the biggest small things

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hello, Goodbye

America is a land of strikingly low intimacy. We carry on through our streets very rarely even looking up to see passersby. We enjoy this bubble-like element and in fact, become easily irked by any intruders. Most Chinatown buses consist of rows of people sitting next to a seat piled high with their belongings and faces that resist eye contact or the feeble ‘Is anyone sitting here’ murmured by those anxious to sit down. Entire 'Sex and the City' episodes have been devoted to the germaphobe man who insists on showering immediately following sex, and many people think twice before even sharing so much as a sip of a drink with others let alone something more private, like a kiss.

This tradition of extreme anti-intimacy is not one of the world though. The communal drinking of wine is a religious custom. Sharing, affection and commonality are supreme in most cultures.

In Asia, perhaps, their rituals are a bit too intimate for my liking. Living there, I witnessed people spitting and shooting snot rockets in broad daylight. In East Asia, the level of human touching is at a claustophobic high. Trains are filled beyond capacity by pushers who literally stuff humans into train cars so that they’re bursting like a fat girl’s jeans. Bus rides are rarely without your neighbor taking a nap on your shoulder or breathing down your neck and the bumps and run-ins you encounter on the street, though not malicious, can leave you with bruises.

In Southeast Asia the intimacy is less offensive but still strange to encounter. Many times in India I witnessed naked children playing on the street or defecating on it. Whole families journey to sacred rivers where they bathe and launder their clothes. In Vietnam I walked past huts whose living rooms were open to the road; you could watch a family go about their normal business, completely exposed, or cooking their dinner practically in their front yard, if there was such a thing.

Living in Paris, I enjoyed the customary greeting and send off of the bisou bisou or double kiss. In some parts of France, there are even four kisses given! That’s either true or I was duped by a traveling Frenchman, both of which seem equally plausible. But the fact that strangers, of course after an introduction by a mutual friend, would engage in such a friendly behavior is just, well nice. It’s also physically less awkward than the American ‘hug’ but a bit less serious than the handshake. It’s really an ideal way to begin any friendship.

I am disturbed however by the single American cheek-kiss that has gained popularity in recent years. Americans seem to fumble the meaning of the gesture (as we so often do) and it sometimes ends up as a lingering saliva mark on one’s cheek. The French kiss is not a real kiss; just a brush of the cheek on lips on the corresponding cheeks of your partner. It should never be wet, and, if done correctly, it should never be awkward. The American cheek kiss is awkward, because it is not customary, it’s forced or even, trendy, as we all strive to caricature some idea of wealth that is probably just European. So while imitated, it is not well duplicated.

Where does this leave us awkward Americans, striving to achieve intimacy in the most haphazard of nuances? Should we resign ourselves to being grumpy and unfriendly with our death-grip handshakes and stuff hugs hello? Or move forward with a greeting all our own? I’d personally like to suggest the secret handshake to end all secret handshakes, as seen in 'The Parent Trap'. Done with finesse and always being open to new additions, it is as individualistic as the American dream, plus fully admits that what we lack in cool, we make up for in flippancy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Emoticon: An Evolution

Sometimes, there really are no words. That’s when I use a smiley. This is the same, well similar, smiley to the ones that made me cringe when guys I've dated inserted them at the end of text messages or punctuated emails with them. Yep, I've dated guys that use emoticons. Note the emphasis in dated. It went something like this: Him: “Girl, you so sexy ;)” Me: Vomit in mouth, compliment rejected. Ultimate deal-breaker. Thankfully, I haven’t dipped so low as to pull out a winking smile. Yet. Yet? Who am I?

How did this digression begin? I want to know! I used to be a normal, uptight, proud, non-user of the smiley. I can’t truly say the same about alcohol. But I used to feel better than the people that relied on emoticons to express their emotions. I’m a writer. Get it? I don’t need punctuation unless I’m trying to write a stupid poem, or be crafty with my sentences. But fashioning commas and colons into things that resemble faces? Never.

Emoticons had their heyday, I believe it was somewhere in the late ‘90s slash early 2000’s. They once were even surrounded by bright yellow circles. And peace signs. The days when I had a pager. Even when I got a cell phone, even when I was a wee child of 15, I never used smileys! If anything, their popularity has dwindled in recent years, but for whatever reason I have encountered the emoticon maybe more than the average bear, and where what should be a safe-area; the dating world. I must be being punished for some transgression in a previous life. The powers that be were like, 'funny joke- let's send lots of little doodling girls of seven disguised as big strong men her way. HAHAHA.'

But these tricky little conniving symbols that were once the ultimate deal-breaker for dating purposes have crept into my heart and built a nest out of their parentheses and inserted themselves into my communication repertoire. I feel like such a hypocrite. Really, now that I think about it, my cultural tastes have taken a nose-dive in the past few months. And I don’t know who is to blame. Maybe my friend that shoved a Twilight book down my intellectual throat and turned me into an avid series fan. I’m so low-brow I’m pubic hair and loving every minute of it. But I’m a hypocrite.

However much I bemoan my recent smiley acquisition, I’d much rather look at my use of emoticons as an evolution, one where I become a little more like my peers and a little less like Jane Austen. I remember the first time I used one, as if it’s a special day bound to go down in the history of ‘My Life’. I had just started working at a cool, extremely low key website where I was congratulated daily on being hungover and unproductive, and I invited all my handsome new co-workers to my upcoming roof party via email. My editor, whom I was dying to sleep with, responded with a soul-crushing ‘blah, blah, can’t make it unfortunately, blah, blah.’ My disappointment rendered me speechless, my fingers unable to type a witty response to save face. So I simply emulated my face and with a swift four key move I replied with :(

From there it’s been a slippery slope. My friend wrote me a Facebook post alerting me that he had come to Brooklyn and forgotten to call me. My response :( After the initial cherry was popped I turned into a super smiley slut, and now, it seems appropriate to up the ante, let this lonely sad face carry more weight. Like when I recently spent 48 hours of my life writing a passionate 2800 word article, headed nowhere fast, and after I pitched it to my dream venue, and got shot down, instead of maintaining my few shreds of dignity, I simply shot back a :(

Obviously I have noted that my emoticon use has been limited to the simple sad face. So, this punctuated mirror to my life should be alerting me that I am awfully dreary. If my text messages were really being tracked by the clouds, or Rupert Murdoch, my phone would have therapists around New York texting me daily with hotlines for help. Or maybe it's just that I still feel excitement can be better expressed with a good old fashioned exclamation point (though be careful not to use more than one per few sentences, lest you end up writing a note worth passing during your high school French class). Why not shit on sadness with a stupid sad face- but happiness? I prefer mine uninterrupted; enjoyed authentically, a good belly laugh, without the aid of dots and semicircles. Who needs to see a smile when you've got the excellent acronym LOL! Mouth open, eyebrows raised, it just rolls off your tongue and smacks you happy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Out on a Limb: Unlikely Paths to Love

Desperation to avoid big city loneliness, social anxieties, general malaise and those irritating questions from aunts, uncles and teasing older brothers has led to the inevitable craigslist cure. Talented, intriguing and probably at least mildly attractive people are inquiring within the internet specifically for holiday girlfriends and boyfriends; beards of a sort, these people will act as a companion only for the time of year when everything is merry and bright, because, as one ad reads, like some haunted voice of Christmas past, ‘deep down inside, you don’t want to be alone for the holidays’.

As the shivers settle, people are scrambling to find their ‘holidates’. Two determined San Francisco ladies posted for a double romance that would conclude with being dumped the day after New Years. The women began their ad declaring ‘Holidays are the worst time to be single’. They continue to promise that they are indeed ‘really hot chicks. Like you could have picked us out of a lineup for a CW teen drama’. They hope the men that answer their ad own at least one suit and have a sweater collection. They demand that they’re funny. And they guarantee a New Years Eve kiss— but nothing else. Is this the modern solution for holiday loneliness? It seems so, similar ads have been popping up since, unfortunately all are promptly taken down, and inexplicably; they tend to be more cleverly and cleanly written than the average hook-up request.

Before I moved to New York City I did a lot of sitting around and thinking about moving to New York City. I was simultaneously freshly single after a marathon relationship and fresh off the boat back to the United States from a year abroad. From my mother’s porch, my dating future looked grim. From my perch behind my computer screen, it looked impressively worse. While New York offered the most possibilities for my career, I worried about the likelihood of finding someone in the cold, congested, mess of a town that is arguably the greatest city on earth. It was this time last year; nothing like the holidays to breed romantic hopelessness and surrender.

New York is so notoriously difficult a city to date in that it feels cliché to even mention it. All the literature declaring it is backed up by cold, hard facts, not to mention cold, lonely hearts. It’s too tempting to savor the bits in writing that are unmistakably recognizable from tales of friends and movies and TV series— veritas! further supporting my conjecture that I should stop off in the Midwest somewhere and pick up a nice gentleman on my way. My guess though, is that the fear incited in me and so inherent in all the literature surrounding the topic is that much more greatly ignited by the fact that more than being a difficult place to find and nurture love, New York is also a famously lonely place, thus the drive to find companionship is stronger, and even more necessary.

In the midst of crowded squares and bars spilling onto sidewalks, there is a loneliness unlike its sister, true solitude. In my humble opinion it hasn’t been said much better than J.D. Salinger, a man who knew a thing or two about seclusion. In his “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period” from Nine Stories, the eccentric protagonist voices the New Yorker’s riddle: “I prayed for the city to be cleared of people, for the gift of being alone, A-L-O-N-E: which is the one New York prayer that rarely gets lost or delayed in channels, and in no time at all, everything I touched turned into solid loneliness.

It seems the holiday season is just an exacerbated version of the big city specific loneliness. Amongst twinkling lights and gatherings of happy people, you roll your eyes and pine after less offensive scenes and then poof! you’re an eternal scrooge. While apparently the media is to blame for the association between the holiday season and increased suicide rates (no proven correlation) studies connecting the holidays with stress, depression and loneliness come out like clockwork this time of year, and it is not exactly hard to believe that Christmas carols and spinning dreidels, or the idea that these things should occur, (or rhymes like that) could cause someone to go over the edge.

A somewhat alarming study popular a few years ago led by University of Chicago’s John Cacioppo and scientists from UCSD and Harvard the possibility that loneliness can be contagious, which means, with every work party, cocktail event, and family gathering, your chances of catching that hollow bug increases. The study proposes that lonely feelings are easily passed and absorbed by innocent bystanders, or friends of friends, and that the feeling is largely a reflection of the society we live in. Misery loves company, but what about when company won’t call? Meanwhile, there are countless rituals surrounding the holidays that seem to encourage coupling and exclude those whom are not. Mistletoe and midnight kisses on New Years Eve are two acts that could possibly unite two forlorn souls, or more likely, make the notion of cohabitating with polar bears on the North Pole seem appealing.

My experience in New York has not quite confirmed my initial fears. While I have certainly had my moments; waiting for Godot on a bench in Madison Square Park or crying beneath my sunglasses in public, more often I’m on some extended travel adventure; watching the sunrise, singing with subway musicians and having those moments of connection that feel so rare in this world but really are not. Yet the pace of life here also means that months go by where I can’t coordinate a simple meal with a close friend. It’s the life I wanted, although it’s no surprise people have trouble settling down when years are lived at this fleeting pace.

With the invention of ‘holidates’, things seem less dire in the dating pool once you can outline and interview your specifications for a partner. Taking the unlikely route of optimism, I suggest that the city can be remarkably fertile as a dating ground. Because of some unnatural holiday glow, I too have been touched by the essence of the season, and feel compelled to share a particularly poignant story. I first encountered ‘Lonely Guy Jeff’ a couple of weeks prior to the writing of this piece; his flyer was on a street pole in busy Union Square. It read functionally, ‘call me to talk about anything’, signed ‘one lonely guy Jeff’ with his number cut into fringe at the bottom of the flyer. It struck me immediately as incredible that any rational human would leave their contact info in the middle of the mayhem of Union Square, so I tore off his number and like an antique Nancy Drew, decided I must investigate.

Carly: Hi Jeff, I found your number on a poster in Union Square a few weeks ago and have been meaning to call you.

Jeff: Well, it’s nice to talk to you, how’s everything going?

Carly: I was curious as to why you made the flyer and left your number up in public that way?

Jeff: I went through a difficult breakup a few months ago and I was working on projects which required a lot of solitude and I was relatively new to New York and I wanted a way to just to talk to people. It’s actually worked, the ironic part of it is that New Yorkers started to call me and then it went viral, so I’ve talked to like, over ten thousand people in the past few weeks. It’s just a crazy, wonderful adventure. I’ve got amazing perspectives from people around the world on relationships, family, everything you could ever imagine, on happiness, all these great points of views, it’s just this wonderful journey that basically happened by accident. You know I thought I’d talk to a few people when I put that flyer up and it turned into this worldwide thing.

Carly: When I first saw it, I was thinking, calling this guy is either a great idea, or a horrible one. Who are you, and what kind of people would call you? But you say you’re feeling a lot of support and love, somehow that’s surprising.

Jeff: Absolutely. I thought maybe half the calls would be creepers, freaks, stuff like that, but that’s maybe only fifteen percent of calls. The calls are genuine people offering support. On the other hand, people who are lonely have called, or it’s people that want to get stuff off their chests, they can’t really tell their friends or family because they’re biased. I get a lot of calls like that, people asking ‘what should I do?’ It’s incredible the things people call me for.

Carly: What’s your perspective on loneliness in New York City? Why is it an especially lonely place, or is it not?

Jeff: It is, definitely. Everyone comes here to try and quote make it, therefore it’s an intense person here. Secondly it’s so hard to live here because it’s expensive and it’s so competitive, everyone is going a million miles an hour and they don’t have time for anyone. I’ve had people call me from New York and say ‘there are the most people in the world here but it’s the loneliest place at the same time.’

Carly: Dating in New York is really hard, but when I saw your sign, I realized while it seems really hard to meet people, it’s also incredibly easy.

Jeff: I’ve been on four dates in the past month. Last night I went out with a girl who is unbelievably attractive; I’ve been out with really interesting people, really wonderful girls. I’d say I’ve made about 15 solid friendships that will last. Immediately there was a connection on the phone, they felt me and I felt them, they were calling for the same reason I put the flyer up.

Carly: It’s so inspiring that this is a possibility in the world we live in, to reach out to humanity and have humanity just call you up.

Jeff: Everyday I get like 20 or 30 people calling me, if I’m on the subway and don’t pick up people leave messages saying, ‘Just have a great day, just wanted to say, people care.’ I was very cynical going into this about humanity, but it has definitely opened my eyes. I get calls from Korea, Saudi Arabia, hundreds of Canadians call me.

Carly: I’m not Canadian, but I’m glad I called you, I was really nervous to call actually, I put it off for weeks.

Jeff: Even though it took this orange flyer to get people interested, there’s an underlying tone that people say catches them, it’s true, it comes from a genuine emotion people identify with immediately. A guy in Saudi Arabia called and said, ‘You can be lonely in the desert or at 87th and Lex’.

I had a few ideas about who Jeff may be prior to the call. Most prominently, he loomed as a dangerous stranger who after getting my number would proceed to stalk and torture me through ceaseless calls and texts. After the imaginative route, I guessed that by the time I called, his number would be disconnected due to the high volume of scum he had acquired from leaving his digits in such sore circumstances. Finally, I decided he could be exactly what he claimed to be, one lonely guy that dared to take a strange path toward connecting with his new city.

Jeff’s reality was much more pleasing than any that I had imagined for him. In fact, it’s stories like this that you really can’t make up, at least not if you want people to believe you. When Jeff first answered the phone, he had a drone that could have been robotic, but after I confirmed he was human my reservations disappeared. While he remains somewhat of a conundrum to me, his story is nonetheless touching and there couldn’t be a better moment for reassurance of the existence of humanity to ease the pains of 4:30 PM twilights and the frenzied tinkling of Salvation Army bells. Perhaps Jeff has it all figured out, and the rest of us who pout and hibernate through bad break-ups are missing out on being coddled by our great mother earth and all her children. Doubt rings clear in my words, but in so many ways, I wish I could be different, more like Jeff. Willing to take a risk, to reach out and expect the best in others, and in turn, embrace it.

Maybe the answer to loving in a big city is making yourself available in a unique way. Putting your picture and height on a monitored dating site isn’t going to set you apart from the other millions doing the same thing. Nor is wearing the sparkliest top in the bar unless your future date is a magpie, though admittedly, I appreciate sequins as much as the next girl. When you go so far out on a limb, like Jeff or the ‘holidaters’, anyone who ventures to meet you there is automatically inducted into an inner dating sphere; a realm where acceptance and understanding is previously established. Your possibilities are bound to multiply when you step out of line, out of the bar, from behind the glow of your computer screen and truly liberate yourself from traditionalist expectations. Thanks to OWS, the mighty arena of craigslist and one lonely guy, living on the margins of society has never been trendier, or more worthwhile.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Youth and Beauty: Art and The American 20s

I admittedly spend a remarkable amount of time staring at subway ads. It usually happens those nights, (or mornings) when my bag is a size that restricts any form of entertainment, and has only room for the one necessity of these times; sunglasses. That is all a 20-something needs at say 8am or even noon, when she walks to the subway to start her stretch home to Brooklyn. While I wait for the train, I stare at the ads; how many times have I played Magic Eye with that Ides of March movie poster, painfully, dizzily trying to blend Ryan Gosling’s perfect face into George Clooney’s perfect face; until I’d like to throw up, that’s how many times. Often the alcohol consumed the previous night undeniably aids in this cycle.

I consider myself an extremely observant person; I’m a writer, isn’t that my job? I live primarily in my head, so much so that when a stranger asked me for a light last night while I was studying a menu, I did two double-takes and still questioned her, “me?” Perhaps that had more to do with the fact that I wasn’t smoking. I suppose I look like I have a light, I look like a smoker, being in my mid-twenties with overzealously chopped bangs from my haircut that was my first in over six months specifically for my Cleopatra costume (haircuts are expensive and unnecessary unless aiding in a costume).

But yesterday, as I was stepping off the train, headed to my job as a college-educated babysitter, but don’t get me wrong, I am also a college-educated cocktail waitress, a college-educated caterer and ahem, I am a writer; my observant self noticed a subway ad I had not seen before but that struck me so much that I considered the awkwardness of doing an ‘about-face’ only for a moment before backtracking, or marching, rather, to properly look at it. ‘Youth and Beauty’ it read, the words emblazoned across the angular face of a jazz-age Gatsby or some other attractive, tragic young man. Two ideas, youth, beauty, so heavily contemplated, and then, the finer print, ‘Art of the American Twenties’.

My first, and obviously incorrect reading was to immediately think, in my self-centered 26 year old universe, ‘ahhh, youth and beauty, the glory of being a 20-something American.’ Perhaps it’s not me being self-centered, perhaps I’ve only been absorbing my American culture for twenty some years, what these years are supposed to mean, what they used to stand for, what I should be doing, and I consider myself a good little soldier, i.e. staying out all night, having one-night stands, finding myself, losing myself, etc., etc.

Take these notions, though, versus lately, where everything I read is worrying about us 20-somethings; we have no jobs, (well I have 5!) we have no future, we are as disillusioned as teenagers, the economy is bleak, we will not be more wealthy than our parents, we are living off fresh fruits and vegetables and unemployment checks, and many of us, white and college-educated have even considered food stamps. We owe a ton to the government, and we don’t care. We’re camping at Wall Street and we don’t know why, but I heard there’s free pizza? New York Magazine recently featured a cover-story picture of a guy I might date with the words ‘sucks to be us’ scrawled across his scrawny chest. The article promises that us kids are ‘kind of alright’ but presents a montage of mug shots of 20-somethings along with their education and career stats looking more like the prison pictures at the Tuol Sleng in Cambodia than ‘alright’.

Enough about us already world! My head is too cluttered with the contradictions of what I was told I was supposed to do and what is confronting me and my fellow 20-something Americans, so thank god for this subway poster, because shit! it reminded me of what the twenties are actually about; youth, beauty, decadence, experimentation, grand mistakes, new beginnings and final goodbyes, and how like the ‘American 1920’s are those same notions? No matter that I originally, for seconds, misinterpreted the poster, I saw it for what I wanted to see, the selfish, inventive twenty-six year old I am, and I am so much like a toddler that I had the bright idea to go to this exhibit, since I’d been meaning to go to the Brooklyn Museum anyway, and interpret the art in my own, erroneous way, as art of the youth and beauty of the American twenties, and all that this decade of our young and hopeful lives is meant to stand for and be about.

In typical twenty-something fashion, I show up to the airy museum and offer a dollar to the twelve dollar suggested donation. I am overwhelmed at the emptiness of the museum, the air is especially brisk today and I am feeling depressed because I have to go to work in a few hours. I think about the times I walked through the halls of the MFA Boston by myself, my freshmen year at University, seven years ago. When I write seven years, I am suddenly struck at the amount of time that has passed between me and my freshmen orientation, and those first few months of total and complete freedom. That was before I was twenty, before I had to balance the sweet taste of freedom with the bitterness of the reality of taking care of myself; the now.

As I get out my pen to take notes on the exhibit, the middle-aged security guard stops me, and launches into some story about how the curator wouldn’t even allow an old woman her sitting stool in the galleries, so precious is this collection. I try to ignore the rambling and study the words in the exhibit explanation which jump out at me madly, ‘potent youth’! ‘sustaining value of beauty’! The security guard rambles on, now she is saying (to someone else) ‘Isn’t she so cute? I just think she’s so cute!’ I look up and smile abashedly, not knowing what is happening, but knowing I am the cutest thing in the room. The she continues, ‘Just look at her fat thighs!’ And I whirl around to spy a painting of a short round young woman, by Yasuo Kuniyoshi, condensed in a revealing swimsuit, part of the Body Language section of the exhibition, and though I am engrossed in my wall-reading, I walk all the way back to rear of the collection, and rebelliously get my pen out again. In all truth, I am told to put my pen away all of five times during my hour stay in the exhibit, all of which I ignore.

Overwhelmingly, my hypothesis that the roaring twenties of America can be seen as a kind of broad allegory to each American’s 20-something years seems to be reinforced by the exhibit. That fanciful decade is so much like this ten years we so desperately desire to escape and hold on to. I wonder, as most do in this age of information, if this (genius!) point has already been widely discussed if not touched upon by someone prior. And then I realize I don’t know how to spell genius, at least, not without spell-check. No matter.

We are, especially now, in a time between two great obstacles, not quite ‘the Great War and the onset of the Great depression’ as Teresa A. Carbone, Curator, writes, we are more submerged in both at the same time; the great war being fought all over the middle east, endlessly, and the great world depression where our economy is as dreary as a Seattle Sunday. Somewhere in the cracks of those two facts we have this naïve, probably ignorant feeling that everything will work out for us, us kids; that we will be happy, because the 20-something still carries that unique sense of invincibility that was never broken, since we didn’t die yet. We are liberated yet ordered like Carbone notes, ‘artists created images of liberated modern bodies and the changing urban-industrial environment with an eye toward ideal form and ordered clarity’; while we dance recklessly into the daylight, we sleep until afternoon the following day, there is method to our madness, it all makes sense when pondered over drunk brunch, where we complain about not being able to find a job.

The back gallery is titled ‘Silent Pictures’ and Edward Hopper’s Night Windows glows at me in the striking resemblance the scene carries to so many corners in Brooklyn. My Korean friend, an artist, upon his first visit to Brooklyn and with limited English skills, stated only that Brooklyn looked just like an Edward Hopper painting, and though of course the population has increased, the desolation in contrast to the city is always peaceful. The paintings’ description notes that the art was interpreted as racy, and with a fierce ‘emotional impact’ and I think on nights at my ex-boyfriend’s east village apartment, where the fire escape has lent me a rivaled view to Hopper’s eye-level voyeurism. We are all peeping Tom’s, in New York, but in our twenties, we are constantly watching each other to figure out what move is appropriate, what should ‘we be doing?' We are always moving in a pack at this age, young wolves, or at least, raised by wolves.

The following gallery entitled ‘Uneasy Peace: Views from the Road’ reminds me instantly of the difficult reckoning of home versus where you are now. Most of us 20-somethings are away from home, wherever that is, whether figuratively or literally. A painting by Ross Eugene Braught shows a bright, beautiful tree, twisted and familiar in its crevices and intricacies against the backdrop of some pastoral fields of color, and I immediately absorb this sense of what home should feel like; the dream of home, which perhaps is only viewed from the road leading away from it. When I return to Los Angeles, everything is a peculiar shade of sand, like smog, and a city built on an ocean desert, this ugliness offends me, until I see the ocean, that stretches beyond, further than the city, and seems to erase the ugliness behind me, or at least excuses it. As I get closer to the painting with my notebook, I read the title, Dead Chestnut, and winter becomes beautiful again.

At 25, I moved to New York. I’m no small town girl showing up with a suitcase and small change either; I have traveled the world, in particular, my last trip before my arrival in New York was traveling haphazardly through the entire country of India, a true mecca for a 20-something. We were everywhere, hanging out in the cafes, studying maps, and investigating such foreign religions and customs, continuing our college education as best as we knew how. In New York, you’re not allowed to be as obvious about the education you’re being given. Education must be taken in stride here, quietly absorbed from behind your laptop shield in the cool café that just popped up in your decrepit neighborhood.

If the twenties themselves are a hill you can be over, then I have begun the silly tumble towards thirty. In other words, by twenties standards I am old. At twenty-six I feel, in fact, a little like a ‘has been’. I cringe when my younger friends are celebrating birthdays facebook entitled ‘quarter life crisis’ and those celebrating who have accomplished something more than I at their youthful advantage. But it is all relative. And we are all getting old, being young already seems far away. Even as society adds years to the age you can get married and have babies, age is ever-important.

Which naturally leads me to beauty. The youthful confusion, the questioning and the general lack of respect a 20-something receives is certainly the less enjoyable side of this magical ten years. There is no such beauty that exists as in one’s twenties. No Lolita could hold court against the long legs I’ve seen in Williamsburg. There is a cool mix of understanding and excitement, we know we are beautiful yet we are only beginning to realize what we can do with it. There is so much sex to be had, and so much beyond that we can get with a mere smile, if it is curved up just the right way. And also, what really tattoos itself on our brains in the twenties is the knowledge of how fleeting this moment is. Our twenties seem at once expansive and completely confined, we turn thirty, or we give up this beauty for the safety and stability of a relationship that goes beyond sisterly love.

The gallery displaying portraits, ‘Close-ups: Scrutiny, Perfection and the Twenties Portrait’ gave an insight into the human experience more than any other. Insight into being a person in the 1920s, or a person in their twenties? They seem more in and of the same here than any other place. What can you see on a person’s face? Can you see the years of her life? And in our twenties, how many years are there, of real life? Nickolas Muray’s 1925 portrait of Gloria Swanson presents her head cradled by her shoulder and hand, a technique which purportedly denotes ‘self-invention and containment’ a valley most people in their twenties seem to stretch like lazy cats between. Allegedly, the pose has something to do with a beautiful woman’s depth, but by the mask-like quality the image portrays that depth is quite shallow. However, the curator goes on to explain that the Freudian obsession of the times suggests ‘external likeness (to) offer only a hint of the complex psyche of any individual.’ And perhaps that’s where beauty has its limitations in our twenties. We are more beautiful than we are complex, even if we are quite complex.

The ‘Erotic Natural’ section is tucked away in a hall between two of the larger galleries, and features delightful nudes of course. Peter Blume’s Torso and Tiger Lily is exceptional in its presentation of body parts, in particular two round, pink nipples, that are so separate from the body as a whole and yet still, according to the museum curator, ‘surprise the viewer into unexpected intimacy’. I’m not sure I agree though, in fact, what wants to be intimate seems more typically an attempt at intimacy, or a blind, forced and uncomfortable encounter that we at once desire and are repulsed by. Of course there is special, rewarding and emotional sex to be had in our tweties, but it seems many people trade it willingly for rough and ridiculous, meaningless dream-like hazes of drunken rolling.

Last night I walked into my kitchen to find my roommate and her two visiting friends huddled in the corner giggling uncontrollably. They were making vegan muffins, it was Sunday evening, darker than usual the first day of daylight savings. As I turned to grab a broom I spied the image on the computer screen they were gathered around; it was a diagram of a vagina, and even so, if I couldn’t decipher it, my 20/20 vision read ‘The Vulva’ at the top of the page. Instead of ignoring whatever was going on, I stated the details of the situation aloud; “I feel like the parent that just caught you masturbating, I see what you’re looking at on the screen, stop treating me like the other and tell me what’s funny!’ One of the friends gasped a breath and exclaimed “(Your Roommate) has never looked at herself in a mirror!’

This I found, rather strange. Confusing at least. I began to study myself this way when I was quite young. Twelve even. But what I realized, is that though it we may be mature for this scene, it could have never taken place in a kitchen full of 30 something girls. At some point, though we imagine it will be sooner rather than later, the joys and ridiculosities of childhood will need to be bid farewell. Forever. But now, as for studying our vaginas in handheld mirrors, how analogous for the age! My nether regions are under a microscope, shaved and exposed for people who don’t even know my middle name. Not to mention favorite color! The forced intimacy through sex, but also, the digging up of issues and feelings not meant to be dwelled upon over weed and wine. This decade between our adolescence and our adulthood is full of examining things meant to be hidden. What will we find that hasn’t been found before? We are still learning about what our vaginas consist of.

And finally, as I’m exiting the galleries, I reach the point of my entry, where I ran from the meaningless chatter about an hour before. Quiet now, I return to the painting that had threatened to chain me to that garbling security guard, in ‘Body Language, Liberation and Restraint’ perhaps the most cunning of all the titled galleries. That line we walk in our twenties, between utter freedom and the idea of really losing it all, and having no way to pick up the pieces, could likely be studied in the way we move and interact. Splayed but controlled. Tripping and shaking off the tumble. Seductively befriending strangers and then hurrying off alone.

The Beach, (not pictured) by Guy Pene du Bois is so precise in the portrayal of that certain hour before evening, dusk, the lighting is all too familiar for my age, the hour of planning, the hour of uncertainty, what will happen this night? The painting is renowned for the modern society it depicts, men and women, barely clothed, engaging in conversation at the seaside. At this time, du Bois was mingling with the Fitzgeralds and other young American notables, in Westport, Connecticut. It was probably summertime, though it always is somewhere in your twenties, and the horizon was across the country and sunrise beckoned from only mere hours in the future. Oh, of youth and beauty, we can only imagine the possibilities that evening promised for the ever-expectant young, the beautiful and damned.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The New York Ocean

From my perch ten or so floors up a fancy office building in Columbus Circle, the dark night sky turns Central Park into a testy, rippling ocean cutting through uptown; the upper west and upper east are divided. The MET would be a cold swim away, or a shaky boat ride, and Lexington Ave. is inland. It's like the two sides are a world apart, different countries even, if we were in Europe. There appears to be an island somewhere in the center of the great divide; the lights of the boat house no doubt. The greenest green of this city has turned into an inky pool of black; and what lurks beneath?

When I moved to New York again a few months ago, I was somehow convinced that the Hudson River was an ocean. One night, I ate a pot cookie by mistake and had a heated debate with a gypsy cab driver positive and confident there was an ocean on one side of New York. The debate essentially ended in a simple statement; “Girl, how much you had to drink?” And then I started studying the maps in the subway a bit harder and accepted that the Hudson was in fact a river, though I didn’t quite understand how Manhattan was a river island, and anyway, I’m always inclined to sense an ocean to my left because I am a Californian.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

5 Bjork Outfits That Make Lady Gaga Look Like Marcia Brady

Our world is swarming with ‘Little Monsters’ and frankly we’re concerned the Goddess of all Fashion Weirdness, Bjork may have been forgotten. In celebration of her latest album, Biophilia, and her incredibly odd joy of style, feast your desire for strange on this refresher course of Bjork’s finest fashion moments.

2000 Golden Globes

It’s necessary to start slowly. This is Bjork being like, ‘Ok guys, I’ll tone it down since I’m nominated for Best Actress and all’. And from far away she looks pretty, demure even though her role in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark is anything but. Oh wait, that’s Michael Jackson’s face in sequins on her skirt. And why stop there? The only thing that goes better with Michael Jackson than small white boys are owls. Purses made of owl of course, or an owl shaped treasure chest on a string, what a nice accessory to finish off this otherwise subtly weird ensemble. But no, because Bjork is an extra kind of weird, she throws on a tube of polar bear she skinned in her native Iceland, fashions it into not a shrug, not a stole, a god knows what, poofs her hair into a cone-head beehive, and gives everyone a look that can only be interpreted as ‘I really don’t give a fuck’ and sashays over to the Golden Globes.

2001 Academy Awards

Though clichéd I really felt it had to appear somewhere on the countdown, because in all fashion honesty, this swan dress is probably about as famous as the Mona Lisa, and it’s only been around a mere decade. Aside from Bjork, a highlight of this photo is the onlookers smiling while inside their heads having a big old ‘LOL wut?’ moment. Bjork accessorizes this overgrown tutu tastefully with a sheer sparkly body suit and a broken swan neck. Oh really Lady Gaga, you can turn your hair into a bow? Well Bjork can turn her dress into a swan. That’s magic. Most people are probably like, ‘Yeah, but how many times will she wear that? Once?’ Nope, she made good use of this dress, wearing it on the cover of the album she released this year, Vespertine, and auctioning it off for charity likely for some ungodly sum. Other weird shit Bjork was up to this year- ever seen the videos for Pagan Poetry or Cocoon?

Fashion Rocks 2003

This is what happens when two crazy minds collide. The late McQueen, notorious designer and fetishist of all things totally fucked up, is approached by Bjork, who requests that he bedazzle her face in return for her live performance during his catwalk show. Deal? Deal. Then he covers her in white geisha paint, gives her a lopsided fro, and a dress with a train that cost 1,000 ostriches their lives. She performs atop a super-powered subway grate which lends the ostriches fierce rigor mortis. No one even notices McQueen’s couture designs, because who can see past that scary bitch Bjork? This is Bride of Frankenstein meets Tim Burton’s favorite sketch, and Bjork wins again because unlike Gaga, she eagerly sacrifices aesthetic appeal for primal shock value, and she delivers.

2008 Volta World Tour

Ever seen those darling Dior Cherie commercials where a pretty girl is carried over Parisian rooftops by a bunch of colorful balloons that resemble the anemones surrounding Bjork’s face? This is 99 Multi-Colored balloons gone disco. By this time, Bjork has been having really crazy weird sex with Matthew Barney and the results are reflected in her newfound appreciation of headdresses, perhaps adopted after she donned a heavy head of hair in Drawing Restraint 9. But how to accessorize a giant clown wig made up of 37 individual mini clown wigs? Why not with a super ‘80s Barbie dress in metallic pink with bat wing sleeves and supernatural sheen. I want whatever she’s on.

2008 Big Day Out New Zealand

This outfit frightens me. Probably to the point of nightmares. And not in the Lady Gaga nipple clamp gas mask type of way, no, that’s too easy. Bjork goes in for the scare with pure, mad, deliberate design. Clothed in a gigantic, flowing Mexican blanket-cum-muumuu, the psychedelic design both hypnotizes and appears at once like Crayola vomit. To top off this enormous monstrosity of an outfit, Bjork has placed a bulbous piñata atop her crazy head, while daring you to focus on the schizophrenic melodies of her award winning music. Talent to at once delight and frighten a stadium’s worth of fans only comes around once a century. Bjork kicks Gaga’s skinny heel-wearing ass barely even lifting a pinky’s worth of weirdness.

*edited version appears on

Monday, September 19, 2011

Proenza Schooled Me

There was a fierce velvet rope at the Proenza Schouler show, strangely, since we were all the way teetering on the edge of the Hudson, and most sneaks wouldn't think to find the ugliest abandoned factory building in town to stalk out all the celebrities for the evening. But inside the warehouse, the runway was aglow in the eerie depressing light of golden beige, a color best left in the late 1950's, where it was born.

The collection was a mix of 'Meeting the Flintstones' and an old school Tarantino film, dreary in it's choices of color, and retro in cuts and silhouettes. Compared with all the color and prints on other Spring runways, Proenza punctuated subtly with fierce details, but remained a strong reference to the depressing landscape it grew from.



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Born and raised under the Los Angeles sun and smog. At sixteen spent some time in LA County Juvenile Detention Center, although never really learned her lesson. Moved to Boston for the classic college experience. Spray painted graffiti in the Paris Metro during six month stay in the Marais. Survived an ultra fabulous and frightening internship at Vogue Magazine while living at a nunnery in Hell's Kitchen. Lived a year in Seoul, a city which can only be compared to a Disneyland theme park. Written four hundred sixty-four words of an undisclosed masterpiece novel. Currently pondering her next adventure and also the meaning of her memoirs from an artist's loft in dirty Brooklyn.