Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fashionably Hitchcockian.

{"Just wait until you see my PJs!" Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly in Rear Window.}

Jeff and I watched Rear Window two weekends ago when I was in D.C.  He had shockingly never seen it before, and I thought it would be the perfect flick considering that he, like Jimmy Stewart's "Jeff," was also confined to his apartment with a broken leg. I love Jimmy Stewart in basically everything, but this time around it was Grace Kelly who really struck me. Maybe it was because this was my first watching of Rear Window since the wonderful "Literary Gothic" seminar I took last year at Penn State. We watched some Hitchcock as a part of the seminar, and at least a small part of our discussion was focused around the "Hitchcock blondes" and the director's infamous fascination (repulsion? obsession?) with and depiction of the feminine. Almost any critical analysis of Hitchcock is sure to address this facet of his films, so I won't rehash it much here. What I mostly want to draw attention to is the fashion.

Yes, the fashion.

The aesthetic of Hitchcock's heroines (and anti-heroines) is often as important or more important than the characters themselves, and he is absolutely masterful about costuming them precisely to fit the mood and mystique of their roles. I had no idea how intimately he was involved in the costuming process. This article (especially the second half) takes a look at this particular obsession of his, even noting how final copies of his scripts included detailed descriptions of the women's clothing - down the very fabric choice and color - in each scene. Toward the end, it details the entirety of Lisa Fremont's (Grace Kelly's) wardrobe throughout Rear Window in relation to the rest of the film. Interesting.

And as creepy and misogynistic as Alfred Hitchcock may have been, I have to say: he had a pretty keen eye for fashion. I still think Kim Novak's wardrobe as Madeleine in Vertigo is one of the most striking and iconic I've personally seen in any film.

{One of the best outfits ever, on one of the best characters ever. If you've never seen Vertigo, shame on you!}

The black dress, scarf, and gloves with the white coat...the sultry makeup...the cold, platinum hair.... Pure genius. I want this outfit for Fall!

Below are some of my other favorite Hitchcock fashion moments.

{Grace Kelly's blue dress in To Catch a Thief}

{Psycho's sexy but somehow innocent Janet Leigh.} 

{Even screaming and with her hair askew, Tippi Hedron still looks impossibly chic in her green suit from The Birds.}
{Also, check out the fur coat.}

{Rebecca's Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) was no Hitchcock blonde, but her dark, severe, and subtly masculine style powerfully enhanced her sinister presence. One of my favorite Hitchcock characters.}

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A room of one's own.

{Virginia Woolf's writing room, a little out building in the tangled and lovely gardens of Monk's House. This summer cottage is in Sussex, and is well worth the visit if you ever are in England.}

As a few of you may know, one of my most ardent (material) desires is for a writing room. Not a desk. Not a home office. A writing room -- a room with space for bookshelves, a big wooden desk, a comfortable chair, art and other pretty things that inspire me, and a window, preferably with a pleasant view, to let in plenty of natural light and air. Maybe some houseplants for oxygen and good measure. And a globe! Definitely a free-standing globe. Mostly, I want a quiet and peaceful room that is designated specifically for writing. No homework, work-work, bill-paying, online shopping, or other administrative tasks allowed! Naturally, when I discovered this series on writer's rooms, via The Guardian, I was instantly compelled to click through the lot of them.

Particularly mind-boggling to me is how chaotic many of these rooms are. I know there are some stereotypes floating around about "artsy types," but I can't even imagine working in some of the sloppier rooms featured here. Even some that are clearly organized are still overwhelmingly cluttered. I just picture all that claustrophobic weight squashing any creative energy into bland jelly. Yikes!

{Just looking at Eric Hobsbawm's writing room makes me want to maniacally pitch my computer out the window.}

Stress and distraction are heavy in my nature. For me, writing requires a certain amount of focus and isolation. I can't just tune out the world and bang away at it. Have you seen Jane Austen's "writing space" before? I have no idea how she ever managed to get anything accomplished. It's amazing. Never. I could never, ever do it. I need to sort of...get in the zone. I need to escape.

{This just seems like cruel and unusual punishment.}

I personally find it very difficult to "escape" from the constant mental-reiteration of all the upcoming tasks I need to complete, and from the low but persistent hum of anxiety that generally plagues me. If I'm feeling anxious about upcoming due dates, I feel too guilty writing when I could be working ahead. If I'm sharing a living space with others (even my parents' house) where I feel I might soon be interrupted to have a conversation or to carry out a chore, I hesitate to even begin to write. The biggest and therefore most logistically frightening project I have undertaken as a writer is S'QUATCH, the novel I wrote this past year as my honors thesis. Honestly? It was a nightmare. Writing that thing involved a lot of intense thinking while doodling in lined notebooks at my parents' house, followed by a lot more intense thinking while mournfully downing gallons of coffee and watching my cursor blink at my apartment in State College. After almost a year of this, I finally banged out most of the 200+ pages of text in a near-psychotic daze of caffeine and sleep deprivation over the course of the final two weeks before the book was due. I have no idea how I managed to submit it in any sort of acceptable form, either than the fact that I spent a lot of time hanging around the least populated and most silent computer labs on campus between the hours of 12am and 6am.

I have plenty of peace, quiet, and space now. Things are much better on the writing front. Still, it would be nice to write in a space not populated by stacks of education textbooks, bills, binders and fileboxes of handouts, and calendars filled with my schedules for work and school. I'd much rather be writing in a place like this...  Hey, a girl can dream.

{I love the light, the high ceiling, and especially the beautiful exposed beams in Kevin Crossley-Holland's writing room.}

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chopin and She.

I spent much of this weekend reading - and even doing a bit of writing! My personal sources of literary inspiration are diverse and fluctuating, but lately I've also been feeling inspired by media outside of the literary realm. Photography and music are currently dredging up a lot of creative impulse and emotion to play with, and I think they are great starting points for writing exercises.

Photography... Well, you know the old adage about a picture's worth. Enhanced picture quality, artful editing tools, and the popularity of digital photo-streams have created an abundance of visual smorgasbords accessible with just the click of a mouse. I'm a sucker for the whole atmospheric aesthetic, and surfing through these offerings makes me itch to delve for some words to capture the mood a specific photograph elicits. A beautiful image is a reminder of the visceral power of detail, and a call to incorporate the visual - something that too often becomes fuzzy or lost altogether in the jumble of character and plot and convention - more poignantly in my own writing.

As for music, while I love me some Pink Floyd, Lady Gaga, Guster, Mumford and Sons, etc., it's the violin that best gets me writing. I can't concentrate of writing when there are lyrics to listen to (ok, to sing along to). The violin is such an exquisitely beautiful and expressive instrument, and was also a major part of my daily life for many years. I have no time now for orchestras or private lessons, and apartment life makes it sadly impossible for me to play here - but you can bet that I'm fiddling along vicariously through at least one of my characters! This nocturne by Chopin has been haunting me - and my writing - all day. Played here by the lovely and talented Sarah Chang:

Of course, the reality is that books still play a hefty role in my daily inspiration. The one that's been on my mind today is H. Rider Haggard's She, an extraordinarily strange Victorian adventure story that involves three British explorers seeking out a two-thousand-year-old, white enchantress ruling over a crumbling city deep in the jungles of Africa while she awaits the reincarnation (and, she hopes, the return) of a long-lost-love.

{I own, and would recommend, this Penguin Classics edition.}

The titular "She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" (or, to the brave, Ayesha) is simultaneously powerful, childlike, beautiful, frightening, feminist, wise, and naive. One of the most intriguing and complex characters I have come across in my reading. I never heard a thing about this novel before reading it this past spring, a fact that seems almost criminal. It's a remarkable novel, and one that raises all manner of interesting questions. I later discovered that two film versions (1935 and 1965, respectively) have been released. What's available of them on YouTube is pretty appallingly silly. Someone should seriously revamp this! But for now, She is at least on my radar as I write.

I'll leave you with a fun fact: According to Wikipedia, Ayesha's costume in the 1935 film version seriously influenced the design of Snow White's wicked queen. Who knew?

{"How do you like them apples?"}

{Like everything else in the sixties, Ursula Andress's "She" was decidedly more sexed-up.}

Friday, August 19, 2011

Good eats.

It was beautiful out today, so I took advantage of the weather and spent some time wandering around a little local farmer's market. Everyone was so friendly and personable! I guess I'm used to the farmer's market back up at Penn State, which is usually mobbed and leaves little time for vendors to really stop and chat. This new one was small and uncrowded (unsurprising for mid-afternoon on a week day), and literally every vendor I strolled past gave a big smile and a hello plus a little chit-chat. It was an interesting array of people - some bubbly ma-and-pop types, a very intense and formal Asian woman, and a few strapping young vegetable-selling lads who could almost pass for "bros," to name a few. For $13 I got: a big ear of corn, a humungous tomato, a cluster of basil, a basket of white peaches, and some absurdly delicious banana-coconut-pineapple stuff called "aloha bread." Between my good haul at the farmer's market, my light and early lunch, and the fact that I spent the rest of the day vigorously cleaning my apartment (with all the back and forth between here, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and D.C., it was getting more than a bit chaotic around here), by the time I looked at the clock and realized it was 6:45 I was famished. Not to mention craving the basil, which was (and is) making my whole apartment smell divine. The solution: a feast fit to celebrate my last "real" day of vacation! Bon appétit!

{Light and pretty. A perfect summer drink.}

I wasn't in the mood for wine, and once I decided on Italian I couldn't help dreaming of limoncello! I didn't have vodka, so I improvised for this lemon-inspired cocktail. It's one part Bacardi Limón, two parts diet tonic water, and a little splash of pink lemonade for color and taste.

{Heating up some plain tomato sauce before adding the chopped basil.}
{I like the chopped leaves medium-large. So tasty!} 

{Almost finished, with the sauce poured over whole wheat pasta.}
{Pasta with tomato sauce and fresh basil, spring mix salad with balsamic, and my lemon concoction. So delicious.}
{If only I had room for dessert...}
Above is the aloha bread. I chopped the loaf into eight smaller sections and wrapped them - all the better to take to lunch with me next week when I start my student teaching! Not sure if you can see the grated coconut on top in this picture, but trust's there, and it's amazing. I may or may not have sampled some while repackaging it this afternoon.

As for the rest of my evening? I have a date with George Orwell.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book love, fanfic, and personal heroes.

My graduate program necessitated a move from my home state of good ol' Pennsylvania to Maryland, where I currently live in an area that's basically a suburb of both Baltimore and D.C. Let me tell you -- I could not be better located. I'm not much of a city girl, but the boyfriend's new job in D.C. has me heading south along the beltway on an ever-more-frequent basis (and, no, not just because his recently-broken ankle has hampered his own ability to travel). D.C. is an amazing city. And while I still haven't quite gotten used to the seemingly random layout of the roads (curse you, diagonals! curse you, GPS that fails to acknowledge one way streets!), the blend of history and the arts that saturates the city promises to keep us busy exploring. Plus, free attractions! Everywhere! Free!

For instance, the National Book Festival: an event that brings brilliant and influential writers into D.C. in a celebration of literature in America. This year's festival is being held on the Mall on September 24-25 and, as if I weren't already itching to go, will include among its visiting authors none other than miss Cassandra Clare. My excitement level? Through the roof.

{Cassandra Clare: bestselling author, fangirl, and one of my personal heroes.}

To explain Cassandra Clare's importance in my life, I must first explain a little about my own writing ambitions. While I first took an interest in writing in first grade, that interest didn't develop into a fully fledged ambition until right around the beginning of middle school, the summer that I discovered fan fiction.

For those not in the know, "fan fiction" is what Lev Grossman describes in this wonderful article from Time as, "what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker." Fans of books (or movies, or television shows, or etc. etc.) write their own new works or extensions of existing plotlines based on and/or including the characters and events in the original work. Fan fiction is often posted online, especially on dedicated websites like, where whole communities are built around writing, reading, and reviewing the fanfics. The Time article chiefly concerns Harry Potter-based fiction. HP fanfics are numerous and, in my opinion, are what really caused the spike in fan fiction's popularity in general. The long and torturous gap between J.K. Rowling's fourth (and at that time, unarguably best) installment, 2000's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and 2003's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix left many fans eager for the continuation of a story that had now become much more mature, complex, and suspenseful. To stave off the long wait, fans - and I'm talking everyone from kids who had never so much as penned a sentence of fiction, to adults who typed away about HP and the gang over coffee on their lunch break - simply decided to continue the story on their own, writing to entertain themselves and others during Rowling's hiatus as they speculated about the future of the Wizarding World and devised creative parodies and alternate reality versions of events to amuse other fans of the series.

This was the environment I stumbled into the summer before sixth grade, when I rolled off my hammock, totally dazed and dazzled after a solid 24 hours of doing nothing but reading GoF in the July heat, and started searching desperately on the web for something to satiate my absolute need for more HP. I discovered fan sites, then fan fiction, and then, before long, a particular fan fiction called Draco Dormiens, by a fanfic writer called Cassandra Clare. She was young, she loved to write, she loved HP, and she ended up penning over the course of about six and half years a trilogy that also included Draco Sinister and Draco Veritas. Reading her remarkably well-written and often funny fanfics (she also has another series of hilarious faux diary entries based on The Lord of the Rings called "The Very Secret Diaries," among other projects) inspired me to start writing again. First it was fan fiction, and then, as I became more confident, original works. I decided I wanted to become a writer. I read the last chapter of Draco Veritas the same week I graduated from high school. In many ways, it felt like I (and my writing) grew up sort of alongside Cassandra Clare. I was appreciative for the inspiration she had given me, and excited when I heard she was working on original books as well, in the hopes of being published "for real."

{Every time I see this in the bookstore, I can't help but get the chills.}

Today, Cassandra Clare is the author of the bestselling Mortal Instruments series, a set of dark, funny, modern, urban fantasy novels for young adults that also includes a new spin-off series set in Victorian London. As if that's not legit enough, the first MI book, City of Bones, is set for a movie release starring Lily Collins and the HP movies' Jamie Campbell Bower. Surreal, right? There are even a few scenes in her professional fiction that are lifted clearly from her fanfiction, making it even more jarring and exciting for those who have followed her since the beginning. It's like a reminder that she was and still is "one of us" - someone who genuinely loves to read and to write, a fan who secretly (or not so secretly) hopes that someday, someone will write fanfics about her books! So now this person who was basically a girl writing some Harry Potter fan fiction to while away the wait is a wildly successful bestselling novelist who is being recognized at the National Book Festival while her books are being turned into films. And you can bet that Mortal Instruments fanfics are floating around out there. Sigh.

In short, I want to be her.

More importantly, though, I can't wait to meet to her in D.C. next month! I'm going to have to ask my mom to ship down my hardback copy of City of Bones for her to sign.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bittersweet and beautiful.

August is such a bittersweet time of year. It’s still hot outside – even bringing some of the stickiest, most sweltering days of the summer – the pools are still open, there are still a few barbecues to be had. There’s just something different in the air, though; and even while my hair clings to the nape of my neck and two fans are blasting in my small bedroom, I can never escape the feeling that autumn is peeking its nose around the corner. The back to school supplies and sales have been slowly mounting around town since mid-July, but the real jolt came when I popped into Michael’s yesterday and was greeted by aisles and aisles of Halloween accoutrements. Halloween!(!!!)

It’s that feeling of being stuck between waiting for (or, in light of commercialism, being rushed toward) the season ahead while still wanting to cling to those final, achingly nostalgic days of heat and lingering daylight hours. And freedom! Isn’t it funny how even after the quintessential “summer vacation” becomes a thing of the past (I’m still in graduate school, but I worked and took classes full-time throughout the summer), there’s still such a feeling of liberation and joyfulness that comes along with the summer months? The idea of the impending chilliness, the shortening days, the gray skies, and the bare trees that are lurking just ahead makes me want to hold on to these last weeks of summer with all of my might – winter be damned!

To be honest, though, I’m more than a little excited for the coming season: the changing leaves, the cooler nights that make the coziness of worn jeans and snuggly scarves and cardigans a requirement, more excuses to cuddle up with a book and a huge mug of tea, the chance to explore D.C. and Baltimore without being soaked in sweat and grime, and above all, another very important and exciting change – the beginning of my first full-time, semester-long, Big Girl student teaching experience.

And so, I’m left reminding myself that what is bittersweet is often also beautiful (a lesson learned, like so many others, from books), and trying to enjoy these changes both in the season and in my life rather than wishing to halt them, or to rush them forward.

 {On a bridge in Centennial Park, in Ellicott City. My boyfriend and I visited here earlier in the summer. I can only imagine how beautiful it will be as the leaves begin to change.}