Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Classic elegance via glitter nail polish

Taste is meant to evolve. Personal style, I mean. You're supposed to be able to chart, ala Emily from "Cupcakes and Cashmere," how you arrived (by, say, the magical age of 30) at your look - trend-indifferent, of course, but also mature, without being euphemistically mature, which is to say, old.

I'm not sure where I'd fall on all this. I haven't so much evolved towards greater sophistication as wavered closer and further from that end of the spectrum, depending principally on how much of my workday is spent out in the world and how much could be done from, let us say, a couch. And a lot of what I've realized works for me has wound up consisting of old favorites of one sort or another. Which is to say, I end up returning, again and again, to various looks that I liked at ages when I was far too young to have anything like a personal style.

This is especially true when it comes to nail polish. Inspired by put-together women in New York (and elsewhere, obviously; that's just where I was living at the time), I had a grad-school phase of sheer pinks, beiges, etc. And those are fine. (The best of these: Uslu Airlines in YAP, and yes, I see the irony.) But as far as I'm concerned - and whether or not this does anything for my overall look - the ideal shade is navy with subtle glitter. Inspired both by Chanel's discontinued version (Ciel de nuit) and, less glamorously, by Sparkle Crest toothpaste, a childhood favorite that maybe ruins your teeth, but that looked just gorgeous. This seems to be a common-enough obsession, given the number of blog posts dedicated to comparing every navy-with-sparkles polish around (or, in the case of the discontinued ones, no longer around). Which, fair enough - it is the best shade. Why shouldn't others agree?

The admittedly on-and-off quest ended, in New York, when I happened upon some still-available JINsoon Azurite at ABC Home. It's a bit less glittery than I remember the Chanel one being, and seemingly darker and less sparkly than the Essie (which is now, it seems, fully available once more, at least in the States). These are points in its favor - it's basically a classic (as much as blue nail polish ever is) navy with a hint of shimmer, so that you know you've got glitter nail polish on, even if not everyone else does. And the best part? $10. Usually $18, and I'd braced myself for that, but no! Same price as drugstore polish. The DIY results below:

A photo posted by @casa_della_bisou on

Thursday, December 24, 2015

New York in almost-2016

-The biggest difference between New York and Toronto relates to ease or lack thereof of crossing the street. In Toronto, with the huge streets, the tram tracks, and the right-on-red, as well as just the driver-centric culture, every intersection's a gamble. Here, the gambles are there, but not quite as substantial. And you're more likely to be swept up in a crowd crossing with complete indifference to the light, the cars (not drivers, cars) fully aware that they've been outnumbered.

-The food. The food. Lots going for the cuisine in both places (and I think I'm undecided on the NY vs. Montreal bagel question, and there are no French pastries here even close to Nadège, and custard tarts...), but this is home, so I've had a... few more years to know exactly where to get everything. Pizza. (At Freddie and Pepper's on Amsterdam, to be specific, but any place of the sort frequented by 14-year-old boys will probably sell the right kind.) Chelsea Thai. Dos Toros. Shake Shack. Sobaya. Doughnut Plant. Mozzarella from Murray's Cheese. And more. Everything (with the exception of the pseudo-Ronnybrook milkshake from Chelsea Market) has been even better than I remembered it.

-US money seems so different. I'd almost forgotten what it looked like! And also, knowing the exchange rate (0.72), it's so... euro-like. As much as I know that Uniqlo is cheaper than basically any place in Toronto, and that there's no Strand where I live, it's like... maybe a bit of restraint is in order. (But, but, making mental note of all remaining exciting shops that I vaguely remember liking or being curious about.) The whole Shopping Trip From Canada idea (the ATMs I use in Toronto have ads for this activity) must have made sense a couple years back.

-True to stereotype, I suppose, but I hadn't quite been expecting it: there's so, so much more lively squabbling. People are constantly arguing with strangers, but not in a menacing way. Also just strangers making conversation - about which bread to get at a bakery, about anything and everything to do with dogs, etc. That, or people do this in Toronto as well, but I seem too foreign (or too American) to be included in it.

-Most of the city (that I've been back to) seems about the same as it did six months ago, as one would expect. But Williamsburg! My goodness! I'm not going to say that it just got gentrified, because it was hip when I was there in high school, which was a thousand years ago, and far too expensive for me to rent in when I lived in the city, which was merely 500 years back. But... the handful of stores I'd had fond memories of... browsing? probably not shopping at... are at any rate now not just too expensive but priced out in favor of still-fancier options. Also, the hipster thing seems kaput, there and elsewhere. The Toronto drapey-clothing/man-bun thing seems either never to have happened here, or to have come and gone.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Because #Israel

As came as a tremendous surprise, the pro-gun crowd didn't like my article. In all seriousness: While some aspects of the response were more menacing than I'd anticipated, it was mainly the Twitter usual - variants of 'Can you believe that idiot?!,' including the time-honored technique of quoting my bio with snide commentary. And - because woman, internet - the occasional egg-avatar with very important thoughts about my looks.

But what did surprise me - shouldn't have, but did - was how central Jewish... stuff was to the response. There were - and this, not so surprising - references to me being Jewish. (Best was the person calling me a Jewish American Princess... for arguing in the New Republic that guns should be banned. Because that's the stereotype.) While some came from the usual self-proclaimed-white-supremacist crowd, others came from the (nearly?) as disturbing philo-Semite crowd. Yes, I'd known this was a thing, and had encountered it before, but I'd never been quite so neck-deep in it. Oh, maybe not never, but not recently.

It goes something like this: #2A, as in, the Second Amendment, as in, guns, is often paired, on Twitter, with #Israel. Images of guns intermingle with images of Israeli flags. And oh. so. many. references to the Holocaust, which could have of course been prevented if... I can't even finish that thought, it's too stupid. Oh, and then there's of course the irony that I, a Jew, would support the very Hitlerian idea of banning guns, along with however many references to the inherent fascism of a society without free access to guns. (21st century Britain, Japan, etc.?) There was also someone saying, without explanation, that it was extra strange that a Jewish woman would be against guns. Strange why? Who knows - it takes some kind of advanced-level right-wing intersectionality for that one.

I mean, I have seen variants of this before. Jews in the sense of The Jews are incredibly sympathetic. Yet actual Jews aren't conservative enough to play out the role demanded of us. We - even the Zionists among us - aren't rah-rah-Netanyahu enough, or at all. Too many of us are motivated, in our Zionism, by our sense of ourselves as minorities, and not - as would be so much more convenient for them! - by anti-Islamic sentiment. And we're far too often the cityfolk whose opinions are to be dismissed on that basis alone. But so it goes, so it always goes. Interest in The Jews from the general population subsumes anything actual Jews could possibly come up with.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Adulthood or not: a weekend assessed

-One article edited, one pitched, one completed and sent in, and a chapter part completed.

-One Canada Moose-themed (but not branded) dog parka purchased. One poodle paraded around in the same. 

-One grocery-store trip that somehow did not include juice, eggs, canned tomatoes, or anything useful for the week. Have quite possibly unlearned how to grocery-shop without a car.

-Several trips to several Asian markets (and I do mean much of the continent - Vietnam, China, and Japan were represented, while the ultimate splurge bit came from Korea) for hot-pot materials. 

-One at-home hot-pot of indeterminate cuisine achieved. Used a Japanese cookbook (and a kombu-sake stock) but since it's the Chinese supermarket that sells vegetables (and also because pea shoots are the best food), ended up with something closer to the (Edison) Little Sheep lineup. 

-One bathroom (I mean, there's only the one) cleaned thoroughly. Still feeling pretty damn smug about this.

-Two matcha lattes consumed at two different coffee shops. And two Portuguese custard tarts, at home, in a row, because those things are tiny.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Canadian Thanksgiving

-Read (that is, was vaguely aware of) the guides to dealing with the proverbial conservative uncle.

-Read the Internetfolk pointing out that actually (is this where #actually is needed?) it's kind of condescending as well as ungrateful to approach Thanksgiving in this way, and also, not everyone is a young urban-dweller with conservative small-town family. And remarked (privately? aloud? who even remembers?) that each of the people making this point seemed to think they were either the first or, at the very least, going against the current. Which had shifted, and which is now distinctly pointing towards announcing that one will graciously attend one's conservative uncle's do. Which, why do I even know this? It's a busy time of the semester here, and between teaching and other work, I'd forgotten it even was Thanksgiving. (But also - isn't the whole issue here the difference between being a sanctimonious liberal, and being, say, LGBT, and facing actual, personal backlash from your family?)

-Went to the 7-11 for a Kit Kat and a diet Coke, and once again received the upsell speech about how there's a special on kebabs.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


I've been following the Paris news, and commentary, and social-media response. It's very, very different - even with the on-the-ground feeling of Twitter, and even having spent a lot of time in Paris - to read about this than it was to be in Manhattan on 9/11. 9/11 the symbol is always going to feel secondary, to me, to the event itself. I'm following this story closely in part for personal reasons, but also, in part, for the same reasons as everybody else. I learned about these attacks when a news alert popped up on my phone, as I was sitting in a coffee shop in Canada. Yes, I recognized the streets, and yes, all the more so, I worried about friends. But it's something quite different.

Responses seem to go one of two ways. Either people mention time spent in Paris (even if it was three days 30 years ago), which is (I think) sincerely felt and well-meaning, but which risks the why-are-you-making-it-about-you accusation... or they jump straight into the virtue-signaling approach - also well-meaning, I suppose, but frustrating. By this I mean the comments - in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy that (for all you know, people doing this, has personally-personally impacted your friends) accusing the grieving of racism. Why? Because they haven't shown equal concern (or 1/3 concern, given the current death tolls) regarding a terrorist attack in Beirut.

Cultural affinity - that same thing that people take for granted when people throughout the Muslim world, and many Muslims elsewhere, feel an emotional connection to the Palestinian cause - is suspect the moment it's people in London or Chicago (or Toronto) identifying with Parisians. Cultural affinity isn't quite the same thing as racism, particularly given that the Paris being grieved for at the moment is hardly monolithically white or xenophobic.

But more to the point: this just happened. The first response after a tragedy shouldn't be chastising people who are upset. If chastising is your go-to response, by all means, tsk-tsk away at the dangerous idiots conflating refugees with that which they're fleeing from. It's not that it's too early for politics - everything's political, I get that. But there's enough to be legitimately sad and angry about that it's probably possible to wait a minute before calling out your grieving friends.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Midsomer and ice cream o'clock

Seems fitting to write a blog post about a procrastination article. More time-consuming, at any rate, than just sharing it on Facebook or Twitter (although time can certainly go into deciding which of those is right for which articles). But given that the alternative activity I had lined up for 10ish Tuesday evening was finishing an episode of Midsomer Murders (an amazing one starring the actress who plays Diana Trent on Waiting for God and a whole bunch of llamas), I'm not sure this qualifies.

Anyway. Philippa Perry's advice about procrastination is... I can't decide what it is. Either it's KonMari-like in its brilliant simplicity (oof, she called out pet-Instagramming specifically), or it's akin to the health advice that begins and ends with, maybe don't eat so much ice cream during the evening Midsomer. The central point:

"When I first became a parent and only had 30 minutes of baby’s nap time to complete a chore, I found I could complete it, whereas before baby, the same task may have taken me hours. When I had a finite amount of time I somehow found the extra focus to make that time count."
This is how life should work, and sometimes does, but doesn't always. There's a way in which being a bit too busy can encourage creativity - all work that isn't the usual/daytime work feels like a break, but the mind will be sharp from having not spent the day, I don't know, riding a shuttle to a suburban US supermarket in the middle of the afternoon because you haven't yet learned how to drive, to use a totally theoretical (obscure pun intended) example. But if you only have 30 minutes to spare, and the thing you need to do is (let's stay within the realm of the theoretical) clean the bath? What if the activities that have left you with little time - professional, domestic, whatever - have left you sort of, you know, tired? What if the urge to procrastinate strikes not so much when a task seems daunting as when your body is saying Midsomer and Haagen Daaz, but some part of you thinks it's more productive to still have that computer out?

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Immigrant glamo(u)r

I would like to be better-dressed. Fabulously dressed, even. But there are obstacles. One is the whole new-immigrant credit limit thing, and the thing where Canadian credit cards are confusing (can't the site just say what I've spent???), and just generally the thing where I have a credit card but am wary of using it, and thus never get close to the limit in the first place. The other obstacles are similarly glamorous. (No time!) But the work-in-progress that is moving my look from something Stacy and Clinton would deem intervention-worthy to something Scott Schuman would photograph is underway. Recent and recent-ish (post-move, that is) additions:

-One navy v-neck wool-silk sweater and one indigo-striped button-down shirt, Muji. As far as I can tell, Muji clothing here is basically the same stuff as Uniqlo, but more expensive, but also less expensive because you don't have to first fly to the States.

-Matt & Nat bag (the Tia in Petal). A major improvement over the NYU tote bag/EMS backpack predecessors.

-Same vegan bag company, the Vera wallet in Midnight.

-New heels on the Frye motorcycle boots, from a shoe-repair place that includes a polish. They look new (the woods-mud is gone!), so this counts.

-Two whole, entirely new, pairs of pants: black jeans from Levi's (via the mildly intimidating Aritizia) and perfect '90s-but-better regular ones by Cheap Monday (via the perma-sample-sale Catwalk-2-Closet).

-A gray wool (-looking) skirt from Zara, of a style I always like, and that's always unwearably unflattering on me, except this once, so a style craving I've had since my junior year of college has, at long last, been met.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Not like at home"

In the Monty Python travel agent sketch, Eric Idle's character rants about those other tourists who go on package tours, only to complain about how the "tea" (which I used to think meant tea, but as I type, I'm thinking probably meant dinner) isn't not made "properly." The expression "not like at home" is used. Parochialism, so shameful! I can't say I experience tremendous amounts of this, given that Toronto kind of has everything and them some. (See: Portuguese custard tarts.) And the whole Trump thing isn't really making me homesick. But other things, here and there...

As I understand it, people who move from one country to another under circumstances such as my own are required to list the petty, inconsequential ways that the developed country we live in isn't 100% identical to the one we come from. So, here goes:

-Mozzarella. Not the super-fancy buffalo kind, nor the super-unfancy kind that goes in a meat-and-cheese slicer, but the moderately fancy (cow's milk) kind that's sold in (Northeast) US supermarkets and cheese stores (I'm thinking specifically of Wegmans, Murray's Cheese - sigh! - and the Fairway), in a ball, wrapped in plastic, where the surface is the most delicious part. There's something sold here that looks like mozzarella but is called "bocconcini" and "soft cheese," and that's OK on pizza but otherwise vile, and it was only recently that I noticed the word "mozzarella" isn't used on the packaging. It took me months to find the one cheese at the supermarket that's mozzarella in a recognizable (but not, again, bufala extravaganza) form, and it's passable. Cheese shops - and I've been to quite a few - don't appear to have this product. A very, very petty complaint, especially considering the overall superiority of the cheese situation here, but doubtless at the top of my petty-complaints list.

-Uniqlo. A close second, but there's apparently one on its way. No such luck on the mozzarella front.

-A health care system that makes sense to me. Because yes, that is of course the thing one looks for in a health care system - that I, personally, understand it. In all seriousness: I had an uninsured few months after college, and am in principle thrilled with universal healthcare. In practice, the whole thing of not knowing when or even really how I'll ever be able to see a doctor is somewhat unsettling. (I mean, I filled out some form. After which something gets mailed. After which maybe it'll all become clear. Socialist wheels of some kind are, I think, in motion.)

Life in the age of the micro-era

After a whole lot of working from home (dissertating, Dish-ing, freelancing, etc.), I'm once again working from a mix of home and not-home (teaching French and book-writing in English, and also freelancing, and also, in principle, sleeping). This means I need to be, like, dressed. Not merely in clothing, but in clothing that's a notch or several above what's needed to walk a dog in the woods, with a 5% chance of running into another human being, and a 0% chance of running into one who'd expect me to be dressed professionally, fashionably, or anything along those lines.

This seems so simple, so obvious, and just so doable - I'm well out of college! I have a degree in French! I live in a city with lots of stores! - but is kind of daunting. Part of this is that I hadn't realized quite how dire the situation had become. My 'good' clothes turned out to be very washed-out Breton-striped shirts from several years ago. So a lot needs to be replaced, or just sort of purchased to begin with, but there isn't really any conceivable time to do this in. And I'm not even factoring in the other shopping expedition: Canada-ready winter-wear. My inner stereotypical heterosexual man experiences this with a sense of impending doom. But there's also a part of me that's a stereotypical... my own demographic, let's say, and that was totally all, "There's Intermix/COS/Muji in Toronto?!" I can kind of see getting excited about this.

The more complicated question is what to buy. Again, sounds simple! But I have no idea. It's sort of... been a while? And when I last properly shopped, I was a) younger, and b) living in another era. The era when bangs/fringe, kale, and farm-to-table, and more on this in a moment... were in. While it sounds so pathetic to be like, 'I want to wear what's in!', this is a genuine practical concern if you're dressing like a 2008-era grad student. If you have a sort of implicit sense of this, you can focus on cut and fit and all of this while sneering at those who bother with trends. If you don't - if, that is, you've spent the past four-plus years split between avant-garde or super-now fashion-blog reading and disintegrating skinny-jeans-wearing - this takes a bit more effort. Or maybe it just takes going to Zara and buying whatever more or less fits.

But this isn't so much a fashion post as an era one. I've been thinking recently - and this mainly has implications for how I present various things in the book I'm writing - that times have changed. Since 2008-ish, or even 2011-ish. Trends seem different - noticeably so. Cultural trends, not just clothing. Young People Today, perhaps they're different as well. Still working on putting my finger on what these differences are (and, book-wise, on precisely how this shift has both exaggerated and diminished various "privilege" concerns), but for the time being, this is my point in full: Times have changed.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A still-here post

-I have a book contract! I'd say WOOHOOO, but I don't think that covers it. What I had before was a book deal, which is not the same thing, but which is still a publicly-announced thing, which... if you're not me, you almost certainly don't care, but if you're writing a book or thinking about it, this is maybe useful information?

-I wrote about friendship for TNR. Could have written endlessly more on the topic. An alternate, probably unpublishable version would have gone into my various middle-school neuroses (specifically, anxieties centering on not having 'guy friends' or friends from other schools).

-If you spend the day hearing and using only French, and are in a partially Francophone country, it seems very, very odd that people are speaking English on the street. Old news, I suppose, for my many Canadian and Belgian relatives, but a new one for me. Also: It takes only a couple months in Canada (at least for this part-Canadian) for the English here to start sounding default and the US variety, all regions, to start sounding vaguely like a Texas accent.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


The internet being enormous and all, I don't remember where it was I saw this, but somewhere I saw something, once, about how Idris Elba is the actor white women who don't much pay attention to black male beauty (or who don't consume much diverse or black-oriented media) give as the example of a good-looking black man. Like, to the extent that it is, if you are a white woman, borderline racist to say that you find Elba attractive, his name in this context having evolved into a trope of sorts, of the exception.

I have no idea if this is true, but if it is, that would seem like all the more reason he'd be a shoo-in as James Bond. If indeed they still make those movies (I've only ever seen one, years ago, on what was probably my only high school outing with straight 'guy friends'), which apparently they do, because this morning Twitter erupted with the news that Anthony Horowitz, probably the same Anthony Horowitz as is behind some of the better, earlier Midsomer Murders episodes, gave a not particularly borderline but rather straightforwardly racist (if coded) reason why Elba, in his view, shouldn't be Bond. The word "street" is used, which is going to seem particularly odd to anyone introduced to Elba via his role in the US version of The Office.

As tends to happen in these cases, intense, multi-hour research (or, rather, clicking the link from the Independent to the original Daily Mail interview) suggests a bit of outrage-stirring on the part of the press. The "street" remark had, it seems, been immediately preceded by Horowitz naming a different black British actor, Adrian Lester, as a possible Bond. While the thing it seems as if Horowitz said (namely, that Bond can't be black because any black actor, even Elba, is "too 'street'") and the thing he actually said (a sort of casting equivalent of 'some of my best friends are black,' and then the "street" remark) are both racist, the former is so much more so that it might be tempting to cry Misplaced Outrage and dismiss the whole thing, except... the outrage is merited. The "street" remark is still racist!

The trouble is outrage fatigue. After years and years and years of offensiveness going unremarked, there's now this flood of remarks. Justified ones, but the sheer repetitiveness of the 'can you believe X said Y?!' headlines has ended up numbing too many readers to what are, at least in my opinion, real and important concerns about representation, subtle bigotry, and so forth. People then end up sympathizing with the gaffe-maker, who will inevitably have said something a notch or two less offensive than first thought. And so the conversation will get diverted from issue at hand. My question, then, is really one of strategy. If you support the politics of the 'can you believe' headlines, but wonder about their efficacy... what's the alternative? Is there one?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Unsolicited recommendations

Seeing as the plan is to be walled off up north, these are mainly Toronto-specific:

-Every show by Sally Wainwright. Having already watched all of Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley, I was beyond thrilled to come across Scott & Bailey, one I hadn't even known existed. Feminist soap operas set in some part of England that I, as a not-quite-Canadian, can totally relate to.

-Neo Coffee Bar. A gorgeous space, and instead of selling the same (too-often-stale) Toronto coffee shop cookies and the like, there are these amazing Japanese roll cakes. And all shockingly reasonably priced, likely because it's kind of out of the way.

-Baldwin Village. Fine, yes, another Japanese food recommendation (Konnichiwa sukiyaki hot pot specifically...), but it's also just a neat little area.

-Courage My Love. Vintage-and-more in the Kensington Market. I've already bought two necklaces there, and that's restraint, because there's a whole bunch of other stuff as well, and quite different from equivalent stores in the States.

-Am I allowed one more thing that's Japanese food? Sanko, the grocery store nearish my apartment. Went today to get bonito flakes, and was recommended a variety that a man who works in the store told me are the best ones, as well as the ones he feeds his cat. As these were less expensive than the ones I'd been considering, and apparently contribute to pet longevity, why not? Dashi stock and Bisou treats await.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Upper East Side of Toronto

We are, all of us, children of wherever we're from. While I spent my earliest childhood in a neighborhood-name-free part of lower-mid-Manhattan, I mostly grew up on the Upper East Side. Why? For that, you'd have to ask my parents; I, as a 3-year-old, was, quite understandably, not consulted. But anyway, that's where I grew up, and I neither liked nor disliked it - it just sort of was. But it, and things like it, will always feel like home. It will always feel normal to me to be in a neighborhood where, for example, I can't afford anything in 99.99% of the stores. Where 99.99% of the women have had every square inch of their bodies somehow cosmetically attended to. The things that ought to be off-putting read as kind of comforting.

As an adult, I've never been drawn to living in such a neighborhood (although such places can be startlingly affordable, because of the uncoolness factor). But I do always somehow end up wandering around in them. In Chicago, what was it, the Gold Coast? In Paris, Passy.

I just now stumbled across Toronto's version of this. Yorkville, I think, if I got the borders right. Gone were the 20-something men with the undershave slicked-back-ponytail hairstyle and black flowing-robe minimalist clothing. All of a sudden, there were posh women everywhere. Waiting impatiently on line behind me at Zara. (Where, alas, the faux-leather pants didn't fit.) Then - because the ultimate in relaxation is a department store - Holt Renfrew, a palace of sorts, with signs about "privilege" in a positive sense in a shoe department I observed from a distance only because shoes, and where I tried on a discounted (but still, I ended up determining, out-of-budget) and not especially flattering pair of black jeans, while two women of a certain age (but really, aren't we all) assessed how a pair of jeans looked on one of them. Yes, I could tell that the staff had (correctly; is it the Eastern Mountain Sports backpack? or just the fact of a backpack?) decided that I was in the wrong store. I asked where the jeans were, and was told a list of brands of jeans, in a way that conveyed, I promise this is not some sort of neurosis, you are not J. Brand material. As stretchy-flattering as that material might be, I'll live with that.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Latkes in literature

Just read and really liked Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs. Goodreads people were less enthusiastic about it. I'll make the case:

Spoilers below, so click on the post title for the rest...

Friday, August 14, 2015

GAF, revisited

There's an article I've read variants of over the years, and that's currently circulating in Styles article and Jezebel post form. It's the Silver Linings of Aging piece; the specific age anchoring it can vary, but if it's anything much under 30, people will just laugh.

The point will inevitably be that getting older means caring less. It will come from a place of, everything's kind of sorted in life. The 'I'm old and haggard now' will be part self-deprecation, part genuine anxiety, and part humble-brag about having ticked whichever list of personal and professional achievements. Much of Tracy Moore's list on Jezebel amounts to, she's too old to have no money. Which is a great sentiment, if one that relies on upward mobility, or on aging meaning higher earning. The proverbial basement-dwelling millennial will also reach 30, if he hasn't already.

Other aspects, though, are not financial, but follow the same general pattern. For example: Being "too old" for parties and bars and casual friends one doesn't even like is a great big euphemism for having already found a partner. Plenty of people "too old" to be at the bars are there all the same, for the same reason younger adults are, and some who now think they're "too old" will, at 45, post-divorce, wind up back at them, and it won't be because they've gotten any younger.

On the one hand, yes, people do, on average, sort their lives out as they get older. On the other hand, life isn't just this smooth upwards progression of self-improvement. The physical-decline bit is unavoidable, but there's no guarantee of a corresponding raise for each wrinkle.

A too-old-to-care that addresses this, though, I'm OK with. And Dominique Browning's NYT one does:

The key to life is resilience, and I’m old enough to make such a bald statement. We will always be knocked down. It’s the getting up that counts. By the time you reach upper middle age, you have started over, and over again.
This could well be why, like memoir, the too-old-for-this genre works better coming from someone a bit older.

But my initial reason for this post, which I seem to have lost track of, relates to the whole issue of "caring." In an ideal, rational world, getting older would mean caring less about nonsense. And on the whole, it does. But not in the neat, done-with-that-silliness way these articles suggest. The stupid, neurotic sort of caring - the unproductive, time-suck kind of GAF - may wane, only to (what's the non-clichéd version of 'rear its ugly head'?) return unexpectedly. You can go for years without much worrying what you look like, or whether you've been included in some social gathering, and think everything's going great professionally, and then for whatever reason, something internal or external brings those feelings back. Anyone who's been an adult, or who has witnessed adults while "off" (that is, at home) is going to be aware of this phenomenon. OK, not anyone. But enough people that it seems somehow off - or maybe just aspirational? - to declare non-caring an inherent perk of getting older.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Euphemistic sophistication

Whenever a lowest-common-denominator straight male desire gets cast as sophisticated, my thoughts inevitably turn to the Seinfeld where Jerry's sleeping with his maid, and by the end of the episode accepts that he has, in fact, been paying for sex. His defense, when friends call him out on it, is that the arrangement is "sophisticated." This is a standby euphemism in hetero sex work marketing - there are gentlemen's clubs, and the silk robes, and fine European ladies (white women?), and men are going to be escorted, as though hiring a sex worker were akin to being accompanied to a cotillion. It's a way of drawing a connection between whatever Mr. Schlub is up to, and the activities of various French prime ministers. It's all incredibly sophisticated. If it were a movie, yellow subtitles would definitely be involved.

Which brings me to this latest entry, from Dan Savage's letter of the day. A 35-year-old woman is being cheated on by her 50-year-old husband, who was still with an earlier wife when they got together. There's a young child involved. What should she do? Buried in her letter, but crucial, is the following: "I don't care that much that he had sex with these women—in fact, I had brought up the possibility of having an open marriage, but he wasn't into it." Now why do we think this man, who slept with everybody and has no plans to stop, "wasn't into" the very arrangement that allows for such behavior? While the thing we're supposed to say in such a circumstance is that it's surely dude's sexual proclivity to sneak around, the common-sense reason is that there's a double-standard. Not for dude-the-individual. In society. A 'traditional' marriage model allows him, but not her, to have other partners. That's what he wants. For him to have a wife means to have a woman who's fully his, whose children are of course his, because who else?

Savage offers up a precedent for the letter-writer, should she choose to stay in her marriage: an elderly (now-deceased) British duchess married to a serial philanderer. This duchess, it seems, considered divorce a "bore," as well as - sniff - American. (Side note: why do upper-class British people find everything so tiresome? Or is that just on "Upstairs, Downstairs"?) And... I guess I'd be OK with "sophisticated" as a euphemism for that which is adult, that which only adults understand, and that which perplexes the simple, childlike bourgeoisie (of which I - someone who would have borrowed the DTMFA acronym if advising this woman - am probably a part), if it could just be used in a gender-neutral sense.

Monday, August 10, 2015


There was a time when I enjoyed buying clothes, and was good at it, and did it regularly enough that I was always well-dressed. Or maybe there wasn't. Like all golden ages, this is some mix of a conflation of several eras that really did exist, and a rose-colored revisionist history of that which really took place. 

But some time in my life, after the middle-school era of going to stores with friends who had unlimited shopping budgets, but before the time when "shopping" meant getting in the car for an hour, only to arrive at whichever NJ mall and think only of how to get to the closest Asian supermarket, sometime in that window, things were otherwise. If I had to really pin it down, it was this one semester of grad school, the one where I wore pencil skirts and heels, heels purchased at a chic (French?) store on 7th Avenue in Chelsea. I dressed like this because I was both teaching and taking classes, and was still at the age where you're supposed to dress in a way that identifies you as not-an-undergrad. It was around the time whichever French department peer pressure - or just peer learn-by-example - regarding put-together-ness had clicked, and I stopped expecting shapeless gray v-neck t-shirts to really pull together a look. 

I know I do this periodically, but here goes: I'm going to try. I know that DGAF, as the kids say, is the height of chic as attitudes go, and goes really well with those Adidas Superstar sneakers that have, mysteriously, become to the adult world what Sambas were to my fourth grade class. But I GAF. On some level. Despite the gray t-shirt collection, and other sartorial choices inspired by my thinking of how great whichever gray sweatshirt and black jeans-type combo would look on Stop It Right Now blogger Jayne Min. (Should just put a post-it on the mirror: You are not, and in no way resemble, Jayne Min.)

There's the non-trying that's noble, feminist, frugal, intentional. That's about embrace-your-natural-whatever. Then there's the sort that comes from a place of why-bother. It's not the same as the (diagnosable) why-bother that leads to things like not bathing, but it might be enough to merit an intervention at the Stacey and Clinton level. In an attempt to avoid that fate (is that show even still on? and would they cross the border?), I've taken two small but significant steps in the right direction. Am I currently, at this very moment, wearing a gray t-shirt and jeans? That may be, but once the rain stops and the skirt's been hemmed, it is on.

Sunday, August 02, 2015


There's a branch of feminist journalism that involves protesting insecurities that a great many women didn't know they were even supposed to have, thereby introducing new ones into the general population. Exhibit A: "thigh gap," an anxiety I first learned about through articles and blog posts about why women shouldn't be worrying about this. (And yes, how meta, this post is probably adding to the problem.)

Exhibit B: "resting bitch face." This one I had heard of, and that had registered enough that I'd thought, heh, that's me! It seemed like - as Dan Savage might say - a superpower. Yes, it means getting told to smile for years on end, but it probably deflects a whole bunch of irritating interactions. But thanks to the Styles treatment, the idea has now been planted in my insufficiently-grinning head (and who knows how many others'!) that women who don't smile at strangers on the bus for the heck of it are perceived of as older/uglier/masculine, as versus simply... bitchy, which could also be interpreted as snooty or haughty, which, while not ideal, aren't synonyms of unattractive.

To be clear, I don't get the sense at all that the piece's author, Jessica Bennett, is advocating that women go out and get Botox (the cure, apparently). But again, it's this whole planting thing. While squeamishness/cheapness alone would keep me personally from going that route, this is so now going to be a thing, in a way that it probably wasn't and probably didn't need to be.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cooler up north

When I first saw the thing in Vogue about how a Toronto neighborhood near where I live/the one where I live (unclear on borders) was the second-coolest in the world, after one in Tokyo, I was... unconvinced. I hadn't moved here yet, and didn't quite see how a handful of boutiques plus a coffee shop plus an American Apparel amounted to anything of global interest. Really, it was supposed to be cooler than all the ones in north Brooklyn?

Now I think I'm starting to understand. Today I walked west on Queen Street, and west, and west, through an underpass and west some more. And it stayed "cool" or hipster or whatever one might want to call it the entire way, probably longer as well, but at a certain point (here, to be specific) I just could not even, as the cool kids probably don't say in this context; bought myself an iced americano; and sat for a few tired-30-something minutes before back east. Hipster row just keeps on going: third-wave coffee shops, vintage shops, minimalist clothing boutiques, minimalist furniture boutiques, vintage furniture shops, hipsters-make-your-food cafés, bars where you can go see indie bands (if that's still a thing/still the name for it) play, and some galleries, and some gift/objet shops, and the next thing I knew it was just a blur of minimalist space with terrariums and pastel hair and all-black outfits and I just felt very, very old, and very much like someone who'd spent the last four years in Princeton, NJ, the last three of them going around by car.

Anyway, back to the question of second-coolestness: There is no equivalent of this in New York, none, and from my relatively limited experience of equivalent areas in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, none there either. Nor Montreal, now that I think of it. It just keeps going. And it doesn't change. It continues to be geared towards the same milieu, whatever it is, block after block after block. And it's not even just Queen Street! Dundas (parallel) and Ossington (perpendicular) continue along the same lines. So much cool. I don't know why, or how, or what to make of it, other than that Vogue wasn't kidding.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Dress, or close enough

A photo posted by Phoebe Bovy (@phoebe_bovy) on
So I was on my way to buy garlic chives in Chinatown when I passed a store that had, in the window, a dress I'd seen on a woman on the streetcar. When I'd seen it on the woman in the streetcar, I remember thinking, hey, there's that fabulous dress (so similar to the dress) that was in the window of a wholesale store in Chinatown! Also that, seeing as it was on someone near the store in question, it was probably not strictly wholesale, as in, it could be mine. But I promptly forgot about it. Until there it was: that window, and that dress. A maxi dress, which isn't something I'd normally attempt, but this is the rare one that's actually proportioned for a woman my height. (Hemming is also potentially an option, but given that this, unlike The Dress, is sleeveless, maybe it works as is.) It is, if not as close an approximation as exists on this planet, as close as exists within a short walk of my apartment and in the $30 (CAD) range, for sure.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What punches up must punch down

When I started this blog, I was young. At 20, too old to be a runway model, but young all the same. Young, and in the grand scheme of things, a nobody. I had a column in my college paper, but no sense whatsoever of how to make it in the writing world off-campus, a world that, from what I could tell, seemed to require a mix of a trust fund to bolster unpaid internships and family connections to hire you into them. It just didn't seem worth the bother.

But I did enjoy writing, and would do so almost exclusively on WWPD. Whose audience, as best as I could guess, consisted of relatives; family friends curious about what someone they knew as a toddler was up to; ex-boyfriends curious about what someone they knew a few weeks/months/years ago was up to; and... that's about it. I remember being genuinely surprised when friends - friends! people I hung out with in real life! - would tell me they read my blog. It felt like writing into an abyss. I was very clear (note, again, the imagined audience) that I wasn't going to write anything all that confessional, so I wasn't opening myself up to the sort of thing where suddenly a future employer knows that you, I don't know, who even knows what I would have had to confess at 20, but it probably wouldn't have been all that interesting.

But here's where the abyss sense did enter into it: There are things I wrote earlier - and have sometimes found myself considering writing but deciding against more recently - that come pretty directly out of that sense I had that anything properly published was fair game for a wrong-on-the-internet. I remember mocking a NYT health column in a way that I can't see doing today. Not because I read the column any differently, and not because I've grown wary of criticizing lifestyle writing that I think is actually doing something harmful. (Such as, food writers advocating for unattainable locavore purity.) Just because I had no grievance with the column other than finding it smug.

Part of what's changed is that, having published articles myself, I've come to learn that those who do are not all-powerful entities immune to criticism, living it up on the cash their musings receive. I mean, some may be, but the fact that a thing has appeared in a place far from guarantees it. But the bigger issue is that I now have a different sense of where I fit into this system. That I'm not by definition - brace yourselves for the dreaded expression - punching up if I respond to something that's been published in a legit publication. Certainly not if I respond to it in a legit publication.

Which brings me to Mary Elizabeth Williams's Salon piece about Gawker, found via Noah Berlatsky. What Williams describes happening to her - Gawker repeatedly called her (published) writing hack-like, during a time when she was suffering from a serious form of cancer - is of a different nature than those other Gawker posts that involve revealing a random person's secrets, or teasing someone who put something hilarious on social media that they hadn't particularly meant for the world to see. Some of WIlliams's beef with Gawker - "They went full fury over a friend who wrote a lighthearted Styles piece" - seems a bit... I mean, that is so many miles away from, say, outing someone.

Hamilton Nolan, the Gawker writer in question, is standing his ground. Which... technically yes, published means fair game. If the line were simply set there - no more random "outings," no more combing social media for obliviousness - that would be progress, and putting a firm line anywhere beyond that does seem, as Nolan says, like a bad idea. But maybe the missing piece here isn't one of ethics, just one of good taste, or good sense.

Monday, July 20, 2015

To age out of Slutwalk feminism

Predictably, the Internet is denouncing Jessica Valenti's column about her feminist qualms with missing getting catcalled. Predictably, because for the tell-it-like-it-is pop-evo-psych crowd, it's too easy: Aha!, they exclaim, Women do like getting catcalled! And extra-aha, even professional feminists realize 36 is over the hill!

But allow me, a woman who will - knock on wood against streetcar derailment - see my mid-30s sooner rather than later, to come to the piece's defense. Online feminism has long tilted maybe a bit too much to a very specific plight: that of the pretty young woman. I'm not talking about issues like assault and domestic violence, whose disproportionate impact is on women, period. Nor am I talking about the sort of street harassment that's about intimidation (generally of young girls). When I, someone to whom the 'if you look 25 or under, you'll be carded' signs don't apply, opt not to go deep into a city park at night, this despite that being my country dog's preferred toilet, it's not because I'm concerned that someone in the park will find me spectacularly good-looking.

What I'm referring to are cases like... the plight that is getting ogled and hit on constantly even though you're engaged. This is quite simply not an issue for all women.* I point this out not to hurl a YPIS (your privilege is showing) at online feminism (it's awfully contextual whether male attention is even "privilege"), but because of the "all women" meme, hashtag, etc., that's developed around these topics. As comes through clearly in the comments threat to that post, quite a few women get why constant attention would be annoying, but who haven't been harassed and can't personally relate, and aren't entirely pleased that this isn't something they experience. (And then there are the women with "resting bitch face," who fall somewhere in between; we're the ones who know our day is up when men stop asking us to smile.)

So yes, there is some value in an online feminism that recognizes female ambivalence to male street-attention. Is this, as topics go, a little slow-news-day? Yes. Might Valenti have pointed out that "lascivious stares" can be an ego boost to those of all genders, and, at that, even if the admirers aren't of the gender you yourself admire? Yes, that too, but the fact that she did not doesn't negate the rest.

Anyway, something I've found, as I've become moderately ancient, is that my personal style has shifted more towards looks that are... conventionally attractive? flattering?, and away from more eccentric styles. Not for would-be street harassers, who I'm quite confident won't confuse me with Gisele no matter how I dress or do my hair. Just for, I don't know, what was referred to, in my distant childhood, as "self-esteem." It's as if I have some subconscious desire to balance things out - whereas I used to be able to rely on youth as an accessory, and to wear (or buy with intent to wear**) sillier outfits, not to deflect the Male Gaze, but because I liked the looks, I now think, hmm, that dress from the cool Korean store may be $29 (CAD), and have a floral, Elaine Benes quality, but it also fits like a potato sack... and then end up down the street at the yoga store that shall not be named (cheaper in Canada, but still not cheap), where I instead buy a fitted tank top. Not an adventurous choice or an interesting one, but it has the potential to make me look, if nothing else, non-sloppy. And (not to get too practical, weather- and appropriateness-wise) to be worn as a base layer under other things. It's not a mutton-dressed-as-lamb (to use an awful expression) thing, exactly, since neither the Before look nor the After one is particularly va-va-voom. It's just... the dress was so fun! And so clearly not the right choice. To me, this - more than the absence of street harassers/street admirers - is the real disappointment.

*OK, a caveat - according to BBC Woman's Hour, which I take as infallible, "100%" of women who ride the Paris Metro report harassment, which, having spent the summer when I started getting called ma'am/madame in Paris and deflecting street harassment beyond what I'd experienced in New York since my early teens, I don't find particularly hard to believe. A lot does come down to where you live, and my anecdotal (and thus probably way off) impression is that in Paris/France/Europe/not-America (and fictional Midsomer, especially), women of a certain age keep on getting attention from men, of the good-attention and bad-attention varieties.

**It's entirely possible that these clothing-related reflections are actually more about some recent KonMari-ing of my wardrobe, and the reckoning that can encourage. That dress had "going, barely worn, to thrift store" written all over it.

Monday, July 06, 2015

On eating all of Toronto

-It's a very good thing that the Dollarama (a store that sells absolutely everything, for usually just over a dollar; extra useful if you've just moved) is next to the expensive but excellent coffee place. Or, perhaps, that the expensive but excellent coffee place is next to the Dollarama.

-It took me longer than it should have to realize that a corner of the University of Toronto campus was dressed up as the Upper East Side for a movie, and not just oddly New York-themed. There were "schoolchildren" in "uniforms" and everything. As someone whose dreams are very often still set in that neighborhood, at one of its private elementary schools, if this is going to be a regular thing in this city, I'm going to be very, very disoriented.

-The problem with cities - or maybe the great thing about them - is that there are distractions. On an otherwise strictly practical outing this morning, I somehow ended up stopping one place for a hipster-bakery cream puff (which wasn't great; next time will stick with the Portuguese custard tarts) and another to impulse-buy some camembert. And now I'm thinking, I could eat lunch at home, and almost certainly will, but I could also, in principle, go to any number of Chinatown hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Some of which serve dumplings. Of course, there are also the street sausage stands, one of which I may just happen to pass while walking Bisou... In my tepid defense, it's not just that walking allows for more spontaneity (for me) than driving. It's also that, if you're walking all day long, you get a lot hungrier. While the goth-minimalist Canadian clothes are also kind of interesting, this is, thus far, mainly about food.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

"Then I think I might go to Canada" - Basil Fawlty

I love where I live. Everything about it. Everything I'd ever want to do (or, ahem, eat) is within walking distance, tram distance at most. As anyone tethered, in whichever way, to the academic job market knows, you move where you move. That it turns out to be amazing where we've landed is, well, amazing. It seems like a vacation-destination city, and I can't believe I actually live here. Probably not for people who don't like cities, or the cold, but as someone who actively sought out college in Chicago, these are not my concerns.

Moving itself, however? Slightly less fabulous. There was (and still is) a bunch of new-country bureaucratic stuff to address, but all expected, and if you hum to yourself about how you're off to see the prime minister, the prime minister of Canada while waiting on line at Service Ontario, it can go quite smoothly.

No, the complicated thing has been the actual moving of stuff - some from our last place, and some from the Ikea where we'd done a spot of very elegant shopping last weekend. Our building has - understandably - limits on when such deliveries can happen. Also understandable - entities like movers and Ikea have their own restrictions. I think you can see where this is heading. After a week's worth of phone pleading with various powers-that-be, I'd started to kind of despair, and then to reconcile myself to a future in which "furniture" would be limited to two folding chairs and an air mattress.

That everything eventually lined up - that is, that everything actually arrived within the prearranged time blocks we'd signed up for in our building - still seems like a miracle. I mean, that I'm typing this using a table is just the very height of decadence. When I'd thought before, in the abstract, about life beyond the furnished apartment, I'd thought in terms of decor choices. Now I truly can't imagine caring. As long as whatever we've got enough surface area to store the entire contents of several Chinatown grocery stores plus the St. Lawrence Market, this works.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The great northern resurfacing

Hello again my many Weblog-readers. It's been a bit of a haze, but I'm now settled-ish in Toronto. There were just a few small practical matters to sort out immediately - dozens of international-move-related bureaucratic details (a work still in progress, thus my near-unusable US phone), plus the thing that happens when you move from a furnished apartment to an unfurnished one (a halfhearted look at nearby furniture stores that sell slabs of wood for thousands of dollars, followed by the inevitable trip to IKEA). Still awaiting the furniture itself (the couch, bed, etc. may be in stackable boxes, but this was beyond what a streetcar could handle) as well as all our other belongings, but there was a silver-lining moment when I realized that a suitcase we'd brought that I thought contained only paperwork and my wedding dress actually had, in addition to this, a second pair of jeans. The height of luxe! Also very luxurious: the Canadian Tire air mattress (thank you, commenter Alison for the suggestion!), and the IKEA pillow and throw that have made it almost comfortable. And wireless - a new addition that, along with the folding chairs from yesterday, has made this all slightly less like camping.

Like Borat at an American supermarket, I have no idea how to buy groceries. Milk is incredibly expensive, or it comes in a giant plastic bag. There's apparently a YouTube video explaining how that works. Which I did not know when at the store. Garlic scapes, however, are ridiculously cheap, so I now have a ton of them. The options seem to be a) the expensive yuppie supermarket close by, b) the dream-come-true Chinatown supermarket close-ish by that may or may not stock Western-style groceries, and c) the farmers' market and giant indoor affiliated market, both of which are wonderful but out of the way. I have a lot of romantic notions about European-style browse-shopping (with a fabric shopping cart, which currently tops my wanty list), but can already foresee not having time for that, and having to accept that the supermarket with $17 (Canadian but still) moderate-sized pieces of cheese can't be avoided entirely.

The restaurant situation, however, is so excellent as to make me think maybe cooking isn't worth the bother. For the price of a thimble-full of Canadian milk or a shred of Canadian parmesan cheese (I exaggerate; it's not Princeton prices but would still add up eventually), you can have a two-meal-sized portion of any East Asian cuisine you choose. (I exaggerate once more. I'm sure there are parts of the region not represented. Maybe.) So far there has been Korean food, Vietnamese food, and a regional Chinese cuisine (Yunnan) that I don't believe I'd ever had before. Restaurants and grocery stores of the sort I used to drive for hours (or it felt like hours) to get to are now more or less right downstairs. Japanese food... is around, but seems not as common here, for obvious immigrant-population reasons, but there is a Japanese grocery store, which is more than I can say for the many miles around where I used to live. That will probably come in handy once there's more than a saucepan and a stack of disposable plates to work with. And coffee shops! So many, so far all excellent. And there are Portuguese (?) custard tarts that taste just like French flan, which segues into another observation: there's no easy place to go running. So be it! Oh, and the meal I've taken to calling "street sausages," but that's probably called something more appetizing. The veggie dog with hot peppers, BBQ sauce, onions, and mustard is just so fantastic, and so cheap, and basically everywhere.

As for more profound cultural observations, or just things that don't relate to the practicalities of getting through the first few days of a move... I want to say that Canadians are less preppy than Americans, but I'm comparing the center of Toronto with Princeton, NJ, so who knows. There are definitely some Canada-specific fashion subcultures that remind me of the goth and raver looks popular at my high school, but kind of different and worn by adults. Wearing all black, in the not-quite-goth sense, is a thing here in a way that it isn't in New York, where it's supposedly what one does. Men's fashions are more noticeably Canadian than women's - there isn't that same thing (again, at least in the parts of Toronto I've seen) of dressing as macho/unfashionable as possible. The typical men's business suit is sort of fitted, I guess, and there isn't that same gender divide of women caring and men ostentatiously not caring. As you can see, my profound cultural observations are all about clothes. I am very, very sleepy. Apart from a man almost running me over at an intersection, but putting down his car window to offer up a "sorry," it seems... different yet almost exactly the same as the parts of North America I'm used to. And absolutely nothing like Montreal, which had been my reference point for Canada.

I gather that a lot has happened in the world in the past few days, and will now catch up on that, for personal-interest and professional reasons alike. Please, reader(s), bear with me as I try to resync with the news cycle.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

End of an era

Goodbye, outskirts-of-Princeton. Goodbye, preppiness, ticks, and excellent gourmet ice cream. Goodbye friends who haven't already (long since) moved away, and goodbye adorable fluffy wildlife, including the tiny bird that was (for a few brief, terrifying minutes) sharing our apartment. Goodbye, America-narrowly-defined. And yes: Goodbye, car. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Chic Canadian minimalism

Greetings from Day # who even knows at this point of moving to Canada. A variety of steps are involved, considering that a) it's another country, and b) the move involves flying with a dog. There's also the slight possibility we'll arrive two weeks before our mattress does, and the question of where to buy an air mattress in Toronto is surprisingly un-Googleable.

But the main thing has been just sorting through all our... stuff. What sort of stuff? Every sort of stuff that we own for no obvious purpose, and clearly shouldn't move. For several uninteresting reasons, we brought over a ton the last time we moved, by which I mean, the usual sorting-through of knick-knacks, papers, and stained t-shirts happened, but not sufficiently. And then there was the brief blip of living in (what seems to me to be) an enormous apartment. The last week or so has been spent figuring out where or how to recycle or donate, whom to give or sell, all manner of stuff. (Word to the wise: Staples of all places will take your broken blender, whereas a long-since-unused microwave needs to go on a special day to the county dump.)

It's not so much that we were keeping things for sentimental purposes (well, some) as that the huge apartment meant not having to make a decision about anything either way. Not sure what to do with whichever thing? The study! The study was always the answer, and thus not especially useful for... study. It discreetly kept the broken hair iron, the broken blender, the broken cellphone, and so much more. But the rest of the apartment always looked reasonable.

In any case, there's no The Study where we're moving to, which is probably for the best. As someone who defies the laws of human nature by feeling calmer in a busy city and more comfortable in a small apartment, I'm happy with this development. As for the one really unwieldy bit of stuff - the car - that I'd thought I'd be sad to part with, but as the day of carlessness approaches, I'm actually quite OK with it. The lower danger of stuff-accumulation is just a side benefit.

Cue the discussion, I suppose, of KonMari, of snobbish minimalism, and of the fact that too much stuff is (if that's even still a thing) a first-world problem. It means some combination of that you have/once had disposable income, or people with disposable income who care enough about you to give you gifts. Except in the age of cheap crap and credit cards, it doesn't necessarily mean anything of the kind. I mean, always a little bit. To be swimming in a sea of broken appliances and old newspapers, you probably once had working appliances and that day's newspaper. But if you are (ahem) a woman with oh so many pairs of shoes, of which most turn out to be unwearably worn-out ballet flats, loafers, and others that wouldn't be repairable even if shoe repair were a thing where you lived, you sort of do and don't actually own a lot of shoes.

Too-much-stuff seems like such a non-problem, and yet even if it's objectively not the biggest thing you've ever had to deal with, it's daunting. There was this sort of streamlining, out-with-the-old satisfaction getting me through the first few rounds of this, but you can only Google 'how to dispose of...' so many times before you start thinking those people whose only kitchen implements are a knife and a saucepan have the right idea.

What I'm saying, I suppose, is that there's a paring-down that isn't quite at the level of throwing out everything that doesn't "spark joy," but that does involve tossing some things that aren't necessarily garbage.

But still there is guilt. There is frozen mango that's going in the trash, as well as more nearly-full spice containers than I care to discuss. (I'm sure I had a reason for buying marjoram however many years ago, but I now couldn't even begin to guess what it tastes like.) After a truly vile pantry use-up lunch yesterday, a "soup" of sorts that may have ended up wasting more fresh ingredients than properly using up pantry ones, I've come to terms with the fact that moving to another country means the time does eventually come to stop agonizing and start just throwing things out.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

A de-gendered reading of unearned confidence

Sometimes I've thought that I should, as a writer, do more with the fact that I have a PhD. Like, in a 'look what I've got!!!' sense. It's not unknowable that I have one, but it's not really front and center, either. While the training and experience I got from doing a French and French Studies doctorate has influenced my writing, thinking, etc., the title itself seems... irrelevant? Pompous? Like something that would be (and has been) held against me by certain readers who assume a humanities is some kind of extravagant finishing school that you (or your parents) pay for, and not a full-time job? But there have totally been times when I've thought, a male writer would be wielding that PhD for all it's worth, getting his authority respected, rounding up expertise, not down. 

Well, let's set aside the gendered reading, because all of a sudden there is a writer wielding a PhD in just the manner I'd never have the audacity to, and that writer is... a woman named Wednesday Martin. She's been going around claiming her PhD (which she discreetly fails to mention is in comparative literature) makes her a "social researcher with a background in anthropology." These claims were key to her whole positioning - as in, she's not yet another finance-dude's wife, writing a back-stabbing memoir about the other moms. She's a career-woman! Almost an anthropologist! Except... maybe not quite an anthropologist

There's no shame (ahem) in having a literature PhD and and then writing about things other than your subject area. Nor is there shame (ahem, ahem, ahem) in being a humanities-oriented person married to a math-oriented one, even if that almost certainly means you're the lower earner in your household.

And not all writing needs to meet social-science standards. If someone wants to write a book about why she thinks it's a terrible thing that Upper East Side women work out all the time (note: definitely not what I'm writing a book about), I guess I'm OK with their not having actually measured a statistically significant sample of the population in question with calipers. Indeed, sometimes the quasi-necessity of including statistics in an otherwise personal or subjective essay ends up ruining the flow and turning something never meant as an Argument into an unconvincing, biased polemic. 

As for whether there's shame in presenting your mean-spirited musings about your neighbors as ethnographic findings and invoking your doctorate in an unrelated field in the process, could be. Part of me admires her lean-in-ishness, but part of me is also sort of horrified.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Thoughts on femininity from news cycles past

Going away for two, but what ended up being more like three, weeks set me behind in the various controversies. Catching up, kind of, but also trying to write-and-move, so it's not the very first priority. In case anyone was wondering where I stand on the issue of the day: Yes, it's brave of Caitlyn Jenner to come out. Yes, she looks great. Yes, it's unfortunate that this is demanded of her. True, few trans women (or, indeed, cis women) have access to her resources in the beautification department. No, she should't be blamed for using said resources. Yes, she's a both a trailblazer and a self-promoting celebrity. No, there are no new angles on this.

Except... all of this does kind of connect to something I'd wanted to write about earlier, regarding Sarah Maslin Nir's two-part series on the horrible conditions behind the scenes at NY nail salons. Atrocious, illegal wages, combined with dangerous working conditions, with some racism in the mix. Amazing reporting (and the translations - brilliant!), but plenty upsetting to read. The series is, happily, making an impact beyond simply causing the well-manicured to experience a twinge of guilt for a week or so, until their polish chips and they've by that point moved on to some other issue.

When a similar (if less persuasive) piece about nail salons appeared in the British press, I'd responded here, wondering, among other things, why these stories must always lead people to conclude that the problem is beautification, or conventional femininity, and not specific health concerns or labor violations.

This came up again in Leonard Lopate's interview with Monona Rossol, who came on to explain that all personal-care products are toxic. Nail polish especially. If you're buying the ones free of specific toxic chemicals, you're actually exposing yourself to even more dangerous untested chemicals. How dangerous, if you're using it at home, near an open window, every week or so? More dangerous than it would be to not use it, which is a non-zero amount, and is nail polish really necessary? Dan Savage has this line about how, when it comes to sex, people often view zero risk as the only acceptable amount, whereas these same people are just fine with skiing, driving, etc. Well, so too with beauty. Conventional femininity is simply unacceptable, and is therefore an inconceivable reason to go to any kind of risk - any kind of trouble, even. Even if salon workers in no way enter into it.

Anyway, where this relates to Caitlyn Jenner is that I'd long thought that progressives kind of got it when transwomen (or gender-non-conforming boys/men) embraced conventional femininity, but were squicked out when cis* girls/women did so, because what possible reason could there be for this apart from submission to the patriarchy/the beauty industry. Not so! It's apparently a problem (see: the entire internet) that Jenner's preferred version of womanhood for a magazine cover is different from how an avant-garde poet might look while grocery shopping at Zabars. What amount of conventional femininity would have been acceptable? Eyeliner? But a woman not in eyeliner is still a woman, so why expose yourself to toxic eyeliner chemicals and fund the rapacious eyeliner companies, when you could have just left your eyes unlined and still be every bit as female? Would it have been better if Jenner had presented looking just as she had prior to her transition, but come out with a bold statement about how what matters is that she identifies as a woman, and there's no set requirement for what a woman must look like?

But back to Lopate. Rossol included this digression about her own nails, which (the radio listener will have to trust) go unpainted. She then remarked, "You've got time to write books if you don't fix your nails!" And... if you do paint your nails, you don't?

Which, in turn, brings me to Lauren Maas's excellent Into The Gloss post about female artists and makeup. It's very much in keeping with the Susan Sontag shopped at Sephora news from a while back. It seems that it's possible to produce Great Work and not to present as masculine. Who knew?

Now, I'll provide the necessary caveat about how, if women didn't have to primp, we'd have more time for other things. That's not so far off. But this seems more relevant when it comes to things like dieting (which requires an every-waking-moment weight-think) than things like painting your nails.

*Necessary update!

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


-I'm writing a book! Living the bloggy dream! The official announcement is on Publishers Marketplace, which I don't have access to, but my name plus "perils of privilege" in a search will get you to it. It's about the idea of privilege. It's going to be fantastic.

-My husband and I are moving to Canada! Toronto, specifically. Sometime this summer, still sorting that out. Happy about this because, among other reasons, a) I will never, ever, ever need to drive (although I did my first-ever drive through a car wash today, and that was quite fun), and b) there will be a dog run and a Japanese kitchenware and grocery store within walking distance. (The only thing that will prevent me from doing too much shopping in the clothing stores that will suddenly be right there, and not in some mall I can't figure out how to park at, is their proximity to the kitchenware utopia. Priorities...) And, yes, a ton of cultural institutions, pastry shops, restaurants (although I can already see just returning again and again to my favorite). And the St. Lawrence Market, which is some sort of cheese-shop dream come true. Cold winters, yes, but Chicago was manageable.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Frizz in the land of the frisør

More substantive posts to come, but in the mean time, here's what you're getting:

I know one shouldn't care about things like this. And normally, in my older-end-of-Millenial adulthood, I do not. But my hair looked awful the entire time I was in Norway. Which is, again, a stupid complaint - I was in Norway! In Scandinavia for the first time ever! It was gorgeous! There were fjords and mountain goats! But somehow appreciating the rest didn't stop me from caring about this.

And in fairness, my hair did look unusually terrible. What happened was, not checking bags plus packing light more generally meant that rather than the usual set-up (the right shampoo, conditioner, hair oil, and then, if feeling decadent, hair iron), I was using a "normal"-hair-oriented 2-in-1 that the CVS in town happened to have in travel-size; a very old container of Frizz-Ease, a product that for whatever reason stopped working for me a few years ago; and the occasional hotel blowdryer. Then, on top of that, there was the weather - the daily rain that would stop every so often, but there was always just enough mist that whatever smoothed-out or vaguely ringlet-ish situation I'd achieved (mid-century starlet waves, for the occasional fleeting moment) turned into frizz. And by frizz I don't mean curliness, kinkiness, or any other hair texture one might Embrace. I mean the classically middle-school result of using the wrong hair products for one's hair texture. The last time my hair had looked this terrible was probably when I was 12.

What didn't help matters was that the women of Norway didn't appear to have this problem. Around me, as my hair grew frizzier and frizzier, packs of Norwegians would pass by with long, glossy, hair-commercial hair. Because our society so often defines beauty as Scandinavian-looking-ness, I suppose, the percent of women who resembled supermodels beyond just hair was substantial. Or maybe just felt substantial, because I was so keenly aware that my own hair wasn't having its finest hour, and was selectively not noticing the women who weren't Uma Thurman to my Janeane Garofalo. That said, in Bergen there was this amazing poster I should have taken a picture of, in front of a hair salon, with a photo of the same young blonde model, a Before and an After. The Before showed her with long, straight Marcia Brady hair, and the After with a light-haired version of what my hair was looking like on the slightly-less-misty moments of the trip.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The grand (supermarket) tour

Hello from sunny-ish Norway! My husband and I decided to visit not-just-Belgium, and are making use of the fact that we'd already crossed the Atlantic to see a part of Europe neither of us yet had. We arrived in Bergen on the Norwegian national holiday, which was a bit of a concern because it just sounded like everything would be closed, but it turned out to be the best possible time, given that the entire town (aside from us and a few other tourists) was in traditional dress. A woman we met in our hotel lobby, a fellow guest who'd come for the big event, explained to us that everyone gets one of these outfits at confirmation (a Christian bar/bat mitzvah, I'm led to believe), and you wear the one from your mother's hometown. (What, I wonder, is the traditional dress of Brooklyn?) Men, meanwhile, were in these amazing felt (?) vests, shorts (?), knitted socks, everything incredibly involved. Outfits included special shoes. Everyone was waving a flag. Even the dogs had patriotic ribbons. According to the woman in the hotel, who is the ultimate authority as far as I'm concerned on all that was going on, Norwegians are nationalistic but not militaristic - a relief when all these young boys marched down the street bearing what looked like, but presumably weren't, arms.

Predictable observations: The fjords are beautiful - more so, even, than I would have guessed. The people are very, very blond - a man working at the tourist-oriented fish market asked us where we were from, guessing France, then, when we didn't respond, Italy and Spain - the obvious white-people-with-dark-hair assumptions in Europe, maybe, who knows. And everything is really, really, really expensive. A casual cafe sandwich or salad will be something like $25, anything in a restaurant-restaurant maybe $40, so what you have to do (unless you're paid in this currency, I suppose) is to shop at a supermarket... which is also expensive, so the thing to really do is purchase half the contents of a Belgian supermarket (packaged waffles, waffle cookies, chocolate, bread, and, less successfully, sliced cold cuts) for the price of one Norwegian cafe snack and just eat that for your entire trip.

Unpredictable, for me, was that Norway and Flanders aren't interchangeable. I'd just sort of assumed, being a provincial American, that Germanic-language-speaking Europe was all basically the same culture. It's hard to articulate exactly how these places are different, but it does seem they are. See also: New Jersey is not Texas. People do not march through my husband's hometown in Belgian traditional dress. There was once a thing where everyone in the main square was dressed as a circa-Liberation US soldiers, but that's something else entirely.

Belgium, meanwhile, did not have fjords, but did have family I hadn't seen in ages, as well as (as hinted at above) amazing food, coffee, and beer, the last of which they were (of course) giving out samples of at the supermarket. It was a new (?) beer called Waterloo, and the display included a life-size Napoleon cardboard cut-out with a space where you could put your face and pose for a photo which (of course) I did.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

A brush with the famous

There isn't that much to do in the part of NJ where I live, but today there sure was something - a dog show! With poodles! The toys were very early in the morning, so I didn't actually see them, and the miniatures were... one dog, which I suppose must have won that competition. But the standard poodles, my goodness! That was the show to see. (Photographic evidence in the usual place.) The dogs themselves were pretty spectacular, and then whoa, a celebrity poodle-handler! Westminster winner Kaz Hosaka was there, which maybe isn't all that surprising if he lives in Delaware, but watching him in action, it's clear he's some kind of poodle-handling genius, which, as someone who is not that, I find impressive.

The dachshunds were adorable, but I didn't get any good photos. The cutest of the bunch was a longhaired miniature black-and-cream that some woman was holding in one of the tents. How it rated in terms of breed standard, who knows. There were also very nice and fox-like shibas, but only in crates - didn't see them compete!

The show itself was part typical NJ-area fair (fried food and gyros), plus opportunities to buy exquisite grooming equipment, including something called a "competition table." It turns out you can bring your own non-show dog if you're just going as a spectator, which would have been good to realize, maybe, but Bisou would have probably found some way to break the concentration of her hairspray-coated counterparts.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

I believe the expression is "subtweet"

Recently, a beer company you've almost certainly heard of, whose product you maybe last consumed at a frat party 1,000 years ago, had an ad campaign urging customers to use their beer to facilitate rape. Shockingly this didn't go down well - even the not usually outraged were all, what's that about? So the beer people apologized, leading me to theorize, on that great theorizing platform that is Twitter, that this was the marketing campaign - offend, cause controversy, apologize.

Maybe something similar was afoot when a newspaper you've almost certainly heard of decided to run an op-ed by someone identified in the headline as "Name-of-Sexy-Celebrity's Ex-Fiancé," about a beef between the two. This was a bad idea for so very many reasons (more on those in a moment), and the paper replied with a public editor's note about debate having been sparked, but with an admission that this was indeed celebrity dreck. That piece also allows comments. Given that the celebrity in question is among the few globally with a break-the-internet physique, her mere name is clickbait.

To be clear on what was wrong with this, it's first necessary to state what the problem was not. It wasn't that this venerable institution had chosen to cover something lowbrow. Yes, there are terrible things going on, globally and nationally, yet style coverage exists. As well it should - different sections serve different purposes. I've never understood the people who go to the fashion pages and leave comments complaining that they're not reading the front section.

No, the problems were a) publicizing a private dispute, b) giving one party only a platform, and c) choosing to intervene on a massively controversial topic through the lens of an absurdly biased observer. But mainly that first one. Did they consult the actress herself before running this? Has anyone in the history of op-eds ever come across worse in theirs as dude did in his? But there will always be sleazy, conniving people. Newspapers don't have to publish their grievances.

Because... what were they thinking with this? Was the idea to publish something in the mold of the Angelina Jolie cancer and genetics columns? As in, Big Issues, Big Celebrity? Because those were completely different - admirable, useful, and not about an interpersonal spat which many of us (including some of us who do read the occasional bit of dreck) had not heard of previously. That someone's in the public eye doesn't mean their relatives get to put their ongoing family drama in a newspaper.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Varying seriousness as usual

-On Baltimore, you'll want to read Ta-Nehisi Coates and Elizabeth Nolan Brown.

-Is Stella McCartney showing the world that she wears Stella McCartney going to help garment workers in the developing world? Does showing proudly that one's Burberry coat was made in England aid some noble cause? Installment who even knows at this point of ethical fashion as an excuse to promote designer shopping.

-Can a massacre be a "narrative"? Does it matter if not all the "white" victims were actually white?

-What exactly makes Jason Brennan think underpaid adjuncts aren't already trying in vain to get jobs at Geico?

-And finally, in the area of dream interpretation, the alarm this morning interrupted one I was having about a discount on $18 nail polish. Specific $18 nail polish that is not, in fact, on sale, and that I'd admired recently at ABC Carpet, the eco-posh Sephora alternative that one should never enter if one is not prepared to discover a new and useless product of any kind.

How to interpret? 1) My unconscious is very basic. 2) If you look up a product online, ads for it cover everything else you look at online. Facebook is just now reminding me that this nail polish ships free from Nordstrom. Because I'm suggestible, that nail polish is already on the list, as the reward for once I've Marie Kondo'd my stuff from the study.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

In all seriousness

I don't believe I'd ever seen a dig at a specific publication in a different publication's submission guidelines page before, but hey, what do you know? The New Rambler Review does look interesting, though, and smart people I know and don't know are involved, so I won't hold this against them. (Their statement about not paying contributors, that I might, but maybe it's an academic publication? Kind of?)

From that same submissions pages, I learned the following: "The New Rambler Review publishes reviews of serious books about ideas, including literary fiction." This means that they probably wouldn't be interested in my (Miss Self-Important-inspired) review of British crime shows available for Netflix streaming. Well, not so much a review as a downward spiral:

-"Last Tango in Halifax." Excellent highbrow (who am I kidding) soap opera, with a crime backstory, but mainly a lot of technically legal bad behavior. Two easy-on-the-eyes actors. A fantasy world depicted, in which middle-aged women have their pick of good-looking, often-younger men and women. A show I was genuinely sad to have reached the end of.

-"Happy Valley." More from the excellent Sally Wainwright and Sarah Lancashire. So much heroin in picturesque England, who knew? People in England, probably. There was recently a news story in Princeton about someone ODing on a bench in town, so it really does seem to be everywhere. Apart from that, the thing to know about it (or not, if this ruins it) is that it's basically "Fargo."

-"Broadchurch." Weird twist of an ending I hadn't seen coming, but otherwise not memorable. I must have enjoyed watching it enough to finish it, though.

-"The Fall." Starring the woman from "X-Files" (which I don't think I've ever seen) and the male model from "Fifty Shades of Grey" (which I also haven't seen). There are think-pieces about whether or not it's feminist - does the often gratuitous centrality of Mr. Abs's torso cancel out the serial-killer-of-professional-women plot? Discuss, or just watch the abs, and listen to the cool Irish accents. I like how they say the word "why"?

-"Hinterland." Accents posed a challenge. Star was too brooding. But having recently read some (literary) fiction set in Wales, and having once reviewed a book for a Wales-based journal (which I think involved sending a copyright form to Wales?), and having once learned how to order coffee in Welsh from an office-mate, I enjoyed the virtual trip to that part of the world.

-"Midsomer Murders." Evidently big in (early-2000s) Belgium. Not particularly striving for realism. (Candlesticks as murder weapons!) Was going to praise it for progressive-for-its-time gender politics, but it's actually not an old show. But whatever it is, I'm enjoying it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


On the one hand, the most extreme example of parental overshare yet is in the NYT Magazine. On the other, pointing this out in an article would require linking to nude images of her children, and not just the long essay in which she defends her choice, so I think I'll pass. WWPD and no links is my compromise.

Anyway, the point of the essay in question is basically that what she's created is Art, and that her kids consented (impossible - they were children, and *her* children). But then if you question this at all, it's clearly that you're either a puritan who thinks babies should emerge from the uterus in full Amish/Hasidic/pious Muslim garb (how's that for a mix-religious metaphor), or - worse - one of those people who judges parents. She loves her children! Which... that's not even the question. It's entirely possible to love your children and to do make a very public ethical-though-not-professional mistake in your parenting, namely choosing to use your kids as your own nude models.

But the nudity's... not necessarily the least of it, but not all of it. There are also photographed having tantrums, etc. The text (especially the "pinworms" bit - why???) actually upset me far more than the images - images I wouldn't have otherwise realized were by these kids' parent, and that indeed don't seem particularly sexual. As in, if I were a guest at someone's house and their kids were running around like this, I'd probably think these were hippies, not child abusers.* The whole but-what-about-pedophiles?! angle seems like a bit of a distraction (although not completely, as the article gets into). A series of just photos like the one of a (clothed) child refusing to eat flounder would have also squicked me out, but again, for the usual parental-overshare reasons (giving kids lifelong reputations as brats; screwing up the parent-child relationship).

To me this is at least as much about these being her own kids as about them being children. She seems genuinely not to have put it together that just because the kids had the expectation of privacy when running around naked *at home* doesn't mean that photographs of them doing so wouldn't cancel that out. The issue is less the nudity specifically (although, yes, that) than the fact that the only reason she had access to the means to taking these photos was that these are her kids.

It's interesting that in the linked 1992 NYT article on this, so many years before viral articles and so forth, a journalist totally got it: "Can young children freely give their consent for controversial portraits, even if — especially if — the artist is their parent?" Also interesting: that it's only possible to have a conversation about the ethics of oversharing about kids if the specter of pedophiles is evoked in some way. Why can't the flounder photo have been enough?

*I love how, in the NYT comments, "Europe" is this place where everyone's naked.