Sunday, August 25, 2013

In which the author praises long-distance romances

Published in NY Times Social Qs column August 22, 2013
My high school boyfriend and I will be starting at different colleges in the fall. The schools are several hours apart. We’re talking about a long-distance relationship and visiting each other every weekend. My parents think this is a bad idea. What would you do?
Jean, New York

Dear Jean,

Your question has given me the freedom to pursue a topic of particular significance to everyone, a thing concerning human kind’s social and spiritual condition. For do not long-distance romantic relationships provide one with the opportunity to revive epistolary intercourse? Your generation, however, has shown preference for those modish forms of communication wherein the thumbs alone are used to scribble the message, upon different types of electronic gew-gaws----having, alas, left letter writing, as they say, in the dust-heap of history. Yet 'tis clear that one’s beloved still remains the best letter correspondent one may have. And is not this gradual movement---away from the epistolary arts towards the more liberal arts, shall we say, of twittering and emailing---is not this transition analogous to a change of residence from a Palladian country house to that of a sod-house, or a tipi? Indeed, as it has been accepted by many classical authorities, the art of letter writing allows man to perfect his intellectual and spiritual development by providing him with  opportunities to make minute written accounts of matters which on a daily basis affect his mind and spirit most intimately.

Firstly, as you are a lady at the beginning of your university studies, and as your boyfriend is in much the same situation, it is most proper for you to compose letters to each other both expressing your thoughts on the substance learned in your university classes. For instance, you will likely be required to take a chemistry class at the beginning of your university---and concerning this class you may rail against the abandonment of the chemical principles of Hermes Trismegistus in favor of Robert Boyle. You will also likely take a class on Imaginative Literature---whereupon you may write of your outrage at any author who fails to make proper condemnation of human sin through their works---or a class on Literary Theory---whereupon you will find much to write about on the wretched state of all feminist rakes, post-colonialist dandies, or Marxist beaus. Finally, as you will also take a class on economics you will want to write about our modern society’s gross corruption of Mr. Adam Smith’s principles. These are some examples of topics upon which you may discourse, as they will lend your pen the ease and grace it deserves.

Secondly, letter writing will provide you both with an opportunity to reflect upon all sorts of spiritual matters, by which I include that aspect of our lives the modern philosophers are wont to call the moral dimension. You may, for instance, discourse upon the likelihood of the vile Turk’s conversion to our great faith. Or you may condemn the severity of the wicked treatment of the servant classes in our society, or the gross inequality between the plebian and patrician classes here in America. Wherein does this inequality reside, in the people's material or spiritual conditions? These are examples of some of the topics that will enable lively discussion between you two.

Thirdly, you will find that letter writing offers an excellent opportunity for one to discuss matters of the heart, or as the modern people may call it, gossip or self-gossip, with your beloved. In this capacity, you must be warned against a too ready acceptance of other people’s follies, as is the habit among the modern gossip industries. You are of course encouraged to express your romantic feelings towards each other in your letters, preferably in 14-line sonnet form, yet you are to avoid an overmuch focus on the sentimental or indulge in excessive Rousseanism. This proscription will make your letters a pleasure to read and a joy to respond to.  

To learn how to become a great letter writer you are advised to study the works of the Lords Bacon and Chesterfield, as well as the collected works of yours truly, Samuel Richardson.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In which the author responds to another advice column

Retrieved from NY Times Social Q's column, on August 8,2013

A Hero's unwelcome

We received a “save the date” card for a fifth birthday party for a boy my daughter knows. It was to be a Superhero Soiree. But shortly before the date, we were uninvited. The party is now just for boys because of its “masculine” theme, and my daughter was invited to a separate party for him just for girls. I don’t want to tell my daughter that she isn’t allowed to attend the real party, but she is going to want to know what happened. Something about this feels wrong. Should I mention it to the mother?

Anonymous, New York

Dear Anonymous,

Allow me to give a different construction to your questions---though you will ultimately understand the purpose of my digression. Your letter gives me license to pursue a topic of personal interest, familiar no doubt to readers of my blog, regarding the nature of all those modern events, set up for the entertainment of children, known as costume parties or masquerades, of “superhero soirees,” or any such kind of spectacular mummeries, whatever be their names. For these are all vile events wherein children are inevitably spurred into Dionysian revelry, with the aid not of libations but an excess of confectionaries, which plunge the poor children into an epileptic sugar orgy. They writhe on the floor and thrash about the room like demented Maenads.   

Yet the greater offense of these costumed parties lies in their being supportive of that vile  and all-powerful social abstraction, which I continue to rail against, that many-headed monster known as consumer culture. For what is the real purpose for the existence of those modern-day popular children’s characters---such as Dora the Explorer, Spiderman, Sponge-Robert Square Pants, and the ever-famous Michael Mouse--- what is their purpose if not simply as means, established by the capitalist business ventures, to compel your children to compel you to buy them merchandise bearing the face of these characters? These toy-generating businesses know very well that if the children, being thus seduced by the shallow glamour and the oafish humor of these personages, if the children's demands be refused by the parents, the children may resort to whatever desperate length to achieve their objective, such as depriving their parents of sleep, destroying household furniture, or simply producing such monstrous wailing as to frighten all the dogs and cats in the neighborhood.

Thus by advising you to avoid all costumed parties for you children I hope to have cut the Gordian knot of your dilemma. There is, however, positive counsel I can offer you, which is to suggest a viable alternative to modern-day costume parties---a children’s party modeled on the Elizabethan masque.

There are indeed many costumes that may be worn for this occasion. It is recommended that girls attend the party dressed as a Virtue, while the mischievous boys may dress as a Vice. And as Virtue always triumphs over Vice, so the boys will learn to emulate the Virtues, whilst the girls will learn to be wary of the Vices. Here are some costumes that may be appropriate for the girls to wear---


The personification of Innocence is a sweet, small young girl, robed in virginal white, and with flowers in her hair. 
from Cesare Ripa's Iconologia
As Innocence, you are to be washing your hands, or applying liquid soap, whenever possible because your ablutions indicate freedom from blemish of any kind, spiritual or physical. You are to carry a palm frond---for that is the symbol of the purity of you received after baptism. You may also carry a stuffed sheep with you, if you are unable to bring a live one, as that, of course, is the symbol of the Great Redeemer, who represents innocence and purity.


The personification of Diligence is a girl dressed in red who holds an hourglass and a spring of thyme. Over her wrist hangs a spur. Beside her, a rooster pecks at the ground. You may bring a toy rooster, if a live one cannot be obtained.

from Cesare Ripa's Iconologia
The hourglass, symbolizing time, represents the industrious person’s wish to do something and finish it.

Here is a list of costumes that may be worn by mischievous boys, who may thereby represent different types of Vices, in contradistinction to the Virtues represented by the girls.


To represent Deceit, the boy ought to wear a cloak decorated with many masks, with goatskin hanging over one shoulder, and a fish net over one arm. In the other arm, the boy ought to carry a fishing rod with a long line and a hook. The panther, by hiding his head and only showing his beautifully spotted back, attracts those who marvel at his appearance, and then springs up and devours them. You may carry a toy panther if a live one cannot be obtained.

from Cesare Ripa's Iconologia
The goat is much beloved by the sargo, a kind of fish, and the clever fisherman, according to Alciatus, covers himself with a goatskin to lure the infatuated fish into the net; thus the deceitful person, through an appearance of innocence or affection, tricks the unwary.


To represent Obstinacy, the boy ought to wear a multicolored sixteenth-century costume, holding a bellows in one hand, a spur over the wrist, and be pointing to his forehead.  

from Cesare Ripa's Iconologia
The varicolored dress refers to the variety of thing youth can get stubborn about. He touches his forehead, for willfulness is a state of the mind, a determination to have one’s way. The spur is a goad, a means of imposing one’s will on others, and the bellows is used to whip up the fire, just as persistence or stubbornness is whipped up by the desire to have one’s way.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Does a reformed rake make the best husband?

Retrieved from Vice. com, advice column “Hey Ron.” 

I'm turning 30 in a few weeks. My marriage countdown clock is doing that beeping thing time bombs do when they're closing in on zero. I’ve been dating the perfect guy. We've known each other for a long time, but we just started taking things to the next level. He's smart, funny, and great in the sack. Plus, he's close with all of my friends, so it's easy for us all to kick it together. The problem is, he's a little too close.
I fell in love with him three years back when I saw a shirtless pic of him on my girl’s phone. Since then, he's had his way with most of my girlfriends. But none of them understand him like I do. Am I making a mistake trying to turn this man into a one-girl guy? Even though he ran through my crew, nothing would make me happier than having his baby and being his wife.
Madame Save-a-Slime-Ball

Dear Madam,

I hope I may be given the freedom to infer from your letter your American ancestry. And given the nature of your background---that is of your American educational institutions---you may be forgiven for not having that familiarity with my books, especially with my Pamela and Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady, that familiarity which marks the educated, honest lady. For had you read those two books you would have known very well of that dangerous but all too commonly received notion that a reformed rakes makes the best husband.  Unfortunately, members of your generation nowadays tend to receive instruction on love and courtship not from the example set by the noble Miss Clarissa Harlowe but from the popular antics of the vulgar Miss Kimberly Kardashian.  

I urge, therefore, that you venture on a careful reading of my Clarissa, wherein you will learn of the tragic sequences of countenancing this notion. In order to finish reading Clarissa you are recommended to make all the proper arrangements as will be necessary for your self-removal from modern society for a period of about six months, that is in forgoing all interaction with any electronic gew-gaw, such as IPhones, or YouPhones, or whatever else these shiny toys be called.

Finally, I would be remiss if I spoke not of the deep impropriety of Mr. Slime-Ball’s method for seducing the fair sex, namely by transmitting pictures of his naked chest---and, no doubt, his rallying face---to the ladies’ phones. Indeed this may be a common enough practice among various people known as hayseeds, clodhoppers, and all those of general oafish nature. Yet, I hope you will agree with me, this behavior is hardly fit for a gentleman. If, after finishing my Clarissa, you are still not convinced of the evil of the libertine personality, and insist in the future in trying to reform rakes, I advice that, at minimum effort, you henceforward prefer only those suitors of less uncouth disposition.