Friday, December 15, 2017

This Is What I've Been Doing

Well, look who's back! That's right, it's me.

The last time I posted was at the end of August, so let me account for the lost time and simultaneously avoid large blocks of explanatory text in these other posts I'm working on. 

September was extremely busy, full of goodbye dinners and drinks and shows and galleries, culminating in our last weekend in Tokyo, moving out of our apartment, our birthdays (but technically just mine), and our final goodbye do, which was tearful but really good. 
It's also pretty likely that I've lost photos from that month and others, because of a disk error that suddenly popped up on my external and wouldn't respond to CHKDSK no matter how many times I ran it or for how long. The only other device I have now is my crappy little netbook, so I can't format the external until I have another new one or something else with enough space to copy what feels like an entire lifetime of files (all the stuff on there goes back to 2003 and I literally have no money or foreseeable income to buy one a new external or a new phone, if you're wondering what I'm waiting for) onto it. In the meantime I'm avoiding using it at all, which means that since I last posted I wouldn't really have been able to catch up with what's been going on anyway.

And then, you know, Hannes and I flew our separate ways.
He went back to Germany to continue interviewing in person - he went on a 2-week business trip not long before we left and managed to kick off the process then - for any half-decent job and to try to get us an apartment, which is apparently a cutthroat capitalist nightmare in Germany's three largest cities. Much disappoint, wow. 
Astoundingly, though, it took him only ten days to get hired at a swanky PR and marketing firm right on Hamburg's waterfront, and less than a month to get us a really lovely apartment in a quaint af neighbourhood that's pretty centrally located. And of course, it's almost twice the size of the one in Tokyo and much nicer, but about the same price including utilities.

Here's the view from the lobby of their design award-winning building..

.. and Hannes' adorable official picture :3

Hannes had asked me to stay in Japan with him after my visa was up, because there was no telling for how long we'd be separated if I left when it expired. I didn't pursue renewal for any number of reasons, Number One being that it's utterly miserable, stressful and awful even if you have exactly what you need earlier than you need it, but more importantly, because my company had lied about what they were paying me in order to renew it the first time and then didn't have the good sense to lie about it in the pay statements. Even lying for consistency wouldn't have worked, though, because your 区 tax, the one that you pay to your city-within-the-city - on top of the regular taxes that come out of your check automatically and the extra 10% they take right off the top of your gross income for being foreign - is income-based, and as it was they already wanted me to go down there and give them $150 every two or three months just be-fucking-cause and I already couldn't afford that at all. Living and working in Japan is a super expensive joke and their government is milking everyone dry to try to desperately compensate for their myriad economic and social failings. Anyway!
The tax and immigration people would have noticed that immediately, which is what I said when my manager officially signed me on and told me about it. I'm fine with getting paid whatever I get paid based on whatever hours are available, I said, but you can't just put a totally different number on here and expect no consequences. He waved his hand dismissively and said it would be fine.
It wouldn't have been fine.
I genuinely liked him and that company and even the CEO and founder, who I met because they chose me to help him improve his English, and there was no reason to open that Pandora's Box of legal woes when I wanted to leave and had been planning on leaving anyway. Plus, the twatty Japanese manager would have probably found a way to blame all of that on me if I had tried.

So, obvi, I did a glorious 6-day visa run to Taiwan with Rejon, who was able to be there for the two thirds or so of it. Even though we were both so hot and sweaty the whole time that we wanted death to take us and be done with it (it seriously felt like being on the surface of some other inhospitable planet a lot of the time; consequently, we realised, Taiwanese people are largely nocturnal) and then got tropical-downpoured on Shawshank Redemption-style instead of being able to go to an idyllic tropical beach together, we had an amazing time and I'm so grateful she wanted to come with me. I'll get to that series blog posts probably sometime next spring, if we're being honest. But so, this was how I re-entered Japan for an additional 90 days and was able to be there for September at all (and run out of money entirely).

When I left Japan, I went home to spend time with my mom, see friends and other family, and specifically to empty the storage unit next to my mom's apartment, a Herculean task that had been haunting me for years. See, basically, I've always had way too much stuff. The last several years I've been paring down and paring down and not buying anything for myself and getting progressively poorer as well, so that I find myself currently in a situation where I haven't bought pants since 2013.
I need pants.

But anyway, since this is a text-heavy post about my life, let's learn more about that stuff in storage by taking a journey back in time to just after the 'Lehman Shock', as the Japanese call it, when Phoenix and Vegas were two of the places hit particularly hard by the subsequent housing crisis and the global recession at large. A lot of sub-prime loans had been doled out, especially to Hispanic families who clearly couldn't afford the payments at all, and a huge number of the rest of us had been, for years, just barely hanging on by the fingernails to whatever was left of the concept of an American Middle Class, which no longer exists.

2009 was the first summer I hadn't worked since 2002, because I applied for tons of things even long drives away but there were no jobs to be had, and I did have savings and my Etsy shop but hardly knew what to do with myself. The following summer, in 2010, we had to walk away from our house, the one I had grown up in and the only one I had ever known. My mom had pretty much always been sick and too exhausted to do anything but go to work and come home (so that her chronic immune deficiency and current state is no real surprise), and at this particular time, she had walking pneumonia and was completely out of commission. I had an enormous garage sale that Alexandra helped with very admirably and in the way only a true friend would, gutted the house, and did almost all of the packing.

At that time I really couldn't be asked to go through stuff like books and toys in the garage; my cousin and his friends just helped us load it all up and take it to a storage unit at the apartment my mom had chosen. I tried to convince her to stay in the house a few months longer without making the payments so that she could save the money, because the banks were so swamped at that point that they wouldn't have gotten around to giving us an eviction notice with a deadline for a while, but it was her call, and she just wanted it all to be overwith. I think it was around 112 (44 or 45C) the day we did move, and my cousin especially worked like a machine powering boxes and stuff up the stairs. It was totally miserable. I remember us both laying on the floor once it was done, not talking, and limply reaching for little bottles of blue Gatorade at my mom's urging.
That summer I was also taking absurdly, absurdly difficult accelerated Japanese translation courses, which I predictably failed, and was also in a very unhealthy, abusive relationship and half-living in Tempe with the guy. During that moving day my mom and cousin patiently and sympathetically listened as I ranted painfully about how he should have been there helping (I had finally just dumped him), because I had gone way out of my way just a few months before to help him move across the country. Yeah, that was a real clusterfuck.

So it was that I refused to simply leave behind my beloved childhood stuff the way my friend Carl had, when his parents had to walk away from their house just a couple of miles down the road. I'm sure a lot of other people had done the same; around that time about every 6th house in our neighbourhood had been abandoned/foreclosed on, and stores and other businesses that seemed like permanent fixtures closed left and right so that entire shopping areas were left similarly abandoned, sometimes with their entire stock and all the furniture left eerily in place. It's no coincidence that The Walking Dead premiered that fall and was a massive hit; we were just kind of collectively waiting for the zombifying disease outbreak at that point, I think.

About 6 months after I moved to Seoul my mom told me she was moving to a nicer, newer, one-bedroom apartment in a brand-spanking-new complex a mile from that last one, and where they weren't trying to raise the rent on her while the quality of the place and tenants steadily deteriorated. The stuff went with her. 
This time it went into a storage unit right next door to the apartment, so that was convenient.. Except that it was 21 feet long with 12+ foot ceilings, and it was filled to those ceilings and all the way to the door, so that you could barely open it and shimmy sideways down the narrow aisle left in the center. The stuff had never been gone through and a lot of it had been thrown into boxes haphazardly, the way you do when you're moving and your life is chaos and you're out of time, including the massive box of loose photos going back to the 1960's that I couldn't even lift, much less carry.


Peak Clutter was achieved in early November when I emptied the boxes and bags of Christmas stuff on top of all the books I still hadn't gotten rid of. Extra miserable. 

For two months, during my first time home in two years and probably my last, that's what I was doing. And I did it. I actually finished. It was a physical impossibility for me to completely empty the unit without another person and a truck, but I went through everything in it - as well as everything in my mom's apartment, because there was way too much stuff in there too - and sold quite a bit of it and left the remainder to be taken away and donated somehow, by someone. 
I wish I had all of my Definitely Keeping stuff here in our new apartment, but when it came time to pack up and leave yet again I couldn't even fit in everything I had set aside to take in my big lumpy luggage. Hopefully it won't be too terribly long before I'm reunited with my books, the rest of my accessories, and the few select Japanese dishes I really want to keep. (The vintage tea set with the green chrysanthemums on it is totally worth it, you have to trust me on this one.)

Now then, at least three or four of you have gotten through all that, so let's have the moving-in pictures of our new home and end on a positive note, shall we?!

We're on the 5th floor, a decent workout with heavy groceries and in a big stupid coat

Crisp cool Instagrammable Nordic bedroom I've always wanted, hrrnnng

View out the kitchen and bedroom windows. 
One of the housecat-sized rabbits is down there munching right now.

Ah the building of the Ikea stuff, an indescribable joy, yes

-wakes up on mattress on floor of living room, sits up, turns to side, continues building-

Smudged every corner with both white sage and palo santo, check and check.

Thank you, Marco and Anke, for bringing all the stuff we were storing at your place plus more useful necessities and carrying it all up the stairs and then driving all the way back to Rostock. I arrived Thursday afternoon, and this was when we officially finished moving in Sunday evening.

And then, because why not, the first snowfall, on the 11th :3

Quaint. As. Fuck.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Manish Arora: A Few Brilliant Highlights a Decade On

Decorated with France's highest civilian award in 2016 "in recognition of his unparalleled contribution to fashion" and, before that, appointed creative director of the Spanish-French fashion house Paco Rabanne back in February 2011, just to toss a couple of accomplishments out there, Manish Arora has been appropriately dubbed "the John Galliano of India" (except without a breakdown accompanied by an infamous anti-semetic rant), and I hope his career oozes butterflies and embroidered circuitry everywhere for many years to come.

I first found out about him while searching for inspiration at some point in late 2006, not too long after he made his debut at London Fall Fashion Week '05. At that time there were very few Google Image search results for him and his work; today it's like a beautiful avalanche of the embroidery of countless seamstresses on LSD.

Arora's first runway collection is far from his best but is still much more memorable than the majority of others ever conceived, in my not-so-humble opinion. 
It's difficult to choose images to represent all of these ready-to-wear collections for this post because they really need to be seen in their entirety, but I've tried anyway. For this debut collection, though, you can have the video, because it's weird and psychedelic like the cameras are remote-controlled dragonflies hovering over the runway or it's actually underwater or something:

Even if you find this garish and awful, you have to admit that it is memorable and unique, the kind of thing that assaults the senses and slaps the shit out of everyone sitting there watching, in all black, trying to be super serious. Plus if you get to about 5:45 an audio clip from the super kitschy and awkward "Like a Virgin" rendition they did in the Moulin Rouge movie starts playing, lol. I mean, it makes perfect sense, though. "Call him the Baz Luhrmann of fashion", declare any number of fashion blog posts from around that time.

The subsequent Fall-Winter '06 ready to wear collection was quite fun and included but certainly wasn't limited to cute kitschy prints of London landmarks and Christmassy things like snow-covered pine trees and cabins. Arora also got a jump on or possibly even started the enormous felted statement necklace trend at this point. Other highlights included a ton of beautiful beading and an adorable combination of classic preppy Western looks and even some more traditional Indian flavour. 

The Spring-Summer '07 collection was the first one I saw back when I was searching for inspiration for my overly-demanding high school studio art class in late 2006. It completely blew me away at the time and probably remains his most recogniseable to date. It's tear-jerkingly spectacular. Once again, I've tried to pick my favourites, but you really need to just Google the whole thing. 
I actually constructed a mask with a giant butterfly half covering one eye and half coming off the side out into the air for that studio art class after I saw this, but it was of course a completely disappointing and juvenile attempt to emulate this greatness. 
Anyone can see that 2007 was a turning point in his designs and maybe even the zenith of his creativity at the time this was originally written.
What I love about his work isn't just the creative vision and explosive rainbow palette, but the fine detail work and incredibly varied textilesy aspects. Much of his garment menagerie includes that aforementioned lush embroidery, beading, stones, feathers, and even three-dimensional geometry. It's really too bad that what's available for purchase from these designers is never anywhere near as innovative as what they put on the runway, unless you're an A-list celebrity. 

When I was collecting and saving these images as a teen I called the folder for the above collection "Butterflies" and the Fall-Winter '07 collection "Androids". The latter is my personal favourite and is positively full of things I covet and wish I could actually wear. 

So much geometry, heavy embroidery, latex, faces that look like circuit boards... 
It's like Bollywood Blade Runner!

(god how did any of us survive that era of super low-res imagery, I'm dying inside)

This collection looks like all of Asia - including Arora's exotic home subcontinent and maybe Kazakhstan and Pakistan - gracefully amalgamated into a series of lavish skirts, kimono-style tunics and fun shoes. If Tibetan prayer flags could be gay and were able to express themselves freely, I imagine they'd evolve into a series of wearable designs like these. 
Is that completely offensive? Oh well. It's definitely completely fabulous.

I'm writing off '08 slightly even though it still borders on superhuman because it was like a continuation of the line of thought of '07, just a bit less intense and more wearable. The spring collection is nice and jaunty and has an 80's-90's nostalgic appeal to it, as does the fall collection, which returned to the depths of outer-Bollywood-space. Actually, it reminds me more of the classic film Metropolis, but with all that luscious Indian embroidery, Mickey Mouse and gladiators. If only there were no such things as bad hallucinogenic trips and they were all more like this. 

I personally found the Spring '09 collection kind of underwhelming, even more so when Katy Perry wore its crown jewel, the carousel dress. It's fitting that the collection was circus-themed, though; she just looks like a cheap circus performer most of the time anyway. 
Gaga also wore a thick, possibly felt leotard-type thing from this set, making it, I think, the first one that captivated the world's pop tarts. 

While the Fall '09 collection involved some impressively advanced clothing engineering - largely in the form of dramatic spikes that Lady Gaga favoured for quite a while - it, too, was a little underwhelming compared to the collections that came before it.

Luckily, Spring '10 saw the return of androids and yet more very impressive, three-dimensional avant garde clothing structures. They're the sorts of things that should be on display in museums, with people stopping and tilting their heads to admire their lines and movement. Rihanna actually wore a combination epaulette/harness hardware piece off one of the designs: 

(and once again the fact that the pictures are still crappy because that was before everyone could be a professional photographer with a $900 iPhone makes me feel kind of nostalgic)

The later 2010 collection is very reminiscent of Atlantis, as was the passing trend at the time. It's too bad McQueen's epic vision of Plato's Atlantis and Sølve Sundsbø's The Girl from Atlantis had just beaten him to it. It's also too bad that this whole image ran its course. I mean, it kind of came back with the incredibly brief Tumblr spawn style called seapunk that accompanied vaporwave, but not really. 

Last year I told myself I was going to do all ethereal green and blue bohemian looks with metallic and floral accessories for spring, but then I remembered I didn't have any money.

Plato's Atlantis
The Girl From Atlantis
Early 2011 was reminiscent of an episode of Ancient Aliens, maybe... in Malibu? Its fab but not overwhelming palette was comprised primarily of baby blues, corals, and yellow/gold.

Fall/Winter 2011 - some of which was still for sale on Arora's site when I first wrote this - was an interesting combination of jewel tones, dead tauntauns, cut-outs, shiny metal hardware and what I suspect are the supersized reproductive organs of various flowers. I really love it; it's got a bit of everything from past collections rolled into it without looking rehashed. In other words, he's refined his style to a science.

(Originally Published 3.1.12)