Friday, August 31, 2012

Life's microscopic victories

After the previous navy sweater disintegrated, I gave myself grad-student permission to replace it. There's one store in town, more or less, and it's J.Crew, so I had my eye on this, for $79.50. Merino, made in China, completely ordinary.... it seemed steep. So I went to the Uniqlo near Penn Station, which was for the most part underwhelming, but which had this for $24.90. Also merino, by the looks of it quite possibly made in the same artisanal workshop as its more than three times as expensive equivalent.

The commute thus far


-My four-leg-each-way journey would make for a fantastic RNC speech. 

-The train I take to get me in on time gets me in early. Early enough to get a chocolate croissant and iced coffee at the place near the building.

-Whoa, I'm in New York! Not sure if this counts as pro or con, but I'm well-situated to replace some of last year's dog-walk-through-mud clothes with ones appropriate for such things as teaching, being part of the world of non-stay-at-home-poodle-mom-dissertaters. Given that this means stuff like a $40 blazer from Zara Boys, and not going around in stained, ragged tank tops, I'm thinking "pro."

-Dos Toros!!!


-Spent a good amount of my time in the city attempting to prove to the university that I'm still on the very same health insurance as since forever. Some kind of computer issues, but they don't recognize the grad students as having insurance for the time being. 

-Credit card declined at two different NJ Transit machines, due - I now know - not to any problem with my card, but with the machines themselves.

-NJ Transit is the most expensive thing ever, thanks to Chris "my mom took three buses to work" Christie. Well done, dude!

-The gastrointestinal difficulties of the man who seemed to be not-so-surreptitiously taking pictures of me with his phone, diagonally across from me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The greener grass across the pond

American women - well, some, maybe not Ann Romney - want to be French. French women, at least the demographic equivalent of the American women who want to be French (cosmopolitan, vaguely hipster or fashion-ish) want to be American. Some of this is gender-neutral (food trucks, say), but some is not.

First up, there's personal-style blog Le Blog de Betty, whose protagonist is on a tour of the Southwest that involves wearing a bedazzled bustier in a run-down part of Texas; sporting a feathered headdress as if PC had never been invented, because she's always found the look "somptueux"; and, alas, picking one day to pair an American-flag t-shirt with a just adorable handgun necklace, 'cause you know, when in Rome.

This is all of it offensive in a way that will be familiar to readers of high-fashion mags, where they periodically send a white model to some impoverished brown-or-black-person country, to be artfully photographed with smiling but suffering children surrounding them, or with adult locals around them posed as background objects. But the difference here is that it comes from a place of genuine admiration. It's the French fantasy of Americana, not quite as patronizing, I suspect, as it seems. I mean, slightly - could it be Fashion to have a spread of an American girl in Paris, dressing "French"?

Then there's Paris concept store Colette trying to peddle something called "Brooklyn Beauty." This is the rare happening that will provoke chuckles in equal measure from those familiar with Old Brooklyn and New - neither working-class immigrants nor Birkenstock'd Co-op-goers nor stringy-haired trustafarians are known for having covetable skin-care routines. It's not offensive, just seemingly lost in translation, like t-shirts that say odd things in English, tattoos that convey the wrong thing in Chinese. What would Frenchwomen, who have that parapharmacie at their fingertips, want with Brooklyn? What gives?

The point - how was this not obvious? - is that Brooklyn suggests artisanal, and artisanal is the hot new thing in beauty. Heritage-chic isn't really a thing in France, and the English real deal isn't quite as much fun as the paraben-free New-Brooklyn Mom variety.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On wanting my bangs like that

To the hairdressers of Central NJ,

You are convenient, reasonably-priced, and do a good job. I get why you ask, but I here is my promise: Yes, I want my bangs like that. "Are you sure?" Yes. "Sure?" Yes. I really, truly do want something in the Laura Petrie or Rooney Mara realm, early-mid-'60s gamine meets space-age. (Closer to the former.) I'm not asking for a mohawk or pastel ombré, just a slightly different length and angle than is standard among the customer base of the Witherspoon Grill, and would do this myself (and have!) if I weren't about to start teaching next week and thus inclined to keep DIY experimentation to a minimum.

And if it turns out I don't like this style, that your skepticism was warranted, I promise not to come back and complain (and I hear that, customers no doubt do this), and to remember that hair grows (which no doubt some fussy types forget). But this was what I wanted, as my enthusiasm (and tip) ought to have indicated. I liked it so much, I'll be coming back for more.

Yours loyally,

Media, elites UPDATED (and link fixed)

Via Ned Resnikoff, a fascinating, depressing, tale of journalism today. Alexandra Kimball hits all the key points, really, including why an aspiring writer might end up in a PhD program for financial reasons. Long story short: entry-level is no longer paid, making actual office jobs at publications the financial equivalent of what 'trying to make it as a writer' while staring at a wall in one's garret/mingling with one's fellow decadent aristocrats used to be. This is important to keep in mind, because it's easy to think of "writer" as a job like "actor," one that's always been a long shot. When, back in the day, that may have been true of poets, novelists, that sort of thing, but journalism was an actual career path, perhaps even a way to pay the bills while trying to make it as a writer. It could be - and this is my own guess - that now that journalism's taken a confessional turn, and most-read might be something about parenting a child with body-image issues, not reporting on Afghanistan or Medicare, "journalism" gets lumped in with other forms of writing for which one needs no particular qualification other than the ability to write well and to know the right people. More thoughts on this later, maybe, but back to the article...

Kimball, who grew up working-class and graduated with debt, decided to really pursue a career as a writer already well into adulthood, upon getting an inheritance. She uses this to conclude that privilege is what allows a young person to pursue a career in journalism, which is understandable but ultimately misleading. An unanticipated, no-strings-attached inheritance is quite different from dependence on one's parents as an older adolescent and adult child - what "privilege" usually refers to in this context. A kid who wasn't handed everything (but wasn't massively underprivileged, either) might well be more likely to succeed, in journalism or anywhere else, than someone who feels entitled to income from some other source than his or her own work. There are individual cases where a lack of debt and a bit of post-college parental support provide the launching pad for a creative career, but too much of that sort of thing can be a real motivation-killer. It's not that the rich don't get richer - they do - but that they do so when they teach their kids how to do as they did but more so. Go-forth-and-find-yourself approaches may be what bring us the rare (or not?) examples of regression to the mean.

Kimball repeats the conventional wisdom about journalism these days: that unpaid internships make the field inaccessible to all but the wealthy, and that this is just one more example of privilege doing its thing. But I'm still not sure what unpaid internships provide those "privileged" enough to take them. Most obviously, do they lead to paid work? Work that pays enough to live on (and $15k in New York at age 40 doesn't count)? Unless whichever outside source of income that allows you to work unpaid for six months (i.e. family money) will also provide for you for the rest of your life, this is something to consider. Kimball sensibly enough does not provide us with a spreadsheet of her finances, but it's tough to see how, with a modest inheritance, she'd now be free from the constraints of a field where salaries take a good long while to hit $30k.

As for "media elitism," which is where Kimball leaves us, as Palin-ish as it rings, there is something to be said for that interpretation. If the only people with influence (and here, we're talking political, not fashion, journalism) are those who can afford to work for nothing, that's absolutely going to impact the stories that get reported. And this matters even if most unpaid interns get nowhere paid-work-wise in the field. They're still writing articles and so forth, still contributing, still tilting things in a certain direction.


There exists, in this world, a listing for an unpaid internship that would be ideal for an "aspiring personal assistant." Dream big, kids.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Never mind, never mind

-"My roots, I don’t dye. I used to dye the tips. I think they call it a balayage: it’s painted-on bleach that they put just into the ends. I think I’ll continue doing it, otherwise I look really Greek." This from a half-German, half-Greek, fully-oblivious fashion director. This totally destroys my theory of ombré: that it's a style perfect for women with naturally dark hair who enjoy having dark hair, who look best with dark hair, but who want to shake things up without much damaging their hair or much changing their look, in the way that women with light hair can do without involving any bleach. No, never mind, it's all racial self-hatred. 

-So Prudie makes these up, right?
[L]ast week I got a nasty email from one of the mothers. I sent some homemade cookies and store-bought veggies and dip for the snack last week, and apparently this was not up to snuff! The mothers said that my vegetables were clearly not homegrown and organic and that they could taste the pesticides and preservatives on them. [...] I emailed them back saying that I was unsure what particular brands of veggies, dip, and baking items to buy, and received another email suggesting I start a garden. Prudie, we live in an apartment complex. [....] I went to the farmers market an hour away last weekend to look for some appropriate items to send for next week, but the market was so expensive. I don't want my daughter to get kicked out of this playgroup [...]
That, or the problem with these moms (setting aside the screw loose in the head of the social-climbing letter-writer herself) isn't that they're highfalutin snobs, but that they're some kind of extremist hippie collective. This is a letter that wants to be about socioeconomic class, but is in fact about a small subset of lunatics, or one unfortunate mom not getting sarcasm. This is not normal behavior for yuppie parents. I refuse to believe it. But what if it is?

Convenience, onions

Recently, once again looking for cooking inspiration, I turned to the Bittman Minimalist videos. I got some ideas, but was mostly distracted by the convenient emergence of things like a bowl of perfectly diced onions, or of breadcrumb-parmesan mixture. This is a common-enough cooking-show shortcut, but is less forgivable when the very point of these videos is to show how easy it is to cook from scratch. An asparagus dish covered in breadcrumbs and parmesan is only super-simple and entirely from scratch if, behind the scenes, an intern or whatever has not only procured but prepared the toasted/stale bread and cheese in the right quantities. If I were to recreate this dish, I'd need to do all of that on my own, not to mention assemble and disassemble, put through the semi-functioning dishwasher, then reassemble, the food processor. Not insurmountable, and I do this sort of thing all the time, but a far cry from the effortlessness implied.

This is, I'll admit, a point I've been making at WWPD since forever: home-cooking is worthwhile, but a pain in the neck. And as long as we've got professionals urging us to cook at home more - people who not only are furthering their careers every time they do chop up some onions, but who also have someone to do that sort of thing for them - the message fails to convince those not already on board. Even if you totally know how to cook, even if you have relevant spices and pantry items, you still need to grocery-shop, prep, and clean up from meals. This will always take time, and will never get more interesting.

So I of course approve of Tracie McMillan's latest in Slate.

So here’s my proposition for foodies and everyone else: Continue to champion the cause of cooking, but admit that cooking every day can be a drag. Just because it’s a drag doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it—we do things every day that are a drag. We take out the trash, we make our beds, we run the vacuum, we pay the bills. These are not lofty cultural explorations, but they are necessary, and so we do them anyway. This reality check is exactly what’s missing from our discussion about our meals.
This I can get behind 100%. (Well, almost - who needs bed-making?) McMillan came to this conclusion for far more noble/impressive reasons than I did - she was living on minimum wage as part of an experiment for a book, while I was, am, just a grad student. But no matter where you come at this from, no matter what you're prepared to spend on groceries, there's always this discrepancy between the time and effort it actually takes to prepare a meal from scratch and the simple, enjoyable process we're told to expect. And it's tough to find a way out of this, because those for whom cooking is a chore are rarely going to become professional home-cooking advocates.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A family reunion

Upon arriving at the dog run, we noticed something surreal: Bisou was already there! But how could it be? Sure enough, this fluffier and several-months-younger miniature female silver poodle is related to Bisou. 

The other Bisou (with a different name, conveniently) was still at the shy stage, mostly hanging out under its owner's bench while Bisou bounded around at greyhound speed. And I suspect there was no mutual recognition whatsoever. But I promise that this encounter was about 100 times more amazing even than these photos indicate.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The no time for a boyfriend brigade

Hanna Rosin's Atlantic story about how the hook-up culture benefits - and is perpetuated by - young women is kind of great. Finally, someone is acknowledging that not all female-desire-for-a-man is desire for a boyfriend/husband/father-of-future-kids. Often, especially when young, girls desire boys, women men, for the very same reason as straight men lust after women, gay men men, bisexuals you-get-the-idea. It is, or long was, socially unacceptable for the ladies to express desire in these terms, so they would often profess to wanting a relationship when they really just want some dude. If young women no longer feel they have to do a whole charade of pretending they want every guy they kiss to be their husband, that's wonderful!

And what Rosin describes might be the Léon Blum idea in action: men as well as women who've seen what's out there end up in more stable marriages later on, because they have a sense of what they want, and because they don't find themselves wondering what another person - any other person - could possibly be like. Otherwise, Madame Bovary happens, which everyone but Lori Gottlieb agrees isn't ideal.

But the piece brings up some window-of-opportunity questions. One female college student interviewed, for example, is all live-and-let-live, but adds, as if it's no big deal, that she intends to be married by 30. Clearly lots of women (and men!) do manage to keep things casual until The Official Age, whatever that may be, and then conveniently enough manage to change their Facebook statuses to "engaged" in unison with the rest of their cohort. But that's a lot of pressure, to go from ugh-no-boyfriend-please to must-find-husband-now within the span of, oh, five minutes. Why not accept that some women will meet the loves of their lives at 19 (after having dated others - 19's not that young), while others will never want to settle down? As life plans go, this one's better than most, but it's still restrictive and still has its problems.

As it stands, what Rosin describes as the default for ambitious young women is certainly what women of my generation were advised to do by women of our mothers' generation back when we were in high school and college. The worst thing any of us could do would be to settle down too early and put a man before our educations/careers. Of course, the need to move for one's career doesn't magically stop at age 30, and often enough, what will happen these days is, a woman will have nobly resisted sacrificing her potential by marrying at 19, only to give up a career at 30 or 35. So I suppose it would be interesting to see if that's going to change, if college women who didn't dare have boyfriends because Career end up staying in said career even once the requisite marriage-at-30 takes place.

Which brings up one last concern, namely that there's something awfully depressing and maybe even retrograde about women embracing the "hook-up culture" in order to have time to do internships (!) and the like. It implies that these young women would prefer relationships, but fear hurting their futures by having them, a kind of junior version of the women who wait to have kids until they're 45 because they want to first be sufficiently established professionally. Depressing, then, both because it suggests that women aren't simply interested in exploration/variety/etc. while young (thereby once again casting doubt on the existence of female desire), and, more importantly, because there's no corresponding narrative about how if a guy meets the woman of his dreams at 20, staying with her will mean curtailing his ambitions.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Nostalgia for auto-parts

Jeremiah Moss's nostalgia for the West Chelsea of recent yore makes for a nice bit of anti-High-Line contrarianism, but doesn't add up. Fair enough, 10th Avenue isn't Park Avenue, and yup, it's getting posher, but when, precisely, were its residents "working-class"? Certainly not just before the High Line arrived. Manhattan, esp. below 96th, has had its dingier moments (the pre-Giuliani era, which I kind of remember), but didn't become high-end out of the blue. Remember those other four boroughs of the city? That's where those priced out of Manhattan have been living since forever. There were some housing projects in West Chelsea, and having been there yesterday I can confirm there still are those housing projects. Market-rate apartments have been high-rent, I suspect, for a good long while.

Most amusing to me personally is that one of the restaurants Moss picks as representative of the dwindling, scrappy days-of-yore is La Lunchonette, which just happens to be where my now-husband and I had our most expensive meal out as a couple while living in New York. Like, so expensive that we talked for years about the time we had that crazy expensive meal at La Luncheonette. (I remember that we shared a half-bottle of wine, and nothing outrageous, so that wasn't what did it.) Not Per Se, but not exactly a dive.

There are other issues as well. For one thing, residents are drawn to the city for many of the same reasons as tourists. If the city's main draw were an auto-parts store, the very folks whining about tourists probably wouldn't be living there in the first place. There are allegedly people who move to the city because of "Sex and the City"; once residing there, they too count as New Yorkers.

And I'm not sure what use an auto-parts shop has these days in West Chelsea. I'm quite certain there's no vibrant tradition of working-class Manhattanites owning cars. I mean, it sucks for the people who worked at those businesses, but maybe this is something the center of the city doesn't need? A better example would be if places Real New Yorkers went to were closing, but last I checked, no-frills West Chelsea supermarket Western Beef isn't going anywhere.

For another, it's clear that Moss was basically OK with the Meatpacking District North being overrun by the glamorous, and that his real problem is with the kind of tourists who clog up narrow spaces. (Doesn't call them fat. Not in so many words.) "I’ve gotten close to a panic attack, stuck in a pool of stagnant tourists at the park’s most congested points," Moss writes, leading me to wonder why someone with this reaction to crowds would possibly think of living in New York.

In other words, the op-ed reminded me of the worst of the anti-NYU-expansion-plan arguments, the ones that focus not on legitimate concerns about what NYU will do with the space, or how the profs in faculty housing will deal with X years of loud construction, but on the ickiness of the plebs traipsing around their brownstones. It's not that no one should be allowed to complain about blandification, mallification, etc. It's that it's disingenuous to present these as gentrification complaints.

If what you don't want to see is a bunch of middle-American (or middle-class European) riff-raff sullying what you feel is your turf, don't present this as a social-justice concern. If you'd prefer a couture atelier to an Abercrombie, and you spin yourself as a supporter of small business, others will roll their eyes. See also: complaints about the waste of "fast fashion" that urge high-end luxury purchases as the alternative. Moss's op-ed, for all its populist angst, seemed to be of that genre.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dalliance parity

Oh, Dan. In what way is this - "Her marriage lasted 62 years, surviving Andrew’s long bout with alcoholism, as well as his discreet dalliances" - an example of ethical non-monogamy? Was she also allowed "discreet dalliances"? Divorce shouldn't be taken lightly, but until the era of dalliance parity arrives (which could well bring about more monogamy, with men realizing the deal allowing them but not their girlfriends/wives to stray is over), it's awfully important for women with less glamorously retrograde values to be able to extricate themselves from that sort of situation.

Those anti-circumcision Muslims

Over at Commentary, Jonathan Tobin makes an argument I'm having trouble wrapping my head around: that the new wave of interest in banning circumcision in Germany is evidence not only of anti-Jewish and not anti-Muslim sentiment (already a tough case to make, given current demographics and anxieties), but also of an anti-Jewish mood perpetuated by Europe's Muslims. At least I think that's what he's driving at, although I may have gotten lost somewhere around where he segued from Germany to France.

What this kind of argument illustrates is how awkward is to classify pro-Jewish or pro-Israel stances as conservative. Because one images that if circumcision were only practiced by Muslims, and not by Jews, Europe might be celebrated for cracking down on this oh-so-barbaric multiculti ritual. At the same time, because it's not very conservative to root for the marginalized minority in the face of hyphen-less white Christians (culturally Christian or practicing), it's unacceptable to suggest that anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe might actually be less about Islam and more about the fact that 1945 didn't change everything, and there are still plenty of white Europeans not so fond of Jews. Of course, these days that set is generally too busy hating Muslims to have much time to devote to hating Jews.

What need might we possibly have for feminism?

Nothing particular to add re: the Akin controversy. I mean, other than that those who believe life begins at conception, but who graciously allow that rape can lead to conception, now seem relative-speaking quite with-it and rational. This was still probably overall a loss for the social-conservative camp, showing them at their science-oblivious, misogynistic worst. Not the first to observe this, but the truly upsetting aspect of the "gaffe" was that it implied that any time a woman does conceive after being raped, it's because on some fundamental level, she actually consented. And a woman who consented to having sex outside marriage (because why else would abortion even come up, right?) is clearly some kind of prostitute, as the Affaire Fluke reminded us. The slut-shaming of victims of "date" or "gray" rape isn't anything out of the ordinary, but the shaming of victims of violent stranger rape still manages to cross a line for, oh, just about everyone.

In lighter feminist news, let's take a moment to note that Isabella Rossellini eats bread. Butters it, even. That a female celebrity eats regular food in normal, person-feeding amounts is news. ('OMG I lurve cheeseburgers!', invariably uttered by someone notorious for living off celery, doesn't count.) The profile also does us the good service of mentioning that Rossellini's "middle has thickened." Just in case you thought you could have your carbs and eat them too.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"You say you want a revolution"

How'd you like to work for free for a place that sells $5,000 dresses and $1,000 shoes?

"[A] school populated by very good test takers"

Does Stuyvesant have a "toxic culture"? Tom Allon, who attended the school a while back and is now running for mayor, thinks so. His critique of the school, one he's not at all alone in making, strikes me as borderline bigotry, if not as definitively crossing any line. There's a well-known form of racism that involves stereotyping Asian/Asian-American students as robots, personality-free automatons, capable of obedience but not creativity, etc. Allon veers dangerously close. Specifically, I'm not sure what to make of this:
For generations of New York immigrants, Stuyvesant has been the holy grail, the first rung on the ladder of success and prosperity. But the eagerness to enter its hallowed halls has become so fierce that special tutoring centers have sprung up in the last three decades to rigorously prepare students for its entrance exam. Most of these are in Queens, particularly in the heavily populated Asian section near Main St. in Flushing. To my knowledge, I was the first Stuyvesant teacher to work at one of these in 1986. The Elite Academy hired me to teach 26 Korean third-graders every weekend to prepare for the English section of the exam. Yes, third-graders. Five years before the test. That summer, my Stuyvesant colleague Frank McCourt took over my class. For 30 hours a week, he drilled these driven 9-year-olds in their focused effort to gain admission. Five years later, when they were in the eighth grade, 25 of our 26 students passed the exam. Frank and I used to amuse ourselves by wondering whatever happened to that 26th kid. Stuyvesant has now become a school populated by very good test takers.
I mean, how horrible, a school made up of students who test well!

In all seriousness, my problem with all the critiques of Stuyvesant's admissions process is that they always seem to miss what the stakes are of who gets to attend. It probably if anything hurts your chances to go to a good college if you apply from a place like Stuyvesant, as opposed to if you're someone who tests well enough to get in but applies from just about anywhere else. (Yes, there are lots of APs, at Stuyvesant but with caps on who can take how many, not to mention unwritten - or written? - caps on how many kids from the school various elite colleges will admit). This is less true, of course, if your alternative was an especially violent high school, but if it was just a non-famous one? Not sure.

Stuyvesant is "elite," except not really. The city's actual rich and influential families don't even have their kids take the test for what is, after all, a public school. (Allon notes that the school won't admit you because you come from a famous family. But he doesn't add that if you do, you almost certainly aren't applying in the first place.) Yes, kids who did well on an exam at 13 often-but-not-always do well later on, but correlation, causation... As in, I'm not sure what the school really does for the kids who attend. I'm not sure what role it has in yanking anyone into a different class, say, as can happen for scholarship kids at private schools, who will make whichever connections, take private jets to the Hamptons, things of that nature. Being around a handful of driven kids may help keep some on the straight-and-narrow, but for plenty it does no such thing. For a good number, being at a place where you learn at 15 just how mediocre of a mind you are - even if you'd have been one of the smart kids elsewhere - encourages a why-bother attitude.

The conversation about Stuyvesant implies that getting in is winning this amazing prize, when the prize might be 90% that you now know you test well (or can, with preparation), 10% things that take place in the building itself. Yes, it's a famous name, as high schools go, but past a certain age (20?), no one cares where you went to high school, and putting anything about your high school years on your resume will be held against you. Whereas if you go to a famous college, this might well interest employers 30 years down the line. The stakes of the discussion are quite different, then, depending on whether the place is or is not a ticket to anything particular later in life.

Anyway, back to Allon. While, like I said, I'm not sure the stakes of who gets in are as high as popularly imagined, but I'm certainly more sympathetic to diversity concerns when they're framed as 'not enough blacks and Hispanics' or 'not enough poor kids' than when it's 'OMG sooo many Asians'. Allon suggests the school admit all middle-school valedictorians, in order to increase of-color diversity. Fair enough. But he also wants an essay component on the entrance exam, and not in order to suss out who's how underprivileged. He wants the best writers to get in, which, if we're talking "essays" by 13-year-olds, would basically mean more native-born, UMC kids, the ones whose parents read to them and made them read from utero on. Not kids who've been screwed over by the public-school system. Iffy, all of this.

It's certainly ironic that Allon expresses nostalgia for a time when Stuyvesant was a place for the 'good' immigrants, the ones who weren't from school-obsessed families. Back in the good old days, the strivers who attended - Jews, not Asians - were totally stereotyped as... not robots, exactly, but too studious, insufficiently well-rounded, you get the idea, you've read about how 'well-rounded' as a concept basically emerged in order to make it so Harvard or whatever wasn't made up entirely of Jewish kids. Pardon my French, but plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

One-dollar eggplant

Back home means back to driving. Somehow the month-long break helped - I now imagine that driving was just something I used to do, and it no longer feels weird when I'm the one behind the wheel. That said, there are some basics I still need to work on. Things like changing lanes and parallel parking - it's not that they're difficult, but they never come up on the usual routes, and there's no obvious place to practice them. What I need at this point are lessons, but I *think* I've made it past the initial psychological hurdle.

But having a car is going to change living here tremendously, as we learned today, doing the kind of stuff that wouldn't quite make sense with the car-sharing car, but once a car is just there, why not?

First was the Trenton Farmer's Market. I'd heard that this was the best one around (from a woman who's worked in agriculture, no less) and that would be the understatement of the century. Instead of teensy bouquets of kale for $3, as at the one in town, or a bit more selection but still high prices, as in West Windsor, this place had a ton of fruits and vegetables, this even on a Sunday when many stands were closed, and I'm quite sure I've never seen prices this low anywhere, farmers market or supermarket. All for the exact same New Jersey farm produce as is sold in Princeton or New York. A giant bunch of great-looking basil for $1. A pint of little fancy yellow tomatoes for $2.50. The most gorgeous (and enormous) eggplant I'd ever seen, $1. What it lacks - and I'm not sure it's a problem, is that market-experience feel, with seating, maybe a hipster bluegrass band, some earnest liberal-arts grads who make their own vegan cheese. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy that sort of thing as well, but for stocking up on produce, no-frills has a lot going for it.

Next was the Mercer County Park dog run. A dog run, nearby! Well, nearby by car. Bisou went with the under-35-lbs set, which today was dominated by real lap-dog types that did not want to bound around quite as much as she did, but she managed to bound a bit all the same. The space was clean and huge. This being Princeton, there is also a private, members-only dog run in the area, but it's unclear what the advantage would be there, other than that it keeps out the riff-raff. I believe that makes us the riff-raff in question.

So basically, the unthinkable expenditure that was this car has made it possible to do non-posh things. Living within biking distance of only that which is posh, that hadn't been an option. Cheapness-wise, I'm not sure we come out ahead, but that is one impressive one-dollar eggplant.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Gluten and weight-think

Commenter Lisa raises some important points on my gluten post below. So many I'm addressing them, and continuing the discussion, in a new post:

-The reason I linked to the Refinery29 slideshow wasn't to launch some kind of witch hunt, or to claim I know anything about the specific health concerns of any of these individual women. I wasn't, and I don't. Rather, I linked to it because it was about the best example I've seen of the new, more euphemistically-expressed weight-think. Of the ambiguous discourse that's kind of about health, kind of about beauty, where the line between the two is imprecisely drawn, and where different audiences are being addressed simultaneously. In particular, I was struck by the "trigger" (in Jezebel lingo) aspect of the slideshow, where these women's diets are laid out in detail. This sort of thing may not be intended as thinspiration (if that term can be used for text?), but when there's stuff like that in women's and "health" mags, that's how it's appropriated.

-My intent wasn't to mock anybody. I think it's sad, not silly, that so many thin women feel the need to diet. And I certainly didn't intend to mock those with debilitating migraines. I mean, I get debilitating migraines. My point there was that maybe I'm the one who's being ridiculous by going ahead and eating gluten even if there's some chance that I could get rid of them by eating totally differently.

-There are medical reasons other than celiac for which not eating gluten is beneficial. Not as necessary perhaps as for those with celiac, but legitimate all the same. Thank you, Lisa, for linking to the science on this. That said, the existence of real issues doesn't mean there's no convenient self-diagnosis going on. When lo and behold much of the female staff of a fashion blog announces, in unison, joining the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, that they're all incapable of eating bread/pizza/pasta/cake, you have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the concern is weight.

-That a particular diet is used as a proxy for weight loss doesn't mean the ostensible non-weight-related reasons for that diet aren't also real. The Beheld points us to new research showing that women with eating disorders are four times as likely to be vegetarians than other women. This, as Autumn Whitefield-Madrano correctly insists, doesn't mean that there aren't fantastic reasons to be a vegetarian, or that all female vegetarians have eating disorders, or that no female omnivores do. And, as I must add here, I am absolutely not suggesting that the women in the gluten-free slideshow suffer from eating disorders. Lord knows I wouldn't be qualified to diagnose that sort of thing in person, let alone via blog! The issue that concerns me is the obsession that many women have with exactly what it is they're eating, an obsession that the vast majority of the time falls short of anything that would be diagnosed as an eating disorder, but that nevertheless constitutes a profound waste of time and energy, one for which there's no real equivalent in the lives of men.

-Lisa reminds us of the "paleo" diet, which is more of a guy thing. I don't doubt it, but the bigger picture here is that the number of men preoccupied with what they eat is vanishingly small compared with the number of women doing so. Weight-think is a feminist issue, not because no men ever ever ever think about their weight, but because for women, it's the default.

-That someone might cut out gluten, meat, dairy, whatever, to lose weight isn't in and of itself a problem. Some people would benefit from losing weight - health-wise, social-stigma-wise, etc. The question I'm addressing is that of women who don't need to lose weight, and who recognize this, which is precisely why when they diet all the same, they feel the need to hide behind health or ethical concerns.

-Eating delicious, real food is one of life's pleasures. So too is going about your day without giving much thought to food, and, you know, getting other things done. It's understandable that those with real weight concerns might feel the need to sacrifice both of these somewhat, but it's truly upsetting that doing so is, again, the default for women.

-It is theoretically possible to maintain or gain weight on a restrictive diet. Not all weight-loss diets work, so maybe someone eating no gluten is eating a ton of rice pudding. But I'm not sure how the possibility of not losing weight on a gluten-free diet tells us that those cutting gluten for the heck of it aren't doing so as an attempt to lose weight. Some attempts are failed attempts.

-The challenge of this topic, as Lisa's reaction illustrates, is that it's socially unacceptable - not to mention potentially rude - to cast any doubt on the health (or, for that matter, ethical) claims people give for their dietary restrictions. The answer, I think, is to do with euphemistic dieting a bit as we did regarding the expression "Jewish self-hatred." We need to be able to discuss this very real phenomenon. But only insult people and hurt the cause if we start accusing individuals of being self-hating Jews. So on this topic, we need to be clear we're not saying that Woman X (especially if she's sitting at the table with us) is lying about her newfound intolerance of all fattening ingredients. But we also absolutely need to be able to talk about the phenomenon more generally.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ruby slippers

While I was away, I noticed that the shoes were reduced from $150 to $90. And available in the half-size I take. So it had to be done. They have arrived. They are spectacular.

By "the shoes," I mean a pair I've been obsessed with for years, although in a sense since childhood: ruby slippers. I guess the classic comes from Repetto, but Bloch is a notch less dainty (i.e. more practical, comfortable, cushioned, less on the verge of being worn through) and yeah, maybe a touch less expensive-looking, but also so much less expensive. If I had $270 ballet flats, I would need to put them into a museum display case.

Repetto flat
The schmancy Repettos, via Polyvore.

The Blochs I will in principle not find too special to wear, but thus far, I can only get myself to admire them.

Bloch ballet flats, patent leather, in "Formula One." Via Amazon

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Confessions of a gluten eater

The line between genuine medical dietary restraints and euphemistically-expressed dieting has never been blurrier: Refinery29 - straying from fashion once again - has a slideshow up profiling eight members of the fashion site's staff who have gone off gluten. Some did so for health reasons, others for quasi-health reasons, and only one admits to having gone gluten-free to lose weight, which, unsurprisingly, can work. But even she tosses in some genuine health concerns. Another begins with a very serious discussion of how a friend's cancer diagnosis inspired her to change her own eating habits, then adds (this is a fashion blog, after all) that her skin now "has a luminous glow to it."

There's no inherent reason why a healthier diet wouldn't make you look and feel better, but one senses that if it turned out the secret to longevity meant dull skin and gaining 15 pounds, there'd be fewer takers. One senses this precisely because the "health" concerns expressed in a fashion-writing context tend to be very pick-and-choose, like the actress referenced here earlier, who admits to drinking and smoking, yet freaks out if her skin products aren't "natural."

So on the one hand, if an office I don't work at decides to encourage disordered eating in the name of "health," this falls into the category of not my problem. Last I checked, my own diet of pasta, pasta, and a side order of extra pasta was actually encouraged for grad students, and because we can hardly afford to eat out/order in, but for whichever cultural reasons don't go in for fast food (though we do supplement the pasta with fresh produce and tiny bits of expensive cheese), we end up no less svelte (although decidedly less luminous) than the fashionistas. But on the other...

This morning's loot.

There are really two objections to this sort of thing. The first is that (as at least one Refinery29 commenter notes) conflating the glorified low-carb diets that already-thin women use to lose five pounds with celiac disease, which sounds like a pretty massive pain in the neck, is offensive to those suffering from that condition. The maybe-persuasive counterargument is that even those who won't die if they eat gluten feel healthier (and so much less bloated, aka thinner, although some insist - in vain, I'd say - that it's not about weight) if they cut out carbs, I mean gluten. I mean, who knows. Maybe? Is it terrible that when I read that gluten-free may reduce migraines, my thought was that I'll stick with migraines, Advil, and pasta? And maybe there is a subset of women (including those in the slideshow, or not) who really do only care about their health insofar as doing so is compatible with Fashion. At least they're eating vegetables and slathering on sunscreen, right?

The other objection, and the one for which there isn't any obvious counterargument, is that you hardly see men deciding to cut out some utterly normal ingredient, just to see what that does (i.e. whether restricting what you eat will make you lose weight, which it will.) Not never - remember Mark Bittman's lactose concerns? - but as a rule, this kind of worrying-about-it involves women who were never going to be fat to begin with wasting vast amounts of time and energy on being a size two rather than a size four, 120 pounds rather than 125. It's not that the ideal would be men and women alike worrying like this - ideal would be neither. But seeing as it's almost entirely women being held back by this behavior, this is a feminist concern.

In-flight movies quasi-reviewed

The insane, expensive, and exhausting process of getting a poodle to and from Germany is, at last, complete. Bisou minds flying a whole lot less than her humans, and cheerily peed for about an hour when she got out of her enormous kennel and onto Newark's familiar terrain.

At the Frankfurt airport. "Discover Germany."

I watched "The Five-Year Engagement" and "Young Adult" on the flight (spoilers ahead), and while the latter was the better movie by so, so much, the two blended together somewhat. One was in Michigan, the other Minnesota. Both contrasted sweet, fertile young women with flawed, screw-up career gals who don't know a good thing when it's right in front of them. Both showcased uprooted-cityfolk snobbery. Both were watched on no sleep, with possible nodding-off for 30-second intervals midway through. 

But gosh, "The Five-Year Engagement" was dreadful. It didn't help that the plot centered around the academic-career ambitions of the woman, yet this "career" was so vague that she seemed at various points a college student (smitten with a prof in a lecture hall), a grad student (which I believe she's referred to as at one point), a postdoc (the ostensible catch-all answer) and a professor (there's a party for faculty and their partners, which they attend), all during the same "job." Nor that the movie was pre-PC-level obliviously racist (the black postdoc-ish-thing among her colleagues can't cut it, while the Asian one is psycho, and Hasids are played for laughs for basically existing). Oh, and over-the-top sexist (its message being, a woman who has a higher-prestige job than her dude is an emasculating beeyotch, with a side message about how if a woman has any professional success, it's because her boss wants to sleep with her.) Nor, as someone who did in fact move to the woods to be with my spouse, did I appreciate that Ann Arbor (which I've never been to, but still) is portrayed as some kind of woolly-mammoth-filled forest. And what was up with the side plot that was "Knocked Up," except that Seth Rogen had made whichever micro-morph was necessary to become Chris Pratt? 

It's a bad sign in a rom-com when you're rooting for the female lead to for goodness sake go off with the other dude. Better-looking (this was not Jason Segel at his best), smarter, more enthusiastically into her, better job... The worst thing about him was that he anointed her an assistant professor, which, as bad qualities go, isn't so ethical, fine, but sure beats leaving a loaded bow and arrow for hunting deer out when a young child is around (with predictably gruesome consequences). And, speaking of male beauty, what kind of Apatow movie provides no Paul Rudd whatsoever? Normally, Jason Segel plays sweet with a creepy edge, a Nice Guy who's actually, at the end of the day, nice. But he makes for one lousy misogynist. When the man-child ultimately triumphs (after nobly dumping a sexy, sexually voracious 23-year-old we're expected to suspend extra disbelief to imagine liked him in the first place), the movie announces its commitment to blah.

"Young Adult," however, was kind of great. It's the rare movie that finds a way to make it make sense that the protagonist is being played by someone ridiculously beautiful. Normally, there's this odd thing where you can never tell if the character is meant to be as attractive as the actor in the role. Like, when someone will refer to Emily Blunt's character in "Five-Year" as pretty - is the character as pretty as the very pretty Blunt? Prettier? With theater, it's presumably more definitively about the character than the actor. Whereas in "Young Adult," the root cause of Charlize Theron's character's woes is that she happened to be born looking like Charlize Theron, which is to say looking, in each scene, like a still of it would read "Lancôme," and it's actually an ad for foundation. The movie wouldn't have been the same if it starred a Jennifer Aniston or Kate Hudson, a girl-next-door rom-com type who would, in this role, read as conceited and as perhaps overestimating the burden their beauty placed on them. Whereas a Theron born into a town of non-Therons (which is to say, any town or big city anywhere in the world) will have a different experience from the get-go. 

But what's great is how not-heavy-handed the movie is, how there's clearly something wrong with the protagonist, but you don't get the sense that you're watching a specific DSM diagnosis adapted for screen. Hair-pulling, alcoholism, depression, a quasi-psychopathic inability to feel emotions mixed with some ability to feel emotions... it all amounts to an original character, rather than one who'll simply read as real to those who've known someone with whichever issue (Sheldon's unstated Asperger's on "Big Bang Theory," say.) The only misstep was the overemphasis early on on the fact that the Patton Oswald character was neither gay nor impotent, despite having been gay-bashed and injured there as a youth. Once that's been mentioned, and mentioned again, and mentioned once more, you know he and Theron's character will be getting it on.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A matching set

Remember that clutch? Turns out there are shoes that go with. Why get the classic, attractive Tod's driving shoes when you could upgrade, more than doubling the price to get them in a pointless material and get-sick-of-it-in-no-time color?

Quote of the day

"She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger." - Margalit Fox on the late Helen Gurley Brown.

The little wedding that could

If the Wedding Industrial Complex has succeeded at anything, it's at giving all of us the impression that however lavishly we celebrate settling down, we're actually pretty chill and low-key about it. Whenever the topic of the WIC comes up, we assume the problem is that ordinary folk get caught up in the proliferation of nuptial schmanciness, and feel inadequate if they can't produce a Kardashian Versailles for their big day. When in fact, it's at least as relevant that the more outrageous "normal" becomes, the more comfortable those who identify as modest become in abandoning frugality.

Case in point: The NYT Weddings section (sorry!) has a piece about "The Smaller, Cheaper, Just-for-Us Wedding," in which we learn of a marriage that began with a proposal for which the would-be groom surprised his soon-to-be-fiancée by flying to Paris, where she was vacationing, to propose. Seems schmancy! What laid-back celebration followed back home? "There was no time to order bridesmaid dresses, so Ms. Schneiber instructed the 10 friends she asked to stand with her to wear navy dresses with coral colored shawls she found online at Urban Outfitters for $18." Ten bridesmaids, dressed alike, but not exactly alike. And then "a party for 150 friends" - not 500. Nothing much, in other words. No big deal. And technically not, at least cost-wise relative to the notorious average.

And I'm somewhat guilty of this as well. I too got engaged in Paris (but I was there for dissertation, not vacation! but still), and while what with the move and the new dog and all, we never did have the much-speculated-upon after-party, our close-families-only dinner post-City-Hall was in an upscale restaurant. (My plea for Dos Toros went unheard, which was probably for the best.) My dress came from boutique-chain Maje, so not a wedding gown from a wedding gown shop in price or formality, but not Kmart or thrift, either. And I took the opportunity to spend way too much on a pair of shoes that are not bridal, reasoning that a special occasion merited it and that as much as I generally don't believe in cost-per-wear, going non-bridal upped the odds of my wearing them more than once. But they're sufficiently impractical that I've worn them maybe twice since. I feel much more smug about my relatively-low-key, the-point-is-getting-married-not-having-a-wedding approach than I should, precisely because I implicitly compare what I did with a world of $10,000 gowns, $5,000 floral arrangements, $300,000 luxury-hotel spaces, and invitations sent to long-lost relatives and as many "friends" as one has on Facebook.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Nails and intersectionality

Bisou - who, let it be known, is fine now - timed her worst-yet gastrointestinal woes for just as my husband had to leave to go give a talk elsewhere in Germany. After schlepping a queasy poodle via tram to a not-quite-English-speaking (but oh so effective - what was in that shot?) veterinary office, then spending a day feeding her this special anti-upset-stomach food six times as instructed, and giving her electrolyte powder mixed with water via oral syringe throughout the day, and otherwise watching her intently and taking her on many short walks during which I did nothing but make sure she didn't eat anything bad off the ground (the likely cause of the initial problem), and examining her every movement and sound to make sure she wasn't about to start throwing up again, and getting some work done in the breaks between this, I felt some kind of reward was in order. But what?

I decided the time had come to rationalize a purchase I'd previously deemed ridiculous. 19 euros later, and I have the perfect sheer bubblegum pink, glossy and not peeling immediately despite lack of base or top coat. This pointless expenditure fits with my overall cheapness philosophy, which is to only buy things I've been thinking about for a while. (A pair of ballet flats will maybe require six months to track down, and another six to decide to purchase.) But this isn't about cheapness. It's about nails. Why is nail polish the ultimate treat?

Tracie Egan Morrissey of Jezebel recently argued that the nail industry is a form of female empowerment:

When historically female-centric practices—like cooking, baking, hair styling, clothing design, etc.—have been legitimized into celebrated careers, men typically end up being the stars who dominate those industries. Look at Emeril Lagasse or the Cake Boss guy or Vidal Sassoon or Karl Lagerfeld. Whenever there is money to be made or creativity to be applauded, men have managed to establish themselves as the authority on things that women had been doing thanklessly for centuries. That is, until nail art, the increasingly-popular, rapidly-expanding field that has almost exclusively remained all-girl.
She also notes - and this seems more relevant - that nail artifice "might just be the only form of primping and grooming that isn't rooted in making oneself more appealing to men or exploiting women's insecurities." True enough. Other beautification can be justified as being about snagging or keeping a mate. Nail polish... not really. Maybe slightly - how you wear your nails might indicate your subculture, and numerous choices might turn certain men off. And the choice to do something rather than nothing indicates conventional femininity (yes, even if your nails are blue - remember the gender-bending implications if a man does the same), which is of course a loaded thing to indicate when it comes to male-female relations. But overall, point taken.

It seems even relevant, though, that the more complicated your nails, the more of a statement you're making about your willingness to scrub the kitchen floor, or to bake bread from scratch. It's telling men (or, in this case, miniature poodles) that you take care of yourself, and aren't looking to pick up after them. Which could be why it's so appealing as an antidote to stressful domestic tasks.

"Nail art," though, is its own thing within the nail industry: designs on the nail itself, as opposed to simply painting all the nails one shade. Readers already know that I'm ambivalent about this phenomenon. (If painting your ring finger to highlight your engagement ring is problematic, where to begin with doing so in such a way as to match your iPhone case.) Glitter, metallic, neon, holographic, yes. Shatter or magnetic, whatever that is, no. I appreciate - yeah, I'll admit it - some French manicures, as well as the more socially-acceptable adventurous takes, but because I don't get professional manicures, my own nails tend to be painted a solid color or not at all. I have no interest in using my nails as a canvas.

In terms of why that is, I suspect it's for the same reason as why I don't like patterns or designs on clothing, either, but there's a whole politics to this question as well. As Jezebel commenters and others point out, "nail art" used to be derided as something done by working-class women (with possible racial connotations, although it depends where you grew up), and it's only now that fashion editors are giving rich white women permission to join in the fun. Granted, the new "nail art" is generally done on short, natural nails, but call it "Japanese," and even long acrylics can become part of socialite pampering.

Nails-as-a-canvas seems like a fine example of something some in the upper- and lower-classes share, but that isn't ever going to fly for the middle classes. If you're someone who needs to look appropriate for work, and who has so internalized bourgeois office-attire aesthetics as to only find work-appropriate styles attractive, you're not pressing on three-inch leopard-print nails. If you feel that you're a paycheck or two away from getting a job as a cashier, you may be less inclined to re-appropriate a style commonly associated with women in that profession. Super-complicated nails on a rich woman announce a kind of invincibility; on a woman on the other end of the spectrum, resignation or simply acceptance that no interviews for higher-brow jobs are forthcoming.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"The mistake happened in the middle of our meal, during the beet course."

The ultimate first-world problem makes it to (where else?) the NYT lifestyle pages.

WWPD Guides: Beauty

Beauty - as in makeup, skin creams, and so on - is strangely compelling. But why? Is it just because relative to clothing, makeup is cheap, or is it more that one can more readily purchase a Chanel lipstick than a Chanel anything else? Is "beauty" - or "vanity" for that matter - for women thrilled with how they look, who want to spend as much time as possible gazing into a mirror, or for self-haters? Is Into the Gloss is actually a drug?

On some level, we all understand that how you look is for the most part a matter of your features, your age, and your overall well-being. If you don't look like this already, which I guarantee you don't, no revitalizing eye serum will make the difference. But wouldn't it be neat if, with the right selection of products, you could, at least on special occasions? It's now more possible than ever before to read about what various glamorous women goop onto themselves, and no matter how many times you repeat to yourself that correlation is not causation, you will wonder if maybe that Bioderma Créaline is all it's cracked up to be. You'll wonder this without even knowing what the product ostensibly does.

When it comes to beauty, there are two competing myths.  The first, the one promoted by the industry itself, is that products or procedures work miracles. The second is that beautification either does nothing (and is a plot to sell you stuff you don't need) or is in fact counterproductive. The liberation-from-beauty philosophy holds that if you stop blow-drying your hair, if you stop wearing concealer, this will make you not a frizzier, more blemished version of your usual, but will reveal once and for all your gorgeous natural hair texture and impeccable skin. When the truth is that sometimes, liberation might just mean accepting to look less conventionally attractive, and giving up whichever advantages that had provided.

So, onto the Official WWPD Guide, beauty edition. There are no hard-and-fast rules as to which forms of artifice are worth the bother, as this will depend on your own features, preferences, schedule, budget, and so on. But some general principles may help:

-There is a temptation to divide beautification rituals into self-hatred (bad) and self-expression (good). Yes to royal-blue eye shadow, say, but down with foundation. When what we should really do is separate out procedures that require general anesthesia, tens of thousands of dollars, risk of death, things of that nature, and have a separate conversation about those. When it comes to makeup, it's not always possible to say what's "fun" and what's "correction." For example, where does eyeliner fall? At what point does looking more awake become looking rock'n'roll? But as a rule, if the damage is $25 handed over to Sephora, this is relatively no big deal compared with $2,500 ($25,000?) handed over to someone who's cutting you open gratuitously. It's not that this removes ambiguity - where does Botox fall? chemical hair-straightening? - but it frames the discussion more productively.

-When it comes to deciding what you need/want to do, skin-care-wise, do not invent problems. There's this thing one reads about, "taking really good care of your skin," which evidently means purchasing thousands of dollars worth of serums. Isn't that some snazzy packaging? But try to resist. If the skin around your eyes is fine, you don't need eye cream. If your skin isn't dry, no moisturizer. Do you bathe regularly? Then skip the special "face wash" - you're presumably washing your face when you wash the rest of yourself, and if not, you're doing it wrong.

Meanwhile, if you have an actual dermatological condition, what you need is a dermatologist, not an equally expensive guessing game on a far-more-expensive trip to Frahnce.

-The big thing now in the beauty industry is "natural" products. As with organic food, it's a hippie interest gone mainstream. It's no longer about using one product as toothpaste, shampoo, and kitchen-cleaner, but the usual division of labor (one cream for the eyes, one for the neck...), minus whichever taboo ingredients, or with a leafy design. There will be an emphasis on "purity" - whether it refers to your health or the environment, subliminally it's all meant to stand in for the "purity" of your skin once whichever wrinkles or zits are removed. Leading to approaches like this: "[...] I got really scared of all the toxic things that are in beauty products. I mean, I smoke, I drink, I’m not a vegan, I eat like a French person, so pretty healthy, but with ice cream and candy."

While it's possible we are all being slowly killed by the butylacetoformadocyanides in our insufficiently organic eyeliner, the way to deal with that possibility isn't to collect a wide range of "natural" brands, but rather to simply use fewer products. Because let's be serious - do we have any idea if whatever replaces parabens is any better? Rather than scrutinizing the ingredients of what you do slather on, slather less stuff on. If you're wearing a toner and a serum and a primer and a day cream and invigorating oils and a tinted moisturizer and only after all that, you start applying your makeup, you may want to slow down. This will be better for your skin, your health, your wallet, and the environment, everything but the profits of the skin-cream industry. Your skin does not need to be "fed."

-That there is such a thing as marketing doesn't mean products never work as promised. I wanted to believe it, but no. Somewhere along the line, I tried this shampoo and conditioner, and realized my mistake. Oh, and if you're one of those pale women who gets a lot of 'you look tired', concealer and eyeliner, yes. Maybe blush, but don't overdo that. An absolutist stance against the Sephora Industrial Complex ends up being a bit self-defeating if you have some relatively contained routine without which you would look and feel worse.

-Mascara, however, is the single most overrated product. Yes, I have the drugstore Maybelline, and yes, out of some kind of ritual, I will wear it if I want to look my best. But if you have anything but pale blond lashes (and the product is of course marketed to women of all complexions), it's a bit like wearing foundation on unblemished skin - no one is going to see a difference. Putting waxy goo on your lashes does not make them any longer. The ads are showing you fake lashes. You will forget to remove the mascara and wake up the next day with under-eye circles. You will need special eye-makeup-remover to get the stuff off. If it rains (or worse, snows), you will immediately need to take cover. It's a gigantic pain in the neck for something that does approximately nothing unless, again, your eyelashes are near-translucent.

-There ought to be such a thing as enough when it comes to nail polish, but if you're someone who wants some, you want more. (Owning one bottle of clear, or a red from a decade ago, doesn't count.) That you already own beige doesn't mean you don't urgently need a sheer off-white. That you've got an orange-red doesn't mean you don't need a dark-red one ala "Vamp." That's just how it is. If you cared enough to buy the muted purple-pink, you will need a bubble-gum shade, as well as a pale-pink pastel, and why not a neon pink while you're at it. You can buy all the Opi and Essie you want, and still rationalize it by noting that you'd spend so much more if you got professional manicures. (It helps, with this rationalization, not to get professional manicures.) But you should still take it easy - $8 times infinity can add up.

Friday, August 10, 2012

OK, so maybe I don't get fashion

Short of donating to an objectionable individual or cause, this - a clutch, which is always ridiculous, a bag without a strap or handle, and in a hideous, unclassifiable color that would be impossible to coordinate with anything, and no, I don't mean match, just coordinate - is easily the worst use possible for $16,750.

The 25-year-old teen mom

The topic du jour is that girls on their parents' health insurance often don't have coverage for pregnancy. But as the first episode of "Girls" demonstrated, "girls" remain "girls," and "boys" "boys," throughout the 20s, at least when it comes to financial dependence on parents. Not that everyone 22-30 (or younger, for that matter) is financially dependent on their parents, and let all of us in that age range who are not take this moment to pat ourselves on the back, albeit less so if we graduated pre-recession. But, certainly post-2008, it's no longer considered a sign that you're failing at life if you are.

"Dependence," of course, can mean a wide range of situations. In the case of the new rule allowing those up to age 26 to stay on their parents' coverage, as I understand it, there's no implication that those taking advantage of it are living with or financially dependent on their parents. They may have their own jobs, pay their own rent, even have the option of getting insurance from their own employers.

The discussion thus far seems to go as follows: some point out that if you can't procure your own health insurance, you're in no position to have a kid. Others counter that life happens. It's unfair to the babies born to these young women that they'll have missed out on prenatal care. An entirely legitimate use of 'think of the children.'

But the more striking development is that we're defining adulthood to start later and later. The new rule is a response to the reality of life for those in their early 20s (and I wouldn't have minded it, having been uninsured for a few months at that age), but also might backfire, encouraging even large, corporate employers not to offer insurance with entry-level work, presumably by calling those jobs "internships," and once they're at it, why pay at all?

But the fact that having a kid in your early-mid 20s remains relatively non-controversial - and that by 30 on the dot (I'm 29 these days, so by all means, remind me) women are expected to get to it ASAP - reminds us that 25 is old. OK, not "old," but definitively adult. Not merely fertile in the biological sense, or 'prepared to become a mother' in the horniness sense that can get you there indirectly, but old enough to settle down. It reminds us that 25-year-olds who do depend on their parents - partially or entirely - are in an incredibly awkward spot, far more so than 17 or 19-year-olds who might feel bad about going out on a weeknight, say, when they know their parents, who are supporting them, wouldn't approve.

There comes a time when it feels wrong to be defined as a child. This need not be defined in financial terms - in eras of serfs and aristocracy, or even of a haute bourgeoisie living off investments, the ability to live on your own on your salary, or even that of your spouse, was not the line between childhood and adulthood - but in our times, it kind of is. Parent's don't know if helping a 25-year-old is enabling or morally equivalent to helping a 17-year-old. Nor do 25-year-olds know if working for no pay is a wise investment in their futures or a waste of time. We as a society haven't exactly opted to separate "adulthood" from "financial self-sufficiency," except when we have. As for where to place the dividing line, it would seem that if you're old enough that your parents' weighing in on your sexual and reproductive choices seems utterly bizarre, you are unavoidably an adult.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

What we ask in return

I have both worked as a barista and purchased coffee drinks. The following is a response, from the other side, to the latest list (via) of coffee-shop patron infractions:

-Do not fault customers for ordering things that are on the menu. If you work at a place that offers soy milk and cappuccinos, do not roll your eyes when someone orders something that isn't a black coffee. Fault the stingy management if you're put alone on the shift, at an hour when the line's always out the door, and a board above you is encouraging customers to get a half-decaf extra-foam 1% (which will mean mixing 2% and skim, which is a pain) vanilla latte.

-Remember that different places do things differently, so new customers won't know intuitively where to pay, where to pick up the drink, where to get a top for it, or whether milk/sugar is something you need to order or can add separately. Let's say there's a water cooler with serve-yourself cups, but in a not-obvious spot. If someone asks you for a cup of water, by all means direct them to the cooler, but no need to act like they've intentionally flouted the convention of how one gets water in this kind of establishment.

-Often, we the customers who know this is expected (and not all do) will try to bus our own tables, only to find that the tub is already overfull. We may see you juggling ten things, infer that this is why the tub got that way, and not think this is the moment to tell you about what is not, after all, an emergency. We may instead leave our dishes on the table, or bring them up to the bar. Once again, fault the management for not hiring enough people to clear out the tub (or - imagine - bus tables), not the slovenly customers who didn't arrive bearing their own dish detergent and sink.

-There are no established tipping norms when it comes to tip-jar, staff-gets-at-least-minimum-wage establishments. Those tipping less than you'd prefer (the change for $3 on a drink that was $2.95, say), or not at all, might well be people who do tip 15-20% in restaurants. To give an n-of-1 example, I've worked in a coffee shop and have patronized many. I grew up in New York. And I have no idea what (or if) one is expected to tip in New York coffee shops. So how on earth are new arrivals to whichever locale - from abroad, but also domestic - supposed to know?

-You don't know which customers have how much money. There are college students and recent grads carrying around a Louis Vuitton bag they got as a gift at age 16, but whose parents haven't offered them a cent since 18. There are, well, hipsters, so thrifted garb and unwashed hair doesn't mean J.Crew and a shower didn't fit the budget. Therefore you can't assume that the customers you imagine could easily toss in a dollar with each beverage could do so, or could do so and continue to regularly patronize the establishment. Personally, part of what motivates me to tip in coffee shops is that doing so reminds me I'm indulging in a luxury, one I can afford only occasionally, and this prevents me from going more often.

-Nor do you know which customers might have jobs at least as stressful as yours. The well-dressed guy you imagine is off to his douche office somewhere might be on his way to teach middle school, where the only way he gets respect is if he wears a suit.

-Admit that part of the appeal of the the barista job - there are, after all, myriad other, easier-to-snag food-service positions - is that you get to complain (at least with your body language) about the audacity of the snooty, square customers while on the job. There's an established dynamic whereby the customer wants to be liked by the barista, and only those polite and cool enough will make the cut. Normally, with food service, if the staff is rude, it's held against them. With coffee shops, this is part of the show, along with all the signs posted ordering you to play by their rules, to bus your own damn table but don't forget to tip. Because this dynamic is understood, on the one hand, we the customers care more what you think of us than what the supermarket cashier does. (You contend with entitlement and rudeness, yes, but it's at least partially cancelled out by those who wish to get on your good side. Not so for whoever's folding your clothing at the Gap.) On the other, we have trouble seeing the fact that you must contend with women double-checking that their lattes really are skim as the tragedy you make it out to be.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Showing your face

Does not being on Facebook imply that you're deranged? I'd like to think not, given that some of my own good friends have, for good reasons, left or never joined. But I do think there's an obvious-if-you-think-about-it sense in which not sharing can be almost as self-defeating as sharing the wrong information. We hear all the time about how dangerous it is to put information about yourself online, lest a potential employer or similar find it. But what if the information reveals you to be a reasonable person who would along fine in an office? If Facebook means a return to small-town life, then opting out means accepting to be thought the town eccentric or worse.

And plenty of people do pick up on this, having an online presence despite being in fields where they need to seem ultra-professional, but crafting their personae in such a way as to show only the best and most work-friendly side. Not that these are people whose offline selves are terribly racy. It's just that the bits that are highlighted will tell the most positive story possible, the one most in keeping with how they wish to be perceived.

But it's not just about those somewhat in the public eye being careful. It's also that an online presence might reveal, say, that a woman enjoys shoe-shopping, reading Us Weekly, and hanging out with her friends. These might not be traits she would highlight in a job interview, but they reveal to potential employers that she's relatable, conventional, and not spending her spare time conspiracy-theorizing about the government. Whichever photos might reveal a non-work life, perhaps even silliness, social drinking, time spent on Facebook, things of that nature, but the net result might actually help her. This is an age of collaborative work, and even in fields where one expects a lack of social skills, social skills never hurt.

The unfortunate converse of all of this is that being someone who doesn't come across as friendly and normal on social media, while a drawback on the job market, is by no means the crime of the century. What we don't want is a society in which anyone who opts out of personal social media (updating your company's profile is something else), anyone who fails to demonstrate normalcy through these channels, to be automatically deemed suspicious in the homicidal-maniac sense of the term.

Sick as a dog

Profundity may be even lower than usual here, what with Bisou's predictable-in-retrospect stomach woes. Sniffing around on enough sidewalks, under enough café tables, and she's probably consumed several large German meals, along with the usual goose poop she must be yanked away from. I have not once but twice pulled a surprisingly-not-yet-chewed French fry from her mouth. Her secret to weighing a mere 12 pounds: she follows the time-old women's-mag trick of just tasting. She had actually been, until yesterday, far more robust here than at home, but luck can run out.

As for what caused this latest bout, with a dog, how would you ever know? Did we walk her too much when my husband's family was in town, taking perhaps a bit too seriously our landlord's request that we never leave Bisou alone in the apartment? Like, maybe climbing to the top of the mountain to see the castle was too much for her? (Am I projecting?) Was it the shred of Grana Padano I gave her? Does it in any way relate to the little boy with what may have been slightly-chocolate-splattered hands who appeared all of a sudden and wouldn't stop petting her because it was just love between this child and Bisou?* Was it the Sauerbraten? (Ding, ding, ding!)

The only possible way to know for sure which substance(s) would be to bring the vomit to a lab, but given that she's made it since 3:45 am without emptying her stomach onto the non-absorbant part of the floor, that may not be necessary. It appears that what works for humans with this condition goes for dogs as well: water but no food, lots of sleeping, lots of giving sad, pathetic looks. Poor Bisou!

The irony is that yesterday, before this had started in earnest, we actually took her to the vet, but just for the pre-trip official checkup. The vet here is a "small animal" specialist, and some of the other patients are rabbits larger than Bisou.

Oh, and to continue on the dog-ownership-you're-doing-it-wrong theme, it's worth mentioning that guidelines vary in different countries, and even the basics (which medicines to give, when to sterilize) vary tremendously. Whatever we did at the advice of the vet and whichever domestic research is precisely not how it's done in Germany.

*Something to keep in mind if you're thinking of getting a dog, particularly one with some resemblance to a stuffed animal: young children will assume your dog is a stuffed animal, and more bizarrely still, so will some of their parents. And you'll want your dog to meet kids, but in a somewhat controlled way, like where you can have your dog sit, the kid can first put out a hand to be sniffed, that sort of thing. Which will be how it goes with kids you know, but on the street or in a café, this sea of tiny children are continuously approaching unannounced, only (on at least two occasions) to start crying when Bisou responds to their lunging at her in a taunting way with a bark. Bisou's not aggressive (as demonstrated most dramatically early on back home, when under similar circumstances, an unsupervised toddler began trying to hit her with a stick), but when a little kid makes like she's going to kick her (a girl at the Sauerbraten establishment), she's not the sort to just start slobbering lovingly. She absolutely has the capacity to seem startled. She is a dog, not a teddy bear.

Most kids at least kind of get what to do, though, and I'm inclined for Bisou to meet as many people, children especially, as possible. But sometimes I'm walking somewhere, or Bisou's digestive tract is doing its thing, and it just isn't the moment. And the kid and parent will look so sad, like I'm taking this teddy bear away from them, so I do usually give in, unless, you know, the inanimate object they're admiring has already arched her back. What strikes me as odd about these encounters is that there's a popular (mis)perception that people get small, fluffy dogs instead of having kids. Why, then, are the owners of small, fluffy dogs imagined to be people who want to spend more time than usual with the young children of random passersby?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

"[T]otally inappropriate"

The Prudie letter in question, with some thematic overlap with this earlier post:

Q. Workplace Awkwardness: I'm in a really awkward situation here. A co-worker with whom I've had several five-minute conversations but nothing more recently sent me an email telling me how beautiful I am and wondering if I had a boyfriend. I figured it was for somebody else, so I ignored it. I then received a Facebook message with much the same content, so I know it was for me. This guy doesn't even really know me—we've only spoken a few times! I have absolutely no attraction toward him. He's a nice guy though, and I try to be a nice person as well, and I am totally unsure of how to handle this. Do I just live through the awkwardness at work and pretend nothing ever happened? I'm usually a drama-free person who can handle this sort of stuff just fine, but I am really dreading returning to work now. 
A: You need to step up and deal with it in a drama-free way. Tell him his emails and Facebook posts were totally inappropriate and you don't want to get any more such personal messages. Keep copies or screenshots of what he sent. Then if he won't stop, take the evidence to human resources and say you tried dealing with this yourself, but he's not getting the message.
So. Harassment, stalking, these are real problems, but sometimes even a creepy tone or what have you can give a woman a bad feeling about a situation that on paper sounds innocuous enough. I fully support putting a stop to all threatening attention ASAP, and involving authorities if necessary. If you're actually scared, don't worry about hurt feelings, political correctness, etc. By all means, use the tools of feminism and sexual-harassment law to defend yourself. My bias here would be to side with the woman, and not with the ogling dude.

But how are these issues relevant here? From what we know, a man who is not this woman's supervisor, at a company that presumably doesn't have a no-dating policy (written or otherwise - in plenty of fields/companies this alone would be our answer) or the letter-writer would have mentioned that, who has indeed met and interacted with this woman in real life, has expressed romantic interest in her. Awkwardly - he should have asked her to go get coffee - but perhaps his thinking was, if she has or makes up a boyfriend, or otherwise provides a not-interested, I'll have my answer. He emailed twice, yes, but the first one was ignored, and it won't immediately be obvious to sender why that was the case. Maybe she doesn't use whichever account, or maybe it's her work account and she's behind by 500 emails. As it happens, she ignored it because she didn't realize it was even meant for her, which presumably the second, Facebook approach confirmed. Again, not the best way to go about it, but dude was just asking her out. Nothing lewd. This constitutes "totally inappropriate" behavior?

It could be that Prudie mistook Facebook messaging, which is private, with Facebook posting, and imagines that dude is pulling some kind of horrible rom-com gesture. But it could also be that certain women respond to any attention from men they don't find attractive (or even ones they totally do like and will say yes to shortly thereafter) as some kind of offense to their dignity, and use the language of feminism - the right of a woman to go through life as something other than a sexual object - to back themselves up. (The connection to the Brussels-catcalling post, I suppose, is that we need to consider the possibility that some white European women object more to catcalls from darker-complexioned immigrant men than they do to equivalent attention from, say, drunken white European men, who are not exactly immune to that behavior.)

But we live in a society in which heterosexual relationships tend to form only once the man has made the first move. This means that there's a certain amount of uncertainty for the man when doing so. Even assuming a man who doesn't just ask out every woman he likes, regardless of her plausible reciprocation (and boy does this exist), a man might think a woman reciprocates his interest, only to learn that he misread her signals. The younger, prettier, nicer (misinterpreted as flirtation), and less wedding-band-having a woman is, the more of this she's going to have to fend off. But unreciprocated asking-out, while technically unwanted attention, is not a kind of unwanted attention one can ever systematically avoid. People who like you will always ask you out, and unless they don't take no for an answer (or it's your boss, etc.), they're not doing anything wrong.

Going only by what's in the letter, this guy didn't have a chance to take no for an answer and back off, because she never answered. If he'd emailed four different accounts and gotten nothing, yet pressed on, creep city. But once to her email and another time to Facebook? This sounds like he has asked her out, and in all likelihood would take no for an answer, and would in no time at all find another woman to declare "beautiful."


All of the above is basically standard-issue commentary. The more interesting question is why a woman would respond to getting asked out as if it's harassment (assuming we have all the relevant info.) and why an impartial observer (Prudie) would agree.