Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hug? Hug!

I do not intend this blog to become all NY Times all the time, but the hugging teens article is irresistible! And I'm not going to go where you probably think I'm going. No sirree, Bob, this one is right on the mark! Seriously.

We first noticed the hugging teens at M's summer camp, where a two-minute walk across the lawn invariably takes 15 minutes, as M throws her arms around every young female she encounters. However, we chalked this up to the camp, which is a super-huggy kind of place.

Then she started middle school. Oh my god, all those girls do is hug! They hug when they say hello, when they say goodbye, when they pass each other in the halls--I am not kidding! Just the other day, BEFORE the article came out, M was telling us how she hugs her friend whenever they pass each other on their way to class! It's ridiculous. But it makes them happy, so fine. Hugs are nice.

Not so fast, says commenter #18 at the bottom of this page (framed as commentary on the hugs, but hardly so) (go read it, seriously, even if you never click through, especially you, Phantom, and you, my sister). Yes, it's the attachment moms, once again blaming us daycare mothers for EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER GONE WRONG WITH ANY CHILD ANYWHERE. (Yup, here comes the snark.) You see, these teens must hug each other because, stuck in daycare as tiny babies, they were denied the millenia-proven years of maternal physical contact and constant nursing which would have enabled them to grow up healthy and happy (I'm not joking, I tell you, go read it, those are words she uses [rearranged to avoid plagiarism and the necessity of painful quotations]).

Assumption alert! Assumption alert! In other words, the fact that teens are hugging each other is bad? A sign of developmental deficiency? A blight and a pox upon our civilization? Uh, maybe not? Maybe they just like to hug each other? Sorry Attachment Parent Mom, you're going to have to look elsewhere to support your fine-tuned anthropohistorical theories.

But of course this is the best theoretical statement on hugs, not to mention the source of this post's title. (And, no, the maternal thematics thereof do not in any way support Attachment Parent Mom's theories of teenage behavior.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

NY Times Post-Mortem

How much pause do you think the Bernie Madoff scandal gave the production team for the Lower East Side American Girl doll? Because you know the reason we're getting a second Jewish American Girl, rather than a first Muslim American Girl, is the deep pockets of those Jewish American grandmas. (For a romantic feminist, I'm certainly heavy on the materialist analysis these days.)

The "look, we're all nice now" article? The lamest in (non-)trend journalism. Remember how irony was over after 9/11? Uh, not. And, uh, advertising agency folk are not exactly unbiased experts--their job is to create such "trends," no? So don't you think they might have a vested interested, whatever...

Another "sell-a-relative-up-the-river" Modern Love, and they still make me queasy, even when said relative is heading up the river anyway, of his own volition.

On the other hand, I loved the People covers article, being the hard-core materialist that I seem to be these days. Facts! Stats! Interviews with the people who matter! Show us how base we really are! (Kirstie Alley is fat again?! No!!)

Turning to the Magazine, I have never watched Conan, have no interest in watching Conan, and this article did nothing to stimulate my interest, but man, he sure has a lot of guitars.

Going by the pictures, I think I'd rather go to the black prom than the white prom (snark aside, I thought this was a complicated, interesting, and sad piece).

Re: The Romanticization of Manual Labor, otherwise known as "The Case for Working With Your Hands": Yes, school is unnatural and does not serve many of our students, especially our boys. Yes, the "everyone needs to go to college" movement is fundamentally wrongheaded. Yes, there is an incredible satisfaction inherent in working with your hands. And yet...the idea that manual labor is fundamentally ethical is belied by the incredible amount of crap manual labor that is perpetrated everywhere all the time (I'm thinking Big Dig, for those of you who know what I'm talking about). And if manual labor is all that, why aren't you satisfied with it? Why the need to write A BOOK about it? Started out nodding my head on this one, and ended up pissed off, as usual.

Hmm, when I started thinking about this post, I thought I was reserving my main vitriol for the Book Review, only now I am out of steam. So I will simply say that I do not know why the NY Times Book Review garners such esteem, in certain circles, because their modus reviewandi is simply dumb. This book sounds like it could totally be my kind of book, except that I have no idea if it is any good, because the review is simply background and plot summary. Which is ridiculous and the reason I rarely actually read the Book Review.

Edited to add: I take it back: this is an exemplary review. Then again, this is quintessential Brooksian blowhardiness, though it does have an opinion. Maybe the issue is that the Book Review is stylistically incoherent (which could be a virtue), but tends toward plot summary (which is not).

Friday, May 15, 2009

What Recession?

One of E's great dreams is to have a lemonade stand. She and M did it once--with a babysitter, of course--right after Katrina, and, as I recall, they raised $9 for Katrina victims. She's been asking to do it ever since (yes, that long), and it's not that I've been resisting (really), but there's always been some obstacle (like, we've had no lemons, or some such).

Today E's friend C came over after school, and they were poking around, eating snack and not doing much, in that slightly bored, slightly anxious way of the first play date with someone you play with constantly at school, but have never had over to your house, and all of a sudden E asked if they could have a cookie stand. She had made chocolate chip cookies last night with S, which meant there were no lemons to worry about, so I said sure.

They brought down the table, made the sign, set up the cookies on a plate, decided to include the brownies M had made last week (still good! our brownie recipe lasts a long time), and opened for business. They spent a lot of time practicing hawking their wares to passersby, and they lost a potential first customer to shyness, but then they got going, and if they'd had a cash register, it would have gone kaching! kaching! kaching!

I'm guessing it was partly because they were so cute, and partly because it was a beautiful day, and partly because a cookie stand is so unusual, but just about everyone who passed by bought a cookie, one woman bought four, and one man driving down the street even pulled his car up to see what they were selling and bought a brownie.

The most amazing thing was that just about everyone overpaid. They'd wanted to sell the cookies for fifty cents, but that seemed a bit much to me, so I suggested a quarter. Then almost everyone insisted on paying a dollar, even when they had change. They made six dollars and twenty-five cents: each girl took three dollars, and they gave the quarter to C's little brother.

No moral here, just a cute story of dreams coming true.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Work Insecurity Post (But Not the One You Think)

I try to avoid Penelope Trunk, because she is mad annoying, but she seems to always show up. Most recently, she showed up here, not that I read Guy Kawasaki's blog--I don't even know who Guy Kawasaki is, except that he always seems to show up too, especially around Penelope Trunk--but something linked, and I clicked, and there she was, doing her usual "let me tell you how it is based on nothing but how I think it should be because I'm Penelope Trunk" schtick.

Let's not even talk about the "The glass ceiling is over" thing (especially if you're a professional WOMAN who feels compelled to tweet her SEX LIFE). But I was struck, as I always am, by this: "Only ten percent of jobs come from sending a blind resume. Most people get jobs by leveraging their network."

Here's where we get to the difference between me and Penelope Trunk. OK, just one difference, another being that I don't tweet my sex life, and a third being that, despite what I am about to say about my anxiety versus her chutzpah, I am not the one in therapy.

I've heard this a lot: all the career books and blogs and experts say that the way you get jobs is by networking, not by responding to ads. It's certainly been true for me. Have I ever gotten a job through an ad? Mmm, I did get one consulting gig completely blind. My job in No Longer Red State was advertised, hence my application, but I knew two people there, which surely helped get me the job.

Other than that: Camp counselor? Boyfriend's sister. College internship? (Same) boyfriend's friend. First job out of college? Former boss at college internship. Second job out of college? Semi-boyfriend's old friend whom I met at a dinner party. Oh, I did get a part-time job in grad school from an ad. Fast forward to East Coast Big City. First job? College professor. Second job? Friend of my mom's. Current employment? Main consulting gig #1 came from someone I met at second job. Main consulting gig #2 sort of came through an ad, but I think I had a name to drop. Just started a big chunk of work for D, and probably heading into another big chunk via a friend who has been insisting for months that I do some work for her company.

Now, if I were Penelope Trunk, I would say "Go me! Look how I worked those networks to make myself successful! Rah, rah, I am a poster child for the actual workings of the workplace economy."

But I am me, so I think "The only people who want to hire me are my friends, and that's just because they like me and take pity on me, so clearly I am a total fraud."

Hmm, maybe I would be better off as Penelope Trunk...

Edited to add: S, on the other hand, has gotten dozens of jobs from blind resumes in response to ads, though his current job, which is his Best Job Ever, was total connections, the main connection, of course, being me.

Edited again to add: Dawn just made me realize that the other piece of this is that I do occasionally apply to jobs that are advertised, including jobs that seem perfect for me, and just about nothing ever happens, which is probably one reason that I read my networking history as evidence of pathetic failure, rather than professional efficacy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards

I started an Elizabeth Edwards post several days ago, complete with copious links, and then I deleted it, because it all seemed so boring and obvious. But now I am wondering, once again, whether I'm on a different planet from the rest of the world. You can find the links yourself, and if you're one of my blog readers, you've probably read them all already, but basically the going wisdom (a la Maureen Dowd) is that she wrote the book and excerpted it in Time (or was it Newsweek--I am determined not to link) and went on Oprah to punish her husband--kids and privacy be damned. And then various people weigh in on the ethics, etc. of this decision, and on whether it fits with the Elizabeth Edwards we already know.


Am I the only person who thinks that it's perfectly obvious that she did this for the money? She's dying, she's got little kids, she doesn't trust her husband as far as she can throw him, plus he's being investigated and doesn't have much of a career path anyway, so his financial viability is surely in doubt. Doesn't it make sense that at this point, with not much to lose, the one thing she knows she can do is put away a couple of million dollars (book advance + excerpt and appearance fees + potential royalties) in her own name, to make sure her kids are OK?

Or is that just too simplistic?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Nice Job, NY TImes

I truly loved this week's Modern Love. I know that mom, and I know those girls--I mean, I don't know the author and her daughters, but I know people who have been in those positions, including on top of that train, and she just grabbed my heart, though I was glad to be feeling sympathy, rather than empathy.

Spot-on review of Ayelet Waldman's new book, about which I have been staying quiet over here, but let me just say this and this, and you'll know that obsession dies hard.

I usually can't bear Walter Kirn, whom I find a thematic and stylistic blowhard, but this essay on the emotional effects of losing your job hits the mark, though the gendering, explicit and implicit, seemed unnecessary.

More mixed feelings on Daphne Merkin's depression article. A compelling read, but more in a "Daphne Merkin was in a mental hospital?!" kind of way, than a "wow, this is a whole new take on the subject" kind of way, which is to say I'm not sure she took the fundamental insights beyond The Bell Jar, Styron, Sullivan, et al, though the piece is beautifully written, powerfully evoked, etc. I do tend to read such articles as thermometers of a sort, measuring my own mental and emotional tendencies--hmm, I do have that feeling, but, no, not that one--which I'm not quite sure is good for me or a positive comment on the literary function therof, though, then again, the comparative is surely one huge function of the literary.

More and more, I'm feeling about the media that I've read all this before, which makes me sad. And I also have to say that in the last month, I feel myself moving away from the print newspaper in a significant way. I've had less time for the newspaper this year, because I leave early in the morning so often, then some breaking news a month or so ago brought me to our local paper's website, which I've started visiting more. Ironically, the person who reads the paper most assiduously around here is M. I can't imagine we would ever stop buying it, because, well, because we just wouldn't, but these days I do feel myself more actively culpable in the inevitable decline of print.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Jew Fishing

I had never heard of Jew fishing until Friday, when my sister told me it was the latest manifestation of a recent bout of anti-semitism that has struck my nephew's sixth grade class.

That night, we went to the seventh grade service at Temple. The seventh grade studies the Holocaust in Hebrew School, and at the end of the year they run the Yom HaShoah service, during which they make presentations. M and her friend H did a presentation about the culpability of the pope (Pius XII) during the Holocaust. Another friend, J, did her presentation, the final one of the evening, on anti-semitism today. In it, she told the story of a friend of hers who was tormented by anti-semitic taunts and harassment in middle school, to the point that she started to hate being Jewish. One low point of her experience was when the kids started...Jew fishing.

My friend S was sitting next to me, and I said to her, "That is so weird, I never heard of Jew fishing until this afternoon, and here it is again." She said that when her older son was in middle school, the middle school where M and her younger son are currently in seventh grade, there was all sorts of anti-semitic activity...including Jew fishing.

I'm not distraught or aghast or even shocked. I know this kind of stuff goes on, even if I don't know the specifics. I am struck by the fact that I have actually never been the target of, or even been near, such direct, stereotyped harassment. My (very little) experience has been more along the lines of being the only Jew in the room and having people not know what to do with me, or having to intervene to protest generalized anti-semitic comments, at which point people are usually embarassed and backtrack and say things like "I had no idea you were Jewish," or "but I didn't mean you."

There is definitely anti-semitism in Town, both personal and political. I believe there was anti-semitic graffiti in the bathroom at M's school this year. But I asked her what she thought of S's description of her older son's experience, and she confidently scoffed it off. That wouldn't happen now, she said, because there are so many Jewish kids.

This is, in fact, only relatively true. There were three or four Jewish kids per grade in the classes that are now in high school. M's seventh grade, in contrast, has, by her account, maybe 15 or 20. This, for the girl who was the only Jew in her school through most of elementary school, is a lot. I pointed out, though, that if she were in Jewish Suburb, or Other Jewish Suburb, it would be more like 60% (I pulled that number out of my head, but you can imagine, if I call the place Jewish Suburb, how Jewish it might be).

Nevertheless, small though they may seem, numbers bespeak power. M also pointed out that two boys in her Hebrew school carpool are among the most popular boys in her grade. While she and these boys have their issues, when push comes to shove, they are her homies. If she told them that anyone had messed with her about being Jewish, she said, they would go after the kids, and I think she's right.

Still, it makes me sad that we even need to have the conversation.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Who Does She Think She Is?

Oh, I would so like not to be cranky and cynical. I wish I could turn off my critical eye. But it's hard.

I went to see Who Does She Think She Is? at the local arts center. It's a lovely arts center. I went with my friends. I love my friends. Lots of nice women I know were there. I'm sure the women I didn't know were nice too.

Who Does She Think She Is? is a documentary about women who are artists and mothers. That's a lovely topic. And at first I was all into it. Mothers! Challenges! Supportive children! Art! And not just art, but interesting and beautiful art!

Only, after a bit, I started to wonder: who is funding this art? Do these women not need to make money? Children, yes, children get in the way of women's autonomy, but, especially in this day and age, don't women also need to support themselves and their families, or at least help support themselves and their families? I sure do. In a full-length movie, approximately 90 seconds were about money. Who was talking about money? The divorced women. I'll let you figure out the underlying assumption about women and money, but I also think to not talk about money underscores another powerful set of assumptions about art and money, that is, the idea that the life of the artist is above and beyond material things.

Except, you know, there's health insurance and shoes and mortgages and food, and those things take on even more importance once you have children. Art-children-money: you can't not triangulate them. Well, I guess you can, since the movie does, but to refuse to triangulate, to insist on a binary art-children relationship, is to profoundly obfuscate contemporary reality.

And then even the art-children binary eroded, as the film slipped into a pretty standard feminist critique of the art world, complete with Guerilla Girls, Judy Chicago, and the paucity of women at the Guggenheim and MOMA. Yeah, yeah, yeah, important, appalling, etc. But haven't we heard it before? And what does it have to do with mothers? (Then the talking heads started talking about goddesses and my good will, well, it started to seriously erode.)

But the actual mother-artists were really interesting. And their art was interesting too, and quite wonderful. And they were truly diverse: Black woman from the Caribbean, African American woman, Japanese woman, Latina woman, and Mormon white woman. Oh, I just couldn't have borne it if they had all been white middle-class artist moms, so huge kudos to the filmmaker for walking that walk. And most importantly, the movie made me think.

So overall, a positive experience, even though I missed the discussion and any post-mortem with my friends, because I had to come home to my KIDS. But I do wish I could just say, "I loved it!" Only then there would probably be no blog post...

(Caroline was more wholeheartedly enthusiastic.)