I’ll return to the escapism of the tropics in a moment, but I couldn’t help but note that it has been a year and a few days since I started a new job in DUMBO (which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Brooklyn. The neighborhood is wedged between the river, the BQE, the Navy Yard and old factories. It is home to galleries, arts organizations, fancy boutiques and a growing number of condos, yet still retains its quiet, cobbled, industrial feel. From my desk I have a view of the East River and use my iPhone to document the changing of the weather, seasons, clouds, light and sky. I’ve become an astute observer of light on smoke stacks and passing ferries, barges and tugs on the river. Enjoy my little window on New York City. There is a full set on Flickr.
I admit that when I brought my Jeffrey Campbell Lita’s I had no illusions that they would be the most practical shoes in the world. I secretly asked myself, “How much are you really going to wear these?” And, yet. I find myself wearing them often! Even to work! My co-workers have asked me, “Are you going to wear your cat shoes tomorrow?” And why not? In my opinion, the idea of fun fashion is to bring levity to the everyday. I have found, however, that the cat Lita’s cannot be worn with any other pattern. The supporting outfit has to be super basic, all black, or all neutral. Voila, here are just a few of the ways I’ve worn them.
It started with a tweet, “When I am I going to see Corita play?” It seemed like a simple enough question, except that the author of the tweet was Michel, of the indie band MiLK & Fruit Juice and he lives in France. Unfortunately Corita did not have (and still does not have) any plans to play a show in France. Or anywhere else outside of New York. So I wrote back, “I don’t know, when are you coming to New York? I’ll set up a show.” Then I got a better idea, “Why don’t you play a solo show with us?” When Michel told me he was coming to NYC in September I wasted no time in booking a venue. However, I knew the other members of MiLK & Fruit Juice could not come to NYC and that being on stage alone in a new city is intimidating, and so I volunteered to be the backing band.
First of all, let me explain why I love MiLK & Fruit Juice: Michel writes catchy, dreamy songs that are full of heart. Some of them sound a bit twee, with with accents of toy instruments and excellent backing vocals from Marjorie and Sabine, but there’s also a twist of sadness, irony and realism. I am delighted to have met someone all the way across the Atlantic that shares so many of the same musical interests and passions as me. While that may seem like a small thing in this Internet age, when you meet in person, it still seems pretty magical.
On a rainy night in September at Spike Hill in Williamsburg the Pale Lights, MiLK & Fruit Juice and Corita shared the stage. Michel and I had one practice together under our belt and I was playing drums and singing back up on five of his songs. The day of the show I listened to the songs from his well-crafted album I’m Cold Handed Because I Have No Heart to Pump The Blood Through My Fingers on repeat. That night Michel debuted a beautiful, vintage Silvertone guitar he had found at Rivington guitars. I got to break out of my usual role as a guitar player and play drums, with drum sticks that Lisa Goldstein of the Pale Lights loaned to me for Michel’s set. Apparently I kept the fact that I play drums secret from my friends, but I actually took drum lessons for several years in middle school! I never really graduated beyond a 4/4 rock beat though. In any event, it was really fun (and a little nerve wracking) to be on stage playing drums supporting a friend whose music I love and who lives so far away. Anne, who co-runs the label MonsterK7 in Montreal and Paris, took these beautiful photos and video, and Sabine was kind enough to share with me. Enjoy and if you like Michel’s music perhaps you will set up a show for him in your town! Or at least buy his record.
During the day on Saturday I received this Facebook message, “Halloween snow! A white CHERYLWEEN. The dandruff of the gods is beckoning us to have a shampoo ritual! See you tonight at the Bell House!”
In my last post I promised to show you what my nice, black outfit with tasteful gold highlights turned into. That’s right, with the application of some goody “Wake Up With Curls” curlers I turned into PRELLRAISER. What? Prell shampoo + horror movies = Prellraiser. That is, if you are CHERYL, the notorious, Brooklyn-based dance party put on by museum educators who love cats, jazzersize, sequins, video art, fake blood and authentic fun.
I love CHERYL because it lacks any sheen of New York attitude, is friendly for both queers and hetero people and condones general arty weirdness. Going for over three years strong CHERYL started in a tiny bar (which has since been renamed and redone) in South Brooklyn because aforementioned arts workers were frustrated they had to keep going to Williamsburg to go to the fun dance parties. They made a dance, they made a video, they found really good DJ’s and CHERYL was born.
It’s since grown into a globe trotting phenonemom, the Cherylites have been named some of the “most stylish New Yorkers” and they’ve had artist residencies and gallery shows and made some of my favorite videos. With themes like “Arctic Fury,” “7/11,” “Nausea,” “Administrative Soul,” “Sasquach on Broadway,” “The Great Depression Take Two: Electric Boogaloo,” “The White Cube,” and “Goth Spaceship” this is not your average dance party.
With all their acclaim, CHERYL remains an amazingly fun party run by nice people who are glad that you are there. It’s still held regularly in South Brooklyn, the videos are as full of socially commentary, catchy beats, and fake blood as ever, and it’s my favorite (and probably only) place I dare to wear ridiculous clothes and cut loose on the dance floor. Here’s a few CHERYL looks over the years. I hope to see you on the floor the next time!
Impractical who? Speculative what? What is she on about? If you love bookbinding, zines, letterpress printing, type writers, old Polaroid cameras, and any and all things that have to do with obsolete technology, you will love this project. Impractical Labor in the Service of the Speculative Arts was started by Bridget Elmer and Emily Larned, two artists who are letterpress printers and bookmakers that I greatly admire. It was Emily who suggested I intern at Booklyn, a Brooklyn-based book artists alliance, my first internship in New York. I also worked in Emily’s studio all through college, binding books, scoring and folding CD covers, and sorting type, in exchange for the use of her beautiful Vandercook press and lovingly homemade lunches. It was this kind of impractical labor, and Emily’s inspiring example of how to do it, that made me think very carefully and clearly about what it meant to be an artist and how one builds an artist’s life and balances their life and work.
Bridget and Emily’s project/organization is a membership organization that borrows from ideas of a labor union and a research institute and a performance project all rolled into one. I was very flattered to interview them for NYFA Current and I hope you will read the full interview here about their activities.
Chock it up to good marketing. Before I even knew about the independent publisher Melville House I admired my friend SG’s “I would prefer not to” tote bag. Black, white, literary, emblazoned with the iconic line from Herman Melville’s novella Bartleby the Scrivener. When I started working in DUMBO, Brooklyn I rounded the corner of my building and saw those same totes hanging in the window of a light, airy bookstore. Intrigued, I went in.
Melville House puts out a range of books that are necessary, even if major publishers don’t think that they are. They publish books in translation that are best sellers in other countries, but that most Americans have never heard of. They publish cultural criticism that’s too political for major publishers. The tote bag advertises a series called the “Art of the Novella,” which strives to bring attention to this often neglected and maligned form of literature.
This August a reader and novella fan proposed a challenge: he would try to read all 42 books in Art of the Novella series in August. In another smart marketing move Melville House invited other readers to do the same (I believe three novellas was the minimum for participation) and to tweet and blog about it.
Excited to participate I walked around the corner from work and picked up some attractive little volumes, all nicely bound with a solid color on the front in matte stock (the contemporary novellas have glossy stock) and nice “french folds” on the inside. You feel classy just carrying one in your bag! I also liked the project because it gave me a chance to try out some classic authors that I’ve heard about, and should have read, but have some how managed to avoid over the course of my reading history. I pictured myself stretched out on the beach, reading a novella, and being literary. Of course, it didn’t work out this way and I had a very busy August with less reading than planned.
Here’s what I did read:
A Simple Heart Gustave Flaubert—the story of a simple country maid in search of love who finds companionship (and religious obsession) in a parrot. It’s seen as an early example of Flaubert’s realism. I thought it both empathized with and created a caricature of the hardworking, but ignorant because of her circumstances, rural peasant. Its commentary on the class divide in 19th century France is clear. I understand how ground breaking it may have been on the time to feature such “common people” in literature, but it does come off as a little trite.
The Lemoine Affair Marcel Proust—this novella was originally published serially in a newspaper and the last few sections were published posthumously. In it Proust immitates the styles of different prominent French writers to descibe the political innerworkings, intrigue and fallout caused by a minor scandal where a merchant claimed he could make diamonds out of coal. I suppose if I knew 19th century French literature better I would have found it more amusing.
The Lifted Veil George Eliot—My favorite of the classics that I picked. While I think Eliot’s characterizing the main woman character as shallow and heartless behind an intriguing exterior is a little tired, I like the psychological nature of this story. It really kept me on eggshells and I think it was the only one of my classic selections where I wanted to keep reading to the end, instead of just being motivated to finish because the novella was, well, short.
Lucinella Lore Segal—I don’t know if I was cheating with this one because it’s from the Contemporary Art of the Novella series, but this was by far my favorite. Released in the 1970’s this slim volume lampoons the New York literary scene (and the artist colony Yaddo) with rollicking wit. It is told by a poet and social climber, who may also be talented and is certainly obsessive in the way writers can be, Lucinella. The tone and voice of this novella reminds me a lot of one of my other favorite narrators: Sally J. Gorce in The Dud Avocado. It also is a reminder of how difficult it was, and remains, to be a sassy, weirdo woman artist or writer in the 60’s and 70’s. And 80’s, and 90’s and today. The book takes a turn towards the weirdly sublime in the end, which would not be how I would write the ending, but I stayed along for the ride and it was fun.
So what’s my takeaway from my month of reading not as many novellas as planned? Mostly that my reading tastes are thoroughly rooted in the “modern” and “post-modern”—basically 1920 and forward. There are plenty of novellas from Melville House’s series in this category, such as The Awakening, Jacob’s Room, and Country of the Pointed Firs (lovely book about Maine!), but I’d already read them! This is not a hard and fast rule, but generally the pre-modern literature (which laid the ground work, I know, I know) of the 19th century feels so stuffy to me, and so staid compared with what came next. It’s kind of like comparing the Barbizon school with Cubism in art history, you know? Oh, did I just loose half my readership with that pretentious reference? Dude, whatever, reading is cool and I can’t wait to check out Melville House’s other releases! And bro, hey, I got a rad tote bag.
These scrubbed clean, clear blue skies of late summer and early fall remind me that I moved to New York City ten years ago this week. It’s been quite a decade for New York City and for me personally. I moved here reluctantly to attend college after a dreamy year spent living in Portland, Oregon, working very little and indulging in my creative projects and wallowing in what remained of my teen angst. After growing up in Maine I was dead-set against going to college on a quaint campus and tired of small town life in general. On visits throughout high school to New York City I feel in love. It had it all: art, culture, fashion, food and excitement. It was the polar opposite of where I came from. “Who needs trees?” I said, “The nature in the parks will suit me just fine.”
New York has not ceased to amaze and surprise me, but moving here was not an easy transition. I got sick immediately from the polluted air, the noise from the construction outside of my window seemed to bore into my skull, and then September 11th happened. The events of that day and what followed completely reshaped what I expected from the city, academic, activism, and work. I really can’t talk about 10 years in New York without talking about September 11th and all that came after, but this post really isn’t about September 11th. Let’s suffice it to say this morning the public radio station replayed reporting from that morning and I had to sit down and cry.
I didn’t think I would stay in New York very long after graduation. I decided that I would give it two years after I got my diploma, but when I started working in museums and arts organizations I kept pushing that timeline back, until finally I gave up and decided to stay here. I felt like my friendships and the adult life I’ve been able to construct were too hard won to walk away from. I’ve lived in Sunset Park, Brooklyn since 2002 and slowly the borough worked its charms on me and I feel like it’s an important part of my identity. I also discovered another great thing about New York: its proximity to Europe. Flights to Europe from New York are plentiful and can be cheap if you know how to search.
But looking back over these past ten years I’ve wrote a lot about New York and I wanted to share a little bit of those thoughts to chart how my relationship to the city has changed and evolved.
“You always choose the most challenging position you can think of!” my mother chided me when I moved to New York City to go to college. “Of course you picked the biggest, toughest, most of expensive city in the US, you couldn’t imagine less!” she reminded me when I lamented how difficult my new NYC life was. And it was difficult.
In October of 2002 I wrote, “New York is bad posture and holding my breath. Too many aches and tight, sore shoulders and no one to work them out.”
At the brink of the (still ongoing) war against Iraq in 2003 I wrote, “I need to write something about how it feels to be in New York right now – the subway stations full of national guard, machine guns ready. How is it constricting my thoughts and hopes and playing on my fear?”
But the city still entranced me, “For me the magic of New York isn’t in Manhattan, it’s in the strange faraway feeling places in the outer boroughs that you can still take the subway train to. A collision of urban and beach, crashing waves and a $5 ride on the Wonder Wheel. Vacant lots in gentrified neighborhoods, cracking streets, rusting hunks of abandoned junk, weeds in the middle of poshness. It shows the gaps in the idea of glittery concrete and steel and shows that cities have a force that cannot be regulated.”
Full of Brooklyn pride, I wrote a love letter to Brooklyn for the last issue of my zine Indulgence, which I put out in 2008. “If Brooklyn were not attached to the rest of New York it would still be among the largest cities in the United States. I’ve been living here for six years. That doesn’t make me a local, but it means I have grown to appreciate my borough through all my early-to mid-to late twenties ups and downs. Brooklyn is my immediate reality and my basis of comparison. Brooklyn feels at times just as much like a small town, an industrial landscape, and even, suburban.”
I think it is E.B. White who describes New York best, so I’m going to leave you with his words. My mother gave me Here is New York for Christmas after I’d been living here for 4 years. I was struck by how this little book, written about New York in the Forites, captures the New York I experience every day.
The opening: “There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.”
And the closing:
“The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now; in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest editions.
All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.”
Thank you, Mr. White. And here’s to another ten years.
So how did I survive New York’s biggest storm in decades? Just fine, thank you. I’m really not one to buy into weather related hype, but I’ll admit as I read the storm reports rolling out on Twitter (yes, this is how I get my up to the minute news these days) I began to get a little jumpy. I spent some time pouring over the map of evacuation zones the Office of Emergency Management put out. I read up on hurricane tips offered by everyone from the mayors office to my electric company. Fortunately, I don’t live in an evacuation zone, but actually on the second highest hill in Brooklyn. My apartment building is a solidly constructed brick building from 1931 that has withstood many a storm. So, I figured, a little rain, a little wind, big deal. In fact, I think the Fucked in Park Slope blog captured my kind of storm prep the best with this entry and chart.
Honestly, I think that the NYC government did a pretty decent job of informing everyone. They had a plan, they were organized and they got the word out. I thin they got a little hysterical, sure. I think their move to evacuate all of the Rockaways was a little bit much and that they were making up for their complete lack of planning with this past winter’s big snow storm. But I followed directions, filled up my water bottles and filled the bathtub with water in case we lost electricity and thus water pressure. We never lost electricity. Heck, because my windows are west facing I even kept them open during more of the storm and no rain blew in.
It was really sweet that all of my far-away friends reached out with their support and well-wishes. New York truly is a global city that many hold in their hearts. Since I moved here 10 years ago (to the week!) I’ve experienced September 11th, several huge blizzards, two tornadoes, and an earth quake (which I didn’t feel). I missed the black out of 2003 because I was in Oregon for the summer. I’ve also experienced so many personal trials and tribulations that come with negotiating life in a huge metropolis. New York is a stalwart city and it passes that on to its residents. To live here and not loose your mind I think you need to develop a sense of resolve, calm and willingness to be ready for anything.
I was so thrilled when Jason, the filmmaker behind the webseries “All New York’s a Venue” approached Corita about featuring us in his project. His videos feature indie bands playing songs in atypical locations, often quite unfit for a musical performance. The best part about the videos, I think, is that they are not music videos per se. They are not overly staged. They are just a live performance in an unconventional location.
My band Corita posed a challenge, however. We can’t play acoustic. I don’t want to sound snobby, but our songs rely on reverb, delay and a little bit of distortion (see, we’re a bit shoegaze). This does not work on an acoustic guitar, so playing on the subway or down by the Gowanus canal (our favorite NYC polluted waterway) was not an option. We needed somewhere to plug in.
Then I came up with an idea. My workplace is incredibly supportive of artists. That’s our business. We also have an airy, light-filled loft in DUMBO. Considering we had a feminist tea party come and set up shop in the office for a week I thought, well, why not a band? The organization was only too happy to agree, as long as we did it on a Saturday when the office was empty and kept the noise to a minimum.
It was really funny, and strange, to load all our gear into my office and play our songs about disenchantment, growing older, and looking at the sky in the middle of the file boxes and computers I see everyday. But that is part of the fun of the project. The incongruous nature of the music and the location. I hope you enjoy watching the results!
The artists Caitlin Reuter and Suzanne Stroebe have taken over a portion of NYFA’s Brooklyn office/gallery in the most delightful way – they have installed what looks like a Victorian style parlor, complete with wallpaper, curtains and furniture, and invited the public in over the course of this week for tea, baked goods, and conversation on feminist topics as part of their “Feminist Tea Party” project series.
I’m thrilled that I get to join them as part of the project this Friday, April 15 at 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. to discuss the question of “Is there such a thing as feminist aesthetics?” I’m interested in discussing not just visual art, but music, performance,literature, film, you name it. Feminist artists have consistently challenged what is the nature of “art” and I wonder after all of these challenges is there still something as feminist aesthetics? Was there ever? Who cares? Come have tea and let’s chat!
I also have to say I love this project because it matches my (killerfemme) feminist aesthetics and you can bet I’ll be decked out in my 1950’s style best.
For more information, a schedule of the other talks, and information about the artists visit their blog!