Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sunday Reading: Rising Above

Given the recent social and political climate, here's a quick disclaimer. Today's post absolutely does not deny the importance of standing up and speaking out bluntly regarding truths that those in disagreement may find harsh or alienating. The role models I am describing do not, by any stretch of the imagination, shy away from arguing things that make others uncomfortable. See, e.g., Justice Ginsburg's Shelby County v. Holder dissent (starting page 32), Justice Sotomayor's Schuette dissent (starting page 51), and Justice Sotomayor's Trinity Lutheran dissent (starting page 27). Also, as she notes in her memoir, Justice Sotomayor once reported a law firm when an attorney, during a recruiting dinner, said that she could only have gotten into Yale because of affirmative action. Assuming law school then was anything like law school now, that's a highly scary thing to do. My role models "rock the boat" when needed. My point here is solely about conduct within the narrow confines of the workplace, in contexts where it is necessary to get things done.*

I've noticed that one thing unites those I admire most in the legal profession. It isn't something all of them would voice in these exact words, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg puts it best in her "Advice on Living":
When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade. . . . Collegiality is crucial to the success of [the Supreme Court's] mission
The same, in my experience, goes for legal work, particularly in litigation, and interactions with colleagues and opposing counsel. Justice Sonia Sotomayor's excellent memoir (one of the books that has made the strongest impact on me) doesn't say this as such. but it's strongly implied. In particular, she casts no stones about not getting a full-time offer from her summer firm, blaming only herself. Given how long it took the industry's doors to open to women (see, e.g., the section on the 1970s in this academic article and this piece on more recent trends), it's not a huge stretch to speculate that prejudices about race, gender, and the combination thereof may have played a role. 

These role models are people who treat every person, even those voicing views sharply in contrast with their own, with the utmost respect and civility. The most vivid and well-know example is probably the famously close friendship between Justice Ginsburg and the late Justice Antonin Scalia (his Romer v. Evans dissent may be instructive as to why this may be a shock, i.e. in paragraph two). They are people who rise above the slings and arrows directed their way in order to be the best attorney they can be. 

In Justice Ginsburg's case, she encountered particularly overt sexism, given the timeline of when she attended law school and began her career. You'll rarely hear her speak of it. I had to search hard for a readily accessible online citation for how things were: "Upon graduation from Columbia Law School with top honors in 1959, she received no job offer from any law firm in New York City, presumably because white shoe law firms were aghast that a woman, a mother and a Jew would dare think she was qualified for the job." She has also written that, back then, law firms simply "would engage no women" as a matter of absolute policy.

There is a difficult balance to be struck between exhibiting the collegiality, civility, and grace that the best attorneys embody while still taking a stand for what is right. It has sometimes been so, so hard to rise above. It's entirely likely that, in the next few months or years, I'll sometimes write about some of the challenges in this profession that make it difficult to face down everything with the ideal amount of collegiality. But that's a story for another day.

P.S. This piece from a former Justice Ginsburg clerk regarding his decision to stay home with his daughter for a time is entirely unrelated, but also a good read.)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Shoes of Summer

I'm now in year three of wearing my trusty, if not terribly attractive, Fitflop Skinny fit flops (worn in photos linked here) as my primary summer shoe. They've had a good run, accompanying me through many a summer thunderstorm and to a few beaches, but they're starting to show their wear, with worn-down heels and a slightly stretched-out uppers. They're still much more comfortable to walk and stand in than ballet flats or sandals with less arch support, but my feet and legs are starting to ache the way they do when I wear running shoes that are over the hill, and have had their inner cushioning worn down by excessive wear. In short, it either is almost time or is already time for a new pair of summer shoes. 

I've had the hardest time deciding whether to make a purchase now at all, much less decide on what to get. It probably makes the most sense to get another pair of Fitflops, either the Skinny or the Skinny Crisscross Slide. I could maybe also consider a pair of Birkenstocks (probably the Arizona or the Gizeh), which is what I had been thinking of before picking the Fitflops instead, though I remember that I thought they looked a bit clunky on my feet. I imagine the Birkenstocks would be hardier than Fitflops, though.


Perhaps unwisely, given that I should only really be in the market for a pair of comfortable sandals to replace the Fitflops, I had also thought about getting a pair of cute, embroidered Soludos espadrilles (maybe with lemons, or oranges!). That's an impulse that I really should not indulge in, however, as espadrilles seem to not be the most durable of shoes (likely to last only one season?) and that they could easily be damaged if they got wet, so they're not suitable for NYC's unpredictable, sometimes thunderstorm-prone summer weather. Also, I assume that I wouldn't want to be wearing socks with them in summer, which means they'd get gross and sweaty, and probably smelly, way too easily.

What are your go-to summer shoes? Are espadrilles actually more practical than they seem on paper? 

Friday, June 30, 2017

June Shopping Reflections

I had another busy month: My interview season continues to run a fair bit longer than expected. I also moved apartments, but only in the same building, which was significantly easier than previous moves. This didn't leave much time for shopping, and well, I always find summer very uninspiring because on the fashion front, because of my extreme distaste for heat and humidity. 

The only thing I want to wear, now that summer weather has finally set in, is breezy and relaxed-fit linen. This month's purchases fall into that category, and I've also been window-shopping for linen items from more ethical sources like the handmade offerings of Etsy stores such as LinenHandmadeStudio and notPerfectLinen (note: notPerfectLinen sometimes closes on weekends, but reopens on weekdays). Presently, I've just been struck, after reviewing the linked inspiration photos here, by a sudden passionate desire for a pair of blue linen ankle pants, something with a shape like these H&M Premium Quality linen joggers, but maybe not joggers. My heart's desire may be a pair of more formal linen trousers of that general shape, maybe with a paperbag waist and tie belt. I've not seen anything that fits the bill, just joggers (Joie) and more joggers (Athleta). Alas, I may be hoping for something that doesn't exist this year.

I am getting closer to being on track for my yearly budget limit. I am now "over budget" by $168.18 (($150 x 6) - $555.98 - $154.21 - $94.79 - $35.93 - $128.80 - $98.47 = $168.18). By now, I think it's looking somewhat clear that last year's $170/month, rather than this year's $150/month, was a better monthly target for me, but we'll see how the rest of the year goes.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $98.47)
  • J.Crew Factory Embroidered Floral Dress - $49.50* - The bright blue, the giant embroidered flowers, and the "boob tent"-effect (for lack of better phrasing) prone shape all make this something that should not be my thing, but somehow, this dress works for me. Like other relaxed-fit J.Crew Factory dresses, it runs a little large, such that a XS might work for me, though I kept the S, which still fits largely as expected, based on the model photo. (I'd normally expect to be an M or S in similar dresses from other mall brands.) With my chest size and the design, there is a slight tent-y effect that's not seen on the model. I did find, with the rest of my order, that J.Crew Factory's fitted, number-sizing dresses, especially this Origami Sheath, run very small to me because they're cut for someone with significantly less curve in both the chest and hips (I don't have particularly full hips either - I'm closer to an inverted triangle than a true hourglass). I prefer belting this dress, leading to this month's other purchases.
  • H&M Premium Quality Leather Belt - $17.99 - Before this, I didn't have any belts in my closet. I shopped around for secondhand belts, but felt very unsure of what I'd be getting, so I opted for H&M. (It doesn't align perfectly with my minimalism-ish to shop there, though as with anything I buy, I intend to cherish for its entire natural lifespan. With a leather belt, I'm not expecting it to wear out anytime soon.) 
  • H&M Premium Quality Braided Leather Belt - $12.99 - Same as above. I wanted both a skinny braided belt and a thicker belt. 
  • H&M Premium Quality V-Neck Linen Tee - $17.99 - (similar gray v-neck in S) This  came partially out of my recent obsession with linen, and partially out of a need to reach the free shipping quantity. The temptation of "just add one more item for free shipping" is typically a thing to assiduously avoid, but I was so close (and truly in need of more linen tees to add to that Everlane scoop neck linen tee I picked up last year) that it seemed alright. H&M's size chart is pretty wonky, so while I should be an M, the M is actually little too big on me, though not enough to want an exchange in this fairly relaxed-fit design.
*Includes return shipping cost on the rest of my order, which did not pan out.

Anyone else inordinately fond of linen for summer? 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Cost of: A Course of Dermatologist Treatment

via, my real dermatologist's office is honestly fancier

As I mentioned in April, I've been seeing a dermatologist, which has been a good but imperfect experience. I was inspired to go because my current government insurance is likely the best I'll ever have and my skin had been acting up differently (not product-induced, as I hadn't added anything new in the preceding four months). I'd been extremely happy with my previous CosRx BHA-centric routine (briefly described here, cheapest on Amazon, resulted in an unprecedented four months "cyst"-free* until the problem week that inspired the dermatologist trip), but then I had a really icky bump that, in a new development, seemed like it might leave a textured scar. So off I went, to a well-regarded NYC-area dermatologist primarily known for botox and related aesthetic treatments, but also for aggressive acne treatment.

I can't be the only chronically acne-prone American with this experience, but being able to just call in and schedule my own dermatologist appointment, with someone very willing to administer cortisone shots and prescribe a broad spectrum of new medications if the previous one(s) didn't work promptly, still seems an impossible luxury! As a young teen with persistent acne and restrictive health insurance (had one dermatology referral ever, when I presented with all over the face cystic acne, the worst it's ever been, and it still wasn't enough for Accutane to be in the realm of consideration), I've always longed desperately for the ability to get the level of dermatologist care I'm receiving now. I suppose that's part of what's inspired me to follow through with several months of (still-expensive, even with insurance) treatment, an urge to resolve the question of whether that "impossible luxury" of easy access to a dermatologist would have alleviated my persistently "cyst"-prone acne sooner, and better, than the years of experimentation and over the counter product-centric routine I eventually discovered (old, pre-CosRx routine described here).

Nearly four months in, I find that I prefer my old CosRx-centric routine (a two-step combo of the BHA A-Sol and BHA Blackhead Power Liquid) and that I may regret my dermatologist experiment. It's involved a few new prescriptions, which required stopping BHA and my Vitamin C Serum, not a great trade-off. I have only a few months before I switch insurance again, which will likely stop this process. Presently, I've been referred to another specialist, and am curious about the result, so I'll keep going. Overall, my skin has not done better than I believe it would have on my previous routine. While prescriptions were always an important part of treating my persistent acne and I would certainly recommend a dermatologist, if at all possible, if one's acne ever takes a sudden, extreme turn for the worse, for my more low-level but chronic acne problem, a hybrid prescription and over the counter routine, without any of my new medications, still seems best.

There've been a few valuable lessons though. Cortisone shots are pretty magical, and this experience makes me more willing to schedule an emergency cortisone shot if I ever have a nasty cyst that conflicts with an important life event. It's expensive with insurance, but could be worth it because, well, vanity. Also, despite another non-dermatologist doctor's recommendation, scaling back Retin-A Micro to once every other day was not good for my acne. When I went back to daily use on the derm's advice, I had a similar, though much briefer, adjustment period as when it was first prescribed to me, and I saw some immediate improvement with my acne.

The most obvious downside of my experiment is that, even with good insurance, it's been extremely expensive. Each visit averages out to $150, including the $35/visit specialist copay and post-insurance fees for a cortisone shot at each visit, and sometimes an extraction. I've been doing monthly follow-ups,  this doctor's usual practice until it's very clear that a new regimen is working, so it adds up. Note that one's mileage with costs will vary based on insurance provider and policy.

The co-pays on my prescriptions have been... slightly jaw-dropping, for someone accustomed to the same $10/refill copay for everything, even when on less robust insurance. This derm's aggressive approach occasionally involves specially compounded medications, so they default to sending prescriptions, even ones that can be fulfilled at chain pharmacies, to a specialty place with higher co-pays. Admittedly, I could have opted out for most of my medications, but I chose not to in order to give this experiment a full try. I was given Acanya (a 1.2% clindamycin and 2.5% benzoyl peroxide gel, which I don't like, as the BP wreaked complete havoc on my skin at first), which is always expensive, at $40 with insurance and a manufacturer coupon. I'll be coy about the other copays, as I'm a little embarrassed, many could likely have been adjusted down significantly had I immediately called back and asked for the prescription to be sent to a normal chain pharmacy. 

*Acne nomenclature has always confused me. I've had medical professionals, including this derm, refer to my usual breakouts, which always come to a head eventually (TMI acne treatment-related post warning) as cystic acne and to some of the bumps as cysts. Yet there's also evidence that "true" cysts don't come to a head. I've had that kind also, though thankfully it's extremely rare and hasn't happened in years. Those cysts tend to be smaller as they don't really get inflamed, and they hang around for months before disappearing on their own. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Long Weekend in D.C.

Xu Bing's Monkeys Grasp for the Moon

For the Memorial Day weekend, I visited my younger sister, W, in the Washington, D.C. area. W graduated with her master's degree last year, and now lives and works in the D.C. suburbs. We had a wonderful time! I'd been to D.C. before, so we didn't feel any pressure to go out and see too many things, just wandered through D.C., Georgetown, and the Old Town area of Alexandria. We also saw LP in concert, and she was fantastic. (I think people are most likely to know her from one of her songs having recently been in Orange is the New Black, but I hadn't watched that season and her music was new to me before I went to the concert.)

We splurged on one fancy meal, at 1789 in Georgetown. I really enjoyed the food, and the restaurant is located in a cool historical house. Pictured above is the foie gras dish (a dainty but satisfying portion - looks bigger in the photo than it actually was!) and the duck, both of which were delicious. The plates were all beautifully composed, and they make good use of seasonal vegetables. (I had a burrata dish, not pictured, where asparagus and peas were the highlight of the dish, and I don't usually especially like either vegetable.)

Follow the link for a few more photos, from some of the Smithsonian museums, and restaurant recommendations!