Read This

Required Reading. I really mean that. Jennifer Aniston’s essay on Huffington Post blew up on the internet last week for good reason. She confronts the rampant body shaming of females in the press, the problems with “bump watch” tabloids, the utter ridiculousness of focusing on celebrity gossip given all of the other things that have been going on in the world lately, and what the hell it means to be a woman, famous or not, in a world that passively accepts what are often toxic views of womanhood. I want to scream this part from the rooftops: “Here’s where I come out on this topic: we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. Let’s make that decision for ourselves and for the young women in this world who look to us as examples. Let’s make that decision consciously, outside of the tabloid noise. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own “happily ever after” for ourselves.”

If you haven’t read it, read it. Now. If you have read it, reread it. “For The Record

Let me start by saying that addressing gossip is something I have never done.  I don’t like to give energy to the business of lies, but I wanted to participate in a larger conversation that has already begun and needs to continue. Since I’m not on social media, I decided to put my thoughts here in writing.

For the record, I am not pregnant. What I am is fed up. I’m fed up with the sport-like scrutiny and body shaming that occurs daily under the guise of “journalism,” the “First Amendment” and “celebrity news.”

Every day my husband and I are harassed by dozens of aggressive photographers staked outside our home who will go to shocking lengths to obtain any kind of photo, even if it means endangering us or the unlucky pedestrians who happen to be nearby. But setting aside the public safety aspect, I want to focus on the bigger picture of what this insane tabloid ritual represents to all of us.

If I am some kind of symbol to some people out there, then clearly I am an example of the lens through which we, as a society, view our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, female friends and colleagues. The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing. The way I am portrayed by the media is simply a reflection of how we see and portray women in general, measured against some warped standard of beauty. Sometimes cultural standards just need a different perspective so we can see them for what they really are — a collective acceptance… a subconscious agreement. We are in charge of our agreement. Little girls everywhere are absorbing our agreement, passive or otherwise. And it begins early. The message that girls are not pretty unless they’re incredibly thin, that they’re not worthy of our attention unless they look like a supermodel or an actress on the cover of a magazine is something we’re all willingly buying into. This conditioning is something girls then carry into womanhood. We use celebrity “news” to perpetuate this dehumanizing view of females, focused solely on one’s physical appearance, which tabloids turn into a sporting event of speculation. Is she pregnant? Is she eating too much? Has she let herself go? Is her marriage on the rocks because the camera detects some physical “imperfection”?

I used to tell myself that tabloids were like comic books, not to be taken seriously, just a soap opera for people to follow when they need a distraction. But I really can’t tell myself that anymore because the reality is the stalking and objectification I’ve experienced first-hand, going on decades now, reflects the warped way we calculate a woman’s worth.

[…KEEP READING…]

Read This

Required Reading. After the last week, after the last weeks, and months, and years, this poem strikes at my soul.

Plum Jam
Alisa Gordaneer

Everything is different this year
but jam still needs to be made
because red plums are thudding onto grass.

We celebrate, marking summers.
The year we added lemon. The year it didn’t jell
and we poured it over ice cream until we couldn’t eat.

You send the children out with pails, and their
arms strain against ripeness. Last year they were too small,
pushed plums into their own mouths.

This year, everything too much to contain:
garden overgrown, trees weighed down,
wasps drunk. Bees drowsy with boozy juice.

In the hot kitchen, I slice out pit after pit.
The big pot simmers, scent bittersweet.
You pull glass jars from the oven, sterile,

then ladle jam, pretending there is no such thing as news,
that I haven’t said what I couldn’t keep
from bubbling over:

Nothing is safe.
Not the jars in the cellar,
unopened from last summer.
to the day, not this earth or
the children humming with pleasure in the yard.

You offer me a
spoon, sticky with jam.
I have no taste for red turning pale.

(Gordaneer, Alisa. “Plum Jam.” Still Hungry. Winnipeg: Signature Editions, 2015. 31.)

Read This

I occasionally peruse the missed connections page on Craigslist. Sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes it’s touching, sometimes it makes me mourn for the state of humanity. It is always inspirational for character creation. And there is something endearing to even my jaded heart about the fact that people think something — anything at all — can come from these kinds of posts. Ethan Kuperberg’s “Missed Connections for A-Holes” is honestly more up my personal alley. Like I would post one of these. That probably tells you a lot about me. Stop judging me, and read the piece. I promise it is funny.

I was at a coffee shop in Park Slope. You were sitting next to me, talking to your friend about how you’re a vegan but you secretly eat eggs. I really wish I had said something to you. Your voice was loud and distracted me from my work.

* * *

You: sitting next to your backpack on the Brooklyn-bound L train last night.

Me: super tired, holding onto the rail, standing up.

I asked you to move your backpack so I could sit down. You said you were getting off in “only one more stop.” I just nodded and looked away. I don’t know if you will ever see this, but if you do I’d love to meet up. Manners are sort of my thing, and I’d love to teach you some.

[…KEEP READING…]

Read This

Required Reading. Sometimes, for no reason at all, a poem will loudly announce its arrival in my brain. Often this poem is “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.” I have loved this poem since my first encounter with it in high school, so I never much mind its arrival in the midst of my daily life. It is also one of those poems that I associate with a particular person, so being reminded of a dear friend is a nice bonus whenever I think about this poem. It’s a long one, so grab a cup of tea and settle in. I promise it’s worth it.

The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock
T.S. Eliot
 
                    S’io credessi che mia risposta fosse
                    a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
                    questa fiamma staria senza più scosse.
                    Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
                    non tornò vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
                    senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
 
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’
Let us go and make our visit.
 
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
 
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow some that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house , and fell asleep.
 
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
 
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
 
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair –
(They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin –
(They will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
 
For I have known them all already, known them all –
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
          So how should I presume?
 
And I have known the eyes already, known them all –
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
          And how should I presume?
 
And I have known the arms already, known them all –
Arms that are bracelet and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wraps about a shawl.
          And should I then presume?
          And how should I begin?
 
                    –    –    –    –    –
 
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
 
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
 
                    –    –    –    –    –
 
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet – and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
 
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: ‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all’ –
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
          Should say: ‘That is not what I meant at all.
          That is not it, at all.’
 
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor –
And this, and so much more? –
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pilot or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
          ‘That is not it at all,
          That is not what I meant at all.’
 
                    –    –    –    –    –
 
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell the progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous –
Almost, at times, the Fool.
 
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
 
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
 
I do not think that they will sing to me.
 
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
 
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
 
 
(Eliot, T.S. “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Collected Poems: 1909-1962. London: Faber and Faber, 2002. 3-9.)

Reading, Watching, Listening

Reading…

The Clasp by Sloane Crosley. I’ve already established on this blog that I adore Sloane Crosley’s writing, so it is no surprise that I was thrilled about her debut novel. Sadly, between picking it up and now, life intervened and it sat unopened on my to-read stack of books. I finally pulled it out over my recent trip to Alberta, and I loved every word. She has a particular talent for creating characters who feel real, who are both likeable and loathsome (often at the same time). The dialogue is alternately smart, witty, funny, and touching. And above all, it is believable. She is singularly skilled at capturing the bizarre stage of life

 

Watching…

House, M.D. Not that long ago I stated that I had “little interest in medical shows“. And, honestly, watching this show was probably a bad idea for someone with slight hypochondriacal tendencies. However, this show is one of the best episodic series to grace screens recently, so the slight increase in health-related paranoia was totally worth it.

 

Listening…

“Pot Kettle Black” by Tilly and the Wall. For obvious reasons (aka because it is amazing and good for every situation).

Reading Watching Listening

Reading…

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids edited by Megan Daum. I previously posted a Read This about Megan Daum’s thoughts on this subject, which you can find here. A weird thing happened while I was reading this book. I found myself agreeing most whole-heartedly with the men who contributed essays. I think it is in part because I have never felt conflicted about the issue, never felt like I should want it, or like I wanted to want it. And I’ve never felt the need to justify this to myself (to others, yes, all the time, but to myself, no). It’s a fantastic collection, though. Props to Megan Daum for assembling a wide-ranging, thoughtful representation of the decision not to have children.

 

Watching…

Star Trek: First Contact. My friend and I discovered that this was on Netflix Canada the other weekend when I was staying with her, and it actually holds up.

 

Listening…

I’ve recently been spending a lot of time driving on highways with the music cranked, and Pentatonix’s cover of “Lean On” has been on major repeat for these trips.

Read This

Required Reading. Double-header today, y’all. Because I fly relatively frequently, I have a lot of thoughts on airports, airplanes, and the people who occupy them. One day I will sit down and write a piece (pieces?) about these thoughts, but for now, in the midst of a long trip out West, I will share with you thoughts on these subjects from Roxane Gay and Molly O’Brien.

Roxane Gay’s spot on recounting of the men one meets while travelling, “Men You Meet While Travelling By Airplane” is hilarious. My favourites:

The guy who opens his laptop the moment he sits on the plane because he has very important work to do and he is going to maximize his efficiency or something like that.

I get working on a flight. I do this. But why must people insist on pulling out their laptop the second they sit down EVEN WHEN THEY ARE AN AISLE SEAT AND THE OTHERS IN THE ROW ARE NOT YET SEATED? DO NOT GIVE ME THE SIDE EYE FOR MAKING YOU MOVE YOUR LAPTOP SO I CAN TAKE MY SEAT.

The guy who is in Zone 3 but stands at the front of the boarding line regardless, frothing with eagerness to board the plane even though it will not be his turn to board for another twenty minutes.

WHY do people do this? YOU WILL NOT GET ON FASTER. THE PLANE WILL NOT LEAVE WITHOUT YOU. YOU ARE IN EVERYONE’S WAY.

Molly O’Brien’s “9 Types of People You’ll Find in an Airport” is by no means exhaustive, but her descriptions are spot on. My favourites here:

The Time Wasters.

Phwoar. Making up about 60% of the security line, they’re the ones wearing triple strength Doc Marten lace-up boots that take 20 minutes to disassemble. They repeatedly forget the four million gadgets in their pockets and go through the security gates upwards of 12 times. Their carry-on bags have a Jack-In-The-Box effect when opening: possessions everywhere. You may or may not have previously fallen into this category but when The Time Waster isn’t you, he or she is your stress level’s worst nightmare.

These people are the worst. Security sucks enough already, so please just be aware of what is in your carry-on and dress appropriately. Have I been this person on occasion? Yes. Do I hate them with the power of a thousand suns anyway? Yes.

The Productive Member of Society.

This is the person who doesn’t use an excessive amount of plastic trays. The person who wears slip-on shoes and doesn’t complain how long the line is taking, who knows where her ID is and finished her water bottle in tandem with checking her suitcase. You can just tell she doesn’t have to pee. This is the person you want to be.

Be this person. That is all.

The Wildcard.

Despite your best efforts, this one cannot be placed. You saw him in the business class check in – is he secretly a billionaire? And if so, why is he wearing Converse? A tech start-up genius, maybe? Does he travel often? Is he 10 or 30? Why is he eating rice cakes?

WHO ARE YOU? Also, I kind of want to be this person to everyone else in the airport.

Read This

Required Reading. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I favour a relatively monochromatic wardrobe. While I’m not an all-black-all-the-time kind of gal, my version of colour tends to be more like grey and denim than anything else. So, I loved reading this piece on why New Yorkers have long favoured black. Guys, it’s a good look. Seriously. And frankly, if this style of dressing has the fringe benefit of making me look like I might belong in New York, I am 100% okay with that. Because, as Amy Larocca writes in this article, “we are, in a sense, with the band. The band is New York, and the color is black.”

In Funny Face, Kay Thompson (doing her Diana Vreeland imitation) rides the elevator to her high-up Manhattan office. “Think pink, think pink!” she announces. “Now, I wouldn’t presume to tell a woman what a woman ought to think, but tell her: If she’s gotta think, think pink!” When will you start wearing pink? she is asked. “Me?” she says. “I wouldn’t be caught dead.”

And that’s how it is. In New York, we make culture and then we export it. We are too knowing to endlessly buy in, and so we wear black, a neat backdrop that keeps us from getting distracted (and allows us to navigate the fact that so many of us do not have easy access to a washing machine and the place where we live is dirty and grimy and gray). If you have moved to New York City and you’d like to signal that fact to your friends back home, you can do this very easily and simply by wearing black. Lou Reed used to wear only black, and Laurie Anderson still does. If you look at the front row of a fashion show, you’ll notice that Grace Coddington wears only black, and at the end of a fashion show, you’ll notice that the designer — Michael KorsAlexander Wang — takes a bow wearing all black, too.

We wear black because it’s slimming in a city that overvalues slimness. And because it confers a no-nonsense power, and we’re certainly interested in that. We wear black because it’s sexy — possibly the legacy of lingerie. We wear black because we’re not tourists here to see a show; because we are, in a sense, with the band. The band is New York, and the color is black.

[…KEEP READING…]

Read This

Required Reading. As an avid fan of live theatre and dance and music, and as someone who used to perform in front of people relatively regularly, I have a more than a few thoughts on the various end of show rituals. Clapping is weird when you really start to think about it. Standing ovations should be reserved for really spectacular performances. And bows should be kept to a minimum. They are important for both audiences and performers. Like a mutual exchange of thanks. The audience thanks the performers for their work and the performers thank the audiences for the chance to share their performance. However, curtain calls that last forever and ever make me antsy regardless of which side of the equation I am on. How to actually execute the bow is a whole other question, so this article from The New York Times is particularly interesting to me: in essence, there are as many bows as there are performers. And bowing can be awkward no matter how experienced you are. Check out “The Curtain Call: Dip, Kiss or Curtsy?

Gabriel Byrne was 8 years old the first time he saw a play. He was awe-struck by what happened at the end — “when the people I believed had been real showed themselves to not be real,” he recalled.

“What they were doing was shrugging off unreality and becoming real by way of their bows,” he continued. “And the difference between their faces during the performance and their faces during the bows fascinated me. Since then I’ve always watched the way people bow.”

For loyal theater audiences — as well as Tony Award nominees like Mr. Byrne, starring in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” — there’s a lot to watch, from the solo bow taken by leading performers to the group bow emphasizing the ensemble nature of the enterprise. (Among this year’s Tony-nominated shows, see: “Hamilton,” “Shuffle Along,” “The Crucible.”)

Solo variations include the head bow — the kind favored by Mr. Byrne who, frankly, would prefer to skip the whole thing; and the bend from the waist so that the body forms a right angle (think human tabletop). For both, hands are laced, pressed together prayerfully, pressed to the heart or perhaps extended to the audience. And then there is the deep curtsy, as if greeting royalty rather than a subscription audience.

There’s the aerobic bow, wherein an actor dashes out from the wings and bends, head almost touching the stage; the weary bow (Message: You folks are lucky I’m still standing); and the artfully startled, carefully unstudied bow, the one that seems to say: “Oh my God, is this applause for me? I’ve been so transfixed by my performance I didn’t realize there was anyone else here.”

The bow to beat, according to many Broadway veterans? Yul Brynner’s at the end of “The King and I.” His Majesty would thrust his arms to the heavens like an excited referee signaling the winning touchdown, pause, look around and take in the applause. Then, and only then, would he begin to bend, the downward swoop stopped only by the floor.

[…KEEP READING…]

Read This

Required Reading. I am an avid reader of the blog A Beautiful Mess. It’s fun. It’s colourful. It inspires me to try new things. It inspires me to pick up habits I have let lapse. In general I love it. But this post, this post has a special place in my heart. Emma’s story really resonates with me. Not because I am where she is at, but because I often feel like I am in the middle of it.

I particularly love this bit:

“Out of money and ideas, I finally gave in to her requests and moved home. Elsie was moving her business into a much larger building and expanding into selling vintage. I went from living on my own in Los Angeles and pursuing a career in acting, to living with my parents and helping my sister open her new shop location. Can you even imagine a more cliche situation? I won’t lie—I threw myself some pretty big pity parties those first few months. I cried a lot. I felt really defeated. I felt like I would forever be labeled a failure.

After some time of feeling sorry for myself I finally picked myself up and started to put together the pieces of my life again.”

So, if you are sometimes feeling a little lost, I recommend you take a moment to read “On Changing Dreams.”