Archive for March, 2014

“The bees are flying. They taste the spring.”


The title of this post is the last line in Sylvia Plath’s poem “Wintering.” It’s a rather dark poem, but the last line for me is always hopeful and optimistic — though, of course, it’s shadowed by Plath’s own biography and tragic end.

Still, let’s go with it. After a rather long, dark, dismal wintering, the hive of life is coming back to life. Around here the snow has finally melted in my driveway, and I can see…dirty concrete! After months of pure snow and ice, I’ll take what I can get. I finally got to drag out my pots of plants and mucked around, repotting and replanting, ready to see if my silly little gardening experiments turn out okay this time.

The days are longer, of course, and the sunlight itself seems stronger every day. The first relatively non-freezing day — a rather balmy 50 degrees Fahrenheit, whoo hoo! — I went for a walk by our local river, braving blustery winds that blew the hair elastic off of my French braid. Large broken-up sheets of ice floated on the river, which had little waves cresting because of the winds. Not a cloud in the sky, though, and everyone else on the path — hardcore runners, birdwatchers, others like me who just wanted to get outside for a bit — smiled and said hello at one another. I think we were all just happy to be out and about.

I’ve been riding more lately, trying to get back to the weekly schedule I had before. I worried I would lose whatever skill I’d built up painstakingly over the past year, but in a strange way, I feel more in control and powerful than ever. My seat feels secure, solid, like nothing can shake it. I can’t help but think that’s related to everything happening in my life earlier this year which can be summed up as just “AARGH TUMULT.” I take such real pleasure in the calm and focus of a good ride, as well as the unspoken yet deep-feeling connection with the horse I’m on. I’m looking forward to more rides in the spring. I’m thinking of going back to English riding, but I will be content just to canter lots and feel the wind in my hair.

Spots of optimism are popping up: new opportunities, new stories waiting to be told, new phrases waiting to be placed into poems, new spring dresses to be worn, new perfumes to try, new events to look forward to and new friends to make. I’ve temporarily started up NOGOODFORME again — time to freshen up a key part of my work portfolio — and it’s fun to use that serious-frivolity slumber party part of my brain again. There’s just a nice gush of creative energy happening in my life now, coinciding with a deepening of love and support. My novel is so close to being finished. Of course, that’s just the beginning of a whole other process, but it feels good to wrap up such a huge endeavor.

Yes, I’d say Sylvia had it right: “The bees are flying. They taste the spring.” I only wish she had stayed around to see the spring herself. But you and I are here, and I hope the new season unfurls for you in such a lovely, gentle way.


On Private Agonies

I’ve been thinking a bit about the recent suicide of fashion designer L’Wren Scott, which has been in the news a lot lately. I wasn’t super-knowledgeable about her designs — though I heard her dresses were immaculately cut — and while I remembered she was a stylist at a time when being a stylist was a “thing,” I didn’t know much about her outside of her work and her famous Rolling Stone boyfriend. She was one of those “fashion sphinxes” in my mind immaculate, glamorous in a very intimidating, dramatic way, a bit rarefied and remote. Though by all media accounts she was a lovely person, she had a smooth, shiny surface. The surface, obviously, covered a lot of pain and suffering, and though I didn’t know her, my heart goes out to her loved ones and family.

Suicide has not often touched my life on a personal level. When I have heard about it in my life, it has usually been a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, that kind of thing. Except for once. It was someone that I knew very briefly, one of those early 20s/NYC friendships where someone might orbit within your circle for an enchanted half-season and then drift out of it, lost to a thicket of projects, relationships, dates, road trips, career changes and just life. I will call her Emily, though that isn’t her real name. She was the ex-girlfriend of my roommate. They were still friends, and one day she stopped by to see him at the duplex apartment where I lived.

I remember when I met Emily, she turned to me and gave me such a huge, genuine smile, one that lit up her huge blue eyes. It was 1997 or so, and I was new to NYC and getting used to the fake smiles, the way people scan you up and down discreetly or sort of just half-grin and stare over your head, looking for someone else more important to talk to. But Emily’s smile was warm and welcoming, and she looked you straight in the eye. She wore all black, kind of early 90s Daria-tomboy, and a baseball cap worn backwards, which on her looked very, very cool. She was pale and blond — a white-blonde, her hair long and straight and fine. She looked like she could be the slightly sporty-Goth tomboy member of the Breeders. You could tell immediately she was intelligent from the way she listened and spoke; you could tell she was kind because she immediately offered you whatever drink or gum or food she had in her hands. We got along instantly.

I was just 21, 22, and I was looking for mentors, or at least big-sister types that could give me a model of how to get through my new city with a certain verve and aplomb. I had a career mentor, a dark, exotic, beautiful woman who hired me on my first film jobs. But Emily was my fun, creative big sister, someone to play and have fun with, at least for a little while.

Though we met initially in the foyer of my apartment, our friendship really developed over the phone. She would call to talk to her ex, getting his advice and counsel, and I would answer the phone — this was the age well before cell phones, an era of answering machines and landlines and cordless phones. We would always end up talking for 15-20 minutes before she asked for my roommate. She would always ask how I was doing, what I was up to: she was genuinely interested, and had a friendly, easy way of offering advice without being busy or a know-it-all.

And she told me what she was up to: she worked as a film programmer, but her dream was to play music. She had gone through some difficult breakups, I think. I loved talking to her, so of course I was excited when she finally said, “We should hang out! Let’s go to the East Village and get dinner next week!” Honestly, I was so excited, more excited to hang out with Emily than I was to go out with any of the guys I was dating at the time.


My Selfies, My Selves

Sometimes in my head I say, “There are two kinds of people: there are people who take selfies, and people who don’t.” I try this statement on, but deep down I don’t think it’s true. Or maybe I do, kind of. This lame dichotomy does expose, though, some innate judgment or rancor against the practice of taking selfies. (Selfie-ing?) To take a selfie, on some level, is to be fascinated by the self. Too fascinated with the self, though, and you’re a narcissist, shallow, annoying. Yes? No?

Of course, back in the day, they were just self-portraits. But when did self-taken photos of yourself go from being self-portraits to selfies? Probably since social media became the way we socialize online. Self-portraits are serious, artistic — what Van Gogh and Rembrandt did. Selfies are what the Kardashians do, the McPortrait. And while everyone takes them, people rank on them as well.

As I do — I don’t think I’m alone in being irritated when someone’s sole Instagram or Facebook activity is taking pictures of themselves. (The only person who should do this is Rihanna, but that’s because Rihanna clearly lives in her own simulacrum wonderland, right? Rihannaland?) It gets irritating because the same duckfaced pic shows up in your Instagram, and then on Facebook, and then it kind of just saturates your day’s worth of Internetting. And you’re like, “Stop the duckface! Stop the pigeon toes! Just stop and bring me my pictures of cute kittens!”

(And honestly, I actually like seeing people in their photos, but too much of it is…just too much. I suspect that’s why I don’t follow a lot of semi-pro and pro fashion people on Instagram or Facebook, because so many of these feeds are just pics of themselves and it’s…just too much.)

Of course I’m guilty of an occasional selfie. I’m definitely not guilty of too many of them — I’m not photogenic and I wear the same things over and over. (Though my things are FABULOUS, ha!) But taking a selfie is a torturous process for me. So many poses, so many snaps, though it’s much since phones have cameras. (Though, come on iPhone, where the hell is the self-timer option?) And now we have retouching studios at our fingertips: filters, photo apps, etc. I note with a degree of amusement that while my preferred Instagram filter is the plangent, romantic Amaro, my skin looks best with Walden or Valencia. (Someone should start a foundation line named after Instagram filters.)

In some ways, the selfie is kind of the natural endgame of existing in such a media-saturated age. Certainly this is something women can understand: our bodies are objectified from an early age — a lot earlier than many of us are prepared for — and we grew up with a kind of double consciousness. One consciousness within ourselves: our feelings, ideas, inner life. But also an outer one, always looking out for how we look through others’ eyes.

(It’s like that weird goggles-machine you sit in when you get your eyes checked at the opthalmologist, and they ask, “This lens? Or this lens?” and switch between prescriptions. We have a lens directed towards our inner life, and one directed towards how we appear to the outside world.)

Our notions of beauty and our grooming rituals, too, are often calibrated with the photographic eye in mind — I’m thinking of all those foundations sold specifically for high-def camera lenses, for instance, which can pick up even the smallest bit of powder. I suspect one day we’ll buy foundations and powders not just by shade and formula, but by resolution as well.

(Sometimes I look at designs and wonder if they were created with the two-dimensional image in mind — I suspect that’s why prints and weird, challenging silhouettes have been so popular in fashion for some time now, because they photograph well. The idea of a garment that moves beauty and takes advantage of the subtleties of movement, actual light and drape seems rarer and rarer as our eyes and tastes become digitized.)

If we live in a world full of mediated images shimmering in front of us, isn’t it natural for us to want to jump into the beautiful mirage and become part of that? Especially if it’s set up as this idyll of sexybeautifulgorgeous fabulousness?

I remember reading somewhere a long time ago about someone — I honestly don’t remember who — who was obsessed with going out in NYC and becoming a kind of nightlife celebrity. (This was way before sites like Cobrasnake on the Internet. This was like Paper magazine-era domination, where gossip columns ruled the roost.) I remember them talking about how they wanted to “get to the other side of the equation,” and that metaphor has long lingered in my mind about a lot of beautiful chimeras like fashion. We just want to jump on the other side of the equation — rarely do we question the equation itself. We want to be part of wonderland. And maybe with selfies and social media, we can be. (more…)

Winter Sunshine

20140308-102120.jpgLately I find it hard to wake up. My dreams are dense, deeply felt and vivid — I’ve been doing a little yoga before I sleep at night, just little videos I find on YouTube (LOVE YOU TARA STILES) and doing shoulderstands and plow poses to stretch out my neck and upper back. I haven’t done yoga on the regular since I lived in San Francisco, but working out those knots and kinks is really firing the synapses. They must be firing in my brain something fierce, because I wake up from my dreams feeling like I’ve lived a whole second life that’s pulling energy from my waking one.

Or maybe it’s because I’m in the middle of reading Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, and the baroque, sprawling, labyrinthine structure of the novels — where stories lay coiled within other stories, nested like Russian dolls — is kind of influencing my night-brain. I don’t know. I wake up and I feel walloped before the day’s even begun.

The days are getting longer, and the tumult of the past few months is smoothing out. I rediscovered my own “ways to beat the winter doldrums” post, and what do you know — the advice still holds. There’s a time in life to push yourself, to exceed your own self-defined boundaries — but there’s also a time to be kind and gentle to yourself. Now is one of those times, I guess. I mean, even if I wanted to push myself, outside there’s just piles of slush and snow, and it’s just a battle to get anywhere.

But I’m excited. I’m sitting now in a patch of sunshine coming through the window at the coffee shop where I’m writing. I kind of feel this itch in my fingers, and I’m just writing, and writing, and writing. The gift of going through tumult these days is that I realize now just how anchored I feel in everything basic: who I am, what I love, what I’m about. Not all of life’s mysteries have been illuminated, but the most central ones have. Not that I’m a static entity and I’m not married to the form and content, but if the self has a core — and I’m not entirely convinced as a Buddhist that it does — then my core is solid. It makes you realize that doing the hard work of sovereignty and self-reliance in the best senses of those words matters. Life is unpredictable, but you are always there.

I had more written here, but the crappy new WordPress iOS app somehow destroyed my previous draft, and the last 600 words of this post are somehow gone to whatever ether words go to when they disappear. The Island of Unexpressed Expressions? It doesn’t matter — those words and thoughts belong to the past. Some of those impressions remain: a smile from a handsome stranger, the sunset staining a horizon, the way my five-year-old nephew’s head emerged from the huge infinity scarf he tried on, grinning like Curious George. Right now a day lies ahead of me, waiting to be filled and savored. Have a beautiful weekend, everyone.