Whatever your intentions, to be a member of the new, more privileged wave of residents in a gentrifying neighborhood is to be a part of a process that is displacing families who have lived there for decades, even generations. You have to be something of a moral idiot not to feel some queasiness about this. Although it is rarely discussed directly, I suspect that for a lot of who are, broadly speaking, on the advantaged side in this turf war, just walking around brings regular stings of class guilt. Obviously it is worse to be on the disadvantaged side; that’s why the advantaged feel bad about feeling bad, and therefore avoid talking about it.
What the advantaged do instead is pick apart all the failings and hypocrisies of our own team. That way we align ourselves, so we imagine, with the other team, the team that seems to have justice on its side: If I’m part of something bad, at least I have the right attitude about it.
Implicated in an uncomfortable reality, we resort to a bit of psychological jujitsu to fight off the shame. Feeling the heat of the spotlight, we swing it on a fellow gentrifier who’s going about it all wrong. I’m white and raised in suburbia, but I don’t wear khakis and clog restaurants with my stroller at brunch. Or perhaps: At least I’m not this guy here on the park bench, with his beanie and flip-flops. I mean, really. Look at this fucking hipster.
This is Freud’s “narcissism of minor differences,” but with a twist. In Freud’s theory, we deride and attack those near to us to establish dominance, as an outlet for hardwired “inclination to aggression.” In this case, I think, the derision comes from an impulse toward self-violence. It’s an expression of socioeconomic self-loathing. The gentrifier insults hipsters and bobos precisely because they are more or less like him; he needs to dole out the punishment that on some level he feels he also deserves. “Narcissism” isn’t quite right, because he’s not trying to love himself more. He’s trying to hate himself less.On several occasions I have been to the Brooklyn Flea, a popular flea market franchise cofounded by Jonathan Butler. An Ivy League graduate with an MBA, Butler had previously launched the Brooklyn real estate blog Brownstoner, a haven for the gentrifying crowd, while working at a hedge fund. In a schoolyard a few blocks from the corners where the Notorious B.I.G. started dealing drugs at age 12 in the 1980s, the Flea offers shabby-chic antiques and clothing, rescue trinkets, old vinyl, and food trucks that make “ethnic food” less ethnic. You know the drill. The nostalgic instinct, the devotion to quirkiness, the almost fetishistic environmentalism—to me it’s all a bit … much. But there I am, visiting the vending table of an artist who draws cityscapes in pen on Post-It notes. I really like his stuff. Until the mental backlash comes: Oh God, I am not one of these people. Please tell me I am not one of these people.
From Evan Hughes’ article, “The Great Inversion in New Brooklyn” in UTNE Reader. Ever since I came upon Andrew Potter’s book, The Authenticity Hoax for an article I wrote about earth mothers I have been fascinated with this whole topic. It really turns my head inside out, though. “The mental backlash” – I like that description.
(Thanks to Tedra for the link).
Archive for the ‘downsized living’ Category
My latest article is up at Daily Life. I have to admit that this was one of the trickier articles I have written. I felt like there was a lot I could muck up with this topic but it has definitely been one of the more interesting ones to consider, too.
These are the possibilities of ‘earth mother’ absurdity for you. It can take a lot of planning and control (and money) to be zen. Getting everything just right so you can let go. Following a very prescriptive path in order to ‘be yourself’. And there can be elitism in being bare and natural, too, because returning to tradition and being anti-corporate can involve a lot of expenses.
Andrew Potter described this perverse situation as “meticulous Bohemia” in his book, The Authenticity Hoax. A situation where you can feel like you are rejecting the materialism of the mainstream but be chasing the status of subculture. Where you can tie yourself in knots by self-consciously trying to perform an authentic sense of self, and where you resist advertising phoniness but then fall for any dubious product with ‘ethnic’ attached to it. Where you want to be different, just like everyone else, which is why every hipster around the world looks the same and all parents use the word ‘play-date’ now. The danger is that you can become obsessed with obtaining authenticity at any cost. And it never really existed.
Special thanks to @tjinimin for the comments and advice assisting me with understanding the concept of ‘authenticity’.
Lots of interesting and stubbornly eccentric thoughts on reading books from Joe Queenan in The Wall Street Journal with “My 6,128 Favourite Books”:
My reading habits sometimes get a bit loopy. I often read dozens of books simultaneously. I start a book in 1978 and finish it 34 years later, without enjoying a single minute of the enterprise. I absolutely refuse to read books that critics describe as “luminous” or “incandescent.” I never read books in which the hero went to private school or roots for the New York Yankees. I once spent a year reading nothing but short books. I spent another year vowing to read nothing but books I picked off the library shelves with my eyes closed. The results were not pretty.
I even tried to spend an entire year reading books I had always suspected I would hate: “Middlemarch,” “Look Homeward, Angel,” “Babbitt.” Luckily, that project ran out of gas quickly, if only because I already had a 14-year-old daughter when I took a crack at “Lolita.”
Quite unlike many collectors, they weren’t wealthy, living and collecting their entire lives on their salaries and their pensions. The couple did not, however, sell a single piece until the National Gallery acquired much of their collection in 1991. Estimates of its value range well into the millions. “We could have easily become millionaires,” Mr Vogel told the Associated Press in 1992, adding: “But we weren’t concerned about that aspect.”..
.. Herb, who never completed high school, and Dorothy, who survives him, had simple criteria when buying art: it had to be inexpensive, small enough to be carried on the subway or in a taxi and it had to fit inside their one-bedroom flat…
.. Artists considered it a privilege to be included in their collection and an even greater honour to be invited to their apartment for a meal. Dorothy would sometimes offer a TV dinner that she warmed up in the oven. “They were a couple without children,” said Ruth Fine, a recently retired curator at the National Gallery. “The works of art became the absolute focus of their lives.”
When Mr Vogel retired from the Postal Service in 1979, he used his pension to buy more art. He and Dorothy began to think about their legacy, and many top museums came calling. Eventually, after years of negotiations, they agreed to send the heart of their collection to the National Gallery. When curators began to catalogue the collection, it took five full-size moving trucks to transport the Vogels’ art to Washington from their apartment.
Despite his obvious penchant, Mr Vogel could not always articulate why he liked certain works of art more than others or what he looked for when collecting. “I just like art,” he said in 1992. “I don’t know why I like art. I don’t know why I like nature. I don’t know why I like animals. I don’t know why I even like myself.” Washington Post
“The ordinary couple with an extraordinary art collection” from The Independent. Love this.
Posted in classism, daycare, downsized living, fatherhood, feminism, feminist motherhood, motherhood, motherhood sux, politics, race/anti-racism, work and family (im)balance on September 27, 2012 | 2 Comments »
You must read this wonderful essay in aeon magazine from economist, John Quiggin – “The Golden Age: The 15-hour working week predicted by Keynes may soon be within our grasp – but are we ready for freedom from toil”.
Quiggin takes Keynes’ theory and in this essay fixes up some of the old oversights by talking about how happiness and money could be shared more equitably to include the marginalised like, stay at home parents, women, artists, the working poor and those who cannot (for a variety of reasons) work. After you have read this essay you will understand why capitalist feminism, which dominates in the USA, can frustrate me.
But far from weakening Keynes’s case against a money-driven society, the problems of caring for children illustrate the way in which our current economic order fails to deliver a good life, even for the groups who are doing relatively well in economic terms. The workplace structures that define a successful career today require the most labour from ‘prime-age’ workers aged between 25 and 50, the stage when the demands of caring for children are greatest.
Yes, the essay does have a bit of economics in it but I think it is all quite manageable, so don’t be put off, read on .. and if you’re having trouble with understanding any of it copy and paste the relevant bit into the comments below and I will try to ‘layperson’ the economics for you.
Cross-posted at Hoyden About Town.
Posted in classism, downsized living, feminism, feminist motherhood, motherhood, motherhood bliss, motherhood sux, politics, pop culture, vegetarians are not fun, work and family (im)balance on September 7, 2012 | 15 Comments »
I’m in two minds about this compelling article about food fascism – “Why I Hate Food” by Mary Rechner, and it is partly because my own cynicism about this movement is being slowly watered down by my recent participation in it.
Becoming a mother seemed to increase the number of interactions I had with people attempting to make me feel insecure. People began asking many questions designed to determine if I was nursing too much or too little, whether I was too attached or not attached enough, and how I planned to educate my progeny, i.e. was I planning to home school? (Add providing a comprehensive K-12 education to that to-do list!) When my children began eating solid food, people were curious to know what I was feeding them, i.e. did I use a food mill and grind the sweet potato myself or did it come from a jar?
Perhaps we focus so closely on food because feeding our families creates an illusion of control. On Facebook, a friend posts about her son refusing to eat a conventionally-grown banana. He can taste the difference—he will only eat organic. What is the subtext of such a post? My child has been taught correctly? My child has learned what I’ve taught? We are good, we are safe, no harm will come to us? Perhaps also this: If your child cannot taste this difference between organic and conventional bananas, clearly our family is better than yours.
As a child, my elder son never set foot in a McDonald’s. He believed us when we told him the burgers were unhealthy. As a pre-teen, he watched Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Super Size Me, and his anti-McDonald’s stance appeared permanently fixed. He refused even one bite of my large fries. We were at a Connecticut rest stop on I-95—I was desperate! Thus, I never could have imagined the current scenario: my teenage son regularly hanging out in McDonald’s after school. When I asked him if he eats any of the food, he replied, “I eat all of it.”
There is a problem with über-mumming and radical housewife movements in that they do not particularly rock the status quo – one where women’s labour is under-valued and under-recognised.. but on the other hand, not everyone is going to be an artist or a writer so homecrafts probably aren’t, in reality, robbing us of all the world’s female artists. And is there anything wrong with women finding something artistic and beautiful about their everyday pursuits? Basically, home-makers are a fucking soft target.
When travelling to rural Alaska I learnt that people there don’t lock their homes. When they’re away, especially in winter, they don’t just leave them unlocked, they prepare a fire ready to be lit in the hearth, and they stock the cupboards with food and water. I remember an Alaskan seeing my surprise at this and saying, “It’s not like where you live; we still need each other here.”
Perhaps this is why a stranger’s kindness resonates? In cities and suburbs, more so in affluent countries, day-to-day survival isn’t an issue any more (even if it doesn’t always feel like that). We don’t physically need one another in order to live now. And without needing one another, we’re not properly connected. Where would the sense of connection come from?
Alaska made me realise we lost meaning once our survival was secured. The struggle for survival is the meaning, and if your survival’s even moderately in question, that ties you to others around you – it forces you to team up with them, depend on them, serve them. Real or imagined danger connects people, and our connection to others is scientifically proven to be the pinnacle of experience.
About a paragraph into this piece, “Bonding with strangers” I was like, god, I love this, who is the writer and then I realised it was Jon Bauer, a writer I have mentioned before on here. I really like Jon Bauer’s writing.
This article, “Revolutionary Plots” by Rebecca Solnit at Orion Magazine is a terrifically thought-provoking read:
We are in an era when gardens are front and center for hopes and dreams of a better world or just a better neighborhood, or the fertile space where the two become one. There are farm advocates and food activists, progressive farmers and gardeners, and maybe most particular to this moment, there’s a lot of urban agriculture. These city projects hope to overcome the alienation of food, of labor, of embodiment, of land, the conflicts between production and consumption, between pleasure and work, the destructiveness of industrial agriculture, the growing problems of global food scarcity, seed loss. The list of ideals being planted and tended and sometimes harvested is endless, but the question is simple. What crops are you tending? What do you hope to grow? Hope? Community? Health? Pleasure? Justice? Gardens represent the idealism of this moment and its principal pitfall, I think. A garden can be, after all, either the ground you stand on to take on the world or how you retreat from it, and the difference is not always obvious…
.. When I go to colleges like Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, which has a food garden project on campus, I sometimes find myself telling the students that baby boomers in their youth famously had sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, but the young now have gardens. Gardens are where they locate their idealism, their hope for a better world, and, more than hope, their realization of it on the small scale of a few dozen rows of corn and tomatoes and kale. Thought of just as means of producing food, the achievements of urban agriculture may be modest, but as means of producing understanding, community, social transformation, and catalytic action, they may be the opposite. When they’re at their best, urban farms and gardens are a way to change the world. Even if they only produced food—it’s food.
I love this article from The New York Times so much. “The ‘Busy’ Trap” by Tim Kreider. Everything this.
.. Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life…
..What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day…
I have been loving ‘slow parenting’ ideas for about the same length of time that I have been intensively parenting while working frantically, so it is a stupidly slow transition to ‘slowing down’ in life, apparently.
I really enjoyed this piece in Daily Life from Sarah McDonald, who is a lovely writer:
We could not afford another bedroom or a garden in the inner city and also wanted and needed to be close to our ageing parents. Reluctantly, we became real estate refugees who went back to where we came from – a suburb where the land is cheap(er) and the homes a bit bigger.
So, here I am, one suburb away from where I grew up. I’m in a street with trees, hedges and a Sunday morning sound of lawnmowers blending with the smell of bacon. I’ve submitted. I’ve compromised. I’ve mainstreamed. I’ve become predictable, reliable and sensible. I’ve heard most people die within five kilometres of where they’re born and now I understand how that happens without finding it infinitely depressing.
I’ll confess that inside this gilded coffin I’m a touch frustrated. Most people in my suburb don’t talk about politics, art and religion; the passion of debate is reserved for mean teachers and the inadequate size of the garbage bins. Book club is the closest I get to wild Paris and danger – but the brawl is over who ate all the chocolate almonds rather than the French novel. To take a walk on the wild side I’ve joined a fitness group – but that’s a story for another day.
And yet, when my kids play cricket on the road with the neighbours and the parents share a drink behind the garbage bin wicket, I feel a sense of great belonging. When a local dresses up as Santa and throws icy poles at the street party I understand the childish joy in familiar ritual. When we stop to chat to locals I see childish contentment in the community.
What amuses me about Australia is that few of us actually like to admit we are suburban. And yet most of us are.