Category Archives: Situational Observations

Collage Night.

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My good friend Bekah has been on a collaging kick as of late, and she invited me over a couple nights ago for a drink-PBR-and-make-collages night. I was a little skeptical at first, but once I got going, I slipped into a creative trance that I wanted to live in forever, cutting and gluing and arranging and rearranging. I was lamenting to a friend the other day how difficult it is to pursue creative projects that are free, but collaging seems an excellent solution to that dilemma: Bekah picked up a couple issues of National Geographic from the 1950s and 1940s from Half Price Books for just a couple dollars each, and I was amazed at how instantaneously and tangibly good it felt to be creating with my hands. I’m a collaging convert, guys.

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On a related note, the photographs from the old National Geographics that we used for collaging are incredible. Truly some of the most amazing compositions and subjects I’ve ever seen. And it’s so fascinating to compare these dreamy, fuzzy-around-the-edges photos from the 40s and 50s to the crystal-clear sharpness of present-day photography. It’s what we’ve come to expect from our photos, I guess, but I think I prefer the more approximate old style. There’s a sort of magic and mystery in the diminished detail of the old photos that’s really enchanting because, as Bekah astutely noted, they’re not trying to be so literal. All of which is to say: I’m heading to Half Price Books immediately to pore through more of these amazing NatGeo photo archives, and to bring a few home for another collage night.
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Heavy.

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Thought Catalog.

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It took me the better part of 2012, but I have officially been published on Thought Catalog and can finally cross it off my 24 Before 25 list! Yay! The essay is called “Stop Catcalling Me” and it’s an elaboration on this post, which was inspired by this post. Even greater than my pride and satisfaction in seeing my writing on TC is my fascination at the range of comments that have been made: about 50% of the comments are from girls who agree and see their own experiences mirrored in my commentary and the other half are comments from men (and a few women) who insist I need to “loosen my corset.” There are a lot of people who strongly disagree with what I wrote, which I think is great because it reiterates that this is a really sensitive issue that the sexes stand very divided on, and it’s really exciting to see something I wrote facilitate a passionate debate among the commenters. Check it out here if you’d like!

On Letting Go.

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Last week I went and saw Celeste and Jesse Forever in the theater by myself. I do that sometimes, so there’s no need to feel sorry for me. This movie was really fascinating, because even though it was marketed as an indie dramedy, it struck me as a potent case study in breaking up and letting go. A brief synopsis: Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) have been married for six years, but as they both approach 30, Celeste decides that they should get divorced. All of their friends are weirded out because even after being separated for six months, Celeste and Jesse still live together and hang out together all the time as if getting divorced wasn’t a big deal, to which they reply that they’re still best friends even though their marriage is over, and why shouldn’t they still hang out? That line of thinking works great until Jesse starts dating another woman pretty seriously, at which point Celeste struggles to hide her palpable jealousy and starts questioning whether or not she made a mistake in asking for a divorce. Much drama and hilarity ensue.

Maybe this wasn’t the intention of the filmmakers at all, but throughout the entirety of the film, the question that kept returning to the forefront of my mind was “Why is it so hard to let go?” In the beginning of the film, we see Jesse struggle to let go of the slim possibility that Celeste will change her mind and call off the divorce, and once he starts dating someone else, Celeste can’t let go either, even though she’s the one who wanted a divorce in the first place. Are we all crazy people for not being able to let go? Yes and no, probably. Obviously I am no expert on such things, but watching my friends go through break-ups and surviving a monster break-up myself, there are certain things I’ve observed that seem particularly Truthy.

One, change is hard for a lot of people, and even more than that, oftentimes it’s even harder to accept the permanence of the decisions you make that act as a catalyst for change. When you break-up with someone or divorce someone, usually that decision lasts forever. But what if you made the wrong decision? What if your life with this person is as good as it’s going to get? What if you never love another person as much as you love this person, or worse, what if you never find another person who loves you like this person does? If that turns out to be true, then you will have no one to blame but yourself, and no one wants to have to live with the knowledge that they have ruined their own life. When Celeste starts second-guessing herself and her decision to get divorced, she turns into a crazy person who does crazy desperate things in an attempt to hold onto the relationship that she’s afraid will slip out of her grasp. Why not just let go? Because letting go is forever, and the reality of forever is scary.

Two, there is a comfort in the familiarity of a relationship that is hard to imagine living without. When you’re with someone for a long time, you take for granted how much of your life is shared and how much your significant other informs your identity, and then when you break up, you have to rediscover who you are as an individual and relearn how to live your life alone. I can tell you from experience, that is the worst. And if that thought alone isn’t enough to keep you hanging on, just think about the agony of jumping back into dating again. Early in the movie when one of Jesse’s friends tells him he should start dating, Jesse says “Maybe I just don’t want to start over with someone new.” Years of work go into the foundation of a lasting relationship, from allowing yourself to truly know (and be known by) another person to accumulating layers of memories and inside jokes and shared experience, and when that relationship ends, it feels like all that work was for nothing. The mere thought of starting from square and attempting such an intensive and laborious undertaking with another person seems a positively insurmountable task.

Strangely enough, as I was driving home from this movie, “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley came on the radio, which, aside from being truly one of the greatest songs ever (D HEN 4 LYFE), is an amazingly poignant song about the struggle to let go. The song begins with imagery that reflects the speaker’s aloneness, from “empty lakes, empty streets” to “the sun goes down alone,” and then launches into that heartbreaking line “I’m driving by your house / though I know you’re not home.” He knows that “those days are gone forever” and that he should just let them go, but in spite of himself, he’s living in memories, not simply remembering but seeing his ex’s “brown skin shining in the sun” and her way of “walking real slow and / smiling at everyone.” It’s such a beautiful song, and it totally puts a lump in my throat every time I hear it.

It also, I think, hammers home the point that much of the difficulty of letting go is a signifier of real care. It wouldn’t be so hard to do if the person or relationship you’re trying to let go of didn’t mean something you. It’s like the five steps of the grieving process: you have to mourn, to work through your anger and fear and confusion, to honor what was once but is no longer, and accept the loss in order to move on with your life in peace. That’s the point of letting go, I think. Not to pretend that it never happened or to always feel regret, but to find a way to be at peace with loss. That probably sounds very zen, but it’s certainly easier said than done.

Dream Believe Do.

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I once took part in a ‘life coaching’ exercise that at first sounded rather macabre. It was this: write your own eulogy. Shocked? Don’t be. The point is to articulate how you would like to be remembered. And once you’ve done it, ask yourself if you are that person today. If not, then no better time to start than immediately. After all, it’s too easy to look across the tracks and see successful people (whatever form that ‘success’ might take to be relevant to you) and muse that they’ve only done it because they were born in the right month, to the right family or with an excess of luck on their side. It’s much harder to perceive your destiny as your own responsibility.

And yet, what is it that permits some to rise to fame, fortune or respect? I’ve been hugely privileged to interview many people I find inspiring over the years, from Mary Portas for this issue to film director Peter Greenaway, hotelier Ian Schrager and photographer Elliott Erwitt to name a handful. And it strikes me that there are common threads that have very little to do with background, providence or prosperity. And so I proffer my observations and my own life learnings thus far… To do anything well, you must first care. Passionately. And be enthusiastic. Be hungry. Stay hungry. Be proactive. Do more than your job description. In fact, create your own job. Understand that receiving criticism is the quickest way to improve. And that sometimes being fired, or not getting what you want, is absolutely the best thing that could happen. Be a team player. Give credit where credit is due; ‘we’ is always stronger than ‘I’. But if something goes wrong, take responsibility, stand up and be counted. Love your life outside work – it’s the only way to stay sane, and that’s more important the higher up you go. Know your physical limits, but never stop dreaming. Never mock another person’s dreams. Don’t be a quitter. If you believe you can do something, you’ve already done the hard part. Be curious. Stay curious. Rules are overrated but respect is everything. Play for win/win scenarios. Don’t ask permission to succeed, just get on with it. If something hasn’t been done before, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. In short, dream, believe, do! But be prepared to work bloody hard, over and above expectations. Never cheat. Don’t gossip. Have a moral code. Enjoy the ride. The aim is to screech to a halt when you finally get to those pearly gates and say wow, what a blast! Not oops, I forgot something.

-Michelle Ogundehin, Editor of Elle Decoration UK

Post-Olympic Cities.

Ever since the closing ceremonies concluded the weekend before last, I’ve had an Olympic-shaped hole in my heart. I remember getting really excited about the Olympics as a kid, but these Games were the first that I’ve invested time in watching as an adult, and truth be told, it was a little magical. Everything is so big! And Olympians are so impressive! For the first time, I understand what a simultaneous honor and struggle it is to be an Olympic athlete, to represent your country on a world stage and perform at a consistent level of near-perfection. I would watch the Olympic happenings at Nate’s house with he and his roommates and it was a very communal experience, to sit together and cheer on Gabby Douglas and Misty May-Treanor and Allyson Felix and to all be emotionally invested in their victories together. There was such a latent excitement surrounding the Olympics this year, and it was fun to live in that excitement for a couple weeks.

But what happens when the Olympics are over and the excitement disappears? I came across a series of photos the other day on FlavorWire that attempt to get at that question. The Olympic City, a collaboration between photographer Jon Pack and filmmaker Gary Hustwit, is a photo collection of the ruins of former Olympic host cities. As it turns out, many of the grand Olympic structures built for the Games have faded into obsolescence, and a few have been repurposed for wildly different uses than they were originally intended for. These photos are really beautiful and haunting, and it makes me wonder whether it’s worth it to pour so much money into such a temporary grandiosity if this is the fate that awaits future Olympic sites. It’s an interesting and tricky question to consider.

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See more photos from The Olympic City Project here.

Catcalls.

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Since returning to Seattle, I’ve been without a car in the city for the first time since I was a college freshman. Because busses cost money and I’m poor, I’ve opted for walking as my go-to mode of transportation, and strangely enough, I’ve noticed that, as a result of walking, the frequency with which I’m catcalled has increased tenfold. About a month ago, after a particular week of what seemed like endless catcalls, I read a post on Apocalypstick that addressed catcalling and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

As far as I can tell, the point of Almie’s anecdote was to express that she felt weird and a little disgusted with herself for being flattered by this stranger’s catcall, and to question whether or not those feelings of weirdness and disgust were valid. As a lady who gets catcalled fairly regularly and never feels flattered by it, I can say with surety that if the same thing happened to me, I would probably be flattered too. But that’s probably because I think there’s a very distinct difference between a catcall and a compliment, and I don’t see Almie’s experience as a catcall at all.

When I think of a catcall, I think of men sticking their heads out of moving cars like dogs to whistle or shout at you as they pass. It always seems to be a drive-by, or walk-by, experience. When you’re catcalled, there’s no acknowledgment of your distinct personhood or even of your humanity, really; you’re simply being appraised as an object, as a body without a person inside of it, and I suspect that’s at least part of the reason why it’s referred to as a catcall instead of a human-call. A catcall has nothing to do with being complimentary and everything to do with asserting power, like “Woman, I can tell you exactly what I think of the way you look because I’m a man and my opinion is important!” Catcalls strip you of control and force you to be passive, because there’s nothing you can do to counter a catcall: you can’t stop the cat-caller and say “Excuse me, sir, but I’m offended by the way you’re objectifying me” because it all takes place in passing, and you can’t even really shout profanities at them or give them the bird before they’ve made their way out of hearing distance. All you can do is let it happen to you and silently seeth later. All of which is to say: catcalls are not flattering, and in fact, there is no quicker way to make me openly hostile than to utter a catcall in my direction.

And that’s the difference between a catcall and a compliment, as I see it: catcalls make me angry, and compliments don’t. Here’s a story: when I was a senior in high school, I went on a trip to Chicago with my journalism class to attend a high school newspaper convention (right?) and when we had a little free time to explore the city, I found myself in the overwhelmingly huge Virgin Megastore. As I was riding an escalator up to the third floor, a male store employee turned around from his position a couple steps above me and got my attention. He was probably around my age, maybe as old as twenty. But he turned around and with a shy smile he said “Excuse me, I just have to tell you: you’re really beautiful.” And I said thank you, and he smiled more, and then we stepped off the escalator and he went back to work. I think it’s awesome when a male stranger pays me a compliment and then walks away after I’ve expressed my gratitude at their kindness, because that means they weren’t just leading with a compliment in order to get something else, like my phone number or a date. When a man looks me in the eyes and speaks to me instead of at me, and when a man says he’s not trying to hit on me and then doesn’t, that makes me feel empowered instead of powerless, and that’s what a compliment is meant to do. Of course there are exceptions, and men can definitely compliment you to your face in a way that’s sleazy, but my guts tell me when someone is being gross or when someone is being genuine, and I trust that feeling because it has almost always been right. And I like to think that all intelligent women who have a healthy sense of self-worth are intuitive enough to tell the difference, too.

Do you agree? Disagree? What’s your opinion about, or experience with, catcalling?