Giving Thanks Where Thanks Is Due

Just a cursory glimpse of The Face will tell us that expressing gratitude is super hot right now.

All of our heartfelt feelings of blessing and indebtedness will soon (tomorrow!) culminate in that one big thankfulness orgy known as Thanksgiving. On this day our overflowing feelings of gratitude and the abundant goodness of life in relationship with nature and community, convert to overflowing feelings of breaded stuffing and sweet potatoes filling our very person. Fullness of spirit turns to fullness of body. Buttons symbolically pop off our pants and we fall into blissful, ego-less stupors that are reminiscent of the later, more tragic deaths of the pilgrims and Indians.

Well I want in on that action. I have to admit I’m thankful for a lot of the typical things–friends, family, health, freedom, Nature…I’m thankful for all of it. And more.


But there are some things that I haven’t seen mentioned much online. So I made a short list here, rather than posting it on The Face where, for all we know, the things we’re thankful for are being put on file so that they can be used to control and becalm us in the dystopian future (which I’m thankful doesn’t yet exist.)

For These Things, I Give Thanks:

1)  Counter-Reformation-Era Decorated Skeletons

In an effort to recapture their former glory after the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church removed skeletons from the Roman catacombs and sent them by parcel post all over the Catholic realm, baptizing them and passing them off as Christian saints.

Can you believe there are hundreds of such snazzy skeletons all over Europe? Nuns worked really hard to gussy them up and make them look glorious and resplendent.

I think it worked.  And when I look at them I have to ask, “Now Where O, Death is thy victory? Now Where, O Death, is thy sting?”

I’m thankful.



- Waldsassen, Germany, detail of St. Gratian. The Basilika at Waldsassen holds the largest extent collection of presumed skeletons of martyrs from the Roman Catacombs still on display. There are ten ful -

(I learned all of this from Paul Koudounaris’s lecture on his book “Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints From the Catacombs.” These are his pictures.)

2) The New Norman Rockwell

Rockwell-freedom from want

Now that we know Norman Rockwell was a depressed obsessive-compulsive who repressed his homosexuality, his paintings are suddenly waaaay more interesting (but they were pretty interesting before, you have to admit). Those whimsical, wholesome paeans to mainstream America are now fraught with unsuspected layers. Here we have the immaculate Thanksgiving table with not even a fingerprint smudge on the drinking glasses. The cherry jelly is glistening, perfectly molded, yet there is no bread to spread it upon. The table itself, and the window behind it, is emanating a sort of celestial, puritanical glow. And oh, we are given to believe that the multi-generational family will soon be enjoying the crisp and clean delights of that most watery of foods–the celery stick!!. And see how the turkey is not even steaming…because steam is kind of dirty. And now we see that these people’s smiles aren’t actually reaching their eyes.

What is really happening here? Norman Rockwell was never living that unique brand of sanitized American happiness that appeared in his works. I am thankful for his painting “Freedom From Want” because it reminds me that these sorts of fantasies so full of elisions and lies (no steam, no fingerprints, no bread…celery sticks are delicious) were probably known to be lies by Rockwell himself. Instead, what we have are deeper layers of bodily torment, disillusion, longing and death.

I am thankful.

3) Victorians


Yes, I sometimes am thankful for that most hilarious of human self-constructs–the Victorian person. Sometimes I think they weren’t so bad. If there were no Victorians, who would there be circa 1837-1901? Maybe someone worse.

I’m thankful I’ll never know.

I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, Dear Readers!


I May Have Found a Replacement for Magnus Carlsen

Continuing on the hotness theme, the entire world is currently going loony-maroony for Magnus Carlsen, the 22-year-old Norwegian who just snagged the world chess champion title in Chennai, India. His pugnacious/angelic mug, stylish blazer and raked-up hair is EVERYWHERE, particularly if you Google image him.


Norwegians report that Magnus Carlsen is so hot right now that when he walks through the Norwegian snow it melts in rivulets at his feet, which in some cases ruins an otherwise pristine snowscape. So that’s sad. But Norwegians don’t care.

The other sad thing about Magnus Carlsen’s hotness, is how it affects Karl Brinkman, the most sexually attractive world champion in the game of Qwirkle. Karl feels like both his achievements and his hotness have been impinged upon by the bright sun of gaming hotness that is Magnus Carlsen.

He agreed to let me interview him if I pretended to be from the New York Times. So I did. Here it is.


Sexy with a Capital Q: An Interview with Karl Brinkman

Spartan Holiday: So, Karl, do you feel like other hot people, such as yourself, who are table game world champions should be made into sex symbols in the style of Magnus Carlsen?

Karl Brinkman: Yes. Yes I do.

SH: Is chess inherently sexier than Qwirkle do you think though?

KB: I think that some people think that, yes. Qwirkle is often misunderstood.

SH: How so?

KB: Qwirkle is a game that correlates directly with intelligence. It received the Mensa Select award from Mensa, the High IQ Society. As in chess, stupid people will fail at this game. That’s just one thing that people don’t realize.

SH: What are some other things?

KB: People don’t realize that there are 108 tiles. That’s a lot. People often think there are some people think there are only 95 tiles and some people even think there are 80 tiles.

SH: Why would they think that?

KB: Because they’re never played the game and are just guessing.

SH: What are some other misconceptions?

KB: Well people don’t realize that a master Qwirkle player can get rid of all of their tiles on each turn no matter what’s on the table.

SH: Oh, how is that possible? I thought it was like Scrabble where your moves are limited by what you draw and what your opponents play.

KB: See, that’s the misconception. I can get rid of every tile every round. 100%. Another misconception is that the game is just eye candy…like it’s just a bunch of pretty tiles with no rules or object, and you just kind of decorate the table with them.

SH: So some people don’t know it’s a game at all.

KB: Yes, exactly. That’s what I’m up against.


SH: Could you beat Magnus Carlsen at Qwirkle?

KB: Yes, I believe I could.

SH: Could you beat Magnus Carlsen at a sports jacket modeling competition?

KB: Yes.

SH:  Is it fair to call yourself an athlete, as you do on your Facebook page?

KB: Most people would not call me an athlete, but they’d be wrong. I’m a mental athlete, not a physical athlete. The facets of athleticism are flexibility, agility, strength, speed and endurance. All of which happen in your mind during a Qwirkle game.

SH: Do you think it’s a sign of the times that more sedentary people are now becoming super athletes?


KB: I think it’s more like the zeitgeist of our times than a sign of the times.

SH: Other than an athlete, what are you?

KB: Well, you could say I’m an artist of the game. A rock star of sorts. A nuclear physicist almost, and a published author.

SH: You’re a published author?

KB:I mean figuratively.

SH: Could we also say figuratively that you’re the Norwegian World Chess Champion?

KB: Yes, you could. I am the Norwegian World Chess Champion of Qwirkle.

SH: But you’re not actually Norwegian..

KB: No, I’m from Germany which occupied Norway during World War II.

SH: Okay. On the Qwirkle game box it says “Mix, Match, Score and Win!” Do you think that’s an accurate description of the game?

KB: Honestly? No. I think that really diminishes the game because there are a lot more actions involved.

SH: Such as?

KB: Such as: “Think.” “Strategize.” “Deduce.” “Draw.” “Play.” “Take turns.” And “Dominate.”

SH: I guess they need more space on the box. Well, good luck to you Karl. Thanks for talking to us here at the New York Times.

KB: Thanks. Good luck to me too.


And that concluded my interview. Some of you are probably wondering: Do I think Karl Brinkman is more a hero or anti-hero?  Is he really that good at Qwirkle? Should Karl Brinkman replace Magnus Carlsen as the next international sex symbol?

I don’t know.

Sometimes you can’t get a real sense of a person just from one interview. Sometimes you don’t know if they have je ne sais quoi or not. That’s the thing about je ne said quoi– if you can’t define it, you can’t tell if it’s missing or there. I don’t know if Karl Brinkman has a certain I-don’t-know-what, in other words.

But I’ll tell you what I do know–I’m tired of talking about hot things…I miss those preternaturally un-hot people that I used to visit with so frequently–namely, the Victorians.

I will visit with them again soon, right here on Spartan Holiday. I promise.


First Annual Spartan Holiday Fall Fashion Issue

Uh oh. It’s happening. The first annual fall fashion edition of Spartan Holiday! I’ve combed the streets of Albuquerque to find only the most fashionable autumnal people. Sometimes these people happened to be my friends or 3-year-old daughter. Other times (one time) they were almost complete strangers.

So what is hot right now? Sophia Rose asked me. I’ll tell you what’s hot—*fashion*.


Yes. Fashion, my b’s. I’ve noticed some other recurring motifs like flowy, draping, silky things; animal prints and grocery-store-brand seltzer water.

Should I tell you what’s not hot? Having to take professional fashion photos with a crappy tin-can camera because your significant other took his camera that you usually borrow to ANTARCTICA. To take pictures of “scenery.”

What bothers me most about this is, once again, science trumps fashion. Here’s another example of science trumping fashion:


It’s not as if science and fashion are intrinsically incompatible. Case in point: Copernicus:

nicolaus-copernicusWow. Red soft-collar jacket, black underclothes, page-boy haircut brushed to the nines…no wonder he thought the earth revolved around the sun, because the sun is HOT and so is he.

Speaking of hot, you’re probably wondering: How did I choose the models for my blog? What are my criteria for hotness? Well it’s like this: Paul is hot because he’s from Minnesota, he presaged the whole flannel renaissance by years and used to listen to gangsta rap.

Kathryn is 5 ft 10. Tallness is very important in the fashion world. Kathryn speaks Guarani and she can do that knee-cross-over thing where you put your hands on your knees and it looks like your knees are switching places like they do when they dance the Charleston. I saw her do it once and I thought it was cool.

Lali is cool because she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her ever.

Taylor? OMG. When I met Taylor I instantly noticed how cool she was. She has a son named Tiger and she wasn’t bustin’ on Mary Poppins like some of the other moms I’ve met.

François made the list because he’s Parisian. François is always on the boulevard holding a good book and thinking in French. Instead of “thoughts” he has”pensées.” François has been to Marseilles.

Modeling is hard. It was especially hard for Taylor because she was mobbed by needy preschoolers during the photo shoot.

Andy lives in a tiny house and he has an ab roller. He also won a regional Emmy for best original score in a documentary. That’s why he qualifies.

Sophia Rose’s first business was selling vintage clothes out of her mom’s garage in high school. Now she sells “wearable medicine” clothes under her La Abeja herbal line. Basically she takes existing clothes and makes them way cooler and way more medicinal by sewing special stones and whatnot on them.

Tucker and Laila? Well they were just at the right place at the right time looking the right way. Hot.

But hey, let’s bring it in for a moment. Remember, you don’t have to be “cool” or “hot” or “hawt” to enjoy our fine fall weather or pumpkin pie spice or hot cider drinks or the smell of decaying leaves or the FIDE World Chess Championships or some other things which typically happen in the fall.

But now let’s take it back out: it also doesn’t hurt.




On Paul: T-shirt: from 3-pack. Sweat shirt: The North Face. Lined Flannel: Thrift store, a gift from a singer-songwriter friend. Jeans: Bullhead, the only brand that fits Paul’s impossible figure. Seltzer Water: Kroger brand carried at Smiths. Hat: Mountain Hardware, used to belong to his Laura, his fiancée. Shoes (not pictured) Patagonia loafers from R.E.I.


(Notes: 1) Paul pronounces R.E.I. “Ray.” 2)Paul once tried and failed to give his flannel shirt away at a concert to a guy who didn’t have a jacket.”You’re not going to Jesus me!” the guy yelled. That’s why Paul still has his jacket.)




On Kathryn: Scarf: Target, it has birds on it. Elephant-print blouse: EJ (in Coronado Mall). Pants: Garnet Hill, color: “mallard.” Shoes: S.O. brand from Kohl’s.

(Notes: Kathryn went to Coronado Mall because she just got a new job. Her old job was a farmer and her new job is doing something very important on the north campus of UNM.  She couldn’t wear her farmer clothes. And that’s why she went to the mall. (If you happened to see her there)).


On Lali: Woman’s Fashion Wig: Thrifstore. Scarf: Knitted by Carolyn Snyder. Sweater: Untraceable hand-me-down, handknitted. Skirt: made by Carry Wilcox

(Notes: When I asked Lali what’s hot for tots she said “a full head of adult hair.”)


On Taylor: Shirt: Kimchee Blue, Urban Outfitters sales rack. Sweater: Pins and Needles, Buffalo Exchange. Jeans from thriftstore in L.A.. Boots from flea market in L.A.. Sunglasses from gas station in Hawaii

(Notes: Here’s the thing about Buffalo Exchange vintage and used clothing store where Taylor worked 10 years ago. Buffalo Exchange makes you feel bad about yourself because they never want to buy your clothes from you. If they do buy your clothes you get cash back or store credit. But they don’t because your clothes are never cool enough. Here’s the thing though–It makes you feel *bad* about yourself but *good* about how cool the person behind the counter is. That’s what most people don’t realize.)


On François: Scarf: “Purple and bordeaux colored”, “thin and soft.” He bought it in Marseilles, this year’s European Capital of Culture. Sweatshirt: The North Face. Blue Sweater: Banana Republic. Jeans: Muji, Japanese brand popular with skaters, bought in Paris. Shoes: Converse All-Stars.

(Notes: François posed in front of these magazines because he wanted to show Americans that the French value arts and culture more than they do. Which is true.)



On Andy:  Scarf: Purchased at Savers Thrift Store. Cardigan: Also from Savers, Dockers brand. Pants: from Target.

(Notes: 1). Andy likes the cardigan because cardigans say “I’m a nice guy.” He says it has a “suit jacket feeling” but is “way less pretentious.” He goes on to say, “Cardigans are appropriate for New Mexico. It’s a layer you can peel off and on and we all know how important layering is here.” So he wears cardigans to work a lot. He also wore a cardigan to a conference at Harvard Divinity School–and left it there by accident. It was his favorite cardigan. I think he mentioned it to remind me he went to a conference at Harvard. 2) Andy lost a button on his cardigan during the photo shoot and was heard stating “this sweater smells kind of funny.”


On Sophia Rose:  Antique monogrammed camisole acquired on Ebay. Silky broom skirt from garage sale in Austin. Hat with sprig of usnea moss in band. Snake bracelet: Hmong design. Wool socks: from aunt. Boots: Harley Davidson, thrift store. Belt: Worn backwards.


Jewelry: Perfume ring. Purple-stoned ring: designed by Sophia’s mom and Oroboros (snake eating-its-own-tail) ring.

(Notes: You can make your own perfume ring by soaking a piece of cotton in fragrance and stuffing it in a some gap or divet in your ring. That usually doesn’t work real well without a specially designed perfume ring, so you could stuff the cotton lots of other places on your person. OR you could plant perfumed cotton balls on other people, animals or things. OR you could spray the perfume directly on you.)



On Tucker and Laila: Laila: Paint-on corduroy pants. Shoes: Savers. Suede jacket. Laila frequents clothing swaps. Most of her wardrobe is “pre-worn.” Tucker: Button-up Shirt: Banana Republic. Corduroy jacket. Kneeless jeans, ripped gradually and painstakingly by hand. Shoes: Adidas. Mustache: Banana Republic (or like an *eff you* to Banana Republic)

(Notes: I was photographing Sophia Rose outside of the La Montanita Co-op and this very hot couple walked out. Sophia Rose said, “You should photograph them!” I really don’t know where they came from. Technically they came out of the Co-op, but I mean *where* did they come from? They seemed really east coast, they both had on corduroy, and it appears they eat goat cheese. Hawt.)


So that about wraps it up. For now. For this season I mean. Just wait for winter–goose-down unitards, mink trench coats, more flannel… But for now we’re done.

Thanks to all of my models who donated their services and tolerated my bad photos in which the shadow of my head often appeared. No thanks to Dave for taking his camera with him. Thanks to America for being a free society instead of one where we all have to wear Mao suits or khaki pants. Thanks to Adam and Eve for original sin which made us have to wear clothes out of shame. Thanks to whoever invented thrift stores. Okay I think that covers it.

Till next week, beautiful people, beautiful souls…

It’s November. It’s Raining. Guns N Roses Revisited


I know. I promised a fall fashion edition of Spartan Holiday last week so you’d all know how to look really cool slow-motion kicking through the leaves and striding to the election polls. Who is THAT? There, standing in line, waiting to vote, looking so hawt participating in our democracy?

Who is THAT with their hair blowing in the autumn breeze as if standing in front of a low-speed fan, yet all of the yellow leaves under foot are eerily still? Maybe it’s *you*!

Be patient.

What was cool in Fall 1972

Because here’s the deal—-fashion shoots are hard, fashionable people are very elusive, and fashion is changing so fast, that what was cool two weeks ago (not having internet at home) is already a freakin’ pain in the ass.


I have some more excuses I’d like to share with you:

It’s hard to compile seasonal fashion pieces when you’re on vacation for six days with Dave before he heads back to Antarctica for a couple of months. I captured some of our trip on film here.

Between the industrial-capitalist degradation of Southern California and the thought of Dave spending another six weeks eating bad nachos, poking at microorganisms and peeing in a bottle at the far end of the world (all of which will be explained in an upcoming “Hidden Antarctica” blog), I just have been feeling a little glum.

Southern California before Whities and oil wells

When I’m glum, in November, and it’s raining, or has rained recently (on my laundry per usual), there’s only one thing that will cheer me up—-Guns N’ Roses’ classic 1992 power ballad November Rain video on repeat. Twenty-one years on and the glamorous drear is just as glamorous and dreary!

Suddenly, in the context of November Rain my life doesn’t seem so bad. I wasn’t killed by a rain storm or forced to deliver a guitar solo in the middle of the desert as the camera man circled around by helicopter.


Here’s the situation: Axl Rose is sad and self-medicating in his blowy-curtain, stormy, rock-star bedroom. Why is he sad? We don’t know because we cut to the gloomy Orpheum Theater for the live music portion of the video.

Oh wait. Tears of blood run down a crucifix’s cheek. Now why is Jesus crying? We’ll never know because we’re back at the Orpheum and someone who does not look like a concert flautist is playing the flute! (Minute 1:26.)

Now it’s a wedding. Axl Rose is marrying supermodel Stephanie Seymour, but why does everyone seem kind of down in the dumps including the bride? Who made Slash the ringbearer when he can’t see for shit through his hair and why does he lose the ring?? (Other than his visual impairment.)


THEN why does Slash walk out of the church right after the nuptial pronouncement and do a long bare-chested guitar solo in the New Mexican desert? Does he know something we don’t about something??? Isn’t it weird that the grandiose gothic cathedral is now a spindly chapel in the desert? It’s just this sort of literary foreshadowing that makes this such a great music video.


Also of note: The bride looks kind of depressed after sliding into the nuptial getaway car…could this mean maybe she is DEPRESSED on her wedding day??!!!

Then Axl Rose is walking around at night and passes a gun shop that says “Guns.” Guns.

Then it’s the wedding reception and…it starts to rain…really hard. Maybe it’s a downpour but still people are overreacting and crashing into tables, knocking bouquets to the ground, smashing dinnerware…


Water and china are ricocheting everywhere and then at minute 6:59 comes the slow-mo climax of the entire video when some guy who REALLY doesn’t want to get wet, but doesn’t mind getting covered in frosting and injuring himself, takes a diving leap right through the wedding cake.

Suddenly, the bad ass, hard rock coda of the song. Stephanie Seymour is dead! They’re carrying out her casket and at the funeral it’s raining AGAIN. One minute we were at her wedding and the next minute we’re at her funeral. Only now do we realize that rain is a narrative spandrel meant to symbolize sorrow!

Then the final shot of the bride throwing the bouquet over her shoulder and it landing across time and space on her own coffin. A bouquet of color-seeping roses. Roses.

Like these roses. All Fantin-Latour needed to make his still life really cool was some guns laying in front of the roses.

After 9:01 minutes the video is over and we’re all, like, WTF just happened? Why did all of those people hate rain so much? What happened to Stephanie Seymour? (If we research the note at the end referencing Del James short story “Without You” we find that she killed herself because she WAS depressed.)

Wow. Just wow. I don’t why it always makes me feel so much better. It’s as if to say…yeah, Gail, yeah, life is both beautiful and sad…and a third thing: deadly. Depression, too, can be glamorous if we just have some aesthetic coherence. It’s called melancholy and it’s fun! Like Goethe or this video by Lana Del Rey that also puts the sexy melancholy back into suicidal ideation… but with taffeta and balls-to-the-wall guitar solos!

Speaking of taffeta and balls-to-walls…see you next week for the Fall Fashion Issue.