imaginary outfit: the souvenir

We watched The Souvenir a few weeks ago. It captures some part of filmaker Johanna Hogg's own experiences as a privileged young woman in 1980s London and moves along two enmeshed axes: her fumblings toward becoming a filmmaker and her affair with a charismatic man addicted to heroin. The film obsessively recreates Hogg's material world, folding in her own love letters, student film projects, even clothes, and furniture. I'd wanted to see it right after I read Rebecca Mead's profile of Johanna Hogg. What sold me was this:
In an entry from 1988, Hogg wrote, “Everyone congratulates her on how well she is coping with it. Ironic because she isn’t ‘coping’ with it at all—she won’t allow herself to.” But Hogg didn’t tell that story, or any story, for years. She didn’t release her first feature film until a decade ago, when she was forty-seven, and “The Souvenir” is only her fourth movie. This summer, Hogg is shooting “The Souvenir: Part II,” a continuation of the story of Julie’s early adulthood. Together, the films will implicitly tell another story: that of a female artist’s belated emergence in middle age, and her discovery that she could create art out of experiences that had once seemed like lost time.
It's a marvelous movie. We watch Julie, Hogg's stand-in, move through a series of experiences. She is laboring to create a movie that she can't quite explain. She goes from meeting Anthony, a somewhat older man who is both not quite what he seems and completely what he seems, to somehow being entwined in his life. Time passes; maybe years. The basic plot points—bad boyfriend, struggling artist, privileged background—do not coalesce into any sort of expected, pocketable narrative. Their meanings are suspended. The viewer is never quite sure how Julie understands these things—we only glimpse her in the process of living them, of trying, maybe, to make sense of them, but not yet fitting them into whatever narrative she will make of her life.  It all remains irreducible to any sort of easy shorthand. This opacity—threaded through with kindness and cruelty and generosity and misunderstanding—felt so authentically human to me that I was startled to see it on a screen.

Beyond my own wolfish need for unboring storytelling and any story having to do a woman becoming an artist in the second part of her life (ha), I relished the subtlety of the costumes. Julie dresses like three different people: while writing or at school, in jeans and plaid shirts and fatigue jackets and white sneakers; with her wealthy family or on dates with Anthony, cashmere cardigans, silk scarves, brooches, menswear coats, and sensible flats; on a lovers' trip to Venice, like the costumed heroine in a 1940s movie wearing pearls, a custom nipped-in grey skirt suit and a trailing satin gown, shimmery as a slatey sky, with matching opera gloves. Demure girlish-frumpy pajamas and vixenish lingerie (Anthony's gift). There is a quality of playing dress-up in whatever she wears that felt so true to my own memories of being in my early twenties; that these clothes are all hers, but not quite her, maybe, so much as ideas and expectations she can wear.

This outfit is much more somber than what you'll find in the movie; my late-summer mood skews a bit dark and severe, I guess. But things I am taking from it to make my own this fall: menswear coats (this is a 2012 Isabel Marant Etoile) /  plain jeans / cashmere cardigans / silk blouses / pearl earrings / wristwatches / typewriters / symbolist opera / buckled shoes. Also: plain white sneakers and knife-pleat skirts and satin ball gowns. And a willingness to keep flailing toward expression.

odds and ends / 8.20.2019


Blue skies found in newspapers by Joseph Pielichaty.


Rebecca Scattergood Savery, Sunburst quilt, 1839. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The quilt contains almost four thousand diamond-shaped pieces, each about four inches long, that were first basted to a paper template to ensure uniformity of size before being meticulously whip-stitched together. At least thirty-four different small-patterned, roller-printed cottons are used to form the octagonal rings that radiate from a central eight-pointed star to create a striking dark and light design. 

Inès Bressand Akamae basket no. 9, oval backpack in elephant grass.


Vincent van Gogh, Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890. National Gallery of Art.

Recycled gold and opals from WWAKE.

Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation, and destroy the male sex.

From Valerie Solanas' SCUM Manifesto, quoted by Jeremy Lybargar in "SCUM Rising: The Long Afterlife of Valerie Solanas." The Baffler, 8/1/2019.


'After all, sane protest at a crazy world might well manifest as insanity.'


A one-person protest against development.


It took A.O. Scott twenty years to understand Tracy Flick.

There is a difference between debating something that is a true matter of opinion and entertaining an argument that is palpably false, between a willingness to look stupid in one’s personal quest for wisdom and the choice to actually be stupid by deciding that all theories are equally valid and deserve equal consideration.

Justin Peters, "Joe Rogan's Galaxy Brain."  Slate, 3/21/2019.


"'Imaginary’ universes are so much more beautiful than this stupidly constructed ‘real’ one."

Mathemtician G.H. Hardy quoted by Karen Olssen, "The Aesthetic Beauty of Math." The Paris Review, 7/22/2019. (I cannot wait to read Olssen's book on Simone and André Weil).

I felt like a lizard sitting on a rock in the sun. I felt like Ramona in the Beverly Cleary books squeezing out a whole tube of toothpaste in the sink just for the pleasure of it. It was like floating in a completely still freezing-cold swimming pool on a hot day and just staring at the sun. I was like, 'Should I quit my job? I’ve organized my life all wrong.' So, no, I have no trouble, no trouble at all, disconnecting.

Jia Tolentino on writing for the sake of writing, a conversation with Brandon Stosuy at The Creative Independent

Because in trying to articulate what, perhaps, joy is, it has occurred to me that among other things—the trees and the mushrooms have shown me this—joy is the mostly invisible, the underground union between us, you and me, which is, among other things, the great fact of our life and the lives of everyone and thing we love going away. If we sink a spoon into that fact, into the duff between us, we will find it teeming. It will look like all the books ever written. It will look like all the nerves in a body. We might call it sorrow, but we might call it a union, one that, once we notice it, once we bring it into the light, might become flower and food. Might be joy.

Ross Gay, quoted in Nicole Rudick's essay "Delighting in Ross Gay, One Essay at a Time." NYR Daily, 8/17/2019.


'The Latest Dreams of Barbara Hilary, the First African-American Woman to Travel to the North Pole.'

'noble experiment'

If the sadness of life makes you tired
And the failures of man make you sigh
You can look to the time soon arriving
When this noble experiment winds down and calls it a day 
Time has come now to stop being human
Time to find a new creature to be
Be a fish or a weed or a sparrow
For the earth has grown tired and all of your time has expired 
All the gardens are sprouting with flowers
All the treetops are bursting with birds
And the people all know that it's over
They lay down all their airs and they hang up their tiresome words

Ohio's in a downward spiral. 


"And you know, he might be going to Toledo, I don't know."


"Well, we are all equal. We’re all equal. And we’re all vulnerable."

three essays / 7.23.2019

I guessed that she must have read the opening scene, when the narrator overhears a conversation at a restaurant. A middle-aged man, “Big Silver,” is talking to a young woman he’s invited to his table. After a while, the young woman interrupts to tell him a strange story of her own, about a scuba diving trip, which is also a story of being hurt by someone in her life. 
'You talk a lot don’t you?' Big Silver responds. 
'It was not easy to convey to him,' Levy writes, 'a man much older than she was, that the world was her world too… It had not occurred to him that she might not consider herself to be the minor character and him the major character.'

Ayşegül Sava, 'The Cost of Reading.' Longreads, July 2019.


'The Crane Wife' is a story from Japanese folklore. I found a copy in the reserve’s gift shop among the baseball caps and bumper stickers that said GIVE A WHOOP. In the story, there is a crane who tricks a man into thinking she is a woman so she can marry him. She loves him, but knows that he will not love her if she is a crane so she spends every night plucking out all of her feathers with her beak. She hopes that he will not see what she really is: a bird who must be cared for, a bird capable of flight, a creature, with creature needs. Every morning, the crane-wife is exhausted, but she is a woman again. To keep becoming a woman is so much self-erasing work. She never sleeps. She plucks out all her feathers, one by one.

CJ Hauser, 'The Crane Wife.The Paris Review, 7/16/2019.


Eat what you want when you want. It sounds simple. But many of the women I know seldom ask themselves what they really want. Women of my generation, in particular, still grapple with all their appetites. As I write this, I am sitting at my dining room table, feeling the day’s first flicker of hunger. What do I want? There are doughnuts on the kitchen counter, fancy ones. Do I want those? No, I’ll crash and burn in a few hours. Do I want another cup of coffee? I don’t know. What about the leftover frittata from last night’s dinner? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. 
Eventually I eat a fried egg sandwich. It is exactly what I want.

Laura Lippman, 'Whole 60.' Longreads, July 2019.


From top:

3 Terracotta female figures,ca. 1400–1300 B.C. Met Museum Open Access.
Figures of monks and nuns made to open, wooden playthings from Berchtesgaden, 18th century. Via 50 Watts.

moon men

Buzz Aldrin had hoped, and briefly expected, that it would be he, and not Neil Armstrong, who would take the first human step on the moon. The astronaut Michael Collins, who manned the control module that orbited the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin walked below, has said of Aldrin that he 'resents not being first on the moon more than he appreciates being second.' On the moon, Armstrong took photos of Aldrin posing, but Aldrin took none of Armstrong doing the same. One of the few photos that shows Neil Armstrong on the moon was taken by Armstrong himself—of his reflection in Aldrin’s helmet, as Aldrin salutes the flag. We are petty and misbehave on Earth; we will be petty and misbehave in space.

Rivka Galchen, 'The Race to Develop the Moon.' The New Yorker, 4/29/2019.

'moon watched me home'

Originally posted 11/14/2011.


NASA Lunar Surveyor Mosaic: Day 318, Survey G, Sectors 11 and 12, 1966-1968: