Closed for Renovations

March 20th, 2013

Hello! This website is currently shut down for renovations, although you may feel free to browse its cobwebbed shelves and peek into its nooks and crannies. Sometime, probably summer 2013, I will be reviving it as a general website and archive of my work. In the meantime, check out my blog at Boston.com.

Because I cannot get this off my mind

November 13th, 2011

I am not one to succumb to the delusion that I am a hero.

I have no tolerance for the kind of self-aggrandizing fantasies that many people engage in when they hear of a shocking public accident or act of violence. Please. You wouldn’t take down the shooter. Even with the purest will, even with the bravest heart, the average person is far too paralyzed by horror to take effective action in the moment. I mean, good God, people write me every day because they didn’t know how to respond appropriately to a racist joke or a financially intrusive question. It’s a good bet if you’re standing there gobsmacked because your sister-in-law used “jew” as a verb, you won’t suddenly morph into Liz Salander and break the fingers of a subway groper.

Most people are not heroes. I know I’m not. I am often paralyzed in the moment. And I would not risk my own safety for the sake of a person I didn’t know.

But I have been searching every corner of my soul, and being as harsh on myself as I can be, and I still cannot conceive that I could witness a man raping a child and not act. Immediately. Whatever I did would be graceless and loud and possibly dangerous to myself and others. But I know I would do something, that every part of me would instantly turn to the imperative stop this now.

And I cannot imagine how anyone could do otherwise.

Open thread on Penn State, readers. I can’t get my mind around this. I feel as though I’m looking into the face of evil.

Talk to me.

(cross-posted at “Miss Conduct”)

Fringe theater

November 4th, 2011

Didn’t I just say that I never wear patterns of things — martini glasses, poodles, flamingos? Well, take a look at this scarf. It’s a pattern of lipsticks, necklaces, and similar girly things. Something about the color and irregularity of the pattern, however, make it less obviously representational than it really is. It’s a gorgeous scarf of a thick, heavy silk, and I always get compliments on it, and I can’t for the life of me remember where I got it.

I wore this to the theater with a black leather skirt and a sage sweater.

Skirt: eBay
Sweater: Eileen Fisher, eBay
Pearls: bought while traveling
Scarf: ???
Rhinestone hoop earrings: eBay

Spooky style

October 31st, 2011

If you aren’t the costume type, it’s easy to dress “up” for Halloween without dressing “as.” One way to do this is to start with a black base and add accessories in appropriately Halloween-y colors. On Friday I did a segment for NECN on tips for appropriate Halloween style, wearing a little black dress, orange tights, and an orange ruffle scarf:

Poison-green tights would also work beautifully with a black dress or skirt, particularly if you have pointy black shoes to go with them. (A similar look can work for men: a dark suit with green or orange socks and tie. Modified, the style can work year-round: check out this sharp dresser caught on camera by PeaceBang.)

Color-blocking on a black base also works. NECN morning host Bridget Blythe’s gold jacket is festively autumnal. Orange isn’t your only option: fall colors, like Bridget’s, work, as do “evil” colors like dark or vivid green, red, or purple. Mrs. Obama wore glowing fall colors to dress up-but-not-as for White House trick-or-treaters:


Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Images

Another option is to add a touch of punk or goth to your usual look. I scored a grey cashmere hoodie at Found in Davis Square last week. It’s got a rhinestone skull on the back. I plan to wear it tonight with a long-sleeved lace t-shirt, leather skirt, fishnets and short boots.

I do love gothic and spooky jewelry, from antique cameos to steampunk inventions to more directly evocative pieces. This necklace is called “Scar” and was designed by my friend Yleana Martinez:

Happy Halloween! Be spookyfabulous!

“It’s a Sweeney Todd Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown!”

October 27th, 2011

Signs from my neighborhood:

Let’s take a closer look at that …

… brought to you by our friendly Community Savings.

I love my friends

October 18th, 2011

Last night, I wrote on Facebook “See, I woud never survive the zombie apocalypse because I would say things like, ‘Shane, you mean the FEWER guns we have floating around, the better, not the LESS guns.’ And Shane would shoot me.”

My friend Matt responded:

I dunno… I mean, if you shoot an etiquette columnist, that pretty much destroys any credibility you have in social situations later on. Imagine if he gets into a relationship and his significant other disagrees with him about the type of gift to bring, or the appropriateness of a comment he made. He or she would only have to say, “well, remember that time you shot the etiquette columnist” and he’d pretty much have lost the argument. It’s like a mummy’s curse or something! That type of thing stays with you!

Against which my friend Huey argued:

Ah, but throughout history there are many traditions that hold that when you kill someone, you take some or all of their power for yourself. If this turns out to be true, then the person who has killed the most etiquette columnists would have the most authority on the subject.

Of course, to substantiate this one way or the other, I’m going to need a government grant to do sociological research on everyone who has ever killed an etiquette columnist, to find out how polite they were, whether they knew which fork to use, if they knew the difference between a business card and a calling card, and so on. Could take years. I’ll probably need at least a quarter of a million dollars. MACARTHUR FOUNDATION, ARE YOU LISTENING?

Today’s column …

October 16th, 2011

… is online here.

Palette: Make like a leaf and display an ever-changing symphony of rusts and golds

October 14th, 2011

I haven’t quite figured out the calculus of this, but sometimes colors that don’t “go” can be made to harmonize if surrounded by enough other colors. I wouldn’t normally pair a rust-colored tank with an orange cardigan, but here it works as part of an autumnal theme.

Brown tights: We Love Colors
Rust tank: Chicos, eBay
Orange cardigan: Max Mara Weekend, eBay
Brown skirt w/zippered gussets: Looks boutique
Denim jacket: Levi’s, Oona’s
Brass & crystal bracelet: eBay
Pearl & grosgrain necklace: Talbot’s

Palette: Pattern fix

October 13th, 2011

What patterns do you like to wear? Do you mix patterns? I wear stripes, florals, animal prints, geometrics, and lacy/architectural patterns like the below. No polka dots, plaids, paisley; no whimsical teacups or high-heeled shoes or Eiffel Towers. Nothing against those patterns, which do show up occasionally in my scarf collection, but overall but I find them harder to integrate.

Stripes and animal prints are so easily assimilable, visually, that they can almost function as solids. You can easily pair a floral print with a subtle stripe, or wear a leopard or tiger scarf over a houndstooth blazer. Lacey, gothic patterns also blend well with all of the above, and with each other. These two shirts go together so well I keep them on the same hanger.

The white t-shirt is from Target — I bought two of them, and wish I’d gotten a couple more. (No good finding them online, as the brand/manufacturer’s name is LOL. You try googling that.) I often wear it under this v-necked cotton hoodie from Raspberry Beret.

I wore this over jeans (Marc Jacobs, Second Time Around) with bracelets by Victoria Tane and Ettika (Ideeli).

“Social Studies” on The Emily Rooney Show

October 11th, 2011

I discussed the complexities of helping and being helped on “The Emily Rooney Show” today (no visual; it’s radio).

Some relevant links:

An op-ed on compassion fatigue in The New York Times

The book Helping by Edgar Schein

A very special “Breaking Bad”

October 10th, 2011

When most television shows decide to do a very special episode, the guy in the wheelchair gets to impart life lessons.

When “Breaking Bad” does a very special episode, the guy in the wheelchair imparts death. Grand-Guignol-style death, climaxing in one of the most shocking scenes ever to jolt this horror fan to the edge of her seat.

Throughout season four, drug kingpin, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Gustavo Fring has been portrayed as near-superhuman, a man of awesome psychological and physical resilience, a man whose discipline, resolve, and reserve make Captain Picard look like a Chevy Chase character. With cameras everywhere and plans within plans, Gus Fring is in control.

Until his ancient enemy Hector Salamanca, trapped in a wheelchair in the dismal “Casa Tranquila,” takes a last draw on his oxygen tank, stares into Fring’s eyes as his own fill with tears, and taps his finger — the only part of his body he can move voluntarily — on his call bell. Over and over, until the bomb beneath his chair is triggered, and Hector and Gus make their final bad break together.

Hector’s suicide bombing is his most shocking use of power, but not his only one. To lure Gus to Casa Tranquila, Hector sets up a meeting with the DEA. Gus is to think Hector is turning state’s evidence, but once the DEA meeting is set up, Hector’s nurse brings out his letterboard so that he can spell out his message to the agents clustered around the table. She reads each letter aloud, clearly and slowly, and Hector rings his bell when she hits the correct one. Her voice begins to shake with anger and humiliation as he forces her to spell out “S – U – C – K – M – Y ” before the agents stop her. When he begins again with ” F – U ” she is nearly in tears.

People who want power will find a way to get it.

That’s one special lesson “Breaking Bad” has to teach us: Everyone wants power. Control of the story. A seat on the hospital board. Money. Information. A bitchin’ car. Influence. An orderly, well-labeled mineral collection. Clues. A shoplifted tiara.

People with disabilities aren’t immune to the drive for power. They just might have to break a different way in order to get it.

Hector’s power lies in the capacity of the neglected and disabled elderly to shame, to embarrass the decent. It also lies in his capacity to bring out the sadism of the indecent. Gus, the most disciplined of men, cannot resist the chance to torment the man he believes is helpless. Gus gets about three seconds to absorb the life lesson that this was a mistake before the right side of his face is blown off.

Hector’s is not the only broken body on “Breaking Bad.” The series begins when chemistry teacher Walter White is diagnosed with lung cancer. TV-land tends to be populated by strong, beautiful bodies, bodies that eagerly bend themselves to seduce, to run, to work. On “Breaking Bad,” bodies often don’t help. Bodies get pregnant accidentally. Bodies get injured. Bodies become addicted. Every major character on “Breaking Bad” has been betrayed by their body or brain at this point. Walt’s cancer. Skyler’s unplanned pregnancy. Marie’s mental illness. Jesse’s addiction. Hank’s PTSD and spinal injury. Walt Jr.’s cerebral palsy.

Unlike the others, Walt Jr. was born with his disability. It doesn’t represent waning power, the way Hank’s paralysis or Skyler’s fading sex appeal does. Perhaps because of this, Walt Jr. comes across as one of the least neurotic characters on the show, the one most comfortable in his skin. Disability is relative; Walt Jr. has never known a life without his wrist canes. They don’t diminish his mojo — having to drive a PT Cruiser, Skyler’s idea of a hip hoopty for a 16-year-old male, takes care of that job. Even so, Walt Jr. reacts to the less-than-ideal birthday present with resigned grace. Walt Jr. can absorb an insult to his dignity better than any other man in the show, certainly better than his father can.

With his halting speech and matinee-idol features, Walt Jr. is kind of a Woobie. Is there anything a fan of “Breaking Bad” dreads more than the look in Walt’s anime-huge brown eyes should he ever realize the truth about his father? And yet, after four grueling seasons, it’s hard to believe that the child of two people as smart as Walter and Skyler White hasn’t begun to smell something rotten. We all seek power, we all seek control. Walt Jr. accepts his imperfect body. But he is unwilling to accept the hints that his family might be disrupted and corrupted. For the world to make sense to Walt Jr., his father must be a decent man. For his father to be a decent man, Walt Jr. must learn to rely more heavily on his powers of rationalization than on his powers of observation.

This is what gets people killed in the world of “Breaking Bad.” This may be the only true disability there is: willfully chosen blindness.

Which brings us to Hank Schrader. Originally portrayed as a blowhard and something of a bully, Hank’s abilities as a detective reach their peak when he is shot through the spine and forced into a bad-tempered convalescence. Walt Jr. was born with cerebral palsy, and Hector Salamanca’s near-paralysis was acquired over a long lifetime. Hank was brought down suddenly, in midlife, and wastes much energy on such pointless exercises in power as verbally abusing his wife and obsessing over a mineral collection. The Heisenberg case gives him reason to focus. When he goes to the DEA to present his findings, he takes care to use his cane rather than a walker — he’ll give away as little of his injury as he can. And yet, when he is ready to make his most theatrical pitch, to sell his former colleagues on the notion that Gustavo Fring, apparent friend of law enforcement, is in fact the man they are looking for — he uses that cane to point to the picture of Fring on the wall. Four prongs, nailing his story down. Without that cane, and the injury that necessitated it, Hank never would have seen the truth.

I don’t ever recall seeing an hour of television with three prominently featured characters with disabilities, in which the story itself was not about disability. “Breaking Bad” violates realism in many ways, but it is profoundly realistic in this: that disability is not a metaphor or a trope. It’s something that happens to people. Many people. Most. There are a lot of injured, sick, disabled characters on “Breaking Bad” because there are a lot of injured, sick, disabled people in the world. You can analyze the different ways disability plays out in the show’s themes of power and self-delusion, as I have. You can parse the semiotics of the cane versus the wheelchair, of the deep themes of mobility (physical, geographic, social) that gird the show.

Or, you can simply enjoy the novelty of seeing people with disabilities portrayed. As people. With disabilities. And rivalries, and egos, and loved ones, and memories, and secrets.

Today’s column

October 9th, 2011

is online here.

Chat today

October 5th, 2011

I’ll be chatting from noon-1pm EST here. You can read the transcript afterward if you don’t make it to the live chat.

Palette: Back to the drawing board

October 4th, 2011

Monday turned out to be colder than expected, so this cheery ensemble had to be re-thought: I traded the yellow cotton cardigan for a heavier grey one, and added tights.

Yellow cardigan: Boston Proper, eBay
Aqua tank: Chicos, eBay
Grey jersey maxi skirt: Old Navy
Rhinestone starburst pin: eBay
Freshwater pearls: boutique
Aqua belt: Target