now that i’ve come clean about the fact that i’m a maximizer, i can go ahead and admit that practically every piece of furniture and decor that’s made its way into my apartment over the past five or six months has been the result of a painstaking decision-making process. although i ended up choosing a different rug in the end, sophie aschauer’s serpentsea mats made from sailing rope were a serious contender. and by “serious contender,” i mean “something i liked a lot but knew i couldn’t possibly drop two hundred fifty dollars on.”
[via grey area]
growing up, every last tiff, spat, and falling-out that occurred between me and my brothers was an opportunity for my mother to reiterate that we should quit fighting and cherish each other instead. in retrospect, i’m not sure if she was just covering her bases or actually convinced that our idle bickering over the remote might someday lead to a permanent rift in our relationship. after scolding each of us, she’d often wrap up with some curious advice: “just because you see sibling rivalry on television doesn’t mean you have to engage in it.”
i bristled at the suggestion. if i’d decided to be a contentious brat to my brother, it was probably because he’d rubbed me the wrong way somehow, whether intentionally or by virtue of sustained proximity—not because i’d watched too many episodes of the wonder years. even at a young age, it seemed to me that bouts of conflict, boredom, and dissatisfaction were part and parcel of all long-term relationships: familial, platonic, and romantic. these days, i’m of the belief that, given enough time, these sentiments can actually come to be equally represented alongside affection, passion, and the ever-elusive happiness. irène némirovsky’s dimanche and other stories feels like a literary testament to this theory. for her characters, marriage begets restlessness instead of safeguarding against it, filial piety is a chore to be completed with a heavy sigh and an eye roll, and there are no happy endings. even the fervor of young love is tempered with a laser-cut cynicism.
these heavy, borderline relentless doses of sobering reality are somewhat fitting for a collection of stories written in france between the years of 1934 and 1942 by a jewish author that ultimately met her demise at auschwitz. the war is a lingering presence throughout the stories, initially popping up as offhand dialogue and later functioning as a pivotal plot point, sending her characters scrambling onto ships and across the gallic countryside to save their lives.
despite the historical storm cloud hovering overhead, némirovsky’s premises retain a certain familiarity. i detected shades of my adolescent self in the “diamondlike hardness” of nadine, an arrogant young woman who lies her way out of the house to cavort with friends and lovers in “dimanche,” convinced that her put-upon mother’s youth couldn’t have ever resembled her own. “flesh and blood,” a story revolving around four siblings as they stare down their mother’s mortality and wrestle with their alliances to the family they were born into versus the ones they’ve created as adults, has the same hushed tones i recall from vigils kept for ailing grandparents. they’re hardly uplifting narratives, but i don’t mind a bitter pill when it’s rendered beautifully.
1 i rarely carry bags.
2 when i do carry one, it’s usually because i need to haul a fair share of stuff, requiring considerably more space than what this has to offer.
3 i can’t quite justify spending upwards of two hundred dollars on something that i’ll only use occasionally at best.
and yet, the urge to throw caution to the wind and purchase it in a flurry of ill-advised clicks remains. funny how these things work.
[images by way of kate spade bags online]
when my phone began buzzing last night, the word “dad” flashing across the screen, it occurred to me that i hadn’t called home in a very long time—again. for this latest lapse in communication, i was about to be the recipient of a well-deserved, expertly executed, and most importantly, unavoidable guilt trip. cringing inwardly, i braced myself and picked up.
after leading off with some terse cordiality, my father launched into the old routine, reminding me that i really ought to remedy my chronic daughterly negligence before i regret it—that is, while he’s still alive and well. there was a time when these ominous asides felt gratuitous, but my parents’ recent health issues have made their mortality seem frighteningly tangible. i noticed that my pangs of remorse felt unusually acute.
on the other end of the line, my father was working his way towards the knife-twisting crux of his lecture: “you would never treat your friends this way. you have all the time in the world for everyone else, but you could care less about your own flesh and blood.”
i saw it coming but was caught off guard anyway, a wave of shame and exasperation washing over me before i had time to put up a shield of indignation. i do often lose contact with loved ones for weeks or months at a time when i’m overwhelmed with work, but my parents’ insistence that my radio silence is selective, some kind of tacit proclamation that i favor friends over family, is a misconception that sends my guilt into overdrive every time it’s hurled in my direction. no matter how many times i present my side of the story, i can’t seem to convince them otherwise, especially when it comes to my father, a stern man with an authoritarian streak who’s never taken kindly to being told he’s wrong about anything. i’ve grown used to checking my objections at the door and just waiting for the diatribe to end.
this time, the words tumbled out before i could acknowledge any intention of uttering them. “that’s not true,” i heard myself say. “i should be more attentive and i’m truly sorry for that, but please don’t tell me that i’m socializing or making time for friends at your expense when i’m incredibly isolated and buried in work. that’s not fair, and i wish you wouldn’t assume the worst of me.”
a pause. oh god, i thought, incredulous at my spontaneous display of pluck. that’s not going to go over well. i waited for what was sure to be a sputtering, aggravated smackdown of a rebuttal.
“that’s because i’m hurt,” he replied.
growing up, my father was hardly one to let on that he even had emotions, let alone any specific ones he happened to be experiencing at any given moment. unsure how to respond to this rare event, i mumbled a stunned apology.
“tell me about work,” he offered, without missing a beat. i did, and before long, we’d slipped into a conversational ebb and flow reserved for peers, abandoning the staccato filial dialogue we’d cultivated over the past twenty-three years. all told, it lasted only a few minutes—he soon reverted to lecture mode, this time delivering a tirade against my poor eating habits—but the experience was something of a revelation nonetheless, a glimpse of what it might be like to relate to my father as a friend. i think i’m looking forward to our next chat.
flipping through psychology today tends to leave me with a sense of smug vindication. there’s nothing quite like a piece on “how to spot a narcissist” or a concise “field guide to the social climber” to validate my armchair diagnoses, the ones i keep filed away on all the lowlives and nogoodniks i’ve had the misfortune of knowing over the years. still, i always knew i’d spot myself—my nasty procrastination habit, my antisocial tendencies—in one of those damning personality profiles one day, and i got what was coming to me in an article titled “field guide to the maximizer.”
latin name: selectorus neuroticus
notable characteristics: feels compelled to examine all the options before making a decision. restlessly searches for a better job, a nicer apartment, a finer mate, or a bigger bargain—or just a more interesting radio program elsewhere on the dial. frequently beset with regret and self-blame about the road not taken.
songs & calls: “let’s see what else is on right now.” “it never hurts to look.” “i won’t settle for second best.”
i’d been pegged in under a hundred words. “maximizers aren’t content with good [choices]; they want only the best, and they’re willing to go through an exhaustive (and exhausting) search to get it,” the write-up continued. if there’s a ceiling on high standards, it seemed i’d crashed through it a long time ago. of course, i’m no stranger to impulse buys, but i can’t deny my tendency to tackle certain purchases with the well-researched vigor of a lengthy term paper, practicality be damned. i decided to own it.
case in point: i suppose i’ve always been sort of on the lookout for a proper breton tee, what with the constant reminders about how “timeless” and “chic” they are, courtesy of every single fashion magazine ever. then last summer i picked up a book called éloge de la marinière: sur une idée d’armor-lux, featuring photos of everyone from maurice chevalier to marion cotillard wearing the stripes to perfection, and it was like the mission had suddenly been kicked off in earnest. since i’m only in the market for a white/navy or natural/navy stripe pattern, i had to eliminate some great cuts with the wrong color right off the bat, but after a whole lot of looking, here are the frontrunners:
1 the original breton shirt company // original breton shirt // about $47 // >>
i can’t stand being caught between a slightly too boxy men’s cut and a way too fitted women’s cut. this particular top is from the original breton shirt company’s ladies line, but “made to a relaxed square cut fit,” which is a major selling point for me.
2 saint james // guildo r a// $95 // >>
according to saint james, the guildo is a “new version of the ouessant. really similar.” fair enough, but i can’t really figure out what the difference is between the two, if any. the ouessant is unisex, which is encouraging in terms of fit, but what i love most is the neckline. there are way too many “boat necks” out there that are really nothing more than middling, elongated crew necks. this appears to have a crisp, more-horizontal-than-not neck that feels right (couldn’t find an image of my ideal colorway, but it’s in stock, at least).
3 brittany boutique // minquiers fine cotton breton sailor shirt // $42.24 // >>
first things first: the brittany boutique website is a real blast from the past, but their merchandise more than makes up for it. i’m pretty sure this is a saint james top, but there’s not much information to go on other than this hilariously retro imagery. that said, i do like what i see, namely the slouchy shoulder seam and sleeve.
4 chance // boatneck // $68 // >>
it’s difficult to tell just by looking at the picture, but it seems like the stripes on this one are a bit slim for my taste. i could be willing to make that sacrifice, though, because everything else about this top — and all of chance’s offerings, for that matter—scream “wardrobe staple” to me and i want in.
5 j.crew // saint james unisex meridien II nautical tee // $85 // >>
unisex? check. neckline? a bit round for my taste, but maybe sizing up would prove an overall remedy.
6 lands’ end // women’s regular 3/4 sleeve boatneck sailor tee // $30 // >>
it’s mostly the quarter-length sleeves that are drawing me in here, but i think i’m seeing a bit of that dreaded figure-skimming fit, unfortunately.
i’ll probably need to try a bunch of these on in person before i can make any sort of final decision, although i’m leaning towards the saint james guildo (2) at the moment.
on another note, the best thing to come out of this quest for la marinière so far has been a tumblr of the same name that popped up on one of my google searches — scrolled straight through to the end on the first visit and have been checking back in ever since.
[via lincoln taft]