Cap & Gown Fashion Inspo For All You 2014 Grads


Any Billfolders graduating college come May? Grad school? Commencement-themed porno to participate in? Congrats! DO THIS. I will be your best friend. Or post a photo of it. (SFW only.)


Amazon Prime and HBO: Two Great Tastes That Will Taste Great Together

Attention, nerds! HBO and Amazon Prime have announced a power-sharing agreement that is much more exciting than the one happening halfway around the world, so pay no attention to Fatah and Hamas. If you have a subscription to Amazon’s extra-special-bonus soon-to-be-$99-a-year service Prime, starting May 21, you will be able to stream episodes of the shows that put the Premium in premium cable:

It means access to HBO will no longer be limited to cable or satellite provider packages, opening the door wide for the first time to cord-cutters who’ve doubtless been waiting for a deal like this to go down. It means you’ll be able to tap HBO with anything that currently supports Amazon’s Prime channel — set-tops, tablets, phones, game consoles, etc. — and gain access to whole swathes of HBO content (as well as free two-day shipping and Kindle library lending) for Amazon’s standard $99-per-year fee.

Bear in mind, if you’re not a member, that Prime content is free to Prime members; this isn’t HBO signing up to let Amazon charge you to watch these shows. Amazon says Prime members will have “unlimited streaming access.”

Perhaps Amazon acceded in order to make its rate hike more palatable to its consumers. Perhaps HBO did because it wanted to give younger people, who are increasingly likely to eschew cable altogether, an option beyond stealing their parents’ HBO Go passwords. Who cares! More Sopranos and The Wire and yes even Sex and the City, without which I would have nothing to discuss with other straight women. Your move, Showtime.


S.C. to College of Charleston: We’re Docking Your Allowance

Running a public university is a perilous proposition these days. Cash-strapped states don’t need much reason to pull back on the support they give to their flagship educational institutions, even as private schools charge undergrads more and more. The relationship between a state and its schools can feel like the tug of war between parents and adolescents, as embodied today by the conflict between South Carolina and the College of Charleston:

The serene campus is now the site of regular demonstrations by some of its more than 11,000 students. The Faculty Senate has decreed that it has no confidence in the college’s governing board. And in Columbia, the capital, certain conservative lawmakers speak openly of reducing the college’s budget.

Charleston effectively dyed its hair and got a third piercing when it suggested students check out Alison Bechdel’s terrific graphic memoir Fun Homelately adapted into a perky musical. South Carolina replied by taking away the keys to the car.

The selection angered religious conservatives. The Palmetto Family Council condemned the work as “pornographic,” a characterization its author disputes, and a state legislator, Garry R. Smith, ultimately led an effort to cut the college’s state budget allocation by $52,000. (Mr. Smith also targeted the University of South Carolina Upstate for a smaller reduction because of a different book selection.)

No matter how fraught the relationship gets, schools and states need each other. It will be interesting to see how Charleston responds. Will it insist, politely but firmly, on its right to academic freedom? Will it make certain concessions to the power of the purse? We’ll see. For now it is in its room with the door closed, refusing to come down for dinner, while a suspicious-smelling smoke wafts out from under the door.


Ask Polly: Why Am I Deathly Afraid of Success?


Dear Polly,

Love your column. Can I throw something at you? Apologies for being vague with certain details.

I’m a 43-year-old woman who has spent my whole life in one industry, got pretty far, and then descended back down the ladder to the place I started from. One day my whole outlook on my career changed and I wanted out. The problem was I didn’t know how to do anything else. I was unconsciously sabotaging job after job but without an exit strategy, so it was a rough few years. 

Finally I ended up at the entry level of my industry, hiding my experience and qualifications so I could be a worker bee. In exchange for giving up a great salary and high pressure 24/7 job, I got over a hundred hours of my week back, and for the first time, started to have a life. Materially, it’s spartan compared to what I had, but I’m at peace and happy way more often than I was before.

Now that my job is so undemanding and I have a lot more time than I’ve had, I’ve gotten back in touch with my childhood dreams and have started to do what I really wanted to do. It’s in arts/entertainment. 

This is where my problem comes in: Having any actual success was far from my mind when I started my new work. I was just happy to finally have the time to be doing what I always wanted to do. 

Things rather rapidly became serious with rather serious people and organizations as soon as I focused and treated my new “work” like real work. I got opportunities other people struggle and train for years to get, and sometimes never do. I am COMPLETELY aware of how incredibly fortunate I am. Friends and peers in the same world can’t believe my rate of progress. I feel like I’m finally on the right track.

But then I just stopped. Hearing about other people’s dreams are the worst, but this dream is my story in a nutshell: I was driving a champagne colored convertible down a gorgeous open highway of gold on my way to Beverly Hills. The road was clear, the sky was blue, I was on my way. Then I just pulled over the car and got out, walked away, and suddenly I was in the bowels of the 42nd Street Subway station. I woke up terrified.

The days are ticking past, and the serious people waiting for me to get on the bus will eventually stop waiting—or else find a replacement.



Our Snacks, Ourselves

I’m not quite sure how I even found Snacks Quarterly, an internet publication for the “distinguished snack enthusiast,” but here we are. Some gems include this ode to the snacks that are available for a limited time only by Brooke Barker:

French Toast Crunch is gone. So are Crispy M&M’s and Lemon Ice Gatorade—they stopped making them. No one even knows why they did it. I’m not even sure who they is, but they get rid of snacks every day.

Today the number of people currently alive on earth is seven percent of the earth’s total since-the-begininning-of-earth population. Without doing any research at all I’m going to guess that the number of available snacks is only ten percent of the total available snacks that have ever existed. The other ninety percent you’ll never see again.

An advice column called “Snask Beth”: “Well, Amy, I find that grilled cheese triangles are the best snack when you can’t decide where to go out to dinner with your semi-new boyfriend.”

And this hot tip:

A+ tip, right there.


Moving to Cambodia Was My Socialist Revolution, And Other Things My Parents Taught Me About Following Your Dreams

It may seem incongruous to say that moving to Cambodia to pursue a writing career is like trying to overthrow the U.S. government, but in my family it wasn’t that different.

In 2011, I gave up my rent-controlled apartment and cushy waitressing gig in California to move across the planet and write a book. I had no funding, no connections, no association with any university or organization, and no real plan of how to support myself other than to freelance. And to teach, if I absolutely had to. I still consider this slightly less absurd than what my parents did in their twenties: fight for a socialist revolution in the United States.

My parents met at a meeting of the Communist Party, which they would later refuse to join because “it wasn’t radical enough.” My dad was a long-haired Yippie and Annapolis drop-out; my mom was an blonde 18-year-old who’d gained scene-cred for taking an illegal trip to China when she was still underage. It was love at first sight.

“You have to remember, it was a different era,” my mom would tell me. “We were on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement. You had Women’s Lib and the Panthers and the Stonewall Riots all happening. The anti-war movement played a big role in ending the war in Vietnam. You really felt like things were possible, that maybe this was the moment when real change would happen.”



When The ‘Do It For The Love’ Advocates Are Advertisers

I am very curious about Astra Taylor’s new book, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, and after reading this interview with her on The Rumpus, I am ready to add it to my nightstand book pile:

On the one hand, I’m a kind of crazy anarchist-sympathizer with a hippie background, so this sounds pretty good to me. Make something for the love of it! But the reality is so much more complicated. One thing I point out is, a lot of people tooting the horn of amateurism, actually, these people were professionals. Some are professors who are employed full time. Others are marketers or business consultants. There’s something odd about telling people, artists, that they need to work for free to be pure while you’re sitting there getting a salary that ultimately is paid by a generation of young people going deeply into debt for their education.

I think somebody who is more self-reflective should ask why they personally aren’t going on that path. If amateurism is so great, why didn’t you stay one?

…Now it almost seems like the techno-utopian scenario is, “Well, the economy is going to hell but you can participate on this platform that ultimately is this enormous profit generator for a few people.”



The Best Books About Class

Generations and generations of high school students read The Great Gatsby not because it is a love story for the ages — it isn’t — but because it is a well-written but lurid melodrama about the limitations of the American Dream. A poor guy with limited prospects shakes himself off, changes his name, makes his fortune, and then (spoiler alert) gets his comeuppance after his high-class lady love accidentally kills her husband’s working-class mistress. Oops.

The moral is that we should eat the rich because otherwise they win every time.

For Jewniverse, I wrote about Joanna Hershon’s new book A Dual Inheritance, which is less vivid, plot-wise, than Gatsby, but also a fascinating look at money, ambition, and friendship in the 20th century. Billfold contributor Rebecca called it “a more interesting The Interestings,” in reference to Meg Wolitzer’s 2013 novel about similar tensions. Of course YMMV; both novels are very much worth reading.

Writers have been addressing the topic of class since before Karl Marx was a glimmer in his mother’s eye. Some of the classics of world literature trace a young man or woman’s path from poor to rich: Great Expectations, Vanity Fair. Others concern themselves with what happens when someone who has always been comfortable finds the ground shaking beneath her feet, like in Daniel Deronda and oh everything by Edith Wharton. I’ve started to put together a list of the best books on the topic, so help me out! What are your favorites?


Louis CK’s 70% Rule For Decision-making

This GQ profile of Louis C.K. is short and sweet. Near the end, he outlines his rule for overcoming decision paralysis. Yesterday I talked a friend through her decision to open an IRA vs. have more money available in savings — so relevant! — and I wish I had this on-hand to copy and paste:

“These situations where I can’t make a choice because I’m too busy trying to envision the perfect one—that false perfectionism traps you in this painful ambivalence: If I do this, then that other thing I could have done becomes attractive. But if I go and choose the other one, the same thing happens again. It’s part of our consumer culture. People do this trying to get a DVD player or a service provider, but it also bleeds into big decisions. So my rule is that if you have someone or something that gets 70 percent approval, you just do it. ‘Cause here’s what happens. The fact that other options go away immediately brings your choice to 80. Because the pain of deciding is over.

“And,” he continues, “when you get to 80 percent, you work. You apply your knowledge, and that gets you to 85 percent! And the thing itself, especially if it’s a human being, will always reveal itself—100 percent of the time!—to be more than you thought. And that will get you to 90 percent. After that, you’re stuck at 90, but who the fuck do you think you are, a god? You got to 90 percent? It’s incredible!”

Also this is unrelated but it made me laugh:

[My older daughter] was saying how whenever she sees a three-legged dog, it lifts her spirits, because three-legged dogs are wonderfully unaware that they have a malady. They just walk around, and they don’t give a shit. And I said, ‘You know, honey, they are lucky. But do you know the only thing luckier than a three-legged dog? A four-legged dog.’


Places I’ve Lived: Behind Ben Folds, Two Capitol Hills, and a D.C. Fixer-upper to Call Our Own

Where have you lived, Shilpi Paul?

Tiny House Behind the “Ben Folds” house, Chapel Hill, N.C., $300, 2003-2005
Uncertain what to do with my newly minted degrees in Anthropology and Psychology, I decided to keep on living in Chapel Hill and pay relatively little in rent while I figured out how to move forward.

A friend had a house in town, located in a neighborhood made famous by former resident Ben Folds, who wrote “Whatever and Ever Amen” in a house right behind hers. The mini house, which measured out at about 600 square feet, had a second bedroom with just enough room for a twin-sized bed and a desk. I moved my things in and embarked on a circuitous goal-finding path that involved reading novels, teaching SAT and GRE classes, traveling to India, taking endless runs around town, visiting more than one coffee shop per day and almost always one bar at night, publishing an article based on an experience I had in India, more reading teaching running coffee wine, and then securing an internship at the NPR station in town based on my article. Finally, I had found a jumping off point for a career and an adult life.

Every room in that non-air conditioned house was painted a different primary color. Though I painted my room a soothing neutral, the energy of the kitchen, living room and bathroom and of my lovely housemate kept my spirits up in what could have been a very lost time.


Friend’s bedroom, Capitol Hill, Seattle, Wash. September – November 2005
Since I had had two languorous years to figure things out and my boyfriend was graduating from law school, it seemed like a natural time to consider packing up and moving away from dreamy Chapel Hill, perhaps to a big city. We narrowed our choices to cities that seemed good for our respective fields and where we had friends who could help us settle in, and decided on Seattle. Leaving Chapel Hill after six years felt like trapeze-ing without a safety net, but we said some tearful goodbyes, abandoned most of our scant belongings, packed up everything we could fit into a Honda Civic, and made our way west.



Donkeys in Detroit? DNC Considers Motor City for 2016

The Democratic National Committee asked fifteen cities to submit proposals to host its 2016 convention, and among the obvious contenders one is raising eyebrows: Detroit, Mich.

Conventions bring more than passionate partisans in funny hats. When delegates descend, they bring with them millions of dollars in revenue. (And occasionally some really awful pick up lines. A GOP delegate in New York tried to get me excited by saying, “Ester? That’s an old-fashioned name. I like old-fashioned women.”) Sometimes they revitalize the local sex industry! It can be a big deal to a struggling metropolis.



Homes Are Still Where Our Financial Hearts Are

Gallup’s Economy and Personal Finances poll asked Americans to choose the best option for long-term investments and they went with real estate, followed by gold, and then stocks and mutual funds (which should be the answer!), and then savings accounts and bonds. Lower-income Americans earning less than $30K were most likely to choose gold as a long-term investment.

At The Washington Post, Catherine Rampell says, “huh?”