Lou

I went to see Lou Reed play a tiny concert in a town called Skibbereen many years ago. At the time, I was crazy in love. So much so, that I remember more about my own huge feelings than about Lou.

He seemed gruff, unmoved to be there, but cool in a deep-seated way. His gruffness also seemed like a facade, a conscious decision rather than his natural way. I remember watching for it to crack. And I remember him smiling a bit at one thing or another and feeling I had seen the crack. I liked him.

On Sunday, a few friends from home e-mailed to say Lou's passing made them think of me and of times past. It surprised me but I guess I was always playing Lou Reed back then. Satellite of Love over and over. One time I threw a party and this guy Mike stood in my back garden singing Sweet Jane. He may or may not have been wearing trousers at the time.

I never had that knack for listening to the right thing at the right time, reading the books that everybody was talking about. I've always come at things in oblique ways and I get scrappy when people try too hard to influence me.

So I don't remember how it came about, but I'm glad Lou was part of it. Sweet Jane is my song. I'm just claiming it like that. I'll always remember twirling under a boy's arm while Lou played it just feet away. I wasn't watching his face while he played so I don't know if he smiled a bit or just rolled his eyes.

Sunday best: Hard and soft

It's not something that often manifests in my closet, but I am very susceptible to delicate things. I guess I don't normally like wearing pretty clothes because they make me feel vulnerable in some way... my dark layers are my suit of armour.

But I thought this blouse very lovely indeed. And I don't think it need be as frou-frou as it first seems. I love the idea of wearing it with black, just having the details peek out from a jacket. And when I look back at some of my own favourite Sunday bests, they seem to exhibit this kind of hard-soft combination. I guess it just feels right to me in some way.


The last week was full of conflicting feelings too. Feeling both emboldened and completely insecure. There are lots of mixed messages in the air and I feel vulnerable to them, shaken to my core in some ways. And in others, more sure of myself and decisive about what must happen next, even though I don't yet see how.

And I suppose it's not helping that my body is overwhelmed with neglect right now. Somehow just looking at this ensemble makes me feel all the more battered, like it wouldn't belong on me anyway.

It sometimes feels like I keep the things I want at arm's length, like I fail to connect the dots between what I want and what I need to do. Even as I type I'm conflicted, wanting to say how I'll be gentler with my self, also feeling the pull of a dramatic resolution that will whip me back into shape. At times like this, I find my own mutability exacerbating. But I know the risk of ignoring that mutability, of forcing my nature into something more even-keeled when I've never been that.

So today, then: My mutable self, hard shell, soft underbelly. All of it.

Products: Eyeliner Stylo from NARS | Horse ring from Conroy & Wilcox | Lip Slip from Sara Happ | Reese tunic from Tory Burch | MiH Paris jeans from Net-a-Porter | Helmut Lang Gala twill blazer from Net-a-Porter | Blaise mocassin from Loeffler Randall

Friday!

First, thank you all so much for your comments on my last blog post. I read them all, but didn't find space in my days to respond (I will, I promise!) In particular, please read Sarai's comment as she presents a really interesting counter to my perspective. Ultimately, it's not where I land, but her argument is certainly something to give pause to and consider (thanks Sarai!)

I also read this by Colm Tóibín early in the week. There's a gentleness in Tóibín's writing that I adore. His a voice full of home to me.


My Dad would often burst into poetry the way others might burst into song. Reciting poetry changes its texture in a very special way — not just by sharing with others, but even just for yourself. Those feelings, so introspective, are given voice to, literally. The structure, the cadence, the weave of the words becomes more salient. The shaping of the lips and tongue around the words; it all becomes sensual. There are some poems I just love because I love the feeling of forming their words, love the sound of my own voice making the sounds.

I also enjoyed this read from Aeon not only for the animal angle, but also this new-to-me concept of "mutuality of being."

"Mutuality of being refers to a special type of relationship, one that overlaps with friendship but has its own distinct qualities... Mutuality of being, he writes in What Kinship Is — And Is Not (2013), comes about when people are ‘co-present in each other’. More than just spending time together, the individuals involved remain emotionally and cognitively taken up with each other’s lives even when they are not together."

I think I expected my fresh start this week without really letting myself recover from the weeks preceding it. I found my dreams hungover with old worries. I had a lot of sleep in me still. I have today off work, though. I think it will be a good weekend.

I hope yours is too!

Authenticity is not a look

When I studied philosophy, authenticity was an important concept to me. In existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which one remains true to oneself, despite external pressures. It's about choosing to follow your own conscious self rather than give way to pressures of others and of our material world.

When I first started writing as a journalist, and later blogging, authenticity was a notion I leaned on again. I wouldn't write about a company just because they sent me free stuff. I would tell those stories I really wanted to tell, even if they weren't always going to be the most popular, even - in the case of my blog - if they were only meaningful for me.

The problem with putting authenticity on a computer screen, though, is that people begin to reduce it to the supporting visuals. And then it becomes a buzzword for that certain kind of look. The look of distressed tables and rustic meals, for example. Of patina 'til kingdom come, whether it's beards or boats, blankets or peeling paint, candle wax or the slow decay of roses. These things can, of course, be authentic. But authenticity is really about intention not manifestation. A luxe pad, even a distastefully blingerific pad, can be as authentic to its owner as a humble, rustic or sparse one.

We make a significant mistake when we simply equate a certain look alone with authenticity, or when we think that authenticity is a quality that can be managed or instilled top-down, like an outfit planned or decor scheme, rather than fostered bottom-up in a very personal way.

I understand why we're a generation craving the uber-tactile: We sit at screens for hours every day so those images that most conjure a life with deep seams and layered storytelling call to us. I too have got lost in blogs that give me a taste of something that seems more sensual than my monitor or cubicle walls. And I also think the aesthetic of our moment is a beautiful one — I like slab dining tables and wabi-sabi dinnerware as much as the next person.

But there's a tipping point. A moment when it becomes coiffed and constructed in a manner that betrays and torments its original, humble appeal. And it's not the coiffing and construction alone that makes it dishonest. It's the dissonance between the down-to-earthness portrayed and the time, money, effort that went into creating it. As Felicia said in her Kinfolk cookbook review, "They drive miles for mussels and set a formidable table in their outdoor barns. Theirs is a life of cultivated beauty that carries its own disquiet, giving the illusion of simplicity when it’s nothing more than understated affluence and luxury" (See more from Felicia here).

Authenticity is mostly about being honest with yourself and that can't be judged by an aesthetic alone. What you naturally do for yourself (I would add, "by yourself") is probably the most authentic "you". Authenticity can be captured by a photograph taken in a certain moment, but it can't be constructed for a photograph. Still, I wince a little when people get bitchy about photographs — vitriol about twine and Mason jars is a red herring. It's not the aesthetic that's the problem but what that aesthetic purports to be, especially when it isn't natural at all, but over-contemplated and complicated, convoluted to extremes.

Personally, I don't have a vendetta against boys with beards or Mason jars or twine or canoes. I easily pass over things that aren't to my taste without fuss. But I do want objects and events in my world to arise in a certain way. Not planned painstakingly and stripped of spontaneous connections. Not sponsored by West Elm, Terrain, Anthropologie or any of those usual suspects. But simply occurring in the world when a certain moment arises. And being felt deeply rather than method-acted through. Not a scene to be set and stepped into and self-congratulated on. But a moment of spontaneous synchronicity that gives rise to magical connections with others or is simply enjoyed for oneself.

I've been wondering a lot lately why authenticity has been confused with an aesthetic. And if the perpetrators even think about the language they're using, the dissonance they're creating, or if they're just capitalizing on this economic moment, packaging a product with a deep and visceral need (a spiritual one, even).

I occasionally worry that we desire some conveniently canned version of authenticity more than we're willing to step back and be critical and build it for ourselves. That we let marketing people co-opt the concept and apply it to PR stints and celebrity endorsements and other greedy voices. That we invest in the superficial look we associate with our need instead of simply following our own conscious selves and blocking out the noise and pressure of this material world.

Authenticity used to be a word I reached for, but now it makes me recoil. It has become the language of business transactions, profitable relationships, merchandising. It's become much more of visual and tactile concept, than a visceral, individual or ethical one. But being authentic really begins in a much more subjective place, a place deeper down - that doesn't throw shapes, but just does what feels right.

Flowers of late

My weekly solace has been a trip to the flower market. I go to the same vendor each week, the one where Jasmine works. She always compliments my selections and remarks oh, another week gone by already. I like being a regular in that way, knowing that I'm one of those small things somebody else measures out their week by. These are some of my recent arrangements.

Sunday best: Starting over

It's funny how a few weeks away from the blogosphere changed my perspective.

At times, I ached to be here. Not missing the blog so much as the flow of words. Because it wasn't only here I haven't been writing, but anywhere. And I missed that part of myself that is the part I least fathom; the part that shapes words into sentences of its own volition, when I'm out walking or sitting on the subway. There's usually such a current of words that many slip downstream without making it to a page. And I missed the me-ness of that feeling.


But also, the internet suddenly seems so small when you step away from it. Its constructs seem so flimsy, so quickly forgotten. When you step outside of it, the players are easily forgotten, like quitting a job and realizing your whole world, your every day, has been but one and not an absolute. And of course we all know that and we lean on that knowledge in weary moments. But it's something different to take the step back and experience it - a deeper degree of knowing sets in. It's a good perspective to visit.

But I'm glad to be back. Glad to find myself wanting to be back. Yesterday waking and finding the words again gurgling up after weeks of spreadsheets, lists and workflows, things I'm good at, that I can find a certain pleasure locking into, measuring progress against... but that I ultimately don't relate to, don't see myself in the doing of.

And the pleasure too of a sort of fresh start. I wonder sometimes if I don't push myself into extremes because then I'll be forced to draw a line under my ways and start afresh. That I don't dig into the long days and the stress and the exhaustion because I know the more I take on the more I'll inevitably have to let go. Like learning to be moderate in these moments is not something I want, rather to be mutable in extremes of all-or-nothing, or all, then nothing. So I can start over, which is after all, the sweetest clean slate.

So here I am, relishing that. With a stack of books to be read and a new shade of lipstick. With a new budget. With promises to be good and to stay in touch, to do yoga and buy flowers, to listen more closely, to sharpen my attention, to dig deeper into ideas rather than latch onto canned aphorisms. With a commitment to my sadly neglected body; to stretching and moving and being strong and taking my vitamins. To using my words. And spending time with my people.

Products: MiH Paris jeans from Net-a-Porter | Fews Mohair Knit by Étoile Isabel Marant from La Garconne | Nora Zodiac Wool Scarf from Club Monaco | Rider bag from Loeffler Randall | Velvet Matte Lip Pencil from NARS | Cathy Waterman Ring from Twist | Bronte boot from Hudson Shoes

A poem for Monday

This day last week, I nearly posted that I was going to take a blogging break until this project is over. But I couldn't bring myself to say something so decisive. Because I really wanted to be here, even if I just showed up for a moment, even if I didn't post anything.

I'm putting too much stock right now in the idea that on Thursday I'll find slack in my days again. That I'll go back to yoga and reclaim a sense of self I've let slip away. That I'll have time to write again. That I'll have time to be inspired to write again. That my patience will return and I'll have time for kindnesses too. But all this really has to happen for the simple fact that I'm slowly slipping away, losing myself in days at the office, in the humdrum commute, in the spreadsheets of my dreams.

And I've been thinking about home too, because home is the simple place I go to in my head, crude almost in its rugged simplicity, like a piece of folk furniture. And that's a lie because I don't know a place more knotted in itself than my island. But still, I strain there when all this gets too much. And its wet saltiness and the coldness of grey stone and the sulphur of seaweed all seem like things I want to bury myself in, to wear like a selkie coat.

I posted Blue Stone before. This is gray, which I want to spell grey, by Richard Hugo.

Gray Stone
A gray stone does not change color wet
or dry. Baked on a scorched road or shaded
by cedars, underground or tossed
into a bright green sky, it's always gray.
It is the stone of earth, of the down-to-earth
no nonsense way of knowing life
does not often of its own volition provide.
A gray stone will not
change your luck or shorten the mortgage
or make you young again. It doesn't say
"now" to investments - money or love.
It doesn't say "no" when you plot wrong things
you are sure you must do with your life
or die from the drone. Keep one gray stone
in a secret place, and when those you love
are broken or gone, listen
with a sustained, with a horrible attention
to the nothing it has always had to say.

Friday!

I feel like I'm barely here these days and I miss it. It's been a reminder of just how much I like to play here, to noodle words and collect lovely things, to share ideas and melancholy notions, poems and schemes.


It's not only that I don't have the energy or time right now, it's also that I don't quite have a sense of myself outside of all the work to be done. Like the muscle memory of just being me has been forgotten. I know it will come back... I'm in the final leg of this project now. And I know this is a lot about me clinging too tight, as I do to things that I care about against all reason. But it will be done soon and I'll find my way back to normal.

I read this over on Toast Travels last week. Evie Wyld was a new-to-me discovery only a month ago and now I strain for every new thing she writes. And did I already share this video of Kevin Barry? I've watched it a few times now. Classic. Oh! And this gorgeous piece made me cry at my desk last weekend.

The flowers I arranged on Sunday evening were the happiest thing to come home to each night this week. I mostly missed their slow fading but at the same time, they were the only thing measuring the march of my days.

I'm happy for Friday. Wishing you a lovely weekend!

A poem for Tuesday (excerpt)

Tonight, I came home feeling a little different than days of late. Maybe I was a little less exhausted, maybe so far beyond exhausted that I've stopped feeling it. The air was colder and it was heavy dark outside, not the blue night of summer but the plush black of a real autumn night. I made soup and paid October rent and reached for a poem—this poem by May Swenson. It's too long to paste it all in here and I don't know if it's wrong somehow to break out an excerpt (why do I feel it is?) But this part is my favourite part:

October
     7
Now and then, a red leaf riding
the slow flow of gray water.
From the bridge, see far into
the woods, now that limbs are bare,
ground thick-littered. See,
along the scarcely gliding stream,
the blanched, diminished, ragged
swamp and woods the sun still
spills into. Stand still, stare
hard into bramble and tangle,
past leaning broken trunks,
sprawled roots exposed. Will
something move?—some vision
come to outline? Yes, there—
deep in—a dark bird hangs
in the thicket, stretches a wing.
Reversing his perch, he says one
“Chuck.” His shoulder-patch
that should be red looks gray.
This old redwing has decided to
stay, this year, not join the
strenuous migration. Better here,
in the familiar, to fade.