Monday, December 30, 2013

I got a feeling

There's a certain genre (and I use the term, as always, quite loosely) that consists of personal essays centering on a feeling. Two examples that come to mind, both from Jezebel: Lindy West on flying while fat, and a Groupthink contributor on riding the train while female. (Which I'd remembered as on the main page. Anyway.) Both of these posts are ostensibly about unpleasant interactions with men while on transportation. The former is about a man fat-shaming the author; in the latter, a different dude sexually harasses a different author. The idea being, with both, to get a discussion going about a commonly-shared experience.

The problem in both essays is, the man never quite does the thing he's being accused of. West's plane-seat neighbor never calls her fat, indeed does nothing to indicate he's got anything against fat people generally or fat people on planes specifically. While West's overall point is a fair one - it probably is rougher to be the fat person on the plane than to be the thin person whose personal space is temporarily taken up by another person's girth - the Exhibit A consists of standard-issue in-flight squabbling, West's size having nothing to do with it. West goes on to describe what others tell her "with their eyes on nearly every flight," and it's certainly offensive:

"You're bigger than I'd like you to be." "I dread being near you." "Your body itself is a breach of etiquette." "You are clearly a fucking moron who thinks that cheesecake is a vegetable." "I know that you will fart on me."
And yet. Did anyone say this? This particular seat-mate, she's clear, did not, and he's the offender she chose to focus on. While all of this feels true, and while whichever stash of anecdotal evidence and common sense tells me West knows what she's talking about, it's not there.

The sexual-harassment post follows the same framework. A woman is afraid that a man who's looking in her direction will sit next to her. He doesn't. Was he leering at her? Hard to say. It's even hard to say if he was looking at her to begin with:
You can see him in your peripheral vision and you can feel him looking. You're at a distance, but your hair is pretty bright and you're wearing lipstick so you know he noticed you. Keep reading, keep looking down. You briefly wish you were less attractive or had mousy hair or had an invisibility cloak. He keeps looking at you.
It's ambiguous at best that he was looking, let alone ogling. He never touches her, never talks to her, doesn't approach her, doesn't sit with her when given the option. We learn a great deal about the author's ambivalence about being (as she sees it) an attractive woman, but next to nothing about whether this particular man found her remotely interesting. A lingering gaze on public transportation tends to mean nothing. (Apologies in retrospect to everyone on the subway I've ever half-asleep gazed at for no reason other than they were in my line of vision!) And most of the extra-few-moments' gaze in the direction of the person in the subway car one finds least physically revolting is perfectly innocent. The man in no way violated the author's personal space.

And yet. It can be unnerving to be in a train car with someone giving off an odd vibe. While I can't say I'm personally acquainted with the experience of being just ravishing, just as I can imagine it's awkward to be fat on a plane, my imagination is limber enough to picture that it would be annoying to be stunningly gorgeous on a train. (Instead, I have that small, pale, female, nondescript quality that makes me the person people gravitate next to on public transportation. On planes, there's of course less say in the matter; the norm is for the stranger next to me, whatever his or her size, to view a significant % of my seat as their own space.)

Point being, these are real phenomena being described. The feelings aren't entirely based on self-image concerns. But feelings are tough to convey in argument. Something about rounding up a feeling to an argument puts the feeling itself in doubt, as if it's all just projection, which I - going by my feelings - kind of doubt.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Good quality children's literature"

-In principle, I'd like to be the sort of person who'd enjoy having lunch of roasted cubed acorn squash with arugula and farro, garnished with roasted seeds from said squash. (How frugal! How non-wasteful!) I'd like to be that person. But I'm not. Something about a lunch along these lines - its vegan-ness, or its absence of refined carbohydrates - made it feel like something that might go with lunch, but not be lunch. It tasted fine, but it was just sort of sad. It looked stunning, like something The Selby would photograph. Aesthetically, it worked. Nutritionally... I suppose it did, and that a grown woman with some modicum of vanity ought to enjoy something like this. But all I could think was how much better this meal might have been with a pasta-and-cheese component. Or something. It's not that I'm not someone who doesn't think it's a meal unless there's some meat, at least I don't think I am. But Nigella Lawson's chicken is now in the oven, and not a moment too soon.

-The latest in viral mommy-blogging controversy: a guide instructing non-parents what to buy or not as gifts for the children of friends and relatives. It's a pretty incredible piece of writing - intended for an audience, if not as large or critical an audience as it's received - in that it hits every possible hot-button note without the author's ever seeming aware of precisely why people are annoyed, this despite her active presence in the comments. Starting with her assessment of the two possible reasons someone might not have children: "Maybe it's because you haven't had them yet but plan to or maybe you like them when they belong to someone else but don't actually want your own." Or maybe... Where oh where to begin. (Fertility? Financial constraints? Not having found a viable partner nor wanting to be a single parent? Any number of personal reasons someone might not have shared with you, because they're none of your business? Gah!)

But then there's the premise itself - that rather than being unexpectedly surprised when random people who are not your children's parents buy them gifts, parents should feel entitled to this, and in a position to curate before the fact. There might have been a way to provide the same 'service' here - because it is baffling, to me at least, what to buy for young children, especially since moving away from Park Slope, where there was always a store within a few feet that specialized in this very shopping conundrum - that didn't involve chastising people for having the nerve to buy the wrong thing.

The list also demands a kind of hilarious time commitment on the part of someone whose children these are not. One is instructed to purchase "[g]ood quality children's literature," described as follows: "Go for award winners, classics or current bestsellers. Read it 6 times in a row and see if you still like it. Remember that we're going to be reading these books over and over and OVER again, so make them ones that every age will like." Time and pedagogical training that people simply don't have. And the suggestion that as a gift, you take someone's children "to a movie, or a museum, or an amusement park" is quite possibly why the word chutzpah was invented.

No overshare, though. Elsewhere on the same blog, yes, including the dreaded bath-and-potty realm, but not in the post I've linked to.

Friday, December 27, 2013

"Princeton" dining guide UPDATED

Living in the woods has turned me into a far better cook than I'd have thought possible. Or at least more varied. Croissants! Sushi! Agedashi tofu! Pizza! And so much more. This is because my first year living here, without a car, the only possible restaurants were the ones in town, which tend to be places to take one's business clients - $50 a person for something bland. Relatively cheap, relatively flavor-having food seemed out-of-reach unless homemade.

A car changes everything. Once you go a bit further afield than the bike will readily allow, things improve. I'm including Philadelphia but not New York, because of the time, tolls, and NJ Transit required for the latter, and you have to draw the line somewhere.

Been, will be back:

-In Princeton itself: Stick with Ajihei (sushi), both coffee shops (Small World and Rojo's - the latter may have better coffee, but the former has seats/people-watching), and Terra Momo or whatever the bakery on Witherspoon is called these days. Also: Thursday farmers' market in season. Cheese from Despaña. Mozzarella from D'Angelo's. Bent Spoon for ice cream.

-Near Junction: Shanghai Bun. Closed Tuesdays, which is easy to forget.

-Nomad. Pizza in Hopewell, which is basically Greater Princeton. Since figuring out pizza at home, I've had less incentive to go, but it's there and it's excellent.

-Chung Sol Bat. Korean barbecue in Edison. Expensive and not especially vegetarian-friendly, but a good splurge for omnivores.

-Paris Baguette and H-Mart. French-Korean bakery (get the milk bread and cannelles) and Korean supermarket, respectively, in the same Edison strip mall. Combine the two if possible. And don't go late at night (which I almost always end up doing), or you'll miss the fish-market part.

-Pad Thai in Highland Park, Siam in Lambertville, Thai restaurants. I generally prefer the latter, but opinions differ. And it's mostly a question of which direction you want to go in.

-Shake Shack, Philadelphia. It's Shake Shack - fast food with a nod to quality.

-Spread Bagelry. Montreal bagels in Philadephia. Given the absence of even Northeastern U.S. bagels in Princeton, you may want to pick up a few.

-Nam Phuong. Vietnamese food is better in Philadelphia than NYC. This will prove it.

-Artisan Boulanger Patissier. As are croissants.


-Chaikhana Uzbekistan. In Philadelphia, but some part of outer Philadelphia that's apparently about a half-hour from where I live. The area also has Moldovan food, which I don't believe I've ever tried.


Uzbek mission accomplished. While this was not my first encounter with Bukharian cuisine, according to WWPD records, my last was in 2006, so it had been a while. This time, no explicit material flashed on the screen - just a musical variety show. It's a funny cuisine for me, I suppose, because it's on the one hand ever so exotic (Central Asia!) and on the other, something very close to my own ancestral cuisine. Is because these are Central Asian Jewish restaurants, or would there be significant Ashkenazi/Eastern European/Central Asian overlap regardless? Manti and kreplach taste just about the same - a bland, oniony meat dumpling you (apparently!) need to have grown up with to appreciate. In any case, I enjoyed it. Although I wouldn't recommend it to anyone averse to meat dishes listing unspecified "meat" as the principle ingredient. As the DVD playing on the giant TV screen suggests, this is not a know-where-your-food-comes-from cultural environment.


-Izumi. Japanese food in Philadelphia, inevitably closed whenever I'm in that area.

-Suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Brownstone Bildingsroman

It's generally accepted to the point of cliché that certain worlds are overrepresented in contemporary literature: New York (esp. certain parts of Brooklyn), fancy colleges (esp. Harvard), literary circles, white people (esp. straight Jewish men - Jewish because Roth). The poignant suffering of the upper-middle-class youth when first confronted with the real rich people - say, at Harvard.

Adelle (not to be confused with Ayelet) Waldman's The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is pretty unapologetically all of this, the twist being a female author with a (convincing, at least to this female reader) male protagonist. Or, that - as I vaguely remember seeing in a review a while ago - it's actually a parody of that genre. It is, in that "Girls"-ish way, familiar. Sometimes I thought I'd mistakenly picked up Ross Douthat's Privilege, so familiar was the protagonist's sense of outsiderness upon meeting the country's upper-upper-crust in euphemistic Boston. And the overly-cerebral young Jewish man's first real relationship, with a no-nonsense wholesome blonde... it's just that a lot needs to be done to make a story told so many times worth, in effect, repeating.

But it's a very good book, regardless, and one whose plot I'm going to not spoil. There are amazing sentences, the sort that really precisely convey a universal human experience. One that comes to mind is about particularities of beautiful young women in conversation, the other about how families define themselves with respect to the outside world, but not spoiling means not quoting directly. There are also some very spot-on observations of dating dynamics - the way people who see themselves as such individuals fall into the respective gender roles the other sets out for them.

It must have been a good read, as I read nearly all of it today and barely put it down. And from a literary perspective, it's plenty interesting - we get the protagonist's views on women, and on women's writing, and have to periodically stop and ask whether the book itself supports or contradicts his hypothesis. That the answer may well be "supports" is what makes it intriguing.

Monday, December 23, 2013

WWPD Guides: social media and shaming

Another day, another online-idiocy-and-shaming debacle. This time, though, it's not a private action made public, it seems, but a public posting made, err, extra-public?

So, so, so many thoughts on this, but a few scattered ones, before I forget...

-When is stupidity fair game for online mockery? It depends: Who was the intended/plausible audience of whichever act/post?

There's a spectrum, from a private incident observed or private conversation had, to a mass email/Facebook post, to a tweet or blog post, to an article in a small online publication, to a big one, to one of the ones whose very purpose is making things go viral. Someone's fussing about a latte being with the wrong amount of foam? Yes, that's annoying for the barista, not to mention for you, the person waiting in line behind Mr./Ms. Fussy. If you feel compelled to share this on social media - and why not, if you can convey it in a clever way - by all means, do so... in text. Don't post a photo of this person, as if they're America's Most Wanted. Don't launch some campaign to identify this person, their place of work, etc. And so on. Very obviously public-audience-intended means a far lower threshold for what can be made fun of in an identifiable way.

-What's the purpose of the mockery? Is it genuine anger that someone could be so racist/sexist/etc.? Is any of it a dare I say a performance of indignation, a fear that if one doesn't register one's disapproval, one will lose one's post as Sensitive Person on whichever social-media platform? Is what's being mocked innocent stupidity and not racist/sexist/etc.? There's something to be said for shaming truly awful behavior, behavior that nevertheless falls short of what even a non-libertarian such as myself would oughta-be-a-law. But people just being kind of unpleasant? Shame the unpleasantness in a way that doesn't shame the person. If you must do the latter to do the former, do neither.

-Is the object of your fury a famous person? We're so accustomed to stories of celebrities and politicians gaffe-ing it up a storm, then it'll be like, oops, and then life goes on. The same redemption narrative may not go over so well for ordinary people who lose their jobs, reputations, and so forth when one mistake in an otherwise anonymous life becomes the thing they're known for. I think what happens is, once someone's incident, whatever it is, goes viral, they feel like a public figure to the people reading about the incident online. It just starts to feel like a story that's out there, and this person's name is already just so known by the time you've arrived at it. But they're not actually famous, as in famous beyond this incident. It's a very different situation.

-What about the (inadvertent) shaming of people in your life? Oversharing about others brings up two separate privacy concerns: that of the person being discussed without consenting to this, and that of the person doing the sharing, who may imagine he or she is sharing with a far smaller audience than is the case. As such, overshare needs to be treated as something about which people need education, not as a self-evident wrong. This is something I've come to realize, having first addressed parental, then teacher, overshare. In both cases - and in others I've yet to hold forth about - someone will feel as if they're telling an anecdote from their own life that's of course theirs to share, when in fact... But the point shouldn't be to start shaming the oversharers. At least not before they've had a good explanation or several about why whichever type of sharing is excessive.

Again, what happens is, most of us know yet don't know what it means to say something to a lot of people. Typing a private email feels like typing a status update, which feels like typing something that will be emailed to an editor who will, in turn, post it before a huge audience. You never really get the presence of your audience, big or small, the way you would if in a big crowd. A funny thing happens, and the impulse is to share. It's what everyone else is doing, so it won't feel like a big deal. But an "overheard-in-NY"-type story is different from an overheard-in-my-nuclear-family one.

Yoga to the rescue

Say you find yourself, at 23, with "fifteen pair of Christian Louboutin shoes, none of which [you] can walk in." This is, as I understand it, around $10,000 worth of near-unworn shoes. Say that your concern is less the YPIS-hurling you're in for if you openly discuss your collection in an online article, and more that you've got all these fab shoes you can't hobble around in. What are you going to do?

Yoga, of course! (Via.) Not yoga-the-spiritual-practice. The yoga that brought us leggings more expensive than pants. Flawlessly-toned women carrying those mats around town. An entire lifestyle based on a vaguely L.A. version of haute health. Point being, according to The Daily Beast, now there's a special kind of yoga for walking around in heels.

In any case, I'm not losing sleep over the commercialization of yoga, and can see the value of being able to walk in heels. And I'm impressed, or something, by the author's candor about her possessions. Mainly, though, I'm struck by what this hints at regarding journalism today - an entire pay-or-lack-thereof system predicated on the assumption that recent college grads' financial needs have already been met and then some. Indeed, that last bit is probably what inspired me to react to this story in the first place.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


-First near-miss with a deer. As in, I was driving at night, and one pranced into the road in front of the car. Luckily it was just a 35 mph road, and I saw it in time to slow down a bit before coming to a full stop. If I hadn't slowed down that soon, though, I would have hit it, which was already unnerving. As I expected, its extended deer-family was waiting back on the side of the road that it had come from. Whether the family was able to reunite without incident I couldn't say - there are too many deer-crashes for those to make the news. The deer are just... everywhere. A little later on the same trip, I saw a car stopped on the opposite side of the road, for another deer, separate from this group.

They're gorgeous creatures, and do generally bring out my inner squeamishness vegan, but given that their numbers seem to lead to gory scenes for deer and human alike, maybe some middle-ground could be reached involving venison (which I've heard is delicious) and leather goods?  

-First attempt at making layer cake. And, my driving is better than my baking. Frustrated with the entire baking process taking three times longer than I'd thought, I iced the (misshapen) result while it was still warm, with predictable results, namely the "layer" icing melted. It now looks like a layer cake exploded in the refrigerator, where the entire thing is chilling. Tastes pretty good, though, as combinations of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs generally do.

-First and last purchase of "lemon verbena" Method kitchen spray. Had this been an online purchase, I'd have learned about the lingering smell that reviewers accurately describe as "urine." Instead, it was a case of needing kitchen spray urgently post- pre-entertaining cleaning marathon, and being in Whole Foods at the time, which is never the place for that sort of thing, but so it went. And this spray doesn't even get anything clean! Whatever it is, it better be something that transcends non-toxic. It better actively increase your well-being. Which in a sense it might, if you're someone who needs to be eating less. It's more or less impossible to get down a meal off a plate that's on a table that was wiped down with this stuff.

Friday, December 20, 2013

"That’s not at all chic."

My recent Bloggingheads with Autumn got me in a beauty-bloggy frame of mind, so here goes!

Can women's magazines (broadly defined to include the online-only ones) move beyond diet advice? One complaint I've long had about these publications, including ones I like, such as Refinery29, is that they offer up "health" advice when it's clear between the lines, they're just telling you how to lose weight. Which is an unpleasant distraction if you're reading these publications for the shiny-things coverage. Well! Refinery29 has taken a first step in the right direction, with Kelsey Miller's "The Anti-Diet Project." Miller is, as she herself notes, not thin. Yet there she is in a fashion publication, announcing that she's not going to beat herself up over that. Progress!

Granted, I'm not entirely convinced that "intuitive eating" is possible. Can a lifetime of weight-think be so readily abandoned? What about those who, if they listened to their bodies, would subsist on pasta with olive oil and grated parmesan, croissants and, for variety, chocolate croissants? Yes, it's unnatural that, over the years, I've trained myself to feel off if a day goes by without any green vegetables, but this is artifice I can live with (assuming sufficient olive oil, etc., has coated those greens, and that pasta and cheese are also often involved.) And the number of times I've seen 'this is not a diet but a lifestyle' as the preface to some advice about how to eat less so as to fit into smaller jeans' makes me skeptical as well. But it's something. More power to them for publishing a series that's about the challenges of isolating health concerns from physique ones.


Via that same site, Marisa Meltzer has an interesting essay in Elle about trying to reconcile dieting and being a feminist. I loved this passage:

But there’s also a strain of ambivalence that’s more nebulous and apolitical: the notion that evolved girls simply don’t need to diet. The modern woman, after all, is that highly capable, have-it-all creature to whom career success, confidence, and effortless style—and, oh yeah, the yoga body and the eco-conscious, preservative-free diet—come naturally. She’s too damn smart and balanced to overeat in the first place. If anything, she’s already healthy and getting ever healthier. So juice fasts and Goop cleanses and barre classes? All fine as part of a vague “healthy lifestyle” of “clean eating.” Losing weight for your wedding day? Okay, you get a free pass on that one. But the daily slog of dieting—all that calorie counting and dessert skipping and 
cardio bingeing? That’s not at all chic.
So spot-on.

My impression, though, is that one is treated as a feminist traitor not so much for dieting if actually very overweight, and more for doing that thing so many already-thin women do, where the goal is to be thinner still, or to preempt any possibility - however remote - of gaining a significant amount of weight. Yes, there's the fat-acceptance movement, and the BMI-is-nonsense perma-conversation. But my impression is that when feminist women are, for example, told by their doctors that they'd be healthier if they lost weight, these women's feminist friends are supportive. (I really can't imagine a thin woman chastising a heavy one in this way.) This no doubt varies by friend group, and requisite caveat, I've never been in Meltzer's own situation, but this has, at any rate, been my impression over the years.

The weirdness seems more pronounced among the women who don't plausibly need to lose weight by any standard (health, social stigma, fitting into readily-available clothes, etc.). My sense is, it used to be very much the thing for already-thin women (certainly already-thin Manhattan middle-schoolers circa 1995, from which we can infer about the mothers) to bond over diets, but now, as Meltzer says, it's "not at all chic." Part of it is the cult of effortlessness. But it's also, I suspect, the greater awareness of eating disorders. While there isn't generally an eating disorder involved when a woman who'd be a size six artificially keeps herself a size four, there's this sense that confessing to doing such a thing would invite friends to intervene and suggest she get help. Which, in turn, leads to all the evasive discussions about "health," where everyone kind of knows it's about weight, but would be aghast if that were brought up explicitly.


A Dear Prudence-type question somehow ended up in Dan Savage's inbox, although not for the first time. This one's from a 28-year-old woman who's been with her same-age boyfriend, including living with him, for respectable lengths of time. She wants to get married, and has not made a secret of this. She's told him. She's told his mother. And he... doesn't want to marry her? Or maybe he does, but the script requires a bit of kicking and screaming from the dude, a bit of will-he-or-won't-he from the dudette, and that's where we're at. It's engagement season, I suppose, or at any rate, straight women-asking-gay-male-advice-columnists-when-dude-will-propose season.

From the limited information we get, it's not at all clear which it is. If we all mine our anecdotal evidence, we'll come up with examples of stories along these lines that culminate in by all accounts happy marriages, as well as others where there was an underlying he's-not-that-into-you, and they break up. Either we're at a particular moment in the standard-issue script that leads to marriage, or she should say, as Edina Monsoon does in a different context, "Me and my ovaries are leaving," and return to the dating pool with ample time left to have the bio kids she desires.

Savage's response is basically, oy the heterosexuals, and then he urges the letter-writer to just do the proposing herself. Which is a step in the right direction - this time around, he doesn't just agree that 20-something is too young for such decisions. Problem is - as the commenters point out, and as I mentioned here in response to the similar question there a while back - the woman kinda-sorta already has proposed. Philip Galanes, addressing a slightly different question (this would-be-affianced hasn't spoken up, it seems, but assumes her dude can read her mind), urges a female proposal that's a conversation rather than an ultimatum, although then there's Savage's letter-writer, who had that conversation, kept it open-ended, and got nowhere.

Savage is right that the heterosexual proposal is heavy on the gender roles, but if only it just came down to who generally asks the question! There are assumptions about the age at which men or women have the most options on the dating market. There's biology, but there's also the way that age enters into it even independently of any specific couple's desire to have biological children. There's the bizarre pseudo-feminist performance of independence and of indifference to all that wedding nonsense that women are urged to embrace specifically to inspire a man to propose. (And it gets confusing, because there are also the women who genuinely don't want to marry, this guy or at this moment or ever.) At the same time, even men who do want to get married need to at least resist the idea a little bit, or else they seem some combination of desperate and gender-non-conforming.

Ultimately, some of this isn't gender-specific, but just the common human desire to be with someone who could plausibly appeal to others as well. It's performed in different ways in men and women, but amounts to the same.

But the problem with the female proposal isn't simply that it switches things around at the last minute. It's that, according to the script, every woman effectively has proposed... to any man she'd refer to as a boyfriend. Even if she's never brought up marriage. Even if she's said she doesn't want to get married any time soon, because, heh heh, everyone knows that no women could possibly feel like that. (Hashtag: sarcasm.) His 'proposal' is really just a yes to the one she's already given, just by being female. Which, to repeat, is a problem, because we live in a not entirely scripted world, and sometimes women who give off every impression of not wanting to get married don't want to get married, and it's not actually a clever ruse to seem less needy or clichéd. But because the script demands female passivity, there's no way for a woman to announce she does or does not want to get married until a man has broached the subject.

The ultimatum - much-maligned for its lack of romance - is, in a sense, the female proposal. It brings a relationship to the point it would be in if a man had proposed and the woman had said no. The male proposal assumes a yes, while the female one assumes a no, because every man's answer is no until proven otherwise.

It's tempting, then, to suggest a non-ultimatum female proposal - and totally understandable that those looking at bizarre hetero courtship rituals from the outside would be like, why is this not already happening? - and granted, it's not that this has never happened. But as a rule, a woman who brings up marriage is perceived of as exerting pressure, in a way that a man doing the same is not. Until all these myriad underlying assumptions remain, equality in the kneeling arena doesn't seem imminent.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On Jewish women's miraculous capacity for asexual reproduction

David Schraub just alerted me to Rabbi Elianna Yolkut's op-ed, which is a response to Dennis Prager's, which is, in turn, a somewhat fish-in-a-barrel, stunningly out-of-date article blaming Jewish women (and decadent university life) for what Prager sees as an insufficient number of Jewish babies. What with WWPD's longstanding but underutilized "Jewish babies" tag, I must weigh in.

Anyway, the glaring problem with Prager's article, which Yolkut points out, is that he doesn't seem to realize that it takes two to tango, and by "tango" I mean produce a baby of the Jewish persuasion. Not necessarily two Jews, given that any child a Jewish woman gives birth to emerges in full Hasidic garb. But human reproduction being what it is, Jewish babies don't come from cultivating the tree clippings of a particularly fertile Jewish woman. That men also somehow enter into baby-making and baby-raising might seem relevant. Indeed, if the idea is that a Jewish woman can bear a child without having intercourse or otherwise involving male reproductive materials, I think we're looking at a festive December 25th chez Prager.

Prager blames fancy schmancy educated women for not wanting to be housewives, as if it's 1970 or who knows, and as if there are great numbers of men who want women with no outside income or ambitions. It's a big jumble of beyond-stale, beyond-refuted arguments about career gals and their wanton ways. But he does make one interesting, highly original point: female fertility declines with age. We women had never heard this before, so it's good he brought our attention to it.

Yolkut, meanwhile, gets it right:

We women are not our wombs. We contribute more than just children to the dilemma of Jewish continuity and growth. We are rabbis and teachers, we are synagogue presidents and we are the breadwinners and the primary volunteers.
Mr. Prager, you want more Jews in the world? Stop chiding women for not having more children, and start finding ways to offer reasonable, paid and significant family leave in all Jewish communal organizations. Start working to find a solution to funding day schools and synagogues that are out of reach for so many. Try helping the rabbinical establishment figure out how to educate dynamic and engaging new leaders so they might draw more people close to Torah. But take your hands off women’s bodies. They do not belong to you, and neither do their sharp, thoughtful and complex minds.
Precisely. There are other conclusions one might draw - that we shouldn't be in the business of systematically influencing the number of X babies by any means, for example. But as an observant-Jewish refutation, it's spot-on.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


-More Bloggingheads! This time I had the pleasure of chatting with Autumn Whitefield-Madrano about beauty. I compare hemming and hawing over Lululemon at 29 or 30 with doing the same over Adidas Sambas at 9 or 10.

-My current gym-and-laundry-folding accompaniment is "What Not To Wear," although even by my admittedly low standards for this sort of thing, it might be too formulaic. A woman dresses too sloppy/"slutty" (this isn't the Jezebellian, anti-slut-shaming universe, but the tell-it-like-it-is genre of reality TV), and her nearest and dearest summon Stacy and Clinton. She announces that she likes how she dresses, then is somehow magically convinced that her self-presentation indicates low self-esteem and a tendency always to put others first. She has her hair dyed some new color, not always more flattering but better for the dramatic effect, and emerges in an outfit that looks like it's from Ann Taylor even if it's not.

Apart from being repetitive, it's... kind of cringe-inducing, from the initial "ambush" on. There are only the slightest nods to personal taste, and (from the admittedly limited sample I've seen) no acknowledgements of variations in gender self-presentation. (Why can't the more masculine-self-presenting women get spiffied-up in more menswear-inspired clothes? Do they really need lip gloss?)

And I get why they have to do this, given how insulting the premise is ('surprise, everyone in your life hates how you dress, and your hair and makeup aren't so hot either!'), but they go a bit overkill on the body-flattery. They keep announcing that women have an hourglass shape and tiny waist, even when these things are so plainly not the case. I'd have thought most grown women would have long since come to terms with whichever ways we don't resemble swimsuit models, and that being told we have traits we don't would come across as patronizing or just silly. Couldn't they go with a generic and, because it's subjective, not-untrue 'beautiful'?

I was curious to see how others had overanalyzed the show - whether their overanalysis matches up with mine - and, kind of yes and kind of no. In an interesting piece, Greta Minsky argues that the show "co-opts feminist rhetoric to promote an anti-feminist agenda" - pretending to be about empowering women, while instead shaming their style as too lower-class or insufficiently corporate-America. On the one hand, yes, the show does exactly that. On the other, though, it's all very pragmatic. The advice is, people will judge you by how you look, and you want to be conscious in the choices you're making. If you want to project corporate, neither the sweatsuit nor the ill-fitting-lingerie-as-daywear will get that across.

In a way, then, it gets back at the "Frances Ha" maturity question: A part of growing up means getting past the idea that being true to yourself in self-defeating ways is some kind of sacred authenticity. Getting what you want out of life might involve a bit of superficial selling out, and that's not the end of the world. Not all quirkiness is self-defeating, so maturity also means figuring out which to hang onto. But there's a way that resistance to superficial conformity can be a crutch. Deciding that your fundamental being is expressed only by wearing outrageous clothes is a way to avoid facing the difficult challenges that going for whichever professional or personal goals might bring. The conceit of the show may be cruel, but its central message isn't entirely unreasonable.

-Random thoughts from the last Savage Lovecast:

1) I hadn't been following Santa-race-gate, because it seemed, as Savage says, remarkably idiotic. Racist in a way that doesn't even need to be spelled out. To the point where, what more could I add? But then Savage himself goes on this well-meaning tirade about it, the crux of which is, Santa might have been white because St. Nicholas was from Turkey, whereas Jesus couldn't have been, because he was Jewish and from the Middle East. Huh? An interesting view into Savage's own, somewhat unique ideas about how America defines whiteness, but the proper response was what he implicitly began with - that it's a bunch of racist nonsense worth noting only to raise awareness that racism in this country isn't over.

2) The call from the 21-year-old debating whether to enter a threesome with a couple she'd met online (what college these days has come to!) was indeed amusing for the no-longer-21 set. The dilemma was, would she possibly be attracted to them, given that they're... drumroll please... in their 30s? The oldest person this woman had ever been attracted to was, she emphasized, 26. Savage clearly found this hilarious, and went on about how "decrepit" these people must be.

Alas, it's a useful if bleak reality check for the ancient among us. Is 30 (-something) young? It's not as if the 30-plus can correct the under-25s who see 30 as old. It's subjective. And while it's certainly possible this 21-year-old has a warped idea of what 30-something looks like, it could also be that she has a very accurate idea, which is that these are likely people who look between 9 and 19 years older than she does, and that while this isn't a problem for many 21-year-olds, it would be for her. It's not necessarily that she imagines 35-year-olds look 85.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Obstacle course

Given how long I've been holding forth on "holistic" (I'm against it, but not because of any ill feeling towards affirmative action, which is, I suspect, the usual reason people might oppose it, so, to be clear, that's not it) you may think I'd put all my thoughts about it on WWPD, but no! There's more. So much more, in fact, that I didn't get to everything.

In a longer version of the piece, I'd have gotten into the question of whether colleges are actually capable of measuring obstacles-overcome. Also a previous WWPD topic, but it's an important one. Yes, colleges can and should take into account what they can, and certain things absolutely can be known - Duffy Muffington III from Andover, captain of the lacrosse team (assuming they have one) and participant in many a philanthropic vacation program, is coming from a different place than someone whose home address is the Red Hook projects. It's rarely that obvious, however, and a lot of people hold a more patchwork place on the advantage spectrum. In an ideal world, all advantage and disadvantage could be known and given its due, but that will never happen. That doesn't necessarily mean not taking disadvantage into account where it's most straightforward.

But we do need to consider that knowing to speak up about an obstacle - and knowing which obstacles will make you be seen in a more flattering light - is itself a form of advantage.

There are, to reiterate, a bunch of reasons someone might not share a totally valid and major obstacle - whether this means coming to a teacher when trouble at home is impacting a grade, or when applying to college. But to stick with college admissions, the obvious one is, what if your great obstacle involved your parents being legitimately terrible people? (Abuse, etc.) But say their terribleness doesn't manifest itself as a lack of interest in your essays, or in helping pay for college. The applicants in question won't bring this up, yet a messed-up home life is probably one of the biggest obstacles teens face.

But one might say, so be it. The issue is in part measuring whether Student X's 3.5 GPA is more or less impressive than Student Y's, but it's also about righting societal wrongs. The messed-up-family-havers aren't a class, right?

There are other obstacles - invisible disability, illness, or LGBT status in this not-yet-post-homophobia age -  where you wouldn't want whichever class of person discriminated against, but for so many reasons (a sense of privacy, a belief that something will be a liability that might actually be anything but, and where acknowledging whatever it is might help pay for college...), this is probably often left off an application.

There are still other obstacles that aren't particularly sensitive in an obvious, family-secret-type way, but that someone might be shy about. The idea that if a college pities you, you're more likely to get in, isn't necessarily universally known, nor are all people going to be OK with this. Some might feel patronized, or like it's better to get in on your own merits independent of idiosyncratic circumstances, or like even asking for this kind of break is on the cusp of begging.

Long, sleepy point being, as great as an idea as it is in principle for schools to consider individual circumstances, the logistics of doing so, beyond the broadest categories (race and family income), are not only complicated, but potentially going to benefit students who need the boost the least.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Culinary suggestibility

-Still a fan of Cooking With Dog, still on some level convinced that the mere presence of a miniature gray poodle makes Japanese home cooking flourish. My sushi-rolling has improved. Tempura's getting there. Agedashi tofu, why had I ever found that difficult? Still unsure how to make dashi stock correctly, and what to do with it once it's prepared. But I've incorporated some techniques, such as "remove the excess moisture with a paper towel" (from what? many things) and rinsing fish in sake "to remove the fishy smell." (The ideal use for a year-old bottle from Trader Joe's.) What results can't possibly be less Japanese than my Italian cooking is Italian. 

-I'm always excited when I see a NYT restaurant review by Karla Cook, because her beat is, from what I can tell, the area drivable from my apartment. Ever since she'd written about Chung Sol Bat, my mouth had been watering. It's more expensive than what 'ethnic restaurant just off Route 1 in Edison' might suggest, but let's all remember that "[r]efusing to spend money on non-Western restaurants is racist." Yes, it's over $20 per person for BBQ, with a minimum of two orders per table, which, if you're just two people, is Princeton prices. But the banchan! A place to go with a group, something to remember when it isn't the time of year when summoning a group would be most difficult.

-Some internet sinkhole recently lead me to a profile of Isabella Rossellini's daughter, much of which is about her appreciation of pesto. This stuck with me, and $5 worth of out-of-season basil, three bowls of pasta later, here I am.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"They're men with jobs, Jerry" - George Costanza

Finally saw "Frances Ha." Greta Gerwig - allow me to spoil the movie - plays an aspiring dancer who's reached the age (27) at which it's either going to happen or it's not. And it's not. In a city where (as is remarked upon in the movie) an artist is generally someone with an outside source of income, Gerwig's income really is what she can earn from her art. At the very beginning of the movie, she's offered an easy way out - moving in with a wealthier, maybe older boyfriend whom she's not all that in love with - but turns it down. She does the same (at first) when offered an office job. She's deeply committed, but to what? To art, to her best friend, or to the idea of staying a college student forever?

-I'm not sure I need to see another on-screen rendition of my recent-college-grad years living with roommates in Prospect Heights. It was on the cusp of, did they actually film that in my old apartment?

-So is it just Variations on "Girls," with Gerwig the Dunham character, and the friend who works in publishing the slimmer, more uptight Marnie? Google reveals a similarly nepotism-charge-inspiring cast (Sting's kid and Meryl Streep's!); this, too, is a New York without racial diversity. ("Ha" isn't an Asian last name, but what happens at the end of the movie, when Frances can't fit her full last name, Halliday, into her mailbox label. And the Chinatown she briefly lives in gives no hint of having non-white residents.) The big, whopping difference from "Girls" is that here, the protagonist is 27 and - as is remarked upon throughout - not such a recent grad after all. They're both, though about an adult who identifies - against all odds, and all sense of reality - as a child. Which is apparently very millennial, or something.

-Age. I'd mentioned before (before seeing the movie, that is, in reference to an interview with Gerwig) that "Frances Ha" apparently deals with the not-so-recent college grad, and indeed, it does. At one point fairly early on in the movie, a woman Frances meets announces that Frances looks much older than she is, but acts much younger. And it's clear that this insult has stung. There's a life stage where everyone kind of pretends to be bohemian, but what they really are is young. Money's stupid! Marriage and kids are for squares! And then a lingering, earnest few in each friend group will be taken off-guard and will feel betrayed when it turns out these were not everyone's hard-and-fast values, but just young people being young. But the older you get, the more awkward it is for you to cry 'sellout!' every time a friend gets engaged. Frances has a bit of the Holden Caulfield about her, sniffing out phonies, but then her refreshingly non-Botoxed face reminds us that this is a grown woman in her late 20s. When she finally takes the desk-job she's been offered, you're at once relieved and stunned that she hadn't done so immediately.

-Money. The movie's been praised (where? I forget) for being really honest about money in a way that feels fresh. The $3 ATM fee scene is apparently a thing. (I was so expert at avoiding those!) It's a great big exploration of the line between broke and poor. At one point, a friend tells Frances that in calling herself poor, she's being unfair to actual poor people. You sort of agree with him (ahem), but then you remember that he himself can always turn to his family, while she's on the cusp of something that goes beyond broke. It's not entirely clear - she has a family that can't support her life in New York (as vs. Ms. Horvath's family, which won't), but they seem to have a home she could move back to. Because of whichever forms of non-economic capital - connections she's made in the arts world, being white and pretty, whatever - she's never entirely out of work, or at least not for more than five minutes.

-Age, class, and money: What was most interesting was how the movie gets at that time in life when trajectories diverge. Because Frances is still hanging around with college friends, there's this sense of camaraderie mixed with the underlying fact that some people have family money or finance jobs (or both), while others, not so much. So it's not just that people with different situations are hanging out. It's that they're half under the illusion that they're all in the same boat.

-Online neurosis: The thing where the best friend moves to Tokyo with her banker-bro fiancé and starts a cringe-inducing couple-blog about it is just spot-on. And of course it turns out the friend was miserable at the time.

-I liked "Frances Ha." But I kept thinking of advice I got in grad school, that whenever you're writing something, you have to ask yourself, what are the stakes? Here, it seemed like if you look at the protagonist's trajectory, she goes from one artistic pursuit that isn't quite right for her (dancing) to another that is, and that has a longer shelf life (choreography). A great life-and-career crisis that lasts for all of five minutes, and that occurs at 27 rather than 22, but still within the decade when such things are socially acceptable. It's not that the problems depicted are too "first-world," exactly. More that it's never entirely clear what's stopping Frances from getting her act together, making it that much less surprising when, by the end of the movie, she has.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Images and neurosis

-Every form of social media has its own neurosis, it seems. First Facebook, now Instagram. I don't use Instagram (not out of some principle, just never got around to it), but having looked at it, I could see how this would make sense. It's the photos that inspire the greatest neurosis on Facebook, so a site that's just pictures is bound to do the trick. And boy do neuroses vary! I can't imagine caring that a friend had constructed a "bar" out of mashed potatoes. I've cared (in that fleeting-but-neurotic way) about other, no less ridiculous things, but, like, what's stopping any of us from buying some potatoes and putting them in cocktail glasses? For me, it's photos of people's trips to Japan, especially but not limited to meals consumed. Planning a Japanese-home-cooking extravaganza this evening, but I suspect it's not the same.

-Nothing new to say at the moment about Lulu and her well-squeezed lemons, but I wondered about Heidi Moore's observation here: "Insecurity is a big money-maker," she begins, and thus far, agreed. That's why models are so much younger and thinner than they'd seemingly need to be - it taps into the two classic insecurities, and allows even young or thin women to feel inadequate. "Happy people don't buy things," Moore continues, adding, "Unhappy people engage in 'retail therapy', and buy clothes, jewelry, electronics or even food that makes them feel as if they have higher status." This is where I'm not so sure. What about when depression (clinical or colloquial-use) manifests itself as an indifference to stuff? I know that my own interest in the-shiny tends to be greater if I'm feeling generally positive about things, lower if crankier.

-Elle Fanning stars in a short film about body image. I saw this and my first thought was, that seems about right. Fanning is a pretty 15-year-old actress, and we're living in a society that asks grown women to hate themselves for not looking 15, and 15-year-olds for not looking like actresses. Anyway, that's not it at all - Fanning is playing a teen girl who thinks she looks horrible. While there's no reason someone with body dysmorphia or the less-extreme variant (aka being a teenage girl) wouldn't be that conventionally attractive (the idea being, you don't have an accurate sense of what you look like), I'm not sure what I think about the casting. Because the best response is rarely going to be, 'Don't worry what you look like, you're movie-star gorgeous just the way you are.' Not sure how one would go about telling young girls, 'You're probably within normal limits, and that's just fine,' but ultimately that's the answer.

Friday, December 13, 2013

On the hazzing of sads

Silently judging your winter fashion choices.

OK, the riled-ness begins. I was impatient, expecting instantaneous fury. It can take a moment. So:

Some commenters defend teacher overshare on the basis of students who make mistakes deserving to be shamed. Also: students who make the kinds of mistakes that get shared are (apparently? huh?) the ones who don't care about school... which somehow translates to, who wouldn't care about being insulted by their teachers. Never mind how many of these mistakes aren't actual errors having to do with course-related material that's being examined, but random things/terms students themselves bring up without quite understanding. No! say these commenters (sometimes in all-caps). Being mocked by your teachers builds character!

More broadly, they're saying that to be hurt when insulted is to show weakness. If this were just a few commenters in one place once, whatever, but this is, in a sense, true of much online activity, from Gawker (well, the old Gawker) to the Petey comments here. The what-was-once-called-blogosphere seems split (somewhat but not entirely along gender lines) between hyper-earnestness and a kind of snark absolutism, where the greatest good is showing that one's feathers can't be ruffled. (Haz a sad, tiny violins, etc.)

It seems as though it should be possible to say that gratuitous hurt shouldn't be inflicted, without this in any way contradicting additional advice on what to do if you find that, say, your teacher has mocked you on Facebook. Yes, as life advice, 'choose your battles' is a classic, as is 'never let them see you sweat.' Unless you're going to go the full-on Outrage approach and all-out flip a snark conversation into an earnestness one, whatever it is, you have to laugh it off. (Are there any more clichés I might summon to address this?) Decompensation is generally a bad idea. That doesn't mean the initial nastiness was justified.

What strikes me in this case is that it's just so obvious nothing positive comes of knowing your teacher is laughing at you. Do you, the naive 18-year-old, suddenly become a well-read, world-weary 45-year-old? We can have a reasonable conversation about a certain amount of setbacks in youth - those early days of finding one's own friends, and the quasi-bullying that goes with that life stage - building character. Or about whether whichever newfangled whosawhatsit (grade inflation, hand-holding, the proverbial everyone-gets-a-medal) is perhaps detrimental to whichever pedagogical aims. There are times when the hazzing of a sad serves some larger purpose. But what aim is addressed by teachers acting unprofessionally?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Teacher overshare UPDATED

Another WWPD pet issue has made it to the wider world. Put another way: I have a new piece at The Atlantic, this time in the Education section. It's about teachers sharing about their students on Facebook, and more specifically, the horrible experience it must be to find your own errors shared and commented on by people you're supposed to trust. Or at least to have suspended disbelief re: the possibility of their finding you ridiculous. Read it! I promise it's better than my pre-coffee explanation.


So people are a lot less riled up about this than I'd thought they might be. One commenter points out FERPA, and claims that there's already a rule in place to prevent teachers from quoting students' work. In a non-blog-post-length version of this, that probably would have come up more explicitly (I allude to it in the last paragraph), but the short answer is, FERPA doesn't appear to cover the kinds of cases I'm talking about. Cases, that is, where student information is being shared, yes, but the only student who'll know which student's information it is is the student in question. I'm not a legal expert (you're shocked, I know), but my sense is, if you couldn't make the case that the student was identifiable, you couldn't claim that said student's academic record had been made public. Legal experts, am I missing something?

This isn't the kind of overshare, in other words, where someone's reputation is at stake. The fear isn't that people will Google the student and find some ridiculous thing they wrote on an exam, or in an email to a prof, and then lo and behold, potential employers and dates will lose interest. It's that something will change in the student-teacher relationship. Both the one between this student and this teacher, and the one between students and teachers generally, once it's public knowledge that many teachers find their students' missteps hilarious. It's a problem because of what it changes about the educational environment, and because of how gratuitously hurt a student's likely to be if they find one of these posts.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Further thoughts on Demure

A while back, I wrote about the curse of Demure. By this I meant the tendency of some women (me), who've been socialized into a certain kind of passivity (and credit goes to commenter Freddie, who made the connection to the romantic sphere), to extend that same reticence to professional situations. The same waiting-by-the-phone approach.

The Demure isn't exactly about fear of rejection. It's about not knowing the rules of assertiveness. When do you press on, and when do you leave it be? And - drumroll, please, for my theory* - it could be that women's (typically) superior appreciation of social nuance ends up backfiring. In social situations, if you have a good sense someone doesn't really want to meet you for lunch, you're generally well-advised not to keep asking. So it pays to be able to pick up on such things. Not to neurotically overshoot the mark and assume if someone's busy once, they secretly despise you. But to just kind of suss out situations without even thinking about it. Women, I suspect, pick up on such cues better than men do, given our socialization or who knows. (Remember those stories from a while back, about how even girls with Aspergers find their way to having social skills?)

So we - I - may be entirely right that (to give an example from my own world) an editor who says no thanks but pitch again isn't waiting impatiently for our next submission. Perhaps men either don't notice when they're not wanted, or don't care, but let's say probably it's "don't notice" a lot of the time. Either way, the result is irritating in a social context - potentially creepy in a romantic one - but incredibly effective in professional interactions of this sort.

*Is this my theory? It seems of a piece with the overall lean-in meme, but I've never noticed it expressed exactly like this.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

On wanting an "I finished The Magic Mountain" bumper sticker

Finished The Magic Mountain. Highly recommended, but yes, a medal would be appreciated - if you get one for 26.2 miles, one would seem appropriate in this context as well.

-If you live in a remote, snowy wilderness resort-that-isn't, set apart from the world geographically and in other respects (but reachable by train, with a village not too far), with gourmet meals and rigidly assigned tables, and an international community with lots of Russians and Germans, you're bound to find certain aspects of the book... relatable. Of course, where I live, rather than this being tuberculosis sufferers and their guests, it's people who are unusually good at math and their families. And the visits are for more predetermined amounts of time. So it's not actually the same thing at all.

-Oh, to have been bourgeois back in the day, when that meant living off investments and swaddling yourself with blankets.

-Who doesn't picture Clavdia Chauchat as Natalia Vodianova? Herr Settembrini: Adrien Brody? That's all I've got for the moment. Despite snippets of physical description, I never did picture Hans Castorp, which is maybe the point.

-From the department of plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, yes, hilarious, the pseudoscience behind a rest cure at a sanatorium. But! All this quackery in the name of ridding the not necessarily ill of "toxins" sounds not unlike today's juice cleanses. The invention of antibiotics didn't change as much as one might think.

-From the department of you never really finish your dissertation, Thomas Mann had a Jewish wife, whose own sanatorium stint inspired this novel. And the novel has Jewish angles like whoa, which I had to try not to write term papers about in my mind while reading. Obviously Naphta was Jewish - no big reveal there. And then there's Frau Levi with the "ivory complexion" and I believe further discussion of Jews' pallor. That Hans Castorp is - in his ineffectual way - an anti-anti-Semite is kind of surprising. And then, on a more abstract level, there's the conflation of cosmopolitanism with illness, which is and isn't about Jews. (See also: Paul Bourget's Cosmopolis.)

-My pea-brain couldn't make sense of certain philosophical aspects of the novel, as well as certain references I'd no doubt have nodded along to knowingly if I'd paid more attention in Mr. Gern's English class.

Great strides for high-achieving women

-Yes, yes yes! I could not be more pleased about the phenomenon of high-powered women marrying stay-at-home dudes. The elite-women-and-work conversation has far too often assumed that every woman wants/needs to be with a man at least as ambitious as she is, in a job that's at least as time-consuming. It becomes this discussion of power couples, ignoring the obvious practical benefits of one partner doing more at home, being more geographically flexible, etc. Feminism means either 50-50 marriages or that staying home (or "staying home" loosely defined, to include any couple's lower-paid, lower-power career) doesn't default along gender lines.

-Not all women, however, are cut out for high finance. Some of us have other... capabilities. For example: Last night at the party where I tried (and failed) to wear heels, I discovered a 'skill' I hadn't known I had, but had suspected. I am, I think, a supertaster. In a blind taste test, I could not only tell what color gummy bear I was eating by taste, but also by smell alone: to the amazement of fellow party-goers, I correctly identified that a gummy bear smelled red. This after having had a few gummy bears that evening, but none, prior to that, probably since being a kid.

Why did this happen? The group had been divided over whether the bears were actually different flavors, or whether we just thought they were because of the different colors. To me, it was clear there were subtle but distinct variations. A deep childhood sense-memory (I think it's called) about what artificial orange, cherry, etc. taste like (clearly I grew up before the food movement) came back to me, despite, again, not generally seeking this out as an adult. I was able to set aside the rubbery texture and hone in on which artificial flavor I was dealing with. Effortlessly.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Weekend glamour

-Experimenting with heels. (What Would Emily Weiss Do?) Tame ones by regular heel-wearers' standards. Wearing them to a party in someone's home, and half hoping that this is a home where one is expected to take off one's shoes upon entry. More than half. Wearing them while sitting on the couch at the moment, and even that's a challenge.

-Philadelphia has Shake Shack (not "Shake"!). And so the great where-to-eat-lunch-near-Rittenhouse-Square dilemma is solved. That plus Elixr for coffee make mall-Philadelphia quite pleasant. Today we discovered a different side-street area with an independent bookstore (which we went to) and glam-looking shoe store (which will one day be my reward for driving to Philadelphia alone). Depending your goals for the day, sometimes the tolls to NY are worth it, sometimes not so much.

-I'm like 20 pages away from the end of The Magic Mountain. Expect thoughts on that later on, but in the mean time, re:commenter Petey's suggestion of an intertitle-silent adaptation, vs. mine (a Magic Mountain sitcom), these two are not mutually exclusive because... Frasier!

Friday, December 06, 2013

In theory

Is it a mistake to teach undergrads literary theory? Yes, says Daniel Mendelsohn - "it’s impossible to theorise about texts before one has deep familiarity with them." Sounds about right!

Then again, it might also be a mistake not to do so, at least when it comes to the undergrads who end up in literature grad school. I remember telling a classmate once (and I remember oddly vividly which edge-of-Park Slope bar this was in, and which other classmate's mother was for some reason present) that I hadn't encountered theory until grad school, and he was just horrified. As if I'd been admitted to grad school - this was still early on in the program - under false pretenses. (If you can't enjoy impostor syndrome yourself, you can always, knowingly or inadvertently, inspire it in others.) And then grad school happened, and... it really didn't matter. I took an interesting theory class, got the idea of what's meant, and then proceeded not to use any of it in my dissertation, which I have no reason to think was a problem. (Not that my dissertation committee didn't find any room for improvement. Rest assured.)

Of course, maybe the French PhD gods will revoke my degree once they learn I've never read more than a sentence of Derrida.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Tracy Anderson's glute(n) advice, and more

-The latest Slate Culture Gabfest takes on viral social-media shaming of public obnoxiousness. A topic near and dear to my heart. The more people who start questioning viral shaming, the better.

-The latest in parental overshare: a parent (with a distinctive name) provides an annotated version of his seven-year-old daughter's Christmas wish list, complete with photos of the "insane" (his word) list itself, kid-handwriting and everything. Given the number of places I've seen this linked to, and the stats visible on the post itself, I suppose it counts as having gone viral. Is it funny? Sure. Is it an invasion of this kid's privacy? Yes, that too.

Parental overshare comes in two forms: tragic-and-exceptional and humorous-relatable. Both are privacy violations, but it might be more obvious why the former would pose a problem. We're sympathetic to the extent to which a kid's problems can deeply impact a parent, but ultimately the information - the relevant medical records, juvenile-detention stints, abuse-victimhood, etc. - belongs to the child. (OK, we as a society are perfectly fine with infinite parental sharing; I, and like three other people, are not.)

It's less obvious why it's iffy to post about within-normal-limits parenting escapades. Lighten up! seems the obvious counterargument. And does tend to be good advice generally.

But imagine you're the kid. It's kind of terrifying to imagine being known for your brattiest/most ridiculous childhood moments. And children - on account of being children - virtually all act in ways that would seem, in adults, narcissistic, impatient, and lacking all sense of proportion. Thus why, when adults make the sorts of fusses that these days so often go viral, we refer to them as acting like children. But your age at the time whichever item was posted will be less memorable than your display of spoiled entitlement. It will be you who threw a tantrum over not getting the right jeans. You who saw it as the world's greatest tragedy when you weren't invited to that sleepover. Should this be exploited for material on a Gawker affiliate? Is it somehow OK if your decompensations were hilarious, or if your parents were clever writers able to make them sound more entertaining than they were?

-Usual suspects Mark Bittman and Tracy Anderson have come to the rescue this (eternal!) holiday season, with tips for not becoming too glutinous or whatever's the preferred euphemism this holiday season. Both advice columns are also, more subtly, efforts to distance themselves from reputations as (very different kinds of ) ascetic extremists. Bittman doesn't tell you to extensively research each ingredient, but rather to eat real foods. Simple! Anderson, meanwhile, manages to admonish without calling her audience fat. She advises against juice cleanses, and also endorses putting food into one's mouth should one be so inclined. Moderation!

Except not really, if one reads between the lines. Bittman's "real food" suggestion is not as straightforward as all that. We get this as an aside: "(Most real bread, for example, is water, flour, yeast and salt, with the possible addition of olive oil or a seasoning or two, and the possible subtraction of yeast. Yeast conditioners and ingredients with five syllables have no place in real bread.)" Yet in this day and age, bread is sweetened. It just is. Even the most basic-looking ones at Whole Foods. Because that's the issue, right? Bittman's audience isn't confused because it's thinking of food as nutrients - that's so 1990s. It's about what constitutes real food, and a Talmudic debate is needed to dig up the answer.

Anderson, though, starts from a place far less reasonable than Bittman does, and thus would have to do far more to soften her reputation. (Relatedly - why do I know this? - she's on a broader campaign to distance herself from a quasi-pro-ana image. It seems to involve juxtaposing insistence that women not focus on skinny jeans with advice on fitting into the same.) She insists on a minimum of "30 minutes, six days a week" for workouts. She finds it dangerous that parents feed their children excessive amounts of... fruit. And laments her own gluten allergy, which I suppose we're to generously assume isn't a convenient allergy to carbs. (I don't doubt all medical gluten concerns, just of those who've made a career of honing and critiquing Gwyneth Paltrow's "long butt.") How could Tracy Anderson not be allergic to gluten?

And then there's this: "If you’re hosting, make sure everything in your house is organic and nothing else." But of course.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

A very Mallory post

-Do women dress for men? Hadley Freeman says no. WWPD says, it's complicated. Most women like men, just as most men like women. Women have the option of attracting men with clothes-and-makeup. The reverse isn't nearly as true. How would this not impact how (many) women (sometimes) dress?

It overshoots the feminist mark to say that women never take note of the effect certain clothing can have, and then go and wear it with that effect in mind. Feminism, in this context, means that women who wear said clothing can't be preemptively assumed to have given consent to anything in particular. Also that women uninterested in attracting men don't somehow owe it to men generally to dress in a way men like. Nor, even, is what random internet dude likes necessarily indicative of what men this woman is interacting with offline find appealing. This sort of talk is some mix of presumptuous and unhelpful. Thus why women so often balk at unsolicited advice from internet commenters about what they ought to wear.

-Is eyebrow pencil a good idea? I ordered one and it arrived the same day as Into The Gloss covered eyebrows. (Aha! I'd already decided on the purchase!) As I've mentioned on WWPD before, I have... thoughts about eyebrows. I feel shortchanged in this regard - someone of my ethnicity, and with my coloring and hair-thickness, ought to have really prominent eyebrows. Not faint ones several shades lighter than my hair, that I'm convinced belong to some blond woman who has the eyebrows that were, in turn, rightfully mine. Yet the fear in trying to correct for this is the Uncle Leo effect. And to connect today's Item One with Item Two, there's that other "Seinfeld" episode, where it's determined that men don't care about eyebrows. On at least two occasions in the WWPD comments, a commenter named Matt begged to differ (he prefers them untweezed), but I will only do so much archival research for one post, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

So I've put the stuff on and the result... I kind of like how it looks, and it's definitely what I wish my eyebrows did look like, the right color, etc., but because it isn't how they generally do look, it looks weird, artificial in a way that other kinds of makeup - including ones I rarely wear, like eyeshadow -somehow don't. Maybe it's that this type of makeup is seen as somehow shameful, so there's no general cultural knowledge regarding how to apply it? Putting on mascara or lipstick is kind of sexy or glamorous. Is that the reason? Who knows. In any case, I believe I can now conclude this post confident that I've lost any and all male readers, with the possible exception of the Matt with eyebrow preferences. With that, back to either "Family Ties" or The Magic Mountain, my two preferred bits of cultural consumption at the moment.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

How to clean a carrot

Young People Today don't know how to do their own laundry. Apparently. This has been the thing - the meme before memes were a thing - since forever. And I've never understood how this caught on. Is laundry so difficult? If this hadn't yet come up, you get to college, you see the machines, you figure it out. It will be the very least momentous challenge you face as an adult.

Of course, you may make mistakes. When I last did laundry, I noticed tiny bits of carrot greens in the washer where I'd included a tote bag that had, evidently, once held carrots. Then sure enough, after the dryer runs, I open the door and out pops what it took me a moment to realize was a carrot - a full carrot that had been through the wash-and-dry cycles. It looked really odd and I regret not taking a picture.

This was in any case quite, quite far from my first time ever doing laundry. If I were 18, we might blame helicopter parenting; I'm 30, so we're instead going to blame my not having noticed a carrot remained in some tote-bag fold. But with all my laundry-doing experience, I could very well see that the clothes (and, let's not forget, tote bags) were just fine. Once you have the basics (keep red stuff away from the whites, and don't put sweaters or bras you care about in the dryer), laundry is tough to screw up.

Well! It turns out that 30-year-olds with laundry issues are this great sign of the times. Or something? I feel as though this sort of thing has come up before, but should we really be looking to a therapist to diagnose a generation? Aren't the people who seek therapy inherently unrepresentative - more troubled and likely wealthier than the norm? Brooke Donatone tells us, re: the 30-year-old laundry-phobe, "Her case is becoming the norm for twenty- to thirtysomethings I see in my office as a psychotherapist." Perhaps so. But of twenty- to thirtysomethings more generally?

Here's the bit I found most baffling:

A generation ago, my college peers and I would buy a pint of ice cream and down a shot of peach schnapps (or two) to process a breakup. Now some college students feel suicidal after the breakup of a four-month relationship. Either ice cream no longer has the same magical healing properties, or the ability to address hardships is lacking in many members of this generation.
Feeling or becoming suicidal after an objectively minor romantic disappointment seems if anything a kind of ancient approach to love, at any rate not especially millenial. Certainly not in the alleged era of hook-up culture.

But more to the point, the difference here isn't generational but just a more general matter of well-being. If you're typically happy and have friends (as is the implication) to share the ice cream and schnapps with you, a breakup is less devastating than it is if you're already on the edge of some kind of crash. Some young people will always be in one category, others in the other, many somewhere in between. (The gap between suicidal and so blasé as to need only a dessert and a drink to get over someone you were hung up on is, needless to say, tremendous.)

What I'm missing, I suppose, is where the millenial angle fits in. The relevant questions would seem to be a) whether more people today are depressed than used to be, and b) whether today's depression manifests itself differently than earlier variants. Doesn't depression traditionally entail a sense of hopelessness, a feeling of just the kind of incompetence that would make a task like laundry seem impossibly daunting?