I’d rather stop

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This is not a good photo. I couldn’t get out of the car and attempt a proper photo, the letter box stands right by a traffic light and words on walls and urban equipments tend to vanish quickly, so you get them when you spot them.

Pause and reflect on the [your / mine]  path 

That’s how it reads to me. That’s what’s lacking, the time to stop and try to see the direction.

It’s only human

Our century is so shallow, its desires scattered so widely, our knowledge so encyclopedic, that we are absolutely unable to focus our designs on any single object and hence, willy-nilly, we fragment all our works into trivia and charming toys. We have the marvellous gift of making everything insignificant.

Nikolai Gogol (1809 – 1852)

Shallow

One too many

Eyes blinded by the fog of things

cannot see truth.

Ears deafened by the din of things

cannot hear truth.

Brains bewildered by the whirl of things

cannot think truth.

Hearts deadened by the weight of things

cannot feel truth.

Throats choked by the dust of things

cannot speak truth.

Harold Bell Wright, The Uncrowned King

And yet, there is no amount of self help books, “keep it simple” formulas or declutter instructions that will tame the maximalist in me.  

A euphemism for self-indulgence most probably. 

Back to black

I have a closet just for black clothes. I also have another one for all other mainly dark colours and reds but these never feel so true to myself as black does. I can’t remember why I started wearing just black but for a long time it felt like the most stylish and comfortable solution to the morning rush of getting dressed. Chic, sophisticated people tend to wear black,  so I’m told by a million glossy magazines, books and film imagery.  Apparently, I also tend to look smarter dressed in black.  I can always try to project the existentialist intellectual that lives in me since my teenage years. I grew up during the post-punk, Gothic 80s and have never managed to be Goth even though I still nurture a special admiration for the whole commitment that kind of aesthetics entails. Some of my most glorious errors are a nod to this sumptuous dark world.

Albeit all the experimentation and character creations around my “cinematic self”, I have never been truly convinced that my clothes could become the visible form assumed by the way I chose to define my public persona. At least not in the sort of spectacular, larger than life way I envisaged.

As a spectacular sub-culture, Goth provides a unique insight into the experience of extraordinary “self-authorship” because of the dramatic and unconventional nature of the external self-constructions of individual identity through dress and personal grooming. Whether or not you are drawn to the “dark side of the human heart”, it is almost impossible to remain indifferent to the dramatic manipulation of appearance and the fantastic narrative that accompanies Goth fashion as an illustration of the  extraordinary dimension the stories one writes for oneself can attain, allowing space for the creation of a “historic utopia” as far removed as possible from everyday life.

As superficial as it might seem, fashionable self-construction is not only about “the look”.While designing an aspirational self, fashion “props” allow the individual to construct a personal “bricolage” which gives the access to their extraordinary self via their ability to transform, and in some cases contest conventional social categories through their glamorising discourses (Thompson and Haytko, 1997). While this might not be a characteristic of the Goth subculture alone, both its cultural pervasiveness and the recurring concern with the distinction between authenticity and depth on the one hand, and a fascination with surface and performance on the other, make Gothic a postmodern archetype of “stylistic resistance”. An is this very stylistic resistance that perpetuates its fashionable allure.

Late capitalism produces the desire for an aura that is felt to be prior to or beyond commodification, for a lived authenticity to be found in privileged forms of individual expression and collective identification. For as long as goth seems to answer that desire, it will thrive as an undead subculture: forging communities on the margins of cities, suburbs, campuses and cyberspace; defying constraints on gender and sexuality; and imbuing the stuff of everyday life with the allure of stylistic resistance.

Lauren M. E. Goodlad, Michael Bibby

While Goth as a subculture has not faded away, the increasing heterogeneity in styles and fashion and a world that seems to no longer produce a coherent dominant culture or the cultural values against which resistance might be expressed, have transformed subcultural style in an ideologically vacant performance of over substance (David Muggleton, 2000). The incorporation of a subculture in mainstream society through commodification is not exclusive of Goth but its enduring resonance with contemporary fears, desires and anxieties might have exhausted itself: where once Gothic provided a space in which the dark dreams of the Enlightenment could be realized, now it simply exposes the void at the heart of an advanced consumer culture. The seemingly inescapable Gothic now functions as the perfectly protean postmodern commodity

All of the varied elements that once defined street style are now high fashion’s greatest source of inspiration. At Jun Takahashi’s Undercover and John Galliano’s Margiela in particular, they have been incorporated in dazzling and inspiring ways. But sometimes the embrace of street chic comes across as a mere flourish tacked on to spice a bourgeois brand with a bit of danger, to make a woman with a coddled existence feel a bit more in touch. It is an attempt to buy cool.

By taking the style, trends, dress, music etc of the subcultures and popularizing them so that they lose their exclusivity and gradually become mass-produced commodities made available to all, the mainstream cultural industry dilutes or annihilates specific meanings transforming authenticity in “ready to wear” commoditized lifestyles subject to the same cultural logic of “self-help narratives” and consummerism impulses. Being authentic, as La Agrado would say, does not come cheap and  you are all the more authentic the more you resemble what you have dreamed for yourself . And this is a rare gift.


References

P.S. While I am selling my 80s vintage gothic errors, a part of me is still reluctant. But then I am not sure if “Gothic Chic” is authentic in me.

Radical Authenticity

At the end of the sidewalk 

I like cities where you can walk almost everywhere. In my case this would be almost any city I have ever visited. I have walked an average of 10 km a day in Barcelona, New Orleans and Boston. I have walked along the river in Dubai under a blazing 49 degrees Celsius. I have walked the boarder to get to Tijuana and walked around the city trying to look relaxed. I used to walk home both in Porto and London so I didn’t need to cope with overcrowded buses or subways. I have walked in  Los Angeles and got lost around Chinatown trying to walk back to somewhere. I had to follow a couple of tourists with a map in Venice after getting irremediably lost walking along narrow alleys. I can’t read maps.

I have walked all the way from downtown Atlanta to Georgia Tech even though there were no real sidewalks. Where Atlanta did have sidewalks, me and some friends where told by a screaming police officer that we couldn’t just stand there waiting for a cab. We were loitering. It was a new word in my English vocabulary, describing some kind of illegal activity that I didn’t even know I was engaging in. All four of us that night, waiting for a taxi to show up after our farewell dinner, had grown up in countries with past military or other forms of dictatorships. We all remembered stories told by our grandparents or parents about how it was forbidden to stop on the sidewalk for a chat just in case it would turn out to be some kind of conspiracy. It stroke us as really odd that this was happening to us in Atlanta.

In Porto, sidewalks have become wider, probably because the city got used to being voted “best destination” of this and that over the past few years. Wider sidewalks accommodate more tourists and make people feel safer. They are, I suppose, also more efficient, there’s more space to move quicker. According to James Petty, “all urban architecture or urban design has a level of control built into it,” pedestrian crossings and sidewalks exist to  guide the behavior of the public. The sidewalks in Brasilia have no corners. This avoids impromptu meetings that could disrupt the efficiency of the city.


I had never really thought about this before Atlanta. I’m absolutely urban, I have tried to live in the countryside for a few months and even though I enjoyed the quietness, I also missed the noise and the people and the new discoveries you make when you experience a city, your own or somebody else’s, just by walking. Even if there’s no sidewalks. It’s just easier to be a dilettante walker when the sidewalks are there. You don’t really get to understand where you are just driving around getting from point A to B. Walking allows you to stop and look, it creates a common space and it helps to experience cities beyond their efficiency, just as places of history and stories. I like cities, I like their “inclusive” character but, as Petty also notes, “you’ve got a point where that kind [urban planning] of controlling becomes direct, explicit, and targeted against certain groups and not others.” Cities with sidewalks still seem to avoid this, at least they make you feel more welcome.

Photos: my own

Sidewalk

Coloring by words 

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink Life to the lees

This was beautifully handwritten inside a birthday card given to me by my summer course English teacher in Cheltenham the year I turned 18. These words (and the card) have stayed with me since then and I even had them embroidered on a dress. Who wouldn’t want to live like that? These words felt like the perfect “how to” to life at that time.

They were also responsible for the immense love I feel for a language which is not native to me but has always understood me better than my own.

Before these words, all the poetry in songs, from Morrison to Morrissey, the texts of disquiet, the Stranger’s paragraphs all seemed to work as companions to a growing existential hole, some sort of solace to an awkward confrontation with reality. And then these words, out of their natural context, as quotes are usually presented, showed a sunny alternative and I still tend to hold on to them as way of seeing a brighter tomorrow.

Other words, other poems, other texts have found their way to me because of their music when read aloud or because they are the words that I wished were mine and because, in a way, I still need words as a compass even when those same words make me feel overwhelmed and scared that in the midst of all the quotes living in my head I will not be able to find words that are mine. And again I borrow, from Beckett when I try and fail and vow to fail again better, from Jung while trying to take control of my own narrative, from Emerson while I try to go on being myself, from Camaron de la Isla when trying to come to terms with all the anger and honey that I too seem to carry with me.

And still none of those words have resonated as strongly as the realization that

tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
I carry them on me. So I don’t forget.

Quote Me better late than never

A different way of letting go

“Women [seem to] have a dynamic relationship with their clothes that can be grouped around three co-existing views of self; ‘The woman I want to be’, ‘The woman I fear I could be’ and ‘The woman I am most of the time’.These three views illustrate women’s attempts to achieve satisfying images as they engage with clothes to create, reveal or conceal aspects of their identity.”( Guy and Banim).

They can also help explain why we keep the clothes that we no longer wear or even those that we have never worn. These clothes laid to rest are somewhat magic both because they connect us to our memories and they keep the promise of possibilities, of a different future.  Letting them go is also letting go of past and future, at least of the one we no longer see ourselves fulfilling.

Why open an online shop instead of just donating everything? This would not allow me the necessary reflection time to understand the process of revisiting myself and, above all, I could not tell the stories of how the Closet came to be.