Wednesday, November 19, 2014

All My Friends Are in My Head


I used to talk to myself all the time. Now that I have a cat, I mostly talk to him. It's not because I live alone; I did the same thing back when I had a half-dozen roommates, too. It's great if you can find someone who'll talk back, of course, but it isn't entirely necessary; you can get by with a pet, an imaginary friend, or perhaps a pony-shaped thought-creature that you've manifested with your own mind.

As a young woman growing up in Brussels in the eighteen seventies, Alexandra David-Neel loved secrets: secret societies, esoteric religions, all things taboo and forbidden. She dabbled in Freemasonry, Theosophy, opera singing, and anarchist pamphleteering; she dressed up like a man to hang out with a French cult that smoked hash and saw visions. In her twenties, she began traveling to Asia. In Sikkim, she met the Dalai Lama; in India, she studied Sanskrit and took part in tantric rites. She spent two years living in a cave in Tibet with a hermit who wore an apron carved of human bone; he taught her telepathy and tumo, a Tibetan technique for generating body heat through breath, which they used to avoid freezing to death. Between adventures, she returned to France and published books about her exploits, which were devoured by a public eager for tales from the exotic east.

In With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet, first published in English in 1931, David-Neel described two uncanny encounters. The first was with a Tibetan painter followed around by a fantastic creature that looked just like the monsters in his paintings; the second was with another with a monk who had made an exact, living-and-breathing replica of himself to confuse his enemies. Both creatures were tulpas, which David-Neel defined as "magic formations generated by a powerful concentration of thought." Stemming from a syncretic blend of Tibetan Buddhism and indigenous shamanic traditions, Tibetan tulpas were thoughtforms brought into actual existence through ritual meditation, a sort of mental counterpart to the Talmud's mindless, mud-born golem.

Admitting her own "habitual incredulity," David-Neel decided to try to make a tulpa herself. "I chose for my experiment a most insignificant character: a monk, short and fat, of an innocent and jolly type," she wrote. After a few months of seclusion and diligent ritual prayer, her phantom monk began to take shape. Over time, his form grew increasingly fixed and life-like. Months later, when David-Neel left for an extended horseback tour through the countryside, her tulpa tagged along. By this point, she no longer had to focus her thoughts to make him manifest; he was just there, performing actions that appeared to be autonomous: walking quietly, looking around at the view. At times, it was as if his robe had brushed against her. Once, she felt his hand softly rest on her shoulder.



Go Ask Colette

I mean, of course Colette had an advice column in Marie Claire between 1939 and 1940. I don't even know why I'm surprised. The Believer has a few excerpts on their blog taken from a collection of previously untranslated works; I liked this one best, her response to a twenty-year-old woman who couldn't decide between her safe, reasonable fiancé and some guy who sounds really hot.

I feel I love him more than my fiancé, or rather, not in the same way: I feel for him a violent love, passionate, reckless; for my fiancé, my love is calm, considered, as if asleep.

To which Colette responds:

When you’re twenty years old, do you listen to a love that is “calm, pondered, as if asleep”? Your age is not made for well-motivated decisions, and it seems to me you are looking more for excuses than advice. You admit that absence was enough to make you forget “a little bit” the man who, once you found him again, set you on fire. Couldn’t you try, using such efficient means, to forget him “a lot”? And at the same time—honesty invites you—find the courage not to marry the fiancé who only inspires in you lukewarm feelings. As far as I can see, he is lacking in insight and shrewdness. How can he not sense around you, around him, a presence, and thoughts, that are against him? Leave him be, the angel; and leave the tempter. Does my response not bring you the “peace” you crave? Excuse my frankness, but I can’t help remembering that you are twenty years old. And I’ve never been able to believe that peace is a good present to give a young woman.

Emphasis mine, obviously, bolded because that sentence is going to be repeating in my head for the rest of today and probably my life, ensuring I never get any peace ever again.

The Cost of Being a Salmon Swimming Upstream

After eleven years in New York City, I moved back to my native northern Virginia suburbs a few weeks ago. I’ve been planning this move for most of 2014, and thinking seriously about it since my younger nephew was born in 2013 and I realized I would only be That Lady Who Brings Us Books Every Six Months to him and his older brother unless I made some changes. Since I can do most of my work anywhere with a reliable Internet connection, in mid-October I packed up my entire adult life and shlepped it south on I-95. This is what that cost me.

Moving van rental: $335.43. When I started seriously planning the move, I got a couple of quotes from all-inclusive moving services of what it would cost to pack up my one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment and move my stuff to Alexandria, Virginia. The quotes ranged from about $2,000 to almost $4,000, so rather than spend a couple months’ rent on a moving service, I decided to rent a truck and hire movers. And then I begged my dad to come help me drive the truck. Included in the price was two days’ use of the truck and 280 miles. I paid $48 for U-Haul’s Safemove insurance, and $20 to rent two dozen furniture pads.

Movers: $149.95 to pack the truck in Brooklyn, $153.95 to unload it in Virginia, $80 in tips. When I booked my truck with U-Haul, I used the company’s Moving Help service to hire my movers on both ends. My parents and youngest brother drove up from Virginia a few days before my move to help with the packing, and also so my stepmother and brother could drive down in the car with my TV, my houseplants, and other delicate stuff.

My movers, both two-man teams, were more than worth the money on both ends. I decided to hire movers because my new apartment is on the third floor in a building without an elevator, and also because I own a lot of books. Twenty boxes of ’em. My sixty-year-old dad tends to think he still has the physical capability of a twenty-seven-year-old, and when I moved he was about six weeks removed from surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, which he gave himself by lifting weights. I didn’t want him hurting himself again. Instead my very capable movers did all the hauling and no one got hurt.  READ MORE


Like A Fox

I took the streetcar to the screening of Foxcatcher. Latte in one hand, bracing against a pole for support, I squashed myself in between a bro reading a newspaper and a young woman, small like me, rapidly scrolling through her Instagram. At a certain point a seat nearby me cleared up; a white man in an oversized t-shirt motioned for me to sit. I happily obliged. Even before I sat down, he immediately came and sat next to me, his eyes palpably lingering as the curve of my dress rode up my leg, baring my whole thigh as I sat.

For the whole ride he stared at my leg, then up at me, back to the leg—then again, back to me. At a certain point, after eyeballing me consistently for a few moments, he tried to talk to me through my headphones, tapping me on the shoulders to garner my attention. I diligently looked ahead, ignoring his advances, pretending as if I couldn’t feel his presence that was now very much, in my space, totally brutalizing my energy.

I knew I had to leave the streetcar. After Elliot Rodgers’ Isla Vista killings earlier this year, white men who feel persecuted by women must be avoided at all costs. I did not want to test my chances. With each moment my streetcar companion grew bolder, incessantly shifting next to me to create a conversation point. I was scared, I was uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to anger him. I only got up when I felt I could nonchalantly pretend that I was at my stop, pacing my instinct to bolt out the door. Irked by him completely I walked to the theatre after cruising down benign forgotten streets. Eventually I reached the theatre, a reprieve only of sorts—because as soon after I entered I remembered shootings that happen so often in confined spaces.

I found a seat on the balcony. I sat next to a group of four young white men, maybe fellow critics, I wasn’t sure. As the lights dimmed, and the movie started to begin, I felt the agitation of the dude sitting beside me begin to graze my senses. I was suddenly scared again. He kept shuffling in his seat; twisting and untwisting his arms; crossing his legs, then uncrossing them. I scanned his body from my side. I saw a backpack and wondered if there was a gun inside. I began to divest a plan of action, but my body was tense with fear.

In the last two years there’s been two shootings in a movie theatre in North America—one was this year in Florida, and then the notorious Aurora massacre in 2012. Both shootings were by white men.

With that thought seared into my brain, I began to watch Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher.



Mysteries of the English Language

Why do "fat chance" and "slim chance" mean the same thing?

Why do we park on driveways and drive on parkways?

How is "Dick" a nickname for "Richard"?

Why are "through" "enough" "cough" and "bough" all pronounced differently?

Why did Richard say he would be with me "forever" when what he clearly meant was "until someone younger and hotter comes around?" READ MORE


I Love His Work

Yesterday a certain storied and prolific film actor turned 70, and I missed it. Haley has not yet fired me, but I expect the end is nigh. In order to make amends, here’s a totally-arbitrarily-thrown-together-but-indisputable-list-of-the-greatest-film-and-TV-roles of our time.

Danny DeVito, in Hercules
1000px-Hercules-disneyscreencaps.com-3851 READ MORE


How to Have a Dinner Party

1. Invite people who believe in food.
A dinner party will be much more successful if everyone there believes that food really exists. Remember, it just takes one food skeptic to ruin the party. Also, don’t invite anyone who is afraid of food.

2. Ask your guests to prepare questions.
Preparing questions in advance will give the dinner party more structure. However, guests should not expect to receive clear, straightforward answers to their questions since food does not communicate in the same way that people communicate. Also, you may want to ask your guests to bring photographs of their own food – it helps to make connections.

3. Create a food-friendly atmosphere.
Choose a quiet, dimly-lit room with a round or oval shaped table. Light candles, since food is attracted to heat and light. Begin your dinner party near midnight.

4. Ask your guests if they’re ready to participate in the dinner party.
It’s normal for people to giggle nervously, but if anyone looks genuinely afraid, you may want to ask them to leave. Encourage your guests to relax and hold hands. Soft chanting can help.

5. Summon the food.


Things We Need Words For

Alexandra Molotkow is a beautiful genius in all regards, so of course she's the person we need to point out the words the English language is still lacking:

6. Remembering you have a body and wishing you didn’t

7. False sense of accomplishment for having had firsthand experience with an object of cultural nostalgia

8. Private feeling of dismay when it turns out everyone knows about something you thought only you knew about

9. Feeling of sexual obligation to someone you met on the Internet or a cellphone

10. Overall dissonance between one’s online and offline personae

11. The feeling of having read many words and learned nothing

I mean, it's 2015. We should at least have a word for my personal favorite: "14. A fashion trend spawned by a joke about fashion trends."

I made up a word a few years ago to describe a particularly unique experience and I'm going to share it with you now because I am nothing if not generous. READ MORE

Bonfire of the Inanities

Courtesy NYPL

The story arrived in November of 1992—more than a year after the video for Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" premiered on MTV's "120 Minutes." It was nine months after the Toronto Star asked: "Why is Seattle the rock capital of the world?" It was two months after the St. Petersburg Times told everyone's grandparents that "the scene is dead." That's the moment that the New York Times finally went big on grunge—a trend that reporter Rick Marin called "a musical genre, a fashion statement, a pop phenomenon."

In "Grunge: A Success Story," Marin summed it all up:

This generation of greasy Caucasian youths in ripped jeans, untucked flannel and stomping boots spent their formative years watching television, inhaling beer or pot, listening to old Black Sabbath albums and dreaming of the day they would trade in their air guitars for the real thing, so that they, too, could become famous rock-and-roll heroes.

But the real absurdity, Marin suggested, lay in the fact that the entire "trend" of grunge was a fabrication, and he carefully unpacked the ways in which the media had built up the story of a trend. READ MORE



Adam Sternbergh at New York magazine has an incredible deep dive on emoji, the thread that is holding this country together. If you weren't already excited, the article also includes the following words:

“But why is the pile of poo smiling?” would be the next logical question. Before we answer that, you may want to buckle yourself in, because we’re about to toboggan down the Smiling Pile of Poo Emoji Wormhole.

I won't ruin it for you; click through and read the whole thing, including the additional sidebar lessons on How to Speak Emoji (there will be a quiz— I will text you and if I leave the conversation thinking you are mad at me, you will have failed). But before you go, here is, as you should've come to expect with the Hairpin by now, the #DrakeTake:

The rapper Drake recently got an honest-to-God tattoo of an emoji that, depending on whom you ask, means either “praying hands” or “high five”. (Drake says praying hands. “I pity the fool who high-fives in 2014,” he clarified via Instagram.)

No further questions.


The Best Time I Peed On Myself


Diabetes Mellitus was the first disease I made amateur study of. Years before I was born, my brother Danny was diagnosed with juvenile-onset diabetes, and I grew up watching him prick his fingertips with a horrifying device called an Autolet—essentially a spring-loaded thumbtack—a half-dozen times per day. Autolet technology has advanced, but back then, producing a single gleaming drop of blood to be placed on the end of a test strip required incredible fortitude. Nearly everything Danny ate was measured and weighed, and he was measured and weighed, and weights and measurements became extremely important in all regards. Urine was tested for evidence of ketones, which I found gross and exciting.

Because it didn’t touch his blood sugar levels, Diet Pepsi became a thing that my brother and I obsessed over and coveted endlessly. Privately, we called it The Peps. In conversation, we replaced the word insolence with insulin. One time when I was ten, I tried to stick my finger with his Autolet, but got too frightened at the last moment and ran from his room with true fear in my heart.

Bound by the rituals of his disorder, as far as I could tell, Danny neither loathed nor prized this failure of his immune system—he couldn’t recall another way of living. Daily, I watched him puncture and inject, my fascination stretching to school projects, year after year, peaking in grade five. Collecting several used hypodermics from his trash, an empty bottle of insulin, and a handful of fresh cotton balls, I arranged them in a shoebox like a biohazardous horn of plenty.

The scent of rubbing alcohol makes me feel tender, nostalgic.



Watch the New Music Video for Zedd's "Rude" Remix (feat. Magic!)

With the new Nights by Absolut initiative, Absolut collaborated with cutting edge artists to inject creativity into nightlife through a series of artistic experiences that raised the bar of what to expect from a night out. Kicking off in New York on September 12, Absolut collaborated with artists Vita Motus to transform the skyline of New York City. Inviting participants to experience how anything is possible through creativity, Absolut turned the waterfront of Brooklyn into the most exciting club in the world – for just one night.

You can see the entire spectacle — including Vita Motus' amazing work in action — in the new music video for Zedd's remix of Magic!'s "Rude" (featuring...you guessed it, Magic!).


You can find the first episode of Nightscape here — and don't forget to check in on twitter at #AbsolutNights.


Women Real Tired of Your Shit in Art

Barthel Beham–Portrait of a Woman–1529 READ MORE


Perfection Achieved

Solange Knowles: most perfect person on Earth? Please submit your 5,000-word essay arguing why Solange Knowles has, in fact, achieved a new level of perfection previously unknown by humanity, using her recently released wedding photos as proof.


Weekend Roundup / Open Thread

Wanna hear something crazy? Haley and I are both in the air right now (barring flight delays, inclement weather, and the possibility that this morning Haley decides not to get on the plane to Miami but instead flies to New York to surprise me when I get home on Sunday — in that case, she would have landed by now)!!!! Above is a random photo I chose from the internet to elucidate the aforementioned fact. It might be France? Who really knows, though? Not me. We are both en route to various ~*~*~speaking engagements~*~*~: Haley is headed to the Bullish conference in Miami, where she is leading a panel on How to Be Your Own Boss (I'd love to attend, but then— I'd be my own boss, and what would Haley be? A stylish Canadian with tiny hands?!). I am going to Forever Fest in Austin, where I will be on a panel entitled Meme Girls, with Mallory Ortberg, Jennifer Romolini, and Taylor Trudon. Both of them will be fun! You should come if you live close by, or if you have an insane number of frequent flier miles and nothing else to do this weekend. Bring snacks.

Yesterday, Haley told us all that we should love ourselves as much as Drake loves the Toronto Raptors mascot, advice I plan to take with me to the grave. This week was full of self-soothing: we introduced a new column on self-care, read Vanessa Willoughby on how Sylvia Plath comforted her, and how even cursing can calm us down. We also looked at some horses who can't even, had some sexting mishaps, got sent to pray-away-the-gay yoga camp, channeled some superpowers, learned about advanced dating, interviewed Gina Prince-Bythewood, and labeled ourselves according to our favorite alcoholic beverages. It was a great week for us, and hopefully for you, too.

This Week in Awesome Women: Anupa Mistry interview Ta-Nehisi Coates (!!! I KNOW), Hazel Cillis wrote the year of crazy ex-girlfriends, and Jenny Zhang has a new poem in Prelude. Aren't they great?! You are too. See you Monday.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.