Thursday, October 07, 2010

What I've Learned About Freelancing

Well, there are several things, but at the top of the list: Freelancing is hard work. Finding gigs. Getting things done on time and well, while keeping your different audiences in mind. And getting paid. That last part isn't nearly as easy as you would think.

A major media corporation has owed me $450 since May, and I don't know if I'll ever see that money. Others, like AOL -- which I'm giving a shout out because while I think they could pay better, they have a really great system -- automate payments and keep their freelancers happy. AOL pays every month, on time, directly into my account. Hooray!

Another thing I've learned is that I HATE running a business. I hate figuring out taxes. I hate marketing myself. I hate drumming up new work during slow times. I hate watching people go to work on days when I've managed to find myself with nothing to do but think about pitching stories, finding a steady job or moving to Italy and opening a bar for expats in Naples.

Other things I dislike? Figuring out how to get/keep health insurance. I've been using Fox's COBRA coverage since I left last year, and I have until February. That's not going to cut it after that, and I'll likely insure myself through the Freelancer's Union if at that point I'm still self-employed. But it's a hassle, and I do get a bit paranoid each month until they cash my check that it's gotten lost and some mishap of the U.S. Mail will mean I join the ranks of the uninsured.

Don't get me wrong. There are serious perks. For example, I am never late for work. No matter how late I feel like sleeping. Which is great for someone like me, because, well, morning? Not my best time.

I am free to come and go as I please. I go to the gym in the afternoon when it's not busy and watch Oprah on the elliptical. I can fly to France at a moment's notice and don't have to get anyone's permission. I can choose what I write, when I write and where I write.

I am ultimately free -- with all the glory and burden that encompasses.

I am an army of me. And a marketing department of me. And a communications department of me. And an accounting department of me. When my computer breaks, I have no IT department to come fix it. When my Internet service goes down, I either have to find a coffee shop (which isn't always a bad idea) or pirate it from a neighbor who hasn't password protected their router.

It's also the loneliest job I've ever had. There are no co-workers to gossip with or about. I have no one to vent to when a story isn't going well, when I've had a shitty commute or when my coffee has overturned all over the inside of my handbag (Don't ask.) I even miss those nights at Fox when we'd order Chinese food for dinner, hemming and hawing over the menu, then discovering a cheap place on 8th Ave. that would deliver AND had delicious wonton soup. It was back during my wonton soup phase.

So, I'm looking for ways to work out in the world. I want: companionship, steady work, steady paychecks and to write about something interesting. Good thing I find lots of things interesting.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Making Lists

Imagine this.

You work your way through a an Ivy League college. You go to a top tier law school where you work hard. Excel. You land a job at a prestigious New York law firm. You spend your twenties working, sometimes living in the hotel across the street from your office. You never get to really see the city you moved thousands of miles to experience. You move to California to try and get a life. You get laid off. You get a job. You get laid off again. You haven't dated because you've been working your ass off for a decade.

At 30, you are diagnosed with incurable, inoperable cancer. 

The woman I've described is real, a few details tweaked, let's call her Alice. An old friend -- who has known Alice for many years and loves her very much -- is planning ways to spend time with her. I haven't seen my friend in almost 10 years, but tonight we stood on a Manhattan street corner for an hour, talking about life. She's had a lot on her mind. Trying to be a good friend. Struggling to deal with hearing her friend talk about last times.

I have had those conversations, and when you know you're having them -- as opposed to the last conversations you don't know are your last -- you let go of some of the bullshit we put between ourselves and each other to make things hurt less. This is going to hurt like hell. But I'd rather have no regrets -- and tell you how much you were loved -- than protect myself. I have lost a friend like this.

What do you do with the time you have left? When you realize things really are as fleeting, as precarious, as we all pretend they are not... Who are you?

Riding home on the subway, I thought about D., my baby niece. I babysat her today. We went on the swings and the slide in the park. (The slide is very competitive. We didn't fare well.) I made a video of her eating pudding. When she hurt her hand, not only did her mom have to kiss it better, I did too.

I thought about Alice. She wants to do things with her nieces, whether they'll really remember her or not. They are babies.

I would want D. to remember me. To know that I held and and hugged her and kissed her boo boos. That I rocked her to sleep in my arms after some man broke my heart, and promised I'd try to keep her from ever knowing what that felt like. That I let her sleep snuggled against my shoulder, and though it was the cutest thing ever when I woke up to find her looking at me and say "hi." I would want her to know what my voice sounds like. What I like. What I look like. How very much I love her.

Sometimes it's hard to let people in. I've talked about this before. Sometimes just when we decide to open our doors to someone, they slam theirs shut. Or we never even work up the nerve to really show ourselves. Most of our little secrets aren't that sexy, and falling in love involves a lot of illusion, up until it doesn't.

I wrote a list once for an old lover of things he never learned about me that I wish he had.

I'll share some of it here. Little things that show my flaws, my strengths and my quirky nerd side. My softness. My secret regrets and should-haves... My wishes, favorites and near misses. To remember me by.

I don't really like eating fruit very much, but love raspberry sorbet.
Sometimes I drink too much and fall asleep on my couch.
I am afraid of having to raise kids on my own.
I love Greek yogurt with cherries and primate photography.
If I had to do it again, I would have double majored in biology and economics, but I'd still be a writer.
I feel like I wasted a lot of my twenties sometimes.
I sometimes wish Lucy were Harold. I miss him even more than I miss you sometimes.
I used to steal books from the bookstore I worked in.
I subscribe to the newspaper but never read it. I just want to make sure it still exists.
I wish I liked fish and mushrooms.
People think I read a lot more than I do.
I spent months reading trashy online fan fiction when I worked the night shift; I was that unhappy.
I loved things about you that you probably didn't notice about yourself.
A friend once talked to me about wanting to wake up next to his lover every morning and be grateful that he got to be there with her that day, and many others. I thought that about you.
I wish I had a window in my bedroom.
I love cloth-bound books and paperbacks of unusual size.
Sometimes I wish I had become a doctor.
I like my toes but not my fingers.
I love the smell of salt marshes, musk and jasmine.
I felt a little bit smug when the vampires in Twilight wanted to go to Dartmouth.
I have never been able to fall asleep very easily. I'm torn between wanting today to be longer and being afraid of tomorrow sometimes. 
I never trust my intuition, but it's usually right. 
I love Tom Waits' "Jersey Girl" song. 
I don't always think $1,000 is too much to spend on the right handbag.
I am afraid of riding in cars in the passenger seat, but not so much in the back. Driving isn't scary.
I like being able to do push ups now.
I let myself believe the Magic 8 ball speaks the truth when it says what I want to hear.
I will spend all day watching the Lord of the Rings if it's on TV, but never put on the DVDs I own. 
I want children but am afraid of being pregnant.
I think Twitter is silly most of the time, but do it anyway.
The first time I tried Scotch I was an exchange student in Scotland. I thought it was terrible.
I totally judge people by the contents of their book shelves.
I love best that time of day when you first wake up and are half-asleep and your body is perfectly rested. 
I touched the South China Sea and the Arabian Sea before I set foot in California.
I don't really care if I get to all 50 states someday. Some of them don't seem that awesome.

It's a start.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Potential? I gots it.

Those of you who know me have likely heard me mention Trainer.

Trainer is tall and has arms big enough to crush your average mortal. He's the kind of man who people stop on the street and stare at because he's both strikingly attractive and in ridiculously good shape. He is also my personal trainer. We hang out almost every day. And when you see someone every day, and you're on some sort of cardio machine sweating buckets and he's standing there... or you're lifting weights and he's counting... you have a lot of time to talk.

From the sound of things, a lot of his clients are talkers. While huffing and puffing on the treadmill, I listen, silently cursing him for making me do sprints at 8 m.p.h., which makes me think I am going to die (maybe someday I'll look back at this and think Aw. I thought 8 m.p.h. was fast! How precious!)

I know more about him than I do about some men I've dated. I know about his cousin. I know about his mother. I know what his philosophy is on exercise and life and that he wants to have his own show. I know that he thinks people need to slow down in relationships and get to know one another before sex makes you lose your head. I know that he wants a Bentley. He wants to be famous. He's ambitious. One time he told me God had brought us together so that he could help me be the best I could be. (And show that guy who broke my heart how hot I was, but I digress.)

That's what we talked about today -- while I was doing pushups and then while he was stretching my legs and then later when we were just standing there (before he put me on a treadmill for my post-workout workout...) -- we talked about being the best you can be. About realizing your potential.

He had recently met a life coach and motivational speaker who had talked to him about his life and his potential, and he had some very interesting things to say...

Trainer is a few years younger than me, but has been a trainer for 14 years, but the coach asked him what he had to show for it. What do you know how to do? What can you do? You train people. We know that. What else can you do? What do you want to do? How have you shaped your life to get you there?

Have you lived up to your potential? Are you holding yourself back?

He talked about how one 20 minute conversation with this coach had made him re-think how he wanted to focus his time in the next 15 months, what he could do differently that would get him where he imagined he should be. Now, trainer has an ego. He wants to be part rock star, part fitness coach and part Dr. Phil. When you listen to him talk, perhaps he'll be able to do it. "Not perhaps, Jennifer. You've gotta talk about things like they're already done. Like you've already succeeded."

How do you realize your potential? What do you want? How will you get there?

First, you have to know what you want to be. Who you want to be. You have to think about who in your life is helping you get there. Who is realizing their potential -- or working toward it. And who is holding you back -- intentionally or not. (Are the people in your life striving to be better or are they complaining about how they don't like what they have but don't make any changes? You know you know someone like that... Probably several someones...)

It made me wonder what I was letting things slide. Where I was falling down on the job, so to speak, of making my life what I want it to be.

Working out with him has changed my body, my mind and my attitude about what I'm capable of doing. I carry myself differently. I expect more of myself. I don't sit around in my apartment wallowing in woe-is-me self pity. But how good can it get? I want to be able to run a 10K. I'm not there yet, but I bet I can do it. I'm stronger. I can do pushups. A few months ago, I couldn't do a pushup. Singular.

But there are so many places I can see I let myself down, when I sit down and really think about it. When I look at what I know I'm capable of and then what I do. How I live. The choices I have made. If I want what I say I want out of life, what have I done to make that happen?

Nobody wins the U.S. Open without practicing their serve. Day in and day out. For years.

I talk about writing a book. I talk about wanting to create something. I talk about a lot of things. But what do I do? I'm never going to afford that Brooklyn brownstone of my dreams on a journalist's salary. I'll have to settle for affording it because I'm a best-selling author.

If you're going to imagine potential for yourself, you might as well dream big. Now, to actually do it...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Second Chances

I know I have been a harsh critic of Elizabeth Gilbert in the past, but I am giving "Eat, Pray, Love" another look, and I think perhaps the first time I read it I was not in the right place in my life to get much out of it. I found her navel-gazing irritating. Her flakiness maddening.

But sometimes in life you have to give things another look. Re-open old books. Give old relationships another try and see if maybe who you are now will be more compatible with the other.

I am reading about Gilbert's experiences with meditation, grieving and letting go of old loves and her old life. Opening yourself up to the new and trying to move forward. It's harder than I would like it to be, and reading about her experiences has helped me both look at things in new ways and has made me feel less alone.

There's a conversation I read last night about letting go of your old connections -- in her case her last lover -- and even if you love them and wish them well, you have to stop obsessing and open your mind so that the universe can fill it with love and its new possibilities... I liked that. It made me sleep well, and I haven't been sleeping well.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Someday You Will Be Loved

Love is not a reward for good behavior.

Letting yourself forget that makes for sticky, messy times and eventual heartbreak. It's a thought I've been having, thinking about conversations, relationships and the experience of my friends.

But that's not why, on the longest day of the year, I can't bring myself to watch the sky. For the first time in a while I feel comfortable in my own skin. Safe in me. Not hiding, just being alone. At home. As alone as one can be with a kitten attacking your feet with every trip to the kitchen.

I have been trying to decide what I want and what I can do to make it happen in the wake of my own minor tragedy.

I believe you can fall for someone in an instant. I believe in love at first sight. But its the dedication, the reverence and the steadiness that get you past that first flush.

And we never had that. With this one, I hoped it would come. I had begun to think it was growing. But it isn't something one can do on one's own. If I could have willed it into existence, God it would be taking over Brooklyn right now, casting its shadow across the city. I wanted him that much.

Things do not always take the course we would like, and sometimes, letting go of your hopes and embracing reality is a scary path. It's hard to accept that you have no control over the course your own life takes when you imagine a future that's contingent on someone else's choices.

It's hard to accept things in which you are not given a say. To have something inflicted upon you without letting yourself become a victim in tragedy -- whether Shakespearean or playground variety.

To let go of someone you believed was yours.

I loved how much he loved his garden. I loved how his hand felt in mine. I loved how he would sigh and smile and lean over and kiss my temple.

I made space for him in my home and in my life. I bought him a toothbrush.

Yet, I did see myself becoming less myself vying for attention amid the swirling chaos of another person's life. I could never have lived like that for long. I'd have evolved into a shell of me, and I have done that before. You wind up as dry and brittle as a snakeskin. Cast off. Frozen in time. Wondering why you weren't as valuable to someone as a nap.

I felt like I had to sometimes jump up and down and wave my arms and say "Hey! I'm over here! Remember, the woman you held as you slept last night. Who you kissed goodbye this morning and smiled down at like she was the sun."

But I wrote this myself, in my post on family:

But, and I have both learned and hoped that this is true, those who love you will take whatever curve balls you throw them -- whether it be having a "not eating carbs" phase or finally confessing your own battles with suicidal depression, addictions and fear -- and they catch them. They might bobble the ball. They might even drop it. But they will pick it back up. And hold it, staring at it lovingly and solemnly.

And then they will look up. And really, really see you.

And love you even more.

That's what we all deserve, and if that's not how we would feel about each other, perhaps he has done me a favor. I wanted to see him. He chose otherwise.

Love is neither a reward for good behavior nor something one needs to fear losing when one truly, beautifully, opens.

It only gets stronger.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In Memoriam ... Phatiwe Sharon Cohen

It has been five years since I got that phone call. The "I have lied to you because she asked me to... come now," phone call.

I was maybe ten miles away.

I did not get there in time.

On May 12, 2005, between the time Sophie called me to tell me Phatiwe was dying and the time my sobbing, hysterical self had navigated the suburban Boston roads to the hospital, she leaned over to do god knows what... and a tumor in her body pushed against an artery leading to her heart, and she collapsed upon herself.

They kept her on life support for themselves -- and for me. To wait for my arrival. Minutes too late. To hold the hand of the woman my 27-year-old self considered her best friend, because she was. I was hers. She was mine. We sat in my Honda Civic late at night, parked on the side of Whichever St., and we told our stories. We laughed. We cried. We worried. We imagined futures where she was okay. We imagined my life far, far into the future.

It was the first time in my life I was grateful to have gone through surgeries, so that I could comfort her, knowing of the pain, the shock, the horror of waking up with the body you did not go to bed with. It was the only time my knowledge was ever useful. Could ever help anyone else through their own suffering. I think maybe I helped her sometimes. I think. I hope. I imagine.

When I arrived at the hospital, having parked in the garage, trekked to her floor... Sophie told me she was gone. I took too long. I was too late. I held her hand, her still, yet warm, hand. And I told her I didn't have anything to say... I had already told her everything there was I could think to talk about. I loved her. That was all there was. It was all I could say again. I love you. I squeezed her hand. I cried.

I walked out of the room, leaving her father to say his final goodbye.

In the waiting room, I wailed. I cried like the universe was collapsing around me. She was gone. My mother and father arrived before the end of that day. Friends traveled to meet us. I remember picking out her funeral clothes. I remember sitting in the front pew, shaking with grief, watching everyone else say goodbye to the first person I ever... the first person I ever died with.

When someone chooses you as the one who dies with them, they take more from you than they realize they ever will. They know it will be hard. But they of course cannot know the aftermath. I fell apart during that year she died. And it took me five afterward to put myself back together again. To be able to hold someone's hand and be consumed with excitement and possibility instead of fear and loss.

I moved to New York weeks after she passed away (sorry Shamus, but it worked out for the best, no?) and abandoned my job, my life, the home I had built for myself. I had been recruited by a technology magazine weeks after Phatiwe's death, and when I told them no thank you, I was moving to New York, they said "fancy that, our headquarters are in New York..."

And so I left. I left and I never went back. I have never, in five years, visited her grave. I wouldn't know where to find it. I won't go back to our haunts. Our neighborhoods. Our friends had moved away over the years -- by the time she was sick, everyone was gone except the two of us... She and I went through her death alone. And I say I don't visit because when you live in New York, everyone comes to you... Which is true in its own way. But I also have buried that city in my soul. It was where WE lived. And where SHE died.

Five years ago today.

I have a gold Oriental (tacky enough that its the only way to describe it) fan that hangs on my wall in my bedroom. My bedroom is otherwise entirely tasteful. I have a photograph of her and me, standing at the base of my parents staircase. I have an envelope of photographs I took to display at her funeral that have sat untouched for five years, and I have the letter she wrote me.

It seems a cliche. The letter one leaves for a loved one at the end of things.

But she left one for me. One that I read only once and then put away. She hoped I finally saw how wonderful I was. (I just read it again. Now it just makes me smile...)

Who was she? She was a spitfire. She was fucking feisty. She drank Long Island Iced Teas. She listened to the Rolling Stones while hustling people at pool. She talked about gin and tonics like they were the gospel. She loved super-sweet Dunkin Donuts iced coffees in the morning -- which I learned that summer between my graduate school semesters when I built my days around waking her up and driving her to work, stopping at a different Dunkin Donuts every day. Our late night drives, drinking Starbucks grande Mocha Valencias (caffeine bombs!) while listening to Tribe Called Quest and driving around our white, upper class, somewhat-Jewish neighborhood like thugs. Falling asleep to "The Matrix" every night as soon as we put it on and then waking up during the big fight scene, turning it off and finally going to bed.

The time I had a date and she asked me to meet her first... and she told me she had cancer... And I still went on my date, drinking martinis like a fish and begging him to forgive me for being so terrible.

I called my parents, begging them to save her.

And on this day, five years ago, a broken shell of myself called our friends and told them she was gone. And then came to me and held me and my mother made us pulled pork and breakfast and took Michael to the ER when he had a weird lip infection. I remember saying goodbye. I have a few images of the cemetery. But mostly I remember being in the car with my mother, shaking with fear that some part of me was dying too. And maybe it did?

And now, five years later, that part seems to be one of those innocent parts that doesn't know dark things. And I miss her entirely. Sometimes I smell her smell -- black girl hair and a musky perfume -- on the subway and I do a double-take. I feel her presence around me. But I also do sometimes on the treadmill, when I am full of hate for the exercise and I know she would want me to keep going, because I really want that for myself. And that's all she really ever wanted for me.

Thank you, and God care for your soul always, Phatiwe Sharon Cohen.

I miss you every single day, even when I don't remember I do.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Questions to Ask Your Family

I have been thinking a lot lately about family, about what it is we're meant to be, if anything, and how we make our decisions that guide us through life. And I stumbled again upon a project I first envisioned years ago, but which I would like to make a reality this year. "2010: The Year of the Family Interview".

Years back I read an article in "Real Simple" magazine that included a several-page questionnaire that you were supposed to ask your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers... It was a real "getting to know you" set of questions -- and I loved it. I fell in love with the idea.

And then it scared the living shit out of me. Oh god. Did I want to know. Did I want to ask my aunt how she felt about being who she was? Did I want to ask my grandmother if she ever regretted the choices she made? Was I ready to hear that all the fantasies I'd built my own life and ideas about love upon were really a system of compromises? Did things that hurt me hurt others even more? (My greatest fear, even now.)

Did I want to ask my dad what he remembered about his dad, who I never knew? My grandfather was born in 1906. He died in 1968. I always imagined that he would love me. Especially now that I see my own father look at my niece like she's the World's Best Thing (which today, she still is. future children, nieces and nephews, know you will be as loved!). I feel deprived of that love, even though the grandfather I knew was the most loving, accepting person I've ever known.

But something I read today made me think of that questionnaire from years ago, and my plan to travel and film my family. And it was really just a fun idea that touched at something I was both desperate to know and afraid to know. But why am I afraid? Why am I afraid to ask my family these hard questions? These questions that have shaped who we all became and how we molded and raised each other?

Perhaps therein lies the root of my fears.

We all grow up with love and with anger. We all resent things our parents do. We all worship our parents. We wind up going through seasons of love and hate and rebellion and hopefully, eventually, figure out how to make peace with the things we wished were different and the things we pray we have done right.

I think my fear of asking these questions comes from not wanting to cause anyone pain. To not see anyone I love cry. When I have read these simple, straightforward questions, and just reading them makes me cringe a bit, knowing the answers of my mother, aunt or grandmother will be as nuanced, as contingent on circumstance and on fighting for survival as my own would be... I am afraid because I know my own answers are not pretty. I wish theirs to be. Because you never wish suffering on anyone you love.

The only questions I can find online tonight are all addressed to one's mother: here. Godspeed.

But, and I have both learned and hoped that this is true, those who love you will take whatever curve balls you throw them -- whether it be having a "not eating carbs" phase or finally confessing your own battles with suicidal depression, addictions and fear -- and they catch them. They might bobble the ball. They might even drop it. But they will pick it back up. And hold it, staring at it lovingly and solemnly.

And then they will look up. And really, really see you.

And love you even more.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Me vs. That Lady From MSNBC

“Every choice has a consequence,” the trim blonde with the chic bob tells Stephen Colbert on his Comedy Central show. She is entirely serious. “And that’s sort of what I try to lay out here. But I try to lay that out here.”

The pretty news anchor has written about how hard it is to be a pretty news anchor and a mom. God, I wish I could feel her pain. I wish I could think that her life was so tough and so compelling that I’d love to read about her struggles. Oh, to be a pretty news anchor and a mom and feel like making money was important. Just because I wanted to. Not because I had to.

Because some people actually have to, lady.

“You say that mothers shouldn’t feel guilty about having to work…” Stephen says to her… And she tries to combat him and says she thinks people should talk about this.

And I want to wring her na├»ve neck. Because while she kept her name (I likely may?) and she wanted to keep a job, but can obviously afford childcare and doesn’t have to worry about paying for that childcare and her bills… She instead writes about the guilt and compromises of trying to be everything at one time.

Now, I will give you that I’m not your average woman. I’m an Ivy League-educated writer who has taken months off from having a corporate day job to write, think about what she wants to be when she grows up and really just give herself some slack for the first time. But while the book I’m writing touches on a lot of personal subjects, none of them deal with how hard it is to be a rich white woman with a husband and two children and a career with a national cable news network. Nope.

I’m not an asshole.

Having spent years as a rape crisis counselor and fighting for women’s rights, I am a bit taken aback by her solipsistic memoir. But I suppose the pretty blonde news anchor point of view lends one to believe that everyone wants to know how hard it has been for you to be so pretty. Everyone relates. Really. We do.

I’m not saying I’m not pretty. But for the love of god, I will never hand any of you a book that talks about how I’m pretty and smart and “gee, I still have real people problems!”

Mostly because I feel like I’ve had some pretty unique experiences, perhaps unpleasant on a unique scale (I did have surgery on my face while I was awake at 18…) but I would also never assume that my experience of work and money were at all universal. I grew up with my parents. My father was a New Jersey surgeon. My mother is a nurse. But she took time off for years to care for her four children. We were a handful. But we weren’t poor. Far from it.

Am I being self-absorbed? Maybe. Selfish? Maybe. Delusional? I don’t think so. I think I have a good story to tell, and I’ve begun crafting that book. It’s scary though. Especially when I see people who I think have written their stories and are so very earnest. And I don’t want to dislike them, but then they show up on television pimping their tales and well.

Lady, I’m sorry you think it’s really hard to have a high-profile, high-paying job and have kids at the same time. That’s not a news flash. It’s the story of so many women’s lives. Oh wait, not so many after all. Women may be making strides, but we’re still not in charge. And as long as we make the babies, I think we will perhaps never want the lives we see men lead.

I am contemplating my future career and how it will work with motherhood in the next ten years. I want three. Maybe two. But hopefully three. Then they won’t just learn compromise, they’ll learn negotiation. And they’ll learn to stand up for themselves when the majority is against them. Three is a good number. (From experience, four is better because then the downtrodden has a buddy. The fourth never lets the cheese stand alone unless the cheese is really, really wrong…)

But I digress, as I often do.

I watched a storyteller talk about her lame story and got angry about both her subject matter (so?) and her mannerisms (stop feeling entitled!), but somehow feel my own story is better?

I guess I’m so anti-that-author because I’m both jealous and afraid.

I wish I were just a pretty news anchor.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Elegance Defined?

At a party at my old apartment in Cambridge, Mass., down the block from the now-defunct but much beloved B-Side Lounge (which I learned met its demise in a divorce settlement, not because people stopped loving its decadent gouda skillet and unparalleled mint juleps), back in the day, a conversation started about elegance.

What was elegance? Who has it? What embodies it? Are some things inherently elegant while others never could be, even if Audrey Hepburn herself were to wield them?

(Sometimes its important to think about things that aren't very important. It keeps us from going crazy.)

Today some friends and I were discussing the recent trend toward formality in both dress and mannerisms in the younger generation after a piece on the LA Times blog "The Art of Manliness" defended its own propensity for nostalgia. A NY Times article last month talked about the return of the suit as a rebellion against the business-casual aesthetic and who doesn't love the art direction and dapper elegance of Don Draper in "Mad Men"? I told them about the party, the list and we started to come up with our own list of things that evoked images of elegance and nostalgia for things we never experienced... Following are a few we came up with:

Top hats. Manhattans. Audrey Hepburn. Oxford shoes. The Great Gatsby. Grace Kelly sunglasses. Red lipstick. Old Fashioneds. Steinbeck. Silk scarves. Pearls. A clean shave. French New Wave films. Brigitte Bardot. Aston Martins. Chanel No. 5. Gray leather handbags. Bowties. Charlie Chaplin. White Dinner Jackets. Old rolltop desks with old-school phones. Pintuck curls. Paul Newman. Trouser socks. Beauty parlors. Liquid eyeliner. False eyelashes. Whole milk. Extra butter. Heels with ankle straps. Leather journals. Convertibles. Ella Fitzgerald. Sailboats. Oysters at Balthazar. Real champagne. Good manners.

What's on your list?