Going to NYC This Summer? Get Stuffed.
I was planning to write my next blog post about an artist I met in Detroit a few weeks ago, but I just returned from a short trip to New York City and I had another experience I couldn’t wait to share. And since there’s sort of a sell-by date to this story, I figured I’d better dazzle you now.
But first you’ll have to indulge me while I wax poetic about my love affair with unique New York, unique New York. I first visited NYC in 1998. It was Spring Break and my friend Hunter and I took a Greyhound from our college town of Huntsville, Texas right into Manhattan. For a week, we lived at the Vanderbilt YMCA, subsisted on French fries, pizza, and beer, and walked holes into the bottoms of our sneakers. To this day, our NYC trip remains one of my most memorable vacations. Bright-eyed 21-year-olds obsessed with Rent, we were enchanted not only by the glamour of NYC, but also the grime. We left with dreams of moving there one day. Hunter actually did for a short time after college. Unfortunately, I was too scared to take the risk. It’s a decision I still regret.
But being a tourist ain’t too shabs, especially now that I’ve graduated from accommodations at the Y. I remain as enthralled with this city today as I was back in ‘98. I’ve returned almost a dozen times (not nearly enough IMO) since then and each visit, I find myself navigating the city’s congested, cacophonous streets completely amazed by my surroundings. I will never grow tired of exploring New York, of unearthing the magic in its nooks and crannies, the stories behind its walls, be they spray painted brick or glistening glass. It is a city where I can stand out and disappear all at once, and wandering its streets, I imagine I am one of the 8.5 million people who live there. Whenever I return home from a visit to the Big Apple, I am full of great memories, but I also ache with disappointment that I had to return home at all.
So this last trip to NYC was only two nights/three days, short and sweet because my husband and I were mainly visiting to attend a party in Chelsea. Because the party and preparation for it would dominate almost a whole day of our trip, I made limited plans for us, most of which included eating in the city’s seemingly infinite vegan joints. But there was one thing I really wanted us to do no matter what and that was check out 8 ‘Till Late, an art installation I’d read about on-line. It opened the day before we arrived and I was excited we’d be among the first people to see it. On the last day of our trip, we headed over to the exhibition a few hours before we were due at the airport. I am so glad we made time for 8 'Till Late because it is THE coolest art show I have seen in a long time.
Imagine strolling by a New York City bodega and remembering you’re out of toilet paper so you pop in to pick up a pack. And while you’re there, you decide to grab a frozen pizza for dinner and a pint of ice cream for dessert. Then you remember you need to get some cash from the ATM because you owe your roommate $40 and oh yeah, you guys are also out of laundry detergent. May as well get some bananas for breakfast smoothies, too, and maybe a couple of Cokes to go with that dinner. And boy, a candy bar sure sounds good for the walk home. But wait! You’re supposed to bring some beer to your friend’s party tomorrow night. Ah! A case of Stella Artois will do.
Now imagine putting all of these items into a giant pile on the floor and jumping into them. Not that I recommend doing that since it would likely get you kicked out of the store. But technically, you could. Because in this bodega, everything is stuffed! Like, PILLLOWS stuffed. Welcome to British artist Lucy Sparrow's funky felt world.
Seriously, guys. I had never even heard of Sparrow, but I'm definitely a fan now. I'll be following her career to see what other textile wonders she comes up with because her felt convenience store is nothing short of pure joy. Everything in the installation, from the cash registers to the ATM machine, to the meat case to the DVDs behind the counter is a fuzzy, adorable version of itself. Being in the exhibition is like being in a giant claw machine, but instead of stuffed toys, it's filled with stuffed practical things like food and toiletries. For a minute there, I wondered if I was now stuffed. Had entering the bodega transported me to some wonder world where everything was made of felt, like how the guy in the “Take On Me” video turned into a comic? I squeezed my arm to be sure. Phew! Bones.
And here’s the best part. The merchandise is actually for sale. The whole damn exhibition is a museum gift shop! You want that box of Runts? No problem, that’ll be $35. A pack of Oscar Mayer bologna? It’s yours for $45. A bottle of Jäger? Sixty bucks — go for it. Everything is for sale and it’s so delightful to shop. Trojans, Spam, Aspercreme. The possibilities are endless. For my part, I bought a $75 stuffed champagne because HAD TO HAVE IT.
My husband and I had a blast roaming the fauxdega, marveling at Sparrow’s whimsical spin on the modern convenience store. We had so many questions. Like, why did she anthropomorphize some of the products but not others? Presuming she hired people to sew all this stuff, how long did it take them? If everything was for sale, what would happen to the exhibition if they ran out of items — was there a storeroom somewhere with pallets of stuffed sanitary napkins and pigs feet from which to replenish? I’m still in awe of how she came up with the idea in the first place. The exhibition was just one more example of the magic I’ve come to expect from New York City, another page in the book of stories I’ve collected from my visits.
8 ‘Till Late: A Felt Convenience Store is located in the Meatpacking District, at the Standard, High Line. But you only have until June 30th to shop ‘till you drop (click here for more info). I can’t think of a better excuse to visit New York right now. If you go, let me know what you think. More importantly, I want to know what you buy!
Body and Soul Cleansing: A Total Detox From Negativity
Spring has long been associated with renewal and rejuvenation, so it’s no wonder cleanses and body detoxification programs are popular this time of year. For some people, an expanded waistline is an unfortunate reminder they may have overindulged on food and drink during the winter and holiday months; for others, sluggishness and a general sense of feeling “icky” may be all the motivation they need to hit the detox juice. Whatever the reason, dietary cleanses can be a worthwhile way to recalibrate ourselves. A good detox purges the body of gunk, leaving it squeaky-clean and primed for healthy dietary habits. And with summer’s shorter hemlines and longer days fast approaching, what better time than spring to get back to looking and feeling our best?
I’ve been detoxing twice a year for a couple of years now, but it wasn’t until I was about to do my annual spring cleanse recently that I realized I needed to detox more than just my body...
Click here to continue reading this essay in the May 2017 issue of Soulivity.
7-Elevenses: My Week of Breaking Like a Brit
It’s no secret amongst the people who really know me that I’m a bit of an Anglophile. I don't know why or how my Anglophilia developed, but I’ve been drawn to English culture for as long as I can remember. Oliver! was my favorite film when I was a kid, Haley Mills my favorite actress. And when I was in 5th grade, my friends once made fun of me for listing Duran Duran before New Edition on my list of favorite bands. I’m sorry, but Ralph Tresvant didn’t have anything on Simon Le Bon. No competition. None.
When I hear an English accent, my ears perk up not unlike when Fido hears a dog whistle. I see a Union Jack and I want to belt out “God Save the Queen.” The Sex Pistols version (sorry, Your Majesty). Don't be surprised if you hear me call a potato chip a crisp, a French fry a chip, a cookie a biscuit, a biscuit a scone, and a line a queue; and I may or may not say it all sounding like Madonna after she married Guy Ritchie. Truly, I fancy almost all people and things that are quintessentially English, such as: Wellies, Dickens, gin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Pimm’s, minding the gap, Mike Leigh films, Radiohead, Zadie Smith, Harry Potter, Idris Elba, the Victorian era, Stella McCartney, Thandie Newton, English new wave, Dame Maggie Smith, sticky toffee, the BBC, and also tea.
Of course tea.
Afternoon tea. High tea. Low tea. A true Anglophile should know all the tea about, well, the tea. So how is it that until very recently, I was completely unaware of the very English tradition of taking tea and a snack at around 11:00 am and calling it...wait for it...elevenses? Elevenses? Bloody hell, are you kidding me? I just like saying it. Elevenses. And here I was sipping tea only once a day, in the late afternoon, acting like I understood what it meant to adore all things English. You mean to tell me all this time I could have been kicking back every day at 11:00ish with a nice cuppa and a digestive to tide me over until lunch? Elevenses is brilliant!
When I found out about elevenses, the slow lifer in me immediately loved the idea of routinely indulging in a short break after the day has already started but before it’s gotten away from me. Sitting down with a cup of tea and a morsel — if only for fifteen minutes or so — and maybe flipping through a magazine or simply staring into space as tea steam warmed my face, that sounded heavenly. So I decided to see if I could incorporate this tradition into my life by committing to a week of elevenses. Here’s how I fared:
DAY 1: I took elevenses from 11:23 - 11:36. I started a tad later than I'd planned, but since it was Sunday I was able to enjoy the experience with my husband, Matt. We had masala chai with cashew milk and Matt's homemade cinnamon sugar biscuits. Elevenses is the jam.
DAY 2: I took my elevenses from 11:10 - 11:29. I looked at Facebook while my cat, Crookshanks, looked at me. By the way, Crookshanks is a very Anglo name, wouldn't you say? The tea was Teavana's Maharaja Chai Oolong & Samurai Chai Mate. I ate not one, but TWO cinnamon sugar biscuits because who gon' check me, boo? Crookshanks didn't know what to make of my presence on the couch so early in the day.
DAY 3: I took elevenses at my fitness club because my Zumba class was from 10:45 - 11:45. The jasmine tea bag and peanut butter crackers weren't exactly my preferred loose leaf and homemade biscuit but they got the job done.
DAY 4: I just couldn't seem to start my elevenses at 11:00 on the dot. This one was from 11:10 - 11:31. I had masala chai with cashew milk and another one of Matt's homemade biscuits. I found this tin at HomeGoods. Nifty, init?
DAY 5: I came home after spin class and had elevenses from 11:11 - 11:29. Once again, it was Maharaja Chai Oolong & Samurai Chai Mate with one of Matt's cinnamon sugar biscuits. To be honest, I was a little sick of the latter but I didn't have any Burton's on hand.
DAY 6: After Zumba I didn't feel like sticking around the club so I went home. Having elevenses from 12:04 — 12:25 was more like twelveses but nobody's perfect. I had Teavana's tea again, but instead of yet another cinnamon sugar biscuit, I paired the tea with a wee slice of the homemade lemon cake I'd been having with my afternoon tea. Scrumptious.
DAY 7: Since it was Saturday Caturday, Crookshanks joined me in bed to watch me elevenses (does it work as a verb?) from 11:14 - 11:31. The tea of choice was vanilla cream with cashew milk and sugar. My homemade whole wheat scone fell apart when I bit into it but it was bloody good! I couldn't help feeling like Crookshanks was judging me for still being in bed though.
So that's it. Seven elevenses! I must say, I was sold on the routine. It was nice to have a short break to look forward to and it gave me a chance to focus on myself, which I especially needed on those days when I was giving a lot of my energy to other people or responsibilities. While I realize I won't always be able to take my elevenses every single day, I intend to get it in whenever I can. As an Anglophile, it’s the least I can do.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I believe it's time for my afternoon tea. Or shall I say, fourses.
Facing Dementia with a Sonny Disposition
My granddad, Sonny, back in the day. He's always cut a fine figure!
After a few months absence, I’m back in Belleville, Michigan. Or as I like to call it: The B. In case you missed my first post about The B, it’s a small town about 30 miles west of Detroit. So I guess that makes it The D’s country cousin.
Since last summer, I’ve been coming back here every two months or so to assist my granddad with my grandmother’s care and to help him out around the house. My grandmother was recently given an official diagnosis of dementia, devastating news since we’d been hoping her memory loss was the result of some new medications she’d been prescribed for other health issues and most of all, that it would be reversible. Instead, her decreased brain function is permanent. And it’s much worse now than it was when I was here in October.
My relationship with my grandmother has always been as close as that of a mother and daughter, but these days she doesn't always recognize me. Even more painful: I don't always recognize her. I have accepted the fact that the woman I’ve called Grandmother for 40 years is disappearing before my eyes. Taking her place, like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is a woman who looks like her, sounds like her, but is at times so unlike her, she may as well be a stranger. It is the M.O. of this cruel disease — one minute the affected is as lucid as they ever were, the next they devolve into a state of confusion, anger, or despair, crippling not only to themselves, but also to those who love them.
But she’s still in there, my grandmother. I can see the frustration on her face when she tries to recall even the most recent of memories, the angst when she fails to grasp them. Sometimes she supplants real memories with invented ones: “We were at LeBron’s the other day,” she recently told me, meaning LeBron James, her favorite basketball player. She has never met him. She also has frequent conversations with invisible people. “Are you Mr. James’ boys?” I heard her ask an empty room the other night. “Come here, tell me your names. Come here,” she said.
Sometimes she calls me by her late sister’s name or by my mother’s name. She also calls me by my aunt’s name, the eldest of her two daughters. This is especially distressing since my Aunt Dee Dee died unexpectedly late last year. I believe my grandmother’s dementia was a sort of filter through which she processed my aunt’s death. She still grieves this loss, but she seems distant from it, as though it is one of those filaments of memory she can’t quite retrieve. I always answer to these names, but gently remind her that I am Joi. “You are the one who named me, Grandmother. You named me after you,” I say.
The other day she became increasingly agitated in the early evening, just one symptom of the common condition known in the dementia community as Sundowning. As my granddad guided her from the living room into their bedroom, she began to rail at him for telling her what to do. Her ire towards his attempts to care for her, the razor-sharp words she sometimes hurls at him are difficult to witness. I have to remind myself of what I’m sure my granddad has already told himself countless times: were she in her right mind, she would not speak to him this way.
“I have an invite,” she said on this occasion. “And you can’t make me stay here! You can’t tell me what to do, Sonny! Sonny is my granddad’s nickname, a moniker my grandmother once used only in affection, never in fury.
“Where are you going, honey?” my granddad asked, his tone a study in patience.
“I’m going. I’m going to...to...to my INVITE!”
I don’t have to tell you there was no invite.
Eventually my granddad coaxed her into bed, her imagined invite forgotten. Theirs is a constant tug and pull. Him trying to convince her to take her medication, her resisting. Him pleading with her to eat, her refusing. But he always prevails. Sure, he gets flustered at times and his patience sometimes runs thin. But through all of it, I’ve never once seen him yell at my grandmother when she’s uncooperative. I’ve never seen him treat her with anything but tenderness.
Frankly, I don’t know how he does it. How he cares for her day after day, all by himself, while battling physical health challenges of his own. Among other issues, he suffers from gout, chronic back pain, and needs both knees replaced. The latter is a surgery he won’t even consider because he doesn’t want to be away from my grandmother. I am here for my granddad as much as for her. To give him a break so that he can leave the house, if only to putter around town running errands or to cruise around the supermarket on a motorized cart (he really likes doing that). He also enjoys watching his shows uninterrupted, especially westerns, cooking programs, and Family Guy (which he refers to as Stewie).
When I was a child, my introverted granddad was never loquacious. We mostly got a few mumbled words when he got off work from the Chrysler factory, and perhaps a sentence or two on the weekends. The only times he broke this quiet streak was to verbally spar with my grandmother, a playful and loving back-and-forth they still enjoy on her good days. Since my grandmother’s health decline, my granddad has also gone through a metamorphosis. Perhaps it’s because he has taken over the complete running of the household from my her and now has more responsibilities than he’s ever had in their marriage. These days, he’s not only talking in complete sentences, he’s downright garrulous.
He is also hilarious. I like to think his inner Fred Sanford has always been in there — it just needed a reason to come out. Several times a day, he has a new bon mot to entertain my grandmother and me. For examples of some of his droller moments, see my most recent Saturday Short.
While researching dementia I came across this quote attributed to the actress Carey Mulligan:
“Those with dementia are still people and they still have stories and they still have character and they are individuals and they are all unique. And they just need to be interacted with on a human level.”
The last line has stuck with me. Is there anything more distinctly human than laughter? There’s a reason people say it’s the best medicine. My grandmother has always liked to laugh and at least for now dementia hasn’t changed that. At times, when she is in the thick of a confused or troubled state, getting her to laugh will bring her back around. I think of Mulligan’s quote daily and I remind myself to interact with my grandmother on that human level, laughter being key. And no one can summon a chuckle out of her quite like my granddad. Dementia has brought much sadness to this household, but thanks to Sonny, there is also still some Joy.
A Grand Old Time
Whoever coined the phrase “kids say the darnedest things” got it wrong in my opinion. I think it’s old people who deserve this distinction. A few examples from my personal experience:
When I announced it was teatime and asked my grandparents if they would like to join me. My grandmother demurred but my granddad had a question.
Him: Do you have crumpets?
Me (already amused): No, I don’t have any crumpets, Granddad. Anyway, do you even know what a crumpet is?
Him: No. But I know you're supposed to have them with tea.
When I walked into my grandmother’s bedroom and she gave me a strange look (not an uncommon occurrence these days since she has dementia).
Me: How are you feeling, Grandmother?
Her: You have hips.
When I asked my granddad if he had anything on his agenda for the day.
Him: Well, ya know Monday is my second Sunday. So...naw.
When my granddad asked me to make a piece of toast for my grandmother.
Me: How toasted would you like your bread, Grandmother?
Her: Do it until it's your skin color.
When I walked into my grandmother’s bedroom and she gave me a strange look. Again.
Her: You're short, Joi. Have you always been that short?
Me: Um, I guess so?
Her: And when did you grow that dimple on your face?
When I was cleaning under my grandparents’ bed and my granddad had a request.
Him: When you come across my peacemaker, be sure to leave it where you found it.
Me: Peacemaker? What’s that?
Him: You’ll know it when you see it.
And I did. It’s his handgun.
When my granddad questioned my vegan diet (for the umpteenth time).
Him: So you don’t eat anything with eyes, huh?
Me: I suppose that’s a good way to put it.
Him: Well, you eat potatoes don't you? Potatoes got eyes.
When my granddad called my name as I was about to leave for my morning run.
Me: Yes, Granddad?
Him: Don't be surprised if you look up and I'm running past you.
Yep. Like I said, the darnedest things.