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The Spaces Between Us

We examine space in some of its many forms, from our commutes to our offices, our dating habits to our personal comfort zones.

Space: a five letter word that simultaneously represents nothing and everything. Whether you are being asked to give someone room to breathe or considering our glorious galaxy above, space can be a real mind fuck. From “Are we alone?” to “Should I leave him alone?”, space will always be one of those heavily laden terms that forces us to examine ourselves, dig into our heads, and search for answers.

For our third podcast, Frida, Monica, and Laura examine space in some of its many forms, from our commutes to our offices, our dating habits to our personal comfort zones. So take your protein pills and put your helmet on, and join us as we head into the great beyond.

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Survival Guide: Staying Alive While Biking in the City

Biking in the city is no joke. Shaky novices and seasoned cyclists alike share the streets with pedestrians, cabs, and trucks. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

Introducing our shiny and new High-Strung Survival Guides—carefully crafted and curated to help you dive into new tasks, embark on daunting adventures, and make it out of missteps alive. We’ll give you tips on what works for us (and what doesn’t) so that you don’t have to go it alone.

Step 1: Read our survival guide. Step 2: Execute your plan flawlessly. Enjoy!

By Frida Oskarsdottir

Biking in New York City is no joke. Shaky novices and seasoned cyclists alike share the streets with pedestrians, cabs, trucks, and delivery drivers. Roads converge and end abruptly, car doors swing open and potholes materialize without warning.

Biking in the city is also really fun. I’m far from a cycling expert, but what I do know is that there should be more of us. If more people hopped on their bikes a few times a week, the city would have less traffic congestion and pollution, we’d get more exercise, and the powers that be might consider better infrastructure for us in the future. It’s also easier to empathize with people who use non-traditional forms of transportation when you have tried them out yourself. Also, did I mention it’s fun?

The following are some of the ways I equip myself to get on my Panasonic road bike every morning and cruise into the sunset. Ok it’s like 8:30 am when I leave the house but you get it. If you already ride your bike every day, especially in one of those nifty spandex getups, this probably isn’t new information. If your ride has been gathering dust in the basement for the last two years or you don’t own a bike but you’ve stepped in one too many mystery puddles at the train stop and are considering other options, read on, my friend, read on.

Use Google Maps

I’ve been living in the city since 2015. Some days I think I own this town, but most days I have to tap open that little green app while hissing “How the fuck would I know which way is east?” I know some people prefer to learn their way around organically without the aid of technology, but Google Maps is my savior. It’s incredibly useful since the algorithm attempts to lead you down less heavily trafficked roads with bike lanes. It’s also a nice motivator when you are heading out and see that the train will take 37 minutes but biking will take 11. Take control of your destiny, grasshopper!

The Bike Lane, a Fair-weather Friend

One important lesson imparted on us by George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” applies here: all bike lanes are equal, but some are more equal than others. Some areas have lovely two-way protected bike lanes that place a barrier of some kind between automobile traffic and cyclists. These are usually painted green. Enjoy them and tell your local representatives that you want more! The majority are not so luxurious, however. Often bike lanes puts cyclists between two persistently dangerous objects – moving and parked cars.

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You really find the darndest things in the bike lane//Bed-Stuy

Pro tip: get used to it and stay alert. Don’t expect anyone to follow the rules (this is good advice for life in general) and don’t think that just because you’re biking within two lines on the street that you are any less susceptible to the elements. For instance, cars in motion tend to look out for cyclists whereas someone in a parked car may not think twice before opening the door into a bike lane. Think of the bike lane as your frenemy; it’s better than not having one at all but you still have to watch your back.

Wear a helmet, but don’t be a brat about it

I always wear a helmet. Does this mean I’m a nerd? Is it the right thing to do? Should you wear one? Great questions, all around. A bit of backstory, if I may: I wear a helmet because before I moved to the city I suffered two separate falls off my bike within a few months of each other, one resulting in a frightening concussion. So, I sacrifice hair volume for my own peace of mind. Howeverand this is a big however, I do not advocate the all-too-common notion of shaming cyclists for choosing to not wear helmets.

Why, Frida, why?

Because forcing cyclists to choose between wearing a helmet or facing public disapprobation means fewer people will ride their bikes. In addition, it contributes to the idea that biking is an inherently unsafe practice, which it is not. What can make it unsafe is poor urban planning, lack of infrastructure such as consistent and well-designed bike lanes, and uneven education for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike on how to share the city. We tend to give greater support to drivers and walkers because they are in the majority.

Given the statistics on traffic deaths each year, pedestrians, runners, and drivers would also benefit from wearing helmets, but we don’t require this of them, which is an important indicator of the way we perceive biking. There is also evidence to show that drivers react more aggressively to cyclists wearing helmets than to those without.

All of that being said, I personally would recommend getting used to wearing a helmet if you’re a bit nervous on the road. They come in all kinds of cute colors and styles and of course, protect your noggin. Wearing one makes me a more confident rider, which is a big part of what keeps me safe.

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I forced my partner to take this picture after we biked over the Manhattan Bridge for the first time. I’m great.

Cycling While Listening

Riding to work in the morning gives you a chance to see the city yawn and blink its eyes open. I personally do so while listening to a podcast, considering I am pretty much useless if I’m alone in public and not listening to something. As with wearing a helmet, this is a topic of some debate, and I want to stress that this is not a suggestion but just another motivator for me that might work for you if you need one. In New York, cyclists are allowed to ride while listening to a single earphone, a rule I follow. Consider driving a car while listening to the radio or running while listening to music. Since podcasts are just people talking at normal levels, I feel comfortable that I can pay attention to my surroundings and hear any honks or brakes that I need to (as well as catcalls that I don’t, sigh).

If you do choose to listen to an episode of “2 Dope Queens” or “Modern Love” on your ride, be prepared: people may look at you strangely when you burst into tears or laughter while in the saddle. It comes with the territory. Embrace it. If you’re single, consider how mysterious and intriguing you look to potential mates with smudged mascara and a single tear atop your cruiser. Work it.

You will sweat. It’s fine.

One of the greatest parts of riding around New York City is that it is SO. FLAT. Of course, there are the occasional slopes and riding over any bridges will take a good bit of exertion, but compared to a lot of other places it is smooth sailing. Regardless, you will sweat. You’re exercising! Some people might take this as a reason not to bike to work in the morning or to a place where they have to look nice.

Fear not!

While I’m lucky enough to have a lax dress code at my job and showing up a bit damp under the pits isn’t a serious situation, there are plenty of solutions for what to wear during and how to remain presentable after a ride. Companies like BetaBrand have entire “Bike to Work” lines and there are lots of fun tutorials for how to keep your helmet from crushing your bangs to death. To be fair, I haven’t invested in clothing specifically for biking or been able to save my bangs from smooshing but if those are your priorities you have lots of options.

Lock it up

I have had not one but two bikes snatched out from under me within the first year of living in the Big Dirty Apple. This made me feel like a dumb yokel who can’t lock her bike up. Which, I guess, I kind of was. The first bike I bought on Craigslist when I moved to the city came with an old chain lock that I was all too eager to use without realizing how dingy it was, making it easy for some teens (probably) to grab when I left it locked out front of my apartment overnight (see also: I’m lazy) The second time around I learned: DON’T LOCK TO THIS, DUMMY!

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The Enemy

No matter how expensive your new lock is, if you use it on a piece of scaffolding that an ambitious thief can easily unscrew and slide off, it doesn’t really matter. That said, you should invest in a good lock provided you actually use it appropriately. The best locks are pretty heavymy current choice is the aptly named Fahgettaboudit from Kryptoniteso I’ve got a cute little rack on the back of my current bike for storing it:

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I mean, look at this beauty. The third time’s the charm. Doesn’t it call to you?

Keep Doing It

Habits are difficult to break. There’s always a reason not to ride your bike – it’s too hot, it’s too windy, it’s too far. You’re tired, you don’t want to carry your bike down the stairs, you have nowhere to lock it. I promise that you will find a routine that works for you and it will be good. Like, really good.

If nothing else, you can high-five other cyclists during your commute. Regardless of your ideas about biking, give it a try. It doesn’t have to be a complete lifestyle change or cultural shift, just remember that you have a right to alternative modes of getting around. Find what works for you – you may be surprised what you learn about yourself and your home.  

For more bike-related news and helpful information that isn’t based solely on Frida’s Personal Experiences™, check out some of these organizations:

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Knowing Two Languages Is a Forked Road

I am the best English speaker in my family.

By Monica Torres

Chicana feminist theorist Gloria Anzaldúa said that for Latinos who have no other recourse but to create a new language —one neither español ni inglés— our bodies shapeshift, we grow a “forked tongue.”

I hear that snake’s rattle when men in suits talk to me as if my mother wasn’t there, telling me that they cannot understand her. A snake’s forked tongue gifts you with two different perspectives to create a more complete, three-dimensional whole. I see and hear things clearly through mine. My mother’s English is a lilting cadence of song, the easiest language I know, full of clear colors and unexpected metaphors. My own is Standardized and boring, a Grade-A product of the American education system.

All my years of fancy book learning have made me the best English speaker in my family, but I would happily forfeit my fluency in ski lodge capitalism and human boatshoes and forget the meaning of structured analyses if I could sound more like my mother.

She is the only person in my world who can switch between Spanish and English at a rapid clip of “did you put on desodorante” and “porque no me has llamado.” I can understand her judgment at any speed. With everyone else, Spanish sounds like a mouth full of cotton, at least to me. I’m muy Americana. I garble tenses, fuck up the accents, and reach for words that do not come. I love hearing my name in Spanish, but I’m afraid that if I use it and you ask harder questions, I won’t be able to follow through. I sign my name Monica, not Mónica.

Here’s a grammar lesson that’s taken me too long to learn: knowing the right words doesn’t mean shit if you don’t know how to say them. I have failed too many people with my agreeable silence. The unspoken truth is that we judge people narrowly by their accents and dress and skin just as much as what comes out of their mouths. That’s why nothing makes me swipe left faster than a man who mentions good grammar as a criteria. We wouldn’t be able to speak the same language. How could I tell him that when my mother tells me what “Rachel Maddox” said on TV today, it makes me homesick.

The last time I visited my mom in Florida, she waited until my last days to tell me about a request to help her. Over the last few weeks, she had spent hours translating and typing up letters in English to a company that had mismanaged her request, only for these painstakingly-worded complaints to go unanswered. Would I please figure out a way to get them to answer her? The letters were not in perfect Standardized English but they were full of clear actionable demands. Reading through them, I felt a hissing anger rise within me and tighten my throat. This was not the first time this has happened to her.

My mother read the look on my face for helplessness. It was that and more, a two-forked thing. All it took me was one stern phone call to resolve the issue that had been bothering her for weeks.

My father wanted to name me after my mother, but recognizing her new chosen world of Tropicana, my mother gifted me a name that would sound easier in English and Spanish. Muy Americana.

Then and now, this is how she reasoned her decision to name me, her request for my help: I know they will listen to her more than me. When she tells me this, it’s in a voice full of pride and more.

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Thirteen Years Later, a Teen Mom Finds Motherhood

When Sierra Dressing got pregnant at 15, she chose to carry the baby to term. Now, at 29, she’s pregnant again, but this time it’s on her own terms.

By Saira Khan

On a recent Tuesday morning, Sierra Dressing, 29, posted a gif on Facebook, offering bystanders a glimpse into a joyful moment. In it, her parents, husband, and in-laws are seated on a couch as she emerges wearing a grey t-shirt. “It’s not a food baby,” it read. In the few short seconds that she allows virtual bystanders in, her mother and mother-in-law jump up from their seats, to give her a hug that we do not see. Her sister-in-law bursts into tears, her father and husband grin. Sierra’s baby is due in October. It will be the first baby she raises, but it will not be the first one she gives birth to. She had her first child in 2004 when she was 15.  

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In full disclosure: Sierra and I are friends, which is why her post appeared at the very top of my Facebook feed. We met in college and I was instantly drawn to her warm personality. She is generous, the kind of woman who will buy all of her friends shots just because. She wears her emotions on her face. She has a porcelain white complexion and light brown hair. She laughs often, even when she is talking about something that makes her uncomfortable.

Sierra grew up in southern Maryland. She describes her childhood as uneventful and says that when she entered her teens she was “the type of girl whose friends wore all black.” She started high school with excitement and apprehension, and quickly found her place in a social circle.

When Sierra was 14, she met a boy. His name was Colin*, he was 16, and she thought he was “incredible, amazing.” And then it got even better: he liked her back. “I did this thing where I fell down on my knees in the snow, and did these air punches with a huge smile on my face when I found out.” 

“He was my first everything,” Sierra said. They had sex for the first time about six months into the relationship and “it was magical.” But as their relationship continued, things started to change. They’d smoke marijuana and often skipped school together. “I was making all kinds of really rash and ridiculous decisions. But I really loved him,” she said. “So, I was just like, ‘This is what you do when you’re with someone. You just go and be with that person.’”

After several months of being sexually active, Sierra missed a period. She was 15 by then. “I wasn’t ready to accept that [pregnancy] was a possibility. I kind of kept pushing it back in my brain.” She took a test, months later, after confiding in a friend. It came back positive. “I remember feeling totally incapable of thought or speech, or just feeling totally deflated,” she said.  

Most of her friends had opinions: some told her to keep the baby, others told her to get an abortion. “I didn’t know what to do, adoption didn’t even cross my mind, but I knew I couldn’t be a mother,” Sierra said. “I could barely manage my own life, how was I supposed to take care of someone else?”

Sierra decided to see a doctor at a nearby clinic before she told Colin about the pregnancy. It was there that she discovered she was further along than she had thought. She was in her second trimester, which meant she would have to undergo a surgical abortion that would cost hundreds of dollars and would need her parents’ permission. Colin wasn’t thrilled by this information either. When she told him about the pregnancy he said if she kept the baby he didn’t want to be involved. “I was absolutely crushed and heartbroken and pissed off,” she said.

“I remember feeling totally incapable of thought or speech, or just feeling totally deflated.”

At this point, Sierra hadn’t told her parents yet. “I knew I had to tell them but I was not exactly the nicest person in my house. I was in my teenage rebellion stage,” she said. “So I thought ‘Oh great, I’ve just been this massive shithead to my parents for the past like two years basically. And now I’m going to have to, you know, come to them with this crazy world-changing information.’”

Sierra’s father was away on business at the time, so she spoke to her mother. They were on the front porch when she broached the subject. “Mom looked at me and my eyes were already full of tears. I’m about to start bawling and she’s like ‘You’re pregnant?’” Sierra started sobbing uncontrollably. Her mother hugged her and told her it was going to be O.K. A sense of relief flooded over Sierra, who, in that moment, realized how alone she had felt. “She was the first person to do that. She was the first person to say that,” she said.

It was an incredible moment because “you spend your whole life hearing that your parents love you and then when it was put to the test, they really  come through for you in a major way,” she said. Her father’s reaction was less graceful. “He said ‘oh shit’ a few times but then he calmed down.”

The next day, after her father came home, they talked options. Sierra made it clear to her parents that she was not ready to be a mom, but when the conversation came to abortion, her mother asked her to consider adoption. I didn’t necessarily want to have this procedure either,” Sierra told me. “All of the options seemded equally shitty in my head.” After some consideration, they decided on an open adoption. “I wanted the ability for the child to be able to ask me any questions they may have or, you know, come hang out with me if they ever wanted to,” she said. “I wanted to be around if the kiddo ever wanted to talk to me.”

When Sierra told Colin about her decision, he broke up with her. “At the time I was like ‘fuck you dude,’ but now, I do really understand. He was 17 years old. It’s a lot.” But still, “I was heartbroken. I was really, really sad about it,” she adds. And she didn’t just lose her boyfriend. Her group of friends also started thinning out. Some people told her she was “shitty” for “having a baby and then just giving it away,” while others told her she should have gotten the abortion.

Sierra’s extended family also tried to get involved. A few people tried to convince her to leave the baby in someone else’s care until she was ready to a be mother. When she stood by her decision, one of her relatives sought counsel to see if they had any legal claim over the baby. “I was actually very upset with them for quite a bit. But I guess we all have slightly crazy family members.”

Sierra started the adoption process shortly after talking with her parents, which involved reading packets of letters from prospective families and their character witnesses. One of those packets“it was quite hefty”came from Gibby and John, a couple who lived in California. “They sounded so warm and open… they actually sounded a lot  like my family,” she said, which is why she decided to meet them.

A few weeks later, in June, Gibby and John met with Sierra at a restaurant in Georgetown. “I had pretty much already made up my mind before I saw them, because I hadn’t come across anybody else whose letters were so warm!” In person, they were everything she hoped they be. There was something about them that Sierra found reassuring; she had found a family for her baby.

By the time the legal work was done, Sierra had completed her junior year of high school, received the highest GPA she’d ever received (“It’s really helpful when you don’t have a social life.”), and had gotten back together with Colin. He had told her that he regretted the decision he made and that he loved herand she was still in love with him.

On the morning of August 6, 2004, Sierra’s water broke. On the way to the hospital, she had specific instructions for her father: “Bring me a pizza for when I’m done.” Sierra had thought that she’d have a natural birth. “My mom and I had watched birthing videos, which by the way is a terrible idea if you’re pregnant, don’t do it. Anyway, I didn’t want an epidural.” But there were some complications during labor because of her age and, four hours into it, she changed her mind. “It made me feel really strange and drunk and drowsy. It literally made me see stars,” she said.  

The baby, a girl named Catie, was born as at 4:00 a.m the next day. She weighed 7 and a half pounds. Gibby and John had flown in for the birth. Colin came to visit as well. “I have a distinct memory of knowing that everything was going to be alright. At which point I was like, O.K., where is my pizza?” Sierra said, laughing.

There was a moment, though, when she was holding Catie at the hospital and Colin gave them both a hug when she thought “Wow, this could this could be my little family, but I’m deciding not to do this.” She started crying. “That was a weird feeling,” she said. But ultimately, she knew she had made the right decision. “I didn’t feel regret, it was just a thought that, if things had been different this could have been it for me. But things weren’t different.”

“If things had been different this could have been it for me. But things weren’t different.”

Sierra was discharged from the hospital a few days shy of her 16th birthday, and then Catie left for California with Gibby and John. “I was happy to go back to being a kid…doing stupid crap like going to dances..doing the stuff that I was supposed to be focusing on in the first place,” she said.  

A few months later, when Sierra started her senior year, things had changed, and so had she. The experience in the past year had made her realize what was important to her and that she didn’t want to be the “reckless and irresponsible” person she had been. She broke up with Colin and focused on keeping her grades up, applying to college, and ignoring all the gossip about her. “I was the girl who had had a baby, and that ended up following me for a while.” She attended a college in Maryland where there were students from her high school. “The news spread pretty quickly,” she said. “I didn’t mind talking about it if someone asked me, but I didn’t like people gossiping about it behind my back.” In fact, when Sierra told her now-husband, Ben, who she met in college, about Catie, he told her he already knew. (“He didn’t blink an eye!” Sierra said.)

When Catie was 3, Gibby and John moved to Virginia, bringing them much closer to Sierra and her family. They’ve been open with Catie about everything since the beginning. “She’s always understood the relationship between us, she even has a picture of me in her room!” Sierra said. Being closer in proximity made it easier for her and Catie to see one another every few months. 

When Sierra and Ben got married, in 2015, Catie, who was 11 at the time, served as an honorary bridesmaid. They see one another at family dinners, holidays, and birthdays. “We don’t see one another as often as I’d like, but I’m around for the important things. I went to a horse show of hers this past weekend. It was nice to see her nerding out over something she’s passionate about,” she said.

***

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Sierra at her wedding, in 2015.

It’s been nearly 13 years since Sierra had Catie, and now she’s pregnant again. This time, it was planned. She and Ben have been together for nine years. “When things were getting serious, I told him if he planned on sticking around he should get used to the idea of a house full of babies and animals. He didn’t go running. So, really, it was a match made in heaven,” she said.

Sierra went off her birth control in December and got pregnant shortly after. “It’s been really interesting this time around. You know, being an adult and being pregnant,” she said. “I’m still definitely intimidated. It’s a huge undertaking to take care of another person and have them 100 percent dependent on you. But it’s also an awesome feeling.”

When I asked her how she felt about having a baby again, she laughed. “I’m excited. A little nervous. But excited. Very, very excited. I’m ready for it.”

*Name has been changed. 

 

 

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Defining Mother: A Quick Vocabulary Lesson

A guide to all the convoluted, contradictory meanings the many words around motherhood have taken.

By Gabrielle Sierra

Mommy: a term often used by young children to address their mothers. Term may also be used by adults when calling their mothers in search of comfort or money.

Not to be confused with:

Mami: Spanish for mommy. Term is also used affectionately in romantic relationships or not so affectionately by that guy who follows you down the street while making catcalling sounds even though you already pointed to your headphones and told him to fuck off.


Mother Fucker: a disparaging term for a nemesis that doesn’t actually seem like an insult when you spell it out because, like, congrats you have sex with moms and that is just normal life.

Not to be confused with:

Badass Mother Fucker: affectionate term for someone who is tough, even though they are still having sex with moms which seems to be the disparaging part? I don’t understand.

Not to be confused with:

Tough Mudder: a track of muddy obstacles for insane people with a masochistic streak and too much time and money.


Mom: a term used by children to address their mothers. Term is also used by youths on social media in order to shower praise on a celebrity.

Example:

Me: Will you be my mom, Beyonce?

Beyonce: No.

Not to be confused with:

Mommie Dearest: the term that actress Joan Crawford demanded her children call her.

Term was also used as the title of the tell-all book by Crawford’s daughter and a film in which Crawford is portrayed as a lunatic. Probably just a coincidence though, since this seems like a totally normal thing to make your children call you.


Motherboard: a circuit board inside your computer. Often referenced in early 1990’s hacker movies or by nerds in the office.

Not to be confused with:

Motherboy: An annual mother-son contest and dinner-dance attended by Lucille Bluth and Buster Bluth on “Arrested Development.” (Motherboy was also a heavy metal band that used to rock pretty hard in the 70s. We are legally obligated to make the distinction.)


Mama Mia!: a term that can be used while you are going undercover as an Italian chef and you have to exclaim excitedly about something.

Example:

Me: “Mama Mia! This sauce is delicious! Mangia!”

Actual Italian person: “Shut up.”

Not to be confused with:

Mamma Mia!: a musical based on the songs of ABBA that tells the story of a young woman seeking to find her father before she gets married. In retrospect it seems like a missed opportunity to not call this Papa Mia.


Mama: a term used to reference a mother. Often used lovingly between female friends or in bad insult jokes. Also used in that Black Eyed Peas song “Hey Mama” that was inescapable in 2003.

Not to be confused with:

MoMA: The Museum of Modern Art. It’s great you should take your mom.


Mother’s Milk: Milk produced in the breasts of females who have recently given birth. This substance is free, natural and nutritious and feeds newborns and infants.

Not to be confused with:

Mother’s Milk Stout: a dark and creamy beer made by Keegans. This substance is not free, natural or nutritious but has hints of oatmeal and chocolate and can get your Saturday night buzz going.

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Revisiting the Movie “Stepmom”

A play-by-play of the 1998 film, starring Julia Roberts post-“Pretty Woman” and Susan Sarandon pre-Bernie Sanders. Watch with us.

 

By Frida Oskarsdottir

For those of you who don’t know, “Stepmom” is a 1998 film starring Julia Roberts post-“Pretty Woman” and Susan Sarandon pre-Bernie Sanders. I was 11 when it came out and probably watched it ten times over the next few years. I think I was finally at the age where I could appreciate a good weepy movie and I cried Every. Single. Time. It’s been a few years since then, so I figured it was time to take a look with fresh eyes at a movie that allegedly dives headfirst into divorce, family dynamics, and death, but also has a montage of dancing using hair brushes as microphones and a LOT of horseback riding. So, here I am at the ripe old age of 30 taking another look. Won’t you watch with me?

Fun fact: if you google “Watch ‘Stepmom,’” the 1998 family drama does NOT come up first, but a lot of other “close looks” at “family relationships” do!

We open on a shimmery New York City, quiet before the dawn as a super cool radio DJ narrates that he’s about to play a great record for us. I feel like there are 15 movies from the ’80’s-’90’s that start with this exact introduction. If this were 2017, it would be a podcast.

“Under Pressure” plays and I think solemnly about Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. Miss you guys!

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Cut to a flouncy-banged Julia Roberts waking up and smiling for no reason because it’s just so great to wake up in the morning (?) before frantically realizing it’s 7:44 am and she’s LATE and rushing around the house with a scrunchie in her hair.

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She’s yelling names like “Ben!” and you think, oh my does this young blonde-ish waif, in what appears to be the largest apartment in Manhattan, have CHILDREN?! But she’s so beautiful!?

She runs into Ben’s room and is startled to find he’s not there, then heads to another bedroom on a different floor of the same apartment (in this fantasy, apartments have many floors) to find a creature of sarcasm (Anna, played by Jena Malone) going OFF about Purple Shirt Day and how Julia Roberts forgot to wash her Purple Shirt:

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In case we weren’t sure, Julia is STRESSED – “Under Pressure” keeps blaring and toast pops forcefully out of the toaster – EGAD – Ben is located and Julia wrestles him to the ground in attempt to dress him, Anna keeps sulking, and then…

THE VIRGIN MOMMY APPEARS:

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Susan Sarandon, just a few years after being one saucy half of Thelma and Louise, is straight up wearing high-waisted khakis and a canary yellow cardigan DRAPED OVER HER SHOULDERS; GOOD GOD, MAN.

She could not be cooler or calmer and Julia Roberts is a literal Cathy comic right now, which I kind of find hard to believe given her general demeanor. Can you frazzle Julia Roberts? Anyway, now the audience knows that, thank god, Julia has never given birth because, I mean, look at her. Also we learn that Julia Roberts’ name is Isabel because Susan goes “I’ll take it from here, Isabel” and Julia is all “I’m sure you will, Jackie.” A-plus storytelling, really.

P.S. Jackie remembered Purple Shirt Day, she is really out-moming herself

Jackie takes the kids to school in her mommy SUV and manages to mock Isabel in front of her children while also negging Anna when she does the same thing – so, in order to be a good mom you have to be a master manipulator? Noted.

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Cut to Isabel on set of a fast-paced, New York City photoshoot complete with 80 kinds of fruit trays, bright lights, and not an autumn hue in sight – this is how we know she is a Childless Woman with a Real Job, and that job is being the most high-powered photographer of all time. She takes a single polaroid and then DEMANDS THE DIGITAL CAMERA RIGHT NOW. She has a genius idea of shooting the models in a non-traditional way and then says “that’s a wrap everybody” after roughly 2 minutes.

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Uh oh, but Isabel is in hot water because she was late and didn’t shoot very long and her boss is nervous in front of…the investors? The board? There are like 30 People in Suits milling about who seem to be really interested in this single photo shoot. This tension proves to us that in order to be successful you must first and foremost have no children, because children make you late. Thank god this has only happened to Isabel once and her boss is willing to look the other way – I’m sure it won’t happen again or become a central theme of the movie.  

At one point, Isabel makes a joke about her boss hiring her even though she wouldn’t sleep with him but LOL dude is literally wearing an homage to Elton John, but I guess this is the 90’s.

Isabel runs to edit her genius photos on the first Macintosh computer invented:

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Finally, her brilliant idea is presented to the clients. First, the men say they like it and then the only woman jumps on board and agrees in a super progressive, very cool way. Cue Julia Roberts’ Million Watt Smile!

Later at a parent teacher conference we meet DAD played by Ed Harris, whose beeper goes off immediately but he’s all “I won’t get that” and you can see in Jackie’s eyes that no sir this is not the first time that beeper has gone off. A pattern emerges wherein the audience realizes that if you have a job (re: Dad and Isabel) you do not get to love your children or any children but you do get to roll in the dough and buy clothes for yourself that aren’t yellow, unlike Jackie.

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The reason Dad and Jackie are meeting with the school is that little Anna has been spreading QUITE the rumor that her parents are getting remarried and moving to Switzerland (the scamp!). But what could she be acting out about?

Don’t worry, as becomes apparent throughout the rest of the movie there is literally nothing this family can’t handle with a heart-to-heart chat! All conversations take place in their mansion in a faraway land called “Outside the City,” in a kitchen designed by Beatrix Potter. After her mom looks at her for approximately one second in the eyes, Anna realizes the error of her ways and basically self-therapists herself: “I guess if I just said it out loud I thought it might come true.” How old is this freak supposed to be again? The most well-adjusted 12-year-old of all time.

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Anna comes to this conclusion while working on her watercolors (as 12-year-olds do) as her brother reaches Peak Precociousness practicing his magic routine – quick question, have the creators of this film ever seen a family?

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No, no they haven’t. This child is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy.

Later in a different, sleek, city-slicker kitchen, Dad and Isabel have some sexy kissing time and there’s a super funny joke about Isabel not liking to cook because duh she’s a HIGH POWERED CAREER WOMAN GOD DAMNIT how can she cook with all the photos that need taking?!

Dad ruins sexy time by bringing up the kids – yawn – and Isabel gets annoyed he doesn’t trust her. This is a good time to point out that to date Isabel’s crimes against humanity are:

  • Waking up late
  • Not washing the Purple Shirt

As their discussion gets more heated the phone keeps ringing but the person calling is hanging up. Finally Isabel answers, “What is your problem asshole?” and the caller turns out to be Anna, who in five minutes went from mature watercolor angel to bratty stepchild and goes, “YOU ARE MY PROBLEM.” ZING. Then Isabel goes “Call your daughter,” and they reconcile and she goes “Lol don’t fight with me when I’m hungry,” even though she totally just called his kid an asshole?? Isn’t that kind of a big deal??

Sidebar: I still wish I owned basically everything Julia Roberts wears in this movie – it is ’90’s gold. These white baggy pants, have I died and gone to Express heaven?

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So because everyone in this family hates Isabel so much she gets the kids a puppy. Again, because she dares to exist and date their father THREE YEARS after a divorce, she has to prove her worthiness with a golden retriever. Anna is less than impressed and tells Isabel she smells like a dog; very cool. Obviously, that bandana is going in my look book.

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This movie seems to be a series of picking up the kids and dropping them off. The next morning, Anna CAN’T EVEN because she walked in on Isabel and Dad getting it on in the shower (unpictured, stupid PG-13 rating). When Isabel explains to Jackie, she shames her for not having a Harrison family conversation about it (Harrisonation) and Isabel gets to drop the one f-bomb of the movie:

“I’m not June-fucking-Cleaver”

No you aren’t Isabel, this blazer/shirt combo make that crystal clear:

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Oh, did you want to know what Jackie is wearing? NO PROB:

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Poor Susan Sarandon, we all know what she’s got going on underneath all that squash coloring.

Later, Jackie is toiling over Anna’s custom-made Halloween costume when Anna walks in and says “A hippie? That’s what I wanted to be last month.” As in, “Mom, you created this from me for scratch but I’m changing my mind on a whim” and Jackie JUST GOES WITH IT AND LAUGHS ALONG AS ANNA TELLS HER SHE WANTS TO BE ELVIS HA HA HA YES DARLING I WILL NOW MAKE YOU AN ELVIS COSTUME?!??!?!?! I don’t know if anyone else reading this has a mom but if I had told my mother after she sewed me a couture Halloween costume that I wanted to be something else I wouldn’t have fingers to keep writing this with. Jackie. Get a grip.

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Then she has a sex talk with her (re: steamy shower scene that the audience was deprived of) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 12-year-old enjoy talking about sex with her mom so much?? She like begs her to describe it and then says she likes talking to her mom about “stuff”??? WHAT IS HAPPENING?? There is such a thing as TOO well-adjusted.

Next scene, Isabel is shooting another masterpiece in Central Park. Naturally the kids are there because for some reason even though everyone thinks Isabel is completely inept at handling children THEY’RE ALWAYS ALONE WITH HER?!

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Because the “light is so good” and other photography reasons, she loses track of the kids and Manic Pixie Boy plus puppy vanish. But it’s fine because in this movie children and puppies alike are instantly found by helpful police officers.

While Jackie yells at Dad about Isabel, Isabel interrupts and goes,“Don’t take this out on him.” FAT CHANCE LADY. I’m pretty sure nobody in this movie plans on blaming anyone but you for anything. “Is it about to rain?? Fucking Isabel.”

Later, Jackie explains again why the family hates Isabel so much (re: how dare she lose my precious baby), this time perched atop a horse in another unbeatable sweater khaki look.

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Manic Pixie Ben asks if Isabel makes a lot of money at her job, and Jackie answers “People like Isabel who only think about themselves often do make a great deal of money.” DAMN! Then Pixie goes, “Mommy if you want me to hate her I will.” BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE. JACKIE, YOU ARE PLAYING A DANGEROUS GAME.

She realizes she may be mommy-ing too hard, so when Dad asks her to go easy on Isabel and not call the lawyers she says, “I’m going to give you one last chance,” a line people say all the time outside of movies. 

Back in the Manhattan photo-loft, everyone is making art and wearing black. Isabel and her Elton John boss are fawning over her photos while listening to pop music and discussing cosmopolitan things with this going on in the background, because photography:

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The phone rings and turns out Perfect Mom forgot to pick up the kids I mean who can you trust in this movie? To her boss’s dismay, Isabel rushes out because she cares about these kids more than literally anything. I’m beginning to think she’s only going out with Dad to get to hang out with the kids? This movie should be called “Who Loves The Kids Most: Not Dad.” Anyway, Isabel goes to pick them up and pretends like SHE’S the one who forgot the kids since she doesn’t want them to be mad at mom, what a damn hero.

But SURPRISE! Out of nowhere JACKIE SHOWS UP, barely glances at Isabel, doesn’t thank her, and takes her precious angels home to roost. Later, Jackie scoffs when Isabel asks her if she can take Anna to a Pearl Jam concert. If you’re keeping track, now we’re on Isabel’s side.

BUT NOT FOR LONG because like in any movie where our sympathy for the characters starts to wane, enter Cancer:

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So Jackie invites Dad to dinner to tell him she’s sick but before she does he says HE has news (oh, Dad, you rascal) and that he’s going to ask for Isabel’s hand in marriage. Wait, they weren’t married yet? Why the hell is she raising his children? Jackie is all “her?” and he’s like “she’s special” and Jackie hits him with this face:

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Jackie is such a babe in this scene, her eyes are all cancer-crying-shiny. Anyway, then she doesn’t tell him. Asking someone to dinner specifically to tell them something and then saying “Oh, it was nothing” is something that happens explicitly in movies. This has never happened in real life. What do you do for the rest of the meal?

Cue Engagement scene: Dad is really ahead of the times with this elaborate but tasteful proposal (no flashmob) wherein he tricks Isabel with this:

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But then makes a metaphor about strings and relationships and I wasn’t really listening and then BLAM:

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Isabel is IN. TO. IT.

Anna, not so much:

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She’s child acting her little heart out when she hears the news, very rage-ful, very teary. However, after another perfect five-minute family discussion she decides she’s cool with it because otherwise everyone will be sad. Manic Pixie Son is cool with it, too. These kids are TOO MATURE. You know the trope of casting 30-year-olds to play teenagers in “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Saved by the Bell”? This is exactly the opposite of that.

Then Isabel and Anna have a small bonding moment because Anna is having a hard time with her watercolors (normal 12-year-old problems) and everything seems to be wrapping up nicely – EXCEPT that they bond over drawing more realistic trees but do these look like realistic trees to you??

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Also, Isabel said she learned the technique after taking “an art class when she was at N.Y.U.,” Uh…ok Isabel, I guess you just happened to learn that one specific tree-realifying method. REAL CONVENIENT. Also these are her pants:

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*Kisses fingers* Perfection.

During a classic car sing-a-long (I’m telling you 96% of this movie takes place in a car), Anna puts on some of Isabel’s lipstick. When she gets home, Jackie goes “Well, you don’t ordinarily see that color on in the afternoon except for on working girls!” DUDE do you have a professional joke writer? This is fire. Isabel gives her this look, and this hat:

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THEN JACKIE STRAIGHT UP EVIL SURPRISES ANNA WITH PEARL JAM TICKETS LIKE IT WAS HER IDEA. MOM?!

But since this movie can’t make up its mind and insists on making its characters complex we’re BACK TO SYMPATHIZING with Jackie as she starts her chemo treatment. She gets weepy on the phone at the hospital with Pixie Magician and suddenly, it’s kind of dusty in here. Anyway, next scene.

Later Pixie Ben is injured after falling off the jungle gym and Isabel is hanging with him at the hospital, and he says “Will you sing to me? My mommy always sings to me when I’m hurt,” which is really too cute, but then Isabel straight up HAS A MOMENT with this little kid staring him in the eyes singing Emmy Lou Harris. He just scraped his leg, you don’t have to get so intimate.

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But really:

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No woman has ever loved children this much. I don’t think this is what Ben bargained for when he asked for a song.

Jackie walks in and this is where the movie takes a turn from bitchy to sad – I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this charade up of mocking it. 

Moving on, Sharon Stone smoking a doobie in her leaf-strewn garden wearing a beret is everything I want to be. Also, yes, I typed Sharon Stone and I don’t even care.

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She deserves to smoke some pot and enjoy her garden in her brown getup. Because she has cancer, sure, but also because she has not one friend outside of her bi-polar kids, ex-husband, and his fiancé? Thing are tough for Jackie.

Pixie is home from his friend Tucker’s birthday party and runs out of the car wearing a problematic Native American headdress. Tucker’s mom, I’m putting you on blast!

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Isabel does some espionage looking through Jackie’s mail and figures out she’s sick. This is in all sincerity some excellent acting between two gifted ladies and makes me miss when actors acted. Their outerwear is also, as always, on point.

Now that the cat’s out of the bag it’s time for, you guessed it, another Harrison Family Meeting. When they tell the kids that Mom has cancer Anna’s reaction is to scream “I COULD NEVER BELIEVE YOU AGAIN,” and “MOM’S DYING ISABEL IS OUR MOTHER NOW,” but then 6-8 minutes later this is them:

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Now it’s Thanksgiving! Because it’s 1998 we see more problematic Native American costumes and a familiar Pilgrim narrative, and because I am an insane person, I recognized a cameo of Susan Sarandon’s daughter in this scene. For those of you watching at home see if you can spot her! It’s fine, I’m seeking help for my celebrity obsession, moving on. 

Suddenly Isabel and Jackie are best buds? They’re gossiping about Anna’s torrid affair with THIS GUY:

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Honestly, you should watch this movie just for this scene and the genuinely hilarious description of what it’s like to “go out” with someone in the 6th grade. Anyway, Blonde Face BROKE UP with Anna in front of everyone after two weeks of going out and she is humiliated. 

Later, she asks her mom for advice and she tells her to take the high road and ignore him. Solid Mom tips from a solid Mom in a solid sweater:

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So at this point, if the question was am I going to cry even though this movie is pretty ridiculous – like, where is Dad? – the answer is yes. Because it snows and Jackie gets introspective and takes Anna horseback riding in the snow in the middle of the night in a perfect Cool Yuppie Mom move. I wept. I’m also going to skip over a lot of the cute sweet stuff because my shriveled heart can’t handle it. If you watch, you’ll know. 

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Speaking of weeping, Isabel doesn’t cry when her boss FIRES HER for dating a guy with kids, basically. She does wear this hat though. 

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Anyway, she loses her job and that is the last we hear about it for the entirety of the movie. Like, her career is gone so now her transformation into Stepmom is almost complete? Great!

So turns out Jackie’s advice didn’t quite work out because Anna is crying because Blonde Face called her “Frosty the Snow Bitch.” Isabel offers to help and Anna gets in one last jab before their bond is solidified. Whew, good because I think the movie is ending soon so we better wrap up all these loose ends and decide who likes who now. 

So Isabel of Genius Ideas comes up with a Genius Revenge Idea for Blonde Face, namely teaching her a bunch of cruel things to say to him and then hiring a male model to meet Anna out in front of school and pretend to be her boyfriend. I’ll admit I still think this is pretty bad ass, although like many things it’s now completely infeasible since the Internet exists.

Other thoughts I have about this whole scenario now that I’m an adult include how young Anna is, like, Jesus Isabel chill out you’re making her say the words LIMP DICK! This is one of those cool things in theory but IRL if your stepmom was like “lol ‘I’m gonna hire a male model to pretend to be your boyfriend,” you’d be like “uhhh Linda lay off the Bailey’s, ha ha where’s Dad?”

So, the hiring a male model and shaming your ex scene unfolds perfectly. Anna, flanked by her girl squad, delivers the perfect monologue with just enough swearing to be edgy (she says ass).

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Blonde face reacts accordingly:

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This kid has the worst friends ever – his ex-girlfriend humiliates him and they just laugh and laugh. Actually, I guess that’s par for the course in middle school. OK, well done.

Oh, did you want to know what 1998 deemed the hottest fantasy dude to play the role of hired hunky teen? Wonder no more!

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OF COURSE this Twilight extra is wearing a beige turtleneck. Clean up on aisle 4, right ladies?? Anyway, Anna killed it. All is well. Or is it?

Not in this movie! Jackie is MAD because Isabel taught her angel not to take the high road. There are words exchanged, meaning a heated argument which basically boils down to who really loves Anna most. But five minutes later they make up with a real love fest at the neighborhood restaurant and I fully admit my face looked a lot like theirs during this scene.

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Minus the pillowy lips and perfect skin, obviously. They’re just SUCH GOOD ACTRESSES and I know this entire live-blogging experience has been an exercise in irony but I am being completely serious. Also why are these two characters having this meaningful conversation about the future of the children after Jackie’s death without the other half of the kids’ biological parent? WHERE IS DAD?! He showed up at one point a few scenes ago to put up a Christmas tree for Jackie and gives her a shiny-eyed stare and I guess that’s it? Meanwhile Isabel is literally POURING HER SOUL OUT TO HER and they aren’t even MARRIED YET. If you’re keeping track: women feel things, men put up Christmas trees.

If you’ve seen “Stepmom” as many times as I have then you probably remember the last few scenes: they are meant to gut your insides and they succeed. I kept putting off watching the ending of the movie because I knew it would get me good, I mean look at these:

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Jackie sticks around on planet Earth for a final family picture and Isabel sits next to her wearing what is the first primary color of her entire life. She is: Stepmom.

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Fin.

 

 

Featured

11 Moms in NYC Share Their Advice on Motherhood

We hit the streets of New York City and asked eleven women to share their best advice about being a mom.

Photographs by Sara Afzal, Introduction by Gabrielle Sierra

As six women who have yet to embark on the incredible journey that is motherhood, we wanted to capture some of the extraordinary moms we see around the city every day. Whether they are taking their kids to the park, consoling them after a tumble or dragging them along to get groceries at Trader Joe’s, these mothers impress and amaze us with their ability to guide, love, teach and protect another human being.

We hit the streets and asked eleven women to offer the best advice they could about being a mom.

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Marsha McGogney 44 | Occupational Therapist | West Village, Manhattan, NY| Josephine, 2 

“You need a ‘village’ because ‘it takes a village.’ Giving our daughter as much time as possible around other kids every day, I think, is working for her. My husband’s native culture of staying connected to community is the driving force behind keeping her connected to other kids. I think…that accessing her village of kids makes her happy.”

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Rahna Jalashgar | 33 | Administrative assistant | Tribeca, Manhattan, NY | Leo, 2.5 months

“I kind of had a difficult pregnancy and had a lot of anxiety. My mom told me this is your first test as a mother. Every time you are upset and anxious it affects the baby and your first test is how to take care of that and smooth it over. Being a parent isn’t just feeding a child, you have to be mentally healthy as well. You don’t know what kind of parent you’re going to be until the baby comes.”

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Gem Stone | 32 | Construction project manager | East Village, Manhattan, NY | Sofie, 7 weeks

“The advice I got from my mom was ‘don’t look at the baby’s diapers (as in don’t focus too much on the poop or number of pees), look at the baby’s face.’ If the baby seems happy, she’s healthy.”

“I would say to pregnant women, birthing is a very human experience, learn as much as you can about what your body will go through beforehand so you can be present during the labor and birth. Also keep your core tight- pushing a baby out is like doing the most intense sit ups EVER.”

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Alisha Bhagat (8.5 months pregnant) | 34 | Brooklyn, NY | Senior sustainability advisor and futurist | Shirin, 2 

“With kids everything is a phase that will eventually pass. This is a reminder to enjoy the good times as morning snuggles and unfiltered toddler joy won’t last forever. It also means that tantrums, sleepless nights, and potty training will also someday pass.”

“Sometimes women feel that they need to spend every second of their free time with their kids. There is no need to sacrifice your own hobbies, interests, and identity for your children – you will be miserable. The happiest mothers I know are those who are able to make time for their own personal lives outside of parenting. Children are such a blessing, but they should integrate into your life, not take it over.”

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Pakiza Rassoul | 36 | Community outreach liaison for a nonprofit | Nolita, Manhattan, NY | Frankie, 9 months

“Not every child is the same. I tell everyone to have patience. When you are pregnant you get a hell of a lot of advice more than you know what to do with.”

“We live in New York City so you got to use your surroundings. Nolita is our oyster. Take in what the city has to offer and don’t feel like because you’re a mom you have to stay home and be held captive. “

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Titi Michelich (6 months pregnant) | 40 | Head of operations for a creative agency | Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY | Rita, 3, Dante, 5 

“I’ve been a working mom the whole time. As an entrepreneur, I’ve been able to manage my job while having kids since I have more flexibility to work part time if I need to. An aunt of mine told me when you’re at home it’s good to put your work to rest and more important to focus on your children –not to try to do both things at the same time.”

“Even if we live in a city and urban environment, we can spend lots of time outside. Whether going to parks and playgrounds, or walking around the city. We also go to museums and theaters. There is so much to do with kids and you can still enjoy the cultural movement here.”

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Chrissy Shrider | 37 | Artist | Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY | Nora and Ruby, 2-year old twins (not pictured: Lucia, 5) 

“I’d say, pay attention to how you spend your time and really be present. I think it’s important to make time in between all the things that need to get done everyday and just really focus on being with your kids and bonding. It’s those little moments in the day to day routine that you may not think much of at the time but they turn out to be cherished memories that stick.”

“Enjoy your surroundings and stop to soak in the little things. This city is filled with amazing adventures for kids to explore. There’s always something to do but I find it really special when we move slowly and enjoy our journey of the day, whatever it may be. Sometimes just stopping to look at a worm on the sidewalk turns into a silly moment that we’ll never forget.”

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Kathy Fusco | 41 | Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY | Creative Director| Lila, 1.5

“The first few months are hard. People don’t always talk about that. You might have some shower cries and question whether you can do this. YOU CAN. The beginning is all about survival. It gets easier and way more fun!”

“In New York City, Buy your neighbors bottles of wine when sleep training!”

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Amanda Banks | 3Former preschool teacher Manhattan, NY | Jack 2.5, Alexander, 6 months

“My aunt told me the days are long and the years are short. You want to really enjoy every moment with your kids and get through the day by being present in the moment and not being too busy.”

“I am trying to be a ‘minimalist mom.’ It can be tough bc here in NYC we are constantly exposed to so much, stores full of baby gear and toys, ‘the best’ schools and classes for our children.’ It can feel like too much at times. I try to keep things simple, keeping a small amount of toys in our apartment and utilizing the city (with its museums and parks) as much as possible for learning opportunities and playtime.”

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Shadean Runyen 44 | Risk Management Director and CPA | Santa Barbara, CA (visiting NYC) | Sasha, 14 (not pictured: Gabe, 11, Noah, 9, Zachary, 8) 

“I think the best advice has been to remind your kids that they need to always love each other and support each other. Siblings need to take care of each other and always have each other’s back. It’s easy for sibling relationships to drift apart and disconnect. For my husband and I, one of the most important things we want for our kids is to know that they will always have each other.”

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Nina Costantino | 40 | Vintage Reseller | Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York | Nicholas, 9 months

“Don’t be afraid to be silly; laugh at yourself and clown around with your baby, just go all out and be willing to make a fool out of yourself. I think a lot of people might feel self-conscious or embarrassed. Maybe it’s done behind closed doors so we don’t always see it. Don’t take yourself or the situation too seriously. Take a deep breath and laugh. It’s not the end of the world.”

“The best advice I’ve ever received was from a friend my age and mother of a 3 and 4 year old her name is Loury. As a mother you come first even if the baby is crying hysterically take care of your needs first. You can’t take care of them unless you care for yourself. Before you step away, make sure your baby is in a safe and secure area.”

Featured

How People Are Using Gifs to Get Off

On swapping sex gifs as party favors in participatory online porn culture.

By Monica Torres

 

Welcome to the new frontier of anonymized intimacy. Older generations had anonymous AOL chatrooms and Yahoo! Group Mailing lists to explore kinks; younger generations are using gifs, or looping animated images. With the rise of gifs being used on social networks, fans on Tumblr are engaging in a participatory porn culture, swapping erotic gifs with each other in a 21st century gif(t) exchange. The pleasurable goal on- and off-screen is to arouse but rather than the proof of a physical cum shot, online fans see release with an endorsing reblog tagged: #hot or #Icametothis. Media theorists call these fans who mediate their own desires “prosumers”: people who inhabit the “simultaneous role of being a producer of what one consumes.”

These porn gifs are usually ripped from porn sites, so they are de-contextualized from their original meaning. But for porn gif makers, that’s the whole point. They are less concerned with plot and more concerned with zeroing in on fucking. Compressing scenes of desire into the seconds that were most personally affecting allows these “prosumers” to re-center frames of desire towards moments that aroused them, not whatever an ass-man director wanted from a film.

“Passing facial expressions of pleasure get magnified. Penetration is obsessed and lingered over. Orgasms last forever. Surprise is repeated. In a sex gif, it’s always the first time.”

The porn scholars behind “Giffing a fuck: Non-narrative pleasures in participatory porn cultures and female fandom” argue that gifs are uniquely suited for this affective engagement: “microporn facilitates a tighter focus on those gestures or movements most sexually affecting. This affective experience is furthered by the loop aesthetic of GIFs in which a single privileged moment is replayed repeatedly (and perhaps obsessively).” Passing facial expressions of pleasure get magnified. Penetration is obsessed and lingered over. Orgasms last forever. Surprise is repeated. In a sex gif, it’s always the first time.

These sex gif loops create feedback loops. There’s no better example of fandom-facilitated engagement than orgasmictipsforgirls, a Tumblr for “horny girls everywhere” that has over 154,000 followers. The blog orgasmictipsforgirls is run by Holly, a self-described “twenty-something not-entirely-straight girl who loves to gossip about sex stuff.” It’s my favorite sex blog on Tumblr, because it represents my favorite part of fandoms: community.

Holly doesn’t want to call her blog’s goals #sexspo (sex inspiration), but she does see links between fitness blogs and her sex Tumblr. Both promote narratives of self-improvement for readers. One is just doing it through explicit step-by-step gifs on how to give blow jobs: “It’s like when you read about someone who went from not fit at all to running a marathon and you’re like ‘I could totally do that! I COULD TOTALLY DO THAT!’” she wrote in an email to me. “But with the advantage that training for a marathon is hugely exhausting whereas being a bit more sexually confident can be enjoyable all along! (Oh, and that reading about other people’s marathon training doesn’t make you fit, but reading other people’s sex stories can get you off.)”

Holly has created highly-detailed guides on how to help women masturbate filled with supplemental gifs that act as useful, nonjudgmental visual aids. If I had known about all these ways I could hump myself to completion when I was a sexually frustrated teenager, I would’ve had my sexual awakening a lot sooner. And many other fans have been in that same boat based on the frequency readers ask Holly, “what’s an orgasm?”

Holly believes gifs can titillate women in ways that porn videos can’t: “[I]deas often fail at being good or believable or non-skeevy the whole way through (especially for women!) but most anything can be sexy for 2.2 seconds.”

Appreciative fans send Holly audio recordings of themselves masturbating, nude selfies, their sex stories, and the gifs and videos that got them off. Holly curates them all into Tumblr packages to be reblogged. She says opening up her blog to submissions made it possible for everyone to “have the opportunity to be a ‘sex blogger’ for a Warhol-sized fifteen minutes.” Her blog is considered so helpful that a sex therapist once directed a patient towards her site because, according to Holly, the therapist said, “there are pictures that will show you EXACTLY what to do.”

Orgasmictipsforgirls is an example of how the power of porn fandom comes not only from the loops of sex themselves, but also from the loops of feedback created between “prosumers.” It’s this intense, intimate community that fandom is actively fostering through curated loops of desire exchanged between Tumblrs. Citing academic Karen Hellekson’s previous work on fan economies, “Giffing a fuck” says that fandom gifs rely on “giving, receiving and reciprocating” works that reinforce bonds between users: “the gift of artwork or text is repetitively exchanged for the gift of reaction, which is itself exchanged, with the goal of creating and maintaining social solidarity.” Seeing hundreds of notes and reblogs to your gifs isolating that one ass slap is a confirmation that you weren’t the only person to find this hot.

“Reading about other people’s marathon training doesn’t make you fit, but reading other people’s sex stories can get you off.”

But Holly recognizes the limits to using porn gifs is their source material: “The huge weakness is that it’s still made out of ‘Porn From The Porn Industry’ so visually the blog is way, WAY whiter, skinnier, hairless etc. than I’d ever choose it to be.” The all-inclusive, celebratory messages of “Anyone Can Fuck!” and “’People Don’t Give A Shit What You Look Like, Trust Me” that Holly wants to give followers clashes with the limiting spectrum of bodies she’s curating from. It’s a reminder that even when gifs are purposefully taken out of contexts, they are still subject to them through the kinds of bodies the images use.

Gifs create ephemeral moments of pleasure that impact people far beyond their second-long loops. Scrolling through these explicit dashboards, I will sometimes pause between gifs of explicit body-slapping fucking, arrested by a woman’s captured, open expression of lust. On photography, literary theorist Roland Barthes called these arresting moments the “element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces [you].” What pierced this one gif curator and compelled them to make this gif is now, in turn, piercing me. ‘Do I look like that?’ I’ll wonder. It’s still rare enough for me to see women’s pleasure on screens that gifs like these do feel like gifts. In porn, I’d have to rewind. In sex, there’s no replay button. But here I can linger freely.

Ocasio-Cortez/Nixon

Side by side, the New York candidates’ differences shone

By Saira Khan

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a Q.A. at Mic’s headquarters in TriBeCa, hosted by Mic’s founder Jake Horowitz, between Cynthia Nixon, who is running for governor of New York City, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from the Bronx, the 28-year-old who is poised to become the youngest Congresswoman ever.

The conversation was brief, a little less than an hour, and the format was simple: Horowitz asked the questions, the women answered. Nixon and Ocasio-Cortez, who are both Democratic Socialists, are among the record number of women running for office this year, in light of Trump’s election, no doubt.

Until November of last year, Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender in the Bronx. Nixon, who most of us recognize from “Sex and the City” fame, is an Emmy-award winning actress, who has been in the industry since 1980. Neither woman has any experience in politics. And that’s about all they have in common.

Seeing them speak, side-by-side, I was struck by how animated and earnest Ocasio-Cortez was, and by comparison, how rehearsed Nixon was, who name-checked Governor Andrew Cuomo whenever she could. While Nixon still has a fight ahead of her at the polls, her attacks on Cuomo felt like a distraction from the fact that she didn’t seem to have much to contribute. The first question that Horowitz asked was about the Trump Administration’s immigration policy, which Nixon deflected to Ocasio-Cortez, initially making it seem like she was giving Ocasio-Cortez, a Latina, the space to answer. But as the event progressed, Nixon deflected more and more of the questions to Ocasio-Cortez, who, at one point, even asked Nixon if she had anything to add, noting that she had been doing most of the talking.

The only time when Nixon shone was when Horowitz asked her about possibly running under another party’s ballot in the event that she loses the Democratic primary, similar to rumors that are floating around about Joe Crowley, who lost the primary to Ocasio-Cortez.

“I want to point out though that Governor Cuomo may also face the same situation when I win the Democratic primary. I’m not the only person on another ballot line. Andrew Cuomo is actually on two different ballot lines… I don’t mind being asked this question, what I do mind is how Andrew Cuomo is never asked this question.”

Ocasio-Cortez, on the other hand, elicited many “woos” from the audience, and while she started the event guarded, by the end she let the Bronx-girl in her out–calling out male politicians for holding women back. I’m going to include the full, long quote here because it feels like a disservice to Ocasio-Cortez to edit this down:

“Congress is 80% male, that’s embarrassing y’all. Congress is 80% male which means that there are massive blind spots in how we pursue legislation that deals with health care, equal rights, pay, etc, but also I think that when government is so overwhelmingly male, Cynthia Nixon would be the first female governor of the state, when government is so overwhelmingly male, the only way for us to get seats is to be given permission to run. So then we have to cause trouble to claim our seat, we have to. People are saying ‘oh you’re doing this, you’re destroying the party, you’re too young, you’re not ready, you’re naive, you’re uneducated, blah blah blah.’ That is what I’ve been told and that is what women have been have been told their whole lives whenever they want to do anything ambitious so you know what? Screw it. They’re gonna say it, cause some trouble, get that 50%, get that parity, get that gender-expanding representation in office, cause you gotta claim it, you gotta take it. Cause I’m sorry, sorry, if I’m gonna wait for the 80% of dudes in Congress to give me permission, I’m gonna be 80 by then!”

It’s hard to argue with Ocasio-Cortez’s point, but with the primary a little less than three months away, I’m alarmed by Nixon’s lackluster performance–she’s taking on a seven-year incumbent from a political family, and is polling 36 points behind. Nixon may have taken on some of Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, but what she really needs to do is soak up some of her authenticity, otherwise, come September, she’ll be in trouble.

You can watch parts of the QA here. 

An Interview With the Editor of “RBG”

A discussion with Carla Gutierrez about editing the hit documentary “RBG,” mentorship, and what it takes to be an editor today.

By Monica Torres

Carla Gutierrez is the film editor behind this year’s hit documentary “RBG,” an intimate look at the life and fame surrounding U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It was her job to distill decades of the 85-year-old’s life and litigation career into one movie. Gutierrez is also the editor of the Oscar-nominated film “La Corona,” the Emmy-nominated documentaries “Reportero” and “Kingdom of Shadows,” and is part of the 2018 class of new Academy members. I met her five years ago after I graduated college when she kindly reached out to me as a fellow alum and let me see what being a working journalist was like.

We chatted about the months she spent editing “RBG,” mentorship, and what it takes to be an editor today:

How do you give viewers a personal experience when you are editing archival footage?

I could talk to you for hours about this. That’s my job. The goal that we have as filmmakers is a strong collaboration with the directors to give a voice to their vision in the detail of the rhythm and the combination of sound and picture. The goal is to create as personal of a picture as you can, to get as close to the subject matter or the characters as you can.

[For the confirmation hearing], those were four days of archival footage that we went through, and a lot of it was dry. It’s about having an eye and looking for the moments that really jumped at you and then building around those moments. So it was very much the moment when the camera was on her husband, on Marty, and he’s smiling while she’s talking about him. And you can only get that from just watching a lot of the material that we have and spending time discovering the potential and the gems. And that was a gem.

You have a lot of interviews where people are talking about how much they love each other, but when you see a moment like that, in actual video, you can see the expressions of them being in the same room. Those are the moments that you focus on and you build around to give them more emotion. It’s fun.

In one moving sequence, we see women of different races and generations on the screen as a young Ginsburg argues her first Supreme Court case, Frontiero v. Richardson, and explains to a group of all-male justices how gender-based discrimination exists. Quotes from her legal brief explaining what it means to be a second-class citizen —“branded inferior,” “subordinate,” “waste of human resources”— appear alongside these women as we see Ginsburg advocate on their behalf.

When I was watching the material at the very beginning, I was feeling emotionally close to the challenges that women in all generations have had that I can relate to, but I never felt so emotionally close to that. As a younger generation, there’s a bit of a distance that we have with the ‘70’s women’s movement, or the struggle to get our vote, because we take some of those things for granted. Through [Ginsburg’s] work, it made me feel incredibly close to those women and incredibly grateful. And it was a conversation with the directors that we wanted to make sure that the viewer also felt close to the women who inspired her work.

In all the interview archival that we have, [RBG] would always talk about the people that came before her. There’s that gratitude that she has for people who have done the work before her. We wanted to make sure that the viewers also felt personally close to those women. And I find that just by seeing those faces looking at you is a way to see them as yourself.

That’s one of things we tried with Frontiero when we were using all those black-and-white pictures of women from all different generations from the beginning of the history of the United States.

Did you end up meeting RBG in person?

I did! I met her at Sundance where we had the premiere.

The directors introduced the entire crew and we were all women. There were six of us. When we stood up, she was super excited about that.

How is it to meet someone you’ve been studying for hours and hours?

It’s really weird, but I’m used to it now because I’ve been editing for a long time. The first time I met a subject that I had edited, I really scared him. I really wanted to talk to him right away. It was like starting a conversation that he didn’t know about, and I wanted to continue that conversation. I quickly learned that you can really scare people and make them feel like you’re stalking them at a party. I keep my distance with subjects now. I’m never going to get to know them on a personal level, I just know them as characters in a film.

A film is a film. You’re compressing so much time, you’re making decisions to focus on one aspect of someone’s life, you’re never going to present a whole picture of a person’s life.

Taking a different track on questions, I still remember the kindness you showed me five years ago and it made me think a lot about mentoring. Have you ever had someone like that for you?

Yes, other editors. I’m really lucky that I’m in a career where documentary editors are really generous with each other and with their time, I’ve found. With documentaries, it’s not like you’re making the big bucks.

Most people in this industry really love what they are doing and they really want to do it for a bigger reason because they feel the need to tell a story or they think that there’s a social issue it’s really important to bring more light on.  

A lot of the editors I’ve met have been incredibly generous. There’s one person in particular that gave me my first shot. I started as a translator for her, then as an assistant editor, then I ended up as a second editor. Her name is Kim Roberts. She just gave me the space to try things and to edit scenes and I learned a lot from her about longform storytelling.

What would be your advice for someone, particularly someone who is Latina who wants to do what you do and work as an editor?

If I get a call from a young Latina woman, I will definitely make myself available to them. 

Watch a lot of films, and try to talk to the people you admire. Study people, so that when you talk to them, make sure that you know their work. Look for opportunities for mentorship. When you’re working at an entry-level assistant editing position, don’t be scared to ask the editors for you to be available in the room where story conversations are happening. The worst thing that can happen is really people saying no.

When I’ve had the chance to work on a bigger team, I’ve really liked it when people ask me, “Would you mind if I try to edit something in my free time?” or “Would you mind if I sit when you’re talking with the directors?” I always tell them, well let me talk to the directors because it’s really up to them, they’re the bosses, but I would love it.

If you come in, just be respectful and listen unless someone asks you for your opinion. I learned a lot from watching other people.

For editors, there is a great organization in New York, the Karen Schmeer editing fellowship. The fellowship gives a fellowship to one emerging editor a year and they recently started a diversity program and the pilot is only in New York. I’m a part of that, I’m a mentor to a few of them.

If I get a call from a young Latina woman, I will definitely make myself available to them.

For this industry, everything is word of mouth. As an editor you are getting into an intimate creative collaboration with people. People really want recommendations. Directors are giving their babies to editors. We’re kind of the doulas. They want to feel comfortable with the editors and they want the right match.

What were other favorite movies from this year?

—“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I really loved the Fred Rogers documentary. The communal experience of sobbing loudly in the theater is really cool and cathartic.

—“This Is Home
It’s a verite film about new refugees in the United States. It’s mostly grounded in observational footage. That was a really strong film.

—“The Sentence
Also incredibly moving and essential for the discussion of prison reform and family separation.

—“Inventing Tomorrow
There’s a global science competition fair for high school kids. Kids all over the world apply to it. The documentary focuses on kids in the third world who are doing projects specifically to solve environmental problems that they are facing in their backyard. My son who is really into science loved it and the conversation that it sparked on environmental change was great for him to have.


Summer (Movies) In the City

Movies are like Netflix, but you pay more and have to leave your house!

by Frida Oskarsdottir

I go to the movies more in New York City than anywhere else I’ve lived, which is ironic given the prices and wealth of things to do here compared to a lot of other places. Yet something about entering a cool, dark room in which you have nothing to do but let someone else’s best attempt at art wash over you is hard to resist. I know I’m not alone in my affinity; in more than half of the screenings I go to I’m forced to sit in the first row of a sold-out theater because I refuse to show up more than 5 minutes early to anything, really. Here are some thoughts on the 2018 summer films I’ve air-conditioned my way through:

Eighth Grade
Director: Bo Burnham
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Runtime: 94 minutes

Eighth Grade - Still 1

Alternate Title: Puberty: A Horror Anthology

Why should you see it? This movie might break you. A specific, unsentimental, smart, profound glimpse into my deepest insecurities adolescence, perhaps the best part about this film is that it clocks in at just over an hour and a half. PRAISE BE – as someone who sees a lot of movies, let me tell you that they just keep. Getting. Longer. CUT IT DOWN, FRIENDS. Brevity aside, I loved Eighth Grade. The euphoria of a new friend, the singular gut-punch of loneliness and the widening chasm between teenager and parent, it all felt a little too real for this formerly acne-ridden viewer. I give it 4 headgears and would pair with an oily appetizer that will go straight to your T-zone.

Most memorable scene: The gloriously specific choices made in this movie are what elevate it past a lot of other coming-of-age films; what especially killed me dead was the perfect casting of Kayla’s love-interest, Aiden (of course his name is fucking Aiden). When this kid materialized at a pool party with his scrawny pale body and icy blue eyes in oversized swim trunks, I went into a middle school blackout, right back to drooling over an equally pubescent Chris Redacted who, looking back, bore more resemblance to Gollum than a man. Aiden holds complete power over Kayla while doing exactly nothing to earn it, which hit so close to home it might have knocked on my door.

Related reading: Eighth Grade’s #MeToo Scene Will Shake You To Your Core by Anna Sillman for The Cut

Emoji Story: 😬🍌😢📱😭


Sorry to Bother You
Director: Boots Riley
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Runtime: 111 minutes

sorry-to-bother-you.w600.h315.2x

Alternate Title: Capitalism is Evil: Bet You Didn’t Think There’d Be Horse Penises

Why should you see it? If you’re bored of seeing movies that you can predict the ending to after the first five minutes, maybe check this one out. Boots Riley’s surreal satire is equal amounts comedy, social commentary, and sci-fi, and its unabashedly socialist leanings are sure to entertain viewers fed up with our failed two-party system. Peppered with just-realistic-enough absurdities about workplace culture and income inequality, Sorry to Bother You extends its metaphors gleefully past the place where other films may have stopped, which I always appreciate.

Most memorable scene: Lakeith Stanfield being forced to rap at Armie Hammer’s cocaine-fueled, yuppie-nightmare party was just as horrifying as it was hysterical, and I’m definitely not allowed to recap the lyrics for you.

Related Reading: Searching for Detroit: Sorry to Bother You’s Female Lead Is More Symbol Than Person by Jourdain Searles for Bitch Media

Emoji story: 📞💸👀💀🐴🍆


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Director: J.A. Bayona
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
Runtime: 128 minutes

jurassic

Alternate Title: Escape from Trash Island: She’s Not Wearing Heels This Time

Why should you see it? You absolutely should not. That being said, if you, like me, have a shitty day and decide to drown your sorrows in a bottle of red wine surreptitiously mixed with a giant Coke (don’t judge, it’s Spanish) and some DINO DNA, go forth my friend. As far as easy to digest action movies with, wow, another crazy hybrid dinosaur go, you could do worse. Just don’t be let down that even a brief Jeff Goldblum cameo can’t take this story back to its 1993 glory.

Most memorable scene: When they reveal 30 minutes before the movie ends that a tertiary character is a clone and everyone in the theater collectively goes “Wait what?” and then you realize that this is the second movie in a trilogy and the stakes could not be lower for plot points that they can wrap up next time.

Related Reading: The ‘Jurassic World’ sequel achieves the impossible: It makes dinosaurs boring.” by Travis M. Andrews for The Washington Post

Emoji story: 🏝🦎🏰👫😑


Ocean’s 8
Director: Gary Ross
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Runtime: 111 minutes

oceans

Alternate Title: I Wanted To Like This So Badly: A Film Starring Everyone

Why should you see it? Full disclosure, sometime last year I spent the majority of a hungover Sunday watching all three Ocean’s remakes. And I LIKED EM. Part nostalgia, part socially-ingrained worship of charismatic male lead actors, part ignoring Don Cheadle’s unbelievably bad Cockney accent, whatever it was they worked. My point is that this all-ladies sequel was tailor-made for me – I watched the trailer about 30 times. Maybe over-hyping was my downfall, because 20 minutes into this movie, I peered over at my husband to mouth the words “I’M BORED” and was met with his “I already know what you’re going to say and don’t say it because this is a quiet place” look he always does when I inevitably start whispering. But I was bored and I felt bad about it – something about the pacing and clunkiness of the ensemble left me cold. And now you know my darkest secret.

Most memorable scene: Despite my lackluster review I certainly didn’t hate this movie, which I thought made a lot of clever choices. The best of which is that while the viewers are behind the scenes with the criminals watching the master plan come together, we aren’t totally in on all of the secrets. Watching them unfold at the Met Gala was genuinely fun, the whimsy of which I wish had continued throughout.

Emoji story: 💎👗👠😴

Related Reading: Anne Hathaway Wins Ocean’s 8 by Jia Tolentino for The New Yorker


Hereditary
Director: Ari Aster
Rotten Tomatoes:89%
Runtime: 124 minutes

hereditary

Alternate Title: Will I Ever Feel True Happiness Again? Toni Collette Says No

Why should you see it? A lot of people loved this movie, which has a lot going for it. I don’t know that I can use the word “love” about something that essentially held me captive, A Clockwork Orange style, and force-fed me series of deeply upsetting scenes until my body went numb, but it was definitely something. Toni Collette will never fail at anything she does, so she can check “disturbingly unflinching portrayal of a woman on the edge of sanity” off her list and head back to “quirky Australian” now (please).

Most memorable scene: As a fan of Rosemary’s Baby, the homage at the end of Hereditary winked at me, but it also was kind of a let down. The movie was nothing if not original and it felt a little bit like the ending was picked off of a horror-movie dartboard. Oh also, the part where the kid’s head gets chopped off.

Related Reading: It’ll just scare you.

Emoji story: 😱😱😱😱😱💁


Crazy Rich Asians
Director: John M. Chu
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Runtime: 121 minutes

crazyrich

Alternate Title: Everyone Is Hot: This Movie Was Made of Air and I Still Cried At The End

Why should you see it? If you’re expecting dissent from the praise heaped on this movie since it came out, look elsewhere because I freaking loved it. Simultaneously silly and meaningful, Crazy Rich Asians was just straight-up fun to experience, with the added bonus of knowing it’s proving anyone who thinks people won’t go see movies with a predominantly Asian and Asian-American cast deeply wrong. This film also had a lot of abs, colorful outfits, and jokes, which means I was doomed from the start.

Most memorable scene: Crazy Rich Asians was elevated above a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy for a lot of reasons, but we all still knew how it was going to end. Why then, did I find myself weeping and thinking about how much I loved my family while two very attractive people embraced and brandished a giant ring on screen? Just movie magic, I suppose.

Related Reading: This Twitter Thread by Kimberly Yam

Emoji story: 🌹🌴🍇🍭🌈🌀🍸💅💖

Summer’s End Astrology

The psychic is in.

By Gabrielle Sierra

August is upon us, and as hot days melt away into hot nights you may be wondering – what should I be doing with myself? How am I to know how to live my life without a psychic providing me with guidance?

Well fear not, dear readers, for I have gazed into my crystal balls and read the cards and monitored the planets, and I am now fully prepared to offer you all the blind life advice you will need to finish out your summer.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

August is your time to shine! If you were nervous about your birthday just remember – age is but a number, and that number is 78, the average lifespan for a person living in the United States. Time is on your side so relax and enjoy! But also don’t forget to be realistic. Take into account all those boozy nights you had in your 20’s that will probably shave a few years off your life. Also the drugs; those can’t help with aging. Plus you probably spend most of your day sitting at a desk which is actually killing you. Oh and senility, that happens at some point. Anyway, happy birthday you!

Virgo  (August 23 – September 22)

It isn’t your birthday yet, Diane, no one wants to hear about your potential party options.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Beautiful, kind Libra soul. Embracer of harmony and peace all around. This August go a little crazy! Spread a rumor, foment insurrection. Stand up in the middle of your yoga class and start calling people out for their shitty downward dog. Get onto a train before letting others off. Go to a public pool and splash around, shove a kid. You keep your zen for 90 percent of the year, you deserve one cheat month.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

You are known for being passionate and jealous so August is the perfect month to finally let Kevin know you have been following him. Maybe give him the dream journals.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Sagittarius is basically the best sign. Your positive traits – confidence, positivity, intelligence, energy – basically cancel out your negative ones. Superficial? So what, you are confident about it. Inconsistent? Eh, you are intelligent enough to know that you don’t have to follow through on everything. Basically we get it, you own every month, so just stop posting it all on Instagram because it is really getting annoying.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

You are known for your ambition, but also for your practical nature. You set standards for yourself and others, and value responsibility. This month, pull the stick out of your butt and throw caution to the wind! Hit up a party, adopt a pet you are not ready to take care of, miss a few loan payments. Live your life and follow your impulses for once. This can finally be the August you join that fight club. YOLO, baby.

Aquarius  (January 20 – February 18)

Aquarius is an air sign, so this month you should get yourself out there into the great wide open! It is the perfect time to take a vacation: make sure to pick somewhere beautiful and clear where you can breathe deeply and let your hair down in the warm wind. If you can’t get away from work, step out into the hot stagnant air! Scream into the void and think about all your lousy choices as a crazy man pees nearby.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

Pisces are known for being selfless so you don’t get a horoscope. Thank you for your sacrifice.

Aries (March 21 – April 19)

Independent, ambitious, and always up for a chance to trail-blaze, August is the perfect month for an Aries adventure. Grab your pack and head out on the open road. Climb that mountain, take the solo hike, camp under the stars. Document your trip relentlessly. Make sure to have that stranger take the photo from a few different angles so you can choose the best one to post on Facebook. See if the Grand Canyon has Wifi. Don’t forget to Instagram story your breakfast, the world must know.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

Taurus people are known for being stubborn. This month, use your persistence for good! Ask for that raise at work and don’t take no for an answer. Camp out in your bosses office and refuse to leave until you are forcibly removed. Security has nothing on you, Taurus.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

You are two personalities in one, and no one knows which to expect. This month celebrate your clever nature and your dual set of traits by fluctuating wildly between emotions. Sob and then laugh hysterically. Throw something in anger and then act very afraid. Be your best self-s.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Your birthday already happened, Ashley, get over it.

High Pitch: Summer Sabbatical

Steamy winds recede from the subway grates and a chill is felt anew; summer sings its swan song. Daylight declines as we approach another equinox, but we hold tight to the hits that carried us through the dog days.

By Laura Gardiner

Steamy winds recede from the subway grates and a chill is felt anew; summer sings its swan song. Daylight declines as we approach another equinox, but we hold tight to the hits that carried us through the dog days.

Where Are We When We’re Online?

As technology enters evermore spheres of our lives, we spend more and more time in virtual space.

By Frida Oskarsdottir

While we humans have always looked to whatever forms of entertainment were available as escapism, smart devices have taken our ability to escape full circle, allowing us to participate in an alternate virtual space. I’m not talking about VR, I’m talking about group chats, work emails, status updates, and online dating. In science fiction, cyberspace is depicted as an infinite stream of 1s and 0s, zooming past each other against the inky black universe. We now reside in this mysterious void: “talking” to loved ones, “laughing” through emojis, “experiencing,” “being” “online”.

Even before the release of the first iPhone, it was clear that our actions in the virtual realm didn’t always mirror those outside of it. Psychologist John Suler describes this as “online disinhibition effect,” or more plainly put, why people act insane online. According to Suler, six factors comprise the phenomenon: dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination, and minimization of authority. Both violent trolling (toxic disinhibition) and surprising acts of kindness (benign disinhibition) can result from this volatile cocktail of factors, much like the varying results of any type of cocktail consumption. To extend the metaphor, some people will (usually drunkenly) tell you that it is our “true selves” that come out after a few drinks. Can the same be said for who we are online?

As people become comfortable living part of their lives online, we begin to normalize behavior that deviates further from what we might accept in real life, even from ourselves. We can do this because there is always someone a little bit nuttier than you posting too much about their marital issues or 25 consecutive identical selfies; the bar gets pushed further away from reality. Sure, you interrupted a meal to take a picture of your food and share it to an audience that includes your third grade teacher and your coworker from 11 years ago, but it’s not like you’re arguing with a bot on Twitter, right? Right??

Over the past two years, the actress Busy Philipps has emerged as an Instagram story darling by sharing mundane aspects of her life with her ravenous viewers (author included). Much has been written about her success with this endeavor versus as an actress, but what is missing from the discourse is how bizarre it is for her to have an endless, real-time, one-sided conversation with hundreds of thousands of strangers about her medical history, small children, and job. In fact, we don’t think it’s weird at all; she is simply an early adopter of a new social media platform. And lo and behold, the rest of us followed: Instagram reported last summer that over 250 million of its 500 million users posted stories every day.

Philipps’ brand is authenticity; we are to believe only the narrowest sliver exists between the woman we see on our screens and the one we could run into on the streets of L.A. But the thing about virtual space is that we can be whoever we want. We don’t have to enter until we’re perfectly groomed; so we can plan out exactly what we say in just the right amount of characters. The more time we spend as this version of ourselves–snarkier, funnier, prettier, smarter– the more comfortable we become, but the differences between the screen and the person behind it remain.

Millions of people looking for love– one out of four straight couples and two out of three gay couples now meet online–have to contend with these discrepancies, which are more complicated than just lying about your height on your dating profile. Articles are devoted to exactly how much time should be spent flirting online before meeting up; too much time means the other person is probably married, too little time means it’s just sex. What is implicit but unstated in these guides is that who we are online is fundamentally different, otherwise we’d never have to meet. When you do agree to get together the opportunity for virtual space is far from diminished. Maybe you answer some emails while you wait at the bar, rather than anxiously wondering if your date will recognize your unfiltered face. If it goes well, you might text your friends about it on the way home, and then dive into everything your date has posted publicly on social media.

While online dating presumes that at a certain point you get together and see where it goes in the real world, virtual space still finds its way into more established relationships. I might say goodbye to my husband in the morning before work but as soon as I step outside of our door, I can instantly connect with him at any point throughout the day. There’s no need to wait until we occupy the same physical space to share my thoughts with him. Imperceptibly but undeniably there is a difference between seeing one another at the end of the day and having been in constant communication. So too is there a difference between a disagreement online or in person; one of us might wait to bring up some annoyance at a careless remark made until we’re chatting online, putting space between our feelings and reactions. On more than one occasion I’ve found it easier to resolve a squabble online than in person, only to realize when we are back in the same room I’m not quite over it. On the other side of the coin, you only have to Google “online flirting cheating?” to see that for a lot of people, virtual space can get a little crowded.

In the Black Mirror episode “The Entire History of You,” the focus is a society wherein a growing population of people implant devices into their brains that record everything they see, allowing for total recall and playback of memories and the ability to jump into the virtual past at any moment. There are obvious benefits to the technology; we’re shown examples of improved homeland security and child safety. But slowly, the ways the “grain” impacts the protagonist become more sinister, from preoccupation with a lackluster job interview or obsessing over his wife’s interactions with another man at a party, to watching an old memory of himself having great sex while having boring sex. The most unsettling part comes after the TV is off, when you think about how close we are to realizing a similar future of full integration between ourselves and technology. Maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe before we travel to the end of the virtual universe we’ll come up for some fresh air, blinking in the sun. Our kids might eschew the iPhone 22S for a rotary or a telegraph, rolling their eyes at the infinite photos their parents used to take of themselves, floating in the cloud.

The Space Men Occupy (on My Phone)

A short story about dating and time traveling through my phone to free up storage.

By Saira Khan

If you, like me, are not the type of person who deletes things from their phone then your phone is, like mine, somewhat of a shrine to people who once occupied space in your life. When you scroll through a year’s worth of break up messages you begin to notice a pattern—for a certain kind of Earth man, the more you make contact, the more they drift off into space, spiraling away in their spacesuit as soon as you reach out. 

T., Never met, May 2018

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J., Four months, April 2018

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A., Three months, March 2018

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J.A, Two dates, March 2018

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G., 2 months, August 2017

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B., 12 months, November 2017

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D., 2 months, October, 2017

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Q., 1 date, December, 2017

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Present day, new motto

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#MeTooLOL

We are officially living in the “it is now okay to make bad jokes about #MeToo” space.

By Gabrielle Sierra

Welp, that was fast. I mean, we all knew it would happen, but damned if it didn’t arrive licketysplit.

We are officially living in the “it is now okay to make bad jokes about #MeToo” space.

First, I heard it from a male coworker in a meeting when he discussed the order in which we would be presenting a project. “And I’ll go first,” he said. “Me first. Like Me Too, right? #MeFirst.”

Then it was a male friend. “You all ordered beers without me? What about mine? #MeToo!”

After that it seemed to come from everywhere. There were jokes on podcasts, jokes overheard in bars and restaurants. The bubble of care and tip-toeing was popped, and men were free to make light of something that made them very uncomfortable.

I have yet to hear a woman make a #MeToo joke that wasn’t delivered in order to highlight the actual movement and not to make light of or jokingly appropriate a phrase.

I know that these jokes are silly, and not intended to inflict any pain or offense. I know that many may read this and call me a feminist killjoy. Afterall, the #MeToo movement and others like it are still front and center in the public discourse and being taken very seriously. It is something that a number of industries and businesses are finally addressing in a real way, and it is spreading around the world.

You may also argue that the world needs laughter and banter and we should have the ability to laugh at ourselves. I agree. But I can’t help but feel that jokes like these open a door, and welcome in a hint of mockery, a breeze of doubt and double-talk.

Because the wounds are still fresh and they reopen all the time.

October 2017, the month in which both The New Yorker and The New York Times released their heart-and-gut-wrenching pieces on Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuse and sexual assault, was less than a year ago. Attendees wearing all black to the Golden Globes in a nod to Time’s Up? Yeah that was January of this year. Bill Clinton’s abysmal responses to questions about sexual harassment were a few weeks ago. Just a handful of days ago we found out that Haim fired their agent after discovering that they were making ten times less than a male artist booked for the same festival. And it was earlier this month that Jeff Sessions announced that asylum seekers can no longer cite fears of violence or domestic abuse as a means to enter the United States.

Every day, stories of mistreatment, assault, abuse, harassment and coercion are coming to light. We aren’t cured, and everything isn’t safe, fair, perfect.

So is already okay to make light of something so huge? So important? Turning #MeToo into a phrase that can be used as a bad joke about forgotten beer?

I am not ready to fake laugh at that quite yet.

A Productivity Hacks Gothic Short Story

When carving space for yourself takes a dark turn.

By Monica Torres

1. “They hijack your mind,” the man in the talk said. “We are in a crisis of attention.”

2. Before bedtime, you put your phone on your nightstand. You put your phone in the living room. You bury your phone in the backyard underneath dirt, and rock, and bone. You wake up and it is in your hand again.

3. You nap before work, in between work, and after work. You are always napping. You never sleep.

4. They gift you unlimited vacation days that you never take. You know better now. The last time you returned from one, they had looked at you blankly: “Who are you?” Someone who looked just like you had sat at your desk. She had waved hello.

5. Don’t let email take over your day, they warn. The last person it consumed never came back the same. You schedule time at the beginning and end of your day to beat it back. No matter how well you prepare, each day, it grows back and you start over.

6. Standup meetings replace regular meetings. They are so successful chairs and cushions begin to disappear from the office. No more time wasted getting settled. The board wants to make the doors glass next.

7. To maximize your day, you go outside of your office at prescribed times. Morning light keeps you awake longer. Thirty minutes of afternoon light can undo hours of sitting. When the dusk hits your retinas, you swear you can hear the breeze, and faintly, screams that sounds like your own. Then you go back inside, full of ideas.

8. You automate your errands to an app, which is run by a group of humans who arrange your laundry pickup and book your hotels, and monitors your sleep. It’s 24/7. When friends ask, you say it’s easy to use and free to download: “People don’t even know that it’s not me.”

9. You start evaluating each relationship for improvement. “Are you a time-plus or a time-sink?” you coo at your baby who breathes as if each one is guaranteed.

10. They say that they do not track your time, but you are sure that eyes follow you down the hallway. Your manager always knows when you have taken a lunch break even when he is not in the office. You wave at the ceiling before you leave, and make sure to not use the full hour.

11. The office is on fire. Numbers are in the red and layoffs loom. To appease them, the younger and older employees get sacrificed. You can still remember their cries as the flames licked their feet.

The pivot frees up space for a meditation room. The health and wellness coach they hire preaches more breathing and letting it go: ‘All feeling is temporary.’

The 9 Worst Things We Have Witnessed in Open-Plan Office Spaces

The unpleasant experience of working in an open-plan office space.

By The Editors

Open plan office spaces are pretty hip these days. Cubicle-free desk arrangements encourage employees to communicate out loud and in direct sight of one another, giving the impression of an inclusive, democratic, and youthful company.

But with the lack of offices and walls comes an obvious lack of privacy. While some have responded to this by moving their personal business to the seclusion of a closed room or restroom, others have embraced the public nature of these spaces by going public with their once-private acts.

We here at High-Strung have all experienced working in an open plan office space at one point or another, and we are here to tell you: it gets real unpleasant real fast.

Here are nine of the worst things we have seen and experienced.

1. One of us noticed a man flossing his teeth in the office. While walking around. Barefoot.

2. Personal boundary issues are amplified —discussing your medical history with your proctologist? Yelling at the delivery person who forgot to bring extra soy sauce? A fight with your partner? Why book a conference room when you can horrify all your coworkers instead?

3. We didn’t know how vigorously someone could pick their nose.

4. Your headphones might obscure the sounds around you, but they don’t save us from your disgusting wet lip-smacking while you savor every bite of your lunch. We hate you.

5. We can’t hate that hard on wedgie picking. We’ve all been there.

6. A collection of half-drunk cups that are slowly piling up into an ominous mountain.

7. Seriously why is this one patch of carpet so wet?

8. Sometimes working with older people in an open office means they don’t understand how volume works through their headphones and you get free access to whatever they’re listening to on their lunch break —which is usually Rachel Maddow.

9. Shared office space means sharing. But why is it always a dude who thinks it’s acceptable to fill the shared trash can with his plastic bottles and smelly leftovers? Just saying dudes are gross.