Thursday, May 31, 2012

Protein roundup

Chances are you don't have to concern yourself about protein, and if you're a vegetarian, as long as you have at least half a brain, you don't have to worry about complementary amino acid combinations. You don't need this slideshow on vegetarian protein sources, but why not check out the pretty pictures. I was all ready to get up in arms about this article until I noticed that she started the conversation with vegetarian sources--particularly vegan ones--and only mentioned one that could qualify as meat (i.e., sardines).

Thursday morning roundup

Russian dissidents are not giving up. There are parent-grown children relationships that promote healthy adulthood, and others that promote codependence.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wednesday evening roundup

Response to comment: funny that you should mention the rich-poor technology gap. I don't have a problem with teaching technology; I have a problem with using technology to replace other skills (and I do think having a basic familiarity with arithmetic comes in handy)! Then again, I'd have no idea how to make my own app. What's the deal with expelling diplomats? Oh, yeah, Kentucky politicians: clean air and public health are all part of a vast conspiracy. Just say no to gestation crates (or skip a step and just say no to pork). A new documentary demonstrates that art cuts through politics. Increasingly, I find that I could take or leave most plays that critics love. *** I told my parents, over the weekend, that tomorrow was our team picnic. They asked whether there would be prostitutes. It was pretty funny, but I said, no there would not. In fact, we have to pay for it ourselves, and we (some of us) also have to bring food. Tonight's roundup is so late because I was just preparing some of that food.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Monday evening roundup

The latest in immigrant writing (reviewed in a very long url). I still haven't read "The Free World", which is first on my list in the genre. Which dovetails nicely into the issue of whether Jews have a monopoly on anxiety (answer: no, but we sure do love to analyze and broadcast it). An excerpt:
First, the purveyors of the Neurotic Jew figure recognize — they feel in their bones — that Jewish anxiety isn’t a genetic affliction or even so much a consequence of histrionic parenting as it is the nontransferable cost of being born Jewish. As a Jew born since, say, A.D. 200, you are forced to live in a world in which you are — for perplexing, unfathomable reasons — not only the object of a widespread psychotic rage but also, as the very consequence of that rage, urged and expected to associate all the more strongly with your heritage. Indeed, you are urged and expected to act as a kind of personal repository for nearly 6,000 years of collective memory and as a bearer of an entire people’s hopes for surviving into the limitless future. You don’t want to be anxious? You don’t want to be neurotic? Tough. You were born into anxiety. Second, celebrating anxiety exhibits pride. Anti-Semites stereotype Jews as hopelessly head-bound and urbanized, lacking in old-fashioned pastoral virility, and a lot of Jews spend a lot of time and energy trying to put the lie to that stereotype. But for centuries being Jewish has also meant a willingness to question, discuss, scrutinize, interpret, dissect and argue over every last niggling aspect of human existence. Exegesis — endless, mind-numbing exegesis — is the soul of the Jewish religion.
Let me state for the record that I--"still" unmarried--fall into none of these categories (nor the previous ones). I took the little quiz at the bottom and scored '3.' So, Tracy McMillan, I won't be buying your book (for myself or any of my numerous unmarried friends, who are also, for the most part, none of those things). Aishwarya Rai Bachchan owns her look. Another perspective: Lizzie owns hers.

Monday afternoon roundup

As Latin American leftists move to the center and find a balance that works for the region, old-school leftists like OMLA lose their appeal. Ah, Eurovision. See Anthony Lane's hilarious analysis. A very brave woman gives back after her own recovery by founding a shelter for homeless female veterans.

Monday morning

Mom: Why can't one eat eggs?
A.: Did I say that "one can't"?
Mom: Why don't you?
A.: Because they're rarely truly free range...
Mom: Irina raises chickens. Did you know that her daughter is expecting again? She dated her share of dirtbags--she was like a magnet for them.

Sigh. I don't want to discuss my personal life with my mother. Some people do, and that's great, but you, my readers, understand why I don't. I don't want to reinforce or deny her assessment. I never used the word "dirtbag" or anything like in reference to my last relationship. Mind you, I've said as little as I could get away with, and tried to keep it neutral, but even if I were to go normative, I wouldn't go as far as "dirtbag." Mom kept talking about the friend's daughter and her various exes, then turned the topic back to me and my apparent lack of warmth, etc.

Mom: You're very severe. There's just nothing girly or light about you, nothing remotely flirtatious. A.: [Shrug.]
Mom: And you're very correct: you always try to do things the way they're supposed to be done. I was like that once.
Dad: No, you weren't. You were never like that; you were the opposite. You always insisted on doing everything your own way, with no regard for norms. I'm not saying that's a bad thing.

Mom started talking about other people--other friends, other friends' kids--and about how it's not about being smart.

Pseudo Mommy Wars Analysis

The analysis is decent, it's the wars that are fake.

Sunday night

Around 10pm, I headed to bed.
Mom: You're going to bed at 10pm?? That's early.
A.: [Shrug]

The long answer is, I head to bed around that time, and once I do all the things I notice I need to do before I go to bed, it's definitely bedtime. But the long answer is irrelevant, because my bedtime is my business, and mine alone. I don't need "peer" pressure from my mother.

Mom: Your dad doesn't go to bed until midnight, and he gets up at 5pm.

A.: Are you suggesting that's a good thing?
Mom: No! I think it's terrible.
A.: Goodnight.

I'm in bed, doing a crossword, when mom comes in (without knocking, of course; she's never been a knocker).

Mom: You're still up? You can't sleep? Is that a crossword?
A.: Uh-huh.
Mom: You're exercising your brain?

I don't know how to get it through to my mother that not everything I do is utilitarian. I don't have a specific nutritional purpose for everything I eat ("what's healthy about [whatever food you're eating) or book I read. I do crosswords because I like doing crosswords. If anything, it's a bedtime ritual that helps me wind down.

Mom: Do you prefer such small pillows?
A.: No. This just happens to be the most comfortable one I found.
Mom: I can find you another one.
A.: Thanks, but this one is fine.
Mom:  No need to be so smart all the time. You don't radiate any warmth. Warmth is what's attractive.
A.: Goodnight.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

I radiate no warmth

I thought I was living a miracle as Mom and I spent over 24 hours together without any reference to my weight. There were some standard mom quirks--there always are--but overall, I thought I was getting away with a relatively insult-free weekend. Then, she had to go and start this conversation.

Mom: So, what led to your breakup?

Oh, god. We've talked about this. I gave her my standard "I don't want to talk about it" line.

A.: We were too different.
Mom: Different how?
A.: A lot of ways, mostly in energy levels and the things we wanted to do with our time.
Mom: Well, this was probably a good learning experience for you, but here's what I'll tell you: from now on, date Jews.
A.: Okay, mom.

Because there are no Jewish douchebags out there? Really?

Mom: I'm serious. From now on, date Jews.
A.: [Shrug.]

Mom then starts rambling about two people she used to work with who hooked up and nobody would have guessed it. The woman was mousish and smelled of soap, but apparently this guy was crazy about her.

A.: What is your point?
Mom: People don't have to necessarily be smart or anything to be attractive. Your issue is, you don't radiate warmth, at all.
A., neutrally: Thanks, mom.

God grant me the patience... keep having the same conversation over and over again, even with the same people, usually my parents. Sometimes their friends.
Dad: I made yours without cheese.
A.: Thank you. Mom: Why don't you want cheese on yours?
Dad: She doesn't eat dairy.
A.: That's right, I don't. Also, it adds nothing to sweet potatoes. But primarily, I don't eat dairy. Mom: Why don't you eat dairy?
A.: Do we have to have this conversation every time I visit?
Mom: Yes. Consider that I've lost half my brain.
A.: I will not consider that you've lost half your brain.
Mom: Then, humor me. A.: Dairy (1) has a ginormous environmental impact (carbon footprint, methane footprint, water requirement); and (2) results in cruelty to animals, by virtue of factory farm conditions and the killing of the calves.
Mom: But there wouldn't be cows otherwise.
A.: Do you think it's better that there are confined, mistreated cows?
Dad: This concept is valid, but it's not for everywhere. Some people need dairy for subsistence.
A.: Did I say it was "for everywhere"? The issue is, we don't need dairy for subsistence.
Mom: When we were in Italy, in the mountains, there were cows just roaming freely.
A.: Fair enough, but most dairy that we consume here--even organic dairy--doesn't come from free-roaming cows, and there's still the calf issue.
Mom: So you would eat dairy in Europe? A.: I still prefer not to, but I have fewer options when I travel so I consider it. Another point is that I feel much better when I don't eat dairy.
Dad: That's a whole other issue.
A.: Well, it's an additional issue.
Mom: Well, I feel better when I eat dairy.
A.: Did I ever tell you to stop? Mind you, cutting back would probably help with whatever memory issues you think you're experiencing.
Mom: [Shrug] The conversation shifts to the beauty of the Italian Alps, the freshness of the air, etc. A much more original conversation.

Sunday morning

I've never operated under the pretense that I'm not part of the problem. All I've done is shared the problem, hopefully humorously, from my perspective. With mom, the share of responsibility is usually pretty stark. For example, my "part" of one given problem was gaining weight, hers was not letting me forget it for two seconds; my part was not figuring out a constructive way to let her know that the constant reminders were not helpful; hers was telling me not to be so sensitive, that she was only trying to help--thus not hearing the message that the constant reminders were not helpful. But I digress. With dad, it's much less stark. Where mom can be downright toxic, dad tends more toward quirky-that-can-turn-into-frustrating. That frustration can be practical, but usually it's just a minor personality clash (see yesterday's mustard episode). And this morning's mystery vegetable episode, which fits squarely in the realm of "how the attributes that make me good at my job can make me quite tiresome socially." Mom will grab things off the supermarket shelf without knowing the name or reading the label, and then my parents will ask me, usually over Skype, to identify the mystery vegetable. Last night, I was asked to do this in person.

A.: I think it's a turnip relative, but I could be wrong.
Dad: So we should grate it.
A.: I really don't know. I just think it's similar to a turnip.

Then, this morning. Mom, holding the mystery vegetable: What is this?

Dad: A. says it's to be grated.
A.: I did not say that! I said I thought it was like a turnip.
Dad: Correction: You said it could be grated.
A.: All I said was I thought it might be like a turnip. Any logical leaps to grating were entirely on your part.

And I'm not even a lawyer! In the meantime, I discovered my new favorite page of images.

Quick but all-over-the-place Sunday morning roundup

Peru's delayed reckoning with its recent history. Have I mentioned that I love this site?

And we're back

Just now

Mom: A., don't furrow your brow.

A.: Please leave me alone.
Mom: Don't. Furrow. Your. Brow.
A.: Leave. Me. Alone.
Mom: Don't you dear talk to me like that!
A.: Goodbye.
Last night Once Jay left and I was getting ready for bed, mom could no longer offer food every few minutes. So she took to offering a fan for the room, every few minutes. I believe I've told you that one of the chronic mom behaviors that frustrates me most is not taking no for an answer, in various ways, especially when it has a basis in what I see--rightly or wrongly--as a disrespect for the other person knowing his or her needs better. Jay knew he wasn't hungry, and mom might have believed him after the third time she asked. I knew there was no way I could come to Boston around my birthday, and mom might have taken my word for it. And this is where I might have read too much in to it, but I detected a tinge of, "you don't think I have a real job. You don't understand that if I don't show up to work, things--important things--don't get done." I'm not saying I'm that important: if there were an emergency, I could conceivably shift (what at that point would have been a ton of) work onto my colleagues, but in a non-emergency, that would have been just wrong. Again, I may be adding too much meaning, but whenever mom pushes back on my refusals to visit, it's in terms of how much vacation time I have, never what I might have to do at work. Similarly, when she calls and I say it's a bad time, wouldn't it be the respectful thing to do to take my word for it? Not say, "oh, well this just take a second" and go on and on and on. You may ask why I answer the phone, and often I don't, but sometimes I do just to check in (especially if I won't get a chance to call back before late, and in those cases I want to preempt a series of paranoid phone calls). But don't you think it's rude to keep talking when someone says, "this is not a good time?" It's blatant boundary-flouting, right? This "now is not a good time" thing doesn't disappear in person. Mom will catch me when I'm on the way out the door, on the phone, on my way to floss my way out of something painful stuck in my teeth, or, in the case of last night, with face cream in my hands--I was on the way to the bathroom, where I could get close enough to a mirror to put it on.

Mom: What about this one?
A.: Just a second, mom. I'll be right back.
Mom: Just answer the question.
A.: I don't know, it doesn't matter. Let me get this stuff off my hands and come back.
Mom: I think this one...
A.: Mom!

She'd have gotten her answer sooner if she'd just let me leave and come back. Anyway, the guest room was sorted. I was about to go to bed. In the process of the sorting, she commented that it was hot/stuffy and asked whether she should bring a fan--I $hit you not--at least four times. Four "no, thank you"s weren't enough. Just before leaving the room, she had to ask again.

Mom: I think it's stuffy in here. Do you want a fan?
A.: No, thank you.
Mom: I think it's hot.
A.: Okay. Goodnight.

She came back in a minute or so later to get something.

Mom: It's stuffy in here. Do you want a fan?
A.: No, thank you.
Mom: I think it's stuffy.
A.: I know. Goodnight.

Mom has always struggled with the concept that people differ in body temperature. In the few months that I lived with my parents before finding an apartment in Boston many years ago, mom would follow me out of the house and argue that I didn't need the sweater I was bringing. Quite often, we'd leave the house and she'd tell me I wouldn't need the extra layer I was bringing. Each time, I'd explain that I'd rather be safe than sorry, and usually I was right, but the bigger point was that I didn't need to have that conversation every time. Quasi-related but humorous story: Then years ago, we were in Russia, about to get a ferry to Kizhi. I asked dad whether he'd mind sticking my book in his backpack; mom made some comment like, 'don't have dad carry your book, why do you need a book, look at the water.' I shrugged and stupidly agreed with her. The ferry had a mechanical issue so we ended up stuck in the same place for an extra half-hour or so. Mom took out her book. I didn't have mine. That was the same trip where, just before we left Moscow to return to St. Petersburg, I set out my toothbrush and earplugs to have them handy. Mom, never trusting me to have my act together, saw them and stuffed them "somewhere" into her back. I couldn't brush my teeth before we left (I think I borrowed our host's toothpaste and used my finger), and I couldn't find my earplugs, so I had to spend the trip listening to my dad snore. I had been prepared. My mom, with her micromanagement, undid my preparedness. If mom knew I remembered these things, she'd think I were bitter. I don't hold on to all this out of bitterness; I don't really hold on at all: I just have a very good memory, and I figure out how to deal with someone, or at least try to, based on his or her past behavior. If I've figured out how to deal with mom, it's by managing expectations. I didn't flip out after the sixth question about the fan, just said "no, thank you." I guess that's progress.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


You probably didn't know that I was going to Boston. It was a last minute thing. Here's a not-to-scale chronology of events: The last couple of years: mom has generally complained of various health problems, including an eye infection. She's undergone various diagnoses and treatments, and none has fully eradicated the problem. The last few months: Her health hasn't gotten worse, but she's become increasingly paranoid and upset about it. A friend, who is a doctor, had her get an MRI done. The MRI showed that the hemispheres of her brain are not quite the same size; the doctors couldn't explain it--they don't know how long it's been this way, what the baseline was--but they also weren't terribly concerned. Same doctor friend suggested that mom's symptoms matched those of Lyme disease, but mom wasn't bothered. She's convinced that there are bugs of some sort in her head, and they've been eating at her brain. This would be scarier if my mom weren't Russian, but she is, and this doesn't sound that crazy given her superstitions and understanding of biology. All this to say, I'm by no means nonchalant about mom's health, but I'm also not all of the sudden much more worried about it.

The last month: I told you that mom "sensed" my breakup, but I don't think I told you that she offered to come be with me and I politely discouraged her for her sake and mine. Then she offered to buy me a ticket to Boston so that I'd go for my birthday, but it just wasn't possible given what I needed to do and where I needed to be at work. Mom didn't get it and kept pushing, and I was annoyed that she didn't get it and kept pushing. I shouldn't have snapped ("I said no!") but I did.

Two weeks ago: I mentioned that I was thinking of coming for Memorial Day weekend but tickets were out of control and I was waiting to see whether they'd come down. They didn't. Mom said, "definitely don't come if tickets aren't expensive," and I listened to her partly because I didn't want to contend with lectures about how financially irresponsible I am. Then, a week ago, mom said, "why don't you take the Chinatown bus?" and I said "HELL NO!" and she got offended because she apparently took it personally. Dad called me the next day to say that I should come to Boston before I went to Europe. Mom wouldn't talk to me on the phone during the week, but she warmed up slightly when I called this morning to make sure they knew I was coming. So now I'm here.

Dinner: Our wine glasses were raised when mom looked at me.

Mom: What's wrong with your forehead?
A.: What's wrong with my forehead? Mom: It's... not even.
A.: [Shrug].

At this point, I was getting so unnerved by her comments about her health ("the bugs are eating at my brain") that it was a relief to be insulted. Ah, back to the mom I know.

Jay came over, we all went for a walk and came back to the house for tea. He and I dished about our most recent dating and relationship nonsense, and we both played with our phones. Yes, listen to me say things like, "this is one of my favorite apps." Who have I become?? Mom kept aggressively and repeatedly offering him food, and I tried to be nice but it got to the point where it was just annoying and I had to ask her to stop. Jay was in the middle of talking about his cat's chemotherapy, when mom interrupted to make sure he wasn't hungry. It got ridiculous. At the same time, I saw some of myself in mom. I can be aggressive about offering food. It's an ethnic thing. This is probably a sign that I should be wary about dating any more wasps (F.'s term, not mine). But I digress. I also caught myself being needlessly angry with my dad, who drives me nuts in his own way. As I indicated in the previous sentence (see: needlessly), this is as much a me issue as a him issue. Dad had opened a plantain, which I maintain are much, much tastier fried. So I cut it up and fried it, and looked for mustard to serve it with. My parents have several of everything so I knew they had several containers of mustard. Dad pointed to two in the fridge, but I also caught sight of honey mustard (even more perfect with plantains!).

A.: Don't open that one, we'll just use this.
Dad: Why not?
A.: Because we're not using it right now.
Dad: It's not a problem to open.
A.: But we're not using it.

[Dad opens the mustard we won't be using.]

Dad: We'll use it another time.
A.: So?? Why couldn't you just wait to open it??
Dad: [Shrug.]
A.: [Rolls eyes.]

Jay and I are made for each other, are perfectly compatible (most of the time). First of all, we both have the same dryish sense of humor. I'd texted him earlier with a philosophical question. See, I've done my best to remove all traces of F. from my house and thought I'd succeeded, but I keep finding stuff. This morning, as I was packing, I found the honey badger t-shirt he'd given me for Valentine's Day.

A.: Discovered the honey badger T-shirt as I was packing this morning. It's so soft and comfy -do I have to get rid of it?
Jay: Well, I'll be glad to help out and take the shirt.
A.: I didn't bring it but if you want it it's yours :-).
Jay: Well, for ironic weirdness, I could prolly have [my ex[ meet you in dc to pick it up.

I don't know whether the humor comes through here, but the idea is hilarious. Later, during our walk, we came upon a bird on the path. We whipped out our phones and went to the Honey Badger sound board app. Turns out "'Watch out!' says that bird" isn't on it, but we both started playing random soundbites and cracked ourselves up. Because it was hilarious. We understand each other.

Saturday morning roundup

Xenophobia is becoming passe in China. Why does writing this give me a sense of deja-vu: The food industry doesn't think you have a right to know what's in your food. Virginia wine wasn't always a sure thing.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Response to comment: low- vs. high-tech schools

I was not suggesting that it's not important for kids (and adults) to figure out technology--it's essential--but (1) the level of actual technical knowledge required to operate most technological devices these days is minimal and kids pick it up quickly, and (2) it’s even more essential that kids learn to do things without technology. Yes, I want my kids to know how to use a computer and to be able to use shortcuts and advanced applications. That stuff is not rocket science; I, too, picked it up as a computer lab assistant at Smith, without taking any classes beforehand or even having used the internet before I got there. For my first job out of Smith, I trained international high school students, some of whom had never seen a computer, basic computer literacy; they all picked it up immediately. A child of any age will learn how to use a computer, but how willingly and easily will a child who grew up turning to technology for everything learn arithmetic without a calculator, spelling without spell-check, legible writing on paper, and research without Google? I’d want my kids to learn the low-tech skills before they learn the high-tech shortcuts. Here’s one of my formative memories from my early days at Smith: I had been pretty good at math in high school and had taken some calculus. I came to Smith and calculus no longer made sense to me because it had been computerized (probably because of a sweet deal between the school, the software manufacturer, and the textbook). All of the sudden, instead of studying to understand the math, I wasted time trying to understand how to make the computer program run the way it was supposed to. Which would have been fine had I wanted to learn computer programming (and I’d taken Basic in high school, so it wasn’t completely beyond me), but I wanted to focus on the math. Here’s what else I will tell you: to this day, my work can be more efficient than that of some of my colleagues, because I get around MS Office programs more quickly (know how to make things happen in Word and Excel, for example). I doubt that that’s correlated in any way with how much or how little they and I were exposed to technology as children. *** Original: Ernessa T. Carter has left a new comment on your post "Sunday roundup": I'd be curious for you to do a post on why you'd prefer the low-tech schools. We live high-tech lifestyles and our daughter is in a no-tech pre-school. But I wouldn't want to send her to a no-tech high school. I'd worry about her being competitive in future job markets. Also, I'm a little concerned that most of the famous grads they listed from the no-tech school are in the arts, which can become a huge trap if you find it's not for you or that you're not whatever enough to make a living at it. Then what are your alternatives? One thing I love about knowing technology is that it gave me options from early on. I make my living as an artist, but I got paid more at my Smith work-study job because I was able to land a cushy job in the computer lab -- thanks to computer science classes I had taken during the summer in high school. It's much easier to make the transition from techie to artist than vice versa. And even in the arts, those people who can't intuitively handle tech drive you crazy. I'm trying hard to figure out how going to a no-tech high school doesn't put its students at a disadvantage and I'm having a hard time reconciling it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wednesday evening roundup

From the latest Brooks/Collins conversation:
Republican billionaires do seem crazier than Democratic billionaires. On the other hand, I think Democratic millionaires are more full of themselves than Republican millionaires — or at least that’s my observation in Santa Monica, Palo Alto and Manhattan. I think it’s because Republican millionaires are humbled by the fact that they are not billionaires.
If Kim Kardashian endorses a product, run the other way. Have I mentioned that I f*ing love this website?

Wednesday morning roundup

Violence against Native American women is rampant. Dowd and Henneberger on the Catholic groups' lawsuit. How to be a pragmatic optimist. I unabashedly embrace gluten=rich foods, fruit, and soy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday evening roundup

Who processes your food? No, no, no, no. Don't buy into this BS about how carbs are bad and animal products are good. Instead, watch this:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Monday evening roundup

Klein on Bookergate. I'm still not sure whether the original photos were satirical or flippant. The Onion on high-fructose corn syrup. Oh, what else makes you dumber: meat and dairy. It's funny, I read and appreciated the most recent Modern Love column but didn't identify; if anything, it made me realize how relatively not disoriented I am, post-breakup. A lot of the things that are different, are different for the better. For example, I no longer have these assclowns on my Pandora.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Photo essay

One of my portabellas came out of the oven on fire.
Yesterday, I noticed a rock formation in the river that looked like a human bust was attached to it.
I believe in tipping newspaper carriers well, but mine is seriously testing me. I shouldn't have to contend with thorns to get my paper in the morning.
Just for fun, here's a view from the Kennedy Center's terrace at sunset.

Sunday morning roundup

Thank you--response to comment--for the words of wisdom. I do genuinely appreciate them. Sand mining is environmentally degrading parts of India. A Sierra Leonese survivor on forgiveness in the aftermath of inhumanity. This exhibit at the Torpedo Factory is beautiful and powerful. If you're local, go see it--you have another week! This is a brilliant note to self-proclaimed "nice guys" and a brilliant post about a more insidious kind. I thought this was possible the most hilarious Tumblr page ever (gets really good on earlier pages), but here's competition.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dating advice that makes my head want to explode

I have been having this conversation with my friends--some of whom perpetuate the offending concept--and I've now been provoked into sharing it with you: I'm both enlightened and infuriated by the feminism-ruined-dating strain of dating advice. I'm discovering a fine line between aspects of that strain that resonate and those that are just plain offensive. I should say that even some ardent proponents of the idea don't tie it with fixed gender identities: they're not saying that women need to be more feminine; they're saying that we can't have it both ways. If we're going to take on more 'masculine' characteristics, we should be prepared to have that kind of relationship. Let me see if I can convey how this applies to me, based on my last relationship, while maintaining anonymity and privacy. I also want to reiterate that the post-mortem lessons are not of the "we could have made it work, if only" variety; they are of the "we would have weeded each other out as incompatible, early" variety. I absolutely don't regret that that didn't happen. I think we both needed/wanted the relationship to work (and had reasons to believe that it would). That said, having gone through it and the aftermath, I'm not interested in a repeat. So here's what I can buy: women needn't pursue a guy unless they want to keep pursuing throughout the relationship. As it were, I did not pursue F.; he pursued me. But once I was effectively wooed, I took over the planning. It wasn't a control thing; I just had a lot going on in my life (existing theater subscriptions, etc.), so it was easy to ask if he wanted to come along. And before I knew it, I was the only one doing the asking--an arrangement that annoyed me instantly. Now--here's where the gender "neutrality" comes in: this arrangement may work if the woman is content being the initiator, but I'd had it. I started to question whether he even wanted to see me, in spite of other positive indicators. I felt like I was expected to keep time over the weekend available for him--and so, when other plans came along, I always asked if he wanted to join in--and the pattern reinforced itself. Again, this wasn't objectively bad; it just wasn't the relationship I wanted. It got really bad when I was trying to plan a wine-tasting outing--something he said he'd wanted to do--and I found myself thinking, "do I want to be in a relationship where I'm the one even planning, much less pulling teeth to plan, a wine-tasting outing?" And so I did what I do: I communicated directly about what wasn't working for me. This didn't go over well. But I digress. Yes, I want to have it both ways: I want to be with someone who takes initiative most of the time, but there are still going to be things that I want to do and that I want to feel free to suggest, without a guy thinking he's off the hook for planning. I can understand, without being offended, that women like me have ruined a generation of guys because there are things we want to do in this world, and we're not going to wait for a guy to do them. I can hear, without being offended, the following: "There are a lot of men on the planet who are spoiled and lost their hunting skills. They’re used to women doing everything for them." Again, those relationships can work, if that's what you want. I'd say my parents' relationship is like that. That is not what I want. So I buy it: women could benefit from sitting on their hands a bit more, especially early on. What bothers me is taking this all one step further and pushing women into an entirely passive role. We're supposed to keep our schedules open, in case a date comes up? That sounds like really bad, counterproductive advice. There's another aspect of gender-laden advice that I can buy, but it goes both ways. Some people love to point out that women don't understand that men and women are interested in different things, and so women "promote" their masculine traits and put themselves in competition with the men they'd want to date. The guy equivalent of this would be that many men don't understand that women aren't as visually driven; crotch shots and even shirtless shots do nothing for us. That is not what we're looking for in a partner. But since that works for guys, some guys think it's what would work on women. Conversely, women (apparently) don't understand how little men care about their professional and physical accomplishments. They don't care that we may be a partner in a law firm, or run marathons or climb Mt. Everest. Most men look for women who don't just offer exactly what their guy friends offer, i.e. competition, intellectual discourse, etc. They're looking for someone to be nurturing and feminine. Fine. But I'm seeing this tension between two strains of advice coming from the same sources: (1) Be yourself, know yourself, be happy--no one else can make you happy; only happier; and (2) Tone it down. Be flexible, don't compete, let go of yourself a bit. You can do both of those at the same time, kind of. It's when the second half is promoted to the extreme that I get offended. A man can't respect your intellect and be attracted to you at the same time? If he respects you, you're friends or business partners? Really? I get that attraction isn't based on things like intellect and accomplishments, but can't they coexist? And--keep in mind, I've always been happy single, and I maintain that you can't be happy in a relationship unless you're already happy single. I'm a proponent of the idea that someone else can only make you happier. That said, that "er" is nothing to sneeze at; when that relationship was going well, I was exuberantly happy. Given the choice between happy and happier, I'll take happier. Ergo, I'm happy single, but I've come to understand/see for myself that I'm even happier in a (healthy) relationship. But you can't be happy in a relationship if you give up too much of yourself, and there's a point last night--when I was listening to this relationship webinar--that I said, "f* it." It was the same "f* it" I felt when my friends said, "men don't want to date a vegan." I mean, well then, I'm sorry but that's who I am. And I feel the same way about some of this stuff. I understand that for men, a romantic connection/attraction isn't intellectually based, but for me, being able to connect to someone intellectually is essential. Not central, but essential. If I have to "tone it down" and "play dumb"--and I understand that there's a difference between not being overly in-your-face and competitive, which is fine, and playing dumb, which is not. But when the dating advice gets to the point of advising women to be overly passive, etc., that's when I say "f* it." If you're indeed right that that's how it has to be, than I'm better off single.

Being nicer to my mother

I would like to be nicer to my mother. I really, truly would. But I ask you, based on the exchange below, how I can make that happen. My phone rings at 10:40ish last night, mom's on the caller ID. I'd just started to fall asleep. I answered. No one answered on the other line. Two minutes later, the phone rang again. A.: Hello?? Mom: What, are you asleep? A.: I was in the process of going to sleep, yes. Mom: Well, how am I supposed to know that? A.: Because when I called you an hour ago, I left you a message saying, "I'm probably going to sleep soon, but I'll talk to you tomorrow." Mom: Well, I was out and I didn't get the message! I did not say, even though I felt like it, "WELL, YOU COULD HAVE F*ING USED YOUR HEAD." I mean, don't you think twice about calling someone after 10pm, or 10:30pm especially? Even if that person called an hour beforehand, which was, after all, before 10pm? Note that the call alone wasn't what got to me, even though it was annoying and thoughtless. It was the follow-up questioning. Okay, fine, I'm awake now. Do you have to ask me incredulously if I was asleep? Sigh.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thursday morning roundup

Even therapists don't want to listen to you whine. Mothers, stop coddling your kids now, or you may be coddling them into their forties. Wow. I'm not going to tell couples how to manage their communal finances, and I understand how some shared needs can fall as expenses on one person--and in fact, I do have a friend whose husband, called her out on buying diapers in response to her having called him out on buying model airplanes after they'd agreed to both cut down on spending. But I'm really put off by this idea that women naturally have to spend a lot on beauty supplies. Really? Aren't those choices? Some rental car savings tips.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday morning roundup

Another thing that has no place in our food system is rampant sexual assault of farm workers. A friend and I were just talking about how they don't make them like they used to, them being Latin American writers, the previous generation of which took our breath away. And now, the world has lost Carlos Fuentes. This post is a bit rambling, but also essential: trust your instincts and shun the concept of 'he's harmless.' Perhaps it's unfair to RM that I hold him up, on these pages, as the standard of creepy guy who tried to come off as harmless--thankfully, I'll never know whether he wasn't necessarily harmless--but that's just it: better err on the side of not finding out. The soda industry is scrambling to make up for lost sales by peddling other beverages, but you all know that there's little value in bottled water, right? It's a sad week for Virginia.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday evening roundup

Ah, the age-old debate over when it's okay to blur the line between fiction and non-fiction. Making the distinction is not as easy as it sounds, but when there's doubt, I'd err on the side of calling it fiction, even when it's based on truth. I could not imagine a non-vegetarian wedding or other event. A wedding, especially, should reflect who you are. "Compromising" would only perpetuate the myth that plant-based food isn't enough. I actually just went to a friend's house for brunch, where another friend announced--without asking--that she'd bring the meat. It struck me as tacky as hell, but the hostess didn't mind, so who am I roll my eyes.

Monday morning roundup

If there's a constituency the Russian government doesn't know how to handle, it's writers. It's always been writers. Gay marriage's religious divide is there, but it's not between the religious and secular sides. Most powerful excerpt:
Preaching from a biblical passage in Acts, she said that just as early Christians debated whether to baptize gentiles, modern Christians are still drawing boundaries between in groups and out groups. “The only thing that has changed in the church since the first century is who is considered ‘us,’ and who is considered ‘them,’ ” she said. “The essential issue is the same: We aren’t sure ‘they’ belong with God at all. When I was young, a pastor said, whenever you draw a line between us and them, bear in mind that Jesus is on the other side of that line.”
The Daily Mail assigns blame to women for "male" childlessness. Charts that resonate.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday roundup

The meat industry seems to think it has a right to poison you. Feminism is back, but, apparently, so is slamming single women. The capitalist spirit of Burning Man. I'd rather see my kids educated in a low-tech school. Funny, traveling with my mother is almost the opposite experience than that represented in these tips. She'd urge me not to wear sunblock and not bring a sweater.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday evening roundup

I don't know who JWoww is, but I like her. I mean, how else do you respond to this? Unsurprisingly--since I buy few processed foods--the skin/teeth product companies (Tom's of Maine, Burt's Bees) here are more of an issue than the food companies. Both are now owned--as is The Body Shop--by companies that test on animals. If anything riles me about vegan advice, it's the focus on what celebrities are doing. *** This roundup is courtesy of NTB, which changed out my car battery back in October. And forgot to remove a protective cap, making it impossible for the battery to charge. This might have seriously inconvenienced me last weekend when the car wouldn't start, but friends kindly loaned me their car. This might have endangered me last night, when I drove around to charge the jumped battery only to have the car lose all power in downtown DC, but I was lucky. This did cost me money, and I wrote NTB to suggest that they reimburse me for the costs of having the mechanics look for what was wrong. We'll see what happened. Anyway, had I not had to come home to pick up my car, I would have gone straight from work to the ballet. But I did, so here I am... trying not to take a nap, knowing that it will be hard to leave the house again if I do.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tuesday evening roundup

Remember when Safeway, upon arresting a mom whose child opened a food wrapper before paying for it, learned that a 'zero tolerance' policy can be a PR disaster? And I didn't say that parent was in the right, but I still agreed it was bad policy? Well, Spirit Airlines may or may not have learned a similar lesson. I clicked 'look inside' this book and liked what I saw, even though the book is not for me (I don't need to be convinced to be vegan, and I don't need help getting started). But I like what she wrote about how we (at least most of us) understand that tigers and eskimos can't be vegan, but that people can still choose to be. Also liked how she wrote about people eating vegan all the time realizing/acknowledging it. I did not like what I saw in this, on the other hand. Really, CNN? Do you just print anything? It's poorly written and uncompelling, but what really got me was at the end: what does she mean by "kid-friendly," so that she's not "always making two meals"? You can't figure out how to make vegan food--say, pasta with marinara sauce--kid friendly? Have I mentioned that when I was growing up, my parents never gave me a choice of what to eat (though they respected or at least humored my vegetarianism)? They never thought to cook separately. This whole thing about 'two meals' just baffles me.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Response to comments

Thank you all for your support, friendship, and good wishes. I thought about adding to the other post--except it would have been off-topic--that I know I can get through anything and everything not only because I can, to put it glibly, find beauty in the trees; more importantly, I know I can get through anything and everything because of the people in my life.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday evening roundup

Some of Alexandra Petri's answer to the Journal's what you don't know at graduation are on target. I can't say this rambling article has made me think twice about eating peas, as sentient as they may be. Don't double-space between sentences. Don't give your baby a ridiculous name.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


I was walking back from a client presentation with some colleagues when one, whom I'd never met before, talked about traveling in general--weekend trips, longer trips, etc.--and in particular, a Costa Rica adventure tour she went on. Without giving it a second thought, I asked whether she paid the single supplement (no; she'd traveled with her mom). It only hit me afterward how quickly I'd adapted to the category of "single." One reason that this breakup has taken less of a toll on me--although there's still a toll--is that I have no issues with being single, per se. No stigma, no judgment, etc. I've comforted friends who, upon their breakups, express concerns about being a "loser;" they took their relationship status seriously--it was a part of their identity--so when it shifted, they lost the identity as well as the relationship. As I was just saying to friends last week--before the formal breakup, but as it was brewing--you just can't associate your value as a human with your relationship status. I mean, don't you know a lot of married people who are jackasses, and single people who are awesome? I'm not saying I'm *happier* single or defiant about it; I'm simply stating that it doesn't change how I value myself.

It also has had amazingly little practical impact on my having a life: I instantly found companions for any remaining theater tickets I had, and Nina helped me make new apartment-sharing arrangements for Prague. As for "happier" or not, I've been thinking about that line in "Bonjour tristesse," which I read in college (in Geneva): "She uttered those nonsensical words: I'd rather be unhappy with you than happy without you." Those words made little sense to me at the time, as I'd never been in love. I read a lot of French literature in my late teens and early twenties, and I didn't get it--this concept--then. I read "Manon Lescaut" and thought, "this dude is the biggest idiot ever, to risk losing everything to chase after this woman!" I read "Le rouge et le noir," more than once (but not as many times as "Madame Bovary"), and thought, "what's wrong with her? Why is she sacrificing herself for this guy? It makes no sense." Well--you've probably figured out where this is going--I now get it; I understand how strong feelings interfere with one's better judgment, how you're willing to overlook the things that you thought you wanted in life, to be with someone. I'm not here to slam F. or elaborate on the details of our relationship or the demise thereof, but even as I see that that demise was the best birthday gift ever, I mourn the relationship nonetheless. I was heading for disaster and was hesitant to change course because the feelings were that strong, even for the highly logical person that I am. It took a real downward spiral to pull me out of the path of danger.

You may be wondering how I got involved with someone so wrong for me, and I would be tempted to invoke, if not blame Lori Gottlieb, even though I never read her whole book or fully subscribed to her message. And let's be clear--it had to happen; I had to try her approach for myself and see it fail spectacularly for me personally--to see how wrong it is. When F. and I were happy, the narrative of our relationship was, "how great that we've managed to get past our differences and make this work," but the differences--papered over by intense chemistry and many not insignificant areas of compatibility--were real and mattered in the end. The very things--each and every one of them--that gave me pause in our first month together, eroded us in the end. We have instincts for a reason, and some of our ideas about people are right for a reason. Ms. Gottlieb gave the example, in a radio interview, of getting over herself enough to date a real estate agent, whom she'd immediately dismissed as not artistic enough for her. Fair enough; if you're that dismissive about people for stupid reasons, than she may have something to teach you. But if you have a decent, reasonable sense of what's important to you, honor it. If your ideal summer weekend is some combination of camping, hiking, and kayaking, you may still be able to make work a relationship with someone whose ideal summer weekend may be some combination of sitting by the pool and watching TV. It's doable--I mean, I like sitting by the pool occasionally and watching TV occasionally, and I had/have people to go to the mountains with while my now-proverbial significant other does other stuff. That's why I didn't see that difference as a dealbreaker: I'd accepted that even though my ideal relationship would entail weekend trips and adventure, that ideal was worth sacrificing for the actual relationship I was in.

But the underlying issue was whether someone like me--who seeks out fresh air, beauty, and nature--could be happy with someone who just doesn't care. I thought of Jonathan Franzen's essay on David Foster Wallace, in which he wrote,
David wrote about weather as well as anyone who ever put words on paper, and he loved his dogs more purely than he loved anything or anyone else, but nature itself didn’t interest him, and he was utterly indifferent to birds. Once, when we were driving near Stinson Beach, in California, I’d stopped to give him a telescope view of a long-billed curlew, a species whose magnificence is to my mind self-evident and revelatory. He looked through the scope for two seconds before turning away with patent boredom. “Yeah,” he said with his particular tone of hollow politeness, “it’s pretty.” In the summer before he died, sitting with him on his patio while he smoked cigarettes, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the hummingbirds around his house and was saddened that he could, and while he was taking his heavily medicated afternoon naps I was studying the birds of Ecuador for an upcoming trip, and I understood the difference between his unmanageable misery and my manageable discontents to be that I could escape myself in the joy of birds and he could not.
I can empathize with both sides here--my mom is always yelling at me to pay attention to the birds, and I care, but not as much as she does, and I resent her expectation that I have to enjoy the presence of birds the same exact way she does. When we go for walks, she criticizes me for moving to fast and not stopping to enjoy the surroundings; I can enjoy the surroundings just fine and keep moving at the same time. So I don't pass judgment on other people's relationships with nature; there are people who love it more, are much more adventurous than I, who want to spend a greater proportion of their time than I do in the mountains. There are people in comparison to whom I'm as unadventurous and blase as F. is in relation to me.

What made us incompatible was not that I would have to give up, for example, travel and adventure to spend every moment together, nor that we wouldn't be able to spend every moment together because he wasn't interested in those things; I would have been happy to go camping once in a while, with other people. What did break us up, among other things, were (1) that vast gap, which turned out to be too massive to bridge, between someone who cares and someone who doesn't, (2) his utter unwillingness to expose himself to new experiences, to see whether he might just find joy in the mountains, (3) his inability to directly communicate his lack of interest, coupled with my failure to read his indirect communications as lack of interest rather than lack of initiative--although there was plenty lack of initiative--and my responding thereto with bitchiness, to which he then responded with more withdrawal. Rinse, repeat. We unraveled fast--went from happy to bitter in a matter of weeks--perhaps because once you hit the six-month point, you have to start thinking more critically about whether you should go on together.

It wasn't any one thing that broke us up; it was a combination of too many small incompatibilities that fed on each other and crescendo-ed. Some of those things could have been managed--for example, the practical aspects of having very different interests, and perhaps even the mismatched communication styles; but even as my first post-breakup thoughts were, "could this relationship have been saved if we'd just communicated better?" I immediately knew that the relationship shouldn't have been saved because of the bigger underlying issues. In other words, I could live with the fact that F. didn't like to travel, locally or otherwise, and that I would therefore travel less than I would have considered ideal; and F. and I could have figured out how to talk about what we wanted and didn't to do in a way that brought us together rather than tore us apart. But I fundamentally couldn't, in the long run, love someone who just doesn't care.