The Best Time I Fainted While Posing Nude

Twenty-two was my worst year. I was broke, deeply depressed, and wrapped up in an emotionally destructive relationship. The one nice thing I had going was the semi-successful band we’d started when we first got together; but between that, our shared living situation, and the overwhelming sadness which had rendered me inert, I felt trapped.

Thanks to our band’s increasingly ambitious touring schedule, and my seeming inability to do anything other than cry, my retail job was in jeopardy. My boss didn’t support me doing anything that involved running away with that particular boyfriend; she cared for me, and she’d watched my mental health wane over the year I’d worked for her, and was reasonably fed up with me coming in every day with eyes swollen from crying. Indignant, I put in my two weeks.

We started to book more and more shows, but it was never really enough. We’d be home for weeks at a time, trapped together in a one-bedroom apartment. He worked day and night to convince me that our relationship would be fine if I wasn’t damaged goods. Anyone in his situation—stuck with me—would do the same. At the height of his abuse, when I, not wanting to set him off, would simply stay in bed for days, he gave me an ultimatum: get psychiatric drugs, or be abandoned. I would have no band, no job, and nowhere to live, and because I was crazy, I would be alone.

Since Living Alone

 I learned last summer that if you place a banana and an unripe avocado inside a paper bag, the avocado would—as if spooned to sleep by the crescent-laid banana—ripen overnight. By morning, that pallid shade of green would turn near-neon and velvety, and I, having done nothing but pair the two fruits, would experience a false sense of accomplishment similar to returning a library book or listening to a voicemail.

There is, it’s worth noting, a restorative innocence to waking up and discovering that something has changed overnight. Like winter’s first snowfall: that thin dusting that coats car rooftops and summer stuff like park swings and leftover patches of grass. Or, those two books that mysteriously fell off my shelf in the night, fainting to the floor with a cushioned thump! I place them back where they belong, pausing to stare at their bindings—of which I’ve committed to memory—if for no other reason than when you live alone, the droop of plant leaves, a black sock pocking out of my blue dresser, or an avocado that ripened overnight, all this stuff provides a rare, brief harmony: the consolidation of my things, all mine, in a space befit for staring off as I skirmish with a sentence on my screen or wait for water to boil. The only person who might interrupt my thoughts is me. Me, a word contingent on my mood, sometimes posed as a question, sometimes said with the inflection of a child pleading, Gimme! Gimme! Sometimes said as bait so as to needle myself away from cowardice and towards an unrealized Me. And since living alone, more so than ever before, claimed as a sturdy affirmation. Me.

Ocean’s Eleven: Ladies Night

Casting Couch is a new column where we re-cast the world’s greatest movies. You’re welcome, Hollywood.

Lagusta Yearwood, The Punk Chocolatier

“Women! Let us meet.” This is how Lagusta Yearwood, chef and owner of chocolate shop Lagusta’s Luscious in New Paltz, New York, calls together her employees for a staff meeting. “And Jacob,” she adds, a sweet afterthought, to include her partner of 16 years, who’s running around the small shop taking care of orders to be shipped out. Four women stand around Lagusta, all in vintage aprons, listening as she discusses the business of the day: a new whipped cream recipe, strategies for most efficiently using the enrober to get 1,400 caramels out. Over to the side, I note a “Kill Your Local Misogynists” mug.

She’s a feminist, anarchist, vegan chef. No matter how much like a hippie-skewering skit the sketch of her might seem, this woman is punk. After getting a degree in women’s studies, she attended New York City’s Natural Gourmet Institute and trained in Connecticut at the feminist cooperative vegetarian restaurant Bloodroot. She began her foray into being what she calls an “antipreneur” with a savory meal-delivery service. It was in off-hours from running that business that she began rolling and selling fair-trade-chocolate truffles out of her home. In 2010, she and Jacob bought the foreclosed laundromat that would become Lagusta’s Luscious, envisioning it as a wholesale chocolate factory with a shop up front for selling extras. Instead, the business is about 60-40 retail to mail order, and has become its own little utopia.

The Quiet Revolution of Ava DuVernay

The beginning of a new year is full of potential—new jobs, loves, attitudes, inspirations. In the words of Ava DuVernay, inspiration is an opportunity to “blossom in all kinds of areas.”

DuVernay’s own Hollywood story echoes her own words. Before she began directing, she worked as a film marketer and publicist for 14 years. Her first film, a documentary about hip-hop called This is the Life received critical acclaim. In 2010 she directed and wrote her first narrative feature, I Will Follow. Since then, she’s been on a roll with the Sundance-winning Middle of Nowhere, directing Venus VS. for ESPN, and the very important “Vermont Is for Lovers, Too” episode of Scandal. She was the first black woman director to win the Best Director award at Sundance and now she is the first to be nominated for a Golden Globe.

I’ve long loved DuVernay’s work; from the stellar, touching Middle of Nowhere to her short film for Miu Miu, The Door, which stars a heartbroken Gabrielle Union leaning on her friends in her time of need while wearing the most beautiful clothes. Even at a brief nine minutes, The Door showcases what makes DuVernay such an important, vital voice as a director: she has a knack for capturing the quiet moments in the midst of chaos and turmoil.

That’s what makes Selma stand out.

Sisters, Ranked

We are five: always, five, the five of us, the group of us, the lot. “You guys,” “the girls,” “the sisters.” Once, when I was young, someone asked me how many sisters I had and I answered, quickly, without giving it a thought, “five,” as if I couldn’t extricate myself from the larger being, the group, that we made up. I was one of them and they were one of me.

We are a tribe: each loud, brassy, strong, in her own way, each of us born about two years apart so that my parents, presumably, could catch their breath. I was first: curious, playful, shy, quickly carving out my old space in the world, trying, though I didn’t know, to fill the void of a miscarriage two years prior. My next sister didn’t wait much longer—she, born eleven months after my first birthday, arrived with a vengenance. With something to prove. When it was just the two of us, me walking around in a t-shirt, a leaky diaper, and a Band-Aid I affixed to my head because I liked the look, she was still immobile, reduced to sitting in a carriage or crib. I’d reach in and try to play with her. I was three, so I probably tried to eat her: nibbled on her toes, smooched her face, slobbered on her ears. She hated it, my mother would tell us later, and she didn’t stand for it. She’d attack, in the vicious way that babies do, grasping at my eyes and ears to try to get rid of me.

The next two came all at once: twins, which was weird for me, because one day I had one little sister and the next day I had three. They are identical but roundly different, and after a while, even you couldn’t fall for their identical twin switcheraoo. They both called each other “sissy” and carried mismatched stuffed animals around everywhere they went—a matted tiger and a purple bear, called “Tiger” and “Purple.”

Two years later, our youngest sister arrived. We’d all been spoon-fed femininity by then; We had scores of photos of us in matching dresses and hats, each of us looking like discarded swatches in a fabric store, and we were all enrolled in ballet and tap dancing classes at a local studio. Barbies and doll babies littered our rooms, but finally: here was a baby come to life.

We attacked her, relentlessly. We tried to feed her and wash her and poke her and play with her and dress her up and fuck with her and boss her around and protect her. She, now, is the strongest of us all; some of her first words were “Get away from me!” and “Leave me alone!” I am pretty sure she can beat me up.

The Truth About Your Smile

I had braces for seven years of my life—a clumsy mix of pallet expanders, headgear, and invasive lip-bumpers that bulked my skinny face at a time when I was already awkward enough without them. I was one of those middle-schoolers whose parents forced orthodontics on them when they were too young to realize what a great investment it was in their future. Instead, I adopted a coping mechanism of smiling with my mouth closed, a practice subsumed by a general feeling that I would forever be ashamed of my smile. What I didn’t realize then was that my teeth were about to look amazing. Like really amazing.

By ninth grade, the timely convergence of puberty and my braces removal made me feel like Pippi Longstocking blossoming into Jessica Chastain. Diligent toothbrushing through the awkward years paid off! Everywhere I went, people told me I had beautiful teeth: strangers, teachers, friends, parents of friends. People I didn’t know asked me everything from what toothpaste I used to whether or not I had my teeth professionally filed (the answer: never). A TSA agent once told me, as she scanned my luggage, “You have a perfect smile”.

When people compliment a feature of yours repeatedly, vanity leads you to maintain it, and over time I realized that a lot of what we think is good for our mouths are myths propagated by popular culture—or by companies trying to sell us something, like whitening strips, punishingly strong mouthwash, or air-flossers that imply through their advertising that they are sufficient to give us the Perfect White Smile we’ve always wanted. Don’t believe the hype, y’all. I’ve spoken with several dentists about proper oral hygiene and technique (I’m a nerd like that) and the reality is much more humble. Our mouths are pretty complicated, and there isn’t one miracle product that solves all the problems (and this make sense, because that’s also true for hair, diet, and skin). The good news is it’s easy to maintain a fresh breath, white teeth, and other forms of smile-related world domination—but you have to know the rules.

Here are the best “healthy smile” tips I’ve picked up over the years. I haven’t had a cavity yet.

Pizza Innovations

Very Stuffed Crust Pizza and tryptophan, together at last! This pie features a full Thanksgiving dinner stuffed inside each crust. Order online with code IMGR0SS and get a free bib/sleeping hammock!

Earth’s Crust A pizza topped with a hardened layer of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. Crack the surface to get in at the delicious molten cheese core beneath!

Crust Punk Crust This extreme metal anarcho-pizza doesn’t play by anyone’s rules. It’s not delivered to your door, it’s thrown through your window, wrapped around a brick and wearing a tiny denim jacket.

Tips For Treating Your Skin in The Wintertime

Winter is a magical time of year. Who doesn’t love winter? Curling up under a handknit afghan blanket by a roaring fire with your sweetie pie, the smell of pine and peppermint in the air, the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas playing on your expertly set up sound system, a gentle snow falling outside acting as a clean white blanket to Mother Nature, covering up suspicious footprints and DNA and those mysterious bloodstains. You are next spring’s problem, incriminating evidence! But all that cold, dry, drying winter air is not good for your skin. I’m no scientist or dermatologist or beauty expert. But I’m obsessed with skin. Touching it, stroking it, caressing it, smelling it. Poking it. Did I say touching it? Skin. Skin. Here’s what works for me.