Sunday, July 27, 2014

Issue 21: Garden Heart

Oh Comely - Issue 21

The latest issue of Oh Comely is out now and somehow it's Issue 21. Time Flies. The issue is garden themed and I wrote a piece about my childhood garden, rural upbringings, nostalgia and green pastures, the claustrophobia of cities, all of these things. There are interviews about rooftop gardens and bonsai trees and allotments. There's a piece about Lady Charlotte Guest and a great interview with Dan-Rad. He's so tiny and delightful. I am very fond of him.

There are also a couple of my older pieces up online if you can't get hold of Issue 21. I hadn't re-read them since they were published and it was interesting (admittedly, probably only to me) to see how my writing has developed over the past few years. It doesn't feel like it most of the time but progress happens slowly.

Butter Chicken - This remains one of my favourites. Who needs dignity??

Tantric Dance

Irrational Crushes

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Sound

"Stevie Nicks was the first woman I ever heard say she had chosen not to have children because she cared more about her career. The first that ever warned me men might not like it if there are things more important to me than they are. The first that ever said that that was fine: sometimes, you have to leave them behind. Wherever she goes, she surrounds herself with girls. “I can’t imagine you in a bathing suit,” someone says in an interview for Rolling Stone, when Stevie says she likes to play in the pool in her backyard. “Yeah, well, you never will,” Stevie says. “There is never - ever - a man in the backyard. If there is, he is banished to the front of the house.” Men don’t get to look at Stevie Nicks unless Stevie Nicks wants men to look at Stevie Nicks. In her songs, even when she’s talking about how she has to change, she proclaims her power, her ability, her worth. She is a queen, she is a witch, she is a dragon, she is in control. She isn’t polite. She’s competitive. She’s bossy. She claimed all the things the men around her claimed — she spent as much money as they spent, had as much sex as they had, was as reckless as they were, stood at the front of the same stage — and never questioned that that was her right. The world tells us women are there for men, but despite all the boyfriends and the jokes about how she’s so easy and the sex-symbol status, she isn’t there for men at all. She does it without ever giving in to the men that dismiss her. She’s emotional. She’s dramatic. She raises her voice as much as she can. She thinks she’s pretty, she thinks she’s a star, and when her fans crowd up to the edge of the stage, crazy, she welcomes them, with open arms. She revels in it. She’s too much of a girl for you? She revels in it."

Stevie Nicks is a queen, a witch, a dragon

To Do List: Learn this dance.

Melancholy goddess of forever.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer Don't Last Forever

So I'm back from a blissful fortnight in Italy. I may or may not have had to be dragged onto the plane kicking and screaming. It is hard to say goodbye to blue skies and empty days and exemplary food. I read a ton and caught up on some much needed sleep and wallowed in the sun from sensibly shaded coves. There were olive groves and medieval cities. Real life struggles to compete.

The Duomo in Siena. 100% excellent Catholic insanity. I didn't take any photos inside but, man, it is great.

Obviously I didn't schedule any posts during my absence. Partially because I was (am) busy and lazy, partially because I am struggling to maintain my enthusiasm for blogging. The blog is dead, long live the (micro) blog? I mean, I think it is fair to say that blogging is over or, at least, that blogging has peaked. The age of the blog has passed. Email newsletters are pretty good. I am still online but it is becoming harder and harder to find the time to blog and follow individual blogs. Feedly, as much as I like it, is no Google Reader. The death of Google Reader killed the blogging star, or was is dead before then? Perhaps it is just my personal apathy. It is a hot night. I hope it is just me. I like the blogging community and I like the space and flexibility blogs. I don't want to blog for the blind sake of it but occasionally there are things I want to write but blogging is about being actively engaged and is there any point in blogging sporadically? I don't know, I don't know. This is no kind of retirement but it has been concerning me.

On a more positive note, some Italian recommendations:

  • Oltrarno: I have been to Florence many times but somehow I have never stayed south of the river. This was a hideous mistake! I never want to stay anywhere else. Bloody hell, Florence is packed with tourists in July but the Oltrarno is a (relative) relief. It is quieter, there are silent shaded streets and beautiful piazzas and there are many excellent places to eat.
  • Piazza della Passera: This little piazza has everything you could possibly need. 5 e Cinque is a lovely, predominantly vegetarian restaurant with good wine, excellent melanzane alla parmigiana and hummus (!! in Italy, I KNOW). Caffe degli Artigiani does perfectly serviceable tap wine and nibbles for aperetivo in the evening sun, Gelateria della Passera has great ice cream in a decent range of flavours (although, it was particularly noticeable on this trip how generally conservative the ice cream choices are in Florence - delicious but safe. I will try to do a full report for Repeat Scoop but I didn't take photos or notes so it isn't going to be my most accurate offering) for after dinner. You never have to leave...
  • Il Santo Bevitore: My favourite restaurant in Florence (not including pizza, man, we had some excellent pizza in Florence). I have come back here on two consecutive trips and I can say that the quality remains excellent. Busy but not raucous, great design, very friendly and helpful staff, excellent wine, excellent food. Book ahead. The cured meat is exemplary, the 'nduja pasta is a menu staple and is hot (spicy) and delicious, there was a slight delay with our bill (that we barely noticed being more than one sheet to the wind) and they gave us complimentary dessert wine. If money was no object I would have come here pretty much every night. As it was, a perfect special treat. 
  • This rabbit ragu: Not strictly Italian but rabbit is so so available in Italy, in all butchers, supermarkets and restaurants, that I always associate it with the country. R cooked this recipe one night and it knocked my socks off. 10/10, would eat every day.
And now I have cheered myself up. Excellent. Thanks, Italy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Article Reading Group: Merits, Privileges and None of the Above

I have been reading a lot recently about meritocracy. About the tech industry, about smart people and superiority and the myth of specialness. Janet Frame, who I had never come across before, wrote a perfect, perfect short story called Prizes in 1962 that feels like the most fitting response/clarification/conclusion to my reading material and my own reactions. Nothing is ever new. Well, I suppose the current financial success of technocrats is new but the privilege of the few is old indeed. Miranda July, who I admire as an artist even if I do not enjoy all of her work, read Frame’s story aloud for the latest New Yorker Fiction podcast and I would highly recommend listening to it, even if you read none of the other links.

I should preface the following by acknowledging that my familiarity with the tech industry, its figureheads, culture and history, plus pretty much all of the technical details behind the technology of ‘tech’, is limited at best. Still, you don’t need to be a genius or an insider to know that Marc Andreessen is basically (technically) a butthead. You just need to browse his Twitter feed. An introduction: this man has made huge amount of money in the tech industry but it’s fine because he’s smart and he deserves it and tech innovation totally helps The Poor™. Maria Bustillos calls bullshit pretty eloquently for the Awl. The price of fridges may be down but cheap fridges won’t help people to escape poverty (Andreesson also fails to acknowledge the human cost of cheap goods). To succeed like Andreessen you need education, extended access to technology beyond fridges, free time, self-belief, the support of the people around you (be it teachers, family or industry connections) and probably a plethora of other basic requirements that I (unfortunately matched with Andreessen by my skin colour and privilege if, hopefully, nothing else) can’t even imagine/don’t think to name. To believe that you have earned your success when the odds are stacked so heavily in your favour is insane. Bustillos quotes from a 2001 Guardian article by Michael Young (on my To Read List) that almost, ha, almost, makes you nostalgic for the aristocracy:
If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get.
They can be insufferably smug, much more so than the people who knew they had achieved advancement not on their own merit but because they were, as somebody's son or daughter, the beneficiaries of nepotism. The newcomers can actually believe they have morality on their side.
So assured have the elite become that there is almost no block on the rewards they arrogate to themselves.
Perhaps it is incongruous to introduce The Case for Reparations alongside a (pseudo) profile of a rich, white tech dude. Or perhaps not. Everyone who is likely to read Ta-nehisi Stoatss extended essay (feature? Article?) for the Atlantic has already read it, I’m not going to change any minds, but I would be remiss in my duty as a blogger, internet user and human being if I didn’t add my voice to the chorus of recommenders. Also, I think it is relevant and arguably parallel to the Andreesson takedown. Poverty is not a choice and African Americans are disproportionately affected by all the barriers to entry that prevent America from being a truly meritocratic land of opportunity. We are our history and Coates traces the many oppressions that have culminated in the violent, impoverished ghettos of Baltimore. Andreesson’s wealth and success exist within the context of sharecropping and redlining and gang violence. It exists in a mirrortocracy, a financially successful industry (like other financially successful industries) that disavows prejudice but demands a secret handshake, while a whole race struggles against the restrictions instigated and maintained by the (white) privileged.

The specifics of Coates’s essay are American, I don’t think there has ever been mandated redlining in the UK (let me know if I’m wrong!), but we pioneered the Atlantic slave trade and profited from the plantations. Besides, privilege is hardly an American phenomenon. Britain has a world of class and race issues of its own (among other things) nurtured in the fine historical pastures of feudalism and colonialism. As a white girl from a moderately affluent family I have benefitted from these privileges and I must strive to remember that. It is difficult because when life feels like crap these benefits don’t seem meaningful or even noticeable but they are real and these articles are important aides memoire for when I am being stroppy about my own displeasures.

Like Janet Frame’s narrator I won prizes at school. Well, I didn’t actually, I never win prizes, but I did get good grades and positive reports and a sense of promise. It is the same mind-set; work hard, be rewarded, feel good about yourself. School was neither a particular pleasure nor a walk in the park but I left it with the expectation that hard work was rewarded. Never a more privileged belief, I suppose. Adulthood has, so far, proven more complicated and success more elusive than I was lead to expect. This shit is nebulous. The prizes were empty but I don’t want some glossy domestication either.  I don’t know how you escape the pit or if it is somehow presumptuous and entitled to even try. There are times when my twenties have felt like a series of disappointments and that’s rough but then I feel guilty because most of those disappointments are still privileges. They are luxury disappointments. The guilt is probably good and my life is basically pretty sweet.

I don’t know. I don’t know. Being a person is hard. I should probably read more.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Kiss My Lips (Or, Maybe Don't)

It has been over three years since my last lipstick post... Time passing! Craziness. My love of lipstick (and consequently my lipstick collection) have only grown since then. As of sometime-in-2011 I haven't been able to wear mascara and I have to be careful with eye make-up generally so I can't really do a 'statement eye' any more. If I want to do interesting shit with my face (and isn't that most of the fun of make-up?) I have to go down the lipstick route. Luckily, that suits me. Not physically, necessarily, because I 100% refuse to make make-up choices based on what supposedly 'suits me' - it is a colour on your face, just choose whatever makes you happy and own it. Like, why waste your time and energy looking for the 'perfect red lipstick' that flatters your complexion and makes your teeth look whiter and blah blah blah when you can buy five different red lipsticks and flit between them based on your mood and what you're wearing and the look you want to rock? It's much more fun that way. No, I meant that lipstick suits my temperament and level of dis/interest in the fiddly minutiae of make-up application. Sure, you can use lip liners and lip brushes and lipcotes at whatever or... you can whack it on straight from the bullet and have a nice time.

Below is my active lipstick collection - the lipsticks I wear all the time and really love. These are ace:

  • Nars, Semi Matte Lipstick, Funny Face: Bright, dark fuchsia shot with very finely milled blue shimmer. Dry, waxy texture but not drying. Very pigmented.
  • Nars, Semi Matte Lipstick, Shanghai Express: Dark, dusty red. Vampy but in a quiet way? Historical. Lipstick characteristics as per above.
  • Tom Ford, Lip Colour, True Coral: People are not kidding around, Tom Ford lipsticks are NICE. Yeah, they're crazy expensive but this was a gift and I luuurve it. It is a perfect coral, bold but not shouty. Totally wearable and perfect with a breton shirt. The colour pay off is excellent and it is so creamy and gentle. Long lasting for a cream formula and generally ace. Plus, the packaging is lovely.
  • Revlon, ColourBurst Balm Stain, Lovesick: Clean Barbie pink, a tiny bit of blue shimmer but barely noticeable, the texture is the thing here. It is a balm-stain-gloss-lipstick-easy-peasy-colour-thing. It's so straightforward. Draw it on and it stays all day. It is super comfortable and, magazine cliché aside, you really can just throw it in your bag. Also, super useful for filling in any other faded lipstick - red, coral, burgundy, it goes with everything. I am fond of the petal lip look.
  • YSL, Rouge Pur Couture, I'm not sure what the colour is, the label has worn off, maybe Le Rouge?: Very red, classic movie star red. Creamy formula, easy wearing. Not as long lasting as some, not as non-drying as others but a good all-rounder.
  • Revlon, Super Lustrous Matte Lipstick, Mauve it Over: A slightly lilac-y nude. This isn't too brown or too pink or too concealer-y. The 'lustrous matte' finish is kind of odd but the colour is great.
  • Revlon, Super Lustrous Lipstick, Fire and Ice: Fiery, orange red. Still a true red rather than an orange or a coral. I swear, this red would suit everyone. Or, at least, it has suited everyone I have so far forced it upon. 
  • Rimmel, Kate Matte Lipstick, 107: My prime autumn red. Burgundy, rich with a touch of pink, dark but not gothic. I mean, I love gothic but there is a time and a place and this still works for the office. October perfect. These Rimmel lipsticks are hella drying but they're very pigmented.
  • Rimmel, Kate Lasting Finish Lipstick, 22: Vibrant dark pink. Zing. The Kate Moss colours do go well with clothes. Not explicitly fashion-y but still on trend. Lipstick characteristics as per above.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Remembering Alexa and Stating the Perfectly Obvious

I watched this excellent Lisa Eldridge video at the weekend and promptly fell down an Alexa rabbit hole. Good lord, she's beautiful. She's been around such a long time and is so omnipresent that I sometimes forget how strong her face is - the make up is lovely and right up my street but it's not like she needs it. At all. And it's nice to see her just hanging out off duty (Eyeko aside) and being husky and fun and gross. It took me right back to Popworld.

I haven't paid attention to Alexa in a while. I like her but I'm not a heavy duty fangirl and I don't really keep up with her career - I skipped It entirely because despite its pink prettiness it looked rather pointless and bookshelf real estate is at a premium. That said, the woman can dress! I have returned to her sporadically throughout the years and she has rarely looked anything less than awesome. She is consistent but not static. Her aesthetic isn't one I live and die by (there is no single aesthetic I can commit to, my attention span is too short, besides being the physical opposite of gamine) but it is hard not to admire...

All pictures via Vogue Style File

P.S. In many years of blogging this is the first time I have mentioned Alexa. Presumably that means I have failed as a (kind of) fashion blogger? Of course, 2014 is a strange time to introduce her here after so many years in the spotlight but she turned 30 in November and I am looking forward interestedly to the adulthood of the Chung.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pleasant Surprises: Patterns @ Boden

Well, I never thought I would post about Boden... Life is full of surprises. To be clear and fair and all that, I don't have anything against Boden per se, it just occupies a world that seems impossibly distant from my own. Yummy mummies are real and the Boden woman is sunny and glossily perfect and smells like money. I am none of those things. I am grouchy and sometimes (let's be real - often) I can't be arsed to shave and I am so far away from spending triple figures on a mail-order cotton sundress it is laughable.

But, and god knows how I stumbled across this, they actually have some clothes on sale right now that I would legitimately wear. In particular, they have some very nice patterns and prints. I mean, yes, there is still a crazy amount of chintz going down on their website but there is also a splash of leopard and some vintage style prints that are super cute. I totally would, that's all I'm saying...

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How Should a Person Be?: Ladies, Portraiture and Jack Davison

I am slightly addicted to portraiture. Or, more specifically, I am addicted to the ceaseless perusal of portraits of women. They draw my eye and hold my attention; they excite and enthral me. They are what I connect with when I wander around a gallery or browse the interweb. I could look at and, I hope, engage with portraits of women forever.

Sometimes these portraits are made by men but I don't think my interest is a male gaze thing. Partially, because I'm not male, but mostly because I don't think I am objectifying these women. If anything, I am subjectifying (??) them. I want to understand them and become them and experience their lives. I want to learn about the subject, myself and how to be a woman. The act, or at least my act, of becoming a woman, an adult, a human being is ongoing. When I look at portraits, besides admiring them aesthetically, I am trying to work out How Should a Person Be? (I am totally going to get around to reading that at some point btw.)

I think that's what I'm doing... It is hard to interrogate one's own behaviour honestly. Anyway, this is perhaps a needlessly philosophical introduction to a photographer I recently discovered and like a lot (and also a possible intro to a new series of posts). Jack Davison is painfully young but his photography, particularly his portraits, are beautiful. I want to have deep and meaningful conversations with these women.

That is all really. Do you have any thoughts? About identity or being a woman or looking at pictures of other humans. Any recommendations for photographers or artists also welcome, of course.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Sunday Book: Medley

Some books I've read recently that I haven't had the time, energy or inclination to post about properly:

  • A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness: One step closer to reading all of Patrick Ness's books. I read the non-illustrated edition of this children's book but it was still beautiful. Quiet, elegant and very sad. "Put simply, A Monster Calls is the tale of Conor O'Malley, a 13-year-old boy who is repeatedly visited by a monster while his mother is dying. Patrick Ness has taken an original story from the brilliant writer Siobhan Dowd, who died of breast cancer at the age of 47 before completing her fifth novel, and weaved a haunting, gut-wrenching tale. "I felt as if I'd been handed a baton," Ness writes in a moving introduction. Conor is a troubled, isolated and frightened boy. The monster - part scary giant, part wild yew tree - tells the boy three stories. These bewildering parables knock Conor off balance but he is not terrified of the monster because he already fears and anticipates something worse. Something "beyond terrible". He knows he is watching his beloved mother die." (Telegraph
  • Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 - Elizabeth Winder: Well, this was a strange and unexpected book. It was a present, requested on the basis of the title, beautiful cover and probably a recommendation, and it was not at all what I was expecting. Plath was a student editor for the magazine Mademoiselle in the summer of 1953 and this book is concerned solely with that month. "Though Pain, Parties, Work does not ignore Plath’s emotional issues, Winder takes a meticulous, ebullient look at Plath’s life through a fairly unique lens—examining Plath’s youthful ambitions, her appreciation for beauty and her impeccable fashion sense." (Roxane Gay @ the Aesthete) Winder gives us all the material details of Plath's life, the lipsticks she wore, what she ate for breakfast, the size of her room at the Barbizon, and it is very atmospheric. It made complete sense when I found out that Winder was a poet; her vision of Sylvia and New York is intoxicating and her prose is neither narrative nor analytical. It is fun to see a lighter, brighter side of Plath but it is also frustrating - this is style over substance. "The very insubstantiality of Winder’s book points to a critical juncture of biography and celebrity which is both a hallmark of Plath studies and particular to 2013. [...] There’s more to Plath than product placement. Simply citing the kind of dress she wears, or the name of her shade of lipstick, doesn’t really give us great insights into her personality, let alone her work. And Winder not only doesn’t delve deeper into interpretation, she barely bothers with description; the products’ names are, apparently, enough to express a meaning already conferred upon them by the magicians on Madison Avenue." (Michelle Dean @ LARB)
  • Schroder: A Novel - Amity Gaige: "History always happens twice, Marx famously opined: first as tragedy, then as farce. Gaige reverses the trick, bending Nabokov’s extravagant farce toward quiet tragedy. Appropriating one of the least restrained novels in all of literature, she somehow creates from it an understated and emotionally unsettling tale." (Kathryn Schulz @ Vulture) Gaige's strange, humane take on Lolita makes for a very interesting book. Eric Kennedy, nee Erik Schroder, writes the text as a letter from jail, where he is awaiting trial for kidnapping his daughter. The voice Gaige crafts is totally committed, alternately charismatic and repulsive, and fascinating. 
  • Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef - Gabriella Hamilton: This book has so many proponents that it hardly needs me on side. Everyone who is interested in food, writes/blogs/whatever, has recommended it. There were plenty of things I liked about it but I didn't love it. Partially that's me, I have yet to find a memoir I wholeheartedly enjoy, but there are flaws too. Hamilton is wonderful at writing about food and her childhood and scrappy young adulthood are primed for narrative but her adult relationships and some of her attitudes soured me. "It’s a story of hungers specific and vague, conquered and unappeasable, and what it lacks in urgency (and even, on occasion, forthrightness) it makes up for in the shimmer of Hamilton’s best writing. [...] A more general anger and even disdain for other people’s vanities and inconsistencies flicker throughout the book. They undercut her likability as a narrator, though she’s redeemed time and again by her self-reliance, her industriousness and her observant, clever storytelling." (NYT) It probably is worth reading if you are as greedy as me but I dunno... it wasn't everything I hoped for.
  • Good Behaviour - Molly Keane: I did not like this book at all. Unpleasant people doing unpleasant thing. And not fun or exciting unpleasant just horrid, petty, early C20th nastiness. I understand why this may be a 'good book' but it wasn't for me.
  • The End of Everything - Megan Abbott: I read TEOE on the basis of Dare Me which I really liked. This earlier novel has plenty in common with it (teenage girls, suburban settings, a lingering sense of explosive threat) but it takes those to an even darker place. I found this book super stressful, I can't deal with child molestation, imagined, feared and actual, and the deep unknowing is tense and alarming. Thirteen year old Lizzie tries to make sense of the disappearance of her best friend / I have a minor panic attack. But, if you like being scared, and lots of people apparently do, I would definitely recommend this. It is smart, well constructed and properly unnerving. Also, Abbott writes The. Best. teenage girls. So good.
Read any of these? Have any recent favourites? Hit me up. I open to any and all recs. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Sound

(I have seen Jake Isaac live and he is a. very talented & charming, b. super hot. The views on this video are shockingly low. Something must be done.)

None of these are new but all of them are good. In a bit of a music rut at the moment. Who are you listening to at the moment? Any recommendations/new artists appreciated.