Category Archives: Chicago

America, According to Simone

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SdB + NA FOREVER

I just read Simone de Beauvoir’s travel journals, America Day by Day, a chronicle of her 1947 three-month journey across the US of A. From New York to San Francisco, LA to New Orleans, DC to Boston, de Beauvoir travels solo on a tour of college campuses and along the way occasionally reunites with her lover Nelson Algren, Richard Wright, Marcel Duchamp, and other famous and semi-famous writers and artists of the era.

De Beauvoir’s discovery of America is a strange mix of attempted conquest, intellectual competition, and condescending observations on American “simplicity” overlaid with the conflicted envy of an outsider looking in on a party she’s not even sure she wants to attend.

America, according to Simone de Beauvoir:

Here the creams are creamy, the soaps are soapy: this honesty is a forgotten luxury.

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I drink Scotch docilely because scotch is one of the keys to America.
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Men remain bareheaded, but many of the young people stick fur puffs over their ears fixed to a half-circle of plastic that sits on their hair like a ribbon–it’s hideous.
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There’s always some holiday going on in America; it’s distracting.
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In America, the individual is nothing. He is made into an abstract object of worship; by persuading him of his individual value, one stifles the awakening of a collective spirit in him.
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America is a box full of surprises.
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Americans are nature lovers, but they accept only a nature inspected and corrected by man.
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But in the end, people are always faced with what they wanted to escape: the arid basis of American life– boredom.
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How I regret being unable to love more unstintingly a country where the reign of man is affirmed with such magnificence, where the love of one’s fellow man seems at first sight so easy to achieve?
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All human problems are posed here on a gigantic scale; and to a greater degree, the solutions they find here will illuminate these problems, retrospectively, in a moving way or swallow them up in the night of indifference.
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America is one of the pivotal points of the world, where the future of man is being playing out. To “like” America, to “dislike” it–these words have no meaning. It is a battlefield, and you can only become passionate about the battle it is waging with itself, in which the stakes are beyond measure.
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And just for kicks, de Beauvoir on Chicago:
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It’s hard to breathe in the lobby [Palmer], which is permeated by a stifling heat and the thick scent of dollars.
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At least I had a glance behind the painted set. I saw a real city, tragic and ordinary, fascinating like all cities where men of flesh and blood live and struggle by the millions.
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And one of my favorite descriptions:
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He also writes about gastronomy and world affairs. The last piece was entitled “Mayonnaise and the Atomic Bomb”
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Related Post: What does one need to watch to have really watched everything? Recommended viewing.
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My Book Club is Famous, and other readerly things

First and most important, my book club is famous. Not People famous or CNN famous or even Jezebel famous, but it is Afternoon Shift famous on our local NPR station, WBEZ. One of our book club members is a reporter and captured some of our nerdery at last Sunday’s book club get-together.

A piece of her interview that didn’t make the air, but that brings me great pleasure, is our discussion of our “Rules of Book Club.” There are many, but my two favorites are:

1. Read the Book because, come on, this is not a wine club, nor a brunch club, though there might be wine and/or brunch. There are limits to what you can contribute and what you’ll get out of it if you haven’t read the book.

2. No Bookclubbing Before Book Club because we all hang out on any number of occasions and in any number of combinations before the designated discussion, save your thoughts and opinions (as best as you are able) for the larger group so everyone gets the benefit of your brilliance.

If you have book clubs, I would love to know how yours works! Ours operates on a nomination system (wherein, every month, anyone can nominate a book, and all the nominations go on a ballot, we vote for two apiece, and the winner is read).

In other random readerly nerdery, have you listened to the Tavi Gevinson Nerdette podcast yet? Also worth a listen:

And lastly, do you ever have that moment where you’re on your way to a new place, and you’re staring at your phone tracking yourself on the map and you’re like… it should be right here. And then you look up, and it it is right there, and if you had used the eyes in your head instead of the device in your hand you would have found it five minutes ago?

So that feeling, that is how I feel about this article about this Atlantic article about “the Netflix for books.” I’m like… um,… we have that already. It’s called the library. It’s actually cooler than Netflix, because it’s free. Also, it’s been around for hundreds of years…. So really, what you’re saying is that Netflix was a “library for movies.” Not the other way around. Respect.

Related Post: I talk about Lean In on the radio with Vocalo and the Morning AMp.

Releted Post: On the radio, talking about feminist dating.

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Solo in the City

A few months ago I moved into my first solo apartment. From parent house one to parent house two to dorm, dorm, roommates, roommates, roommates, I am now all by my lonesome in my little rickety, high-ceilinged, ancient-refrigeratored one-bedroom. After Sara Eckel wrote a modern love column about moving in with her boyfriend after 20 years of living solo, I decided to reflect on the beginning of that journey. So, 159 days into solo-living, here’s where I’m at:

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Related Post: The break-up museum, and relics of exes that we cart from place to place.

Related Post: That time the roof caught on fire.

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S(Monday) Scraps 108

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1. THIRD COAST: Tom Dyja, author of The Third Coast, is interviewed about the Midwest, Chicago, hot dogs, etc on the Freakonomics podcast.

2. COMICS: Bill Watterson, genius behind Calvin and Hobbes, has beautifully illustrated a little life philosophy for all those twenty-somethings (or forty-somethings) trying to figure it out.

3. YEAR25: The blog Wait But Why explains with hand charts, graphs, and cartoons why we millennials are chronically dissatisfied. Yes, it’s talking about you.

4. AUTHORS: What if famous authors had instagram? #malaise #misunderstood (BuzzFeed).

5. BEYONCE: Todrick Hall has created an incredibly elaborate Cinderella parody exclusively set to Beyonce songs. It’s called…wait for it… Cinderonce.

6. CELEBS: Just for kicks, a gallery of celebrity photos from back in the day. Damn, Stephen Colbert, you were fiiiiiine.

Related Post: Sunday 107: Amanda Palmer in the nude, mermaids and workplace discrimination

Related Post: Sunday 106: Hoffman, Delaney, sex ed in Ireland

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Complicated Feelings about Tourism, Harassment, Gender, Other Buzzwords

Screenshot_8_20_13_1_24_PMI have been thinking about this essay [trigger warning] about a white woman traveling in India a lot. Have you read it yet?  It’s making the rounds, but because I share her alma mater, it’s been tearing up my newsfeed. The gist of it is that the author, a college student studying abroad, was traumatized by the culture of sexual harassment, objectification, and assault that she experienced first and secondhand during her travels. She has since been diagnosed with PTSD. A sample:

I covered up, but I did not hide. And so I was taken, by eye after eye, picture after picture. Who knows how many photos there are of me in India, or on the internet: photos of me walking, cursing, flipping people off. Who knows how many strangers have used my image as pornography, and those of my friends. I deleted my fair share, but it was a drop in the ocean– I had no chance of taking back everything they took.

I’m having all kinds of feelings, so let’s do it this way…

On the one hand… This woman is entitled to her experience. I have also traveled in India as a single white female. I had a very different experience than the one she describes. Although I also had my picture taken a million times, had inappropriate questions asked, was stared at, and received two marriage proposals (which I politely declined), I did not experience any physical harassment. I felt that the stares were primarily based in curiosity, at my looks and at the audacity of a woman of my status to travel alone, not objectification.

When I first read this essay, I was tempted to roll my eyes. That’s a lie. I did roll my eyes, and I am now embarrassed that I did so. Part of me wanted to tell her to toughen up, brush it off. I am embarrassed by that response as well. Her experiences were different than mine (as mine are different from yours) and even if they had been similar, she is allowed to feel differently about the experience than I do. This seems obvious as I type it, but as I was reading, I was having an immature, judgmental, condescending reaction to her words.

On the other hand…She’s not a soldier. She’s not an aid worker. She’s a tourist. She can leave, so leave. She has all of the resources to stop the source of her trauma. She doesn’t live in India. She is not a resident who contends with the threat of rape and assault on a daily basis without the benefit of a return flight. Her harassment might be amplified by her red hair, but as recent tragedies would suggest, Indian women and girls are in no way immune from the the treatment she received. She is now back in the United States receiving treatment for PTSD. Her essay doesn’t acknowledge that this is a perpetual state for many; is PTSD even an acknowledged illness in India? She is lucky, as am I. We get to globe-trot, we get to explore, we get to be the solo lady travelers. We live in countries where we can vote and drive and have sex without being stoned and wear what we want and live alone and call the police when we need help and work and so many other things.

On the other hand… Sexual harassment is never okay. When one travels, there are obviously customs that are different in the countries you visit and, within reason, it is healthy and respectful to try to observe them. You should not travel expecting to recreate your experiences at home wherever you go; a Big Mac is not a Big Mac in India, it’s made of chicken and it’s called a Maharaja Mac. There may not be hot water. There might be bugs. It will smell differently, etc. etc. etc. But, sexual harassment and assault are not acceptable, even if they are more common in some parts of the world than others. While a “When in Rome,” attitude is usually a plus, “When I’m in Rome, I’ll get groped on the train,” is not cool.

I’m ashamed that I shrugged at her experience. I almost threw her the most insulting, patronizing response to her trauma, “What did you expect?” WHOA, Emily, NOT OKAY. You’re wearing yoga pants, what did you expect would happen? You’re drinking and dancing, what did you expect? You’re pretty, what did you expect? The “What did you expect” is a close cousin of “You were asking for it,” and we know that you are NEVER asking for it and that that is a line for the weak and the cowardly.

On the next hand… I can’t help but think about my own experience traveling in India and elsewhere. My experience has been overwhelmingly positive with a few blips of shittiness here and there and consequently my instinct is to declare that this makes me a “better” traveler than the author. My second instinct is to call bullshit on myself. Differentiation–”she’s not like me”–is the classic first step in victim blaming. If she’s not like me, then she’s somehow responsible for what happened to her, which would never happen to me,  because we are fundamentally different, and on and on. It’s a common defense mechanism to help calm the fear that it could happen to anyone (because, intellectually, we all know… it could happen to anyone).

There are at least three other hands to consider … (please feel free to add in the comments!), but I’m tired of talking about this. I am sympathetic for her experience. I am irritated at the essay’s “plight of the white woman” vibe. I am even more irritated that I identify with it. I feel pretty helpless in the face of the level of harassment and assault in India. If I’m honest, I feel pretty helpless in the face of harassment and assault here at home too.

So yeah, there’s that. 

Related Post: What to do when you lose your wallet.

Related Post: Pro tips for solo-traveling ladies

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Guest Post: The Problem With “Blurred Lines”

Remember when Thicke looked like this?

Remember when Thicke looked like this?

Guest post today from my girl Bri, a fellow Chicago friend who had an epiphany about the controversial Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines.”

Background: Thicke’s song received a lot of attention for being a tad rape-y and coercive with lyrics like, “And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl/I know you want it” and for his GQ interview in which he said, “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.’ People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.’” Other people claimed that “we” were reading too much into a damn catchy beat and looking to get upset (which, yes, sometimes we do).

Bri wrote an awesome post today on FB about a street harassment incident where a group of guys used these lyrics to intimidate and objectify. She makes some excellent points about how the “blurred” space between good times and sexual assault can be the most dangerous space because of the erosion of boundaries and the expectations that some people have about “good times.”  With her permission:

“I was walking from the red line stop to the green line stop. And, as feels inevitable at this point when walking anywhere, a group of guys verbally harassed me along the way, even following me for a bit at one point. It was nighttime, but I wasn’t really nervous/scared per se, since there were a ton of other people around, but it was still obviously obnoxious and embarrassing and shitty. So they’re yelling things like “that’s it, bitch! that’s my bitch!” which, whatever. (For men [or women I suppose] who maybe haven’t experienced this… it’s really not super out-of-the-ordinary for a lot of women in a lot of places… keep that in mind through the rest of this.)

But then they started singing Blurred Lines. Now, I understand that there’s both been a lot of people offended by Blurred Lines, as well as a lot of people totally confused by and antagonistic towards people who are offended by Blurred Lines. I was pretty offended when I first saw/heard the video/song. But as I talked through it with people, it was really hard for me to actually pinpoint a concrete reason that it made me so uncomfortable. It’s about a guy seducing a girl, and he’s using sexy language to do it – what’s so bad about that? I wondered what it was that made me uncomfortable. I read articles depicting the terms “good girl” and “I know you want it” as rape-y, which didn’t really seem fair. Sexually dominant? Sure. But that’s not a negative thing, people are entitled to be into whatever they’re into. So I set my discomfort aside and tried to enjoy this song that the rest of the world seems to love.

Until this event last week. 8-10 guys singing “you’re a good girl, you know you want it” at me cleared up very quickly why this song makes me, and many other women, uncomfortable, and why that’s totally justified, and why much of the world and Robin Thicke probably don’t get it.

It’s a trigger. Those words immediately trigger horrifying memories for a lot of women, myself included. A group of men singing those words at me brought back the EXACT sensation that I’ve had during horribly traumatic points of my life. “You’re a good girl” – instant horrible flashback. “You know you want it” – another horrible flashback, and the memory of someone justifying a terrible act they’re committing by convincing themselves that I want it.

And I don’t have statistics on this, but I would venture to say that not just mine, but a SIGNIFICANT number of cases of sexual assault occur when people are having a good time – at a party, being flirty, etc, after which things take a dark turn. So for Blurred Lines to be doing just that – blurring the line between a fun, upbeat, sing-a-long-style song that’s flirtacious and dirty and whatever, and a song that triggers such horrible, dark memories for me, is another trigger in itself. It totally mirrors some fun times that quickly turned into awful experiences.

The purpose of this post is really just to say: I understand more fully now why people are offended by this song, and I also get why people think people who are offended are totally overreacting. Because “you’re a good girl” and “you know you want it” should just be sexy, dirty, fun, with-a-wink language. In a perfect world, Blurred Lines would be a fun, dirty, sexy song, and that’s it. But it’s not. To a lot of women, those words (and consequently that video too) don’t just mean that. That’s not Robin Thicke’s fault, and I understand why he and most men and a lot of women can honestly and thoroughly enjoy the song. I’m just saying that it’s okay, too, to not be able to enjoy the song. I get it now. And I’d hope that everyone might understand a little better why being offended isn’t necessarily an overreaction – it’s a reaction to something that really has little/nothing to do with Thicke and has everything to do with words that trigger memories of horrible things that people do to other people.”

If you want more of Bri, follow her on Twitter here

One other thing, the video for Blurred Lines has been “gender swapped” by  Mod Carousel. How do we feel about fully clothed ladies and gyrating naked men? NSFW:

Related Post: On Ta-Nehisi Coates, street harassment and “Real Men”

Related Post: Guest Post: Dude, I Don’t Know If You’re a Player or a Slut

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S(Monday) Scraps 105

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1. TEXAS: This is a long and beautiful piece by Amy Gentry for The Rumpus about abortion, body politics, and who we’re really protecting.

2. BADASS: Senator Claire McCaskill replies to James Taranto’s horrifying essay about how the fight against sexual assault in the military is actually a “war on men” and male sexuality. Taranto: 0, McCaskill: ALL OF THE POINTS.

3. TRAVEL: Fascinating essay by travel writer Simon Winchester about a tiny island of 300 people, Tristan de Cunha, and how he got banned from visiting for violating local customs.

4. HISTORY: In the wake of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, Slate has an example of the dizzyingly confusing literacy tests that were used in the 50s and 60s to prevent black people from voting.

5. PLANNED PARENTHOOD: In case you ever forget what Planned Parenthood provides, a lovely essay from the blog What Are You Doing Here, Are You Lost?

6. CITIES: Chicago Magazine has an awesome series of panoramic shots of New York, San Francisco, Chicago, pre- and during industrial development.

Related Post: Sunday 104 – Books in pie-chart form, awesome ASL translators, what is a bro?

Related Post: Sunday 103 – Awesome people reading, pin-up presidents, Rich Kids of Instagram

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Filed under Art, Body Image, Chicago, Gender, Politics, Really Good Writing by Other People

Is This How Riots Happen?

hawksChicago won the Stanley Cup last night. If I hadn’t been watching the game (pure accident, as the concert I was supposed to be at got rained out), I would have known of the victory by the non-stop honking/shouting/whooping/chest-thumping racket that continued well into the middle of the night a few stories below my  bedroom window.

But I did watch, and n the way home, right after the final buzzer, the red line was packed with Hawks fans dancing and flapping their “wings” and congratulating each other. When the doors parted, an older gentleman (portly, bespectacled, balding) couldn’t get past the wall of teenagers. After shouting “Back off! Back the fuck off!” they let him through onto the platform, but started chanting “Bruins Fan!” at him as he exited. From there, he turned on the crowd, pointed finger shoving into Blackhawk-jerseyed chests and starting yelling at them. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of his tirade went like this,

I AM a Hawks fan, I’m just not insane like you lunatics! There’s more to the world than hockey, you know? Read a book every once in a while. Pay attention to the world. Care about something other than sports for fuck’s sake! It’s just a game!”

The crowd, for obvious reasons, didn’t like his message or his tone. As the doors closed, he kept shouting through the glass, his adult-to-bad-child tsk-tsk finger-point reflected back in dozens of college students flipping him the bird. “Go read a book or something!” I was just glad that the opposing forces were separated by panes of something solid. The fury on both sides seemed so primal (and inebriated) and it was easy to imagine a drunk kid taking a swing at him and chaos erupting. So this is how riots start, I thought.

The truth is, while I would have claimed to not “get” hockey, last night was probably more combined minutes of hockey-watching than I’ve done in the last ten years, and it was actually super fun. We conveniently had a dad on hand who was thrilled to explain some of the nuance, and as many people have unsuccessfully tried to persuade me over the years, it is an extremely graceful game if you look past the brawling.

The part I still don’t understand (about all sports, not just hockey) is the whole hog, blood-runs-insert-color-here investment that people have in the records of their teams. I get the momentary excitement, the palpable energy during the game itself, feeling like if you hold your breath maybe the shot will go where you’re willing it to go, like your viewership affects the outcome. I can cheer with the best of them, hoot and holler, etc, but when the game ends, win or lose, it occupies no further brain space. I don’t dwell on it, and neither the joy of victory nor the agony of defeat linger past the last buzzer. That was fun, I think, moving on!

So Sports People, help me out here; I’m clearly missing something, a vein that millions of people worldwide are willing and able to tap into. To my mind, most of these Hawks aren’t from Chicago, and it’s not like they picked us for any special reason. They’re contracted to wear this particular jersey vs. that particular jersey, so where does the loyalty come from? What is it about a team or the community around the team that allows the outcome of a game (because the man on the train was right, it is just a game) to determine your mood for the next week?

Related Post: The best things I read in 2012 about sports.

Related Post: Why you should be reading Grantland.

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Sunday Scraps 103

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1. READING: Tumblr called Awesome People Reading is a bunch of pictures of awesome people reading.

2. WEALTH: The opposite of awesome people reading, I bring you Rich Kids of Instagram

3. BOOKS: Summer is the time of books! Yippee! Famous authors like Louise Erdrich and Junot Diaz reflect on their influential summers of books.

4. AUTHORS: In a fundraising pitch for charity English PEN, fifty authors have returned to their first editions to annotate and note their thoughts on those early efforts.

5. SEX APPEAL: Pin-up founding fathers from the blog Publius Esquire.

6. CHICAGO: How the housing crisis in Chicago has created a new kind of activism with the Anti-Eviction Campaign.

Related Post: Sunday 102 – Depression comics, war photos, and Rihanna’s hairstylist

Related Post: Sunday 101 – Colbert, Obama, and Lean-In Drama

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After this brief commercial break…

I don’t usually use this space to push fundraisers on you because there are a zillion other internet spaces where that happens. I’m making an exception today,  however, because the stuff that I want to plug is close to home and hella important. Forgive me this brief commercial digression:

Screenshot_6_6_13_11_57_AMActive Transportation Alliance: If you live in Chicago, you may have heard about the death of Bobby Cann last week. He was a coworker of mine (though I didn’t know him) and an avid biker. He was hit by a car on his ride home from work just a few blocks from our office. The Active Transportation Alliance is raising money for 100 miles of protected bike lanes in Chicago. If you donate through this Groupon page, up to $10,000 will be matched.

Screenshot_6_6_13_12_02_PMWith Wings and Roots: Friends of mine are working on this incredible documentary, With Wings and Roots, about the immigration experiences of our peers in New York and Berlin. “In the US, we often think of immigration as a uniquely American issue. Rarely do we see the overlapping experiences of immigrant communities around the world. The stories in with WINGS and ROOTS force us to recognize the interconnectedness of our struggles and reimagine belonging beyond national borders.” The filming is complete, but the team is raising money to complete the editing.

Screenshot_6_6_13_12_03_PMApp Camp for Girls: It’s no surprise that rectifying the gender imbalance in the tech sector is close to my heart. I work in tech and I’m confronted every day by lack of women in our office and the weird treehouse-mentality that creates. While there are dozens of initiatives we can pursue at the top (think recruiting strategies, mentoring, etc.) starting early is the surest bet to changing the status quo. A new non-profit camp for girls is trying to get off the ground in Portland, OR. Girls will learn to build apps (we all know mobile is where it’s at) by working with female developers and designers.

If you can donate, donate. If you can’t, maybe spread the word. Pick one of these fine organizations and send along their Groupon/Kickstarter/Indiegogo to all your wealthier friends. Post, tweet, share, etc.

Thank you for your time, now on to our regular programming…

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