Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Social Norms and Self-made Storms: Squeeze in Under the Umbrella

Ordinary People.  Smart People.  Funny People.  Any book or movie title with "people" at the end seems to promise to reveal something disturbing yet profound about the human condition.  And Normal People does it in spades.  When I first heard of the Hulu original series, I wanted to watch it.  And then when I heard it started out as a book, I wanted to read it and then watch it.  So I did.  

Normal People is the story of Connell and Marianne, two high school seniors in the Irish backwater of Sligo who start sleeping together but don't tell anyone.  Connell is popular but poor, and Marianne is rich but an outcast.  Connell's mother cleans Marianne's family's house; that's how Connell and Marianne get to know each other.  Yet, for all their differences, both are very smart -- and very damaged.  For Marianne, being brainy -- and argumentative -- is her identity, a way to be strong and separate herself from the abuse she suffers at the hands of her brother.  For Connell, who's shy, the life of the mind is a source of shame and one that sets him apart from his fellow in-crowders -- except when they want to copy his homework.  Marianne can't care less about being liked, but fitting in means everything to Connell, and he does whatever it takes to protect the fragile equilibrium of his social standing.  It doesn't matter that he doesn't like his friends and can't talk to them the way he talks to Marianne.  His acceptance from them means that he can accept himself.  Still, despite -- or perhaps because of -- her pariah-hood, Marianne mesmerizes him.  She convinces him to apply to the same Dublin college as her and to major in English despite its lack of earning potential because, as she puts is, "it's the only subject you enjoy."  In this way they create their own private world, both real and unreal because no one (except Connell's mom) knows about it.  Which is lovely and passionate and cozy.  Until something happens and it isn't, starting a cycle of heartbreak that may never be broken.  

When Marianne and Connell start college the following fall, they're estranged.  But eventually they run into each other.  And Connell discovers that now it's Marianne who belongs.  Like their classmates, she comes from money and can launch into intellectual debates with fervor and ease.  Connell, on the other hand, has one pair of shoes and trips over his words.  Yet despite all of this and their troubled past, Marianne draws Connell into her circle.  Although she now has the upper hand, she still lets people hurt her.  In a strange way, this gives their relationship balance, and before long, Marianne and Connell find that they're the same as they ever were, two misunderstoods just trying to make their way.      

As time goes on, Connell finds his voice, speaking up in class in an earnest if unpolished way that reveals his love of books.  He also starts writing short stories, although it's years before he lets Marianne read one.  Writing puts him in touch with his real self, but it's painful.  When people ask Marianne if he's really smart, she says that he's the smartest person she knows.  Connell and Marianne are happy in their bubble, best friends and more and closer than ever.  But when summer comes, Connell loses his job and can't pay his rent.  His insecurities about being poor resurface.  Rather than moving in with Marianne and being beholden to her, he slinks home to Sligo where nothing ever changes and he can feel normal again.  Only being normal has gotten harder, and, as Connell soon realizes, going home in the metaphorical sense is no longer an option.  

Normal People is very real and very raw.  It examines socioeconomic disparity, depression, and domestic violence.  There's nothing cute or whimsical about it, and at times that makes it hard to read.  The TV show is the same, so much so that the dialogue mirrors the book to the letter.  This quality, mixed with the timeless allure of doomed romance, makes both the book and the show heartbreaking.  But they need to be this way to deliver their message: life makes it hard to be true to yourself, sometimes even to the point of having the courage to be with the person you love.  The road to peace begins when you value yourself enough to stop being someone you're not.  It's the bleakness of this struggle -- universal to everyone and particular, in this case, to Connell and Marianne -- that allows you to appreciate the sun when it creeps through the clouds in the hopeful albeit ambiguous ending.  This last act suggests that good things are ahead for Connell and Marianne because of the things that they've taught each other.

Because as even the most seemingly sane person will tell you, there's no such thing as being normal.     

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Sera Sera, The Last Hurrah: Signing On for Summer's Send-off

Top: ELLE, Kohl's; Skirt: Vylette, Kohl's

LC Lauren Conrad, Kohl's

Top: Marshalls; Skirt: LC Lauren Conrad, Kohl's

From top to bottom: Modcloth; LC Lauren Conrad, Kohl's; Betsey Johnson
Top: Marshalls; Dress: Kohl's

Old Navy

Sunglasses: Mudd, Kohl's

Yellow Feathered Friend Heart Barrette

Top: Rewind, Kohl's

Lucky Brand, Zulily

Betsey Johnson, Amazon

Top: LC Lauren Conrad, Kohl's; Clip: Capelli, ULTA

As you know, today, or possibly tomorrow, marks the first day of fall.  (The internet was unclear.)  But either way, it's the point of no return.  It's when the days start to get cooler and shorter, distracting us with pumpkin pie and flannel shirts until we're too full and cozy to notice that winter's veil has descended.  Okay, so that's a little dramatic.  But summer is my favorite season, and I always find it tough to let go.  So I thought, what better way to seal the deal than in an old-fashioned letter?  And also, while I'm at it, to share my favorite old school summer outfits.  So here it goes.

Dear Summer,

I'm sorry, as The Mamas and the Papas song says, that all your leaves are brown -- or soon will be.   Also, that I'll no longer hear the sound of your ice cream truck so cheerfully cranking out "The Entertainer."  Even though I never chased it for fear of looking stupid and also of being saddled with a corona cone.  Still, we had some good times.  Like when we got takeout crab cakes from that tourist trap restaurant.  Or when, after weeks of teasing us with raspberry chocolate chip and plain vanilla ice cream, Walmart finally delivered chocolate peanut butter.  Yes, both of those memories are about food, but we take our good times where we can.  Nevertheless, I'll also miss your lovely scenery, especially your wedding gown of a white snowball tree, your vibrant green grass, and your robin's egg blue sky.  They're burned in my memory, unlike the sunburn that I never got, or the funnel cake I never ate (both good things, by the way, as funnel cake smells like burnt carnies).  So have a long winter's nap and take care of yourself, and next year I'll see you again.   

Love and Lollipops Popsicles,

That's better.  Now I feel like I have some closure.  

And also that I can settle in and enjoy some of that pumpkin pie.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Island Idyll, Fall Survival: When Pineapples Turn into Pumpkins . . . or Apples

Bag: Bisou Bisou, JCPenney; Charm: Michaels

Dress: LC Lauren Conrad, Kohl's

Dress: ELLE, Kohl's

Katy Perry Collections

Fabulous Felt Pineapple, Orange, and Cherries Barrette

City Streets, JCPenney


Shirt: LC Lauren Conrad, Kohl's

Extra Big Elephant Necklace

Skirt: A New Day, Target

As summer winds down to its final days, I like to make the most of my warm weather wardrobe.  And that means donning these resort-ready outfits and meandering out into my yard.  Which, granted, isn't very adventurous.  Even if there was an aggressive dog on the loose last week.  (Aggressive was the police's word, not mine.)  Nevertheless, it's fun to pay tribute to palm trees and pineapples in earnest one last time.  Not that I won't revisit the theoretical tropics in November or January or March.  But by then I'll be doing it ironically.  Kind of like when I listen to Coldplay.        

Anyhoo, summer's going-away party is an occasion that demands a sunset.  That's why I made a big one in brooch form and stuck a palm tree in front like a recently returned tourist staking her claim with one of those once-trendy porch flags.  

Palm Coastest With the Mostest Barrette Brooch

Her claim, in case you're wondering, is that she knows how to do more than bake pineapple upside down cake.  She knows how to be the pineapple.  To, like all those decorative pillows say, "walk tall and wear a crown."  But fall marks the time when pineapples (metaphorically) shed their crowns and become ordinary old apples.  Which is a bit problematic.  Because although I know that Galas are as delicious in pie as pineapples are in, well, pineapple upside down cake, they lack the exotic tang and excitement of their equator-dwelling cousins.    

That said, I have a confession to make.  Sometimes I more than ironically listen to Coldplay.  Sometimes I -- gulp -- sing along.  

Which means that maybe those Galas will grow on me, too.

P.S. It just occurred to me that Chris Martin's daughter's name is Apple.  (This is completely true and not a bit; I never know where this brain will take me.)  I know nothing about her, but wouldn't it be perfect if she were a pineapple in apple's clothing?  

Or, you know, just someone who likes fruit.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Back to Mule Cool


Notice I didn't say "back to school" or "Moscow mule" or even that other, unmentionable kind of mule.  Because no one wants to go back to school (especially this year!), and Moscow mules are just plain yucky.  But "cool" is the perfect adjective to describe these candy-colored Katy Perry kicks.  The broken-hearted valentine of a handbag is also pretty badass.  I amassed these four scores over the course of several flash sales on the Katy Perry Collections site, and it was a heel of a good time.  $100 accessories for $30 each?  Yes, please!   

Speaking of school (as we were, sort of) and California grrls, I just read a book about a Golden State mother-and-daughter duo embarking upon an East Coast college tour.  I Was Told It Would Get Easier, by Abbi Waxman, is as buoyant and biting as Waxman's other works (remember The Bookish Life of Nina Hill?).  Just the way a feel-good yet satiric and introspective novel should be.

Mama bear Jessica and angst-ridden Emily don't always . . . get along.  Jessica's a workaholic lawyer, and Emily is sick and tired of being asked what she's majoring in.  What's more, each is also hiding a secret.  Led by an overzealous millennial intent on curating campus-bound camaraderie, Jessica and Emily battle criminally competitive parents, old and new loves, and even relatives as they ponder the East Coast's answer to higher education, raising the question: Will this trip be just what the guidance counselor ordered? 

Only Abbi and I know.  And we're not telling.

That said, here's a part I like that has nothing to do with anything I just talked about:

Jessica on the Ford's Theatre Museum gift shop:

"I love a good museum gift shop; it makes it possible to both spend money and feel erudite.  Sure, some people would argue that museums are for education and inspiration, not the purchasing of assassination-themed merchandise.  But they would be wrong." (93)

Jessica, I couldn't agree with you more.  It's always smart to take advantage of shopping.

Which, convenience of conveniences, brings us back full circle to those mules.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Foundations in Fun: Cosmetic Aesthetic

Caboodle: Kohl's; Makeup brushes: Walgreens; Hairbrush: Wet Brush, Zulily; Compact: Betsey Johnson, Macy's

When I was trying to decide how to start this post, I came up with three first paragraphs:

First First Paragraph

"Wake Up and Make Up," or so say all those cheeky cosmetics bags.  (Get it?  Cheeky?  As in blush and cleverness?  Ok, I'll stop.)  Also, "My Face is in Here," or even the contradictory, "I Woke up This Way."  Why shouldn't these compact carryalls spout sassy one-liners?  Wordplay is fun, and so is makeup!  Makeup means getting to have Halloween every day or even just enjoying the treat that is cherry berry banana lip gloss.  And even more captivating than the cosmetics themselves are the super cute cases they come in.  

Second First Paragraph

When I think of makeup and fun, I think of the '80s, which means that I think of Sweet Secrets.  Remember those, the little toys with the play makeup inside?  I had two that I recall, 1) a turquoise dog with a huge red rhinestone heart as its belly, and 2) a butterfly that was also a guitar that I got at the grand opening at the mall.  Oddly enough, I don't remember what makeup they were so earnestly guarding.  Even if I do remember blogging about the butterfly guitar before.

Third First Paragraph

The theater and over-the-topness of these outfits make me think of the best that face goop has to offer.  And by goop, I don't mean GOOP, but the paraben-packed products at your corner drug store.  Long live Cover Girl.  And Revlon.  But for some reason, not L'Oreal.

Now here we are at the end of the post, and I still can't decide how to start.  So instead I'll concentrate on the ending:

I guess the takeaway is that it's not always what's on the inside that counts.

That and that good things come in mall packages.

Huh.  Now that I've typed it, I see that the ending only really applies to the second first paragraph, what with the what's-on-the-inside and mall references.  So, it looks like we have a winner!  Sweet Secrets, I'm sending you on an all-expense paid trip to The Tote Trove craft room, where you'll live forever in a paradise of Michaels merchandise and sitcom reruns.

Well, you will if I find you on eBay.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Alternate Universe Curse: Palm Springs King and Kevin

Fancy Fish Necklace

Colorful Cameo Necklace

Dandy Deco Necklace

This weekend, I watched the Hulu original movie Palm Springs, which can be summed up as a weird, nihilistic, West Coast version of Groundhog Day.  It's about a jaded manchild named Niles (a symbolic name if ever there was one) (Andy Samberg) who gets stuck in some mysterious cave while attending a wedding in Palm Springs, and as a result lives that day over and over again.  While trying to hook up with maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti), he accidentally sucks her into the vortex with him.  They relive the day together on repeat, having fun and making bad decisions because, hey, no consequences!  But then Sarah discovers something about the day that she can't live with, and she and Niles must decide whether to remain in the world where time stands still or work to find a way out.  

Now may be a good time to mention that I've always been confused by Palm Springs.  Because it's a desert with a watery word in its name.  Also, when I hear desert I think cacti, not palm trees.  But in a way, this incongruity only makes the oddness of the movie more fitting.  Point to you, Andy Samberg. 

Earlier this week, I watched another movie, Jeff, Who Lives at Home.  It's about another manchild (alert Pee-wee Herman; "manchild" is the word of the day, if not week), only this one is named Jeff (Jason Segal), and he lives in his mom's (Susan Sarandon's) basement instead of in an alternate universe.  Sweet, introspective, and a little naive, Jeff is convinced that everything happens for a reason and that the universe sends him -- and all of us -- messages.  (Ok, maybe he lives in his mom's basement and in an alternate universe).  So, when he gets a wrong number call for someone named Kevin, he does whatever it takes to follow all the people and things named Kevin that pop up in his path that day.  This means spending time with his jerk of a brother, Pat (Ed Helms), which results in a bizarre string of events that lead Jeff exactly to where he's meant to be.

If I'm talking about manchildren who learn something profound via supernatural means throughout the course of a single day, then what's up with these necklaces?  Not much, but as always, I'll use every tool in my arsenal to force some tenuous connections.  

First, the flamingos in this wall art remind me of palm trees, which remind me of Palm Springs (despite there being no flamingos and only armadillos there).  Secondly, the flamingo art hangs in my home, which is also where I made these necklaces (okay, embellished these necklaces, as I just added ribbon-strung beads to already-made vintage pendants).  And finally, home is where Jeff lives. 

I told you it'd be a stretch.  What isn't is that I liked that Jeff believed in something.  And that he was a fellow homebody. 

Which is my way of saying that everything in life -- and in necklaces -- is always connected.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Coming of Age Takes Center Stage: The Best is Yet to Strum

I don't often read books by men or about men or for men, so when I do, I feel a little like an anthropologist.  Or at the very least, a gender studies minor at Vassar.  Maybe I avoid men's fiction because it lacks clothes commentary.  Unless you count descriptions of how some broad's ass looks in Levi's, which I do not.  Interestingly, you rarely hear about men reading women's books, or as they're often so disparagingly called, chick lit.  Maybe it's like how it's mainstream for women to wear pants but not for men to wear skirts.  Or maybe it's just that women are more open-minded.  

Anyway, I recently read The Wishbones by Tom Perrotta (yes, the man who brought us Election), and I really liked it.  It's about this guy, Dave, who plays guitar in a wedding band and is having second thoughts about marrying his high school sweetheart.  A manchild in his early thirties, Dave still lives with his parents in suburban North Jersey.  His girlfriend, Julie, still lives with her parents too, and she and Dave have been dating (on and off, as Dave is always quick to point out) for fifteen years.  Dave's whole world is his music.  He knows he's not good enough to make the big time, but that's (mostly) okay with him.  It's more about having the freedom to do what he loves.  And also, to goof off with his friends, one of whom is agoraphobic.  (If this were a movie, then it'd be firmly rooted in bromance territory.)  Dave's one of those angry young men fighting the man, even if he, as Perrotta tells us, is born to be more mild than wild.

". . .in general, marriage seemed to require that a man check his valuables at the door; his dreams, his freedom, all the wildness that had defined the secret part of his life, even if, like Dave, he wasn't all that wild in reality.  It was easier if you were a woman.  Women were supposed to want to get married, to go through life with a husband and children.  A man's job, as far as Dave could see, was simply to resist as long as possible without surrendering to the inevitable.  You didn't have to play guitar in a wedding band to know that there was something at least slightly pathetic about a bridegroom." (26)

Although I disagree with the sexist notion that it's only men who fear marriage and giving up their independence, I get what Dave is going through.  Probably because I can identify with him more than his alter-obsessed leading ladies (for yes, there turns out to be more than one).  Growing up is universal.  It's difficult and bittersweet for everyone.  For Dave, the tipping point (pun intended) is seeing the elderly front man from a rival band topple off the stage to his death.  That incident is the catalyst for everything that comes after, a situation, as the cliche goes, that gets worse before it gets better.  One stop on Dave's journey is a new "friendship" in New York City, where he works part time as a courier.  His New York alter ego ends up at an open mic night and tries to convince himself that he and real-life Dave aren't all that different.

"Some of the readers looked like poets and some of them looked like regular people.  A handful of them looked like nuts, but Dave found out pretty quickly that it was useless to try to judge sanity, or even talent, from the reader's appearance; all you could do was wait for the words.  It was like going to a big party and meeting lots of strangers in quick succession.  That was all the reading was as far as Dave could tell -- people standing up in front of other people, most of whom they didn't know, and saying, to the best of their ability, "Here I am.  This is what I'm all about." " (147)   

As Dave listens to the performers, he recognizes their need to be seen.  Because it's his need too, is, in fact, why he's in the city in the first place.  He reminisces about his missed chance to subsist on canned beans in a loft trying to become a rock star despite knowing it would've never worked out.  He tells himself that he could be a New Yorker, that he doesn't belong in the arrested development existence of his childhood bedroom.  Yet for all Dave's yearning to follow his star, he's more responsible -- and regular -- than he'd like to admit.  He's the wedding band manager's "rock" and the designated driver for his alcoholic buddy and band bassist Buzzy.  And for better or worse, Julie depends on him, even if she, as her parents imply, could do better.   

Dave learns a lot and goes through some stuff, most of which you can probably surmise without me being an out-and-out spoiler.  Still, for a while he -- and Perrotta -- kept me guessing, wondering about what both were trying to say about Dave's -- and our -- destiny.  This book is very realistic that way.  Dave could easily be your brother, best friend, or the kid who sat behind you in homeroom.  And that, as well as Perrotta's conversational yet lyrical writing, makes it poignant as well as entertaining.  The Wishbones suggests that not "making it" isn't about a dearth of heart or grit but about lacking the je ne sais quoi necessary for fame.  It tells us that facing the music doesn't always mean settling, that we should take the best parts of our past and future to weave a more melodious present.  

So, those are my research findings (for, as you may remember, I launched this rant beneath the guise of a scholarly study).  Men say that they don't want to grow up but secretly do want to and are better for it. 

Just as long as they can still sometimes pound beers and raise hell in the garage.