To be honest, I’ve spent the last couple of years feeling rather “meh” about getting dressed. In the past, the thing that has saved me most when I’m running late or feeling lazy is to just wear dresses. They’re simple and fast, and you can’t help but match. But while I love the ease and simplicity of not having to construct an outfit, I sometimes leave the house feeling a little like I didn’t try at all (cuz, well, I didn’t), and the rest of the day looking generic and unmemorable. I recently realized the solution to this while accidentally being forced to meditate in a room full of middle-aged-new-agers. Bear with me here.
The other night I attended a talk and reading given by Natalie Goldberg. If you don’t know: she is the author of several books on the the practice of writing, most notably her 1986 bestseller, Writing Down the Bones. My mom had the book and lent it to me at a pivotal point in my adolescence (which, wow, could have been literally any moment, I realized the second I typed those words).
To be honest, I didn’t remember much of Goldberg’s philosophy. I was informed by my friend Jessica on the drive over that the event was to be hosted at a Santa Monica mindfulness/yoga/meditation center. We predicted that there would be very few men present.
“I bet if there are any, they will be in their early 50′s, and have that permanent 5 o’clock shadow that manages to somehow look clean-cut.”
“And their hair will be in perfect shaggy waves that appear just-careless-enough to make you wonder how long they spent in front of a mirror.”
“But they are mostly humble and speak in soft, yet deep voices.”
“And wear cashmere sweaters.”
“And paisley scarves that still manage to look masculine.”
“These men are fascinating contradictions!”
“They are riddles wrapped in enigmas!”
Turns out we totally called it, excepting the prominent prayer beads we failed to mention.
A gong or something comparable sounded and a woman introduced Natalie Goldberg as her dharma sister or something and Jess and I, whispering, made another prediction that because our snarky sarcasm was exuding so thickly from our pores, we had maybe ten minutes before the entire room would be glaring at us. We would likely be asked to leave within the hour.
Then Natalie began to speak. Her instant charm made my judgmental mind quiet down and I reminded myself that I had payed to come here. This wasn’t some wealthy hippie school assembly I’d been forced to attend.
(Don’t worry, you guys. This post isn’t going to turn into “how I stopped being a sarcastic jerkface”. That is never going to happen. If I didn’t have my snide inner monologue, I wouldn’t have anything.)
Natalie spoke for a while, told stories, read from her latest book. She had us sit in silence, stare at our shoes, and focus on our breath for ten minutes. Twice. Which, as earlier, turned out to be actually quite lovely.
But the highlight of the night for me was two excerpts she read from William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!.
The first was this:
“There was a wisteria vine blooming for the second time that summer on a wooden trellis before one window, into which sparrows came now and then in random gusts, making a dry vivid dusty sound before going away”
She read the passage slowly, enunciating each word in her soothing mama hen voice. She noted that the words offered just enough detail. We have a picture of this scene, a description of the sound. But Faulkner was apparently not satisfied, for in the very next paragraph, he says it again, getting more specific, more intimate:
“There would be the dim coffin-smelling gloom, sweet and oversweet with the twice-bloomed wisteria against the outer wall by the savage quiet September sun, impacted distilled and hyperdistilled, into which came now and then the loud cloudy flutter of the sparrows like a flat limber stick whipped by an idle boy”
My god. So good. She read this apparent re-write and I had an almost physical reaction to the words. I had to remind myself to breathe. So much detail packed into a seemingly simple scene. You feel that brutal late sumer heat, you hear those sparrows in a deeper way than if you’d heard them in person. I tried to read Faulkner when I was younger. I found it too dense and barely made it through a third of the book. But if you slow it down and really listen? My god.
Her advice regarding this example was simply, “Get close”. I understood.
After this passage was read, she urged us into our second ten minute session of silence. We were not supposed to be thinking, but I couldn’t stop. How could I apply this philosophy to other areas of my life? Thinking of everything on a grand scale is for kids. This kind of patience and focus must be honed over time. It is a kind of reward for growing older that we usually don’t even realize we’ve received.
I thought of mine and Jessica’s earlier descriptions of the contradictory fashions of imaginary men. How could I focus in closer? The baby softness of the cashmere wool has a strange slickness that brings a nervous perspiration to the fingertips, a pang of heartache to the wrist. The pashmina wraps the man’s velcro throat loosely, its many shades of teardrops embracing each other with joy, bursting into exultant confetti like the sweat beads of reunited lovers in long-awaited afternoon bliss.
That was more like it. Why simply call something by its name? Why take the easy route? Abstraction and simplicity have long been praised in literature, art and fashion, and that’s all good, but why not deviate from that? Let’s embrace details. Let’s say exactly what we want to say. And let’s say it while getting dressed as quickly as possible.
Let’s talk about the infamous little black dress. Simple, classic, versatile. We think of it as a default. A staple. The only descriptors given to the LBD are “little” and “black”. Design wise, this seems stifling, especially to a girl with ever-changing tastes. But I always find that the capacity for great creativity exists within strict parameters. Think about it. There are so many more traits such a dress could possess!
The playful peekaboo of one shoulder, a sporty halter, a prim refined boatneck, a sexy strapless sweetheart. Velvet, silk, chiffon, lace, beaded, ruffled, body-con, flowy, structured, a-line, empire, vintage, modern. The list goes on, and it makes for endless combinations for accessorizing. Details are what make a dress unique. Try these on for size:
Oh, and a LBD doesn’t have to be all black, either. It doesn’t even have to be little. Its all up to you. What kind of dress do you want to wear? It could be a Lady Bird, a Lascivious Buckle, a Lusty Beast, a Leggy Bandit, a Lavender Ballet, a Lengthy Brushstroke, a Limber Butterfly, a Lost in Barcelona.
No matter how you slice it, your clothes speak for you. And I dont want my clothes to say things like “I just worked six days in a row”, or “I’m going to Walmart”. I’d rather they whispered sweet nothings and giggled and sung little songs. I’d rather they bloomed twice and gathered gusts of sparrows.
(photos courtesy of Debenhams)
Spring has arrived, my little giblets! And in the spirit of newness and pastels and chickens, I hereby challenge you to shake things up a little! Make some changes! Go wild! Cross the road! It’s been a while since I made a list of any sort that didn’t start with “make to do list” just so I could cross off something, so how’s about I give this post a little structure to match my new bra?
HERE IS A LIST OF VERY SPECIFIC CHANGES I HAVE RECENTLY MADE THAT YOU COULD ALSO POTENTIALLY MAKE:
1.) Change your look based on an old photo of an awesome genius.
After two years of obsessive chopping, my hair has finally grown long enough to channel the side-parted chin length curled brilliance of Connie Converse, who, lets face it, I probably was in a past life. If you don’t know who Connie Converse was (is?), first listen to this, then melt, and then spend hours scouring the internet for clues about her disappearance. Her sad and lovely story has inspired me to no end. I’ve never loved 1950′s silhouettes and horn rimmed glasses and mystery so much. For god’s sake, just look at her! What a babe!
2.) Change your built-in face frames.
In accordance with the self-imposed directive above, I have also grown out my bangs, bangs which I have worn at varying lengths for the last 10 years. My facial structure has always seemed sharp to me, which nicely compliments the daggers I’m always shooting from my eyes, but I’ve usually balanced it with the softness of a little fringe. Now that my perfect forehead is exposed, I look pretty intense. Don’t get me wrong, I am huge a fan of this. But on those days I want to exist in the realm of soft focus Easter romance, I simply leave my eyebrows alone, instead of coloring them in like Brooke Shields as a Bert from Sesame Street for Halloween like I usually do. With my eyebrows subtle and blondish, I seriously look like a completely different girl. Never color yours? Try it out. I actually like to go back and forth between the Whoopi Goldberg and the Martin Scorsese. Keeps people on their toes.
3.) Change your occupation.
Yep, I just did this too. Not necessarily an option for moms or you know, ‘career’ types, but for wanderlusty girls in their very late twenties who have not only dabbled in various fields, but also worked many types of jobs, it’s definitely doable. If you don’t like what you’re doing, you’re bored, or you aren’t making what you’re worth, shine up that resume! See what’s out there! It also doesn’t hurt to have a contact on the inside. I just got hired as a server at one of the most popular restaurants in Echo Park with very little serving experience by simply blackmailing one of the mangers for several months! Now I get to serve Ryan Gosling deep dish pizza by candlelight and I get to wear pretty dresses to work instead of a t-shirt, apron and baseball cap (don’t ask, please). Not only that, but I am finally making an adult wage! I can afford to wear comfy Clarks to work, so I don’t have to limp home afterward.
4.) Change out your zombie eyes.
So you like your job and style and you are perfectly happy with your beauty routine? What about your soul? I don’t mean is it clean and heaven-destined or any of that shit. What I want to know is, is it hungry? What have you been feeding it? Hours of facebook? The Bachelor? BRAINS? What are you doing in your free time? I’m lucky to have recently moved into a house with two amazing ladies and a huge backyard, where I drink my morning coffee and sunbathe and read actual books sometimes. It’s so tempting to want to zone out after a long day of serving Ryan Gosling pizza, but closing your laptop after three hours and not remembering a single thing you just read is soul-sucking. The internet is a glorious thing, but just do yourself a favor and pretend it’s the 80′s once in a while. It’s the 80′s and there’s nothing on TV and why would you want to be inside on a sunny day like this anyway? Also, um, you’re an adult! Remember back when you weren’t an adult and you were like, “oh man, one day when I’m grown up I’m gonna explore Brazil!” or, “One day, I’m gonna buy enough gummi bears to fill my room all the way to the ceiling and carve tunnels through them and live like that!”
You can seriously do anything you want as long as your landlord doesn’t find out. Also, you know what’s even more fun than zoning out the internet? Drinking.
5.) Change your definition of ‘self-control’.
So I took a non-religious vow to give up meat for Lent. Why? Partly because I have had access to free hot dogs for the last 4 months (doesn’t matter why, don’t worry about it) and was feeling sluggish and beef-witted, partly because my roommates are vegan and I don’t have my own cookware, and partly because I wanted to practice some self-control. I haven’t had the best self-control in the past, but saying “I couldn’t help myself” is such a cop-out.
“I ate your entire birthday cake. Sorry, I had to. I have, like, absolutely no self control.”
“Oh, I know promised I’d help you move, but a friend called at the last minute and asked me to drink Mimosas with her all day and I just couldn’t say no because it sounded like way more fun. Sorry! What else could I doooo?”
Looking back on some bad past decisions can make you see them as just that: decisions. Take responsibility for them. I decided to not practice self-control by eating hot dogs and tater-tots nearly every day for four months, and all it got me was bloated and lethargic. A month and minus five pounds later, I feel like a million (well, maybe 250 thousand) bucks! And what feels even better is the pride that comes with sticking to your guns! Great job! Now you can gloat instead of bloat, guilt free!
6.) Change your mode of communication with that babe in the mirror.
I’ve been making a serious effort lately to look inward. Okay, maybe ‘lately’ isn’t really accurate. It’s more of an every day of my life thing. Constant Psychological Self-Diagnosis is literally my middle name. Yes, literally. And while self-diagnosis isn’t necessarily the best method for physical issues (I decided I was allergic to gluten and have been depriving myself of all sorts of things for the last 8 months-turns out it’s just an allergy to baker’s yeast and I could have been eating burritos this WHOLE TIME), it makes a lot of sense to look within for answers in regards to your own psyche. Who on Earth knows you better than you? Has something been bothering you? Try and figure out why. Have you been making strange, irrational decisions and eating potting soil? There must be a reason. What are you feeling when you open that bag of peat moss and aged compost? Loss? Hope? The best way I’ve found to sort through these dirty feelings is journaling. Throw back a few brewskis and start journaling. I’m actually serious. Talk to yourself like you’re drunkenly rambling to an old friend whom you can trust with any secret, because that’s exactly who you are. You’ve always been there for you, even if you and yourself weren’t on speaking terms. Spend some time getting reacquainted with your best friend since birth and don’t just talk. Listen to what they have to contribute to the friendship.
7.) Change your stress level.
Last but not least, chill the fuck out. I know you know this, but stress is not your friend. It will not help you make good decisions or achieve quality results. It will not get you to work on time. It will not keep your friend who you were supposed to help move from finding out that the “appointment” you had was to drink poolside mimosas all day with that girl she doesn’t like who you swear you aren’t friends with anymore. Avoid potential stressors by leaving for work early and not making bad friend moves in the first place, Jamaica. You won’t have to be hard on yourself if you act like an adult.
7a.) On that note, don’t worry so much. Trust that your hunky boyfriend is an adult as well, and is not going to get stranded on his hiking trip with no food, nor is he going to fall to his death while ascending Mount Horrible (I’m not even remotely kidding. It is absolutely called that).
Make “To Do” List
I’m moving in two weeks! Usually in my world that means I’ve got a bad case of springtime wanderlust and I’m selling all my stuff to live out of suitcases for an unspecified amount of time before landing in an unspecified town. Flying by the seat of my newly-hemmed short shorts.
Well, I’m still selling all my stuff, but to move directly to a cute vintage loft in Downtown LA for some long overdue, believe-it-or-not, NESTING. It will be on a chic 9th floor right on the border of the Fashion and Art districts. My hand-me-down crap just ain’t gon’ cut it. It has SIX HUMONGOUS WINDOWS. I’ll need new EVERYTHING.
Now here’s where I know I’m finally turning into a grown-up. Last week, instead of my letting my inner teenager stop caring/cleaning my bedroom (because, why put it away if you’re just going to pack it soon anyway) and just pine the days away in my own filth until I move, I decided that every day should just be as cute as possible. Why not? I’ve had a rough year. I deserve a goddamn bedspread. And some cute floral twiggery. And an ochre batik lamp. Now. Life is too short for sheisty dormroom decor.
Should I even bother with The Before?:
No, because no one even sees the half-assed decor. My canine Otis Redding is stealing the show with his utter lugubriousness.
And, well, I was so excited to see this floral twig from Target in My Precious mint and coral Mum vase (from Eve!) that it made it into the before photos. Ewps.
Ewps, he did it again.
Threshold by Target:
8 Piece Batik Damask Bedding Set – $80
Teal Accent Table – $55
Ochre Batik Lamp – $73
Orange Blossom Stem – $13
Who doesn’t love clashing patterns and completely random color schemes?? Really, I’d like to know so I can stay away from them.
Continue reading Check Out My Place: Making Every Day Cuter.
Oh how I wish the second half of this post’s title was “Why I Don’t Shop at Forever 21”. But I can’t write that yet. The earrings I’m wearing right now were purchased from the Christian sweatshop giant. So were my jeans.
I am well aware that Forever 21 and other throw-away fashion dynasties are not paying their workers enough, that cheap labor goes hand in hand with cheap fabrics and poor construction, that they steal their designs from others, and preach with their bright yellow “LOOK AT ME I AM A CONSUMER” plastic bags. And yet, I still find myself wandering in semi-regularly, and often wandering out with some mass-produced somehow already cliché thin-as-a-tissue article of clothing I will only wear a few times before it either rips or bores me because I’ve seen a version of it on sixteen other girls in one day. My point is, I know better. I’m embarrassed that I do it. I beg them not to bag my purchase and instead surreptitiously stuff it into my purse, which I also purchased at Forever 21.
But then I’ll get compliments when I wear these items, which also shames me to no end. I admit my folly in an Eeyore voice with my head hung low, unintentionally advertising for them, which makes me feel even worse. One would think that after all of this remorse, I would have enough self control to stop shopping there. So why do I keep going back?
Well, I’m poor as shit and I want to look cute.
Always the first excuse. I live in Los Angeles. Everything is expensive here, and though some are just fine with riding the bus to the laundromat in sweatpants and holey socks, I am not one of those people.
And I know I could buy used clothing. Thrifting has been in my blood since I was a below the poverty-level 6th grader. But back then, I’d drop $20 for several Grocery Outlet bags full of awesome 70′s blouses, flowing maxi skirts, and kooky wooden parrot necklaces. These days, the only “vintage” stuff you can find at Goodwill (at least in LA) is from the mid-90′s and almost as expensive as it was when it was new. And sorting through the mounds of stained, synthetic, cargo-pocketed nightmares for that one gem you just know is in there somewhere is exhausting and time consuming.
Excuses, excuses, right? I could make excuses all day. But being broke does not a saint make. Sure, I’m broke. Most of us are. But buying “affordable” new clothes is such a waste of money in the long run. Not only are these purchases physically not going to stand the test of time, Forever 21 and its competitors release so many new collections a year that by the time their cutesy 21 day return policy runs out, your adorable new jacket is already “out of style”.
I could also go on a diatribe about how even the name of the company is unsettling, how the focus on eternal-just-of-drinking-age youth is enforcing that “little girl in the form of a woman” stereotype I so despise, dismissing the idea that there is any point to life if you aren’t young and attractive, but I don’t want to get angry. Again, WHY do we (I) keep going back?
We (I) forget.
It’s the first warm, sunny day of spring. You weren’t prepared for the weather, since you left home early this morning. Now you’re off work, which happens to be right next to the mall. You have a date later and the thought of bare legs on a balmy beachy afternoon with your lover sounds too divine to deny. You could go home to change, but there are at least 150 different brand new dresses in one store 30 feet from you that could be yours right now in exchange for the meager tips in your pocket. And even if thoughts of sweatshop labor and copyright infringement pop in to your head, hey, its only one dress. And three necklaces. And four pairs of tights. There are so many adorable items at your fingertips (that someone else designed first and that were sewn by workers making less than minimum wage)! And this dress is only $19.95! And this is the last time you’ll ever shop here. You swear.
Every little bit adds up. And if you’re like me and you impulse buy when you have a spare few bucks, you end up with a closet full of mass-produced junk.
If only I put that petty cash away, I could afford to buy quality clothing. I’m not talking about overpriced just-because-its-designer items, but a few well made trend-proof pieces that will last. Jeans, versatile dresses, jackets. Sure, they’re a little pricier, but that’s because the company who made them thought enough of their employees to pay them a humane wage.
Buy quality staples, and if you’re craving seasonal pieces and good deals, don’t lazily duck into the mall. Shop like you mean it. Take the day and drive out to estate sales, where all the awesome vintage shit is in pristine condition. Or hit up thrift stores in weird little mountain towns, where they haven’t been picked over and the dresses are only six bucks. If you must stay in the city, visit buy-sell-trade places, where everything is still cheaper than at the mall, but the mountains of junk sorting has been done for you and you’re still recycling!
I am making a resolution to never buy from Forever 21 again. And if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll join me. Consider it spring cleaning for your conscience.
Even though the number of ethical reasons for making this stand is out of the ballpark, the main reason I’m making it is that I don’t want to be a cookie-cutter American Millennial. In high school, I showed up to school one day in the same shirt as a classmate’s and something in me snapped. After that, I prided myself on dressing “different”. I came back after winter break wearing layers of my dad’s discarded 70′s clothes, mixed with weird pieces I made myself before I really knew how to sew. I may have looked bizarre, I may have been acting out, but I was 100% me. My style has since balanced into a neutral heavy, travel inspired, vintagey-modern, subtly feminine mix. I don’t have a concept of my style. We’ve all seen those “what’s your personal style?” quizzes that only have like 5 outcomes. Why do I have to be categorized, I wonder? Because then I can be put into a target market and advertised to. Please join me in saying a very ladylike “fuck that”.
Don’t let anyone tell you what you want to wear. And the next time you find yourself staring in the window of a Forever 21, watching three cloned girls with ombre dye jobs try on the same dress, you can proudly turn your back because you are trend-proof. You are uncategorizable.
I’ll leave you with this bit of brilliance:
When I ask for a garment of a particular form, my tailoress tells me gravely, “They do not make them so now,” not emphasizing the “They” at all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as the Fates, and I find it difficult to get made what I want, simply because she cannot believe that I mean what I say, that I am so rash. When I hear this oracular sentence, I am for a moment absorbed in thought, emphasizing to myself each word separately that I may come at the meaning of it, that I may find out by what degree of consanguinity They are related to me, and what authority They may have in an affair which affects me so nearly; and, finally, I am inclined to answer her with equal mystery, and without any more emphasis of the “They” – “It is true, they did not make them so recently, but they do now.”
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Now go change into something “weird”. If you feel like it.
After leaving Tucson last summer, I spent the rest of 2012 willfully unemployed and drifting from coast to coast and back again. The thirst I had to peer into America’s windows had been left unquenched by the Taco Yacht‘s untimely demise, and since the sampler platter lifestyle requires nothing much besides mobility, I continued on my quest to do not much of anything in lots of different places.
Before I began a ramblin’, I had certain visions of high fashion travel. In these daydreams, I was always perfectly coifed or topped with a smart vintage cloche. My two darling little bags were light as air and held everything I could ever need.
I kept my fastidiously chosen clothing rolled in neat little complimentary hued fabric burritos to prevent wrinkles and owned one pair of the most comfortable heels ever made, which never broke and went with everything. I was always on time to catch my train. I never spilled coffee down the front of my dress or in my own shoes. My back never ached. I never got caught in a subway turnstile because of my frayed luggage or locked out of a subway turnstile with my frayed luggage inside. My daydream was dreamy.
Cut to reality. Nothing is in soft focus, unless due to smog. I, frizzy of hair and weak of arm, am running in a pair of slippery boots to catch a bus that might not be the one I need. Three of my unwieldy bags are bursting with clothing I don’t like, one is stuffed with shoes I haven’t worn in two weeks, and the needle from the sewing kit in my purse is continuously stabbing me in the hip. I call upon my spirit animal, the mule, for guidance. He does not hear me.
I’d spent months like this, stressed and exhausted and always in transit. I realized at one point that I’d been wearing the same pair of jeans and grey sweater for a week straight. I didn’t care about fashion anymore. This may sound like a frivolous non-problem, but when I use the word fashion, I don’t mean it in the consumer sense. The issue was not that I didn’t feel like shopping or perusing clothing catalogues, but that my sense of self expression was faltering. I was exhausted. I didn’t feel like creating. I didn’t feel like myself.
The problem wasn’t exhaustion, though. It wasn’t that I missed my friends or that I was carrying too many suitcases, and it wasn’t even my extreme lack of funds. Sure, these things were frustrating, but there was something else wrong, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for vagabonding? Even though these aimless couchsurfing spells I’m so prone to are something I crave, I seemed to be terrible at them. I would always set out expecting to feel the freedom of the wind at my back, and instead end up filled with existential crises I couldn’t solve.
After nearly six months of ritual sacrifices to equus mulus, I decided to attempt a sort of settling down. I made it to LA, acquired three different jobs, and started spending a lot of time with my new best friend, The Bus. Now I have a guaranteed place to lay my head at night (after I spend several hours with my best friend), and I can even afford lunch sometimes! But I have to wear a uniform to work, and I’m constantly trekking from my house in Highland Park to my jobs in West Hollywood to a certain gentleman’s residence in Marina Del Rey, hefting clothes and shoes and my laptop back and forth and running to catch a bus that might not be the one I need. So not a lot has changed.
HOWEVER. Something new does seem to be happening. A stirring in my loins, if you will. (Will you? Please?)
It came upon suddenly during a rare day off last week. I was at my new house, unpacking my rediscovered decorative and literary treasures that my mother was kind enough to bring from Arizona. Surrounded once more by these relics, I felt for the first time since last Spring, a sense of calm. This room was mine. For as long as I wanted it. Mine to fill with mementos, create art in, read and play music in. The wall to wall closet was mine to fill.
I’ve finally figured out what I was lacking during my travels. It is a specific luxury, but not in the monetary sense. It is the luxury of solitude, of stillness. Of comfortably closed eyes. Though it is a thing that can be touched on in many places (on a blanket in the grass, on an evening jog), to truly be enveloped in it one must have a sanctuary. A place to be alone with complete jurisdiction over one’s surroundings. A solitary peace. Without that, how do we have the chance to reflect? To appreciate? To daydream?
Solitude is definitely attainable on the road, but room of one’s own (if I may borrow that phrase from you, Virginia), is the greatest luxury I can currently imagine. Mine may be void of furniture, my books may be stacked on the floor, I may be sleeping on nothing but a folded in half memory foam pad, but I feel a calmness there. I finally have a place to set down those heavy, frayed bags at the end of the day. And that is nothing short of heaven.
Many of us never really find out what defines us beyond the friends we keep, the bands we hate, and how we like our eggs cooked. We hesitate, we bury the truth. We hold up our flickering candles while people we admire are overflowing like volcanoes. Frida Kahlo knew no such meekness of character. Her selfness could not be contained. Her art did not end at the edge of a canvas. It pumped through her veins, it welled in her eyes, it pervaded everything.
“Really, I do not know whether my paintings are surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the frankest expression of myself.”
“The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.”
“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”
Fifty five years after her death, the contents of Frida’s closet (long sealed by her surviving lover Diego Rivera) are now on exhibit at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City. Oh, to have been present the moment this monument was unlocked, to witness her joyous deluge awakening to creaking hinges. Having survived a spinal birth defect, childhood polio, devastating injuries from a trolley crash, and a repeatedly broken heart, Frida’s wardrobe seems to celebrate the miracle of borrowed time.
Some people (usually called artists) instinctively transform pain and hardship into insight, humor and solidified beauty like it was a chemical reaction. For Frida, life, art and pain were literally inextricable. Her body cast and corrective boot were vibrant canvasses. She braided ribbons and enormous flowers into her hair and wore an envious overabundance of oversized jewels, vivid lipsticks, and facial hair. Incorporating her dreams and nightmares, she immortalized every detail of her style and rustic elegance in a series of self-portraits that would come to profoundly influence fashion and art forever.
I know I could stand to be a little more like Frida.
Be Honest About Who You Are.
Frida could have just as easily plucked her eyebrows and waxed her lip, but instead she stood out proudly amongst a sea of forgettable femininity. She drank, swore, and got depressed. But even as her body ached and her husband philandered with models and dancers, she roared with authenticity.
“I drank because I wanted to drown my sorrows. But now the damned things have learned to swim ,and now decency and good behavior weary me.”
Creativity is our attempt to communicate what is ultimately inexpressible; how we interpret our individual realities. From the delicate way you slice onions to how you make your bed, your life is your Art. Fashion is nothing but a precious daily opportunity to turn our soft little bodies into works of beauty. Figure out what you love and do it as often as you can. Create until there is nothing left in your head. Write to figure out what’s in there in the first place.
Garnish your daily life with humor and beauty like there actually is no tomorrow.
Sing in the shower. Wear party dresses to dinner. Pile on costume jewelry like it’s going out of style. Paint your house a heartbreaking shade of indigo. And ferchrissakes, laugh.
“Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. Tragedy is the most ridiculous thing.”
Life is too short for hesitation. Art is not art if it is half-assed.
That, my friends, is what we call an hiatus. Nothing is the same.
Do you ever get these hilariously long, action-packed stretches of euphoric, indescribably magical moments? And they kind of last years? You get caught up in this seemingly indestructible nothing-can-go-wrong-ever-again bubble. And then, as it always goes… *POP*.
I met my boyfriend Rian last July, followed by a chain of glimmering vignettes:
A romantic gold-colored date in a dusty brick corner of candlelit belgian beer bar. Fervent canoe rides in a silvery pond. A giggling late night jog to a bioluminescent beach. Desert adventures. Packs of coyotes. Almost quadra-handedly throwing a romantic egyptian-themed wedding for dear friends. Writing an award-worthy poem about ocelots. Painting an entire house. Getting published in several magazines. Planting an olive orchard. Brewing a saison. Three separate skinny-dipping excursions. Ducklings and baby pigs. Picking wild avocados from a high ocean cliff. Swimming with sea turtles in the dusklight. Losing my bikini top in a 20 foot wave. Collecting hyacinth blossoms in my kayak. Making out in an empty lagoon on Oahu in the dark. Infinity hot tub overlooking the Pacific. Surprise whale-watching, sailing and helicopter rides. Shmancy hotels. The worst motels. Too much sashimi. Making out on a rooftop underneath a fantastic meteor shower. Living at the top of a 1940′s house on the beach. Planning the Great American Roadtrip. Dolphin sightings, sunsets, rollercoasters, bonfires…
Grow Together by May Xiong
And then in June – a trip to Yosemite to photograph the virginal wedding of two human-shaped baby seals, when the reception is interrupted by a phone call:
Because of failure after failure after failure of Kaiser’s doctors to properly diagnose him, my little brother Nik was in emergency surgery for a brain tumor the size of a baseball. This *POP* sounded more like an atom bomb in my brain. I was angry. I panicked. My recent chain of serendipity had turned into an avalanche of WTF. I did not stop panicking for a good 3 months. My boyfriend was like, “Who’s THIS?” We were asking a lot of the same questions.
I fancied it a bit of an existential crisis, which I highly recommend if you live by the ocean and have the luxury of nursing one. Perhaps we are calmed by the ocean because it can give you a very small taste of the infinite. You begin to grasp the rarity of life within the enormity of the universe and what a fantastical, mind-blowing fluke it is that we’re experiencing consciousness, beauty and yes, even sadness. We are alive.
“All sanity depends on this: that it should be a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones are moving easily under the flesh.”
But in the face of reality, the magic does not stop – rather it takes on a more emphatic glow in the face of all that bubble annihilation – you just have to find it. The only way to cope with the imminence of death is to truly live. My brother faced surgery and chemo like Richard Simmons does a rainy day. My family rallied and found him a promising clinical trial. I started taking my health more seriously. My relationships got stronger. My 3 year old nephew Ennio was diagnosed with epilepsy, but got better with holistic supplements after modern medicine failed him. When our best canine friend Mapplethorpe passed away from cancer, we commissioned his portrait and rescued a puppy who would’ve made him proud. The Great American roadtrip was burgled from us by some incompetent redneck mechanics but we managed to lick every scrap of fun out of Pigeon Forge, TN. You keep calm, carry on, and carpe the fuck out of some diem.
Mapplethorpe by May Xiong
We ate raw oysters. Learned to poach eggs. Sang showtunes while floating in a Pleasure Dome pool in SC. Rainy morning coffee with Jamaica on a river pier in Asheville, NC. A soak in a hot tub overlooking fog-laden Smoky Mountains flickering with fireflies. Dollywood. Disneyland. Guffawed our way through the Troll 2 of overpriced dinosaur-themed carnival rides. Went camping in the rain. Watched out for bears. Beasts of the Southern Wild. Bill Nye the Science Guy’s hand on my left butt cheek (Bill, if you don’t want me to say that about you, consider it redacted, but it was one of the top 3 best moments of my life). Had a just-as-it-should-be conversation with Drew Carey on set of The Price is Right. Took a timely three weeks to tromp around the East Coast with Jamaica before it was destroyed by some hurricane. Under the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Walked across Chicago. Drunk swimming in the ocean while the sun set in November. Richard Simmons’s hand on my right butt cheek after doing the robot with him and Sarah Von Bargen of Yes & Yes.
But the thing about reality is that it is real, and coming to get you whether or not you expect it. Bodies break, we love the wrong people, we lose ourselves, our children are exposed to extreme violence. Tragedy is all at once so unlikely and so damned imminent. But please don’t worry. It is the acceptance of the imminence of tragedy that centers us. As my dear friend Ryan Eastwick would say, “Receive it.” Tragedy reveals your vulnerability and your true self simultaneously. We must nurture our vulnerability like we would nurture a child’s innate courage. That’s where the fertile ground is. In September I spoke to an Argentine lady whose son had recently committed suicide. She said, “I had to take that pain and turn it into something creative and productive or I would die.”
“Do not despise your inner world… As we grow, we all develop a wide range of emotions responding to this predicament: fear that bad things will happen and that we will be powerless to ward them off; love for those who help and support us; grief when a loved one is lost; hope for good things in the future; anger when someone else damages something we care about. Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger. But for that very reason we are often ashamed of our emotions, and of the relations of need and dependency bound up with them… So people flee from their inner world of feeling, and from articulate mastery of their own emotional experiences… We are all going to encounter illness, loss, and aging, and we’re not well prepared for these inevitable events by a culture that directs us to think of externals only, and to measure ourselves in terms of our possessions of externals.
“What is the remedy of these ills? A kind of self-love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings. Storytelling plays a big role in the process of development. As we tell stories about the lives of others, we learn how to imagine what another creature might feel in response to various events. At the same time, we identify with the other creature and learn something about ourselves. As we grow older, we encounter more and more complex stories — in literature, film, visual art, music — that give us a richer and more subtle grasp of human emotions and of our own inner world. So my second piece of advice, closely related to the first, is: Read a lot of stories, listen to a lot of music, and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and lives of those you love. In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others.”
-Philosopher Martha Nussbaum
Painfully Hip turned me into a writer (by definition) and I remain forever grateful for my friends, family, and the internet’s acceptance and encouragement to turn that into actual creative writing. Because sometimes life gets too real to write about brands or trends or other people’s art and that’s when your passions get whittled out from The Things That Keep You Busy. So I am going to put on my ladies trousers and write what I know best and I’m not sure I care who reads it. I just know I need to write to truly live.
So bring on your End of the World. If you need me, I’ll be devouring the minutes.
As I’ve mentioned before, I used to be a bit of a jewelry fiend (read: I piled it on all at once like there was no tomorrow). But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gradually become aware of this thing called subtlety. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Turns out, one mindblowingly entrancing bauble is far superior to an overflowing treasure chest bursting out out of the seams of your human costume.
It’s quality versus quantity, friends. Nuance versus exaggeration. But that doesn’t mean that your statement piece need be simple. Why not quench your desire to overindulge with just one dazzler?
It’s like ordering a single luxurious piece of velvety macadamia nut cheesecake instead of drunkenly gorging yourself on three bags of leftover Halloween candy and waking up on the living room floor at 5am under a blanket of crumpled shame wrappers with rainbow all over your face.
My point is, look at this jewelry!
Gemstones win the subtle/striking vote because they manage to accomplish MISSION:SHMANCY without looking fake. I want to pair those genuine emerald earrings with a strapless dress to show off my also not fake décolletage.
Lovely lady lumps indeed!
I write this as a tribute to the Atlantic City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. My thoughts are with the East Coasters I love, those whose magic paths I crossed, those strangers whose eyes have ever absently caught mine for a brief still moment, those Alley Cat Allies cats who live under the boardwalk.
Atlantic City and I have always had an unspoken romance.
And one sided.
But after twenty-nine years of daydreaming, I awoke October 20th in a cushy queen bed in the Trump Plaza Hotel with a mighty hangover and fuzzy neon memories of the night before, of Atlantic City’s seedy streets unobscured by an underbelly.
Amber and I had ventured into the World’s Favorite Playground the evening before. On the drive I told her of my unfounded longing for AC, spurred only by an early childhood love of the song Under the Boardwalk by The Drifters.
It’s such a lazy summer song, but the tone in the chorus sounds like a warning.
UNDER THE BOARDWALK.
It sounds dangerous, like a gang straight out of The Outsiders is standing waiting for you, and as you approach, they all draw their switchblades in time to the word “WALK”. Either that or a shark’s fin is circling you in the sand.
But really, the song isn’t about much. You’re out of the sun, having some fun, and making love while tourists walk overhead, which I suppose is dangerous in its own way. I always loved the simplicity of the scene it evoked, and saw it in pastels. A girl in gingham, eyes closed, lips parted. Her hair in perfect pin curls. Her lover is tanned, handsome. Tiny stripes of sunlight from between the boards above them dash across bare skin. They are holding their poses like mannequins, softly awaiting a directive that will allow them to resume their caresses. But this is my daydream, and I want to pause it here for eternity, let nothing change, let these lovers never part, let the sun never set.
So basically I figured that in Atlantic City, it is always the 1950′s.
This assumption, I’m afraid, faded upon our arrival. We piped the song via youtube through the car stereo on repeat, 2012ing the shit out of it as we pulled into one of the multilevel parking structures at Trump Plaza.
What followed was several hours of sensory overload: a flurry of flashing lights, dings rings and bells, cheap drinks, free drinks, giant buddhas, racist slot machines, hot wings, felafels, more drinks, walls of dollar bills, fountains, strippers, and so much more.
As we walked arm in arm down a windy street, a gentleman suggested his friend “get those girls”, to which his friend replied, “Dude, I don’t have any money.”
I had a secondary modern daydream of winning big on the penny slots, maybe buying us a couple of diamond rings, but alas, at our best we cashed out with $.04.
So upon waking the next morning, I resigned myself to the fact that Atlantic City’s boardwalk is, just as I was told, a quainter Vegas with a real beach. At least now I knew. At least I was no longer living a lie.
We made our way down to the hotel pool, where we swam and discussed Singing in the Rain and the nature of love vs. self-preservation. At some point during this conversation, it became the 1980′s and we smoked imaginary Virginia Slims as we gazed out at the ocean through the floor to ceiling windows.
We glanced around and decided it was the 1920′s as well.
Venturing out onto the boardwalk in the October sun only fed our time travel greed, and by the time we made our way under the boardwalk to snap some photos, the fact that we were youtubing the song again was inconsequential, as the 50′s had overtaken me. A singular iPhone was no match for this desaturated seaside dreamland.
As if to show us we were doing something right, the song came on of it’s own accord minutes later, streaming through the House of Blues speakers as we stood beneath them, and I soaked up my little present from the universe. Not a week later, a Spanish-language version blessed my ears in a NYC taqueria, and last night in Marina del Rey, CA, a live band played the song as the reunited Taco Yacht Pleasure Crew gobbled down several metric tons of seafood.
Yep, I finally made it to LA. And as long as The Drifters surprise serenade me weekly, I’m going to assume that I’m right where I should be.