The Light Flickered On

The other day, while at my my mother’s house, I went to look for scissors and ended up in my her office.  I went through her drawers and things, like her address book from 1961, a picture of me where someone was cut out and a plastic Mickey Mouse decoration that my sister probably bought at Disneyland in 1994.  I just sort of stepped into a pile of grief.  I had already looked through these things before and then had put them back in place in what is now a museum of her life.   She never threw anything away, nor did she forget where such things as my childhood record collection or box of college papers could be found.  Her librarian skills extended into her life.  File my Holly Hobby record player under C for Crap Solange Never Took And Nobody Had The Heart To Throw Out. (Is this too sad, yet?)

I have been feeling better ever since I had a Sign From My Mom.  Please don’t think I’m crazy.  For some reason I care that people see me as a rational person and not an airy new-age-y koo koo (which I kind of am in a older person sort of way).  I do believe that people pass to another realm, energy, plane, place of existence…(not heaven or hell, that’s what we get here on earth, mostly hell though).  I respect reason.  What you’re about to read might color your ideas about my grip on reality.  With that said, I had a visitation from my mother.  Hello!

I have a lot of dreams.  I am, after all, a Pisces.  (DID I LOSE YOU? PLEASE STAY).   It’s just a thing with intuitive emotional types who have trouble staying grounded.   Back to the dream.  I had a bad dream, I guess you could call it a nightmare.  I was in a serious car crash which I experienced in 3-D motion simulation. Kind of like Star Tours.  In the dream someone drove me to the hospital, and I thought to myself, “My mom isn’t here.  I don’t know who to call now that my mom is gone.”

I woke up.  IT WAS JUST  A DREAM. *relief* Time: 4:00 AM. Dark.

*lamp flickers on*

Oh, my lamp just flickered on five seconds after waking up from a bad dream that involved me missing my mother in a profound and deep way

It happened.  If you Google “lamps flicker on spirits” or something along those lines you don’t find a lot of well-designed websites.

Other family have had their own experiences which I can’t share.

Doubt if you will.  I do feel good about it.

 

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Coping Mechanisms: May Was Cra-zay

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View from the house in New Mexico.

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I don’t think any axe murderers would live nearby, but I still got scared.

MAY WAS CRAY-CRAY. *wild eyed expression*

What did I do in the month of May?  I finished up at my old job, went to New Mexico where I stayed in my parents’ house in the “country” (aka, middle of nowhere), hiked and ate good food in Santa Fe with my boyfriend who *sniff* had to leave me to go “work” and, thus, I was left to stay by myself and write.  Then what happened is that I realized that being alone in a house a mile from the neighbors and MANY miles from police or hospitals feels a little scary.  (I now understand why some people might want a hand gun).  So I went a night with a friend who lived closer to civilization.

Then I said Good-bye to New Mexico, went to the airport, got a job offer while waiting for my plane, quit that job 8 days later (after being told to “Stop talking!” during a conference call), went to New York to visit sister, went to BF’s friend’s wedding in upstate NY, all while I attempted to finish a screenplay to send to the Meryl Streep funded Women In Film Lab, (I was supposedly working on it in New Mexico), and despite feeling very snowball-in-hell-ish about it, I sent it off during one hot, muggy rainy night in my sister’s Brooklyn apartment.  Then we got Thai food and I went home.  End of May.

Then came June I got another job and now I’m back to working full-time.

What I’m attempting to convey with these very personal details is that “keeping busy” can help one cope with loss.

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Empathy Challenged

263-c-happens-for-a-reason-card_1024x1024My friend Emily McDowell (who designed the banner for this website) recently launched a line of brilliant “empathy cards” that caused an inspiring tsunami of interest in the world.  She was on Good Morning America, NPR and Slate.  Her work sparked a chord with people who, like me, have gotten tired all the weirdness, forced cheer, quasi-spiritual positivity and general refusal to get in the trenches around illness and death.  It’s generous of Emily to create cards because people have decided that human empathy is just to much to add to their plate.  I am not so generous.

I am tempted to say that our culture sucks at empathy due to simple narcissism and self-absorption and plain laziness, but my friend told me that sounds “angry” so I’ll just say that we are “empathy challenged.”

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Mad Men, Why You Got To End Up That Way?

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Betty is “likable” now that she’s going to die.

(WARNING: SPOILERS AND RANTING AHEAD…also you must have some familiarity with “Mad Men”.)

Matt Weiner hates Betty Draper.  And his bile can only be surpassed by that of the critics.  Why? Because in a show about the lifestyle of lying, alcoholic, womanizing men in the advertising industry, Betty routinely gets labeled “self-absorbed.”  Ah, misogyny…

OH, BUT WAIT. SHE’S GOING TO DIE. SHE’S GOT CANCER.  Now, in the wake of last night’s penultimate Mad Men episode “The Milk and Honey Route,” Betty Draper is, finally,  according to John Swansberg (whose reviews I usually enjoy and agree with, but not this time), “likable.”  BETTY DRAPER IS LIKABLE?!  Why?  Because women are really cool when they die and just go away. *air thickens with sarcasm*

We’ve been here before, people.  I — like many female fans — adoringly sat through five seasons of Breaking Bad (WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU “COULDN’T GET INTO IT”?).  A show that I loved.  LOVED.  A show that blatantly fails the Bechdel Test.  For five seasons, I rooted for Walter, Jesse, Hank, Skyler and Marie only to see my quirky flawed (EQUALLY FLAWED) leading ladies face tragic, kind of pathetic endings (from which I only remember that they looked unshowered and mentally ill).  Sure, Hank and Walter died. But Skyler and Marie lost their mojo. After all — the show seems to say — THEY LOST THEIR MEN. *air thickens with irony*

I’m not saying that women like Betty Draper don’t exist; women who create a crusty artificial presentation of themselves, criticize their daughters, manipulate their husbands and make passive aggressive comments.  I know women like her, and I mostly feel a mixture of confusion, weirdness (if that’s a feeling), and sadness.   Yes, I feel sad because I have this perspective on women and what lies beneath anger and eye-liner.  I’m not saying fucked up people don’t exist. Hello, human nature!  I’m just saying that when it comes to Betty, the writers fail to hold the same standards of ironic distance about her character foibles that Don and Roger and the whole gang of boozy, dashing tailored suit-wearing Grandpas circa late 60s enjoy. In other words, there’s no love for Betty!  Betty Draper is Cruella DeVille, while Don Draper gets to be “lost.”

I am, if you can’t tell, a little upset.

I feel cheated.   I have sat patiently through seven seasons of charming quips and scandalous interludes. I bought Sterling’s Gold.  I have enjoyed the show, so even in my disillusionment, I can’t call it “peaceful hate-watching” (a term I first read in Emily Nussbaum’s piece about The Newsroom). It’s more like adoring fan sexism-overlook.   Any woman who likes art and culture and has worked in technology or medicine, or TV (or anything that is profitable, interesting or has caché), has to turn a blind eye to 80% of female characters if she wants to get her binge-watching, TV-coma, get-me-out-of-this-feeling entertainment fix.  If I only watched shows and movies, or read books that passed the Bechdel test, I’d still be watching watching Kate & Allie reruns and reading Nancy Drew mysteries.

I’ve hung in there, Matt Weiner.  I thought maybe you had something with Joan and Peggy, but I’m starting to think they are just stylized icons of femaleness, another way to pigeonhole women along the lines “Are you a Carrie or a Samantha?”  (I’m, clearly, a Peggy.) When Joan gave her feminist speech to Jim Hobart I thought Fonzie mid-air over a shark did far less to threaten my suspension of disbelief.  I’ve worked in advertising IN THIS CENTURY and I can’t imagine anyone giving my feminist leanings a passing glance, let alone create the look of fear on Jim Hobart’s face when Joan busted out her Betty Friedan/ACLU references.   You really think an agency head was afraid of Joan in 1970?!  I’ve never known any woman to accept a terminal cancer diagnosis like it was a UTI, but killing off Betty on Mother’s Day was just the last straw in a series whose ultimate statement is that Mad Men, in the end, was and always has been created by a man.

Like the world Don painted to the Kodak, Jaguar, Lucky Strike suits, the show is a fantasy.  We have not reached the point of progression to view the 60’s or even the present with anything resembling clear-headed historical perspective.  What about the domestic abuse and violence that was endemic of the 60s?  What about violent racism?

I’m sorry, Matt Weiner, but I can’t help but feel that Mad Men played us the way Don Draper did his clients; that is, fool us into believing he had a vision and not just an exciting pitch for an empty promise that, ultimately, just sells the American dream for a profit.   Cigarettes, make-up, cars and furs  never filled our soulless void. And Mad Men did little to really further our understanding of class, race and sex, except to get us to believe that it’s all going to be OK, in the end. Even death.  (Sure, Betty, why not wear the chiffon to your grave?)  Were we revisiting the 60’s from the 2000’s?  Or were we just sold a whole Vogue/Esquire-ish mystique of clothes, alcohol, cigarettes and style.  After all,  who will die in the season finale?  Don Draper? Betty?  Or Banana Republic’s clothing line?

Tell me who kicks the bucket next week.  I’m going to bed.

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Some Frank Discussion

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My all-time favorite picture of me and my mom.

(WARNING: SOME SADNESS AND A FRANK DISCUSSION DEATH.)
I have actually had a few “normal” feeling days.  If I can even qualify myself as someone who understands “normal.”  Maybe “upbeat” or even “happy” are better words.  Or the therapy favorite “engaged with life.”  Yesterday was such a day.  I participated in a friend’s podcast (ENOUGH SAID) and went to a sushi-making party.  I spoke my truth into a microphone, rolled spicy tuna, drank sake and ate ice cream…HOW COULD I NOT FEEL RIGHT WITH THE WORLD? It wasn’t until right before I fell asleep that I remembered, “Oh wait, my mom is gone.”

It’s been almost three months since my mother “passed away.” I prefer to say that she “died” but the “D” word creates a lot of downcast eyes, shuffling and weirdness in people.  Nobody discusses death except video game players and comics who, as a friend pointed out, regularly “kill.”  I’m kind of aghast at how alien death is in our culture.  I’ve noticed that a lot of acquaintances don’t mention anything. Some might say, “I know now is a hard time.” Maybe they are afraid I’ll burst into tears.  Maybe they don’t know she died.  (I might be narcissistic in assuming that people see my Facebook feed). But I suspect many people just don’t want to bring up the topic.  Other friends have kind of taken a step back.  Just disappeared.  I kind of decided to let them go.  I can’t blame anyone for not knowing how to handle the concept of Death when he or she has grown up in a culture that treats it like unique tragedy.

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My mom’s novel about central southern California agricultural workers will be published this Summer.

I have typed into Google things like “dealing with loss” or “dealing with death” and so I thought I would write about what has helped me.  Honestly, I can’t tell anyone how to act to the strangest, hardest, most inexplicable event in our lives. (Other than birth, puberty, or your first visit to the 99 Cent store).

Here’s what has helped me “deal.”

1) People reaching out.  When people ask, “How are you?” Oh, my God! I love those words! I think maybe technology and booty-call style dating made non-human greetings begin with things like, “Do you…” or “Can I…” or “Will you…” However, when people message me out of nowhere and just say, “How are you? I’m sorry. Just wanted to connect.” No agenda.  I LOVE THAT.

2) SLEEP. I love sleep. We all need more sleep. Always. But especially now.  I think during grief we’re engaged in some traumatic healing process that requires unknown reserves of energy that I only get from sleep.

3) Reverence for Death and Grief. Not to be creepy, but this shit is real and necessary. I think that being with my mom during her final hours was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. It has given me more self-respect and a sense of the sacredness of life.  Sometimes people – not to blame them – but will get all super casual about it. “How’re you doing with your mom?” It’s kind of like a reporter asking a victim, “How does it feel to lose everything?” Again, it’s our culture.  Grief is creepy. GET OVER IT.  (Is the thinking).

Bottom line:  I’m never going to be “at peace” with grief due to the loss of an important person.   It’s a big deal.  For once, you are dealing with a situation that falls in the category of “Life or Death.”  (Just FYI…the Mad Men season finale? NOT LIFE OR DEATH.)

4) Other people’s stories.  I love other people’s stories of loss. I don’t love that people lose people. But since we do, I want to hear about it.   I have some friends who have lost parents or close people.  It’s not just their stories or sharing, but the fact that they have gone on to embrace life.

5) Pictures. See blog below.

Other things that help are a Loving Boyfriend, Coffee, and Protein.

The truest words I have read about losing someone came from this pamphlet by Paula Spencer Scott.

To be sure, the passing away of a loved one can be almost unendurable. That in the end it is endurable seems to be both its blessing and its curse.

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Grief, Grandma and My Hacked Website – Two Months

It’s two months today since my mother passed away.

I wrote a blog at the one month mark, but it was lost when robots hacked into my site a few weeks ago.  A fact I learned only after several 4:00 AM hair-pulling hour-long conversations with my “hosting” company.  Since I pay my bills as a web site project manager, I understand how broken websites are the universe’s perverse reminder that we are all hanging by our fingernails when it comes to security, waiting for some weird energy to push our lame password protected information into the netherworld.  For example, at the end of last year, The Hackers got into my Yahoo account. (I know, my fault for having a Yahoo account).  I already felt overwhelmed by work and my mother’s illness during the holidays.  So, naturally, on top off that I had to explain to every person I’d ever met why I didn’t need them to give me $2,000.

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My grandmother, in a baby blue dress and pearls, gazes adoringly at my mom.

I lost a few blog posts about my mother and her passing. A part of me felt bad, but another part wondered if maybe she just didn’t like what I wrote.  I am a half-believer in the after-life and, truth be told, feel comforted by the idea that my mother and grandmother have special powers to control my world.   My grandmother will whisper to me to enter a store where a “cute top” awaits for me ON SALE.  Or, and this happened, NBC called to schedule an interview for the Late Night Writer’s Workshop.  (I didn’t get accepted, but THANKS MOM).

But my mom would never have my website hacked into and taken down because my mother loved my blog.  She loved everything I wrote.  I will never have a bigger fan. SO PLEASE EVERYONE CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS.

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Grandma in an intense 70s pattern.

I’m allowed to have weird thoughts and beliefs these days.  My mother died two months ago today and I am, after all, a Pisces.  Everybody processes grief differently and if I need to contact mediums and blog and Facebook myself our of sadness, then so be it.

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My grandmother, far left, could be a phone operator on Mad Men.

I don’t know how people processed death before the invention of the camera.  And I am grateful that my family took hundreds pictures before we went down this creepy obsessive rabbit hole of selfies. Since my mother’s passing, I’ve started to see things in them I never saw before.  Like the evident love between my mother and grandmother.  They obviously adored each other. And I know they both had that love for me.  I grew up being loved by very strong women and I can’t help but believe that shaped me into the person I am. As much as I struggle there must be this core of security this gave me in my femininity.   I don’t know if I have the wherewithal to recall that without pictures to prove it.

My Grandmother loved clothes and was by all standards a fashion plate.  Look at her rock that 70s dress! (What is that pattern?)  She never graduated from high school, as she had three kids by the time she was 21.  But she was a very powerful person in my life and took great fashion risks.  I am going to write a separate blog post dedicated solely to her jumpsuits.

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Mom and Grandma. These two women made me who I am.

She taught me always wear a nice outfit on the airplane.  OH, PEOPLE HOW FAR WE HAVE FALLEN.  She also told me that “being young” was the worst thing in life.  I took that as evidence that she, if not loved, at least enjoyed being “old.”  She certainly didn’t let it stop her from laughing, dancing or looking sexy.  I can say that she was right.

My cousin insists that my mom and grandmother are together now. I can’t imagine that, if possible, they wouldn’t be. I guess it’s hard to recognize the truth in the people who loom so large in your life.  But it’s clear to me now that my mom and grandmother could not stay apart and be happy.

I miss them both so much.

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My Site Was Hacked Into…

…but now it’s back up!  We’re still working on pulling it back together, but some posts were lost. *pulls hair out*

Please bear with me.

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Ten Tips For Buying A Car

65196464_151336938“Let me go talk to the guys in the back and see what they can do for you,” said Ben the Car Sales Rep at The Dealership. (Not his real name).

This was the fifth or sixth time Ben had gone to “talk to the guys in back” about my possible impending purchase of an automobile.  I imagined guys dressed like stock brokers surrounded by receipts and studying my facial expressions through a camera or one-way mirror.

I had just told Ben that his dealership advertised a brand new car for what he was asking for a two-year-old car.

“No, that is impossible,” he said, dead serious.  “Look, I want to give you a good deal.  I want you to be happy.  But I don’t know if the financial guys can make it work.”

Do I look like I’ve been living under a rock?  First, he pulls the “guys in the back of the room” routine like I’ve never seen a movie before.    Then he assumes that neither I, nor anyone I know, understands how to use the Internet.  But I decided to go with it.  Use the innocent look to my advantage.  I had no choice.  I was in the game.   Ten minutes later he returned.

“Weird. They told me that you CAN get the new car for that price. That’s so weird that I didn’t know that.”

“Wow, that is weird!”  *slices room with sarcasm*

I ran this news by my Dad who happens to be a Car Guy, a guy who understands these mechanical things that we sit in to go places.  I had him on the phone.  Which brings me to my first Tip For Buying A Car.

TIP #1: Bring a Car Person. (Or keep them on the phone).

If you don’t know any Car People, then bring some testosterone.  Testosterone?  What?! Yes.  If this sounds sexist, well, try working in the high levels of anything.   A thirst for blood and dominance rises to the top. Despite all rational thought, ultimately I wanted Ben to like me.  I wanted a positive relational experience.  He was willing to eat me for dinner.

I held out for two hours.  I wrote numbers down on a piece of paper and slid them to him.  Finally, he gave in to my terms.

“The guys in the back said we can do it.”

He said it would be a few minutes and offered me some coffee. It had already been four hours and I was starving.

TIP #2: Bring some snacks.  It’s going to be a long night/day.

And then I made my first mistake and reveled in my victory.

TIP #3: You’re not out of the woods. You’re never out of the woods.

“So, have a told you about the Pro Pack?…it comes with the car.”

“No, thanks. I’ll pass. I’ll just take the base car.”

“You have have no choice. They put it on all the cars.  It’s in the MSRP.”

(It’s not in the MSRP).

TIP #4: Get a hard copy of the MSRP.

“It’s $12000.”

“Why didn’t you just make that the final price of the car?! That’s FALSE ADVERTISING.”

“Let me talk to the guys in back and see what I can do.”

Fifteen minutes later he came back.

“For you, we can do it for $600.”

TIP #5: Refuse to pay for the Pro Pack!

And here is when my resolve began to break down like a styled coif in a hurricane.   I was hungry.  Dehydrated from too much Keurig coffee and into my fifth hour of playing telephone with “the guys in the back.”

TIP #6:  Buying a car is a war of attrition.  Bring reinforcements.

Clearly, they had primed me for this moment.  Away from food, rest and friends and worn down by the effort of using my poorly developed negotiation muscles, I began to lose my footing.  Had I been in a better state of mind I would have refused to pay for the Pro Pack on the sheer basis that I still did not know what it is.  But I just wanted to get out of there.  Another hour later I signed my life away.  But not before Ben gave me a hundred different options for an extended warranty.

“It’s normally $2,000 but let me talk to the guys in the back and see what I can do.”

TIP #7: Stop talking to “the guys in the back.”

“I’m too tired to make a decision. Can I decide later?”

“If you want the deal, you have to do it tonight.

TIP #8: Say no to everything that has to be decided TONIGHT.

Finally, I drove the car home.   It didn’t have car mats, but I was too tired to care.

I woke up in the middle of the night in a panic. What have I done? WHY DID I GET THE PRO PACK?   The next day I drove back to the dealership and Ben introduced me to The Guy In The Back.

“You got a very good deal.,” said a beefy looking guy with a crew cut.   “Just do a some comparison pricing and you’ll see. You should be very happy.  You could have said no to the deal.”

SHIT HE’S RIGHT.

“But it was bad customer service.”

TIP #9: When you’ve got nothing else, pull out the “bad customer service” card.

“How about we get you some car mats?”

They bought my forgiveness with car mats.  (Btw, they cost $190…yes, I know you can get them at the car wash for $19.99 but car mats are made out of “leather.”)

I think Ben was secretly sad when I left. We’d been through a lot together in the past 20 hours.  I drove home so happy to have a car that’s safe and new and to not have to speak to a car dealer for at least five more years.  I’m pretty sure drug trafficking is more regulated than car shopping.

TIP #10: Let it all go and be happy with your car.

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Wandering Around Target

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I feel like the Indiana Jones of Target.

I went to Target last week because I needed to stock up on shower liners and S.O.S. pads…Ok, fine, I went because I just like wandering around Target.   It’s disturbing that I relax inside Target, but so very true. There’s a hushed sense of awe, cathedral ceilings, a screaming kid and halo around that shoe organizer or shower rod…it feels holy.

Yes, I hate that the employees don’t get health insurance or, as one Target cashier told me once, are forced to work when sick. But I still find something universal about going to a store because we all need to wash our dishes or shampoo our hair.  We go because we’re we’re messy humans and have to take care of our shit.

So I was wandering through the cleaning products aisle with My List when I saw a woman standing and studying the ingredients in a bottle of detergent. For some reason I thought to myself, “she’s avoiding the pain of loss she feels about (INSERT UNIVERSAL HUMAN STORY HERE).”  I never used to look at people and think something empathetic or compassionate.  I was a normal self-obsessed narcissist living in LA.  In fact, I thought everyone had better lives, happier? lives…more REAL lives than mine. And not only was everyone on some trajectory of fulfillment but they were shoving it in my face. Even the woman at Target with her scientific study of laundry detergent chemicals.  “Oh, so Ms. Fancy Health Lady wants to know what chemicals she’s bringing to her house…” I might have thought.

But on that day I thought about how she might have a divorce under her belt or maybe she was sick and couldn’t tolerate our toxic environment… and then I realized that pretty much every human alive has sad stuff to live with.  Everyone has problems. WHAT A CONCEPT.

And THEN I realized that this activity of wandering around Target was just a cover-up for my OWN feelings of fear and anxiety about the fragility of life.  I wanted to get on the intercom and announce, “Existential breakdown in Detergent aisle!”

And that’s when remembered that I needed some plant-based body oil and a paring knife.  So, I wandered off into the kitchen area and everything was fine after that.

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Blazer Casual

I have to be somewhere and look like I care. A little, not a lot. I stare deep into my closet, until I find that thing that pulls it all together and says, “I’m fun…but still kind of serious….and very Fall and a little East Coast.”  A blazer is not to be confused with a “suit,” “cute jacket” or even a “sweater coat.” It’s fitted. It has lapels. It does not keep one warm, per se. It just sets the mood. like a briefcase or glasses (before they became an accessory).  Unfortunately, not all of us work in a professional environment in which we can casually and coolly introduce the blazer into our everyday lives. BUT WE MUST TRY.

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I don’t know if Mila Kunis said anything interesting but she did rock the black blazer.

The second the weather tipped below 70 degrees (and after it went up to 80 again) I put on my blazer.  And then I took it off.  I’m not interviewing for jobs anymore.  I live in LA.  Where can I go in the Blazer Casual style and not look weird? I came up with a list.

A List Of Where To Wear A Blazer In LA:

1) Norah Jones concert
2) Digital networking events
3) Standup comedy!
4) Drinks with people you met after networking event who you will never see again
5) Meet and greets (if these really exist)
6) When you’re meeting your friend’s boyfriend’s friend for Indian food in a casual non-date kind of way
7) Art openings on Abbot Kinney (sorry, that’s a whole other blog)
8) Panel discussion (never been on one either)

To be honest, I just can’t always own the blazer casual look.  Some women can wear it in a way that says, “I’m in a very confident place in my life, but don’t really need to impress you with the details.” But who are these women?

A List Of Women Who Rock The Blazer:

1) Elizabeth Warren
2) The Girl Who Works At The Bank
3) Miss Piggy
4) Francis McDormand
5) Mila Kunis
6) The 19-year-old intern at any job

Ultimately, if you feel it, wear it.  You can always mix it up with the Blazers, Jeans and Boots look.  In other words, Serious, Casual, Bad Ass.  The only thing that might get pricey could be the boots, if you want to invest.  Otherwise, go H&M all the way, or even Tar-gae.   I hope this helped someone.

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