Monday, September 30, 2013


-The discussions here and elsewhere about Bard's new admissions essays have gotten me thinking about precisely what it is about "holistic" that I find unsettling. (I do see the value in affirmative action, so it's definitely not about that.) And it's the following: I don't like when concern for the academically-mediocre children of wealthy families disguises itself as concern for underprivileged youth. And I find that fairly often - not always! - opposition to standardized tests follows this pattern. It comes across as well-meaning and progressive to oppose these tests, because there's this implicit 'they only show who has rich parents.' When there are in fact plenty of kids who've had all the advantages and still do poorly on these tests. And who should not be demonized (as they sometimes are, as if it's somehow an act of entitlement to have advantages and not parlay them into conventional academic success), but whose cause isn't exactly a social-justice emergency. But the plight of the unconventionally-intelligent, undiscovered-genius rich kid (and we all know the adage about how a rich kid who does badly in school or is disruptive is a secret genius, esp. if male) ends up weirdly conflated with that of the poor kid with low scores but high abilities.

-As irritating trendlets go, top of my pile would be the oh-so-serious exposé of the evils of the modeling industry that are illustrated with a photo of the now-adult model in her modeling prime. Exhibits A and B; I know there are more, but this will do for now. Sometimes, granted, the image won't be a photo of any specific, traumatized model, but just of Some Random Model(s), or maybe an only moderately-traumatized one. But the ones where you're getting a photo of the author or profiled woman, as a young model, are the worst. Why? Because the gimmick is, the far-too-thin, far-too-young girl is the clickbait. That image is still selling something, even if the something it's selling is an earnest story about how terrible it is that models are so vulnerable. And it's kind of the same as the item above - the progressive-concern box gets checked, while the usual remains that which is promoted.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

10,000 words

Which, just off the top of your head, sounds like a better way to get a diverse student body: Requiring that applicants do well on the SAT and get good grades (the former evidently relating to family income,  and then there are the families paying for tutors; but the latter by necessity opening things up to students from all schools), or asking them to write 10,000 words of research paper? 

Bard's new way... strikes me more as a way to make sure applicants consider your college their first-choice school, than a way to make that college more accessible. I get that as with all applications, the college applicant must appear to believe that they'd flourish best and contribute most at this one institution, while at the same time applying to a bunch. Which means, if nothing else, getting the name of the school right for each essay. But anything that asks a student to demonstrate enthusiasm by turning applying to that school into an extracurricular activity of its own seems... potentially more about selecting the kids who, to put it generously, are the best match for that school, than about avoiding the evils of the standard-issue college application process.

But then there's the diversity question, ostensibly at the heart of this, but the most dubious. Would essays bring in more disadvantaged students, or just more academically weak but quirky rich kids? Most obviously, anything that time-consuming will be tougher to pull off for the kid with lots of household responsibilities. And are we really thinking parents aren't at all going to help with these essays, and that this won't alter the outcome? 

I suppose the idea is that the assignment is just this pure way of looking at how different people think, it seems unlikely to play out like that: 
Bard’s audition is open book: Along with the menu of 17 questions, the college’s Web site will provide all the relevant source materials — from a Nobel lecture about prion disorders to the United Nations Charter to an Aeschylus play — with which to address them. (Additional research is permitted if properly documented.) Mary Backlund, Bard’s director of admission, said that that access will place students who may not have encountered the subjects in school or do not have good local libraries on equal footing with those who attended elite high schools.
Note the parenthetical bit. Kids who appear to be doing graduate-level work (citing scholarship, etc.), aren't they just that much more impressive? Or on a simpler level: kids who cite outside sources seem more committed to attending Bard. Kids who demonstrate existing contextual knowledge about the topics are bound to come up with something more impressive. The ability to write at the college level while still in high school seems like a good proxy for how nice of a high school you've attended. (You'll have an edge if you were in Mr. Gern's Stuyvesant English class, it seems, because by coincidence he assigns the same poetry as the Bard application. While yes, just reading that passage was a bit jarringly high-school-flashback, it's always nice to see a former teacher be the voice of reason.)

But to return to the main issue here, it's just bizarre to think that fairness is achieved by throwing primary sources at kids from all backgrounds, as if the ability to write a long essay on a complicated topic without any particular training is something equally distributed throughout the population. I understand the appeal of eliminating "potential" from the equation, but the way of doing so can't possibly be expecting college-level work (the real deal, not what APs cover) from those who haven't yet dealt with the steep learning curve of first term freshman year.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Maintenance, high and low

-What must a man over 30 own? There's now this list... I guess the main thing about it is, it doesn't account for subcultures (or, as they said on this BBC sociology podcast I now listen to, "masculinities" - emphasis on the plural). In some pockets of society, masculinity continues to be performed through ostentatious disregard for shopping, even the kind of shopping that markets itself as investing in quality. The more holes in a garment, the longest stretch since the last haircut, the better. But the list does kind of nod towards that version of masculine self-expression, including as it does certain items (an umbrella, more than one towel) that it's just assumed a woman would have sorted out long before 30.

-Barilla, as you've seen many times via Facebook already no doubt, has recently been outed as the homophobic dry pasta. Which does summon the obvious question: Is DeCecco similarly problematic? Maybe someone needs to look into this, because that's whose sales will now skyrocket.

-Make-me-a-sandwich-gate. The thing where a woman has a blog whose premise is that if she makes her boyfriend 300 sandwiches, he'll upgrade her status to fiancée. So what of it? Is she merely another entry into the tradition of women being entrepreneurial under the cover of domesticity (ahem, Martha Stewart), digging as she so transparently is for a book deal? Is there maybe some element of role-reversal in the proposal - she's kinda-sorta proposing to him in an elaborate way, with these sandwiches. Maybe? Except not at all - it's gross both because of the make-me-a-sandwich trope and because it's this exaggeration of the idea that a woman must prove herself worthy of a commitment, whereas a man just kind of has to exist to be presumed husband material.

-Ugh, to the skeptics, yes, calling some random Jewish woman a "JAP" is a slur. (Referring to a "JAP" subculture/aesthetic, that might not be, given that some women do seem to identify as such.) No, being Jewish (and male) yourself doesn't make you an authority on this, because it's an intersectional slur - against Jewish women, not all Jews, not all women. (Unclear how central "American" is to this, as I think variants exist elsewhere.) And it's a slur precisely because of the way it's used, which is to say, against American Jewish women generally, regardless of whether they've exhibited any high-maintenance behaviors. If you haven't had it hurled at you apropos of basically nothing; if you haven't spent your life under the preemptive accusation of excessive primping (if only!); if you haven't, as a woman, found that everything frilly you do go in for serves to confirm an ethnic stereotype (woman paints nails, woman; Jewish woman paints nails, fussy princess)...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Southwest Williamsburg

-Williamsburg - sorry, North Williamsburg - is being ruined by visitors from New Jersey. Guilty as charged. For some of us car-possessing interlopers from what I will now start calling Southwest Williamsburg, it's just cheaper and easier to get there than to lower Manhattan.

-Thank you, Gawker, for bringing this story to our attention. A Canadian professor insists on teaching only "serious" literature, which by his definition must come from straight, white, middle-aged men. And he hasn't, it seems, been misquoted (although, condensed and edited...), nor, more surprisingly, is he some creation of the left. It's actually more interesting than the gaffe-ness of it all may first seem. If nothing else, he more or less confirms what everyone suspects, namely that the reason for diversity among professors is precisely that people do gravitate towards writers/stories they identify with for boring demographic reasons. And thus that there isn't something objectively superior about the literary production of this one demographic category.

-It is my hope/prediction that "Into The Gloss" will have a Lena Dunham "Top Shelf" in the near future. (They've profiled the fashion designer who's her boyfriend's sister. We're getting there.) Until then, a slideshow of an unknown actress named Gwyneth somethingorother. Who now smokes one cigarette a day, or whoever wrote that post didn't do proper fact-checking on this most important matter.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"I really wish that women would stop spinning."

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

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

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


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

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

'The city's nice and all, but just to visit.'

The normal human state of affairs is, apparently, to feel tense and stressed in the city, and relaxed in the country. I gauge this from the many conversations I've had over the years, both living in the city and living in the not-city, about the relative peace-of-mind one experiences in each. Everyone finds their calm increases around, if not suburbia (although sometimes that), at least nature.

And here's the thing: I feel the reverse. I don't want to feel the reverse. And it's gotten a whole lot better now that I at least can drive (feeling entirely calm while doing so is another matter). I've learned that I can be happy living in either. But I still, to some extent, feel calmer in the city than the country, or in a suburb/small town.

And it's not a New York-centric snobbery thing, although the preemptive assumption from others that it must be makes it difficult to talk about. It's a city thing, and doesn't somehow cease to be true for me in Philadelphia or Chicago. Smaller cities too? To a point. Must I say that the town where I live - with its main street that only has businesses on one side of the street (except for about a block over by the fish store) - is a city?

It's absolutely not a yuppie-amenities thing - there are concerts and plays and sushi places and coffee shops (note the plural - we got a second one!) and expensive yoga pants I periodically consider buying but never do. There's a better-than-it-needs-to-be bookstore. But there aren't crowds. OK, there are, but only during Reunions, and that's event-crowds, not urban throngs.

It really is a matter of comfort. I don't find it particularly stressful to be on a crowded subway, a diverted bus. Whereas every time I drive somewhere (and yes, people drive in other cities as well, but it can potentially be avoided), I worry about what if I need to take an alternate route, and need to pull over to check directions? What if I need to park but the lot is really busy, and (as can happen) another car backs out of its spot and into my car, because evidently people who didn't recently get their license are pretty blasé about such matters? What if a deer runs in front of my car? And the whole anonymity thing, the whole diverse-crowd-so-no-one's-looking-at-you one.

Anyway, I could go on about this at such length... About how the idea that country=calm gets reinforced by urbanites for whom the country is an occasional escape, and who'd lose their minds if they actually had to live somewhere remote. About how much (no, not all) of what seems like snobbery from people who've moved from the country to the city is actually a defense mechanism of those who experienced whichever forms of exclusion in the small towns they came from. But it's too easy to get sidetracked. My point, the one I'm trying to really insist on here, is that that overall sense of relative calm supposedly experienced in the country... that's not how it works for everyone.

Monday, September 23, 2013


It's 2013. Back in 2009, I was evidently complaining that one was required to enjoy kale. Specifically, what I objected to was that it's impossible to mention kale without someone immediately chiming in with the recipe that will produce a conversion in even the most skeptical. And now there's an American woman making it her (unpaid!) mission to get the French to eat the stuff. Because the stuff is absolutely everywhere, and kind of bland, I've learned to like it as much as any other green, enough so that if it's the freshest-looking vegetable available, I'll buy it. (Considers kale currently in the fridge, and how it would balance out cocktail-party hors d'oeuvres dinner. But it would need to be washed, prepared. Which would require getting off the couch.) But mustering enthusiasm is beyond me. It looks nice at farmers' markets, and poking out of tote bags brought virtuously to the same. But otherwise...

It's just such a strange dynamic, this kale-promotion. Not the kale fad - a fad I can wrap my head around. It's the overt peer-pressure element. I can understand wanting your own child to learn to at least tolerate vegetables you yourself like to prepare. But why all the spontaneous PR for random adults one doesn't even know to like a vegetable whose success you yourself don't have any financial stake in? What's it to you - a general 'you' - if someone you're not even dining with prefers collard greens or chard, or spinach or arugula,* or broccoli, or...? Maybe some really out-there argument could be made for it being in society's interest for most everyone to eat at least some green vegetables. But why must it be kale? Why does a vegetable have cheerleaders?

*Team Arugula all the way. Very 1990s, I realize, but then again, so am I. Best consumed with baked goat cheese and while wearing that newly-revived vamp-red lipstick.

As one does

Best "Into The Gloss" ever. We've got:

-Photos of a woman with glowing skin, no cellulite (there's one shot from the classic "Daily Mail" angle that would reveal any in the usual places), and a lovely, spa-tiled bathroom.

-Pseudoscience: The magical power of "green juice" (which, as is disclaimered, the profilee is selling) to cancel out cigarettes and lack of sunscreen, not to mention the need for makeup. The insistence that coffee is something one should want to remove from one's life, because detox, or who knows. "Among other things, green juice alkalizes your body and gets your intestines working properly... You get great skin because your liver and your guts are working properly, and you stay slim because all of your bodily functions are in line, and your hormones are balanced—your skin is a direct reflection of what's happening in your guts."

-Humblebrag: "[...] I don’t wear makeup, and honestly, don’t really know how to do my own makeup. I have friends who are musicians, models, and actresses, and they always have to do their makeup for things. So when I have something to go to that requires me to wear it, I have a lot of people within a five-mile radius that I can reach out to who will just do it for me."

-The haute-hippie thoroughness of it all: "To moisturize my face, I found an Ayurvedic, organic face cream called [whatever]. This woman sources everything from India, makes products in super small batches in a traditional, Ayurvedic way, and even chants mantras into them." And: " I love being in my shower—the water is oxygenated, re-mineralized, pH-balanced water, and all of the tiles were made by [some tile company] to make it feel really grounded, like you’re in earth." And: "[I]f you flush out the mucus and get rid of dairy, the whites of your eyes will sparkle more." And: "I usually wash my body with a loofah, but I use a dry brush to exfoliate when I’m juice cleansing."

It's all just fahbulous, dahling. Totally not relatable to those of us who prefer our greens as non-pulverized solids, thanks, like maybe sauteed with garlic and olive oil. Or who would never think of abandoning coffee for bogus purity reasons. Or who are even the least bit cynical. And yet: shiny!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

When men lean in

There's a certain kind of rudeness that exists only in Euphemistic NJ, or maybe a handful of places like it. It's not the blunt, no-nonsense rudeness of a city, or the suspicion of outsiders of a remote small town. It's... here's what it is. It's that you're about to go into a coffee place (with your husband, lest this seem like a gender issue) and you hear a man (middle-aged, white, otherwise nondescript) say to his friends that he's going in to get a coffee. As we were in the doorway to the coffee shop already - we'd arrived first - the man says "excuse me" and pushes his way in front of us. Not to meet up with someone already in the place, but simply to cut in front of us in line and order his (complicated, as one might imagine it would be) drink first. Why? Because his coffee and time were just that much more important than ours. But he didn't seem especially rushed. He just... wanted what he wanted, and, uh, leaned in.

It was the kind of thing where it would have been entirely appropriate to say something, but what stopped me was less the potential for making a scene (not that that didn't enter into it at all), but the sheer awe I was in at his sense of entitlement. It was just... people do that? I wasn't so much upset by what had happened as amazed. I've seen variants of this while driving, or while commuting by train, so I could see how it fit with... not by any means how everyone here behaves, but a certain percent of the population. But this was a truly beautifully-executed example.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On nearly failing Mr. Bologna's gym class

It didn't seem possible, but there it was: another email about a blink-and-you'd-miss-it formatting problem with my dissertation. Not something mentioned in the last round of edits, but maybe alluded to? Something about how I needed to fix the problems and do X, but phrased in such a way as it seemed likely that doing X was what would solve the problem. Maybe (definitely!) I ought to have phoned the office then, but I thought I'd made all the changes, or else obviously I'd have called to check. But anywayEverything seems to be sorted out such that I don't need to make a special trip into the city just to deal with this, but that's not to say there wasn't a moment of panic when I saw the email pop up from the Office of Your Dissertation is Formatted Wrong.

This brings ABD to a new level. I can understand never really getting going with a project, or finding a job elsewhere and not seeing the point of getting the degree, or just generally something coming up between the qualifying exam and the defense. But if what stands between me and the doctorate is that two lines of the title page are incorrectly spaced, I think I'm a walking don't-go article.

In other news, my high school called to let me know that I did in fact fail Mr. Bologna's gym class, not just for one marking period, but for the whole year, thereby preventing me from starting college. My elementary school has land-line phoned me up to tell me that the remedial handwriting class I was in (which I was; this blog is basically a celebration of typing) hasn't ended. Whichever other anxiety-dream scenarios, those too, while we're at it.

"Sometimes I really hate men."

This roundup of Facebook status-update crimes just popped up where else. It's pretty funny, and gets at some of the issues here, but in a far more clever way than the post I'd halfheartedly half-written in response. Basically the gist is, do not confuse Facebook for your mother. (Item 3, but really all of them.) If something goes well in your life, do you really think everyone you met briefly in a class six years ago is happy for you?

But there are other interesting observations, such as that past a certain threshold, complaints about getting hit on stop reading as feminist activism and start reading as bragging about one's own gorgeousness. The example provided:

On my walk home from work, I was whistled at twice, honked at twice, and one car almost caused an accident slowing down to stare at me. Sometimes I really hate men.
This item caused all kinds of controversy in the comments. Complaining about harassment isn't bragging!, some insist, adding that only a man would possibly think this. Catcalls aren't compliments!

So. I'm quite sure I'm not a man, but I immediately knew exactly what that item was referring to. True, victims of sexual violence are not necessarily any which way physically. No, being stalked isn't even remotely like being scouted by a (legitimate) modeling agency. And as I've said here so many times before, street harassment is typically less about looks than perceived vulnerability, thus explaining why you might have been much better-looking at 23 than 13, but getting far more street attention from men at the younger age.

But are we really going to claim that women who are admired every time they leave the house, asked out every time they go to a coffee shop, proposed marriage to every time they take the bus, that such women are not being praised for their looks? That being certifiably stunning isn't at all a form of advantage? That women never, ever brag about this sort of non-threatening attention, but knowing that it's socially unacceptable to announce that one is hot, include a quasi-feminist disclaimer?

And are status updates a useful vehicle for protesting honest-to-goodness male sketchiness? If we take into account that status updates (by men and women alike) are about constructing an image, the terms change. The instances women experience of feeling genuinely threatened don't make for catchy, upbeat witticisms suitable for a general audience. So we may hear about oh-so-creepy dudes on the subway who want to know what you're reading, but not about the ex who follows you around town. The men whose idea of street attention is 'Hey good-looking,' and not the ones who try to physically trip women as they pass, or who expose themselves, etc. The very nature of the genre lends itself to exactly the kinds of attention that are more on the 'flattering' end of the spectrum.

It gets complicated, though, because the sort of attention that is a compliment - and we know this, in part, because women past a certain age so often complain about no longer receiving it - can also be perceived of as menacing. Even something as seemingly non-aggressive as being told you're beautiful can, depending the context, be wildly inappropriate. So it might seem the safest bet to say, fine, yes, we suspect on some level that some 'complaints' are bragging, but we'll never really know which count as such, so we should give the complainers themselves the benefit of the doubt.

Which would be fine - and which is, practically speaking, the only way to go - if it were not for the following: These conversations can define the essential female experience - or young-and-female experience - as being hit on all the time, thereby excluding whichever women are not from female solidarity. The feminist sphere can at times end up mimicking exactly that which it's trying to combat, acting as if the only women who matter are the ones who are young, pretty, and appealing in a general sense to men.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Why poor people need to be careful

The "investment piece" is back, this time thanks to fashion designer Vivienne Westwood:

"Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody’s buying far too many clothes. I mean, I know I’m lucky, I can just take things and borrow them and I’m just okay, but I hate having too many clothes. And I think that poor people should be even more careful."
One might imagine that those in the business of selling clothes would be in favor of people buying clothes, but that would be far too obvious. The appropriate marketing strategy for high-end is to denounce the meaningless acquisition of stuff, in favor of collecting, investing, or whichever other euphemism might be used to describe buying expensive things rather than cheap ones. The intended audience is, of course, the population capable of and interested in buying designer clothing. Rich and poor alike wear H&M; only the rich are going to be in Westwood's creations. So if your aim is to move high-end garb, one thing you can do is to frame that choice in moral terms. Save the planet! Buy one Hermès bag instead of ten or whatever at a bourgeois mall store like Coach!

But there's that other, pesky function as well, which is that the you're-a-good-person-if-you-shop-designer framing effectively amounts to, if you're poor or middle-class, you're a terrible person, because you almost by definition will have not properly sourced whatever it is you're wearing. And yes, there are such things as thrift stores, but there are also such things as underwear, socks, and t-shirts. As needing to look professional. Some stuff effectively needs to be purchased new and, if you don't want to stink (or to do laundry, with all its associated environmental impact - not to mention hassle - all the time), you may not want to "invest" in the one artisanal undershirt. This framing, then, flips around the more expected narrative, which is that if you're a rich person buying designer stuff, you're the one being decadent. It creates this imaginary world in which wealthy people who buy a couple really quality pieces don't also own like 300x the Old Navy-or-equivalent as do their fellow Westerners with less.

Westwood's gaffe, then, was in spelling out where "poor people" enter into this equation. The usual approach, the tasteful one, is to insist that the problem isn't poor people, but purchasers-of-cheap-things, and one may read between the lines.

The gnocchi workout

The Canal Towpath! How had I not been jogging there before? If I'm going to run for a long time (and I'm going to say seven miles counts), far better that way than the treadmill, the tick-y woods, or running as many 0.7 mile road loops as I can stand. Apart from the bit at the beginning of the jog, when I had to dodge a couple men who'd gotten out of a van to pee on opposite sides of said van, thereby blocking the narrow road to the towpath, it was a bucolic experience indeed.

Nevertheless, I may keep on going to the gym as well. If only because the butt-toning machine - and none of the others - has instructions only in Italian:

Which fits with my earlier impression of Italy as a place unusually concerned with this area. This in any case became the only strength-training machine at the gym that interested me, the translation exercise a gateway into exercise. 

The only drawback is my strong association of the Italian language with food. Whatever "ginocchia" is (knee?), it brings to mind the potato-dumpling pasta (in a Gorgonzola sauce, or maybe pesto) I'd rather be having. Not that working out means abandoning pasta for kale juice. If anything, one may work out specifically in order to eat even more pasta. But not, like, during the leg-press. Or leg panino, as is the technical term.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The campsite in the rye

Relationships at 18 can be weird. They can go wrong in specific ways that ones later in life can't, because things that seem like obvious red flags to someone with a bit of life experience (extreme interest, or extreme hedging) may seem charming to someone with little or none. But of all the terrible fates to befall an 18-year-old woman (yes, woman - more on that in a moment) in the boyfriend sphere, getting together with a famous writer, and then dumped by him, and then dining out on that story, to put it mildly, for the rest of your life, seems maybe not the worst possible outcome.

While the same things that make a relationship abusive (as vs. merely crappy) among older adults certainly count as such at 18, the mere fact of a relationship can't be statutory rape if both parties are adults. Which Joyce Maynard comes awfully close to claiming about her affair at 18 with the guy who wrote the book read by Americans who've only ever read one novel.

Maynard writes:
Some will argue that you can’t have it both ways: how can a woman say she is fully in charge of her body and her destiny, and then call herself a victim when, having given a man her heart of her own volition, he crushes it? How can a consensual relationship, as Salinger’s unquestionably were, constitute a form of abuse?
The possible answers to this rhetorical question: when the "woman" is a girl, and/or the man is her teacher/boss/older relative. Or when a relationship entered into consensually becomes abusive. Maynard suggests that "people in positions of power — mentors, priests, employers or simply those assigned an elevated status" are the problem, which seems far too broad. Relationships will often have an age or status mismatch, which doesn't somehow remove consent. Or can it?

This was the passage that jumped out:
I am as troubled by the use of the word “woman” to describe the 18-year-old object, briefly, of a 53-year-old’s affections as I am by the use of the word “lover” to describe my 18-year-old self, in the context of that relationship.
And, I'm not sure what to make of this. Yes, age of majority is a construct, and yes, it's possible to be 18, 19, 39, and hopelessly naive, and fall under the spell of a glamorous mansplainer who stands in the way of your education and friendships. But there's a difference between being an underage girl who merely thinks she's in a consensual relationship with a grown man who should know better, and being an adult woman who falls for a less-than-ideal guy. Also a difference - if a more subtle one - between being in an abusive relationship and voluntarily signing up for a certain power-imbalanced relationship dynamic.

Isn't it kind of unfair to the actual girls abused by older men (including girls who imagine they were in consensual relationships, and including whichever girls Salinger was also involved with) to retroactively declare an 18-year-old self - someone who was already living on her own as a college student - not yet a woman? To suggest that Salinger was equivalent to a professor or coach or some such, with power over Maynard in particular, when he was something far closer to a celebrity? Even if Salinger engaged in emotional abuse (maybe? unclear from the essay, but likely possible to sort out from other things Maynard has written; what we do learn of sounds a great deal less devastating than much of what I recall going on between those of 18 and thereabouts in relationships with fellow students), it was emotional abuse of an adult woman.

Dan Savage's "campsite rule" seems apropos: that the older partner in an age-and-power mismatch relationship - the assumption being that both parties are adults - leave the younger one in better shape than they found them. Also that there shouldn't be any promises made of more serious commitment than is being offered. The cultural-education bit seems fair - what exactly is the point of a fling with a famous older writer if not to have your tastes challenged? - but the dropping-out-of-college bit, not so great. But a violation of the campsite rule, while poor form, not in at all the same realm as exploitation of someone underage.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Yom Kippur assortment

-UChicago's grand tradition of producing graduate students, confirmed.

-Unlike apparently everyone else on Goodreads, but like the friend who recommended it to me in the first place, I really enjoyed Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot. I'd read and liked Middlesex a while back, but don't remember it well enough to compare the two. What inspired me to read it now was how often "the marriage plot" came up in my dissertation defense, and it started to occur to me that I had only the most general sense of what that meant. (Jane Austen, etc.)

What I hadn't known - and what may have made me like the book slightly less - was how much of the thing would be set, like, right where I was sitting as I read most of it. No, not just in the same town. The same academic community's housing. I hadn't had any idea that Eugenides lived in this town, but knowing that he does, it makes much more sense. What's the opposite of 'escapist'? Is it time for me to discover science fiction?

-Given that at least one of my readers comes here for lipstick discussions, let me state for the record that the Bite Beauty lipstick in Pomegranate is the perfect red. Less because of the shade - they all look more or less alike - than because of the texture. Goes on great, but more importantly, fades to a tint, rather than to bits of red lipstick clumping on chapped-ness you hadn't known you had, and that might well have been created by the lipstick itself. And blended with the dark 1990s red, becomes the perfect Carrie Brownstein shade. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

No comment

Newspaper comments. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. While I don't believe I've ever left a comment to a newspaper article, I'm definitely guilty of sometimes heading straight for the comments of some lifestyle journalism, before/instead of reading the piece itself. Newspaper comments are, I find - although no one else does, or wants to admit it - endlessly fascinating. But should I not think this?

Miss Self-Important takes issue with journalists who cite 'some Daily Mail reader' as a source. While I see her point, I'd be a bit more forgiving. First off, in both articles MSI links to, actual verifiable humans are also quoted, so fears of the demise of the craft might be overstated. Also, while comments don't tell us the same thing as interviews, they may tell us something, and the something they tell us may be as useful as interview-gotten material, where the interviewee, though verifiable, is biased by the fact of being interviewed by a journalist.

Different sources require different kinds of skepticism, though, so if an article presents a newspaper commenter as more verified than they really are, that's a problem. A commenter who claims to be a student at a particular school may have never been in the same country as that school, a drawback one avoids if conducting interviews on a campus. From this, it should be clear that any 'information' one gets from commenters is not to be taken as definitive. But if what you're looking for is more the range of public opinion on some issue, and it's an issue too specific to have been addressed in any survey (not that those are flawless, either), or no one's speaking openly, are comments really so terrible as a place to look? Popular opinion may lead to learning facts, or be interesting in and of itself.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


It's done! Forms are in and everything! And my car wasn't even towed! The defense itself is a bit of a blur, but I remember taking notes. I remember it going well, and that the criticisms were useful, not scary or gotcha or whatever it is one is meant to expect from that type of situation. I remember that despite an overwhelming fear that I'd fail (inspired in part by learning, a week or so beforehand, that someone once failed a math defense when a famous professor deemed the project "trivial") preventing me from planning any kind of immediate post-thingy celebration, some friends saw to it that I didn't spend the entire post-defense in the inevitable late-afternoon nap.

Now I have nothing left to do but throw myself into an idiosyncratic, likely academic and non-academic permanent-job search that may yet end with a postdoc at air-conditioner-repair school. (If you happen to know/hear of/wish to create a position in French-Jewish Studies...) And all the various writing projects I'd lost track of, what with it, can now be resumed, and the existing ones continued. Likely including WWPD, unless air-conditioner-repair school has some clause against it.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Convention defied

Word is out that the hot new look is unconventional attractiveness. Not in the euphemistic sense, where that's used to mean ugliness. In the meaningless sense, where it means... I'm not entirely sure what it means. How exactly have we parted with convention this season? To illustrate this new runway phenomenon, photos of conventionally attractive, runway-built blondes, with the occasional light-eyed, pale-skinned brunette, because diversity. From the NYT's version:

“They weren’t cheerleaders in high school with football players chasing after them,” said Jason Valenta, 35, the director of scouting at Next Models in SoHo, of this new type. “These are lanky and awkward girls who come into their own a little bit later.”
Yes, what a shift! Because the tall, thin girl the boys didn't appreciate, who leaves her small town and makes it big in the fashion world, where she's shown the respect that physique deserves, is not the very cliché of a high-fashion model? Am I missing something? I suppose it's convenient that the pretty-enough children of famous people can now be labeled not nepotism's beneficiaries, but jolie laide.

I will in any case be interested when they start looking for quirks like '30 years old' combined with '5'2"', plus 'eats too much pasta,' and a dash of 'not related to any famous people, unless you count distant cousins-by-marriage who are well-known and well-bearded New Brooklyn chocolate-makers'. While that career would still not be for me, it would be nice to see those like myself on the catwalk.

"I Should Worry," Part II

The town sure did pick a wonderful moment to relocate the train station. Which would be kinda whatever if this were the sort of place where one can just walk or take transportation to it, but this requires driving. While the mechanics of driving a couple blocks further than before are not an issue, information on where or how to park in the temporary lot (as vs once everything's done) is non-existent. Biking would be possible, if hilly, but maybe I don't want to do that the day of my defense??? I drove over there today to see what's what, and it looks like you can just park, without paying or having a permit. There aren't meters or signs. But it's not and not going to be entirely clear. Perhaps, though, if I focus anxiety on the small but present chance of being towed on the day of my defense, rather than on worrying about the defense itself, this is a good thing?

Thursday, September 05, 2013

"I Should Worry"

My dentist's office has a poster that says "I Should Worry," from an old movie or play or something. While I wasn't all that worried at the dentist (pleasantly surprised that the cleaning removed a stain from one of my front teeth, but that's about it), I can/should/do worry for enough other reasons. For example:

-The letter in the mail from the registrar, letting me know I had "not satisfied" my language requirement. My what? There's this whole complicated thing where the French department has a language requirement (apart from, like, French), but the French-French Studies program does not, such that even though I've taken a decent amount of Hebrew, even though I've more recently taken a German-for-reading course (and exam, although I never did get that back), as far as the university's concerned, I only check the French and English boxes. Which, fair enough, but shouldn't the registrar know this???? The four question marks refer to the fact that I got this letter a few days before the day. As in, maybe if there's some existing problem that would prevent me from graduating, I'd have wanted to know about it sooner??????? And had that German exam actually count towards something?????????????? This was of course all cleared up after a quickish call to the registrar, but still.

-The cute little terrier-mini-schnauzer-type dog wandering into the road in front of a car that I, in what is likely to be my life's one moment of bravery, very dramatically saved from an SUV barreling along at maybe 10mph. I was out walking my own yippy gray dog, which made catching this one all the more complicated. But with the help of a little boy (who wanted to keep it, but whose parents vetoed that option) and then my husband, I was able to bring the dog around, first to the house down the road that's filled with dogs just like it (no one was home), and then back home, where Bisou was like, can we keep it?, but instead, after trying the number on the tag several times, finally they picked up. "They" not being the terrier people after all, but another family that seemed kind of blasé about the whole thing. (Am I a helicopter dog-owner? I mean, this dog was in the road, alone, wandering in front of a car...) But my panicking around the neighborhood did eventually get back to the terrier people, so the terrier woman came by here, after I'd dropped off that terrier, and I was like, gah, more terriers! everywhere, terriers!, but I reassured her (she was concerned) that the other terrier was back home.

Questions of the day

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

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

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

Scatological spreadsheets and digital trust funds

And now, the latest installment of the parental overshare debate. This time, we have - amazing! - a woman who has made it her mission to keep stuff about her kids from ending up on the internet. I saw the headline - noticing that it was Slate's most-read, above even Prudie - and thought, whoa, parental overshare has met its match! And then I read the thing and, no. Parental overshare has, instead, come full circle.

Amy Webb begins with a reasonable-enough premise: parents are too cavalier about what they put about their kids on the internet. Webb objects to photos of a friend's child "in a bathtub and an awkward moment posing in her mother’s lacy pink bra," and who can blame her? "I completely understood her parents’ desire to capture Kate’s everyday moments, because early childhood is so ephemeral. I also knew how those posts would affect Kate as an adult [...]." Indeed. Too few people think about this. And,

It’s hard enough to get through puberty. Why make hundreds of embarrassing, searchable photos freely available to her prospective homecoming dates? If Kate’s mother writes about a negative parenting experience, could that affect her ability to get into a good college? 
Yes, so many times yes.

And then things get... interesting. Webb segues into a paranoid exposé of facial-recognition technology and its potential. While it's straightforward enough how a high-profile article about how a particular, identifiable child is a brat, or is mentally ill, might impact said child's later life, even if the technology exists to track down the location of random infants, who's interested?

And then it becomes about how they had to choose their child's name as one that was not yet associated with anything negative (although, as a friend just pointed out on Facebook, someone could well be born later with this name and create an unpleasant track record), and then I basically couldn't follow the thing anymore. "On the day of her birth, our daughter already had accounts at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Github. And to this day, we’ve never posted any content." They, I mean, I don't even know what Github is, nor do I have Instagram, nor can I at all figure out what the advantage is to your parents making you-the-fetus a Facebook page or Twitter account. I mean, what does this mean?:
When we think she’s mature enough (an important distinction from her being technically old enough), we’ll hand her an envelope with her master password inside. She’ll have the opportunity to start cashing in parts of her digital identity, and we’ll ensure that she’s making informed decisions about what’s appropriate to reveal about herself, and to whom.
Wouldn't you just make your own, when you saw fit, assuming these platforms still had any significance once you reached adolescence? How could this ever, just logistically, work?

But the more important detail comes from the fact that Webb is herself guilty of some of the most out-there parental overshare. Another friend linked to this similarly viral piece, about the spreadsheets Webb would use to keep track of her baby's... functions. The article includes details such as "Poop Scale (1 = Dijon mustard, 5 = pâté, 10 = tar)," and where on that spectrum a particular turd happened to lie. As I've said so many times regarding parental overshare, it's not some kind of state secret who the child of some writer is, even if the parents are not shouting the kid's full name from the rooftops. While this scatological overshare is maybe not the absolute worst sort of TMI, in that it ultimately humiliates the parents and doesn't reveal anything all that special about the kid (it poops, how remarkable!), it's the kind of thing one probably wouldn't be too thrilled to read about one's self.

Monday, September 02, 2013


Every so often, people I knew long ago will add or remove me on Facebook. The emotions this arises are close to nil - these are, like I say, people I haven't seen in years, and if it's "remove," whatever vanity there might be in the "friend" number (and not much for me, as I've removed people for reasons such as not remembering meeting them), it tends to even out, what with the equally mysterious adding.

My point here is thus not about Facebook neurosis - which pertains only to people you at least once gave significant thought to - but rather something technical about Facebook: you're still automatically "following" the people who've unfriended you. I discovered this when a high school classmate had unfriended me, which I discovered when I saw them listed as a mutual friend's friend, i.e. not mine. I thought that was what had happened, clicked on their profile, and saw that I was "following" this person.

What's "following"?

I had vaguely known the site had this function, but had thought it was something like Twitter - separate altogether from "friends," with no pretense of mutual interest. Like, you might follow a celebrity, or follow someone in addition to being friends with them, if they're an artist of some kind, and you want to show your support. But I hadn't enabled it myself - why would people I don't know follow me on Facebook rather than Twitter? Whom would I follow rather than friend? If I hadn't enabled this, how was I now "following" someone?

And yes, OK, there is an associated neurosis: what if all your friends have unfriended you, but you're still following them by default? There's no list of people you're following if you're following them for this reason, it seems. It appears that your number of friends only drops by one once you manually "unfollow" the person who's already unfriended you, so you'd never know.

But there's also the question of, what if you're the one who's done the unfriending? Don't you want a clean Facebook-break from whichever person? Why would you want to keep including them on your list? And isn't it just an odd system? I'd imagine that most unfriending happens when there's a lack of mutual affinity (such that the removed friend may have already long hidden the remover's updates), and it's simply that one of the two people was more invested in list-curation or whatever and thus made the final (but not so final!) cut.

But let's say you unfriend someone because you find their posts offensive, or because you have a limit of how many Lord-praising (or atheism-promoting) status updates a day you can handle from any one person, or because you never liked them to begin with and now that you're no longer working together,* you're free to remove them. Why do you want them reading your posts? I mean, you probably don't. It's really hard to picture a situation where the removed friend would be something other than indifferent or offended, and would therefore want to keep following the former friend's updates. So why is it set up like this?

*I understand this temptation, but this always seems short-sighted. If you're in a profession, you never know who you're going to need a good word from. With all the hide-updates possibilities that even I have managed to figure out, it's really not necessary to burn bridges.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Kugel in the Midwest

Seth Kugel, the "Frugal Traveler," toured much of the Midwest and wrote about it. Quel chutzpah!, she exclaims, translating from the insufficiently provincially-cosmopolitan (but plenty angsty) comments.

New Yorkers - Kugel evidently grew up in the Boston area, but has long lived in NYC or abroad - are not supposed to comment on how they've found the Midwest. Anything negative comes across as snooty - what, is it somehow not civilization if an unmarked ramen and bespoke-cocktail lounge isn't on every corner? And anything positive comes across either as condescending ('oh look, how adorable, they still wear bootcut jeans!') or ignorant ('well what do you know, they do have espresso-based beverages outside of Greater Williamsburg!' or, if you really want to rile people up, 'so Chicago is a city!').

The third option - the one Kugel flirts with here - is to list the ways the Midwest is superior to New York. This is essentially the most generous, open-minded approach to any travel-writing, no matter where one is going or from. Be enthusiastic and excited about all the new things you're seeing and grateful for the chance! But because he's from New York, he pretty much can't win. He erred in not already knowing the Midwest well, because it seems as if he thinks he 'discovered' it, even if he simply discovered it for himself, and yes, for a readership that may not get out much. He erred in making it sound too appealing and uh oh what if coastal tourists follow suit.

Or maybe the error was in the framing - if sites in the Midwest were simply integrated into the Travel section, that might be less rage-provoking than a full-on 'look, we've checked that box' series. Although this was a series, not just the one piece, so, who knows.

Below, the official WWPD guide to being from but sometimes getting out of New York.

-It's not weird for New Yorkers to find small towns in the Midwest - or small towns, or much of the Midwest (Chicago, for a New Yorker, isn't all that strange) - strange, any more than the reverse is strange. Provincialism coming from urbanites isn't somehow the greater crime.

-If we define all interest in the Midwest on the part of New Yorkers as inherently patronizing and offensive, what then? Is it a better state of affairs if everyone stays ignorant? If NYC-based publications only cover the Marais and Williamsburg?

-Never ever once should it come up in one of these discussions that New York - or major cities, or major coastal cities - isn't really America. And yet, it inevitably does.

-Yes, gawking seems silly when one considers just how rustic life can be even within the Northeast. It can be tough to suss out what's special about the Midwest if the author finds anywhere with livestock or country roads to fit the bill. (Hey, I live in the Midwest - who knew? And commuted daily for one semester to Manhattan!) Kugel, to his credit, admits this failing, but the commenters still have at it.

-One way not to react to the Midwest is to fetishize it in racial terms. The bit at the end about the "blondes"* - as if blond hair, but only on the ladies, is some kind of amenity akin to "free and plentiful" parking spots - was a bit on the nauseating side, even if it's kinda-sorta redeemed by Kugel transgressively referring to all this blondness as "exotic.* I'd more often seen this approach to travel writing from those headed to Europe, like when a different author went to the Netherlands and advised a small town over Amsterdam, because it has fewer immigrants and more of the tall people one evidently goes to that country to get a look at.

*This sort of thing always makes me think of how, when I was headed to Chicago for college - to a school I'd picked in part because I did want to see more of the country and meet people from other regions - I had this twinge of concern, from having read Portnoy's Complaint at a formative age, that 'the Midwest' was a place where all the women looked like Claudia Schiffer. Needless to say...