On a blustery Wednesday night this past December, the newly opened TriBeCa branch of New York’s 92nd Street Y was host to a stand-up comedy show, but you’d never have guessed it from the goings-on backstage. The only people in the modest, disconcertingly spotless greenroom were the opening acts: two smartly dressed, well-spoken, polite comedians in their early 30s, both of whom could have passed for architecture students, or graphic designers, or even grass-roots organizers for the Obama campaign. No entourage was in evidence; marijuana was alluded to, but never actually smoked; gourmet hummus and He’brew ale were partaken of, but only in moderation. And the headlining act, the reason for the capacity crowd buzzing with controlled impatience in the 300-person theater just a few feet down the hall, was not in the greenroom at all. He was crouched just offstage with his back to the curtain, running intently through “Joy to the World” with a trio of young tuba players he’d recruited that morning from Craigslist, looking less like one of the great new hopes of American comedy than the leader of a severely underfunded marching band. He didn’t look like a comic at all, in fact, and he certainly wasn’t acting like one. Which, as it turned out, was precisely the point.
“What I call the ‘geography’ of a room — its size, its layout, the overall feel of the place — really determines how far you can push things,” the comic in question, a cherubic man with a fiery red beard and the distinctly unshowbizlike name of Zach Galifianakis, told me in the greenroom a short time before. “I love to do shows in unlikely places, because the audience’s expectations are less fixed. If you’re going on right after a guy with suspenders and a skinny, 1980’s-style comedy tie, who’s been striking crazy poses — doing the same type of material that worked in 1991 — there’s no space for trying unconventional stuff. A place like this, on the other hand, is more of a blank slate.” Galifianakis took a deep, unsteady breath (the first sign of nervousness he’d shown) and stared down intently at the tips of his New Balance sneakers. “Which is lucky for me, because I have no idea what I’m going to say to those people out there.”
It’s curious that American Girl has yet to respond to consumer demand for a historical Jewish doll. Why was the Tasha project tabled? Was it poor timing, coinciding as it did with the purchase by Mattel? In an e-mail, Jevens wrote that dolls take years to develop, and that many are in process at any one time. Is Tasha’s launch imminent? Only time will tell.
For now, Jewish girls and boys remain deprived of the opportunity to see their own American story mythologized and legitimized within the diverse rainbow of ethnic dolls who celebrate their unique culture alongside their American identities. Without Tasha, they’ll just have to settle for those Jewish role models readily available: Sarah Silverman, Amy Winehouse and, on a good day, Bette Midler.
"What hath night to do with sleep?" Milton
“Sleep … Oh! how I loathe those little slices of death ….” Longfellow
“Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.” Proverbs 20:13
“Sleep and deep repose, most like indeed to death’s own quietness.” Virgil
“His eye is ever open and sleepeth not, for it continually keepeth watch.” The Zohar
“Thou fool, what is sleep but the image of death? Fate will give an eternal rest.” Ovid
“Great eaters and great sleepers are incapable of anything else that is great.” Shakespeare
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Warren Zevon
In general, sleep is a good thing-it refreshes us for the many tasks at hand. To paraphrase from Ethics, the ancient rabbis’ book of wisdom: The day is short, and the demands are steep. We have a lot to do, and sleep gives us the strength to do it.
Additionally, sleep is seen as a form of physical pleasure. On the Sabbath, the day set aside for various forms of self-replenishment, on which we are commanded to seek out various forms of physical pleasure, it is literally a mitzvah to sleep.
Why, then, on the holiday of Shavuos, do we find a seemingly out-of-place custom: to push ourselves to stay up later than we normally would, engaged in the study of the divine revelation of the Torah to the Jewish people?
The Rabbis tell a tale. On the eve of the revelation of the Torah, the Jewish people slept in. Encamped at the base of Mount Sinai, having spent the entirety of three days in rigorous preparation for this epic meeting of man and God-God had to rouse them from slumber so that the could be conscious enough to receive the precious gift.
And so, every year on Shavuos, the holiday commemoration this wondrous day of revelation, we remember this misstep and do a little work to correct whatever glitch in our collective consciousness, our spiritual DNA, brought it about. We knew we were about to receive the greatest gift in history, and we hid from it, pretended like it wasn’t happening. This year, Godwilling, let us prepare ourselves to receive what we have coming.
To promote Head Case, Gawker had therapists on hand with pads, pens, sofas… you get the idea. While watching one girl take a 20-minute session, I thought the therapists were real. I am such an idiot sometimes. I met a random looking young lady named Nova who described herself as a “renaissance girl” who did “this and that” and applied her trade(s) “here and there.” She seemed to be a typical party guest, so I convinced her to let me listen in on her therapy session, which I finally realized was being staffed by a Gawker commenter. This Gawker therapist (email@example.com) wasn’t bad and didn’t look as prosperous as my last two therapists, so consider him if your mother still gets under your skin.
See, had I known this, I would’ve gone. My guy charges $160. Rod will fuck you up for free. (@NOTKRUCOFF)
“We watch movies together, you can’t ever really read a novel with another person. Reading a novel is always a private moment between you and the author. If you’ve never had that sense the author of the book you are reading must have read your mind somehow, you’re just not reading the right books.”
Really? I thought reading a novel to someone was one of those heady “relationships will be marshmallows and oral sex ad infinitum” things everyone did, you know, back in their twenties, the first time you shared an apartment, and thought shopping for food at the farmer’s market was quaint instead of just overpriced. What do you do now? Read text messages aloud to each other?
Ha, I had a roommate in the late 90s and her boyfriend (both in their 20s) would read books to her, and vice-versa, on occasion. I never reached that point in a relationship. Does a joint listening of an NPR program about the Middle East conflict on Tisha B’Av count?
1. If he’s eligable to win the Areosmith scratch-off lotto game.
2. Which of the Areosmith video games (Revolution X, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, Quest For Fame) he’s actually played. Did he ever beat Revolution X? (FYI, Leon: he will try to plug Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, naturally. Do not take this bullshit from him.)
3. If he could cast his daughter and Alicia Silverstone in a video tomorrow for a song they never made a video for, would he? Which song? (Related: Was there ever a video for “Eat The Rich?”)
4. What was with the whole cat fetish on Nine Lives? Seriously. Do not like.
5. If “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” became a better or worse song after Robin Williams rocked out to it as Mrs. Doubtfire.
Sometime in the next couple of days I have to sit down and write two paragraphs about my generation of women in preparation for a panel at the 92nd Street Y on June 8. The other people on the panel (Patricia Bosworth, Judith Warner, Sheila Weller, and Joanna Smith Rakoff) are also writing two paragraphs about their respective generations of women, to be shared at the outset of the panel. What is my generation of women all about? I’m sure plenty of people will agree with me that I’m not qualified to say. But I have been thinking a lot, lately, about women. Specifically I have been thinking about the ways that women publicly and privately police other women’s speech and actions in the supposed service of the greater good, or something they call “feminism.”
A manufactured mini-scandal arose recently because Slate needed to attract attention to the launch of their new women’s-interest blog. So they published a linkbait blog post by author Linda Hirshman, who had axes to grind against various past and present editors of the Gawker Media women’s-interest blog, Jezebel. Hirshman’s tone was provocatively dismissive and snide — I think the old folk call it “snarky”?* — and she pushed a major button when she accused some Jezebel writers of “incoherence” because they decried sexism but did not report being sexually assaulted as teenagers. She misrepresented and glossed over basic facts to try to prove that Jezebel and ‘Jezebel feminism’ have led “women” astray.
The blog’s editors’ plan worked, of course: many blogs and even one British newspaper weighed in on the manufactured controversy. I read some of these responses — Tracie Egan’s response, Anna Holmes’ response, the Feministe response — with a mingled sense of satisfaction — yes! they’re right! — and frustration. I was frustrated because I knew that the whole thing was only a stunt to boost a fledgling site’s pageviews. I was frustrated because I knew that the whole thing, while only a stunt, had almost accidentally scratched the surface of issues that are vitally important to every woman - not to every pundit, not to every female writer, not to the relatively rarified group of women who are able to avail themselves of the luxury of paying attention to blog squabbles — but to every woman. And also I was frustrated because I knew that, to anyone not tangentially involved in the invented squabble**, the whole thing would be dismissed as a “catfight.” “This is what a smackdown looks like,” noted women’s rights proponent Nick Denton wrote, on his Twitter. Everyone had missed the point, again, entirely. This kind of thing keeps happening, and all of us keep missing the point.
When a woman presents herself to the public eye as a multi-dimensional being — like my friend Moe Tkacik, who is capable of writing incisive and compulsively readable dispatches both from the frontlines of both a political campaign and from her own bedroom — she will often be accused by other women of exploiting herself. If she is attractive — if she even betrays any sign of wanting to be perceived as attractive — the criticism multiplies. You cannot be pretty and be taken seriously, still. You cannot be honest about your own experiences and be taken seriously, even if your own experiences are the best examples at your disposal of social and cultural phenomena that affect us all, even if your experiences are ones that you know or suspect that hundreds and thousands of other women share. Other women’s voices aren’t being heard, you’re told, because you are hogging the spotlight with your salacious sexual stories. You are only getting attention because you’re pretty, or slutty, and how dare you steal that attention from someone who deserves it more, because there is only room in everyone’s minds for one iconic thing called Woman. Maybe I should just let Rebecca Traister say it in her own words: “In a media landscape in which there are a severely limited number of spaces for women’s writing voices, the ones that get tapped become necessarily, and deeply inaccurately, emblematic — of their gender, their generation, their profession. More annoying — and twisted — is that those meager spots for women are consistently filled by those willing to expose themselves, visually and emotionally.”
While it’s true that the mastheads and bylines of the magazines that used to represent this country’s cultural elite are still predominantly male, I have never thought of there being a “severely limited number of spaces for women’s writing voices.” When I was younger and found I had no outlet for my “writing voice,” I spent ten bucks on a domain name and fifteen bucks on hosting and then, bingo, I had one. And as for voices that “get tapped” being “innacurately emblematic of their gender,” I feel like Rebecca Traister and Linda Hirshman and their ilk imagine a hypothetical audience member — male, I guess, so let’s call him Bob — who is constantly trying to make his mind up, about Women. Bob is on the fence, and everything he hears and reads might sway him. Should women be paid as much as men, should women have the same opportunities as men, can they be trusted to run our corporations, our media, our country? Should they be raped, or not? Rebecca and Linda don’t give Bob much credit for being able to parse ambiguities. They would like everyone’s message to be as crystal clear as possible, so that Bob doesn’t get confused and start raping people. “No, no!” they keep trying to tell him. “Those aren’t women, we are! And we don’t like those women!”
Sometimes these women say they feel “sorry” for the women they are writing against. They feel “sorry” for women like Meghan McCain who, they say, undermine themselves and whatever socially and politically relevant messages they might have — simply by confessing that they are human beings. The apologetic women aren’t really sorry, though — they are angry. These stupid little bitches are fucking it up for all of us, they seem to be saying, and they should be punished. Bob won’t do it — he does not, after all, exist — so they are going to have to do it for him.
The most upbeat thing I can think to say about all this is that I am genuinely, wholeheartedly shocked (though progressively less so) every time this kind of internecine ugliness among women bubbles to the surface. And I think that shock speaks to something interesting about, you know, My Generation. I was lucky to be raised by a mother who worked and whose work was important to her, and who always made sure I knew that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be. She and her generation paved the way for me and my generation to take so many fundamental freedoms for granted! We slip up, though, when we imagine that we have transcended the old cultural interdictions against being honest and outspoken. All we have transcended, it seems, is the idea that the patriarchy is the authority that enforces these interdictions.
In the face of these attacks, the women of my generation — who have more outlets than ever for making their voices heard– need to make sure that we are judging our words carefully, that we aren’t saying anything we don’t actually believe, and that we are accurately representing ourselves. This is what I am trying, and sometimes failing, to do. This is all we can do. It’s not anyone’s individual job to represent femininity as a whole — not Linda Hirshman’s, not Meghan McCain’s, not Rebecca Traister’s, and certainly not mine.
** like I was. Linda Hirshman lumped me in with the Jezebels — an unearned honor, since I wrote a scant handful of posts for them about a year ago. Per Linda, “Emily Gould published a story in the New York Times Magazine about chronicling her relationships and sex life online for a year; the cover photo was a shot of her in her bed.” The blog had to post a correction that eliminated the phrase “for a year.” I think Linda’s inclusion of that phrase revealed that she had not actually read the article, but had assimilated all she thought she needed to know from the pictures.
(Related, the best part of Bittersweet Motel: Todd Phillips is reading critiques of Phish, and the final one he reads to him is classic. I believe it’s something along the lines of: “To be blunt, Phish could urinate in the ears of their listeners and in turn the fans would happily lap it up.”)