News: New column over at the Daily Muse!

  • I am taking over Molly Donovan’s weekly column at the Daily Muse. It’s called “What to Read on the Subway This Week.” Check out my first week of suggestions here.
  • I’m so stretched out from yoga last night. Pigeon pose totally kicked my {always-tight} right hip around, especially since I’ve been avoiding that pose lately. Gotta keep at it.
  • I’ve been painting a lot lately and was accepted into a local art show. I’m trying to decide whether or not to say yes. In the words of Brene Brown, this is one of my vulnerability moments. Manning a booth in front of the public is a scary proposition. Here is one of my new paintings. If I get brave, I’ll probably try to sell this one:


21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice

I received my copy of 21st Century Yoga in the mail this week. Edited by Rosanne Harvey of the blog, It’s All Yoga, Baby, and academic writer/professor Carol Horton, I found it first via Melanie Klein’s essay on yoga & body image at AdiosBarbie. Here’s Horton in the introduction, talking about their approach to the essays:

“Asking big questions while remaining open to a variety of answers supports creative thought and exchange by holding space for wondering, exploring, and not knowing.”

Looking forward to reading more! You can discover more about the book here. 

The American President

Last night I read Michael Lewis’ Vanity Fair essay on Barack Obama. If you’d like a take how the VF article portrays Obama and what it means for his campaign, please visit Anne Helen Petersen’s blog, “Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style.” She’s an incredible media scholar: her blog and classic Hollywood scandals column at the Hairpin rate very high on my must-read list. But when I read Lewis, I wasn’t thinking of Obama’s campaign in particular. Here’s the part that stood out to me:

“Eighteen months into the office [Obama] reupholstered the two chairs in his sitting area.“The chairs were kind of greasy. I was starting to think, Folks are going to start talking about us,” [he said]…And he took one look at the bookshelves, filled with china, and thought, This won’t do. “They had a bunch of plates in there,” he says, a little incredulously. “I’m not a dish guy.” The dishes he replaced with the original applications for several famous patents and patent models—Samuel Morse’s 1849 model for the first telegraph, for instance, which he pointed to and said, “This is the start of the Internet right here.”

Remind anyone else of a certain movie?

1995. Remember The American President, starring Michael Douglas as a widowed commander-in-chief and Annette Bening as the spunky environmental lobbyist who begins dating him, to a general media firestorm and vicious opposition criticism? Written by Aaron Sorkin, this movie was apparently the genesis for his television show The West Wing and seems almost psychic in its portrayal of the complexity of presidents’ private lives. We, the audience, know that the Douglas and Bening characters are both wholesomely smitten with each other and are  not whiling away the hours secretly or illegally discussing environmental policy, but….how to do we know?

It’s because Bening–outwardly feisty, but also patriotically intimidated and impressed by the presidency–acts as a kind of ‘normal person’ lens into the White House. In that way, The American President is an old-fashioned movie. You could imagine Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as these characters. Bening, in a fictional context, gets to see the real president as a down-to-earth guy and single father. What makes him a regular guy (in an ironic parallel with the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) is his relationship to objects. There’s a scene where Bening is visiting the White House and Douglas describes the White House China Room as the “Dish Room,” signaling that he’s not pretentious enough to care about china or expensive things, solely because they’re expensive.

When I read the Obama quote, I joked on Facebook that the VF article was a sign that men “don’t get china.” Even my friend J., defending his fellow man, called it an “endearing” trait in the context of the scene. And I agree. I think that’s why Hollywood and the media use recognizable details like this, to humanize the presidency, whether onscreen or in the pages of Vanity Fair. That’s our fantasy president as the protagonist and romantic lead: the guy who calls it “the Dish Room.”

“Be yourself. And compliment her on her shoes.”

Outtakes With Mandy

Recently, I interviewed  Mandy Ingber, creator of the Yogalosophy DVD and personal yoga teacher to Jennifer Aniston, for a Daily Muse article about how yoga can help your career; Kathryn Budig of Aim True Yoga was also generous enough to be interviewed.  We talked about yoga’s role in shaping your self-esteem, making you feel more confident in life, and giving your career a boost. It’s true: yoga really is a whole-life practice! You can find that Daily Muse article here.  But I didn’t get to use all of Mandy’s responses in the Daily Muse piece, because of our length limitations. I was a little sad not to be able to talk about Mandy’s thoughts on vision boards. I think vision boards are fantastic.

A little backstory: I’ve been a fan of Mandy’s Yogalosophy DVD since its debut. I reviewed it on my website back in April.  The workout is great—you’ll feel like you’ve worked your muscles—but Mandy is really down to earth & fun, too. So, I was totally stoked to ask Mandy about why she uses vision boards, which she mentions on the DVD and at her website. Here’s what she had to say:

“Visualizing, being inspired, and having reminders around us help trigger our emotions, which are the motivating force behind what we create. It is important to know where you are going and to declare what you want. The eye likes to have a visual image, like a finish line. I find that just having the images in front of me while I am exercising gets into my DNA. The dreams are getting in there subliminally.” She believes that vision boards are a great tool for anyone looking to change their mindset.   “Having that visual experience in front of us during exercise is awesome because we become very receptive in that state. I have been experimenting more and more with the most efficient ways to create the life I dream of, and the vision board is certainly one of them,” she says. “Just about everything I put on there comes to fruition.”

Isn’t that great? Doesn’t it make you want to go out and craft your own vision board?

Hollywood: Anita Loos’ hats & Marilyn Monroe’s diamonds

I haven’t talked about my MFA thesis on classic Hollywood hair in a while, but I’m in the process of revising parts of it & thought it might be interesting to blog about it a little. I’m expanding my Marilyn Monroe chapter to spend more time on one of Monroe’s most famous roles, Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Lorelei is the character–a glitzy blonde showgirl–that Monroe is playing in this musical number:

This musical number is a classic–yes, Madonna borrowed it for her “Material Girl” video–but she’s not alone in looking to Monroe’s Lorelei for inspiration. That pink dress is the drag costume James Franco wore awkwardly on a recent Academy Awards telecast and “Diamonds Are Girl’s Best Friend” is the song Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! used to introduce Nicole Kidman’s tragic protagonist {although her glittery corset is drawn from another classic: Marlene Dietrich’s The Blue Angel, not Gentlemen Prefer Blondes}. By virtue of Monroe’s performance, I think, the onscreen Lorelei is a sympathetic, funny character, not a one-note gold digger.

What many people don’t know is that Lorelei Lee was the creation of author Anita Loos, a screenwriter and playwright with a long Hollywood and Broadway career. Beginning in the silent film era, Loos wrote silent “scenarios” for DW Griffith, talkie parts for Jean Harlow, and her own plays and novellas. Of all her work, the satirical 1925 novella Gentlemen Prefer Blondes–about two gold diggers traveling abroad–made her famous. But Loos herself wasn’t a blonde or a flashy showgirl. She had an interesting, flapper-ish image that she created and stuck with all her life–shiny bobbed hair and wild hats–and was a petite 4’11. There’s a fantastic website, The Anita Loos Museum, with photographs of her hat collection that you should go look at if you’re interested in clothes. Even if you don’t love crazy period hats, Loos is a noteworthy figure: she had a fabulous career, but one of the strangest marriages in the world, to a director named John Emerson. Emerson was eventually institutionalized & diagnosed with schizophrenia after attempting to kill his wife, according to Gary Carey’s biography of the author. Loos’ hobnobbed with Hearst and Marion Davis, knew Joan Crawford, and yet, couldn’t escape the shadow of her marriage, something I find fascinating.

Fun fact: Edith Wharton called Gentlemen Prefer Blondes “the Great American Novel.”

Have I mentioned I love Elvis?

I really, really do.  My short article on Elvis movies is up at one of my favorite websites, Forever Young Adult. I’m ridiculously thrilled to contribute to a website of librarians, book lovers, & pop culture fans. Gold lame jumpsuit thrilled, even. Read it here:

Here’s the Elvis ornament that hangs out on my desk while I’m writing.

Celebrating Fall: A List

The weather has been beautiful this week. The semester has started in earnest, so I’m back on-campus in the sunshine. I feel a little wistful because I’m not taking any classes–if money were no object, I’d take more art history, honestly. The department offers Egyptian art now!–but I’m using the free time to do more freelance work, paint, and read. Some fun things worth mentioning:

  • I got very brave and entered a local artists exhibition on campus. Very casual stuff, but I’m hoping I’ll be accepted. Fingers crossed!
  • Tutoring is off to a fantastic start this semester–my new tutoring coworkers are wonderful.
  • YD has a great post on meditation.
  • I really recommend Keri Smith’s How to Be An Explorer of the World. I caved & bought it, after talking about it a few posts ago. It has dozens of wonderful exercises for art and writing projects. In Smith’s words, “Anything can be a starting place. Begin where you are.” Yogic, right?
  • Also fun: Vivian Swift’s When Wanderers Cease to Roam. I received it as a Christmas gift and just started reading it recently. Swift, an artist & writer, traveled the world in her youth with the Peace Corps & has now settled down on Long Island Sound. Part memoir, part graphic novel, When Wanders Cease to Roam is organized by month and contains Swift’s memories of interesting things in her life and quirky daily observations. She does fantastic watercolor and line drawings. You can see an excerpt here on NPR’s website.
  • In a similar vein, this review over at Bill & Dave’s Cocktail Hour has me tempted to–what else?–buy more books! Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life sounds like an interesting project. {I’m diagnosing myself with “Sudden-Onset Book Lemming Disorder,” ladies & gentlemen.} Actually, I think Smith, Rosenthal, & Swift’s books could form the reading for a really fun elective on writing and craft–the intersections of memoir, everyday life, and craft projects. How cool would that be? I could envision students making their own art/memoir journals.
  • Just saw this post on Mason Jar Cakes from Niki Lowry at The Daily Muse. I’m a little klutzy at baking, but these are SO adorable. Mason jars are nifty; I saw a DIY project that repurposed them as  painted pendant lights recently too. My inner southern girl hearts mason jars.

Setting Intentions?

You may have noticed that lots of individuals and organizations are setting intentions as the season changes. You can read more about them here. My intention is too incorporate more physical activity in my day as the weather gets cooler. And paint more! I’m finding the painting commitment easier to follow, because it is so relaxing.

This is my newest painting, inspired by the artist Flora Bowley.

BohemiaNotes: Paintings

Back when I wrote regularly for The Polycultural, I had a mini-column I called BohemiaNotes. I chose the title as a play on “bohemian” and a place to document things I thought were cool and somewhat different from the norm in terms of education & creativity. I wrote about Black Mountain College, the 1940s-60s-era NC art school that encouraged studio time and on-campus work as part of their degrees, as well as the Unschooling movement. Unschooling is a type of fluid curriculum where kids are homeschooled, but in a self-directed, creative way.

I intended to review Laren Stover’s Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge for The Polycultural, but never got around to it. Stover’s book is a pleasant read, filled with anecdotes about bohemians from the nineteenth-century to the late 1960s. She finds stories and quotes about the creative process that are interesting. Her critics might suggest she’s a little slick, a little too commercial–she avoids the downsides of unheated flats and the book is prettily illustrated with cute watercolor beatniks–but still. It’s nice to glamorize artistic eccentrics in this era, which seems so different, so much faster, and yet, sometimes narrow and self-limiting. That’s what I get from The Bohemian Manifesto and a lot of the writers on my blogroll: we have much more creative potential than we give ourselves credit for. How many times have you heard someone say Oh I could never do that?  But do we really know until we try?

Recently, I dragged out a bunch of canvases and supplies from my undergrad art classes–as an Art History major, I had to take studio art credits and at the time I was just petrified that I would failfailfail, but it was a really fun experience. I had a great teacher named Eric Lawing–and I was surprised at how much I actually liked the old paintings. Back then, I was obsessed with  texture and Monet.  Still am, actually–I like texture and roughness more than polish, even in writing.

I’m playing with my art supplies again, inspired by Mae Chevrette. Here’s a mixed-media I did over the weekend and this week, with a Picasso quote from Stover’s book and a copy of a photo taken in Paris years ago. I’m not entirely happy with the smudginess of the letters, but I’m going to keep working on it.

Body Art & Art Fraud (Yes? No? Maybe?)

If you haven’t discovered the website Brainpickings, you’re missing out. It’s a trove of fantastic articles on creativity, education, science, writing and other topics. My favorite new post from them is one on Keri Smith’s book, How to Be An Explorer of the World.  

My favorite piece of Smith’s advice? “Everything is interesting. Look closer.”

And I did get to watch the documentary Here’s Looking at You: A Celebration of Body Art (2005) this week. It was fascinating. If you’ve read Studs Turkel’s Working, a collection of interview accounts of people and their jobs that Turkel transcribed in the first person, I would say this documentary takes a Turkel-ish approach to body adornment. Subjects talk about their tattoos, hair color, piercings, and other choices without mediation from the filmmakers. You get access to individual voices in an interesting way. However, as the subtitle suggests, this is a positive look at body art–no stories of disappointment or regret–just people talking proudly about their choices.

 I also watched the My Kid Could Paint That (2007) about the controversy surrounding child artist Marla Olmstead. Acclaimed for her abstract paintings at four years old, the authenticity of Marla’s work was later called into question by CBS news during the filming of this documentary; Charlie Rose’s 60 Minutes broadcast essentially accuses Olmstead’s parents of faking her work themselves. As the scandal unfolds, the filmmaker and interview subjects grapple with the implications of being accused of cheating and you see various reactions–denial, grief, opportunism. This documentary was more painful to watch than someone being tattoo’d, actually.

Little Marla is shown as being confused and sometimes seems anxious at gallery events, while the stress surrounding the film highlights the differences between her parents. Her mother wants her to have a normal life, while her father seems more attracted to the attention and fame his daughter is receiving. One thing I found irritating was the filmmaker’s repeated reliance on Elizabeth Cohen, a local news reporter who first covered Marla, to give perspective and context. My issue with Cohen is that she seems a little too self-satisified, frequently proclaiming that she saw this all coming. I don’t think anyone could have honestly anticipated either the success or the scandal surrounding this little girl.

What could be anticipated, however, is the art world’s fascination with fame. There’s a scene in My Kid Could Paint That where the gallery owner representing Marla talks a rich older couple into buying a particular work. He keeps reassuring them, “this one is in the movie {a film of Marla painting a work, done to prove that she was doing the work herself}, so it will be really famous.” Despite the fact that the couple doesn’t seem to actually like that painting, they give into his pressure and buy it. What’s interesting is that the scene implies that Marla’s fame as a child prodigy–not the individual works of art–is the thing that really matters, even to buyers. As you watch the couple drive off in a flashy Hummer, you suspect that they bought the painting so they could say they owned “a Marla” to impress someone else rather than buying something for their own enjoyment. The “Marlas” are status pieces, at least for many of their buyers–and that is reflected in their behavior towards Marla herself. They want to get close to her or ask her about her opinions, despite the fact that she is obviously a normal preschooler. It’s alarming to watch.

This resonated with a book I read this week, Aly Sujo and Lainey Salisbury’s excellent Provenance: How A Con Man and A Forger Re-Wrote the History of Art. By focusing on a famous British case, the authors reveal how much fraud and forgery is at the heart of the art world. They describe how this hunger for famous art allowed John Drewe, a con artist, to falsify provenances for work by a struggling single father and pass them off as Braques, Picassos, Matisses, and Giacomettis.

What about Marla? Was her art real? Does it matter? My Kid Could Paint That avoids a simple answer. She’s now twelve years old. And she’s still painting.