Monday, April 18, 2016

Part One: Edvard Munch, The Sarlacc Monster, and Moving Plans

Brace yourself. I'm about to "dive into the wreck."

Well, I'm trying to. You see, I am not doing OK. I have no wish to share the overly personal but I realize that this feeling that I've had for the last two years (notice I haven't posted anything in about that much time?) that I want/need/must have a change is, well, not just a feeling. This is my reality.

Long story short, I'm one of the millions of people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (aside from everything else that I battle privately). I'm not gonna go into it in any kind of extreme detail but I have come to the realization and determination that I have to move physically. And soon, very soon.

Having to deal with some of my personal baggage. yay

Just a couple words about PTSD. All I can say is that I'm still finding my way.  This is a bit new for me. It took a while to learn it. I experience the deep anxiety, isolation, the panic...sometimes wondering if I'm losing my mind. Until recently I spent time around physical triggers and obliviously wondered why they made me physically ill, perhaps not even seeing the connection.  Now I know. Well, I'm on my way to knowing.

 With 10 years and counting of various forms of therapy and counseling, I have found that a lot of the intensity in my changing mental state has been due to some very acute triggers.  All around me and throughout this city, from my childhood home to many places that I once felt safe are nightmarish reminders of my own grief and inner turmoil.  I now know that all this time that I spent so deeply confused, there was something I wasn't quite addressing. I thought that if I just pushed myself to face those dark places, berating myself for not pretending everything was perfectly fine, if I lasted through the insomnia and hermit tendencies, that if I just took a few five hour naps, even if I never awoke feeling refreshed or if I allowed myself to live in such close proximity to the very people who did this to me...well, I thought I would prove something.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Well, sure. But bear with me here: if Boba Fett survived his fall into the Sarlacc Pit, do you think he'd jump back in, just to prove that he could stand it? Obviously not. Why would anyone in their right mind jump back into a filthy, dangerously claustrophobic place that you can never grow out of, let alone catch a glimpse of daylight? (By the way, I am not apologizing for the Star Wars reference) I continuously forced myself back in, as if allowing myself to experience all of this was some sign of progress.  Nope. I had to get real. It's time for me to love myself enough take responsibility for my mind and well-being. Why suffer unnecessarily? Why stick around when there is a whole world out there ready for me?

So, here's Luke looking down into the (non-original, thanks George) Sarlacc monster's ready chompers.

I know that it is time for me to step away from the danger, delve into my new stage in my life and, more importantly, gain some fresh perspective on everything that happened.  Then maybe I will come back. But first I need to be safe. I just need to pull myself out from under this heavy, unnecessary burden.  I want to be separated from my truest of comfort zones, to break out of my own self made prison because honestly, this situation is slowly becoming my own undoing.  I am at a point where if I stick around, all that's in me is just gonna shrivel up and I will have no control.  And that all of the old ways that I used to cope that already aren't working for me anymore (visiting museums, local classes, trying new food...) will do nothing for me at all. Basically, I'm in a mine field and I have to get out now.  Goodness gracious.

This makes me think of the story behind Edvard Munch's The Scream. There he was just walking with his friends when suddenly everything falls apart, a breakdown right then with no warning.  His friends are fine, they're just chillin and neither Munch nor his companions had any way of foreseeing the agony of this moment. Why did it happen? What triggered it? As far as I know, it just is. One moment, you're enjoying an average day. The next, the world is loud and screaming like iron ripping through the earth, bending in every direction. Now I know that I am not alone and I have just the sliver of inner power and control that I need to get me out of my current situation. I know that I won't end up like Munch.  Besides, the world has an increasingly different awareness.

A close friend of mine shared that she feels I am dying staying here.  That hit me hard.  That meant that all of my interests, passions, talents, potential...all of me that is growing stagnant within is starting to show outwardly.  I'm usually so private that it's shocking for them to see.  And now it's not just my own struggle and journey, the people I love are affected. I'm not thriving. I'm not growing.  They can see this and they want me to leave too. It's painful for them to watch. They want to help.  They're telling me to go. Drop everything and go.

That's what is happening now. You may have noticed that my last post was noticeably more positive and optimistic. That was around the same time that I was leaving the city more often.  The last time I traveled was a year ago for five weeks and I was the happiest I can ever remember feeling. I was thriving and open. But then I came back, and I was not mentally,emotionally, spiritually, physically prepared for the return. Reality hit fast then, too.

I'm gonna take a deep breath.  I don't know about you but I needed to share this.  I wish I could draw pictures like Hyperbole and a Half.  I am such a huge fan of Allie's work. Her drawings lighten the content and make it a bit less tragic sounding.  As for me, I don't mean strike the violin so loudly.  Frankly, I am relieved.  And now I am more determined to start a new chapter (yuck, Elizabeth Gilbert style cliche) I am not sitting around idly. Except for the fact that I am typing this now ;)

Today has actually been all research about visas (Yep, trying to leave the country. Maybe I'll write about that sometime) and getting rid of all my crap. Clear space, clear mind. Simplify. All of that.

Anyway, thanks for reading.  That's my deal. Don't know when I'll post next. I really do appreciate your kind attention.

Peace, healing and love,


Just as a disclaimer, I own none of these images and each are copyrighted by their respective owners unless otherwise stated.  Clicking the image itself will lead you to its source and proper credit.  Technical!

Monday, July 14, 2014

All About Illness, Introversion, and Quality Reading

Yeah, another pic of David ;)

Where do I even begin?

Well, it's been over a year since I started this blog.  So much has changed since.  In fact, my life has changed drastically in just the last 6-7 months.  Thank goodness.  But how can Sister share all of this in one small space? Well, I can't.  But I will say that there is a lot to be proud about.  In the last chunk of time, I have ventured out far beyond my expectations and self-imposed limits.  And I find that I am just barely touching the world of potential beyond myself.  I haven't even begun to reach any sort of real limit; anything borne out of isolation and introversion is mostly from a trapped world within.  In other words, Sister has begun to live a little more fully.    

This might seem a bit deep for a fun little blog post, probably deeper than I intended when I set out to compose a new entry after several months.  But, realistically, we are all meant to continue to grow and look ahead.  I will be writing about this soon enough.  

For now, given that I presently have a terrible cold (I have lost my voice for the last few days), I have chosen to write about something very direct and meaningful that, ironically, has to do with the past.  Go figure.  

I love to read, always have and always will.  I also like to surround myself by people who enjoying reading, and I like encouraging non-readers to try again.  Goodness, I could not live without a novel or two (or seven) resting at my bedside.  If I was ever blinded, I'd pay an Englishman to read to me.  Just kidding.  Anyhow, I would not want this part of my life to be missing.  But if I did pay that Englishman, I would have everything read aloud repeatedly, from The Metamorphosis to The Courtship of Princess Leia.  For real.  

The one question I ask myself is this, how did I get to be this way? How on earth did I find a home in my world of books? and, which books did this to me??

This leads me to into a short, very short, list of books that shaped the Sister you are hearing from today.  (By the way, you've heard of all of them before, nothin original here)


1.     East of Eden by John Steinbeck   -   Age read: 19

A bit corny, doesn't do the book justice-but I like it anyway.

How could I possibly write anything of how I feel about this novel and its impact on my life?  Oh Steinbeck.  His words burst open my conscious and subconscious mind, allowing them to intermingle and find harmony in (lengthy) descriptions and real characters (who doesn't relate to a little sibling rivalry?) and then-goodness-there's the depth in his carefully, meticulously chosen details.  Still, these things really only added to my appreciation for this story.  The main meat, the real reason that I first fell in love with this beautiful novel, was that this man could so accurately put the quiet and raw, even the ugly parts of humanity into words.  Mind you, without trying to liven up the story line with beautiful people, romance or ridiculous adventure.   Just writing this, I feel like picking it up again.  

2.    Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson  -  Age read: 13

I read this novel at a point in time when I desperately wanted to be in control of my own fate.  I didn't realize this at 13 but looking back, I can still see the confused and searching person that I was starting to become, and how important it was that I read this book.  In a lot of ways I could relate to the protagonist, David Balfour.  He's a cool guy, the kind of person you could trust with a secret and know that he won't stab you in the back or sing like a canary under pressure. I will admit that I was secretly in love with him as I read the novel for the first time. No matter what happened, I could feel that he would come through the thick of it all and with the help of his brash and newfound companion, Alan.  There were times he had to brave it alone, as well.  Still, as I read the story, I imagined I was there with them, making our way through the Highlands of Scotland, fleeing through the heather. I may not have been in total control but hey, neither were they and everything worked out in the end.  

By the way...After finishing the book, for about a week or two, maybe longer, I went constantly on mini hikes, pretending that I was on my way to meet the Red Fox.  Hey, this was technically still part of my "childhood" (albeit an extremely nerdy part).  

3.    The Complete Short Stories of Dorothy Parker  -  Age read: 20

"Don't look at me in that tone of voice."

I wish I could explain why I love Ms. Parker, the sassy, sharp-tongued, viciously opinionated and "above-average" average lady.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that, at least from my perspective, she wrote what she felt comfortable expressing and wouldn't tailor her words to fit others' needs and tastes.  This did get her into trouble sometimes but no amount of hurdles kept her words from becoming immortal.  Many of her most famous lines, (i.e."Beauty is only skin deep...") are still used today.  I also found her personal life to be terribly exciting, especially her unrequited love for fellow writer, Robert Benchley.  Also, this might sound terribly superficial but many of her poems rhyme well.  What I mean is, they rhyme fluidly and without sounding in corny.  I admire that.  Now, her short stories are another matter entirely. 

 My favorite short story, hands down, is "The Waltz" (which also happens to be the very first Parker piece I ever read).  I found this story accidentally, at random as I was flipping through a large anthology of female authors (I was taking a women's literature class) looking for something good to read on the bus.  The opening lines hit me like a brick to the jaw.  Nothing had struck me quite as intensely as the way she arranged her thoughts. The general story is uncomplicated, it is about a young woman at a dance, waltzing with a young man that she can't stand dancing with.  To me, the first person narrative creates fabulously humorous touch that I immediately related to.  Interestingly, not only are the young girl's thoughts about having to dance with this boring dolt recorded, but the best part is what she actually says to her partner as he continues to step on her feet and whip her around the dance floor and, even worse/better, how she finds herself dancing repeatedly with him, practically trapped.  Thereafter, I read pretty much everything I could get my hands on that Dorothy had published.  Because I enjoyed her work so much, for part of my final project chose to read this story aloud  to my class in her "voice."  

4.    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bront
ë  -  Age read: 12

I used to lean far more towards Jane Austen (she is still part of this list, by the way) but now as I am older, I am more of a Brontë girl.  Perhaps I enjoy the darker bits of life a little more, and like a Brontë, I don't pretend to make it through the terrible times with as much beauty and grace.  Isn't that what you taught me, Charlotte?  

My uncle's wife, a die-hard reader of classic literature, shared her treasured copy with me after finding that, horror of horrors, I had never read Jane Eyre.  She nearly passed out when I told her I didn't know who Charlotte "Bront" was.  That seems so long ago, and it is now that I think about it.  

As soon as I read the first chapter, I immediately "got it."  I wholly connected to Jane.  She was my "other" sister, a fighter and an intelligent young woman with strong moral fiber. She was so cool and whenever I felt unattractive (hello puberty!) I would think of Jane and wonder why no one could see past her mousy hair and into her loving, honest heart.  Here's the topper, I was sobbing (and loudly) from literally the moment she left Mr. Rochester until the next chapter.  Yes, I read through the tears.  I just hate unrequited love.  This was the first time that I realized that a young woman didn't need to be fabulously beautiful to be loved and, by reading a novel that many of my peers would be obligated to read much later in high school and college, I was shocked to find that I could easily read classic books with older language and cultures at my own speed and for enjoyment.  

5.    The Shuttle by Frances Hodgsen Burnett   -  Age read:  15

I found this particular novel and copy at a Goodwill in West Portal.  I loved that it was an old hardback book, with an illustration of a lovely, dark-haired young woman speaking with a young man in a garden set against an embossed green book cloth.  I only realized later that it is an early edition of a novel written by the famous Frances Hodgson Burnett. The book inhabited an odd corner of my old bookcase merely as decoration, until one winter break I caught the flu and had to stay in bed for the entire two weeks.  As I rested under a mountain of blankets, patiently awaiting the next dose of flu medicine, I pored over the pages and few illustrated plates within.  I would read as long as my sinus infection (great combination with the flu) allowed me to, sometimes covering one eye in order to keep reading.  I could not put the book down.  I learned here to love lengthy tales of dysfunction and madness. There is one thing I want to stress, just as Louisa May Alcott's A Long Fatal Love Chase is completely different from Little Women (and pretty much any other book she wrote involving the March family), the same is true for The Shuttle.  This is a product of the popular Victorian romantic literature of Burnett's early career, a far cry from The Secret Garden, though there are many garden scenes and a gardener.  

Doesn't  Frances look fantastic?
As I read this novel, with a playlist of my most dramatic sounding classical music to accompany it, I found that the main Character Bettina Vanderpoel, is a young woman with a lot of integrity and business sense.  The novel begins around the time in American history when many extremely wealthy young heiresses were married off to English and European men with aristocratic titles, often ones who no longer had any wealth of their own. These unions were synonymous with transatlantic money.  Well, the main meat of the tale begins years after Betty's older yet timid, golden-haired sister was quickly married off to a total jerk (an Englishman with-surprise, surprise-a title but no dough) and hadn't been heard from since.  The story really picks up when she decides to jump on an ocean liner and find out the truth-alone.  

6.    The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson  -  Age read:  Continuously since age 12

Pressed between the pages of my terribly worn copy (that I now realize I have had for over a decade) is a yellow rose given me by someone who really, truly inspired me in ways that I am still finding out now.  This person, a friend of the family, came to visit us and gave me two very important, life-changing gifts.  First, a notebook that I still have: to write my thoughts, dreams, whatever I felt.  The second, Emily.  I was so touched by his gift that even though I thought the cover a bit plain and wasn't completely sure why he chose this book of poetry in particular, I decided to read a bit here and there over the years.  Then when I was about 19 or 20, I read her again and something clicked.  Her words came alive; I could really get a sense of who she was.  Part of this, I'm guessing, was reliant on a bit of maturity and expanded vocabulary but also something very deep that I still can't quite understand even today.  What helped was learning more of her background, her style and the very intimate way she organized her thousands of poems by creating small, hand-sewn books. This actually inspired me to try a little "book-making/binding" of my own.  I might write about that sometime.


I guess my main connection to Emily is not merely that, like her, I have a lonely, brooding streak but I have a lot to say and no need for those thoughts to come flying off the pages of my notebooks.  By now I have countless notebooks filled with "poetry" that I have only recently unearthed though I continue to add to one now.  When I flip through them, I find that that though the wording, language and focus is different from Emily Dickinson is nearly every way, I found a home in her privately uninhibited style. 

Now, I realize that my friend may have merely walked through Barnes & Noble, looking for a book of poetry that I might possibly be able to digest (even for a precocious 12 year old) if not now then later.  He probably saw Dickinson's poetry and thought, a woman, this will work, she will be able to connect to this and after flipping through a few pages, went of to buy it. I somehow have a feeling this is how it went down.  Regardless, having Emily around when times grew tough and I started to use, I mean really use, that notebook to write some of my very first lines of poetry (interestingly, my friend was and still is a poet), I found that shy, reclusive Emily was exactly the kind of person I wanted to read.  Her poetry had a permanent home on my nightstand and she remained there for years.  

7.    Persuasion by Jane Austen  -  Age read: 16

Again, slightly cheesy.  Also, I don't remember Anne being described as lookin as cute as the girl on the cover.  
This is a much softer, slower Austen novel.  And a much more personal one for me.  The copy I own was a gift given me by a late friend who opened my mind to the world of Jane Austen and Regency era England.  I am forever indebted to her for taking the time to show me that people can be generous and sincere without wanting anything from you in return. She was one of the best people I've ever known.  

As you may have guessed, reader, from this post, I have a tendency to like a little hopefulness at the end of the day but only after a terrible struggle.  Isn't that life?  Well, it's something I connect to, anyway.  But didn't I just share that this is "softer" and "slower" novel?  At first.  Basically, Anne Eliot, the protagonist and a good woman, is depressed.  Plain and simple.  I connected to this first.  She is the middle sister, the one who is always giving and is easily persuaded by the strong opinions present in her life, family and friends.  She has been pushed around and used, expected to take sides for most of her life. She was even-gasp-persuaded to push aside love.  But that comes creeping back to haunt and, thankfully, both redeem and heal her.   

What I love most about this novel is the sibling dynamic between the three sisters, Elizabeth, Anne and Mary.  None of these women are particularly exciting or fantastic individuals.  No one does anything earth-shattering or brilliant.  They are all close to normal, average ladies.   What makes Anne stand out is her ability to break out of her shell and allow let her inner light to shine bright enough to blind every strongly opinionated person in her life.  This allows Anne a brief moment to collect her bearings and slowly reacquaint herself with who she really is and what she wants out of life.  Essentially, she is able to love herself and prove that she is not someone that can be forgotten, especially not by the man she loves.  This is my favorite Austen novel.  Though much quieter, I feel the simple truth that a good person can't and shouldn't stay down long.  

Oddly, I remembered how I felt, what I was doing and what each book felt like in my hands  as it read them.  In retrospect, I still would have read these books when I did.  


Alright, so this entry ended up being much longer than I intended.  And like I said, I have a really bad cold so I've been writing this at home (which may explain the "indoorsy" quality of this post). I will, however, be writing about some of the more exciting, things I've been doing over the last several months out of doors, or at least these ones.  Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed my mind scraps here, these books have been on my mind lately and, of course, they are only a tiny fraction of all the books (and only fiction, at that) and worlds that have gotten me through some uglier times.  

Thanks for your attention, reader.


Just as a disclaimer, I own none of these images and each are copyrighted by their respective owners unless otherwise stated.  Clicking the image itself will lead you to its source and proper credit.  Someone suggested I include this :) Technical!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Time to Talk About Food

                 Did I tell you that I LOVE to cook?  I get a kick out of quality food in general and there is very little that I won't try at least once.  I have also spent a lot of time poring over cookbooks in a tiny library cubicle with stacks of them all around me.  I am all about learning new techniques and trying different flavors and textures.  To be truthfully honest, I spend quite a bit of my time in the kitchen, stirring and musing.  

                 On a related note, my ma says that for some odd reason, a lot of the "stuff" she’s had for years, especially all the strange cooking utensils and equipment that have been resting in the dark and collecting dust, are the same items that I’m finally using now.  Perhaps it is because they provide me with "free" cooking tools.  That way, I am perpetually learning something new in the kitchen.  Well, that's part of it.  Anyhow, the Romertopf clay pot is one of those freebies.  I love that thing like crazy.  I probably use it every other week and I'm always attempting a new dish.

                 Why is sister talking about a clay pot? Not long ago I made a clay pot chicken that everyone at home practically inhaled.  I love my family.  I also love that they loved my chicken. 

Still experimenting...

About that chicken...

                  I am no culinary expert or chef and, as I wrote earlier, I'm always researching and working/experimenting to learn as much as I possibly can about cooking.  Really, I just like to make food that tastes good and to cook with the body in mind.  However, on occasions when I have been able to accomplish this, folks ask me how I prepare that delicious something.   I try to explain the basic idea behind the dish as if I were speaking to my sister, who, though magnificently talented in many other areas, is a bit challenged in the kitchen.  If she asked me how on earth one would use a clay pot (you never know) and some possible tips on how to make my chicken, this is what I might say:

                It’s a given (hopefully) that we want to nourish our bodies with the best we can find.  I don’t eat a whole lot of meat so when I do, I want it to be good.  No one chicken should sacrifice its life for nothing.  The key is to find the appropriate size/weight and quality chicken (along with the spices and herbs that suit your taste) for your size clay pot.  Also, be sure to have a conventional oven. I won't be offended if you run over to the kitchen to check.

                You should even choose the sides that you want to serve along with the bird.  I sometimes prepare a hodge podge of vegetables separately,  this time I sautéed some green beans with carrots and carmelized shallots.  I spiced the vegetables with sumac, salt and pepper.  Sometimes, now that it is later in the year, I roast roots and squash with ground cumin, cloves, and coriander for a little warmth.  

TIP: A nice enjoyable way to find “side” inspiration is to grow your own vegetables or herbs (so satisfying) or to take an opportunity to get to know your local farmers market.  Peruse the different stands, be inspired by the current season’s colours, textures and flavours.  Or, if there is no farmers market accessible to you, have your vegetables delivered (i.e. Farm Fresh to You), you can also enjoy your local supermarket's produce aisle.  It doesn't matter, just have fun!

Prep/What I've Learned So Far: 

The main thing to do FIRST is to SOAK your entire clay pot.  Both the top and the bottom.  Remember that clay is porous, and all that water becomes steamy moisture that keeps your chicken from turning into sad, rubbery jerky.  I soak my clay pot for no less than 30 minutes (and that’s when I’m rushed, feel me?). 

When you unwrap the chicken, give it a rinse.  Afterwards I like to rub it inside and out with half a lemon or a lime. Or both.  

I would include a picture of a raw chicken receiving a lemon bath know.  So, in its place I thought this photo of David Bowie would suffice.  Here he reminds me not of a a raw chicken but he has a strong resemblance to a Polish hen, super inspiring...

             As for the spices and herbs I like to keep things basic but with a little twist.  As I usually do, I melted some butter.  Then I incorporated some large grain salt (either Kosher or Fleur de Sel) and a blend of spices, like Herbs de Provence (feel free to use a regular poultry seasoning as well), a pinch of chili flakes, a little black pepper.  I also ran out to the garden for some fresh herbs and, in a fit of inspiration, picked a sprig of lavender, plucked off all the flowers and threw them into  the melting butter, just for fun.  Add enough to give the chicken a little kick but still let it do its thing. 

            I packed that chicken in with an apple, a handful of prunes (I usually use some dried apricots too) soaked in white wine or brandy, then some halved green onions and a smal orange.  I poured some of the butter mixture inside and took turns pouring the butter on the outside of the chicken and under the skin, and rubbing some more salt (muy importante friends, more salt on the outside = mo crisp), herbs de Provence, pepper and a dash of marjoram in those same places. 

Final Words

              The last itty bitty thought I’d like to share is that I hate dry chicken breasts.  Even writing that was gross.  More often than not, when I order/buy roasted chicken the breasts are dry enough to make you choke (something that actually happened to my sis at Stow Lake, it was a particularly hot day and she hadn't had enough water to drink.  You can imagine how uncomfortable the poor family sitting nearest our table felt as her body literally rejected that dry chicken).  

               At home we prefer dark meat so I usually flip the chicken and roast it chest side down.  This is definitely a personal preference but I will say that the entire chicken is moist and lovely as it releases its own juices that blend with the “prune” wine.  I also add the gizzards in with the chicken for those that like the neck and liver, etc.  As my brother-in-law says, "You gotta have the flavour."  

Avoid this at all costs
If you've persevered and lovingly respected the sacrifice this chicken made, pop the covered clay pot into a cold oven, set it for 425 F and roast for about an hour and twenty, depending on your oven.  

NOTE: Some might raise the issue of reaching the right internal temperature and all I can say is that I have never used a meat thermometer yet we are all still alive.  I usually roast the chicken until it feels like the time is right to take it out, that's when I take a knife and pierce the leg to see if the juices are clear. I then add about 5-10 minutes, give or take, just to be sure.  Additionally, towards the end you can always bump up the oven temp if you really want a crispy skin situation.  

Be sure to let the clay pot cool before you wash it (NO SOAP, just scalding hot water and a stiff scrub brush).  True, this all takes a little time and love but I always feel that food is not just fuel, it is also sensory and for enjoyment.  In time we may all achieve gastronomic intuition. 

And, in so many words, that is what I would tell my little sis. 

I hope this inspires you to consider using that tool/appliance that you've been neglecting or simply haven't experimented with--you just never know.  


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Costume Fever

On a side note...

           This semester, I decided to take a theater makeup and costume class.  For the last few weeks I've been designing costumes and applying stage makeup and, though I love my library technology, I have a chance to exercise another level of creativity that I am not always able to tap into. 

            Sometimes it ends up that I have to take a creative class, even if it's critical thinking, just to keep those juices flowing; it's a bit like taking an exercise course each semester simply because you know you won't have the time to work out in between classes and/or work unless you have a specific time allotted for it. Creatively, that's often how it works for me.  As for this class specifically, it's got a bit of everything that I love: machine and hand sewing, a strange theater makeup kit that includes a "bruises and abrasions" palette (oddly something I've always wanted to learn to apply), a little fashion history, some sketching and designing, and we get to read, analyze and research beautiful plays.

The amazing Edith Head, famous for her impeccable fashion and film costume designs.  

         This class is so fun! I have always been the kind of person who LOVES visually arresting costumes in films, plays, opera, and ballet (you may remember my previous posts The Look and The Look Part IIand over time I've even developed a habit of doodling "costume ideas" a little here and there based on what I'm currently reading, usually in place of serious chemistry notes.  I heard about this class about a year ago and I finally gave in to my secret desire to enroll.  The makeup aspect isn't really my forte but I'm finding that it is like nothing I've ever done, so every class lesson is a fresh new learning experience.  This is especially true when the makeup is based on something that seems simple but becomes a humorous challenge (i.e. applying old age makeup), I really love that.  Even better, my classmates are all just as excited as I am.  

Late Victorian fashion plate

           Right now we're working on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, I love this play and have read it a few times already so coming up with ideas has been very interesting.  Because the content is so familiar, it's like putting together an outfit for a friend or sibling.  Next, however, is a play I've never read before, Blood Wedding by Frederico Garcia Lorca.  I already enjoy reading his poetry but only recently have I learned that he was a playwright as well.  I'm taking my time reading through most of his plays, partly out of enjoyment and curiosity but also to get acquainted with his style.  His plays have a strikingly tragic, musical quality and the language is complex and a bit mesmerizing. There is a lot to imagine and, of course, use to design.  I can't wait to finish Blood Wedding and find out how the play ends. We will see...

            If I get my beginner's (emphasis on "beginner" ;) design sketches done soon, I'll try to share a few pictures of my "plans" for The Importance of Being Earnest in an upcoming post.

            For now, here is a picture of one of my all-time favourite film costumes.  Katharine Hepburn wore this crazy gown in "Bringing Up Baby" (also one of my favourite films of the 1930's).  This costume has stuck with me since the first time I watched the film on VHS, I must have been 9 years old.  For one thing, it's hilarious.   The veil is partly made of metallic wire ribbon which swings around with her every move.   The whole outfit is supposed to reflect her character's airy personality; all her other costumes are similiar,  ridiculously puffy and over the top.  The best part of the scene in which she wears this is an exasperated Cary Grant trying desperately to be serious (and, of course, the inevitable wardrobe malfunctions).  Check it out if you haven't seen it, you just might love it.

(Costume design by Howard Greer)

Here's the scene (might as well, right?):



Saturday, September 14, 2013

On Movie Sirens and Ponchos...

             I feel that loving yourself involves accepting and growing and groovin with all the different facets of who you are.  One facet that often seems to take over is the physical.  That is, the skin you live in and present to the world.  But, it really is only skin draped over personality over a lot of inner challenges and strengths.  I've been thinking about this for a while, just tossing this and similar thoughts about in my mind.

And let me tell you, it's been both humorous and sobering. 

Or rather, the nucleus...

I think back to my own childhood and teen years and all of the pre/pubescent crap that we all go through.  

For my part, this was the experience. 

When I was just a little kid watching old movies late into the night, this is what I thought/dreamed/believed I would look like as an adult:

Jane Russell
Cyd Charisse

Instead, for a long time—and I mean long—I looked sort of like this:

Ugly Betty (Want to hear something totally gross? I actually own a pair of Dansko shoes identical to the ones she's wearing.)
            As a little girl, I thought that I would develop sophisticated high cheekbones, jet black hair and really long Cyd Charisse legs (forgetting that the rest of the women in my family are 5' and shorter) and so I waited in quiet, hopeful suspense for the day I would look into the mirror and be transformed.  Well, things didn't quite turn out that way.  Over the years I stopped waiting and slowly settled into the brown sweats of disappointment.  How dramatic!  No hourglass figure, no smoldering gaze...I didn't even have the self-esteem to catch on to a little reality.  Now I look back at those years as mostly confusing and transitional: the "frump years", if you will. 

I have to say, though, I really love that poncho and right now I'm having a hard time understanding what's wrong with it...

              But that is what I've been thinking about. A while ago, in the middle of class one day, I thought, "You know, I really like who I am.  I love the way I look.  I want to be happy with who I am!"  Such an enormously positive thought for me.  Who cares if I wear brown sweats (girl's gotta be comfortable).  The real point is whether I value myself enough to feel amazing within and let everything else come from there.  I just so happen to embrace comfort in all its healthy forms.  And there you have it, the sweats are moot (FYI, I don't actually own a pair of brown sweats, but I think the concept is good for the point I'm trying to make).  At the end of the day I really do love what I've got even on this one level of who I am.  My eyes, nose, my hair that fights the fog, especially my soccer player’s calves and broad shoulders are all straight from where I come from.  What could be any more exciting than that?  

              In fact, I take those gorgeous women that I used to want to look like more as fashion inspiration, if anything.  I don't have to look like them to feel comfortable in my own skin.  Why should I devalue myself by comparing who I am with women that were rarely photographed in colour?  Can you imagine mentally punching yourself in the gut every time you pass a mirror or watch a music video?  I had to realize that all the good or bad I carry within becomes the energy I project out to the world.  We must be easier on ourselves and others.  I'm learning to take a deep breath and relax, remembering that some of the most beautiful people I know have an inner joy that touches on everything they do and everyone they meet feels their warmth.  That is the beauty that lasts.  


P.S. For those that are interested to know what happened with that fabric class I took ages ago, I chose The Great Gatsby costumes to present.  It was a combination of "very little time left" and "I just love them suits" that led to this decision and, honestly, by the time I gave my 4 minute presentation (with visuals!) I almost went overtime.  Everyone could sense my enthusiasm, if you know what I mean.   

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"The Lowly Snapshot"

             Sometimes I wonder if I should take more photographs of what I see.  Lately, inspiration to share my experiences has not come easily which is surprising given where I live.  San Francisco, like most major cities, is notorious for having a lot of strange people, places and things that saunter through the streets each day.  Though after a while, you become a little immune to the convention of oddities.
              Just the other day I was walking near the main library and I passed a tall, grim-faced businessman wearing an eye patch and seconds later a Rastafarian dwarf carrying a huge stereo in a cart looking totally at ease, not to say there isn't a lot of beauty there either.  I think the truly strange bit is that none of this phased me, not to say that there aren't other things that bother me as I walk about the city (of which there are plenty), these just weren't in the total extreme category.  In fact, they livened up my day.  Still, I wondered then as I do now if I could even have captured the essence of that moment with a camera alone.  Probably not.  I am not a very skilled photo taker so when I see the work of very skilled photographers and visit photo exhibitions in galleries and museums I cannot help but sit in real awe of what they see and deem worthy of bringing out the camera.  In fact, over time I have collected a small library of old photography books at used bookstores, most of them I purchased under $5.  I was looking through them with all of these curious thoughts in mind and I thought that my collection so far might be nice to share with you.

               Instead of slamming just one mass of photos in one post, I have included a choice few from a small paperback called "The Portrait Extended" that was sold at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Illinois in 1980.  I found it at Bird and Beckett bookstore in Glen Park.  It is a compilation of different "photo essays" created by a small group of artists whose main medium was photography.   The whole theme of the exhibition was the purpose behind taking photos.  The introduction explains this saying,  

"This is the first exhibition[...]which deals specifically with the underlying motive of photography: most cameras are used not to make "Photographs" but to record the images of the people, places, and things which make up our lives. "  

These photos will often speak for themselves. So, instead of looking at these seemingly ordinary pictures and asking "What is this a picture of?" we would instead ask, "What is this picture about?" I really like that thought and try to use it when I look through this and other photo books, as well as exhibitions and family photos.  
             This has also given me some perspective about some of the mainly digital photographers today.  They are not limited by the fantastically open ended results of film and are often so focused on technique and precision that there is no message whatsoever (this is probably why I am not inclined to hang a crystal clear photograph of a daisy on my wall, if you know what I mean).  I still see the benefits of modern technique and even own a digital camera, but in this context, I prefer to think of the story in a photograph.  

             Here are a few of my favourites.  I have sometimes dreamed into them, imagining myself in the picture, even wondering what kind of photo essay I would have created with the exhibition's theme in mind (perhaps that's something to work on now...).  While you look, try to think about what these photos are really "about":

1. Memory Warp II by Esther Parada

A beautiful 30x30" silver print showing records kept by the artist's father (an insurance salesman) along with certain passages from the Talmud, all set against a picture of him before he died.   Essentially, parts of the figure is montaged with the papers, showing his multi-faceted identity.  

2.  Postcards/Fathers and Sons by Meridel Rubenstein

There something about this print that I love, I think it has to do with the fact that first, I wonder who took the photograph and I also ask why the two brothers/fathers from New Mexico look slightly annoyed in this picture.  The only reason I find this strange is the postcards that frame them show that they wrote each other often and seem to have been very close; sort of symbolizing the affectionate inner person.  They also had a very deep connection with the land.  

3.  Aspects of the True Self by Mark Berghash

These are the most intriguing.   Berghash took serial portraits of  individual men and women.  Each photograph is made up of very subtle emotional responses and changes that show in the subject's faces.  He asked the subject to think about his/her mother, father, siblings, children, self in the past, present and future.  Each time he did, he left the room and allowed the subject to take the photo alone so they wouldn't feel self-conscious.  I think I want to try this sometime.

4.  Letters To My Father (Letter #4 and #10) by Alex Traube

Traube's prints are some of my favourites.  Generally, he paired photos of himself and/or (most of the time) with family, and left candid, hand-written thoughts expressing how he felt about different memories/relationships. I also love the movement in each photograph.   

While I'm talking about the average photo, I wonder if-while we're in the present-we realize what impact our own everyday snapshots will have on future generations or even the meaning they may have for us in retrospect.  

Totally mind-boggling...

Anyhow, I hope you enjoy all of these photos as much as I take pleasure in sharing them with you, reader.