Sunday, February 20, 2011

shine a light

Before moving to Denmark, I had very little appreciation for light or lighting design. I come from a place that, under normal global circumstances, experiences all four seasons--each for a relatively normal length of time. But unlike the motherland from whence I came, Denmark sometimes seems to have only two seasons: a very short, albeit gorgeous summer; and one unbearably long, dark, cold winter. I never had to appreciate lights before. And honestly, until a lightbulb in a lamp at home went out, I took it for granted that once I flicked the switch, the desired effect (lightbulb on or off) would be produced. I took no time to appreciate the setting in which these bulbs were placed, no notice of the fact that when executed well, lighting can be both functional and stunning.

Scandinavians, on the other hand, have learned quite well how to fully appreciate light. When you spend a good chunk of the year with infinite shades of grey providing the backdrop to your daily life, suddenly lighting design becomes something worthy of near-worship. I have come to appreciate the simple, sleek, functionally beautiful world of light. Most recently, I was introduced to the magical Ingo Maurer. A German industrial designer who specializes in light design and installations, Maurer's work is truly magnificent, and to me, demonstrates just how illuminating a bit of light can be.

A Maurer LED installation--like a blanket of stars.

I have a thing for skeletons--I'd kill for this to hang somewhere in my house one day.

Imagine this above your dining room table. When I picture that, the word "fantastic" immediately comes to mind.

I bet no one ever rained on Ingo Maurer's parade. Just saying.

Functional, check. Beautiful, check. Mission accomplished.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

no glove left behind

In my most recent post, I shared some of my deepest, most irrational fears. I failed to include a story that my parents love to bring up at expertly chosen group events (dinner parties, holidays, etc.). I decided I would give this tragically neurotic tale a post all to itself, to stand alone in all its shining, slightly crazy glory.

I spent the first 5-6 years of my life living in Brooklyn. I loved it there--we lived in a condo in Prospect Park with high ceilings and lots of light. I shared a bunk bed with my younger brother, and I had the top bunk. I loved this because it meant I had the window that looked into the living room where, on nights I couldn't sleep, I would peek down and watch grown-up TV (which in our house was often Law & Order). Our neighbors were perfectly eccentric: the gay couple next door used to give us free office supplies from their business, cool things like triangular highlighters with a different color neon per point; Mei-Ling and her husband lived downstairs, and when she got pins in her leg after an accident, she made her leg X-rays into electric yellow tshirts for her friends, and in the process gave me my favorite pajama shirt for the next three years. (I really, really wish I still had this shirt.) I went to Catholic school several blocks from our home. Every morning on his way to the subway to go to work, my dad would walk me to school. Along the way, there was a huge, beautiful cherry blossom tree that bloomed in the spring; these days, my dad would often pick me a flower and I'd stick it in my hair, accessorizing my kindergarten ensemble. It was a fun neighborhood: most of my clothes were from the countless street fairs that would come through the area; movies and TV shows were often being filmed at a quasi-famous cafe a few blocks from home; and we had the best bagel and Chinese takeout places on planet Earth. Life was lovely, and I was a toddler. I should not have worried about much.

But then my parents let me start ballet, at a studio just a bit further from home than my school. (And when I say "ballet," I actually mean "ballet/tap/jazz/creative movement," all in one hour.) I loved the classes--the teacher was sweet, and I had my own pink bag (read: a smartly designed box-with-a-shoulder-strap) with a ballerina and the words "Ballet Bag" in flowery cursive on it. I got to wear a leotard and a skirt, and I loved jumping over the scarves and moving across the room. The actual class, once it got started, was never the problem. It was the moments just before and at the very beginning of class that proved somewhat difficult for me.

Out of nowhere, I decided that my parents had signed me up for this beautiful extracurricular activity so that they could get rid of me. (I think perhaps the four-year-old me had sneaked in one too many episodes of Law & Order.) I dreaded the moment when my mom or dad would drop me off at the studio, because I was certain that would be the last time I would see them, and that I would have to make my own way in the world, living at the studio forever, suddenly orphaned. My parents, naturally, thought I was insane, but I didn't want to quit the classes. So I devised a surefire plan, one that would prevent me from ending up in an Oliver Twist sort of situation.

I decided that grown-ups like their clothing. So my plan was this: every week, when either my mom or my dad dropped me off for my ballet (and more!) class, I asked if they would "accidentally-on-purpose" leave behind an article of clothing. For my mom, this was usually a glove, or maybe this one beautiful scarf she often wore, or sometimes sunglasses. My father would leave his gloves as well, and on warmer occasions, his entire trench coat. This Cinderella sort of plan was, to me, quite foolproof: despite the fact that they would knowingly "forget" some item or accessory at the studio each week, I chose to ignore the "knowingly" part. Once the glove--or whatever--was left behind, my parents would go home and realize they had lost or forgotten a prized bit of clothing. Each week, they would make their way back to the studio to retrieve said forgotten token, and this retrieval mission would always be magically sync up perfectly with the end of my class. My parents would have picked up their missing item by this point, and upon seeing me, I figured they would think: "I suppose we'll take her, too. I mean, might as well: she's here now, and hey! I've got my glove back."

Perhaps this early display of neurotic tendencies should have been a big, fat, glowing red flag for my parents, a sort of flashing: BEWARE. YOUR ELDEST DAUGHTER IS THISCLOSE TO CRAZY. But they were game, both then and now, to put up with my nervously-wired self. And besides, my plan totally worked: they were never even late to pick me up from ballet class.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

my fear of (almost) everything

Since I was very young, I have been scared of many, many things. Most of these are highly improbable, nearly impossible, and stem from nothing and from nowhere. I'm wired, I think I have come to learn, as a neurotic, incredibly nervous individual; and on top of that, I have masochistic tendencies which prevent me from overcoming some of the greater phobias I possess.

One of the earliest fears I remember having is that of burglars. This, perhaps, is not so uncommon--particularly for a child growing up in Brooklyn. But the burglars I feared were not your garden-variety, vase/TV/jewelry/old family heirlooms-stealing thieves. In my head, these men (always men; always clad in classic black ski mask burglar gear) would enter my family's house, uninvited and in the middle of the night, as the best burglars are wont to do. They would steal our most valued possessions: the painting from my great-grandfather's time in the Korean War, a Stickley chair passed down by some ancestor on my father's side, our piano, my mother's jewelry, whatever stinky cheese my father had decided to stock our fridge with that week. And after they had pilfered all they could in terms of our material assets, they would invariably prey upon the more valuable, less replaceable goods. In my self-centered mind circa ages 4-7, the principal asset, then, was me. Because every skilled burglar wanted a little neurotic girl for his collection; more than any material possession, every masked intruder desperately sought a child, specifically one who cried when the toes of her socks weren't exactly aligned, one who wore her hair to school in a towering ponytail stacked with terry-cloth hairties to produce a specifically desired vertical effect, one who--after breaking her arm--wouldn't let anyone sign her cast for fear the arm would break a second time (thus making her the only six-year-old-with-a-broken-arm on the planet with a perfectly blank white plaster cast). When my family moved from Brooklyn to Long Island, this niche dread waned; but a few years later, when the similarly-aged Elizabeth Smart vanished without a trace from her upper-middle-class suburban home, the phobia returned with a vengeance. I feared all and any repairmen, postal workers, UPS delivery men, Jehovah's Witnesses who came to the house. It took years of burglary/kidnapping-free existence (helped enormously by the discovery of Ms. Smart, alive and [physically] healthy) for this deep-rooted fear to fade, but eventually it did.

Somewhere during the Elizabeth Smart phase of my burglar/kidnapper phobia, I developed a healthy fear of general health. To be clear, I don't mean that I was frightened of being healthy: on the contrary, I was a perfectly unsick almost-teenager who was convinced that a horrible disease was just around the corner waiting to stake its claim on her physical self. Where this particular fear came from, I cannot be sure, but I do know it was not always there. I had never coped well with physical pain--or even the common cold, for that matter--but one day, I was sure the freckles I had decorating my body were early signs of skin cancer. The irritated eye I woke up with after flying out to LA? Blindness. The migraine, a tumor; the cold, SARS; the rash on my chest that came after borrowing detergent, inflammatory breast cancer (this last diagnosis came from the hypochondriac's favorite website, WebMD). The lump under my left armpit was also a tumor, or--despite its lack of proximity to my breast--a sign of breast cancer. Turns out that the freckles were just freckles; the irritated eye was merely a reaction to the smoggy LA air; the migraine was simply a migraine; the cold was a common reaction to winter; the rash was a result of new detergent on sensitive Irish skin; and the lump was determined to be a point in my arm where two veins shared a ventricle (or something equally, decidedly non-lethal, I can't remember what the ultrasound said exactly). Despite the fact that none of my sure-to-be-fatal ailments have ever turned out to be anything resembling life-threatening, I held onto the deep-rooted fear of terminal illness. In fact, I went one step further in trying to "embrace" my baseless phobia by obsessively watching House, behind the (true! but pathetic) excuse that Hugh Laurie was--and remains--one of my favorite actors. The show glamorized everything I dreaded most. Children would have headaches that turned out to be actual malignant tumors. Rashes would be symptoms of a horrifically rare, tropical malady. Leg pains would turn out to be stage four tongue cancer, or a tipoff to a ticking aneurysm (my greatest medical fear of all). If there was one thing I could take comfort in, if there was one thing I learned from watching House, it was this: it's never lupus. (Except for the one episode where it was, in fact, lupus.)

Perhaps my biggest, deepest, most publicly noticeable fear is a somewhat normal one: I am deathly afraid of flying. Many people are; however, I've been told that very few people let it show as much as I do. I have read books on the subject. I know the safety statistics like the back of my hand (and not just for air travel in general: when flying an airline for the first time, I'll often Google the company's safety numbers and flight craft information). I have no past horrible air travel experience or real personal reason for this particular fear. I also have no shame when I board a flight--during takeoff, I assume the "safety position" of bending over at the waist with my head between my knees. I white-knuckle the armrest (and on one unfortunate occasion, the actual arm) of the unlucky passenger seated next to me if we hit the slightest bit of turbulence; I am that idiot clapping when we make a landing. I don't eat or drink on flights, because I fear getting out of my seat to use the bathroom in case we crash while I am on the toilet. (I have this fear because I am scared of dying on the toilet, naturally.) In instances of flying during less-than-stellar weather, I have been known to ask flight attendants, "Is it safe to fly today? I trust the pilot, but if it's not completely safe, he knows it's alright with all of us if he grounds the flight, doesn't he? Because I don't mean to be rude, but I am only 21, and I am not finished with my life yet." I have cried out of sheer terror upon seeing the safety video shown while the plane taxis down the runway; I have since taken to listening to my favorite music during this bit of any flight, thus ensuring that if we crash, I won't know how to locate or operate any life-preserving devices, but I will go with the dulcet tones of Florence + the Machine in my ears. And although I have been seated in airplane emergency exit rows many times, it is never because I would be calm or good at operating a door during an actual crisis situation--it is because I want the few inches of extra leg room.

I have many other phobias and "active dislikes": images of or references to slit wrists; the sounds of messy eaters consuming bananas; the words moist and dank; waking up with a mouse in my bed; the return of a medieval plague; having a rusty nail go through my fingernail like in that one split-second frame of the creepy movie that causes all that trouble in the American remake of The Ring. Almost all of my most-consuming fears are without any sort of basis, and come from nowhere. I'm slowly but surely learning to deal with them--the burglar/kidnapper one has basically been erased!--but it is not without effort, or a healthy sense of humor. And it is certainly not without the knowledge that, except for that one episode, it's never lupus.