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A Craving for Clothes

camillebidaultwadd 

I have fashion on the brain these days. Not in a musing, semi-intellectual art-nun kind of way, but like how when you’re a little kid and you’re like “I want red shoes! I want a ruffly blue dress!” Want, want, want, want, want!

Maybe it’s because during pregnancy I felt like I couldn’t enjoy clothes as much as I usually do. It wasn’t like I had it bad during my baby-incubation months — my style always gravitated towards a silhouette with a looser top and a tighter bottom, so I wore a surprising amount of pre-pregnancy clothes for much of my pregnancy. (I got away with my regular jeans and pants with the help of makeshift waist expanders made of hair elastics until my third trimester, when I caved and got two pairs of maternity jeans. So that was the extent of my fashion accommodation: maternity jeans from H&M, because I hated the idea of spending money on clothes I couldn’t wear forever.)

Now, though, the craving for clothes is emotional, almost spiritual even. It’s a pattern of mine — I daydream about what clothes I’ll buy for a season in times of identity flux, a way to mark off a new stage of existence. I’ll even dream about clothes at night unconsciously. (I’m vaguely mortified to think about how many of my dreams are about shopping for things, and how amazingly visceral and pleasurable they are. I once dreamed about buying perfume and smelling the most exquisite orange blossom and jasmine scent in this dream…and now I’m like WHERE CAN I FIND THIS FRAGRANCE IN REAL LIFE?!! It was pure beauty! But I digress.) 

It’s very basic to use clothes to feel out the changing parameters of identity, at least for me. I used to love to figure out my first-day-of-school outfit, taking time and care in figuring out my year’s persona, like “cartoon heroine glamour” or “English garden party grunge” or whatever. (Those were legit fashion statements I tried to make during my high school and college years, though honestly, I probably just wore the same style year after year: striped shirts, black tights, boots, army parka.) Sometimes I think identity is sort of a tension between who you want to be and who you really are — i.e. a pas de deux between self-acceptance and life-as-creative-act — and style is a visual, tactile, concrete and a sensuous way to figure out those boundaries. 

It was easier to figure out and play with this tension when I was younger, and experimenting with your self is just part of, well, youthfulness. But this new stage of my life — being a mama, yet somehow trying to integrate it with my past artsy-adventuress self — feels tricksier. I look at the list of things I feel drawn to or am intrigued by, and it makes no sense. It’s a mishmash: Nike Pegasus 83s, leather totes from Madewell and Everlane, pink and grey striped sweaters from Uniqlo, mustard yellow Vans Sk-8 high tops, a navy blue cotton lawn dress, an artsy-looking slate grey cocktail dress. Some things I hope embrace the changes in my life; others are kind of pure denial. I’m inspired by random things: Sofia Coppola in her Cali/married to Spike Jonze days (pictured below), stylist Camille Bidault Waddington (pictured above), a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker taking her daughters to school. Again, mishmash.

I do find a pleasure in dressing my baby. Contrary to what you’d think for a former fashion-y obsessive, I actually haven’t bought much for him — my baby inherited a lot of baby clothes from older cousins, and I’m too practical to lay out for things that will only be outgrown in a few months. (I also figure the baby is too wee to care much about hand-me-downs now, so I should take advantage while I can.) I love the innocence of children’s clothes: rounded collars, happy colors, tiny charming embroidered details. I don’t want to match my baby, nor do I want to dress like a child — but I do find myself interested a kind of sincere, innocent joy and happiness in clothing now. 

Finding that — and integrating that with my past fashion selves — is a bit of a challenge, though. One of the strange existential challenges is delving into this whole new life while often missing my past life and self. Perhaps I’m looking to clothes as a concrete, sensuous way to do this — dressing as a way to honor my past but still accommodate my present reality.

Truth is that I don’t really know how to dress anymore, or what to dress for: my body is still changing every week, my spirits soar then flag depending on how much sleep I’ve gotten and how hormonal I feel, sometimes I get out of the house and other days all I do is sit on the sofa and read and watch TV and feed my baby. But I do know the days I “make an effort” tend to be better — fashion as ballast during a tumultuous, beautiful and challenging time in my life.

The other day, while the baby was sleeping, I dug up the storage bins of clothing I put away for the season, or when I was pregnant and couldn’t fit into them anymore. I ended up culling about a third of my wardrobe — things that I knew I wouldn’t fit into for awhile, or seemed too jejune or just “not me.” But who is “me” now? I don’t know. Part of my reasoning for axing some clothes was “That’s not how a new mama facing down 40 dresses,” which I found weird and interesting. I’m smart enough to know that being a mother doesn’t mean I need to dress in capri pants, a fanny pack and some little button-down shirt — but I do need to think practically (spit-up is a new challenge) and I do want a little dignity and grown-up-ness. 

Of course, as I write this, it’s 5 in the morning and I’m up after feeding the baby and I’m wearing sweatpants, a t-shirt and a hoodie. So maybe my cravings will remain simply a craving for the time being. Or at least a way to dream while awake. Which is what great clothes let us do, of course, no matter where we are in life.

Other things:

  • I’m experimenting with using my Tumblr to keep track of what I’m listening to, reading, watching, etc. I never quite figured out how to use Tumblr or what it was for, but it’s so easy to use on my phone, and ease is pretty much the crowning criteria of nearly all things these days.

 

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Fashion on April 26th, 2015 | No Comments »

Kim Gordon: Girl in a Band, Patron Saint of Stylish Art Damage, Beacon of Post-Partum Comfort and Inspiration

kimgSo guys! Guess what? I had a baby! Yes, I was pregnant for over half of last year and then gave birth this February.

Pregnancy and birth were experiences I chose not to be public about as they were happening for various reasons. Which is funny, because in the past I’ve blogged about things as personal as my love of obnoxiously patterned underwear, grand makeout experiences, horrible exes and other revealing things. There was something a bit sacred about pregnancy and birth for me –though people write beautifully and honestly on the Internet about these things all the time. I guess these experiences involved other people and relationships to enough of a intimate degree that I felt it wouldn’t be fair to them to publicly document them. Writing on the Internet: what a strange beast it’s become!

Suffice it to say that giving birth and becoming a parent is a life-changing, beautiful thing — as well as really stressful, heart-rending, soul-shattering and strangely fragile-making in the weirdest ways. More later? I’m still feeling it out how to write about these things without feeling like I’m compromising something, or somehow invading someone else’s privacy.

Instead I’ll talk about Kim Gordon’s new memoir, Girl in a Band, which I managed to finish in a post-partum haze of sleep deprivation, post-operative recovery and oh, yeah, learning to care for a newborn. Just the fact that I finished the book should be testament to how good it is and how much I enjoyed it — it’s surprisingly vulnerable, really smart and thoughtful about art, life and other things, and Gordon’s writing is both minimalist and often poetic. It’s like if Joan Didion joined a post-punk band in the early 80s — there’s something kindred between their two voices, kind of a bone-dry precision, understated emotion and wry, almost cutting sense of observation, with vague intimations of superiority. And the name-dropping is pretty superlative. (Favorite bits include a cameo by Keanu Reeves and learning how Chuck D did his guest part on “Kool Thing.”)

(My favorite Sonic Youth album is actually Experimental Trash, Jet Set and No Star, believe it or not. I think it’s a nice combo of their DGC poppier things and their earlier art-damaged plus-avant stuff.)

Kim sits at a pretty cool intersection of art-damage, fashion, punkishness and bougie boho, so her book is peppered with discursive art talk, personal revelations, proclamations of hot vs. not and bits of gossip. My favorite parts are the fashion talk — viva X-Girl! — and her thoughts on motherhood and rock ‘n roll. Some people found the discussion of her marriage’s breakdown fascinating but mostly it made me sad and uncomfortable.

But the most resonant parts for me — the ones where I felt Kim’s thoughts echo mine in a kind of choral harmony — was reading what she wrote about New York, and the pleasure in seeing familiar bits of my NYC past remixed into someone else’s narrative. Nikita, Liquid Sky, Other Music, Lafayette Street, Tramps, Luna Lounge, the Cooler, buying shoes on 8th Street: it’s just fun to be reminded of these places in my past, of a time of wide-open, tremulous possibility, when self and identity seemed improvisational and deliciously malleable. You grow up hearing you can be anything you want, and for me, Kim Gordon and a million other people, NYC was the perfect palette of experiences to make that happen.

It was poignant and almost bittersweet to read Girl in a Band and be reminded of a time of libertine freedom, especially at a time in my life when I’ve given over my time, body and attention to caring for a tiny vulnerable being with no means of communication outside of cries and squalling. The weight of that responsibility — and that all-encompassing wave of love as well — is almost crushing in its intensity, and there are moments when it’s dizzying in its radicalism. I’m bleary-eyed late at night now and it’s not because I was out late kicking it up at some club, rock show or art thing — it’s because the baby won’t fall asleep and wants to feed every two hours, so I’m plopped on the sofa surrounded by blankets, croissant-shaped nursing pillows and burp cloths, holding him in my arms and hoping he’ll pass out soon so I can grab a morsel of sleep.

But Kim Gordon’s book proved an odd beacon of comfort as well — at a time when I feel faraway from my past self most, it’s nice to read about a woman who became a mother and managed to hold onto (or maybe recover) her creative drive, intellectual adventurousness, stylish brio and thirst for experience. It’s not really “having it all” — a phrase I’ve come to despise in a way — but it is living with the fullest sense of yourself as possible, which is something I think we all want, parents or otherwise.

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Art + Culture on March 23rd, 2015 | 2 Comments »

On Morning and Evening Routines

I have this routine I do in the morning now. I wake up, and after bumbling around in a bit of a fog, I settle down and I stretch my neck. (Specifically, for all you bodywork types, I stretch my scalenes, which are the ropelike muscles on the side of the poor apparatus that has the burden of holding your thick, heavy skull up.) Then I meditate for a few moments (often doing my cheat-y meditations) and then do a bit of cheat-y yoga, too. And then I make a cup of something caffeinated and then settle down to write, whether it’s on my personal creative work or my job assignments.

The writing is the work, of course, but leading up to it is important. The routine is what launches me into the writing; it’s like a nice little platform or foundation for the day. Interestingly enough, the most important part of the routine are the neck stretches, not the meditation or the caffeine. (Those things are definitely nice, though!) I can truncate or skip the beverage or the Yoda mindfulness stuff, but if I skip the neck stretches, all hell breaks loose in terms of my day’s output. It’s a weird, pedestrian yet quasi-mystical thing, this morning routine.

It sounds very high-minded when I write it down, but honestly it is actually super-practical: the stretches and yoga are to counteract the beginnings of carpal tunnel I began experiencing late last year. (A lot of hand/wrist pain is related to very tight scalenes and sunken chest muscles, apparently.) A massage therapist I went to suggested to stretch out my super-tight neck muscles morning and evening — and yes, it makes a difference for my particular body. I started doing the neck stuff, and then just plastered on other things that felt nice, experimenting with the order, etc. And lo and behold — morning routine! And I didn’t even make a resolution to find one! Score!

But I’ve always had a fascination with people’s routines for the morning and evening. There’s something so personal and intimate about how people begin and wind down their days and evenings to me — something beautifully ordinary and yet very idiosyncratic. I love hearing how people deal with the practicalities of food, eating, caffeine and exercise while still trying to incorporate their creative and intellectual passions into their lives.

There’s something both humbling and inspiring about hearing how legit creative geniuses start their day, and there’s no predicting who does what in the morning. James Joyce apparently would get up at 10 but stay in bed, breakfasting and occasionally talking with his tailor, until 11 or so. Then he would get up, shave and then play the piano before he got down to the business of creating modernist prose. (This makes me feel better when I try to wake early to work on my novel and suddenly instead decide that clearing out my magazine piles and restringing my guitar are a better use of my time.)

Others are intimidatingly productive. Ben Franklin was a famously busy polymath, but found an hour every morning nevertheless to read while naked, a practice he called “air baths.” Le Corbusier started early with 6am gymnastics and painting, while Haruki Murakami gets up at 4am, writes for 5-6 hours, then goes running in the afternoon. Twyla Tharp mentions in her book The Creative Habit that she takes a cab to the gym hella early every morning to work out with a trainer to start her day. The important part of the routine isn’t the workout, it’s the cab, she specifies, which I loved.

Interestingly enough, there isn’t as much info out there on evening routines as there is for mornings — maybe because evenings feel more intimate, I’m not sure. I’m trying to find the evening equivalent of my morning routine, but surprisingly, that’s proved more elusive, and I haven’t quite settled on anything yet. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t quite figured out what the purpose of the nighttime routine is. If morning routines are to create idylls of quiet and focus, or perhaps momentum and energy — depending on who you are and what you need — then what are evenings for? To wind down? Empty your mind? Relax? Set yourself up for the next day? (For me, it should probably involve squelching the impulse to squeeze more out of the day.)

I haven’t figured out what I particularly need from my nighttime routine yet. But it’s cool. Hopefully it’ll happen as organically as the morning routine did. If there’s anything I’ve learned, routines that bookend your day are a unique extension of the person practicing them — and you can’t top-down force uniqueness, of course…it’s an inside-out thing.

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Creativity + Writing on February 4th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

On a Lighter Note

+ People have been onto the animation of Don Hertzfeldt for awhile now but I’ll be totally honest — I actually had never encountered his work until.he did a credits sequence for “The Simpsons” that was probably the most deeply weird 2 minutes of TV I’d ever seen. (I put it up there with the midget dancing scene in “Twin Peaks.”)

Hertzfeldt does deceptively simple-looking hand-drawn animation, coupled with surreal strokes of humor and strange, naked neurotic emotions; his work’s been at Sundance a bazillion times over the years, and he’s got a bit of a cult going on. I had never really seen it — animation is kind of its own thing, and certainly during my film school years it was never quite treated on the same level as, you know, “cinema.”

But I was aimlessly browsing Netflix’s streaming movies one night, though, and finally checked out Hertzfeldt’s feature “It’s Such a Beautiful Day.” I kind of fell in love: his work starts off funny, off-beat and quirky, but as it proceeds and the main character unravels mentally, the story becomes poignant and even tragic. Even though he draws stick figures, Hertzfeldt’s work is so human — so much about the frailty of human existence, and how unhappy we can be. In the end, not a light, fun breezy story, but a deeply resonant, sad one.

+ We went to see “Inherent Vice” the other night and while it’s not the most cohesive work, or even P.T. Anderson’s best film — I think for sentimental reasons I will always love “Magnolia,” though I have to see if it holds up over the years — I still mightily enjoyed it. Sometimes a movie is a well laid-out architecture of story events and ideas, and sometimes it’s just a shaggy dog running from one sprinkler to the next — this film’s a shaggy dog and an oddly loveable one. I really enjoyed Joaquin Phoenix doing a funnier, lighter role, and that second-to-last showdown scene between him and Josh Brolin’s square cop character is kind of worth the whole ride for me. Oh, and any film with Can on the soundtrack = aces!

+ Oh! And I wanted to tell everyone about the best book I read last year, which I should’ve wrote about last year, but I was busy being anxious and emotional. And in truth, I didn’t read it until the end of the year, anyway.

But! Now I’m telling everyone I know: Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings is a deeply genius read. Not an easy one, by any means — just to give you a sense, James has cited Faulkner as an influence on this book, and the multiple narrators and many layers of history and politics make it a dense, sometimes difficult book, which can get a little tangled, too, in the Jamaican patois James uses for some of the characters.

It starts off detailing the patchwork of circumstances and characters surrounding the attempted assassination of Bob Marley — still a very shadowy incident in Jamaican history — but then leaps off into cocaine-era NYC. But after awhile, you find your groove and it’s so worth the ride. I put down the book feeling hopeful, devastated, as if I’d time-traveled into the past and had an eagle-eye view to connect the butterfly effect of one historical almost-event with the sociopolitics of a seemingly unconnected time. Read it!

Anyway, I went on a big James kick after finishing Seven Killings and read his previous book, The Book of Night Women, a historical novel about a female slave on a sugar plantation in 19th century Jamaican. That might be a better place to start if you want to read James: the story is more compressed and linear, though again, it’s mostly written in patois — which you quickly get the hang of, really, but it takes a bit of time. But it’s also a brilliant book: brutal in its unflinching portrayal of slaver’s physical and emotional violence, yet beautifully rich and unexpectedly tender in its characterizations. Seriously: Best. Writer. Ever. Seriously!

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Art + Culture on January 27th, 2015 | No Comments »

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