Malia Obama College Watch(TM)


Holy shit YOU GUYS, Malia Obama is a high-school senior. WHERE DID THE TIME GO? It seems like yesterday she was going apeshit over Nick Jonas as he and his virginity-pledge-taking brothers squeakily-cleanly played the President’s first inauguration. Now she’s an awesome, beautiful, likely brilliant teen who interns on Girls (I can’t believe she’s allowed to WATCH GIRLS!!!! DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS ON THAT SHOW BARACK?), and Nick Jonas has a smoldering Timberlake-esque solo career and appears — noticeably bereft of virginity ring — in explicit sex scenes.

As a higher-ed watcher (slash “critic” slash “journalist”), I am openly obsessed with Malia’s imminent college-application process, which already promises to be substantially more gripping than the increasingly ridiculous contest ‘twixt the doofuses trying to replace her father. To me, the choice of college for a high-achieving college-bound individual is intensely personal, and the first truly substantive autonomous expression of a young adult’s burgeoning identity. (Or at least, it should be.) Since POTUS and FLOTUS have understandably kept Malia and Sasha as sheltered from media attention as possible, Malia’s choice of college is basically her coming-out party. And for the Leslie-Knope-style Michelle/Malia/Sasha-obsessed woman of a certain age (AHEM), it’s THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT WILL HAPPEN IN 2016. (My book, Schadenfreude A Love Story, might come out in 2016, and still stand by this choice.)


Here is an extremely scientific overview of several of her top choices. Malia Obama College Watch(TM) may or may not be a recurring feature on the blog, depending near-entirely on my daughter’s level of bananas-dom.


Six Californias

LIKELIHOOD: Moderate. First Daughter College Watchers already threw a minor fit when Malia was seen riding her bicycle wearing a t-shirt adorned with the logo of Chelsea Clinton’s (and my parents’) alma mater, the Ayn Rand School of Glorified TED Talks.

PROS: Secret Service already knows exactly what kind Hawaiian shirt makes the most believable Stanfurd bro camouflage.

CONS: Two words: Hoover Institution. Also: Tech bubble may burst, meaning hundreds of newly-indigent former startup millionaires will “disrupt” Malia’s daily commute, to beg her for enough venture capital to buy new hemp ropes for their feral pit bulls. Also: way too close to way too many people who are way to into Burning Man.

ALTERNATIVE: If Malia is serious about applying to “at least one top-ranked public university,” as the New York Times reports, that university is almost certainly UC-Berkeley, Stanford’s archrival. Such a high-profile matriculant might force the UC administration to start attempting to staunch the decades-long budget hemorrhage. Eh, probably not.

BONUS: For a big state school, Cal is about as nerdy, socially-conscious, and serious-minded as you can get, so Malia is unlikely to morph into a selfie-snapping, dress-code-obsessing, flatiron-addicted, pre-gaming kegger enthusiast if she attends.


CONTENDER: Princeton


LIKELIHOOD: Medium-high. Princeton is Michelle Obama’s alma mater; Malia has been seen enthusiastically cheering on the women’s basketball team, on which her cousin plays.

PROS: Wearing school colors will make Tracy Jordan confused as to whether to be scared or proud of his cousin. Also: it’s Princeton.

CONS: Classmates will be on the precipice of nervous collapse from eighteen years of relentless striving, or else legacy preppies who accept her into one of their exclusive clubs, only to commit her to a psych ward after she discovers they covered up the murder of her best friend (all at the behest of Craig T. Nelson, the crooked politician who runs the whole shady enterprise).

ALTERNATIVES: Malia doesn’t need membership in some eating club to become powerful or influential. She’s already better connected than most Fortune-500 CEOs. Sure, one of the advantages of Princeton is that you’re taught by the finest faculty in the world, many whom are themselves Princeton PhDs. But you know where else has Princeton PhDs? Everywhere. So Malia should go somewhere the academics are stellar, but students are a little less aggro/destined for hedge funds/prone to inspiring the plots of excellent early-2000s Joshua Jackson vehicles. Williams, Amherst and Swarthmore are basically the Princetons of the liberal-arts world, minus the graduate programs and the snooty nine-generation social societies.

BONUS: No TAs for Malia to fall in love with.



LIKELIHOOD: High. The $70,000-a-year academic equivalent of Justin Bieber’s car collection is ranked a modest 32nd on US News’s national university list (well below, for example, Rice, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Washington University in St. Louis). NYU’s a good school (I have an MA from NYU, after all), but Malia can certainly do better (I have an MA from NYU, after all). That means she really wants to be in New York. The Times reports that Malia is interested in film, so she’s probably got an eye on the film program at the Tisch School of the Arts. (She has also reportedly toured her father’s alma mater, Columbia, and its women’s college, Barnard).

PROS: Close proximity to the Girls set.

CONS: The moment she introduces her 39-year-old boyfriend during Thanksgiving at the White House. (“He’s a DJ, and he says I’m really mature.”)

ALTERNATIVE: Just like she doesn’t need an Ivy League university to be successful in business, she also doesn’t need Tisch connections to become famous in film. All being a Tisch kid will bring her is a rotating coterie of sycophants, and several thousand unsolicited offers of cocaine. Maybe instead she can keep it something approximating “real,” and try Hunter College, a public school that has, per US News, a “large arts program.” After all, if Malia wants the New York experience, why doesn’t she go to college with some actual New Yorkers?

BONUS: She will have a zero percent chance of becoming BFFs with James Franco, as it is one of the few institutions in the city where he is not currently enrolled. She can also use the $220,000 she saves to finance her directorial debut.


naked party

LIKELIHOOD: ??? The famously progressive liberal-arts school in Connecticut—and, for that matter, any similar small liberal-arts college (or SLAC as they’re known in the higher-ed parlance)—will be the wildcard of Malia’s college search. Malia might be interested in the small class sizes, personal attention from actual, full-time faculty, and emphasis on intellectual enrichment and, erm, nontraditional fun endemic to the SLAC milieu. (Wesleyan was famous for having a lot of “clothing-optional” parties in the 1990s when I went to college.)

PROS: Did I not already mention the naked parties? Anyone who longs, with ever-increasing pessimism, for a return to the “education” emphasis in higher education (as opposed to the increasingly transactional and vocational trends of recent decades), is crossing any available limbs that President Obama’s oldest child will opt for a small school, and, in doing so, that she will inspire a new generation of college-bound kids to do the same, thus preventing the continuing instability of SLACs nationwide, and maybe, just maybe, creating a new generation of intellectually curious, proactive, thinking, feeling, college graduates.

CONS: Achingly SLAC-esque college-newspaper kerfuffles like this one (which is eerily near-identical to a kerfuffle I witnessed as part of the Vassar College Miscellany News circa 1996; Nietzche’s Eternal Recurrence of the Same, indeed).

ALTERNATIVES: If Barack and Michelle fear that too many naked parties will detract from Malia’s studies, they can encourage her to join the increasingly-convoluted fight to make Deep Springs College coeducational. Pretty hard to get your hands on PCP when you’re 300 miles from any conceivable city, and pretty hard to find a boyfriend when you’re always covered in cow manure.

EARLY FAVORITE: I hate to say it, but: NYU. UGGGGGGGGGGGGGH No Malia Please No.


Anatomy of an Index-Related Breakdown (In Texts)

post-ac, randos, ranting

My academic book, Kafka and Wittgenstein, is currently at the printer’s. Here’s a fun fact about it: It almost didn’t have an index. Because I decided $1100 of my own money was already enough to be in the hole for this book ($800 to a very nice and thorough grad student for putting the damn thing into Chicago; another assorted $300 of printing/mailing/UPS-store-related things, all thanks to my lack of institutional affiliation and printer), I insisted on doing it myself, while I was going through proofs.
My disgraceful proofreading coincided exactly with a two-month stay in the backwoods of upstate New York, wherein some yokel “computer doctor” managed to make my broken computer even more broken (and charge me $70 for the pleasure), and thus said index, unimpressive to begin with, consisted of about four pages of handwritten gibberish on one of my mother-in-law’s extra notepads.

When I finished, I stuffed those Blätter into the outer pocket of my suitcase, and schlepped that suitcase from New York to Oregon, to visit my parents and get a nominal amount of child care (the Schumans, for alleged retirees, lead really busy lives). I did not give said index another thought until about a week ago, when I got an urgent email from my editor. Where was it?!? “No problem,” I assured him, the veritable Alf of his author roster.

And here’s where I went off the rails. (If you think I’ve gone off the rails at any prior point in my career, you are wrong.)

First, I noticed that my stupid dark-red Samsonite suitcase was not in the closet where I’d left it. In a flash, a memory from three days prior: My mother, stuffing a stupid dark-red Samonite with spandex and Bakhtin volumes, in preparation for a two-week bicycle tour/lecture trip in Italy (I told you she was busy). Oh no. No no no no no. We had identical suitcases and she’d taken the wrong one.

It was about midnight in Italy, and thus an excellent time to begin sending my parents irate texts.  

When these resulted in completely expected silence, I reacted to the resulting powerlessness and increasing desperation by texting more insipid details, and then asking questions to which there were no answers. 
With my parents INSENSITIVELY IGNORMING ME, my only recourse was to stoop to their level, dig out the paper itinerary they’d given me (ugh), and dial up their Italian hotel on a landline (UGH). Given that it was midnight and they were on an oldies’ bicycle holiday in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, I did not get a peep from the front desk of what I am sure was an exceedingly laid-back little Agritourismo staffed by 500-year-old ladies who went to bed at 7:45 and spoke no English.  

The only understandable reaction to this development was to continue lashing out into the veritable Nietzschean abyss that was my parents’ switched-off iPhones. 
The idea—the very idea—of having to read through those proofs again, spending one more second (much less ten more hours) staring at the book that was supposed to be the beginning of my academic career, but actually post-dated its death by two years, was torture. And the idea—the very idea—of going another $1000 in the hole, for a book that was not going to do a single thing for me, was unimaginable.

I grabbed a cushion off the couch and screamed into it at the top of my lungs, so as not to alarm my 8-month-old, who at this point was finding the entire situation endlessly amusing. And then—throat hoarse, hands shaking, tears flowing—I realized that neat-freak me had put my stupid dark-red Samsonite inside a larger suitcase to save space. It was still there. The only existing copy of that godforsaken index was safe and sound.

I definitely had some explaining to do to my mom. 

Luckily, Sharon Schuman swears like a sailor and has been privy to my emotional outbursts for 39 years.  

I wish I could indeed, Mom. I wish I could indeed.


Eight Months: A Little White Whale on the Go


My dear sweet Baby Beluga,

You are a colossal eight months old. This past month has brought changes and advancements so massive they can hardly fit into my addled brain — like, for starters, your new nickname isn’t about your size as much as it’s about your constant movement. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. 

First of all. Your visual acuity, hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity have gotten so good, so quickly, that it is almost impossible for us to keep up with your never-ending quest for asphyxiation. Here is but an abbreviated list of things that you have picked up with your chubby little thumb and forefinger, and shoved into your yap:

  • Cheerios (you choke on every fifth Cheerio, but apparently that is “normal” and I have only overreacted and baby-Heimlich’d you four or five times to date)
  • bits of banana, avocado, melon, pancake, tofu, rice and various and sundry other food items
  • every single toy you own
  • every single book you own (RIP Pat the Bunny, but you were some seriously white heteronormative bullshit anyway)
  • every remote control in this house
  • every electrical cord in this house (kidding, but NOT FOR LACK OF TRYING)
  • every kitchen utensil and tupperware container in this house
  • every menu of every restaurant you’ve graced with your presence (usually the waitstaff is amused, but some have been a li’l short with us)
  • all of your parents’ major and minor limbs
  • leaves, dead and alive
  • flowers
  • giant handfuls of dirt and grass
  • tiny single blades of grass you have somehow managed to hone in on, pick AND then stuff into your mouth
  • Kombucha bottles
  • literally anything you can get your chunky little mitts on. Every day I say a silent prayer of thanks that you haven’t managed to find a cigarette butt yet — or, given that this is Oregon, a joint or some meth.

Sometimes it looks like you’ve gnawing on everything to file your teeth down, like some sort of bunny rabbit. Which I suppose only makes sense, since you’ve now got all four central incisors and look not unlike a bunny rabbit — although, given the size of the gap between your two front chompers, a bunny rabbit with a curious resemblance to former NFL player and current television personality Michael Strahan.  

You still enjoy restaurants, but you are now a tad bit harder to placate for the duration of an adult meal; often you will demand to be sprung from your high chair (sometimes a high chair that can barely contain you), and lately you’ve even had a few turns sitting in a booster seat like a big-big (and, given, I suppose, that you are an eight-month-old big-big, it only makes sense). Generally the restaurant protocol is that your father and I take turns circulating out the nine hundred toys I’ve brought with me, and then when you’ve thrown them all on the floor we move on to the books, and then we move on to letting you sample the food when it arrives (with mixed results; there was a bit of an incident with a massive amount of soft tofu that ended up on the ground at Ta Ra Rin, the best Thai restaurant in the country/world/cosmos outside of Thailand, and, also, unrelatedly, who carpets a restaurant? Why would you ever do that? Where’s Gordon Ramsay when I need him?). We’re still a far cry from enjoying a relaxing meal out, and I generally opt out of any place that isn’t explicitly family-friendly and won’t go in any group larger than four adults, but neither you nor I have had a breakdown in a restaurant yet.

I’ve also become the master of the standing-up diapey change, since you act like you’re being flayed alive if I lay you down on a changing table in public. By “master” I mean that somehow I manage to affix the new diaper onto you so that it halfway covers the important bits for exactly the duration of the car ride back home.

Speaking of you acting like you’re being flayed. Let’s have a little talk about diapey changes at night, my friend.

*****WARNING: If you think that being a mother invalidates the remotest mention of something about the children-having process being less than a Pinterest-vomit tornado, don’t read this next bit. It will greatly offend your fragile disposition.********

I don’t know if it’s the massive cognitive leaps you’ve made in the past month — you’re babbling up even more of a storm now; you’re aware of everything that happens around you; you’ve started noticing when we remove deadly objects from your proximity and protesting accordingly; you’re just an out-and-out little person — but your sleep has gotten FUBAR. FUBAR, kid. FUCKED. UP. For awhile last month when I was getting messages 25 times a day instructing me to commit suicide because I gave you the finger a couple of times while you were sleeping, I felt kind of bad for doing it, like, all the insanity sort of got to me and I was like, You know what? Maybe I shouldn’t do that anymore; she’s just a baby. BUT THEN you just up and stopped taking a morning nap, and your afternoon nap got completely wackadoodle (sometimes it’s 45 minutes long, sometimes it’s 3 hours), and you started going to bed at 11 at night again (AND YES WE HAVE A FUCKING ROUTINE, ARMCHAIR PEDIATRICIANS), and you started screaming bloody goddamned murder after every sleep cycle at night, and then you started screaming double-serial-aggravated-murder during your diapey changes at night, and now I’m remembering why the middle-finger thing happened in the first place.

At one point last month some fucking nutcase compared me to Lynndie England, the US soldier who posed while flipping off a blindfolded, tortured, waterboarded prisoner at Abu Ghraib. I was really offended at the time, but now I just realize that the only thing off about that comparison is that you, my dear, darling, sweet, perfect, blessed blessing from blessed God, are Lynndie England in this paradigm.

I’m the Iraqi prisoner being waterboarded.

*******END UNACCEPTABLE NON-RAINBOWS AND SUNSHINE DIGRESSION. Your virgin eyes may once again return to their normative insistence that all mothering be ecstatic.*******

You continue to adore your grandparents. You have “Crazy Time” every night with your grandma, who allows you to bounce around squeal and scream to your heart’s content, and cracks you up with the faces and the sounds she makes. You have seriously never met anyone as hilarious as your grandmother, and as soon as you catch sight of her, your face breaks into a Winnebago-sized grin and you all but leap into her arms.

Although you prefer Women of a Certain Age, and are generally nervous about menfolk (sometimes gamely tolerating when a strange man sticks his face into your face, going ‘OH HE’S SO CUTE!’ like one older gentleman wearing a TRUMP: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat did a few weeks ago at the pancake house; sometimes just dissolving into screams and cries the second our dude-bro waiter arrives at the table or a guy says hi at the park), you also love your grandpa, who in turn loves to strap you in to your tricked-out wagon and take you to the park.

However, now he’s going to have to come up with a better nickname for you, because you’re no longer Quadri-Thigh. Your leg rolls have diminished down to three per thigh, and for that matter, your abdomen has shrunk almost to the girth of a…gasp of gasps…regular baby.

Your ten chins have melted away. You, my dear perfect child, are shrinking, no longer the “big fat baby” strangers have suggested I put on a diet (whilst also insinuating that I am a child abuser, because starving a baby isn’t abuse). Because you, my no-longer big, fat baby…





Well, all right, not straight-up all-fours opposite-hand-as-foot crawling per se, so much as strange-combo of Table/Downward Facing Dog/Plank that inexplicably manages to scoot itself across any given room.

You can go fast. Fast enough that you can get from what we falsely believed was the harmless center of the room, to the corner where all the electric cords are (OH GOD NO NOT THE MOUTH PLEASE NO), faster than we can blink. You crawl and crawl and scoot and move and just do not stop. Ever. Even in your sleep (when you do deign to enter that fleeting condition), you have flopped onto your belly and raised your butt into the air in a Downward-Dog motion. Sometimes when you crawl, you’re so excited to be crawling AND YET you also don’t want to give up your toy, so you’ll carry your toy in your mouth like some kind of St. Bernard.

When you’re not crawling, you’re doing other terrifying things, like pulling yourself up to a stand. The other day I was trying to get some pants onto you, and I was like, “Oh I can’t, she’s pulling herself up to a — AAACK!”


When you were in the womb, I worried about you every single second. I was so deathly afraid that something would go wrong with you, that I wouldn’t get to meet you — because, of course, I felt like I didn’t deserve you, and still quite often feel like I don’t deserve your incredible, bursting unbridled joy, your undistilled shrieking essence of life itself.

And almost as if to reassure me, you kicked and pushed and punched and twirled in there, like a frantic little motherfucker, all day and most of the night. You were so active that it took the technician two hours to do a routine ultrasound. So I knew this was coming — I was just distracted, because for the first six months or so of your life, you expended all of that boundless energy eating nonstop. Bulking up, I realize, for the ultra-marathon of activity that has now begun and will probably not end until you discover marijuana. (Please let that not be until after you take the SAT.)

You’ve also — shockingly — decided you hate hippos. For like five months, all you wanted to do was get Sandra Boynton hippo books read to you, and your most favoritest favorite of all was Hippos Go Berzerk. Now I can’t even get past “calls two hippos on the phone” before your face crumples in terror and you start screaming. Did you have a nightmare about hippos, my dear? Is that why you won’t sleep anymore? You’ve also started doing this weird thing where, every time I read you Little Blue and Little Yellow, you grab the book on the exact same page and try to close it. (“Little blue and little yellow were very sad. They cried big blue and yellow tears.”) You still absolutely love being read to, however, and your favorites, weirdly enough, are your bedtime books. Naptime for (unsurprisingly) naptime, and The House In the Night, for nighttime. I’d give those books a 20% success rate, which at this point, fuck, I’ll take it.


You continue to love being outside, and we continue to love being outside with you, so as long as the weather cooperates, it all works out.

When, at long last, you fall asleep at night, it’s usually just you and me for awhile as your papa enjoys a few precious hours to himself. Sometimes I work (I finished my book this month; not that you care, but it pays for all those designer diapeys you hate and Sandra Boynton books you’re terrified of), sometimes I watch TV (COMMERCIAL FREE HULU!!!!! HOLY SHIT! MY LIFE HAS CHANGED!), sometimes I read (just finished: Fates and Furies, very good!). Sometimes I drift off. And you’re usually conked out pretty good at this time (the ONLY time, not that I’m complaining. MOTHERHOOD IS PEFECT!!!!!!!), but you can tell that you’re only with one parent. Because without fail, every single night, when your papa finally comes and joins us, you shift a little bit, and then you let out the sweetest little sigh in the galaxy. Papa’s here, you say to yourself, even in your dreams. Papa’s here. Everybody’s here. All is right with the world. And you sink beautifully, if temporarily, into sleep.

Every night when you’re drifting off while you nurse, you grab my hand, and I grab yours back, and I say to you: Put your little hand in my big hand, little one, and no harm will come to you. I know I can’t really promise that, little one. I can’t protect you from a horrible world forever. But here in this moment, while you’re still little enough to nurse, while you haven’t quite learned to walk and still manage to stop tearing around for four seconds to rest, I can protect you. Just put your little hand in my hand.



Tschüß Felicia


I’m on hiatus for the rest of September to focus on parenting my traumatized and abused daughter (NOT SERIOUS ABOUT THAT, SHE IS DOING GREAT) and finishing my book. Exciting times! (But also stressful! But also #blessed. Don’t listen to what the t-shirts say. You CAN be blessed and stressed. T-shirts lie.) I’ve got one more thingy for Vitae coming out soon(ish) and then I will somehow make time for the baby’s eight-month letter on the 28th, but otherwise, I’m making myself scarce. I’ve got some potentially exciting articles planned for October, possibly one about SPORTS (or rather sport singular, gymnastics, the only sport I know anything about). Until then, thanks as always for reading, for whatever reason brings you here.