a brief tour of my brain and a tasting of what my column is all about
Cameron Crowe: Do you consider yourself an original thinker?
Bowie: Not by any means. More like a tasteful thief. The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.
LET me start off in the most millennial white woman way I can:
David Bowie is problematic. He slept with underage groupies as young as fourteen. My fingers want to type out that this is ‘not that bad’ considering what other men with his power and fame have done, but that sentiment perpetuates rape culture and the patriarchy in general, and it keeps the criteria for being an ok person way too low.
Like the quote suggests, I am going to be a tasteful thief here and take from Bowie what suits me:
Specifically: that phrase.
Broadly: the way he challenged mainstream perceptions with his art.
WRITING a column-like blog been bouncing around my head for a while, but until recently I had no idea what kind of framing device to use that would be broad enough for my incredible amount of interests.
I sample everything!
From beauty YouTube, modern feminist nonfiction, Plato, historical fiction, fashion and style trends, tv shows, video essays, podcasts about tv shows, podcasts about other podcasts, Twitter, TikTok, etc…
And I want to share with my readers things that inspire me, that linger in my mind, and that I might want to steal for my own creative purposes.
WHICH brings me to the first bit of inspiration, and my first act of thievery!
The quarantine – hey, remember when there was still a global pandemic going on? – led to my buying too many new books, some for old-fashioned pleasurable reading and some for creative inspiration. In addition to naming this newsletter after a Bowie quote, I’m also about to be problematic in admitting that I bought the books from Amazon.
There are English-language bookstores here in Amsterdam, but they simply don’t have the selection of Amazon. Given the global pandemic and travel restrictions, when will I be in a position to buy these books in person from an independent seller? Maybe in 2022?
Solving the societal problem of Amazon and Jeff Bezos and what that whole mess represents is, like climate change, something that requires more than individuals taking principled stands. Maybe there are something like governing bodies and elected officials who have the power to affect real change, but who knows if those exist anymore.
Back to the story.
Whilst on my way to checkout, Amazon recommended me a book called Steal Like an Artist. I clicked on the recommendation like a good little consumer and read the reviews, one of which mentioned that the author had given a Ted Talk in which he outlined the entire book.
I love books! But I already had four in my cart, and about ten in my to-read pile staring down at me from the shelf, so if I could get this delightful-sounding information in a shorter and less wasteful way, I was going to.
And now you can fast-track the info into your brain, too:
If you didn’t watch the video here is my summary: nothing is new, everything is a version of something else, and good art is thoughtful and deliberate about what it copies and how it transforms the source.
I have no idea if there is more to the book or not, but I found this so clarifying and inspiring that I lifted the Bowie quote directly and plopped it on top of the column it inspired me to create.
WHO do I steal from regularly?
Using the words steal or thievery or piracy isn’t really appropriate when talking about the following creators, partly because some of them are Black women and I never want to steal anything, let alone anything creative or intellectual, from Black women. It also isn’t appropriate because I do actually pay them money for their work when I can (yes, just like I am asking of you).
Better to ask: whose creative and intellectual energy do I wish to embody myself?
And before I get into my little listicle I also want to mention that I followed these Black creators before the recent (necessary) resurgence in Black Lives Matter support. I say this not to get anti-racist points, but so that you know my recommendation is based on years of following, watching, and reading their work.
Aja Barber. Aja is a sustainable fashion influencer and thought leader who is a fellow American expat. I have followed her Instagram account for a few years and I recently signed up for her Patreon to pay for the free content I’d consumed in the past and to get more information and personal anecdotes in her Patreon posts. Make no mistake, her Insta profile is full of excellent, thoughtful and thought-provoking content and you should definitely follow her. (And you should definitely just follow her for a while before commenting, and be respectful of her space!)
She has really helped me conceptualise the intersectional nature of just how unsustainable the fast fashion system is, beyond the environment to the garment workers, but also how climate change is both a race and class issue.
Amanda Elimian. I watch too many beauty YouTubers, especially given the amount of makeup I wear, but I consider Amanda a hilarious educator first and a makeup YouTuber second. I have loved watching people apply makeup since I can remember being fascinated by my grandma’s Avon products.
Watching her apply makeup while educating her viewers on topics like racism in the beauty industry, why society is so hard on Black women, and everything wrong with Glee, is so satisfying. She is so funny and so straightforward, I continue to learn a lot from her videos and I highly recommend you browse her extensive video catalogue and learn something new, too.
Joanna Robinson. Joanna Robinson writes for Vanity Fair and is the host of at least five podcasts, all of which I listen to religiously. On Patreon I subscribe to her Lost re-watch podcast called Storm of Spoilers, which means I get to hear her at least two more times per week!
I found Joanna through listening to Buffering the Vampire Slayer, a Buffy re-watch podcast hosted by two amazing queer women, and I loved Joanna’s Buffy insights so much I followed her from her guest appearances on that podcast to her (at the time) two different Game of Thrones podcasts. Joanna literally sits at the intersection of so many of my disparate interests. Listening to Joanna interview some incredibly famous people directly informs how I conduct my journalistic interviews. If you are into general tv and film-based commentary I highly reccomend finding at least one thing Joanna does and following along.
Caroline Calloway. Like most people, I first heard of Caroline when I saw a Twitter thread of how she was ‘scamming’ her followers by hosting a creativity workshop, and it did take me a while to get over that first impression. But when I later wandered into her Instagram atmosphere and heard her side of being a scammer and the self-absorbed blonde frenemy in Natalie Beach’s article in The Cut I realised how much the hate train, which is something society only subjects women to, influenced me.
I follow Caroline because she is honest and unapologetic about being a young woman with major ambitions, about her struggle with mental health, about her Adderall addiction, about joining Only Fans, about the fact that people find real value in her work, and about charging money for her work. I paid for her ongoing essay I Am Caroline Calloway (all proceeds of which were donated to a covid-related charity) and I purchased her self-published book Scammer.
The way Aja and Caroline especially make no apologies about charging money for their work directly inspired me to do the same.
I prefer paying other artists and creatives as directly as possible, to cut out the aptly named middleman who more often than not tries to swing his dick around as a content editor. I want what these women create straight from them to me, no dicking down of their art.
And speaking of getting art directly from the artist…
WHAT has inspired me this past week?
Esther Perbandt from the Amazon version of Project Runway, called Making the Cut, came in second place in the competition, but she was by far my favourite designer and brand owner on the show. Not only are her designs all black (with maybe a bit of white or gold), but her clothes are that amazing mix of delicate and hard.
I am glad she didn’t win the show because now she is free to grow without the spectre of Amazon hovering over her creative output. She was PREPARED for the show with photos and product lists of everything she was wearing, turning the show itself into a niche ad for those viewers, like me, who were instantly in love with her personal style.
The next time I am in Berlin I am heading straight to her store to tell her how much I admire her commitment to her vision and to purchase something amazing directly from an amazing artist.
This week specifically she was setting up for a showroom in Berlin and she showed off her black croissants and black toilet paper. One of the consistent ‘criticisms’ she received on the show was that she was too committed to her black aesthetic, and I think she came in second because the producers were afraid of her commitment. Seeing her low-key troll the Making the Cut judges with items I would never have thought could be black empowered me to embrace my own love of black clothing and directly influenced my anniversary dinner outfit and black manicure.
I’ve always wanted to dress in a similar way to Esther, but I always felt like I needed permission from someone. I felt like people would whisper behind my back, ‘who does she think she is wearing that scarf on her head?’ ‘She is definitely not cool enough for that style she is trying to pull off.’
Esther’s personality, on the show and on her Instagram, is quiet and subtle while her style projects a badass strength I wish I had. In a way, Esther’s quiet confidence is all the permission I needed to fully embrace my own personal style and taste.
LINK list of what I’ve been reading / watching / listening to:
The Myths We Wear by Summer Brennan for The Paris Review, an excerpt of one of those books sitting in my to-read pile and the perfect intersection of feminism and fashion.
Side note: Summer Brennan had covid-19 whilst on an extended research/writing stay in France and reading her live tweeting through her experience was sobering. Months after having ‘recovered’ she was still in and out of hospital and most recently she needed to have an operation on her HEART. This woman is my age. The virus is not fucking around. Wear your facemask people.
ROASTING CHANEL’S PANDEMIC COLLECTION by HauteLeMode on YouTube, a hilarious video with unexpected insights and observations about one of the first pandemic fashion week substitutes.
Truth vs. Hollywood a new podcast by Joanna Robinson and David Chen, so far they’ve looked at Goodfellas and The Social Network.
how to murder your life by Cat Marnell, my current bath time book, which is not linked because I encourage you to see if your local library has an app where you can borrow audio or ebooks, or borrow it from a library you can visit safely, or buy it from you local, independent bookstore! (A do as I say, not as I do moment because this is one of my shameful quarantine Amazon purchases).
Book Babe! my good friend Alicia’s new newsletter! I was fortunate enough to be friends with and even live with Alicia during my time in Prague and she taught me so much about being unapologetically me. She is an avid reader and has really thoughtful opinions on whatever she reads, even when she doesn’t like it. Book Babe! is a subscription book club where Alicia picks a book and then hosts a virtual discussion. I wouldn’t have ever had the courage to be a writer without Alicia as an example. Subscribe to her book club and follow her on Instagram!