November 2015

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Seven Years in Journalism — What It’s Taught Me About Tragedies and Our World.

A B C D E F G H I

[Photography: Alexandra Wolf]

I’m twenty-one years old when I first hear the sound of a human being wailing in horror. Situated outside of the scene of a triple homicide, I’m an intern at a Boston based news network, doing my best to pretend that I have the savvy necessary to cut it as a big time journalist – that is, I want to be Lisa Ling more than I want ANYTHING ELSE in this life. So, in an effort to compile a demo reel that I can send to potential employers with the hope of eventually getting hired, I tag along with an experienced crew of media professionals to put together “packages” (that’s news-geek lingo for stories) and then track my content back at the station thereafter. Thus far, I’ve covered topics like airport congestion and Earth Day, so when I’m urgently summoned to a breaking news scene on what appears to be a rudimentary enough Saturday afternoon, I have no idea what to expect.

In a suburb just outside of Boston, my team and I are among the first group of journalists to arrive and set up camp. Standing outside of a yellow taped off area in the dead of winter, we’re curious about what’s going on, of course, but we have no real concept of the carnage that’s unraveling less than about a hundred feet away from us. Later, we learn that, without warning, a twenty-three year old man stabbed two of his younger sisters to death, decapitating the youngest – a five-year-old baby — on her birthday. Police shoot and kill him before he’s able to take the life of his nine-year-old sister, as well. From my vantage point, I don’t see the parents rush home in a quest to discover the extent to which this futility has ravaged their world, but I hear a low bellied shrill emanating from somewhere within the mother’s being, causing me to turn my body towards her just as she collapses to the ground. Her scream denotes an agonizing mix of the rawest form of human emotion that I’ve ever borne witness to — a distinctly horrifying blend of anguish and dread. Although she’s immediately taken out of our vicinity and brought to an ambulance for medical attention, I continue to hear her primal torment reverberating like a terrible tortured backdrop for hours into the night. That was seven years ago, and I still vividly recall the poignancy of her shrills today; within them, I inherently recognize what the definition of intensive human suffering is.

Last Friday, I opt to take the day off. After a nonstop week of shoots, IT, and paperwork, I’m decidedly excited to treat myself to a long weekend with my fiancé. As we prepare to leave for dinner in the evening, I pass the living room TV and see – impossibly, unbelievably — that Paris is under massive attack. Shock. Dread. Horror. Disbelief. Together, my fiancé and I stare at the screen in front of us, messaging our friends in the City of Lights and attempting to understand the reality of what’s transpiring. I’m utterly devastated at the thought of such an idyllic, innocent and magical place undergoing any measure of horror – let alone a literal massacre of this magnitude. That said, when I choose to post a photo of the Eiffel Tower on social media and encourage people to pray for Paris, I receive feedback concerning the fact that we aren’t also being urged to pray for Beirut, Russia, Kenya, and Baghdad – as well as the sites of several other atrocities that have unfolded across the globe.

Upon reading the sentiments of many of my followers, I too, come to understand the conundrum that they’re justly grappling with. While no one would ever seek to diminish the extent of the devastation occurring in France (that would be ignorant and disgusting), it’s important to acknowledge to myself that I wasn’t even aware of the catastrophes happening elsewhere across the world. Of course, we all have a personal responsibility to educate ourselves on global affairs, but I can’t help but wonder how much of the distinct lack of coverage can be attributed to the media as a series of grand scale institutions, as well.

Here’s the thing: years after my stint as an intern at the news station in Boston, I move to New York and acquire that needle in a haystack position that I was so fervently seeking in the first place. At twenty-five, I’m producing and reporting content, much of which airs on MSNBC. It’s my chance, I think. I’ve made it to the majors. (Btw, this is the only time that you’ll witness me use a sports reference in anything that I write — ever). Committing myself to my work in a way that I never have before, I learn what it really means to shoot for four consecutive twenty hour days while on location, to willingly put my personal safety at risk in order to slip undercover in a series of cities south of the border (Box of cigs? Nope. That’s actually a covert camera being used to expose pedophiles on tape), to gently interview tiny survivors about a plethora of focuses so vile that they literally have the aptitude to bring grown men in the room to tears, to have my passport seized by a barrage of corrupt foreign police officers at 2am while being detained in a city that I can barely pronounce (let alone send out an SOS from) because of its insanely remote locale, etc.

And, truth be told, I can assure you that all of this feels entirely worth it if it means that you’ll be given an opportunity to spotlight a cause that you’re deeply passionate about and that will decidedly be advanced by receiving the national news coverage that it so rightly deserves. But what happens when you get all of the footage required to do justice to the piece, fly back to New York, spend countless hours in an edit station cutting it — and then the network — after giving it heaps of praise, unilaterally decides, without explanation, never to air it at all? What do you tell all of the survivors who were brave enough to come forward and share their stories with you in a quest to end such a ghastly epidemic? How do you explain something to them that you, yourself, can’t even understand?

I’m not being didactic or strident in suggesting that governments and grand scale media institutions alone mustn’t be the answer to our problems. But I do believe that all of us have some measure of personal power with respect to what happens to our world. It’s vital to be cognizant of the fact that regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or class, we inhabit one collective home – that is, Earth. And yes, evil is unquestionably everywhere; it’s in Paris, Beirut, Kenya, Baghdad, an upscale suburb just outside of Boston on a Saturday afternoon, in the pedophiles who travel from all over the world to take advantage of vulnerable/disadvantaged children from third world nations, etc. One of the most commonly used phrases of jihadis is “we love death more than you love life.” In order to combat this devastation, then, we must love and appreciate life in a way that we never have before. Often times, when tragedies occur, we exhibit our best behavior for a couple of months thereafter. But what I’m suggesting is a process of immersion, whereby we take advantage of the fact that we’re all united in our grief right now and use it to come together — accepting one another more, exhibiting kindness to those who we encounter on a daily basis, and actively seeking to find the beauty in all of our moments.

It was with a heavy a heart that I initially thought about putting up a post subsequent to Paris. But if I didn’t continue forward, appreciating my life and creating the best level of creativity that I could, then the majority of this entry would equate to nothing more than hypocrisy. So today, I’m sending you love and healing, and I’m encouraging all of us, through a process of immersion, to allow these tragedies to catalyze us to a stronger place of every day beauty.

To Love Safely or To Love Deeply? My Complicated, Risky Road To Romance.

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[Photography by Alexandra Wolf]

Everywhere you look these days you see couples that have the ability to espouse the stories of their uncomplicated courtships in five minutes or less. Conventional tales of college first dates turned two year anniversaries turned neatly wrapped boxes with ribbons on top (I’m not speaking metaphorically here; I’m referring to those square shaped enclosures that harbor round/emerald/princess cut promises of supposed eternity within), always seem so organic and harmonious to me.

When I observe those people posting declarations of their unconditional love for each other on Facebook, timelines abounding with every single one of the wedding pictures that the photographer could’ve possibly captured within a span of six hours, and then eventually – invariably – the sonogram shot to boot, it doesn’t frustrate me in the same way that it might if I were, let’s say, a more cynical social media user.

But that said, I can’t exactly relate to such a scenario either because true love, distinguished from stable familiarity, struck me in a way that a lighting bolt does when it touches the branches of a seemingly sturdy backyard weeping willow tree. Innocuous sounding enough, right? WRONG. Ultimately, it catalyzed a chain reaction that prompted the friendly former shade provider to smash my proverbial slate roof to bits and render me temporarily adrift (no pun intended) in the midst of a full-blown natural disaster.

You know what I mean?

But – here’s the thing — now that I’ve experienced love in the way that Anthony Hopkins describes it to his on screen daughter in the movie Meet Joe Black, “Love is passion, obsession, someone you can’t live without. I say, fall head over heels. Find someone you can love like crazy and who will love you the same way back. How do you find him? Well, you forget your head, and you listen to your heart. Cause the truth is, honey, there’s no sense living your life without this. To make the journey and not fall deeply in love, well, you haven’t lived a life at all. But you have to try, cause if you haven’t tried, you haven’t lived,” I wouldn’t trade the act of falling face first — and quite messily  — into my relationship with my now fiancé for all of the Kelley Bags, croc or otherwise, in the world.

Truth be told, our courtship was anything but instantaneous or uncomplicated. Although the two of us were great friends prior to the time in which we became a couple, for many years, we remained steadfastly rooted in the realm of the platonic – mostly because — well (how do I put this?), for the large majority of the time, I was engaged to another person. And for my fiancé’s part in the matter, he had settled in New York City and commenced a dating life that, by all accounts, rivaled only that of Christian Grey’s. Not only did he share many of the details of that life with me, but he also utilized my girl brain as a conduit to the ever-complex female psyche in a quest to streamline his own romantic encounters. Engrossed in my life in Boston, and focused largely on law school, I was always happy to hear fresh stories about the dating world and to offer advice from my perspective. Set him up with someone? Sure! Provide gift guidance upon the abrupt arrival of Valentine’s Day? A cinch. Serve as wing woman when a group of us would go out together downtown? Of course!

So, between both of our situations, respectively, it just never occurred to me that I might drop everything and commence my life’s great romance with my then best friend. Although my previous relationship was riddled with fundamental incompatibilities, I failed to recognize that the true definition of love is, in fact, passion, obsession and someone you can’t live without. So, for a long time (meaning – ahem – six years) I simply continued forward with my day-to-day existence.

And then things changed.

While the nitty gritty details of that transformation don’t really matter, it suffices to say that I made a number of fundamental, life altering decisions, which have ultimately lead me to where I am today – deeply in love and ready to share the rest of my life with someone who I love like crazy and who loves me the same way back.

It wasn’t easy. It involved a lot of confusion, messiness, catatonic moments, Bible reading/clutching, displacement across states, and the like. But candidly, I didn’t make the decision for anyone other than myself.

Recently, upon seeing a close girlfriend of mine, I was disappointed to hear her suggest that at thirty, it would probably behoove her to settle for someone who was “safe,” meaning a person who would possess the good qualities of a stable future husband even if he wasn’t able to provide her with a once in a lifetime kind of love.

When she asked for my opinion on the matter, we both recognized that she was already aware of what my response would be. After all, she had witnessed my own story unfold. While I don’t generally go around quoting Anthony Hopkins (because, I mean, Hannibal Lector?) arguably, no truer words have ever been spoken: to make the journey and not fall deeply in love? Well, then you haven’t lived a life at all.

 

 

Aging — and What it Means To Me As a Woman.

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[Blanket Cape] [Over the Knee Boots] [Must Have Sunnies] [OP Every Day Red Nail Polish]

RS 5RS 3RS 2RS 6 RS 9

Dear NoteBrooke,

I flip my vanity mirror over to the 50x more magnified side – the one that’s meant to be used purely for cosmetic related tasks that require extreme attention to minute detail, like plucking away stray brows in an effort to maintain a strong arch or adeptly applying one’s black noir YSL liner back and forth between the upper lash line for maximum coverage.

Widening my eyes in a manner that would suggest that I might be capable of commanding a prisoner who’s situated in a hole twenty feet beneath me to put the lotion in the basket, I remain steadfastly in position and begin to examine my forehead. Horror follows.

I notice the faint trace of three fine lines that have surfaced across my skin.

Upon revisiting old photographs from a shoot that I did when I was nineteen, I realize that I am, in fact… aging. As is [presumably] the case with all harrowing matters like death, pregnancy and bill paying, I abruptly arrive at the conclusion that somehow – surprisingly, impossibly — I won’t be the one who’s hand delivered a Get Out of Jail Free Card from the Divine, permitting my dismissal from basic evolutionary processes that the human race has withstood since the beginning of time.

And before you call me a hyper paranoid, neurotic, superficial idiot (all three of those adjectives have assuredly been used to sum up the greater portion of my entire existence before, so don’t worry about sparing my feelings now), it’s important to note that I recently came across an interview that Anne Hathaway did with Glamour UK in which she discussed losing out on recent movie roles to younger Hollywood starlets. Anne goes on to say that she “can’t be upset about it, though” because “it’s the way things are” and wistfully recalls the fact that she, too, had been “that twenty-four year old once.”

When I read the article, I want to vomit – not because I’m a HathHater (That’s a bizarre subject for another post) but because I’m sickened at the thought of a woman’s social prowess being largely contingent upon a factor that’s as unreliable as a flaky college boyfriend becomes after he realizes that you’re just not going to give it up anytime soon– that is, ephemeral/transient/sure to fade away into the night.

Or did that just happen to me?

For a moment, I want to shake Anne like a flimsy American Girl doll and to remind her of the fact that she’s far too dynamic of a woman to accept such a gross mentality without putting up some measure of a fight first. And then, sarcastically, I want to ask her how she can even recall what being twenty-four was like in the first place. After all, at a whopping thirty-two years OLD, she’s apparently verging on elderhood, and we all know that forgetfulness is a trait that’s fairly ubiquitous with respect to the plights of our proverbial Grandmothers.

But then, at once, I also want to coddle her, reminding her of the fact that she’s a sterling example of a well-rounded woman and that she — of all people (!)– a particularly well-educated activist/actress, mustn’t allow her femininity to be subjugated by something as demeaning as ageism.

During my imaginary bipolar back and forth with Anne Hathaway, I finally consider the fact that I’m the girl who’s counting her forehead lines in the grey-green light of a 50x magnification mirror on my bathroom floor.

Disclaimer of the day? I’m not a bra-burning feminist. I don’t refer to God as a “She.” I shave regularly. I’m not even morally offended by the prospect of putting my fiancé’s dinner on a plate and serving it to him. And this isn’t, in any way, intended to be an attack on the male gender – because on some level, most of us buy into and propagate society’s disposal of old women.

Among the realities of my Tuesday, though: I walk down the street and I’m called a “bitch” after I have the audacity to tell a particularly incessant – and physically aggressive — cat caller that he’s being a little bit disrespectful towards me. I sit at a nail salon, look up at the TV and see side-by-side images of Brooke Shields, Bridgette Bardot and Raquel Welch splashed across the screen. Each actress is immediately compared to a vision of her younger self. The audience gets to decide which of the former sex symbols has aged best – meaning, whose been able to maintain the strongest resemblance to her twenty-two year old self despite the four plus decades of life that have ensued since her alleged “glory” days.

In the evening, I spot one of the world’s most talented and renowned actors wedged in a corner booth at a sushi haunt that I frequent. He’s doing the creepy snuggle beside a girl who appears to be about forty years younger than he is, and I can’t help but to wonder if he feels any mental or emotional connection to her whatsoever. Conversely, I think about how people would react if an old woman walked in with her twenty something year old lover and started ordering up some sashimi and a couple of bowls of lightly salted edamame.

And at twenty-eight, I’ve become an aficionado on the subject of ladies who are worrying about the palpable tick tocking of their biological time clocks. Where my single friends used to be generally affable, enthusiastic and free spirited about the dating world, many of them (not all) are now convinced that they will never meet anybody, ending up barren, wrinkled and alone. And it’s not that they mind the literal act of being single – ironically, in fact, many of them seem to prefer it; it’s that they fear that their marketability will decrease in the same way that Anne Hathaway’s aptitude to land a movie role has. Sure, it’s easy to dismiss this concern as being superficial and frivolous, but what about the strong, intelligent and wildly successful women that I know who are forty plus and won’t even look at a guy their own age because they’re convinced that he’ll only be interested in “some twenty-five year old” anyway.

Answers? Solutions? I don’t have them. But I’m confident in asserting that none of the anecdotal information that I’ve put forth here is anything that’s particularly staggering or jaw drop worthy. It only serves to underscore how our psyches can so easily become saturated with subliminal signs that suggest that youth is something to be coveted, chased and retained at any cost necessary.

But I can also share this with you — during New York Fashion Week, I sat front row at exactly one show (Better luck next year, B). To my immediate left, I noticed a particularly striking woman wearing open toe suede booties, a knee length wool skirt, thick framed optical lenses with Miu Miu like flowers attached to the sides and a 35 mm tan Birkin. Her legs were crossed at the ankles, posture straight, shoulders strong. While everyone else (disclaimer – myself included) Snapchatted the show away, IPhones and Tablets aglow, she looked straight ahead at the runway.

At some point, above the crowd, the woman and I locked stares, and I held her gaze for as long as I could. She smiled. In a sea of top models and fabulous fashion people wearing all kinds of origami shaped wonders (picture a cross between fortune cookies and Star Wars figurines), this woman’s splendor easily bypassed everyone else’s in the room – her confidence, her style, her swagger.

After the finale, she quickly picked up her bag and walked out. It was obvious that she had somewhere else to be – front row at another show perhaps.

Even now, months after Fashion Week has come and gone, I find myself thinking about this woman and her presence somewhat frequently. I’ve realized that somewhere within the sass of her strut, the purpose of her gaze, the confident warmth of her quick smile, I might have already found all of the answers that I could ever need about retaining the feminine mystique.

X,

B