It seems only fitting that I should start up my blog again after visiting Storm King with the artist Glen Farley and his girlfriend and muse Jodi E., considering his interview and their work together was the last thing I posted here before taking a long, much-needed internet break.
Here are some dry facts about Storm King, what you'll get from a Google search. It's a world-renowned outdoor sculpture park about an hour from New York City in the Hudson River Valley, and it's been around for about fifty years. I'd never heard of it before, but Glen and Jodi learned about it after watching a documentary on the British sculptor and photographer Andy Goldsworthy. A lot of his work is environmentalist site-specific sculpture and land art, and there is a famous wall there that Jodi and Glen wanted to go look at. The wall was winding and strange, and, in my opinion, the best part about it was its odd name, which I believe was "Seventeen Days, Five Men, Five Boulders".
But of course words, as is the case so often in the plastic arts, don't do the work or the space justice. You have to see it to experience it, and it's very much worth the day trip from New York. There are green forests and mountains with ridiculous, sad, and lovely names like Shunnemonk Mountain, names that speak tragically of the mostly vanished Lenni Lenape people of the region. There are sculptures made out of giant pieces of cedar, rough and hewn like obdurate cliff faces but redolent of the smell of pine forests. Gentle hills close upon the horizon and then open up to reveal new spaces, so that before you know it you've walked into an entirely different section of the park, huge feet and broken hands scattered across the grass and flowers like some gutted god left to rot in peace in the park.
Elsewhere the vista opens up and there are endless carpets of flowers, broken only by the hard angles of steel and metal sculpture, welded in some faroff studio and shipped by mysterious means to this wide-open field. We went on a holiday weekend, and so the vista was also broken up by endless tourists, standing (just as we were) idiotically in front of instead of facing the sculptures, waving to absent friends in endless snapshots that will probably not do the artwork justice just as ours didn't (but we had fun being silly nevertheless. I particularly love this hipster meets Norman Rockwell shot I obtained of Jodi and Glen right before the famous Goldsworthy wall).
But there are also moonlit tours on offer and bike rentals for making your way around the more distant pathways, none of which is particularly steep. Either way, by moonlight or in the Autumn when the leaves are a burning panoply of colors across the mountains of the vanished Lenni Lenape (and perhaps the sight will explain why they dubbed their mountain Shunnemonk, or an "excellent fireplace"), I'd like to go back and just quietly look without any thought of who might look at me, looking at it.
1. For more information on Storm King, check out their website here or this excellent article in Vogue that closely mirrored our impression as a group, especially when it cites the sculptor Zhang Huan's work as a respite from all the modernism on display. Despite posing in front of his three-legged Buddha like the silly tourists we were that day, we also agreed he was our favorite artist in the park. At least that visit he was... We'll definitely all be going back!
2. The artist Glen Farley's work can also be viewed here.
Using our baby as "found art". Shameless. Priceless. Silly.
My favorite piece. A draw between the flowers and this sculpture of a bizarre bell by Zhang Huan; his own body is the model for it.
The German poet Goethe once said "People should talk less and draw more." With that injunction in mind, I decided to let the art of my very good friend, Glen Farley, speak for itself with these beautiful paintings and these short, koan-type answers to my questions.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist? A painter? I never knew, it is just the way I am and have always been. As a child I was always getting in trouble at school for covering every page of my schoolbooks with drawings or for drawing portraits and landscapes during class instead of paying attention.
Did any artists inspire you before you began? Not really. Like I said, I had begun drawing and painting as a small child before I was aware of any artists or even of the idea of an artist as a distinct type of person. However, when I was maybe 7 or 8 I remember being very inspired by a artist / carpenter who my father had hired to create a large stain glass window to adorn a cabin he had built in the Adirondacks.
Which artists inspire you the most now? Kirchner inspires me more than any other artist, but I am also very fond of Klimt, Gauguin, and Utamaro.
What else inspires a painting? People? Things? Places? Everything and anyone really - the color of the sky as it gets dark, the pulsing red coals of a campfire, the sound of the leaves flickering in the wind, the painful sadness expressed in a stranger's eyes, the delapidated and ruined factories along the Hudson River that are being pulled back into the Earth by vines and trees.
Do you find it hard to make time to paint? No, just the opposite. I have to remind myself to do other things beside painting, like eating, reading and spending time with the people I love
Could you talk about a specific painting and maybe something you discovered while painting it? About the painting, or about art, or about yourself? I am not sure that the answer to this type of question could be communicated in prose.
Why do you love painting? It connects me to the beautiful and the mysterious. Whenever I am not painting regularly, I feel as though I am only half alive, a stranger to myself who is merely watching life pass by without actually living it.
Glen Farley has a website http://www.glenfarleystudio.com/. My own experiment combining painting (or drawing rather) and poetry was published today here. Please check it out.
Below is a clip of Henry Miller reading from his book To Paint is To Love Again. Like me he liked to spend the time he wasn't writing drawing, or in his case painting watercolors. In this clip he talks about how friendship is more important to the development of an artist than money or anything else. It's good stuff. Have a listen....
Do you dabble? Do you deplore lack of feeling? Lack of daring?
Okay, okay, Deborah Eisenberg. You win.
I read you. Finally. And yes, you're stinking fantastic, just like "they" all say. And yes, this is probably news to no one but me. I who resisted for years, who fought the good fight. I cede the battle. Babe, you win.
So I'd see her books and hot waves of shame would wash through me. I'd hastily put her book back, sandwiched between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Fa'iz El-Ghusein. Just joking. Barnes and Noble doesn't carry too many of those there Muslim writers. (Yes, I know El-Ghusein is a martyred Armenian writer. Mostly, I know this because I just Googled "writers whose name begins with E" in order to make up (an increasingly not funny) joke.
And on a side note: really, Wikipedia? Eisenhower is the best you can do under authors whose name begins with "Ei". I mean Deborah Eisenberg, one of the foremost short story literary talents of our day isn't even listed, but Ike is. What the hell did Ike write anyway?
The hot waves of shame were, are real though, not something I conjured for the sake of this ambling anecdote about my lifelong, one-sided duel. You see, once upon a time in a land far, far away, I ran into Deborah's boyfriend. At least he was her boyfriend at the time, or so the gossip went. And come to think of it, oddly enough the rest of this will read like a Deborah Eisenberg anecdote, although it is all also entirely true.
It was the inconceivable guy himself. In the flesh. You can also Google that, "the inconceivable guy", and Vizzini a.k.a. Wallace Shawn will pop up, attached for life to that phrase. Oh, how thrilled he must have been about that. I think that's how we, in the smallish town, referred to him, too, as that inconceivable guy.
Nobody knew his real name, but everybody knew Deborah was dating him. I don't really know how, but rumor and gossip has a way of flying around a smallish town. And Charlottesville was still a smallish town in those days, and Deborah was one of its luminaries, teaching at the university. So people talked. And I listened, because OH MY GOD did I love The Princess Bride.
You've seen it. Of course you have. But have you ever read The Princess Bride? I have, and it does not-a end-a the way you might-a think it ends. Stick with the movie. The book is not exactly a fairy tale. It's much, much darker, although fairy tales can be dark, but not the Disney, cleaned-up kind we've all gotten used to.
The book is all about this one lesson: Life is pain. It's a casual, throwaway line in the movie, just one more in a world of wit, but in the book, it's the heart of the whole story. There is no happy ending. Not in the book. I read that book when I was eight, and in some ways it is probably why I'm a writer today. I read that book for the first time in maybe one sitting. In the book, the Peter Falk character you see in the movie is this omniscient, interrupting narrator, telling stories about his own life, a book within the book, and most of the stories are about what the pretend book The Princess Bride meant to him, how it taught HIM the lesson that life is pain, and anyone who tries to tell you different is trying to sell you something, and by the time I was done with the book, I had learned the lesson, too.
I stayed up all night after being denied my happy ending, and oh my God did I cry and cry and cry. I couldn't unread what I'd read. Inigo's wound reopens. Fezzik gets lost. The prince could be heard in the distance in hot pursuit, coming ever closer, and then the book within the book ends. On that miserable note. And the omniscient narrator points out that even if they got away, Buttercup would eventually lose her looks, some young punk would eventually best Wesley, etc. There is no "happy ending". Things just end.
William Goldman, you owe me back a night of my young life that should have been spent dreaming of pretty princesses embraced by perfect pirates.
Easy, happy endings gnawed at me from that moment on. I could detect the salesman posing as a storyteller, and I was not content. (By the way Deborah Eisenberg is the real thing; she's no salesman.) Anyway, back then, when I ran into Deborah's Inconceivable Prince, I didn't read "living writers". I still liked fairy tales, or at the very least what I vaguely thought of as "olden times" language. I hadn't read Deborah, but I had seen The Princess Bride, and the movie was happy and shiny and beautiful and funny enough to almost make me forget that lesson William Goldman seared on my young brain, late one night towards the end of my innocent childhood.
And then I was standing in line on the Downtown Mall, having an ordinary day, being all fabulous and teenagery. (Probably not so fabulous though in retrospect, what with the acne I suffered from and thought I could cover up with yellowish concealer "to cancel out the red spots!" You see what I mean about the salesmen and the pain?) And there he was in front of me in line, in the flesh, VIZZINI! The Sicilian. And I did it, the thing that still sends hot waves of shame and made me avoid Deborah Eisenberg's books even though the edition of her short stories that I saw in Barnes and Noble was thick and beautiful with those cut, ragged pages that always make me think of Gatsby's libraries and all the uncut pages of his books for some reason.
And I said (I actually really said), "Oh my God, are you that guy who says 'inconceivable' in Princess Bride?" And Oh my God, he smiled at me so sweetly. I was really still a child then-- I've always been emotionally behind everyone else, and at 18 I was like a twelve-year-old in many ways, and he must have sensed that, the poor guy, so he admitted that yes he was "that guy" without sneering at me or otherwise rightfully putting me in my place. And then I think I... oh God, oh God... I ASKED HIM TO SAY IT. (You know what I mean.) And I think he did, although the later shame obscured some of the details from this memory. And then he got his pizza slice or whatever and ambled down the Downtown Mall without once biting my head off or otherwise shaming me, which I turned out to be more than capable of doing myself. Because then it's like I came out of this dream-state, and I realized what I'd done, and again, another phase of my life was over, marked by the pain brought to bear through the medium of my favorite book/ movie.
And I declared to myself that henceforth ye shall never read Deborah Eisenberg or see any of Wallace Shawn's fine works in Clueless or Manhattan for then ye shall be reminded ye are an idiot and dieth of the shame.
So it came to pass that it wasn't until I took out The O. Henry Prize Stories for 2013 and read all of them except Deborah's and almost returned it without reading her story, and then (because I am afflicted with OCD among my other problems like talking to myself in old-timey tongues) had to read her story, too, and was so blown away by how beautiful and funny and cool a writer she is that it blew away all the hot waves of shame as well (or most of them).
And forsooth, I shall verily read lots more of her works. And ye should, too.
By the way Deborah uses the word "whilst" in a very amusing way, so if you also have a prejudice against living writers and a preference for "old-timey talk" you'll be like totally covered. The quote in the blog title, while suffering from a lack of "thous" and "thees" in my humble opinion, is a brilliant line from Eisenberg's miraculously good short story "Your Duck is My Duck". And P.S. It tied for my favorite along with Kelly Link's "The Summer People" in the O. Henry book, but all the stories are pretty damn fantastic. Have you read them yet? Which were your favorites? Why?
TopShop dress thrifted from Beacon's Closet in Brooklyn.
So it's that time of year again. The time of year where I try (and this time hopefully) do not fail to grow my bangs out in anticipation of the hot weather and sweaty, gritty locks in my eyes, driving me insane. Hence the hippie headgear. My daughter is also in the same bandwagon, since cutting her hair consisted of taking one swift pass with the scissors while she wasn't looking, and so now she' got to wear a floppy, enormous (although enormously) cute ribbon on her head, and I've got to wear anything that will keep my #$% hair out of my eyes.
Well, I don't have deeper thoughts than that to pass on about the cyclical and oh so cruel nature of hair-growing and cutting in the world of bangs. On to another subject and one of my favorites: old clothes and snobs.
Above, I'm wearing a thrifted dress from Beacon's Closet in Brooklyn-- the one near the Barclays Center just off Flatbush (oh, how I miss you, all of you!). The dress is originally from TopShop and was like new when I got it, although it will not remain so. I have fallen in love with the ease and prettiness (not to mention the covers-up-my-pasty-legginess) of the maxi dress. Particularly, this pretty, floaty one above, and I will be wearing it like a sartorial, security blanket this summer.
And today in fact I was tempted by the siren call of the maxi dress, tempted into the chic confines of an actual, real, full-price shop by a maxi dress on a headless mannequin (what is up with those? They're creepy, not modern. Creepy.). My patient but bored husband chatted with the saleslady and mentioned (to the saleslady), who looked as if she had not only ironed her blouse before wearing it but herself had been recently ironed and starched then dipped in self-tanner and inverted into a peroxide tank, that I didn't think much of the shopping in Connecticut. My husband didn't realize what I meant by that is the thrifting. I do not think much of the thrifting.
(Although I have found one great consignment store in my small town, which I accidentally lumped into the same category as "thrift", my favorite category: the treasure-hunt land of The Thrift. The proprietress of the consignment store was horrified when I said I was there, because I was a "thrifting queen." I had to apologize and explain and backtrack and smooth ruffled feathers galore.)
"I love consignment, too," I had to say, although I don't really, It's much more expensive, and where's the fun in that, paying nearly full price for treasure, instead of pouncing, x-marks-the spot style on a brand-new Michael Kors tweed jacket with the tags still dangling in a Goodwill.
Anyway, this full-price saleslady today was also offended by my husband's careless words.
"But there's a lot of great shopping here!" The full-price boutique lady meant in Connecticut, which was cute. (God, I sound like a snob myself, granted a snob of old-clothes shopping, but I lived in the Mecca of old clothes (and clothes period) for nearly ten years, so I know of what I preach.)
And I guess there is some good shopping, if you like that sort of thing-- preppy white jeans and Tory Burch logos galore and those large, chunky necklaces older ladies like to wear. Not really my type of thing. But I tried to smooth ruffled feathers again.
"Oh, I know, there is! I just found this great consignment store in town."
Instead of smoothing, my words made her bristle. In fact, her lip curled. It curled! She sneered at me! Like a full-on villainous, King Joffrey trying to make Tyrion kneel in obeisance sneer.
It made me realize that I'm very glad I'm keeping this little, and little-read blog about the joy I take in OLD CLOTHES. I could wear new, shiny things at this point in my life. I don't have to thrift, but shopping makes me feel superficial and selfish, just basically bad about myself and sad for the planet, like I'm just another shark who will die if it stops circling. There's this whole ravenous thing to "keeping up with the Kardashians" is what I mean by the clunky shark metaphor. So I choose to wear old clothes, and they're just as pretty (if you take some time and know where to shop, which I do, so follow me/ email me if you're interested in the NYC scoop, or the Connecticut one as well.)
Today, sweet, little naive Brooklynite that I am, I discovered there are still people in this world who look down on thrifting. It floored me. Let's put aesthetic opinions and considerations aside for the moment, but there are a lot of convincing arguments to thrift. I've written about this before, but we're sending so many old clothes to Africa, it's destroying their local economies. That's not even my main issue with fashion, although it's bad enough. I lived in Soho for six years (which is like getting a Ph.D. in twits), and there I witnessed the epicenter of greed.
The lightning-speed with which fashions changed, changed me. I could not see it as a harmless, self-indulgent past time anymore the way a writer I admire very much, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, describes it in this article for Elle "Why Can't Smart Women Like Fashion?" And I see her point and even whole-heartedly agree with her. Why can't smart women dress up? I mean, obviously, I agree with her on that as I keep this blog about old, pretty junk, and I also feel vaguely embarrassed about it, like it's something a little shameful to admit to... I like pretty, pretty dresses.. shhhhh. But... at the same time, I think Miss Adichie is as incredibly naive in this piece as I was today, telling a woman of the Stepford housewife ilk that I love to thrift.
Because, Miss Adichie, what I already knew and forgot and remembered today is that fashion isn't just about pretty dresses; it's about power, and power, like in any chess game, is expressed through constantly trumping all others, and in this case by wearing the LATEST, the TRENDIEST, the MOST EXPENSIVE, FLASHIEST item: fur (oh yes, lots and lots of fur), logos made of children's pinky bones, ostrich-leather heels, blood diamonds. "They" don't care who suffered or how much or why as long as they look IT. The It Girl. Miss Exclusive, wearing what no one else has yet but will soon be mass-produced at a Target near you. I mean, I don't think "they"'re actually villainous; I think "they" simply choose not to think about it in their frenzy to win, to be the most fashionable, to have the most fans. It isn't about looking pretty. It's about looking priceless, perfect, envied. It's about power.
Who I mean by "they" are the kind of people who sneer if you're wearing last season's Marc Jacobs ballet flats. These people, the Gwyneth Paltrows with their aspirational Goops, their $500 t-shirts, fuel this sick, ever-increasingly swift cycle that in turn fuels the overproduction of clothing, the poisoning of our oceans, our lands.
Speaking of which, have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It's a real thing. A whole island of garbage almost as large as the continental United States. Google it and you'll see the most terrifying images, the other uglier face of fashion-- and of course, not just fashion, a whole ethos of consumption.
My sister, a scientist and an environmentalist, told me about the Patch the other day. I was discussing how horrified I was by reports that they couldn't pinpoint Flight 370's debris field, because there was so much trash in the Indian Ocean.
"No way," I said.
"Oh yes," she said. "Google it."
"No," I said again.
"It's mostly plastic bottles."
"Good God, would you look at that? And no one cares."
"Lots of people care."
"I don't think so. I wish that were true."
"I care," she said.
And she did. She does. She really does; her whole life and work is devoted to saving our planet, no irony or intention to beguile more Instagram fans in that simple desire. There are superheroes among us... That's my definition of an It Girl.
Well, I wasn't going to write much, so I'll end it there. I'm no superhero or It Girl. I'm an ordinary person-- I mean I bought that maxi dress from the sneering, starched lady. (Sigh. I really do love maxi dresses, and I don't have the energy for shaving my legs every day and also feeding a picky toddler three meals, one or the other.) I'm no hero. But I love old things and hope to inspire others to try thrifting, if they want to feel not only pretty but smart in both senses of the word. And as you can see from those pictures, I felt really beautiful in that old dress.
From 1-month to a year & so fast! Happy birthday to my little girl, off to her first day of daycare,looking so grown up!
What is culture? It’s not as idle or ingenuous a question as it first appears. It’s a vitally important question. But let me back up.
Last night, an unpleasant incident happily inspired some pleasant thoughts. I was going to write a blog post this week about an entirely different subject, but then I witnessed an elderly woman and a grocery store clerk having a verbal kefuffle, and I wanted to write about that instead.
Well, not about that precisely, I want to write about what culture means to me in 1,000 words or less, but I have to arrive at the answer sideways, partially because there is no one, easy answer. Although on the other hand, perhaps the meaning of life can be encapsulated that easily; maybe it is all about how important it is to enjoy the little things lest you behave like either of those two idiots did, both two very unhappy people for very different reasons.
The clerk, or Idiot A, was a college student and ought to have known better than to speak in that way to a woman who could have been his grandmother, or in this case Idiot B. The grandmother really had no reason to be upset initially, not until the clerk began to speak to her in embarrassingly abusive language. Still, she did initiate the fight and over nothing, simply because he opened up the express lane and took some customers, who were behind her in line, ahead of her. But she was a woman aching for a fight; I could see it written like words in the lines of her tired, unhappy face.
“You have too many items for the express lane,” the student/ clerk/ Idiot A at first patiently explained to Idiot B, when she began to throw her fit.
“But not if I have this!”
She brandished some arcane object whose use I could not begin to guess at or describe to you. It looked like some kind of scanner, but how it was attached to her person I can’t even begin to arrive at.
“Well, I didn’t know you had that,” the clerk sniped, obviously irritated by her total lack of proportion.
“You should have asked. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Her voice quavered with italics and self-righteous indignation. Meanwhile, I was praying my own clerk would hurry up scanning my items, so I could escape the crosshairs.
“This is for express items anyway!” He snapped back. “You have too many items.”
Oh, it was on.
“A simple apology would have sufficed,” the grandmother added in an irrationally hurt tone. “That’s all I was looking for. A simple apology. I want a simple apology!”
So I obliged.
“Well, I’m sorry. I should be done soon. I really shouldn’t go grocery-shopping after the gym.”
I indicated the huge pile of snack items I was purchasing. My feeble joke fell on deaf ears. The woman latched onto my apology for all the wrong reasons.
“You don’t have to say you’re sorry. You haven’t done anything wrong. Do you hear me?” she said, turning back to her foe. “I would like an apology.”
“I have ears. Of course, I can hear you,” the clerk snapped at the end of his patience. From there, the situation devolved; insults were traded. He refused to show the unctuous respect she liked in her underlings, and she threatened to have him sacked. I helped bag my own groceries and skedaddled out of that toxic atmosphere as quickly as I could, taking a deep breath as I emerged into the parking lot. Neither of them had been willing to concede a single point, to let any little thing go. They were both obviously unhappy people—the clerk hated his job, he openly scoffed in a faux-childish Will Ferrell way when she threatened to have him fired— and the grandmother seemed permanently petulant for whatever reason, maybe simply the habit of a long life.
Anyway right there, I think that’s why culture is important. I lived in the suburbs once before, and I was miserable. I hadn’t found my passion yet, and then I lived in the city and was happy, but it was a draining sort of happiness. I was always running around to one party or café or bar or shopping expedition or a reading or a play or an opera or museum or picnic with friends or symphony in the park or gig. It was exhilarating, but I wouldn’t say I was precisely happy either.
Perhaps finding a quiet place of joy within yourself is the only way to be happy, a source fed by many quiet streams; some can manage it in the city, but it can be difficult to find that centering calm among so many competing noises.
I remember hearing Grace Coddington, an art director for Vogue, say once that she was always on the lookout for inspiration, always taking in sights that might make for backdrops or ideas for the fantastical worlds she helps create. Recently, I went to see the poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips reading from The Ground his luminous book of poems (mostly about New York), and I was struck by his extraordinary presence and the way his poetry changed that semi-sterile, ugly library room, constructed in the horrible 70s, into an open-air bazaar. Whether it’s painting or poetry or fashion-styling or playing the trumpet, it’s so important to cultivate the centered place of joy and concentrated thought, removed as far as can be from commerce or anything outside yourself like the end result of fame or money. I mean, making money from your art is nice, but I’m talking about something else—a nourishing state of mind.
For example, just before I left New York, I ran into a mother from my birthing class around the block.
“How can you leave New York? Don’t you want to expose your child to all this culture?”
Her hand swept out, encompassing a fire hydrant and a Toyota minivan. It struck me as specious, this sudden use of the word “culture” to ascribe the value she placed on living in Brooklyn. In all my interactions with this mother, she’d never once mentioned a book she was reading, a poem that had inspired her as a child, a painting that the Park Slope scenery reminded her of, a photographer whose pictures made her happy or sad or thoughtful, or even another language she’d studied because she liked the round, warm sound of its vowels.
I wanted to tell her the world culture, means cultivating yourself from within, that it’s a modern concept based on a term first used in classical antiquity by the Roman orator Cicero: "cultura animi" (cultivation of the soul).
It doesn’t mean staring at a painting and then going to have a burger and forgetting you ever saw the painting until you tag yourself on Facebook standing in front of it, or watching someone else playing a clarinet, while maintaining a loud conversation about life insurance (what that mother did talk to me about). It certainly doesn’t mean being able to list the poets you’ve read or paintings you’ve looked at like they’re Garbage Kid cards you’ve collected in a Cabbage Patch kid bag (an early hobby of mine) or the adult equivalent—name-dropping.
"Oh Audre Lorde? She's a black Lesbian poet." (Mind you, that's an actual quote from a thinking New York person about one of my favorite poets in a list of other "cool" poets.)
"Yes, but how do her poems make you feel? What is your connection to them?"
(I'm now imagining this part of the conversation, the deep intellectual name-dropper squinting at me, maybe a little pityingly.)
"Feel? They're... um... well... you see. That's not the point. Audre Lorde is a Lesbian who wrote political poems in the 1970s."
"Yes, you said that."
"Oh, don't be mushy! Who cares!" And then before you know it, you're arguing about a five-minute wait and looking vaguely unhappy all the time as if always squinting at the horizon, trying to find the oasis in the midst of the desert of you life.
It’s what you do with your experience of the painting or the trumpet that counts. But of course, that’s not the sort of thing you can go around saying without risking getting punched in the nose.
Anyway, I don’t want to preach. I’m merely observing the world, and I like what I see wherever I am in the suburbs, the country, or the city: people interacting, characters emerging, a story waiting to be told …
P.S. In other news, you may or may not have heard that LG is planning to deface the beautiful Palisades, where, when I did live in New York, I spent a lot of time and personally can attest to the fact that not only do they look gorgeous from far away but are just as wonderful up close and personal. (My ex-boyfriend was a rock-climber and used to drag my unhappy, unwilling carcass all over them. We remain friends who work better with a little distance-- the rocks and the man. That is all I have to say). Please help preserve them and take a mere second of your day to sign the change.org petition here or read about the issue in the New York Times here.
One of the pleasures of keeping a sustainable fashion blog like this, or one of the many pluses besides encountering new people with shared interests and an occasional excuse to wear something besides sweatpants, is being contacted from time to time by companies that share the sensibilities of my blog.
Altin Place features eco-friendly koa wood rings and asked me to review their products. Based on the beauty and elegant simplicity of their unique wood and titanium designs alone, I was more than happy to oblige. Mostly, I appreciated their claim that they're "eco-friendly". In previous posts, I've investigated eco-friendly designers, but I don't know much about jewelry. I welcomed the chance to learn more.
You can see an example of one of their beautiful rings in the photos above or go here to learn more. I also love their suggestion to use one of these unique and lovely rings as an alternative to the ubiquitous solitaire blood diamond. I myself didn't encounter the idea in time and opted for an affordable vintage ring from a consignment/ estate jewelers in Santa Barbara, pictured above. The ring is from the 1940s, and I love that it's been loved before (or that's how I choose to imagine its previous possessors feelings). Either option is eco-friendly, affordable, and feels a lot better than the expectation that a man should plunk down three months of his salary for as large a rock as possible, fueling insidious female competition and global conflicts in the name of "love" .
On another related note, as I researched this post I questioned for the first time what "eco-friendly" really means. Koa wood is not a resource I'd ever heard about before, although "wood rings" is a whole vast category on Etsy, so perhaps I'm just late to the game. According to Wikipedia, "eco-friendly" literally means that a company is not harmful to the environment, that it's "friendly" to the Earth. Still, we all have lots of different kinds of friends, some better than others. Does eco-friendly mean a good-as-gold friend or a fair-weather one? As a Real Housewife might put it more baldly, "Are they real friends or Hollywood friends?" Unfortunately, in the United States the distinction is not a legal one anymore than it's an enforceable law in any lawless high school or permanently adolescent clique. In fact there is no regulation of the term whatsoever. Any U.S. company can slap it on their product with impunity. Sadly, the term is cynically used for what environmentalists call "greenwashing", whereas in Canada or Europe only products approved by their Environmental Choice Program or the EU respectively can display the label. After watching two seasons of House of Cards, I'm not sure why any political skullduggery still surprises me, but I have to admit to a jaw-dropping level of awe at that much cynical indifference towards business practices. None of this is to cast any aspersions or doubts on the claims of koa wood jewelers, but every such claim bears investigating, and it's shameful that in the U.S. anyone can slap a "green-friendly" sign on their product and snooker environmentally-minded consumers.
Since I couldn't ascertain the level of eco-friendliness from a label alone, I decided to research koa wood, and what I found was encouraging. According to Growing Koa: A Hawaiian Legacy Tree, Kim M. Wilkinson and Craig R. Elevich's well-researched and fascinating book on the subject (portions of which can be read online here), koa forests, despite their beauty and importance for the indigenous species whose survival they support, probably would have been completely wiped out were it not for renewed interest in the value of the wood. Koa can be used for everything from canoes to guitars for Taylor Swift to the lovely ring I'm sporting above. Fascinatingly, no two grains of polished koa wood resemble each other, and, along with being one of the most beautiful, it's one of the most rare and expensive woods in the world. Apparently, its economic value is fueling interest in reforestation, luckily for it (and for the 50 natives species of animals and plants dependent on koa for survival). And luckily, for us as koa forests are things of beauty and blessed shade.
Once upon a time koa trees were so large, lush, and plenteous that Hawaiians could carve an entire hull for one of their legendary canoes from one tree alone; now such a large tree is impossible to find. Or, from what I gathered, so few and far between they are highly protected and too rare to be cut down for canoes, which is kind of sad because koa has always played a big role in native Hawaiian culture and has nearly disappeared from the islands. For whatever reason, and somehow (to my mind) reminiscent of killer whales in captivity with flopped dorsal fins, domesticated koa won't grow as large or with foliage as widely spreading as their wild brethren. I'd love to see a koa forest in person before they're gone. Alas, so far Hawaii is a place I've only been able to visit in my imagination. Now, with the gift of this ring, I'm happy to possess a piece of it. Even better, inside the ring I'm wearing is engraved a tiny picture of the Hawaiian island chain, forged in volcanic fire. The word koa means "brave, bold, fearless" and also "warrior" or "fighter". If purchasing a tiny sliver of the wood, can help these warrior trees fight their way into the new century, then I'm happy to try to help them.
In other happier news, this past week was a tremendous one for me. I'm deeply honored to have won Tampa Review's Danahy Fiction Prize, and I'm still processing the astonishing news. Read more about the prize here.
And I will keep everyone posted as to when the story will be available later this summer.
Would you also consider wearing a vintage ring or a koa ring as an alternative to the traditional engagement ring? Do you think the laws should be changed so U.S. companies can't use the phrase "eco-friendly" without their business practices backing up what they preach? Both are challenging questions in different ways. Please let me know what you think in the comments below!
In the pictures above, I'm wearing thrifted Rock & Republic jeans from Beacon's Closet in Brooklyn, thrifted Frye boots and a thrifted white tee by Twenty from Buffalo Exchange in Chelsea. My rings are all vintage, thrifted, or eco-friendly. Above: Taylor Swift is playing a guitar made of koa, image courtesy of Wikipedia.
For the magic to really take effect, you've got to drink the above while reading the below :).
Chocolate, as we all well know, is magic. At least, it is my magic, and I have grown to firmly believe in it as fervently as J.K. Rowling ever did. (In her Harry Potter books, which you might have heard of, chocolate cures all ills, often better than "actual" magic does.) So if you were worried this is a kooky post about casting spells, I hope I laid your mind to rest. But before I get to more about the magical properties of chocolate, let me apologize first for pulling a less-than-magical vanishing act. Unfortunately, I haven't been posting on this blog very much, at least not so far this calendar year.
I have a litany of pretty good excuses: I moved from the city to the country, went through the hell that is renewing an expired driver's license in this crazy, post-9/11 world, have been working full-time on various writing projects with different editors, and I'm still working on the daycare situation for my daughter who turned 1 a few weeks ago. Plus, with the continuous snowfall, I've been having to assiduously monitor our walk and front porch with a shovel so that we don't become completely buried like some Middle Eastern tel. So until my schedule settles down and I can do the proper research required for my posts on issues like library reform (okay, I might be the only one, but I find that issue fascinating :)), I thought I might start posting mini-posts like this one.
Naturally, with all this going on, I'm exhausted, but I'm also ecstatically happy. One of the biggest reasons for my sunny mood and a recent discovery is chocolate. I'm probably not the first woman on the planet to discover how much sunnier chocolate makes a gloomy Winter day, but, specifically, what I've found is that actually taking the time to craft a cup of hot cocoa instead of dumping a packet of chemical-ridden, faux-chocolate powder into a cup and adding boiling water really helps me, not only to get through the mid-day slump but to feel the opposite of slumped entirely.
I was first inspired to give it a go after seeing this New York Times recipe, but upon closer inspection, I knew the recipe was probably too rich for my blood-- too much cream, too much spice, too many expensive ingredients. I could practically hear my stomach and wallet beg for mercy. Instead, I ended up combining that recipe with the much easier, cheaper recipe on the back of the Hershey's cocoa natural unsweetened box. If, like me, you find yourself getting grouchy around 3 o'clock but a nap is not an option, and if you have access even just to a hot-plate, this simple concoction might do the trick! I call it my....
Happy Magic Hot Cocoa Recipe
Skim milk and a splash of whole milk (or whatever your stomach requires. I actually prefer soy to almond milk for sweet drinks like cocoa or lattes.)
A dash of cayenne pepper
A dash of sea salt (or regular salt if you don't want to get all fancy. I think the texture of sea salt adds a little to the taste, but I am probably imagining things.)
1 Tsp. vanilla extract. (The Hershey's box calls for less, but from the beginning I've accidentally poured too much out of that d--n bottle and have come to prefer the taste.)
2 Tbsp. of unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Hershey's. Cheap, perfectly bitter, and delicious.)
1-2 Tbsp. of sugar, depending on taste. I use 1-1 1/2.
A square of dark chocolate or a Hershey's kiss. (Whatever you have at hand that can melt and be yummy, would work.)
1 cinnamon stick
1. In a saucepan, throw in the cocoa powder, vanilla extract, dash of salt and then add the milk and turn the burner on. If you do it the opposite way, it can make it hard to stir the chocolate powder in smoothly. The NYT recipe calls for cream, but I use skim milk and a dash of whole milk.
2. Slowly add sugar until the required sweetness is achieved. Don't let the mixture boil, or you'll have to skim the top. I like it bitter, so I gravitate towards only 1 Tbsp. of sugar. If you hate spicy, also err on the side of caution with the cayenne. Try a tiny dash of cayenne pepper, and if you like it, add a full dash next time. If you're skeptical, please try it at least once, It's very much part of the pick-me-up effect :).
3. Find a pretty mug, if you have one at hand, and place a square of chocolate at the bottom along with a cinnamon stick. DO NOT replace the stick with ground cinnamon. I did that the first time, and the cinnamon so overwhelmed the whole drink, it didn't even taste like hot cocoa. If you don't have a cinnamon stick, then just leave this part out.
4. Pour the hot cocoa into the mug over top of the chocolate square and cinnamon stick and enjoy feeling magically restored as you keep frenetically working.
5. Slowly sip as you read my newest poem in Slippery Elm. You can find details of how to purchase a copy here.
That's it! I hope you all enjoy this very aesthetically pleasing and very easy recipe!
And I hope to post more in the next few weeks. On another note, when we moved recently, I chided myself for naming my blog after such ephemeral matters in my life. I no longer live in Brooklyn, and my daughter is no longer a baby. However, I then had to attend a mandatory 8-hour drug and alcohol course in order to renew my expired, out-of-state driver's license, and the instructor, after I shared one too many anecdotes about seeing individuals (and, incidentally, horses) flattened by cars in the city, nicknamed me "Brooklyn". Proof-positive that whether I'm temporarily living in the country or not, I will always be a New York girl at heart. Plus, I'm pretty sure, according to the lore of motherhood, that my daughter will always be a baby to me. So I'm sticking by this name and this blog, even if it seems as if I've disappeared off the face of the planet recently. I haven't, and I have a lot more exciting news to share soon.
Let me know how the cocoa goes! Thanks for your comments!
First, I don't mean to pick on Gabrielle Union in this short essay about nudity, eroticism, and pornography in the present age. I think she's beautiful and talented, and as a huge basketball fan, I'm very excited she's marrying Dwayne Wade. If you keep reading, you'll see why I used her to make my point anyway despite my admiration for her.
The story really begins at the Brooklyn Public Library where my eye caught the detail of a nude Aphrodite emerging from the waves (pictured above). The Aphrodite detail is directly next to the library's front doors, so I must have walked past it a dozen times. Suddenly, it struck me how weird it is that there's this huge, life-sized nude at eye level right next to the main door. Maybe I never noticed it before, because there's nothing come-hither in this very human, although mythological, figure. Or, perhaps I'd never noticed it before, because I'd never stood beside the doors instead of walking in.
That day I was walking my dog, only able to return some books in the outside bin. I looked up, and there she was. A naked woman, just minding her own business, emerging goddess-like from the stone itself, bringing to mind the famous light-as-air Venus by Botticelli. What struck me the most about the nude was the way in which it evidenced what a different time the 19th / early 20th century was, and what different people built that entryway. Can you imagine a huge, naked woman as the go-to image engraved next to any modern library's door? Um... no. And while I'm not nostalgic about the past (racism, slavery, women denied the vote, etc.), there is something to be said for its art and architecture. That library is a beautiful thing. Have you visited the mid-Manhattan Library, probably constructed in the 70s judging by its ugliness? (Just checked. That is correct.) It's a horrorshow.
Then, turning to go home, I immediately caught sight of a new bus display ad for Gabrielle Union's "Being Mary Jane." Lounging across the whole side of a city bus is a more than life-sized image of Gabrielle Union's coyly naked form, all the appropriate bits just barely hidden by a tub, her gaze direct, inviting, and very sexy. That's what really struck me: the difference in these two beautiful women's expressions. I realized that's the difference between then and now: the naked female body is everywhere now but always objectified. While there are still artists working with nudes, it's so much more likely you'll see a nude woman splashed across a bus shelter or the top of a taxi or the cover of a tabloid and in the Gabrielle Union context than in the Aphrodite context-- objectification vs. dignified being. Because of that, you're much less likely to see nude statues in public monuments. Nudity equals sex nowadays, and although sex and nudity are everywhere, for whatever reason, I really think we've become more prudish about the subject.
And while it's been such an incredibly racist past year in America I hate to criticize a black woman for anything (google Marissa Alexander or read this excellent Salon article for starters), not to mention how refreshing it is to see a 41-year-old woman headlining her own show, I'm focusing more in this post on the frustration I feel at seeing the female body always turned into a thing-- a collection of hips, lips, and sultry eyes joined together with some velvety patches of skin in between. Plus, Gabrielle Union plays a TV news anchor. How does hottie in a bathtub convey that?
Anyway, Gabrielle Union's ad is just one of a million examples.
My recent article for the Lascaux Review continues the exploration of this theme in literature and art instead of in architecture. Please check it out here and share your thoughts on the subject with me below. Do you think I'm being a prude? Are you also tired of seeing naked, vulnerable woman contorted in silly, sexy poses everywhere you look?
Above: I'm wearing an all-thrifted outfit to get into my silly, blue steel character for the Food Film festival, where we posed with Larry's fans after the screening at the Loews Movie Theater on 3rd Avenue (with gourmet eats to match each short film! )Get your tix early next year. This year sold out! Diane von Furstenburg wrap dress from eBay. Brand new stockings from the Soho thrift store Housing Works (who'll be featuring my photography in their upcoming brochure! )They sometimes have brand new donations from designers mixed in with their fabulous finds, and proceeds from their sales go to helping homeless AIDS victims. Shopping truly gets turned into a philanthropic activity. They're one of my favorite organizations in New York! Blue, suede electric heels from Beacon's Closet in Brooklyn. Not pictured here, but I topped off my "costume" with a faux-fur jacket also purchased at Housing Works and featured in this earlier post.
Look for another long essay next week. For now enjoy these pics from the New York City Food Film Festival's afterparty courtesy of the The Food Film Festival. (More pics from the festival which takes place annually in Chicago and New York here.) The sequel isn't up yet, but check out our first Food Porn from last year's festival, a short and hilarious film from the crazy brain of Larry Cauldwell.
Have a great weekend!