A Thing Of A Thing That Is Just A Thing: Self-Care With Hannah Black

In Hannah Black’s video My Bodies, Black has assembled instances of the word “body” in pop music. As different close-ups of white men appear, a stream of “my body” in pop songs plays. We zoom in on the skin of these men, counting every pore as Ciara sings “Your body/is my party.” You can hear Beyonce, Rihanna, Whitney, Ciara, along with many others, utter “My body.” Black’s editing draws you into the video and the way the sounds and images and text are layered and spliced together, you’re hypnotized by the rhythm of so many bodies on top of bodies.

For weeks, Hannah and I had been going back and forth within a Google Doc about self-care: how to define it for ourselves and for others. Over the course of a few days, Hannah would edit and re-edit responses, refining every idea. Hannah asked me to really mean what I said, or asked me to either specify context or situations that influenced the very limited ways I defined and conceived of self-care.

We chucked that original draft and, instead, turned to Gchat to air confusions about self-care: how it can potentially be problematic, what it means in a larger context, but also how self-editing could be a form of self-care too.

The Best Time I Went To E.R. Without Insurance While Attending A Conference Inspired By A Facebook Group I Started

A photo posted by Anna Fitzpatrick (@dudguacamole) on Mar 29, 2015 at 11:11am PDT

I am in the lobby of UCLA’s Carnesale’s Commons building, having snuck out of the main conference room for the sixth time that hour to pee, only to be distracted by a very nice spread of sandwiches. At that moment my biggest concern is wondering how many sandwiches would it be polite to steal before anyone else gets to the table.

There is movement out of the corner of my eye. Francesca Lia Block, author of the cult young adult fantasy novel Weetzie Bat has just entered the room, looking exactly like she did in her author photo twenty-five years ago. I strut up to her with the false confidence of somebody who is on prescription painkillers and has been made to feel like she owns the place.

“Hey youuuu,” I say to her, extending my hand to shake hers. I am woozy, but in my defence, she looks woozier. “I am a children’s book critic and,” here I lean in to whisper, conspiratorially, “I started this.” She smiles politely and asks if I would like to be on her mailing list.

It was last summer, mid-June, and a friend of mine was going on tour to promote her new novel. Would I like to stay at her place in Brooklyn and feed her cats while she was away? I would like that very much. I brought my fellow Canadian down with me, a little lady you might know by the name of…HALEY MLOTEK. Haley and I both had day jobs at that point—I was working full-time in a children’s bookstore in Toronto, she was the virtual assistant for an American writer, but we were ambitious and very excited about having a free place to stay in New York for a week.

Our first night there we went to a party with a group of women writers of varying experience levels. The vibes, as they say, were good. We took a cab home together, discussing how lucky we were to be part of a supportive creative community.

The next morning, we were working side-by-side on our computers while Blue Crush played on the background on TV.

“What if I made something for writers to connect with each other?” I asked Haley. “Something where we can ask questions and learn from each other. We’ll invite our friends, and let them invite their friends. It might be helpful for people who don’t like, live in New York or Toronto or whatever, to network.”

“Yeah, that sounds nice,” she said.

I clicked “Create group” on Facebook, then paused. “Is ‘Binders Full of Women Writers’ a funny name?”

“Eh,” Haley said. “You can always change it later.”

Fun Palace

I grew up in a new place. When I was seven my family bought a brand new house on the North Eastern edge of Calgary. Ours was one of the first ten houses to be finished on our cul de sac. Most of the lots were still unbroken ground, lots of gravel or caked over dirt. I have a vague memory of looking at carpet swatches with my mom—each home was made up of various modular elements, and new home owners could choose cabinet colours and countertops from a limited menu of options. She chose a deep, emerald green for our carpeted floors and stairs, a subdued crème linoleum in the kitchen and bathrooms. We hung brown and beige safari print bed sheets on the tall living room windows, to limit the reflection on our old wooden-boxed TV. Everything we had was a hand-me-down, except for the house itself, so gleaming and new.

I was the oldest kid on the still-forming block. Most of the other families had new babies or toddlers. It was lonely at first, but in a few years I’d reach babysitting age and clean right up.

Two doors down from our house was a twelve-foot crater filled with gravel. It was being shaped to become a basement. I’d play deep down in it, make a little world out of the dirt walls. Getting in was easier than getting out, but I wasn’t afraid of getting dirty, or even of getting hurt. I’d spend afternoons down there, unseen from the street, just crouching at the bottom of a square pit, assuming my divine right as ruler of an imaginary kingdom. The rocks did my bidding, and I bided my time until my mom would step out onto the porch and call my name for dinner. At the sound of her voice I would clamour out of my hole, scale the wall in busted canvas sneakers, and run home to wash the grit off of my stinging red hands, all scraped up from a solid few hours spent as the hard working monarch of my mind’s domain.

Controversial Opinions Post: The Moisturizer I Don’t Like

It is a truth universally acknowledged that NARS Orgasm is the best blush. Or that Maybelline Great Lash is the best mascara. Or that Laura Mercier has the best tinted moisturizers. You know what I mean: certain products get bestowed with a certain amount of certainty over time, bolstered by their consistent appearance on the beauty pages of fashion magazines or repeated by celebrities in what’s-in-your-purse features or praised by makeup artists pulled onto daytime talk shows to discuss red carpet trends or whatever. But all this does is create one of those snake-eating-its-tail thing, because then people buy it and become committed to also extolling it’s virtues, and then magazines and makeup artists are compelled to keep recognizing its position as best in order to align with the sales stats of these products, which are so inflated because they told people to buy it in the first place! Oh god. My head hurts now. Hopefully you’re still with me.

The problem here is that makeup and skincare is, obviously, a very personal and subjective product that has a lot to do with your own skin type and coloring but also very much to do with time and place. Like, sure, I love NARS Orgasm in theory, but I wouldn’t use it now; I’m not really in the same sparkly place we all were in 2003, I guess, when Mally Roncal was touting J.Lo’s beauty tips to every magazine that would talk to her. Another time we can talk about the incredible early-2000s influence of both Mally Roncal and J.Lo because Jennifer Lopez is one of my most important beauty inspirations and The Wedding Planner is one of the greatest movie makeup jobs of all time and believe me I have a whole other post planned about that.

That was a time for a very shimmery, dewy, sun-kissed look; right now I prefer something more natural and a little more matte. “Myself but better” is basically the driving force behind all my cosmetic decisions. Like, if the point of NARS Orgasm was to make you look like you were all dewy and glow-ey from coming so hard, right now I’d rather look like I’m a little flushed from a really intense make-out, you know what I mean?

ANYWAY. That was my very long preamble to explaining that there are some products out there that have a very intense cult following but there are not always products that I particularly like, and I feel weirdly bad about it?!? Like, for instance, Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentrate.

At beauty school we all paid for intense kits equipped with everything a budding makeup artist needed: a really healthy amount of foundations and concealers and lipsticks, that kind of stuff, and then every time we took a more specialized class we added a new batch of products to the kit. Like when we started special effects and we would have to make sure we had sticky blood as well as liquid blood because what if the script called for a fresh wound that dries over time and we only had liquid blood in our kit??? How embarrassing!!

“Cheap Sunglasses, Expensive Lingerie”

I don’t believe in “rules,” because like, what am I, your mom? We’re all Grown Woman™! We can do whatever we want! I have a particular distaste for fashion rules (don’t mix patterns, don’t wear white after Labor Day, don’t don’t don’t), because they only exist to force people into these totally arbitrary categories of completely meaningless concepts like “taste” and “class” and “beauty,” all of which are based in subjective and constantly shifting priorities that have more to do with enforcing a status quo than actually encouraging people to look and dress in a way that feels best for them. Oof. I just tried reading that sentence out loud and ran out of breath. But you know what I mean.

HOWEVER. On Saturday I spent a good six hours by myself, wandering around Toronto and completing various errands I had been putting off; I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sit in front of my computer all day because I could feel a very real burnout coming on, but I also couldn’t do nothing, like oh my god perish the thought, so I went to Toronto’s fanciest department store to pick up some skincare stuff I “needed” to replace, and while I was there I was like, fuck it, I’m going to the floor with all the Agent Provocateur bras and buying something ridiculous. Pictured, left: one of the bad decisions I made while I was there. It’s called the Alina Bra and I will probably never take it off. I also bought this bra because I was in a MOOD for making BAD DECISIONS.

Afterwards I kept waiting for the guilt or regret to creep in because, like, I don’t know if you clicked on those links, but those bras cost money. Money I’ve been saving (hoarding, really), for important life things. But you know what? The guilt didn’t happen. It STILL hasn’t happened. And that’s because of one of the only fashion rules I do follow, one that has many practical applications and iterations but I’m choosing to simplify it, is: “cheap sunglasses, expensive lingerie.”

I once bought a pair of really beautiful, very expensive Karen Walker sunglasses; this was back when I worked as a legal secretary and was just rolling in disposable income for the very first time in my adult life. I still have them! They’re great! But I almost never wear them. They feel a little too…heavy, maybe? Too much. Which is strange, because I almost always wear sunglasses when I’m outside, my eyes are extremely sensitive to light and even indirect sunlight makes me tear up almost immediately, plus they just make me look cool. I prefer the sunglasses I get from this cute store around the corner from my apartment. They have a whole wall of sunglasses for $10 each and I’ll buy one or two, wear them to death (you should’ve seen what happened to the sunglasses I brought with me to Cuba, R.I.P. those beautiful reflective aviators, they were too pure for this world), and then replace them as necessary.

Sunglasses bounce around in your pockets and bump up against your keys and get jammed into your purses. More than that, they’re right in front of your face all the time!! Everyone sees them! They’re not special. That’s my point. They’re common. Like, who cares about sunglasses.

Lingerie, on the other hand. I expected to feel guilty because, like, how could I spend so much money on something that I was going to show to so few people? I mean, I’m not some kind of lingerie purist who is like “this is for my husband’s eyes only” because like lol as if. You better believe I sent about a million texts and Instagram DMs of my tits in those bras when I was in the Agent Provocateur change room, I looked amazing and I knew it and I wanted all my friends and loved ones to simultaneously know it and share in my narcissism. But if you’re someone who wears bras and enjoys wearing bras, you know how it feels to find a really, truly great one. I once had a friend who described the way her tits looked when she held them in her hands guided into exactly the right height and shape and said her life’s mission was to find a bra that did exactly that, a comparison I loved because I knew what she was talking about but also because a really good bra should feel like someone is lovingly propping your breasts up to the height and shape you feel your best in. Sunglasses can’t do anything even remotely comparable to that kind of emotional and physically flattering support. I mean, apparently they make your face look more symmetrical? Who cares.

Once I started thinking about this I realized I have so many other similar rules that I’d been secretly holding on to, guiding all my purchases and beauty priorities. This has been a very longwinded preamble to sharing those with you. They are, more or less in order, the following:

Hysteria and Teenage Girls

It was a typical Thursday night at Smash Burger. My friend was with her two sons who were furiously stuffing sweet potato French fries in their mouths. In the booth behind her, my friend saw a young boy who looked a lot like Justin Bieber. So she called her 16-year-old-niece, Kate (not her real name), a Justin Bieber fanatic since she was 12. Kate owns two life-size cardboard Bieber cut-outs—one with a squiggly black mustache drawn on his upper lip by a mischievous cousin—hovering over her bed.

No one knows yet that Justin Bieber was on a religious retreat in my small New Jersey town, at the home of the new pastor to the stars, Carl Lentz. Justin Bieber was just trying to have a burger in peace for about five minutes.

That all ends once Kate walked in and confirmed that, yes, it really was Justin Bieber. She screamed and fell to the ground on her knees. “She had a total nervous breakdown. Crying, hands shaking. She couldn’t move. I had to walk her to the booth,” my friend says. Kate’s screaming was Bieber’s cue to leave, but by then he was surrounded by a swarm of girls. He signed the autograph of a girl in a wheelchair, took a quick picture, left his uneaten food in the booth and bolted.

Kate cradled his empty soda cup in the booth, which is when my friend started filming her. And there she is, this young girl, her face stricken like she witnessed a shooting or an attack, tears and mascara streaming down her face, an expression society would call “hysterical.” Even the counter guy, who I spoke to a few days later, told me: “The Justin Bieber part was weird, but that girl screaming, that’s what made everything explode.” Kate babbled some half-coherent sentences like, “I’m going to die. Oh my God, Justin Bieber at Smash Burger. This is beyond my comprehension. I’m going to kill myself.” And then the phone rings. It’s Kate’s friend. “Alex,” she says, hiccupping through tears. “I’m holding his cuuuuuuup.”

All I wanted to do was hug her when I heard this story—I’ve had my own nervous breakdowns about musicians. What makes girls from the Beatles to Duran Duran to N’Sync to Michael Jackson to One Direction—full on freak out?

When Will You Know That You’ve Made It?

One Big Question is my baby. I’d been kicking around the idea since before I started at the Hairpin, and it was one of the first columns Haley and I created when we got here. It comes from my habit— not sure if good or bad, really— of getting stuck on one big question, whatever enters my brain and refuses to budge, and posing it to everyone I know. It masquerades as a desire to learn more about the insides of people’s brains— which I genuinely want to do, please everyone give me your brains— but it’s also been a clever way to take my fears and sneak them into conversation, float them around to see if anyone else identifies, then pull them back in, mostly unscathed. I’ve called it One Big Question, but a better name might be Please Let Me Not Be the Only One Who Feels This Way.

“When will you know that you have made it?” was the jumpoff. Last summer, I was consumed by the idea and polled all of my friends, and was confused when they listed states of being or intangible goals— making it was about seeing it, about having real, definite things. Here’s my summer 2014 “Making It” list: to give a reading at Housing Works Bookstore, to be on a 30 under 30 list, sit on a panel, and to own a really nice chair. These were things, that I could point to or revisit or sit on to remind myself that, whatever happened next, I’ve already done what I wanted to do, and I wouldn’t feel better until I did. My “Making It” list wasn’t aspirational; it was just a to-do list.

A year later: I’m so fucking proud of myself, for maybe the first time. At this point, more than ever, I should feel like I’ve made it— ten-year-old me would be ecstatic, albeit slightly confused (“what’s a blog?”) — but I don’t, despite knocking almost everything out on my list and more. If I haven’t now, maybe I never will. Maybe the feeling of “making it” is just another term for complacency, the entryway to regret. Last year, I accomplished something I never thought I could; three days later, I said, “OK, now I need another dream.” Perhaps it’s better to stay hungry.

An Open Letter to Jenna Lyons

Saving While You’re Spending: Self-Care with Meredith Graves

Meredith Graves is constantly inspiring. She’s articulate to a pulse, persistently engaged with her diurnal observations. As an astute Virgo, she can give language to feelings that are so ephemeral, making thoughts tangible. Her ability to ascertain her exact feelings and then relay it poetically is magnetic. Her video on Stylelikeu was deeply affecting for many reasons—but primarily because she was able to dissect so much of what was causing her pain, which has/had been my singular pursuit, well, for a while now.

After this talk I considered a lot of things. Again, she left me thinking, feeling, searching for answers. There was one thing she said in particular that I’m still trying to grapple with: she said that she doesn’t care if she’s beautiful, because she doesn’t think she is. It struck a chord—if Meredith could say with such steadfastness that beauty didn’t matter, why was I so concerned with it? What was wrong with me that I was so obsessed with the idea of beauty, too concerned with mine, or my ‘lack of,’ sometimes? I’m still processing it, still coming to terms with it, almost everyday I’m engaging with what she said, and it keeps shifting. Did she say that? Did she mean this? This is her power: she makes you think.

There’s been an impulse in my mind since the interview to tell her: but you’re so beautiful! Which is whack because I’m aware that what I think about Meredith doesn’t matter. What matters is how Meredith thinks about Meredith—and how she navigates this world with that. Her addendum to the beauty point was that as a privileged person—someone who is cis, able-bodied, tall—she had to reconcile the truth that she felt ugly sometimes, and that was okay. That was her reality. And in order to be true she needed to accept the contradiction. Needless to say, I admire her completely.