Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Complicity and Discriminatory Workplaces

via Unsplash

With all the recent discussions about employment discrimination and racism in media and journalism, including at Bon Appetit and Refinery29, I've become troubled by one particular question: To what extent can a person fairly be considered complicit in a discriminatory system in which they have no, or minimal, power? It's a question I've been thinking about when I see Asian-American women writers around my age respond to recent conversations about racial discrimination at certain publications. 

This question first occurred to me when I saw Christina Chaey's post on Instagram about Bon Appetit (she was one of the nonwhite employees featured semi-regularly on their YouTube channel without extra compensation for appearing in videos). In it, she apologizes for her "complicity in a system that made me feel lucky that I got a seat at their table," explaining that she "hold[s] [her]self responsible for not doing more to support my BPOC colleagues past and present." She then goes on to state that "I've been complicit in - and at times have contributed to - the toxic white culture these men [Adam Rapoport, former Editor in Chief of Bon Appetit ("BA"), and Matt Duckor, former head of video at Conde Nast, both of whom have now resigned due to past racist behavior documented on their personal social media] and many others have cultivated at BA. Like so many Asian Americans given some level of power and voice within predominantly white institutions, I haven't checked a system I benefited from at the expense of other BPOC colleagues."

By her own account, Ms. Chaey has not been given a raise or promotion since she was hired in 2017 as an associate editor at BA for a salary of $68,000. In other words, it does not appear she had any real power within the company.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Social Distancing Life Lately: 17 Weeks

Homemade okonomiyaki, made by yours truly.

K and I are now in our seventeenth week of fairly strict social distancing. We continue to avoid leaving our apartment building, except for essential trips to the grocery store or pharmacy. At this point, most people living here would consider our behavior excessively cautious, given that the data suggests NYC has had COVID-19 well-controlled for weeks now. NYC is technically now in Phase Three of reopening. But, in actual practice, life for us - and for most of our friends in the city - still looks fairly similar to when we were on a full government-mandated shutdown. Most of our friends aren't ready to socialize yet, even outdoors. 

It appears that most larger offices in NYC - including in biglaw - have yet to fully reopen or require most employees to return to working on-site, even though that was technically allowed back in Phase Two. Originally, indoor dining with new social distancing precautions was supposed to be allowed in NYC during Phase Three, but that's been retracted because indoor dining seemed to contribute to increased COVID cases in other states. In any case, K and I would not have been comfortable dining indoors at restaurants anytime soon.

Because my workplace is extremely small, with slightly less than 20 employees total, we're currently scheduled to reopen the office next week. I haven't received guidance yet on whether attorneys should expect to return full-time, or only part-time. Assuming that our office reopening happens on schedule - because COVID-19 data for NYC and New York state suggests we've continued to keep the number of new cases and hospitalizations under control for quite some time now, I see no reason why it wouldn't - I'll have been away from the office for just over four months. When I left for my lengthy - and soon to be disrupted - international business trip in early March, I had no idea what was coming.

K and I have been incredibly privileged to be able to work from home all this time, with no disruptions yet to our job security or income. I do think that the other shoe has yet to drop when it comes to COVID-19's financial impact on our industry. But for the time being, biglaw firms seem to have stopped announcing sweeping salary cuts, furloughs, and layoffs. (Some firms may be doing these things secretly and on a smaller scale, without sending firm-wide announcement emails.)  I'll continue to make $350/month in charitable donations for the time being.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

June 2020 Shopping Reflections

It may be a bit presumptuous to post my June 2020 monthly shopping post now, with so many days left in the month. But I'm also quite confident that no other purchases are forthcoming in the next few days! It's almost a pity too, because I've been learning about so many great Black-owned clothing and accessories companies that do such incredibly beautiful work, but I'm just not in the frame of mind to buy much for myself right now.

In the last week or two, I've suddenly started feeling much more well-adjusted about our continued period of fairly strict social distancing. Admittedly, K and I are probably... excessively paranoid about COVID-19, especially now that NYC has turned back the curve so well and the danger is significantly reduced compared to when the shutdowns started. For the foreseeable future, we expect to continue sticking to largely the same practices, avoiding public transit and staying home except for essential trips to the grocery store and pharmacy, which we currently do approximately once every three weeks. In between those trips, we typically order from Southeast Asian Food Group, a restaurant supplier that now does home deliveries within NYC (they sell fresh produce, but no fresh meat).

Now that NYC is in Phase Two of reopening, I may need to start returning to the office at least part-time starting in July, but that's probably the only big change I expect to our social distancing practices before fall. I'll plan to wear a face mask at basically all times during my walking commute and once I'm at work, except maybe when I'm alone in my office with the door shut. I think that will pretty much be a legal requirement, actually, under New York state's reopening rules. 

I understand that K and I may be outliers with our continued adherence to strict social distancing. (I follow a NYC-based emergency room physician on Instagram who was on the front lines of the pandemic, and who is fairly cautious. Even he's started socializing recently, though only after being tested for COVID antibodies.) Being this extreme about staying home is probably only possible because we don't have children, are privileged to have been able to work entirely from home until now, and already tended to be homebodies on weekends before this all started. Then again, pretty much all our close friends still in NYC are somewhat similar, none of them have any intention of socializing - even outdoors - in the near future. 

My worries in May about my job security ended up being a mostly false alarm, even though the non-COVID disruptions to our business were significant. I do think the other shoe has yet to drop for the biglaw industry as a whole when it comes to the impact of this recession, and that could affect my workplace too. Let's just say I'm definitely not holding out hope for a year-end bonus. And I wouldn't be shocked if there was a salary cut at some point, though it's not looking too likely in the near future. Overall, I would say I'm reasonably confident I won't see any disruptions to my job or salary through the end of July.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

All the uncertainty about the economy, and about possible future shutdowns or a "second wave" of COVID-19 in NYC, seems to now (finally!) be having a chilling effect on my willingness to browse for and buy clothing and accessories. Given my extremely robust shopping history, I can't say for sure that this current low-shopping period will last indefinitely, but it's not showing any signs of letting up for now. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $57.42)
  • Jasmine Chong "Ella" Scrunchie, lavender - $57.42 (including shipping and tax) - This is totally another sort-of-impulsive purchase of a category of item I would likely never have contemplated before the shutdowns, much like the matching loungewear set and the sweater too chunky to be practical for me. I don't think I've worn a scrunchie since I was in elementary school! And I was, I'll admit, somewhat inspired to get this specifically because of how it would look on Zoom or other video calls. This scrunchie is designed to be large and dramatic, and I've been wearing it with a high, jaunty ponytail so that the scrunchie peeks out from behind the top of my head. (I have thick hair, so I use another hair tie to secure the ponytail first, before putting this fancy one on. I don't want to accidentally break the elastic!) This is definitely on the expensive side for a hair accessory, but I think the $50 retail price is fair because it's handmade from silk organza by Jasmine's team in NYC, and they've sewn in these lovely little pleats that must be labor-intensive and are also fairly unique, as far as details on designer scrunchies go. In fact, at $50 before shipping and tax, the Ella is actually even... sort of on the affordable end, compared to its direct competitors. Among other things, the Net-a-Porter sale has many fancy scrunchies discounted to a similar price point, including a vaguely similar dramatically large white silk organza one in white and an intensely ruffled, carnation-like scrunchie in pink or green silk, and Sophie Buhai silk scrunchies start at $120 retail. Some similar competitor products are also linked in the Shopstyle widget below. 

Have things reopened where you are? How have you been adjusting your household's approach to social distancing, if at all, as places start reopening? Have you bought any clothing or accessories almost solely because of how they'll look on Zoom? I'm also always looking for more recommendations for additional Black-owned businesses or Black creators and artists to support! 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Checking In (And Some Thoughts on Charitable Giving and Due Diligence)

via Unsplash

I'm checking in with a few updates about my ongoing efforts to take concrete action against anti-Black racism and police violence.

First, my workplace may participate in pro bono projects related to the legal fight against police violence. I am eager for the opportunity to contribute. But my excitement to do this work is also tempered by my knowledge about how slowly the legal system moves in general (all my active court matters have been pending well over 18 months, and the prospect of any sort of satisfaction within the next 12 months are slim, if not impossible) and about how the odds are stacked against these efforts specifically (many people have discussed qualified immunity, including John Oliver's Last Week Tonight at around the 20 minute mark here; if I remember correctly from my clerkship - cases alleging police violence and abuse of prisoners are a significant percentage of many federal dockets -  that is only one of many significant obstacles to legal success).

Second, I'm not currently in the mood for much fashion-related shopping for myself, but I've been keeping a list of additional Black designers and Black-owned companies that fit my general tastes and price point. I'll need to put together a dedicated page for these, to make my recommendations easy to find and keep track of! In addition to my list from June 4, I'm also following some additional companies for potential future purchases:
  • Aliya Wanek - Clothing made to order or made in small batches in the California Bay Area. 
  • Third Crown - Jewelry company based in NYC. I like their bracelets!
  • Isobel and Cleo - Offering handmade knitwear and a selection of other products. 
  • Kemi Telford - Clothing, mostly made from beautiful, colorful printed cotton fabric. Based in the UK. 

Third, you may be aware that one of the bail funds I donated to recently, the Minnesota Freedom Fund ("MNFF"), came under some criticism gone viral on Twitter and other social media last week for only having spent ~$200,000 of the more than $20 million they've raised since late May. I believe it's well-documented that some of the initial viral tweets questioning MNFF came from known right-wing trolls, who were likely acting in bad faith. 

It's natural to have questions about how MNFF plans to use the money they've raised. As I noted on June 1, MNFF had already disclosed that they'd raised $20 million, several orders of magnitude more than they'd ever previously raised in a single year. By then, they were already practically begging people to donate elsewhere. But I understand they continued to receive further donations, for a total of ~$30 million.

I certainly didn't expect then to spend all $20 or $30 million in just two weeks. That's an unreasonable expectation. I also wouldn't expect them to share "receipts" about everyone they've bailed out. In my experience, such documents may perhaps be publicly accessible court records. But it'd be harmful to the community members they assist to wave around those records willy-nilly on social media, even in redacted form. (As an attorney, my name is on various public court documents, albeit mostly on behalf of clients, not in my personal capacity. But I'd still not enjoy it if people drew undue attention to those public records. And none of them have the stigmatizing effect of being associated with arrest or possible criminal charges.) 

Given these events and another recent news story about donations being sent to the wrong Black Lives Matter entity, I thought it might be good for me to explain some of my thought process when choosing entities to donate to for anti-racism and Black lives matter-related work. I refrained from sharing my thoughts earlier because I didn't want to give the impression that I thought my choice to favor mostly smaller, more grassroots efforts - over the well-established national entities like the NAACP LDF or Equal Justice Initiative, which also do important work - was better or more legitimate than anyone else's choices in this area. Plus, while I do some internet research-based due diligence before making a donation of any size (I gave $50 or less per organization, so I could spread my ~$350 across a large number of groups), I know I don't have enough knowledge or expertise for my donation to represent an actual endorsement. I don't know if any of these groups are the best and most effective at what they do. 

To be abundantly clear, I do not see any reason at this time to believe there is anything illegitimate or untoward happening with the MNFF donations. Admittedly, while I am an attorney (but not your attorney, and nothing in this blog should ever be construed a legal advice or the formation of an attorney-client relationship), I do not have any specific knowledge about either the laws governing nonprofits (whether federally or under Minnesota state law) or about any state or locality's bail system.* 

When I did my preliminary research into MNFF before making my donation on the late evening of May 29, and when I continued to follow their public statements afterwards, I saw many things that made me confident they were a credible organization. It was clear from MNFF's website that they were reasonably well-established, and had been paying bail for several years. I was aware their original mission included paying immigration bail, and this was perfectly fine by me. My first experience with charitable giving and bail was in relation to immigrant family detention under the Obama administration, as I've alluded to. I find immigration bail just as important and valuable as any other kind.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

May 2020 Shopping Reflections

I originally planned to publish this post on May 29, but it was clear to me that, due to the protests occurring nationwide to rightfully seek justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, it was not an appropriate time to talk about shopping. Instead, I posted about concrete actions I took in order to stand against anti-Black racism and police violence. I have now made the remaining $50 in monetary donations to these causes I promised, bringing my total donations to $354.30. To round out the total, I made a donation to the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, in recognition of the racial disparities in maternal mortality rates in the US, as well as an additional donation to the GoFundMe in support of Breonna Taylor's family.

My words and actions in support of the fight against anti-Black racism will not be meaningful if I do not commit to making it an ongoing, long-term priority. Monetary donations to anti-racist causes and making a conscious effort to support Black-owned businesses and creators will be part of what I write about here, as I've discussed. I'll check in periodically about those efforts.

As public discussions emerge about certain companies that have engaged in particularly egregious employment discrimination against Black employees and other non-white employees, I will try to do what I can as a consumer to promote better practices. Most recently, I will not be watching any more Bon Appetit YouTube videos until they (1) give backpay to many of the non-white employees appearing in their past videos and (2) compensate those employees for their appearances in new videos going forward (see discussions here and here, among many other places). I will be writing to Conde Nast to inform them of this. I should note upfront that my efforts in this area will necessarily be imperfect and incomplete, as employment discrimination is rampant.

Another part of my anti-racism work is continuing to do what I can to promote diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, but how best to do that is... a difficult and complicated question because large swaths of the industry are still an extremely conservative old boys' club. I ultimately lasted less than a full year in biglaw because I could not endure the obvious disparity between the opportunities given to the white male associates in my class year and practice group and the scraps left to the women and nonwhite associates in our class.

* * * * * 

Last month, my brain was still a bit kooky from continued social distancing. My sleep schedule continued to be all over the place and I remained unable to consistently read for fun. I had an occasional day here and there where I could manage a chapter or two, but those days were rare.

For significant portions of May, I wasn't that busy at work, which, for a private sector attorney, can be some cause for concern. Given my background, I tend to always be more paranoid than strictly necessary when it comes to things like potential layoffs, salary cuts, and the like, so I may be starting to worry more about eventual disruptions to my job security and income. Leadership at my workplace was likely not fully anticipating that we wouldn't be back to "business as usual" anytime this summer. (Here in NYC, I also wouldn't personally expect to resume complete "business as usual" by fall.) Furthermore, some additional non COVID-19 related events occurred that would significantly reduce our business for the foreseeable future. It's not the most stable time for me, professionally speaking.

I'm nervous, but also deeply grateful that our household has yet to see any disruptions to our job security and income. If anything should happen, it'll be quite some time before we actually need to worry: K and I are both extremely conservative when it comes to cash savings, and had each independently accumulated emergency funds far exceeding mainstream recommendations of three to six months' living expenses. (My emergency fund takes into account ~$1,600/month in minimum payments for my refinanced student loans. If I made only that minimum payment each month, it would take me four more years to pay off my remaining student loan balance.)

Looking back, I don't think there's anything significant we'd have done differently with our finances in recent years* if we'd known this was coming, except that we've always splurged a bit overmuch on rent. But we're also really appreciating our in-unit laundry now that we try to avoid communal spaces in our building as much as possible. That's a perk we pay maybe ~$100-$150/month extra for, based on my highly nonscientific comparison of prices for comparable units in our neighborhood, with and without in-unit laundry. 

In the past four weeks or so, I seem to have turned a bit of a corner when it comes to my online shopping habits. This time in April, online window-shopping (which then turned into actual shopping) was the only thing I had the mental energy for in the late evenings. It was still bringing me some entertainment and small sparks of joy, however briefly and superficially. Nowadays, online window-shopping is no longer soothing and no longer makes me feel better about the state of the world, however temporarily.

Anyway, I can't guarantee I'll stay away from shopping for the rest of NYC's continuing COVID-19 shutdowns. (Phase one of NYC's reopening began on June 8, but it's very limited.) I'd be satisfied if, in the next few months, I bought an average of, say, one item a month instead of three. And I'd prefer to spend my dollars on items from small businesses as much as possible. I've done okay with that last part, my biggest recent purchases have been from Elizabeth Suzann and Babaa, both small companies. Going forward, I'd also like to make it a priority to support Black-owned small businesses, though I've not yet done so when it comes to fashion purchases. (So far, I've purchased loose leaf tea from Blk & Bold Specialty Beverages and books from The Lit Bar's Bookshop page.)

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

My social distancing experience has been characterized by wild mood swings about all kinds of things, so it's generally difficult to predict how I'll feel and how I'll do things going forward. But since the second half of May, I've been good about staying away from online window-shopping in a way that suggests I might not be buying quite as much clothes and accessories in the foreseeable future as I have in the months since March. Though before I got to that point, I was still doing a lot of shopping in May, as one can see from this month's tally.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $524.74)
  • Elizabeth Suzann Bel skirt, silk crepe, black - $245.00 - This purchase was technically made in late April, the day Elizabeth Suzann ("ES") announced this iteration of the company would close. But I'd already finished writing last month's shopping post, so I'm reporting this as a May purchase. That day, ES took orders for a last set of items they would make - along with March purchases, including mine - once their state government allows them to resume work at their warehouse. ES reached capacity quickly. This was the final item from their current product line that I was still interested in, it'd been pinned to my wish list a long time. It's difficult to predict how this purchase will ultimately turn out, as long and somewhat voluminous skirts don't always suit me because I'm short. (I ordered the size M, short length.) If the Bel skirt ends up not working on me, I understand there's still a robust secondary market for ES, so I'd likely be able to recoup a large percentage of what I spent without too much trouble. 
  • Babaa No. 15 jumper, oak - $208.14 - Between this and April's Babaa purchase (both with the 15% discount code offered through early May), it's probably clear that I'm extremely influenced by the super-stylish Erica. Last time, I ordered an item she'd recently posted, but in a different color. This time, I ordered an exact copy of something she's posted frequently. I swear I'm not being creepy! I just really like her fashion sense... As with the lounge set, the craving for this came out of left field. The combination of intentionally and dramatically oversized design plus super-chunky knit wasn't something I'd ever considered before. But all the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 made me want to wrap myself in a giant sweater at home. The No. 15 is good for that purpose. But I'm not sure how I'll incorporate it into outfits once we're allowed to move about freely outside again: This sweater is so oversized and thick that it doesn't layer well under my coats. I can get the coat on, but then I feel distinctly squished in and like the Michelin Man; there's no extra room under the coat because it's all taken up by the sweater! A few other quirks: With the rustic-feeling yarn, there are little bits of straw one needs to pick out; the itch factor is substantial at first, but gets better within a few wears; and the sweater had a strong lanolin smell when new, which subsided a lot - but not completely - after the first hand-washing (the smell also gets stronger when the sweater is damp). 
  • Lou & Grey Triple Cloth Midi Dress, dark ginger - $71.60 - (sold out) - This dress was another impulsive purchase. I normally don't shop at Lou & Grey - their styles are too casual - but I was browsing their loungewear and was really taken by the color and texture of the fabric, which looked nice in the official photos. As it turns out, the store photography is somewhat misleading as to color, the shade is less bright in real life. The 100% cotton fabric is also thinner than I envisioned. The dress is substantial enough that - under normal circumstances - I'd still wear it out of the house during the summer, as it gets hot and humid enough in NYC that one often reaches for flimsy, thin fabrics. Overall, if these were normal times, I'd probably return this dress. I like it okay, but I don't love it. But while COVID-19 shutdowns are still going strong, I'm treating all items as effectively final sale, I won't trouble anyone with returns. (For anything that truly doesn't work on me, I'd resell later, once things have calmed down.) Because the fabric is so light, this dress is comfortable for lounging at home now that the weather's getting warm, so I can see it getting plenty of use that way. While this dress is sold out, a matching set in the same fabric with a long-sleeved henley top and ankle-length joggers is available in a few colors. These could make for nice summertime loungewear because the fabric is so light. 

And that's it for May's shopping! It's quite a formidable list, all of it accumulated by early May. Time will tell if I'm correct that I'm actually over the "online window-shopping as distraction and comfort" phase of social distancing, for real this time. (I had a false alarm on this in March.)

My lockdown experience has generally been filled with wild mood swings and changes of habit: Just when I think I've settled into a routine at last, things change. First, I can't sleep in because of too much nervous energy - which is sad, because I normally love to sleep in whenever I get half the chance! - but then, all of a sudden, I'm drowsy and completely useless before noon, and then back again. Sometimes I get mild stress-induced tightness in the chest, and then it disappears, rinse and repeat. At first, I'm really optimistic that things can start safely reopening in NYC soon, and then I'm not. In any case, the question of when I'll personally feel safe doing "normal life" things again is a completely separate one.

* Well, if we wanted to look really far back, I probably shouldn't have clerked and set my financial progress back by nearly two years. But that's a complicated topic that implicates questions of long-term career development; the dramatic socioeconomic and "prestige" or school-rank-driven hierarchies in this profession; the inability of law school faculty and staff to give career advice that takes into account financial realities, etc. etc. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Ongoing Acts

via Grandpa Chan (@drawings_for_my_grandchildren

Recently, I have said very little because I continue to believe that now is not the time for voices like mine to be heard. Talk alone is cheap in this context when it comes from someone like me (Asian-American, from a well-to-do demographic of East Asian descent), and it is meaningless without concrete action. And as someone with considerable financial privilege, one of the most powerful ways I can be an ally is by putting my money where my mouth is. 

I have now made an additional $150 in donations to causes related to taking a stand against anti-Black racism and against police violence, with $50 remaining to allocate out of the amount I promised on Monday. In total, I have now donated $304.30 across the following:
  • Minnesota Freedom Fund - Bail fund based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They now encourage people to direct their donations elsewhere, to other related causes.
  • @FreeThemAll2020 - NYC bail fund for protestors. They are no longer taking donations and ask people to direct their donations to other related causes, including COVID Bailout NYC. 
  • Black Visions Collective  - A community group based in Minneapolis. 
  • Lake Street Council - For rebuilding Lake Street in Minneapolis. 
  • COVID Bailout NYC - A general NYC bail fund established in response to the spread of COVID-19 at Rikers Island. 
  • Louisville Community Bail Fund - Bail fund in Louisville, Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor was killed by police. 
  • GoFundMe for the Family of Breonna Taylor - This was established yesterday for Breonna Taylor's family. 
  • GoFundMe for the Family of David McAtee - David McAtee was killed by police during the protests in Louisville last weekend. 
  • Fair Fight - Group started by Stacy Abrams to challenge voter suppression in the US. Voter suppression is rampant in the US, and has been amplified by COVID-19 and by recent curfews.

As various brands and companies respond, one conversation that's being raised is that many of these companies discriminate against minority employees, particularly Black employees. Thus, any public expression of support for Black lives matter by these companies can arguably be seen as empty or hypocritical, given that there's no genuine commitment to racial equality and inclusion even within their own ranks. The tweet below makes the point far better than I can. 

Various companies I patronize are also subject to these discussions, including Refinery29 (also here and here, it's not an isolated thing) and Cha Cha Matcha.* Though I don't read them, Man Repeller (follow up here) also has this issue, as they have a history of not retaining what few Black writers they hire for very long. (The relevant discussions are primarily in the comments sections of those Man Repeller posts.)

No doubt there are many, may other companies that should also take a long, hard look at their employment practices. Don't even get me started on biglaw firms. (It should be noted that they tend not to make public pronouncements about recent events. Any statements they make are likely to remain internal, addressed to employees only, so there are generally no public shows of hypocrisy there, in any case.)

Another important conversation that's happening now is about supporting Black-owned businesses and creators. I'm following @15percentpledge, which calls on major retail chains to devote at least 15% of shelf space in their stores to products from Black-owned companies. I'm also researching Black-owned businesses to support as a customer. (Sources I've used include @buyfrombipoc and various posts on social media, including from Twitter and from the Instagram accounts of some of the brands I've named below. Even Vogue has done something.) Here's my list so far, it's an ongoing project:

  • Blk & Bold Specialty Beverages - Coffee and loose leaf tea. I've ordered some jasmine green tea and passionfruit black tea. (Thanks to Kathy for mentioning them.)  
  • The Lit Bar - Bookstore in the Bronx. Offers online shopping through Bookshop, I've made an order. 
  • Lingua Nigra - Jewelry, based in Chicago. Also on Etsy
  • Omi Woods - Jewelry, based in Toronto. Also on Etsy
  • Two Days Off - Clothing, handmade in Los Angeles and made to order or made in small batches. Current product line is mostly linen clothing. 
  • Sibbotery - Pottery, based in Austin. Shop via Etsy
  • Mateo NY - Primarily jewelry, also some handbags. 

Fighting back against anti-Black racism must be a lifelong, ongoing effort. I believe it requires action in many areas of my life, including by being thoughtful about where and how I shop and in the content I consume, including on social media.

* In light of what I've learned, I will no longer be a customer of or promote Cha Cha Matcha. Thus, I have archived a past Instagram post including them and have revised my previous blog post mentioning them to reflect this.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Additional Actions

Art by Monyee Chau @monyeeart on Twitter (also on Instagram)

ETA 6/5/2020: The original version of this art I posted had, as the primary text, "Yellow Peril Supports Black Power," which comes originally from a photograph dated 1969. The artist has since revised the artwork to the version you see above. She, and others she's spoken to, are of the view that the original phrasing improperly centers certain Asian-American perspectives over the Black voices and perspectives that should be amplified at this time. Out of respect to the artist, I have therefore swapped in the revised version of the art. Please see the artist's explanation here.

At this time, mine is not one of the voices that needs to be amplified or heard. Instead, the best thing I can do is to take action as an ally who stands against anti-Black racism and against police violence. Black lives matter. 

As someone with considerable financial privilege, one of the best ways I can take concrete action now is through monetary donations: In addition to donating to the Minnesota Freedom Fund last Friday (they raised $20 million over the weekend, which is extraordinary!), I have also donated to a NYC-based bail fund, via @FreeThemAll2020 on Twitter. I understand both bail funds have expressed that they currently have enough resources because of all the generous support they've recently received. Both groups now encourage donors to donate elsewhere. (There are other general NYC-based bail funds that are still seeking donations, though they are not focused specifically on the recent protests.) I have also donated to Black Visions Collective in Minnesota and to the Lake Street Council in Minneapolis. My donations to these groups currently total $154.30, and I commit to donating at least another $200 this month to related causes. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

In Light of Recent Events

I stand against anti-Black racism and police violence. In this, Asian-Americans from communities like mine (Taiwanese-Americans in the Bay Area who have generally attained substantial economic privilege) have a unique and particular responsibility to take action against the anti-Black racism that can be pervasive in their communities. I have donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund in support of the protestors in Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

I can recommend a few books that focus on American legal history and the lasting effects of slavery and segregation that continue to be felt in our society today. They can serve as a starting point in becoming educated about the importance of combatting racism: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander; Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; and The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. This is not a comprehensive list of resources, but a suggestion of possible places to begin in order to understand the historical context. 

For me personally, during my time in law school, I also found The Chosen by Jerome Karabel to be highly influential, given that my particular subset of the Asian-American community has a certain... preoccupation with affirmative action and a misplaced belief that it is a form of racism against us. (Gaining a fuller understanding of why that belief was wrong through learning the history of affirmative action was a crucial piece of my personal anti-racism education, though I'm not sure it'd be quite as important to someone from a different background.) 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Link List: Stuck at Home

I haven't done one of these "link list" posts in nearly six months!

This photograph, like others I've shared recently, was taken in more normal times. It's the red snapper with sea mustard pot at ON, which specializes in Korean-style hot pot dishes. I desperately yearn for the day we're finally able to safely eat in at restaurants again.

1. // Refinery29 recently posted a biglaw attorney money diary from someone who appears to be a seventh-year associate and who, based on her stated age, likely went straight from college to law school. Biglaw attorney money diaries probably aren't that interesting to anyone but me, but I can't get enough of them. 

Out of all the biglaw-ish money diaries over the years, this recent one and this 2018 one are the only ones I've thought especially representative of typical law school student loan repayment experiences. Many of the other biglaw diaries are from younger diarists who either claimed to have unusually generous law school scholarships (sizable scholarships like my 1/3 cost of attendance one are not uncommon, but true full-rides are rare) or who apparently finished paying off their loans within two or three years after law school. (Paying off a typical post-law school student loan balance - $160,000 on the low end - in that quick a timeframe is difficult, even for the especially frugal biglaw associate. Four to five years is more common amongst my peers.) This diarist reports that, at 32, she has fully paid off her law school loans, though their household is still paying off her spouse's student loans. 

What isn't as typical here is that the diarist normally lives in NYC (in a one-bedroom for $4,250/month, which is a fair bit more than K and I pay, but isn't too unusual for a one-bedroom in a newer "luxury" building), but has rented a house in the Connecticut suburbs to socially distance in. Based on my experience, that's an outlier choice for a NYC biglaw associate, whether they have a child or not. The only associates I know who left NYC due to COVID-19 - like this diarist, they generally departed well before March 12, more than a week before New York officially shut down - all moved in with their parents. Biglaw attorneys are well-compensated, but not enough to comfortably pay rent for two separate homes simultaneously over several months! 

2. // Apartment Therapy's YouTube channel has a series of videos touring various apartments and other small homes, many of them in NYC. I particularly loved this tour of Ashley Ford's (iSmashFizzle on Twitter) apartment in Brooklyn. She's so cool! And they're such a sweet, absolutely adorable couple.

A lot of the older videos in the series don't quite show the entire living space, particularly for the slightly larger homes. Many kitchens and bathrooms are omitted, or only a small slice of them are shown. But it's still interesting to look at the wide range of decor styles.

3. // I enjoyed the recent NPR Planet Money podcast episode, "J.Screwed" (hah!), about the J.Crew bankruptcy. They focus on the Jenna Lyons period at J.Crew, noting that the brand's profile and "cool factor" rose significantly after Michelle Obama wore J.Crew on The Tonight Show in 2008. That pretty much lines up exactly with when I first became aware of the brand. I found that late 2000s and early 2010s J.Crew aesthetic completely irresistible and super aspirational when I was in college.

I confess, although much of my attorney work experience is focused on complex commercial transactions, I don't actually understand this story very well. I gather that the relevant business story begins with a leveraged buyout of J.Crew by a private equity firm back in 2011, something to that effect, but that's about it. (Attorneys are trained not to claim claim a full understanding of anything until they've analyzed the relevant contracts and other documents, which are typically voluminous and dense reading when it comes to complex commercial matters.)

4. // I also enjoyed Anne Helen Petersen's recent piece about the potential impact of COVID-19 economic disruptions on American consumer culture and about the role of consumer spending in the American economy at large.

Part of why I'm so attached to Marie Kondo's first book is that I credit it with being the primary factor that allowed me to reevaluate my personal relationship with consumerism. I had many other influences in that "journey," but in the end, the biggest single thing that made the change stick was using KonMari method to see that, no, I never again want to accumulate so much stuff I didn't even actually want, or even particularly like, in the first place. This paragraph from Petersen's recent article is a pretty accurate description of how I used to acquire things unthinkingly:
We’re trained to buy often, buy cheap, and buy a lot. And I’m not just talking about food, which everyone has to acquire in some capacity, or clothes. I mean all the other small purchases of daily life: a new face lotion, a houseplant holder, a wine glass name trinket, an office supply organizer, a vegetable spiralizer, a cute set of hand towels, a pair of nicer sunglasses, a pair of sports sunglasses, a pair of throwaway sunglasses. The stuff, in other words, that you don’t even know that you want until it somehow finds its way to your cart at Target or T.J. Maxx.
Up through 2015, I was definitely no stranger to the random T.J.Maxx knickknacks that somehow got added to the shopping basket, in addition to the towels or cutting board I was actually looking for.

And that's it for today's link list post. Have you been reading any particularly good online articles or watching any interesting YouTube videos recently? 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Social Distancing Life Lately: 10 Weeks

Beef shank tomato noodle soup from a local company, Eat Nomz. They sell frozen soups, with noodles on the side,  for ~$10 to $12/serving, roughly the price of my Sweetgreen lunches. They ship by courier within Manhattan and also ship soups (but no noodles) to a few nearby states. We tried pork and lotus root, beef shank tomato, and brisket radish, and enjoyed all three. I first heard about them years ago from Eva Chen.

How are you doing? Has your state or local government started lifting COVID-19 restrictions? I hope that you and your families are well. K and I are doing just fine, and our families continue to be in good health. Starting next month, I might start feeling nervous about potential salary cuts or furloughs at my workplace, because it's becoming clear that we probably can't return to "business as usual" anytime this summer. Still, I've been extremely fortunate that I've yet to see any disruptions to my job security or income.

This month, I made $350 in total donations to the Food Bank for New York City and World Central Kitchen. I plan to continue making some donations until NYC is fully reopened, or until I see large disruptions to my income (whichever comes first). Though as I start getting nervous about possible salary cuts or furloughs and whether I need to further adjust my money management to account for that, I might no longer commit to donating the same amount every month.

I also expect to start shopping less. After a handful of impulsive "last hurrah" purchases between when I drafted my previous monthly shopping post (a few days ahead of posting) and the first week of May - including an additional Elizabeth Suzann item when they announced the closing of this iteration of the company - I've been much better about not shopping. It's hard for me to absolutely guarantee I'll stay away, given the sheer number of unpredictable mood swings I've had about all kinds of things during this time of fairly strict social distancing. But I seem to be getting to a point where online window-shopping is no longer able to make me feel better - even temporarily - about the pandemic, the way it used to. 

Reopening in New York

New York has laid out a fairly detailed phased reopening plan. A few regions of the state have hit the metrics required to begin Phase One of reopening, but NYC is - unsurprisingly - not among them. Phase One only allows limited industries to reopen: construction, manufacturing, wholesale, and select retail for curbside pickup. (Though I should note that "essential" construction - including several residential construction projects in my neighborhood - had previously remained open under the On PAUSE shutdown orders.) 

Professional services, including legal services, are not slated for partial reopening until Phase Two, so the absolute earliest I could start returning to the office - likely on a limited basis - is probably late June. (Though honestly, I'd be surprised if NYC was allowed to proceed to Phase Two by then.) Any initial reopening would not be a full one, it would involve many precautions and new policies to facilitate social distancing, likely including having a large percentage of the workforce working from home at any given time. Anecdotally, many biglaw firms in NYC have given employees indications that the firms don't expect a significant number of attorneys and staff to return to the office anytime this summer.

Monday, May 11, 2020

About the Alison Roman Thing...


By now you've probably heard that Alison Roman recently did an interview where she said some rather unkind things about Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo. Among other things, Chrissy Teigen was originally going to be an executive producer on a television show that Roman had signed on to do. (No official word yet on whether recent events have put an end to that.)

About Chrissy Teigen, Roman had this to say:
Like, what Chrissy Teigen has done is so crazy to me. She had a successful cookbook. And then it was like: Boom, line at Target. Boom, now she has an Instagram page that has over a million followers where it’s just, like, people running a content farm for her. That horrifies me and it’s not something that I ever want to do. I don’t aspire to that. But like, who’s laughing now? Because she’s making a ton of fucking money.
Roman's tone was quite vicious as to Marie Kondo, who isn't even a direct competitor to Roman in the food writing and cooking space, which makes this turn even more bizarre to me: 
Like the idea that when Marie Kondo decided to capitalize on her fame and make stuff that you can buy, that is completely antithetical to everything she’s ever taught you… I’m like, damn, bitch, you fucking just sold out immediately! Someone’s like “you should make stuff,” and she’s like, “okay, slap my name on it, I don’t give a shit!”  
That’s the thing — you don’t need a ton of equipment in your kitchen to make great food. “For the low, low price of $19.99, please to buy my cutting board!” Like, no. Find the stuff that you love and buy it. Support businesses and makers. It feels greedy. Unless something just simply didn’t exist that I wish existed, but that would make an inventor, which I’m not. 
There's been some confusion about the "please to buy" wording and why it was there. It was also briefly edited out of the interview by the publisher, but then replaced (see the editor's note at the end of the interview). Roman herself indicated it was not a typo, and claims it was an inside joke about a cookbook titled Please to the Table. 

This is all happening, by the way, in the context of an interview where Roman promotes an upcoming product tie-in that she herself is doing: 
I have a collaboration coming out with [the cookware startup] Material, a capsule collection. It’s limited edition, a few tools that I designed that are based on tools that I use that aren’t in production anywhere — vintage spoons and very specific things that are one-offs that I found at antique markets that they have made for me.
So, you know, on top of all the other issues, there's a distinct lack of self-awareness. And by the way, this is what Roman said when Gwyneth Paltrow's "Goop" brand was brought up by the interviewer in the same interview:
And I do sort of have ambitions to figure out how to channel everything into a site. But I’m really sensitive to oversaturation, again. And does the world need another Goop? It also requires so much money that I would have to take from people that I don’t know. 
Oh and Roman says that she singled out Teigen and Kondo, and not any male chef with a mega-brand and various licensed products (despite the existence of the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, and so on) because: 
I didn't "slam" them, but I don't think that anyone should be impervious to critique re: capitalism. I didn't mention any men because there aren't any doing anything I find comparable, so

So yeah, big yikes all around. I found this Twitter thread to be the most complete accounting of why I found Alison Roman's interview so upsetting and why racism is likely at least part of why she singled out Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo, as opposed to someone like Ree Drummond or Rachael Ray.

This incident has also inspired discussions about larger issues with some of Roman's recipes and how she approaches ingredients and recipe inspirations from non-Western cultures. I thought this article did a good job explaining that angle. 

Longtime readers might know that I'm kind of a die-hard Marie Kondo fan, all the way back to January 2015. As such a huge fan, I naturally get quite upset about wrongheaded and racist criticisms of Kondo and her ideas. Remember that hullaballoo last year right after her Netflix show premiered, which included the extraordinarily spurious claim that she apparently wanted all of humanity to limit themselves to the ownership of 30 books at the absolute maximum? (That particular claim had no basis in her actual writing or anything she actually said on her Netflix show.) Around that time, there were also instances of rather explicit racism and xenophobia in some of the criticisms of Kondo's show.

There are so many things wrong with what Alison Roman said about Marie Kondo that it's difficult to know where to start unpacking it all. That I was able to learn about and become interested in Marie Kondo's first book all the way back in January 2015, after reading a New York Times profile of her that had been published way back in October 2014, certainly shows that the growth of Kondo's brand did not happen overnight. (This was years before her Netflix show eventually debuted in January 2019, and before "The Shop at KonMari" opened on her website in November 2019.) Roman's accusation that Kondo "[expletive redacted] just sold out immediately" clearly has no basis.

Plus, it's really quite obvious that, whatever else one might feel about it, the official Marie Kondo shop offers an extremely curated set of products. Given the current selection at the shop, it's probably also clear that there will likely never be a $19.99 cutting board sold there. (A carefully-selected $199 cutting board might be more consistent with the kitchen products currently stocked.)

ETA 5/12/20: Approximately 14 hours after I published this post, Alison Roman issued a new apology on Twitter and Instagram, addressing both Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo, unlike her initial attempt at an apology on Friday night, which only addressed Teigen (and only after it became clear that Teigen was one of the executive producers for Roman's upcoming show). I believe this apology meets a minimum bar of professionalism that was not apparent in Roman's initial reactions on Friday. The new apology is also close to comprehensive in that it at least tries to address how (1) she chose to call out two Asian women in a space filled with white women and white men with larger, more longstanding product lines and (2) her use of ingredients and inspirations from non-Western cultures. A cynical person's interpretation would be that while Roman professed to not have a "communications person" before, she's almost certainly working with one now.

It's hard for me to accept this apology as particularly sincere, given how unprofessional Roman's initial handling of this situation was, but well, I had never actually bought anything of hers before - only watched some of her YouTube videos and used her cookie recipe from online - and I will probably not be buying anything of hers in the foreseeable future. The real test is whether she changes her behavior going forward. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Blog Thoughts, Year Five

via Unsplash

Now here's a post that's several months late! Invincible Summer is now over five years old. As in past years, I continue to be deeply grateful to all of you for reading here, and for everyone who chimes in to discussions with me in the comments section. Writing here continues to be a delight, though in recent months, I have not had much time or energy for it, with all that was going on at the office. And with COVID-19 and the resulting worldwide shutdowns, it's become particularly difficult to know what to say here, especially because this blog is really mostly about shopping, something entirely unimportant in light of everything that's happening. 

Today's post will be considerably more succinct than my typical "blogiversary" post. (See my posts for previous years here.) It's really just a report on last year's blog-related income, and an update on how my blog-related income is likely to look in the months going forward. Spoiler alert, the numbers I'm talking about will not be especially large, and will probably continue to shrink in the foreseeable future, now that I'm updating the blog much less often than before.

Before jumping in to the numbers, a quick note about taxes. As far as I can tell when inputting the relevant numbers into Turbotax each year, I pay my marginal tax rate of more than ~40% on my blog-related income, which I continue to report on a Schedule C-EZ. To date, I still have not made enough from this blog in one year from any single source to receive any 1099s for blog-related income. (This is not to be taken as legal advice about the tax implications of blog-related income.)

Please follow the link below for a detailed 2019 blog income reportThank you again for your support of Invincible Summer all this time!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Social Distancing Life Lately: Eight Weeks

Another photograph from a very different time.

How are you and your loved ones doing? This marks our household's eighth week of fairly strict social distancing. We, and our families, continue to be in good health. K and I have actually shifted to leaving our apartment building only once every three weeks for a big grocery run, though this is only possible because we supplement with some kind of grocery delivery order towards the end of the second week. That delivery tends to include at least some items we can't get at Trader Joe's, as well as some additional fresh produce. (We tip well whenever we use a delivery service, of course.)

We continue to be extremely fortunate, with the ability to work entirely from home, at least until the New York "On PAUSE" order lifts, and no disruptions to our income as of yet. (I would not bet money on the shutdown order lifting for NYC until May 31 or later.) While things remain stable for me in terms of work and income, I'll continue to make at least $350 in total charitable donations this month, mostly to the Food Bank for New York City and World Central Kitchen

Budgeting Lessons  

As Luxe observed on Instagram, one unintended side effect of the COVID-19 shutdowns is that, with restaurant outings and travel basically completely off the table - among many other discretionary things - one might be in a position to examine what one's bare-bones budget could look like. That's certainly been true for our household. 

Back before all the shutdowns started, K and I basically only ever cooked two to three meals a week at home, everything else was done via takeout, including all our weekday lunches at work (I was an excellent and loyal customer of Sweetgreen, let's just say), or via restaurant delivery whenever we weren't going out to eat. I've long been very sheepish about our dining practices - it was an incredibly expensive lifestyle - but while we were both spending so many hours at the office working our biglaw (and in my case, biglaw-ish) jobs, things simply were not going to change. 

Naturally, our food spending has now dropped precipitously. Going by the past two months, around $580/month in groceries will feed our household of two comfortably while the "On PAUSE" shutdown order remains in effect and we're cooking every meal at home. If our primary neighborhood grocery store wasn't a Trader Joe's - one of the more affordable grocery chains in the city - our monthly food budget would probably be significantly higher.

On this budget, we are definitely not eating frugally: We have one meal containing meat or fish most days; we eat a fair bit of packaged snacks and frozen foods; I like more expensive fruit such as berries; and it also includes indulgences here and there, such as some fancy cheese and charcuterie. Under more ordinary conditions, I could probably also get that number down a bit further by utilizing delivery services less often and having access to Chinese grocery stores that require public transit to get to.

The other major category where our spending's been cut significantly is travel, both for vacations and also for routine use of public transit (a 30-day unlimited-use NYC Metrocard, which covers the subway and public buses, currently costs $127; many workplaces offer a benefit where employees can obtain theirs using pre-tax dollars) and cabs or ride-share services. We were originally planning to go on vacation to Japan and Taiwan in the first half of April, but hadn't yet incurred any of the costs, except for airfare. After getting our full refund from EVA Airways, which was fairly painless, that's an entire set of significant expenses that have now been postponed indefinitely.

As you can probably guess, one category of personal discretionary spending that has definitely not gone down for me is shopping for clothing and accessories. I'm quite sheepish about this. I do, at least, consider any purchase I make in this period to be effectively final sale. I will not be troubling anyone with returns and return shipments during this time. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

April 2020 Shopping Reflections

I feel like my brain's starting to go a little kooky from all this social distancing. My sleep schedule has been all over the place, and I continue to be unable to focus enough to actually read most of the books and ebooks I currently have access to. I'm currently a little busy at work, billing a very ordinary six to seven hours most weekdays, but that manages to leave me completely exhausted. (Whereas, in the weeks immediately before NYC started to shut down, I barely used to blink an eye at regularly billing nine or ten hours a day, those were "slow" days for me.) In the late evenings - I sleep very late these days, typically well past 1:00 A.M. - I often find myself utterly incapable of doing anything more mentally taxing than mindlessly browsing online, which can lead to copious online window-shopping. 

I've even found myself badly missing the office! Back before the COVID-19 shutdowns, I thought my ideal arrangement as to work-from-home flexibility would be one where I had basically infinite discretion to work-from-home - on days where there weren't important client meetings or court appearances, obviously - and exercised it at least once a week, possibly a little more often. These days, I've come to appreciate the value of time spent at the office a lot more, and the attendant feeling of having some separation between "work" and "home," even if, as a biglaw-ish litigator, it's impossible to completely avoid needing to get some work done from home sometimes. I've found that having our apartment be my only available workspace makes it more difficult to relax during my downtime. 

But that's just me fussing about small, unimportant things. I continue to be deeply grateful that K and I are able to fully work from home while the New York state shutdown orders persist and that our family and friends have been in good health. 

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

Among the ways in which my brain is starting to get a little kooky from all this staying indoors is that, shopping-wise, I'm starting to crave new categories of items I would never otherwise think about. And I end up giving in to these newly manufactured "wants" a fair bit, with so little to distract me, particularly in the late evenings when I do most of my online window-shopping. This phenomenon accounts for all of this month's purchases. (In other words, my prediction from last month proved incorrect, I'm not particularly "back to normal" when it comes to my online shopping habits.) 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $377.96)
  • Babaa Merino Wool Set - $322.96 
    • Babaa Jumper No. 25, seaside - Until we started social distancing and staying home, I had never, in my life, had a particular interest in matching loungewear sets. But this month, I couldn't help but continually seek them out online, eventually choosing this very fancy merino wool set from Instagram-famous slow fashion knitwear brand Babaa. The decision was helped along by a 15% off discount code they were running while order processing and shipping speeds were delayed by COVID-19. (I believe the discount is still running as of today, enter the code SPREADLOVE at checkout.) And yes, I was also inspired by Erica, a.k.a. ahistoryofarchitecture
    • Babaa Trousers No. 25, seaside - Each piece of the Babaa merino set comes in only one size. Both the jumper and trousers are quite stretchy, especially the trousers. On my 5'3'', roughly 37''-27''-38'' frame - with shorter-than-average legs for my height and a more "regular" than "petite"-sizing torso - I find the jumper a comfortable, "just right" fit, a little loose in the body the way I prefer, and the trousers quite roomy and relaxed through the hips and legs. There's also a fair bit of extra length in the trousers on me, which isn't a problem because of the cuffed hems; in order to get a fit on those that looks like it does on the 5'8.5'' (174 cm) model in the Babaa store photos, I need to hike up the super-stretchy, super-soft waistband almost an inch above my bellybutton. I thought there was a very slight itch factor when I first started wearing this set, though it's now subsided after a moderate amount of wear this month and two rounds of handwashing. 
  • Cosabella Never Say Never Curvy Sweetie Bralette, black - $55.00 - As a busty person who typically considers an underwire and padding to be non-negotiable features, I would have said that I would never, ever be interested in even trying on a bralette, much less actually spending money on one. Yet somehow, after more than a month of strict social distancing, here we are. Frankly, I'm not quite sure what I was thinking when I first browsed for and eventually ordered this. I don't find any bralette in my general size range - and there really aren't many out there, I think Cosabella's "curvy" line may basically be it - particularly cute, and that includes this design. (If I had a completely different body shape, my ideal bralette would have super-skinny straps and wispy lace details meant to peek out under clothes, something like the Free People Adella, but that was never meant to be.) I was pleasantly surprised by this item, it fits well enough and provides almost enough support that it might - almost - make me reconsider my previous stance on underwires and padding. (In full disclosure, however, I don't think I'll ultimately change my mind; I may only end up wearing this while relaxing at home.) Their size chart appears accurate: Going by the chart, I could pick either the size S or M. Reviews from past customers who provided at least some of their body measurements suggested it made sense to pick the smaller of two potentially workable sizes, and indeed, I found the S to fit well. When I first tried it on, I found the spot in the back where the tag is sewn in to be almost unbearably itchy, but after one wash, I didn't have any further issues. 

The curve may be starting to flatten here in New York, so there's a possibility that some restrictions may be lifted slowly, in phases, after May 15. But it's likely that high-density areas like NYC will not be among the first to see any changes to the current shutdown orders, which totally makes sense. So I expect that K and I will continue staying indoors - except for a single grocery trip once every two weeks  - through the end of May, and most likely for some time after that. 

How are you and your family doing? I hope that you and your loved ones are well, as much as we can be, in these strange times. Are government officials starting to send signals about lifting some of the shutdown orders and restrictions where you are? 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Social Distancing Life Lately: Six Weeks On

A photograph from a different time: I took this while my mom, my sister, and I were visiting The Vessel at Hudson Yards last December. 

How are you all doing? K and I are now in our sixth week of fairly strict social distancing - we only leave our apartment building approximately once every two weeks for groceries - after officially starting to hunker down and stay in on March 13, the day after my surprise return from my business trip. We're still doing well, with nothing new to report as of yet, on either the health or personal finance management front (which makes both of us incredibly lucky, I know).

Legal Industry News

Law firms, including a few biglaw firms, have started reacting to new market conditions far more quickly than I initially expected. By late March, a number of biglaw firms had already started cutting attorney salaries, for both partners and associates. Many other firms have since followed suit. Associate salary cuts of up to 20 to 25% are not uncommon at the firms that have announced attorney salary cuts. As of yet, it appears that relatively few biglaw firms have engaged in widespread associate layoffs to an extent that quickly gets leaked to Above the Law and becomes public knowledge. Though there have been reports of furloughs, sometimes only for non-attorney staff and sometimes including attorneys. To my knowledge, this industry shift towards using salary cuts as an alternative to attorney layoffs is unprecedented: I'm not aware of any similar salary cuts for actively working associates around the 2008 crash.

Overall, things are looking okay-ish in the short term for all of my friends in the industry. It must, however, be absolutely terrifying to be a law student right now, as there's considerably more uncertainty surrounding summer associate programs - the primary path to a full-time, entry-level biglaw associate job, and the best route to paying ~$200,000 in student loans at a reasonably quick pace  - than around current associate job security.

Personal Finance Management and Related Plans

As for me, I continue to be extremely fortunate. My current workplace is so small and specialized that larger industry trends, including in biglaw, aren't predictive of how the new market downturn will affect us. I now have reason to be somewhat confident that my job and current salary will be secure through the end of May, maybe through the first week or two of June. Afterwards, it becomes much harder to predict, as there's quite a bit of work on our existing matters that we won't be able to do while international travel restrictions and various US state shutdown orders remain in place.

These days, I feel acutely that with great financial privilege comes great responsibility to do what I can to help others in these trying times. Admittedly, my efforts are modest: $400 in total donations so far to the Food Bank for New York City and World Central Kitchen, and $50 here and there to various local small businesses I'm fond of, including my hair salon and the barista relief funds at two independent coffee shops I used to frequent. I plan to maintain a similar rate of donations while COVID-19 shutdowns continue, so long as I'm still working without significant disruptions to my income.

K and I are extraordinarily lucky in that we are both able to fully work from home, and have yet to see any major disruptions to our income or job security. Though there are still a few major expenditures for our household for which the landscape has changed considerably due to COVID-19.