What I've Been Up To

My dear "Ant Deb" -- she of the terrific taste in plays -- is throwing a little soirée this Sunday to debut Persuede's new fall collection, Plumage. I've been a busy beading beaver, polishing up some favorites and creating a lot of new and exciting pieces. As a result, you may have noticed that the pace of posting here on the blog has slowed down. Once Sunday has passed I'll pick up the blog baton again, but in the meantime, here's what my desktop, AKA Persuede central, looks like:

And here's my virtual desktop:

Plus a sneak peek at some of the pieces I'll be showing Sunday:


A Room (Or House) of One's Own

As an avid believer in the above maxim, I found this piece very interesting. Could this be a viable option for couples, especially when your life is your creative work?

For some couples, distance is key to closeness
Husband and wife find joy living apart — together
By Judith Newman

My husband and I have been married for 14 years, and we’ve never lived together. Unbeknownst to us, demographers have devised a name for our arrangement: living apart together, which refers to married couples living separately. According to 2006 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 3.8 million married couples who don’t reside under the same roof. But even without statistics behind us, John and I figure we’re in good company. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived apart, as did Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. (Interestingly, the latter couple were never married but chose to be buried next to each other in the same tiny plot. Maybe once they didn’t have to share a bathroom, occupying the same space for eternity was OK.)

In the beginning, my line about our arrangement was that we were very Woody and Mia...but then a few things happened to make that quip seem not so funny. After we’d been married for eight years and we’d had our twin boys, Henry and Gus, I told people something a bit closer to the truth: Marriage and kids are one thing, but living together? Don’t rush me.

In fact, there are many practical reasons we keep separate apartments. First, we live in New York City, land of wildly expensive real estate and no space. Neither of our places costs much. Mine is small; his is rent stabilized, meaning it is too cheap, by New York standards, to give up. Plus, most of John’s apartment is taken up by his two pianos. (He’s a former opera singer.) If we had moved in together, we’d have had to spend a big wad of money on something larger, money that we didn’t have. When our boys were born and I did have more money, I expanded my apartment to include the one above me. But it was still not big enough for one piano, let alone two. And, second, neither of us likes change. I mean, we really, really don’t like change. Third, I love my downtown neighborhood; he loves his uptown digs. Why should we rock the boat?

Nothing in common
Which brings me to a far more compelling reason for our living separately: John and I have nothing in common except that we love each other and our sons. (We also share an antipathy for team sports and shellfish, a solid foundation for lifelong commitment if there ever was one.) But as far as our living habits go, we could not be farther apart. I think this situation is true for many married couples; they simply won’t admit it.

John’s apartment is a den of gloom: Jacobean furniture; ancient, loudly ticking timepieces; worn Persian carpets. I find it downright creepy; I’m convinced it harbors a ghost. John is convinced, too, the difference being that he enjoys his ghost. My apartment is light and airy, a slice of the Caribbean, or it would be if I hadn’t listened to John’s advice when I was installing new floors (dark oak). When I’m not writing, I crave noise and action, both in plentiful supply with our 6-year-olds. My life soundtrack is Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and The Roches, all of whom my husband refers to as “those bloody caterwauling idiots.” John needs either complete silence in his home or Wagner. Small children don’t allow for silence, and Wagner used to make the twins sob.

My husband is fastidious. I am the kind of person who, if I notice Cheerios on the floor (which I usually don’t), generally feels confident that someone — the children, a mouse, the dog — will come along and eat them, thus saving me the bother of cleaning them up. John can’t stand my obliviousness to mess, so he likes to set traps for me. The other day, next to my desk, there was a wad of dog hair the size of a basketball. It was impressive, if a little startling. “I wanted to see how long it took you to notice,” John said. “When I began, it was about the size of a marble. Every time I brushed the dog, I added to it.” Apparently, the hair ball had been there for two months, so you can imagine what else escapes my attention. If I had funds for a live-in housekeeper with obsessive-compulsive disorder, maybe John could move in. But frankly, if I want to hear a litany of complaints about what a pain in the ass I am, I don’t need him telling me; I only have to tune in to the voice in my own head.

When we had the children, of course, living separately became dicier. Friends said John and I would simply have to live together; after all, what would the kids think? I understand that when Henry and Gus are older, we’ll have some explaining to do. (“No, we’re not divorced, and, yes, the arrangement is weird.”) Until then, what they know is that sometimes, when they jump on my head at 6 a.m., the bitterly complaining lump on the other side of the bed is their father, who stays over three nights a week or so. And when he’s not there, no one else will be.

So what do you think -- is near absence a key to a successful relationship?


Through the Viewfinder...

In this highlight reel from New York Magazine of more than 100 vintage New York videos, CBGB never closed, James Brown never died, and Madonna is still learning how to vogue.

Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. "Hot House." 1952

James Brown. "Sex Machine," live at Studio 54.

The Beatles. "Help," live at Shea Stadium. 1965.

Grandmaster Flash. "The Message," live.

Madonna. Live at Danceteria. 1982.


Make It Work

If you, like me, are obsessed with Project Runway and have been eagerly anticipating the new season by stockpiling coffee filters and vintage Vogue patterns, then don't keep reading.

What I'm about to reveal could potentially cause you to slip down the rabbit hole.

Fantasy Project Runway. Brilliant, no?

Pick a team of three season four Runway designers. Every week you’ll compete for points based on their performances. (Six points if one of your designers wins a challenge, negative five if he is eliminated, three if he cries, two if Tim Gunn tells him to “make it work,” and so on.) There are no leagues; you simply compete against all the other players online. Each week’s winner gets a DVD of a past PR season.

And remember, if your team fares poorly tonight, next week is a whole new challenge. Personally, I'm rooting for Carmen.

Auf Wiedersehen!


Something to Remember

"The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
-- Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee


The reviews are coming in...

I wrote about this play earlier in the week. A great review has just popped up from TheaterMania:
Decades after attending Ohio State University, successful African American author Suzanne Alexander is asked by her alma mater to come give a talk about the violent imagery in her stories. In Adrienne Kennedy's Ohio State Murders -- currently receiving a mesmerizing revival from Theatre for a New Audience at the Duke on 42nd Street -- Suzanne spins a disturbing tale of discrimination, scandal, and murder that answers that request in a way that may make the school regret it ever asked it.

As Suzanne (LisaGay Hamilton) reminisces, key figures from her past wander onto the stage. These include her younger self (portrayed by Cherise Boothe), one of her professors, Robert Hampshire (Saxon Palmer), her best friend Iris Ann (Julia Pace Mitchell), her aunt Louise (Aleta Mitchell), and her eventual husband David Alexander (Kobi Libii). Although Suzanne narrates the bulk of the play directly to the audience, the other players occasionally engage in dialogue with one another. Even in their silences, though, their presence is palpably felt, haunting Suzanne's story and enriching its resonance.

Suzanne attended Ohio State from 1949 to 1951, but did not graduate. She was not even able to become an English major like she wished. The racial discrimination that she faced is interwoven into the fabric of her tale, even if it is not necessarily the focus. Her speech in the present day does not come across as a vindictive indictment of the school -- even if that critique is certainly there -- but rather, as an unburdening of a story that she feels she needs to finally tell.

Although the narrative has a generally forward progression, Suzanne sometimes gets ahead of herself, foreshadowing events to come and stating, "but that was later." She also breaks the chronology to go backwards in time, filling in certain details that she initially passed over, but which are now necessary for the story to continue. This is an extremely effective strategy on the playwright's part, teasing the audience with choice details, such as the identity of the killer who committed the murders of the play's title, long before the story reaches its end. That information won't be shared in this review, but needless to say Suzanne knew the culprit, and the victims in the murders were also quite close to her.

Hamilton speaks with a preternatural calm, and yet there is a sense of a powerful emotional undercurrent to her words. As the story grows more and more tragic and personal, the actress allows some of those feelings to bubble to the surface. Towards the end of her tale, her voice cracks in an intense yet restrained moment, as Suzanne acknowledges the pain and horror of these events, which for the longest time have gone unspoken.

Boothe also does exceptional work, demonstrating how Suzanne's bright-eyed eagerness to learn is eventually worn away by her experiences, giving her a more haggard demeanor. Palmer's appearance also undergoes a striking change as the play goes on, with Hampshire's final speech about the significance of the abyss in the legend of King Arthur clearly showing how the character has also sunk into a dark place from which he may be unable to resurface. The other three actors make strong contributions, as well, although their parts are not as developed.

Director Evan Yionoulis keeps the tension taut as the mystery behind the murders unravels. She's aided in this by the superb original music and sound design of her brother Mike Yionoulis and Sarah Pickett. Everyday noises of campus life, such as the sounds of a school cafeteria, are subtly interwoven into Suzanne's tale. The music sometimes stays in the background to good atmospheric effect, and at other moments becomes more noticeable, as in the disharmonious sounds that interrupt Hampshire's above-mentioned speech about the abyss.

Neil Patel's scenic design depicts a school library with the books on its shelves all painted white. This becomes a large screen that projection designer Leah Gelpe uses to show images of campus buildings, maps, etc. We are never able to see the images too clearly, but memories are often seen as if through gauze, and the technique employed here is effective.

With a running time of one hour and five minutes, the play is just the right length for a university lecture. And there should be no danger of any students falling asleep, as Kennedy's play -- and Hamilton's performance within it -- is captivating.


African Queen

One of my favorite past times is to wander a museum without any particular destination in mind. I usually stumble across something new to treasure, a discovery that feels personal, as if it was just placed there for me to find and enjoy. I call these occasions "Frankenweiler moments," after one of my favorite young adult books.

And just like in the book, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of my favorite places to wander.

One of my recent finds is this ivory pendant mask. It was probably worn at the hip by the Oba, or king, of Benin. It is believed to represent a queen mother, an important political leader whose power was centered outside the Oba's palace. I love the force of character in the lines of her face, and the care and sensitivity with which the artist shaped a community archetype into a personal portrait.

All hail the Queen.


A New Way to Recycle

Hoping the stem littering by unhappy gamblers, the Edogawa Kyotei boat race course in Tokyo have a new way to ease frustration after botching a bet — feed your losing tickets to a robotic goat. The goatkeeper says, “It eats up your frustrations so that you will have better luck with the next race.”

You really can't make this stuff up.

Tweed Clutch

Over at tomate d'épingles, madamemoiselle has posted a lovely little tutorial on how to make this very smart-looking clutch.

I find that projects like these are great alternatives to the vast wasteland that Sunday afternoon tv watching can be. Not that I have anything against a Lifetime or HGTV afternoon marathon -- quite the contrary! Sometimes all you want is nothing more than to lose a few hours living vicariously through someone else's kitchen remodel. But with the upcoming writers strike, it's good to have a backup plan.

Thus the clutch. You'll get style points and be able to say, when someone compliments you, "I made it!"

Go ahead, be stylish. I know you can do it.


Speak, Memory

I just returned from a preview (thank you Ant Deb!) of the New York premiere of Adrienne Kennedy's Ohio State Murders, featuring LisaGay Hamilton, at the Theater for a New Audience. There's a good profile of the playwright and what inspired her to write the play in the Sunday New York Times.

It's a deeply personal, moving drama about a fictional African-American writer whose life both is and is not like her author’s. When Suzanne enters Ohio State in the 1950's, little does she know that the safe haven of academia conceals forces of racism, leading to a matter-of-fact sadness made all the more powerful by the reflection and refraction of memory. Though only an hour, the interior rhythms of the play pull you in; by the time the final scene played, it felt as if the entire audience was breathing together in time.

LisaGay, who last played on Broadway in August Wilson's The Piano Lesson and Gem of the Ocean, is remarkable. (You'll probably recognize her from her long-standing role on The Practice). The entire cast is excellent, but it is her intelligent, nuanced and deeply affecting portrayal of a woman releasing years of entwined secrets and memories that carries the evening.

It premieres on Sunday and plays through November 18th. Go see it.


Something to Remember

A South American folktale from Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Prize-winning founder of Kenya's Greenbelt Movement:

There is a terrible forest fire. All the animals are fleeing the conflagration except Hummingbird, who is flying back and forth, scooping up little up little slivers of water from a spring and dumping them on the flames. "What do you think you're doing, stupid little bird?" the other animals ask derisively, and Hummingbird says, "I'm doing what I can."

As we enter the season of giving, it's good to remember that sometimes all it takes to make a difference is to try.

UPDATE: Thanks for Francesca for this link to a short video clip of Maathai telling the hummingbird story.