It was a big empty space right down the hall from the 1871 office space.

1871 was celebrating its one-year anniversary as Chicago’s premier startup coworking space.

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We walked in, and there were colorful lights, and music, and toilet bowl racing, and poly pong, and sweets, and vegetarian burgers, and drinks.

Let’s race! he said.

Let’s play poly pong, he said.

Let’s get food, he said.

Let’s get another drink, he said.

If you win an iPad mini, will you give it to me? he asked. So did he.

Let’s take ridiculous action shots, he said.

And so we did.

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Let’s do laser tag, or drink beer, or eat chocolate, said very few “she”s at all.

I wonder why?

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I was waiting for the train with my brother J when he asked, “Have you seen the new Dove commercial?” I hadn’t, and so he proceeded to explain that, well, he just felt uneasy about it, although he couldn’t place exactly how or why.

“I think it was equating a woman’s value with her beauty or something,” he said, “but I really think we should talk more about it once you’ve seen it.”

I agreed to watch it.

Photo courtesy of Abby Abisinito.

The stupendous salad. Photo courtesy of Abby Abisinito.

Then my friend shared this Tumblr post on Facebook: Why Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Video Makes Me Uncomfortable… and Kind of Makes Me Angry. She said some of the same things my brother had, and I asked myself, oh my, what is this commercial about!?

And then my friend M wrote this blog post: Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches – Analyzing the Bad, Taking the Good, and basically disagreed entirely with the previous two commentators.

And then my friend A came over, and we made salad and enchiladas.

The meal was stupendous.

And I asked her about the Dove commercial, but she hadn’t seen it, either.

And we said, what if we cook together all the time? And what if we invite more friends, and discuss things like gender representation in media and polyamory and religion and literature while dining on delicious homemade concoctions?

And so I texted my brother and I texted another friend, and A did too, and then someone created a Facebook group, and someone else said oh! it’ll be like Gertrude Stein in 1920s Paris, and we shall call it The Supper Club.

And so we did, and then we met, and we made the most incredible creamed mushrooms on chive butter toast, and gnocchi, and chocolate ganache bread pudding, and we drank pinot grigio, and sat on the living room floor, and talked about Dove.

Photo courtesy of Abby Abisinito.

The stupendous enchiladas. Photo courtesy of Abby Abisinito.

Dove summarizes its commercial like this:

“Women are their own worst beauty critics. Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful. At Dove, we are committed to creating a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. So, we decided to conduct a compelling social experiment that explores how women view their own beauty in contrast to what others see. And don’t forget: YOU are more beautiful than you think! Join the conversation at: #wearebeautiful” (italics mine)

M has a very artsy side. She has done professional theatre and has memorized sections of almost every literature classic you can think of. One could say she is, in fact, my personal book consultant. When I urgently need a conversation partner after reading a revolutionary book, she is there for me within the hour.

She believes in simply enjoying the good parts of a work and then eyeing the rest with a critical eye.

Long story short (and it was a long story), M made a very practical point. Dove, you see, is a company that makes beauty products. Why would they tell people that beauty doesn’t matter?

Creamed mushrooms on chive butter toast.

Creamed mushrooms on chive butter toast.

And then J asked: well, what if change were incremental? What if Dove first made some women realize that others view their beauty more positively than many women viewed their own, but then, some day later, a woman president or CEO or poet or blogger or mother or, really, anyone, made women realize that they can still achieve things they’d like to achieve without being preoccupied with their beauty at all?

(Or, a more desirable outcome to me: men started becoming as concerned with their beauty as women are with theirs.)

And we talked about why a commercial depicting near-naked women draped over “sexy” cars is, in my opinion, entirely an objectification of women (main message about women: sexy car=sexy woman), whereas an Axe commercial depicting a man attracting near-naked women is not offensive to women at all (main message about women: many men want them. Um, duh).

And I said, well yes, Dove needs to make money, but I certainly support movements like Miss Representation, which tries to “shift people’s consciousness,” change the cultural norms that keep the objectification and commercialization of women’s bodies something mainstream. (You can participate, by the way, simply by tweeting the link to unfortunate misrepresentations along with the hashtag #notbuyingit).

But ultimately, I came to a new sort of understanding about myself at this Supper Club meeting. I can enjoy things such as Gone with the Wind or The Handmaid’s Tale as long as they don’t depict women as a kind of backdrop to a man’s thing of interest or as a generic “kind of thing” of interest themselves.

And I also realized something else about myself. I am not practical when it comes to such things.

Gnocchi.

Gnocchi, buried.

I don’t want to wait for incremental change, and I especially don’t want to forgive a company for taking advantage of the way our society emphasizes women’s beauty and neediness, even if it makes sense that doing so will help them sell beauty products.

I don’t feel represented by the women in that commercial, and I resent Dove for preying on the vast majority of American women who will buy into that need for affirmation with scarce a critical eye, in order to make sales.

Indeed, isn’t the commercial also reinforcing to men that women are, after all, things of beauty, and indeed can have strong emotional reactions (implicit message: are manipulable) when people tell them they are more beautiful than they think?

Shouldn’t a company be more concerned with bettering society than making money?

Oh silly me. Is that actually what I was implicitly saying? How very impractical of me.

The gnocchi came out perfectly.

All Bostonians everywhere felt shocked, felt hurt, and felt concern for our city after the Boston Marathon this year. But some stuff was just weird.

I saw this:

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… and I said ha! No, Boston, no. That’s not what happened, fool. They told you to stay indoors, and so you did.

There was one nineteen-year-old injured kid with a gun and some scary pressure cooker bombs somewhere in Watertown, and no one knew where, and so the National Guard, the FBI, the Boston Police, and the Watertown Police swarmed our empty streets and yards while our people all hid, hunkered down in their houses, or else watched the crazed scene with bated breath in huddled little groups of fear.

Did we “hunt you down”? Or did we react, terrified?

And then people we elected started pointing fingers at Homeland Security for not being more scared of immigrants, and at the FBI for not spying on us more, as we read here and here.

And that day I was on the train in Chicago, and I contributed. I tweeted this:

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And it’s been a week, almost two, in fact, and yet today I saw this:

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and this:

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and this:

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and this:

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… everywhere.

And I thought, are we bored? We are all safe here in Chicago, but we retweet and comment pointlessly about stuffed animals on poles. We say: “Be careful out there.” Huh?

And so I decided, there and then, to think carefully before I terrorize myself and my countrywomen and men with retweets and reposts and pictures.

Oklahoma City bombing was a terrible thing.
9/11 was a terrible thing.
The Boston Marathon bombing was a terrible thing.

Our current jittery propagation of terror is a terrible thing.

May we reach a place where we simultaneously appreciate the selflessness and heroism of those that protect us, while meanwhile refusing to propagate terror.

Further Reading:

How we are all unwitting terrorists (The First Casualty, April 24, 2013)
This Is What It Looks Like When the Police Shut Down a City (The Atlantic Wire, April 19, 2013)
Running from Terror in Boston (The First Casualty, April 16, 2013)

Thanks to Jay Pinho for curating many of the links in this post.

There are some Big People in the Midwest. On this particular evening train, most of the twin seats are occupied fully by one person to every two seats.

I eventually find a spot and settle in for a good half-hour read on my commute home.

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About halfway there, I am startled by a massive snort. I look up, look around. Did that come from the man in front of me? I meet eyes with the man across the aisle; he raises an eyebrow, and I smirk. I return to my book.

Suddenly, the snort returns, but this time it is prolonged, sustained, ravenous in its growling-ness. The rumbling is certainly coming from the man in front of me, but I am so confused. Isn’t he awake? His left head is tilting towards the aisle, and isn’t that his hand fumbling for something in his pocket?

Then, a full-out snore. Awake or not, this man is snoring. The train car is filled with the thundering base notes. Only there is no melody, but instead a sort of sustained undercurrent of roar.

I give up my book as a lost cause, and peer above his right shoulder at the passengers ahead. His head swings far rightward and then suddenly shudders leftward to hang over the aisle. All around me, people are smiling.

The handsome man in front of us near the door has a delightful, open smile. He removes his large headphones to fully appreciate the slumberer’s cacophony. He smiles at me, he smiles at the man across the aisle from him. The man across the aisle smiles back and makes a comment, and behind me I hear someone repeat the comment.

I turn around, and she’s looking at me, smiling. A man stands up to get off the train, smiling and smiling.

“SNORE, ruff, ruff, snooooore”, the man howls again, and it pushes me over the edge. I am so grateful for my scarf. I pull it up to my nose, I hide in it, and laughter consumes me.

I try to contain myself, but I am shaking, I am dying, my face is becoming red, my eyes suspiciously moist. How very embarrassing!

There is tittering in surround sound, and conversation gets louder. I peek upward out of my mini scarf cave and see others also shaking with laughter.

What does one do when she’s becoming slaphappy amongst a train full of strangers!? When everyone is becoming slaphappy amongst a train full of strangers?!

Little squeaking sounds burst from me as I try to quench this hilarity straining to be unleashed. I press my lips together and hold my chest in tightly. I am losing control.

I am also missing my stop.

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I hurl myself out of my seat and run for the map over the door. Oh, never mind, one more stop.

I’m next to the handsome man now, and he gives me a wide grin. The man across the aisle from him looks up at me as if we’re old friends.

I look at the snoring man. His hands are on his glasses, adjusting them, but then suddenly his head rushes to his right, and then careens forward towards the pole in front of him.

“He must be drugged,” I say, smiling uncontrollably. How can he still be asleep!?

“It’s been going for 15 minutes now, and it’s highly entertaining,” the man across the aisle says, smiling widely. “He keeps pulling his shirt up and scratching his chest,” he adds, and he’s smiling and smiling.

“I’m glad I was sitting behind him,” I reply, giggling.

And then it’s my stop. The handsome man smiles hugely. I wink, and bound out into the cold air.

There is no place better than Chicago.

However, I miss the delights of dining in China so much that I actually have moments in which I wish I were there instead of here.

And this is what friends are for.

Thank you to Jisbar Gomez for sharing this image from his latest meal in Beijing.

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Wood-ear mushrooms are one of my favorite types of mushrooms, right up there next to tea tree mushrooms. They absorb spices and flavor super well, and the texture is unique.

And texture is very important in the sensual experience that is feasting.

The menus in Beijing often have very unfortunate translations. Good thing I have trained myself to put mind over matter.

Now, when I see “fungus,” I can easily switch from thoughts of the Walgreens foot care aisle to thoughts of dark, delicious, wood-ear mushrooms.

Look forward to pictures of ridiculous menus on Curiously Yours in the future.

***

Do you have a good wood-ear mushroom recipe? Do share below. Or, email it to me at TalesByCuriouslyYours at gmail. I am dying to know how to cook this myself.

Happy salivating!

A Kiss on a Whim

April 24, 2013

They are wrinkled and quiet, she with her elegant earrings and careful ‘do, he with his handlebar mustache. Their table is covered with a large number of assorted plates. There is too much food for two.

If he peered down from above his mustache, just past his bulging belly, he could glimpse the newspaper balanced on his knee. But he doesn’t; instead, he stirs his coffee, and handles his fork and his knife. She sips from a cup, gazing out the window, or perhaps at the TV screen above it.

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I think, subconsciously sadly, that they look so traditional, the man actively reading the paper, the woman passively watching TV. Perhaps he is a business man, and she a sweet wife accompanying him on a business trip.

I think, subconsciously happily, that it would be lovely if I were similarly old and wrinkled and in such company, but spontaneous, and smiling frequently, and kissing on a whim.

The newspaper still on his knee, the mustached man leans over to ask her a question in Spanish, and she points at various dishes, describing, and looking back at him as she talks. But he is not looking in the direction of her finger, but at her face, and leans over more, and she leans forward, and they kiss, as if on a whim.

And then he picks up the newspaper from his knee, and doesn’t bother about any other dishes, and she returns to her people watching.

The dark green leaves of the ivy contrast pleasantly with the bright green walls of the laundromat. I sit in the colorful chairs and write whimsical things.

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The man with the headphones calls out to me. I remove my earplugs. “You should move your laundry to the dryer. Sometimes, people take your laundry.”

“Why would they do that!?”

“I mean, they come back the next morning to bring it back. They don’t even realize it’s not theirs.”

“Oh,” I say.

“Just lookin’ out, you know?”

“Yeah. Thanks,” I say.

Laundry in dryer, and my roommate texts me. “Din ready.”

I ask the man with the headphones what time he closes. A long conversation ensues.

It turns out, he doesn’t let people out of the laundromat after eight. Who wants to be held hostage in a laundromat, colorful though it may be?

In the end, I write down my phone number on his notebook, and he promises to call me before he leaves. I tell him I need those sheets I have in the dryer to sleep on tonight.

Delicious stir fry. Game of thrones on the TV. I leave the house when someone on the screen iss having a stick stabbed into his foot.

The laundromat doors are locked, but he lets me in when I knock on the window. I collect my things and ask his name.

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“Ronaldo”, he says, making the “a” sound flat.

“I’m Sarah. Nice to meet you.”

“You must be new to the neighborhood.”

“Yep. I just moved right there across the street.”

“Well, I’ll be seeing you around then.”

“For sure. You have a good night, Ronaldo.”

“Bye now.”

My Boston Mind, Racing

April 17, 2013

Explosions at the Boston Marathon, says my Twitter feed, as retweeted by my brother. James never shows up in my Twitter feed. But then the next retweet is also from him, explosives, Boston, Marathon, Copley.

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Academy of Music Twitter feed.

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Academy of Music Twitter feed.

I feel nothing. Maybe a little curiosity. The tweets and retweets continue, and my feed is sliding downward, downward, refreshing, downward. I click on pictures. James is safe in New York. Tee. Tee! Tee is on a road trip with Mom, and they are okay, they are in Virginia. Dad works in Somerville. He is okay. He must be okay. Well, sometimes he travels, to look at houses, appraise them, decide whether to make loans on them. I walk out of my Chicago home towards the train. I have somewhere I must be. The air is warm, balmy, humid. The rain is soft and welcome on my face. I shouldn’t have put on the scarf. I call Dad, and leave him a voicemail. I know he must be okay, but I text him for good measure.

Jesse texts me, I text back. Everyone’s phones are giving me the busy tone, he tells me. That’s just because the lines are jammed, I say. The same thing happened in Boston during 9/11. I open up my email. Are you alive and well? I type to Dad. Jesse had said James had said Dad had said he was to be in New Hampshire today.

We’re also texting Mom and Tee in VA. They also know Dad is okay, they just talked to him. Someone tweets photos of rows of cop cars lined up in Times Square. I think of the way the FBI would surround the Empire State Building, their AK47s cradled in their brawny arms, whenever anything happened, anywhere, in the world. I am glad I no longer work there. I wonder what 34th Street in NY looks like now.

Photo courtesy of Chris Peterson's Twitter feed (@peteyMIT).

MIT Green Building, April 15, 2013. Photo courtesy of Chris Peterson’s Twitter feed (@peteyMIT).

My family is safe, and I sit on the Chicago red line, but the weight on my chest grows heavier. I text Chris* in North Carolina: is your family all safe? And he texts back: I was just going to call you. I post to Facebook that I am grateful, that all the Boston Pinhos are safe. Natalie in NY says: I was just about to call you. Fiona in Cairo says: Oh god. That’s a relief. Suddenly, I remember being stopped mid-online-conversation two years ago as the building near her mom’s Palestinian house is bombed by Israeli airplanes, and I wait with bated breath for the generator in her mother’s home to turn on, and she comes back online and says oh fuck, that one made my mom jump right off the couch out of her nap.

There were two explosions, one after another, barely blocks away from each other, and then it was over, but of a sudden someone begins tweeting about some flames way across town, at JFK, and now my heart is pounding, and I am jittery, and by now Dad has texted back and I text him again, don’t leave home, now that he’s returned from NH after all, and he says there’s no reason he would go to downtown Boston now. Dotty is safe, she just got home, so is Dan, he works far out in the suburbs anyways. I reach farther out into my circle: I haven’t seen Nate in over three years, but I need to know he’s okay. Steph posts to Facebook, posts to Facebook again, tweets: she had been standing exactly at the finish line, but had headed towards home minutes before, was on Newbury Street a block away when she heard the blast and then just ran and ran and was home safe.

I write a haiku:

The Boston Marathon
Bombs, pain, fear, Copley
Far from Boston: Mom, Dad, Tee
And I am thankful.

I’m on group WeChat, the Fabulous Four, for that’s what we are, us four sisters in Los Angeles, Virginia, Seattle, Chicago. On this group chat, Emily castigates Christine because she hasn’t gotten her ankle checked out, the one she twisted while running, since Emily is a nurse and knows what can go wrong, and Tee sends us pictures of her driving on the highway with just her driving permit, en route to visit colleges down south, and I send pictures of Chicago’s blue sky and tell Tee she really should study here, and we discuss the way our nipples change size during the menstrual cycle and decide that one sister’s potential lover may, actually, be a loser instead of someone who should be allowed her interest. The jury’s still out on that one.

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In this particular moment, though, Tee says she’s crying, that 9/11 and Newtown have taken on a whole new meaning, and I’m saying Tee, I’m SO glad you’re out of town, I keep thinking: Tee would have been there. And Tee: It’s so true! So scary–I’m there ALL the time… I wonder how different it’s going to be.

They say that in the midst of risk, or death, or great fear, or even great emotion, humans want to mate, to fuck, to nod to the life there is. Maybe it’s because I felt no risk, nor death, nor great fear, but all I want to do is kiss someone, call people I love, tell people I love them. And I want to cry. Must be I still have the jitters. But I’m in a classroom now, and this Princeton Review proctored LSAT must go on.

*Some names changed.

Further Reading:
Patton Oswalt getting it right (Patton Oswalt’s Facebook page; see post from Monday, April 15, 2013)
The Colbert Report (on an event celebrating people who run 26 miles on their day off until their nipples are raw, for fun). (Colbert Nation)
President Obama’s April 16 Speech on Boston Marathon Bombings (Transcript and Video) (Time Swampland)

Note: Most of my Chinese friends are approximately 30 years old and unmarried. There’s a word for them in Beijing: 剩女. The leftover women.

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***

I had sung with her in Beijing’s International Festival Chorus. She was the best soprano we had.

I stare at my Chinese WeChat phone app in puzzlement.

“There’s someone who likes me that I don’t like,” she had typed. “There’s so much pressure from my friends and family.

“They want me to fall in love and marry as quickly as possible. They’re telling me to try it out with this guy. I’m trying to decide whether or not to try talking to him, see how it goes.”

“I’m so confused,” she adds presently. “I’m not in a very good mood.”

“But this is your whole life ahead of you!” I protest on voice message. I type so dreadfully slowly in Chinese.

“They want you to be married, but you’re the one who’ll have to deal with being married to someone you don’t like for the rest of your life!”

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Hey, I’m an American from the East Coast. She’s writing to me for a reason, and what she gets is my own strong opinion, East Coast American as it is.

“I think you’re exactly right!” she exclaims in reply. ” I can’t be in a hurry, but instead insist on someone I like myself.”

“Right,” I reply. “Anyways, that’s how I see it. I’d prefer to be single than with someone I don’t like.”

“Actually, I feel the same way as you do!!” she types back.

What can I say in response? Clearly, she already knows what she wants. Or rather, what she doesn’t want.

“Haha. Yay!” I exclaim back. “Add oil!” For some unfathomable reason, uttering “add oil” in Chinese in an upbeat voice somehow expresses enthusiastic encouragement.

“会的会的!” comes back at me. Kinda sounds like “Yes, we can!” to me, and so I send her the most ridiculously optimistic emoticons I have in my WeChat repertoire.

Her: “Haha, I like this emoticon!!”

Me: “Super cool,” and I send her an extra dancing rabbit for good measure.

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Further Reading:

China’s ‘leftover women’, unmarried at 27 (BBC News Magazine, February 20, 2013)
China’s ‘leftover women’ phenomenon arouses heated debate in West (Response to BBC article) (People’s Daily, February 26, 2013)
China’s ‘Leftover’ Women (The New York Times, October 11, 2012)
Don’t pity China’s ‘leftover women’, they’ve got more going for them than you realise (The Independent, March 19, 2013)

Often, the setting is as enjoyable as the food.

2013-02-02 12.56.48 copy Another Last Supper in Beijing, at Green Tea. February 1, 2013. Photo courtesy of Ren Jun.