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.