Saturday, July 04, 2015

"Then I think I might go to Canada" - Basil Fawlty

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

The great northern resurfacing

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

End of an era


Goodbye, outskirts-of-Princeton. Goodbye, preppiness, ticks, and excellent gourmet ice cream. Goodbye friends who haven't already (long since) moved away, and goodbye adorable fluffy wildlife, including the tiny bird that was (for a few brief, terrifying minutes) sharing our apartment. Goodbye, America-narrowly-defined. And yes: Goodbye, car. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Chic Canadian minimalism

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

A de-gendered reading of unearned confidence

Sometimes I've thought that I should, as a writer, do more with the fact that I have a PhD. Like, in a 'look what I've got!!!' sense. It's not unknowable that I have one, but it's not really front and center, either. While the training and experience I got from doing a French and French Studies doctorate has influenced my writing, thinking, etc., the title itself seems... irrelevant? Pompous? Like something that would be (and has been) held against me by certain readers who assume a humanities is some kind of extravagant finishing school that you (or your parents) pay for, and not a full-time job? But there have totally been times when I've thought, a male writer would be wielding that PhD for all it's worth, getting his authority respected, rounding up expertise, not down. 

Well, let's set aside the gendered reading, because all of a sudden there is a writer wielding a PhD in just the manner I'd never have the audacity to, and that writer is... a woman named Wednesday Martin. She's been going around claiming her PhD (which she discreetly fails to mention is in comparative literature) makes her a "social researcher with a background in anthropology." These claims were key to her whole positioning - as in, she's not yet another finance-dude's wife, writing a back-stabbing memoir about the other moms. She's a career-woman! Almost an anthropologist! Except... maybe not quite an anthropologist

There's no shame (ahem) in having a literature PhD and and then writing about things other than your subject area. Nor is there shame (ahem, ahem, ahem) in being a humanities-oriented person married to a math-oriented one, even if that almost certainly means you're the lower earner in your household.

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. 

As for whether there's shame in presenting your mean-spirited musings about your neighbors as ethnographic findings and invoking your doctorate in an unrelated field in the process, could be. Part of me admires her lean-in-ishness, but part of me is also sort of horrified.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Thoughts on femininity from news cycles past

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.

*Necessary update!

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Announcements

-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

Frizz in the land of the frisør

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

The grand (supermarket) tour

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

A brush with the famous

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

I believe the expression is "subtweet"

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

Varying seriousness as usual

-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

In all seriousness

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

Flounder

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

Adventures at the French-themed food court

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

Sex and self-promotion, not in that order

I've written a bunch of articles this week for The New Republic. Please read them!


Also worth checking out - a Savage Love letter revealing the difference between gay and straight "monogamish" - specifically, that threesomes involving men and women have the potential to produce children. This - the fact that sex can, indeed, make a baby - has always struck me as a bigger deal than Savage makes it out to be, when it comes to his suggestion that straight people open their marriages. His advice to straight people on this can seem implicitly geared to a world not only where contraception is infallible, but where no one's at a life stage where they might actually want children - impacting both how reliably whichever contraception is used, and how inclined a woman might be to terminate an unplanned pregnancy.

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

Logical endpoints

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

Safe spaces, "30-something moms"

-Is there a "safe spaces" epidemic on campus? I'm skeptical.


-Via one of the parent-writers I wrote about in that overshare article a while back (and more on her post in a moment), I see that there's this amazing Emily Bazelon article about parental overshare from 2008 that I don't think I'd ever seen before. How had the internet not pointed me to it earlier? I'd first blogged about the topic in April of that year, and this piece was in June, but I guess I wasn't particularly glued to that beat at the time. It's an interesting piece because it gets at the professional-ambition/livelihood angle. There's a difference (if not an infinite one) between a parent who shares tantrum-stories for "likes" and one who does it to pay the bills. Sharing on Facebook... ideally isn't done in a way that humiliates a child, but is the modern-day equivalent of a family album, and 

As for her post, the gist of it is that her detractors, "30-something moms," don't get how tough it was for those a decade older to know where to draw the line regarding online privacy. This seems plausible-ish, and appeared, at first, to be leading to a mea culpa. Which... sort of? She says she's changed the way she posts and now shares less, but then adds that she doesn't regret outing her child's condition: "In the case of mental illness, or any illness, advocacy trumps privacy." She goes on to explain that sharing didn't hurt her son - quite the contrary:
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

Author-humiliation-bait and YPIS

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

Blame the messenger

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

Signifierbucks

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

A serious matter

I keep going back and forth on these sandals:

-They're fabulous!
-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.

Almost-right advice

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?)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The end of racial anti-Semitism?

A commenter suggests that I may be too quick in dismissing the existence of racial anti-Semitism in Europe. Which tells me that I should have been more clear: I don't remotely think racial anti-Semitism is done - in Europe or anywhere else. But it does seem significant if anti-Semitism has swung (back) towards penalizing Jews for not assimilating. Bigotries that target immutable traits (real or constructed) are always going to be that much more unsettling.

But racial anti-Semitism hasn't disappeared. This is most obvious when it comes to the whole "looking Jewish" question. Secular Jews - Jewish women especially - continue to be relieved when they pass as non-Jewish. This is still, in 2015, a thing that happens. What else is going on when Broad City's Abbi Jacobson compares doubts about her and Ilana Glazer's Jewishness to "being carded"? I point this out not to accuse these women of self-hatred or of hiding their backgrounds - far from it! - but to point out an aspect of how Jewishness is day-to-day experienced, even by many out-and-proud Jews.

Or consider the response to the first sentence of Lisa Schwarzbaum's recent essay about traveling through Europe on a Jewish heritage tour. The sentence: "Like many who share my hair texture and fondness for rugelach, I am the descendant of Jewish forebears who boarded boats in the first half of the 20th century to escape bad times for our people in Central and Eastern Europe." Readers were horrified. One commenter writes, "That opening could just as well be coming from a Nazi, who was (falsely!) trying to prove that we Jews are genetically different, and therefore somehow inferior!"

Imagine a similar reaction to an article by an Italian-American writer - same reference to hair, but replace "rugelach" for "tiramisu."  Would that be seen as an outrage-worthy affront to the Italian-Americans who don't have "Italian" hair (whatever that might mean!!!) or enjoy delicious, creamy desserts? But the default assumption is that looking Jewish is a bad thing, and that surely the author is upset about her hair texture, whatever it may be. (A Google image search confirms what I'd suspected - she and I could totally share hair-product recommendations.) Schwarzbaum didn't say that all Jews resemble her, or cast doubt on the Jewishness of those who don't. Nor did she even say that most Ashkenazi Jews do - but what if she had? What does it tell us that Jewish-looking is assumed to be something a person - a woman - would wish to avoid?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Time

Jeffrey Goldberg's opus on the future of European Jewry isn't quite as panic-stricken as the title - "Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?" - suggests. Some thoughts:

-It's an extensively-reported piece, and not an easy one to brush off, not that it isn't being brushed off by some who've read it. Anyone who requires further evidence that Jew-hatred persists might want to check out the comments the piece is getting. It's hard to see, though, how an article about European anti-Semitism could exist that wouldn't attract charges of being overblown and propagandistic.

-That said, there are a couple small but crucial... I'm not sure if they're errors, exactly, so much as misleading moments. How is Dieudonné indicative of "[t]he union of Middle Eastern and European forms of anti-Semitic expression" and what does he - a non-Muslim (see the correction here) - have to do with "the European Muslim community"? And there's nothing particularly sinister about the Brussels Jewish museum being empty - I visited a couple years before the attack and, as is often the case with tiny museums, I don't remember it being overrun.

-There are some issues, too, with the framing, in the title but also in the piece itself. Repeating the idea that The Jews are a coherent entity, and that The Jews might up and leave an entire continent where they are, on a day to day basis, quite safe, is a bit... problematic might be the word. The sorts of questions you ask can determine the sort of answers you'll get. If you head out asking, "Is it time for the Jews to leave?," you're not going to hear from the people who are French, etc., of Jewish origin, and not considering emigration, or not any more than non-Jewish Europeans might be.

-There's also a question of methodology - if you're looking for Jewish Opinion, you sort of have to seek out people who are in one way or another active in the Jewish community. When plenty of Jews aren't, and may have different experiences. I had this issue when writing my dissertation - to figure out where 19th century French Jews stood on intermarriage, the obvious place to look was the Jewish press. But this offered only hints of how other Jews felt on the matter (hints like, columnists complaining that Jews weren't panicked enough). While I was able to counterbalance some of this with Alfred Naquet's writings (a fiercely secular and twice-intermarried politician of Jewish origin), the balance was inherently skewed. I think Goldberg, by necessity, runs into some of this issue as well.

-But Goldberg gets at something key with his follow-up question: "Is [Europe] still a place for Jews who want to live uncamouflaged Jewish lives?" That's precisely the issue - the "uncamouflaged" bit - and is a different one than whether individuals who happen to be culturally/ethnically Jewish are on the cusp of being hunted down. This comes up again later in his piece: "Of course it is possible, in ways that were not 80 years ago, for Jews to dissolve themselves into the larger culture. But for Jews who would like to stay Jewish in some sort of meaningful way, there are better places than Europe." It's not, to be clear, that it's somehow OK - somehow not anti-Semitism - if the only Jews who are in danger are the ones who worship at synagogues, or go to kosher supermarkets, or wear identifying clothes or accessories. It's anti-Semitism, but it's not racial anti-Semitism. And racial anti-Semitism is no-choice, no-opt-out, echoes-of-the-1930s anti-Semitism, and thus a different beast. Such is, at least, the impression I got from the piece. (See also, again, the UCLA controversy.)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fiction is better, the nanny edition

Let's say that you're a nanny for a rich family, and an actual nanny - not one on a slightly-too-chipper Netflix show. You're a creative type, but creativity has never once succeeded in paying an actual bill. Because jobs as one of Gwyneth's kids' white-collar-compensated tutor/nanny/yachting-instructor are scarce, you end up in a position of the very sort people totally end up in after a masters program, and that would really be worth remembering exist when people are all, how can it be that so many more women are getting grad degrees these days, yet the wage gap persists? You try your best, kind of, but the family you're working for is unfair, kind of. The hours are erratic, but you've shown up late a couple times. Maybe you're thinking, this would make a great personal essay! It would make great fiction. The essay format - the default these days, it seems, even for fiction writers like Laurel Lathrop, author of the essay in question (which, for the record, I enjoyed) - seems not to lend itself to the most helpful readings of situations along these lines. Which is to say, ambiguous ones, where the narrator doesn't come across as infallible.

The sentiment of feeling overqualified for a job isn't necessarily matched by a reality of overqualification. And it's possible to be exploited by a job and to be somewhat entitled and inept as an employee. These are all widely if not universally-shared life experiences. It wouldn't be especially hard for most anyone who's, say, been 22 to identify with that sort of sentiment, without necessarily endorsing it. Fiction allows for that ambiguity - for characters you can sympathize with, without applauding their life choices. Fiction permits readers other than tsk-tsking at mistakes that I-for-one would never make, or, conversely, earnest advice intended to help the author not repeat the same mistakes. It allows the reader to relate to someone who maybe got herself into that mess and maybe knows it and maybe hasn't emerged having Learned Her Lesson.

But the personal-essay format puts the reader in the position of someone who knows better and is almost ethically obliged to intervene. It demands this of the reader. (If that's the same Caryatis in those comments, hi!) A short story about this situation would lead to a totally different set of readings. Ones that, granted, wouldn't leave the author with specific, individually-tailored life advice, but possibly more useful ones all the same.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Harvard of Harvards

-Frank Bruni has some words of comfort for college applicants/their parents. It doesn't matter where a kid goes to college! How liberating! Except Exhibit A is a kid who didn't do so great in college admissions, but ended up in euphemistic Boston for post-college studies. It doesn't matter where you go to college, because there's always Harvard grad school! Which does kind of cut against the prestige-rejection message. It's a bit like the narrative that tells young women they shouldn't worry about anything so generic as finding a husband, and should focus instead on their own careers and interests... until they reach 30, at which point ideally the independent spirit they cultivated in their 20s will have succeeded in that ultimate of end goals, snagging a man.

-Assorted feminism-and-contrarianism links: Elizabeth Nolan Brown praises Laura Kipnis's defense of faculty-student romance. Katha Pollitt takes the now-controversial stance that abortion should be presented as a women's issue. (Controversial, that is, not because the would-be father might want a say, but because not everyone who's biologically female identifies as a woman.) And Ann Friedman rejects the joyful-self-expression-through-clothes approach of Women In Clothes.

-Speaking of clothes: When an admired dress turns out to be well over $300, only available in Japan, and sold out, one approach would be to scour eBay and whatever the advanced version of that sort of research is, and to find the place where the very same dress can be bought, and for much less money. I made a gesture or two in that direction, but realized early on that this was a dead end, or, rather, that the investigation necessary to make it otherwise wasn't worthwhile. (If only I had the same level of commitment to this that Ilana's mother has for knockoff handbags.) But I've been keeping an eye out for dresses that might resemble The Dress, at least in spirit. And oddly enough, this, once on, produced a similar effect. Or I see how it might, with proper styling. That, or it's a potato sack. I haven't cut the tag just yet. The same trip to the mothership also yielded a mid-length skirt of the kind that - according to Instagram and my now-fading memory of the place - is favored by many chic women in Japan. If today ever gets past the vacuuming-and-taxes-in-pajamas stage, perhaps a performance of femininity along these lines is in order.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Obliviousness as content

It might seem that being an out-of-touch European aristocrat would be almost a prerequisite for a certain kind of job in fashion journalism. But there's out-of-touch and then there's out-of-touch, and it seems one such journalist has, reports Fashionista's Dhani Mau, "crossed the line". Had she done so? Yes, clearly - the post in question did, as Mau said, merit a "[w]e shouldn't have to explain why her decision to put this on Instagram, as wealthy princess, was of questionable taste." A photograph of a homeless person reading Vogue, with a silly caption, is going to be, at the very best, "questionable," for reasons that, indeed, do not require explanation. And yet explanations abound. CNN is on the case, as is Jezebel. A Google news search confirms that others are as well. It must be spelled out, it seems, that this princess is so rich, so clueless, that she can't even empathize with a homeless person. A Jezebel commenter helpfully points out the "privilege" of a woman born "at the family palace, Schloss Thurn und Taxis, 500-room 8th-century abbey [.]"

What I'm wondering, I suppose, is what's to be gained by pointing out that an out-of-touch socialite is out-of-touch. Why does this become a news story? (To those who'd argue that I'm making it one, agreed that this is the inherent problem with writing anything about this topic, but WWPD is a slightly smaller outlet than CNN or the Daily Mail.) We're talking about a sector of the economy where people are hired for being socialites, where clothing too expensive for just about anyone to afford is displayed on emaciated models so young they haven't even been born yet. Vogue sells out-of-touch-ness! Are the homeless helped by a pile-on in this socialite's direction? Put another way: is the point of joining in the self-righteous pile-on that doing so helps homeless people from the plight of insensitive Vogue editors, or is it that shaming people for obliviousness is - there's really no other word for it - good content?

What's different about this YPIS cycle than others, though, is that the person whose privilege is being called out is, like, really, really privileged. It's... too easy. It's not quite as much fun as pointing out the obliviousness of someone who thinks they're (she's - it's always a woman) kind of scrappy, when they're actually not quite as scrappy as all that.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Usual disclaimer about varying levels of seriousness

-You should read Helen Rosner's essay on cookbooks even if this isn't your usual go-to topic. I'll never think of "lifestyle" in the same way again.

-Noreen Malone has the Canada Goose explainer we've all been waiting for.

-Yes, the UCLA story's disturbing - about as disturbing as it gets, short of the student ending up on Devil's Island. As is the extent to which some people (in the comments, on social media) are bending over backwards to excuse what happened. The argument seems to be that because Hillel is pro-Israel, a student's membership in what is generally the Jewish club should be viewed not as a Jewish cultural-religious thing, but as a political act. Which... yes, it's less bad, but barely, if someone's discriminated against for membership in specific Jewish groups than for having a Jewish name, Jewish ancestry, a New York-inflected accent, an innate ability to turn pantry ingredients into bagels - Jewishness, that is, that someone really is just born with.* Racial or cultural anti-Semitism is more unsettling than the hatred only of Jews who are active in particular organizations. So fine, allow them to win this incredibly limited point: it wasn't just that this student's Jewish - it's that she wasn't silently Jewish. But! That doesn't make it somehow not anti-Semitism if membership in the Jewish club (which indicates... Jewishness, and doesn't necessarily imply a political stance) is held against someone in this way.

Side note: Should the question arise, I wouldn't be pleased to see UCLA professors or instructors (particularly those who teach these students) writing blog posts, articles, etc., shaming the students in question. That said, I don't agree with the commenters who think that the people involved are children and therefore people whose activities can't be discussed in the media. (As if parents don't regularly write about their kids, but now I really digress.) I don't see anything unethical about a newspaper reporting on what happened. Journalists can and should investigate this. Not UCLA professors.

*I think I'm still on the UChicago Hillel and Chabad mailing lists, despite not having ever been a member of either.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Snowed in and all caught up on outrage

Thank you, p.c.-indifferent, telling-it-like-it-is menfolk of the Internet, for keeping me entertained. This is going to be the genre now, I guess - the flagrantly outrage-baiting personal essay by a man. Not that I was able to get through it in its entirety, but Knausgaard's "saga" - in which he white-male-privileged his way through Canada for the New York Times - might count. Sensitive, well-meaning essays get criticized for not being sensitive and well-meaning enough. Essays by people from marginalized groups conclude with the privileges the author does have being checked. The only way out of this cycle, it seems, is for men to write essays coming from places of unapologetic privilege.

-Exhibit A: Ryan Boudinot's rant about MFA programs, in which he takes a courageous pro-child-abuse stance:

Just because you were abused as a child does not make your inability to stick with the same verb tense for more than two sentences any more bearable. In fact, having to slog through 500 pages of your error-riddled student memoir makes me wish you had suffered more.
-Exhibit B: Brendan O'Neill's ode to having sex while trashed, in which he takes a courageous pro-rape stance:
We've gone from punishing those who rape to casting a vast blanket of suspicion over anyone who has sex. But the fact is—and please don't hate me—sex isn't always 100 percent consensual. Especially after booze. Sometimes it's instinctual, thoughtless, animalistic. Sometimes it just happens. It's sex without consent—that is, without explicit, clearly stated, sober consent—but it ain't rape. It's sex.
-Exhibit C: Jeff Wilser's self-pitying but brilliantly clickbait-ish humblebrag about being a late-30s straight man who's too lost to settle down, in which he confesses to an inability to take women's phone calls. No pull-quote - the more relevant fact here is that the piece rides the wave of the news that Tinder will be charging more for the over-28s. This news was generally received as upsetting by the wider over-28 community, even those in relationships or otherwise not using the hookup app. 30 isn't old! Except it kind of is - ask anyone in their early 20s, or perhaps the teenager at the supermarket who called you "ma'am."

Still in search of a name for this genre, though. Lumbersexual Lit? xoTarzan? The quest continues...

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Stems

If there was ever an issue designed to bring out self-satisfaction, it would have to be food waste. If you'd been simmering with the urge to shame people who throw away broccoli stalks or carrot tops, the NYT is offering not one, not two, but three comments sections where you may do just that. Now's the moment for your Sunday pot of lentils, which you virtuously distribute into your and your family's meals for the week, to make its big-media debut. And the "tips" article is especially... I mean, if your main food waste concern is that you throw away kale stems, you might as well just bask in the Gwynethy green-juice glow of your smug.

Or perhaps what I'm objecting to isn't even sanctimoniousness, so much as the fact that other people seem able to eat foods I think I'd have trouble getting down. A NYT reader: "Every now and then I’ll have a couple of tablespoonsfull of a dish leftover. I’ll pulse it and add it to a sauce or soup for some extra depth and flavor." See, I would not do this.

The sad truth is that I'm responsible for some not-insignificant percentage of the kale that's gone uneaten in this country over the past five or so years. I feel good about myself for buying it, but unless I have a very specific plan for using it (and I inevitably use other vegetables first, because they're more appealing, but I'll defend this as, because kale keeps), it eventually turns yellow and much of it ends up in the trash. Kale-discarding guilt is a special kind of food-waste guilt - and yet it's the very ingredient I'm most likely to toss. I can already hear the recipe-suggestions - garlic and olive oil! sausage! shred it and make one of those City Bakery-type salads! kale chips! - and it's like, you can know all of this, but it's still kale, and the answer's clearly just to not buy it in the first place.

The only way I know of that works to avoid food waste is to treat food the way you treat other household products - that is, to buy the same things over and over again, and use them up. Buy only the things you actually like to eat. Don't expand your repertoire beyond one or two cuisines. Don't assume that because other people (claim to) enjoy defrosted legume puree night after night, you'll do the same. Have a preferred cereal and milk at breakfast, and have dinner be pasta plus (say) arugula, tomatoes (canned and turned into a sauce or fresh and raw), and parmesan. Buy some kind of fruit that keeps (clementines, apples), and... done. You probably won't get scurvy, and you'll definitely appreciate meals out.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

I remember snow

-Thought I could be all smug about having missed the East Coast winter. Evidently not. It's somehow March but still undriveable. I'd been so eager to use my newfound highway-driving confidence for, I don't know, a spontaneous trip to Philadelphia. (Working from a Philadelphia coffee shop as vs. a Princeton-area one is a longstanding driving-ability fantasy of mine.) Instead it's more like, maybe it's not worth skidding off the road to go to Wegmans ten minutes away, even though they do have really good cheese. Now might, however, be a good time for me to hate-read articles urging people to investigate the provenance of their vegetables. Produce-wise, I'm working with one bunch of scallions here, possibly one blood orange as well. (I feel like I should be directing the implied recipe dilemma to Lynne Rosetto Kasper.)

-First instance I've seen of this: a journalist attempts to report on her own family, fails to get their approval. This seems, ethically, like a step in the right direction.

-When someone who "coordinates [...] a body positivity group started by fat queer people of colour" speaks out against privilege-checking, people (rightly) pay attention. Read Asam Ahmad here, although I found this via so many people who may well be reading this, so you've probably already read it by now.

-Via Aryeh Cohen-Wade, Lindsey Finn's list of "feminist humblebrags." The McSweeney's website isn't big on telling you when a piece is from, but it is - as they say in journalism - evergreen. Item 4 seems like it might be/have been a little controversial.

-Lisa Miller's anti-minimalist essay suggests that the Marie Kondo's neatness philosophy is the opposite of frugality. I'm not sure I agree, but she makes a good case.