RSS Feed

Tag Archives: fashion

The Meaning of Michelle

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-46-44-am

My response to the tornado of events precipitated by the Donald Trump administration has been one of occasional action and full-fledged nostalgia.

On the morning of inauguration day, I changed my Facebook cover photo to a picture of my friend Allison and me on a crowded, neon-lit Michigan Avenue the night Barack Obama was elected. We were wearing Yes We Can Change shirts featuring a tight-lipped, determined Barack Obama, and we held each other with glowing, teethy smiles.

I re-watched YouTube videos of Barack Obama casually chuckling at the potential reality of Donald Trump becoming president, when asked on CBSN one year ago. I indulged in a second viewing of President Obama roasting Donald Trump at a White House Correspondents’ Dinner. I pinned images of Michelle in glamorous, curve-hugging, shoulder-draping gowns at state dinners. 

Then I called and tweeted some congress people, donated some money to the ACLU, patted myself on the back, and visited Amazon to order The Meaning of Michelle, a series of personal essays about Michelle Obama’s legacy.

The first essay I read was “She Loves Herself When She Is Laughing: Michelle Obama, Taking Down a Stereotype and Co-Creating a Presidency,” by Rebecca Carroll. Having just finished Their Eyes Were Watching God with my American Lit class, I was curious about the comparison Carroll makes between Obama and Zora Neale Hurston.

Carroll writes that Michelle is the “embodiment of what black American writer Zora Neale Hurston meant when she wrote: ‘I love myself when I am laughing, and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.’” I think what she means is that both Michelle and Zora are/were both resolutely themselves in the public eye, which, as Carroll writes, was “no small thing for a Black woman in the 1930s, and sadly… no small thing for a Black woman in the 2000s either.” Carroll argues that Barack Obama, struggling to find his place as a biracial black man with an unconventional upbringing, was attracted to Michelle for the very reason that she was grounded in her blackness, and fully immersed in it. Carroll identifies with the former President’s longing for this grounding partner, growing up as a “Black adoptee in a white family.”

In “Lady O and King Bey,” Brittney Cooper writes of the “mutual girl crush that Michelle Obama and Beyoncé share.” Cooper points that Michelle, as First Lady, had an opportunity to reclaim something that black women are often denied:

“In a world in which Black women were always treated as women but never as ladies, a Black woman becoming the icon of American ladyhood is a triumph of the hopes and dreams of all those race ladies of old.”

Given the significance of Michelle Obama’s ladyhood, her public admiration of Beyoncé implies that she also lays claim to another version of black womanhood, one characterized by body confidence and sex appeal, and also a taking of pleasure in “flouting the rules of social propriety.”

For example, when Beyoncé performed “Formation” for the 2016 Super Bowl, critiquing “anti-Black state violence” and wearing costumes with a sartorial nod to the Black Panther Movement, Michelle told Gayle King in an interview, “’I care deeply about the Halftime Show. I hope Beyoncé likes what I have on’ [She] was dressed in a black blouse with black slacks.”

Super Bowl aside, I can imagine there have been many times Michelle may have wanted to channel Beyoncé in “flouting the rules of social propriety.” For example, when “Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin remarked that Michelle Obama had a ‘big butt,’ and thus no business leading the Let’s Move! Campaign,” as Cooper writes. In explaining Michelle Obama’s need for Beyoncé, Cooper writes that

“sometimes ratchet is a more appropriate register in which to check your haters than respectability will ever be. But overtly ratchet Mrs. Obama simply cannot be. Beyoncé can be as ratchet as she wants to be though, and in this, I think the First Lady finds a place to let her hair down and put her middle fingers up.”

According to Cooper, the friendship between Michelle Obama and Beyoncé is both remarkable and “regular as rain,” or rather, “reign.” Their friendship is a testament to the fact that:

“The U.S. is no nation for Black women. It is too limited a container for the magic we bring. And because the American national imaginary is built on the most limited and stingy ideas about who Black women get to be, when we are called to navigate the terrain of racial representation as public figures, many sisters return to the most basic truth we have – we need each other to survive.”

In “Becoming the Wife,” Cathi Hanauer identifies with Michelle’s willingness to set aside a prestigious career to become “Mom-in-Chief.” When Hanauer met her husband, she was an established writer looking to do “something more meaningful” by applying to an MFA program. Her would-be husband was a struggling writer working odd jobs as a ski instructor and a janitor. He eventually became the editor of The New York Times’s Modern Love column, a wild success, as Hanauer gradually increased her role as primary parent and homemaker.

In Michelle Obama’s case, as is widely known, she was Barack Obama’s mentor before she became his helpmate. After she married Obama in 1992, they lived “separate professional lives”… up to a point. As Hanauer writes,

“What did change, work-wise, for Michelle – as it did for me, and as it does for so many college-educated women, particularly once children are involved – is that we both reached a point in our lives and marriages when we agreed to become… The Wife – as our husbands took on the more important and lucrative work role. We did this for the greater good of our marriages, our families, and in Michelle’s case, the world; and maybe even, as mothers, for ourselves. Michelle became Mrs. President. And I became Mrs. Modern Love.”

There’s something refreshingly real about the way that Hanauer frames the choice to become the wife, the helpmate once children enter the picture – that it’s a choice borne out of practicality, human limitations, a humility in not demanding oneself to be everything to everybody. This willingness to inhabit a prescribed role, and a traditional, non-glamorous one at that, seems like a matter of maturing for the younger versions of Michelle and Cathi, embarking solo on their careers with Plans – at once laser-sharp and limitless.

When I mentioned this essay to my husband, he said that the notion of success, in his view, has evolved from sacrifice to achievement. We used to judge women, and to an extent, men, by how much they had sacrificed for others, whereas we judge them now by their individual solo accomplishments. I think one of the reasons Michelle Obama is so popular is precisely owing to the amount and quality of her sacrifice, for her children, for her husband, for her willingness to make her motherhood and wifehood public, assuming a role that seems both demanding and tedious. This feeling of admiration and gratitude doesn’t confer as easily onto Barack Obama, as his public sacrifices seem tied up with his personal ambitions.

And then, in spite of our admiration, there’s a collective instinct to see Michelle pursue her ambitions, full-force. Ironically, perhaps, this is how Hanauer ends her laudatory essay on becoming the wife:

“I can’t wait to see what she does next. And what she does after that, when her children are grown and she can focus with far fewer distractions on her career. She has said she’ll never run for president herself. To that, I say: Never say never, Michelle. Let’s just see where we all are a decade from now.”

Advertisements

Farewell Chicago

brunurb P1090489 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0I have seven more nights to sleep in my Chicago bed. Seven more 5:30 am snoozes filled in by the sound of dump trucks reversing, ambulances speeding, cabbies honking, and heels clicking on pavement outside my bedroom window. Am I feeling nostalgic? Not so much, as a matter of fact. I’ve reached a point where the allure of the city, in all its gritty, gray, urban glory, has faded for me. I’m ready for a shorter commute. I’m ready for bigger patches of green grass, for big, old trees that aren’t plopped in the middle of a concrete sidewalk with a copper plate covering for protection. I’m ready for pizza that isn’t Chicago style pizza — and yes, that especially includes Imo’s, even if it does resemble “Velveeta on a cracker.” I’m ready for snow that melts, rather than transforming into a coal-black packed powder for weeks on end. I’m ready for longer springs, longer autumns, shorter, warmer winters.

Did I mention that I’m ready? At the same time, I’m already anticipating that moment when the absence of all that Chicago has to offer suddenly tugs at me, when suddenly I’m aware that I’ve given up a great deal and I can’t go back to it. I know it’s coming. So here’s a little list of Chi town places I’ll especially miss, hopefully with some appeal for both readers well-acquainted and completely unfamiliar with the windy city:

The Old Town School of Folk Music is one of my favorite places to see live music in Chicago. In addition to offering a wide range of classes in a wide range of instruments for both kids and adults, Old Town hosts so many great concerts. This March I saw Los San Patricios, a concert about Irish immigrants’ contributions to the Mexican-American war, jointly produced by the Sones de Mexico and the Irish Music School of Chicago and featuring a fusion of Mexican and Irish music and dance. Another favorite was a performance a few years ago by Mary Karr and Rodney Crowell, performing songs from their joint album, Kin.

Joseph Kranak Signature Room CC BY 2.0LSD, as in Lakeshore Drive, is such a gem. The glint of sun on the corner of skyscrapers. Wide swaths of lake, stretching toward the horizon. Belmont Harbor, with its promise of leisurely summer days spent out on the water. An open view of Buckingham Fountain, whose spray hits the sky just so, making a rainbow. Joggers and bikers cutting their path, making the city feel lived in, alive. Warm days when the beaches are loaded with people. Cool days when the sand is iced over, windswept into craggy piles. Gray, dry  days when the city is a blend of blue, silver, and white.

Andrew Seaman Davis Theater CC BY-ND 2.0The Davis Theater, located in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, is almost 100 years old, with a definite old-timey feel, established by antique posters, retro vending equipment, and four theaters displaying high, smallish screens and dingy, threadbare seats that you can’t help but love. It’s a refreshing respite from the brightly lit, commercial complexes where movies are more frequently shown today. Perhaps it’s most admirable feature, though, is the name — speaking as one, it’s hard not to love a “Davis” 🙂

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 11.32.31 AMSpeaking of Davis’s, I will sorely miss Davis Street Fish Market, purporting on their website to be “Chicago’s #1 Seafood Destination.” I have a long history with this place. I recall eating there with my parents on a college visit to Northwestern, and celebrating my graduation there a few years later. These days my husband and I like to journey over to Evanston on a Friday night for some “Crescent City Cioppino,” replete with scallops, crawfish, clams, shrimp, mussels, tomato, and fennel, or maybe some Jambalaya. Well, we used to. I suppose I’ll need a new seafood spot in the Lou.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 11.58.32 AMI’m not a big shopper, but I have some great memories of sorting through Knee Deep Vintage‘s collection of dresses, t-shirts, bags, and shoes. Open since 2008, the shop is located on 18th Street, in Pilsen, on Chicago’s south side. I bought an army green dress with a gold print, 1950s-style, with a cinched waist, stiff collar and 3-quarter cuffed sleeves, and pleated flare skirt that I was intent on sporting for Halloween, Mad Men style, but it’s just been hanging in my closet for the last five years. I finally donated it the other day. Still, it was a rare find, and I’m glad I went knee deep for it.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 12.12.52 PMDak is a Korean barbecue joint near my house whose praises I also sung on the site Food Riot. A clean, spare, small space with blonde wooden tables, gray floors, and plentiful spools of paper towels, Dak is good for two versions of wings: one with a soy/garlic/ginger sauce, and a spicy red pepper version. Rice bowls are also on the menu, containing veggies, a fried egg, and a sweet/spicy red pepper sauce, but my favorite is their Bulgogi — thinly sliced steak lightly dredged in Korean barbecue sauce served alongside a sticky mound of white rice. They also make a mean eggroll and a tasty batch of sweet potato waffle fries that are hard to resist.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 3.06.01 PMSpeaking of neighborhood haunts, it’ll be hard to part with Devon Market. The Edgewater grocery store has fresh bread baked in store, a large produce section, a wide assortment of Mexican style meats, international pantry items, and is such a bargain compared to the bigger chains.

Patrick Emerson Follow Harold Washington Library Patrick Emerson CC BY-ND 2.0How I’ll miss the Harold Washington Library, and the entire Chicago Public Library system. The sheer size and vibrancy of Chicago’s libraries, housed in so many beautiful and historic locations, is something to be savored. (I think Sulzer Regional Library in Lincoln Square is a close second for me.) And for a bit of trivia, did you know that the city’s public library system was set into motion after the Great Chicago Fire, when 8,000 books were donated from England? Now you do 🙂

Rachel 365/28 Lao Sze Chuan CC BY-NC 2.0

Lao Sze Chuan is, hands down, my favorite place to eat Chinese food in the city. They have a delectable eggplant pork dish that’s soft and buttery and decadent, a mayonnaise shrimp item that sounds disgusting but is strangely addictive, delicious crispy beef dishes, irresistible steamed dumplings, and warm pots of fresh tea. That said, their menu is extensive, and in all my times eating there, I’ve only scraped the tip of the iceberg. Don’t take my word for it — this place has received numerous awards from the city’s culinary community. It’s a fairly widespread favorite.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 2.11.39 PMAnd… last, but certainly not least, I will miss Links Hall, a performance space for independent artists — a place to take risks, generate new work, and expose Chicago audiences to new horizons. With all its artistic offerings, I doubt Saint Louis has a place quite like it. Aw shucks.

So there you go. As I prepare to journey southward, I remember that Chicago is a loaded, special place, full of places and people and meals to be missed. What’s your favorite Chicago gem??

 

 

Writer’s Block: Riffing on a Recipe

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 4.58.05 PM

Food is an inspiration to me in the most free-floating, free-association way possible. I don’t write recipes, I just follow them pretty well and I have an urge to document and share the ones that tasted especially good.

That said, I’ve noticed that recipes have a few things in common with poetry: line breaks, sensory details, precise, concise language, to name a few. So I’m taking some of my favorite recipes, adding some whimsy,  turning them into “food poems,” and calling them “Recipe Riffs” (whoa, alliteration.) That’s my spin — “chopping” my way through food writer’s block with some wordplay (whoa, the puns!) And there’s a recipe involved. The muse for this one is Ina Garten’s “summer garden pasta” recipe, which I’ve enjoyed all summer long 🙂

LBD

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 6.52.09 AM

Depending on your sensibilities
(fashionista versus foodie)
this is a term for
Little Black Dress
or Light & Basic Dinner

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 6.37.51 AM

Have it either way.
In the case of a young Sophia Loren
or muddled tomatoes

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 6.41.09 AM

both are Italian-inspired,
Heirloom-worthy
Or effortlessy elegant

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 7.49.07 PM

as dolce vita
as Dolce and Gabbana.

The light-and-basic-dinner
creates Madonna’s nirvana

with a bowl of steaming noodles
(a pound of angel hair, to be precise)
1 1/2 to 2 cups of shredded mozzarella
and the following, caprese-style marinade:

cherry tomatoes (4 pints, halved)
six cloves garlic (minced)
olive oil (1/2 cup)
basil (a fistful, julienned)

with a sprinkling of

red pepper flakes
salt (1 tsp.)
and pepper (1/2 tsp.)

a meal of unstudied elegance
best consumed in stylish black
worthy of Ava

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 8.39.46 PM

or Ina, or for that matter,
any barefoot contessa.

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 4.39.24 PM

[Photos in order: http://www.modcloth.com/shop/dresses/where-to-tonight-dress?SSAID=687298&utm_medium=ad&utm_source=affiliateprogram_sas&utm_campaign=sas_feed&utm_content=687298, my camera,  Lexinatrix flickr photostream, shutterbean flickr photo stream]

HAIR We Go Again

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 7.22.24 PMEvidently, Michelle Obama’s bangs are really important. I confess to reading an article in “She The People” in which several writers have an online tête a tête concerning the First Lady’s new coiffe. No surprises there — Michelle is a beautiful woman in a symbolic role, so naturally, the nation obsesses over her appearance. That’s the U.S. of A.

What’s more intriguing are the varying degrees to which people care about Mrs. Obama’s new do, why they care, and why they care so much or so adamantly little. Allow me to identify a few hair perspectives in the proverbial barbershop:

Straight and Simple

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 3.53.57 PM

We live in a culture that overly values physical beauty. The bangs are something else to discuss. The conversation is a testament to her popularity, and to how much the citizens of our great nation need a distraction from our underpaying jobs, savings-sapping universities, and ineffective elected officials.

Layered and Wavy

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 4.01.48 PM

Consider the timing of Michele’s new do: just before her 49th birthday and presidential term number two. Perhaps she is announcing a fresh start. Maybe she hates the attention, so she lets bangs and fashion do the heavy lifting. Maybe she wanted a change and thought, yes, I can.

Wired and Coiled

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 4.01.24 PM

The physique, wardrobe, and haircut debates reflect a societal sickness. Our preoccupation with the first lady’s appearance insults her status as a highly educated, accomplished professional. She should grow out the bangs and grow a more lasting legacy.

Blown Dry

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 4.04.25 PM

Can we talk about Beyonce’s extensions?

Frizzy Business

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 4.05.59 PM

It’s a thorny issue, and hair we go again. Bottom line:  it’s annoying to create a false divide between a woman’s professional identity and her appearance. If we can’t conceptualize a woman who chooses to be feminine/stylish as well as professional, then we are suggesting that women have to be more male-like, or at least gender neutral, to be taken seriously. That seems sexist.

To me, Michele lives out the idea that women can have it all, but not necessarily at the same time. I respect her willingness to play many roles, first as a successful lawyer and now as a supportive, stylish wife and mother. That said, it occasionally makes me cringe that her ceremonial role, told mostly through images, is the one laid bare for the world to comb over, with the most persnickety of picks.

See the full article here.

[Photos: “Barber Sign,” Valerie Everett’s photostream, Michelle Obama — Wikipedia]

Bill Cunningham New York

Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 8.35.23 PM

Here is another documentary worth seeing, available on Instant Netflix. Bill Cunningham is an eighty-something street fashion photographer for The New York Times, living in a studio apartment in Carnegie Hall, surrounded by the now vacant artist studios of such legends as Mark Twain, Marlon Brando, Leonard Bernstein, and Isadora Duncan. He lives and breathes street fashion, sleeping in a twin bed sandwiched between messy filing cabinets.

We follow his daily routine: walk his bike down the stairs in the a.m., make a pitstop for a three dollar sandwich, flit from ritzy event to nightlife hotspots to cover New York’s social butterflies, making a point to decline any food or drink. In one scene, the camera follows Cunningham as he photographs a lavish birthday party for a high society matron, working the crowd with murmurs of “child” and “kid.” He hops on his bike and works the same magic with a gathering of drag queens in a different part of town.

Having made his life behind the lens, Bill is a mysterious subject. Interviews with an assortment of fashionistas, fashion editors, designers, and socialites provide incomplete snapshots of his private life. Some observe his comfort with people of privilege and his ambivalence toward money, speculating that he grew up in wealth. Others admit that they are have no idea whether Bill Cunningham is lonely, or if he has a life partner or what his living room looks like. Everyone does have memories of “being photographed by Bill,” seeing their wool coat or pink ankle boots or bowler hat in print, through the eye of his lens.

This documentary really touched me. Okay, it made me tear up a bit. Why? It’s a portrait of someone who is thoroughly kind, an octogenarian who has been biking around New York City for decades, living in relative anonymity, taking pictures of what he finds original, personality-filled, beautiful on the street. Forced to vacate his apartment in Carnegie Hall, Bill faces the prospect of having a kitchen, a closet, a window with a view. You can see that he is wary of these accoutrements. This is someone who sustains himself behind the camera, on the street, cramped between filing cabinets of film negatives until the next day’s search for something beautiful.

[Photo: “Right Back Atcha,” hunter.gatherer’s photo stream]

%d bloggers like this: