As I consider how to cultivate this space, I think about the *feeling* I want to convey more than I think about the content.
An inside joke.
A much-needed latte (extra-hot so it’s not cold by the time you get around to drinking it).
These are the things, however small, that inspire a moment of gratefulness in me because they make me feel connected, relaxed, empowered to face the day.
I’ve been reading Jonathan Van Ness’ book over the last week. I bought it Saturday and haven’t been able to put it down since, save to write you this note.
Like many others, I was introduced to JVN by watching Queer Eye on Netflix.
If you’ve never watched the show, may I implore you to add it to your must-watch list. The show isn’t linear so I’d recommend beginning with S3 E1 “From Hunter to Huntee” where they help a good ol’ Southern outdoors-woman get her groove back, or S3 E3 “Jones Bar B Q” where they honor the heritage of a famous BBQ restaurant in Kansas City by helping the sisters that inherited it from their father envision a bigger future for their family’s legacy. Or S2 E1 “God Bless Gay” if you just feel like having a really good cry.
Among my group of friends, or I guess among progressive city Millennials, Queer Eye is cherished and hyping it up any further would be redundant. The 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes speaks for itself. But I realize there are still people that haven’t seen it like my mom who has expressed an interest in watching it privately to avoid closed-minded comments from my dad (the endless work-in-progress that he is).
What you need to know is this show isn’t about gay men or makeovers.
It’s about the fabric of American identity, the connections we share, and how vibrantly the human spirit comes alive when we dare to elevate the dignity of others.
Jonathan is a hairdresser by trade, a comedian, a *majorly successful* podcast host (among my favorites!) and as of this week, a New York Times best-selling author. His whole thing on the show is giving the individual receiving a makeover a lesson in skin and hair care, ever-impressing the importance of a holistic approach where beauty begins on the inside.
When I picked up his highly-anticipated memoir, “Over the Top”, I expected his gracious insights, his hilarious way of sharing anecdotes but I didn’t expect to become fiercely overprotective of this sweet spirit of a human.
As he retells his life story, Jonathan Van Ness recounts some dark years as a young adult characterized by self-destruction. I won’t spoil it for you and I can’t retell it as well as he can anyway, but a central theme is he got to a place where he didn’t care what happened to him. He partook in risky behavior in different areas of his life and the collateral damage was significant.
I consumed half of the book last night and as I completed a dramatic retelling of JVN’s life to RB this morning, I concluded with, “isn’t it wild his life was so hard?”
(I realize how silly this sounds now. JVN grew up gay in Quincy, Illinois. Of course his life was hard. Red carpets and blow-outs are deceiving.)
RB thought about my words for a second and replied with his signature brand of casual wisdom, “being a human is hard.”
And it’s true, being a human is hard.
The words encapsulate my favorite thought shared by Maya Angelou being that (and I’m paraphrasing here) once we understand we as individuals have the same capacity for excellence as the best among us and the same capacity for evil as the worst, we’ll understand we are all inherently the same.
As a result of the trés shitty day I had yesterday and a new appreciation for the things that fill my day with gratitude, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite things below. The Queen herself would call it self-care.
Lush Bath Bombs
A regular bath is to a Lush bath what a bag of Lays is to a gourmet meal. They may both quell your hunger but they don’t hit the same way.
Lush is a handmade all-natural cosmetics company that prides itself on keeping animals as friends, not testers. Their products are famous for their otherworldly fragrances (literally don’t try to tell me heaven won’t smell like an Intergalactic Bath Bomb, I won’t believe you) and sustainable packaging. I’m obsessed with their products, particularly their ocean salt scrub. If you haven’t taken an evening to soak your muscles in warm water while inhaling the smell of pure jasmine, I need you to love yourself better this week.
JK—maybe you have a thing about baths or hate all things floral but they have other scents that will transform your tub (or moisturizing routine, you know, whatever) into an oceanfront veranda or citrus grove. It’s all about finding something you like.
Quick aside: I’m a fan of baths but I’m an even bigger fan of their luxe cousin, bathhouses. Russian friends in Brooklyn first introduced me to bathhouses which they just did like, as a weekend family activity. I would later be introduced to Aire baths and never be the same again.
Restorative nights with my BFFs
John Mulaney perfectly communicated the deep sense of joy we feel when relieved from obligations we made last week (when we were younger, dumber), but there’s something to be said for friends that make you feel the exact opposite.
I’ve recently made a habit of going to my best friend’s house to eat snacks, watch very silly movies that don’t care for sensible plotlines and talk about everything annoying us that particular day/week/month. I always leave grateful for the space she makes for my soul to just be, no performing necessary.
First things first—I didn’t mean to get a dog.
And certainly not a dog that sheds its coat two times a year en masse. But when RB and I got back together, he had a new four-legged friend in tow and I understood that permitting him back into my life meant making room for her, too.
Within a couple months of knowing her, I felt a part of my heart I hadn’t recognized in years expand. You know the one, it’s reserved for our dogs, our cats, whatever creature has burrowed its way into our affections. It’s not unusual find us spooning on the couch as you can see here or snoozing together midday and it brings me an unreal source of comfort to know she’s at home where I’ll soon scoop her into hanging out on the couch with me.
Diving into a really good memoir
This one’s a tad obvious here but I LOVE them. I like reading fiction just fine but I’ll consume memoirs like air. There’s something about getting lost in the life of another person, even more so if their lifestyle is unfamiliar to my own. I feel more connected to myself and to others when I’m lost in the human story reading about another person’s journey around the sun and absorbing the lessons they’ve learned along the way as my own.
When I was a guppy and homebaked goods were still allowed in schools, my mom taught me how to make a mean tray of Betty Crocker cupcakes for the school bake sale.
I later moved beyond the box and began making everything from gluten-free cookies to no-bake cookies and cakes I’d bring home for family dinners. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth myself which is why I promptly pawn off the goods on others once they’re out of the over, but there’s something soothing about the exactness baking demands. My need for control is satisfied by the perimeters of measurements and baking times. It comforts me when I can’t put words to my fears or disappointments. After all, the world can’t possibly fall if your cake doesn’t.
If you see me baking these days, call my mom—something has gone terribly wrong.
Paper, paper, paper
I have an ongoing, unrelenting love affair with paper.
I love, LOVE, love finding a new store to peruse greeting cards and stationary and craft supplies in with a fervor that is unapologetic and at times unhealthy (to my bank account). My mom took me to Jo-Ann’s and Michael’s as a kid to prepare science fair projects and now, I wander around the aisles of fake flowers arranging wreaths in my mind that I’ll never make or feeling every texture of ribbon available. And there are hundreds. I lose hours in stores like these because just when you think you’ve seen everything, you turn down the scrapbooking aisle. Or find the office supplies, have mercy.
But I always end up taking home notecards, lined envelopes in every color of the rainbow, or gift tags I’ll need for Christmas presents which may be 7 months from the time of purchase, sure. My rationale stands: I will need them… eventually.
Honorable mentions: Beginning a movie in bed on a Saturday morning and falling back asleep while it’s playing, wine and cheese, building community on the internet, and painting portraits that are not fit for sale because no one would want them.
Actually, that’s not true.
I did sell one once about ten years ago at a local market. It was a butterfly and the wings looked more like two jalapeños to me. I wonder if they still have it. The point is any painting I do is for the person it gratifies most and that’s always been me.
With that said, I hope you’ll stay gorg (as JVN would say) and think of the things your own soul draws restoration from. Being a human is hard and it’s a Thursday—I imagine we’re both overdue for a pick-me-up by now.
Might I suggest some Queer Eye?