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Chief Semicolon Advocate at WordPress.com. Professional writer, editor, napper, and dog-snorgler. Knows you are, but what is she?

Only a Fool Buys Kombucha on a Tuesday

Weekend crowds at Coney Island, New York (Howard Brier/Flickr)

The current crop of stories at Real Life Mag are centered on the theme of circadian rhythms, including a piece from poet Linda Besner on “off-peakers” — people who try to save time and money by avoiding the 9-to-5, weekdays-for-work-weekends-for-play schedule that traps so many of us in lines and traffic jams. Her exploration of what it means to be an off-peaker turns into an interesting (and political!) musing how societies decide to organize themselves.

The comment sections of off-peakers’ blogs are, paradoxically, bustling: stories of going to bed at nine and waking up at four to ensure that the day is perfectly out of step; Legoland on Wednesdays in October; eating in restaurants as soon as they open rather than waiting for standard meal times. There’s a wealth of bargains to be had by juggling one’s calendar to take advantage of deals. (The app Ibotta, which tracks fluctuating prices on consumer goods popular with millennials, determined that Tuesdays are actually the worst days to buy rosé and kombucha; you should buy them on Wednesdays. Avocados are also cheapest on Wednesdays, while quinoa should be bought on Thursdays and hot sauce on Fridays.) Many posters write that they are considering changing professions or homeschooling their children to join the off-peakers.

Some off-peakers are motivated by savings, some by avoiding crowds, but off-peaking also offers a more abstract pleasure: the sheer delight in doing the unexpected. The gravitas attached to the seasons of life listed off in Ecclesiastes is echoed in the moral overtones attached to perceptions of what is appropriate for different hours of the day. It is wrong to laugh when everyone else is weeping or to embrace when everyone else is refraining from embracing. Ordinary activities become subversive when done at the wrong time: eating spaghetti for dinner is ordinary, but having linguini with clam sauce for breakfast breaks the unwritten rules. Once you start transgressing, it can be hard to stop: The arbitrariness of custom begins to chafe.

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The More We Disrupt, The More Things Are Exactly The Same

Photo by Daniel Benavides (CC BY 2.0), viaWikimedia Commons

Vanity Fair published an excerpt from Emily Chang‘s forthcoming book, Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley. TL;DR: they have a lot of sex and drug parties at which they disrupt conventional morality by… replicating conventional sexist, heteronormative behaviors.

They don’t necessarily see themselves as predatory. When they look in the mirror, they see individuals setting a new paradigm of behavior by pushing the boundaries of social mores and values. “What’s making this possible is the same progressiveness and open-mindedness that allows us to be creative and disruptive about ideas,” Founder X told me. When I asked him about Jane Doe’s experience, he said, “This is a private party where powerful people want to get together and there are a lot of women and a lot of people who are fucked up. At any party, there can be a situation where people cross the line. Somebody fucked up, somebody crossed the line, but that’s not an indictment on the cuddle puddle; that’s an indictment on crossing the line. Doesn’t that happen everywhere?” It’s worth asking, however, if these sexual adventurers are so progressive, why do these parties seem to lean so heavily toward male-heterosexual fantasies? Women are often expected to be involved in threesomes that include other women; male gay and bisexual behavior is conspicuously absent. “Oddly, it’s completely unthinkable that guys would be bisexual or curious,” says one V.C. who attends and is married (I’ll call him Married V.C.). “It’s a total double standard.” In other words, at these parties men don’t make out with other men. And, outside of the new types of drugs, these stories might have come out of the Playboy Mansion circa 1972.

Be forewarned, these grown adult people liberally use the phrases “cuddle puddle” and “founder hounder,” and you’ll want to budget some time to scream into a pillow and then take a shower after you finish reading.

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Fashion For Everyone, Where “Everyone” Means “Thin People”

Michael Preysma of Everlane speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt NY in 2013 . (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

At Racked, Amanda Mull writes about “disruptive” fashion startups like Everlane and True & Co, who are creating stylish clothing that’s manufactured responsibly and priced (relatively) affordably. Except for fat women — despite being a massively underserved community from an apparel standpoint, few of these companies offer plus-size clothing, so it’s back to Lane Bryant for us. Why? Despite some impressive marketing-speak about research and scaling, it seems to come back to the standard stereotype: fat people are bad for branding.

Everlane did not make anyone available for an interview, but the company did send us the following statement: “The Everlane story is one that has been built slowly and carefully. Our customer understands that Everlane is a democratic and honest brand and we want to be inclusive of all people. Given that, it is on our roadmap to do plus-size, but we need to take the time to do it right. To do plus, it requires more than extended sizing. We need to launch plus as a separate brand with new fits, new models and new fabrics to ensure that the styles fit and look great. As we gain scale and get new customers, we will be able to focus our energy on launching this line.” The statement echoes a sentiment that I heard from every straight-size CEO I spoke with, even those who have begun to make their brands more inclusive: that plus-size people need to be patient while others solve the egregious problems of their bodies. Women over a certain size are always a burden, never a priority. They’re expected to wait while others are served first…

If you read the “about” pages on apparel startups’ websites, it’s clear most of them take care to envision their ideal consumers and what they value. The end result often paints a picture of a curious, engaged shopper who cares about manufacturing practices, material sourcing, and the social or political statement made by spending money with a particular company. A shopper who thinks about fit and is interested in how technology might solve the problems in their closet. None of the brands say it so bluntly, but the shopper they want is intelligent. In that context, it’s all the more jarring that so few entrepreneurs could conceive of a fat person who is also smart.

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Where It’s Always Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

an ice-covered road leading toward evergreen trees covered in snow
Photo by JLS Photography via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

At LitHub, Marissa Weiss explores life in Alaska: The cold, the dark, the ice, the 3,000 miles between her and her parents in Maryland. Despite the many hardships, she’s lived there for 15 years and can’t imagine leaving a place where cold is no longer a four-letter-word.

Even so, the benefits of the cold can be hard to remember in the face of ice cleats, May snowstorms and frozen pipes. Not to mention our cultural bias against the cold. There’s no comfort in cold comfort, no welcoming from a cold shoulder. A killer is made even worse by being cold-blooded, an enemy by being cold-hearted. There is nothing cathartic or healthful about breaking a cold sweat, and a cold fish is not attractive as entrée or lover.

In spite of it all, being cold makes me feel alive. I’m not sure who I would be if I moved back to the comfortable life — if I swapped rubber boots that are always getting mucky for sleek sandals that knew only pavement. How would I fill all of the hours I now spend with my children, dressing and undressing them? Whom would I relate to if I could no longer commiserate with those around me about the cold?

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The Fabric of History

rows of colorful shirts hanging in a closet. six leather handbags sit on a shelf above.
Photo by Annelyse.be via Flickr (CC BY-NC SA 2.0)

Novelist Kirsten Tranter is cleaning out her closet, and wrote about it for Avidly. But how does the Marie Kondo method work for a “depressive personality…for whom joy is often an elusive feeling”? Rather than joy, she finds herself drawn to clothing that sparks affect — clothing that reminds her of who she is, what she’s experienced, and that life will go on.

I have moved a lot, both within Sydney and then overseas, back and forth multiple times between Australia and the US as I travelled for graduate school and then for my husband’s fieldwork and then for jobs, and other jobs, and sabbaticals, and other jobs. Clothes are relatively easy to pack and transport, less breakable than other objects, and perhaps that is why I have held on to so many of them; they provide a line of continuity between these multiple places and selves. They remind me who I am, where I have come from, where I have been, for better or worse. On the days the black dog visits and brings down that transparent wall of grey between myself and the distant land of the living where people walk around feeling things, where things matter, these belongings with history — any kind of history — remind me that life has been lived and felt, that maybe it will be again.

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Maybe Your House Can Be “Most Congenial”

An English Heritage plaque at Hampton Court Palace Gardens. Photo by Elliott Brown via Flickr (CC BY-ND-SA 2.0)

In an essay at White Noise, Richard Wallace considers his chances at being memorialized with one of the blue English Heritage plaques that dot historic homes in London’s (mostly well-heeled) boroughs:

I mostly think money, power and status are chimeras, eliding the serious parts of the human project… Then I periodically remember those English Heritage blue plaques that go on the walls of noteworthy dwellings, and I think: no. Fuck goodness and principle. I want to get so famous they give my house a medal.

Lack of marketable skills aside, an informal of analysis of plaque recipients reveals the real predictor of plaques: class.

There’s a distinct sense that a certain type of people are predisposed to plaque-worthiness, and the reason is probably what class-progressives already know: that it’s so much easier to get recognised for your achievements if you get a good start in life. This shouldn’t diminish the accomplishment of the great; nor should it mollify less affluent mediocrities. But when we look at these plaques, we are forced remember that English history is uniquely bound to inequality, to people ascending the apex of the world on a staircase of hunched shoulders. Repeat, repeat: David Cameron and his Bullingdon brothers, Theresa May and her fields of wheat. Blue Plaque England is not a place where we can all live. Kensington’s too small for everyone. But as unfair as it is, English Heritage plaques merely record history; nobody can argue that class division is not British. The writing is on the wall.

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I Must Be One of the Best, Because I’m Not One of the Worst

A U.S. marine watches children play in Ramadi, in Iraq's Anbar province. (AP Photo/Todd Pitman)

Are there atheists in foxholes? How do we justify our participation in wars that kill civilians, often children? At The American Scholar, veteran and author of Redeployment Phil Klay turns his writer’s eye on himself in this essay on war, faith, and fatherhood, and reckons with his own complicity.

I was in a different position. My job in the Marine Corps meant that I was generally a spectator rather than an actor in the war. I was never faced with the responsibility of leading men in combat, never responsible for the direct act of killing, never faced with what Marlantes has described as “a situation approaching the sacred in its terror and contact with the infinite.” Instead, I had the images of those children in my head, and for a young man, fervently believing in the mission and in the potential for the Marine Corps to turn around Anbar Province, they confirmed me in all I believed. A Special Forces veteran later told me why, for him, killing people in Iraq felt less morally troubling than killing people in Afghanistan. “Iraq may have been a giant clusterfuck,” he said, “but al-Qaeda did always make it easy.” In other words, al-Qaeda was so grotesquely, absurdly evil, you could not help but compare yourself with them and assume that you must be good.

So rather than challenging my Christian faith or provoking deep questions about who I was as a man, what kind of war I was in, and what sort of country I was a citizen of, the children made me feel like I didn’t have to justify myself at all. When I got home, those children were a useful tool for propping up my image of myself as a decent human being. Confronted with a man who voiced contempt at the notion that anyone would fight in a war that had caused such horrendous civilian casualties, I told him, “I carried injured Iraqi children to medical care with my own hands! What have you done for Iraqi civilians recently? Posted snarky comments on Facebook?”

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Welcome to Parliament! Bachelors Can Only Wear Brown Shoes Every Other Tuesday

Houses of Parliament at Westminster Palace and clock tower Big Ben. Photo by: Frank May/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Charlotte Higgins‘ new story on the structural decay in the Palace of Westminster, seat of Britain’s Parliament, is a fascinating look at the Old Guard’s attempt to physically hold on to the vestiges of power. The building is crumbling and requires billions of dollars in repairs — and ideally, it would be empty during the multi-year process. But what changes politically when Parliament is removed to a more modern, inclusive space from one steeped in this kind of history?

Travelling around this strange land is a fraught business. One is constantly committing mysterious, minor infractions. It is like being in a country where the language is comprehensible, but the codes of behaviour are opaque. From the Central Lobby, for example, four corridors radiate. There is no sign to tell you that you cannot take the one that leads to the House of Commons: but if you accidentally stray there, you will get an imperious ticking-off from one of the Palace doorkeepers (59 are employed by the Commons, and 23 by the Lords). There have been doorkeepers here since the 14th century: dressed in white tie, they control the movements of others with punctilious energy. I was reprimanded for loitering “on the blue carpet” in the Prince’s Chamber, and for speaking in the Royal Robing Room, which is sometimes allowed and sometimes not. Doorkeepers are also sources of gossip, wit and speculative histories of the palace. One I met suggested disapprovingly that “Comrade Corbyn” would soon be selling off Pugin’s wildly over-the-top royal throne in the House of Lords “if he has his way”. Another told me that lions depicted on the floor of a certain corridor “have their eyes shut so they can’t look up the ladies’ skirts”. Floors, as it happens, are important: green carpets mean you are in the part of the building owned by the Commons; red carpets mean the Lords.

Notices pinned everywhere contribute extra layers of admonition and exhortation. There’s a staircase that may be used only by MPs; a lift that cannot be used if the Lords are in division – that is, voting by walking into separate lobbies. The yeoman usher, described on parliament’s website as “the deputy to the gentleman usher of the black rod”, has a parking space reserved exclusively for his bicycle; a sign says so. In one courtyard there is even a sign advising parliamentarians what to do if they come across a grounded juvenile peregrine, which is try to throw a cardboard box over it. (A pair of the falcons nests on the roof.) The Lords, naturally, specialises in arcane forms of movement control. “Wives of peers’ eldest sons,” reads one notice, “and married daughters of peers and peeresses in their own right, before taking a place in the peers’ married daughters’ box, are requested to leave their names with the doorkeeper at the brass gates.” A different set of rules, needless to say, governs the movement of peers’ unmarried daughters.

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“This Frenzied, Dirty, Impossible Evacuation”

Grenfell Tower in West London, Rick Findler/PA Wire URN:33838594

Londoner Tom Lamont spent months reporting — talking to residents, grieving family members, firefighters and their families, community members, recovery workers, and more — to produce this GQ piece on the ins, outs, and aftermath of the the Grenfell Tower disaster. As London spends billions to strip the flammable cladding off other buildings around the city, the people involved with Grenfell Towers are still trying to find peace (or maybe absolution) for the decisions they made during the fire.

Firefighters that night led, carried, and dragged residents away from the fire. And they left residents behind to it. They made hundreds of no-win decisions on June 14, about whether to help those in peril in the stairwell or whether to push on past and try to make it to those farther up. The handing over of a firefighter’s breathing equipment to civilians (always a dangerous temptation) is forbidden by the London Fire Brigade—but it happened, I was told, and it was later forgiven, part of a brigade-wide amnesty on those everyday procedures ignored by firefighters in in this frenzied, dirty, impossible evacuation.

Outside, firefighters had to aim water hoses at one of their own trucks, which had been ignited by all the falling cladding. For many of the evacuating residents, the most terrifying parts of their escape took place once they were outside, running through the area directly in front of the building, which had become a no-man’s-land of tumbling metal. Firefighters began making shuttle runs back and forth, ferrying out evacuees under riot shields.

At 2 A.M., 3 A.M., 4 A.M., hours after the first firefighters had arrived, residents were still trapped. Still waving, still shouting: “Fucking help me.” By 5 A.M., hardly any people were visible in Grenfell’s windows. Firefighters on the ground held their heads, and panted, and were dismally honest with one another: “We’re not going to get everybody out.” When, earlier in the night, they saw a man on the 14th floor, hanging from a windowsill, knotted bedsheets trailing beneath him, they screamed at him to get back inside.

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Monster

Harvey Weinstein, Letty Aronson, Soon-Yi Previn, and Woody Allen attending a screening for "Vicky Christina Barcelona" in 2008. © RTN McBride/MediaPunch/IPX

Claire Dederer‘s essay in The Paris Review on whether and how we can continue to enjoy the art of predatory men is excellent, and challenging, and not quite what you think it’s going to be: that is, it’s great writing. Yes, it’s partly about Woody Allen and Roman Polanski and Harvey Weinstein and how their films can be simultaneously genius and tainted:

I took the fucking of Soon-Yi as a terrible betrayal of me personally. When I was young, I felt like Woody Allen. I intuited or believed he represented me on-screen. He was me. This is one of the peculiar aspects of his genius—this ability to stand in for the audience. The identification was exacerbated by the seeming powerlessness of his usual on-screen persona: skinny as a kid, short as a kid, confused by an uncaring, incomprehensible world. (Like Chaplin before him.) I felt closer to him than seems reasonable for a little girl to feel about a grown-up male filmmaker. In some mad way, I felt he belonged to me. I had always seen him as one of us, the powerless. Post-Soon-Yi, I saw him as a predator.

My response wasn’t logical; it was emotional…

A great work of art brings us a feeling. And yet when I say Manhattan makes me feel urpy, a man says, No, not that feeling. Youre having the wrong feeling. He speaks with authority: Manhattan is a work of genius. But who gets to say? Authority says the work shall remain untouched by the life. Authority says biography is fallacy. Authority believes the work exists in an ideal state (ahistorical, alpine, snowy, pure). Authority ignores the natural feeling that arises from biographical knowledge of a subject. Authority gets snippy about stuff like that. Authority claims it is able to appreciate the work free of biography, of history. Authority sides with the (male) maker, against the audience.

Me, I’m not ahistorical or immune to biography. That’s for the winners of history (men) (so far).

But it’s also about anyone who creates, who is committed to making art and pushing it out into the world. For many artists (particularly those who are women, and or mothers) this requires a level of self-interest and boundary-setting that is usually described as selfish — even a little monstrous:

There are many qualities one must possess to be a working writer or artist. Talent, brains, tenacity. Wealthy parents are good. You should definitely try to have those. But first among equals, when it comes to necessary ingredients, is selfishness. A book is made out of small selfishnesses. The selfishness of shutting the door against your family. The selfishness of ignoring the pram in the hall. The selfishness of forgetting the real world to create a new one. The selfishness of stealing stories from real people. The selfishness of saving the best of yourself for that blank-faced anonymous paramour, the reader. The selfishness that comes from simply saying what you have to say…

My friend and I had done nothing more monstrous than expecting someone to mind our children while we finished our work. That’s not as bad as rape or even, say, forcing someone to watch while you jerk off into a potted plant. It might sound as though I’m conflating two things—male predators and female finishers—in a troubling way. And I am. Because when women do what needs to be done in order to write or make art, we sometimes feel monstrous. And others are quick to describe us that way.

So at the end, are we allowed to laugh at Annie Hall? Like many of us, Dederer isn’t sure, but her essay adds necessary layers to the conversation, getting us closer to the possibility of a response.

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