My twin daughters Kiki and Leila are reintroducing me to my birthplace. To them, the country I couldn’t leave fast enough at their exact age is everything they want; the Dutch scale feels manageable, people use bikes instead of cars, the weather isn’t extreme (no hurricanes or bomb cyclones), the architecture is either historic or cool, college is affordable, the older generations seem relatively levelheaded and the boys are cute.
I left the Netherlands because life felt too small, too oppressive and too incestuous. My stepfather had just left my mom for one of her best friends –a woman whose kids I’d been babysitting and whose ex-husband suggested that I leave Amsterdam to study fashion design in London.
Every adult I knew had been married to someone I knew and was screwing someone else I knew and it felt like most of my peers were somehow related to me. I wanted to move beyond the sex appeal of a teacher, a neighbor or the lover of my best friend’s mom. I had to see what the rest of the world was doing. I first moved to Paris, then Australia and then London, where I did study fashion and became a fashion designer. After ten years in London I moved to New York and I’ve spent the last nine years in Miami.
Last December, between Christmas and New Year, my mother turned ninety, so we went to Amsterdam for her big birthday bash. There, in the modernist bungalow of my mother’s friend Petra, where I’d spent many hours dreaming about a future beyond the Netherlands while reading her husband’s Playboy magazines, gathered my entire family as well as all my mother’s friends –the free-lovers of the seventies many of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. Iona, Kiki and Leila couldn’t believe that I had real cousins and they had second cousins who were their age — an entire family they didn’t know existed.
In the days that followed, Kiki, Leila and I visited the fashion academies in Antwerp and Arnhem and the design academy in Eindhoven. When we returned to Miami in January, they applied (and were accepted) to Cooper Union, Pratt, Parsons and RISD, but Holland stayed on their mind. In March we returned and Kiki took the Eindhoven Design Academy’s entrance exam and Leila did the Arnhem, ARTEZ Fashion, interview and practical test.
When my daughters were very young we moved full time to our weekend home in Milford (Pennsylvania) because of the nearby Homestead School, an amazing Montessori school run from a family farm on eighty acres that’s powered by solar panels. They took classes in a teepee, a Quonset hut and a geodesic dome, performed plays on a stage in the woods, grew vegetables and made art in a converted barn. In 2009 we moved to Miami and stayed, mainly because of DASH, the Design and Architecture Senior High School, that has rightly gained a reputation for being the best design school in America.
Early April, Leila heard that she had been accepted by Artez Fashion, the alma mater of Iris van Herpen and Viktor and Rolf. Two weeks later Kiki got news from Eindhoven, the best and hardest to get into design school in Europe, that they would love to have her. What started as an unlikely dream was fast becoming reality, and in the months that followed they got Dutch passports and looked for places to live. I recently signed leases on two cute student rooms in Arnhem and Eindhoven. It felt like I was tentatively reattaching an umbilical cord of my own.
But isn’t it poetic that Kiki and Leila will continue their design education in the Netherlands? They don’t know the ghosts and ambitions that made me run away. They have their own individual paths and it seems only natural that their instincts complete a circle that is helping me to accept and even love my past, my choices and the place where I was born.
I don’t want to go outside. It’s too hot, ten minutes is the max before sweat starts pouring down my back and I feel faint. But it’s not that, the heat is superficial compared to the chaos around me. Our small suburban neighborhood, one of the few left on the beach that is still of mid-century proportions – small lots, small houses, parents pushing baby prams, pulling dogs, unsupervised toddlers riding bikes down the middle of the street, self-appointed seniors in safety vests waving at cars on short-cuts to slow down.
But they are all inside too. Post Irma. Post evacuation.
The only ones out are the county cleanup crews and Jewish families on their way to temple, walking to the other side of Surfside, across from Saks at Bal Harbour Shops. It’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah. They’re all dressed up in their best togs and move with determination, as if nothing can stop them. Nothing has changed. As if they are not picking a path through brown mounds of devastated nature that have been dragged out of each and every yard, into the street to be collected by whom? To be taken where? Is there enough to make us a new planet? I wonder. I fantasize.
Inside, at my computer, I wage war with my landlord and his Baby Huey property manager. They say that disasters bring out the best in people, adversity brings them together. Not so with our landlord, all the way in Hawaii, acting like we’re annoying guests who overstayed their welcome and now have the audacity to ask for things like boarding up the house — why should he protect our possessions? How about trying to protect your 2.5 million property? I ask, but since the house did not blow away, this seems like a rhetorical question to him. Hindsight, as always, being the argument of the obtuse.
I drained the pool. I sucked the hose like I was stealing gasoline, and funneled the green, slimy water into the lake behind the house. This worked until the level of the pool was lower than that of the high-tide bay. Science I thought, wishing it were a scam and I could blame the Chinese. The remaining water sits about a foot deep, a putrid breeding ground for mosquitos. When I ask what the owner wants to do about this and the 60ft tall palm tree that is top heavy with coconuts and leaning dangerously over the fence, Baby Huey writes me e-mails the likes of Trump Tweets:
“… don’t create extra work and problems [for us].”
The girls, back at school, after the Irma-Cat5-coming-right-at-you and YOU WILL DIE news flashes, the closures, evacuations, cancelled flights, power outages, are asked by their teachers “did you have a nice vacation?” I guess some of them follow their students on social media and our escape to Milford looked too idyllic by the Miami-Dade criteria of hurricane evacuation anguish.
Oh Miami. It’s not even October and you’ve already worn me out. I count the days to June, when I can leave and not come back. Never live through another hurricane. Never again be told that I’m a bummer when I bring up climate change during a dinner party while water floods the streets below us.
Never again feel like a stranger, a misfit in a place that is alien to me in its upside-down culture of Whatever. Where gravitas and context and consequence are the lexicon of Debbie Downer and her tribe of party poopers. Where everything I try to do feels like grasping at a hologram as people shake their heads and say: “What did you expect? This is Miami! Why don’t you just let it go. Life’s a beach, just have fun.”
But the sand on the beach burns the soles of my feet. The ocean water is strangely warm and filled with hurricane debris and plastic – bags, cups, straws, lighters, bottles – and surfers are coming down with nasty infections. Two more hurricanes passed by Miami Beach, a few hundred miles out in the Atlantic. Barbuda, Dominica, St.Maarten/Martin, Tortola, St.John, Vieques, Puerto Rica, Cuba, the Keys and Houston lie destroyed. People are homeless. Cultures gone…
I am different this month. And if I am different then millions of women are different this month. I am one of many and I am never alone. I am woman and I am different this month.
I am different because two weeks ago the Milford Readers and Writers festival happened. It happened in the town I love and I was one of the organizers. I am different because I listened to Gloria Steinem, up on the stage and in front of the logo I had designed. I am different because my long-in-the-works book, Stupid Model, was published and I sold fifty copies over three days. I am different because I was doing it with all with my friends. I am different because for those few days I felt centered and within myself.
I read a passage from my book to a room full of women and they laughed and applauded. They heard me and we connected. This changed me. Then it was over, my old and new friends went home, I tidied up the house and I too went home, leaving my home behind.
I am different now from who I was then. And I am different from who I was in September.
Together with millions of others I am restless. I am anxious. I am provoked. I am angry and I want the world to be different.
Is it true that change brings up everything unlike itself?
Together with an entire generation (or two) of women I have been forced to remember things that I had forgotten. Or had marginalized. Things that became threads woven into the fabric that made me into who I am today. Those small things that grab us and make us a little less proud. A little less confident. A little less…
I always fought when they happened. After being a scared, weepy child I stood up for myself when I walked away from my youth at age seventeen. To Paris where I fought the men who groped me on the Metro, followed me in the street clucking and whistling, took me to dinner stroking my thigh under the table while talking business with colleagues above the white linen, silver, china and crystal. I fought the photographers who demeaned me over and over and, on my last day, I physically attacked the ultimate misogynist, a famous couturier who had me thrown out of Paris.
from Stupid Model in Paris and Down Under
Perhaps I fought because my mother fought. Fought her own demons. From the German soldiers who had controlled her town and her family when she was a teenager, the ghost of my father who drove his car into a tree and left her alone with me, a two-year-old babe, to my stepfather who was controlling and abusive and after fifteen years absconded with one of her younger friends.
I fought because those were the days that we “fought back”. A clinched fist was our symbol. Don’t fuck with us. But who were we kidding? When you could not be anywhere alone without at least one man grabbing you wherever he liked, metaphorically and physically.
I fought my way to success. I was ambitious they said, like a dirty word, dirtier than pussy and grab. Subconsciously, I learned to use sexism in a game of exchange that couldn’t be won. Like fake promises it never delivered that moment of pure achievement, because in the shadows there was always a baritone boasting – you’d be nothing if it wasn’t for me, and I can undo you.
October 2016. Women. What the fuck?
Did we really think it would come easy?
Just as it seems within reach we have to conquer our past and slay our ultimate dragon and not just metaphorically. He’s real and he looms, lies, interrupts, gropes, intimidates, demeans and threatens. Bitch is only one letter away from Witch, the she-devil, burn her at the stake, whipped into a frenzy the fearful-of-change masses promise to end her, cheering…
Change brings up everything unlike itself.
(I wonder if my daughters look at my rage the same way I look at my husband when he loses his shit in the car at the guy who just cut him off.)
It may not seem like it to the next generation, and it may not feel like it to us right now, but we have come a long way. And when Hillary is president our daughters will soon take it for granted and move on. That’s what change does: it sets the stage for more change, and they have plenty to do.
And we will have some laurels to rest on. Hopefully we can finally forget what we are feeling now, in October 2016, the fear that he can undo us. But remembering and standing together and visualizing holding hands with all women everywhere, yes, also the ones who wear T-shirts that say He Can Grab This >, we will undo him and finally allow ourselves to feel that sense of pure achievement.
If Channing Tatum is the poster child for Abercrombie then Israel Hernandez is the poster child for Miami Beach.
Israel was handsome, young, beachy (see above far left), worked in the fashion/model biz, a boarder, an artist and an entrepreneur who was launching a line of skate boards. He was only 18 years old when he was tased and killed by Miami Beach police. He still wore braces.
photo: Heather Bozzone
Miami has been working hard on re-branding its image over the past few years.
It introduced Art Basel Miami and Design Miami to give the city a hipper, cooler, younger image and get away from its drug violence, retiree, Cage aux Folles party image of the nineties. Starchitects have been brought in to build international press-worthy public buildings like the New World Symphony by Frank Gehry, 1111 Lincoln and the PAMM ( Art Museum Miami) by Herzog deMeuron, and several more headline grabbing buildings by Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and Richard Meyers are in various stages of construction.
Part of this revamp has been the creation of two different creative districts; the Design District and Wynwood. During Art Basel Miami these are the two “new” areas of Miami where millions are spent on international publicity. Wynwood is the area that is brought to the international travel market for its “world class galleries that represent young local artists.” To illustrate this the city and property owners, inspired by the success of Keith Haring in eighties Soho, “give” abandoned and other buildings over to graffiti artists to use as large and free canvasses to express themselves fully and freely. These buildings look like abandoned warehouses somewhere near Detroit airport before, and a lot more interesting after they have been made over with multicolored spray cans in the hands of aspiring Banksys.
Wynwood as a celebration of local graffiti talent is a must see destination headlines scream all over the world in their travel copy on Miami.
Even in the luxury branded Design District the main investor and developer of the area, Louis Vuitton, brought in graffiti artist Retna to express his art on their facade, which opened with all the champagne and red carpet A-listers that are expected from Miami and this French luxury brand.
Shepard Fairey, he of Obama poster fame, did many walls at Wynwood’s Central block – The Wynwood Walls. When a Banksy mural was stolen from a London neighborhood it predictably showed up, all thousands of pounds of concrete, at a Miami art auction house.
Are you getting my drift?
Miami is touting its graffitied walls like they are the fucking Eiffel Tower of the American south!
Where does that leave young, ambitious Miami artists?
Guess what platform, canvas, form of expression, medium, they use….
Guess who encourages them to do so by GIVING them walls, by rewarding them with money and fame, by honoring art school students with Awards of Excellence and Most Promising?
The City of Miami and its developer buddies!
And guess who did not get the memo….
Their own pumped-up police department!
Lets get back to Israel Hernandez. Beautiful, talented, ambitious, kind, young and a bit naive, willing to please in order to succeed Israel Hernandez. He was trying to be everything we, parents, expect our kids to be. Everything the creative culture tells our kids to be. Including just a little bit reckless. A little bit on the edge. A little bit challenging.
Israel Hernandez tagged an abandoned Mc Donalds on the corner of 71st and Collins. I know it well. Its next to my local ATM machine. It has been graffitied and tagged and vandalized over the past year. He left a small R for his street name Reefa.
The Miami Beach Police caught up with him and tased him. He died soon after.
Our culture needs kids like Israel Hernandez. We need them to remind us what it is to be young. To make a difference. To be noticed. Did we not all at some point stand up to authority and held the mirror in its face?
Come on Miami, look in this mirror now, and take responsibility for the life of this young and promising young man. Miami YOU set the bar. You held up the carrot. You cast the die by glorifying graffiti and its artists. So why keep quiet now, when your own police tases and kills your messenger? The messenger you recruited and sent out there… the messenger you need to send your new cool brand identity out into the world.
Come on Craig Robins, Matti Herrera Bower, Robert Wennet, Goldman Properties, Carlos Gimenez, Jorge Perez, etc. Do the right thing. Speak up, speak out. Get the memo of your plans for Miami’s global marketing out to everyone, including the MBPD. Start an art endowment in Israel’s name…
Do what it takes to recognize Israel as a child of your own….
My core team: Davette, Sterlene, Zach, Lynn, Queenie, Rose, Simone and Louise, missing is Audrey, team captain
After the Easter celebrations my studio slowly became a hub. Word was out that the lady with the beach plastic needed help. On Tuesday five women came to sew and throughout the day more joined in. Zach had been helping since the first day – my master assistant who washed the plastic, laid it out to dry, cut it up and drilled it.
harvested beach plastic drying in the sun
We had 180 tee shirts to do. 540 bits of plastic to attach. We also had to make 100 napkin rings for a fundraiser lunch on Saturday the 21st. Another 1200 pieces of beach plastic went into those. I did not think it could be done. I worried. Audrey said don’t worry. Two days later she was right and they all laughed and poked fun at my concern as if my worries were the funniest thing that had happened all week, but I had no idea there were so many talented artisans in town.
adding beach plastic to the tees
By Thursday we were doing bracelets and necklaces. Together we sat around big round tables. I prepped each piece, dismembering the monofilament nylon drift ropes that tangle all over the beaches and reefs, strangling birds and turtles and poisoning whales, dolphins and big fish. The colors of the monofilament are striking and I look for matching beads from turquoise to seed pearls and crystals. The crafters strung them and I attached the magnetic closures. We did dozens like this.
Before & After
Friday was earring day and everyone was excited to learn. I prepped crosses by cutting old washed-up lobster traps, bait pouches and one red and one orange crate. Zach drilled holes in their centers. I laid out the findings and gems.
Before & After
While we put the earrings together we compared birth stories. Rose had six kids, Audrey one, Sterlene two. I had three in two births. We talked about which of the Tarpum Bay super markets had OJ.
Sterlene: I have to get myself some orange juice
Me: I need orange juice, I went to Bert’s but they were out
Sterlene: They were out?
Audrey: Try 6 to 10.
Sterlene: And they stay open till 10
Me: They still have orange juice?
Audrey: Yeah they have orange juice, boat came in yesterday
On the island the rhythm of shopping is determined by the boat and the assortment an important part of daily dialog. As I sat and listened to their languid drawlin’ Bahamian dialect I wished I could stay long enough until I had their way of speaking down.
On Sunday I went to my favorite beach one last time and spent the morning drawing and collecting beach plastic.
Monday was my last day as artist in residence. I packed up all my belongings, my 180 tees, 100 napkin rings and another 100 pieces of jewelry. I was ready for the Eleuthera Earthday Weekend. But I was melancholy. I had loved my time in the Castle and the Prep building. I loved my new friends. I relished in my daily routine of working at the castle in the morning and sharing my trash to treasure process with my local team in the afternoon. I’d miss my early evening swims in Winding Bay where dozens of giant starfish dot the sandy ocean bottom and coming home salty and tired and having a vodka lemonade while cooking myself dinner and then working more into the night. I’d been oddly lonely, but I’d enjoyed the solitude of spending time with myself after many years of being immersed in the bustle of my wild and intense family.
Early Tuesday I moved to Palmetto Point, closer to the Beach House where I will show my new collection and One Beach film during the Welcome Party of Jammin’ for Nature, three days of Earthday celebrations sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and benefitting One Eleuthera. Tomorrow friends arrive from NYC to help and party and I shall be alone no more….
I am woken up at 6.30 by my fifteen year old daughter. Depending on her teenage mood she either wiggles my toe or mumbles a sullen “wake up Mom”. Sometimes I’m already awake and, waiting for her to open the door, I’ll call “I’m up” before she enters the room. Occasionally she has to search and finds me on the sofa because there are times when a queen is just not big enough for her fretful viking parents.
After sliding my contacts sideways into sleepy eyes I pull an outfit from the closet that could attract the attention of roadside assistance on the Alice Tuttle Parkway. I don’t brush my teeth until after my first cup of tea, two bags of English PG Tips, super strong, lots of sugar and milk, and sipped as I make the next three lunch boxes out of the 4982 lunch boxes made thus far and the 2400 or so left to go. I like making lunch boxes. I refuse to iron, I hate washing pots, I’m not strong at patiently explaining home work but I do get into assembling lunch boxes. First the sandwich and its variations: white bread, whole wheat bread, cesar rolls, ciabatta rolls, bagels and wraps, turkey and cheese, ham and cheese, tuna, cream cheese, egg salad, hummus tomato lettuce, and occasionally for the unexpected and I’m out of everything, peanut butter. An apple or satsuma or grapes or melon. A large chocolate chip cookie from the Fresh Market and finally the salty element; chips or pretzels, crackers or Pirate Booty. Iced tea in the three canteens. Its the first creative act of my day.
By 7.15 Iona and I are in the car. By 7.30 I drop her off at the railroad tracks that run along DASH – her high school. We talk along the way. We catch up. There’s always something. A teacher. A test. A pesky text from an ex-boyfriend demanding back some gift bestowed in the early days of his mad passion. I curse and scream at the Miami drivers, justified in my agro by a recent report that Miami drivers REALLY are the worst in the country. Its not me. It’s been proven and I attest: They don’t move at a green light, they slow down for orange so they can check messages, but do run every red light, they change lanes randomly, pull out of parking spots without looking, never use a blinker, speed in a slow zone and do 25 miles in the outer lane of the highway. They drive around speed humps as if that’s actually an option and mothers make u-turns on the school crossing almost running over the carpool of kids they just unloaded, all while texting.
Once I’ve dropped off Iona I have 12 minutes to make it back home. 7.42. The school bus for the twins arrives around 7.50. They are never ready and always in a wardrobe-induced flap. Amber hops impatiently through the hall, hyper at the knowledge that she’s next on my roster. The three of us run to the light, press the may-pedestrians-cross-soon button, ensure we don’t get run over by a red-light jumper and wait on the opposite corner. Alton Road rush-hour traffic zooms by. The same thousand cars every morning. The same yellow Fiat with the redhead, the same black mini Cooper with the fat woman, the same tan man on his bicycle, the same white Range Rover turning onto Allison Island. I wait with my girls until they get on. Ever since a black Cherokee almost slammed into the back of their school bus I make sure they do not enter until all cars behind have stopped. I wave at the driver, a friendly grey haired woman, the girls hiss back at me “she only speaks Spanish, Mom!” as if I waved in English.
I press the pedestrian light again, check the traffic exiting from our community gates for the black Porsche Cayenne that came so close to hitting me a month ago that I actually screamed FUCK and saw my life flashing while the driver, her face a few feet from mine, remained unimpressed and did not even mouth “sorry”, something I would definitely have done had I almost run her over, just in case I’d meet her by the pool later.
By eight I’m home. I thank God for sparing me and my family yet again, clip the leash on Amber, grab a poopie bag and am dragged around Aqua for the next ten minutes, fresh on the trail of the Airedale terrier – Zoe from Zoe Way (coincidental or intentional one wonders.) Amber, who ignores all dogs, has decided Zoe is da meanest bitch of Miami Beach and needs to be taken out. We pee, we shit, we pick up the shit because cameras are trained everywhere (in the last condo meeting there was even talk of D & A testing un-bagged left-behind turds in order for appropriate fines to be imposed.) Not I. I am proud of my own goodness every time I pick up, and when the security guard passes in his golf cart moments after a shit has been taken I hold up my baggie and call out “I got it” as if he’s driving by just to check on me, which is not altogether unlikely.
studio aka garage
I return a disappointed Amber home and grab my swimsuit that hangs from the doorknob in my studio, also known as the garage. I change, wrap the mandatory Aqua towel around my waist and ride my bike along Indian Creek to our pool. It’s invariably a gorgeous morning. We’ve been in Miami two years and four months and I still notice the luxury of the weather. It is sunny, warm and the air has a hint of salt from the ocean two blocks away. I look for dolphins or manatee in the creek. A heron flies close to me, checking for fish. I admire the tall palm trees on the other side of the water and the mansions with their tropical gardens and jetties with million dollar yachts. There is no one at the pool except for the Aqua grounds keeper preening for the day ahead. I wade into the Olympic sized body of turquoise water and start my thirty laps. The water is warm. Too warm. A ridiculous waste I think every morning as I pull a bunch of bougainvilla flowers from the filter. I start to think as I swim through more fuchsia bougainvilla. The sun is just coming around the tall apartment blocks of Millionaire Row along Collins, the avenue that separates the creek from the beach. I think of the day ahead. I lay it out like the lane I’m lapping up, with each stroke I run my list: Finish taxes, call Blue Cross Blue Shield, balance my check book, mark up the next BHS folder, send e-mail to John about the wine sponsorship, order 200 tee shirts, did the Botanical gardens respond yet? And why not? I think of the BIG list. The list of things to do with the rest of my life. My ambition list. I think of how I felt those first few months I was doing laps here. How I was unsure, insecure and off-kilter. How in the second year so much turned around, how doors opened and how I passed through them. I imagine I am exactly in the middle of my entire life. Its been eventful so far and I look forward to what’s coming. I think of the 120 or so pieces I have to make for my new collection. I anticipate what it will be like when my routine goes upside down and inside out when I’m leaving all this behind for three whole weeks.
I’ll be alone for the first time in 16 years. Alone in a house. No actually, a castle. I shall make dinners just for me and 45 less lunch boxes in the big scheme of things on my to do list.
That uber message we look for in our otherwise boring Inbox.
The one that says:
We have been following your work with beach plastic pollution, we love it, would you be interested in being featured in a movie we are planning?
Looking for a hidden sales message? Like the next line would say: If you take part in this short questionnaire you too can be captured on film.
You bet! I did not trust it. I proceeded with caution.
It was not until I had spoken with all the makers of the film, the creative director Sean, the producer Michael, the director Jason and had signed a non-disclosure with Barefoot Wine (to keep it all hush until the premiere, hence no previous mention here at BDM) that I became excited.
They wanted to shoot in Eleuthera, where I find all my beach plastic, and so I sent them the limited list of places in Governor’s Harbour. Three low-key hotels, Cigatoo, Pineapple Fields and Coco Di Mama, and a handful of rentals that have 5+ bedrooms.
Squires Estate, Toad Hall in foreground, Main Russell House beyond...
I had always wanted to stay there, ever since it had been restored two years ago. Alastair and I even looked at the main house when it was on the market. Its a dream property, on the hill, a 120 year old Victorian House, overlooking Cupid’s Key, walking distance to Club Med Beach – the most beautiful beach I know.
They booked me for four days early June. Two travel and two shooting.
“Bring your tools and your favorite designs, we’ll do the rest.”
If the camera added ten pounds then it was the time for a diet.
I did a two-day fast, a nine-day shake/powder regimen and swam a million lengths of the pool.
I departed, lithe and pre-tanned.
First to arrive, I chose the ground floor bedroom of the main house because it was the most private, like a mini wing, overlooking the pool and the Caribbean sea to the west. Everything was new, done by an Italian designer with exquisite taste, who’d mixed old with high-tech, quirky with traditional.
I got my old red truck from the garage.
I was already happy.
A few hours later the crew arrived. Curt, Sean, Jason, Michael, Scotty and Tyler.
Six surfers from California.
Had I died and gone to heaven?
OK. Yes! I am happily married. I’m a mother of three. I’m not young as such.
But hey, I’m still a woman!
lunch at the Beach House
I had an eery feeling – after years of being a service-driven mother, feeding, cleaning, chauffeuring, organizing and wondering (within the safety of my own head):
What about me?
A dawning sense that maybe someone (who can hear beyond the safety of my own head), had been listening, that somehow I had been good enough, that getting attention was actually allowed when you try your hardest to be a good wife and mother and employee and world citizen…
And I let go.
This was going to be about me (and my obsession with beach plastic) and it was OK.
Those six guys were awesome, I don’t know much about them beyond those four days, but they were easy going, considerate, creative, charming, talented, professional and funny, so funny…
They made it possible for me to be me. To do my work, make my stuff, tell my message without ever making me feel self-conscious or insecure. At least three cameras captured me at work for at least 24 hours. It felt natural. It felt great. I felt beautiful. They helped me believe that what I was doing was worthwhile.
I wanted it to last a bit longer.
Last shot, left to right, Tyler, Jason, Barbi, Curt, Sean, Michael and Scotty
Still, we dispersed. They went on to do the next “innovator”, Tim in Australia, and I was just a tad jealous.
But I mainly felt empowered. Things were falling into place. back home I was asked to apply for the Miami TED talk. I went on my teaching trip around Eleuthera.
Last night I saw I Don’t Know How She Does It with my three daughters. I had read the book at a time when I identified with the author, when I was the overcommitted mother of three little girls who felt she had to do it all, or else…
Leila wanted to know if I had ever felt like Kate did in the film.
You mean, like, I Don’t Know How I Did It?
Kiki and Leila @ 2 years, by barred stairs in Milford.
My daughters are now eleven and fifteen. I asked if they remembered when I was the Mother with a Career in NYC.
They don’t remember that I went to Hong Kong for two weeks over Christmas when they were six months old, nor being in day care at age two because the latest nanny had disappeared without trace while I worked on 7th Avenue three days a week (living in Milford,PA). They don’t remember my equivalent of Kate Reddy’s bake-sale angst amongst the zealous fundraising stay-at-home mothers of the Homestead School.
Its great to find out that it it did not matter. That they are fine. More than fine. That I can forgive myself for those perceived shortcomings, that getting off the fashion merry-go-round to have more time at home with them was a good choice too. That feeling out of it and disconnected and fat and dumb maybe was just a cocoon, a small, limited space, where the next incarnation of me could shape itself.
Of course we always are exactly where we should be.
This is easy to see with the gift of hindsight, like looking at an old photograph and wondering why you did not really enjoy the way you looked back then.
When I first saw One Beach I felt that I was exactly where I should be in the big picture of life.
Thank you all Barefooters for making this possible.
Sean O’Brien for his creative foresight and green spirit that gave birth to the idea of One Beach.
And of course the entire Barefoot Wine team in California and New York that worked so hard to pull it all off in time for the premiere in NYC last week.
We were all there.
In New York.
The team that made One Beach and the people it featured, called The Innovators in the film.
Kevin Cunningham, a surfer from Rhode Island who incorporates beach plastic in making surfboards from recycled materials.
Richard Lang and beautiful Judith Selby Lang, the king and queen of beach plastic, fell in love on their first date while combing Kehoe Beach for plastic debris. They incorporate beach plastic in their art from installations to photography and jewelry.
Left to right: Stephanie Gallo, Kevin Cunningham, Sean O'Brien, Barbara de Vries Jason Baffa, Judith and Richard Lang, Elizabeth and Anne. Lying in foreground is Tyler from Smash.
We watched the first screening together, wept at the end, and were all amazed at the synergy between us, four people who have never met, in three different parts of the US, who collect and work with beach plastic and whose dialog and message has evolved in an eerily similar way without ever speaking to each other.
We also had beach plastic envy as we drooled over pieces in each other’s collection.
The premiere was at the Helen Mills theatre in Chelsea, with a live feed to our own Facebook app where over 5000 people had signed up to watch the film and subsequent Q and A online.
Sitting in the director’s chairs, below ground in NYC, taking questions that Tyler, our MC, received on his Ipad from Facebookers all over, had a surreal sense of opportunity, the feeling that when we all connect we can make a difference.
Below is the One Beach film, which we hope will help raise awareness of beach plastic pollution. Numbers just released estimate that six million tons of what becomes “marine debris” (non organic material that does not break down) enters the oceans every year. One Beach has a positive message, it is upbeat about creativity and possibility, but none of us have the illusion that just selling up-cycled beach plastic into ownership can significantly reduce what washes up on our beaches every day with every tide and every wave. We want to connect to people through beauty, and our message is to for everyone to reduce our plastic foot print (300 pounds per person every year) NOW by saying no to single-use plastics.
Tip: Start with refusing bottled water and plastic shopping bags, relatively easy steps, then pick an alternative material every time there is a choice…
Here are Sean’s pictures of the making of One Beach in Eleuthera: link
To the bachelor pad which is being de-bachelored by turning the “pool” room (as in shooting pool with your mates at 3 am, after getting home from the Wall without scoring) into a third bedroom for the twins so they can do homework, hang out, bicker and sleep behind a wall (instead of the exposed upper mezzanine).
Tiesto mural in pool room will be preserved
Of course this was to be done in the ample two months that we were away and of course it was started on the Friday we returned. So now we neither have an office (pool room) nor a bedroom for the girls since everything from one room is piled in the other.
But thats OK.
They say they will be done by Wednesday.
They said they’d be done by now.
But I’m not bothered. There are bigger problems.
Like school uniforms.
Maybe one has to be genetically programmed to deal with procuring kid’s uniforms. Maybe I’m too hippy-dippy Dutch to even think about universal clothing for creative kids. See I always look to blame myself first (Have you noticed? Do you do that too? I wish I were a bit more Teaparty, and blame everyone else. Like only everyone else all the time.), still I was proud to have gathered, at Woodbury Common (Like/Love), four khaki bottoms that my trendy twins would deign to wear to school, and one pair of black pants that may get them sent home (while the color is right, the fit will be deemed too sexy, which in this city of underdressed exhibitionists is paradoxical but don’t get me started, I already wrote that blog.)
The preppy polo tops have to be bought locally since they are emblazoned with the Miami Arts Charter School logo.
lime, teal, white or black with MAC logo
Another bigger problem was getting an e-mail from TED, shortly after arrival, requesting a full run-through of my talk at 1 pm on Wednesday. This Wednesday? This Wednesday!
TED? But I was still on uniforms. Saturday was uniform day on my “what to do when we get back” list. Which also has finish homework with the girls, unpack, get food in fridge, get 2nd floor toilet and phone fixed , you know the drill.
So while I should be writing and practicing my TED talk, I’m chasing uniforms.
Yes, I’d ordered them online as the school suggested, but got a notice a few days ago that the polo’s would be ready for delivery in 5 weeks!
What are the suggesting? Homeschooling for five weeks? I mean the school is clear:
All students and parents have agreed to abide by the school uniform as described in the parent/student contract signed during registration.
Students not in uniform will be required to contact their parent and sent home.
Ibiley suggests I visit any of their conveniently located Miami stores.
They lied. None of them are conveniently located. All of them are in scary shit neighborhoods that are at least 40 minutes away.
I settled on North Miami and was wise enough to call first, just to make sure they had said polos in stock, but of course got the robot who told me that August is too busy to answer the phone, and tells me to leave a message.
They’re also too busy to answer.
I find out just how busy.
But not till after getting lost in the maze of NE and NW 159th street Drive and Street and Court, at the very place where 95, the turnpike and 539 intersect in a spider-web of flyovers and underpasses and of course the exit ramp that Mapquest told me to use is Closed for Construction.
You are sorry for the inconvenience?
Why not just post some signs up telling how to get the fuck to Ibeley Uniforms in the industrial park (with one entrance) that I can see from the overpass which points towards the Everglades, at 70 miles an hour.
50 minutes later, and isn’t it amazing how proud those moments can make you (forget about a TED talk), I pull up in front of Ibiley.
Pride turns to nausea in a nano second.
Swarming around the huge warehouse, are hundreds of people of many colors (none quite as white as the three of us), several stainless steel quilted food trucks are randomly parked, and something that resembles a long line, made up from entire families (bring the kids, the toddlers, the babies, the grannies, aunts, uncles and don’t forget the neighbors) comes out from the front door into the 95 degree sunshine.
We “politely” battle our way inside only to find many feet of empty shelves and another line that resembles immigration at JFK before Christmas.
Determined (if nothing else) I find 8 tees (4 each), while yelling at the twins to help me. Unfortunately they’re catatonic with the otherness of it all, like in some culture-shock transition from the verdant woods to this urban jungle.
We join the immigration line.
After ten minutes we move close enough to spot a tiny sign over the counter.
We are out of the folowing logo patches. (you buy the tees and pay in line #1, they give you your school’s logo patches, you join line #2, the one outside, and they apply the patches).
Come back on the 28th and we will apply them for free,, it also read. (You’d have to bloody well pay ME to come back!).
There’s no actual list of said missing patches posted. I guess it changes by the minute.
I grab an Ibiley sales girl who looks like she will get really drunk that night.
MAC is not on her list of out-of-stock patches.
I ponder if this is good news. I’m rather praying for an excuse to leave. But it sounds like we will be there for the next few hours. (Could I get into this Cuban/Caribbean/South American block-party atmosphere?).
The girl walks away.
The girl comes back.
“You are at the wrong location”, she says. “MAC uses special embroidery and is only available at our Little Havana store on SW 8th Street.”
We are on NW 167th street.
You have to be from Miami to know what that really means, but imagine flying to London instead of Sydney.
We are fucked.
We leave the line.
We are hungry and buy three sandwiches, and three Cuban drink cans ( sexy looking mixed mango. papaya, passion fruit that taste like water) from the guilted truck.
“Mom, these are the best sandwiches I’ve ever had,” the twins chime, “Yes, at least we got some really good sandwiches out of it.”
They encourage me. (Afraid that I might have a shit-fit meltdown?)
Instead I find 95 South (easy), and head towards Little Havana.
I call husband who is on the porch in PA and tells me its the first nice day in weeks.
He also tells me to give myself a break.
He often tells me this.
I listen. The only breaks I take are the ones he tells me to take.
He’s good to me in that way.
“You did your best,” he says. “Go home, have a swim, enjoy being back.”
He has a point.
I compromise with myself. I settle on Target, which I happen to be passing, buy the last three (a terrible number for twins) white polo’s and HP iron-0n tee shirt transfer paper.
I feel clever.
I shall go home, get the MAC logo online and iron it on.
Which I do.
While arguing with the MAC principal in my mind that this is as good as the real thing from Little Havana and that the Ibiley store was completely out of stock (good chance of that anyway, right? Given the odds so far?)
While the trip to Little Havana still looms, since three tees between twins won’t last me the promised five weeks.
They wont even last two days.
And then there is TED.
TED needs attention.
As soon as the girls are in school TED will be my lover.
I am procrastenating ( I need spell check) writing this new blog.
Its been a while and I have much to tell you.
Like I have been less than fair to those who may have wondered whether I did get picked to be one of the eight speakers at the TEDxMIA talks on September 13th in Miami’s New World Center.
between the lines
Yes! YES I did.
Maybe I did not post this jolly news sooner because I was kinda in denial.
Like getting it was one thing, doing it another.
And when I write now, I have to be serious and write about what I’m gonna talk about. Fifteen minutes is apparently only 1500 – 2000 words and thats not very much. I have a lot to say. I want to be poignant yet funny yet serious yet positive yet convincing.
I think too much about it, get dizzy with info and ambition and then I start loitering around the internet .
nature paints with trash
I visit HuffPost to feel manipulated.
Like this trash story about a woman, Sandy McMillin, who was evicted from Walmart for wearing a string bikini that she had bought there a year earlier (and visibly worn 24/7 ever since).
“Dress code”, was Walmart’s defense.
I have an opinion on the Walmart dress code. A strong opinion in fact. I’ve had this opinion for a while, like ever since I’ve had the opportunity to shop at Walmart (which opened in Milford circa 2000.)
You see, if Walmart really had a true customer dress code then I’d be applying for the job of enforcer (or counselor while I evict).
Call me a snob. Call me shallow. But before you do check out the link to the tattooed/leg-braced/shaven headed Sandy McMillin, who was spotted shopping for sour cream in the clothing aisle (was she looking for a new top, and decided on sour cream instead?) and her 15 mins of fame interview and then check out an entire site devoted to the standard Walmart dresscode, link.
Now I dare you to be saintly yourself.
BTW, can someone explain to me why the story of this year’s “celebrity inspired” bikini trends, where the fashion reporter chirps: “Kate Middleton and Pippa looked white hot and we loved their sporty chic style” earned prime exposure spot right under poor Sandy in her once turquoise threadbare bikini top?
Is HuffPost merely cheering me up?
Or is this a novel guerilla tactic to sell the masses a new bikini? Like, “Well, my last year’s bikini is a lot like Sandy’s and I’d rather look like Pippa diving in that white little number so off to the mall I go….?
Another reason for not writing sooner was that I went to Eleuthera to teach two workshops. (See ,I’m not such a bad person really, just a Walmart bigot for personality texture).
The first one was at the Tarpum Bay Cultural Center (The Prep) which opened officially with my beach plastic jewelry making event. Twenty-three local kids, teenagers, had signed up and on the first morning we went to Winding Bay for a beach clean up and to collect plastic that we’d turn into jewelry. I had brought the necessary tools and trimmings, aka findings, like wire and earring hooks and stretchy string.
The inauguration of The Prep in Tarpum Bay
I displayed my jewelry and showed a slideshow of my work so far for guidance.
It’s hard to describe what happens next, but it feels like a breeze of inspiration enters our space and sweeps everyone along to a level of awareness where creation comes naturally.
Like a spell almost.
After lunch the next day I strung a (recycled) fishing rope between the porch columns and everyone, in turn, dispayed the collection they had created. I made a short film of each workshop and here is the first one:
This landmark building was first built in 1897 but was ready to be demolished when Michele Johnson, local superwoman, and her friend Ros adopted it about two decades ago and carefully restored the ruined site to its former glory. To me it is the most beautiful library anywhere. It sits on a slip of land with Caribbean sea/beach on either side. Every summer the library runs programs for the local kids and this year I was invited to be part of the recycling program.The video below tells it all.
Since I taught these two workshops I’ve answered questions about where to buy tools, supplies and findings to make more jewelry. Michele, Shaun, Toni and others have brainstormed about opening a retail outlet, or maybe just have stalls that sell beach plastic jewels to the tourists who leave their artificial floating environment, i.e. cruise ships, to sample some “local” culture.
Now that would be poetic justice, since those floating cities are one of the worst polluters of Eleutheran beaches.
Sabrina from Haiti and beach plastic star at the Haynes Library
Twenty-five years ago, July 4th weekend 1986, I moved to NYC.
It was Liberty Weekend, the weekend of the 200 year celebration of the restoration and centenary of the Statue of Liberty. I arrived here, in the energy axis, in the exact same place, same loft, same bedroom, as I am now.
Cause for reminiscence I’d say.
I came here alone, a cast-off from the London fashion recession which hit as suddenly as a tsunami and swept me and several other designers out to fashion purgatory, doors to my studio bolted shut by my backers, denying me access to stuff like my life-long button collection which they would sell to some rag trade vulture for a few bob.
All because within six months, the magic fashion calendar in which fortunes changes for reasons ranging from a bad review, a wayward fabric shipment, a biggest customer going bust, a factory forgetting to produce an entire order to a performance anxiety related nervous breakdown ( you are only as good as your last collection and your last collection is never good enough), the exchange rate changed and the pound got stronger, the dollar weaker and all of a sudden those golden American buyers who brought me 50% of my business, decided to “skip” London.
WANTED - my gangsta collection
Suzy Menkes (London Times and Herald Tribune) announced that London designers were out of control, unruly children who needed to be punished until they started treating fashion as a business.
For several years they had loved our (Malcolm Mc Laren led) anarchic style. It made for great window dressing, and those US windows were enough to keep all of us creative maniacs going.
But Suzy decreed we were so passe´, fashion changed into a grown-up place and the new crop of celebrity designers followed.
Never one to sit around in the here and now, I was already in my future (It was not until later that I shed a tear over that lost button collection). I followed the money. I went to NYC where they loved me, and I’d heard that designers could be paid as much as $75.000 a year. I was sick of making do on £12,000 several thousands less than my superstar PR was taking from my business while putting Menkes’ poison in my backers ear.
from a softer collection
NYC welcomed me with a party.
Three-days of festivities, right here at the loft home of my friends Murray and Gail Bruce.
I felt like I’d landed in a castle in the sky, their 13th floor penthouse with its massive deck and windows all around with views of the celebrated Statue of Liberty, the Hudson river filled with flag-flying boats,the Twin Towers and to the north-east the Empire state building and the rest of Manhattan.
Their friends (who soon became mine) came from all over the world arrived and stayed. A dorm with dozens of cots was set up in one of the spaces but not much sleeping took place. It was a hippie-like love fest, a free-for-all celebration so typical of the Bruces’ all-embracing style.
I made friends that first weekend who now, 25 years later, are still among my dearest, like Vicky and Ed, and their daughters, one of whom, Mika, became my twin’s god mother.
I met a crop of potential boyfriends who kept me busy dating (a concept so different from getting to know guys in Europe) till I met my husband four years later. Some dear friends have since passed on. Lenny, Bill, Michelle, Norma and recently Midge Steadman. Midge helped me believe in magic and introduced my practical and industrious Dutch soul to an aspect of itself as yet undiscovered: My spirituality.
Midge gave me crystals, passed me to Ashtiana, her Shaman, who in turn helped me enlighten my life, Midge took me to sweat lodges, witches circles, lend me her New Age books, and taught me the medicine wheel, rebirthing, and how to use a smudge stick to erase bad energy from the past.
It takes what it takes and these were the tools it took for me to become a woman who could finally trust and commit to love, marry, have children and experience the passage of time without fear of its failures.
This Independence Day weekend the loft is quiet.
Now that I’m writing this memoir I think that maybe I should’ve thrown a party celebrating 25 years of Barbi in the US of A.
But I don’t look back much. Not in a speeches and cream kind of way.
I am in awe of these past 25 years however.
How I lie here, same room, same place, and in the next room sleeps my daughter.
A young woman who will turn 15 on Monday, July 4th 2011.
In the last week she has followed in my foot steps like an adolescent aboriginal sent walk-about on her mother’s turf (she was part of a Summer Solstice witches circle on her first night at the loft, posting on her FB status that she is now officially a witch).
Iona is an intern here, with Gail, my American mentor and her two assistants, Carly and Camryn, in the space that was the inspiration for all the houses she grew up in.
Gail, the only one who called me Barbi
It is so natural for her to be here, so predestined, that words like imprinting, heritage, family, evolution and even love do not capture what seems as inevitable as breast feeding, her first steps in the sand of our Amagansett beach, letting go of her little hand as she entered her first class room (she hesitant then, me hesitant now), her first sleep-over, money earned and spent, boy friend, her gradual path to independence.
Last night on our way to dinner, we went down and walked out of the building.
For 25 years I have turned right to walk to Hudson Street but Iona turned left.