On Breast Cancer, Bustily

Breasts have always been a source of stress for me.

When I was about fourteen, it became clear that I wasn’t going to do much more developing, and at the time, it was devastating. All the other girls had boobs and I didn’t. They used to tease me mercilessly: “If you didn’t have feet, would you wear shoes?….Then why do you wear a bra?”

After the pain that was being a flat-chested adolescent subsided, I was left with the marvelous acceptance of my body. As it turns out, the joke may be on them. I can fit into clothes. I can wear backless dresses. I can jog comfortably. (Not that I would ever jog, but if I wanted to, it would be easy.) People are forced to talk to my face after their eyes realize that the expanse of skin where my cleavage should be is just that, skin.

Who needs boobs anyway?

My birth mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago. Her mom died of breast cancer. All of her mom’s sisters have had it or died from it. My birth mother survived. She had many dark hours and a tough battle, including surgeries and struggles with health insurance. A woman at work had breast cancer last year. My stepmom had breast cancer last year. It’s just breast cancer everywhere. These struggles are so unique and so  life-changing.

I know in my core that I will someday get breast cancer. I’m ready for it. I’m at peace with it. One of the recommendations is that you do a preemptive double mastectomy. I looked at my mom and told her that I’d worked too hard to grow the ones I have now to even consider that at this point. If I ever procreate, I will get rid of the boobs after I’m done having children. If I don’t procreate, I’ll get new ones at some point during my 30s. But regardless, I’m definitely going to go up a cup size. (When in Rome...)

Reading the news about Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy made me stop and think. Breast cancer is such a serious struggle, such a profoundly widespread epidemic, but at the same time, preemptive surgery is also such a serious undertaking. I admire the courage, the willingness to subject herself to the pain and the recovery in order to mitigate future complications.

I am confident that I’ll make the right choices when the time comes. I am confident that no amount of cleavage defines me as a woman. I am confident that my vigilance and forward-thinking will keep me alive. I’m grateful for all the women who’ve come before me, who’ve shared their experiences, who’ve taught me how to handle it with grace and dignity and strength.

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On Quarter-Life Crises, Existentially

It’s happened like clockwork. Every five or six months since I joined the working world, I start to panic. I find myself burned out, thoroughly exhausted, and inconsolable because it seems like everything I work so hard for is ultimately unattainable.

This month, I looked at my bank account after I paid my bills, sorted my savings, and so on. For the month of April, I have $15 a day. This includes gas for my car, food, and anything else I need. (Let me put this in perspective for you: It costs me around $40 – two and a half days of life – to fill up Simon’s gas tank. I do this every seven to ten days. Budgeting for four fill-ups during the month of April, we’ve already lost a quarter of my funds.)

***

According to new studies, about 11% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD. I lost the link to the article, but apparently the people with the highest percentage of prescription drug abuse are people born between 1981 and 1990. And then there’s this horrifyingly sad op-ed piece from a father who lost his son to a drug overdose.

I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was twenty-three. It was a hellish two-day testing, during which all learning disabilities were ruled out. I’m grateful for that – I always wondered if I was just bad at math or if it was something more than that. (As it turns out, I’m actually average to above average at math, so I’m wondering how much learned helplessness is playing a role in my inability to do calculus. I also wonder how necessary calculus is for a long and happy life.)

In the year and a half since my diagnosis, I’ve embraced my Adderall and all of its drawbacks. Honestly, I’m eternally grateful for the drug. It’s changed the way I work. It’s allowed me to focus, something that I can’t do. I now have the ability to be productive. I often wonder what my grades in high school or college would have been like had I been properly diagnosed around the time I started wondering if I had a focus issue. I wonder if my inability to concentrate – which was honestly so bad that I never read a textbook – negatively affected my grade point average and my chances at success in life.

My manager when I was 16 always used to tell me that I had the attention span of a golden retriever. Now, I’m still not the best at impulse-control or listening, but I’m at least getting better at being patient, at doing work,
[edit: I came back to read this paragraph and realized I’d totally trailed off, leaving it unfinished. I’m leaving it this way.]

True, I immediately lost 15 pounds and have struggled to maintain my four-pounds-underweight weight ever since. I pick at my skin, unconsciously. I was having trouble sleeping for a while. They tried to prescribe me pills for that, but I declined them. I don’t want more pills.

Regardless, I’ve never abused it. Nor have I sold it. Nor would I ever dream of doing that. I believe that too much Dateline as a child has led me to lead the mostly drug-free life I lead today. I am disappointed to hear so much about the struggles that so many people are having with drug abuse, particularly my beloved Adderall. I never took it recreationally before being diagnosed, so I never understood the allure of it. I hate the vilification of Adderall-users. I hate how I feel like a criminal with my pharmacy and my doctors. I hate how hard I had to fight to get my insurance company to cover it, initially. I don’t take it on the weekends. I don’t take it so I can stay up and party. I don’t understand why you would.

***

I work sixty hours a week, and have for much of the last two years. I supplement my income from my full-time job with income from a regular babysitting gig and then a part-time job at a Dairy Queen. I am exhausted. There is no time for balance. There is no time for moderation. I see my family and friends when I can, working them in between the triple-work schedules that I juggle.

I hope that one day, I will make more than $xx an hour. I hope that eventually, I won’t have to work three jobs so that I can make ends meet. But for now, this is what I have to do. I try to love my job, and generally I do, but there are times when things start to get so impossible that I start to drown in the negative.

These past few weeks have been that cesspool of hell, the undercurrent threatening to pull me under. I go from being confident in what I do to cut down and weak. It’s frustrating. The environment, which can be so collaborative and positive, can quickly turn threatening and hyper-competitive, leading to unnecessary drama and unanswered questions. Instead of being able to stay afloat and above the chaos, I find myself questioning my own abilities.

***

People ask me why I work so hard. I don’t know how to tell them that I know what it’s like to wear damp pants to school because your dryer broke and your parents can’t afford to fix it right now.

I am so grateful for everything I’ve been given. I am grateful that I have been blessed with the ultimate gift of education. I am blessed because I  understand the value of a dollar, the value of simple indulgences like a drink with your meal. I understand what it’s like to make sacrifices; I understand how to cut out the unnecessary. (Seriously, if you want to save money, don’t buy liquid. Don’t buy juice, don’t buy soda, just drink water. One of my favorite indulgences is fruit and veggie juices. It pleases me on some core level.)

I don’t ever want to worry about money. (Which is why the sad irony here is that I spend every day worrying about it.) I don’t ever want to have to ask for help. I don’t need a gold-plated bathtub – I need to know that I can pay the water bill. I won’t stop until I know I’m okay. I can’t. If something bad happens, I need to know that I can hold on for a few months, that I won’t lose my house, or not be able to afford a car, or whatever else.

***

I’ve been struggling lately. It’s a life crisis of the worst kind. The “why do I work so much when it’s not really getting me anywhere?” struggle. The “maybe I’ll just live off ramen and be done trying so hard” train of thought.

I’ve been wondering if it’s that I’m materialistic or too greedy. But then I think, that can’t possibly be the case, can it? Sure, I take pleasure in my material comforts, but I truly believe I’m reasonable about them. I haven’t gotten my car fixed (long live the duct taped bumper!) because I believe it’s an unnecessary expense.

***

In the middle of this disjointed spewing of thoughts, I renewed my prescription online. Then I got a message saying that I’m due for a blood pressure check. I will gladly go and do the blood pressure check so that I can get my prescription renewed. I’m responsible. I’m on top of it. I renew, I submit to the examinations of the mind and body whenever they tell me to, I pay. I don’t abuse. I take my dose, no more, no less. I hate that people want to make the drug the problem, when in fact, there are other factors to consider. I will say, though, that I’m glad it happened at 23 and not at 10, or younger. I am grateful that medication was my choice.

***

I hate to say it, but have we considered the fact that our society is slowly building a set of standards that are possibly unattainable? I hear all of these complaints, including that op-ed piece in Wall Street Journal by a very whiny high school senior who didn’t get into her chosen schools, from people who aren’t measuring up. But are the standards too high? Am I one of those who worries I’ll never be good enough simply because I could be good enough? Or perhaps I’m already good enough but can’t see it because I’m constantly being told I should push harder, run faster, be better. (For the record, I’ll never run faster than last place, and I’m cool with that.)

I need my Adderall to focus. But I need my focus to work. And I need my work to survive, to be happy, to be secure. Above all, I want security. Is that so much to ask for? Security should not be the result of a sixty-hour work week. It should not come at the expense of happiness.

***

Last week, someone asked me what I do to relax. I stared at them, my mind desperately searching for any answer besides “gin.” After a very long and uncomfortable pause, I weakly offered, “I take baths sometimes?”

“I expected that you wouldn’t have a lot of answers, but I didn’t expect nothing,” was the response I got. I’m determined to somehow find time to take care of me, to find my own relaxation somewhere in this madness. But perhaps, much like security and happiness, relaxation is another of the unattainables we were told we could have if only we worked hard enough.

On Irony and Millennial Rage, Pointedly

I am a Millennial. I live in the age of technology, apathy, and stagnancy. I find myself, for some reason, oddly incensed when I read articles decrying the state of our Millennial generation and the effect we’ll have on the future.

One of my friends posted a link to a New York Times op-ed piece called “How to Live Without Irony” on his facebook wall. I, being the curious creature that I am, clicked on it. And I’ve been in a Millennial fury ever since.

The article focuses on irony as the “ethos of our age” and discusses hipsters as “the archetype of ironic living.” Before I even begin, I must state that I believe that the sort of hipster that the author, Ms. Wampole, is describing is a sort of hipster that we only see in stereotyped form – the sort of hipster that she imagines is the sort of hipster that died out the minute Urban Outfitters opened its first store, just as the emo movement of my teens trickled into black nothingness after a few years of outpourings of softened masculinity and affectation of grief stemming from the loss of nothing concrete.

(The cover image of the article shows two hip-looking twenty-somethings wearing Justin Bieber shirts, ironically. I know plenty of hipsters and I’ve never once seen a single one of them wearing any sort of pop star t-shirt, save for Ben, the South African grad student who owns a Britney Spears t-shirt but genuinely loves her. That’s not irony; that’s adoration.)

The author goes on to describe the acceptance of such an ironic life as being something easily mocked and lacking individuality, the ability to gift sincerely, communication skills, and an aversion to risk.

She’s right on the count that it’s easy to mock hipsters. But that’s not really a point. It’s easy to mock most groups, so long as you’re not a part of them. Ms. Wampole admits that the reason she’s so irked by hipsters is that “they are….an amplified version of me.” I’m not sure what she means by this, although she goes on to point out that she, just like hipsters, finds it hard to gift sincerely.

This is bullshit. Maybe you, Ms. Wampole, are just a terrible gift-giver. Yes, it’s terrifying to work really hard on a present that someone might hate, but that’s part of being alive. (Do you also not date because you’re afraid of rejection?) I know hipsters who gift-give insanely well – I own two eye patches and a pair of man-pants, neither given ironically, and all three things appreciated intensely.

I have no idea where the author is getting the idea that hipsters can’t gift sincerely. Oh, wait, perhaps she’s thinking Urban Outfitters, which is hipster gift central, but again, way too mainstream for authentic hipsters. (You’ll find them in the boutiques that I’m terrified to enter – because instead of finding acceptance and awesome things, I find condescending glares from the pierced staff and faces full of disgust.)

The teenagers who buy the brass knuckles mug for $17.99 (I’m making that price up) aren’t buying in to hipsterism and ultimately embracing irony as their ethos; they’re buying it because they want to feel badass. They want to feel adult. They want to feel like a unique consumer.

Same goes for the dude who’s in the Puma store buying a pair of sweet track shoes. Or the new bride in Anthropologie spending a ridiculous amount of her newly created joint back account on a bathrobe or a pretty, lace-lined dress. They want to feel unique. They want to exude the air of quality, or expensive taste, or maturity through purchasing power. Those people aren’t hipsters, or maybe they are. But it doesn’t matter. Because at the end of the day, it’s not the ironic life that anyone is buying into.

This is in no way a new thing. Expression of self through material expression is the ultimate in statements. The fashion industry thrives not because we need couture. It thrives because the clothes we wear ultimately send signals to our peers about who and what we are.

Judith Butler (my favorite feminist theorist, don’t judge me) writes about a concept that I’ve hung on to: the idea that all individuals are always dressing in drag. This means, essentially, that what we wear and how we put ourselves together is all a performance. For example, I usually wear jeans and a sweatshirt to work. Today, I’m wearing dress pants and a nice shirt. My co-workers are all like, “Laundry day?” because me dressed up is usually my signal that it’s time to wash my clothes. But no, today I’m wearing dress pants because we’re closing on our house (eek!) and I want to give off the appearance that I’m totally calm and put together (I’m not).

Everything we do and own is performance, and I think the author would do well to remember that the idea of “heteronormative drag” goes much further than the Brooklyn hipsters.

It is my contention that the expression of irony through statement t-shirts, and other ironic, or potentially outdated fashions is merely a cultural commentary, and a rejection of the bubblegum pop materialism that we Millennials came of age in.  (Ms. Wampole seems to forget that fashion is cyclical – I would kill for some more vintage dresses. Think 50s housewife. The lines look good on me, and accentuate my almost non-existent curves. I don’t want them to make feminist statements; I want them because I feel good in them.)

I don’t think that it’s so much “nostalgia for times he never lived himself” so much as it is the rejection of consumerism as a whole – for example, the move toward bicycles signals a conscious attempt to provide quicker pedestrian transportation, particularly in cities. It’s practical and functional, and people want to deck out their bicycles the same way they want to put fuzzy dice in their cars (but shouldn’t).

I can’t (and won’t) speak to fixed-gear bicycles because they terrify me. My dad gifted me his 1973 road bike (with gears and brakes, thankfully) for my birthday a couple of years ago – not because I was feeling nostalgic for the damn time in which the bike was created, but because I rode on the bike when I was a baby; I think it’s sweet; and it was free. Perhaps they signal some sort of accomplishment, as in, “yeah, you see this baby, it has no brakes. I’m a badass.” Again, I think that’s what people really want. It’s the cycling equivalent of a Tesla Roadster.

I grew up in an age marked by plastic and glitter and things made of glittering plastic. I think that the hipster mentality is rooted in a desire to embrace the bright colors but simplistic design and clean lines of times past, when furniture was for function rather than overly artistic design for the sake of overly artistic design. (Think of McMansions and the glittering, faux-crystal chandeliers. It’s not that the hipster is rejecting quality, but they’re rejecting the pretense that “all that glitters is gold.”)

Of course, I must address mustaches. I’m personally terrified of facial hair. I think it’s weird. On some people, it looks great, but I don’t want to wake up next to the remnants of last night’s sweet handlebar mustache. I don’t want to date a guy who spends more time on his mustache than I do on my hair. I don’t get hipster mustaches. And I am critical of them. But heck, I’m critical of Bump-Its, too.

I think Ms. Wampole is correct when she says, “Throughout history, irony has served useful purposes, like providing a rhetorical outlet for unspoken societal tensions.” But she’s wrong to say that our “contemporary ironic mode is somehow deeper; it has leaked from the realm of rhetoric into life itself. This ironic ethos can lead to a vacuity and vapidity of the individual and collective psyche.”

I do believe that outwardly, the display of the ironic is more present than at most points in history. But again, I contend that it stems from not only access to social media and all things internet-based and it also stems from a sort of cultural shift that’s happening. We’re frustrated and stagnant, and it seems that no amount of pushing and shoving is allowing this generation to get out of the critical gaze of our elders. I feel as though we can honestly do no right. I’ve attended webinars that focus solely on how to manage Millennials, webinars that criticize but neglect to touch on the benefits that we may have. We may lack social interaction skills, but I think that with enough mentoring and practice, we’d all be more than proficient. (I exchanged recipes with a middle-aged businessman at the last trade show I attended. I don’t think I sat there the whole time buried in my phone. I was terrified, but I stood, hands folded in front of me, smiling and making small talk. Success.)

(Something for middle-aged readers to remember: did you start out in middle-management? No? You started out as a kid in an ill-fitting suit who had no idea what was expected of you? Oh, really. Hmmm…perhaps you’d like to share your experiences and some tips with the young kids in your office. Perhaps you could each benefit from a relationship. I bet they’d be willing to teach you about a lot of things, not just pop culture references. I always say that one of the things I’m most grateful for is the fact that I’m the youngest by 18 years in my office. I’ve had such beautiful opportunities to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. And I’ve also contributed to the environment in which I work. I bring enthusiasm, perspective, and humor. I’d argue that we’ve all benefited.)

Is our move toward silly expression really just a reaction to the overwhelming burden that’s been placed on us? As a Millennial, I’m constantly met with statistics that are wildly incorrect. They tell me that I’m not civic-minded or politically engaged. These are distinctly false. I am both civic-minded and an informed voter. (I think the pollsters would do best to stop interviewing 18-year old high school graduates, for I think that all rational thought at 18 is not necessarily the rational thought that those same people will possess a mere five years later.) I’m constantly facing the news that I’m going nowhere, that I’m ill-prepared to lead a productive and sustainable life, that I’m vapid and moronic. I have news for you: I’m none of those things. And I resent it.

Perhaps I am a bit sensitive, the hallmark of my generation. We were so coddled and loved and adored, but that’s the fault of our parents, the generation that moved to the suburbs and embraced materialism as a marker of success and eschewed happiness in favor of social status. (Oh she’s shifting blame! Quick, get her!)

I’m not shifting blame entirely. I do know plenty of people who aren’t half as self-sufficient as I am. I know plenty of Millennials who lack the drive and focus. But can’t you say the same for people in your own generation?

Ms. Wampole describes us as a “self-infantilizing citizenry,” and I think she’s wildly incorrect. We are not that. We are driven, determined, and yes, stagnant. Our under-employment and over-educated minds are frustrated. Our loans are crippling and our credit scores sick with over-exertion and exhaustion. We work jobs and jobs and jobs, until we are exhausted, mentally and physically. And yet, we hope.

Just as Ms. Wampole says she did in the 90s (mind you, she’s really only 3 years removed from this pathetic generation of Millennnials and hipsters, so perhaps the fact that she sees some of us in her is based in proximity alone). We hope for better for ourselves. Not necessarily materialistically better, but better. We hope for many things – a government of the people, by the people, and for the people; a solid 401(k); a peaceful, sustainable future for our own children (should we choose to procreate). None of these things vary that drastically from the hopes of generations before us, but the messages are so mixed these days, it’s hard to tell if we’re headed in the right direction.

She also discusses the archetype of her own generation, “the slacker who slouched through life in plaid flannel, alone in his room, misunderstood. And when we were bored with not caring, we were vaguely angry and melancholic, eating antidepressants like candy.” I’m not sure how this differs from the current hipster archetype. I’d like to argue that her generation’s slacker has become the hipster of mine. The aimlessness we feel somewhat resembles that of the Lost Generation, the generation who struggled to find meaning, who struggled in a post-war world, who lacked the solid foundations of a future, yet who desired so much to discern meaning from their circumstances.

We need to stop writing off the hipsters or the Millennials, or both singularly, as being unintelligent and uninformed. We need to stop criticizing them for this mess – the current social atmosphere is far more charged and reactionary than you might be inclined to believe.

The friend who posted the article responded to my comment taking offense to Ms. Wampole’s assertion of our insincerity through ironic expression saying that he felt that the author’s intent was not to go after hipsters and that irony can undermine sincerity and authenticity. He’s wrong about her intent: she’s a hipster-hating human who doesn’t have any clue what she’s talking about since she’s locked in the ivory tower of academia – it’s a very sheltered world, and I often find that when theoretical thinking is not paired with real-world experiences, it tends to become a shade too intense and unrealistic.

He’s right about irony undermining sincerity and authenticity. I personally strive to be the most authentic person I can be. I love sincerity and truth and understanding and the trust that can be fostered through honest communication. But I also think that since truth and trust are difficult for some to embrace, irony can serve a purpose.

I think that plenty of identity formation can stem from negation. Think of it as “I am not this, therefore I am something else.” Granted, it’s a much broader approach, but finding out what you dislike or reject can lead to some very necessary self-exploration that perhaps you may not have done otherwise.

I will concede that irony, like all things, is best in moderation.

On the Road Trip to Albuquerque, Excitedly

We set off to spend a weekend geeking out over “Breaking Bad” in Albuquerque, the trip we’d planned on our first date. This was officially our tenth date, but it was so much more than that. It’s been so much more than that.

If you’ve never seen it, “Breaking Bad” is a show on AMC about a high school chemistry teacher who starts cooking meth because he’s been diagnosed with cancer and he wants to provide for his family. It’s an incredibly well-done show. It really asks a lot of “what if” questions that you’d never think to ask yourself and brings morality into focus. It’s well-written and it pulls at my heart in ways I never thought television could. (But then again, I cry at Google commercials, so it’s a given that I’m going to cry at this.)

I-25 to Albuquerque

I was so excited to spend a weekend away. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, with work and the impending home purchase, so the promise of a relaxing weekend (three whole days off!) was almost more than I could bear. Matt and I have been communicating constantly since we met, but our dates are relegated to the weekends due to our jobs and the distance between us, so the thought of spending 72 hours with him was both thrilling and nerve-wracking.

We stayed at the Hotel Parq Central in Albuquerque (great AAA rate!). It was lovely – the hotel used to be a hospital, but was redone a few years ago. It’s clean, bright, and gorgeous. The hot tub is open 24 hours a day! We made sure to get as much hot tub time as possible in. The first night, they had a party at the rooftop bar, which got to be annoying. The guy working the front desk said that one guest had called to complain, saying that he would come down in his underwear and start yelling. That thought made me laugh.  Our room was a corner room in a separate building, so we had tons of windows and a huge bathroom.

But seriously, who throws a Halloween party on November 2nd? Albuquerque does. Apparently, they don’t let go of Halloween there – we were at a diner on Saturday and the waitress asked us if we had enjoyed Halloween. Very strange.

Saturday morning, we started our adventure. Matt was adorable and made us the sweetest map ever – he pinned all of the filming locations that we wanted to visit (I found the locations on a blog and sent him the link) and then added pictures and the physical addresses of each.

The first stop was the Crossroads Motel, which actually wasn’t on our map. We happened to drive by it on our first night in Albuquerque. (Oh, there was also an incident in which we attempted to get slices of pizza and were treated horribly by the manager after waiting more than 20 minutes only to be asked “Are you waiting for something?” by the girl who took our order. When we finally got a refund, the man snapped “I’m not refunding the Dr. Pepper!” Jeez, dude, chill. I didn’t ask for that. At that point, I just wanted like $5 in cash and I wanted to bail.)

We were standing in the parking lot of the motel when a man approached us, opened his wallet, and said, “DEA, what are you doing here?” Of course, he wasn’t from the DEA, but he was at the motel with his wife doing the same thing we were doing – taking pictures of filming locations. They were from Albuquerque, so we traded maps and chatted for a few minutes before moving on to the next stop: Jesse and Jane’s apartments.

One of the main characters is named Jesse Pinkman. He’s a small-time meth cook before he joins Walter White (the chemistry teacher) and their business expands. I love him, and one of my favorite story lines of the show is his star-crossed love affair with a recovering addict named Jane. They live side-by-side in a duplex, they fall in love, then (spoiler alert) she dies. It’s sad. But it’s beautiful. They are adorable together.

I knew that this was going to be my favorite spot, and it absolutely was. This was the site where I felt the most connected, not necessarily to the show, but to all of the emotions that I felt while watching it and all of the emotions that I felt while standing there with Matt. (We have some adorable couple pictures all over this property that you’ll see once they’re edited and ready for viewing.)

Jesse Pinkman's apartment, Breaking Bad, Jane Margolis,

(Jesse ends a lot of his sentences in the word “bitch.” It’s his way of emphasizing something. When I originally posted these, I posted them with the caption, “Jesse Pinkman’s apartment, bitch!” just because it felt like the right thing to do.)

Jesse Pinkman, apartment, Breaking Bad, Jane Margolis,

When we got to Walter’s house, we walked around the block, holding hands and chatting. (The curbs are seriously high in that neighborhood. I would destroy Simon. I’m very glad I don’t live there – I was driving Matt’s car, and when I parked, I purposefully parked about a foot off the curb so I wouldn’t take any chances of hitting the curb with his car!)

It was surreal.

There’s a scene in the show where the teacher, Walt, gets angry and throws a pizza on his roof, so apparently at one point, the family who lives in the house had to put out a sign that said “Please don’t throw pizzas on our roof.” Imagine going outside every day and having to get pizzas off your roof. I bet they clog the gutters and get annoying pretty quickly. (Still not the worst thing that could happen to your house after it’s been used as a filming location, though.)

Walter White's house, Breaking Bad, meth, Albuquerque

This is us posing in front of Walter’s house, but you can’t tell.

Hank and Marie (the chemistry teacher’s DEA agent brother-in-law and his wife) live in this insanely gorgeous neighborhood. Better than their house was the park nearby – we got out and hiked around and I got to climb on some rocks!

We also got to go to the Chicken Man’s restaurant! (In the show, there’s a super awesome meth dealer named Gus who owns a chain of chicken restaurants, so I call him the Chicken Man. In real life, the chicken restaurant is a real restaurant. We went and I got a soda.) It was amazing. We also went to the Octopus car wash – I’ll post pictures as soon as I get them from Matt.

Leaving was such sweet sorrow. We woke up, fully intending to go take more pictures near this gorgeous wooded area we’d seen the day before, but ran out of time and instead headed to Santa Fe. We had lunch there, walked around the Cathedral, stopped at Trader Joe’s (wine! chocolate covered cherries! chocolate covered pretzels! tea! pumpkin yogurt!) then headed back to Denver so that I could be home at a reasonable hour to be ready for work today.

On the whole, I would not return to Albuquerque willingly, unless you promised me that we could stop at Olo Yogurt Bar – where I had red velvet frozen yogurt topped with strawberries, mangoes, kiwi, gummy bears, and chocolate sprinkles. The city itself is stuck in the past – they have Furr’s cafes and lots of old neon. We didn’t really see much revitalization, but the neighborhoods that we found ourselves in were absolutely lovely. So perhaps there’s still a bunch of Albuquerque that we’re missing.

The hotel was amazing. The continental breakfast was Matt’s least favorite part, but I found it to be par for the course (they had me at Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Earl Grey tea). The shampoo was his favorite part. My favorite part? Hot tub. Sheets. Quarantine signs when you wanted privacy (a nod to the hotel’s beginnings as a hospital). We laughed when they talked about the “nurse’s quarters” because the building had a smokestack next to it…obviously not nurse’s quarters.

It was the best tenth date ever.

Denver, Albuquerque, I-25

 

I’ll post more pictures soon!

And note to everyone: VOTE! Tomorrow is election day and if you want the right to bitch for the next four years, you absolutely must vote tomorrow so you can at least say you did your part.

obama 2012, i voted, sticker, colorado,

I, of course, voted for Obama last week. Here’s hoping I won’t have to spend the next four years bitching. (According to Nate Silver’s newest forecast, I should breathe easy because it looks like Obama’s going to take the election easily. You can find Nate Silver and his election forecast on the Five Thirty Eight blog at http://www.nytimes.com.)

Nate Silver election forecast

But seriously – I care more about you voting than who you vote for. (I mean, that’s totally a lie, but I will find it even harder to respect you if you don’t vote than if you voted for someone I think you should in no way logically support.)

On Rape, Legitimately

Earlier this week, Representative Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri, was discussing his views on abortion when he said, “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s [pregnancy from rape] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

Understandably, a bunch of people flipped out. We’re not talking “take shelter until this blows over” freak out, we’re talking intense, election losing freak out, and rightfully so.

Just for the record, the body does not have any “ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” What methods does Mr. Akin imagine the female body might have to avoid pregnancy? I’m curious. Click here for an article discussing the science behind rape and pregnancy. You’ll note that around 32,000 pregnancies occur as a result of rape each year.

So, realizing that this comment wasn’t just going to be hidden under the rug, Mr. Akin responded. From the New York Times:

Mr. Akin quickly backtracked from his taped comments, saying he “misspoke.”

“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview, and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” Mr. Akin, who has a background in engineering and is a member of the House science committee, said in a statement. “I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life, and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”

 

I highly doubt that’s going to make it any better, Mr. Akin.

As a country, we spend an awful lot of our time and energy discussing and fighting about abortion, but I’m not entirely sure that we spend enough time trying to understand abortion. If you’re feeling curious, why not go over here and check out some stats?

But let’s skip the abortion debate, because we’ll get trapped into that abyss of conversation and lose our way.

Let’s talk about rape.

I am guilty of spending a large part of my life believing that rape was just uncomfortable, like bad sex. I didn’t understand. I still don’t, since it’s not something I’ve experienced, but I have a much better idea now.

I knew about rape as a child because I spent so much time buried in magazines like Time, Newsweek, and Reader’s Digest. During the 90s, I feel like there were a lot of news stories focusing on rape – particularly during and after political conflicts and wars abroad. That, coupled with the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal, really cemented the idea of the vulnerability of women during times of war and the idea that rape is tied in with power and masculinity.

But my understanding of rape was still clinical and journalistic. It wasn’t until I was ten or eleven or twelve (somewhere in there), and received a book of murder mysteries for Christmas that I started to understand. In one of the stories, there was a rape and murder of a young girl. I won’t go into detail. It was graphic. It terrified me. I wrapped the book and hid it in the bottom of my desk drawer because every time I looked at it, I had nightmares. That was my first visceral reaction to the idea of rape.

Then came high school, followed by college. We were in a feminist class, I think, and the professor showed this scene from the movie A Time to Kill, which really put it in perspective for me. I don’t know why it was this that did it, or why it’s haunted me ever since, but in that moment, somewhere in a dark classroom, I felt my heart tear open and begin to ache as the understanding spread through my body to settle deep inside my mind.

Rape is not just bad sex. Rape is destructive, violent, painful, terrifying, and scarring. We as a society do so little to protect and comfort victims. You’ll notice that it’s comments like this one by Mr. Akin, or the one by the officer in Toronto who said that women should avoid dressing like sluts to avoid being raped, that really set us off. They’re the comments that create awareness, promote discussion, and prompt change.

But even so, the change comes too late for so many. The rapists take shelter in the gray areas of the law, and often walk away without having to face consequences due to lack of evidence, or a “he said, she said” argument. Rape is covered up, hidden, made a secret. The victims are left shattered and alone, abandoned by their peers due to lack of understanding and social stigmatization.

Instead of working to protect the result of rape, why are we not working to end rape? Why are we not trying harder to educate our children about the consequences of rape, about the actual definition of rape, about date rape, about assuring consent? Why are we not working to provide a save haven for victims? Why are we not working to end the shaming that we put on the shoulders of victims?

I was the result of a one-night stand. I could just as easily have been the result of a rape. Am I glad that I exist? Of course. But imagine what might have happened to my birth mother had she struggled to support herself and her child (baby me!). Where would we be now?

Something that these lawmakers (so often male) neglect in their utter dismissal of the magnitude of rape as a crime is also the magnitude of the aftermath. Personally, if I were to be raped and become pregnant, I would be furious if I were to be suddenly expected not only to carry that child to term, but then take on the financial burden of raising that child. Would I be able to be the best mother possible for that child? Would I be able to provide for us adequately? Would I need social services like welfare to help me?

Let’s not regress to where we’re arguing about what counts as “legitimate” rape. Let’s focus on eliminating rape. Let’s focus on providing services to the victims. Let’s move forward. Let’s provide choices and options, but most importantly, let’s remember that rape victims are so much more than their reproductive organs. They are people who deserve our respect, rather than our insistence that we not punish the child. (It’s an argument that gets made over and over again, along with “so and so was the result of rape, and look at them.”)

And for god’s sake, is this not THE prime example of why we need more science and sex education in schools?!

P.S. Check out these Onion articles. They’re sad, but pointed and definitely worth reading.

 

 

On Being a Twenty-Something, Defensively

I’ve had a blog since I was fifteen. I wrote posts on MySpace, I posted to (and obsessed over) my LiveJournal account, and finally, when I went away to college, I got a Blogspot to document adventures for my family. Three (give or take a few) iterations later, you have the present form of the same thing: a place on the internet to write about my life.

There is something so entirely humbling about reading back to a post that I wrote when I was little.

Stuff like:

“I stood there, in the company of many, but I knew so few.”

and

“I smiled, trying not to make eye contact. I’m sure my dejected look detracted from my approachability.”

or

“The drive home, in the cool night air, windows down, music up, was immense. No other cars on the road, just me and the night, speeding slowly home. I set the cruise control, just for fun, so that I could just be in the night. I was sixteen again, fresh with ideas, taking the turn to the song, letting the music take me elsewhere.
The lights in Denver have begun their countdown, a simple way of informing pedestrians of their impending restriction, and at night, the countdown simply hits zero and reverts back to the little light man walking. I found myself timing it so that as I drove, I’d be crossing the intersection as the change occurred, the ultimate end leading back to the same beginning.
There is nothing better than the promise of summer, no matter what life is holding for you at the moment, standing outside in the night and smelling the air will change your life. Floral scents intermingle with the city’s hot fresh air and the animals of the night seem to be more alive.
We saw a skunk mosey past, on his way somewhere fast. As I drove away into the night, rolling down the windows, I passed the skunk again, still running, still on the street, getting somewhere.
We’re all getting somewhere, even if we have no idea where we are.”

These posts become a place for me to mark my growth. They remind me that I’ve always been some things, and they reinforce that I’ve always been others. Sometimes I am struck by how insightful Past-Me is, and others, I cringe at her insecurity and wish her all the self-assurance in the world.

I’ve been reading posts about my generation. We’re the Millenials, the ones who are supported by their parents, who have no work ethic, who are vapid and shallow and marked by their sense of entitlement. All of those authors are so wrong.

Yes, we’re wallowing, wandering, lost, and afraid. (And yes, some of us are total dicks. But your generation had some not-so-pleasant people in it too, admit it.) What we were raised to see as our future is crumbling in front of us, as though arriving at the desert mirage to find more and more of same, too-hot sand. We’re thirsty. As I’ve said before, we’re the Next Lost Generation. We have no idea what to expect, because the expectations change daily.

Struggling to find the balance between youth and maturity is a difficult one, particularly when any move toward “grown-up” is criticized, and movements to remain “youthful” are equally stigmatized by both my peers and my age-superiors. What I find interesting is that many of these authors criticizing the Millenials are Millenials themselves.

I work three jobs and don’t get financial support (except health insurance premium – Mom, you’re the best), and I make it work. I have work ethic, drive, desire, and passion to create a sustainable and secure future for myself. I happen to enjoy a few gin & tonics and some dancing. So be it. Yeah, I get frustrated at my peers. I find people with no drive infuriating and weak. I am prone to the occasional meltdown of desperate wallowing.

But I’m also not wallowing for the sake of wallowing. This life is a journey. Right now, the age-superiors are controlling a large stake of this world that we live in. It’s hard to get past the entry-level job, it’s hard to ascertain whether or not our place is as adult-equal or child-mentee. It’s difficult. It’s like being seventeen again, being all lost and insecure and afraid.

The reason that there are so many twenty-somethings actively writing about their lives is because they’re finding an outlet.The internet has opened lines of communication that hardly existed twenty years ago, and has fostered equal parts community and isolation by “social networks.” Growing up with access to technology will change – has already changed – a lot of the ways that people example typical milestones. There’s a lot more comparison, more evaluation, but also less of each.

Pressure on young adults to be “perfect” is a very real thing. They want to succeed, and want to be able to do that, but are often so coddled and cared for that they lack the tools with which to do so. Or, alternately, they want to succeed but instead of being coddled and cared for, they’re tough enough to make it on their own but are constantly fighting external circumstances. It’s life, just like you lived it, just like your kids will live it. It’s just always a bit different.

Yeah, some of those blogs are insipid as all hell. Some are lame. Others are personal. Each blog inhabits its own space. It is exactly what it is. And I’ll tell you something that I always tell people: If you don’t like it, don’t read it.  (For those of you who think the Millenials are strange, you should delve into the world of middle-aged bloggers, some who are fascinating, wonderful creatures and others who are like reading something reminiscent of listening to nails along a mile-long chalkboard. The grass is always greener, dear Baby Boomers.)

My blog marks my growth from adolescent to young adult and beyond. I’m humbled by, grateful for, astonished by, embarrassed about, aware of, and immensely proud of everything, even the parts I hate. This blog, while both public-facing and well-trafficked, is an account of growth and the stages that mark a life. My life. It is meant to be self-pitying and triumphant in equal measures.

When I look back on my posts, I am able to mark the moments at which I grew and changed. I am able to see how my opinions and tastes have changed and grown. And I am  content to see how the journey has progressed thus far, and excited about the glorious future that awaits.

So, remember: If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Problem solved.

From the NYT: The Flight From Conversation

I love newspapers. I love news. I love reading and folding and crinkling the paper. (I also hate that, too. The cumbersome folds, the awkward holding, the way you can never quite get the paper to rest comfortably while you eat breakfast….)
I have never had my own subscription to a newspaper. It’s too damn expensive.

Why pay $20/month for a digital subscription to the NYT when I can just follow their twitter feed and access links via social media for free? Sure it cuts down on my reading, but it also cuts down on my bills, and for that, I’m grateful.

Someday, I’ll have a subscription to the newspaper. It will be real. Somebody will have to hurl it at my doorstep every morning. I’ll hear the thump and be reminded that I’ve arrived at full adulthood. I’ll gleefully smear ink across my fingers as I turn the thin pages. I’ll glance at the advertising sections and clip out coupons that I’ll never use. (Future me would love 20% off of this new magical pore-reducing, ultra-moisturizing calming cream! I’ll think.) I’ll check the obituaries to see if there’s anyone I know. I’ll look at the weather in Chicago, in New York, in Cape Town. I’ll read the calendar of upcoming events. I’ll tsk at the rising crime in the neighborhoods, I’ll worry for the future of our schools, I’ll laugh at poorly written op-ed pieces (and then, of course, I’ll be the one writing letters to the editor).

(That jubilant scene will actually only happen like once a week. Mostly, the paper just end up in the recycling pile or in my kids’ homework assignments.)

Anyway, we’ve got a ways to go before we get there, so in the meantime, here’s this:

OPINION

The Flight From Conversation

Photographs by Peter DaSilva and Byron Smith, for The New York Times
By SHERRY TURKLE
Published: April 21, 2012

Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we’re on dates. My students tell me about an important new skill: it involves maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives. I’ve learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are.

We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being “alone together.” Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention. We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party.

Our colleagues want to go to that board meeting but pay attention only to what interests them. To some this seems like a good idea, but we can end up hiding from one another, even as we are constantly connected to one another.

A businessman laments that he no longer has colleagues at work. He doesn’t stop by to talk; he doesn’t call. He says that he doesn’t want to interrupt them. He says they’re “too busy on their e-mail.” But then he pauses and corrects himself. “I’m not telling the truth. I’m the one who doesn’t want to be interrupted. I think I should. But I’d rather just do things on my BlackBerry.”

A 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything says almost wistfully, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”

In today’s workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the campus of a high-tech start-up, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. A senior partner at a Boston law firm describes a scene in his office. Young associates lay out their suite of technologies: laptops, iPods and multiple phones. And then they put their earphones on. “Big ones. Like pilots. They turn their desks into cockpits.” With the young lawyers in their cockpits, the office is quiet, a quiet that does not ask to be broken.

In the silence of connection, people are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people — carefully kept at bay. We can’t get enough of one another if we can use technology to keep one another at distances we can control: not too close, not too far, just right. I think of it as a Goldilocks effect.

Texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body. Not too much, not too little — just right.

Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.

We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.

Connecting in sips may work for gathering discrete bits of information or for saying, “I am thinking about you.” Or even for saying, “I love you.” But connecting in sips doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another. In conversation we tend to one another. (The word itself is kinetic; it’s derived from words that mean to move, together.) We can attend to tone and nuance. In conversation, we are called upon to see things from another’s point of view.

FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters. It is as though we have all put ourselves on cable news. Shakespeare might have said, “We are consum’d with that which we were nourish’d by.”

And we use conversation with others to learn to converse with ourselves. So our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. These days, social media continually asks us what’s “on our mind,” but we have little motivation to say something truly self-reflective. Self-reflection in conversation requires trust. It’s hard to do anything with 3,000 Facebook friends except connect.

As we get used to being shortchanged on conversation and to getting by with less, we seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether. Serious people muse about the future of computer programs as psychiatrists. A high school sophomore confides to me that he wishes he could talk to an artificial intelligence program instead of his dad about dating; he says the A.I. would have so much more in its database. Indeed, many people tell me they hope that as Siri, the digital assistant on Apple’s iPhone, becomes more advanced, “she” will be more and more like a best friend — one who will listen when others won’t.

During the years I have spent researching people and their relationships with technology, I have often heard the sentiment “No one is listening to me.” I believe this feeling helps explain why it is so appealing to have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed — each provides so many automatic listeners. And it helps explain why — against all reason — so many of us are willing to talk to machines that seem to care about us. Researchers around the world are busy inventing sociable robots, designed to be companions to the elderly, to children, to all of us.

One of the most haunting experiences during my research came when I brought one of these robots, designed in the shape of a baby seal, to an elder-care facility, and an older woman began to talk to it about the loss of her child. The robot seemed to be looking into her eyes. It seemed to be following the conversation. The woman was comforted.

And so many people found this amazing. Like the sophomore who wants advice about dating from artificial intelligence and those who look forward to computer psychiatry, this enthusiasm speaks to how much we have confused conversation with connection and collectively seem to have embraced a new kind of delusion that accepts the simulation of compassion as sufficient unto the day. And why would we want to talk about love and loss with a machine that has no experience of the arc of human life? Have we so lost confidence that we will be there for one another?

WE expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship. Always-on/always-on-you devices provide three powerful fantasies: that we will always be heard; that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; and that we never have to be alone. Indeed our new devices have turned being alone into a problem that can be solved.

When people are alone, even for a few moments, they fidget and reach for a device. Here connection works like a symptom, not a cure, and our constant, reflexive impulse to connect shapes a new way of being.

Think of it as “I share, therefore I am.” We use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings as we’re having them. We used to think, “I have a feeling; I want to make a call.” Now our impulse is, “I want to have a feeling; I need to send a text.”

So, in order to feel more, and to feel more like ourselves, we connect. But in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves. Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don’t experience them as they are. It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves.

We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely. If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will know only how to be lonely.

I am a partisan for conversation. To make room for it, I see some first, deliberate steps. At home, we can create sacred spaces: the kitchen, the dining room. We can make our cars “device-free zones.” We can demonstrate the value of conversation to our children. And we can do the same thing at work. There we are so busy communicating that we often don’t have time to talk to one another about what really matters. Employees asked for casual Fridays; perhaps managers should introduce conversational Thursdays. Most of all, we need to remember — in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts — to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another.

I spend the summers at a cottage on Cape Cod, and for decades I walked the same dunes that Thoreau once walked. Not too long ago, people walked with their heads up, looking at the water, the sky, the sand and at one another, talking. Now they often walk with their heads down, typing. Even when they are with friends, partners, children, everyone is on their own devices.

So I say, look up, look at one another, and let’s start the conversation.

Sherry Turkle is a psychologist and professor at M.I.T. and the author, most recently, of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on April 22, 2012, on page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Flight From Conversation.

source: The New York Times

From the New York Times, On Nannies

I’m going to blog to you about this article later, but I’ve got piles and piles of work to do before that can happen.

At least you’ll be prepared!

From the New York Times (link follows story):

IT’S THE ECONOMY

The Best Nanny Money Can Buy

Illustrations by Jillian Tamaki
By ADAM DAVIDSON
Published: March 20, 2012

It took Zenaide Muneton 20 seconds to convince me that she was the perfect nanny. Short and dark-haired, she has a goofy, beaming smile and knows how to make everything fun for a little kid. Time to brush your teeth? She shakes her hands and does a pantomimed teeth-brushing dance. Bath time? She pumps her arms up and down in a going-to-the-tub march. After I told her I’d love to hire her, she smiled and thanked me.

Then we both laughed, because there is no way I could possibly afford her. As one of New York City’s elite nannies, Muneton commanded around $180,000 a year — plus a Christmas bonus and a $3,000-a-month apartment on Central Park West. I should be her nanny.

I began researching this bizarre microeconomy shortly after my wife and I started looking for someone to watch our son for a few hours a week. We met with several candidates, all of whom had good references and seemed fine with him. Still, we weren’t sure how to judge them. Should we hire the one who seemed to be the most fun? The most experienced? A native English speaker or someone who could speak a foreign language to him? Someone with a college degree? A master’s?

We had no idea. But I began to wonder if price conveyed any important information about the nanny market. All the candidates we spoke with charged about $15 to $18 per hour, which, though standard in our Brooklyn neighborhood, seemed like a bargain when I learned that some nannies charge considerably more than double that rate. Would my son suffer with a midmarket nanny?

This fear led me to the Pavillion Agency, which specializes in finding domestic workers for New York City’s wealthy. Pavillion introduced me to Muneton, 49, who grew up in “a very poor family” in São Paulo. In 1990, she befriended a young American woman who had relocated to Brazil. When Muneton invited her to her family’s home, the woman saw her natural ease with children and suggested that she move to America and become a nanny. Within a few months, Muneton was caring for the children of a rich family in South Carolina for only $100 a week.

When Muneton started working through Pavillion in 2002, however, she increased her salary to $85,000 a year. As she gathered sterling recommendations, she began increasing her pay. Eventually she worked for some of the country’s wealthiest people, whom she accompanied on private jets to many of the world’s most exclusive resorts. Today, she says, “there are no more poor people in my family.” Muneton bought a nice house for her mother, a condo for her sister and a taxi cab each for two of her brothers. She also owns a beach house in Brazil, a penthouse in Miami and two properties (a six-unit building and a duplex) in Los Angeles.

How does a nanny earn more than the average pediatrician? The simple answer is hard work — plus a strange seller’s market that follows a couple of quirky economic principles. A typical high-priced nanny effectively signs her (and they are almost always women) life over to the family she works for. According to Cliff Greenhouse, Pavillion’s president, that kind of commitment is essentially built into the price. Many clients are paying for the privilege of not having to worry about their child’s care, which means never worrying if their nanny has plans. Which, of course, she can’t, pretty much ever.

And, alas, it seems that there just aren’t enough “good” nannies, always on call, to go around. Especially since a wealthy family’s demands can be pretty specific. According to Pavillion’s vice president, Seth Norman Greenberg, a nanny increases her market value if she speaks fluent French (or, increasingly, Mandarin); can cook a four-course meal (and, occasionally, macrobiotic dishes); and ride, wash and groom a horse. Greenberg has also known families to prize nannies who can steer a 32-foot boat, help manage an art collection or, in one case, drive a Zamboni to clean a private ice rink.

And then there’s social climbing. “A lot of families, especially new money, are really concerned about their children getting close to other very affluent children,” Greenhouse says. “How do they do that? They find a superstar nanny who already has lots of contacts, lots of other nanny friends who work with other high profile families.” There are the intangibles too. “I’m working with a phenomenal Caribbean nanny right now,” Greenhouse says. “She is drop-dead beautiful. Her presentation is such that you’re proud to have her by your children’s side at the most high-profile events.”

My wife and I don’t care about any of that stuff. But it’s hard not to wonder if the nannies who make twice as much an hour as the ones we’re considering are also twice as good. Nannies can be evaluated in the same way as what economists call “experience goods” — like wine, whose value can only be determined after experiencing it. When it comes to experience goods, price can be useful to reject anything below a certain minimum. After all, a $3 bottle of wine or a $5-an-hour nanny are pretty sketchy.

But price is useless — or worse, misleading — in differentiating among the adequate. I’ve often assumed that a $40 bottle of wine is twice as good as a $20 bottle even though the American Association of Wine Economists has essentially proved that the price of wine has almost no bearing on enjoyment. When nonconnoisseurs buy an expensive bottle, they’re acting like new parents hiring a nanny: they’re basically paying for a false sense of assurance. Or hoping to impress somebody.

Actually, nanny prices might be even more misleading than the wine market. They also bear resemblance to “credence goods,” an economic term for something — whether a jar of vitamins or an auto tuneup — whose true value can never quite be determined. You’re more likely to overpay for a credence good in the hope that a higher cost increases the likelihood of a benefit.

So if economics can’t fairly convey the price of a nanny, what does? Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, a director at Columbia University’s National Center for Children and Families, reassured me that academics know, roughly, nothing about how nannies impact children. There has not been any sort of serious study on nanny quality, she says, because it would be nearly impossible to get permission from nannies (often paid under the table) or their employers. Also, most child-development research is dedicated to at-risk children, and the kids of people with the resources to hire nannies don’t typically qualify.

Brooks-Gunn did, however, have some advice for what can make a good nanny. The single-most important characteristic is the extent to which a nanny is responsive to the child’s mood and interests. Brooks-Gunn said that when she chose a nanny, she simply handed her son to every candidate she interviewed and chose the one who responded most sensitively.

After our talk, I spoke with one of her graduate students, Erin Bumgarner, who moonlights as a part-time nanny for around $17 an hour — the same amount that Park Slope parents pay to immigrant nannies with no college education. I couldn’t think of any other field in which people with such disparate educational backgrounds could make the same amount. But Bumgarner told me it makes sense. She is willing to work for only parents she likes — she already quit one well-paying job for this reason — and who allow her to focus on her school work. The value of that is also built into the price. Even if it costs her a Central Park West apartment.

 

source: The New York Times 

"Their Dangerous Swagger" by Maureen Dowd

From The New York Times:
It was set up like a fantasy football league draft. The height, weight and performance statistics of the draftees were offered to decide who would make the cut and who would emerge as the No. 1 pick.
But the players in this predatory game were not famous N.F.L. stars. They were unwitting girls about to start high school.
A group of soon-to-be freshmen boys at Landon, an elite private grade school and high school for boys in the wealthy Washington suburb of Montgomery County, Md., was drafting local girls.
One team was called “The Southside Slampigs,” and one boy dubbed his team with crude street slang for drug-addicted prostitutes.
The young woman who was the “top pick” was described by one of the boys in a team profile he put up online as “sweet, outgoing, friendly, willing to get down and dirty and [expletive] party. Coming in at 90 pounds, 5’2 and a bra size 34d.” She would be a special asset to the team, he noted, because her mother “is quite the cougar herself.”
Before they got caught last summer, the boys had planned an “opening day party,” complete with T-shirts, where the mission was to invite the drafted girls and, unbeknownst to them, score points by trying to rack up as many sexual encounters with the young women as possible.
“They evidently got points for first, second and third base,” said one outraged father of a drafted girl. “They were going to have parties and tally up the points, and money was going to be exchanged at the end of the season.” He said that the boys would also have earned points for “schmoozing with the parents.”
His daughter, he said, “was very upset about it. She thought these guys were her friends. This is the way we teach boys to treat women, young ladies? You have enough to worry about as a 14- or 15-year-old girl without having to worry about guys who are doing it as sport.”
Another parent was equally appalled: “I think the girls felt like they were getting targeted, that this was some big game. Talk about using people. It doesn’t get much worse than that.”
Landon is where the sons of many prominent members of the community are sent to learn “the code of character,” where “a Landon man” is part of a “true Brotherhood” and is known for his good word, respect and honesty. The school’s Web site boasts about the Landon Civility Code; boys are expected to “work together to eliminate all forms of disrespect” and “respect one another and our surroundings in our decorum, appearance, and interactions.”
The Washington suburban community of private school parents has also been reeling this spring from the tragedy involving former Landon student George Huguely V, a scion of the family that owned the lumber business that helped build the nation’s capital.
Huguely, who was a University of Virginia lacrosse player, was charged in the brutal death of his sometime girlfriend, Yeardley Love, a lacrosse player on the university’s women’s team who also hailed from Maryland.
The lovely young woman’s door was kicked in and her head was smashed over and over into the wall.
The awful crime, chronicled on the cover of People with the headline “Could She Have Been Saved?,” raised haunting questions about why Huguely had not already been reported to authorities, even though other lacrosse players had seen him choke Love at a party and his circle knew that the athlete had attacked a sleeping teammate whom he suspected had kissed Love. Huguely had also been so out-of-control drunk, angry and racially abusive with a policewoman in 2008 that she had to Taser him.
In The Washington Post, the sports columnist Sally Jenkins wrote about the swagger of young male athletes and the culture of silence that protects their thuggish locker-room behavior.
“His teammates and friends, the ones who watched him smash up windows and bottles and heard him rant about Love,” she wrote. “Why didn’t they turn him in? … Why did they not treat Yeardley Love as their teammate, too?”
Some of the parents of girls drafted for the Landon sex teams think that the punishment for those culpable should have been greater, and the notification to parents should have been more thorough. Was the macho culture of silence in play?
Jean Erstling, Landon’s director of communications, said she was “aware of the incident” but that “student records including disciplinary infractions are confidential.”
She said that “Landon has an extensive ethics and character education program which includes as its key tenets respect and honesty. Civility toward women is definitely part of that education program.”
Time for a curriculum overhaul. Young men everywhere must be taught, beyond platitudes, that young women are not prey.