Sunday, June 23, 2019

Mush

When I first thought about "weaning" I imagined a situation where yes I'd still be nursing, but if something came up - say, if I needed to be out for more than an hour, or to do something decadent like sleep through the night - my husband could offer our child some food. I don't know if I could call my persistence in this belief naive exactly, because I spoke with many other mothers of slightly older babies - first at postnatal exercise classes, and then, at library baby time - and learned that "weaning," in this context, for a long time just means adding an extra step to your schedule, without any reduction in time or frequency of nursing. But I kept on imagining the time was imminent that my husband could just hand our baby a sandwich while I caught up on sleep.

Well! Baby is now solid-foods months old, and the other mothers were correct. This *is* an additional daily task. But an exciting one. Like most of humanity, I'm a big fan of food, and so I'm looking forward to introducing my child to more of it. But...how?

The old model, I guess, was purees from jars. There are now purees in pouches, but these are Bad and for emergencies only. Cheaper and (allegedly) easier: purees you make at home. This I have been doing, and just requires some advance planning. It fits with my own general approach to meals, and seems fine? And it turns out if you roast sweet potatoes for a long time, then puree them, that's really good! Not a new discovery in general but not something I'd otherwise have had the patience for.

But I'd read and heard good things about something called baby-led weaning. Just give your baby small bits of your own meal! Which sounds even better. Food is great! Purees, not super appetizing, although the freezer is now an interesting multicolored array of ice-cube-tray fruits and vegetables (and, less effectively, tofu).

There are a few issues with the baby-led weaning approach. Such as: this concept of an adult "meal" seems to have been imagined by someone with a lot of technical cooking skill (everything has to be just so texture and shape-wise) but zero interest in cooking itself. As in: what is this food you're preparing for yourself, without any salt or oil? (No sugar, either, which I could see getting annoying but is less immediately difficult in cooking.) And why no oil, if babies are supposed to be getting enough fat? Why is fat Very Important if in yogurt but not if in butter or oil or whatever? Why are you meant to give your baby cheese and bread and things of that nature, but watch out for salt, which is an ingredient in everything purchased outside? What if you're still in the eternal-seeming stage where you're slowly introducing ingredients - then can you offer foods containing more than one?

The idea is to avoid raising a picky eater, but make sure there is no sauce on any of your baby's food, except if it's a dipping sauce, which is the only way "BLW" babies are allowed to eat puree. If you put a spoon in your baby's mouth, it might as well be a joint, is the impression some of the books give. Some but not all - some are realistic about foods having different textures and that maybe putting some mashed-up avocado on a spoon and offering this up to an enthusiastic enough baby will not be - I mean, read the news! - the worst thing that could happen to a baby, and is in fact a good thing to happen to a baby, all told. Other books, however, are more like, purees, even of fresh ingredients you prepared yourself, are setting your baby up to never learn to talk or lift a spoon or whatever and - and this (not rejection from Harvard!) is the undercurrent of apparently all parenting advice, except I'm imagining some subset of it that's out to consciously avoid that theme - be fat.

Which, who knows, but also remember that at six months, babies start needing nutrients from more than just milk or formula, so "food before one is just for fun" isn't actually a thing. But also, iron-fortified oat cereal is processed and therefore unacceptable, except when I have oatmeal myself, I mean, someone or some machine has presumably processed the oats in question.

Also: choking. Which could happen regardless but seems as if it would be more likely if you're handing your baby an ear of corn or a drumstick, but what do I know.

Oh and: one of the books had the nerve to say that if your own family meals aren't baby-food compatible, as in if there isn't something salt-and-sugar-free of the correct texture and nutrient content, all ingredients verified - you could hand your baby, then there's clearly something wrong with how you eat and by the way here are a bunch of nauseating-sounding quinoa recipes as suggestions. It's like some extended, extra-bonkers version of the thing where pregnant women are said to be infantilized by health tips. And, I mean, I was fine with the nine months not drinking thing! But am I about to cook only unseasoned food and once again stop eating runny cheese?? Hmm!

Meanwhile it would seem that babies can indeed go from milk to purees to soft foods to regular food without the world ending if a step or two in the middle aren't skipped. There are also sensible advice-givers out there, prepared to admit that you can try both these methods, at the same meal, even, without the sky falling in, or winding up with a baby who'll grow up to eat only mushed banana. And I can - I tried this evening! it worked! - cook without salt, and only add the salt after (along with a gallon of soy sauce) and not quite as much oil as I might have otherwise. It's fine!

The same part of my brain that's able to turn off 'get wild salmon not farmed because reasons even though wild is $50 a pound and often tastes worse' when it comes to my own food consumption can do that as well for the baby-food variant. But oh, do I see (she types, having spent 10 minutes trying to figure out which is the appropriate First Yogurt, like Borat encountering the cheese section of an American supermarket) how it could all lend itself to making someone sort of lose it, when just as you're finally getting a tiny bit more sleep, but only just, you're meant to become instant expert in a dreary sort of home cooking, all for a person who is, simply on account of their age, more likely to offer the food in question to a can't-believe-the-luck dog than to put the carefully-prepared chicken shreds into their mouth.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

On not buying new stuff for a little bit

At the supermarket checkout just now, I saw a magazine cover headline suggesting that readers stop dieting but still lose weight. An eternal promise! And yet, and yet.

So too, I guess, with spending. Principle-of-the-thing, I don't believe in cutting fun-spending that isn't adding up to much. But, what if it is? What if you live in a really expensive and getting pricier city, with future daycare costs and eventual not-one-bedroom-home costs to think about? What if you're on maternity leave, so the find-ways-to-earn-more part of the equation isn't something you can address immediately? What then?

Coffee out is just too bleak to give up, and as Helaine Olen has well demonstrated, it doesn't add up to much. But new clothes and accessories, this seemed - seems? - doable, and worth addressing. Partly it's that I went about a year unable to wear my existing wardrobe, so there's been a certain amount of excitement at all these 'new' clothes. (Some jeans from Before will probably never fit right again, but otherwise it's back to normal wardrobe-wise.) But it's also that... I mean, when did I buy all that clothing? When did I go from being shocked that anyone owned anything from Lululemon to realizing I've got something like six pairs of their leggings (of which two were for maternity - and very wearable beyond - but still).

This reaction to clothes-type stuff is, I think, a very normal aspect of being a decade or two into adulthood, but that gets confused with having some sort of maturity-inspired epiphany about materialism. For most of your life, getting new clothes will have been obviously necessary due to growing, then to life-stage issues such as, even casual work environments demand slightly different clothes than do 12th-grade classrooms, even if some of those clothes still fit. But then you're 28, 33 and the clothing from 23 is maybe fine in all sorts of ways - size, appropriateness - but you still want new stuff, and buy it, and then it's like, did you actually need-need to do this? What if the old stuff hadn't - not all of it, at least, disintegrated? What if it hadn't even gone out of style, but you just saw these other things, these new ones, that caught your attention?

And then you find that you're 35 and own not just half of what North American Uniqlo's sold for the past decade-plus, but also a significant amount of Everlane, some purchased from Canada despite duty because you are in fact that ridiculous. It won't be that you were ever all that ridiculous. The aggregate... situation in your wardrobe isn't the result of a spending spree, but of the fact that you purchased clothes in 2009, 2010, etc., and still own and wear this stuff. As in, I did not go out and spend $500 at Lululemon in one afternoon! And yet, I look at what I own and it feels like I'm seeing the results of someone doing just that, and hitting up a bunch of less-expensive chains and thrift stores as well.

There is probably a way to do this that doesn't involve self-flagellation at having ever bought anything, ever, and good on you if you've found it! But in any case, I have very solemnly vowed No New Clothes Or Accessories For Myself Until 2020. I did so I guess a few weeks ago? Shortly after (and thank goodness, not before) replacing a crumbling pair of white Birkenstocks with new, silver, ones. The challenge was going to be Montreal - land of tempting French-ish stuff, but in CAD - but it turns out spending your days with a baby strapped to your torso kind of gets in the way of clothes-shopping, and not just because of the difficulties of physically trying anything on. Also helpful: most of the clothing I remember really liking in stores now seems too young for me, so I'm not even sure what it is I would want. Accessories, maybe? But there, too, the need to combine whatever it is with a carrier means most of the more chic possibilities are out and the LL Bean camouflage zip tote continues its unchallenged reign.

Will this last as long as planned? Who knows. The best aspect of it has been rediscovering a reflective-material jacket purchased many years ago, that I was on the cusp of donating, but am now wearing daily. The worst: the mere fact of rules of self-restraint, which I oppose, even when seeing full well where they can come in handy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Highly specific travel guides, Canadian edition

It had been a while since I'd left Toronto, and an opportunity popped up to go to Montreal (as I'd been meaning to do again, since moving to Canada) so I figured, the time has come! But in the weeks leading up to the trip, I couldn't quite believe it would actually happen. It just seemed so involved - figuring out various baby-and-dog practicalities, and... well, really just anything beyond getting from one day to the next, something that's gotten simpler in the past month or so, but sleep sort of comes and goes, so. I'd swing back and forth between thinking I should be making lists of things to do and people to see, and thinking that that approach to a trip was something out of a past life.

Below, some tips for travel - to Montreal, in general - with a 5-month-old:

-Trains are good for baby-naps. Planes, I'm thinking, maybe less so. The train part went fine. Mostly.

-Beware the changing table on Via Rail. It has that warning about how it might suddenly and unexpectedly bop a baby on the head for a reason.

-Carrier yes, stroller maybe not. Subways in Montreal rarely have elevators, and everything (including the hotel some of the time, argh) has steps at the entryway. And there's no consistency whatsoever between Toronto and Montreal in terms of policies for getting the stroller on and off the train. (Toronto has elevators but no assistance, Montreal the reverse.)

-You want to wait until the baby's neck control situation is sorted before going far from home along these lines. Travel requires a lot of lifting/propping and carrier-using (ideally occasional front-facing stretches, so baby can see some of the sights) and that just makes things easier. If we'd tried this a month or so ago it would have been a really bad idea.

-Bring everything with you that you brought for the whole trip because you never know when you might need absolutely all of it. Like, say you've been in Old Montreal, having this lovely stroll, and are feeling really on top of things, having changed your baby (in a magnificent all-silver bathroom) just after opening time at a concept store. Then a half-hour or so later, you're feeding your baby in a supposedly VIP area of a mall, except it's mainly people who seem elsewhere on the socioeconomic spectrum so you're not shocked a guard permits you to sit there as well, and it becomes clear a further changing will be necessary, but that mall has no place for this, so you figure a market will, but guess what? The Jean Talon market isn't all that near its associated subway stop.

-Bring extra baby clothes every time you leave the hotel. Do not assume that just because the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto sells tourist knick-knacks every tourist-oriented market will have souvenir onesies to be purchased in an emergency. Do not panic. Remember that the sweater plus your own jacket as a leg-wrap will actually be fine for a few minutes when it's not even cold out.

-Accept help, even from the older woman who admonishes you in French for not having your baby warmly dressed. Don't get annoyed, just explain to her (also in French, of course!) the insufficient-change-of-clothes preparation situation, and you will be directed to a nearby thrift store where all baby clothes are $2.25 (and untaxed). Seemingly a good selection and I would have liked to have a better look, under other circumstances. Bought one outfit and one backup outfit (LESSON LEARNED) only.

-Try not to scream - in French or English - when the bathroom you're told is fine to change baby into the newly-purchased outfit in has no changing table, and is completely filthy, and you have to go back into the main part of the store and do this in a tiny dressing room.

-Bring a (large) backpack for an outing like this, because when you find the enormous French patisserie cookbook you've been looking for for years, you will buy it, despite being already quite encumbered. That free tote bag from a Swedish cultural event in New York might look nice but will not work for any of your purposes.

-Nursing is super awkward and some people will be bothered by it (I guess Ontario and Quebec have different approaches, but also, when am I ever out for the entire day like that in Toronto?) but if that's how the baby eats, that's how the baby eats. If that means nursing on a minute and filthy plank-bench in front of a (very good) Portuguese roast chicken place, on a narrow sidewalk, or on a picnic bench surrounded by 15-year-old boys, or in a bakery-café where a woman with a laptop had really wanted all four nearby seats for herself and her stuff, so be it. Let Montreal see your nipples for the requisite milliseconds. It's not the end of the world.

-When you meet up with a friend you haven't seen in years, and are speaking French in a social situation for the first time in a while as well, after... that, don't overthink the fact that you're maybe slightly less able to express yourself than under other circumstances.

-Dining out with a baby is totally possible if it's at breakfast time. Remember this when deciding what to order. Go with the bomboloni and the bagel and lox, even if that seems a bit much, price- and quantity-wise. Because dinner? Not necessarily happening.

-Nothing is going to happen at/after the witching hour. If your train arrives past that point, don't even bother trying to go to a pizza place, even if it's referred to online as family-friendly, and even if it is right next to the hotel. And definitely don't (what was I thinking??) order an appetizer. Accept that the day ends at 5pm, which is not all told a terrible approach to travel, if you've been out walking since morning.

-And about that walking: Remember that walking around with a baby in carrier is ever so slightly more tiring than doing so without. Your phone's automatic step-counter might tell you you just covered 5-6 miles but it will feel marathon-ish. Accept that there's wandering that will not happen. Figure out where the bus stops are located because you will sooner or later (sooner) have to get on a bus.

-Remember that for the baby, everything is new. That's exciting! Reminding yourself of this is the trick to making the whole thing fun, rather than just challenging.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Dog-mom-o-phobia

This is a good old-fashioned what-a-silly-article blog post. So let me be clear: I don't think its author is a Bad Person, and yeah, this could easily have a clickbait or cynical editorial strategy explanation. So maybe this isn't about how the article was Bad (which gosh but it was), so much as about where, precisely, it - and others like it - went wrong.

The article, which you've likely already seen, is about how millennials prefer "fur babies" to baby-babies. (An assertion in no way demonstrated in the piece, but, moving on.)

The opening anecdote is an extended riff of fury directed at "the lady I’d identified as childless," a woman at a new-mom-only (?) party who had the audacity to speak about her dog. The grievance, I think (?), is partly that some ~millennials~ are choosing not to have kids, but more that some who don't have kids do have dogs and aren't sufficiently meh about their pets: "Whether or not to reproduce is probably the most personal decision you will ever make. But nothing can substitute for that. So don’t pretend that a canine companion is the same thing." And then, in case this were not clear: "A dog is a huge commitment, a fabulous friend and, fine, call it part of the family. But having a baby is something entirely different."

Wait what? A dog and a baby, not the same? This is a surprise.

This fear that people (women) are confusing their dogs for human children is a persistent one, if ridiculous. Why (I repeat) is it troubling for someone (or just someone without kids) to spend money on ('on') a dog, but not on, say, home decor? The concern seems to be that this is energy that could just as easily be channeled into child-rearing, which is to say, the only people confusing dogs with babies are... the people writing hot takes about why it's bad to treat a dog like a baby.

Below, then, the enumerated musings of someone who has finally kind of figured out going outside with leash and carrier:

1) Contrary to popular opinion, it is not harder to have a newborn than a puppy. Babies are human beings and it's to some extent intuitive what to do with them. Puppies are far more mysterious on account of, they're dogs. Society is set up in such a way as to assume people have kids. Dogs, meanwhile, are understood to be a nuisance-luxury. Neighbors can feel entitled to oppose the mere presence of a dog; of a baby, it's just too universally recognized that they're in the wrong for them to make a fuss and get taken seriously. A baby can come with you to a coffee shop or restaurant. A dog, not so much. There are all kinds of meet-ups and activities for new parents. New first-time dog owners, however, might find themselves struggling alone with housebreaking and unpredictable whimpering and feeling like the choice to get a dog meant never leaving the country, town, or home-and-nearby-grassy-patches ever again. Some of this had to do with the timing, and the differences in location, but I found getting a dog so much more disruptive than having a baby. Not physically, of course - there's no middle-of-the-night nursing of a dog! I did not give birth to my poodle!* - but in terms of the thud to my life of not being able to come and go as I pleased? Of being responsible for this other creature without means to communicate its wants and needs?

The author has no idea, and even sort of admits as much: "Canines don’t exterminate your social life in the same way as mewling tykes tend to do, and, although I’ve never had a dog, I’m struggling to imagine that owning one causes quite the same level of cranium-cracking, body-battering, tear-inducing sleep deprivation that’s part and parcel of early parenthood." Emphasis mine. If you've never had a dog, it's not impossible you'd have means of comparison. Not all knowledge must be firsthand. But this just seems like a from-thin-air guess?

2) Once more: no one thinks their dog is a baby. It's not A Thing. It's a way of insulting people who don't have (human) children.

2a) There is no reason given in the article - or that common sense summons - to think that anyone in the history of humanity has actually thought, hmm, dog or baby, weighed pros and cons, and been like, OK, that's it, dog! or for that matter, baby! It's just not how any actual human beings think.

2b) The person who is in a place in their life where they absolutely could have a baby but they've opted instead to have a dog, so as to facilitate travel (????), is... not a myth, exactly, but you can't assume the reason someone has a dog but not a kid is that they've decided a dog is lower-stakes. There are 10,000 different reasons people who don't have kids are in that situation, 9,995 of which are not things they're going to tell randos at a party. So they will come up with something for situations like that - 'too busy' or 'dog instead' - and maybe that's it or maybe not but if you stop and think for a millisecond you'd realize that you don't know if that's the real reason. Does the author imagine schnauzer-lady is going to open up to her about financial or fertility limitations? About her trouble finding the right partner?

3) What was going on at this party that it was a crime that one woman there didn't have a baby, but instead made some lighthearted remarks about her schnauzer? I could see if this were, like, a new-moms support group and someone came in and, in a Carrie Bradshaw twist, insisted their dog were their baby. But that appears not to be the case. Just a party which a woman without a baby dared attend.

4) People are WAY more judgmental about dog-raising than the human variety. There's first the question of where the dog came from, which can of course be more openly discussed than re: the human baby. Then there's how to prevent the dog from turning your home into its toilet, and training in general. If you do crate-training, your home will not be a dog toilet, but you will have, in your home, a cage, which will strike some as cruel, even if your dog isn't in it much of the time (or at all, past puppyhood). If you only ever walk your dog on a leash (going off-leash only at fenced dog runs), you're crushing the poor creature's spirit! or maybe just doing your part to avoid the dog bothering people on the street, or getting lost. I don't know. Dogs have a universal, communal-property quality in a way babies - so special to their own parents - do not, plus there's no sense of it being taboo to offer unsolicited criticism of a stranger's dog-handling choices.

5) And what if some people do confuse dogs and babies? Is that the end of the world? A woman on the street recently, whose poodle I'd just admired, asked if what was in my carrier was a baby or a dog. OK so this ought to have been obvious, but in this one case, evidently not. So what! And everyone confuses their dogs' and babies' names but also dogs' and adult relatives' names so it's not a big deal at all and one should feel free to chill out about this.

*OHIP, the Ontario universal health care system, covered childbirth but we're on our own at the vet.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

In defense of paying a ton to get your nails done

When I was 11 - and I remember the age exactly, because of friend-group fluctuations and which friend this was - my best friend at the time got a gift certificate for mani-pedis, and brought me along. It was... fine? But the pedicure was plainly not for me - too ticklish. Also the whole thing seemed a bit too much like going to the dentist.

In grad school I got a grand total of 3 manicures, one with pedicure. The two manicure-onlies were pick-me-ups of some sort. The first was the French variety, and I remember it as looking great (which I knew even then to be a basic thing to think - a basic style to have requested to begin with) and being impossible to replicate at home. The mani-pedi was when I got married, and again, pedicure, not for me.

But this notion of The Manicure lingered as the ultimate frivolous indulgence. You can, after all, just paint your own nails! (Which I do!) Any bottle of nail polish, even a fancy one, is going to cost so much less than a manicure. I'd both congratulate myself for savvily avoiding this unnecessary expenditure, and feel a certain degree of envy of peers who clearly took themselves seriously enough (Because You're Worth It TM) to think their looks (and their careers?) were worth investing in, in this way.

Aaaand then there was the big exposé about nail salons - how exploitative and toxic most of these places are. At just the historical moment when scorn for sex work (and often, by extension, the people - the men - who patron sex workers) became problematic, the Woman Who Gets Her Nails Done became emblematic of consumerist insensitivity. It all seemed a little hmm. Like perhaps the motivating force here wasn't so much a goal of a safer and less exploitative norm in the nail salon industry, but rather a world where women feel that much more terrible about primping and not primping. (Because it always cuts in both directions.)

Then, back in Toronto, I started noticing a whole new nail-art world. Students at the university where I teach would have these elaborate nails, sometimes with rhinestones (?) embedded in them. It looked neat and fun and... especially impossible to replicate at home. And not all chipped off, like my own DIY polish attempts inevitably were. (I'm decent a painting my own nails, but less so with not absentmindedly fussing with the results during a meeting.) I decided that I would, as a sort of end-of-year reward, go get my nails done, probably at a fabulous-looking place I'd seen on Instagram, on Dundas West. It would be a whole outing, once it was warm out. I would get the famous gel nails, the ones where the polish doesn't chip. With some sort of nail art, because that was clearly what this place is known for.

Then I learned I was pregnant and it didn't fit with my panicked first-trimester mode, when I wasn't even having any coffee, to do this, plus I wasn't awake enough.

Then it was later in pregnancy and I was too tired in a different way, and concerned that there's something where during childbirth they need to measure your blood oxygen so I couldn't get polish that wouldn't come off easily, and if this was just going to be regular nail polish I should just do this on my own.

Then it was the first six weeks, when I was doing fine as it goes, which is to say, only mildly incapacitated, and also had to feed too often to commit to more than brief poodle-walks.

Then it was too cold.

And then somehow, it seemed... possible? But, expensive. Could I justify this? I felt confident the salon was a Good One but not that I, personally, had any business spending over $50 plus tax and tip on my nails.

I don't know what the ultimate catalyst was, but after many visits to, then away from, the booking site, which requires credit card info and everything, I took the plunge.

The outing itself was decadent if not all-out relaxing. (Subway to streetcar-replacement bus, yeah.) But the salon - Naked Beauty Bar - was spectacular. As were - and are, a week and a half later - the results. Actually getting my nails done in this manner - where a manicurist does all sorts of things to your nails and cuticles and all of that takes longer than the polish itself - shouldn't have appealed to me, because aw shucks I'm too low-maintenance for that but given my state of haggard frazzledness upon arrival (or given that I am not in fact too low-maintenance for that), it was just lovely.


Then I picked up tacos to bring home from Good Hombres, home of many a satisfied third-trimester craving, but apparently just as good after the taco fixation had subsided. The whole thing improved my mood tremendously. With tip it was, I believe, $78. Not including the tacos. Frivolous, yes. Shocking, as in, I'm re-startling myself as I type this. But worth it.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Breast is OK-est

It can be challenging in the beginning.

That much is admitted even by breastfeeding proponents, but what "challenging" meant remains remained mysterious until it all played out.

First came the span of days when baby's eating needs exceeded my milk production. And the things you're meant to do to help this (insofar as it even can be helped - there's basically the day when the milk comes in and that day hadn't yet come) are, eat well and get rest, neither of which were possible what with the days-old baby in the house. This was, at the time, all-out terrifying.

Eventually I spoke on the phone with a lactation consultant who (for free! Canada!) explained everything. But first, the healthcare hotline I called instructed me to feed every 1.5 hours, as in to *start* each feed at those intervals, which effectively meant feeding continuously because newborns eat more slowly. It didn't make sense. It still, in retrospect, doesn't make sense. I was also advised - as I later learned this hotline advises everybody, no matter the reason for the call, but I had not realized this - to go to the emergency room.

Then came engorgement, something I suspect is discussed less than it ought to be because it sounds vaguely erotic, although it is, I promise, anything but. It started with armpit pain, then became what it sounds like, and ultimately escalated to a very frightening shivering spell, where I was just shaking as if I had a fever, but I didn't (yet another emergency room near-miss), and this is a thing that can happen, but won't necessarily, so you don't learn about it ahead of time. This is the much-awaited milk coming in, but it paradoxically makes it more difficult to feed. It will then repeat itself, if less dramatically, on the occasions when the baby sleeps for more than 3 consecutive hours in the night.

Next were the three or so weeks of intense pain every left-side feed. (Present from the start, but initially overshadowed by the rest of what was happening.) Of the there's-nothing-to-do-about-it sort (not the famous bad latch, just something about how my own body apparently works), so I was advised to take over-the-counter painkillers, which I was already taking what with having recently given birth. Took a bunch of those!

Eventually the feeding bit itself got sorted. Enough so that despite the above, I'd fall into the category of women for whom nursing - thus far, at least - works. The above is, again, what it looks like, or can look like, when it works. With enough maternity leave to give it a proper go (though even in Canada, recommendations for length of nursing well exceed leave), with a body that wound up being capable of this, and a baby prepared to do her part. My nursing's-been-a-breeze privilege is showing, except for the few days when I thought (and had medical reason to think) it wasn't working and that my baby was going to starve. And now - now! - I can appreciate the positives. That it's easier than preparing bottles, for one thing, but also, the bonding bit - present from the start, of course - is more front-and-center when the throbbing-pain part has subsided.

*****

There's the general advice for those first few weeks, aimed at all new parents but especially those feeding the baby from their bodies: Just focus on the baby, and ignore what can be ignored, and let those assembled around you deal with everything else. This makes approximately no sense, either. It assumes a next-level support system, some sort of amalgam of the best of what everyone on online mom forums describes, without any of the worst. There's this assumption that chores are things like dusting or scrubbing the bath, i.e. that can be ignored. Well! Laundry and dishes, those really can't be put off indefinitely. (Big regret: not temporarily switching to disposable dishware for 2-3 weeks at the start.)

Basically, the ideal situation for breastfeeding assumes, then exceeds, such things as 'supportive partner' or 'maternity leave'. It assumes a woman sort of permanently reclined, emperor-style for (at least) the first six weeks, getting non-intrusively fussed after by an army of people whose single focus is making sure she feeds the baby. Who think breastfeeding is a worthy pursuit (maybe hard to believe in some haute-crunchy milieus, but not everyone does!), but who will also be supportive if for whatever reason nursing doesn't work out and formula is needed.

Which leaves that other bit: If you're the only one who's feeding your baby, and your baby needs to eat every couple of hours, you're not sleeping. (For your partner to support the endeavor, they're not sleeping either.) And you're not going anywhere. Or maybe you are, but bringing the baby, but if it's winter in Canada and too cold/icy to go out with a baby, then yeah, no, not going outside. The latter only becomes an issue, I found, when the former has (in its limited way) resolved. That is, if you're getting three hours of sleep a night, it's hard to get stir-crazy. If, however, you're at 7 or so, albeit interrupted, the outside world again seems quite interesting, but what are you meant to do about this? In my case, it's meant leaving the apartment when possible, but trying to accept that Fahrenheit single digit days, we're staying in. There's a mall nearby, and we're regulars. There are baby fitness classes semi-nearby (for mothers' fitness, that is, but apparently there's a way to bring a baby?); those have had to wait until weather permits a trip to semi-nearby.

To go the nursing route, you have to believe in it, which means reading, yes, but not getting bogged down in contrarian and feminist literature about how it's all pointless and correlation is not causation and you may think you're doing the right thing but Actually you're just engaging in the choice that happens to be favored by the Brooklyn haute-clog-wearing set. (I used to live in Brooklyn and once had mid-range clogs, but foolishly did not time that part of my life for the baby-having one. But I'm sure it made some sort of cultural impact on me all the same.) If you're breastfeeding, you're in many key ways opting into being pseudo-pregnant for another year or so. And pregnancy? Worth it for the end result, but not the most fun in and of itself. There, it's the difference between baby and no baby. Breastfeeding or not, it's between one sort of feeding and another, so the stakes are a touch lower.

Some of the rules (the ones that drove me up the wall, at least) go away, and you can resume eating sushi and runny cheeses and soft-boiled eggs and lox and and and you get the idea. (I'm still in the mode where I neeeeed to eat these sorts of foods as often as possible.) But alcohol is either forbidden (according to one government pamphlet) or just needs to be very carefully timed, to the point that it is, in effect, forbidden. (After full-on abstaining during pregnancy, and being too tired for the first month or so after, I have on a couple occasions reminded myself what beer tastes like, but what an entire beer is like, that I have only the vaguest recollection.) Curious about those actually-effective skincare products you've been reading about (now that you've gone and started looking a decade older, all at once)? Nope, not starting on those, either. Coffee... I guess that's also something you're supposed to avoid, but there's also the thing where you're supposed to stay awake on no sleep...

And maybe the most daunting: Interested in not having quite as much of a paunch aka not still looking pregnant three months in? Exercise needs to be carefully timed in terms of feeds because there are only certain points in the nursing cycle where jogging could possibly be comfortable. And making any sort of change to your diet is risky because - as when pregnant - it's not just you you're feeding. So, eat up! But you also maybe don't want to swing too far in the food-restriction-is-evil direction, when you know full well the reason you're where you're at is a continued third-trimester approach to, specifically, salt-and-pepper potato chips. Or when your physique goal remains fitting comfortably (as versus squeezing) into the cold-weather winter coat that cost $$$ a few years ago, such that you're for sure not about to buy another one, but now, when you try to zip it up, it feels like the zipper's about to break. I don't know.

*****

Ultimately, the answer to why I've gone this route (thus far - always add the thus-far because you never know and also because in some estimations, being a completist as it were means lasting for years plural) is, because it's what's done, what I started doing, and it's maybe the better way, maybe? For reasons it's not so much that I can't articulate as that I'm not sure about, having read conclusions in all directions, and having zero expertise in this area myself. I don't believe, in general, that natural is better, or even means much of anything. I don't feel cooped up in the sense of wanting to run away with the circus. I do, however, eagerly look forward to the days when my now-infant can join me in eating a sandwich.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Dream apartment listing

So I (mostly) love where I live, but it's too small, or will be, and yeah. But I'm a millennial, which means I've spent all my money on avocado lattes and thus cannot buy a townhouse in the Annex next to where Margaret Atwood lives. Below, the sort of thing I'm looking for, if you've seen one of these lying around...

Essentials:

-In downtown Toronto. (OK, on Ischia, but trying to be realistic here, and Toronto does have much better Asian groceries, so.)

-Laundry in unit. (Not just in building! It's Toronto, ensuite laundry is the default, a girl can dream!)

-Dishwasher obviously but I don't know if I've yet seen a Toronto apartment that didn't have one? (Ones without ovens, however...)

-Gym in building. (Between the traffic and the endless winter, jogging outside is maybe not a thing in this city and definitely not one where bringing a baby along could possibly work.)

-An actual second bedroom, as in one that could fit an actual twin bed, as versus (say) an apartment-staging crib and nothing more.

-Both bedrooms have doors. I'm sorry but there's no improvement over the current situation if baby's (eventual) room is just a loft overlooking a downstairs. (Also: Why are all these tiny condos spread out over two floors? Because duplex sounds glamorous even if the reality is, this is two dorm rooms one on top of the other? See also: Why do so many apartment buildings here in the arctic have cabanas among their amenities?)

-No Kitec plumbing.

-Maintenance fee not in the rent-ish range.

-Dogs permitted. (Legally as I understand it they have to be but I'd still avoid a building with a huge sign up in the lobby stating otherwise.)

-A non-stair-involving entrance. (Not actually such an issue in Toronto and also how am I the same person as the one who once helped carry a full-size bookcase up to the top of a Park Slope walk-up??)

Negotiables:

-A living room large enough to seem not too claustrophobic. (Current rental is #blessed in that regard.)

-Not a box-bedroom situation. As in, bedrooms both have windows. (This had been on the essentials list but am getting desperate.)

-Two bathrooms.

-Not on the gazillionth floor because for personal reasons with geopolitical significance that would sidetrack this post, that freaks me out.

-Near groceries that meet my exacting, pain-in-the-neck specifications. (Kensington or St. Lawrence Market, an H-Mart, Whole Foods, Chinatown...) Or, failing that, groceries. (No Frills is better than Loblaws is better than whatever the thing is that's like Loblaws but tiny.)

-Over 950 square feet. (Under 800 and this is definitive just-stay-put territory, I don't care how many 'bedrooms' they're claiming a space contains.)

-Very near a subway stop.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Post-postpartum

The verdict is given at the six-week appointment: Are you back to normal? Your normal, not Gisele's, but both may seem similarly implausible. Six weeks is when - at least if you're nursing - your uterus is supposed to have shrunk down to its original size. This is a giant unspoken euphemism for: if you still look pregnant at that point, it's the pregnancy-exacerbated addiction to salt-and-pepper potato chips, but not pregnancy itself. (Or just... pregnancy more generally, which involves more than an expanded uterus? But anyway.)

The personal: It has been 10 weeks and while I feel a bunch more with-it than I did, say, 5 weeks ago, I still look... not just bigger than pre-pregnancy, but somewhat pregnant. I had and hadn't expected this. All bodies are different, so there's no actual answer to how permanent this and all other bodily changes might be.

There's all sorts of empowering language about this online: You just created and birthed a whole new human being! Be easy on yourself! Which, sure. But then there's life in the clothes limbo where the maternity clothes are excessive (or just too dreary to keep wearing), but all pre-pregnancy clothes - pants at least - seem like they belong to a small doll of some kind, so little of your current body would they possibly contain. (Admittedly this was the case with those black Levis from the get-go. What was I thinking there?)

And then this is all paired with the not-vanity physical aspects of recovering from childbirth - as much as a line can even be drawn.

And if it's winter in Canada, and your preferred form of exercise is jogging, and the only gym nearby costs $180 a month and that's with a discount, getting back (?) in shape - at whatever size - is a challenge.

What I've found, maybe of use to others, maybe not:

-Move more, but don't diet. This is essential if nursing but probably the way to go regardless. So I'm forcing myself to jog, a bit, despite the terrible weather. (High school winter track, in an only slightly less-cold climate, was good preparation.) Also to do many dog-walks I might otherwise pass off to spouse or dog-walker. But apart from trying harder to remember that vegetables exist (even in winter, in Canada) and staying away from potato chips, I'm not changing how I eat.

There are practical aspects to this choice as well as values-ish ones. Practical being, having a newborn means scarfing down something, and quickly, when time permits. (I have not turned into a different person, so there are not casseroles or bean soups going into my freezer on Sunday nights. But now is not the moment for the David Tanis recipe where use of foraged asparagus is encouraged.) Values more like, I have a daughter, one who for better or worse will not be coming of age on the Upper East Side in the 1990s. Worse perhaps global-politics-wise but in terms of having the option of avoiding thinness-is-everything culture, better, I hope?

It can hard if you grew up in that culture to look at your newly-very-pudgy waistline and not think, this is a problem something must be done about. So I sort of allow myself to think this, but then remind myself that whatever the build is that results from eating normal food and getting some exercise is the one I'm best off having.

-'Invest' in jeans in the size you actually are. Just do it, don't overthink. I resisted doing so at first, both because I believed (correctly) that my build at 3 weeks postpartum or whatever would not continue, and because I figured (incorrectly!) I'd be fine alternating between sweats and leggings indefinitely. Turns out, it does wonders for a sense of normalcy, of resumption of life outside a postpartum haze, to put on some pants - yes, with stretch - that have a zipper.

But... get nice jeans. I don't necessarily mean $200 (a road I personally have yet to go down, now or otherwise), just ones that you genuinely like, and that don't feel temporary. Because who knows! They very well might not be temporary, and you don't want to be aiming for size goals rather than in-shape-ness ones all because you're sick of wearing crummy jeans in your 'just for now' size. I ordered two pairs from Everlane - one in black, inspired by Andréa in "Call My Agent!", and another in dark denim inspired by my need for a pair of regular jeans that can close around the waist - that are so nice that this will be the silver lining if I wind up having to get rid of all my previous pants.

-In-person clothes-shopping is not going to happen. Certainly not if you're carrying your baby in a carrier, or exclusively nursing (which in my experience means you never have more than 2 hours apart from baby, and get antsy after 30 minutes). Or if it does, don't expect to try anything on in the store. Normally I don't do online shopping. I have gotten over this.

-Accessories, always the obvious choice when clothes are for whatever reason complicated. But shoes are tricky because walking around with a baby (in winter, at least) is limiting style-wise even to those who don't normally wear anything all that impractical. (Got a pair of Blundstone boots in the third trimester and am trying to remember that I own other shoes, but the traction they provide on the perma-ice outside is making this difficult.) Bags, same - whatever it is will need to fit some baby-stuff, if not necessarily nearly as much as diaper bags suggest. But I ordered myself a bracelet (this, from Shlomit Ofir), which just arrived, and now feel massively more elegant. Have painted my nails red to go with. And the velvet scrunchies I bought in my last third-trimester outing-of-sorts (tacked onto a trip to the dentist) do liven up a sweatpants look.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Resolutionish

-House-leaving. Including baby classes, meet-ups, whatever it is one does, and I have some promising leads on that front but am open to more suggestions. But also a bit of leaning into home-with-baby hermit-ness where needed.

-Exercise, once this is medically possible. Jogging and weights again, I guess? But also keep up with meals, which is trickier than it sounds. (I may not look Worryingly Thin - and by "may not" I mean I certainly don't, as in I was only barely able to squeeze into my usual winter coat in time to need to do so - but for baby-feeding and hangriness-avoidance purposes, this is key.)

-Move to a place with an additional bedroom.

-Maaaany writing goals, including getting somewhere with the beginnings of fiction (heh) and non-fiction (more realistic but still heh) drafts.

-Find a few hours at some point, when few-hours excursions become possible, to go to this incredibly hip-seeming and expensive-but-worth-it-looking nail salon I was planning to try pre-pregnancy but never got around to, and get something minimalist but complicated done (gel, half-moons, something along those lines), and combine this with a trip to the nearby taco place.

-Sleep for five or more consecutive hours.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Inside-outside

Hello again, reader(s), from the other side. Necessary short version: All is well! Baby is great! Blog will remain my own holdings-forth and will not be about the baby herself, both to preserve her privacy and because there is at this point not a tremendous amount even to overshare if I were so inclined. (Newborns eat, sleep, and go to the euphemistic bathroom. Mine is no exception in this regard.) 

The difference between pregnant and not is hard to overstate, if a whole lot less about physique than I'd have imagined. True, I no longer look nine months pregnant, which is of course a good thing seeing as I'm not, but size-wise my goal is not a bikini, or even jeans, but to fit into my usual winter coat by January, when it will likely become necessary. Mostly, it's about being able to take a shower and not panic that maybe it's too hot for the baby. To eat lox and soft cheeses, but also just to eat a bite of something that tastes a bit off and not think, oh no, food poisoning, which bacteria could it have been?? To walk down an unsteady construction-site ramp into a Krispy Kreme near the doctor's office, knowing that the baby is across the street with my husband, and not inside of me.

And I suppose it's nice to know, principle of the thing, that I could have a drink, even if practically speaking, this is something has to wait until you can be sure your baby can make it two whole hours between feeds. Those Rodenbachs I bought just prior (and made a habit of knocking over in the fridge in search of food over the past many months, so who knows what state they're in) are still there, and I'm sure I'll get to them at some point. 

Oh, and it's amazing not to feel like I'm going to faint every day between breakfast and lunch, no matter how many iron supplements and snacks I'd throw at the problem. To sleep deeply and (sort of) comfortably, even if for limited stretches of time. And all of this after what was, on paper, an easy-enough pregnancy. (No morning sickness - just food aversions - and none of the serious pregnancy complications.)

Of course, there's also childbirth, which is reputed to be painful (even with pain medication), and with good reason. WWPD will not be host to a play-by-play of my own experience, but let it be known, an experience was had. One that, much like pregnancy itself, is tough to categorize as easy or difficult. I have not, shall we say, rejoined my local running group just yet. Recovery... takes a moment, and I write this from somewhere in that moment. Certain basic actions - going on a short walk, or picking something up from the floor - sort of went from being near-impossible for one reason to being similarly challenging for another. But at least things are trending towards easier rather than more difficult.

I've heard plenty about the claustrophobia that can come of feeling tethered to a baby, and, sure? You are tethered! If you breastfeed and are still in the time period where you aren't yet supposed to pump, your baby-less outings are by definition short ones. (Short and mildly nerve-wracking, but possible.) But the version with an actual baby is a whole lot more fun than where it's that what's stopping you from trying the ultra-hip nail salon you've been contemplating for a year is your own dread of the walk from one end of a subway platform alllll the way to the other, or concerns about the fumes, or the (remote but you never know) possibility of infection. That's really the big difference - when you're pregnant, depending your... outlook? belief system? life experience?, a baby feels like a hoped-for outcome you can't quite count on, and could jinx at any time. Whereas once there's a baby, that much is, at least, for sure.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Ready or not

Hello, this time from one day past my due date. This means, I suppose, that the end is in sight. Also that I feel as though I should be offering up either profundities on The Experience, or at the very least, some sort of account, public but basically for myself, of this rather key transitional life moment. But my mind isn't quite up to profound, so random-assortment it is:

-There is no "ready." In some senses everything is flawlessly lined up, and I'm old-but-not-ancient (although I certainly feel ancient), and yes, have been with my husband a long time. I have zero qualms or ambivalences about the change that's to come. But I mean! I have never been a parent before! I have never given birth before! Yes, I took a childbirth class, but that was so abstract! I have no idea what any of this is like, really, having barely been around babies, just on a practical level. I know enough to know it isn't like first getting a puppy, but if we're talking personal experiences I can relate this to, that's all I've got.

-Had thought by this point we'd be living in a two-bedroom but we are not. I want to say that this feels like (to put it in millennial terms) an adulting fail, but then I think about how I'd feel if we'd just spent our every cent on a two-bedroom the same square footage as our 1br rental, and one in a less convenient spot, and am thinking staying put for the time being may have been the way to go.

-I have not batch-cooked anything. The freezer has, like, ice cream, gnocchi, and Korean rice cakes. The car seat... I mean there is a car seat, newly-purchased and Canadian safety standards approved, but it hasn't been installed because there's no car. (Am still not entirely sure I don't want to come home from the hospital via what is, after all, a door-to-door public bus route.) But there are bags with stuff in them from lists and that's a thing you're supposed to have done. I just have to keep reminding myself that the advice online is for people who don't live in urban downtowns.

-It's not so much 'getting my body back' I look forward to as being able to reach things in cabinets. I'd anticipated the not being able to bend over thing (and... you sort of still can, it's just awkward.) But if you're already short and then can't get as close as usual to countertops or the sink or whatever, your options in the getting a glass down department quickly become limited. And fine, I also miss wearing regular pants - even if these are going to be pants in a different dress size than before (as seems inevitable, at least for a while), if they're not sweatpants or leggings, that would be a plus. Along similar lines: I'd imagined no-alcohol for nine months would be at least a bit more noticeable than it was. Meanwhile I've been so much more fixated on what it will be like to again be able to eat absolutely whatever (except romaine lettuce, I suppose, which is off-limits to all), without wondering about pathogens. I don't even mean the usual list (sushi, etc.). I just mean the ability to eat whatever and not have to think about it. OK and I also mean a very specific bagel with lox and salmon roe, sold at an establishment not that far from my apartment.

-Was listening to a BBC Woman's Hour podcast about the immediate postpartum period, which some are now calling the "fourth trimester." The guest was explaining that it's actually not super helpful to tell new mothers that they look great-as-in-healthy, because it puts pressure on them to deny any struggles. Something similar is true, I think, of pregnancy itself. Without going overboard with haranguing acquaintances for innocuous/well-meaning small talk, I'd say that... yeah, it can be frustrating to hear that you look unwell (which if you're as baseline pale as I am, plus your iron levels are so-so, you will hear, often), and to hear from passersby that you're clearly doing well, when... you haven't slept through the night in months, and have had to stop work earlier than anticipated due to almost fainting while administering a midterm. There's a binary to how these things are discussed - an easy or difficult pregnancy - that I don't think quite covers how these actually go. And it is, for obvious reasons, the "easy" bit that's easier to publicly discuss. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

The clear eyebrow mascara of cooking advice

And done. Thanks to some tremendous achievements in the field of not getting out much (except over the weekend, when a modest neighborhood-leaving attempt proved more exhausting than anticipated), I have now seen all four episodes of "Fat, Salt, Acid, Heat." "Acid," the Mexico episode, was by far the most compelling. I should note, however, that I have had exactly one true pregnancy craving, and it's been a second-half-of-third-trimester fixation on tacos. (I watched the consumption of the authentic article onscreen while eating an approximation at home. My dining-out of the past few weeks has been tacos and more tacos, basically.) Also: I've been to Italy and Japan, but never to Mexico, so there was more for me in the way of vicarious experience. Also, also: More broadly, I think citrus probably is an underrated ingredient-type, and one that hasn't had reason to reclaimed post-'lite'-and-low-sodium-1990s in the way that salt and fat have been. The concept felt somehow more original. (Also, also, also: tacos.)

So I was feeling kind of won over. And had high hopes for "Heat," the non-travel-based final episode. At last, all of these trips to get special ingredients were going to culminate in a home-cooking application!

Which... is and isn't where things go. Home for Samin Nosrat is Berkeley, California, but starts off at her former workplace, Chez Panisse. As I ate a defrosted (but - apologies to "Fawlty Towers" - fresh when it was frozen) and toasted bagel with mediocre Canadian goat cheese, I watched as Nosrat and an Alice Waters-esque woman (but not Waters herself) prepared thick steaks over a wooden fire, inside a kitchen, as one does. (Yes, it's the egg all over again.) The narration involves all these tips, assuring that the cooking of enormous steaks over a fireplace fire inside the Chez Panisse kitchen is something that actually has relevance to one's home-cooking techniques. My bagel-fueled skepticism was what it was, but I kept watching.

I should not have continued watching. Next up is the everyday, ordinary trip to the regular old supermarket, to learn how to shop. "One of the valuable lessons I learned at Chez Panisse was that you don't have to use expensive ingredients to make good food. All you need to find are simple, quality staples, and to treat them with respect," narrates Nosrat, as she meanders the aisles of a supermarket in Berkeley that looks like something out of a dream. (She also super-casually tastes some string beans (?) without paying, which I think is meant to seem non-pretentious, charming, and in the spirit of being sure to taste food at every step along the way, but... I don't know.) First, there's the meat. It's not just that this supermarket has a butcher - not standard, but not unheard-of. It's that the meat looks amazing and costs - to my now-Toronto-trained eyes - practically nothing.

But then comes the produce, and it's like, why bother, the viewer asks herself, pouring a bowl of raisin bran a couple hours later. It's like a peak-summer NYC farmers market, but with more - and more brightly-colored - vegetables. But with a layout reminding that it is in fact a supermarket. More narration, this time with Nosrat saying her focus isn't the special vegetables that happen to be in season in California but the everyday items like broccoli and string beans. Then why film in the Berkeley dreamscape supermarket? Anyway. Everything is lush and incredible and the herbs are fresh and bright green and come in bunches for like 40 cents rather than tiny desiccated clumps in plastic shells for like $4 because Berkeley is not Toronto. Further narration urges the addition of fresh herbs to dishes. A later scene involves the preparation of a salad made from roasted (complicated-ish) vegetables and pre-soaked beans (were we expecting boxed or canned? but not fresh, which is something) and then this massive pile of the herbs in question.

So. It makes perfect sense that cooking shows would feature aesthetically appealing food, and that a competent-but-no-more home cook going to a Canadian supermarket in the hopes of finding scallions, only to leave without any because it's not a scallion day, would not make for compelling television. (Downtown Toronto is so not a food desert. It's that Berkeley is exceptional in the other direction.) It also stands to reason that food professionals would gravitate to (or start their careers in) Berkeley, clustering there rather than cities where for most of the year you sort of cut into a piece of fruit and hope for the best. All of that is fine.

The problem here is more specific: If your reference point for grocery-shopping is Berkeley, your advice to home cooks generally is going to be maybe not so applicable beyond there. The thing where you cook so as to showcase the freshest ingredients - simple flavors, not too much in the way of sauces or spices (both of which could well give Toronto the ingredients advantage) - only works in a locale where more can be said of the ingredients than that they're not uniformly rotten. It is - to paraphrase myself from Twitter, sorry - very much like the approach to beauty-writing where you hear about which moisturizer someone with perfect skin uses as their entire beauty routine. Yes, it will send readers running out to buy that moisturizer, but if they were to pause for a moment they'd realize it's not (just) the moisturizer.

And yet. Just as the Glossier approach to beauty has a way of sucking you in and making you buy an actually very good tube of clear eyebrow mascara, watching "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" has revived my own interest in home cooking. (As, admittedly, has not being much able to leave the apartment.) Did I braise short ribs for about 6 hours the other day, because I'm suggestible? I most certainly did, and they were excellent.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Soy Sauce 99%

Hello from the land of too pregnant to teach. I am not, shockingly, too pregnant to Netflix. Decided to go with "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat," former Chez Panisse chef (with Michael Pollan ties as well) Samin Nosrat's docuseries, and am currently two episodes in. I will doubtless get to the other two soon, and if they massively change my thoughts, perhaps expect an update.

What's to say about the show? Critic Jenny G. Zhang is right: It is something different for a woman of color to be in the naive-but-adventurous American traveler role. What Nosrat does with that role itself may not be revolutionary — no, it's not a revelation that there'd be good food in Tuscany (the episode "Fat"); and I personally could have lived with fewer remarks about how Americans don't know about dashi stock, or other basics of Japanese home cooking, when... plenty of us have YouTube and Japanese cookbooks, and there's nothing "secret" about bonito flakes or associated techniques (from "Salt") — but Nosrat's physical presence is the difference between something that risks feeling stale or Orientalist, and carefree escapism.

And yes, it's refreshing for a woman-and-food show (or really any US-based show) not to involve a modelesque woman, whether promoting or condemning 'clean' eating. It's not just that Nosrat is bigger than the typical woman TV host. (Imagine the eye-rolls provoked by an episode venerating fat-the-ingredient, with a size-zero host.) It's also that she doesn't look done up in the way generally expected of women in this context. She's there because she's a chef, educator, and writer who knows her stuff (including fluent Italian), and an engaging presence, and that is — as it would be, for a male TV host — enough.

Put another way: that Nosrat isn't a dashing middle-aged white dude sneering at the bourgeoisie while urging regular sorts (women) back into the kitchen has a way of making the show, in this day and age, less distracting.

It's a good show, both as entertainment and in terms of probably making the world a better place. But I'm having trouble interpreting the show as the revolutionary achievement some critics seem to receive it as. I was especially baffled by Malcolm Harris's claim that there's something "Marxist" about the show, with "its vision of unalienated labor." Harris acknowledges that he's talking about a travel-centric cooking show featuring artisanal ingredients, but argues that this quality makes it not elitist: "Her point isn’t to communicate the rarity of these ingredients in a Most Expensivest kind of way — there are few purchases and no prices on the show." Which, technically speaking, sure.

Harris's interpretation of slow food as socialist utopia might make sense in the abstract, but not in the context of food writing/food culture of the past decade or so. Artisanal-fetishization as an aesthetic is always a discreet sort of conspicuous consumption. It's always venerating something foraged in a remote locale over the mundane ingredients available in supermarkets near home. And more specifically, it's venerating being the sort of person who can travel the world for — or, at least, import — those special ingredients. It's an aesthetic that rejects 'gourmet', with all its fussiness, but that effectively reproduces it in a slightly different guise. I mean, read a typical David Tanis recipe. Tanis, another Chez Panisse alum, is constantly advising making sure one buys the absolute freshest this or that, with it taken for granted that you're at the very least shopping at farmers markets and fishmongers, but preferably eating freshly-plucked produce, farmed or perhaps wild. Or think of Alice Waters herself, and her notorious fire-cooked egg. (I had remembered the egg incident, but was just reminded on Twitter of the ultra-pricey spoon the egg was prepared with.)

In other words, the same issues that come up with other food movement... advocacy? entertainment? arise here. There are home-cooking segments, but the gist of the show is that the best ingredients are near-impossible to procure, subtext being, whatever it is you're cooking with is inferior and a little bit tragic. A visit to Japan includes a lesson in how a special seaweed-derived salt is made, but then that seems industrial compared with a trip to the old-methods soy sauce... I don't even want to call it a factory, more like an artist's workshop, where we learn that less than 1% of soy sauce in Japan is produced the traditional way, and that most Japanese people won't have even tried this version. And it's like, is the 1% soy sauce that much better than the 99%, or does the viewer just want it to be, given how majestic the whole thing looks, with the barrels and the very serious soy-sauce producer? A part of me desperately wants to try the special soy sauce, but another is left feeling like, if even spending up at a local Japanese grocery wouldn't be good enough, what's the point, and wouldn't this have been time better spent learning what to do with a bottle of Kikkoman?

The show's thesis statement as it were might be simplicity — the universality of salt, fat, acid, and heat as elements that make good cooking worldwide — but the focus is on sighing over the very best of these ingredients. And there's no way to do this that doesn't implicitly (or at times explicitly, as in Nosrat's Alice Waters-esque references to what the typical American consumer is used to) suggest that the everyday versions of these ingredients are insufficient. The regular home cook — the person (the woman) expected to have dinner on the table each night — might be left inspired by the show, but could just as well be left feeling the usual you're-not-good-enough pressures reinforced.

All of this gets at a problem with the privilege framework for cultural critique. Once it gets decided that whichever new cultural product is — as Lauren Oyler memorably put it — "necessary," that is, that it's making an important social-justice contribution At A Time Like This, the work itself gets at once over- and under-appreciated. Over-, because... it's a travel food show partly about how the true Parmagiano, eaten on-site in Italy, really is that good. And under-, because once you hold the show to a full checklist of wokeness standards, you're asking more of it than you would be of yet another such show by a white guy. Which... if the show is revolutionary, it is in the same way "The Mindy Project" was. And let's allow it to be that, no more, no less. It can be at one and the same time annoying that food-movement preciousness lives on, and a positive development that its public-facing proponents now come from a more diverse array of backgrounds.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Next stop: a rice-selling supermarket

Every trimester has its theme. The first: disbelief. Was I really pregnant? Was I really pregnant? Really? When not frantically fear-googling various aspects of this, I was - thanks to the academic calendar and having not signed up to teach in the summer - mostly asleep. The second: how am I supposed to get dressed? paired with the not-unrelated how is it this hot out and what was I thinking, an apartment without air conditioning? Mitigated, respectively, by t-shirt dresses and a portable a/c.

The third, thus far, has certain plusses - am no longer relying on test results and a lack of evidence to the contrary to believe there's a baby in there; it's cooler out, but pleasantly so for my warped body temperature (others' parka weather is my sweater weather) - but some challenges as well. It's kind of the first trimester all over again, symptom-wise: most foods that aren't cold cereal seem nauseating, and most activities that are not being asleep, too strenuous. The general brain-fuzziness of the first has thankfully disappeared (allowing for a bit of pre-maternity-leave freelancing), but has been replaced by everyday activities (taking things out of low-down kitchen drawers; putting on socks, pants...) that involve any sort of bending forward having become near-impossible.

Oh yes, and the oh my goodness there will soon be a baby thing. This is meant to manifest itself as "nesting," which... I suppose it might have, had a planned pre-childbirth apartment move worked out. (An eventual move is likely, but as the due date approaches, the hoped-for timing becomes logistically challenging.) The online pregnancy-forum world is very much about nurseries, some of which have the nerve to look as large as my apartment. Nurseries, and baby showers, the latter which first had me thinking how lucky people are at times like these who live where they come from (or I guess are part of tight-knit communities where they've moved to), but oh the family-broigosity tales these inspire, so, maybe not.

Whatever planning energies I have - and it's not much - are directed towards making sure we own (or could readily own; The Lists seem to assume a situation where you live somewhere remote and there's no such thing as ordering things online in an emergency, like where you need to buy diapers on your way home from the 12-week scan) the essentials, and just a general getting things in order, which is ultimately more about stuff like creating answer keys to French exams to be given in my absence than re: anything explicitly baby-oriented. OK, that and childbirth class, which in Canada involves dilation size being compared with a "Canadian bagel," and watching videos our teacher reminds us are from the US where they do things differently (not in a good way) and I'm sitting there torn between relief at the fluke that I live in Canada and an impulse to announce that I was born in a US hospital and it's not actually that barbaric in the States, although admittedly I do not remember the event in question.

And then there are the last-minute frivolous goals, where the obstacle is as much the cost (at a time like this) as the fact that in the blips when time permits, I'm way too sleepy-clumsy for inessential outings. Which would include a somewhat involved manicure (bright red, empty moons, gel, maybe?) that would cost more than my (admittedly cheap) haircuts; a trip to eat a pastry and look at some practical (but chic, maybe?) boots in a neighborhood the past-self that liked to walk around liked to walk around in; and yeah if I'm not about to move, some sort of massive kitchen-pantry restock that acknowledges this fact. At the very least, it's probably time to buy rice.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Uniqlo-clad poorhouse

Isn't it sad when a new mother has to pay her nanny (wild how nannies expect payment), and the nanny budget dips into the designer-clothing one, and she's forced to wear Uniqlo and J.Crew? Except... is that even the takeaway of this hard-to-interpret Vogue essay?

In one sense, it's a straightforward tiny-violins plight, complete with the requisite gesture acknowledging the far greater "sacrifices made by less well-advantaged moms in New York City, and across the country." In other countries as well, even, but I guess this was U.S. Vogue, so. As someone whose baseline apparently tragic existence involves a more restrained approach to shopping than the author's crisis-budget one, I should roll my eyes, right? But, in another sense... I don't work in fashion! No one expects me to go beyond circa-2009 Uniqlo! (But oh, I do go beyond it. There's some 2018 Uniqlo in there as well.) The author is in a different situation:

It’s not like I had a wardrobe allowance before the baby, and I wasn’t an influencer receiving bags of free stuff. ... The nanny budget made me feel shabby, especially during Fashion Week, when the unspoken dress code is in-season only and other women in my sphere show up in new outfits that easily tally up in the high four figures. Daily. 
So... maybe the issue isn't so much that she, Woman Clothes-Shopper, simply couldn't resist the latest thing, but that hunting down and purchasing the latest thing - sans reimbursement - is a requirement in that industry? Maybe the problem is an industry where a designer wardrobe is expected, but some entity other than one's employer (i.e., independent wealth, or credit-card debt) is expected to pay for it? A problem both for socioeconomic-representation-type reasons, and for industry workers themselves, who are maybe sort of taught to believe that the thing they have to do for work is actually just a frivolous craving they ought to suppress. It's an extreme version of the gendered thing where a woman can feel guilty for spending that she'd also feel guilty not doing. (We have seen this before.)

Which gets, tangentially, at the second question the essay left me with, inspired by this sentence: "We were about 1 percent shy of the 1 percent and we were broke." If that's indeed the case, and this "we" involves a husband as well, and the wife's job is fashion editorial which probably pays OK but probably not 2%-income-level OK, then... what was the husband spending? Was this genuinely that the wife's clothes-shopping — again, a requirement of sorts for her job — got out of hand? (Was she buying Manafort coats?) The clothes, that is, plus some car payments she mentions, which, again, for people that rich, would be negligible? Or is it possible, given the scale of all this, that he was maybe also overspending, and maybe... by quite a bit?

Or! Was this one of those cases where a childcare budget is viewed as coming from the woman's income? That sort of seems to have been the case, because the sentence, "My husband and I pooled our funds and paid her for that week," comes only after she has insufficient funds of her own money to pay (cash, which is another story...) her nanny's wages. 

Sure, I want to praise the author for resisting overshare, and for not spilling what could be potentially quite dirty familial laundry. But in restricting the story to one her own clothes-shopping habits, the author winds up telling a story that both reinforces clichéd notions of what overspending looks like, and that somehow feels as if it's missing key pieces.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Maternity garb, Part III: for when you're a sphere

As best as I can tell, pregnancy has two phases: the bit where it's hard to know if the whole thing is real, and the one where it's this tremendous effort to get out of bed or off the couch or out of a chair, can't bend over, can't go more than two hours without eating, can't bear the oppressive heat of weather over 65F, and pregnancy feels not only real but eternal. I've gone from not entirely believing I was pregnant to not remembering what it felt like not to be.

This second phase seems to coincide with passersby noting my sphericalness, and accurately noting the cause. It's hard for me to criticize them for this, as the interest has been manifesting itself mainly as concern: the man in the supermarket warning me not to slip on some spilled bulk red lentils.... because. Or the pastry-shop barista glancing at my midsection, then alerting me to the fact that their cappuccino normally comes with two shots of espresso. (I avoided the slippery lentils, and requested a cappuccino with one shot, all the while realizing every other espresso-based coffee out I've been having — not many, but not none — has probably had two.) Concern, or congratulations, sometimes with an "is this your first?", a friendly, small-talk question I don't blame anyone for asking, but one that nevertheless serves as a reminder that I am in fact 10,000 years old. I have yet to be criticized for Doing X While Pregnant, but this could well be because I don't do anything remotely interesting, unless going to a supermarket that sells bulk lentils counts.

But back to the theme of this series: shopping. Parts I and II addressed the question of what to wear when nothing fits. This, the third installment, is about when nothing fits, and you're also incredibly sweaty and uncomfortable. Here's what seems to be working:

-Men's t-shirts. All-cotton, and the cheaper the better. These will do; bought them in black and white, and they seem to shrink nicely but not excessively in the dryer. The main thing is for t-shirts to be long enough. That and not to wear existing now-far-too-tight ones, even if they do kind of fit (as in, are long enough), because "kind of" isn't cutting it, not for the sweat situation.

-The more tent-like of cotton t-shirt dresses. This seemed expensive for what it is but was very much worth it.

-Slip-on shoes. If you can't bend over, laced sneakers are tricky, although I have a pair of running-turned-regular sneakers that can kind of function as slip-ons. Mainly, though, it's either the Birkenstocks or the mules. The plan for colder weather: slip-on Frye boots from 2011, which I've already had re-heeled and de-salted in anticipation.

-Shameful but true: the NYMag recommended Lululemon Align leggings. The cropped in navy, and the full-length (or in my case, "7/8" length) in black. In retrospect I should have just gotten the full-length black ones, since every time it's been too warm for long leggings, cropped have been a bad idea in that regard as well. I did not need two pairs of these.

And here's what hasn't worked, or has proven more daunting:

-Painter's overalls. I don't know. I had this fantasy of finding the (white, industrial) overalls worn by some patissier contestants in a French professional-baking competition, but hadn't quite thought this through, and will be learning how one returns this from non-Amazon Amazon dealers. (They're both enormous and too-small, with an extra added bit of ill-fitting in the chest area.) Because I live in hope, and because they were at last reduced into the cheap-rather-than-moderate threshold, I have gone and ordered a pair of white actually-maternity overalls from an Etsy seller in Latvia. 

-Sweaters? Some blips of slightly cooler weather alerted me to the fact that my maternity garb is all summer-wear, which, living in Toronto, may pose a problem. Of my existing sweaters, a couple seem like they sort of fit now, which means who knows re: a month from now, while the rest either don't or aren't even worth trying.

The wide world of sweaters I don't already own has proven tricky. I became fixated on the notion of a drapey sweater that doesn't close, thereby eliminating size concerns. This led me to a weekend-long (well, part of the weekend) quest to track down the (absurdly-named) Diderot sweater at Aritzia. Sold out! Oh no! Except in the branch where they still had it, and it was... not an attractive garment, at least not once on. It's one of those things where it's not entirely clear how it's meant to be worn. A similarly spacious wrap sweater at the same store was a whole lot better but also $178 (!!!) which is unfathomably more than I'd spend on a regular sweater so definitely not in the cards where maternity's concerned. Then there was the actual maternity store in the mall, which... doesn't really sell sweaters?, but which did have some impressively hideous fitted-track-suit-jacket-type things.

Anyway. I wound up with this, from a millennial-oriented concept shop of all places, because the garment is unquestionably big/long enough, and is sort of pretty maybe?, and because $40 is not $178.

-Baby stuff? This has involved a lot of browsing but, as yet, no purchasing.

-A two-bedroom apartment? This too has involved much browsing but no purchasing.

Friday, August 03, 2018

'Better not risk it'

Sorry, dear reader(s), but I remain fixated on the bonkers Twitter response to the news story of the pregnant woman who got served cleaning solution instead of the latte she'd ordered at McDonald's. I shouldn't, really, when the entire "story," such as it is, is that three (at least; didn't comb through all of it) people/bots in a substantial Twitter thread objected not to the poison served to this woman, but to her decision to go into McDonald's and order a latte in the first place.

Typing this, I realize it's not self-evident what the issue was. Was it that lattes aren't a choice classically associated with McDonald's? No! It was that pregnant women — according to some tweeterers not up on what medical guidelines actually are about this — shouldn't be drinking coffee. For the link-non-clickers: the guidelines are basically, don't drink coffee like it's water, but a coffee or two is fine. It just doesn't feel as if it should be. Why?

What kept coming to mind when overanalyzing this is what would have happened had this woman been served cleaning solution not in a McDonald's latte guise, but at one of those millennial-plant-filled, Instagrammable juice bars. Juice, so evocative of health and purity! Cold-pressed, of course. Except here's the fun thing: unpasteurized but prepared juice is one of the many (, many, many) otherwise consumable items that are fully off-limits to The Pregnant. It feels as if it would be fine, advisable, even. What could look more wholesome than a fresh glass of (green, perhaps) juice? And yet, the latte was (in principle; not that specific latte, clearly) the better choice.

In the great Before, I'd known that pregnant women couldn't have sushi. (Which may not even be the case anymore in the US, but still is in Canada; as compensation, we don't have to give a moment's thought to paying for maternity care or childbirth.) Ha! It is not only sushi. It's basically a full-on impaired-immune-system diet (no runny eggs, dubious leftovers, etc.), with the added twist that certain otherwise-whatever toxins are deadly to fetuses. Cold cuts, undercooked meat or seafood (or fully cooked fish, if it's the mercury-dense kind), any remotely decent cheese, lox, it's all a disaster waiting to happen.

At which your impulse might well be to go vegetarian, or maybe even vegan, just to simplify matters, and given that all the fun non-vegan foods are out. But that's not ideal, either, since you need to get enough protein, not just regular-person enough but even more. That, and salad is also suspect. If you don't know where it's been or whatever, it crosses over into one of those foods. Not least with romaine lettuce regularly swinging between acceptable salad green and bacterial sewer to be avoided at all costs. Eat vegetables! Just not those vegetables, or those, and oh, maybe not those either. And carbs are good! Just make sure you're having multigrain everything, and not too much sugar (she types, looking down at her almond croissant), because you want to gain weight but not too much, and gestational diabetes could be around the corner.

I read Emily Oster's Expecting Better and nodded along in theory to the idea that what matters is actual risk, while at the same time thinking if even minor risk can be avoided, now's really the time. I went into... this entirely prepared to make all the sacrifices. What's nine months? My lifestyle at 34 didn't require any major adjustments (the upside to losing one's alcohol tolerance around 30), and I mostly eat the vegetarian sushi anyway. I didn't (and don't!) find it all that infantilizing if, for actual medical reasons, I'd have to consume a bit more like, well, a child.

What I wasn't prepared for was the system of rules, akin to kashrut or extreme "clean" eating, that came with. Basically anything you haven't prepared yourself is dangerous, because who knows what's in anything? All sorts of seemingly innocuous foods could have secret raw eggs, secret alcohol. I find myself standing at the cheese section of the supermarket, Borat-style, trying to make sense of which cheeses would be acceptable. Confusingly, the hard cheeses are often raw-milk, while the ones with the reassuring "pasteurized" label are often the soft-rind, forbidden variety.

Not drinking, fine. Not ordering the beef tartare that I wasn't going to order anyway, also fine. But where was the option that didn't involve turning every meal into a research project, and at a time when one is meant to be getting enough nutrients? This is an approach that, as a matter of principle, I object to in my regular life, but that here struck me as all-out dangerous.

And add to this the expectation that all women open to the possibility of becoming pregnant act as though they already were, and not just basic stuff like taking folic acid or not smoking, but, apparently, giving up pizza, because god forbid an actually pregnant woman ate garbage like that. So yeah, while I didn't immediately, I now get why the purity requirements grate, and why Oster's book has such a passionate following. It's not, as I first skeptically imagined, that everyone just wants an excuse to drink. It's not even about that, really. Where everything is risk, and still more things feel as if they would be, there's no obvious 'safest not to risk it' option.

So I do what I guess everyone does, in one way or another: I draw my own lines. Alcohol is out, because I can give or take its presence in my life. Max one coffee a day is in, and is the main hope for me consuming the recommended amount of milk. There's enough that's necessary that I find it hard to convince myself to sign on to the things that merely feel as if they might be. That means the whole organic thing is one I'm giving a pass. (If the organic fruit's the one that looks vastly better, it's what I may go with, price depending, same as before.) I'm not picking now as the moment to start on the apparently effective retinol-based anti-wrinkle creams, since retinol's in the Actually A Problem pile, but have not combed through my existing makeup, tossing anything with parabens. I've very nobly held back from getting a gel manicure, something I'd been contemplating but too frugal-squeamish to get Before, but did get highlights in my hair, which, like coffee, appears to fall into the seems-like-it-should-be-a-problem-but-isn't pile.

Put another way: There are so, so many ways, at every stage of the process, for things to go wrong, and for no known or controllable reason. My understanding of this daunting reality does not make me want to grab pseudocontrol via pseudoscience. On the contrary, it makes me a little bit more live-and-let-live, which honestly, in my sober and cheese-researching state, can't hurt.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Women: never the right age, and always shopping all wrong

-When I see Catherine Nichols has a new piece out, I always click, but I especially recommend her latest for Jezebel, about "dead girl" narratives supplanting romantic comedies. The argument itself is compelling (read it!), but it's the rom-com part I seem to have honed in on:

This is the post-pill chick-lit situation: a young woman’s life is not like her mother’s specifically because she can have a job and she can move to the city and have fun with her own money. On the other hand, even with access to this realm of dignity that was, until recently, only for men, she has a new indignity of having to persuade one of her shitty boyfriends to marry her before she runs out of eggs. She’s stuck in this neo-Victorian position of having to advocate for the hearth and home—for family, commitment, cooperation, children—when the promise of the Pill was that she could have other priorities.
This is something I've also written about, from a different (and less precise, I'm now realizing; it really is about the pill!) angle. There's this false feminism of a society that presents women's professional options as infinite, except for the small matter of, the options are to stop abruptly at The Age (exact age varies by region/subculture), at which point pre-feminist requirements not only surface, but get treated as an emergency situation. Meanwhile a woman who sees what's on the horizon and leans out, even marginally, before reaching The Age, is viewed as a regressive throwback, all for doing precisely what would have been demanded of her, from the very same milieu, five minutes later. Women can find themselves in the wrong for being ambitious or insufficiently so, if they don't get their timing just right.

The line that most struck me in Nichols's article was one about women "frustrated or humiliated by the need to find a man to marry before she runs out of fertile years—or, even if she doesn’t want children, fertile-looking years." That second part especially. If a woman does wish to have biological children, then yes, this means accepting that female fertility... is what it is. But this isn't every woman's goal, or priority. Yet all straight women are meant to treat various ages as deadlines, and, I guess, to ignore the fact that people of all ages pair off.

-I'll also belatedly WWPD-plug my first-ever piece for Refinery29! It's ostensibly about a Money Diaries column, from a wealthy 21-year-old student and intern, that went viral. But it's more generally about the temptation to view "privilege" as young women consuming (often fairly mundane, affordable) things, and to ignore the larger-scale (if less tangible) forms of privilege experienced by, oh, certain middle-aged men, many of whom (as several responding to my piece pointed out!) don't even know how much their day-to-day expenditures amount to, because someone else (a wife, say) is handling those trivial matters. Why — I continue to wonder (rhetorically) — do we not hear about how men feel about what they spent on each salad or taxi? Why indeed.

It's not that men can't make the news for materialism or aloofness. It just takes a wildly different threshold. It needs to be Paul Manafort, with his allegedly shadily-purchased $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket. Or Trump not knowing how grocery-shopping works. Meanwhile a woman can scandalize by spending $15 on takeout, or by buying groceries that aren't the absolute cheapest (or, conversely, on those that are; does she think about where her family's food comes from??), or by getting a latte at McDonalds.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

On "Nanette" ambivalence

Everyone seemed to really love "Nanette." By "everyone" at this stage (there will be other stages), I mostly mean people I follow on social media: friends, acquaintances, like-minded writers. I had not, thus far, much-if-at-all noticed any reviews. But judging by word-of-mouth reception, the show, a Netflix stand-up special, seemed to have achieved the miraculous feat of seeming spot-on regarding feminism, across swaths of feminists who don't necessarily normally agree on much. There was a #MeToo angle! Something about mansplaining, but not heavy-handed-seeming! But also: performer Hannah Gadsby spoke about being a gender-non-conforming lesbian and not — as others would sometimes insist — a trans man, which pleased the contingent fearful that butch lesbians these days are under pressure to transition. (That is not my lane — I'm a cis woman not averse to menswear, but who, earlier this evening, booked something called "partial head highlights" — and nor am I any kind of outside expert; I bring this up merely to point out how branches of feminism I wouldn't have expected to were converging over "Nanette.")

Without giving much thought to how any of this would translate to comedy, I found myself with the requisite set of factors — an hour or so of free time, a limited array on Canadian Netflix — and figured why not?

It started out promising: We meet Gadsby with her dogs, and they're excellent dogs. Then, and more importantly, there's Gadsby herself, who's so charming, as well as just... original. Her stage presence, but also her well-told, unusual-for-stand-up life story (a gay Tasmanian woman with a background in art history, in an arena where "woman" can, on its own, suffice as difference). And maybe most of all, originality-wise, an unpredictable politics: unambiguously progressive but in-group critical. That's a tough line to walk, especially in comedy — how can this be done without making it seem like you're giving out-group members, aka the majority of the audience (and of society), permission to laugh at the group you're a part of? — but somehow she was managing it.

And then...

The second part of the routine is what critics (although the word "critics" seems the wrong word for near-unanimous adulation) have deemed the point. It's a monologue covering quite a bit of ground, all righteous, some cathartic, some more along the lines of a gets-it-right op-ed (or, as some have observed, a TED talk): Picasso was a sexist whose lover, during his own middle age, was a 17-year-old girl. Self-deprecation is problematic, you see, a self-defense mechanism of the marginalized. Comedy is problematic. Gadsby speaks about her own experiences as the victim of sexual violence; what she says is not funny, but who would ask this to be? She also repeats the refrain, "straight cis white men," I think in that order, in reference to the category of humanity without experience being the underdog.

Where did all this leave the viewer, or much more accurately, this viewer?

I came away as convinced as I already was — which is to say, abundantly convinced — that homophobia is a scourge which has lived on well past when some might imagine it's obsolete, if with more specific knowledge about Australian homophobia than I'd ever had previously. I was also — shockingly, I know, especially As A Woman — already opposed to sexual assault, as well as irritated at the thing where male geniuses (and a whole lot of not-so-brilliant men, under that cover) get a pass to do pretty much whatever. And yeah, I've experienced a bit of mansplanation in my day, even if my interpretation of it may be slightly different than the usual. (I think mansplaining is a thing, but a thing men also do to other men, only the dynamic's different in that context.) I may not have been precisely the target audience for "Nanette," but not far off.

But did agreeing with (most of) the arguments themselves mean liking "Nanette"?

According to The Moment, yeah, pretty much. Reviews and profiles in major publications (New Yorker, NYT, Guardian, etc.) tended to hit the same notes: Behold, a list of unassailable public figures who not only praised "Nanette" but declared it the most important work ever. Behold, Gadsby herself, someone whose relatively late, out-of-the-blue-seeming success, after numerous personal and mental-health struggles, feels not just earned but like justice being served. And then the third element: the cultural and political context, the ultra-solemn Now. "Nanette" feels like a response to Louis C.K., to all the bad men who've felt entitled to our bodies and our laughter. (Consider the New Yorker's choice to have Moira Donegan, creator of the "Shitty Media Men" list, as a "Nanette" reviewer.)

Failure to swoon over "Nanette" becomes a multifaceted misdeed: a dissent from the critical consensus; a personal-seeming insult against a performer who seems like an unusually deserving person (because, after all, the show is so personal);

While watching "Nanette," I found myself thinking of Woody Allen, not least because he comes in for some criticism in Part II. A straight cis white man, yes. Problematic, undoubtedly. (And who can forget that the journalist credited with #MeToo — even if, fine, two women journalists got there first — is none other than Allen's son? Woody Is Everywhere.) But I have trouble thinking of the self-deprecation of Allen's early years as coming from a place of privilege. I found myself wondering whether Gadsby, whose show so deeply rests on her own unequivocal underdog status, has reckoned with her own (best as I know) gentileness, when effectively throwing Jewish humor (yes, and other sorts as well) out the window.

I am not an experiencer of male privilege. I did not take the ugh-men turn remotely personally. Nor, somehow, was I cheering.

Far more than Woody Allen, though, the comedian I had in mind while watching was Ali Wong, a comic I also learned about via social-media hype leading me to a Netflix special. It's hard to argue that Wong's physical presence in "Baby Cobra" (which, for what it's worth, I watched and enjoyed well before motherhood was on the horizon for me personally) or "Hard Knock Wife" — Asian-American and heavily pregnant — is less outside stand-up norms than Gadsby's. Wong, too, broke ground, and addressed all manner of 'identity' topics, and also... was hilarious.

It helps that Wong's performances (and, as I recall, the critical and social-media endorsements of them) don't leave the viewer feeling like anything less than a heartfelt enthusiastic reception means you're an anti-Asian bigot, or unsympathetic to the challenges of life in a female body. Nor, for that matter, that any response other than This Is Important was akin to bashing a sensitive soul's artistic production.

But what I kept thinking was, are we meant to believe Ali Wong pandered to the patriarchy by doing stand-up routines that were funny the whole way through, addressing race, female sexuality, and miscarriage, but also, heaven forfend, making audiences laugh? More broadly: why is anything other than unsubtle, earnest outrage now viewed as being on the wrong side? Does someone like me — someone who (this is in the book) found much of "Master of None" cringe-inducing — simply not belong to this era?

(Is it too cynical, or worse, to remember that "Master of None" was only held up as this icon of Awareness until co-creator and star Aziz Ansari became problematic via an itself-problematic early #MeToo story, wherein he was reportedly gross while dating? To remember this, that is, and to wonder whether it's tempting fate to declare Gadsby — or any human being! — the epitome of pure, underdog goodness, when who knows what will surface, or as they say online, milkshake-duck?)

Sanctimonious entertainment doesn't drive me to the right politically. (Thus why you're getting this to-do on WWPD and not in a publication — I could see my view on "Nanette" being not just published celebrated on the right... but for the wrong reasons.) Maybe it does this for some, I wouldn't rule it out. For me, it just makes me think cultural consumption is something that effectively needs to happen in private, if it's to happen honestly. Not necessarily in the sense of alone, but among friends, or over direct messages.

To be clear, it's not about what can or can't be said, or not exactly. I'm well aware that there's a tremendous market for dissenting views from self-identified progressives. But that market is, or amounts to, the right. Or if not the right, exactly, then a subset of the center that has its priorities wrong, obsessing over progressive sanctimony while the right offers up one disaster after the next. It's certainly permitted not to like "Nanette." But where are you left if you like its political message but not its artistic one, or just found the whole thing a bit meh, despite rooting for the creator personally? Is this a case where it's best to say nothing at all?

The trouble with personal writing (yes, I repeat myself on this) is that it's impossible to criticize the writing without seeming to be judging the author, or making light of her struggles. A similar problem comes up with political art: If you care about Issue A, the expectation is that you'll love Work X, and conversely, if Work X doesn't do much for you, then it's clearly because Issue A doesn't move you. This approach to culture, which feels (and is!) so very now, isn't entirely new. It's just become ubiquitous. (Please, please read Lauren Oyler on "necessary" art, especially this part, but really, all of it: "When applied to bad art with good politics, 'necessary' allows the audience to avoid engaging with a work in aesthetic terms, which tend to be more ambiguous and difficult.")

"Nanette" falls squarely into both situations — it's personal and topical. To feel meh about "Nanette" is — unless you're really leaning into contrarianism — to feel as though you're wrong politically as well as contributing to the wrongs the performance's creator has already had to suffer. Which is... not great, I think, for art, or ultimately, for politics either.