One of the main streets outta here, yesterday morning.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
One of the main streets outta here, yesterday morning.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
There is something kinda bleak about a profile of an immensely successful, impressive, talented young woman that tells us not how she got where she is today, but what she eats. Not because it's superficial - I'm happy to hear about clothes-and-shoes, makeup routines, skin-smoothing snake-oils of choice. "Into The Gloss," when it sticks to the usual (fashion-industry women talking about which beauty products they use, and making gaffes along the way), is a lot of fun.
But ugh, what the Internet does not need is yet another 110-pound woman describing how a switch to cleaner foods led to her current sveltitude. OK, it's ostensibly a story about changing one's diet (in vain, we learn) to get better skin and accidentally losing weight in the process, and I suppose it never hurts to send the message that it's never too late to learn to like vegetables. And yet. As at least one ITG commenter astutely points out - it's going to be read as the story of how a woman lost 20 pounds by cutting carbs. In Jezebel terms, this would probably count as "trigger," if not necessarily, not intentionally, at least, "thinspo."
It's certainly an interesting piece of writing, though, with the ambiguity about whether all of this is or is not about weight. Short of serious illness (and at times even that), anything that causes a woman to lose weight, even a woman who is already thin, even a woman sufficiently thin that if she lost more weight, she'd look worse (remember that models are models because their faces can look good despite their thighs being that non-existent - most women, certainly past a certain age, can very well be too thin) is on some level about weight. Gluten intolerance, vegetarianism, mild food poisoning, stress- or busyness-related under-eating, and, evidently, a diet that's about clearing up acne, none of these need be about weight, but - as Edith Zimmerman certainly conveys, and as a less seemingly self-contradictory post wouldn't have managed - it's never a value-neutral thing when a woman does. This is never not part of the equation, precisely because of the (internalized and usual) societal validation women get for losing weight.
The question, then, is how to deal with this. On the one hand, yay honesty. The more open women are about these pressures, the more the myth about there being some significant category of women oblivious to this will fall apart.
But on the other, we are not powerless against these forces. Once once we're aware of them, there are a range of possible responses, everything from gathering around the salad bar and confessing to having been "bad," to basically saying, yes, I live in a society that's like so, and I'm going to push such concerns as far back in my mind as possible, to the point of having only a vague recollection that they're out there. If you're someone who faces neither medical nor societal issues on account of your weight, be glad you have nothing to worry about on this front and find better things to fuss about. By all accounts you probably already have greater concerns - being thin or not-fat or whatever does not solve all of life's problems. (Read Rachel Hills here if you haven't already.) If you are someone whose life would benefit in some tangible way from losing weight, maybe do this, maybe not, but you too probably have more important things to focus on as well.
Friday, October 26, 2012
Gawker and I are, amazingly, in sincere agreement: young children brutally murdered by, it seems, the babysitter is the story. Not how fancy-schmancy the journalist feels their lifestyle appears. This is not a story only if the parents are rich, but it doesn't become less of one if they are. Yes, it's unusual for this kind of horrific crime to happen in "luxury" buildings, but it's not an everyday thing among regular-folk Americans, either. Barring the most extreme circumstances, I'm going to guess that most human beings live in relative comfort that their kids won't be bludgeoned to death. It's not some privilege specific to Manhattan's finer zip codes. The NYT article - which has apparently been edited a bunch since first going up (the word "luxury" removed, for example) - gave the impression that this was somehow the comeuppance of a family that had been too new-New York - fanciness, strollers, none of the grit or low-rent-ness of back-in-the-day. How exactly was this the place for a conversation about gentrification/blandification, or (ugh!) how Moms These Days hire other women to care for their kids? Ugh doesn't even begin to describe it.
Amherst is evidently one of several elite colleges incapable of properly dealing with sexual violence. Going by what I've read and my own anecdotal evidence, it's the same story all over the place, at least at the more elite schools: young women are given the impression that the school has replaced somehow both parents and police, and when problems arise, the obvious authority figures are campus administrators. Who are not, in fact, police, and who do not necessarily do whichever basic things would be necessary to remove whichever imminent threat. (Does it build character to keep a girl in the same dorm as her rapist?) Schools may have some infrastructure or bureaucracy aimed at reassuring victims, but they may not want to or have the authority to meaningfully address the problem. I'd be curious if anyone's anecdotal evidence doesn't match this, but I understand that it's a sensitive topic, so I'm not necessarily soliciting comments.
Anyway, I think that "holistic" once again enters into the equation. Schools first admit not an applicant but a whole person. This, in turn, gives admitted, matriculated students the impression that they don't merely attend a residential college, taking classes for credit while living with fellow students. They are an intentional, hand-picked part of a community. It seems inconceivable that something scary could happen on campus. It seems straightforward, then, if something does come up, to deal with campus authorities, or with deans, when maybe the regular ol' police would be the way to go. (Or maybe not. Eep.)
There's even such a cliché of the liberal-arts-college male, the guy who's so hyper-sensitive that he will apologize profusely if he says transgendered rather than transgender, and will beat himself up over this for weeks to come. How could such a Nice Guy, one who's had seminars on the significance of holding a door open for a woman, do anything wrong? He should be posting earnest pleas to be a good person on Facebook, not, you know, raping his classmates. And yet. All of these carefully selected individuals, whom experts have picked to balance harmoniously, are nevertheless fallible, at times seriously criminal, human beings. Maybe - and I'll admit to cynicism here - what needs to happen is, rather than beefing up on-campus façades, we need to remember that students are members not only of a campus community, but a broader one, as well as a jurisdiction of some kind.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Well good for them. Olive oil, sure, wine, why not, longevity, OK. No goats'-milk for me, thanks unless it's been turned into a cheese. Makes for a good most-emailed, I suppose, for there to be an entire island full of people's grandfathers who smoked like chimneys and nevertheless lived to be 100. Until the time comes when we learn they're all actually 45 but smoking didn't do wonders for their skin, let us congratulate them for their paradox-ness.
But I'm more interested in the fact that these people are not waking up while it's still dark out to meander their way through a total of seven legs of transportation. They don't leave their offices before 5 in order to make a train that gets them to a train that gets them at shortly after six to another train, connecting in turn to a shuttle, all of which gets them home close to 7pm, leaving approximately three hours until the too-tired-to-not-be-asleep feeling hits. They don't gaze out the window as Central NJ becomes Northern NJ and vice versa, scenery you could show to someone who's life goal was to visit the United States and they'd be like, meh. They don't run out of podcasts and end up laughing along to something about British politics without even getting the references. They drink lots of coffee, yes, but they don't put it into a thermos, forget to close that thermos, and discover that the odd drip, drip, drip on NJ Transit is coming from their backpack.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Just got a list email about what sounds like a pretty cool, if not super-glamorous, job, "with a preference to graduate students and recent graduates." 20 hours a week for up to six months. Need to know English and French, and have relevant work experience. The catch? You guessed it: the pay is nothing whatsoever. Not a job in fashion or journalism. At a respected institution.
Posted by Phoebe Maltz Bovy at Wednesday, October 24, 2012
...when you go to the student health center for your annual "well woman" checkup, and they don't ask you about your lifestyle. But they do ask whether/when you plan on having kids, and whether you're taking a folic acid supplement.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Because WWPD is not a forum to discuss grad-student angst - and the grad students are angsty! - I will instead make some beautification recommendations. Because WWPD is not in fact a beauty blog, none of these places, alas, send me anything for free.
-Bourjois, it turns out, makes a glitter eyeliner almost identical to the Hard Candy one I was obsessed with in high school and college, and that now seems to be unavailable. (The Walmart version seems different, at least going by the website.) The Bourjois one's a tiny bit less glittery, which is for the best, but also has the fine glitter particles, which you need for the effect to work properly, and a better, more grown-up makeup texture. About 8 euros at the Zaventem Duty-Free, which is of course a place convenient to us all, or $12 on ebay.
-Shiseido's Japanese line includes a miracle deep-conditioner that's slightly less expensive at Sunrise Mart. You know when hair starts to look/feel like straw, and you probably should get a haircut, but that's $60 (if you're lucky) and an hour you don't want to spend? The best way I can describe this product is, it gives the impression of recently-trimmed hair. I fell asleep with wet hair and woke up with tendril-y waves, nothing nest-like. And the "mask" smells perfectly reasonable, inoffensive-conditioner scent, not (this was what happened the last time I strayed from the usual) like artificial grape.
-This one's a re-recommend: Uslu Airlines nail polish in "ultra light rose." I put this on exactly a week ago, travelled (economy, carry-on only) across the Atlantic and back, and it remains almost as good as new. No base coat, top coat. Not expertly applied I assure. If this stuff were available in the States, professional nail salons would promptly go out of business.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
-I'm not alone in protesting YPIS. I skimmed this on the train, but will need to investigate further.
One of the misconceptions that skinny privilege relies on is that life is better when you’re thinner. It sustains itself on the belief that even the most incremental differences in size and shape will have a profound effect on how we are received; whether we will be rejected and passed over, or embraced and revered.I couldn't agree with that more!
My only quibble is that while Chung is right that women should be judged more for brains and less for looks than is currently the case, this is a woman who is, among other things, a model. I don't think beautiful women are under any moral obligation to artificially experience life as the plain-looking do, as if this were even possible. But - barring human-trafficking-type situations - one makes a choice to be paid for one's looks. Models are certainly not directing societal beauty standards, but each woman who might have that job has decided that she will be the person with said features to do that job. Sure, if it hadn't been you, it would have been some other woman who looked just like you, but if it's you, it's you. It's wrong to judge a woman for being startlingly thin, but something else entirely to judge her for selling thin. This holds regardless of how she came to have that physique, regardless of how much effort or lack thereof went into it for her personally.
-NYC private schools, even more of a mess, diversity-wise, than the public magnets. Jenny Anderson's piece on what it's like to be a minority student at a Manhattan prep school is spot-on, or at least appears to be to me, as one of the not-as-rich white kids who attended one of those pre-high-school.
Anderson effectively conflates scholarship-kid with minority, which makes sense both from the stats she provides and in the context of these schools: there are special programs (such as Prep for Prep) that specifically recruit underprivileged, brilliant students of color. The way the admissions process works - how I remember it, and how the article portrays it - these schools have only rich and poor kids, with the handful of middle-class (lower- and upper-) effectively lumped in as "poor." The aloofness in question manifests itself as this overall sense that "we" are "normal" and anyone who has to god forbid attend a public school or take the subway might as well be featured on "Save the Children." This was mildly irritating for those of us who were merely upper-middle class, but often disastrous - as this article well shows - for kids whose families were actual-poor, as opposed to merely private-school poor. I allude to my own example not to summon tiny violins, but to explain what a weird atmosphere these schools create.
Anyway, it was obvious to all who were the scholarship students (even though some of the "rich" white kids received financial aid) because of the Prep for Prep influx in certain grades (7th and 9th). A new, smarter, darker-skinned kid in the class who didn't live in Manhattan-below-96th was readily identifiable. All of this culminated memorably one year when, apparently due to self-selection, one 10th-grade yearbook photo had only white kids, the other only students of color. This was NYC, in the 1990s. I was pleased to see Anderson pointing out that these schools are somewhat optimistic, deceptive, you choose, with their depiction of diversity in their promotional materials.
That American schools tend to remain de facto segregated is nothing specific to NYC's fanciest schools. Several factors make this case different (PG, take note), most obviously the near-absence of white people who aren't wealthy, and of students of color who aren't super-serious. The latter arguably promotes a positive stereotype - there's no broader stereotype in the U.S. that black and Latino kids, at least, are particularly studious, so if one emerges from this program, so it goes. But the former is more problematic. Yes, there's such a thing as "white privilege," but it doesn't generally come with, say, a Manhattan townhouse with its own elevator. The social gulf between (to simplify) blacks and whites is typically not what it is at a school where things are so extreme. Because private schools hand-pick their classes to contain only rich white kids and ridiculously impressive, bootstraps-story students of color, they manage to avoid having any kids who are, well, ordinary. That's just about the worst. But the absence of any kind of averageness makes for a screwy environment. As for what the stakes are of this arrangement, I suppose the problem with it is that if the goal is creating a diverse, integrated elite, it doesn't appear to be succeeding.
But what first jumped out at me was this:
There is no doubt that New York City’s most prestigious private schools have made great strides in diversifying their student bodies. In classrooms where, years ago, there might have been one or two brown faces, today close to one-third of the students are of a minority. During the 2011-12 school year, 29.8 percent of children at the city’s private schools were minority students, including African-American, Hispanic and Asian children [....]Interesting, I think, that when we're discussing the city's private schools, Asians are considered a "minority" and perhaps even "brown," whereas the article about Stuyvesant from the very same NYT series mentions that the place is 72.5% Asian as a way of saying what a rich-and-fancy place it is. Which... seems kind of fair, considering this anecdote:
[Minority students] describe a racism that materializes not in insults, but more often in polite indifference, silence and segregation. Albert, an Asian-American boy in “Allowed to Attend,” says: “You can do a lot of psychological damage to people by ignoring them for an extended period of time. For, like, four years.”It's striking, then, that Prep for Prep considers Asians "of color" - striking insofar as it tells us just how 1950s that world remains.
What's missing from this entire conversation is something like context. Not to keep harping on this, but harp I must: we're talking about how exclusive schools like Stuyvesant are because there exists a prep course that some take to get in, and it costs $750. A year - one year - at a private school is $40,000, which isn't counting the myriad official and unofficial activities fees. I get that in this country, we allow private educational institutions a great deal of leeway, homeschooling and all that, but I'm not convinced that as social-justice issues go, the public magnet schools' unrepresentativeness comes close to that of private schools' arrangement.
I'm still not convinced either private schools or public magnets are beneficial to society or to the individual students who attend, that the benefits aren't basically about which family you came from, which factors got you to that school in the first place. But what Stuyvesant manages and few other city schools do is socioeconomic diversity. Not "diversity" as in a handful of poorer kids to make up for the super-rich majority, and not "diversity" as a euphemism for everyone's really poor. "Diversity" as in you get the whole range. This is helpful in terms of having a sense of where you yourself stand, privilege-wise, and also in terms of not feeling like it's you against the world. It's far from perfect, but it's something.
Back from a whirlwind trip to Belgium for my brother-in-law's lovely wedding. I traded roadside deer for roadside (but penned-in) cows and sheep. I think I've filled up enough of my Belgium punch-card that I now count as an honorary Belgian.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
To new readers, to readers not as tuned into the inner workings of my mind as I am: When I say I'm not a fan of "holistic" in college admissions, I don't mean that I oppose affirmative action, using race or class. That I'm fine with. No, what I mean is this notion that colleges accept or reject not an application, but a person. It's supposed to sound better not to be thought of as a number, a mere faceless sum of your test scores, GPA, and whichever other qualities. But if you're rejected as a person, that just has to sting more than if you're turned down as an applicant to a particular college.*
-Into the Gloss remains an infinite source of pedicured-foot-in-mouth. The latest, Erin Wasson, is no exception. There's of course the requisite: "Everything really needs to be paraben-free for me. I mean, because if I’m going to smoke cigarettes, then I need to be aware of all the other bullshit I’m putting into my body." (A little gift to the fat-acceptance, thin=/=healthy community.) And better still, re: a new-agey-sounding facialist: "It’s not about the superficial layer of your skin, it’s about all the deeper layers and what’s going on inside of you." Sounds totally holistic, and not even a little bit like vanity.
But apart from the usual 'wisdom,' there's some actual, well, wisdom. First, on the difference between acting and modeling:
“I got really lucky with modeling. The only casting I went on was with Mario Testino...and then it was kind of, you know, my whole life got flipped upside-down. But with acting now, it’s not walking into a room and being like, ‘Hey, nice to meet you.’ It’s like, you walk into a room and you put on an effing performance, and then you leave the room. In the world of modeling, you just show someone a book and you’re completely objectified from your surface. But with acting it’s like, do you have a fucking skill? Do you know what you’re doing? Did you put the work into it? Are you emotionally available? You can’t even compare the two worlds. Acting is fucking hard. Modeling is easy; you just travel a lot.This gets at the utter weirdness of a profession existing in which people are hired specifically for their looks. But it also got me thinking of the Kaling-Dunham discussion I had with myself in the previous post. Basically, it's long been the norm (or at least quite normal) for actresses to get their start as models, child models, etc., or at the very least, to have been 'discovered' as models, choosing instead to pursue acting. They first need to prove that they are paid-for-looks-level attractive, and can then go on to portray characters. Then there's Dunham, who is currently a writer/actress and model, with everything going the reverse order. She's being paid for her image because of what it represents, i.e. a cultural product that - overhyped or not - hit a nerve. It's quite different to establish yourself and then get paid to model because your identity sells clothes, than for modeling to be the prerequisite.
Oh, and then I kind of loved this, also from Wasson:
I don’t spend money on clothes. I’m not that person. I don’t do the whole Isabel Marant thing. I love her as a person, and I think what she does is fucking amazing, but am I going to buy into a world of a French woman selling me what I grew up with? Do you know what I mean? Am I going to sign up for that? I’m sorry, but I’m not going to spend $1,200 on a Western shirt and go back to Texas and get it for five bucks.
Indeed. A friend and I spotted a t-shirt of that label going for I believe it was 90 euros, a plain white t-shirt, because people will buy absolutely whichever ordinary crap if they believe a chic Frenchwoman gave it a seal of approval.
-Kei, any other readers with Japan-thoughts, hair-thoughts: is this any good? Or the one in the red container? I was at Sunrise Mart stocking up on yuba after a great lunch at Sobaya, and got distracted in the haircare aisle. Products made for "normal" hair in the U.S. (or, worse, Europe) are all wrong for me, as are the ones made for "ethnic" hair. Maybe Japanese products are the way to go? Shiseido is generally an expensive brand here, but there appears to be this moderately-priced Japanese line...
-Are (black) tights with (black) open-toed shoes taboo? This impacts Belgian-wedding-packing, so if you have thoughts on this most urgent matter, now's the time to weigh in.
Monday, October 15, 2012
-The tipping wars have been rekindled, with a horde of commenters furious at a stingy blogger who had the gall to confess to only tipping a meager 20% at a restaurant. "There’s a word for anyone who tips 1.52. It’s ‘douchebag’."
Not to defend douchebaggery, but maybe this depends on the bill? Like, maybe this tip would be unacceptable if the meal were $15, but would be a lot for a cup of coffee? Or does the fact that food-service has happened mean anything short of transferring the contents of your bank account to the server makes you unfit for human interaction? Is it so hard to imagine that someone who can once-in-a-blue-moon afford $9 for a meal out might earn less than a server? Or is the simple fact of being served in this one instance evidence that you are a fur-and-diamond-encrusted villain from an 1980s movie? Whatever the case, apparently if you fail to tip at least $1 per coffee at a place where you order at the counter and get a drink to go/bus your own table, you're asking for bodily waste in your cappuccino. Noted. Thrilled with my newish thermos, by the way. Bringing us to...
-Let's give another suggestion to NJ Transit: eliminate the quiet car, and instead institute a loud car, the default being quiet. There are rarely enough loud people to fill one car (being that most everyone is a sleepy solo commuter), and the current state of affairs only means that businessmen (never women who do this - is this a macho thing about the size of one's inbox?) keep their phones on the setting where they beep every time an email comes in. Let the ding-new-email folks, the occasional tourists, and those who feel alone in the world if they don't cellphone-chat for an entire 90-minute ride all sit together, and let the rest of us nap in peace. (Will not overanalyze what it means that a travel article about the place I live includes mentions of not one but two naps.)
-No transition from the previous item, but anyway. I liked Alessandra Stanley's article about the new female protagonists who shun weight-think. I'm mystified, though, by the Jezebel critique. If it's unacceptable to mention the size of actresses, why a post doing just that? And isn't it clear that Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling are "larger" as in larger than the usual TV waifs, not as in larger than the average American woman? Not sure whether they are or aren't larger than the typical women of their characters' age/education level, in the urban environments depicted, but it's likely that they would not be considered unusually slim in hipster/doctor circles, respectively. So here, too, "larger" holds without either woman being, well, large.
Given that the TV default had long been, skinny actress portrays "fat" character with weight neuroses, I'd say we're at least headed in the right direction. Heading in that direction, I suspect, because when women themselves are creating these shows, the shows end up depicting women who are more active than passive, not necessarily assertive, but who are doing things rather than being looked at. (Still only seen the first episode of "Girls," but that plus the "The Mindy Project"* give that impression.) And there's no way to comment on this development with no mention of Dunham or Kaling's physiques.
Kaling and Dunham are both women who are where they are for reasons other than what they look like. That doesn't make them unattractive, certainly not. But officially, unanimously-agreed-upon "beautiful" isn't the main thing every young woman needs to be in life. I suspect most of us women are where we are professionally primarily for reasons other than our looks. That's a good thing, and all the better if women who star in TV shows have that option. So yes, what these new stars look like matters, and if we insist that they're super skinny and gorgeous, we're missing the point.
*I mean, kind of? From the show's website: "Mindy is determined to be more punctual, spend less money, lose weight and read more books - all in pursuit of becoming a well-rounded perfect woman...who can meet and date the perfect guy." A feminist anthem for our age. Sounds familiar.
Want to know where Woody Allen meets fashion-bloggery? Click here.
Friday, October 12, 2012
The best article ever: Kate Connolly of the Guardian reports on a coffee shop in Berlin that has banned, among other things, strollers:
Ralf Rüller wanted to create a sacred ground for coffee connoisseurs in the heart of Berlin, somewhere devotees of the bean could sip their brews free from distraction.
This purist – not to say militant – approach to coffee-drinking extended to a long list of rules at his brew bar, the Barn Roastery, including a ban on extra milk, spoons, laptops, dogs, mobile phone ringtones, loud phone calls and "media" (apart from newspapers). Sugar is strongly discouraged.Nothing like a coffee shop with rules! But so many rules. And in Germany? Anticipating your thought, person-reared-on-"Seinfeld"-and-Britcoms - Connolly helpfully adds:
Before moving back to Berlin several years ago, Rüller worked as an actor in London where he often played Nazi soldiers in British TV war dramas. He says it feels as if he has been cast as the Nazi in his own coffeehouse drama.Apparently Rüller is called a coffee Nazi in Germany, which will come as news to those who hadn't realized the culinary use of the term would be kosher-as-it-were in those parts.
But I don't know. It doesn't sound as if children are banned, just strollers, which isn't so out-there. And all the insane attention to detail? All the superior coffee? I think it sounds fantastic, not fascistic:
The staff, who come from as far afield as Australia and Mexico, include Rob MacDonald, a dairy farmer from Australia who claims his tastebuds are so refined he can tell what a cow has eaten from the flavour of its milk. "I love this artistic approach to coffee," says the 27-year-old, who as well as training to be a barista is – perhaps inevitably – learning to play the jazz xylophone.And thus bringing hipsters-make-your-food to a whole new level.
*Ironic, I suppose, given how much the Barn Roastery approach to customer service reminds one of Fawlty Towers.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
-A Twitter correspondant of a writer I met on the Internet before in person (how's that for bloggy?) interpreted my post about Facebook-unique neurosis to mean that people "struggle" from the pain of seeing near-strangers hanging out without them, after calling it a "sad predicament." The trouble with all writing, bloggy included, is that often one means one thing, but is read as meaning something else. What I'd intended as a light-hearted observation about how social media changes our interpretation of our social circles was read as something like a cry for help. I was kind of stunned that it was read this way, especially given the paragraph at the end about the be-a-grown-up approach to these feelings, but it was.
So, to be absolutely, abundantly clear, to readers with and without a self-deprecating bent, what I'm referring to isn't crippling depression or full-on deluded narcissism. Rather, I'm talking about the more everyday experience of feeling as though you've just hung out with someone you last saw six years prior because you've been getting updates about them, from them, continuously for years. If you don't experience this, more power to you, but if you do, I suspect in most cases, you'll be just fine.
But some of us don't fill out our entire profiles, don't use the site for every possible purpose (friend-updates, family-updates, interesting-article-links, professional-networking, romantic-pursuit...), either because we can't be bothered or because we don't want whichever information online. We shouldn't assume that someone who doesn't list or mention hobbies doesn't have any, that someone who doesn't list favorite books is a philistine, that someone with no relationship listed is or is not single, and so on.
So, back to the babies. Someone with a baby might feel as if they owe family and friends updates/photos, but may not have the time (b/c busy with baby, or just generally busy) or inclination to update about whatever else may still be going on in their lives. Obviously it's something else if - as Caryatis's acquaintance did - someone turns an entire profile into an OMG-I'm-a-mom extravaganza. But that, I think, would be the exception.
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
Two of my dear friends from college got married to each other last weekend. I haven't seen them in four years, but we communicate from time to time on Facebook. I can think of three possibilities why I wasn’t invited: 1) My invitation got lost in the mail. 2) They forgot to invite me. 3) They chose not to invite me. I feel stung, left out, and hurt. Thanks to social media, I have seen photos and video from the rehearsal dinner, wedding, and reception. The event was not small; there were banquet tables for college classmates. For nearly two years, the bride and groom and I were among a tight-knit group who spent hours working together on the college newspaper. Outside of school we had parties at each other's apartments and long conversations over pitchers of beer. Is there were a tactful way to find out why they didn't include me?Prudie responded with a nod to social-media weirdness, but concluded, "[U]ltimately it’s your problem if you feel you were robbed of a slice of the wedding cake." Which is on the one hand true, and on the other not quite right. I didn't think she was fair to the guy, because as neurotic as he does come across, Facebook has a way of bringing these neuroses to the fore. If you have these neuroses at all - and not everybody does, but I suspect most do - Facebook will magnify them.
Well, not so much magnify them as distort them. Facebook has brought us a form of neurosis that may not have existed before: the fear that people who you aren't close with, maybe hardly even know, or were close with ages ago, are hanging out without you. Whereas we all know that Facebook highlights preexisting anxieties - X is going to Yale Law School, X is engaged, X ran a marathon, X looks awesome in a Speedo - Facebook might well have invented this other problem. OK, maybe not invented - there have always been hyper-neurotic egomaniacs - but this was not among the normal human insecurities. Now, it has joined the more everyday - and rational! - anxiety about social exclusion from actual people in your life. That, too, can be magnified by Facebook, but this is something else. It's about feeling excluded from people who are not in your life, who you don't especially wish were in your life.
The Prudie letter may not seem to fit the bill, because the guy says these were his close friends in college... or does it? Were they his close friends who've since abandoned him, or are they the acquaintances he remembers best, because they dominate his news feed?
The reason I feel for Mr. Neurosis is that I've totally had twinges of this, where, however momentarily, I find myself wondering why some people I haven't actually seen in person since I was 12 are hanging out without me. And this isn't even a neurosis I had at that age, when I was intensely concerned with friendship dynamics. I can't remember ever caring at all that a people not in my own circle presumably hung out on weekends. It wouldn't have occurred to me. I had all the usual clique anxieties of a middle-schooler at a Manhattan girls' school, but this, alas, wasn't one of them.
But Facebook distorts your concept of who your circles even consist of. These people who are your friends (who are, if you paused and thought about it for a moment, no such thing, but they keep appearing under that heading every time you sign on, and anything repeated enough times sounds reasonable) are hanging out without you. How dare they! Never mind that you would not in a million years have invited them to go do something, or indeed remembered that they existed if it weren't for the news feed. It can still feel, in that instant, like a rejection.
Obviously, the pro-sanity approach is to be self-aware, to allow the moment to pass, not to write a letter to an advice columnist, and most definitely not to angrily confront someone who maybe "liked" something you posted a year ago regarding why they didn't think to include you at BBQ held in a state you've never even visited. The great life lesson of adulthood is that other people are far more wrapped up in themselves than they are in you, and that's even the people who are, in some meaningful sense, in your life.
Monday, October 08, 2012
One of my favorite bloggers has returned for a moment, to express her dislike of the phenomenon of women posting a photo of their kid - not of themselves - on their Facebook profiles. I'll have a post about a Facebook grievance of my own soon, maybe, but today and tomorrow are oral diagnostics, which means full days of teaching/office hours, so profundity here will be lacking. I'll just say that a) I hope a relational identity based around a fluffy pet and/or a Honda Civic wheel isn't anti-feminist, b) my own problem with a kid-as-photo is more that maybe the kid doesn't want his photo out there, but at the same time, this is different from holding forth about your C-student son in the Atlantic or whatever, and c) I will not make sense until I've visited a certain establishment named Bagel Bob's.
But I'm not sure I'm totally with Amber on this. Yes, people with kids have hats other than "mom," but sometimes that is the career, for the time being, at least, and while stay-at-home dads exist, this remains the exception. And the parent - male or female - of a young child may not have time for much in the way of hobbies, movie-going. Many of the old conversation topics may fall flat. I mean, it's true that babies and baby-stuff are rarely fascinating to non-parents, yet apparently endlessly so to people with young children and to some with older/grown ones, which is why friendships, I've heard, tend to drift and reshuffle a bit once people have kids.
And yet. Women, relational identity, I do hear this. There's the competing pressure to be the wife of, the mother of, and to be one's own damn self. Different audiences make different requests. My bias is towards own-damn-self, but not if this is embraced out of (perceived) intimidation.
Thursday, October 04, 2012
Recently, I found that I'd developed the skin of, shall we say, a middle-school student. This is an area I'd been lucky in, for the most part, so I was a bit taken aback. Zits, now, at less than a year away from the big 3-0? On my nose, next to my nose, etc. I want to leave some mystery, so let's say you know what a face looks like, and they were in many locations. What could it be? Stress from the slow march towards the (gulp) job market? The ten-trillion-step commute?
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
-A missing-person sign up in and around Penn Station indicates that the young man "is not wearing a yarmulke."
-One Facebook friend has a post complaining about being asked to work unpaid. Another has a posting that her employer is looking for unpaid interns, for college credit or recent grads willing to work for nothing.
-Squeamishness regained: I made the rookie mistake (it's like I didn't grow up here!) of getting lunch on St. Marks Place. In the manner of, "Fool me once...", if you see one shall-not-be-mentioned crawling around, you may forgive and think it must have crawled in from outside. But when two are charging at your plate of vegetarian (ha!) stir-fry, you will throw out what remains of the food and leave.
Miss Self-Important has included me in the category of "everyone who's anyone," which is flattering. But she's also included me in the list of people across the political spectrum who oppose meritocracy, and... I don't oppose meritocracy.* I'm not sure which reforms would best get it functioning properly, but as an ideal, I prefer it to the alternatives.
Meritocracy fails when we care more about grades and test scores (which predict achievement) than accomplishments. But it also fails when we try and assess the "accomplishments" of high school juniors. It fails when all it does is replicates generations of elites, when children of doctors and lawyers do better than equally-talented-and-hard-working children of Kmart cashiers. When, in other words, it creates the illusion of far more social mobility than exists, thereby getting hopes up in vain.
But the newest criticism of meritocracy - or maybe not so new - is that meritocratic elites are simply the worst. Why the worst? Because they have all the same power as elites ever did, but they, unlike earlier elites, a) see themselves as ordinary folks and thus don't own up to their privilege, and b) believe that the system that got them where they are is entirely fair, entirely just, and therefore that they deserve their power. They, you know, merit it. (See also, from the New Yorker denunciation of billionaires who don't heart Obama, "America’s super-rich feel aggrieved in part because they believe themselves to be fundamentally different from a leisured, hereditary gentry.")
I don't find this critique all that convincing, because even if social mobility isn't 100% - and it's not - there's a huge difference between privilege passed down effortlessly and panicking, tutoring, etc. All this helicoptering is of course about preserving status across generations, but that ought to tell us that preservation is not a given. This gets us back into luck vs. privilege territory - one can be lucky in life, but if one was not born with privilege, one is arguably not privileged, just rich/lucky/etc. Also: it's not as if members of hereditary elites don't feel entitled to their status.
There's an older criticism of meritocracy, though: that meritocratic elites are illegitimate. Not in broken meritocracies, but in functioning ones. Those making this criticism tend to be - or to identify with, however implausibly - members of some older elite. It's a pro-aristocratic impulse, in other words, that finds all that UMC fuss about tutoring and prep courses to be crass and grasping.
The pro-aristocratic critique of meritocracy is plenty old, but has shifted in form: These days, it disguises itself as progressive. As in: if you want to complain about a system in which Asians - it used to be Jews - are "overrepresented," you can present this as being about underrepresentation of blacks and Latinos, even if your real concern is that Asians are taking the place at the top from white people,** that the culture at whichever institution you hold dear isn't what it was in some Golden Age. Or maybe it always posed as progressive - back in the day, this would have been about the honest worker vs. the nouveau-riche. Anyway.
So my preference for meritocracy was challenged recently, when the Stuyvesant cheating scandal*** reminded me of the near-ubiquity of cheating at the high school, and of the Scantron-covered dark side of meritocracy. It's a high school famous, above all else, for being a meritocracy, or as much of one as possible. (It's free to attend, admission is by test only so connections don't count, etc.) The existence of prep courses (which not everyone who gets in even uses, and which cost a tiny fraction of tuition at a private school) garners as much rage as it does precisely because the expectation is that the school is pure, Platonic-ideal meritocracy. Those who want the cheating scandal to be about entitled brats who feel above the law will be disappointed. Stuyvesant is meritocracy in its shabby, unvarnished state: there’s no pretense of a nurturing environment that reaches out to the student as a human being. Not much pretense of learning for learning’s sake, even if learning occurs despite this. And not, it seems, much integrity. If Stuyvesant=meritocracy, it's not looking good.
The level of cheating - 80%, they say? - is not new. I - class of 2001, so pre-smartphone - remember having the sense that I was among the few who didn't cheat, and that I was screwing myself over grade-wise by having the qualms I did. That I didn't cheat was in part about my own coming-from-privilege-ness - I didn't need to strive to enter the upper-middle class, just to stay put, which meant going to class and doing homework but not OMG-Harvard-or-the-gutter panic mode. I did a team sport because College, but never bothered to join the honor society, if I even qualified for it. I could afford, as it were, to find the kids hollering "whaddya get?" tacky. But I also thought - and continue to think- cheating is just plain wrong. Caring intensely about grades is understandable, but cheating crosses a line.
The article about the scandal vividly brought back those four years, and left me wondering if I'd maybe my professed fondness for my high school comes from having conveniently forgotten what it was actually like, day-to-day, to attend.
But what is the broader message to take from this? There’s a part of me that really appreciated the no-frills approach, and that found this kind of meritocracy refreshing, after being at a school where some kids' parents had donated millions, and where maybe this didn't not impact how patient teachers were with them if they were not as quick as all that. (The parents' own merit may have gotten them where they were, but once it's your kids, it's privilege.)
A lot of what's used instead of, or to disguise, meritocracy is either silly or hypocritical - see "holistic" college admissions, which are meant to sound gentle, but which nevertheless leave ever-more kids sobbing into their thin envelopes, knowing that not their applications but they, as people, didn't make the cut. Meanwhile, 'learning for learning's sake' sounds nice, but is often used snobbishly to mean learning with no regard for the social-mobility potential of education, i.e. as a way of favoring kids from privileged backgrounds, and of ignoring the very legitimate desire for a higher income on the part of kids who are, say, the first in their families to go to college. I had a teacher in high school who would only write letters of recommendation for kids who wanted to go to college "to learn, not to make money," I paraphrase or maybe even quote directly, it's been a while. On the one hand, I saw what she meant, but on the other, it seemed even at the time something unfair to ask of kids who were commuting in from one-bedrooms in Queens that they were sharing with their extended families. And what does this even mean, going to college to make money after? If your family is poor, it might well mean graduating and becoming... a NYC public school teacher.
And - and this is less about social class - there's a sense in which kids aren't the best judges of their own educations. Stuvyesant's no-frills approach maybe isn't one that is going to appeal to that many kids as they're actually experiencing it. A well-written but somewhat misguided 2010 op-ed in the Stuyvesant newspaper demands more "critical thinking," less regurgitation of facts. It's interesting that some students see their cheating as a form of noble resistance against rote memorization, and I’m sure there’s busy-work, but I do wonder what happens when these kids get to medical school, law school, or even - yup - French literature grad school, and are required to absorb and analyze huge amounts of material, because this is what makes for professional competence. (Evidently the most cheating occurs in foreign-language classes. Well, as a foreign-language instructor, I'm curious to know what this new pedagogical approach is that engages students critical-thinking skills, but doesn't ever require them to go after class, sit down, and memorize the conjugations of être.)
In other words, sugar-coating the educational experience, pretending it's all about intellectual enrichment and not competition or material gain, isn't ideal. But there's a point at which grade-obsession drowns out everything else - ethics, but also, you know, interesting conversation. Why, if attending this school might well decrease an individual's shot at getting into a good college, if the teachers aren't unusually good or the classes unusually small, does anyone even attend this high school? Isn't the point that you're supposed to get something out of being with a bunch of clever kids? Shouldn't the collaboration be over something more useful (and ethical!) than cheating on math homework?
But I don't think the cheating comes out of the meritocratic nature of the place. Nor do I even think the problem is the just-a-number approach to teaching. No, it's something much more basic, and much easier to fix: rather than giving out letter grades, every grade is out of 100 and to the hundredths place. The stress from this makes a good chunk of the school not merely grade-obsessed but insane. And, while grades/GPAs do tell you something about a student, the difference between two A students is negligible, merit-wise, a difference in how each one's social-studies teacher happened to grade. I'm no great fan of "holistic," but if the Ivies had to choose between two A students from Stuyvesant on the basis of something other than which one had who had a 95.23 (this, as I recall, meant Brown) vs. 97.45 (the euphemistic triumvirate), or even just went and picked one of the names out of a hat, that might not be the absolute end of the world.
*The post she links to, which I called "The referendum on meritocracy," wasn't me providing such a referendum, but rather a description of what I believed was the unifying theme of the two national political conventions. Both sides both embraced and rejected meritocracy, but in different ways. The RNC had "we built that," but the case for Romney was basically, here's a 1950s sitcom patrician you can trust, a born leader who never was or will be distracted by petty concerns like the fact that a dollar tip is now expected in coffee shops, and shoe repair - just the soles and heels! - has gone up to $65. Romney's privilege is - at least according to his wife's final remarks - his main selling point. At the DNC, meanwhile, we were repeatedly reminded that self-made is a myth... by the absolute most impressive self-made individuals that could possibly be assembled.
**The irony being that in this country, "aristocrats" are just the recent-ish offspring of meritocratic elites.
***Secondary takeaway from the article: sounds like Stuyvesant may have an opening for a French teacher. I'm not not interested.
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
I mean, why wouldn't one purchase a self-help book from someone who got $1 million or more to write one?
Random Lena Dunham question: much is made of her privilege, the nepotism angle, all that. But are her parents people we're supposed to have heard of if it weren't for Dunham? They are artists, they have whiteness-privilege, they live in some kind of lower-Manhattan loft, they aren't Mr. and Mrs. Joe the Plumber, I get it. But was this all, like, handed to her? This is a serious question (not enough so that I'll take time out of lesson-planning to Google it) because I want to know exactly how to feel about her stratospheric success.
Monday, October 01, 2012
Today I have: sat next to the smelliest person ever to sit in the NJ Transit quiet car; heard a slender female passerby of a certain age telling her male companion, "I feel like I weigh 300 pounds"; seen a homeless man in a "Team Goldman Sachs" t-shirt; bought groceries at the Greenmarket as if I live plausibly near Union Square (but at least the late-season basil may cancel out the smell should I get the same seatmate as during the morning rush).
What hasn't happened today - but used to happen all the time - is the following: "Smile, honey!" That strange men on the street or, worse, on public transportation no longer ask me to smile has to be the best thing about getting older. Autumn links to a post complaining about this very phenomenon. What's so off-putting about "smile"? Maybe that it's a catcall disguised as a first-world-problem or whambulence accusation. It's unlikely that someone sobbing, or with an expression suggesting genuine woes, would get a "smile" - just someone stressed about upcoming midterms. (There is some class specificity here - more than other catcalls, I found, this tends to be the lowest-socioeconomic-status men harassing higher-socioeconomic women. But I have not formally studied it, folks.) So there's this element of, is this a catcall or is this someone telling me to get over myself? Because who among us shouldn't get over herself? Or maybe just that it's a catcall that's a criticism - "neg" avant la lettre. Or maybe this is entirely subjective, and because "smile" is the one I got constantly, it's the one I found the most irritating.
Whatever the case, if you're going to holler something at a young woman, "looking good" is probably preferable to "change your facial expression to suit my preferences."