The Red Devil

I hear survivors and nurses affectionately call one of the most brutal toxins in my regiment the “Red Devil,” playing on its bright red color, but mostly calling it as it is. I imagine he has a gnarled face and ruddy cheeks, recklessly ripping through my body in search of any cells that meet his criteria. A sightless and indifferent and calculating being, he does not discriminate between my healthy cells and cancerous ones (i.e. causing possible heart damage, hair loss, nausea, even developing a second cancer).

His brothers—Bleomycin, Vinblastine, Dacarbazine—are given to me one after the other, each one made up of entirely too many vowels and side effects that jumble together in my head. The first time I received treatment, it was hours after having my port placed in surgery. I couldn’t stop shaking uncontrollably. My mother wrapped a blanket around my shoulders, draping a second one over my knees. Everything felt heavy. I was too hot and too cold, then too hot again, my back sweating and my toes flexing from intermittent numbness. As the metallic aftertaste of the chemo cocktail made my stomach queasy, my mother called for the nurse quickly and quietly, but I could sense her nervousness and uncertainty. They didn’t warn us about this possibility. They didn’t know this would happen. My voice claws its way up my throat: It’s not that bad, I want to tell my doctor, but the words die on my tongue. Nothing about this is okay.

You had a panic attack, they later told me, after a dose of Ativan and Benadryl. Apparently my mind went down a black hole on its own, only to resurface with the help of anti-anxiety medication. I held my head between my hands, pressing the small of my palms against closed eyelids. If there was a time to cry, it wasn’t then, surrounded by doctors and worried parents and my dwindling dignity. I felt so disconnected from my body and yet so tied to the endless outcomes in store for it. All the hospital visits and drugs and dodgy blood results were part of a vicious cycle that felt impossible to break, unless I broke first. This felt like the beginning of the end— but was it the end of my demon or me?


Often times, the nurse who comes to my home to draw blood work jokes that patients feel like guinea pigs, prodded and examined and even published about if their symptoms or results are notable enough. In the meantime, every ache and pain feels very human, very mortal. Every day is a series of little battles: infusions to fight the cancer, pills to fight the infusions, pills to fight the pills. There are other daily battles: acceptance of my new norm. I accept that this diagnosis and this treatment have created an emotional vacuum; taking with it the person I was before. I even accept that I may not look or feel like myself at some point. The reality is that I have to find other ways to keep up. I have to become something new, something better, in order to overcome myself.



post surgery thumbs up

There is a jagged scar below my collarbone where the doctors sliced into my chest and cajoled in a catheter and stitched in a port for easy access to my veins. I run my fingers over the tethered skin, sometimes a few times a day, to remind myself it is still there. It was so red and angry in the beginning, but now, it is almost invisible and I barely notice it. Sometimes, I forget about it altogether—the blood, the port, the cancer, the coming back home—and I feel young and healthy again. Most days feel routine and all the same, punctuated by weekends where I go on as if things are normal—pre-diagnosis, twenty-something/carefree normal—and it gives me hope that I can embrace my post-treatment normalcy and these days will stretch into months, years, life-long.

Before my surgery, they held a mask over my nose and mouth as laughing gas poured in. While my fingertips and toes tingled, I looked around at the disinfected instruments and whitewashed walls and doctors clothed in yellow gowns. In my cloudy haze, before they injected the anesthesia, I decided it must be so nice be like a surgeon or nurse or doctor, where protocols are clear and every instrument has its place. Emotions are messy. Are we supposed to love and yearn and hurt and grieve this much? Pain, in itself, is simple, but if left alone, it grows and grows until there is nothing else to feel. Instead, let’s step into a sterile room, tuck away the messiness, and focus on what is right in front of us, what is treatable.

With modern medicine, doctors have an arsenal of weapons to remove tumors and stitch us where we are broken. Scalpels and harsh drugs. Narcotics to numb the pain. Antibiotics to eradicate infections. It all seems very straightforward—I want to believe it is as easy as this—but as things progress and we near the end of my treatment, the fear of the unknown creeps back in. The messiness returns. What if there is a cut that won’t heal? What if the cancer is so deep, so obscure, that we miss it and it’s too far-gone?

That’s the thing about cancer—or any sickness, really—online communities generalize and doctors hedge around potential side effects because we never know anything until we are actually faced with it. Maybe there are some things we get to know and others that we will never know. Maybe there are wounds that will heal; wounds that never will. And that’s the other thing about finding inner strength: most of these everyday battles stem from acknowledging that growth is a process of unlearning and breaking open a little and unlearning more. Rather than overthinking missed opportunities or remission or relapse, it is more important to find my own home within my physical home, my place of safety and security as I make sense of the messiness and everything that has happened. It is a process of revisiting the familiar things, the comfortable things, as I take stock of the things I have accumulated, the people I cherish, all the homes I have and have made.

These past few months, I’ve learned how to let go of what my life was supposed to look like, and accepted what my body—my first and foremost home—should/can take and carry and there are some things it cannot/should not do for now. It is okay. I am okay. Everything about this is okay. My own body has betrayed and supported me, surprised and failed me, and showed me that there are some wounds that can heal, after all. There are ways to humanize and appreciate this experience, while still knowing that this battle is ugly and good and bad and alive and all mine.

Welcome to the jungle

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: October 30, 2015
I sit in the waiting room at a Vietnamese government hospital that I arbitrarily picked from a list of hospitals closest to my job. I open my phone and scroll through the same email I’ve read a million times: Fulbright Application Status (Principal). The words energize and fill me, coursing down to my core and back. I didn’t expect this, but the unexpected is amazing and unbelievable and entirely mine. I barely hear the nurse call for me; I’m too busy envisioning my future in Malaysia and all the new friends and classrooms I’ll decorate. I can feel my brain stretching in anticipation of all my new experiences and opportunities for travel. This physical is part of my pre-departure tasks and one step closer towards my destiny. This physical is everything.


Arrival in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: January 4, 2016
My new roommate and two other girls from my cohort haphazardly choose a table in the outdoor restaurant opposite of the hotel. The air sticks to me, cooled only momentarily by a single rotating fan. I remember when I first moved abroad months ago and felt all of this: stunned and eager and unsure where to begin. Now, Vietnam has slipped far behind me. My physical, the last piece of puzzle, fit perfectly into its place (“Your enlarged lymph node is nothing a few antibiotics can’t fix,” said my doctor at the Vietnamese hospital. “The fine needle aspiration came up clear; you are healthy and ready to teach!”)

Suddenly, right side driving is replaced with left and bánh mì with roti canai and pagodas with mosques and cảm ơn with terima kasih (thank you). The words feel foreign and satisfying every time I say it: I teach in Malaysia now. I am a Fulbright grantee. This is where I am supposed to be. We sit there in a sleep-deprived and disoriented stupor until a waiter comes over and kindly motions that we can order from him. I’m experiencing everything at once and want to share it all, but each newness bleeds into the next. I know I should be writing my way through this before I miss all the little details along the way, but I keep telling myself: I’ll always have tomorrow or the day after that or the day after that. Over metal trays of crunchy and stuffed thosai dipped in a rainbow of curries in tiny, tin bowls, we unload our two-minute stories: Where are you from? Where did you go to school? What was your major? First time in Kuala Lumpur? From the moment I arrive at the hotel, I feel overwhelmed and overloaded, pressured to make friends and be interesting. But somehow, everything feels so right. Somehow, everything is falling into place.


“In this country America means white. Everyone else has to hyphenate.”
—Toni Morrison


Whole Group Orientation in KL, Malaysia: January 4-18, 2016


placement day!

We all have two and some weeks together during orientation before we scatter across Malaysia to our respective placements. The fierce and brilliant and beautiful women of my cohort make me smile and laugh and think deeply about my identity and experiences in Malaysia. From the weird to the infuriating to the quirkiest of interactions, we arm each other with words of encouragement and validation.

“Are you American… or another?” A taxi driver asked me earnestly one night; unable to place where I am from. My English, stretched and enunciated so he knows the value of my native tongue, stutters at first. “Well,” I begin. “I’m an American, but also Filipino.” I throw in my teaching credentials for a good measure. He brightens at the word cikgu (teacher) and nods approvingly. “The American cikgu,” he says, delighted.

I think about that idea: An Other. At least in Malaysia, I am an Other by default. Then I think about my life in America, also othered as an outside ethnicity, the one with the weird food at lunch or strange customs or seemingly incomprehensive second language or ultra-restrictive parents. I enter here as the outsider, as both an expert and othered body, but I still don’t know how to reconcile these selves when sharing the English language and American culture. At least in Malaysia, there is an overt (mis)understanding of what it means to be or to look American, and I find my hyphenated identity in continual opposition with just how American I am. Sometimes I feel it shouldn’t have to be my place to tell strangers: yes I am American, yes I am Filipino. Most times, I feel it is part of my role here, to help others understand the different faces and shapes and ethnicities that America takes; it is not all just one. With each interaction or look or assumption, I wonder: what does it mean to be Asian American abroad, or for that matter, in America? How will my identity shape my experience? How will my community respond to this face: not quite white, not quite another?


KL, Malaysia: January 16, 2016


jungle hike gone wild / whole group

On our last Saturday morning in Kuala Lumpur, I stand at the threshold of the Gombak jungle, the same jungle our entire cohort will be trekking into for the majority of the day. Dewy leaves wink in the early morning light and mosquitos buzz around my legs. The guides mime how to avoid leeches and unsheathe their machetes and treat us with anecdotes of the waterfall at the end.

I’m on the phone and feel hurried. I can feel wandering, curious eyes on me, so I smile reassuringly at one of my friends who stares at me quizzically and mouths, Are you okay? I really don’t know, but walking feels better; standing away from the group feels calmer. There’s a lonely-looking black cat, his ribcage jutting against his white tummy, that stops and also stares at me, unperturbed. A few seconds later, he slinks away.

I’m on the phone with a nurse from a private hospital in Malaysia. The same private hospital I visited days ago, where I received a mostly quick, mostly painless biopsy. I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that something was wrong, despite being told in Vietnam I am perfectly healthy and fine. At the time, I didn’t feel nervous. I watched the surgeon glide the handle of the ultrasound bulb over my neck, veins pulsating and nodes stretching and sliding in and out of static view on the tiny monitor. “This is a very routine procedure,” he said to me, as he inserted an 18-gauge needle into my neck. He did this three times, each time the tip cracking into the lymph node’s core and taking a sample. “I have no doubt you will be fine.”

True or false: hospitals don’t give you really bad news over the phone.

I’m on the phone, restless and waiting. Don’t be bad, don’t be bad—I keep repeating this mantra in my head because the unthinkable is unthinkable and I’m about to go on a jungle hike. I’ll just call back later.

The nurse from the clinic returns to the line. “Hello? Your biopsy is in. Has anyone talked to you yet?” She asks and the line goes quiet for a moment. I think I make a sound because she continues talking. “I am so sorry to tell you this now, but we found suspected lymphoma. We need to do more tests, but need your consent to do so.”

The voice is still talking, telling me things, but I’m stuck on that lymphoma thing she mentioned. “Excuse me,” I interrupt her, “but I have… what? Cancer?” I think I might throw up. I think I might explode. I think I might actually die.

It feels like everything should stop around me, except I can still hear chatter behind me and feel someone approaching me and know there is a phone in my hand still. I can feel my body shaking, inconsolable and disbelieving. My breath catches when I realize I have to tell my parents. What does this mean for me? Do I leave Malaysia? How am I going to handle this? Everything for me stills, but no one else stops moving. They continue on the hike, wade through the afternoon rain, dive deep into the water where the waterfall pools. They are doing what I should be doing, carefree and happily. They go on, but I’m here in this moment, trapped.

The nurse persists on the other line: “Are you alone? I am so sorry you are alone.”


“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar


KL, Malaysia: January 16, 2016
There is a concierge service in my Malaysian private hospital. The first floor is brightly lit and lined with advertisements. Prince Court is your path to a cancer-free life. Kuala Lumpur’s premier hospital for oncology care. I never noticed those signs when I came in before. I take a number at registration and watch each number tick closer to my own. 3350. I have cancer. 3351. I have cancer. 3352. I have cancer.

In my Malaysian doctor’s office, everything is pink. Bright pink posters; rose-colored post-it notes and papers; black hijabs with pink and orange and white beads lining the seam; a pink breast cancer ribbon pinned to a nurse’s light pink blouse. This same nurse pulls out another tissue for me, and even the box is pink. Clearly my doctor specializes in women’s health and breast cancer, but what does she know about me? I can see my doctor speaking and hear the words, but it’s too difficult to comprehend what she’s saying. Words crystalize and tears choke my throat: cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, treatment, chemotherapy, radiation. I want to tell her to stop saying the word cancer. It’s too soon to hear that word. I’m too young and healthy for that word. When telling my friends and family, I sputter over that word. Her mouth sharpens over it each time, chipping away at me until I feel nothing else. It seems rude that she would tell me I have cancer without warning me, but the reality is crashing into me and I’m not ready. My truth feels mangled and stripped of its dignity.


KL, Malaysia: January 16-18, 2016
Outside of my hotel room, I play make-believe. I’m laughing, participating in conversations, reciprocating my newfound friends’ hugs and accepting their sympathy. I force myself to eat because I know I should. I’m not sure how someone acts when they are given traumatizing news, but I feel like walking zombie is fair. In my hotel room, I feel under my armpits, around my neck, push lightly against my stomach and inspect my breasts for any lumps. I do this several times throughout the night, compulsively, a creeping feeling that I am getting worse by the minute, by the second. Where is it? Is it spreading? Is that a new mass? Was that there before?

My mother and father and stepfather call me at night, begging me to come home. Let’s figure this out here. Please, we can’t delay this. Before I know it, I’m booked on the soonest possible flight home. I have one more appointment with a hematologist the morning I’m supposed to leave and he explains my disease in detail—very treatable, caught relatively early, enlarged lymph nodes constrained to my upper chest area—but has no answers as to why. How did happen to me? What did I do wrong? No one can tell me, no one knows.

In less than three days of being diagnosed, Fulbright and Malaysia and durian fruit and being cikgu and underground Malaysian malls and speaking broken English to taxi drivers and orientation will all be behind me.


cohort together on our first day / silly pic

On our last day together, I stand downstairs to say goodbye to everyone leaving for their placements. Smile for smile; hug for hug. “You’re going to kill it,” I say over and over again, realizing later my poor/appropriate choice of words. I wait until my room to collapse. I feel my chest squeeze and my smile breaks apart because I’m so happy for everyone pursuing the next step in the many steps of Fulbright, but I’m also so angry, so incredibly jealous. All I can think: That should be me. That is where I am supposed to be.


KL, Malaysia: January 19, 2016
I stand in line at one of the airport convenience stores, gripping my backpack and five oversized chocolate bars with a cheesy Malaysia emblazoned across the blue and yellow wrapping. Buy four, get one free. Afterwards, I stop in another store and buy two more kid-sized tee shirts and a few postcards, practically throwing my credit card at the guy behind the register. I forgot to get some gifts, but didn’t have time to go back to the local market. I thought I would have more time to purchase thoughtful, unique gifts over the course of ten months in various countries. I thought I had so much time. “You know what,” I say, eyeing a box of durian candies on a rack, “I want those too.”


USA: January 20, 2016
When we land in Cincinnati, I burst into tears. I press my forehead against the pane and cry into the window, all too familiar with the dirty snow and dingy hangers and blinking lights directing us to our gate. Everyone on this commuter plane is white; “Welcome to Cincinnati!” The flight attendant cheerfully announces.

When we pull up to my mother’s house, I sit in the car and stare at the garage door, empty porch chairs, abandoned potted plants and hibernating lawn statues under blankets of snow. I shiver into my jacket. It is cold. My body feels numb. This is a mistake. I let my mother wrap me in a blanket and rub my hair for an hour, ignoring her worried looks and hovering hands, because I have no desire to see anyone, even family I haven’t seen for months. I crawl into my bed and lie there, thankful for the darkness that obscures my thoughts, my body.


I am the bush.
I am burning
I am not consumed.
―Lucille Clifton


Today: February 5, 2016
In my first oncologist appointment, I recounted my entire story for my doctors and family to hear, realizing that every misstep and error brought me to this time and space for a reason. While this disease took away my grant and ability to teach in Malaysia for the next months, this same grant is the impetus for how I even came to find out that such a small, seemingly superficial concern hinted at a more sinister issue beneath. This is where I am. This is where I am supposed to be.

Months later, I find myself here with a handful of answers, but no real why in sight. Without the Fulbright, would I have caught this as early as I did? Would I still be in Vietnam? What if I had caught this in Vietnam? Where would I be now? All I know: I don’t think there is a why for all the fucked up things that happen to people. One day, I was perfectly healthy. The next day, I have cancer. I’ve spent countless, restless hours focused on the why: Why me? Why now? As soon as I let go of what this year was supposed to look like, I realized that the why isn’t as important as the what or the how. What happens now? How will I deal with this?

My oncologist and her fellow are these bright and shiny people who thrive on positive energy and endless knowledge about lymphoma/lymphatic system/treatments/trials. A Lego keychain hangs from my fellow’s lapel; she uses it when she tells me to open wide and checks down my throat when we meet. The Band-Aids at the hospital are decorated with cartoon characters and they use tiny butterfly needles and numbing spray when drawing blood. There is always a screaming child in the next room, so I wait and look on as quietly as I can to share the calmness. I watch nurses tap my arm for a good access vein and with no preamble, dark red lines liquefy from my arm and snake into tubes lined up on the table. I count eight my first time.

A few decisions I have made over the course of the past month: I choose to accept this diagnosis as the new normal. I choose to live my truth, however mangled it may seem. I lean on my family and friends—near and far—and I’m imbued by their grace and strength in dealing with this alongside me. While my body is splitting and breaking apart, destroying itself to make room for progress, it is slowly beginning the process for healing. With destruction, there is healing. With healing, there is learning.

The Weird, The Delicious, The Questions of Saigon

Knowing I will leave here after only five months, it’s not enough. It took me a few weeks to get adjusted, and now that I’m finally acquainted with the food, made some amazing friends from all over the world, and can confidently count to five and direct my xe om drivers to my address— I have to leave. Restart. Do it all over again in a new country.

As much as I hate the thought of leaving so prematurely, it is as equally unthinkable to not go. There is a life-changing opportunity waiting for me in Malaysia, and I couldn’t be more excited to pursue it. However, I can’t leave here without saying a few more words about one of the craziest, non-stop developing cities in Southeast Asia.

It’s hard to aptly describe or convey the unique, entrepreneurial spirit of Saigon unless you have lived it first-hand. There is so much about this city that I still have yet to explore and see and eat, but I do know that even in my absence, some things will never change. Thus begins a list of some of my daily, hilarious observations that leave me genuinely wondering: WHY VIETNAM?

Driving Barefoot

When driving home the other night, a man in his mid-thirties pulled up on his bike next to mine. It was down pouring, so naturally he was wearing a rain jacket… and no shoes. I looked to his passenger, who also had no shoes on, but was wearing socks. That’s strange, I thought, cringing at the idea of bracing my bike at stoplight barefoot. Until I’m nearly home and have counted ten people who were barefoot and/or wearing only socks. IN THE POURING RAIN. I had to focus really hard on the road and not people’s feet, but it really made me think. What do they know and I don’t?

It’s not even a phenomenon I see when it’s raining, but one that occurs mid-day, sometimes when it’s unbearably hot outside. It’s burning asphalt everywhere. Entire families are riding their bikes barefoot, and I have to wonder about the logic behind driving apparel: I need to shield every inch of my body from the elements… except my feet. Toes can be tan.

Motorbike Apparel


Speaking of motorbike etiquette, there is a some kind of unwritten rule when it comes to Vietnamese riding apparel to protect from the sun: Helmet, face mask, gloves, driving sweatshirt, apron… stilettos

Then there’s me—enduring what I think is the same weather as my fellow riders—sweating through my thin tank top and shorts. It’s hard to believe we’re experiencing the same heat, but this type of wear is pretty commonplace and equally mind-boggling every time I witness it. If this is the standard for 90 degree weather, I would really hate to see what Saigon would do in the face of 60 degrees…

Perception of the United States

I have encountered a wide variety of questions since I began tutoring, whether it’s about my age, ethnicity (“No really, what are you? Are you sure you aren’t Vietnamese?”), weight, general estimation for when I’ll get married. However, my favorite conversations are about the United States. My students love talking about the US, particularly where they’ll visit or sharing random facts they know about states.

Real conversation

Student: Where did you learn to teach?
Me: I taught for two years in New York City!
Cue puzzled face from my students
Student: Where are you from?
Me: I’m originally from Ohio. But about New York City, have you ever heard of Times—
Student: OH MY GOD. I’ve always wanted to visit Ohio!
Me: Oh… wait… really?
Student: Yes!!! Is that the potato state?
Me: No, I think that’s Idaho… but why Ohio?
Student: It’s very beautiful in pictures!
Another Student: If I ever go to the US, I will also go to Ohio. Then maybe California. It’s also not too far from California, right? Do you go there often?

And so on.

Waiters Waiting

It makes me anxious, every single time they do it. The first time it happened, I felt so flustered I just ordered the first thing on the menu to avoid them standing next to me any longer. I know it’s a cultural difference—the waiters in Vietnam are extremely attentive, despite that they rarely get tipped. However, when you place a forty-page menu in front of me—with every cuisine possible—it will take me minute to digest the sheer number of options in front of me and make a decision. And they will just stand there. Watching. Waiting. Hovering. No other tables need their attention, really? Was there a pre-requisite for me to look at the menu beforehand? How do people live like this???

Hem Gems


When it comes to true Vietnamese eating, I’ve found that gritty is a good thing. In fact, I find myself much more adventurous and optimistic whenimage004 it comes to the narrow, winding backstreets of any random hem, or neighborhood.

The more dubious the location, the more battered the tables, the more precarious the seating, the more I feel at home with street eating. The streets of Saigon are set up in such a way that the most authentic, delicious food finds are usually nearly impossible to find. I actually have no idea how most of them manage to stay in business.

Though I do love to be pampered in a restaurant with working A/C and adult-sized chairs and tables, there is nothing quite like paying less than $1 for some of the best food Saigon has to offer.

Vietnamese Squat


I won’t lie, I’ve been known to the do the squat. Not usually in public, but sometimes it is easier to squat and with my height, it’s pretty comfortable. Probably because I am half-Asian, so I’m more inclined than many of my western friends.

If you have traveled around Asia, you will already know how much Asian people love the squat position (and I’m not talking about just the toilet or gym– though don’t get me started on people standing on toilet seats vs. sitting). However, I’ve found Vietnamese taking the “squat affair” much more seriously than Chinese people.

People will carry out full conversations on the sidewalk, or customers and vendors bargain from beginning to end in the squat position. One the way back from Hanoi, I almost tripped over two older women who squatted right in front of the doors on the shuttle bus from the gate to the airport. There is no limitation to the squat. The squat is here to stay, and I say, why not, Vietnam.


On feeding my sole obsession

As a kid in suburban Ohio, I grew up thinking that high heels represented adult sophistication and feminine glamour. Against my mother’s wishes, I was wearing them to school by early 2000’s. Similarly to Cher in “Clueless,” I would totter the corridors between periods in platform wedges and lace-up heels. At that point, I was experimenting with turtle necks and studded skirts—so I can’t really speak to exactly who I was trying to impress or why these were my chosen fashion statements, as much as I knew I wanted feel a little more grown-up.

Whether it is two inches or five, every woman[i] has a right to a kick ass pair of heels (though to be clear, this is not me condoning kitten heels). Most people question it—you’re elongating the leg and pinching toes, but for what? Do all women have such a unique relationship with their shoes, and why?

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, Seduction

Spiky shoes, 1974, London, Malcom McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, From the ‘Sex’ collection, Leather and metal.

The skyscraper heel is an addictive, paradoxical combination of confidence, pain, and beauty. With the fetishized foot, a bold silhouette, the phallic shadow of a stiletto spike—it makes for an exquisite kind of torture. Regardless, such a seemingly commonplace object is imbued with contradictions in historical and sexual contexts, ironically inhibiting movement in order to increase it, at least in appearance. They affect how the body moves, “titillating the watcher and creating a sensual experience for the wearer”[ii].


Shoes. Klaus Carl. 2014.

Beginning in Grecian times, women and men alike donned the first high heel korthonos for theatrical purposes. Created by Aeschylus, his intent was to elevate actors in his plays to different heights to “indicat[e] varying social status or importance of characters”[iii] Even then, being taller meant something. Greek women adopted the trend, taking the wedge heel to new heights that would have left even the late Alexander McQueen envious.

The popularity of heels dropped after the 19th century, as twentieth-century women “demanded more comfortable, flat-soled shoes—that is until the roaring twenties when higher hemlines encouraged visible, elaborate, high, slender Louis heels”[iv]. With runway designers re-imagining the body shape and artistic possibilities of the high feel, we see a trend emerge where designers are using “innovative or unexpected materials [and] techniques; push[ing] the limits of functionality, wearability, and even conventional beauty, through surprising structure, shape, or height”[v]. The exhibit Shoes: Pleasure and Pain at Victoria and Albert Museum explores the global extremes and trends of shoe-wear until January 2016.

In an industry driven by pure superficiality, sex sells. We know this and allow consumers to take advantage of it. However, it’s worth considering why this may be, and that this desire to alter one’s appearance isn’t solely a by-product of current fashion or celebrity trends. Shoes are a major part of most people’s wardrobe, but also puts a lot of people on opposite sides of the spectrum: fashion or function? The cultural and transformative capacity of heels goes far beyond just dramatic shapes and silhouettes, but alludes to how our society’s notions of how gender, class, and sexuality intersect.

For more shots of the shoe evolution, go straight to the source: Klaus Carl’s Shoes.

Source: Originally posted on Parkstone International

Marianne Manzler

[i] Or man, for that matter—power to anyone trying to rock ‘em!





The Girl With The Tiny Unicorn

I love when my home city reps! Cincy people, do yourself a favor and see this bona fide art world mystery for yourself! But first… read up on why this blue-eyed beauty is so enigmatic.

Parkstone International

I imagine her eyes sliding to her left, making eye contact with her husband or husband’s family. They are first watching her, then scrutinizing her rendering from behind the artist. She holds this animal in her hands as a physical reminder that she is a pure and graceful creature. She gently—almost imperceptibly—rubs its hind leg, trying to keep it still for this momentous occasion. The large, blood-red jewel hanging from her neck is heavy and her back is stiff from sitting in the same position, but it is all for a wedding—her wedding.

The truth is no one knows who the unidentified sitter of Raphael Sanzio’s Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn is. We have no idea if she had a demanding mother-in-law, if that animal was originally a dog or an actual unicorn (okay, maybe the former is more likely…), or if this was even commissioned for a…

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Instinct vs. Reason

Read my latest post on a controversial, yet brilliant painter who had everyone in the art world wondering: Who the f$&k is Jackson Pollock?!

Parkstone International

Jackson Pollock, One: Number 31 (1950). Oil and enamel paint on canvas, 8′ 10″ x 17′ 5 5/8″

It’s a complete mess. Loops of color tangled together and running rampant energize nearly every inch of the composition. Far from the reaches of common sense or common experience, we cannot be sure what exactly we are looking at, or how we should feel. However when facing down Jackson Pollock’s seventeen foot monster One: Number 31 (1950), there is an unshakable feeling that this grand piece was no accident. The lyricism behind his movements—a web of flicks, dribbles, drips—is a lot like life, a mixture of uncontrollable and controllable factors. Maybe it’s not such a mess, as much as it simply elicits the response: What the f$&k?

Even Pollock himself asked his wife Lee Krasner, “Is this even a painting?”[i] He abandoned the traditional paint brush and easel at the end…

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Looking Beyond the Portrait

Take a look at my latest article– a brief commentary on East Asian art through a feminist lens. Enjoy!

Parkstone International

Set sometime in the late 19th century, a woman in a colorful kimono gazes contemplatively out into the hazy distance. She stands with hips jutted out and hair pulled back into a loose bun, and I wonder, who is she? Why is she alone? Like most of the painted bijin-ga—a term that generalizes beautiful women—of the Miji period, we will likely never know much more about her or other East Asian women beyond their painted depictions.

Ogata Gekkō (1859–1920). Ogata Gekkō (1859–1920).

The truth behind her stoic gaze will go unanswered, which is ironic and almost sad, since these women were revered by poets, writers, and artists alike over several centuries. They served as the muse for hundreds of paintings and portraits and yet—who are they? Depending on the century, they were portrayed as “classic” representations of women, anywhere from slender and lanky to petite and curvy. Their faces unrecognizable from…

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