Maria Grazia Chiuri’s inspirations for Christian Dior’s spring/summer 2023 explores the sartorial senses of Catherine de’ Medici, an Italian-born orphan whose life took an extraordinary turn, eventually reigning as regent queen of France in the mid-1500’s and becoming the most influential woman in 16th century French politics and history. Evocations of baroque femininity, Machiavellian as the Serpent Queen de’ Medici herself, can be unpacked in the collection’s intricate interpretations of lace, raffia and pop culture femme fatales. Instead of rifling through rose-coloured fabric (in appeasement of the 21st century’s pink obsession) for a Maria Antoinette reference, the Dior woman finds a more shrewd palette of blacks, creams, ivories and denim.
Striking looks include: a MET-worthy gown adorned in astrological fancywork, and a wide-draped denim outfit with gleaming gold appliqué that reads as both womens and menswear. The story continues along high-waisted jeans, rippling with folds of volume, paired with a crisp white shirt-blouse – a rococo interpolation of a 90’s working woman in her local Banana Republic curations.
Many of the looks carry a yin and yang in construction and styling – bare shoulders and midriffs with large and voluminous bell-shaped skirts, dainty doily and lace zipped, belted and/or ruched with sportswear detailing. Chiuri, who resonates with Catherine de’ Medici’s Italian-in-a-French-world story, brought the baroque fashion influences of the 16th century into the world of celeb princesses and pop stars. Like modern royalty herself, brand ambassador Jisoo of BLACKPINK continues to parade her version of the fashion house’s femininity and regality, SS2023 is a surely sponsored pretty pit stop in her wardrobe. All hail Christian Dior.
I first read Lauren Weisberger’s debut The Devil Wears Prada, published in 2003, around the time of the film adaptation’s apex in popularity. Fairly certain I saw the film first, then read the Weisberger’s fictionalized Vogue experience. Though characters, plot points and tone of voice differ slightly, both iterations of the The Devil Wears Prada count as larger inspiration for my formative, post-secondary education. Runway magazine (via Hathaway, Streep and Blunt), Teen Vogue (through the life and times of Lauren Conrad) and Mode (and the adventures of Betty Suarez) account for my bright-eyed attempts at breaking into the fashion and publishing world. Almost twenty years later, my aspirations have not much changed, but decades of real-life experiences have tempered in me a unique tone and grit.
After revisiting The Devil Wears Prada novel this past week, I’ve concluded that growing up, I was Andrea Sachs – privileged, uninformed and hopelessly green. Her dalliances with Runway and editor-in-chief-from-hell Miranda Priestly (acrimoniously inspired by Vogue‘s Anna Wintour) comes off as a salty employee with an extremely bad attitude. This seems to be a mirror of my personal work ethic and demeanour, as I entered the work force in the mid-2000’s. Notably, a full-time stint at H&M, where I carried about myself with an air of arrogance and self-importance above the fast fashion trappings of my job, left me single, friendless and moving back into my parents’ basement. Since vision is 20/20 in retrospect, I now understand that post-Runway Andrea Sachs is who we should aspire to be, not emulate. One of the earlier chapters opens like so:
“Twelve miserable long weeks of being looked up and down from hair to shoes each and every day, and never receiving a single compliant or even merely the impression that I had passed. Twelve horrifically long weeks of feeling stupid, incompetent, and all-around moronic. And so I decided at the beginning of my fourth month (only nine more to go!) at Runway to be a new woman and start dressing the part.”
Why even work at a fashion magazine, where the expectations are of an upper echelon, of haute couture and fashion weeks, when all you can reasonably extract from your wardrobe is a head-to-toe Gap Inc. look? And on top of that, it took you four months of feeling inferior to pivot?
The novel panders to the ubiquity of celebrity and entertainment gossip of the early aughts, a light-hearted commentary on the lives of the 99%. I think the film does a much better job at colouring the characters, their motivations and reaction in the correct shade. Of course, there is the theme of work-life balance, which is heavily represented on anyone’s LinkedIn feed. But, when we dissect the financial context of a publication like Runway, its influence on the global fashion industry at large, and its multi-purpose within the annals of business and politics, the snobbery is almost an ancillary evil. Andrea’s snobbery towards this elite seems misplaced, lost in the throes of her 23-year-old lifestyle. I see it in what was my own early 20’s foolishness. Nevertheless, The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger comes heavily recommended for those mid-2000’s fashion kids that lived and died by Vogue and Style.com scriptures.
The palpable youthfulness of the Versace Resort 2023 collection is aiming directly at a Britney Spears-type client – an unabashed feminine rock and roll presence, energy directed to expressing power and freedom, whilst petrifying her foes. She’s fun, spontaneous, and a bit bad. Spears as the newest Versace brand ambassador would be a comeback power move – a warning and a taunting to the phalanx of lawyers, doctors and business managers (familial or not) involved her conservatorship, ended November 2021. The Versace website’s copy for its Resort 2023 collection reads “DARK-DIVA ENERGY;” for a pop star whose soundscapes travel into sweat-soaked, venomous club territory (a trifecta: Blackout, In The Zone, Glory), plus an already-existing business relationship with Donatella Versace herself, the fashion house is a spot-on creative collaboration.
The collection is thoroughly 2002 meets 2022, with mini-purses, chunky necklaces and monogrammed chokers, and a dragonfruit pink baseball cup running the gamut of approachable and sellable accessories. Punches of millennial and millennium pink foreshadow Paris Hilton, and fellow Hollywood blonde bombshell, shutting down the runway for Versace Spring 2023. The rest of Resort 2023 screams 2000’s pop star styling: tiered blouses and dresses paired with wide-leg pinstripe trousers , a healthy shot of acidic limes and vibrant carnations against dark neutrals, generous helpings of chiffon every which way – it is as if the wardrobe from “Me Against The Music” and both“Overprotected” videos synthesized specifically for her rebellious, post-conservatorship wardrobe. The very low-cut floral dresses styled with Versace tees seem already up Spears’ alley, and easily emulated for those within the Versace tax bracket. The denim work on the ashtray grey jacket and jeans evoke a mid-2000’s attitude gyal – the look featuring a velour tank top, adorned with a golden Versace Medusa logo, paired with grey wide-leg beaded denim is the strongest and most relatable of the bunch. I can imagine it now, a simply shot but intricately choreographed performance video (a la K-Pop’s dance rehearsal MV’s), with Spears in streetwear Versace and intricate choreography. Now that’s haute.
Spears has loved and donned Versace on a few occasions before: a dazzling multicoloured bodycon gown front row at Versace during the 2002 Milan Fashion Week, a green sequinned chiffon number in an ’01 performance with Michael Jackson at his 30th anniversary celebration show in New York, an elegant atelier wedding dress for for her star-studded nuptials to longtime beau Sam Asghari in June 2022. If brand partnership is on the horizon, the question becomes, is Spears willing to becoming a Versace fashion avatar in the celebrity and entertainment channels? She already considers the fickle media and its paparazzi as grubs and maggots of this exorbitant ecosystem (“Kill The Lights”, “Piece Of Me”, “Do Somethin’”). It is apt Spears finds sartorial solace in Versace’s strong imagery, notably in Medusa’s mythology. Long an allegory for female rage, Gianni Versace himself chose the head of Medusa because she represents both astonishing beauty, and petrifying fear. After thirteen years in a fiscal and legal labyrinth, it is up to Britney Spears if she wants to use her mythical energy for vanquishing. May the ensuing lamentations be the most beautiful of all.
The simian cover artwork theme in acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami’s short stories collection First Person Singular kicked my funny bone; how ridiculous, to have a snow monkey, displaced from the hot springs it adorably frequents, look like it had forgotten one of its grocery bags back at the superstore. I know Mr. Snow-Monkey, we really did need those frozen meats – maybe swing back to the Walmart and collect? The absurd and surreal in a realistic, relatable setting is typical of Murakami work, and here we get an acquired taste of finding magic in the mundane realism of our lives. Shinawaga Monkies included. Other stories revolve around specific musical artists (The Beatles, Charlie Parker) or genres (bossa nova, classical), so Murakami’s taste is eloquently revisited (I’ve not read the predecessor, but “Confessions of a Shinawaga Monkey” is a sequel to the original 2006 story) – anybody looking for content on their BookTube channel should mine his curations.
Plenty of introspective human conversations can be had from “First Person Singular” – the loneliness of discrimination, the simple joy of letting life pass by, the utter nerve of strangers getting in your face – the human experience is recreated so vividly. Unlike a painter’s use of colour tools and innovative visual tricks to tell a story, Murakami shoots straight from the hip. His literary aim is so precise, the every man that is everyone can find themselves living in these stories. I saw myself so clearly in Murakami’s John Smith, who meets a monkey in hot springs bath. Unfortunately, the only animals in my vicinity available for my affection are the skunks and raccoons outside my apartment, sniffing about at 2am for their burrows and kits.
Choice cuts: “Cream”, “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey”, “Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova”
The main draw for me in K-Pop phenomenon BLACKPINK’s second full-length album BORN PINK is that one song that samples classical music. Franz Liszt’s “La Campanella,” famously known to be one of the hardest pieces of classical piano music around, is sampled to winsome pop effect in main single “Shut Down”. A skittering trap beat, all the girls sound hot in the mix, and that precisely placed staccato strings pre-chorus, chef’s kiss. Purists can complain about the massively corporate ear worm daring to venture into the great canon of music legacy. Their iron-fisted label, YG I’m sure is shelling out the dollars for those copyrights.
For any pop music consumer, BLACKPINK clearly have the musical and performance chops (and fanbase!) to pull Franz Liszt off – it’s fresh, campy, conceptual – everything a good pop music moment could ride upon until their next wave of album promotions. But, it seems as soon as the girls start trudging about new creative shores, they’re pulled back under the rug into middling, predictable music. It feels so much like a marketing product, like everything else around the talent was of much greater importance. So much money is being paid into cultivating some ubiquitous mainstream’s associations: Jisoo forDior, Jennie for Chanel, Rose for Yves Saint Laurent, and Lisa for Celine. I prefer my branding with a lighter touch.
The production and presentation of every track is expensive, maximalist, beating in the same heart as their debut The Album (which I predict will likely shape the oncoming 2020’s musical landscape). But, everything seems just a tiny bit too digestible, as if BORN PINK is simply an echo of their first album’s hyperlight success. Or maybe the board of directors at YG have cracked the code on purchasable pop music, rearing something just about everyone will love. Do not mistake candor for negative criticism, because there is plenty to enjoy on BORN PINK, a palatable 25 minutes of excellent pop production. Lead single “Pink Venom” bounces between genres and tempos, Biggie and Rihanna. The surprising darkness and vulnerability of a spartan Britney Spears-esque handled existence is explored in “The Happiest Girl,” the best ballad to come out of the BLACKPINK discography. “I can stop the tears if I want to” carry heavy existential weight. Rose even gets to shine in the solo-performed “Hard To Love,” her malleable voice colouring the brash dance pop; the way her vocals are folded into the track is revelatory.
Hopefully our girls are enjoying the process of living, creating and thriving as a pop star, within whatever limitations and regulations YG have on the contracts. Because as a group and individually, there is so much room to grow beyond the realms of the mainstream machinations. Everyone can bring something even more compelling than their current packaging. We pray they do not become dolls to the industry, brilliant but burned out, they are but precious pearls, cultured in song and dance. BORN PINK feels like pickings from the same catch – beautiful still, so maybe I was expecting too much of a difference? My mistake.
A final thought: I would not be surprised if the next Spears album, with the shadow of her conservatorship illuminating the radiance of her industry karma and goodwill, sounded like BLACKPINK in their highest form.
I have written about my recent enjoyment of cosmic horror before, in John Langan’s The Fisherman, I highly recommend. Though this is the first time I’ve seriously dived into H.P. Lovecraft’s work. Cancellable racism aside, Lovecraft’s cinematic enormity in his horror tastes so sweet despite the scariness. I think I’ve always intrinsically enjoyed horror – R.L. Stine’s Deep Trouble from the Goosebumps series was a favourite in my paltry childhood library, stored in that little pocket under your hand-me-down Ikea nightstand. I love, an antediluvian sea beast, gargantuan and ancient, beyond the comprehension of a regular guy like me. Godzilla, Clover, the Watcher in the Water, and other Kaijus are very good examples of the type of underwater terror I like. Similarly, Sin from Final Fantasy X is in my personal top five villains of the series – the religious aspect of Squaresoft’s 2000’s crowning achievement holds up very well against modern videogame storytelling.
In our plane of existence, cetaceans fall into this category, with many of the whale species possessing an even more spiritual and emotional connection with each other. They are evolved beyond human connection – guardians of the Earth who traverse our seas far deeper and far better than the reach of our iron gills. Sharks are a quintessential sea beast too; they are evolution’s perfect weapon, adapted so succinctly to the vast reaches of the ocean. It would be an honour to be in the presence of either creature, underwater, but also an extreme risk to my life. And I’m paying $169 USD for that diving experience too – a great white shark attack I’m sure is a fatal and expensive liability. You can only pray to whatever god serves your purpose to save your physical body, soul careening into final judgment.
(Funny sidenote: at Parry Sound’s Bearly Used Books, one of my favourite haunts in the north Toronto regions, at one point had so many shark horror books, they were all gathered up in their own precious, little section. Loves it.)
China Mieville writes in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu (Robinson, 2016), that traditional genre horror finds troubled protagonists wanting to return to a comfortable status quo, but “by contrast, Lovecraft’s horror is not one of intrusion but of realization. The world has always been implacably bleak; the horror lies in us acknowledging the fact.” Jumping into a clear blue ocean as far as the eye can see, a foreign world where technology and gravity are but suggestions, where underwater aeon entities the size of a yellow school bus lurk; in that situation, life is pretty bleak. This is likely the main draw of any modern shark movie. Lovecraft’s intimate phobias of marine life, invertebrates and the cold abyss of the sea activates my own powerlessness against those waters.
It’s easy to see why I was able to read almost the entirety of Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, published by Penguin Books in 2011. Personal favourites include The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Call of Cthulhu, Rats in the Walls and Herbert West – Reanimator. I’m actively trying to branch out my blog writing into short fiction, so I am currently devouring sci-fi/fantasy, horror and magic realism short story anthologies by the pound. Equipped with my penchant for kaijus and leviathans, I want to create something within the same Lovecraftian atmosphere or universe. S.T. Joshi, in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu writes that the Lovecraftian universe relies less on “a pantheon of imaginary deities nor in a cobwebby collection of forgotten tomes, but rather in a certain convincing cosmic attitude” (Robinson, 2016). I’m imagining an eldritch whale, an offset of Sin, one of the gods of antiquarian things, but no real specifics here. My immediate goal, at some point in the foreseeable future, is to knock out 4000 words in one go, for the first draft of a short story.
Taking a closer look at my music choices as I heal this pinched nerve injury started as a nocturnal habit, brought upon my sleeplessness due to a sharp, biting pain in my upper left back and shoulder. As determined by my last post, it’s from a work injury, and clearly I’m not done complaining about it. Unfortunately for my partner and workplace, they will be hearing approximately 5-7 more weeks of me wincing and sighing, as I close my eyes and massage my muscles. To take my mind off the pain, I actively redirect my thoughts to whatever music I have going in my AirPods. Here’s a few choice records I’ve been mulling over the last few weeks:
Michelle Branch, Hotel Paper (2003) For aimlessly passing the time; Hotel Paper is the first album I bought after moving from metropolitan Manila, Philippines to suburban Ontario, Canada. I recall bouts of self-imposed loneliness in the beginning of the transition, through solo trips to the local shopping mall and library. Michelle Branch’s sophomore album was half-locked in my memory, until recently. Whenever I’m feeling lost or hurt, drained or depressed, I binge on heaps of media nostalgia, those being videogames (golden age Final Fantasy), books (David Sedaris, a bit uncouth for a 14-year old), or music (2000’s pop). It helps remind me that suffering is cyclical – my current miasmic state of mind is thankfully, not permanent. Hotel Paper‘s 2000’s pop-rockiness transports me back to my freshman year of highschool, friendless but curious and hungry for cultural knowledge so different from the Philippine life I had known before. “I write mostly on hotel paper / Knowing my thoughts will never leave this room”
Beach House, Once Twice Melody (2022) For scenic commutes to work or the physio guy; Beach House is one of those bands that bubble under the radar of mainstream pop music, where my foundational thought process is filtered through. Happily, I share this love of the musical duo with my youngest brother, who is an aspiring film auteur. His penchant for the band is obvious, and Once Twice Melody’s lush, cinematic colours are perfect accessory to a beautifully shot sequence. I’ll admit, no specific lyrics or songs come to mind after the first few months of rumination, but Beach House’s appeal comes from the mood and tone, so to calm my nerves, I let my mind and body feel it out. This record is something to luxuriate upon for years to come (I’m still digesting 2015’s Depression Cherry) – someday, we may come back to this.
Madonna, Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005) For keeping loose and limber: this record remains positively timeless, 15+ years later. Arguably the glossiest and most euphoric of her entire discography, Confessions is still my favourite Madonna album. Sixteen-year old me thought he believed in delusion, believed in the sequencing, mixing and unrelenting danceability of its pop perfection. Madonna and record producer Stuart Price sit at the glorious pinnacle of mid-2000’s pop music. Fast forward to 2022, and “Forbidden Love” and “Future Lovers” work as soundtrack to my neck and back stretches; a WFH cervical aerobic experience. I’m daydreaming of Britney Spears’ comeback as a Stuart Price-produced Confessions-like, potentially the creative zenith of her career – the rest of the Spears beware, I guess. “Life’s gonna drop you down like the limbs of a tree / It sways and it swings and it bends until it makes you see”
Rufus Wainwright, Want One (2003) For nighttime introspection; Rufus Wainwright’s career has eluded regular listening for me, though he’s swam into view of my musical eyesight before. Notably, his “Complainte de la Butte” on the Moulin Rouge original soundtrack is melodic and melancholic, far and away on the spectrum from the official 2000’s gay pop anthem. The marketing on him being a modern Shakespearean Elton John seems on the nose for post-Vanessa Carlton fans, and I am a Carlton-head, so Wainwright should be up my alley. Twenty years later, Want One has finally found some rotation in the playlist, as thoughtful, introspective music. Choice cuts include “Vibrate” and “Pretty Things,” which resonate immensely with me now, at 33. Perfect for sitting on the couch, attempting to ignore the pins and needles of my upper back – speaking of which, let me take my Motrin. “I tried to dance Britney Spears, I guess I’m getting on in years”
Arthur Rubinstein, Chopin: Nocturnes (1967) For maximum relaxation to combat sleeplessness; whenever I am in need of some spiritual nutrition, Chopin is my musical manna. Videogame soundtracks also serve this purpose, notable works include Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu. But since the dull throb of this pinched nerve demands strict micromanagement, Chopin it is. The sleeplessness sneers its ugly face, and so Arthur Rubinstein as his pianist avatar, Chopin sneers right back. Relaxingly. This nocturne collection, discovered from a simple Apple Music search, is often left on twinkling in the background as I sleep. Admittedly, I’m open to other nocturne-esque classical music, so please suggest away.
Mention of muscles and sinew, nerve and connection feel particularly real to me these days; I recently incurred a pinched nerve injury, which has debased my regular routine and sleeping pattern. So as Bjork Gudmunsdottir wails in both glee and longing in her excellent new single “Atopos,” I’m connecting to her new creative direction raw as my muscles are inflamed. “Hope is a muscle that allows us to connect,” she sings in her lilting, otherworldly tone. I think to myself, as I pace yet again around the house at 3:30am, massaging my shoulder blades; can my nerve endings temporarily disconnect from my pain receptors? I’m trying to get some REM sleep up in here.
Fossora, releasing September 30 2022, is one of few full-length albums I’m really hoping to sink my teeth into. Her last album effort in 2017’s Utopia finds regular cycling in my listening patterns, so I expect excellence, as always. In “Atopos,” we’re hearing hard folk hip-hop beats and cooing bass clarinets; a delicious loose and limber vibe, capped with a rave-worthy percussion breakdown. Collaborating with Indonesian dance duo Gabber Modus Operandi, Fossora will sample Bjork’s interpretation on what she calls “biological techno.” The mushroom theme seems a callback to Biophilia (2011) and its focus on the layers of earth, with hints of Volta‘s underrated drum work (not to be forgotten: Bjork’s collaborations with Timbaland and Mark Stent). I’m currently working on ID’ing the garments in the music video, directed by Vidar Logi, but I believe I see Comme des Garcons. For some reason, I’m also seeing a parallel with CL, but I might just be sleepy.
In my quest for REM sleep, the dull hot-and-you’re-cold throb of the pinched nerve crawling up my tendons puts fresh, new meaning to insomnia. EvenChopin’s nocturnes, quietly twinkling on repeat in my ear, were no match for the sleeplessness. Truthfully, it takes many substances and things to quell the thoughts in the night sky of my mind, meteorites flashing about often and brilliant. And so, my insomnia might be both the injury and my own doing… but then again, I’ve barely had sleep for at least two weeks, so I’m pretty sure my judgement is off. Maybe, since my mind is leaning a little loony, I’m closer to understanding the Bjorkian frequency. Wondering if Fossora‘s presumed big fat beats will sing me to sleep, instead of the loveliness of Utopia or the nakedness of Vespertine? I hope I’m not still injured to find out.
I’m really starting to feel bad for my loving partner, who is parlay to every single bad mood, observer to every sleepless night, and confidante to every bout of exhausted weeping. It’s also sweet, but unusual, that my family is checking up on me pretty frequently. I pray to God this heals quickly. This lifestyle cocktail of double doses of ibuprofen, constant physiotherapy and musculatory research, no day job shifts, no income, and no alcohol (mixing with my Motrins is a no-no for me) is no lifestyle to be had. #HotGirlsUmmer might be over, but I’m now hoping for an #UninjuredFall.
The allure of the cosmic horror genre has sunk its creepy claws (or tentacles?) into my reading habits. The origins of my new obsession stems from watching Jordan Peele’s recent horror/sci-fi feature Nope a few weeks ago, during a visit home by my chef brother. He lives and cooks in California, and though our favourite bonding activities mostly include loud music, liquor and food, I relished in the opportunity to watch the film in theatres with him, and a group of childhood boys, – right click, saving it to my cache of wholesome family memories. Excellent performance by Keke Palmer (and searing debut by Brandon Perea), but my main takeaway is the creature. Evolve the idea of Nope‘s Jean Jacket creature into Biblically accurate representations of the angels. Cross those titanic beasts over to a more Lovecraftian aesthetic. Backed by my Bloodborne experience early this 2022, and a burgeoning seed of a fiction in my creatives bones, cosmic horror has arrived front and central into my fall.
I’ll admit, after tearing my back muscles from my #HotGirlsUmmer, I think we can start a new seasonal chapter.
After much Instagram sleuthing, I recently visited a new horror bookstore in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods area. Little Ghosts is an adorable upstart for the spook-inclined; accompanied by a creamy latte and a salted chocolate cookie, my shopping experience was cozy and curated. The ghosts have stocked the shelves with a healthy selection of horror, curving out into Vandermeerian sci-fi, nostalgic R.L. Stine’s bibliography, and Japanese yokai, amongst other horror subgenres. I picked up Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories and Koji Suzuki’s Ring (hesitant but immensely curious, because of my teenage fear of Samara, from the American 2000’s reinterpretation). I assure you, whenever I meander through the streets of Queen Street West, Little Ghosts is now added as a pit stop. I simply must take advantage of their backyard reading patio.
I’d been reading rumblings on Reddit about John Langan’s The Fisherman. Considering my penchant for sharks, whales and all things astonishingly large in the ocean, by title alone this novel seemed right up my alley. I was correct in my assumption, and thankful that I got the experience of purchasing it physically at Little Ghost. I could have ordered the thing off of Amazon, but the tangibility of shopping is one of my favourite joys.
For those looking for an intimate evaluation of loss and grief, through a cosmic horror meets behemoth lens, Langan delivers. Following the story of Abe, who reels from the death of wife, and then of Dan, widowed and orphaned from the fatal car accident of his own wife and two children, The Fisherman swims in themes of grief unspoken, grief unaddressed, grief consuming. The story Inceptions into another story, this one of the history of the Ashokan Reservoir, where Abe and Dan pass the time on their grief with fishing habits. Rest assured, the cosmic horror element is there, and it’s form is both familiar and unchallenged. Highly recommend, and am also on the lookout for more novel aquatic horror.
I’ve been riding the swells of a rare book reading binge. My appetite for books were a large part of my teen years, finding solace and understanding in the fantastical adventures of hobbits, bats, wizards and Toronto youths. My love of fantasy as a genre stems from my early childhood days of Animorphs, Goosebumps and an assortment of pirated comic books, as was the fashion in 90’s Metro Manila. But, much like everybody else I know, my current lifestyle is consumed by a day job, social outings, events, daily chores. When the urge to binge read arises, I attack the opportunity, much like the sharks in my recent shark obsession. Two of the five books I’ve blasted through over July 2022 feature those fun jaws of doom. There’s something so exciting about a man-eating fish monster, larger and wiser beyond human comprehension. Like the existence of puny humans pale in comparison to eons of survival and evolution by the perfect biological weapon. But I digress.
Journalist and self-proclaimed ocean lover Susan Casey reads much like a magazine writer’s work in The Devil’s Teeth, a space I’m fond and familiar of, only this time with sharks instead of sneakers and shoes. The 1929 Tanizaki novel was a gift from my younger brother, and unbeknownst to either of us, the acclaimed Tanizaki literary prize is named after him. I wanted to read Alten’s The Meg simply because I found it in horror section of a used bookstore in Parry Sound, alongside ten or twelve other shark horror-themed novels. The book barrage is rounded out by two of my favourite authors: Sedaris, for his dry and relatable anecdotes, and Murakami, for his comfident, nonchalant world-building.
On a more seasonal note, this rushing literary appetite is another factor added to my enjoyment of summer 2022. For the regular readers, we’ve storied through a JRPG quietly on rest mode, loaded up on my PlayStation 5, a reggaeton/house playlist and seeming return to social media. I attribute this to being the first real summer post-pandemic. Truly, I feel like I’m getting a real taste of what my life would be like had the last few years not happened.
Special shoutout to a childhood friend of my brother’s Miguel DaSilva, the author of “Papa Was A Boy Once.” The book is a quick read comprised of nihilist but positive anecdotes refracted through the lens of a second generation boy in the suburban Toronto area. I’ve known Miguel personally for over a decade, so it is easy for me to paint the pictures of his characters and their lifestyles, who are refashioned versions of people we both know. There is a bias here, but I recommend this for your personal introspective needs – it is good to take appraise your personal choices and vices every so often, like sweeping up cobwebs in your closet.
There is something about summer 2022 that is setting off the inner party girl in me. Indulging in late night, post-club eats, 90’s dance and reggaeton so loud it massages the muscles, and a healthy variety of tequilas have been this July’s vices du jour. Hence the month long sabbatical. Simultaneously, it glows of a bright lifetime of personal party vignettes, hands clasped with financial regret. This lifestyle, one I presumably had closed after chapter 30, page 2019, is much more expensive in context with an adult’s alcohol tolerance and a post-COVID price inflation. It’s fine, we’re fine, it’s a hot girl summer!
My videogame hobby is by no means lost in the debaucheries of my summer 2022. I’ve been very leisurely playing through Tokyo RPG Factory’s Lost Sphear, the 2017 spiritual successor to I Am Setsuna, which itself recalls the spirit of classic 90’s JRPGs, turn-based, sprite-based and stewing in nostalgia. I first played I Am Setsuna swaddled in blankets in my parents’ living room, the winter after breakup, and found the experience cathartic. I’ve only clocked in 15 hours in Lost Sphear (over the course of five-seven weeks), the game fading into the background like a picturesque prerendered background in a Final Fantasy. But, when I reflect back on summer 2022, Lost Sphear will colour in the lines of that swath of time. There is something unforgettably forgettable about Kanata and his crew. In retrospect, this is exactly the effect I want every game I play to have on me – recalled in pleasantries and niceties, slotting in like blessed sand in the proverbial jar of life.
Mechanically, there isn’t too much to write home about with Lost Sphear; it is the idealistic atmosphere that keeps rubbing up my leg, a cat begging for attention. Recent summertime experiences have demanded my utmost attention (unwillingly or not), Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins hooked me right before the summer started, and same time last year, Gunfire Games’ Remnant: From The Ashes had me eating for 60 hours without me even noticing. I might not be rushing home every night from my retail day job to play Lost Sphear, but the classical JRPG visuals alone float around in my mind on my commutes. Soundtracked with my Windhill-style summer vibes, I gaze out into suburban Toronto residential fantasizing about Tokyo RPG Factory’s fantasy.
For some Windhill-style summer vibes, see below.
Ingredients: a base of ’98 Elvis Crespo, La Goony Chongga’s 2021 EP and current Bad Bunny (YHLQMDLG or Un Verano Sin Ti), a generous amount of Drake’s house attempt (Honestly, Nevermind, 2022), three or four Ami Suzuki and Yasutaka Nakata mid-2000’s collaborations (Supreme Show, 2008 or the double a-side “FREE FREE”), the first half of Arca’s Kick II, a teaspoon of moombahton Dillon Francis’ Westside! EP (2011), Nathy Peluso’s salsa-iest tracks “MAFIOSA” and “PURO VENENO”
Extras (but recommended): a dash of In The Zone Britney, your personal favourite 90’s Daft Punk tracks, Beyonce’s “BREAK MY SOUL”
Britney Spears might be my favourite pop artist of all time, but Mandy Moore’s eponymous sophomore album will always be the first album I bought with my own money. As an effeminate 12-year-old boy with a penchant for Britney clones (as was the fashion in 2001), Moore’s approachability and pleasantry resonated more personally to me, versus the overt raunchiness of Christina Aguilera or the Midwestern balladry of Jessica Simpson. Moore’s musicianship and melodic ability isn’t presumptuous, preferring a chilled out coalescence with her folk rock sound. Her records feels similar to Rita Coolidge or Joni Mitchell, a possible precursor to how Moore’s discography will age. “Crush,” a gold standard in 2000’s teen pop, wholesome, wide-eyed and without pretense (peep the Michael Jackson easter egg). As pop music was in 2001, all early Moore was factory manufactured by Epic Records; fast forward twenty years later and Moore is free of the shackles of the pop machine, proudly reclaiming songs from a bygone era whilst simultaneously flexing personal stability and career resilience.
Headlining a show at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall in mid-June, Mandy Moore performs both new and old tracks for a crowd of well-mannered millenial concertgoers. The In Real Life tour coming to my city came as a pleasant surprise, via an effective marketing e-blast from Ticketmaster. Newer songs like the Silver Linings’ (2020) “15” or her 2022 album’s title track are modern folk and light alt rock tracks, evoking easy summer day vibes. Classic Moore tracks like A Walk To Remember’s “Only Hope” and the grossly underrated “I Wanna Be With You” transport me back to my teen bedroom, longing for the profound love Moore so innocently pined for in her songs and videos. Even Wild Hope, my favourite Moore album, is represented by the ’08 single “Extraordinary” and a full band version of “Gardenia,” rounding out setlist. The nostalgia in the room was a warm, friendly glow. Decades later, seeing her on that stage, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, not just for Mandy herself, but for my own life journey.
Most people likely know her from playing Rebecca Pearson in This Is Us, or for the more Disneyfied demographic, from her voice-over work in the Tangled film franchise. At this point, Moore’s contribution to the 2000’s pop scene is arguably negligible, but still holds particular weight for any Mandy stan. The Toronto show’s chorus of voices singing along to “Only Hope” is anecdotal proof. As Moore begins revisits her older work, she mentions that for many years post-pop career, she actively distanced herself from music that she felt no ownership towards. It’s a common feeling – the desire to distance yourself from the past, particularly if it’s tarnished by negative feelings or situations. The erasure of my past is a common thread in my personal; the amount of deleted/now-defunct blogs, social media accounts, archived creative projects, forgotten published work and other remnants of my past feel like ghostly bruises on my future endeavours. Moore’s experiences encourage me to look at all that work, all those past experiences with kinder eyes. After all, I am not the same person I was a decade. At the very least, I’m living with a happier, lighter countenance. If she can sing “Only Hope,” brightly and beautifully at the top of her lungs, I can be proud of my own previous work in a newer, fresher way.
Unfortunately for Mandy fans, all subsequent In Real Life tour dates have been cancelled, in lieu of husband and fellow bandmate Taylor Goldsmith’s (of American folk rock band Dawes) COVID-19 diagnosis and Moore’s own exhaustion as she performs through what is reportedly a challenging pregnancy. I feel fortunate to have fulfilled a childhood dream of mine: it’s a full-circle moment for me, to have one of my favourite pop stars sincerely understand the importance of looking back at your past with kinder eyes. I hope Moore views these cancelled tour dates with the same kindness; it could not have been an easy decision to cut short a tour long-awaited by the fans. But like a best friend from a simpler time in our lives, sometimes an encouraging word is all you need to continue trekking along.