Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Modes of transport

-Is it really a faux pas, when jogging, not to nod hello to fellow joggers? As in, not people you know, just other people who also happen to jog on the same path? Writes Matt Kurton:

If you see someone running towards you, as long as they haven't recently committed a robbery or escaped from prison, nod a quick hello. Enjoy a fleeting moment of shared humanity. Acknowledge each other's travails. Cyclists manage it without any bother, but in many places runners respond to a smile with an irritated frown, or by pretending not to notice. Come on people, share a little love. What's the harm?
I read this, had not yet seen the byline, but immediately realized this just had to have been written by a man. Women - young women especially - are not always such fans of being told to smile. Kurton's advice, though gender-neutral, would, if directed at a woman, seem of a piece with the broader message that women owe male passersby their loveliest selves.

My point isn't that the author wants women to especially to smile at him, but that he's missing why women might not go for this advice. Although the another of the author's "commandments" - that men need to wear shirts while jogging - might make readers suspect heterosexuality. (I have never known straight women or gay men to complain about this phenomenon. Straight men, however...) I mean, maybe he does want smiles from women in particular, maybe he doesn't, but that's not the issue.

Also! When a woman is jogging and a man passes her by and grins at her, she can't know what kind of grin it is, and what sort of response smiling back would inspire. We live in a world where consensual romances often begin with smiles of that nature, esp. when everyone involved (men as well as women) is scantily-clad, sweaty, and in a remote locale, so a really efficient way to demonstrate not interested, just to be on the safe side. I know that sometimes a phrase like "rape culture" is over- or misused, but this seems like a case where it's rather literally applicable. When I'm jogging, I acknowledge passersby if I know them, which I often enough do, but otherwise? I'm hoping they're not ax murderers. But then again, I grew up in pre-Giuliani New York.

-It is obvious very wrong-side-of-history to question the new NYC bike-share program. Not living in the city, I'm not too worked up about it either way, but I do have one question about it, which is what it's supposed to do. Normally, as I understand it, the idea with bike-sharing, and bike-encouragement more generally, is that bikes replace cars. People who would drive everywhere will now only drive to the big supermarket on the edge of town. Which makes sense in a Philadelphia or a Heidelberg - a city where you don't necessarily need a car, but you probably have one. Biking is better for the environment, and gets some exercise in. All things equal, I am pro-biking, and I probably do now know how to drive well enough that I can no longer justify driving to town (to avoid those two big hills) as "practice."

In New York, though, certainly in the areas where these stands are appearing, is biking replacing driving? I can't imagine it would be. It seems unlikely to replace subway-riding, nor should it - the ability to get from one part of the city to another relatively quickly, relatively safely, at all hours, is one of the best things about the place. And you will still get some exercise, what with all the stairs, and the long platforms.

Will it replace taxis? Not for the stiletto contingent and its male equivalent. Walking? Perhaps, but that's just fine for the environment and arguably better for you, and given NYC traffic, newish bike riders may find walking is quicker. It's definitely not replacing the driving wealthy New Yorkers do on weekends, to get to their second (or tenth) homes.

Buses are the only plausible transportation biking would replace, crosstown especially. But as anyone who's ever been on one of those buses knows, the people on them are not people about to switch to bikes: families or caregivers with young children, the not-so-mobile who require a bus to get from 7th Avenue to 8th, etc.

Am I missing something? Is the Manhattan depicted on "Seinfeld," where everyone middle-class drives everywhere, actually the real deal, and my 10,000 years experience of the place some kind of mirage?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


-A man behind me on the train spent the entire, I mean entire trip on his phone to various parties, loudly complaining that a business deal he's involved in that he thought was confidential was in fact known by some other party. The gist of his grievance was that someone apparently couldn't keep things quiet. The irony of all of this was apparently lost on dude, but it at least gave me something to contemplate while transferring info from footnotes to the bibliography.

-Last night I had the ultimate Cheapness Studies anxiety dream. In it, I was in Lululemon, trying on shorts. I was in the store, in the dream, because, in this dream, I was an employee at a store (as if they'd hire me, given my yoga-skepticism), and therefore had some kind of discount. In any case, in the dream, I somehow accidentally ended up purchasing some shorts, even though they didn't fit right (just ill-fitting - not too big or too small; my subconscious's body image is apparently not the problem), and lo and behold, somehow after buying them, I learned that they were not returnable and had cost $330. Yes, it was an exact amount. That was the amount. For shorts! Would you believe it? I mean, you shouldn't believe it, because I just looked this up and shorts at that store are in the $40-$50 range. Not cheap, but not $330, either. But I was so upset that I had just spent that much on shorts I wouldn't even be able to wear, which was indeed foolish, or would have been, had I done so.

-There is - how had I not seen this? - a YouTube channel that is a Japanese cooking show "narrated" by a little gray poodle. Basically, it's as if Bisou had a cooking show. Which was how I got hooked. But the show itself is also kind of great, even after you get past the how-is-that-poodle-not-charging-at-that-salmon angle. (But how? Editing? Lots of salmon being treated off-camera?) It's on the one hand from-scratch, but on the other, completely unpretentious. It's not about getting the finest ingredients. It's largely about blotting every ingredient off with a paper towel, dusting everything off in potato starch, and having dashi stock ready at all times. There's even advice in one video to coat salmon fillets with sake in order to get rid of the fishy smell. Thereby acknowledging the reality of... ingredients, I suppose. The ones one might actually get at the supermarket. Well, the Asian supermarket. H-Mart, here I come.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Public transportation arrivistes"

In case you were wondering, the true victims of Hurricane Sandy were not those whose homes were destroyed. Nor were they those who simply didn't have power for a week and then spent much of a semester attempting to commute on a quasi-defunct New Jersey Transit. No, the ones for whom we must shed a tear are Hamptons residents who must now share their precious beaches with displaced Joisey beach-goers. NIMBY, kind of, but a glossier one than most.

As Jim Rutenberg's "styles style" article makes clear, the line between nouveau and old-veau in those parts has long been kind of fluid. The same could of course be said of American "aristocracy" more generally. It's always been nouveau, money-based. From "Real Housewives" to more understated rock-star-and-model offspring to the slightly more distant descendants of tycoons, it's all basically the same, in a way that's more obvious than Old World aristocracy, which can be plausibly imagined to be eternal. And the Hamptons specifically have been glitzy since forever. Those who wanted a world of relatively-old-money American elites - or just nature - have long been going elsewhere.

Which doesn't stop each level of the Hamptons got-there-first hierarchy from thinking they're the only ones who belong:

Mr. Rattray is the fifth member of his family to edit the newspaper over the span of three generations, with roots in the community since the 1600s. “To us it’s one big blur of people from ‘away,’ ” he said. “That fear of Snooki thing may be the last people in pulling the ladder up behind them.”
Alas, Rutenberg doesn't track down someone (presumably in England?) to whom the Rattrays are a caste of untouchables. But you just know that person is out there.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

From cars to turtles

-I can't believe I only just found Gary Shteyngart's essay about his own driving incompetence. It's subscribers'-only for the full version, but think Katha Pollitt minus the gender angle - well, with a different gender angle. "[C]oördination and spatial skills," yes, been there. I'm fine on the road, but parking in a lot all too often requires my getting out of the car, checking where it is in relation to the spot, starting the car again, and lining it up properly. Anyway, Shteyngart now needs to be added to this list of cultural references for new drivers.

-The parental-overshare debate continues. I've written up a long response that I may send somewhere. (Motherlode? Can non-parents submit?) In the mean time, my short response is a) that it's good parent-writers are now at least asking themselves where to draw a line, and b) that there's got to be some middle-ground between "silence" and a national publication or a memoir. There seems to be this misconception that I was suggesting parents with usual or unusual child-issues literally not tell a soul, not seek help, not vent to friends, not keep people in their lives up to date, not complain to ten trillion other parents online or in a publication but anonymously.

-What do you do if two of your dissertation sources - a very small but impossible-to-cut part of the project - are pdfs with a bunch of documents cobbled together, and whoever did the handwritten labeling had impossible-to-decipher handwriting? Go to the original sources, right? (I know which author, can tell which newspapers, which year, in one case the date, but need page numbers for both.) Which I now see are nowhere to be found. Ostensibly online, but the site where they're supposed to be isn't getting me to them. Googling around in the usual ways (article title, for instance), and, nothing. Usual-suspect library catalogues (Princeton, NYPL) aren't fixing this. These being French newspapers, I should have found them when I was in Frahnce, but I'm not sure I even knew about these articles then. I'm thinking the answer is to just show the pdfs in question to a librarian.

-Running in the woods sounds relaxing, and it is sort of idyllic - all the birds (bluejays! cardinals!), a soothing "Fresh Air" podcast - if a bit less so what with the gallon of DEET I must coat myself with before entering the tick zone. But then there will be something so nature-y that I can hardly handle it. Today's discovery:

Yes, a turtle. A creature I half thought was prehistoric and akin to a dinosaur, half assumed lived somewhere in the world (the Galapagos?), but not a ten-minute drive from Wegmans. A very pretty one, but with bugs buzzing around it. Which at first I thought meant that it was dead, but it seemed just fine - I guess some kind of symbiotic relationship. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


To the people on (and sometimes off) the internet who advocate for cooking a big batch of legumes every Sunday and eating that for lunch and dinner the whole week:

Yes, if we're being technical, this is probably the cheapest way to get down your necessary caloric intake using whole, nutritious foods. It is probably quite manageable in terms of time and effort. Your great-grandmother, whom Michael Pollan asks you to emulate, either did this or would have done so if she'd had a freezer. More power to you if this is something you enjoy doing, but what if - and we all have our vices - what if you like food? What if the same lentil slop - even if it's one of the better-seasoned, less piously bland lentil slops - is not something you want to eat ten times in a row?

So it's not that it couldn't be done logistically. The proponents of legume-slop seem to think they're arguing against those who believe a from-scratch meal on a weeknight is impossible, which maybe they are, in which case fine, point taken, possible. And I grant that everything changes when there are kids. (Children, if I understand correctly, suck up so much time and money that one is left with no option but trough-of-beans.*) But for some of us, a big batch of legume-slop sounds like giving up on life. The kind of martyrdom where someone is like, that's it, no new clothes or cosmetics! no meals out!, and this is not because they're actually penniless, or nobly non-wasteful, they're just depressed.

And that's how it seems to go with a lot of the 'simple living' advice. No, our happiness shouldn't depend on material things, on being spoiled modern Westerners who would at the very least like a different vegetable on top of Tuesday's pasta than Monday's. But unhappiness (clinical or mundane) can often express itself as an indifference to stuff, and a kind of forced indifference to stuff can feel kind of gloomy. Stuff is fun! And I'm defining "stuff" broadly to include things like a drink out even if the very same beverage (cocktail, coffee, whatever) would cost less with supermarket ingredients, or the use of primping items (lipstick, mascara, hair product) above and beyond what's needed for hygiene.

And with that, I've given myself an excuse to dissertate tomorrow from the coffee shop (or beer-ice-cream parlor) in town.

*There was a family with seven children - seven! - getting into a van just now in the Whole Foods parking lot. Siblings, it seemed. An impressive grocery bill, I'd imagine.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why fiction is better, Part II UPDATED

If you're going to end a confessional essay with the question, "Am I totally insane?," you probably do relinquish your right to object that you have indeed been called "insane."

That aside, it is an interesting question, why people do stupid things. (I would say, why smart people do stupid things - the author refers to herself as "a smart, progressive feminist woman" - but eh.) While we may not all do things quite that stupid, let alone do them and write about it, we do all do things that rationally we understand are unwise. In this self-censored self-presentation age, where everyone is constantly checking their public persona for anything that could ever be a liability, a function of hyper-confessional writing can be to shed some light on the less-photogenic aspects of our lives.

But then the question is, if the author of such a piece doesn't want her choices validated, doesn't want to serve as an example, but also doesn't want to be "shamed," well, what does she want? Or rather: what is the purpose of this sort of writing?

The purpose, I'd think, is to examine human nature in all its ambiguities. A purpose to which fiction is better-suited than the personal essay. An exploration of why a woman not looking to get pregnant is sexually active with men, without using birth control, would be interesting in a fictional character, where we could be shown-not-told the various reasons she may have come to that behavior. Readers could judge more and sympathize more if this were a fictional character's fictional uterus at stake.


I now see, via the Facebook page of the person who had linked to this initially (and who, incidentally, works for the same publication, and who makes a good case for the piece) that the author of this essay-and-retort has been subject to all manner of hate online. That, I want to make clear, is never excusable. Criticizing the article - and yes, that can include, as MSI says, the "prose" - is fair game. Sending obscenity-filled emails to the author about her life choices, no.

Pin money

Just finished Emily Matchar's Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity. It's great, but first, a story about my tracking down the book. It was noonish on a weekday, and I arrived at the public library in jogging clothes. That was because I'd jogged to the library.

After looking around for the book and not finding it where I thought it would be, I went to the information desk. I explained that I was looking for a book called "Homeward Bound," and the woman at the desk asked me if it was a children's book. And I realized that there was no possible explanation for my disheveled state, for the noon-on-a-weekday situation, other than children. (Except: dissertation. There is now a chapter eight. I tell ya...)

Anyhow, I said no, non-fiction. A grown-up book.

The woman helping me entered this into the system, and then said, or more like asked, "Why women are embracing the new domesticity?" And I all of a sudden thought, damn, this seems more personal than I'd realized.


Homeward Bound... left me with a lot to think about. Are women who earn less than their husbands dabblers who earn pin money? Am I that woman, and if so, why am I not better-accessorized? That even female journalists at the top of their profession can feel that way is not so reassuring.

Anyway, it's not often that I read a non-fiction book and think, my goodness, I agree with nearly all of this. Part of it is, as I've mentioned, that all the while, as I was critiquing the food movement, Matchar, though coming at the question from a different perspective, was arriving at many of the same conclusions. She's interested in the people who practice DIY extremism, whereas I'm more interested in consumers-as-researchers (the quest to buy the right stuff), and in the false impression perpetuated in certain articles that everyone college-educated is a DIY extremist. She's looking at the people who take this stuff dead-seriously; I'm more taking note of those who... let themselves flow with the greenwashing. The 'I try to avoid parabens, but because that's cool, who the hell knows what a paraben is' set. The 'I shop at J.Crew, not Old Navy, because I'm against fast fashion' contingent.

In other words, I'm interested both in the rising expectation that everyone's turning their shopping into a research project and the more blatant class-signaling variety. Not sure which is more common, though - my impression that the latter is more common than the grinding-of-one's-own-flour could just relate to where I live, or my tendency to read fashion blogs and not homemaking ones, or who knows.

Where Matchar's book is most especially spot-on:

-Yes, 100 times yes, the food movement ignores that women abandoned home cooking for a reason. Also 100 times yes, the calls for more cooking-at-home not only sometimes outright blame feminism for the decline of home cooking, but also - more universally - fail to properly acknowledge that asking "Americans" or "parents" to cook more is effectively asking women, mothers especially, to do so, because that's who ends up being held responsible if junior's living off Junior's.

-Yes, 1,000 times yes, the answer is an improvement in food quality on the whole - ingredients as well as convenience foods - and not an ever-greater list of demands on parents-i.e.-moms. (A personal request: the new-and-improved fast food shall be catered by Dos Toros.) The obsession with what individuals do in terms of feeding their family organic, etc., comes at the cost of movements to improve what all families are feeding their kids. She looks at this more as, individual families need to think of the greater good, whereas I see it more as, we have this movement promoting that (often consumerist but sometimes DIY) approach. But either way, yes, the idea that improving how "we" eat should be entirely about individual families making choices is a problem.

-This relates to the Sheryl Sandberg "don't leave before you leave" idea, and no, I have not yet read "Lean In." Perhaps when I jog back to return this most recent round of library books, that will be available. Anyway, according to Matchar, a lot of women see something noble and independent about rejecting the rat race, corporate America, etc. But, as Matchar wisely points out, their stay-at-home butter-churning enterprises are all being funded by their husbands' real-world jobs. Matchar, though, makes sure to point out that this isn't entirely about women choosing to be un- or underemployed, and is in part a case of, these are women having trouble finding work, who latch on to an ideology that says your baby has to latch on until it's college-age precisely because it gives them a sense of purpose. This, in turn, puts them in a still-worse employment position than they'd have been in had they stuck it out.

-On that note, I like that she's very clear, at the end of the book, about the specific social class going all homesteader. That as much as we all want to shout that these women's privilege is showing (they are, after all, being supported by their husbands, in an era when having a husband at all is a marker of fancy-class status) these are not the hyper-elites. These are women who don't have fabulous career options. Neither do their husbands, of course, but the men are still going to work.

Agreeing, adding:

-It seems to me like the underlying problem - the thing that gets women of this elite-but-not-Sandberg class into this bind where they're stuck choosing between perma-adjuncting, freelancing, and the stay-at-home chicken-coop mom option - starts far, far earlier than the point at which a husband or child enters the picture. Women are majoring in different fields, taking different paths, applying for less for-profit-ish post-college jobs.

More women might be going to college, but if they're not entering with the expectation that once out, they'll need to support a family, that impacts their outlook. Second-wave feminism, as much as it's been absorbed, has been absorbed as, you need to be able to support yourself. And women will get to a place where they can support themselves, or at least their 22-year-old selves who don't have all that many expenses.

So it's not that women are abandoning potential careers in order to be housewives. Often, they were never in a position to have such a career in the first place. But it kind of seems as if they were, because they have been to college. They are privileged. Except that when it comes down to it, when there are bills to pay, not so much. As I've said before, and as I will say again, knowing what kale is will not pay your rent.

Why do we keep missing this? In part because there is one small subset of women - and men - who can major in Medieval Tapestry Studies and be readily employable upon graduation. That would be the graduates of... either a certain number of elite colleges (some people I've discussed this with think UChicago counts, others are skeptical, and my personal experience is mixed) or really just Harvard. These are the people writing opt-out-analysis, and, often enough (although not in Matchar's case) this is whom opt-out-analysis articles are written about. And we're constantly hearing about how there are on the one hand privileged women, and on the other, underprivileged ones. When in fact, there is this one superwoman caste (the Sandbergs, the Chuas, the Slaughters), and then this other caste of women who are on paper not that different, but whose degrees in Basketweaving from Obscure College aren't quite the same.

So I think Matchar gets us part of the way there, in pointing out that this is sort of a lower-rung upper-middle-class concern. But we need to go further, acknowledging that not all women - or all men! - are going to go to name-brand schools, but also changing the mindset of women who are entering college, or even earlier, and making it clear to them that they, just like their male classmates at Obscure, will need to earn something more than pin money one day. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

What parental overshare is not

When I saw a post on the NYT parenting blog (note: also classified as "Style") with the title, "Ending the Secrecy of a Child’s Addiction," I thought, here we go, this is going to be some whopper of a parental overshare. Isn't it enough that some child has an addiction, but now their parents are telling the NYT readership about it? How will this kid ever get into college, get a job, etc.?

But then I read the post, and that wasn't it at all. The "child" in this case was a man in his early 20s, the child of his parents, but not a child. Key details: early-20s, and "was." The dynamics of parental overshare - a child totally dependent on caregivers, finding their deepest secrets in a national publication, with no recourse to give their own side of the story; embarrassing or altogether damaging biographical details haunting a child later when, as an adult, they're looking for a job/a spouse - clearly don't apply. And the story itself? Mighty depressing.

The author, Bill Williams, does address the "dirty laundry" question:
As family members, we struggled from the beginning to find both our own support system and ways to engage and encourage William in recovery. In the beginning we kept William’s and our battle to ourselves, in the interest of protecting his privacy and ours. He still had career goals and ambitions that could be thwarted with heroin use on his “résumé.” While it’s harder to admit, we also kept quiet out of some sense of embarrassment or shame. How could we possibly explain the corrosion in the midst of our well-reared, respectable family?
Under the circumstances, it is courageous for Williams to write about this. The only thing at stake, at this point, is his own reputation.

What's interesting here from a parental-overshare perspective is that the fact that the "child" in this case was an adult seems to have made it more obvious why one cannot just go around telling someone's secrets. Even if that "someone" is so close to you that their life events are in a sense yours as well. Even if you could justify telling the secrets as being in service to a greater good, and even if, conversely, you feel as though your refusal to spill is largely motivated by fear of damage to your own reputation.

And the "sharing" in this case seems to refer only to conversations with those actually in their lives, and not to, for example, a post on the Motherlode blog. I try to be clear, whenever I talk about parental overshare, that I'm referring to published articles, to memoirs. To things that turn an identifiable child into a sort of public figure, about whom a great number of people who don't know this child personally will form an opinion. I'm not referring to times when parents discuss a child with friends and family - cases where yes, of course, the child is identifiable, and yes, of course, the wrong email or Facebook post could get forwarded to the entire world, and yes, there are people who don't know how to use the privacy settings. But venting to/confiding in friends is just an entirely different category of behavior, and a necessary one, I suspect, for most parents.


I know I've asked this, probably others have asked this as well, but here goes: what makes some news stories fall under the "lifestyle" rubric? I'm thinking specifically, this time around, of one about a doctor vaccinating men at a gay sex club against bacterial meningitis. It's about echoes of the original AIDS crisis. In the paper edition, it's on the front page of "Sunday Styles," and is found under "Fashion and Style" online, although the link itself says it's classified as a "health" story.

What, then, makes this story stylish? It's about Manhattan, but not the fanciest and schmanciest of New Yorkers, so it could have gone into the Metropolitan section. It's about nightlife, but not in the where-to-get-an-artisanal-ramp-martini-for-$18 sense. It's definitely not what Miss Self-Important calls "Styles Style": "that brilliant NYT approach to simultaneously glorifying and demeaning the city's wealthiest residents."

No, it's clear enough that this is a Styles story because it's about gay men. And Styles means, among other things, stories for-and-about women and gay men. There must be some cutoff, as they at least had the good sense not to put the recent story of a gay man being murdered in the Village in a hate crime in next to "Pregnancy Takes a Turn on the Red Carpet."

I could go on graphomaniacally about why I think this has come to be ("Styles" is now competing with various serious-magazine pages on women's issues and less specifically about Fashion), and about why maybe we don't want our news ghettoized in this way (it defines the "Syria" pages as straight-men-only, as something that will need to be mansplained to us later, once we've finished reading personal essays and nail-polish reviews). I will instead highlight a comment the article received. (While I just skimmed through the comments, I didn't notice any complaining about the "Styles" classification.)

Anyway, one commenter's response is this: "Might want to makes a change in lifestyle." Meningitis, as the article makes clear, is not just a sexually-transmitted infection, but one spread by close contact that need not be sexual. So if "lifestyle" is supposed to be a euphemism for promiscuity, no such luck. Other commenters point this out. While a different commenter chimes in to say that "lifestyle" means getting close to people at a club and sticking with one partner, I wouldn't be so sure that that's what the original one meant. Indeed, a reference to "lifestyle" in this context evokes the idea that being gay is a "lifestyle," which is to say, a choice, a self-indulgent one at that. If you think this is something I've imagined, Google 'gay lifestyle.' 

It's a problem in its own right that there are these women's pages. Not that there is lifestyle journalism, but that the divide between serious-and-not is basically gender. But it's also a problem, for different reasons, for that-which-is-gay to be classified as "lifestyle."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Get me the rum raisin!": on eating local

-If you get two different beer-flavored ice cream in the afternoon (the small - and this is a coastal-elite small, if not a Manhattan small, but rather small - allows you to pick two), you will be judged. The woman behind the counter (I want to say girl, given her apparent age, but if she was serving "alcohol"...) won't know that this is the only "drink" you've had in the past week, nor that Friday afternoon is your "weekend" because of odd scheduling constraints.

And I'm thinking, wouldn't it seem that if I wanted a beer, I'd go to one of the multiple establishments nearby that sell beer, not ice cream with a hint of beer? And isn't it the place's choice to add alcohol to their special flavors (which regulars, such as myself, will want to try after exhausting all the regular-flavor possibilities), a tendency that once led me to order a bourbon vanilla, when I'd thought "bourbon" was just modifying "vanilla," but no... and that one did have quite a kick... unless I was imagining it?

The question of drink-infused ice cream is one I can't figure out. Are these or are these not alcoholic? Are they or are they not served to children? I've never noticed any carding, but nor have I much noticed what others were ordering - maybe parents are discreetly steered away from ordering beer-infused s'more ice cream (which, delicious as it was, would have been even better without he beer aftertaste). I suspect recovering alcoholics would want to avoid these flavors - note the "Seinfeld" reference in the post title - but that could be as much about the flavor as the presence, or not, of more than a trace amount of drug. I guess when the local news first announces a DUI and the driver's mistake was getting the large, we'll have our answer.

-This morning, I came to terms with the fact that I'm now one of those people who drives to the farmers market. In what was no doubt a net loss for the planet, I more or less retraced the trip I'd made an hour before, dropping my husband off at the train station. The loot: one bunch green garlic ($3), one dozen eggs from a local farm I have, alas, visited ($5), and one bag of arugula ($1.25). I plan to infuse all of these ingredients with beer, as one must all foodstuffs.

In all seriousness, not sure what to do with any of it. It's that exciting moment when the fridge has almost too many spring vegetables (Wegmans had ramps!) that you need to somehow incorporate them into all your meals, but so they don't turn into an undifferentiated pile of hopefully not overcooked green-ness to put on top of pasta, with lemon and parmesan.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The plight of the not-so-recent college grad

On a recent "Fresh Air," Greta Gerwig told Terry Gross that after college,

There's a grace period where being a mess is charming and interesting, and then I think when you hit around 27 it stops being charming and interesting, and it starts being kind of pathological, and you have to find a new way of life. Otherwise, you're going to be in a place where the rest of your peers have been moving on, and you're stuck.
I was listening to this on a run earlier, and it was like, whoa, I'd better write this down. But then NPR's website saved me the trouble.

Anyway, this strikes me as not only spot-on, but also relevant to two topics familiar to WWPD's three readers. The first is the case against graduate school (defined, for our purposes, as PhD programs in non-STEM fields). When you start, assuming you go soon after college, you will feel more together than many of your peers, or certainly not less. Sure, there will be the ones who went straight into finance or consulting, but then there will be many others who are more or less floundering. And you'll be thinking, huh, I'm 24, I have health insurance and not via my parents, I'm paid to read books, dammit!

And then a year will pass. And another one. And then at a certain point you're the friend lagging behind. All of a sudden, Facebook (where, needless to say, no one is announcing unemployment or underemployment), which has become your principal source for what your cohort is up to, now that you're not actively in touch with most of your non-grad-school friends (although you will rekindle friendships with those who've also gone your route)... all of a sudden, Facebook is telling you that everyone you knew growing up now has a real job, maybe a house, and you? When exactly are you getting that degree we've been hearing about for the past 500 years?

The other reason the quote stuck with me was nothing to do with grad school in particular. Rather, it was that the moment Gerwig describes is, for women, the window of opportunity. The point at which your friends and family switch from telling you not to get distracted by boys, to asking you when you'll find yourself a man. Gerwig doesn't describe it as such - she describes it as the moment when many of your friends start settling down. But it amounts to the same.

While the Recent College Grad is very much a thing (and thanks to "Girls," all the more so), the not-so-recent college grad is also a type in its own right, and a more poignant/pathetic one. When one is still young, but only relative to those who are older. Which, sure, could also be said of 10-year-olds. But what I'm describing - what Gerwig and her colleague/director/boyfriend Noah Baumbach seem to have made a movie about - is the first point at which one has fully exited youth.

And I couldn't help but think about how Gerwig, who's evidently less than a week apart from me in age, is in a relationship with Baumbach, who's 43. Not in terms of anything about Gerwig or Baumbach in particular, but in terms of not-so-recent-college-grad-ness among women more generally. In the "Fresh Air" interview, much is made of how young Gerwig is. And, while I acknowledge that 29 is not elderly, I don't feel all that young. 29 is firmly madame territory. 30 is imminent. While 20 is young, '30 is young' is the kind of thing those who are 30 or thereabouts say to reassure themselves/one another, or that the 40-plus say when being jaded. 29 is only young if being constantly juxtaposed to 43.

So I do kind of suspect that the appeal of being the younger woman is greater at 27-plus than when one is a bit younger, but still definitely an adult. So it's not that there aren't available same-age men, or that those men are all chasing after (let alone snagging!) women who've just that evening turned 18. Nor is it that something miraculous happens to men in their 40s, that they become suddenly better-looking than in their mid-late 20s. (And indeed, I'm really not talking about Gerwig and Baumbach in particular, because he's a famous movie director, which, needless to say, most 43-year-old men are not. That, and one can never say what makes any individual couple tick.) Nor is it necessarily about women this age (alas, my age) wanting to settle down, and not finding men their own age interested in doing so. If anything, it seems more likely that a woman wanting to stay in carefree 'girlfriend' mode is going to match up well with a man who's seeking out a younger woman because the 'younger woman' represents not settling down.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"The Beauty Myth," Part II

And done.

-The sexual-desire part of the book may be more interesting than the cosmetics/cosmetic surgery one. Wolf writes about how a woman, under the beauty-myth regime, can't be both "serious" and "sexual," whereas men are able to be both of those things at once. Not fair! I agree.

And this - digression alert! - points to the challenge of writing on more general topics. I can be reasonably confident that no one has said exactly what I have about 19th century French-Jewish intermarriage, because I can just keep up with the finite set of books and articles on tangentially-related topics. Whereas the topic of female heterosexual desire...

-Wolf on the definition of the ordinary female body being defined as ill: yup, spot-on. I was so happy when she got to the bit about the invention (in 1973 in this country, apparently, although Wikipedia says 1968) of cellulite. What virtually all women look like from at least certain angles (and if you think you don't, consider the possibility that your mirror-area is not as well-lit as you thought, or that your glasses prescription not as up-to-date) is not a 'condition.' While I can understand that there are women who have particularly a lot of this skin texture, who may be particularly bothered by it, the idea that the normal state - or an achievable state - might be to have none at all starts to seem awfully silly when one notices what even slim female athletes look like - not airbrushed - from behind.

-But... what about hair? Presumably body hair wasn't a thing in 1991 as it apparently is in 2013. But I'm referring to the hair on women's heads. To the amount of maintenance it seems to require. To the racial disparities (was intersectionality invented yet in 1991?) in what it takes to look conventional. Wolf barely mentions the existence of hair-primping, devoting endless ink instead to the question of skin creams. I find this surprising, especially given that, from photos, it appears that Wolf and I have the same hair texture (and more importantly, volume), so I would somehow imagine she would know the drill with hair-taming. But then again, in 1991, big hair was in.

-As for her conclusion, yes, a turn to more subjective beauty would be welcome. The problem is, it's not entirely the fault of corporate interests that we now have this idea of a universal Beauty. It's also that  we simply have more images of what other people look like than ever before, not all of which come from advertising. Where there was once the prettiest girl in the village, it now begins to seem plausible that there could be a prettiest girl in the world.

And I suppose I'm also skeptical about how one draws a line between good, fun self-adornment and self-hatred. In theory, such a line might be drawn (surgery bad, neon nail polish good), but in practice it always seems to be that whatever a particular woman does, she may define as reasonable, whereas it's whatever women do above-and-beyond what she does that counts as excessive. And as much as beauty 'obligations' fall on all women, no matter their natural looks, it's clearly going to be much easier to stop caring so much for women who can do so and still be conventionally attractive in whichever area.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bisou endorses this post

The latest study about how loneliness will kill you has conveniently made headlines just as I'm on some serious deadlines, and my husband's spending a couple weeks away at conferences, and I'm living in the woods, the kind of hyper-busy demanded of those my age in the year 2013, but without a heck of a lot of face-to-face human interaction. Am I lonely? I don't think so - I have friends and family I'm close with, even if they're not any of them in the woods with me at the moment, unless you count a poodle, which, why not? And I'm enough of an introvert that the woods-jogs and gosh-darn-getting-work-done marathons this permits are fine by me. But if I were going out tonight, rather than staying in with the no-sleep-till-Introduction-is-polished goal, I think I'd be OK with that. Of course, if Hulu had Season 4 of "The Bob Newhart Show" (no television, but out of cheapness, not principles) and I could knock back a couple of those rather than finishing this task, I'd be OK with that as well.

Still, it's like, uh oh, what if I'm actually basically neglecting my health by not getting out more? What if I find myself talking to said poodle, things other than dog-commands and cooing? (What if I asked my dog to read my dissertation and make edits? If only.)

But left with all this thinking-time (one cannot, after all, dissertate while poodle-walking), I got to thinking: maybe part of what we're calling "loneliness" comes from a very modern sense that everyone else is socializing more than we are? Not just among woods-dissertators - we have our own particular concerns, which we are sharing with our poodles as necessary - but also among urban office-workers with happy-hours and the like? (Yes, office-workers, we the dissertators believe that the grass is greener.)

First there were the 1990s sitcoms, which gave the impression that adulthood means forming a tight-knit group of friends, who are like family, without anyone ever drifting in or out of the group. If you were someone who - because of temperament or geographical constraints - has close friends who are not all also close friends with one another, or if you're someone closer with your similar-age family (siblings, spouse, cousins, etc.) than your friends you see at the coffee shop (although there were siblings on "Friends," I recall), you may have felt that your life didn't match up.

Then, of course, came Facebook. The thing not only reminds you of all the people hanging out without you, people you would not even remember existed if it weren't for the site. It also presents this distorted overview of how people spend their time. Evenings out are documented. Evenings in are not. Introverted adults who are frankly relieved that they're no longer expected to be at bars or parties several nights a week all of a sudden find themselves wondering if perhaps this is expected. The age-old question the young ask themselves - 'Am I a loser for staying in on a Saturday night?' - is now something those who are 45 and married with kids may find themselves wondering.

And I'm leaving out the obvious: adults are now expected to have hundreds if not thousands of "friends." Even though I think we all understand that no one has five hundred confidants, the list-of-friends phenomenon invites us to quantify our social lives as never before. It poses a question. Well, different questions, depending one's circumstances, depending one's neuroses. The question might be something like, 'why is it if I have over a thousand friends, only fifteen of them wrote on my wall for my birthday?' Or: 'why, if I have two hundred friends, do I not have plans for this weekend?' Or: 'why does X have twice as many friends as I do?'

Point being, you're left with a sense of what a typical social life is like that probably doesn't bear much relation to what others are actually up to, and with an impression that social life can be quantified, that you can numerically fall short. Again, it could be just something I'm imagining, from the vantage point of an especially woods-hermit-ish week. But I wonder if "loneliness," which is apparently distinct from solitude or not having a large group of friends, can actually increase in proportion to our perceptions of how numerous and fulfilling the social lives of others must be.

Free trade coffee UPDATED, TWICE

Of course there's an unpaid coffee-roasting internship; of course Matthew Yglesias is defending it at Slate.

Anyway, Yglesias is completely right that from the perspective of a company, it's better to hire employees you know will pan out. It's better not to pay for any time spent training or weeding out prospects. It's also better for the company to ask for a long-term commitment - these interns Yglesias writes about are asked to "Be willing to commit at least one year to working for the company" - a company that has yet to pay them a cent. Sure, the company's hiring process ultimately contributes to its profits, but technically speaking, you the first-day employee aren't adding much and might indeed be taking away.

But! That's just one part of the equation. There are also the interests of the would-be employee, and the cost of that person's time. If you're showing up for work at a job you're almost certain to be fired from after a trial period (yes, better eight hours than eight months), what's in it for you? Training in coffee-roasting, evidently. (While it's generous of this company to provide free coffee classes, the relevant comparison here isn't the kind of coffee classes yuppies might pay for as a hobby, but the paid on-the-job training other companies may provide.) But is coffee-roasting such a widespread field in the area that these skills are going to be transferrable? Even if you're not literally roasting the beans the place will sell, isn't this trial period about increasing the company's profits more than it's about increasing your employability with firms other than this one? Why, if not out of a sense that this was all that was out there, would anyone apply for this job? If Yglesias is right in his stats, that's not likely to be the case. So maybe you'd do this if you're someone who doesn't need the money?

"Their calculus," writes Yglesias, "is that, rather than picking who to hire first and then train them, it makes more sense to train first and see who does the best job of taking to the training." This order, however, distorts the process itself. Many people will work really hard for pay - including low pay. But it's going to be a different group of candidates who put in their all for nothing in return. These are people who think coffee-making is neato, but who aren't quite rich enough to be paying for coffee-making lessons.

And I think, ladies and gentlemen, that we have finally arrived at the kind of unpaid internship for which the traditional social-justice argument against them is the most appropriate.


A commenter, who has committed the bloggy sin of not providing at least a pseudonym (it's not as if I have any idea who "Petey" is, but at least this appears to be the same character across the years), finds my concerns here "ridiculous," because the "internship" is eight hours long, and so are some regular job interviews.

As I respond in the comments, I concede that job interviews can last even more than eight hours, but the job one is interviewing for in such cases tends to be a big deal as in high-status and long-term. People I know who've applied for tenure-track academic jobs report interviewing processes longer than eight hours, but they're being assessed as colleagues for life. Whereas the kind of job for which the training is eight hours long - as opposed to eight years, give or take, for someone on the academic job market - is probably a very different sort of job. Granted, I don't know anything about coffee-roasting, but my experience cappuccino-frothing was, one did get paid on the job to learn how to do this, even though one's first efforts may not have been sold.

If I sound particularly miffed about this particular internship, it's because this one actually hits closer to home. I've managed to avoid even applying for unpaid internships marked as such. But on at least three occasions (one bakery, one juice bar, one PR firm*) in my youth, I was informally taken on, asked to work for a trial period, not hired, and never compensated. I don't take this to mean something larger about my youthful attitude or abilities, given that I was also hired for (and never fired from) similar positions around the same time. Point being, I wasn't not paid on account of not having worked. The reason was, these places could get away with that.

The thing is, it's relatively easy to avoid unpaid work if it's clearly labeled as, this is unpaid and there are no promises it will lead to a particular job. (Those positions are more depressing, but also more upfront, and, as I understand it, more likely to be legal.) But once there's this other realm of work that might start paying, and it's up to the discretion of the employer when you're good and ready to deserve payment. I mean, what's to stop this coffee company from saying, gee, there are four really excellent candidates, it's so tough to decide, how about another eight hours unpaid? Or from saying, oh, what a shame there's only room in the budget to hire two people, but how about you six - care to stay on unpaid, in exchange for valuable experience and free coffee?

As the very junior, not-so-skilled individual trying to find work, you're in a position of not a heck of a lot of knowledge or power. Unless mom or dad happens to be an employment lawyer with time to spare (not my situation), you're on your own. And it's easy enough to get sucked into working for nothing - whether or not you're wealthy enough to afford doing so - if it's your impression that this is the only route to working for something.

*SECOND UPDATE: I now remember that the PR firm didn't not hire me. I "quit," I think, once it was clear that there was an indefinite period of unpaid. I think. This was, I believe, exactly one hundred years ago. I did get something interesting out of that "job," though, which was to learn that there are people who appear in the society pages not because they're real socialites, but because they pay to get placed in them. Of course, this was in the pre-"Real Housewives" era, back when faux-aristocracy really meant something.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Beauty Myth, Part I

You know those books you'll be meaning to read for ages, but it will never be quite urgent enough to put them on the library list, and then there's a giant used book sale, it's a dollar or less, and then just kind of sitting there in front of you at home, on a train ride... Which is how I ended up finally getting to Naomi Wolf's 1991 The Beauty Myth.

I'm somewhere in the middle of it now, so I have a good sense of the argument, only inklings of what the solution might be that she may provide. But basically the idea is, whereas women used to be held back economically, professionally, with every advance made in those areas, a step or several backwards have been taken in terms of escalating beauty requirements placed on everyday women. Whereas there was once a subset of women expected to be officially, professionally beautiful (actresses and such), thanks to modern media (which, these days... remember that this was in 1991! the stuff about how pornography has changed expectations, presumably one may assume the internet, the smartphone, has had some kind of an impact), this can now plausibly be asked of all women.

Who or what is the agent making this so? The patriarchy? In anticipation, no doubt, of arguments along the lines of, 'but I'm a man and I prefer the natural look,' or, 'women are much harder on one another than men are on women, they're doing this to themselves,' she attributes this not merely to men thinking they're entitled to porn-star clones, but also to women's own ambivalence regarding their relatively new power in society. That, and above all else, to corporate interests - if women are no longer buying ten different kinds of laundry detergent, why not try selling them a different moisturizer for every facial feature?

Much of the book - and I suppose, in retrospect, I half-expected this, but not to this extent - is made up of arguments I thought I'd come up with myself over the years, indeed, ones I suspect a great many women think they've thought of themselves. Whether the credit goes to Wolf as trickled-down into the culture, or whether women have been thinking these things for a good long while regardless, I couldn't say.

-Wolf on skin creams is wonderful. She - not that I thought I was the first, perhaps we must all discover this for ourselves - makes the distinction between color cosmetics (lipstick, foundation, eyeshadow, etc.), which do actually paint the face as promised, and the pseudoscientific world of lotions that don't do a thing. And there really is a division between the two, one marked largely by price, but also by where stuff is placed in a store. In a Sephora, say, there will be an upbeat paint-yourself section, where you can drop $20 on some high-end eyeliner, and then a quasi-medical beauty section, where you can spend $98 on a half-ounce of "advanced antiaging eye treatment," no link because I'm not suggesting anyone go do just that.

While we may debate the social value of makeup - does it improve our looks, or merely convey that we've put in some effort? - it is clear enough that if you line your eyes with eyeliner, you have lined your eyes. Whereas if you rub thousands of dollars worth of cream into the skin of your face, you are at best doing nothing, at worst exposing yourself unnecessarily to all manner of toxins. You're going to age along with everyone else born the same time you were.

Wolf makes some great points: that these products promise to "nourish" the skin, aimed at women often starving themselves; that these products cost so much as to effectively keep women's take-home income down; that the products (and here I felt ashamed, having succumbed to the "luminizer" promise, albeit just owning, and never figuring out how to use, the stuff, which is something between color cosmetics and skin product, I suppose) claim to illuminate the skin, as if one is at a fashion shoot at all times.

All of this, of course, made me think of my own perverse fascination with "Into The Gloss," a site that celebrates the woman who doesn't much go in for makeup, but takes really good care of her skin. This is supposed to be, what, higher-class? More French? It's just so much more serious business than my own routine of concealer, liquid eyeliner, lipstick, and SPF. (And nail polish. Lots of that.) Such a strange, exotic version of femininity, the land of the do-nothing not-even-moisturizers. Not something I was ever initiated in, and a good thing too.

-Wolf (well, 1991 Wolf - not sure what she thinks these days) would probably be on board with the content of my concept of weight-think. While Wolf has been accused of exaggerating the prevalence of eating-disorders-strictly-defined, she's no doubt correct about the way in which women imagine they ought to weigh "a stone" (or 10-15 pounds) less than they'd weigh if they didn't give their weight any thought, and that the process of trying to stay just a bit thinner is, well, maddening. It leads women to think about food all the time, leads in some cases to women weighing more than they would if they'd left well enough alone, leading others to a permanent state of hunger and crankiness.

All of this has if anything gotten worse since 1991 - these days, a woman who chooses to abandon weight-think stands accused of having succumb to the corporate interests devoted to keeping her on a diet of industrial food-product. It's become socially unacceptable not to think about food constantly. Where does your food come from? What are you putting into your body? What about the obesity crisis, which is apparently relevant even if you're 130 pounds, but would take a smaller dress size at 115. While men can sign up for this new let's-think-about-food without this having all that much to do with weight, it remains to be seen whether women can do the same. I will once again draw your attention to the strongest criticism to date of the food movement, found, of all places, in a NYT reader comment.

-Wolf and I do not have the exact same take on male beauty - she praises women for caring about the person, not what he looks like, and more troublingly, suggests that women come to find certain men beautiful once they get to know them, their looks presumably not entering into it. Whereas I tend to think there's a (largely subjective, if influenced by the culture, and more influenced by the culture for straight men than for straight women) bare minimum someone of either sex needs to meet to be romantically appealing, and past that point, it isn't necessarily the better-looking, the better partner. But the spirit of her argument is one I agree with: that it's a problem not simply that men have unrealistic ideas about what women might look like, but also that women are expected to repress the physical attraction they have to men.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why fiction is better

Sung J. Woo, a novelist, wrote the most recent "Modern Love," and it's one of the better ones. It's about his Korean mother's insistence that he continue to eat her food, even while in his own home. With his wife. Who's also cooking. It's a new spin on a great many old subjects: food as love or control, the immigrant experience, the conflict of modern and traditional ways of life, in-law tensions. It's a sweet story, and while there's the awkwardness that makes for good humor writing, no one's dirty laundry, by the standards of this genre, is exposed.

It does leave one big question open - why doesn't his wife just join him in eating his mother's delicacies? - but you can read between the lines. The wife doesn't love her mother-in-law's cooking. Either she doesn't like Korean food, or she doesn't like this Korean food, or the fact that she herself "has been a food writer and restaurant critic" means that she has specific enough ideas about food that she knows what she likes, or wants to try many different things, or at any rate doesn't want to commit to however many decades of this particular woman's cooking. Or it's a symbolic thing, and however delicious the leftovers, the wife doesn't like the idea of her husband's childhood extending into his own middle age. Whatever the reason, it's out of manners, presumably, that he's not overtly spelling this out.

I will admit that my first thought, as I was reading the essay, was that if this guy, who lives not that far away in NJ, has some succulent Korean leftovers he can't finish, particularly if there are dumplings involved, I could help out with that. But that was clearly not the big-picture point of the essay. 

Clear to me, at least. Not to other readers, at least not to the subset of readers who feel compelled to comment on the essay itself. They read the thing not as a story, but as a man offering up his life to be judged. And judgment - "Modern Love" allows comments! - is forthcoming:

Why doesn't he have more respect for his elderly mother? Why isn't he just grateful that his mother is alive? Why doesn't he adopt a rescue dog that will help him with the leftovers? (I don't believe any dog, however procured, should be fed kimchi, or spicy and/or cabbage dishes from any cuisine.) Why doesn't he donate the food, as if there's some obvious place one brings homemade leftovers. Why doesn't he give the leftovers to his co-workers? (Maybe because he's a novelist?) Why does the wife insist on cooking, when someone else would happily do so for her, for free? Why doesn't the wife learn how to make Korean dishes from her mother-in-law? How dare she squander this opportunity? (Does no one else notice that the elephant in the room is, the wife doesn't like her mother-in-law's cooking?) And so many more. 

Readers react, in other words, as if Woo had written a letter to an advice columnist, and is asking for the appropriate course of action. And you can't really blame them, because Woo has, in this case, offered up not his psyche channeled into fiction, but a story that purports to be the utmost truth about his own life and his own motivations. Readers of "Modern Love" can't be expected to - aren't being asked to - take some sophisticated literary-analysis approach, in which they realize that even in 'autobiography,' there's on the one hand the writer the person, on the other, the character created by the writer, a character that shares his name and biographical details, but that is at best a huge distortion of the real-life individual, impacted by various biases - that of the author, who (not Woo especially - just all of us humans) wants to be liked, that of the author who's trying to tell a compelling story, and more. No, the essay is to be read as an email from a friend about a situation he's dealing with. Your job isn't to assess the prose of the email, the narrative, but rather to tell your friend to get a grip.

Fiction, meanwhile, gets around this. Not only does it not purport to tell about real people. It's also intentionally ambiguous. There is no answer to how we should advise a character to behave. We are supposed to sympathize with flawed characters. We are often meant to sympathize primarily with one character, and not to be losing sleep over whether that character offended the mother-character by not eating her leftovers.

All of that said, I am interested in these leftovers.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Unpaid work, in three parts

1) NYU sophomore Christina Isnardi - not someone I've ever had as a student, or heard of until today, unsurprising considering NYU has like ten billion students - has organized against unpaid internships, specifically the illegal ones listed on the school's own career database (via). And, I mean, true enough - you go to that website (and unless you start grad school knowing that some wood-paneled office awaits you at the end - which you don't - you will) and lo and behold, perhaps a third of the "jobs" listed will pay anything at all. This had been bothering me, and I didn't do anything about it. Well, I did something, but not enough. 

What I like about the petition (which I of course signed) is that it acknowledges the myriad problems with unpaid internships: that they are often illegal, that they don't actually help you get a job, that they are only available to the rich (which I believe is less important than it's often made out to be - if they can't really get you a job, who cares how those who can afford not to get paid spend their time, but it no doubt impacts perceptions of who can enter which field, thereby impacting who tries; and sure, in some cases, they probably do get people jobs), they leave the quasi-employee open to all kinds of not-at-all-quasi harassment, etc. 

This was, I might add, my first experience looking at USA Today comments, and there are some charmers. "Join the nation's conversation," implores the paper, and what does that attract?
You have to love 20 somethings who aren't worth anything demanding renumeration for a position where they get experience so they can go out and get a job! This must be the same group whose parents gave them all trophies in soccer because they didn't want anyone to lose.
Yes indeed, so entitled, demanding to get fairly compensated for work that one is doing. Because that's really the mark of an entitled college student: having a job. This in response to:
Hey moron don't like it? Then DON'T APPLY!!!!
Both of these, by the way, from "top commenter[s]," both using what appear to be their own real names and Facebook accounts to comment.

2) Paging Emily Matchar: Food journalist Kristin Wartman has an op-ed in the NYT, arguing that if we-as-a-society are going to declare The Home-Cooked Meal the solution to all of our problems, the producers of said meal ought to be compensated. She points us back to a "long-forgotten" - well, not entirely, given that Madeleine Schwartz just wrote about it - movement from the 1970s, Wages for Housework.

The idea here is - and this is me expanding on where I think Wartman is/should be going with this, not just paraphrasing Wartman - Second Wave feminists decided that empowerment meant working outside the home. (This is Wartman.) Which was nice and all for whichever women had the potential and drive to go do something empowering, but effectively meant trading housework for blah outside-work for a great many women. Outside-work of the sort that, the men who do the same sort of work, they'd probably also prefer to stay home, if it were socially acceptable for them to express this. (This is WWPD.) And regardless, women who worked outside the home were more or less fated to continue doing housework as well, or outsourcing said housework to poorer women who'd perhaps rather be home with their own families, cleaning up a more homey heap of mess (Wartman.)

I *think* Wartman is arguing that subsidizing home cooking could happen in such a way as to encourage men to do half the work, or at least more of it. But there's also this aspect of the argument that's kind of defeatist, or realist, or at any rate unrelated to whichever dreamy world of Pollan-Bittman-inspired men who, home from their creative-class jobs, whip up something local-sustainable. It's more like, women will always for all eternity deal with drudgery, but will not always have husbands with jobs supporting this, and even if they do, they deserve financial independence/official recognition of their labor, so the state has got to start paying them.

And, I'm not sure quite what to make of this. It's not entirely unappealing - cooking is work. Its market value isn't as immediately obvious as that of labor done at a job-job, but if we really are eating so terribly as to cause an ever-worsening health crisis, then it is indeed in the state's interest to keep medical bills down by subsidizing leisurely trips to the farmers' market. Interesting, then, but.

Aside from whichever libertarian philosophical objections that don't bother me because I'm not a libertarian, there are just certain practical concerns. How exactly could the state pay you to home-cook a meal? How much say will the state have in what you make for dinner? If you give people money and say, 'stay home and cook kale,' maybe they won't spend it on food at all. (The 'welfare' critique, which is, I would think, why we don't hear more often about paying women/people of both sexes for housework.) If you give them food-vouchers, maybe they won't buy kale.

And if you give them kale-only vouchers (Wartman says, "money for good food"), what counts and what doesn't? The official science on what we are and are not supposed to eat changes all the time, 'processed' is a construct (is pasta processed?), and... it just seems complicated.

And those of us who don't have children, are we also getting these kale-vouchers? I suppose I'm not clear where the line between making it possible or easier to cook at home ends, and where effectively ordering "stay-at-home parents" (ahem, mothers) to report for "education on cooking, meal planning and shopping." And this gets to a bigger question for the food movement - is it that people think they don't have the time-and-money to cook, and are merely waiting for the government to step in and give them the resources, or do people actually prefer not having to cook? And: would it be as empowering to have the state giving you a home-cooking allowance as going out into the world (physically, or from your home, what with technology) and having a job?

These are, as the prose suggests, rambling thoughts, and there could well be some overarching reason why Wartman is entirely right or (I suspect) entirely wrong that you, my loyal band of equally-unpaid copy-editors and idea-clarifiers, can lay out.

3) In honor of Mother's Day, presumably, "Into The Gloss" profiles Arianna Huffington and her daughter, a young woman who, by freakish coincidence, works at the Huffington Post. (Not hating, just saying - nepotism once got me a summer job as a file clerk, and has got others in my life jobs at supermarkets, bakeries, etc. Same thing, really.) While the profile goes into the particular high-end lotions these two Huffingtons slather themselves with and why, the star of the show is Arianna's bathroom, which looks like the bathroom in an upscale department store (and, on that topic, if you're ever in a city and in need of facilities, upscale department stores are the place to go).

The profile gives off the kind of girl-power pseudo-feminism one comes to expect from fashion-and-beauty blogs. The takeaway is that we are to admire the elder Ms. Huffington on account of, she's a woman entrepreneur. And one with such great values, too - she has as fancy a shower as she does, one that allows you to "sit down and have a steam," because "it's just so detoxifying." We who must stand while we shower are basically walking toxic waste. Says Arianna:
The thing that’s exciting for me is that our Lifestyle sections are really growing. We put them all together under this theme of “Less Stress, More Living.” It’s a challenge, trying to practice that at work and at home, and trying to create peaceful, orderly environments in both spheres.
Affirms her daughter:
At HuffPo, I think she’s trying to do it differently. So, we have meditation that we can take twice a week, and nap rooms. I mean, it can be tough when you’re working in a twenty-four-hour news organization—there is always something else to be done.
Affirms an acolyte commenter:
The message I really caught from this, and it's something I'm working on, is to slow down. Get more rest & take care of your skin and body. Give yourself the gift of time.
It's Zen with a twist of Sandberg.

The advertorial of sorts - oh, we're also meant to admire Arianna for not having had cosmetic surgery, or so she claims, and I honestly haven't given this enough thought to know if I'm supposed to doubt this - is trying to convey that Huffington mère has created a softer, more feminine version of capitalist world takeover. Kinder, gentler, better for women. Except... the people (many - most? - of whom are women) whose content it uses but doesn't compensate.

Disclaimer time: I've never been on their unpaid-blogger crew, but I did once agree to let them reprint something I had written for pay elsewhere, but on other occasions, things I've written for pay elsewhere have popped up there, with some subtle distinction in format - once it just popped up, another time they had asked to reprint it and I hadn't even had a chance to get back to them. I've been asked to provide unpaid content for them on two other occasions, and declined once, never answered the second time. In principle, I oppose providing content to some other entity for 'exposure.' In principle, I also think it's less bad than unpaid internships, where one might do all manner of drudgery for 'exposure' to theoretical contacts who never even notice you're there. I am - as you may have guessed - far more enthusiastic about having a blog, where you get to write what you want, when you want, and try out ideas, and produce 'work' you maybe wouldn't send, in that state, to a publication.

So the general rule is, I'm not keen on free work for other people. But I also think, in principle, that it's wrong to blame those who take unpaid work of any kind, when the blame should go to the employers that exploit the opportunity. Yes, if all unpaid workers refused to be the 'supply' in this equation, companies would need to decide if the work was something they were prepared to pay for. Yes, it is possible that I have at times sabotaged my own writing-world prospects by refusing to consider unpaid jobs and trying to avoid the temptation to accept exposure as compensation. But the balance of power, the economy, the perception of the economy... people are going to take what they can get.

Anyway, longwinded story short, there's something about that bathroom that says, 'the money I didn't spend paying you fools, I spent on marble surfaces and $70 concealer.' I thought it. I wasn't alone. A commenter, self-identifying as "Guest," but no, not me (as if I'm ever that succinct), wrote: "Beautiful bathroom! Amazing what all of the Huffington Post's unpaid labor can buy." While I suppose technically, she was marble-bathroom-level rich before the HuffPost era, the point got across. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

A school-anxiety daydream

The logistics of graduating - which I'm not even planning to do this spring, but one must plan ahead - are by far the most complicated aspect of graduate school thus far, including applying to graduate school. Some glitch, some typo, something with the margins, some problem I would never have anticipated is going to stand between me and a degree. Unlike Flavia, who "take[s] a geeky pleasure in reading through the copyedits and learning the right way to cite a particular kind of source," I enjoy the research (primary, secondary), the writing, the attributing... but footnote formatting, for me, is a necessary evil for getting one's point across. Or: I could see enjoying something along those lines as a copy-editor, if all that was needed was 'attention to detail,' and indeed have derived pleasure from professional interludes as a file clerk, bookshelver, cappuccino-frother, and yes, copy-editor, but if it's your own project and you're kind of sucked up in the 'creative' process, it can be a distraction.

Somehow, something will happen such that not only do I not get this degree, but the MA is retroactively retracted, as is the BA, as is the high school diploma. They're going to track down Mr. Bologna, the gym teacher who failed me (for lateness to his 8am class) for one marking period of gym, the beginning of second term senior year. (I then showed up so early the rest of the semester, and the rest is history.) And he's going to be like, you know what? Upon further consideration, Phoebe missed enough minutes of gym during those first few weeks that she really ought to have failed for the entire semester and not gotten the diploma, not gone on to college, and so on. The universe hereby takes it all back.

Why yes it is 3am, and I am indeed on the 9th floor of a certain Upper East Side girls' school, in a first-grade classroom. A friend of mine from fifth grade, the girl who really liked... was it Nirvana? Green Day? Smashing Pumpkins? Hugh Grant? - just stole my backpack, which contained both my laptop and my iPod but luckily not my phone because all of this is taking place now but not now. (This girl was super nice and frankly I had nothing worth stealing in my backpack, particularly not gadgets that had yet to be invented.) An anxiety dream come alive.

If nothing else, if nothing else comes of it, the three first paragraphs of my dissertation's introduction are, in my altogether unbiased opinion, spectacular.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Looming Deadline Studies roundup

No more thoughts on Civilization Studies, other than that if presented with the option of teaching a course on Poodles in Civilization, I probably wouldn't say no.

But a few scattered thoughts, before plunging back into Looming Deadline Studies:

-What's the deal with the dainty knuckle-rings hip women now wear? Wouldn't that be massively uncomfortable? I say this as someone who a) doesn't really wear jewelry, and b) occasionally tries to wear wedding band and engagement ring on different hands, because it does kind of look better, only to find rings in more than one location incredibly unwieldy. It took time enough to get used to wearing any rings, what with the fear-of-sinks it necessitates. And what exactly keeps a knuckle-ring on? Sleepy searching for answers tells me that nothing does - they fall off all the time. Which could be a lot of money down the drain. But even if they were of no value, they seem like this minute's drop-crotch pants - something whose faddishness is evident from the inevitable discomfort.

-Are we or are we not about to be inundated with a plague of locusts? By "we" I mean the woodsy outskirts of Princeton, NJ, and by "locusts" I mean cicadas, lest there be any nitpicking (pun intended) entomologists among my three readers. I have - because obviously - Googled 'can dogs eat cicadas,' because if there's a swarm of "Biblical" proportions as they keep saying, there's no way a dog fascinated by dried-up worms (and, more appealingly, dedicated to killing every bug that dares enter the apartment) isn't going to dig in.

-I remain more pleased than I can even express that I was born in 1983 rather than, say, 1996. Why? Because my entire youth wasn't recorded. And this is, of course, relates to parental overshare - if parents can now know everything, they can also now tell newspapers everything. Then again, the parents who comment on the stories along these lines that allow comments, to chime in that their children (who are maybe 17-27 at the time) have never tried this or that run-of-the-mill substance or activity, suggests to me that we are, if nothing else, still at a point where children know better how to work those newfangled whosawhatsis phones than their parents do.

-The problem with this contrarian complaint about dogs being allowed everywhere is that dogs are not allowed anywhere. OK, they're allowed in dog runs, on the sidewalk, and - for reasons I don't understand - almost encouraged in Uniqlo. But they're not allowed in food establishments of any kind. And that includes a small dog hidden away in a carrier - if a dog is detected, you can't go in. Restaurants with outdoor seating might allow dogs, but that can't be assumed. And even in Europe, where dogs are a good bit more welcome, supermarkets? Forget it.

OK, except sometimes in Paris. But as I understand it, this was not allowed on multiple levels.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

From toast to waffles UPDATED

-"Into The Gloss" has a Top Shelf on Garance Doré. Like you're not going to drop what you're doing (in my case, eating a Montreal-style bagel imported from Philadelphia) to look at it. The takeaway: all things equal, find a partner who lets you eat what you'd like for breakfast. On switching to oatmeal because Mr. Sartorialist vetoed toast: "My mornings used to be a celebration of life and now it’s like, ‘Ok…" Remember that (the already-slim) Doré has, in the past, referred to her boyfriend as her "weight-loss coach." I mean, eh, to each her own. I just ask that we not nod along when Doré refers to this as an American thing, when it's quite obviously a that relationship thing.

-While I personally have nothing against handlebar mustaches, I sure enjoyed Marc Maron's description of them.

-David Schraub endorses my definition of what anti-Semitism consists of. And, inadvertently I'm sure, reminds me of a certain conundrum that happens when a woman changes her last name.

-Miss Self-Important takes on the traditional conservative task of lamenting the decline of Western Civilization. Not the civilization itself - the UChicago Core course. There's now a Gender Studies option, which is a problem a) because Gender Studies means the teacher lectures while gesturing with a dildo and shows clips of "Real Housewives" during class because what canon? (inferred* from MSI's post title), and b) more to the point, because a civilization class needs to be rooted in a particular time-and-place, about a particular civilization, and therefore can't be about Gender and Sexuality across all of human history. (Foucault might disagree, but wouldn't he though.)

I know it's a tradition for conservative critics of academia to see Gender Studies as a proxy for a perceived decline in rigor, but my own experience of gender-as-a-lens is that it's really about introducing an integral part of the study of history that had been ignored. It's neither as sexy nor as 'oppression studies' as it's made out to be.

I'm more sympathetic to the need for a class called "X Civilization" to cover a particular area, but my guess is that they would. Which area will just depend on who's teaching the class, and because there will be multiple instructors, it won't be in the more general course description. And I think it's worth remembering (although conservatives might disagree) that even a course called Western Civ, even taught by the tweediest of instructors is going to have been edited, texts selected not according to some eternal canon, but the instructor's (or department's) interests and knowledge, which are themselves products of their own time, i.e. the time in which the class is being taught.

-If I ever have the time to spare - which I never will - I will make these.

*UPDATE - and only inferred - MSI said nothing about either of these things, merely used the word "sexy," thereby linking her critique, in my mind, to the broader conservative critique of Gender Studies.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Not so post-racial after all

-Count me among those who had no idea that in 1887, some Germans founded a colony in Paraguay based around the idea of Jews being awful. 1887. I need to remember that not everyone else is over-steeped in modern Jewish history, and thus not everyone is thinking, huh, so a year after Drumont's La France juive. Hitler didn't take power until 1933. The Dreyfus Affair? 1894-1906. 1887! Asylum-seekers, it seems, from the Jewish menace. Which is an often-forgotten angle, right? Anti-Semites weren't - aren't - just people who think they're better than Jews. They're people who think they're being oppressed by Jews.

-A reader sent me this story about being Jewish in a U.S. prison. It should be read in conjunction with Nick's post here (discussed here). Sample passage:
It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. Violating this rule leads to harsh consequences. If you eat at the same table as another race, you'll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray as another race, you'll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item as another race, that is, after another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed. This is one area where even the heads don't have any play. 
This makes it difficult for me, of course, to fit into the chow hall. Jews, as we all know, are not white but imposters who don white skin and hide inside it for the purpose of polluting and taking over the white race. The skinheads simply can't allow me to eat with them: that would make them traitors of the worst kind — race traitors! But my milky skin and pasty complexion, characteristic of the Eastern European Ashkenazi, make it impossible for me to eat with other races who don't understand the subtleties of my treachery and take me for just another [white person]. So the compromise is that I may sit at certain white tables after all the whites have finished eating.
There's a whole lot to say about this, but one interesting takeaway is the reminder that anti-Semitism is listed separately from racism for a reason. The problem for anti-Semites is sometimes that Jews look different (the affront to blondness - see above), but it's also sometimes that Jews don't look different.

-And in more "traditional" racism, the cure to the late-20s, where-is-my-life-going Westerners' blues is apparently treating African women and children like zoo animals. Writes a British advice columnist:
Visiting some of the most challenged areas in Africa, rechristened by Bob Geldof the "Luminous Continent", you're surprised by an infectious degree of joy among women and children that's in direct contrast to their circumstances. Whether it's at a refugee camp in Chad or a malarial ward in Mozambique, kids kicking an air-filled plastic bag in lieu of a football in the slums of Nairobi or market women in central Monrovia packing up after an 18-hour day, the laughter is irresistible. 
Here we struggle to achieve similar degrees of happiness, pop antidepressants to get through the day and squander time living vicariously through soap-opera storylines and celebrity elevation and decline.
While snap-out-of-it advice may have been called for in this particular situation (or not - some funks are deeper and more biochemical than others), it's unclear what this digression adds, yet abundantly clear what it detracts.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

They took our jerbs!

If ever there was an article to inspire grad-student rage, it was this one about post-scandal politicians (and a certain Nazi-sympathizing fashion designer) landing plum (well-plum-ish, more on that in a moment) jobs as "professors" (again, more in a moment). Writes Ariel Kaminer, "The traditional path to an academic job is long and laborious: the solitude and penury of graduate study, the scramble for one of the few open positions in each field, the blood sport of competitive publishing." Consider the point driven home. These big-shot neer-do-wells are, surprise surprise, all men, and in similar surprisingness, the money they can make as adjuncts is so drop-in-the-bucket-ish that one of these guys was like, meh, I'll give it to charity.

Meanwhile, the article's maybe a bit misleading, because it gives the impression that tenure-track jobs are being handed out to whichever formerly Great Man has most recently solicited sex in a public restroom or tweeted his genitalia or expressed admiration for Hitler. It seems more like, they pop in and teach at most a class or two. It's not quite that they took our jerbs.

But in any case, the real reason for outrage is not that grad students work hard for little pay, only to have our would-be jerbs taken by those who find the pay hilarious, the task second-rate. Nor is it even the implicit those who can't, teach - the notorious anti-teacher slur - reference: those who can but make asses of themselves can also teach. No, it's that grad students live in fear that micro-missteps will cost them a job. Things like, oh, having a Facebook page on which they admit interests other than critical theory. Things like, if female, having a male significant other. (Which - see Letter 2 - means one is a dabbler.)

And my sense - but what do I know? - is that grad students vastly overestimate the amount their professors - let alone this broader class of individuals, All The Professors - are thinking about them in the first place. (PhD Comics sometimes gets it right.) According to anecdotal evidence spanning beyond myself, you won't not get into grad school, not get a fellowship, because you have an internet presence that, while tame, reveals that you have thoughts other than how unfortunate it is that the library isn't open 24/7 and doesn't have all the books you need for your dissertation. Maybe it's radically different when it comes to jobs, but that seems unlikely. Somewhat different, maybe.

Still grad students will worry about things like whether they mentioned another scholar in class, and this is someone everyone knows the professor thinks has it wrong - everyone but this one grad student, whose fate is now sealed. And there probably is some truth to the minor-missteps-will-end-your-career-before-it's-even-begun concern. So there's something painful, I suppose, for those dead-set on an academic career, watching those principally known, at this point, for some embarrassing screw-up being "professors," however tangentially.