1970 saw the birth of the first annual Earth Day. It also saw the publication of John Ashbery's The Double Dream of Spring. Named for a de Chirico painting, it's filled with poems nearly as opaque and puzzling as the banner image from which the title springs.
Some Trees, Ashbery's first book written in 1956, won Yale Younger Poets Prize. That year it was judged by W.H. Auden, who once talked about a poet needing a little censor in his head to cut out all extraneous words and who famously confessed he didn't understand a word of what he'd read.
Ashbery does not have that censor. Not one little bit.
I haven't dipped into that earlier book yet. However, I can attest to the fact that Ashbery's later book, The Double Dream of Spring, published some 14 years later, continues the obscurity trend, although it does also contain some poems that are more easily ingested.
From "John Clare":
I say this because there is an uneasiness in things just now. Waiting for something to be over before you are forced to notice it. The pollarded trees scarcely bucking the wind-- and yet it's keen, it makes you fall over. Clabbered sky. Seasons that pass with a rush. After all it's their time too-- nothing says they aren't to make something of it.
There is an uneasiness in things just now... That's certainly a line I can relate to in the current political climate, when I'm almost afraid to simply open links to CNN.com or NYTimes.com anymore.
Ashbery is widely viewed as a genius, not because he's so difficult, but because he freed the written line from academic constraints in a move mirroring abstract expressionism in painting. His unique style has brought out the copycats by the scores-- imitators writing poetry difficult to understand, poetry filled with both high-falutin' allusions to things like "eidolon" and to pop culture as well. But always at the heart of an Ashbery poem is a connecting thread of good, sound sense, a desire not to impose a false sense of order over a chaotic, ever-changing world.
I like best Ashbery's take on his own work, in an essay in he which he comments on Borges as well:
‘Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces molded by time, certain twilights in certain places—all these are trying to tell us something, or have told us something we should not have missed or about to tell us something. The imminence of the revelation that is not yet produced is, perhaps, the aesthetic reality.’ The imminence of a revelation not yet produced is very important and hard to define in poetry and probably is the source of some of the difficulty with my own poems. But I don’t think it would serve any useful purpose to spare myself or the reader the difficulty of that imminence, of always being on the edge of things.
This entire blog is devoted really to the sense in that line alone: to the idea of opening a space in your life that will allow for the imminence of a revelation, to being on the edge of things in order to leave the old behind, to make something new, something that will, I hope, with grace, courage, be better.
Sustainable Outfit Details:
Blouse from Greene Street Consignment in Chestnut Hill. Sandals by sustainable designer Swedish Hasbeens-- their company is all about fair labor practices and they use vegetable dyes on their leather! Crossbody bag from Tradesy-- an online secondhand site for clothing, shoes, and purses. Brass necklace from Second Time Around in Center City, Philadelphia. You can also shop their feed on their Instagram page @2taPhilly. Happy hunting!
This year has marked the beginning of a change in lifestyle, a change that's been a long time coming.
Some of the changes have been small: doing less laundry, reusing shopping bags, walking whenever possible. And some have been larger: getting rid of our second car, switching to a mostly vegetarian and vegan diet, shopping secondhand or sustainable whenever possible.
I know that these changes came about because of the election, but, recently, as I've been thinking back over this past spring and how different (and better, kinder, more textured, richer, happier) my less materialistic, greener life already feels it made me wonder what brought about the environmental movement in the larger society.
Of course, as all things in my life seem to link back to, it has to do with the 70s.
The first Earth Day was celebrated on in 1970. A year before that...
"...a well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing over 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. As a reaction to this natural disaster, activists were mobilized to create environmental regulation, environmental education, and Earth Day. Among the proponents of Earth Day were the people in the front lines of fighting this disaster, Selma Rubin, Marc McGinnes, and Bud Bottoms, founder of Get Oil Out."
Almost half a century later, in 2016, the landmark Paris Agreement was signed on Earth Day by the U.S., China, and almost 120 other countries.
I fear that half century of hardwon progress is about to be rolled back again.
And so I do what I can... I walk. I learn. I share. I celebrate the Earth. I celebrate life.
Please join me!
Sustainable Outfit Details:
Dress by sustainable designer Kelly Love. Sustainably designed clothes are costlier. This was the only new dress I bought this spring, and I spent my whole spring budget on it, but it was worth it! The expense reflects fair labor practices and ethically sourced fabrics, but the cost is also reflected in the grace and quality of the garment. I got married at City Hall, so I don't have a wedding dress to pass along to my daughter. But I can imagine passing this silk dream of a dress along to her one day. My bag is secondhand from one of my favorite consignment stores: Bring N Buy in Ridgefield, CT. You can shop them on their Instagram feed now!
I was so excited to hear that the world's first mall for recycled goods has opened in Eskiltuna, Sweden:
The facilities contain both a recycling center and a shopping mall. Customers can donate the items that they no longer need, then shop for something new – all in one stop.
Read more about it here.
Honestly, at first, I felt jealous of this little Swedish town, and then, upon reflection, I realized how many sustainable options there were in my own neighborhood. Everything from an upscale boutique for sustainable fashion like Roots, Inc. to secondhand stores and consignment shops like Greene Street Consignment. Up and down the Hill, you can find co-ops with local produce and farm fresh options like Weaver's Way and artist-owned Artist Supply and Crafts. Green Design, one of the number one green design stores in Philadelphia, is on Germantown Ave, right there beside block after block of antique shops and rare book sellers. Not to mention, from time to time, the Clover Market, a flea market for upcycled goods, comes to town.
And yet, I rarely see people in these stores. The Clover Market, which took place this past Sunday, was packed from white shining stall to white shining stall, but on a day to day basis, when I walk up and down Germantown Ave pushing with my baby in his stroller, the street has a haunted feeling like it's a set for The Sixth Sense as much as anything else. We need to support these kind of stores, not just in theory but with our dollars and our hearts. Next time you need a basket, don't make a Target run, try stopping into Garden Gate Antiques, so called for the charming, postage stamp-sized garden at the back of the shop.
Eskiltuna took it to a new level, granted. Not only can you go there for upcycled goods but you can bring your own gently used items to drop off as well.
Every town needs an Eskiltuna, but I bet every town has something pretty close already. Check it out! Explore! Have fun! And maybe help save the Earth, too, in the meantime.
Yoga wisdom can sometimes come across as a little fortune-cookie-ish to the outside observer.
"Breathe out through the top of your head," a yoga teacher might command you in class.
Um, what now?
You can go with it or you can let your intellectual mind take over and scoff. I find going with it easy when I'm in great shape, but considerably harder, when, like I am now, I'm struggling to get back into the flow of things after a long, stressful winter. For the past week, I've been taking advantage of an unlimited pass at Rebel Yoga in Chestnut Hill, and both loving and loathing the unusual amount of practice. Usually, it's a pleasure to test my own gains in strength and flexibility. But when you're experiencing the opposite-- how you've weakened and softened-- it's hard not to get into your head in the afore-mentioned critical way.
In short, it's hard not to get competitive, when you're feeling insecure. I realized the broader implications of that feeling, when the teacher commanded us not to breathe through our skulls but to take what we had learned on the mat and apply it to life.
"That's ridiculous," I thought. "I don't act this competitively in real life..." Oh wait.
I was aware of my yoga class competitiveness, and I was already ashamed of it. There's nothing worse than another student beside you, radiating tension, shaking with effort and rage.
Effort and rage are not what yoga is about to say the least.
It's so much better to move gently through poses, breathing, and enjoying yourself. But when you can't flow where once you could, it's hard not to become the very, uncool fire-breathing version of a yogi yourself.
"Am I being this competitive because I'm... insecure?" I mused for a while after our teacher spoke her yoga Yoda piece. It certainly helped explain why I was suddenly not enjoying myself, because yoga is usually a chance to reconnect with the 9-year-old inside of me who spent an ENTIRE SUMMER UPSIDE DOWN.
I was never a great gymnast, but dang if I was not an enthusiastic one.
In how many other areas of my life, I wondered, had I spoiled my own enjoyment, measuring myself against others instead of being in the moment? Of course, physical stuff came to mind immediately, because 1. and 2. I live in a world that never stops messing with women's heads.
I'm happy to say that in becoming a mother I have become considerably less competitive in that category. I'm not 100% immune to the advertising, because I'm not blind, deaf, and dumb/ liar, but after having experienced gaining 70 lbs, losing 65, gaining another 70 back and then losing 60 in the course of two pregnancies in less than three years, I'm much kinder to myself about my shape. Partially, I'm just grateful my shape-shifting days are over.
It was also interesting-- like being the heroine of a sci-fi story-- to be all these different sizes. However, it was disconcerting to change that dramatically that swiftly. It wasn't a process I had a lot of control over, but it did leave me feeling more body-positive. After all, when you've experienced your body making people and then shrinking back down to your normal size as if nothing happened, it's hard not to be a bit in awe of a wisdom that surpasses all rational explanation. It's hard on days like today when I step on the scale, and it tells me I'm still 20 lbs heavier than when I was modeling in New York, but I mostly win that battle. I mostly feel good about myself.
It's the not feeling good that mostly fuels the worst aspects of the fashion industry, I think. And that's unfortunate. There's no reason the silly, vain, sweet art of self-decoration needs to be despised by some or honored by others the way it is. Go with me here as I metaphor, but if your body is like your mat, really your experience there should be your own. For me, to be happy, I need to be gew-gawed, bedazzled, and spackled to the tee. However, a problem arises, I think, when we women let the world make us insecure, when we look around at other mats, and wonder whether their gew-gaws are gooier.
When I think of how happy I am to inhabit a healthy, fit body, I am content. When I weigh myself and begin to think critically or compare myself to others, I become less so.
I become a shopper. I become compulsive. I help fuel the world's second most polluting industry after big oil. The silliest part is beauty truly does come from inside. I never felt beautiful when I modeled. Never. But I feel beautiful now. It's the feeling inside your own self, on your own little mat that counts towards happiness more than any other factor, and finding that flow in any way you can is your own wonder and work.
The more I learn about the fashion industry, the more I want to define my own ideal of beauty and living. To my great surprise, I have not had to give up style to do so. There are SO MANY gently used clothes out there. Did you know most garments only get worn FOUR TIMES?
So that's my struggle at the moment: defining my own sense of style and fashion, finding my completion within myself, instead of comparing myself to others, and letting those cracks of insecurity crack open all my happiness and cause me to contribute to a global epidemic otherwise known as fast fashion. For example, the dress above does not fit me. I bought it on ebay. My very first auction! And I usually always wear a size 4, but at the moment my body is still shifting and changing.
I'm selling the Self-Portrait dress here, rather than hoarding it-- my preciouses, sigh!--soon to be listed in the shop section of my site! I'm 5'9", and it's a bit too short on me and won't close up the back. I bought it from another new mother, and I understand now why she was selling it brand-new. (It's still got its tags. I just wore it for this blog post before I gave up the good fight.) It would suit someone a bit shorter and...er... not a mommy (to use a euphemism for my still heavy, breast-feeding boobs. Email me at email@example.com or DM me through the site if you're interested in learning more.
Thanks for reading! I'm always curious what people think of these essays, so be sure to let me know your thoughts below. Do you think insecurity is the contributor the world's great ills or do you think that's a bit of an overstatement/ yoga fortune cookie?
For a while after the election, every morning I'd thumb through the news, absorbing one shocking story after another, until they merged into one huge, overwhelming ball of bad vibes. I knew I had to make a change in my life to combat how helpless I felt, and that's part of what this blog is about. However, in that time, one piece, an obit, stuck with me, even though I hadn't heard of the French designer Emmanuelle Khanh before her death. (It's sad how often that happens!)
Emmanuelle Khanh, whose name caught my eye first, resonating as it does with a postcolonial, global vibe, was famous for reinvigorating fashion in the '60s. Her specialty was quirky, wearable clothes for young women. Not only was she ahead of her time, freeing women from the ongoing rigidity of girdles (boo Spanx!), but she was already aware of a creeping modern malignancy: disposable, cheap trends.
What she said that stuck with me was this:
“In the 1960s and ’70s, it really was all about ready-to-wear, clothes designed with women in mind, because there hadn’t been anything like it before,” Ms. Khanh told the magazine L’Express in 2016, when she sold her private collection at a vintage-clothing auction. “In the ’80s and ’90s, it was ‘ready to show’ — runway fashion. In the 2000s, it’s ‘ready to throw away’ — you buy it to wear it for one season, and that’s it.”
Ready to throw away.
If you think about it, that phrase is almost the foundation of our modern culture. For example, before the blizzard hit last week, I made a semi-reluctant trip to Target to stock up on essentials for me and the toddlers. I actually found some great DIY and art projects that occupied us very nicely through the biblical plague visited upon us-- whoever heard of a snowstorm so loud it kept us awake all night, hailing and icing!! While I was standing in the long line of freaked out Philadelphians, waiting to check out, I paged through StyleWatch Magazine. My eyes lit on this passage:
It sent a chill down my spine.
We must stop normalizing a culture that uses 400 gallons (2700 liters) of fresh water to make ONE t-shirt. That's enough water for one person to drink for 900 days! Almost three years of drinking water that we're planning to throw away BEFORE WE EVEN BUY IT. Jeans are even worse. They require almost 4 times that amount of water to grow enough cotton to produce a pair. ONE pair requires 1,800 gallons of water. That's more than a decade of drinking water, and I don't know about you, but I have so many jeans I couldn't wear them all in a month. (Most of mine are from Housing Works, Life, Vintage, and Thrift, etc., but still.)
We have to stop normalizing the concept that we can just keep making more of the stuff we already have, while throwing out 65 lbs of textiles every year! (What the average American throws away without including other textiles like sheets and bedding.)
Rant over. Sorry. Here's the good news.
The good news is that an awareness is growing, and since we have a lot of stuff already, changing shouldn't be that hard.
Reusing, recycling, thrifting, upcycling, sharing, giving away, trading, donating.
Those are all easy, quick ways to make a huge difference in terms of your personal footprint. But... we need to do our part to help the concept catch on, because we have been conditioned for a while to think new is better than old. For example, the same day I made that Target run, I stopped into Millay Vintage, where I found the beautiful, sustainably-designed and produced dress I'm wearing in the first picture along with the vintage cashmere shawl. I got to chatting with the owner and mentioned I was starting a sustainable fashion blog. Inserting my foot in my mouth, I then mentioned an observation, that I haven't noticed a lot of interest in thrifting or vintage in Philly compared with New York-- the city where I'm originally (kind of) from.
Millay Vintage is a beautiful shop, like an exquisite little boudoir of some sci-fi geek's idea of a time travelling femme fatale from the 1930s, stopping in the '90s, and remaining in 2016. I apologized profusely for my faux pas.
"No, it's okay," the owner said. "It's true. A lot of my clientele seem to be from New York."
I think that's a good sign, actually. New York City has tended to be America's trendsetter, and if it's cool in New York, I guarantee you it will be cool soon enough elsewhere. For my part, putting all these pieces together, I realized the reason Emmanuelle Khanh's words stuck with me is because they align so closely with my own feelings on the subject. I want to continue her legacy. I both love fashion and loathe fashion's footprint. I want to help redefine what a cool girl is just as Emmanuelle herself did, and I think a cool girl should be a sustainable one, not a trendy one. As Coco Chanel said anyway, "Dress shabbily, and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably, and they remember the woman." Dressing well, shouldn't be dressing in the latest disposable trends.
Doesn't that make us disposable in a sense as well?
In that spirit, I'm giving away a bunch of my own things, donating them and sponsoring this gently used bag (and my book!!) giveaway here and on Instagram. To enter simply follow @IsabellaMDavid on Instagram and comment either here (mentioning which bag you're interested in 1,2, or 3) or under one of the pictures on my IG!
Outfit & Giveaway Details
Giveaway 1: vintage Italian leather satchel with crossbody strap. Kelly Love dress and vintage shawl from Millay Vintage in Philadelphia.
Giveaway 2: vintage black leather backpack with extra side pockets and a drawstring closure. Marc Jacobs blazer from Shop Greene Street in Manayunk, Swedish Hasbeens Boots from Shop Greene Street in Chestnut Hill, Celine micro bag from eBay (not for giveaway yet, sorry!)
Giveaway 3: Tylie Malibu fringe, crossbody bag from Buffalo Exchange in the East Village, Hasbeen Swedish boots from Shop Greene Street in Chestnut Hill, Paige jeans from Twice As Nice in Ridgefield, CT
French-American dual citizen on a green journey, making a Paris out of Philly or a Philly out of Paris, depending on the day.