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Thursday, July 16, 2009

I've Moved!

I am thrilled to announce that the new and improved Ivy League Insecurities has launched! I will now be located at http://ivyleagueinsecurities.com/ so bookmark me. Come on over and make yourself at home. And never fret. Everything you've read and seen here will be there too. The good news is that my new digs are far sleeker than this cozy joint. The bad news is that you will need to resubscribe. But in the grand scheme of things, that's not that bad, is it?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Playground Plaid

Who knew I was such a rebel? Such a free-thinker?

At the playground a few weeks ago, Baby and I hung out while Husband chased Toddler from the slide to the swing to the sprinkler. Now Baby is at the marvelous stage where she can't walk, but she wants to walk. But she certainly does not want to be held.

Sitting on a sticky park bench wrestling with a feisty (and freakishly strong) eight-month-old is a shred embarrassing and not an activity one can sustain for more than a few intense moments, so I looked around. And spotted our waterproof picnic blanket in the base of our stroller.

I pulled it out, unfurled that trademark plaid, and placed it down on the padded playground floor. And then I placed Baby in the center of it and surrounded her with toys and non-toys on which I was (reasonably) confident she wouldn't choke.

Then came the stares. Parents looked at me like I was crazy. Like I was giving my infant a cigarette. A few times, I caught their eyes and shrugged. A few nice parents came up and whispered: "genius."

And I felt like a rebel, bucking tradition, breaking those tacit playground rules. Who knows - maybe I've started a trend and by the end of summer Upper West Side playgrounds will be patchworks of plaid?

On a more philosophical note (and you know I love me my philosophical notes), this experience made me realize that conformity is very often 100% unconscious. We go about our days, we do what we do, but we often don't think about why we do what we do. Nor do we very often find ourselves pondering why we don't do the things we don't do. This is hardly a earth-shattering thought, but could it be that many of our habits, our routine activities, are not products of pure choice or free will, but are rooted in adherence to tacit societal and behavioral norms? Do we not do things like have makeshift toy picnics at the playground because of the power of convention, or simply because we are not very imaginative creatures most of the time?

Maybe, just maybe, this has nothing to do with conformity or convention or imagination. Perhaps, this is just a matter of old school etiquette. A playground is a designated space for kids, yes. But for kids to run freely. There are permanent obstacles of course - the swings, the slides, the water fountains. But perhaps we are not meant to create more obstacles by taking up a sizable footprint with a picnic blanket? If we get all Kantian here and think of what would happen if everyone threw caution to the wind and threw down a blanket, there would be no room to run...

Anyone have any thoughts on my admittedly bizarre inquiry into convention and creativity?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Now We're Talking

Last Friday, I wrote a post about Judith Warner's latest Domestic Disturbances piece wherein Warner provocatively posits that there is a dangerous resentment toward affluent and educated women brewing in our contemporary society. Though her words sparked a storm of criticism among many readers, those same words struck something in me. I was moved to do something I am actually very bad at doing -- to write a thank you note. To be honest, the note wrote itself. I just sat there, rattled, impassioned, pounding the keyboard. And when I posted said note on the NYT and then later on here on ILI, I felt a familiar breed of nausea. Immediately, I worried that I had gone too far, said something it was not my place to say. That perhaps I should have just ingested Warner's words, mulled them over, and then moved on.

The temporary existential unease, the fleeting fire of regret, was well worth it. Within hours of posting my thoughts on the matter, I had a few comments from fellow bloggers who applauded me for saying something, for starting - or rather continuing - an important and necessary conversation. And then yesterday, these compatriots continued the discussion, each on her own blog.

Lindsey of A Design So Vast bemoans our inclination to judge others based on appearance, on external qualities. She writes, "It is impossible to know, from how someone looks on the surface, what is going on inside his or her heart. I have learned enough in my life to know that with absolute certainty." And she is on to something, isn't she? Because this is what affluence and education are - superficial, surface markers of an individual that often reflect poorly what is going on internally. Thankfully, Lindsey is another curious soul who refuses to remain quiet because of her arguably fortunate life. She states, "I will not be muzzled; I believe there is too much to be gained by telling our stories, whoever we are and whatever formal education we have."

Lindsey's classmate Mama of The Elmo Wallpaper highlights an interesting and overlooked feature of the Montana mom saga, namely that this woman was so overwhelmed that her judgment was possibly compromised. Being overwhelmed, stretched thin, drained are phenomena to which all of us mothers can surely relate, regardless of pedigree or paycheck. Mama makes a number of stellar points, her arguments rooted in her own experience as "one damn lucky woman" and concludes, "An education or a privileged background doesn't guarantee us anything, and everyone has a story to tell."

I want to thank these two women, these Cheerio Compatriots, whom I've never met in real life. Yes, because they linked to me. But more because they are keeping this conversation, this fundamentally important, albeit incendiary, conversation, going. Because they are telling their stories. Yesterday was a good day; I read their words, their ideas, and through the screen their conviction was pure and palpable. I felt a surge of old school academic adrenaline and nodded and said to myself, Now we're talking.

Let's not stop now.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tan Theft

No, this is not me. But I am equally gorgeous and my face is perfectly symmetrical like hers. My eyelashes are just as long. And I can make this come-hither face too. For long stretches of time without laughing.

All joking aside, there is a lesson to teach you and this picture makes a perfect prop. Yesterday, I was as pale as the left side of her stunning face (right side of the picture - I'm confused too). And today? Yup, you guessed it. As tan as the right size of her stunning face (left side of the pic). Well, not quite as tan. But close. I joke not.

How is this possible? It's magic. No, actually it's called a spray tan. And you would think that after about a dozen botched spray tan adventures over the last decade, I would learn and embrace my whiteness. After all, Mom says that pale is beautiful, that fair skin is creamy, delicious perfection. Everyone points to Nicole Kidman as a compelling example of the beauty of alabaster. And, no, she is not a hideous creature. But I am not fooled. She is about seven feet tall and when she was eight months pregnant, she looked like she had eaten a moderately sized turkey burger (with the bun on the side). The point: I didn't learn my lesson. No. To the contrary, I repeated those childhood words in my head: If at first you don't succeed, try and try again.

So I tried again. Yesterday was a gloomy day for me and I figured what better way to cheer up than strip naked and stand in a spaceship-like machine and let it spit orange chemicals all over my body? So I moseyed down Columbus Avenue to Beach Bum Tanning and told the nice (and very tan) man behind the desk that I'd like a spray tan. He nodded and asked me for my name. And I'm not sure why he needed to know my name to grant me access to the spray tan room, but I gave it to him. And then he asked for something else. My right index finger. My right index finger?

Yes, he wanted me to place my right index finger on this groovy little finger pad thing. Four times! Now I had to ask.

Me: Why?

Very Tan Man: So people don't steal your tans.

Me: But I don't want to buy a package of tans. Just one tan, please.

Very Tan Man: Put your finger on the pad, Miss.

Me (in my head as I am dutifully placing my fingertip on that pad four times like the good girl I am): Who steals tans?

Very Tan Man (presumably noting my now incredulous pale face): It happens. I tell you. People steal tans. It happened with this married couple.

At this point, I just nodded and asked him to point me to the faux-sun-spaceship wondering what kind of wife would stoop as low as stealing her husband's tans? And after practicing about six times how to stand for optimal spraying, I stripped down, pressed that ominous black button, closed my eyes, and crossed my fingers. And as I walked home, skin still pale and sticky with the promise of summer glow, I smiled smugly. Because I had a secret. I was mere hours from hotness. And sure enough, as the hours passed, I grew darker and darker.

And I woke up this morning and guess what? My skin is no longer transparent! There is some color. No, it's not as bronze as the beauty's (half) face above, but it's tannish. And other than my hands (which look like I've been sifting through powdered bricks), the tan is reasonably even. Is it perfect? No. But we all know perfection is boring. I know. I know. Tell that to little missy above and Nicole Kidman.

Any humorous tanning stories out there? Anyone else walking around with a positively glowing pair of hands?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

One Year

March 22, 1942 - July 12, 2008

"But I always remember the fish I lose more than the ones I land."
Strachan Donnelley, Big Little Snake: Metaphor Mongers and Mountain Rainbows

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Quitting Is Delicious

Earlier this week, I wrote a heartfelt post on quitting, on how we should not rush to judgment of those people who quit ostensibly good things. Like, say, diets.

Well, we all knew it wouldn't last. At least I did. I guess it's possible that some of you out there had a pinch more faith in me.

That's right. After a short stint as an annoyingly abstemious post-"vacation" dieter, I'm eating bread again. With a vengeance.

It all went down the tubes yesterday beginning with one of my favorite Starbucks Spinach Feta wraps. I was hard at work, burning like a zillion calories on my Laptop and figured: it's a whole wheat wrap. That is very healthy. Probably has fifty-something grams of fiber. Shouldn't even count as bread... And then BAM. Diet is over.

Since that moment, I've consumed the following yummy carborific goodies:

1. Spring rolls
2. Vats of white rice
3. A Skinny Cow (ha!) mint ice cream sandwich
4. A grilled cheese sandwich
5. Toddler's leftover fries
6. A Levain chocolate chip cookie. (Heaven)

And now I am writing this post and thinking ahead to dinner. What will it be? Not sure yet. But I do know that it won't be home-cooked or bread-free. Quitting can be delicious, my friends! Don't judge me. Join me!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tea and Sconces

A couple of my friends (rightly) scolded me today for letting a few weeks go by without updating you all on the Happy Headache (the untimely-given-the-recession-gut-renovation of our new place). Truth be told I've been too busy "vacationing" and defending my elitist ways and editing my novel and collaborating on my new and improved website (stay tuned!) to think much about our future home let alone update anyone on its evolution. But I'm back.

Currently, we are scrambling to finalize the lighting plan. We all know that lighting in a home is big deal. Good lighting can mean the difference between a happy, airy sanctuary and a dark dungeon. Fine. So we should focus. But our designer has designated dozens of sconces. Now sconces are cool. I like them. But Husband and I talked about it and neither of us grew up in a house with a single sconce. So are these lovely wall lights truly necessary or a modern indulgence?

This brings me to another more philosophical inquiry. Hypothetically speaking, should one design her home for the (uber-casual) life she currently leads or the (more formal, adult) life she envisions leading some day? A life of coffee and bagels and toys and diapers or a life of tea and sconces and etageres and dinner parties?

I have flashbacks to those good old pre-wedding days when Husband and I were on that cliched registry mission. We wandered aimlessly through china pattern after china pattern, collectively weathering a identity crisis. Should we go the practical route of our then-present-day and pick something befitting a young, moderately hip, childless twosome? Or pick a more pretty and polished and refined china that would be appropriate for our decidedly more formal future? We went with the latter and selected a gorgeous and sophisticated black-and-white set by a designer I can't remember. Shows how much we use our china.

When making design decisions, do you design for your present or future self? Your real or ideal life?

Domestically Disturbed

This morning, I sat on the hardwood floor between Toddler and Baby, brokering peace negotiations between the pajama-clad girls who are many long months away from receiving their Masters in Sharing. Mission accomplished. Within a few moments, Toddler was playing with her Mama Tape Measure and Baby was playing with her Baby Tape Measure. And I had a few fleeting, but delicious moments to go online before Baby pulled up on my back and yanked out a massive fistful of my hair. Maybe she wanted me to get off my computer. Or, maybe she's envious because she's bald.

Anyway, before snapping my laptop shut and giving my girls the absolute, unmarred attention they deserve, I was able to read this article. It's the latest entry in Judith Warner's NYT blog Domestic Disturbances. And I was sufficiently disturbed (in the best possible way) to forgo that much-needed shower and read it over a few times, read all of the comments it elicited, and then write my own comment. In that little comment box, I wrote one of my Insecurely Yours letters. I thanked Judith for her brave words, for speaking up, for defending those of us here on ILI and beyond who are educated and interested and insecure. If you are curious, you can read my letter below.

Now, off to analyze my infant-induced hair loss and take that much-needed shower. In case you are interested, while I am showering, I will be giving myself a very articulate pep-talk to prepare myself for the attacks I fear are headed my way. And if there is time left over, I will contemplate the symbolism of those tape measure "toys" with which my girls love to play. Cheerio.

Dear Judith,

Thank you. For daring to lift that proverbial lid on our society’s simmering stew of resentment of women with “major educations,” of women who are intellectually-curious and interested, of women who are unwilling to stay mum behind a lipstick smile just because their lives are charmed in some way.

In writing this post and triggering the comments that precede mine - many of which are unnecessarily snarky and collectively serve as a prime example of the very resentment you explore — you cast a light on profound and provocative topics of education and wealth and social perceptions. Many of your readers are missing the point here - and maybe willfully so. Patently, your article is not about the law of child endangerment, or what it means to be a responsible mother. Nor is your article truly about this one woman, a professor in Montana.

Rather, your article (bravely) points to an arguably wider phenomenon, namely our culture’s apparent desire to put a muzzle on women who are affluent and educated. There does seem to be a belief that because these women enjoy noteworthy privileges of elite educations and financial freedom, they should keep quiet. Often, it seems that acceptable stories - of struggle, of adversity, of that enigmatic “real world” that we all live in — can only be voiced by members of the more “normal” species of women. I recently started a blog called Ivy League Insecurities in an effort to give these women a voice, to combat the societal message to stay mum and enjoy my “good” life and I have been criticized and - shocker - told to keep quiet, that my story is not a story worth hearing, that my insecurities are inauthentic because of my objectively “privileged” life.

So as one of the well-educated women you write about who is simply unwilling to stay mute, I applaud you for writing this and for welcoming and weathering the very predictable and revealing maelstrom it has triggered.

Insecurely yours,

Aidan Donnelley Rowley

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