I’m Done

This blog is redundant. Katy and Katie are the true ladies of habit. Bow down.

Summer Pop

Here is my perfect mix for summer activities that require minimum intellectual engagement: flapping, looking at nineteenth century annual reports, and reading Lucky Magazine while sitting on grass.

1.

I only vaguely remember Ingrid Michaelson from the days when the WB was a channel and Felicity required endless emotional but generic singer songwriter songs, but low and behold she has produced one of the catchiest tunes of the season and my favorite video: “Girls Chase Boys”

2.

Obvious Child is my FAVORITE movie right now. All movies should be this movie. In the meantime I will listen to Paul Simons’ song to relive the cinematic experience.

3.

I hated the book, but I am sure I will love the movie of The Fault in Our Stars because I love wood-sprite Woodley and I love crying. It turns out the soundtrack has a very catchy song called “Boom” by the new pop producer/writer overlord Charli XCX. She also cowrote “Fancy” and Icona Pop’s “I love It.” She might be the 21 year old version of Dr. Luke.

4.

Stromae. The entire recent album is great but start with Papaoutai, which also has a cool video. He is a huge Belgian pop star with a Rwandan father and a Flemish mother and the music is thoughtful dance hall.

5.

Robyn: all of it. Last year’s hit, this year’s hit, who cares.

 

-D

 

Ladies of Habit Book Club: The Fault in Our Stars

I was very interested in this book because of the literary debate it kicked up over the genre of YA, and because it is super popular. I don’t think anyone should be embarrassed to read YA, but I think the debate has glossed over the real issue: this book sucks. Not in comparison to Zadie Smith, but in comparison to other books in its own genre.

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The terribleness of this book forced me to consider what I like about the genre (YA realism, or the ones with no vampires or apocalypse):

1.Great YA realism takes the emotions of young people very seriously but also takes the “fatal flaw” convention to its most mundane extreme–a lead character is brought low by such tiny things as shyness or an inability to let their best friend change and become a goth.

The Fault in Our Stars on the other hand takes the emotions of its leads seriously but these emotions are not real emotions, they are rather the existential musings of a forty year old man projected on perfect 17 year olds who are never cruel, insecure, or irrationally grumpy. They are saints whose only flaw is their immanent deaths. Puke.

2. Having terrible things happen is not unusual in the genre. One of the things I love about the genre is the exploration of how mundane problems are melodramatic for the vulnerable not-adults experiencing them. You know what can ruin your life? Selfish parents, being poor, or having your friends ignore you.

The Fault in Out Stars does not understand how dramatic stakes work because the only thing these kids think about is their deaths and the perfect foreverness of their love. They are never mad at their parents or each other. Yawn.

3. Possibly the most embarrassing thing about being a grown-ass woman who likes this stuff is the extent to which I’m in it for the we-are-just-friends/or are we?, we hate each other/or do we?, and the full on consummation of young love. There indeed might be something regressive in my love of this aspect of the genre. But at its best, this genre captures the necessity of relaxed boredom and the play of anticipation and vulnerability that makes those moments GREAT. I don’t actually think grown ups have some different way of experiencing pleasure, I think we just have less pleasure.

The Fault in Our Stars follows the Michael Bay theory of pleasure in which boredom, anticipation and ambiguity should be avoided at all costs. In one promising moment the girl wonders why she doesn’t want to jump the bones of this Prince Charming who has been heavily pursuing and wooing her since page one. The good YA book might posit, “maybe it’s because his heavy handed romance is kind of gross and unsexy,” in this book the answer instead is “because I’m afraid of letting someone fall in love with a dying girl.” To further illustrate the author’s lack of understanding of pleasure I would like to point out that their first kiss takes place in the Anne Frank house, and then everyone applauds. For reals, not for fakes.

So why is Green such a big deal to teen audiences, librarians and publishing executives? Why not Rainbow Rowell or Stephanie Perkins who deserve the attention? I am worried that it has something to do with the author being a man. The YA realism genre is very closely allied with the chick lit genre and Green’s success feels like one more nail in the “feminization of the low brow” coffin. He is a big deal because he makes YouTube videos, has created a teen following called Nerdfighters, and he can sell swag. Basically he has cracked the ComicCon conundrum of how to turn the girl based culture of YA into a subculture that functions more like the boy nerd equivalent. It’s a good idea, I just wish it had been someone else.

Everything is Going to Be Okay

I recently bemoaned the end of Spring TV, but I spoke too soon. Playing House makes everything okay. It might be the Bunheads of Summer 2014. It certainly has all the special qualities of an Amy Sherman-Palladino show: like Gilmore Girls you can sit back and relax with the certainty that the duo at the center of the show will never break up. There is no stress of will they or won’t they, because like a mother daughter duo, Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair will always be together. And their relationship has nothing cringe comedy about it. The Gilmore Girls-like credits, invite you to come rest in the embrace of nostalgia and sentimentalism.

Just watching the credits soothes me. By the end of each episode I am anxiety free.

I had forgotten how much I missed shows that don’t worry me at all. No one will die, no one will deal with the existential weight of the 1970s, and no one will have a different boyfriend every single week. Relationships (even with exes like the delightful Keegen Michael Key) will just keep tugging along, unveiling new layers of sweet fun.

 

The Most Difficult Time of the Year

September and February bring the fervor and stimulation of great TV onslaughts. Many of these ventures fail (RIP Last Resort), but if nothing else the new seasons of the best shows still promise excellence. Now that we are on the last legs of the Spring TV season, as Mad Men, The Good Wife, and Silicone Valley end, and Girls was like, a million years ago, what next? Can I survive on Game of Thrones and Orphan Black alone? Will Youtube videos sustain me?

No, I need new shows, and thank god for premium TV and Netflix’s new original programming because Summer TV sucks. The most painful part of this process is watching the first episode of shows that I can’t trust. Fortunately I have a little bit of history with Marc Maron and Jessica St. Claire, so I will struggle through the first episodes of Maron and Playing House because I want these people’s careers to succeed. But despite their solid delivery of tenderness and cute bits, and the relief they provide from the dourness of Louie, these shows are not transporting NBC comedies. In the interest of surviving the summer I also have dipped my toes into Halt and Catch Fire, which I will keep watching solely for the prevalence of The Cars in the soundtrack. It also seems to be determined to right the gender based injustices of Silicone Valley, so I should probably reward it with my eyeballs.

But what else will fill my endless nights until Netflix unleashes Orange is the New Black on the internet? I wish I had saved High Maintenance for these dark days (which is always available on Vimeo to sooth your soul). So I guess I need to finally submit to the TV authorities (Willa Paskin and Emily Nussbaum) and watch foreign shows. I am generally opposed to reading while I watch TV but hopefully Borgen and Srugim will make it worth it.

 

Talking to Humans at Weddings

It is wedding season and that means trying to talk to another person that you don’t know, who is from a totally different life situation, and who you will never meet again while you eat dry cake. First, I very recently subjected most of you to this experience. But at least my cake was MOIST!

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So I am sorry, I really am. I am sure you did a fabulous job of finding something to say to my cousin/high school friend. But here are some thoughts on how I would like to improve my wedding conversation game:

1. I really really want to not ask what a person does for a living. I actually come from a part of the country where this is a polite question, but it is still a bad question. If someone is a stay at home mom, out of work, or a contract killer they shouldn’t have to tell people (unless they bring it up). Also, for MOST people this is a dead end question, though you can always get a little This American Life and really find the unexpected details. I actually like learning about the inane specifics of how people get through every minute of their jobs, but often they don’t enjoy telling me those details. And they feel like they have to reciprocate and . . . we’re done. Academia is the death of all conversations.

2. People LOVE to talk about their children and dogs. Especially if their kids are adults. As long as you keep it super specific, “so does he prefer My Little Pony or Ninjago?” this can be a very generative starting point. Asking what grade they are in is not a specific question. This last point is also true with actual children. If you ask them what grade they are in they have no where else to go in conversation. What are you going to ask next? Do they they like their teacher?

3. Asking how they know the bride and groom is a perfectly acceptable opener, but you are going to need a pivot pretty soon.

4. WHAT DO HUMANS TALK ABOUT? I think TV, but I might be overly optimistic.

5. If people don’t ask me questions I want to get better at not caring and just sitting there in silence. People who ask no questions should be punished.

 

-D.

So Liberated

I touched the third rail of my own feminism this week. At S Factor studio in New York City I took a pole dancing and other sexy dancing fitness class. For long time I have drawn a bright red line between the varied and embarressing fitness trends I am willing to try and the scary world of sex meets exercise. I do not belly dance and I do not pole dance because there is enough pressure on women to be sexy in every other sphere of their lives. Do they really have to look sexy while they sweat too?

My friend has become a little obsessed with S Factor and convinced me to come, promising that it would resonate with my ecstatic dancing origins. I basically decided to do this so I could tell you about it, so let’s say it is my first attempt at stunt journalism.

At the studio I encountered enthusiastic women of all ages and shapes walking around in cheap lingerie. They adjusted their garter belts and stripper heels before class. I was shocked. Costumes!? No one told me there would be costumes. I thought this was very promising.

But then class started and we entered a very dark room with lots of ominous lazy boys around the edges and poles in the middle. We did a solid hour of what I can only describe as sex Pilates. Basically you do all the normal moves but you touch your hips a bunch while you do it and writhe around with your butt really stuck out as you transition between moves. This also was kind of great. Why shouldn’t you feel pleasure in your own body while it is doing amazing things like butt lifts?

When we got to the main event–the pole–I was mildly warmed up and ready for action. And I want you all to know I did a GREAT job. The teacher and my seasoned friend said so. I wrapped my legs around that alcohol-sanitized pole and spun around. I totally get why this is a trend. It is actually not that physically difficult and it is incredibly fun to move horizontally in the air. The instructor charmingly yelled “Woo PHYSICS!” Agreed.

Unfortunately we ended the two hour class with a strip tease dance (sans stripping because it was only an intro class) and a little talk about the “mission” of the studio. Here’s the thing, they kept emphasizing that this is all about how you feel about yourself and moving only for your own pleasure, but the entire form of this kind of dancing just evokes this absent but looming audience who is probably male. Is it worse if the implied audience is a stranger (ala sex work) or your husband? Probably the latter. And its not just for you, because the teacher is watching you and apparently at higher levels you classmates watch you. There is also an advanced lap dance class, and my friend and I were super curious whether the other ladies would be weirded out if some non heteros participated in this pantomime of sexuality.

This video pretty accurately captures the experience–dimmed lights, really soothing pep talks and lots of thigh stroking.

The strangest part of the whole experience is the length everyone went to to clarify that this is not like those real strippers. “We are not sex workers” might as well be their motto. Which is icky, because if you are going to steal a whole form of expression from a group you should at least admit your admiration for their work. I kept thinking, this is like when frat boys slap each other in the locker room (popular culture tells me this is a thing). The fake sex work dancing is actually a way to police the boundary between good and bad women. Good women do this kind of dancing for themselves, and ironically they pay a ton of money to do it for themselves. Not like those other women who get paid to do it.

But to be fair, if I had a ton of money I might take the eight week introductory session. I really liked spending two hours doing a kind of movement that was supposed to work on how you think about your body, rather than trying to change your body. Also I liked all the 50 year old women (including the teacher) talking about reclaiming their erotic selves while modeling Frederick’s of Hollywood-type lingerie. They all seemed like very liberated next level ladies of habit.

On a final note, the fitness/self-actualization idiom of pole dancing is actually very distinct from the growing competitive pole dancing world, which is about as sexy as rythmic gymnastics. At least the fitness version doesn’t neuter the whole thing.

-D

Pornography for Self-Improvement

It is almost summer and that means doubling down on our prettyness regimens. Fortunately it is now socially acceptable to watch porn as part of our “inspiration” routines. #Fitspo is the pernicious and wonderful trend of very fit people posting images of themselves on social media in order to inspire us fatties to workout more. I am generally anti this trend when it involves posting quotes on Pinterest or Instagram with such noxious quotes as:

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On the other hand, I am very pro this trend when it means that I am constantly being inundated with images and videos of naked bodies flexing.

AND IT IS NOT JUST LADIES!

 

-D

Ladies of Habit “Book” Club

I generally try to avoid my husband’s interests. We both assume that if we foisted our young adult novels, Real Housewives tv shows, professional wrestling, or transit podcasts on each other (I’ll let you guess whose is whose), that both of us would feel like we were consuming homework instead of recreational media. But when one of us does foist something on the other, we know its going to be good.

I have now consumed and been totally engaged by my first comic book series. Saga is a comic book that mashes together the genres of space opera and fantasy. There are people with fairy wings and there are robots. It also passes my single most important test: it is about girls (mostly).

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Drawn by Fiona Staples, this is a gorgeous series and not just in a pretty Dinotopia way. Everyone in the Saga universe is stylish, like “I never knew I wanted a tree-shaped space vehicle” stylish. Or, “my, what a flattering high-waisted pair of shorts,” stylish. And the story lines are engrossing, full of psychological drama about cross-species mating and moving in with your in laws.

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I also like that sex is not just a way to show thirteen year old boy readers some heaving breasts. Rather, it is a way to treat thirty year old lady readers to some male and female back muscles AND to move story lines forward.

I hate to say it, but comics are serial and you know what ladies of habit love? Serial media. But only if it this good.

 

-D

Ladies of Habit Book Club

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*Spoilers

Not-young-anymore lady goes on a quest to find herself–yes this happens in this book too. But it happens really really late in the game, and Gilbert almost manages to keep all the exoticism of Tahiti completely off the page. It is hard not to read this book as the second book of Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, and that must kill her, but hey YOU HAVE ALL THE MONEY, LADY.

I think I don’t like this book. I loved parts of it. There are some moments between the leading lady Alma and her crazy friend, man friend, and sister that were incredibly vivid portraits of love done by people who are terrible at loving. The no touching sex scene was awesome. I liked when her cray cray friend sat around asking stupid questions while Alma “does” botany in her little rich lady den. I also like when¬†Hanneke de Groot gives Alma some #realtalk. The character of Alma herself is also impressively flawed and still likeable. But I have to be totally honest, I spent eighty percent of this book thinking “is she going to have sex now?”

I think there are two issues here. Like my other recent read the Goldfinch, there is an obvious attempt to write a serious book by a woman who is not taken seriously by the literary world. But Gilbert seems to think that serious literature has incredibly lengthy treatises on the nature of Tahitian missions, the diseases of sailors, and abolition, and whatever plant it is that makes quinine. She is good at writing these, but it made me appreciate that Franzen publishes a book of essays on his pet interests (birds, the brain etc.) instead of inserting his vanity research projects into his books.

But the first problem is also a product of the second, namely that the book is meant to mimic a nineteenth century novel in topic and style. Long treatises on boring topics is oh so very George Eliot of Gilbert. This aspect of the book made me think about the interesting role of historical fiction and what I want it to do. In some ways my perfect historical fiction gives me everything I love about Eliot or Austen but inserts more “real” stuff that they could not talk about (sex, sex, sex). Or it self-consciously dwells on the aesthetic beauty of the era and flatters the present by pointing to their backwardness while giving us hints of the progress to come: Mad Men. The Signature of All Things has hints of both these modes, but to an impressive extent it sticks to the constraints of an actual nineteenth century novel. These seems to me to be a literary exercise rather than a full creative concept that uses the experience of the present in order to reveal more about both now and then.

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