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Best of the Looks, Best of the Books 3.20.15

2015 March 20

I’m feeling a little blog-nostalgic today, so I decided to do a Friday links post, for old time’s sake. Though snow is in the forecast for the northeast this weekend, it IS the first day of spring, and for that, I’m grateful. At a party last weekend, someone asked me what I was most looking forward to for spring. I responded immediately, “Sunshine. Warmth. Being able to walk outside.” Honestly, I don’t have any big plans this spring beyond just getting outside when I can, and DOING things because I’ve felt shipwrecked this winter. Ironically, I plan to spend this weekend hibernating–marathoning old Mad Men episodes (the last season premieres in 2 weeks!) and doing some writing. What are your plans for the first weekend of spring?

Best of the Looks:

vintage dress

I always love Steffy’s looks–so bohemian and cute and effortless. She wears the kinds of things I’d love to wear but fear I wouldn’t pull off, and she has a knack for vintage that I admire.

This Anthropologie shirt dress would get the job done at a summer picnic or a day at the office.

I read two different blog posts this week recommending Maybelline’s Dream Bouncy blush--I might have to try it for the name alone. Have any of you used it?

I am currently obsessing over pointy-toed flats for the spring. Honestly, I’ve been obsessing for a while now, but haven’t yet pulled the trigger. I like these J. Crew Factory D’Orsay flats. Thoughts?

In an effort to give my shoulder a break, I downsized from my giant tote to the Madewell mini-transport cross-body (monogrammed, of course). It’s cute and definitely more portable than my previous bags, but it’s a little smaller than ideal–especially since I carry a book with me everywhere I go.

 

Best of the Books:

I just discovered that one of my favorite bloggers, Maria Popova of the wonderful Brain Pickings, has a side project called the Literary Jukebox that pairs book quotes with a fitting song. 

The Los Angeles Review of Books has launched a new online literary magazine, The Offing, and I really like it so far. Check out this beautiful poem by Kamilah Aisha Moon.

Poets making money.

I read Norman Rush’s novel, Mating, last fall and am still trying to process what it means, and what it meant to me. Luckily, the Paris Review is hosting a book club reading of the novel, so if you haven’t read it, but have been meaning to, now is a great time to read along!

 

That’s it! Have a great weekend.

Single, Carefree, Mellow

2015 March 19

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I picked up Katherine Heiny’s debut story collection Single, Carefree, Mellow because Lena Dunham tweeted that it was hilarious and amazing and wonderful. And also because it has a beautiful cover and also because there was a copy up for grabs in my office’s ad hoc “little free library” (really just a pile of books in the corner of the office kitchen).

The title captivated me. To be single, carefree, and mellow–that was, on some level, what I’ve been looking for for the last year. I love reading about relationships–their beginnings and ends and aftermaths and steady, peaceful middles–but a collection of stories about single, independent women was appealing to me. It seemed fresh, different, even irreverent.

So much contemporary short fiction is dark and cynical, especially with regards to love. I was disappointed to find that this collection is no different. In fact, nearly every story involves infidelity. No, doesn’t involve–revolves around. Infidelity is the central conceit here–but Heiny does something interesting with it: instead of the common trope of the story told from the jilted woman’s point of view, many of the heroines in this collection are either the “other woman” or the ones cheating on their partners. In “The Dive Bar,” a young woman meets her lover’s wife for an uncomfortable drink following the husband’s announcement that he’s leaving his wife for his mistress. In “Blue Heron Bridge,” a married woman begins a frenzied affair with a neighbor, only to discover that he’s also been sleeping with a neighbor whom she dislikes. The neighbor, of course, is also married. In “Thoughts of a Bridesmaid,” the typical duties of a bridesmaid are expanded to include pretending to date the bride’s lover so he can attend the wedding. I found that one particularly unsettling and ridiculous.

One character, Maya, appears in several stories, including “Single, Carefree, Mellow.” She is married to a sweet, devoted man but she finds herself seeking comfort and validation outside of her marriage–obsessing over it, in fact. She thinks about what it would be like to leave her marriage, to be single, carefree, and mellow. This sentiment makes sense to me, but it bothered me that nearly EVERY story in the collection revolved around not only the concept of infidelity, but around women in relationships. Not one central character in these stories was single, in fact.

What is our aversion to single women and the notion that they can be happy, independent, and successful individuals? I read an essay by Summer Brennan that really resonated with me where she talks about the notion of the “spinster”–that dreaded fate of being a single woman of a certain age, alone and unloved and slowly going crazy. She references that pivotal scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey finds out what would have happened to his wife, Mary, had he never been born.

The library! Glasses! No makeup! THE HORROR!

We’re taught from a young age that our value as humans is decreased if we don’t have anyone to love us in a romantic way. Most of us internalize this lesson in ways that can be harmful and can lead to unhealthy and unhappy relationships. We’d rather be with a person that doesn’t deserve us than be alone. When did being alone become the worst fate imaginable?

That is not to say that I want to be single for the rest of my life. But I would like to see more examples of women who are single AND fulfilled AND successful AND not obsessed with having a partner in literature. Is that too much to ask from a collection titled Single, Carefree, Mellow?

The Story Is You Can’t Know the Story

2015 March 15

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Jamaica Plain, the part of Boston where I live, is known as an artsy community, full of liberal-minded artists and families. The sense of community is one of the reasons I chose to move here. Up until November, though, JP was missing something vital: a bookstore. Enter Papercuts, the tiny, but beautifully curated, new independent bookstore that opened just after Thanksgiving.

I have to limit my visits there because I buy something every time I go in–not only because I want to buy books all the time, but because I want the store to thrive and succeed.

This weekend, I attended a conversation between Celeste Ng and Joan Wickersham at Papercuts and it was one of the most interesting conversations about writing I’ve heard in a good while.

The topic was loss and family tragedy. Both authors have written books that deal with grief and death in the family. In Ng’s novel, Everything I Never Told You, a young girl goes missing and is found drowned in a local lake. Her family is left to deal with the aftermath of her death, trying to piece together why and how she died. Wickersham’s The Suicide Index is a memoir written about her father’s 1991 suicide and how she and her family attempted to make sense of tragedy.

I haven’t read either book, but I bought both of them after the event because I was so intrigued and moved by what the writers had to say. Death, as it happens, has been something that’s been weighing on me recently, and it was helpful to hear others talk about it, and perhaps more importantly, to talk about writing about it.

As Ng said, “the story is, you can’t know the story.” I don’t think this applies to only mysterious deaths–I think it applies to our entire existence as humans, living together and trying to understand one another when deep down, not a single one of us can ever fully know another person. For writers, the act of writing becomes a way of trying to make sense of this knowledge, this unknowability of the world around us. “A lot of writers write because we don’t know,” as Wickersham said.

Both Ng and Wickersham talked about how they used structure in their books to make meaning of their stories. In Wickersham’s case, she struggled to write about her father’s death for years, both fictionalized and non, before she settled on the index structure. Suicide, as she pointed out, is a kind of death that causes questions. When her mother died, she was sad, and she misses her, but she “knew who she was missing.” In her father’s case, everything she had known about him was called into question by his decision to take his own life. By writing her story in the form of an index, the section of a book where you go to find answers, she felt closer to being able to make sense of a senseless tragedy. For Ng, writing her novel with sections from the past and the present was important, because she feels the past and present run alongside one another in a person’s life–they work together and inform one another.

Wickersham pointed out that it was ironic to have a conversation about the messy process of writing a book in a bookstore–a showcase of beautiful, orderly, finished products. They agreed that it’s important for writers to talk about this painful process because, otherwise, how would anyone know how truly difficult it is to actually write anything, let alone a book?

In the end, though both books share death and loss as a major theme, they are mainly about the “flavor and texture of family” and how families deal with events, both catastrophic and mundane.

I’m looking forward to reading both books and also attending more events at Papercuts (and buying more books…so many more books).

Self Care

2015 March 9

View More: http://sarahbradshaw.pass.us/katie-vails-apt

 

 

I think I speak for everyone when I say that this winter has been rough. Brutal, even. The relentless snow, punishing cold, icy sidewalks, and gray skies have had a striking emotional and physical impact on me. Because of the towering snow piles and transit issues, I’ve barely seen friends in the last two months. I’ve also been remiss in getting to the gym (as in, I’ve gone about 5 times this entire year). I’ve sought comfort in ice cream, burgers & fries, beer, and cheese. For more details on that, see here.  I haven’t been writing. As you may have noticed, I  haven’t even been blogging. This winter has been one enormous rut and I’m determined to get out of it.

Back in November, the Hairpin launched a new column about the concept of self care. It wasn’t something I necessarily thought about in any kind of meaningful way until I read the first column. But, as I read, it dawned on me that self-care is an actual thing that people do. Of course, it means different things to different people–that’s one of the basic points of the Hairpin column. But it was a little bit revelatory to think that people should have systems in place to take care of themselves–not just in the sense of watching a funny movie or calling a friend when you’re sad, or meditating when you’re stressed out, but actually having rituals that are about checking in and taking care of yourself on a regular basis.

February was a particularly difficult month. Boston got nearly 8 feet of snow, the commute was a daily nightmare, and beyond that, I was dealing with work travel, a breakup, and my grandmother’s death. All things considered, these last five weeks have left me exhausted and run down. I was running around, traveling for work and for family reasons, and because I was staying late at the office to try and compensate for all the time I was out of the office, I was neglecting important parts of my routine, like working out and doing laundry and grocery shopping. I did things in fitful bursts and starts– a hurried grocery run to buy groceries that then just sat in my refrigerator, uneaten, as I was off again to RI. An attempt to do laundry thwarted by a broken dryer. By the time I got back to Boston from RI on Friday, I felt like I was never going to catch up.

But yesterday I did four loads of laundry, cleaned my bathroom, went grocery shopping, and cooked dinner and made lunches for the rest of the week. This morning, I went to the gym for the first time in weeks. Already, I feel the fog lifting, along with the cold. I can catch up–I will catch up.

On Friday, on my way back to Boston, I did some shopping. I spent nearly $200 on items that definitely fall into the self-care category: face wash, shampoo & conditioner, some pretty nail polish, hand cream, moisturizer, and eye cream.  This is WAY more money than I normally spend on skincare products, but everything has felt dry and beaten up, and I thought that investing in my skin and my hair might help me feel (and look) a little better in the coming months.

That’s one type of self-care. The other type I’m focusing on this month is making fitness a priority. It’s fallen by the wayside ever since I moved to Boston, and I’d love to get back into the routine of working out 4-5 times a week. I always feel stronger and more self-assured when I’m in shape. I’m also really going to try and work on making smarter choices about what I eat and drink. My main problem seems to be just mindlessly eating junk because it’s there, and because I think it’s going to make me feel better. It almost never does, and in fact, because I’ve gained weight, it’s all making me feel much, much worse.

The third kind of self-care I’m making a priority right now is taking time for myself. It’s in my nature to rush around and be busy, always trying to make plans and throw parties and organize outings. These social events do make me happy, but I haven’t been balancing social time with enough alone time–time to myself to just sit and read or write and just be quiet. I underestimate how much I need that to feel an equilibrium.

So, for now, my self-care goals are to take better care of my skin and my hair; work out regularly; make smart choices by eating and drinking mindfully; and spend more time alone, being quiet.

What does self-care mean to you? Do you have any self-care goals to help you recover from this winter?

 

*image via Design Sponge

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2015 February 9

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On Saturday, my sister came up from Providence to go with me to see the Hollywood Glamour exhibit at the MFA. Although it was just one small room, the exhibit was just what I love–gorgeous gowns and sparkly jewelry, all from the heyday of Hollywood, in the 1930s and 1940s. In many ways, that era has come to define what we think of when we think of glamour–slinky gowns, diamonds, painted-on eyebrows, and elegantly-curled hair–despite the fact that the country was struggling through the Great Depression, the exact opposite of all of this glamour.

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As my sister and I made our way through the exhibit, one of the things we both noticed was how tiny the waistlines were–one thing about Hollywood that definitely hasn’t changed.

After exploring more of the museum and going to eat lunch, we decided to go shopping. I wasn’t planning on buying anything because, frankly, I’m still trying to pay off all the shopping I did in November and December. But a sales rack of jeans at Ann Taylor caught my eye–they had black skinny jeans on sale for $40, which is a great deal, so I tried them on.

I need new black skinny jeans because the ones I have no longer fit. This has become a disagreeable theme in my life.

The good news is that the Ann Taylor jeans fit, so I bought them. But when I came out of the fitting room to get my sister’s opinion, a saleswoman told me they looked good and she has them, too, and loves them. After raving about how comfortable they are, she then said I should buy a size down, if I could, because they tend to stretch. She then told me what size she’d bought.

I know she was doing her job and trying to be helpful, but the thing was, I couldn’t size down. And the size the woman told me she’d bought was smaller than the size I was wearing–multiple sizes smaller. This fact, while annoying, wouldn’t typically bother me, but, and I’m a little ashamed to admit this, when I’d first seen the saleswoman, I’d thought she was a little…big.

So I bought the jeans and continued shopping with my sister, but I couldn’t get that saleswoman out of my head. While we wandered around Kate Spade Saturday, I complained to my sister. She asked me why I was comparing myself to the saleswoman. I just shook my head. Fact is, I compare myself to others constantly–from the anonymous women on the train to fashion bloggers to my best friends. I think many women do. It’s difficult not to.

But I no longer know what exactly I’m comparing, because the image I have of myself and my body is different from reality. That, too, is something that plagues most women, but while in the past, I thought of myself as bigger, frumpier, uglier than other women in a more general way, now I don’t know what to think.

My body does not feel like my own. In the last year, I’ve gone from someone who was more or less the same size I’d been my whole life (minus that halcyon summer after college when I was small enough to get away with wearing a tiny, bright blue pleated mini-skirt) to needing to buy new pants because the ones in my closet, the ones I’ve been wearing for the last ten years, no longer fit.

Of course, this happens. It’s a natural progression–of aging, of lifestyle changes (too much beer and not enough gym time, in my case), of babies or sickness. But I wasn’t prepared–this tectonic shift in my body happened gradually, without my knowledge, until one day I noticed I never seemed to be comfortable. My jeans were too tight, my dresses didn’t fit the same way they normally did, all I wanted to wear was stretch pants.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been working to come to grips with this transformation. Rather than fighting it, telling myself that I just needed to diet and work out more and I could fit back into my favorite jeans, I’ve been working on thinking about ways to feel comfortable again. I’ve bought a few pairs of jeans on sale in larger sizes. I’ve bought several pairs of leggings. One quote from Women in Clothes stood out to me–”So many psychological problems fell away when I started tailoring my clothes to my body instead of the other way around.” (Karima Cammell)

I know my body may not go back to the way it was, even if I cut back on the beer and late-night ice cream and work out more often. This might be the way my body is now, and I’d love to be able to accept that and move forward, to worrying about the things in my life that are really important. Unfortunately, that means doing a full-scale closet purge and purchasing new clothing that fits me and makes me feel good about myself. I say unfortunately because if money were no object, this would be an amazingly fun project, but since money is most definitely an object (a scarce object), the prospect of needing an almost entirely new wardrobe is scary. And it’s not just scary for financial reasons–purging my closet means getting rid of many of the things I’ve been wearing for the last decade of my life, casting away dresses and sweaters and jeans that have formed a part of my identity.

But I will take it one step, one garment at a time. Building a new closet along with trying to build a new life–always a work in progress.

Have you had to rethink your closet because of changes in your body? How did you do it? Tips appreciated!