Thursday, January 30, 2014

A productive morning

Further self-promotion: my take on fashion-and-beauty mansplaining. It already has a comment from a self-identified troll, so it must be good!

In other achievements of the day, I'm now the proud owner of an adult driver's license. What this meant was, I had to go to the DMV and exchange my "probationary" one (what you have to carry for the first year in NJ once you get a first-time license) for a regular one. As usual, the peach-fuzz-mustache set was out in full force, proud moms in tow, because I'm nearly twice the age one's meant to be for this.

Intermarriage news of interest to those writing the 2314 equivalent of my dissertation

Millepied's converting, not because anything for Natalie Portman, but because he loves Israel. Scarlett Johansson - Jewish on her mother's side as every lister-of-beautiful-blondes-who-happen-to-be-Jewish will have you know - chooses seltzer over boycotts. Netanyahu's adult son may or may not be dating a non-Jewish woman who is both blonde and Norwegian, making her, by Portnoy-era standards, extra-Gentile. (Netanyahu Junior is also quite blond, but, as we have discussed on WWPD, Israel isn't in Scandinavia).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Feelings revisited

But first, some more self-promotion.

With that out of the way, Gawker alerts us to a painful-to-read essay about what a black fellow-student in a white woman's yoga class might be thinking about said white woman, aka the author. We never leave the realm of the author's feelings, which are, as per the genre, projected onto another person about whose feelings the author knows nothing. All that's evident is that this woman is black, heavy, and not particularly elegant at yoga, thus possibly new at it. And yet, the feelings:

I was completely unable to focus on my practice, instead feeling hyper-aware of my high-waisted bike shorts, my tastefully tacky sports bra, my well-versedness in these poses that I have been in hundreds of times. My skinny white girl body. Surely this woman was noticing all of these things and judging me for them, stereotyping me, resenting me—or so I imagined.
It's a fine case of where to even begin. Is it, as someone just put on Twitter, "white privilege" that she's making this story about her? Or is it, as someone (else, presumably) commented on Gawker, a case of a young woman acknowledging her privilege, only to be berated for it? And with trendy, pseudoacademic privileged bodies and accommodating spaces jargon at that?

Or am I getting sidetracked - is this a story about Journalism Today, and how, if you want to go viral, it helps to say something both hyper-personal and wildly outrageous. 'That Time I Saw An Elderly Chinese Man Waiting For The Bus And Had a Feeling.' The essay can be about how the man is judging you for having just bought $500 worth of groceries at Whole Foods, for having gone to Vassar, for having come from Soul Cycle. You just know he knows this, even though as it turns out, he didn't even look at you. As it turns out, he's actually blind. As well as multi-generation Korean-American. You have no idea. But why stop this oh-so-fertile line of thought?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Further honing the idiosyncratic WWPD definition of Zionism

The standard pro-Israel line has been the following two-part argument:

1) Israel is indistinguishable from, say, Sweden. A liberal Western country just like us! Or as like us as Europe. Skeptical non-Jewish Westerners should support Israel because it's this little country with our values, plopped in the middle of not-our-values-ville.

2) Israel is unfairly singled out, when if you look at what goes in in developing-world dictatorships, it's far worse than what goes on in Israel.

And, as commenter Caryatis points out in so many words, these things don't add up. If Israel is Sweden, well, Sweden's a mess. If, meanwhile, Israel's North Korea, those 'only democracy in the Middle East' claims start to seem ridiculous.

The reality is more that Israel's a hybrid - part Western liberal democracy, part postcolonial-experiment state. It would almost have to be. Obviously, Israel began as a country founded by people from Europe, some of whom tried to sell the idea as a civilizing mission, which doesn't sound very PC today, and indeed, gives us the (anachronistic!) impression that early Zionists were GWB-era neoconservatives.

But to look at Israel as a colonialist enterprise - to look at the Jews who started the country as a bunch of white Western and Central Europeans who just up and decided to start an outpost of Westernness in brown people's lands, ignores a key detail. Namely that regardless of how an Ashkenazi Jew generally reads in the U.S. today, Jews in 19th or early 20th century Europe most certainly were not undifferentiated white people. (Remember 'race is a construct,' my fellow overly-educated sorts?) They were people who had been told for generations that they came from Palestine, that they were, no matter how many generations in whichever European country, foreigners.

So! Does this make Israel colonial (i.e. like the U.S.) or post-colonial (i.e. like Algeria post-independence)? It makes it the result of a postcolonial problem (an oppressed people in need of a land, ideally the one everyone seemed to think they came from originally) whose solution was colonial. It was meant to appeal to an audience - of Jews and Christians - who saw setting up a new country in the Middle East as a viable solution to this problem.

But back to Caryatis's point. Yes, the refrain that Israel's Western keeps getting repeated, and no, it's not especially helpful for those looking to defend Israel. Not because Israel isn't in many ways quite 'Western', but because its troubles (both the state's bad behavior and the continued bigotry it faces from abroad) are more postcolonial.

Monday, January 27, 2014

An active fantasy life

I have deadlines. Once the most urgent of those are met, I want to reward myself. And the object of my desire is, of all things, a day of pampering in Williamsburg. I want a haute hipster haircut. Long hair (or as long as it is, which is shoulder-length, minus a trim) with bangs. I want the bangs to have at least begun somewhere not in New Jersey - I can maintain them here in one way or another. What I have now is starting to look very much like the non-haircut I had in high school. What I want is, apparently, to look like Anna Karina in her prime. But not 1960s costumey. This, but without the beehive-type pouf in the back.

(There's this part of me that's like, you know how exactly you want these bangs, you have scissors, what's the problem? That I'm not going ahead with that tells me that I have finally reached the brain-has-fully-developed, impulsiveness-free stage of adulthood.)

Next, I want to look at the "apothecary" in the salon in question and maybe even buy some nail polish.

I then want to sit in a coffee shop and be insulted by a barista before sitting down with my laptop and working on the deadlines that remain. The coffee will be city coffee, and better than what I can get here. Some kind of dense-foam drink (a flat white? a cortado?). A pastry "sourced" from somewhere really precious wouldn't hurt, either.

This is my great dream. I think about it as many times a day as the proverbial 19-year-old guy thinks about sex. But because it involves a drive to a train to a second train to a subway to a second subway, and then the same thing once more, it keeps getting postponed. Work gets in the way, as does weather. But the first possible day, it's on.

Boycott the boycott with a seltzer

Ugh, the SodaStream debate. While every single thing in your home, with the possible exception of a bunch of farmers market kale, was produced unethically, you should apparently single out the seltzer-maker, because it may or may not be Bloodthirsty Zionist to own one. Which trumps which - that it's from the West Bank, or that the company employs Palestinians? I could see how there'd be no discussion at all if this were "employs" in the sense of a Bangladesh garment factory, but this is not so straightforward.

And yet every lifestyle article about it seems to have gotten the same round-up of sound bytes from one side, and so this gets categorized as yet another ethical fashion issue. As the such issue, because an iffy product from Evil Jewish Israel is of course worse than a $3 tank top people who aren't Jews and have nothing to do with any Jews died to bring to a mall near you.

Which is the problem each and every time. I personally don't know whether I buy the 'it gives Palestinians jobs' argument. But I'm also not prepared to single out Israel as the country whose products deserve extra scrutiny. And no, this is not about my great enjoyment of the seltzer in question for the past several years.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Vows redeems itself

This week's Vows gets the official WWPD stamp of approval. It's the very opposite of 'I found him physically revolting but he's such a kind person and so persistent...' It is, instead:

On the train, she recalled: “I started looking around and noticed a really, really good-looking guy standing about 30 feet away. It’s New York, you see good-looking people all the time, but I was really taken. I was thinking: ‘Where is he from? Where does he live? What’s he doing? Where’s he going?’ ” 
She later wrote in her journal: “I noted his outfit, which struck me as artsy. His brown boots could have passed for work boots. He had a waist-length puffy green jacket. If I had to give his outfit a residence, it would have been the East Village.” 
She told herself she would talk to him if he got off at her stop, but he got off at 59th Street. She took that as a sign from the universe that it was not meant to be, then just as the subway doors were closing, she changed her mind, leapt out and followed him. 
“I gained on him as he was walking up the stairs,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh gosh, I look terrible, but here I am.’ So I just went with it. I tapped him on the shoulder. I said: ‘You’re wearing gloves so I can’t tell if you are wearing a wedding ring. However, in the event that you’re not married, you were on my subway and I thought you were cute. Any chance I could give you my business card?’ ”
An interaction totally about his looks, his initial physical appeal. At this point, nothing is known about where the relationship will go - if there will be a relationship - but a woman noticing a man is shown as a valid, plausible reason for one to begin. I mean, it is the Vows, so you know where they're going with this.

Note that what's being romanticized isn't a complete reversal of the usual script, i.e.  there's no sense that, if his answer's no, she's going to keep at it. She gives him her card.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Say Yes to the Lamborghini

"Say Yes to the Dress" recently made the absolute perfect appearance in The Onion. As this is the treadmill show that replaced "What Not to Wear," I could maybe slightly identify.

But! I actually don't think it's a terrible show with an evil message. Because:

-It's from the perspective of the retail workers, a very Old New York bunch, even the young ones. (Remember that Miss Fine on "The Nanny" got her start at a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens.) Not the owners, and definitely not - as you'd expect if you hadn't seen the show - that of the women shopping for expensive gowns. (Women who need to stay under "three" - code for $3,000 - are considered frugal.) The show follows the saleswomen around and is completely on their side. Even when the things that annoy them are customers doing things anyone but their Kleinfeld's consultant would deem reasonable - bringing friends and family, needing a moment to think about a $10,000 purchase, not seeing anything they like and leaving without a dress, etc. The last of those is called "playing dress-up" and is, in this recreated premodern shopping experience (consider the history of the department store - this type of shopping, where you can't just browse, supposedly went out in the late 19th century), unacceptable. It's all about how hard they work, how skilled they are at their jobs, how put-upon by the customers, behind the smiles. It's clearly not a normal retail job, but because of this perspective, it implicitly asks the viewer to be less bratty in retail situations.

-It's a show about sales. If it were set in an expensive car dealership, say, and the cast was made up of men, we'd think it was the reality-TV "Glengarry Glen Ross." But it's about dresses, and so, a big joke. Not so! It's fascinating even if you don't care about wedding dresses. And I say this because... I don't care about wedding dresses. Are there other frivolous things I could see spending far too much on? Yes. Are there vaguely bridal dresses I do like, but that would never be sold in a wedding-gown store? Yes, like the one I got married in. Or the one the tragic Caroline Bessette did. But I have trouble seeing the difference between one proper wedding gown and the next. Sometimes a customer will say that a particular dress looks too costumey, and from what I can tell, at least out of any context (like, say, a wedding) they all look like Renaissance Faire outfits. The best of the bunch tend to be the least expensive, with the possible exception of the Pnina Tornays, which look like high-end fetish lingerie, which does seem odd for a wedding dress, but isn't necessarily unattractive.

-It's a show about family drama. Not waaaah, daddy will only spend $15k on my dress. That's occasionally it, but rarely. The women getting crazy expensive dresses are generally doing this because it's expected for the kind of wedding they're having out of deference to their relatives. Families go through all manner of tragedies and neuroses along the way, and it all comes out in something as symbolically loaded as wedding-dress-shopping. Body image! Sibling rivalry! Because the people who spend $5,000 on a wedding dress do not appear to be the same ones who spend that on everything, the viewer doesn't end up resenting them for being 1%-ish or even, necessarily, poor decision-makers.

-Once 2008 or so rolls around, it becomes a show about the economy. The interviews with the staff reveal some recognition that times are tough, but there's also a sense in which the entire endeavor becomes more cutthroat. Brides are urged to just invite fewer people, to spend less on the food, because it's all about the dress. Meanwhile, where it does get ethically dubious is when women come in, announce they've just been laid off and have no money, so they're going to keep their budget to, say, "four." And it'll be like, noooo, why are you doing this? That's four thousand dollars! Is it right to push a super-expensive dress on someone who's as good as announced they can't afford it?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sororities virtually visited, "guy friends" revisited UPDATED

If what you seek are my more polished ramblings, go here.

In the mean time, while I contend with various deadlines, I suggest you go and overanalyze this "Into The Gloss" post about being a recovering sorority girl, and graduating to the ITG aesthetic, which also involves a lot of Sephora, but is different in some profound way that would not, of course, be perceptible to an alien from another planet, and that's not all that perceptible to me, either, and I tend to be clued into such things. It appears that the shift is from conventional attractiveness by Texan adolescent standards to the equivalent for a New York adult. Why a fake tan is one, but bleached hair another, I can't say for sure. The difference might have something to do with eyebrows.

And yet! So many shiny photos of an especially gorgeous woman who can also write! And sorority Facebook photos - so fascinating! And the post - so much material to overanalyze! There's the fact that a post about hating one's "sisters" includes abundant photos of grinning alongside these women - do these women know their Facebook pics are being posted in this context?


The photos in question - and there are many! - have since had all faces but that of the author blurred out. Which, yes, seems about right. Not sure the law on that (privacy-settings and whatnot), but ethically, yeah, posting friends' photos on a major beauty blog in order to talk smack about them and their beauty routines is poor form.


And what's this? An unapologetic admission that the sorority look was ditched when a new boyfriend preferred something different? This, though, from a woman who admits - admits! - to having amazing hair. Which, hey, she does. And clever, too, how the usual links to products are snuck in there. The subliminal message is that Nars will make you look like the author, which I can sadly attest, it will not.

It's an unusual story these days, if nothing else. We're always hearing an "It Gets Better" narrative about kids bullied for qualities that will turn them into creative-class success stories as adults. So what's a grown-up popular kid to do? I guess the best bet would be to emphasize that despite all evidence to the contrary, one was miserable in the photos where one looks thrilled. Which is certainly possible. I was popular in middle school and more miserable than I would have been if I'd had the same number of friends but those friends hadn't been cool. But because I looked terrible at the time - or let's say out of deference to people who've no doubt grown up to be kind and lovely women - there will be no slideshow illustrating my middle school experience.

Or! You could read about the girlfriendzone. Girlfriendzoning, says Reddit via Jezebel, is when a man can only see a woman in romantic terms.

Which... gah! That is exactly how I was about boys from age, say, 10 to 15. I went to a girls school until I was 13, and had no idea how one went about having male friends. (The elusive guy friends.) There were so few boys around (a handful at Hebrew school and at dances) - and then, at 14-15, so few at my math and science high school who'd actually talk to girls - that I didn't know how to classify boys I liked to spend time with except as crushes.

Looking back, I wouldn't say I actually had crushes on most of these boys, but I was convinced that was what you had to call it when you hung out with a boy and had a nice time. I didn't know what to make of the additional spark that's there when you hang out with someone attractive of your preferred sex, and that's there whether or not this is someone you actually want something with romantically. It was all too overwhelming, socially and probably hormonally, so I boyfriendzoned the boys I wanted to be friends with, all the while not being at all emotionally grown up enough to have a boyfriend. Convenient, then, that no one was interested.

OK, not exactly. I was never angry when the boys I liked gave no indication of liking me back, or (as happened often enough) began dating one another. I never felt entitled to anything. There was no Nice Girl behavior on my part, if such a thing is even possible, given gender dynamics. But, thanks to the magic of single-sex education, it took me until 16 or so to see boys as friends. Which... maybe makes me more sympathetic to the non-entitled aspects of the men who girlfriendzone women. Some of it is Nice Guy and reprehensible, but some of it is also social awkwardness.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ina Garten, Edina Monsoon, and other role models

FreshDirect has arrived in the bustling metropolis where I live, and with it, two $50-off coupons per household. Between the $8 delivery fee, the lower prices on most items than nearby supermarkets, the implicit necessity of tipping, the eliminated need to drive to the store, the reduction in impulse purchases, and the need to reach $125 for the coupon to even kick in, I can't yet tell if this is, like, wise. But it's certainly appealing. It's freezing out, the roads are icy, and strip-mall grocery shopping in New Jersey is something like the opposite of perusing the Raspail organic market in Paris. There are, I suspect, no romantic photos of Ina Garten exchanging banter with someone from the bread department at Wegmans.

It feels very decadent, very Edina Monsoon, having one's groceries brought to one's door, but could well turn out to be the cheaper option.

But what I really can't tell is if it's quicker to choose groceries online or at the store. There's something frustrating yet freeing about not having to physically inspect each onion, when ultimately you're cooking them down regardless and one's as good as the next. So it ought to be quicker. But because you're at home - perhaps with several other windows open with actual work, it can be a procrastinatory sinkhole that, unlike other online shopping, feels deceptively practical.

Practical, that is, until you realize you've had the same FreshDirect window open for the past five hours, going back and forth to it whenever you need to clear your head. Three tomatoes or four? Or is that pounds of tomatoes? How did one tomato just come to over $2? (Actually, that turned out to be a very expensive tomato, which I then removed from the virtual cart.) And which cheese? Is camembert something you can buy sight-unseen? Should I be suspicious that this brand of it costs more everywhere else? When you go to the store, you walk through it and eventually you're at the registers, at which point you know you're done. This way, you enter and never leave. (I have, after several days, submitted the order, and am choosing to ignore the 'modify your order till 5pm' option.)

Drawbacks, then, are the strangely addictive nature of online food-shopping, but also the false promise of NYC-specific treats (striped bass - and all alcoholic beverages - seemed available, but no; dreams of bagels and pastries went unfulfilled), and the let's say Eurocentric aspects of the offerings. Not only is FreshDirect not, understandably, the Japanese supermarket I might want it to be, but rice paper, for example, is not happening. As an alternative, they recommend wax paper or parchment paper or something. The other drawback, of course, is the distinct possibility that with this as an option, and with basically all my work and entertaining these days being couch-compatible, I will never again leave the house.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


It's always good to know you've had an impact on the world. Mine thus far consists, in part of course, of being cited on a college-admissions-coaching website. One with the optimistic name, "The Ivy Coach," located in the snow-heap that is De Blasio's neglected Upper East Side.

Anyway! The people who will get your child into HarvardYalePrinceton appear to have missed that my objection to holistic admissions was based on the argument that colleges can't actually make them. Not shouldn't - can't. "What on earth is wrong with judging personality and character?," asks the Coach. Nothing - but how on that same earth could people who only have access to admissions materials - and that may include notes from an interview - do anything of the kind?

But then it gets interesting. Their defense of holistic admissions centers on... the Unabomber. "Some admissions officer(s) at Harvard mistakenly judged the character of Ted Kaczynski and offered him admission to their university." The post is illustrated with a photo of Kaczynski in handcuffs. College should judge character, I *think* the argument goes, because if not, they'll get Unabombers. Or even if so, they may misjudge (or, like, fail to predict the behavior of an applicant many years after graduation), but they should still try. After all, ever since the Unabomber, Harvard's stock has plummeted, right? But really - how could schools spot future Unabombers? Wouldn't this mean going down a potentially dangerous path of stigmatizing those with certain mental illnesses or radical political viewpoints? Was the Unabomber's issue really one of character?

(The post goes on to make a comparison with dating - the very comparison that most demonstrates the problem of "holistic" in an admissions context. "If you don’t feel it, you just don’t feel it. It’s that simple." Yes, on a date. But what does an admissions committee "feel"?)

What does it say, though, that an Upper East Side tutoring firm is so devoted to holistic? For one thing, it suggests that holistic is - as I've suspected - more about benefitting the academically-mediocre children of the rich than it is about serving as a cover for quota-based affirmative action, or recognizing achievement in the face of obstacles. It could also be that for a place like this to get customers, it needs students (parents) to believe that anything's possible. That your child - who you, of course, think is special - is special, and will be recognized as such by any college that gets to know them.

Japanese canine dreamscape

Heaven is indeed a place on earth. It seems to be somewhere in Japan, but is at any rate wherever Flickr user koumeno-osanpo is taking these amazing photos. Life seems to involve frolicking in a springtime field with longhaired dachshunds (sometimes in Breton-striped shirts!) and a little gray poodle. Also meeting up with other similar lap dogs (including more dachshunds, more poodles) in other bucolic settings. Also visiting Japanese cafés. There are also fluffy cats, kittens, strawberries, sheep. Pasta. A deer. If this all sounds overly cutesy, it's... surprisingly not. It's some kind of aesthetic perfection.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An open letter to the gnome in the computer selecting my ads

Dearest Gnome,

You have correctly figured out that I'm in the market for some brown leather hiking boots with red laces. Alpine or traditional hiking boots, they're called. What you may not know is that these are to replace a pair I got at 14, and that I'd worn out by maybe 17. I've been looking since then, on and off, and yes, I tried the place where the initial ones came from. (Roots, the Canadian store.) I've found almost the right ones in a variety of places, allowing for the likely necessity of buying the red laces separately. (I'll confess to being swayed, though, by photos of the right boots with the laces already included.)

I have talked about this quest at dinner parties. (I'm sure that if you're reading this and had been thinking of inviting me to one of your gnome dinner parties, you're now second-guessing that.) I have looked for the boots online, obviously, which is how you, Gnome, learned about this. I really, really want these boots, but they're never quite right. Or they're close enough, but far too expensive. Or they're perfect, but only in men's sizes. Or they're on eBay for a reasonable price, but non-returnable. $100 for boots that fit is acceptable. But what are the chances they would, really? And these $50 pairs from the 1970s on Etsy - are any shoes that durable, to make it from someone's "Bob Newhart Show"-era closet to the 2014 woods? I want fashion and function. I want the theoretical option of hiking, or at least comfortably walking on trails.

So you see, Gnome, that while your ads may inspire me to return to the various pages - Sierra this, Amazon that - with the most promise, I've spent approximately half my life trying to track down the Platonic ideal of these boots, and so far, no luck.

Notes from Chris Christie's State of Emergency

Snowed in. Again. In principle, there's this four-wheel contraption that could, with minimal exertion on my part, get me out. To do work in a cafe, for example, although I've just gotten word that the cafe in town is about to close. In practice, there's once again too much snow for that. I understand that in places where this is regularly the case, one can get snow tires, or the roads get cleared, or something happens such that these places continue to function in winter. Here, however, five raindrops or two snowflakes and everything's kaput.

But why? Is it that it's snowing that much more than it usually does? (I've lived in this region almost my whole life and don't recall.) That this is car country and when you can't drive, you're stuck? Is it that there's no crime here, so news reports have to be about apocalyptic weather, but it's actually just a bit of snow? This "state of emergency" looks just kind of like winter, but then again, I haven't attempted to drive since it started.

While I'm technically prepared - we got groceries last night, and I have more than enough work to keep me busy that can be done from anywhere - there's nothing like knowing that one is stuck in the woods to make one desperate - desperate! - to go anywhere else.


Which is, I suppose, one of the great perks of having a dog. Just as the stir-crazy hits, it's time for a walk. After 20 minutes, give or take, of snowstorm, in moderate, Mid-Atlantic gear (think rain boots), I'm convinced for the next several hours that I never want to go outside again, ever.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Scientific fact

Science - well, social science using Google searches as data, which strikes me as potentially reasonable, but which is to be condemned by all serious sorts as insufficiently scientific - has proven (no! demonstrated evidence of) the obvious: Parents want their sons to be geniuses, and their daughters to be thin. Where to go from there?

One major difference between "fat" and "genius" is that one is a bit more subjective (and ripe for delusion) than the other. Some people are fat, others thin, still others within normal limits. It kind of is what it is, and ideally a pediatrician will intervene if the parents' perception is way off. Whereas a boy is a genius if his parents want their boy to be a genius. It doesn't matter if there's zero evidence for this. If anything, a boy's low grades reveal his secret genius. He's not stupid, he's bored! Schools these days reward female obedience, but ignore male genius. And behind every monosyllabic boy with a peach-fuzz mustache is a level of brilliance mere school-teachers couldn't recognize.

Weight does not lend itself to similar delusions. It just doesn't. A girl's chubbiness is never recognized as a sign that she's thin, the way a boy's dimwittedness is taken to indicate genius.

But inasmuch as it does lead to delusions, it tends to go the other way. Parents deeply invested in having thin daughters don't imagine that their fat daughters are thin. They will instead insist that their thin daughters are fat.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"'Some people take ‘no’ personally'"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 18, 2014


I recently took the BuzzFeed quiz about the city that's right for you, and was not at all surprised to learn the answer was Tokyo. I've still never been to Tokyo, or Japan, or East Asia, or Asia except for Israel, but Tokyo's so obviously where I'm meant to live. As someone stressed by not being in a dense, busy city, and who wants to eat Japanese food basically all the time (I think my "sushi" answer determined the outcome, although sushi's the least of it), this seemed so right.

But Japan is far from New Jersey. Much closer, but potentially more expensive: the Dover Street Market. Others have spelled out exactly what it is, but the short version is, it's a seven-story Japanese-ish concept store from Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. The clothing was a mix between gorgeous (the Simone Rocha section may as well be named the What Phoebe Would Buy If She Had More Marketable Skills wing; some of the other stuff was space-age and great), Edina Monsoon-ish (outrageous and kaftan-y, with a designer label), and street fashions at a concept-store price point (the inevitable over-$100 t-shirts, and I say inevitable because one of my other experiences at a concept store, in Paris, involved balking at a 90-euro plain white tee). There are CDG knick-knacks that look like the cheapo Marc Jacobs stuff they used to sell (or still do?) on Bleecker Street, set off in its own section, even, except that it's all expensive as well. There were also plastic salad dressing (?) containers, at $25 a pop, in the sadly limited housewares section. I have no idea.

But don't think of it as a store. It's a fascinating space, and an avant-garde clothing museum. One of the men working there was so chiseled I genuinely thought he was a mannequin. Many others were wearing the kind of clothing (was this the Rick Owens?) that could only plausibly be worn by someone whose job is to sell that clothing: medieval potato-sack skirts, or black pants whose crotch is almost at the floor. It's the kind of "store" where the anticipated bourgeois response (and one that I, a bourgeoise visiting from New Jersey, duly provided) is 'gee gosh would you look at that? How weird! How impractical!' When I thought of it as a store (and noticed the twelve-foot-tall, gorgeous woman who'd bought a ton), this was my reaction. When I did not, I had a fabulous time at what may well have been the best fashion exhibit I'd ever seen.

Lunch was at Kayser - French, not Japanese, but with branches worldwide, including Japan. I ordered something that was smoked salmon, a soft-boiled egg, and "accoutrements." I asked what the "accoutrements" consisted of, and learned that "accoutrements" meant bread. (My husband's salade niçoise did not come with accoutrements.) When the food arrived, we noticed that the lox was piled high. Was there something underneath it, we wondered? No - it was something like a pound of lox. The entire dish was $15 - pricey for brunch, but less than this much lox would be at a store, even without soft-boiled egg and accoutrement toast. Despite my valiant effort - and my husband's help - I have finally encountered a quantity of lox that is impossible to finish in one sitting. We - and Bisou, in a sense - got the rest to go.

There may have been a trip to the Strand where a Japanese novel by someone other than Murakami may have been purchased. But on a non-Japanese note, there was also a visit to a place I'd been very excited to see, and which ended up being maybe not so worth the trip. There's an Australian-by-way-of-Williamsburg coffee shop and Strand pop-up in the Flatiron Club Monaco. Club Monaco, meh, but coffee! books! I did notice they had (priced absurdly high, though) the vanilla glazed Doughnut Plant doughnuts, but given that Kayser was the next stop (what post-lox pain au chocolat? I never get into the city...), I restrained myself. The books, though... I mean, you can just walk a few blocks to the actual Strand. This was Strand-as-curated-boutique.

And then of course, Sunrise Mart. I was convinced that I'd need to horde more Tsubaki after the NYMag story encouraging people to buy it, but lo and behold, not everyone had gone and done so. I got a bit more of the deep-conditioner, just to be safe. And some groceries, or as I prefer to think of them, accoutrements.

Friday, January 17, 2014

"Do you love to clean?"

Everybody was recommending Miya Tokumitsu's Jacobin article about "do what you love," but what stopped me from rushing to it ASAP was that I anticipated recognizing this argument and agreeing with it. Artists, writers, academics, and the like have been making this point for a while now - you're expected to love what you do and thus be willing to do it unpaid, underpaid, without benefits, etc. "Do what you love" had always struck me as something particular to those in a very specific socioeconomic situation - people who are middle-class but not trust-funded, who somehow end up in creative fields where it's assumed that everyone is. Who end up playing by rules that only make sense if you are.

What Tokumitsu does with the argument, though, is much more ambitious and interesting. She connects it to the sometimes extremely high-paid tech world, as well as the least-glamorous jobs. And to capitalism more generally. Go read it!

What I wish she'd done - but this is one of those starts-a-conversation articles, so it couldn't do everything - is get into how even what she refers to as "unlovable" jobs are ones workers are now asked to love. I'm thinking of a Craigslist job ad with the following title: "Do you love to clean?" It's recruiting for a house-cleaning service. Nothing more glamorous. Not cleaning as dues-paying at an internship. This is to be a maid.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sushi-Rice Risotto with Vermouth and Out-of-Season Asparagus UPDATED

Forget the kitchen cleanse recipes from before. I have the kitchen-cleanse recipe. It was without a doubt the best use of leftovers in a dish better than any of the previous that I could imagine ending up with. We're going to call it Asparagus Risotto, although we're not planning to serve it to any Italian friends any time soon, because it's probably not technically risotto.

Day 1 (!!!):

1) Eat Nigella Lawson's chicken. Somehow manage not to eat all of it, or at least to have chicken skin, bones, and garlic peel remaining.

2) Toss that and whichever other juices are in the Pyrex into a pot. Investigate fridge items needing to be gotten rid of. Toss in a carrot, plus the remaining fridge-dried herbs (rosemary, sage, and a small amount of thyme). Add a halved, peeled, small white onion, not to get rid of it, but because this is supposed to help. Salt, pepper, done.

3) Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Google "simmer" to see if it means what you think it does, while remembering something Melissa Clark (?) once said on a podcast about how it's possible to give yourself food poisoning with chicken stock. Wonder if that applies to stock made with chicken that's already cooked.

4) Stir, poke at, or skim the thing with a skimmer. Try not to remove the vegetables in the process. Forget the skimming, remembering another podcast about the wonders of schmaltz.

5) Once it's been about two hours, strain the result. Share the still-quite-tasty chicken bits with your dog. Keep the still-kind-of-tasty carrot pieces for yourself.

6) Somehow or another, make sure it ends up in the fridge overnight, preferably after cooling a bit at room temperature.

Day 2:

7) Heat olive oil in pot. Chop and add small white onion.

8) Add sushi rice. Stir.

9) Add some vermouth. Much less vermouth than rice. Stir. Wistfully ponder that you totally intended to have martinis when purchasing this. Instead, you're cooking with the stuff.

10) Time for the broth! Remove broth from fridge. When skimming the fat off the top, note that the entire thing has congealed. Cook with it anyway and Google after dinner, only to learn that this means you made excellent chicken stock. Huh!

11) Add the gelatinous broth (just cold, keeping the rest in the fridge) in stages, letting it absorb (lowish heat). Taste every so often to decide how much more salt (a ton, in my case) you're going to add.

12) When you taste the "risotto" and the rice is cooked, rinse and chop the asparagus - get this! - the raw asparagus remaining from the previous night's dinner. Stir in the asparagus, toughest bits first, until it's all in.

13) Done! Serve.

14) Kidding! Grate in as much parmesan as physically possible. And pepper. And more salt. Never enough salt.

15) Eat two or three bowls of the result.

16) Realize that you don't notice how much you've eaten of this until after you're done. Sit on couch, unable to move. Picture how the rice was expanding in the pot each time you added more broth, and imagine it's doing the same in your stomach.

17) Despite this, start thinking ahead to...

Day 3:

18) I will, at some point in the next few days, attempt arancini. This will also, in principle, use up some stale bread, for the breadcrumbs.


Arancini proved disappointing. Bad, even. They're meant to be deep-fried, but because I was impatient and wanted this for breakfast, even though we have a deep-fryer, I didn't use it. Also because they need to have lots of cheese, but I hadn't grated any into the leftover risotto. A quick attempt to add some in the morning, while also getting non-breakfast-related things done, was insufficient. With more cheese, and with the rice actually heated through, they'd have been much improved. That said, the breading part itself reminded me how easy and delicious breading can be. All future meals are to be breaded.

The ideal woman: a Korean Heather Locklear

Having bored of idolizing French women and their beauty routines, real or imagined, we may now turn to those of Japanese and Korean women. What does it all mean? An imminent shortage (no, noooooo) of the Tsubaki shampoo and conditioner? (Actually not such a disaster - I've stockpiled.) Anyway, I like it - it's time that mainstream beauty products and advice expand beyond that which is geared to a white woman whose principle beauty complaint is insufficiently voluminous hair.

Meanwhile, others are now idolizing celebrities, as vs. nationalities, and asking plastic surgeons to turn them into their favorite stars. The NYT Styles piece about this rounded up quite a handful. Women who feel they look too much like Cameron Diaz (this is a problem???) get surgery to look more like Kate Winslet. But the people they pick are so random! Heather Locklear? An ostensibly cisgender man who wants to look like an especially feminine-looking female French singer? And the results are predictably disappointing. I say "predictably" because I've brought photos of the hairstyles of famous or semi-famous people to the salon, only to discover that whichever dare I say holistic effect this haircut had on this other person, it didn't come together in at all the same way for me. It stands to reason that plopping Heather Locklear's nose onto not-Heather-Locklear's face would be similarly futile.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

TMI and "the natural look"

I read two wonderful articles today, shared them on Facebook and/or Twitter (I'm forgetting), but neglected to bring them to you, the tremendous WWPD readership. If that means everyone's now seeing this for the second or third time, hey, no one's forcing you to read this, which brings us to...

Maureen O'Connor's piece about how "TMI" doesn't apply to social-media sharing:

Assuming the information in question is yours to share — your life, your ideas, your stories, your pictures, your theories about elf genealogy in Lord of the Rings — you cannot share too much of it. There are no captive audiences on the Internet.
O'Connor doesn't do as much with the "yours to share" angle as I might have, but her point is spot-on. Why are people so offended by internet sharing that bores them? There is, as O'Connor notes, an unfollow option on Facebook, so you can avoid minute-by-minute updates from people you like offline/don't want to insult without unfriending them. And with this blog, I assume nobody's reading it against their will.

The annoyance at excessive/boring updates (and excessive/boring updaters are often among the annoyed!) seems like a holdover from the days when simply having an online presence made you a loser. It still seems a little suspect when someone's sharing on social media what they really should be sharing with offline friends. Even if, at this point, it should not.

The second article-highlight of the day: Sali Hughes's response to those who comment on her beauty articles in the Guardian just to say how stupid they think makeup is. The best part:
And I certainly don't care if you're a man who prefers 'the natural look'. The personal preferences of men I don't know, who lack even basic manners in their dealings with others, are of absolutely no consequence to me and my face.
Indeed. Who are these men? Why do a small but vocal minority of men flock to posts about makeup, only to announce that they don't care, or don't like the stuff?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"[I]t's not about you"

So, the comments. There are, as is inevitable, a bunch of people praising the author for being a wonderful person (whereas the carers who don't write books or essays about their experience get classified with the people who have no such difficulties, or are somehow lacking in the sensitive quality that would compel anyone halfway literate to send narrative versions of family members' medical records to the Times, using real names, and turning the result into a book if at all possible).

There are also a number making variations of the same argument: that mental illness is stigmatized, and the author's placing medical information that is not his own, without his brother's consent, is justified because then we'll all be having this great big conversation about mental illness, after which point no one will feel the need to keep such matters a secret. Which... doesn't quite add up. If more were known about serious mental illness, maybe more who need it would seek treatment, and maybe there's be a bit more understanding about "mental illness" and violence, things like, if someone's bulimic, they're no more likely to commit a violent crime. But I can't imagine the end result would be that one might disclose on a first date that one suffers from severe schizophrenia and learn that thanks to the new regime of destigmatization, your date is no less interested in seeing you again. Same deal re: a job interview. People are discreet about all kinds of things, including mental and physical illnesses, for a reason. There's no grand, sweeping destigmatization that would change this. "Outing" loved ones isn't courageous. There's no means-justify-the-ends excuse.

Other commenters, meanwhile, note that they themselves suffer from mental illness (and yet are capable of reading an article and composing a sensible response - imagine!), and that they'd prefer if their family members not mine this for material. One writes that if any of his family members "were to approach me about a book project, i already know my response: it's not about you."

Which is... exactly the issue here. Another person's tragedies may impact you somewhat, or even tremendously, but it's clear-cut whose story this is to tell. If you've learned something profound from the experience, you can do any number of things - advocate for a cause, write a novel that fictionalizes the situation, be of help to this person - but not publish confidential information without someone's consent. You can't decide, prior to getting that consent, that you'll publish something with that person's identifying information regardless of their approval.

New frontiers in overshare

Jay Neugeboren cared for his mentally-ill adult brother for decades. This fact alone means that the default response to his essay about the topic is going to be that the author is a wonderful person, a wonderful brother, helping shed the stigma on mental illness. That's how it goes with such things - readers are so caught up with a story about a person being sensitive that they respond to the sensitivity that's been depicted, and not to the insensitivity inherent in sharing confidential information without someone else's consent. Why can't we separate these things out? We might congratulate Neugeboren for dealing with a difficult situation (albeit one we the general public shouldn't know he's dealing with), while also questioning the ethics of telling the story itself.

For what I'd one day like to be the last time, another person's medical history is that person's story far more than it's the story of any caregiver. That goes even for medical conditions in need of destigmatization. (Who's more stigmatized - the person with mental illness, or the one suffering indirectly?) There's no Very Important Story caveat.

Neugeboren's piece isn't so much about his brother as about the process of deciding to write on the topic, which he already did, publishing that book in 1997. His initial impulse, twelve years before writing it, had been correct:

"To publish the essay [a non-fiction piece he'd written earlier about his brother; not this essay in the Times], I quickly came to believe, would be to exploit the misery of his life in order to advance my life as a writer. I abandoned the project and decided to stick with fiction."

Correct! What changed?

"A dozen years later when I was talking with my literary agent about Robert, my agent asked if I’d ever considered writing a nonfiction book about my brother’s life."

Ah. Neugeboren now felt "it was time to tell the story," which surely has nothing to do with his having learned that this was a book that would sell.

Although this is not, strictly speaking, a case of parental overshare, it has many of the hallmarks of the genre. Neugeboren's brother depended on him. Neugeboren had access to incredibly private details of his sibling's life, beyond the usual. His brother wasn't so incapacitated as to not know what it means to be written about, but still ended up in the situation of a parental-oversharer's kid:

I hoped Robert would not be angry or upset and that he’d collaborate with me, but with or without his cooperation and approval, I was determined to find a way to tell the story of his life because I was beginning to understand that it was central to the story of my life.
I'm not even sure what to say about this. We're supposed to be happy that, after the fact, Robert approved? I mean, yes, that's lucky, but it doesn't change the initial violation. While a child can never give consent to being written about, a mentally-ill adult potentially can, but is also at risk of being written about regardless.

But here's where I get stuck: Neugeboren is a fiction writer. He's capable of writing fiction and getting it published, which is more than can be said for most composers of family overshare. Why was non-fiction so necessary, even without the consent of the very real person he was writing about? Am I a terrible person for assuming the reason is that confessional non-fiction sells? Or is that acceptable, so long as one views this in terms of raising awareness to the greatest number of people, and nothing so crude as selling books.

Monday, January 13, 2014


The latest internet explosion is over a very odd husband-and-wife pair of articles (the wife's so problematic it's now only available cached) complaining about a Twitter account in which a woman, Lisa Adams, describes her experience with breast cancer. Like, that's really it. These are two high-profile articles, one in the New York Times, the other the Guardian, complaining that a woman's upset that she has cancer.

Bill Keller's add-on to his wife Emma Keller's earlier piece is extra strange, filled with mistakes, and based on the callous and just plain weird premise that his own elderly father-in-law's end-of-life decisions have something to do with the medical choices made by a very ill but not currently dying mother of young children. Why write an op-ed urging a specific, real-life, non-war-criminal woman to give up on life? I mean, at what point did that seem like a good idea?

But it's Emma Keller's piece that interests me here, because of this sentence: "She'll tell you all about her pain, for example, but precious little about her children or husband and what they are going through." Gaaaaaahhhhh!!!!!!! Why on earth would someone criticize social-media sharing for not including private details about family members? Our stories are our own to tell. Overshare is when it's someone else's medical details, or (as was discussed in a "This American Life" While as a rule, I tend to prefer fiction to memoir, I kind of think that if the issue is that you're very ill and want to leave a document about that, you're excused from coming up with what some blogger might deem optimal literature. And this is, as Zeynep Tufekci points out, why a Twitter account along these lines is so valuable. But really, more power to Adams if she's restricting what she says about her family.

Tufekci rightly faults both Kellers for shoddy journalism. Which... OK, it's a quick news cycle, and few things are investigated as much as they should be. Generally speaking, I, unlike Tufekci, think it's fine to link to (public!) social-media posts without gaining deeper knowledge of the person posting. But here... there's the incomprehensible stance taken and the fact that the Kellers presumably had a few more resources available to them as journalists than the typical intern or freelancer trying to meet a quota for the day. If for some reason they had to write about this Twitter account, they might have gotten more facts straight.

"Faux wrinkles"

As I've mentioned before, it's immensely appealing - if ultimately futile - to believe that one is young when one is not. Is 30 young? Of course! my readers 30 and over will say. Whereas if you're 22 and the guy who just hit on you is 30, you're not going to weird out your friends if you explain that he's an old dude. Or, if you do go out with him, you can rest assured your friends are talking behind your back about how the dude you're now with is old. And I intentionally use an example involving a 30-year-old man being perceived of as ancient, because as it stands, it's largely assumed that 30-year-old women are decrepit. But no, it cuts both ways. We-the-ancient can, at 30, rest assured that we've still got plenty of time to be the scandalous younger lover of a French politician. It's not so bad to be the youngest rung of old. But we're old.

So! Today, "Into The Gloss" introduced a new beauty concept: "faux wrinkles." A 29-year-old woman profiled (who mentions she "just turned 29" - sigh, aging) notes that she uses a wrinkle-filling cream for her "faux wrinkles," and I'm thinking, if you're attempting to disguise wrinkles, you have wrinkles. Not unusual at all if you're 29 and have very good vision and/or a magnifying mirror. You can also try parting it a bunch of different ways, and maybe you'll find a gray hair or two, and tell yourself that these are faux gray hairs - you're surely going blonde. Or you can try not to look too closely.

But then faux wrinkles are explained: "I don’t have crows feet yet or anything, but if I don’t moisturize properly, concealer will make me look wrinkly." Which, yes, I can concur, under-eye concealer will do this. But it doesn't create wrinkles. It highlights not-as-young-as-you-once-were-ness. How do I know? Because this thing with concealer where you need to use a creamy one or put moisturizer (or, apparently, wrinkle-filling-cream) under it starts at a certain age. I don't remember when, exactly, and it's so gradual that you can easily imagine it had always been the case. Concealer just offers a little preview of sorts.

But whatever. However old you are, there's always a French politician even older.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Kitchen cleanse recipes

If I don't think about it, all I eat is bread and cheese, pasta and cheese, and, OK, fruit. It's not that I don't like vegetables, but that they require some kind of preparation. (Meat, fish, and dessert are similarly complicated, but not things I'm particularly trying to eat more of.) Like everybody else, I want to be better about getting through the produce I buy, always with such good intentions. I don't want to waste food, to find shriveled carrots in my laundry. I also want to get through pantry items, and I've got quite a collection. (My apartment doubles as an Italian restaurant and an East Asian grocery.)

I try to imagine what would make sensible meal-preparation more appealing, more glamorous. Photo-ready, not that I'm taking pictures. I will think of it not as cleaning the kitchen, but a kitchen cleanse. A mandoline helps (or will, until I slice off part of a finger with it, as seems to happen to everyone who owns one sooner or later), as does a willingness to mix things that don't go together. So let me recommend the following excessively-time-consuming meals. Hey, it's a Sunday.

1) Shaved artichoke salad: Based on a salad from Bianca on Bleecker Street, and possibly a David Tanis recipe as well. You trim a whole bunch of raw baby artichokes, but after trimming each one, quickly shave it with a mandoline into a bowl with lemon juice (from one lemon's fine). Otherwise it turns brown. Shave in some garlic as well, if you're feeling adventurous with the mandoline. Add olive oil, black pepper, and grated parmesan. Salad's ready. Then boil up some pasta - at least you started with a salad!

2) Rice-paper (crisper-drawer-clearing) rolls: A Pinterest-ready cleanse-looking meal that's best combined with some kind of giant pastry you've already procured for dessert, which I foolishly had not. Using the artichoke-stained (it's unavoidable) mandoline, thinly slice whichever vegetables you find in the fridge and want to use up. Cucumbers, radishes, carrots (OK, I got lazy and never sliced the carrot), etc. Find some more substantial ingredient (pathetic unripe avocado, say), and slice that with a knife. Elegantly arrange this on a plate. Soften rice paper, and wrap whichever combinations of the vegetables you think go together. Dip these rolls into some kind of sauce. I went with a mix of soy sauce and sesame oil, because that's what I had, but something more in the hoisin sauce family would have been better. Maybe something with miso and sugar, but that - don't ask why - would have been too complicated.

But yes, you really do need some kind of main course or piece of layer cake or something after this, or you'll get cranky in the afternoon and start eating stale peanuts because you live in the woods and nowhere that sells layer cake is close by. (Amy's can you hear me?)

3) Kitchen "cleanse" stir-fry: As in, you get through stuff in the kitchen. You do not emerge Gwyneth-esque. This is actually a substantial (if vegan!) meal. I'd bought dried bean curd sheets (yuba, tofu skin, etc.) at H-mart a while ago, but kept forgetting I'd done this. Yet preparing them is not complicated at all, so much easier than making yuba from scratch. OK, it's kind of complicated, because until you soak them, the sheets are incredibly fragile. Anyway, you soak them until they look like yuba (it said 20 minutes on the package, but was more like 10), strain it, and stirfry it in peanut oil with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and whichever vegetables you haven't mandolined. In my case, that was a sad-looking yellow bell pepper and some (ugh, why, why) kale. But look! Kale, with enough strong flavors around it, can morph into the generic, inoffensive leafy green you've always wanted it to be. Something the olive oil and garlic method fails to accomplish. Serve with a starch of some kind you'd also impulse-bought at an Asian market. I boiled up some rice-paper pieces (not rice cakes, nor exactly rice noodles), which weren't great, and regretted not going with the bean-thread noodles.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"[A] damn good answer"

Yet another article, this from Australian writer Zoe Holman, insisting that women - or just women who identify as feminists? - who change their names when they marry owe their feminist friends an explanation. Holman, when she musters up the courage to ask, "will expect a damn good answer." Friends-of-Holman, you'd better start coming up with one.

I suppose I prefer the approach that involves telling women generally not to change their names. It's the one-on-one aspect of this I find unsettling. On what basis is Holman owed an explanation? She writes,

The choice to marry is deeply personal. But when publicly performed, it becomes a statement of implied social values and virtues. And when we are asked to participate in this ritual, to bear witness and to endorse it even in the face of our disagreement, the least we can ask for is an explanation.
Is that really how it works? By attending a wedding, are you really endorsing anything beyond your friendship with, or sense of obligation to, one or both spouses? If you attend a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew, are you owed an explanation of the Jewish spouse's thoughts on intermarriage? (If you get really lucky, you could be handed a 500-page dissertation...). Or if you're at the wedding of two white people, should you revisit the "Girls" critique and ask why it didn't work out with anyone of color, or did they even date anyone of color prior to getting married, hmm? Or maybe, by attending a wedding of any kind, you're owed an explanation of why these two people are heading like sheep to a patriarchal form of commitment?

If these are close, current friends whose actual weddings you're attending (as vs. people whose name-changes you've learned of through social media - and with all the pseudonyms on Facebook, we're really turning Facebook name-change into a feminist issue? the maiden name's usually still visible, but maybe a perk of name-change, for some, is that frenemies from middle school won't track you down), sure, if you're curious about something they've done publicly, ask. If it turns out your friend is in an abusive relationship and has been forced to change her name, do what you can to help. If, however, it's that your friend just feels like Mrs. Her-Dude (or, as is common in the States these days, a Ms. Her-Dude), what then? If your friend identifies as a feminist, she's probably aware of that a certain, vocal branch of feminism is fixated on trappings, and disapproves.

I suspect Holman doesn't want an explanation, but an apology. Or a squirmy, defensive, unsatisfying explanation for her to deem unacceptable.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Should dieting be secret? UPDATED

Normally, I cheer when I see anyone condemning overshare. So I should have totally agreed with Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett's piece about how - because diets fail, because friends and family undermine them, and because no one wants to hear about your cleanse - dieting should be discreet, between-you-and-your-scale behavior. I mean, I don't want to hear about your cleanse. And I even might have wanted to add to this argument - constant diet-talk gives the impression that to be a girl, woman or even just a person in our society means trying to lose weight, no matter where you're starting out.

And yet. While I'm certain on board as far as not wanting daily social-media updates about every high school acquaintance's calories-in, calories-out for the day (so please, high school acquaintances, don't start doing this!), I'm not sure dieting isn't already if anything too much in the closet. Because no one wants to be accused of having an eating disorder (and because we have this odd idea that eating disorders are things one might be accused of, as if they were pinnacles of vanity and not mental illnesses), already-slim women who want to be even thinner will rarely cop to this. Women who are not already slim also may not want to talk about their diets, but this is for a different set of reasons, and for its own set of reasons, my anecdotal evidence is more (not entirely) in the area of women who don't by any estimation need to diet doing so anyway.

But these days, one won't hear about diets. One will instead hear about toxins and lifestyle changes. (What's a "lifestyle change" if not a diet? The difference seems to require a straw-man definition of "diet" that defines "diet" as "crash diet.") Going to the gym to become stronger, not thinner, and oh!, by weird coincidence, this leads to losing four pounds. Eliminating wheat and dairy, not because these are the things that make cake worth eating, but because if you think about it, our bodies weren't really designed to digest either of these things. (They were instead, of course, designed to digest pulverized kale. Every paleolithic household had a Vitamix, every paleolithic cave-community a Juice Press.)

The sense that even if you're thin, you'd look better thinner, hasn't gone away, it's just gone undercover. Women who don't need to lose weight, but want to all the same, know that their friends and family will undermine their efforts. But it's like, these are efforts that should be undermined!

But I'm torn. Maybe all the "health" talk that's really diet talk is better than diet talk. Maybe a certain number of people really do perceive of it as being about health. In which case, fair enough - efforts to eat more vegetables and get off the couch should not be undermined. And my sense is that thin women trying to be thinner, whose friends and family tell them this is unnecessary, are no less convinced that this is just about jealousy than are actually-overweight dieters looking to reach a healthier weight whose friends and family are undermining perfectly reasonable efforts.


Huh! (Posted after this, I might add. Not to accuse of uncredited inspiration, of course, but to make clear which direction any theoretical inspiration might have gone in.)

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

You think you want it, you think you need it

Bisou wantied a chic sweater, but this argyle Rick Santorum number was what they had in her size.

I continue to adhere to Kei's concept of the "wanty." But I've been experiencing a weird variant of it. As I may have mentioned, I live in the woods, the most remote woods, and while, granted, it's a nine-minute drive to a mall with Sephora and H&M (but no Uniqlo or Zara - for that you need Bridgewater or Edison), I find the whole drive-to-and-park-at-mall experience stressful.

To be clear, it's not the stores themselves. Manhattan had very much mallified by the time I came of age as a shopper. To the point that I never even thought about which were the mall stores. They were just... where clothing came from. It had to come from somewhere.

No, the issue is that I'm still newish at driving, but more than that, it's that my sense of direction fails me when presented with the maze that is a mall parking lot. You exit a main road onto something called Name-of-Mall Drive, and then what? It's a mess of trying to park somewhere not too far from the mall itself, trying to remember where you parked, because there are no landmarks, and trying to find your way back to the main road after. Or there's lower Broadway, or lower Fifth, or (ugh) 34th Street, where this can all be done on foot, which is so much easier.

So I tend to store up a lot of wanty for occasional trips to New York, some of it wanty that could, in principle, be satisfied closer by. I recently swooped in and devoted a few hours to wanty-exploration. I made a checklist, even, because the woods-to-city trip rules out spontaneity. While the U.S. doesn't have the official sale months that some other countries do, it amounts to the same. Thus the recent $30 jeans (usually $125) from the J.Crew in town. I was optimistic.

But I discovered, to a mix of disappointment and relief, that the more outrageous wanties, however much they glowed with wanty-ness from my computer screen in NJ, are, up close, nothing special.

The first wanty did go as planned - a black turtleneck cashmere sweater from Uniqlo, whose steep discount ($50, from the usual $80) I'd already noticed online. It's so chic, and so new - it had been a while. A second "wanty" - if we can call a discounted t-shirt that normally goes for about $12 a wanty - was also fulfilled: a cap-sleeve black t-shirt from the Muji store. These are the best t-shirts. Or they're just the easiest to buy - a store with very little selection or decoration takes care of that. Muji appeals to the inner government-issued-potato-sack communist in all of us.

Next up, wanty-wise, was a trip to look at the Into The Gloss-promoted shiny makeup at (of all places) ABC Carpet. I wasn't so much interested in the luminizer itself, which costs ten trillion dollars, as the "lunar" eyeshadow, which goes for a mere one trillion. And it was... fine. Shimmery, pretty, and a texture that makes more intuitive sense than powder. But someone unconvinced she'll ever wear any eyeshadow does not require the $28 non-toxic (I think that's what you're paying for?) variety. I doubt my life will be meaningfully shortened by the unpronounceable ingredients in a beauty product I wear maybe twice a year.

Knowing I wouldn't be dropping $30 on goop meant it was time to move down the list. Ever since learning that there were galaxy-print leggings made to be used as actual running pants, this has been on a wanty. Ever since the Sweaty Betty ones went on sale, I've been thinking about it. The store had them! In my size! And they were kind of awful. Armpit-level rise, weirdly baggy in the area such pants are meant to flatter, and in a very fashion-leggings fabric that didn't seem at all right for running.

Which... pretty much knocked out the wanty list. Only Alpine hiking boots - brown leather with red laces - remain, but New York wasn't coming through on that front. It never does.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A non-scholarly reading of Erica Jong

I just finished Fear of Flying. And... a problem with reading a book about one's own life (if published a decade before one was born) is that in a sea of similar, the moments of difference are all one ends up noticing. And Isadora Wing, Erica Jong's narrator/protagonist, isn't me! Really! I know that detail by detail, it seems like maybe, but no. Really. But because certain seemingly idiosyncratic facts are so similar (and the author has some lovely poodles!), I found myself almost resenting the (many!) places where Wing didn't behave as I would in a given situation. Which is, let's be clear, by any definition, the wrong way to read a work of fiction. But I couldn't help it! Page after page of my own life story, and then something unfamiliar, and thus jarring.

Anyway, to return to a more reasonable (if not all that literary) reading, as with any iconic book, you're living in the world already very much penetrated (seems appropriate) by its ideas. So the ideas themselves seem old hat. (And I defy you to read the first few pages and not picture The Bob Newhart Show, at least aesthetically.) But you have to remember they were new at the time, or at least to assume they were - literature grad school has a way of teaching you that there was always something similar written before the supposed first instance of whichever topic or argument.

To press on with this improper reading, one thing I couldn't decide what to make of in the book was that Isadora is - according to Isadora, at least - not just horny for men, but spectacularly attractive to men. There's her physical appearance, but also a sensuous quality that draws men to her everywhere she goes. (No "bitchy resting face," I suppose - amazing for someone who took the subway to high school!) Every man tries to sleep with her; many succeed, with her enthusiastic consent. Sort of the opposite end of the spectrum, then, from Lena Dunham's protagonist in "Tiny Furniture," who's also up for anything, but who's not someone men want to have sex with. My guess would be that most young women fall between these two extremes - that is, that they'll generally be able to find someone to sleep with if that's their goal, but they won't inspire saw-you-across-the-crowded-room lust in absolutely every man they meet. If Isadora wants sex, which she quite often does, she simply steps outside and all-the-men are waiting.

Which... gets to the question of how female beauty relates to female heterosexual desire. Do women desire men, or just being thought beautiful by men? At first it seems like Isadora's in the first category, but the more we hear about her lovely hair and ass, the more we may wonder if it's the latter.

And then you have to wonder about the liberation promised. Isadora's in an unusual situation. Partly it's that family money has made it so she's never financially dependent on a man (although she does also work - sentences here and there suggest she lives off some combination). For her, leaving a husband means sacrificing a bourgeois identity, but not a standard of living. Which is huge - even the so-called privileged middle-class housewives Friedan, etc., were talking about generally didn't have that option.

But it's also that, although she experiences occasional romantic disappointment, she never desires without being desired. She's able to rely on passivity as a way of bringing in new partners, and is stunned to realize, at a fairly mature age, that when she pursues a man who's not that into her, it doesn't go as well. (Although she's still kinda-sorta pursued by the man in question.) But for most of the book, because she's such an outlier, liberation is a simple matter of saying yes when a "good" girl would say no.

In defense of a cluttered countertop

According to the Guardian, high-end kitchen gadgets have recently (!) become status symbols. Is this new in the UK? British readers, fill me in on this. Johanna Derry cites increased sales of some such items since last year, so maybe? But how about the year before? Derry's nostalgic for the days "when the only kitchen appliances we kept on our counter tops were kettles and microwaves." But when was that the case (and student apartments don't count)? Is this because British people moved from tea to coffee more recently?

Regardless, grumpily complaining about the whosawhatsises that now exist for absolutely everything - asparagus peeler! avocado halver! - has been a thing in the States since I can remember. The ingredient-specific knick-knack devices represent the junk that accumulates in middle-class homes (and, more generally, Western decadence), while the really high-end machines, often in an unused kitchen, offend because they're evidence of the rich, who don't have to cook, playing at domesticity.

For a time, the status symbols were these luxury items, preferably housed in a giant suburban kitchen, or in Frasier's Seattle apartment on "Frasier." Then it switched over, and status became, I don't know, a small NYC kitchen where you prepare Greemarket produce? Or maybe it's always been the same - the gadgets have been like expensive workout clothes - cool to hate, but coveted all the same. It's the same dynamic re: wanting to be hardcore.

But allow me to more enthusiastically defend the having of kitchen implements. What I've found is, the anti-gadget brigade are people who romanticize domestic labor. I'm thinking of a recipe for buckwheat crepes I was looking at (I'm on a buckwheat crepe kick, don't ask), and it called for buckwheat and all-purpose flour (all you'd possibly need, flour-wise) and, because why not, some mortar-ground buckwheat kernels. It's as if home cooking doesn't morally count unless it's been made unnecessarily difficult, with a Luddite flourish.

These same commentators also tend to live in cities... where counter space is particularly scarce, but also, crucially, where restaurant meals and takeout are easy alternatives. If you can't so readily outsource, you want to make a wider range of foods at home, efficiently. I mean, I want to do this. Thus the rice cooker, etc. A significant, if not particularly luxe, "etc." that I won't elaborate on.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The "quenelle," and the "socialism of fools"

The official WWPD definition of anti-Semitism, paraphrased from previous official WWPD definitions of the same: An anti-oppression movement in defense of the many victims of the all-mighty Jew. That is, at any rate, how anti-Semites (left and right, white and non-white) themselves see things. It's impossible to have any kind of conversation about anti-Semitism without keeping this definition in mind. Because it can get confusing. Sometimes - often! - a wrong anti-Semites are pointing out (income inequality, high rents, bad choices on the part of Israeli officials) is real. The issue is that they're attributing this wrong to The Jews - ignoring the involvement of non-Jews, as well as the many, many, many Jews who don't control anything.

Again, it's not that the wrongs aren't real, or even that individual Jews or Jewish organizations have never actually done whatever it is anti-Semites are accusing them of. It's that the proportion is way off. Bad things done by non-Jews are ignored, while the many Jews having nothing to do with whatever's going on (or, say, being ripped off by the same proverbial landlord, or opposing the same proverbial Israeli policies) somehow don't count as The Jews, and are similarly forgotten.

That's what's weird about anti-Semitism, and why it's so difficult to discuss. Opposing anti-Semitism has a way of seeming like embracing conservatism or, more accurately, some kind of bourgeois status quo opposed by the far-left and far-right alike, because it so often involves taking a stand against someone claiming to represent The Good. And there probably are - as came up in one of the Facebook discussions of the "quenelle" (as you might imagine, a good % of people I know have opinions on this) - a certain number of people embracing anti-anti-Semitism, or pretending to, as a way of maintaining inequality or discriminating against Muslims or who knows. So it's necessary to be precise. Which, to their credit, my friends on the Zionist or anti-anti-Semitic (there's overlap, which I could get into if this post were ten times as long) left fighting the good fight generally are.

The problem is that these are topics that don't lend themselves to nuance. The belief that as long as the broader cause is just, and at least someone Jewish did something wrong, anti-Semitism is acceptable, may have disappeared for approximately five minutes at one point in the second part of the 20th century, but it's now with us to stay.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Do the rich not sweat?

I get that Maggie Lange's "In Defense of Disgusting Gym Clothes" is meant to be contrarian. But is it, really? Isn't the idea that if you're truly hardcore, you skip the 'performance' fabrics in favor of comfortable old clothes, pretty standard? While yes, people do dress up for the gym (or so I've heard - I'm usually the only person in the one I go to, and use the disintegrating regular-shirt approach), who's announcing that they do so, loud and proud? At best, you might get a defensive answer, about how whichever pants were on sale, or, conversely, that spending $90 on leggings guilts you into going to the gym. And sure, there's some shaming of those who work out without the proper sports bra or sneakers, because they are, according to onlookers, injuring themselves. But no one wants to announce that they put on ass-lifting pants so people will check them out. OK, not no one, but few, few. (And even that woman says she doesn't want attention!)

Lange does make a good point, though, about sweat and more accumulating on workout clothes in a way it doesn't on regular ones. It's not so much that sweat would ruin these clothes, though, as Lange suggests (shirts, maybe, but black leggings?), and more that they'd render them unwearable until the next laundry cycle. Which is something I'd long wondered about 'investing' in clothes for the gym. If you've spent $90 on your leggings, do you wear them more than once before washing them? (I may be finicky about this sort of thing, but unless it's really cold at the gym, I'd advise against.) Or is this part of the status-symbol aspect of these clothes? As in, not only do you put a lot of $$$ towards your workout-wear, but you have enough $90 leggings to make it through a laundry cycle.

Savage vs. Brooks

Dan Savage introduced his latest podcast with what was, I think, his most spot-on rant yet. But it wasn't so much a rant, nor was it all that much about sexuality. He began by recalling a particularly debauched New Years of his younger adulthood. It wasn't clear where he was going with this, but longtime listeners may have guessed, from the bar-scene he was describing, that he was retelling the story of how he met his husband. Then it becomes clear that was a different debauched night. Where's the story going then? Nowhere in particular, it seems, this far in.

Then he explains that New Years this year would involve staying in with his husband and kid, trying to stay awake till midnight. His point? Both are fun. Both are valid. But those who've reached the staying-in-with-family life stage have, he notes, a tendency to treat that as true adulthood, as the correct way to be. As versus the truth, which is that different things work for different people, at different times.

While it might be tempting to brush this aside as a middle-aged guru-to-youth attempting to stay relevant, it's actually a really important point, one I don't think I'd ever seen, other than at WWPD, where I've made versions of it on occasion. Although I may take this further than Savage - my point is that the younger you isn't acting entirely in the service of the older-you. You don't want to close off options, to do things while young that will really sabotage your life later on. But you also need to act in the best interests of the self that currently exists, and to trust that that younger self wasn't a complete fool. As in, say a woman who's 45 and single kicks herself for not marrying a doofus who asked (or might have, had she not broken things off) when they were 25. At 45, one just knows so much more about life, yet tragically can't go back and fix the mistakes of youth. Or: The 45-year-old self doesn't accurately recall what the dude from 20 years ago was like. She make long for the idea of having met a good-enough guy and settled down younger, but the specific problems with this guy, well, that's knowledge only available to the 25-year-old self actually living that relationship.

I thought of this in terms of David Brooks's column on pot. He and his friends went through a pot stage as adolescents. They enjoyed it for a time, then grew out of it because they realized it's kind of dumb. Because pot isn't the best thing ever, the government should discourage it. That means it needs to remain illegal.

Now, my first thought - and I'm shocked to see in the comments that it wasn't everybody's - was that the problem with pot being illegal is that the kids who get caught end up with this on their record. And this sort of mark on a record is going to have a bigger impact the less power someone otherwise has in society.

But then there's a separate question: Was young David Brooks wrong to enjoy pot? I ask not out of any particular interest in pot - that, specifically, was never my thing - but because it seems like he got something out of it for a time (had fun, bonded with a seemingly nice group of friends), and, like so many before and after him, emerged with his brain intact. (I've also known people who end up far too reliant on the stuff, but whether that's worse than equivalent alcohol dependence is its own question.) "[B]eing stoned is not a particularly uplifting form of pleasure," he writes, but the same could be said of "Designing Women," which was my great vice at the age when the boys I went to school with were most enthusiastic about pot. "Smoking was fun, for a bit, but it was kind of repetitive." Should we make "Designing Women" illegal, then?

Different things appeal at different life stages. The idea that once you get a bit older, you're in a position to declare the relatively innocuous choices of your youth immoral doesn't make sense to me. But then again, I'm not, I suppose, a conservative.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Retail woes and feminist infighting

-An inside account of what it's like to work at Lululemon. Mary Mann does more with this topic than one might imagine possible. But what's never really addressed head-on, yet seems crucial, is the way that the women selling these pants tend to look the part. Not exactly like Lululemon shoppers - more like younger, fitter versions thereof. Like the women one's husband will run off with should one not do enough yoga. So while it's the same deal, unsurprisingly, as other retail jobs in the U.S., in terms of paying badly and not offering benefits, you won't be helped by the same person who'd be doing so at Old Navy. You'll be getting a chipper, college-educated positivity-embracing sort, or, as in Mann's case at the time, an aspiring writer-editor, one darker/more cynical than the Lululemon brand would prefer, yes, but still someone whose apparent class (as vs. actual bank account) is consistent with the pants.

And I could ramble on (and on) about what this tells us about class being complicated. Is someone who looks posh but is scrambling to get by actually as posh as all that? Is it so different to work at Lululemon than at Old Navy? With endless time for this post, I'd find a way to connect it to Rebecca Schuman on the MLA, but I'll have to let you, my three holiday-season readers, draw your own conclusions.

-For reasons I myself don't entirely understand, but that I think relate to needing enough podcasts to walk the world's most energetic poodle, I'm very much up to date on the BBC Woman's Hour, perhaps more so than the hosts themselves. There was a year-end special on feminism in 2013, which... Was feminism big in 2013, or are the feminism controversies of that year the ones still fresh in our minds? The ones having to do with Miley Cyrus, or anti-airbrushing campaigns, or work-life balance. Or was having-it-all the concern of 2012?

In any case, 2013 seems to have been when BBC Woman's Hour discovered (or for all I know rediscovered) intersectionality. Scandal ensued. Reni Eddo-Lodge sums up the conflict, and links to the apology she received from fellow panelist Caroline Criado-Perez. While my U.S. vantage point - and this being audio-only would have assumed intersectionality might have applied to both women, I take it Criado-Perez is, at least by British definitions, white and nothing else. Eddo-Lodge is black.

The scandal was privilege-checking. Eddo-Lodge said yes, privilege should be checked, because intersectionality. Criado-Perez said no, because abuse. "Abuse" in this context meant something, although I'm not sure what. Online harassment, I suspect. I think she meant YPIS-hurling, in which case fair enough. YPIS has gotten out of hand.

However! YPIS-hurling isn't what's going on when someone who is actually a member of a marginalized group/in a marginalized position spells out that which out-group members don't understand. YPIS is when (to oversimplify) one rich white person tells another that their privilege is showing, and initiates a contest over which of the rich white people assembled is the true authority on being poor and black. That's where YPIS nastiness occurs.

Because the same terms are used by the YPIS brigade as by the legitimate-complaint-havers, I can well see how Criado-Perez reacted as she did once these terms came up. And there's a case to be made (if one that's just about impossible to make in sound-byte length) that the misuse of "privilege" has been so great that we need to scrap the term. But it's about context. "Privilege" as Eddo-Lodge was discussing it was a very different thing than the sorts of accusations Criado-Perez has apparently dealt with. Her grievance, while legit, isn't with what was being discussed, so Eddo-Lodge's interpretation of this as a derail seems about right. Not, that is, that it much matters what this white-by-U.S.-if-not-necessarily-British-standards American feminist thinks.