Body Issues

A few weeks ago, a new-ish friend asked me if I would be interested in running a four-mile race with him in Central Park in February. You clearly don’t know me well enough, I told him. If there’s one thing I loathe more than running outdoors, it’s exercising in the company of anyone I know. Plus, I said, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone for a run in the last few years. There’s no way I could be ready to run a four-mile race in just a few weeks, even if I wanted to.

As I’ve gotten further into my twenties, it seems like everyone around me is more interested in exercise – both for health and for fun. Many close friends of mine, friends who were not runners when we met, have become serial participators in 5Ks and 10Ks and half-marathons. Others have become devotees of pilates or barre or, in a few cases (and I’m still not certain if this is more of a joke than a real thing), jazzercise. One good friend rock climbs at a climbing gym several times a week. He brought me there once and, though I did end up having a good time, I was so exhausted and overwhelmed by the experience that I never went back.

When it comes to exercise, I don’t have a THING. Actually, that’s not totally true. My real thing has become reading The New Yorker while on the elliptical machine or treadmill in the Greenpoint YMCA’s cardio room. I joke about this a lot, but it really is what I do to “work out”. And I don’t do it nearly enough.

I’ve always had a hard time motivating myself to exercise. Even though I know it will make me feel good and may even make me “healthier” – whatever that means – I almost always prefer doing an activity that requires minimal movement, like writing or cooking, to going for a jog or attending a gym class. And I have a hard time buying into the cult of fitness, something that’s only seemed to grow more intense (at least in urban areas) with the rise of non-traditional exercise routines like SoulCycle and fitness startups like ClassPass in the last few years.

This all makes me feel sort of adrift when it comes to figuring out what’s best for me in terms of “staying in shape” or “maintaining a healthy body weight” or any other fitness-related goals I think I should have.

Running really doesn’t work for me. Every time I’ve tried to get into it, even when I was I was a teenager and under the supervision of a coach, I’ve gotten injured. And, as I’ve stated, I seriously dislike group exercise (other than yoga, for some reason). I really, truly am not interested in pedaling on a stationary bike while someone with an extremely toned body spews motivational bullshit into a wireless microphone headset.

Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking, OK, so if you don’t like exercise…then don’t do it. Or maybe you’re saying, Hey, dummy, you should just try doing more of the stuff you know you like and can do, like using cardio machines at the gym or yoga or, even though you didn’t mention this, taking really, really long walks, which is another thing you like to do.

But who knows what you’re thinking? All I know is that my brain vacillates between telling me to not exercise and telling me to exercise and now, at the end of the first month of the new year, it’s driving me crazy.

Of course, I’m always like this. As I’ve said, I’m not naturally motivated to exercise. But the reason I’m super ambivalent about exercise now, more than usual, is because – once again – I’ve developed pretty negative feelings about my body.

I haven’t weighed myself in months, but I know I’m at the heaviest I’ve been since prior to going on Weight Watchers in 2010. (I lost 20 lbs over the course of a year, tried to maintain that weight for another year, and then backslid over time into my old habits of eating and drinking whatever I wanted to and not exercising more than twice a week or for longer than 30 minutes at a time.) My pants still fit, but not really. I make jokes on Twitter about unbuttoning them all the time, but it’s actually because they’re pretty uncomfortable when I’m sitting at my desk all day! I don’t look “fat” or “bad” or “unhealthy”. I just don’t feel good anymore.

I only go to the gym a few times a month now. And that might even be an exaggeration. But I used to go a few times a week. I haven’t gone to yoga in two years; I quit going to my regular class because it interfered with a German class I was taking (and later quit, both because of lack of funds and the severe embarrassment I felt after drunkenly hooking up with a classmate who I’d had a bit of a crush on and who most likely lost any warm feelings he’d had toward me after that night). And even though my gym has a pool, I refuse to even consider getting into it – I know it’s weird to bring up swimming now, but I should have mentioned before that I was a competitive swimmer (of questionable talent) through high school – because it has an irregular lap swim schedule, only has four lanes, is shorter than 25 yards, and looks ill-kept.

I know what I should do to not feel like this (gross): Slowly get back into working out, doing the things that I know I can handle and ramp up the frequency. There was a time I had never jogged on a treadmill or done yoga. I know I can do those things again, but it’s just a matter of…doing them. Or overcoming the fear of doing them. I’m afraid that I won’t “see results” and therefore won’t feel better about myself. I’m afraid of getting too extreme, as I did back in my Weight Watchers days, when I used exercise to punish myself for not being thin enough or good enough or loveable enough or whatever it was that led me to become obsessive about Weight Watchers in the first place.* I wonder if I’ll ever be able to find a balance.

So, I think I’ve been building up to telling you this crazy fact, which is that I’m going to the gym tonight. I brought my gym clothes with me today so that I have to go directly there after work and cannot make up an excuse to not go once I get home. My plan is to walk on the treadmill for a bit and maybe get on the elliptical. I (literally) do not want to hurt myself, so I think taking it slow for now is best.

I probably won’t be running races anytime soon. And I really don’t think I’ll be participating in the 40-mile bike race my dad asked me to sign up for the other day. But maybe I’ll try one of these dumb classes (not SoulCycle, please don’t make me do Soul Cycle) sometime if I can at least get myself back into yoga. And I’m definitely going to attempt to normalize the way I think about myself again, to get back to being OK with the choices I make in terms of food and exercise and not judging myself or comparing myself to other people.

I don’t really know how to end this in a meaningful or very conclusive way, so I’ll just blurt out some final thoughts in the form of a numbered list and hope they are satisfactory to read.

  1. I understand that exercise is an important part of “being healthy” but I really don’t like it! (However, I will admit that most of the time I feel really good after I do it.)
  2. It’s annoying when people suggest different forms of exercise to me or urge me to try something new. It’s super cool if you’re into, for example, barre (which I don’t even really understand, like as a concept) but I’ll do it if I decide that I want to do it and not because you asked me to.
  3. I worry about everyone’s devotion to exercise classes and gyms in general, because they (the gyms, fitness franchises, etc.) are clearly out to make a lot of money off of people who are willing to pay them and not to promote health for all humans. But hey, we’re all (pretty much) participants in capitalism and who am I to tell anyone where they should spend their money? (For the record, I spend most of my money, after rent, on food and booze and entertainment like books and movies. My gym costs $50 per month.)
  4. (If you like exercising and going to classes and those are things that make you happy, please don’t hate me! I want everyone to just do their thing that makes them happy.)
  5. Sometimes I feel bad about my body. Mostly it’s because I look around and I see and hear people talking about diet and exercise. And I compare what I’m eating to what they’re eating and I compare my body to theirs.
  6. But I don’t really want to be a person who is really into the gym and has intense goals when it comes to weight or strength or whatever.
  7. I just want to find the best way to feel better about myself without turning into a crazy person who is obsessed with calorie-counting and/or burning calories. (Or Points. It was all about the Points when I was on Weight Watchers.)
  8. I know I should not care and just run around naked like Lena Dunham or love myself the way I am like Amy Schumer keeps telling me to do but I’m obviously not quite there yet, otherwise I would be doing those things right now.
  9. Sorry for even bringing Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer up –it seems unfair to reduce them to whatever I just did above – but I felt like I should say something about how it’s great that there are people out there who are talking about body positivity, etc. And I wanted to point out that being confronted by those attitudes – which again, are great and important – in the media makes me feel bad for feeling bad about myself.
  10. Anyway, I’m going to the gym tonight. Go, me!

 

*Hi! I feel like I should talk more about Weight Watchers. So, the thing is, Weight Watchers really worked for me! I lost a bunch of weight and I was in really great shape after a few months on the program. I didn’t constantly eat and drink to excess and I developed a regular exercise routine. However, this all happened at a pretty weird time in my life. I was just out of college, lived with my parents in the suburbs, and was super depressed. Weight Watchers helped me feel a lot better about myself, my ability to make positive changes, and a bunch of other good crap. BUT I now realize I also used my Weight Watchers success to feel superior to other people who maybe didn’t make the best food choices or didn’t exercise and that wasn’t cool. I talked about Points constantly, shamed my friends for eating or drinking certain things, and was just generally an asshole about how much “better” I looked. Even though it gave me some tools and knowledge I can use again in the future to make living healthier easier, I would think twice about going back on Weight Watchers. It’s hard, I think, to do something that’s so completely about oneself and maintain a normal level of compassion for others.

What I Wrote in 2015

I woke up this morning, on the last day of the year, and thought about writing. I consider doing this often, just getting up and writing. Then I did what I do almost every morning. I hit snooze on my alarm and rolled over. When I finally did get up, after hitting snooze a few more times, I had just enough time to run out for coffee before starting work. (My actual work that I get paid to do.) This, I thought to myself, is why I can never get any writing done. Then I proceeded to get angry at myself for not writing enough this year, for not publishing anywhere other than my own site, for giving up on the novel I’d started, for constantly feeling like I don’t have anything to say, for worrying that no one reads or cares about what I do put out there, for getting caught in this same negative thought cycle all too often.

I decided to stop being angry and to do a thing I had promised I would do more often this year and in the future. I decided to be nice to myself. All of the things I didn’t do this year? I told myself that it’s fine that I didn’t do them. I can do them or not do them later. And all of the things I did? They’re great! I did them.

This lead me to make a list of things I wrote that I liked this year. So, here are the things I wrote that I liked:

I wrote about having crushes.

I wrote about traveling to Iceland by myself.

I wrote about being a fan.

I wrote about getting naked with my friends at the spa.

I wrote about losing my job.

I wrote about talking to strangers in New York City.

I wrote about losing my uncle twelve years ago.

I wrote about what I listened to and what I read.

And I’ll write more next year. Just probably not right when I get up in the morning.

Every Book I Read in 2015

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one of the many times this year i attempted to match my manicure to the book i was reading

The year is almost over and I’m probably not going to finish another book, so I figured I might as well write up my annual year in reading post. According to my Goodreads account, I read 37 books in 2015. My goal was to read 24 books and I love exceeding goals, so I feel very good and happy about reading 13 more books than I thought I could.

Throughout 2015, I wrote tiny little reviews of many of the books I read. Here are reviews from January – March, April – June, and July – September. And below is my full roundup from this year, without any commentary because I’m lazy as hell today and I didn’t write any last year either.

Top Five (Non-Ferrante) Novels
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Group by Mary McCarthy
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Ferrante Novels
The Story of a New Name
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
The Story of the Lost Child

Novels I Liked A Whole Lot
Talk by Linda Rosenkrantz
Tampa by Alissa Nutting
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Graphic Novels/Memoirs I’m Embarrassed to Say I Hadn’t Read Sooner
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz

Novels I Love That I Reread
How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Very Good Essay Collections
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum

Unputdownable True Crime Book
People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo – and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

Putdownable True Crime Book
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

Other Non-Fiction and Memoir I Was Into
So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead by David Browne
Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein
Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller
Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman’s Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany by Marie Jalowicz Simon

Two Engrossing But Ultimately Disappointing Thrillers
The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Secret Place by Tana French

Three Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Never Mind
Bad News
Some Hope

Sci Fi or Fantasy Books (Some For My Sci Fi-Fantasy Book Club and Some For “Fun”)
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Things I Read For My Non-Genre Book Club That I Find Difficult to Classify
Three Tall Women by Edward Albee
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks

Books I Started and Didn’t Finish
Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick
Stoner by John Williams
Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music by Rob Young
The First Collection of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper
The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy [Note: I have already read this book and got distracted from my intended reread.]

A Year (2015) in Music

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I’m usually pretty serious about keeping up with new music, mainly so that I can create a year end list of my favorite songs and albums, an activity I greatly enjoy. This year I was really on top of my shit until August, when I lost my job and shortly thereafter destroyed my computer by spilling water across the keyboard. Music discovery wasn’t as convenient or fun once I didn’t have work to procrastinate. And it wasn’t as easy once my main mode of internet access was my phone, which was fine for like, looking something up on Wikipedia, but not great for long-term browsing. Anyway, this is all to say that I stopped paying attention to new music this summer, except for things that I was anticipating, and I don’t feel quite right catching up and putting together a year end list at this point because I’d probably get lazy and rely on year end lists that have already been published to fill mine out and that seems dumb.

So, I decided I would write about the new music I really cared about in 2015. What follows is a collection of thoughts and feelings about albums and songs I loved or that were big parts of my year in one way or another. The list is sort of chronological and a lot of my favorite, favorite things don’t come until a bit later, but I will stop explaining and just let you read it.

The album that defined my year more than any other was Colleen Green’s I Want to Grow Up. (It wasn’t my absolute favorite album, but it’s close to the top and I had in rotation throughout 2015.) It’s kind of painful thinking about how much I related to every song back when I was first listening to this album. I spent much of this year feeling stuck, wanting unavailable people to be my friends and lovers, vacillating between deciding to change my life for the better and falling back into bad habits and old patterns, and wondering what is actually stopping me from doing the things I’ve always thought I was supposed to do, like finding love or pursuing whatever my dreams are. I listened to I Want to Grow Up on repeat for months. When I played it for a friend, someone I’ve known since I was fourteen, he told me that “this sounds like the album you would write if you played music.” His saying that made me feel a tiny bit exposed – like, “Oh, no, are my insecurities so obvious?” – but I was flattered just the same.

Recommended Tracks: Um, all of them? If I have to choose a few then I would tell you to listen to “Things That Are Bad For Me (Part I),” “Deeper Than Love,” and “Whatever I Want.” But again, I also like all of the other songs.

***

I was really sad at the beginning of the year. (And also maybe the rest of the year? (Haha.)) I thought I couldn’t possibly have another disappointing year when it came to dating or romance, but it all started going downhill pretty quickly. I remember taking the train up to my parent’s house one weekend in January, staring out the window at the frozen Bronx – so basically a lot of chainlink fences, felled branches, and trash covered in snow – listening to Natalie Prass’s “My Baby Don’t Understand Me,” a song about ending a relationship and realizing that the whole thing had been a “long goodbye.” All the while, I was thinking about how things could never work with the person I was seeing at the time, someone who, the more time I spent with him, seemed like more of a stranger to me. The relationship Prass sings about in the song is much more serious than the fledgling thing I was in, but I could relate to the sentiment. By the time Natalie Prass – the album – came out at the end of January, that thing I was wondering about was over. But as I hibernated in my apartment during the coldest weeks of the year, I listened to that album for comfort. I thought was beautiful and heartbreaking and maybe a little bit hopeful and very much something I needed to hear at the time.

Recommended Tracks: The aforementioned “My Baby Don’t Understand Me.” Also, “Why Don’t You Believe in Me” and album-closer, “It Is You,” which sounded to me like it could have been written by Harry Nilsson, a wonderful thing in my book.

***

Yumi Zouma, the New Zealand dream pop band to which I was introduced in 2014, had two songs that stuck with me this year. “Catastrophe” and “A Song For Zoe & Gwen” came out early in the year and I put them both on like 500 playlists.

***

I saw Sleater-Kinney for the first time back in February. I wrote about the show, which I had a lot of feelings about, soon afterward. It was at Terminal 5 and was uncomfortably crowded, but I still felt in awe of the performance and was happy I went. I saw them again last week at Irving Plaza and this second show blew me away. (I was a lot closer to the front, they covered “Rock Lobster” with Fred Armisen, they played a bunch of my favorite songs, etc. Ask me about it some time.)

Anyway, the album! It’s great and precisely what I wanted and expected from Sleater-Kinney. I didn’t connect with No Cities to Love as much as I did with some of their earlier albums – most of which I listened to for the first time years after they were released – but I still played it all the time this winter and returned to it every few months, so it feels very much woven into my year in music.

Recommended Tracks: “A New Wave” (which I have in my head right. now.), “Surface Envy”, “Price Tag”

***

I began this year excited for the new Chromatics album, Dear Tommy, to come out. And then it never did! They originally announced a February release date and kept releasing singles but not releasing the album. Which, I guess, has been fine because I’ve really liked the singles. “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around” and “In Films” were especially in constant rotation for me this year. Chromatics makes the kind of music I want to soundtrack my life.

Also noteworthy: “Shadow” and the multiple covers of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” that they released this fall

***

This is maybe…weird, but when I think about Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, I think about being at the gym. I guess I was going to the gym a lot when I was listening to this album? Every time I listen to it now I feel like I should be on the elliptical machine. Anyway, I love Barnett for her detailed storytelling and humor and general badassness. I think her music, in some ways, reminds me of Jens Lekman who I love for his detailed storytelling and humor. (But probably not badassness. Also, I’m now reminded that I haven’t listened to him in a long time.)

Recommended Tracks: “Depreston” (one of my favorite songs of this year, which is a really good short story in song format), “Dead Fox”, “Nobody Really Cares If You Go to the Party”

***

I crushed hard on Bully early this year and listened to the debut album Feels Like obsessively once I got my hands on it. I was drawn to the raw emotion that courses through the album and Alicia Bognanno’s confessional lyrics. I can’t yet tell if Feels Like will be an album that ages well for me, but I know that listening to it this year was a cathartic experience that I won’t soon forget.

Recommended Tracks: “I Remember,” “Trying,” “Too Tough,” “Sharktooth”

***

I felt like a lot of the stuff I read about Chastity Belt focused on the song “Cool Slut”. I like that song. It’s groovy and anti-slut shaming, which I think it a good thing. But Chastity Belt is so much more than that one song. Time to Go Home was lowkey one of my favorite albums of the year, which I say because I don’t think I even realized how much time I spent listening to it. There’s a casualness, a sort of pretense of not caring, to Chastity Belt’s songs that makes it easy to forget how good they are at what they do. “Is it cool not to care?” lead singer and guitarist Julia Shapiro asks on “IDC.” Many of the songs on Time to Go Home explore caring and not caring, trying and not trying, actions that most young adults perform constantly as they try to figure out who they are or want to be.

When I finally saw Chastity Belt live in May, I was really blown away. To my ears, their performance sounded better than their album recording, which probably says something about the production on their album, but I mention this as a compliment to the women of the band, who struck me as incredibly talented and professional.

Recommended Tracks: “Drone”, “Joke” (a top ten song of the year for me), “Lydia”, “Time to Go Home”

***

No Joy is a band I never paid much attention to before. I listened to More Faithful on the recommendation of a friend who knows my taste well and was ultimately glad that I didn’t dismiss it. It’s a cohesive collection of shoegaze-y rock that feels at once aggressive and introspective. This album was in heavy rotation for me as the season changed from spring to summer and listening to it now gives me this general feeling of hopefulness, something I wish I could feel all the time (but, um, don’t).

Recommended Tracks: “Hollywood Teeth”, “Moon in My Mouth”, “Chalk Snake”

***

I know now that Wolf Alice got a lot of buzz before this year, at least in the UK, but I hadn’t heard of them until June or July. Their debut album, My Love Is Cool, is moody and beautiful and dreamy but also has an edge to it that makes it better and more interesting than most straightforward “indie rock” albums I’ve listened to in the past few years. This is another album that I would not have listened to had it not been for the recommendation of (the same!) friend, so thank you very much, Matthew.

My Love Is Cool transported me; I listened to it a lot while taking long (and hot and sweaty) walks around north Brooklyn this summer, but always felt as if I should be walking around London on a cool night just after it had rained.

Favorite Tracks: “Your Loves Whore”, “You’re a Germ”, “Lisbon”, “Giant Peach”

***

I spent a solid six months in 2008 listening to Beach House’s second album Devotion. When I think of the second half of my junior year of college, the half that I spent in Evanston, Illinois and not in Paris, I immediately think of this album. Though I’ve been a fan of Beach House’s work since then, the albums that followed Devotion Teen Dream and Bloom – didn’t hit me quite as hard.

The two albums that Beach House released this year, within two months of each other, had me feeling like I did seven years ago. When I first heard Depression Cherry this summer, I wanted to play it all the time. And I felt that urge even more strongly when I heard Thank Your Lucky Stars in October. (I actually liked Thank Your Lucky Stars so much that I forgot that I liked Depression Cherry at all until I started listening to it again recently.) Both albums sound exactly like Beach House albums should – nearly perfect collections of ethereal, dreamy rock – but Thank Your Lucky Stars especially connected more with me than their last few critically acclaimed albums.

Depression Cherry Recommended Tracks: “Sparks”, “Beyond Love”, “PPP”

Thank Your Lucky Stars Recommended Tracks: “All Your Yeahs”, “One Thing”, “Elegy to the Void”, “Rough Song”

***

Julia Holter put out my favorite album this year. Have You In My Wilderness is probably her most accessible record to date, but it’s not necessarily an easy listen. It’s dramatic and emotional, despairing and adrift in one moment, joyful and ecstatic in the next. Engaging with Have You In My Wilderness these last few months has been one of the most intense experiences I’ve had with any piece of art, musical or otherwise, in the recent past.

In “Feel You,” the album’s opener and an addictive chamber pop song, Holter begins by expressing uncertainty in a relationship, in a “mythological” person. From there, she takes us on a journey of personal discovery that alternates between moments of confusion and clarity,  climaxing with “Betsy on the Roof,” in which she asks, desperately, “Won’t you please tell me the answer?” By the time the album resolves with the title track, which feels like waking from a dream to an unwanted reality, I am always desperate for her to tell me the whole story again.

Recommended Tracks: “Feel You”, “Sea Calls Me Home”, “Betsy On the Roof”

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It’s hard for me to know what to say about Divers, Joanna Newsom’s latest album. Newsom is my favorite artist of all time and I waited for Divers, mostly impatiently, for five years. I fell in love with it, as I have with her three prior albums, within my first few listens. But as someone who has been a rabid fan for so long, I worry that I’m ill-equipped to offer valuable critical analysis of this newest cycle of songs.

Divers fits in with Newsom’s previous work while managing at the same time to feel subtly different, more mature and complex in its themes and composition. It’s her most beautiful album and the plain prettiness of many of the songs can obscure, on first listen, the heaviness of the subject matter. Each song deals with arrivals and departures, or the process of being born and living and dying, and the joy and pain that is implicit in that process. She makes this plain in album closer “Time, As A Symptom”, lamenting – or celebrating? – “the nullifying, defeating, negating, repeating joy of life.”

Of any album that came out this year, Divers caused me to feel the highest highs and the lowest lows, making it my most cathartic album of 2015. (Also, in my top three favorite albums. It was painful for me to admit that it wasn’t my absolute favorite of the year, but Have You In My Wilderness really felt more important to me.)

Recommended Tracks: “Sapokanikan”, “The Things I Say”, “Divers”, “Time, As A Symptom”

***

Grimes is another artist whose music I’ve never failed to enjoy, but I was actually nervous to listen to Art Angels when it came out. A lot has been written about Claire Boucher/Grimes since her last album, 2012’s Visions was released to much acclaim. And I felt like some of what I read about her in the years in between suggested that she was too fragile and temperamental to release music that wouldn’t disappoint us. I must have internalized this to some extent, because in the weeks before Art Angels’ release, I found myself wondering if I should even bother to care or listen. (Even though “REALiTi (Demo)” had been near the top of my list of favorite songs of the year since it was released in the spring.)

But of course, I never should have worried. Art Angels, to me, is nearly perfect. It sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before, yet incredibly familiar, which is I guess exactly what I want when it comes to listening to new music (or experiencing any art, really). I could hear Madonna in “Artangels” and the cheerleading chants of my schooldays in “Kill V. Maim”. The sound of “World Princess part II” reminded me of hours spent trying to beat video games like Crash Bandicoot in middle school. But it wasn’t just nostalgia that made me connect with Art Angels. I think that Grimes, better than most musicians working today, is able articulate the struggle we all face in relating to other humans. Hearing her sing a line like “I was only looking for a human to reciprocate” on the song “Pin” hits me like a punch in the gut.

Recommended Tracks: “Flesh without Blood”, “Kill V. Maim”, “Artangels”, “Pin”, “Realiti”

(This is another one where it’s really hard to choose and really recommend listening to the whole album.)

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There is so much music that I loved (or just plain liked) this year that I didn’t cover here. So I made a Spotify playlist with a lot of it, which you can find below. Happy listening!

Gloria Swanson

I started watching Kevin Brownlow’s 1908 documentary series, Hollywood, this weekend. It’s twelve parts and so far, I’ve gotten through eight. The series is filled with interviews with actors, directors, writers, and others involved in silent films and the Hollywood studio system of the 1920s. One of the most featured interviewees is Gloria Swanson.

I didn’t really care about Gloria Swanson until watching her interview. I saw Sunset Boulevard when I was in college out of some sense of duty I felt to watch “classic American films” that I had never seen before. I assumed that Gloria Swanson had been like the character she played, Norma Desmond, a forgotten silent film star. (But a less crazy version, obviously.) I’ve never seen her act in anything else.

Years later, I’ve discovered that I’m fascinated with Gloria Swanson. Or at least the Gloria Swanson in the 1980 Hollywood interview. In the clip above, which is from an episode devoted entirely to her and Rudolph Valentino, she describes how she convinced Cecil B. DeMille to let her film a dramatic scene with a real lion. In another segment, she talks about easily finding success as a comedic actress in her early career despite not understanding the majority of the jokes and gives the air that she was above such lowly work. She consistently comes across as having always been fearless and in control. (However, in a later episode, a story is told about DeMille forcing her to film a violent flood scene even though she was terrified of water and couldn’t swim. Even the biggest star in Hollywood had to do some things she didn’t want to do.)

I think I’m mostly obsessed with Gloria Swanson because of her whole vibe in the interview. Her hair is perfect. Her eyebrows are meticulously shaped or drawn on. (I can’t tell. The video quality on YouTube is kind of poor.) Here eyes are expressive, even with the presence of what look to be rather heavy false eyelashes. Her voice is still surprisingly girlish. But the thing I’m most impressed with about Gloria Swanson in 1980 is the fact that she’s chosen to be interviewed in front of what I think is a bust of Gloria Swanson.

As I watched her, all I could think was, “Please, please let me be this majestic when I’m older.”

Now all I want to do is watch more Hollywood and read Gloria Swanson’s Wiki and the “Scandals of Classic Hollywood” on her and also her autobiography, which is delightfully called Swanson on Swanson.