Art v. Dodgy Politics

My dilemma at present is a moral one: what can I, in good conscious, watch of an evening? Royalty pennies from my subscription filter back to films’ creators, each member presumably receiving a proportion based on their contract, if not their importance in the piece. And, of course, the more times a film is viewed, the higher it is ranked via algorithm and thus the more likely it is to be viewed by others. With this in mind, what can I choose?

This is not simply a question of taste and whim, mind you. My views and time are transmuted into financial gain for someone, and I want to make sure that the receiver is someone who I find worthy. The line between worthiness and unworthiness, however, is blurred.

None of us is completely clean. We’ve all committed venal – even mortal – sins. Laws are broken in passion and in evasion. Yet, we often learn from our mistakes, collect our guilt and move on, vowing to not return down that path. We can forgive ourselves if we learned a lesson that improves.

But what if a law was broken habitually – or, if in breaking a law even once, someone else’s life was ruined? If that outlaw was not ourself, would we choose to support that person? How do we deal with a much-loved film or a piece of literature if we learn that the creator/trix lived a life inflicting cruelty on others? What if our hard-earned money went to those who commit atrocities against the most vulnerable?

That’s them, of course. Now to us. Should we be made to forgo what are arguably cultural masterpieces in the face of unspent convictions like the still-at-large Roman Polanski? Is it too extreme to consider that we avoid a film all our friends discuss? Do we forgive them once they’re dead, like the abusive, womanising Hemingway? Or do we simply forgive them because they create art: that highest form of human expression?

While we cannot change our tastes, perhaps we can look for others who embody the same qualities we appreciate, even if their glimpses of genius are still granular, still uncultivated. Hopefully, with the same financial backing and nurturing that those toppled (or, indeed, still standing) paragons of poor virtue once received, the artists in less controversial standing will be able to take their place and create the art that we all need to heal.

Banishing Fear

A classical beauty I am not. A twisted spine, hair perpetually in transition, hands like Nosferatu and a nose that my father in law has generously called ‘aquiline.’ My smile is rather pleasing, but it doesn’t photograph well. You had to be there.

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But I wouldn’t mistake honesty for complaining. I like the way I look and the Laird Hamilton also seems happy with me as I am. But photographing these features can be tricky. So I started with the hands. I mentioned Nosferatu earlier, but they really are very Weimar Berlin. And so I’ve channeled that famous image of Sylvia Von Harden. When I first saw that portrait, I loved her androgyny and those angular limbs. But the hands are the most compelling.

Weirdly, I’ve felt unworthy of being photographed for nearly two decades, shying away from the camera and always trying to find my skinny angles if I’m forced to say cheese. Yet, the images of other women that I find inspiring are rarely perfect. They embrace what the subjects probably grew up believing were flaws.

I have a feeling that this blog is about to get a whole lot…sharier. Being open is something I’ve long been concerned about, as has displaying my own image. In fact, I’ve allowed barely a dozen photographs to be taken of myself in recent years. An entire haircut and subsequent growth passed with only a single selfie.

However, as part of my Samhain ritual, I banished a few things – eight, to be precise, as this is the numerological value of ‘banish.’ While I’ll pass on attempting everything that currently frightens me, being more open online is something I’ll make an effort towards. For instance, I’m an avid knitter and a tentative sewer. I’ll be making room for these creations on here, and photographing myself wearing them. Because sticking a cardigan on a hanger is bad for the wool, you understand.

My major interests at present include a Second World War novel that I’m writing, knitting, witchery and vegan cooking. A tangental interest has been Weimar Berlin, which has proved influential for my book. With all these little fragments, I’m having trouble coming up with a cohesive theme for my blog. Not to mention all the random thoughts that I have and feel compelled to write about. The thought of getting things too scattered has concerned me, as it might confuse readers. As a reader myself, though, I have come to enjoy lots of subjects being covered by individual bloggers, and relying on company blogs for single-subject compendia. So, in short, I’m just going to write like I talk and snap what I look like.

 

A Conjecture of Our Time

As I was sewing up a knitting project, I listened to Amanda Halley, as I so often do. In an episode about fashion forecasters, she pointed out that fashion has changed very little from 2008 to 2018. The Laird Hamilton and I have discussed this from time to time, as some of the clothes we wore when we first met are, at present, wearable and relevant. Still, Halley had pictures.

This isn’t to say that absolutely nothing has changed, but the overall aesthetic is so similar. We expect interior design and architecture to remain more constant, as to update anything more than throw pillows annually would break the bank. However, the streetwear-through-time pointed out that very little has changed in the way we dress our bodies. Halley argues that we don’t want anything new at present – we just want better versions of our old stuff.

I wonder if this is true. Do we want to subconsciously relive those years, when things were more predictable and the outside world felt normal? Or are we just sartorially lost? We’ve seen wave after wave of mini-trends and subcultures taking prominence, but nothing has stuck around. Runways have brought us the dramatic and extreme, but few things would suit a regular woman’s lifestyle. The 40s, 50s and 70s have all had their moments, and yet we still go back to our skinny jeans and slightly oversized jumpers. Very few of our everyday outfits are exciting, though as a society our purchasing has exploded.

As we know, the 1950s and 1960s each had a very unified look – a set handful of haircuts, a small margin of skirt lengths, prescribed shape wear. Today, it seems that we’re floundering a little, with so many of us seeking out the ideal wardrobe and then proceeding to wear 20% of it 80% of the time.

Of course, this paradigm of ‘more of the same’ is pitted against a consumerist model, in which 52 micro seasons now exist. Retailers are geared toward producing fast fashion pieces that keep us feeling pacified as the memory of our weekend recedes. Ultimately, we have much to choose from, but the selection is hardly any different from what we already have. Statement necklaces, check shirts, ankle boots – we’ve had them all, with slight variations. Are we so caught up in details that a slimmer heel outshines a block, or burgundy outpaces red?

I’m all for individual expression, particularly through fashion. However, I believe that what we’re seeing here is designers trying and failing to find a look that speaks to a generation – someone who creates an aesthetic conjecture of our time. Thus, they make subtle changes to previous designs because they sell. We buy them because we know that they work. And still, we spend our weekends in skinny jeans and oxfords paired with our husbands’ jumpers. (Or is that just Surrey?)

I wonder how fashion would change if the designers were all encouraged to take a year off. Like letting fields go fallow for the good of future crops. How much could things change in that time, without the external pressures of sponsors, parties and buyers? Would we be able to go back to a time of slow fashion made explicitly for the way we live now?

My Pants and the Patriarchy

Epilating, Waxing, Lasers, good, old-fashioned Shaving. I’ve done them all in an attempt to ‘deal’ with my body hair. Particularly my pubic hair. Being half-Italian, I have a lot of hair. Thus, this hair removal routine was not in an attempt to look like a porn star; it was just to keep said hair contained in my pants.

Lately, however, I have grown tired of this. Paying in time and money to have hair pulled out from the roots just to feel acceptable in knickers, that is. No man I’ve ever met goes through this nonsense, nor have they had waxes for anything less than their favourite charity.

As women, we’re often told that body hair is unsightly, or even ‘gross.’ When the bikini was created in 1946, it was right after men returned home from the war, and women were fighting to retain the same status that they held during wartime. They had held jobs, built airplanes, and worked in wartime intelligence. Yet, they were expected to go back to the home and stay there. It should be no surprise that, in an era that infantilised women, pubic hair needed to be removed in order to wear the current fashion. Hair indicates sexual maturity, even female desire. Is it such a leap from a sexually mature woman to a confident one?

The patriarchy likes to keep us focused on things that don’t really matter. Fashion flows one way and then the other; we are constantly on the lookout. In this way, our attentions are focused elsewhere and we are less likely to express outrage towards our circumstances. Bread, circuses and waxes.

Most of us have no need to remove our body hair, and yet porn culture has indicated to us that we should to be aesthetically pleasing to our partners. Most of us are not porn stars, and so we should not be held to the same standard of grooming. Our genitals are not being filmed, and thus letting the camera view penetration more clearly is not of importance. Because this is all waxing is for, really: the close-up.

And yet, viewing penetration isn’t generally sexy for women. Women also aren’t dragged out of the moment because of hair. We are more turned on by a story, an atmosphere, an unspeakable chemistry. Perhaps it isn’t even that sexy for men, either. Over the weekend, I was in a vintage shop in Brighton and overheard two guys going through a basket of old Playboy magazines, which they evidently preferred to the newer editions. They complained about the amount of airbrushing that bodies receive in modern porn, and about the lack of hair. Bald like ten-year-olds. What’s the point?

But I digress. What I really wanted to talk about was knicker shopping. So, I recently bought some new styles of underwear, having disposed of all the bikini styles that require the eponymous wax. And all of the Brazilian styles, which, well, ditto. Even with American Apparel declaring that the minge is back, this was not an altogether successful undertaking, unless I wanted to continue my life looking as if spiders were escaping the legs of my pants.

It wasn’t until the Laird Hamilton and I were off for a little drive that he suggested I look to countries like France, where pubes are more normal. I remembered seeing a French emcee at a burlesque show. She wore a sheer costume, and fully visible beneath was a natural bush. What better for the retro styling than retro lingerie? French knickers have saved the day, with their fluttery style and longer length. Though they are inappropriate for tights and jeans, I hope that I’ll find another solution for those. For now, I’m happy with silk knix and suspenders.

In short, the patriarchy contains many elements which either intentionally or inadvertently tax female citizens, both in finance and in time. Young women in particular feel compelled to shave just in case a spontaneous sexual encounter occurs. I’m calling bullshit on the whole thing: we have better things to do with our lives.

The Titty Tax

This is going to get heavy, but I promise it will get better. Just probably not today. Unfortunately, this isn’t even an article about bras.

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For anyone who pays attention to American news, this has been a triggering couple of weeks. Victim blaming has reminded many of us why we stayed quiet in crucial moments. The credibility of those brave enough to speak has been called into question because the women were young, drunk or both. Anger has made me shaky and hot. Then freezing. Then hot again.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse, harassment and rape. All these things happened on more than one occasion, and I never reported any of them to law enforcement. In almost all of those instances, I felt that I shared part of the blame. I gave myself reasons for this. For instance: I didn’t fight back hard enough (even though fighting at all made the agony worse). I was asleep naked (as if that were an invitation). I had been too close to the perpetrator. I was related to the perpetrator. I hadn’t bought myself a lock for my bedroom door.

Add these to a culture which, where I lived, shamed women who were not virgins until they married. My ‘greatest gift’ was gone. I was used. I was that chewed piece of gum held up triumphantly in sex ed to the rhetorical question, ‘And who would want a chewed piece of gum?’ I’d chewed my boyfriend’s gum once, trying to get a raspberry pip out of my teeth. It fell apart in my mouth. No one wants chewed gum.

And yet, telling my mother that I had chosen to have sex was easier than telling her that I’d been forced. It carried an air of rebellion with it, a rejection of the religion that would now reject me. Months later, when I told her the truth, she didn’t want to hear about it – but she did  ask me questions that put me on the back foot. Was it the first time I’d had my clothes off around him? Why was I alone with him? Was it still going on? Rather than feeling supported, I believed that I’d had a hand in my own rape. Never mind that I’d bled for days afterward, or that the stress nearly made me lose my mind.

Not every girl’s ‘loving family’ is ready to give her agency, especially if the family religion belittles anyone without a hymen. Best keep it quiet.

But back to the present day. I write this after Christine Blasey Ford provided testimony filled with vivid detail, including the increased volume of a stereo when two men closed her in a bedroom with them. Her silencing was the most frightening thing for her. She also spoke out knowing that it might not make a difference.

Throughout the internationally reported ‘pre- and post-hearing’, the phrase ‘ruining a man’s life’ has been bandied about with particular abandon. As if barring a man from sitting on the Supreme Court ruins his life (not that he’ll ever know). Moreover, this attitude ignores the women’s lives that have been ruined by male entitlement. The hours of therapy we have paid for, the silence, the learned helplessness, the loss of confidence, even the inability to show complete love to our chosen partners – these are the tax of being a woman with a past of compromised safety.

Blaming women for not reporting their own abuse is fairly standard these days, usually accompanied by the implication that future victims are on the first victim’s head. However, the low rate of conviction (or even belief) also begs the question – which of us are worth protecting, and which of us are to be left without justice, our credibility compromised by our own vulnerability? Within this framework of partisan justice, is it any surprise that so many of us stay silent?

Weekly Tarot Reading: Abundance and Balance

In the last week, we had a bit of a renewal. There was a New Moon in Virgo, inviting us to organise, clean and generally overhaul everything. Old habits, cycles and plans concluded to make way for balance, appreciation and abundance. Though there is a tinge of underhandedness in this reading, overall the message is one of partnership, love and balance. So, let’s get down to the reading!

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For this spread, I’ve done a basic five card spread and allowed it to tell a story. My query was simple: ‘What can I expect in the coming week?’ The cards have revealed a tale of hard work that results in major-based harmony.

In the first position, we have Three of Pentacles. In this card, the tradesman is observed at his craft by a priest and a wealthy-looking man. Though the imagery is medieval in nature, its message is still relevant. The tradesman’s work, as he puts forth his effort to build the church, is being appraised by others and is found to be admirable. Though the other two men have more social standing than he, his work speaks for itself. This card is one of promise and completing the first steps of a project: outside approval and appreciation are due to those who put forth effort. However, it may also be time to ask for assistance from someone with specialist knowledge if you find that the task is overwhelming.

In the second position, we have the Two of Cups. Building from what we learned in the previous card, this indicates a new partnership is well-fated, as long as both parties are honest. The card depicts a wedding ceremony, with an idealised house on a hill in the background. The caduceus of Hermes hovers above them, indicating a meeting of complementary opposites as well as health.  The card, when paired with the previous one, could indicate a passionate business relationship and a partnership of equals.

The King of Pentacles is a card of material abundance and worldly security. The King has his castle, his money and his produce: all his needs are met. The financial struggle is over, whether through the completion of a project or the attainment of some goal. Take the time to enjoy everything around you and know that, money-wise, you are taken care of.

The fourth card provides a warning: the Five of Swords indicates a triumph that does not feel wholly positive. The opposition has been disarmed, but there’s still a storm coming. Thus, victory can be won, but the cost may be too great. If everyone has turned their backs on you, is victory still worth it? This might indicate a bit of bickering that ends in an explosive argument, even though your only intention was to pick a little fight that you have all the time and never gets resolved. What would the end of that argument look like, and does any result feel like a good one? If no, drop the matter for the time being.

The fifth and final card is Temperance. Our only major in the spread, it reminds us of the big picture: the goal of this creative endeavour or business project that has been the focus of the week’s reading is only part of the story. Working in the masculine all the time leads to burnout, but spending all time in the feminine results in virtually no productivity. Thus, we need to be both grounded and in flow. The journey through life goes up a mountain where the sun rises or sets, depending on perspective.  Hearkening back to the previous card, Temperance asks you to see two perspectives and avoid taking a hardline stance. This is a time to walk the middle ground and leave fighting for another day. Though the world seems to be spoiling for a fight, the ideal stance now is one of blending all those disparate elements in work, life and other agendas to create something more valuable than they were by keeping them separate.

Fear and the Art of New Stasis

My husband and I are currently planning a move to the US. I am reluctant to engage with this decision because I am reluctant to go. Our life in the UK is lovely, and I’m convinced that a move to a less expensive part of the country would solve all our problems. He is unconvinced, and felt that the solution lay in a complete upheaval. It’s clear which side won. Let’s speak no more of.

In complete denial of this upcoming departure, I spend up to an hour a day scanning properties on Rightmove, looking for the perfect three-bed-with-garden-plus-large-kitchen and a view of some sort of watery feature. It doesn’t matter that the husband (and anyone else who knows of this habit) finds this exercise pointless, because maintaining it means something to me.

Yet, I am unsure as to why I am so focused on what is clearly a lost cause. This has happened before, namely after our last move from a flat to our current house. I spent months rearranging our old flat via floor plans so that it could accommodate everything my husband wanted in a place – never mind that a new Mr and Mrs had already settled in between those same walls.

The fact is that I’m scared of too much change. Small changes, such as the local pub changing hands, are jarring at the best of times. Big changes, on the other hand, knock me for six in my old age (30). All I want to do is get to the point at which we’re going to be when the whole mess is sorted so I know where the metaphorical chips lie. Stake out a piece of high land in advance of the flood and learn to grow my own turnips, if need be. But I want that routine now, so I can get used to it before it becomes a requirement.

And I want it in the UK, because the US seems altogether more volatile. Socialist medicine and gun control are anathema, but these are things we take for granted locally. Moreover, I feel we’ve reached some sort of plateau in the amount of crazy within our borders. Of course, this is not true – Brexit hasn’t even taken place yet. But I live in hope that Article 50 will never complete.

In the meantime, I’ll content myself to keep writing and, in spare moments, browse Rightmove. I feel that the breakthrough property – the one that makes my husband say, ‘Ah, that’s superior to anything Stateside!’ – is only an advanced search away.