Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sense of Aesthetics?

Some of you already know that I've had somewhat of a revelation lately, in that I think of myself as someone with a strong sense of aesthetics, but I don't really exercise it enough for anyone else to know. So I've been thinking about beauty, and what it is, and how to make time and space feel beautiful in a way that gives me pleasure. I've been massively reorganizing my room, my closet, and details of my life in general.

But before I get into that, I want to make a comment about this whole Rebecca Black business (I don't have the conscience to link to the video -- but if you somehow haven't seen it, it's easy to find). I've been listening to a lot of NPR lately, and I was listening to Soundcheck a few nights ago, and they had Nina Shen Rastogi on, who writes for Brow Beat on Slate (and wrote this article earlier last Friday). One of the things that Rastogi spoke about was why this particular video became a viral hit -- and one of her theories was its profound earnestness. There's not a trace of self-awareness, or sense of irony -- and people love to rip that apart.

I'm not defending the song -- the song is terrible -- but I think there's something to be said here for "don't hate the player, hate the game." For those of you who may not have been following the coverage of the advent of this song, it was produced by a vanity music label that charges $2000 to write a song and record a video for budding pop stars. There are tons of companies that try to capitalize on the dreams of teenage girls who want to be stars. I know, because I was one of them (and, let's face it, I sort of still do want to be a pop star).

When I was thirteen or fourteen, one of my friends talked me into going with her to a cattle call model search at a local hotel. (Let me preface this by saying that I was not cute at this age -- but I was extremely lanky, so much so that my mother tells me that the neighbors asked if there was something wrong with me.) There were hundreds of girls, and we each had to memorize some line about Neutrogena, and how it was #1 (ironic, because my acne was pretty bad at the time. I just want to give you the full mental image, of my hopeful 13-year-old self, wearing a blue t-shirt that said "Angel" with wings on the back). We had to wait in line, and then go up and say the line as though we were in a commercial. Then we were told whether to stay or to go.

My friend was told that if she wanted to model, she would need braces -- and they told her to come back to another one of their model searches in the future. I was told to stay. I sat down in the conference room and listened to one of their representatives give a spiel about an opportunity that we could all have to go to New York and have a few minutes on a runway in front of countless modeling agents, and that we could get signed and live the glamorous life of our dreams, miles away from middle school, awkward slow dances (or more awkward lack thereof, in my case), and dear-diaries. All of this for the low, low price of $500 (or something like that, I can't quite recall).

I didn't go, though part of me wanted to, and I do wonder what it would have been like. Now that I'm older, a bit wiser, and have read way more model memoirs (I sort of love them), I recognize that the girls who make it big from these types of events are few and far between. The companies profit by appealing to the sense of, "What if?" not unlike advertising a glittery, fabulous lottery ticket. The agents are at the event in New York, as promised -- but only because they are bribed by the companies with food, drink, and the promise of "networking." Each girl gets just a few seconds, the agents barely look.

So, my point is -- if an adult had told me, at 13 or 14, that I had what it took to be a pop star, and that for $2000, they could make it happen -- I think I would have listened (if I had access to $2000, anyway). So I can't hate or judge that kind of dream. I can question an industry that exploits young girls, however. (And in the case of modeling, I've learned since then that there are many, many, more problems in the industry -- and there aren't even unions for models like there are for actors. Many girls feel that they have to endure poor treatment in order to sustain their dream and, in some cases, maybe that's even true.)

Anyway, I had Friday afternoon off (which is unusual for my work schedule), so here's how I got down on Friday:

What up, Poets House library. This place is totally magical. I look overwhelmed by books.

Being poet-y in my new blazer. (I don't consider myself a "blazer person," whatever that means, but this one is super soft.)

Also, you can see how the henna looks as my hair grows out -- it's growing pretty gracefully, I think. My roots look a bit "dusty" compared to the more vibrant red, but there's no clear line between my natural color and the dye -- more of a gradient. I do think I will henna again sometime fairly soon, though, to try the higher dye content and get a brighter, more striking red. Also, on the topic of trying to do what I think is beautiful -- the process of henna feels really beautiful. I love the global history, and the messiness of the clay, and the luxury of sitting around for a whole day with a friend while the color soaks in.

Oh -- and my room, as I said I'd post pictures. At one point in high school, I was really interested in photography, and took a lot of pictures. I'm not sure what happened to that, besides going to college and no longer having access to a nice camera. I did learn, as I was trying to take photos of my room, that my current digital camera has approximately 10 minutes of battery life. It also needs about 15 seconds after taking a picture to be ready to take another. So, I'm lusting after a big, beautiful digital SLR to get back to my high school enthusiasm, except with the convenience of digital -- but it will probably be awhile until I can get one. In the meantime, photos courtesy of my geriatric digital and Photo Booth on my Mac.

I should also mention that it's really tough to get any kind of shot where you can see my whole room. Here's the closest that I came:

Change purse: $10, Housing Works.

Books: Inseminating the Elephant by Lucia Perillo (poetry -- cover art by Jojo the elephant), Keel's Simple Diary in yellow, and the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Calendar 2011 (my poem appears in February).

Flowers: Jasmine's Floral Design in Park Slope. I knew I wanted to buy flowers today, so I took my largest Mason jar ($2, hardware store) for a walk with the intention to check out a few places in the neighborhood. The first place was shockingly tacky, and didn't even have flowers by the stem. Jasmine's has a pretty nice selection and has extremely low prices, given the quality. Hydrangeas were $4/stem, and irises $1/stem. I had a brief stint working seasonally at an expensive Brooklyn florist, and I'm pretty sure our prices were easily double that. The staff were amenable to my whim of wanting to do my own arranging, and even gave me ribbons (quick and easy way to my heart).

Wine: On my walk, I found a wine store I'd never been to before -- Adam's Wines & Liquors on 5th Ave. I took a quick look around (one of my recent resolutions is to drink more wine, and try to learn something -- this complements my earlier resolution, to learn to identify cheeses, quite well). I was looking at South African reds when the bottle of shiraz with the horse head caught my eye (call this the Larry & Teddy Method of Choosing Wine, after my family friends who spent a year drinking wine with birds on the label). It had just won some kind of award, and according to a nearby plaque, boasted notes of vanilla, mocha, cherry, and plum. But then, I noticed another shiraz directly below, designed to look like a jam jar (and how perfect, for my recent Mason jar obsession). On the back, this one said: "It makes a perfect partner for bacon cheeseburgers, soft cheeses, and desserts." (Emphasis mine.) How could I not buy it?! It's like they know me.

So, I bought both and got a punch card (I really, really love membership/loyalty/punch cards for businesses. They make me so happy).

This is my classiest shelf. (I'm also proud of the one above, which stores all of my vitamins, soaps, face washes, etc. and which I am designating my "apothecary.") I reorganized all of my makeup into Mason jars, and arranged all of my perfume bottles next to my wax seal stamp, a jar filled with dried flowers from a bouquet I received, a pretty pin from a friend, a small ruffly purse, my passport, and an Erlenmeyer-flask-esque vase with silk flowers from IKEA.

...yes, I'm wearing knee socks. Hello, knee.

Part of my redecorating has involved finding interesting postcards, either from vintage stores or that friends have sent me. The one on the wall here is of the capitol building in Madison, and above it is a pop-art-y color-contrast postcard of the Brooklyn Bridge (you can see part of it in the picture).

My windowsill (yes, I moved the flowers to be in the photo). You can see the clotheslines that my neighbors and I share for drying clothes when it's warm out, as well as my jar filled with wooden clothespins. I haven't decided what to use the spare jar for yet.

Other redecorating took the form of: cleaning out everything under my bed, donating a lot of clothes, books, and jewelry to the Salvation Army, realizing that I have an old hook on my wall that I can use to hang a bathrobe, putting all electronic cords in its own Mason jar, getting bed risers, moving my giant suitcase out of my closet to under my newly-risen bed, and getting plastic bins for under-bed storage so I could get rid of cardboard boxes. I also rearranged my furniture -- bed is by the window instead of the middle of the room, and nightstand is on other side.

I am still hoping to get a desk, which I would put where my bookshelves currently are, and move my bookshelves next to the window. But, I'm pretty happy with how my decorating has been going so far. As of about a week ago, I have lived in this apartment for one year -- the longest I have ever lived anywhere that wasn't my parents' house. So it's time to make this feel like home, and find out what that means.


  1. I think the most upsetting part about the whole Rebecca Black thing for me was the interview she did on Good Morning America and the way Diane Sawyer treated her. She's thirteen years old. Diane Sawyer told her people were calling her the worst singer ever and then read her the meanest comments from YouTube. I really don't understand that kind of behavior from what is supposed to be professional media. Maybe it's because I feel very protective towards all girls ages 7-16 (mess with my girls and I will fuck you up), but I was indescribably angry after seeing the interview. Yes, the song is terrible. But to put her on national television and humiliate her? Why is that necessary? I really do not understand.

  2. I love the picture of you surrounded by the books - gorgeous and whimsical! And also your room looks lovely and cozy. I think the Excelsior, with the horse head, is the same place that makes the port we had while you were here. Deliciousness all around :)

  3. Nina -- Yes, exactly. I hadn't considered that my reaction might be because of camp, but I guess to a certain extent, camp is so ingrained in me that it's part of my reaction to everything. It seems like R. Black has a good head on her shoulders -- grounded, grateful kid who even wants to donate a lot of the money to charity. I hope her parents are proud of how she's handling this. ...and that, friend, was the oldest I have ever sounded. #kidsgetoffmylawn

    Peters -- You're so right about the port! I'd forgotten, but the familiarity of the logo must have been part of the reason why I was inexplicably drawn to this particular bottle. I'll let you know how it is! (...or you could come to New York again and we could have wine, and you could show me how to make steak the way you did. Just saying.)