Wednesday, December 31, 2014


I was going to write something about that bizarre Styles article accusing married people of "undersharing about our spouses," but I think Flavia has it covered:

Most normal people don't think that literally everything needs to be shared or that it's pathological to consider one's marriage a private affair. But I was struck that there was no acknowledgment that those in distress might be turning to real, live, in-person friends for advice--or that those friends might be more valuable than several hundred virtual ones.

In my own travels through the academic internet, I often find myself wondering something similar: where are your real friends? Why are you posting for 500 people what should be a three-to-five-person bitch session over drinks? I'm not talking about catastrophic oversharing, or the merely mundane; I'm talking about posts that fall into that catch-all category, "unprofessional," which includes everything from the possibly-legally-actionable to the merely tacky. You know: using Facebook to snark about your department chair or other easily-identifiable colleagues; mocking your students; complaining about what a shithole town you're forced to live in.
This is something I've wondered about as well - what's happened to the middle ground between broadcasting something and keeping it secret, i.e. that thing where you speak to a few friends, relatives, or - if needed - professionals? Are we really now supposed to assume that because something isn't out there on social media, it's festering and altogether unaddressed?

As to Flavia's specific (if rhetorical) question, "where are [their] real friends," it got me thinking that, as convenient as it would be for the narrative if social-media oversharers were the real-life-friendless, that's not, at least according to my own anecdotal troves, the case. The same people who share with all on Facebook also share with some at a bar. Perhaps the issue is, in part, that nothing feels private anymore. All sharing can end up on social media. What may look like uninhibited oversharing may actually be a situation where the same crafted, guarded, curated self is making its presence known in public and private alike. The distinction is, increasingly, gone. Indeed, the only places it may live on are within marriage and a few very-well-established friendships.

Resolution time

2014, for me, was basically two different, very different, years. The first half of it I didn't always have enough to do, while the second I spent compensating (overcompensating?) for the first, and was busy more or less every moment of the day, with work of one sort or another, plus the volunteering I'd begun earlier. I became one of those people who fantasize about having time to go to the supermarket or the gym. It was exciting to reunite, I suppose, with a work ethic that - as can happen in the post-coursework parts of grad school - started to fade when my only task for an entire year would be my dissertation. My main resolution for the new year, then, is to stay as professionally active as I was this summer and fall.

Others include, in no particular order:

-Learn to read Japanese, if only for poodle-and-cooking Instagram.
-Learn Dutch. Like, actually sign up for a class and do it.
-Write (finish writing?) a novel; first step is getting over the fact that the material I've got to work with is admittedly overrepresented in literature.
-Find a day - a day! - to go to Williamsburg and get my hair cut and colored like so.
-Elegance! I have some very elegant friends, and they've inspired me to be a bit more put-together.
-All the usual stuff about sunscreen; not letting vegetables go bad in the fridge but actually eating them even though pasta's so much easier; working out; and not getting cranky (or, ugh, hangry) around loved ones.

Monday, December 29, 2014

On discovering that WWPD the novel has already been written

The feminist dilemma of our age - at least according to certain articles I came across through my work over the past month or so - is that high-achieving women marry even-higher-achieving men. Something about a study, Harvard Business School... It's not quite the Second After Sartre problem (that is, being a female genius overshadowed, for gender reasons, by a lesser-but-male genius), but it can be. Why, one might wonder, don't elite women pair off with less-accomplished men?

The articles about Harvard Business School graduates (and now, Stanford graduates) do somewhat make my eyes glaze over. But this question is more entertainingly addressed in The Mind-Body Problem, Rebecca Goldstein's 1983 novel, which I just read, maybe reread, although I could be conflating it with Fear of Flying. Both involve questions of female identity as relational, and discuss Jewish female beauty as resulting from racial intermixing via pogroms. Both also have a few more oddly specific overlaps with my life (general biographical details, not from the racy bits!) than I'd have thought possible in fiction. Except for the bit about looking somewhat Slavic - these blondness-providing pogroms evidently spared my ancestors, unless that's where the pallor comes from.

Spoilers below; click on the post title for the rest...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Chinese restaurant post

Last night my husband and I got Chinese food. As usual, we asked for soy sauce to go with. Also as usual, the request was met with a look of disgust. And finally - again, as usual - when the server returned with the soy sauce, she'd also brought along two forks, which we, as usual, declined.

As far as I can tell, the soy sauce-fork connection is that no one familiar with proper Chinese food (or these particular dishes) would ever ask for such a thing. If you're that cuisine-ignorant, you're probably unfamiliar with chopsticks. (Perhaps you'd like a shovel?) Alas, the combination of the sauce on one of these dishes and a bit of soy sauce is the most delicious taste to ever exist, ever, so the routine keeps on repeating itself.

It's apparently somewhere between weird and insulting to order soy sauce on the side at a Chinese restaurant. Where on the weird-to-insulting spectrum it falls, I couldn't say, although a quick Google suggests it's closer to the latter. I mean, it's obviously not a really odd request, as in, it's not like going in and asking for an ingredient that isn't part of the cuisine in question. They do have a spouted, customer-ready bottle of soy sauce, if not several. That is, it's not like going in and asking for, I don't know, ketchup or wasabi. And I doubt it's the cost - if that were the case, there'd be the annoyance but not the forks. And it's not all Chinese restaurants - at hot-pot places, you're encouraged to take a bowl and fill it with as much soy and other sauces as you'd like. (One reason among many that I'm always lobbying for hot-pot...) It seems like part of the problem, in our case, is that the dish with the sauce isn't from the Chinese-American part of the menu, so we seem for this one brief moment to be on a quest for authenticity, and then we ruin it.

Maybe it's something like ordering a cappuccino with dinner at an Italian restaurant? Cappuccinos being, of course, Italian, but apparently not to be consumed in that situation. Or maybe - probably - it's like when (high-end; I've only actually ever heard about this) chefs refuse to provide salt, because you're insulting their technique if you think the seasoning wasn't perfect already. There had been this delicate balance of flavors. Ruined! Ruined, perhaps, but so very, very delicious.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

King for a day

When I checked out ITG yesterday, I noticed that the "Top Shelf" profile recipient was wearing the very same t-shirt that I was. The similarity, alas, ended there.

Did that stop me from briefly wondering if perhaps I should style my t-shirt with, if not ripped black jeans (I don't have any ripped pants - as far as I know - and have no plans to rip any), then maybe my regular black jeans, before the part of my brain that remembers models are people paid to make outfits look good kicked back in. There's a rational part of me that understands full well that the difference between me and model-turned-actress Jaime King is not, in fact, that I'd paired my white pocket tee with intact navy corduroys. But there was still that glimmer of a moment when I honestly considered basing my styling choices off hers (or those of whoever styled her for this).

I guess the hope with these Top Shelf profiles, if they are in fact selling something (if I understood the exact mechanism, I'd be a more marketably-skilled individual than I am), is that you see that King's "approach to skincare is to always wash your face before bed, even if you don’t want to," and figure (with the non-skeptical part of your brain) that the difference between your face and King's is that she's better about nighttime face-washing. The idea is to be so swept up in the narrative that when you get to the part where she endorses a $300 "‘Skin Caviar’ Luxe Sleep Mask," or a $70 concealer, you'll think, aha, that's why she looks like so, and if you follow suit, some of that perfection will transfer to you.

But it's not even about wanting to look like a different person. It's not even coming from a place of low self-esteem, exactly - it's more that you mistake 'that woman looks nice' with 'that purchasable thing looks good on that woman.' The more unattractive the thing being sold, perhaps the more beautiful the woman needed to sell the thing. Thus all those ads with Olivia Wilde in brightly-colored eye makeup that even she can't quite pull off.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Peak "privilege"

Callie Marie Rennison is absolutely right that "[t]he focus on sexual violence against some of our most privileged young people has distracted us from the victimization of those enjoying less social and economic advantage." Unfortunately, the headline writer went with the following: "Privilege, Among Rape Victims."

Why is that headline  - which, to be clear, I'm assuming the author didn't choose - a problem? After all, didn't I just get through saying that I agree with Rennison about the dangers of focusing on campus rape rather than the greater problem of off-campus rape? That systematic inequality totally impacts which crime victims get cover stories, etc.? Because this is an important issue, and one that keeps getting forgotten in the coverage suggesting that attending college increases a young woman's chance of being the victim of rape. The headline detracts from that point.

The problem is in the headline's implication, an implication that's all-but-unavoidable once "privilege" comes into play. If some rape victims elicit more concern than others, is that relative lack of disadvantage really best classified as "privilege"? I suppose having people care that you were raped is a kind of unearned advantage, inasmuch as people whose rapes don't make the news don't deserve to be ignored. But privilege, really? If the categories up for comparison are 'terrible' and 'slightly less terrible', we shouldn't be using words that evoke luxe.

The headline gives the impression that being the victim of a campus rape is some sort of first-world problem. Something to be classified alongside green juice, toddler Mandarin classes, and whatever else signifies haves lording it over have-nots so as to further entrench their advantage. It evokes a room full of rape victims, some of whom are looking down their noses at the others, on account of insufficient pedigree. It just doesn't sit right.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


-The PETA (?) people in New York sure had it in for my fake-fur hat. The downside to authenticity; perhaps the protestors would also have it in for that so-good-you'd-think-there-was-meat-in-it vegan hot-pot as well. In other news, there's this odd lime-green stripe stain thingy across the top of said hat, who knows why, but predating the encounter with protestors. No idea what to do about that (how does one clean a faux-streimel?), but I'm leaning towards wearing the hat anyway and not worrying about it.

-So I've now been to COS's new Spring Street store twice, and bought nothing either time. As excited as I was about the place finally opening in the States (although I think they were already in LA?), and as lovely as the store itself is, I continue to like the idea of COS more than its reality. OK, there was the dress I ordered online, back when they had some big sale, which I've worn a ton. But on the whole, they really seem to specialize in seductively-displayed minimalist potato-sacks. Shapeless, but not in a forgiving, Eileen Fisher-esque way. To be fair, there were some more items that would totally work on someone (this skirt, and this other one), but that someone is far taller than I am, and spends far more on clothes.

-Men's gift guides in women-oriented publications (or mainstream ones that are assuming women are the ones who buy gifts): hmm. Men, it seems, like knives, scotch, meat, watches, gadgets, flasks, and useless objects in a general brown-leather-or-plaid-flannel lumbersexual color scheme. Do these guides ever in any way relate to the interests of actual men?

-Joshua Tucker's letter here, calling the difference between stuff and experiences a construction, has it right. As does Anna North's post, here. As did I, if I may say so myself, here. I will likely have more on this, once I've figured out how to articulate the point that's at the tip, as it were, of my brain.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Reading and writing

All of my recent (and future) Dish guest-blogging can be found here. Photographic evidence, here. If you'd like me to write for your publication, is the place to go.

Requisite self-promotion out of the way, I'm going to share the entirely un-pitchable observation that the 1998 novel I bought randomly in Montclair (a day trip chosen similarly at random) turned out to be excellent. Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats is quite unlike any book I'd ever read. I'd say read it if only for the fireplace scene, but it's... I mean, ambitious doesn't begin to describe it. It's about classic Japanese literature, food safety, domestic violence, rural America, urban America, filmmaking... and so very much more. Yet it somehow works.

I was reading My Year of Meats on the train recently, and then just after that, while walking around in New York, I spotted a different Ozeki novel on the ground. Didn't seem like anyone was looking in it, and no owner info. in the book itself, so finder's keepers.

As for the earlier novel's conclusion... Spoiler alert here, I suppose:

Monday, December 15, 2014


As something of a writing experiment, I decided to write quickly and succinctly about something I'd only ever tried to write about at length. I can already feel that I'm going to have missed some key point, perhaps a really key one that will mean that I've come across as saying the very opposite of what I meant. I feel that so deeply that I read the first-thus-far Twitter mention of this, my latest Dish guest-post, and assumed I was being called WRONG, when upon an extra second's reflection, it seems more likely this was someone agreeing with me.

In other news, I had a dream recently that I'd gotten highlights. Not something I'd done or seriously considered doing since I was, I think, 13, but in my dream they looked fabulous.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


This fall has been the busiest season of my life. It made the months leading up to my qualifying exam (or, ahem, NJ road test) look like a breeze. I did whatever the professional equivalent is of that oft-heard social advice to say yes to everything. What shall come of all this remains to be seen, in so many different respects, but that's not the point of this post.

The point of it is that it's now December, and I haven't had a haircut since July. An every-other-day workout routine has dwindled to every other week. My pampering, so to speak, consists of hygiene and eyeliner. It's everything that falls somehow between the two that falls by the wayside.

And then there are the women profiled on Into The Gloss.* Their thing is pointing out - as if nearly every other site-participant hasn't already done so - that skincare is more important to them than makeup:

"I’m not a huge makeup aficionado [....] But I love skincare and, once I find something that works, I stick with it."

"For me, feeling beautiful is all about being natural—it's not about the colors of lipsticks, or foundations, or concealers, all those things. It goes beyond that."

"The [some product] line is really nice for young skin that’s prepping for anti-aging without being so full-on." [....] I like to switch up what masks I wear seasonally. [....] I’m not a makeup girl."

And these are just among the more recent ones. While each individual woman may well just be describing her own routine, in the aggregate, the message is clear: Caring about your skin is a noble enterprise, while wearing makeup is tacky and borderline deceitful.

The sensible part of me, the part that has read Naomi Wolf but had already more or less come up with this on my own, gets that skincare products are generally snake oil. A tax on being female and all that. While I have nothing against skincare when it's needed (when, say, you have a mark on your shoulder that Dr. Google tells you is not just melanoma but the deadliest kind of melanoma, it never hurts to have an offline dermatologist set you straight), I try to restrict my skincare routine-such-as-it-is to sunscreen and, in winter, moisturizer. (That said, I'm a tremendous hypocrite and currently own three different tsubaki oil conditioners. In my defense, Mitsuwa was having a sale.)

But skincare seems somehow like a really luxurious pursuit. The idea of spending money on something that couldn't possibly do anything, that isn't even claiming to address a skin problem, merely to improve the skin's appearance, is part of the luxury, but there's also the question of time. What sort of morning is this that would allow for not only the usual getting-ready but also a multistep application of mists and serums? And what if it all really does work? What if the reason my face at 31 looks different from my face at 21 isn't that it's a decade later, but that some mix of frugality and feminism has stopped me from going the skincare route? I can't tell if the fantasy is more about youth or relaxation, but it definitely pops up on days when I look in the mirror and think I look tired.

*A cynic might note that ITG is now selling skincare products of its own, but the motif predates the e-commerce, and may well explain why, once the in retrospect inevitable decision to start selling something came, they went that route.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Eggs, baskets

The great joy of writing for places other than WWPD is, you know, an audience. Money's also a plus. The downside of that sort of writing is the complete and utter lack of control over if and when that writing appears. I have an unusual amount of ifs and whens pending at the moment. My metaphorical eggs (not the sort frozen, then written about in having-it-all articles) are nicely distributed across a great many baskets, and... I think that's really about all one can do? Am I missing something?

This may seem like not the biggest deal in the world - and that's because it's not - but one item will often have a way of sort of hinging on another, and in moments of despair I'll start to think that none of those eggs will ever hatch, or all will break, or whatever the egg-and-basket metaphor wants to happen to the poultry products in question.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Woman in journalism

I was reading this article by this guy about this magazine, and in it, he - now a very famous journalist for a different magazine - mentions having been turned down not once but twice for that magazine's internship before snagging it and the rest is history. While the significance of the article in question lies elsewhere (and there's many a Twitter sinkhole for those interested in reading about the topic), it did remind me of a personal-but-with-broader-significance-I-promise anecdote: While still in college, I was rejected from that same internship. And it never occurred to me to reapply! Let alone that one could do so twice! I wonder why that might have been...

Like everyone else, I had, by that age, experienced rejection, and wasn't generally one to dwell. But that rejection became the rejection, the one that announced, in some definitive, divinity-ordained way that I'd never stand a chance of making it in that world. That I was, in fact, the intellectual lightweight I'd always suspected. But that job interview also represented this great what-might-have-been. I was that friend who won't stop talking about that one date she had with a really hot guy whom she hasn't heard from since. It had never entered my mind that - to continue the dating metaphor - it would be acceptable, after a sensible amount of time, to call him again and see if he wanted to hang out.

But the dating angle isn't just a metaphor - as Freddie pointed out in the comments here the last time around, these things are related. Women learn that if a man's not interested, there's no squeaky-wheel principle by which reminding him of your existence will change his mind. Men are encouraged - over-encouraged! - to persist. This seems to transfer - or did for me at least - into an approach to professional life. It's not so much that I was harder hit by rejection than a man might have been, but I just took every no, all ambivalence, as final.

And I wasn't necessarily wrong to do so - it's quite possible (see the whole Lean In backlash) that women who persist aren't as likely to be rewarded for doing so.

I use the past tense here for a couple reasons. It's partly the aspirational past tense - obviously I still have these inclinations - and partly that it's been a while since I've given that whole episode much thought. But it's also that I think I have, to some extent, snapped out of that approach more generally. Largely by just... growing up, I suppose, and thinking strategically, in an almost third-person sense, about various career aspirations.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Imperfect but possibly useful historical analogies time

Léon Blum : Vichy :: Barack Obama : Ferguson/Staten Island

Too beautiful to model?

That underwear chain in no need of further promotion, and thus that shall not be named, is not a seductive store. Not in the way that a posh underwear shop can be, where you summon the courage, go in, and think, damn, that's a gorgeous $150 bra, and leave empty-handed (or, worse, with a $90 bra that will have seemed reasonable by comparison). My memory of the chain from high school or thereabouts is that they had good deals on utilitarian cotton underwear if you bought in bulk.

Despite giving this brand no thought whatsoever in ages, despite not visiting its website, I've somehow not managed to avoid multiple news items about how the store is having its annual fashion show, complete with image upon image of the women marketers want us to think are the most beautiful alive. Alas, the marketers may be onto something. I may need to rethink some of my Twitter follows, but there it is.

The overt sexiness of their marketing strategy - famously... appreciated by Borat in the beginning of that movie - has always seemed odd to me. Why cater to the male gaze when selling underwear to women? I mean, why cater so directly to it? Yes, many women past the five-for-$20 life stage want to look good, in their underwear, for men. But why scour the world to find the handful of women who'd manage to inspire both male lust and female insecurity? The women whose looks hit that magic point between porn star and high-fashion model? The women about whom no one, of any gender or sexual orientation, is going to fail to categorize as ridiculously good-looking? Who are so flawless as to be beyond aspirational? Do men really buy enough women's underwear (for whatever purpose) to make that worthwhile? (The company's Wikipedia page says no, but apparently the idea had been to sell women's underwear directly to men.)

Because there's a threshold, right? An attractive model makes you think you'll look more attractive in whichever item. Thus... models. Thus all the unflattering clothes womankind has purchased because they looked good on a personal-style blogger or it-girl. But past a certain point, if you're noticing the model and not the underwear, how can that sell anything?

Or maybe this is more a shopping question than a self-esteem one, at least for those of us who've largely aged out of such concerns. It's easy to suspect that having models that attractive is about distracting from the crappiness of the clothes. That, and it would seem that what you're paying for when purchasing a $50 bra of $20-bra quality is for the company to hire models whose pay grade is far above that of the nicely-built girl-next-door. It's not that other brands don't find other ways to rip off customers. This just happens to be one of the more obvious ones.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

"One more pigeon response" UPDATED

This afternoon brought with it an email avalanche of unprecedented proportions. Nothing mysterious about this - I, too, am catching up from the holiday weekend - but it did make a change from the usual stream of H-France (French history listserv) items. Not, of course, that there weren't those as well, including one with the subject, "One more pigeon response."

Expect substantive posts at some point, but in the mean time, some shameless consumerism. Recent exciting purchases include:

-COS tights, in Yves Klein blue. That color can be tricky - what looks right on the computer screen may be all wrong in person. But having been inside a COS or two, I remember from their color scheme that their royal blue is the right one.

-One let's say family-sized package of hot chili peppers, from H-Mart. I know nothing about hot pepper varieties, and last time ended up with ones that were chili-shaped but basically bell peppers. These are... sufficiently spicy. Adding a couple whole to last night's hot-pot managed to infuse the broth with a pleasant spiciness. Meanwhile, chopping up one and using it in place of chili flakes in an arrabiata sauce this evening managed to turn that pasta into a meal that would have the maximum number of chili-pepper icons at a Thai restaurant. I can't decide whether that's a good thing or not.


The chilis:

-Uniqlo "room shoes," in an elegant plaid that's sadly no longer available.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Of indeterminate origin

A photo posted by Phoebe Bovy (@phoebe_bovy) on

The above photo is of a very inauthentic bowl of hot-pot-like soup. It is, however, vegan, and probably healthy, yet delicious. Instructions below:

-Fill one cast-iron Japanese hot-pot bowl (which we all have lying around; a saucepan would also work) nearly full of water.

-Add some kombu seaweed. Bring to a boil.

-Before or after that, add some sake.

-Once you decide everything's infused or become broth, remove the seaweed with the mesh strainer you bought after watching "Cooking With Dog." (There's always foam to be removed.) Lower the heat to a simmer.

-Add a couple of fresh hot peppers.

-Dissolve miso paste into the broth. Not too much.

-Add soy sauce.

Now the broth part is done. The pot is ready for solid ingredients! (As I type "solid ingredients," it occurs to me why I'm not a food writer.) Those may include:

-Chopped vaguely scallion-type vegetable.

-Oyster mushrooms.

-Diced firm tofu.

-Rice cakes.

-Bok choy.

-Pea shoots.

As it's cooking, you're of course removing foam, while making sure not to scrape the pot with the mesh strainer.

The rice cakes shouldn't overcook (or, as I just learned, undercook), but ideally the greens are barely cooked. Ideally-ideally there's a tabletop burner involved, so you're dipping the greens at the table. If that's not the case, you will have to bring the pot from the stovetop to the dining table shortly after you've added those last ingredients.

A dipping sauce is then needed. Last time I'd attempted something complicated involving tahini, which is apparently the best approximation of an actual Japanese dipping sauce (or would have been if I'd properly followed the recipe, which involved toasting and possibly grinding sesame seeds), but this time I went with what was on hand: soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic. This turned out better than the tahini version.

Admittedly, part of the reason for the vegan-ness of the proceedings was that temperature-wise, things were bound to be a bit iffy. Lukewarm-pot, basically, by the end. But it worked! If only I'd measured and written down the proportions, because the end result was some kind of miracle: a vegan broth that tasted like, dare I say, the real deal.

Upstairs, Downstairs, in leggings

So this Dear Prudence letter might seem to just fall into the usual Sexy World Problems category:

Subject: Hottie helper  
Dear Prudence: I recently went back to work after the birth of my second child. My husband and I have been floored by how challenging it is to have two kids and two working parents in one household. We have arranged to have a young woman live rent-free in our basement, in exchange for being our family helper. She drives the kids kids to preschool, cooks occasional dinners, cleans the house, etc. It’s a sweet gig for all involved, the girl is a great fit for my family, and we are happy to help her out while she goes to college. There's a hitch. She’s incredibly sexy and dresses in a way that leaves little to the imagination: skin-tight leggings, spaghetti strap tanks with nothing underneath. I don't get the feeling from my husband that he even notices, but it wigs me out. Should I just acknowledge this as a non- threat and work on my own insecurities, or address her and ask her to cover up?  
Emily Yoffe [answers:] What you describe her wearing is standard for college students, and absolutely standard for someone relaxing at home. The issue is not her clothes, but that she is a gorgeous, taut young woman, and you are feeling like a less taut, overwhelmed not-so-young woman. I’m assuming your husband actually has noticed, but he’s a gentleman and has learned how to keep his eyeballs in his head. You, too, have to keep your head screwed on right. This is about you, not her, and not your husband. You have solved one of the grinding problems working people with young children face. So congratulate yourself and enjoy the extra pair of hands, and stop dwelling on the fact that the hands are attached to someone stunning.
Good-looking young woman? Check. Titillating bralessness? Check. Inappropriate-but-clichéd affair possibly imminent? Check. It's all most lightly-scandalous, but there's a huge issue here that somehow goes unremarked: This couple has, if not technically a slave, an unpaid live-in servant. And they view this arrangement as "help[ing] her out while she goes to college"! It's obviously convenient for this family that their housekeeper/cook/babysitter lives in their home, just as it was for the Bellamy family. Those servants, however, got paid.