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Nota Bene (On the Title)

Benvenuti al mio blog!

Or, you know, Willkommen, because that’s where I live!

(But I took this photo in London.)

In which I introduce myself and explain the forthcoming venture

This blog will not begin with me. That honor belongs to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Mozart’s comic opera Così fan tutte follows two sisters’ madcap scheme to—what else?—marry their men of choice. The Italian libretto, written by longtime collaborator Lorenzo da Ponte (who *FUN FACT* lived for a while in the town adjacent to my Pennsylvania college town), is not among the texts I have studied in eight years of exposure to the language, nor in any opera studies class. But I did sing an aria from it at a workshop, and I can roughly translate the title to “All women do this.”

Really? All women? How disappointing. I mean, I know I take great pains to deceive everyone in my life into believing I’m devoted to one person before zanily swapping them out for someone else, but I figured that was what made me special.

In any event, I’ve modified the phrase for my agenda: the conjugation of the verb fare (to do) is now in the first-person singular. Così faccio io. This is what I do. I am like this—besotted with music, books, film, theatre, language, travel, and all things cultural.

A few other things I am: a brand-new Master of Arts in English Literature, having graduated this past May from Central Connecticut State University; a singer-dancer-actress; an expatriate Berliner; an Anglo- and Europhile; a voracious reader; my own greatest audience for my jokes and monologues; the biggest Beatles fan in almost any given radius; a high-functioning neurotic; and very, very Italian.

I do hope something in that list resonated with you. Even if not, cut me some slack. I’m new here. And the obscure tidbits and minutiae that occur to me might just have occurred to you too. The human mind is an extraordinary thing. It’s boring to explore it alone.

So give me a chance, why don’t you? Or if not, at least give peace a chance. That’s all we are saying.* Right?

*John Lennon is my love. God help the man I marry, if I marry a man, if I marry at all.

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Tiny Lit Review: NORMAL PEOPLE

In which I review a book that I anticipated having more than one paragraph to say about

Friends, I was not a fan. I thought I was going to like it, in fact didn’t really prepare for the eventuality that I would not, so this put me at a loss. I often found Sally Rooney’s prose exciting and pointed—it was the story I took issue with, and just as often felt that the prose was wasted on the plot it was trying to convey. This plot was, more than anything else…predictable. Popularity shifts, not-like-other-girls/boys characterization, detached (dare I use a word like tawdry) sexual relations without a tremendous amount of emotional context. Each of the central couple hangs out with just awful people otherwise, whether platonically or romantically, so their choices aren’t especially sympathetic; I was baffled much of the time. Maybe I just don’t know how Ireland works (for the record, I never claimed to). I have not seen the series, nor am I terribly inclined to, as the writing essentially gave me all the picture I needed. It seems the story resonated with not a few people, which almost certainly skewed my expectations in its favor going in, which in turn made what I was met with all the more jarring. I won’t actively dissuade anyone from reading it; I’ll simply say it was not what I thought I was signing on for, and unfortunately not for the better. Rooney clearly has potential, and I do look forward to reading more from her, including her first novel, Conversations with Friends.

Image: Faber & Faber, 2018

A spot of publishing news!

In which I am in (and out)

Because I’m a flash kind of gal lately: a short short story of mine entitled “The American Teenage Classic Graduation Farewell” appears in the forthcoming anthology Intermissions (out 1 November, Grattan Street Press). A printed thing for a nice change.

I’ve been spotlighted in an author interview—under the pen name I use for fiction—which, let me tell you, I could get used to. It was great fun to do something even this succinct.

Enjoy, keep an eye out for the book in a week or so, and I’ll hit you with a review of a much-talked-about novel soon!

(GSP’s blog also runs on WordPress and features great reviews, other Q&As, etc.—go check them out.)

Image: the cover, from the University of Melbourne’s Grattan Street Press

All Along the Gender Spectrum

In which I chart the self

Monday was National Coming Out Day in my home country. I have no specific coming out to do, but I thought I would reflect on how my understanding of myself has evolved especially over the past few years.

I’ve always identified as female, and while I don’t necessarily foresee that changing, the way I choose to express my gender identity never ceases to surprise me. My longstanding fascination with baby-name books once led me to a book that organized names into categories (as well as the typical alphabetical listing); my name fell into a category called Feminissima, whose description went something like, “If these names were dresses, they would have frills and flowers covering every inch of them.” I remember resenting this imposition—I didn’t consider myself an overly feminine girl, or at least not a consistently feminine one—and feeling that resentment on behalf of the other names in the category. Would all those people really be okay with this narrow definition foisted upon them by sheer virtue of their names? I doubled it.

My sartorial gender expression varies depending on how I’m feeling toward my body, and has done since I was thirteen. I’m pretty sure I don’t know anyone who hasn’t suffered from some body-image issue, and from my limited vantage point I judge mine to be rather run-of-the-mill: I haven’t experienced the dysphoria that some of my friends and acquaintances confront. Suffice it to say the ability to think of myself as unconditionally beautiful and capable of different types of beauty is an active journey that I choose to go on every day, and that it still lapses from time to time, despite having a much firmer foundation than it used to. A baffled what did I think was wrong with the way I looked? now accompanies my every viewing of photos from adolescence.

Since being on my own in a city with a lot of options, I’ve discovered and explored a desire to experiment with more structurally androgynous looks (as opposed to, say, the androgynous looks of my teens, which I put together less thoughtfully in a shamefaced attempt to hide my body). On the flip side, I’ve even more recently begun to experiment with eye makeup, which heretofore intimidated me given my significantly impaired eyesight. Both of these pursuits have freed me up to try things it never occurred to me that I might like. They’ve helped me to appreciate my physical features and give love to parts of myself that I may have neglected—for example, I’m admiring my nose more often. I’ve been admiring noses in general more often. It could be the positive influence of Instagram. Yes, that exists.

Perhaps paradoxically, they’ve also nudged me along the self-expression pathway by allowing me to imitate others. This is where my notions of female presentation and femininity get muddled, because I have a history of styling myself after my favorite musicians, many of whom are male and of a certain era. (See above selfie, created last weekend.) Within this group, the ones with the strongest draw to imitation are the ones I’m sexually attracted to, which leaves me with the question of whether I want to be them or be with them. I think those desires can coexist; still, it’s a question I continue to consider as I come into my own as an artist.

Nor am I sure if this is a fixation I’m supposed to outgrow or have outgrown. For now I don’t see the need for self-judgment, especially if such style studies are making me more comfortable in my skin and boosting my confidence, which seems to be the case.

The way I analyze and discuss things, particularly music, has been a flirtation with masculinity/masculine presentation throughout my life, as I’ve noted, regardless of how I present physically. Essentially, I’m looking forward to deeper engagement with the aspects of my person and personality that fall all along the gender spectrum. I think the more I commit to that openness, the more complete I will feel.

P. S. I can’t go without mentioning that a smidge of external validation here and there hasn’t hurt, although it is 100% not the point. A friend and former coworker once called me a fashionista and frequently says that seeing my looks inspires her to put extra effort into hers. Having never expected to be the kind of person who had that effect on people, I found my self-perception changed for the better. So if you think someone looks good, tell them!

Another brick out of the Wall

In which I chronicle a convergence

This time of this year is special for the city I happen to be in as it commemorates the 60th anniversary of the raising of the Wall. Construction began on 13 August 1961, and things proceeded relatively quickly from there—by this point, there was a marked delineation and an armed patrol to monitor any and all passages from one side to the other. It also commemorates the reunification of Germany: 3 October 1990 established the holiday of Einheit.

It’s on my mind more than usual because my parents were both born in autumn 1961, far from the city and region being bifurcated, and in the month and change separating their births the divisions between East and West grew that much more entrenched. Given that my coming of age has essentially been a realization that the world is simply a series of chaotic events one after another, I imagine my grandparents must have been freaking out—my grandfathers, anyway; my grandmothers were likely more concerned with their uteruses at that particular moment.

Kennedy had been in office for approximately thirty seconds. My generation has been privy to all the things a president can get done, and not done, in the first half-year of their administration. You know sometimes I forget that Kennedy was actually president? I mean, it’s not as though plenty of stuff didn’t happen during his administration, but my brain occasionally skips from the hullabaloo over his being elected at all (do we really leave a cAtHoLic in charge of the country? I don’t know, how’s the second one doing?!?) directly to the assassination—as though he were cut down before being able to do, or not do, anything. Of course, he was president, and he did do good as well as harm, and a practically overnight statement like the Wall put him under immense pressure. Well, it seemed immense to everyone except the people whose lives, families, and routines were suddenly and dramatically reduced.

Tomorrow I go back to the East Side Gallery, the artistic exhibit of the remains of the Wall, to meet a friend of my sister’s who has been close to my family for almost her whole life. She is visiting on a break from her studies down south. The last significant time I spent at the Gallery was in the company of a person I’d known less than a year who had caused me to question identities I once took for granted. I can think of no better setting for either encounter. Berlin is a collision course for the past and the present, a stage for the act of coming together and apart. Every place is like this to a degree, but it forms the core of Berlin. Here it stares you in the face. Here you will not forget it.

Above all it points toward the future. We still talk about walls; we still raise and raze them for people. We go forward, even as we trail ghosts from our lifetimes and before. We struggle to reclaim things. We come to terms, or we hope to. New generations come up. Time is short. Memory is not.

Image: not the Wall, nor nearby the Wall, nor even really a wall itself—it’s kind of a free-standing mini-wall in the back courtyard of an apartment building in my neighborhood, I just found it a nice example of Berlin’s determination to fill any wall-like space with art

For the peckish…

…the second issue of The Birdseed drops today, featuring tiny works like breadcrumbs, of which my “Taxi” is one! So encouraging to see mags cropping up explicitly to dedicate space to the pieces that don’t take up much.

Page through the sections—the cumulative effect will put you in a real October mood. 🍂

And speaking of, I’ve got an essay up for the Women Writing Berlin Lab about the album that defined my October 2020.

Happy High Autumn from the Northern Hemisphere. Drink tea with honey, wake up earlier with the sun, wear things you can snuggle into. We’re gonna make it.

Image: taken in the author’s neighborhood a few nights ago, think it sets the mood (more where that came from on IG @c_m_giglio)

New List = new ep!

In which I (and not only I) comment on a certain, famous, now revamped list

A music lover’s work is never done, is it?

After wrapping season 1 of Pod Sounds, I’d planned simply to map out and slowly but surely execute season 2. And then the New List dropped.

That’s right, kids: Rolling Stone, having tackled a refresh of its 500 Greatest Albums list last September, decided on a refreshed 500 Greatest Songs for this year’s project.

According to the editors, the new ranking was created ‘from scratch,’ although plenty of entries seem to have remained at least in the ballpark of where they were in 2004. I’m unsure if any have retained their exact original spots, because I did not have the energy to comb the whole thing.

I did have the energy to note that one (anti-) love song which may or may not have Turned My World Upside Down(TM) in recent memory has jumped fourteen (14) spots to nearly crack the Top 10. Yes indeed, The Beach Boys’ own “God Only Knows,” previously rounding out the top twentieth at #25, now sits pretty at #11!

Truly I cannot express how elated I was to read this; I danced around the room. In light of my and my co-host’s entrance into the podverse, it felt like a personal win.

And even if it had nothing to do with us (I mean, unlikely but whatever), you know we had to mark the occasion with a special episode.

So enjoy our RS-adjacent ruminations, and hang tight while we get season 2 off the ground!

Preparation of a Young Woman Film Critic

In which I make a checklist

Big news: your girl was selected for the Young Critics Workshop at the Ukrainian Film Festival Berlin!

From this weekend through next, I’ll be working alongside seasoned and up-and-coming writers to probe the genre of film criticism and hone the craft in order to cover this year’s premieres.

It probably goes without saying how excited I am. Aside from researching the history of Ukraine for a bit of cultural context (and hoo boy is that a WHOLE nother ball game), I’m assembling some tools for my aspiring critic’s toolbox. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Read all the biographical material on Pauline Kael you can get your hands on
  • Think about how exhausting it must have been to be Pauline Kael
  • Watch those 2-hour items in your Netflix queue that you ‘didn’t have time for’ even though you had time for 4 half-hour episodes of New Girl
  • Determine once and for all whether you will say ‘movies’ or ‘films’ (too pretentious???)
  • Perfect your cool/stoic/appraising/disdainful glance
  • Improve your subtitle reading time as if training for a sprint
  • Get used to saying “Don’t take this personally…”
  • Conceive that you might one day actually find yourself in a position to say 🎶 don’t I know you from the cinematographer’s party? 🎶
  • Incorporate a lot of black sweaters into the wardrobe
  • Start looking for visual motifs wherever they may remotely be found
  • Stop forgetting who Peter Bogdanovich is

Look out, Hollywood, I’m on my way!!

A presto, Dante Alighieri!

In which I peer into the passato remoto (like, molto molto remoto)

Dante, the poet of Italy, so famous the last name is basically superfluous, died seven hundred years ago today. Seven HUNDRED years. WHAT.

He had contracted malaria while staying in Ravenna at the request of its prince, Guido II da Polenta. Scholars estimate his age to have been about 56. The city gave him a funeral, which was attended by many friends and admirers as well as his own three children, followed by a proper burial at a church known then as San Pier Maggiore, now as San Francesco. A monument was built at the tomb in 1780 and stands to this day.

His relationship to government was notoriously fraught, but he was evidently already making a comeback by the time of his death. Il resto, as they say, è la storia.

I have, somewhat surprisingly, read only portions of his big hit, la Divina Commedia. Namely L’Inferno—in full in English, in part in Italian. And I read the English when I was eleven. (My teacher was a little concerned about me.) Maybe it’s disenchantment with Catholicism, maybe it’s a dearth of time and a wealth of other texts higher on my list of priorities. Maybe I will still get around to it. If somebody can receive his due seven hundred years after the fact, it’s clearly never too late for any of us. In any event, I owe a debt to him, as all writers in all native tongues do.

I will say this: if we do end up in the same circle of whatever afterlife there is, I expect him to tell me one hell of a story.

Image: the tomb at Ravenna, taken by somebody who is not me

9/11 at 20: A Non-Remembrance

I have no memories of 11 September 2001.

I have memories from earlier in childhood, including plenty of memories of New York, so whether this was perhaps a willful block I know not.

That city has always symbolized resilience—and, ironically, safety—to me personally. Because of events in my early life and my family that necessitated a strong connection to the city in the first place, I was beginning to process some heavy feelings and, being a child, not handling them gracefully. I have many unpleasant memories of the school year 2001-2; it was probably my roughest school year ever. I did a lot of crying. Certainly an attack with attendant destruction and death toll weren’t going to give me any notion that things were secure and stable. I’m sure tensions ran high and everyone was on edge for a long time. After the fact, the next year, I wrote a poem in class that included the line “who fears real enemies,” by which I can only guess I meant terrorists.

As to other specifics, I come up with none.

My dad had just, like literally just, undergone a successful but invasive and taxing open-heart surgery: I’ll let him tell the story. So the Gigliotti household wasn’t its calmest either. These details too are no less hazy to me than the New York City sky was in the ensuing weeks.

I can never forget, because one cannot forget what one does not remember.

There has been more than enough to remember since, though, more than anyone should have to. I hope nations and states go forward with the knowledge that their actions always, always have consequences; and that, while it’s easy to place blame for the past, it is much more difficult and important to take responsibility for the present and the future.

Twenty years of conflict is hard to believe. Here’s to remembrance, the kind that fosters growth.

⭐️

Album Review: SOMETIMES I MIGHT BE INTROVERT

In which I welcome some good energy

No sooner had I mentioned looking forward to hearing this album in full than it dropped; all at once I was supplied with a soundtrack for my walk home from a friend’s place last Friday. I almost didn’t notice that I had consumed the majority of it by the time I reached my destination, it constituted such a fluid, absorbing, complete vibe. It was something I could disappear into, and have done again in the days since.

Across nineteen tracks, several of which are interludes, spanning just over an hour, Little Simz’s fourth LP tells the story of a journey—one within the self, not necessarily visible, but absolutely a progress from a point A to a healthier, happier point B. In what I understand to be a hitherto-established trademark taken to the next level, the artist takes material from her most humbling and human experiences, addressing everything from female alliances (“Woman”) to a fractured relationship with her father (“I Love You, I Hate You”) to newfound, hard-won romance (“I See You”) to personal tribulation and triumph (“Two Worlds Apart,” “Protect My Energy,” “How Did You Get Here”). As on any good concept album, the through-lines are strong; and while concept albums have long been a staple of hip-hop, this is one of the most successful I’ve encountered in recent memory.

The lyrical prowess is obvious and commendable. For my part, I’m almost equally taken with the production—it’s beautiful, many tracks bleeding directly into one another without so much as a beat missed. The opener, embodying the whole with the title “Introvert,” subverts common expectation of introverts, heralded by an outfit of horns, drums, and choir that sounds to some ears like something out of a classic-Hollywood ensemble film. (The horn arrangement across the album is one of my favorite touches.) I like to think Simz is suggesting, sonically, the chaos, aggression, and grandiosity that can be happening beneath the seemingly still surface of an introverted personality. I feel represented by it, too. And given the record’s lockdown genesis, she is probably speaking to the introversion people around the world have been forced to learn since March 2020.

Simz herself is the central force of her text, as well as the central site of conflict within it. She refers to herself by her rapper moniker a few times, but not nearly as often as she uses her given name, Simbi—short for Simbiatu Ajikawo. She draws influence from her Yoruba heritage on “Fear No Man,” collaborates with Nigerian artist Obongjayar on “Point and Kill,” and embraces concepts of Pan-Africanism on “Woman”; she also stresses the stamp which her humble beginnings in Islington have left on her (“London-born estate girl to international sensation,” she says on “Two Worlds Apart”). She is clearly intent on creating an artistic vision that reflects her authentic self: she doesn’t seem especially interested in inhabiting personas. I myself grew quite partial to the borough of Islington during my time in London, and now I have one more reason to revere it.

But then I can’t say for certain what her attitude is toward personas, because this album has been my entrée to her work. One thing for sure, I will be diving into the back catalogue. I want to know, and follow, what she’s about.

(For those who are interested, the interludes feature voiceovers by Emma Corrin, who had a breakout year playing Diana in the latest season of The Crown! We love rising stars helping rising stars.)

And check out the new video for “Point and Kill.” Rarely has tableau been used to such striking effect. The final frame, where the audio segues briefly into “Fear No Man” before fading out, demonstrates just how well integrated the sequencing is.

Image: Age 101 Music/AWAL