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Entries in kara vanderbijl (70)

Tuesday
Jan142014

In Which We Have A Lot Of Baggage

The Things They Carried

by KARA VANDERBIJL

Mary Poppins had less baggage than today’s women, although, as a turn-of-the-century governess, it is quite certain that less was expected of her. If only we could empty the average woman’s bag onto a semi-aesthetic surface and study its contents! Not only would we see a reflection of her unique personality, but we’d also get an almost archeological glimpse into the history of ladies everywhere.

Since asking women to dump the contents of their purses onto the floor seems rather absurd, not to mention sexist (first they question our reproductive rights, now this), we’ll settle for imagining the things they carried.


33 less cents

Little to no simple carbohydrates  

iPhone 4s with a cracked screen in a dirty mint green rubber case

A small, sharp elevator key

Quinoa

Two tampons blooming from applicators in shades of teal, dark purple, royal blue

Clear nail polish for nylon runs

A bag of chamomile tea

Twenty tarnished pennies

A wadded up Trader Joe’s receipt

An aborted baby

Three Tinder profiles laid aside as conversation starters or party jokes; three others to follow up on when she’s a little tipsy 

A Moleskine, the first two pages the beginning of a dream journal, the rest messy grocery lists: cherry pie Larabars, sparkling water, frozen chicken breasts

Winona Ryder circa 1994

A sailor, a soldier, a spy

A Kindle full of self-help books: Find Your Inner French Girl, It’s Not a Diet It’s a Lifestyle, How to Please Your Misogynist Boyfriend

The ever-narrowing definition of liberated femininity

Her best friend’s spare keys

At least one story of how she was touched against her will 

Dull black eyeliner pencil

Two transit cards, she’s not sure of the value left on either of them

Assorted good luck talismans: a bag full of lavender, a vial of holy water, an expired condom

Knock-off Ray Bans

A passport for those last-minute trips overseas

Band-Aids for blisters

A photogenic cat

Dubious ointment

Chewing gum of a fruity or minty persuasion

A hand that historically could have been given in marriage

Oscar predictions

A scarf for passing drafts

Advice columns

The conviction that all men are awful; the conviction that she would very much like to date a man

Wallet in a pink chevron print containing quarters from all fifty states

The book she’s been reading during her commute

Earbuds for what she’s really doing during her commute

Unpopular opinions such as, "I really like my body" 

Pepper spray

Extra underwear

The occasional juice cleanse

Her mother's personality, set to unlock in about fifteen years

A pair of black pumps in case she wants to transition this outfit from day to night

A Post-It with phonetic pronunciations of words she’s only seen in books

For protection, at least least four fake boyfriends who have addresses, names, and occupations

The belief that she should be able to sleep with a stranger and feel breezy about it

Lingering Disney princess vibes

An angry resting face

Business cards from the men she meets in bars who still hand out business cards

Weird old tricks from the internet to cut down belly fat

A ziploc bag full of wasabi peas

Jennifer Aniston's hair

Leopard-print earmuffs

Four pens

A ticket stub

Meryl Streep's secrets for beautiful wrinkles

Residual sand from that one summer afternoon

In one compartment, her career; in the other, whatever she cares about more than her career but obviously can’t talk about because it’d make her a bad feminist, duh

One, two, three pickup lines thrown at her between her apartment at the train, between vulgar gestures and kissing noises and gyrating boy hips

Another bag

Red lipstick 

The unbearable urge to bodyslam women with perfect hair 

The belief that Sylvia Plath is an appropriate role model for young women

Enough patience to hear, "Wow, that's actually a good idea", in a surprised tone, from all her male coworkers

Beyonce

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about art objects. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"Was It A Dream" - Marissa Nadler (mp3)

"Nothing In My Heart" - Marissa Nadler (mp3)

The new album from Marissa Nadler is entitled July, and it will be released on February 4th.

Tuesday
Dec172013

In Which We Vaguely Know You Come To Life

Above Corruption

by KARA VANDERBIJL 

I have a hard time with art galleries, whether they are very small rooms on the way to work or large museums packed with artifacts. I would like to enjoy my time in them but for the most part, I do not. I have never had a satisfying experience in an art gallery and I would not say that it is the gallery’s fault or even particularly my fault. Why speak of fault at all?  

Art is about embodiment, and the space between the walls where the paintings hang protected and my body is large. I cannot be what I am seeing or do anything about it. I must blindly consume, pronounce a judgment, feign a stronger emotion than I am feeling. This appreciation is dismembered; much like standing in a crowded room, when I do not have enough hands to touch every person around me in greeting, enough mouths to speak to them, I cannot give enough of myself to this experience. I am paralyzed, made unbodied.

The only gallery I enjoyed visiting is the Villa Borghese outside of Rome. Many of Bernini’s sculptures live in this manor, where only small groups of people are permitted to enter at a time. Apollo and Daphne, one of Bernini’s best-loved works, stands in the center of a room. You can walk up quite closely to it and look at the folds of stone cloth and the dimples where Apollo is pressing his fingers into Daphne’s flesh. Apollo wants to rape Daphne. He has been chasing her through the woods, and when she realizes that she will not be able to outrun him, she calls upon her father to transform her into a laurel tree. As Apollo wraps an arm around her waist, he discovers bark where there was once soft skin. Her fingers and arms turn into branches. Her hair sprouts into the very wreath of leaves that Apollo will later use to decorate the heads of victors, of men become gods...

Only what is incarnate can be violated.

+

Being a body narrows you. Genetics predetermine the star of your face, the hills and valleys nourished below. I cannot be all things, as a body. As a mind, I can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. But my body is a full stop, a contained space, an impermanent expression of creative energy.

Art objects, too, are narrow. “Writing is a little door,” said Susan Sontag, “Some fantasies, like big pieces of furniture, won’t come through.” An art object is a slice of the world, a representative, perhaps male or female, of one race or another, a tightly-packaged experience. I want this object to be all things but to ask it to contain more than it does is to deny its very being. As an embodiment, it is bound by its curves and contours.

When I ask, “Why doesn’t this art object embody an experience that is important to me?”, and become angry, it is a bit like shaking a child and screaming, “Why aren’t you a bird?” I may marvel at the fact that this object could have been any number of things, so long as I recognize it for what it is, give it credit for the beautiful disaster that is its embodiment.

Criticizing an art object, faulting it for its lacks and limitations, is a violation; a small one, yes, but a violation nonetheless.

+

“What about bad art?”

Irrelevant question.

+

Dance, then, is absolutely pure. And isn’t it ironic that it is this form of art, this form of expression, that causes the most panic and self-consciousness? We dance in small, dim spaces, mostly hidden from view. The act has been called frivolous, childish, dangerous, yet there is no form of embodiment more intense than dancing. Here, various incarnations touch, interact, share a moment in time. If anything this is the only place where art can be panoramic: bigger than itself, more than a single voice, experience or expression.

 

+

What do I mean when I say embodiment? I mean quite simply that the objects we create are incarnational. They are ideas become flesh, dwelling among us. They are real and not deceptive, although they are incredibly disruptive. To create an art object is to endow a beloved or feared thought with arms and legs and a will of its own and watch it build and destroy worlds. This has nothing to do with whether or not it is “good” by any standard. This has something to do with an old, bearded God reaching upside-down across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and touching a human into life. “I know you, come to life,” he says, “now go do.”

+

Tastes and preferences change over time. If I am starving, I will eat what is put on the table in front of me, even if the meat is tainted or the fruit is rotten. Given the choice, though, I will eat what is satisfying, nutritious. Given a myriad of choices, I will eat what is popular, easily acquired.

Like so many people, I am secretly starving for companionship. I will listen to what voices I can get, at the press of a button, at the recommendation of a web site. I will not necessarily go looking for the relationships that truly fulfill me. Then, poorly satisfied, the words mal-absorbed into my system, I will complain that what I found was not what I was looking for.

When I learn that an object is poisonous, I know I should stay away from it. But it doesn’t take much pride for me to continue consuming it, believing as I do that my body is above corruption and violation.

I ask, “What will this do to me? What will I do with this?”

+

Is it important that I identify with an art object? In my view, I am simultaneously the most beautiful and the most foul being imaginable. This double vision applies, too, to art; what enamors me can in its own time become frightening. What is delicious can be too rich, too much for me to handle. I am not always ready to encounter what I observe. Like my relationships, the traumas of which mold and shape my personality, my interactions with art have taken me out of myself, made me intensely uncomfortable. The ones that have not done so, the ones that have been too cloying, too reassuring, I have not been able to trust.

This is, after all, a personality flaw.

But in the same way that I would not want a friend who would not tell me true — even if it meant that I had to see myself in a garish new light, hang in a different, less-visited corner of a gallery — I do not want to surround myself with art that does not occasionally put me on edge, or break my heart.

+

It takes two to create: myself, and the strain of thought inside of me that won’t be still until it has been given a body. 

Kara Vanderbijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about her trip to New York City. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"A Beautiful Night for a Party" - Scouting for Girls (mp3)

"Rockin' All Over The World (live on the BBC)" - Scouting for Girls (mp3)


Friday
Dec062013

In Which The Greatest City In The World Is Smaller Than You Think

Studies in Claustrophobia

by KARA VANDERBIJL

On the back of a postcard I scrawl, “New York City: smaller than expected.”

That’s it; those are the only notes I managed to take during my seventy-two hours in Manhattan. Exactly what I planned for the extensive scribbling I meant to do eludes me now, three weeks of outlining and imagining and remembering later. After beginning this essay a thousand times, I became convinced that the only thing more difficult than living in New York is writing about New York.

It’s strange that I should be overwhelmed with the subject when I did find Manhattan petite — a water-lapped gray island of which I could see every last corner from the plane. I spent my weekend there navigating tiny spaces. Restaurant tables were so close together that I stood on tiptoes and bent in awkward angles to get to my seat. In public restrooms (of which there were few), my arms touched the walls on either side of the toilet and I had to duck my head to wash my hands. I stepped out of restrooms into kitchens and backed into bookshelves that doubled as wine cellars.

On the High Line, we walked single file between rows of native shrubs, not-so-native Germans, and two couples taking engagement photos. Behind them, buildings crowded en masse to fit inside the small screen of the digital camera. I covered a distant skyscraper with the tip of my finger, feeling like that primordial ape attempting to catch the toy city whirring around my head.

Below ground, the air was close and smelled like what it sounds like when brakes squeal against iron rails: burnt. The subway cars were long but squat, as if the tunnels had been pressing against their ceilings for decades. Inside one, I slid slowly off the tiny plastic seat into the crush of people talking about work and ugh, really? in Brooklyn? We climbed steep stairs to come up for air. I thought I could smell the Atlantic but I also smelled pizza, sewer, coffee, metal and perfume. New Jersey loomed close over Manhattan’s shoulder, the less desirable bank of the river.

Sitting on a stranger’s stoop hip-to-hip to eat a slice, we went through a thick wad of napkins mopping up grease. Entering Central Park through the Women’s Gate, we caught a whiff of fermenting November leaves and ducks. After a perfunctory stroll, we exited onto 5th Avenue somewhere in the 70s. At a book stand, they were selling stiff new copies of The Great Gatsby with Cugat’s original cover, that yellow blue silhouette somehow bigger, somehow brighter than the city blurring into the dusk around me.

Before long the crowds made me feel anxious, and we caught the subway downtown, watching groups of friends get on and off and plan to meet for drinks later. In an exhausted stupor, we lifted miraculously out of our seats at the right stop by the promise of Katz’s pastrami on rye and half-sour pickles. The deli was the only thing in New York that was bigger than I thought it would be, tables going on forever, people biting into sandwiches under pictures of Johnny Depp and Bill Clinton and the Kennedys clasping Katz's hand and smiling.

Meat slid out the back of sandwiches, plopping soft onto plates in greasy folds. An Eastern European bus boy, or rather, middle-aged gentleman, came by to shove napkin-covered plates into a dirty tub. At the neighboring table, two ladies compared cosmetics and sipped Diet Cokes. “Hope you have what she had!” crowed a sign above the table where Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan sat in When Harry Met Sally. We hope you’ll all have what we’re having.

Even after a day during which I had done everything I could think of to experience the city, to feel its pulse underneath all the kitsch, it was here — on this holy kosher-style ground — that I realized I’d been hearing the New York City narrative running through the crowds the whole time, like a half-muffled scream.

It’s a survivor’s tale, except instead of chopping through jungles to flee a starving tiger, the survivor is a girl crying on the subway, her mascara running down her cheeks, and she’s on her way to her entry-level job (which, in Manhattan, is probably located in some basement far below street level). And nobody is looking at her, because she’s just another anonymous survivor who won’t quit the city because this — this story of living in less-than-humane conditions is what thrills her, this always reaching and never getting is the greatest story she thinks she can write, because after all, this is the greatest city in the world…

This, I think, is what makes it hard to live in and write about New York. The city will always be bigger than you, her sense of self will always be more important than yours, and no matter how many times you laugh at someone who moves away, breathlessly saying, “They just weren’t tough enough,” a small, stifled part of you wonders if you, too, will be swallowed by this machine that chews, and chews, and chews away at your sanity, your guts spilling out the back into the Hudson like so much pastrami. Writing a New York City story is a study in claustrophobia.

It takes a good ego-squashing to be a writer, but squash someone far enough below ground and they’re mining for salt to chew on between paychecks, not stories. There’s a name for the condition that makes a person vow To Leave or Never To Leave New York, and it’s “identity crisis”: when the setting of the story has engulfed its main character. Nor is the main character wholly to blame; everything in New York seems built to induce this crisis, from its perfectly miniature coffee shops blasting Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong down to the lox on your bagel. I worried at the small apartments that had no windows.

In the morning, I woke up early while the city slept on, West Village streets yawning sunbeams into one another, sidewalks stubbly with last night’s litter. I took my maps and my empty notebook and stopped at Patisserie Claude to buy a croissant and a cappuccino. From there I wandered to Washington Square Park, where I found the famed monument thinner than its Parisian cousin, living on a starvation diet of pigeons and piano music. At my feet, two squirrels fought over the crumbs from my pastry. The peddler pianist launched into Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

I wondered then, sitting alone on a bench in the sunshine, what I might have been if I had chosen to live here, how I might have molded my life to fit into the narrative of New York City. Would I have become best friends with Ambien or fashioned, out of a budding creative bent, an oxygen mask to filter out the high rent, the four-dollar coffees I finished in two sips? Would I have caught the tiny city whirring in dreams around my head? Would I have sacrificed the morning, my favorite time of day, for Manhattan’s endless night?

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about Donna Tartt's latest disappointment. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here

Photographs by the author.

"I See My Mother" - Polica (mp3)

"Violent Games" - Polica (mp3)