Thursday, March 31, 2011

No one wrote this book

 I bought the above book years ago primarily because Edward Gorey (whom I love) illustrated it, and because it sounded superficially amusing. I didn't realize when I initially purchased it how genuinely amazing it is nor how much it would come to mean to me. As the subtitle indicates, this book (which was published in the early 60s) contains transcripts of bona fide sleep-talking by one Dion McGregor, an exceptionally odd person who spent his days writing off-Broadway musicals and his nights, well, talking in his sleep. His roommate began recording his nocturnal monologues for a lark, word got around, and, voila!, this book was born. His speeches are often darkly funny and bizarre, well-suited for Gorey's pen-and-ink accompaniment. The dreams are generally related in the first person, and the tone is hilarious: arrogant, childish, and petulant. Topics range from meeting aliens to apprehending a pyromaniac to arranging a party game of the author's invention called "Movie Screeno" ("Oh, everything we've done has been spied on. They know our Movie Screeno secrets. Ugh! Oh, Movie Screeno secrets!"). One dream is entirely in rhyme; one is in two parts, the second being a seamless continuation from a separate night. The endings often have a surprise twist, which is pure genius if it they were indeed improvised completely. The book is occasionally difficult to get a hold of, but one can easily purchase the actual audio recordings online, which are amazing in their own way.

The first "story" in the book, called "Pioneer," is from the perspective of a man who has unwittingly started a series of fads, like going barefoot in the city in the summer and bringing along a camping stool to sit on in the subway ("What does it matter...people are dull. Yes... they'll soon be doing something everyone else is doing... and so will I... 'cept I'll start it. I shall start it"). The ending of this story is pretty dark, and I've always found it extremely poignant, no matter how many times I read it. One line in particular brought me to tears the first time I read it, for reasons I can't quite articulate.  "Now I'm not touched by a magic anything! No, it's just people are sheep. Oh, sheep people. That's it. People want to follow." 

My terrible photographs (I need a scanner) don't do justice at all to how cool and striking the cover design is. Even if its contents were not incredibly beautiful, its cover alone is reason enough to covet this book. Incidentally, the introduction is written by someone named, enigmatically, Valentine Wolf Zeitlin, MD, another excellent selling point.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Have you a child; how is he styled?" "Wild."

More from my inspiration notebooks.
Cover of a pamphlet on beauty brought back from a commune in India; Neolithic winged arrowheads; i.D.?; fridge by SAMO; W and then Anthropologie, I think; drawing from a 1920s book of children's poetry called Silver Pennies (this elf-girl is one of my style idols); sweet tat, bro; compilation; best baby picture ever, my big sister little; clipping from 1970s Russian newspaper courtesy of my dad; image from Jalouse (kelly green, lavender, and tomato-red: great combination) plus Tin-Tin; punks from 1980s German alternative textbook by the Goethe Institut. Beneath, a page from a book of Brothers Grimm stories, presumably one of the ones that didn't catch on so much with the public. (Did you know the Brothers Grimm were influential linguists, along with being story-tellers? My dad is a retired linguist and rhapsodizes about the importance of their work on a semi-regular basis.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

not in kansas (city) anymore

I've been keeping these inspiration notebooks since I was about 14. Motivated by a compulsion which I've come to realize isn't all that weird (but seemed like it at the time), I started gathering images from books and magazines which made me feel something-- at first, mostly clothing or hair that interested me. Over time, the scope of the images expanded to include family photographs, drawings by friends and myself, found images, scraps of trash I picked up, etc. In a way, they are more revealing and more personal than the journals I keep. On the occasions when I travel for styling assignments, I always lug these along to flip through. I've found that inspiration for an outfit can come as easily from a faded book of matches found on a sidewalk or an image of a motorcycle than from a picture out of French Vogue.

First, compilation; image from Selvedge; the reverse of a piece of embroidery from the 1700s (isn't the reverse usually so much better than the front?); fashion magazine; page from a 1970s science fiction enthusiast magazine; sixth, image from an old book of my mom's called "Encyclopedia of the Strange"; next, self-help pamphlet from a local college; images from Discover, then Selvedge, then Zing; lid to a yogurt container my dad brought back from Moscow in the 70s; image from an Australian fashion magazine, and image from an old French textbook. At the bottom of the page, something I found in the local newspaper with a note I wrote to my then-boyfriend, but never gave him because I like it too much.

Friday, March 18, 2011

teenage eyes

I first found the yellow house because my mom moved into an old farmhouse further down the road on the same property. She was planning on housesitting there for the winter while taking some time to write, and when she drove me out to see it, I spotted the yellow house and was totally sold. Her plans to housesit quickly fell through; she spent one night in the farmhouse and pronounced it haunted. 

 The screened-in porch; accidentally very Anthropolgie.

 Do you see that object leaning up against the side of the house? It's really quite beautiful:

We asked Hedy, the current owner and daughter of the last family member to live in the farmhouse, what it was, and she said it's her father's memorial/headstone sort of thing. She had taken it out of the graveyard (yes, there's a family graveyard somewhere out in the woods on the property, which I have yet to find) to clean it up, and hadn't gotten around to it yet, which adds to the creepiness factor somewhat.

I can't really blame my mom for her wimpiness. The house has been in the family of the current owner since the 1800s, when they owned all the land on this side of town, and the objects inside the home reflect the fact that it has been continuously owned by the same folks since the beginning of time. Furniture and belongings have been added by each generation, but not much seems to have been removed. Framed Daguerreotypes  of Civil War soldier relatives hang on the walls alongside tacky caricatures of more recent progeny from the 1980s, and beautiful old South American textiles, brought back by some enterprising family member around the turn of the century, share space with horrendous blankets with images of cats knit into them. When you're in the farmhouse, you feel a definite sense that you are in someone else's very, very old home, and that it is very much theirs.

Fantastic table alongside total junk.

I want this.

I found this oil pastel in the attic of the yellow house, which was built and owned by Hedy's grandparents. It's undoubtedly some creepy family member who was in some freaky Order:

I also found an obit-type article from a segment in the local paper about Dorothy Ann, Hedy's mother, the last resident of the farmhouse. She died in her bed there just a couple years ago, when in her 90s. Apparently she was a real character. Although her family was about as small-town Old South as you can get (I mean, there are slave cabins on the property to this day), she traveled extensively, was a complete Francophile, a lover of gourmet food and foreign films (in the 1940s in Tennessee, no less), and rejected religion. She married an artist she met while traveling in Italy and brought him back to the farmhouse with her after they married, which must have been absolutely bizarre for him. Along with her daughter, Hedy, she had a son named Galen, who died in some tragic and horrible way as a teenager. (I have heard Galen alluded to many times by various people, but it still seems very hush-hush so I don't know exactly what happened. Apparently the family never really recovered from whatever it was that happened to him, which, interestingly, is mentioned in the article. There are lots of photographs of him in the farmhouse, and I do know that he was super hunky.) Dorothy Ann taught French at the local high school, Rossview, named in honor of her family.

"What a glory she was! Elegantly curved and casually dressed, she appeared with ease and confidence before our teenage eyes, and I marveled from my back row desk at this apparition of sophistication."

 "Dorothy Ann and I smoked cigarettes and drank red wine during many an hour of forgiving the past, forgetting old dependences, and searching for the fountains that only know their source in a love beyond all knowing." Cryptic.

An incredible photograph of Hedy with, it seems, some really cool extra from The Wild One. I want that bike and her outfit so much it hurts.

Since Galen died young and Hedy had no children, there are no direct descendants to take over the property and the homes once this generation disappears. I would like to volunteer for that position now. It must be nice to have a home to which you can return now and again which is really and truly yours, which is so saturated in your family's past. 


I am leaving for Kansas City today to see old friends, and I am totally thrilled. I'm taking a Greyhound to St. Louis to catch the train, and I know I am going to have some insane adventures. Public transportation that lasts for hours usually provides some weird and memorable encounters.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Co za sliczny dzien!

  (View of my side yard.)
It's a pretty day outside at last! I handwashed some of my most delicate clothing and hung them out to dry. It made me so happy to see them all chilling out prettily in a row.

Handknit shirt from Wool & the Gang; handknit silk shirt which I bought in India/Auroville from a women's cooperative; a German girl's nightdress from the late 1800s which I bought in Paris at Mamie Blue; my grandmother's Hungarian embroidered dance costume top from the late 1930s; an indigo-dyed silk cropped shirt, made by Colours of Nature in Auroville, India; Benjamin Sommerhalter's Waterman shirt for Nieves, bought at Utrecht in Japan.

I created the holes using bleach. I like my clothing beaten up and kind of spider-webby.

This nightgown is the most delicate thing in the world. It fits me so beautifully and is so transparent and wonderful and perfect, except that it is slowly deteriorating along the seams, and because of the fragile old fibers and the relatively loose weave, mending tends to create more holes/larger gaps in the weave. I need tiny little elf needles to fix it.

My grandmother was a Rockette in New York when she was a teenager in the late 1930s-early 1940s. I have lots of her old costumes and clothing in general (as well as her diaries from her dancing days!) as she never threw anything away. She was my favorite person ever, and I try to always wear this top on my birthdays as an homage to her no matter where I am on the planet. Wearing it always guarantees me a good day. Here she is wearing it, although you can't see the embroidery:

While she was in New York, she lived at the Barbizon and danced onstage with Fred Astaire, and as accompaniment to the orchestras of Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie and Artie Shaw and a ton of other famous jazz musicians. Actually, I looked up a lot of the clubs she mentioned in her diary as having danced at on the side, and many of them were (now-famous) predominantly black jazz clubs in Harlem. That must have been pretty crazy for a white chick during that time period. I learned all of this from her diaries. She never really talked about what her life was like in those days, although I do remember her telling me that she always preferred ballet, but that her chest was too big to be a professional ballerina. She didn't do too poorly for herself, considering that she was the child of Hungarian immigrant coal miners and that she left home at 15. Oh yeah, and her clothes were great. (Back on topic.)


P.S. (Off-topic again:) I just came across this image from a few months ago, and... family resemblance? Maybe I'm just flattering myself. But the smirk looks familiar(/familial).