What 50-Year-Olds Know… etc.

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A blog post from The Ladders about “What 50 year-olds Know that 20-year-olds Don’t.”  I object only to the photo of a woman who’s, like, 80, which makes me suspect that someone who’s, like, 20, chose it. Also, these two are just not helpful.

  • “You’re probably a lot smarter than you give yourself credit for being” (notable exception: our stable genius of a president)
  • “It’ll all work out” (It will. But that doesn’t mean I will like it.)
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Not feeling it

There’s a specious survey about Americans and New Year’s Resolutions claiming that while 48% of millennials are taking on resolutions only 5% of baby boomers are doing so. I say specious because I read about it on one of those elevator TV screens and I just don’t believe anything on those screens. Also because I can’t be bothered to look up the actual numbers so my reporting of them is specious too.

Anyway. I found a journal entry from last year exploding with inspirational thoughts: write more, judge less, that kind of thing. Good intentions fairly shimmered off the page. This year, I’m just not feeling it. My annual cleanse has also been ever so casual. Essentially, not drinking and not eating red meat (oh except for once). But otherwise there’s been daily milk in my coffee, tortilla chips, some cheese, a little chocolate last night. Ambivalent about both it and its rewards. But not drinking, that’s something.

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The reason why birds can fly

“Things!

Burn them, burn them!

Make a beautiful fire!

More room in your heart for love, for the trees!

For the birds who own nothing—the reason they can fly.” 

~ “Felicity,” Mary Oliver

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I read this while Oliver is leaving again. As is his pattern, home for Christmas and those first, dark months in January. And then, like a bird, he’s often again, carrying so little in exchange for doing so much.

 

 

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In the company of men

Even while men are looking backwards, fearful that past workplace behavior will be mis/construed as harassment (or assault), women I know are reconsidering their acceptance of office-inappropriate words and deeds.

I thought about this while reading “Can Hollywood Change?The New Yorker article by Dana Goodyear, who takes on the same topic. A Friends assistant was fired, she suspects, for not being “game” about writer-room banter. Along the same vein, another source, a script writer who was “game,” now feels ashamed of her complicity, a “betrayer of my feminist values.”

With 30+ years in the workplace, I’ve seen and accepted behavior I now cringe to recall. I wrote about the most egregious incident in an essay called “The Boss of Me,” about my first magazine job (and boss) for TueNight. That was harassment. But what of the years of intra-staff hookups, locker-room banter and, overall, iffy (and icky) stuff I wrote off as part of the landscape of working at Time Inc., a company led by men? Here, a short list of the iffiest, ickiest stuff, some of it as recent as, say, last week. All colleagues referenced, unless otherwise noted, are male.

  • “Snatch canyon” is what a colleague called his office view over a passageway between two buildings, populated, in his opinion, by attractive women.
  • “So should I just take my dick out and slap it on the desk?” Fumed a colleague after sharing an emasculating comment he received from another male colleague.
  • “Is she hot?” Asked a colleague about an intern I was interviewing.
  • “I’d leave my wife on Christmas morning for her,” declared a colleague about a female colleague we had in common.
  • “People are totally banging in that room,” snickered a colleague about a “wellness/nap” room.
  • “Assfuckery,” “Assfucked,” “Fuck me up the ass:” A colleague’s casual profanities about workplace annoyances.

 

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Men in Black

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The laudable Time’s Up movement is calling for women to wear black on the Golden Globe‘s red carpet tonight, which should make for a meaningful statement. (Most interesting will be the women who do NOT comply.) Now we read that men, too, are pledging to wear black which is somewhat less meaningful, to my eye. What other color would they wear? Isn’t that a bit like me giving up cigarettes for Lent (I don’t smoke)—the emptiest of gestures? Evangelist Rose McGowan is also criticizing women, especially Meryl Streep in a now-deleted tweet, per Vanity Fair, for what she slams as a “silent protest.”

“Actresses, like Meryl Streep, who happily worked for The Pig Monster, are wearing black @GoldenGlobes in a silent protest,” McGowan wrote in a now-deleted tweet. “YOUR SILENCE is THE problem. You’ll accept a fake award breathlessly and affect no real change. I despise your hypocrisy. Maybe you should all wear Marchesa.”

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#MeToo

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Therese Dreaming

When I first saw this hashtag on Facebook, I bristled a bit. I don’t know why but it struck me as self-consciously “brave” and “honest” — and even a little coy. What women hasn’t been sexual harassed at some point in her life? What man hasn’t been bullied? What employee hasn’t been disrespected? What child has been unfairly treated? Humans can be hurtful and unthinking and selfish, putting their own pleasures and profits over others. And, I guess, #metoo.

I didn’t voice this. I didn’t want to sound like an apologist. But a New York Times column called “Publicly We Say #MeToo, Privately We Have Misgivings” by Daphne Merkin gets it right, in my view:

“The fact that such unwelcome advances persist, and often in the office, is, yes, evidence of sexism and the abusive power of the patriarchy. But I don’t believe that scattershot, life-destroying denunciations are the way to upend it. In our current climate, to be accused is to be convicted. Due process is nowhere to be found.” 

She raises the issue of “Therese Dreaming,” a circa-1938 Balthus painting that two young Metropolitan Museum of Art staffers petitioned to have removed, based on its “blatant objectification and sexualization of a child,” per one of them. Says Merkin: “This is the kind of censorship practiced by religious zealots.”

Convictions without due process, censorship, “witch hunts.” Something has run amok. Again, Merkin says it better:

“These are scary times, for women as well as men. There is an inquisitorial whiff in the air, and my particular fear is that in true American fashion, all subtlety and reflection is being lost. Next we’ll be torching people for the content of their fantasies.”

 

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To state the obvious

These days, Facebook seems to be mostly a collection of our obvious observations and rhetorical questions, repeated over and over and over again.

“I can’t believe how much she’s grown!” (said of any/all children who have grown up) and “Where does time go?” (answer: it doesn’t “go” anywhere it just disappears, only to be replaced by more time). These days, there are photos of snowdrifts with obvious captions (“brrrr…” and “so cold!”) and of our president (“such an idiot”). I agree that it is, indeed, cold outside and that Donald Trump is the worst kind of asshole. But that doesn’t mean I need near constant reminders of these facts.

All of this is better and more humorously said in The New Yorker essay, “Oh, Look, Some Time Has Passed!” by Kathryn Kvas. You almost don’t need more after the headline and this purposefully stock-y looking Getty photo of an ethnically diverse trio of women laughing their heads off over lattes.

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For every woman who loves laughing over lattes with friends.

Even so, I’ll quote this paragraph, so perfect: “But, really, I had so much fun hanging out this time! Maybe once some more time passes we’ll do something fun like this again. What do you say? I bet some stuff will happen by the time we get around to doing that fun thing, and then we can reminisce about how much time has passed since we talked about doing that thing that we’ll do! And then I bet that even more time will pass after we do that fun thing, and then some more time after that. And then we’ll keep talking about the passage of time over and over again until so much time has passed that we’ll stop existing as physical beings altogether!”

 

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Enough

Love this

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I’ll start with the keychain then get the tattoo please

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New Year’s Resolutions For Other People, 2018

Hey, it’s me again with my annual list of helpful suggestions. You’re welcome!

Grand Central Station: Get more clocks. There should be clocks everyone because the only two things you need to know when you’re there is your track number and what time it is. Currently there’s that yee olde clocke on the info kiosk (charming but analog and when you’re running late you need to know the time down to the second), and a few digital clocks near the platforms. Clocks, clocks, clocks.

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Does anybody really know what time it is?

MTA: So, so many objections but let’s lean into* signage. As a subway user for 30 years, I was flummoxed by an N train headed to Stillwell Avenue. My other choice was Mermaid Avenue. I guessed that Mermaid was Coney Island bound (downtown), which meant that Stillwell would take me to the Bronx (uptown). I was right! But is guessing the best way to ensure we get on the right train?

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Which way to the Bronx?

*Lean into: Stop saying this. Sheryl Sandberg coined the phrase with her bestselling book advising women in the workplace. It’s been bastardized by Corporate America, where it’s used as a directive by bosses (mine, anyway), as in “I’d love for you to lean into that task.”41luF9kOo6L._SX301_BO1,204,203,200_

Made-up words for “weather events:” BombCyclone is not a word, New York Times. Neither is bombogenesis, even though CNN says it is. And even if they are (I now think maybe they are), why is everybody snubbing “blizzard” or “snowstorm” for these wonky weather terms? Also, what’s with “Grayson” as the official storm name?

Bondage as a Fashion Statement: This is not me being prudish. This is me objecting to modern-day women being restrained by their clothing. Did we not suffer enough from Chinese foot-binding and Colonial-era bustles? More on this rant here.

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Don’t even dream of raising your arms

Women Everywhere: Persist, resist, and otherwise do as you like, as suggested by this keychain.

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Portraits of the Ladies

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Rereading “Portrait of a Lady” because I want to read “Mrs. Osmond,” its sequel of sorts, written some 150 years later by John Banville. How I quickly fell under the spell of James and his formal, precise language. There’s nothing loose or modern or elliptical about his prose in “Lady.” It’s as if James was tasked with telling the story as accurately and as plainly as possible and he does so in the unaccented voice of a vicar.

Here’s a lovely turn of phrase from the preface, about James’ experience of writing “Lady” when he found himself “ … in the fruitless fidget of composition, as if to see whether, out in the blue channel, the ship of some right suggestion, of some better phrase, of the next happy twist of my canvas, mightn’t come into sight.”

He goes on to lament the city he chose for his “composition,” Venice, as too rich with romantic and historical sites that are also too steeped in their own specific significance. Switching to the third person, he feels wrong in “yearning toward them in his difficulty, as if he were asking an army of glorious veterans to help him arrest a peddler who has given him the wrong change.”

And that’s just the preface! My reading and viewing this season has been backward-looking, to a more civil place and time: “The Crown,” “Alias Grace,” “Emma Brown” “(picking up, again a century or so later, on a half-finished Charlotte Bronte novel), “Bleak House” (produced by the BBC, streaming on Netflix) and “Death Comes to Pemberly” (P.D. James’ continuance of the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy). Come to think of it, all of these are about strong but economically disadvantaged women. Except for “The Crown’s” Queen Elizabeth who has so many other crosses to bear (including that horrible husband of hers).

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