Soundtracks for Dark Deeds: The Parlour Trick, “A Blessed Unrest”

album cover

A Blessed Unrest, by The Parlour Trick.

I have been on the hunt for music that fits my current aesthetic, and this album is so perfect in that regard that I feel little need to listen to anything else.

The Parlour Trick seems to be pretty obscure; you get bupkis if you put them into Pandora. I only discovered them because a couple of months ago, Neil Gaiman tweeted about this place in Brooklyn, Gemini & Scorpio Loft arts space, which was having a Kickstarter campaign. I was like, I like things that Neil likes, so I looked at the thing, and found that their list of rewards was the most fantastic treasure trove of awesome things I’d never heard of: artists, musicians, clothing designers, creatives of all stripes. And I rejoiced, for I needed more things to obsess about. This is where I discovered Morbid Anatomy, who sponsored the splendid taxidermy class I took a while back. And one of the musicians listed was The Parlour Trick, so I started listening to their album on Bandcamp, and purchased it halfway through the second track, because this was clearly a thing I needed in my life. Continue Reading →

Cheap-ass Vacations for the Perpetually Broke

I must start with a piece of advice for the cheap: don’t try to go on a cheap-ass vacation alone. I’m terminally single, myself, so I know how difficult this can be, but you need friends for vacations to be really affordable. Accommodations are just not priced to be obtained by one person, because the world is against us, my single people. (Like Kelly Clarkson says, people like us, we gotta stick together.) Either get yourself a single vacation buddy, or a few, or a couple that likes you, or even half a couple whose vacation styles don’t mesh.

Take my friend JAS and I. We both are sit-by-the-pool, drink-a-beverage-with-a-little-umbrella, have-some-nice-food, take-it-easy vacationers. We went to Key West together and it was amazing. We also like to have unconventional life experiences. We’re trying to save and schedule for a vacation to this place at some point, because it’s a bed and breakfast and a ALPACA FARM. With a winery nearby. We want to sit in a pretty place with a hot toddy, and also pet an alapaca. (Or a llama

alpacas

Chimney Hill Estate and Ol’ Barn Inn. That’s what it’s called.

or a goat. We’re simple people.) JAS’s sweetie JS, on the other hand, is a sleep-in-a-tent, back-to-nature, hiking-and-pooping-outside type. JAS and JS go on some trips together, but JAS and I have agreed that we should just take the big long seriously relaxing vacations together. And that’s totally cool. JS likes to go with their best friend and hike in the mountains. If you have a partner, you likely see them all the time — you need a vacation from them too. I know it is true, Cracked said so.

What destination constitutes a cheap vacation for you naturally has a lot to do with where you actually live. I’m based in the D.C. metro area and grew up in North Carolina, so the southern-type end of the east coast is the region I’m most familiar with. My first entry will be on the North Carolina coast, because it is a cheap-ass vacation destination that is very dear to my heart, and my next will be on New York — no doubt the first of many on New York.

Black Masks and Unheard Whispers

Image credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Image credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times. Retrieved from http://cargocollective.com/AlexandraSchaller, the online portfolio of incredible set decorator Alexandra Schaller.

When talking about it with the uninitiated, I call it going to Sleep No More. When I speak of it to those who understand, it is staying at the McKittrick, a name said in hushed and giddy reverence.

One of my ambitions in life is to be a Black Mask, one of the non-performing staff who serve as silent sentinels, keeping order among the guests, drawing boundaries when boundaries need to be drawn, and providing a safety net for those who might be overcome. Although it’s probably a terrible idea:  it would be heartbreaking if it destroyed the magic for me, seeing where all the trapdoors and secret doorways are. But I feel drawn to that role. I feel like I want to… protect it? The place, the people, the whole experience. The love I feel for it is real and hot and almost disturbingly intense.

There’s a legion of devoted fans who spend small fortunes going every weekend, but since I live in the Washington D.C. metro area and the McKittrick is in New York, I sadly cannot join them. And maybe, if I were a Black Mask, or one of the regulars (is there a word for those? Sleepers? frequent guests? Maximillian’s children?), the intense, almost religious devotion that I feel for the McKittrick would fade. But all three times I went there, it was a profoundly spiritual experience.

For good or ill. My third visit was not long after my relationship ended, while I was alone in the city, flotsam looking for a current, and already neck-deep in despair. This is not the mindset in which to go to the McKittrick. The intense emotions associated with the place, the waves of memory and regret woven into the fabric… it was more than I could bear. I saw Hecate, who is dear to me, perform “Is That All There Is To a Fire?” and it was like dying, trapped behind a mask, quiet in the dark. I got into a taxi by myself afterwards and sobbed. I must make a return visit, with kindred hearts this time, just so that my last memory of my dear McKittrick is not so wracked with pain.
sleep no more set

Image credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times. Retrieved from http://cargocollective.com/AlexandraSchaller.

My second visit was transcendent. I was visiting the shadow Manderley Bar, having not seen it except during the witches’ rave. I happened to be the only person in the room when Hecate entered. Initially I kept a respectful distance, but when I looked straight at her, she was looking straight back at me. The moment is thrilling — the fiction is looking back at you, the screen has disappeared and they can see you as you see them. She held out a hand to me, and after a moment of uncertainty, I took it. She led me to a doorway and brought me into the dark, took my mask and eliminated the last boundary of safety between me and the unreal. It was like looking into the face of god. I won’t tell you what passed between us, as some mysteries are too personal to share.

The first visit, before Halloween last year, was serendipitous. Not being a New Yorker or especially culturally aware, I first heard of Sleep No More in reference to Then She Fell (also then unknown to me) — specifically in an advertisement of some sort for trendy New York theater. My life would look quite different now, if I hadn’t gotten that random piece of email spam. I was determined to make Halloween count last year; it is traditionally my favorite holiday but I had been unable to celebrate properly for the last several years. I wanted to have extraordinary experiences that fall, and this was just what I was looking for. The drastically sold-out Then She Fell was not an option, but Sleep No More tickets, though pricey for rubes like us, seemed like the perfect choice, like a haunted house for grown-ups. I was obviously unprepared.

It was when I stood in front of Lord MacDuff, cradling the body of dead Lady MacDuff in his arms, and he met my eyes and stepped towards me, and touched his forehead to mine and whispered in my ear, that I realized I was in over my head. I still do not know what he said — and if anyone out there in the darkness has had this experience, please tell me what you heard. (A vote from my friend JLW was 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”) But I felt hot tears behind my mask as his anguish reached out to me in the darkness. That was a moment that changed the way I experienced my life, the moment when I realized that the mediocre and mundane was never going to be enough.

My walls are naked because money

So I am basically broke now. I’ve got my eye on several possible wallpapers, none of which I can currently afford. I do have a plan, however. Not for getting more money, that’s clearly impossible. For hanging wallpaper without getting any wallpaper paste involved. And without buying removable wallpaper, which is pricey as fuck.

I could paint, of course. God, I’m lazy. I wasn’t always so averse to the idea of exerting myself to do the interior decorating, but I’m still a little traumatized by the massive amount of painting involved in getting my condo ready to sell last year. It’s not the painting that bothers me: it’s the getting ready to paint that bothers me. Tarp everywhere, somehow paint still gets on everything, and I hate putting up painter’s tape with a fierce passion.

red on red damaskNaturally, my plan starts with putting up painter’s tape. A friend who knows a set designer shared a brilliant idea with me: put up painter’s tape, then put up heavy-duty double-sided tape, and attach the paper to that.

Yes, with the taping, I can see how this would not necessarily be an improvement over painting. You only have to do it once, at least. The multiple coats in painting always just bum me out.

But also, wallpaper is just so pretty. My dream wallpaper is a red-on-red textured damask. I’d also go for brown-on-brown textured damask, but the red would be ideal. There’s a bar in Arlington with one table that’s in a little cubbyhole (I love cubbyholes) with red-on-red textured damask wallpaper. I just want to rub my face on it. The bar patrons — and owners — and pretty much all sane people in the vicinity would probably object. But it would look divine in my lighting. Oh, with candle sconces, can’t you see it? I’m a little short of breath right now.

Of course, there is no great mystery about where this design aesthetic comes from, for me. I’m sure its roots are complicated, and would be interesting to trace down the line a bit, but for me, this is just my attempt to crawl inside the tortured womb that is Sleep No More.

sleep no more dining room photo

Photo retrieved from http://frugalmaterialist.com/tag/sleep-no-more-interior-design/

Great day in the morning, victory is mine

Recently I got word that my request to move to part time at my day job was approved. From now on, I’ll work 3.5 days a week there, and have 3.5 days a week to… be productive in other ways that I need to more concretely plan now. It feels like a huge weight has been lifted — the job felt really oppressive, which made it really hard to get things done. I think this will make me a lot more efficient at work, so it’s really a win for everybody. And will certainly allow me to get a lot more done here in my little virtual nest, which thrills me. More to come!

Faux show

So, fur. I love it. I mean, not fur that’s been harvested from animals bred specifically for the purpose and which we don’t use in any other way — which is to say, most of the real fur you can buy. That fur is uncool. And faux is totally cool with me.*

The thing I love about fur, faux or otherwise, is that it’s an immediate one-up mushroom for texture, comfort, morbidity — that little touch of death, even if it’s synthetic — all in one little piece.

I’m especially devoted to white fur, which was why I once bought several yards of white faux fur and sewed it on top of a cheap-ass hardware-store rug to make a low-rent version of a white fur rug. The look of white fur on my walnut floor was something I was actively fantasizing about. (Walnut laminate, of course. What? I lived in a low-income suburb and was always broke. Whaddya want.)

this is my cat

This is a picture of my cat. She is at this moment considering the virtues of barfing on my white fur throw.

That $30 experiment taught me a valuable lesson, which is DON’T PUT THAT SHIT ON YOUR FLOOR. Oh, it looks gorge, so long as no one ever walks on it, or near it, or in fact enters the room at all. The second someone wearing shoes — or in the case of your dirtier friends, and I do have those, even just socks — so much as looks at that white faux fur rug, it will latch on to every particle of leaf, grit, dust, pollen, hair, or general schmutz in the room and snarl every bit irretrievably in that nice white fur. And we won’t even talk about what happens when your cat has a hairball — because the second she feels a twinge of indigestion, she will make a beeline for the softest surface in the house. What I’m saying is, life is too short to be hand-scrubbing cat vomit out of white faux fur.

So put that lovely thing over the back of an armchair, or the top of a cabinet, or wherever your particular feline doesn’t tend to like to express gastric distress.

And while you’re at it, don’t spend any substantial amount of money on anything white, ever.

*Faux fur always makes me think of David Bromstead. On one episode of his show, he explained that they were using a fur throw, “But it’s faux. Fo’ sho’!” He’s so adorable and that just tickled the fuck out of me.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may

whiterosesredI bought myself flowers yesterday. Roses, no less. This is a thing I’ve always had a weird hangup about: I would only buy flowers for myself if I was in a relationship. If I wasn’t, it felt weird and sad and somehow like giving up. What can I say, the neurosis is strong with this one.

Anyway, I was at Trader Joe’s and I saw these white roses with red edges and thought, those are white roses painted red. I must have those. I must festoon my living space with those at all times. So I bought them. Now I have to figure out what form that should take. I think about the rose closet at Kingsland Ward and get all giddy, but that would require a fresh flower budget I can’t really afford. So maybe something a little more restrained but still wild.

The Tragic End of Mister Mousie

So I was supposed to write about taxidermy! Hi! I got caught up this week in redesigning this site and making it more blog-oriented (not to mention migrating off of the wordpress.com server and onto my own space), so the actual writing fell by the wayside. IT’S A PROCESS. Not to mention my day job having just expanded by, like, half of someone else’s job. (Someone left and we’re not replacing him, just redistributing his duties, which means a ton more work for… well, mostly me, actually, since his work overlapped with mine the most. It’s trying.)

Anyway, last Sunday, I took this taxidermy class with Morbid Anatomy in Brooklyn. It was super-duper cool, you guys. My mouse is not the most beautiful mouse in the world, but he’s acceptable for a first try. The instructor really took us through the entire process, starting with a little frozen mouse corpse and ending up with a little preserved taxidermied mouse.

I will be honest: I found the process stinky. Not necessarily in a hugely awful way, just in a wow, not getting used to this smell way. It’s the preservatives, which smell an awful lot like formaldehyde. And you know what smells gross? Formaldehyde.

That part aside, the process is fascinating and incredibly detail-oriented. Which appeals to me, because I am extremely fussy. But I also like being involved in the creation of a gigantic mess. Mouse brains and bits of tongue just everywhere.

(The mice we used, by the way, were surplus from a pet food company that supplies them for snakes to eat. So they were dead anyhow. Recycling! Although, as a person who goes all goofy around pretty much any kind of adorable mammal, I got a little sad when we had to cut out their eyes.)

I have even more admiration for the people who create really beautiful taxidermy pieces now. Because it’s really hard, you guys. It’s like sculpture and biology and some sewing and it takes a huge amount of patience and care, getting all the teeny tiny bones in the right places. Give me a face mask, though, and I’d be happy to try it again.

Pics behind the cut, because Mr. Mousie is a little grotesque.  Continue Reading →

Bring me your rusty old metal crap

So I’m going to the Community Forklift on Sunday. It’s basically an architectural salvage yard in Rockville. I’ve been there once before and it’s like Disneyland for architecture and DIY geeks. I’m going this weekend specifically on the hunt for salvageable steel to work with in my metal sculpture class.

This is the second semester I’ve taken the metal sculpture class, because it is basically the best thing ever. Like, life-changingly exciting. For my next project, I’ve got several ideas sketched out, but I need to take my instructor’s advice and actually try to mock them up in cardboard and pipe cleaners before I get out the torch.

Last week’s class was great, because it was basically just a free-for-all with the scrap shelf. Grab some bits! Weld ’em together! See what happens! I started out with a concept of a tea cup from what looked like part of an exhaust from a car, and it kind of turned into this insectoid alien life form. I didn’t save it, because it was pretty rough, and the metal can be reused by other people (though if it hasn’t been snapped up when I get back on Monday, I may yet rescue it from the scrap pile), but the kind of insectoid jointed shapes I was making with steel rod were pretty cool, and something to try out in a more finished piece. (Yes, pictures next time. I was too buzzed after class to remember to photograph things. Taking pictures is one of the things I’m still working on getting the hang of, blogging-wise.)