I shouldn’t have worn that “Kick Me” sign I guess

Earlier this week I was called a bitch at least three times that I counted in the span of a few hours, and it got me thinking.

Bitch the First

The lunch delivery guys near my office have a tendency to call from several blocks away and say they’re in the lobby so they don’t have to wait for us to come down in the elevator. Usually they’ll come rushing in around the time when I get there, so I don’t care and if anything I applaud their efficiency. This time the guy kept me waiting about five minutes in the lobby, which meant he had already spent his buffer time since calling plus another five.

I’d placed one order on Seamless and then another coworker wanted to add things, so I placed a second order. I called the restaurant and asked them to combine the two orders, one of which had the full tip and the second had $0. The orders were combined into one bag. I signed both receipts and thanked the delivery guy.

“Umm Miss, the second tip?” he asked.

“Excuse me?”

“You tipped for this one. Are you going to tip cash for the other?”

I cheerfully explained how we had placed two orders but that I’d called the restaurant and asked them to combine the two orders, that’s why they were bagged together. I didn’t mention that he kept me waiting in the lobby for five minutes or that it was already an overly generous tip for both orders, just smiled and thanked him.

He shook his head and glared at me, then muttered, “Got it. Bitch.”


Bitch the Second

Immediately after the first bitching, I got onto the elevator with two men who were having a loud and animated conversation with each other in another language. They were getting off at two different floors, but obviously weren’t done talking, so the one remaining on the elevator held the door from closing four times before wrapping it up.

I was still feeling bad about the delivery guy, so I was careful not to say anything or make a huffy or unpleasant response to what felt very clearly to me like a guy being rude.

I think he realized he was rude, so he said flatly, “Sorry,” then stared at me.

On any other day, I would have felt compelled to be cheerful and say, “That’s okay!” or “No problem!” or make some stupid comment to put him at ease, but I had this little click in my mind where I felt like I didn’t want to tell him anything he does is okay.

I realized that his “Sorry” carried an expectation of a reply, so I gave a half-smile and shrug, trying to communicate that I heard and acknowledged what he said at least.

He didn’t like this response and scowled at me, then as he got off the elevator at his stop said, “Bitch.”


Bitch the Third

It was the kind of day where every interaction I had was some level of unpleasant until about 2:30, and that wears a person down. By the time I got on the subway, I was feeling pretty sick of other people and just trying to get home to some peace.

My train was moderately crowded, and I had to stand awkwardly free-floating for the first few stops because a guy was leaning against the only pole I could reach until a bunch of people cleared out at an express transfer stop. I moved to sit in a seat that opened up at the same time as that guy, and when I realized what he was doing got out of the way.

This time I actually did apologize and went to stand at the pole instead, now that it was free. I had my back to him and took out my Kindle to read as the train pulled away.

He tapped my back and said, “Miss, were you trying to sit here?”

I smiled and said, “Oh no, I’m all set, thanks,” then turned back to the pole.

Loudly, and with a surprisingly sudden hostility he said, “Well you don’t have to be a damn bitch about it!”


Maybe I am just a bitch?

These little micro-aggressions (I don’t know, maybe calling someone a bitch is an aggression-aggression?) happen every day, pretty much constantly. Tuesday was the day of men calling me a bitch and openly expressing their disdain for me after they behaved rudely.

Other days if I am wearing something tight or short or low-cut, I get breathtakingly crass comments on everything from the way I walk to what they imagine my turn-ons must be and how dirty I must like things (I’m not going to repeat them verbatim here but I promise whatever you’re imagining, it’s more explicit and probably grosser). Some guys are loud and brash about it, as if saying it in a big public way exculpates the offensiveness. Others are downright creepy, getting close enough to whisper and then saying something appallingly personal as they walk by.

That’s nothing new, and unfortunately any woman who lives in a city probably has countless stories about getting cat-called and groped in public.

What is upsetting to me is the increasing suggestion that I have something to do with the way men are aggressive toward me. I believe strongly in taking responsibility for my actions and the impact they have on people around me, but I also think it’s ludicrous to suggest that me wearing a dress that shows my figure (and seriously, I dress like someone’s mother in the 50s, so let’s not act like I’m going full Kardashian on the D train) is an invitation to tell me where you’d like to stick things.

A former friend once proposed what she called the Face-Punching Hypothesis after I got randomly kicked in the middle of Penn Station.

“You try to be cheerful and sweet to people, right, and that’s nice, but it’s also kind of like when a puppy is like really cute and you just want to punch it in the face.”

“What??”

“I mean not really, you would’t actually want to hit a dog, but it’s that impulse, when someone is happy and bright and looks like they’re having a good day, you kind of want to knock them down a peg, right?”

(This is part of why she and I aren’t friends anymore)

Maybe being young-ish and blonde and white, dressed to work in a fancy office and generally smiling and upbeat signifies something, suggests to people that I’m having this sunshiny birds-singing post-stepmother-enslavement Cinderella kind of day and that they ought to inject some rain clouds on my charmed life, if they are of the Face-Punching persuasion. I almost get that, if these men are feeling put-upon and rolled over by the deck that’s stacked against them.

What I don’t get is the men who treat me terribly when they have all the cards in the deck. The guy in the elevator could have been nice and human, could have said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hold you up,” and I probably would have been cheerful. It was the insincerity of his “Sorry” and the fact that he wasn’t saying it because he cared at all about being considerate to me, so much as that he was demanding to be excused, that I found more obnoxious than if he’d said nothing at all.

It has recently been pointed out to me that when I’m uncomfortable with the way someone is speaking to me, I shut down. I may not glare or raise my voice, but I stop smiling and look away. I do it with people when I think they’re assholes or they’re being rude or unreasonable because I thought it was better than reacting negatively, but apparently it’s interpreted as disdain (which often would be accurate, so I still need to work on my poker face). The WASP ability to freeze people out maybe comes a little too naturally to me, but I think it should be okay to have a neutral expression.

All too commonly this gets seen as Resting Bitch Face, though, and now it’s apparently okay to treat women poorly if they have RBF. If a man walks down the street with a neutral expression on his face, presumably because he is preoccupied with his thoughts and not trying to amuse and entertain everyone around him, no one would implore him, “Smile! Show the world that pretty face!”

But I get, “Baby, what’s wrong? Give me five minutes, I can get a smile out of you.” Or serious conversations about my demeanor and the nonverbal messages I’m sending others.

Sometimes I think women have come so far, and then I have days where I get called a bitch so many times I start thinking, “Maybe I should smile more, maybe that’s why everyone thinks I’m a bitch.”

Long way to go still.

Meatless

Around the holidays I was talking with a friend about half-assing convictions, how some people seem to really go all-in all the time and others maybe voice their support for a cause or don’t oppose it, but also don’t vehemently stand up for it all the time.

She referred back to an earlier discussion we had been having about factory farming and said, “Everyone has different levels they can commit to in their daily lives and no one is better or worse for where they’re putting their energy. Maybe you are really careful that the animals you eat lived a healthy and happy life and were killed as humanely as possible, but you love meat and want to keep eating it, so a vegetarian has no place to devalue your commitment to more ethical farming any more than a vegan could call them a monster for eating eggs or cheese.”

The conversation went on and to sillier places, but it stuck in my mind, this idea that I loved meat and wanted to keep eating it. Was that actually true?

I’ve gone through brief stretches of not eating meat here and there, particularly any time I watch Food, Inc. or read too much about hormones and antibiotics in meat. I drew a line in the sand a few years ago that I would not eat factory farmed meat or dairy products anymore and when I couldn’t be certain of a meat’s umm, provenance, I would choose a vegetarian option instead. Basically that meant I was eating venison that my father or brother had shot or eggs and meat that passed all the local, organic, free-range, antibiotic-free etc. etc. criteria, the latter of which could get quite pricey for something I didn’t necessarily enjoy the way I thought I should.

Increasingly I realized that the way I liked meat was in tiny, barely discernible pieces covered in spices and sauce with no bones or connective tissue / recognizable anatomical features, or ground into sausages and the like, so long as it in no way resembled an animal’s body. I heard my friend’s voice saying, “But you love meat,” and I felt like, “Do I? Really??”

I think eating meat was just a thing I grew up doing, which is obviously not an excuse because at various times in my youth I also thought I was a Republican, but I didn’t question eating meat as much as I questioned my politics in adulthood. Meals were composed of a large piece of meat, some vegetables, and a starch. If I got lucky, that combination would take the form of a stir-fry or casserole, and as an adult, as meat sauces over pasta or sausage in lasagna. “I could never be a full-on vegetarian,” I thought recently on my fourth night of eating eggs for dinner, “I wouldn’t survive without meat.”

Last month when we traveled to India I was dubious about the farming ethics I was likely to encounter and not very confident in my ability to communicate that seriously I’d want everything deboned, so I made the decision to eat vegetarian the entire time I was there. It wasn’t such a stretch, as I had been eating vegetarian meals for most of my lunches and dinners for the past few months, and I started to notice that going fully vegetarian, I suddenly started feeling… better.

Without getting into a bunch of health things and the way I usually felt after eating meat, I found that a vegetarian diet just suited me, physically and ethically, in a way that even the most careful sourcing of meat wasn’t doing. I started to see that there was no reason I couldn’t enjoy all the dishes I already did, but without meat in them, as there were literally millions of people doing it every day in India, entire villages where you just weren’t going to find meat being cooked anywhere (for religious reasons).

I don’t know if it will just be a phase, or if it will be an actual lifestyle change to being a vegetarian permanently, but it feels really right. I guess if I went so many years eating meat at most meals and once in a blue moon having a meatless meal, I can certainly commit to the reverse, like 99% vegetarian and once in a while having a BLT. Because I mean, even vegetarians can appreciate bacon.

Going meatless is part of an overall attempt to eat less processed foods or takeaway, and it factors into the bigger project of living in better balance and harmony, of which much, much more is yet to come.

Psychological Housekeeping

I recently read a book on my cousin’s recommendation and found it just as profoundly impactful and life-changing as she did, but possibly for different reasons than the author explicitly intended.

I got quite a ways into The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up before I realized that I was reading the same book I’d seen referenced in dozens of Facebook posts, blog entries, and articles, outlining the KonMari method. Just as I wondered, “Is this the book that tells you to get rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy?” I turned the page and the question was posed.

It is a great book and a solid method, written in a charming, conversational tone that makes it a pleasure. For better or worse, I didn’t necessarily need the advice about literally tidying up because I had my come-to-Jesus moment when I purged and donated so much of what I owned before moving out of Staten Island. I was very careful in setting up my new apartment, and basically I walk around sparking joy whenever I’m in my home.

What surprised me so much, though, was how directly applicable the tidying-up method was toward my interior life and psychological wellbeing. Marie Kondo discusses our relationship to possessions as a reflection of our relationship to ourselves: we project guilt, conflict, regret, dread, and all kinds of negative, counterproductive emotions onto objects that remind us of our relationships with our past or future self. As someone who has given away more than a few barely-used yoga mats, this idea of disappointing one’s past intentions resonated deeply with me. The items that caused me the most pain to give away were definitely the aspirational ones, but only on hindsight can I see how hanging onto them was making me feel worse every day.

The method urges the reader to be grateful for the purpose things serve in life, even if it was just to give a person joy while buying them and imagining using them. Then once the purpose is served, thank the objects, and release them. It’s a sweet, lovely, if ever-so-slightly cutesy anthropomorphization of clothing, books, kitchen utensils, and all the objects that comprise the domestic sphere. Tucked within the simple messages of gratitude and living in the present is a beautiful philosophy of accepting and being gentle to oneself, using joy as a guide.

I looked in my heart and started to see the way I have been positively hoarding negative memories, past hurts and disappointments, and all kinds of relationships and situations that made me constantly angry or frustrated when I think of them. As much as I thought I had moved past all of them, I realized I was still carrying them around, like a pile of clutter I had to step over every time I wanted to walk into my bedroom.

One boyfriend (who did end up breaking my heart spectacularly) said that sometimes I’d look at him and even when I was smiling, he saw flickers of darkness in my eyes, years of pain and hurt. “You make me feel like I broke your heart already,” he said, “and I thought I was being pretty good to it.” It’s ironic because my official policy is to not bad-mouth my exes or wish them anything but the best in life. Once I decide to end a friendship or romance, I try to look at it with gratitude for the ways it helped me grow and change and move along my path. But I haven’t been letting go of all the psychological clutter, and I see, abundantly and clearly, that I seriously need to.

I thought it would take months or years, and I know I’m nowhere near done, but over a few weeks with the kind of surreally beautiful spring weather that makes anything but singsong optimism seem perverse, I got rid of all kinds of mental stuff. I compartmentalized it by writing down every thought or experience that was making me furious or upset for a while (and for once, not venting it to friends or family), then choosing, actively, to stop dwelling on all of those things. Emotional deaccessioning. And it really was that easy and that straightforward to identify the toxic feelings and decide I didn’t want them to have meaning for me anymore.

I’m still working on it, but I’m delighted at how much lighter and freer I feel when instead of being upset or angry somewhat regularly when I see people I can’t avoid, I am taking a Don Draper approach, “I don’t think about you at all,” and actually meaning it. Taking the clutter off my radar and sweeping it right out the door, it is getting out of my way, and I am finding more and more joy.

That is the true life-changing magic in this pretty book about housekeeping:

“As for you, pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life. I am convinced that putting your house in order will help you find the mission that speaks to your heart. Life truly begins after you have put your house in order.”

Swap out “house” for “mind,” and here we are. I am being nice to myself, and I am only looking forward. I’m reminding myself daily that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, and it’s up to me to find joy every day.

It feels truly amazing.

Recipe: Baked Eggs with Kale, Tomatoes, and Cannellini Beans

The other day I was cleaning out my work email and came across this recipe that I’d sent to one of my coworkers. She said she liked the idea of eating more kale, but couldn’t get excited about eating a salad for dinner. I laughed and said I eat kale all the time, but I hate it raw so I only ever eat it cooked. “What do you just like, steam it?” she asked, and I felt obliged to share.

As one of my favorite and most regularly cooked dishes, it seemed only fair that I should post it here too. It’s easy and fast enough to prepare on a weeknight after work, but delicious and satisfying enough that it works well if you’re having people over for brunch. You can even get fancy and divide it into individual bowls before baking, if you’re into that sort of thing (I am).

Baked Eggs with Kale, Tomatoes, and Cannellini Beans

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 bunches of kale, cut or torn into manageable pieces, with inner spine removed, or 1 pound of the pre-packaged kind
  • 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes + liquid, or 3-4 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 15.5 oz. can of cannellini beans, rinsed of goo, or about 1 cup fresh beans
  • 1 onion or about 5 shallots
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tsp. olive oil
  • drizzle of balsamic vinegar to taste (about ⅛-¼ cup)
  • basil, salt, and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Chop the garlic and onion / shallots and heat them in olive oil in a large pan until softened and slightly caramelized.

Add tomatoes, beans, vinegar, seasoning, and kale. Stir everything together, and cover the pan for a few minutes to cook the kale down to about half its original volume. Allow yourself a moment to be amazed at how much kale reduces.

Transfer everything to an 8″x8″ baking dish and level it out, then using the back of a spoon make four slight indentations. Crack eggs into these indentations and bake for about 17-20 minutes or until the eggs look done. If you want the yolks to be slightly runny (which is delicious) you can cook them until the whites are just solid. If you want the whole egg to take on the texture of a hard-boiled egg, you can bake for another 4-5 min.

Perhaps even better, I put the ingredients into a fitness app, and it estimated 514 calories for half the dish or 257 calories per quadrant. The app was pretty happy with me for this one, compared with my favorite quiche and lasagna recipes.

You can of course adjust it with whatever is seasonal or around. I suspect sautéed mushrooms would make a splendid addition. And if you are like my mother and hate balsamic vinegar, you can add a drizzle of lemon juice for some acidity, or omit it entirely.

Mangia!

Monetizing

Years ago, when people started talking about monetizing their websites, I had a tendency to read the word as Monet-izing, and I enjoyed imagining clean graphic layouts replaced by thick daubs of paint, idiosyncratic brushwork, and the beautiful colors and subjects of Impressionist painting.

Claude Monet, Île aux Fleurs near Vétheuil, 1880, oil on canvas, seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I mean, that’s honestly so much more interesting to think about than money, isn’t it?

I’ve been blogging in some form and managing multiple websites for going on 15 years now, and as I renewed my hosting and domain registrations again recently, I started to think about how much those fees have added up over time. I am experimenting with adding some advertising to this blog and my knitting site to try to pay for the hosting. I felt really weird about setting it up, but it’s 2015, and I don’t think people are as sensitive to advertising as they were when monetizing was a whispered, sort of dirty word.

I’m also setting up some other projects that I’m hoping to get rolling in earnest this summer. In grad school I got so bizarrely indoctrinated to this idea that art is only for the people independently wealthy enough that they don’t need to support themselves as artists (“trust fund babies,” as one professor called them) that I felt strange and self-conscious about trying to sell art through any means other than a solo show at the Whitney. I’ve gotten over that cynical delusion and decided there is no shame in making an honest living, especially since I don’t have oil tycoons in the family to buy me a gallery show anyway.

I wrote up a business plan and goals, I made a checklist of things I need to do, and I applied for a Certificate of Authority for a business of sole proprietorship again. I have a daunting amount of work ahead, but working for oneself is always rewarding. I am a demanding but kind boss, and I occasionally reward myself with Nutella and Diet Coke, so I can’t complain. I don’t want to let any more time go by where I’m not investing in myself and working toward something personal, even if it’s a total flop. I will never know if I don’t try.

So fingers crossed, we’ll see what happens.