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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 »

Gifts From a Year

I’m going about this New Year’s business all wrong, I know — aren’t I supposed to leave 2014 in the dust and head boldly into 2015? I guess it’s taken until the end of the holidays to give me enough clarity and calm to see the lessons of 2014.

The thing about insights is that they always seem to carry over into the next year or two, or even three — it’s a little like going deeper and deeper into the ocean, one strata of pressure at a time. (I’d love to read a book analyzing the life cycle of insights, actually — does anyone have any suggestions?) So perhaps it’s okay to reckon a little later with what a year has taught me, now that the dust has cleared and I can see a little more clearly.

I think last year was the first where I realized just what an anxious little human I can be. I’m not talking clinical anxiety, but the garden everyday mental static that can really pull and tug at your peace of mind. Last year I felt such a lot of it — over so many seemingly out-of-control areas of my life that interlocked with one another — and for the first time I felt sometimes I just couldn’t deal because I was so overwhelmed.

The crazy thing was that so many of the changes and circumstances were so positive — love, family, creative opportunities — but there was just so much unexpected stuff alongside it all that it made me worry and fret to the point of not enjoying anything.

I forgot where I read this, but I remember reading somewhere that physiologically speaking, from the body’s perspective, anxiety and excitement resemble each other so much that they are almost identical biological responses — there’s the elevated heartbeat, the shortness of breath, a tightening in the chest. The biggest difference is the mental story we lay over it. Excitement is a kind of burst of wild anticipation of joy, opportunity and happiness; anxiety is an anticipation of failure, calamity, catastrophe. One response is joy-based, but the other arises from fear.

When I read this, something inside me clicked: a lot of my anxiety was fear of fucking everything up. I was facing a lot of wonderful life changes but I was practicing for failure already in my imagination; I had no faith in the resilience and endurance of happiness.

I had learned this fear early on; I’ve written in my newsletter about growing up with an anxious parent, and I had, despite many of my best efforts, internalized this tendency as well. In a way, this humbled me. I think many of us fear becoming our parents on some level, but if the New Age adage of “what you resists, persists,” then here was my comeuppance to the arrogance to think I could escape my familial legacy. It gave me a sense of compassion, though — for myself and for my parents, because it’s not easy to escape anxiety. And for myself, because on some level, it made me feel better. Of course I’d be so anxious in the face of such dramatic emotional, financial and creative tidal changes happening all at once! Those are the instincts I inherited, the quickest tools to draw upon when faced with the nervous tiger that is anxiety.

Anxiety, too, reflects a strange, almost dysmorphic relationship to time. By projecting your past fears into a future of failure and disaster, you’re psychologically existing in two temporal dimensions at the same time…past and future, duh! Your poor brain is taking input from one and putting it into the other. Of course, what gets squeezed out of the equation? The present moment, which is where gurus, psychologists and all sorts of wise types say is the only real time we truly possess.

Ironically enough, getting back to the present moment during an anxiety attack is one of the few ways I’ve found to stave it off. Luckily, my other familial legacy is Buddhism, and meditation does help, even the cheat-y kinds of meditations I do. Yoga helps, as does doing anything physically challenging. A beautiful walk, a heartfelt conversation, making art, riding horses or otherwise spending time with creatures with a gift for being in the moment — they help to keep your attention in the here and now. Which helps, honestly.

I also think mental states like anxiety can be triggered or exacerbated by hunger, thirst and being tired, so sometimes I have to be hypervigilant about making sure I’m not hungry, thirsty or sleepy. Sometimes I just tell myself I need to make it through the day, the hour, the minute — not every action I take has to have its long-term effects accounted for before I take it. Sometimes it is okay, and human, and real, to be fragile and vulnerable and to not have the answers or all the ducks lined up in a row. We all do our best, and hope that’s enough.

+++++

The nice thing about the past few weeks is that life has gotten very quiet, and it’s been perfect — everything is a lot calmer and I feel so much less mental and emotional static with more “white space” in my schedule and mind. I don’t doubt that the nervous tiger will be back — I don’t think there is any cure, and to hope for one is almost like inviting anxiety to have a permanent seat at the dinner table — but it is nice to hit it at the ebb point. Hope everyone’s New Year is proceeding beautifully!

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Posted by Kat Asharya in Soul + Wisdom on January 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

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