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.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Through some odd combination of good fortune, I've managed to have the privilege of attending a grand total of three events at the Tully Scope Festival at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. The first was the free opening ceremony -- written up in NY Times here. (Charlotte, one of my friends who went with me, says that she can see me in one of the pictures, but I can't. I never was very good at Where's Waldo. Or Magic Eye, for that matter. Remember those?) The contemporary piece performed in the opening ceremony, "Bells" by Nathan Davis, incorporated the use of cell phones to create an atmospheric, futuristic effect. Ordinarily, the curmudgeon in me would be skeptical of combining the necessary evil of cell phones with a concert at Lincoln Center, but I really enjoyed it. There were performers moving about the space, including a flute player, and there were some really cool overlaps between what the live performers were playing, and the electronic effects coming from the cell phone channels. There were a few different options for channels of sounds to have your cell phone play, so my friends and I had fun holding our phones up to one another's ears and creating a surround-sound. I would really love to see what the score of the piece looked like, since parts of it felt improvisatory to my ear, but other parts involved really precise interactions between instruments.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to obtain a ticket that a friend couldn't use to go see Kayhan Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider. As previously mentioned, I can be a bit of curmudgeon in some ways when it comes to classical music (though not in others -- for example I think it would be totally awesome to see more classical performances in bars and places that have more of a rock-concert feel) but even so, the idea of a contemporary string quartet performing with a Persian-music virtuoso seemed intriguing. My favorite piece on the program was the world premiere of a John Cage string quartet, which was rich and luscious, and made me wish that I could play the cello. There was also a piece by Colin Jacobsen, who plays violin in Brooklyn Rider, called "Beloved, do not let me be discouraged" that combined the string-quartet sound with the kamancheh (Persian fiddle-like instrument) in a really interesting way. They combined the instruments on some other pieces, too, but this one in particular stood out to me because the kamancheh blended completely with the violins during some sections, and then took on its own voice. They apparently have a collaborative CD called Silent City that I'd be interested in checking out (both figuratively literally, from Brooklyn Public Library).

Tonight I'm going to see Louis Lortie perform a Liszt program. When I bought the tickets, I knew that I had heard of Louis Lortie but wasn't sure where, but I needed to make a quick decision in order to get an awesome deal. My general rule of thumb for classical music is that if I feel like I've heard of the musician and I can get tickets for less than $20, I should definitely go. (My feeling was correct on this one -- as soon as I got home, I found that I had some recordings of Lortie's on my iTunes.) And Liszt is awesome -- it should be a good program, and probably involving a drool-worthy piano that will make me entertain fantasies of moving somewhere where I could keep a gorgeous Steinway grand in my living room.

Other than that -- I recently paid a visit to my alma mater to attend their annual women's history conference. This year's theme was Breaking Boundaries: Body Politics and the Dynamics of Difference. My friend Charlotte was presenting her paper on information bias in fat studies, so basically she is a rockstar academic who does things like speak at conferences now. She and her research partner Kate did a really awesome job, and I learned enough to be appropriately outraged, for example that all books on fat studies (studying how fat bodies are perceived in society, suggesting that it is possible to be both fat and healthy and that most studies that say otherwise are funded by various multimillion-dollar diet companies, etc.) are mostly categorized by the Library of Congress under such offensive categories as "disease", right next to books on cancer, rather than under a more-factually-correct social science heading. There were a ton of really excellent panels, and it was a good reminder for me that I can still do lots of things that expand my brain and challenge my thinking without being in school.

One of the best talks I attended was by Zoe Spencer from Virginia State University, whose lecture was entitled The Sexualized Body Politics of African American Women: From Enslavement to Hip Hop. I would actually really like to listen to everything she said one more time, because she was a super engaging speaker and kept dropping these really huge, groundbreaking statements like they were totally no big deal, and it took my brain a second to try to keep up (an example that I wrote down: "Reproductive and sexual labor is directly controlled through social constructs"). I bet she is a really awesome professor. She also talked about Sarah Baartman/the Hottentot Venus (who I hadn't heard of before but came up again later in a talk I attended on the inherent sexism and racism in the field of anatomy, and how the default in textbooks is almost always white and male unless the picture has something to do with reproduction).

I also learned about the "ugly laws" from the 1860s, in which people who were considered ugly or "deformed" could be sentenced to a mandatory year of hard labor if they were seen in public (partially due to a belief that a pregnant woman who saw an ugly person would damage her unborn baby), and how reaction to this law affected disability rights movements and later, employment discrimination laws (though apparently 98% of employment discrimination cases are settled in favor of the defendant*). Susan Schwiek, the lecturer, brought up the interesting point that in most discrimination cases, the oppressed group refutes weakness as a part of deserving civil rights (for example, women and African-Americans arguing equal intelligence to white men as a reason for suffrage). However, this type of reasoning is problematic for some forms of disability rights movement, in that people deserve civil rights regardless whether they are neurotypical.

* For my lawyer and legal-oriented readers -- Schwiek referred to the case of Samantha Robichaud v. RPH (McDonald's) as an example of a notable employment discrimination case. To sum up: Samantha Robichaud worked at McDonald's, had a large birthmark on her face and, after watching new employees that she trained get promotions, asked why she hadn't been promoted. The response she got was, "You will never be in management here because I was told you would either make the babies cry or scare the customers off." Robichaud ended up losing the case, but it broke new territory in that it raised the question of whether or not disability laws applied to discriminating against someone for being "ugly".

The conference allowed me to do some examining on my own intersecting forms of privilege, and put some thought into what I can do in order to work against systems of the kyriarchy -- even when, on the surface, they can benefit me. I think the biggest thing for me is to continue to work on being a good listener, and to question other people's assumptions, and to continue to ask questions in general. And also, to notice when privilege may play a part in what's going on around me. For example -- I attended on a panel on burlesque in which a member of the audience asked a question about whether or not fat bodies are accepted in burlesque. There were three women on the panel: one woman who was self-identified fat and performed in a burlesque troupe whose goal was to show fat bodies as sexy, and two thin women. The self-identified fat woman responded that fat bodies were not always accepted in burlesque, and that sometimes venues respond, "Oh, don't just want to sing?! You want to take your clothes off?!" The responses of the two thin women seemed to dismiss her experience, saying how great everyone was in the burlesque community and what a positive place it was for a wide variety of bodies.

Overall, though, I left the conference feeling inspired by movement. I realize this sounds heavy-handed, but what I mean is that I'm excited by what's happening right now in the various sub-groups of progressive political activism. In a way, the internet has done something similar for politics as it has for music and film: put it into the hands of everybody. I have a serious love/hate relationship with the internet in general, but I do love that I can read blogs that remind me to, above all, see people as people, and think about my reactions and assumptions. (One of these -- good even for those with short attention spans -- is the Microaggressions tumblr, found here.)

In somewhat related news, I've recently discovered some old high school journals, and if that's not a surefire way to show that I've gone through some amount of personal growth, I don't know what is. I'm currently working on a podcast that will include some of the best quotes as a feature (possibly entitled "Teenage Dirtbag"). As can be expected, I say a fair amount of things that I now don't agree with at all. What's actually more shocking are the things that I feel like I could also say in five minutes, and still have it be true. Also, prepare yourselves for some really great quotes from my dad, recorded for posterity.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

buckets of moonbeams in my hand

Now that pretty much everybody I'm going to see has seen my new hair in real life, I get to post some pictures for the masses. It's been super fun surprising people ("surprise"?! it's like the days before the internet!!). I was doing some reading online about taking care of long hair, and I found a lot of positive comments about 100% pure henna, body art quality as a deep conditioner and a way to get more shine.

After doing extensive research, I decided to buy 500 g of Ancient Sunrise-brand Purity Henna (the one with the second-highest lawsone content) from this website, whose owner is working on a PhD in henna (which, apparently, exists). I learned there are a ton of variations for recipes in terms of what to mix the henna with, so this is what ended up doing:

400 g Ancient Sunrise-brand Purity Henna (
15 fl oz lemon juice
approx. 6 oz of Trader Joe’s orange-peach-mango juice (because I ran out of lemon juice and didn't feel like going to the store -- and the e-Book I read said that any acidic juice should work)
four spoonfuls of cinnamon (for delicious smell)
latex gloves (two pairs -- one for me and one for my friend Monica)
plastic bowl
plastic spoon
newspaper for protecting living room
clear plastic wrap
pizza (for eating)

Mixed around midnight.

Let sit until about 1:30 pm next day.
Added more orange-peach-mango juice & stirred.

I enlisted the help of my friend Monica, who had done henna on herself before. She came over and after thoroughly newspapering my living room and eating some bacon, we went to work. It was extremely messy to apply -- think mud wrestling. It is totally necessary to wear clothes you don't care about staining, as well as have a towel of similar status. I have some pretty ridiculous pictures of myself with the mud all over my hair -- and, after much debate, eyebrows even though it said on the website not to -- but since I look like a Swamp Thing, I'm not posting them lest I ruin my presidential campaign.

We plastic-wrapped my head, put a towel over it, and left the henna on for three hours.

Because the e-Book said that it would come out coppery bright at first and then oxidize to a darker color within three days, I had done all of this on a Saturday, expecting that I may need to hibernate until it looked less ridiculous. Fortunately and unfortunately, it ended up looking exactly like I wanted it just after we finished, so we went out for a drink.

Over the next few days, the color did get darker, as promised and as depicted below (poorly, due to flash and bad lighting). I still liked the initial Little-Mermaid-esque color better, so next time I won't be afraid to get the highest dye content, which is the Celebration henna.

Close-up on hair before, immediately after, and next day:


In honor of joining the redhead ranks -- this is a fabulous Dylan cover by Neko Case.

I've been super into her lately. Gorgeous voice.

And another gorgeous one -- not a cover:

Also, a few weeks ago I was looking at things on the Internet, as I am often wont to do, and I stumbled across this nail art tumblr. Lo and behold, the artist, Fleury Rose, works in Brooklyn, so I made an appointment and got my nails done to match my new stockings:

I'm into it. Pretty much played "Pro Nails" by Kid Sister on repeat all the way home.