Born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri on June 3, 1906, Josephine Baker was the first black woman to star in a major motion picture, a world-famous entertainer in dancing, singing, and acting, an activist in the Civil Rights Movement, a spy in the French Resistance during World War II, and the recipient of the French military honor the Croix de guerre, and she deserves credit.
Her parents, Carrie McDonald, a washerwoman, and Eddie Carson, a vaudeville drummer, had a traveling song and dance act that Josephine became a part of around her first birthday. Carson later abandoned Josephine and her mother, leaving the already poor family even more destitute. Josephine, dressed in tatters and persistently starving, began performing on her own in the railroad yards of Union Station, making a meager living while also developing her trademark street smarts.
At eight years old, Josephine started work as an au pair for white families in St. Louis. These families often mistreated the young girl. They would remind her to “be sure not to kiss the baby,” and one of her employers burned her hands when Josephine accidentally used too much soap in the laundry.
A few years later, when she turned thirteen, Josephine dropped out of school and obtained a waitressing job at The Old Chauffeur’s Club. For most of her life, Josephine had lived in the streets in the slums of St. Louis. She scavenged through garbage cans and slept in cardboard shelters during her childhood, but she always found herself work. It was this resolute passion and dedication to live that drove her, a poor girl from the slums, to international renown.
Finally, her street-corner dancing attracted attention. At fifteen, Josephine was recruited to the St. Louis Chorus vaudeville show. This was the start of her rise to fame. From the vaudeville show, she traveled to New York City, around the same time as the Harlem Renaissance. She performed at the Plantation Club in two highly successful Broadway revues, Shuffle Along and The Chocolate Dandies. Actually, she wasn’t originally hired to these shows, but she learned all of the dances anyway, making herself the first person to be employed when any of the other dancers were sick or hurt.
In the chorus line, Josephine was the last dancer. This was a particularly special position, as the last dancer needed both comic ability and exceptional technical dancing skill. Traditionally the last dancer in the chorus line would purposefully do all of the dances incorrectly throughout the show, but for the encore performance, the last dancer would get “redemption” by not only performing correctly, but by also performing additional, more complicated steps than the other dancers. Audiences loved her humor, her false clumsiness and exaggerated eye rolling. At the time, Baker was the highest-paid chorus girl in vaudeville.
Josephine’s relationship to her mother was strained. Though she herself had made a living in the past doing vaudeville performance, McDonald did not believe that dance was a real form of work and wanted Josephine to tend more to her then-husband, Willie Baker, the one of her husbands whose last name she retained. However, it was this turmoil between mother and daughter that incited Josephine to travel to France for the first time.
Baker sailed to Paris, France in the early 1920s. She opened in La Revue Négre on October 2, 1925 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. She became an overnight success for her erotic dancing performances; few others would appear almost entirely naked onstage like Josephine would. Riding her success, she toured throughout Europe but soon returned to France, which, for all intents and purposes, had become her home.
Perhaps the most iconic image of Josephine is that of her doing the “danse sauvage” wearing a skirt made of a string of sixteen artificial bananas for her starring role in La Folie du Jour. This period coincided with the influx of “Art Deco” styles, which was a rebirth of the popularity of non-western designs. Baker was a major fashion icon in this manner, popularizing African styles. Josephine was a sensation and a jaw-dropping performer. She was the most photographed woman in the world, and yet, today, few people know who she is.
In later shows, Josephine performed accompanied by her cheetah, adorably named Chiquita, who wore a diamond collar and would often (allegedly) escape into the orchestra pit, frightening the musicians but entertaining the Parisian audiences. At the same time, Josephine was starring in films that found most of their acclaim in Europe: Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934), and Princesse Tam Tam (1935). She was also recording what would become her most successful song, “J’ai deux amours” (1931).
Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” Hemingway, as well as Langston Hughes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Christian Dior, referred to her as their muse.
With such high praise from Europe, Josephine traveled back to the United States to star in a 1936 revival of Ziegfield Follies. But American audiences rejected that a black woman could be a major celebrity so adamantly that Josephine returned to France utterly heartbroken, leaving the incredible cruelty of United States critics in her wake (horrifyingly, the New York Times called her a “Negro wench”).
During World War II, Josephine provided both entertainment for the troops and correspondence work for the French Resistance. If you weren’t already convinced that she is extremely cool, read this: she smuggled secret messages written in invisible ink on her music sheets while simultaneously acting as a sub-lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She used her famous charisma to get invitations to parties at embassies and ministries and pertinent, secret information from the other guests.
Later, in 1941, Josephine and her entourage traveled to North Africa. Though they cited the reason as Josephine’s health, which was shaky at best from her chronic bouts of pneumonia and several detrimental miscarriages, she was actually there to gather more information for the Resistance. From Morocco, Josephine toured Spain and pinned notes of confidential information to her underwear, correctly assuming that border authorities would not strip search a celebrity.
Her work to help the war effort did not go unnoticed. The French government named her a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, among other titles and medals.
Despite her previous traumatic experience in the United States, Josephine returned in the 50s and 60s to fight racism. She and her husband at the time were denied rooms at thirty-six hotels solely because of their skin color. Staunchly anti-segregation and appalled by the treatment of African Americans, she began writing articles and engaged in a media battle with pro-segregation columnist Walter Winchell, who was once her friend an ally. The dispute began because of Josephine’s refusal to play at a segregated club, and Winchell’s opposition to that. He even called her a Communist, a highly grave offense at the time.
Unfortunately, this incident further derailed Josephine’s career in the United States, as she lost her work visa and was unable to return for ten years. Because of her refusal to perform to segregated audiences in spite of harsh consequences and other efforts, such as being the only female speaker at the 1963 March on Washington beside Martin Luther King, Jr., the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People named May 20 Josephine Baker Day.
After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King even asked Josephine to be the new, unofficial leader of the Civil Rights Movement, but Josephine turned her down because she didn’t want to abandon her children.
By this time, Josephine had had four husbands. She was financially independent from all of them, and none were truly major facets of her life. In fact, she was reportedly bisexual and had many affairs with influential women, including Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe. But she wanted to prove that “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers,” and she wanted a family, which a long string of miscarriages had previously prevented. So Josephine began adopting children, forming a large household that she referred to as “The Rainbow Tribe.” She had twelve children total, all of whom would often travel cross-country with her.
In 1973, Josephine agreed to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall. She was nervous about whether or not the audience and critics would accept her, but she did it anyway. Garnering a standing ovation prior to even beginning the show, Josephine wept on stage at the enthusiastic welcome and the evidence of growing tolerance.
Two years later, Josephine, now sixty-eight years old, premiered at the Bobino Theater in Paris, with celebrities like Grace Kelly, the then Princess of Monaco, and Sophia Loren in the audience. She performed a medley of routines from her career, which by then had spanned over fifty years. The reviews from this show were some of the best she had ever received. However, only days later, Josephine slipped into a coma, and died from a cerebral hemorrhage at five in the morning on April 12.
Tens of thousands of people walked the streets of Paris to watch Josephine’s funeral procession. The French government gave her a 21-gun salute, making her the first American woman to be buried in France with military honors. She is buried at the Cimetiére de Monaco.
I didn’t know anything about Josephine Baker until a late, impromptu visit to a small restaurant in Manhattan that looked like it might be good. This restaurant turned out to be Chez Josephine, the business run by two of her children to celebrate her life and works. While eating some of the most delicious French food I’ve ever had, I could feel Josephine’s spirit and love running throughout the tiny restaurant and inundating every customer with tolerance, creativity, and fearlessness.
It was in elementary school that I first realized there were two kinds of kids. There were the prodigies, who learned to read in pre-school, played either the piano or the violin, and were able to kick a soccer ball around with incredible skill for someone who wasn’t five feet tall yet. And then there were the kids like me.
While the prodigies were living their seemingly easier lives, coasting through the trials and tribulations of puberty, receiving remarkable report cards each semester, and generally getting away with anything due to their dynamic charisma, the non-prodigies were basically just freaking out all of the time.
These are the confessions of a non child prodigy.
I don’t tell people this fact about me until we know each other relatively well, because they will definitely judge me for it. I have been writing Girl Unaffiliated for a few weeks now, so I feel safe to reveal it: I hate peanut butter.
I know. I’ve heard it all before. It’s delicious! It’s a staple! Are you telling me you don’t eat PB&Js?! Yes. That is exactly what I am telling you. But this is not a mere taste or texture related hatred, though I’ve honestly never liked peanut butter’s particular brand of either. My loathing of peanut butter has psychological roots.
My sister is eight years older than me. Having such a large age difference, we do not have the typical sibling relationship you see in movies and on television. In fact, our relationship is downright unusual. As I like to say, frequently, “I’m an only child, except for my sister.” Basically, we are only children. She spent the first eight years of her life without me, and, when I turned ten, she went to college. We were used to day-to-day routines that didn’t involve a sister. So when we were living under the same roof, it could get rough.
Don’t get me wrong—I love my sister. I love her deeply, and unconditionally. But holy cow did she test that. Of course, I tested her unconditional love on many occasions, too. It was tense for many years between us, but now that we’re older, it’s a lot easier to find common ground.
But this Confession has nothing to do with common ground, or warm and fuzzy family feelings. This Confession is about peanut butter.
Both of our parents are workaholics. We spent a lot of time after school alone in our childhoods, waiting for them to come back from whatever job they were doing. Who was in charge during these little after school specials was naturally my sister, being the eldest by a large margin.
Looking back on these afternoons and evenings, I am shocked I didn’t cry or call our parents at work more. My sister often had older, cooler, not the nicest friends over, and I was a little devil of an instigator. But most of my memories are fuzzy. There was a lot of clashing, fighting, and tears, but the details are unclear so many years later.
However, the minutiae of one episode have never faded.
Like all children who have just come home from a long, exhausting day of elementary school, I was starving. Being too young to use our admittedly complicated, antique, gas stove, it was my sister’s duty to provide me with sustenance. At this point in my life, I didn’t have the passionate negative relationship with peanut butter that I do now, but it was still a spread that I didn’t enjoy eating, or even smelling, for that matter.
My sister was well aware of my aversion to peanut butter. And despite there being a plethora of perfectly suitable food products in the kitchen of our family home, it was peanut butter that she insisted I eat.
There were several problems with this. Firstly, she was already eating peanut butter (this is probably why she made this my only option—it was a convenient choice). That doesn’t sound like a major transgression to the normal human being, except most normal human beings do not know my sister.
Here’s the thing: my sister eschews utensils. Probably also because of the convenience factor, she just uses her hands. This is the girl who will take leftovers out of the fridge and eat them out of their Styrofoam containers without heating them up first, tearing pieces of meat with her bare hands. This is the girl who, before Thanksgiving dinner has officially started, will tear the turkey’s deliciously browned and crispy skin off with her nails to eat. This is the girl who will stick a probably unwashed finger into a jar of peanut butter, scoop out a sizable dollop, and put it in my face.
I may have forgotten to mention that, in addition to being a non child prodigy, I was also an avid germaphobe.
Quite understandably, I freaked out. The peanut butter was not even in my mouth. To be precise, it was somewhere to the left of my mouth. I could already imagine the stickiness that would ensue once I finally got this sister-germ-infected peanut goo off of my person.
To make matters worse, she then wiggled her finger around, effectively spreading a glob of peanut butter all over my face. This time, it got in my mouth, and I scolded myself for foolishly thinking that peanut butter in my mouth might be a more bearable experience. It was so dense that I looked like a giraffe chewing when I was just trying to breathe. It was to the left and right of my mouth now, and above and below it, too. I rushed to the sink, most likely flailing, determined to do only one thing: get this heinous, pungent-smelling sludge off of my body.
My sister laughed hysterically the entire time, a shrill, cackling, witchy laugh that still haunts me to this day.
I did get the peanut butter off eventually. But, like Lady Macbeth’s bloody hands, it is ever present on my skin.
I have never forgiven peanut butter. It’s never really been a void in my life; I’ve never felt deprived of anything. I have no desire to try the ubiquitous peanut butter and jelly sandwich, no matter how many times I’ve been offered one (please stop offering them to me). But I did forgive my sister, because if I had let this truly traumatic experience come between our friendship and love, there would be a void. For sure.
I’m flying into France in a couple of days.
I know. I know. I’m overjoyed, too. For those of us who are not going to Paris, however, I’ve compiled a thirty-minute getaway to help you feel like you’re having the time of your life, similar to the time of my life that I will soon be having (sorry, I’m feeling a little braggy).
Find a sweet potato fry, pretend to smoke it like a cigarette, and listen to the playlist here.
1.I Love Paris – Ella Fitzgerald Paris is the kind of place that inspires unconditional love.
Every time I look down on this timeless town
Whether blue or gray be her skies
Whether loud be her cheers or whether soft be her tears
More and more do I realize that
I love Paris
2.La Mer – Charlest Trenet My translation is either a little too literal on this one or this song is actually a bit stranger than I thought it was.
La mer (The sea)
Au ciel d'été confound (With the summer sky mixes)
Ses blancs moutons (Her white capped sheep)
Avec les anges si purs (With the angels so pure)
La mer bergère d'azur (The sea, azure shepherdess,)
3.Formidable – Stromae This song is definitely better for dancing to than for lyric analysis. Take my word for it.
Formidable, formidable (Wonderful, wonderful)
Tu étais formidable, j'étais très pitoyable, (You were wonderful, I was so pitiful)
Nous étions formidables (We were wonderful)
4.Les Cornichons – Nino Ferrer Les cornichons are gherkins. This song lists a wide variety of delicious picnic foods of France, from baguettes, to brie, to chocolate and champagne, but, for who knows why, it is the gherkins that get all the credit.
Le poulet froid (Cold chicken)
La mayonnaise (Mayonnaise)
Le chocolat (Chocolate)
Les champignons (Mushrooms)
Les ouvre-boîtes (The can-opener)
Et les tomates (And tomatoes)
Les cornichons (Gherkins)
5.Moi Je Joue – Brigitte Bardot Perhaps another French song that isn’t known for its lyrics, though there is some fun wordplay (for example, joue means both "play" and "cheek").
Moi je joue (Me, I play)
Moi je joue à joue contre joue (Me, I play cheek to cheek)
Je veux jouer à joue contre vous (I want to play at cheek against you)
Mais vous, le voulez-vous? (But you, do you want it?)
De tout cœur (From all my heart)
Je veux gagner ce cœur à cœur (I want to win this heart to heart)
Vous connaissez mon jeu par cœur (You know my game by heart)
Alors défendez-vous (So defend yourself)
6.Quelqu’un M’a Dit – Carla Bruni This track is exceptionally beautiful, music and lyrics alike. Carla Bruni herself is a deeply interesting person, but let’s try not to hold it against her that there’s rumors that she once dated Donald Trump (but still, ew).
On me dit que nos vies (I’m told that our lives)
Ne valent pas grand-chose (Aren’t worth much)
Qu’elles passent en un instant (That they pass in an instant)
Comme fânent les roses, (Like wilting roses,)
On me dit que le temps (I’m told that time)
Qui glisse est un salaud, (That slips by is a bastard,)
Et que de nos chagrins (And that our sorrows)
Il s’en fait des manteaux (It makes into coats)
7.Michèle – Gerard Lenorman Michèle is a beautiful song about young love lost. I dare you to listen to this song and not fantasize about falling in love in France.
Un jour tu as eu dix-sept ans (One day you were 17 years old)
Tes cheveux volaient dans le vent (Your hair was flying in the wind)
Et souvent tu chantais: (And often you were singing:)
“Oh! Yesterday!” (“Oh! Yesterday!”)
Les jeudis après-midi (Thursdays in the afternoon)
On allait au cinéma gris (We used to go to the gray cinema)
Voir les films, de Marilyn (To see Marilyn’s films)
Michèle, un soir en décembre (Michele, one evening in December)
La neige tombait sur les toits (The snow was falling on the roofs)
Nous étions toi et moi (We were you and I)
Endormis ensemble (Falling asleep together)
Pour la première fois (For the first time)
8.La Javanaise – Serge Gainsbourg No one like Serge Gainsbourg can teach you about love. And French, since he enunciates so clearly. Also, this rare music video documents the purest nonchalance I have ever seen.
La vie ne vaut d’être vécue sans amour (Life is not worth living without love)
Mais c’est vous (But it is you)
Qui l’avez voulu mon amour (Who wanted it that way, my love)
Ne vous déplaise (Whether it pleases you or not)
En dansant la Javanaise (In dancing the Javanaise)
Nous nous aimions (We loved each other)
Le temps d’une chanson (For the length of a song)
9.Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien – Edith Piaf This is a song that could also fit in last week’s playlist, To Feel Good In Your Own Skin. Put it on, belt it out, and pretend that you don’t have any regrets for at least a few minutes.
Balayées les amours (Wiped away the romances)
Et tous leurs tremolos (And all their instabilites)
Balayés pour toujours (Swept away for eternity)
Je repars à zero (I restart at zero)
Non, rien de rien (No, nothing at all,)
Non, je ne regrette rien (No, I regret nothing)
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait (Not the good things they did to me)
Ni le mal (Nor the bad)
Tout ça m’est bien égal (May as well be the same to me)
10.La Vie En Rose – Louis Armstrong La Vie En Rose is the quintessential French song. We’ve all heard it, coming out of music boxes and in subway cars. This version is in English, through the voice of celebrated American trumpeter, composer, and singer Louis Armstrong. Though the lyrics are somewhat different, the gist is the same. In France, just like in love, life is pink.
Hold me close and hold me fast
The magic spell you cat
This is la vie en rose
When you kiss me, heaven sighs
And though I close my eyes
I see la vie en rose
When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom
And when you speak, angels sing from above
Every day words seem
To turn into love songs
Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be
La vie en rose
Again, the mix can be found here for your “I don’t know what they’re saying but I dig it” listening enjoyment.
Heureux de tomber amoureux de Paris.
I would argue that it is a tenet of the human condition that no one wants to feel like they actually suck.
That’s why apologizing is such a chore for us. By truly saying that you’re sorry, for your actions and their effects, you are basically admitting, even for just a moment, that you suck. When everyone judges themselves by their intentions, and judges everyone else for their actions, it’s easy to call someone else a bad person but balk at being a bad person yourself.
It makes sense, really. It’s pride, and ego, and all of that other stuff that really falls under the umbrella of self-preservation. It’s respectable to have principles and morals and ethics and to be a stand-up Good Samaritan. We don’t see ourselves in Forever 21 dressing room mirrors. We see ourselves in the best light possible.
It’s how we get through the day. It’s how we deal with all of the crap that happens to us. I’m a good person, so all of this tragedy and bullshit is unfair. I’m a good person, so eventually there will be karmic retribution and the rollercoaster will go up, up, up, and good things will happen again.
I am just as guilty of this as everyone I know. Even with the armor of self-deprecation protecting me from labels like “conceited, “narcissistic,” and “egotistical,” I still think I’m awesome. I still think I’m deserving of Spontaneous Goodness, from the world and from my friends and from my actions.
Whether this is true or not, and I freely confess that it probably isn’t, most of the time this mind frame keeps me sane. When I think of myself with positivity, I tend to rise to the occasion. I think of myself as an altruistic, generous person, and I don’t want there to be proof of the opposite, so I’m spurred on to actually be altruistic and generous or whatever other good qualities the world is praising that day. Does that make the altruism and generosity fake? I don’t know, and I don’t really care, because I am convinced of my own good intentions and care for my fellow human beans.
Besides, every media source suggests Confidence™ as the end-all, be-all, yadda yadda. I guess some falsity is the trade-off from acquiring that confidence. Fake it till ya make it, am I right?
So apologizing totally topples all of that good confidence work we do. We spend precious time trying to persuade ourselves that we are special, that we are deserving and good, just for an instant of non-specialness and sometimes even cruelty to reverse it all. Apologizing is like that dreaded “GAME OVER” screen that brings us right back to the beginning.
But that’s why it’s so pivotal. It’s like nature’s version of checks and balances. When we get so beyond ourselves that we hurt someone else, we need to check our ego and balance our thoughts. It’s hard, but it’s necessary.
Being sorry is a lot more than two measly words. Regardless of the severity of the original transgression, apologizing is demonstrating proof of the importance of the relationship. This only makes it harder, unfortunately.
I am personally a lousy apologizer. I have a hard time separating my intentions from what actually happened. Even worse, as an over-thinker, I am able to immediately file through everything good that I’ve done for the individual I’ve hurt, effectively diminishing- at least to me- the crime of what I said or did. I’ve been hurt before. I know what it feels like. But I struggle to compare the people who have hurt me to myself.
That’s only when I’ve actually done something wrong, of course. When I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m great at apologizing. I’ll apologize to pieces of furniture that I accidentally bumped into. Sometimes I’ll even apologize for my existence, a sad trend that is gaining prevalence among my peers. A study by Harvard Business School concluded that, when a researcher began a request to use a stranger’s cell phone with a quick, unsolicited, and unrelated “I’m sorry,” the researcher was offered the phone 47 percent of the time as opposed to the 9 percent of the time the researcher didn’t use the magic words and wasn’t given the phone.
There’s a metaphor about the difficulties of human intimacy that I really love. It’s called the hedgehog’s dilemma, or sometimes the porcupine dilemma. In cold weather, hedgehogs seek others in order to share body heat. But because of their sharp spines, they must keep a safe distance. They want close relationships, but they can’t have the proximity that they desire for fear of hurting each other.
The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and the psychologist Sigmund Freud have both used this situation to describe the role of the individual in society. Despite goodwill, we can’t get too close to each other because it will create mutual harm and weaker relationships. Our quills just can’t help but poke each other.
A cute fun fact: When Freud came to the United States in 1919, he was adorably excited to see a porcupine, a native species there, and even said about his trip: “I am going to the USA to catch sight of a wild porcupine and to give some lectures.”
I guess the moral of the story is moderation. If we moderate our self-interest while simultaneously moderating our consideration for others, we might just end up floating in the happy medium. But we can only learn this after a few foibles, after a few wrongdoings and a few carefully constructed apologies—so don’t be too hard on yourself, okay?
When asked to use the word “horticulture” in a game of Can-You-Give-Me-A-Sentence? Dorothy Parker responded, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” While I adamantly disagree with the underlying sentiment here, I can’t pretend that it’s not good wordplay.
However, it’s actual horticulture we’re talking about here. As my mother, a long-time florist, always says, “I never tire of the flowers.” In this series, we travel around the world, making every possible stop to smell the roses.
Read all editions of You Can Lead a Horticulture here.
In today’s attempt to Lead a Horticulture, I will be talking about flowers that any visitor of India can’t help but notice adorning temples and filling open-air markets: marigolds and lotuses.
The Calendula officinalis of the Tagetes genus are herbaceous plants in the sunflower family, native to North and South America but naturalized globally. Marigolds are exceptionally vibrant, in vivid gold, oranges, and yellows. Though the name “marigold” is derived from Christianity (“Mary’s gold”), the flowers have become culturally important to many other religions, particularly Hinduism, starting when they were incorporated into Indian culture by Portuguese colonization.
Padma, or Nelumbo nucifera, refers to the lotus, though it has many different names: the “Indian Lotus,” the “Sacred Lotus,” and the “Bean of India” being a few. The lotus is an ancient symbol in Asian culture. Like the marigold, it is polyvalent, which means that it has a plethora of different interpretations and meanings.
Just the color of marigolds is partially what makes the flowers symbolic. In Hinduism, yellow is the color of purity, victory, chastity, and sensuality. Unmarried girls wear yellow clothes in the spring, and some communities believe that the color can ward off evil spirits. Spiritual Gurus tie holy golden thread around the wrists of disciples to protect them, and, in the south of India, grooms tie yellow threads around their wives’ necks to symbolize marriage and its sanctity.
Yellow is also the color of Lord Vishnu, one of the most prevalent deities. In sacred texts he is typically described as holding a padma in his lower left hand, and the Kaumodaki gada, a mace, in his lower right hand. In his upper hands, he has the Panchajanya shankha--a conch—and a discus weapon. Oh yeah, by the way, Vishnu has four arms. Each of these objects is an emblem of his divinity. Therefore, yellow marigolds and lotuses are both widely used in religious rituals in India.
The origin behind the lotus’s position as an emblem is fascinating. When Vishnu was contemplating the creation of mankind, a lotus popped out of his bellybutton, blooming to reveal Brahma, the four-faced creator god, sitting upon it—in the lotus position, no less. This is where Vishnu’s hilarious nickname Padmanabha, or lotus-navel, came from.
Brahma and the lotus made the world bright, allowing for the creation of mankind, which is why the lotus is now associated with the sun in Hindu tradition. Because of its role as the catalyst for the creation of humans, the lotus is a symbol of fertility.
The lotus in Vishnu’s hand is also representative of his companion, the feminine force from which he gets his powers, the goddess Lakshmi. Lakshmi herself sits on a lotus in Hindu iconography and holds its stalks in her hands.
The environment in which a lotus grows has additionally led to different interpretations of its imagery. Though lotuses grow in muddy waters, once they are picked, there is neither water nor dirt evident on its beautiful petals. Therefore, they are used to represent the ideal of detachment, enlightening us to enjoy life’s pleasures without ever getting trapped by them. Interestingly, Chinese cultures and Buddhist symbolism have also gathered this same interpretation from the muddy-water-but-still-clean phenomenon. Furthermore, the way in which it’s petals blossom, unfurling and unfolding, insinuate the expansion of the soul.
At Christian weddings, marigolds are considered to be harbingers of misfortune, but at Hindu weddings marigolds are the most commonly employed flower. This is because Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi are worshipped with marigolds, so using the same kind of flower at a wedding is symbolic of divine blessings for the newlyweds. Like the lotus, the marigold, because of its yellow brilliance, represents the sun. The sun is a vessel of positive energy, and any of its symbols bestow good vibes upon the couple.
Marigolds are actually popular all across South Asia, particularly in Nepal. Garlands of these flowers are hung in almost every household in Nepal, especially during the Tihar festival, a five day long Hindu celebration that lights the sky day and night as a reverent act towards humans, gods, and culturally significant animals like crows, cows, and dogs. Using flower petals, people make patterns on the floors of living rooms or courtyards called Rangoli to welcome the gods and goddesses. On one day of the festival, called Gai Tihar, the people worship cows, showing their gratefulness by garlanding the dear animals with sayapatri, another word for marigolds.
Though every vendor in India earns a magnificent profit selling marigold garlands and souvenirs ornamented with lotus motifs, they are more than just moneymakers. Weddings, festivals, and religious events all incorporate these flowers to demonstrate honor and goodwill. They are offered as respect, to gods and humans alike, and are often used to welcome visitors. Their beauty and vivacity reflect the country in which they are so popular: both the flowers and the region are enormously bright, lively, and loving.
I hope no one is tired of learning inexplicable French idioms, because I have yet another eight to puzzle over!
1.Avoir les deux pieds dans la meme sabot At least where I live, in hipster too-close-to-Brooklyn-to-really-be-upstate upstate New York, clogs are very fashionable right now, but this idiom might bring new meaning to the trend. Meaning “to have two feet in the same clog,” this phrase suggests that you’re bumbling, confused, or clumsy in some way, but I trip a lot in clogs even when I’m wearing them correctly.
2.Être fauché comme les blés If you are a college student such as myself or just a normal human being in these trying times this one might relate to you. To say that they’re broke, French-speakers will say that they are “scythed like wheat fields,” the literal translation of the French phrase. Same, French-speakers. Same.
3.Pisser dans un violon When was the last time you peed into a violin to solve a problem? Never? Then this idiom will make sense. “Pisser dans un violon” means “to piss in a violin,” and is used to express that an action is useless or done in vain. This should really go unsaid, but never excrete into musical instruments. Please.
4.En faire tout un fromage As a typically dramatic, moody person, I simultaneously love this one and feel a little defensive about it. Translating to “to make a whole cheese about it,” this one describes someone making a fuss or throwing a fit. If only every time I overreacted I had a whole cheese by the time I calmed down.
5.Engueuler quelqu’un comme du poisson pourri This is used to describe giving someone a severe tongue-lashing (which is another strange phrase that I first heard of today and felt like I needed to use) and literally translates to “to yell at someone like they’re rotten fish.” Rotten fish sucks. Sometimes people suck. It’s logical.
6.Tremper son biscuit For this idiom, I like to imagine a bunch of adorable French ladies sitting around a baguette, some brie, and just like, a crapton of butter, gossiping about the neighbors. “Tremper son biscuit,” or “to dip his cookie,” is a remarkably cute and delicious way to say that a man is sleeping around. Dunking Oreos in milk will never be the same.
7.Péter plus haut que son cul I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this one for a while, but I have given up. Like a lot of poetry, I’m just going to focus on how it makes me feel rather than what it actually means. Translating to “to fart higher than their ass is located,” this one is a criticism of the big-headed, arrogant folks. I guess maybe they have hot air up high? Is that it? Or is everything they say so vile it’s like a fart? Gosh, I don’t know.
8.Clouer le bec de quelqu’un This edition of “French Idioms That Everyone Should Adopt Immediately” is fairly violent. This last one goes with the theme. “Clouer le bec de quelqu’un,” or “to nail someone’s beak,” refers to shutting someone up. I guess after someone pissed in your violin and you made a whole cheese about it by yelling at them like they’re rotten fish, since they always fart higher than their ass is located, you’ve had a long night and you just want to nail their beak and call it a day.
Happy making a whole cheese.
I’m sick of love songs. Specifically, love songs about other people. Where’s all the glorious self-love?!
Well, some of it is right here on this page, in the form of another wildly eclectic Weekly Playlist To. These tracks will sing your praises, emphasizing the truth we all know but hate to admit-- that all you need is you. This thirty-minute mix is dedicated to everyone who knows that they are enough as they are, and to those who needed reminding (namely, everyone else).
Listen to the full playlist here.
1.The World Should Revolve Around Me – Little Jackie Little Jackie is one of the best artists to listen to when you’re feeling down. She’s confident yet self-deprecating, deeply meaningful yet hilarious. So, everything that I want to be when I grow up.
There’s only one me in the galaxy
I am an endangered species
This kind of flower don’t grown on Earth
Just lettin’ you know, for what it’s worth
2.I Like Giants – Kimya Dawson This song is rife with body positivity and mindfulness. If you’re like me and find meditation to be an activity that causes more anxiety, Kimya Dawson’s track is a great alternative.
I’m smaller than a poppy seed inside a great big bowl
And the ocean is a giant that can swallow me whole
So I swim for all salvation and I swim to save my soul
But my soul is just a whisper trapped inside a tornado
So I flip to my back and I float and I sing
I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything
3.Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande Who doesn’t want to feel dangerous every once in a while? Ariana Grande combines power and femininity here in a way that I really appreciate. "Girly" does not always equate to weak innocence, just as "masculine" does not always equate to formidable dominance.
Don’t need permission
Made my decision to test my limits
‘Cause it’s my business, God as my witness
Start what I finished
Don’t need no hold up
Taking control of this kind of moment
I’m locked and loaded
Completely focused, my mind is open
4.Brass in Pocket – Pretenders If you’re not convinced that this song will make you feel good about yourself, watch this video of Scarlett Johansson doing the karaoke version in Lost in Translation. You can totally do that, and be just as hot. Easily.
‘Cause I’m gonna make you see
There’s nobody else here, no one like me
I’m special, so special
I gotta have some of your attention
5.Kanye – The Chainsmokes, sirenXX I’m one of the few individuals in modern society who genuinely loves Kanye West. This song exemplifies why: he doesn’t care what anyone thinks, he does what he wants, and he loves himself more than anyone else in the past century has.
One day I’ll stand with a crown on my head
Like a God, yeah, like a God
With every step, no, I won’t second-guess what I want
I wanna be like Kanye
I’ll be the king of me always
Do what I want and have it my way
All day, like Kanye
6.She’s So High – Tal Bachman Celebrating yourself never means putting down other women. Rather, it involves being appreciative of all that you’ve got, and of all of the good that other women have, too, and not comparing yourself to them or being judgmental of yourself for being different.
She’s blood, flesh, and bone, no tucks or silicone
She’s touch, smell, taste, and sound…
‘Cause she’s so high, high above me, she’s so lovely
She’s so high, like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, or Aphrodite
She’s so high, high above me
7.Ego – Beyoncé Beyoncé is incredible. This is a well-known fact. She doesn’t let anyone diminish her power and she doesn’t feel bad that she’s so awesome, so why should anyone else?
Some women were made
But me, myself?
I like to think that I was created
For a special purpose
What’s more special than you?
You feel me?
8.No Scrubs – TLC You know what has literally nothing to do with your self-worth? Boys. Or, more specifically, scrubs. But not even boys who aren’t scrubs. Basically, no other person determines your self-worth, but especially not boys.
I don’t want your number (no)
I don’t want to give you mine and (no)
I don’t want to meet you nowhere (no)
I don’t want none of your time (no)
9.Bette Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes Finishing the playlist off, this sultry single wants you to know just how much you are a movie star. And, you better believe it, 'cause you are a movie star.
She’s precocious, and she knows
Just what it takes to make a pro blush
She’s got Greta Garbo’s standoff sighs,
She’s got Bette Davis eyes
Again, the mix can be found here.
Happy feelin’ yourself.
“There is no royal flower strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it, for whatever success I have attained has been the result of much hard work and many sleepless nights.”
Born on a cotton plantation in Louisiana in 1867, Madam C.J. Walker was the first self-made female millionaire in the early twentieth century, and she deserves credit.
Her parents, Owen and Minerva, were recently freed slaves. They named their fifth child, and the first of their children to be born free, Sarah Breedlove. She was made an orphan by the age of seven, and moved to Mississippi to live with her sister Louvinia, where she picked cotton and did household work.
To escape the abuse that she suffered at the hands of Louvinia’s husband and the oppressive working environment, Sarah married a man named Moses McWilliams at age fourteen. In 1885, they had a baby girl, named A’Leila, but Moses’s death when A’Leila turned two provoked the pair to move to St. Louis to live with Sarah’s brothers.
In St. Louis, Sarah worked as a washerwoman. She earned $1.50 a day, which was just enough to send A’Leila to a public school in the city. (My Italian grandmother was a washerwoman in Queens when she first came to the United States-- I wonder if that's how much she made, too.) Sarah herself attended night school, whenever there was any extra money. It was in St. Louis that she met her second husband, Charles J. Walker, who worked in advertising and would help Sarah promote her future business.
When Sarah was young, she experienced a scalp ailment that caused her to lose most of her hair. I can’t imagine having such an illness, especially in a time when femininity was considered important. But instead of wallowing, which is honestly what I would do, Sarah experimented with home hair remedies.
She was so successful in this that, in 1905, a successful, black hair care pioneer named Annie Turnbo Malone hired her as a commission agent (Malone later became her greatest competitor). It was during this time that she perfected her own African American hair care treatments.
Her husband Charles helped her brand her treatments, and encouraged her to take on the name Madam C.J. Walker. Am I the only person mildly annoyed by that? For one thing, the name Sarah Breedlove is absolutely beautiful. And another thing, though Charles certainly helped her with her business, she was the true innovator, the brave woman behind the business who endured so much tragedy and misfortune. As far as I’m concerned, that means that her name should be attached to the success of the line. It's true that this was the tradition of the time, but it still doesn’t make it right.
Nevertheless, it is Sarah who is credited with all of her success, partially due to how she handled her business. In other words, she was smart. She was not only a hair care innovator, but an entrepreneurial, marketing innovator. In 1907, she and her husband traveled around the South and Southeast promoting her products and giving demonstrations of the “Walker Method,” a process involve her own pomade recipe, a certain pattern of brushing, and the use of heated combs.
Not only did she prosper enormously in this, but she also used her success to give back. In 1908, she opened a factory as well as a beauty school in Pittsburgh. When the company, now known as Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, grew too large for the original factory, she had to move to Indianapolis, where she not only manufactured cosmetics but trained sales beauticians called “Walker Agents.”
The Walker Agents promoted Walker’s philosophy of “cleanliness and loveliness” throughout the black communities of the United States. In turn, Walker organized clubs and conventions for her representatives, during which she praised her truly great sales team and organized philanthropic and educational efforts for African American communities.
Sarah and Charles divorced in 1913, after which she traveled throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to spread her products and training techniques. During this time, A’Leila acquired property in Harlem for the business, recognizing the location as potentially culturally significant. And her instinct was correct. When Sarah returned from her trips, she moved into a townhouse in Harlem and became a fixture of the social and political culture there.
While in Harlem, Sarah founded philanthropies that included educational scholarships, donations to retirement homes, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Conference on Lynching, and other organizations dedicated to supporting and advancing the lives of black Americans.
In 1919, at age fifty-one, she died of hypertension in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, in an estate home that she had built for herself. At the time of her death, she was the sole proprietor of her business, which was valued at over one million dollars, and her personal fortune was just shy of that number. She left a third of her estate to A’Leila, who became a celebrated member of the Harlem Renaissance.
Madam C.J. Walker didn’t bear her tough childhood thinking that tragedy and poverty were all she could look forward to. She survived it with inexhaustible hope and a staunch rejection of passivity. In an era in which good personal hygiene was not the norm because of a lack of indoor plumbing and electricity, she saw a hole in the world that needed to be filled. She recognized her position as a role model, as an idol, and used that to be there for her community, involving herself heavily in the culture and politics of her time.
In an article written by A’Leila herself, a few secrets to her mother’s success are revealed. There is one quote in particular that truly resonated with me, as a millennial in a time when no one sees or understands their own efficacy: “I got my start by giving myself a start!”
Tomorrow, Sunday, is my twentieth birthday. I am not excited.
I have a weird relationship to my birthday, which is strange because I am usually an excitable person (particularly about others’ birthdays, and, well, holidays in general). But when it comes to my birthday, I stress out. I become “mushy birthday girl.”
It’s just too much pressure. It’s a similar deal to the expectations of having fun during the summer or going out on a Friday night. I always end up disappointed when the real thing isn’t as good as the fantasy, or when I just end up staying in the whole time and doing nothing. And, on the day of your birthday, it’s like everyone who hasn’t spoken to you in months feels the need to remind you of their existence. I simultaneously like the attention and despise how it makes me feel so narcissistic.
I’m not special. So why spend a whole day celebrating the random act of my birth? (My mother would vehemently disagree, so much so that I’m expecting a call from her after she reads this with a lot of angrily relayed yet ego-boosting mom-compliments.)
But this year, I decided to say, “Screw that!” to all of that negative birthday self-talk and come up with a few creative ways to really celebrate me. Themes are overdone; who really needs a luau, disco, or carnival party to ring in being one year older? If your birthday gets you down every year, try one of these disappointment-proof ideas and celebrate the wacky and wonderful individual that you are.
Dorothy Parker is one of the most quotable people, which is why this is the second time I’ve quoted her on Girl Unaffiliated. This time, I’m paraphrasing an amazingly clever answer Parker gave in a game of Can-You-Give-Me-A-Sentence? When asked to use the word “horticulture,” she responded, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” While I adamantly disagree with the underlying sentiment here, I can’t pretend that it’s not good wordplay.
I’m wandering from the real topic. That is, flowers. Like, actual horticulture.
I mentioned in a previous post that my mother is a florist. My entire life has been a series of the passing seasons and a cacophony of cut stems, of filling vases with water and pouring sticky flower food into buckets.
Unfortunately, I didn’t pick up an advanced knowledge of horticulture or the art of flower arranging during my childhood. But as my mother says when asked why she is still a florist after all this time, “I never tire of the flowers.”
And it’s true. No one ever seems to tire of flowers. Perhaps it’s because of their ephemeral nature: they grow; they bloom; they die. There’s no time to become sick of a certain species or color. Then new batches of flowers arrive, ever exciting, ever mutated and unusual, ever arranged in endless combinations.
This love and fascination for flowers is not solely observed in the United States. After all, flowers grow everywhere, and to appreciate their beauty does not require a certain language.
This train of thought led me to research how flowers are utilized in different traditions. Of course, the results were captivating. Over the next couple of weeks, I will overview some of the notable examples, outlining but a fraction of the numerous ways in which flowers have been and continue to be significant to human life.
Floriography of England
Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837-1901 ushered in a new growth of proper etiquette amongst the upper class, limiting people from doing the most fun stuff, such as flirting. Inspired by Persian traditions, the practice of conveying secret messages via flowers reached England and became popular. Large records of flower interpretations were then compiled in several volumes, culminating in the creation of a language of flowers, or floriography.
Any topic or sentiment that was deemed inappropriate by Victorian etiquette rules could then be sent and received through flowers. But it was not just the type of flower that determined the meaning of the message. The arrangement, presentation, and even the way in which they were received all contributed to what the flowers were actually saying. This sounds convoluted to me, but I guess if we got Victorian people to start texting in modern slanguage they would be just as confused.
The etiquette system in England during this period was complex. There were different rules based on class, gender, and circumstance. Asking openly about relationships was taboo, and all flirtation was done with extreme discretion. Of course, for the poorer classes, the proper etiquette system was a distraction and a waste, and therefore unused.
The first flower dictionary was written in Paris in 1819, called La Langage des Fleurs and written by Louise Cortambert under the pen name Madame Charlotte de la Tour. Following this publication, a flood of floriogaphy dictionaries inundated the market, arming Victorians with plenty of interpretations of flower meanings. Apparently, some people even carried their dictionaries around with them. I guess in such rigid society, you wouldn't want to misunderstand those orange lilies someone just threw at you (I do not actually think this is how it would've been done).
Contrary to modern traditions, giving someone flowers was not just about romance or love. For example, though a red rose denoted love (which just proves once again how us modern folks are so unoriginal), if the shade was too dark a red, it actually expressed shame. In fact, a lot of flowers could suggest an insult. If a sender wanted to question someone’s masculinity, a jab that was seriously offensive in that time for who knows why, they would literally just send them grass. Even garlic was sent, to express that the garlic-receiver was evil and needed to be warded off (or to make them smell).
Inexplicably, the flower that most represented pure hatred was the orange lily. Though flower dictionaries have really detailed meanings in each entry, there aren’t really any clear reasons as to why.
Floriography was not just a formal affair. Victorian people often exchanged “talking bouquets,” also called nosegays or tussie-mussies, which were carried and worn as fashion accessories. These were small flower bouquets of posies. The term “nosegay” for this accessory refers to it being a “gay,” an antiquated synonym to the word ornament, for the nose—an ornament for the nose’s enjoyment. Tussie-mussie is specific to Queen Victoria’s reign, but indicates the same thing, though with considerably more floriography and panache.
Nearly every type of flower had a plethora of associations attached to it, making this form of communication unwieldy by the end of the Victoria period, which is perhaps why only some meanings have lasted. Take a gander at some of the fun meanings associated with unlikely flowers, derived from The Old Farmer’s Almanac:
Happy stopping to smell the roses.
There is something about the nature of thank you notes that makes procrastination inevitable. I think that possibly a curse was put on the act of writing thank you notes hundreds of years ago and that’s why we never get them done on time.
I always dread hopelessly searching my memory for the names of gifts and their givers, squeezing out all of my creative juices trying to say something about the tenth empty journal I got for one birthday. So maybe it really takes forever because we all hope that, at a certain point beyond the appropriate time frame in which to send thank you notes, the objects of our gratitude will forget that they ever did something worth thanking.
With that said, it feels wrong yet still mildly appropriate that my Mother’s Day Edition of Thank You Notes is a couple of days late (sorry, mom).
For moms, I just can’t let myself pull the “Irish Goodbye” of thank you notes, a tactic that I shamelessly employ in every other facet of my life. Moms are just so integral to daily functioning. And by "mom," I don’t just mean a female who shoved you out of her birth canal. A mom doesn’t need to be a woman, or related to you, or older than you, or anything else that fifties TV shows made moms out to be.
A mom is that little girl on the first day of kindergarten who could see that you were nervous as all get out and invited you to play with her. A mom is the person who stops, even for just a moment, to listen to every busker she encounters on the subway. A mom remembers your birthday.
Now that I think about it, moms don’t just remember birthdays. They remember everything, from your favorite color to your most embarrassing fart-related story (speaking of, a mom is the kind of person you can fart in front of without embarrassment-- well, much embarrassment). Moms remember to write thank you notes.
I’m lucky enough that, at almost twenty years old, I can say that I have a lot of moms. I’m even luckier that my most reliable and loving mom is the wacky and wonderful woman who carried me in her womb for nine months (and, believe it or not, I was an exceptionally tall baby) and who continues to support me every day of my life, sacrificing more than I will ever be able to list.
My mother is a florist. For as long as I can remember, I have watched her bring enormous power to delicate things. Sweet peas, lilies of the valley, forget-me-nots, and lamb’s ears have all slid through her lithe fingers to become meaningful and important. In the same way, she has ushered my growth with grace and elegance. My strength originates in her, and I only hope that I will be as resilient as she is one day.
I would be a shell of a person without my mother, without all of the people in my life who have dared to glimpse beneath the surface and unconditionally understand me as I am. So this year—even though I’m already a little late—let’s not postpone telling our moms (all our moms) thank you in the best way we can-- by being a mom to them, too.
For this week’s Playlist To, I’ve compiled a comically eclectic thirty-minute escape from the fresh hell we sometimes find ourselves in. Though partially inspired by the inimitable Dorothy Parker, who, according to John Keats, would quite seriously ask, “What fresh hell can this be?” whenever anyone rang her doorbell, this playlist was actually sent to me in a stress dream by the Muses of Fuck-Ups. This mix is dedicated to the lovely individuals out there who rang my doorbell this week, and to all those who rang yours, too.
Take a listen here.
1.Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight & The Pips I genuinely wish I could sell my hopes to the pawnshop like the man in this song does. Then I might actually get something out of them. Like a new pair of shoes. Or ice cream.
But he sure found out the hard way
That dreams don’t always come true
So he pawned all his hopes and even sold his old car
Bought a one-way ticket back to the life he once knew
2.Look at Miss Ohio – Gillian Welch This song is about what I want to do—escaping everything and eschewing my responsibilities—but would actually never do because I have an affliction and it’s called caring too much.
Oh me oh my oh, look at Miss Ohio
She’s running around with her ragtop down
She says, “I wanna do right, but not right now”
3.Life on Mars? – David Bowie For when your life disappoints you so you distract yourself with fantasy but the fantasy is disappointing, too.
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen
But the film is a saddening bore
For she’s lived it ten times or more
4.Roman Holiday – Nicki Minaj I wish I could boast the lack of inhibitions that Minaj demonstrates in this classic chef-d'oeuvre. In fact, now that I think about it, I could probably use a Roman holiday from my inhibitions.
Take your medication, Roman
Take a short vacation, Roman
You’ll be okay
You need to know your station, Roman
Some alterations on your clothes and your brain
Take a little break, little break from your silencing
There’s so much you can take, you can take
I know how bad you need a Roman holiday
5.Jackson – Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash Goodbye.
When I breeze into that city, people gonna stoop and bow
All them women gonna make me teach ‘em what they don’t know how
I’m goin’ to Jackson, you turn-a loose-a my coat
Cuz I’m goin’ to Jackson
“Goodbye,” that’s all she wrote
6.Chicago – Sufjan Stevens There are a lot of beautiful lines that exemplify isolation and listlessness and wanderlust and frustration in this song, but I chose to feature the stanza that I most relate to.
I made a lot of mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes
7.I’m Not Gonna Miss You – Glen Campbell I didn’t realize until long after using this song as a post-breakup anthem that it’s not about takin’ out the trash but actually Campbell’s battle with Alzheimer’s. How’s that for a pick-me-up?
You’re the last person I will love
You’re the last face I will recall
And best of all
I’m not gonna miss you
8.Spaceship – Kanye West, GLC, Consequence As a big believer in an Emergency Kanye Dance Party at the end of each long, hard, day of hustling, I had to end this playlist with this hymn about becoming an astronaut when the minimum wage is getting you down.
I’ve been working this graveshfit
And I ain’t made shit
I wish I could
Buy me a spaceship and fly
Past the sky
Again, the full playlist can be found here.
I’m sure you’ve seen these before: alphabet samplers of letters timidly sewn into plain linen, hanging on the walls of house museums and antique stores; intricate designs featured on the skirts of gorgeous, couture gowns and flowing down runways at Fashion Week; dirty phrases and references from cult classics and fandoms framed in hoops on apartment walls in hip neighborhoods.
Embroidery as a textile craft can manifest in so many different ways—and, like, it’s actually really cool.
I was surprised to find out that embroidery is a super old practice. In fact, it’s as old as humankind, since it was primitive man who first developed needlecrafts. Cro-Magnon peoples discovered that animal sinew and plant fibers could be reworked into durable threads, and that bone and ivory made workable needles. Prehistoric people were then able to make clothing by stitching together animal skins, which were used not as fashion statements but as protection from the elements.
But once the earliest humans had this figured out, along with a bunch of other necessities like food and shelter, they were like, “Crap. I’m bored” and so creativity started to make its mark as a pastime. Therefore, the sheer, painful boredom of early humans resulted in the advent of embroidery as an art form. (Am I the only person who thinks this is extremely cool?!)
Soon, the people of the Iron Age were incorporating beads, stones, and bones into their designs. An archaeological dig in Russia in 1964, which unearthed the fossilized remains of a Cro-Magnon, uncovered evidence of this practice. The man’s fur clothes, boots, and hat had all been decorated with horizontal rows of ivory beads. I like to imagine that there was a high fashion, prehistoric equivalent to Chanel in those days. I recommend thinking about this. Cro-Magnon fashion show is a very cute visual.
Embroidery was a fixture in many different cultures throughout history. Chinese thread embroidery, which dates back to at least 3500 B.C., provides particularly exquisite and masterful examples of embroidery as a fine art. Modern-day embroidery most takes after the samples from the Zhou Dynasty era, which lasted from 1045 B.C. to 246 B.C.
Embroidery was also found to be a prevalent custom in Mesopotamian cultures. In 1544, an excavation in Ur, a highly advanced Sumerian city that is located in present-day Iraq, salvaged a shroud dating to 400 A.D. that was decorated thoroughly with pure gold thread embroidery. Unfortunately, the excavators melted down the gold used to create the shroud, resulting in thirty-six pounds of molten gold, but also destroying this precious artifact. Where the gold actually ended up is unknown.
It is because the methods and techniques involved in embroidery have been passed down from generation to generation that this practice has endured so many centuries. In medieval England, embroidery classes called Opus Anglicanum (“English Work” in Latin) were very popular. Many individuals also used embroidery to record historical events.
Innovation in embroidery came with the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, when Berlin wool work gained international renown through greater ability to spread and communicate techniques, ideas, and designs. Berlin wool work is canvas thread embroidery worked into wool using pinpoint stitches. By creating careful shading, Berlin wool work pieces have an incredible three-dimensional effect.
Nowadays, machines do most of the modern embroidery we see. Though machine embroidery creates absolutely perfect stitches, I personally think that the human touch is lost in such work. But as DIY culture has been growing exponentially with the ease and fun of things like Pinterest, Tiny House Nation, and YouTube tutorials, freehand embroidery is making a comeback.
It is a beautiful practice that forces the embroiderer (or embroideress, as I like to call myself) to really slow down and focus. When you are embroidering small details, it’s impossible to dwell on the myriad of things that are bothering you. In that way, embroidery is a lot like meditation. It keeps you in the present, in the moment of a single stitch. Embroidery can be meaningful, funny, or just something nice to look at. And the best part—you can easily take threads out, redo work, or reuse materials.
Whatever the design, what one embroiders or hangs in their room is an extension of themselves, their personalities, and their passions. Having embroideries of things that you love is basically just another way to geek out over them. Maybe, if you try embroidery, you’ll have something new to geek over.
Being able to drive is so freeing. I remember walking out of the DMV only a few years ago, a passed permit test in one hand and the keys to my mom’s car in the other. For the first time, I would drive home.
It felt like such a long time coming for me, an impatient sixteen year old frustrated with the doldrums of high school, always perched somewhere on the edge of my seat so that I wouldn’t miss the next big adventure. I was independent and audacious, and finally I could act on that part of my personality. Another day of waiting would feel like forever. And now, having driven for about four years, nothing beats the sensation that comes with a full tank of gas.
I can’t imagine a world in which it was not just my age, economic status, or sheer driving ability preventing me from getting a license (fun fact: I failed my first driving test because I ran a stop sign). But, in at least one country, that is the reality, and my gender would’ve been not just a reason, but the reason that I couldn’t get my license.
Saudi Arabia is unique in that it is the only place where women are prohibited from driving. But a group called Women2Drive is “taking the wheel” of freedom anyway (I recently listened to “Jesus, Take The Wheel,” that celebrated Carrie Underwood hit, and I really wanted to do a spin on that for this sentence but it turned out pretty awkward and half-baked, so I apologize).
For at least a decade, women living in Saudi Arabia must acquire signed permission from a mahram, or close male relative, before she can travel, even if that travel is within her own country. This is a fairly difficult legislation to enforce, and so most women do leave the house alone and interact with men unrelated to them, though many of these women have faced severe consequences. In a similar manner, a woman driving is tolerated in rural areas, but only because it is more often the case in these regions that the survival of their families depends on them alone.
Though the law doesn’t specifically dictate that women cannot drive, drivers in Saudi Arabia must have local licenses, and these licenses are not issued to women, effectively prohibiting them from driving.
Religious authorities have even called the act of women driving haram, a word translating to forbidden that represents the highest form of prohibition. If something is haram, it is not just against the rules; it is sacrilegious. Some commonly cited reasons for this classification is that driving a car would require women’s faces to be uncovered, more women on the road would cause congestion, depriving men from the opportunity to drive, and it would be the first step in a disintegration of traditional values, specifically gender-based segregation.
The movement by women for women to lift the ban on driving was first documented in 1990. On November 6th, about twenty Saudi women protested the ban by driving the streets of Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia. Some time into this protest, they were apprehended by traffic cops and taken into custody, released only after each had their mahram sign statements promising that they would never drive again.
But that was not the only consequence: thousands of leaflets with their full names printed next to gender-specific slurs were circulated throughout Riyadh, the women were suspended from their jobs, and they had their passports confiscated. Allegedly, their passports were returned about a year after the arrest and their jobs reinstated, but these women have been kept under surveillance and passed over for promotions ever since.
The next highly publicized event supporting the right to drive came in 2008 on International Women’s Day, which is celebrated every March 8th, when Saudi feminist activist Wajeha al-Huwaider uploaded a YouTube video of herself driving while simultaneously outlining her request for universal driving rights.
Al-Huwaider is a co-founder of The Association for the Protection and Defense of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia, which is just one of the reasons why her life and accomplishments are more than worthy of her own “She Deserves Credit;” a journalist, she has been banned from publishing several times, has presented a petition to King Abdullah advocating for an end to the ban on women drivers, and has campaigned against the mahram laws, all with great risk.
Though the original video was taken down soon after it was published, some clips and translations still exist online.* During the video, al-Huwaider drives through a rural area, which is more accepted and therefore less dangerous, but then fearlessly turns onto a highway without missing a beat.
Al-Huwaider helped with other women’s driving campaigns during the 2011 Saudi Arabian protests by filming Manal al-Sharif, another human rights activists, driving in Khobar, another large city in Saudi Arabia. Al-Sharif was arrested, and then released, and then arrested again the next day. She was finally released on bail later with the conditions that she not drive or talk to the press.
But instead, al-Sharif starred in her own TEDTalk.* She tweets regularly on the issues plaguing her country. She was even one of the women who started the Facebook campaign “Women2Drive,” a movement that called for women to start driving beginning June 17th, 2011.
There is still such a long way to go. It was only a month after the start of Women2Drive’s campaign that Shaima Jastania was sentenced to ten lashes for driving a car in the city of Jeddah. King Abdullah pardoned Jastania, but the powerful and conservative Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz has overturned King Abdullah’s pardon. And yet, since 2011, many women drove anyway, challenging the archaic traditions that oppress them.
These women deserve credit not because they have been able to change the laws of their country. In fact, they haven’t been able to—not yet, anyway. What these women deserve credit for is for trying. When someone acts with courage, it’s not that they aren’t afraid. They are often very, very afraid; the difference is that they don’t let that stop them. The women of Women2Drive and other human’s rights activists all over the world have tested their strength, tested their courage, and have come out stronger and more powerful. With each attempt, each fraction of publicity and awareness gained, we get closer to stop wondering when everyone will have the rights they deserve, and start acting to make sure that they do.
*Watch Wajeha al-Hywaider’s video here and Manal al-Sharif’s TedTalk here.
Happy looking for little beasts.
Will a book that I loved as a kid hold up to my grown-ass-woman standards? Admittedly, my grown-ass-woman standards are still pretty silly and goofy, but nevertheless. I have matured slightly since I was ten.
When I was a little Girl Unaffiliated, my dad would sometimes surprise me at the end of the school day with a new book, and often take me to author signings at the local bookstore. We’ve always been very close, and I have the fondest memories of waiting in long lines at Barnes and Noble with him, reading and laughing.
It was also around this time that my Greatest Ambition was to be a Voiceover Artist. (Yes, I always said it with that exact, formal phrasing.) I have no idea where I learned that this was an occupation, but I distinctly remembering telling my mother what I wanted to be when I grew up and, upon receiving her surprised response, told her, “Mom, you do know that cartoon characters aren’t real, right?” Though I would’ve settled for a job with any of my favorite cartoons, what I really wanted to do was provide a voice for what seemed to be the inevitable movie adaptation of my favorite book series, The Adventures of Captain Underpants. (I am still waiting for this seemingly inevitable movie adaptation.) So, when my dad surprised me one day by taking me to a book signing with Dav Pilkey and told the author all about my aspirations, Dav promised to call me first when Captain Underpants: The Movie needed some voiceovers.
Hilariously, this book was the number one most challenged book in 2013 for “offensive language” and “violence.” Individuals filed more reports to ban Captain Underpants than Fifty Shades of Grey, which came at number four on the list. With this baffling piece of information in mind, let’s take a look at my childhood favorite, The Adventures of Captain Underpants.
One hundred and twenty-one pages and twenty minutes later…
As it turns out, I still freaking love this stuff. That was a truly incredible read. It took less than half an hour. I laughed out loud, often hysterically, from beginning to end.
This series follows George Beard and Harold Hutchins, two mischievous but good at heart school kids who love making comics together (George writes and Harold illustrates; maybe this book an early influence as to why the creating bug bit me?). Though they have created such incredible superheroes as “Dog Man,” “Timmy the Talking Toilet,” and “The Amazing Cow Lady” (essentially me), their all-time greatest superhero is, you guessed it, “The Amazing Captain Underpants.” Trouble arises when they accidentally hypnotize their mean, evil principal Mr. Krupp with the 3-D Hypno-Ring™. Now every time someone snaps, Mr. Krupp becomes Captain Underpants, and won’t revert to his former self until someone pours water on his head. Obviously, hilarity ensues.
I’m only a little embarrassed to say that I laughed the loudest when some bystanders were guessing what that flying thing in the sky was: “’Look up in the sky. It’s a bird.’ ‘It’s a plane.’ ‘It’s a egg-salad sandwich.’” (It was none of these things.)
This series is sidesplitting, creative, intelligent, and entertaining—which is way more than I can say for Fifty Shades of Grey.
Happy fighting for truth, justice, and all that is pre-shrunk and cottony.
It’s that time of the year again: the birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and everything you once held dear is slipping from your grasp. When all you’ve got left is an empty stomach, fill it with these recipes!
*From the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastonomique: "Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavor."
“I was never afraid. I’d go up any time, any place. The only thing I hated was getting back to the earth so quickly.”
Georgia Ann Thompson was born in North Carolina on April 8, 1893. She weighed three pounds, and she deserves credit.
In late nineteenth century Granville County, North Carolina, most families were poor farmers. Georgia’s life was no different, except that she was always remarkably small, earning her the lifelong nickname of “Tiny.” She married at twelve, and became a mother to daughter Verla only a year later. When her husband died in an accident, Georgia worked fourteen hours in a cotton mill to support Verla, making only forty cents a day. (When I was around twelve and thirteen, I came up with the AIM screen name “LegallyBrunette” and agonized over party invites—well, lack thereof.)
Not much else is known about Georgia’s life before the year 1907, when she attended the State Fair in nearby Raleigh and saw “The Broadwicks and Their Famous French Aeronauts” for the first time. In the act, performers ascended in a hot air balloon basket, then climbed over the side and parachuted back down to the ground. Tiny was so enamored that, immediately following the show, she approached the group’s owner, Charles Broadwick, and asked if she could travel with his performers. Because of her beauty and small stature, just hitting above four feet at fifteen years old, Charles Broadwick agreed.
Leaving Verla with her grandmother and promising to send a portion of her salary home, Georgia joined the carnival and became Tiny Broadwick.
Tiny parachuted off a hot air balloon for the first time one year later, at the next North Carolina State Fair. Broadwick emphasized her unusual features and age in his act, marketing Tiny as “The Doll Girl.” He dressed her in ruffled bloomers, pink bows, a bonnet, and ribbons. She detested this completely, which totally just makes her cooler. At her core, she wasn’t a doll, or a princess; rather, she was a courageous daredevil, who left her male contemporaries in the history of aviation in the atmosphere.
Because it was scandalous in this time for single men and women to travel together, Broadwick got permission from Tiny’s father to legally adopt her. From this point, their relationship truly resembled that of a close father and daughter. Broadwick taught her the craft of parachuting, and Tiny kept his carnival business afloat, attracting huge crowds and countless newspaper articles declaring her the “most daring female aeronaut ever seen.”
And she was. Tiny executed stunts with little to no fear, though she had several near-fatal incidents throughout her career. Some harrowing examples include when she landed on the caboose of a moving train and another instance when she got tangled in the vanes of a windmill. She even escaped a burning hot air balloon. She broke bones and dislocated her shoulder more than she could count, but she never stopped jumping or pioneering the craft of parachuting.
By 1912, balloon stunts became an entertainment form of the past. Audiences demanded new tricks and more exciting shows. It was around this time that Tiny met Glenn L. Martin, a famous pilot who had seen her performing and wanted her to parachute from an airplane instead. Like Broadwick, Martin saw Tiny as a potentially highly lucrative component of his act, which focused on airplane stunts instead of hot air balloon stunts.
Broadwick had developed the parachute Tiny used on her first jump from an airplane. It was made entirely of silk. Martin flew the plane two thousand feet over Los Angeles, and then Tiny released a lever on a trap seat, sort of like a trapeze swing, behind the wing, and the seat dropped out from under her. On June 21, 1913, she became the first woman to parachute from an airplane. Later that year, she parachuted into Lake Michigan and became the first woman to parachute into a body of water.
She got enormous success from this stunt, so much so that in 1914 she was asked to demonstrate to government officials the effectiveness of parachutes. Before Tiny taught the U.S. Army her methods, many, many pilots had died because they had no way to safely get out of planes, especially in the midst of the still-brewing World War. However, in one of her demonstrations, something went terribly wrong: her parachute’s line became entangled in the tail assembly of the plane. It was impossible to get back into the plane because of the force of the wind against her small weight. Instead of becoming flustered, she cut off all but a short length of her parachute’s line, opening the parachute. Totally by accident, Tiny had invented a method called the “rip cord,” and became the first person ever to make a planned free-fall descent. Tiny accomplished that day what trained pilots had been unable to do before, that is, safely bail out of an airplane, entirely by mistake. Because of her extreme skill, Tiny served as an advisor to the Army Air Corps for the rest of World War I.
Tiny’s last jump was in 1922. She had made more than a thousand jumps by her twenty-ninth birthday, but her ankles were starting to weaken. The idea of stopping parachuting distressed her, but her health problems became too uncomfortable. Despite this, Tiny remained a fixture in aviation, visiting military bases during World War II and talking to aircrews. Verla also succeeded, but as a mother, providing Tiny with six grandchildren. She died in 1978 from natural causes and was buried in North Carolina, the state that declares itself “First in Flight,” the state where she first began.
In 1964, Tiny donated her parachute at a dinner held in her honor by the Adventurers Club of Los Angeles. National Air Museum Director Philip S. Hopkins said of Tiny’s life and accomplishments, “Measured in feet and inches, her nickname ‘Tiny’ is obviously appropriate. Measured by her courage and her accomplishments, she stands tall among her many colleagues—the pioneers of flight. And her contributions to flight history have helped to make America stand tall as the nation which gave wings to the world.”