Friday, October 24, 2014

The American Art of making a mess of one's apartment

Question of the century: If it's presented as a "Japanese Art," will I find the prospect of cleaning the apartment appealing? That's probably the most fun it can be made to sound, "it" being sorting through a pile of books, magazines, bags, jackets, and, I notice, an umbrella all on a small table that's ostensibly for keys and a book or two. So thank you, Marie Kondo, for the inspiration. 

But if I think in terms of "'the [Japanese] tradition of folding,'" as expert Leonard Koren puts it, who knows? Maybe the pile of clothes on top of the bedroom drawers will not only leave that pile and find homes in the drawers in which they belong? "'Folding is deep and pervasive in Japanese culture,'" adds the expert. I choose to interpret this to mean that I'm excused from folding stuff, seeing as it falls outside my cultural tradition. It would be cultural appropriation to clean these surfaces! 

In all seriousness, though, I totally agree with Kondo's overall philosophy, as Penelope Green describes it. "Discard everything that does not 'spark joy,' after thanking the objects that are getting the heave-ho for their service; and do not buy organizing equipment — your home already has all the storage you need." That's basically what I already do. I don't go through stuff as often as I should (see above), but when I do, I'm not one for keeping things for sentimental reasons. I'm very much OK with thinking fondly of the times I wore an outfit in college, then bringing it to the thrift store if it's not something I'd ever really wear.

Some in the snarkfest comments to Green's article are saying that if they had to love all their clothes, they'd have none left. But doing so is actually kind of possible, and doesn't mean chucking everything that isn't formalwear. To give some examples from my (fascinating) life, I'm very enthusiastic about some socks from Muji, which are, yes, just socks, but I'm quite happy with them. Also with some t-shirts from Everlane. And, I mean, this fleece. Such logo-less simplicity! Zip pockets! And not baggy around the midsection, as is so often the case with fleece! If you're sufficiently enthusiastic about your, err, basics ("basic," such a loaded word) when you buy them, you may find that you can sustain that enthusiasm until - or, as is the case with those Petit Bateau Breton-striped shirts, long past - the point at which they're too worn-out to wear.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On learning where my car comes from UPDATED

I'm maybe halfway (or one NJ Transit round-trip) through The Accidental Office Lady, Laura Kriska's account of being an American woman who, through a complicated series of events, ends up pouring tea for Japanese Honda executives. I've (still) never seen Mad Men, but I assume it's something like that, only the 1980s, and there's some Japanese version of Jon Hamm who has yet to appear in the book, or who appears only in my as-yet-to-be-written fan fiction version.

But back to the book that does exist: So far, so fascinating. My one observation would be that much of what strikes Kriska as particular to Japanese corporate culture seems like it could very well come from her being at what is essentially her first post-college job. Work is not like school - just ask Doctor Cleveland. The shock of going from an environment where someone with an Ivy League PhD (and that will be the case at any college these days) cares what you think about complicated intellectual ideas to doing whatever a boss deems useful (and whatever that is, it probably won't be hearing what you think about Aristotle... unless you go to grad school, which - as per Doctor Cleveland's post - only delays the inevitable) is famously jarring even for those who don't move to Japan. How much of what she describes comes from being an individualistic American, and how much is just recent-college-grad blues? How much is culture clash and how much just office politics?

Whatever the case, nothing so far has been described that hasn't made me wish I could go back in time and make whichever life choices might have led to being sent to work in corporate Tokyo after college (but not too much after - 25 sounds like the limit; as a married 31-year-old, I'm thinking this ship has sailed). I could stand to know how to make proper tea, and I suspect that the much-complained-about polyester office-lady uniforms of the 1980s were far more chic than anything I've ever owned.


Guess I'd actually almost finished the book yesterday. In any case, finished it now. How interesting it would be for people who don't half-wish that they too had moved to Japan to work for a car company after college, I couldn't say. But I enjoyed it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mitsuwa once more

Going to Mitsuwa is like taking a mini-trip to Japan. (Or so I must tell myself - it's three hours of driving and nearly $20 in tolls to get there and back!) It's not just a supermarket, but also a (somewhat hit-or-miss; udon was better than rice bowl, and yes, I may have inadvertently ordered two lunches) food hall; a bookstore; a whose-apartment-wouldn't-benefit-from-hanging-Japanese-fabrics store, with a housewares annex; and all sorts of skin- and haircare products whose exact purpose I'll only ever learn if the time comes that I have time to take a Japanese class.

Because I have some restraint, after yesterday's trip, I ended up only with an American woman's memoir of working for Honda in Japan; a bilingual cookbook (chosen after much deliberation; so many excellent cookbook options, not to even get into the cooking implements); some hair-product refills; and assorted groceries that may or may not have survived the hour-and-a-half drive back. There are some jumbo scallions currently taking up the better part of the refrigerator, but according to this cookbook they're needed in basically everything. And I'm trying to teach myself to like mushrooms; I'm thinking very pretty Japanese ones are the way to go.

(I'm also far too tired after a busy week-and-weekend to prepare any of this, and about to eat a mountain of pasta arrabiata. In principle I'll feel otherwise during the week.)

Now, a brief word on that which wasn't purchased:

-If they'd had poodle yukatas, that might have also happened (unlike some of her Japanese Instagram friends, Bisou's wardrobe is limited to a Lands End jacket and a Santorum-like sweater-vest she chewed some holes in), so it's probably for the best that they did not.

-Where was the frozen yuba??? But by the time I was looking for it, the makings for a 12-course kaiseki meal were already in the cart, so I didn't end up thoroughly investigating (i.e. asking someone at the store).

-I go back and forth on clay pots - I like the idea of at-home hot-pot (and would presumably also use this same pot for not-Japanese versions of the same), but would, realistically, be doing this on the stovetop, and not investing in a full table-top set-up anytime soon. The question is in part whether stovetop cooking would promptly ruin these pots, but also whether there's much fun in hot-pot if you have to stand, or to just eat the stuff at the table (i.e. on a trivet) once it's cooked. Perhaps the cookbook will enlighten...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Quotes from the anonymous

One of the things about long-term blogging is that I can see an article about transgender students at women's colleges; think, I remember blogging about that topic!; and then find that I did... in 2005, in college, in a post written a) shortly before I'd met anyone (I knew to be) trans, and b) long before trans awareness had entered the mainstream. And, unsurprisingly, it's not the post I'd write today. (Presumably in 2023, everything in this post will seem similarly out-of-date and out-of-it.)

Anyway, what's great about Ruth Padawer's article is that she addresses why there'd be transmen at a women's college in the first place - something that may seem confusing if you don't stop and think about it, or haven't gathered the relevant anecdotal evidence. But here's how it seems to go: Masculine-leaning 17-year-old girls who haven't quite come out (perhaps even to themselves) as trans are applying as female applicants, and are going to gravitate to colleges known to be accepting of gender-non-conforming women. But then once they pass a certain threshold on the gender-identity spectrum, they have to either transfer or ask for the school to change for them. And... if this were just a rare occurrence, one might say, so be it, but because transmen especially gravitate to these colleges, the schools must address this.

And then there's this confusing problem of... what's the progressive approach? This isn't like the radical feminists who find themselves behind the times when they refuse to accept transwomen as women. The female students opposed to having transmen classmates at women's college are doing so precisely because they understand these classmates to be men. If they said, by all means, stay put, it's not as if you're real men, wouldn't that be worse? But if they say their classmates can stay and be accepted as men, the door opens for cisgender men to attend. Maybe. A policy of letting anyone who identified as female upon applying finish their degree seems the only sensitive way to go.

Here, though, is where things get interesting:

Many Wellesley students, including some who are uncomfortable having trans men on campus, say that academically eligible trans women should be admitted, regardless of the gender on their application documents. 
Others are wary of opening Wellesley’s doors too quickly — including one of Wellesley’s trans men, who asked not to be named because he knew how unpopular his stance would be. He said that Wellesley should accept only trans women who have begun sex-changing medical treatment or have legally changed their names or sex on their driver’s licenses or birth certificates. “I know that’s a lot to ask of an 18-year-old just applying to college,” he said, “but at the same time, Wellesley needs to maintain its integrity as a safe space for women. What if someone who is male-bodied comes here genuinely identified as female, and then decides after a year or two that they identify as male — and wants to stay at Wellesley? How’s that different from admitting a biological male who identifies as a man? Trans men are a different case; we were raised female, we know what it’s like to be treated as females and we have been discriminated against as females. We get what life has been like for women.”
Yes, I can very well see why the student in question wouldn't have wanted to attach his name to this. College students, though, as I can attest, say the darndest things.


Also interesting: Another for the endless-childhood files, and perhaps the parental overshare ones as well. (In this, Randye Hoder refers to - and, I can only imagine, embarrasses - an adult child, but has evidently shown less restraint in the past.) Also a state-of-journalism angle - we learn that a recent college grad who's "an editorial assistant at a well-respected magazine" is a) receiving parental financial support after college, and b) the child of someone whose "articles have appeared in The New York Times, Time, the Los Angeles Times, and Slate."

I think this piece does that thing that journalist-types call burying the lede. The story is not about children of rich parents staying dependent for longer. It's about the mess that's out there for those without rich parents. It's yet another case of privilege being acknowledged but not even slightly grappled with. Here's what Hoder provides:
Extending financial help to one’s children in this way is, of course, a luxury. Many of my friends—as well as my husband and I—are upper-middle-class, and more than a few in our circle are one-percenters. The majority of Americans simply can’t afford to help their children to the degree that we are fortunate enough to be able to.
And - and I'm starting to think I'm part of the problem, showcasing what could well be clickbait, pitchfork-bait content - we learn both that the author treats her daughter to the odd "mani-pedi" and that the author's got this friend...
Another friend, whose 23-year-old works for a wealth management firm and earns a mid-five-figure salary, says she and her husband still pay their daughter’s car and health insurance and have kept her on the family’s cell phone plan. 
“She makes a good salary, but rent and expenses are high,” the mom says, adding that her daughter’s job requires that she look professional. “She has to dress well, get her nails done, and drive a reasonably nice car. 
Ms. Another Friend, too, chooses not to be named.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Affirmative consent, sitcom edition

The Mindy Project season premiere may well be the first time female heterosexuality was depicted on television. Wait, what could I possibly mean? Aren't virtually all the women on TV straight? Perhaps so, but they're basically always objects of male sexuality, in one way or another. Even Sex And The City - there, there was so much focus on looking perfect (despite the tremendous tragedy of crossing the threshold of 35) so as to get a high-status mate. Mr. Big... I mean, separate from my subjective indifference to Chris Noth, there's the fact that Carrie was always interested in being rescued by a car-and-driver, and a Big without those trappings clearly wouldn't have been of interest. There wasn't a whole lot of... female gaze, I suppose, with the exception of Samantha, who was always sort of a hollering-at-Chippendales joke of a character. And her lust had to be presented as mutually exclusive with any interest in a relationship - something never expected of men.

But TV changed when Mindy, at the end of the episode, put on her nerdy-but-not-hipster glasses to get a better look. A look at what, well, go check out Hulu, or, if you don't care about context, click here. But the gaze is definitively in the female-looking-at-male direction. Female vanity in no way enters into the scene. There's no desire-to-be-thought-beautiful. That's not the fantasy. This has been the case for a while on The Mindy Project - thus the way that every episode finds an excuse to have two hot guys in a "fight" of some kind. But that's a bit too subtle - it's possible for male viewers to take that in as slapstick, without catching on to the fact that it's the same, for the equivalent audience, as if two hot women were in an equivalent tumble. This was... quite a bit more straightforward.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

This post contains too many italics

The most articulate response I can summon to Ted Scheinman's claim below (via) is: This again?

High-scoring students at top colleges who pursue doctorates in the humanities have already capitulated to manifold compromises: instead of earning small fortunes at consultancies, we sign a six-year contract to live on or around the poverty line while our teaching, writing, and research busies us for roughly 12 hours a day.
I got a lot out of grad school personally and intellectually, and all the usual disclaimers. But. If I had imagined, for even a glimmer of a moment, that "small fortunes" or "consultancies" were options for me, I might not have signed up. Yet I think Scheinman's talking about people like me. I guess "high" and "top" are relative, but "honors" and "UChicago" might count, and I vaguely recall that I'm someone who does well on standardized tests, but it's been so long, I don't remember the details.

But... while I absolutely had college classmates who went on to that sort of path, it's not as if each individual elite-college student sits there and ponders a choice. My choices - not just my inclinations - had left me with the choices I did have, but these were not choices made senior year of college, for the most part. I was on the track to something-poorly-compensated-involving-writing long before graduation. There was nothing I could offer a consultancy (such things as... knowing what one was, or how to even find out about jobs at one) when I graduated. If I'd been a completely different person, with a different major or substantially different coursework, sure. But, alas. I combed the Idealist listings - successfully, because 2005. Then I rejoiced and headed to grad school (and - how 2005-2006 - took a pay cut!) when I learned I'd be paid to read books.

I suppose it's different at the really elite schools, and do have a Facebook friend who periodically mentions being a humanities major who went the get-paid-a-lot route and seems confused about why others wouldn't do the same, and I want to be like, because we didn't all go to college where you did!, but then I figure maybe I'm wrong, and anyone who did go somewhere super-duper-elite probably knows more about this than I do. (Scheinman also says something about impostor syndrome.) But I doubt if it's that different, certainly post-2008.

Monday, October 06, 2014

A glutinous post

According to South Park, gluten is very dangerous. Josh Modell criticizes South Park for being late on the gluten game, but wait! Jane Brody's column today is on "a real condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS." Of course Brody has to specify that it's "real," because the default assumption is that non-celiac gluten avoidance relates to the tendency of pasta's deliciousness to prevent those Zara jeans from closing comfortably.

Anyway, it's a tough one. It seems likely that a) this is a thing, or to use the scientific term, "real," while b) dieting is also real, and the wish to lose 15 pounds discreetly is more common than gluten insensitivity of any kind. As a 21st-century American in the demographic for this, I can say I've at the very least met gluten-avoiders who fall into all three categories (that is, celiac; not-celiac-but-medical; and trendy-and-dieting). There's a danger in under-diagnosis, but also one in normalizing the treatment of common food items as poison in the general population. I mean, of course it's (kind of) good for the few who can't eat gluten that avoiding it has become trendy, but by the same token, if every population that either can't or won't eat an ingredient had such luck, there'd be nothing left. And then there's that other set of people - "orthorexia" may be the official term, but there are plenty who are... whatever the equivalent is of what gluten insensitivity is compared to celiac - who suffer disproportionately from these societal notions.

What would be ideal, then, is if the coverage of whichever sensitivity or intolerance would be done in such a way as to raise awareness that this condition is out there, without inviting readers to assume, by default, that whatever it is is no longer to be considered food, because Science. Personally, I have no idea how this could be done, but it would be great if it somehow happened.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

A "bookish" roundup

I was frequenting this brunch place in town, not because I like brunch, but because that bread. It's this odd mix of fluffy and wholesome, with all the grains and such I like, and none of the ones I just sort of tolerate. I figured it came either from the place or, more likely, from some special Central European bakery, perhaps a wholesaler, I'd have no access to. And... today I discovered said bread at Wegmans. $5 a (huge) loaf, or $3 for half, but still a better deal than the $13 (now $15) for the brunch. There are also soft pretzels that look... familiar, but those I haven't tasted to confirm. 

It's quite possible (I have my reasons to suspect) that everything the place sells comes from Wegmans, which is on the one hand disillusioning, but on the other... I mean, eating out always means a markup. They probably don't want customers to know their stuff comes from the supermarket, but they, I don't know, curate it? I'd have never found this bread otherwise, and it's amazing. ("Seven Grain Bread," for those in Wegmans territory.) And it's on the whole a good thing for me personally that I can recreate the meal I so enjoy. But this may well spell the end of a briefly-revived stint as someone who does brunch.


So I was trying to cross the street just now with my husband and our dog, and we were at a crosswalk without traffic lights. It wasn't particularly dark out yet. There was a car coming, but quite far, and on a 25mph road, so I stepped into the road - I think we all did? - and made the 'we're crossing' gesture. The car slowed down in a way that indicated the driver saw us, then sped up, only to more abruptly stop once we were definitively in the crosswalk. As the driver passed, he shouted a sarcastic, "You're welcome!" from his SUV, as if he'd done us the biggest favor in the world, allowing us to cross where you're supposed to, the way you're supposed to. And... I know I'm newish at driving culture, but is this a thing? You're supposed to thank cars that allow you to cross in a residential area, in a crosswalk?  

When I'm driving, I stop for pedestrians (without making a thing of it! they have the right of way!) and sometimes get a gesture of appreciation, but by no means usually, and I by no means expect one. I suppose maybe it's weird when a pedestrian thanks the driver who stopped first, but not the one on the opposite side of the road, but I've had this happen exactly once, and lost exactly no sleep over it. So, to be clear, this guy was in the wrong, correct?


A guy I think I went to college with (name sounds familiar, don't know if I'd ever met him, had no preexisting opinion of him, but it's a huge school) wrote this week's Modern Love. It reminded me of a novel I read not that long ago, so much so that I kept wanting to congratulate the female author on creating such a convincing heterosexual male protagonist. 

Anyway, what interests me is this:
I was amazed to have gotten this far. As my friends were sick of hearing, it made no sense to me that a gorgeous woman in her early 20s who spoke four languages and had lived on three continents was spending her Saturdays with me, a 31-year-old bookish type from Pittsburgh.
“How old are you?” one asked, which put our substantial age difference — something we had not yet talked about — suddenly under a spotlight.
(You can tell this is someone from UChicago because of the "bookish type" self-description.)

Anyway, a pairing of "31" and "early 20s" doesn't seem all that outrageous, although there's often a life-stage difference between 20 and 24, one far greater than between 24 and 31. I would say something about how you never see 31-year-old women with several-years-younger men, until I remembered several couples I'm friends with who fit that pattern.

What struck me, then, was how much of a thing it is, for a 31-year-old man, to be dating a younger-but-not-indecently-so woman. This isn't just, for him, a thing that happens once you're an adult, and are socializing with people who weren't necessarily in kindergarten the same year you were. It's part of her value. It's not enough that she's beautiful - she's a catch because of her not-31-ness. And yes, this absolutely did strike me because I, too, am 31. I'm surprised-but-not-really that even men as young as 31 would find same-age women excessively ancient. That a woman of legal age could be, in some meaningful sense, a younger woman to someone 31.

So I've watched some "Millionaire Matchmaker" in my day (and so I nominate myself for the alumni award for Least Bookish Type, literature PhD notwithstanding), and there, the men of course want younger women, but this will be for one of two (stated) reasons. One is that it hits them at a haggard 57-ish that they'd like kids. The other is that they just prefer women under 25, 30, 19, whatever, which is the trickier issue. These same men will also claim they want to settle down. (Yes, I understand that it's probably semi-scripted and actually an interwoven series of ads for cupcake and flower companies.) One put it... best?... when he said his perfect woman would be 29 and three quarters forever. The late-middle-aged man in question looked like a cross between Eric Cartman and Donald Trump.

It seems, in other words, a gamble to be appreciated for your youth. For your beauty... well, beauty may fade, but is more subjective. A man might cease to find a woman beautiful without her having changed in appearance, or might continue to be attracted to her because he still sees her as she looked when they met. But a man who settles down with a woman because she's such a great distance from the age at which he thinks women cease to be interesting... I mean, she will, barring unforeseen disaster, turn that age.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Fauxbivalence revisited

Yes, I've seen the latest in fauxbivalence. My cohort is leaving the age of wedding fauxbivalence, and moving on to the early-middle-aged question of fauxbivalence within marriage. Or: Nona Willis Aronowitz remains fauxbivalent. Whatever the case, old age.

If this piece irritated me less than her wedding fauxbivalence one, it was partly because it totally does give people a different impression of you if you mention a spouse. It makes you seem like someone who'd prefer to stay home watching Netflix than going out, which (may be true but) is - and this I can attest - a slight impediment to making new friends, at least for a time, if you marry earlier than your peers. It's temporary, of course, but it's a thing. So if she was just saying that saying "husband" makes you seem old and conservative, well, it does. First-world-problems, but problems all the same.

Mostly, though, it was because at least with this piece, there was some concrete reason why Aronowitz wouldn't want to be thought "married." With the wedding, it seemed to be about aesthetics; here, there's a buried lede: "we are allowed to hook up with other people when one of us is out of town." Oh! That really is a different sort of "married" than is generally assumed. For all the talk of "monogamish," a ring or a reference to a spouse typically signals that someone is not available, so if you are, how on earth would you convey that? If, then, she'd left it at, it's awkward to say you're married when you're in an open marriage, fair enough. I bet it is!

But no! She doesn't leave it at that. She takes it in an appropriative direction, talking about "code-switching" and "respectability politics," as if her struggles as an open-married, by-all-accounts-straight white woman "philosophically opposed to what traditional marriage means" have something to do with those of African-Americans. And gay people - her plight is also like theirs. Or something. And then it came back to me why fauxbivalence bothered me in the first place: It's the conflation of one's own quirkiness (or quirks of the progressive subculture one was born into) with marginalization.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


"My therapist has told me I need to remember that I don't want to be in a relationship with him."

This, and only this, is the part of this advice-column letter we're going to discuss. The letter? It's about the lure of the aloof asshole. A classic problem, but not the question at hand.

And that question is: If you have a therapist, why are you writing to an advice column? Or: Why run such a letter? Or: If you are an advice columnist writing your own letters, why include a bit about a therapist? If you're already paying a neutral third party to discuss boy trouble, why are you taking up precious advice-column space? A second opinion, sure, but aren't advice columns for those in search of a first?

Monday, September 22, 2014

When the first-person person is a man

Nicholas Troester has (tongue-in-cheek) nominated a commenter to this very blog as "Commenter of the year," and with good reason. The commenter, who's chosen the discreet pseudonym of Anonymous so as not to be blacklisted by an op-ed-writing cabal, wrote the following, in response to my last post, on the women pressured into confessional writing:

Yes, but where is the demand coming from? This is a strictly by-for situation, but Hadley doesn't seem too keen to explore that angle (and neither do you, for that matter). The result is that demand for the "confessional" is put down to some non-specified blob of a demographic, even though we all know who is reading all this stuff. I'd also say that sociobiology/evopsych could explain this apparently perplexing phenomenon in about five minutes, but the op-eding class doesn't go in for biodeternism, so they'll continue to wonder why one half of society needs a visceral, emotional connection to the subject at hand. We really do live in an amusing world.
Between the lines, I think what Anonymous is saying is that women are the ones driving the demand for confessional writing, and that biological determinism explains why that's the case. And that if you don't agree, it's because you are part of, or have been silenced by, The Feminists.

Anyway, I was going to respond by pointing out that supply here is key: It's cheap (often free) to publish personal essays, and easy to get this content, because everyone can produce these, whereas not everyone can, say, analyze the subtleties of Cambodian politics. And you don't exactly need to factor in reporting costs - let alone international-bureau-type ones - if you're getting a 22-year-old's musings on the hook-up culture at her college. So even if the demand from men and women alike is greater for other topics, these are so much cheaper to produce that that's what fills the marketplace.

But then I realized I'd had enough Gender Angle for the moment, and will instead turn to two instances of personal-hook fails, where the authors are of the dude persuasion.

Here goes: Dude A wrote a piece about the downsides to prolonging life, Dude B, one advising parents not to leave money to their kids. Both reasonable topics, both pieces backed up with evidence.

But that's not enough in today's journalistic marketplace. We have to hear from Ezekiel Emanuel that he wants to die at 75, and from Ron Lieber that he doesn't want money from his parents. Why? Are we meant to believe that these authors are particularly representative of humanity, or that they, for personal reasons (as vs. professional expertise) truly get the issues at stake? What does it add to frame these topics in the first person? Is Kant's categorical imperative somehow involved? Is the idea that they're hypocrites until proven otherwise, and asserting that they'd do the thing they're advocating preemptively absolves them? Thanks to the personal twist, both articles end up reading smug-and-self-righteous in a totally avoidable way. The issue stops being inheritance or quality-of-life in old age, and starts being what sort of person we think Rahm's brother and this Lieber fellow might be.

And I'm not - as the way I begin this sentence suggests - an anti-first-person absolutist. What I object to is the first-person requirement. Or to this odd hybrid genre, where it's never enough that the writer feels whichever way (too subjective!), so you instead get a piece that results from how the writer feels, plus various evidence that supports whichever preexisting assumption.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A placeholder post

Hadley Freeman is always right. But sometimes she's extra-right, as with her column on the pressure on female writers to get personal. It's a variation of a point others (myself included) have long been making, but Freeman nails it:

The book publishing world has, for some time now, become wholly memoir-ified. Nothing gets a publisher’s chequebook out faster than a memoir, to the point that nonfiction books that are ostensibly about a specific subject (butchery, say, or George Eliot) are now styled and sold as memoirs (respectively Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession by Julie Powell; and The Road to Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead.) Everything must be seen through the personal lens, the theory goes, and a personal story gives the reader a narrative to follow, because the disintegration of a woman’s marriage is far more interesting than some boring old butchery. Make the writer a celebrity and the book will sell itself – ta da! 
A book is not worth buying, it seems, unless the writer discloses something shockingly personal about herself – and it is, almost invariably, a her.
[I]t is a thin line between the long overdue validation of women’s lives and telling women that the most interesting thing they have to offer, and that all they can be trusted to write about, is themselves.
What can I add, apart from go read it?

One thing, I suppose, is that there's a blurring that goes on, where women are urged to write about gender-related topics that aren't about themselves specifically, but that kind of lend themselves to that interpretation. Either to a personal hook (which sometimes works but sometimes feels tacked on) or, more frustratingly, to reader interpretations along the lines of, if she's writing about contraception, she's writing about her contraceptive choices! Or, if it's something the woman maybe can't personally relate to - a thin woman writing about plus-size fashion, or a woman without kids writing about parenting - then she lacks the authority to write something on the topic, in a way that having never been to China and not knowing Mandarin or Cantonese wouldn't stop someone from writing an op-ed about China. And... there's no way for me to proceed with this thought that wouldn't, ironically enough, lead to a personal essay. Which is what Freeman ends up with, but it is, it seems, inevitable.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Middle class"

As some of you might know, I'm hooked on BBC podcasts. The Woman's Hour and Comedy ones especially, but I sample around as well. British TV, especially if it's bad and from the 1970s-1990s. And British online newspapers, highbrow and decidedly less so. So! My question, Anglo- and Anglo-knowledgeable readers, is this: What do you people mean when you say "middle-class"? Various things are referred to as such, various cultural preferences, neuroses, etc. But does middle-class - as used in Britain today, not in some period when the aristocracy was more important - mean posh? Rich? Does it mean something like upper-middle-class means in the States, i.e. sort-of-rich, well-educated people who are not the 1%?

Or, conversely, does it have snobbish connotations as if from above, as in, middlebrow? In the States, "middle class" sounds sort of... ordinary? It means normal people, as vs. the destitute and as vs. the rich, but when used in, say, the media, without the "upper" qualifier, it means something closer, I think, to "working class" - a precarious status, not that of a definitive have. If you're middle class in the US, you would, for example, look at what things cost in the grocery store, and not be that guy who's rung up at Whole Foods, and the bill comes to like $200 for like three things, and he clearly does not bat an eye at this. (I may or may not be referring to a specific incident at the Princeton location.)

I suppose another way to put this is: Is there something between "middle-class" and the aristocratic elite? Would one of these schmancy business types who could actually afford to do and buy things in London (i.e. Kate Middleton's people), but who is not in the nobility, be "middle-class"? (Why is a Lorde lyric now stuck in my head? None of us can say for sure that we'll never be royals, now, can we?)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


-There is a dog in Japan that looks exactly like Bisou. Not as in, another gray poodle. Exactly.

-The housing changed the locks into card-entry, for the same reason as they came in and replaced our furniture - subsidized academic housing has its quirks. My husband's ID works to get into our apartment. Mine does not. I now have to enter through the back door (no innuendo intended!), which still allows a key. I'm sure it will all get resolved soon enough, but just, as they say, saying.

-Comfort-chic is so-very-now. According to a fashion expert, "[T]his season it’s about freedom and mobility." Flats, sweatshirts, etc. This - as I've said before - is a mixed blessing. If comfortable shoes are "this season," we can anticipate that next season will be a return of those horrible platform-plus-stiletto Louboutins, and the associated trend pieces calling such shoes (choice feminism! sex-worker-inspired!) empowering. Give it a couple months, and "mobility" will be so last season.

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Bambi legs"

So. What is this? Humblebrag-the-article? ("With pale skin, red hair, gangly arms, and clumsy legs, I’ve been told I look like either a manga character or a high school senior. There is no mature beauty about me. [She is 30 and has a baby.] Rather than mourn that fact, I dress to embrace it.") Trolling? ("What grown woman wants to risk looking childish in an expensive designer dress? That would be me.") Something in between? ("[L]ike my mother before me, who got carded well into her thirties, I’m often mistaken for a student.")

Or is it some sort of personality issue on display (or - it's writing! - that of the author's narrative persona)? ("Undeniably, there’s a small thrill, a tiny power in rejecting other women’s standards, in playing the provocateur. And in knowing firsthand the one sure way to win the attention of every man and piss off every woman in any given room: Wear thigh-high socks.")

Or is just obliviousness? ("Kate [Moss] herself was a revelation, a one-woman shift in the beauty paradigm who made it seem possible that there was an upside to being built like I was.") It might be super-highbrow thinspiration, which is, if nothing else, not something one sees every day. Not a genre one sees much of, which is probably for the best.

Whatever it is, it's strangely compelling. Well done, Stephanie La Cava. I may be a year older and an unthinkable number of pounds heavier than you are, I may identify with exactly none of that article, but it was, I suppose, food for thought.

Speaking of food, see also her Grub Street Diet. Although it, too, should probably come with a trigger warning of some kind.

The same old song

Sucker for advice columns that I am, I've had to branch out from Prudie and Dan, because sometimes weekend NJ Transit trains take that long. Which brought me to this Mariella Frostrup letter, from a man who sure sounds like a winner:

I have a female colleague who has, over the past three years, told me she loves me and would like to marry me. The problem is that I do not love her and I have told her that. I used to be in a relationship with another girl, but we recently broke up. In April I was at a low point and my colleague visited me and we had sex, and now she is pregnant. The dilemma I have now is that she insists that I marry her because the child will need a father and a mother.
It goes on, but doesn't become much more sympathetic or, for that matter, straightforward. Was this woman confessing her love and proposing marriage before the two had any kind of sexual entanglement? Or were they seeing each other, and he considered things more casual than she did? Was this April visit significant because that's the hookup when Female Colleague became pregnant, or was it the one and only hookup between the two parties? All of this matters, because we're looking either at a massively unhinged woman who's asking an acquaintance who could very well not be the father to marry her, or at a woman whose what-in-quainter-times-would-have-been-called-boyfriend refuses to commit.

Frostrup (whose advice is pretty sound, I suppose, either way) seems to assume the former. I read the letter... as close as I could read anything on my phone on a Sunday night train, and I'd say it's 50-50. It's obviously in the man's interest to downplay the extent to which he may have led her on by, say, having had some sort of ongoing thing with her. I mean, in most ordinary life situations, when one party's in love and the other is not, the two are at the very least involved.

Anyway. The bigger takeaway here, for me, was that letters like this - stories like this, and it's one of so many - illustrate the problem with the so-very-now gender-neutral approach to understanding and giving advice on relationships. Precisely everything that's playing out in this letter is deeply wrapped up in both the sex and the gender of the participants. Their sex, because of the pregnancy that's resulted (something I don't think Savage's "monogamish" ever successfully addresses - birth control can fail, people who support abortion in principle don't always want to get one, etc. - not issues in same-sex relationships), and their gender, because of the same-old-song way this is playing out. She wants marriage and kids; he wants consequence-free intimacy with a woman who's either very bad news (but hot/available enough to be interesting for sex) or just far, far more into him than vice versa. We might speak of them as "partners," but to do so ignores both biology and deeply-ingrained social roles.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

In lighter news

-A 32-year-old woman is enjoying college. Disagree with Dan Savage that the guy's into her, though - hard to pinpoint why, exactly. Maybe it's the comments, many of which are the sort of rationalizations women often give themselves - he's shy! he's afraid to ruin the friendship! - for why a guy hasn't made a move. While I'll accept that there are 20-year-old men interested in elderly women of 32 (#sarcasm, as one must note; I'll be 32 in under a year) attractive, I just don't get the sense that this 20-year-old finds this 32-year-old all that ravishing. On behalf of Team Women-In-Early-30s, I hope I'm wrong, though.

-More weirdness around adult women - and their uteri - being on their parents' health insurance. (Not lighter news, exactly, but not Iraq-war-announcement-of-erev-9/11, either.)

-Emily of Cupcakes and Cashmere answers a question I'd long been wondering about: How does one do that 'statement lip' look without looking otherwise washed out? I mean, I had seriously not known, but wanted to know. I now know. Useful information.

-According to the latest official Science, Ashkenazi Jews and Flemish Belgians are not related. Everyone in an Ashkenazi-Flemish couple is breathing a sigh of relief.

-The great closet-cleanse of late June was supposed to lead to a discovery of all the somewhat dressier, more glamorous clothes I'd wear if I weren't so lazy about such things. Instead, it unearthed a couple business suits from 2005, a super-elegant dress shirt with certain wardrobe-malfunction tendencies when combined with a cross-body bag (which is the sort of thing one wants to notice before heading out in that shirt, with that bag; what's done is done), some pants that were too small in 2006 and are lo and behold no more zippable in 2014, and other winners. Also a really spectacular shoe collection... if all of the shoes were in wearable condition. Few were.

So if the hoped-for end goal (shopping-of-own-closet) was out, maybe something was accomplished? At least now I know, in stark terms, what it is I don't own. And it's basically ever item that the Average American Woman supposedly owns a dozen of. Except for gray v-neck t-shirts. An infinite supply of those. And somehow, when browsing the e-commerce-sphere, I found myself gravitating to... more gray v-necks. Stacey and Clinton, consider yourselves summoned.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Dressing for one's fourth decade

Guest-blogging at the Dish was fun. If you're so inclined, check out my posts there, which cover the usual WWPD gamut - European anti-Semitism, shiny things, "privilege," and so on.

On a different note, clothes-shopping. Sort of. Let me start over:

I find it incredibly relaxing to look at clothes. Online or in person. I understand that there's a whole web of privilege-critique to apply to this - if I were black and thus preemptively accused of shoplifting, I might not enjoy poking around stores so much; so, too, if I didn't fit into straight-sized clothes, although that bit matters somewhat less, because I don't often actually try on any clothes. As someone whose career has been in the academia-and-writing realm, I've never had a tremendous shopping budget. If anything, I think the fact that I can't have all-the-clothes makes looking at them somewhat more interesting, but not so much so that I'd look around in a place where I truly could never, ever afford anything. (That, and little boutiques where it's just you, the salesperson, and the unaffordable clothes are not for me.) It's not that I never buy clothes - the Uniqlo receipts floating around various surfaces in my apartment suggest I do this sometimes. It's just that the looking-to-buying ratio is somewhat skewed. And I spend far too much time on the COS website for someone who's never going to buy these $100 Scandinavian minimalist dresses that would look reasonable - if on anybody - on a six-foot, broad-shouldered Scandinavian woman.

Offline clothes-browsing is not an activity easily indulged where I live. Less so, still, on a Sunday evening. But Urban Outfitters was open, so I figured, why not?

And it was a sea of... familiarity. All plaid flannel skirts and crushed velvet. Pre-ripped all-cotton jeans (the skinnies are on clearance; so last season). And then it hit me: I remembered when this was first in fashion. What an old-person thought, but there it was. What Tavi had been precociously nostalgic for a few years ago is now mainstream-hip. I guess that makes sense. (Self-promotional aside: NYMag linked to something I wrote about Tavi! Not quite the same as founding a magazine while still in utero, but it'll do.) Anyway, it occurred to me that if I can vividly remember crushed velvet dresses and Angela Chase-chic from the first time around, none of it would benefit my wardrobe.

That said. I know I should be thinking: 30s! Like those spreads in fashion mags, where they tell you how to dress for each decade, which seems so ageist when you're in your teens or 20s, but which, once you've seen yourself in clothes from 15 at twice that age, start to make sense. (There's an amazing bit about that, but as it relates to discussions of cosmetic surgery, in Roz Chast's new book.) As much as I might like the holographic oxfords I spotted on a recent looking-but-not-buying trip to a local mall, they'd do nothing for me. But what is 30s dressing, if not office attire for a corporate life I don't lead?

All that said: what do we think of these jeans, in Ultrafaded? So-very-now? Or yet another gesture in the wrong sartorial direction?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

On haters and their tendency to hate

Facing a kind of mountain of everything-swamped, but must pause for a moment for a wonderful headline: "Designer Carolina Herrera Hates Your Outfit." That she no doubt does. While the chances are slim that she's seen my outfit (is she a deer? a rabbit? a newly-arrived physicist?), I can well imagine how she'd feel about a Muji cap-sleeved black t-shirt almost certainly selected for its $6-ness, a pair of Yves Klein blue (ha!) J.Crew shorts that also had a sale going for them (not fit, that much is for sure), and the Nikes (full-priced - fancy!) that I may have bought with some aesthetic vision in mind, but that I end up wearing every day with anything, which tends to defeat the purpose.

I'm sure that if Designer Carolina Herrera could take a crack at my NJ-humidity-styled hair, my I-was-thinking-about-nail-polish lack-thereof, and my plans regarding cookie-dough ice cream, she'd have the fashion police (and not, as is so often the case, the mold-removal people - so fun that there was a leak in the apt. upstairs after the people there moved out) at my door.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lessons learned

Do not read work-related email near midnight. Why not? Because if you do, the caffeine from the previous day will somehow hit you around 4am, and you'll wake up compelled to write down your most articulate ever thoughts on anti-Semitism... or so those thoughts will seem at 4am. They will seem very obviously unedited and middle-of-the-night the following day. Sleep - and editing! - helped the end result. Please, entire internet, tell me why I'm wrong about Israel, in response to a post that isn't even really about Israel. I know it's coming. I'd say I'm exhausted just thinking about it, but I think the reason I'm exhausted has more to do with the lack of sleep.

Or, if you are going to do this, do not also make plans to go running in the evening. Or... maybe do? This at least meant being definitively offline the moment it went online, in nature with friends, not at the computer, passively awaiting the blood-pressure-fest. In any case, whatever comes of my writing future, I know this much: I will need to alternate between topics I care deeply about (and that others think I'm WRONG about) and topics that I care in a less deep way about (and that others think are too frivolous to be written about at all).

Monday, August 25, 2014


I've been semi-following that controversy over a professor denied a job over some euphemistic anti-Zionism on Twitter. (WWPD is for that which is not yet fully thought through, so that you, my dear commenters, can tell me why I'm wrong.) The internet's various reasonables (including a WWPD reader or two) pointed out that you can very well be opposed to the retraction of an academic job offer over tweets and strongly disagree with the content of the tweets themselves. Which I agreed with - 'liked' even - at the time, because I tend to go along with defend-your-right-to-say-it arguments.

And I do still fundamentally agree. But I was reading Moebius Stripper's tweets on the subject, and got to thinking: Academic freedom sounds noble - like a self-evident subset of free speech that all right-thinking people would not only support in the nodding-along abstract but storm the barricades to defend. But - as Moebius points out - this freedom a) is a bit of a stretch when it applies to speech outside the speaker's academic area, and b) does not carry over to those outside academia, whose offensive ramblings may also not impede their job performance, but who may be fired for relatively uncontroversial behavior all the same. Moebius Stripper... makes a good point.

My inclination is still to support more free speech for all. Including the right to tweet iffy anti-Zionist ramblings and still keep one's job as a professor or - to stick with Moebius's example - a bus driver. (With, one should hope, equivalent job security for those who call out said ramblings as the anti-Semitism that they are.) But what doesn't sit right, for me, is the intense, righteous passion on this issue, at a time when the employment situation of so many college instructors is so precarious, even if they manage not to infuse their social-media accounts with blood-libel accusations.

Part of this seems to be the quasi-hazing professors must go through to even get to that point in their careers. To get into grad school, you need to have played by the rules, likely at an elite college you got into by playing by the rules in high school. In grad school, it might be something like, how could you even think of citing that author, when surely you knew that in 1981, your professor had a really famous feud with him! Don't let the professors know you have a life of any kind outside your work! (Esp. if you are a woman, and that life includes a partner!) It's not even about it being self-sabotage to have this or that view on a controversial topic - you're not meant to even have the time to be informed enough on current affairs to have formed an opinion about anything that isn't obscure and pertinent to your dissertation. Goes the thinking.

Much of this anxiety exists among grad students, separate from what professors themselves actually care about. (I have no reason to think - for example - that I was ever penalized for failing to stay up on professor-gossip from before I was born, or for writing non-academic things containing opinions, on WWPD and elsewhere.) But some of it is structural. You spend many years being reminded of just how low you are in the hierarchy, repeating the mantra, 'they pay me to read books!', even while the pay is barely enough to live on, with no such thing as a raise, and continues - if they don't cut you off - for over five years. Sometimes quite a bit over. Things may improve (or the reverse, if you're an adjunct for a pittance and no benefits) during post-graduation assignments, but the much-awaited Academic Freedom takes its time to arrive.

And then, if all goes according to plan, as you approach 35, by which I mean 40, you switch from an unusual amount of precariousness to the extreme in the other direction. Walking on eggshells switches over - as I understand it - to being the one with the authority to plant those eggshells. (Even if - see above - many such eggshells reside in the active imaginations of anxious grad students.) This... makes tenure and the freedom of speech that comes with it feel sacred, in a way, even to those within academia who don't have it and likely won't ever experience it. The sacredness, then, isn't - or isn't just - about protecting the quest for Truth. It's also about preserving the fantasy (and it is, at this point, largely that, given the number of jobs) of there being a light at the end of the academic tunnel. Of all that's been bottled up all those years having its chance to gush forth into the public sphere. What makes the risk-taking of tenured professors feel so special is that they were so severely forbidden from doing so earlier on in their careers.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Self-promotion is labor

Buried deep within Teddy Wayne's Styles piece on social-media self-promotion is an aside that should be at the front and center: "And, to be fair, most artists and small-business owners must act as their own publicists or risk obscurity and bankruptcy."

Yes. That. Work-related self-promotion online is self-oriented, yes, but not in the ego-stroking, 'likes'-feeding-narcissism sense. Or, to be more accurate, the ratio as Wayne presents it strikes me as off. Obviously it's nice if people like the work you're proud enough of to share on social media. And some of it, if the thing you've written is about a cause you care about, may be about promoting that cause. But if the thing you're sharing depends on an audience for you to go on doing it for pay, you're sharing because sharing is - at least implicitly - part of your job.

Put another way: If I share something I've written on social media, it's not to make someone I went to school with, haven't seen in 15 years, who unbeknownst to me is an aspiring writer for that very publication, feel bad about himself. Nor is it to really show whichever English teachers or high school classmates may have found me less than brilliant that, see look, someone found my thoughts worthy of publication! It's not, to be clear, that I lack any neuroses in those or related areas. It's just that all of that is secondary to my understanding of how this aspect of my career works.

The best I've come up with is to save the more shameless share-share-share for Twitter, which is something I use more professionally than personally, and to save Facebook shares for things I think friends and family might want to see. (Pinterest and Instagram are just about pretty pictures, and, fine, my not-so-secret aspiration for Bisou to become famous in Japan; to then be invited to Japan to go on some kind of grand poodle tour; and to become host of my own YouTube channel, Blogging With Dog.) But this is by no means an absolute or deeply-thought-through divide, and... and basically anything posted to Facebook - positive or negative - is going to annoy somebody (some find all posting annoying, but are nevertheless on Facebook because it's their address book, which... I can kind of understand), so at a certain point, you just have to not worry too much about it.

Oh, and I wrote another thing. Which you already knew if you are my friend or follow me on social media.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A fan letter to The Cut

NYMag's The Cut is kind of great. So, two links to it:

-The first is just to say that what Maggie Lange calls the universal boyfriend shirt is one I own and wear all the time. Except that mine is from Uniqlo, not J.Crew, and is flannel-material. Another for the why-do-I-identify-as-feminine-yet-dress-like-an-adolescent-boy files. Part of it is, I just really like that shirt. Although the likeliest answer is laziness - it's much easier to read Garance Doré or Elle about the cutting edge in Fashion than to actually wear the dresses and skirts I do own, when the jeans are in a pile on top of the dresser.

-The second is Kat Stoeffel's post on why it's OK to objectify men. And while I agree with the premise, I'm not so sure about the reasons:

“Not being objectified” is just one of the many advantages of being male. When we selectively revoke this freedom from body scrutiny, we don’t do anything to diminish the meaningful economic and reproductive advantages men enjoy. 
Put another way: We will stop Dong Watch once there’s a female president, zero wage gap, and Swedish-level paid parental leave; once tampons, birth control, and abortions are all available free and on-demand.
All fair points, but they make it seem as if women are merely pretending to lust after men, to make a point. Then she seems to kind of address this: "Male objectification isn’t about making men feel bad. It’s about not caring how men feel. Or at least, putting it aside long enough to think about what we desire." But then the concluding sentence? "As long as the covers of men's and women’s magazines are both devoted to what men want, that will feel pretty cathartic." Maybe?

But the point of appreciating male beauty isn't catharsis. It's... that many women already are already doing this appreciating. The idea isn't to punish men by objectifying, or even to disregard them. Seeing as women aren't under quite the same pressure to be attracted only to the conventionally attractive (except for the whole height thing, which I tend to think is more about perceived status than beauty, but I digress), freeing women to be openly attracted to men is arguably a good thing for men, including the one or two men who don't look like Jon Hamm.

Some attention really is bad attention

Pardon the bloggy narcissism, but when I saw Miss Self-Important's post on people who get overly outraged at those who make small talk with them, I thought of my own, on people who project hostile, judgmental thoughts onto strangers with whom they have the most minimal interactions. These are, it would seem, related phenomena. Her post also reminded me of the thing where people complain about a gift someone has gotten them, forgetting that the alternative to the unexciting gift was the person not getting them anything, with the symbolism that would entail. So I kind of see her point.

That said, I'm not sure I totally agree with MSI on this. There is, after all, such a thing as concern-trolling, which exists offline as well. While it's not my thing to take to the internet to express outrage at interpersonal relations, I can certainly think of instances of witnessing this phenomenon. Sometimes someone says something to you or a friend of yours and their intentions aren't friendly. Sometimes if they'd just ignored, that would have been the kinder way to go. This is especially so in cases - such as the one MSI brings up - that involve acquaintances questioning one's life choices. Such conversations very often manage to hit a nerve, and the just-being-friendly questioner may well be perceptive enough to know that. Not always! But, not never.

OK, I'll give one obvious, fairly generic example: Say you're studying something that doesn't sound very marketable, and someone asks you what you're going to do with that degree. This can be a genuine-curiosity question, but, tweak the tone a bit, and it's 'What are you going to do with that?' Yes, sometimes genuine curiosity reads as judgy-nasty because of the insecurities of the recipient. But sometimes bad attention really is bad attention.

As for appreciating catcalls... I suppose I differ from many other feminists on this, in that I think there's been something of an overemphasis on the too-many-men-are-looking-at-me plight and not enough on certain other issues. While I agree with the party line, as it were, about catcalling, and particularly object to the variants that cross the line into intimidation, I think we hear about it more than we might because it's a relatively easy conversation to have. The sisterhood of men-keep-calling-me-beautiful is quite simply an easier one to sign up for than the sisterhoods relating to abortion, rape, eating disorders, domestic abuse, not fitting into straight-sized clothes, etc. That doesn't mean it isn't annoying to be catcalled, or that it doesn't connect, in some broader way, to these larger issues. It's just... If I were the dictator of feminist priorities, I'd make it a lower priority.

Anyway! That digression was because MSI links to me as Exhibit A of the Feminist War On Catcalling. I just wanted to be clear that that I'm not the warrior she's looking for. (I'm also pro-stranger-chit-chat when there's no sexual component.) What she links to, though, is a post of mine where I call out a very specific kind of street attention, namely being asked to smile. I do hate this, and am pleased that being ancient means no one cares what sort of expression I've got.

But what's unpleasant about "smile" requests is precisely that they're not about someone being nice. They're the opposite of that! The man who tells the young woman to smile is not complimenting her! It's... I believe the popular expression for this sort of thing a while back was, it's a "neg." It is, in other words, an insult. The man is saying that the woman looks mopey, depressed. And let's say she is one of those things. She's supposed to get some joy out of having that pointed out? How does that interaction not end with the woman feeling worse?

So yes, stranger conversations can be convivial, and yes, I have them kind of all the time, considering I have one of those natural don't-talk-to-me expressions. I mean, I have a dog - there's no dog-walking without such interactions. But being ordered to smile, that I'd skip.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What where when why how?

So Bisou was scouted as a model, and was supposed to appear in an Italian magazine, but then the issue appeared, and... nothing! But maybe this will appear elsewhere? Readers, do any of you have any idea what the shoot may have been for, or may ultimately have been used for? My mother took this photo of it as it was happening and... we're more or less stumped. 

Chanel, it seems, but what? An ad? Editorial? Bisou evidently had to stop chasing squirrels for several minutes for this to take place, and she demands answers.

Used J.Crew

In Princeton, for my purposes, there are two clothing stores: J.Crew and a consignment shop that doesn't but very well could go by the name of Used J.Crew. Because of the tremendous sales at the former every time the students go on vacation, both are comparably affordable, but the latter has other brands, seasons, etc., and was closer to where I'd gotten a late-afternoon Eiskaffee, so when I'd finished my work for the day, it was there that I browsed.

I had a goal in mind, kinda-sorta, namely something floral and Elaine Benes. Yes, I know, that was the look several seasons (that is, years ago), revived as part of normcore or pre-normcore or something. But maybe the dream I had last night that was set in my elementary school lobby as per usual got me on a 1993-nostalgia kick? Who can say. Whatever the case, Used J.Crew didn't have anything of the sort.

What they did have, however, was a tremendous clearance section upstairs, and it was there that I was reminded of the other item I'd been looking for, namely a short-but-somewhat-voluminous checked-pattern skirt like the ones the super-elegant women of Tokyo would wear. I had tried on some skirts or maybe dresses along those lines, but the problem was that this is a look that's very often designed to give ultraslim women the illusion of hips. I require no such illusion. What I needed was a skirt in that style, but designed for the Western consumer of tremendous amounts of pasta.

And there it was! Pale-blue-and-white thick-patterned gingham, even - perfection! Specifically, this - formerly (allegedly) $69.50, but for $8. I say allegedly because this is a skirt that lies. Not citing specific numbers, but J.Crew has vanity-sized itself into absurdity. Not that I, post-Eiskaffee, was necessarily complaining. But it does get confusing when you see a garment you want, and it comes in just the one size, and it's one that, in principle, you shouldn't be able to even try on without ripping.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The "eating pant"

So many great articles, and no longer my official week of Dish guest-blogging, so you, WWPD readers, are in luck. We have:

-A Room For Debate I haven't yet had time to read, on parental overshare. Note that under my definition of the phenomenon, it's not about putting baby photos on Facebook, ideally with some privacy settings, but even if not, eh. That's... what a family photo album is these days, and I see no reason to be paranoid about hackers chasing after your baby photos for nefarious, baby-harming purposes. Parental overshare involves sharing the sorts of things that wouldn't normally go into some sanitized, public face of one's family. Parental overshare is "brave" and involves spilling the sort of info that's only actually brave if you're spilling it about yourself.

-Allison P. Davis's account of being a disappointingly slovenly-dressed daughter of a stylish mother. Another note: I totally own the J.Crew "eating pant" (there's no link or photo, I just know) and had given them a similar name. And had, of course, worn them to hot-pot.

-Monica Kim on eyelids:

Before blogs, makeup tips and tutorials did not cater to different eyelid shapes in the US. Even today, the issue of the eyelid is often swept aside by beauty bloggers like Michelle Phan, who like to remind people that Asian eyelids come in all different types. That may be true—my mom and sister were both born with double eyelids—but it’s unhelpful to us single-lidded girls, who must go it alone.
This is exactly what I was trying to get at re: Jewish-looking, and doubtless applicable to other '-looking' variations as well. It doesn’t do much good for those of us who are whatever-it-is-looking to be reminded time and time again that there’s no such thing as that-looking. We know that not all members of our group have exactly the same features, and can often point to people in our own immediate families who don't have whichever fraught traits we do. I have relatives just as ethnically Jewish as I am, who have completely straight hair, the kind that doesn't even frizz in the rain, as vs. my own, which does something different every day, depending the humidity. Does that make my own choices regarding hair-iron usage automatically apolitical? Does that make frizz-prone hair not a stereotypically Jewish trait, and one that's underrepresented in mainstream images of beauty? 

Even if one is delighted with one's single-lidded eyes (or frizz-prone hair), as Kim says, styling advice tends to be geared towards the less-'ethnic' way that even an 'ethnic' person may look. (And yes, I've read many times that eyelid and paleness concerns in certain parts of Asia are not about looking 'white' and predate any such notions. As for Jewish hair concerns, as a rule, they sort of are, although my own may stem from envy directed at the popular Korean kids at my high school.) Which is, in a sense, the issue. There's clearly an audience, if you will, for women of every ethnicity. The problem with not being 'mainstream' in whichever way really is - once one is an adult, and has gotten past the phase of imagining that the only people who ever find a boyfriend, ever, are blue-eyed blondes - one of figuring out which products to use in which way. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A basic placeholder

Having figured out what an Instagram is (a place to shamelessly spam anyone who chooses to follow me with whatever I see fit; mostly poodle photos and food photos), if not entirely how the site works, I was able to spend my weekend eating and documenting. All in the very same weekend, I managed a Viennese breakfast, Chinese/worldwide-chain hot-pot, and, at home, non-American pancakes (the thin ones that don't go with maple syrup), and yakitori. I thought about going running, but there just wasn't the time.

I was also going to write something about "basic" (followers of memes and Lauren Conrad will know what I'm referring to; posting food and pet photos on Instagram apparently counts, as - I can infer - does singing along to Bastille when it comes on the car radio), expanding on this, but then I realized everything I'm responding to (such as Daisy Buchanan's fabulous admission of basicness) happened more than five minutes ago, meaning that this topic goes back into the long-haul pile.

Friday, August 15, 2014

What's an Instagram?

So I have joined Instagram, inspired in part by Kei, and in part by desire to get in on Japanese toy poodle Instagram. If I have my way, Bisou will soon be a huge Japanese celebrity. This is unlikely, because a) brushing her every other day and getting her groomed every month and a half doesn't add up to her looking like the glamorous Japanese poodles Into The Gloss profiled, and b) she doesn't have the wardrobe. There were absolutely stores in Tokyo that sold amazing small-dog outfits (including kimonos), but Bisou wasn't there with us, so we didn't know her size, plus I don't think these outfits would fit with her lifestyle, which principally involves trying to eat deer poop when I'm not looking and chasing squirrels up trees. (Not, thankfully, in that order.) Of course, I'm sure the poodles of Nara present similar challenges...

But I can't figure out anything about Instagram. How does one search it for people, images, anything? Also: What is Instagram etiquette? People are adding me and, on the wild off-chance that I ever figure out the mechanics of adding people back, whom is one 'friends' with on this site? Part of what inspired me to join was that I felt like it was a way to avoid spamming Facebook with every last photo of my amateur Cooking With Dog existence. I can't imagine most of these people would want to see any of this. I don't flatter myself that anyone's losing sleep over whether I follow them on Instagram or whether I restrict my follows almost exclusively to people who pose large groups of lap dogs in fields in Japan. For all I know, these are automatic adds that happen when someone one is Facebook-friends with joins the site. But the situation I don't want to get into is feeling like I'm spamming people on Instagram by posting... the very sort of items I got on the site in order to post.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

More Dish, and a bat

Anything I have written or will write for the Dish can be found here

I'm a little bit blogged-out for the day as you might imagine, but I will link to this Planet Princeton story, simply because, that bat. The local news has a tendency to make everything - storms mostly - sound apocalyptic (these are, after all, the big stories), but... that's a pretty scary bat. I doubt it's the bat that's terrorizing the residents of Linden Lane, but I also doubt if that bat - which we know to be rabid - is less frightening.

Monday, August 11, 2014

When not on WWPD...

This week I'll be guest-blogging, alongside Elizabeth Nolan Brown, at the Dish! Introductions here, gratuitous young-Keanu reference and more here.

Posts specific to Japanese from-scratch cooking and Pinterest avant-garde fantasy shopping may just appear here, but you never know.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

When pasta won't do

Weekends are for impractical cooking. That and impractically long NJ Transit trips, but the cooking's more interesting. The latest:

-Tofu! With from-scratch soy milk, which I sort of remembered how to make from the yuba, but barely. It... didn't turn out right, but this was my own fault for not measuring anything nor taking any temperatures. Next project on this front will likely be more yuba. What I came up with, tofu-wise, tasted like a watery version of store-bought firm tofu. Meh.

-Grilling! A friend who left town gave us his grill and we're trying to figure out how one works. Today it at first seemed like we had no idea what we were doing, then suddenly it was working as one would hope. And... it turns out that a grill is an efficient way to use up wrinkled bell peppers, but even grilled, one can only eat so many bell peppers. Now that we know that it works, yakitori on the grill is surely up next.

-Filling crepe-like pancakes with chocolate! (I do occasionally cook things that are not Japanese. More than occasionally, in fact, if one counts the 98% of meals that are pasta.) This is something I'd probably considered but never tried before. Basically you fill the pancake with a piece of (dark, is my preference) chocolate, as in, roll and wrap it around the chocolate, and return it to the pan for more heating. The end result is as close to a chocolate croissant as something that simple can be. The pancakes themselves are a simple enough ratio: one egg, half a cup flour, just under a cup milk, pinch of salt, and maybe a tablespoon, if that, melted butter.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Kale and klezmer

Farmer's market love-hate, the eternal topic. Mark Bittman wants us to feel OK about swapping our checking account for a small handful of really top-notch tomatoes. I want to feel OK about having done so this morning. Current objections, though, are as follows:

-The markets here are either Thursday from 11-4 (tough if you have what South Park once referred to as a jerb) or Saturdays 9-1 (tough if you have any sleep to catch up on from the week, or if you did anything other than anticipate the following morning's produce options on Friday night).

-I do live in a big produce-growing region. But for obvious population-density reasons, the local farms ship their goods to the city. I doubt if lettuce season is actually over (in fact, the presence of local lettuce at the supermarket suggests it's not), but at the market today it seemed to be.

-As Bittman says, "Farmers’ markets are not just markets. They’re educational systems that teach us how food is raised and why that matters." And, indeed, everyone on front of you in line demands copious education. For themselves or, if bringing kids, for the kids as well. If this has to happen at each stand, it can go from convivial to there goes the day rather quickly.

-The number of cars parked near the market this morning in no way matched up with the amount of produce available. This is a thing to do, a place to listen to pesticide-free banjo klezmer music or whatever, but not by any means an alternative to the supermarket.

-Buying kale or chard doesn't necessarily mean going on to eat either. Although I'm now starting to see where that green-juice fad emerged from. Other people probably also had fridges full of uneaten bitter greens, and, in attempt to do something with them, threw them into the blender.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Recentish, splurgish

My ongoing quest to look less like an American slob and more like a... Franco-Japanese non-slob (it's hopeless) doesn't actually require all that much shopping. It's mostly a matter of wearing the better things I own, "better" defined as things with buttons and zippers. Given my work-mostly-from-home, walk-a-dog-through-a-deserted-campus lifestyle, there isn't much incentive. So it's nice to shake things up on occasionally with items I didn't purchase aged 19-21. With that in mind...

-Uniqlo mini pencil skirt. Very similar to the two regular Uniqlo pencil skirts I have from several years ago, except for the fact that it doesn't make me look Hasidic if paired with a long-sleeved shirt. Not that there's anything wrong with that, my (many, no doubt) Hasidic readers. It's just that I don't want to give the wrong impression. Even if that cheese was made with animal rennet, I want in.

-Ballerina earrings in silver from Catbird. Dainty, but neither knuckle-rings nor requiring of odd ear piercings. (Those, btw, can't be counted on to close up. I don't recall how I old I was when I got that double pierce, but it's still at the ready.) They go well with a not quite so recent anymore purchase: this necklace, but in all-silver.

-Thanks to a coupon, the RMS eye shadow in Lunar. It's fantastic except for the part where applying it makes my finger sparkly. This might be higher-maintenance than I can handle on a daily basis.

-One subdivided $10 portion of wild salmon (ahem) from Whole Foods, chosen as a way to not have pasta for every meal, but which the cashier deemed unjustifiable. That's a new one for Whole Foods, being shamed for splurging. And on one ingredient! At least I didn't mention that some was for me, some for my husband, and some for a certain tremendously fancy poodle.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Feel like a womyn

Like the rest of the internet-to-whom-it-may-concern, I've been reading about the tensions between radical feminists and the transwomen they exclude. And... I guess there are two takeaways from Michelle Goldberg's fascinating article. One, that if you're trying to be progressive, not being exclusionary is usually the way to err. Common sense dictates that if you're a biological man who self-presents and self-identifies as a woman, your "privilege" is if anything less than that of a cisgender woman. (All things equal, of course.)

But at the same time, the article wouldn't be interesting if that were the whole point. The other issue is that a good amount of The Female Experience, or one version of it at least, is rooted in biological facts, not gender identity. Periods, developing (oh that euphemism), pregnancy/pregnancy avoidance/pregnancy scares, rape/rape avoidance/rape-near-misses, street harassment (at its most obscene when directed at young girls), relative physical vulnerability... All of these could well amount to obstacles less profound than those faced by transwomen (I don't buy the argument that "male privilege" extends to transwomen), but they are without a doubt different obstacles.

Basically, the plight of the biologically female is a thing, and it's not necessarily transphobic, I think, that some would make this their cause. A transwoman has always felt female, but didn't spend her adolescence petrified she'd become a teen mom. Where transphobia enters into it is, it seems to me, stuff like the refusal to use correct pronouns (i.e. pronouns people want used about themselves), and just generally being... phobic. That transwomen don't know what it's like to be a 12-year-old with uterus doesn't mean they're a menace, for crying out loud. "Womyn-born womyn" could plausibly make sense for certain kinds of support groups, but a music festival?

All of which points back to what I think is the reason trans identity is so hard to conceptualize for many of us who are not trans. While there probably are some biologically-female women who really feel like women, my guess is that many of us experience femaleness the same way as we experience being the height, age, and ethnicity we happen to be. Which is to say, as traits we've just kind of landed with, that we might try to gently alter in superficial ways (heels, sunscreen, etc.), but that just sort of are what they are, and feel like non-negotiables. Much of women's famed performance of gender isn't so much a celebration of femininity as... a way to make the least effort possible to look acceptable in society. Femininity can seem like a burden quite a lot of the time, to those of us who didn't opt in. Which is why my sense is that this is a problem of terminology - transwomen didn't opt in, either. They're not - as the radfems seem to believe - men who choose to live as women. They're women who ended up -pre-transition - looking like men. Who - like cisgender women - surely know that life is easier in our society for men, but who see living as a man as just as impossible as cisgender women do.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Firstest Worldest of Problems

Growing up, I always loved air-conditioning. Friends and family alike would remind me of the environmental and monetary costs, but what could I say? I enjoyed full-room refrigeration.

These days, eh, not so much. Maybe it's the guilt that comes with no longer having 'well at least I don't drive' as an excuse. Maybe it's time spent in Europe, and more time still spent with Europeans. Maybe it's that it just hasn't been all that hot this summer. But I'd sort of forgotten about a/c, and sort of stopped using it.

Which is a problem, it turns out. I've recently learned that the "leak" in my apartment is condensation caused by... drumroll please... not having the air conditioner on. And a fine a/c unit it must be. I've been officially instructed to keep it on at all times, windows closed, of course. (The leak hasn't stopped, but it's a puddle rather than a swimming pool.) As for the obvious, we don't pay extra for electricity. But even so.

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Bushy-brow fatigue"

-The strong brow trend has come and gone, which means the time is ripe for the NYT to discover it. As someone whose eyebrows simply don't do the caterpillar thing, my thinking is that, by accepting them as they are (which is to say, shaping slightly, but not striving for the illusion of thickness), I'm simply anticipating what ITG is already referring to as "bushy-brow fatigue." I am, as always, a step ahead of the trend. Which is why I will not be going to Doris Day (!) the dermatologist for eyebrow-enhancing medicine. The near-unused eyebrow pencil was plenty to throw at the now-non-problem.

-HMYF (hipsters make your food), your day, like that of the bushy brow, is done. The newish Viennese coffee shop in town has no hipster shabbiness whatsoever. It's full-on elegant, like if you order tea (which I will have to do sometime), it comes in a white-and-gold porcelain tea set. And it's just so much better than all the hipster-lite establishments, none of which have managed to have decent coffee, food, and atmosphere. And then... There are two much-celebrated farm-to-table places in town, neither of which is even a third as good as Little Sheep, the Edison outpost of what seems to be a very international hot-pot chain. You get to Little Sheep and while you wait for your table (and it's quite a wait), they have a video up promoting their corporation, complete with scenes of the marketing department meeting to discuss how to promote the company, as well as ones of the factory (?) where everything's standardized. HMYF can be a proxy for quality in an otherwise barren landscape, but it can only ever be so good. Whereas really good strudel, hot-pot, bulgogi, oyako don, bagels, pizza-by-the-slice, pain au chocolat... And this isn't even, clearly, a "white" vs. "non-white" issue, except under the OITNB/"white lady" definition of "white" in which "white" stands in for bland-and-yuppie.

-Considering a shimmery cream eyeshadow. Yes? No? Anyone with thoughts on the RMS line?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Euphemistic humility

Thank you, thank you, Doctor Cleveland*:

There is nothing a snobbish Ivy Leaguer likes better than putting down the Ivy League. It's an easy way to signal that you are above your own Ivy League school and the privilege it confers -- all a big humbug that your superior perspective sees right through -- while holding on to every last scrap of that privilege. It allows you to position yourself as not only 1. better than people who didn't get into Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, but 2. the benevolent champion of those little people who didn't get in and also 3. better than everyone else who did get into your school and who, unlike you, need to take the place seriously.
This is more or less what I was thinking, but unable to articulate, when I read that Deresiewicz piece, but also Reihan's takedown of Stuyvesant. These essays are always a way to announce that you made whichever cut, while at the same time... just read Doctor Cleveland. It's a little different when it refers to a high school - there, the provincial nature of the concern can outweigh the rest, and most of the readership didn't even have the chance to not get into the school in question, so there's maybe more tuning-out than resentment - but the principle's the same. Whenever these debates arise, what happens is, the only people qualified to speak are those who went to whichever school (which even Doctor Cleveland can't avoid, but somehow this is much easier to take from a pseudonym, esp. one making the better argument), alums of which are already having their voices heard plenty. These articles inspire immense, intense interest from fellow alums, but not a whole heck of a lot from everyone else. Not because "everyone else" is too busy drooling in the vague direction of a Kardashian show to read The New Republic, but because reading about the fate of schools you didn't attend is never that interesting.

Which is... fine. If the graduates of schools both fancy and schmancy want to have an insular conversation about euphemistic-whichever-location, that's perfectly reasonable. But maybe classify these stories as "lifestyle" and not "education." It's not that they never delve into big-picture questions about the educational system, or that there's never any reason to look at how it goes in the top 0.0001% of any hierarchy. It's just that the bulk of this Very Important Conversation is of the small-potato variety.

*This bit was spot-on as well: "Public colleges, and the students at public colleges, are merely rhetorically convenient symbols for him."