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Archival Interview: Lily Burana

Strip CityIn the February 28 issue of The New Yorker, Francine du Plessix Gray reviews a new history of burlesque—Rachel Shteir’s Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show, which sounds awesome. She also mentions Strip City: A Stripper’s Farewell Journey Across America by Lily Burana, one of the best memoirs I have ever read. I talked to Burana when the book first came out in hardcover in the fall of 2001. She was friendly, easygoing, very smart, and intensely thoughtful. She spoke in the kind of succinct, fascinating, brilliant paragraphs that barely need editing. Burana was, in short, a dream interviewee, and the interview remains one of my favorites.

February 28, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Stars Without Makeup

I didn’t watch Stars Without Make-up last night, but I did flip to it during the commercials on CSI. As I had suspected when I made my programming decisions for the evening, the Fox show was pretty crap—too much snarky cuteness and too much filler—but I applaud the concept of Stars Without Make-up.

Those of us who consume popular culture inevitably end up with a considerable confusion about the difference between reality and fantasy. For example, we look at a magazine and see a woman who spends hours everyday with a personal trainer, who has been coiffed and maquillaged by a team of professionals, who has been lit with exquisite kindness and who will be painstakingly retouched before her picture hits the newsstands, and we think we’re seeing an image of how women are supposed to look. Then we take a look at ourselves, and the comparison is not always pleasing.

This is Madonna. Seriously.I am—obviously—not the first person to describe this phenomenon, but it bears repeating, and it explains why I appreciate photos of famously beautiful women looking kind of shitty. Yes, there’s an element of schadenfreude to my enjoyment, but, mostly, it’s about that tiny, fleeting moment in which the sight of a pink, puffy, and rumpled Renée Zellweger or Madonna looking “like a worn-out, chainsmoking trailer park mom with a serious meth habit” inspires me to cut myself some slack.


February 25, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Your Good Deed for the Day

Isn't Queen Latifah lovely?The March issue of InStyle is on the stands. Queen Latifah—her usual resplendent self in an ivory Zac Posen dress and lavish-but-understated bling—is on the cover. You should buy it.

I’m not suggesting that you buy it because I think InStyle is a great magazine. Indeed, I almost never buy it myself—or even flip through it while I’m in line at the grocery store (that’s what Star is for). While I adore celebrity gossip, fawning puffery makes me feel a bit unwell. And the fashion is totally half-assed. It’s like Glamour and Real Simple and People mashed together, and I say, “Ick.” No, I am suggesting that you buy this issue because there is a black woman on the cover, and newsstand sales of mainstream women’s magazines generally tank when there is a black woman on the cover.

Personally, I am more likely to buy a magazine with Queen Latifah on the cover than one featuring, say, the newly-emaciated and heinously over-Botoxed Nicole Kidman, as my sense of full-figured-and-naturally-gorgeous solidarity transcends my attachment to racial identity (believe you me, if I could reasonably and conscionably claim to be anything other than perfectly white, I would). Nevertheless, it’s a fact: whenever a fashion or lifestyle mag puts an African-American woman—no matter how famous or how beautiful—their bottom line takes a serious hit. The deleterious effect is similar with other women of color. Thus, women with skin other than lily-white or aerosol-tanned become cover models only through a sort of affirmative-fashion program.

The only way to change this unfortunate state of affairs, the only way to create a newsstand that reflects our diversity, is through economic action. So, grab a copy of InStyle: read the article on Queen Latifah, ignore the piece on ways to update a classic string of pearls (the only way to credibly wear a string of pearls is as a string of pearls), and try to pretend that you didn’t just see Jennifer Love “Why Am I Still Famous?” Hewitt.

February 23, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

School Supplies

A number of factors figured into my decision to go back to school: my desire to finally finish my bachelor’s degree, my dream of teaching, my husband’s encouragement, free tuition, and—last, but certainly not least—my deep and abiding fondness for school supplies.

#2 PenThe supply closet was one of the only things I liked about office life, although the quality of pens available was usually pretty abysmal. When I was getting ready to go back to school, I checked out a whole lot of rollerballs before I found the #2 Pen by Acme Writing Tools. It looks like a pencil, it writes like a dream, and I adore it.

I use my snazzy new implement to jot down chemical equations and thoughts on James Joyce and then I slide my notes inside my stylish and sturdy Russell + Hazel binder. This very handsome 3-ring wonder is made with grown-ups in mind: its cardboard cover is embellished with nothing more than a strip of elegant color (I chose lime), and it doesn’t smell like PVC.

L.A.M.B. for LeSportsacI carry my nifty new supplies in my totally hot new bookbag. It’s a messenger bag by L.A.M.B. for Le Sportsac. I adore it because it’s punk rock, but with an preppy-utilitarian, Francophile edge. Also, it has a lot of pockets.

February 21, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I Am a Woman Pirate

I Am a Woman Pirate

Yarr. Ye won't be taking no liberties with the female buccaneer. Truly a bastion of feminism, ye woman pirate will seize ye gold, cut off ye genitals and wear them as a necklace, all before her morning grog. Empowering. Yarrr.

The votes are in. You, dear readers, have decided that I am a Woman Pirate, although I got almost as many votes for Heartthrob Pirate, and I thank you all—not just for participating, but for your refreshingly gender-neutral approach to the question.

If you’d like to meet more foxy ladies of the high seas, check out this list—at the very least, you should introduce yourself to my own favorite female chieftain and buccaneer, Gráinne Ni Mhaille. If you would like to find out what kind of pirate you are, take the test at Rum and Monkey.

February 18, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Your Good Deed for the Day

Writer, reader, and Baltimore resident Old Hag has posted a plea for donations to support The Book Thing, an organization that collects unwanted books and redistributes them to needy readers. This seems like a worthy activity to me, so I just gave them a little bit of green myself. If you would like to do the same, you may donate online via Network for Good. If you’d like more information about The Book Thing, visit their earnestly lo-fi website.

February 16, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Oedipus, Schoedipus

The story becomes a complex—the Lot complex—because its “primal interest imposes itself upon history, religion, art and individual psychology, and people in turn impose their history, experience, personal mind-sets and imaginative skills on the biblical text.” [Robert M.] Polhemus doesn’t invent the Lot complex any more than Freud invented the Oedipus complex. What he does—thoroughly and brilliantly—is identify what has existed for millenniums of recorded history, introducing diverse examples of the archetypal transaction between a young, sometimes very young, woman and the man who, if he isn’t actually her father, is old enough to substitute.
So welcome to Daughterland, where we don’t read much Hemingway, or grill meat outdoors, and where we’re mystified, and a little bored, by all the hysteria over Oedipus, who didn’t even know it was his mother he was sleeping with. Oh, he was unlucky, certainly, so unlucky that he happened into what’s more usually the female contretemps of being sullied by sex. But can you imagine if every woman who discovered herself the unwitting accomplice to her own defilement thrust pins into her eyes? Seeing Eye dogs would march cheek by jowl down supermarket aisles.

Lot's DaughtersNew York Time Book Review, you sly minx, you. How coyly naughty to have Kathryn Harrison review a new study of father-daughter eros in art and culture.

I tend to enjoy Harrison’s work—including The Kiss, but also her novels Poison and The Binding Chair—and, as you can see from the excerpt above, this is a very clever review. Lot’s Daughters: Sex, Redemption, and Women’s Quest for Authority is the name of the book Harrison’s describing here, and it sounds pretty good, too—erudite, original, and provocative in the best kind of way.

February 15, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Wedding Planner: Roll Credits

The Christmas-to-Valentine’s Day corridor is a popular time for wedding engagements, so today seems like the perfect moment to give one last shout-out to some of the artisans who helped make my own nuptial festivities so awesome.

Anyone getting married in the Ann Arbor-area might want to check out an article I wrote for Current magazine, in which I sang the praises of my seamstress, my aesthetician, the jeweler who made my engagement ring, and other local tradespeople.

I would also like to thank Fond-Regards, the folks who made our lovely invitations. Robert, the designer with whom I worked, totally understood my vision, and he was quite patient with all my anal-retentive tinkering. When I told him that Ted and I wanted to include excerpts from our first email exchange (I found my husband through an electronic personals ad), he came up with the charming idea of printing the excerpts on tiny cards and tucking them into equally adorable envelopes. Brilliant! Fond-Regards was also the only letterpress outfit that gave us a price that was realistic for anyone who is neither an aristocrat nor the heir of a wealthy industrialist

Ted and I had two wedding receptions, both of them in Northeastern Ohio (I’m from Stow, and most of my family lives in Akron and environs). Our picnic was made possible by my family’s Herculean cooking efforts, and by Miss Williams of Southern Hands Catering. She was absolutely open to my menu suggestions—her iteration of okra pancakes was perfect—and she wasn’t kidding when she said that cobblers were her specialty.

We also had a cocktail party, and we have the kind owners and staff of Zephyr Pub (in Kent) to thank for their hospitality. My sister tends bar there, and she was able to secure the whole establishment for our friends and family for most of the evening, and she got one of her co-workers to spin cds for us. I think everyone had a swell time, but I believe that my grandma Reece gets the prize for hardiest partier: she had so much fun dancing and drinking bloody marys that she insisted we return to the Zephyr for her birthday.

Ted and I and a few of our friends stayed at the Jeremiah B. King Guest House, a cozy little establishment in Hudson. The accommodations were totally pleasing, our hostesses were utterly amiable, and the breakfasts kicked ass. I would stay there every time I visit family if my mom wouldn’t be insulted.

One of my bridal desires was to wear a skirt with a bustle to the picnic. I planned to make this skirt myself, but I realized that I was in over my head when I showed the pattern I had chosen to my seamstress and she said, “Oh, this is complicated.” I took my pattern and my fabric with me to Ohio, hoping that my mom could help me out. She did: by taking the project to a local seamstress willing to work at lightning speed. When I showed up at I Do Bridal & Formal to get measured, the young lady who would make my skirt exclaimed, “I love bustles!” What are the odds of that?

The day before the festivities commenced, the manicurist at Clips (in Stow) squeezed me in for a pedi and a much-needed eyebrow-plucking. Tony, the owner of Clips, cut my hair throughout high school, and it was a pleasure to go back to the salon.

Finally, I would like to thank Rachel Flowers and the foxy ladies of The Beauty Lounge (in Akron) for my super bachelorette party. The Beauty Lounge is a great space for a party, and I can think of few experiences I have enjoyed more than getting my nails done while gently tipsy on white wine and surrounded by my best girls.

February 14, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

“Bosoms Have Gotten So Big”

Town ShopOn a recent trip to New York, I had two goals: I wanted to see the Aztec show at the Guggenheim, and I wanted to buy some bras at the Town Shop.

I first learned of the Town Shop on NPR, on an installment of Radio Diaries. “We know your size”: this is the claim made by the Town Shop, and this is the reason I’ve dreamed of visiting it. I’ve been buying bras in 36-D for almost twenty years, but I’ve long suspected that this is not my actual size. Indeed, finding bras that seem to fit is such a nightmare that my own sister refuses to go bra shopping with me, and my mom agrees to it only under duress.

My host in New York—Griffin—is a man, and I was fairly confident that he would not be interested in a trip to the Town Shop, so I asked his girlfriend to go with me. As it turns out, Rebecca bought her first bra at the Town Shop, and she was quite willing to make a return visit.

I had imagined that the Town Shop would be a small, dark space, and that I would be fitted by a tiny Jewish woman with a tape measure. I was wrong on both counts. The Town Shop is fairly spacious for a Manhattan boutique, and it’s bright and open. I was helped by a tall, slender, gorgeous black woman with a cockney accent, and she didn’t need a tape measure to size up my bust. She cast a quick, cool, professional eye on my bosom, and started bringing me brassieres to try on.

34-DDD: This, apparently, is my true size, and it’s not a size I am likely to encounter anywhere outside the Town Shop. Rebecca also discovered that she has been wearing the wrong size, and we both learned a little something about the proper way to apply a push-up bra.

It’s a bit too early to say that my visit to the Town Shop has changed my life, but I can say that I am thoroughly enjoying the bras that I bought there. Never has my bosom been so comfortably encased.

February 10, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Happy Birthday, Sarah Hand

Miss Sarah Hand

February 9, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack