The patriarchy-dismantling power of female vanity

Vanity is a misogynistic charge (often internalized) emanating from a anti-beauty, anti-pleasure, anti-art, anti-sex American Calvinist tradition. Aside from extreme examples like Donald Trump, men are rarely accused of it. Women are socially (and arguably also biologically) programmed to strive immensely for outward beauty and punished when we fall short of ideals; at the same time, when we recognize or celebrate it in ourselves, we are villainzed as “vain”. Hmmm, irony much??

The urge to witness and valorize one’s own beauty is an innate and ancient one: (look at Narcissus and fairytale examples of Snow White’s evil queen, chanting, “Mirror mirror!”). Despite the moralizing bent of modern retellings, I see the post-verbal, post-rational absorption in one’s own physical beauty as a form of darkly powerful pagan magic, the opportunity for a woman to announce her completeness-unto-herself — the feminine solipsism which poses such a threat to the patriarchal order.


What people get wrong about teaching

I find myself teaching a lot nowadays.

Here is what I am learning about teaching.

The most common mistake made by new teachers is assuming that students are there for information. So, it’s easy to get stressed out thinking you have to come up with, put together and dispense as much valuable and new information as possible. That’s how you prove you’re a good teacher, right?

Stressful! And also — makes for kind of a dull class.

I think a bit differently. When people voluntarily pay money for your class, what they want — whether they’re able to articulate it or not — is to have an EXPERIENCE. A transformation. They want to walk out of that class feeling different, better, more [insert desired state] than before.

Remember all the classes you took in school. I remember so many brilliant professors in college who seemed to know and sprouted vast quantities of knowledge. But what do I remember, so many years later? Sorry, Wellesley profs, I remember very little of the facts, dates and formulae. However, I do remember how each professor made me feel at the end of the class. I remember STORIES that they told. I remember how they opened my mind — or didn’t.

I keep remembering that when I get nervous about teaching. My students aren’t there for information. We can all use Google and read books. They come to me because they want a cool fucking experience. They want to feel stretched — emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. What can I do to facilitate that?

After all, knowledge and information is communicated at the conscious level. And what I teach is how to play at the unconscious level.


I am a total FRAUD

(gratuitous image of Nigella Lawson because in my mind, I am/look like her, and that has been true since I was 16)


Friends, lovers, countrymen —

I am forcing myself to write this post because I must open up a valve. I’m going crazy. You see, it’s been a while — a long while — since I have written something that I wasn’t submitting to an editor.

On the one hand, wow, what a thrill that I’ve come a long way since last year! I loved writing this blog because this was where I could let myself wander into whatever topic I want, whether it’s opera or art history or poetry, just let my freak nerd flag fly. I always wrote joyfully and freely because I had no pretension of living up to any kind of externally imposed standard. I had it nowhere in my mind that I had to try to be or do anything — I was just putzing about because it felt shitty not to write, not to cogitate out loud. And this blog was read by a few kind friends.

And now, I am writing all over town. In many ways, some of my wildest dreams (that I didn’t even know I had) came true. Now, I am a bona fide book reviewer, which is just nuts because who wants to listen to my crazed ramblings extolling Camille Paglia and pooh-poohing psychoanalysis? Apparently some people!

I wrote for the august conservative mag, The National Review, which was a complete scandal because I thought NR was only by, like super legit super conservatives, and I am neither halfway legit nor a proper conservative. I went to Wellesley and spent my 20’s drinking rosé and smoking cigarettes in Bushwick!

Seriously, the worst. I avoided trying to become a “real” writer for the longest time because writers are a total fucking drag!

And then a seriously questionable character convinced me that I ought to try my hand at fiction, which is the worst idea ever because now I have dug myself into 23948 different kinds of holes that I’ll be clawing my way out of for the rest of my life.

Why are interesting things hard to do?

I needed help. I went back and re-read my bible Big Magic (if you are a creative person in any way and haven’t read this book, DO IT) by the Patron Saint of Creative Women, Elizabeth Gilbert, who said something like, “I entered into a relationship with writing and promised that I would be grateful and wouldn’t complain too much.”

And I was like, hah, okay Liz Gilbert, I grew up a totally sheltered special snowflake under a helicoptering tiger mom, as opposed to a salt-of-the-earth midwestern-protestant farm-bred mom. I don’t know how not to complain. I don’t know how not to be precious.

So here I am. Metaphysical warts and all.

You know what? I learned something super important though. And I am so glad I learned this.

This was totally shocking to me, but apparently YOU, AS A PERSON, ARE ALLOWED TO ITERATE.

And you are allowed to iterate out loud, in public.

If you are Yo Yo Ma, you’re allowed to put out multiple recordings of the same Bach because a later recording doesn’t cancel out the legitimacy of a former recording. We don’t say, “oh great, now that we have the recording of 55 year old Yo Yo Ma, let’s burn all the copies of the one from when he was 30.” That’s not how it works. We’re all living out loud and no one moment is truer or more valid than any other. This is important for creators. (Nugget of wisdom and example relayed to me by the great Marcia Butler.)

It turns out, this is especially important for women who’d been taught all their lives that they have to be good and proper and perfect and unoffensive and unimpeachable and not change their minds or grow. Because if you change your mind or grow, that means you were wrong before and if you were wrong that’s bad and you should have shut the fuck up? Right?

Ummmmmm NO.

I am a total fraud, I’m constantly iterating, I am totally making it up as I go along. SO IS EVERYONE ELSE! Think about it for a second. If you’re not iterating, you’re standing still. We are all making it up as we go along. Because what is identity anyway? Persona means mask.

I might die tomorrow. Literally. I’d rather have played this game with aplomb.

Or, something, I don’t know. I’m terrified.

There, I’ve finished the assignment to myself. To write something that doesn’t go to an editor.




What I Learned from Drawing One Black Woman a Day

(This essay is my contribution to Sas Pethetick’s International Women’s Day Project, Voices Rising.)


The biggest anxiety attacks happen at 2 AM.

One evening, like many evenings before, I sat at my desk, paralyzed with fear and a nebulous dread, the persistent and dire sense that something is deeply wrong and I don’t know how to fix it. I try a deep breathing technique, letting air fill my lungs all the way down to the diaphragm. I imagine my anxiety like a tight, heavy ball at the pit of my stomach, then I imagine melting it down like a snowball in warm sunlight. I try to notice the periphery of my vision expanding outward and upward, which is supposed to kick my parasympathetic nervous system into gear, triggering a relaxation response.

Nothing. None of my usual tricks worked. In that desperate moment, a faint vision came to me — my memory of standing in Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico City, Casa Azul, which is now a museum. It was my first Big Girl trip abroad alone, and I sought out her ghost like a pilgrim. In that light-filled, airy, lushly decorated house, Kahlo had spent countless hours in bed, suffering from one debilitating illness, injury, or heartache after another — filling that time with art.

To counter the suffocation of loneliness and the tyranny of ill health, she traveled to another world in her mind and produced paintings of wild intimacy, imagination, and power. Monkeys, thorns, a bleeding uterus, flowers, a stag pierced with arrows, cactus, Aztec monuments. Unable to escape pain, she married the entirety of her existence. I wanted to be with her.

So, I picked up a pen and started drawing her: “Our Lady of Sublimated Suffering.” It was the first drawing I’d done since high school (and I’m in my thirties).




The next day, I shared my drawing on Facebook and got unexpectedly enthusiastic responses from my friends. The anxiety didn’t go away. I chose another woman to draw. I kept choosing women whose stories I wanted to connect to: St. Teresa of Avila, Eleanor Roosevelt, Angela Davis.

In the moments of contemplating my subject and creating an illustration, I was as far as I could be from any kind of anxiety or self-consciousness. Outlining faces, closely observing the crevices, shadows and gestures of bodies, I was in a state of wordless and sublime intimacy with these luminous women. People asked for prints and I created an Etsy store. My art did end up being sewn onto shirts and dresses. My friends’ daughters were using my drawings to learn about women of courage and consequence.

In all my years of online marketing, this breakaway success was the one thing that had zero commercial aspiration and was totally free of the need for approval. I was leaning into my pain and trying to find my own sublimation, and just like that, people connected deeply with my creations. For once, I wasn’t dogged by the question of, “but is it good enough?”, because that was never the point. This was between me and myself. (Well, to be frank, between me and my anxiety). Anything anyone else got out of it was a cherry on top of a richly frosted and multi-layered cake.

One day in early February, I read President Trump’s speech to celebrate Black History Month. He spent the whole time rambling and talking about himself. He could have — and should have — used the opportunity to tell the stories of Black Americans who helped to make America great. But he didn’t. And, well, if he wasn’t going to, I was.

I would draw one amazing black woman a day for Black History Month, tell her story, and put it all together into a printable coloring book. I would sell them through a fundraising platform to raise money for civil rights and racial justice. Even though I had no platform to speak of, except for a few hundred Facebook friends, my project spread like wildfire.

In 23 days, I raised $4,000 for the ACLU and NAACP. My page was shared nearly 1,000 times, and I got dozens of notes of gratitude and encouragement from women all over the country.

Sure, I get to donate thousands of dollars for the cause of civil liberty, but this had also been a selfish project. wanted to learn about these women. wanted to tell their stories of perseverance, leadership, vision and service — to myself. All the unsung heroes of American history: Katherine Johnson, who sent the first American to the moon; Madam C.J. Walker, who was born into slavery and created a philanthropic empire; Julia de Burgos, who shaped the poetic imaginations of generations of Puerto Ricans.

Women who created, led and altered the course of history not because they had all the resources at their fingertips, but because they declared their own worth and dreams over and over and over again — saying, “I exist!!” — to a world that was indifferent at best and actively hostile at worst.

I wanted their spirit woven into the matrix of my soul.

I heard in an interview with Glennon Doyle Melton that the definition of an artist is someone who says, “please don’t erase me.” If you have that same desire not to be erased, you, too, are an artist. You will be officially baptized as one the moment you declare it out loud, as the 28 women I illustrated for Black History Month — and so many more — have.


This ebook contains almost 100 pages of stories, poetry, art and prayers, to inspire you to find, trust in and use your voice.

>download your copy right here <<



$3,800 goes to NAACP & ACLU

I’ve been procrastinating writing this post because it’s almost been too overwhelming and I don’t know how to begin to talk about it.

Except, well, how about just the basics?

I decided to draw one black woman a day to celebrate Black History Month.

I decided to create a coloring book out of that, and to sell it to raise money for civil rights.

People shared my post hundreds of times. Donations poured in from friends, friends of friends and strangers.

In 27 days, I raised $4,000.

I decided to divide the NAACP donation so that some of it goes toward their acclaimed Legal Defense Fund (as well as a scholarship program within it), which fights to diminish the role of race in criminal justice and democratic systems.




Then my friend said that the WePay fee is bullshit (amen), and decided to match that amount to make a donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.





That’s all I got.

Out of words.

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