31 January 2016

paranoid theory of the week :: are neopagan holidays based on historical realities?

welcome, paranoimiacs! as you might have noticed, this seems to have become more of a bi-weekly thing, so i guess we're talking more about the paranoid theory of the fortnight. i have the best of intentions, but i seem to forget that sometimes i wear myself out and get tired. so i'll ask you to bear with me and my occasionally unpredictable scheduling until i get better at managing my time or find better drugs.

the end of january/ beginning of february is likely one of the most non-descript times of the year. later in february or in march, spring break for students has become a bacchanalian rite of passage for students. plus february also brings the "i can't believe it's christianity" festivities of carnival/ mardi gras. after that you have the arrival of spring and easter and then we just kind of coast along a series of official holidays that are really just excuses for all of us to get outside and be happy. seriously, nothing says "domination by the northern hemisphere" like no holidays in january and early february. in australia, argentina and many countries further down the alphabet, those months are the height of summer.

but for pagans, particularly wiccans, the beginning of february is kind of a big deal. it's one of the four wiccan "high holidays" called imbolc, which ushers in the first part of spring. it has been traditionally linked to the beginning of the lambing season in the british isles, to the old irish goddess brigid [later catholicized as saint brigid] and to divination, particularly to do with the weather.

part of the appeal of paganism is doubtless that it seeks to burn away the totalitarian sins of the christian churches, and to reconnect people with a simpler time and a less proscriptive spiritual system. it peels back the onion skin that is christian history and takes the stories of "saints" and "holy days" back to their original, pre-christian truth.

or maybe not. in fact, maybe the supposed historicity of pagan holidays is something that's made up to sell more books and pillowcases with celtic knotwork. let's have a look.

the theory ::
well, this isn't so much a theory as a dialectic. neopagans hold that there is a long and largely repressed history behind their rituals and observances. critics [who include atheists, devout christians and many things in between] say that it's revisionism, with no more claim to fact than stories of ghosts or goblins.

the origin ::
the origin point would probably be somewhere around the time that people started arguing about religion. however, you could also date it to the resurgence of interest in magic and esoteric knowledge around the fin de siècle and the rise of the modern world after the great war. or you could link it to the flourishing of alternative spirituality that occurred as part of the sixties "new age" movement. referring strictly to debates surrounding the "wheel of the year", the publication of gerald gardner's witchcraft today, a foundational document for virtually all modern pagan traditions.

the believers ::
pagans.

the bad guys ::
christians, but particularly the witch-burning, tradition-stealing roman catholic church.

the evidence ::
history is written by the victors, we all know that. that's why we think of hitler as the incarnation of evil, but we don't know who king leopold ii was. [well, maybe you do. you're a smart lot, after all. but most people aren't as smart as you.] so part of the problem with talking about pagan traditions is that they've been very effectively scrubbed from history by the christian church. after all, the church didn't want to dedicate a lot of time to recording the things they were trying to destroy. and for a very long period, the people in the church were the only ones that could read and write, which means that even if everyone had tolerated each other's beliefs, chances are that the christians still would have come out ahead.

what's written about pre-christian traditions was overwhelmingly written in the post-christian world, and we need to take absolutely everything that's said about it with at least a pinch of salt.

however, that's not to say that all the writing stems from post-christian times. there are texts from the celts of ancient ireland and from scandinavian cultures that do shed some light on life before catholicism. unfortunately, while that can tell us something about their gods and myths, it doesn't say a lot about the daily practice of belief. did people leave a candle burning day and night at the end of january/ beginning of february to encourage the return of the sun and the warming of the earth? did they sacrifice their children in order to ensure a good harvest? did they gather with their family members and neighbours in the outdoors and dance all night to mark the longest day of the year? we're not really clear on a lot of that detail.

so in order to figure out what sort of things they might have done, we look at the "footprints" they've left behind. those footprints are comprised largely of traditions or beliefs that are known to have been present for generations, but which come from obscure sources. these can be superstitions, like the number thirteen being unlucky, or customs, like decorating the home with evergreens to coincide with the winter solstice, or even things like songs or fairytales. when you study many of these things closely enough and look at where the earliest references to them are made, you can figure out some things about the lives of the people who started them.

that's a very long way of making what is ultimately an unsatisfying point: there is very little direct but considerable amount of indirect evidence about the history of neopagan holidays. and unfortunately, a lot of the indirect evidence is misrepresented and/ or misinterpreted.

for starters, there is the idea of halloween, or samhain. this is another one of the "high holidays" on the neopagan wheel of the year, perceived by some as the most important holiday [although the whole point of having a wheel is that there isn't a hierarchy]. there is some pretty compelling historical evidence to suggest that the date was important to the celts, in the form of irish writing that dates all the way back to the fourth century- some of the oldest vernacular writing in the world. it may have also been a date of some significance to the gauls [who were also celts, but we talked about that already]. so it's tempting to link our halloween to the pre-christian tradition of a festival that marked the final harvest before the darker half of the year.

but if that were the case, you'd expect that halloween would have stronger roots in europe rather than the new world, when the truth is the exact opposite. halloween is a relative non-event in europe, even in the celtic homelands. those people couldn't even grow their own pumpkins until we sent them the seeds.

in fact, all the traditions that we associate with modern "halloween", many of which have been carried over to the neopagan samhain, are far more strongly rooted in the new world than the old. nor is there much evidence that the catholic observances of all saints and all souls days were an attempt to co-opt a previously existing festival. the catholic church wasn't opposed to things like harvest festivals, necessarily. they were opposed to using them to honour other gods. those aren't the same thing.

[side note :: i chose halloween as an example because it has some of the best known traditions, along with yule/ winter solstice. imbolc is a much more obscure date, but it does have some folklore associated with it. it is linked heavily with saint brigid, who is a christianized form of the irish goddess brigid and imbolc may be linked to another strange little superstition. remember when i mentioned that it was associated with divination? well isn't it coincidental that at the beginning of february every year, we are treated to the spectacle of a large rodent who emerges from the ground to tell us how much longer winter will last? you call it groundhog day. others call it imbolc.] 

part of the problem here is that we're assuming that both of these narratives constitutes a religious history. the history of christianity is religious. the history of paganism is folk history. our attempts to classify it as a religion are borne of our experience of religion, specifically of the christian religion. we know that pre-christian cultures had gods. some of them had practices that went well beyond "superstition". a distant relative of mine was burned alive à la wicker man because he was king during a bad harvest. that's a little more hardcore than stepping over [or on] the cracks in the sidewalk. but it's still a big leap from there to assuming that religion and the gods played the sort of omnipresent role in people's lives that they do in christianity. the gods might demand that the king be killed to reverse the luck of a bad crop, but they didn't insist that you kill every king all the time. it was a special occasion kind of thing.

the likelihood :: 6.5/10
there is some historical evidence to support the existence of pre-christian holidays oriented around the change of seasons and the times of planting and harvesting, but modern neopagan traditions filter those through a series of lenses, so that their historical realities are pretty much detached from their current form.

religious belief or spirituality, however, is supposed to be something that you can experience in the absence of empirical fact or historical proof, however. that's what makes it faith. you don't have faith in gravity because you can just drop something and remind yourself that it exists. religious beliefs aren't like that, and that's totally fine.

but what's important, after so much history has already been distorted by victors, that we don't engage in distorting it more. don't claim that something is science when it isn't anymore than you'd claim that a certain chemical can be safely ingested.

  • there is clearly some historical foundation for neopagan holidays
  • we have very little information about how those days were observed in pre-christian times
  • there is mixed information on which traditions predate and postdate christianity.


so if you celebrate imbolc, may you have a happy one. if you don't, enjoy your long, cold holiday-less existence for a few weeks longer. 

29 January 2016

making faces :: inspired by bowie

there aren't many celebrities whose passing would really move me. rather, there weren't, because we did lose one of them this month in a way that was unexpected and chilling in the story it told of the artist's strength and dedication up to his final breaths. like a lot of people from several generations, david bowie got into my musical world early. he had some of his biggest hits when i remember first hearing pop music on the radio. when my tastes took a turn for the stranger, i remember hearing bauhaus, one of my new favourite bands, covering one of his iconic songs. in high school, surrounded by friends who were more educated in the history of rock music than i, i discovered some of his older work, most notably the berlin trilogy and the ziggy stardust live album, the best live release ever in history [don't debate me on this one].

as i got older, i wasn't as moved by his new material, but i couldn't help but be impressed with his capacity to reinvent himself and to tap into the essence of whatever style he adopted. when i heard the single and saw the new video from his final album black star, that sense of awe increased again. here was a man approaching seventy who clearly still had a creative message to deliver and who could still deliver it in the most youth-obsessed industry on the planet.

and then, in the middle of the night, when i'd already suffered a crippling panic attack over nothing, i saw a notification pop up on my phone from the guardian newspaper: david bowie dead at 69. i said the only thing word that came into my head, which was "no".

the following couple of days, it was difficult for me to even go on social media, because, of course, this was someone who had touched such a broad range of people that virtually everyone among my friends was stunned and in mourning. a friend likened it to the entire feeling hungover without having consumed a drop and that's pretty accurate.

so as a little tribute, i decided to come up with something based on one of bowie's iconic glam looks, since he was the first male rockstar to embrace the possibilities of character creation and identification through makeup, which has always been at the heart of my own fascination with cosmetics. as the title of the post says, this is inspiration not recreation. if you want to see talented artists who can literally create the looks he originated, there are dozens of them. this is just my take on one of them, with my amateur skills.

i picked out the gaudy-brilliant look from his video for "life on mars", truly one of his greatest songs and one of his most recognisable uses of colour. it's clearly focused on the incredible electric blue around the eyes, something which normally intimidates the hell out of me, but in this case i wanted to do it for david.

first of all, let's look at the original ::



and now, here's my take ::




the base ::
hourglass mineral veil primer
urban decay naked skin foundation "1.0"
diorskin nude concealer "01"
nars smudgeproof eyeshadow base

the eyes ::
mac e/s "crystal avalanche" [shimmery white]
mac e/c "electric eel" [matte bright cyan]
inglot e/s "484ds" [nearly matte cobalt blue]
mac e/s "vanilla" [soft peachy highlight]
mac e/s "melt my heart" [light silver]*
tarina tarantino dream hyperliner "cute robot" [shimmery purple-blue]
ysl effet faux cils gel liner "sea black" [blackened navy]
ysl effet faux cils baby doll mascara

the cheeks ::
becca shimmering skin perfector pressed "blushed copper"
armani highlight powder "orient excess"

the lips ::
mac lip liner "redd" [tomato red]
mac lipglass "viva glam cyndi" [soft coral red]*

*suggested alternates :: melt my heart = mac electra; viva glam cyndi = guerlain rouge she-bam [more translucent, cooler]

in case you're wondering, yes, i did go outside the house like this, because screw the makeup rules for women my age. i actually got several compliments, although i suspect some of that is because people reflexively give compliments when they see something very bold on a person. nevertheless, i was pretty happy with the look overall.

so goodbye to you, you wonderful, beautiful freak and thank you for all the happiness i got from your music and simply from the fact that you existed. the world is a poorer place without you. 

26 January 2016

where are we going and why are we in this handbasket?

you snooze, you lose
the title of this post is a favourite expression of dom's, especially lately when reading political headlines. although he's often in various sorts of pain and discomfort caused by his multiple sclerosis, i've now learned that the truly pained noises he makes come in the morning when he reads the day's headlines. almost every day, as i'm getting dressed and putting on the day's war paint, this horrified, anguished sound will just come roaring forth from him and i brace myself for what's coming.

if i'm lucky, he'll just read me the headline and a few key points from what he's discovered. sometimes, though, he hands me his newly acquired ipad, unable to make the stupid come out his mouth. that's when i know i'm in trouble.

i'm a little concerned that things have gotten so weird/ obnoxious/ creepy that one of us is about to have a heart attack. a few days ago, after a typically dreadful night's sleep, i decided to take a nap. when i woke up, still groggy, dom shared that i'd just missed sarah palin endorsing donald trump while wearing a silver cape. it took me a good twenty minutes of pinching and poking to realise that i had indeed awakened to a world where this sort of thing was not merely possible, but real.

i don't know why i should have felt so surprised, however, considering that just a short time before, the internet was awash in videos of the "freedom girls".



i can't figure out if that means i took the red or the blue pill.

next thing i know, the national review is printing an entire issue dedicated to the theme of how much their editorial staff and contributors hate donald j. trump. i'm given to understand that the issue's scribes include glenn beck [known for saying that president barack obama has a big problem with white people, fantasizing about murdering filmmaker michael moore as revenge for his leftist documentaries, and who equated stem cell research with eugenics], bill kristol [the obsequious israeli government apologist who's responsible for us having to hear that president obama "leads from behind" fifty million times a month] and erick erickson, some of whose greatest quotes you really need to read for yourself:

source

the idea of these self-important blowhards banding together to try to stuff the toxic toothpaste back in the tube after years of squeezing with all their might will forever be my definition of schadenfreude. the men [well, mostly men] who have claimed to champion the common man against the political elite now desperately want the common man to stfu.

but things get complicated, because the man who seems poised to beat trump, texas senator and possible former canadian ted cruz, is reviled with nearly the same intensity by high profile republicans. although i didn't have enough time to put together an analysis of the last republican debate [and since there's another the day after tomorrow, there seems to be no point], but the tl;dr version would have been "ted cruz smoked the competition". although he got battered a little by marco rubio about his record, the man fellow senator john mccain called a "wacko bird" is proving to be an unlikely cock of the walk, the kinder, gentler alternative to trump. i think we all need to consider the implications of what i just said. i am, without irony, describing a man who once said that marriage equality would lead to christianity being considered hate speech, as kinder and gentler than an opponent.

source
although he's had a couple of moderately improved debates, the artist formerly known as the republican front-runner, jeb! bush, continues to languish in a basement filled with money, while tea party darling marco rubio is increasingly being cast as the candidate of moderates because he doesn't support summarily executing illegal immigrants. [if true moderates in the party have anywhere to look for hope, it's surprisingly to ohio governor john kasich. he's benefited from a couple of solid debate performances and the fact that he increasingly looks like he's an asylum employee who somehow got locked in a room with the patients. the dark underside of that is that the media who have hosted the debates thus far have on at least two occasions jimmied their numbers in such a way to ensure kasich stayed on the main stage debate and not the kiddie table. so if kasich somehow ends up the nominee, his opponents can very honestly complain that the process was rigged to favour him.]

cruz has become a problem for both the republican establishment and trump, which has basically turned him into the one guy about whom no one has anything nice to say at the moment. the ultimate blow has to have been losing the bizarrely coveted palin endorsement to trump, since cruz is pushing himself as the candidate of conservative christians, a demographic that holds her in high esteem.

no sooner had palin's pixie dust settled on trump's campaign when the man grabbed the spotlight back for himself by claiming he could shoot someone on fifth avenue and not lose a single vote. this reminds me of john lennon's infamous "bigger than jesus" quote, except for one thing: trump's claim is almost certainly true, whereas the former beatle's is debatable. trump's reasoning is that his supporters are "very loyal", whereas the rest of us tend to look at them as "very much in need of medication". but while we might quibble with the exact nature of their character, it's unlikely that anyone would disagree with his central thesis: not one of his supporters would be inclined to change their affiliation if candidate trump shot someone, especially in the middle of new york.

never a good sign
plus, of course, trump distinguished himself by retweeting a comment from a white supremacist who had once done a cut-and-paste image of a beaming trump putting democratic senator bernie sanders in a gas chamber. [sanders is jewish.] things move fast on twitter, i realise, and sometimes we like a comment so much that we don't pay particular attention to where it comes from, but in general, if someone has a handle like "whitegenocide", it's worth looking into who they are. [note: that is the actual handle of the person trump retweeted. it would never have occurred to me to make that shit up.]

and what's truly insane about all this is that the democratic race isn't less interesting, it's just more sane. hillary clinton, despite a cautious makeover to left-of-centre practical-but-progressive hillary, is struggling to contain the near-revolutionary embrace of bernie sanders and his democratic socialist economic policies. his bored deflections of the usual mainstream media questions about how he can describe himself as a socialist, or his thoughts on former secretary clinton's emails, and his frankness when it's come to dealing with actual campaign problems have meant that what people are hearing is his message and clearly, they like it. in one sense, sanders has become the democrats' trump: nothing from the traditional political book is sticking to him. [in another sense, the republicans must be terrified of the admittedly slim possibility that they could face him in an election because, while the populist voters behind trump may seem to be defined by their views on military policy and immigration, their little-heard economic views come closer to sanders. stop baiting them with vitriol and conservative american voters lean surprisingly to the left on a lot of issues and they're issues that have a greater impact on those voters' lives than either foreign policy or immigration.]

what doesn't get reported so much about the democratic race, but which bears examination, is the ugly undercurrent of tension between clinton and sanders supporters. a lot of educated, middle class [or formerly middle class] voters might be #feelingthebern, but the candidate has little to no traction with black and hispanic voters, whose support and enthusiasm the democrats absolutely need to maintain. sanders has conceded that his message didn't address the particular challenges faced by racial minorities in the united states, but it hasn't helped him a great deal. neither has it helped that his supporters on twitter have employed the use of terms like "ignorant coons" for blacks who haven't warmed to sanders' policies. i really wish i were making that up.

the mainstream media have had to edge away from their virtual blackout of sanders, but he still gets far less coverage than his position in the polls warrants. if we're going by numbers, he should be getting at least the same amount of coverage as ted cruz. there was barely any attention paid to the fact that vice president joe biden announced he was supporting sanders, which is about a hundred million times more mind-blowing than sarah palin endorsing trump, even if biden didn't wear a cape for the big announcement.

so what is one to make of all this? well, one can make of it whatever one wants, because if ever there were an election campaign that seemed to follow the logic of the choose your own adventure books, this is it.

25 January 2016

mental health mondays :: a girl named maria

fans of comedy might already be familiar with the name maria bamford, as she's a very successful stand-up performer who was part of the "comedians of comedy" tour with patton oswalt, brian posehn and zack galifianakis and whom stephen colbert called his favourite comedian on the planet. what you might not know is that she is also someone who has struggled her whole adult life with compound mental illnesses, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder.

dom found this wonderful short video where she talks frankly and charmingly about her battle and also gives some well-deserved recognition to jerod poore's crazymeds.us web site. [which was also a formative influence on the creation of mental health mondays.]

have a look at what she has to say here.



and a longer podcast she did about mental illness here.




21 January 2016

making faces :: the fifth annual shrunken head awards for achievement in beauty

yes folks, it's time!!

this is the post where we look back on all the pretty, pretty powders and potions that came out in the previous year and where i get to share my opinion on which were the best. this year felt like a particularly long one in beauty terms, simply because a lot of lesser known brands seemed to be upping their game and there were a lot of new, different products out of some more familiar brands. i didn't get to nearly everything that arrived, as evidenced by the fact that i sort of accidentally discovered urban decay's new glosses at the very end of the year. seems like that should've been an obvious one.

some of you may be wondering "what the hell is with the shrunken head???" that's a valid question and i'll answer it by quoting what i said last year:

if you're not familiar with the shrunken heads, it's a tradition that i inaugurated in honour of the fact that beauty is fleeting [all the more reason to remember it] and reflecting on the year in beauty is also a way to preserve it. [get it? preserve? why are you backing away from me like that?]

what can i say? i like to do things a little bit differently...

so let's get down to brass tacks, shall we? [what does that expression even mean? why are the brass tacks different than any other tacks? and in case you haven't noticed, tacks aren't an important part of anyone's work, so why should they be synonymous with getting down to business?]

category one :: formulas

best new complexion product [liquid, cream, or gel] :: dior cheek and lip glow

as gimmicky as this product seemed, i cannot argue with how beautiful it looks. the colour and finish it gives my skin is everything. that perfect pink flush of youth that looks natural, assuming it was natural to look like your skin was made from fresh rose petals. 


when is a powder a cream? when yves st. laurent makes it one, i guess. this soft cream-to-powder formula is like magic on the skin and it's less a "bronzer" than a "touched by sunlight like you normally only see in heavily retouched photos". 

best new product [powder, loose or pressed] :: guerlain jolie teint terracotta healthy glow blush/ bronze powder duo

fuck you for making me type all that, guerlain, but bravo on putting out a perfect product for people who are shy of using your iconic bronzers. these are subtle powders in four shades, deep enough to work as a colour enhancer on a deep skin tone and light enough to work for the palest ladies. it's not a true duo, because the sliver of coral isn't large enough to use alone unless you fancy applying it with an eyeliner brush, but the inclusion of a bit of colour keeps the powder from turning muddy when applied. two bronzers in my best of the year? 2015 was weird.

best new eye product :: giorgio armani eye tints

my only real makeup regret for the year was that i didn't manage to buy all of these, because they are that amazing. from super sparkly to nearly matte, there are some spectacular colours that grip onto lids and hang tight all day. 

best new lip product :: giorgio armani ecstasy lacquer

it's a gloss! it's a lipstick! who gives a shit what it is when it's this awesome? this is really armani's take on something like the yves st. laurent glossy stains. they're a little more forgiving and don't last quite as long, but damn if they aren't just the most gorgeous thing i've seen all year. molto bene, giorgio.

category two :: collections

best spring collection :: giorgio armani fuchsia maharajah/ eye tints [also here]

these were one hell of a one-two punch to get the year started and almost made me forget everything else that came out. i'm very happy to see that three of the four lipsticks in "fuchsia maharajah" have been made permanent [and they've even introduced "maharajah" in the rouge d'armani sheer formula, making it the only colour besides their signature red "400" to be available across the board]. i've already spoken about the innovative eye tints, but in terms of a spring offering, they did offer a softer, shimmering balance to the bold, satiny lips. 

best summer collection :: yves st. laurent les sahariennes

hm. that's 2/2 on north african-inspired collections for this year. this was just such a lovely, warm, lusty collection that didn't lean too heavily on cocoa-butter bronze skin [although it had that option] and dovetailed nicely with the relaunch of their single eyeshadows. 

best fall collection :: chanel les automnales

you can put whatever spin you want on it, but what people love about colour in the fall is the colour you actually get to see in the fall. earthy, tarnished, at once colourful and muted, this collection is the best thing chanel has come out with in years. 

best holiday collection :: ...

i have to say it: there was not one holiday collection that really excited me this year. there were several individual items that interested me, but too much of what was out there just seemed to be the sort of thing that we've seen done a lot. nars' partnership with steven klein yielded some lovely packaging and great individual products, but it didn't seem like there was anything bringing it together. it was just a nice assortment. burberry had some truly lovely products and would have gotten my vote for best of the year, except that it was the same collection they released last year. perhaps it's time to abandon the idea of a holiday colour collection and just have some really wonderful gifting options available? 

category three :: best of the best [individual items]

best eyeshadow [single] :: giorgio armani "rose ashes"

you never forget your first love? the first eye tint that i purchased [technically purchased at the very end of 2014!] remains my very favourite with its mix of peach, gold and pink tones. not a neutral, but quiet enough to fit anywhere. 


burberry revamped their entire eyeshadow line this year and not everyone was thrilled about it, but this stands out as one of the most beautiful grey shadows i've seen in my life. i like that it leans warm rather than cool, while remaining grey and not taupe. i especially love the satin finish- more than matte but well less than shimmer- that tends to wake the eyes up without making them look puffy.  

best eyeshadow palette :: makeup forever 15 shadow palette

i understand what people mean when they say "less is more", but sometimes, more is more. this was a smorgasbord of a palette, but there were so many winners in it [including one that can/ is meant to function as a blush] that you could fall in and disappear for weeks, never surfacing to show some love to your other eyeshadow palettes. nothing else came close for me. 


guess i said all there is to say on this earlier. pure love. 


it's debatable whether this is a pure highlighter or a blush that also highlights, but on me it's definitely a blush and i would have felt badly if i didn't at least mention this stunning, original colour in my best of the year. 


again, one i talked about earlier and may angels dance upon your pillow and sing you sweet songs, yves st. laurent, for making this a permanent product. you get more money, we get more beautiful cream/ powder magic. everybody wins


i'm cheating a bit here, because this has been available as part of charlotte tilbury's line since it launched in 2013, but the line only became available in canada this past year. and i don't think that there is any product that has seen as much use as this in my collection in the last part of this year. it is perfection. it sculpts, warms, brightens, blurs... everything. 


it's almost a lipstick, but it's really more of a gloss. it's also a stunning vampy red-purple-brown shade with a slight lustre to it that makes the lips look plump and kissable, even if they also look like they might want to bite into your jugular. the fact that it's a gloss means that it's a good way to dip your toes into the vampy pool without getting too intense. 


one can never have enough deep red glosses, however, if one could, this would be one of the ones i'd recommend keeping. another winner from my favourite gloss formula on the market right now. 


one of the reasons that fuchsia shades are so popular is because they are so damn flattering on a variety of skin tones. this one is just perfection, leaning red enough that it won't look harsh against warmer skin tones, saturated enough that even very dark-skinned ladies can wear it, and in a formula that loves you as much as you love it. in the depths of winter, this remains one of the only lipstick formulas i can wear, which makes me happy that shades like this exist to brighten those long, dark days. 

category four :: the big one

last year's was a difficult choice for me, but this year, it seemed somewhat easier. that's because one brand brought out a couple of truly exquisite, original products alongside a couple of inspired seasonal collections. 

brand of the year :: giorgio armani 

bravo, giorgio! bravo!
yes, the runway collections were a highly suspicious way to gouge extra money out of consumers, but so much of what they did was so lovely that it made my beauty-loving heart flutter. that's actually a little unhealthy, but the fluttering does feel exciting. 

and as is tradition, i will close this post by sharing my 2015 new year's eve look, which incorporates the pantone colour of the year [for last year], marsala. a lot of people found this colour ugly after the bright, bold colours of the previous few years- radiant orchid, emerald green, tangerine tango- but i think it was a nice shift towards something more muted, sullied and rich. i'm far less enamoured of this year's dual choice of pastels. 

it's also possible that i liked marsala because it's a shade that occurs a lot in my makeup collection and has for quite some time. all of a sudden omg i'm on trend!!! 

i decided not to go for all-out glamour, but rather to honour the more subdued nature of marsala. here's what occurred: 


the base ::
urban decay naked skin foundation "1.0"
diorskin nude hydrating perfecting concealer "001"
hourglass mineral veil primer
nars smudgeproof eyeshadow primer
guerlain pressed meteorites 02 "clair"

the eyes ::
colour pop super shock e/s "acorn"
armani eyes to kill e/s "lust red"
le metier de beauté e/s "crucible"
mac satin e/s "vanilla"
urban decay 24/7 eyeliner "perversion"
guerlain cils d'enfer mascara

the cheeks ::
nars blush "seduction"
charlotte tilbury filmstar bronze and glow "light/ medium"

the lips ::
rouge dior l/s "continental"

and now, although the sidewalks are coated with snow and the temperatures remain below zero, we're starting to see spring collections appear at counters, with more to follow soon. makeup waits for no woman. 

20 January 2016

world wide wednesdays :: this is why the ducks have been keeping me up at night

baby. bébé. baby. bebé. bambino.
my adventures in learning new languages have led me to think about the connections that those different languages, and therefore different cultures, have. the ones that i'm studying are all from areas in close proximity to one another, from cultures whose boundaries have always been somewhat fluid.

for those of you who might have missed my post on the subject, i started studying german and spanish late last year, which allowed me to make a new year's resolution to learn more languages, because, having already started, i couldn't possibly end up in a situation where i hadn't learned at least a little bit. i'm using the same program- duolingo, which i highly recommend- to get my french to a higher level and, after consulting the hive mind of facebook and twitter to choose the next language for me to start, i've made some tentative steps into the world of italian.

these are all related languages, in the broadest sense. they are all part of the giant indo-european family, which includes all of the major european languages, from english to spanish to russian, but which also includes hindi, kurdish, farsi and sinhalese. all those languages are under the same umbrella and can be traced back to an original single language. sort of.

we don't know what that single language was, because the people who spoke it never wrote it down. but we know it existed, because its fingerprints are found throughout modern languages, where we see similar words across many of the "family members". words are developed as they're needed, so it's no surprise that words whose origins trace back to the lost language of the indo-european people are ones that relate to some of the most basic and common things in our lives. for instance, the thing in the centre of your face. it's your nose [english], nez [french], nase [german], nos [russian], or nās [sanskrit]. or the person who gave birth to you: your mother [english], moeder [dutch], meter [greek], madre [spanish], mayr [armenian] or mādar [persian/ farsi]. given that these are things that everyone has, it makes sense that they are words that were present when our ur-language was born. other words that are similar, like "month" tell us things about that early culture, like the fact that they were aware of lunar cycles. and probably menstrual ones.

boy. garçon. junge. hijo. ragazzo.
as parts of the original group moved outward from their original home in asia minor, eastward and westward, north and south, things started to separate and show differences, to the point where there are now nearly 450 indo-european languages in many different subgroups. but when it comes to europe, it's a smallish place and almost all the languages belong to one of the three big subgroups: romance [meaning descended from the romans, although they are found in some of the most romantic places on earth], germanic [central and northern europe] and slavic [eastern europe, including russia and most of the balkan states]. [side note :: interestingly, while many roman words trace their origins to the language of ancient greece, modern greek is unrelated. it is indo-european, but constitutes the sole member of the "hellenic" subgroup.]

i haven't yet added a slavic language to my learning repertoire. friends who've done it [or attempted it] have told me it's very tough*. as an english speaker, it's much easier to rise to the challenge of a germanic or romance language, because english is a germanic language with a significant influence from a romance languages. plus i'm an english speaker with a solid grounding in french, which should make the learning process even easier. [note :: english is actually way more complicated, which was the subject of a previous www post. but even beyond that, the germanic influence in england is from two different sources: the germanic angle and saxon tribes, yes, but also the danish vikings, who contributed some very nordic looking words, spoke a germanic language [and still do]. likewise the normans came from france, but their particular version of french was heavily influenced by german and quite different from the languages of the more southerly kingdoms of aquitaine, burgundy and savoy. plus there's the fact that there were different celtic tribes there; celtic being an smaller but entirely different branch of the indo-european tree, on the same level of differentiation as romance and germanic languages.]

so to bring this back to me [because we haven't talked about me enough in this post], i am currently studying two germanic languages: german and english [which are actually both part of the further sub-category of western germanic languages, distinct from the northern germanic dialects of scandinavia]; and three romance languages: french, spanish and italian.

colourful. coloré. bunte. vistoso. colorato.
all have some words [nose, mother, night] that clearly share a common root. those are the things that were important before the tribes split off. other words can tell you something about what was happening in the various areas of the world, what was shared and what was different. cats [chats- french, katzen- german, gatti- italian, gatos- spanish] were shared early. dogs [chiens- french, hünde- german, cani- italian, perros- spanish] evidently came later. at least the domestic dogs came later. awareness of the wolf must have come near the time when the germanic and romance languages split: wolf [english and german] vs. lupo [italian], loup [french] and lobo [spanish]. but at some point after these five nations [although they weren't nations in any sense until considerably later] drifted apart, they all separately discovered the notion of domesticating members of the family. the canine family, which is the latin name and is one of the many instances where you can see the closer relationship of latin to italian than to other romance languages.

other words are hard to reconcile. like apple. english "apple" and german "apfel" are obviously from the same root. but no one knows what that root is. they know it must me damned old, because there are words in the baltic family of languages [another indo-european group] that are similar, as is the old norse word, which would indicate that the term had developed before the two germanic branches split.

so how did the romance languages end up with mela [italian], pomme [french] and manzana [spanish]. "mela" is clearly derived from the latin "malus", which is still the "technical" name for the apple. but where the hell did that come from? does that mean that apples were a northern european thing only? no, they weren't. they're generally thought to have originated in central asia and to have been brought to europe by alexander the great after he found them in turkey. so if they entered through the southern part of the continent, you'd expect the words from that area to be older and therefore similar. but it's the opposite. [side note :: i thought that "manzana" might be one of the many spanish words that were inherited from arabic. but it isn't. also, the french term looks like it's more closely related to the germanic root than the latin one, but that's not entirely surprising. french may be a romance language, but centuries of muddled central european borders mean that there are parts of the two that are remarkably similar.]

and that's where the ducks come in.

i mean, the ducks came in a long, long time ago. they're in every corner of the world and would have been plentiful all over europe before the indo-europeans arrived. and they would have been plentiful in the lands from which the indo-europeans arrived. ducks are not a new thing. and yet...

hat. chapeau. hut. sombrero. capello.
english :: duck
german :: ente
french :: canard
spanish :: pato
italian :: anatra

i mean, none of those words is even remotely close to the others. as with "apple", you can see a link between the italian and the latin "anatidae". but if we go with the theory that people find words for things as they need them, it seems like no one bothered to say anything about the ducks until really the last fifteen hundred years or so. and that might sound like a long time, but it's nothing compared to the length of time that humans and ducks have been coexisting. didn't anyone ever think to mention the ducks?

the english name may be related to an older norse/ germanic word for "diver". that's fine, but the norse and the germans don't use the word "diver" when they mean "duck". they use the word that means "duck". there is a theory that the early form of "duck" was adopted to avoid confusion with other words that sounded similar to the germanic "ente". thank god there have never been any english words that sounded like "duck" to confuse us.

and yes, the words for dog are all different, but there we're talking about something that had to be domesticated. that took time. the ducks were just there. now i have to learn five words for "duck", most of which will never be used outside this blog post, because apparently no one in western europe was willing to admit the feathered buggers existed until everyone had their own distinct language.

this is the sort of thing that i ponder, while i'm in the grips of insomnia: why did my ancestors take so long to acknowledge the ducks?

*now that i think of it, the people who told me that are the same people who told me that italian would probably be easy for me to learn since i already had a knowledge of french and a little spanish. lies. sure, some of the words look similar, but italian grammar is like being trapped in a giallo film for an anglophone. and on top of that, a lot of italian words are exactly the same as the spanish ones, with one letter changed [yo/ io, fruta/ frutta, gato/ gatto, scribe/ scrive]. that's just mean. 

18 January 2016

mental health mondays :: speak up

so here, finally, is the post that was supposed to be here last week, but the stupid blogger app ate it. i really hope that someone's new year's resolution was to make a better blogger app.

a while ago, i wrote a post about the things you should never say, or at the very least should stop saying, to people with mental disorders. however something i realised when looking around the internet was that there are precious few of the opposite: suggestions for things that it is both appropriate and helpful to say. i thought to include a few of them in the post linked above, but goodness, what a negative lot we mental health advocates are! so in the interests of trying to balance that overwhelming tide of negativity [of which i'm a part], i present to you a list of things that you should say to people with mental disorders. because positivity.

"how can i help?"
i wanted to make the list as different as possible from my previous suggestions, but i really can't overstate the importance of saying this. no matter what the type or severity of the mental disorder, sufferers have a tendency to forget that other people can do things for them [unless they have narcissistic personality disorder. chances are you're not going to have to ask them what you can do, because they'll have a list ready. but that's a different group that really needs to be treated on its own.]

"i'm not going anywhere"
one of the scariest things for people with mental disorders is the idea that their inner "monsters" will scare everyone they care about away. reassure them that that's not the case whenever you can and more importantly, show that it isn't the case with your actions.

"what kind of resources do you have access to?"
having a mental disorder can be so confusing and overwhelming that hearing that you have one can leave you thinking "great. now what?" the best way to encourage your loved one to think about next steps is to start the conversation about what they can possibly do. the options generally given are medication and therapy. one or both of those may be beyond the financial means of your loved one, which makes it even more important that they start thinking about how they can overcome that. people with mental disorders, especially anything related to depression, are prone to thinking "all is lost", so if they seem bewildered or convinced that there is nothing that can be done to help them, you can push this conversation along further by helping them look at what resources are there. mental health initiatives are chronically underfunded, but that doesn't mean that there aren't some means available.

"what changes have you noticed since you've been on your medication?"
this assumes that the person is on medication, but when they are, it can be helpful to ask them to look at the before/ after picture. "non-compliance" is a huge problem with psychiatric medication and so getting your friend/ family member to think about how their life has changed can help them realise what the meds are actually doing. alternately, it's a good way to identify cases where the meds aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing and might need to be tweaked. third, it's a way of getting someone to think about the side effects of the medications they're taking versus what it's doing to help them.

"how is your therapy going?"
people with mental disorders have a tendency to think of themselves as undeserving of help, or of their condition as being beyond help, so if therapy isn't working for them, they can have a tendency to accept that. having someone who has their best interests at heart who keeps them talking about it, who celebrates their progress and who reminds them that it might be a problem if things aren't moving forward can be an invaluable benefit. it can help make the person aware of their progress, which can seem impossibly slow, but it can also make them aware if the particular therapist or method isn't right for them.

[that said, therapy is a long process, so don't encourage them to think that if it isn't working right away, it's a lost cause. but not every type of therapy is suited to every patient and perpetuating a mismatch is a losing proposition for everyone: your friend would be better served by another therapist and the therapist is likely capable of offering more meaningful help to other patients.]

"do you want to go to the hospital?"
we talked a little bit about this in a previous post, but let me repeat for emphasis: you are not capable of solving a loved one's mental health problems. know your limits and respect them.
if someone is suicidal, or are in the midst of a psychotic break, the place for them to be is a hospital, not at home or at your place. make them understand that their problem is serious and that they are as deserving of attention as anyone in crisis. hospitals were created to help people in medical need and you should never feel shy of using them.

my last post on the subject dealt chiefly with suicide, so i felt it was important to raise some points on dealing with people in psychosis. this isn't a likely scenario for most of us, but for those close to someone with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, it's always within the realm of possibility. so here are a few precautions for dealing with someone when you can't reason with them:


  • stay calm. if you start to get worked up, angry, or scared, walk away or at least stop talking. you aren't failing your loved one by getting upset, it happens, but your absence is preferable to your overtly anxious presence. 
  • give the person their space. being crowded or touched- even by someone they love- can amplify a psychotic person's response and make the situation much worse. speak to them calmly, act as normal as possible and/ or keep an eye on them from a discrete distance. 
  • contain the situation as best you can. do not physically confront a person in a psychotic state ever. if the person is inside, endeavour to keep them that way, but don't make an obvious point of blocking exits, locking doors or anything else of the sort. keep yourself between the psychotic person and the exit. 
  • call emergency services when you can. make it clear what they can expect to find and make it clear that the person is not a threat, but needs to be taken to the hospital. if you can, request a response from medical personnel rather than the police [since this is neither their job nor their area of expertise] and that any responders should make sure to turn off their lights and alarms as they approach. [bright lights and loud sounds can aggravate psychosis in some people. best not to take the chance.]


in addition, for people suffering from an acute panic attack, there are a couple of things that you can do to help pull them back to reality.


  • remain calm. if you can't do that, be quiet. any level of upset is going to make things worse. 
  • encourage them to breathe deeply. do it yourself and get them to do it with you. breathe in as deeply as possible and as slowly as possible, then exhale in the same way. in through the nose and out through the mouth. breathing deeply and slowly stops the body from being able to manifest the physical symptoms of panic and effectively stops the attack dead in its tracks. even if the brain wants to panic, it can't unless the rest of the body cooperates. 
  • touch them if they're amenable. in this case, touching is good, provided the person isn't resistant. i'm not talking about a bear hug, but try to just put your hand on them in a friendly way. it can help ground the person in the most literal way, tethering them to the rest of the world. 
  • speaking of grounding, try to get them to focus on mundane things- what you're wearing, a few objects in the room, their jewelry. doing this breaks the panic "circuit" and derails the attack. 


a panic attack is not like psychosis, because the person having the attack is usually very aware of what's happening to them, so there's no need to pretend that you're trying to do something other than calm them. tell them about how the breathing works. tell them that you're distracting them with mundane things just to get them calm if you want to.

change the subject, eventually.
this is the last thing i want to suggest as something you should do when talking to a person who has a mental disorder. yes, you want to listen to them and make them feel like their problems are valid and deserving of attention. yes, you want them to know that you are there to listen to them and that you can offer suggestions and encouragement, but remember this: it's not healthy to talk about mental problems all the time.

you're not a psychiatrist [well, maybe you are, but then you really don't need to be reading my advice] and you're not there to solve your loved one's problems. you're there to be the same person in their life as you always were. so do the things that you always did together. go to movies. go to restaurants. talk about books you've read. do sports together. snuggle. go back to building that perpetual motion machine together.

dealing with a mental illness can be a huge task and there's no reason to make it seem worse by talking about it so much that it seems like the only thing someone has in their life. remind them of everything else that they enjoy and of the fact that there's a lot more to them than their disorder.

and because i haven't posted the warning in a while, let me do so:

i am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist. i have no training in this field whatsoever. i rely on research and personal experience to create the blog posts you see here and what i say should never, never ever ever ever be considered as medical advice.

if you look at current figures of what percentage of people will likely experience a mental illness in their lifetime, it seems increasingly unlikely that any of us will go through life without knowing someone who has one. that sounds bad, but in the interests of positivity, think of it this way: it is completely normal for someone to have a mental illness for at least some part of their life and it is completely normal to have people in your life who are going through them. this is a skill set that we've all needed to learn for a long time and, congratulations, you're alive at the time when people are finally accepting it. lucky us. 

17 January 2016

making faces :: odds and sods

just tidying up!
i did say in my last mf post [um, that's making faces, not that other "mf" i sometimes use] that i had a few reviews of products from 2015 that i wanted to do in order to feel a sense of closure before posting this year's shrunken head awards. ladies and gentlemen, this is that post.

it's a sort of buckshot post, lots of little hits over a wide area, where the wide area is my face and possibly yours. many of these are things i've been meaning to review for a while, but just didn't get around to, although i'm happy to say that only one is limited and that it does still appear to be available [for now] online and in stores.

so please follow me over here, folks, and let me direct your attention to exhibit number one...

ardency inn modster manuka honey enriched pigment :: rose gold

in the age of twitter, i really think that it behooves us all to agree to a character limit on product names.

these eye shadows are indeed made with manuka honey [which is like the single malt of honeys], which the brand claims makes them more blendable, smoother and creamier. although they don't make any claims about it, honey is also one of the best things on the planet for skin care, having moisturising, calming and antibacterial properties. the amount of honey included in the pigments may not allow for any real benefits, but i'm willing to wager that they are likely easier on the skin than most other powder shadows.

unfortunately, the pressed pigments are also very fragile. mine arrived smashed to bits [i feel like makeup lovers might need a trigger warning for this photo.

the horror. the horror.
i bought it online and was going to exchange it, but decided against doing so when i found out that my local sephora no longer carries the brand in store. it was one thing to do the exchange when i could inspect the replacement i was being given, but doing so through the mail just seemed to be courting the possibility that i could end up with another smashed shadow and i didn't think that i could handle that without developing some kind of ptsd type response. there's only so much violence one makeup junkie can witness...

[be warned! the associates at my sephora told me that this was far from the first time they've seen such a tragedy.]

i decided to hang on to my shattered soldier and try to allow it to have a normal life as a loose pigment. i have a feeling that that means i'm not experiencing the product at its best; i do find that it could be a little smoother and more even in application, but i haven't read any other complaints from people who've used "whole" versions.

it is very richly pigmented. if anything, i find myself having to sheer it out more often than build it up. while there were a number of bright, matte shades when the formula launched, those seem to have been discontinued, leaving a range of mostly neutral, highly frosted shades as the permanent collection.

15 January 2016

paranoid theory of the week :: are we being controlled by bacteria?

you cannot resist- we are already inside you!
isn't that a lovely thought for our first paranoid theory of 2016? what if we are not individuals with thoughts and feelings and our own distinct characteristics? what if everything we think of as our conscious behaviour is in fact driven by billions of bacteria living in us at all times, essentially meaning that everything we conceive of as us is really them and there is no us at all?

do you dare question your very existence? do your micro-controllers want you to look through the words below?

the theory ::
human behaviour is chiefly guided by the needs of the billions of microscopic bacteria that live in and on our bodies.

the origin :: 
very tricky to say with any exactitude, but conjecture around it is inextricably linked with the human microbiome project, which was the first large-scale effort to map and categorize the flora living on all human bodies. so we'll cite that as the root of all subsequent theories.

the believers ::
a number of people involved in or interested in the microbiome project from various health sciences fields, although by no means all of them.

the bad guys ::
there are no good guys. there are no bad guys. in fact, if the theory is true "good", "bad" and "guys" are all meaningless terms. there is nothing but bacteria terraforming human cells to perpetuate the life of its kind.

the evidence ::
first off, we must confront an uncomfortable reality: we are more them than we are us. of the total cells that make up the thing that stares back at us in the mirror, human cells represent only about 10%. the rest of that meatbag we call a body is made up of lots of microscopic bacteria, who are just trying to make it work for their people in their corner of the you-niverse. [what human cells lack in number, however, they more than make up for in size/ weight; for instance, the 100 trillion bacteria that live in the average human gut amounts to only a pound or two. so if it's any consolation, by mass, you're definitely human.]

except that the inoculation will only increase our strength
there are certainly examples of microscopic organisms that can control behaviour, but studies have tended to focus on invasive varieties. the best known today is probably toxoplasma gondii, or the "crazy cat lady" parasite. this clever protozoan can live in any warm-blooded animal, but it can only reproduce inside members of the felidae family. here kitty kitty. as you've likely heard, t. gondii has developed a mechanism to make perpetuation of the species more likely: it gets into the brains of the warm-blooded animals where it lives and makes a few tweaks. on the surface, these are pretty harmless, but for species like mice, rats, and birds, they're deadly. that's because the teeny, tiny cysts that t. gondii create have a tendency to turn off the panic reflex these animals have when they come in contact with signs of feline predators. indeed, rats infected with toxoplasmosis not only don't panic when they smell traces of cat urine, they seem to be curious about it. if you're a whole rat, that's suicide. but if your t. gondii living in a rat, it's a crucial change that allows you to get to the only environment where your people can survive. so, yes, this scenario likely ends with the rat-host dying a violent death, but if you're t. gondii, you're all going to die anyway unless you can find a cat.

but toxoplasma gondii is something that's not normally present in humans. there are millions of varieties of bacteria that are normally present in humans and all of them want to create the most hospitable environment for themselves too. think of your ancestors, many thousands of years ago, as they tried to get the hang of farming. they learned that they needed certain things to happen in their environment in order for crops to succeed, primarily irrigation. if there wasn't enough water coming into the land naturally to feed crops, then the humans had to intervene and make a change that brought more water into the land. that's what bacteria do, except that their needs aren't generally as simple as water and the land that they're managing is you.

the gut is the greatest source of bacteria, both in terms of overall number and variety. and not all of those bacteria agree on what constitutes ideal living conditions, not by a long shot. some like to have a more acidic environment. others like things more alkaline. and most of the time, the overall environment is kept balanced enough that everyone can live together, but sometimes, certain species get a taste for expansion and that's when things get weird. when the balanced environment shifts, some bacteria are able to greatly expand their territory, essentially committing bacterial genocide by displacing their neighbours who are less suited to changes in the environment.

their victory only makes them realise the possibilities for even greater conquests, which prompts them to do things that make expansion easier, i.e., things that make their environment [you] more hospitable. what scientists have discovered is that bacteria can do things like signal the vagus nerve to deliver more stuff that will make the environment hospitable, like say, keeping the scid levels higher than normal. the vagus nerve deals with these signals by shooting them into your brain, where you experience them as cravings for things like pasta and pickles, which increase acidity in the gut.

that's all well and good for the bacteria that thrive in acidity, but scientists studying the human microbiome have noted that it can cause long-term environmental damage. people with highly acidic guts are prone to developing all sorts of different conditions, which, unlike acute diseases, don't simply start, progress and pass, but endure, causing ongoing inflammation and deterioration. nor are those limited to the gut. some of the most interesting correlations between human health and acid-base homeostasis [the fancy term for the correct ph balance in the body] have to do with what can happen inside the brain. that's something we've talked about this more than once on more like space.

your size is no match for our superior numbers
the drawback here is that this science is still in its infancy. the human microbiome project was a five-year project that only started in 2008. many of the studies that have produced interesting results have been small. that doesn't make them inaccurate, but it does make them more prone to inaccuracy than larger studies. moving too fast with new technologies can cause more problems than it solves, after all; humanity felt it had made a huge advance when it figured out how to treat sharp force wounds by sewing them up, but that knowledge only became truly helpful when humanity figured out the importance of cleaning the wounds first.

the likelihood :: 7/10
even though the science is young, and it's yet to be determined the extent to which our microbiome makes our decisions, what's come out thus far is pretty damn compelling. bacteria, much like humans, termites, and many other lifeforms, exhibit a type of inverse natural selection, modifying their environment to suit their needs as well as adapting to better survive in it. and we're what's being modified.

there are trillions of them and they are able to send signals for what they need by using our strings of cellular material, signals which we receive and act on. we think we're in control, but every time we want another chocolate, chances are that's a bacterial battalion desperately looking to frack more life-sustaining nutrients out of our lower intestine.

but just because it's been some time since we got all paranoid around these parts, how's this for a potential twist: in two or three hundred years, what are the odds we find out that the bacteria are actually controlled by molecules that cling to their surfaces? how far does this thing go, exactly?
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