i can't sleep; cat person; yayoi kusama

off brand: july 16 round up

When I was a teenager, I didn’t sleep very much. I remember spending nights pre-buffering Megaupload movies in case my dad turned the Wifi off, or on Tumblr past 2am if he didn’t. In the mornings, I’d crawl out of bed and put on my school uniform, secretly always running on four or five hours of sleep. There’s a name for this phenomenon: revenge bedtime procrastination – when people who feel they don’t get enough leisure time during their waking lives stay up late, attempting to claw back the time they can spend alone, reconnecting with themselves and doing whatever they want. Staying up was an exercise in liberation, practice for when I could be in charge of my own life.

I have always been a night person. Beautiful as the sunrise is, I don’t think I could be a 6am riser, although I once went through a short-lived, aspirational girlboss ritual of waking up at dawn to attempt the Sisyphean task of getting ahead of my emails (clearly, I was not thinking straight). I prefer the quiet, enveloping silence of darkness too much, those times when no one’s trying to reach me. Still, as an adult, I could pretty much count on hitting the pillow and stirring only whenever an alarm or partner decided to wake me up, out for the count. Not so currently. 

The last half-year of my life has been simultaneously about growing up and ageing backwards, returning to some essential sense of me-ness. Who was I at 17? In the following decade, I spent too long trying to act like a grown-up. Now that I am (almost) a grown-up, I just want to act like myself. So it’s funny that, recently, I find myself sleepless late at night, or jolting awake early with the morning, queuing up some banal YouTube videos to lull me back to sleep. Only now, there’s no school to get up for – this is one teenage habit that could do with staying just a phase.

I tried to write a joke here about how this edition of the newsletter is a paid partnership with big pharma to promote a new sleeping pill, but I’m too bleary-eyed to make it work. So let’s just pretend that I did and that it was funny. Here we go!


Headlines

The ‘mastermind’ behind Supreme Italia, the Italian faux Supreme brand, has been given a jail sentence, after trademarking the Supreme box logo in a series of countries and using it across merchandise, even going so far as to have a (cancelled) collaboration with Samsung.

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes’s wedding rings are being sold as part of a Sotheby’s auction with many other items from the personal collection of their daughter, Frieda. Ted’s has his name naively scratched into its surface. It’s strange to see something so intimate and symbolic for sale, and feels almost forbidden, which is to say, does anyone want to go halves?

A new documentary centres on actor Björn Andrésen, who was cast as Tadzio, the epitome of teenage male beauty, in Visconti’s adaption of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. The film, which is out this month, explores the devastating effect the role had on the rest of his life.

The one and only Phoebe Philo, the woman who pioneered the relentlessly chic aesthetic of the 2010s at Céline, is back. She’s launching an eponymous label with LVMH.

Finally, Richard Branson went into outer space, or as one meme called it, upper sky, on a 15 or so minute round trip. I was one of 683,904 people watching a live stream of the journey. It was simultaneously surreal, like a sci-fi movie; bleakly hilarious; and faintly depressing – thanks at least in part, to host Stephen Colbert’s exclamations that we were watching a “momentous” occasion, and “an historic day”. Anyway, here’s a TikTok mash-up of Branson floating around to Gil Scott-Heron’s Whitey on the Moon.


Watching

“Hell is a teenage girl.” So begins Jennifer’s Body, which I rewatched recently for the first time since I saw it in the cinema as a teenager, vaguely aware of Megan Fox’s status as that tantalisingly rare, mythical creature... a bisexual woman. Diablo Cody’s much-panned second film, directed by Karyn Kusama, has been undergoing a reappraisal in recent years. Essentially a pre-#MeToo revenge film, Jennifer (Fox) is abducted by an indie band who, erroneously believing her to be a virgin, sacrifice her in a ritual in order to become ‘cool like that guy from Maroon 5’. Their spell works, but with an unintended consequence: instead of dying, Jennifer turns into a demon out for revenge… on boys.

The film’s flop status at the time came from its terrible marketing campaign: instead of being angled towards teenage girls who liked Hole (whose song inspired the title) or Fueled by Ramen (who produced the soundtrack), it was basically pitched as an opportunity for boys to see Megan Fox get naked and kiss Amanda Seyfried. Some of the dialogue is problematic in 2021, but overall I loved rewatching this: it captures this latter-day Myspace era cultural moment (remember bands?!) while speaking to ideas of female exploitation that we weren’t really ready to face up to at the time.


Visiting

I had my first pandemic art outing: I went to see the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the Tate, an after-hours visit courtesy of Uniqlo (thank u!). I honestly can’t remember if I’ve ever been in an Infinity Room before or if I just think I have because of Instagram. Is there a more Instagrammable artwork? How does a piece’s social media status change how we interact with it? I think this is one example of reality being so much better than the image: you literally cannot capture the beauty of a million twinkling, ever-changing points of light in a dark, mirrored box. Self-obliteration is the goal according to Kusama: stepping inside feels almost transcendent, like floating in the universe surrounded by stars (maybe someone should tell Richard Branson), like death, or maybe like heaven. I think I’d like to have an infinity room in my house. Maybe an infinity cupboard.


Reading

What’s your relationship with money? Do you spend it all while you have it, or stick rigidly to savings goals, carefully carving up your salary month by month? If you follow me on Instagram, you already know I’ve been reading Otegha Uwagba’s brilliant new book We Need to Talk About Money, which is part memoir, part cultural study: an intersectional examination of the ways in which money shapes our lives, from education, to beauty regimes, toxic workplaces, and housing. It’s made me think a lot about the slippery definitions of class, and the emotional roots of the ideas I have about money. Let’s just say I found the discussion of money dysmorphia on Uwagba’s podcast with guest Mona Chalabi extremely relatable. Whether you grew up in a household on a budget, or had an expensive private education: you have something to learn from this book.

A post shared by @oteghauwagba

Thinking about

Cat Person, the viral short story about a protracted text flirtation and underwhelming hook-up, published back in 2017 in the New Yorker, has an unexpected twist: it was loosely inspired by a real person, Alexis Nowicki, and she’s written her own essay about discovering herself and her former partner fictionalised in such a way.

Writers always take from real life, so I wasn’t super interested in the moral discussion around whether the original author, Kristen Roupenian, should have based her story on Nowicki (although the inclusion of accurate biographical details was unnecessary). When writers create characters, they have to squish them down into the pieces of them that can tell a reader something about who they are, what their use is in the story that’s being told. Even the most three-dimensional characters get flattened somehow.

In a way, that’s like life: sometimes it’s easier to imagine the people who have hurt us as characters, the bad guys who pop up to cause trouble in the series arcs of our lives, instead of human beings just as complicated and flawed and messy as us. What I loved about this essay was its nuance, the way it gave life to the real people behind the characters, even as the author struggles to come to terms with which version of reality is the ‘right’ one:

Sometimes, to my own disappointment, I find myself inclined to trust Roupenian over myself. Had Charles actually been pathetic and exploitative, and I simply hadn’t understood it because I, like Margot, was young and naïve? Had he become vengeful and possessive after we broke up, but I’d just blocked it out in order to move on with my life? The story is so confident and sure, helping the reader to see things Margot herself does not… Sometimes it feels easier to believe the story that everyone knows than the one they don’t.


Thanks for reading everyone. Have a good weekend – I’m going to go and take a nap x

this was off brand, by emma hope allwood. if you enjoyed it, consider forwarding to a friend. sign up here. follow me here. thanks for reading.