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of the first has thankfully disappeared (allowing for a bit of pre-maternity-leave freelancing), but has been replaced by everyday activities (taking things out of low-down kitchen drawers; putting on socks, pants...)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.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

The Incel Question

When it arrived in the last few news cycles, the incel phenomenon was not entirely new to me. I was in Santa Barbara not long after the most notorious incel attack, and was a couple Toronto neighborhoods away when the most recent one occurred. (Or maybe not the most recent? More on that in a moment.) And if we go back further still, in my too-online grad school years, I would sometimes horrified-read the "game" or pick-up artist blogs, or mainly just one of them. I knew that something along those lines was out there.

But I confess that despite copious depths-of-the-internet research behind me, involuntary celibacy is not my research area. (While I'm sure there is a privilege angle on incels, for the book, it didn't really come up.) Because of this, when the topic first made the news, I would just sort of nod along, thinking that yes, I know from offline life, there are some men who truly never get a date, despite (maybe?) wanting to, and while there are also some women in that situation, it's much more common-sense plausible to me that some men in that situation would become violent. (That is, unless self-harm counts.) It all seemed to add up, so I wasn't really questioning it.

Then it hit me. It was around the time the "Stacy" - "Becky" meme was making the rounds. The meme, for link non-clickers, shows the two types of women: one ("Becky") a slender, gamine-type brunette, ala Rooney Mara, the other, "Stacy," resembling a young Pamela Anderson. It was much remarked, on Twitter, that these are both young, conventionally-attractive, white women. Why does this matter? (I'm getting to my epiphany about this, I promise.) Not because it's the done thing on progressive Twitter to list privilege-category qualities for the heck of it (even if, sometimes, yes), but because it offers an insight into the incel outlook: "Women," for this set, are defined as hot women. As women they want to sleep with, or who it would impress their peers to have around. Plain-looking or ugly women, or women over whichever age (22?), or for the racists among them (and sounds like racists are indeed among them!), women who aren't white, simply do not register.

So here, specifically, is what hit me: There are - again, evidence being, offline life - men who think like this. Men who pull a 'no woman will have me' when what they mean is that they're 50 but no 20-something will go out with them. Or that they're a quiet, geeky boy and the homecoming queen hasn't reciprocated. These men are not, by and large, society's undateable outcasts. They're men with unrealistic expectations, who choose to ignore the romantic options they do have. Which is, in and of itself, no crime - if you want to restrict yourself to supermodels, but are prepared for the near-certainty of this demand keeping you single, then by all means! Which is, in general, what seems to happen where straight women with unrealistic expectations are concerned - if anything sometimes unrealistic stated expectations are a way for women who actually wish to remain single to deflect busybodies asking them why they haven't settled down.

The problem that inevitably arises is that these men are not OK with the injustice of 'no woman' wanting them. They get resentful, misogynistic, bitter. They feel - pardon the over-used word, but here it sure applies - entitled. The anger itself is real, even if the 'no woman will have me' bit is a figment of their imagination, fueled by their warped definition of who counts as a woman. Consider the more-recent-than-Toronto Texas school shooting, where the killer may (or may not) have been inspired by a girl's rejection. Was that an "incel" attack? Or might it fall within the depressingly everyday category of male-entitlement-fueled violence?

But that's only Part I of the epiphany. Part II: these men - the ones calling themselves incels or committing crimes in the name of that identity - are young. Teens, early 20s. If you feel, in high school, that no one will date you, or indeed if your experience, in high school, is that no one has expressed interest in you romantically, that is... not remarkable. Add to that cohort people whose high school experience is that no one they like likes them back, and this is truly a ton of people. Girls and boys alike.

There's thus something not just unethical (as has been amply discussed) but absurd about discussing "redistribution" - of sex, let alone of wives - to men too young to (necessarily) have either. That a man, at 21, hasn't found love doesn't make him one of society's forgotten. Most of the time, it makes him a man who hasn't had his first girlfriend yet, but who will within the next few years. The pain of being  21 - or 15! - and not having your overtures reciprocated is plenty real. But it's an entirely normal part of youth for many, regardless of gender. The way to address it is to remind young people of that fact. It's not to find ways to address the 'injustice' of not every teenager having a partner. To conflated undesired singleness at 35, 40 with undesired datelessness at 18 is quite bonkers. But it's what's required to believe "incel" is a thing, or, rather, is the thing it presents itself as.

Putting these two items together: There's been this great media discussion about The Men Who Can't Get A Woman - not consensually and not without paying. While such men doubtless exist, there doesn't appear to be any reason to believe the self-identified "incels" are all or even mostly members of that demographic. They might just as easily be a) men who can't get unattainable women to date them, b) boys and young men at an age where only their most socially adept classmates have paired off, or some combination. Yes, these men are angry. But men are - again, I speak from offline anecdote, not Reddit research - often angry for mundane Category A and B sorts of reasons.

Moreover, figuring out just how involuntarily celibate the incels are would be tricky, given that Category A men may genuinely believe that no woman would have them, simply because women over 22 or over 120 pounds are not on their radar.

The trouble is that The Incel is - to borrow from how historian Ronald Schechter brilliantly explained the role of The Jew (as in, the abstract idea of Jews) for the French Enlightenment - "good to think." The notion of the man who, try as he might, can't find a living soul who'll date him is indeed sad and intellectually compelling.

I'm not going to bother discussing "redistribution" arguments any further. Clearly, even if the incel phenomenon is indeed entirely about the most tragic cases, these men are not owed partners. I'm instead going to mention two otherwise good essays that make mistake of assuming, without questioning this, that "incels" are men who can't find women.

Jessa Crispin makes a thoughtful case for a society less fixated on coupledom:

If love and sex can be divorced from status and privilege, if we can reimagine what makes a partner desirable, if we can provide a stable alternative to married life that is something other than a life alone, we can alleviate suffering. Not only for the angry young men of the internet, but for everyone who is alienated and lonely.
As does Dan Savage, regarding stigmatization of sex work:
[A] cultural transformation that’s long overdue and goes hand in hand with the notion that women, not men, own their own bodies: adults who do sex work of their own free will shouldn’t be stigmatized (or treated like criminals) and adults who hire adults doing sex work of their own free will shouldn’t be stigmatized (or treated like criminals). The former cultural transformation will solve the “incel” problem; the latter will lessen the misery of sexual deprivation, i.e. involuntary celibacy.
Neither Crispin nor Savage is coming at the topic with generosity towards violent self-id'd involuntary celibates. That's not the issue here. Both make persuasive arguments for a kinder society. (If not precisely the ones I'd make, which is really beside the point here.) Both, however, anchor their progressive arguments in the incel question: If society improves like so, this will make everyone happier, and also, no more incels. Both, in other words, implicitly agree that the incels are indeed involuntarily celibate, or as Crispin puts it, "alienated from the romantic and sexual marketplace."

Why am I holding forth on this? Because I think there's a danger in taking The Incel Question at face value. Doing so leads inevitably to sympathy where none (or, at least, far less) may be needed. It also reinforces the idea that there's something specific and urgent about men who aren't romantically satisfied. This is particularly true of Savage's argument, which begins with an acknowledgment that men and women alike experience ongoing rejection, but offers an answer that only addresses the men. I say this not just because the answer he gives is destigmatized sex work (which in theory could involve male sex workers for straight women), but because midway through the post, he switches over to talking just about men:
There are men out there who are so profoundly socially disabled—so socially awkward or maladapted or damaged—that they just as incapable of finding finding sex and/or romance through 'normal' channels as a quadriplegic confined to a bed in his mother’s home. 
Now, one might say, of course he's focusing on men; that's who, when lonely, sometimes get violent! But this just brings me back to my point about it being unreasonable (maybe even credulous) to pin male violence on extreme loneliness. Especially when one considers - as some of the response to The Incel Question, including by Savage himself elsewhere, thankfully has - that far more male violence targets women that men are or had been romantically involved with.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Toronto's best inconvenient eats

Among the many reasons I could not be a food critic: how much I like a meal is almost entirely dependent on how hungry I am at the time, and how much I'm up for the food in question. If the answer to both is "very," then chances are I'm about to eat the best pizza/udon/dumplings I've ever had.


Scarcity is everything where food is concerned, even among the world's fortunate for whom this isn't about necessity, but rather, about the freely-chosen decision to get on that enormous line for that place you read about. The more involved it is to actually sit before the food in question, the better the food. That's why San Francisco is known as this great gourmand destination - the city is just one enormous line for a decent-but-not-all-that croissant. But when you actually get the croissant, it's 6pm and you're just so happy to finally have breakfast.

Toronto's climate and culture don't lend themselves to this phenomenon. It's not an especially laid-back city, and more to the point, it's almost always too cold to stand outside on a line. And yet, it's a food city. Maybe more so than New York, where the hot new restaurant is going to be more of about the scene. (She says, having mostly read about those restaurants, preferring to spend time back home on a continual Murray's mozzarella - Shake Shack - Greenmarket - Sobaya loop.) So yes, people here line up, year-round. I can attest to this as one of the people in question.

That said, a caveat is in order! That there's a line doesn't necessarily mean the food you're waiting for is worth it. After months of contemplating doing so, I eventually waited for the line-having ice cream on Ossington. And it was... fine? Then there's the huge line near Trinity Bellwoods Park for soft-serve ice cream that's purple or jet-black or something, at any rate apparently very Instagrammable, maybe tasty too but I've never been convinced enough to find out.

So, in order of somewhat subjective inconvenience, and leaving out places (J-Town for raisin bread and assorted Japanese ingredients; Gourmand for chocolate chip cookies...) whose inconvenience rests solely on my refusal to own/borrow a car, or that (Yummy Yummy Dumplings) are a bit off the beaten path but straightforward enough once you've arrived:

-Soba Canada. This is a Tuesday-nights-only pop-up, walkable from my apartment. I taught this year on Tuesday nights, so for a long time trying this was the dream. (Toronto has infinite ramen possibilities, but soba/udon are harder to track down.) I made a reservation for the one Tuesday I could go, but there was a soba shortage in Manitoba so that didn't happen. Then eventually another Tuesday worked out, and I went! Most of what I remember about the meal was that there was this huge table across from us, taking professional-seeming photos of their food. I remember the soba as being very good, but also that a bunch of menu items were unavailable.

-Tasso. At a storefront in Cabbagetown, bus and subway away, but quick. It's got the best French pastries (kouign amann especially) in the city, but is only open Friday through Sunday (but not this Friday through Sunday - they're on break), only in the mornings, and tends to sell out quite early. Yes, I have seen lines at Tasso in winter. The drawbacks: no seating, and the distinct possibility you'll get off that bus to find you're too late. The second-best pastries - Nadège - are also quite good, and there you can do things like arrive at 3pm and sit down with your croissant (or kouign amann), but Tasso is just... incredible. Once it's again comfortable eat-on-a-bench season, I'll head back.

-Famiglia Baldassarre. A free local magazine appears in the mailbox every so often. On the cover of the latest issue was a photo of some pasta being handmade, at what the interior of said magazine explained was a former pasta speakeasy turned above-board, line-having pasta place. A line? I was already intrigued. Advice to arrive 15 minutes before opening time? Yes. Open only four days a week? Oh yes. In further scarcity: every day, there are just two pastas to choose from, so you have to check on Instagram (and, uh, wait for the semester to be over) to see whether it makes sense to head out and get on that line. (I would not have taken the bus for duck-filled pasta. Spinach-and-ricotta ravioli with butter and parmesan, however...)

Well! The day came that doing this made sense (as much as it ever would), and... it was pretty involved. First step was a bus - and not one of the ones I normally take, but one requiring a bit of a walk first - to a neighborhood (Davenport, according to Google Maps) I'd never been to, and didn't quite understand. Was it super posh and residential? Was it abandoned warehouses? Whatever it was, it seemed an unlikely place for a business requiring foot traffic, but it would seem this is not such a place after all. It was May, but well under 50 degrees F. And yes, the line to sit went outside. But when I say "the line to sit," I'm referring to what I thought this was the line for. It was, in fact, the line to order. (A line that took forever, but everyone on it bonded over obsession with the prospect of hard-to-get pasta.) Once you get indoors, you first wait in a warehouse-type entryway, complete with a list of rules about ordering. Only then do you reach the line inside the place itself, where you can watch the staff make from-a-movie-looking pasta from scratch, as you alternate between salivating and wondering if you were a fool not to just put up some DeCecco at home.

Reach the front and you then have to wait for one of the handful of tables to become available. This wouldn't have been so tricky if it weren't for The Lady, who was telling a friend some apparently very engaging or engaging-to-tell story and would not stop, even though both were clearly long since done with their lunch, sitting there oblivious to the horde waiting to sit.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The line takes so long that once you get to the front of it, you need to have decided on your order, as well as on any pasta you might wish to purchase to take home, but also whether or not you want a dessert gelato bar for after. I knew from the get-go I'd be buying more pasta (I mean), but wasn't sure if I'd want the dessert, so I asked at the counter if it would be possible, line-logistics-wise, to decide after the meal. It would not. I decided against - this was about the pasta.

Several decades after setting out for lunch, I was in front of the best plate of pasta I have ever eaten, ever. Yes, I do tend to think this about cheese-filled pasta, including the kind I'd have as a kid, from the frozen-foods section of very much pre-food-movement New York supermarkets. But even so, the dough and filling were just better than they ever are, ever. While I was indeed biased by the long wait, because the advice had been to show up before noon, and I hadn't arrived much later, I wasn't unusually hungry, so I'd like to think this was somewhat fair judging. It was so good that I... got back on the (admittedly by then far shorter) line, not just to pick up the pasta I'd already bought, but also to buy some more. It wasn't even 2pm, the end of the lunch service (the store itself closes at 5), but they were already running low. 16 ricotta-only filled ravioli were, however, available. The trick will be not to sit down and eat $15 worth of pasta in one sitting, since that sort of defies the purpose of eating in, but I will probably do exactly that any day now. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A year later

March 14. That felt familiar, but why? Pi day? But familiar beyond this. (I'm reasonably pi-day-indifferent.) And then it hit me: My book! The Perils of "Privilege" came out March 14, 2017. This is a date I was so keenly aware of in the year or so prior to it, but somehow less so once it passed. A year! I still can't quite believe I wrote a book, and am so grateful to everyone who helped make that happen, who read the book, bought/borrowed it, and reviewed or otherwise wrote about it.

Here's some of what the book is about:

-Why the privilege call-out ('check your privilege', etc.), which in theory seems like a way around making it about the person being called out, somehow manages to do just that.

-Misogyny presenting itself as progressivism (as in, it's not women who are the problem, of course not, just privileged women however defined, who are the worst).

-The way a privilege framework fails to address anti-Semitism, in part because Jews don't 'count' as marginalized, and in part because of the age-old anti-Semitic notion of 'Jewish privilege.'

-The trickiness of reconciling a privilege framework with idiosyncratic obstacles.

-Problematic faves.

-2016 (sorry!), and how Bernie and Hillary supporters were united in their belief that supporting the other candidate was evidence of privilege.

-Trumpism as a warped version of/pushback to the privilege framework.

-Blog comments. Tweets, but also blog comments. The all-too-common online situation of people getting called out for forms of privilege they don't possess. (My biggest regret about the book is that I didn't assertively make the case for treating online as part of life, rather than a distraction one can simply ignore. I'd gone that direction intentionally, but could have better spelled out my reasons.)

Writing a book falls into that category of experiences that can change everything and nothing. It can lead to fluctuating thoughts: My book is Very Important and this is insufficiently recognized followed up with My book is garbage and the most critical reviewers have found me out, in my profound foolishness. As I understand it, this is - in context - normal. And frankly the book has been more appreciated than I could have ever hoped: a review (and a "notable" inclusion) in the Washington Post, a mention in a NYT op-ed, TVO and C-Span Book TV, NPR and WNYC, and more.

But until the gods of your-ideas-are-actually-amazing appear and declare that you and your work count, the anxieties are there. (OK, even when something like that happens.) Partly it's because - how else to put this? - it's not super duper profitable to write a book. Unless you're offering up 12 Rules for making your bed the way lobsters do, book-writing is a side job. (Tangentially related: I'm fairly sure I managed to disappoint both those who'd hoped my book would be about how "privilege" is a myth and actually white men are the real victims and those who'd been expecting an earnest treatise on how the world would be a better place if everyone acknowledged their privilege already.)

The question of... what's next. I have a bunch of smaller-than-a-book projects in mind, some underway, so maybe one of those? (While I'm still - force of habit, plus people send me links - following "privilege", it may be time for something new.) Will need to wait until the end of the semester, but the dream of maybe writing a book again, maybe, isn't entirely kaput.