Musings, May 6, 2019 — Hail Satan!, Special, Hollywood, How to Be Alone

I’m going to try this whole Musings idea again. Just because I want to keep track of the media I’m consuming in a more concrete way, but also to share my thoughts on things that interest me.

At the Movies

Hail Satan!
This documentary by filmmaker Penny Lane follows members of the Satanic Temple (not to be confused with the original Church of Satan created by Anton LaVey) in their fight for religious freedom as well as the separation of church and state. They’ve taken on various campaigns but the most well-known is the one to have statues of the ten commandments removed from state capitols, or in the name of religious freedom, to have a statue of Baphomet erected next to the ten commandments. (Turns out all those stone ten commandment statues were erected as a promotional stunt for the Charlton Heston film back in 1956.) Tensions arise when this group that started out as three individuals grows to tens of thousands of members, and the necessary organizational structure cannot accommodate rogue members calling for the assassination of the president. Sadly, this is one of those preaching to the choir movies as the people who really need to see it won’t make the effort to do so.

TV Party Tonight

Special
We dug this Netflix series by comedian Ryan O’Connell. Each of the eight episodes clocks in around 15 minutes so it never overstays its welcome, but instead delivers its message in a fun and succinct manner. Outstanding performance by Jessica Hecht as Ryan’s mother, who has the hardest time letting her disabled son finally go off on his own into the world. Except when he calls her to come do all the stuff for him. Also, Olivia, Ryan’s boss (played by Marla Mindelle), comes across as a cold bitch, but is way wiser that she lets on.

Hollywood
As in Hooray for. We recently finished working our way through a 13-part series about the silent film industry, from the stars and directors to the stunt people and camera/effects crews. The series aired originally in 1980, and includes interviews with Louise Brooks and Colleen Moore, who, in her 80s looked almost exactly as she did in her 20s, except with glasses. I’m probably the last silent film fan to have discovered this series but it was so informative regarding the process of movie-making during that time.

Sheryl’s Bookshelf

How to Be Alone
Lane Moore
I nabbed this originally thinking it was a book on psychology and self-acceptance, but it turns out Moore is a writer, comedian, and musician who escaped a troubled home riddled with FLEAs (frightening lasting effects of abuse), and is just trying to find healthy relationships, both in terms of friendship and romance, that don’t trigger issues from her past. The writing is slightly too meandering train-of-though for me, but I empathize with Moore’s life situation, although it does feel disingenuous for a writer to claim they have nobody to spend Christmas with and then include hundreds of people in the acknowledgements.

April Reading List

Tete-a-Tete
Hazel Rowley
The biography of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir based on her journals and letters. Honestly, this is a DNF for me, as I just couldn’t get past what a dick Sartre was, both to Beauvoir and the many women he had relationships with. Plus Beauvoir grooming her young high school-aged students to become his lovers was also way creepy.

The American Agent
Jacqueline Winspear
Another fantastic novel in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, this one taking place during the Blitz in the fall of 1940. Winspear has maintained Dobbs through 15 novels now and they remain sharp, intriguing, and well-written. Many red herrings and twisty paths, as usual, the murderer turns out to be a complete surprise.

Life Admin
Elizabeth F. Emens
One of those books that talks about theoretical issues rather than offering much in the way of concrete advice, if nothing else it will give the reader pause to consider how much of our life is unavoidable admin work (grocery lists, permission slips, taxes). Also, an understanding about how different people approach admin tasks, and how some things that require our attention feel like a waste of time.

Rage Becomes Her
Soraya Chemaly
An important read, but it can come off cluttered at times and doesn’t really offer much new insight into all of the things women have to be angry about. Unequal pay, harassment, mansplaining… it’s all here, and Chemaly offers concise details, but there’s little in the way of concrete advice. At best, you read this to get worked up at the injustice against women and then come up with your own ideas to fight it.

How to Be Famous
Caitlin Moran
The second book of a trilogy (How to Build a Girl #2) loosely based on Moran’s early adult life as a music writer. This starts out clunky and I almost discarded it, but it picks up and becomes a great story and a love letter to young women. Seriously, worth reading just for protagonist Dolly’s letter to her rock star boyfriend about the power and energy of young female music fans, and how the music industry — so dependent on the custom of teenage girls — treats them with misogynistic disdain. Rating: a hearty Fuck Yeah!

Highland Fling & Christmas Pudding
Nancy Mitford
The first two books from The Penguin Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford. Mitford was a London socialite in the early 20th century, one of a family of sisters, a few of whom were closely linked with the Nazi party during WW2. While Mitford’s writing is said to improve with her later works, the first two novels were not well-received at the time of publication and mostly deal with the gender gap within the aristocracy between the old guard and the Bright Young People. Lots of country estates, hunting, characters with names like Squibby, and discussions about how much inheritance per year would justify marrying someone you didn’t love. Characters were mostly based on Mitford’s friends so didn’t really translate well to the rest of the population. I may come back to the later novels at some point but these two just made me despise silly rich people.

The New Me
Halle Butler
This is one of those new-fangled books about Millennial ennui, and Butler’s character Millie is scathing, cynical, and sarcastic, covering up some fairly severe depression and self-loathing. It’s ultimately a flip-off to Western society’s promise of the reinvention of the self through consumerism (that lipstick, rug, cereal, car, yoga class, or facial treatment will make your life so much better!). The narrative jumps from Millie’s point of view to that of other characters in some chapters, and this would work better if more of it came back to Millie in some way. It’s meant to show the universality of our depressing work/life treadmill and how we try to improve it, mostly by purchasing stuff, but it could have been tighter and more succinct if the characters had more interaction.

Maeve in America: Essays By a Girl From Somewhere Else
Maeve Higgins
Irish comedian Maeve Higgins has spent the last few years in the United States, and this collection of witty and often funny essays detail her accounts of swimming with dolphins, renting a ballgown for an awards ceremony, body acceptance and family. An enjoyable read that made me hope she tours Canada as I’d love to see her perform live.

You Have the Right to Remain Fat
Virgie Tovar
Tovar’s claim to fame might not be fat activism, but rather that she incorrectly accused another fat activist of plagiarizing part of this book in the TV series Shrill. (This claim was debunked by the fact that Tovar’s book was released after the scene in question — fat girl pool party — was filmed.) This was successful in getting Tovar plenty of free publicity, but not all of it positive. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t go anywhere new in the realm of fat activism and is mostly more preaching to the choir. Tovar makes good points (it’s not fat people who have to change, but the mainstream attitude towards them), but amidst the noise about stolen ideas, those issues will not be heard by the people who need to make the actual changes.

On Being 40(ish)
Lindsey Mead
While a few of these essays do actually touch on issues all women face in mid-life, far too many of them were along the lines of “here’s something that happened to me when I was 40”, as opposed to “because I was 40”. So many of the essays in this small collection didn’t feel especially relevant. “Soul Mates: A Timeline in Clothing” by Catherine Newman, detailing a lifelong friendship that ultimately ends when one of the friends dies of ovarian cancer might have been the best piece in the book. I was hoping for a lot more from this collection.

March Reading List

The German Girl
Armando Lucas Correa
Fascinating topic, but the execution is clunky. Based on the true story of the MS St. Louis, the ocean liner full of Jews fleeing Germany in 1939 that arrived in Cuba only to be turned back, with a mere 28 passengers (out of more than 900) permitted to disembark. Correa works to create many correlations between modern-day Anna and her great-aunt Hannah in 1939, but writing both parts in the first person voice offers little differentiation between the two character’s voices. Timelines feel off but work out as the plot progresses however there’s no clear answer to the main plot point of the story, which is why did Hannah’s mother, and Hannah herself after her mother’s death, remain in a country they hated, especially when they had the money to go to America after the end of WW2 and at the onset of the Cuban revolution? With better editing (again, this work is clunky, often slow, and long-winded) this could have been a great YA novel. Geared to adults, it’s less engaging, although, again the topic itself is both fascinating and horrible, so kudos to Correa for giving it light after so many decades.

Sweet Expectations
Mary Ellen Taylor
A food-themed romance/chick-lit/mystery/ghost story that had a reasonable plot (even with the ghosts), but which was short on continuity and spell-checking. Seriously, this was published by Penguin, but was littered with misspellings that any version of spellcheck should have caught. Characters’ ages change from one chapter to the next. Most of it felt like an awkward first draft. I was ready to forgive the clumsiness until I discovered that this was the second in a series, and the synopsis for the first book sounds almost the same as the second, complete with a found object and a ghost who needs the heroine to unravel their mystery.

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Middle of the Night Voice, or Why You Should Never Listen to Your Inner Voice

First, let’s be clear — your inner voice is an asshole.

Regardless of the time of day it may come to you, that nagging little voice that tells you that you’re too much or not enough; too fat, too ugly, too loud, too bossy, not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough… that voice is intended to fuck with your head. It is never ever there to help you, even though it will pretend to be.

Often the inner voice will come to you sounding like the actual voice of someone who has or does criticize you. Those voices are particularly difficult to free yourself from because they’re based on a relationship, usually toxic, and which you often feel is unfair or imbalanced or in which you’re not taken seriously. The inner voice’s job is to make you feel like crap about yourself, to doubt yourself, to question yourself to the point of failure.

Again, never forget, your inner voice is an asshole.

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Find Your Style — How to Look Fabulous While Avoiding the Fast Fashion Trap

I am bad for the economy. Despite really enjoying the artistry involved in fashion, I don’t buy a lot of clothing. And when I do, that garment has to meet a long list of qualifications before I hand over payment.

Much concern is generated with some regularity about how much clothing the average Westerner buys, how little we wear that clothing once we get it home, and how difficult it is to dispose of those garments once the closet gets too full and we want to make room for more new clothes.

Second-hand shops receive so many donations that garments often only get a week or so on the racks before they’re cycled out, baled up, and sent to countries in Africa where they’re sold for pennies and where they’re often not even wanted or needed. Fast fashion has made new clothing so cheap that people in countries that previously needed clothing donations now buy new items at rates that are inching up on the Western pace of consumption.

Services that allow people to borrow or rent clothing, wear the items a few times and then return them in order to try different pieces are becoming more popular, and definitely ensure that at least some items are worn a reasonable amount, but ultimately, these fast fashion items also end up in a landfill, as they will eventually fall apart or quickly go out of style.

Buying nothing, or at least, significantly less, is better for the environment, but not so much for the economy, which relies heavily on consumer spending. If we all stopped shopping it would result in lost jobs, from retail to transport to manufacturing. And let’s face it, we all need some clothes.

Here’s how I’ve streamlined my own wardrobe to make it more stylish, more environmentally-friendly, and more useful to me so that I actually wear the few items that I buy.

Style vs Fashion: Stop Following Trends

The first hurdle is the most difficult — stop following trends, unless they really work for you. While the fashion industry is based on the premise of convincing consumers that the next big trend is the one that will make our lives better, deep down, we all know this is never really true. As trendy items go out of style, sometimes in as little as a few weeks, followers of fashion need to move on to the next hot thing to stay satisfied.

Style, however, is a different beast. True style, the ability to know what cuts, colors, fabrics and yes, trends, work for you, and then avoiding mainstream fads to put together a wardrobe that is unique makes for a much more interesting persona. Moving away from finding comfort in homogeneity, that is, feeling confident because you’re NOT dressed just like everyone else, and discovering (and expressing) who you are by what you wear is a delightful process that signals a growing maturity and sense of self.

Once you reach the point where you’d be horrified to leave the house looking like anybody else, then you’re ready to create your own unique style, based on logic, comfort and self-expression.

Analyze Your Life, Determine Your Style

The hardest part of the process is determining your personal style, for this is influenced by so many things that are unique to you including culture, religion, body shape, musical preferences, and even, or especially, your local weather.

Keeping a style diary where you track every outfit you wear, for a month or more, will help determine the foundation of your clothing needs. Log each outfit, how physically comfortable it is, and how psychologically comfortable it is (IE. are you overdressed? Dressed inappropriately?).This will allow you to pinpoint the clothes you actually need versus the clothes you buy because of a whim, or the idea of the person you could be if only you had that perfect item in your wardrobe. There’s no point in buying ball gowns if you never go to balls, or vintage silk pajamas if you prefer to wear t-shirts to bed.

The style diary should show you where to concentrate your wardrobe updates. For instance, if you work from home and are happy in yoga pants and t-shirts, then you probably don’t need a large collection of office-appropriate suits and blouses. Note that your style will morph as you get older and experience life changes. Job shifts may require wardrobe updates. Having kids might mean that you can significantly pare down your collection of club wear. Buying a house may require that you have clothes appropriate for gardening, painting, or renovating, and no longer need quite so many dresses for a cute weekend brunch.

At the same time, start collecting images of clothing that you like (Pinterest is great for this) and sort into boards or folders that relate to your lifestyle activities. This will help you to pinpoint what styles you like, as well as what style will genuinely work for you, in order to know what to buy in the future when adding to your wardrobe.

Marie Kondon’t

Once you have an idea of the clothes you need, it’s time to get rid of the clothes that you don’t need. Despite the popularity of Marie Kondo’s “Spark Joy” philosophy, that doesn’t really work here. The key is to be ruthless. Get rid of anything that is permanently stained, torn and not repairable, or that doesn’t fit (in a favorable way) right now. Don’t keep a pile of “fat” clothes or “thin” clothes to accommodate future weight gain or loss unless you are literally pregnant.

Of the clothes that go back into you closet, each item must meet all of the following qualifications:

— fits you, right now

— does not need mending or altering (you can make a pile of things to be fixed, but do not return them to the closet until the items have been updated)

— works in at least one category of your style diary (IE. work clothes, around the house clothes, out for dinner)

— can be paired with at LEAST two other items in your wardrobe, ideally to make distinct outfits, unless this is gear specific for sports or similar activities

The clothes left in your closet, combined with your various Pinterest boards, should give you an idea of what you are drawn to in terms of style, color, and fit. In many cases we need clothing that we don’t necessarily love but which may be required for certain jobs or tasks. Look at each piece again and determine whether it’s a need or a love, and if the main part of your wardrobe is based on need (for instance, you are required to wear a conservative suit to work), think about ways you can love it more, perhaps with accessories or different colors or cuts.

The Capsule Wardrobe

Of the clothes that you’ve kept, you should have the foundation for a capsule wardrobe. This should be made up of items that will work together, ideally in a maximum of three colors, generally at least one neutral and one color that compliments your hair and complexion. Whether this is mostly pants or skirts, sweaters, jackets, shirts, or dresses will depend on your own preferences and needs.

From this point onward, buy nothing that doesn’t work with your existing capsule wardrobe. Everything you purchase must work with at least two existing items in your current wardrobe to make a complete outfit. For instance, when buying pants, can you pair them with two or more tops from your existing collection?

If you live somewhere with extreme annual weather changes, where summers are steaming hot and winters are well below freezing, then you will likely need two distinct seasonal wardrobes. Consider including items that can work across more than one season to extend your options, such as a lightweight cardigan than can be a layer in winter, but worn as outerwear in the warmer months.

Uniformity Not Homogeneity

Beyond the capsule wardrobe, many people find that a daily uniform makes their life simpler and less stressful. If you work in a job that requires an actual uniform or some semblance of specific items worn regularly, you already know that starting your day without having to figure out what to wear can be pretty awesome. The key here is to buy good quality items in bulk so that you can put on a clean version of your uniform each day. This makes for easy shopping, easy laundering, and allows you to concentrate your clothing budget on capsule wardrobe items for special occasions.

Don’t think that you can’t be stylish with a daily uniform, either. A friend who is a professor of fashion history at a university wears a uniform of black pants (she owns four pairs of the same style), a black turtleneck (shorter sleeves/necklines for summer) and some variation of a black and grey plaid jacket in different weights/fabrics for varying weather. She changes scarves, hats, and other accessories each day and her colleagues consider her the epitome of style.

Buy the Best You Can Afford

For many of us, money is a constraint, and we get more emotional reward from buying many cheaper items than we might in buying one piece of fantastic quality. However, well-made garments from quality fabrics last longer, saving money in the long run when you can make a winter coat last a decade (or two!) instead of replacing your coat every couple of years to stay on trend.

For this to work, you have to accept the idea of dedicating yourself to wearing garments in classic styles that are beyond fast fashion trends.

Sew, No Go

Many people suggest that sewing is the key to the problems caused by Westerners buying too much clothing, but sewing new clothes can be just as wasteful as buying fast fashion due to the large amount of textile scrap that comes from one person buying the quantity of fabric necessary to make a single garment. While labor conditions in most sweat shops are indeed horrible, there is considerably less textile waste per garment than in home sewing. This is not to say people should not create their own clothes if they enjoy it, but let’s not kid ourselves with the idea that this is any kind of solution to the problem, especially if the home-sewn garments are on current trend and will also be discarded once they are out of fashion.

Having said that, sewing is an skilled and creative hobby, especially if you use those skills for repairs or altering garments to fit better in order to keep wearing them for a longer period of time.

Vintage Vibes

Vintage items are definitely a fun way to stay stylish while not contributing to the waste and poor worker treatment of fast fashion. Vintage items can create a truly unique and individual look, but before you buy, check out these tips:

— vintage items, particularly pre-1980s, tend to run small, and there is not usually a great selection of plus-size options.

— body shapes have changed over the generations, and garments fit much differently; we are not only heavier than our grandparents, we’re also taller, so many vintage items might be shorter in the torso, or narrow through the shoulders. Make sure it fits well before you buy.

— check the garment carefully for stains, tears, and (sorry) odor. By this I mean, examine every seam, check the fabric inside and out, and sniff those pits. Reject it if you cannot reasonably fix these problems.

— be prepared to mend, alter, and clean your vintage items. Most vintage stores cannot afford to dry clean every item they sell, so a good wash (especially if it smells musty or like mothballs) is important before you wear it.

Get Over Instagram

One of the biggest excuses I’ve seen for people buying (or making) lots of new clothing is that they constantly need new outfits for Instagram. The idea of posting a selfie while wearing something that has already been photographed is shocking for many fashionistas. If this is the only reason you’re constantly buying new clothes, you might need to re-examine your priorities. This is also where style versus fashion comes back into play. Some people might be impressed by a regular parade of new clothing, but images that demonstrate true style — how you put items together, as opposed to quantity, and constantly new — is far more impressive.

When You’ve Just Gotta Trend

If you can’t totally get past the desire to be on-trend, then set yourself a (low) seasonal budget and buy one piece that you will wear to death. I’d still go with accessories here, or something that can be worked into another part of your wardrobe. For instance, current runway shows for Fall 2019 show a lot of garments in bright orange. If you’ve gotta have something in that color, just to show that you’re in fashion, then go with a scarf, or a t-shirt where you can extend its life by wearing it as a layer under other garments, or even by wearing it around the house or to sleep in once it’s no longer on trend.

Paring down to a daily uniform or capsule wardrobe that suits your own unique style and personality can be far more creative and rewarding than buying gobs of cheap clothing that is in fashion for twenty minutes and then made redundant. Finding beautiful pieces that will last for years and that emphasis your own unique style means that you significantly cut down on the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills. Mending or dying existing pieces lets you enjoy them longer. Altering new or vintage pieces to fit you better ensures they won’t get lost at the back of the closet.

You can still contribute to the economy without contributing to the destruction of the environment, but it does take a genuine effort that includes embracing individual style over mainstream homogeneity.

(This post was originally published on Medium.)

Book Review — Vanishing New York

Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul
Jeremiah Moss

Hyper-gentrification. It’s happening in nearly every city, in varying degrees. Currently, there is almost zero affordable housing in most major cities around the globe, with New York probably being the worst scenario.

Starting with the East Village, Jeremiah Moss, creator of a blog by the same title, moves through the various neighbourhoods of Manhatten and Brooklyn, outlining the efforts made to push out the poor, the artists, the gay communities, in order to make way for condos for the wealthy, where they don’t even actually live, but allow the places to sit empty.

An ongoing process of pushing out the poor by various means (luring the “acceptable ethnics” — Irish Catholics, Jews, Italians — to the predominantly WASPish suburbs) and cutting down existing services to “redlined” neighbourhoods to make living there miserable, was the MO for mayors whose goal was to turn a city that was all about the different cultures, artists and weirdo, into a sleek, Disneyfied place for rich white folks and tourists. There is real evidence of white supremacy at work as these efforts predominantly targeted Blacks and Puerto Ricans.

Reading Vanishing New York, I see a lot of Toronto in these scenarios, although we still manage to keep many of our most unique neighbourhoods intact (Kensington Market, for instance, where residents have vehemently fought gentrification), although the flight to the suburbs is real, and areas such as Chinatown and Little India are shells of their former vibrancy.

Moss has been accused of being overly-nostalgic, and there were situations in the book that felt over-inflated to prove a point, even if they are true.

The trick for everyone, Moss included, is to find the line. We are all gentrifiers. If you went to New York, or any other city, from somewhere else, if you enjoy a craft beer, some artisanal pickles or have recently started buying music on vinyl, you might be part of the problem. And while some people might long for the energy and brashness of the East Village in the 70s, I doubt anybody misses being mugged.

A great analysis of how New York City is changing, but Moss might be too invested in his topic.

 

More Thoughts on Marie Kondo… and Sheet Folding

I’ve now watched all of the episodes of the Marie Kondo series on Netflix, and I’ve been reading many of the reviews and articles that the show has spawned in the media, and there are a few things that are just not jiving with me…

  • In the de-cluttering of a whole house, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on folding clothes and arranging stuff in drawers — how is it that everything beyond clothes, books, papers, and sentimental items falls into one category? Spices, power tools, and computer cables are all together? This is the case in Kondo’s books as well, and it always felt weird to me, especially since people tend to buy things like cosmetics and food with a similar “instant gratification” mentality that they have to clothes and books.
  • Perhaps there’s more that we’re missing in the process, due to editing of the video, but de-cluttering is, first and foremost, based on hard logic. Does this fit? If not, get rid of it. Does it need repairs, re-dying, or a complete overhaul to be usable and is there a reasonable expectation that the person will actually make those repairs? Will it honestly be used again (for instance a book that was read once and not particularly enjoyed)? I didn’t really see this process, nor did Kondo really seem to promote it, favouring her “spark joy” philosophy that really allows people to keep all the broken, ripped, faded, ratty, and useless crap in their lives just because they still love it.
  • Kondo has softened her “just get rid of it stance” a bit for the series, with many reviews emphasizing the fact that she seems pretty laid back about not judging people for their stuff or wanting to keep it. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not exactly the same sentiment the book was based on.
  • The idea of expressing gratitude to your belongings can seem a bit kooky at first, but it’s actually something we should be doing all the time, not just as we’re getting rid of an item. This is far easier to do when you are able to pare your belongings down to things that you love using or having around you, so you experience joy every day because of the things in your life.
  • I screamed out loud in horror as I watched Kondo put a fitted sheet on the floor in order to demonstrate how to fold it. What the actual fucking fuck? Two thoughts immediately came into my head during this segment; first, generations of mothers and grandmothers making that “tsk” noise, both at Kondo’s placing a clean sheet on the floor (!!!) and the fact that most people don’t know how to fold a fitted sheet; and second, could I somehow turn this into an opportunity to offer classes to teach people how to properly fold a fitted sheet (that didn’t involve throwing it on the floor, or using a flat surface at all… Yes, I can actually do this. Yes, I am a witch). My method involves a puppet show, if that helps…
  • In the spirit of Miriam (“Don’t say ‘like’, dear, it makes you look ignorant”) Margoyles, I would like to offer a language de-cluttering course. I would offer this for free to the woman in episode one, who dropped 4 or 5 “likes” into every sentence. Cluttered speech is as bad as a cluttered home.
  • De-cluttering is well and good but would be mostly unnecessary if people didn’t feel the need to buy so much stuff in the first place. Folding shirts nicely in response to a shopaholic/hoarding problem is a bit like sticking a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. Dealing with the psychological why of accumulation doesn’t make for terribly enthralling TV, of course, unless you hired someone to follow the shopaholic to the mall and jump out at them from behind the sales racks yelling, “You don’t need that, Barb! You know you don’t need that! Put it back!” (Yes, you’re damned right I want to host this show.)
  • I was also a bit disappointed at the follow-up in terms of what the guests were meant to do with their stuff once they decided it no longer sparked joy. Some episodes showed participants dropping off items at local charities, but not all. And there was no point in Kondo’s sorting process, in any of the episodes, where we clearly saw participants sorting stuff into sections of donate/trash/sell. I presume this did happen, but it should have been more prominent. (And the guy with the massive collection of sneakers could likely have sold many of the pairs in his collections as “vintage” and made back some of the $10,000 of debt he accumulated buying all those sneakers he never wore.)

I binge-watched most of the series one afternoon when I was immobilized by a migraine, and it mostly left me feeling really dissatisfied. To be fair, I did go refold all the clothes in my dresser drawers, but I don’t feel that Kondo’s system is truly comprehensive in terms of a start-to-finish whole-house purge that deals with both the reasons for the clutter and what to do with the stuff you’re getting rid of.

And I’m happy to demonstrate to her how to properly fold a fitted sheet while standing up anytime she’d like to learn.

Does Retail Therapy Equate a Visit to a Sex Worker?

Hear me out.

Like half the Western world, I spent New Year’s Day glued to Netflix watching the Marie Kondo series. Not because I have any kind of New Year’s resolution to get organized — seriously, Marie Kondo wishes her house was as organized as mine — but out of sheer curiosity.

Known for her books and YouTube tutorials, the organizing expert has a new series on NetFlix that isn’t that far off from those old episodes of Hoarders. She drops by, gasps at people’s mountains of stuff, tells them to throw away anything that doesn’t “spark joy”, and then returns a few days later to see how they’re getting along.

We only watched one episode, one called “Empty Nesters”, a couple in late middle-age who live in a house that had belonged to one of their families and in which more than three generations worth of belongings had been amassed. But it was clear that most of the clutter actually belonged to the couple in question. Dad had walls full of boxes of baseball cards, and Mom was a collector of Christmas decorations and, like many people with shopping/hoarding habits, a good three or four closets full of clothing.

In one of the interview segments, she revealed that she indulged in “retail therapy” on occasions when she was angry at her husband; that going to the mall and spending money was her way of getting back at him for whatever transgression had occurred.

As she cleaned out her closet and piled everything together — Kondo’s system requires participants to amass everything of one type of item (clothes, books, etc.) in one place before beginning to sort — it was clear that the client had piles of clothing still bearing the original tags. As she went through the mountain of garments, she tried on recently purchased clothes that didn’t even fit her properly. Why would someone buy something that wasn’t the correct size?

She claimed to like all the clothes she had amassed, but this caused her to have a hard time organizing and disposing of items, as everything that we saw her sort through seemed to “spark joy” for her. (Psst… “spark joy” is not the same as “I like this, it’s nice.”)

But let’s go back to her comment about her shopping being some kind of revenge on her husband. Now, to be clear, there was no allusion or insinuation of her husband hiring sex workers. It wasn’t that kind of revenge. But she obviously wanted something pretty and cheap to fill some kind of void or assuage her hurt or anger. For roughly the same amount of money a man would spend on a sexual encounter, she could do a haul at the mall. She came home with clothing that didn’t fit and didn’t suit her personal style (which is mostly the case when hiring a sex worker; it’s about fantasy, not reality) and that mostly appeared to be throw-away fast fashion items — there was no evidence of some hardcore spending on Birkin bags or Dior gowns — and I suspect that once she got the things home, she felt guilty and didn’t want to face having to return them, so they got jammed into her over-packed closets and ignored or forgotten about.

The whole process was more about the actual shopping and buying than any intention of keeping and wearing. The joy, the high, the mental and emotional orgasm, as it were, occurred in the store as she was handing over the cash or credit card.

It made me joke that every mall entrance should have one of those clothing charity bins, so that people making “retail therapy”-style purchases of things that they knew they didn’t actually want or need could just shove the stuff into the donation bin on the way to their car, and never have to take the guilt-inducing garments home at all.

Note that I’m not knocking sex workers; they provide an important service. And while there are obviously sex workers with clients who visit them regularly, a lot of the encounters are fairly anonymous. There’s no commitment involved after the fact, just as with shopping addicts/clothes hoarders, there is no level of commitment to the purchases after they are bagged and taken home, especially if they carry the stigma of a purchasing high the person would rather forget.

The whole episode, although especially the clothing segments, made me wonder how we, as a society, had gotten to this point. Because this lady with her clothing hoard is not alone. The show didn’t get into any deep aspect of the why of the client’s clutter, and unlike Hoarders or similar shows where there is a therapist on site, that’s not really Kondo’s schtick, but it makes you wonder why or how it ever got that bad. Does the client have personal issues that need to be addressed by a professional, or is she just typical of a society that buys way too much stuff?

We all make the occasional bad purchase; something didn’t fit the way we thought it would, or it didn’t become as much of a go-to item as we anticipated, but I suggest that three massive closets full of cheap clothing, much of it still with the tags, is indicative that the high and release of handing over cash for a jacket might be similar to the high and release of handing over cash for sex.

Finally, with regards to Kondo’s trademark “spark joy” mantra; while it’s a fantastic catchphrase, I find it somewhat disingenuous when it comes to actual sorting and organizing. Just because you like something, or find it attractive, or even if derive joy from it, doesn’t mean that you have to keep it, or even own it in the first place. I think too many people following Kondo’s system use the sparking of joy as an excuse to keep lots of crap they’d likely be better off without.

The Cold November Rain

I joke every year — in fact, with great seriousness — that the day after Autumn Daylight Saving should actually be a statutory holiday. In theory we’ve all got that Sunday to adjust to the changing schedule and light, but it’s never really enough. The “extra hour of sleep” everyone enthuses about never happens (I still wake up at the old time) and while those of us truly dedicated to our eight hours a night end up tottering off to bed an hour “early” (but actually at the same time as before the change) might manage to get enough sleep, most people don’t. And I don’t think we take the afternoon changes — the fact that it gets darker earlier still affects our circadian rhythm — into as much consideration as they warrant. So I am firmly of the opinion that we all need at least a day or two to just sleep in and get used to the differences in light before we have to use our brains for anything important.

It doesn’t help that when Daylight Saving got changed from mid-October to the first weekend after Halloween (Thanks Dubya!), it also placed this very stressful event in roughly the same period of time as the November rainy season.

Here in Toronto, it’s a given that the first few days of November will be rainy. The leaves remain on the trees until well past the end of October (they never used to, a clear sign of global warming), but the inevitable winds and rains of November immediately begin to lash at the city and the first week of November is almost always dark and dire. The first damp cold of the winter sets into the bones. Ankles and elbows, injuries sustained in childhood and long forgotten, begin to ache from the low air pressure. Scarves and gloves are suddenly needed as necks and fingers unaccustomed to the chill protest the cold. Allergy sufferers scan the weather report for predictions of a hard frost in the desperate hope of avoiding the coughing and sneezing that comes with millions of wet leaves rotting away on lawns and in gutters, spewing out mold spores until the air becomes cold enough to kill them off.

As a grumpy adult, this weather makes me, well… grumpy. For all of the reasons listed above — it’s dark, it’s cold and how the hell can I be suffering from tennis elbow when I don’t play tennis? But as a child, this weather, this time of year, was full of excited promises that involved making sure your skates were sharpened.

Looking back, it seems that, as a kid, growing up in Halifax, I always had skates on my feet. The nearby Lion’s rink was open every winter weekend for a community skate, and I learned to glide across the ice at an early age. My high school was next door to this rink and a few times a week it would be open at lunchtime for students, where fifty cents admission would secure enough funds to run the Zamboni around the place after the twenty or thirty regular skaters went back to class.

But as a little kid, I mostly skated in an empty lot down the street.

Those lashing November rains would cause this extra wide lot to flood. A steep hill at the back of the property and the edge of the sidewalk at the front caused the water to pool, and when we were lucky enough to have a good hard frost, to freeze. Measuring maybe fifty feet along the front and close to the same from front to back before the ground rose up to the hill, our makeshift rink was encumbered at one end with the stalks of bushes and a few trees but was mostly clear and open. With a depth of only six to twelve inches, it froze fast and solid. And when it didn’t freeze completely and was still thin in places, the worst that would happen if you broke through the ice was a soaker in your skate.

As soon as that little pond froze, and I can only remember one year when the weather gods left it dry, the neighbourhood kids would be on it, wobbling clumsily down the street on skate blades covered in guards, rather than changing from boots at the edge of the ice. Sometimes, if there had been a lot of wind, the surface of the ice would be bumpy with ridges of water that froze fast before it could spread. But we would be on it regardless of the texture; a good half dozen kids, often more, every night after supper until our mothers called us in at bedtime.

I cannot stress how magical these evenings were. The light from the streetlights kept us safe and allowed us to see the trees and bushes. If there had been an ice storm, the branches themselves often glittered and sparkled like magnificent Christmas decorations. Above our heads, galaxies of stars twinkled better and brighter than any strand of fairy lights. Our breath made little clouds against the dark sky, and amidst the laughter and singing and bursts of childish delight, the sound of skate blades scratching across ice punctuated the night.

In the summer, the children of the street would roller skate along the same stretch of sidewalk, but it wasn’t the same kind of freedom and joy we experienced on those winter nights.

Eventually someone build a house on the vacant lot and our little skating pond was gone, replaced with a lawn and some tasteful landscaping. My family moved to another part of the neighbourhood, and I went to a different school and no longer saw the kids from my childhood street. My roller skates were abandoned and my ice skates lived in my school locker for those lunchtime sessions at the rink. The first weeks of November no longer held as much promise. The rain and wind, no longer a harbinger of childhood play and magical evenings outside, became an annoyance. But every year, as the leaves form piles in the gutters, and the wind whips around corners, reminding us of all the blizzards in store for us in the coming months, I watch the rain, the cold November rain, and think back to a time when it came with such joyful anticipation.

You Probably Won’t Read This Anyway

 

It’s October and I’m about to roll into the sixth month of the longest writing/creative dry spell that I’ve ever known. Even the year when I had two sprained shoulders and could only type for fifteen minutes at a time before my hands went numb, I still managed to write a 60,000 word novel.

There have been some false starts; an outline and a few pieces written for a collection of essays/stories on my weird experiences as a freak magnet and all the narcissists I end up with in my life, but no matter how I tried, I could never make the stories come out sounding anything but bitter and weirdly resentful.

After that I thought, hey, maybe I could go back to making something with my hands. But then I’d look on Etsy and there would be thirty people already selling metal nose-warmers or macrame black-out curtains and I would talk myself out of even trying. There really is just too, too much of everything, not all of it good.

I also seemed to convince myself, during this period — because I’m usually never one to keep my opinions to myself — that nobody really wanted to hear what I had to say. I’d find myself writing posts or comments on social media and then deleting them. Nobody cares, I’d tell myself. I’d sketch out a piece for my blog and then bail on it, convinced that nobody would read it anyway and someone else had probably had that idea and already written about it, and done a better job than I could anyway.

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