December 21, 2012

Happy Solstice.

The dark days are over, light the yule log.

In between the childish parts of the holiday season and the more timorous adult happenings it is good to spend a moment remembering those who will only be in our hearts in the coming year.

'And girls in slacks remember Dad/And oafish louts remember Mum/And sleepless children’s hearts are glad/And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’

Poet Laureate John Betjeman (1906-1984), from his poem Christmas.

'One can never have enough socks. Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.'

Professor Dumbledore in the first Harry Potter book by J.K Rowling.

Ladies and Gentlemen I offer a toast. To absent friends.
Schöni Fäschttäg  und e guets neus Jahr.

December 14, 2012

Not ranting, much.

I was going to do a whole thing about Rick Santorum. I was going to write about Biblical literalism, with specific reference to the bit about the entire town stoning the adulterous daughters to death. Oh, I was on a roll, in my mind, at that point. I was going to do moral relativism, moral absolutism, Leviticus, separation of Church and State, the finer points of Catholicism.

Since Santorum’s views on abortion are so strict, and he has stated categorically that he would have doctors arrested and imprisoned for performing the procedure, I was going to go into a whole existential exploration of personhood.

The definition of personhood (horrible word, but the one that is used in this context, I’m afraid) is absolutely fascinating, once you get to thinking about it for more than five minutes. It can’t be thought or language or even self-consciousness, since babies have none of those things; nor do some very mentally disabled people, or those who suffer traumatic brain injury or are in the end states of Alzheimer’s disease.

I sat down at my desk, fingers itching to get to the bottom of the Santorum madness. I watched a couple of his interviews and found some very, very strange quotes. I began to write. Two sentences. Then the will to live drained from me. I could not do it. It was too depressing.

I know I am supposed to be a fearless examiner of the human condition. Oh, look at me, shining a light into the darkest corners, without favour or fear. I don’t believe in pablum or whitewash or glossing over the nasty parts. There must be the truth, or nothing. I have always been faintly disturbed by those people who refuse to read the news, because it is too demoralising, although occasionally I have a faint envy for them. My own idiot construction is that one must face the news, in order to be a concerned citizen. How earnest and po-faced I sometimes am. But today, faced with the full strangeness and sadness of a Rick Santorum, I could not do it.

Oh, said the tired part of my brain, please can we think about puppies or penguins instead? Tell them about the pig with her wiggly, piggly tail, eating the carrots and grinning all over her sweet porcine face. Come on, said the pre-Christmas exhaustion, you really don’t have to go into battle against every piece of egregious reasoning that you encounter. And, said the low realist, are you really going to change anyone’s mind? Is that even your job? You are, I tell myself firmly, not Lord Bragg, King of the Reithian imperative.

This last thought is rather a relief. Although of course, it then sets up a new dilemma: where is the fine line between practical reality, and copping out? One should fight for something, after all. Yet it is fabulously dull to be lecturing people all the time. There is something very tiring about that finger-wagging conviction of one’s own rightness. On the other hand, without conviction one is just a straw in the wind. So that is the new conundrum that I shall be pondering for the rest of the night.


November 18, 2012

Too common or too rare.

With Thanksgiving fast approaching and a population explosion of wild turkeys dotting the American countryside (translation: suburbs) in the past few years, I love to reflect how the world and all its inhabitants are jockeying for space:  “The wild turkey is hardly the only creature who has learned to get along with us. Greg Butcher of the National Audubon Society says, “it’s a strange era where every species is either too common or too rare.” The differential, he adds, seems to be the creatures’ “willingness to put up with the human lifestyle.” It turns out that wild turkeys prefer to live on the “edge,” botanically speaking … “

Our Thanksgiving prep began in one of those markets where, for a premium, you get a story with your food. Every vegetable, every creature and every jar of jam comes with its own pedigree and memoir.

The best of these tell how the farmer and his pigs, chickens or calves live in a sylvan idyll until the day when … well, they skip that part. These romantic tales of the farm are directed at consumers like me, a slightly uneasy carnivore and committed free-range turkey buyer who prefers to imagine her Thanksgiving dinner roaming happily over the landscape under a clear blue sky.

Of course, I am aware that the definition of “free-range” means that the turkey only has to be “allowed access to the outside,” even if it’s too institutionalized to actually waddle through a door. Nevertheless, for plenty of bucks a pound, I deserve a story. Maybe even a DVD.

But yesterday, Angela and I with order slip in purse and ready to shop, we were confronted by Charles and Felix with these facts-

Now those of you who never lived in the Bay Colony where the first Thanksgiving was held, the home of Plymouth Rock and Red Sox Nation, may be surprised to learn that in the past few years, they have had either (1) a population explosion or (2) a plague of wild turkeys.

Nationally, the restoration of the wild turkey has been a wild success story, up from 350,000 in 1950 to somewhere more than 3 million today. Massachusetts was fresh out of this game until 1972, when 37 turkeys were trucked over the border, released in the wilderness and promptly began to beget. There are now 20,000 more turkeys.

But who knew that these birds would take to urban and suburban life? Who knew that these 4-foot-tall, 20-pounders would be found gobbling around backyards, hanging out near Starbucks, and roosting—look, a flying mattress!—in the trees. Who knew they would make routine appearances on the police blotter for behaving like, well, turkeys?

It has been reported that they are especially aggressive near Fenway Park and attribute their behavior to the fact that the toms were originally from New York. I attribute their easy life to the fact that you can’t wield a 10-gauge shotgun within range of a streetcar. Their only natural enemies, if you don’t count the postman, are automobiles and the shiny bumpers that reflect back their own worst nightmare.

My tale of two turkeys—the free-range bird on my order pad and the wild turkeys near Fenway Park—is an example of the odd evolving relationship between human and other nature. On the one hand, there is a growing premium on domestic animals who live more naturally. On the other hand, there is an explosion of wild animals living more, well, unnaturally.

Consider a third turkey, the one at the White House. No, really. There is an annual ceremony for a turkey. The creature, raised “using normal feeding and other production techniques”—say what?—will become the ??th of the breed to receive a presidential pardon, although it is unclear what crime he committed.

When the ceremony is over, what is the fate of the liberated poultry? It’s something that would make Jon Stewart’s writers long to cross the picket line. This turkey will be flown. First class. To Disney World. There, he will live out his, um, natural days as an exhibit in the backyard of Mickey’s Country House in Magic Kingdom Park. Meanwhile, the president will undoubtedly be dining on another free-range turkey.

When it comes to figuring out our place in nature, I have begun to think that we’re all living on the edge. Maybe Ben Franklin was right when he said that the wild turkey—not the bald eagle—should be America’s national bird.

After all, the eagle, in all of its restored glory, soars majestically above the fray. But the turkey is down here, gobbling, squabbling and flourishing, while we try to figure out our place in the pecking order.

Happy Thanksgiving.

November 1, 2012

The Debilitating Effect of Big Numbers.

In the past three days I had plenty of time to think, being a captive audience to “Sister Nature”.  I also did some research and discovered that in the 18th century prostitutes shaved off their eyebrows and replaced them with false ones made of mouse hair. I very much want to know who thought that was a good idea.

I listened to coverage of The Big East Coast Storm (hello Sandy, goodbye Ike) and endless discussions on the ‘state’ of the nation.  I frowned a lot, at times I feel as if I am searching for coherence with both hands and a miner's lamp.

It turned out that there are no intelligent thoughts, anywhere. This is either because we have used up all our brain cells on inconsequential side issues (the eyebrows of 18th century ladies of the night), or because we are so bashed and battered after four years of financial bad news that we just want to go and hide under the sofa. I may work this up into a theory. It will be called: The Debilitating Effect of Big Numbers. I think we can all agree that this is certainly catchy.

I have spent some time contemplating the minutiae of U.S. fiscal policies.  Normally, I think it's really interesting. Quick, quick, fingers on the buzzers: is that Keynes or Milton Friedman?  But days before the general election I just hope that someone on that big shining hill knows what they are doing.

I do have one question though. I just read the government’s budget figures and the forecast is, well, dismal.

Total national debt as of October 25, 2012  is $16,157,991,000,000.00  (give or take a few bob) and quickly marching towards the Statutory Debt Limit of $16,394,000,000,000.00  The National Debt has continued to increase an average of $3.88 billion per day since September 28, 2007!
The largest slice of the pie, over 40%, is owed to the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, and to other government accounts. The Federal Reserve is actually quasi-public (part private, part government) so calling it "part of the government" is technically not accurate.
The remaining 60% of the Debt is privately held by individuals, corporations, states, and foreign governments. Japan ($580 billion), China ($390 billon) and the United Kingdom ($320 billion) are the biggest foreign holders of our Debt.

No, those are not rounding errors. What is going on? Should this not be a matter of national concern?  This is a number I do not understand. I do not understand it in the same way that I do not understand the fact that if you took away all the empty space in our bodies, the atoms contained in the human frame would fit into a sugar cube. Could everyone just stop boggling my mind for one single moment?

"The budget should be balanced; the treasury should be refilled; public debt should be reduced; and the arrogance of public officials should be controlled." 

Wow, which candidate said that?!
Cicero 106-43 B.C.

Ah well, do not fret, we will balance that budget by 20XX.   I will bet $16 trillion (give or take a few hundred billion) on it.

October 9, 2012

Noblesse Oblige . . .

. . . back in the 20th century. 

"No need to hurry.
No need to sparkle.
No need to be anybody but oneself."  
~ Virginia Woolf

You remember the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who spent their time, after he abdicated the British throne, traveling around the world to international watering spots and visiting on everybody else’s dime whenever they could?

After World War II, the Duke and Duchess were regulars in late El Morocco/Stork Club society just before it cratered.  They had to stay somewhere in keeping with their station and so they always tried to be in the Waldorf Towers.  When they came to New York, they would invariably be invited out for dinner somewhere they didn’t have to pay.

The Duke was confiding to Bill Fine who was running a cosmetic company. He complained that the Waldorf was too expensive. “It costs so much money plus tip for the Duchess and me to have coffee and toast each morning.”  He went on to tell Mr. Fine that one morning he had walked down to the Lexington Avenue Drug Store to check on their breakfast plan.

There, the counter man said to the man who had been King of England, “Ain’t you the Duke?”  When the Duke fessed up, he told the counterman his problem. It was costing at least $25.00 for two people to have coffee and toast in the hotel. (Those were the days!)

The latter exclaimed, “Relax, Duke. The Drugstore will deliver coffee and toast to the Waldorf Towers” for only $10.  And, that, exulted the Duke of Windsor is how he and the Duchess began to have breakfast in their fancy hotel for only a few bucks. 

I’ll vote for him!

October 2, 2012


While straightening the deck chairs on my personal Titanic, I received a letter from my MD, which I'll paraphrase. “Mona, it says, bad news. I've been your personal physician for 40 years, but I'm hanging up my sign. At the end of September I begin my retirement and will be transferring my patients to other doctors in the community. In the mean time I hope to minimize your inconvenience. So long and thanks for all the business.”

Bummer!  In my 20's, 30's and 40's stopping by once a decade or so worked OK for each of us. In my 50's it's been two times more per year than I'd like, and I'm soon be ramping up towards the age when people see their doctor every few weeks, just to get out of the house. When I planned on needing him most, I'll be abandoned, lost in the wilderness.

Paying up prolongs the inevitable. He wants to quit, selfishly I want him to stay. To leave now, while in good health or in several years feels like the same option. Fortunately, I live in a community where Md's are thick on the ground, so here's what I've made up my mind to do.

I want to find an MD finishing his/her residency this spring, and become their first patient. The likelihood of them knowing anything useful now is slim, but I don't ask for much now. Down the road, when they are smarter, and I'm sicker, they'll be so grateful for my being their first patient and sticking with them, they'll work extra hard to keep me alive.

If you have a better plan, let me know. 

September 29, 2012

The Power of Introverts . . .

. . . in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.*

I just read a mildly controversial book about the Obama family. To the shock and horror of the commenting classes, it turns out that Mrs Obama may not be a doormat person stuck in a 1950s time-warp. She has, apparently, ideas of her own, and sometimes expresses them. This, it appears, makes her both frightening and angry. And again I find myself hurling another socking great double standard across the room.

But my point is not so much about the brilliant Mrs O. but about a journalist, whose name I stupidly forgot, who was asked about President Obama’s first term: “Why do you think he has been a bit of, well, a disappointment?”

First of all, the journalist did not pause to challenge the premise. I am quite keen on challenging the premise and think people should do it more often, especially on news programmes.  In fact, she seemed quite delighted to be asked, as if this were the crux of the matter. She had obviously given the thing some thought, because she did not pause or ponder; she came right out with it. “Of course,” she said, conclusively, “he’s the most introverted president we’ve ever had.”

At which point, I literally shook my head, like a baffled horse. I practically snorted and pawed the ground. What? You take the myriad, convoluted, labyrinthine complications of running a country as eclectic and mysterious as America, and boil it down to the fact the president is an introvert? And, and, you blatantly imply that this is a bad thing, a terrible drawback, a defining weakness. I do not understand.

It’s not actually the politics of this that interests me, for once. I think it is a miracle that he can govern the country at all, since America seems more profoundly divided now than I have ever seen it. It’s not just left and right, there are furious fissures within the ideological camps. Have you been watching the Republican camp? There is a massive fight going on between the religious right and the fiscal conservatives, the almost extinct Rockefeller Republicans and the neophyte Tea Partiers, the biblical literalists and the radical libertarians, and all points in between.

The Dems are slightly less fractious, but the coloured bit of the Venn diagram where centrists once met seems to be smaller and smaller, so there are terrible, pointless, childish rows and stand-offs in both House and Senate, where bills are thrown out because of tribalism, Republicans vote against things they once supported, and filibusters grow like mushrooms after rain. Sometimes, when I watch the implacable dislike and mistrust that seems to obtain between the two sides, I wonder that America can be governed at all. 

Yet, Obama stopped the economy sailing off the cliff, got the jobs graph to start crawling up instead of plunging down as it had under George W, put through a healthcare bill which at least contained the idea of universal coverage, pulled out of Iraq, tracked down Osama Bin Laden with his supersecret powers, and repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, all against the howls and tantrums of an obstructionist Congress. He has not been perfect, but, in an awful situation, he has not been bad. And he can sing Al Green songs.

But that is not the point. (Turns out I had to say it, because it makes me so cross when people suck their teeth and say he has done nothing.) The point is that his perceived disappointment is being blamed on being an introvert.

The only inference I can draw from this odd statement is that if he had been a good ol’ boy, yakking it up, and slapping backs, and twinkling and winkling, then somehow everything would have been fine.

Introvert = taciturn and shy and anti-social; that is not its meaning at all. It simply means that the inner world of thoughts and ideas is more real than the external world of events. For the extrovert, it is the exact opposite. The extrovert’s greatest terror is being left entirely alone; the introvert fears the collapse of his/her internal world. 

Introversion is a bit like handedness. One can go out and dance and sing and talk and laugh; one can be social and make conversation perfectly well. It’s just it’s a bit like writing with your left hand when you are naturally right-handed. It requires a bit of effort. 

The difference is that extroverts thrive on people; big groups, social occasions are like fuel in the tank for them. Introverts, on the other hand, are exhausted by going out, however much it might be a pleasure. 

I always used to think that introversion and extroversion were evenly mixed. Apparently not. Someone worked out it’s more like 30-70. This explains why people react with disdain; it’s the old minority thing. It’s other

Because extroverts, the majority, the normal ones, cannot imagine feeling like this, they take it as an insult. The conclusion is: the introvert does not like people, rejects company, is somehow superior or disdainful, is horridly chilly and distant. 

Introverts might not always have the easy ability to beam their charm and magnetism at a group, as Bill Clinton or Sarah Palin.  This concentration on the inner world may well be a drawback in strict political terms. What they do have is the capacity to sit in a room and think. I would like my leaders to be sitting and thinking as much as they can damn well bear. 

The world is swerving into waters where there are no charts. It is the contemplation of introversion rather than the instant action of extroversion that is needed now. I bet you anything all those bloody credit default cowboys were extroverted up to their eyebrows. And look how well that turned out. 

One of the complaints about Obama is that he is too cool. He does not connect, apparently. I think you can ask the wrong things of a politician. I’m not sure I want hail fellow well met; I want brain the size of Poland. I’m pleased that the President is a thoughtful man; I admire his dignity and grace. I don’t want to have a beer with him I want him to make good decisions, because what happens to America affects us all. 

But most of all, can people stop drawing intellectually lazy, psychologically inaccurate conclusions; could they stop conflating two different things and making baseless accusations? Could they just leave the introverts alone? They are not freaks. They do not hate or fear people, just because they are not doing karaoke every night. They just come at the world from a slightly different angle. Surely that is allowed?


*Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain


September 19, 2012

That dreaded women's vote.

Yesterday I had the unfortunate obligation to host a gentleman's supper (thank you Felix).  After listening to the men's weighty descriptions of women as they knew them the question seemed no longer should women have votes but ought women not to be abolished altogether.

I have been so much impressed by this discussion, backed by so much scientific and personal experience, that I have come to the conclusion that women should be put a stop to.

I learned that in our youth we are unbalanced, that from time to time we suffer from unreasonableness and hypersensitiveness, and that our presence is distracting and irritating to men in their daily lives and pursuits. If we take up a profession, the indelicacy of our minds makes us undesirable partners for our male colleagues. Later on in life we are subject to grave and long-continued mental disorders, and, if not quite insane, many of us have to be shut up.

Now this being so, how much happier and better would the world not be if only it could be purged of women? It is here that we look to the great scientists. Is the case really hopeless?  We women no doubt have had our uses in the past, else how could this detestable tribe have been tolerated till now?  But is it quite certain that we will be indispensable in the future? Cannot science give men some assurance, or at least some ground of hope, that they are on the eve of the greatest discovery of all—i.e., how to maintain a race of males by purely scientific means?

And may we not look to the male species to crown their many achievements by delivering mankind from the parasitic, demented, and immoral species which has infested the world for so long?


July 30, 2012

Thank you,

thank you, Mr. Romney. No one else could have managed to unite the country so completely with a few disobliging sentences. All the PR gurus and advertising mavens and feelgood experts must be chewing their arms off with rage, since no campaign they could have devised would have done the job more efficiently.

Mr. Romney, I suspect, does not understand quite a lot of things. The one thing he really does not comprehend is that Britons are the only ones who are allowed to bitch and grouse and grumble about their own shortcomings. The British have a slightly odd habit of taking a twisted pride in thinking of themselves as a little bit crap. Britons moan and groan about their football team crashing out of tournament after tournament; they know they no longer rule the waves; they understand very well that the tube and the NHS are a bit of a shambles.  Mr. Romney clearly has no time for the shambolic; he dreams of the coming American century, the shining city on the hill. They know their city will always be a little dusty.

But just because Brits take an almost perverse pride in the crapness of everything, adore to complain, and indulge in heavy irony rather than Pollyanna-ish sanguinity, it does not mean that anyone may come in from the outside and tell them how feckless and pointless and hopeless they are. That is their job.  (Obviously not every last British person will subscribe to the shambolic sentiment.)

Within hours of Romney talking of the British public’s lack of enthusiasm for the games, calling poor old Ed Miliband ‘Mr Leader’, as if he were a character in Star Trek, and saying he had just looked out of the ‘backside of Number Ten Downing Street’, seemingly unaware that backside means arse in British English, the hashtag #romneyshambles was trending on Twitter. Outside, the British public was crowding the streets, hanging from lampposts as the Olympic torch went by, roaring with approval in Hyde Park as Boris Johnson said ‘There’s this chap called Mitt Romney who wants to know if we’re ready. Are we ready?’ I thought; I think they are ready.

Good old Mitt, with his extraordinary lack of grace and shocking manners, has added vastly to the gaiety of nations, and to this one in particular. They may criticise themselves as if grumbling were itself an Olympic sport, but when an outsider doubts them, they rise up like tigers. As Churchill said … we will defend our island. The Romneyshamble jokes came thick and fast, and everyone seemed to decide dear old Blighty might be able to put on a party after all.

I suddenly realised that, for all the fumbles and missteps (I do think that getting a hamburger chain to sponsor a sporting event is quite odd), it is damn well the greatest show on earth and this crumbling old island nation might just do it proud.

Watching the happy crowds, I felt oddly patriotic. Thanks to Mitt Romney, I became fired with Olympic zeal and Corinthian spirit.
Go, Team …

A gloomy day today and I did not take the camera with me. Here is a nice picture of a great horse and rider instead to get you in the Olympic mood.

 Mary King on Imperial Cavalier, Getty Images

July 2, 2012

What is a Lady?

When I wrote about "The Fabulous Madonna” one of the Privilege[d] Anonymous wrote to say that I wasn’t one. Wasn’t a lady that is.

And I haven’t forgotten. It bothered me, despite the typographical errors. Even now, career had, family fortune fading, I hope to be a lady.

Wait. What is a lady, after all? Why do we care? Given the emotional charge, I am going to bet that ladyhood can still matter. However, I do not think we can locate its meaning without some deconstruction. Without some stakes in the ground.

Random Internet sites say ladies can’t wear wrinkled clothes, they don’t like airport searches, and they don’t have dirty hands or feet. Silly and as easily ridiculed as those statements may be, they point to a larger issue.
My thesis is that the term “Lady” has become so colonized by different interests that we need a revolution if we are to continue to use the word.

    1. arch. A woman in family relationship, either daughter or wife, to a lord. “Lord,” defined as a man given a title and land-holding by his king. Lords were the upper class, ladies the women of that class. (The Apocryphal Privilege[d] Dictionary)

In the centuries since the term originated, lordship, the signs of upper class status, and the role of women have all changed beyond recognition. The constants which originally defined “Lady,” floated, leaving the term itself vulnerable to misuse.

I hope that there’s still reason to aspire to being a lady. I hope social class status brings with it certain standards of behavior and taste, but I also wish that women weren’t held to different standards than men. I wish the term gentleperson had prevailed in place of “Lady.”

When Social Class Was Rigid, and Lords Were Lords centuries ago, it was easy to keep track of who was a lord. Whoever the king said was a lord, that’s who. Eventually, it became possible to enter the upper class in other ways, at least in America. ‘All men are created equal’ meant you too could become a lord. Of sorts. George Washington decided against an aristocracy for the United States. Thanks, Mr. Washington.

Centuries ago, it was also easy to keep track of who was a lady. Married to a lord? Done. Have a castle? You’re probably a lady. Horses? Optional. Pearls? Depends on the plundering abilities of your father, or husband. But once America did away with lords, the idea of an American ‘lady’ entered free fall.  What Do You Mean, No Lord?

If being a lady means belonging to the upper class, now, several centuries after the American Revolution, women are ladies independent of their father, or husband. Took a lot longer than freeing men from their fealty to the king, but there you go. It was tough to participate in revolutions before birth control.

So this is where we have to use another charged term. Feminism. We have to say it. Whether one feels feminism is a good thing, or not, one cannot deny that women may now determine their own position in class structure. Women don’t have to enter the upper echelons attached to a man. It’s 2012. I’m not talking here about feminism and private relationships. That’s your business. I’m talking about social class. The two things are separate.

If You Can’t Find Her Title, Look For Her Necklace.  So if we aren’t ladies because of our men, what’s left? Is a lady simple a woman with a lot of money? They say class in American can be bought. But here I wonder do we even want to tie the concept of a lady to the usual class parameters – income, wealth, education, background? If not, and I vote not, we should look for over-reaching principles.

I vote not to tie the concept of lady directly to the concept of upper class precisely because the concept of upper class in America is still in free fall itself. Can class in America be bought? Is America a meritocracy?  Are education, sophistication, good manners required? Or are we all about power? Those are bigger questions than I am qualified to answer. Everything I say here is true. I don’t know if it matters. Let us say that the upper class is privileged, and leave it at that. For now.

Let us say that ladies act as though they have learned what privilege can teach. A privileged upbringing should enable us to live up to some sort of ideal. Because if amassed resources don’t move us towards whom we believe we should be, then wealth creation and privilege are nothing but greed. I don’t want to live my short life believing that human beings organize their societies all around greed. Even if it’s true.

Is ladyhood about the stuff, then?  Yes and no. One of the results of privilege is often a discerning style, a taste and aesthetic. The desire for beauty sits in our human core. As soon as we can eat, we paint. Or sing. Or dance. Sometimes even when food is hard to come by. Aesthetics do matter, and we hope that a privileged experience of all kinds of beauty develops our larger understanding.

Ladies should appreciate the spirit that moves people to art, and should look to broaden, deepen, and refine their love of things beautiful. The ladyhood aesthetic translates to clothing, and house decor. Ladies, in my opinion, should have a sensibility for style. I could be wrong. But let’s say I’m right.
There are two problems with style and ladyhood.  Personal taste is just that, personal. Of course, I will always feel that my taste is best. It is a certainly a marker of my upbringing. I apologize in advance, we like to apologize prophylactically.

It’s a huge leap from preferring Modigliani to Matisse to the idea that ladies, by definition, must wear matching pearls. Pearls in their beauty I applaud. Pearls as a signal of a certain set of political and gender role beliefs I do not care for quite so much. Lists of ladies’ style often pretend to be about taste, or associated social class, but slip in too many gender expectations.

The principles of “ladylike” remain inferred, unstated. To define ladyhood, let’s take a risk and say some things out loud.

A lady acts the way someone who has no excuse for bad behavior or bad taste ought to act. And the taste part should run a distant second to behavior. Aesthetics are not ethics.

How Do Ladies Behave When They Don’t Have A Castle Any More?  I suggest that the primary marker of lady hood ought to be consideration for the human social contract. A deep understanding of the balance between social context and beliefs on which you will not compromise. When interrupting a speaker is a necessary statement of your self, and when it’s just rude. Good manners are important, protocol only matters when and where protocol is called for.  Consider others’ feelings, particularly those less fortunate than you. Respect the mores, values, and protocols of the cultures in which you find yourself. There may be several.  Try to do the best job you can at any task you undertake. No matter the reward.  Develop an aesthetic. Seek out, support, wear, hang on your walls, the best creations of your fellow humans.  Deserve the resources you amass.

What Does Not A Lady Make?  Political affiliations do not a lady make. The concept of lady hood ought to have weight beyond politics, beyond what have, quite frankly, been conservative definitions of women’s roles.

Being a good person does not a lady make. You can be a good person without respect for the social context, or a honed aesthetic. But not, in my opinion, a lady. It’s much more important to be good. But good is a bigger question than lady, and one I’m no more qualified to address than anyone else in this life.

Wealth does not a lady make. But you knew that already.  I applaud the concept of ladyhood, especially when we understand that one can be deeply, achingly good without ever approaching “Lady.” I fear the concept of ladylike. Ladies can take power. No fair using the threat of not being a “lady” back us down from years of progress. No fair co-opting a term, one that could have broad meaning, in order to further sectarian goals. Or we risk implying that women are forever, de facto, lower class citizens.

My maternal gandmother. Was she a lady? As far as aesthetics, yes. As far as the rest of it, she tried her best. We all fail to reach our ideals now and again, or else they aren’t ideals.