"I want to have a vodka tasting party and force everyone to dress up in furs. There would be no smiling allowed."
I opened up a Word document that I saved at 5:10 on the morning of August 8th, and this is all that I found.
It wasn’t a disappointment.
My college education is the best gift anyone has ever given me. My parents saved the money to send my brother and me to college since the day we were born. My parents planned every second of their financial lives to give my brother and me an outrageously generous opportunity. I get how people can throw tons of hate on me for that, especially as more and more students graduate from college with debilitating debt.
But here’s what my parents didn’t do. They never taught us to believe that they wanted us to go to college because we deserved it. They taught us to believe that they wanted us to go to college because everyone deserved it. It drove me to want to give that opportunity, in whatever way I could, to other people, which is the main reason I spent two years working as an AmeriCorps member with a pre-college program.
Seeing someone sacrifice like that for you builds a pretty strong bond and some pretty significant respect. It made me trust them completely and helped build a parental relationship that I would never trade with anyone. They made sure we understood what our privilege meant, and that many people didn’t have it, which I’ve grown up to realize is a much rarer lesson than it should be. My parents never taught us to expect anything in return for our education. They emphasized that if we wasted our opportunities, if we took advantage of what we had, it was on us. They made us feel a sense of obligation to deserve the opportunity they’d given us - not the other way around.
I’m sure there are kids whose parents have paid for their educations who are straight up ungrateful pieces of shit. I’m sure there are kids who expect that because of the opportunity their parents gave them, they’ll shit rainbows their whole life. But I’m not those people.
Name: Who Are You
Artist: Tom Waits
Tom Waits // Who Are You?
We would talk about death like it was something you could feel. We imagined you would be lucid throughout, like it was kind of the sensation of trying fruitlessly to fight your way back, and finally realizing you were unable to. The death, we decided, was that last second you were able to feel, when you realized that you never would again. From my perspective, which he never quite realized, this meant people died hundreds of times every lifetime and quietly, stoically recovered. I could imagine this mad clamoring inside, trying so hard to reverse events that were out of your control, silently bartering with an unknowable force – maybe if you took back a cigarette here, went for a longer jog there – an eternal wondering if, with a simple touch of moisturizer, you could have lengthened your life. “The answer’s probably no,” he would always say heartlessly, pinching out the end of another cigarette and shaking his head at me, because his response was typical of my reaction to unnecessary displays of optimism. He couldn’t understand this because he didn’t know what it felt like to think about it. He had only the thought of how an uncertain death might make him feel. He didn’t know that this thought produced in me a similar feeling to the thought of unexpectedly losing him, eventually. He didn’t know I ritualistically prepared for death every day.
In these days when the opportunity to fancy oneself a casual writer is available to any fantastic narcissist with an internet connection and a workable knowledge of the hunt and peck typing method, it is possible for me to know more about casual acquaintances who could barely give me the time of day than I know about people whom I’ve known my entire life. Now, with a better view of your back than I know I’ll ever have of your face, it terrifies me. It terrifies me to realize that the intimacy I now share with complete strangers makes my casual knowledge of your life inconsequential.
The songs Rihanna has chosen to record, and has sometimes co-written, are not ones I play for my own daughter (though yes, she’s heard them on the radio, and we’ve talked about them). They’re rarely, if ever, feel-good anthems encouraging self-empowerment. Rihanna has basically abandoned such efforts, ceding that ground to her friends Katy Perry and Beyonce. Instead, she’s entered into a space previously occupied by many blues women, country singers and girl groups, where women attempt to uncover the truth behind emotional violence, without necessarily comprehending ways to escape it.
I wrote before about how Rihanna’s video for We Found Love was painful to watch because it triggered a time when I was dangerously out of control of my body, my choices and my emotions, but I don’t think I ever examined what that meant to me. It is difficult to explore the ways in which you’ve been hurt and to analyze the dangerous things you’ve thought about in your work without lapsing back into whatever led you there. It is hard to cultivate an artistic persona that doesn’t eventually grow to mirror your public persona. Sometimes, it’s impossible to separate your artistic persona, the things you do for your art or your music, from the person you have to become.
Obviously Rihanna’s career isn’t about me (truth? It’s not about any of us). I can’t expect her to be anything - not a role model, not a responsible woman, not a woman whose choices I’d hope to emulate. I sincerely believe that we can admire and appreciate people’s art, and their impulses for making it, without wanting to be their friends or even wanting to like them at all. The truth, the reason why Rihanna’s decision to publicly condone her abuser, is so personally frustrating, is because many women don’t get out. Many women, including women we know and women we have been, can’t escape, and they don’t have the public attention or financial resources to make that an acceptable choice. That’s why it’s disappointing, that’s why we feel as if we have been personally wronged. Because in our real lives, we know how the story often ends, and we know that there is often agonizingly little that we can do about it. Listening to music that recreates the dead, trapped feeling of a painfully awful relationship is triggering and agonizing and feels like betrayal for a lot of us, but we can’t save other people from themselves. And to be honest, as much as I wish I had a Shop-Vac that I could aim at Chris Brown to literally suck him up off of the earth, if a grown woman who is also a public figure gets back with her abuser for any reason, all I can do is do what I would do were it any other woman I didn’t know: pray he doesn’t kill her.
I can acknowledge how painful it is when a person’s artistic persona begins to become reflected in their real-life choices. I can stop buying her music. I can stop liking her music. I can acknowledge that seeing them together makes my skin crawl, but that’s just about the end of what I’m able to do. In the end, Ann Powers gets it right:
And can we leave it at that? I think so. It’s a hard-to-digest moment in an ongoing story that none of us who write about or listen to music can control. Maybe it’s time to search for other narratives. Put on Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” and scream along. Pick up the phone and call your sister and make sure she’s okay. Donate some money to your local women’s shelter. Recognize that pain and bad decisions are a part of life, and that those “role models” we pull from the ether of mass culture will inevitably fail us. They are only human, sometimes shockingly so.
I don’t think it’s an understatement to say I’m obsessed with Skins.
Maybe it’s immature. Maybe, but my love for this show knows no rational bounds.
I consume this show in days-long binges during which I consume little else. Sitting in my bed, draining glasses of wine and mugs of coffee, I obsess over minute details of the plot. I play back the music and painstakingly download even songs that appear only in snippets. I spend hours recreating the character’s outfits, as if I could somehow inhabit their personas or transport myself into their world of teenage angst. I do and redo my make up to match the characters’, practice new hairstyles and craft bedazzled teenage mall rat outfits. At the launch of each new season, and periodically throughout the year, I lose myself in this show for a weekend.
For me, watching this show not only takes me back to an equally blissful and painful place and a time when I was able to indulge my hedonistic impulses without fear of shame or job loss, but it also recreates a metaphorical picture of fighting to grow into ourselves that I think is unobtrusively accurate.
In the Skins world, every instant is earth-shatteringly important. Even Skins fans admit that the show portrays a lifestyle that is unrealistic for the average teenager, but I don’t think the expectation of pure realism gives this show enough credit. I don’t see everything that happens in the show literally. I think much of it is meant to demonstrate the crushing weight of our lives when we’re teenagers. We spend lots of our time inhabiting a dream world, feeling the weight of our decisions metaphorically crush us. The choices we make and the slights we perceive are debilitating for an instant, but years later, we can barely recall them. This show recreates that kind of dream-like, frenetic quality that makes up so much of late adolescence. Skins makes me nostalgic for the freedom and adventure and creativity I felt when I was in England, but I think most people feel a similar sense of freedom when they study abroad or leave their country for the first time. It does more than that. It rekindles that sense of possibility and the weight of false importance that was so unique to my very average middle-class adolescence.
When I return to the world in which I at once feel forced to live after pretending to be a teenage delinquent from Bristol for a weekend, I can’t help but feel a little disillusioned with the life I’ve got. This week, staring at a computer, day-dreaming of the bacchanalia I spent my weekend vicariously living, I’ve just been bored.
Artist: Edith Piaf
Album: The Very Best of Edith Piaf
edith piaf // milord
Did you ever have a realization that the stuff you were reluctantly learning in high school was going to make you kind of cool? Maybe it wouldn’t make you popular, and maybe it wouldn’t happen right away, but eventually, you knew someone would appreciate the things you knew. You wouldn’t have to tell them that you learned them in something as bourgeois as French class. You could instead pretend that you’d spent your Saturdays in high school pouring over French cultural magazines and listening to music that sounded like a sadness you’d recently become mature enough to understand.
That was how I felt about Edith Piaf. My French teacher was short and eccentric and constantly disappointed in us – sort of like Edith Piaf. We memorized a list of important French cultural icons and events every month, immersing ourselves in French culture for a few minutes a day, feeling grown up while listening to tragic music and studying paintings of prostitutes. We learned about an adult life we hadn’t yet lived. More importantly, I was stacking my brain with the kind of quirky culture knowledge and obscure-enough references that I would need to make me a popular college freshman. I didn’t know it, and I resented the memorization, but I’ve never forgotten a single detail of Edith Piaf’s tortured existence.
Two days before Steve Jobs died, I was asked to submit a bio for myself to my new employer so they could put it in an inter-office newsletter. I hate writing bios for myself, because I inherently love to make myself sound like I’m the best person I know. I try to steer clear of activities that encourage this awful habit. Instead, I try to make fun of myself.
I wrote a bio for Steve Jobs but replaced his name with my name. I work at an advertising agency as a copy/content writer, so I thought I’d pretty much hit the nail on the head. I patted myself on the back for being clever for I don’t know, about two days.
It ended up being one of the most insensitive things I’ve ever done.
I started thinking about this after reading Erin’s post about how weird it is to have to write your own bio. It is awful. Once I start thinking about embarrassing things I’ve done, I cannot stop. I keep going back into my email archives and reading the bio over and over and wincing. I become virtually paralyzed by my own awkwardness, so I’m just going to let this out into the world so you guys can imagine what it must have been like to be my employer, realizing you just hired a complete asshole.
Of course, reading gives readers exposure to new ways of expressing themselves through writing, but it also gives readers a glimpse into worlds, feelings and characters they would otherwise never encounter. Books have always been the best way I know to build empathy, and empathy seems to be one of the most valuable qualities in our society of blame, misunderstanding and fear.
Other than personal experience, which in many circumstances is impossible, books are the only way to explore worlds so different from your own and understand situations that you one day might be asked to confront. Through reading, especially through historical fiction, I learned about some of the tragedies of our history way before my peers did. I confronted some tough stuff and was able to form my own opinion about a lot of it because of the time I spent by myself, reading and thinking about what I read.
When I was little, they were also some of my first and only clues about social interaction. To say that I was an awkward kid probably wouldn’t be true. I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t socialize much with my peers - I spent most of my time with adults or with books. I knew how to get along with adults, and eventually with other people my age, mainly because of the relationships I’d formed while reading.
I suppose that I would self-servingly argue that reading so much as a child, despite not having a ton of social interaction with my peers or any exposure to television, undeniably shaped not only my personality but also my values and the way I interact with others. I think it made me incredibly empathetic (almost devastatingly so) at an early age. It caused me to live very much inside my head, but it also made me socially conscious and aware of social issues long before my peers were, because I was reading about them in books. Reading Young Adult and even Adult fiction as a child gave me a preview of the way people interacted and behaved in the adult world before I officially grew up. Although reading is different than lived experiences, in some ways, it allows you to shape and process the material you’re absorbing on your own terms - to turn it over in your head and create your own point of view, rather than being forced into interaction.
I haven’t been reading as much lately because I’ve been making excuses, and I’ve noticed huge gaps - in my creativity, in my productivity, in the way I think and even in the way I relate to others. This is even further confirmation of what I’ve been realizing lately. Reading good shit off the internet is never wasted time.
el-p // the overly dramatic truth
I became for you what you had asked
I never wanted anything other than what I didn’t have.
I was raised to believe, as an adult, that I am consistently high-strung, difficult to please, unreasonable and demanding. As a result, I have a problem determining when I’m being mistreated. I never assume I should be expecting more, I always wonder if I end up feeling slighted because I was unrealistic in my expectations. I indulge other people’s selfishness to risk exposing my own.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person who struggles so much with being the person other people expect me to be while still being myself. I wonder if there is room for people to grow and become better within relationships, or if the relationships I made were made out of necessity at the time and were grown based on my need, my inadequacy, my ability to let other people reflect me back onto them in the way that they wanted. I don’t want to be the kind of person who lets the people in her life become her mirror, but I don’t want to lose the relationships I formed when I needed those people to show me how to change.
I always concurrently wonder if I’m expecting too much, but really I just wonder why most people don’t expect more. Not more things; more to think about, more to laugh at, more to do.
Artist: Bon Iver
Album: For Emma, Forever Ago
blindsided // bon iver
happy new year.
Blindsided. Realizing you’ve grown in ways you had no idea. Realizing that other bigger changes have prompted smaller, more necessary ones - things you’ve been waiting to notice for a long time.
It is comforting and strange to notice how someone becomes a constant in your life. You’ve stopped being mad or sad or even confused, and most importantly, you’ve stopped the continual aching that comes from trying to make something different than it is. You’ve stopped trying. It comes from an understanding that things are different now – that whatever happens in the future is just going to be okay. You gradually stop wondering if there is really anything you can do to influence what happens or change what didn’t, and you gradually stop wondering if you want things to work out differently. You stop forcing yourself to feel guilty for the things you did that you know, now, were wrong, because you realize your relationship wasn’t a zero sum game. None of your good relationships were, and none ever will be again.
This realization comes quietly after the worst times in the best relationships that you’ve worked tenaciously and thanklessly to save. It is this quiet acceptance and the self-satisfied comfort it gives you that helps you feel at peace with other relationships that you’ve let slip meaninglessly away over the years without much consequence or heartbreak. It is through realizing that some people never need to go away that reminds you why other people do – why the people who will really pepper the best and the worst moments of your life will never change. They will be constant.
In this way you will realize that you can love other people if you don’t have to.
Album: Flaws - Single
flaws // bastille
you have always worn your flaws upon your sleeves
and i have always buried them deep beneath the ground
dig them out, let’s finish what we started.
We spend our whole life developing these habits that sometimes very literally almost kill us. We rip holes in our expensive tights and nearly crash our parents’ cars and spend their money on cigarettes and the cover at smoky clubs. We do it all in pursuit of the kind of rugged, dangerous, artistic and humble men we think can’t hurt us. We think they’ll be different than the people we meet in our worlds, then the men we hear about from our parents and their friends. We think they will be kind to us because they are in awe of us, that as a result of some sort of exoticism we did nothing to earn, they will want to impress us. They do try harder in the beginning – maybe because they’re scared. But in the end, they turn out to be the same.
First, I am happy for the men and women who have fought so hard for the past ten years to make sure this day would come. I hope Osama bin Laden’s death means that they are steps closer to being brought home to their families for good, although I have lived in a nation at war long enough to be skeptical. I am happy that President Obama is able to announce this news, because he needs the confidence and the power it will bring him in the eyes of the American people. I am happy for the families of the victims of 9/11, who possibly feel a greater sense of closure with a little less evil in the world. I understand that many people see this death as a victory, but I have a hard time understanding how, as a nation now embroiled in three wars, we are victorious. Saddam Hussein was put to death nearly five years ago. We are still fighting in Iraq.
Osama bin Laden was one man. There are nations of people who hate Americans. He is a symbol of something deplorable that happened to Americans, but he is not the only man who unnecessarily harms his fellow men. His death is symbolic to the United States because it provides a sense of closure, especially to those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, but I worry that in our polarized political climate, many of us have gotten carried away with symbols. We burn Korans and outlaw the practicing of the Muslim faith because many members of al-Qaeda are Muslim. We accuse our first biracial president of being Muslim as if it is a dirty word, because he looks different, and we cannot understand that he could be so similar to us. We are focused on revenge and on who will pay for what has been done to us – both emotionally, in our wars abroad, and economically, as we determine who will “pay” for our recession.
Tippi Dress - by Anna Sui, available at Anthropologie
“Making a terrifying menace out of what is assumed to be one of nature’s most innocent creatures and one of man’s most melodious friends, Mr. Hitchcock and his associates have constructed a horror film that should raise the hackles of the most courageous and put goose-pimples on the toughest hide.
The cast is appropriate and sufficient to this melodramatic intent. Tippi Hedren is pretty, bland and wholesome as the disruptive girl.”
-from Bosley Crowther’s review of The Birds, which appeared in the April 1, 1963 edition of the New York Times.
“I am the first to admit that were I not a woman, I would not have been the vice-presidential nominee.”
- Geraldine Ferraro
Geraldine Ferraro was, by nearly all accounts, an extremely complicated political figure. Although she was fervently supportive of women’s rights, her views about equal rights generally (she did not support school busing initiatives and often favored tax cuts for parochial schools over public schools) are not liberal, and her Roman Catholicism conflicted with her pro-choice views to the extent that she was vilified by the members of her church. Her statement about Obama’s race, which closely mirrors a statement she made about her own gender and the opportunity it afforded her, has been, in equal measure, either condemned as racist or scrubbed from her obituary.
The Los Angeles Times honestly addresses the personal and political inconsistencies that plagued her ambitions and the way these have effected her legacy, as a politician and as a beacon of women’s achievement. Their obituary describes how she reconciled her pro-choice stance with her religion.
Within three years she was promoted to chief of the special victims bureau, in charge of sex crimes, child abuse, rape and domestic violence cases. It was emotionally draining work, but she won six jury trials, aided, according to a review by American Lawyer magazine, by her “straightforward eloquent approach” and “meticulous courtroom preparation.”
Her years as a prosecutor transformed her from a “small-c conservative to a liberal,” she later said. And it would lead her to adopt a supportive view of abortion that would put her in conflict with her church.
“You can force a person to have a child, but you can’t make the person love that child,” Ferraro wrote, reflecting on the child abuse cases she prosecuted. “I don’t know what pain a fetus experiences, but I can well imagine the suffering of a four-year-old girl being dipped in boiling water until her skin came off and then lying in bed unattended for two days until she died. And that was only one of the cases seared in my memory.”
In 1978, Ferraro formally entered politics. Running for Congress on the slogan “Finally, a tough Democrat,” she won by a 10% margin despite being snubbed by local party leaders.
The New York Times, uses an anonymous account to contrast the way Ferraro, as a Roman Catholic woman, was doggedly criticized for her pro-choice views and vilified by members of her faith.
The abortion issue, magnified because she was Roman Catholic and a woman, plagued her campaign. Though she opposed the procedure personally, she said, others had the right to choose for themselves. Abortion opponents hounded her at almost every stop with an intensity seldom experienced by male politicians.
Writing in The Washington Post in September 1984, the columnist Mary McGrory quoted an unnamed Roman Catholic priest as saying, “When the nuns in the fifth grade told Geraldine she would have to die for her faith, she didn’t know it would be this way.”
When someone whose achievements were undoubtedly historically powerful and undeniably relevant to women’s political advancements, do we rush to exclude the unseemly, controversial parts of her biography and painstakingly clip out the parts with which we disagree? Or can we remember her simply for what she was - a flawed political figure who is as much a product of her time as we are of ours?
Perhaps we would have preferred that she was someone else - that all her beliefs were aligned with our beliefs - and as a result, how to we write the legacy of a woman whose achievements made her an activist of sorts, but whose views conflict with many that we, as modern activists, hold?
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal delights in exposing celebrities’ “Wisconsin Connections at opportune moments in their lives, as if to prove that famous people do, in fact, spend some time here (generally during their childhoods or for the funerals of distant relatives or while on accidentally rerouted flights).
Today, of course, it ran a short feature about Elizabeth Taylor’s “Wisconsin Connection.” Her uncle owned a summer home (we get them all that way) in Minocqua, where she spent several (even the Journal Sentinal can only stretch its imagination so far) summers as a child. This is where it gets good, though. When her uncle died, he donated the money to create a medical center named in his honor, and Elizabeth visited Minocqua to attend the opening in 1977.
Minocqua is the kind of place that simply doesn’t exist outside of Minnesota or Wisconsin. It contains a Paul Bunyan-themed restaurant and at least five stores that sell nothing other than Christmas ornaments and a water-skiing team called the Min-aquabats, whose male members were the objects of my very targeted middle school lust during one particular summer. It is also the home of the Willow Wood Lodge, which is described on the website for the town of Hazelhurst, Wisconsin, thusly:
“Cozy and unique rustic log cabin bar, offering sandwiches, pizzas and a full liquor bar. Also offering cottages, boat rentals, bait shop, gas, camping, showers, electric and water. Located on the Tomahawk River across the road from the Willow Flowage. Open year-round. Your hosts, Herman and Vicki Bartels.”
I have been there, and let me tell you, it does offer those things. The defining feature of the bar, though, other than the taxidermied animals lining the walls (this is not a defining feature in Northern Wisconsin), are the signed dollar bills twisted up and tossed onto the ceiling with thumbtacks. Making the dollars stick is a little bit of a skill, especially if you lack the persistance that comes to those of legal drinking age. My mother was the only member of our family who could make the dollars stick, so she tossed one up for me too.
Apparently, Elizabeth Taylor also visited the Willow Wood Lodge, where she exhibited dollar-tossing skills that more closely resemble my mother’s. According to Joyce Laabs, an editor for the local paper, ”I took her to a bar in Hazelhurst, and it was a tradition to throw a dollar on the ceiling and make it stick, and Elizabeth did it.”
Elizabeth Taylor, always game.