Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Alex Marakov and Cassandra Chisholm

Wind whips through Cassandra Chisholm’s hair as we fly down Rouse Parkway in Columbia, Maryland. Her fiancĂ© Alex Marakov is driving, a tassel from his 2015 Physics Ph.D. program graduation swinging from the rearview mirror. It’s sunny and hot and we’re headed to Baltimore, about 30 minutes away. They’ve made me a GoogleDoc that describes everything we’re doing today entitled “Elyssa ‘Bombshell Kissah’ Goodman Extravaganza 2018.”

I have had the pleasure of knowing Alex for almost 12 years, he a provider of great comedy and very tall hugs (he is 6’4”) since we met as freshmen in college. I have known Cassandra a fraction of the time--she and Alex have been together about three years--but she is an equal match in comedy provision, a giver of shorter yet by no means less powerful hugs. Together they are so vibrant and alive they sparkle, and it seems like their home is constantly full of laughter (not to mention delicious treats--Cassandra is a great cook). They call each other “Lady” and “Man.”

Arriving in Baltimore, our first stop is the American Visionary Art Museum. This was actually a request of mine because inside there resides a 10-foot-high statue of Divine. I really knew nothing else about the museum, and Cassandra and Alex had also not been before. Inside, it’s an explosion of vibrantly colored folk art, like a cross between New York’s American Folk Art Museum and Coney Island, everything quirky and old and covered in glitter or mirrors or beads. Their gift shop is also an adventure, and Cassandra and I comb through their wacky old jewelry and vintage advertisements and die-cuts and local artwork, occasionally bringing over trinkets to each other and giggling.

Our next stop is the Walters Art Museum, a free museum in Baltimore that houses tons of ancient works. In the museum cafe, we pause for iced coffee--it shocks them that I take two Splendas in mine and they joke that I am not invited back (I just like it to taste like coffee ice cream, okay?). But all is forgiven and we start to make our way through centuries of artwork. The museum’s newly renovated 1 West Mount Vernon Place is a former townhome turned into a gallery. We stare up at the stained glass skylight at the top of the spiral staircase in awe. Alex is particularly enamored of the ceramics exhibition they have, and loves one pot enough to walk past it on our way out as if to say goodbye.

Our last stop in Baltimore for the day is Hampden, a little punk neighborhood further north. We stop into Atomic Books, the place where famed “Pope of Trash” film director John Waters receives his fan mail. Many years of holiday cards from Waters line the wall, as do all manner of zines, fiction and non-fiction tomes, comic books, and graphic novels. Alex and Cassandra pick up a few of the latter but, devouring them, will need to come back the following day.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Abeer Hoque

When I meet Abeer Hoque in the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room at the New York Public Library’s Main Branch in Midtown, she is a vision in magenta and cerulean, her dark hair dipped at the edges in bright blue. She has been working on her first screenplay and likes to tell herself she will work on it for just 15 minutes a day (it’s usually more).

I met Abeer through my reading series, having read her work many moons ago on a now-defunct website we both loved called Since then, she has become the author and/or photographer of three books--2013’s The Long Way Home, a book of poems and travel photography; 2014’s The Lovers and the Leavers, a book of prose, poetry, and photography; and 2016’s memoir Olive Witch. She has also been a National Endowment of the Arts Literature Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow, among many other accolades. Her work has appeared in Elle, Catapult, Bustle, and Slate, to name a few, and she has been profiled, excerpted, or reviewed in Vogue India, Good Housekeeping, Brooklyn Magazine, and more.

Abeer was born to Bangladeshi parents in Nigeria, where she lived for 13 years before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She then lived in Philadelphia for college, San Francisco for grad school, Bangladesh and India doing her Fulbright, and then traveled the world for several years, visiting over 30 countries. She has lived in New York for five years now.

We take the 7 train from Bryant Park out to her home in Jackson Heights. As the train crosses above ground over the various parts of Queens, Abeer talks with an ease and openness, a comfort with herself. It seems like she is never scared to share, to talk about difficult topics that might have the rest of us (me included) shaking in our boots to offer to another human being. She walks on the earth with lightness as we leave the station, ankle bracelets and toe ring catching what minimal sun there is that day, her long skirt swishing in the breeze. The main drag by her home is dotted with multicultural restaurants, serving Thai and Peruvian and Uruguayan cuisine.

Her apartment, which she shares with her roommate, is dotted with drawings, plants, books and colorful paraphernalia from her travels. Abeer normally works at a standing desk, and has an anti-fatigue mat placed beneath it (a gift from a dear friend) so her feet don’t get tired. Light flows into her kitchen as she pours me a smoothie made from arugula (her favorite leafy green) and a host of fruits and juices before she prepares us a salad for lunch. She slices crisp veggies, toasts walnuts, and mixes together her own dressing before tossing it all in a big wooden bowl. We sit on her couch and crunch into carrots and radishes and more arugula and talk about writing. More light fills the room despite the cloudy day.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...on Independence Day

I was all set this morning to send out my Miss Manhattan Hangs Out, when it occurred to me that, of course, today is a national holiday, and nobody checks their email on such a day. On this particular holiday, in fact, many people are far away from their computers or their jobs of any kind, with office/establishment closures and it being the height of summer and all. Not wanting to have a fascinating person lost to the wilds of one’s day-off inbox, I’ve instead decided to hold off this week’s Hang until next week, when (perhaps) everyone’s usual Wednesday attention spans will be restored and instead offer you a bag of Independence Day party favors from other times I’ve hung out across the country in these warmer months.

These kinds of events--my friend James Harrell’s 30th birthday wedding to his drag persona Diane A. Lone, my friend Stephen Chan’s bachelor party, the annual Mermaid Parade on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York City’s Pride weekend, and more--are, to me, what make America worth celebrating. They’re arenas of love and acceptance, joy and creativity, kindness and community, and of people who have paved their own way.

So with an intro shortened to exactly 250 words on this here holiday, I present to you some of my favorite moments from the summer. Whether you’re on the beach, in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, or inside blasting air conditioning, I hope you’re enjoying your time however your heart is happiest.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Emily Raleigh

Emily Raleigh is just about to make tea when I arrive at her apartment, her mug from Magnolia Table in Waco, Texas waiting at the ready. She’s bubbly, full of expressive hand gestures that occasionally include adjusting the clear pink glasses that rest on her face.

She’s just returned home from her office job--she is the Assistant Director of Marketing at Fordham University--and despite the growing summer heat, her apartment is filled with the chilly blast of air conditioning. When Emily comes home, normally, she starts working on her other job at Spire & Co, the uplifting website that empowers and motivates young women to pursue their ambitions. Emily founded Spire six and a half years ago after preparing a field guide for her sister about how to navigate high school as a driven young person. This then evolved into a magazine shortly after. Emily and Spire--a name chosen because “it means to breathe easier and the highest peak on a summit”--have since been featured in Marie Claire, MSN, and MTV for their dedication to inspiring content. The site has since grown to include campus chapters, a 300+ person conference and other live events, email newsletters, daily content, and more.

One of Emily’s greatest passions is brand development. She’s curious about how others develop theirs--especially Oprah, one of her lifelong loves (her home is sprinkled with back issues of O and she even has the famed host’s 20th anniversary collection on DVD); and, of late, Reese Witherspoon--and constantly thinks about how to work on Spire. One of her latest initiatives for the site is an online bookstore, Spire Stacks, where readers can purchase “transformative reads written by and about remarkable women.” All of the books have been read by a Spire staffer, many by Emily herself. Her apartment is bursting with books in an array of colors and motivating titles, though in particular she is fond of Cleo Wade’s Heart Talk, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and Shonda Rhimes’s Year of Yes.

Another of Emily’s newest initiatives at Spire is developing the site’s lifestyle podcast, Spire Sessions, which will feature interviews with experts on living one’s best life, like authors, leaders, and more. The podcast launches at the end of July, and tonight Emily is figuring out how to use her new microphone. The shiny silver Yeti is sitting on the edge of her desk just waiting to be plugged in as Emily peruses its box for instructions. Her pink fingernails glide over each instruction. She puts her headphones on and after following a few simple steps she can hear me laughing in stereo. Emily is driven by how to live her own best life and how to help others do the same, and it carries over into her work.

After the Yeti has been managed for the time being, we chat for a long time about career and motivation and dating and even personal style. Even as the hours have run past, she remains energetic, expressive and, as ever, curious.

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