Small Differences Between NY & Home

As inspired by Mighty Girl’s travel series (Paris, Barcelona, Hawaii), here are a few things I noticed on a recent trip to New York:

  • People wear sunglasses a lot less in NY. I was there on sunny days, some of the hottest and muggiest of the summer. Despite that, I saw maybe one in every 20 folks with sunglasses on. It even affected me: in LA, I tend to automatically pop sunglasses on my face as soon as I venture outside, but by my third day there, I forgot to wear them till past lunchtime!
  • I was expecting a faster pace of activity, and gamely brought walking shoes and tried to keep up with the flow of foot traffic on the busy sidewalks. As such, I ended up getting to almost all of my meetups on time or early… and would then wait for 10-20 minutes. New Yorkers are meant to be impatient and to-the-point, but I guess that doesn’t always translate to punctuality! My suspicion is that everyone was stuck with “just one more thing at work” syndrome.
  • A black-and-white cookie is not a cookie, but a cake. Not a difference, I was just a bit (actually, a lot) boggled by that.
  • Half the people I saw standing on sidewalks (so… a lot) were smoking. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone smoking in LA!
  • I can count on one hand the number of streets I saw/crossed that were two-way. And yet, even though I knew they were all one-way, I could never keep myself from checking traffic the wrong way too… just in case. I kept hearing my parents’ voices in my head, saying “be sure to look both ways!”
  • Performances are just a part of life in NY. You can ignore them, smile and watch, or openly scoff, but it seemed pretty normal to see in any given week a subway dance troupe, breakdancers, and a Hare Krishna parade. I actually saw all of those things in just three days!
  • People would talk about money more openly. Granted, this may be affected by the people I interact with in LA (I don’t have a ton of friends in the entertainment industry), but I was part of many more conversations in NY that involved how much people made, how much rent was in that area of town, how much that vacation cost.
  • Coffeeshops were so so so small! It’s a good thing that there would be four on a block, because it’s very possible that the first three wouldn’t have any open table spaces.
  • Speaking of crowded blocks, spotting three or four of the same service on a single block probably means that you’ll get pretty good value at any of them, due to competition. When I found myself on a block with three nail salons, I did a Yelp search for the best-reviewed one. I ended up with an AMAZING manicure for $8.50 that included a one-minute back massage while my nails dried (is this standard?? If so, two points, New York.)!
  • I missed NPR. I remember as a kid hearing that New Yorkers loved their newspapers because they were perfect for reading in the subway, and Angelenos loved radio because they were always in their cars. I saw not one newspaper on the subway this trip — everyone was on their phones instead (doing something that doesn’t require consistent cell service, I guess?). But I did very severely miss having the presence of radio news in my life.
  • Everyone talked about the weather, which, to be fair, I feel like people do everywhere in the world. But in NY, unlike in LA, it’s actually worth talking about — I experienced two of the hottest, muggiest days ever (and I’m from Cleveland!), followed by a dark, cloudy day that featured two huge thunderstorms. Dramatic much, NY?
  • And finally, one big similarity, a big city thing, I think: every New Yorker has a very different New York. While, just like in LA, there are things that unite all the city’s denizens. But there are also things that are integral parts of one person’s life and complete mysteries to another person, even if those two folks have essentially lived side-by-side for years. NY example: the Chinese car services. LA example: $15 one-hour massages. (both of my examples are Chinese because I don’t know anyone else’s secrets.)
  • (Photo of me with a NY bagel in a NY park, but still with my LA sunglasses and chipped LA manicure very much intact.)

Paris!

When we decided to try for a child, one major thing that I had to reconcile was saying goodbye to travel for a while. I mean, I anticipated plenty of trips to see family, and after a few years, it’d certainly be fun to take our kid on child-friendly vacations, if for nothing else than to see her surprised by new experiences and dazzled by cartoons come to life, ready to give her a big friendly hug.

But I thought for sure we were saying goodbye to non-family travel for a while, and even after we had Zoe, it made me shudder to think of wasting precious time in the world’s capitals dealing with toddler meltdowns or trying to find a decent place to change her. Or sitting in the hotel room with a passed-out child, cursing jet lag and the fact that probably no country allows you to leave your sleeping child alone in a locked room (KIDDING, don’t call CPS on me!). For some reason, I never thought about continuing to travel, just without her.

Silly, silly me. I couldn’t have foreseen that these days — almost two years after Zoe’s birth — I’m in a job that requires two (domestic) trips a year. They may not always be the most glamorous locales, but are still fun, happening cities where I can pretend to be a childless adult for a few days. And now, lo and behold, we’ve received an offer, the type of which is impossible to turn down: Evan’s been asked to moderate a panel at a conference… on his birthday… in Paris!

So we “discussed” it for about two seconds, and after we lined up reliable childcare for the week that we’ll be gone (thanks, Mom & Dad!!), we did a little dance that possibly involved too much butt-wiggling, and bought our tickets. Bonjour, Paris!

I’m beyond excited and also a bit overwhelmed. Evan and I have both been to Paris a few times, but not for over eight years (wow, nothing makes you feel old like counting the years…). That amount of time seems like forever, obviously not in Paris’s history, but definitely in ours — I mean, we can probably afford meals from real restaurants this time! Plus, the internet is such a different place than eight years ago, and as with so many topics, it’s now an overflowing repository of idealized, interesting Paris experiences, which is probably part of what’s overwhelming me.

So, I turn to you: I want to know everything — where should we go, what should we eat, what is a DEFINITE can’t-miss, and how do I avoid getting pickpocketed? Ooh, and what are the books/blogs I should be reading to get in a Paris frame of mind?

Some notes: we’ve been to most of the big tourist attractions on previous trips, but we probably won’t be able to resist at least a quick walk to the Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower anyway. I’m surprisingly feeling a bit “eh” on a Louvre trip, since I’ve visited it at least twice. And I do want to incorporate some sort of very delicious, very fattening food goal, something akin to seeking out the best croissant in Paris — which will obviously take lots of evidence-gathering!

What else, what else, what else? Taking all advice, starting now!

Merci beaucoup!!

(Photo of the Paris landmark that flashes into my mind’s eye every time I think of the city, the Fontaines de la Concord, courtesy of Inside France Ukraine)

LA Kings Kisscam

I generally deplore forced public affection. Not that I dislike any public affection — I certainly engage in it myself, and I think it’s sweet to see people spontaneously showing their love for one another. But that’s just the thing: it’s sweet because it’s spontaneous. Thankfully, I’m with a dude that agrees with me — below is his reaction to when people started clinking on their glasses at our wedding reception.

After he shot out that look, we quickly kissed and there were no more calls to “KISS ALREADY,” thank god. (don’t even get me started on how incredibly cringeworthy I find big public proposals.)

But you guys, you guys: the LA Kings Kisscam from their Game 7 against San Jose last night might have turned me. Come for the insane sweetness of the David/Harper Beckham kiss at 1:09; stay for the hilarious kiss-a-thon at 0:33 where a lady kisses FIVE guys, but ends up shafting the guy behind her (not like that, ew); and finish strong with the adorable Kings uber-fans at 1:46 who apparently are a regular feature on the Kisscam. Aww indeed.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2f32zx0kjA%5D

PS Kings won! Go, Kings! Beat the Red Wings/Blackhawks!

(Photo by Stephanie Cristalli)

Parental Leave




Evan sent me an article today on the differences between the Danish and American healthcare systems/social policies, and it made me curious about the specific lengths of parental leave in various countries. I had heard anecdotally about how very different it is in other countries, but to see the actual numbers was a total gut-punch.

According to Wikipedia (because, duh), the US is one of only four countries (the others are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland) that guarantees exactly zero days of paid maternity leave and — of course — zero days of paid paternity leave).

I am choosing to not be depressed at this. When I went on maternity leave, I was lucky to be in a situation where I was able to cobble together 16 weeks of vacation days, sick days, state disability (note that California is one of the few US states that mandates some paid leave for new parents), and disability from my insurance company — even then, I wasn’t being fully paid, and I spent quite a bit of time during my leave on the phone with various agencies to ensure that everything went smoothly. Even more fortuitously for us, Evan was in a flexible-enough work situation that he was able to take four weeks off, followed by being on call for the rest of my THE-BABY-WON’T-STOP-CRYING-EVER emergencies. We were, and are, very very lucky indeed.

But if we ever decide to go down that path again, I can’t say I won’t be pulling up this list again, as a guide for where we should probably move to first. Maybe Denmark? Sweden? Or if we don’t want to venture too far from home, Canada offers new parents 35 weeks to split between them (in addition to 15 weeks of maternity leave), which sounds pretty good, eh? See, I’m a natural already!

(All photos of us taken during those first 16 weeks of Zoe’s life.)

Bike Questions

When we moved to our current neighborhood, almost six months ago now, one big plus for us was the location. There’s so much close by, and the paths to our nearest “main street” drag, to the park/playground, and to Zoe’s daycare are pretty and residential. With our sparkly, new-house-buying eyes, we exclaimed, “we’ll get bikes and ride everywhere!”

So, of course, it’s been almost half a year and we’re still driving (and sometimes walking) everywhere. Part of this is probably due to this small, really minuscule speedbump: I don’t have a bike. I actually haven’t regularly ridden a bike since I was a kid, but I take strength and enthusiasm from one of our society’s most tried-and-true (and trite) adages, and I am ready to ride again.

But guys, I’ve been doing some veeeeery minimal research into bikes, and this shit is daunting. I feel like I thought it’d be like buying a rug (“I want this color, and it should be around this size. Ooh, that fits — done!”), and instead, it’s like buying a goddamned car when all I know is that I want to drive something pretty.

So I need help! Here is what I want: to go on very short trips, 2-3 miles roundtrip at the most. These short trips would primarily be to/from daycare (which is 8 blocks away), the boba shop (don’t judge.), coffeeshops, that sort of thing. I am not concerned with being fast, and my neighborhood has moderate hills, but nothing too intense. I want to have some way of attaching (is that the right verb?) Zoe — a bike seat or trailer or something. I’d prefer it be pretty simple to operate. I’d reeeeeally prefer it be pretty, because, well, I’m shallow. And finally, this brings me a teeny bit of shame, but: if possible, I’d love to hear what bikes I could easily ride while still wearing heels/wedges. Because that’s just reality, man.

I’m willing to spend a decent amount (what is that for bikes anyway? $500? $200? $800?), because I plan on riding it a little bit every day. Do you spend a lot on bikes after you buy them? Like a certain amount a month or so? I’d probably be storing it outside, if that matters.

AAAAH, so many questions. Let’s calm down and focus by looking at more pretty pictures of ladies on bikes:









PS Unlike all of these stylish ladies, I plan on wearing a helmet. Ugh, another thing to research — where do you get a cute one?

(Photos courtesy of 1 & 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10)

The Little Reader

I’ve just emerged from a fog of sickness that descended over House Phoenix — a disgusting stomach bug that first hit Zoe, then Evan, and finally (and most whiningly) me. But those small, almost cute (stomach bug!) words don’t even begin to describe the all-engulfing, emotional, wrenching experience that was having the whole family be sick for weeks. Ugh, gastroenteritis begone — I’m just so incredibly glad to see the end of you!

So one thing that happened as a natural result of being cooped up together for days on end without visitors is a lot of contemplative conversations between Evan and me, which often devolved into sentimentalities about our little girl (blame me — I get very emotional when I’m sick… or hungry… or when it’s cloudy out…). As much as we take detailed note of all the changes that she’s going through from day to day now, it’s hard not to still dream about what sort of older kid and young woman she’ll be one day.

With that in mind, when I ran across this video of 13-year-old Nevaeh Mosher today, I found myself with really mixed emotions.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOzzFiqof84%5D

On one hand, I was a huge reader as a kid, and have all sorts of memories of not wanting to be bothered by life, because I’d prefer laying in a sunny spot of my house and just getting lost in a book. That’s a pleasure that’s really hard to describe to non-readers, and it’s one that I still enjoy so much as an adult. Reading really does open you up to so many other worlds, incredible storytelling is a thing of magic, and skillful deployment of language can be a revelation.

But at the same time: 325 books a year is a LOT, and you do wonder what else in her life that leaves time for Nevaeh to do. The video seems to suggest that perhaps her upbringing is such that losing herself in books is one of the safest things that she can do, and she truly seems like a mature, determined young woman. As with most 13-year-olds, she’s a bit absolutist, but black-and-white opinions like “without education, you’ll be a nobody” are certainly more welcome than “Joe Jonas or NOTHING.” I’m just not convinced that I’d be psyched if Zoe ended up as a 300+ books a year reader, though I can’t quite pinpoint why…

Rape Culture

Last week, I wrote a post about the current state of feminism where I was actually quite positive and upbeat. I concluded that, though it can be daunting that there’s so much work to do, our very vigor for engaging in that work is inspiring, and maybe even enough. I thought, out loud and in a public venue, that it’s enough that we continue to have a discourse about gender inequality.

And then things got crazy. Not all of a sudden, of course, but all of a sudden into my limited, sheltered world, and now it seems that every day brings more reports of men raping women, of men threatening to rape and kill women, and of men using 1) women’s completely reasonable fear of being raped and 2) the system that sustains and normalizes that fear as tools to keep things the way that they want them to be. And all I want to do is wail and cry and punch and honestly, delete the naive stupid hope that I put out there mere days ago that we can all have a reasonable shared discussion on gender equality and that that conversation’s mere presence is enough.

The most recent situation that I can’t stop dwelling on is Adria Richards at PyCon. I fully admit that while this is tangentially my industry (I work in tech, but I’m not a programmer), I definitely don’t have the level of contextual familiarity with this particular conference or community to comment on the inciting conflict. If you can believe it, what Adria witnessed and how she acted is actually not the main story here. There was a conflict, and it escalated to the level of real-world consequences (the offenders were fired from their jobs) that I’m assuming were not her initial intentions, but if it’s how the cookie crumbles, that’s life. Whether or not what they were saying was appropriate for the situation, whether or not the offense caused to those who heard them was enough to merit being reported by Adria, and whether or not the action that she took was the appropriate one — all of these things are worthy of debate and discussion. When you add in the context of it being a very male-dominated field and our culturally-entrenched norms of how women and men communicate with regards to conflict, it’s an interesting conversation that I’d be interested in having. This is what I was trying to be generous and empathetic about in my last post — these are the discussions that I think it’s worthwhile to have, regardless of what conclusions are reached.

But what happened next is chilling and frankly, incredibly depressing. Much like Anita Sarkeesian before her and tragically, probably like many future women who speak up about entrenched sexism, Adria Richards has been the target of an avalanche of vulgar, demeaning, and very real threats of rape and death (NOTE: that link features VERY violent imagery and links to violent language. But I feel it’s important to draw attention to how ugly and terrifying this all is). Her real-world address has been publicized — this is not internet shit that you just shrug off (which, to begin with, SIGH). And the most terrible thing about this is that to many women, like me, it almost seems inevitable.

When I recently turned 30, an idle thought popped into my head: “Huh, good for me. I made it to 30 without being raped.”

On one hand, that’s a ridiculous thought — who would think something like that? I have a fairly risk-free lifestyle and have for ages — a steady partner for the last 12 years, a social life that rarely if ever involves being in a compromising situation, and c’mon, a 30-year-old body that gave birth to a human, and shows it. So why would I even think that? Because I was raised with the expectation that it could happen: if I wore too short of a skirt, if I got too drunk, if I said something provocative, if I gave the wrong impression, if I strayed too closely to the whore end of the virgin/whore spectrum that we’re all supposed to know and obey. Being raised with that expectation has nothing to do with my particular upbringing or anything my parents ever said. It just is a fact: we live in a society where a large number of men rape a large number of women. Obviously it’s not a reality that we should blindly accept, but ignoring the fact that it happens is as ignorant as pretending that we can achieve societal color-blindness (aside: one of my favorite Girls scenes this season is when Hannah, arguing with her black boyfriend Sandy, tells him that she hadn’t ever thought once about the fact that he was black, to which he retorts “That’s insane. You should, because that’s what I am.”).

So here I am at 30, and I’ve never been the victim of rape. And possibly, neither have Anita Sarkeesian nor Adria Richards. And yet: almost every woman in our society has been the victim of the systemically-regulated fear of being raped — the thing that keeps fueling rape culture. That fear can operate on a largely dormant low boil for ages, when you’re in a situation where you actually innocently don’t realize it’s a possibility or you simply forget because it’s not really your reality. That’s often for the better: fear is incredibly stressful and paralyzing, and obviously, it’s way more advantageous to go on and live your life without it. Worry does no good, the sayings all go. But then! You read about very real women who make public contributions to the ongoing discussion about gender equality (and you see, whether or not you feel that those contributions are positive, it’s beside the point), and all it does is draw the attention of faceless men who threaten to rape them senseless, murder them if they ever met, and otherwise violate every facet of their lives. And the fear returns. It feels very very real. And while I don’t often identify primarily as a mother, yes, it’s killing me to think about how I can introduce my daughter into this world where this fear is so real.

There is so much talk these days about teaching kids about how to speak up against bullying, against inappropriate touching, against any of a litany of abuses. But how can we do that and still allow that, yeah, it’s totally possible that those instances of speaking up will target you for threats against your innocence, body, and life?

I just don’t know.

(Photo from Muslim Women Exposed)

What is feminism in 2013?

One of the most common topics that it seems society grapples with over and over again these days is gender equality. Do we have it yet, should we really be striving for it, what does it look like, when will we know when we’re there, and of course, is there even any merit in continuing to ask these questions? You’d think that the sheer resilience of the obsession would definitively answer that last question, but no, there are always those who are ready with the classic response, “UGGGGH, are we still talking about this? BORING.”

I feel like, in very recent times, there’s been even more attention being drawn to the questions of what it means to be a woman these days, and separately, what it means to be a feminist. Whether it’s conversations (deliberately focusing on the positive here and not the vitriolic name-calling from trolls that can result) about working mothers, changing one’s name when getting married, feminist fatigue, or women’s responsibility to other women, it’s obvious that we’re all still grappling with these questions and not finding answers that satisfy us, at least not enough to move on.

And that’s honestly okay.

One thing many folks don’t know about me is that I have a master’s degree, and while it’s technically in Communication, in my mind, it’s also in Gender Studies, since the overlap between the two was the bulk of my academic interest. I mention this primarily to underscore that — while I no longer ask anyone to refer to me as Master Abby — I do have a strong, abiding interest in the theories and questions of modern feminism, and I’ve read (at least the introduction and conclusion to!) quite a large amount of feminist literature.

Based on all that, my incredibly informed, educated conclusion? I’m still unsure about it all. Which is as it should be. Yes, I have specific opinions, but they’re not written in stone, which is okay, because this is something we all (I shouldn’t have to specify, but yes, I mean women AND men) live every single day. And every new perspective I read, every new life phase that I enter has the chance to change my worldview to some extent. For me, the true work of being a cultural critic, besides having the pretentiousness to call yourself one, is to be open and agreeable to that change, to want to grapple with those questions, even if you never arrive at a satisfying conclusion. So, yes, it can be incredibly frustrating to see questions and issues of gender inequality everywhere, especially if you do take a dip into those aforementioned nasty name-calling areas (comment sections are just The Worst); but not engaging and not caring is the choice to work against sexism, against racism, and against all forms of inequality.

I’d never tell you what to think, but I fervently would ask you to think, and to continue doing so as you hopefully allow your worldview to be challenged. To my earlier point implying that men can (and should) be feminists: one of the privileges inherent in being in the norm (e.g., being male, being white in America) is that you can go through a lot of life not thinking about your gender or race — not because you don’t want to, but because you don’t have to. The awakening of this consciousness in those populations is absolutely vital work, and frankly, beautiful. I don’t vaunt male feminists above female ones simply because of their Y-chromosome, but because it is much easier for them to choose to keep their eyes closed, and to ignore the work that I feel we must all take on to truly change our world for the better. So when they make the choice to open themselves to this struggle, as we all should be doing, it is 100% a positive thing for our whole society.

At least, that’s what Master Abby thinks.

PS If any of you are in Seattle and want to warm the cockles of my heart, go check out my thesis. No, seriously, it’s actually a checkout-able book. It’s been nine years, but that still gives me a thrill!

(Photo courtesy of the genius XKCD, titled “How It Works”)

Tubing with Toddlers

This past weekend, Evan, Zoe, and I trekked a few hours outside of LA with our dear friends’ families for a snowy weekend getaway! Or so it was supposed to be — there actually wasn’t much snow on the ground and it didn’t start snowing anew until the day after we came back — but we had fun anyway.

We had FOUR children with us, aged 3 years, 19 months, 15 months, and 2 months. If that sounds pretty damned insane to you… well, you wouldn’t be wrong. But while it did seem sometimes like we were in the path of three colliding tornadoes (the 2-month-old doesn’t move much yet, thank Zeus), it was also incredibly fun to see the older three girls have a bunch of new experiences amidst what was basically a weekend-long sleepover party.

One thing we really wanted to do was take the girls sledding, especially since it’s not likely that any of our little Angelenas will have the opportunity to regularly go sledding down their neighbor’s front lawn or the local park after a snowstorm. Given the lack of naturally-occurring snow though, we realized we’d have to go somewhere where they make snow happen, which is how we found ourselves at Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park. I had never gone tubing before, since everyone I know in Cleveland just has a variety of beat-up sleds in their garages, and when I first saw it, I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to work with our passel of wriggly toddlers.

Turns out: the girls loved it… for about 20 minutes. It was the first time I saw so clearly the emotional roller coaster that kids this age ride, and it was kinda breathtaking. It was still a great experience overall, even if the girls were over it well before the adults were. And having six adults around was also great for taking turns watching them while the rest of us pretended to be eight-year-olds again, hurtling down a hill and hoping that the thrill never ever ends.






















(All photos courtesy of Ashley Stoner and Cece Chikhale)