Wednesday 25 February 2015

american optimism

Optimism is essential to achievement and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress
- Nicholas Murray Butler (Nobel Peace Prize recipient)
Flag by Jasper Johns, c/o Wikipedia

 One thing I have been accused of since moving to Sydney is that I can be too optimistic (as if there is such a thing). I mostly assumed it was a personality trait, and generally accept it as a compliment not a criticism (even if it was intended as the latter). Then last week I was attending a lecture by a visiting professor from the US, Richard Maxwell, who was discussing greening media technology, when a comment from the crowd teasingly referred to his 'California optimism'.

Aha! A fellow optimist in the room! And he's a fellow American - could this be a national trait?

Then Friday I attended an event organised by that featured another American, Bob Massie, a leading thinker in sustainable development. His speech was incredibly powerful and uplifting, and he ended by saying we must not allow ourselves to be defeated through the 'derision of people who thought they knew better'*. We must maintain a vision of a better future at all costs.

He was a gifted orator, and I was struck by how dramatically his speech differed to the activist speeches I have grown accustomed to, which can appear fueled by rage, not hope.

Hope is a powerful tool.

Hope has driven social change throughout history, ranging from the women's suffrage movement to the civil rights movement, and multitudes more before and after.

Hope enables me to see beyond despairing statistics and the anti-environmental denialist campaigns to envision a sustainable and just future.

Having hope does not mean that you don't see the challenges ahead, but that you've seen them and have decided to fight anyway.

So I thank these two American thinkers for coming to Australia and sharing their progressive and optimistic thoughts with us Sydneysiders. And I want to thank them personally for this reminder that, among all the incredible gifts I received through the chance of being born an American, optimism and hope are two of the most important.

So next time I get accused of being too optimistic, I'll just say thanks, I was born that way.

I had this poster on my wall in my first apartment.
Image c/o Wikimedia Commons

*Massie was quoting Albie Sachs, South African activist and former judge

Tuesday 17 February 2015

film review : advanced style

Last week I finally sat down to watch the delightful documentary Advanced Style.

Ilona Royce Smithkin - she makes her own
eyelashes, among her other charms.

Based on the blog and book by the same name by Ari Seth Cohen, Advanced Style introduces us to a number of stylish, sassy, and unique New York women who are not only aging gracefully, they are aging with style. My only wish is that we'd been able to get to know these ladies a little bit more in depth, as I suspect there are a lot of great stories to be told beyond just their ability to dress. However, based on what I did see, I found myself falling in love with each of them as I watched the film; Zelda in particular stole my heart when she proclaimed:
I am a happy person.
I think I was born happy - I was a 10 pound baby!
Zelda Kaplan, who sadly passed away during the filming of the documentary.

There is so much to love about this film - the fashion, the creativity, the personalities, the accents, the joie de vivre - but ultimately what I loved the most was the overarching message that age doesn't mean you lose your beauty, you become more beautiful because of it.

A number of the women featured in the documentary have been hired for fashion campaigns - ranging from Kmart to Lanvin - and I hope these campaigns are not merely a trend, but a sign of the fashion industry becoming more inclusive with the types of people used in advertising campaigns.

Jacquie Tajah Murdock

So what does this have to do with sustainability?

Well, what all these women know is that trends come and go, but good style is timeless - quality over quantity! Also, it's important to take care of your fashion pieces.

I loved seeing Joyce Carpati take out her beloved Chanel bags to show her granddaughter - the bags gently cared for over the decades and stored in protective cloth bags - and explaining that they will be hers one day. I also admired Joyce's overall elegance, her demeanor, and her hair is magnificent.

Joyce Carpati

Tziporah Salamon spoke of the care that she puts into her clothing - both in terms of planning outfits (which may take up to 7 years to get just right!) as well as mending and handwashing to care for the clothes properly.

Tziporah Salamon

And it's not surprising that a number of these style mavens own or work in vintage clothing shops, like the vivacious Lynn Dell, who owns the Off-Broadway Boutique.

Lynn Dell

Debra Rapoport - who featured in the Kmart advertisement - also creates many fashion and jewellery pieces form recycled materials, including paper towel and toilet paper rolls (read this great interview on Recycled Fashion). Debra also shares my love of yoga, and her outfits are even louder than mine!

Debra Rapoport

So overall, a lot of lessons to learn from our stylish elders - take care of your clothes, take time to dress and express yourself, and life really does keep getting better with age (except the aching bones, of course).

Have you seen Advanced Style? I'd love to know what you thought of it!

Tuesday 10 February 2015

full circle

Well, I guess my transformation is complete. I now own a pair of Birkenstocks. I'm a real hippie* now.

When I attended high school in the late 1990s I was appalled by the number of my fellow students who unashamedly rocked their Birkenstocks with wool socks (you know who you are). In their defense, there was a certain 'outdoorsy' cohort of students who likely inspired this trend, but memories of this awkward  look turned me off Birksenstocks for the better part of two decades.

Ahh the memories . . . it certainly didn't stop me from dating
a couple fellas who wore this interesting combination.

I admit, I'm guilty of keeping the Birkenstocked-Hippie stereotype alive in my book; these sandals are referenced in the chapter when I visit the Manly Food Co-Op and see women in their Birkenstocks and feel there is no possible way I could fit in a place like that.

But my inner fashionista simply cannot ignore the growing trend for this quirky and comfortable sandal. And really, the writing was on the wall as soon as the stylist for the Clean Cut Designer Showcase sent our lovely models down the catwalk in - you guessed it - Birkenstocks and socks.

Can you also spot the white Birkenstocks
on the right, on one of our guests?

After much deliberation, including considering exactly which outfits I could wear these sandals with so as to not simply be a slave to fashion (or buy something that I really won't wear), I finally purchased my very first pair of Birkenstocks.

I opted for the patent leather black Arizona style, and can confirm they really do go with a large portion of my wardrobe, are extremely comfortable, and live up to the environmentalist credentials I always assumed they had.

They are perfectly paired with my Carlie Ballard hand-woven
Ikat traveller pants - and the ideal shoe for walking around
the cobblestone pathways on Sydney University campus.

And I even wore them to the Manly Food Co-op** on the weekend . . . but I don't think you'll catch me wearing them with socks anytime soon.


* * * *

*Dear self-identifying hippies, please do not take offense! I admire your dedication to your lifestyle, it is simply that I have never felt comfortable in the traditional 'hippie' attire. As my friend told me on the weekend, I am now a 'North Shore Hippie' (i.e., not a 'real' one like he is)

**The Manly Food Co-op is currently raising funds to help them move into a larger space - if you've been contemplating membership for awhile, now is an excellent time to join!