout routine has dwindled to every other week. My pampering, so to speak, consists of hygiene and eyeliner. It's everything that falls somehow between the two that falls by the wayside.

And then there are the women profiled on Into The Gloss.* Their thing is pointing out - as if nearly every other site-participant hasn't already done so - that skincare is more important to them than makeup:

"I’m not a huge makeup aficionado [....] But I love skincare and, once I find something that works, I stick with it."

"For me, feeling beautiful is all about being natural—it's not about the colors of lipsticks, or foundations, or concealers, all those things. It goes beyond that."

"The [some product] line is really nice for young skin that’s prepping for anti-aging without being so full-on." [....] I like to switch up what masks I wear seasonally. [....] I’m not a makeup girl."

And these are just among the more recent ones. While each individual woman may well just be describing her own routine, in the aggregate, the message is clear: Caring about your skin is a noble enterprise, while wearing makeup is tacky and borderline deceitful.

The sensible part of me, the part that has read Naomi Wolf but had already more or less come up with this on my own, gets that skincare products are generally snake oil. A tax on being female and all that. While I have nothing against skincare when it's needed (when, say, you have a mark on your shoulder that Dr. Google tells you is not just melanoma but the deadliest kind of melanoma, it never hurts to have an offline dermatologist set you straight), I try to restrict my skincare routine-such-as-it-is to sunscreen and, in winter, moisturizer. (That said, I'm a tremendous hypocrite and currently own three different tsubaki oil conditioners. In my defense, Mitsuwa was having a sale.)

But skincare seems somehow like a really luxurious pursuit. The idea of spending money on something that couldn't possibly do anything, that isn't even claiming to address a skin problem, merely to improve the skin's appearance, is part of the luxury, but there's also the question of time. What sort of morning is this that would allow for not only the usual getting-ready but also a multistep application of mists and serums? And what if it all really does work? What if the reason my face at 31 looks different from my face at 21 isn't that it's a decade later, but that some mix of frugality and feminism has stopped me from going the skincare route? I can't tell if the fantasy is more about youth or relaxation, but it definitely pops up on days when I look in the mirror and think I look tired.

*A cynic might note that ITG is now selling skincare products of its own, but the motif predates the e-commerce, and may well explain why, once the in retrospect inevitable decision to start selling something came, they went that route.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Eggs, baskets

The great joy of writing for places other than WWPD is, you know, an audience. Money's also a plus. The downside of that sort of writing is the complete and utter lack of control over if and when that writing appears. I have an unusual amount of ifs and whens pending at the moment. My metaphorical eggs (not the sort frozen, then written about in having-it-all articles) are nicely distributed across a great many baskets, and... I think that's really about all one can do? Am I missing something?

This may seem like not the biggest deal in the world - and that's because it's not - but one item will often have a way of sort of hinging on another, and in moments of despair I'll start to think that none of those eggs will ever hatch, or all will break, or whatever the egg-and-basket metaphor wants to happen to the poultry products in question.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Woman in journalism

I was reading this article by this guy about this magazine, and in it, he - now a very famous journalist for a different magazine - mentions having been turned down not once but twice for that magazine's internship before snagging it and the rest is history. While the significance of the article in question lies elsewhere (and there's many a Twitter sinkhole for those interested in reading about the topic), it did remind me of a personal-but-with-broader-significance-I-promise anecdote: While still in college, I was rejected from that same internship. And it never occurred to me to reapply! Let alone that one could do so twice! I wonder why that might have been...

Like everyone else, I had, by that age, experienced rejection, and wasn't generally one to dwell. But that rejection became the rejection, the one that announced, in some definitive, divinity-ordained way that I'd never stand a chance of making it in that world. That I was, in fact, the intellectual lightweight I'd always suspected. But that job interview also represented this great what-might-have-been. I was that friend who won't stop talking about that one date she had with a really hot guy whom she hasn't heard from since. It had never entered my mind that - to continue the dating metaphor - it would be acceptable, after a sensible amount of time, to call him again and see if he wanted to hang out.

But the dating angle isn't just a metaphor - as Freddie pointed out in the comments here the last time around, these things are related. Women learn that if a man's not interested, there's no squeaky-wheel principle by which reminding him of your existence will change his mind. Men are encouraged - over-encouraged! - to persist. This seems to transfer - or did for me at least - into an approach to professional life. It's not so much that I was harder hit by rejection than a man might have been, but I just took every no, all ambivalence, as final.

And I wasn't necessarily wrong to do so - it's quite possible (see the whole Lean In backlash) that women who persist aren't as likely to be rewarded for doing so.

I use the past tense here for a couple reasons. It's partly the aspirational past tense - obviously I still have these inclinations - and partly that it's been a while since I've given that whole episode much thought. But it's also that I think I have, to some extent, snapped out of that approach more generally. Largely by just... growing up, I suppose, and thinking strategically, in an almost third-person sense, about various career aspirations.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Imperfect but possibly useful historical analogies time

Léon Blum : Vichy :: Barack Obama : Ferguson/Staten Island

Too beautiful to model?

That underwear chain in no need of further promotion, and thus that shall not be named, is not a seductive store. Not in the way that a posh underwear shop can be, where you summon the courage, go in, and think, damn, that's a gorgeous $150 bra, and leave empty-handed (or, worse, with a $90 bra that will have seemed reasonable by comparison). My memory of the chain from high school or thereabouts is that they had good deals on utilitarian cotton underwear if you bought in bulk.

Despite giving this brand no thought whatsoever in ages, despite not visiting its website, I've somehow not managed to avoid multiple news items about how the store is having its annual fashion show, complete with image upon image of the women marketers want us to think are the most beautiful alive. Alas, the marketers may be onto something. I may need to rethink some of my Twitter follows, but there it is.

The overt sexiness of their marketing strategy - famously... appreciated by Borat in the beginning of that movie - has always seemed odd to me. Why cater to the male gaze when selling underwear to women? I mean, why cater so directly to it? Yes, many women past the five-for-$20 life stage want to look good, in their underwear, for men. But why scour the world to find the handful of women who'd manage to inspire both male lust and female insecurity? The women whose looks hit that magic point between porn star and high-fashion model? The women about whom no one, of any gender or sexual orientation, is going to fail to categorize as ridiculously good-looking? Who are so flawless as to be beyond aspirational? Do men really buy enough women's underwear (for whatever purpose) to make that worthwhile? (The company's Wikipedia page says no, but apparently the idea had been to sell women's underwear directly to men.)

Because there's a threshold, right? An attractive model makes you think you'll look more attractive in whichever item. Thus... models. Thus all the unflattering clothes womankind has purchased because they looked good on a personal-style blogger or it-girl. But past a certain point, if you're noticing the model and not the underwear, how can that sell anything?

Or maybe this is more a shopping question than a self-esteem one, at least for those of us who've largely aged out of such concerns. It's easy to suspect that having models that attractive is about distracting from the crappiness of the clothes. That, and it would seem that what you're paying for when purchasing a $50 bra of $20-bra quality is for the company to hire models whose pay grade is far above that of the nicely-built girl-next-door. It's not that other brands don't find other ways to rip off customers. This just happens to be one of the more obvious ones.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

"One more pigeon response" UPDATED

This afternoon brought with it an email avalanche of unprecedented proportions. Nothing mysterious about this - I, too, am catching up from the holiday weekend - but it did make a change from the usual stream of H-France (French history listserv) items. Not, of course, that there weren't those as well, including one with the subject, "One more pigeon response."

Expect substantive posts at some point, but in the mean time, some shameless consumerism. Recent exciting purchases include:

-COS tights, in Yves Klein blue. That color can be tricky - what looks right on the computer screen may be all wrong in person. But having been inside a COS or two, I remember from their color scheme that their royal blue is the right one.

-One let's say family-sized package of hot chili peppers, from H-Mart. I know nothing about hot pepper varieties, and last time ended up with ones that were chili-shaped but basically bell peppers. These are... sufficiently spicy. Adding a couple whole to last night's hot-pot managed to infuse the broth with a pleasant spiciness. Meanwhile, chopping up one and using it in place of chili flakes in an arrabiata sauce this evening managed to turn that pasta into a meal that would have the maximum number of chili-pepper icons at a Thai restaurant. I can't decide whether that's a good thing or not.


The chilis:

-Uniqlo "room shoes," in an elegant plaid that's sadly no longer available.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Of indeterminate origin

A photo posted by Phoebe Bovy (@phoebe_bovy) on

The above photo is of a very inauthentic bowl of hot-pot-like soup. It is, however, vegan, and probably healthy, yet delicious. Instructions below:

-Fill one cast-iron Japanese hot-pot bowl (which we all have lying around; a saucepan would also work) nearly full of water.

-Add some kombu seaweed. Bring to a boil.

-Before or after that, add some sake.

-Once you decide everything's infused or become broth, remove the seaweed with the mesh strainer you bought after watching "Cooking With Dog." (There's always foam to be removed.) Lower the heat to a simmer.

-Add a couple of fresh hot peppers.

-Dissolve miso paste into the broth. Not too much.

-Add soy sauce.

Now the broth part is done. The pot is ready for solid ingredients! (As I type "solid ingredients," it occurs to me why I'm not a food writer.) Those may include:

-Chopped vaguely scallion-type vegetable.

-Oyster mushrooms.

-Diced firm tofu.

-Rice cakes.

-Bok choy.

-Pea shoots.

As it's cooking, you're of course removing foam, while making sure not to scrape the pot with the mesh strainer.

The rice cakes shouldn't overcook (or, as I just learned, undercook), but ideally the greens are barely cooked. Ideally-ideally there's a tabletop burner involved, so you're dipping the greens at the table. If that's not the case, you will have to bring the pot from the stovetop to the dining table shortly after you've added those last ingredients.

A dipping sauce is then needed. Last time I'd attempted something complicated involving tahini, which is apparently the best approximation of an actual Japanese dipping sauce (or would have been if I'd properly followed the recipe, which involved toasting and possibly grinding sesame seeds), but this time I went with what was on hand: soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic. This turned out better than the tahini version.

Admittedly, part of the reason for the vegan-ness of the proceedings was that temperature-wise, things were bound to be a bit iffy. Lukewarm-pot, basically, by the end. But it worked! If only I'd measured and written down the proportions, because the end result was some kind of miracle: a vegan broth that tasted like, dare I say, the real deal.

Upstairs, Downstairs, in leggings

So this Dear Prudence letter might seem to just fall into the usual Sexy World Problems category:

Subject: Hottie helper  
Dear Prudence: I recently went back to work after the birth of my second child. My husband and I have been floored by how challenging it is to have two kids and two working parents in one household. We have arranged to have a young woman live rent-free in our basement, in exchange for being our family helper. She drives the kids kids to preschool, cooks occasional dinners, cleans the house, etc. It’s a sweet gig for all involved, the girl is a great fit for my family, and we are happy to help her out while she goes to college. There's a hitch. She’s incredibly sexy and dresses in a way that leaves little to the imagination: skin-tight leggings, spaghetti strap tanks with nothing underneath. I don't get the feeling from my husband that he even notices, but it wigs me out. Should I just acknowledge this as a non- threat and work on my own insecurities, or address her and ask her to cover up?  
Emily Yoffe [answers:] What you describe her wearing is standard for college students, and absolutely standard for someone relaxing at home. The issue is not her clothes, but that she is a gorgeous, taut young woman, and you are feeling like a less taut, overwhelmed not-so-young woman. I’m assuming your husband actually has noticed, but he’s a gentleman and has learned how to keep his eyeballs in his head. You, too, have to keep your head screwed on right. This is about you, not her, and not your husband. You have solved one of the grinding problems working people with young children face. So congratulate yourself and enjoy the extra pair of hands, and stop dwelling on the fact that the hands are attached to someone stunning.
Good-looking young woman? Check. Titillating bralessness? Check. Inappropriate-but-clichéd affair possibly imminent? Check. It's all most lightly-scandalous, but there's a huge issue here that somehow goes unremarked: This couple has, if not technically a slave, an unpaid live-in servant. And they view this arrangement as "help[ing] her out while she goes to college"! It's obviously convenient for this family that their housekeeper/cook/babysitter lives in their home, just as it was for the Bellamy family. Those servants, however, got paid.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tabletop Burner Tuesday*

Black Friday, for my non-US readers, is an annual holiday, celebrated by patting oneself on the back for caring more about friends/family/experiences than stuff. On Black Friday, those who can afford things full-priced, or who are so confident in their socioeconomic status that they see no need to signal such status through the use of anything so crude as brands, or who favor brands too posh to hold discounts on the day after Thanksgiving... all such individuals celebrate the day by ostentatiously not shopping. They may, however, patronize Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, etc. And if they happen to be in Paris for the soldes, it's OK, because "sale" in proverbial yellow subtitles is acceptable.

Anyway, seems I totally forgot to do my annual-ish reminder that anti-Black-Friday sentiment is largely-but-fine-not-entirely about class snobbery. I also skipped Black Friday for the very noble reason of, I slept through most of the day. It had been a very long time since I'd gone running, and keeping up (kind of!) with my fit friends left over enough energy for grocery-shopping and little else. But I did make something of Swing By The Mall Saturday, and am now the proud owner of a $12-but-originally-$15 ear-warmer, purchased half to avoid jogging in a pom-pom winter hat, and half to guilt myself into actually running when it's cold out, having now invested twelve dollars in this activity.

*Not a thing, unfortunately. Although what stops me from going that route remains not so much the price of a hot-pot set-up (which... who knows) as the fear that such a device (which I'd inevitably buy with Japanese-only instructions) would somehow lead to my building burning down.

Friday, November 28, 2014

At a time like this

It was only a matter of time. But eventually, a (white) Facebook friend called out his Facebook friends for using Facebook to post cat videos and the like, when, you know, Ferguson. This post got dozens of likes. Privacy settings would presumably prevent me from checking, but I'm going to assume the likers are split between those who'd never have thought of cat videos at a time like this, and those who absolutely posted cat videos after news of the grand jury decision had broken, but who've been shown the error of their ways. There's also the person - not someone I know - who comments that her use of cute-animal sharing is her way of comforting herself at a time like this, and thus not evidence of ignorance or insensitivity, quite the contrary! Which... is both entirely plausible and unlikely to hold up in the court of social-media opinion.

We've been down this road before. But this time around, I've learned that there's a term for it: "social media signaling." At least I think that's what that expression refers to. What one does and doesn't put online ends up seeming like some kind of ultimate barometer for what a person thinks is important, when in reality, many people are keeping that-which-is-important (political opinions, photos of loved ones) off social media. But the way a feed works, it can seem as if Friend B's complaint about a coffee shop closing early (note: a complaint I've had) is somehow in response to Friend A's heartfelt analysis of police brutality, even if these two friends don't even know each other. It's jarring, though, and it makes Friend B look like a terrible person. Meanwhile, Friend C will be alternating posts about the serious and the trivial - what does it all mean?

Of course, the desire to avoid looking clueless can, in the aggregate, end up making the world a better place. As in, does it really matter if someone shared Ta-Nehisi Coates's reparations article because they want to signal their good-person-ness or out of a sincere belief that that's, you know, a really important story? Shared is shared, right?

The danger, though, is that a certain tone, or approach, has a way of inviting defensiveness. Accusing people of racism because they've shared cat videos - even if the accusation comes from a place of sincere outrage - will cause some to reflect, and others to roll their eyes and hide your subsequent updates.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The normcore appeal of Midtown

There was apparently a time, in New York, when everything cool happened below 14th Street. Then came the mallification. These days, whether you're seeking to avoid mall-stores or (as I am, on occasion) looking for the nearest Uniqlo, it hardly matters which part of Manhattan you find yourself in, or indeed whether you're in Manhattan or Edison, NJ.

These days, a fine case could be made for avoiding lower Manhattan. There's the practical case - i.e. Prince and Broadway is even more crowded with frantic shoppers than 34th Street. Also the subjective one - I have to get into the city through Penn Station, and after two hours of complicated travel, there needs to be some reason to add an additional leg to the trip.

But apart from all of that, there's something just more pleasant about Midtown. Busy, yes, but not pretending to be anything other than what it is. In the Village, you're meant to feel that your clothes-shopping is somehow artistic or bohemian. That because whichever chain store is expensive and on a side street, you're doing something different from a mall-shopper. In Midtown, it's straightforwardly corporate. The tall glass buildings don't lie. Midtown feels - pardon the expression - fresh.

All of this points, unavoidably, to normcore. Midtown has it, and SoHo, etc., do not.