292 posts tagged Life
Did you know that I run my own supper club?
I launched Hub Suppers in June this year with Impact Hub Islington, the London coworking space for people working in the social justice, tech and creative industries, where I moonlight as a member host.
I’ve long been obsessed with the way that people do (and don’t) connect. Why networking events always set most people’s pulses racing, as we search awkwardly and at random for a stranger to talk to. Why people feel alienated by the communities that are supposed to serve them, and what community organisations can do to become more open and accessible. What makes people feel welcome and safe, and what leaves them feeling isolated.
So I wanted to start a supper club that did more than provide a cool/pretty room and some tasty food. I wanted to create a supper club where making conversation with the stranger sitting next to you wouldn’t feel awkward, because that stranger had been hand-selected to sit next to you based on your mutual interests and enthusiasm for meeting new people. And besides, the whole point of the night was to talk to interesting strangers. An individually curated dinner party where the guests are as interesting as the food.
We’re currently pulling things together for our fourth Hub Supper, scheduled for Wednesday, 11 December. If you buy your ticket by next Wednesday November 20, we’ll find out what you’re into and who you’d like to meet. Then, based on the information you provide us, we’ll match you with your dream dinner companions. Jude Law might be a bit of stretch, though.
It will be ace. It always is.
You can by your ticket to the December Hub Supper here.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that New York City is one of my favourite places on earth. Possibly my number one favourite place on earth. So, when my university pal Sarah, who is doing her Masters degree in Washington DC, told me she was coming to New York for the weekend for the first time ever, I was excited to put together a list of some of my most beloved places in the city for her. And with one of Musings’ most long term and loyal readers off to NYC herself for the next few weeks, I thought I’d share them here as well.
Washington Square Park (5Av and Waverley Place, Greenwich Village)
My love of New York has less to do with the sights than it does with the people, and no place exemplifies this better than Washington Square Park. It is an explosion of humanity: men sitting at chessboards, waiting for their next opponents; jazz bands jamming; bird people covered in seed and pigeons; on the right day, the cast of Glee or Girls filming in one corner or another. Come with lunch or a laptop and soak up the atmosphere if the weather is nice, or just take a brisk walk through with a friend if it’s cold.
Rox Gallery (86 Delancey Street, Lower East Side)
NYC is a global art capital, but as someone acclimatised to London’s free museum culture, MOMA (go on Fridays between 4pm and 8pm to get in for free), the Whitney and the Met can leave me feeling like I have bleeding pockets. One alternative? The city’s thriving commercial gallery scene. I am biased, of course, but I think that my friend Emerald’s gallery Rox, on the Lower East Side, is one of the best. It is edgy yet accessible, with museum quality exhibits and a regular rotation of stimulating events.
Caravan of Dreams (405 East 6th Street, East Village)
I’m not vegetarian, but I like eating at good vegetarian and vegan restaurants because they try harder. They can’t hide behind meat, so they tend to be more inventive with the food. Caravan of Dreams is one of my all-time favourite veggie restaurants, with a great selection of organic and raw dishes (I recommend the Caravan Burrito and the Wild Rice Croquettes) and fruit-flavoured sangria.
See also: Café Condesa (183 West 10th Street, West Village) try the pan-seared scallops, and warm brie cheese. Café Habana (17 Prince Street, Soho) – their grilled shrimp tacos are amazing. Dudleys (85 Orchard Street, Lower East Side) – when I was there, I had the oxtail ragu. Yum yum yum.
Marie’s Crisis (59 Grove Street, West Village)
If you love musical theatre, you will love Marie’s Crisis: a hole-in-the-wall converted brothel packed to the brim with revellers singing Broadway songs, with Broadway quality voices. A pianist sits in the centre of a tiny room, playing songs by request. There is nothing else like it.
See also: Lucky Cheng’s Drag Cabaret Bar (24 1st Ave, East Village; 240 West 52 Street, Midtown). The food is awful, but the drag queens are divine. I have rarely laughed so hard in my life.
Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleecker Street, West Village; 1240 6th Avenue, Midtown, and various other locations)
Made famous by Sex & The City and popular to the point of cliché, the Magnolia Bakery is quite possibly responsible for the cupcake fever that took over every upwardly mobile suburb in the Western world in the 2000s. I love their lightly whipped icing and fluffy cakes. Not worth the half-hour queues that sometimes assemble on weekends, but definitely worth popping into if you’re in the vicinity of one. It’s a New York institution, and I still drop by every time I visit the city.
See also: Prohibition Bakery (9 Clinton Street, Lower East Side). Boozy cupcakes. I have never eaten here, only passed by, but I definitely wanted to. Try it, and let me know what it’s like.
Café Orlin (41 St Marks Place, East Village)
Or really any New York brunch establishment, but Café Orlin is a good one – and there are some bad ones out there, if you don’t know where you’re looking. The menu is inventive and Middle Eastern-inspired, and the prices are reasonable. I ordered the Green Omelet when I went, which was an excellent choice.
Barneys (Madison Avenue and 61st Street, Midtown)
“Is this the opposite of a regular department store, with the expensive items at the bottom and the affordable at the top?” my friend asked me, when I took her here towards the end of her stay. “No,” I replied jovially. “Barneys is obscenely expensive the whole way through.” Okay, so you probably won’t be able to afford anything here (except perhaps the coffee table books on the top floor), but when it comes to window shopping, Barneys is second to none. See the clothes you normally only see on internet socialites up close, admire their beauty, and realise that some of them are constructed with such blatant disregard for proportions of the human female body you probably wouldn’t want to buy them even if you did have a couple of thousand dollars (or more) to spend on a single item.
Times Square (46th Street and 7th Avenue, Midtown)
Sure, it’s the ultimate in touristy kitsch. But Times Square is also pretty damn special, with its bright lights, actors dressed up as cartoon characters, and overpriced hotdogs. The best way to enjoy the bustle is to be stand still amongst it. Take a seat if you can find one, and watch the world roll by.
Two years ago, when I was engaged to be married, I wrote a series for this blog on the art of planning a feminist wedding. It covered everything from avoiding the wedding industrial complex (and keeping costs down), to the bridal beauty myth (or why you’ll still look like you, even in a white dress), to bypassing the long series of unnecessary tasks that keep your typical rom-com bride tied to her to-do list for the six months leading up to wedding day.
In the end, I concluded, creating a “feminist” wedding wasn’t about the sexist and irritating traditions you avoided, but about the awesome and joyous ones you created in their place. As they say in Rent, “The opposite of war isn’t peace; it’s creation.”
But if creating a feminist wedding was an exercise in fun and cross-spouse collaboration, creating a feminist marriage has been more challenging. Which makes sense, because for all the symbolism and emotional attached to it, a wedding is just a party. It’s when you move on to real life that the difficult part begins.
Unlike some of my fellow feminists, I’ve never thought marriage was an inherently sexist institution. When it comes to gender equality, the question of whether or not to have children has always seemed more fraught; liable to leave you locked into a role that it is difficult to extract yourself from, and transforming biology into destiny. (I have since moderated my stance.) Marriage, on the other hand, was about love and commitment, and having someone to walk beside you through life – things I have always known I wanted.
That said, I do think the realities of that lifelong commitment are often masked beneath a veneer of – very gendered – romance culture: the thrill of “being chosen” by another person, of shiny rings and baubles, of happily ever after, and of being the star of one’s very own big white (or blue and indie) wedding.
But as everyone tells newly engaged couple, marriage isn’t really about the wedding. It’s not even about having something to wake up next to every morning, or to snuggle with at night – although those things are nice. Marriage is less about love as a feeling than it is about love as an act. It means honouring another person as the most important in your life with your actions as well as your words. It means taking their wants and needs into consideration alongside and equal with your own. It means showing up as your best self – or at least, trying to – every single day.
All of which sounds romantic on the page, but can be a pain in the arse in practice. It is easy for me to feel love towards my husband. It is less easy for me to act in a loving way, to not give into petulance, or selfishness, or petty remarks. More than almost any other relationship in our lives (with the exception of parenting, I’ll hazard a guess), marriage brings all of your most awkward, unpleasant qualities to the surface. Compared to the hazy glow of new infatuation, it can be a shock to see yourself in such harsh light.
I can talk about these things with my married friends, because they “get it”: how you can be critical of an institution, but still love your partner. How you can find marriage challenging, and not want. But with my single friends, such admissions often fall like a lead balloon – like I am saying things that shouldn’t be thought, much less said out loud. Saying them out loud risks identifying yourself as A) a terrible human being, B) someone in a relationship they should extract themselves from stat.
In a world where women have been (rightly) taught to value their independence and avoid dependence, learning to interlace my life, fate and finances with another person has been hard to do.
Probably the biggest personal challenge I’ve experienced since I got married two years ago is my transition out of the life I led as a single person: the bustle of constant social engagements, the intensity of friendship, the sense of serendipity – of not knowing what will happen next.
It’s not a matter of no longer valuing the things I did when I was single. Nor is it a matter of being married to someone who won’t “let” me do them, or even of feeling they are not “befitting of a married woman” – I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on a carousel of couples-only dinners and camping trips.
Instead, it is the realisation that I want two irreconcilable things: to drink and chat until 3am in the morning, and to lie in bed next to my party-shy husband. To discover and invest in a variety of platonic relationships, while not letting my primary relationship wither by the wayside. It is not that I can’t have a bit of both – I do, most of the time – but maintaining a balance between them is a constant struggle. I want to be in all places at the same time.
For me, the most potentially troubling aspect of marriage isn’t the vows, the white dresses, or the women taking their husbands’ names. It’s my fear that marriage, even as it commands us to be less petty and selfish in our relationships with our spouses, ultimately turns our focus inwards towards the pair (and later, the family unit) and away from the broader community. A turning that, however seductive, no amount of romance can make up for.
I still don’t think marriage is inherently anti-feminist. But being married has made me more cynical of the way that marriage is presented as the only acceptable happy ending to any love story, and the way the integrated pair unit is elevated over the autonomous single. Marriage can be intimate and warm, a harbour in an uncertain sea, but merging your life with another person’s is not something to be undertaken by default, or for the thrill of being chosen. You can lead just as a fulfilling, meaningful, brilliant life outside of marriage as you can within it.
As for my own challenges, I’m learning to deal with some of my “irreconcilable desires” by being more honest with myself about what they really entail. Being part of a community, and maintaining a variety of intellectual and emotional connections is important to me, so I pursue that wholeheartedly. But when the clock strikes eleven, I’m happy to head home so that I can slide into bed with my husband and we can unload our days before we go to sleep.
Because at that time of the day, that is truly where I would rather be. And that’s okay. It’s even kind of, dare I say it, “romantic.”
Related: The Musings of an Inappropriate Woman Guide to Feminist Wedding Planning
Diamonds aren’t forever: the marriage question
Simone de Beauvoir on Greed and Longing
London Feminist Discussion Group: Is Marriage Anti-Feminist?
Elsewhere: The Motherhood Mystique (Daily Life)
A few days into my most recent trip to New York, I met a friend for dinner on the Lower East Side. She was a visitor to the city as well, in town for work, and wrapped up in its whirlwind of energy, excitement and promise. But as much as she loved it, she wasn’t sure she could live there, she told me. The relationship culture was too transactional, she said, with too many people on the hunt for a bigger wallet, a better apartment; a younger, hotter model. For the promise of a little security.
My friend was a seasoned traveller, but I remembered thinking the same thing myself; back in the aftermath of Sex and The City, in the days when I was yet to visit the city. Filtered through the lens of Carrie and co., and the contrast-enhanced, fuchsia-tinged cultural soundtrack that accompanied their adventures, New York had seemed to me a horrible, superficial place, where people cared for little more than cocktails, designer shoes, and consumer sex. It might be fun to visit, but it wasn’t anywhere I’d want to live. And it certainly wasn’t anywhere I’d want to find love.
Nine years and nearly as many trips to the city later, I’ve revised my position considerably. New York is a city of a thousand different subcultures, each as all-encompassing and blind to everything outside of it as the last. You could go mad there amongst the poseurs, the charlatans and the con-artists – and I’ve known people who nearly have done just that - but you could also avoid them entirely, living happily in your own little pocket of whatever-it-is-in-the-world-that-you-think-is-most-wonderful.
Still, at the conclusion of this most recent visit – and probably my last visit before I move there myself next year – I can’t help but take note of the degree to which money seems to fuel the city and the interactions between its inhabitants.
There were the two young artists, perched on the precipice of twenty, who told me with giddy delight that they wanted to get jobs working in BDSM dungeons, so they could get paid to inflict pain on “rich assholes.” There was the woman who informed me over Chinese food that she had found a man who had offered to pay half her rent; they weren’t dating, but he was “obsessed” with her. “That’s great,” I replied apprehensively, “But what if he decides he doesn’t like you anymore and you have to cover it yourself?” She waved me off. “I’ll just find someone else,” she said, as if it were obvious.
Last summer, a female friend invited me to dinner and a Broadway show with two of her friends: one a woman around our age, the other a man in his middle-sixties. He paid for everything. He had bought the tickets in advance, and told my friend to invite a couple of her friends along to accompany them. She was the main show. We were just the price of admission.
On the subway home, I warned her to be careful. “He just spent at least $700 on you in a single evening,” I said. “He must want something.” He had also purchased her a new iPad that week, she told me.
This dynamic between rich people and less-wealthy-but-rich-in-youth-and-cultural-capital people isn’t anything new. Until the last century or so, patronage was one of the few ways artists and intellectuals could make a living. Nor is it necessarily sexual – at least, not always in a direct sense. My friend’s sixty-something multi-millionaire friend, by all accounts, didn’t try to have sex with her. He just wanted to be around her; to experience the ego-boost of being at a table surrounded by young women. Sometimes the exchange is not sexual at all: think of all the salonnieres who make money and reputations on introducing rich people to “interesting people.” Or London’s School of Life or New York’s New Yorker Festival, which sell the professional upper middle class proximity to their favourite celebrity intellectuals.
It makes sense that this dynamic is particularly pronounced in New York, a city where, as the friend I had that initial conversation with on the Lower East Side put it, so many people are scrambling to stay in the city, hanging on by only the thinnest of fiscal threads. A kiss may be grand, but it won’t pay the rental… and all that.
Most of these people aren’t “poor,” per se (which is not to say that there aren’t poor people in New York, only that the truly poor don’t seem to participate in this particular economy). They are middle class and college educated. But they work in professions that prioritise freedom and creative fulfilment over financial reward.
It’s not that you can’t get by in a city like New York as an artist, but cobbling together an income from small and/or intermittently arriving cheques is hard work and emotionally exhausting. Working a salaried job during the day and doing your creative work at night might be a more sensible choice, but can feel like a compromise. In such an environment, the temptation to trade your youth, your beauty, your “interestingness” for someone else’s money is understandable.
And yet it is also a trade that ultimately leaves me uncomfortable: highly gendered, transactional, and based on mutual exploitation on an uneven power differential.
He is your guy when stocks are high, but beware when they start to descend…
Elsewhere: "I am not the girlfriend of an artist. I am the artist." (stupid confetti)
See, even Anna Wintour feels lonely sometimes. (Allowing, of course, that photo assumption is not always reality.)
Now that I was thirty, I said – knowing full well how ridiculous that phrase probably sounded, uttered to somebody twice that age – I had decided to switch my focus from trying to convince older people I was brilliant and that they should help me on my way, to finding people I thought were brilliant and helping them along theirs. It was easier to control, I reasoned (after all, you can’t make somebody think you’re brilliant any more than you can make someone fall in love with you), and ultimately more fulfilling.
One of my fantasies for my life is set around twenty years down the road; a bustling dinner in the beautiful open-plan apartment I have purchased after selling a few hundred thousand books (because that happens all the time, right?).I’m hanging out by the stove, stirring a pot of soup or something similar, and around me are a crew of brilliant twenty-, thirty- and forty-something women I’ve worked with and mentored over the years, drinking wine and making brilliant conversation. Perhaps there are a couple of teenaged children in the background: either totally impressed by how cool mum is, or more likely rolling their eyes and making excuses to go out for the evening, or surf whatever newfangled technology is entertaining nerdy teenagers in the 2030s.
A house full of people I’ve helped.