I started planning my 30th birthday months ago. All of my favorite people from three different cities I’ve lived in were to converge at a hacienda in Puerto Penasco, Sonora. They would meet and mingle and suddenly my disorderly 20’s would merge together into a single golden thread of continuity and harmony.
Well, that plan fell through.
My birthday this year happened to coincide with yet another big move: to Oakland with my boyfriend. It simply wasn’t feasible to travel from LA to Oakland to Mexico and back to Oakland in the same week. And between quitting my job in L.A. early (so as not to inconvenience them? What was I thinking?), and paying a much needed visit to Tucson, I was running out of money faster than you can say ballsupbingo.com.
The fella and I then lined up an Oakland residence unavailable until August 10th, and lo and behold: I was unemployed and homeless on my 30th birthday.
We had set aside just enough to rent a room for the night in the coastal redwoods near Bodega Bay. The place was equipped with a hot tub, and silent, save for the chirping of birds and a babbling creek obscured by bright green foliage fit for a rainforest. We arrived with a basket (okay, a paper bag) full of goodies we’d payed too much for at a fancy market in Petaluma: tortas, chèvre, several salads, a large bottle of Goose Island’s Matilda, an assortment of olives, and a tiny little dutch apple birthday cake, which doubled as an incendiary device when loaded with 30 candles, one to represent each of my different neuroses.
The evening should have been delightful, but unfortunately I’d been feeling off all day. Though I’d woken up that morning to a salmon quiche and coffee in bed in a surprisingly comfortable non-sleazy motel room, from there it was all downhill.
At lunch, not one, but two birds decided to use my good hair day as an outhouse. I’d wanted to show my boyfriend the Musee Mecanique in San Francisco, but the crowds were horrendous and everything was irritating me. I got caught in a feeling-sorry-for-myself feedback loop, which quickly morphed into a why-have-I-accomplished-nothing-in-life-so-far-and-omg-I’m-actually-thirty-years-old loop to go along with the uneasiness in my stomach.
When we arrived at the cabin, I briefly talked myself back to living in the moment. We feasted on the delicacies my sweet boyfriend had splurged on. We discussed our hopes and dreams for this new life in the Bay Area. We soaked in the hot tub, but I couldn’t get comfortable, or out of my own head. I made a half-drunk wish for mental clarity and blew out my fireball of candles, but couldn’t stomach a bite of cake. Exhausted, I dozed off on accident just after 9pm and awoke to an ominous gurgling from within the depths of my stomach.
I proceeded to spend the next six hours vomiting. Happy birthday to me.
Of course I had food poisoning, but I couldn’t help but think that my mental and emotional state had aggravated the issue. I’d had such high hopes for this seemingly arbitrary day. What difference does it make? Why is 30 such a big deal? Why did I feel the desire to try and “make sense”of my twenties anyway? That’s not really a thing you can do.
A quick google showed me that I apparently didn’t hit my quarter-life crisis at 26 like I thought I had, but that the time is now for all things whiny and what-does-it-all-mean-y. Or its a “pre-30 crisis”, which I guess could span four years? Whatever.
I could go into a list of problems and solutions, of “you’re-not-the-only-one”s, but not only is the internet full of those lists, I have an inkling that those lists aren’t helping. In the last thirty years or so, I’ve started to notice that the more I coddle these crises, the more crises I have to coddle.
Sure, I’m 30 and broke and have no job prospects or specialized skills. Sure, I’m socially awkward and sometimes say stupid things and I’m not famous like I thought I was going to be when I was 11 years old, and two birds shit on my head and I puked a bunch on my birthday. But I just moved into an awesome house with someone I love who constantly goes out of his way to make me happy and I have several friends trying to help me get a job and my mom loves me.
I’m making a decided effort to cheer up. And when my mind wants to interject negatives, I can calm it with a piece of brilliance from the effervescent Amber Mortensen: “Welcome to being human, ya pussy.”
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.
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.
A reoccurring daydream of mine has been to have too much time to myself, isolated from the world for several months with nothing but my sewing machine, a large iTunes library, and enough super healthy food that I wouldn’t have to venture into the world at all.
It’s a reverie that has calmed me when overwhelmed, hungover or sick to death of my job. I would plan my escape, figuring how much I would have to save up, where I would go, who I would tell (very few), and what I would do if somebody tried to break into this hypothetical house while I was sleeping and murder me for no reason I know this is an absurd thing to stress myself out about but I can’t help it and I have done it since I was a kid and nothing remotely like that has ever happened to me but I still freak out about it and on a similar note camping is terrifying.
Um. Well, as luck would have it, this scenario (the house to myself, not the faceless axe-wielding maniac*) was handed to me on a silver platter right when I got back from accidentally spending two and a half weeks in the Bible Belt (Make that four and a half weeks for Rian and Ryan, who are finally hauling yacht back to LA).
When my friend Monique asked me to dog/cat/veggie garden/house sit for most of July, I jumped at the chance. A perfect opportunity to cash in on some much needed alone time and prepare for the fashion show I agreed to do July 20th, my first in over a year. So I moved my few belongings in, bought a ton a healthy food, turned on some Moonface and sat down to sketch…
Everything I drew looked contrived and amateurish. And boring. I concentrated on the theme. I looked at magazines. I finally joined Pinterest. I had long phone conversations with my mom on the topic(s) of art vs. business vs. selling out vs. no one cares vs. blah blah blah and had countless revelations which I immediately forgot.
After a week and a half spent hunkered down, trying to concentrate, cursing my lack of vision/motivation/a flat stomach, I had a little facebook chat with my friend Michael Lopez. A fellow designer, he seems to be constantly producing things, updating his etsy store, doing photoshoots…he displays a level of excitement and productivity I haven’t felt since I was 22 or so (not counting a few little spurts coinciding with wanting to impress someone, or that little known internet gem called Concrete and Cashmere).
Michael explained that when he didn’t feel inspired to sew, he’d screen print, or just make basic crop tops, just make something. Slowly I began to remember what it’s like to sew. Most of the time when I end up with a piece I really love, it was one that continuously morphed as I made it. Sure, I’d have a basic sketch, but since I rarely work from patterns, I’d always be compensating, changing it from the shape I originally intended and into something new and beautiful that I didn’t expect. (<<< check out that sick metaphor 4 life, bro.)
So instead of sitting around watching the first two seasons of Louie and getting more and more depressed, (well, not instead. I should have said, after watching the first two seasons of Louie and the Joan Rivers episode totally punching me in the revelation gut, and the duckling episode making me cry) I made a decision.
I decided to stop thinking.
Specifically, thinking about the future. My mind had been occupied with so many career-related what-ifs and if-I-can’t-make-clothes-then-what-is-my-purpose-in-lifes, that my hands had become immobile. All I had to do was pick up the fucking scissors and get to work. And so I did. And I made a couple of really shitty pieces of clothing.
But it was either actively try to create, or give up and slump into a lethargic Netflix globule, whining to the dogs about how pathetic I am.
Two days later, things started to turn around. Tonight I finished a fourth gorgeous dress and I couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming show. As I stated in my last post, the evening’s theme is Future Primitive, something that at first didn’t resonate with me. Now, however, I can confidently see where this collection is going and pinpoint its main themes. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready. The designs in their essence:
Lascaux cave paintings -meets- Juggalo babes going to the opera.
(I’d like to note for the record: I just spent twenty minutes photoshopping hatchetmen** onto a cave wall for you and then said aloud “What the fuck am I doing?”)
If you happen to be in Tucson, I’ll see you Friday, but I’ll post pictures as soon as I can after the show, which is FREEEEEE.
*I am fully aware of my absurdity here, and have talked my heart out of exploding countless times: What are the chances that there is a guy with an axe/revovler/candlestick just wandering through these woods right now? It’s raining anyway, he’d be too damp and uncomfortable to be in the mood to kill me, and besides he doesn’t know me. Most murders are committed by someone the victim knows, right? Or am I thinking of rapes? Or am I thinking of most car crashes occurring within five miles of your house? Whatever. There would be no motive, is what I’m getting at. And if this imaginary calculating brute is for some reason an acquaintance of mine, why me? I’m so nice! And I’m poor! I have literally nothing this creep could want. He couldn’t even want my identity, since I have somehow managed to achieve a terrible credit score, despite the fact that I didn’t go to college and I’ve never had a credit card. To conclude, there is no chance that anyone is trying to kill me. That sound I heard was probably just a bear.
**The irony of this post involving potential “axe wielding” individuals AND hatchetmen just now hit me.
Homeless, aimless and unemployed, I appear to be in gypsy mode once again. But that doesn’t mean I’m going go overboard with baubles (overbauble?) and dress like a schizophrenic costume shop refugee a like I did in 2009. This time I’m taking the high road (well, only clothing-wise. The low road has WAY better bars).
For the past six months or so, I’ve cooled it with my accessory obsession (obsessory? accession?) (sorry) (not sorry) and stuck to a look comprised mostly of dresses and shoes. There is a get-up-and-go simplicity about it, and it’s given me the opportunity to downsize my wardrobe into a travel-friendly two-bag affair. However, I seem to have only collected a variety of short floral dresses and cowboy boots and now I look like I’m wearing a Jamaica costume.
Something must be done, lest I end up an action figure. I can see it now: a displeased plastic frown from juggling my miniature suitcases while trying to find my tiny boarding pass. My haircut comes pre-experimented on by little kid scissors, and if you look in my luggage, there are seven more outfits exactly like the one I’m wearing.
I have approximately one more month in Tucson before I’m truly floating in the wind. Now is the time for reinvention! So stylistically, I’ve decided to embrace the vagabond life in a Kathleen-Turner-in Body-Heat homage to the 1930’s via the 1980’s.
Confused? Good. So am I.
Whilst thrifting in Flagstaff, AZ with my mom, I came across this pattern:
The masculine/feminine silhouette balance and the monochrome simplicity made me weak at the knees, and better yet, this (view B) is one of those easily thriftable looks. A pair of high rise pleated pants can be easily made into shorts with minimal sewing skills. Just cut a couple of inches longer than intended, then roll up, tack down and press. Wear with a brown belt over a simple silk tank and then throw on one of those ubiquitous oversized white button downs and roll up the sleeves. Top with a wide brimmed hat or a pair of big earrings, adopt a breathy voice, and you’ll win/break the heart of almost every character ever portrayed by Michael Douglas.
Want to embody a modern, monochrome Carmen Sandiego, but avoid the Polly Esther Fabrique? If you’re not me, you could try the actual high road and achieve this look with new clothes!
above photos via fashion gone rogue
And if you want to get just crazy high on the high road (at least as far as scoring points with yours truly is concerned), be sure to check out what may very well be my last Tucson fashion show on July 20th. The theme of the night is “future primitive”, and even though I appear to be doing “vintage modern”, I’m sure I can rationalize it all somehow. In keeping with my current approach toward life in general, the best plan is…no plan?
I wonder how I’ll manage to pull this one off.