The Semi-Cautionary Tale of Dora Maar

I recently came across a feature article in the Summer 2017 issue of Porter magazine about Dora Maar, who was a brilliant artist and photographer in her own right yet was remembered almost exclusively as being one of Picasso's muses and mistresses. This story captivated me because Picasso the Great was able to bend, and eventually break, this strong and intelligent woman. Still, she did not allow herself to be completely destroyed.

I wanted to know more.

On one fateful day in 1936, a young Dora met Picasso at Café des Deux Magots. Besotted, they carried on a seven-year long, obsessive love affair. But he was a cruel man. He pitted Dora against Marie-Therèse Walter, another mistress, to battle for his affections–vile–which downright drove her mad.

(Most women–like most people, in general–naturally have a deep-seated fear of having her significant other leave her for someone else. This toxic fear can be all-consuming and manifests itself in detrimental ways–shattering one's sense of self and creating the illusion of becoming nothing without the other. That is why it is so important to maintain a wholeness and completeness within ourselves. We cannot prevent someone from leaving us; we can only say "Goodbye and good luck.")

Picasso, with his mean, narcissistic ways, couldn't stand that Dora excelled in photography. He urged her to abandon her art form for painting instead, convincing her that inside every photographer was a repressed painter. The second she did, though, he swooped in and took over her equipment, lights, and backdrop. Moreover, he wielded his influence by imposing his signature Cubistic style of painting on her, shutting out the possibility for her own individuality to bloom. 

The final blow fell on Dora in 1943 when Picasso left her for Françoise Gilot. With her heart gouged and discarded, Dora was found sitting on the steps of her house naked and unhinged. Picasso's psychoanalyst then administered three weeks of electroshock therapy for the treatment of her nervous breakdown, which was forbidden at the time. Thereafter, Picasso bought a home for her, in which she lived alone and haunted by painful memories for many years.

But the story doesn't end there:

In the late 1950s, Dora Maar was resurrected. She returned to her art and a vibrant social life. Picasso never ceased his attempts to cause her pain and humiliation. She outlived him by 24 years.

To sum it up, here's a passage from Dora Maar: With and Without Picasso by Mary Ann Caws:

Her poems, kept in a medium-sized notebook, end with a sketch headed ‘Stage set for a tragedy’. The stage was indeed set, and the drama enacted. But Dora Maar’s recuperation through her painting, her photography, and her private poetic record of pain and something beyond it, is not a tragedy, but rather a courageous reclamation of her own life, even in–perhaps especially in–solitude.

On Having No Grand Story to Tell

Barbara said that she had no grand story to tell. No wind of History, none of the political turmoil of the times, nothing illustrative of any social drama. Poverty, perhaps, but not destitution. Violence, yes, but the acceptable face of violence, the kind of banal cruelty enacted within the family. That was all she said. Her own story, enmeshed in this one, is probably no more than the ordinary story of a lonely, unloved child, a child who has been silenced, forced to submit to someone stronger than they are; the kind of sadness that it is not easy to get over–a commonplace story. That is the only reason Barbara made films. To soothe. To heal the pain, assuage the humiliation, process the fear. “Wanda’s character is based on my own life and on my character, and also on the way I understand other people’s lives. Everything comes from my own experience. Everything I do is me.”
— from "Suite For Barbara Loden" by Nathalie Léger

Not Your Average Girl

I don't have "mermaid waves" in my hair. I don't wear chambray shirts with fuschia lipstick and chunky, colorful costume jewelry. I don't have a wall in my home with a picture frame collage. I don't have any DIY talents under my belt. I don't have any ambition to rule the world or become CEO of a company or sit on a board or start my own non-profit organization–nor do I keep quotes about "success" as a motivational tool. I think Valentine's Day is a farce. I don't have any pictures of myself jumping in the air, or wearing a bikini in a line-up with ten other girls in bikinis, for that matter. I've never caught Bieber Fever and I don't know the lyrics to any of Taylor Swift's songs. I haven't quite mastered baking desserts, although I'd like to. I believe in female empowerment, but not necessarily in that Sheryl Sandberg-Lean In-Ban-Bossy kind of way. More than that, I believe in being yourself. 

The internet, it seems, is producing a wave of homogenized millenial females and I feel like a square peg. Who's with me on this? 

A Declaration of Independence

One of my favorite ad campaigns in the history of the world

"There's one thing you must know about her," my friend Edward said, peering at my gentleman suitor, with a cigarette in hand, "She is very independent. But not in the 'don't-buy-me-a-handbag-because-I-can-buy-it-myself' way. She's independent in her mind. It's her mind.

Perhaps Edward may have had one too many Old Fashioned cocktails as we sat there in his living room, but it was one of the more profound things that was said that night. It made me think about what he meant.

Being independent. Hm. While I wouldn't exactly say the current state of my life is "ideal" for a thirty-something year old woman, I will affirm that it was through my own choices that I've been led here. (Carrie Bradshaw sums up her current 30-something state of being best when she said: "Aidan, I just charged tomatoes. I really don't think I'm in the position to buy an apartment.") As I get older, I find that I'm becoming more independent from what people think of me. When you have a strong sense of self, you know what's real to consider and what's not. So, yes, I agree with Edward: I am very independent.  

I am not, however, above accepting a handbag as a gift. 






Man, I Feel Like a Woman!

he years have gone by. I've turned 27, 28, 29... *muffled voice*... And, yet, I still feel like I'm only a couple of years out of college. I feel like I'm perpetually 26 years old. It's an age when you're not quite a "woman" and not quite a "girl" either. The pendulum swings off the center, but never to one side or the other. To put it in a nutshell, you still think you have a four-year window to make your first million and get all of your sh*t together. Pipe dreams.

'm at an age now where I am officially considered a woman, despite my cereal dinners and lack of a career. So, when do I actually feel like one? 

  1. When someone calls me "Ma'am"
    (No explanation needed.)
  2. When I feel skinny
    When I feel skinny, I feel powerful and fabulous. It says "I have the discipline to watch what I eat and work out regularly" a.k.a. "I've got my sh*t together." Or so I'd like to think. 
  3. When I feel curvy
    When I feel curvy, I feel womanly in the manner of Monica Bellucci. y skirts become that much tighter, which allows my derrière to make its own entrance. Oh yes, I'm here–bam!
  4. When I'm around babies and children
    Sure, I may react the same way around puppies and kittens, but, with babies and children, I impress even myself. I just want to hug them and kiss their boo-boos and teach them things. Could it be because I have, dare I say, maternal instincts? (This may also extend to interns, minus the "kiss their boo-boos" part.)
  5. When a man takes me out
    When you're out of your twenties, dating reaches a whole new echelon and, therefore, you find yourself stepping it up as well. Suddenly, if you're lucky, you're asked out by guys who are interested in you beyond your looks and how many attractive girlfriends you have. What wonderful conversation! How nice to interact with mutual respect! I consider these guys "men." It's a great feeling. Being around a real man definitely makes you feel like a woman. No scrubs allowed!
  6. When I know my way around a kitchen
    I know this sounds controversial, but I really do feel like I'm wielding womanly powers when I make a kick-ass meal. Here, let me show you how it's done, Honey. (This really falls under "When I have expertise in something." Cooking just happens to be one of those things.)
  7. When I wear amazing [Alaïa] heels and walk with a purpose
    ...Especially when I have to rush a little so that I can channel one of those women in the pin-striped skirt suits from 1980's pantyhose commercials.
  8. When I buy something expensive all on my own
    So empowering to feel like you've earned something.
  9. When I bargain shop
    Just kidding. When do I ever do that?

nd I'll just end here for now. If I add a tenth one to the list, it'll feel way too conclusive.

OMG. Let me revisit this... So, basically, I feel like a woman when a man takes me out, when I'm wearing heels, when I'm around children, or when I cook.

*runs for the hills*