Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Resolutionish

-House-leaving. Including baby classes, meet-ups, whatever it is one does, and I have some promising leads on that front but am open to more suggestions. But also a bit of leaning into home-with-baby hermit-ness where needed.

-Exercise, once this is medically possible. Jogging and weights again, I guess? But also keep up with meals, which is trickier than it sounds. (I may not look Worryingly Thin - and by "may not" I mean I certainly don't, as in I was only barely able to squeeze into my usual winter coat in time to need to do so - but for baby-feeding and hangriness-avoidance purposes, this is key.)

-Move to a place with an additional bedroom.

-Maaaany writing goals, including getting somewhere with the beginnings of fiction (heh) and non-fiction (more realistic but still heh) drafts.

-Find a few hours at some point, when few-hours excursions become possible, to go to this incredibly hip-seeming and expensive-but-worth-it-looking nail salon I was planning to try pre-pregnancy but never got around to, and get something minimalist but complicated done (gel, half-moons, something along those lines), and combine this with a trip to the nearby taco place.

-Sleep for five or more consecutive hours.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Inside-outside

Hello again, reader(s), from the other side. Necessary short version: All is well! Baby is great! Blog will remain my own holdings-forth and will not be about the baby herself, both to preserve her privacy and because there is at this point not a tremendous amount even to overshare if I were so inclined. (Newborns eat, sleep, and go to the euphemistic bathroom. Mine is no exception in this regard.) 

The difference between pregnant and not is hard to overstate, if a whole lot less about physique than I'd have imagined. True, I no longer look nine months pregnant, which is of course a good thing seeing as I'm not, but size-wise my goal is not a bikini, or even jeans, but to fit into my usual winter coat by January, when it will likely become necessary. Mostly, it's about being able to take a shower and not panic that maybe it's too hot for the baby. To eat lox and soft cheeses, but also just to eat a bite of something that tastes a bit off and not think, oh no, food poisoning, which bacteria could it have been?? To walk down an unsteady construction-site ramp into a Krispy Kreme near the doctor's office, knowing that the baby is across the street with my husband, and not inside of me.

And I suppose it's nice to know, principle of the thing, that I could have a drink, even if practically speaking, this is something has to wait until you can be sure your baby can make it two whole hours between feeds. Those Rodenbachs I bought just prior (and made a habit of knocking over in the fridge in search of food over the past many months, so who knows what state they're in) are still there, and I'm sure I'll get to them at some point. 

Oh, and it's amazing not to feel like I'm going to faint every day between breakfast and lunch, no matter how many iron supplements and snacks I'd throw at the problem. To sleep deeply and (sort of) comfortably, even if for limited stretches of time. And all of this after what was, on paper, an easy-enough pregnancy. (No morning sickness - just food aversions - and none of the serious pregnancy complications.)

Of course, there's also childbirth, which is reputed to be painful (even with pain medication), and with good reason. WWPD will not be host to a play-by-play of my own experience, but let it be known, an experience was had. One that, much like pregnancy itself, is tough to categorize as easy or difficult. I have not, shall we say, rejoined my local running group just yet. Recovery... takes a moment, and I write this from somewhere in that moment. Certain basic actions - going on a short walk, or picking something up from the floor - sort of went from being near-impossible for one reason to being similarly challenging for another. But at least things are trending towards easier rather than more difficult.

I've heard plenty about the claustrophobia that can come of feeling tethered to a baby, and, sure? You are tethered! If you breastfeed and are still in the time period where you aren't yet supposed to pump, your baby-less outings are by definition short ones. (Short and mildly nerve-wracking, but possible.) But the version with an actual baby is a whole lot more fun than where it's that what's stopping you from trying the ultra-hip nail salon you've been contemplating for a year is your own dread of the walk from one end of a subway platform alllll the way to the other, or concerns about the fumes, or the (remote but you never know) possibility of infection. That's really the big difference - when you're pregnant, depending your... outlook? belief system? life experience?, a baby feels like a hoped-for outcome you can't quite count on, and could jinx at any time. Whereas once there's a baby, that much is, at least, for sure.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Ready or not

Hello, this time from one day past my due date. This means, I suppose, that the end is in sight. Also that I feel as though I should be offering up either profundities on The Experience, or at the very least, some sort of account, public but basically for myself, of this rather key transitional life moment. But my mind isn't quite up to profound, so random-assortment it is:

-There is no "ready." In some senses everything is flawlessly lined up, and I'm old-but-not-ancient (although I certainly feel ancient), and yes, have been with my husband a long time. I have zero qualms or ambivalences about the change that's to come. But I mean! I have never been a parent before! I have never given birth before! Yes, I took a childbirth class, but that was so abstract! I have no idea what any of this is like, really, having barely been around babies, just on a practical level. I know enough to know it isn't like first getting a puppy, but if we're talking personal experiences I can relate this to, that's all I've got.

-Had thought by this point we'd be living in a two-bedroom but we are not. I want to say that this feels like (to put it in millennial terms) an adulting fail, but then I think about how I'd feel if we'd just spent our every cent on a two-bedroom the same square footage as our 1br rental, and one in a less convenient spot, and am thinking staying put for the time being may have been the way to go.

-I have not batch-cooked anything. The freezer has, like, ice cream, gnocchi, and Korean rice cakes. The car seat... I mean there is a car seat, newly-purchased and Canadian safety standards approved, but it hasn't been installed because there's no car. (Am still not entirely sure I don't want to come home from the hospital via what is, after all, a door-to-door public bus route.) But there are bags with stuff in them from lists and that's a thing you're supposed to have done. I just have to keep reminding myself that the advice online is for people who don't live in urban downtowns.

-It's not so much 'getting my body back' I look forward to as being able to reach things in cabinets. I'd anticipated the not being able to bend over thing (and... you sort of still can, it's just awkward.) But if you're already short and then can't get as close as usual to countertops or the sink or whatever, your options in the getting a glass down department quickly become limited. And fine, I also miss wearing regular pants - even if these are going to be pants in a different dress size than before (as seems inevitable, at least for a while), if they're not sweatpants or leggings, that would be a plus. Along similar lines: I'd imagined no-alcohol for nine months would be at least a bit more noticeable than it was. Meanwhile I've been so much more fixated on what it will be like to again be able to eat absolutely whatever (except romaine lettuce, I suppose, which is off-limits to all), without wondering about pathogens. I don't even mean the usual list (sushi, etc.). I just mean the ability to eat whatever and not have to think about it. OK and I also mean a very specific bagel with lox and salmon roe, sold at an establishment not that far from my apartment.

-Was listening to a BBC Woman's Hour podcast about the immediate postpartum period, which some are now calling the "fourth trimester." The guest was explaining that it's actually not super helpful to tell new mothers that they look great-as-in-healthy, because it puts pressure on them to deny any struggles. Something similar is true, I think, of pregnancy itself. Without going overboard with haranguing acquaintances for innocuous/well-meaning small talk, I'd say that... yeah, it can be frustrating to hear that you look unwell (which if you're as baseline pale as I am, plus your iron levels are so-so, you will hear, often), and to hear from passersby that you're clearly doing well, when... you haven't slept through the night in months, and have had to stop work earlier than anticipated due to almost fainting while administering a midterm. There's a binary to how these things are discussed - an easy or difficult pregnancy - that I don't think quite covers how these actually go. And it is, for obvious reasons, the "easy" bit that's easier to publicly discuss. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

The clear eyebrow mascara of cooking advice

And done. Thanks to some tremendous achievements in the field of not getting out much (except over the weekend, when a modest neighborhood-leaving attempt proved more exhausting than anticipated), I have now seen all four episodes of "Fat, Salt, Acid, Heat." "Acid," the Mexico episode, was by far the most compelling. I should note, however, that I have had exactly one true pregnancy craving, and it's been a second-half-of-third-trimester fixation on tacos. (I watched the consumption of the authentic article onscreen while eating an approximation at home. My dining-out of the past few weeks has been tacos and more tacos, basically.) Also: I've been to Italy and Japan, but never to Mexico, so there was more for me in the way of vicarious experience. Also, also: More broadly, I think citrus probably is an underrated ingredient-type, and one that hasn't had reason to reclaimed post-'lite'-and-low-sodium-1990s in the way that salt and fat have been. The concept felt somehow more original. (Also, also, also: tacos.)

So I was feeling kind of won over. And had high hopes for "Heat," the non-travel-based final episode. At last, all of these trips to get special ingredients were going to culminate in a home-cooking application!

Which... is and isn't where things go. Home for Samin Nosrat is Berkeley, California, but starts off at her former workplace, Chez Panisse. As I ate a defrosted (but - apologies to "Fawlty Towers" - fresh when it was frozen) and toasted bagel with mediocre Canadian goat cheese, I watched as Nosrat and an Alice Waters-esque woman (but not Waters herself) prepared thick steaks over a wooden fire, inside a kitchen, as one does. (Yes, it's the egg all over again.) The narration involves all these tips, assuring that the cooking of enormous steaks over a fireplace fire inside the Chez Panisse kitchen is something that actually has relevance to one's home-cooking techniques. My bagel-fueled skepticism was what it was, but I kept watching.

I should not have continued watching. Next up is the everyday, ordinary trip to the regular old supermarket, to learn how to shop. "One of the valuable lessons I learned at Chez Panisse was that you don't have to use expensive ingredients to make good food. All you need to find are simple, quality staples, and to treat them with respect," narrates Nosrat, as she meanders the aisles of a supermarket in Berkeley that looks like something out of a dream. (She also super-casually tastes some string beans (?) without paying, which I think is meant to seem non-pretentious, charming, and in the spirit of being sure to taste food at every step along the way, but... I don't know.) First, there's the meat. It's not just that this supermarket has a butcher - not standard, but not unheard-of. It's that the meat looks amazing and costs - to my now-Toronto-trained eyes - practically nothing.

But then comes the produce, and it's like, why bother, the viewer asks herself, pouring a bowl of raisin bran a couple hours later. It's like a peak-summer NYC farmers market, but with more - and more brightly-colored - vegetables. But with a layout reminding that it is in fact a supermarket. More narration, this time with Nosrat saying her focus isn't the special vegetables that happen to be in season in California but the everyday items like broccoli and string beans. Then why film in the Berkeley dreamscape supermarket? Anyway. Everything is lush and incredible and the herbs are fresh and bright green and come in bunches for like 40 cents rather than tiny desiccated clumps in plastic shells for like $4 because Berkeley is not Toronto. Further narration urges the addition of fresh herbs to dishes. A later scene involves the preparation of a salad made from roasted (complicated-ish) vegetables and pre-soaked beans (were we expecting boxed or canned? but not fresh, which is something) and then this massive pile of the herbs in question.

So. It makes perfect sense that cooking shows would feature aesthetically appealing food, and that a competent-but-no-more home cook going to a Canadian supermarket in the hopes of finding scallions, only to leave without any because it's not a scallion day, would not make for compelling television. (Downtown Toronto is so not a food desert. It's that Berkeley is exceptional in the other direction.) It also stands to reason that food professionals would gravitate to (or start their careers in) Berkeley, clustering there rather than cities where for most of the year you sort of cut into a piece of fruit and hope for the best. All of that is fine.

The problem here is more specific: If your reference point for grocery-shopping is Berkeley, your advice to home cooks generally is going to be maybe not so applicable beyond there. The thing where you cook so as to showcase the freshest ingredients - simple flavors, not too much in the way of sauces or spices (both of which could well give Toronto the ingredients advantage) - only works in a locale where more can be said of the ingredients than that they're not uniformly rotten. It is - to paraphrase myself from Twitter, sorry - very much like the approach to beauty-writing where you hear about which moisturizer someone with perfect skin uses as their entire beauty routine. Yes, it will send readers running out to buy that moisturizer, but if they were to pause for a moment they'd realize it's not (just) the moisturizer.

And yet. Just as the Glossier approach to beauty has a way of sucking you in and making you buy an actually very good tube of clear eyebrow mascara, watching "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" has revived my own interest in home cooking. (As, admittedly, has not being much able to leave the apartment.) Did I braise short ribs for about 6 hours the other day, because I'm suggestible? I most certainly did, and they were excellent.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Soy Sauce 99%

Hello from the land of too pregnant to teach. I am not, shockingly, too pregnant to Netflix. Decided to go with "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat," former Chez Panisse chef (with Michael Pollan ties as well) Samin Nosrat's docuseries, and am currently two episodes in. I will doubtless get to the other two soon, and if they massively change my thoughts, perhaps expect an update.

What's to say about the show? Critic Jenny G. Zhang is right: It is something different for a woman of color to be in the naive-but-adventurous American traveler role. What Nosrat does with that role itself may not be revolutionary — no, it's not a revelation that there'd be good food in Tuscany (the episode "Fat"); and I personally could have lived with fewer remarks about how Americans don't know about dashi stock, or other basics of Japanese home cooking, when... plenty of us have YouTube and Japanese cookbooks, and there's nothing "secret" about bonito flakes or associated techniques (from "Salt") — but Nosrat's physical presence is the difference between something that risks feeling stale or Orientalist, and carefree escapism.

And yes, it's refreshing for a woman-and-food show (or really any US-based show) not to involve a modelesque woman, whether promoting or condemning 'clean' eating. It's not just that Nosrat is bigger than the typical woman TV host. (Imagine the eye-rolls provoked by an episode venerating fat-the-ingredient, with a size-zero host.) It's also that she doesn't look done up in the way generally expected of women in this context. She's there because she's a chef, educator, and writer who knows her stuff (including fluent Italian), and an engaging presence, and that is — as it would be, for a male TV host — enough.

Put another way: that Nosrat isn't a dashing middle-aged white dude sneering at the bourgeoisie while urging regular sorts (women) back into the kitchen has a way of making the show, in this day and age, less distracting.

It's a good show, both as entertainment and in terms of probably making the world a better place. But I'm having trouble interpreting the show as the revolutionary achievement some critics seem to receive it as. I was especially baffled by Malcolm Harris's claim that there's something "Marxist" about the show, with "its vision of unalienated labor." Harris acknowledges that he's talking about a travel-centric cooking show featuring artisanal ingredients, but argues that this quality makes it not elitist: "Her point isn’t to communicate the rarity of these ingredients in a Most Expensivest kind of way — there are few purchases and no prices on the show." Which, technically speaking, sure.

Harris's interpretation of slow food as socialist utopia might make sense in the abstract, but not in the context of food writing/food culture of the past decade or so. Artisanal-fetishization as an aesthetic is always a discreet sort of conspicuous consumption. It's always venerating something foraged in a remote locale over the mundane ingredients available in supermarkets near home. And more specifically, it's venerating being the sort of person who can travel the world for — or, at least, import — those special ingredients. It's an aesthetic that rejects 'gourmet', with all its fussiness, but that effectively reproduces it in a slightly different guise. I mean, read a typical David Tanis recipe. Tanis, another Chez Panisse alum, is constantly advising making sure one buys the absolute freshest this or that, with it taken for granted that you're at the very least shopping at farmers markets and fishmongers, but preferably eating freshly-plucked produce, farmed or perhaps wild. Or think of Alice Waters herself, and her notorious fire-cooked egg. (I had remembered the egg incident, but was just reminded on Twitter of the ultra-pricey spoon the egg was prepared with.)

In other words, the same issues that come up with other food movement... advocacy? entertainment? arise here. There are home-cooking segments, but the gist of the show is that the best ingredients are near-impossible to procure, subtext being, whatever it is you're cooking with is inferior and a little bit tragic. A visit to Japan includes a lesson in how a special seaweed-derived salt is made, but then that seems industrial compared with a trip to the old-methods soy sauce... I don't even want to call it a factory, more like an artist's workshop, where we learn that less than 1% of soy sauce in Japan is produced the traditional way, and that most Japanese people won't have even tried this version. And it's like, is the 1% soy sauce that much better than the 99%, or does the viewer just want it to be, given how majestic the whole thing looks, with the barrels and the very serious soy-sauce producer? A part of me desperately wants to try the special soy sauce, but another is left feeling like, if even spending up at a local Japanese grocery wouldn't be good enough, what's the point, and wouldn't this have been time better spent learning what to do with a bottle of Kikkoman?

The show's thesis statement as it were might be simplicity — the universality of salt, fat, acid, and heat as elements that make good cooking worldwide — but the focus is on sighing over the very best of these ingredients. And there's no way to do this that doesn't implicitly (or at times explicitly, as in Nosrat's Alice Waters-esque references to what the typical American consumer is used to) suggest that the everyday versions of these ingredients are insufficient. The regular home cook — the person (the woman) expected to have dinner on the table each night — might be left inspired by the show, but could just as well be left feeling the usual you're-not-good-enough pressures reinforced.

All of this gets at a problem with the privilege framework for cultural critique. Once it gets decided that whichever new cultural product is — as Lauren Oyler memorably put it — "necessary," that is, that it's making an important social-justice contribution At A Time Like This, the work itself gets at once over- and under-appreciated. Over-, because... it's a travel food show partly about how the true Parmagiano, eaten on-site in Italy, really is that good. And under-, because once you hold the show to a full checklist of wokeness standards, you're asking more of it than you would be of yet another such show by a white guy. Which... if the show is revolutionary, it is in the same way "The Mindy Project" was. And let's allow it to be that, no more, no less. It can be at one and the same time annoying that food-movement preciousness lives on, and a positive development that its public-facing proponents now come from a more diverse array of backgrounds.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Next stop: a rice-selling supermarket

Every trimester has its theme. The first: disbelief. Was I really pregnant? Was I really pregnant? Really? When not frantically fear-googling various aspects of this, I was - thanks to the academic calendar and having not signed up to teach in the summer - mostly asleep. The second: how am I supposed to get dressed? paired with the not-unrelated how is it this hot out and what was I thinking, an apartment without air conditioning? Mitigated, respectively, by t-shirt dresses and a portable a/c.

The third, thus far, has certain plusses - am no longer relying on test results and a lack of evidence to the contrary to believe there's a baby in there; it's cooler out, but pleasantly so for my warped body temperature (others' parka weather is my sweater weather) - but some challenges as well. It's kind of the first trimester all over again, symptom-wise: most foods that aren't cold cereal seem nauseating, and most activities that are not being asleep, too strenuous. The general brain-fuzziness of the first has thankfully disappeared (allowing for a bit of pre-maternity-leave freelancing), but has been replaced by everyday activities (taking things out of low-down kitchen drawers; putting on socks, pants...) that involve any sort of bending forward having become near-impossible.

Oh yes, and the oh my goodness there will soon be a baby thing. This is meant to manifest itself as "nesting," which... I suppose it might have, had a planned pre-childbirth apartment move worked out. (An eventual move is likely, but as the due date approaches, the hoped-for timing becomes logistically challenging.) The online pregnancy-forum world is very much about nurseries, some of which have the nerve to look as large as my apartment. Nurseries, and baby showers, the latter which first had me thinking how lucky people are at times like these who live where they come from (or I guess are part of tight-knit communities where they've moved to), but oh the family-broigosity tales these inspire, so, maybe not.

Whatever planning energies I have - and it's not much - are directed towards making sure we own (or could readily own; The Lists seem to assume a situation where you live somewhere remote and there's no such thing as ordering things online in an emergency, like where you need to buy diapers on your way home from the 12-week scan) the essentials, and just a general getting things in order, which is ultimately more about stuff like creating answer keys to French exams to be given in my absence than re: anything explicitly baby-oriented. OK, that and childbirth class, which in Canada involves dilation size being compared with a "Canadian bagel," and watching videos our teacher reminds us are from the US where they do things differently (not in a good way) and I'm sitting there torn between relief at the fluke that I live in Canada and an impulse to announce that I was born in a US hospital and it's not actually that barbaric in the States, although admittedly I do not remember the event in question.

And then there are the last-minute frivolous goals, where the obstacle is as much the cost (at a time like this) as the fact that in the blips when time permits, I'm way too sleepy-clumsy for inessential outings. Which would include a somewhat involved manicure (bright red, empty moons, gel, maybe?) that would cost more than my (admittedly cheap) haircuts; a trip to eat a pastry and look at some practical (but chic, maybe?) boots in a neighborhood the past-self that liked to walk around liked to walk around in; and yeah if I'm not about to move, some sort of massive kitchen-pantry restock that acknowledges this fact. At the very least, it's probably time to buy rice.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Uniqlo-clad poorhouse

Isn't it sad when a new mother has to pay her nanny (wild how nannies expect payment), and the nanny budget dips into the designer-clothing one, and she's forced to wear Uniqlo and J.Crew? Except... is that even the takeaway of this hard-to-interpret Vogue essay?

In one sense, it's a straightforward tiny-violins plight, complete with the requisite gesture acknowledging the far greater "sacrifices made by less well-advantaged moms in New York City, and across the country." In other countries as well, even, but I guess this was U.S. Vogue, so. As someone whose baseline apparently tragic existence involves a more restrained approach to shopping than the author's crisis-budget one, I should roll my eyes, right? But, in another sense... I don't work in fashion! No one expects me to go beyond circa-2009 Uniqlo! (But oh, I do go beyond it. There's some 2018 Uniqlo in there as well.) The author is in a different situation:

It’s not like I had a wardrobe allowance before the baby, and I wasn’t an influencer receiving bags of free stuff. ... The nanny budget made me feel shabby, especially during Fashion Week, when the unspoken dress code is in-season only and other women in my sphere show up in new outfits that easily tally up in the high four figures. Daily. 
So... maybe the issue isn't so much that she, Woman Clothes-Shopper, simply couldn't resist the latest thing, but that hunting down and purchasing the latest thing - sans reimbursement - is a requirement in that industry? Maybe the problem is an industry where a designer wardrobe is expected, but some entity other than one's employer (i.e., independent wealth, or credit-card debt) is expected to pay for it? A problem both for socioeconomic-representation-type reasons, and for industry workers themselves, who are maybe sort of taught to believe that the thing they have to do for work is actually just a frivolous craving they ought to suppress. It's an extreme version of the gendered thing where a woman can feel guilty for spending that she'd also feel guilty not doing. (We have seen this before.)

Which gets, tangentially, at the second question the essay left me with, inspired by this sentence: "We were about 1 percent shy of the 1 percent and we were broke." If that's indeed the case, and this "we" involves a husband as well, and the wife's job is fashion editorial which probably pays OK but probably not 2%-income-level OK, then... what was the husband spending? Was this genuinely that the wife's clothes-shopping — again, a requirement of sorts for her job — got out of hand? (Was she buying Manafort coats?) The clothes, that is, plus some car payments she mentions, which, again, for people that rich, would be negligible? Or is it possible, given the scale of all this, that he was maybe also overspending, and maybe... by quite a bit?

Or! Was this one of those cases where a childcare budget is viewed as coming from the woman's income? That sort of seems to have been the case, because the sentence, "My husband and I pooled our funds and paid her for that week," comes only after she has insufficient funds of her own money to pay (cash, which is another story...) her nanny's wages. 

Sure, I want to praise the author for resisting overshare, and for not spilling what could be potentially quite dirty familial laundry. But in restricting the story to one her own clothes-shopping habits, the author winds up telling a story that both reinforces clichéd notions of what overspending looks like, and that somehow feels as if it's missing key pieces.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Maternity garb, Part III: for when you're a sphere

As best as I can tell, pregnancy has two phases: the bit where it's hard to know if the whole thing is real, and the one where it's this tremendous effort to get out of bed or off the couch or out of a chair, can't bend over, can't go more than two hours without eating, can't bear the oppressive heat of weather over 65F, and pregnancy feels not only real but eternal. I've gone from not entirely believing I was pregnant to not remembering what it felt like not to be.

This second phase seems to coincide with passersby noting my sphericalness, and accurately noting the cause. It's hard for me to criticize them for this, as the interest has been manifesting itself mainly as concern: the man in the supermarket warning me not to slip on some spilled bulk red lentils.... because. Or the pastry-shop barista glancing at my midsection, then alerting me to the fact that their cappuccino normally comes with two shots of espresso. (I avoided the slippery lentils, and requested a cappuccino with one shot, all the while realizing every other espresso-based coffee out I've been having — not many, but not none — has probably had two.) Concern, or congratulations, sometimes with an "is this your first?", a friendly, small-talk question I don't blame anyone for asking, but one that nevertheless serves as a reminder that I am in fact 10,000 years old. I have yet to be criticized for Doing X While Pregnant, but this could well be because I don't do anything remotely interesting, unless going to a supermarket that sells bulk lentils counts.

But back to the theme of this series: shopping. Parts I and II addressed the question of what to wear when nothing fits. This, the third installment, is about when nothing fits, and you're also incredibly sweaty and uncomfortable. Here's what seems to be working:

-Men's t-shirts. All-cotton, and the cheaper the better. These will do; bought them in black and white, and they seem to shrink nicely but not excessively in the dryer. The main thing is for t-shirts to be long enough. That and not to wear existing now-far-too-tight ones, even if they do kind of fit (as in, are long enough), because "kind of" isn't cutting it, not for the sweat situation.

-The more tent-like of cotton t-shirt dresses. This seemed expensive for what it is but was very much worth it.

-Slip-on shoes. If you can't bend over, laced sneakers are tricky, although I have a pair of running-turned-regular sneakers that can kind of function as slip-ons. Mainly, though, it's either the Birkenstocks or the mules. The plan for colder weather: slip-on Frye boots from 2011, which I've already had re-heeled and de-salted in anticipation.

-Shameful but true: the NYMag recommended Lululemon Align leggings. The cropped in navy, and the full-length (or in my case, "7/8" length) in black. In retrospect I should have just gotten the full-length black ones, since every time it's been too warm for long leggings, cropped have been a bad idea in that regard as well. I did not need two pairs of these.

And here's what hasn't worked, or has proven more daunting:

-Painter's overalls. I don't know. I had this fantasy of finding the (white, industrial) overalls worn by some patissier contestants in a French professional-baking competition, but hadn't quite thought this through, and will be learning how one returns this from non-Amazon Amazon dealers. (They're both enormous and too-small, with an extra added bit of ill-fitting in the chest area.) Because I live in hope, and because they were at last reduced into the cheap-rather-than-moderate threshold, I have gone and ordered a pair of white actually-maternity overalls from an Etsy seller in Latvia. 

-Sweaters? Some blips of slightly cooler weather alerted me to the fact that my maternity garb is all summer-wear, which, living in Toronto, may pose a problem. Of my existing sweaters, a couple seem like they sort of fit now, which means who knows re: a month from now, while the rest either don't or aren't even worth trying.

The wide world of sweaters I don't already own has proven tricky. I became fixated on the notion of a drapey sweater that doesn't close, thereby eliminating size concerns. This led me to a weekend-long (well, part of the weekend) quest to track down the (absurdly-named) Diderot sweater at Aritzia. Sold out! Oh no! Except in the branch where they still had it, and it was... not an attractive garment, at least not once on. It's one of those things where it's not entirely clear how it's meant to be worn. A similarly spacious wrap sweater at the same store was a whole lot better but also $178 (!!!) which is unfathomably more than I'd spend on a regular sweater so definitely not in the cards where maternity's concerned. Then there was the actual maternity store in the mall, which... doesn't really sell sweaters?, but which did have some impressively hideous fitted-track-suit-jacket-type things.

Anyway. I wound up with this, from a millennial-oriented concept shop of all places, because the garment is unquestionably big/long enough, and is sort of pretty maybe?, and because $40 is not $178.

-Baby stuff? This has involved a lot of browsing but, as yet, no purchasing.

-A two-bedroom apartment? This too has involved much browsing but no purchasing.

Friday, August 03, 2018

'Better not risk it'

Sorry, dear reader(s), but I remain fixated on the bonkers Twitter response to the news story of the pregnant woman who got served cleaning solution instead of the latte she'd ordered at McDonald's. I shouldn't, really, when the entire "story," such as it is, is that three (at least; didn't comb through all of it) people/bots in a substantial Twitter thread objected not to the poison served to this woman, but to her decision to go into McDonald's and order a latte in the first place.

Typing this, I realize it's not self-evident what the issue was. Was it that lattes aren't a choice classically associated with McDonald's? No! It was that pregnant women — according to some tweeterers not up on what medical guidelines actually are about this — shouldn't be drinking coffee. For the link-non-clickers: the guidelines are basically, don't drink coffee like it's water, but a coffee or two is fine. It just doesn't feel as if it should be. Why?

What kept coming to mind when overanalyzing this is what would have happened had this woman been served cleaning solution not in a McDonald's latte guise, but at one of those millennial-plant-filled, Instagrammable juice bars. Juice, so evocative of health and purity! Cold-pressed, of course. Except here's the fun thing: unpasteurized but prepared juice is one of the many (, many, many) otherwise consumable items that are fully off-limits to The Pregnant. It feels as if it would be fine, advisable, even. What could look more wholesome than a fresh glass of (green, perhaps) juice? And yet, the latte was (in principle; not that specific latte, clearly) the better choice.

In the great Before, I'd known that pregnant women couldn't have sushi. (Which may not even be the case anymore in the US, but still is in Canada; as compensation, we don't have to give a moment's thought to paying for maternity care or childbirth.) Ha! It is not only sushi. It's basically a full-on impaired-immune-system diet (no runny eggs, dubious leftovers, etc.), with the added twist that certain otherwise-whatever toxins are deadly to fetuses. Cold cuts, undercooked meat or seafood (or fully cooked fish, if it's the mercury-dense kind), any remotely decent cheese, lox, it's all a disaster waiting to happen.

At which your impulse might well be to go vegetarian, or maybe even vegan, just to simplify matters, and given that all the fun non-vegan foods are out. But that's not ideal, either, since you need to get enough protein, not just regular-person enough but even more. That, and salad is also suspect. If you don't know where it's been or whatever, it crosses over into one of those foods. Not least with romaine lettuce regularly swinging between acceptable salad green and bacterial sewer to be avoided at all costs. Eat vegetables! Just not those vegetables, or those, and oh, maybe not those either. And carbs are good! Just make sure you're having multigrain everything, and not too much sugar (she types, looking down at her almond croissant), because you want to gain weight but not too much, and gestational diabetes could be around the corner.

I read Emily Oster's Expecting Better and nodded along in theory to the idea that what matters is actual risk, while at the same time thinking if even minor risk can be avoided, now's really the time. I went into... this entirely prepared to make all the sacrifices. What's nine months? My lifestyle at 34 didn't require any major adjustments (the upside to losing one's alcohol tolerance around 30), and I mostly eat the vegetarian sushi anyway. I didn't (and don't!) find it all that infantilizing if, for actual medical reasons, I'd have to consume a bit more like, well, a child.

What I wasn't prepared for was the system of rules, akin to kashrut or extreme "clean" eating, that came with. Basically anything you haven't prepared yourself is dangerous, because who knows what's in anything? All sorts of seemingly innocuous foods could have secret raw eggs, secret alcohol. I find myself standing at the cheese section of the supermarket, Borat-style, trying to make sense of which cheeses would be acceptable. Confusingly, the hard cheeses are often raw-milk, while the ones with the reassuring "pasteurized" label are often the soft-rind, forbidden variety.

Not drinking, fine. Not ordering the beef tartare that I wasn't going to order anyway, also fine. But where was the option that didn't involve turning every meal into a research project, and at a time when one is meant to be getting enough nutrients? This is an approach that, as a matter of principle, I object to in my regular life, but that here struck me as all-out dangerous.

And add to this the expectation that all women open to the possibility of becoming pregnant act as though they already were, and not just basic stuff like taking folic acid or not smoking, but, apparently, giving up pizza, because god forbid an actually pregnant woman ate garbage like that. So yeah, while I didn't immediately, I now get why the purity requirements grate, and why Oster's book has such a passionate following. It's not, as I first skeptically imagined, that everyone just wants an excuse to drink. It's not even about that, really. Where everything is risk, and still more things feel as if they would be, there's no obvious 'safest not to risk it' option.

So I do what I guess everyone does, in one way or another: I draw my own lines. Alcohol is out, because I can give or take its presence in my life. Max one coffee a day is in, and is the main hope for me consuming the recommended amount of milk. There's enough that's necessary that I find it hard to convince myself to sign on to the things that merely feel as if they might be. That means the whole organic thing is one I'm giving a pass. (If the organic fruit's the one that looks vastly better, it's what I may go with, price depending, same as before.) I'm not picking now as the moment to start on the apparently effective retinol-based anti-wrinkle creams, since retinol's in the Actually A Problem pile, but have not combed through my existing makeup, tossing anything with parabens. I've very nobly held back from getting a gel manicure, something I'd been contemplating but too frugal-squeamish to get Before, but did get highlights in my hair, which, like coffee, appears to fall into the seems-like-it-should-be-a-problem-but-isn't pile.

Put another way: There are so, so many ways, at every stage of the process, for things to go wrong, and for no known or controllable reason. My understanding of this daunting reality does not make me want to grab pseudocontrol via pseudoscience. On the contrary, it makes me a little bit more live-and-let-live, which honestly, in my sober and cheese-researching state, can't hurt.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Women: never the right age, and always shopping all wrong

-When I see Catherine Nichols has a new piece out, I always click, but I especially recommend her latest for Jezebel, about "dead girl" narratives supplanting romantic comedies. The argument itself is compelling (read it!), but it's the rom-com part I seem to have honed in on:

This is the post-pill chick-lit situation: a young woman’s life is not like her mother’s specifically because she can have a job and she can move to the city and have fun with her own money. On the other hand, even with access to this realm of dignity that was, until recently, only for men, she has a new indignity of having to persuade one of her shitty boyfriends to marry her before she runs out of eggs. She’s stuck in this neo-Victorian position of having to advocate for the hearth and home—for family, commitment, cooperation, children—when the promise of the Pill was that she could have other priorities.
This is something I've also written about, from a different (and less precise, I'm now realizing; it really is about the pill!) angle. There's this false feminism of a society that presents women's professional options as infinite, except for the small matter of, the options are to stop abruptly at The Age (exact age varies by region/subculture), at which point pre-feminist requirements not only surface, but get treated as an emergency situation. Meanwhile a woman who sees what's on the horizon and leans out, even marginally, before reaching The Age, is viewed as a regressive throwback, all for doing precisely what would have been demanded of her, from the very same milieu, five minutes later. Women can find themselves in the wrong for being ambitious or insufficiently so, if they don't get their timing just right.

The line that most struck me in Nichols's article was one about women "frustrated or humiliated by the need to find a man to marry before she runs out of fertile years—or, even if she doesn’t want children, fertile-looking years." That second part especially. If a woman does wish to have biological children, then yes, this means accepting that female fertility... is what it is. But this isn't every woman's goal, or priority. Yet all straight women are meant to treat various ages as deadlines, and, I guess, to ignore the fact that people of all ages pair off.

-I'll also belatedly WWPD-plug my first-ever piece for Refinery29! It's ostensibly about a Money Diaries column, from a wealthy 21-year-old student and intern, that went viral. But it's more generally about the temptation to view "privilege" as young women consuming (often fairly mundane, affordable) things, and to ignore the larger-scale (if less tangible) forms of privilege experienced by, oh, certain middle-aged men, many of whom (as several responding to my piece pointed out!) don't even know how much their day-to-day expenditures amount to, because someone else (a wife, say) is handling those trivial matters. Why — I continue to wonder (rhetorically) — do we not hear about how men feel about what they spent on each salad or taxi? Why indeed.

It's not that men can't make the news for materialism or aloofness. It just takes a wildly different threshold. It needs to be Paul Manafort, with his allegedly shadily-purchased $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket. Or Trump not knowing how grocery-shopping works. Meanwhile a woman can scandalize by spending $15 on takeout, or by buying groceries that aren't the absolute cheapest (or, conversely, on those that are; does she think about where her family's food comes from??), or by getting a latte at McDonalds.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

On "Nanette" ambivalence

Everyone seemed to really love "Nanette." By "everyone" at this stage (there will be other stages), I mostly mean people I follow on social media: friends, acquaintances, like-minded writers. I had not, thus far, much-if-at-all noticed any reviews. But judging by word-of-mouth reception, the show, a Netflix stand-up special, seemed to have achieved the miraculous feat of seeming spot-on regarding feminism, across swaths of feminists who don't necessarily normally agree on much. There was a #MeToo angle! Something about mansplaining, but not heavy-handed-seeming! But also: performer Hannah Gadsby spoke about being a gender-non-conforming lesbian and not — as others would sometimes insist — a trans man, which pleased the contingent fearful that butch lesbians these days are under pressure to transition. (That is not my lane — I'm a cis woman not averse to menswear, but who, earlier this evening, booked something called "partial head highlights" — and nor am I any kind of outside expert; I bring this up merely to point out how branches of feminism I wouldn't have expected to were converging over "Nanette.")

Without giving much thought to how any of this would translate to comedy, I found myself with the requisite set of factors — an hour or so of free time, a limited array on Canadian Netflix — and figured why not?

It started out promising: We meet Gadsby with her dogs, and they're excellent dogs. Then, and more importantly, there's Gadsby herself, who's so charming, as well as just... original. Her stage presence, but also her well-told, unusual-for-stand-up life story (a gay Tasmanian woman with a background in art history, in an arena where "woman" can, on its own, suffice as difference). And maybe most of all, originality-wise, an unpredictable politics: unambiguously progressive but in-group critical. That's a tough line to walk, especially in comedy — how can this be done without making it seem like you're giving out-group members, aka the majority of the audience (and of society), permission to laugh at the group you're a part of? — but somehow she was managing it.

And then...

The second part of the routine is what critics (although the word "critics" seems the wrong word for near-unanimous adulation) have deemed the point. It's a monologue covering quite a bit of ground, all righteous, some cathartic, some more along the lines of a gets-it-right op-ed (or, as some have observed, a TED talk): Picasso was a sexist whose lover, during his own middle age, was a 17-year-old girl. Self-deprecation is problematic, you see, a self-defense mechanism of the marginalized. Comedy is problematic. Gadsby speaks about her own experiences as the victim of sexual violence; what she says is not funny, but who would ask this to be? She also repeats the refrain, "straight cis white men," I think in that order, in reference to the category of humanity without experience being the underdog.

Where did all this leave the viewer, or much more accurately, this viewer?

I came away as convinced as I already was — which is to say, abundantly convinced — that homophobia is a scourge which has lived on well past when some might imagine it's obsolete, if with more specific knowledge about Australian homophobia than I'd ever had previously. I was also — shockingly, I know, especially As A Woman — already opposed to sexual assault, as well as irritated at the thing where male geniuses (and a whole lot of not-so-brilliant men, under that cover) get a pass to do pretty much whatever. And yeah, I've experienced a bit of mansplanation in my day, even if my interpretation of it may be slightly different than the usual. (I think mansplaining is a thing, but a thing men also do to other men, only the dynamic's different in that context.) I may not have been precisely the target audience for "Nanette," but not far off.

But did agreeing with (most of) the arguments themselves mean liking "Nanette"?

According to The Moment, yeah, pretty much. Reviews and profiles in major publications (New Yorker, NYT, Guardian, etc.) tended to hit the same notes: Behold, a list of unassailable public figures who not only praised "Nanette" but declared it the most important work ever. Behold, Gadsby herself, someone whose relatively late, out-of-the-blue-seeming success, after numerous personal and mental-health struggles, feels not just earned but like justice being served. And then the third element: the cultural and political context, the ultra-solemn Now. "Nanette" feels like a response to Louis C.K., to all the bad men who've felt entitled to our bodies and our laughter. (Consider the New Yorker's choice to have Moira Donegan, creator of the "Shitty Media Men" list, as a "Nanette" reviewer.)

Failure to swoon over "Nanette" becomes a multifaceted misdeed: a dissent from the critical consensus; a personal-seeming insult against a performer who seems like an unusually deserving person (because, after all, the show is so personal);

While watching "Nanette," I found myself thinking of Woody Allen, not least because he comes in for some criticism in Part II. A straight cis white man, yes. Problematic, undoubtedly. (And who can forget that the journalist credited with #MeToo — even if, fine, two women journalists got there first — is none other than Allen's son? Woody Is Everywhere.) But I have trouble thinking of the self-deprecation of Allen's early years as coming from a place of privilege. I found myself wondering whether Gadsby, whose show so deeply rests on her own unequivocal underdog status, has reckoned with her own (best as I know) gentileness, when effectively throwing Jewish humor (yes, and other sorts as well) out the window.

I am not an experiencer of male privilege. I did not take the ugh-men turn remotely personally. Nor, somehow, was I cheering.

Far more than Woody Allen, though, the comedian I had in mind while watching was Ali Wong, a comic I also learned about via social-media hype leading me to a Netflix special. It's hard to argue that Wong's physical presence in "Baby Cobra" (which, for what it's worth, I watched and enjoyed well before motherhood was on the horizon for me personally) or "Hard Knock Wife" — Asian-American and heavily pregnant — is less outside stand-up norms than Gadsby's. Wong, too, broke ground, and addressed all manner of 'identity' topics, and also... was hilarious.

It helps that Wong's performances (and, as I recall, the critical and social-media endorsements of them) don't leave the viewer feeling like anything less than a heartfelt enthusiastic reception means you're an anti-Asian bigot, or unsympathetic to the challenges of life in a female body. Nor, for that matter, that any response other than This Is Important was akin to bashing a sensitive soul's artistic production.

But what I kept thinking was, are we meant to believe Ali Wong pandered to the patriarchy by doing stand-up routines that were funny the whole way through, addressing race, female sexuality, and miscarriage, but also, heaven forfend, making audiences laugh? More broadly: why is anything other than unsubtle, earnest outrage now viewed as being on the wrong side? Does someone like me — someone who (this is in the book) found much of "Master of None" cringe-inducing — simply not belong to this era?

(Is it too cynical, or worse, to remember that "Master of None" was only held up as this icon of Awareness until co-creator and star Aziz Ansari became problematic via an itself-problematic early #MeToo story, wherein he was reportedly gross while dating? To remember this, that is, and to wonder whether it's tempting fate to declare Gadsby — or any human being! — the epitome of pure, underdog goodness, when who knows what will surface, or as they say online, milkshake-duck?)

Sanctimonious entertainment doesn't drive me to the right politically. (Thus why you're getting this to-do on WWPD and not in a publication — I could see my view on "Nanette" being not just published celebrated on the right... but for the wrong reasons.) Maybe it does this for some, I wouldn't rule it out. For me, it just makes me think cultural consumption is something that effectively needs to happen in private, if it's to happen honestly. Not necessarily in the sense of alone, but among friends, or over direct messages.

To be clear, it's not about what can or can't be said, or not exactly. I'm well aware that there's a tremendous market for dissenting views from self-identified progressives. But that market is, or amounts to, the right. Or if not the right, exactly, then a subset of the center that has its priorities wrong, obsessing over progressive sanctimony while the right offers up one disaster after the next. It's certainly permitted not to like "Nanette." But where are you left if you like its political message but not its artistic one, or just found the whole thing a bit meh, despite rooting for the creator personally? Is this a case where it's best to say nothing at all?

The trouble with personal writing (yes, I repeat myself on this) is that it's impossible to criticize the writing without seeming to be judging the author, or making light of her struggles. A similar problem comes up with political art: If you care about Issue A, the expectation is that you'll love Work X, and conversely, if Work X doesn't do much for you, then it's clearly because Issue A doesn't move you. This approach to culture, which feels (and is!) so very now, isn't entirely new. It's just become ubiquitous. (Please, please read Lauren Oyler on "necessary" art, especially this part, but really, all of it: "When applied to bad art with good politics, 'necessary' allows the audience to avoid engaging with a work in aesthetic terms, which tend to be more ambiguous and difficult.")

"Nanette" falls squarely into both situations — it's personal and topical. To feel meh about "Nanette" is — unless you're really leaning into contrarianism — to feel as though you're wrong politically as well as contributing to the wrongs the performance's creator has already had to suffer. Which is... not great, I think, for art, or ultimately, for politics either.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Woman Over 35

There are certain birthdays that matter. The last of these for me was 27, aka the age I became a madame, in a couple (but not all) senses of the word. 18 and 21 blend together, as both involved wandering around the East Village with friends. 30 made no great impression - as I recall, it was one of those Princeton summers when no one was around, and I marked the day itself by driving to H-Mart in Edison and buying, among other groceries, a whole fish.

But 35! That's the one, isn't it? Women under 35 in one category, those over that age in another. In a matter of days, I will be a Woman Over 35. A not-young-anymore woman. Which would probably feel a whole lot more momentous if I'd spent 27-34 under the illusion that I was, during those years, young. But for so many reasons, not so much? I was never under the illusion that everyone thought I was ten years younger than was actually the case (for every flattering carding, three 'ma'ams'; who was I kidding?), nor, I suppose, that 30 was supposed to look ancient so how odd that I at 30 did not. (30 looks ancient to children, but not to fellow adults of any age.) Still, the famous signs of aging start... at birth, really, so while I'm sure new ones will pop up that alarm me at various points, it would be absurd to think you could reach 35 without having yet encountered any. 

Also: 35 is already well into the age range where one is only a young woman according to people (men) who are themselves so far from young that maybe you're not young, either. And by that standard, every age at least a decade under that of the typical male lifespan is young, if you want it to be. (A 50-year-old is a mere slip of a youth where 70-year-old dudes are concerned.)

Also, also: Most of the "35" scaremongering is directed at women in life situations other than my own. Whether 35 is too old to get a man (yeah, no, and no, not all women even want one in the first place!) isn't my immediate concern, given I've been with my now-husband since 23. I'm more aware of that other issue pertaining to 35-ness, but (see posts below) one can rest assured it is not in this very moment occurring to me that female fertility declines with age. In any case, the woman who reaches 35 shocked that the likes of her could possibly age past 20, in a way that impacts her body or is perceptible to those around her, is either a myth or a rarity. The whole women age thing (presented, inevitably, as though people who aren't women don't) is sort of the gist of much media aimed at women, so it's unclear how any of us would reach even 20 oblivious to it.

And yet: 35 feels like a thud. Despite feeling ancient since forever, I've doubtless been benefitting (or suffering??) from youth in ways I haven't been aware of. Like, maybe I thought I knew, but give it a few days and I'll realize I didn't have a clue.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Maternity garb, Part II: realities

To discuss maternity clothes is to discuss bodies. There's no one situation of The Pregnant Lady (or to expand further, and open up another whole set of questions: The Pregnant Person). Every thought you've ever had about your body — including relating to the pregnancy itself — is going to enter into the feelings that impact the day-to-day question of how to get dressed. I come from this topic from a specific place, as does everyone. Consider this not so much a privilege disclaimer as an everyone's-different reminder. What's been easy for me may have been difficult for others and vice versa. With that, moving on...

The challenges:

 -There’s an assumption behind maternity fashion advice one finds online: that you want to look pregnant rather than fat. On the one hand I get it – I am a woman living in our society! On the other, if you’re a woman who shows from approximately day one, you maybe don’t want to announce to every single person you interact with. So the first step is giving up the notion that you’re looking for something that’s somehow both slimming (or as it’s euphemized, in this age that gestures at body-positivity, flattering) and pregnancy-obscuring. Ultimately you may want some clothes from both categories. But ultimately-ultimately, at least in summer, at least if you're as short as I am, nothing's going to be ambiguous.

 -Also tricky: the conventionality of maternity clothing. Or maybe just the limited options, which assume a universally-shared female end goal of looking like the “after” on an episode of “What Not To Wear.” Or there are shirts that announce, with Pinterest-era graphics, the situation (with "mama" or baby-inside or whatever). If you're someone who values dressing like yourself, whatever that means to you, you kind of have to avoid maternity clothes, but sizing-wise, this may not be possible. 

-Oh yeah, and the big one: $$$. At just the moment in life when saving money starts to seem particularly important, it becomes necessary to buy all these new clothes for yourself. And not just any clothes, but ones a) that will only fleetingly fit, and b) that cost a ton because they can. (Forgive me for being a peasant, but $150 strikes me as steep for a plain t-shirt.) Avoiding the bleak-for-different-reasons paths of getting ripped off and wearing absolutely any potato sack involves a bit of thought.

Practically speaking, what works:

 -Oversize t-shirt dresses. Helpful in that I already owned some. Muji probably has the best (I have the Breton-striped, short- and long-sleeved), made of sturdy but chic material, and with pockets. Uniqlo Marimekko had one (also with pockets) but I think that’s done now. Regular Uniqlo (along with Gap) seems as if it would have this, but not so much. H&M is the place to go if you're willing to forgo pockets but just get $10 t-shirt dresses. And if you’re short, you have the option of actual long t-shirts, or so I tell myself. (I realize that in a pale-blue shirt-thingy I recently bought at Kotn, it looks like I’m going out without pants on, but I can live with this.) Giving up entirely on the idea of a waistline helps. Think enormous t-shirt, not merely jersey-material (but likely too fitted) dress.

 -Hideous but loose shorts. I bought some at H&M in very much the spirit of, this'll do, but when it’s very hot out and I need to take my dog out in something with pockets, they do the trick. They don’t have the maternity band (they’re not maternity shorts), which means they work when it’s a million degrees out. Why hideous? Among other reasons, because they’re not actually cut to be worn low-slung, so when I wear them it looks like I haven’t pulled my shorts up correctly. Oh well.

-Lululemon Align cropped leggings. New York Magazine was right, what can I say? I went two sizes up, and they fit where other leggings do not. Something to do with the waistband material. The seams are a bit itchier than one might ask of leggings that, with tax, approach the shame-on-me $100 mark, and the pocket situation is minimal (a tiny one hidden in the waistband), but... I haven’t found better? Very Tribeca Whole Foods Mom, even if she'd go for one of the more obscure and still pricier brands. (Did I mention I'm embarrassed I bought these leggings, even though I've worn them a ton, because doubtless somewhere out there are much cheaper ones that would have been fine?)

-Actual maternity bottoms from the mall. I’m just not a dresses-every-day person. It’s not what I generally feel like wearing, and it’s not even practical from a summer-laundry perspective. (I’m not buying a laundry cycle’s worth of t-shirt dresses, and if 85 degrees feels like 150 for me, I’m not keen to re-wear these a bunch of times before washing.) And the leggings-or-terrible-shorts thing was getting old. The prospect of buying clothing this fit-specific online didn’t appeal, so I (braved the unspecified threat to popular sites that day in downtown Toronto and) went to Thyme Maternity and got some regular shorts and jeans, both with the (too warm but what can be done) stretchy band, which together came to about $100. They're both... fine, I think — needed a shorter length in the jeans, so will see once those arrive. Both seem an improvement over the one such item I had already bought – Uniqlo maternity pants, I think the one style they sell, which were an acceptable $40 CAD but went from too big to too small, skipping the bit where they're meant to fit.

 -Random clothes you have around and can still squeeze into. I’m thanking my past self for not getting rid of enormous sleep t-shirts or very washed-out regular ones, but am also able to get into my usual t-shirts, even if they look very odd at this point. I even found a sleeveless, cowl-neck black dress from the Uniqlo Inès de la Fressange range circa 2014 that wasn't fabulous as a regular dress but that may now be my only correctly-fitting garment.

-The pregnancy-book advice to 'just wear your partner's clothes!' I was very skeptical at first in my case, what with the height difference, and was picturing going around in jeans a foot too long. But this approach may be what means I don't need to order maternity t-shirts. A task I'd been dreading, not least because wherever you get them, they'll cost three times that of an equivalent regular t-shirt. And what are you then supposed to do with those side-ruched, stretch-material t-shirts afterwards?

And now, what seems like it would work but does not:

 -Empire waist dresses. I know this is the look that says ‘pregnancy’ but this is, again, because the style gives the illusion of a larger midsection, and not because it’s actually comfortable when pregnant. The waist won’t fall where it needs to, and or will go from fitting right one day to near-bursting the next. I got an absolutely stunning navy prairie-ish dress at Durumi, a Korean boutique on Queen West – $35 down from $129! – that would be perfect for Park Slope Writer Mom. Empire-ish waist, button-up torso. Pockets. It fit perfectly for a week or so, but if I try again it will almost certainly rip.

 -The jeans you find when Googling “maternity jeans,” or stocked in the posh maternity boutiques where you can go to buy bras but not under any circumstances look around at the clothes. These jeans are $300 (in Canada, at least) and even if they’re good (which, judging by how they looked on a Tribeca Whole Foods Mom I saw in the Toronto obgyn waiting room, they very well might be), they can’t be that amazing, because they're still jeans with a strange stretchy inset, and that will only fit correctly for a few minutes. If I were ever to spend $300 on jeans (unlikely), I’d want at least the prospect of decent cost-per-wear, which this situation pretty much rules out.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Maternity garb, Part I: fantasies


Before the day came when I, personally, required special clothing to accommodate an ever-expanding midsection, I had only the vaguest idea of maternity style, or put another way, what you do when, abruptly, none of your clothes fit anymore, and yet the societal requirement to go outside dressed persists. This is at once the very least on my mind at this moment and, in a practical, day-to-day sense, the most. There's an immediate, daunting quality to trying and failing to get dressed in the morning, which the bigger-picture questions (aka anxieties) sort of lack. It is a good, and (relatively) manageable, problem to have.


While pregnant women of course come from throughout society, and have the whole spectrum of attitudes towards their situation, the ones I especially noticed, and who formed my impression of maternity style, were those who Garfinkel and Oates sing about in “Pregnant Women Are Smug.” Women, that is, for whom pregnancy is the pinnacle of bourgeois success. Who’ve checked every box and have now arrived at that one as well. Whose pregnancy look epitomizes that general sense that everything in their lives have lined up.

Do such women exist, really? Almost certainly not - with pregnancy at least as much as everything else in life, particularly where bodies are concerned, there's a lot, even in this supposed post-privacy age, that goes unsaid, or unpublicized.

What I was picking up on, then, was an aesthetic, or more accurately, two overlapping ones: Tribeca Whole Foods Mom, and Park Slope Writer Mom. As for why these two, it’s because these are the women several years my senior who I’d see when walking around New York in my early-mid 20s, as a grad student living in neighborhoods around or not far from such women.

Tribeca Whole Foods Mom – epitomized by Gwyneth Paltrow, who for all I know has never even been to that Whole Foods – involves being unfathomably rich, and toned in a way only possible with infinite money and personal training. There’s an enormous rock of an engagement ring. She wears head-to-toe name-brand, but understated, athleisure. She swaps out her Chanel and La Mer beauty products for still-pricier organic alternatives. This lady would have been selected to do a maternity installment of Into The Gloss’s Top Shelf, and would have inspired my 26-year-old, very much not-pregnant self to buy some too-expensive non-toxic nail polish. A California approach, but a bicoastal lifestyle. 

Park Slope Writer Mom, then, involves not quite as much money, but still a bunch. (A brownstone is likely, but could well have been purchased before those got so expensive.) Its essentials: clogs and in-the-know literary tote bags. As for clothing? Those long, notoriously plain dresses sold in Brooklyn boutiques where everything’s at least $400 (but ethically produced!) and nothing’s on sale. She was probably eating organic already but now that she's pregnant this isn't even a question. She not only has feelings about being pregnant (who doesn’t??) but the openness, talent, and connections needed to weave those into a well-received essay or memoir.

These two aesthetics, then, sit in the back of my mind as I try to sort out my own maternity style. I say “the back” because ultimately the question of style has not much entered into it.

Here’s what happened: One day, my clothing all fit. (I’ve moved apartments a lot, so stuff that didn’t fit for other reasons hadn’t moved with me.) Then it was like, neat, my jeans are snug, I really am pregnant! Then, suddenly, and earlier than the internet said this would happen, even leggings were too tight to get on. Dresses and shirts that probably made me look pregnant when I was not didn’t work, either – maternity-esque is not good enough. The lower bit of my wardrobe became limited to sweatpants and (certain) running shorts, not that I'm running anywhere in them. And now, at just past the halfway point, t-shirts have become an issue.

What I was left with was more an engineering (and frugality) challenge than a fashion one: How can I go outside and look decent, in the covered-up sense, not necessarily the elegance one? How do I convince myself to get past my usual rule for clothing purchases — only buying stuff I desperately want and have contemplated for months — when the time has come to emergency-purchase any cheap pair of pocket-having shorts that are big enough but don't fall down? And least expected of all, given my previous experience of Toronto 'summer' as a whole lot of nothing for which a/c isn't even required: How do I combine these new proportions with the fact that it's ten trillion degrees out this year, and in my current state feels hotter still, in a world where "maternity" is code for "thick band of fabric going up to the armpits"? These questions and more will be addressed in Part II...

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Toronto is better. Except for the thing with the cars.

Whenever I'm in both my hometown of New York City and my current home of Toronto in a short span of time, I can't help but compare. And it's a comparison where Toronto does quite well. Not always, but generally. Even setting aside (is this possible, though?) such things as universal healthcare; the knowledge that Trump either is or is not the leader of the country you're in (though I did see a MAGA hat today in Pusateri's); and Canada's flaws and xenophobes versus America's... baby-cage immigration policy, Toronto, for me at least, generally comes out ahead.

Day to day, it's just more livable. Mostly, the streets here are not coated in garbage-juice slick, with the accompanying smell (and water bugs) this implies. Apparently it's possible to have a big and vibrant city without a layer of filth. Who knew? The subways... there aren't a whole lot of them here, but the ones there are will arrive every few minutes, with the time posted, and with stations not covered in a still-stickier version of the sidewalk slime. The streetcars are also a good time, most of the time anyway.

And while both cities are expensive/gentrified, this is to wildly different degrees. In Toronto it means there are lots of often-but-thankfully-not-always expensive little shops and cafés. Whereas in New York, it's empty storefronts (the landlords apparently holding out hope for ultra-upscale tenants) interrupted by the occasional bank or Potbelly sandwich establishment. It baffles me to no end that Torontonians make shopping trips to New York, when the journey makes so, so much more sense in the other direction. What are they even buying? (The Everlane showroom and Reformation sample sale had such potential, but were meh and disappointing, respectively. Whereas Durumi, it's like, please ring it all up, yes even the stuff meant for 19-year-olds.)

But then there's this one teensy thing: cars. For whichever structural and cultural reasons, in Toronto, crossing the street is regularly a near-death experience, while in New York, not so much.

The structural bit is clear: Toronto's a city of large, two-way streets, with right on red permitted, and with much of the population living in places not well-served by public transportation.* Parking spots are often on the sidewalk itself, and even where they're not, ubiquitous garages mean you risk getting hit by a car even between intersections. Also: there aren't a whole lot of crosswalks, even in high-foot-traffic areas. West Queen West is basically a more dense (and fun!) version of Bedford in Williamsburg, with plenty on both sides of the street, but practically no way to get from one side to the other. The city's layout is such that the limited attention paid to car-alternatives seems to focus on biking, as versus walking. This, even though the climate here is maaaybe a bit more conducive to the latter. 

In terms of the city's layout, I have to admit, carless though I am here, it's genuinely limiting here not to have a car. A fact I'm reminded of every time I look up some destination (generally Japanese groceries) in another part of town. (Google Maps tells me it's an hour and five minutes to the Japanese strip mall by public transit, or 28 minutes by car.) But I can just... walk to HMart for many of the same ingredients. For me and my udon needs, it's not a big deal. But if any part of your routine (work, school, etc.) demands a journey like the one I've described, then yeah you likely need a car. I can't rule out the possibility of this at some point applying to me, either.

The cultural factors are trickier for me to make sense of, but I suspect the usual stigma on adult carlessness, which much of New York somehow avoids, exists here, even in the absence of necessity. There's also a pedestrian culture of respecting (or just not wanting to be mowed down by?) drivers. It's not just that, when the pedestrian and traffic lights turn green, one or several cars get to make the right turn before however many pedestrians get to cross. (You can try to march ahead, but this will lead either to coming close to getting run over or just to getting drivers furious.) It's also the infuriating thing where you get to an intersection and a fellow pedestrian is gesturing that rare, reticent driver to go ahead and make the turn, without acknowledging that maybe other pedestrians don't want this or more to the point, didn't see this in time.

In any case, the news here is full of stories of... exactly what feels like it's going to happen all the time. People walking or biking beside the massive highway system that is our downtown roads end up getting mowed down. As I understand it, political opposition to this state of affairs isn't where it needs to be. ('Cars are people, too' seems to be a respectable opinion.) So how about it, Toronto? Why not let the people cross?

*If you're willing to put up with NY-style space and amenities or lack thereof, then you, too, might be able to live somewhere in Toronto where driving isn't necessary. Whenever someone wonders at my walk to work, I feel obliged to explain the laundry; space; and a/c situations, none of which are, by this city's standards, what might be considered optimal. I also think having spent the first few years of my life sharing a one-bedroom with my parents makes me less sympathetic than most to the notion that having even one child somehow ethically necessitates such luxuries as extra rooms; a yard; and the ability to drive around several children at a time. The notion that carless urbanites are simply rich people who can afford to live suburban lifestyles but in the city center doesn't necessarily add up.