Sunday, October 08, 2006

Hmmm... So far, this hasn't made me write quite as much as I'd hoped. We shall see.

I almost just wrote, "I had such a lovely weekend," but I can of course launch into describing (showing) instead of telling, and avoid the phrase altogether. I could then say, "I'm such a smartypants," but one would hope that my actions just showed that, rendering another phrase silly. Moving on (which I could also do without saying so. How do writers make up their minds?).

C was in for a visit, and it was our first time together since I visited her in Switzerland January 2004. Always very different in personality, we were both afraid that our friendship, originating in kindergarten, could not sustain the years we spent so far apart. Our concerns proved groundless.

Over three days, I took her around to my favorite haunts in Manhattan. A K-tour includes burning through some respectable shoe-leather, since I adore walking around the City and fixing my gaze on the delightful minutae that constitute "only in New York." I love peeking in the gate at Pomander Walk (nytimes has a history, written in 2000, of the alley here). I love to sit in Madison Square Park and watch the children, dogs, and business suited men on lunch breaks stroll through below the flatiron building. I love the fact that, within minutes, I can visit an Irish Hunger Memorial by the West Side Highway--C said it looked like the Shire, a DSW hidden in a movie theater, and Ground Zero. Man, I'm chock full o' love tonight.

On Saturday, another friend from high school, M, came in to visit. We met her in Union Square. The air felt properly autumnal, and we snacked on hot apple cider and ginger cookies from the farmer's market and watched New York pass by among the benches.

For dinner, we went to this restaurant at 53rd and 9th Ave that seemed to be the place for bachelorette parties (C said they're called "hen" parties in England. My feminist hackles shot up. Anna Quindlen recently wrote a stellar piece on feminism in Newsweek, which I may copy here after this to freshen the eyes). There was a large table of high school girls in the center who were having innocent fun, occasionally at the waiters' urging getting up on their chairs to boogie to the earsplitting, cheesy dance music. The bachelorette party next to us--not so innocent. The drunken bride-to-be, wearing a small mock veil, danced with a pudgy waiter's crotch whilst her friends snapped photos. Then the waiter lounged in a chair, and the spectacle ended with the bachelorette blushingly contemplating and then finally downing a shot which was covered in whipped cream and situated such that the act mimicked fellatio.

The three of us were rushed through our meal; multiple bigger parties, each with a member in a veil, milled on the sidewalk by the restaurant door.

* * * * * * * *
Anna Quindlen on feminism:

Sept. 25, 2006 issue - I came to feminism the way some people come to social movements in their early years: out of self-interest. As a teenager, I was outspoken and outraged, which paired with a skirt was once considered arrogance. When I was expelled from convent school I was furious. Now I am more understanding. Would you have wanted to be the nun teaching me typing?

I got on the equality bandwagon because I was a young woman with a streak of ambition a mile wide, and without a change in the atmosphere I thought I was going to wind up living a life that would make me crazy. As my father said not long ago, "Can you imagine what it would have been like if you had been born 50 years earlier? Your life would have been miserable."

The great thing was that it was possible to do good for all while you were doing well for yourself. Each of us rose on the shoulders of women who had come before us. Move up, reach down: that was the motto of those who were worth knowing. But it was not just other women we elevated, but entire enterprises. More women on the staffs and the mastheads of the country's largest publications changed them. It resulted in newspapers and magazines that covered women as more than a amalgam of recipes and fashion collections. They simply became more reflective of the world around them, and therefore better.

I remember a page-one meeting in which I told my colleagues that it was fine if a story about Geraldine Ferraro recounted what she wore as long as her male Republican vice presidential opponent—George Bush I—got the same sartorial treatment. I envisioned daily tie dispatches: foulards, regimental stripes, embroidered Labradors and tiny tennis rackets. But I was conspicuously pregnant at the time, and no one really wanted to set me off; the references to the Ferraro skirt suit were deleted, leaving a bit of room for something of more substance. All in all, a very satisfactory day at the office.

There's one question that always lurks around the margins of the battle for equal rights: how will we know when we've won? Sometimes it seems like a classic dance of two steps forward, one back. Indra Nooyi, an Indian-born numbers cruncher, was recently named CEO of Pepsi. But that makes her one of only 11 women now running a Fortune 500 company, which works out to slightly more than 2 percent. CBS appointed the first woman solo network news anchor. But some genius Photoshopped a publicity still of Katie Couric even though Walter Cronkite had long ago made clear that a person with a normal face and physique can read a teleprompter. And Forbes magazine just published an essay titled "Don't Marry Career Women," by a male writer who couldn't see the advantages of a wife who could pay the mortgage and support the children even if her husband lost his job or suffered a massive coronary.

That kind of nonsense takes you back in time, to the early days when women dumped babies on the desk of the mayor of Syracuse to protest the lack of child care and picketed male-only press clubs. Maybe it was the classic protest slogan "Don't cook dinner—starve a rat today," but the perception was that the fight for equality was a war against men. But the battle was really against waste, the waste of talent, the waste to society, the waste of women who had certain gifts and goals and had to suppress both. The point was not to take over male terrain but to change it because it badly needed changing. The depth and breadth of that transformation is what reflects the success of the movement, and by that measure, women are doing well. And so is everyone else.

Fathers take a far larger role in the daily raising of their kids. Companies feel more pressure to be sensitive to medical and family emergencies. Sex crimes are prosecuted; so is domestic violence. Patients demand more personal care from their doctors. Readers want more human-interest stories from magazines. Even the bottom line has benefited. Catalyst, the research organization that tracks women at work, reported in 2004 that the Fortune 500 corporations with the most women in top positions yielded, on average, a 35 percent higher return on equity than those with the fewest female corporate officers.

When I was told 40 years ago that I should learn to type so I could someday type papers for my boyfriend, I didn't know what I wanted, but I knew it wasn't that. It's an act of hubris to think that things can be truly different, but hubris was what I had—hubris, and the millions of other women who knew that there must be more to life than waxy buildup and a frost-free freezer. In 1970, 46 women at this magazine charged it with workplace discrimination; today NEWSWEEK publishes an annual issue on women's leadership. That marks one of countless unremarked everyday distinctions between an old world and a better one, and, on a personal level, between a girl who would have been a mad housewife and a woman whose typing has been on her own terms.

Not my writing, but something to which one might aspire, someday.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

There is a delicious lounge in the Anthropology department at Columbia University. It has furniture that looks modern(ist) in that the pieces have a simple elegance--that simultaneously evoke tinges of the primitive. It's all in tidy right angles--couches over here, discussion table there. The walls are decorated with photos of the anthropologists that created American Anthropology--and did so here at Barnard/Columbia. There are photos of Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Zora Neale Hurston, and others.

Back in one corner, behind the couch and next to a display shelf of curios, there is a sizeable metal bust of Franz Boas looking imposing and scholarly. On the wall behind him, in colorful, metallic letters that when strung across a wall usually spell out "HAPPY BIRTHDAY," it says "PAPA FRANZ."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I should really be reading for tomorrow's classes at the moment, but my mind is full. And my nose cartilage is involuntarily twitching--disturbing?

I had a "farewell" appointment with my nutritionist of nearly two years late last week. It was time; I spent the summer not thinking about her, and I wasted very few brain cells angsting over imaginary body fat. I'm even considering quitting therapy; I know deep down that I'm just fine. Healthy. Messed up to some normal, Ivy League, type A degree.

I have a well-cultivated awareness of my remaining body issues, and well-honed mental tricks to logic myself in the right direction. I eat when I'm hungry (and sometimes when I'm not but a bite of chocolate is called for) and have a healthier attitude--real, not "holier than thou"--surrounding food than most of the women I know that never had an eating disorder. Women chatter makes me queasy; what the hell is wrong with this culture?!?! My clothes are the same size they've always been. Despite all this, I feel very vulnerable right now, and unsure (despite all concrete evidence, which is of course how eating disorders do their thing) of how to trust my own instincts. Much of it may just be oh-shit-I'm-a-senior-in-college-here-comes-real-life anxiety, rechanneled into a form I can pummel, but that haunts me just the same.

For instance, I choose not to fast on Yom Kippur, which was yesterday. I know it's the right decision--I was hungry for four years; I do it very well; it can easily be seductive; it makes me sick and dizzy very fast. After all that hunger, I figure I have plenty of fasting points in the bank. Yet, and this is despite not being religious, it made me quite guilty. My superego is probably its own platonic ideal.

I am not anorexic. I never was, technically speaking. I was never quite thin enough, and my period was always normal. There was a time when I was sick enough that I wanted nothing more than to lose both things and gain a bona fide diagnosis, despite awareness of the physiological havoc ceasing menstruation wreaks on the body. Summer 2005, I finally had enough time--all day every day with NYC at my fingertips--to decide with finality that living with an eating disorder is not a life. I decided to get one. It wasn't easy; my nutritionist told me during the big goodbye that I am a completely different person now than I was just a bit over a year ago. This is true. Along the way, I dissolved a few friendships, re-carved my outlook on life and its priorities, started being able to appreciate my body, (<--oxford comma!) and learned how to sit with emotion for the first time in God knows how long. There were days in Spring of my sophomore year when I walked around in a floaty daze; it was as though the colors around me brightened
because I was feeling things. I'd forgotten how.

Yet I still have overcompensating, horrified reactions to all things ED-related. I get nauseated. Ironic, no? I can empathize with it all, but I try as hard as I can to refuse to do it. A girl next to me in class last week was teensy and eating soy yogurt. At the smell, I grew queasy and developed a huge headache; I hate yogurt and ate it all the time when I couldn't eat other things. When restricting, it's easier to eat things that are gooey and gloppy and thus slide down your pathetic little throat with minimal effort. Hopefully one day, it will just be yogurt, and I can be detachedly sad for the fact that its eater is probably suffering.

Also, there is a new documentary making the media rounds called "Thin," directed by Harvard grad photographer Lauren Greenfield. People is running a print feature on it this week (accompanied, of course, by photos of "I swear I'm not anorexic; my ribs just naturally leap out of my skin" celebrities, which teenage girls will then clip to use as "thinspiration," reading the cautionary text framing the photos as things that happen to other people who aren't invincible), and there is a trailer on the web site. I watched it, rapt, despite the feeling that I should continue to keep as much distance between my still-new self and our bullshit culture as possible. Nutritionist pointed out that, even after a year, it is still new, so this is okay.

I usually forbid myself to think about my recent past; most of my college friends don't know that I spent the first half of my time here hungry. I love that. My beloved high school mates can tell a different tale. However, the other day I flippantly mentioned it to a newer friend, and it would be good to explore why, in the context of all these other thoughts.

I should resolve NEVER TO WRITE OF THIS AGAIN! on the grounds that giving eating disorders text space helps them exist. But a lot of the things I really like about myself now are hard-won reactions to who I was before. I think it's better to let this narrative play out naturally. If I'm thinking about this, so be it. If not, which has been more the norm, so be it. My inner critic wastes enough of my energy already.

Let's end with (and now for) something completely different: Margaret Atwood has a new book out! Moral Disorder. It's sitting here mocking the fact that I'm about to go read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions instead. And In Praise of Shadows: "The parlor may have its charms, but the Japanese toilet truly is a place of spiritual repose."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Two dear friends visited me at school this weekend, and I can finally say that I've had a happy New York weekend this semester. We went to the Whitney: Edward Hopper on one floor, Picasso's influence on American artists on another. Hopper painted during my favorite era--early 20th Century--and he gets it. "Soir Bleu":

The three of us stood outside my subway stop this morning, exchanging farewells before my dears trotted off to their respective locales. It being Sunday and all, I was wearing yoga pants, and asked before we left for bagels if they were too tight to wear outside. The pants are fine, they said. So we got bagels and walked back, passing the old man who spouts conspiracy theories to passerby about the NYPD knowing 9-11 was going to happen. Good thing the Jesus Guy (who wanders up Broadway hollering about loving his Lord) usually waits until nightfall to surface.

Anyway, as we talked in a cluster above the subway, a short-haired, relaxed-fit-jean woman with a wide smile and a child in tow approached us from in back of me.

"This might sound strange," she said to me, "but you look really good from behind." She turned to all three of us now, unfazed by our wide-eyed bemusement. "You all do, because you're young."

She and the silent little girl holding her hand ambled away.

Grand Plans

This blog is me selling out. I think pontificating in front of an audience with no upper limit is presumptuous and blurs the (increasingly fuzzy) lines that separate private from public. But I desperately want to write; I've failed thus far at making myself sit down and just. do. it. I write in the passionate spurts I hope to bring to fiction and the like when writing emails to others. A ham in my heart of hearts (like most people--¡que trayf!), I like to tell stories to people, not just to Microsoft Word. This is one of the many reasons I'm drawn to journalism; one always writes with one's readership in mind.

I've read that fiction writers often like to forget that an outside audience exists to fling the superego off their backs during the writing process. Understandable. But when I write to friends, I'm at my most open. My friends have often been kinder to me than I am to myself.

Therefore: thought this may be the last post this nascent blog sees, perhaps it can become the vehicle that kicks writing into the breathing/eating/sleeping category for me. Here, then, is not a statement of lofty purpose--no Wordsworthian Preface or modernist manifesto--but one of selfish intent: Here I AM (dear reader!), and here is writing.