7/10: speaking of…

When I think phenomenal, I think Maya Angelou.

Dr. Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis (go Cards) and raised in Stamps, Arkansas—a place full of stories, many of which I read about during That Time I Should’ve Been Reading Harry Potter (Apparently). I found a couple Maya Angelou books on my mother’s bookshelf and because “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” sounded a bit like a mystery novel, I read it.

It was actually Maya’s autobiography, a book that illustrated the trauma and struggles associated with her life in Stamps—traumas that included sexual abuse and blatant racism—and the triumph of transcending her life in Stamps—transcendence by way of the arts and family.

Maya is a dancer and performer, a reader and a sister, a daughter and a granddaughter, a political activist and many things in between.

In The Heart of a Woman, another Maya Angelou autobiography I took from my mother’s shelf, she recounts a few years of her life in New York City which include volunteering for MLK and Malcolm X, having Billie Holiday sing her son to sleep one evening and marrying an African politician—and those are just the things I remember off the top of my head.

The woman exemplifies her poem “Still I Rise,” making void any and all excuses for not being anything and everything you want to be. Obstacles? She had ‘em. Patience? She had that, too—and not the type of patience that just sits and waits quietly, the type of patience that involved doing what you love in every capacity (for her, getting involved in politics and stage acting) and finding ways to improve in all of the above categories.

A few weeks ago, I picked up a used copy of Maya’s “Letter to My Daughter.” She never had a daughter, but if she did these are some of the things she would’ve told her: that growing up was a continual struggle against surrender, that she believes one can never really leave home and that voices need to be reminded to sing again and again.

Live well and live with meaning.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

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.


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.

3/10: hey there delilah

If you don’t recognize this face, maybe you’ll recognize this song.

Years ago in Chicago, Tom Higgenson met Delilah DiCrescenzo at a party and promptly fell in love with her, despite the fact that she had a boyfriend. He told her he’d write a song to win her over and then he did—well, he wrote the song, at least.

He and his band, The Plain White Ts (RANDOM TANGENT: band names like this annoy me for some reason, it’s just so…schticky? Like, I bet one or all of the members of this band own a keyboard necktie that they wear ironically), spent years performing and building a fan base and “Hey There Delilah” became a crowd favorite. Eventually, the song was nominated for a Grammy.

And Delilah?

She kept dating the boyfriend she had when she first met Tom (they’re still dating now) and let the song gain popularity, living her life anonymously and training to compete in the Olympics. Oh yeah, she’s an elite athlete and her event is probably one of the most grueling and ridiculous events in track and field. This is what she does for 3000 meters:

You know who else steeplechases?

HORSES. Big, brawny horses.

Delilah didn’t make the Olympic team in 2008 but she’s still training and will probably try to qualify again next year. Training for her means traveling around the world and doing STEEPLECHASES.

STEEPLECHASES!

Sorry, this event just has me in awe of human beings. People can just do that? Regularly?!

Delilah competed in the Ivy League for Columbia University in New York and had done pretty well but was not enough of a standout to land sponsorships post-college. So, she ran off and on for a couple of months, then moved back home to Chicago where she figured she was pretty much done with running. Then she got a phone call from the Kenyan runner Isaya Okiwaya. He wanted to coach her and like anyone worth admiring she said yes to the new opportunity.

Having a coach allowed her to have financial support for lodging and traveling for races (not to mention biweekly massages—we should all be so lucky to have someone pay for that) but she wasn’t actually getting paid to run. During this time she was not only training, traveling and running, but working full-time at a marketing and advertising firm. This girl understands the side hustle.

After one year and one third place finish in the steeplechase at the 2006 Outdoor Nationals, Delilah decided to commit to her running full-time, crossed her fingers and moved out of the city. That year she trained full-time and worked as an assistant track and cross-country coach at Bryn Mawr. It paid off when she won the 6K title at the USA Track and Field National Club Cross Country Championship.

In 2009, she became a member of the US Track & Field team, where she was able to travel to Amman, Jordan and compete for the United States at the World Cross Country Championships. In 2010, she was inducted into Columbia University’s Athletics Hall of Fame, where she is now studying to get her master’s in Sports Management. She also works as a part-time assistant for the cross-country and track & field team there. Remember what I said about the side hustle? She does not quit!

Delilah is one of only two American athletes sponsored by PUMA, which is such a sweet fact when you consider how close she came to giving it all up after college. As for the song? She says she doesn’t get asked about it much now, a fact that she’s fine with. It was fun and flattering, she says, but she’d like her running to dominate the conversation now, please and thank you.

I think it will. Easily.

If you’re intrigued by Delilah, PUMA is hosting a video series tracking her training in a short web series. I don’t think any video is longer than three-and-a-half minutes and new episodes are uploaded every Monday.

roses & thorns, but mostly roses: great american women, 2/10


Texas-born model and TV actress Angie Harmon is #2.

As a teenager she won a couple of model-search contests, one of which landed her on the cover of Seventeen magazine, but it wasn’t until she was discovered by David Hasselhoff that her career took off. Oh, and he discovered her on a plane when she was 23.


David Hasselhoff is the original Charlie Sheen. The fact that anyone could have been brought into the entertainment industry by him and not ended up engaged to, then estranged from, Hugh Hefner is worth a round of applause.

Her first television gig was on Baywatch and somehow she transferred acting in a bikini to acting in a suit for Law & Order: SVU. One of her most admirable traits is that she demands to be taken seriously—something every female should do—and so she is.


I appreciate that video for a number of reasons. First, I love that she says “I’m an American before I’m a Republican”—this is something that I wish everyone, regardless of their political views, would take into account. One thing people forget when their preferred political party is not in power, is that our leaders are looking to do what’s best for America (not counting a few people and groups). Second, anyone that advocates unity is doing it right.

On a more personal note, her 2001 wedding to former NFL player Jason Sehorn was not televised but the engagement was:

She’s now starring in the TNT drama series (is it a drama? I know she’s a detective in it?) Rizzoli & Isles.

The title for this post comes from the fact that she’s mentioned that every night she and her family share a list of “Roses and Thorns” which is a variation of a game I like to play called “Peak and Pit” or, sometimes, “Good Shit, Bad Shit.” You share something great about your day, and something not so great about your day. It’s just a little daily reflection, and I’m all about reflection

today for you, tomorrow for me: great american women, 1/10

Just an example of how much I like Rosario Dawson: when searching her name on Mother Jones I typed in “Rosario Awesome”—which is such a complimentary Freudian slip.

Rosario has the kind of life story that validates the American dream.

Born to a seventeen year old mother and raised in relative poverty, she grew up in a tenement squat in New York City. It was on the steps of this building that the writer and director of Kids saw her and asked her to be in his movie—to which she responded, “Okay.”

She was fifteen and had no acting experience.

Alright, pause and think about that for a moment. Imagine yourself in her shoes: you’re sitting on your porch in New York when a stranger approaches and says: “Excuse me dear, do you want to be in my movie?”

I don’t know about you but that conversation would’ve ended with me saying, “Uh, yeah, let me go ask my mom.” Then me running inside, dead-bolting the door and peering out from the window curtains until the man left.

I would have a hard time believing that I was one of those people who would get to have that story. You know, the unbelievable, this-will-be-a-great-story-to-tell-someday story. However, I would have a very easy time believing that some creep wanted me to star in his questionable “movie.”
One summer, while visiting my aunt and uncle, I was taking a stroll around their block in the late afternoon. They lived right around the corner from a historic neighborhood and I loved passing by these ivy covered semi-mansions and imagining the people that had passed there before me. One day as I was walking, this truck pulled up beside me and the man driving asked if I wanted a ride home.

I lived an hour away, so this seemed pretty unreasonable.

I said no and continued my walk, stealing glances out of my periphery as he drove at a glacial pace beside me. After a few minutes of this agony, he said: “It’s fine, I know your dad.”

At that moment I knew, more than before, to be worried. My dad had just finished his MS in Aeronautics, we had moved and he hadn’t even had time to meet the neighbors let alone this dude who lived an hour away from us.

I turned into the nearest yard, silently praying that there was no attack dog or anything to signify that I did not live there and calmly walked up the front steps. I turned and the man was still ambling along, so I opened the screen door and extended my hand to open the front door when at that exact moment, another car came speeding down the street and basically bum-rushed the man away. I watched him as he turned in the opposite direction of where I was headed then sprinted out of the yard, down a side alley and into the backdoor of my aunt and uncle’s house.

Guess who never told her mother that story! And guess who took that Kindergarten Cop “Stranger, Danger” warning very seriously (and kind of still does).
Even though that happened long before I was fifteen, I would not have turned some anonymous director/writer down because I didn’t know him, I would’ve turned that him down because I didn’t know myself. SLAM DUNK. Bet you didn’t see that one coming! I am so anti-entitlement that I would’ve been all “Who am I to have that role? Walk a couple more paces and I’m sure you’ll find someone who deserves this more than me.” That’s a pretty lame way to think.
Sixteen years after that fateful porch meeting, Rosario has added over forty films to her resume—including the film version of the musical RENT, something which she was certainly not qualified for on paper, but a role that she totally owned. There were only two non-original cast member and she was one of them. With the army of Rent-heads out there that takes some major guts. That’s like walking into the Red Sox clubhouse wearing navy blue and white.

Rosario’s work ethic is unparalleled. She’s been working since she was cast in Kids—she even had to go through rounds and rounds of auditions for that, there was no “just” being chosen despite that porch meeting. She continues to challenge herself (Zookeeper notwithstanding) while also endorsing causes that benefit the community she came from. In 2004 she founded Voto Latino, a non-profit civic engagement organization that encourages young Hispanics to participate in the voting process. In 2008 she attended both the Republican and Democratic National Convention and regularly attends the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, where she’s met the President of the United States.

A story like Rosario’s is worth telling over and over again. Added bonus, she always looks amazing on the red carpet.