I don’t know why I’m admitting this either

Every six months or so I get really into an artist that should have or has never had any appeal to me.The last time this happened it was Taylor Swift.

Bonnie was still a puppy and the entire world was sunshine and lollipops. Taylor Swift made sense. So, it only makes sense that now it’s Kreayshawn, the dirty mouthed, dirty haired girl with dirty beats from Oakland.

On “Watch the Throne” Jay Z asks “What’s 50 grand to a motha—– like me?” then name drops Audemars, Rolexes, and the Le Meurice hotel in Paris—which is just really relevant to a lot of people. Kanye comes in at the end and says William did it wrong by marrying Kate, that if it was him, he would’ve married Kate and Ashley. Also, he name drops Margiela, Louis Vuitton and Gucci before letting us know “how many bitches he owns.”

SWOON!

Side note: I just watched Tom Shadyac’s documentary “I Am” and while there were a lot (A LOT) of eye-roll inducing sentiments expressed, his idea that mental insanity was constantly taking more than what you need seems pretty spot on to me.

I found “Watch the Throne” to be completely underwhelming and I don’t feel bad about it. I expect more out of the guy  who wrote:

What if somebody from the Chi was ill got a deal on the hottest rap label around
But he wasn’t talking ‘bout coke and birds it was more like spoken word
Except he really putting it down
And he explained the story about how blacks came from glory
And what we need to do in the game

And I really feel the guy who throws down for the south side —that guy is amazing, that guy sang to my friends and I from 8th grade through high school. That guy accompanied me on the morning ride to graduation my senior year. I will love that guy forever.

The dudes on “Watch the Throne” are not trying hard enough and moving backwards (remember: “It seems we living the American dream; the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem; the prettiest people do the ugliest things; for the road to riches and diamond rings”? What happened to that??)

Kreayshawn rolls around in a Dodge, wearing gold plastic earrings and only sings about Gucci, Louis and Fendi in a dismissive way. And she’s fun! Look at those pink sparkly Minnie Mouse ears! I can appreciate that contrast right now.

(erm…WARNING: this song might/probably will elicit very strong reactions from your shame synapses if you’ve never heard it before but if you don’t consider “bitch” a bad word it’s totally clean… silver lining?)

Okay, I might just be an asshole. On the bright side, this won’t last long.

i’m always falling in love

Before leaving town yesterday afternoon I got a strange case of déjà vu standing in front of my friend’s door, which I always take to mean that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Saturday morning I slept in and then went to the farmer’s market where I picked up a loaf of zucchini chocolate bread for the first time in over a year, which seemed special in some way. I skipped over puddles and made faces at dogs before downing a pint-sized cup of complimentary rose-water lemonade and walking to grab a coffee, a spare chair and a table where I could enjoy a half hour of fiction.

A woman placed her things beside me and eventually we ended up in line at the same time, grabbing slices of lemon cakes and bagels and sharing details of our lives. She asked about my book and we talked about the now-defunct Borders and how there’s really no place like that around here anymore.

She told me she drove an hour to the Barnes and Noble on the plaza and it was nice but that she’s not there often enough for the drive to be convenient.

Maybe it’s that I’m on the precipice of another year, maybe it’s the fact that it’s the end of some things but when I get back to my seat that day I feel compelled to remember everything. So, like Zan McQuade I write it all down and for the next twelve hours I don’t stop.

I find pens in my car and take old ceremony programs from work and write it out in the five minute parking space in front of the dry cleaners. I keep one hand on the steering wheel and with the other I dangerously write down names as the next customer honks at me to hurry up and leave. I get the battery in the plastic one dollar watch from the antique store replaced for free and on the way out I run into my new dental hygienist—the one I share a history of small high schools and small towns with. I make a U-turn at the stoplight and head home for a twenty minute break where instead of reading what I’ve already written, I fill the margins with more and more notes.

Joshie has always told Post-Human Services staff to keep a diary, to remember who we were because every moment of our brains and synapses are rebuilt and rewired with maddening disregard for our personalities, so that each year, each month, each day we transform into a different person, an utterly unfaithful iteration of our original selves… – Super Sad True Love Story

__

After I finish my coffee and come to a stopping place in my book, I spend the rest of my Saturday morning running an errand I’ve set out to do for the past year. After I’ve finished the errand I see a sale sign and stop into the antique store I’ve passed countless times on 6th street and I buy an unused watch for one dollar. Normally, I would not have stopped but today is different.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The errand I ran involved an old pair of brown leather riding boots that needed to get re-heeled. I drive to the north side of Lawrence and unintentionally end up on a tour of the town.

The leather shop where I take my boots has a turquoise kayak in the yard, an old piano with keys that don’t move, piles and piles of bowling balls decorated with plastic jewels and paint that makes them seem like versions of the Earth if the Earth had been created by happy-go-lucky four year olds or Antoni Gaudi.

It takes the cobbler seconds to figure out what needs to be fixed on my boots and it takes me nearly half an hour to leave.

“Where are you from?” he asks and when I tell him “Kansas” in a general way he says “of course you’re a Kansas girl” with a smile. It’s the best compliment I’ve received in some time because I don’t think he would say the same to someone he suspected to be from Kansas City. I like his Kansas, I know it by heart.

I wonder if it’s the boots that have given me away—that I’d rather replace the leather around the soles where it’s too worn, that I’d prefer to keep an original, old pair of shoes with scuffs on the toes instead of buying something new and wearing them in.

Then I think that maybe it’s the way I take ownership of the entire state.

I suppose that it might be the way that I pivot from my spot, trying to see every inch of his workspace until he gives me permission to wander. Maybe he can tell by the way I pluck the strings of his mandolin and ask to hold his banjo, although I can’t play a single chord. Maybe it’s how I ask questions about the little girl in pictures playing what he refers to as a fiddle. Maybe he can tell by the way I absentmindedly finger the leather of the brown saddles in the back next to the rows of black motorcycle jackets waiting to be picked up. Or, maybe it’s that I ask questions and am happy to wait a half hour for the answers.

On the two second drive back into the heart of Lawrence, I pass a Southwestern style restaurant with outdoor seating and I can’t believe I had no idea that it existed. I almost want to believe that it has appeared just to surprise me, to show me more of what I haven’t seen but I know better. I’m seventeen again and I’m closing my eyes and wishing for more and more time like I don’t know that everything ends.

It’s not a war story, but it can sound like one.

To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. Though it’s odd, you’re never more alive than when you’re almost dead. You recognize what’s valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what’s best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost. At the hour of dusk you sit at your foxhole and look out on a wide river turning pinkish red, and at the mountains beyond, and although in the morning you must cross the river and go into the mountains and do terrible things and maybe die, even so, you find yourself studying the fine colors on the river, you feel wonder and awe at the setting of the sun, and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not. -The Things They Carried

My fear of auld lang syne compels me to write everything before time runs away from me and transformations that television high school valedictorians have warned me of for years begin to take place.

“Look to your left. Now look to your right. Remember yourself exactly as you are today.”

6/10. because the night

Patti Smith.

Patti Fucking Smith.

It’s so obvious it embarrasses me.

It’s like: she’s the coolest and the sun is hot. To say anything else seems redundant. Obvious.

But then again, that’s the whole point.

That is why this all started.

Because of the British.

Because I’d rather feel over saturated with news of women whose titles include a few conjunctions than with news of women who are lauded for their genetic makeup and silence.

Because of what Amy said and especially because of the last line of her quote.

Once it comes into the adult realm it’s like, ‘Great, go for it, do your own thing … Sit on cakes. Do whatever the fuck you want.’ It’s just that I get worried for young girls sometimes; I want them to feel that they can be sassy and full and weird and geeky and smart and independent, and not so withered and shriveled … More than it being the Pussycat Dolls thing? It’s just distracting from what is real power.

Did you know Patti Smith invented the mosh pit?

Patti Smith’s black hair inspired millions of girls and boys with Xs on their hands to dye their own hair inky black and stage dive into crowds.

Patti Smith wore ripped jeans sitting next to John Stamos on a plane once and the next day he bought ripped jeans.

Okay, Patti Smith may or may not have done any of the above, but in 1967 the 21-year-old future “Godmother of Punk” moved to Brooklyn to become an artist and then she did. THE END. It was really easy and simple and she didn’t understand why EVERYBODY wasn’t doing it because OMGEASY.

No.

She was 21 and seeking refuge and acceptance. She found Robert Mapplethorpe and, consequently, everything else she was looking for—or, at least, everything she needed.

She was a poet first, a rock star by accident and a punk by necessity. She and Robert lived through poverty and all the necessary growing pains of finding yourself. And she’s shared it all with us.

Just Kids, the 2010 National Book Award non-fiction winner, is a memoir of Smith and Mapplethorpe’s early lives in New York and you’ve either heard about it and already read it or plan to read it and water is wet and other shocking discoveries. But in case you don’t know, it was just announced that it’s being adapted into a screenplay.

Patti and Robert were friends until the day he died.

I can never decide what the most interesting part of a memoir is: the meandering path that people take to become who they’re supposed to be (always so much clearer in retrospect), the little secrets nestled into already known information or the freak encounters that change the entire direction and trajectory of someone’s life. Sometimes, just the act of writing it seems like the most interesting part.

David Sedaris once said that when he re-reads journals from years ago and wants to tear pages out, he resists the urge because he knows that if he feels that way it means he hasn’t learned anything from it yet.

So, here’s Patti, showing us the pages of her journals, pointing out the beautiful and ugly parts like a kindergarten teacher at story time.

“Here is the boy I met and fell in love with in New York City.”

“Here is where I found my confidence.”

“Here is where I lost my confidence. And money.”

“Here are my ambitions.”

Memoirs, and especially the memoirs of women like Patti, are good reminders to keep the pages in your journals. Because the stories worth telling don’t come without their share of bad and it’s a good idea to remember that.

5/10 – rara avis

Rara Avis, or “rare bird” is what the Metropolitan Museum of Art called clothes horses, businesswoman and designer Iris Apfel during their 2008 exhibition of her accessories and clothes.

Iris Apfel is an 88-year-old hustler from Astoria, Queens. Her hustle is fashion and design. In 1950 she launched the textile firm she would run with her husband for over forty years, a place where she would take on restoration projects that included working for nine presidents–most notably, John F. Kennedy…although working for any US president is notable.

Looking like a mix between a golden girl and Mary Kate Olsen circa 2006, Iris is extremely recognizable and original –probably because she owns at power clashing

Love, Loss and What I Wore, a current Broadway play about “the nostalgic power of women’s clothing” takes clothes seriously, and if Broadway can do it, so can we.

Apfel is the definition of flamboyant and while there’s nothing brave about getting dressed, the idea of communicating your style and yourself in such an unabashedly loud way is completely admirable.

I never care much what people think. I honestly don’t; I don’t pay any attention to the fashion police. A lot of people, probably most people, dress for status, and think they are well dressed if they wear something that costs a lot of money. And they all want the same labels, so they all look alike, which I think is awful.

You can make all kinds of wonderful stuff. All you need is a little imagination.

Everything I do, I do with gut instinct. If I think too much, it won’t come out right.

Currently, Iris is collaborating with 2010 CFDA Accessories Designer of the Year nominee Alexis Bittar to create a jewelry line. On Alexis’ personal website, he has plenty of great things to say about Iris–he even calls her his muse (amazing girl?)–but it’s all summed up in this quote:

She dresses how she wants to dress with no apologies or explanations

Which is  a pretty great way to live life, in general.


RIP MPDG

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is doe-eyed, ethereal, physically and emotionally transparent, or if we’re going to get particular with that one: translucent (in terms of her skin). You’ve probably heard of her, or if not you’ve seen her. Nathan Rabin coined the term in 2008, thanks to Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown and Kirsten Dunst’s supporting character in that film.

 

“The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.”

By proxy, the MPDG is the heroine of any story in which she’s featured just by existing and never leaving the side of the loser-creative-type male protagonist she serves. Oh, and she has the super-human ability to not ever need to express any emotions that don’t directly correlate with her protag’s own revelations and self-growth. Super cool!

“Like the Magical Negro, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is largely defined by secondary status and lack of an inner life. She’s on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness.”

Jezebel and many others have already written essays decrying the MPDG and even the “Amazing Girl” (ie, the muse – I find the fact that someone used this phrase as a negative absolutely annoying, MANY thumbs down) so there’s no need to go into that again, but I think the scourge of MPDGs is gone now–at least, kind of.

On Tuesday, I watched an advance screening (thank you, Fillmore!) of 50/50, a new film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays a cancer-ridden good guy who has been given a 50/50 chance of survival. Blah blah, it might make you cry, blah (ps, I liked it and it’s very sweet). Anna Kendrick costars as his 24-year-old therapist and, as stated by Fillmore, plays the same character she’s been playing for, oh, basically her entire career. It’s true. I’ve never really noticed, probably because I really like her, and definitely because there’s nothing wrong with the characters she plays.

She always plays sometimes nice, sometimes mean, always smart and successful girls who have the ability to (and I’m going to get soooooo cheesy here in a second) change the lives of the people around her by living her life first.

Remember when appeasing phrases like “love means never having to say you’re sorry” were uttered in films by women on their death beds? Or, when women opted to be single mothers in New York instead of blissfully unaware Stepfords in LA after dating men who tried to shirk their responsibilities by saying they “can’t get negative enough” and “can’t get positive enough”?

I think with more women like Anna Kendrick and more stories written with that type of girl in mind, the MPDG will no longer be able to sustain herself and we can get back to films full of  characters we can recognize as human beings. Wild concept, I know, but I like to dream big. Anjelica Huston, who also co-stars in 50/50, is the antithesis of the MPDG. Her roles on screen, as well as in real life attest to that, which is a fact made even more impressive when you consider that she’s been working consistently since the 70s.

While more stories need to be written with the AKs and AJs of the world in mind, there has to be a change in the way men are written, too–another easy and redundant idea. But, really, if writers keep sharing stories about man-boy stoner-heroes or overly sensitive men who try to find the solution to all their problems in the form of a girl or woman, they need to get the fuck out. Like, now. They can come back when they’ve watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind enough times to learn how to write a story that presents a man and a woman as equal participants in whatever type of relationship they want to portray.

 

If they still don’t get it after that, Dealbreaker composed an easy to read explanation on what the MPDG would actually be like in real life (hint: a walking advertisement for rehab and possibly therapy).

ps, real commentary from a self-professed MPDG, or “Amazing Girl” as The Petite Sophisticate annoyingly refers to it:

OMG. I never realized it… I finally get it. I am an AG! Here’s something to make you feel better – men have a habit of falling madly in love with me and then freaking. AGs intoxicate lovers, but we can’t seem to keep them. They seem to disbelieve our reality and clam up, preventively.

I have had FIVE MEN fall madly in love with me, head over heels giddy, in the last eight months… only to freak out and back away when they realized that they couldn’t maintain the connection. It takes a lot of energy (and balls) to dance on hilltops with AGs. You envy the burn rate, how fast we move from sexy, soulful artist to sexy, soulful artist, blah blah blah… I guess it’s because anyone who’s not an AG (are there AMs?) can’t keep the “gates of experience” open indefinitely and bear what comes in. We are constantly disappointed. We are always hoping. And we refuse to become jaded. So, sure, the jaded envy that – but they by definition aren’t ready to deal with the pain of each successive disappointment. Wah wah wah. Yeah. Anyway, it’s a philosophical choice, we all make them.

Thanks for painting the picture so clearly. Sorry we bum you out. We bum ourselves out, too, sometimes.

where are you going, where have you been

 

For the past three years, trips out to Los Angeles have been annual and a respite from whatever temperature is plaguing the Midwest at any given time. Usually, it’s in the fall but it was so hot that exceptions were made.

I got an extra Kanter out of this trip and since meeting him I’ve decided I would spend seven billion years with these two in a cabin in the mountains, a Korean mall, an apartment in East LA with a shrieking tamales saleswoman as an alarm clock, in a car in LA traffic or, I guess, anywhere.

So, that’s where I’ve been.

ps, last Thursday I spent the afternoon at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Art in the Streets exhibit featuring the works of Shepard Fairey, BANKSY and Os Gemeos, among many others. The exhibit closed yesterday, but had been running since mid-April. It was the first major exhibition of graffiti and street art and OH MAN, was it amazing.

not as critics, but as participants

“For some reason—who knows why we do what we do?—JP started drinking again.”

The margins of nearly all my notebooks are lined with names of books, authors and quotes meant to remind me of specific conversations or to read certain essays. Usually, it works. The quote above is from Raymond Carver’s essay “Where I’m Calling From,” which was published in The New Yorker in 1982.

In attempting to write a story this summer that told “the whole truth” in a short amount of space, I was curious about Carver and where he was in fact calling from. It seemed like that aside in the above quotation held the whole truth of the story because it’s such an evergreen question. Why do any of us do anything that we do? And if we think about it too long will our heads float off into another dimension, or will we find the answer?

Last night Goodreads hosted an hour-long chat with Pulitzer Prize winning author Jennifer Egan. A majority of the questions were fan questions—people wondering what her favorite chapter was in her prize-winning book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, or people curious about what she would do next with the characters. She briefly mentioned the pilot that was being shot for HBO, emphasizing that it was in its early stages and could go anywhere, even absolutely nowhere, and talked about everything she knew about the characters. She said she had so much more to say on them but also mentioned that she wasn’t a fan of sequels or prequels, which was really wonderful to hear as a reader. If the story decided to come out in some way, or another (she is a fan of unconventional storytelling–one chapter in Goon Squad is told through PowerPoints and she just wrote a short story in the form of a to-do list), she would not fight it.

When the questions became more technical, she revealed that A Visit from the Goon Squad was written as individual chapters, which is easy to believe. Some of the chapters were released as essays long before the novel came out. I know of at least two: one in Granta and the other published in January 2010 in The New Yorker.

The New Yorker essay, “Safari“, was easily my favorite chapter in the book and was the reason why I wanted to tell a story that had everything in it from these characters’ points of view. Jennifer Egan has a knack for putting her reader in one very specific situation then giving them a sudden glimpse of the character’s entire world in a single sentence. This then colors the rest of the story. I wanted to do that—still want to do that. “Safari” is still available to read online if you want to get a glimpse of Egan’s style.

Because Raymond Carver’s essay is almost thirty years old, it is not supposed to be available online anymore. When you click on the link for it, it takes you to an abstract explanation of what the story is all about. But when you click it to read more, instead of asking you to supply login information or to buy a pass, it takes you to the complete text. Every time I flipped the virtual page I was sure that an error would pop up and it would leave me hanging, but it never happened and I was right about the aside: he’s telling it all in that moment.

Being able to interact and listen to Jennifer Egan last night was absolutely amazing and insightful, especially when she seemed to be reiterating what my professors have said. My favorite piece of advice came on the back-end of an answer she gave to the one question I submitted. In old interviews she’s mentioned how essential it was for her to be a part of writing communities, so I asked her about that and she directed me to The Paris Review’s slush-pile before saying the greatest thing ever, which (and I’m simplifying here) was that setting up a situation in which you can thrive is absolutely essential.

Really simple and obvious, I know, but having it stated was kind of an a-ha moment and will probably serve as a great reminder.

“It’s hard to pull off anything, take as long as you need”

In Goon Squad there is one chapter that I think tells the whole story of the novel and that’s the PowerPoint chapter. You see, everything ends – we all know that, but there parts where we think it’s all over, pauses.

“The pause makes you think the song will end. And then the song isn’t really over, so you’re relieved. But then the song does actually end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL.”

4/10. mountains beyond mountains

Growing up, my mom was a tomboy and she has the scars on her knees and legs to prove it. They are not prominent scars but because I would see her legs looking immaculate in sheer pantyhose, it was jarring for me when I noticed them.

I asked where they came from and she casually explained her proclivity for trees, dirt and general rough-housing.

I was mortified. I liked all the same things, but I didn’t want them to literally scar me for life. So, I decided that I’d live my life with caution, never try the dirt ramps my brothers and their friends built; never jump on when they connected their bikes and skateboards with one of my jump ropes and would pedal, full-speed, around the block (this seriously happened and my brother has the filled in chipped tooth to prove it); never put myself in any situation in which I could fall and bruise. Tip-toeing through life and out of my own tomboy phase.

The universe would not let me get away that easily though. When I was sixteen and biking home from work, a pebble sitting in my path catapulted me over the handlebars of my bike where I skidded on the ground and picked up a few hundred pounds of gravel that sat embedded in my hands and arms for weeks. My bike was bent out of shape, so I had to readjust the wheel and chain then bike home covered in blood and grease.

That experience was all kinds of not-awesome, but not counting the two years of fear I had about getting back on a bike, it has left me unscarred. I have more scars on my legs from shaving than I do from actual physical activity.

In The Book of Awesome, the #998 thing out of 1000 awesome things was getting grass stains.

First of all, getting a grass stain means that you were running around at high speeds without proper equipment. Maybe you slid last-minute to avoid a frozen tag or made an awkward, somersault dive at a line-drive wiffleball. Either way, the grass stain symbolizes your large, devil-may-care investment in having balls-out fun, and that’s something worth respecting.

I would take that one step further and say that the scar, the bruise, the proof that you cared enough to throw yourself into something and attempted to tame it, that is worth respecting. Which leads me to the Longboard Girls Crew.

A group of girls who were tired of always being the minority in male-dominated crews decided to create their own community where they could feel confident, relaxed and welcome. After realizing how awesome this was, they decided to take it even further and have expanded it into an international crew—and it’s only been one year.

Two days ago they began filming a road trip documentary where female riders who have only met virtually through LGC will be meeting and longboarding together. They are being sponsored by Sector 9, Red Bull, Roxy, Nixon and Vans, to name a few, and all of this happened because of a spontaneous idea.

This video, shot by the same guy who will be producing their documentary, is stunning and if it won’t make you wish for grass stains and bruises, I hope it will at least take your breath away.

Carving the Mountains from Juan Rayos on Vimeo.