Archive for June, 2012

On Telling Stories to Children

I’m not a mother, but children are a big part of my life. I’m a doting auntie and I see my nephews and nieces a lot. They are a big reason why I moved away from NYC and back to my region of origin. I get the distinction of being the “crazy aunt” with them because I lived in a big city and I dress weird and sometimes I drop an unintentional swear-bomb. (I know, I know. I try hard, but sometimes they just slip out! Especially when driving!)

But mostly my role as the eccentric Uncle Jesse equivalent in my own personal “Full House” involves me telling stories to entertain the kiddos. They’re always wanting to play “Story Hour,” and let me tell you — I had some tough instructors in my writing classes, but they were not nearly as tough as this pint-sized set. The minute one of my stories get boring, they simply walk away. Tough crowd!

Kids are so ruthless when it comes to stories. They don’t care so much about evocative language, beautiful atmospherics or penetrating insight. They like action, they like boldly yet simply drawn characters, they like happy, triumphant endings, and a dose of silliness at the right moment doesn’t hurt, either.

The minute something gets slow, or boring, their wide eyes begin to glaze over, they get fidgety, and before you know it, they’ve dissed you for some Barbie coloring book or a wrestling match with their Real Steel action figures, and you’re sitting there like last year’s Disney sitcom princess in rehab.

Funnily enough, I get super-terrified when my nephews and niece demand a story from me. I’ve pitched managers and agents before, but telling stories to the kids in my life makes me even more nervous for some weird reason. Not nervous exactly, but I definitely feel the need to stay alert and responsive in a way that doesn’t exist when it’s just me, my imagination and my fingers flying over the keyboard.

Being the kids’ storyteller makes me remember that stories are, on a basic level, meant to be entertaining: meant to draw people in, meant to enchant and, above all, captivate. You have to weave a spell, and weave it quickly.

There’s kind of a stage fright for oral storytelling, of course, but there’s also the pressure of having to weave a story on the spot. You start to understand how techniques like repetition, stock characters and build-up are so enduring: they help you vamp for time while trying to cook up something new.

But being put on the spot has its unexpected benefits, too: having to invent right then and there makes you un-precious about the act of creation itself. There’s no time or room to be perfectionistic; you simply have to go for it. I’ve definitely had moments when I’ve wondered, in the middle of telling a story, Oh god, what am I going to put in this magic cupboard to keep the kids interested? And then I look at the groceries on the table and think, A haunted bag of potato chips! (They loved that.)

The saving grace of telling stories to kids is that they like to hear the same story over and over again. More than like: they LOVE hearing the same story again and again, repeated ad nauseum. It’s like writing draft after draft, reworking certain crowd-pleasing elements to bring them to the fore and ruthlessly dropping what doesn’t work. It’s live testing in the moment: a quiet hush and wide eyes means it’s working, but the minute my nephew starts punching on his sister, I know that it’s not. (And that’s when I get to yell, “I don’t care who started it, I just know that it needs to STOP!” And then I become slightly terrified that I’m sounding like my mother.)

Anyway: I’ve come to embrace the times when one of my get-along gang demands a story from me. It’s so much fun, and such a good exercise I’m almost convinced writing programs should have an on-going exercise in telling stories to kindergartners. It’s oddly terrifying, but hearing all those kids cheer when you get to that hard-won happy ending feels more viscerally pleasing than anything. Well, almost anything: not quite as good as getting all hugs and kisses from my favorite little ones for taking the time to tell them a tale in the first place.

Rick Owens Is My Newest Literary Mentor

I try to make clothes the way Lou Reed does music, with minimal chord changes, and direct. It is sweet but kind of creepy… It’s about an elegance being tinged with a bit of the barbaric.

- Rick Owens

If I could make a book that read like this, I would be so thoroughly happy. I’ve always had a fondness for Rick Owens’ clothing; a skirt of his was one of the first “designer” things I ever bought, and it has lasted nearly ten years and I love it. I dream of owning a jacket of his like this:

One thing I admire beyond the beautiful clothing is how Owens is utterly consistent in his vision: he has a dream and conviction about what clothes should be and do and how they should make people feel, and he sticks to it, no matter what the whims and dictates of the market supposedly require. His craft is unparalleled, as well — it is amazing to me that a range of women of all ages and sensibilities can wear a Rick Owens piece and generally look great. Clarity of vision, purity of craft and an aesthetic that manages to be both incredibly specific yet steathily democratic: those are all wonderful things to aspire to, whether in clothing or stories.

Currently: Zombie Books and a Genius Alaia Dress

I was on Gchat with one of my best friends, who lamented not reading a weekly snapshot from me, like the ones we used to do over at nogoodforme.com. “I really miss those,” he wrote, following the statement with loads of sadface emoticons. Nothing pierces my heart like a string of sadface emoticons, I tell you. Anyway, in honor of him, here is a snapshot, but more like a super-snapshot.

Listening: Beach House, Bloom, which is as good as everyone says it is!; The Hundred in the Hands, Red Night, elegant indie-electro with lovely chanteuse voice; some lovely Bartok and Satie when I feel serene and fancy.

Watching: One Day, that movie with some guy and Anne Hathaway playing a British chick. I didn’t think it was all that great, but I enjoyed the company of the main characters enough to not regret the time I spent watching it. Also, I saw Prometheus in the theaters, which I wrote about here for my day gig. I really enjoyed it, but of course I would: I was a huge fan of the original Alien. Also, last night we went to see Cirque du Soleil, and it made me think, “Wow, I really should go to yoga class soon.”

Reading: I’m still finishing Zone One by Colson Whitehead. He’s one of those few contemporary “literary” authors I truly enjoy and always find interesting. Here, he takes on the zombie novel, but it’s really a meditation on the condition of the modern city and what would remain if the apocalypse came and destroyed everything. It’s really smart, eloquent and visceral when it needs to be. Next up: a bunch of books on finances and real estate, to get ready for house-buying next year or so, and a biography of Catherine the Great.

Wearing: The best thing I wore this week was a coral-colored Alaia dress, but not a dress like the super-tight Lycra-y stuff he does. It’s a beautiful drape-y dress that looks elegant sporty-casual from the front but is super-sensual in the back. It’s such a freaking genius dress; it makes everyone look. There’s a reason why Alaia has endured, and it’s because he’s consistently true to himself, and his cuts are so good.

Eating: I had so many ridiculously good meals this week! The latest involved a hibiscus margarita, manchego cheese crostini with basil pesto and figs on the side, a tomato, basic and fresh mozzarella flatbread pizza, a pork ragu with pappadelle pasta, and pan-seared tuna and wasabi mashed potatoes. But now I’m drinking an iced chai tea and it is rocking my world so good.

Wanting: Another day in the weekend, and a new pair of glasses!

Needing: To find a new place to live. Soon!

Thinking: Right now I’m in super-strategy mode in terms of writing, business and the intersection of, so I feel like my mind is just absorbing tons of new information and slotting things into place for future endeavors. It’s like a hive buzzing in my brain, whirring with plans and schemes and strategies. But I’ve also been thinking about getting older, since it’s my birthday soon, and I’m mulling over what I’ve learned in this past year.

Dreaming: A real vacation, like a week away in some beautiful, serene place where I can read and dream and write and think to my heart’s content, without the hustle and bustle of my everyday life.

Feeling: Loose and limber, purring like a sleepy kitten in the sun, loved-up and content.

Anticipating: My short film “Phoebe, 2:13AM” is playing online soon! Also, on the more frivolous side: what perfume am I going to buy for fall? And what am I going to do for my birthday?

Loving: Peonies and when people take pictures of them; Instagram; my new plans for what I’m going to do with my now-monthly e-zine-y goodness. For awhile I was like, ugh, what am I going to do with a newsletter? (Everyone tells you to have one, though.) But now I know and feel content with it. You can sign up for it on the sidebar there on the right, or go here if you’re the direct type; I will send it out every new moon, because I want to live in sync with the universe, of course.

Writing: I have shards of a new short story happening, and of course lots of stuff here! It takes me ridiculously long to write a short story; I need to train myself to just go for it and not feel like I have to spend an eon of time with a character to feel as if I can write them.

Favorite Things: Sjobeck, Madewell’s Fall Lookbook, And MUSIC + CANDY + MUSIC

Just a few frivolities that have caught my eye and captivated my heart lately. Fashion! Music! Food! I feel like a teenager again! Maybe it’s the upcoming summer season, but I am in an expansive, fun, open mood these days.


Sjobeck is a Malibu-based label. I first fell in love with those lovely printed silk pants. I struggle with the idea of printed, loose pants because they remind me of those mean older quasi-hippie ladies at Bay Area farmers’ markets with the carts and the food judginess and the arch voices, but these look so beautifully cut and chic. I did a little digging and fell kind of in love with their beautiful blend of California ease with Scandi-like arty prints and cuts.

Madewell’s Fall 2013 Lookbook

Sometimes I am more interested in retailers’ lookbooks vs. designer ones because retailers know they have to sell clothes and have an interest in making fashion actually wearable yet dynamic. I love Madewell‘s lookbook because this is how so many girls I know dress — it’s happy, cheerful but not obnoxious, kind of preppy but off-beat.

Those M&M Pretzel Candies

I wish I could be more fancy about food, but other than champagne and an enduring love of oysters and mussels, I’m kind of a proletariot when it comes to food. (Though last night at dinner I had fancier things like a peach nectar cocktail, scallops with mango-carrot reduction, a gourmet cheese plate and wild salmon with cucumber noodles and mint — all so delicious!) But generally, I’m really content with stuff like macaroni and cheese, guacamole and really yummy summer salads. And candy! I am usually not a sweets person, but these are my new favorites. They hit that crunchy-salty-sweet nexus so well. I really need to control myself around them, they are seriously addictive.

Records: Santigold, Beach House, The Walkmen

These are all my current late-spring jams! Nothing too leftfield, mostly stuff from established indie acts that I have long loved, and my usual quotient of sassy lady music. It’s funny, I’m usually the first person to be like, “Rawr! Noise! Aggression!” But lately I like a more easygoing, comfortable relationship with music. I usually get more adventurous in the fall, but for now I’ll stick with my well-beloved favorites.

Santigold, The Riot's Gone

It took me awhile to get into this record, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It’s a bit more subtle than her debut, but there’s more emotional depth. This is one of my favorite tracks, elegiac and anthemic all at once — it makes me want to do something epic with my existence.

Beach House, Lazuli

I got early on the Beach House train, and have always loved their dreamy, lovely sound. This record feels a lot more clear and strong to me, but there’s no sacrifice of mystique — it’s still the sound of ocean air at night, chandeliers sparkling like champagne, the scent of perfume still lingering in bedsheets at dusk.

The Walkmen, Heaven

I feel like the Walkmen and I are odd compatriots, mostly because we’re of the same age and same NYC generation. I still have memories of seeing Jonathan Fire Eater, their earlier carnation, way back in the day. I was semi-annoyed with the Walkmen at the beginning of their career, but as they’ve gone further along, I like their records more and more. I love that they have evolved into these sort of elegant gentlemen of indie rock, sharp suits slightly rumpled but still well-worn.