gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

About gooollysandra

When thinking about how to describe myself, I find it hard to say exactly what defines me. I think we are always evolving and changing, creating ourselves and growing into ourselves. So it is not easy to have a clear-cut definition of who one is in one instance that can apply at all times, because we are never the same. We are always changing.

Art and beauty in the making

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Once again, Hanya Yanagihara, editor in chief of The New York Times Style Magazine, has dazzled me with her intellect and prose.

As long as there are humans, there will be art – and nothing will ever stop us from trying to make our lives more beautiful. Beauty and artistic innovation may not be rights, like water or food or clean air or free will, but they are impulses, and our desire for them is an important part of what makes us human.

There is something about exercising one’s creative powers that feels enlightening, inspiring, fulfilling, etc. There is an excitement that surrounds creating a unique entity and putting it out there in the world for people to see, therefore sharing a part of us and knowing that others will it. I don’t know if every single person has a creative drive, and certainly some have a much stronger creative drive than others, but I’m sure it can be argued that anything someone does has some kind of power behind it; if not fueled by creativity then certainly fueled by a desire to achieve an ambition, act on an impulse, or create something.

Striving for beauty takes the desire to create something to another level because it’s not enough to simply create, but to create something beautiful becomes a task that taunts us and frustrates us. Despite this obstacle that we have to overcome, or perhaps because of it, we can’t help but feel propelled to continue striving for beauty. Beauty not only makes us happy in the present moment, but it is what pushes us forward and compels us to connect with others and the world around us.

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The virtue of place

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Places can take over the destinies of people who live in them. If you learn to listen, they tell you what they need and how to do it.

Charlotte Horton

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This resonates with me as I think about my grandparents’ house in Massachusetts that I helped renovate when I lived there for a year (full disclosure – I did not do the work…we hired contractors). I was only there a short time, but it felt like home almost instantly. Of course, it was familiar to me since I had visited my grandparents every year growing up, but I didn’t always love it. I actually hated going there when I was younger because it was so isolated and my grandparents didn’t have a TV (I couldn’t understand how anyone could function without a TV!), and I felt like there was nothing to do there. I didn’t appreciate the beauty and tranquility of the surrounding Berkshires. My connection to the house and to the Berkshires weighs heavily on my mind, especially now, as I was just there for a visit and we are seriously considering selling the house. It’s hard to know how we’ll all feel when that day comes, but for me it will probably feel like giving away a part of me since I have such a love for it.

When I moved there the house was outdated for sure, so doing some renovations was a no-brainer. Some, in fact (like the primary bathroom), had to be done out of necessity because the floor boards were rotting and we felt as though the floor would fall from under us any day. So that was the first major project and it was a total gut. Next up was painting almost every room, which hadn’t been done in decades. In the dining it involved removing the dark brown grass wallpaper (which made the room feel so dark and small), and painting it white. We also replaced the linoleum tile floor with a pretty laminate wood floor. We then gutted the small powder bath. In the kitchen we put a new tile floor in, new granite countertops, a new tile backsplash, new stainless steel appliances, a new sink and faucet, and new hardware on the cabinets. The cabinets are not in perfect shape, but I actually love the stain on them, which goes perfectly with the mid-century modern style of the house. Two bedrooms in the walk-out basement got new laminate wood floors, and we put new berber-like carpet in the family room in the basement. On the exterior, a new roof was put on, and some landscaping was done, like taking out trees and bushes in the backyard to improve the view of the mountains.

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In a recent New York Times Style Magazine article, Charlotte Horton discusses her experience renovating a dilapidated castle in Tuscany built on Etruscan foundations. While my renovation of my grandparents’ was on a much smaller scale than Hoton’s castle renovation, especially because I made modern updates without really considering the period of the house and I didn’t have to worry about restoring anything within a historical context, I can certainly relate to her desire of going back to her family’s roots and setting up her own roots there. I felt like I set up roots in Massachusetts where my grandparents lived for several years, even though their true original roots were in Europe. For Horton it was more than just restoring the castle though. She wanted to have an impact, and still does, on ecology and food – on the way that people interact with and cultivate the land around them and think about where their food comes from. If people can make judgments about their food, she believes, they will be better equipped to make judgments about all sorts of things in life, which we are in dire need of these days.

Memory – past, present, and future

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Memory, in essence, is who we are. Memory shapes everything. Not only our understanding of ourselves, but our understanding of anything in the universe.

-David Gallo

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I sometimes worry that my memories influence my present, and therefore my future, too much because I am quite a sentimental and nostalgic person. But in fact, our memories make up who we are. Our memories are simply the collective of our life experiences, which we cannot escape. So there’s no need to worry that our memories weigh on us too heavily because they’re just what we live out daily currently, in our past, and in our future. Dwelling on memories and trying to relive them is another matter though, which we should probably be cautious of.

David Gallo at the University of Chicago is in charge of the Memory Research Laboratory and he conducts tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) sessions intended to elicit memories. This type of therapy is meant to steer our recollection of memories in a more accurate direction, as the way that we remember things is not always exact: “You remember selectively and you reconstruct. Sometimes your brain gets it right; sometimes your brain gets it wrong”, Gallo explained in a recent Chicago Mag article.

I was not surprised to learn that “Emotion has been shown to make any event more memorable”, which explains why trauma or grief or truly happy experiences have such a long-lasting effect on us. I think we can all relate to the burden of grief from our past and how it can affect us so deeply everyday as we attempt to walk the path of life. On the other hand, many of us are also blessed to have experiences that fill us with so much joy they bring us to tears. And periods of time that brought us so much happiness to look back on and hope to have again in the future; but even if we don’t experience that kind of happiness again, we are lucky to have had it once and perhaps that amount of happiness was enough to last a lifetime, or just what we are allowed in a lifetime.

I’m most interested in the way that our memory of the past can inform our present and  future, as this article brings to light:

Our recollective mind is traditionally thought of as a mechanism for one-way time travel, a tool for retrieving information from the past to help guide us in the present. Szpunar and his colleagues have helped make it clearer that we also reach back to our past in order to mentally jump forward, simulating events that haven’t yet happened in order to envision what may lie ahead.

Not only do our memories from the past make up who we are, we also need them to teach us how to move forward; from basic routine things we do everyday, to big picture life decisions that can lead us down one path or another. This weight that memory holds over our future can be daunting, but it’s also exciting because we can take our memories, good or bad, and use them to direct our future course like an informed autonomy over ourselves.

Museums of everyday life

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The Museum of Everyday Life in Glover, VT exhibits random objects that most would probably consider junk, especially in our disposable throw-away society. But I think the argument that these objects actually hold value and are worth keeping, maybe not in your own home, but somewhere for people to look at and remember, is worth considering. And that it was recently featured in the New York Times is certainly a testament to that. The museum, which is an unassuming barn, displays matches, which was the first exhibition, locks and keys, scissors, toothbrushes, etc. Some objects from special exhibitions then make it into the permanent collection. These objects may seem completely mundane, but they are important in their banality because they are things that we use everyday and are all around us. The museum is free and open to the public, although donations are always appreciated. It truly is a public space, as there is no one there attending to it and visitors can just come and go.

I lived in New England for one year and I absolutely loved it. Somehow a free little barn museum full of mundane, thrown-away objects is something I can totally picture in New England! 🙂

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It turns out this isn’t the only museum of everyday objects. They are around the world, including Hversdagssafn in Iceland. Their focus seems to be not only on mundane objects of everyday life, but also feelings, experiences, memories of everyday life, and “finding the poetry that comes forward when no one is looking.” As the women behind the museum, Björg and Vaida, put it:

Everyday life is a little bit like dark matter. It is what happens in between significant moments in life and holds everything together. It is meeting friends, having dinner, yelling at children, being yelled at, sulking, laughing and so on. And so on. It is walking from one place to the next. It is going to work. It is staying at home. It is worrying and washing dishes. It is both random and routine.

All of these little everyday things that we do mindlessly are actually what make up our lives and build our story day after day. So not only should everyday objects be appreciated, but also routine actions and activities because they are what make up our lives on a very primary level, and then comes everything else.

“Lived In”

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Architect duo (both personally and professionally) Zoe Chan Eayrs and Merlin Eayrs design homes from the inside out, literally and figuratively. They buy houses in the London area and live in them for a while as they design and renovate them, which means that they are authentically put together and decorated with pieces that are collected over time, rather than superficially staged with pieces for the sake of needing to find pieces to fill the space. Because they live in the houses while working on them, there is no client for whom they have to design for. They design for themselves, in a new way/style each time, therefore honing in on every detail over time. Although each project is unique, they do have a muted, subdued color palette that creates a sense of calm that’s like an ode to the present connected to an elusive past – a history embedded in it, yet created by the design in the present. The end result is a personal, unique labor of love that the client buys because he/she likes the house, not because the client hired them to design a house to his/her liking.

Their website features a portfolio of their work in both pictures and video form so that you get to experience the spaces and the details for yourself, and catch a glimpse of their creative output. You can also learn about their design process, the materials they used, where they found their inspiration for each project, obstacles they encountered along the way, etc. My favorite is The Herringbone House, which Zoe Chan Eayrs actually designed without Merlin Eayrs, as I’m partial to a lighter, airier feel. Although the New Cross Lofts, which they both designed, is a close second. So go take a tour!

Chicago’s residential architecture styles

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Chicago is the city of the three story walk-up apartment building. Or at least the Chicago I know. Sure, it is also home to the high-rise apartment building, but that is a world that I’m not quite accustomed to since, well, high-rises are generally at a different price point than walk-ups. The Chicago magazine recently did an article about the styles of residential architectural in Chicago by AJ LaTrace, illustrated by Phil Thomas of Cape Horn Illustration.

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I’m partial to bungalows, so I think that’s my favorite type of Chicago home. Apparently the bungalow is also symbolizes “a man with a more authentic connection to Chicago than the cosmopolitan High-Rise Man”. The article offers historical insights about each style, like the fact that there are about 80,000 bungalows in the city, the greystone is “Chicago’s response to the Brooklyn browstone”, worker’s cottages were quickly rebuilt after the great fire, and Mies van der Rohe’s influence on the modernist high-rise. And the illustrations are magnificent. If you like what you see, check out Phil Thomas’s website, where you can buy a print for yourself!

 

 

Vintage Chicago Apartment

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Looking for an apartment in Chicago is not easy. I looked for about a year before I found my current place in Andersonville. The city can be affordable if you have roommates, but by yourself, not so much. There are so many factors that go into finding the right place – cost is obviously a big one, neighborhood feel, commute to work, and simply a space that is somewhat updated and doesn’t feel like it’s about to fall apart (I’ve seen some bad ones…). Each neighborhood in Chicago feels so different from the next, so for me finding that right neighborhood feel was one of the most important factors. I’m not sure I’ve found it, but I do like the apartment itself a lot. It’s a one bedroom with a fireplace in the living room, separate dining room, and a dishwasher in the kitchen! What it doesn’t have – in-unit laundry (it’s int he basement which is creepy!), air conditioning, or an elevator (but I’m just on the second floor). It’s also not dog-friendly.

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It does have amazing windows with lots of light streaming in! Compared to my previous apartment, which was in the basement, this feels like heaven. My new cat loves running around and looking out the windows. It has radiators and heat is included, which is nice, and there is no pet fee, which is unusual for the city. So I got lucky there! The kitchen was renovated right before I moved in and it doesn’t have granite countertops or stainless steel appliances, but it’s still pretty nice. The bathroom was also updated and while small, it feels new and clean.

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I moved in December, hence my little Charlie Brown Christmas tree.The sofa is from Market Square, a second-hand store here in Chicago that sells gently-used high-quality designer furniture and decor. The coffee table is from West Elm. The pillows are also from West Elm.  And the art is by a local Chicago artist, Kate Bush. Love her work!

 

“A Museum for Everyone”

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The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) recently got a new director and she has a spot in the Williams College Magazine to introduce herself to the college and alumni. Reading about her art journey was interesting to me because one might assume that the director of an art museum would have art flowing through her veins since before she was born while still in the womb. But not so for Pamela Franks, which is actually inspiring because it means that one can find an interest in and a passion for art at any age and stage of one’s life. Franks discovered art in college by taking an art history class on a whim.

“The joy of prolonged observation, of seeing ever more detail over time and becoming fluent in the visual language of art, was transformative. Knowing that someone, somewhere, made these remarkable objects felt like a direct connection across time and place.”

I have grown up around art ever since I can remember because both of my parents are art historians, and while I love art now, this was not always true. Growing up around something doesn’t necessarily constitute an affinity for it. I definitely went through a period of time when I was so sick of being dragged to art museums as a kid. But now I greatly appreciate the exposure my parents facilitated towards art appreciation.

Franks is setting forth to make her new museum a place for learning and engagement not only for Williams students, but for anyone who walks through the door that might have a similar eye-opening experience she had in college when she took that art history class on a whim. We never know what we might discover that could change the course of our lives.

“Great Wide Open” – Brennan Kilbane

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I went to Williamstown, MA a couple weeks ago (one of my favorite places on earth). On my way there, during the 14 hour Amtrak train ride, I was flipping through Allure magazine and came across an article by Brennan Kilbane entitled “Great Wide Open” about the great outdoors and how we should be spending more time out in it. How fitting considering I was on my way to the beautiful Berkshires. I love being surrounded by inspiring landscape and I feel happiest when there is space to breathe around me, rather than crowded by a city. There’s definitely something therapeutic about the freedom to listen to the birds, smell the manure (call me crazy, I don’t care!), and look up at the sky and admire the stars.

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Kilbane brings to light the staggering statistic that more than half of us spend less than five hours a week outside. He points out the incongruity between how drawn we are to natural products and the aura of the outdoors, and the effort we make to actually spend time outside, which is very little. Research shows that being outside is good for us in every way, from our skin to our brain and our emotional well-being. I guess this explains why I love the Berkshires so much. So let’s get outside!

“If the Great Outdoors had a LinkedIn account, it would be highly connected (happy to introduce you to the most epic sunsets and hiking trails), it would get ringing endorsements from the world’s top scientists (lifts mood! lowers cortisol!), and its stunning profile would be viewed my millions.” – Brennan Kilbane 

Mind-Body Connection

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I’ve never given much thought to the mind-body connection, but after watching the Heal documentary on Netflix, I feel a sense of rebirth; kind of like in I Feel Pretty or Isn’t It Romantic when Renee (Amy Schumer) and Natalie (Rebel Wilson) wake up with a completely changed outlook on their bodies and their beauty, and have a newfound confidence. After watching this documentary I’m thinking and feeling differently about my health, which is particularly empowering because I have a chronic, progressive disease. When you have such a thing it seems like giving in to the fear of the unknown and how it might play out in the future is an instinctual reaction, something I have definitely been struggling with over the past year and a half since I was diagnosed. Thinking about the mind-body connection and how our mental state can have a direct effect (positive or negative) on our physical state is mind-blowing and eye opening to me. Not that I have been feeling depressed or hopeless, but I have definitely been giving in to my disease. This documentary has taught me to take charge of my health and mind and body, and that I can make a positive impact on my body by nurturing my mind. I can’t say that I believe every vignette in the documentary, but I highly recommend it if this topic interests you.