Drive by linking

Not much to say here today, unfortunately, as I got too little sleep, so I’m falling back on that old blogger stand-by, the link dump.

  • Recently, Esquire put out a list of “The 75 Books Every Man Should Read” which, while very comprehensive in the dead white guy category, was conspicuously lacking in books by people of color, of which there are only a handful, and also books written by women, of which there is only one: Flannery O’Connor’s short story collection A Good Man Is Hard To Find. Now, I think it’s great Esquire is encouraging men to read, but come on–give a little love to the very talented ladies who have been writing brilliant novels for several centuries now. Also, I think no list of “books every man should read” is complete without Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice–a man can learn a LOT by following that masterpiece closely. And how did Esquire miss Don Delillo’s White Noise?
  • So, naturally, the ladies over at Jezebel couldn’t resist having their say, and compiled another list: “The 75 Books Every Woman Should Read.” They came up with the first 20 books, then culled the suggestions in the comments section into a larger list. This list has a couple of books by men on it (Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert are the ones I noticed), but it’s mostly books by women, obviously. I have read very few of these books, sad to say, so I think I’m going to make it a challenge over the next two years (to give me time to read other books in between) to read the list in its entirety. I would even really like to reread the ones I have read, because most of them I read in college or earlier. Also, I would add Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow to this list.
  • Probably most people who read this blog have already heard about YA for Obama, the social networking site for YA writers, readers and fans set up by Maureen Johnson on the Ning in order to drum up support for Senator Obama’s presidential race and also foster discussion about important issues and facilitate education, but if not I’m going to suggest you head over there and see what’s what. If you do join, go ahead and friend me through my profile.

I think that’s all I’ve got.

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Is Bella Swan anti-feminist?*

I was waiting for this: a Jezebel post on Breaking Dawn. I’m a little bit surprised that the Jezebelles were so unkind to the book, considering that resident Jezebel YA expert Lizzie Skurnick is a fan, but in retrospect I should’ve known this was coming. I mean, Stephenie Meyer has been getting slammed for being anti-feminist from the very beginning of Twilight, so much so that she’s actually responded to these accusations on her website:

I am all about girl power—look at Alice and Jane if you doubt that. I am not anti-female, I am anti-human [Ed: bolding Meyer’s]. I wrote this story from the perspective of a female human because that came most naturally, as you might imagine. But if the narrator had been a male human, it would not have changed the events. When a human being is totally surrounded by creatures with supernatural strength, speed, senses, and various other uncanny powers, he or she is not going to be able to hold his or her own. Sorry. That’s just the way it is. We can’t all be slayers. Bella does pretty well I think, all things considered. She saves Edward, after all.

Okay, so there’s that. And Meyer does have a point–I mean, all of the female vampires are very powerful, with Alice, the smallest and easiest to underestimate, probably being the most powerful of the Cullen coven. In New Moon and Eclipse, the greatest threat to Bella’s safety is from a female vampire–Victoria. Even some of Meyer’s Twilight mythology reflects the way the world is changing for women–while werewolf packs were traditionally all-male, in Eclipse we get the transformation of Leah, a female Quileute, into a werewolf. Even magic is conforming to a new societal ideology. So there’s no lack of powerful, kick-ass females in this series–Bella, the heroine, just happens not to be one, and that’s because she’s at a vast disadvantage by virtue of being so normal and human. There’s nothing strictly anti-feminist about that; in fact, it makes the whole series more relatable.

Also, Bella holds her own. She’s not a quivering coward of a girl–she’s steadfast, loyal, shrewd, discerning, and a master at overcoming fear in pursuit of that which she wants most. The moment we meet Bella, we learn that she’s done a very brave thing: she has agreed to go live with her father, Charlie, in Forks, a man she barely knows in a dark, rainy place she, a desert girl raised, couldn’t possibly feel comfortable in, because she wants her mother, who has recently married a professional baseball player who travels a lot, to be free and happy in her marriage. Maybe that’s grotesquely self-sacrificing, but it’s also incredibly sweet, and it soon becomes clear that Bella is a girl older than her age who has spent her entire adolescence taking care of her flighty mother. When Bella, despite her relative normalcy, starts getting a lot of attention from the boys at her new school, she is made uncomfortable by it because she understands how patently superficial it all is. She would rather just have some good, trustworthy friends who can make her stay in Forks bearable, but instead she gets a bunch of dopey, slavering aspiring boyfriends and a grip of backstabbing mean girls who only deign to hang out with her because the boys like her. Bella is diplomatic but acutely aware of the social pitfalls of this situation and does her best to avoid them.

As someone who feels like an outsider, it makes sense that she would be drawn towards another outsider, the shadowy, mysterious Edward Cullen (yes, he is beautiful, but Bella, after he treats her in an infamously and inexplicably rude manner, while puzzled, is fine with being disliked by him; she just wishes he’d stop glaring at her and then saving her ass all the time, because consistency is all the girl’s looking for in this brand new strange world). Edward is weird, duh, because he’s a vampire, and so he does act like a creepy stalker at first, but this is where the premise is really important–he is just as surprised by his behavior as she is, that he is both drawn to her and repulsed by her, and the fact that his mind-reading power doesn’t work on her puts them on equal footing because he has no intellectual advantage over her. Also, he recognizes right quick another thing that’s special about Bella–she attracts trouble. This is not because she is a ditz who blithely walks into potentially dangerous scenarios, although she is startling cavalier with her own safety, it just never occurs to her that anyone would want to hurt her. She thinks of herself as scenery in a world full of actors, not because she’s a mopey self-hater but just because that’s how she sees herself. Edward, because he has the ability to, tends to intervene in these situations–he stops a car from running her over, he rescues her from a pack of guys that are trying to assault her, etc. Yes, he is overprotective, but that’s because, especially as time goes on, he sees that he is making her world less and less safe simply by being in it.

Edward is not possessive. Actually, it’s the opposite–he knows that he’s bringing danger into her life and struggles daily between sticking around to prevent it from hurting her or leaving her to prevent it from coming at all, but she clings to him, willing to brave the risks and the fear in order to love him. That’s either incredibly romantic or incredibly stupid, probs both, but either way it’s Edward who tries to push her away in New Moon. To Bella’s credit, she does not rend her clothes and gnash her teeth and sob her guts out when he tells her that he’s leaving–she just accepts it, and then the lights go out for three months while she grieves and adjusts. Please don’t anybody ever tell me that when they were broken up with by someone they really loved the same thing did not happen because I will not believe you. And then Bella tries to move on with her life, albeit painfully and slowly. THIS IS NOT ANTI-FEMINIST. Bella alternately puts herself back together and falls apart because she’s a young girl with a sense of commitment and love more mature than her years and experience. This may not appeal to some people’s particularly sensibilities, but it’s not hatefully misogynistic.

Even when Edward comes back, he keeps encouraging her to consider her options–human (or half-human, anyway) Jacob who she can grow old with and have babies with, or eternal, potentially soulless death with a vampire who cannot give her children (WE THINK SPOILER!!1!). Or, you know, neither, although once Jacob comes on the scene full-force that doesn’t seem to be considered, which IS potentially anti-feminist, I’ll give you that. If Natalie Babbitt was writing this book, we know what the answer would be (hint: immortality is not a good idea and while cool for a couple of decades gets old, FAST, with or without a soul mate). Bella makes her own choice, and I know there are angry fans out there who think that Jacob’s imprinting on Renesmee in Breaking Dawn invalidates Bella’s choosing Edward in Eclipse, that’s silly, it just doesn’t. It was hard, she really considered what it would do to the three of them, she made her choice, she gets points for that. If Jacob had just fell in love with, like, Leah or something, would that invalidate Bella’s choice, too? Of course not. Was Stephenie Meyer supposed to make Jacob miserable and spurned in love forever for Bella’s choice to have power? No! And Edward is still trying to get Bella to change her mind about him and choose to remain mortal while she is pregnant in the hopes that she’ll save her own life, despite how much it would hurt to lose her. That’s not possessive, that’s passionate. That’s love. Idealized love, perhaps, but love all the same.

I guess what this comes down to is that I don’t think a woman is anti-feminist just because she knows what she wants and what she wants happens to be a life with a man she loves. On a related note, her decision to keep Renesmee (or, whatever, the baby who ends up being Renesmee) is just that: HER CHOICE. HERS. Bella says she never even thought about being a mother, but the truth is that she’s been mothering her own mother for as long as she can remember, and when she moves in with her father she mothers him; nurturing comes naturally to her, and it makes sense that those instincts would kick in once she was carrying a baby of her own. And Bella’s choice to become a vampire is not something she does on the fly–she considers it, decides to do it, and then waits three books to really sort it out in her mind before she commits to it, in the face of monumental opposition from the one person who would benefit from her becoming a vampire the most–Edward.

*I swear to God, at some point I will stop talking about Twilight and start talking about my own books again. But that can be summed up in one run-on non-sentence: revisions revisions revisions revisions wrote a single sentence in MB this weekend revisions revisions look I’m halfway done!

Writing young women

For the past few days I’ve been struggling with this (long, and growing ever longer) post about the term “voice” and what it means in all these different contexts and situations. I eventually plan on posting it, but not until I can get a very firm grasp on what I’m trying to say, so in the meantime here’s something else I’ve been thinking about. Oh, and also, for those nice people who were slightly worried about me because of my last post, rest assured that I am feeling much, MUCH better. Thank you for your concerns.

So, did you guys hear about Katherine Heigl taking her name out of contention for the Emmy’s because:

I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization…In addition, I did not want to potentially take away an opportunity from an actress who was given such materials.

And, I mean, we could sit here and talk about whether or not Heigl is kind of crapping all over the Grey’s writers by saying that they just didn’t give her meaty enough stuff to play this season (although, Gizzie? After that fiasco, I’m not sure quite how much respect I think they deserve), or if, as Jezebel is suggesting, she’s underhandedly protesting the way that women are portrayed on television: namely, as total victims. Jezebel has a regular feature called “Hookers, Victims, and Doormats” (from which I cribbed the title of this post), which they took from a Shirley MacLaine quote about the best parts for actresses being one of those three things, in which they take the latest female casting news and see how many of the roles fall into these categories. It’s fascinating how the film and television industry (with a few righteous exceptions–Veronica Mars, much?) still shies away from creating strong women.

This got me thinking about the women I write. I just do not know. A couple of weeks ago I detailed for you the early days of my writing “career”, including all the novels I’d written. When I first thought about it, I was like, “Yes, definitely, I write a lot of victims,” but actually, now that I think about it, I don’t. Kate in The House on Gilmore Lake, despite having a totally ridiculous storyline, was actually quite strong; she thought her sister’s martyr act was pretty stupid and irresponsible and selfish, so she rolled into town to talk some sense into her, even though she knew she was walking into an emotional minefield w/r/t her true love/now brother-in-law and memories of her mother’s similar heartbreaking behavior. Plus, she repaired everything as best she could without destroying her integrity. Gelsey from that second novel was a little bit victim-y, but instead of letting self-absorbtion and sadness take over her life she tried to turn it around, volunteering with battered women and dumping her disinterested dolt of a husband. In the first draft of AUT, C was SO victim-y, as was N (a male character), but in this new version C is basically a Byronic hero and A (who wasn’t in the first draft) is a rock star who refuses to get beaten down by the warped conventions and idle gossip of a wealthy, corrupt town. I’m actually really proud of A, because I think she’s just the right blend of vulnerability and strength that makes for an interesting character arc.

Which brings me to MB. I never really start out a story going, “Okay, I’m going write a strong female character,” but all the “heros” of my work tend to be pretty strong, male and female. I don’t write protagonists that I cannot respect, and I have a hard time respecting weak, cowardly people, so I don’t end up writing them most of the time. That’s just me. And also, I always hesitate to say that writers “have a responsibility” to write strong, non-victim, non-doormat female characters because part of me has always thought that the only “responsibility” a writer has is to tell the truth, whatever that means in the context of their story–to get to the root of things, to explore human nature in as honest a way as possible. So, like, if your heroine is a doormat, well, sucks for her but if that’s the truth then write it, right? And I mostly still think that, although I get little satisfaction out of reading about such characters, and no satisfaction out of writing them.

But the thing is–the truth is–that there are all kinds of women out there, including hookers, victims, and doormats, but also including manipulative bitches, kick-ass superheros, amazing mothers, unexploited wives, truth-seekers, vengeance-seekers, and just plain old good women. So, hopefully, we get an array of different kinds of women, especially in YA, where lots of young girls can experiment with identity. Although, I’m sort of less concerned about this in YA, as it’s very en vogue to write “plucky” heroines, outcasts who find themselves and take control of their destinies, etc.

OMG, I was going to talk about MB and I got distracted. The female protagonist of MB (we’ll call her “JC”) is pretty much my favorite character I’ve ever written ever. A little bit trashy, a little bit misunderstood, guarded yet hugely loving, unselfish yet not desperate, warm but not needy, smart but not ostentatiously so (and capable of making quite ridiculous errors), naturally funny but not perform-y, bold but not pushy, she’s able to simultaneously see people’s flaws and love them in spite of those flaws. She’s take-no-bullshit, but she’s not insensitive to the comfort other people find in their illusions. She’s not perfect, either, but I love writing a character who’s so sure of herself. She’s an inspiration to me, certainly. And I’m glad I’m not contributing another hooker/doormat/victim to the world of literature (it’s full of them, too)–assuming MB ever actually reaches the world of literature. But none of that pessimism now–what really matters is that I think I’m creating characters who I can respect and admire, and if film and television writers would do that a little more, maybe Jezebel would have less examples for their column–to the betterment of all.

Oh, and I got an email from J today saying that she’s done compiling her editor list and she’s working on the pitch and D, the president of the agency, is reading it this week; barring some big problem J, L and I (not to mention Bri, Nickie, Emma and Alicia, who have all read it) failed to catch, we should be able to start submitting soon. This, I’m sure, will usher in a whole summer’s worth of anxiety, but I have work and MB to concentrate on, a busy social schedule to keep me occupied, plenty of friends coming in and out of the city, and some much-needed California R&R in August to look forward to. But still–yay! I’m excited for what comes next. And terrified, natch. Whateva.

I’m such an (April) fool

Don’t be embarrassed…I totes believed it, too.

google's april fools

Not to mention Google’s announced merger with Virgin to create Virgle: Virgle’s goal is simple: the establishment of a permanent human settlement on Mars. There’s even a 100-year plan and a questionnaire you can take to determine if you are a potential “pioneer” for the “settlement”. I took the test and this was how I scored:

Well, you’re distressingly normal and could conceivably adjust to life as a deep space pioneer, though we recommend instead that you leave the Mars missions to the serious whack jobs who scored over 130 and instead finish year 3 of law school, tuck your toddler into bed, design Web 2.0 applications, run for Congress or do whatever other normal, healthy, middle-of-the-road thing you’re currently doing with your normal, healthy, middle-of-the-road life.

Then there’s CondéNast’s rumored takeover of my womanisty touchstone, Jezebel: CondéNet, the leading creator and developer of upscale lifestyle brands online, has agreed to acquire Jezebel.com (http://www.jezebel.com), a leading women’s news and entertainment website founded in 2007 by New York-based Denton Media. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. I sincerely doubt that this is true. I had to read the comments to get the joke, which is pathetic, but true. Since Jezebel is pretty much the anti-Condé, it’s not true that CondéNast “has a portfolio of similar properties” like Nick Denton’s “Whoring Out Jezebel” post on Gawker says.

I’m so gullible. I believed all of these things (well, not the Virgle thing, but that’s only because I saw it after I’d been reminded it was April Fool’s Day and informed that “Google Time” is probably a joke). The internets are a great place to play a practical joke since it probably takes very little time and effort compared to, for instance, filling an entire swimming pool with Jell-O or something. Check out this list of the Top 100 April Fool’s Day hoaxes, and drop a line if you find any other fun ones I can first believe, then disbelieve, then link to.

ETA: “Stuff White People Like bought by Target”? Good one, guys. I’m not falling for any of this shit anymore, and I’m boycotting Jezebel for the rest of the day because of unreadability due to the continuation of the now completely unbelievable “bought by CondéNast” joke.

You mean to say you don’t READ? and other judgemental shit I might’ve said once

Oh, the Times. Always tapping in to just what makes us all tick, yes? Today, an essay titled “It’s Not You, It’s Your Books” topped the Most Emailed list and earned itself a questionably focused Jezebel post. I’m not quite sure what Moe was trying to say there, but I think it’s an interesting article in the sense that I used to feel similarly. I used to judge people on the basis of what or if they read; I’ve actually been known to say, in the most ridiculously self-important and offensive way, “You don’t READ?” The truth is, I’ve always been sort of stumped by people who don’t read–after all, what do you do whilst waiting for the train or in the lobby at the dentist if you don’t read? The answer is, I think, plenty: zone out, pick up an Us Weekly, listen to your iPod or watch a movie on it, sleep, whatever. The truth is, I don’t even read on the train all that much, it makes me sleepy. I much prefer to stare into space and listen to my iPod. It’s when I get a lot of my good book-think done.

But I don’t think–and you can quote me in the future if this turns out to be untrue–I would ever not date or dump someone because of their reading preferences, or lack thereof. This is because my attitudes towards my own reading has changed significantly; when I interviewed for my internship at a literary agency last summer, my boss asked me what my guilty pleasures (reading-wise) were, and I told her that I read widely and never feel guilty about any of it, which was actually (and here I even surprised myself) true. I think I’ve always been wedded to my image of myself as a “book girl” and liked to define myself as such via intense snobbery, much like music snobs and film snobs do. But that’s so not me. I actually take a far more democratic view of the world of literature as it exists today, and while I don’t read romance novels (I just don’t think I’m enough of a romantic, sad to say, to really enjoy all those happy endings) I don’t begrudge anyone who likes them. Same with sci-fi/fantasy–not my cup of tea, but hey, some people really love that stuff and who am I to tell them it’s worthless? No one, that’s who. I think people who only stick to a certain genre (just like people who only read so-called “literary” novels) are severely limiting themselves to their detriment–after all, even I read some sci-fi and some fantasy and some romance and some horror–but that’s their business.

And while loving the same books or same types of books can be a connecting thread upon which exciting relationships can be formed, no matter how much you love books that’s only one aspect of who you are–there are so many other opportunities to bond on different parts of your life and background and family and things you can enjoy that to actually dump a guy (or girl, depending on your pref) for what or whether they read is, to me, sort of ludicrous. If I was with someone I genuinely loved–or even liked–I would hardly consider whether or not he read Pushkin (not that I have) to be a legitimate reason to dump him. I once had a guy tell me that he hated Pride and Prejudice so much in high school that he and his friends considered having a book burning party once the class was over, and it did bother me, only because Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite novels and the idea of book burning brings up a lot of Nazi-esque images that are otherwise completely out of sync with the person who said this to me, but I think he just said it to bug me and not because he actually meant it (though maybe he did). Otherwise, though, I’m pretty much all set with people liking or hating whatever the hell they want. Caveat, though: I don’t like it when people tell me they “hate” a certain author or book but have never read them. That’s why I stick with some books that I don’t like until the end–so that if I ever get into a conversation about them, I can at least give a reason for not liking it.

I always sort of imagined that the man I marry (if, indeed, I do marry) would not be a book person. This is because books are my thing. I’m a selfish reader. I like to hole up in my room and devour entire novels in one go. I don’t like to lend out my books. I love to talk about books, but I will always have other people in my life–considering my chosen profession–who will talk about them with me, plus there’s an entire Internet full of book lovers pretty much at my fingertips. Also, book lovers often turn out to be aspiring writers, and since I’m an aspiring writer I don’t want there to be any competition or comparison in my home life (though I love having friends that are aspiring writers). Plus, I usually find aspiring male writers really solipsistic and annoying and am not usually attracted to them, although there are of course exceptions to every rule.

The people in this stupid article are ridiculous. James Collins, whose novel Beginner’s Greek I started and read about twenty pages of before I abandoned it (I do plan to return to it, because of the aforementioned desire to finish all books I start plus it was free and what’s the point of getting free books if you don’t read them?), is quoted as saying, “I know there were occasions when I just wrote people off completely because of what they were reading long before it ever got near the point of falling in or out of love: Baudrillard (way too pretentious), John Irving (way too middlebrow), Virginia Woolf (way too Virginia Woolf).” Are you kidding me? Wrote people off for reading Virginia Woolf and John Irving? Too middlebrow? Ugh. If you know me in real life and that’s how I have ever sounded to you, I am SORRY and I will try to NEVER DO IT AGAIN. I promise.

The thing is, yes, the books people choose to pay for and keep do say a little about who they are, but I know plenty of people who adore the same books I do that are completely different from me. I mean, take for instance how much I like Stephen King; my father, who reads only historical nonfiction (mostly about the World Wars) and sci-fi, also likes him a whole lot. We also share a liking for Anne Rice. We are similar in some ways because he raised me, but we are actually quite different people, and our reading preferences on the whole are dissimilar at best.

Naming a favorite book or author can be fraught. Go too low, and you risk looking dumb. Go too high, and you risk looking like a bore — or a phony, the article says. I say, fuck that shit. Books are too important to me to be anything other than completely honest about what I read and like and speak about them in a kind and loving way (unless I want to eviscerate a book I hated, which as a reader who stuck with it to the end in the hopes it would improve is my God-given right!) without consideration of what some guy will think of me for it. I meant what I said during that interview–I’m not ashamed of anything I read, especially if I loved it. I expect others to do the same. If I get the sense that they’re feeding me bullshit about adoring Alice Munro or Milan Kundera, I would react the same way as if I felt they were feeding me bullshit about anything else. But if they really like Alice Munro, or Dan Brown, or don’t like to read at all, then what have I got to judge?

ETA: I was just thinking about this further and it occurred to me that my father and mother are excellent examples of how one divergent interest doesn’t necessarily negate an entire relationship. They both read, but my father is totally obsessed with music–of all kinds, classical and oldies and rock and zydeco and pop, etc.–to the point where he learned guitar and was even in a band for several years in college, and my mother hates music. Like, hates it. She never listens to it–she used to commute two hours to work (there and back) each day and subsist on talk radio–except when she’s watching American Idol. She also likes Elvis. But that’s IT. That’s like me dating a guy who only likes Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and yet my parents have been married for twenty-seven years this coming August. So, like, who’s to say?

ETFA: Apparently, you can weigh in on this subject with your own literary dealbreakers (my contribution: none) at Paper Cuts. Um, enjoy. Except: isn’t hating on The Da Vinci Code just as passé as liking The Da Vinci Code, “David”? God, why is the whole world so unoriginal?

Beauty scoop

I’m a huge fan of all things Jezebel, but one of my favorite features (other than Fine Lines) on the Gawker-owned womanisty blog is Sephora Spy, in which an anonymous Sephora “cast member” (under the nom de plume “Jasmine”) gives makeup addicts like yours truly the naked truth about everything from how to get rid of cystic acne (spoiler: it’s hard!) to whether or not you can actually sleep in Bare Minerals (verdict: you can!). I love Sephora. I know it’s sort of a scam, because almost everything they sell there has a much cheaper drug store equivalent, but I don’t care. I’m an irrational girl that way.

I’m not actually that big of a makeup wearer, per se. I’m not particularly adventurous with makeup, just like I’m not particularly adventurous with clothes, which is why I own, like, one thing from MAC and it’s nail polish (it is pretty awesome nail polish, though, and I’ve already decided that my summer polish is going to be from Heatherette for MAC). (Note: For any makeup novices–or boys–reading this blog, MAC is a cosmetic company known for very dramatic, high intensity color schemes, the sort of stuff that looks pretty good in, say, a MAC ad or when you’re high on E in the club, but not so much in real life. Click the link to see what I mean.) But, like with clothes, I like high-quality basics, but while near-poverty has brought my Banana Republic addiction to a screeching halt, I still invest in sort of expensive cosmetics. This does not mean that I just waltz into Sephora every weekend like I used to and pick out something interesting to try–I really can’t afford that. But I do have a stable of products that I MUST HAVE available to me at all times. Allow me to bore you with what they are:

  • Clinique Clarifying Lotion 2: Some people think this is sort of gross, but I don’t wash my face, like, ever. My skin is WAY too dry for that shit. When I step out of the shower, I have about 60-90 seconds to launch into my skincare routine before I completely dry out and feel like I’m covered in scales. Ew, gross, right? Sorry. But it’s the truth. Clinique has a very specific three-step facial skincare system, but I skip Step 1 (the soap) because of the aforementioned dryness and go right to Step 2, which is the toner. Don’t let the word “lotion” in the product name fool you–this is toner. It’s kind of like astringent (did anyone ever use Sea Breeze as a kid? I totally did, ruined my skin for years but that’s what all the cool girls were using), but way less abrasive, which is good because in addition to my skin being really dry, it’s also really sensitive. I discovered a long time ago that I cannot use any sort of perfumed lotion on my legs because they will feel like they’re on fire. Anyway, the toner (applied reasonably all over the face and neck with cotton balls) removes any lingering makeup, dirt, and, most importantly, dry skin from my face and primes it for moisturizer. I cannot live without this stuff–believe me, I’ve tried. It was a disaster.
  • Clinique Superdefense Triple-Action Moisturizer SPF 25 – Normal to Dry Skin: Step 3 in the Clinique skincare system is a moisturizer, the iconic yellow Dramatically Different allergen and fragrance free kind, which I used religiously in high school and college but which, at the end of the day, I had to admit wasn’t heavy enough for my dry skin. I switched to Superdefense (which is twice as expensive, if not more) after using a sample I got during Bonus Time at Macy’s. This moisturizer is pretty intense–even I can’t use the super dry version, because even I have oily spots on my skin and they would probably erupt in zits if I used that formula–and I love the fact that it has such a high SPF in it, since I burn easily. Makeup experts always tell you to wear sunscreen under your moisturizer during the summer, but I can’t do that because of the aforementioned dry skin and the fact that I fucking hate sunscreen like the devil, and this combined with my foundation’s built in SPF (I’m getting there, I promise) seems to keep sunburn at bay (at least with regards to my face). I also love Clinique’s Repairware Night Treatment, based on samples I’ve gotten and used, but it is even more expensive than Superdefense and I can’t afford two really expensive moisturizers, but if you can I say go for it.
  • Bare Escentuals i.d. bareMinerals Mineral Foundation SPF 15: I heard about this product on Jolie in NYC about a year and a half ago and bought the Fairly Light/Light starter kit, which was a really great investment. It came with two trial powders (I decided to stick with the Light), three brushes–the large kabuki brush, the flawless application brush, and the concealer brush–a pot of Warmth (since you use it sparingly, this pot will actually last you forever–I still have mine and it’s almost full), the bareVitamins primer (which I used up but never replaced–I don’t think you need it if you moisturize, but that’s my opinion), and the ever-popular (and love my life) Mineral Veil, which works so well. I can’t rave enough about bareMinerals. Because of the skin dryness, liquid foundation has always been a bane of mine. The mineral foundation (I’ve never tried any drug store varieties, FYI) is weightless, full coverage without looking like makeup, and the Mineral Veil seriously makes your skin look perfect. I think that the flawless application brush is pretty useless–I use it as a blush brush–but the kabuki is great and so is the concealer brush, for covering blemishes and under-eye darkness. I also own some Bare Escentuals eye shadows, but I find them a little difficult to use because they’re so loose, although I do love the colors.
  • NARS Blush – Orgasm: I am for sure not the first person to rave about this blush. It’s considered universally flattering, regardless of skin color, and though it’s pricey ($25) I consider it worth every penny. I also adore the corresponding Orgasm Lip Gloss, which is also pricey ($24), but long-lasting without being disgustingly sticky and is equally flattering on everybody. I apply this to the apples of my cheeks (whilst smiling, of course), then sweep whatever remains on the brush over my T-zone and chin to achieve sort of a more uniform coloring effect. It’s hard to go overboard with the Orgasm because it’s so subtle, but it is a little shimmery so be aware of the disco effect.
  • Lip Balm: I don’t always wear lip gloss (and I never wear lipstick anymore), but I always have some sort of balm on or around me. I favor Burt’s Bees or Smith’s Rosebud Salve (which I have with me at work), but really anything’s good, ChapStick or whatever. I also really love Murad’s Energizing Pomegranate Lip Protector SPF 15, but it’s a splurge ($16).
  • Lip Gloss: I already talked about NARS Orgasm lip gloss, but NARS makes some great lip lacquers, too. My favorite is Baby Doll, which the Sephora website describes as “cotton candy pink” but is very subtle and glossy when you put it on. I also love Philosophy’s Big Mouth glosses, both the bright pink and pinky-neutral one, but unfortunately they’ve discontinued the shades I own and replaced them with these, which I guess are all right as substitutes. What I like about those glosses is that they’re even less sticky than the NARS (read: not at all) and are very subtle, but with a little bit of shimmer. I’d like to try Philosophy’s The Supernatural someday, too. There are so many lip glosses on the market, you really just have to try them on and see which ones you love and which ones you wouldn’t let near your lips again.
  • Eyelash Curler: My eyelash curler is from a drug store like a hundred years ago, but I hear Shu Uemura makes a really good one for $19. There’s also this weird mini version for two dollars less, but I don’t really understand how it’s practical. If eyelash curlers scare you, you’re not alone–my friend refuses to use one, or even let one near her, because they freak her out so much. But, really, they’re harmless, given that you know how to take it away from your eye only AFTER you release your eyelashes.
  • Dior Diorshow Mascara in Black: Lady mags love to talk about how Mabelline Great Lash mascara is, like, the cat’s pajamas, and I did use it for years, but…meh. It’s all right. Some people really hate it, though. I branched out a year or so ago with Diorshow and I can safely say that I’m in love. Its only drawback is that it only comes in three colors, one of which is Azure Blue which, like, why? Maybe because it was made for the runway? Whatever. Black is perfect for my life, and there’s a Chestnut option for those who prefer brown mascara.
  • NARS Eyeliner in Black Moon: I just learned how to use eyeliner, like, ten minutes ago when my cousin Emma and Aunt Christine were in New York. The thing about the NARS eyeliner is that it’s so smooth and easy to use, even for stupid novices like myself. The drawback is that it does come off kind of quickly, so if you don’t want to be a hot tranny mess (TM Christian Siriano) you do have to take it along with you and reapply if it smudges. But otherwise it’s fabulous.
  • Nailpolish: I already talked about my MAC nail polish, the name of which I cannot remember and which they don’t make anymore, but I think Esse nail polish deserves a mention, since I really love it. Wicked, a dark, DARK reddish-brown, is my favorite at the moment.