Thursday, September 29, 2011

Coral Lipstick & A Seahorse Necklace

It's gray and drab out, but I wanted to try out my newest lipstick shade--Revlon's Super Lustrous Lipstick in Kiss Me Coral, inspired by the excessive Twin Peaks I've been watching lately and the costume party to follow this weekend. It is a simple and summery outfit, but, why not?
Wearing:  H&M shirt, American Apparel pencil skirt, Aerosoles flats.  
The necklace I bought years and years ago from one of those designer discount stores, I think perhaps Loehmann's. It's adorable, but also a little too whimsical for me to wear very often, except for those hot summer Sundays when I want nothing more than a brightly colored sundress and this necklace. It is a nice pop of color in an otherwise very gray day.
I'm surprised by how much I liked the coral lipstick! Bright lipsticks aren't really my thing unless it's classic red, and when I tried it on last night under my yellow cast lamps (the lighting in my room is awful, which is why unfortunately my photos are always edited to death simply for color correction's sake) it looked garishly bright. In natural light however it actually is not too loud and rather sweet when paired with an outfit of neutrals. Not just for Twin Peaks! 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Apathy, Jealousy, Wanderlust.

photo by andrew meehan
These days I dream of staring out car, train, plane windows, at unchanging greenery or abandoned factories by a gray waterfront. I look back at my photos from England and I remember Europe and I ache to revisit it. I think of New York's familiar divides, the restaurants and coffee shops and bars I frequent so often I barely need to look at the menu, and I feel so, so, tired, bored, restless. Sometimes I go to different neighborhoods, the Upper West Side or Prospect Park, and find a cafe I've never been to and sit and read and dream. But it's not really enough. I grasp at names of foreign countries, hang on to the promise in accents. Chile, Venice, Moscow. I read books and stare at photos as if I do it for long enough they'll take over the familiar surroundings of my life here. I consider pin pointing a country at random and searching for flights, and simply leaving. In a way I don't even care about the destination, as long as it's somewhere I've never seen. Even a charming small town where I might chat with a barista about her day. Just: escape.

I've been reading Proust and Colette. Such beautiful, lyrical, delicate prose. Proust's dreamy inner world, his fixation on the smallest details, his exquisite nostalgia doesn't help me live in the now as I've been so often told to do, and Colette's life of Parisian theater halls, even though she writes of the suffering performers and the squalor behind the curtain, for me sings of the beauty in a life constantly in flux. The anemic dancers of her short stories glimmer in my imagination. Colette was tired of that life, too, its familiarity, but at least she captured it with such grace. What could I capture here? The cell phone conversations that ring loud, late at night when I try to sleep and escape to my world of dreams (sometimes I dread waking up, for my dreams are always more wonderful)? Overhearing voices and conversations that suggest the most insipid, dreadful lives? Their intonations betray their vacancy, their obsessions are easy, accepted, carefully suited to the slices of modern life. Hook ups and start ups and fuck ups. 

I should be sympathetic, open minded, appreciative of the beautiful vast myriad of varieties of lives: and I am. But the truth is that I am jealous outsider. I wish I could be so easily satiated, I wish I had a life that fitted so easily into a schedule. I wish I constantly had phone calls and dinner plans and wanted less. I wish I didn't feel this need that cripples me, some nights, so that I lay sprawled across my bed, the hardcover Colette tossed aside, my  laptop pushed onto a chair, despondent and dreading, dreading the hours of another day of waking up in the same place and the same tasks and buying the same stables from the same grocery stores. It's all self inflicted! I could and should be doing whatever it is that I need to do to live! Revolutionize! Occupy Wall Street! Protest technology! Be a bohemian, a radical, a not another jaded soon to be NYU graduate! 

Except that I'm cursed with honesty, cursed with a need to express whatever it is: even if it's not bright and catchy and 500 words or less, and I'm good at rambling but not good at always writing what I think people want to read. I'm can't always live up to the life I like to pretend I have. I'm plagued by what's inside my head and the stories I read and the essays I write. Essay: essaie, to try. I haven't figured it out yet and writing is the only way I know how. 

So here I am. No resolution and no happy ending. Simply: trying, again. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Music Obsession: Kimbra

It is not so often that I discover artists I instantly fall in love with. But then came Kimbra--her infectious songs, her echoed harmonies, her covetable head of dark curls. Take this, the music video for "Settle Down" and my first introduction to her addictive aesthetics and style: unsettling young girls play at 50s housewives, wide watery eyes and brushed blonde hair, then dance, synchronized in dreamy, innocent little girl dresses next to Kimbra in front of shelves of porcelain dolls with chlorine colored eyes and ash charred faces set aflame. A throughly modern pastiche of glossy vintage glamour, pretty to look at on the surface but suggestive too, of something not quite right beneath. 

The song itself is just the right note of that: a dark playfulness totters on the edge of the gets-stuck-in-your-head melodies, seductive with its ever so slightly off minor tones, the call and chant background, Kimbra's voice: almost-soul almost-jazz almost-pop almost-Bjork and completely brilliant. Distinctively now but so charmingly reverent of the past.

And then there is "Good Intent," when Kimbra creates a song that is pure atmosphere and sultry sizzle and also pop perfection: 

It would probably be a little embarrassing to confess how often I've played this song since I discovered it. It's smoke hazed night halls, 4 am o'clocks, crisp suits and shadowed hats, velvet and gloved finger tips. Of course, Kimbra gets the music video just right. A false composure, understated eroticism, a jerky and dangerous dance. This is the violence and sex charged atmosphere of Chicago 1920s (like the musical), the heightened tension and drama of the tango, cobblestoned streets with fatal secrets tucked in a black satin bra. Anything might go but not without consequence and the unwelcome thrill ofdiscovery.

Love at first and after many listens.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Modern Day Pin Up

Every so often I get the urge to get dressed up for no reason. Well, correction: the reason is that today the Stop Staring dress I've been eagerly awaiting arrived in the mail! It's all Mad Men and 1950s glamour, but in subdued enough of a cut and color to be wearable everyday. It's my grown up dress--I feel completely transformed in it. And it demanded the accessories to suit. So!

On went the red lipstick. I'm wearing New York Color's dollar (!!!) lipstick in Retro Red, which is the perfect Marilyn, bombshell red, and perfectly suits a dress like this. Though unless you like eating lipstick, I really wouldn't recommend wearing it to dinner. It looks irresistibly moisturizing and kissable but transfers onto everything and is best suited for distant, sultry pouts. My indispensable pearls and bow belt completed the outfit--though the dress would have been fantastic enough on its own!

And what's a pin-up without a pair of seamed stockings and black pumps? Wearing: Leg Avenue stockings and Naturalizer Collette pumps. 
All dressed up and nowhere to go...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11: A Vision Softly Creeping

(photo by ck/ck)

 I was 11. Long before I became an American citizen, long before, even, mastering English, I lived on the opposite coast in California where all was golden and beautiful. I stood outside my elementary school classroom and when I told the skinny boy in line behind me he asked if this meant his favorite cartoon show was going to be canceled. I felt indignant. But of course! I probably said. He didn’t seem to understand that what happened was monumental. But then again, had I? In February that year my family and I visited New York for the first time. We took pictures of the aerial view from the top floor of the World Trade Centers, crammed with the rest of eager tourists.

San Diego was the city of naval bases, the air show every year. Certain bright afternoons I would be in my room and hear the loud engine of a plane overhead. San Diego’s airport is right in the heart of the city, and the planes flew so low it looked like they might skim the tops of trees. I caught myself wondering, worrying, if one might crash into a house nearby. One year a small plane did and crashed in a neighborhood my friends lived in. It was much more bizarre than frightening. But I don’t think I ever thought very much about the noises of the planes before that day in 2001.


This weekend I read countless retrospectives, wrenching tales from New Yorkers who lived through 9/11 first hand. I read a story in The New Yorker, published in February, 2002, about a real, forgotten hero, a Security Advisor at the World Trade Center and a war veteran. The tag line named it a love story, and it began with a narrative of the unlikely meeting between the hero and the woman who would become the hero’s wife. It was a beautiful romance, and it ended with his valiant evacuation efforts on 9/11. He didn’t manage to save himself. I read it on my iPhone, on the subway and waiting outside a restaurant. It made me cry.

Then I read “The Decade of Magical Thinking” by Steve Almond, published in The Rumpus two days ago, 2011. He wrote about the “hysterical indulgence” and “bullying narcissism” of America. It was a critique of America’s lack of sympathy, its tendency to lean on political agendas and manipulations even in response to a tragedy, but a tragedy that was diminutive compared to the rest of the world’s infinite unrecorded tragedies. It made me upset, angry.

But why? I felt like I sided with the New Yorkers who were here, who lost, who stumbled, whose lives had a clear divide: before and after. Who saw Ground Zero and felt something. Except that I had no claim to it—I didn’t have friends or family or even distant acquaintances caught in the towers.  When it happened I barely even knew New York.


I don’t think about 9/11 very much. It was something that was always past tense, a snapshot of devastation, with its aftermath infiltrating life in subtle but natural ways. I couldn’t remember the time when I went through an airport without its now ubiquitous security rules. Today I wonder if I had somehow, missed something. I wonder if my experience of 9/11 wasn’t quite right, I wondered if I lacked the authority to write about it.


A few weekends ago, New York City had Hurricane Irene. At the office I heard the manager frantically reporting weather predictions on his phone as he paced. At the post office I told the lady who accepted my passport information to stay safe over the weekend. Every block or shop I stepped into I overheard talk of Irene. I obsessively checked the news. It was exhilarating. It was all I wanted to talk about.

The night before the storm, before the subways shut down for the weekend, I couldn’t sleep. I worried about the leak in my ceiling, how the shattered glass from my window might change my room. In the morning I totted a few belongings to a friend’s apartment further inland. I saw and felt a smug recognition at the bulging overnight bags the other people on the subway platform carried. It felt a bit like the end of the world. But it was wonderful, too, something I knew everyone had in common. Well wishes and collective paranoid concern.


I wish that tragedies, long after they happen, could let their victims linger in that temporary, sensitive state of unity, that frail but all-inclusive bond. Even in the darkest of circumstances there is beauty in that human companionship, the bypassing of divisions, of regulations. Perhaps that’s why, in a perverse way, I wish I could have been older, and in New York, when the towers fell. Longing for a common experience so powerful it might have, however briefly, tempered all dissent.

Steve Almond writes that a central duty of the artist is to complicate moral action. He writes a beautiful, brief scene of a child silently starving to death in a mother’s arms. He writes of Americans talking about their experiences of watching television, this grotesque juxtaposition. He’s right, of course. Look at the bigger picture, at the history of the world, the notorious wars and tyranny and exploitation and violence, at the infinite nightmares that occur every moment. But it is also a futile point—it is easy to take this omniscient, all encompassing, objective moral perspective, and deem every tragedy an opportunity to reflect on all other tragedies in the world. (Though…not so long ago, Roxanne Gay wrote a moving piece in the The Rumpus in response to Amy Winehouse’s death calling for infinite compassion: “death is a tragedy whether it is the death of one girl woman in London or seventy-six men, women and children in Norway. We know this but perhaps it needs to be said over and over again so we do not forget.”) But why this, why now? Is criticism of a taboo subject really bravery?

I wonder. Maybe there aren’t so many other essays that take this perspective, not because others haven’t thought similar criticisms, not because they are too scared of judgment, but because 9/11 is a sacred occasion. One that makes it possible to, however fleetingly, share a moment of warmth, of grief and love and pain and forgiveness, of a unity rarely possible elsewhere. Maybe it’s best that this date should be focused solely on America, should be allowed to be bitterly, truthfully narcissistic. Maybe this is the one date that Americans shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about the hunger and war and poverty of the rest of the world. Maybe this is an opportunity to show the compassion that Almond so calls for, in exactly the way that he dismisses, by, yes, writing about watching television.

One story at a time, with no global platform and no lectures, only the voices of each person who remembers this certain moment in history, every touched and changed life. Maybe it is this call for a response, collective story telling that is the most wonderful memorial. No matter how insignificant, no matter how far fetched.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Weekends Away: A Silent Retreat

After months and months of planning, deliberation, anticipation, on the last official weekend of the summer, I finally made it to the East Mountain Retreat Center for that blessed promise of peace, solitude, and nature. The retreat was nestled in the Berkshire mountains, in a forest off the small town of Great Barrington, MA (Pop: 7,000).  The Reverend Lois Rose ran it, a vivacious woman with long gray hair in a ponytail that still carried traces of blonde, who despite her stooped figure carried the energy of a young girl. She showed me my own cabin in the woods. It was a small, slanted little house with sparse, rustic decor. In the kitchen, the clock ticked away, but the red second hand had fallen to the bottom. She gave me a brief tour of the retreat grounds: the meditation room, with its hushed stillness and open wood floors, the cozy library with its books on spiritualism, religion, and novels with the same leanings, the outdoor gazebos with their screened doors and windows, and gave me tips on walks to take and explore. I want you to really notice things, she said, about the fish in the pond, the animals in the woods. Then she left me on my own.

That weekend I passed many hours sitting in one of the gazebos outside, with my journal and pen in front of me, writing pages and pages, journaling and the beginnings of stories. I watched the dragonflies hover at the edge of the screen doors and the quivering of the leaves. I tried writing poetry (as the Reverend suggested, though I tend to have a distaste for usually) and liked the empty spaces it left on the page. In the mornings I went for a walk, up the ski trail which revealed surprises of mushrooms budding from the ground, butterflies fluttering with their yellow and orange wings, a frog that leapt beneath a stone. More stunning was the view of the mountains, especially when they were shrouded in a glaze of fog, and the empty and still skyrides overhead. To imagine that the desserted grass fields and forest around me, in other times of the year, could be padded with thick snow and busy vacationers....while I could hear the crunching of the pebbles and grass beneath my feet...was a remarkable feeling of wonder, relief.

There was a predictability to those few days that was reassuring. Every evening at six, cooked hot meals would appear in the kitchen, and next to it, green bowls that matched the number of guests who would be eating. I'd spent the rest of the evening curled up in a chair, reading novels from Lois's library. One evening I came upon a porcupine, who regarded my approach with raising its quills, then climbed onto the branches of a pine tree and mostly ignored me. I listened often to the spray of wind against the trees. Though the people were silent, the birds didn't stop their chirping, and animals treading through the trees sounded often like human footsteps. 

But though I tried, I could not keep my mind from wondering to non-nature related things. I thought about shades of lipsticks and boys and songs I longed to hear. One night I heard the sound of fireworks and after combating my fear (without street lamps, the darkness there was utterly complete, frightening) ventured outside to catch glimpses of sparks over the tops of trees. It made me long for immersion of a different kind, of dazzle and not so subtle charm.

On my last day, my voice sounded like a surprise, foreign even to myself. I had breakfast--an all organic ham and egg baked sandwich and Earl Gray--at a charming cafe in the small block that counts as town center of Great Barrington, and delighted in finally being able to listen the song stuck in my head--Billie Holiday's "Guilty"--on the bus ride back. In the end, however, it was the sight of New York: the gloss of the yellow cabs, the brownstones and men with dark skin and white tank tops in fire escapes, the pavement of the calculated greenery of Central Park--that made my heart soar, and the smile that sparked to stretch on my face. Perhaps it took this flirtation with nature (and about a hundred bug bites) to remind me that, disillusionment aside, my one true love remains, New York, with its greed and ambitions, poverty and squalor, dazzlingly distractions. 

Home, sweet home.