Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bangkok was...

There is over a foot of snow on the ground outside, and the temperature is in the low teens. Today was a day of gloves and scarves and ice forming on eyelashes. It was a day to curl up with my favorite pashmina wrap from India around my shoulders, drink hot cocoa, and read from cover to cover Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking (a slender, devastating miracle of a book, but more on that later). So why on such a straight off the Swiss Miss box winter day does my mind wander to nights of heat and sweat and smog in a far away Asian city?

The small town where I taught primary school was a few minute away from the Bangkok city limits. I spent nearly a dozen of my weekends in Bangkok. If I didn't stay there for a full weekend and wasn't sick or somewhere else, I at least went in for an afternoon, to watch an American movie and buy some cheese and Goldfish (may not sound all that thrilling, but trust me, if you are living in Thailand there is nothing more thrilling than cheese and Goldfish). I have written about so many of the parts of my experience, but I recently realized that I have not at any length written about Bangkok. And that's just so utterly wrong, because Bangkok was my second home during my time in Thailand. Bangkok kept me sane. It was where I met up with other teachers and recuperated and blew off steam. Bangkok is single handedly responsible for the fact that I never came to blows with any of my students. I miss Bangkok. I think about it often, even now, on a snowy Richmond night in January, when I am literally and figuratively as far away from that big, crazy city as I could be.

But how do I write about Bangkok and my times there? My memories of it are collage like. They are harder to fit into a linear narrative than my other stories are. Because Bangkok wasn't about clear waters or mountains or lush rain forests. Bangkok was a big, not particularly attractive city. It's not Paris. It's not a place you fall in love with on a visual level. Bangkok was crowded and loud, sometimes overwhelming. It was flawed and polluted and the traffic was unlike anything I had ever experienced (and I've driven 95 near DC at rush hour). It was all of these things, and I loved it. It was not some idealized paradise. People have asked me a lot what my favorite part of my six month experience was. And I always hesitate. I think about saying Bali, because Bali was the epitome of an idealized paradise except that it was impossibly real. I think about Ko Phi Phi or Railay, with their white sands and emerald waters. But if I was really honest with myself, my favorite part about my experience was Bangkok, smelly, loud, crowded, hectic, Bangkok. Bangkok wasn't perfect, but it was where I lived a life, not a vacation, but a life. It was where I formed friendships and bought school supplies and packed into taxis with about seven people too many. It was the first place I saw when my plane landed in May and the last place I saw when my plane left in November.

But even with that said it's still hard to define what Bangkok was, what it was to me. But as a writer of course I have to try.

Bangkok was Cheap Charlie's, a famous (or infamous depending on your worldview) expat bar off the Nana skytrain stop. Cheap Charlie's is completely outdoors, tucked into a cramped little alley. It's made up of a carved and twisted wooden bar, bedecked in all manner of weird odds and ends and a bunch of stools, a few small tables. I do not know why we ended up going to this place so many times, when there are all manner of fancy (and indoor) bars in Bangkok. But clearly there is some kind of allure, because it is a necessary, almost sacred stop on the Thailand expat nightlife route. Get there past 11pm and the place is absolutely packed. There is a rope to cordon off the bar from the rest of the alley, and within this rope are representatives of absolutely every type of expat species in Thailand. One night there was a bachelor party of about a dozen British men dressed only in teeny tiny underwear, wads of cash sticking out of their waistbands. If it tells you anything about this bar, no one really thought much of it. At Cheap Charlie's I would meet other ESL teachers sitting next to children of diplomats. Two men from Iraq would sit drinking beer beside a group of drunken Australians (there really aren't any other kind). Veteran expats who have lived in Thailand for decades mingled with backpackers fresh off the plane. I often found myself unable to concentrate on conversation with my friends, because my eyes would wander over the hodge-podge of expats around me, the sun-burnt Swedes at the tail end of their island hopping route or the 50 year old European men with their 20 year old Thai girlfriends. I spent countless hours at this place, 90 degree nights with slippery bottles of Beer Lao.

Bangkok was taxi rides. Bangkok was the time at 3 or 4 am when we absolutely HAD to have McDonalds, an urgent matter of life or death we tried to impress upon our very nice and very non-English speaking taxi driver. We drove around in a big circle for about 20 minutes, somehow unable to find the 24 hour McDonalds we knew was nearby, until in a stroke of fate or luck or maybe just destiny we drove past a lit up Burger King. And we suddenly knew that the only thing better than late night McDonalds was late night Burger King. Or the time we crammed 7 people into a cab and "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith came on the radio. It took only seconds for every person in that cab (excluding the driver) to burst into a spontaneous and passionate rendition of the song we had all known by heart since middle school, so loud I fear we may have permanently damaged our cabbie's hearing. Bangkok was cab drivers saying "yes, yes" they know where such and such location is, get in, get in, only to find out five minutes into the drive that the taxi driver has no idea where the place is but will nevertheless drive us around for fruitless hours unless we ask him to stop. Bangkok was tuk tuk drives, whipping through the city at a breakneck speed, weaving in between bigger cars, each turn defying death.

Bangkok was sweaty bars filled with sweatier people, loud Western music pumping over the speakers. And in these bars you can almost forget you're in Thailand, so close are they to bars at home. That is until you filter out into the street and a baby elephant is standing there. Bangkok was street food, so satisfying at any hour but especially late at night, walking and eating fried rice or pad thai. Or vendors selling icy fresh chunks of watermelon or mango, selling fresh squeezed bottles of orange juice or coffee with condensed milk. It was a world of food on every block, as intrinsic to the city as its buildings, the salty, smoky smells filling the streets.

Bangkok was the JJ weekend market, a labyrinth of stalls selling everything under the sun,  knock off Prada, purebred puppies, antique maps, china plates, colorful gems, flip flops, bathing suits, bunny rabbits, fresh flowers, blue jeans, colorful silk scarves, ice cream served on hot dog buns (I kid you not). We always meant to go to the market early in the day, before the heat and the crowds, but well you know what they say about best laid plans. Inevitably we would wind up there in the peak of the day's heat, the sun beating mercilessly down, throngs of tourists and locals searching for various treasures. We would last about an hour until we completely wilted, but an hour as usually enough to spend a good chunk of our paycheck. Or the Suan Lum night bazaar, almost across the street from where our orientation hotel was. This was where I first ventured out into Bangkok, beyond the hotel. This was where I returned several more times, for cold drinks at outdoor tables, for rows and rows of vendors, every few feet a different color or texture, a vibrant, throbbing pulse beating at the center of it all.

Bangkok was live music at a rooftop bar on Khao San road, heavily accented takes on Western songs, a dance floor mixed with foreigners and Thai people, clutching beers while jumping in the air. Every time I danced in Thailand (and I know this is going to sound like I was on acid or shrooms while I was there, but I assure you this was not the case) I felt so connected to it all. And okay, roll your eyes, but I don't know how else to explain the feeling, of being in a place like Thailand with people you've only recently met but feel so tied to because of the experience, of being out at night and hearing a Pearl Jam or ACDC or Beach Boys song sung by a Thai singer, and dancing like crazy and belting the words out because hearing that song in that place somehow makes you feel like your normal world and life and home are fused with the completely non-normal present. And you're a part of it all. You're alive and there and dancing on rooftop in Thailand to a song that reminds you in so many ways of home. I remember at this particular bar, I took a break in dancing to go talk with some friends at a table and like it so often does in Thailand, the sky opened up and let loose an absolute deluge. Rain thundered to the ground and the mist from it sprayed my face. I remember looking around at me, at the laughing and talking and mostly drunken strangers, at my friends, at this silly little expat bar, and feeling so at ease, so sure of myself in that moment, of the rightness of it all.

I remember so many nights like that, sitting at so many tables in expat bars or Irish pubs, talking about inconsequential things, fanning ourselves from the heat, wearing sundresses in late October. The weather in Thailand is a perpetual summer, but on a non-weather level it feels like that too. There was something energized and hopeful about every moment there, an unhurried, easy happiness, because there would be more nights like that, more nights sitting at little alcohol stands (yes they have those in Thailand and they are awesome). We would find one of these stands when a bar closed and sit until almost dawn. No one wanted to go to bed. There was always another story to tell, another drink to get. I remember this from Paris, the way a night out or a drink just feel different when you're living abroad. There's something visceral and immediate about it. You're not just going through the motions. You're acutely aware of the sensation of living, which sounds like a strange thing, because aren't we always aware of living? But the truth is we're not. We forget about it, because we do the same things so often they become routine. But in Thailand, on those nights, life was novel, it couldn't be forgotten or overlooked. We were there. We were living those moments. And maybe it's because I just read her book, but I'm reminded of a favorite Joan Didion quote:

"One of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before."

That's exactly how those weekends felt, how new and strange they were, how new and strange they had to be. I wish I could convey that newness, how something so mundane as sitting on a stool drinking beer took on another level of meaning, became more than the sum of its parts. I want to show you Bangkok. I want to remind myself of it, because every day is another day further away from it. I want it to be more than written memories. I want to see it again.

I want to see Soi Kasem San 1, the tiny little street that housed my beloved Wendy House.

I want to see the stray dog we dubbed Max who always hung out on this street. Every single time I stayed here (which was a lot of times) and walked down the street with my backpack on he would come trotting up beside me. To wrap up our nights we would sometimes sit outside Wendy House, buy a beer from the front desk. There was never a cool part of the night in Bangkok. It would be 3am and the beers would still drip with condensation after only seconds of reaching the outdoors. We would sit and talk while Max sat dutifully beside us.

I want to see the SkyTrain, Bangkok's shiny and new above ground metro system. I want to sit on one of those orange plastic seats and hear the calm, cool collected voice announce "sattanitop" (what I picked up means roughly next station in English). I want to walk from the MBK stop to Siam Paragon mall on one of the above ground pathways, traffic lined below me. I want to go to that awesome Indian place near Cheap Charlie's and order garlic naan and butter chicken, again, more mundane actions, made special and unique and wonderful because in Thailand nothing was mundane. Nothing in life should ever be mundane, but we let it become that way because we develop immunities to the tiny miracle that is good garlic naan. We convince ourselves that because we do these things often they are somehow less important. But they're not. I don't know why it's so easy to appreciate life when you're abroad, but it is. Take for example Mexican food. Now I love Mexican food at all times and in all places. But in Thailand eating Mexican was a religious experience. And it wasn't because the food was fabulous. Shockingly the Mexican food in Thailand, a country with a Mexican population that can probably be counted on one hand, was not all that stellar. But it didn't matter. It didn't matter if the salsa was bland or the enchiladas soggy. We were delirious and giddy over the beauty of those soggy enchiladas.

Like I said Bangkok wasn't perfect, but it didn't have to be. Every part of that city and my time there was profoundly, deeply vital. And yet still I feel I haven't done it justice. What have I missed?

The amulet market, small and dimly lit, table after table heaped high with small pendants portraying Buddha or the King or other important figures, the Thai men with magnifying glasses who would stand for hours inspecting amulet after amulet, looking for the right fit. Or the spirit houses. There are spirit houses everywhere in Thailand, but there is something wonderfully bizarre and awesome about a spirit house for a giant, fancy, modern shopping mall. There's the Gourmet Market at Siam Paragon, where I would wander with a blissful smile on my face amidst rows of Pepperidge Farm and Jiff and CHEESE, did I mention the cheese!?

There was the time where we stopped for a drink in an upscale, outdoor bar where we were serenaded by the Thai version of Michael Bolton, only without the ability to sing in key. There was the quasi country western bar we stumbled upon with a live band, where there were about 5 other people in the bar and we were the only people dancing (they played "Sweet Child O' Mine", how could we not dance?) There were the hookah bars where the air was filled with sweet, strawberry flavored smoke. There were shots taken on the way from one bar to the other, in the middle of a crowded sidewalk (did I mention that there are stands in Thailand that sell booze?) There were games of pool in smoky pubs full of old British or Irish men watching soccer. There was Chinatown with its restaurants selling shark fin soup and stands selling roasted chestnuts. There was the dip in the rooftop pool of a new friend (I really like friends with pools), the Bangkok skyline spreading out in the dark beneath us. There were the hungover mornings eating chicken and rice, or more often, Au Bon Pain sandwiches.

Bangkok for me was about Friday afternoon, a bag packed and with me at school, almost sprinting away after my last class, not even bothering to change. I would hail the first taxi I saw, and let out a long slow exhale. The work week was done. Within minutes we would pass out of my town, up and onto one of the big suspension bridges. And there it would be, Bangkok, or at least a small part of it, waiting for me.

Bangkok was my sanity, my break, my stress reliever. I had no other English speakers with me in my town and sometimes when I met up with my friends I felt like I was literally brimming over with pent up words, all of the things I couldn't tell anyone for the last five days. We usually grabbed a beer and drank it while we got ready. I would sometimes be so deliriously happy I couldn't stop smiling. The weekend was this beautiful thing just lying in front of me.

There would be hot nights and even hotter days, trips to markets, trips to MBK to buy slightly non-legit DVDS. There would be drinks with friends, war stories exchanged about our experiences teaching. There would be dancing. I can't say enough about the dancing. I'm a spaz who does not normally relish all things dancing. But in Thailand I couldnt wait to be on the dance floor. I couldn't wait for anything, for everything.

I've heard people say that traveling changes you, but I wouldn't necessarily agree with that. I think traveling makes you a better version of yourself. It gets you back to the person you would be without all of life's obstructions and hindrances. Everything falls away and you're you and life is life and there's nothing complicated about it. We make life complicated. Horrible things happen we can't control, but more often we're the ones making life hard. I don't know why we do it. I only know that whenever I've lived abroad I stop. I don't make life hard for myself. I don't make it complicated.

I'm me. Life is life.

Bangkok was Bangkok, wonderfully crazy, flawed, irrepresible Bangkok. Tonight, these million miles away, with snow on the ground, I can't help but think of it. I can't help but drift back there, because maybe then it's not so far away. Maybe if I go back there in my mind I can shrink those million miles, bring that city, and the person I was in that city, back across oceans and continents, all the way home.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

hey i've got some new shoes on

Pardon me if I hum the tune of Paolo Nutini's zippy little song "New Shoes." Because I got some new shoes people!

Drum roll please....

1) Presenting my absolute favorite thing about Target...their complete and total rip offs of other much more expensive shoes! Here are my 20 dollar faux Jack Rogers. Can you tell the difference? No, I did not think so. Also anyone who wants to say that the reason Jack Rogers cost so much is because of quality need only take a look at my two year old Jack Rogers's shoes, which look like they have been run over by multiple mass transit vehicles.

2) New brown boots! From Rack Room. On sale for 20 dollars! Here's the thing. Six months in Thailand turned me into someone who is very, very cheap. By the end of our time there we would go out to a nice Indian or Mexican dinner (and yes Mexican food is expensive in Thailand) and if our per person total hit the $15 dollar mark we would turn to each other, sigh, and say that it would just have to be a splurge kind of night. I have become someone who is frugal and a spend-thrift, and I kind of love it.

3) New sneakers! Okay so these might not seem as exciting. But if you could only experience the pain I have felt in my knees and ankles since I began my new Jillian Michaels crazy person workouts. I suspect a lot of this pain may be the result of the fact that my old Northface tennis shoes, while very cute, are for hiking in tropical environments (I bought them for India). They are practically water shoes. And wearing them during my daily workouts has not been kind to my apparently rapidly aging body. So hopefully these new Nikes will do the trick. If anyone has any other tips for how to avoid knee/ankle pain from this strange sensation called working out please let me know!

God I missed tennis

While in Thailand I missed three tennis grand slams. Now three may not seem that high of a number to any non tennis fan, but there are approximately four grand slams per year. To miss three in a row absolutely killed me. I missed the sight of tennis socks covered in burnt red dirt during the French. I missed the crisp, elegant, almost blindingly green grass of Wimbledon. I missed night matches at the US Open, and let me tell you, as a tennis fan, it doesn't get better than a night match at the Open, all of that excitement and intensity. You're sitting at the edge of your bed in the dark during a tie break in the 4th set and suddenly you realize it's 2am. But you don't turn off the television. Hell, you don't blink. You are fully apart of that moment, much more so than any sporting event taking place in the crowded light of day.

Tennis is one of my greatest and most abiding loves. I am a fan, and in the immortal words of Almost Famous, being a fan means loving something so much that it hurts. And so to miss those three slams, well it was brutal. And so I've been feasting on the Australian Open, on that neon blue court, on the narratives of players on their way up and those on their way down, on a hot Australian summer in the middle of our winter, on aces and forehands and volleys. It doesn't matter that half the matches come on after midnight east coast time. It doesn't matter that my two favorite players both lost last night because of injuries (Roddick and Nadal if you're curious). Tennis and me, well we have an unconditional kind of love.

I love this sport. And for two weeks, four times a year, I live for it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Old-fashioned Avatar

Let's get the quibbles out of the way first. No one has ever called Mr. James "King of the World" Cameron a subtle filmaker. And nothing about Avatar or its plot's thinly velied allegory to the plight of Native Americans is subtle in the slightest. The characters are pretty and do cool stuff but most of them aren't particularly memorable. The "villain" of the piece in particular lacks any kind of backstory or human qualities. And let's be honest. It's a little jarring to see American soldiers get killed with abandon (and in a variety of gruesome ways, including impaling by giant arrows of death) in the film's climatic fight scene and have it be portrayed as a good thing.

Yet the remarkable thing about Avatar is that despite all of that, despite a heavy handed narrative and a whole lot of preachiness, this movie about blue people on a far away planet was the single most transformative movie going experience I have had in years. When the lights came out and we filed out of the theater, I was momentarily suprised to realize I was at MovieLand. I had forgotten what movie theater I was in. For three hours I was somewhere else. And all of the flaws I mentioned were rendered irrelevant, because the beauty of Avatar, what makes this movie so revolutionary, is that it does more than tell a story. It transports. You can't watch this movie in 3D without forgetting where you are or what you're doing for dinner later that night. Your mind doesn't wander. You don't start thinking about groceries. We were in a packed theater for three hours, full of people with Cokes the size of small barrells, and I think I saw ONE person leave to pee. I didn't see that telling blue glow of someone sending a text or checking for missed calls. We weren't killing time or staying in our seats to get our money's worth.

We, as an audience, were removed, taken out of ourselves to someplace new and strange and beautiful. I could not begin to tell you how James Cameron made Avatar. I do not understand what I saw in that theater, how the combination of the newness of the technology and the newness of the fictional Pandora planet combined to create an entirely different landscape from anything we've seen in movies before. I could not begin to explain how when those strange animals and plants and peoples that populated the movie's world popped up on screen they weren't flat or contained within a screen; they were there and they were somehow, impossibly, breathtakingly real.

I think in some ways we've become jaded by technology. We're over it. We're no longer in awe of what can appear on a movie screen, because we can probably see that same thing on our phones. Do you remember what it was like to go online for the first time, that beep, whirr, beep of AOL kicking into gear? Do you remember the first time you went to an IMAX movie? Do you remember the last time you asked "how did they do that?" Do you remember the last time you genuinely wondered? We've become too smart for our own good, too complacent with our gadgets and our smart phones and our kindles (don't even get me started on these harbingers of the apocaplyse).

And so imagine the surprise, the wonder of going to a movie and feeling blissfully, happily ignorant. There's nothing ironic or cynical about Avatar. Everything about the experience of Avatar as a viewer is about that genuine, so often forgotten thing called wonder. It's strange that a movie so firmly embedded in new technology and whiz-bang modern film-making innovations ultimately works because it is such an old-fashioned throwback, to the days of claymation and puppets and King Kong wreaking havoc on a miniature Tokyo, to a time when we saw things in a theater so extraordinary that all we could do was sit back and watch, wondering how they did it, knowing deep down that we'd rather not know.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

go team coco!

Just had to share this video, and because I love what Conan says so much, I'm also going to paste my favorite quote from this below. One, because I can't resist a pasty, big haired, 7 foot tall red-headed Irishman. Two, because I really need to believe what he says right now.

"Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it's my least favorite quality. It doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get, but if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you, amazing things will happen."

~Conan O'Brien during his last night hosting the Tonight Show

something beautiful

I didn't watch the Haiti telethon last night but I heard about this Justin Timberlake/Matt Morris cover of one of my all time favorite songs, Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. And sure you might say it's a cliche to like a song that's become so uber ubiquitous in movies and TV shows, but this song could be played in a thousand movies and tv shows and it will never become less beautiful to me. I thought Jeff Buckley's version was simply the peak of what a song can be, so raw and human and messy and brutally gorgeous. I listen to that song and I'm reminded that for all of my love and reliance on words, sometimes music goes beyond what any literary narrative can do. I thought his version would forever define this song for me. And then I heard this.

Listen to this cover. I guarantee it will break your heart open down the middle, lodge itself firmly in between the broken pieces, and then put the whole thing together again, better for having been torn apart. It's just so unbelievably sad, perfect and beautiful in the way only really sad songs, or even stories for that matter, can be. I can't think of a better song to accompany such devastation. I can't think of a better song to accompany so much hope.

Bloggers note: I have been a Justin Timberlake fan since I was 12 and in braces and he was 17 with a huge blond fro.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


"That seat, held for nearly half a century by Mr. Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate, will now be held by a Republican who has said he supports waterboarding as an interrogation technique for terrorism suspects; opposes a federal cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions; and opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants unless they leave the country."



For Grandma and Grandpa,
Presenting your great-grandaughter Lemmathea, at just over three weeks old.

She likes ceiling fans, bouncing, rocking, eating, sleeping, eating some more, and being walked around. She does not like diaper changes, being hungry, being sleepy, or being still. She cannot wait to go to Texas and meet her great-grandparents :)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

having an "oh life" moment

thats me with the headband, in the most beautiful place on this earth

I always miss Charleston. Not a day has gone by since I've left where I haven't thought of that city of bridges and tidal marshes, where I haven't convinced myself that I can still smell salty air when it rains, even these hundreds of miles away. I miss Charleston for a million and one reasons. But today I miss it for its ability to comfort me. In college whenever I was feeling lost or confused, whenever I was having an existential crisis or two, I would get in my car, drive to the closest beach and just walk. And always, every single time, I left feeling better. No matter how upset or mixed up I was, these walks just gave me room to breathe. No voices from the heavens spoke to me. Nothing particularly dramatic or exciting happened. I simply started to feel better. I really could use a Charleston beach walk right now. I would give anything to have just one hour at Folly or Sullivan's. It would even be okay if I had to be whisked away at the end of that hour. I could handle that as long as I could get just sixty minutes of sand and sky and peace. I've mentioned in previous posts how hard it has been coming home from Thailand. And well more than two months later, it's still hard. It doesn't help that I don't have a job, that I'm living with my parents at 24, that I'm single while nearly all of my friends are in couples (and my GOD I never realized how true that scene with Bridget Jones is when she goes to the couple dinner party is until now). It's hard to reconcile my life right now with my life of two and a half months ago, when I was on some tropical beach in Thailand feeling like it would be impossible to find a more perfect moment. I couldn't believe how lucky I was, to be in these places, living this kind of existence.

To be fair, my life now, when I'm not feeling sorry for myself, is still pretty great. I'm 24. I know there will be time for jobs and boyfriends and living spaces without my parents, that all of those things are in the future. But right now, tonight, I could really use a Charleston beach walk to clear my head and right myself and remind me that I'm okay and that I will be okay.

And I can't have that. So I guess I'll just have to do the next best thing and listen to this Band of Horses song.

I hear this song and I am right back in Charleston, on that first hot summer day in May when you wake up in the morning and something has simply shifted, the world has become soaked in sun. I'm driving through the city with the windows down, the air not yet humid, just perfectly warm, full of sweet Confederate Jasmine. There is a cooler of beer in the back of the car along with a beach chair, a book, maybe some snacks. My bathing suit is on under my clothes. I drive out of the city, over any of this town's beautiful bridges, blue underneath and above me, and keep on driving toward the shore. The day stretches lazily out in front of me. All is right in the world.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

i'm sorry but...

J. Crew's "sequin short" (no s, mind you) is/are (see what you do when you pretensiously remove the "s" J. Crew, you upturn grammatical rules!) the fugliest things I have ever seen in my life.

First of all, shut up J. Crew. It's shorts plural! Just because you bedazzle them doesn't give you the right to start pretensiously removing letters. Second, you are charging 200 dollars for these spangled atrocities (with an s!). Now I love many of J. Crew's clothes, but sometimes their level of pretentiousness is just dizzying. These are not sequined short, these are sparkly hot pants! And if I wanted sparkly hot pants I would just waltz in to the nearest Forever 21 where there are approximately 712 versions of said sparkly hot pants available. And they cost $20. I could buy 10 pairs of sparkly hot pants (with an s) for the cost of one of your sequined short.


And third, if you'll notice, the model in the J. Crew catalogue picture is doing what any girl who buys sparkly hot pants would do, pair them with a button down shirt, blazer, and a BOW TIE! Seriously? SERIOUSLY? You do not wear sparkly hot pants with a blazer, button down and bow tie. If you are going to wear sparkly hot pants, if that is your personal choice that you have found peace with, then you are going to darn well wear those sparkly hot pants the way nature and God intended. You will pair your hot pants with a revealing shirt and some stripper heels! You will wear this attire to a dirty club, not to the combination tranny cocktail party/good ol' boy cigar club meeting that the model in the J. Crew catalogue is apparently attending.

While I enjoy the way J. Crew jeans fit and like their color uses, I sometimes really cannot handle the level of twee. Bowties on women who are also wearing sparkly hot pants is the defintion of twee. I half expect to open the next catalogue to see models sporting eye patches and walking sticks.

It's not fashion, it's stupidity. Bedazzled, $200 dollar stupidity.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

it's that easy

Text "Haiti" to the number 90999. If you are a customer of any major wireless carrier then that text will act as a $10 donation toward the Red Cross. The money will be added on to your phone bill. Don't worry, it's completely legitimate.

It's that easy. It's that simple. It's $10.00 added to a phone bill, an amount of money that you would spend on a lunch. It's a few thumb movements, a press of the send button. It's a tiny thing really, such a small amount in comparison to the misery that's overtaken that nation, but it's something. Sometimes something is all we can give. Sometimes something makes all of the difference in the world.

And after you text, spread the word. Tell your friends. Post it on your blogs, on your twitter, on your facebook. We as Americans have so much to give. Even those of us who are umemployed (cough, me, cough) have something to give. So give it. Don't think, don't hesitate. Act out of basic human compassion and empathy, those most powerful and most underrated of things.

I am a big loser

For the first time I watched a full episode of The Biggest Loser. And I wanted to mock. I wanted to make fun. I wanted to roll my eyes at the egregious product placement (like the scene where in the middle of a workout, Jillian Michaels had to pull two contestants aside right that minute to demonstrate, infomercial style, the beauty of a Brita water filter, which doncha know you can buy at your local WAL MART, AMERICA) But darnit by the end when they were doing the weigh-in, and then when the identical twin brothers were the bottom team and both brothers asked the other contestants to vote them off so that their brother could stay, well I mean clearly it's just a little dusty in my house. My eyes are filling up with tears because of the onions I peeled yesterday and their residual aroma. I'm not crying!!

But really I was crying. The show is one big product placement, pile of inspiration. Of course it's reality television crap. But it's really, really inspirational reality television crap! And perhaps why I'm so inspired is that I too am on my own quest for physical fitness. I may not have 300 pounds to lose ala some of these big losers (what!? I mean that in a good way!), but I may have a little toning to do, some weight to shed that I accumulated on the beaches of Thailand (oh there were just so many Chang and Singha beers to be drunken at 11am on white sand beaches, so many plates of fried rice to be gobbled up, I didn't enjoy any of this of course, but it had to be done!)

So lo and behold, I was perusing OnDemand a couple of weeks back, possibly on that oh so cliched two days after New Year's Eve day when all of America decides to start working out simultaneously, and why there has never been some kind of freak earth-quake due to all of these overweight people deciding to start jumping around at the same time, I will never know. But I discovered that OnDemand has an entire fitness section, with FREE fitness videos. And there's even an entire Jillian Michaels section (see my comments on The Biggest Loser).  I chose a benign enough seeming program, called Boost-Metabolism. It was only an hour. I've done yoga for two hours. How hard could one hour of aerobics/cardio/kick-boxing/squatting/leaping/lunging/crying be right? Well at the time I didn't know there would be crying. So I did this video and pretty much five minutes in, I thought I must be having some kind of episode. Your heart isn't supposed to beat that fast right? Are your lungs supposed to have to fight that hard to draw in air? What are these strange sensations?

Oh, oh, I see. This is that other kind of exercise isn't it? You see, I'm a huge yoga fan. And yoga is hard and it is exercise and I have taken yoga classes where I have sweat so much that small ducks could swim in the leftover pool of sweat I leave behind. But yoga is not what this kind of exercise is, namely exercise that makes you feel like you are possibly dying. Yoga is all breathe in on this move, breathe out on this other move. While doing this Jillian Michael's video, I couldn't distinguish between when I was inhaling or exhaling. I was too busy wheezing and gasping for air and praying for death.

I cannot tell you the number of movement I did during this video that I have never done in my entire life. Have you ever heard of jump squats? They are the devil. Every single muscle in your body will stop what it's doing and scream out in mutiny against the idiot who is making them perform such inhumane actions. But I didn't stop. I couldn't because of Jillian freaking Michaels. I totally get why the Biggest Loser contestants keep going when they are literally falling of treadmills and sobbing for mercy. She uses this combination of motivation and guilt. One second she's telling you how great you're doing (albeit through an OnDemand video so I'm sure it's even more effective in person) and the next she's telling you what a miserable excuse for a human being you'll be if you stop doing those scissor kicks (okay maybe she doesn't use those exact words but the intent is clear). If anyone was watching me doing these videos they would be highly concerned. I go from dutifully following along the video, squatting and leaping and kicking and punching, to collapsing into a heap on my bed, to getting up shamefully and resuming the exercise, to collapsing onto a heap on my chair, etc. and etc.

One day I didn't finish. I was so tired, my knees hurt so much (so about that, like I said I've only really done yoga since I was 18, and my knees have never once bothered me, three days into a new cardio routine and after exercise I can barely walk down my stairs, what is this!? is this just me aging, another side effect like the fact that my hangovers now last anywhere from 24-72 hours after drinking instead of the half day episodes I had in college? I mean I'm 24. Am I really at the age where parts of my body should be deteriorating, one after the next like some game of decrepit dominoes? My hips are already shot but as I learned from my physical therapist it's because I'm a freak of nature and was born that way. But my knees! I don't want to lose my knees.) But I digress. I gave up with two "circuits" left to go. I turned off the TV and collapsed in a heap on my bed. And I felt guilty about it the entire rest of the day!

What is that? I'm not used to feeling guitly at giving up on workouts. But that's what Jillian Michaels does to you on these OnDemand videos. And you may want a giant anvil to fall from the sky and hit you if only to be able to stop the pain, but by the time you finish, you really do feel great, like you can accomplish anything, reach for the stars! And I really am turning into the kind of sap who cries at The Biggest Loser.

Monday, January 11, 2010

happy about...

Dinner with the incomparable LK (she, the other part of the liz squared occasion since we were tots) at what I have realized is my number 1 favorite Richmond restaurant, Sticky Rice. I could seriously eat here every single day. I could swim in a sea of their tots.

I could frolick in a field of their edamame. And isn't sushi just the most wonderful import to America since salt?

When I get married, even if it's in Charleston, I want Sticky Rice to cater my wedding. Who are we kidding? I'd like them to cater my life.

500 Days of Summer

So one of the advantages of unemployment is that you can consume a lot of pop-culture. Sure I spend a lot of my time applying to various and sundry jobs (most recent job application, to be a trivia factoid writer, yes, getting this would be the culmination of a life long dream) and since New Year's working out (um, so OnDemand there are exercise videos for absolute FREE which blew my mind to begin with, and I've been doing the Jillian Michaels metabolism boost video and let me just say I have a newfound appreciation for the contestants on the Biggest Loser.)

But I digress. My point is I can watch a lot of TV, read a lot, watch movies, etc. And this past weekend I rented 500 Days of Summer. It was light and funny, beautiful and sad, just a perfect movie concoction, a fairy tale flipped over to reveal something far more strange and honest. As the narrator states at the beginning, it's a story about love, but not a love story. I think there are just so many crap romantic movies coming out these days. I mean did you see the trailer for that Ugly Truth movie with Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler? Or that atrocious, setting feminism back by about 75 years Bride Wars (Ann Hathaway, I expect better from you).

Love stories have lost their dignity and grace. They've become cartoons and barely disguised rip-off's of each other. And no one in these movies has any kind of human trait. So imagine the breath of fresh air that is 500 Days of Summer. And that's what the movie feels like, fresh air, something fluid and new and utterly charming. It's both a throwback and oh so modern, a movie of our time but a movie of all times, which is really what all great movies should be. I won't give away too much of the plot but I highly recommend you see it for yourself.

I love Zooey Deschanel, but this film really belongs to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

He's the film's leading man, and he fills that role so wonderfully. It wasn't until I watched this movie that I realize what our generation lacks, a leading man that fills the gap that lies between Michael Cera and Vin Diesel or the Rock or whatever muscles McGee currently fills the Action leading man role. Joseph Goron-Levitt isn't a man with a capital M or a man-child ala Seth Rogen. He's simply a man, funny and sweet and genuine, masculine without being intimidating, charming without being an overgrown teenager. There's a grace about him, a balletic kind of effortlessness to the way he talks and moves. And if you had told me ten years ago I would be saying all of this about that kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun, I would have told you you were nuts.


And if you still aren't convinced, there are full on musical style dance numbers, French film parodies, and one of the most awesome uses of a split screen I have ever seen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character goes to a party and on one side of the screen is reality and the other side is his expectations). Anyone who has ever gone to a party in their 20s with high and unrealistic hopes will completely relate.

So basically I really loved this movie. And I can promise you it will be unlike any of the romantic comedies you've seen this year. And that's a really, really, good thing.

Loving Big Love

I was trying to describe Big Love to my mom the other day. "Isn't that the show about polygamists?" she asked, in a dissaproving tone. "Yes," I replied, but... And then I found myself struggling with the words to defend these characters. They were polygamists, but they were multifaceted and loving and sad and beautiful. I was defending a fictionaly portrayal of a lifestyle I find in real life repulsive. And my God, doesn't that just define great television, hell, doesnt that define great art? To take a character or a lifestyle or a religion even, that in any real world setting you would judge, and then make you want to defend it all, make you fall hopelessly in love.

I've fallen head over heels into the world of  HBO's Big Love. Like last season's Anna, despite my intial reservations about these wacky, polygamy loving Mormons, I've been unable to keep myself away from their world. Oh, and what a world it is. There's something positively Shakespearean about the story of Bill and his three wives, a family hanging somewhere in the middle of the modern (and at least in this show, corrupted) Mormon church and the ultra-fundamentalist Mormom compound run, at least until last's night's episode, by the false and super creepy prophet, Roman Grant. There are Big with a capital B issues raised in Big Love, life and death and God and religion and family, and how all of these things can intertwine and alternately heal and destroy, sustain and isolate.

And then suspended amongst all of these things is the rather ordinary love present in the main family, despite their completely unordinary lifestyle. When they're not trying to bring people up on murder charges or finding dead fathers in the freezer, these people, despite their aversion to alchohol and curse words and well, the whole polygamy thing, are poignantly normal. They bicker and they squabble and they do dishes and watch the kids and they love each other in the painful, confusing ways families do. And you want to judge these characters, you really, really do, but like I said before, you just find yourself rooting for them. You root for sweet, spunky Margene and calm but cracking underneath the surface Barb. And Nikki, who has become my absolute favorite character. She's childish and selfish and mean (one of my favorite moments of Season 3, Nikki tellling a newly blonde Margene that her hair makes her look like a "complete whore"). But there are these moments when she's human and vulnerable, and you realize how much was taken from her, how the same religion that provides her with faith and love has also taken away so much of her childhood and innocence.

And in the end, that's kind of what Big Love is about. More than being a show about polygamy or Mormonism, it's a show about the dual nature of religion, the blessing and the curse of it. So much of these characters' lives are decided by how they interpret God. So much love comes from their God, just as so much hatred and exploitation does as well. It's that interpretation of love that Big Love wants to explore, and whether or not anyone, any church, or any government has a right to tell someone that his or her interpretation is wrong. Here in the real world it's so easy to say that of course someone or some church or some government can tell polygamists that they are wrong. Here in the real world it's so easy to judge. And I am by no means defending or supporting polygamy. But that's the beauty of Big Love. Because ultimately I want to defend these characters.

Whether it's the mobsters of the Sopranos or the alcoholic, violent Tommy Gavin on Rescue Me, great television makes us care about morally qustionable or just plain morally reprehensible characters. Big Love is great television. The story is great (did I mention that whole Shakesperean aspect because I mean really, what other TV drama gives you power struggles and questions of usurpation and mothers trying to kill sons and sons trying to kill fathers?). The acting is great. The opening credits are even great! I just can't help myself. I love these crazy Mormons. And I can't wait to see what happens next.

Friday, January 8, 2010


I cannot write another cover letter. I cannot send in more clips. I cannot update my resume yet again. I cannot write another sample blog post. I cannot scroll through job postings anymore, click on another promising looking "entry level" job posting only to see that this entry level job requires 3 YEARS of specifically related experience, knowledge of over 100 various new media programs I've never even heard of, 20 published clips, the ability to come up with a working Middle East peace solution, fluency in 17 lanugages including Sanskrit and Latin, some past experience as a fighter pilot and of course, an ability to converse directly with God. I cannot write one more of these pathetic letters to a potential employer, begging them to take me on, listing all of the reasons I deserve to work for them for so little money that I still wouldn't be able to move out of my parent's house or get a dog or you know, go to the dentist.

Today, right now, I cannot do any of these things. Just thinking about them makes me want to scream loud enough so that my neighbors might call the cops. Right now I am so frustrated and tired of checking my email every hour just hoping that one of the dozens of odd jobs I've applied for will have gotten back to me.

Right now I'm feeling sorry for myself. I'm cursing my English degree for appearing to mean absolutely squat in the real world. I'm cursing the fact that I was born in this generation and that there are just no jobs out there for anyone, much less a journalist. I'm cursing the fact that I can't even get unpaid internships. Do you know what a blow to someone's ego that is? To in the first place have to beg and crawl on your knees and throw yourself at an organizations feet just so that you can work full time for them, to work as hard as any of their other employees for absolutely FREE, with no benefits. It's beyond humiliating. I know there are other professions that have unpaid internships, but they are just so pervasive in journalism that you wonder why any magazine has paid employees at all. Because clearly there are just hundreds upon hundreds of graduates willing to enter into what might be the only still legal form of indentured servitude. You work for four years towards a degree so that you can work for free? And I have the good fortune (and kind parents) to not have any student loans to pay off. What about all of those would be journalists who do have loans, who want so badly to write for a career, who worked so hard to get that degree, who took on jobs to pay for housing
through college, who are buried in debt now, only to realize that the only jobs that exist out there don't even pay?

So this is how I feel right now. Tomorrow morning I will hopefully wake up and exit right out of this pity party. I will realize that there are plenty of people out there working at fast food restaurants and as temps who hate their jobs, but who have no choice but to get up in the morning and deal with it. I will realize what a luxury it even is that I can sit on my butt at my parents house, not working, waiting to find a job in writing, in the field that I love. I am lucky and spoiled in a hundred different ways.

But just for a moment I want to throw a fit and scream and cry over the fact that despite how much I want this, despite how hard I've worked for it, I am just stuck, and that it is a very real possibility that I will be stuck for some time.

So for anyone reading this who has ever applied for so many jobs that you actually lose track of the jobs you've applied for, who could recite word for word your latest cover letter, who sometimes just want to dispense with all the begging and tell this would be employer that they would be LUCKY to have you instead of the other way around, I know you feel my pain.

And that is why I am going to go and pour myself a huge glass of Pinot Grigio, wallow for a little while, so that tomorrow I can suck it up and start all over again.
For three days this week, I helped my sister and her husband take care of this little munchkin, my beautiful niece Lemma,

And I came to one very deifnitive conclusion; having children is perhaps the most insane thing people can do. I say this as someone who has for years now claimed to want FIVE kids. You see, I've been a babysitter and a nanny for over half my life now. I thought I knew something about kids. Sure they can be a little rambumctious, but they go to bed pretty early. At least you get a break at night right? But I'd never taken care of a newborn before. After just two nights spent in an apartment with a newborn, I now know I knew absolutely nothing about infants.

These little 8 pound creatures will dominate a household. You can have three fully grown adults, and the tiny, 8 pound baby will win every single time. The adults don't even have a fighting chance. Sure, babies this age really only have three needs, to be dry, to be fed, and to sleep a lot. But the thing you don't realize is that all three of those needs have to be met almost CONSTANTLY. There's no lag time where the baby is just chilling. Either the baby is hungry or the baby has just pooped (and my GOD I had no idea babies pooped that often, how is it even physically possible that in this tiny little 8 pound body there is that much POOP?, and yes it is my goal to say poop as often as possible in this post) I nannied for a one year old and I thought I understand the whole no verbal communication thing. But at least in one year olds there are other signs other than shrieking and flailing to tell you what they want. They can point or rub their eyes or reach for stuff. But tiny little newborns have none of those abilities. And did I mention the fact that you apparently give up sleep when you decide to have a baby? I had no idea that sleep was something you could just give up, like alcohol or Diet Coke or cheese. But from what I gathered that's just part of the deal.

How have people been doing this since the beginning of time? How did one generation not just go, umm, guys, about that whole baby thing. Do we really want to be held hostage by a tiny army of newborns? What's so great about that whole procreation thing anyway?

But just as I was beginning to swear off childbirth, just as I was starting to think that there must be some sort of parent amnesia that allows people to have more than one child (sweet Jesus to think of that Duggar woman who has 19!), I saw the way my sleep deprived, still tired from that whole 30 plus hours of childbirth thing, sister looked at her daughter. And that my friends, is the very reason for unconditional love. If not for that whole unconditional love thing babies across the world would be thrown out of windows on a regular basis. Because without that love there's no way you could do it. There's no way you could give up sleep and showering and your old life and throw yourself completely at the mercy of something that poops that often.

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