Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 imminent

Oh, there are more, but here are some of the more important ones. OK, readers, hold me to this:


-Driver's license.

-Not quite so much pasta. Or at least whole wheat pasta. Something.

-Actually pitch articles, as opposed to blogging some idea, only to see that idea in print, three weeks or years later, written by somebody else. As in, aggressively, none of that 'but I emailed this one editor one time three years ago and never heard back.'

"Crazy curious"

Recently, at a Pain Quotidien (don't judge), I saw three young women, home from college, maybe, quite obviously good friends, but all three just sitting there, looking at their phones, for a long time. Not chatting about what they were reading, just staring, surfing, scrolling. There was clearly agreement that this was the thing to do at that moment, and it's not as if one of the women was stuck fiddling awkwardly with a pre-smart-era cellphone. They looked perfectly content - making it my curmudgeonly problem that I found this arrangement kind of sad. When I was their age, hanging out with high school friends in coffee shops and the Japanese restaurants that functioned as bars, we discussed what happened back at college. We weren't trying to be two places at once.

The purpose of this anecdote is to say that I get it. But then there's this, from a Room For Debate about Facebook and romance:
Just the other day, I was in a supermarket in Los Angeles and I saw this guy checking out this girl. He was standing next to her in line at the juice bar. He kept looking at her, and she kept looking down … at the Facebook app on her iPhone. 
Now, I know some of you right now are thinking, maybe she wasn't interested. That wasn't the issue. Because what I'm about to share with you is something most of you have probably done. 
He gave up and disappeared. But I was crazy curious so I stood next to her in line and got real close and peeked at what she was typing into her phone. 
Her status update: When am I going to meet a nice guy? It seems like all the good men are taken.
There's just so much material here. First, that dude was checking out a woman in a supermarket in no way tells us that dude is single, let alone interested in pursuing anything with this woman. Certain public spaces are just like that. Or maybe he was looking at this woman because he knows her, or to tell her about a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe, or who knows. Then there's the dating guru (also a dude) sidling up to this woman and getting close enough to read her status update. While glancing in the general direction of attractive members of one's preferred sex(es) is just human nature, sidling up, even for research purposes, that does strike me as creepy. 

Anyway, to finish the nonsense-overanalyzed, that this woman was publicly bemoaning her singledom doesn't mean she actually wants to find a partner. If anything, I've found that women who make a thing (sometimes a profession!) of writing about how tough it is to find a man tend to be precisely the women not interested in pairing off (with a man, at least) in the first place. Either it's that 'single' has become a key part of their identities, or maybe they're insisting so much because it's expected that single women mind their predicament, and the repetition is a cover for not minding one bit, or for being a closeted lesbian, both can happen. It is, in short, a script. 

But if I emerge from this contrarian shell for a moment, I do get the dating guru's point. It's not all that hard to picture a woman indeed wanting a boyfriend, but thinking it would be unacceptable to meet one at the supermarket. That it would be pushy and presumptuous for her to go after a guy she noticed (who would have gone after her if he was anything but repulsed by her physical presence). That it would, on the other hand, smack of desperation to accept a dude's advances.

The paradox of modern romance is that we've retained the idea that men must pursue, added to it the idea that any man who pursues a woman is inherently creepy, and yet it's clear enough online, one way or another, when a woman is available and looking for partners. Or, it's that it's viewed as desperate to use the internet to look for dates, but a date found any other way won't work either, because you can't meet someone at the office, and friends-of-friends should be a safe zone, and not hitting on people, whereas strangers are sketchy. Oh Ross Douthat, I'm not sure at all where all those babies are gonna come from. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mont Oriol, Part II: the perils of mésalliance

Maupassant kind of redeemed himself, maybe. I ended up really getting into the novel, which given the vaguely nauseating scanned computer-screen format is saying something. I found, though, that if I switched between the novel and Facebook on occasion, I started blurring the two somewhat, imagining that among my friend-list were decadent aristocrats, lovesick peasant girls, and so forth. Then I went and interspersed the novel my husband just got me, The Middlesteins, and... here it was less confusion than something else. It's weird to go from a story about a Jewish family, one with really impeccable character development, to one where there's The Jew, whose function is basically to only care about money. In any case, make that two more novels read in 2012, although I long ago gave up on the idea of counting this.

Reading Mont Oriol for the Jewish angle (which I effectively had to stop doing to get any enjoyment out of it, but I noted the relevant pages enough to do what must be done), I ended up finding the novel not so much virulently anti-Semitic as 1886-ish-ly un-PC. As in, if one was going to have a money-hungry, Parisian yet vaguely foreign financier, one would, by convention, make this character a Jew. One doesn't get the sense that Maupassant was preoccupied with the so-called Jewish Question, only that he wanted to represent this type for various other plot points to fall into place. It needs to be that Christiane can have an affair without cheating on a husband we sympathize with. And if we don't sympathize with William Andermatt, it's less because he's so preoccupied with business, and more because he's the husband in an arranged, loveless marriage.

The cruelty of the portrait, then, comes primarily from the sense one gets that Maupassant was able to imagine the inner life of all the main characters - male and female, rich and poor, young and old, rural and urban - with the exception of this Andermatt. Andermatt doesn't come across as shadier than the other characters - think decadent aristocrats crossed with 1980s-movie cads - just as less present. The Other, I believe, is the technical term for this. He's just this utter non-entity. What would he think if he realized his wife was having an affair? It's alluded to that he must not find out, but it's also kind of unclear that he would even care, presuming it didn't impact his finances.

What's interesting for my dissertation, at any rate, is that Christiane gives birth to a daughter whose biological father is a new-money but Catholic playboy, but whose presumed, legal father is Andermatt, Christiane's husband. On the one hand, we're meant to believe that a Christian(e) and a Jew are of practically different species and thus cannot conceive, or perhaps that Jewish men are infertile, although the latter seems dubious given the popular stereotypes about Jews being too fertile. On the other, Jewish difference is not presented as visible, such that it would be obvious upon seeing a child if it was or was not half-Jewish. For all the ambient racial anti-Semitism in 1886 France, a Jew was still white.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Of lost time

I know you are under the impression that a PhD that focuses on the themes of inter(text)uality in medieval basket-weaving would be a surefire route to a high-paid career with 1950s-breadwinner-style job security. I know, it's a common misconception. And the only way you'd possibly learn the truth is that every so often, a wise adult issues a Don't-Go, warning the likes of you that grad school is a terrible mistake.

The mark of a Don't-Go is that it will be phrased as a question: should you go to grad school? But the moment this has been asked, the answer has been given, and apologies for the passive voice. The most fun Don't-Goes try to reach the widest audience possible by refusing to differentiate between MA and PhD; humanities, social sciences and sciences; funded and not; elite U or not. This is to confuse you, such that when you're admitted to a joint PhD program in all quantitative disciplines, with a joint appointment at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, you can turn it down, because it's only sensible to do so.

Ron Rosenbaum, the latest author of a Don't-Go, limits himself to literature grad school, which, if you were considering/are currently in literature grad school, will cause you to read the thing, and the comments, and let's be honest, it's not like you're needed desperately at the office. What gives Rosenbaum his authority is that he himself went. To Yale. For one year. In 1969.

That Rosenbaum then had a successful career in journalism either a) gives us hope or b) tells us that in 1969, that was a viable career path, or c) makes us wonder if maybe having been a literature grad student at Yale (where he also did his undergrad) gave him an edge. Which is often the missing piece, as with the Harvard college drop-out legends. A place can lend you caché even if it doesn't grant you a degree. A commenter though, put it best:
I love you, Rosenbaum, but here's what I'm hearing: if I can manage to get myself into undergraduate school at Yale University in the middle of last century, I will have a good shot at getting a good job in the field of journalism, which (since it's midcentury) still has many years of plenty ahead of it? Well then, my mind is made up!
The classic problem with the Don't-Go is that we learn not to go to grad school, but are presented with no viable answer to what someone who ends up in or considering literature grad school might do instead. Rosenbaum's alternative sounds all kinds of appealing, but ignores the state of journalism today, as well as the logistics, namely the ten trillion unpaid internships one is now expected to have completed prior to the low-paid work with which Rosenbaum was able to enter the field. He seems to have caught onto the fact that academia is no longer a sure thing, but that's about it. He's mostly interested in the undisputed tendency of literature grad school to turn lovers of books into Perez-Hilton-addled burn-outs, if only from time to time. But I promise, enjoyment of literature comes back eventually. Just don't expect much of it in the lead-up to or week after your qualifying exam.

Anyway, I have nothing against the Don't-Go concept, but I want to see one that tells college seniors and recent grads to rewind the clock and pay more attention in high school math classes, to bond with teachers of something other than creative writing, to do whatever it is one does that leads to being a consultant, banker, air-conditioner-repairperson. Give us something we can work with.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

And now, the outrage

OK, so while everyone I've shown Jillian Keenan's post about parental overshare to (people who may have been hearing me go on about "dirty laundry" since forever) has either endorsed it/my enthusiasm for it or not said either way, the NYT parenting-blog readers almost uniformly denounce it. This may have something to do with the tendency of readers of a parenting blog to not take to well to the idea that parent-blogging is an inherently problematic enterprise. Here, some of the key points that arise:

-The mental-illness stigma: Whenever this comes up, some will argue that mental illness shouldn't be stigmatized, and that if we ask parents not to write about their children's such illnesses, we're part of the problem. Never mind that the stigmatization of mental illness does exist, this is the world we live in, and it therefore is quite possible that writing about how your child is clinically insane might not only embarrass your child but also impact your child's later life (the potential-employers argument). But we're missing the point, I think, if we look at this as a question of mental health exclusively. A parent also shouldn't be writing a tell-all about a child's physical illness or physicality, period, particularly if it's the sort of thing that impacts future insurability, hireability, marriageability, etc. (Imagine an essay: 'My child's struggle with the giant hairy mole on his back, and the pains he takes to hide it at the beach.' Or: 'My child might look like a boy, but he has ambiguous genitalia.') I might make an exception for parents of children who, due to the severity of whichever condition, will clearly either not live to see whichever article or ever have the mental capacity to do so. But let's focus on the less extreme examples. If you already know that Potential Hire or Potential Spouse X has whichever issue in his past (and different issues would of course matter in different contexts), all things equal you might well go with someone else. It's naive to think that's not how the world works, and it should thus be up to individuals to decide how much of their not-immediately-visible bodily particularities they wish to share. If this is tough to wrap your head around, imagine a 22-year-old author writing an article about a 54-year-old parent's physical illness, without that parent's consent.

-The thing with the knife: Readers agree that then-15-year-old Keenan's having brandished a knife in front of her mother and injured herself with it makes her an untrustworthy source. But they're split over whether the problem is that she, unlike Adam Lanza, was just melodramatic, and therefore she's comparing apples with oranges, or, conversely, that someone who for goodness sake wielded a knife at her mother is telling other people how to live. Clearly both of these can't be true, so let's look at them separately. In the first case, it's the notion that it's different to mommy-blog about teen angst than about teen mental illness. Re: this, see the item above. In the second case, I'm not sure quite what the argument is. Keenan isn't saying that her mother would have been wrong to do anything about her admittedly off behavior, only that her mother would have been wrong to blog about it.

-At least one reader thinks that as a non-parent, Keenan is in no place to judge parents, particularly those of troubled, potentially dangerous kids. This I really don't understand, but I suppose that's because I also don't have children, eh? But if this is an argument about a wrong done to a child, why should it matter if the now-adult child in question has children? More to the point, why does personal stance matter at all here? I never wielded any knives, so am I not qualified to say that I agree with Keenan on this? Keenan does acknowledge that parents of troubled kids have it tough, but it's not as if, if she knew just how tough, as one only could from personal experience, she'd be likely to change her view and think confessional mommy-blogging in these cases was just fine.

-Some readers comment on the ethical dubiousness of overshare in general, including dirty laundry that belongs to one's fully-grown friends and relatives. Also of sharing things that might be upsetting to her own entirely theoretical future children (!) Keenan has, after all, told a story about her mother, and earlier told a fairly racy one involving her fiancé. As someone who writes in the first person, but whose line is drawn somewhere rather more conservative than Keenan's (thus explaining why Dan Savage has never interviewed me on his podcast), I do kind of get this. But as Keenan herself points out, adults have legal recourse if problematic things are written about them, and will often be asked to consent (as her fiancé was) before being written about. And more broadly, adults are not at the mercy of anyone else, the way a child is of his parents. The power balance in that situation is quite unique. And it's as good as meaningless to ask your very young children (11 and eight!) to consent to stuff you share about them online. Both because kids that young don't have the judgement to decide what to put online about themselves, and because they want to please their parents.

-Across many of the comments, there seems to be confusion between a parent's right to vent and a parent's right to vent to a mass audience. Parents of troubled as well as ordinary kids complain about their kids, just as the children of ordinary and troubled parents complain about their parents. The problem comes when children do not feel safe in their own homes, their secrets potential fodder for mass entertainment consumption. Parents totally should whine about their kids, or, if something serious is going on, seek appropriate help. None of this has anything to do with the ridiculous 'awareness-raising' aka self-promotion that is sacrificing one's child's privacy for a mass audience.

"[T]he media has an important responsibility not to republish gratuitous material that could damage a child’s long-term personal or professional prospects."

It looks like the national conversation emerging from the Newtown tragedy is one I've actually been going on about for some time (that's 2008, folks): the acceptability, or lack thereof, of parents writing tell-alls about their own children. Will Baude first made the connection with my "dirty laundry" tag, but it just keeps going. 

There's now a really wonderful post on the NYT parenting blog by Jillian Keenan, thanking her mother for not blogging about her own adolescent low point - the privilege of having been an adolescent in the pre-mommy-blogging days. She makes basically all the same points I've been making, but with an actual, you know, hook: there's something in her childhood that, if publicized at the time, would likely have ruined her reputation. With me, there's plenty I wouldn't have wanted my parents writing about, but nothing that, if publicized, would have impacted career prospects or what have you. If my parents had written about my age-15 woes (far too much "Designing Women," far too many futile crushes on boys who didn't so much turn out to be gay as they were already out, sometimes even dating each other, but I was just that oblivious), it would have turned my face beet-red, but that's about it.

So, back to Keenan. The best parts:
The issue of mental health in children and adolescents is critically important, and families who are struggling deserve nothing but help, support and understanding. But it frightens me that personal blogs and major media outlets have suddenly become acceptable venues for parents to publicly speculate about whether or not their children are mentally ill.
Parents should be the first line of defense to protect their children’s privacy, but sometimes they aren’t. In those cases, children have few avenues for protection or defense. Defamation cases involving minors can be tried in civil court, but because children have no legal standing, a parent or other adult would have to file the lawsuit. Those cases would also be very difficult to prove, since the potential long-term impacts of childhood defamation are hard to measure.
So, in the absence of other protections, the media has an important responsibility not to republish gratuitous material that could damage a child’s long-term personal or professional prospects. A few months ago, when I wrote an essay that described my relationship with my fiancé, he had to give his consent to The New York Times (in writing, no less) before they would publish it. Because children don’t have that opportunity, major news outlets need to exercise more discretion. Parental consent is important, of course. But it’s not the only important factor. A child should never be drafted against his will as a public symbol of mental illness and violence, or anything else.
The only slight thing I'd disagree with in Keenan's post is her use of the word "gratuitous." Whichever details (an act of near-violence, an arrest, a diagnosis, an especially bratty breakdown or an especially disappointing college rejection) could well be essential to telling whichever story; the "gratuitous" is the identification of a real-life child.

I'm thus going to reiterate my own suggestion that there oughta be a law. Newspapers are going to go on printing these things because everyone loves a parenting tell-all. These things go viral. Nothing like a juicy revelation under the guise of this is a very serious issue someone was courageous enough to bring up. These hyper-public confessions aren't going anywhere.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mont Oriol Part I: up to page 100 of the defective, unprintable PDF

Don't try this at home, kids, but I picked a dissertation topic before I knew if there would be enough sources to swing it. I mean, I did start out with a different vision for the project, one that ultimately wasn't possible because those sources didn't seem to exist. But I really wanted to write about Jewish intermarriage in nineteenth-century French literature, without being entirely sure that there was a heck of a lot of it.

Well, there is, in fact, a heck of a lot of it. A never-ending virtual pile of PDFs. So I learned while doing research in Frahnce and, less glamorously, on Google Books and Gallica. One of my committee-members just pointed me to another, one I'd made a note of but had not realized was top-of-the-pile material: Maupassant's Mont Oriol, which is indeed a find, and which has odd overlaps with, of all things, Into The Gloss. It's all about - OK, not finished yet - the magical power and/or sneaky marketing of French eaux minérales. The French have been spritzing themselves with snake oil since long before Emily Weiss began documenting it.  

The great twist in this novel is that rather than a belle Juive, there's a sweet innocent blonde aristocrat, a woman whose charm apparently consists in having no hormones whatsoever, having not given any thought to love (which we take as a euphemism) despite being 21 years old and two years into her marriage. Her husband is the Juif, and in a shocking turn, his obsession is kesef, moolah, that sort of thing. He has no passion, and thus has failed to awaken the passion of his wife, because women can only become passionate when a man does this.

Early, early on, as this is all presented, we learn that her brother has this friend, and it's like, so that's who she's going to have the affair with, and who'll no doubt impregnate her, because her marriage to the Juif is of course not producing children, because marriages between Jews and Gentiles, according to the pseudoscience governing this literature, cannot. Let me be clear: this book was recommended to me not as compelling literature, or as a guide to living well, but as important for my project, which it most certainly is. Another odd twist - the Juif is described as not laid (as in, French-for-ugly, not as in getting-some), whereas the Gentile love interest is described as laid, at least in the eyes of the vapid protagnonesse. But because this is a crummy novel, there's probably no broader significance to this. The best I can think of is, it's about how manly appeal comes from not being a pretty-boy, something an author bemoaning decadence might conceivably have argued, right?

So. The Juif makes an investment in this French water that comes from the deepest terre itself, meaning that he's  not only pillaged and plundered France via his marriage to a Real-French woman (the thèse of all these stories) and his no doubt usurious loans to his useless-aristocrat brother-in-law, but also the land itself, land owned by some old-timey paysan vinters. I don't know exactly how it'll end, but I don't think either the belle or the Juif will develop a distinct personality of any kind.

Part II, stamina-willing, shall follow.

Requisite Jewish Christmas post

If you're Jewish, and do the thing of treating non-celebration-of-Christmas as the major, definitive Jewish holiday, what actually goes on on this day for those who do acknowledge it remains something of a mystery. That it is often a drag, or just something like Thanksgiving, never occurs to you. It must all be really magical, or else why are Jews obligated to show their non-celebration of the day by being miserable? By bemoaning the fact that nothing is open, even things that you would never notice weren't open on some random weekend?

It was only as an adult, I think, that I realized there was a whole tradition of Jewish Christmas, a cheery day with Chinese food, movies, and of course singles mixers, so that more non-Christmas-observing babies might be born. Although it's possible my family did this (not the singles mixers, just the dumplings) and I somehow never put it together that this was part of some larger tradition, and assumed it was that one would year after year run through all the things that weren't possible and come up with Chinatown and movie theaters by process of elimination. (Childhood's a bit of a blur, I suppose. No "Angela's Ashes" coming from me.)

Also as an adult, it's something of a fluke that I don't celebrate Christmas - my husband's family does, but they live far away, off in Gérard Depardieu territory - well, the same country. If I were one of the Jews who had always dreamed of celebrating the holiday, I could do as apparently many in my situation do and use intermarriage as an excuse to go all-out. This is, if the social-media site mentioned below is any guide, a thing. The quasi-guilty, massively-enthusiastic celebration of that which was once taboo. But I don't really get this - it's precisely because the non-Jewish world is no longer a mystery that Christmas is no longer a mystery, just a holiday my husband's family does and mine doesn't acknowledge, much like his family, not being American, doesn't do Thanksgiving. Not exactly the same - it's different to be Jewish in a majority-Christian country. But not all that different. If I were in Belgium this time of year, I'd go in for it, especially given that the "it" of all Belgian celebrations involves eating copious amounts of delicious pie. Although Easter's somewhat more intriguing, what with the chocolates. And because non-celebration-of-Easter isn't one of the major laws of secular Judaism, I can eat as many white-chocolate-praliné eggs as I want guilt-free. Jewish-guilt-free, at least.

But the weirdness of December 25th for the likes of me, it really is about being Jewish, not merely non-Christian. It might be PC to frame it as time of the year is for non-Christians, but from what I can tell, other non-Christians either just don't care or celebrate it as a secular holiday. And obviously not all Jews care - some go in for it (old-time German Jews, more recent Russian-Jewish immigrants) even without an intermarriage as cover. But I do wish - as I think I ask every year - that the secular-of-Christian-extraction community would get that this is and is likely to remain a thing for some Jews, and would not insist that Christmas is a secular rather than a religious holiday, get-over-yourselves-already. And that this isn't because Jews are being difficult, but because Jews are projecting onto Christianity that same blurry is-it-a-culture-or-a-religion identity that constitutes Judaism. Christmas, to many Jews, feels Christian, is Christian, even if it's a secular/cultural/"pagan" variant. Along the same lines, even if you-the-secular-but-of-Christian-extraction don't identify as Christian, you may be identified as such by Jews, who are merely responding to the fact that they get identified as Jews regardless of religious affiliation. If any of that makes sense.

At any rate, a holiday that involves putting up a decorated tree and placing gifts under it doesn't seem even remotely compatible with ownership of a naughty and hyperactive (impervious to dog runs, woods walks...) miniature poodle. No menorah, alas, for the same reason.

Monday, December 24, 2012

I am not 16

"I tried to dance Britney Spears./ I guess I'm getting on in years." - Rufus Wainwright.

So I'm officially too old for Facebook. This was bound to be the case, as I was the right age for it when it was new. So far, in the past few lazy vacation days, I've tried and failed to categorize my various "friends" as those who would and would not be interested in my updates (quite possibly posting updates only to high school acquaintances and people I met once at a party eight years ago); "liked" a video someone had posted that I had clicked on (forgive me, gods of anti-procrastination, but it's December 24th and last-and-final chapter is in another window - if you are my friend on Facebook and you're posting videos this week, damn straight I'm watching them*) but not, as far as I could tell, "liked"; and attempted to narrate the pasta I'd consumed that day by referring to having had pasta lunch after pasta dinner, which, despite the fact that I do eat a lot of pasta, wasn't the order I meant. If you want to communicate with me socially, try parchment and quill. It's simply beyond my capacity to use that site.

Or maybe it's not, but the part of my brain that should be dealing with everyday, unimportant things like social media is entirely taken up by one dominant fear: failing yet another road test. I keep telling myself that I took the first two (years ago, in NYC) before actually knowing how to drive, that I now absolutely know how to drive, have been driving my (patient and courageous) husband around for months, have successfully parallel parked on so many occasions. But it's like the qualifying exam all over again - the more I prepare, the more panicked I am at 4am. I just picture that loop at the DMV and imagine somehow being the person I was before June, the one who felt as if on a roller coaster whenever driving at more than 15mph. I picture myself incapable of staying in a lane (yet just yesterday, I was just fine on an Interstate!), missing the one and only stop sign, incapable of left or right turns, unable to figure out where or how to turn my head to show the examiner that I'm a careful driver. I envision myself screwing up the parallel parking such that I knock over all four cones. Messing up the three-point turn, the one item on the menu I've never had any problems with. Every possible thing goes wrong, as if I'd never been in a car before even as a passenger. Oh, and I of course forget to signal when leaving the spot at the beginning of the test. That's always part of it.

The panic, though, is always followed by this sense that if I could only take the test right now (futile at 4am), I'd do fine, because I have everything so perfectly memorized, and am just on. If it's anything like the qualifying exam, I tell myself, I'll do extra well for having been so concerned. But then I remember that the driving exam has zilch to do with memorizing the plots of various French novels, nor - alas - with providing the first glimpse of an emerging dissertation topic. It's on driving, which just seems so terribly unfair.

*Which is also how I discovered "Portlandia." For admittedly particular reasons, I still can't get over the "Einstein turned out to be a man" bit here.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Shorter Sunday Review

-Ross Douthat pulls a right-wing YPIS and accuses Mayor Bloomberg of being a coastal elite in his pro-gun-control advocacy.

-Frank Bruni assures us that It Gets Better, if you happen to have a platform for your views on gay rights in the NYT. As in, if you turn out to be not just gay, but a really big-deal gay person, your father might be so proud of your professional successes as to get past his homophobia.

-A doctoral candidate who isn't me has an op-ed in the Times, so if I disagree with it, I'm just being, as they say on "The Only Way Is Essex," jel. But, like, I thought Science had shown that as a rule, girls prefer girl-toys and boys boy-toys (such an unfortunate expression). I thought the goal wasn't to scrap gender-roles, but to allow for the fact that some girls will prefer trucks, some boys dolls, and that we-as-a-society need to accept this, and to teach our children to accept this as well. (Just like some men are drawn to wearing eyeliner and dresses, some women are as well. It's not all the patriarchy.)

-Or is the problem not so much gendered toys, as toys whatsoever? Because, as we learned a couple days ago, materialism is evil - consumption is never about enjoying beautiful things and spending within one's means. If you prefer shopping to Nature, your parents taught you wrong.

Nature, unless this hawk bought this squirrel at Wegman's, in which case, shopping.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sticks and stones

A day late and a dollar short, but this kind of only could be posted today. Bear with me:

-My first reaction to head-on-a-stick-gate: Yeah, count me in. Erik Loomis's violent rhetoric (macho posturing?) is not my style, but yes, I believe the N.R.A. is an evil organization, and only just recently compared the pro-gun side to those who supported slavery or Nazism when those were normal, an intentional (if hyperbolic, as they always are) Godwin with the point being that sometimes ordinary individuals believe what they've been taught to believe and don't know how wrong they are. The leadership in these cases is where the evil lies, and I should think the dude who's head of the N.R.A. should count. To reiterate: if you yourself happened to be raised in Gun Culture, I don't think this makes you somehow a worse person than people like me, who happened not to be born in that culture. But I'm not going to equivocate when it comes to declaring what you were taught to be wrong. I'm not going to act as though it's my duty as an American to on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand about this issue, to ever-so-sympathetically acknowledge the centrality of guns to American culture, just not the fake-American culture I grew up with.

-My second reaction when first seeing Loomis's tweets, including the ones above-and-beyond head-on-a-stick, with ample use of variants of "fuck," was that someone in an ordinary job would be in trouble, and that if we establish that tenured and tenure-track profs should not be, that's nice for them but useless for the rest of us. More specifically, I thought of that teacher (of regular kids, not college students) fired for appearing on Facebook drinking a glass of wine while on vacation in Europe. And of the many more college adjunct instructors, who quite simply don't have time to tweet about heads on sticks, what with teaching non-stop for not even a living wage and no benefits. Not, of course, that all of this need be zero-sum. But there's just so much cause for outrage in terms of how teachers are treated, which superhuman feats are expected of them, that the mistreatment of a swaggering blogger with the support of everyone who matters (what a list!) did not, immediately, strike me as a cause I needed to get involved in. I agree with the prestigious horde, but this seemed well-covered without me.

-First plus second reactions combined to my thinking that Loomis's job should absolutely be safe, but that as much as I want the anti-gun side to take a more radical (i.e. no private ownership of guns) position (either, a girl can dream, for that to happen, or at least to shift the center of the debate), I don't think this type of rhetoric is the way to do it. While they probably came from a place of sincerity and genuine outrage, they read as someone getting a real kick out of seeing how far he can go.

-Complicating all of this: The particular group one has beef with if one picks on the N.R.A. is a particularly shall we say armed segment of the population. Maybe the admins of the University of Rhode Island just don't want to be, like, shot?

-And then there was today's announcement from head-on-stick himself, Wayne LaPierre, calling for oh-so-effective armed guards at all schools. Still not convinced Loomis's rhetoric is the most effective (again, not because it's too radical, but because obscenities and threats of violence are just going to alienate potential allies), but it does feel a notch more justified.

But who will review the reviewers?

A. O. Scott's review of Judd Apatow's latest, "This Is 40," tells us basically that the movie is about first-world problems. Scott even links to the First World Problems website, informing us that such a site exists. And that really is the gist of the review, tempered but dominant: that Apatow's privilege is showing:

Cushioned by comforts that most of their fellow citizens can scarcely imagine, they nonetheless feel as if things were starting to go pear-shaped. (Only metaphorically: The two of them are enviably trim, in spite of Pete’s weakness for cupcakes. He bikes a lot.) “Do you still even like me?” Debbie asks her husband in one of many moments of vulnerability. An entirely plausible answer would be: Who cares? We’ve all got troubles, sister.
Scott faults the protagonists (well, their creator) for not being do-gooders, for not, I suppose, owning their privilege: "In a town that runs on philanthropic fund-raisers and celebrity activism, Pete and Debbie support no cause beyond themselves." This strikes me as a baffling critique of a movie about the inner workings of a marriage. How "entitled" someone comes across at home is probably not all that related to how much good they do when out in the world. Should they have met some kind of community-service requirement, with this somehow woven into this movie that I haven't seen and might not get around to seeing because I'm far more curious about "Guilt Trip"?

"Freaks and Geeks," the reason we care about Apatow in the first place, was also first-world problems - reasonably-well-looked-after white kids navigating the social minefields and unrequited crushes (James Franco before he was James Franco, sigh) of a suburban American high school. Why is this now, suddenly, a concern?

It seems important, then, that Apatow 'discovered' Lena Dunham, is deeply involved in the show "Girls," and includes Dunham in this latest cast as well. Entertainment had been about the petty problems of well-off, well-connected white people since forever, but we-as-a-society somehow only noticed when Dunham came on the scene. (Perhaps because the petty problems of white men, or super-good-looking white women, are more what we're accustomed to? But I digress.) The issue with Apatow had been sexism - flabby, stoned man-children paired off with taut but humorless blondes. But now it kind of has to be YPIS, because he's behind the Dunham phenomenon.

Anyway, the other gist of the review is that this sounds like a mediocre movie that's semi-autobiographical in a self-indulgent way. This is a valid criticism to make of a film (of this one I can't say), but it's something different from first-world problems. Also, that tag - which I use! - needs to be wielded with some precision. Existential angst, love-troubles, etc. might be experienced some of the time by bratty rich people, but these are not first-world problems. (Is Anna Karenina first-world problems?) First-world problems are - and I will give an example from my own stash - things like, the difficulties of finding iced coffee while on a research trip to Paris. Meanwhile, a deeper problem might well hide under the guise of a series of first-world problems, like, say, a 40-year-old couple fighting over seemingly petty things but really there's more to it. Which might be that movie, or not, but it sounds kinda crap so I don't plan on seeing it. Or, if I'm ever on a flight where it's the best option, I'll watch it, but grudgingly, and that can be my very own first-world problem.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

One last email from the university before the world ends

Spent far too much time last week trying to track down my lost winter-wear, returning to the lost-and-found when I was told to return, and then again, and again, and back to the building where I'd originally lost the stuff that was officially known to be in the lost-and-found, and so on. Mystery solved, ish:

I was writing to let you know that your pink scarf and your gray hat were turned over to NYU Public Safety. Your property was turned over with other items of clothing to our command center. There was an odor with-in the clothing pile we had received. The sergeant, who was on duty, at the time determined the clothing could not be kept due to that odor. He discarded the clothing.
There's a number I can call if I "wish to discuss this." That stuff is gone. I'm just going to go with my own theories, I think.

Holiday fashionz UPDATED

On the day of my own department's holiday party, I first had to take NJ Transit, submit grade sheets, and otherwise be practical, so the thought of dressing up never even entered into it. I went the usual nothing-stained, nothing-torn approach... only to see a department administrator all sparkly and think, man, that looks like fun! I had also not dressed up the previous Friday, when I did the unthinkable and went out in the big city - dinner at Prune and a party in Williamsburg. It was chic; I was not.

Well, this afternoon is my husband's work party, and there's precisely nothing I must do, other than walk the poodle, before the big event. And it's being held basically a few yards from our apartment. I have no excuse not to wear something fabulous. But what? Vogue, you are of no use here.


As predicted, at a party for scientists, held in the middle of the scientists' workday at that, I was massively overdressed on account of wearing something that wasn't jeans (knee-length black shirt, long-sleeved t-shirt, the height of glam) and, OK, maybe a bit of sparkly makeup. My problem, not theirs, but not really a problem because I'm in favor of getting dressed up for even the slightest hint of a reason.

WWPD, language police

-Yes, yes, the First Amendment, but whevs. I'm going to hereby advocate for a ban on the use of the word "fresh" to describe human physical appearance. As in 'fresh-faced,' or - thank you, paper of record, for this one - "fresh new face." It's just icky, and I say this as someone still young enough to theoretically qualify.

-Can job ads (nothing I was planning on applying for) really specify that they want "a native of a Francophone country"? This is a legit job in academia, by the way, not yet another Upper East Side French bakery with attitude. Isn't this, like, illegal? It's certainly silly - if you get a PhD in French, you damn well end up speaking French, and I say this as someone (ABD) who entered speaking French approximately as badly as anyone who's entered my program ever has. Somehow, after coursework and time-in-France and, oh, teaching in French, you just do. Sort of like how, despite having no spacial sense whatsoever and no general feel for how traffic works, I just aced practice-parallel-parking in town. What you gotta do, you gotta do.

-Terry Gross, Barbra Streisand, the perfect accompaniment to a poodle-walk. But Barbra, you do so still have a New York accent. Same as I do, basically - some words you hear it, others not. But if you think if it not as in, New Yawk, but as in, the absence of any of the other regional American accents, it's there.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's time for a national conversation about the refusal of teenage boys to make chit-chat at the hairdresser's

So the latest warning sign, apparently, is that the Newtown killer failed to make small-talk during a haircut. It seems to me that there's a very specific personality - one possessed by exactly zero teenage boys - that enjoys gossiping at the hair salon, but that the vast majority of humanity does not. Hairdressers seem to think chit-chat is expected of them, or maybe cutting hair gets boring so they just get to talking, so we-the-people-with-hair-that-needs-cutting-every-so-often will oblige. To a point. Several years back, when I tried an upscale hipster salon, my amply-tattooed hairdresser asked me why I wasn't married yet. She was. Ahem! Or it will be about what I'm in school for, and for how many years, and what I plan to do with that. And this is supposed to be relaxing?

Via Moebius Stripper's Twitter.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Echarpe rouge homme

This afternoon I indulged, from the can't-believe-the-semester's-over-but-need-to-get-back-to-work-soon-anyway-but-oh-it's-nice-to-just-read-novels-with-a-poodle couch, in a wanty: a red scarf like the ones French men wear (see the first Google Image result for french man red scarf, although the men I'm thinking of tend to be a bit older, the scarves a bit less chiffon-ish). This required a certain amount of research, namely establishing a) that for anything this basic/specific, you need a department store, not a thrift store/Uniqlo, and b) that in this day and age, there's no need to actually go to a department store in person, no offense to the Macy's in the Quakerbridge Mall. We'll see. I at any rate plan on not losing this winter scarf, as I did the previous two, because this semester I plan on not waking up at 6:15 to cross state lines and teach a class, reserving all awakeness for that enterprise.

This wanty, though, made me think of how my various and ever-evolving fashion personalities often end up requiring a physical appearance unlike the one I possess. Haut bourgeois Parisian socialist dude of a certain age, philosophe... that's not me. Nor am I anywhere close to the height clothing is generally displayed on - menswear-inspired or not, clothing always looks different on 5'2". Nor am I gamine, etc., but this one - 50ish Frenchman - is a particularly long shot.

But it doesn't exactly bother me - I don't want to wake up with a different build, let alone a different gender-and-age-and-nationality. And when I think of styling this scarf (of utmost importance now that I'm back to being hermit-in-the-woods, at least until finishing this dissertation), I picture clothes I own, which are consistent with this theme, but which are not really drag of any kind. Like a fitted camel sweater, or coat.  Or a white button-down shirt, but not ala BHL, more of a rounded-collar, discreet-Peter-Pan look. With clothing, I never do just want some thing in isolation, because it's nice or cute or whatever. There's always, always a concept.

Scrubbing the surfaces

Strange as it may seem, the semester appears to be over. Graded, read over evaluations (seems I'm a better teacher than I was when I'd never taught before - whodathunkit? ), ran ten thousand errands on and around campus, and attended my department's holiday festivities. I'm on fellowship for this coming semester, so no more commute, no more NJ Transit blogging. I turned in my office key and everything. My husband no longer needs to drive me to the train station every morning. The perma-exhaustion might be over, although so very very much work (what dissertation?) remains.

To celebrate, or make sense of, my newfound non-commute, I did what everyone who works from home does, which is furiously cleaned the apartment. Well, work-in-progress, but the kitchen's looking impressive. While scrubbing surfaces, I listened to the DoubleX Gabfest, Slate's women's show - this combination probably means whichever feminist credentials I gained last week are back to whichever probationary status.

Anyway, the Slate crew appear to think - contrary to recent complaints from feminists - that it's delightful that men still, in this day and age, propose marriage to women, always and without exception. Or, with exception, but when it's a woman who kneels down, we're apparently right in assuming that she's more into him than he is into her, and as we all know, relationships work better when it's the other way around. (Can't interest ever be, like, equal? Equal-ish? Isn't it usually?) Name-change isn't cool, because if you change your name you demolish your identity (yet somehow my professors and blog-readers, not to mention friends and relatives, continue to know who I am), nor are engagement rings (so bourgeois), but let's preserve the male proposal, because that's just how it must be for all eternity.

Actually, this arrangement strikes me as consistent. If we're to believe that heterosexual romance thrives on the framework that he's more into her than vice versa, it makes sense that the woman would not change her name, or proudly march around with a bauble from her dude. She can give or take marriage and commitment, because she's not at all clingy, she can give or take him, she's an adventurous, exciting woman of the world, and aw shucks this goddess deigned to give a mere mortal like Mr. Schlub here 5% of her attention. But then it's not really feminism making the woman more independent, and it's not even a genuine independence, so much as an elaborate performance of playing hard to get.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The curious horde

Ages ago, I believe I announced I would answer some of the questions websearches direct to ol' WWPD. I got three good ones recently:

Q. what do gay men like?

A. Other men.

Q. are jews really cheap?

A. No, none of us are.

Q. does natalia vodianova eat?

A. Photosynthesis?

The parenting-a-sociopath question

So everyone has decided to share an essay by a mother about her 13-year-old son and her fears that the boy will* commit one of these notorious shootings. Whereas normally, such a shooting must actually happen (and, often, the killer must have already offed himself) for there to be an accompanying photo, this mother takes pains to change the first name of her son (but not her own name), yet provides a sweet photo of the boy, a photo that's now made its way around the entire Internet. (The Gawker version does not include this photo, so that's the one I'm linking to.) [Fixed!] All this boy has done is shown himself to be a very troubled kid.

Will Baude sees this story as fitting in with my running theme of "dirty laundry" - parents writing tell-alls about their still-minor children. The parent (almost always the mother, although there's every so often a father really miffed that his son can't get into Harvard) will be congratulated for her bravery, and everyone will forget that the person whose story is being told by definition had no say in the matter.

Anyway, I've said before and I'll say again that I don't think parents have the (moral, legal of course they do) right to hold forth about their real-life children for a mass audience. I make the following exceptions:

-The child is very young and seriously ill, or severely mentally disabled, and will never read the thing in question. Plus, the parent is doing a particular service to others in the same situation, who must feel quite alone. The same cannot be said for mothers who write about how their daughters struggle with a stubborn extra ten pounds.

-Names and details were changed, other children discussed as well, such that the parent isn't writing about her own child directly, even if one might infer this entered into the research.


-Small-scale online sharing (emails, parenting forums, Facebook, etc.), where a parent imagines a tiny audience, but there's always the remote possibility that something gets reposted somewhere big.

This latest is, I suppose, an ambiguous case. We don't get the kid's real name, which, along with the great possibility he doesn't have the same last name as his mother, makes it at least a bit of a research project to figure out who he is. (I haven't, at any rate, tried.) The photo, though, might be worse, faces being that much more unique than names. And I know nothing of "The Blue Review," whether this is a mass-audience sort of site or not, nor whether the author herself wanted the story to get as huge as it has. And finally, being the mother* of an apparent sociopath would seem to be an unusual-enough situation that other parents in that boat would need support. One can't help but feel for the author. On the inevitable spectrum of self-promotion to cry-for-help, this is a piece of parenting-writing that falls closer to the latter.

Ultimately my take on the article has less to do with the dirty-laundry angle - present and problematic as it is - and more with the conclusions the author comes to in it. First, there's her assumption that mass murder should be regarded as a "highly visible sign of mental illness." As if no killer is ever just, you know, bad news. Then, of course, there's the stigmatization (in a piece ostensibly against stigmatization!) of the mentally ill, exceedingly few of whom are going to do anything like this. Oh, and there's this: "In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it's easy to talk about guns. But it's time to talk about mental illness." I understand why this mother is thinking about mental illness, but in what way shape or form is it easy to talk about guns, in the let's-have-a-national-conversation sense?

As for the "meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health" the author would like... again, let's remember that she is launching this conversation by telling us that her son seems like he'll go and kill a bunch of people any minute now. And this is supposed to convince us not to want him in jail, assuming he committed a violent crime that got him there? But the author's argument, buried under the let's-have-a-conversation gloss, is that people like her son should be institutionalized, and that the state should pay for it. Is that what 'have a conversation about mental illness' is a euphemism for? Isn't forced institutionalization problematic as well? Or do we think if society were just more aware, these extremely troubled kids would magically find the answer to their psychiatric woes, and a problem that has plagued humanity since the get-go - really messed-up individuals bent on destruction - would vanish? Isn't it far more likely that if we decide that this is about mental illness, not guns, communities are going to engage in more of a witch-hunt than they already do for strange but innocuous behavior? Sure, an expert might be able to tell the difference, but it takes a village to locate subjective and imprecise Warning Signs.

The Gawker commenters who make this a race-and-gender issue have a point - why do we-who-are-not-this-particular-boy's-mother care if he ends up in prison? Is it because he is, as the photo reveals, approximately the whitest person imaginable? Is it because he's a genius, a category that, in discussions of children, tends to have less to do with ingenious accomplishments and more to do with our apparent collective desire to label those lacking in social skills (esp. if male) as paradoxically superior to those of us quite capable of making small talk? Ugh, too much to think about, could go on, must do practical non-blog things instead. The comments, though, are open as always.

*Typos fixed.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A few more thoughts on gun-stuff, then back to your usual programming

-Many are noting, correctly, that the everyday gun violence that disproportionately impacts poor and minority communities doesn't get the same coverage as suburban rampages do. This, I would think, is both due to racism/classism, and to the difference between a massacre and not-a-massacre. (A massacre of six-year-olds in the inner-city would, I should think, make the news.) But let's say that for whichever not-entirely-reasonable reasons, the front-page news is what inspires action - is that such a disaster? Consider Theodor Herzl, getting inspiration to found Zionism (some inspiration, he was already going down that road) from the Dreyfus Affair. There were far worse things happening to Jews in places other than France - pogroms versus anti-Semitic marching-in-the-streets. But what moved him was that any of this could happen in France. Along not-so-different lines, it may move some that gun violence occurs even where you would least expect it. Which does, yes, indicate a certain fundamentally-ethically-questionable indifference to those living in places where one would expect gun violence. But if the end result is, less gun violence, maybe this is just a less-savory part of human nature inadvertently making the world a better place.

-Last time I got all worked-up about this issue (and I have, every so often, since high school) I did some Googling-type research into how to get involved. And found various orgs that are super-pragmatic to the point of being, well, tepid. The overarching message: nobody wants to take away your guns, but maybe, just maybe, we could ever-so-slightly tweak the law, or better-enforce existing laws, or close some loopholes, and reduce the rate of gun violence. What doesn't seem to exist (correct me if I'm wrong!) is any group asking for the radical reduction of/elimination of the right of private citizens to possess a gun. But, like, the Second Amendment! The pro-gun-control groups are just being reasonable! They may want no more guns, but it's not done to ask for that. My thinking, though, is that if there were some vocal contingent asking for a repeal of the Second Amendment (not an exact parallel legally, of course, but Roe v. Wade wasn't case-closed for those who believe abortion is murder), taking a really radical stance on this issue, the center might shift, or at the very least, cease to move further and further to the yay-guns side. That, and your everyday pro-gun-control folks would seem, to the pro-gun side, a bunch more moderate than they do currently.

-Yes, I repeat myself, but this remains important: I'm not persuaded that we need a National Conversation about mental illness. I mean, maybe we do, but this approach to massacres (assuming it isn't just a euphemism for 'we're not allowed to talk about guns so let's say something else instead') is almost inevitably going to lead to the stigmatization - and further isolation! - of non-conformist, awkward sorts, the vast majority of whom would not in a million years do something like this.

Now, one might say, most gun owners/most guns kill no one, and most off-seeming young men don't, either. But it's both more straightforward to turn on guns than to combat... what, exactly? It seems like there's something of a circular definition of "mental illness" (to do something like X, you certainly would need to be out of your mind), as well as a kind of fuzzy, anecdotal approach to this, where everyone's a psychiatrist, and where we're no longer looking merely for signs of things like schizophrenia, but things like introversion, awkwardness. (The bullied kid: warning signs, maybe also the bully.) It just can't be that some kid (without a criminal bone in his body) isn't into sports, likes wearing black, writes poetry not about flowers, doesn't care even a little bit about Homecoming. Maybe such an individual would get some diagnosis, maybe not. If we get to a point where every personality other than outgoing-and-delightful is a disorder, if we include depression, which likely everyone could get a diagnosis of at least at some point in their lives, under the umbrella of "mental illness"...

Where I'm going with this is, it seems we can either stigmatize guns and risk offending those who, through no fault of their own, grew up to believe private citizens owning firearms is normal, or we can ask high schools and communities to consider the weird kid a ticking time bomb.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Yes, this is as good a time as any to demand gun control

Shall I repeat myself? When people who did not grow up around guns have the audacity to suggest that guns are too readily-available in this country, we immediately stand accused of a) making a tragedy political, b) not actually hating guns, just hating those who aren't coastal elites and using the gun issue as a socially-acceptable way to hate on "Real Americans" or c) being out-of-touch with Gun Culture.

The first two items are basically bad-faith accusations, in that they suggest the outrage that I, for example, feel at a time like this (and add on the usual human emotional provincial thing of, this happened near where I live and grew up, in a place very much like where I live now, and I'm a teacher myself, reading about this between grading final exams) is somehow inauthentic, a mere opportunity to say Go Dems, or to express some kind of pride in not being "flyover" or who knows. This isn't even worth engaging with.

But I'll readily confess to not quite being able to wrap my head around the pro-gun stance. I'm not proud that I don't come from a pro-gun family/community, because this was just chance. I don't have any way of knowing how I'd feel if I'd grown up in a different family/community, any more than I know where I'd have stood had I been born to a slave-owning family in the antebellum South (ha! considering my family's actual conditions at that point in history), or take this to the obvious Godwin conclusion. We are all products of circumstance. Fine. This tells us that we shouldn't consider ordinary people evil, who just believe in what they're told is normal.

But I'm under no cultural-relativist obligation to pretend that being pro-gun is just as valid a stance as wanting the things possessed only by military, law enforcement, and some well-regulated hunting lodges (preferably far, far from any schools). It's obviously necessary for those involved in this from the really pragmatic side, the people who feel as I do but for strategic reasons pretend to only want illegal guns, or certain types of gun, off the streets, to really, really get where the pro-gun contingent is coming from, so as to sensitively, respectfully address their concerns. But me personally, I'm not in the mood to strategize, nor to apologize for a lack of rustic credentials. Just to say my piece on this.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

WWPD, feminist

OK, so this day had reached a bit of a low point - when I realized that I'd left my (old, utilitarian) scarf and (new, utilitarian) hat... somewhere. Checked the obvious places, but couldn't get back into my classroom because some other class was taking a test. It will likely be there or in the lost-and-found of that building, or, you know, it won't. Then spent ten years on a mix of subway, two NJ Transit trains, and the long-route shuttle, the one that picks up students from the local high school, which is also one of two options that link up to a train from New York. (The other is a later, similar roundabout involving a retired professor. Train schedule changed, shuttle powers-that-be not too concerned, but after tomorrow, this is not my problem.) Nothing terrible, just the kind of end-of-semester exhaustion where you catch yourself in the mirror and think you look not so much tired as already asleep.

But then I found this! I'm an official feminist (as opposed to what I'd been previously - a self-identified feminist), it's in The Economist (or some online version thereof) and everything! This makes me feel slightly better about the imminent, irrepressible, I-can-feel-NJ-Transit-itis-coming-on-if-I-don't-go-ahead-with-it late-afternoon nap.

Ends with a whimper

Today was the second-to-last day of class, aka the review session. For this reason, the train I normally take, which normally gets me to the building where I teach shortly after 9 for a 9:30 class, was super-duper-delayed because of a broken-down Amtrak train in "the tube," for the second day in a row, although for some reason yesterday there was no accompanying delay. There were these ominous announcements about how the PATH train wouldn't cross-honor NJ Transit tickets (phrased far more ambiguously than that, I assure), but then when we got to the place where we might have switched to the PATH, there was no announcement telling us that if we didn't do this, we'd maybe not make it into NYC any time soon. At that point, one is kind of stuck.

Ultimately I was maybe five minutes late - making me all the more sure of my preexisting plans to take the extra-early train tomorrow, the day of their final exam. Also because this would happen the day of the review session: neither the marker I'd brought (which had worked fine the previous day) nor any of the many others in the classroom had any ink left. An entire semester of early and prepared, and what will be remembered? That's right.

But it could be worse! Someone on Facebook pointed me to this job posting, in publishing, which is a thousand levels of frightening. For starters, it's ambiguous from the ad whether these are unpaid or low-paid positions, until the very end, where it's spelled out: "[A]ssume that you will be one of the unpaid interns until you are ready to take on all the responsibilities of a position." Man, the best kind of unpaid internship, the one with a pseudo-promise of paid work at some unspecified date in the future, aka never. These are illegal in the U.S. at least, no?

Then, though, there's what they're offering:

The Press is looking for promising candidates with an appropriate background who: [...] do not have any other commitments (personal or professional) that will interfere with their work at the Press (family obligations, writing, involvement with other organizations, degrees to be finished, holidays to be taken, weddings to attend in Rio, etc.); know how to act and behave in a professional office environment with high standards of performance; and who have a commitment to excellence that can be demonstrated on a day-to-day basis. DO NOT APPLY IF ALL OF THE ABOVE DOES NOT DESCRIBE YOU.
Fun! But there's more:
Any of the following will be grounds for immediate dismissal during the probationary period: coming in late or leaving early without prior permission; being unavailable at night or on the weekends; failing to meet any goals; giving unsolicited advice about how to run things; taking personal phone calls during work hours; gossiping; misusing company property, including surfing the internet while at work; submission of poorly written materials; creating an atmosphere of complaint or argument; failing to respond to emails in a timely way; not showing an interest in other aspects of publishing beyond editorial; making repeated mistakes; violating company policies. DO NOT APPLY if you have a work history containing any of the above.
My favorite of these is "making repeated mistakes." I wonder which finely-tuned robot they have in mind for the position. But also, if this is either an entry-level position or an internship, and they're looking to hire those who don't necessarily have previous experience in this area, they're presumably going to train their new hires. How do such individuals already know how to flawlessly perform tasks they have yet to encounter for the first time?

All of this points to a broader question, which is what it means when companies demand professionalism (reasonable!) while at the same time not offering an actual job. Young People Today are accused of being entitled... for either expecting pay at the jobs they do have, or for treating unpaid labor for others without sufficient respect.

Anyway, the delightful John O'Brian from Dalkey Archive Press is now claiming the ad was satirical, and somehow literary, evocative of "A Modest Proposal." Which is... I don't even... This is an actual posting for actual unpaid work. Then dude has the chutzpah to whine about interns, that is, to whine about the fact that entry-level, unpaid employees a) don't arrive trained for exactly the task at hand, and b) would like it very much kind sir if you would pay them.
And my 25 years of experience with interns has been very mixed: the most common problem being that they aren’t prepared, don’t know what to expect, hope that a job might be at the end of the rainbow, and yet don’t have a clue as to what an employer is looking for. Employers wind up frustrated that they put in so much time, and the interns wonder why a job wasn’t forthcoming.
It continues, and Mr. Literature mixes up do and due (these are evidently excerpts of an email O'Brian himself sent, explaining himself), and otherwise charms us to bits.

Oh, and if you want to see actual satire surrounding this case, click here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


It's possible (definite) that my parents sometimes read my blog, and one piece of evidence is that I got a Sephora gift card for Chanukah. And promptly spent it on pale-person under-eye "corrector" (chosen at the advice of Fourtinefork and a Sephora employee) and pale-person luminizer. Jews' fried-potato Christmas happens to fall at that point in the semester, when stamina is maybe not what it once was. Also: winter is bleak, thus the need for these holidays, for sparkle. Artificial illumination of all kinds - coffee on the inside, shininess on the outside - is essential.

As the various reviews of this Lorac product say, the pump gives you so, so much of the stuff each time, which you maybe don't want. And I can see that this is a product you need to apply carefully, or dare I say learn how to apply. For example, after Googling this, I put some on my nose. It turns out that's a really bad idea. Noses are shiny enough to begin with - this is probably a contouring trick intended to give those with a wide and/or snub nose a Roman/aquiline/classical-looking one, which, much like hair extensions, I'll file under last-thing-in-the-world-for-me-to-sign-up-for. If light wants to reflect off my nose less than it currently does, that's fine by me.

But I can see how luminizer has the potential to work miracles, and by 'work miracles' I mean change one's appearance in a way that's entirely imperceptible to others but feels tremendous to one's self. The best way to describe it would be that if you put some on as you would blush, it makes you look like you're in an air-brushed, vaguely space-age magazine spread. It's not, in other words, a natural look, but it's a cool kind of artifice. It's not painting yourself orange, for example.  Nor is it blush, which is also kind of great but the line between 'healthy' and 'clown' is a tough call, and what works in certain light won't in other. Not sure what the "pearl" color would do for someone not 'sure you're OK?' pale, but works for me.

Good for goose and gander

While I'm not a fan of advice along the lines of, have more/fewer children than you wish, because America, I don't think there's anything wrong with having a conversation about how old we are when we reproduce, which is the main point in the article Miss Self-Important just pointed me to from her secret Twitter account. Yes, Judith Shulevitz mentions the birthrate, albeit pros and cons in both directions. But the real issue she's dealing with isn't how many babies get born, but how old their parents are getting. This is not an immoral discussion, because, while it kind of deals with theoretical people, it's very much about already-existing ones, and the trials they go through to have a kid, to raise one when already older, and to raise one with whichever problems evidently correlate with (are caused by?) older parents.

But the way to have this conversation isn't to tell individuals that they've made the wrong choices. It isn't to frame it as a question of individual choice. Rather, we - following Shulevitz's lead - need to look at how society is structured, at what it means that if you do everything right, you're having kids too old. Mothers and fathers alike. The only ways to have kids at a biologically-reasonable age and be UMC-successful are a) to be one of those people who are super-fertile and capable of producing healthy offspring at 45, this exists b) to be one of those people who graduates from Harvard Law School at 12, or c) to be one of those people who just lets life happen, and for whom everything just falls into place.

If we're going to use the highly-scientific sample that is my list of Facebook friends, virtually none have kids, and those who do tend to be from a different generation. I'm 29. I feel no peer pressure whatsoever to reproduce. While it could be that between now and 35, everyone will suddenly give birth (and there's been a wave, or more like a ripple, of marriages), it doesn't seem imminent.


Not worthy of a full post of its own, but continuing a conversation about male materialism-or-lack-thereof in the comments here, and perhaps weighing in on the gendered-toy wars waging everywhere else on the Internet: the male gift guide. I kind of think Refinery29 is just messing with us. Both posts are, by implication (consider the source), advice for women on what to buy the men in their lives, likely their boyfriends, husbands. It's great that Simon Doonan wants a $170 rose pin, but entirely irrelevant to the task at hand. It's not that these are guides to what gay men want (gay men are a diverse bunch; gay men are not women, not that too many women would want the rose pin, either) as that both of these guides are basically things women would want - or would think to give other women - but painted blue, as it were.  It's not that men don't ever want expensive things, and we get a hint with the car and whisky suggestions. But do they really crave expensive boots? Toiletries sample sets from upscale beauty companies? Yes, yes, some men do, and as the deity Rufus Wainwright once sang, "Men reading fashion magazines/Oh what a world it seems we live in/Straight men." But most won't. Whether we attribute this to gender essentialism or marketing, there's just not much demand there.

So what does one buy for men? Nobody knows.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Do we need more service-industry tell-alls?

Leonard Lopate informs us that there's a new book out, a dramatic tell-all in which it's revealed that hotel staff prefer polite customers who tip. Another service-industry confession, in other words, a genre that can only hold out for so long. After all, most of us don't reach adulthood without having some job during which we learn that behind whichever pristine façade is work, filthy work. (The worst I learned first-hand was that your regular coffee might actually be decaf - which I'd have guessed - but I wasn't in food-service for long.)

From what I can tell, the revelations in any such confession are limited to the following:

-People like it when you give them money.
-Do not go to people who work X job to ask what a normal/acceptable tip is for someone in that position, unless you want to be told some inflated nonsense. (I'm looking at you, waitstaff who claim a 30% tip is standard in NYC restaurants.)
-They may smile and act all friendly, but service-industry workers are not helping you out of the goodness of their hearts. They are not your actual friends - unless, you know, they happen to be people you're friends with.
-Service-industry workers, like other human beings, are 'on' at work, but when 'off,' or when out of sight, engage in non-work-appropriate behavior.
-Things you yourself didn't clean/cook are less hygienic than ones you did.
-There's random bodily this-and-that where you'd least expect it.
-And it doesn't actually matter. Your immune system can handle it, whatever it is. If you're seriously germophobic, maybe don't go outside, but if you're someone who has a dog, someone who has used the facilities at Penn Station and survived, etc., you will live and let live.

Oh, and the continued popularity of this genre suggests that there's a certain sort of person desperate for the approval of service-industry workers in particular, who will treat every encounter as if it's with the Soup Nazi, and who will spend time reading up on how to get on the good side of a bell-man. (Are there no bell-women? Is our only concession to PC acknowledging the bell-individual's adulthood?) This is different, I think, from basic manners, and from wanting to know what's an appropriate tip.

Posted from a coffee shop

Found via the usual via - as in, I'm no longer sure - an interesting post (part of a series) about "hipsters on food stamps." The Last Psychiatrist, whoever this is, effectively argues something like what I have as well: it's not right to refer to the unemployable or service-sector workers who happen to be white and college-educated as 'privileged,' if this privilege is purely theoretical and in no practical sense transferrable. Put another way: 'cultural capital' is an interesting idea to toss around in seminar, but it doesn't pay the rent. We're so accustomed to talking about whichever traits as conferring privilege that we have no real way to express the many situations these days where someone will have whichever outward signs of not-remotely-underclass, but will be deep in educational debt, with nothing much on the horizon. Within a broad caste of people who look and dress about the same, there's a huge diversity, cushion-wise. Debt or not? Trust-fund or not? Rich-and-generous parents? Well-connected parents? And so on. So you end up with a bunch of liberal-arts grads apologizing for Lena Dunham-level privilege that they don't even have. Anyway, I hadn't seen anyone else making that argument.

But the post itself goes in some directions I can't quite get behind:

1) Are we talking about hipsters or women? (Did I fail at life and major in French, leading to permanent unemployability, as a woman, or as a hipster?)

2) Everyone likes to laugh at English majors, but I'd thought that trad liberal arts majors often correlate with having gone to a well-regarded college, and that if you do this, you get hired.

3) The tendency of elite-college grads who seem to be drifting at 22, 23 to have their lives sorted out by 27, 28 suggests that... something is going on. Either the name of the college helps, or whichever factors got you in in the first place (work ethic, family connections) kicked in once it mattered. Or maybe whiteness and/or cultural capital do pay off, after all.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Write what you know

Lena Dunham confirms what I've been saying since forever: everyone should wear eyeliner. It's always a good idea. Meanwhile, "Girls" advertises on Gawker, while Gawker has some fun at the very expensive expense of its creator. Dunham's zillion-dollar book proposal is probably designed to inspire but it's not fair from exactly the kind of people who will probably eventually pick up a copy at a Park Slope stoop sale, Housing Works booksale, or allow me to add some more NYC references so as to snag a deal like that myself, so as to parlay yet another Manhattan childhood and recent-college-grad-hood into a book to be foisted upon an audience whose eyes are already mid-roll. But that bores me even more than it does you. What's the market these days for a novel about life at a science institute in the woods of NJ? If there is one, then train-work needs to be more that, less dissertation.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The very surface of shallow

After a day some of which was spent driving with my parents watching (I had said I'd drive! And it went OK, thanks to my husband's ever-patient instruction!), followed by some more driving, I'm maybe a tiny bit drained (the non-driving bit was relaxing, but the driving might have cancelled it out), my brain is such mush.

-Yesterday I was doing some [insert music here] shopping, and a woman working at ABC Carpet, a store I didn't even realize sold makeup, somehow made eye contact with me and asked if I was familiar with some brand. I said no, even though I'm thinking, I totally read about this on "Into The Gloss" and was intrigued. But I marched on.

-Katie Roiphe likes shoes, and in the SATC sense. Ack, it is possible to love shoes but not those shoes, i.e. the upscale-interpretation-of-stripper-pump variety. (These would do, although back on planet earth, I'm quite happy with these, which just arrived.) There's no picture of the shoes Roiphe lusts after, just a stock photo, suggesting Payless from the 1990s. I don't know if Roiphe was wrong to want whichever shoes if I can't see the shoes. That seems essential.

-Speaking of which, Essentials, the thing next to Sephora but more down-market and old-New-York, appears to have closed. I feel slightly responsible, as my twice-yearly conditioner purchases might have made me their main customer. I am, however, keeping a certain Japanese grocery store in business.

-Speaking of successfully-managed poufy hair, armed with the knowledge that I can tame anything with Tsubaki Oil, I went to the salon and asked for this, but with bangs as I generally want them, what with already having bangs. And got it! And no arguments re: thinning, layering - we were totally on the same page. Hairdressers of Central NJ, you have redeemed yourselves. Although to be on the safe side, I got this particular stylist's card. What I can't figure out: why a halfway decent haircut in NYC is $90-plus, but in Princeton they start at $50. With restaurants, it's very much the other way around. I am not, however, losing sleep over this.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Once more, in bold

Miss Self-Important responds, helps me clarify what I was trying to get at in the post below. And hello also new readers via Scott Lemieux. I'm seeing if this bold thing some other bloggers I like use helps or hurts comprehension:

-What do I mean when I say that women know what they want when it comes to reproduction? What I of course don't mean is that a given woman, tossed into a radically different place and/or time, would want the same thing. I'm not referring to any essential, inborn quality. What I mean is simply that if you are a girl/woman of reproductive age, you tend to either want a child within the next nine months or not. A 22-year-old (or a 16-year-old!) likely won't know exactly what she'll want at 32. You will then - assuming you have choices - behave in a way conducive to the outcome you want. Are there also women who kind of want a kid, kind of not, and then their birth control fails but they're kind of OK with it? Sure, although I wouldn't exaggerate how often that happens, and it at any rate doesn't fall outside the realm of women knowing what they want. Some women might be OK with having a kid. That's not not a position. By "women know," I mean that if a woman who doesn't want kids just yet finds herself forced to have one, or, conversely, if a woman who wants kids can get all the contraception she wants but no time off work, that's a problem. Women don't merely accept situations for what they are, happily living in whichever context, not questioning it (or despairing) when their options are limited. It's one thing, then, for the state to shift whichever conditions of possibility - making birth control over-the-counter, say, or providing free maternity care, which would indeed up the odds of a younger, less financially-secure woman having kids - and quite another for there to be intervention past the point a woman, within whichever context, sure, has already come to some decision.

-To be more precise than I was in the earlier post: I don't actually think it's wrong for an op-ed writer to discuss this topic. It gets iffy when the op-ed writer in question is in a position to influence policy and appears interested in doing so, as opposed to merely urging the NYT readers to spawn. My concern isn't super-suggestible women going out and spawning because Ross Douthat told them to. And - this addressing MSI - if the government wants to do this or that social-welfare-wise that might end up increasing the birthrate, so be it. The problem I have with natalist policy is that if the goal is more babies - or, for that matter, fewer babies - then there's only so much that can be accomplished by expanding women's options. We know quite well what government policy to keep a birthrate down can look like. To increase one, do we really think daycare would be enough? That restricting contraception and abortion wouldn't enter into it? Therein lies the danger of encouraging the government to weigh in on this.

-Says MSI:

Douthat commits a social sin by presuming to tell women what they want, as do feminists who insist that women must put their careers ahead of everything else (and maybe feminists who say that women should boycott procreation until their husbands give them socialism for their birthdays, which Pollitt's concluding point implies).
This is a very odd claim about Pollitt, whose concluding point is that if Douthat's so concerned with birthrates, he needs to be, on certain issues at least, more European-left and less American-right. Which seems fair. But the bigger question I have is, who are the "feminists" - of our times, that is - who say career must come first? I thought mainstream feminism had long been about making it possible for women to be in the workforce and have kids. It's true (and this is my window-of-opportunity argument) that in certain circles where many women do identify as feminists, very young women are urged by the women in their lives (mothers, friends, etc.) not to settle down, but then come 27 or so they get the opposite message.

-I wonder where Douthat and those sympathetic to his argument (MSI? Caryatis?) fall on the question of what a government should do if it turned out that we'd be better-off, socioeconomically-speaking, with a lower birthrate. Not so compatible with Catholicism or social conservatism, but if we're speaking in cold economic terms, it could clearly go in either direction, depending.

-What I mean by natalism being immoral: It's not immoral to care about the future of children you plan to have, or for the government to ask that we do tiny, no-big-deal things like recycle in the hopes of averting the planet's full-on demise. This is really not like restricting one's tuna-sushi consumption, which is admittedly (lots of decadence all around, in the expensive-food sense, at least) a sacrifice. The problem with natalism is that it asks the biggest possible decision a woman can make to come down to it being maybe slightly better for the economy or maybe not if the average woman has 2.3 rather than 1.8 kids or whatever. It's immoral to value the life of theoretical people over that of existing ones, particularly when there's hardly a consensus that more children are the answer - maybe it's fewer. It's certainly not immoral if a particular woman finds Douthat convincing, or some anti-Douthat horrified that anyone would bring more children into the world, and arranges her fertility according to whichever principles. What's immoral is stepping in and making it really difficult or altogether impossible for a woman to have a kid if she wants or not if she doesn't.