Re/Dress

Feb. 6th, 2009 01:29 pm
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The Re/Dress NYC opening reminded me of a reading at a women's bookstore in the eighties, except with an overwhelming amount of gorgeous, big-enough clothes and burlesque dancers instead of books and novelists. But the feeling, that feeling of an excited crowd pouring in and being welcomed in ways that they couldn't quite believe (except for those who know, for whom this is home, and those folks, in between eating strawberries, trying on hats and making Sputnik plans -- I asked, it's a monthly dance -- they were all pretty cheery and happy to say hi) and finding things that they might not have been able to say they wanted, that old time gonna-change-the-world-one-poem-at-a-time headiness totally translated into vintage linen and rhinestones.

That's surprising to me, but it's true. A lot of that's about Deb Malkin, the store's owner, who was resplendent on Wednesday in a corset and a plaid bustle skirt from Bertha at Size Queen. The store has a narrow, open space above the huge floor, and looking up at Deb with her decollatage and bustle while she leaned over the rail to talk to somebody below was the kind of vision of determined joy in action that can go a long way to get a person through a cold, tight February. I know Deb through fat activist circles, and, as so many of you do, here on livejournal, and I feel graced by that. And, for me, that was a huge part of the experience, getting there with Leah and Tony and Becca, abundance already, and then seeing so many folks who I respect or admire or feel slow affection for, and so many others who were in the midst of their community, having a party, and so many others blissed out by treasure hunting, dazzled by what they could find and wear and afford. I think I got the last glass of champagne, but I was long since high on the sheer, crackling plenty of it all.

As I'm writing here about clothes shopping, about plenty, I keep getting little scratching thoughts about my own money worries and about how it's a moment of economic change and fear for many (and nothing new in that for many more), but, for me, this strange, sudden abundance in the form of a vintage clothes store beyond a fat woman's dreams didn't feel out of balance. It felt like a palpably generous human endeavor, a beautiful risk in inviting the fat girls (self defined! a big range of folks! many genders, and plenty not girls, but this was my feeling, my experience of the moment) in to play.

The truth is, I didn't even begin, literally did not even begin, to scratch the surface of looking at the clothes. I don't know if I could have taken a fraction of it in if I were there on a quiet afternoon, and as it was, I was too excited by it all to have a chance. But I decided to look for work clothes, and Becca helped me try on jackets and gathered a whole bunch of possible pants for me, and gave advice and got feedback. I came home with a short black linen/polyester jacket, size16 (I'm telling you -- the whole world tilted), and I'm wearing it as I'm typing. It cost me $12. I'm kind of in love with it. It's a simple thing, but it's clearly a power object, and smells, ever so faintly, of a good, gone perfume. Becca made me swear that I'd iron it, but I haven't, just yet.

A tall woman at the back near the row of spectacular, glittery dresses held up a long brown item that swept low in the back and high in the front, and asked us, "What is this?" We decided that it had to be a dress, because it was so long, but eventually we talked someone else into to putting it on, and it was a ballgown skirt. It swept the floor and made a magnificent funnel tornado twirl when she spun. It zipped together in a v at the back. I was in line to check out before the dancing started behind a woman who was bought two elegant purple bags full of things, one of them with black boots sticking out of the top. Her voice shook with emotion when she said thanks. I think the neighborhood word is going to spread fast.

I didn't see into the dressing rooms with the zebra striped curtains because they were all occupied, but I saw the eponymous picture on the one named for Mama Cass. I just took off my leggings and tried on pants in my pink tights in the wide, wide spaces between racks. Deb showed me my own picture among all the others in the cozy lounge, with its gold couch (the woman sitting next to me explained that she was a graduate student in journalism liveblogging the event). Someone from the Mayor's office read a proclamation making it Re/Dress day in Brooklyn, so much better than trying again to put the whole borough on a diet. The dancers could do amazing things, and I was struck by their athleticism, the strength they used to move, along with everything else. Bertha literally made me cry by talking to me in an enormously present way about my novel, and the hard moment I'm in with its fate in the world. We didn't get a chance to talk much, but she went in so deep so fast and looked in my eyes. It almost makes me cry again, just thinking about it. I talked a little with Geleni (so many people there! so many faces shining among the clothes), who said that having online lives together was like being in touch through the collective unconscious. This trip to Re/Dress really did feel like a wade into that kind of common pool.

And the store is there, open, ready for other, quieter other days, ready for other explorations of what kinds of cuts and fabrics people have the means and the impulse to inhabit. I ran across a phrase recently in Netherland, a novel I loved: entrepreneurial wistfulness. It's been haunting me for various reasons: because I have that for my novel, I think, in that, separate from what it has in it as a book, as what I want (I always want this) to be art, I also want very much to have it make its way in the world. I can taste it, I can feel it, as a character in Netherland dreams of a cricket stadium. Re/Dress (that tiny poem of a name) is past wistfulness into the very tactile present, and it's a fabulous place to walk into. I'm going again, when I can.
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So, here's a little story for the long night:

Before I went to the library to do research last Thursday afternoon, I stopped at the cafe at Scandinavia House for swedish meatballs and buttery mashed potatoes, because of a tip from my friend James. It's on Park between 37th and 38th, and the library is at 42nd and Fifth, so I was walking up Park to 42nd Street, when I saw a sign on 41st that said "Library Way."

And, as I turned left on 41st, I started seeing the plaques. Brass plaques in the sidewalk, all the way to the library. I was in a hurry to do something that was very important to me, that I might not have enough time to do thoroughly and well, but I stopped and read every one. They were there for me, for sure. They were about reading, writing, time, truth, the past, and the library. Many of them were by writers I passionately love. One was by Julia Alvarez, a line from a poem that she had hand copied and sent to Norcroft, the women's writing retreat in Minnesota, where I saw it every day as I lived for a week in the room named for her and worked there the summer that Norcroft was closed.

I had been so absorbed in writing while I was in New York, structuring every day around work on the book (and that was a strange feeling in itself, how those structures and that world of the mind traveled), and here I was, walking to the library to do research, and the sidewalk had started speaking to me (and everybody who walked by and glanced down) about the work I wanted to do, dreamed of doing. The books were coming out into the world, and I was coming out into the world, and all the world was a book.

The one I remembered, only a little wrong, when I tried to tell people about this was the Muriel Rukeyser. Here it is with a few more of the plaques.  )
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I'm going cat-sitting in Brooklyn soon! I'm taking the train, so I can read or write or look out the window at the river and the backs of small businesses and evocative old factories. The tracks pass through Windsor, Connecticut, and Jonathan Edwards, whom I'm writing about, was born in East Windsor! Many of those eighteenth century people, when they travelled, followed the rivers, and I get to do that, too, for a while.

I will write with another writer for days in a row! I love that, that companionship and the feeling of working alongside other work being done. It helps keep it going in a very concrete way for me. And maybe I'll also be swept up in the dizzy social whirl! I get to see [livejournal.com profile] beccawrites, [livejournal.com profile] bounce_n_jiggle, [livejournal.com profile] nerd_dog and other delightful friends and I don't even know who all else. I get to go to parties! Perhaps I'll get to order a sandwich at Russo's, made famous, to me, by [livejournal.com profile] lovelikeyeast.

I get to read poignant letters from a long dead man, Joseph Hawley, on microfilm and stop by the beautiful Rose reading room at the New York public library. I'm writing about Joe, too, and live very near Hawley Street, which used to be Pudding Lane when he lived there, because someone had the reputation of feeding everyone who worked for a certain family pudding every day for every meal.

This is a lucky, gorgeous thing, and I'm so happy, knock on wood, that I get to do it.
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In the evening, I had the pleasure of going to a $3 outdoor concert at Prospect Park in Brooklyn with my friends Sarah Van Arsdale (that's a great picture of her at the link, with info about her most recent book, Blue. She also wrote the wonderful Toward Amnesia) and Alison Smith (the link has info about her beautiful memoir, Name All the Animals, plus a picture of Alison, too). I wore my cherry sundress, and we had a picnic on a blanket on the grassy hill (Alison pointed out that the trembling of the ground was the subway passing underneath!) and ate chicken and salads and heard great, invigorating, moving music from Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely with Bernice Johnson Reagon and the band Juca, too. I was kind of swooning from contentment, except when rocking out. I ran into [livejournal.com profile] stillwell and her partner on the sidewalk afterwards! And Sarah and I had lovely talks on the subway, and at her apartment with her partner over breakfast.

Before I had to catch the train home on Sunday morning, I went to the New York Historical Society and saw a great show, Legacies, in which contemporary artists reflect on slavery. This helps me in thinking about slavery in the novel I'm working on now. It was all powerful work, but the most intense, for me, was Ellen Driscoll's complex piece. It was a camera obscura inspired by the story of Harriet Jacobs, who, in escaping from her slave owner, lived for seven years in the eaves of her grandmother's shed, with only a small peephole through which to look out at the world. When the guard told me that I could open the door to the small space and go into the camera, I was disoriented by the total darkness, and then rivetted by the floating images from the peephole camera of the objects circling outside. I stayed so long that it was hard to find the door when I was ready to leave.

I also went upstairs to see paintings from the Hudson River School, including the series "Course of Empire" by Thomas Cole -- seeing those paintings help me thinking about my brother's work and the possibility of collaboration with him.
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I am a home economist's daughter. Here are two things I would like from the fat girl flea:

  • a beautiful, summery vintage-ish dress that, you know, fit.


  • to learn my actual measurements. I get all sorts of weirdly various numbers when I attempt to do this myself. I will bring a tape measure, in hopes of skilled assistance.

Link Fest

Jun. 19th, 2006 01:47 pm
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  • If you're a fat girl, Stacy Bias would like to interview you for an exciting new project.


  • If you're in NYC, Philadelphia, Boston or Northampton, you can hear Alison Bechdel talk about Fun Home, with a slide show over the next few days. NYC again tonight, Northampton (sadly, without me) on Saturday. Plus, out of the bazillions of rave reviews this book has gotten (and, says me, deserves), one of the best was in this Sunday's New York Times Book Review. Score.


  • Via [livejournal.com profile] charlottecooper, bikes and trikes designed for fat people. There are links on the site which are pro-weight loss in various forms, so if you, like me, would like the info without that kind of commentary, you might want to ignore the initial links and scroll down to get to the main event: the bikes. Also, my trike, while probably not as sturdy, is quite a bit cheaper.


  • I'm very excited that it looks like I'm going to get to go to one day of the Fat Girl Flea Market in NYC in July. I'm thinking of writing a little about it if I can find a good, paying market that's interested, so if you have any ideas about that, let me know. And I really hope that somebody's going to take pictures (if privacy's a concern, and I know it might be, the set up alone was pretty spectacular last year...) -- I found it to be an astonishing experience. I got the dress I wore to the lammies from Bertha at Size Queen there last year.
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Earlier this month I went to a party in honor of The Night Watch , the new novel by Sarah Waters.

My response to the book )

Cheryl B., who is a poet, editor, curator and one of the organizers of the party for Sarah Waters and The Night Watch has posted a bunch of great pictures from the event.
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New glasses and scarf, originally uploaded by susanliz.

These are my New York City glasses on my friends' J&V's couch in Northampton after seeing Brokeback Mountain, with Texas on my mind.

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In a branch of the New York Public Library on Amsterdam and 92nd, I was reading over the draft of my novel at an old, long wooden table. Although it had no public restroom, I loved it in there. The librarians at the checkout desk kept asking people – with real interest -- how they had liked the books that they were returning. The answers came back: fantastic. nailbitey. These people loved books. The table had fine old chairs, graceful and strong.

At the next table over, same length, same age, same chairs, a grey-haired man joined a white-haired man. They sat across from each other and had quiet but animated conversation. When they were talking passionately about plays and playwrights, I was trying to listen, but got caught. They both looked my way, laughed. One of them gestured me over – I could join them! I smiled and pointed to my work, and he was joking, but it made me feel welcomed, part of life there, in my brown shirt and new pin-striped skirt with the tight ruffled bottom that I had hoisted up over my knees to give me plenty of room.

Later, when the subway was back, I worked twice in the beautiful Rose Reading Room at the main branch of the library, on 42nd street, next to Bryant Park, where they had set up an ice skating rink. (After I climbed the stairs from the subway, I looked around, a little puzzled, and a homeless man, in a tone sure to please, said, "Ice rink," and pointed me where I hadn't even known to want to go.) In the reading room, with its gold lamp shades and high ceilings with fat and proud cherubs and painted blue skies, one evening I saw the real clouds change color through the arched, grilled windows over the bookshelves as the sun went down. I could look up from my work to see the beautiful faces of many studious readers, writers, and people at rest. Their smiles across the tables were beautific. It was like looking at the Fra Angelico paintings, which I loved. Their faces were absorbed, engaged, calming and calm.

In the map room, I saw a brass globe from 1510, one of the earliest remaining that showed the North and South American continents.
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  • I am going to New York City. This is exciting to me.

  • I will write all day every day. And cat sit. It will be a retreat.

  • In the evenings, I will be on a tight budget and perhaps only going places I can walk. Walking sometimes hurts because I have arthritis in one knee and both ankles, but I've always kind of loved it, too. If I have to, I think I can walk sixty blocks with all my luggage from Penn Station to where I'm staying on the upper west side.

  • I wish I could bring my trike.

  • Does anyone know where a stranger might be able to swim on the upper west side?

  • I have tons of work to do before I go. I have a grant application to get out. I better do it.


But first, I would like to briefly, once again, wax lyrical about my trike. My friends, I have been riding it in the winter. In the cold. It is invigorating, and means that I have a way to get to the grocery store and to go swimming, which I am also loving with a strange, long-submerged love. This would never work if I didn't have flexible time during the day, because, as it is, I've had to race the sunset home around four pm more than once. Also, the back wheels slip on the snow, but if roads, entryways and sidewalks are cleared, I'm fine. If not, there's trouble. Thursday, we had an ice storm, with snow and rain, both. On Friday, I rode to go swimming. The bike path was cleared, but the exit I needed wasn't. I rattled down over the ice and walked it back up. On the way home, though, I went to the grocery store, then took another route. At one point, there was a giant snow plow gray ice boulder blocking the sidewalk, with high, hard ice on both sides. I couldn't see how to get around it, but a man walking by helped me lift the bike over it, groceries and all. Then, I trapped by a Honda dealer that hasn't moved out and isn't shoveling their old stretch of sidewalk. I had to walk backward pulling the trike along a tiny path in the snow, too narrow for the back wheels, impossible for me to walk beside it to push it because of the snow and a slope. A person pulled into the Honda parking lot, and I scowled at them because I thought they were part of the non-sidewalk clearing team, and then regretted it when I realized it was a kind person stopping their car to see if they could be of assistance to me, my groceries and my trike. I had almost made it at that point, so didn't take the help, but it was impressive.

Break

Jun. 13th, 2005 09:20 am
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Back to New York tomorrow, for the last time in a while, I think. I'll be reading at Time -- what will that be like? -- seeing the Maximum Beauty photography show, hanging out with my friend Sarah, and staying with Alison, who is doing the same reading, too.

I hear the heat is supposed to break. Hope so. My refrigerator is making its last gasp, and I think the heat makes it harder for the motor to hang on. There's not much in it, but I don't want even that little to rot while I'm gone.
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[livejournal.com profile] charlottecooper is right: a lot of good stuff has been happening. For instance:


  • I've been invited to be part of a reading for Out, the queer affinity group at Time, Inc, in Manhattan next week. I'll be reading with my friend Alison Smith for the first time, which should be lovely, and also Stacey D'Erasmo and Damian McNicholl. Jonathan Harper, who organized the Lambda finalist reading I participated in a while back, sang my praises when he was asked to recommend readers, which I appreciate no end.

    All of the other readers have been published by big mainstream presses. I've mentioned Alison and Stacey's books here before, but haven't yet read Damian's, A Son Called Gabriel, which is a coming of age novel set in Northern Ireland. I'm looking forward to it. The paperback was released Friday. I just read in his blog that Alexandria, one of the reading organizers, told him that more than a hundred Time employees have already signed up for the event. Time to take a deep breath and do laundry.


  • You might remember that my friend, the fabulous writer Sally Bellerose, gave me a ring that she had had for forty years for a talisman for the trip last week. (When I told her that I'd dropped it on the train, and had to search under seats on my hands and knees with help from the teenaged girls in the next seat, she said,"That's the theme of the trip. Everything you think you lost will be found." I love my friends.) Anyway, Sally wrote a story about an incident a few years ago when we were hanging out in downtown Pulaski Park with Janet Aalfs, celebrating that Janet had been chosen as Northampton's Poet Laureate, when I whipped off my shirt to do a push-up or two in my shorts and sport bra, just like the shirtless young men we'd been watching show-off in front of the roses. (What can I say, sometimes something comes over me.) There are pictures to prove it. Sally sent the story to the local paper, and it's been accepted, so, locals take note, it may appear in this Friday's Hampshire Life. One of the editor's questions was whether I'd be offended by it, since Sally very lovingly and accurately describes what I looked like doing those push ups. Me, I'm delighted. In fact, I've been trying to wrangle full credit, but last I heard, it's first names only.

  • Please welcome my wonderful friend [livejournal.com profile] minna_bromberg. Some may remember her beautiful singing from her lullaby line. She's thoughtful, fun and interesting, and about to start rabbinical school in Newton, MA.

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Oooo! Oooo! OOOOO!!! I just checked the list of winners from Sunday's Tony awards!!!! Alison's friend Rachel won for best book in a musical!!!!!!!! And Dan Fogler won for his great dancing, spelling, snotty, defensive, lovely fat boy!!!!!! Yayyyyyyyy!!!!

Awards

Jun. 7th, 2005 11:35 am
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I lost! I cried and cried. I took it hard.

I kept crying (off and on) for days. I was deeply consoled by magnificent friends, spectacularly generous and attentive strangers, ordinary human kindness, and -- wowsa -- talented entertainers and great Broadway plays. Also, I got many, many compliments on my outfits.

My friends Judy Frank (Crybaby Butch) and Alison Smith (Name All the Animals) won -- yay! and so did Greg and Ian of Suspect Thoughts Press. I came home with more great stories than I know what to do with (or have time to write), and hope to tell more, but for now:


  • Somebody introduce me to Lea Delaria, please! We'd like each other. I'm sure of it. She was a GREAT emcee, and she only realized at 2 pm that afternoon that the ceremony was on Thursday instead of Saturday...

  • Jessica Lange is brilliant as the mother in The Glass Menagerie. Her skin changed color with the emotions of the play -- I was seriously feeling it with her. I hadn't ever seen this play, but there was a line at the end that I remembered so wrenchingly and clearly from reading it in high school, after the brother leaves his desperate family, when his fragile sister, Laura, who he loves and doesn't save, is still kneeling on the stage in candlelight, and he, as the long distant narrator, says, "I tried to leave you, Laura, but it turns out that I was more loyal than I intended." Breaks your heart!

  • The Spelling Bee, a musical with songs by the brilliant William Finn and a wonderful, funny book by my friend Alison's friend Rachel Sheinkin was so so so so so good! Fat people, fairies, nerds and weirdos of all description should absolutely see it. And all these desperate, funny, strange kids who really, really, really want to win a spelling bee made me sob throughout. Oh, my good, the fat boy with the collapsed nasal passage who has to spell out the words with his foot! He was up for a Tony, and I hope he won! It was cathartic! It was perfect! My friends who treated me to both of these plays (and much else) absolutely transformed the ways I dealt with how much having my book lose turned out to hurt.


If I won, I wanted to thank middle-aged lesbians, home economists, men who like dresses, and fat girls (some of various categories by name). Then, I wanted to say this:

I'd like to thank all of the writers in the room and in my life for all of the gorgeous, persistent, foolish, profound work. I know it's not easy, but these books, these stories, give regular shocks of much needed life to a numb but still aching world.

I didn't get to say it to them, but I'll say it to you. Thanks, gang.

Here's the official account of the ceremony. A lot went on! )
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I've been packing for the trip tomorrow. I sewed on a button and made sure that I have a subway map.

Here are some things that are giving me trouble:

  • I can't find my reading and computer glasses. I've lost them before within the past year. I misplace them all the time, but this time I've really searched and retraced my steps, and then doubled back again. I can't find them. I still hope to, somehow, though.

  • I thought I'd lost my debit and credit cards earlier this week, then found them in my wallet. After I'd already cancelled them both. I don't have them for my trip.

  • I heard today that I need more expensive dental work from a specialist.

  • Pain in my joints.

  • Aging, loss, money, mind, decay and mortality, in general and in specific.



Here are some things that are giving me joy:

  • A picture that my love took from upstairs of my parents and another dear friend playing 42 dominoes on a small square table with a slick red surface, perfect for shuffling. The garden up there, especially chives and parsley and early swiss chard.

  • Having seen an old fashioned, very serious, kindly, ethical clown in white slowly walk a tightrope upside down carrying a lit candlestick in its holder at the Cirque du Soleil in the company of my mother. And watching my father study maps and eighteenth century shoes and marbles and drink his first glass of wine in years in Montreal.

  • One friend poured himself into cleaning my living room when it had overwhelmed me. Another friend always listens to my problems, teases me, and does so much to keep my head on my shoulders and pleasure in my life. Together, they brought roses and a strawberry tart to dinner when my parents were here.

  • That my book is being honored with other strong work. That I'll be with friends who are travelling to celebrate that with me, bringing me fishnets, theater tickets, their risky, smart, rigorous work, and their radiant selves. And other friends will be there from nearer distances, with their own work being honored, or, many of them, having been honored in the past.

  • That there are so many reasons to keep doing new work, so many possibilities, reasons to jump in again.

  • That my dear friend Sally -- her own lingered and labored over, much needed and much loved novel not published yet -- who can't come to New York for the award ceremonies, gave me a talisman today for the trip: a ring that a boy gave her when he moved away. She's had it for forty years.

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