Archive for October, 2012

Bring Me to Wonderland With These Beautiful Photographs

Lately I’ve been thinking about the history of my eye. Not my physical eyeball, which would be a sad tale of a progressive descent into blindness. And not a Georges Batailles-like surreal exploration of sexuality, either, a la The Story of An Eye! (Eek!) No, more about what I find visually appealing, and where my tastes and sensibilities are rooted in.

Far as I can tell, there’s a few strands I find particularly appealing: a very 90s, grunge-influenced aesthetic that prized a kind of riveting authenticity above prettiness; rhapsodic, almost abstract nature images, a la Terrence Malick; French New Wave and 1930s Hollywood films; and finally, a kind of whimsical, fantastical tableaux, where images are dreamy, influenced by fashion and fantasy, but with a twist of darkness, melancholy, or general teen angst moodiness. Maybe like if Sofia Coppola directed “Twilight.” (Not as outlandish as you’d think — she was in consideration for the directing job for the sequels.)

Considering this last strain, I recently came across these photographs by D.C.-based photographer Cade Martin (via Maria Popova’s Brainpickings site) and kind of went into mad-crush mode on them. Part of a series of images featuring dancers of the Washington Ballet, they’re in the whimsy-fantasy mode that I like so much, and remind me a bit of Tim Walker’s photography (which, if you know me from nogoodforme.com, you know I love.)

I love the fairytale-like feel in this work, but I also love its stripped-down elegance — so many fantasy images can feel so stuffy and overstyled, but these are decidedly not, picking up their airy, slightly uncanny feel from how they’re lit and framed. (I like it when a work has air to breathe, you know?)


On Time and Its Many Guises

I started wearing a wristwatch recently. It is nothing special, just one of those models that is man-sized but styled for women. But I like it a lot: it’s a metallic rose-gold band with a standard, not digital, face, just a little large for my small wrist. It fits much more like a bracelet than a watch as a result, and I like to layer other gold-tone bracelets with it. But even on its own, it’s pleasantly heavy.

I started wearing it because I was tired of digging my cell phone out of my bag to look at the time, pawing through notebooks, gadgets, makeup bags, and whatever scraps I’ve accumulated over the day just to get to it. (I know I shouldn’t have so much stuff in my bag, but I can’t help it: I’m like a turtle, only I carry my office with me everywhere.) Besides, wearing a watch is an opportunity for an elegant gesture: I like pulling up a sleeve and delicately flexing a wrist to accomplish such a mundane task as checking the time.

Beyond fashion and the theater of self-presentation, however, I noticed that wearing a watch has softened my relationship to time. There’s something gentler about seeing non-digital time. I’m trying to think of a situation in life where knowing the time was exactly 8:48 was useful. Honestly, I can’t think of any — knowing that it’s about 10 till is enough.

I’ve been thinking about time lately. I throttle through my days, and at night sometimes I lie in my bed and feel my body still racing through the minutes. Like existential jet lag, in a way: my mind is a million paces ahead trying to anticipate the next hour’s challenges, and underneath it all my spirit is holding on quietly for me to sit down for a moment and let it catch up. I imagine it like a hedgehog, scurrying along trying to catch up to some much quicker, nervier creature — a deer, maybe — and just as it reaches its destination, the deer is off again, racing through the days. My mind’s pace is quicker than my spirit’s, and sometimes the split feels problematic in a way that worries me.

I often take a few minutes to breathe deeply and center myself, but sometimes I worry it will take more than a few minutes and some fresh air to really address what could be a deeper issue, this strange and subterranean feeling that time has become this dictator in my life. And it’s true what they say: the older you get, the faster time seems to go, often distressingly so. Is it really October now? Wasn’t it just January? What will I have in my hands after all this time has passed? Just a memory of it passing through me like a wind, a few handfuls of accomplishments, a passel of memories?

I go through so quickly through my days that my memories feel thinner, paper-like, flimsy, like barely registered imprints on a fragile sheet. I can see why people get so obsessed with taking pics for Facebook and Instagram: at least there’s a record that something happened, even though it seemed like it was happening to someone else, or a ghost. I worry that I’m becoming a ghost in my own life.

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly isn’t right about my experience of time. I think it’s partly because I’m getting older and feel the press of time a lot more acutely, especially being an aunt and watching my nieces and nephews grow up so quickly. And the discourse surrounding time isn’t exactly rich: we talk of time in terms of quantities, schedules, priorities, management. It is so boring, and so inadequate when talking about time as a dimension that gives meaning to our lives.

But then I read something somewhere about the Greek words for time, and something opened up for me. Basically, the ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos, both of which conceptualize time in very different ways. Chronos means time as measured and portioned off in minutes, hours, days, years. It is obviously the root of the word “chronology,” and therefore refers to time as a sequence. Chronos is the time of calendars and deadlines.

Kairos, however, is different. It means “supreme moment,” an indeterminate period in which something special happens. It is opportunity, kismet, carpe diem — a qualitative way of referring to time, not quantitative. Kairos is like when you are doing something so absorbing, so wonderful that you’re completely absorbed and you don’t even realize hours have passed.

I remember a lightbulb in my head going off when I read the distinctions between chronos and kairos time. Chronos time is like time in an hourglass: each grain is a minute, a day, a year, a decade. You can sort the grains into different buckets, labelled with “family,” “work,” “friends,” “love,” or what have you. That sounds much more serene and orderly than it feels, however: I imagine myself more like trying to arrange buckets to catch sand falling from a leaky roof, trying to quickly rotate different buckets so I don’t lose a grain — and then another leak springs, and then I have to rotate buckets for that as well, and suddenly my life resembles a bad screwball comedy. That’s what time feels like when you manage a million priorities and multi-task.

If chronos time is grains of sand, then kairos actually conceptualizes time as a spatial dimension. I imagine it as a space you can fill with whatever you want. Some weeks feel like a hot, barren desert livened with oasis and mirages; some feel like a wide open field. What shape it takes and how you choose to fill it up with is up to you: a peaceful wood cabin, an amusement park, a pasture of horses, a city. If kairos time is a subjective experience, it can feel like anything. It is elastic, malleable: it’s nothing like the inexorable inflexibility and relentless forward march of chronos time.

Since I read that, I’ve been thinking of how to shift my experience of time from one of chronos to more kairos. How can I stop measuring out the sands of time and just let it be a space to fill with delicious experiences to savor? How can I stop feeling like I’ve been shot like a cannon through the day, hurling to get stuff done — and instead sort of just float, enjoying the sights of the world passing by?

I know we can talk about things like shaving things off a To-Do list, and maybe getting rid of those kind of lists altogether, focusing on the need to create actual space in life for experiences to happen — and let go of the need to exert control all the time altogether. And yes, maybe I should be falling back on my Buddhist heritage and meditate a little more. And wearing a watch that I love helps a little, really: it’s much more of a pleasure to check the time now, and I can’t help but think it makes a tiny difference.

But I have a feeling the balance of chronos and kairos is a lifelong thing, changing with circumstances and priorities — and I have learn to be better and faster about recognizing when one conception of time is winning out over the other. Because the truth is, you probably need both dimensions of time to be a successful human being in some way or another. Chronos makes sure we don’t waste time since it’s not a limitless commodity, but kairos means we enjoy it. One’s the pace of the mind and the other of the heart, but they work together to make the most of the time we have on the planet.

In truth, it’s not that hard to cross over from chronos to kairos: a deep breath, a look up at the sky, a willingness to be fully and completely present in a moment, and you’re there. The question is the willingness of effort to do it again and again, until it become second nature. I don’t know why it can be so hard, but it is, especially since so many things demand your time and attention, fraying both at the ends. So I’m hoping to fray a little less and live a little more, moment by moment — even if it means turning the evil of having to check the time into an elegant, catlike gesture.

These Videos By Diptyque and A Fine Frenzy Are the Loveliest Things to Look At

Sometimes the Internet depresses me, but often it is a great source of beauty in my life, especially since I get to intersect with bits of loveliness like these. This promo by luxury perfume company Diptyque, for example, for their new fragrance Volutes. The concept is ports of call around the world. The execution: kind of Art Deco animation, altogether enchanting. Fitting for a fragrance with flowers, honey, tobacco notes, peppers, saffron and myrrh. I only wish it were longer, with even a wisp of a story.

Sometimes you even get a charming tale in addition to the visual prettiness. A Fine Frenzy — the moniker of singer-songwriter Alison Sudol — recently put out this short animated fable about a tree named Pine and a bird named Bird, and what they do when their home is decimated. It’s quiet and lovely, a lot like A Fine Frenzy’s music:

She also released a video for her single “Avalanches” that features walking in the woods in a cloak with wolves. Fantasy life:

So there you have it: some ports of loveliness for your journeys on the Internet. Enjoy!

Opium, Angels and Carnal Flowers

True confessions time: I think about perfume a lot. It’s something I’m minorly obsessed with. It doesn’t interrupt my life and I’m not cashing in on any insurance policies to get my fix, but I do find myself making detours to malls and department stores to stroll past perfume counters in a happy daze, eyes transfixed by glass bottles as my nose catches strands of delicious scents. I’ll catch a note of something that particularly enchants me — praline, maybe, bluebells, lotus flower, or a particularly rich version of orange blossom — and then wander up and down the aisles until I’ve located the source of my happiness and delight. And then I’ll spray a bit on some paper and hold it up to my nose and inhale. And for one little moment: experience pure beauty for beauty’s sake.

There are a lot of ways I enjoy fragrance. Some perfumes I like as works of art. I smell them — they are often from niche lines — and I admire their craftsmanship, their artistry; I revere them like I do Agnes Martin paintings, Francesca Woodman photographs, Tim Walker fashion editorials, Erik Satie symphonies. I’d rank the Frederic Malle line of fragrances up there, some Serge Lutens, the new line of Francis Kurdjkian scents, some of the more conceptual Comme des Garcons lines. In fact, I long to visit a museum of fragrance, where I can wander vast rooms of carefully curated fragrance exhibitions. Think of the possibilities! You could do a whole exhibition on a genre of perfume I call “the children of Theirry Mugler’s Angel”: voluptuous gourmands with deep, heady musk-patchouli bases. There are lots of them I like: Il Profvmo Chocolat, Coco Mademoiselle, Calvin Klein Euphoria, Lolita de Lempicka, Lancome La Vie est Belle, even something mass like Bath and Body Works Dark Kiss. Afterwards, you’d need an insulin shot and a divan to collapse on, both from the headiness and from delight.

Other perfumes, for me, work as fashion accessories: a lovely apercu to a fantastic outfit. Some of these come from fashion houses: I think of the Chloe perfume, with its notes of lychee and its general aura of fancy laundry detergent, as a nice accessory to a pretty floral dress or quirky outfit. (I know lots of indie ingenues who are very fond of it.) I liked wearing Marc Jacobs’ very first fragrance — a lovely ginger-and-gardenia scent — with a cashmere sweater, jeans and riding boots, a total ensemble that felt both subtly luxurious, understated and vaguely outdoorsy at once. Some scents feel like warm, cozy scarves to wrap around your neck — anything with the rich woody oud note works like this for me. But I’ve been looking for the fragrance equivalent of a spiky, punky, metal bracelet lately, to match the jewelry I already have. Something bold, a little spicy, but close to the skin.

But lately I’m starting to think about perfume in the way that I think about music: kind of a locus of emotion, memory and dreaming. I’d love to be able to make a mixtape of scents — maybe some scents, with their complex symphonies of top, middle and base notes, are whole mixtapes or songs in and of themselves. I like the narrative possibilities of scents. When I think of my life as told through a series of perfumes — the ones I’ve bought and worn in the past, and will wear in the future — it unfolds something that my monthly mixtapes or even written bios can’t capture in words or sounds. I’ll save the perfume-as-biography for another post, but the movie trailer would open with my mom’s Chanel No. 5 and a purloined spritz of Enjoli from my babysitter, and then plumes of Opium, The Body Shop’s Ananya and Carnal Flower would unfold to coincide with significant love affairs — and then it would conclude with a move to the countryside of wide-open fields and vast horizons, a trail of fresh jasmine, orange blossom and ripe woods scents traipsing behind me. Perfume is a story through scent that’s able to capture dreams, places, people, and affairs of the heart and soul in an quiet, elusive yet economical way. A story so utterly personal and poetic that words on a screen or page can’t even begin to capture.


Picture: A few of my current lineup. I like a mix of hippie, department store and luxe.