Here’s what happened at the Chanel boutique: “Hello. I’m looking for a pocketbook that will match my snake,” I said to a salesman. “Maybe something in reptile.” I shuffled Augustus from one hand to the other as though he were a Slinky.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, I have a thing against snakes, so let me get someone else to assist you,” he said, as if he were telling the host at a dinner party, “No dessert for me, thank you.”

A colleague appeared. “Wow,” he said, leading me to a display case. “We do have snakeskin bags back here. Is he nice? Does he bite?” The salesman handed me a smart, yellow python bag marked $9,000. “I think this would work the best. It’s one of our classics. I think yellow. Red makes the snake look too dull.”


This happened. Thank you, Patricia Marx.

(via The New Yorker)

“I think the times I feel the loneliest, or maybe the only times I feel lonely, are when I’m in the presence of casual acquaintances. Then it becomes apparent how impossible it is for two people to make a meaningful connection, or how much effort it requires, and how difficult it is for many such connections to form across the span of a lifetime.”

—   Email received last night from an old friend. Oof.

Assembly required

In the week leading up to leaving the UK, I dissembled myself. I donated old clothes to charity shops, left thank you cards in friends’ mailboxes, and bought a bottle of champagne for my housekeeper. I said goodbye to a very good friend as the rain poured down our heads, laughing for the entire exchange because I had planned to say so much to her but I did not plan for the English weather. My speech went unsaid and instead I told her to get back in her car before the torrential downpour got worse. I went to one last house party, where I said hello and goodbye to graduate students I probably could have been very good friends with had I met them sooner. I even said goodbye to my favorite librarians, including the one in the Social Science Library who laughed at me for always reading Vogue in a room full of economists and political scientists (it was for research!). I politely sipped a half-pint of beer and wandered London alone in the rain. I replaced my UK SIM card with my American SIM card.

I am still assembling my pieces in New York. Turns out, the year in Oxford really scrambled the instructions that seemed so clear and straightforward before.

Babe Paley was perfect.
Photo by Richard Avedon.

Chinese characters

It is frustrating to tutor young children in Chinese because they write the strokes of the characters in the wrong order. When I was learning to write and read Chinese as a young child, I obsessed over writing each Chinese character correctly, which may have been the telltale sign of OCD as an adult. Every character is made up of different strokes, and it’s important to write the strokes in the proper order for maximum efficiency and rhythm. If you don’t learn to write properly, you will never have a steady rhythm.

Today, I found myself telling the little girl to rewrite her entire homework because she wrote the strokes in the wrong order, even though the finished product was accurate. It’s not about how it looks, I said. It’s about writing it correctly from start to finish. Once you master the basic strokes, you can write poetry.

She glared at me and rolled her eyes, like I used to do in front of my parents. I tried to explain to her that each Chinese character was based on a pictograph. The character for wood 木 looks like a tree, see? Isn’t this beautiful?

But this is the character for wood, not tree, she rolled her eyes again. What are you talking about?

I’m talking about looking at the bigger picture, I mumbled. If you put two woods together, you get the Chinese character for forest 林, see? Isn’t this fascinating?

She rolled her eyes again. I continued to obsess over the brush strokes in my head.


The New Couture
Photograph by Ward Ivan Rafik; styled by Elodie David-Taboul; W magazine October 2014. 


The New Couture

Photograph by Ward Ivan Rafik; styled by Elodie David-Taboul; W magazine October 2014. 

Return on Investment

It was freedom to spend the day in bed, nursing myself to health after the flu, and see in migraine-induced clarity that I am not anyone’s Return on Investment.

A Brief History of Selling Feminism

I gave a crash course in how feminism has been sold to women (and in a few instances, to men!) by capitalism for ELLE. This was loosely based on my research work at Oxford.

“I can will knowledge, but not wisdom; submission, but not humility; self-assertion, but not courage; congratulations, but not admiration; religiosity, but not faith; reading, but not understanding; physical nearness, but not emotional closeness; dryness, but not sobriety.”

—   Ernest Kurtz

The Order of the Pug

During a late night Googling pug dogs in history (I live with one, so I’m trying to learn more about it), I stumbled upon a Wikipedia article about a secret society founded in the 1700s called The Order of the Pug. (I highlighted my favorite parts. And I thought college fraternity rituals were weird.)

Members called themselves Mops (the German for Pug), novices were initiated wearing a dog collar and had to scratch at the door to get in. The novices were blindfolded and led around a carpet with symbols on it nine times while the Pugs of the Order barked loudly to test the steadiness of the newcomers. During the initiation, the novices also had to kiss a Pug’s (porcelain) backside under its tail as an expression of total devotion. Members of the Order carried a Pug medallion made of silver. In 1745, the secrets of the order were “exposed” in a book published in Amsterdam with the title L’ordre des Franc-Maçons trahi et le Secret des Mopses révélé which included the ritual and two engravings illustrating their rite.

And Mops-Orden accepted women as members! I’m in.