The History of Snapchat?: A Dear American Story

In 1996, A Journey to the New World was published by Scholastic. An English girl traveled across the Atlantic on the Mayflower to “the new world.” Hear my Sorrow, was a Shirtwaist worker in New York City in the year 1909, also published by Scholastic in 2004 and the last of that 36 series called Dear America. The series was published on a wave of Scholastic’s success. Scholastic ended 2005 with a net worth double the amount of the year end in 2003. These dates also landed in conjunction with the Harry Potter books. Young adult fiction was in its golden age, and the Dear America books, while not matching the Harry Potter phenomenon, benefitted from its fame, and ultimately took a place that was missing at the time: chapter books about young girls, for young girls on a series-based platform.

I voraciously read almost that entire series of 36 books about girls’ lives, from the Mayflower arrival to a Sioux girl in a residential school in Pennsylvania.

The books read in real time, as diary entries. The day, the place, and the time written generously at each heading. Each entry leads us through the day-to-day lives of girls who lived during monumental times, in monumental circumstances in US history. Scholastic worked hard to make the books as personal as possible, with realistic illustrations, or old photographs of the girls on the front cover, down to the ragged edges of the pages, as if worn by time. The authors’ names aren’t written on the cover, only the girls’ names, where they lived, and the year. This strategic design were conveniently deceptive. Though I did not warrant them true outright, I happily suspended belief for them.

Not far from that time, I picked up the diaries of Anne Frank. The feeling was different in those words that spoke as if a ghostly. What stuck was that Anne Frank did have a voice. Unlike the narratives in the girls of Dear America whose lives are fictions based on true events, Anne Frank had lived her life and the words were already written. Her untold death echoes like a dark shadow behind the joys written in the diaries. She is real. Her wisdom is beyond the scope of the Dear America books, requiring a deeper sort of attention. But the Dear America girls are dreams into which we can play, in their words remains a continued life, questions still unanswered.

History is made by the storyteller, and while the books pointed to diversity, there was little in terms of non-white storytellers. There were no examples of Asian immigrants, Mexican, or Puerto Rican young women, the absence of whom are sorely invisible in the US narrative.

The books were published about tens years after the American Girl Dolls. Girls who are now 9, 10, and 11 are being introduced to snapchat. In the late nineties and early 2000’s, before we could compare ourselves to the real time stories of others through social media platforms and youtube. We were told real time stories of girls through magazines and Dear America. As a young girl living upstate New York, it worked, and soon I was the one tactlessly writing my daily activities in a journal with passion. I drew from these books as a way to feel a historical importance in my own life. Social media narratives lend to the Dear America zeitgeist, widening the voices and making significant the many voices. Now, unlike, Dear America, the issue is not diversity, but connection.

Dear America were narratives of girls going about their day-to-day while witnessing and undergoing moments that would become “historic.” When we read the journals in the late 90’s and the early 2000’s we were the same age as these girls. Seeds were being set culturally, politically, and technologically, that would shift our lives, and in no way we could have predicted. All that was happening would be ours. We read Dear America books, from the voices of young girls, not  aware of any kind of history “making” but using their private voices as the structures for time.

I am certain that the Dear America books inspired many girls to put their pens on paper, to parse out the historic significance running through everyday lives. More than a completed historical document we long for the unfinished narrative, the continued story, so we can run to catch up, grab the hand of another and form bonds through media.

Glass Buildings and a Case for the Birds

Chelsea are streets of optical illusions. The streets are glass tunnels. Just behind this door, behind that white wall of the gallery there lies a boatload of artwork. But all I can see are gleams of reflected light all along the street, and dark, unwelcoming entrances. Sometimes I wonder why Chelsea isn’t more beautiful if it’s the old swinging art gallery district. Forgive me if I venture that it’s time has passed. It’s been sucked dry and all that’s left are sharp remains of beautiful, messy times. I remember poking my head out of a Bushwick window on a warm day in June when Bushwick took the reigns. I was 23 and the only age I could have been because that Bushwick open studios was how artwork should been seen, I thought, where it falls out on the street. Now I am 28 and I feel out of the loop. It’s like, Why not make your door pink? Why try to compete to be more and more minimal? I am a bookmaker, this has in part to do with that. Book making really is just a very small and simplified version of architecture. I digress.

The highline from here is just a shadow crossing the streets, crowned with browning leaves. We are not there. I am with my mother, a bag full of books on my back. She’s a quick talker and frenetric on her feet. She only pauses when we come across a streak of red from the wing of a fallen bird. The only color to be seen for blocks. It looks like it fell a great distance to get down here to the grey streets, to the sidewalk of 26th street. “It’s the glass,” we say craning our necks to the sky where the buildings extend up like trees.

Later, I try to return to the location of the bird’s small tomb on Google Maps to take a closer look at the street and see what building was the culprit so that I can call them out once and for all. But when I set the little yellow human down on the street, I find myself in the middle of a gallery opening. And I imagine the person who took these pictures. This is very opposite from the street. This is very cramped with art enthusiasts and the building disappears within its own walls.

I continue looking for an image but find streets obscured in scaffolding. Nothing. I consider that perhaps there are no images of this building yet because it is so new. Hudson Yards was rezoned in 2005 and is going to open to the public in March 2019. The entire neighborhood is rumbling with potential. Most of the buildings surrounding Hudson yards have also be built in the last ten years in preparation for the massive economic boost that Hudson Yards is preparing to maneuver. I imagine all of the wealthy people who will live and walk there. All of the glass buildings. What will the birds do?

In 2013 The Vikings stadium broke ground at the heart of Minneapolis and The University of Minnesota for the Vikings, that team wistfully known as “the heartbreakers.” Almost making it every time. The stadium was built to look like a large Viking ship, and indeed, hull and all, peaks through buildings in dinkytown as if faring grandly along the plains of the Midwest. There were hundreds of complaints about birds flying into the large glass wall along the southwestern side. The solution involved a study that began in 2014 and is slated to end in 2019 according to an article written by Alison Thoet with PBS News Hour.

Autumn is the migratory period for these fowl. Often the traveling birds will mistake an indoor tree for possible food. Or the reflection of vegetation for food. These birds can be younger and less experienced, flying down from boreal regions to southern temperate regions. The Audubon Society has initiated Project Safe Flight, and nationwide studies  to find solutions for glass buildings. Most of the birds that fall victim to glass windows are smaller, lower flying birds compared to hawks that also migrate through Manhattan. Volunteers have discovered starlings, woodcock, and ovenbird as among the highest in fatality.

The Jacob Javits Center, the Northernmost bookend to the Hudson Yards development came across a similar issue according to a New York Times article in 2015. The author, Lisa W. Foderaro found that the Javits Center used patterned glass that is not visible to the human eye, but distinctly alerts birds of its existence.

As Hudson Yards revs its opening, here is a plea for the birds. Perhaps through patterned glass, through colored glass, through strong colors. If the complex should be buildings that would feign inclusion, warmth, a welcoming attitude, let it at least be authentic for the birds. Let the color on the streets be not the outcome of confounded songbirds, but artwork, but a flutter of wings.

Learning to Fight

The importance of stillness is lost on me as a I shimmy through the motions of a day, saying yes to everything, picking up forgotten meetings and chores that have fallen out of my full calendar. As the hours pass, I repeat “I’m writing, I’m writing…” over and over again to make myself believe I’m writing. But the phrase is vapid. No one believes me. I barely believe myself. Though you know I try.

In my desire to arrive at some financial or acclaimed destination my eye never settles in the blur the pace of my feet make of the world. All signs say, welcome to the potential New York City. But not the inevitable one. Certainly, there are a scant few people who can say that New York doesn’t blur them. I aspire to be these people (I also don’t believe that it has to do with class or money). I think has to do with a mindset.

I came to this city with a dream to write for Nylon, or Bust, or some other trendy, fun magazine. But I couldn’t get myself to just apply to the internships. They seemed petty, and I had too much pride. I was a Writer. I would weave winding pieces about death and dying and anxiety and nostalgia that could put the most avid reader to sleep. I sent these pieces to the editors being like, “I want to write about people who make graffiti in the walls of the subway tunnels. I want to write about how going to Union Square gives me an anxiety attack.” And so on. So, of course they never wrote back. I’m a dark bitch, who couldn’t accept that her dreams were not the substance of anemic pieces on the importance of a pair of shoes. Am I negging right now, Nylon?

Sometimes my ambitions seem to cover this city like the underbelly of a phoenix, so brilliant that I would swear this place was made of gold. Other times I wonder if someone pitched me my dream once and I bought it. Clouds are not formed by skeletons. There is nothing to a dream but the stories of the mind and refractions of light.

For the first time the question was posed to me: What will you fight for?

We sat at a white table stained with red acrylic paint. My elbows were sprawled out, fist on my chin, comfortable and sleepy. I said I didn’t think that fighting was the path to where I wanted to get. My interviewer seemed a bit taken aback and explained the story of her parents. How they fought. How, in their case, they fought to survive.

I left feeling unsettled. How did my mother fight? My grandmothers fought. The times that I fought when the break of day ambushed a good amount of hubris I had about the calculations of my bank account or a inclinations of a lover.

If you’re not playing you’re not paying attention. If you’re not in your body someone else will be. If anything, fight for the vessel that is yours for now.

Her voice crept inside me. Where is your fight? Where is your salt? Where does it boil inside? That’s the way. You know you are as bloodthirsty as the person next to you. It’s only natural.

In my dream a line of people said what they liked in sex, and what they liked in a partnership. I said I liked to feel the sweat. I liked to feel like I am working for something. Fighting doesn’t have to be hateful. Fighting can create place, can create boundaries, can be a form of exploration. Is growth. How else does a bud brace against the cold spring wind?

This is for you, Bust, Nylon, this is for all who taught me that I must fight, not only for my own writing, my own dreams that transform like clouds, but for the dreams of others, who are growing, who are defining their world. Who are building their strength. Who are not readily heard. We must fight for our voices, and not in a hateful way. But we must fight.

How I Dreamt I Had Three Sons: A Lesson on Letting Go

I had a dream a while back after making 30 hardcover leather bound books.

It was late. I had work the next morning. I was immersed in an audiobook of Ender’s Game on Youtube and skiving the last piece of mauve leather. I pressed the razor down and skimmed the plush layer of hide off so that the skin became thin. With a thin layer of leather the cover would be adhered smoothly against the book board. Before finishing, I left this piece of leather on my desk and went to sleep. I wasn’t ready, and wanted to keep the project going one more night.

That night I dreamt I had three sons. They were barely new, they were dripping, practically gestating there on a table in a house. But they were happy boys. Two were normal looking but one, had a strange face, a square face whose expression I couldn’t explain. He ran into my open arms, laughing as I crouched on the wooden floor. I held him. His mouth was next to my ear and I perceived the rolling laughs becoming panicked, high pitched screams.

I distanced myself from him and saw that his skin had been so thin that his intestines were falling onto the wooden floor. I woke with a start, sobbing.

It took me a long time to connect this dream to the books I was making. I had worked for months on the edition, folding, sewing, gluing. Skiving was that close attention to the thickness, flow, and consistency of leather. I’m as woowoo as it gets, but I’m sure you can buy that there was something of a spirit within those skins that I paid such close attention to.

Before beginning the project, I had never bound an entire edition. The task was much larger than I had imagined it would be. So close to the end, I was facing another kind of end. Unlike writing who’s process can be infinitely tweaked, there are countless ways to use language to express or weave story. With books, you already have the material. By the end you have made and used all the paper, all the ink, all the leather the project can give. Once they are done they are in front of you, imperfect perhaps, faulty in their junctions. But there the way these sons sat on the table.

In the creative process there are many stages, but the one I understood for the first time that night is simple, necessary, and profound. There is a moment where you have to let go. In letting go will feel like a death to end the creation of it. It will feel like the work is not ready sometimes. Living its own life to be adored, hated, to be used, or forgotten or all of these. And it dies in your arms as it goes. You can name it, you can speak to the time it took to make it, and the way it was formed.

But it must move forward or you will not have given it the life it deserves.

I haven’t been able to overcome this struggle, and often it is difficult to finish projects for this very reason. The release has not become easy, and perhaps it never will. But at least I know that the love exists. The love is what matters in the end.

Scorpio Rising

The Scorpion tail lifts tall over the horizon.

It’s an intensity in the eyes and a pull from somewhere secret inside you that guides you into darkness. But what is darkness but a thing that is unknown to us?

A place of extremities. In the full dia de los muertos, halloween, it is the veil that on one side touches the ancestors, and on the other side, an ecstatic vitality.

Scorpio rising is when you notice that it’s dark after an active summer day. When you notice it’s autumn. There’s a loss and a gratefulness that exist simultaneously within the shimmering lights that are set up around in the shadows that are the houses. This is the beginning of the season of lights.

Scorpio rising is the intense connection to the luxurious release of an orgasm. The during and the after. It is glory and then the moment after. What more could there possibly be?

What more could there possibly be.

Nothing less than a death within the self.

This is a time to acknowledge the darkness that you have. Take a moment to walk with that which is lost. What have those things taught you? Those years? Those relationships? There is an immense amount of creativity welled up in these darkening days, so let yourself be immersed in the new season, sit with it. There is a great amount of potential, perspective, and learning within the suffering.

Your rising sign is what is immediately seen, and how you initially react to something. Your famous sun sign lies in the depths of you, but as people pass you on the street and meet you for the first time they see your rising sign. Find your rising sign here:

https://www.astro.com/horoscope


Dancing with Florence

I was surprised when my boyfriend bought us tickets to see Florence and the Machine for our one year anniversary when he had just asked me disdainfully the week before if I was an anniversary girl. Turns out he’s the more romantic of the two of us. But I knew this already.

In New York City you are surrounded by people. At any given moment massive hordes walk the streets, making one’s way precariously through Union Square or the Atlantic Avenue station can feel like white water rafting as you dodge left and right, weave between bodies as they flow with the current. There must have been tens of thousands of people in the crowd and Florence called the place “warm and cozy” and, as if by magic, we could touch its oozing warmth.

We found our seats in the venerable nosebleeds. The feeling of vertigo as we inched past people who stood in their chairs to let us go by on one side, and on the other a height so dizzying that I teetered a bit as tops of chairs made a jagged cliff face for two stories down. The stage was in full view. She was small and wavering. We had a view of most of the audience, which took up a good amount of the auditorium, and flowed in like rivers through the aisles, and listened and cheered.

The stage was set up like a topographical map. All of the levels were broken into layers of light wood, perhaps pine. Warm light filtered through each layer. Florence wore a peach pink dress that was just transparent enough to let the light show through. In her pre raphaelite style, the dress had shoulder pads and barefoot. She often used her long red hair as a prop to lash about while she danced. Most of the set was spent running, wildly dancing, or standing perfectly still, like a flame. The essence was refined naturalism, tender occult. Her voice lilted into the microphone softly, but powerfully.  “Come dance with us,” she said, as if she had tripped out of Neverland leaving nothing but the wings behind (I would have loved to dance it all off, but we were in a precarious situation with the height).

Touring since August, Florence was supposed to be in the last legs, but now was starting off her High as Hope tour through March in the UK and Australia. And she came to Barclays at the perfect time, right when venus swung into retrograde and a shudder rippled through the community as the new supreme court justice was confirmed. Hope, is word that had so much meaning at one point. Hope is lately so awkward to hold. What is hope if it is just a dream, such a simple word for such a messy time. She embodies, and perhaps always did, this neo-new-age witchcraft that grasps at a power that can include everyone when the previously held beliefs don’t seem to be working. This was familiar and comfortable to me and everyone else with their peasants blouses and hair down.

I held hands with a stranger, a person of about 20 with short hair and a jean skirt. This may not be strange in a concert, but it remains significant. To be given permission to love, to care for, the people around you. Throughout the auditorium people were clasped together: something solid built of many.

Cosmic Love and the phones made stars. At one point in history it might have been lighters. But it still is deeply powerful to see the collective action. It did look like stars, LED stars, but constant still.

When I was 20 I lived alone in Paris. I listened to Lungs in my one room apartment. In the winter I hung my clothes on the heater to warm them up before I put them on. I listened to Shake it Off: “It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back / so shake him off.” I can’t explain it. It is a thing that can only come from deep solitude to say that that song let me acknowledge the darkness so that I could live new.

And when we left we left at a surprising pace. Whoever designed the exits in Barclays was a credible genius because we were down from that perch and in the street in no more than 10 minutes. Shattering into the night like shards. And as it is said in the fairy tale of the snow queen, the spell of the night of music can perhaps propagate.

a boy that looks like a girl

Imagine a young adult, an early 20-something, with long hair. They don’t have a reason to cut their hair. In fact, the long hair  is more like a game to them: to see how long it will get, naturally, in a certain amount of time. A picture of them as a child wearing a dinosaur outfit with an angry face, hands up in mid-roar is somewhere in the history of their instagram. Because in this time of discovery they have become slightly obsessed with their own image as a child. What does it mean that that was once me, and now this is me? So in a “tbt” they post it and get a lot of likes because they really do look so cute in this image. They’ve changed now, and they are beginning to live in their bodies like lived-in houses.

There is a Greek statue that looks like that, a woman from the back and from the front it’s a man. I saw it when I scrounged some Saturday afternoon to go to The Met and I thought I was going to the East Asian wing, but I found myself lost in the Ancient Greek section.

Beauty falls like a heavy powder between the physical appearance and the character. It simply has to. An image does not capture the moving, breathing being that brings life to the complexities of a single expression.

Rebellion

I walk outside and find autumn close to the skin. It is September 11th, and no matter how warm it gets a briskness will remain in the wind. I’m ready.

There’s this thing that happens when you step back, a kind of reckoning where you begin to understand that the desires of others and the desire of yourself might be different. Like you really don’t have to do what everyone says all the time, and people might not agree with you all the time (shocking). I know this might sound obvious but it was not to me for most of my life. Even though it still isn’t entirely clear to me, I am beginning to understand it in a more pressing manner.

The coup of rebellion was a discovery made in middle school and high school and forgotten until now.

I am reminded at a point of dissonance from a 13-year-old only child celebrity chef who has been on some of those cooking shows. Who doesn’t like baked egg in avocado. He stays with his friend at their weekend house in the Hamptons on the last days of summer. A small portion of battery left in the family’s drone led to its loss at this boys hands. His friend’s father found it several god forsaken minutes later in the next door neighbor’s tree. After some calls and a terse denial by the boy who went swimming in the pool, a cherry picker was called. The sun was bristling. It was hard to sit outside without long cables of sweat running down your sides. Of course you could give him the benefit of the doubt: he had never flown a drone before. He may not have known this or that, while the woman’s voice in the machine said over and over that the machine was at 10 percent. Neglect is a kind of rebellion. He was later found crying on the body-lengthed bouye.

About a week later I didn’t do my homework for one of my classes (out of carelessness, and out of, perhaps, a kind of rebellion.) I’m a le snob and can act like I know everything. This neglect was of le snob, and I think myself and junior celebrity chef were on the same page when we accidentally-on-purpose swung a hit at (in the end our own egos) authority. We both cried in places of prestige. Me in a beautiful college campus, and he at the pool.

I know, I have neglected things out of rebellion. I have been careless out of rebellion. I immediately turn off when people tell me what to do. Rebellion has put me in awkward situations in which I have not done homework, or found myself high and dry on a train platform looking out onto the tracks, imagination as stagnant as a rock, and, God help me, of tumbling low self esteem. But it feels so good to do what you want. It feels too good to let the spirit move you. But this is not rebellion. Rebellion is knowing what a person or society wants and going against it. To mix it up. They won’t like you. Not everyone will like you. Which is why a rebellion must have a purpose.

Growth. It is also natural, an expression of anger, signifying a need for development, to touch the edges of your personality as it morphs. To not rebel is to not find yourself. There are two kinds of rebellion: non-conformity, and anti-authoritarian rebellion. One against your peers and one against positions of authority. Both kinds of rebellion act as maps for your own limits, act as catalysts for questions. Why does this matter?

I think it’s ok to have rips in your jeans if you want to do that. I think it’s ok to let your hair grow long, dye it. Pierce your belly button with your best friend. I don’t really think this is a time to worry too much about cleanliness. I think you should do whatever the fuck brings you joy, because I think your intentions are good. I think you should lose yourself, my love, you’ll find yourself weeping for it, desperate for your sanity back, but you’ll be here again.

Titanic

I remember the flood as the long lines at gas stations when Sandy hit, subway stations inaccessible looking like the lonely rubble of the ballroom in John Cameron’s Titanic. I never understood why he added that hour long introduction to the film that brought the audience through the sunken ship, but I understand now. How it was a remote memorial, in a way, for us all, for all the people who are lost, for all the loves we first had. A story held still. Sandy destabilized the city for one whole month, and continued to inconvenience us for years after. I remember it happened during Halloween and everyone was wandering around in halloween costumes, just trying to keep tradition, but feeling silly in the face of disaster.

Esme and I memorized the last speech in Titanic between Jack and Rose on that carved door at the end, after the affair, after the joy. I was Jack and she was Rose. Hair frozen, grasping each other’s hands, me whispering: “You’re going to live on Rose, and you’re going to make babies…” and then I'd slip away onto the floor

We did everything together, she was my other half, she and I had the same first letter to our names, we shared clothing, we shared jewelry, we shared rooms. We shared days together that lasted weeks. We shared coffees and candy. We shared pizza and trips all over the world. We shared swimming and we shared classes. We shared cars and schools and best friends.

The first time I heard that drowning metaphor was when we were 18 and had all moved to college. Esme moved to Rochester and I moved to the middle of Manhattan. She used to call me and tell me that she didn’t want to get up in the morning, that she cried all the time. That she didn’t feel anything, also. She used to call holidays, when she went back home, a breath of fresh air after diving back down into the water. We were so close and hurting it might have been me who made that metaphor but it doesn’t change how perfect of a description it is. Every change I’ve ever had has felt like I was growing fins or gills very quickly and painfully, like the hulk or something. In sadness things hang strangely in the atmosphere like there’s a different quality in the air. The pain is palpable and the transformation jarring, but necessary, all to adapt in a water world.

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