I won’t say triggered –the word of the day. Of the week, Of the month and yes, going back to Trump’s pussy-grabbing tape, of the year. Expressed first by the women’s march and most recently the #MeToo movement. The club that recruited me as an unexpected member as early as 1972 but, Groucho Marx style, I don’t want to belong to it.
As I drove to see Patti Smith downtown Miami, passing billboards of topless men and women who conveyed their own sexual encounters, I remembered a calendar I did in Amsterdam with a photographer called Lee Kraft. I worked with Lee quite often on newspaper fashion ads for stores like C&A and HEMA. Mundane well-paid modeling jobs. This one was different he said. It was topless for a tasteful Pirelli-style calendar. His client was a friend from America, some successful business man. (Lee was also American). I said thanks but no thanks. Lee said it’s two hundred guilders cash. I said no. He said three. I said no. He said four. I said no. He said five. He said it would be beautiful. He said no one would ever see it. He didn’t take no for an answer, he wore me down and I said yes.
I didn’t know the client would actually be there, I thought it was just good old Lee and me. Call me naive.
The American was a tall, thin man in a suit. He was kind of handsome, but also reminded me of a lizard. There was something scaly about his skin and his long fingers may as well have had suction cups. He didn’t exactly creep me out, but I didn’t trust him either.
I was going to be June he said, referring to the month on the calendar. He showed me the rough sketches of the calendar layout and stopped at a rudimentary, almost stick like figure with large nipples that were filled in with smudged gold make up. June was written across the top.
I looked at him.
So, I will have golden nipples? I asked and thought of James Bond and the girl who suffocates because Goldfinger paints her entire body gold. Thank god it’s just my nipples, I thought.
“Do you mind?” he said rather politely.
I shrugged my shoulders. Of course I minded. It was ridiculous. Surely he knew it was demeaning?
I applied the thick gold paste from the small jar Lee handed me. Then we went into the studio and Lee placed me on the backdrop paper.
“Raise your arms,” he said and I did. Ralph stood next to him and looked at me as if he were looking at his laundry going around in the dryer.
No, this is not going to be that kind of abuse story. I am not #MeToo calling out Ralph Nader here. The, by all accounts, a-sexual or possibly gay independent presidential candidate who screwed things up for Gore in 2000. The consumer rights hero of the seventies and eighties.
“What star sign are you?” He asked. He’d walked over to me as Lee was reloading his camera.
“Leo,” I answered proudly.
“Hmm,” he said. “A difficult sign … for a woman [like you].”
“Why?” I asked defiantly.
“Leos have a very high opinion of themselves. Their expectations for their lives are hard to live up to.”
He looked at me as if he could see through me.
“You’ll end up disappointed.”
I had just turned eighteen. I was modeling to pay for college in London. I was going to be a fashion designer. Something shriveled inside me. It was as if he knew (and I didn’t yet) that I would never amount to much. That I was and would always be as insignificant as I was next to him, there and then. He, dressed in an expensive suit, and me, naked in tiny panties and with painted golden nipples. Miss June 1976.
Ralph Nader had presented me with my first glass ceiling, several years before the term was coined. He was the first man to impress on me that there are limitations to what women should reasonably expect for themselves. I had no idea who he was in the cultural context of the United States. I wouldn’t know for another 15 years. But clearly he delivered his message with such manipulative authority that it impacted me.
I was and am ambitious. I did and do have high expectations for myself. I often fail, in my own eyes. And I often say, well what did you expect? I let myself down. I end up disappointed. Then I bounce back, like I did that day in Amsterdam, when his words became the challenge that was to be disproven. By me. For me. Over and over.
Optimistically, I always assumed the metaphor of glass ceiling meant that if you bash it hard enough, the glass will be broken. Last night I flashed for the first time (duh!) on the real meaning. That women can see through the barrier but can’t get to the other side. This glass is shatter proof. The men stand on the floor above us. We are looking up with our high expectations. They are looking down with the arrogant confidence that only bulletproof glass ensures.
Ralph Nader was speaking from the other side of the glass. I didn’t know it then, but he let me feel it. He wasn’t the last or only man to ever mind fuck me. But I was young and unsuspecting and he was smart and effective. Last night I flashed on him. His arrogance. His entitled manipulation, designed to put an eighteen-year-old model in her place. Who knows what I stirred in him, what led to his urge to disempower me. As I drove to the book fair, I thought about the divide between expectation and perception (trigger) and in that moment I hated the memory of his words more than the memory of any grope or unwelcome penis sighting.
A fictional vignette set on the night of Tuesday the 10th of October.
At the home of fashion designer Donna Karan, Gaby hands her mother a cell phone:
“It’s uncle Harvey,” she says.
“I don’t want to talk to him,” Donna says. She turns away. She has been crying.
“Tell him yourself,” Gaby says.
Donna takes the phone. She hesitates, wondering whether to press End or throw it across the room.
“Don’t Mom,” Gaby says, “it’s my phone.”
“Hey,” Donna says.
“Can you come over?” Harvey is on speakerphone.
“You’re kidding right? How about a thank you first?”
“Your stocks are up you know?”
“Jesus, they are?”
“Gun stocks went up last week, after the Vegas shooting. It’s a fucked up world darling.”
“I don’t give a shit about DKNY stocks.”
“Come over. Georgina left me. I learned it from a People Magazine news alert.”
Donna looks at her daughter for help. Gaby shakes her head – NO.
“There are reporters outside. I can’t do this right now.”
“I’ll send a car. Use the back door. I need you. I’m alone. God knows what I might do.”
Donna ends the call and hands the phone back to her daughter.
“Do it already,” Gaby says under her breath.
Harvey is in a hotel suite. The TV is on in the background. Pictures of Paltrow and Jolie flash across the screen. The sound is off. He is wearing a large white bathrobe wrapped around his huge frame. There is a knock on the door. He gets up, a white tie drops to the floor and the robe opens. He is naked underneath. Holding the two pieces of fabric together with one hand, he opens the door.
“Put some fucking clothes on,” Donna calls from the corridor. “Jesus Harv, what is WRONG with you.”
“Oh come on, I’m not gonna jump you.”
“That’s not the point, it’s just so fucking inappropriate right now.”
“Maybe it’s appropriate. I’m comfortable this way. Who fucking cares.”
“At least put this around you,” Donna enters the room, picks up the white strip of fabric and hands it to Harvey. She ends up putting it around him herself, adjusting the large robe as if he’s a model in one of her shows. He puffs on a large cigar, blowing the smoke sideways, away from her.
“There,” she says almost maternally. “Now I need a drink.”
They sit down across from each other. Donna picks up the remote, flicks through the channels and stops at National Geographic. She pulls her legs under her and rubs her face. Harvey too is rubbing his large head.
“Fucking idiot asshole,” she says and looks up at him. “I thought you’d stopped this shit when you married Georgina. What were you thinking?”
“It’s what we do.” Harvey shrugs. “Trump did it. Look at him – our President! He flaunts it and they love him!”
“The press doesn’t love him. New Yorkers don’t. Our friends don’t. Anyway since when is Trump your role model?”
“It’s the reason men achieve. In movies, fashion, business. The money. The fame.”
“Not for me! Imagine me groping and propositioning every male model that walked in for a casting?”
“Don’t say you haven’t thought about it?!”
Donna looks right at Harvey who has a semi-erotic smirk on his face. She shakes her head.
“I’m not here to talk dirty with you. And no I haven’t. It’s not how we think.”
“Women. We may look at a hot guy and joke about how he makes us feel, pretend we’d sleep with him, but I don’t know any woman who would force herself on a young, sexy guy the way you did with these poor girls.”
“Poor girls?! I made their careers! Gwynie, Angie! I gave them everything they dreamed off! I never hurt them! Some of them got a million bucks just for showing their tits and watching me – you know– for a few minutes!”
Donna looks disgusted.
“Stop! You’re a pervert. A creep. I had no idea it was this bad. None!”
“I’m not proud of it.”
“You just don’t think it’s a big deal?”
“Everyone did it. Or at least tried. What about dear old Sydney Kimmel? And Warren Beatty?”
“Beatty stopped years ago, and he was hot.”
“And I’m fat and ugly.”
“You abused your power.”
“Power is all I’ve got. No girl wants to fuck me!”
Donna studies him. He is too large for his chair, as he sits slouched with his legs spread, a big cigar between his thick lips. One chubby hand stroking the kind of beard that looks good on Clooney and Beckham but fails miserably as an attempt to hide his pock-scarred face.
“Oh boo-hoo,” she says, “you had Georgina. You got two lovely kids. You got it all! You’re a sick fool and now the whole world knows it. And NO – ONE is EVER going to feel sorry for you.”
“I don’t give a shit about pity. But really? You know that they all showed up looking sexy and seductive? They wanted me to want them. Right? But they do not want me! They want to be the next Marilyn – so every man in the world… and I could make that happen for them. All they dream of are teenage boys jerking off to their fucking pictures. And I have that power! But because I look like the fucking BEAST in Beauty, I am called a sexual predator when I ask for some jerking off in return. Ironic no?”
“You hate women.”
“Perhaps. They never liked me.”
“You really do.”
“It’s bewildering. Like you said last night.”
“I don’t even remember what I said. Exactly.”
“You said a stupid thing.”
“Thanks. I was trying to find a way to defend you, for Georgina and the kids. I love them.”
“You don’t love me. “
“No Harv, right now I don’t love you.”
“You never loved me, you never even liked me. You tolerate me because I’m Harvey Weinstein.”
“I can’t believe I said what they say I said.”
“You better own it.”
“It’s so not me. Everyone knows that.”
“No they don’t. Right now the insatiables are tearing you apart. It’s the perfect companion story to my debauchery. The fashion designer enabler! Like the madam! Everything you’ve ever done, for women, for kids, New Yorkers, Haitians. Forget it. It’s all been erased. You are the bitch that sold out women. Welcome to Hollywood baby.”
“Hollywood?” Donna looks puzzled.
“Georgina believes Hollywood pits women against each other. But it’s just how women are. You’re just as competitive as men, but your hierarchy is unclear. We fight it out honestly, man to man. There are no illusions; it’s all sport – the winner wins. You bitches just pretend to support each other, but really all you do is compete.”
“Bullshit! I am a woman’s woman! I went out of my way to hire only women. I paid them well. I loved working with my all women teams. We did great stuff together. That was what made Donna Karan the brand! When I sold the company I opened Urban Zen, gave money to Hillary, Planned Parenthood, I started women’s labor incentives in Haiti. Health Care programs for low income families here in the City, everything I did was for women and their families!”
“No one cares about that now! You sold your women out. You said they were asking for it — for sex with me!” Harvey laughs. “..and here we are — thinking we’re both champions for women…” He laughs harder.
Donna weeps. She drinks down her wine, gets up for a refill and starts pacing.
“You and I are NOT the same. I am angry! Furious at what you guys create in the name of the female sex. The way YOU portray us! And then we all need to live up to that warped idea of us! I was so fucking pissed at that DKNY dog-walking commercial with that Gone Girl actress.”
“Emily Ratakovski, is her name. Cute girl.”
“It was NOT MY WORK! That bra has MY NAME on it, and yet I have nothing to do with that branding. NOTHING! I don’t even know who ran that campaign.”
“I thought the ad was cute.” He takes a suggestive drag on his cigar and readjusts his robe.
“CUTE!? I no longer design the ‘cute’ shit that is out there with my name on it. I designed for real women twenty years ago! Working women! Not girls. Not grown women who want to look like sexy young girls. Not girls who want to prove that they have a positive body image of themselves by walking down the street undressed. Or post nude pictures – look at me, look at me, how I love my body — my body is better than yours.”
“Instagram is one fucking competitive shit-show of hot women trying to out-hot-body each other… but I can’t touch them!”
“No you can’t. Different thing. It’s complicated but it’s different.”
“Not to me. Not to men. Men think it’s all for them.”
“Well, get with it. That’s the depressing part. It’s for ourselves and each other. Not to get laid. I almost kill myself with daily yoga so I look fit, I’ve had nips and tucks and lifts and it all hurts and goes south anyway and I wish I could just stop. Believe that it doesn’t matter. But I can’t. I need to feel young to feel good. And feeling good is all about looking good. For me. In this bloody business. Fashion…. and also in your fucking films.”
“So move to your beloved Haiti.”
“I might. It’s great. For that reason, perhaps. Also. When I am with people who have so little, are so positive, so loving, I don’t even look in the mirror. I go days without thinking about myself. My age, my saggy arms, my wrinkles. And yet I feel sexier there than I ever do in New York.”
Harvey stares at her.
“Actually … Haiti is the only place I still feel sexy. Worthy. Real. Myself.”
“You sound like Georgina,” he sounds bored.
“You know what Donna? I’m tired. I’m totally fucked. I lost everything I’ve worked for my entire life, so I don’t really give a shit when or why you feel sexy. When any woman feels sexy.”
“All you care about is yourself.”
“That’s right — I’ve earned it.”
“ A lonely place Harvey, I can’t help you there.”
“ I never asked you to.”
“No, I did that all on my own. Three off-the-cuff, inebriated sentences, and MY reputation of 30 years is down the toilet. All for the least deserving man in the universe. And all I want to do is talk to Stephan. He’d know what to do. You didn’t deserve another marriage. But I loved him. I was faithful. I thought we’d be together forever. Then he dies! So now this one is on me and me only. And I have no idea what to do. How to be in this gotcha world – I try but it’s all too much and I miss him.”
Harvey yawns. “Goodnight Donna. Thanks for stopping by.”
“Goodnight Harvey fucking Weinstein.”
This is a piece of satire that reflects my sense of the culture that created these two “fallen icons”. I have met them both. I interviewed with Donna in 1999 and saw her socially in the Hamptons and Miami. She is a loving, open woman whom I truly believe has done a lot to support and help modern women. She lost her husband to cancer in 2001. He was her champion and partner. I don’t know why she said what she said this week, or how she meant it, but I have no problem cutting her some slack. Weinstein however…
I have my own Harvey Fucking Weinstein Story.
In 1989 a British actress friend insisted I go out with him. I don’t know if she was trying to ingratiate herself, I don’t know how he’d treated her. I do know that he introduced her to Woody Allen who subsequently used her in Husband and Wives. She told me he was a bit of a groper, but that she’d warned him to keep his hands off me. Ha!
It was to be a drinks and movie date and we met at the Bemelmans Bar. First thing he said to me was “I promised Lysette I’d keep my hands to myself.” Nevertheless I kept peeling him off me over cocktails and then he fell asleep within the first ten minutes of the movie. Relieved, I left him there, snoring loudly, and skipped out.
Lysette and I laughed about it and he never mentioned the date to her again.
Years later I was in an elevator with him, my husband and a glam crowd at a film award ceremony for Richard Gere. Liam Neeson had just smiled at me so I felt feisty. From my corner of the elevator I said loudly, for everyone to hear:
“Harvey! The only date that ever fell asleep on me!”
A Plastic is Forever pop up shop on Friday the 20th of April was the climax of my three week stay in Eleuthera
It was the welcome party for a weekend of Earthday Festivities in Eleuthera and I was the featured guest with a gallery full of Plastic is Forever – earrings, bracelets, necklaces, scarves, tees, kerchiefs, stationary, and even a pair of pants and a “red carpet” dress.
linen “shipwreck” pants hand sewn with orange mono-filament
I took over the Beach House Boutique which belongs to my friend Jude (she had generously donated the space for the day.) Usually the shop is a cornucopia of treasures, a feast for the eyes, a trove of endless fashion goodies- something for everyone, but I had planned to strip it down to a white, bare, breezy gallery space. A place where the colors of a new generation of beach plastic would speak loudly to an audience that came from all over to celebrate Earthday in Eleuthera.
For starters I needed five sheets of plywood, painted white, to cover the walls, and had located them as soon as I’d arrived in Tarpum Bay. They were stored at the fire station, they were already white, and they were mine for the event, but eventually would end up as the ceiling of a community building. Perfect, no waste, they would be recycled….
On Thursday, the day before my installation, I drove past the Governor’s Harbour park where Saturday’s festivities would take place. Stalls for local vendors (food, crafts, drinks and community info) were already built around the perimeter and in the middle stood a small hand-hewn stage prepared for the eight consecutive hours of island music and speakers.
The white backdrop of the stage looked vaguely familiar. It was made from five sheets of roughly painted white plywood.
Of course I panicked.
But no one else did.
I melted down NYC style. Where TF was my plywood?
Don’t worry man… they laughed…
The next morning between 9am and 12 am ten sheets of plywood materialized. And a jar of white paint. And two brushes. Word had gone out that the lady of the plastic needed plywood…
poster in the Sands liquor store
I was disappointed that the dates of my daughters’ FCA tests in Miami made it impossible for my family to get to Eleuthera in time for my event.
I was sent three fashion angels… the A-team of style mavens … they arrived from NYC on Thursday night…
Julie Gilhart, Christine Park and Berrin Noorata had planned to spend Earthday in Eleuthera. To help me! After two weeks of lonely nights in my castle I had a house full of women – four sleepovers – I couldn’t believe my luck and they couldn’t believe where they had landed – paradise – a mere five hour trip from Seventh Avenue (same as a trip in the Hampton Jitney to Montauk on a Friday afternoon in July).
We spent Friday hooshing. I laid out the store after the plywood had gone up. Gallery in the front, One Beach screening room and check-out in the back …
front to back
Julie, Christine and Berrin have worked together for years and easily fell into creating the pop up store.
Together we played shop and it was fun…
Christine hangs the napkin rings
Berrin styles packaging and check out
Julie works pricing
At 3pm a giant inflatable plastic purple foot floated across the deck outside the shop’s window. Barefoot Wine, the sponsor of the One Beach film and the wine sponsor for the event, had arrived for set-up. Erected, right outside my temple against beach plastic pollution, was an inflatable purple plastic palace constructed from enormous Barefoot logo feet.
Those purple bare feet were not walking the One Beach talk. The message about plastic pollution, as in the single-use senseles plastic gifts of purple plastic leis and purple plastic barefoot key rings which were handed-out to our guests, evidently had not trickled-down from Napa Valley to Nassau.
With Miss Bahamas Earth
The welcome party was a hit. Over 200 people attended and we sold a lot of Plastic is Forever pieces.
Wich means that whether we “get Away from it all” or “throw our plastic trash Away”, Away is the same place – the beautiful beaches of Eleuthera – and how we, visitors, come from societies that litter the oceans. I urged the crowd to take responsibility, on behalf of Eleuthera, the place we all claim to love so much, and help reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans and on the pristine beaches of Away – Eleuthera, Hawaii, Bali, etc.
Shaun Ingraham introduces the One Eleuthera Foundation. Photo: Azaleta Ishmail Newry
The next day Michelle and Craig Symonette hosted the VIP lunch at their stunning home on Twin Coves. VIP indeed, $600,000 was pledged to One Eleuthera and they were off to a flying start. Shaun was beaming when I handed him my, by comparison, measly check, the % contribution to One Eleuthera from the sales of the previous night. I pledged more to come as a % of Plastic is Forever will continue to benefit One Eleuthera.
table settings with the first ever beach plastic napkin rings
Saturday night was party time in Bayfront Park with reggae, rap and even a Junkanoo…
Sunday morning was very wet as a storm passed over the island overnight but Shelby White who created the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve, in memory of her husband, said it was the best gift mother earth could have bestowed on Earthday – rain was what they needed most.
Shelby White, #1 on Eleuthera’s best-dressed list with Craig Symonette #1 fun host
The afternoon picnic at Coco di Mama hosted by the Urgo family was a windy affair.
Most people stayed indoors and drank.
Mark from the Leon Levy preserve at the Coco di Mama party
Coco di Mama is by far the cutest hotel on Eleuthera on the usually calm and turquoise Alabaster Bay . It has been my favorite ever since it opened. With the Urgo family as its current owners it is poised to expand to 42 rooms by January 2014, which is great news for the island.
Coco di Mama seen from the sea
By the end of the day, thanks to three powerful weeks and Sammy’s cocktails, I was giddy and somewhat worse for wear.
And sad that I had to tear myself away from Away….
“My career is really taking off here” was not something I expected to say seven years after I first walked the beaches off Eleuthera . When I first noticed the colored plastic bits in the surf line and was strangely attracted to their paradoxical existence, the color they added to the natural elements, the way many plastic shapes seemed to find organic companions and together created still-lives in the sand. Like the green flip flop perfectly aligned with matching green beach grass, a white bottle top buried in black seaweed paired with a round shell of the same color and texture, two golden seeds cozied up against the edge of nylon string as if they had agreed to meet there.
Seven years later I notice it still and still crawl the beaches hungry for more, for pieces I have neither found nor captured before.
I sat with my friend Maureen on her most perfect porch overlooking the long curve of Wyckee Beach. The sand and sea tinted vibrant pink by the early sunset.
Career and Eleuthera in one sentence, how’s that possible? I asked.
I had just returned from the Island School down in south Eleuthera, beyond Green Castle near the settlement of Deep Creek. The school takes juniors and gives them a mind, body, and spirit journey that takes them away from their traditional high school curriculum wherever they live.
Nadine, the art teacher, had invited me to teach a beach plastic workshop to 48 kids in the Fall semester.
But on the first day I taught a workshop at the Deep Creek Middle School which is affiliated with the Island School.
We started the day with a beach sweep at the Cotton Bay Club (Juan Tripp’s Eleuthera dream of more than half a century ago.) Its ruins hide just beyond the dune amongst the Casuarinas, gaping and crumbling fifties bungelows some with indestructible nylon drapes ghostly in the wind. Here we collected beach plastic that had been swept into the dune grass and beyond by hurricane Irene last August. Stories of the eye passing over the island twice still fresh on everybody’s lips.
It was a good time for harvesting beach plastic…
That evening Nadine showed the One Beach film to faculty and staff of the school, projected on a white wall in her apartment. The film, which is 24 minutes long, took about an hour. Five minutes of loading, five minutes of watching, everyone was used to slow connection, laid back, on island time.
I answered questions while waiting for buffering.
The next morning we had our first Island School workshop.
I love the intensity in the class room, everyone scavenging the piles and looking for ways to make beautiful from beach plastic, tentative at first, picking up a piece, feeling it, studying its color and shape, teaming it with another, then picking up the tools and shaping it, insisting that NO it’s not trash, it’s not orphaned, it is material.
Insisting that “Away” is right there, in their hands… claiming ownership.
(We did stop for 220.127.116.11, standing in a large circle counting down while one girls kept trying to peek out of the window to see if the end of the world was reaching the Bahamas.)
By the end of this workshop Nadine and I felt we were out of good beach plastic which was a perfect excuse to take my first trip to the famous Lighthouse Beach, where beyond the dune amongst Casuarina pine needles we found enough for many more earrings, bracelets, neck and other art pieces.
harvesting on Lighthouse Beach
The next morning was workshop #2, a second group of 24 students.
Afterwards a 16 year old girl wrote about her solo overnight camping experience and beach plastic on the school’s blog:
(It made me weep for it captures past, present, future and the possibility of change…)
by Cacique Claire
Sitting in my solo spot on one of the most beautiful beaches in existence it seemed that the world was perfect. That was until I turned around and saw the pile of trash behind me that had washed up on the beach from Hurricane Irene. In my time in this spot, I had picked up a tiny fraction of the trash and put it into a pile. But, what good was it in a pile? It was organized, and parts of my spot looked neater, but I had done nothing more than transfer the trash to another spot. For the next forty-eight hours I continued to try to pile the trash. I found funny little things including many bottles and a strange little dog toy in the shape of a bear. As I walked away on day three I looked back. Now my spot looked clean of trash, only I knew that behind the bushes was a large pile of garbage I had hidden, but it was there.
I have been thinking of this a lot lately, this whole idea of where our waste goes. The reality of it is that when we throw away our garbage and it disappears into a truck it still sticks around, forever. Our guest artist today Barbara de Vries talked about how when you buy a drink in a bottle we have this idea of just owning the liquid, but we need to own the plastic bottle as well and realize that it will never really go away. When I walked into Barbara’s workshop Saturday, I was astounded. Lining the walls were beautiful pieces of art, it wasn’t until Barbara began to explain her materials that I realized the earrings, necklaces, bracelets, shirts, rings and decorations were all made up completely of trash. Then Barbara explained that we would be working with the same plastics today to create art. She said that she had found all of the materials for today’s workshop from Lighthouse Beach, the same area where we had our solos. My mind flashed back to my pile of trash in my spot, and I had this strange feeling of relief. Finally, the junk would be put to use and be safe from washing back into the ocean. I went out to look at our options, and staring back at me was a blue and white dog toy, resembling a bear. She had discovered my pile of trash, and saved it. I watched, amazed as the trash was transformed into art. At the end of the day one of my friends had created a pair of earrings made from the handles of the dog toy. I realize now, this trash may never go away. But we can save it. We can transform it into something beautiful, and continue to educate about keeping our beaches clean. This experience forever changed the way I look at plastic and ‘garbage’. Instead of feeling guilty about the trash at my solo spot, I am wearing a little silver ring, with a piece of blue plastic set into it, that came from a funny little dog toy.
Did she know that the face of the little dog toy is in my toolbox? I had nabbed it off her table to incorporate as the clasp of a yellow necklace.
But now I am keeping it with me, just as it is, to remind me of Cacique Claire, Nadine and everyone else at the ground breaking, paradigm changing, most awesome Island School.
Beach plastic necklace. Crosses made from crate embellished with seed pearls
Today the ether is atwitter with quotes from Steve Jobs to “think different”.
Everyone is encouraging everyone to think different.
(A paradox I think)
The TED movement is based on this Steve concept, in fact TED has branded thinking different with “Ideas Worth Sharing” and encourages people from all over to share their ideas, their ways of different thinking, around the globe.
Many people are asking about my TED talk, “How did you get in? How did you do it?”
To be honest it had not occurred to me until I was invited by TED to share my recent work at their next event in Miami.
The evolution of my relationship to what I find on the beach and what I do with it has been organic and compared to the speed of my previous life on 7th Avenue where a new collection was due every six weeks, it was slow.
Slow is good. Slow gave me more time to think . But, because the thoughts happened over an extended period of time, they no longer feel different. They have become part of who I am.
So when I talk about my passion for beach plastic it does not feel like I think different.
Different may well be in the eye of the beholder and it’s in constant flux.
Sixty years ago plastic was a “different” material. It was introduced as the material that would give nature a break because we were depleting wood, bone, ivory etc. Now there is not a moment in our life when we do not interact with it. The entire planet is awash with plastic. Oceans carry plastic particles around like cells in a bloodstream. Plastic has been found in tens of thousands of living species, including us. Single use plastic is no longer giving nature a break, it is suffocating life.
In the past I put my creative work out there, but not the thought behind it. I have always been more interested in the outcome rather than the explanation of the creative process and believe that authenticity resonates on its rightful frequency. But because my work now has an element of activism I succumbed.
I’d hate to preach. I am not here to make any individual feel guilty. I can inspire but I cannot tell you what to do.
(Corporations, hell yes, I’ll make them guilty all day long, as well as government and policy makers).
But as individuals we have free will. We are in charge of our own destiny. We can inform ourselves and choose to act. We can decide to bring our own bags to the supermarket instead of using 20 plastic bags instead. We can recycle, reuse, repurpose and refuse. We have the choice to take responsibility.
in between the lines
My personal transformation started in Eleuthera 8 years ago.
On my first beach walk I noticed, in between the lines in the sand, bright flecks of color. My initial thought was how pretty but then I realized these specks of plastic were not supposed to be there.
By the end of that first walk I had encountered everything that mankind had ever made in plastic.
Crates, chairs, brushes, lids, containers, barrettes, flip flops and sneaker and endless lengths of nylon rope.
Even on this remote “pristine” beach I realized that we live in a man made world.
Being a designer I look at almost everything as shape, color, texture and inspiration and what I saw that day I’d never seen before.
The beach plastic had been tumbled in sand, salt and coral. and was bleached by the sun. It had been in nature for so long that it had taken on a natural patina. Some pieces looked like stone, like little colored gems.
I started picking them up.
My love hate relationship with plastic started in that moment .
Back home I tried to find out more.
I learned that we each consume roughly 300 pounds of plastic a year of which a mere 7% is recycled and 8 million pieces of plastic find their way into the ocean every day.
What could I do?
I had an ever increasing “collection” of beach plastic in my studio and I started making earrings.
Eventually I had an awakening to the possibilities of this material that was never really owned but had been thrown to the mythical place called away.
To make jewelry was a transformation, not just for me, but also for the material.
Think of a water-bottle top. Does anyone ever feel that they own a plastic bottle top? It just keeps the liquid inside the bottle, right? Which you don’t feel you own either. Does the manufacturer of your water feel he owns that bottle?
Nobody owns single-use plastic.
I like finding weathered bottle tops. They make great earrings, and I love selling single use plastic, beach plastic, into ownership.
If plastic is made to last forever then maybe, like diamonds, it can be loved forever.
I got this comment yesterday:
“Keep cleaning up the beaches lady.. but what are you gonna do with all those balloons with the plastic string ties and can you make something with all the garbage those people in Miami leave on the beaches while you’re at it???”
He does NOT think different!
I am not cleaning up the beaches for him or anyone. I do it for me. Creating beauty with beach plastic makes me happy and by getting your attention I implicate you in the tragedy of our single-use throw-away culture.
Almost four weeks later and my TED talk is not online.
I practice my ZEN patience and wonder if:
When one does a TED talk and nobody can see it, is it still is a TED talk?
As I write this I have not seen myself TED talking.
I am glad it is over.
Was it fun?
Did I do good?
I did terrible in the dress rehearsal. Like really awful, like I wondered if they could fire me.
It was the clock. Right in the middle of the audience, at perfect eye level, is a monitor. It shows the slides or video that is projected behind the speakers so we don’t have to keep turning around to address our images. Its about 3ft by 18″. But I could not really see because over my pictures there was a giant fluorescent 13 that took up the entire screen. 13 minutes for my talk. Seconds and minutes passing backwards, like the proverbial bomb in James Bond movies and I was James, responsible for saving the world in 13 minutes.
photo: Ilmar Saar
At 8 minutes I thought.
As I was talking my dress rehearsal TED.
I thought. 8? 13 minus 8? Thats is 5 minutes done. Is that all?
Seriously, I did math while I was still speaking. Isn’t it amazing? The gymnastics of which the mind is capable.
Then I worried. Could I fill those 8 minutes?
I lost my train, my momentum and I blanked.
Mouth and head full of cotton wool.
Nothing came to mind. Nothing came out.
Was I stupid?
I had felt really stupid late August when I had written my entire talk and started practicing. Almost 2000 words. I did not really memorize, which, as I was told by both husband and Gina from TED, was a bad idea, but I did have an order and a rhythm for what and how I would TED talk.
Besides I had a 13 minute multi-media show which played behind me.
Not that I would talk to slides.
Like manually click them.
I hate that format.
“Oh, and here we have me, at the beach, finding my beach plastic…”
Too much like those family vacation slide shows of our neighbors that my parents sneered at as ever-so bourgeois.
Anyway I was stupid when I started working my TED.
Unable to memorize anything more than one paragraph.
I got advice from everyone.
Do it in the mirror. In the car. Film yourself and play it back. You will be fine, wing it, you know your stuff , just make it up as you go along…
I felt so dumb that I bought Gingko.
I almost overdosed on Gingko.
I still felt stupid. I am too old I thought.
I have an old brain.
Then I worried about what to wear and I felt shallow.
I had my roots done, but did hair dye kill more brain cells?
I told husband who was still in Milford.
I had not seen him in weeks but he was coming to Miami for my talk.
He sounded sharp, bright and cheery.
“Not to worry, you’ll remember when you’re up there.”
Husband was away. But husband was coming to Miami three days before my talk.
That would give me enough time to clear my mind.
And he would love it.
As soon as he arrived I started clearing my mind.
Wow, he said. This is great. I should stay away more often.
The next morning I practiced my TED and could remember four minute spans. I had two days left to dress rehearsal, three to actual night. That was four to five mind-clearing sessions.
It so happened to be our 21st anniversary.
An excellent excuse for siestas. Back rubs. Jacuzzi’s and what may ensue…
By Monday morning, driving back from Iona’s school, I remembered my entire TED in exactly 13 minutes. What had been the big deal? I could do it backwards…
There was the clock.
The unknown factor.
That screwed me up.
“Its why we have dress rehearsals,” Gina said. “Now go home and forget about it. Do not look at your speech again. Relax. You’ll be fine tomorrow.”
I did relax on Tuesday the 13th of September. I had a pedicure and told husband I was having a nap at 2pm.
Afternoon delight, he hummed rather absent mindedly.
Afterwards I confessed that I had been using him.
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“You know, the Seinfeld Theory?” I hinted.
Wha’? he said.
You know that episode where George thinks lack of sex makes his mind sharper and he feels smart, then Elaine uses this abstinence method but she becomes more stupid. So she begs Jerry to have sex with her just so she can clear her mind.
You know? No? You don’t remember?
Nah. I don’t think so. What day is it again? shall we go and see a movie tonight or something…?
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
Away is Here I wrote as the title of my TEDxMia talk application six weeks ago.
Two weeks ago I heard that I was on the shortlist of fifteen applicants out of almost seventy and was summoned for an audition.
Through the stage door at the Adrienne Arsht Center I went, up the elevator and into a quiet and impersonal office where I sat and waited, straining my ears trying to hear the genius inspiration on the other side of the door.
All I heard was muffled voices.
I checked my check list like I was cramming for an exam. My key words and new statistics like the plastic industry employs over 1 million Americans, is the third largest US industry, generates about 450 billion annually, and each American consumes and disposes of about 300 pounds of plastic per year, ten times more than in 1960, and that we have produced/consumed as much plastic in the last decade as we did in all of the 20th century.
Then the door opened and two TED potentials (male variety) walked past me, looking ever so pleased with themselves.
I wanted to run. Like in the other direction from the judges, three female and one male, who were left behind in the room. But they invited me in and told me to sit at one side of a large conference table while they faced me across the great teak expanse.
You have fifteen minutes, they said, to tell us why you should be a TED Miami speaker next September.
Wow, this is a first for me, I thought. Like a huge fucking first.
J Lo, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson came to mind while I worried about flubbing my well-practiced spiel.
See, I’m not a natural performer. At least not historically speaking. Yes I’ve done public speaking, to as many as 300 people, but I never sought it out.
I didn’t seek this out either. This TED audition American Idol style. I applied because I was given no choice by two enthusiastic friend-fans who sent me the link to the TED application form, like daily for two weeks, and kept asking whether I’d filled it out yet. I did not want to disappoint them, and also my approach to Plastic is Forever has been to go with the energy that is generated by the project itself. Which means say no to nothing, and trust that the path is right and unfolds as a I move with it. ( A Zen approach that’s also very new for me and has come with age and a better understanding of the way expectation can screw with process).
Anyway I’d filled out the application with the integrity beach plastic pollution deserves. Putting into words my passion to take this orphaned material and introduce it to the design world as something new, something desirable and create a new way to approach beach plastic ownership.
So I did my spiel. Or rather I started with it and then, as happens with this project, it took its own direction. It speaks for me as if the message is so burning, so urgent, so real that my simple mind has no control over it. Really! I know that sounds ever-so New Agey, but what I mean is that I engaged the people in the room, they became curious, started asking question and then the subject just directs itself.
Next they asked to see my images, and when that was over my fifteen minutes were over and I got a wee appreciative applause.
Well, I thought, at least I did not hear any applause for the two guys who left before me. Ha!
Now I’m hanging in suspense, checking my e-mails several times a day, while I tell myself that I really do not care, that I am fine without it, that getting it will just be fabulous, but but but…
Of course I want it. Once I put my name in the hat, my spiel in the ring, myself on the line, there is no going back emotionally.
I LOVE TED talks.
They are awesome and I must be a TED talker.
I have entire arguments in my head convincing whomever why I SHOULD be a TED talker. I put my imaginative competitors ( I have no idea who they are) down for having old and stale ideas (I have no idea what these might be).
I am now of the age where, when faced with a photo of myself, I cringe and only see the wrinkles, double chin(s?), roots etc. You know what I mean, and I think maybe I’ll like this one in ten years time, as my mind is forever a decade behind my appearance.
So when dear Gina Rudan from Practical Genius posted this video of our interview last week I watched with my eyes shut until Kiki said, “mom you look really pretty.” It was the surprise in my daughter’s voice that made me look.
So, here some anti beach plastic pollution advocacy that I do not mind sharing, and thank you Gina for making me watchable…