Saturday, October 18, 2014

Model to Monument

I swear, if I don't have a set time I have to be somewhere, I will just keep walking forever. I've found that, living in New York, this is very much a luxury. No place to be for an entire day? I honestly can't remember the last time that happened. I like to walk for exercise as well as transportation, too. One of my favorite walks is up the East River, but waking up one morning and gossiping via text with AS led us to want to walk together. Bored of my typical jaunt to Randall's Island, I headed across town and met her on the Upper West Side, putting our walk in her hands.

Almost instantly, my own neighborhood walk was put to shame. Walking down the Hudson River, a lush navy blue under a cloudless sky in the crisp autumn air, we discussed Beyoncé Feminism and what makes someone a douchebag. The skyline of Jersey stood to our left and water sloshed against the piers. We had made the right decision to come out today. We passed sailboats, sculptures, architecturally unusual benches and seating spots, and a public art park that is a collaboration between the Art Students League of New York and NYC Parks.

The public art installation, called Model to Monument (or M2M), extends from 59th Street to 72nd Street. For four years, there have been a number of different sculptures by student artists throughout the park, each year bringing in a new work by a new artist. Students are chosen to produce their works at the end of each year and trained in producing art for public spaces. This is the fourth year of the process, and next year will be the last. These particular installations--which included everything from twisted mermaid forms to a giant hug to warped metal to a giant swing made out of translucent colored sheets and metal-- will be on view until May 2015.

Take a look at some of the installations here (please forgive the quality, they were taken with my iPhone) but, more importantly, go see them for yourself before they're gone.






 


Friday, October 3, 2014

Miss Manhattan Presents: An Evening with James Wolcott

If you weren't already aware, I'm excited to be hosting renowned cultural critic James Wolcott at The Miss Manhattan Non-Fiction Reading on Monday, October 6. This is how the event came to be.

A memoir about living through the grunge of 1970s? Sign me the hell up.

That's what I thought the first time I saw James Wolcott's memoir Lucking Out on the "Notable Non-Fiction" table at McNally Jackson. The cover was a grimy black and white photograph of one of New York's iconic bridges, tagged with the subtitle 'My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in the Seventies' in grungy, typewriter-esque font.

According to the back cover, Wolcott dropped out of college and arrived in New York with little else besides the money in his pocket and a letter of reference from Norman Mailer.

I knew Wolcott for his work as a critic at culturally highbrow publications like Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Harper's, yet had no idea he began as a gutter punk, so to speak, just like the rest of us.

Reading Lucking Out gave me hope to know that one might be able to struggle in the depths of New York as a young person--not arriving a privileged son or daughter of American royalty or whatever its equivalent might be and bearing the fruits of nepotism and similar nepotic pursuits--and still end up not only a working writer, but a culturally relevant one; in other words, one could end up as James Wolcott.

As soon as I finished the book, I knew I had to reach out to him, to say thank you for helping me know that at the very least I was moving in the right direction and that I wasn't going to drown in a see of my own hopeful metaphors. Seeing via Twitter that he was still located in New York, I decided I would make it my mission to meet him and talk to him about his work. I did my best to show that I wasn't some psychopathic non-fiction fangirl or other frightening specimen of literary junkie and said hello via Twitter. I would love to send you an email about your book.

Miraculously, he responded with his email address and I wrote--I would love to get you a cup of coffee sometime. I included a link to my writing portfolio to show for further anti-psychopathic evidence, just in case.

To be completely honest, I don't know where I find the balls to do things like this. I guess I just always follow my mother's advice: The worst thing anyone can ever tell you is no. Or not respond. Or say 'Excuse me, small, irrelevant writer person! How dare you contact me with nothing but a few internet articles to your name and nary a print feature to show for anything! I am [INSERT PRESTIGIOUS WRITER NAME] here and I should hardly be wasting my time writing to you let alone extracting the length of actual minutes to meet with you from my very busy and important day. GOODBYE.'

To be fair, the latter's never happened, though it's always something that sticks in my brain as a possibility, as if I live in some sort of 1950s-style magazine publishing drama about a young girl who comes to the city with publishing stars in her eyes. I do often fantasize about being Joan Didion, who found a similar fate being recruited to Vogue fresh out of college. But I digress.

Needless to say, this certainly did not happen with Mr. Wolcott. He wrote back. He said he'd be happy to meet with me. After about four months or so of scheduling and rescheduling dates and times, we were to have lunch on the Upper West Side on an April afternoon. I looked forward to it all week, mentally compiling the sorts of questions I'd ask. And what would I wear? I worried that I would laugh really loud, which I do all the time, especially when I'm nervous. What sort of food would I order? How would James Wolcott feel about me ordering a thick, juicy burger? Was I better off on the chic, dainty salad route? The day of, I felt my heart pounding in my chest as I arrived at the restaurant. I was early, saw him enter, and went up to offer my hand which, to my relief, was not sweating profusely.

Rereading this now, I fully acknowledge what an super-nerd I am. But if you met someone who is at the top of the field to which you yourself aspire, I'm sure you'd feel exactly the same. So just own it, and you'll be fine.

To my (further) relief, the conversation went smoothly. We talked about television, writing, his work at Vanity Fair, dance, photography, and a multitude of other subjects, seamlessly bouncing from one to another. I ordered a Cobb salad and a Diet Coke. He ordered the burger. He was a human, just like me, and very funny at that. In a moment of supreme nerdery, I asked him to sign my book; in it, he wrote 'Forward Ho!' urging me, in pioneer slang, to keep going with my career. (I told my friend Ben about this later, to which he joked, 'James Wolcott called you a ho?' NO, BEN. Though what a story that would have been, no?)

I also spoke about my reading series (The Miss Manhattan Non-Fiction Reading Series, if you are not acquainted!) and without being prompted, he said, "You know I'm a very good reader!" Well, I said, I would love to have you! Eventually, we nailed down a date and now, I'm excited to say, if you haven't seen already, on Monday, October 6 at 7:45pm at Niagara Bar in the East Village (112 Avenue A at 7th Street) I will be hosting a special Miss Manhattan Non-Fiction Reading Series event, An Evening with James Wolcott. Mr. Wolcott, now a 2014 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award Winner for the Art of the Essay, will be reading a few of his non-fiction pieces, discussing his writing process for each of them, followed by a Q&A with me and then with the audience (a little bit James Lipton-style, a la Inside the Actor's Studio, if you will).

There's more information here. I hope you will be able to join me for this very special event! Feel free to reach out with any questions or comments, and please see below for a bit of Mr. Wolcott's biography.

--

James Wolcott won the 2014 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for his book, Critical Mass, a collection of his cultural criticism from publications like Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and many others. He has been called a "soulful cultural sentry" and "among the last of the great, garrulous, generalist critics, equally at home writing about TV, movies, literature, music, comedy clubs, you name it," by The New York Times; and "a cerebral antidote to the dullness contaminating our cultural pages," by The Daily Beast. In 2003, he won an American Society of Magazine Editors Award for his "Terror on the Dotted Line" and "US Confidential" stories for Vanity Fair.

He is currently a columnist and cultural critic at Vanity Fair and also contributes to The New Yorker. His first job was at The Village Voice in the 1970s, where he was one of the first people to cover the punk movement.

Wolcott is the author of the novel The Catsitters, published in 2001; Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants, critiquing right-wing media, in 2004; the memoir Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York in 2011; and, of course, the acclaimed Critical Mass in 2013.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

New Eyes and Happy Accidents, Part II: Manhattan

EH needed a night out. She came into the city from the far-away land of New Jersey, where she toils long hours as a medical resident. It was very much going to be a "screw boys, I just wanna dance!" kind of evening, though it had a few more pit-stops than perhaps we originally intended. As is listed in the title of the blog, though, it all worked out.

If I'm lucky, I get to see EH once a month, so dinner and chit-chat was absolutely necessary. We regaled each other with stories of our checkered romantic lives over burrito bowls at Calexico on the Lower East Side. If I may nerd out for a hot minute, I love the business model at Calexico: here, let us give you some delicious, high quality food at a lower cost and make up for the expense in volume so you, a young New Yorker, don't have to sacrifice taste for cost! Many thanks, gents; the cool weird young art folks in this town (yes, we still exist) appreciate you immensely. Everything I've ever had at any of the Calexico locations (it's not a chain, just multiple locations!) has been utterly delicious, be it their chipotle pork grits or their baja fish tacos, and they're easily one of my favorite restaurants in the city.

After that, the plan had been to go to see the rad free burlesque show at Hotel Chantelle--it goes on every Friday night, and the performers are excellent!--but it didn't work out for whatever reason. Ugh, what would we do NOW? I searched Time Out New York on my phone and remembered one of my favorite yearly events was on. "Hey, EH," I said. "You wanna get a cannoli?" Her resounding yes led us to the Feast of San Gennaro. I've gone every year (and perhaps have a written a bit about it every year?) since my dad told me it was something he used to do when he lived here. In that amount of time, I've learned where the good cannolis are--they're not at some stand offering you the false promises of "the best cannolis in New York" in an awful Comic Sans font; they're at Ferrara's. I mean, the restaurant been around since 1892, they must be doing something right, no? And they always set up their dessert stand right in front of their restaurant on Grand Street. Making our way down Mulberry Street and wading through the throngs of teenagers, thirty-something couples on dates and dads wearing their toddlers as backpacks, we eventually arrived and indulged in a few short minutes of crunchy, vanilla ricotta heaven.

We walked up and down the streets a little bit more after that, eventually stopping in to the Church of the Most Precious Blood, which is the church where the San Gennaro shrine is located. I had been to the festival many times but had never actually been inside. Built in 1891, the church features a mural on the outside dedicated to all of the parishioners who perished in wars, beginning with WWI. On the inside, the furniture is wooden and reminiscent of the early 1960s, with red votive candles lining the interior. People kneel in front of them and pray. The interior itself is beautiful: it's a teeny little church with lovely murals on the inside, and I wonder about all the people who have gotten married here, and the role that this teeny little church has played in their lives. I take a few pictures and almost immediately stub my toe, as if god does not approve. I acknowledge his disgruntlement and we leave.

We picked out a place to go dancing and sort of wound our way there via Houston Street, turning left and right and eventually deciding to have a drink first instead. The bar was Emmett's, on Macdougal Street. The name was familiar and I discovered it was actually written up in New York Magazine for its desire to bring Chicago-style pizza to New York. A giant tray of deep pizza covered in thick red tomato sauce in front of the guy next to us was probably my first clue. We sat at the bar and chatted with the bartender, a nice guy who told us he and his brother (Emmett) moved here and opened the place about 10 months ago. The space was grungy in an elegant way, with a printed tin ceiling and Matisse books keeping the bottles company over the bar; it was the way I'd want a bar to look if I ever owned one. Every so often I'd sneak a peek at that pizza and it made me want to come back and try it next time.

Wined and beered, we arrived at our next location only to find that, though in fact there was a DJ playing some great music, there was absolutely...nobody there. In the entire bar. Befuddled beyond belief, we skipped out of there pretty fast and hopped in a cab to our old standby, Solas in the East Village. Yes, it is filled with post-grad frat boys in button-down shirts and even guys in t-shirts who will ask you to do a shot of Hennessy with them (what???), but at the end of the day, there's no cover, they play good top 40 jams, nobody bothers you too much, and we always have a good time. So we shook our stuff for a couple hours and by 4am we were home.

Rise and shine around...noon? and we think about a plan of how to get to the Brooklyn Museum, but instead decide on the Museum at FIT for their Exposed: A History of Lingerie exhibition. Fun fact: the Museum at FIT is *free*, and if you ever want to do some great people watching during the week, their students come up with amazing outfits. I remember one time I went to meet a friend as he got off his Megabus and it was like a parade of really cool kids with candy-colored hair and platform boots all being awesome together. Anyway, much to our surprise, we arrive and not only is the exhibition on, but another is as well: on Dance and Fashion. Dance nerds to our cores, we are delighted, especially since it's the opening day. The delight doesn't stop there, though, because very soon I realize that the introductory photo of the dance exhibition was shot by the photographer I assist on occasion, the supremely rad Erin Baiano. I gasp and giddily slap EH's shoulder: "OHMYGODOHYMYGODOHMYGOD!"
#nerd #dancenerd #dancephotonerd

I immediately pose for a picture with this giant rendering of Erin's work like a big huge nerd and I don't even care. And yes, I enjoyed the exhibitions that day (I wanted nothing more than to lounge about my house in fine lingerie and/or go the ballet afterward), but absolutely nothing compares to how much fun it was to see her photographs larger than life on the walls.

After the exhibition, we stop in a tiny coffee shop. I'm dragging, and I promised to take the night (again!) with my roommate, so I need a pick me up, preferably in the form of a black tea with milk and a Splenda, thank you very much. Walking to the train, we see this little spot called ALT, short for A Little Taste. Inside, it's beautifully decorated, with stylishly rusted metal furniture, silver metal pitchers for milk, mason jars for tea, open cabinetry and textured concrete behind the register. It's lovely to look at, and it's affordable, too! It turns out this coffee shop is actually the front of an interior design showroom, that of Analisse Taft-Gersten. The gent behind the counter tells us that she loved the coffee of Long Island Coffee Roasters so much, she invited the fella who started the company, Greg Heinz, to set up shop in her storefront. It's such a lovely idea, and so nicely executed, too. When I'm back in the Flower District, I will undoubtedly be stopping by again.

So I was feeling jaded about New York, was I? It's almost like the city noticed and granted me some little gifts, some happy accidents, so I can continue seeing it with new eyes. It can be a challenge to do, assuredly, but to sometimes to see something new all you have to do is look.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

New Eyes and Happy Accidents, Part I: Brooklyn

From the sounds of this title, you may have some horrible idea in your head that my eyes have fallen out and I miraculously found new ones. Praise the good Lordess RuPaul, that is not the case, kittens; it's merely a metaphor. You can take your gasping face off now.

What it does mean, though, is that I was having some trouble with New York. The trouble was that I was seeing and experiencing and doing a lot of the same things and nothing was feeling beautiful and sparkly anymore. But when something is as you don't want it to be, you simply have to change it.

The first instance happened a few weeks ago, but then Fashion Week started and I never got a chance to write about it. On a particular Saturday, I woke up with no plans, an unusual occurrence to say the least. And then I remembered what I used to do before I had plans every weekend and I wanted to go out and see what was happening: I simply looked in Time Out New York. On the list of events, as it is every weekend until it gets cold, I saw Brooklyn Flea. It was one of those cases of saying to myself, Oh, I love Brooklyn Flea! But I never go! So I decided to go. I used to have a meal before I went out to save some money, but today I thought I'd check out some of their amazing food vendors. I was not disappointed.

The food that sounded the best at Brooklyn Flea, which on Saturdays is the Fort Greene location (my favorite! At this rate you'd have to pay me to go to Williamsburg.), was the brisket sandwich at Lonestar Empire. It also had the longest line. I decided to wait because I didn't really have any place to be and upon reading the words 'brisket sandwich' I developed a Pavlovian drool. They carve the brisket, covered in a thick blackened crust of spices, right in front of you and serve it on a potato roll. Pickled onions and cucumbers are available for sides, as well. It fell apart in my mouth, savory and smoky, complemented by the softness of the roll and the tang of the onions I chose to put on it. I sat there in bliss, licking my fingers. So far, this trip out to Fort Greene was totally worth it.

I then perused a variety of wares both new and old. I knew there was a man who sold vintage Playboys, which I have always flirted with putting on my walls as decoration--only the cool ones from the early 1960s, though, not the trashy ones from the 1970s+. I was out of luck for that day, but the gentleman did happen to have a 10th Anniversary copy of Rolling Stone from 1977 with 50 pages of photographs by Annie Leibovitz and an essay by Hunter S. Thompson. I left it there casually, though on the inside I was leaping about like a banshee. OH MY GOD ANNIE LEIBOVITZ AND HUNTER THOMSPON OH MY GOD. I came back like a cool customer an hour or so later and managed to talk the gent down in price. The magazine was mine! I'm reading this and realizing how much of a nerd I am, but to each his own, no? Everybody loves something weird. I also managed to snag a vintage Photoplay magazine from 1939 with actress Norma Shearer on the cover. After I bought that, I left because I was worried one or both of the men who sold me the magazines would realize what fools they were for selling these to me at such low prices and come running back. They didn't, of course, but it was fun to think they might, that I might be a fugitive from vintage magazine justice.

In the thick humidity of the day, I decided my next stop would be for ice cream. I heard of Brooklyn Farmacy, an old-fashioned ice cream parlour, right when I moved to New York (it opened the spring before I moved here) but had never actually gone. Seeing the location of it was off the G train, and knowing that I try to never take the G train unless absolutely necessary, I decided to walk there instead. It would be about a 40 minute walk, through Fort Greene and Boerum Hill, but I love walking and I decided to explore.

 

Eventually I got to Farmacy (I think the walk would have felt shorter if I knew where I was going!), and I was immediately enthralled with the exterior: mint and white, with a neon red cross in the window. The space was actually an apothecary in the 1920s and retained all of its interior architecture--with the help of a few construction angels (read more of the fascinating story here), the business got off the ground in May 2010. Swivel stools line the bar, and the soda jerks wear white paper hats, while the jerkettes wrap a bandanna in a bow around their hair. I order a children's sundae, with homemade strawberries and cream ice cream, shortbread cubes, homemade whipped cream, and hot fudge on the side. The shortbread comes on the bottom, the ice cream on top, followed by a mountain of whipped cream (you can see the flecks of vanilla bean in it!) and, of course, a cherry on top. I taste each individual part of the sundae, and the ice cream is easily some of the best I've ever had, strawberry or otherwise. The flavor is sweet but subtle, quite literally "strawberries and cream." The whipped cream is fresh and sweet, squeezed right from a paper bag onto the sundae. I am actually, absolutely in heaven. Like the flea market, it's easily something I'd have no problem schlepping all the way to Brooklyn for. The humidity outside seems to have disappeared, and all that exists is this cool treat that made the walk totally worth it.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Symbiosis: Coexisting Backstage

It occurs to me that I've never actually written about what being backstage before a fashion show is like. Each person's experience is different, of course, but here's what mine is like.


Perhaps the one cardinal rule to remember about every show during Fashion Week is that no show starts on time. If a show is marked to start at 1pm, it will actually start around 1:30, sometimes later if the designer is especially fabulous (or just...running really late). Personally, I've never waited more than 45 minutes.

That being said, call times backstage (when I arrive) at a show are usually two to three hours before its slated start time. Yesterday, for example, showtime was 2:30pm, and backstage call time was 11:30am. And even before I get there, people are already swarming. A desk is set up with two young gals in black, probably interns, checking people in. If it's at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week tents at Lincoln Center, I'll get a backstage pass tag in a color and or pattern for that designer (each designer has a different color so they can't be duplicated and used for another day by sneaky folks). If it's off site, as many shows are these days, in event spaces or galleries, I'll be given a bracelet or simply be allowed to roam free with my camera. I'm usually there to photograph backstage beauty for Her Campus.com, which, as I've written before, is the magazine for which I am the style editor (follow my NYFW exploits here if you like!). The PR companies who have brought me there represent the brands being used on hair, nails, skin, and/or makeup. I try to wear all black so I blend in and people ignore me because I find I get better pictures that way.

When I arrive, I immediately find a place to plonk down my massive black leather bag, which I have unofficially dubbed my Fashion Week bag. In it, I have any and all sorts of things I might need for the day: memory cards for my camera, phone charger, a Luna bar for when I get hungry, and sometimes my laptop if I have lag time between shows, or even a pair of heels. But usually not because during Fashion Week I tend to dress like a grunge/punk version of an Olsen twin (post- Full House, pre- The Row), with a black cashmere beanie, a long black cardigan, and lots of black eye eyeliner.

I take out my camera and my phone and I begin shooting. The clothes I like to wear during Fashion Week don't usually have pockets, so I end up shoving my phone in my shirt so I can snap pictures for Twitter pretty easily (#nyfw). I'm ducking in between models having their makeup done, wedging myself in between the stools or chairs on which they sit so I can get some interesting shots. I inevitably bump into a makeup artist and say sorry--I always feel bad for doing this because I'm very much invading the space they need to do their work. But we all need to coexist, I guess, because my work allows their work to be seen, so...symbiosis? Sometimes I'll see another photographer I know and we'll hug and make chit-chat briefly. Then, more shooting. I'll also have introductions to the hair stylists and makeup artists at the show, and I listen to them talk about their inspiration, how they took the feel of the designer's collection and made it into a ponytail or a swoop of eyeliner (this is my favorite part, because I love seeing how people's minds work in their own creative niche).

I watch hair get teased, weaves added to too-thin manes, hair sprayed and sprayed again with thickeners and conditioners and oils and gels. Nails get polished and unpolished, on the toes and the fingers, cheeks are rouged and lips darkened and eyes glittered, all from scratch, or sometimes not from scratch when a model has come directly from another show. Sometimes they're late and everyone has a heart attack.

All the while, more interns stuff goody bags and place clothing lists on each guest's seat. Models will take the tiniest plate of food available and fill it with grapes. I will snitch a half a bagel someone's torn off or a zucchini stick and the PR girls who brought me there will sneer at me. Sometimes there is boxed water or Vita Coco, but at Lincoln Center there's infinite Diet Coke because the brand is a sponsor.

Hair and makeup takes forevahhh because there are like 20 models and like 5 people to do their hair, 5 people to do their makeup so the girls will often have to do a model rehearsal while they have one eyebrow painted on or they're still wearing the foam flip flops from having their toes laquered. They line up backstage and go walk the runway as if it were showtime, then they go back to getting their hair and makeup finished. While the girls do rehearsal the hair and makeup staff freak out--
"I haven't even straightened her hair yet!"--but they always finish in time. All the while, I am taking pictures, trying to challenge myself to see something I haven't seen before.

Once hair and makeup are finished, it's time to get dressed! Dressers help the girls into "First Looks," the first outfits they will wear on their first trip down the runway. They steam the clothes, lint-roll them, and put sticky tape where there needs to be sticky tape. If they have an outfit change in the show, the dresser will help change them quickly without damaging the clothes. At that point, I go into the audience and wait for the show to begin--I don't like to take pictures backstage at this time because I feel it's a violation of models' privacy. I mean, they signed up to be photographed, but not while they're naked, you know? At least not today, anyway. So I go and sit and everyone's noisy and running around backstage while people are filing in to sit in the front of the house. Extra special people are photographed with bright white flashbulbs from their seats in the front rows. And then the lights dim and the show begins. I watch. And 15-30 minutes later, it's over. Until next season, anyway.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Higher Burning

I think by the time I discovered 5Pointz, it was already super well-known and, for whatever reason, I simply didn't write about it. It's old news, I thought. But I've written about so many things that are "old news," that were "new news" to me, that it's strange to think I would've passed up the opportunity to write about such a fantastic space. 5Pointz, also known as "The Institute of Higher Burning", was a 200,000 square foot aerosol art space housed in/on a former factory in Long Island City, Queens. It drew graffiti artists (and I do mean artists) from all over the world who sprayed gorgeous, vibrant images -- letters and faces and drawings exploding with depth and color, never just some lame tag of someone's name in a thin line of spraypaint-- on its many surfaces: walls, windows, floors, doors, you name it. In fact, if you went to take pictures there, you were asked to credit any artists' work you end up photographing. It was really more of an outdoor gallery. As someone who is almost cosmically drawn to color and vibrance, it was a visual feast.

And yet, yesterday demolition began on the place that was from 1993-2013 a graffiti mecca. In its stead, as is almost cliche these days, will go a building of luxury and affordable condos.

5Pointz didn't go quietly, though. This past fall, when the building was entirely whitewashed to signal the end of the space's use, artists came back and painted over the wash. When their work was painted over again the next day, they came back again. It continued like this for a while, until eventually asbestos abatement began, which is the first step in the demolition process. I remember seeing one tag in particular around that time that simply said "Art Murder." I could not and cannot help but agree. I don't know where artists who have created such unique, place-sensitive material will be able to continue producing their work, but one can only hope a kind building owner somewhere will allow the artists to turn their building into crayon box fantasy castle just as 5Pointz did.

In Summer 2011, my friend BK and I went out there to do some shots of him breakdancing. Unfortunately, I never did anything with the images, but I felt like this would be a good time to share them, in loving memory of 5Pointz.

What are some of your memories of the space? Please share in the comments!








Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin

Though I don't mention our fair New York in this piece, I think our experience of the city is very much part of the energy with which Robin Williams lived his life. We laugh, we dream, we survive and sometimes seek chaos. Through it all, we keep pounding, as Williams did until his death. With that, I hope you'll permit me to share a few sentiments about his passing.

"Did you hear?"

I had called my mother at approximately 7:40pm today, Monday, August 11.

"Daddy and I are sitting here and we're just shocked, speechless. I feel how I felt when your grandmother called me to tell me John F. Kennedy was shot," my mother says. "How are you feeling?"

I didn't really have any words. I had a bunch of work to do, an interview to transcribe, emails to send, articles to edit, and when I found out I suddenly I felt everything stop. Like I was moving slow motion through water, grasping at nothing and trying to stay afloat. I barely felt my brain move.

Robin Williams was 63 years old. And he was easily, in my opinion, one of the greatest actors we not only ever had, but will ever have. The wit so quick, the turns of phrase so clever, the improvisational ability beyond and off the charts. Not a single human could compete. And why should they even bother to try? There is often great beauty in just watching genius bubble and thrive before your eyes, undisturbed.

I knew Robin Williams was talented even at a young age, watching behind-the-scenes clips of him in a sound booth, headphones strapped to his ears as he improvised dialogue as Genie in Aladdin. A stream of characters poured from his mouth and I sat there, jaw on the floor. This man was making all of these noises? And he was just one person? He gave such life to the swirling orb of blue that, for me even as a child, there was really no other reason to watch the movie.

As I would learn when I got older, he embodied the depths of any character he took on, be it Mork (Mork and Mindy) or Adrian Cronauer (Good Morning, Vietnam) or Armand Goldman (The Birdcage) or Batty Koda (Fern Gully) or even dear old Mrs. Doubtfire. In everything he did, he simply lit the screen on fire. One could not look away. There is great truth and sincerity and feeling and power in his work--he was without a doubt the consummate actor.

The Birdcage is a film near and dear to my family's heart. My mother often tells the story of how she wanted to see the film in theaters, but my dad waved her off. Cut to a vacation a few months later, and my dad is hanging out in our hotel room while I am sleeping. My mother opens the door, only to find Dad in fits of all-consuming laughter, a rare state for his man-of-few-words persona. Williams, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest and their antics are apart of our dialogue as a family. To this day, when I imitate Robin Williams imitating John Wayne --"Just get off your horse, and head into the saloon"--in the scene in the cafe when Williams tries to get Lane's very effeminate character Albert to "be less obvious," my mother bursts into peals of laughter. It's not me who's funny, of course. It's Williams's impeccable delivery of Wayne-esque mannerisms and speech while playing a burly and bejeweled gay man in Miami Beach. As usual, he was perfect.

I recall, though, when I saw his episode of Inside the Actors Studio, being old enough to finally understand his genius. Completely off the cuff, he whipped up character after character, from children who discussed Mourning Becomes Electra to Twyla Tharp, and so many more in between. I have always been terrified of improvisational comedy because my brain just doesn't move quickly enough; it is often paralyzed by fear and too many thoughts to function on the spot in such a necessarily clever way. But to see his brain in motion like that made me reel. I felt dwarfed by the enormity of his talent. I imagine many did.

As Williams himself said, there is a fine line between comedy and tragedy. The mind that so deeply inhabited those characters and brought life to those he created on the spot was also a deeply troubled one; perhaps mysteriously, the two so often go hand in hand. Williams was public about his battles with addiction, maybe in an effort to help those who also struggled. In his passing, it has come to light that he also struggled with depression. It's not beyond comprehension that a person with such stunning, glorious highs must also have stunning, unbearable lows; it seems a gift and a curse.

At approximately 8pm my best friend Jenna texts me. Upon coming home from work, she says her boyfriend told her of Williams's passing and after hearing the news that she broke down crying. In our 21 years of friendship, we have watched his movies, listened to his interviews, devoured his comedy specials in each phase of our development. He was a part of our lives, the way we grew up, as he was for so many people.

I'm sure in the next few hours, if not the next few days, weeks, or months, the publishing world will be exploding with think pieces about Williams--I am fully aware that I am not alone in my preparation of such words. At this moment, Twitter is exploding with grief--Danny DeVito, Steve Martin, Lena Dunham and even Barack Obama have all acknowledged the untimely death of someone who brought so much laughter and so much talent into the world. Publications compile their "Best of Robin" moments--Esquire, New York Magazine, Out, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker. But Robin Williams is so much more than a tweet or moment compiled into a list. He is, dare I say, an American institution. But more than that, he was a father, a son, a husband. A human being. And a damned good one at that. Here's to Robin, who changed all of our lives.

Here are a few of my favorite clips of Williams's work:

From The Birdcage:

From Aladdin:

And his Inside the Actors Studio episode in full is here.