Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fashionista on a Budget: She Does a Little Comparison Shopping

This evening, for entertainment, I went to Target. Now, I have not been to Target in a while, nor have I shopped seriously at Target in several years, but I wanted to check out what was new in "Design for All."

One of the reasons I like Target is that it has this design for all mission. It isn't "Design Within Reach," which is just the Sharper Image of the early twenty-first century. Instead it really believes that the masses might like good design, instead of make-do design. I have several artifacts of this experiment, including my Michael Graves paper shredder, Michael Graves can opener, Michael Graves vegetable peeler, and Michael Graves surge protectors. All of these everyday objects are useful, comfortable, and pleasing to the eye (Calderoj's brother even complimented the surge protectors). Even as I write, form and function are making beautiful music together in my utility drawer.

While all of the aforementioned products have stood the test of time, I have not been impressed by the durability of clothing on offer at Target. I learned about this problem a few years ago when I noticed that Target has cute clothing for cheap. This was shortly after Isaac Mizrahi made Target cool. I bought some items. The shirts ripped at the seams, the sweaters pilled. The knitwear shrunk in the wash. Not only was the durability bad, but the form, while pleasing to the eye, was not so pleasing to the body. Jackets puckered and were strangely sized. I realized that in clothing you really do get what you pay for. Target clothes retail mostly for below $25 per item.

Is the idea that the buyer will wear it once and then throw it away? This never seemed to be the case with Geranimals, which is how I started out wearing Target clothes. Though my mother does consider shopping a raison d'etre, thirty years ago she was, nevertheless, practical, so I don't think she would have bought us stuff that would fall apart. But there is a difference in quality in women's apparel from Target and, say apparel by Stella McCartney. Target clothes don't last the week. Stella designs clothes so your daughter can wear them as vintage decades from now.

But Stella McCartney and Target do have something in common. That thing is Pleather. Neither one of them uses the word. Instead, both prefer to make the word "patent" into a noun, as in "Patent Ombre Handbag." And both of them market products made from "faux suede." I'm not sure about this, but weren't earlier incarnations of faux suede called Naugahyde and Ultrasuede, respectively?

I am not looking down on these retailers. No. I have several pieces by excellent designers that use faux fur.* Indeed, SM uses faux skins and fur because she is a vegetarian and wishes to translate her eating choices into her design aesthetic, which I applaud. The interesting thing is that when you buy a Stella boot in faux suede, you pay 100 times more than you would to buy a Target boot in faux suede.

So when I went to Target, I decided to check out the difference. I tried on a Stella boot yesterday. This evening, I tried on a Target ballet flat. I had to go up a size in both. Pleather must not stretch as well as its natural, cruel counterpart.

*My Rebecca Taylor faux leopard jacket is one of my favorite pieces. Calderoj thinks it makes me look like a streetwalker. This fall I'm going to wear it with a black pashmina scarf and gloves and jeans for a casual look. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Rearranging the Chi

Yesterday I wrote about the transformative powers of Yoga. Today I'm going to write about house cleaning. Dear Reader, they are the same thing!

My third revelation about Yoga -- and my big revelation about life as a human being -- is that we are all shape shifters and we don't even know it. In fact, we resent it. As children, it literally hurts to grow -- remember all of those achy nights when your bones were growing? Adolescence is scary because we are literally changing form. Later on we find it so difficult to stay en forme. And how many people do I see looking wistfully at the bodies of young people and remembering when? I never hear middle aged people saying things like, "Yeah, my skin doesn't glow like it used to, but now I finally feel at home in it." And that's not even what happens to us emotionally and spiritually.

I think of my surroundings as an extension of my self. It isn't that I find validation in my book shelf, or I think that because I have this very cool PowerMac that I am really cool, too. No, it's because my surroundings are the space in which I live. They determine what shape I take on a daily basis. Am I cramped? Am I able to expand? Am I hording old things that I no longer use?

Since I have been teaching the summers have become a time of cleaning. Calderoj thinks I'm obsessed, and that since I'm smart I need stimulation and I'm really bored and am channelling my anxiety into rearranging the closets. I think he's right about the anxiety -- he's a perceptive guy, that Calderoj. But I think he attributes it to the wrong cause. It is the anxiety that comes with the excitement and anticipation of a new vision of oneself. That's what house cleaning and rearranging is -- a new vision of who you are -- a different space to occupy in a different shape.

Yesterday I wrote about how taking different shapes in Yoga channels the spiritual energy of the universe through your body in different ways, releasing emotions and leading to epiphanies. I think that rearranging the closets and cleaning the house does the same thing. It lets the spiritual energy flow through the house in a different way, through a different channel.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Standing On My Head, Seeing God, Death, and Eternity

Once again, Yoga has proven to me that the soul and body cannot be separated.

Some background. I have been doing Yoga for over ten years now. I have not been an entirely faithful Yoga practitioner, and so my practice has not advanced very far. I still attend level 1-2 classes (there are 3 levels in the tradition I study). My slow advancement is not because I lack discipline or inherently don't like to exercise. Those of you who know me know that the only times in seven years that I have missed Pilates lessons is when I have had pneumonia. I used to run almost five miles every morning before work until I got tired of my hair freezing in winter weather and bought an elliptical machine, which I do every morning before work. I really, really like physical activity. More than physical activity, I like the results of physical activity. I like that I am in my late thirties and I am strong and flexible. I like that I don't have chronic injuries that have been brought about by inactivity. I like that I don't view my body as a burden, and that I look at the years to come with dread because I know that there is a correlation between movement and quality of life.

My practice is slow to develop because Yoga scares me. I first started doing Yoga because I understood it to be a gentle form of exercise that I could do safely when I was 80. I understood it to be just another form of exercise, one that would relax me and increase my flexibility. My first class showed me that it was something else entirely. I practice in the Iyengar tradition, which means that, at the low levels at least, there is really no discussion of what the guru, B.K.S. Iyengar calls the rest of the "tree of yoga," the spiritual path to enlightenment in which the positions are only a small part. In other words, there was no Yoga evangelism, only an earnest desire on the part of my teacher for us to understand that Yoga was more than gentle flexibility, but instead required a great deal of attention to parts of our bodies we had previously no awareness of. I learned that Yoga was a lot harder than it looked.

In that first set of classes, I also came to an understanding of what Yoga promises. After learning some of the poses and then reading a few books about the poses, I began to understand the Kama Sutra. It isn't that I became expert at The Congress of the Crow, this certainly wasn't the case. Instead, it means that I began to understand that the asanas of Yoga and the erotic positions in the Kama Sutra were all about the flow of spiritual energy through the body. That such positions, whether performed alone as in Yoga, or together with a partner in bed, were about an engagement with the Cosmos that other things that we do in life don't necessarily encourage.

After my first initial course, I went to class whenever I could afford it. In these years I was afraid of the positions themselves. I was suspicious of any inversion. Head Stand and Shoulder Stand would surely lead me to break my neck, a fate that my mother was sure to befall any one who participated in activities that were even partially dangerous, from walking down stairs to wearing high heels. I didn't want to advance because that meant that I'd have to spend an increasing amount of class upside down.

It was about two or three years into practice when I had my second realization about Yoga. We were doing Camel, and as I bent back and exposed my chest to the world, I felt fear sweep through me in wave after wave. It was the most intense fear I had ever experienced. Worse, it was totally unexplainable. It was attached to nothing -- no memory, no situation. Because it was so detached, I couldn't even talk about it. I was in therapy at the time because I was bulimic, and both my therapist and I struggled to understand it. We never got it. I didn't go back to Yoga for years.

When I went back it was because I had made friends with an incredible human being who happened to teach Yoga. She started doing a workshop for teachers at our school, and I felt safe with her. Earlier in the year, she had given me my third insight into Yoga. I had recently had treatment for Graves Disease and one day woke up to notice that I'd put on weight and so I couldn't get my jeans zipped. This threw me into a panic, and I expressed my anxiety to my friend. She already understood what I had come to realize that morning. In awe I told her, "We are shape shifters and we don't even know it."

Yoga still wasn't easy, but not because it hurt or was difficult to perform. I was really liking standing on my head. Instead, it was difficult to deal with the spiritual energy that I now realized my body was conducting when I went in to the asanas. I went to class for a while, but then I dropped out.

When I met my boyfriend, Calderoj, and we began a relationship that had a spiritual component, I suggested that we go to Yoga class together. As with all aspects of my life, I am a Yoga snob. I insisted that we study Iyengar. We found a good school run by a husband and wife.

Perhaps that was too much background for you. However, it was necessary to explain my revelation of Saturday morning. The class I attended was great. We did several standing poses and a lot of Downward Dog. I stood on my head for what was a long time for me. For those of you who don't know much about Yoga practice, at the end of each session you do Shivasana, literally Corpse Pose. In Shivasana the practitioner lies on her back, muscles relaxed, eyes closed, mind in a meditative state. The idea behind the pose is that it is like death, and that because they practice it often, yogis are prepared when they meet death.

The teacher had us starting off in another pose where we were lightly touching the wall with our feet. Then, when we moved into Shivasana, he told us to push ourselves away from the wall. I was struck by the affect of pushing away from the wall. Suddenly, other than the fact that I was lying on the floor, I was touching nothing. I had the sensation of floating in space. I thought, "This must be one aspect of death. The dead have no relationship with any object." It was an epiphany. Moreover, I greeted this forth understanding about Yoga with curiosity.

In the end, the class had released happiness in me in the same way that the camel class had released fear years ago. I made a fifth realization, as well. Because advancing in Yoga is about developing your soul as well as your body you have to be an adult on an emotional level to advance. You have to realize that fear and anger happen, just in the same way that happiness happens. An adult doesn't run from these feelings. An adult confronts them.

Friday, July 18, 2008


So I am back to battling the Horseman of Pestilence. As alert readers will remember, I have been wrestling with God about this situation lately. Is my fitness, as demonstrated by my ability to use the information I read on the CSU extension website to defeat my enemy, moral? Am I justified in murdering moths and their larvae because that is the natural order of things?

This weekend at a family gathering, my brother and sister in law were talking about their mouse problem. They had mice last summer under their deck. They didn't do anything about the mice because, as they said, they thought they were "cute." Now that the mice have entered their home, B and S.I.L. don't think they are cute any more. They are, in fact, rather distressing. My brother put it this way: "They're not cute. Now when I set the traps I look forward to seeing their little backs broken."

Dear brother, I have felt the same way. Years ago in my married house, there were mice. They were everywhere. They ate the dog's food, they built a nest under the refrigerator. They darted out from dark corners when I was least expecting them. I was at my wit's end. But we had to live, and to do that, they couldn't live. We called in an exterminator.

Other "pests" have provoked reactions from me that are simply mammalian. At the same married house, there was a cactus in the garden. The puppy went out in the night and stepped on the cactus. We pulled the stickers from his paws. The next day I went out with rose gloves and pruning shears and cut the cactus to bits. Don't mess with my babies.

Recently, I came home to find wasps building a next just outside our front door. One came into the house. I panicked. I implored J to do something. He leaped to my rescue, smashed the inside wasp, then, using the only weapon he could find, sprayed WD40 on the nest.

Similarly, I do not feel sentimental about roaches. We don't have roaches, but occasionally I see a beetle that I've never seen before and imagine that we do.

So, here I am again, devising ways to conquer the moths. I am not sure what I am doing is right, I am only sure that it is animal.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Re: Of Moths and Fashionistas

My dear, dear, friend Herm commented that my victory over the fabric moths was somehow "decently Darwinian." I'm not sure I felt decent after this victory. Survival of the fittest does not leave room for a conscience. Why are my clothes (my shelter and my sexual allure, which might, at this point, aid in the conception of only one or possibly two human young) any more important than that moth's offspring, and, in fact, the work of her entire, short life?


So. Having dropped off a bunch of clothes that I never wear, I was walking out of the consignment shop today and I saw that it was raining. I was so surprised that I thought in French, "La mousson a arrive." For it is 17 July, and it was about 4:30 in the afternoon, and up until then the day had been oppressively hot. But the rain was cool, and in the great, front-range tradition, lasted for about five minutes.

Something about it inspired me, though. On my way to my next errand I remembered that there is a small public garden just next to the amusement park and just off the bike path that goes along the river. I have wanted to have a look at it for a while, but I never made a time, and whenever I am passing by it seems that the garden is closed -- it closes at 5pm each day, a travesty if you ask me. The hours just before the sun goes down are the best times for walking in gardens. I had twenty minutes.

Centennial Gardens was designed and is maintained by the Denver Botanic Gardens. It is laid out in a formal style, and the signs in the park refer to Versailles and to Kensington Gardens. However, the designers have taken care to use native plants or species that do not take up much water. The hedges are made of native fernwood and mountain mahogany. One section is comprised of lavender plants (and, it looks like, bees), and one has huge rose bushes. Instead of cypress, there are juniper.

The gardens are laid out in nine equal squares, with a colonnade stretching down most of the east side of the garden, and bosques of linden on the north and the south sides, respectively. The linden smell wonderful. I walked through the whole garden, then sat underneath the colonnade and enjoyed a rare 5pm breeze.

For the most part I was the only one in the garden. I saw several groups of people stop in and look from the front, but they left quickly, I think to ride the roller coaster. The only other people in the garden were a middle school-aged couple, the girl sitting literally astride the boy, who lay in the grass under the lindens. When I walked by them, they looked at me with huge, sheepish grins. Then, for the rest of the time I was in the garden, they kept looking over toward me, as if I were some figure of authority from whom they were trying to hide their bad behavior. "When is she going to leave?" They looked like they were saying. "It is irritating trying to have to pretend to be doing nothing." Such behavior is archetypal in gardens, I know.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Of Moths and Fashionistas

This past Spring I had a fabric moth problem. One day I just started seeing these tiny moths flying through my closet and I knew what I was up against. A few years ago moths had eaten through most of my cashmere and my response this time was sort of like the Bush administration response to 9/11: total war. I even demonized them. They were not an axis of evil, but they were certainly the Horseman of Pestilence.

I'm against mothballs -- you can't sell them in California because they're that toxic and not just to moths -- so I did everything else I could to make the environment in my home inhospitable to moths. I dry cleaned and laundered everything. I lined every sweater box with cedar and lavender. I encased the vulnerable clothing in plastic. I did this even as J was laughing at my quixotic efforts. Then I encased his jackets in plastic, as well.

It was months before we stopped seeing the little, plain creatures flying through the house the way they do -- like Woodstock on his way to see Snoopy. Each time I saw them I would seethe.

For a long time I couldn't figure out where the infestation was. I finally narrowed it down to the coat closet. However, I have not seen moths in a while.

The other day I was in the coat closet rearranging the towels and blankets when I found a dead fabric moth. The moths themselves do not eat holes in cloth, it is their larvae that cause the damage. The moths do not eat, instead they stay alive just long enough to lay their eggs and then die. Fabric moth larvae can only get adequate nutrition if they live on natural, animal hair-based fabrics like wool, alpaca, and fur itself. This moth laid her eggs on one of our cotton towels. I saw the tiny, glistening eggs not far away from the moth, whose body was so dry that one of her wings was barely attached. The cotton would not give the larvae the kind of food it needed, but she had no other place to lay the eggs -- all of the wool was packed in plastic. If that isn't tragic enough, I knew that the eggs would be destroyed as soon as I put the towel in the wash.

I was staring at a triumph of Darwinian proportions. I had done the things I was put on earth to do -- preserved my home and my ability to produce offspring. I was the fittest.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Respected Social Sciences Periodical Condemns Often-used Literary Device

The following conversation took place in our kitchen on the evening of July 1, 2008.

Me: The Economist has come out against the use of the omniscient third-person narrator.

J: (Clearly weirded-out) What? So, does that mean that it isn't going to use that point of view ever again, or has it published an editorial railing against it?

Me: It's part of one of it's book reviews. Let me read it to you. "The omniscient third person can often be a tedious fictional narrator. Authors tend to use this device when they want to show off their keen sense of the complexity of human nature -- their insight into the thoughts behind the words, the pain behind the sneers. But what could be more tiresome than a perspective that floats from head to head, with every character well-perceived, fleshed out and sympathetic? Surely, it takes much more restraint -- and far more faith in one's readers -- to place the full heft of a book in the bumbling hands of an unreliable first person."*

J: Wow.

Me: It's clearly drawing a line in the sand.

J: Right over Dostoevsky's face.

*The Economist, June 28-July4, 2008, uncredited book review.


We've been watching a lot of The West Wing on DVD lately and now we're into the 7th and last season. It aired originally in 2005-2006. The main story line is about the election for the president who will succeed President Bartlet, and the two competitors for the office are respectively, a Democrat who wants to talk to the voters like they are intelligent and capable of understanding the complexities of political policy, and a Republican with a long history in the Senate who is not loved by the right-wing of his party. Did I mention that the Democrat is also a member of an ethnic minority who eschews the idea of being the "minority candidate?"

I am not the first to notice that this election looks a lot like the election we are having now.* However, I am wondering if the resemblance between this fictional election and our real one is not entirely coincidental. I am not proposing that this is a conspiracy, with plot lines written by Hollywood screenwriters, nor am I suggesting that life imitates art. Instead, I am wondering if this similarity is a product of the spirit of the time. I am wondering if this election is not about two men with ambitions to lead the country, but is really about a nation and its need to see its long-felt desires given form and played out in a national drama.

Now, you may be thinking, isn't this what an election really is? A set of narratives about a particular country that compete for prominence? And aren't the main characters, who are both the protagonists and the antagonists depending on the narrative, supposed to be well-drawn and their arguments multi-layered and nuanced? And isn't it the one who understands us, our contradictions, and what we strive for the best the one who should triumph in the end? Isn't this what happens in all elections?

Perhaps, but never before the 2008 election did it feel like this for me. Perhaps, back in 1992 it felt a little like this, but that election was really just a challenge to what had been incumbent for 12 years. The 2008 election isn't like that. We have to go back to a time before I was born to see an election in which at least one challenger was not a part of the previous or incumbent administration. What that means is that in some way, for the last two generations, we were always voting to oppose the previous rulers. Now, we have two new guys with two new ways of seeing things. We are being given something wholly different than we've been given before, and that is exciting because it means that we are in the midst of a real shift. The campaigns are right: whatever we choose next, it is going to be a change. What is completely amazing, is that The West Wing articulated everything we wanted well before the campaign began.

*If you Google The West Wing, you will come across this idea very quickly. It just proves exactly the observation that my friend Herm once made -- you have this really amazing idea that you think is entirely original, and then you read about it a week later in the "Picks and Pans" section of People.