"Our [unpaid] interns are learning how to [...] blog [...]."
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Because what's a day without at least three bleak articles about academia, grad-student-Facebook-land has now brought me to this piece about the difficulties of getting a PhD and job in the humanities without outside support. UChicago doctoral candidate David Mihalyfy writes:
Spousal income, a parent-owned condo, a trust fund – no matter which, these necessities increasingly make a humanities Ph.D. less of a career path and more of a leisure pursuit for those with financial stability from elsewhere, even for students at top institutions.It's one of the rare trustafarian exposés that remembers that sometimes - strange as it may seem - 30-year-olds (40-year-olds) are married. That the invisible extra source of income of someone ancient might be a spouse, and not mom and dad. Far too often, articles about the broke and humanitiesish suggest that it's this upper-middle-class thing to support one's kids financially until said kids themselves reach retirement age. And, eh, I don't think it's quite gotten to that point.
Further, similarly scattered thoughts below:
-Is marriage to someone who earns more than a grad student does privilege in the same way as having rich parents? I mean, it's pretty equally unearned advantage, or at least irrelevant advantage, but it doesn't necessarily indicate that "Despite rare exceptions, our humanities professors will come from wealthier backgrounds." I mean, a grad student whose spouse is a plumber or schoolteacher is at an advantage. It hardly needs to be Wall Street.
Now, it certainly doesn't say anything good about a career path if you need a decade of outside support to get started. It doesn't seem like the way to get the best candidates for anything. It's still wildly unfair. But if the concern is social mobility into academia, and the socioeconomic class of resulting humanities profs, spousal support would be less of an issue.
-In order to succeed on the academic job market, what you need on your CV are fellowships. Grants. Scholarships. Awards. These things tend to come with money. Needing money - being someone for whom $500, say, isn't just a night on the town - is an awfully big motivator to shoot for these, or at least I found it to be. If something is your job, you may well be more likely to treat it as one. Those who approach grad school as dabblers (no matter the source of outside income) and don't apply for extra (or any) funding may well have more time to publish, but they may have gaps in other key areas.
-Being married/partnered as a grad student isn't necessarily a career advantage. It does seem to up the odds that one will have kids. And as great a thing as marriage to a high-powered hot-shot (or anyone with a job, really) can be in terms of allowing some - like a woman mentioned in the piece - to avoid grueling perma-adjuncting, often enough, a spouse with a decent salary isn't going to want to move to Outer Mongolia (selected due to its current non-existence; no offense intended to Mongolians generally, nor to the Mongolian family who used to be my neighbors in particular) with you when that's the place that has the only tenure-track job in Medieval Tapestry Studies.
Nor will the grad-student spouse necessarily think Outer Mongolia and a far lower family income (and what about when Outer Mongolia deems you unworthy of tenure?) beats not-Outer-Mongolia and high school teaching/non-profit work/library work/from-scratch housespousery/retraining-in-air-conditioner-repair/there's-always-law-school. Don't let anyone stand between you and your dreams! But god forbid you should have found a partner before age 35, and that that person should also have dreams, and that that person's dreams pay more and in a better location. The best you - a purely theoretical you - can hope for is that in the course of grad school, you realize your dream may not have been Professor of Medieval Tapestry Studies after all.
(There isn't a two-body problem, generally, when parents or a trust fund are the source of whichever cushion. Although I don't think the first of the helicoptered generation is old enough yet for grad school.)
-Did you think I was going to let this go without a gender angle? No such luck. It seems possible that being partnered helps men but not women. While - given, if nothing else, the fact that men tend to earn more than women - women with husbands (because most couples are opposite-sex) may have a better shot at avoiding garret starvation, women may also have more trouble than men when it comes to getting a spouse to move wherever a job happens to be. A single man, meanwhile, will lack whichever Stable Adult With Family aura that apparently benefits married men - and not married women - on the job market, academic or otherwise.
-Confirming what everybody already imagined, what we had all already observed. But there are always other challenges to meet. For example, one may cook all of one's family's meals from scratch.
-Are food aversions really limited to "the west, where there is no shortage of foods to happily loathe without risk of malnutrition"? Religious food restrictions are certainly not, as I somehow think has come up on WWPD in the past.
Monday, June 17, 2013
A little while back, the NYT ran an exposé about today's spoiled college students. How spoiled? So spoiled that in anticipation of beginning their freshman year, they bought shower caddies at Target. Sorry, their parents bought them stuff at Target. So fancy! Also: so schmancy.
I had trouble reacting with appropriate horror to these trips to big-box stores, given the scale of the cost of college and the drop in a bucket this represents. Also given how unremarkable if not modest this kind of spending would be if done by adults for themselves or their under-18 children. People buy towels and stuff. Curtains are now sometimes a part of "stuff"? Yeah, fine, not when I was that age, but so it goes.
But a shrug was clearly not the response one was meant to have. Which, to some extent, fair enough. I mean, outrage - or at least annoyance - seems a fair response if your parents weren't able or willing to put a cent towards shower caddies, upon realizing that your roommate's parents had gone all out. Still, it seemed a bit disingenuous for a NYT lifestyle article. There are no doubt kids being shipped off with $300 shower gel. Was this the best target for generalized rage?
It's for whatever reason easier to rage at more middle-class decadence. Maybe because that's meant to signal a generational shift - this might be kids-these-days, in a way that the schmanciest 0.01% are not. Or maybe it's because there's a certain amount of respect granted to those who spend gobs, but not at a place as shabby as Target, because that's supposed to be chic. It's that second possibility that concerns me.
We now meet the similarly fancy and schmancy students of the University of Missouri, Columbia, who live in "luxury" apartments. What is luxury, though, in this context? Luxury is, these are apartments, not dorms. They actually cost less than the dorms, but are nicer. Key paragraph commenters seem not all that keen on reading:
The monthly rates for the modern units in Columbia generally start at $700 per student for a spot in an apartment, about twice the cost of older housing in the area. Yet they are on par with the price of on-campus housing, which equates to about $1,000 a month per bed, meals included.So this does sound kind of steep either way. (Dorm food: world's biggest rip-off, unless Alice Waters is somehow involved.) Fascinating, really, that people are paying more to live in Missouri off-campus housing, however luxurious, than one could not that long ago to live in Greater Park Slope.
These apartments are "luxury," though, because they have flat-screen TVs, instead of professors giving lectures. Which is... apparently something we're to believe is a normal thing that happens in a dorm? I went to a somewhat intellectual college (understatement) and lived in its dorms. No one was giving any lectures, unless you count the occasional midnight mansplaining among the undergrads.
"Luxury," though, seems to be mostly code for things that weren't ubiquitous back in the day, but have become so. Or things that didn't exist, period. College students today are mighty luxurious with their smartphones, but note the lack of record players, records/tapes/CDs, video cameras, regular cameras, address books... Similarly, various accoutrements of an earlier age that haven't been replaced with smartphones are also obsolete. How much formalwear are students bringing to college, for example, and no, we don't just get to compare this with whichever peak of hippieishness from the 1970s.
The article inspired what might well be the most mean-spirited comment in newspaper comment history. One college student is interviewed and explains that she's covering some of the cost of living in one of these evil luxury buildings herself, and is not - as the journalist clearly wants to portray her as - a brat. Which gets this response:
Ironic that the bearer of such an infamously aspirational, tacky and upwardly-mobile-stock-broker-fave name as "Courtney" would dispute the notion that student residents of these upscale off-campus resize denies are entitled and spoiled jerks.
And when she says "I wouldn't say I'm spoiled by any means," methinks the lady doth protest too much.Charming!
Further complicating things from an amateur-sociology perspective: there are a) the dorms, which sound like the biggest rip-off, but which have some kind of implied academic atmosphere, and b) the new "luxury" housing, with their "stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and balconies," but there is also c) the Niedermeyer Building, which is apparently old, quaint, and in far better taste than dorms with their own tanning salons. The Niedermeyer Building - furnished, one imagines, by Karl Farbman himself - is clearly for a better class of person. A recent grad who lives there refers to Option B as "mass-produced, soulless luxury." So is it that some students are too poor for in-house tanning, or that some are sufficiently lowbrow as to seek this out? (Both?)
And another commenter has this to say:
My own kids go to top colleges and stay in dorms that are austere and basic. [....] I'd be interested in finding out if there is a direct inverse relationship between the status of the college academically and the luxury housing and other perks they feel compelled to offer. If you are secure in your status, you don't need bells and whistles.Never mind that it's not the college offering all this. But this commenter may have a point. Student scrappiness is its own class signifier - sometimes the result of a badly-funded school with working-class students, but sometimes the very height of posh. (If you want to make this international, check out the dorms at Sartre's alma mater in Paris.) Maybe those raging against the One Percent would want to look somewhere other than at state-school kids in Missouri, granite-countertop-having or otherwise.
Friday, June 14, 2013
I know, such a strange assertion, but bear with me. If you are a woman, people are really trying to sell you things. Apologies to Sarah Haskins, Naomi Wolf, and the many others who've pointed this out, but somehow the message remains controversial. Oh, not in the abstract, but when you break it down to the individual things being sold. There, otherwise sensible women (and I include myself in this criticism) will insist this one item is universal necessity.
There's one approach to the selling-of-things that trumps the rest, which is a quasi-sanctimonious necessity argument often centered on pseudo-health. As in:
-Are you taking care of your skin? Not sunscreen, or something prescribed by a dermatologist for an actual condition. Serums, lotions, and individual creams for the left eye and right. It's unacceptable to come to the conclusion that the best paraben-free serum in a BPA-free container is no serum at all, because that doesn't cost anything. It simply isn't done to determine that while your skin does not look airbrushed, while you look the age you are, you have no particular issue that needs addressing, and leave it be. You need products. But expensive ones - you need to take care of yourself!
-Is your hair healthy? Not as in, does the condition of your hair reflect overall well-being and a healthy lifestyle. As in, do you have split ends? Dry, over-processed hair? And what if you do? What if this in no way detracts from your life? Unacceptable. Hair needs to be healthy, because healthy is not negotiable. You do not simply look best if you get regular trims. (Sigh, true.) You need these (says a hairdresser, says a women's mag). The world will end if you go more than six weeks between.
(Hair - this is the one where I'm guilty. Ever since discovering The Expensive Japanese Hair Products, I find it impossible to imagine why anyone hasn't put $20 towards a bottle of 100% tsubaki oil. And the Shiseido Japan hair mask. I have already led one friend and one relative down this path - perhaps some blog-readers as well. That and eyeliner. You don't wear eyeliner? What are you thinking?)
-Would you look better-in-a-conventional-sense if you lost a few pounds? Unless you're the ballerina/pole-dancer (ex-?) girlfriend of the exiled guy who, as has been established, looks just like a certain political-science professor (it's uncanny!), chances are the answer is yes. And even if it's not - even if you'd look sunken and heroin-chic-in-a-bad-way if you lost an ounce (and how nice for you!), we so equate weight-loss with beautification in our society that aesthetic reality is beside the point. It is thus inconceivable that you wouldn't at least consider a cleanse. What, you're OK being a healthy (which is its own conversation) but not stunning weight? You've clearly failed to take into account all the toxins in your system, 'toxins' of course not being a euphemism for 'extra 5-10 pounds from pasta non-avoidance.'
-And finally.... yes, there are women who are wearing the wrong size bra (and does the bra kerfuffle ever continue - re: the Observer piece, nice to see that skepticism and gullibility/vanity coexist in others as well) who are physically uncomfortable because of it. This is real! I take your word for it! There are also, however, women not in pain from their current, self-sized bras, or who are most comfortable in no bra at all. This is a problem from a marketing perspective. So it needs to be that ill-fitting bras are causing back injury even in women whose backs feel just fine. It needs to be that properly-fitting bras are improperly-fitting if they haven't been properly fitted. There needs to be some quasi-medical reason why, if you're not hoisting 'em up to what coincidentally happens to be the aesthetically optimal level, on a daily basis, and doing so with a device that's $50 or more, you will in fact die in a gutter of ill-fitting-bra-induced infection.
Anyway. I do not - as you might be thinking - approach this all from the perspective of a potato-sack-advocating communist. Just because someone is trying to sell you something doesn't mean that the thing in question won't work wonders. Flattering bras are flattering! Dewy skin is dewy! (OK, I do oppose weight-think.) What I'm asking is that we be alert to - and skeptical of - these necessity arguments. Just because some women simply must have/do X doesn't mean you are in the same situation with respect to that particular step in the primping process. And people who are telling you that you simply must are, quite often, trying to sell you something. So just... keep that in mind.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
The end of parental overshare may be afoot. And it has nothing to do with my attempts to get a campaign going to stop it. No, the credit goes to children themselves, who are apparently oversharing about their parents. The BBC Woman's Hour podcast (better than the title suggests) had a segment about technology in the home. It was mostly about children being spoiled entitled Young People Today with their gadgety whosawhatsits that presumably their parents bought for them.
But it was also about what happens when children post about their parents. Specifically, one kid went on the social media and wrote something like, 'you know your parents are alcoholics when the buy a wine refrigerator.' The implication on the program being that the parents are of course not actually alcoholics - which, well, maybe they are, probably they aren't, but either way, the parents won't want this online, even in jest. Think of their reputations!
It's also, in tone, exactly the sort of thing parental overshare usually consists of - an anecdote meant to amuse peers (not generally a newspaper audience, if a kid's the author), without a thought given to how the subject of the anecdote might feel.
Some connection was made on the show to parents oversharing about their kids, including one mother of a presumably adult child posting a photo of her daughter with a hangover and no makeup on. (A dry country, the UK, it appears.) The emphasis was on how kids don't know what is and is not appropriate to reveal, but the takeaway seemed to be that through their concern about their own reputations, parents come to recognize their children's privacy. A father said that he and his family made a pact not to write about one another without prior permission (and yes, yes, I'm skeptical of getting children's 'permission' for this sort of thing), and the first to break the pact was... the dad, who then had to pay a fine. The shoe on the other foot and all that. This is it - this is how the message will get across.
To the people who keep referring to the traitor-hero exile who looks just like the political-science prof... to the people who keep referring to dude as "a young kid" and the like, I thank you. He is 29. I am 29. 29, so young! Practically a child! The approach of 30 brings with it the list-of-things-I-will-now-hope-to-have-done-by-35-which-just-doesn't-sound-as-impressive. (Also decrepitude, but we women get used to being told we're over the hill from drinking-age on, so that I'm not so worried about.) So please, keep calling Snowden a little boy. For my sake.
Also flattering: I'm reading Joseph Epstein's Snobbery: the American version, and loving his enthusiasm for the University of Chicago, which he attended. I must drop my college's name more often. (Less fond of his take on American Francophiles, and on Americans who marry Europeans - but whevs, if you marry a Belgian, and buy that person a deep-fryer as an anniversary gift-that-keeps-on-giving, you get Belgian fries, at home, so it's Epstein's loss.)
But more surprising - and thus more flattering - is his insistence, in chapter after chapter, that there's some cachet to living in Princeton, New Jersey. Not to being affiliated with Princeton University - that's not hard to imagine. But with just living there. Not there, here. Princeton, according to Epstein, is one of a handful of "with-it" American cities. Right there on page 229 (or just in the version available at the Princeton Public Library?) It's... I hadn't even realized it was a city. What about the deer? The ticks? The turtles? But we are soon going to get a second independent coffee shop, which is something. And we do have better sushi than New York - not sure how that came to be, but there it is. And the beer-ice-cream. Could be worse.
In this crazy world we live in, there are, we have now learned, female men's-rights activists. I read Laurie Schrage's op-ed on my phone, thus avoiding the pull of the comments. I tried to look at her suggestion - that men who do not consent to co-parenting shouldn't owe child-support - with an open mind, but kept coming up variations of the same problem: some counterargument or neglected angle would occur to me, and would swing me that much further back to my - and the law's - default. It's impossible not to feel for a man who oopsed his way into a lifelong obligation. But does it follow that such a man should be spared the consequences?
-The in-your-face obvious: no one forces a man to have the kind of sex with a woman that can lead to the conception of a child. Or: if he was forced (unusual but possible), then we might say that in such circumstances, he can ask for nothing to do with any potential offspring, and the court can grant that. And what exactly are men being asked to do? Are they being forced to marry the woman they've impregnated, and not sleep with anyone else, till death do they part? To take meaningful responsibility for their offspring? To parent? Not so much.
-Is it appropriate/sensible/ethical for men having casual sex to assume that the women they are having sex with would get an abortion? By 'assume' I don't mean, assume that a woman who says she would is telling the truth. I mean 'assume' in the absence of any information. And while adoption is also a possibility, the woman who has been carrying the fetus for X months might start to consider it her child, and find herself not so prepared to give it up.
-If men have not default consented to co-parent, what do we then do if a man wants nothing more than to co-parent the just-conceived fetus now residing in a woman who wants nothing to do with him or it? He also hasn't consented to an abortion. Which does get tricky. If men who favor consequence-free sex have these rights, presumably so too do men who think every last one of their sperm is sacred.
-Schrage assumes two possibilities - a man who falls more or less ass-backward into lo and behold, he has impregnated a woman whose name he hardly knows, and a man who started out as a co-parent but has bailed. Meanwhile, the more likely situation is, I suspect, that a man is the boyfriend, if not in the super-serious, 50-something-couple-who-both-went-to-Berkeley-and-live-on-the-Upper-West-Side-and-have-been-together-30-years-and-have-three-kids-but-don't-believe-in-marriage sense, still in a sense that rings serious to the parties involved. A case where man and woman alike are making assumptions - she that he's going to stick around, he that all of this isn't really going to interfere with his life several months down the line.
-The benefit of the current system, from a feminist perspective, is that it shifts some of the risks of sex from women to men, bringing the potential burden on sex faced by men somewhere closer to that which sex will always place on women. But not all that close. That women risk pregnancy with every heterosexual encounter - not to mention a greater threat of STDs, for whichever anatomical reasons; not to mention rape - is not likely to change, and does make women-on-the-whole more wary of casual sex than men-on-the-whole. (Thereby making it tough to establish whether baseline women want this sort of thing any less than men do - and yes I know there's a new book on that very question.) A woman can (in theory) decide not to bear a child, but once pregnant, she can't opt to pretend the whole thing never happened. Even women who don't think abortion is murder aren't generally so blasé about getting them. Is it, as Schrage contends, basically slut-shaming men to ask that they too remember that sex of a certain sort can produce a child?
The law, then, is perhaps less about what happens when paternity is contested - to the father, the mother, or the kid, and you have to figure that messy situations are messy - and more about sending a message to men who have not yet gotten into this situation. Which is only 'shaming' if it assumes that men have the right to consequence-free sex. Which is why 'men's rights' has such a great name, I suppose.
-A woman who consents to bearing and keeping a child doesn't consent to whatever trouble that child gives her (or draining, expensive, and tragic illnesses and disabilities that child might come to suffer from) at 3 or 8 or 15. But we assume because she had the kid, well, this is her problem. Why, then, do we not assume that because a man had the sort of sex that has been historically known on rare occasions to make a baby he has not in this same way quasi-consented to any possible outcome?
OK, someone's-wrong-on-the-internet brigade, what am I missing?
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
I did some work for my undergraduate university, and the tax form required info about whether I'd been employed there before (yup) and when (huh?). You know how everyone makes a big deal about children who go to college and don't even know how to do their own laundry? Well, that you figure out after one red item goes into the whites, problem solved. So you have some pink towels. As a parent, what I would teach my children is to keep meticulous records of what work you do for whom, on which exact days, and what you were paid for it, and do so starting from the age at which this doesn't even seem relevant. (Here's one problem being an unpaid intern solves.)
Email tends to answer such questions, but I only got gmail in, what, 2004? And all email from my undergraduate account (including a couple from someone who's now a NYT columnist! waa!) is now in the abyss. Or [insert predictable NSA joke here]. Whatever.
Anyway, while this information is surely also in tax forms I don't have in front of me/in my apartment, period, I figured that it was probably elsewhere as well. Like, say, in an old resume. But what I needed to find was the information about my book-shelving job. This is something I had apparently removed from the resume fairly early on in my post-college job search, and had evidently not passed along to grad-school recommenders. Probably at the advice of the career office, although in retrospect, maybe I ought to have kept it on. Did my contributions to the Chicago Criterion (does that even still exist?) merit a whole line?
Searching, searching, then, found it! It was in a resume, but one I'd prepared especially for... Petit Bateau, the French t-shirt store. I had evidently applied to work there in 2005, and a great many other places along those lines that I'm almost entirely sure never got back to me. Things were evidently not so rosy pre-recession, either.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
"I'm not as thin privileged as I used to be." - a Savage Love commenter.
Found this via an unrelated search, but it does remind me that the Reddit thread inspired by/ranting against/providing copious traffic to (thanks guys! I should rile people about undergarments more often - maybe then the blog-ads I forget are even there would amount to something) my earlier post on bra-fit includes a debate about whether or not I have "thin privilege." The only information I'd provided in that post was that I lack gamine-privilege - what, you hadn't heard of gamine-privilege? Let me educate you: It's the privilege to go out in a camisole. To be menswear-chic. My point being that my skepticism about the bra-fit industry did not come from being a woman to whom none of this marketing was directed in the first place. And I left it at that - no details, no... dimensions - because that's the WWPD way.
The Reddit-users were forced to Google-image-search, from which they have determined - bizarrely - that they know what I currently look like. The photos that produces are not terribly revealing, but even if they were full-on bikini-and-calipers - and if one makes any reference to one's build, one owes the internet bikini-and-calipers - they're from a good long while ago, back when I lived in cities and, like, went out places. Who knows what I look like now.
(OK, of my three readers, at least two are probably people I know and am actively in touch with in real life. They may have some idea. And Obama - surely he knows all. Meanwhile there isn't much, mirror-wise, in this apartment, so I myself am not entirely sure.)
Also important: whether someone is or is not photogenic. Whether a photo has been doctored. Whether - if no photo - what sounds on paper like conventional beauty amounts to the same in person. A 'leggy blonde' might or might not be Claudia-Schiffer-esque.
On an unrelated note, somewhere on Facebook is a picture of me at 12 or 13. My name isn't anywhere on it, and I'm not tagged. And I'm fine with that.
As usual, Autumn had the answer all along.
Motherlode, the NYT's not-so-gender-neutrally-named parenting blog (but hey, it's honest), posted an essay by a woman whose approach to substance-use-and-abuse and parenting much resembled that of a different author's approach to birth control. As in, this poor woman seems to be doing, and have done, virtually everything wrong. Ah, but "wrong" is so judgmental. What's a better term - ill-advisedly?
The mother reacted to her son's pot use in eighth grade by drug-testing him on a regular basis. (Parental overshare? Kind of - we have her real name - but the son's now technically of age.) She believed - against all evidence, including her own son spelling this out - that her son's high school friends consumed no substances whatsoever. Except she must not have believed this, what with the drug testing. Nothing quite adds up.
Her approach - and an ex-husband's cocaine addiction (the boy's father?) could well enter into this - is rather black-and-white. Either a child is 'good' and squeaky-clean, or 'bad' and strung out on absolutely everything. Which is... I've heard of this sort of attitude, but it's foreign to my own experience. I went to high school with lots of immigrants/children of immigrants, and there was no sense that being an A student and good kid was incompatible with, at the very least, consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Underage, sure, but try explaining this to someone who just arrived from Belarus.
Anyway, the mother here agrees to let her son - now 18 - host a party in their house. To say that she doesn't entirely trust him might be an understatement:
The Facebook invitations stated in capital letters, “No drugs, no alcohol.” I hired security guards to search bags and patrol the grounds. I posted “no smoking” signs and photos comparing pink, healthy lungs with blackened, petrified lungs. I placed a few car-crash pictures on tables to highlight the fallacy of invincibility.She... what? I can understand (and would support) not allowing smoking inside a house, but with a bunch of teenagers who aren't even your children, eh, it's kind of up to them what they do when not in your house. But more to the point, this just sounds more haunted-house/after-school special than party decor. Morbid, inappropriate, and just weird.
As the essay's title had already revealed, all these measures did nothing whatsoever to prevent this from turning into a rager - the sort of rager that kind of does require a house with "grounds." The lesson this mother says she learns - that one should not host a party for teenagers - suggests she's perhaps missed the point.
As one might imagine, the comments are soon bursting with what was this woman doing? reactions. Also following the script, the mother responds - in the comments, alas:
I wrote this essay hoping (again naively?) that other parents would learn from my mistakes. I expected, and deserved, harsh judgment about the party, but I did not expect to be personally attacked on the subject of my parenting. The commenters make sweeping judgments based on a thin 800 word image of me and my son.On the one hand, how on earth wasn't she expecting this outcome? On the other, it does sting when people say nasty things about you on the internet, even if you did kind of open yourself up to it. Might it have stung less if the author had at least chosen a pseudonym? Might it have been less about the honor of her family at stake? Could be.
A bomb threat on the Princeton campus, it seems. I'm choosing to believe that where I live doesn't count - not that bombs are capable of knowing which institutes are or are not affiliated with the university, but I'm opting to think the danger of me driving a poodle somewhere complicated and highway-requiring (my husband being away on astrophysics business) outweighs the chances a non-nuclear (I'd imagine!) bomb would go off on the now-evacuated not-that-distant-but-still-pretty-distant campus. Also that any mini-road-trip I might take would ultimately be more about procrastination than about safety - got lots of work that can be done from right here in the apartment.
I woke up to this, and to a reminder that my library books from the university library are almost due. Perhaps I get an extension.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Via Will Baude, a vegan... restaurant review? Treatise? Is a high-end meal inherently unvegan? I haven't been to Next, in any incarnation, but I have been to one of the Chicago vegan establishments Kevin Warwick approves of. I ordered wrong - the most wrong I have ever ordered, to this day. Vegan paella. Not good, not good at all.
Warwick's review is basically like if the old-time health-food store reviewed Whole Foods. There's what vegetarianism/veganism once was, and there's what it's become. Recently, at a restaurant in town, a woman very much of the ladies-who-lunch style informed the waiter that she was a vegan. This veganism did not conflict with the largest diamond ring I had ever seen (overheard conversation and other clues suggest its authenticity) and, more to the point, a gargantuan logoed designer leather handbag.
Now, I'm not saying that this woman shouldn't be a vegan - for all I know it was doctor's orders, for all I know Louis Vuitton handbags exist in remarkably leather-like sustainable hemp. But as David Brooks told us in 2001, and has only become more true since, what was once 'hippie' has now become a class marker for elites. Which presumably inspires ambivalence in hippies. (Hipsters being some mix of the two categories.) On the one hand, it ought to be a good thing if haute cuisine means celebrating vegetables. On the other, if you were vegan before it was cool, or if you're vegan because you don't care about what's chic (I mean, indirectly because of this - if you're an earnest sort concerned with animals, not trends), I see how a vegan $225 tasting menu might grate.
And maybe Warwick has a point. If veganism is a social-justice movement (as some contend), then maybe a feast that screams '1%' doesn't sit right? But is that a restaurant review? Dude had the chance to eat a meal many would be thrilled to try, and comes across as altogether ungrateful for the experience.
Or does he? This is something I've long thought about high-end dining, but basically, food can only be so good. Is the best $300 dinner really 100x better than the best $3 slice of pizza? And isn't 80% of how much we enjoy a meal simply a function of how hungry we happen to be when eating it? While $300 is... steep, I suspect I'm not alone in having been at some dinner or other where the only socially-acceptable thing to say about the food, on account of its cost, was that it was truly the most amazing food ever made. But you're sitting there and thinking - as Warwick does - that a taco would be preferable.
Of course, I also tend to think this is why I'd make a terrible restaurant critic. (My reviews would be something like, 'I really enjoyed this dinner, because I'd gone running that morning and had had a light lunch. I wasn't too thrilled about the inclusion of zucchini, because it's not my favorite, but it seemed like zucchini that someone who liked zucchini would have enjoyed.') So there's that.
But my initial reaction - the one I posted to Facebook and that's currently being read by Obama, who's like, wow, Phoebe, you are slow on the uptake, was that an item on a $225 tasting menu is called "douchi." But then I Googled this and it's just a Chinese ingredient. Not some kind of surreptitious and altogether self-defeating class warfare on the part of an upscale restaurant. Alas.
A weekend! No observations of Ivy reunion rituals, but fun all the same:
-Saw "Lovers and Other Strangers," a 1968 play (and 1970 movie I'm now dying to see - with Cloris Leachman aka Phyllis, and Diane Keaton's film debut) co-written by Renée Taylor aka Sylvia Fine. Fran's mother on "The Nanny," and thus the performer behind one of the best quotes of sitcom history, or so I thought in 2004. (Almost nine years have passed, but I still think it's pretty great.) I have next to no knowledge of theater - community or otherwise - but the acting was quite impressive. The sound technique that involved draping microphones over the cast's foreheads was somewhat distracting, but as if I'd know how one deals with performance acoustics, so all is forgiven.
Like I said, theater performance, I have no idea. The script is something else. The overall mood of the play was very much early-1970s sitcom. Which meant both the rhythm and world of comedy I know well (Rhoda Morgenstern could have popped by at any minute) and a certain dated-ness to the proceedings. Somehow one can look past that sort of thing when watching "The Bob Newhart Show" on the couch. But in public, in 2013, it becomes extra-salient. Things like a scandal over whether a woman will or won't spend the night with a guy she's just met, the obstacle being her commitment to second-wave feminism (and general women-are-like-so nuttiness). Or: a man furious that his wife has taken a job outside the home. The play is a series of vignettes, set - in this production - in different years, from the late 1960s up to the present. The "2002" vignette included a cake from "Whole Foods," but was otherwise set entirely in the "All in the Family" universe.
But most jarring, dated-ness-wise, was the casual homophobia of an era before Stonewall, AIDS, or same-sex marriage. In one vignette, a woman calls her ex-marine husband a "faggot" when he refuses to have sex with her that night. In another, it is debated whether or not a well-known performer from long ago was a "fairy." In neither of these cases are gay people being directly insulted - the characters are being (gently) ridiculed for these conversations. But in both, it's just... insulting in a way that wouldn't go over in 2013. Which brings up that WWPD persistent motif: the tendency of writing from earlier eras to be offensive by today's standards, and the question of what to do with that information. I'm used to looking at this question as it relates to novels (specifically 19th century French novels and their remarkably nasty representations of Jews, no matter the author - looking at you, Zola), but it's more complicated, I now see, when it comes to performing text written in a not-so-enlightened Then.
Here's what this production did with that information: They made the final vignette, "2013," one about cold feet before a wedding, about a lesbian couple. Because it's 2013! There are weddings with two brides! While the sentiment was admirable, the execution somewhat less so. It was a bit of men-are-like-so sitcom humor about male fear of commitment. While there are no doubt lesbians who fear commitment, this twist was so far beyond the sophistication of the script that it took a while to sort out that this even was a same-sex couple, and not a couple girlfriends-in-the-pre-enlightened-sense chatting about another wedding. As in, it's not that this was unrealistic, but that the universe of the play was one of clingy dingbat (R.I.P.) women and macho, philandering men.
Anyway, those who know more about theater than I do (Flavia?) can weigh in, if interested, about how such issues are generally/ideally approached.
-Went to Brooklyn Flea Philly. It did indeed seem much like Brooklyn Flea Brooklyn, which is to say, a lot of curated knick-knacks such that, if you're there to shop, you'd perhaps be better off at a thrift store. But the point is obviously people-watching, which was if anything better at the Philadelphia equivalent. Places other than New York just have space, so around the market itself were a large number of outdoor cafés. I had heard tell of Philadelphia hipsters - that Philadelphia had a Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Bushwick - but my prior experience of Northern Liberties brought me to what must have been the wrong edge of it. Wrong as in, there was just nothing much there, maybe two cafés over many blocks, otherwise just... residential? This time, though, I got a sense of the full scope of the area, and... I wasn't in Princeton anymore! I had a Mason jar iced Stumptown coffee and a lemon bar five times the size one would have been in New York. Fabulous.
-Less fabulous: Thomas Friedman's new thing where he promotes some start-up he has a personal family connection to, and somehow uses that as a springboard for advising Young People Today to take unpaid internships as possible, to do the lowliest tasks for no pay, and to "add value" to companies that can't quite get it together to pay you anything. This is going to be missed, because it emerged the same time as the more compelling you're-being-watched information, but it's still a big deal:
Since so many internships are unpaid these days, added Sedlet, there is a real danger that only “rich kids” can afford them, which will only widen our income gaps. The key, if you get one, he added, is to remember “that companies don’t want generalists to help them think big; they want people who can help them execute” and “add value.”Interesting jump there.
This is also particularly delightful: "Internships are increasingly important today, they [Friedman's family friends] explained, because skills are increasingly important in the new economy and because colleges increasingly don’t teach the ones employers are looking for."
There's of course no evidence provided that unpaid internships provide any particular skills, or - more pertinent - that employers view them as work experience. By all means, work for free! (I.e., pay to work!) Why? Because it might mean you'll get a contact. (It would be altogether entitled to expect it to lead to a job.) Networking!
But also: when was the Golden Age of colleges as vocational school? I know this is supposed to be code for 'students today just drink, sleep in, and learn far-left drivel', but it's not as if the critical thinking and Great Books of a traditional liberal-arts education provide the skills needed to become a "product manager," let alone to know that such a job exists.
It just does seem awfully convenient to define today's college grads as uniquely incapable of entering the workforce without one or multiple stints in unpaid employment.
Friday, June 07, 2013
-Conor and Elizabeth just did a Bloggingheads where they talk about my fiction-is-better hypothesis. Conor suggests a move towards a new genre somewhere between fiction and non-fiction, using the techniques of non-fiction but without the overshare-about-real-people element. This I'd certainly support, although I'm not sure it - or different versions of it - doesn't exist. There are articles where pseudonyms are used. And one does notice that in the blog comments at Motherlode and such, people are happy to take stories seriously even if the author is identified only as Alice in Omaha (say). And then there are works of fiction that play with the idea of being non-fiction - Philip Roth using the protagonist "Philip Roth," for example. But maybe there should be some genre in its own right that somehow full-on captures the public appetite for non-fiction - 'reality' - while at the same time sparing identifying information? More on this later, most likely.
-Friends, Facebook friends, currently in Paris: I "like" your posts, but I also envy. Tremendously. Dessert would be nice. But the best bet in the area - the only one, really - is an ice cream place. Ice cream would do, but it's pouring. If such a thing existed, I would call the waaambulence and have it take me to the nearest decent-pastry-having establishment.
-A department list email with info about a six-month internship that would prefer "graduate students and recent graduates." I feel as though I've blogged about this posting before - I guess they advertise this position a lot, considering the rather limited market for an unpaid job for which you need to be quite that old/educated/fluent in French/having of prior work experience. Seemingly legal, but also seemingly the sort of thing that ought to pay. The annoying thing is that other than the thing where it doesn't pay, it sounds like a great job.
Thursday, June 06, 2013
There's this thing - not new, but not that old - of companies asking consumers to purchase less, and in doing so, increasing their own profits. First, in 2011, Patagonia, and now Cuyana, which appears to make rich-hippie resortwear. And nothing says investment piece you'll wear for years like a white tank top. (An $150 leather tote bag is actually called "a super smart investment.") Says their "philosophy" page:
We want to love every item in our closets. We want to revel in the tactile beauty of the world’s finest materials and marvel at consummate craftsmanship. We believe in style, not fashion; in quality, not quantity. We celebrate fewer, better things and strive to live a life of inspired simplicity.Which... I suppose I partly agree with. WWPD's cheapness philosophy also dictates only buying clothes you're thrilled with, and not owning too much. As for "the world's finest materials," I think I'll settle for something non-toxic (as much as one can ever know this about anything; in an ideal world the state, and not the individual consumer, would sort this out) and not itchy. And, alas, if the thing isn't already fraying or coming apart at the seams at the store, it's craftmanned enough for me. (With one exception, because it's no fun being a purist. It's gone up in price, looks like!) But the overall idea that one ought to only buy what one is excited to own, and not just kind of accumulate stuff for the heck of it, is sensible. Rules like, are you still thinking about whichever item a week later. Fair enough.
So why does this not sit right? Because if you're selling stuff, you want people to buy stuff. Because obviously someone who's buying a bathing suit coverup - however timeless - isn't only buying that. This company would like you to buy only their goods? Well so would every company - that's capitalism, not altruism.
Because this is about a brand capitalizing on consumers' altogether reasonable wariness about how their fast fashion is made, as if one is suddenly a good person for buying this over that. As if there's blood on your hands... unless you buy this.
Because... well, because it's specifically vacation clothing, and with really, really upscale vacations implied, photographed. One is left with the impression that those who jet between resorts worldwide - but, like, the really idyllic ones, untouched by the touristy masses - are somehow more ethical. Wouldn't they be even more ethical if they weren't burning through all that jet fuel? Oh no - the Cuyana shopper is more ethical than the Old Navy shopper, or the Kmart shopper, or - horrors - the Walmart shopper.
Or maybe I'm too cynical. (It wouldn't be the first time!) Maybe it's a good thing - and not an equivalent of greenwashing - if companies promote themselves on the basis of selective shopping. Commenters, prove me wrong.
No one can ever accuse me of not conceding out of pride when my commenters are right. You convinced me about the whole bra thing. I had some time to kill in the city today, ended up near the fabulous Journelle, and lo and behold, that thing you all said was out there - flattering and comfortable - exists. Why had I not found it before? Because it costs $89, that's why. But I had no other - to borrow Kei's ever-applicable term - wanties (had tried on and nixed the idea of $90 workout pants - perhaps a better choice for those whose workout isn't jogging through mud, and Sephora, the usual contender, meh) at the moment, and was emerging from a work-hermit period of non-spending, so. No more information - brand, perhaps, but not letter or number - lest this veer off into full-on overshare territory, or attract altogether the wrong audience. My point is simply: You're right, WWPD readers, you're right!
I should say, though, that was a funny bloggy interlude. On this specific topic, I've generally taken the your-gamine-privilege-is-showing stance. As in, chic, boyishly-built women will sniff at the more substantial bras, suggesting flimsy wireless options, which do indeed look more now, but it's like, the only way you can wear those and still look good is if you're built like one of those Birkin offspring. But it is possible - for some! not all! - to wear them and not look good. There's clearly some subset of not-at-all-gamine women for whom those undergarments are unflattering but comfortable. Or so I've heard.
Anyway, during my urban wanderings, I reflected a bit on this question more broadly. Why did I come to my initial conclusion? I figure it was, in part, a questioning-received-wisdom thing. Specifically the kind of received wisdom that pertains to these sort of questions. As in: do you really need to "invest" in accessories? If your skin isn't dry, do you need moisturizer? If your hair isn't greasy, must you wash it every day? If your eyelashes are dark, do you actually benefit from mascara? (False lashes are something else - I've never worn them but they can look fantastic.)
This is partly a cheapness thing (I don't believe in buying things one simply feels one must, without questioning it), but also partly a quasi-feminist one. The amount of grooming-and-spending women are told we need vastly exceeds that which any individual one of us requires to look our best, and indeed, some such interventions (see: skin problems caused by skin products) make us look worse. This notion that femininity means all these rituals that may or may not do anything for you... appeals to some, but not to me. I think it's fine to do whichever things do make a difference - for me, that means throwing $$$ at Japanese hair products; for you it might well mean fancy moisturizer - but I think there's something to be said for being cynical about such things, whenever there's an entire industry asking that you do X.
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Kate Fridkis describes a situation at the crux of all kinds of hot-button issues: she's an upper-middle-class writer, a woman who lives in Brooklyn ("Girls" yoga organic parenting CSAs beards flannel coffee artisanal! Brooklyn!), and she married at 24 and got pregnant intentionally at 26. In other words, she dared violate the laws of the window of opportunity by not waiting until her set entered into full-on panic about marriage-and-kids, and did things according to a timeline that worked for her. Is hers a story about the latest updates from Turkey? No. But she has an interesting perspective, conveys it well, and doesn't pretend to be talking about a larger pool of people than she is. She writes about herself without dragging anyone else down in the process. A personal-essay triumph!
The commenters, though, did not see it this way. It's a veritable festival of YPIS getting hurled at the author. Fridkis, the commenters believe, thinks she's all that because she did this utterly normal thing: married and had a kid. (Did they not notice how the piece was about how this utterly normal thing has become, in her world, outrageous?) She is, the commenters will helpfully point out, privileged, and needs to get out of her bubble. Meanwhile, the point of the essay was very much self-awareness about said bubble, but why should that stop anyone?
Some commenters - and there are over a thousand comments, not all of which (shocking, I realize) I have read or will read - are really miffed that Fridkis didn't get into her husband's stance on all this. When it's like, maybe she's prepared to share about herself, but not other people? Still others fault the author for caring what her friends think. When it's like, we all care what our friends think. Less as we get older, sure, but it's far easier to claim indifference to this than to achieve it, and at any rate, it's kind of a good thing to have people you're close to, whose opinions you respect.
And then there's the contingent annoyed at the New York-centrism of all of this. When... just change the ages of marriage and first pregnancy, and the same hoopla would happen in a different milieu. There's quite often going to be an age that's not really too young to settle down, but it's younger than what your friends are doing, and it's therefore scandalous. That's the window-of-opportunity problem, and the reaction to the piece I wrote about it suggests it's not only an issue in New York. But yes, New York, so tragically overrepresented. I mean, I was slightly bitter - where I live now, there don't appear to be any wine-fueled non-fiction writing circles, waa! - but the broader point holds even for those of us who need to drive to run errands.
The reaction, then, points us back to the whole fiction-is-better issue. The only reason readers reacted as they did was the dynamic created by the author being a real person. The story gets classified as a news article in readers' brains, and readers understandably compare it, at least implicitly, to hard-news, breaking news, things of that nature. Which, alas, even the best-written personal essay about being 26 and having a baby with one's spouse is never going to be. This is not the first time such a thing has happened, to say the least. One commenter calls it a "narcissistic humble brag," which... no. There is a real problem, but it's not a Real Problem. Fiction allows for presentation of real problems that aren't Real Problems, whereas the personal essay, it seems, does not.
Anyway: to be clear, I don't think fiction is better than non-fiction. I think fiction is better at doing certain things than non-fiction is - better at telling a certain kind of human-nature story. I think we've started looking to non-fiction for the things we should be getting from fiction, while at the same time criticizing certain non-fiction for dealing with exactly the small-scale, relatively-petty concerns that we do find interesting, thus why we were reading the thing in the first place.
Maureen O'Connor - NYMag writer and former bra-saleswoman - tells it like it is, in response to "that irritating statistic that appears at least once in every issue of every womens' magazine: '85 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size'":
[T]here is only one universal truth when it comes to fit, and it equally applies to bras, shoes, pants, socks, and wedding bands: If you put it on and like how it looks and feels, then it fits just fine. Your bra is not wrong. Your bra cannot be wrong. Your bra is underwear, a value-neutral object to be worn, replaced, stuffed, discarded, celebrated, hidden, or exposed however you want.As the kids say, or said five minutes ago: this.
But I'd take it further. The bra-fitting gimmick is to tell you that you take a cup size larger and band size smaller than you'd thought. Given that we'd all look more conventionally attractive with larger breasts and smaller waists, we try on this miracle product and lo and behold, an hourglass physique. Or, more likely, we're just flattered by the notion that we're simultaneously thinner and bustier than we'd thought. It's a more 3D version of vanity sizing. Then we get home and realize that even if it's possible to squeeze into a $60-plus contraption in the right-but-wrong size, having circulation is even nicer. Or so I've heard.
And the idea underlying this is, if you think about it, incredibly sexist. The idea that women are just too dumb to figure out for themselves whether their clothing fits properly, or that they're too lacking in confidence not to just go along with it when someone in a position of authority tells them that an item that they know fits actually does not. Because it really is possible to go into a dressing room with a range of sizes and styles, and see for yourself what fits. It's not like with running shoes, where someone will examine your stride and, in theory, impart information you couldn't have easily gotten yourself. The bra-seller may tell you - or so they say - that you should discard the bra you wore to the store, not because it's worn out, but because it hasn't been approved by (sold to you by) this establishment. Don't do this.
On a related note, that Prudie letter from the college senior who, though not flat-chested, doesn't like wearing a bra. Yes, yes, the usual Prudie titillation, but I found it telling that this woman (assuming this is a real person's complaint) mentions having been fitted for a bra. That could well be where her problems began. I'm also having trouble picturing the line of office-work for which a bra-like camisole under other clothing (blazer, button-down) wouldn't suffice, which makes me think this letter really just was about how a braless coed was braless.
My entirely sensible female commenters are chiming in to say that on the contrary, bra-fit is a real thing. Which is making me think that my problem might have been having too much confidence in a particular saleswoman at the Town Shop who estimated and didn't measure, and who may well have just wanted to sell that particular bra. (I may have had a choice of two.) There's no obvious distinction between reputable bra fitters and bra-sellers posing as such to dupe the suggestible. At the time, I took the limited selection to mean this woman had so much experience making such assessments that she just looked at me and knew.
Or it might be that these things are subjective - even among women with the build for which this is even an issue. (Without getting too technical, I can assure that I don't have a gamine physique). My sense is that it's possible to own some spectacularly fitting bras that make clothing look amazing, as well as some now-I'm-decent-to-go-out ones that don't. What fits best might be the most comfortable, but... it depends. I like the idea that these two traits could be found in the same garment, but... who knows. Comfort is subjective.
Tuesday, June 04, 2013
[...] I used to be so against whitening products. In Africa, all of these women were killing their skin trying to become whiter, and I hated that. But when I had to work on the press kits at Dior for Diorsnow D-NA Reverse White Reveal Night Concentrate, I had to test it to know what I was going to talk about. I became obsessed. Yes, it’s a whitening product but it’s not about being whiter or changing the color of your skin; it just brings light to your face. I’ve never experienced that before in my life. My face literally changed.Similarly, when I flat-iron my hair, it isn't to straighten it, but to make it more straight.
I mean, the question of why women do the beautification things we do is interesting, and women's candor on the site is what makes "Into The Gloss" so compelling. (Well, that and the dreamworld photos.) There's this rule that says whatever it is you're doing, it can't possibly be to look less whichever-race-or-ethnicity, so those Korean eyelid surgeries? Nothing to do with white people, and aren't white people awfully narcissistic to imagine that it is. In any case, further complicating matters here is of course that the author is selling the product in question, not just using it.
Bourdette-Donon is also frank, if less evasive, about her hair:
When it comes to my hair, my relationship with it has always been bad, because I’m really low-maintenance and my hair is very complicated. My natural hair is really, really curly. I have a lot of volume and so much of it—I basically looked like Tina Turner. I couldn’t deal with it, so I started relaxing my hair at 15—everyone in Africa does it—and it changed my life.While I find it hard to believe that everyone in the continent of Africa relaxes their hair, the overall point of what she's saying makes sense. It's her relationship with her hair that's "bad," not the hair itself. And the dilemma she points to - being low-maintenance but having hair that's anything but - is one I'd imagine many women can identify with. At least, I sure can. And people with wash-and-go hair will always be asking you (always, that is, at college or in some other close-living-quarters situation) why you make such a fuss, as if you had some perfectly viable wash-and-go option you were to vain to go with... as if a "natural" look that would be even halfway reasonable wouldn't be at least as much work as just straightening what you've got and forgetting about it.
Monday, June 03, 2013
So a visiting prof at NYU, at the intersection of business and psychology and so not someone I'd ever heard of, tweeted the following: "Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn't have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won't have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth". This tweet has caused the internet to explode. It's unclear to me whether he meant applicants to the University of New Mexico, where he's otherwise a professor, or to NYU, although it's a safe bet he wants slender grad students nationwide.
In any case, I join the chorus: what the what? What is this man even talking about? It's offensive, yes, "fat-shaming," sure, and no doubt upsetting to many heavier academics. It probably does necessitate a bit of a dig into dude's role in admitting students - are ones he OK'd especially svelte?
It's problematic, then, but it's also bizarre. What would one thing have to do with the other? It's not like writing a dissertation is some kind of athletic feat for which physical condition would be relevant, and then there could be some kind of conversation about whether or not it's fat-shaming to suggest that those who weigh 600-plus pounds are unlikely to win triathlons. (I'm so far from doing so myself that I don't have any idea how those who win them are built.) It's not like PhD students are some caste akin to supermodels, known for our ability to meet narrow aesthetic specifications. To write a dissertation is to sit on your couch in your pajamas. There's no particular size requirement for that.
Anyway, a NYMag commenter has the winning response:
Technically, he isn't fat-shaming. Being on the Atkins Diet on a grad student salary in NY requires not only willpower, but the ability to create a budget and possibly write grant applications so as to fund your steak and salmon-filet habit.Indeed. What's grad school without pasta? Without bagels, ramen, or rice? And pizza! And free bread and cheese at receptions! Grad students who stopped eating carbs would stop eating, and stop dissertating as well.
The Princeton reunions - some of which I observed intentionally, but it was kind of omnipresent from Thursday on - are really quite something. Are people as excited to have attended any other college? I mean, yes, we've all encountered people whose time in Euphemistic Boston must come up within 10 seconds of conversation (and others whose fear of being that guy makes them outrageously evasive about their educational history), but they tend not to be wearing crimson while dropping that information. The Princeton version is something else, seemingly unrelated to discussing time in Euphemistic New Jersey with the uninitiated. And then there are the things where people are huge fans of college sports teams, but it doesn't seem to be as much about their own non-athletic presence at these institutions, however many years ago.
What struck me the most was not just that everyone was in orange and black. I mean, fair enough. It was that people clearly purchased special orange accessories. Not throwaway stuff, or items purchased at the event itself. Not the reunions costumes, which are also a thing. I mean things like orange leather purses and matching shoes. Nice dress clothing in orange, or orange-and-black. I'm not entirely sure there weren't more orange cars on the road than there are normally. People may well buy orange items year-round because they went to Princeton. Or, it appears, in some cases, because their spouses went to Princeton. And, I mean, not that there's anything wrong with that. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
-Is it really a faux pas, when jogging, not to nod hello to fellow joggers? As in, not people you know, just other people who also happen to jog on the same path? Writes Matt Kurton:
If you see someone running towards you, as long as they haven't recently committed a robbery or escaped from prison, nod a quick hello. Enjoy a fleeting moment of shared humanity. Acknowledge each other's travails. Cyclists manage it without any bother, but in many places runners respond to a smile with an irritated frown, or by pretending not to notice. Come on people, share a little love. What's the harm?I read this, had not yet seen the byline, but immediately realized this just had to have been written by a man. Women - young women especially - are not always such fans of being told to smile. Kurton's advice, though gender-neutral, would, if directed at a woman, seem of a piece with the broader message that women owe male passersby their loveliest selves.
My point isn't that the author wants women to especially to smile at him, but that he's missing why women might not go for this advice. Although the another of the author's "commandments" - that men need to wear shirts while jogging - might make readers suspect heterosexuality. (I have never known straight women or gay men to complain about this phenomenon. Straight men, however...) I mean, maybe he does want smiles from women in particular, maybe he doesn't, but that's not the issue.
Also! When a woman is jogging and a man passes her by and grins at her, she can't know what kind of grin it is, and what sort of response smiling back would inspire. We live in a world where consensual romances often begin with smiles of that nature, esp. when everyone involved (men as well as women) is scantily-clad, sweaty, and in a remote locale, so a really efficient way to demonstrate not interested, just to be on the safe side. I know that sometimes a phrase like "rape culture" is over- or misused, but this seems like a case where it's rather literally applicable. When I'm jogging, I acknowledge passersby if I know them, which I often enough do, but otherwise? I'm hoping they're not ax murderers. But then again, I grew up in pre-Giuliani New York.
-It is obvious very wrong-side-of-history to question the new NYC bike-share program. Not living in the city, I'm not too worked up about it either way, but I do have one question about it, which is what it's supposed to do. Normally, as I understand it, the idea with bike-sharing, and bike-encouragement more generally, is that bikes replace cars. People who would drive everywhere will now only drive to the big supermarket on the edge of town. Which makes sense in a Philadelphia or a Heidelberg - a city where you don't necessarily need a car, but you probably have one. Biking is better for the environment, and gets some exercise in. All things equal, I am pro-biking, and I probably do now know how to drive well enough that I can no longer justify driving to town (to avoid those two big hills) as "practice."
In New York, though, certainly in the areas where these stands are appearing, is biking replacing driving? I can't imagine it would be. It seems unlikely to replace subway-riding, nor should it - the ability to get from one part of the city to another relatively quickly, relatively safely, at all hours, is one of the best things about the place. And you will still get some exercise, what with all the stairs, and the long platforms.
Will it replace taxis? Not for the stiletto contingent and its male equivalent. Walking? Perhaps, but that's just fine for the environment and arguably better for you, and given NYC traffic, newish bike riders may find walking is quicker. It's definitely not replacing the driving wealthy New Yorkers do on weekends, to get to their second (or tenth) homes.
Buses are the only plausible transportation biking would replace, crosstown especially. But as anyone who's ever been on one of those buses knows, the people on them are not people about to switch to bikes: families or caregivers with young children, the not-so-mobile who require a bus to get from 7th Avenue to 8th, etc.
Am I missing something? Is the Manhattan depicted on "Seinfeld," where everyone middle-class drives everywhere, actually the real deal, and my 10,000 years experience of the place some kind of mirage?
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
-A man behind me on the train spent the entire, I mean entire trip on his phone to various parties, loudly complaining that a business deal he's involved in that he thought was confidential was in fact known by some other party. The gist of his grievance was that someone apparently couldn't keep things quiet. The irony of all of this was apparently lost on dude, but it at least gave me something to contemplate while transferring info from footnotes to the bibliography.
-Last night I had the ultimate Cheapness Studies anxiety dream. In it, I was in Lululemon, trying on shorts. I was in the store, in the dream, because, in this dream, I was an employee at a store (as if they'd hire me, given my yoga-skepticism), and therefore had some kind of discount. In any case, in the dream, I somehow accidentally ended up purchasing some shorts, even though they didn't fit right (just ill-fitting - not too big or too small; my subconscious's body image is apparently not the problem), and lo and behold, somehow after buying them, I learned that they were not returnable and had cost $330. Yes, it was an exact amount. That was the amount. For shorts! Would you believe it? I mean, you shouldn't believe it, because I just looked this up and shorts at that store are in the $40-$50 range. Not cheap, but not $330, either. But I was so upset that I had just spent that much on shorts I wouldn't even be able to wear, which was indeed foolish, or would have been, had I done so.
-There is - how had I not seen this? - a YouTube channel that is a Japanese cooking show "narrated" by a little gray poodle. Basically, it's as if Bisou had a cooking show. Which was how I got hooked. But the show itself is also kind of great, even after you get past the how-is-that-poodle-not-charging-at-that-salmon angle. (But how? Editing? Lots of salmon being treated off-camera?) It's on the one hand from-scratch, but on the other, completely unpretentious. It's not about getting the finest ingredients. It's largely about blotting every ingredient off with a paper towel, dusting everything off in potato starch, and having dashi stock ready at all times. There's even advice in one video to coat salmon fillets with sake in order to get rid of the fishy smell. Thereby acknowledging the reality of... ingredients, I suppose. The ones one might actually get at the supermarket. Well, the Asian supermarket. H-Mart, here I come.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
In case you were wondering, the true victims of Hurricane Sandy were not those whose homes were destroyed. Nor were they those who simply didn't have power for a week and then spent much of a semester attempting to commute on a quasi-defunct New Jersey Transit. No, the ones for whom we must shed a tear are Hamptons residents who must now share their precious beaches with displaced Joisey beach-goers. NIMBY, kind of, but a glossier one than most.
As Jim Rutenberg's "styles style" article makes clear, the line between nouveau and old-veau in those parts has long been kind of fluid. The same could of course be said of American "aristocracy" more generally. It's always been nouveau, money-based. From "Real Housewives" to more understated rock-star-and-model offspring to the slightly more distant descendants of tycoons, it's all basically the same, in a way that's more obvious than Old World aristocracy, which can be plausibly imagined to be eternal. And the Hamptons specifically have been glitzy since forever. Those who wanted a world of relatively-old-money American elites - or just nature - have long been going elsewhere.
Which doesn't stop each level of the Hamptons got-there-first hierarchy from thinking they're the only ones who belong:
Mr. Rattray is the fifth member of his family to edit the newspaper over the span of three generations, with roots in the community since the 1600s. “To us it’s one big blur of people from ‘away,’ ” he said. “That fear of Snooki thing may be the last people in pulling the ladder up behind them.”Alas, Rutenberg doesn't track down someone (presumably in England?) to whom the Rattrays are a caste of untouchables. But you just know that person is out there.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
-I can't believe I only just found Gary Shteyngart's essay about his own driving incompetence. It's subscribers'-only for the full version, but think Katha Pollitt minus the gender angle - well, with a different gender angle. "[C]oördination and spatial skills," yes, been there. I'm fine on the road, but parking in a lot all too often requires my getting out of the car, checking where it is in relation to the spot, starting the car again, and lining it up properly. Anyway, Shteyngart now needs to be added to this list of cultural references for new drivers.
-The parental-overshare debate continues. I've written up a long response that I may send somewhere. (Motherlode? Can non-parents submit?) In the mean time, my short response is a) that it's good parent-writers are now at least asking themselves where to draw a line, and b) that there's got to be some middle-ground between "silence" and a national publication or a memoir. There seems to be this misconception that I was suggesting parents with usual or unusual child-issues literally not tell a soul, not seek help, not vent to friends, not keep people in their lives up to date, not complain to ten trillion other parents online or in a publication but anonymously.
-What do you do if two of your dissertation sources - a very small but impossible-to-cut part of the project - are pdfs with a bunch of documents cobbled together, and whoever did the handwritten labeling had impossible-to-decipher handwriting? Go to the original sources, right? (I know which author, can tell which newspapers, which year, in one case the date, but need page numbers for both.) Which I now see are nowhere to be found. Ostensibly online, but the site where they're supposed to be isn't getting me to them. Googling around in the usual ways (article title, for instance), and, nothing. Usual-suspect library catalogues (Princeton, NYPL) aren't fixing this. These being French newspapers, I should have found them when I was in Frahnce, but I'm not sure I even knew about these articles then. I'm thinking the answer is to just show the pdfs in question to a librarian.
-Running in the woods sounds relaxing, and it is sort of idyllic - all the birds (bluejays! cardinals!), a soothing "Fresh Air" podcast - if a bit less so what with the gallon of DEET I must coat myself with before entering the tick zone. But then there will be something so nature-y that I can hardly handle it. Today's discovery:
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
To the people on (and sometimes off) the internet who advocate for cooking a big batch of legumes every Sunday and eating that for lunch and dinner the whole week:
Yes, if we're being technical, this is probably the cheapest way to get down your necessary caloric intake using whole, nutritious foods. It is probably quite manageable in terms of time and effort. Your great-grandmother, whom Michael Pollan asks you to emulate, either did this or would have done so if she'd had a freezer. More power to you if this is something you enjoy doing, but what if - and we all have our vices - what if you like food? What if the same lentil slop - even if it's one of the better-seasoned, less piously bland lentil slops - is not something you want to eat ten times in a row?
So it's not that it couldn't be done logistically. The proponents of legume-slop seem to think they're arguing against those who believe a from-scratch meal on a weeknight is impossible, which maybe they are, in which case fine, point taken, possible. And I grant that everything changes when there are kids. (Children, if I understand correctly, suck up so much time and money that one is left with no option but trough-of-beans.*) But for some of us, a big batch of legume-slop sounds like giving up on life. The kind of martyrdom where someone is like, that's it, no new clothes or cosmetics! no meals out!, and this is not because they're actually penniless, or nobly non-wasteful, they're just depressed.
And that's how it seems to go with a lot of the 'simple living' advice. No, our happiness shouldn't depend on material things, on being spoiled modern Westerners who would at the very least like a different vegetable on top of Tuesday's pasta than Monday's. But unhappiness (clinical or mundane) can often express itself as an indifference to stuff, and a kind of forced indifference to stuff can feel kind of gloomy. Stuff is fun! And I'm defining "stuff" broadly to include things like a drink out even if the very same beverage (cocktail, coffee, whatever) would cost less with supermarket ingredients, or the use of primping items (lipstick, mascara, hair product) above and beyond what's needed for hygiene.
And with that, I've given myself an excuse to dissertate tomorrow from the coffee shop (or beer-ice-cream parlor) in town.
*There was a family with seven children - seven! - getting into a van just now in the Whole Foods parking lot. Siblings, it seemed. An impressive grocery bill, I'd imagine.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
If you're going to end a confessional essay with the question, "Am I totally insane?," you probably do relinquish your right to object that you have indeed been called "insane."
That aside, it is an interesting question, why people do stupid things. (I would say, why smart people do stupid things - the author refers to herself as "a smart, progressive feminist woman" - but eh.) While we may not all do things quite that stupid, let alone do them and write about it, we do all do things that rationally we understand are unwise. In this self-censored self-presentation age, where everyone is constantly checking their public persona for anything that could ever be a liability, a function of hyper-confessional writing can be to shed some light on the less-photogenic aspects of our lives.
But then the question is, if the author of such a piece doesn't want her choices validated, doesn't want to serve as an example, but also doesn't want to be "shamed," well, what does she want? Or rather: what is the purpose of this sort of writing?
The purpose, I'd think, is to examine human nature in all its ambiguities. A purpose to which fiction is better-suited than the personal essay. An exploration of why a woman not looking to get pregnant is sexually active with men, without using birth control, would be interesting in a fictional character, where we could be shown-not-told the various reasons she may have come to that behavior. Readers could judge more and sympathize more if this were a fictional character's fictional uterus at stake.
I now see, via the Facebook page of the person who had linked to this initially (and who, incidentally, works for the same publication, and who makes a good case for the piece) that the author of this essay-and-retort has been subject to all manner of hate online. That, I want to make clear, is never excusable. Criticizing the article - and yes, that can include, as MSI says, the "prose" - is fair game. Sending obscenity-filled emails to the author about her life choices, no.
Just finished Emily Matchar's Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity. It's great, but first, a story about my tracking down the book. It was noonish on a weekday, and I arrived at the public library in jogging clothes. That was because I'd jogged to the library.
After looking around for the book and not finding it where I thought it would be, I went to the information desk. I explained that I was looking for a book called "Homeward Bound," and the woman at the desk asked me if it was a children's book. And I realized that there was no possible explanation for my disheveled state, for the noon-on-a-weekday situation, other than children. (Except: dissertation. There is now a chapter eight. I tell ya...)
Anyhow, I said no, non-fiction. A grown-up book.
The woman helping me entered this into the system, and then said, or more like asked, "Why women are embracing the new domesticity?" And I all of a sudden thought, damn, this seems more personal than I'd realized.
Homeward Bound... left me with a lot to think about. Are women who earn less than their husbands dabblers who earn pin money? Am I that woman, and if so, why am I not better-accessorized? That even female journalists at the top of their profession can feel that way is not so reassuring.
Anyway, it's not often that I read a non-fiction book and think, my goodness, I agree with nearly all of this. Part of it is, as I've mentioned, that all the while, as I was critiquing the food movement, Matchar, though coming at the question from a different perspective, was arriving at many of the same conclusions. She's interested in the people who practice DIY extremism, whereas I'm more interested in consumers-as-researchers (the quest to buy the right stuff), and in the false impression perpetuated in certain articles that everyone college-educated is a DIY extremist. She's looking at the people who take this stuff dead-seriously; I'm more taking note of those who... let themselves flow with the greenwashing. The 'I try to avoid parabens, but because that's cool, who the hell knows what a paraben is' set. The 'I shop at J.Crew, not Old Navy, because I'm against fast fashion' contingent.
In other words, I'm interested both in the rising expectation that everyone's turning their shopping into a research project and the more blatant class-signaling variety. Not sure which is more common, though - my impression that the latter is more common than the grinding-of-one's-own-flour could just relate to where I live, or my tendency to read fashion blogs and not homemaking ones, or who knows.
Where Matchar's book is most especially spot-on:
-Yes, 100 times yes, the food movement ignores that women abandoned home cooking for a reason. Also 100 times yes, the calls for more cooking-at-home not only sometimes outright blame feminism for the decline of home cooking, but also - more universally - fail to properly acknowledge that asking "Americans" or "parents" to cook more is effectively asking women, mothers especially, to do so, because that's who ends up being held responsible if junior's living off Junior's.
-Yes, 1,000 times yes, the answer is an improvement in food quality on the whole - ingredients as well as convenience foods - and not an ever-greater list of demands on parents-i.e.-moms. (A personal request: the new-and-improved fast food shall be catered by Dos Toros.) The obsession with what individuals do in terms of feeding their family organic, etc., comes at the cost of movements to improve what all families are feeding their kids. She looks at this more as, individual families need to think of the greater good, whereas I see it more as, we have this movement promoting that (often consumerist but sometimes DIY) approach. But either way, yes, the idea that improving how "we" eat should be entirely about individual families making choices is a problem.
-This relates to the Sheryl Sandberg "don't leave before you leave" idea, and no, I have not yet read "Lean In." Perhaps when I jog back to return this most recent round of library books, that will be available. Anyway, according to Matchar, a lot of women see something noble and independent about rejecting the rat race, corporate America, etc. But, as Matchar wisely points out, their stay-at-home butter-churning enterprises are all being funded by their husbands' real-world jobs. Matchar, though, makes sure to point out that this isn't entirely about women choosing to be un- or underemployed, and is in part a case of, these are women having trouble finding work, who latch on to an ideology that says your baby has to latch on until it's college-age precisely because it gives them a sense of purpose. This, in turn, puts them in a still-worse employment position than they'd have been in had they stuck it out.
-On that note, I like that she's very clear, at the end of the book, about the specific social class going all homesteader. That as much as we all want to shout that these women's privilege is showing (they are, after all, being supported by their husbands, in an era when having a husband at all is a marker of fancy-class status) these are not the hyper-elites. These are women who don't have fabulous career options. Neither do their husbands, of course, but the men are still going to work.
-It seems to me like the underlying problem - the thing that gets women of this elite-but-not-Sandberg class into this bind where they're stuck choosing between perma-adjuncting, freelancing, and the stay-at-home chicken-coop mom option - starts far, far earlier than the point at which a husband or child enters the picture. Women are majoring in different fields, taking different paths, applying for less for-profit-ish post-college jobs.
More women might be going to college, but if they're not entering with the expectation that once out, they'll need to support a family, that impacts their outlook. Second-wave feminism, as much as it's been absorbed, has been absorbed as, you need to be able to support yourself. And women will get to a place where they can support themselves, or at least their 22-year-old selves who don't have all that many expenses.
So it's not that women are abandoning potential careers in order to be housewives. Often, they were never in a position to have such a career in the first place. But it kind of seems as if they were, because they have been to college. They are privileged. Except that when it comes down to it, when there are bills to pay, not so much. As I've said before, and as I will say again, knowing what kale is will not pay your rent.
Why do we keep missing this? In part because there is one small subset of women - and men - who can major in Medieval Tapestry Studies and be readily employable upon graduation. That would be the graduates of... either a certain number of elite colleges (some people I've discussed this with think UChicago counts, others are skeptical, and my personal experience is mixed) or really just Harvard. These are the people writing opt-out-analysis, and, often enough (although not in Matchar's case) this is whom opt-out-analysis articles are written about. And we're constantly hearing about how there are on the one hand privileged women, and on the other, underprivileged ones. When in fact, there is this one superwoman caste (the Sandbergs, the Chuas, the Slaughters), and then this other caste of women who are on paper not that different, but whose degrees in Basketweaving from Obscure College aren't quite the same.
So I think Matchar gets us part of the way there, in pointing out that this is sort of a lower-rung upper-middle-class concern. But we need to go further, acknowledging that not all women - or all men! - are going to go to name-brand schools, but also changing the mindset of women who are entering college, or even earlier, and making it clear to them that they, just like their male classmates at Obscure, will need to earn something more than pin money one day.