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Editor’s Letter

August 2014: Enchantment

This month takes place somewhere that looks something like this.

This month takes place somewhere that looks something like this.

Dear Rookies,

Welcome to August’s theme, ENCHANTMENT. Here’s what I sent our staffers when we were trying to get our brains storming:

Summer witches and summer fairies. Cosmic vibes. The combined fairylike etherealness and witchy vindictiveness of Speak Now–era Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks. First Aid Kit. Erykah Badu. Cat Power. But NO HIPPIES because I just listened to an interview with a Charles Manson biographer and can’t stop thinking about when he said the ’60s were really only good for like two people, for like three hours.

Notes from Queen Anaheed:

One of my very favorite books of all time is Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (who is maybe my favorite nonfiction writer?). She spent 11 years practically living with one family in a poor neighborhood in the Bronx, getting to know them and writing about everything they went through during those years and thinking about how each thing that happened to them affected everything and everyone else. If you have not read this book, you should do so! It is a real masterpiece. Anyway, it starts like this:

Jessica lived on Tremont Avenue, on one of the poorer blocks in a very poor section of the Bronx. She dressed even to go to the store. Chance was opportunity in the ghetto, and you had to be prepared for anything. She didn’t have much of a wardrobe, but she was resourceful with what she had—her sister’s Lee jeans, her best friend’s earrings, her mother’s T-shirts and perfume. Her appearance on the streets in her neighborhood usually caused a stir. A 16-year-old Puerto Rican girl with bright hazel eyes, a huge, inviting smile, and a voluptuous shape, she radiated intimacy wherever she went. You could be talking to her in the middle of the bustle of Tremont and feel as if lovers’ confidences were being exchanged beneath a tent of sheets. Guys in cars offered rides. Grown men got stupid. Women pursed their lips. Boys made promises they could not keep.

The New Yorker interviewed LeBlanc about the book last year, because it was 10 years since it was first published, and they asked her about that passage, and she said this:

I’d met Jessica in the courthouse and in one of her apartments, but my most vivid memory of my early time with her was on the street. We’d gone to visit [her boyfriend] at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where she had charmed her way through the relentless intake process, and she and I shared a meal in Little Italy afterwards—courtesy of the restaurant. This struck me then—as it does now—as significant: a free meal offered by a Little Italy tourist trap. Men offered her whatever they had on hand—food, compliments, invitations, promises. She was a knockout and she knew how to deploy her beauty; part of the deployment was sharing her pleasure in it.

We’d walked to the restaurant, and she literally did cause a stir on the street. I’d never been that close to the power of beauty. She was changing the environment around her. Young women elicit such responses, and despite all the obvious complications, not many manage their sexual power when they are so young, and fewer still seem to enjoy it. Following Jessica out of the prison as we made our way to Little Italy was a little like being behind Moses as he parted the Red Sea.

I don’t believe in “magic,” as in supernatural forces at work in the world, but I’m interested in the ways that certain qualities or skills or what have you are talked about as though they are dark magicks. It’s interesting to me that these black arts are mostly ones associated with women, the so-called feminine arts: beauty, glamour, style. These things are looked at as not just artifice but as some kind of unfair advantage, like superpowers. Jessica’s charisma and beauty in that book is totally a superpower: It gets her free meals and literally “changes the environment.” It makes people unable to think straight.

Notes from me:

Even though I’ve been doing plays since I was little, I have never matured out of feeling stupidly flattered when someone has a nice note not about character development or acting choices but, like, stage presence and charisma. Sad/dumb, right? I think it’s because this quality we are discussing feels like the closest humans can come to MAGIC, especially as someone who has not felt like a charming actress ingénue gal so much as like a writer who terminates most social interactions before they have the chance to become uncomfortable. This totally translated to high school once I started wanting to be pretty and receive male attention, and thankfully I was informed of the dangers of girl hate, but I couldn’t help but feel convinced that it was Other Girls who were enchanting, who were engaging, who knew how to strike the perfect balance between mysterious and vulnerable. Now I know that everything is a stereotype and a construct and I do whatever I want and love myself and feel like a badass. I also know that Other Girls usually feel the same way I do, overshadowed by someone else, or at least by the expectations of who they are that people like me perpetuate. I know I am the Other Girl to a few people. But this mindtrap is practically hardwired into the pop cultural experience of high school, and this Ellen Willis essay is great at debunking it.

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33 Comments

  • Jenoris August 1st, 2014 3:33 PM

    It’s so incredible the way you and Anaheed were able to not only really look at enchantment at various different angles, but also tie it in so wonderfully with feminism and discussions on the Male Gaze without taking anything away from, but rather giving more credit to Jessica. One of my favorite quotes of all time and the quote from which Fall Out Boy’s third studio album title is pulled from goes: “Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity on high. Then life seems almost enchanted after all.” There is so much around us. So much greatness and vastness and depth around us and I don’t just mean the oceans and the skies. I’ve tried very hard these past few years to not project negative assumptions onto people because of this or that and it’s really helped me when I got to learn more about them about how truly endless the thoughts of mind are, how unfathomably deep the desires of the heart run. I often find myself so overwhelmed by all the everythingness of life. I feel like I’m never going to have enough time to read all the books I want to read, or see all the tv shows I want to see, or watch all the movies, or know about the moons and the stars because there’s a new one every day. I think oh I’m never going to have enough time to be anyone or do anything because there’s already (-hits jukebox, initiate Smashmouth-) so much to do, so much to see. But then I really stop and think, dude isn’t that kind of a reason to NOT give up?

    • Jenoris August 1st, 2014 3:38 PM

      Isn’t all the endless everythingness of the entirety of existence from the universe to the galaxies to yourself and all the undiscovered insects every reason to stick around? Isn’t it worth it to try and photograph all of the people and things you want to? And write all the words you currently have unwritten (-jukebox glitches, enter Natasha Bedingfield-)? And read all the books and do everything you can while you can? Sure, a lot of things are going to get in the way and the obstacles are going to SUCK but what’s Harry Potter’s journey to becoming a great wizard without Voldemort? What’s Sam’s loyalty to Frodo without Gollum? What’s Katniss Everdeen without Rue’s death? I think all of the magic lies in equal measure in what we know about the things we know, and what we don’t know about them.

    • elektraheart August 1st, 2014 11:16 PM

      I agree. The everythingness of life. That’s enchanting.

  • rhymeswithorange August 1st, 2014 3:35 PM

    Great food for thought, guys! Can’t wait for this month!

  • laneyjane August 1st, 2014 3:37 PM

    I can already tell that this month’s theme will be my favorite. Like all time favorite.

  • electriceden August 1st, 2014 3:45 PM

    Haven’t listened to that Manson interview, but while you don’t need to tell me about how horrible a lot of the Sixties were (especially for women and people of color), I’m always curious why that decade/scene keeps getting singled out instead of, say, 70s punk or 80s indie – both of which had THEIR share of problems. I mean, I understand that THE SIXTIES definitely share a larger piece of the cultural unconciousness (and therefore requires more deflating), but given the high esteem those other areas enjoy in certain circles, you’d think someone would think to shine a light at their garbage.

    Don’t get me wrong – the underbelly of the first decade needs to be brought out every now and again, if only so younger folks will stop wishing they had “been there” – ugh! But the lack of discussion about the faults of the latter decades seem less like Boomer cover-ups and more like Gen-X ommission.

    Sorry if this reads like somebody who’s read too many cultural history books for their own good – I have – and I have no idea if this website is the right forum for this rant, but what the hell.

    • electriceden August 2nd, 2014 5:42 PM

      Okay, reading this back a day later, this seems kiiiinda incoherent.

      I guess that I was trying to say was that, while you certainly have a right to dismiss the hippies wholesale, I think that to not be a hypocrite, you’d have to disavow punks and indie kids as well on the same grounds. Your mileage may vary on that hypothesis, of course.

      • electriceden August 2nd, 2014 5:43 PM

        Oh, and despite my word vomit otherwise, this seems like a great month. Keep it up!

      • makedolive August 3rd, 2014 7:38 PM

        Makes perfect sense to me!

  • mangointhesky August 1st, 2014 3:57 PM

    After all these amazing things that you wrote here, Tavi, and after being given so many words and thoughts to say say something meaningful about, I still can only seem to think about the almost-first line of this: “Summer witches and summer fairies” (I think it was that!)
    Whenever I think of Rookie, I picture something magical and wonderful, which is the reason why I’m so overly excited that this months theme is enchantment!
    Anyways, cheers to Rookie and August!

    http://lescarousels.blogspot.com

  • krevlorneswath August 1st, 2014 5:08 PM

    This quote from the editors letter of feb. 2013 hangs on my wall: “My goofiest-sounding secret is that I also believe in magic. Sometimes I call it God and sometimes I call it light, and I believe in it because every now and then I read a really good book or hear a really good song or have a really good conversation with a friend and they seem to have some kind of shine to them.”
    That’s really what I think of with this months theme, and Tavi already said it better than I ever could. Super excited!

  • alienbabe August 1st, 2014 5:26 PM

    yasss, this months theme is everything.

    http://bratmobilee.blogspot.com/

  • enthusiastictruckdriver August 1st, 2014 5:50 PM

    I love Rookie because a lot of the things you guys do, from talking about believing in magic to fangirling over glitter or boy bands, remind me of the things I used to do as a kid and then stopped doing because HIGH SCHOOL and I recently realized I can give myself permission to enjoy all of those things so THANK YOU <3

  • Chloe22 August 1st, 2014 8:01 PM

    This is so fabulous. Right now I’m head over heels, consumed by quicksand, blown away, knocked over, enchanted, enamored, under a spell, CONSUMED WITH WONDER for the Rolling Stones. I am not dramatizing… in any way. This letter totally encapsuled my emotions right now. I have so much stress and semi-not-a-big-deal-but-kinda-but-not-starving-to-death chaos going on, and this obsession is helping me push through everything. And your letter, again, totally explained this savior called enchantment. And yes, the obsession isn’t all about Mick…or Keith…or Brian…or Charlie…or Ronnie (not putting Bill in because he was a total perve). It’s me experiencing the love I am capable of putting into a not always loving world. And getting that love back.
    http://criticallycouture.blogspot.com/

    • Chloe22 August 1st, 2014 9:39 PM

      I forgot the other Mick- Mick Taylor!

  • savana August 1st, 2014 8:23 PM

    This was perfect- I met Lady Gaga a week ago and have been thinking a lot about how I felt like she had a sort of magical quality about her and that I hoped I would somehow “absorb” it from her. I thought that I was going totally crazy until I read this- the timing and subjects of your editors letters are somehow always perfect for where I am in my life (magic?). Thanks Tavi and Anaheed!

  • TessAnnesley August 1st, 2014 10:58 PM

    One Direction fans being fascinating = literally my life

    I know one song of theirs and have listened to it maybe once but I’ve acquired all this weird 1D information from having friends who love them. (And I pay attention of my own accord because ZAYN’S FACE, HAVE MERCY.)

    So excited for this month… Enchantment is one of my favourite words/concepts and it’s my birthday month… turning 20. Officially no longer a teenager even though I will keep reading this here magazine for TEENZ until I die. <3

  • gracethirteen August 2nd, 2014 12:04 AM

    I really really loved this. You guys continue to amaze me while simultaneously providing me with new thoughts to happily overthink.

  • Jane-Eyre August 2nd, 2014 2:54 AM

    Ooh I can’t wait!
    I love that room in the picture… It’d be really ace to make one of those colourful triangles. It reminds me of a gods-eye :)

    http://shineongolddustwoman.blogspot.com.au/

  • thuychi14 August 2nd, 2014 7:03 AM

    I think that most magic in my life comes from my understanding of it as a fluid that runs across time and space. Everything is so interconnected that you both possess and lose your own sense of control over it. For one part, you’re definitely involved in the overall process of living the moments and creating meaningful substances from materials of life and its matters. But for the other, certain things are destined to happen beyond your expectations that would round up the higher experience and transcend everything above whatever you used to attribute it to from the beginning.

  • Shanlew August 2nd, 2014 10:25 AM

    I really understand what you mean about the importance of being a fan, Tavi. I went to a One Direction concert and felt more connected to the fans than I did to the band, and that to me was being part of something and the whole reason I went. I enjoy being a fan of their music more than I enjoy their music. I have the exact same view on crushes, too. I enjoy them because they give me something to relate songs to (T-Swift especially) and also I just like giving myself exciting things to think about. The actual object of my crush is definitely not the center of it.

  • Catrine August 2nd, 2014 10:32 AM

    Wow wow wow. This editor’s letter. Wow. Anaheed, the part you wrote about the girl named Jessica makes me think of my high school. It seems that often, girls who receive a lot of attention (often for being pretty/charismatic/popular etc), are then criticized and questioned on their morals. There is a girl I went to school with who was very pretty, friendly, flirty, and popular. Despite the fact that she was never mean to anyone, people (BOTH boys and girls) would say that she was being fake. But she really wasn’t; she was simply trying to be nice to everyone. I think mainly, those who criticized her were jealous that she received so much attention. It reminds me of how people react to celebrities.

    Also, Tavi, I love how you phrased that part about the Other Girls, and then how you acknowledge that you yourself are to some, an Other Girl (look at this website though, it’s phenomenal!). I’ve been thinking about that idea of the “Other Girl” a lot lately. There are times when I am completely at peace with myself. Then I might see a girl with super awesome pink dyed hair, and I think “I did not pull that off nearly as well as she does” (or any sort of comparison incident, ya knowww). I have, I dunno, “trained” myself to not dwell on these little negative thoughts when they come up, and I am increasingly happy with who I am. :)

    xo to Rookie; this is a great piece.

    http://studio815.blogspot.com/

  • girlhero August 2nd, 2014 11:53 AM

    it’s a really vague idea so I’m super open to input, but when I read this I got the feeling that what tavi and anaheed are referring to as ‘enchantment’ is something very close to privilege.

    obviously it could be argued that jessica is underprivileged in many ways, but arresting beauty and youth are certainly privileges she ‘shares pleasure in’ and ‘deploys’. it’s true I suppose that enchantment would come from within – but if you lack a certain level of privilege I feel like no matter what ‘good vibes’ you throw out into the world, no matter how charismatic you are, you will routinely be treated in ways that are woefully realistic and un-magical.

    IDK!!!

  • GlitterKitty August 2nd, 2014 12:08 PM

    Tavi, given this month’s theme, I think it’s time for you to watch Harry Potter.

  • izizansari August 2nd, 2014 12:54 PM

    i love magic but what i love most about magic is how people are beginning to look at it in different ways. it’s no longer about witchcraft and spells and potions. it’s about little, everyday things, and even though i would love to believe in literal colloquial magic, i find it so much easier to believe in the things that i see. and i’m so glad i’m going to get a full month’s worth of magic-related feedback from people who can show me even more.

  • greensherlockian August 3rd, 2014 6:46 AM

    I really like what Tavi said about unrequited love. It reminds me of something Taylor Swift said recently:
    “I think unrequited love is just as valid as any other kind. It’s just as crushing and just as thrilling. No matter what happens in this situation, I want you to remember what you are doing is selfless and beautiful and kind. You are loving someone purely because you love them, not because you think you’ll ever have your affections reciprocated. You are admiring something for its beauty, without needing to own it.”

  • Maradoll Mynx August 3rd, 2014 12:07 PM

    Oh. My. Gosh. *Amazing* article :) I had chills going up and down my spine for a few minutes after reading this. I’m going to have to read it again right now, but I had to just say it’s beautiful, I’m so happy for you that your mind looks at the world this way, that I adore you, thank you for sharing this, and that I AM YOUR OFFICIAL FANGIRL…
    Peace, Magic, and Admiration-not-jealousy~MM

  • makedolive August 3rd, 2014 7:37 PM

    This month looks truly amazing. Thank you for these monthly letters (and all the rest, of course) I always get so excited when they come up!!!

  • irismonster August 3rd, 2014 8:18 PM

    Have you guys read the Magicians series by Lev Grossman? The final book in the trilogy recently came out and has been getting a lot of press lately, but basically it’s about a Brooklyn teenager who becomes a magician. It borrows a lot from Harry Potter and all, but it manages to create this really unique and new idea of what magic is. What I love so much about the books is that in them, magic ability isn’t some predestined quality that’s reserved for the lucky few, but it’s like this *special thing* that is real and accessible to everybody if you just try enough. It’s like, magic is not another dimension, just an extent of the one we’re in now, and if you try really hard you can see it and control it. And I just really love that, I think it’s a beautiful idea, and when you think about it that way magic is real, it’s everywhere and it’s everything and it’s just kind of omnipresent. It’s not something you can disprove, because it’s the most real thing there is.

  • Kiana August 4th, 2014 4:51 AM

    I am beginning to like what Tavi’s doing in her letters, especially the letters in the last two months, wherein she shares with us what the staffers write/think. It’s like peeping in their private messages box minus the creepiness and ~invasion of privacy~. I like that.

    Also, Anaheed got me thinking and nodding. So excited for this month!!!

  • DarcyEmma August 7th, 2014 11:38 AM

    Gah Tavi, you nail it EVERY TIME. This is just perfeeeect. Somehow, every Rookie theme seems to be just what I needed at the time (or maybe it’s just that ever Rookie post is so great that I ALWAYS need EVERYTHING on here) (either way).

    http://girlisgreenhorn.wordpress.com/

  • Renee.F August 12th, 2014 4:56 AM

    I saw you at the writers festival in Melbourne (I flew over from New Zealand) and so I remember you talking about Chris Kraus and David Attenborough. I also remember going to a bar afterwards with my boyfriend and talking about your presentation and feeling like a failure. For the rest of the night, and the next day before our flight, I analysed how I had got to where I was, questioned why I didn’t keep numerous journals, questioned why I wasn’t as prolific and well read as someone 12 years younger than me. I had no idea what I wanted to do, what direction I was heading, and most of all, I didn’t have the ideas, resources or confidence you had.

    Of course i was classing you as one of the Other Girls. I was enchanted by all of your attributes that I wish I’d had at your age, because equipped with similar capabilities, perhaps I could have achieved so much more? Maybe I would have known what I wanted from a young age, instead of feeling so disappointed in myself?

    It’s been almost one year since you presented in Melbourne, and in a way this editors letter has come full circle for me. Since then, I have got pretty close to discovering what I want to do with my life. As with Dick, you were the spark that I needed to really evaluate my situation, to assess my feelings of inadequacy, to understand how discouraged I was with myself. I could see the magic that I really wanted, and that there was no reason it couldn’t be mine. And so while you may not be Bjork with a lantern, and I may not be you, It’s all ok.

  • littlejulie August 13th, 2014 10:34 PM

    hey tavi~~
    im not sure if you check these things but I’m going to see your show “this is our youth” in nyc next thursday and I’m PUMPED :)