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Natasha Young

30 Jun Natasha Young

The 2016 Metatron
Prize Shortlist

 

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STATIC FLUX (EXCERPT)

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I had managed to secure funding from one of my magazine clients to fly out west for a music festival in the desert. They wanted a girl to wear oversized/overpriced sunglasses and talk to musicians with palm trees in the backdrop. I had a chameleonic thing going for me and found myself welcome with most anyone. I looked exotic enough to be unthreatening. You know—maybe you don’t—the way affluent white people can be benignly intimidating? It seemed most people had the impression they could speak candidly with me. It may also have been my deadpan affect. Either way, I took advantage. Emma, a photographer, would be there on assignment as well. We decided to room together. I’d watch her dress, admire her shape, her long hair uncarefully kept, her clean face. I had made all sorts of revisions to my appearance in my early twenties, obsessed with products, always another product that would change me into a certain archetypal idea of woman, the lamest form of escapism. But with Emma, I understood: To leave well enough alone is the look. I’d written for a few fashion magazines for the money, and I understood it was against their best interests to admit that beauty is leaving well enough alone. The beauty industry is a beast. Just how much of New York or LA or, hell, any small town whose bored residents hang around the mall for lack of an accessible institutional cultural center, is fuelled by the women’s dissatisfaction. But the difference between beauty and “beauty” is the difference between a topiary and a willow tree, or the rainforest and a manicured beachfront resort.

Emma let herself be. Her long, dark hair, beautiful in its plainness, had no fashionable statement to it: she epitomized natural beauty. Her lean body was simply what she had to show for her good health. She was enviably un-fucked with. Maybe she put some lipstick on now and again. Besides that, she was just how she was meant to be. When I say I understood, I mean I understood that self-acceptance is elegance and that beauty is polite indifference. How much time could I have spent self-actualizing had I not been scrutinizing my reflection. How much farther could I have been from here/now had I not spent hundreds of dollars at a time maintaining face paint as signifier of value. She conducted herself with an effortlessness I envied. She did not reverberate, like me, with the frenetic anxiety of one raised in an unstable environment, by which I mean I chalked our differences up to class.

But we were connected, bonded by a friendship that transcended not just distance and class but logic itself. We hadn’t seen one another in the flesh in a year but our fondness would resume immediately as if we’d never parted. Emma and I relished our days together. We would watch some sets, smoke some pot, look for some falafel to eat before our scheduled rendezvous with one band or another.

“I think I’m finally over consumerism,” I said. I had to project my voice for her to hear over the noise. She looked at my eyes with her cat-slit eyes narrowed. “That’s the mandate of our generation, isn’t it? We want to see the white-male-privilege societal structure identified and dismantled. Like how our parents had to remember everywhere their parents had installed asbestos and bust into all the old structures to clean it out. Think about the ‘60s and their communes. It was all reactionary against consumerism, and war-as-consumerism, right? Since when did shopping become a pastime instead of a means to an end? When did earning money become the point of living instead of a tool live by?”

She looked ahead in silence for a moment so I waited. “I’ve never thought about it that way. I don’t know how you live in New York, then.” She had a favorite story of her worst New York experience, a story not even hers. On the westbound L train one afternoon, she spotted a pretty young woman with a short blunt black bob, dressed like an uncanny union of real money and taste, Céline imprinted in small gold letters on the immaculate leather bag slung on her forearm. Emma followed this young woman out of the 8th Avenue stop in hopes of taking her photograph. She lost sight of her and, upon emerging into 14th Street, found instead a wheelchair parked in the middle of the sidewalk where slept an amputee, a black man, she said he looked young and like he’d pissed his heather-grey sweatpants. The pant legs were tied in knots at the ends where his calves could have been. Emma decided she did not want to take the photograph of anyone and walked toward the Hudson River, not knowing what she could do for him.

“That city, I think of as a global center for the highest highs and lowest lows. In the morning I can be languishing at Sutton Place Park watching touching teaching moments between parents and toddlers, chasing balls and pointing at boats passing on the East River under the Queensboro Bridge. Then in the afternoon I witness such contrasts in privilege, more disturbing the further downtown I go. In the morning I might be taking my coffee on a fire escape atop a building on East 62nd street, photographing the view and imagining I had been in bad faith to demonize Manhattan’s most conspicuous displays of wealth, reckoning the splendour, the manifestation of some individuals’ wildest dreams come true, but by afternoon I’m disillusioned again. I resent the ugliness of it. By ugliness I mean how indifferent and cruel people are in that environment.”

“You think that is unique to the city? Isn’t Los Angeles the same?” I said.

“It’s all the same. Why not be here? You can stay with me,” she said.

I considered this in quiet a moment. I said, “Okay.”


 

Natasha Young is a writer in Los Angeles. Born 1989 in Portland, Maine, she’s lived and worked in Montreal, Quebec and Brooklyn, New York.

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