Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Unrequited like

My brother visited me in Denver this weekend. (We went hiking on Saturday; that's a view from the trail up to Lost Lake.) It's bittersweet to see him because even though our relationship is a lot better than it was three years ago, it's nothing like it used to be, and I have to come to terms with the possibility that we'll never fully recover.

The feeling that oppresses me when we're together is one of unrequited like. I know he loves me because I'm his sister and that's just basic. But I no longer know, as I did when we were younger, if he likes me. The thing is, I don't need everyone to like me, I really don't. I'm too outspoken, I can be aggressive, abrasive, I'm dismissive of conventions in a way I'm sure is casually offensive to many, especially on first impression. But most of the time, people that I like like me back, if they give me a chance. (Why wouldn't they? I'm smart! I'm funny! I'm a good friend! I don't lie and I try hard not to hurt people!) And most of the time, if someone doesn't like me, it's easy enough to roll my eyes and forget about them. You can't please all of the people, etc.

But there are certain cases where I like someone and they don't like me, and it gets to me. It always seems impossible—we appear to be similar types of people, where is the disconnect? You know how some people, when you tell them you disagree with them, keep insisting that you must not understand their position? It's like that, I feel that they must be missing something, that they couldn't possible dislike me "on my own terms."

I think the issue is that, over the years, my brother has changed more than I have. He's become the type of person that I'd normally just let not like me, but when I look at him I remember who he was at 19 or 22, and that's the person I keep trying to win back.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The week in details

What I've been...

Reading/Abandoning: John astutely observed last night that he and I both read for style, and often, when you've read a third or a half of a book, you've pretty much got that down—which may be why I haven't finished too many books lately. I read the first half of Elizabeth Costello, which I liked very much, but then I put it down for a couple of weeks and realized I don't care a whit "what happens to the characters" (it's not that kind of book). I read ~40% of Tampa, which is very smutty, and that's fun, but the book itself, outside the smut, is not my thing at all—it's not a language novel like Lolita, and it's not realistic enough to be shocking. I read most of Farrah Field's recent book of poems, Wolf & Pilot, which is beautiful (small essay upcoming in Lemon Hound about that), and now I'm reading Madness, Rack, and Honey, Mary Ruefle's book of rambly, discursive essay-lectures on poetry. It's terrific. I like her prose much more than her poetry, in fact; her poems have always struck me as a little dopey and downmarket.

Eating: I've been making refrigerator pickles, using this brine on carrots, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, and jalapenos. They are incredibly easy and require no fancy canning supplies/skills. I will never let veggies go bad again! Have also been making variations on this Vietnamese-ish noodle dish almost weekly. The nuoc cham and the shallots are so good.

Sniffing: SOTM is Angel Liqueur de Parfum, an even richer version of the original. Last night I tried Santa Maria Novella Tobacco Toscano, which was lovely, but (#protip) almost identical to the more affordable and widely available Midnight in Paris. Aside from sampling, I've been wearing L'Eau Mixte a bunch, my new favorite grapefruit scent. Like a good Campari cocktail, it strikes a perfect balance between sweet and bitter.

Otherwise: We did six performances of The Designated Mourner, the first production of Denver Poets' Theatre. They were terrifying, awesome, etc. Our last show (for now—our lead, Aaron Angello, has left for a month-long hike on the Colorado Trail) was at our friends' Noah and Sommer's house, and one of our best I think. Noah took this crazy picture—it appears I've gotten so much into character I'm now actually a ghost.

Speaking of photographs and immanence, etc., I posted this portrait of my mother (taken in high school) on Twitter and everyone was all, "That looks just like you!"

Isn't it weird how you don't see your own family resemblances? It's like how you can't tickle yourself.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mini-Reviews, Extra Fancy Edition

Before I get started, a few quick links:

  • Kathy and I have some collaborations newly out in the world: "Paraenesis" at The Toast (a new offshoot of The Awl); "Some Notes on Monstrousness" (part of a group project on monsters, commissioned and organized by Virginia Konchan, at The Collagist); and "Sleep Lies Perfect in Them" (an ekphrastic based on a painting of the same name) in Interrupture.
  • Mike Young is hosting Stark Week at HTML Giant, a celebration of my friend (and editor) Sam Starkweather's huge new book. I wrote a little essay on one of his "transcontemporations" from The Waters, a reworking of Vallejo's Trilce. (Excerpt: "You’ll notice that the 'transcontemporation' is derived from both the sound of the original lines as well as the meaning, so line three ('ante el hijar maduro del dia') is a combination of straight translation ('before the ripe daughterloin of day') and soundplay: ante becomes ants and hijar becomes hijack, but the day’s daughter comes from the 'underpoem,' such as that exists, not the surface sounds. And yet, also, some of the poem is entirely new—'phoenix, arrested' seems to come from nowhere, or rather from Sampson’s degenerate brain entirely.") (See also John's piece on City of Moths.)

Dries van Noten par Frederic Malle - Malle's latest release smells pretty generic as soft, woody niche scents go. It's basically a (synthetic) sandalwood accord: woody, milky, slightly rosy, slightly boozy-medicinal. It goes on a little sweet, but smells drier and paler as time goes on, and bland in a bread-like way (iris?). The spices are barely perceptible; in fact the whole is so sheer as to be almost pointless. It feels rather cynical coming from the line that gave us Portrait of a Lady, Carnal Flower and other powerhouses that, while pricey, seem justifiable on the basis of richness and cost of materials. Granted, I only had enough in my sample (courtesy Natalie, who just left Denver, audible sob!) for one wear – but if this were a better perfume, it would have been enough for three or four wears. My tweet-length review: A resounding meh. A much better recent entry in this category is Santal Majuscule.

M. Micallef Aoud - Smells very much like a Montale oud: that luscious, chocolate-covered roses effect. The rose is berry-fruity (a touch of clove gives it almost a raspberry effect) and the oud is nutty. (Am I the only one who thinks oud accords often smell nutty? Why is that?) Not at all original, but delicious. Hey, if someone brings you a slice of chocolate cake, are you going to complain that it's a cliche? No, you're going to eat it. Of Micallef's recent offerings, Nasreen is the more distinctive rose, but I wouldn't kick this out of bed either. (Caveat: The lasting power is not especially great.)

Le Labo Lys 41 - I don't usually pay any attention to snobby-pricy Le Labo, but the two new ones have gotten so much favorable attention that I requested samples with a recent LuckyScent order (L'eau Mixte!). My first impression while applying this to a corner of my forearm from the tiny LuckyScent sample: chlorinated pool. But that's an association, not a review, and the more I wear it, the more I like it. Lys 41, as has been duly noted by the blogosphere, is a tuberose, not a lily, and there’s a tropical-fresh Coppertone note that makes it feel a little sanitized – not altogether a bad thing, it just reminds me more of Bronze Goddess, all shimmering poolside tropicalia, than, say, Carnal Flower. It's very pretty, with a nice interplay between the mentholated coolness of the tuberose and the warmth of the (pretty faultless) vanillic, coconutty base, but I expected more somehow. As above with Aoud, I'd definitely wear it, but (at these prices) I doubt I'd ever buy it. (In its favor, Lys 41 caused me to do the perfume equivalent of being so lost in a book I missed my stop on the subway: I almost burnt dinner because I was thinking about it.)

Side Note A: Tuberose used to be one of very favorite notes, but I've sort of fallen out of love with it, which is probably why I’m not speaking of this in more glowing terms. There was a time when I listed Beyond Love among my desert island perfumes, but lately I find it annoying. I'm not sure why this is happening and I hope it goes away, but in the meantime I'm enjoying jasmine blends more for my white floral fix. In any case, tube lovers should definitely pay attention.

Side Note B: Lush Furze, another tropical coconut scent I tried recently, turned out to be a total fail. Sometimes coconut scents can veer so far to the fatty, salty side that they smell more like buttered popcorn. I hate when that happens. Furze smelled to me like shampoo spilled on a greasy theater floor. Verdict: Scrubber. (And speaking of salty qualities: Am I the only one who thinks coconut water tastes like soup? Is it all the potassium? Cannot drink the stuff.)

Le Labo Ylang 49 - This is huge coming out of the sample, with a sassy fruity top note (blackcurrant bud?) on a tactless, stanking, bitter-sour patchouli-oakmoss base. Based on the opening, Ylang 49 is clearly in a lineage with Coriandre, Paloma Picasso and other "big-boned" floral chypres of the 70s and 80s (I smell the distinct influence of rose more so than the listed gardenia and ylang ylang). But it goes in like a lion and out like a kitten ... going on cat? Before long, the borderline offensive patchouli recedes and you're left blinking in the dark, wondering "Where did it go?" Then your eyes readjust and you find a relatively quiet smoky scent, like rosy apricots and smoked wood. This stage is quite nice, but I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed after that opening salvo – the two parts seem almost unrelated. It could, of course, be a problem unique to dabbing, or just my skin. (My man Brian at I Smell Therefore I Am had an entirely different experience; Ylang 49 reminded him of Elie Saab! To me, Elie Saab is a cross between NR for Her and Alien, a piercingly sweet jasmine and orange blossom combo with musk and the cleanest of patchoulis in the background. Despite the name, I don't even smell white flowers in Ylang, and it's not sweet. If anything, I see the Elie Saab connection more in the drydown of Lys 41.)

Ramon Monegal Kiss My Name - A sweet, powdery tuberose-mimosa blend with a grassy top note and tinges of banana, derived from 80's tuberoses like Amarige and Carolina Herrera, but with a more refined, updated feel. Like Lys 41, this hardly breaks new ground in Tuberose Town, but it's very well done.

L'Wren Scott - I had no idea what this might smell like when I put it on, but given recent trends and the target market (L'Wren Scott is a hip designer) I would have guessed something like sheer woody rose, as in Marni, or sheer rosy wood as in Dries Van Noten. What it smells like to me is a strange, sour, astringent spice somewhere between saffron, anise, celery seed, and pepper, creating a vague exotic curry effect. Looking up the notes after the fact, I'm not too far off (via Fragrantica): Top notes are wormwood, star anise, coriander, marigold and mandarin orange; middle notes are tuberose, jasmine, geranium, curry tree and cloves; base notes are patchouli, leather, musk, amber and moss. It certainly doesn't smell as complex as all that; I'm not getting much "floralcy." It's actually pretty unpleasant – hard to imagine a creative team thinking this would sell. Best thing I can say about it is that I almost didn't scrub it off. Also, the bottle is pretty.

Serge Lutens La Myrrhe - The first time I wore this sample, sent to me by the wonderful Cymbeline, I went ahead and sprayed, though a) I know most SL's to be better dabbed than sprayed, especially the oriental-leaning ones, and b) Cymbeline herself suggested dabbing. Sprayed, my stream-of-consciousness first impressions went something like this: fatty/oily (as in petroleum – see also Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia) and pungent – white flowers – like the waxy, vegetal part of fresh lilies and tuberose before they start to decay and go hammy (as much a result of the aldehydes as the floral materials?). When smeared on vs. sprayed (C wisely sent me a sample with a screw-off top), these effects are much softened; the citrusy side of the aldehydes is more apparent than the wax. Though this is related to aldehydic florals with ambery bases from Chanels 5 and 22 and Guerlain Vega to recent creations by Andy Tauer, La Myrrhe is stranger than those. Paradoxically, the synthetic note of aldehydes is so wedded to the myrrh as to smell natural, like something you'd find in a garden. Unexpectedly, it passes through a lemon custard stage and then dries down to a kind of musky lily/vanilla. I'm sorry to say I don't find it markedly beautiful, as so many do, but I often struggle with aldehydes, and myrrh too has a certain dankness in large quantities that disturbs me. Fascinating, though, and I can see it growing on me.

Full disclosure: Above samples were all gifts from friends or my own purchases, except for Aoud, sent to me by the company.

Tuberose image via Shashank Gupta

Monday, July 15, 2013

'80s Video Tropes: The Tour Montage

The pervasive Tour Montage – usually black & white, sweaty and depicting utter exhaustion and burnout along with a healthy dose of "Jesus, I can't take all this adoration, stop throwing panties at me so I can be sad by a window for a minute." I associate this '80s video cliche with hair bands especially, but I was surprised to see one-man hair band Richard Marx indulged in it too:

"Paradise City" is one of the few Tour Montage videos that depicts touring as fun:

Lest you think fame was all sunshine and lollipops for GNR, there's "Patience" for "groupies are getting boring" counterpoint of course.

I should be able to come up with an endless list of these, but I can't really, though I can think of lots of variations on the theme, e.g. "What It Takes" with gritty footage of Aerosmith in the recording studio. Which ones did I miss? Did "girl groups" ever tap this trope or was it strictly a dude thing?

Friday, July 12, 2013


I went on a little trip last week through New Mexico, down to El Paso to visit my parents. The three best things I ate were these chilaquiles with green chile and poached eggs at Tia's, the restaurant in our hotel:

And these blue corn enchiladas, Christmas-style (half red, half green) at Casa Chimayo:

And grilled steak off my parents' grill with garden tomatoes, garden chard, and fried potatoes.

We finished off the meal with a champagne toast. Because I recently got married, and my mom recently won a $25,000 teaching award (which kind of trumps the marriage, really).

Sitting in their kitchen, I learned that John doesn't like Audrey Hepburn. He finds her to be intolerably precious, and not a good actress. The preciousness, okay, but her acting seems rather beside the point. Jack Nicholson isn't a particularly good actor either; he is always and ever simply Jack Nicholson. But my god, what fun to watch him being Jack Nicholson! And so it is with Audrey: incandescent charisma trumps "talent" every time. Or charisma itself is a talent (Teju Cole believes beauty is).

I mean, how can you quibble with that neck? Like those huge Murakami murals, she challenges the idea that the cute and the sublime are antithetical.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My hacks

I love how you can call anything a "hack" now. I recently clicked an article called something like "15 Summer Hair Hacks!" and it was just a bunch of shit you can buy, like dry shampoo and hot rollers. Sigh. If you're using a pre-made tool the way it's meant to be used, it's not a hack, it's just capitalism. Anyway, whatever, let's all share our "hacks"! Leave yours in the comments, please. Here are some of mine, apologies in advance for the faux-hacks. (For the uninitiated: "hacks" are just tips.)

Productivity Hacks
  • 2-Browser Hack: I need the Internet for work, so most of the time I can't just "go offline" in order to get shit done. So I divide my online life into two browsers, work-related (Firefox) and not-work-related (Chrome). In the morning, I open my work email and work browser right away and try to fire off as many tasks as possible before, say, 10 a.m. I put off checking my personal email as long as I can stand it, because I'll inevitably get distracted by other tasks related to that, or Twitter, etc. Later in the day, I'll sometimes bounce around between work and non-work stuff, but if I really need to concentrate, I'll close my non-work browser again.
  • Distraction Hack: If you use Outlook for work, turn off the pop-up notifications. Needless distraction, you rarely need to respond to an email the very second it arrives.
  • To-Do List Hack: I have a spiral notebook that serves as my work to-do list. For non-work tasks, which usually have softer deadlines (errands, poetry things I want/need to get done, etc.), I write each item on a Post-It note and stick them in clear view on the shelf above my computer. When I complete a task, I tear the Post-It down, which is very satisfying. Some stay up semi-permanently as a daily reminder (e.g. "BE AN ACTIVIST").
  • Poetry Hack: The "muse," she doesn't come around as often as she used to, and if I sat around waiting for inspiration to strike in poem-length bursts I'd write about three pages a year. So I intentionally devise projects that can encompass much smaller-scale inspiration. For example, The Self Unstable is full of lines and ideas that I expressed (in different language) on Twitter or my blog, revisited and rearranged into "koans." 
Food/Cooking Hacks
  • Rice hack: I boil rice instead of using the absorption method. Details on how to do that here. You don't have to measure anything and I like the resulting texture better. 
  • Flavor balance hack: Use sugar like salt as a general seasoning. A pinch of sugar (or dab of honey) makes many savory foods taste more balanced: sauces, vinaigrette, soups, etc.
  • Egg hack: Poach eggs in a thick liquid like tomato sauce (AKA eggs in purgatory) or salsa – way easier and more idiot-proof than doing it in water. Just heat up the liquid, crack in the eggs, cover and simmer over lowish heat for 5 minutes or so. (Pour the eggs and hot salsa over broken tortilla chips for instant chilaquiles.) 
  • Recipe remix hack: When trying a recipe for the first time, consider split testing it – i.e., split out half and either leave out or add an ingredient (or use a different brand, etc.) or cook it by a different method (e.g. on the stove vs. in the oven). Then you'll have a head start on knowing how to improve it next time.
  • Herb hack: Fresh herbs like cilantro and parsley can last up to a week in the fridge if you use this cleaning/storage method: Within 24 hours of buying a bunch of herbs at the store, rinse them off (or dip and swish in a big bowl of water) and let them dry out on a paper towel on the counter. Then put the whole bunch, with the slightly damp paper towel underneath, in a large Ziploc bag. I recommend using some of the herbs on the first use so the bag isn't packed too full.
  • Wine hack: Decant everything, even cheap wine, boxed wine, white wine! You can split-test and see for yourself, it does taste better.
  • Wine hack 2: Chill your red wine for 10-20 minutes before opening and drinking, it's really meant to be served a bit cooler than room temperature and tastes much better this way.
Beauty/Style Hacks
  • Photo hack: Squint in photos – just barely! – to convey intelligence/intensity. This is basically a variation on smizing.
  • Haircut hack: I don't like paying for haircuts so I only cut my hair about twice a year. I do, however, like change so I get a lot cut off, 5 to 6 inches at a time. That means I can go gradually from bob to lob to long hair: three different styles for ~$60! (Note that this only works because I don't dye my hair or use a lot of heat tools, so visible damage/split ends are minimal even after six months.) 
  • Eye makeup hack: I use long-wearing cream eye shadows as a base on my lids instead of a dedicated eye primer. (Cheap drugstore version: Maybelline Color Tattoo, good but most of the colors are impractical. Less cheap version: Benefit Creaseless Cream Shadow.) They serve the same purpose of making your powder shadow last longer and crease less, but provide the first layer of color on their own so you can skip a step. 
  • Body scrub hack: Make your own body scrub: mix coarse salt and/or sugar with any oil that's appropriate for rubbing over your body. Coconut oil is nice in the summer. Right now I've got one going based on the Target version of Neutrogena's body oil, which is nice and light and even gets a little foamy as you scrub. I store this in an old Talenti gelato container. Subhack: Buy Talenti gelato. It's delicious and comes in nice, reusable clear plastic pints with screw-on lids.
  • Bathtub hack: I scrub out the tub with a mixture of baking soda and Dr. Bronner's almond soap. It's abrasive enough to get it spark-a-ling clean very quickly and the almond soap is one of my favorite smells, so all told it's a pleasant experience, compared to the toxic blue foam I used to use. (Otherwise, the Magic Eraser works for almost everything, it really is fucking magic.)
  • Organization hack: If there's a place in your house where little doodads and craps tend to accumulate, put a bowl or a basket there. You don't have to actually "organize" it but having all the crap in a decorative container instead of scattered on the counter/table just looks better.