On real vices

From the exhibit at the Great Apes House, Bronx Zoo, circa 1963-67

From the exhibit at the Great Apes House, Bronx Zoo, circa 1963-67

9:27 pm ET, Delta flight from Atlanta to Shanghai

One of the best things about long-haul flights is catching up on films I don’t have time to watch because, you know, life. It only took a 14.5 hr flight, but I finally got around seeing Adam Mckay’s Vice and I am fucking amped up.

My brain is exploding with all the emotions and thoughts, so this may be the most incomprehensible dribble I’ve ever typed on screen.

(Thanks for joining.)

Originally I started writing an entirely different diatribe because I found myself in such anger and disbelief towards what we allowed the Bush-Cheney administration to get away with. But of course this is a McKay production and it wasn’t going to be one-note like that. No, they’re going to add some clever twists and turns and hold a mirror up to us, the viewer, and ask “don’t you think you’re complicit, too?” Thus, I had to trash draft 1.

First, some praise: Like The Big Short, it’s clever. It’s smart. And it had an unbelievably elegant and cheeky way of addressing some pretty fucking dense and boring content, like politics, international policies, and world relations. It was entertaining and moved at a quick pace. Would you expect anything less from Adam McKay, his creative team, and actors like Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, et al?

Now before I was hurtling through the air in a tin can across the Pacific Ocean, I had a bumpy check-in. The seat upgrades I tried purchasing from the Delta app didn’t go through, causing my charge to dance in some weird AMEX limbo and no seat change. Which was exacerbated by an unwelcome lecture from my mom for how her idea of handling the situation would be better. I bite down on every smart ass retort bubbling up to the surface and try to recall every piece of advice on patience from my therapist. We get through security and Nancy gets held up because of her belt. Then her watch. Then nail clippers in her pocket (what?). We’re walking out of the security area when she suddenly realizes that she doesn’t have her phone.

All this to say I was not in the mindset to consume anything that would make think. I very much wanted to tune in and tune the fuck out.

(In case you were wondering, the family friend who drove us to the airport was able to drive back and drop Nancy’s phone off. And AMEX is taking care of the weird charge. Thank you for your concern.)

So.

Tuning out did not happen. McKay shined a bright light on all of Cheney’s shady dealings, but what was the real vice here? Was it his desire for power? Or was it something else entirely? Perhaps it was our own apathy, the quietest and most insidious of all the vices. On the surface, it seems harmless. It wields no weapons and draws no blood. But it’s no less dangerous. Because it feeds on our desire to avoid life’s unpleasant realities. Our desire for greed. Our desire to want a comfortable life, even if it means sacrificing our civil liberties and compassion.

There’s bound to be a few casualties when it comes to the common good. This is the story we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves stories every day — I had a long day at work today, so I deserve a night in instead of going to the gym. A woman stops responding to a man’s texts anymore, so the man thinks “She must be a lesbian”.

Apathy is truly a vice. Choosing to stay with the status quo or denying a reality because the truth is too much to bear or fix. There are some people who insist on separating their lives from dirty things like politics. But politics is personal. Every decision you make is a choice of how you see yourself in the world and the kind of reality you want to live in. And honestly it’s fucking overwhelming and exhausting to consider this. I don’t want to think about how global warming will result in climate refugees. Or that the bees are dying and we won’t have avocados anymore. Or how wars may be waged over clean water.

This is a constant struggle for me and one of the many subjects that compelled me to start this little blog. I don’t know what the answer is. All I can think of is the story of the guy walking on the beach that’s scattered with starfish that have been washed ashore. He sees a kid throwing them back into the ocean, one by one. “Hey kid,” he says, “There’s too many starfish on the beach. There’s no way you can save them all.” And he said “I know, but I can make a difference in the ones I can save.”

Like the kid, I feel like I’m on a beach surrounded by starfish gasping for air, living, breathing things that need care and attention. I can’t care or attend to them all, no matter how much I want to. But I can make a difference in this one. And that one. And this other one. And that will have to be enough.

So maybe the antidote to apathy is to remain open and care. And to question. To always question “why?”

Originally posted on May 1, 2019 at Alwaysatodds.com.


On "It's not personal. It's business."

lead_720_405.jpg

Alt: Not another goddamn Hedi Slimane/political/OMG what a time to be alive think piece.

One of my favorite movies of all time is You’ve Got Mail. There’s a scene where Tom Hanks (Joe Fox, the owner of a Barnes and Noble mega bookstore at a time when Amazon was just a twinkle in Jeff Bezo’s eye) apologizes to Meg Ryan (Kathleen Kelly, a small children’s bookstore owner) for putting her out of business:

Joe Fox: It wasn’t… personal.

Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s PERSONAL to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?

Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.

Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.

I’ve been thinking about this scene a lot recently. There are so many people saying, “it’s not personal, it’s politics” and as a form of self-preservation in this dumpster fire of a time we’re living in, I try to tell myself to stop taking things so personal as well.

But try as we might, it’s nearly impossible to separate your feelings from what’s going on in the world — even fashion.

Last week, Hedi Slimane’s first collection for Celine was unveiled to a cacophony of outrage. Critics were lambasting his designs for being out of touch, even anti-woman. Many fans considered his pieces to be antithetical to Phoebe Philo’s Céline, which was beloved for its feminine tailoring and sophistication. On the surface, the intensity of the reaction was extreme, but given that the show happened in the middle of all the Kavanaugh circus, was it truly surprising?

Maybe if there were different circumstances, the sound and fury for Slimane’s Celine would have been at a 5, but it was at an 11. Bluster is the accessory du jour and outrage is the new black. Slimane is a more than capable designer with a strong point of view and LVMH trusted him with an idiosyncratic brand. He is not deserving of the level of outrage that occurred, but dismissing his critics without considering the context or lens they viewed his work with is short sighted (and it’s a little disappointing that Slimane himself is not sympathetic to that). CONTEXT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. What we wear and how we style ourselves is woven into the fabric of our lives (ALL THE PUNS 100% INTENDED AND I APPROVE THIS MESSAGE), and perspectives and politics will inevitably be woven in as well, making it all exceedingly personal.

I don’t believe Slimane was attacking women — he just designs for a different woman — and I think comparing him to Trump is a far-reaching claim. But I do think LVMH is sending a confusing message to customers of Céline. I think Slimane revealed a collection that was so drastically different and lacking of past Céline, it was jarring for many people (honestly, give the guy his own label, for fuck’s sake). I strongly believe that the timing of his show was noteworthy, albeit completely unintentional. I think many American women, upset at the hearings in DC and realizing that they didn’t recognize their own country any more, looked to Paris Fashion Week as an escape. And when they realized they didn’t recognize one of their favorite fashion houses any more either, it got too much. And the flood gates opened.

It’s easy to look back on the good ol’ days and wax nostalgic about how there was more civility and people worked together for the common good. Those days were also slower. People had more time to process their thoughts and how they felt. But now, gut reactions has replaced reason and I find it pretty devastating. Is sympathy or consideration for another person’s environment/circumstances dead? There’s still a part of me that holds onto the believe that no, it’s not. That civility and consideration happens more than the news feeds and chyrons let on.

This is the Age of Outrage. And like fire, outrage can be stoked to burn, but it can also be captured to warm and transform. Of course it’s easier said than done. Even as I write this, I struggle with my containing my anger. The ego in me wants the last word in every debate, to crush anyone who voices an opposing view. But isn’t it just as powerful to slow down? Maybe we can take the first step of acknowledging the context a person is operating in before deciding to engage or walk away.

Again, easier said than done.

P.S.

This fascinating article on the shipping company of the fashion world. (NYT)

If you’re filled with despair, a reminder of the things you can do for your community or to get people out to vote.

This tweet is hysterical.

Originally published on October 5, 2018 at Alwaysatodds.com.

On the little things

Quote of the day:

Activism is my rent for living on the planet.

— Alice Walker

Someone made a $5 ACLU-donation Dash button you can press every time Trump makes you angry. Brilliant.

As if you needed more evidence on how diversity is better for the world, here's a letter from director Martin Scorsese on how "diversity guarantees our cultural survival" and the Scientific American on how diversity makes us smarter

This Instagram account of 100 postcards for the first 100 days of the administration. As the bio says, they're "Always respectful, mostly disagreeable." And entertaining, too. 

When you start to feel like everything is out of control, here's a reminder of what you do have control over:

download (3).jpg

I'm in love with these pins by Adam J. Kurtz and Emily McDowell.

My friend Shannon and I started a cooking club where we go to each other's houses once a month and cook. Last month we made Nigella Lawson's lemon polenta cake and short rib burgers. It's my turn to pick the recipes for this month, but there's so many to choose from: 

Savory miso oatmeal

"Hot Ones" is an entertaining series where celebrities get interviewed while they eat hot wings. Padma's bed picnic sounds like an amazing idea: 

The episode with Key and Peele remains one of my favorites. 

Originally published on February 8, 2017 on Alwaysatodds.com.

On optimism

James-Baldwin.jpg

I remember the first time I saw violence. I was 3 years old and I watched my babysitter's husband slam her head against the wall — once, twice, four times — and wrap his hand around her neck. Their three children were hiding in the oldest child's room, sobbing, while I peeked around the corner to see if the silence that hung in the apartment was a sign of safety. Clearly, it was not. 

The first time I saw racism, I was 8. I was at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Atlanta on a school field trip and we were viewing an exhibit on the history of lynchings in the south. There were rows and rows of black and white photos — photos of someone's husband, brother, wife, sister, child — dangling lifelessly from the trees. And throughout the exhibit, Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" played. I didn't sleep a wink that night. And to this day, I can't hear "Strange Fruit" or Billie's voice without feeling a shiver down my spine. 

I was reminded of these memories when I watched Raoul Peck's documentary on James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro. It was a sobering and much-needed watch because it reminded me that while I may feel that things are especially bad now, it's not new. The only difference is that I've gotten better at recognizing it. I also left the film feeling a deep connection to Baldwin. Here was a man who is weary of the world. He was the son of a country that often refused to legitimize him, so he left Harlem for Paris. But as much as he tried, he could not separate himself from his people, so he returned. In the process, he lost friends and lovers. The FBI even tried to label him as a threat to national security. But he persisted. And he wrote.

"I can't be a pessimist because I am alive," he once said during an interview. "To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I'm forced to be an optimist. I'm forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive. But the future of the Negro in this country is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of the country. It is entirely up to the American people and our representatives -- it is entirely up to the American people whether or not they are going to face, and deal with, and embrace this stranger whom they maligned so long."

"I can't be a pessimist because I am alive." That is now my motto for 2017. And yes, it is entirely up to us to deal with the blemishes that the American experiment comes with. It is already beginning to make a world of difference: 

  1. Thanks to efforts of the #GrabYourWallet campaign, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus are dropping Ivanka Trump's fashion line.

  2. HR621 has been pulled, so the land grab of 3.3 million national land acres has been dropped.

  3. The ACLU has received over $24 million in donations in one weekend — that's 7x the amount raised in the 2015 alone.

  4. The city of Seattle will divest $3 billion from Wells Fargo for NoDAPL.

  5. GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski says constituent calls to her office against DeVos were a major reason why she is voting against her nomination.

    [S/O to my friend Monica for pointing these silver linings out to me.]

And that's only the beginning.

I do not accept the premise that this recent surge of activism and fight is too little, too late. It is only late when we are all dead. To find something worth fighting for is life itself. It provides sustenance for the soul. I may be fatigued and worried about the state of the world, but I have never felt more alive or been filled with more purpose. There may come a day where someone somewhere will prove my optimism to be foolish, but until that day comes, I will let my existence be my battle cry.

Further reading:

"There is nothing great about the America that Trump thinks he is going to make; but in the end, it is the greatness of America that will stop him." – Former Department of State counselor from the Bush Administration, Eliot A. Cohen, on Trump underestimating the resilience of Americans and their institutions. 

James Baldwin was not only a novelist, but an essayist and part-time film critic. His piece, "The Devil Finds Work" is a sharp analysis of race and America and cinema. I'll never look at The Exorcist the same way again. 

On a lighter note, The New Yorker essay "I Work from Home" hits way too close to home. 

Beautifully and thoughtfully designed by its owner, James F. Carter, this house has bookshelves by the stairs, in nooks, and crannies. It's the stuff of my dreams. 

download (1).jpg

Originally posted on February 4, 2017 at Alwaysatodds.com.

On holding steady

ANONYMOUS: What is the fucking point anymore? Protests ended. People are becoming numb. No one cares to speak up anymore? Are we not going to fight?
COQUETTE: The point is to live. The point is to keep going. It's okay to let the vigilance mellow into something less acute. It's not about intensity anymore; it's about stamina. Dig in, hold fast, and keep a calm and constant pressure as the pendulum swings.

Sooo things are not great right now. We have a figurehead who blatantly ignores facts and lies to the public, prioritizes popularity over policy, nominated woefully unqualified candidates to staff his cabinet, is actually directing federal tax money to move forward on his plans to build a massive wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE ANGRY. 

GOOD.

Because as one (fictional) American President once said, "America isn't easy". And for some time now, we've forgotten about that. We've forgotten that the path to progress isn't a straight, paved road — it's rough, filled with valleys and peaks, quagmires, and bumps. We've forgotten that we cannot rest on our laurels — that keeping the rights and privileges we get to enjoy is a constant battle. And while I don't normally like taking on an alarmist tone, liberty is always under threat.

But that doesn't mean life as we know it is over. [If life was a Disney movie, this is probably the point where I'd break into song. But alas, it is not.]

I refuse to be apathetic. I'm gonna live. And goddammit, I'm gonna be kind. I will choose to be delighted, every. Day. When things get hard, art will be my god. I will find sanctuary in the works of writers and artists to make sense of complicated emotions. I will do my best to be intentional. I will avoid matching vitriol with venom. The anger and despair I feel after reading the latest news headlines? I won't allow them to wash over me. I will absorb it. I will tap into its reserves to contact my senators and representatives. I will go to more rallies. I will read more books and essays on conservative ideology. I will tell my mom I love her, even when she breaks my heart by parroting chyrons from Fox News.

Don't mistake my optimism for acceptance or delusion. I'm choosing to fight for tiny victories. Some fights aren't won by being the most intense or powerful person in the ring. Some fights are won simply by digging your heels in and holding steady. 

Hemingway knows what’s up. (via    Kottke   )

Hemingway knows what’s up. (via Kottke)


Further reading:

Hemingway's Cocktail for bad times is not only the alcoholic balm we need, it contains some of the most poetic prose I've ever seen in a recipe: 

Take a tall thin water tumbler and fill it with finely cracked ice.

Lace this broken debris with 4 good purple splashes of Angostura, add the juice and crushed peel of 1 green lime, and fill glass almost full with Holland gin...

No sugar, no fancying. It's strong, it's bitter — but so is English ale
strong and bitter in many cases. 

We don't add sugar to ale, and we don't need sugar in a "Death in the Gulf Stream" — or at least not more than 1 tsp. Its tartness and its bitterness are its chief charm. 

Proposed anthem of the resistance: when you're so angry and you gotta dance it out, I recommend Ariana Grande's "Be Alright". You laugh, but I dare you not to move during the chorus

"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite short stories by one of my favorite writers. It's never seemed more appropriate or poignant than ever.

CNN's Van Jones might be onto something here — there may be virtue in trying to understand how Trump operates. 

Good Magazine has put together a guide to coping and acting in a Donald Trump presidency. 

List of books to change a conservative or liberal's mind. I have The Righteous Mind by John Haidt as my next read. 

Originally published on January 26, 2017 at Alwaysatodds.com.