When the legendary Paper Magazine editor-in-chief Kim Hastreiter first introduced me to The Citizens Band creative director Sarah Sophie Flicker in 2008—just before Sarah Sophie took to the stage for an awe-inspiring performance at The Box in New York City—I reckon my fellow dinnermates were unaware of the massive feat of willpower I wielded so as to withhold my inner fangirl and string together a semi-coherent sentence (no doubt, of adulation) in a desperate attempt to avoid embarrassing my editors. It was not until a year later, upon shooting the Fall 2009 Rachel Antonoff lookbook alongside Sarah Sophie and Alia Shawkat, when I finally had a proper opportunity to unfetter my admiration for Sarah Sophie’s artistry and advocacy. Through various fashion and Occupy events thereafter, we have since bonded over our aligned politics and mutual love for Chris Matthews and all things fantastical; it has genuinely been an honor to strike a friendship with Sarah Sophie, one of my heroines and role models. Over coffee this past month, it was an utter delight to pose three quick questions on behalf of Dossier to the extraordinary performer, aerialist, editor-at-large (of Lula Magazine), designer, filmmaker (alongside her co-directing partner Maximilla Lukacs), writer (with insightful columns at HelloGiggles and Rookie), wife (director Jesse Peretz is her lucky husband), and mother par excellence.
Be sure to hop over to Twin Magazine to read the first of my ongoing “Three Quick Questions with…” guest-edited series for the online component of Twin, the biannual London-based art, fashion, and feminism book. It was a thrill to kick off the series with Kate Foley, buyer for the incomparable retail mecca Opening Ceremony and beholder of both the keenest eye and most enviable job in the industry. While fashion followers may first recognize Kate by her effortless and oft-emulated street style, those who work within the field no doubt also associate Kate with her inspiring warmth and rallying work ethic, routinely regarded as ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ by the fun-loving, innovative and talented team helmed by pioneering retail game-changers, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim. I am certain that Kate’s nurturing of up-and-coming designers and contributions to today’s most innovative and sought-after collaborations will forever be applauded in fashion history. In the midst of this hectic Resort 2013 week, Kate and I grabbed a quick coffee and partook in a lighthearted little Q&A in the garden behind Saturdays Surf NYC, just around the corner from the Opening Ceremony Headquarters. Coupled with her resort buying duties this year, Kate is doubly abuzz in planning Opening Ceremony’s London boutique launch in time for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games and the final logistics underlying all the untold collaborations consonant with such a monumental OC opening. It was a true thrill to discover a bit about what makes Kate tick, whence her discerning buying prowess and inherent modesty comes (as it were, Brooklyn by way of an active adolescence amidst a picturesque little village in West Sussex, England), and just how the Bearbrick-collector would style a bespoke Diamond Jubilee Twin figurine of the Queen… exclusively in pieces available at Opening Ceremony, of course.
It was a thrill to catch up with my old pal, the talented Mr. William Yan, at the Oscar de la Renta resort show this week.
William and I first crossed paths back in ‘08 and I cannot tell you how proud I am—and how gratifying it is—to behold the blossoming of his now massive (and beyond well-deserved) cult following. He is a true gentleman with tremendous vision; I am certain that his fresh Brooklyn studio space and new portrait work are auspicious tokens of more forthcoming success!
Haven’t seen Julia for a while so it was a pleasure to get an update from the stylish girl-about-town who’s always at the coolest events and doing the coolest things while balancing her studies and freelance work for numerous magazines and making it all seem like a walk in the park. #propstoya *Side Note: Julia is one of my favs to shoot, her style is on another level and beyond amazing all the time!
Pre-Gala Reflections: A Few Saints Gracing the Metropolitan Museum of Art
I am honored to report that I’ve received a surprise invitation to cover the Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s red carpet celebration of the Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversationsopening gala this Monday, May 7. (Sidebar: Golly—thank you!—could a girl even possibly dream of a more extraordinary stroke of luck in the tedious midst of Final Exams Week?) Stay tuned to my @bunnyBISOUS Twitter and Instagram accounts for live reporting of arrivals; on Monday morning I will hop to an exhibition press preview and will thereafter report from the gala benefit red carpet, which will also be videostreamed from 6:30-8:30 pm online here. Feel free to tweet me any questions, comments, best-dressed picks, and the like while I interview guests! In the meantime, be sure to to pick up the exquisitely rendered exhibition catalogue [seen above] by Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton (The Costume Institute’s Curator in Charge and Curator, respectively) featuring a thought-provoking forward by Judith Thurman and new photography by David Sims and Toby McFarlan Pond under the creative direction of my hero, Katie Grand.
If truth be told, as a reluctantly jaded New Yorker, I only fully realized the deep impact of taking in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s masterworks while on an art history field trip with my university classmates, some of whom had never been to the Met beforehand. Perceiving the juxtaposition of some of my Met-neophyte friends privately reveling in the history and glory of such masterpieces for the first time within the intensely public galleries teeming with tourists uncloaked just how blasé I had become and prompted a much-needed flashback to one of my first wide-eyed and agog Met excursions. In the summer of 1994, I vividly recall how thrilled and inspired I was by the beauty and magnitude of the museum’s colossal architecture—although admittedly, everything looks enormous when you are scarcely four feet tall—along with the illustrious works therein and the institution’s historic import. After returning to campus, I darted home and dug up the dusty exhibition brochures from my ’94 milestone Met jaunt with my grandfather—a dog-eared Dalí: The Early Years*, an inexplicably weather-beaten Picasso and the Weeping Women: The Years of Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar, The Annenberg Collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces filled with my elementary school-aged scribbles, and a worn American Impressionism and Realism: The Painting of Modern Life, 1885-1915 volume—and was not only overcome with familial gratitude for being exposed to such tours de force at such an early age, but by a palpable urgency to reevaluate my priorities. At twenty-two, how could I possibly be so inured to such feats of cultural triumph? I suppose we live for moments of insight like these—whether triggered through art, music, personal intuition, or otherwise—as they are fundamental to our consciousness and acknowledgment of life and its awesome possibilities. [*Below: Dalí’s The Accommodations of Desire (1929)]
This experience sparked an exploration of sorts into the psychology of art and its impact upon the role of emotion in art, the essence of aesthetic experience, and the semiotic nature of psychological processes. I reckon the effectiveness of art forms—i.e., their capability to provoke aesthetic effects—outlasts their original social-historical milieux, as evidenced by Classical art’s transcendent power to affect new spectators whose lives are not necessarily germane to the social constructs of antiquity. Given that the intent of these artistic works is to somehow arouse onlookers, our analyses of their symbols revisit the original emotions associated with them, designating them as ideal objects for social psychologists’ scrutiny bearing in mind that these artworks survive as stimuli systems and semiotic entities with specified motives that incorporate the historical dimensions of the unconscious. Moreover, in an indirect or veiled manner, art (especially that of religious ilk) demonstrates the inner conflicts that shape human psychological sentience; art is not merely the dissemination of sentiments spawned elsewhere, but a conduit of emotions that might not befit expression somewhere else, for it is the origin itself of intentions and aspirations otherwise unperceived. But I digress, majorly…
If you have an opportunity to view Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition in person at the Met from May 10 through August 19, 2012, I bid you to perhaps wander outside the bounds of the ever-popular (and deservingly so) Costume Institute and European Wings. So, below are three saints—Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, Saint Agatha, and Saint Bridget of Sweden—along with a bit of their histories (yes, another odd hobbyhorse of mine) and hints on how you can find them perched in various sites throughout the museum based on their characteristic symbols.
Sainthood comprises a glorious, spellbinding company of men, women, and children who devoted their existence on earth to Jesus Christ’s teachings and who are henceforth invoked as co-heirs and benefactors of Christ. Saints have ascended from every imaginable walk of life—from poor peasants to poverty-stricken slum dwellers to affluent noble aristocrats—to the extent that former thieves and assassins join the saintly ranks alongside pious men and women who lived virtuous, God-fearing lives since their adolescence. Following the Fourth Crusade and the plunder of Constantinople by Christian armies in 1204, precious Byzantine objects materialized onto Italian soil and profoundly impacted the art composed there, specifically the gleaming gold-ground panels profuse throughout and subsequent to the thirteenth century—as exquisitely exemplified by the 1470 tempura on wood atop gold-ground portrayals of Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Barbara, Agatha, and Margaret by Giovanni di Paolo [above]. The era’s art was primarily devised for and catered towards the theologically oriented benefactors upon whose gratification artists were dependent. Byzantium’s influence on these art motifs was far-reaching and included, for example, the starburst-like ornaments at the crown of saints’ heads emblematic of Mary’s virginity before, during, and after the nativity of Christ (Meagher, 2010). As demonstrated in Garafalo’s masterworks Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Reviving the Birds and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Reviving a Child (both circa 1530), the dawn of the fourteenth-century begot Gothic elements that originally emerged in twelfth-century France into Italian painting, including: architectural motifs (viz., pointed arches and interior design elements), a fastidious discretion of and delicacy toward detail, an amplification of naturalism, and an emphasis on fluidity. The wooden panel functioned as the principal support for portable paintings of saints and holy themes; often crafted from native Italian poplar trees, a gesso of powdered calcium sulfate applied atop a piece of linen covering the wood sufficiently concealed mars and allocated adequate surfaces for preliminary drawings. After gold-leafing the exterior, medieval artists portrayed divine figures in the purest and most brilliant hues possible by virtue of tempura paints prepared by mixing ground pigments with egg yolks. The period’s altarpieces in monasteries, churches, convents, private homes, and cathedrals were formed by uniting independently painted panels, most often with the Madonna and Child as the cynosure, flanked by the predella—a strip of smaller panels—which narrated episodes from the lives of saints and apostles as distinguished by their characteristic attributes, often incorporating the vanquished instruments of their martyrdom (which accordingly no longer wielded any obstructive powers). The biographies of saints were of utmost importance; not only did these histories provide artists with telltale symbols to facilitate spectators’ ready recognition of any divine figures depicted, but they moreover prompted churchgoers’ study and emulation of their triumphs and sacred deeds.
The chronicles that Garafalo (1476-1559) chose to depict in Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Reviving a Child and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Reviving the Birds [above] portray just two of over three hundred miracles attributed to Saint Nicholas (1245-1306). These two oil on canvass paintings (transferred from wood) were coupled with two other paintings consigned to oblivion—since replaced with approximate replicas in the 18th century—to form the predella adorning the Capella Muzzarelli, a chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas. Garafalo’s paintings portray feats performed by Nicholas as recorded by Pietro di Monterrubiano in 1326, well before Nicholas’s canonization in 1446 (Bayer, 2003). The diptych found its improbable way to the Metropolitan Museum thanks to American financier J.P. Morgan’s 1917 philanthropic quest to counter the Cappala Muzzarelli’s suppression during the Napoleonic period whence the chapel’s elements and altarpieces were scattered astray. Garafalo carefully selected these scenes to symbolize the awe-inspiring grace of Saint Nicholas, who conducted an austere, self-disciplined lifestyle with the Eremiti: a band of strict and scrupulous Augustinians in the Marchigian city of Tolentino. The narratives of Garafalo’s predella demonstrate both the exceptionality of Nicholas’s spirituality and his wondrous powers as a thaumaturge.
In Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Reviving a Child, Garafalo presents Nicholas—in the black-belted habit donned by Augustinians—intervening on behalf of a family whose child perished prior to his baptism. Garofalo’s lifelong aesthetic held deep classical roots and was profoundly inspired by Raphael (1483-1520); by the same token, his affinity with Venetian painting is evident in the light-filled landscape to the left of the revived child. Garafalo’s depiction of Nicholas as an interceder propagates worshipers’ innermost hopes that saints might also perform miracles for them—especially wondrous interventions effectuated as a release from the perils of nature—including the all-too-common bygone phenomenon of (unbaptized) infant mortality.
In Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Reviving the Birds, Nicholas is dressed in white as an elderly bedridden man of poor health. As a steadfast vegetarian, Nicholas is seen meditating on how best to graciously decline a dish of cooked partridges sent by one of his followers. Miraculously, when Nicholas waves a sign of the cross above the plate, the birds fly away and liberate him from displeasing the offerer. This scene is reflective of Nicholas’s formidable reputation for asceticism along with his civility and reluctance to offend anyone. The classicism of the setting is manifest by the many naturalistic details: an airy (albeit sober) room unostentatiously furnished with a window seat, simple stools, a table topped with glassware, and a sturdy wooden-carved bed.
Saint Agatha (231-251), patron saint of the royal city of Catania, Sicily, perished whilst imprisoned during the Christian persecution ordered by King Decius (ruled 249-251), who had murdered his predecessor, Philip, in a blatant (secular) power-play. As a means of feigning a rationalization for Philip’s murder on the basis of his Christianity (and cozen his dominion), Decius decreed a tyrannical empire-wide Christian oppression and thereafter ordained Quintianus as King of Sicily. Quintianus soon fell head-over-heels in love with Agatha, a magnificent beauty of noble birth who had committed her virginity to Christ; upon adducing imperial edicts of Christian persecution, Agatha rebuffed the Sicilian king’s attempts to seize her family wealth as well as his sexual propositions. The lecherous provost Quintianus duly subjected Agatha to torturous indignities: consigning her to a brothel at the house of Aphrodisia (where she upheld the dedication of her virginity for Christ), ordering the hacking of her breasts (which were swiftly and miraculously healed by Saint Peter), scourged her to burning coals and fire, and ultimately sent her to prison to die. Renaissance artists generally depicted the aura surrounding the Cult of Agatha without ambiguity by focusing on her martyrdom, symbolized by her shorn breasts placed atop a platter (well-nigh resembling loaves of bread) and pincers or shears, the instruments of her martyrization. Through Giovanni di Paolo’s conscious choice (circa 1470) of showcasing fresh blood dripping from the shears utilized to lop her breasts, Agatha’s devout endurance through pain is plainly revealed (Burke, 2006). Such steadfast tidings were especially apt given that di Paolo’s Saint Agatha panel [third from left, above] comprised one of his many lateral pilasters within the framework of a polyptych altarpiece painted for a convent of nuns. Indeed, according to acclaimed English art historian and Italian Renaissance scholar Sir John Pope-Hennessy (1913-1994), “Few experiences in Italian painting are more exciting than to follow Giovanni di Paolo as he plunges, like Alice, through the looking-glass which separates reality from super-realism to explore the resources of a mystical, and therefore of a partially subconscious, world” (Pope-Hennessy, 1947). Saint Agatha’s dominion as the patron saint of fire emanates from her eventual death by flaming coals, whereupon she was beseeched against fire following her burial, especially during the eruptions of Mount Etna (Cheney, 1996). As the patron saint of nurses, it is unsurprising that Agatha came to be invoked against breast diseases in particular.
Through odd historical interpretations, Saint Agatha is even considered the protector of Alpine guides, bell-founders, and miners—the inverted breasts emblematic of the forms of hills and bells—and she likewise became the patron saint of bakers, insomuch as her plated breasts have long been misconstrued as loaves of bread, effectuating her feast day praxis of blessing bread. As one of the church’s first female martyrs, Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) promoted Agatha to sainthood and inaugurated February 5th as her feast day. The legal confrontation between the pompous Quintianus and the shabbily-bedecked Agatha showcased Agatha not only as a righteous martyr, but as an articulate guardian of her faith; her intellect and eloquence throughout the trial evinced her cultural and erudite training as a nobil donna. (By dint of Emperor Trajan’s 98-117 promotion of women’s education and the corollary Roman laws presiding over aristocratic female students, Agatha, of noble birthright, benefitted from schooling in Catania that nurtured classical education and sophisticated reasoning.) As a response to Quintianus’s insistence that Agatha submit and sacrifice to pagan gods, during the legal proceedings she sharp-wittingly compared his wife to Venus and Quintianus to Jupiter—a blasphemous and repugnant remark for a pagan believer. When Agatha legally proved her innocence and Quintianus’s criminality, the jury ruled in her favor and the Catanians sought the hanging of Quintianus; he drowned in a nearby river while attempting to escape his residents, withal. The legacy of their trial is routinely conjured when instructing the female faithful: Saint Agatha is not only a prime model of spiritual strength, virtue, and the merits of noble education, but an archetype of how to overcome political swindling and persevere through carnal brutality.
Just as Saint Agatha was born into nobility but opted to live as a pauper, Saint Bridget (1303-1373) was also raised amongst enormous wealth and royalty. Her father, Birger Persson, was one of the wealthiest landowners in Sweden and served as governor and provincial judge of Uppland; furthermore her mother, Ingeborg Bengtsdotter, was closely related to the royal family. As a seven-year-old of deep spirituality and heartfelt precocity, Bridget experienced the first of a lifelong concatenation of revelations: wherein the Virgin Mary placed a crowd upon young Bridget’s head. Early in her youth following the death of her mother (circa 1315), Bridget was sent to live with her aunt in Ostergotland, where she received a meticulous and demanding religious education (Kirsch, 1907). Despite her convent-bound intentions, in 1316 thirteen-year-old Bridget was united in marriage with eighteen-year-old Ulf Gudmarsson; their symbiotic, joyful marriage—marked by Bridget’s subtle sway over her pious and noble husband and their parentage of eight children (among them, Saint Catherine of Sweden)—was extolled throughout Scandinavia for their joint charitable efforts and service on the court of King Magnus Eriksson and Queen Blanka, over whom Bridget also maintained considerable influence. Upon Bridget’s widowhood following Ulf’s rapid decline after the couple’s pilgrimage to Santiago de Compestella in 1344, the revelations that weighed heavily upon her youth materialized once again, albeit with ensuing frequency and definitive clarity. Bridget dedicated her life to religious asceticism and theologian undertakings and in 1346, as per the thrust of her revelations, King Magnus and Queen Blanka left the State demesne of Vadstena to Bridget for the construction of a convent. Bridget trekked to Rome to confirm the Rule of her new religious congregation, the Brigittines; she subsequently settled in Italy (save for periodic pilgrimages to the Holy Land and elsewhere) in the pursuit of a pious and altruistic existence for the remainder of her lifetime. Pope Urban V confirmed the Briggitines’ rule in 1370 and contemplated Bridget’s chastising appeals for the Holy See to be reinstated in Rome (instead of Avignon, France). This small marble relief [above], Saint Bridget of Sweden Receiving the Rule of her Order (1459) by Agostino di Duccio (1418-1481), depicts a sphinx at the side of a clerically garbed Bridget, shown joining right hands with a youthful Christ beholding a scroll in his left hand bearing the rules of Bridget’s order, in accord with her published mystic visions. These six hundred revelations during her widowhood (translated by her confessor Petrus Oli of Alvastra and her teacher Mattias from Linkoping into a Latin book first printed in 1492) stirred considerable controversy amidst her devout contemporaries: among Agatha’s critiques of kings and governments, her most contentious political visions necessitated the Avignon-based Pope return posthaste to Rome. According to di Duccio’s commission for the predella of the altar of San Lorenzo in San Domenico, Perugia (dismantled by 1482), his conjuring of the sphinx—customarily appropriated for the throne of Madonna in her symbolic role as Sedes Sapientia stemming from her ties to Athena-Minerva as the goddess of wisdom—visually encapsulates how Christ endowed Bridget’s order with a similar prudence and sagacity (Hayum, 2006) (Cohen, 2008). A year subsequent to her death, Bridget’s bodily remains were transported to the Brigittine monastery at Vadstena; she was swiftly canonized in 1391 by Boniface IX and pronounced patron saint of Sweden. After centuries of lobbying by the Birgitta nuns in Rome, in 1999 Pope John Paul II appointed Saint Bridget as one of the patrons of Europe.
[Above: The Adoration of the Christ Child (1515) by a follower of Jan Joest of Kalkar, who depicted Christ’s birth in accord with Saint Bridget of Sweden’s vision experienced during her pilgrimage to Bethlehem in 1372 wherein a “great and ineffable light” emanating from the Child illuminated a young Virgin with flowing hair and singing angels, which entirely eclipsed the candlelight held by Joseph.]
The remarkable histories of saints provide humanity with shining exemplars of virtue: which, on the strength of art world maestros, are adeptly conveyed by their unique scriptural interpretations and ensuing artistic incarnations (and our mere glimpses upon these impressive renderings). By virtue of Garafalo, di Paolo, and di Duccio’s virtuosity, Saint Nicholas of Tolentino’s miracles provide us with assurance in the face of adversity, Saint Agatha’s dignified indefatigability endows us with strong feminine principles worth emulating, and Saint Bridget of Sweden’s self-reliance imparts a targeted code of confidence by which the meek can aim to abide. The medieval grounds for fostering religious art found a steadfast champion in Pope Gregory the Great, who reconsecrated a fifth-century Arian basilica to Agatha in the Subura district of Rome and who keenly supported the Cult of Saint Agatha; a letter from Pope Hadrian I (772-795) to Charlemagne ordered that this church, S. Agata dei Goti, be adorned with mosaics and frescos. It is through Pope Hadrian’s acclaimed letters to Bishop Serenus of Marseilles that we are now acquainted with the origins of Gregory’s predilection for religious images and narratives on the basis of their pedagogical value. Pope Gregory’s philosophy serves as the classical Western precedent for religious art: that imagery not be suppressed “so that the illiterate will at least read by looking at the walls. It is one thing to adore images and another to learn the story represented by the image what one must adore” (Ewald, 1891) (Minge, 1849).
Bayer, A. (2003). North of the Apennines: Sixteenth Century Italian Painting in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, 60 (4), 53-57.
Burke, J. (2006). Sex and Spirituality in 1500s Rome: Sebastiano del Piambo’s Martyrdom of Saint Agatha. The Art Bulletin, 88 (3), 482-95.
Cheney, L. D. (1996). The Cult of Saint Agatha. Woman’s Art Journal, 17 (1), 3-9.
Cohen, S. (2008). Andrea Del Sarto’s ‘Madonna of the Harpiese’ and the Human-Animal Hybrid in the Renaissance. In S. Cohen, & R. Zwijnenberg (Ed.), Animals as Disguised as Symbols in Renaissance Art (Vol. II, p. 248). Leiden, NV, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill.
Delaney, J. J. (1980). Dictionary of Saints (Vol. II). (E. Cipriano, Ed.) USA: Doubleday.
Dunn, J. M. (2011). Art, Time & Place. University of Scranton. Scranton.
Ewald, P. (1891). Gregorii Papae Registrium Epistularum (Vol. III). Paris.
Gómez-Moreno, C. (1974). Saints and their Legends: A Selection of Saints from Michael the Archangel to the Fifteenth Century. (M. M. Department of Medieval Art, Ed.) New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications.
Hayum, A. (2006). A Renaissance Audience Considered: The Nuns at S. Apollonia and Castagno’s Last Supper. The Art Bulletin, 88 (2), 243-266.
Holloway, J. B. (1992). Saint Bride and Her Book: Birgitta of Sweden’s Revelations. (J. B. Holloway, Trans.) Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer.
Jacobus de Voragine, A. o. (1275). Here Followeth the Life of St. Agatha. In A. o. Jacobus de Voragine, & F. Ellis (Ed.), The Golden Legend (W. Caxton, Trans., First ed.). Temple Classics.
King, M. L. (1991). Virgo et Virago: Women of the Renaissance. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
Kirsch, J. P. (1907). St. Bridget of Sweden. In K. Knight (Ed.), The Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol. II). New York, NY: Robert Appleton Company.
Meagher, J. (2010, September). Italian Painting of the Later Middle Ages. (D. o. Paintings, Producer, & The Metropolitan Museum of Art) Retrieved December 4, 2011, from Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/iptg/hd_iptg.htm
Minge, J. P. (1849). Gregorii M. Dialorgum. In Patrologia Latina (Vol. Book III). Paris.
Pope-Hennessy, J. (1947). Sienese Quattrocento Painting. Oxford.
Be sure to check out my brilliant cousin Katherine Bernard’s article on enclothed cognition at Vogue.com! She interviewed me (and my academic advisor, J. Timothy Cannon, Ph.D.) about the psychological underpinnings and social neuroscience at play when we choose what we wear and how the garments alter various self-perceived attributes—which can in turn impact our attitude, performance and behavior.
…In preliminary findings from a study published on the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology’s website, subjects who donned white coats that they thought belonged to doctors performed better on tests than those who wore street clothes, or those who thought the coats were associated with artists. Their heightened focus was evident only when subjects actually put on the coat in question (not merely when they were in the same room). It’s no secret that assembling an outfit is like selecting social armor, and that what we wear has power over others (if there weren’t truth to the cliché “lady in red,” designers wouldn’t be making so many scarlet dresses), but this study shows if you have a strong cultural association with a garment, wearing it can affect your cognitive processes… To explore this theory, Vogue asked several women—in careers ranging from art to e-commerce to politics—what pieces in their closets helped them bring their A-game to work… Model and psychology student Julia Frakes always gravitates toward Prada for interviews, and has a go-to brand for test taking: “I wore Marni when I took my Wechsler exam [designed to measure adult intelligence]. I swear Marni increases one’s self-perceived intelligence levels.” Suffice it to say, Frakes scored a high performance IQ. So, tell the skeptics: Your closet isn’t frivolous, it contains a myriad of channels to heightened performance, a selection of gateways to the best versions of yourself. As Jonathan Lethem said in his novel You Don’t Love Me Yet: “You can’t be deep without a surface.”
The Impact of Medieval Universities, an odd obsession of mine
In an age calling for educational reform, I submit that we take cue from history—Medieval Times in particular—while weighing the future of contemporary academia (and its financing).
While generally groundless and unfounded in its opprobrium, the term ‘medieval’ has come to conjure defamatory and backward insults onto any modern institution, practice or policy upon which it is thrust. It is a pity that this association persists, as medieval universities effectuated sweeping scholastic changes: they educated hundreds of thousands of pupils and devised innovative mechanisms to do so. A hallmark of medieval university ideology was the doctrine that all knowledge—whether under the realm of the art, law, theology or medicine—be an articulate science readily imparted in discussion, debate, or argument. In terms of its institutional impact on modern learning, medieval universities’ paramount contribution was, well, themselves. While we may have altered some of their methods, incorporated new styles and technologies, added new programs and majors, and expanded our resources and facilities, the underlying concept of a medieval university as a place where a motivated novice can acquire a mastery of his field has endured to this day. Arguably, contemporary universities are our age’s most medieval institutions.
Just as modern academia comprises various fields of study, early medieval education encompassed seven liberal arts deemed befitting of “free” men, subdivided between the trivium and the quadrivium. The trivium—composed of grammar (conversational and written Latin), dialect (reasoning skills), and rhetoric (logical and philosophical speaking methods for governmental and civil issues of import)—resembles our present-day general higher education stipulations, whereas the medieval quadrivium—formulated of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music—no longer lies at the core of our university experiences, although they may be individually pursued at will. I was astonished not only by the medieval university’s classification of music within its numerical quadrivium, but also by the clout of music within the seven liberal arts as a means to “harmonize different tones in songs of pleasing accent” (p. 10, Daly). Whether on its mathematical foundation or purely on its moving aesthetics, it is regrettable that music—while still a prominent field within specific university sects—is by and large overlooked by the preponderance of students nowadays. Despite educationalist John of Salisbury’s comprehensive defense of the trivium and quadrivium while bishop of Chartres, subsequent universities’ emphases on dialectic and philosophy were advocated in lieu of the seven liberal arts model—no doubt spurred by the discovery and utilization of the entire corpus of Aristotle’s works on the subjects.
Twenty-first century private universities are fundamentally corporations, a token of the University at Paris’s corporate evolution depicted in their adoption of an official seal, first codification of written law, and legal right to sue or be sued. The “Magna Carta” of Paris University was the channel by which the pope authorized the university (now a fully-fledged intellectual corporation) to form its own rules and laws for coursework and studies, provided it with a separate jurisdiction, and expanded its curriculum. This doctrine indisputably informed our current campus police system and the overall notion of studying and residing within a “university bubble.” According to the jus ublique docendi privilege, graduates of the medieval era’s most prestigious universities at Paris, Bologna, and Oxford were essentially entitled to teach anywhere in the world; needless to say, these elite institutions were in turn wary of hiring just any alumnus into their faculty without a potent showcase of his competency before the school’s prestigious professional ranks. A comparable resumptio persists to this day amongst Ivy League institutions, whose professors must not only bear the requisite degrees from elite colleges, but are more or less obliged to be well-known in public or academic spheres for their published works or societal presence.
The culture and framework of our contemporary universities owe much to their medieval forefathers. Save for schooling for all, which was not integrated into policy until the late nineteenth century, there is scarcely a concept, institution, or practice of modern education that cannot be ascribed to medieval universities. Analogous with the modern-day students’ entitlement to drop a class if need be, at Bologna the right was comparably boosterish and allotted for the attendance of fifteen classes before any payment was due. The medieval manual De Disciplina Scholarium delineates customs remarkably aligned with our campus culture, including hazing rituals and a litany of the omnipresent obstacles to learning (e.g., alcohol, sex, and lack of focus). The formalized medieval letter-writing rules—beset with students’ petitions for money, a plea with which current students can plainly empathize—were so complicated in their construction that wholesale “model” letters were published in copybooks: veritable CliffNotes Guides in contemporary terms. At their core, medieval hospicia were college residence halls similar to our universities’ dormitories, albeit more aligned with modern universities’ Greek societies in the sense that medieval-era students from the same parts of Europe were housed together (by virtue of their presumed common bonds of language, heritage, and customs).
Much to my surprise, medieval students were allotted many entitlements that today’s college students can only consider as fantastical pipe dreams. The Charter of Emperor Frederick I, confirmed by Pope Alexander III, accorded students as a special class exempted from civil courts and entrusted with the citation option as defendants before either their masters or bishops. Innocent IV furthermore excused Parisian students from ecclesiastical courts outside of the city to wherever their studies beckoned (via jus non trahi extra). As evidenced by the recent Casey Anthony debacle, this is certainly no longer the case. When contemporary students opt to travel abroad, they are required to have some proficiency in their destination’s native tongue. The standard medium of Latin within the medieval classroom armed students with the continental language of all educated Europeans, so the scholastic world really was their oyster. In striking contrast to our county, state and federal governments’ widespread axing of educational funding, Philip VI of France bestowed exemptions from taxation upon individual students, university corporations, and the workers therein. While our college campuses abide by bureaucratic frameworks, medieval universities were professor-driven in statute, wherein students held the privilege of seeking out, paying, and firing teachers directly.
Prior to studying medieval universities, I had not realized the deep roots of our cooperative study measures; indeed it was William of Wykeham’s promotion of mutual help and charity at the College of St. Mary of Winchester in Oxford that heralded current campuses’ peer-tutoring programs and writing centers. The enduring contribution of medieval universities comprises neither its scientific discoveries nor its medical conquests, but rather its legacy for all generations thereafter to pay deference to the laws of thought and to protect them against the force of language. As such, while we may be unable to glean much from their academic materia, their forma has mightily shaped our higher learning ideals.
President Obama visited Scranton, Pennsylvania to lay out the choice Congress will have to make with their upcoming vote on extending the payroll tax cut
Note: Since writing this blog just after President Obama’s visit to Scranton on Wednesday, the Senate failed to pass Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.’s bill to extend and expand the payroll-tax cut and provide $1,500 to the average working class family. Despite the imminent expiration of the middle class tax cut, Scrantonians are optimistic that Senator Casey will reach an auspicious agreement in time to safeguard Pennsylvania families and create employment opportunities.
Although I was born and raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania, throughout the 2008 election cycle I lived and worked in New York City and, much to my chagrin, was unable to see (then candidate) Barack Obama discuss his ambitions apropos my hometown’s most pressing issues. It was deeply heartening to be back home in Scranton this week to witness the vitality and spirit of the President, his confidence in our country’s eventual triumph over the political partisanship throughout our economic recouping, and his connection to our local workforce concerns. Scranton is by no means a wealthy area, so it is of little surprise that the crowd hailed for the President’s fiscal policy defending the middle class and summoning more from top-tier earners. As evidenced by Wednesday’s turnout, Scrantonians feel connected to the Obama Administration—no doubt a token of Vice President Biden’s upbringing in Scranton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s roots in our area—and we hold their policies heretofore in the highest regard and have tremendous hopes for the passing of future initiatives. The President couldn’t possibly find a more receptive audience to launch an urgent and passionate two-week campaign for the payroll-tax cut extension, the unemployment-insurance extension, and transportation spending… granted that Congress gets on board in time for the holidays.
On Wednesday afternoon, Scranton’s economic hardship and earnest desire for passing President Obama’s reforms were palpable by the crowd’s roaring enthusiasm throughout his case for an extension of the payroll-tax holiday legislation sponsored by Scranton native Senator Robert Casey. With about 10,000 people out of work in Lackawanna County alone, this payroll-tax cut would directly benefit local employees and their employers. Putting about $1,500 into the pockets of average workers would catalyze our economic recovery—especially for citizens of lesser education, who are inevitably faced with the most adverse ramifications of our current financial structure. Last year’s cut of the payroll-tax from 6.3% to 4% only set the groundwork; a further reduction will predominantly impact the livelihood of lower and middle class workers and their families. Politically speaking, Scrantonians’ propensity toward pragmatic, nonideological tenets will serve the President well. The Wyoming Valley simply wants to see fair and effective policy come to the fore and finds little value in Congress’ ideological brawls; the image of Republicans pauperizing working Americans during the holiday season prompted a tangible anxiety in the audience. However, a sudden sense of hopefulness overcame the gymnasium when the President appealed the crowd to take action: “Send your senators a message. Tell them, ‘Don’t be a Grinch.’ Don’t vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays.”
As a swing city in a battleground state, a stroll around Scranton’s Courthouse Square is revelatory of our steadfast labor roots—home to the tributary statue of United States labor leader and United Mine Workers president John Mitchell—and the site of Mitchell’s contentious negotiations with mining industries, wherein President Teddy Roosevelt personally intervened in Scranton. On account of Mitchell and Roosevelt’s momentous resolution stipulating a minimum wage and an eight-hour workweek at the Lackawanna County Courthouse, the “Champion of Labor, Defender of Humon Rights” Mitchell statue and the Lackawanna Courthouse are registered National Historic Landmarks. When the President engaged the gymnasium gathering by asking, “What does it say about our priorities when we’d rather protect a few really well-to-do people than fight for the jobs of teachers and firefighters?” a full-out standing ovation ensued. He truly struck a cord with Scrantonians when he further posed, “What does it say about our values when we’d rather fight for corporate tax breaks than put construction workers back on the job rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our schools?” The President hit home.
In the face of the devastating effects of NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China and other such unendurable policies, during the George W. Bush administration my family was forced to sell off our multigenerational apparel manufacturing business in the Wyoming Valley. Since then, my mom, Janie Alperin, established an internationally-acclaimed housewares and gift boutique, Jane Leslie & Co., based in Kingston, PA. The Obama Administration’s American Jobs Act and appeal for the furtherance of the payroll-tax cuts would be exponentially beneficial for her small business. The President’s Remarks on The American Jobs Act on Wednesday also resonated with my friends who accompanied me to the speech: Megan Davidovich, 20 (President of the University of Scranton College Democrats) and Robert Bresnahan, 21 (Chief Financial Officer of Kuharchik Construction, Inc. located in Exeter, PA). For Megan, the President’s comments on college loans were especially apposite—words moreover met with roaring acclamation from Scranton High School students and teachers bullish on the prospect for education reform. Robert’s spirits were raised by the President’s bid for infrastructure revitalization and construction initiatives. In an age of partisanship, I was profoundly inspired by Robert’s open-mindedness as a young Republican, “I advocate for the greater good of the economy and [construction] industry. As CFO of a construction company, I have first-hand experience with workers who need to be kept on the job, hence the imperativeness of this often forgotten aspect [infrastructure], which is significantly dependent on federal intervention.” Robert’s nonpartisan and objective convictions are archetypal of Scranton, where there are scores of unemployed and underemployed blue color workers (particularly construction workers), whose skillsets the President intends to utilize by funding $100 billion toward infrastructure.
The message of rendering our country’s income inequality into a more equitable model fired up attendees; if 38% of our corporations that eschew income tax payment began doing their fair bid for the country, it would ease the burden on the working people of Scranton. Radical actions that put men and women on the job—like repairing the unsound national infrastructure within the constraints of a massive five or ten-year repair program in tandem with training unemployed people and returning veterans—would not only boost our economy, but would uplift Northeast Pennsylvanians’ confidence both in our country and of our global standing.
Updated: President Obama’s statement on the Senate’s failure to pass his plan to extend the payroll tax cut for working Americans:
"Now is not the time to put the economy and the security of the middle class at risk. Now is the time to rebuild an economy where hard work and responsibility pay off, and everybody has a chance to succeed. Now is the time to put country before party and work together on behalf of the American people. And I will continue to urge Congress to stop playing politics with the security of millions of American families and small business owners and get this done. Tonight, Senate Republicans chose to raise taxes on nearly 160 million hardworking Americans because they refused to ask a few hundred thousand millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share. They voted against a bill that would have not only extended the $1,000 tax cut for a typical family, but expanded that tax cut to put an extra $1,500 in their pockets next year, and given nearly six million small business owners new incentives to expand and hire. That is unacceptable. It makes absolutely no sense to raise taxes on the middle class at a time when so many are still trying to get back on their feet…”
Meet Ollie, our friend JULIA FRAKES' dashing pup, who took the road this past holiday weekend in this darling getup! Name: Oliver “Ollie” Frakes, cozy in ALL QUARTERS Breed: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Snapped: Driving along in chilly Pennsylvania Favorite treat: Happy Hips Sweet Potato Chews!
Click here for more photos of Ollie pup at Opening Ceremony New News!
It was such a pleasure to be interviewed in my hometown (well, on the phone) by the brilliant and delightful Stephanie DeBalko for The Weekender, Northeastern Pennsylvania’s arts and entertainment weekly newspaper.
On this eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, we celebrate and reflect on how far we have come as a nation. During the past year, we have become a more perfect union. Millions of Americans are now experiencing the benefits of comprehensive health care reform, saving them money and saving lives. We have begun to fulfill a promise to our families, as American troops are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. And we ended the discriminatory practice of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’
“However, we cannot forget the difficulties we have faced this year. This is a challenging time for our nation, as so many Americans are struggling just to make ends meet. Our country has been rocked by hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters and communities across the nation are still picking up the pieces. It is also a challenging time for our friend and ally, Israel, which continues to face attacks on her safety and legitimacy from hostile neighbors and the broader international community.
“If there is one lesson that these holidays teach us, it is that we must come together to embrace the ideals of reflection, forgiveness, and renewal. Together, we mark the year that was past, and as a community—as a nation—we forge on toward a better future.
“In the spirit of social justice, we must not rest until joblessness, homelessness, and discrimination are relics of history. In the spirit of those before us we must continue to protect the unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States, and stand up for her security. And in the spirit of tikkun olam, we must commit once again to build a better world together that is filled with justice and peace.
“Today, as I celebrate the new year with my own family, I hope you take the opportunity to share this holiday in health and happiness with those you love. May the next year be one of renewed hope in our dreams of all we aspire to be. L’shanah tovah u’metukah, and may you all have a peaceful 5772.”
Tonight marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, which initiates the Days of Awe—a ten-day spell of repentance, prayer, and reflection on the deeds performed over the course of the past year—urging all global citizens (from the faithful to the Religulous) to take a step back, reevaluate, atone, and do our utmost to lead altruistic, honest, thoughtful and considerate lives. Naturally, there’s food involved; so why not hop on the honey wagon and/or apple cart?
Be about Obama for America 2012! CHANGE into a trusty blue crew you can believe in:
Wear it with pride! Opening Ceremony’s “Love is Equal" super soft t-shirt:
Fifty years after its demonization in the eyes of the American public, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is experiencing its own “flashback” of sorts: a grand resurgence in the laboratories of Harvard and the University of California at San Francisco, by dint of the Food and Drug Administration’s permission to experiment with LSD once more. Judy Balaban (daughter of longtime Paramount Pictures president Barney Balaban and a member of the tightknit Hollywood establishment of the comparatively constrained 1950s entertainment industry) and Cari Beauchamp’s Vanity Fair profile “Cary in the Sky with Diamonds” recounts how the uncharted and theretofore unregulated usage of LSD in midcentury psychotherapy sessions at the Psychiatric Institute of Beverly Hills united approximately one hundred of Hollywood’s most luminary denizens by deeply transforming the lives of their glamorous patients “behind the scenes” and without the scrutiny of the traditional (and then largely LSD-incognizant) American public.
Long before the Beatles and Jefferson Airplane took to the radiowaves in praise of psychedelic drugs and college students’ practically obligatory reading of Carlos Castaneda, nobody in Hollywood nor among the prevailing Eisenhower-era conservative tenor of the 1950s was aware of LSD. Consequently, in a generation when appearances were generally accepted as reality, it was exceptionally uncharacteristic that such an established set of Hollywood elite ingested the drug as an adjunct to their psychotherapy, in consideration of the fact that stars spent a bulk of their time on and off film sets assuring that their lives “looked correct” to their traditional fan base and compliant media. When Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann synthesized LSD in 1938 while experimenting with fungus in pursuit of a central nervous system stimulant, Sandoz laboratories were lax in their distribution of LSD in their eager search for potentially profitable implementations. By the mid-1950s, the C.I.A., U.S. Army, Britain’s M.I.6 and the Canadian government all pounced on experimenting with its prospects as a truth serum or possible method of chemical warfare—and secretly tested prisoners and military members to gauge its capacities as such. Sandoz lent supplies to practitioners of assorted fields (and of various echelons of legitimacy) and soon derelicts, terminal cancer patients, veterans’ hospitals’ residents and college students all acted as guinea pigs in the psychiatric profession’s quest to cure alcoholism, schizophrenia and shell shock (now known as PTSD); in fact, between 1950-1965, nearly 40,000 individuals worldwide were tested or “treated” with Hofmann’s discovery. When Sandoz received a request for an LSD supply from Los Angeles psychiatrist Oscar Janiger in the mid-1950s to dispense to his patients (whose experiences he would then relay back to the laboratories), he was briskly sent a stock without further inquiry. Janiger partnered with Dr. Sidney Cohen to broaden his “creativity” study through U.C.L.A. within the cultural elite—exposing many acclaimed writers, painters, musicians (such as André Previn) and authors (of note, Aldous Huxley and Anaïs Nin) to its properties—including Time publisher Henry Luce, who was so impressed that his magazine ran several enthusiastic articles in the late 1950s heaping praise on Sandoz’s “’spotless’” labs, “’meticulous’” scientists and the notion of LSD as “’an invaluable weapon to psychiatrists.’”
Subsequent to radiologist Mortimer Hartman’s five years of Freudian analysis, a simple medicinal dose of LSD accorded his unconscious with the tools necessary to burst to the fore and in turn dissolved his ego “on the spot.” Hartman then joined forces with psychiatrist Arthur Chandler and opened the Psychiatric Institute of Beverly Hills—which secured LSD from Sandoz, under the auspices of conducting a five-year study of LSD as a catalyst in the treatment of the most well-known Hollywood celebrities (whom they privately deemed to be “the world’s most glamorous neurotics”). In stark contrast to most universities and hospitals where students and volunteers were paid for their readiness to test LSD, Hartman and Chandler inversed the practice: Cary Grant was amongst a suite of debonair Hollywood actors, actresses, agents, producers, and industry luminaries who partook in LSD-induced psychiatric therapy, costing them $100 per session. Nonetheless few participants were open about their drug therapy to friends who weren’t also visiting the Psychiatric Institute; aside from a small handful of scientific journals and said mentions in Time magazine, the public at large was unaware of LSD and its visceral effects.
In such traditional magazines as Good Housekeeping and Look, the tide soon turned when Cary Grant—who had meticulously transformed into the leading-man persona of “Cary Grant” by educating himself about clothes, art, and etiquette (and in due course, cultivating an indefinable affability idolized by men and women alike) into a façade leagues apart from his upbringing as Archie Leach, a poverty-stricken and abused boy of Bristol, England (where his father, who had a family on the side, institutionalized his mother unbeknownst to his young son)—spoke publicly of his first treatments with Dr. Hartman at age 55 and sang the praises of LSD’s effectiveness in therapy settings. Grant revealed how LSD helped him rid his ego of hypocrisies and work through childhood events and relationships with his parents and former wives without the dull monotony of years of analysis: affording him of what Look described as a “’second youth’” while concurrently subjecting himself to a “courageous” psychiatric experiment with what would, in Look’s view, no doubt become a vital tool in psychotherapy.
Prior to coming across this Vanity Fairpiece last year, I had given credence to the prevailing perception that LSD had not come to the fore until the cultural revolution of the experimental and rebellious youth of the 1960s. I was entirely unaware that during Hollywood’s Golden Age in the traditionalist 1950s, when luminaries were placed atop perfect god-like pedestals in the public’s eye—without the “reality-based” tabloid reports rampant in our day and age—many celebrities actually bought into their stardom and lost touch with the underlying ethos devised throughout their formative years (a phenomenon no doubt still commonplace); however they had successfully utilized LSD in supervised therapeutic settings to break through their inflated egos and tap into the subconscious roots of their problems, often by re-experiencing traumatic events from a different point of view or gaining insight into the interconnectedness of the world with which they had lost touch. In spite of the revelatory insight reaped from their sessions, eventually many of Hollywood’s elite discontinued their treatments when the doctors themselves began conducting their clients’ sessions while also on a trip—thereby squandering the legitimacy of their original medical intent, practicing methodology, and earlier breakthroughs. In 1962, the FDA stipulated that Hartman and Chandler hand over their records and soon thereafter confiscated the Psychiatric Institute of Beverly Hills’ LSD supply. National legislation criminalized its possession in 1968, and in the ensuing years many of LSD’s earliest Hollywood adherents resented Timothy Leary’s promulgated campaign to “’turn on, tune in, drop out’” and the backlash that it precipitated against a compound that many Hollywood living legends (not to mention members of the scientific community) maintain to this day as a valuable apparatus into the subconscious. It will be fascinating to ascertain the various LSD-based applications that the Harvard and U.C. San Francisco laboratories utilize with the FDA’s go-ahead in the years to come.
Jennifer Senior’s heart-rending portrayal of the current state of our armed forces and the keystone role of prescription drugs therein is particularly stunning for its no-holds-barred depiction of the brave men and women who sacrifice for our country—both in theater abroad and while reintegrating and readapting to the home front—and, physical injuries aside, their extensive mental illnesses far surpassing the spectrum of post traumatic stress disorders as witnessed in wars heretofore. Her New York Magazine piece “The Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Effexor, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, Restoril, Xanax, Adderall, Ritalin, Haldol, Risperdal, Seroquel, Ambien, Lunesta, Elavil, Trazodone War” chronicles how repeated deployments of our all-volunteer corps and the current lull in operational tempo have manifested in escalating suicide rates—especially when their Army-advocated prescription-drug use intensifies upon return stateside as the off-duty soliders come face-to-face with depression, noncombatant boredom, suppressed pain manifesting itself and residual insomnia spawned by their perpetual hypervigilance whilst in combat; viz., one-third of all 2009 active-duty suicides were associated with prescription drug use. I was appalled to learn that accidental death on our homeland (such as drug overdose or drinking and driving) triggers nearly as many Army deaths as the number of servicemen and women killed in combat overseas. The Army’s inexcusable routine of labeling returning troops as exhibiting a mere “personality disorder” in lieu of accurately reporting their post-traumatic stress and other afflictions is entirely reprehensible, especially since doing so in turn renounces any chance of their eligibility for disability.
Even in April 2004—widely accepted as our country’s most trying hour throughout the Global War on Terror (in consideration of the scale of casualties and lack of any end in sight at the time)—our troop morale was exponentially higher than the beginning of 2011. Nowadays, with casualties declining, productive headway made with respect to our stability in combat zones and the elimination of many global terrorist leaders at the highest echelon (e.g., Osama bin Laden)—Jennifer Senior maintains that our army is “falling apart”: Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars encompass an inordinate percentage of the American unemployed; the Army’s divorce rate (historically recognized for its low rates compared to its civilian conjugal counterparts) has surpassed that of nonmilitary citizens—and servicemen and women deployed on multiple tours have even eclipsed those dismally high divorce rates. Defense Department spending on Ambien (sleep aids), Seroquel (antipsychotics), and amphetamines has doubled since 2007 and their disbursement of Topamax (anti-convulsants often prescribed for migraines) has quadrupled.
According to the Army’s research, alcohol abuse, disciplinary infractions and criminal activities are increasing with active-duty service members. Just as in Vietnam, where the enemy deceptively blended in with civilians, everyone and everything is a potential threat; however this war is fought as often in the backcountry deserts as it is in populous cities—whereby soldiers are never afforded the opportunity of their predecessors to mentally decompress—bearing in mind that “there’s no front in this war, and no rear either…” (NY Mag p. 4). Whereas Vietnam soldiers used dope and Jimi Hendrix to both relax and pump up for battle, today’s military personnel’s consumption of drugs is a DOD-approved modus operandi—poles apart from Nam-era’s countercultural attitude toward drugs. Case in point: In this day and age, larger-battalion aide stations in Iraq and Afghanistan are jam-packed with Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Effexor and Zoloft (to ward off depression); Valium (to unclench muscles, combat stress and induce sleep); Klonopin, Ativan, Restoril and Xanax (to fight anxiety); Adderall and Ritalin (for “ADD”); Haldol and Risperdal (to manage psychosis); and Seroquel—at subtherepeutic doses—along with Lunesta and Ambien (for sleep). Upon deployment, servicemen and servicewomen swiftly settle into a ceaseless cycle of Red Bulls and Rip Its (amply provided by the truckload at any base chow hall) for colossal caffeine boosts just before missions, only to necessitate a regimen of sleep meds and depressants to power down in due course.
It goes without saying that the Army places tremendous value on mission focus; army doctors are inasmuch generally disinclined to prescribe any medications that could jeopardize concentration. It is only upon a soldier’s homecoming that the full toll of the war’s horrors—compounded with their newfound addictions and dependencies on (often mandated) prescription medications—fully manifest themselves, all whilst they attempt to reintegrate into civilian society. This very phenomenon has given rise to Army residential facilities with the specific intent to treat alcohol and substance abuse, PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, depression, pain management, and the reckless poly-drug prescription problem under one roof—a half-way house of sorts, wherein at-risk soldiers can rehabilitate and readjust to America and its dearth of the strange new agonies experienced abroad: dust particles cloaked with unrecognizable toxins, 90-pound packs lugged at unfathomable altitudes, incessant pressure waves and blasts, beyond erratic sleep cycles, and the round-the-clock stressors and traumas of combat life in the Middle East.
The welfare of our soldiers in this wartime climate—marked by scores of deployments (and the profuse prescription medications allocated to cope with such a taxing reality)—truly struck a chord on my psyche. Admittedly prior to reading this New York Magazine article, I had not fully grasped the complexities of our servicemen and women’s sacrifices and the central role that psychoactive drugs (and their sundry side effects and cumulative tolerance issues) play in contemporary Army life. I can only imagine the added contemporary pressures faced in an age of Skype and Facebook, whereby service members must not only contend with their own immediate combat-zone unease, overmedication and sympathetic nervous system overactivation: for the first time in history, they also retain an up-to-the-minute awareness of the strain on their families, along with incoming imagery of loved ones subsisting in normal (as possible) lives—often jobless, struggling to raise children in their absence—and even at times devastatingly “Facebook tagged” at bars and in social climates. The psychological impact of the Digital Age has only augmented the anxiety in their lives, as the military must face life-and-death situations in defense of our country with the full cognizance of such personal stressors as divorce, death, moving, and financial tumult on the home front; pressures that, if they survive the battlefront, they may be forced to tackle whilst also battling their own newfound drug issues under the Army’s supervision.
We escaped the city for my home state of Pennsylvania, and even shot a few frames around Hillside Farms—a wonderful nonprofit educational farm that played site to many fond childhood memories and whose original proprietors are dear family friends and former neighbors. (Check out their community-supported work here!)
A big thanks to Bill for making the schlep out to the country! I had a ball prowling around PA with you; it’s a true honor to be featured amongst such fascinating folks (and friends!) on your site.
Massive apologies for my lack of tumbling as of late! It’s all terribly uninteresting—but, in a nutshell, between seemingly relentless traveling, summer courses out of town, magazine and work commitments, shooting a few days per week and a few unforeseen family obligations—I have indeed been a total tumblr stranger!
Things ought to ease up a bit on my Personal Life Craziness Richter Scale come August or so; in the meantime, please pardon the mildly stagnant appearance here as I foresee only checking in on tumblr once in a blue moon. Woopsidaisy.
Be sure to check out this stellar profile and interview with one of my dearest friends, Alec Friedman. I had never fathomed that being likened to orange juice concentrate could be so flattering! Truly taken aback…
80s Lanvin floral print linen dress, 80s Yves Saint Laurent purple wool cape with velvet trim, 70s Lanvin bi-color beige clutch, own Thierry Lasry sunglasses
It was such a pleasure to hop to Frock NYC in NoLita this past January with the brilliant vintage maestro Natalie Joos!
Also, while you are dropping by her acclaimed Tales of Endearment blog — featuring profiles on many fascinating personalities playing with the most ravishing of vintage wares — be sure to peruse her adventures with my dear friends Emily Weiss (of Into the Gloss), Hanneli Mustaparta and Tali Lennox to boot.
Late 70s Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche grey wool hooded cape with braided trim, late 80s Valentino red silk sleeveless dress (via Natalie Joos)
Read the day’s Tale in its entirety and view more images here.
Photo by Phil Oh — who caught me in a Topshop denim dress and belt, Rodarte for Opening Ceremony woodgrain Navajo cardigan coat, Pamela Love arrowhead necklace and mood ring, Alexander Wang Marion mini flap bag, Robert Clergerie burgundy wedges, Ulla Johnson scarf, Pendleton hat
View the full “The Shade Brigade” feature at New York Magazinehere.