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.
Tucson, darling. It’s been almost three glorious years, and this is really hard to say, but I just have to come right out with it: I’m leaving you.
Wait. Stop. I can’t take it when you look at me that way. Listen baby, Its not what you think. I still love you. I don’t want to leave, it’s just… I want to see other cities for a while. Hey no, hold on. Don’t be jealous. Lord knows you have more amazing women at any given time than any other city of your size, and I’ve been loyal to you this whole time. What? No, that’s not what I meant. Size doesn’t matter anyway, you know that.
Please, I need you to understand. It’s not you. Its just that I haven’t really spent quality time with very many cities, and I can’t really be sure I’m ready to settle down if I’ve got this itch to see other places, you know? I’d always be wondering what else was out there. You wouldn’t want that would you?
We both know I’ll be back one day, but until then, here’s something for us to remember each other by. I took a farewell walk through your oldest streets last evening in my favorite boots, in a dress I just made for my last fashion show as your resident.
The Dreamer Boots by Nicole are not only super comfy, but they go with everything and make me feel like a gazelle. I’m about to fully embrace a nomadic lifestyle, and in preparation, have gotten rid of all my possessions, excepting what I can carry. Admittedly, these boots are a bit bulkier than the average traveler would recommend. And okay sure, they don’t pack easily, but what that says to me is I should never take them off.
Baby, when I look down at my feet I’ll always think of you. And one day, the boots will come striding back through your dusty desert streets again. You can take the girl out of the desert, but you can’t take the desert out of the girl.
After all, we’re obviously sole mates.
And with a bad pun, I exit.
Nicole Dreamer Boots, $145
One of a kind black wrap dress with embroidery detail, Sapphire Cordial. Price on request.
H&M hat, gift from my friend Megan
Coyote earrings, gift from Amber
Photos by Ciaran Harman