Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I'm Still Blogging, Really, I Am

Again, I have a new URL at www.amidprivilege.com. The redirect is still not 100% in place,  but I promise I'm still blogging. This week I'm plotting sweater dresses and the story of what it's like to grow up and have a family fortune fade.

I hope you come and find me. And in the meantime, we're working on the feed redirect.

Thanks a million.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Time Comes For More Beautiful, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:00am

The time has come. My blog redesign is ready to see the light of day. The next time Privilege has anything to say, it will come from a far more beautiful space.

I would love it if you continue to find us, read us, talk to us. I say us because while clearly I'm the Prime Natterer, Privilege[d] commenters set a high bar. As we used to say in the business world when we meant Do A Really Good Job.

If you subscribe in an RSS feed, you should be migrated without a hitch. The same if you follow in the Google Follower widget. If you come directly to www.amidlifeofprivilege.blogspot.com, you should be magically redirected to the new URL. So finding me should not be a problem. Or so they say.

Of course, having worked in software much of my career, I know sometimes things don't quite go as planned. So, in the event that come Tuesday afternoon - the time I have planned the first post on the new blog - you do not see Privilege in your Reader, or on your Google page, or are not redirected from the usual URL/blog address - please email me and let me know. I will still be at the other end of skyepeale[at]yahoo.com. Or you can find me on Twitter. Where I will still be @AmidPrivilege. Posting photos that frequently include a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

This is an appropriate moment to thank you all again. You enrich my life enormously.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Matters Most About Manners?

It appears there's some confusion about manners. Not only do people debate what are or are not "Good Manners," they do so imprecisely. I cannot bear imprecise arguments. When one fails to define one's terms, passionate discussions lead directly into a boggy swamp of opinions. No one advances beyond their own reactions.

Let us then deconstruct "Manners," with an eye towards understanding what, if anything, matters.

I believe that most people want to have good manners. Of course, in the interest of precision, we must acknowledge that not everyone feels this way. Some are too overwhelmed by distress, or lack of resources. All their capacity absorbed by coping. Others actively rebel against manners in the traditional sense, looking for a new mode of interaction.

So let's speak to those who care.

Manners are the term for an aspect of human behavior along the spectrum of Good to Bad. And yes, that means we're in for a diagram.

The left hand side of this spectrum spans cultures. Few societies admire murder. The right hand side, however, is more complex. Right about the point where Nice and Kind enter the picture, Manners rears its well-groomed head. And here's where deconstruction tells.

Manners consist of Protocol and Common Human Courtesy. These are not the same thing.

Common Human Courtesy
  • Put the elderly, the pregnant, the handicapped, ahead of you.
  • Greet those you meet with warmth, or respect, or both.
  • Calibrate your clothing to your context.
  • Say please and thank you.
  • Greeting mechanism (handshake, air kiss).
  • Table manners (fork left hand, fork left hand, banana leaves).
  • Thank you mechanisms (handwritten notes, elaborately wrapped cheap presents, phone calls).
  • What To Wear Beyond Aesthetics (no white after Labor Day, no short skirts after 40, business casual, mother of the bride).
I believe that everyone would agree, Common Human Courtesy takes us further along the Bad to Good spectrum than anything else.

The debate about manners usually revolves around Protocol.

Here's the tricky part. Protocol originates as a way to establish and maintain hierarchies, not as a way to be nice to anyone. Protocol ensures we all stick to our roles, that we acknowledge and bow our heads to societal expectations. As a result people often point out Protocol violations in order to maintain a structure that reinforces their own desire for a formal, hierarchical world. These are false accusation of Bad Manners, and should be ignored as such.

Protocol also ranges from incomprehensible ritual to generally accepted cultural actions. It varies from environment to environment. What happens in an embassy stays in an embassy. What happens in Poland doesn't often happen in Chicago. Here Jenna of That Wife details her discomfort with the European 3-kiss, for example.

Does that mean you can forget Protocol on the path to Good? Throw it all out the window as an outmoded artifact of a pre-Freudian, repressed, colonial era? Is life that simple? Unfortunately, no. When understood and agreed to by all participants, Protocol does simplify difficult interactions. There's something to be said for simplifying. Being human is tough.

Even beyond simplification, there are those who feel Protocol ensures their safety, smooths their way, and signifies that all is well in the world. It's their "Fuffy," if you will. And when you ignore Protocol you cause them distress. They may then take the position that you are definitively In The Wrong. You're not, in a moral sense. Protocol is situational. But if you willfully flout Protocol, you may upset someone. Just make sure it's a conscious choice on your part. One that's worth distress in others.

I call it the "Because Grandmama Cares" approach. I have evolved into this late in life. As a young woman I chafed against the strictures of protocol, all the while absorbing the entire How To from my family background. I believed that much protocol was evil, designed only to shame us and deny us our hearts. That may in fact be true. But at the next level, sometimes determined flouting of protocol becomes inconsiderate, failing at Common Human Courtesy. Which is, of course, the most important part of Good Manners.

The Privilege[d] Manifesto on Good Manners
  • Common Human Courtesy matters most, but doesn't suffice for Good Manners.
  • Blind adherence to Protocol isn't enough either.
  • Some rules are downright dumb, not to mention vestiges of a society invested in hierarchy and brutal power structures.
  • Yet human beings do better under shared behavior codes.
  • The question is what protocols to follow, and why? Each of us must make our own choices. Each of us should try to respect the choices of others. Even choices we don't like. I personally have trouble with eyebrow piercing. I keep it to myself when in the supermarket checkout line at Whole Foods.
  • When you next want to accuse someone of Bad Manners, stop, and consider whether they are violating Protocol or failing Common Human Courtesy.
One final thought. Saints are apt to ignore protocol. Think about it. St. Patrick wasn't terribly well-behaved when he sent away all those snakes, now was he? St. Joan certainly didn't speak politely to those in authority.

What part of manners do you pay the most attention to?


What Shoes To Wear On An Airplane?

As I will be flying East in a week or two, I have to plan not only what I will wear during my visit, but also my airplane garb. I'm very much the Sturdy Gal in transit. Grandes Dames have their pashmina throws, Artsy Cousins meditate so it doesn't matter what they wear, Sturdy Gals fly in black yoga pants, black tee, and a black down-lined jacket that can be taken off and on easily as one becomes over-heated dashing towards gates. Oh yes, and we like lots of pockets for passport, reading glasses, and cash to buy bottles of water. Which are required after so much dashing. 

All of which begs the question of shoes. I, as a good Sturdy Gal, abhor foot pain. However, as a High WASP I cannot bring myself to pair white running shoes with black clothing. Nor pink shoes, nor aqua, nor silver. Shudder. No, they've got to be black. Black trainers, as the British and their linguistic cousins would say. And the shoes have to support the afore-mentioned dashing. Which brings us to Pumas. I may be Sturdy, but not to the point where I can't convince myself that these are cooler than Nikes. Why? Who can say. Perhaps the leaping cat, often an image of women on adventure? More likely, the simple unknown-ness of the brand. They are Chipotle to Nike's Taco Bell. Extra avocado and all. And if they're not, don't tell me. 

Style is more felt than seen. Especially on feet. Especially on feet in airplanes. What do you wear to fly?

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Monday, November 1, 2010

The Story About The Prada Peanut Cardigan And Her Friends

It turns out that my story about a Prada cardigan is really a story about a Prada dress. A classic, quirky, iconic, dress.

Ever since the W. Magazine vs. Vogue smackdown I have been dreaming of full-skirted beauties. Mooning over the impact they'd have on my waist, my wasted decades, the yearning I have always felt and will always feel for Fashion. Even though I mostly wear navy blue. Sometimes Aerosoles. The dress above is from Miuccia Prada. Something wicked this way comes.

But why would anyone currently optimizing jeans, khakis, and Target tees need that kind of clothing? They wouldn't. I know that. I know that. But I scheduled a meetup with two of my favorite bloggers, Maxminimus and Reggie. In New York City. Suddenly, mysteriously, I needed a new dress. The Narciso was not suitable.

Cathy Horyn, the New York Times fashion critic whom I heard speak the other week, told a story that started out, "And then there's always the question of, 'Can you find the clothes?'" She had apparently wanted to touch, if not buy, a Balenciaga runway dress. She went to Barney's NY, hoping the piece was available, and that she could remain unrecognized in its pursuit. It wasn't there, and they figured out who she was. For Cathy, the dress arrived on Barney's floor a few weeks later.

For the rest of us, actually buying something we saw in Vogue, or on a runway video, even if we are crazy enough to shell out the huge sums of money required, can be more difficult.

Back to my story. Back to my dress. Back to the hunt for something along the lines of what you see above.

Off to the Stanford Shopping Center. I searched through racks looking for those colors, those patterns, that silhouette. But Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus were showing shifts. I did not want a shift. In the sensible way that one has at midlife, I settled for similar color and pattern at Nordie's, all the while pining for a flounce. Just one flounce. Perhaps a little twirl.

Here's the Tahari pencil skirt I came home with. You can see my fondness for the Prada pattern wasn't just puppy love.I found a nice beige sweater to match. Theory. At a stretch, it's camel, and should I want to I can check off a trend. But trends and fashion visions are not fungible goods.

I even found matching pants. In tweed. So practical. So Sturdy Gal.

Be that as it may, I couldn't get Miuccia's 'Mad Men meets Dries Van Noten' creation out of my mind. And I know where to find a Prada store. San Francisco, On the corner of Post and Grant. I popped into my little white Toyota Rav4, the car so Sturdy that Kanye West curses it. I scooted up Highway 101. Surely, I thought, the dress will be unavailable. Surely I'm just being responsible, doing my homework to back up a purchase.

It's amazing what one can tell oneself when possessed.

The Prada store was up to its ears in cranberry. You know, fall and all.

And there, waiting demurely behind the cranberry tweed, was my dress. Or close enough. Held below by a very nice salesperson named Abe. He called me love, and brought me water. If you want to sell middle-aged ladies anything, bring us water. We're always thirsty. "Love" is optional.

Surely the dress would look terrible on.

Surely not.

On, the skirt has body. On, the bodice shapes. On, the hemline hits me right where hemlines all over the universe should hit me. And see that little black line on the bust? It's a lace crumb-catcher. They tacked it down for me, a bit, as there's only so much outré I can manage in one outfit, but still. I felt chic. The dust devils of desire, stirred up by W's photo shoot, settled. Harvest time.

And that was that.

If you'd like to see my new obsession out walking, take a look at the Prada Fall 2010 fashion show and lookbook. If you'd like to see the blue coat version, as worn by Anna Wintour, look here.

Let us not forget the Peanut cardigan. Since I will be wearing the dress to New York in November, and then to a conference in Atlanta which will surely be held in air conditioning, I had to buy this sweater. Whose sleeve I immediately snagged on a shopping cart at Whole Foods. That's what you get for forcing jeans duty on an aristocrat. Could I have made do with a sweater I already own? No. I shake my head at myself but I'm beyond shame. Beyond happens, even to High WASPs.

Were I Artsy I'd sport woolly tights, bagging in the ankle, with some suitable nerd-chic flats. Were I a true Grande Dame, I'd venture out bare-legged and ask my driver to crank up the heat. But as a Sturdy Gal, just pulling off Grande by the skin of her teeth, I'll be wearing nude Donna Karan pantyhose with these pumps. And damn the naysayers.

Lordy, lordy, lordy. Even Sturdy Gals dream.

The impulse to buy is the same I had at 20. Only the formation of desire is different. These days I read style with analytical faculties fully engaged. These days I understand that I keep clothes for decades, I hold them on hangers in front of my closet, I look back. Not inconsequentially, and not to wax overly sentimental, but these days I write for you all. I bought in informed delirium.

Thank you.

Kanye really doesn't like my car.

W. Last Exit to Brooklyn via Tom and Lorenzo
Others via me

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

And By Their Halloween Costumes Ye Shall Know Them, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:23am

Halloween was a big deal in my family of origin. My mom went all out on the homemade costumes, her efforts peaking the year we 3 oldest kids were a mailbox, a pencil, and a letter to the Great Pumpkin. That's a lot of poster board and Magic Markers.

One could argue she spent so much time on this because of the 1950s ethos of motherhood. She didn't work outside the house. Or one could reject one's spoilsport tendencies and remember fun. So much fun.

Besides, I carried her spirit into my own parenting. Halloween was a big deal. My best friend and I, her 4 kids, my 2, would meet up at my house for dinner and then run through the sidewalked neighborhood, on into the night. I made little ghosts out of rice. Stood sections of hot dogs on end and told the kids they were "Hallow-weenies." At the end, we'd go back to my house and lay out candy on the floor for a marathon sorting party. My best friend and I would have medaled in Halloween, if parenting were a sport.

I made my kids' costumes too. My daughter was always a heroine. Peter Pan (better than dumb Wendy in her nightgown, right?), Wonder Woman, Diana - Goddess of the Hunt. Or Artemis, if you follow the Greek tradition. My son was always an intellectual construct of some sort. A bug, from the days when he memorized the California Insect Handbook. A potato. Yes, a potato can so be an intellectual construct. If you try to wear one. Or an origami display.

Then one day those little critters looked around and realized that the American culture had other plans in mind. My son made me buy a ninja costume. My daughter went as a witch with 2 other friends. It's as though society seizes pre-adolescents, shakes them by the ears, and says, "If we're talking scary, get thee to your gender stereotype. Get thee there right now!"

There they stayed, for some time.

Now my daughter has returned to super human characters, albeit those that showcase her appeal. Popular culture has come to her aid via the red-headed vampire on True Blood. One might wonder if the rise of the vampire as Good Guy isn't a defining trait of this early century. My son is again sporting quirky costumes that take a minute to figure out. Last year he was Pikaju, the Pokemon character, complete with red cheeks. Pikaju in blue jeans, that is.

I kind of wish my daughter could still be Peter Pan, I admit. Don't listen to this song or you are likely to cry. And my son's costume this year, which I'm going to refrain from describing, had me shaking my head and muttering, "Well, I guess that's comical. But, um, also a little offensive?" He promises me it was great fun.

Your kids dive into popular culture, out of your little twig nest, and emerge wet behind the ears. You stand on the far bank, holding a loving but impractical towel. Diving birds do not need towels you silly mama!

Happy Halloween everyone, and here's to a wonderful weekend. I hope all your little Peter Pans, Ninjas, and Black Cat Fairy Witches get so much candy they can't see over the heap. Or at least that they feel that way, for one night.