Sunday, September 16, 2018


Not a word of English was spoken from when I got off the subway outside my aunt’s place to when I got back on the subway after the burial to catch my train back to DC. The service itself was in Russian; the funeral home workers addressed us in Russian from the second we walked in; and the directions to the cemetery and other instructions were in Russian as well.

I was the only person there who functioned more fully in English than Russian, but I didn’t stand out in any way and nobody would have guessed. When I got back to Manhattan,  got in line at Cinnamon Snail outside Penn Station, and ordered a beastmode burger, nobody would have guessed that I’d come from another world. There was probably at least one other person in the same line and countless others in other lines that might have come from another world that morning; they didn’t necessarily show it (and maybe some of the ones who looked like they might have been immigrants, weren’t).

At the office the next day, my coworker asked me if I’d met one of the new interns, who speaks Russian. People had been directing her to him, because he once spoke Russian (passably, in his own words). It didn’t cross the minds of those people, some of whom know me well,  to send her to me (he suggested it) because I code-switch so thoroughly that they can’t see me as Russian. I don’t fit the image, which is how I prefer it. But it never ceases to fascinate me how even good friends of mine (even those who are aware of my heritage) can’t get their heads around how fresh-off-the-boat I am. Code-switching can be exhausting, but it’s quite the magic trick when you pull it off.

A loss in the family

My cousin was in Ukraine visiting his wife’s family and ready to gtfot—he wasn’t the kind of guy who found peace in a lack of indoor plumbing—when he got the call that his brother died. He asked that his mother not be notified until he could get back, so we didn’t find out until last Saturday. Their mother, understandably, couldn’t articulate words when I called. When I got to New York on Monday night for the funeral Tuesday morning, she was holding up, propped up by a combination of family and the distraction of logistics. She lost it again the next morning once we got to the funeral home, and it was a very tearful morning for all.

My cousin and I were close when I was younger. He was a really good guy, and had overcome a lot, even though he could be his own worst enemy. His mother has always been one of my favorite people—always warm. She’s my father's cousin, but they grew up as siblings. Their fathers were brothers, and mothers, sisters. My father has said that he’s not sure he and his family would have survived the Blockade without him.

My late cousin immigrated first and then brought his family over, which may not have been the best idea. His (also late) father never adjusted as a child I found her stylish and chic. Remembering that made me think about whether I ever thought about my mother that way; I didn’t, she was more on the frumpy side. She was decent toward these relations of my father’s, more so than any others. She essentially shut out my father’s sister’s daughter, who’s only now back in our lives. My mother, ever the drama queen, would go on marathon phone calls and demonize her to everyone who would listen. So much about everything comes back to my mother—down to memories of the last time I was in my aunt’s Brighton Beach apartment, having arrived a day before I needed to only to inhale my uncle’s smoke and overhear his Russian tv, all because my mother couldn’t be bothered to check the time of the wedding we were going to. I think about the time my mother made my aunt and cousin super uncomfortable by yelling at me (apparently I’d left something uncovered and it turned into This Is Because You Don’t Care about Anybody but Yourself).

These memories of my mother being awful keep coming up at every turn. I acknowledge them—there’s no use in pretending she wasn’t awful—and come around to feeling bad for her rather than angry or bitter. Ultimately, she was a woman who succumbed to her own demons. It makes me more motivated to fight harder against my own.

My aunt called me later in the week to thank me for coming to the funeral and reiterate how dear I was to her. She’s holding up for now, learning to live with the new normal.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Quick Saturday roundup

Congratulations to Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

Get you a man who makes you video tributes.
And a monkey that loves you this much.
Read this thread on emotional labor.

Watch this kidney bean sprout.

Yes, I'm tired of gratuitous gratuities. I'm all for a living wage and higher, transparent prices that allow for one.

Monday, August 20, 2018

One week into the era of New Kitchen

It still feels like New Kitchen, not just *my kitchen.* I didn’t think it would be like this. I’m not an HGTV person. But I so love it. I can’t stop staring at it.

A few friends saw it last weekend, a couple more during the week, and another this past Saturday. My first dinner guest came over Friday. They all loved it (no, they’re not just being polite, as my mother might have suggested). I’m not sure she would have liked it, or admitted to liking it; the woman fed on criticizing everything in her field of vision. She would have been horrified at the price (which was overwhelmingly reasonable, as these things go), but I already talked about that in another post. I bring it up again because I ran into a sort-of friend—the woman I refer to as my well-meaning friend. Like my mother, she’s taken it upon herself to critique my spending choices (she once told me $50 was too much to spend on a haircut, which is exactly the kind of thing my mother, who also barely has any hair, would say). So my boundary instincts get especially fired up around this woman.

Now,  a bunch of people have asked me how much my kitchen cost, and I’ve been forthcoming about it. A friend likened it to talking about salaries: the more information out there, the better decisions people can make. With that, I direct you to this inspiring article about Carrie Grace and her fight for equal pay (and how solidarity was what decided it in her favor); to the movie, Battle of the Sexes; and to this tweet. But I digress.

And I’ll digress a bit more. Enough people asked me how much I spent on my kitchen, itemized, that I went into my credit card accounts to get more precise numbers (they are so large that it’s easy to round). I wanted to see how much I ended up spending on backsplash, rather than “about twice as much as intended.” Which is when I noticed that the tile store only credited me for half my return (I had leftover tile). I was livid. I wouldn’t have put it past the guy to have done it on purpose. I was distracted; my air conditioner was leaking (or so I thought) and I had to go meet the repairman. He was chatting me up and trying to upsell me. But how do you prove a negative? I was determined to at least try, and then drag them in reviews if I failed. I’d thought I was done hitting home improvement stores after work but this was pricy tile and also, I don’t like being ripped off, so off I drove. I explained my situation to the manager. He said he believed me but asked if I’d wait while he checked the tapes. There were tapes! Saved by Big Brother. He wouldn’t have to take my word for it. Sure enough, the tapes vindicated me and I got my money back. And the manager would have seen whether the checkout dude did it on purpose and proceeded accordingly. Lesson: always watch what you’re signing, and check your receipts.

Anyway: I’ve been talking openly about the cost of the remodel. I don’t find questions about it personal or prying. But well-meaning friend didn’t ask me how much it cost. She asked me whether I borrowed money for it, which, holy shit, is personal and inappropriate AF. I ran my gut reaction by some other people, who had the same reaction. A cost is a cost; whether one borrowed money is an intrusion into one’s personal finances. Don’t ask people that shit.

Monday, August 13, 2018

It's been a long month

The Fourth of July wasn't so long ago, but it feels like another era—the era of Old Kitchen. That was when I wrote about overcoming my conditioning to order appliances. The Fourth--a Wednesday--was the day I committed to New Kitchen by ordering appliances. The following weekend, I bought some floor tile and agreed to a proposal from my friend's friend's contractor. The following Wednesday, I chose cabinets and counters.

Saturday morning, while my kitchen was being demolished, I shopped (unsuccessfully) for backsplash and can-lights. Before I got on a plane that afternoon, I came back to No Kitchen.

Which, while I was in Vienna, went to No-Kitchen with better walls and floors.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday roundup

You have to get to the middle of this article about reconciling faith and politics before it gets really f*ed up.

This is a fascinating article about inhabiting the world as a man after having inhabited it as a woman.

Carrie Gracie and the power of solidarity.

Gratitude will temper your envy.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Austria 2018

The first time I was in Vienna I was stateless, although I was too young to know what that meant. There is a plenty diaspora literature that will give you a sense of what it was like to stop in Vienna on the way to Italy on the way out of the Soviet Union, so I'll spare you. I just want you to notice that I dated this travel-notes post in a way that I tend not to label others, because they don't generally need a year. I don't need to distinguish my trips to Singapore (yet).

The first time I was in Vienna I was stateless. The second time, I was a broke student. I stayed in a youth hostel outside downtown and got student-standby tickets for the ballet--literally standby, in that we had to stand. I didn't care for the city, still don't. It's my least favorite of all the Hapsburg cities I've been to. That appraisal didn't change the third time I was in Vienna a few years ago on very official business, nor the fourth time, which was just this past month. But I had changed.

A few days before I left for this fourth trip to Vienna, I shopped for countertops, so for the first time in my life I was hyper-attuned to marble and granite. I worked in a marble building last year and knew it was beautiful and expensive, but didn't give the matter much thought. But when I checked in a week ago tomorrow to my own personal hotel room smack downtown, I noticed what must have been very expensive countertops all over the room. The massive, flat-screen TV greeted me by name when I turned it on. I ironed and hung up my suits and went back outside into this city I keep coming back to, not as often as some, but often enough for me. Here are some pictures from it.

We watched the world cup final at Sand in the City 
This is one of the few things I remember liking from my first trip to Vienna.

I'm the one who wrote "under construction"

The Coburg

After the work week, I flew to Innsbruck to see a friend.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Fourth of July ramble

A few months ago I went to see "Black Panther" with a dear (white) friend who has spent a lot of time in Africa. She found it tedious and inauthentic. I knew even at the time that her assessment was counter to that of many Africans, but shrugged. Last week I watched the movie again--in a much less appealing setting, but more on that later. Among the group gathered were a handful of actual Africans who not only loved it, but told me that in their respective countries it was sold out for weeks at a time and that a lot of people were going looking for holes to poke, gaffes to criticize--and those people were pleasantly surprised at how well done the movie was.

I had a blast Friday night at the screening--mostly at the pre-movie gathering for my friend's birthday. A good, boozy picnic is a wonderful thing. And I enjoyed seeing the movie the second time, but if I hadn't seen it before I would've been lost. And everything I hate about cinemas was there times a thousand: talking, cell phones, and other douchey behaviors. The screen was small, and there were bright streetlights all around it. The movie didn't start until late (mid-June is the worst time for an outdoor screening in the northern hemisphere) and ended late. All this to say, this is why I look forward to watching movies on planes.

I bought something expensive today and felt vaguely guilty about it. Guilty as in irresponsible. Which is bananas because it was a very responsible purchase. But I was so conditioned by my mother to think of any large purchase as indulgent. There's a word in her language, our language for being so indulgent; she last used it on me when she learned I'd be paying $40 for a haircut. I may as well have dipped my proverbial balls in gold. To some extent she was genuine, but to a greater extent it was just another way of finding fault with everything I did. Another thing to nag me about, another topic for the shit fairy, another source of drama for someone who fed on drama. I'm almost disappointed that my mother is in no condition to argue about the new oven and  dishwasher I just ordered. To be clear, I'm very disappointed about the condition she's in and not just because it precludes her from receiving the giant fuck-you that comes with these purchases. Not out of spite; out of hard-won independence. I mean, why is guilt even an issue here (answer: because my mother trained me to be guilty). The oven I have now came with the house, which I bought nearly ten years ago, and who knows how long it had been there. It was always missing a rack, and I've made due with a makeshift one. It's filthy AF (and it was in the process of trying to clean it that I broke one of the burners, so now I have three--only one in front). I've been baking in the toaster oven since I got the solar panels, which is ridiculous (I'll run the oven in winter, not in summer). It's time for an electric oven, a clean one. An efficient double-oven. The dishwasher also came with the house (new, but I didn't choose it). I could do with something more efficient and much more quiet.

Replacing appliances after ten years is not unreasonable. It's not dipping your balls in gold. Investing in quality appliances isn't irresponsible. Why am I even questioning the decision? The reason I'm broke is that I've been paying a 15-year mortgage for 8 years. That's also not irresponsible. And I'm not that broke--I've never been less broke. I can afford to live well. I can afford to invest in new mid-range appliances after ten years. I'm also not going to sweat the kitchen remodel I'll be undertaking now that the attached appliances have to be removed anyway. I've never liked my kitchen floor, but I've lived with the cheap-ass, uneven laminate for nearly a decade. My counters are hideous. It's time. I didn't create the situation in which doing what I have to do is a statement to the woman my mother once was, that she doesn't control me. She created that situation and I'm doing what I have to do.

Fourth of July roundup

Throwback: NYT's banal nazi coverage.

See also this thread.

Strategic shunning is an art, not an act of incivility.

On the erosion of public trust.

I could never stomach Junot Diaz's rampant, casual misogyny.

What would your Second Civil War Letter read like?

The latest in when not to call the police: when a black woman is campaigning in your neighborhood.

Conflict avoidance at all costs is a red flag. On a related note, I read a story today that triggered me.

But earlier in the week, I read something inspiring/aspirational.

For more inspiration, please read this whole thread.

For animals about to drop a single, see this thread.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

I don't remember how I got to Ireland (updated)

I don't remember how I got to Ireland.

It was almost 20 years ago, but I have an excellent memory for that kind of thing. I remember how I got back from Ireland, down to the stares from a couple on the Cork-Swansea ferry as I curled up for the night in an open area in the lounge. You're theoretically not supposed to, but people do it. I remember getting off the ferry and on the bus, and giving another passenger a pound or two so they could take the bus (they didn't have any UK currency). I remember the bus ride from Swansea vividly. But I can't figure out how I got to Ireland. I remember that it was Columbus Day Weekend (and probably a bank holiday, since I had a long weekend).

I remember flying from London to Bonn and back a few months later, and months after that taking the ferry to Cherbourg and driving down to central France with a friend. I remember it down to noticing the thatched roofs on the way and having a banana shortly before we got to Clermont and singing along to 'sex bomb.' I remember taking the train back up--I even remember my friend calling the ticket agent 'provincial' (in a friendly way--and I remember changing trains in Paris and enjoying the walk between stations. I remember changing stations in London as well. I remember pretty much every conveyance I've taken, but I couldn't tell you how I got to Ireland.

I remember being unimpressed with Killarney and falling in love with the Dingle Peninsula. I must have flown, but where would I have flown from? I don't remember ever flying out of Cardiff, and I doubt I would've gone to London from Wales to get to Ireland. This isn't the kind of thing I forget, but I've forgotten it.

So I checked my old passport—this was two passports ago—and it was Cork. I must have taken the ferry over as well and taken the train or a bus to Killarney. I’ve no recollection of any of that. I guess the Cork-Swansea ferry shut down in 2012. End of an era.

Family reunification: where to donate

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thursday ramble

I can't even call this a morning ramble; I may have to finish it in the afternoon. When a certain airline opens its offices, I'll have to call them to figure out why they haven't refunded me after I canceled. I just did the same with another airline before I posted the roundup. Before that, I finished marinating veggies and making a side dish for our work picnic later this morning. I did the bulk of the marinating, and made the dressing, last night. I'd meant to get an earlier start--i.e., Tuesday night--but I ended up working until 7:30 and had other things to do when I got home (including time-sensitive travel reservations to make). So I tried to get home on the earlier side yesterday to shop for the veggies and prepare them.

It was in this context that I got home just before 6pm, took care of a couple of things, and set out on my bike to get the veggies. When I opened the front door (I come in the back from metro), there was a dead bird between by step and walkway.

It reminded me of the time many years ago that I was frantically getting ready for a party. The dude I was dating had invited a bunch of his friends, and he was going to come by the night before to help prepare. I left work on the earlier side but later than I'd have liked and already had more to do than I had minutes in the day, and opened the back gate to a dead possum in the yard. It was winter; the ground was too solid to bury it. I didn't know what to do. I texted the dude to say I'd need his help with something and his response was something akin to a shrug. I mean, he would help, but what I really wanted him to say in that situation--and a similar one about a month before--was, "I'll take care of it and it'll be okay." It's the corollary of the "you should have asked" principle. It wasn't about the action itself; it was about someone else taking the wheel and letting me know that I could let go for a minute. I was never going to get that from that guy.

It was almost liberating then, last night, that there was no one to disappoint me. I quickly dug a hole and buried it, and set off to the store. I got home, got everything done, made some more travel reservations, and crashed later than I would have liked knowing that I'd have to get up and do all the crap I told you about in the previous paragraph. I still need to clean up and get ready for the picnic.

I've had a number of instances over the last few months where years ago, my mind would have instantly gone to that place of "this would be so much more manageable if I had a partner," but this time--these times--my mind didn't even go there. It didn't go there when I had plumbing issues, or other homeowner incidents. I didn't even have to talk myself down from it; it didn’t even cross my mind.

And now, I'm off to take care of more things...

Roundup: long reads

I caught up on long reads over the weekend but got distracted before I could post them. I highly recommend Lili Loofbourow's piece on the male glance, which you ought to pair with Nathan Robinson's very insightful take on Jordan Peterson.

Kori Schake has an interesting historical perspective on immigrants and foreign policy. And if you haven't seen Coates on Kanye, it's a must-read.

OMG this photo
And this video (Seth Meyer's The Story We Need Right Now).

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Quick Sunday roundup

When criticism of Israel is and isn't anti-semitic.

Tolentino on entitled men.

This thread on why JP doesn't get lobster sex.

I'm disappointed in Julia Ioffe.

Givhan on the royal wedding dress: it serves the woman wearing it.

I get that the world isn't perfect and there's racism and classicism in the UK, but take the win. The wins. Watch the racists' heads explode. Watch the royal family, which shies away from opinions, tout HRH's feminist credentials.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Saturday roundup

How the parties swapped positions on civil rights.

Marx's home town is honoring him (but not his ideas or the tragedies that they wrought) with a massive statue.

People who create problems--not those who refuse to accommodate them--are responsible for those problems.

I enjoyed "Isle of Dogs" but also found it objectively problematic. This sums that up well, but this is also an important take.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday roundup

How to survive a chemical attack.

There are some rough but beautiful photos among the winners of the World Press Photo Contest.

This article about the glut of men in China and India is tragic but also fascinating in the stereotypes it quotes about women (or men) from other countries:
Russian women... are the most sought-after brides, prized for their fair skin and European features. They are seen as educated but accessible, less emancipated than Western women. 
Vietnamese women are seen as less “demanding” than some Chinese women and more focused on traditional family values. They are also sought after for their fair skin, their big eyes and slim waists, Grillot says. They in turn often prefer Chinese husbands to their own compatriots, not just for their wallets, but because they are seen as hard-working and family-focused.
Yeah, we know some of our people are awful; don't take your anti-Russian sentiment on Russians just minding their own business.

Captain Shults is better referred to as a pilot, not a lady pilot.

If you're on Facebook, you should be very concerned about how they collect data.

You should absolutely recycle.

On gaslighting and owning your emotions. That column means a lot to me, because both my mother and RM tried to gaslight me into thinking my need for space was invalid, even inhuman. This so invokes RM: could it be sweet to do something repeatedly for someone that you know irritates that person? So, yes, if he continues after you’ve clearly asked him not to, then that crosses the line into gaslighting and/or controlling behavior.
Part of Carolyn's response reminds me more of relationships I've been in: it's about finding ways to "meet the other’s needs while still being true to themselves," which entails that "each of you identifies your emotional needs and owns them, instead of writing them off as ungrateful or rat-b---hy or whatever else" and "Respect for each other, and thereby not dismissing, ignoring or trying to change the other’s emotional needs." 

When Petri's good, she's really good:
“I must let America see what she has become. I call her “she” because I feel she owes me her silence and acquiescence; she is something to be talked about, not to...”
Same with Max Fisher. An amazing thread on really wrong maps.

Look at this sweet couple.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

I call it passive mansplaining

Last night, my father made reference to DC being much warmer than Boston, just as he has periodically over the 15+ years that I've lived here, even though--every time--I let him know that DC really isn't much warmer. I'm sure I've told you about this before, and in any case you can check out the thread, so I'm going to go on to Other Dudes Who Do This. But before that, I can think of many examples where dad does it all the time: I tell him something will go bad if he doesn't put it in the fridge; it goes bad and he is surprised. And now, onto the other dudes.

There was, of course, RM, who just couldn't or wouldn't understand that I wasn't on an "eating plan"--that I planned out my meals for the week so that I could prepare them. As someone who never cooked for himself and also thought I was obsessed with nutrition--such that every food decision I made was nutrition-based--no amount of telling him otherwise would convince him.

While we're on the topic of food and nutrition: there are a number of people who don't buy the 'ethical vegan' thing. They think I'm making the ethical thing up but-really-I'm-just-dieting. They betray this in a number of ways, usually by questioning my food choices ("wouldn't it be healthier to have a salad rather than a veggie burger?" which is a question too inane for me to dignify with an answer). Women do this one a lot, even though I originally conceived this post out of my experiences with dudes pulling most of this shit.

There was the guy (the worst date ever) who didn't hear or believe me when I told him I was not interested in having dinner with him.

There was the guy at a party who, upon learning that my family had immigrated from the Soviet Union in 1980, insisted repeatedly that we must have been very powerful and well-connected to get out at that time. Now, not everyone has to be familiar with Jackson-Vanik but FFS when someone tries to explain it to you, believe them.

Too many others to write about, the most egregious are up there.

Sunday roundup

I am not linking to stories or images of Syrian kids being gassed (but Syrian kids are being gassed).

Don't watch Roseanne.

We can't afford it as a society.

The Onion sadly nails it.

WTF, Michigan?

Women are conditioned to minimize other people's discomfort at the expense of their own safety. Men are conditioned to think they're geniuses. Also, men test the waters before escalating, and women have an uncanny sixth sense for unwanted attention (so don't tell us we're exaggerating or imagining things).

The 'describe yourself as a male author would' entries are priceless. I know the "where are you really from" dudes well.

Every tweet in this thread:

Men who cheat sure do justify it to themselves.

What these husbands couldn’t do was have the difficult discussion with their wives that would force them to tackle the issues at the root of their cheating. They tried to convince me they were being kind by keeping their affairs secret. They seemed to have convinced themselves. But deception and lying are ultimately corrosive, not kind.
In the end, I had to wonder if what these men couldn’t face was something else altogether: hearing why their wives no longer wanted to have sex with them. It’s much easier, after all, to set up an account on Tinder.
Vikings may have used crystals for navigation.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Friday roundup

I didn't know about the Freedom Seder.

Klein on Murray on race.

The Onion nails it.

Roxane Gay on Roseanne Barr. See also,

This, on feminism.
“If our movement is not serious about building power,” Garza explains, “then we are just engaged in a futile exercise of who can be the most radical.”
Dairy means dead animals.

These poor, unfortunately named people.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tuesday roundup (brought to you by my cold)

On Stephon Clark and Anthony Stephan House, both of whom should be alive today.
RIP Linda Brown (and her father). And Blois Hundley.

This girl is phenomenal.

Read this whole thread about gun control.

A tweet in a thread about satellite marches.

Dude wakes up to anti-Semitism in America, writes a book that assumes everyone else was asleep as well. The book, nonetheless, appears worth reading.

On science.

I have such a problem with fetishizing all things Soviet, and this piece kind-of gets to that. Beauty and fashion can be either chore or release or some combination (see the Sady Doyle piece I linked to a few weeks ago on skincare). I will say this: I've been to some extremely poor places where very poor women take enormous pride in their dress. Clothing is one way to express individuality; individuality and Sovietism are natural enemies. Also, it's flaunting privilege to look like shit and get away with it.

All-male panels are far too common, but Stanford's Hoover Institution truly outdid itself.

Mean Girls aren't really a thing.

The Pacific garbage patch is out of control.

Eat plants, help feed people. And no, you don't need to drink milk.

Mmm, pho.