Who Are Your Idols?

The people who inspire you?  Who have shaped your life, if only in a small way?  Your icons?  Mine are as follows, in no particular order.  Who are yours?

Kate Moss

Say what you will, the woman has insanely cool style and is iconic in the fashion world.  She’s also an immensely talented model.  It likely comes easy to her after so long in the business, but I am not one to dismiss modeling as “easy.”

Richard Feynman

I adore Richard Feynman.  He’s totally the cool absent-minded professor.  Those of you who like physics are probably already familiar with him (he was involved in the Manhattan Project).  In high school my physics teacher played his instructional lectures on VHS and when I told my dad how much I liked him he pointed me toward a shelf containing all of his books.

I will share a few videos of Feynman from an interview that I find interesting.  The first has to do with social sciences not being “science,” in the pure sense.  Now, my father, who is an organic chemist, and I have gotten into COUNTLESS arguments about this.

“Psychology is not a real science.”

“What do you mean?  Of course it is!  It’s in the social sciences.”

And, on and on we go.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not a huge fan of psychology and sociology in their pure forms.  I always got D’s in those courses in college (mostly because I am horrible at memorizing).  However, I do have much more respect for the disciplines than my father seems to have.  And, I think, he probably truly respects them too, he just gets protective about “science.”  Also, as someone who would love to go back to grad school for Cultural Studies, I cannot dismiss these disciplines as they intersect greatly when looking at the multi-disciplinary CS.

In any case, I would be curious to see how some of you react to Feynman’s views on this.

Here is the full interview in parts, if you’re interested:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5


Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman

What Do You Care What Other People Think?

Coco Chanel

Incredibly influential and endlessly fascinating, Chanel is at the top of my list of favorite designer personalities.

Linda Wells

Whatever you may think about fashion/beauty magazines, Linda Wells is the thinking woman’s EIC.  I love reading her letters every month; she thinks critically and navigates through the often shallow and empty fashion industry with smarts and a sense of humor.

Michael Cunningham

I’ve never read another male author with the ability to capture and empathize with the female experience so beautifully.

Sandra Gilbert

It’s not often that a student is able to sit in a classroom with a truly brilliant and inspiring professor.  I took a class (Women’s Literature) taught by Gilbert while I was at UC Davis and, as you can imagine, it was amazing.  I wrote a paper about female poets and the male muse and she liked it so much she actually took me aside to talk to me about it.  I wanted to frame that paper I was so damn proud of myself.  I was very influenced by her poem “The Return of the Muse”:

“You always knew you wrote for him, you said
He is the father of my art, the one who watches all night,
chainsmoking, never smiling, never satisfied.
You liked him because he was carved from glaciers,
because you had to give him strong wine to make him human,
because he flushed once, like a November sunset,
when you pleased him.

But you didn’t love him.
You thought that was part of the bargain.
He’d always be there like a blood relative,
a taciturn uncle or cousin,
if you didn’t love him. You’d hand him poems,
he’d inspect them, smoke, sip a business deal,
and that would be that.

Then he went away and you hardly noticed.
Except you were happy, you danced on the lawn,
swelled like a melon, lay naked long mornings,
brushed your hair more than you needed.
Your breasts grew pink and silky,
you hummed, sucked the pulp of oranges, you forgot
all about words.

And when you were
absolutely ignorant,
he came back,
his jacket of ice flashed white light,
his cap of pallor bent toward you, genteel, unsmiling.
He lit a cigarette, crossed his legs,
told you how clumsy you were.

Ah, then, love seized you like a cramp,
you doubled over in the twist of love.
You shrieked. You gave birth to enormous poems.

He looked embarrassed and said how bad they were.
They became beasts, they grew fangs and beards.
You sent them against him like an army.
He said they were all right
but added that he found you, personally,

You howled with love,
you spun like a dervish with rage, you
kept on writing.”

– The Return of the Muse, Sandra Gilbert

And, a short passage from my own paper:

“While the male Muse shows the female poet what a life of free will and opportunity affords, he also denies her access to this life.  Because the Muse represents patriarchy, a system designed to benefit masculinity, the female poet fights to reclaim authority of her body and voice….Like Dickinson’s King, Gilbert’s Muse is male; a critical figure who “watches all night.”  Gilbert imagines what life would be like for women if they were not confined within an oppressive patriarchal system.  When the Muse goes away, “you hardly noticed, except you were happy,” and “forgot all about words.”  The Muse’s absence is hardly noticed, alluding to the invisibility and “silence” of a patriarchal system.  Happiness occurs in the Muse’s absence, suggesting that although this system may go undetected, it will continue to damage those within its barriers.  However, what does it mean when the poet ceases from thinking about words, about writing?  This becomes apparent further along in the poem, when the Muse returns and the writer “gives birth to enormous poems,” which are then sent against the Muse “like an army.”  The Muse, being a system of patriarchy, relies on static definitions and binaries; and in its absence, these definitions lose their meaning.  When the system is in place (when the Muse returns), the female poet is defined by her sex and is therefore confined to a rigid set of roles from which she cannot break free.”

Mickey Drexler

I’ve professed my love for Drexler before; he’s pure brilliance.  The best retailer of the past 30 years, in my humble opinion.  His work at Gap, Inc. elevated to the company to iconic status and since his move to J Crew, the brand has much improved.

Sylvia Plath

Plath may seem an obvious choice, most certainly for an often sad, somewhat self-destructive girl such as myself.  Virginia Woolf and Edie Sedgwick tend to fall into this category as well.  Plath is on my list for two reasons: The Bell Jar and Pursuit.

The Bell Jar resonates with many young women, this much is clear.  I didn’t read the book until I was around 20 years old, and I was particularly struck by her description of a fig tree as a metaphor for a woman’s struggle to choose her identity and, consequently, her path in life:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.  From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.  One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.  I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.  I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

– The Bell Jar

As a young women this hit me like a ton of bricks.  I still struggle with a similar battle now.  But, at 29, I have a little more wisdom and a lot more confidence than I did at 20.

As for Pursuit, well, it frankly scares the shit out of me.  I am absolute crap at interpreting poetry, not to mention rusty.  But I often break out Dickinson or Plath and thumb through the pages.  Pursuit has a big impact on me simply because it speaks to an all-consuming, raw, animal, frightening love.  The kind of love we read about in fiction or see in the movies but when faced with in reality, becomes too big, and too painful, to bear.  It’s the kind of love that renders the female victim to a man’s intense pursuit; something that, I believe, women struggle to both fight and submit to.

“Dans le fond des forêts votre image me suit.   – RACINE

There is a panther stalks me down:
One day I’ll have my death of him;
His greed has set the woods aflame,
He prowls more lordly than the sun.
Most soft, most suavely glides that step,
Advancing always at my back;
From gaunt hemlock, rooks croak havoc:
The hunt is on, and sprung the trap.
Flayed by thorns I trek the rocks,
Haggard through the hot white noon.
Along red network of his veins
What fires run, what craving wakes?

Insatiate, he ransacks the land
Condemned by our ancestral fault,
Crying:  blood, let blood be spilt;
Meat must glut his mouth’s raw wound.
Keen the rending teeth and sweet
The singeing fury of his fur;
His kisses parch, each paw’s a briar,
Doom consummates that appetite.
In the wake of this fierce cat,
Kindled like torches for his joy,
Charred and ravened women lie,
Become his starving body’s bait.

Now hills hatch menace, spawning shade;
Midnight cloaks the sultry grove;
The black marauder, hauled by love
On fluent haunches, keeps my speed.
Behind snarled thickets of my eyes
Lurks the lithe one; in dreams’ ambush
Bright those claws that mar the flesh
And hungry, hungry, those taut thighs.
His ardor snares me, lights the trees,
And I run flaring in my skin;
What lull, what cool can lap me in
When burns and brands that yellow gaze?

I hurl my heart to halt his pace,
To quench his thirst I squander blood;
He eats, and still his need seeks food,
Compels a total sacrifice.
His voice waylays me, spells a trance,
The gutted forest falls to ash;
Appalled by secret want, I rush
From such assault of radiance.
Entering the tower of my fears,
I shut my doors on that dark guilt,
I bolt the door, each door I bolt.
Blood quickens, gonging in my ears:

The panther’s tread is on the stairs,
Coming up and up the stairs.”

– Pursuit, Sylvia Plath

You can listen to Plath’s reading of Daddy here.  Haunting.

Lee Miller

Model, photographer, artist and war correspondant.  And, she took a bath in Hitler’s bathtub.  Pretty kick-ass.

Suzanne Goin

She wrote my favorite cookbook, Sunday Suppers and Lucques and worked with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. I can’t wait to dine at one of her restaurants, she’s a brilliant chef.

Charlotte Gainsbourg

Not only do I adore her acting, her style and her mother (and sister!), but she put out one of my very favorite albums, 5:55.


4 Responses to “Who Are Your Idols?”

  1. Linnyt Says:

    I think I can see where Feynman was going in that video. I think it’s a great point he makes about real, wet lab science vs social science. The law line was pretty good but I wonder if you can even have laws in the study of how/why humans do things. As he suggested, it could take a long time before there is enough data to make a law. I think people evolve socially so maybe there never will be a law that isn’t really generalized.

  2. Shelly Says:

    What an amazing post! You really got me thinking. Here are some of mine…

    Bette Midler-bombastic, overwhelmingly talented and whip-smart. I want to be her friend.

    Jenny Lewis- I loved her as a child actor (must see-”Stealing Hearts”) but the music she has made as an adult have made me want to crawl into her brain and see what it’s like in there.

    Mark Everett of The Eels- life can really, really suck…you can either fall in that hole or stand on the edge and survive while also flourishing.

    Ben-taught me more about music, life and love than I ever imagined there was to learn. I will forever miss him.

    Dr. Stephan Hockenbury- in my lowest moment, he saved my life.

  3. Claire Says:

    I absolutely LOVE this post! So much so that I kind of stole your idea. I hope you don’t mind. I definitely gave you all the credit. My list is here, if you want to see it: http://thingsiadore.wordpress.com/

  4. Pilgrim Soul Says:

    You said patriarchy! Hee!

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