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For My Snowed In Friends

In the Northeast of the US, millions of people are about to be snowed in. Trapped at home under travel bans. Trawling the Internet. Hi, snowed in people, have some reading recommendations!

Share With Your Family

  • Help Us, Great Warrior – The bravest, cutest, cheekiest girl-power warrior in all the land.
  • A Redtail’s Dream – Lushly illustrated webcomic based on Finnish mythology about a boy and his shapeshifting dog. Appropriately snowy! It’s complete, too, so you can read it from beginning to ending.
  • Sauerkraut Station – A science fiction novella about a girl who lives on a space station, the boy traveler who comes through, and the events that they endure. Along with sauerkraut recipes and what it means to make a difference.

Longer Reads

  • Drowning Kiribati – The other side of climate change – temperature increases and sea level rise – in the small island nation of Kiribati. More articles here.
  • The Conversation – “The Conversation is a collaboration between editors and academics to provide informed news analysis and commentary that’s free to read and republish.” An intellectual friend sent this to me and I promptly started screaming, “Where has this been all my life?”
  • The Blue Castle – Escape into this adult novel from L.M. Montgomery (you may know her better as the author of Anne of Green Gables). Bobbed hair! Disreputable fellas in jalopies! Unwed mothers! Heavens to Murgatroyd!
  • Books, Free or Worth It – I recommend more free online long reads here. Victorian scenery-chewing and Edwardian South Seas adventures await.

Blog Posts of Mine

  • Vintage Precious Jewelry – “Vintage jewelry seems to baffle people as much as, if not more than, vintage furs. And it has an even higher cargo of expectations about its value and emotional significance. Plus, who doesn’t like looking at shiny sparkly things? So: a post about vintage precious jewelry.”
  • Five Things to Read Instead of 50 Shades of Gray – Gnh. The 50 Shades movie is coming soon. Here are some other options that might make you glad you don’t have anywhere to go…

Illustration above is “Chicago Interior” by Theodore Johnson; below is “Two Women Reading” by Katsushika Hokusai.

Two Women Reading by a kotatsu

For many of us, this is friendship…when you can read together.

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Anassa Kata! A Look Back at Bryn Mawr College

Happy May Day – the day that makes alumnae of Bryn Mawr College everywhere rather wistful for the campus’ semi-Elizabethan, semi-pagan festivities. Living in New Zealand, on the rare occasions when I am asked where I went to university, the school’s name draws a double take. Despite the Welsh name, Bryn Mawr College is a storied, stony university outside of Philadelphia, one of the Seven Sisters all-women universities. When I went there, it was a quirky feminist university with strong sciences and the problems and politics of many smaller schools. All of us emerged with strong opinions about the place, influenced down to our bones and vocal cords. To this day, many of us speak with a lightly clipped tone.

The Gothic architecture, feminist ritual, and academic stress of Bryn Mawr College.

The Gothic architecture, feminist ritual, and academic stress of Bryn Mawr College.

Aesthetically, the history-steeped campus gave me a lifelong fondness for Arts and Crafts architecture, an interest in the 1930s and in vintage scientific art, and a soft spot for a flowing romantic aesthetic that, today, is conveniently called “steampunk”. And…what about Bryn Mawr style?

There’s a new book out, Seven Sisters Style, that’s meant to be a female-focused version of Take Ivy. I don’t have my copy yet, and I promise you a review when I get it, but all the advance photos seem to be from Smith and Vassar. Possibly because Bryn Mawr has always been a rumpled sort of school.
BMC-IndividualismFor a peek at vintage BMC without having an alumni magazine in front of you, the Tumblr Vintage Bryn Mawr is all that. And Hepburn’s Closet is the current Bryn Mawr College style magazine – I particularly like the sepia-and-vintage-flavored Winter 2013 issue.

The way I remember it, with BMC style, what was important was how you looked from the neck up.  From the neck down, you could be in the black of the academic robes, the white of May Day dresses, or forgettable garb for everyday classes and your shift in the dining hall, but your cabeza was always the same. This began immediately freshman week with your photo snapped at registration and included in the Class Of book, known on the street as “the pig book.” Somehow everyone knew it was called the pig book, or that the guys at X or Y non-Haverford college nearby called it that, but nobody actually used the term. These photos live forever in your college file and make a final poignant appearance in the alumni magazine when you die.

In the 90s, piercings were admired and hair was an experimental subject – cut off, shaved off, occasionally tinted with Manic Panic back when this was actually unusual. I preferred having long hair and I slipped off campus for trims two or three times a year. Once a year, for Hell Week, everyone would apply vamp makeup. Afterwards, I’d wind up helping sophomores remove the unaccustomed cosmetics.

Once you had decided on your hair and donned a leather jacket, a pair of cool boots, and a witty T-shirt, clothes were mostly secondary.  A few of us with romantic flair wore sweeping cloaks in the winter and Indian cotton prints on warmer days. Except for a few bodysuits and a dress or two, I dressed like a crumpled origami boulder, picking up bits at rich people’s thrift stores, and trying to have enough quarters to do laundry. I still feel guilty about sneaking clothes out of the piles and piles and PILES of clothes left for charity in the hallways at the end of the year. We weren’t supposed to touch them. They were supposed to be donated somewhere. But they were so much, so many, and the piles never seemed diminished when I crept away with two or three things.

Katherine Hepburn? For all that she is the school’s anointed Retro Style Icon, I relate more to E. B. White’s adoring essay about how he feels having married a Bryn Mawr graduate. Which you should read immediately.

As deeply pleased as I am to have the Wissahickon schist fortresses of Bryn Mawr’s campus in my history, as close as I still feel to my BMC friends and Back Smoker sisters, the classes of the 1990s are very dispersed today. Wistful as I am on May Day, that feels right. It is our calling to take our uniquely practical fire out into the world. To have adventures, make changes, and work on this planet.

ButMaryLou!I leave you with this enchanting makeup tutorial that reminds me of the blue-tiled bathrooms in the Merion dormitory. It’s labeled as “parody” but, trust me, this is how it’s done, women of the consortium, for making offerings to Athena.


Five Things To Read Instead Of 50 Shades of Grey

At the Whitcoulls bookstore on Friday, I saw stacks and stacks of a new novel, piled up as high as I am tall: Fifty Shades of Grey. This ostensibly erotic novel is making lots of women foam at the mouth. Some are foaming at the mouth with enthusiasm and think its fantastic. Many feminists don’t like it because it’s about a woman reveling in kinky sex and submission. BDSM people don’t like it because it’s got no relationship to actual BDSM dynamics, or reality. The main problem with it seems to be that it’s just not well written. It’s been thoroughly slated by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, a review site that understands that sometimes trashy books are a rest from the burdens of our high IQ’s, bless them. (In a quick flick through one of the sequels, the male protagonist lost me at “cable ties.”) Still, there it was, stacked as high as my head…

In discussing this with some of my friends, we were all shouting within five minutes, and one of us made an intelligent point. “I’m interested in BDSM and fetish and the like, I’m curious, but I have no experience and, this book is at least accessible. Reading this book seems like a safe option.”  So I thought I would recommend some great alternative steamy reads. They may be harder to get a hold of – they’re not stacked up in the front section of Whitcoull’s – but you’ll enjoy them.

From Fellini and Manara's Trip to Tulum.

From Fellini and Manara's Trip to Tulum.

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Exhibit A: Rockabilly Kitchen, original 1940s layout - note the "pie safe" cupboard

“Vintage Lifestyle:” Cupcakes Against The Abyss

Why did it take me until this month to hear the phrase “vintage and rockabilly lifestyle”?

At first, I was grumpy. “How can an aesthetic be a lifestyle?” Then I looked around my house.

Exhibit A: Rockabilly Kitchen, original 1940s layout - note the "pie safe" cupboard

I hauled this taxidermy around for years. People thought I was mad. Well, WHO'S MAD NOW? Oh, I still am.

Er. If a “vintage lifestyle” is about the aesthetic, the look, the stuff, I am guilty as charged. So, what does it mean to love vintage things but be impatient for the future?

(By the way, these pictures don’t even show the leopard-print sheets. Or the art-deco light fixtures. Or the rusted hand-forged coat hooks I rescued from a junk shop in Auckland, soaked in oil for three weeks, and lovingly hand-sanded. Or the atomic barkcloth curtains that I made with the fabric I ordered from the U.S. for a song (this stuff, with a blue background). I list these things and I think, “Perhaps I could have been saner?” Oh well, moving on.)

The other day in a slip of the tongue I said, “Now that we all live in the 22nd century,” then I realized I wished it was true. I like the Internet, eating food from around the world, being huffily offended at the least jot of racism, and women with science careers. You know that it’s possible to update a Twitter feed using brainwaves alone, right?  How cool is that? And I eagerly anticipate stem cell medical advances and the new ceramics-based electronics.

But just as Western culture took 75 years to fully assimilate the impact of industrialization from 1850 to the 1920s, I think we’re not done with modernism and its changes just yet. The 1990s, you may recall, were all about the cyber and the techno and the virtual, glossy Matrix-style coats, rubber fetish wear. We were chafing at the bit to start the future. Then 9/11 happened, and in the U.S.A., people looked backwards. Cupcakes, aprons, vintage Atari games, That 70s Show. Europe soon jumped on the bandwagon (“Ostalgie” in Germany, the U.K. going retro too) and it trickled to the Southern hemisphere. We’re still unpacking both the retro suitcase we turned back to (which did have layers and layers of cool things in it) and our massive ambivalence about actually having started the future.

For myself, I’m aware that the main space in my abode, my living room, stylistically exiles the Cold War period. As a young teenager I had nightmares about Chernobyl and nuclear disaster – and the space where I spend many hours leaps from Art Deco to 2001, as if the years when we all lived in nuclear terror didn’t exist. But from my non-nuclear bunker, I can contemplate peak oil, global warming, apocalyptic science fiction, and social flux, and take comfort from cupcakes. And let’s face it: if I had Aeon Flux’s cheekbones instead of cupid’s-bow lips and an hourglass figure, my personal style would be less retro.

Aeon Flux - remember when the future used to look like this?

Judge for yourself! There is a mind-boggling array of blogs combining housewifery and “vintage lifestyle” content.  The blogroll here at B. Vikki Vintage is a good cross section.

A vintage lifestyle magazine in South Africa, for a change.

Thinky thoughts on vintage lifestyle advantages.

Retro-futurism: the past’s perspectives on the future. Paleofuture Blog is a treasure trove of this madness.

If you’re in Wellington, NZ, this month’s Nerdnite, on Monday the 19th, is exceptionally interesting. A speaker is discussing Steampunk Digital Humanities, “using new digital tools to reinterpret and visualise traditional data.”

And, finally, long-term retro aficionado artist Robert Crumb’s A Short History of America. So much nostalgia…and this was drawn in 1979. “What next?” as the last panel asks. Crumb himself did an addendum in 1989.


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Butterfly Girls

I’m on my way to a burlesque dress rehearsal after a rather serious week – politics, work, health issues for my Little Old Lady. But there’s a time and a place for a little frivolity, yes? And with that in mind I was irresistibly reminded of a favorite Nell Brinkley drawing and text. Sentimental as all get-out – perhaps this is why the Victorians and Edwardians, living in grim times and the shadow of industrialization and the workhouse,  found consolation in sentimentality, too. The text below the picture is typed out for your reading pleasure.

Butterfly Girl by Nell Brinkley, from Trina Robbins' "A Century of Women Cartoonists."
Butterflies go with the ending of summer – butterfly girls go with the ending of the gay night that is their lives. Butterflies grow rare and at last do not flicker gold anywhere, when the sumac turns scarlet and the aspen on the far hills changes into little golden coins; butterfly girls are no more dimples and sparkle and laughter when there is no more fun to have, when the lights are out and real work comes. But I love a golden butterfly in the sun, and who doesn’t enjoy to watch the butterfly girl dance her way through the sober faces and the earnest!

Somebody said, “A butterfly lives but a day – AND WHAT IF THAT DAY IS RAINY?” So, little butterfly girl, whose day is so short, may it be sunny and clear.

Face detail of the pretty, pretty butterfly girl by Nell Brinkley.

Technically public domain but known to me thanks to Trina Robbins, writer, cartoonist, artist, and herstorian!