Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I spent this past winter consistently sick. Annoying but not particularly deadly–although someone somewhere seems to differ. I received a pamphlet titled “Let’s Face It Now” in the mail with an offer to buy a cemetery plot for $45 a month. The brochure assures me that once paid “you own your property forever.” I suppose that’s meant to be reassuring–no one can dig me up and chuck me in a pauper’s pit–but considering that I’ll be, you know, dead, I’m not sure I’ll care. I’m pretty sure I won’t care. Nope. Won’t care. I won’t even know.

The mailing was addressed to “Mr. and Mrs.” Curious Crumb, which is odd, since there’s only one of us and we’re neither Mr. nor Mrs. There are teasing questions meant to, I suppose, send me into a tizzy of death-preparation: “What 6 phone calls must be made?” (Can one make phone calls posthumously?). “How about lawyers fees?” (Can lawyers collect fees posthumously?).

The photographs show bland and formally dressed couples on site admiring the beds of blooming tulips, a memorial to the Declaration of Independence, and a large fountain banked by two columns. (“Do you need a will?”). One couple is staring at a wall. I’m guessing that this wall has something to do with ashes but it just looks like a wall. A boring, brown wall. And there’s a man and a woman staring at it. (“How do you claim benefit payments?” is what at least one of them is thinking).

The accompanying letter is on stationery that’s topped with a logo designed sometime in the 1950s. The company is Pinelawn® Memorial Park and Garden Mausoleums. Their tag line is “The Largest In the East.” Is that meant to be comforting? Lots of company? Never be lonely in death? We won’t run out of space?

Regardless of that fact that I don’t intend on dying anytime soon, and have nothing to leave anyone anyway (“What does survivor do with will?”), the fact that Pinelawn® is located on Long Island pretty much put the last nail in that coffin. Yeah, let’s face that: I don’t want to live on Long Island when I’m alive, and I don’t want to be stuck there when I’m dead either.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tailored Seduction

I had a bit of an epiphany this weekend. Not about the meaning of life or how to enjoy a recession or why we are all but grains of sand, etc., etc. This epiphany was more important than any of that, and much more life-changing. I had a sudden realization about the worth of tailoring.

A friend and I went to the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology to see a show called “Gothic: Dark Glamour.” (Now closed, not very good, you didn’t miss much). The real eye-opener was the other show, “Seduction.” It’s pretty straightforward: seduction in fashion, 250 years of it.

My friend and I were looking at an amazing evening gown, a strapless, straight-skirted number from the 1950s. Steps away were the 1960s. I looked back at the 1950s. Then to the 60s. It occurred to me that, although I had always thought that 1950s fashion was completely revisionist and a step backwards in terms of women’s apparel and, by extension, feminism, these clothes were in a way more liberating than the fashions in the following decades.

Because the onus used to be on the clothes. But we’ve gone from wearing structured clothing to treating our bodies as if they are capable of the same tailoring. Plastic surgery, Botox, peels, treatments, exercise ad nauseum–our bodies cannot be taken in, darted, pleated and tucked so they become “perfect”, whatever that means. The perfect dress, however, can, and that is one of the reasons it’s perfect. The well-cut suit, or custom-made shirt, or tailored dress is perfect because it’s properly fitted which means it ought to both look good and be comfortable. It’s not a trade-off.

The fifties were the twilight of the girdle and accompanying restrictive undergarments. The fifties were also the twilight of a type of tailoring (the dresses in the show were, of course, couture–we should all be so lucky) that worked with the wearer’s body. Cut and tailoring should complement and focus on the good aspects of the wearer’s figure, and hide the not-so-good. That’s what a talented designer should have in mind when designing clothes. The sixties and later were more about body-consciousness in the name of freedom and feminism, and tailoring went out the window. But when a dress is a simple shift–beautiful in its own right–there’s not enough there to hide anything. Or with hot pants or mini-skirts or long gowns slit down the front and up the side. Besides, true seduction is subtle, it's a hint, a whisper...not an anvil used to crush a peanut.

I think it would be a relief for many women to wear a properly made suit and not worry about how their arms or their thighs or their derrière look. To be comfortable wearing a smashing dress and feel the accompanying lift in self-confidence. To know that summer wouldn’t mean another liposuction surgery, but instead a trip to the dressmaker’s, which is quicker, easier, cheaper, and healthier.

(btw, Charm was a mag later folded in Glamour.)

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Boom's Bombed

In the fall of 2007, I finished a magazine article about the art market for the finance trade magazine I’ve written for on a regular basis. I’d been working in it for months. I spoke with auction house people, gallery people, art consultant people, money people, collector people and even some people people. My final effort was attending Christie’s modern and contemporary evening sale in mid-November. (The image at left is Damien Hirst's "For the Love of God", which was not at Christie's). The party was, in many ways, over after that night, although the truth wasn’t acknowledge until the following year and the November 2008 auctions only served to nail the point home.

As an artist of sorts myself, and not one who will likely earn as much in my lifetime as the amount for a single painting offered at Christie’s that night, I’ve long been struggling with the challenge of balancing what I distinguish as a job versus work. A job pays money which pays my rent. Work is my real work–writing fiction–and it ain’t paying for nothing right now and might not ever. That’s the reality I’ve accepted, as have many people I know who are in the same boat. Yep, there’s a boat and we’re sitting in it together looking for land, drifting in a sea that dislikes experimentation, play, and eccentricity. Doesn’t sell! it tells us. No money in it! it insists.

This article in The New York Times by Holland Cotter corresponds nicely to my thoughts about art and the recession, particularly this bit:

It’s day-job time again in America, and that’s O.K. Artists have always had them — van Gogh the preacher, Pollock the busboy, Henry Darger the janitor — and will again. The trick is to try to make them an energy source, not a chore.

I’m not convinced that van Gogh ever made a real living as a preacher, or at anything, but that small point aside, the trick, as Cotter says, is to have a job that’s not a chore, that doesn’t sap all the energy and imagination that it takes to create, while paying enough for rent and food on a regular basis. Those jobs are getting rarer. I’ve first-hand experience of this. Twenty years of it.

But Cotter offers some land:

At the same time, if the example of past crises holds true, artists can also take over the factory, make the art industry their own.

Which is what needs to happen. Aux armes! Seize the factories, comrades! Artists unite! If recessions are good for nothing else, they’re often good for art. The shackles of making a living drop away, through shear unlikeliness, as do conventions. Yes, a sigh of relief. We can be weird again. As Cotter puts it: “a condition of abnormality can be sustained.” The condition of abnormality that is imperative for true creativity to happen. I’m glad we all agree now that we can redirect our boat, maybe break off into little boats, or flotillas, or a kind of new boat, just invented, and be eccentric, strange, do what we like without concern for “the marketplace” because the marketplace is gone, gone, gone. Do what you gots to do to keep a roof over your head, but don’t forget what the real work is. The work that doesn’t always pay in dollars but does is so many other ways that a market cannot appreciate or understand.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Expertly Napping

Boy, am I on a roll. This bit from The Guardian is what I've been searching for my entire life to justify my love of napping. Turns out, napping can improve alertness, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and, in general, make the world a happier place. This article even gives instructions. If there's a Society of Napping out there, I should join it. If there's not, I should start it. I don't nap every day, but some days there just ain't no functioning without one.
(And, yes, that is a cute kitten picture. So sue me.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bombs away!...please.

I've flown into Berlin's Tegel Airport a few times and I can't say it ever occurred to me that old buried munitions would give the term "final descent" a new and slightly macabre twist. According to this piece in Der Spiegel (yes, I've been reading it a lot lately), the fact that there are WW II bombs buried under the tarmac is no secret. This coming spring, they'll finally be removed and disposed of from Tegel and another 500 give-or-take other sites (but who's counting?). Unexploded WW II-era bombs are actually not uncommon in Germany (here's an interesting article about that), along with other weaponry–a construction site in Berlin recently uncovered a stash of weapons. That I knew. But the fact that there are live bombs close to the surface of an active runway at an international airport–bombs which become more unstable as they age–and it was known does make me wonder. Did the authorities calculate the odds? Every 9 out of 10 planes? Anyway, who am I kidding? I wouldn't have changed my travel plans even if I had known. I like a gamble.

Monday, January 26, 2009

It's just a jump to the left...

Many who know me are familiar with my interest in East Germany. This slight obsession dates back to the few months in 2000 when I spent lived in an apartment in Friedrichshain, a neighbourhood that was part of East Berlin. I shared this apartment in an altbau with the French-German owner of a health food store and his dog Paula. Across the street was another altbau that was filled with squatters. They had painted the entire front of their 5-storey building–a tank, gas canisters, skulls, a wrecking bomb. (This photo is not that building. All my photos are still on paper. One day I will digitize). There was a mud sculpture park next door. The front of my building was covered in graffiti and looked somewhat abandoned, but the apartments were beautiful. The heater in my room was a ceramic coal heater–there was a bucket of coal and a shovel next to it. There was a Trabant collectors club nearby. Ah, the glamorous East!

There was an interesting mix of old and new then and plenty of reminders of the recent DDR past. So of course a headline like this would intrigue me: East German Time Warp. This is a short article from the International (read: English) version of Der Spiegel. An architect who was working on a building in Leipzig opened the door to an apartment long shut. It seems this apartment was very hastily abandoned sometime in early 1989–so hastily that there are still ashes in the ashtray, dirty pots, and old–really old–bread on the counter.

Of course, I can afford to treat these matters with curiosity and a certain level of amusement because I didn’t have to actually live through them. The people I know who did have direct experience with the East have, how shall I put it? a slightly different take. For anyone who wants an idea of what it was like, I highly recommend the 2006 film Das Leben der Anderen/The Lives Of Others.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fashion: Is there any hope for me?


Here's some more Hadley Freeman for you, this time addressing the age-old question of heels: why, how, why, what, why, why, and–the big question–why? Enjoy.