Showing posts with label major questions of our age. Show all posts
Showing posts with label major questions of our age. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Answer me these

-Why did jury duty email me last night to say I "MUST" show up today, only to lead me back to the jury duty website I'd already visited, which continues to inform me that "no jurors" should show up today? Much anxiety and quadruple-checking and Facebook-posting later, it seems like I'm merely on call for jury duty for the rest of the week, that the email was some automated thing reminding me that today's the start of my possible jury duty. The "MUST," I think, referred to the need for me to show up unless otherwise stated. Otherwise was stated. I think.

-I understand the general 'be fully clothed' principle of the thing, but why are "t-shirts" among the items not allowed to be worn at NJ jury duty? If they want office-wear from the general public, maybe they should be prepared to shell out more than $5 a day, which I think even at H&M doesn't go much further than a t-shirt.

-Why didn't I think to do this interview? Or try, at least.

-What, dare I ask, is this?:

Spotted in the sponge (?) section of Sunrise Mart. Is it angry or happy? What makes it German? Why did I not think to take Japanese in high school?

-Will it be possible to recreate this yakitori recipe under non-barbecue circumstances? Charcoal-grilled over the weekend, it was pretty much the best thing I've ever eaten. Would the oven - I'm thinking the broiler - suffice?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The catch

Here's a new one: I found the perfect, most flattering dress at Zara. Fabulous, almost space-age style, yet flattering in shape and color. Under $50. Really, truly, wardrobe-revolutionizing gorgeous. One of those rare mass-market items that might have been tailor-made for the person trying it on.

The problem? From the moment I put it on, I developed a kind of splotchy rash on my neck, right where the fabric touched my skin. Then, the longer I had it on, sort of developing all around that area. It was snug in the neck, but so are turtlenecks, other shirts I own. This has never happened to me before, and isn't something I'd ever heard of happening to anybody. I suppose there are fabric allergies, but my only known allergy is to cats; how would cats make their way into a fast-fashion dress? (If you have to ask this question...) Whatever this condition was, it faded not long after I'd put on my own clothes and left the mall. (Yes, the mall - what, is a Zara on a big city street that much better?)  

So? What was this? Google is not bringing me to stories of others allergic to dresses, Zara or otherwise. This doesn't appear to be a thing. The dress, according to its label (no record of it of any kind online, as far as I can tell), is mostly polyester and part stretch material - nothing bizarre. Could it be the dye? Is there any other possibility?

I could see the temptation of deciding, princess-and-the-pea style, that this means I'm allergic to cheap clothing and simply must wear only the finest, but this item cost more than most of my existing clothes, so whatever it is, it isn't that.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"'Some people take ‘no’ personally'"

I don't get the Vows. The NYT wedding announcements, yes. You're photogenic and successful, so is your spouse, so are your families (well, they don't need to be photogenic), and if you're lucky, David Brooks will use you to demonstrate a cultural shift. That much I can wrap my head around. I didn't apply for it when I got married, and thus don't resent my non-presence in it. It's good, clean, barely-awake-on-a-Sunday-morning fun - progressive, even, now that same-sex couples are included.

But the Vows - the part where there's a whole column devoted to the love story itself - I can't imagine signing up for. For there to be a story, there needs to have been an obstacle. And that obstacle is very often one-sided or mutual indifference. Sometimes he sees her, finds her beautiful, and needs to spend ages convincing her to go for a shlub like him. Other times there's an on-again, off-again trajectory so much heavier on the 'off' that the reader is left less than confident about the marriage to come. Past a certain obstacle threshold - again, when the obstacles aren't external (war, natural disaster, etc.), but are about how the two people feel about each other - readers are going to be wondering how long that marriage will last. That, or we end up hearing far too much about the convenient bystanders to the relationship - jilted exes (including ex-spouses who are the parents of their kids), and in one notorious case, a child killed in a hit-and-run by the bride.

But mostly it's the scenarios where an extended lack of interest, especially on the part of the bride, and this is meant to represent romance. "'Some people take ‘no’ personally,' [this week's groom] said. 'I don’t.'" Luckily it seems like in this case, "no" meant 'not yet,' but it would be better, as a rule, to assume "no" means 'not interested, leave me alone.'

Try this: Reverse the roles. Imagine a man and woman dated in college, broke up after college, and then she spent years pursuing him, and getting rejected. Is that romantic? No - he's not into her anymore, and each passing year isn't going to render her more interesting to a man not interested in her in the first place. Even though the truly scary exes are almost certainly more often men, the persistent female ex is readily labeled nuts, delusional, etc. Which is true, but why doesn't it apply to men and women alike? A woman who won't leave a man alone is involved in a quest everyone recognizes as futile. A man who won't leave a woman alone, well, either the cops need to be summoned (and any college women reading this, be sure to call the actual cops, not the campus police), or it's love.

So where does this come from? Romantic comedies, which tell us that a woman's repulsion and a man's persistence are the formula for happily ever after? Or is it the default belief that all women over 25 are desperate to marry any man they'd be willing to call a boyfriend, so a refreshing romantic story has to involve a twist where it's the man who's ready to settle down, whereas the woman is (the inevitable phrasing, if sometimes unstated) a free spirit?

But to return to the matter at hand, I don't get why anyone would want to be in the Vows. Anyone who understands it - or who was featured and enjoyed that! - comment away.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

PhDs and garret hermits

L.V. Anderson looks at why adjuncts* don't find other, better jobs. The piece pretty much covers it - adjuncts stay because it's really hard to go from perma-adjunct to tenure-track (yet if that's what you aspire to, it looks bad to definitively leave the field), and because, when it comes to jobs outside academia, the market's tough generally, and you can't just leave once you've committed to teaching a course.

What I'd add, though, is that someone with a humanities PhD is in a weird position in the non-academic job market. Not necessarily hopeless, just weird. For one thing, there's the grad-student stereotype - think Buster from "Arrested Development" - of someone too delicate and eccentric for the real world. There's remarkably little truth behind that cliché at this point - the professionalization of everything has included academia - but those three letters on a resume unfortunately don't announce 'smart person ready to meet challenges' as much as one might hope.

But let's say you want to avoid the grad-school stigma. Why not leave your schmancy degree of your resume? Here's why: Because doing so amounts to announcing that you were un- or underemployed for the past seven or so years. If grad school was your job - your source of income and what filled your days (and nights!) - what you have to do is convey to employers that the skills are transferrable. It probably - but what do I know? - helps to convey the extent to which grad school involves interacting with others. In an office, even. Otherwise, the fear will be: garret hermit seeks first-ever office employment.

Also! It might not be assumed that a former grad student would know the basics of using a computer. The tech-ier aspects of, yes, even humanities grad school (heavy use of Google Books and other, more obscure digital archives in multiple languages, combined with intense attention to detail; calculating grades in Excel; formatting the dissertation) aren't obvious to those on the outside, who will understandably assume that the entire endeavor involves using a paper notebook to take notes on crumbling old books. Point being, you have to spell this out.

Then there's the question of which jobs are plausible. Are you entry-level? Your first thought is bound to be that you're not, given your age (late 20s at the youngest) and given all the talk one hears of "alt-ac" - of alternate tracks for PhD-holders. But the reality is, you very well might be. Whether you're entry-level or not depends on the job, and whatever else you were doing during your PhD. (That people with PhDs are urged to consider unpaid internships may also help explain the appeal of adjuncting for a few thousand dollars.)

Oh! And! There's the not-insignificant matter of, you can't pursue a career in not-academia. You need not only to be willing to do something outside academia, but also some positive sense of what it is you'd like to do, even if it helps to be flexible. There needs to be a Plan B (or, ahem, co-Plan A), ideally one in place during grad school as well. Given the % of grad students actually getting tenure-track positions, a little career-counseling in that area, for those who don't arrive with Plans B-Z in store, might be welcome.

*Any discussing of adjuncting requires the two standard disclaimers: 1) Some people at some points in their lives want flexible part-time work, and 2) some non-tenure-track positions in the humanities (VAPs, postdocs) involve non-poverty wages and - while they add on years of uncertainty and geographic challenges for those with families - seem to look good on an academic CV, and can provide much-needed teaching experience. Also: some "adjuncting" is done during grad school, as (paid) training. Point being, there are sometimes very good reasons to be an adjunct.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"I really wish that women would stop spinning."

It's supposed to be a thing, to be "in shape." But I remember failing the UChicago orientation-week fitness test (yes, this is, or was, also a thing), this despite being in what was by all accounts the best shape of my life - after three years of high school track, and before whichever college debauchery, which, granted, largely consisted of the vending machine outside the Maroon offices. I remember, during those high school track days, being just fine on long runs, but when it snowed and we had a "stairs" day in our ten-floor building, I... did not hold up as well.

And then there's this: I can now run reasonably long distances and reasonable paces: 10-minute miles for a seven-mile jog outside, or under nine per mile for a half-hour one on the treadmill. (Both of which required great effort to arrive at, so yes, I'm going to announce these stats in an obnoxious, braggy-overshare manner.) Yet biking to town, which takes maybe ten minutes, leaves me beat. Or it did today. The two hills (and these are nothing major) took all my might. Part of it was the flat-ish tires, and my not noticing them until quite far along on the bigger hill. Part of it was also that it's about a year since I've biked regularly, and several months since I've gotten on it at all, so whichever exact leg muscles are relevant for this, fine, may have atrophied.

But isn't there supposed to be such a thing as cardiovascular health? Or in colloquial terms, fitness? And isn't biking 1.5 miles supposed to require less of the stuff than running at least twice that distance? What is this "shape" they speak of, that's supposedly transferrable?


Tracy Anderson continues (remember long-butt?) to fascinate:

I really wish that women would stop spinning. I say that with such conviction because almost every day in my office, I see women crying and unhappy because they can't fit into their jeans, because of the thigh bulking. 

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Questions of the day

-Is anti-stuff-ism a) privilege, b) depression, or c) a sign that you're a wonderful human being? Nobody knows, but what I do know is, I don't seem to suffer from it. My new shirt from Uniqlo arrived, and is fabulous. That plus the 1990s dark lipstick and not only is my "wanty list" (temporarily) satisfied, but I get to look like Carrie Brownstein.

-Is it really so strange to have dark hair and light skin? (Carrie Brownstein does!) Today my coloring was remarked upon for the nth time, and I can't figure this out. Is it just that most people with this combination darken their skin (tanning, bronzer), lighten their hair, or both?

-Is it possible for the same person to have both a resume and a CV, without grad school plus freelance writing coming across as 'has spent too much time in coffee shops' in the former?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Adulthood Studies: how do you buy pants?

I've decided I don't have a problem with leggings, or even leggings-as-pants (despite having once received 15 minutes of fame for complaining about the style). No, my problem is with the legging-ification of all women's pants, and British readers, I mean "pants" in the American sense. They are now all stretch pants. Jeans, yes, but other styles as well. I checked, and my corduroys are stretch. They are not legging-ish at all, and yet, 2% stretch. Because these corduroys are on the ancient side (but not that ancient - they're from the post-spandex era), the spandex bit has ceased to function, making them baggy in precisely the most unflattering way possible.

I understand why this is meant to be a good thing - women's clothes are expected to fit just so, yet human beings' weight/shape tends to fluctuate. And the stretch-jeans will, at least when new, fit perfectly. But... I don't want to wear leggings all the time. Or if I'm going to do that, I might as well throw in the proverbial towel and get a really nice pair at the Lululemon in town, and wear those to all occasions, formal and informal. Leggings that aren't pretending to be regular pants, these I respect. But I want some regular pants that wouldn't inspire theoretical Daily Mail reporters to write that I'm flaunting my curves. I don't want to hide my form, I just want normal pants, like men get to wear, and like women got to wear until polyester-and-spandex had to be woven into absolutely everything. And this did once exist! I can't find a full-length image, but the ones Teri Hatcher wears on "Seinfeld" - very flattering, not "mom jeans," but definitively pre-jeggings. (Wears? Wore. I might be stuck in what was apparently 1993. 20 years ago. Yikes.)

And yes, I've tried the men's department. Despite being short, there are lots of men's jeans in my size - something to do with women having longer legs, and perhaps with waist sizes for men being less vanity-based than for women (and also: the lack of stretch). And... actual men's jeans are not like "boyfriend" jeans for women, but designed to flaunt - or at least comfortably contain - that which cisgender women haven't got. If you are such a woman and you've had luck with men's jeans, more power to you (and do tell me where), but the one's I've run across might ostensibly fit, but I wouldn't want to leave the house like that.

This quest, this eternal quest, has led to some possibilities. A.P.C. proved useless, but whatever these are, I tried them on in a store in Philadelphia, and the very moment I cease to be horrified by $112 jeans with $9.50 shipping, maybe? (Must I, god forbid, drive to Philadelphia? On the highway? And parallel park when I get there? Avoiding this is worth $9.50, right?) These (via) sure look spectacular, but are they, and if so, at $225, would I even want to know? For the most part, though, the search leads either to mom-jeans (which I did order last year, and which are now a perfectly adequate pair of cutoffs) - and these days even those mostly seem to have stretch - or to some kind of patriotic cult of denim. These jeans will not only be Made in the U.S.A. (and all-cotton jeans seem to be, as a rule) but compatible with "concealed carry," which, no thanks.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fundamental human rights

-The Atlantic had a piece recently by Talia Minsberg about Israel's new skinny-model ban. The comments go in precisely the two directions we'd expect: fury that Israel's being mentioned in a context other than chastising it for being the most evil country ever to exist, and complaints from those with BMIs under 18.5 about how unfair it is that they could not, in theory, work as models in Israel. Never mind that they're probably too short, old, plain, and not in Israel for this to apply to them, and never mind that without government or industry intervention, thus far high-fashion modeling has, for a while now, effectively only been available to those with BMIs under 18.5. (Frame of reference: "A five-foot, seven-inch individual, for example, must weigh at least 118 pounds to work as a model in Israel.") As if there's some kind of fundamental human right to have you or images of yourself held up as beautiful, one that we can ignore when it's an entity other than the state doing the enforcing.

-The great debate over straight women's presence in gay bars has resurfaced once more, now that an L.A. bar - one that evidently features chiseled go-go dancers - banned "straight bachelorette parties." (Presumably lesbian bachelorette parties wouldn't be held there in the first place.) The bar is doing so because - and this is reasonable enough - they think it's offensive to use gay bars as a place to celebrate marriage, when gay marriage is not yet legal across the nation. Reasonable, but quite possibly a noble-sounding pretext to exclude women from the establishment. (Does every straight bachelorette party identify itself as such?)

And if it is a pretext, so what? Do groups of women have a fundamental right to go to gay bars? Maybe, maybe not. Ethically I suppose it would depend on what kind of gay bar it was. No idea where the law stands, not terribly curious, not my concern here. There are plenty of great reasons a gay bar could give to keep some/all women out. Most notably, the purpose of the bar is for men to be among men, which would still be true even if gays could marry across the galaxy.

What is my concern - and I said this the last time this came up - is that critics of women-in-gay-bars keep acting like the only reasons straight women would go to a gay bar are a) to avoid unwanted sexual advances from men, and b) because they think of gay men as fashion accessories or zoo animals. It would seem that the more obvious reason for their interest in these locales is that they're chock-full of individuals of these women's preferred sex. This ogling is not - as Gawker's Louis Peitzman claims - about gay men as novelty items. Some women will enjoy seeing men kissing men, just as the equivalent is true. But this is fundamentally about it being appealing to a heterosexual woman to be in a great big horde of men. But a straight woman - all the more so a self-proclaimed "bachelorette" - surely cares only about handbags, shoes, and avoiding dirty, hair-mussing sex.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The height of philanthropy

-There was a girl in my high school class whose stomach really did go in, or at least not poke out, even when she sat down. Perfect skin and hair, gorgeous in a feline, Olivia Wilde kind of way. It was what it was. Which is why I'm still not at all on board with the choice of anti-Photoshop as an all of a sudden central feminist cause. If anything, the knowledge that there's such a thing as retouching allows those of us who don't live in a fashion capital (she says, reporting from the Princeton Public Library) to imagine that it's all totally fake, that we too are a mouse click away from perfection, although there's presumably that girl at every large-enough high school. More artifice, I say! And show your daughter pictures of Liz Lemon's two paramours, the guy from SNL and the one from Mad Men, alongside their real-life girlfriends. You just never know.

-Finally! A bit of recognition that the individual meals consumed by upper-echelon yuppies are not what will make or break the national or global food system. The sooner we get past the idea that a $150-for-two meal at an agriculturally-themed restaurant is the height of philanthropy, the better.

-Speaking of the height of philanthropy, and in keeping with this post's theme of "persistent motifs," I genuinely wish to know whether it is now a thing that one must tip a dollar in coffee shops as one would at a bar. Is this about whether you get a complicated drink/get it to stay? Is only for complicated drinks? Never? Social norms change, and if this is now one, I'll maybe get coffee out less (which is to say, once a month rather than every two weeks), but won't leave without paying, which is effectively what it is to get a beer and pay for the beer but not leave that extra buck. Today, I splurged on foam, to-go, and tipped the change plus a quarter, so 35 cents, and got a how-dare-you look from the guy ringing me up, same as if I'd left nothing at all. Now, if this is a matter of caring whether people who work in coffee shops like me, I'm not concerned. But I want to have paid in full. And because no one I know actually tips a dollar at coffee bars, while plenty of people I see in coffee bars do just that (perhaps plants by the establishment???), I must turn this all-important question over to the WWPD readership.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Appropriate behavior

I've been somewhat following the story of how some employers are now demanding Facebook passwords, or Facebook "friendship," of employees as well as applicants. This poses some obvious (the AHEM issue) and not-obvious problems, such as what if you aren't posting anything odd, but others are passing along stuff in your direction, imagining it's going to be kept private - as in, not a viewed-by-all wall post - and all of a sudden whichever random company now knows their business. Quite a few people I know, none of whom grew up with Facebook, now use it as an email account. Do they want their emails to me read if I decide I want to apply for a position at Intrusiveness Inc.?

There's also the question of what, precisely, constitutes inappropriate behavior documented on Facebook. Reasonable observers will suspect that this would extend beyond an album of photos of yourself, in blackface, shooting up heroin, interspersed with whiny wall posts about how much you hate your boss. But which non-abhorrent evidence might count? A young-looking 22-year-old photographed holding a glass of wine? A 50-year-old doing the same? Bathing-suit photos? Any evidence whatsoever that you exist, as a human being, during non-work hours? It hints at the school-age-kid phenomenon of OMG my teacher is a real person who has a life outside the classroom, in which "has a life" refers not to nights of club-hopping, but to things like being spotted at Starbucks.

One angle remarkably absent from the discussion, and that's the fact that many people, without an eye to any particular job opening, construct their entire online personas - including but not limited to Facebook - so as to impress potential employers. I don't mean removing or changing privacy settings on racier items, nor do I mean the really obvious self-promotional posts. I certainly don't mean postings that outright promote an organization. I mean having a completely different concept of what Facebook is for, such that there isn't any pretext of a 'real me' available only to (some) Facebook friends.

The 'real me,' for the set I'm thinking of, is available in abundance, and it does things like join a CSA or share an informative article about Sri Lanka. It's basically the same idea as when people list as "guilty pleasures" things like 'reading Kant' or 'being generally athletic and philanthropic' - where the 'confession,' such as it is, is that occasionally the individual participates in activities not connected with the day job, but let it be known, these things are wholesome, admirable, and if anything enhance the day-job performance. (If you're a man, evidence of having a family counts. If you're a woman, not so much.) Rather than hiding the shameful, it's about an inundation of the honorable.

Now, of course, it could be that the people I'm thinking of, none of whom are close friends, in fact have bong album after bong album, but their privacy settings hide those from distant acquaintances. I doubt it, but it's possible. Regardless, it's hard to say where cynical self-presentation manipulation ends and genuine 24/7 geekiness begins. People who claim to be interested in hiking and classical music... might be some kind of social-networking version of the proverbial online dater who likes long walks on the beach, but might also genuinely prefer hiking and classical music to Uniqlo and "The Millionaire Matchmaker." Is it that there's a certain kind of person who doesn't have an on/off switch for work vs. personal life, or are some just especially thorough when it comes to self-promotion?

The danger, I suppose, is a new norm, in which anyone who doesn't a) have a Facebook page, and b) use it to show how 24/7 flawless they are will be penalized. But given that thus far, it seems employers are interested in things like whether the people they're hiring are in a gang, I'm not sure we need to panic just yet.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

On looking as stylish as possible while writing a dissertation in the woods with a poodle and some scientists

Need a change of hairstyle, and considering a return to one of the old standbies: bangs or ombré. Bangs have the advantages of, I could still look conservative if need be, and I'm fond enough of my natural hair color and 28 enough to have a sense that time with it without gray is finite. Disadvantages: they're a hassle to maintain, a potentially expensive hassle, so I'd end up trimming them myself and looking less than professionally (glances over at Bisou) groomed. And then there's the day-to-day maintenance of them - even for the most "natural" of looks, they need to be styled (think hair dryer and flatiron), whereas my hair in its current state does not. Ombré, meanwhile, would be all kinds of crazy expensive to have done professionally, but why would I do such a thing? After the initial investment of $11.50, there's no particular maintenance involved, other than going through a bit more conditioner.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Doglemma of the millennium

All dog toys bear labels warning you to supervise your dog while playing with this or any toy. Yet the point of toys (barring the few toys marketed as "interactive") is to keep your dog busy while unattended. Why is this reminding me of the proverbial stay-at-home-mom who hires a nanny? (Yes, CW, dogs bring out parenting discourse, however much or little one thinks of one's dog as a human child.) Meaning, I guess the idea could be that you're home but not actively playing with your dog, so (because what else could you possibly be doing with your time?) you are watching the dog with your full attention as it entertains itself. Or it could be (and I suspect it is) a liability issue, a cousin of the phenomenon of vendors with bongs on display "for tobacco use only." As in, it's a given that the point of a (rhyme unintended) Kong is to give your dog something to do when you go out, but they don't want to get sued if your dog manages to find a hazardous use for the thing. Whatever the case, it bothers me that there's obviously some answer to how to keep a dog busy when it's alone for, say, three hours, something to provide a dog so that it doesn't sit there all depressed, but also doesn't snake-like manage to down some enormous object left with it intentionally for its own amusement.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


My ten-year high school reunion is coming up, and my apathy towards this means that if I were to opt in, I'd now have to pay the non-early-bird fee of $75 (or even $100) to attend. Plus the usual $33-plus-Metrocard-fare to get into the city. On the one hand, I suppose I'm well-enough-situated to go to this sort of thing, in that I am married, near the end of a PhD program, and not substantially worse-looking than I was at 17. Movies and sitcoms tell me that I ought to go to my high school reunion given those conditions. (Although I suppose being single would be an extra reason to go, in that you might meet an old flame. Especially with a math-and-science high school, I can't imagine anyone would go to a reunion to show off "accomplishments" like marriage or kids. Of course, not too many had high school sweethearts, either...)

I have not gone on to make a lot of money (to put it mildly), so there's that. But I'm a Stuyvesant success story by association, what with my husband's astrophysicist-ness. (That I've gone on to a grad program in the humanities probably owes something to my delight at a version of school that doesn't involve back-to-back periods of science.) Point being, I could go with my head held relatively high, and the normal reason not to go to reunions is a sense that you're not where you thought you'd be/imagine others would be at whichever age.

But the main reason not to go is that the main reasons to go are absent. I only just now left my hometown, so unlike the five-year reunion, which was fun because most had been away for college, this time around I've had years to keep in touch with, see at parties, or awkwardly run into, my classmates. NY is funny like that. Most of the class - those who made a go of some career and those in the proverbial parental basement alike - probably lives there.

But more to the point, there's Facebook. Not only has Facebook told me, over the years, everything I've wanted to know and more (thank you, "hide" function) about said classmates. I can see, on the event page on Facebook, who's attending. I can see what each of those people have been up to, what they now look like. And this is a high school whose grads (and, no doubt, current students) are all on the site. One of my classmates is even employed there and in Zuckerberg's inner circle, which I know thanks to guess which site. On account of Facebook, there are no surprises.

So, readers who have faced the reunion-in-the-age-of-Facebook dilemma. Is it still fun to go to one of these things when there are no surprises? Or are there surprises, because online everyone's putting their best selves forward? I have until Friday to decide.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Incredibly unattractive men"

In a comment below, Britta raises two important questions, important, that is, to anyone concerned with the pressing issue of male beauty.*

1) When I say that looks matter in partner-selection, and that women should not be afraid to admit this when selecting, pursuing, and rejecting potential dates, what I mean is that it's important to be with someone who's appealing to you. Not that a "7" must be with a "7," a "3" with a "3," or some such nonsense - again, these things are subjective. But if we're speaking of beauty as subjective, do we have any leeway in terms of observing that, in whichever setting (or in society at large), there are many couples in which the woman is far better-looking than the man? Are we able to comment on this at all, or must we assume that because looks are subjective, the Gisele clone dating a not-cleaned-up-for-TV version of Newman on "Seinfeld" could well be evenly matched in this regard? This is a tough one that I'll throw out to my readers, of whom 90% at this point appear to be a spambot trying to sell pharmaceuticals via my archives.

2) Is it insulting, as a woman, to be hit on by "incredibly unattractive men"? Without re-asking the subjectivity question above (maybe some women would find Mr. Ogre hot), the question then becomes, insulting how? Is it an insult to one's vanity - does this "2" think I'm a "2"? Or - and this is where I'm leaning - is it insulting insofar as it's sexist, insofar as it's about male entitlement? Dude can't be bothered to sort out his facial hair, to put on clothes his mother didn't buy him when he was in 10th grade (and he's now 38 and no longer 120 lbs), yet he expects the woman he's with to have whichever mix of natural beauty and put-together-ness? Or, to take this further, the woman's thought process here will be, "What does dude think is so great about him - and thus so unimpressive about me - that makes up for the obvious asymmetry in our appearances?" Assuming the answer is not something obvious - aka he has yacht-loads of money - it's always going to be an "ahem" moment. Does he think he's smarter/funnier? Does he think it's really that much more impressive to have gone to Swarthmore than Skidmore? Does he think that the fact that he's 15 years older makes him superior, and will this translate into some kind of super-obnoxious relationship based on condescension, in which the female role is conflated with a child-role, and all kinds of blah ensues?

Maybe a common thread to both of these is that while attraction is subjective, it tends to be so within far broader and not fixed levels, dare I say, of appearance. So not the dreaded 1-10 scale, but maybe three categories: within-normal-limits, which would include the vast majority of us; near-universally-thought-unfortunate-looking, which would include very few; and again very few at the Jon Hamm, no-dissenters level. Or maybe the answer is that there's on the one hand looks-as-subjective, on the other an awareness of a parallel "objective" scale, a scale women are aware men care about not because Bar Refaeli is everyone's ideal, but because a woman who looks like that confers status onto the man. Something I attempted to figure out before, here. The existence of Bar Refaeli-Newman-type couples, the way a Bar Refaeli feels if a Newman asks her out... these are, I assure you, major questions of our age.

*Britta also asks about UChicago specifically: "While there are definitely some unattractive women, I'd say on the whole women are better looking than the men here, and I see plenty of relationships where the woman is (IMO) 'settling' in the looks dept. Of course, she might have different ideas of beauty than I do, but it gets really demoralizing after awhile." I don't remember anything like that at Chicago - if anything, it was so socially unacceptable (for those not in sororities, of which there were few) to primp and shop that the undergrad norm elsewhere of guys looking like slobs, women looking super-put-together, didn't hold. There was this one subset of undergrads who'd come from NYC private schools and attempted to out-cool everyone else in front of Cobb, but even though they were wealthy, the women dressed very Olsen-twin-in-rag-phase. Everyone looked scruffy, because if you didn't, that was evidence you spent time not being an intellectual. But on the bright side, it was very socially acceptable to pick partners based on what you, subjectively, preferred, meaning that there was a lot of fun to be had even by men and women who would not have so enjoyed themselves at many other colleges. So - maybe the grad school experience is different?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Tip me over and pour me out

First online groceries' arrival means the apartment now has some food, but stuff like flour and dry pasta. It felt both wonderful and shameful to all of a sudden have these groceries appear, while at home in slippers. While I eagerly await the opportunity to break free of its clutches, I will be heading to the allegedly-shuttle-accessible Whole Foods later simply because I know they sell prepared foods, and I have fond recollections of this thing called "eating," and will need to do some of that before attempting to fit enough semi-perishable food for a month into tote bags. (Bike needs air, rain needs to let up, P needs new passport to get new learner's permit to take driving lessons to get license.) I'm on that odd moving-time system where I occasionally sit down to enough food for a few, then an unpacking marathon ensues and that sense of being about to faint sets in.

And, who knows how to tip an online-grocery delivery person? Googling this question produced the usual spectrum of results, from 'Anything less than handing over your full paycheck is stingy' to 'Why on earth would you tip that guy?' We tried to tip in cash, but the delivery man ran off. There had been an option to tip with your credit card as you order, but that seemed a riskier option, given that we'd never used the service before - what if they never showed up? And aren't tips generally in cash?

Tipping, as I've mentioned on WWPD before, is endlessly confusing. There are a few hard-and-fast rules (15-20% in a restaurant/20% for a delivery or more if it started pouring since you ordered and the delivery is by bike, a dollar per drink at a bar, 20% or so for cabs/hairdressers), but even there, there's little agreement on whether 20% is generous or the bare minimum, on whether tipping low or not at all is an acceptable response to poor service, or akin to not paying.

And other than restaurant workers, whose pay virtually everyone (American) knows is below minimum wage because tips are assumed, the rationale/necessity of a tip is a bit of a mystery. I, for one, don't know why it is I tip in these other situations, other than that I know it's what's done. I've never looked into it, because I doubt it would impact my tipping in either direction. We did tip our building staff at Christmas both years, and I don't recall exactly how much, but I never figured out what was the correct amount to tip when sharing the lowest-rent apartment in a big renters-and-owners condo tower, where one makes less than the doormen, but obviously you tip in a restaurant even if you're unemployed...

My only experience on the receiving end of tipping, I made more than minimum wage (not much more) in a coffee bar, but this was a coffee bar in Park Slope, and thus all kinds of not representative of anything. I was happy to have that extra pay, but it didn't seem more merited than in other jobs I'd had, where the work had also been strenuous and the pay low.

And to keep the anecdata flowing, I tend not to like pampering-type experiences (food-delivery/spa/nail/anything-to-do-with-hair-beyond-twice-yearly-cuts), wasn't even in favor of living in a doorman building when against all odds an affordable apt. in one presented itself (but was ultimately persuaded by the sweet, sweet dishwasher), so my experience of the wide world of American tipping skews towards things like confronting a tip jar at a Greenmarket stand or purveyor of local dairy, or getting a cup of coffee at a Village hole-in-the-wall, situations in which a privileged-enough consumer might be assumed, but not quite luxury in the sense the term is generally used. So I've seen a disproportionate amount of tip-solicitation in unlikely places, a disproportionately small amount of its use in thank-you-kind-sir-for-fetching-that-for-me situations.

The latest Dear Prudence has set forth much debate on the question what to tip hotel housekeeping - a question addressed but never resolved in one of the L.A. episodes of "Seinfeld" - bringing up the following Big Questions:

-What do you do about the fact that in many arenas, it's simply not known/agreed upon if any tip should be given, let alone what it should be? Prudie was way off calling the letter-writer who'd never even heard of tipping in hotels a "cheapskate."

-Are consumers of services expected to know what employees get paid, and to make up for the difference between that and what they should (in the consumer's opinion) be paid with tips? Or is a tip just a way of saying, 'your job seems way crappier than mine, here's a penny for your troubles'?

-Even if in most cases, the served is better-off than the server and could totally afford to round up, that's not always true. Must each interaction include an assessment of relative privilege? And what if, in an individual case, the server's better off? The customer still comes off as cheap, and if he goes into how he's actually just poor/broke, will have to explain what he was doing in whichever establishment in the first place - a relevant question, maybe, at the Four Seasons, but in many more tip-ambiguous situations not so much. Isn't there an easier (and less personally intrusive) way?

The problem is that there are so many entirely valid excuses one might give:

-Not all difficult and poorly-compensated jobs come with the expectation of tips (a thought I had more than once while shelving books at the college library). Why some and not others? If one-time food-service workers are said to be good tippers for life, where does that leave one-time no-tip-but-otherwise-similar-job sorts?

-Obviously everyone, especially the not-super-well-paid, is happy to be handed extra cash; obviously if work was done, that money counts as earned. But do we think that all interactions between one party who could use $10 more than the other party should include a handing-over of that cash? If so, wouldn't the answer be to channel money - via taxes, large-scale-like - away from the rich? Isn't the tip just a way of making individuals feel like they've done their part, when they've only helped a few people who happen to be visible in their day-to-day lives?

-The 'where does it end?' objection generally comes across as the complaint of the cheap. The counterargument goes: so what if we're now expected to tip at the grocery store, the fish counter, for the black coffee poured into a paper cup at an establishment that doesn't even have seating. Surely all those workers could use the money, at least in upscale neighborhoods. To which the response must be: the proliferation of tip-jars and tip-expectations blurs the line between tips that actually make up for super-low wages and those that don't?

-They should educate themselves! replies the interlocutor. But the Internet provides the full range of opinion, and any site at all tied to whichever industry will explain that any tip under 30% is appalling. Confusion ensues, and there are no doubt customers whose refusal to tip in a restaurant stems from not seeing the difference between that tip and the ubiquitous jar-solicitations.

Or, in more general terms, the question is whether it's beneficial (and it's clear enough where I stand) not to have fixed prices for goods and services, but rather to leave it up to a highly subjective interaction in which a great number of variables having zilch to do with the level of service provided (stinginess and genuine confusion, genuine desire to properly compensate and a for-others attempt at showing off wealth/compassion) impact the ultimate price.

There is - paging PG - no doubt need for a systematic look at which route better-distributes wealth or, in more neutral terms which more appropriately compensates labor: the liberal guilt/showing-off-of-largesse tip-based system, or establishments just paying their staff a reasonable wage. Do restaurant servers actually end up making more because of the popular understanding that they're poorly compensated unless the individual customer nobly steps up with 25%? Is the income lost when a few don't tip/don't tip well made up for by the whoppers the tip option brings in? My guess would be that this works out in some rare cases, but not many.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The ghost is clear

In the post below, I referred to a "co-authored" novel by a famous person, written about in the Times. And lo and behold! Today, the NYT reports on the trend of ghost-written novels by celebrities. Yet Georgina Bloomberg is not mentioned in the later piece, which is much snarkier - or at least more cynical - about the phenomenon, and which focuses on books "by" various reality-television stars:

Like a branded fragrance or clothing line, the novel — once quaintly considered an artistic endeavor sprung from a single creative voice — has become another piece of merchandise stamped with the name of celebrities, who often pass off the book as their work alone despite the nearly universal involvement of ghostwriters.
And, "What celebrities do contribute are storylines thinly based on their own lives [...]"

Meanwhile, from the Bloomberg article:
In “The A Circuit,” a young-adult novel by Ms. Bloomberg that just arrived in bookstores, the father figure, Rick Aaronson, is a blunt-talking Wall Street billionaire who lives in a Manhattan town house and “owns half of New York.” His older daughter, Callie, is an Ivy League graduate with a passion for politics. And his younger daughter, Thomasina, or Tommi, is an award-winning equestrian who chafes at her father’s expectations of a traditional career.
Doesn't take much of a clef to sort that one out.

The word "author" appears twice in the earlier piece, in reference to Bloomberg, not counting the time she uses it in reference to herself. Not once in the piece about Snooki & Co. It's buried, really, that a publisher "offered Ms. Bloomberg a two-book contract and put her with a co-writer, Catherine Hapka." The story here is, Bloomberg's gone and written a book, breaking out on her own, emerging from her father's shadow, etc, etc. "Writing has never come easily to Ms. Bloomberg," we learn, the implication being that she overcame this challenge.

Perhaps this is just a coincidence - it's a big paper, and different journalists may have different feelings about the same phenomenon. Yet the writer of the Snooki piece, Julie Bosman, was also one of the co-authors (in the non-euphemistic sense, I'd assume, given it's a newspaper) of the Georgina Bloomberg profile.

Clearly a choice was made - by Bosman, by co-author Michael Barbaro, by the paper, who knows, to place the Kardashians in one category, Bloomberg in another, even if all are, in publishing terms, part of the same phenomenon. What I'm now wondering is, was this out of some pressure - political? personal? - to portray Bloomberg in a flattering light? Because it's not obvious to me why a silly but at least self-made celeb (that's you, Snookums) would be more of an embarrassment as a "novelist" than someone with a famous last name, other than if this is a question of class, dahling, and no one that faux-bronzed could possibly be deep.

Or was it more in the Styles Section vein, where on the surface, it's all rah-rah this new novel, rah rah its brave author, but where conveniently enough, comments are opened, and class warfare ensues? Or is this not really the question - Styles style is precisely about writing a piece that will make the subject feel warm and fuzzy, while making sure enough ridiculousness shows between the lines that even a dense and/or conservative reader will, by the end of it, be storming the Bastille.

As for the phenomenon itself, predictably enough given that I'm a grad student in literature, I'm not thrilled about it. While the peak of my fiction-writing abilities was back in high school, I'm plenty annoyed on behalf of all the people who are actually trying to publish novels that these are what get published, and on behalf of anyone concerned with the future of fiction, where the pickings will be slimmer than otherwise, as the definition of "novel" shifts to be a genre welcoming of, and perhaps in time dominated by, this kind of thing. It's frustrating that only those in-the-know get that these books were ghost-written, and that the purported authors' egos are now inflated by a sense of themselves as Writer.

But there's also the question of privilege - to publish a novel at all, it helps to have spare time and connections, to have received a good education and thus to have writing skills, etc. It was never and was never going to be fair who would get their stories told, but at least there was some presumption of, this is someone capable of conveying that story in writing. This, however, is another level entirely. Whatever happened to "as told to"?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Behind the acronyms, another post about privilege

SOUB, or YPIS, the double/meta version. Summary, for those without the privilege of clicking on the link to Gawker: the site reposted (and heartily endorsed) a comment to an earlier post about Gwyneth Paltrow (daughter of rich and famous parents, clearly naturally good-looking underneath whatever it is she does with herself these days) and privilege, in which a commenter recounts a story of having dated one of those pink-shirt-collar-poppers, aka a rich douche. Or we are meant to see him in that light.

Read it? OK, so...

Note that we never find out a) if ex-bf's family's wealth was ever given to him, or whether his family has any connections in the movie business, b) what ex-gf was doing that she was in a social situation to meet someone so wealthy in the first place (such as, for example, maybe she was herself - gasp - privileged, but grew up with only two family estates rather than eight - and we might guess this is the case, both because who else hurls a YPIS, and because only someone who's led a pretty comfortable life would not see a partner's immense wealth at least in part in terms of, huh, that would make things easier for me if we stayed together), or c) what gives the Gawker poster himself/Gawker commenters themselves the right to claim, mainly by implication, that they worked for everything they have.

As I've said about this precisely one billion times before, if YPIS were about those without privilege ranting about life's unfairness, that would be acceptable. Same if it were about creative types whining about how frustrating it is that various fields (see: acting, writing) seem open primarily to the children of parents successful in precisely the same field. (As in, amorphous privilege - coming from an UMC family in a Chicago suburb - doesn't lead to a job in Hollywood or at Vogue; specific connections in your immediate family, however...)

What's unacceptable is the way YPIS actually operates, which is, someone with plenty of P wants to pat himself on the back for being self-made, regardless of the truth, because someone, somewhere, surely had it easier. It's a contest, not a form of social justice, and anyone who dares question the game gets labeled out-of-touch and unaware of his own status as a privileged douche. Meanwhile, the people who go around being rich and out-of-touch don't care about YPIS, don't have those conversations, and as such are in no way impacted, in no way de-aloofified. Oh well. At least one commenter gets it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Normandy, where poodles are ombré

-I spent the weekend at a chateau in Normandy, thanks to an invite from Rachel Hills. Whee! Made for a slight change from the dorm.

-Originality, please! The "Armchair Ethicist" is a fun idea, but the question of what to do if your coworker and friend suddenly drops dead and leaves behind correspondance that would be upsetting to their spouse, and you of course are knee-deep in that correspondance because it is for whatever reason your job to do this, has already been addressed.

-Now that my academic still-in-Paris goals are where they need to be (appt to meet a prof, books and books and microfiches galore reserved, etc.), I'm thinking of what I need to do otherwise prior to leaving. And by "otherwise" I mean cookbooks, in particular a good one for recreating a boulangerie at home, as well as measuring implements for metric so as not to have to constantly look this up when switching between cookbooks. Specific suggestions re: cookbooks/easy-to-transport and cheap French kitchen-improvers are most welcome.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Assorted profundity

-Attempting to send a text just now to a friend, telling her I'm too tired to go out, my phone seemed to think I wanted to type not "tired" but "three-way." I guess this is what the kids are using texting for these days, but telling a fellow grad student that I'm planning to stay in on Saturday night seems the precise opposite of what my phone was going for.

-Found on a college acquaintance's (excellent) blog that I have just learned about thanks to opting for Facebook over the 15-minute walk out of the building required to get from New Room to Building Entrance: shaygetz-as-shiksa.

-Going to Paris? Let this be your guide. The upper Marais is pretty much the central Marais I remember from study abroad - drool-worthy boutiques, tiny streets, hip cafés, beautiful people... Just watch out for the fascistic fashion designers, and you're all set.

-Love it:

Occupation: Graduate Student 
What is the most prominent color in your wardrobe? Black  
-Big Sunday plans: baby wallabies!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Little boat

A fellow student of French Jewry alerted me to... I know I should finish this sentence with 'a conference' or 'an article.' While she has told me about such things as well, this time it was a Petit Bateau sample sale! Right between the subway I'd taken from campus and the supermarket on my way home! Think prices in dollars lower than the ones in euros in France. Think crazed French shoppers. I went as an antidote to an all-around unpleasant day, and the last thing I needed was a new stash of Petit Bateau t-shirts. That said, I didn't leave totally empty-handed - got a vaguely ballet-style pale pink t-shirt and a red nautical-striped shirt with side snaps (this, but not in the baby size pictured).

This got me thinking. Which careers make for the best fashion?

-Sailor, fisherman. Choose: horizontal stripes, chunky sweaters in neutral tones. Avoid: pants with that flap that buttons up the front, hats from either profession.

-Ballerina. Choose: ballet flats, wrap shirts/dresses in jersey material, in black or light pink. Avoid: leggings or tights as pants, leg-warmers, tight and painful hairstyles, stage makeup, excessive dieting.

-Equestrian. Choose: riding breeches (of course), belts, boots (as with ballet inspiration, footwear that's chic without the wobbling). Avoid: high-tech gear for actual riding, helmets-as-hats.

Am I missing any? Which careers make for the worst fashion inspiration?