Photos by Erin Popelka
It was subtle at first. When Carpolina was 14, she noticed some scales forming around the base of her neck. Her mother always told her that puberty was a bitch, and to expect strange bodily changes around this age. Sure, the scales were kind of itchy, but in the lighting of the bathroom, they glistened. In high school, where everyone experiments with spoken word poetry and dramatic fashion statements, no one suspected anything when Carpolina showed up wearing turtlenecks. Continue reading
It was October and my friend, Lance, had invited me to a costume party in the ritzy part of Boston that a friend of his friend was hosting. Of course I was excited, but politely declined when I saw the entry fee of one hundred fifty dollars. However, Lance was determined to go and begged me to join him. He used every form of bribery there was beginning with stating there was a cash prize of 10,000 dollars for the most authentic and realistic costume and ending with his offer to pay for me to go. He should have started by waving my fee because the moment he did I was in.
Knowing that there were large cash prizes at stake I quickly began planning my costume. I scoured Pinterest for “original costume ideas” which actually really defeats the purpose so I switched to “semi-original costume ideas” and eventually found a winner. After scrolling through images of trolls, aliens, and girls dressed as nerds I finally found a costume that spoke to my true identity. I wanted to be a giant green pickle. I could already imagine being called to center stage, the lights glistening of my slightly sweating green form as I accepted a giant check made out to Pickle Girl. Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
When life gives you lemons, it’s time to quit your shitty job, move to Asia, and start fresh. In 30 Before 30, comedian Marina Shifrin shares the story of how she turned her life around with one little list, and a lot of guts. This surprisingly optimistic collection of essays is full of humor, and even offers some advice about living with the reckless abandon of a 20-something that can apply to anyone, no matter your age.
One night in her 20s, Shifrin penned a list of “30 before 30” goals in a night of frustration over her shitty job and life. She found herself drifting after college, unhappy with how little she had accomplished. In a series of 30 essays, she takes us through each goal, and what happened as she tried to achieve them. The list ranges from small (take a bus tour of NYC) to life-changing (“fall in love for real”). Some items seem quirkier than others (such as “learn how to drink”) but they all have a special meaning to Shifrin which she explains. The collection coheres more than you might expect it to – some goals, even seemingly random ones, bring Shifrin closer to reaching big goals, or in some cases made her realize that opportunities she thought she wanted once upon a time aren’t for her anymore. Even when the essays are more standalone, they’re all at heart about growing up, and achieving your dreams.
I am not sitting in bed as I write this, and I am glad of it. Beds are terrible things, lousy with shoddy physics, crushed dreams, and sometimes, even lice.
A bed seems like a heavenly, therapeutic place. Ever since we upgraded from sleeping on splayed out hay (my uncle Shane still prefers this form of bed) the human bed has seemed like a lovely offering: four legs to elevate you, with a plushy surface on top to rest your corporeal frame, atop. The very invention of the bed seems like its creator got away with murder. Some shamelessly enterprising mind, at some point said, “Let’s not sleep on anything hard, anymore. Let’s put some marshmallowy stuff down, and go on top of that. In this way, we’ve made things better for ourselves!”
The unapologetic privilege of this maneuver suggests that beds were not invented by serfs.
O, the hypocrisy of a bed! A bed is manufactured for optimal niceness, but utilizing a bed is anything but nice.
It’s 6.03 am when I’m woken up by him next door, moaning for help through the wall in a deep disturbing slur: ‘Jes-sie, ca-ca-call am-bu-la-lance. Feel…wrong…’
The wall pounces with an earthquake-like thud. My framed Courtney Love picture flies onto the bare floorboards, shattering into glass knives. My heart drums in my ears like never before – bu-bum…bu-bum…bu-bu-bum – like someone else’s heartbeat through an old stethoscope. Oh my god. Did Frank just collapse against the wall? I hear relaxed vomiting that sounds almost satisfying; I think of cake mix oozing out of a pipe tube.
I lie still in bed. I recall walking through the narrow brick corridor that leads to our tenement flat balconies on the day that I moved here. His enormous body blocked my way; stained tracksuit trousers stretched with desperate elastic. His little rodent tongue suggestively licked his scabby upper lip. ‘Moving in, Blondie?’ he wheezed with a husky pervert’s voice. I ignored him and trotted quickly through to my ground floor flat.
The next day, our paths crossed there again as I tried to squeeze passed him with Mr Scruff’s cat carry-box. His exposed stomach layers pressed against my bare arm, but it was impossible to free myself without dropping Mr Scruff. The intimacy of the moment sickened me: warm, skin-to-skin contact that left a rash of man-sweat itching my forearm. I had to scrub to get rid of the smell: nasty, cheesy sweat, like a hairy armpit that hasn’t been washed in weeks. Continue reading
One, my husband’s Parkinson’s disease. It’s a tough break for such a splendid man and in spite of all the stiffness and fatigue and slow-motion, he’s Mr. Positive. But then you’ve got to be with this stuff, or you’d never get out of bed in the morning. You’d surrender to your cement-filled joints and then allow yourself to sit around recovering from a hellish morning of rising but not shining. Television would soon rule your life and there’d be hell to pay for anyone who nudges you to do more. You’d sit there, stone-faced and barely moving. You’d be the rusty tin man without oil-can relief.
When Steve was first diagnosed back in 2003, both of us were cool, calm and accepting. We were sad but not yet mad, and I remember my sunny husband saying, “If I had to get something neurological, I think this is a good one to get.” Really?
I had just lost two parents to cancer, and as I sat across from him in the diner I almost thought he made a good point. Parkinson’s wasn’t going to steal him too soon, just make his everyday movements torturous and sometimes dangerous. Like hopping in and out of a car, eating a salad, pulling on underwear or threading a belt through the loops of his pants. It made me mad to witness the downshift in his life’s power and pace, but I had to put a sock in it. Tamp it down. Squash it. Steve wasn’t to blame. No one was to blame. His brain wasn’t making enough dopamine. Should I be upset with his nerve cells? OK. Works for me. It’s their fault.
I will cancel my membership to L.A. Fitness next week. I’ll be moving at the end of the month, and I’ve calculated that I would burn more gas on my way to the gym three days a week than I would calories once I got there.
I’m sure the staff will try to talk me into staying. The curly-haired dynamo at the reception desk will remind me of the Monday morning spin class I never attended, the world-renowned personal trainers I never enlisted, or the squash courts I never entered. Or the whirlpools to soothe my aching muscles after spin class, training sessions and squash games.
But my mind is made up. I will cancel my membership. Continue reading
Dear Fashion Industry,
It’s time we opened discourse on a rather seedy subject in your world: prop clothing. Like the prop food adorning model furniture, prop clothing creates an illusion of actual clothing. The prop jacket may look as though it is completing your ensemble, but, unlike real outerwear, it offers no warmth.
Prop clothing comes in many forms- the super cute studded pleather “jacket” that’s “perfect for fall” but cannot keep one warm within the acceptable temperature range of fall in your region is a failure as clothing. It is a collection of cloth merely pretending to be a jacket and it may look like a jacket to all appraising eyes hence pulling off a “look”- but that is all and thus it is a prop.
#1 Cultivate social anxiety and some sort of an addiction. This will prevent you from getting a job.
#2 Scorn the work of other writers, preferably anonymously on the Internet. It makes you feel strong and powerful.
#3 Do not waste time ‘improving self-esteem’. You are a bad person. This is the only thing that makes you interesting.
#4 Do not read. It will make your work less original. Watch television if you need ideas.
#5 If anyone asks what kind of books you write say, ‘High literary fiction’. If they ask what this means, smirk and walk away.
#6 Do not strive for wisdom or insight. Concentrate on ‘cool’. If you need a definition of this, you’re missing the point.
#7 Never re-read one of your own sentences. You are a genius.
#8 Do not exercise or take care of your health. You have no pension or income and would do well to die as young as possible.
#9 Develop overconfidence and mediocrity in equal measure. It’s the only way to make people like you.
#10 Spend most of your time on the Internet. Everything else is distraction.
Rajeev Balasubramanyam is the author of In Beautiful Disguises (Bloomsbury), The Dreamer (Harper Collins) and Starstruck (The Pigeonhole). He was a winner of the Betty Trask Prize and the Clarissa Luard for the best British writer under 35. He is a fellow of the Hemera Foundation for artists with a meditation practice, and was recently write-in-residence at the Zen Center of New York City.