Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Of noble provenance"

-Gender parity in the literary world. What can be done? If women persist in painting their nails and watching British glorified soap operas about middle-aged lesbians in a part of England where people drop the definite article (not just a Russian thing, it seems), while men are writing Literature about North American obesity and overflowing toilets, how exactly can one expect 50-50 representation? Can the literary world use the contributions of someone Netflix correctly guessed would give the full five stars to "Last Tango In Halifax," based, no doubt, on our interest in "Waiting For God"? Such is the question some of us must ask ourselves when we open up that Word doc.

-Just as I'd predicted, the fashionability of sneakers was not, in fact, the first sign of a feminist revolution, but a trend. And, by definition, trends at some point start looking dated. The time to look of-the-moment in white Adidas is done, and "more traditional heels" are among the replacements.

-Will I try this David Tanis chicken recipe? Probably. (Maybe not, given my immediate chicken thighs -> yakitori thought process.) But speaking of trends, when will food writing stop having paragraphs like this?:

Of course, you should try to get the best chicken you can. Choose organic, free-range, heritage birds when possible. Even at $4 a pound, that’s far less expensive than other prime cuts of meat, and you are more likely to get flavorful chicken if it is of noble provenance. Free-range birds generally have firmer muscles than cheaper “factory style” birds. If you have tasted chicken in other countries, you know that firm meat and flavor go hand in hand.
I like the nod to what's "possible," in discreet recognition of the fact that some of us live in New Jersey. New Jersey, where a trip to the fancy supermarket yielded a spontaneous free glazed doughnut hole (a product they're now "testing," whatever that means; I survived it) and, OK, some baby artichokes that will be used to make a different Tanis-inspired recipe. And... he's right - chickens shouldn't suffer unnecessarily, and better-quality chicken (like, ahem, what's sold for whatever reason in the Santa Barbara Whole Foods but not the Princeton one, thus posing the ultimate of first-world problems) really does taste better.

But... "of noble provenance"? And a random dig at the U.S., and at the poor souls whose chicken experience (and perhaps life experience) is limited to this country? Must recipe-writers insist on budget-shaming their readers? And from an ecological perspective, should they be encouraging those of us who could buy this special chicken to do so even if it means driving around more so as to track it down?

Or is this more to preempt the commenters who'd see a chicken recipe as inviting a sanctimonious lecture on chicken farming? Is it a disclaimer, so that he can't be accused of encouraging anyone to buy that chicken, even if, realistically, this is a chicken recipe, which people will make with the chicken available to them?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Surf, turf

Hadley Freeman brings our attention to a lip gloss named "Underage." Should we protest? Perhaps, but in the U.S. (where, it sounds like, this product is mainly being sold), underage can refer to a 20-year-old, too young to go to a bar legally but otherwise an adult. It's not necessarily Roman Polanski territory, but it's also not necessarily not that.

I'm thinking the name, though, is less about helping grown women (if, indeed, that's who buys lip gloss) resemble the 15-year-olds that pop-evo-psych-type men claim are the only "women" worth looking at (search WWPD for "Derbyshire" to see what I mean), and more about tapping into a less directly sexual fantasy: that one will be carded. And the threshold for that is probably more like 25 or 30 - anyone who could plausibly be under 21. As such, "Underage" is evil only insofar as the entire beauty industry is guilty of tapping into/inventing the desire to be a young-but-adult woman forever.

While denouncing lip-gloss labeling is one strategy, a more effective approach to dealing with the obsession with female youth-and-beauty might be to acknowledge that youth is associated with beauty in men as well. Or, at least, not to perpetuate the myth - as Stella Grey does - that women are somehow nobly immune to appreciating the beauty of beautiful younger men:

There seems to be a gender imbalance, vis-a-vis the packaging thing. All the women I know are tolerant of middle age showing itself in a chap. We quite like a late flowering, in fact: the silvering, the smile lines, the coming of bodily sturdiness. We read these as signs that life has been lived and enjoyed. We read them as indicators of substance, of being substantial. In general, men don’t seem to grant us the same courtesy, at least not the men I meet online. They are highly focused on the packaging. It’s disheartening.
Later in the piece, Grey (a pseudonym) specifically refutes the idea that she'd check out 25-year-old men. (25, not underage, even by car-rental standards.) These men, she recalls telling someone, "'have mothers of my age, so it’d be like randily pursuing the children of your friends.'" And, I mean, I'll take her word for this - I'm sure there exist, in the world, heterosexual women who could see a pack of surfer guys walk by in the outfit they wear here, consisting of a half-unzipped wetsuit, tight pants on the bottom, chiseled shirtless torso on top, and not notice.

In all seriousness, I think it's more a case of, women are socialized to deny noticing the surfers (or the London-or-wherever equivalent), while men are socialized not only to admit to noticing, but to pursue equivalent women, regardless of their own age (or surfing ability).

A better situation might be to accept the noticing for the gender-neutral near-universal that it is, while urging friends of both sexes to be realistic about who will date them, and whom they'll have anything in common with. And the way to get there would be to stop with the (pardon my jargon) patriarchy-affirming insistence that women are actually more inclined to ogle a man the less he resembles an underwear model.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Today in YPIS

-Students at NYC private schools are studying their own privilege, reports Kyle Spencer. The obvious: if unearned advantage were a problem for private schools and their supporters, private schools would cease to exist. The students would switch to the public school system, where everyone's on 100% financial aid, and where rich kids can't help but be exposed to kids less rich than themselves. (Also: remember that private schools, at least last time I checked, are including Asian and Asian-American students in their "non-white" figures. The counting goes otherwise in commentary on the city's public schools.)

But here's the most interesting bit:

Educators charged with preparing students for life inside these schools, in college and beyond, maintain that anti-racist thinking is a 21st-century skill and that social competency requires a sophisticated understanding of how race works in America.
This tells us either a) that the entire privilege-acknowledging project is actually about further perpetuating privilege, or b) that it needs to be sold as such to skeptical parents who'd otherwise protest, and who are indeed sending their kids to private school in order to perpetuate family privilege. I mean, who's to say the people running the workshops don't wish these kids were in public school? More investigation is required...

-Anatomy of a YPIS cycle: Blogger calls out obliviousness, only to be called out for own obliviousness. Jessica Coen brings Jezebel readers' attention to the leaked cover letter of a job applicant (unnamed, thank goodness). In the cover letter, the applicant uses his or her past experience working in a bridal salon to explain why he or she would be right for a crime-victim-advocate-type position. Coen frames this in terms of bridal-industrial-complex obliviousness - how insensitive that someone would conflate stressed-out brides and actual, you know, victims.

But no! The commenters point out that Coen herself is oblivious to how job searches, especially entry-level ones, work. You have to draw connections between the work you've had and the job you're applying for. Is it really such a social-justice move to make someone feel bad for using a retail job as a stepping stone to a do-gooder one?

But so it goes in YPIS. It's a conversation that takes place among people all of whom are interested in calling out obliviousness. But once that's the thing you're doing, people will be hyperaware of your obliviousness.

-How's this for the first-world problem of the day? The running sneakers I like the appearance of are never the ones that actually fit well enough to go running in. Note: it's not the flashy colors I object to, but the way they're inevitably combined.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

So many feelings

Huh! I wrote something that people seem to generally agree with. (It's my thoughts on feelings journalism - the long and edited version.) Good for my ego, bad for fueling a furious comment thread, but I can live with that.

Feelings journalism, to be clear, isn't when a writer offers up his or her own feelings in lieu of reporting. It's when a writer puts thoughts into the head of another person, real or imagined.

Now, I'm not an anti-feelings-journalism absolutist. Sometimes it *is* interesting to know what a journalist thinks someone else is thinking, or would think. If it's clear that we're in the realm of an author's imagination, if it's done carefully, it can work. (Again, the Wadler-ice-floe example.)

The problem is when the imagined thoughts are the story. Or: when the tone suggests more is known than is. Worst is when there was a specific person who might have been, but wasn't, interviewed. It definitely strikes me as worse if the imagined feelings are those of a real person (named especially, but also if it's just the guy sitting next to you on a plane, at a movie) than if it's a clearly invented person. (Ms. Ice-Floe.)

Perhaps that's what the unofficial rule should be - it's fine to speculate on the feelings of rhetorical constructions, but not of actual people. This is separate, then, from the question of what place, if any, rhetorical constructions should have in journalism. But the goal shouldn't be eliminating creative-writing, "Shouts and Murmurs"-type pieces - it should be making sure that they aren't posing as - or filling the role of - reported ones.

More on this later, maybe. In the mean time, I suppose what I'm saying is that I both get why people write these pieces and why such pieces get people so worked-up.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The self demands promotion

-In the New Republic, I argue that professors shouldn't blog negatively about students, reacting to Conor Friedersdorf's piece and several others. I'd written in the past about instructors who make fun of their students online - the hilarious-error genre that will be familiar to you if you have friends who teach. While student mistakes can be the stuff of great comedy, it screws up the teaching environment if students who mess up risk not only low grades but mockery from the people supposedly helping them learn.

The case I talk about in this article is different - a tenured professor, John McAdams called out a grad student for a classroom-management decision she'd made. Because she wasn't his student, and because the behavior he was criticizing was her instruction of undergrads, he seemed to think he could take her on as a fellow college instructor, or as an investigative journalist, or as some bizarre hybrid.

-And for a video of me chatting with Aryeh Cohen-Wade about viral shaming, European Jews, and the "cool girl," click here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Feelings journalism

Joyce Wadler says here exactly what I was trying to get at here, only better. The difference between sophisticated, sex-positive (Dan Savage-approved) entertainment and mainstream may be overstated. More on this later, perhaps elsewhere.

Katie Johnson, meanwhile, offers supporting evidence for the phenomenon Amanda Hess discussed, wherein the "50 Shades of Grey" franchise relies on the hate-fandom of people whose hate-enjoyment comes from setting themselves apart from the "constructed Other of the ‘vanilla’ housewife," as some "50 Shades" scholarship (cue the CCOA outrage that such a thing exists) brilliantly if jargonishly puts it.

Johnson's review of the new movie is feelings journalism taken to the extreme. Based on the fact that her fellow movie-goers were wearing sequined clothing and various observations (or stereotyped assumptions, it's unclear) about the town where she saw the film, she projects all kinds of attitudes onto the audience:

If you’re going to spend two plus hours watching one dimensional characters act out the not so nuanced fetishes of handcuffs and ass slapping, you might as well go somewhere where you can enjoy the show around you. 
In our case, that show consisted primarily of women. Most had come in groups, presumably to dilute their feelings of guilt and embarrassment, while others had their submissives – er, boyfriends – in tow.
 Emphasis mine. It continues:
We opted out of the Valentine’s Day weekend screenings because we weren’t interested in seeing conservative couples taking note on how to spice up their holy sanctioned marriages. Instead we showed up on a Thursday night, opening night, because we wanted to see the die hards; the fans who felt obliged to see their unspoken favorite series brought to the big screen, the ones who left the kids at home and told their husbands they were at book club.
These details - the spicing of marriages, the book-club evasions, are things Johnson has, by all accounts, made up. Not "made up" in the Scandal In Journalism sense, but made up in the unhelpful-speculation one. It's one thing to say something like this to set the scene (and if an author wishes to situate herself as hipper-than-thou, I mean, it can work, but it's dicey, given the YPIS accusations it invites), and another to spend an entire piece attributing views to a group of people you haven't interviewed, based on what they seemed as if they might be thinking. It makes me think of the thing in - allow me a mass-market moment here - Gone Girl, where Nick and his sister - both back home in Missouri after stints in NY - decide to call their bar The Bar, ironically, thinking their cleverness will go over the heads of the rustic locals. It does not.

But back to Johnson's review. There's more along these lines - e.g., "I spent the majority of a sex scene involving whips watching the 60-year- old man behind me stare open eyed and open mouthed as his wife held his hand" - but this was the clincher:
[J]udging by the enrapt faces of the audience members, something told me they could have cared less about the emotional complexities of Anastasia and Christian’s relationship. I looked around the room during the the film’s raciest moments and registered looks of secret acknowledgment and endearing shock. They were completely absorbed by acts that are never discussed in casual conversation, or not in Mesa anyway.
Now, one might point out that Wadler's piece, which I thought was fabulous, is also the product of the author's imagination. Both pieces are examples of fiction in journalism. But... we're not meant to actually believe Wadler had an encounter with "a young woman on an ice floe." Whereas Johnson's presenting her speculation as fact.

Ugly women, unconventional-looking men

Just after telling a woman that she should settle for the guy she's with because she's in her mid-30s and not getting any younger, Emily Yoffe fields a letter from a man who describes himself as "ugly." He explains that he has everything else going for him - work, workouts, clothes, hobbies - but is so unattractive that women won't date him. His question is whether he should get cosmetic surgery.

Yoffe allows that there are such things as "actual facial deformit[ies]," but doesn't seem to believe it's possible for a man to just be ugly:

There are plenty of women who would go for the guys on this list of “actors who aren’t very attractive” (I’m winking at you, Paul Giamatti). A man who is happy in his career, who is seeking a committed relationship (and who cooks and can serenade), should have had many second dates. I doubt the problem is your looks, so going under the knife for cosmetic reasons will just leave you a lonely, different-looking version of yourself. So you need to figure out what’s really going wrong.
Normally, advice-columnists take letter-writers at their word. Not here. Yoffe deems unattractiveness implausible, but suggests he might "fall somewhere on the autism spectrum"! I mean, he might, but nothing in the letter suggests as much.

Yoffe's right that plastic surgery's probably a mistake - as it is for most, male or female, if only because elective surgery, ugh. But separate from the question of whether surgery should - or could - improve dude's looks is the one of whether physical unattractiveness is possible in a man. And... why wouldn't it be? Yes, looks are subjective, and yes, most people are within normal limits. A further yes - yes, sometimes people grow into their looks at unexpected ages.

But some people - men and women - are found plain-looking by the vast majority of people they meet. It minimizes the pain the men in that situation experience to suggest that their troubles in love can't actually relate to their looks. It can.* But it also - especially in conjunction with that earlier letter - suggests that women ought to be grateful for any man who's reasonably upstanding.

I wonder how Yoffe would have answered the same question from a woman. While I doubt she'd have recommended surgery there, either, she might have advised a trip to the Clinique counter. That is, I doubt if she'd have entirely dismissed the possibility that looks were at least part of it.

*The ease with which very good-looking men succeed in dating is the subject of a really spot-on scene in "House." It culminates with Chase getting the most interest by far, despite having put on an unappealing act, and despite the well-above-average attractiveness of the men he was with. Fiction, yes, but I link to it only because of the logistical and ethical problems with linking to real-life examples of any such phenomenon.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Californian fashion commentary UPDATED

-There's a woman in the coffee shop I'm sitting in wearing the nicest dress I've ever seen, ever. Can't quite describe it (a pattern is involved), but it's perfect. There's also a 98% chance it's from Japan (I can hear the language the women are speaking, among other clues), and an 198% chance it wouldn't look nearly as good on me. That said, on my or their way out, whichever comes first, if I summon the courage, I'm going to ask where it's from. Fingers crossed that the answer will be "the Old Navy down the street."

Mid-post update: I asked! And yes, from Japan. (In blue, but that's definitely the style, confirmed by the woman wearing it.) The quest beings...

UPDATE: This is the dress, in the right color and everything. Not made for my body type, I now see, but gorgeous.

-If you imagined Cupcakes and Cashmere was all Emily Schuman, you... were making a reasonable assumption. Personal blogs that expand take different approaches to acknowledging said expansion The one I worked for, as the careful reader may recall, used a masthead. It wasn't spelled out who did what, but it was clear that a group of people were involved, and who they were. Some go with bylines. Others with some mix. Still others just morph into publications.

I was of course interested to see Schuman introducing her staff, but couldn't quite say what to make of what I can only assume was her choice to mention them only by first name. It's like a quasi-credit. It feels sort of breezy and feminine and on-brand and... odd. A little less so for the recent college grad whose first real job this is than for the woman who's "been an L.A.-based editor for the entirety of [her] career."

Dependent but paraben-free

Like Miss Self-Important, I was baffled by Eric Posner's call for for declaring college students children. The biggest issue with it for me, though, was something much more basic, namely the vagueness surrounding whether the idea would be to treat college students or all individuals of traditional-college-student age as minors:

Society seems to be moving the age of majority from 18 to 21 or 22. We are increasingly treating college-age students as quasi-children who need protection from some of life’s harsh realities while they complete the larval stage of their lives.
It would be one thing if we as a society acknowledged the difficulties of becoming a self-supporting adult by 18, and the existing effective-majority of 21 (adult socializing is legally out of bounds for 18-20-year-olds), and decided to move The Age up by a few years. It might not be the best idea - if we let the 'the brain only fully develops at...' crowd pick an age, they'll go with 50 - but it would be, as I say, one thing. It would be another entirely to declare 18-22-year-old college students children, while maintaining 18 as the age of majority for the non-student population. It would be writing into law an existing norm, though, of a class-based age of majority.

This is, as others (Elizabeth Nolan Brown? a NYT op-ed? both?) have brought up, already an issue when it comes to campus rape. College-age women are evidently less likely to be victims of rape if they're college students, but the cultural conversation is about college sexual assault - especially cases at elite schools. One might also point to the issue of juvenile offenders (generally not from the most advantaged backgrounds) tried as adults - there's no upper-middle-class equivalent. Privilege - that amorphous buzzword - can be summed up as, at what age will society consider you an adult? If the answer's over 40, you're positively drenched with the stuff.

Except... is it actually advantageous to be a dependent at the age when your first gray hairs appear? It's advantageous to have the option - that is, to have a safety net if things have gone wrong. But are endless years of dependency desirable?

In a very interesting article of hers that Miss Self-Important links to, she points to "descriptions of emerging adulthood as something that one is 'supposed to have' [and that] soon enough slip into talk of emerging adulthood as a right, and one that government programs are obliged to provide for everyone." She's skeptical: "And what more important use of tax revenues is there than to level the emerging-adulthood playing field so that the less fortunate can have equal access to a year or two of aimless hipsterdom after college?"

This is already the case when it comes to the cultural conversation about unpaid (or negatively-paid) internships. These internships tend not to be necessary for entering well-paid fields, nor (last I checked stats on this) do they up the chances of getting paid employment. But rather than discussing them as yet another foolish undertaking of the pampered classes, another way well-off parents hurt their kids while trying to help them - as we very well might have done - we refer to them as the epitome of privilege. We ask how we can extend the ability to work for free for an indefinite period of time to all.

The obvious counterargument would be, well, college. It's now quite generally accepted... not necessarily that every individual should go to college (although that's a popular view with political support), but that no one should be prevented from doing so for socioeconomic reasons.

But the thing is, not everything common among elites is better. For that matter, not everything common among elites is conducive to perpetuating elite-ness! Some highbrow habits are conducive to regression to the mean. Going to college, getting and staying married, these have advantages. But the elite thing of researching the ingredients of all food and cosmetics products, this seems mainly to encourage women to stay out of the workforce, with dubious benefits to their paraben-spared offspring. Related: the elite thing of not vaccinating one's children. I'd lump unpaid internships and ever-emerging adulthood into that same category.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Barcelona market value UPDATED

Whenever I read a real-life account of romantic-comedy style pursuit, I can only hope that what I'm look at is a revisionist history of the early days of the relationship. That is, one that casts the man as the stubborn suitor, the woman as the gorgeous-but-passive object of his affections, rejecting his romantic advances until finally deciding to give the guy a chance. This is the most generous way to read such narratives. If you take them literally, they're at best objectifying (in that one-sided, woman-as-object way) and at worst borderline frightening. But if you read them as partial truths - presumably the man would have shown some interest along the way - they make more sense. For whatever reason, it's seen as insulting to a woman to speak of her relationship as having emerged from mutual attraction.

That is, at any rate, the best I was able to come up with re: UPDATE Arthur (thank you commenter Peter!) Brooks's op-ed intro here:

She was 25. I was 24. We spent only a couple of days together and shared no language in common. But when I returned to the United States from that European music festival, I announced to my parents that I had met my future wife. 
Of course, I had to convince Ester first. So I tackled the project as if it were a start-up. I began by studying Spanish. Before long, I’d quit my job and moved to her native Barcelona — where I knew no one except her — in hot pursuit. The market pressure was intense: Men would shout wedding proposals to her from moving cars. But I pressed on, undeterred. It took two years to close the deal, but she finally said yes, and we married.
As some of the commenters to the piece gently mention, what he's describing sounds like stalking. But I doubt that's it - I think it's about the narrative. A lot is left out - did he move to Barcelona for a woman he found attractive, or for one he'd already formed an intense relationship with (i.e. Ethan Hawke would play him, Julie Delpy her, in the movie version)? Were two years spent chasing her down, proposing daily, or, you know, dating her, during which time they probably both realized they were serious about each other, even if he's the one who eventually proposed? 

Then, of course, there's the rest of the op-ed, which is about how everyone needs to put down the smartphone and live in the moment (generic if sound advice), but also how one should apply the principles of entrepreneurship to romance. But I don't think the advice is aimed at women, entrepreneurial or otherwise: "This Valentine’s Day, don’t be a risk-averse wimp. Be bold. Treat love as if it were a start-up that will change the world. When you find your target, focus mindfully, and push through the fear." No one would ever refer to a man a woman was interested in, but who had yet to reciprocate, a "target." I might go so far as to say that no one of any gender should be referring to love interests as targets.

The narrative is meant to flatter women. Maybe some find it flattering. I can't decide whether I find it more creepy, patronizing, or silly, but I guess I'm not its target audience. 

At the end of the piece, in a final shout-out to outrage-prone feminists (and I'm including people who became thus halfway into his piece), he adds, of his pursuit: "Believe me, it’s worth it. After 23 years of marriage and three kids, men still shout to my wife from cars when we visit Barcelona." A marriage, you see, is a success if your wife doesn't let herself go, and if she continues to be catcalled in middle age.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Cool Girls are GGG

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn's novel, is the story of a woman in her 30s who turns herself into the ideal girlfriend and, later, wife. Who does this so thoroughly that she ends up in what "Seinfeld" fans will recognize as a "serenity now" situation - that is, she's bottled up her actual feelings to the point that when they emerge, they do so with tremendous and dangerous force. Some of what "ideal" involves is predictable, clichéd - she maintains a small dress size and, when asked to uproot her life for her husband and to take on new caring responsibilities, does so without complaint.

But passive and beautiful is no longer enough. Today's ideal is a "Cool Girl" - that is, one who likes guy stuff (yay sports! boo shopping!) while looking flawless and feminine. (See of course Amy Schumer's parody. See also Flavia's commentary.) Under a façade of feminism and empowerment - girls don't have to like girly things! down with consumerism! makeup is gross! - women engage in the not-especially feminist act of going out of their way please men. The frustrating aspect about Cool Girl-ism is that it looks so much like liberation. From the outside, the two can be just about impossible to tell apart. (It's not necessarily Cool Girl if a woman on the slimmer end of the spectrum eats more than a leaf of lettuce. The myth of the slim woman who subsists on air is at least as damaging as the one of the effortlessly slim woman who can't get enough cheeseburgers. Not that there aren't slim women who eat very little or very much but... you know what I mean.)

You'll see that in the much-discussed Cool Girl speech, Amy Elliott includes, among the Cool Girl's traits, an enthusiastic appreciation of what just so happen to be classic hetero male sexual fantasies. A Cool Girl is sexually adventurous, but not really - her sense of adventure is about eagerly consenting to anything a man suggests, or anticipating a man's desires. Considering the plot of Gone Girl, one might add to this that a Cool Girl looks the other way when her husband's having an affair - it's just male second nature to see that one's wife is a bit older than she used to be and to sleep with someone younger!

I thought about this when I saw Dan Savage heap praise upon (and semi-claim credit for, not unjustly) a recent scene from "Broad City." The show has its Cool Girl moments, and the scene in question is one of them. Is it about a woman feeling empowered to try something new in the bedroom? Or is it about a woman doing something a man has asked her to do, something where there's (not to get too technical here) something in it for him but not for her.

And this brings me to my qualms about Savage's approach more generally. A lot of what he advocates - not all - amounts to asking straight women to cheerily agree to men's sexual requests. I say "amounts to" - he advocates this in gender-neutral terms, while admitting that women are socialized not to make requests of their own. And... as the "Broad City" clip only further demonstrates, Savage's ideas are more or less synonymous with what sex-positive means in our culture.

Extraordinary descriptions of ordinary occurrences

-Yesterday I - I! - drove to Los Angeles and, crucially, back from Los Angeles as well. Around it, too, even, a little bit. My husband (and former driving instructor) was with me, which was particularly helpful when I was driving on whichever part of the freeway has like 20 different lanes on either side of you. Given the driving involved, L.A. itself was a bit of a blur. We had some (all excellent) ice cream at Carmela, coffee at Dinosaur, Thai food at Wat Dong Moon Lek,  Korean BBQ at Eight. I think I ate (and spent) enough for this entire month in California in one day.

There was also a halfhearted attempt at clothes-shopping. Which is to say, I tried to go where the five minutes of where-do-my-favorite-bloggers-most-of-whom-seem-to-live-in-L.A.-now-that-I-think-of-it shop? research directed me (this trip was, as you might gather, spontaneous), but this one boutique that sounded very promising turned out to be... exactly how I now see the Yelp reviewers found it, which is to say, ridiculously expensive and hipster-parody-ish.

-After reading so much about it (the "cool girl" speech especially), I decided the time had come to read Gone Girl. It was a complete page-turner, as in, it was difficult to put it down as I was reading it. It had a lot that held my attention apart from, you know, the suspense. Specifically the parental-overshare angle. The book does suggest that writing fiction about your kid can be as damaging as non-fiction, at least if it's more fictionalization than fiction-fiction. Much of the story ends up hinging on this. Well, that and the "cool girl" thing - Amy Elliott is so chill that she cheerily moves from New York to rural Missouri, where she can't find work, so that she can care for the aging parents of her cheating husband. (There may be thoughts on the intersection of "cool girl" and "monogamish" forthcoming.)

The only thing that bothered me was that Amy makes no sense as coming from New York. She's from a demographic of native New Yorkers that exists in entertainment - I'm thinking especially of "Gossip Girl" - in which Manhattan-ness means being the too-cool-for-school popular girl from an all-American high school. I couldn't figure out where she fit into any actual part of the New York population of the years when she's supposed to have grown up. She's this posh woman with family money, but the money was made from bestselling children's books. Yet that somehow lands Amy into something like a WASP upper-crust ice-queen status, and not, like, Zabars-and-Fairway country.

OK, and one other thing... I wouldn't say bothered me, exactly, but it's something I wondered about. I kind of get why literary fiction is so often about writers. I wish it weren't, but it sort of is what it is. But a mainstream suspense-type novel, does that also have to be about Brooklyn writers' parties, even if it quickly moves elsewhere? 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Women and comedy

(Spotted near the place where I returned the emptied-into-the-sink green juice bottle for the $2 refund. Photo includes a finger-selfie for good measure.)

-I've (finally) seen "Broad City" - the web series and a couple episodes. I feel as if I'm supposed to say it's better than "Girls," but I think it's more that the protagonists are more likable. If at times a little too likable - not "cool girls" exactly, but maybe a bit? 

As with other sketch comedy, it's hit or miss, but more hit than is typical. But those first few episodes of "Girls"... I mean, there's a reason they use a photo of Lena-as-Hannah to illustrate every article about millennials. Capturing a zeitgeist isn't the same as accurately representing the experiences of people your age. While "Broad City" does better at the latter (esp. the depiction of the extent to which first jobs, however advertised, tend to involve cleaning bathrooms), "Girls" has the former figured out. 

-A different sort of humor can be found in the comments to a recent profile of Lululemon's founder. In an odd way, the thread amounts to an ad for the brand, if only because the counterarguments to the commenters' objections come so easily. Objections being things like, you can work out in cheaper clothes as well (yes, but you can also go to work in thrifted business attire, to parties in H&M sale rack outfits, yet we don't find it baffling when people spend a bit more in those areas, even though there, too, there's a mix of marketing and the more expensive things actually being nicer). Or that it's offensive that the pants are designed to make women look good to men (yes, how dreadful... and how likely to inspire readers who'd never heard of the make before to go to its website). 

My favorite, though, are the comments from women who'll have you know that their butts look good in cheap leggings. (OK, those, and the one from a woman who on principle won't buy clothes from a store that doesn't make larger sizes, but she - let the record state! - is a six.) A professor of mine in grad school would always talk about "the terms of the debate" and, well, these commenters aren't exactly changing those. A shapely rear remains the goal. And if it's a choice between working out twelve times a week or paying up for leggings that give the illusion you do (or that you've convinced yourself do this), I wouldn't be so quick to assume the fools are the ones in luxury stretch pants.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Reverse "Annie Hall"

For some reason, this morning I was feeling especially, hopelessly, perhaps even a bit euphemistically New York. A brilliant plan to combine getting a croissant with going to a supermarket in the croissant-having strip mall didn't take into account rush-hour traffic, plus I wasn't entirely sure which freeway exit I wanted - not such an odd situation, perhaps, but in the moment it felt overwhelming. But I got there fine, parked in one of those slanted parking spots that are made for people who got higher than a C in physics but you get used to them, and went to sit outside amongst the fluffy dogs and coughing blond children while enjoying said croissant and a cappuccino.

While I'm not joking about the coughing, the overall vibe was very blond and wholesome. At one point I glanced over and saw the blondest and most wholesome scene I ever had (and I've spent a lot of time in Germany!), involving three generations of blonds and their Golden Retriever.

And then came the part this post's title comes from: Rather than imagining that I was being seen as a Hasid, I looked up and saw two more wholesome Californians heading into the supermarket I was about to go to, dressed like so. Which - as per the link - isn't out of the ordinary, given that there are Franciscan monks about. But for a moment I really did wonder if I was somehow Grammy Hall-ing a couple surfer dudes.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Green beverages

A photo posted by Jo Bovy (@jo.bovy) on
Yes, I did it. I tried green juice. While the one I tried was probably as good as green juice gets - it's the one the woman at the green-juice place said is the most popular green juice, and has apple juice and ginger mitigating the kale - it's not for me. According to my husband, who'd tried a different green juice before, this was one of the better ones. It's possible we'd have both enjoyed it more (no way I was going to attempt the entire thing on my own; as it stands, half of a no doubt now-gone-off green juice remains in our fridge, as a souvenir of sorts) had we not gotten it immediately after tacos, which were, in turn, immediately after pastries. A juice cleanse this was not; perhaps if you're really hungry, it's more appetizing? Something about the aftertaste - celery? romaine? - set off my gag reflex.

That said, it was less weird than I was expecting. More... snake-oil-ish. I mean, it's some liquid in the general family of gazpacho or V8. It's not a new, exciting product, but vegetable juice or, with the addition of ginger, vegetable soup.
A photo posted by Phoebe Bovy (@phoebe_bovy) on
That said, sometimes it pays to be suggestible. Inspired by someone I follow on Instagram, I got a matcha latte, which was quite good. I went with soy milk, thinking that would somehow go together, and I think it did. Different from, but not necessarily worse than, regular (that is, milk-free) matcha. Vastly, vastly better than green juice, but with that same "health, health, health, darling" aesthetic appeal.