Into the Zeitgeist: What is your basic joy?

The first thing I used to do upon waking up was check the time. It was important to me to document what time I woke up. My family always made fun of me because I would tell the exact time. 

“What time did you get up?”



“No. Exactly 7:37.”

Early on I realized every moment counts. Though now I am less interested in knowing exactly what time it is. At almost 22 years old my morning routine has already changed from that compulsive energy to something more bewildered. I usually awake gently, always somewhat disconcerted to be alive and obliged to complete another day. Not unhappy, just somewhat confused by the gift of life. It’s randomness and mundane profundity. 

I lay there looking at the ceiling. Thinking. Thinking about the night before, about what I remember of my dreams. Often this is melancholy. Not tragic or depressing, merely melancholy.  

Eventually my thoughts turn to what I really ought to do that day – attend classes, complete readings, respond to correspondences. What I will actually do is frankly unknown to even myself at this point but I am aware of what I really ought to do. 

I begin to feel exhausted at the prospect of assembling the armor. The fashion. The hair. The convincing smile. 

Though the alternative is surrender. A relinquishment of identity. Complete undesired freedom. 

So I rise. Smiling as my feet hit the floor. My thoughts turn to the person I am in love with.  His ridiculous face – all dimples and eyelashes. 

Soon I am confronted with my own face. I regard it. Like some technically impressive painting in a museum which doesn’t really move you. You are aware that it is beautiful. But it seems very grand, very empty, very…commissioned. Something to adorn a Medici palazzo. Something unloved by its creator. Something profitable. 

Today I pay homage to an artist who made interesting art. I wear a long sleeve black shirt covered in white Basquiat drawings. I wear it under a navy blue and white striped Paul Smith blazer which hugs my waist. Andre Leon Talley’s voice rings through my head – “do you have any idea how sophisticated it is to wear navy blue with black? Most women don’t have the courage!” I don’t feel like being formal so I wear my most pedestrian pants. A blue jean with some very light distressing. They hug other things. I know this and delight in it. I wear a black pebbled leather belt with a large silver buckle. I wear black patent leather Dr. Martin’s. I change out my bags. I put on the sunglasses. My face has been washed, serumed, SPF’d, concealed and a layer of mascara applied. 

I look at my bedroom wall. There is a collage I made recently. Inspirational clippings from my beloved fashion magazines. 

Viola Davis in profile, beneath her a glossy serif headline – “Viola’s voice.” 

Donatella Versace, quarantined, peering out a window, recognizable by the back of her peroxide head. 

A piece of copy from an ad – “bravery is more contagious than anything.’

An Irving Penn rose. 

I find God in these things. Strange. 

As I begin the half-mile walk to where I work most often I think about this. God. By which I mean beauty. Beauty. Something undefinable but instantly recognizable. 

I think of how pervasive ugliness is in our world. How some things, no matter how much I might resent it, cannot and should not be beautified. Not the murder of Breonna Taylor. Or the gross corruption of the presidency. Or the destruction of the Earth. 

Ugliness can be powerful. I remember Emmet Till’s mother who knew that the brutal hideousness inflicted on her son’s body was more powerful than any dignity, any fine sentiment, or any comforting accommodation that a closed-casket funeral would have afforded. 

We needed to see what we had done. 

I think of where we are as a species. Becoming acutely aware that things should be different. 

But can they be?

All we can do is hope. 

Michelle Obama, speaking about hope, told Stephen Colbert, “I believe people want better. That is my basic joy.”

What is my basic joy?

I do not know what to call it. Though today I get to experience it. At the coffee shop “Moonriver” comes over the radio. I think of Audrey Hepburn wearing Givenchy. I think of my lita and I watching “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” year after year. I think of my father, three years younger than I am now, proposing to my mother in a small town Italian restaurant while the pianist plays this song. Most of all I think of Holly Golightly herself. Her enormous heartbreak and her even bigger sunglasses. I think of my mother on her wedding day – a dreamy swirl of organza, finger curled hair, red lipstick and blue eye shadow. Like some 1990’s remake of a classic film. Winona Rider does Joan Crawford. 

That is my basic joy. My roots. Those beautiful moments originating entirely from human ingenuity. From love. 

I intend to make more of them.

That is my version of hope. The belief that the best is not behind me. Not behind us. That alongside the ugliness is an indomitable beauty. 

Right now it is exactly 12:12.

Every moment counts.