Here’s what I’m wearing: some faded blue jeans that I tailored last year and recently rediscovered to be comfortable pants, a basic black tank top, Birkenstocks with more than a little dirt on them, two hair ties on my wrist, an assortment of rings, one half hoop earring and one white tiger.
I’ve been at college for a week. Moving in other people, moving in myself, remembering what it’s like to be here. It’s been good, fun, exciting, overwhelming at times but generally a state of happiness. Relearning being in a space as intense as college is like relearning the slouch of a favorite pair of pants, just how they like to be worn and how the waistband slings over your hips.
It’s good- maybe not quite as good as my white tiger earring (named Benny) but good in a simultaneous fresh and well worn way.
Also new! New instagram handle. It’s one of the few actions I’ve taken on my internet self as of late. No blog posts. No editorial calendar. No instagram for a week (okay, so it hasn’t been that long, but that’s years of internet time). I took a break, didn’t feel guilty, and here I am.
I changed my handle to clarify my voice. When I started No Longer Grey, I was incredibly careful to separate it from my real name, my hometown, any identifying factors that were a little too accurate. The internet is a big and scary place, and it was absolutely the right choice. But a few decisions along the way started merging myself and my blog, to the point that the two became indistinguishable. I talk about school here, talk about my blog at school. A screenshotted reminder, “What is honestly when your life is your brand?” brought me to the tipping point. For me, it feels more honest to remember that I’m a college student before blogger, a person before the brand.
Also, in the very practical sense, I was tired of having to explain that my name isn’t Nolon Grey.
Other changes: I finished my internship, left New York. I made the best cake I have ever baked. I swam in the river, hiked, slept. I’m feeling rejuvenated (or maybe it’s the black tea I’m drinking).
I’m excited to see what the future holds. And as much as I’m sure it’s nothing like what I’m expecting, it’s still something I’m so grateful to get to shape every day.
Blame it on the Bon Appetit youtube channel, but lately I’ve been super into cooking. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, because living away from home and the dining hall means I’ve been doing a lot more cooking. It’s been a great time to explore something new, to learn about sauces and spicing, test my baking abilities, and get to eat the results.
Styling is a bit like cooking. You’ve got your base, your bread or rice or main veg. Then you add some spices, simmer up a sauce, and, while balancing salt, fat, acid and heat, create a product that’s greater than the sum of the ingredients. A well accessorized look is just the sartorial equivalent to freshly cracked black pepper.
This is all a long way of saying I dressed up like my (current) favorite summer recipe, vegan creamy pasta with asparagus. Nothing says delicious like matching your clothes to your plate.
Set the pasta water to boil, salt it well, and once it’s roiling, stick in your pasta. In another pan, heat some olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Did I mention this was going to be imprecise? Smash two cloves of garlic with whatever is nearest, chop them up and add them to the oil. This is the most basic starting block for most pasta and sauce dishes, and I chose a sartorial equivalent to match. The first piece, a one shoulder crop top, is the carb, oil, and garlic. It’s a basic, yes, but delightful nonetheless. The color of this top is also beautiful, a dusty rose that somehow made my (extremely pale) skin have a healthy glow. Like pasta, it would look great dressed up fancily with some statement pants, piles of necklaces, silk scarf as a headband. But also like pasta, which is sometimes best just with butter and pepper, it worked equally well with some basic black pants and a tote meant for schlepping. It has a similar vibe to a women summer swim suit, sporty yet functional.
Cut your asparagus into little slivers, about the width of a pea, and add them to your (browned) garlic. The next look is inspired by those lovely green asparagus. I started with a little wrap top, part of a co-ord set (the pants will make an appearance later). It’s a super stretchy material, which means it wrapped around me multiple times. The skirt is asparagus green, silky, and made the look a little more laid back, Sunday morning rather than Friday night. And while we’re on the topic of asparagus, stir around your asparagus and garlic babies. Feel free to add a teensy bit of salt, to get the flavor going. Something in me thinks that makes the asparagus let go of water faster, but I’m honestly out of my depth.
Once the asparagus is looking slightly browned, in the same pot because we’re not fussy and also we hate washing too many pots, throw in some oat milk. A cup or two, enough to give the asparagus a good swim. Give it a stir, wait for the oat milk + oil + deliciousness to come together slightly. To celebrate the basis of the sauce, I dressed up like an Oatly carton, with a white long sleeve, blue silky shirt, and black one shouldered top. This outfit has a sum total of 3 sleeves. It’s creamy, it’s elegant, and the shoulder mixing makes it almost cooler than the ultimate non-dairy milk.
Returning to the literal and non metaphorical oat milk, add some rosemary! Delicious. Give it a smell, because it should be looking delish. This is also the moment to add the tip of a spoonful’s worth of veggie bouillon. It’ll be salty and give the sauce some umami.
Your sauce should be looking kind of thin, so let’s fix that! Pour a small amount off into a bowl, and stir in about a tablespoon of flour until it’s a smooth liquid. Then add that back to your pan and disperse. If it congeals, don’t sweat it too much. Turn up your heat a little and stir vigorously. Also, once the pasta is in, you’re not going to notice any lumps and bumps.
And oh! Speaking of the pasta! It should be done! Try a noodle. It should be pretty al dente, because we’re going to finish it in the sauce. Pour out the excess water (if your sauce is too thick, pour some of the glutenous pasta water into it), and then plop it into your delicious sauce. Stir, let the noodles soak up some of your sauce, and add pepper and salt to taste. This sparkly, semi-sheer top is a visual salt and pepper, but I styled it on its own, which isn’t how most people choose to consume S&P. We’re giving the underdog a chance here.
For the final look, I’m wearing these amazing flare pants, which are super stretchy, meaning I can consume lots of pasta without any pesky waistbands getting in the way. They’re also ridiculously high waisted, which I love because they feel rather supportive on an inevitable food baby. Plus, they’re also ideal for cooking with in the summer, because they’re super breathable and easy.
So much about living in the modern world involves an element of performativity. Am I using metal straws because I legitimately care about the sea turtles, or because I want to prove to everybody what a good environmentalist I am? Do I watch Sex and the City because it’s hilarious and timeless or just so that I can understand Man Repeller’s articles about Sex and the City? And online, do I write, photograph, caption, post as I do because it feels the most genuine or because I’m performing the idea of The Girl Blogger?
The online performativity is inescapable. If I present a hyper curated self online, I’m performing a “perfect” life. But by the same token, presenting a “quirky”, “interesting”, even super artsy personality online is equally performative. The degree of separation between the real time, me acting in the present, and the me I post online involves an obligatory pause, a question of “do I want to post this online?” And while that pause is important and was drilled into me through middle school computer classes about stranger danger, it also results in inevitable curation. Just as a brand can go through tens, if not hundreds of photos, tossing ones aside driven by the search for on brand content, I go through photos, ideas, throwing away anything off brand for my online self.
The nature of my account does naturally lead to this curation. My business account is my personal account- friends from elementary school as well as people I’ve never met follow me on Instagram. In tying my actual brand, No Longer Grey, to my personal brand, myself, I’ve created a heightened sense of performativity where I must not only question if a post is “me” but also if it’s “No Longer Grey.” At this point the separation is almost hindering, adding another layer to an already complicated puzzle of my online presence, to the point where I’ve considered rebranding to just myself, taking out the verbal, if not actual, separation.
But the issue, of course, exists even for people without brands, or people whose brands aren’t themselves. Apps like VSCO, Planoly, Facetune, apps created to plan and edit content all create the ability to plan, and therefore belief that content should be planned. Gone are the days of un-self conscious blurry sunset photos. And while Instagram looks a lot better, there’s nothing like a painfully self aware selfie to represent the ethos of our era.
In doing “content creation” or “influencing” or whatever kind of vague buzzword, I profit from that planning. But I can also feel myself falling for it. Even though I know how staged even the most candid of instagram posts can be, seeing a beautiful post is still inspiring. Greenwashing, clickbaiting, thirst trapping are all mediums of performance, created to inspire, to influence, and they all work best when the content looks real.
We’ve all read too many stories about bloggers and influencers who appear perfect but are falling apart offscreen to buy into the Insta perfect life. But now the urge to perform imperfection, to, in a way, perform genuineness instead of perfection makes influencing a whole lot harder. As Instagram has become less perfection driven and more interesting (overly curated feeds are so passé), the rise of less perfect content drives this belief even more. Because I’m no longer striving for perfection, but instead that je ne sais quoi imperfection that’s somehow even more difficult to attain. We all know relatability isn’t just liking the Office and being clumsy, but rather having genuine problems, thoughts. It’s just that those ideas are so much harder to share online, both to be vulnerable but to also capture, to portray in a genuine way.
I know who I am, or, at least, I know moments of myself. Even though the entire picture is something only slowly coming into focus, I know what feels like me, feels right. And maybe that’s the genuine, regardless of how planned out it is. I’ve taken enough photos of myself to know the ones where I look like me.
It’s only appropriate, 50 years post-Stonewall and during Pride month to be honoring the spirit of jouissance that goes hand in hand with and has characterized LGBT+ history. And what better way to celebrate that spirit than through clothes with a bit of boom-shaka-laka? Testing whether a piece has jouissance, joy for the sake of joy is the ultimate Marie Kondo test. My clothes, so frequently rooted in practicality, don’t tend towards jouissance. They spark joy, yes, but of the practical, comfortable, Friday night curled on the couch with a good book kind of way.
I’ve been leaning into the jouissantic (a Google search reveals that I just made that word up) pieces in my wardrobe. The swishy red silk skirt, the light brown pointy toed boots, the lime green shirt so bright it imprints a silhouette in your eyes even when you look away, all bring a bit of jouissance into my life.
What fills these with jouissance, whereas my delightful, joy sparking overalls can never quite be defined as jouissantic, is that these pieces possess a sort of ephemerality. While I hesitate to suggest that queerness implies ephemerality (hello Lee Edelman’s No Future and a long history of the kill-your-gays trope), I would claim that joy for the sake of joy can only be experienced in bursts. Therefore, the experience of jouissance is less a static state than a transient mood. Clothing that won’t last has the same quickly fleeing spirit. White pants doomed to fall to grass stains, overly trendy Bardot tops that will seem dated in just a few months, party dresses that get one night to shine and then are banished to the back of a closet, all are jouissantic, and all short lived.
That ephemerality also implies impracticality,
which, once again, I want to clearly separate from queerness. Although
jouissance is typically rooted in the inability for many queer couples to bear
biological children, in an arguably overpopulated world, not having biological
children could certainly be thought of as a practical choice (and sexual
experience certainly doesn’t need to be a practical endeavor for hetero or queer
couples). But in the context of clothing, an all-white outfit is wonderful and
could hold jouissance, but it’s also a walking canvas for stains. A tiny triangular
clutch is superb, but also doesn’t work for carting around much more than
similarly triangular Doritos. These joy sparkers, jouissance holders, exist in
a space of delightfulness without needing to be practical or timeless. They’re
good, no further obligation to fit into a larger scheme placed upon them.
This dress, which could basically be a Reformation x Laure Ingalls Wilder collab, holds an enormous amount of jouissance. It features leg o’ mutton sleeves, a cupcake-esq skirt, and a neckline so high and yet so lacy it feels distinctly Gibson Girl. It’s white, which none of my clothes are, for aforementioned staining reasons. It’s also handmade (not by me), and thus super delicate while still featuring an industrial slip that’s potentially made out of rain coat material. I bought it simply because it felt right, not because it filled a gap in my wardrobe. And while that feels like a recipe for needless consumption, I would argue that sometimes, just the existence and creation of joy is a worthwhile goal.
When was the last time you bought something jouissantic?
Every day of my freshman year, I walked through a gate bearing the statement “Enter to grow in wisdom”. The gate was my portal to the outside world, right outside of my window, the nearest way to access anything beyond of the narrow confines of Harvard yard. But upon returning, going back into the sanctuary of campus, I’d be reminded. Enter to grow in wisdom.
College is a weird time. You leave home, live in some slowly crumbling dorm and meet a bunch of people who use phrases like “minoritizing perspective”. In my first week, I’d already met two opera singers, which was more opera singers than I ever thought I would meet in my whole life.
Coming off of the heels of my first year, it’s easiest to see only the best parts of Freshman year. The first time I wrote an essay that didn’t totally suck. Learning to skateboard. Late nights with friends doing absolutely nothing and yet absolutely everything.
And let me be clear; I got lucky. I had an easy transition to college, loved my roommates, had great classes, made real friends early on. I was only two hours from home, and never was truly homesick. I’d lived through New England winters before, and knew how to layer to stay warm in -10 degree weather.
But however smooth my transition was, the first few months were challenging. The truly meaningful moments of college take time. Creating deeper friendships, going from seeing people just in the dining hall to hanging out in the wee hours takes time. Learning how to think about books in a way that is conducive to writing essays takes time. Finding the shortest way from the quad to my room takes time. The necessary self reflection of growing up takes time.
The best piece of advice I got all year came from my English professor. “It takes time to be about time.” He was talking about the length of Anna Karenina, how the novel is necessarily long so that it takes a significant amount of time to read, each moment stretching out in both literarily and real time. A gorgeous concept, and one that made reading capital-b Books a more forgiving process. It was also a concept that seemed to reflect everything I was experiencing as a freshman.
The day to day of freshman year was long, but the month to month, semester to semester, so short. If this first year as been any indication as to how the rest of college will go, it’ll be over in a flash. Putting in time, the care necessary to learn, to grow relationships, to live a life truly worth living, takes time. So much of college is repeated experience, eating in the same place, seeing the same people, walking the same paths. And it takes time to allow those singular moments to come together into an ongoing past, the imperfect tense created by the compiling effect of memory.
But time is also at a premium in college. Every moment is a choice between activities, each yes a no in equal measure. There’s a business economy, clout measured in brightly colored google calendar blocks of time. Friendships, clubs, schoolwork, dating, working, sleep are all placed in opposition to each other. And as much as everybody has to find their own equilibrium, I heard far too many people bragging about stress and inability to commit to anything by nature of committing to everything not to feel like the Harvard perception of time is massively skewed.
I can’t speak for anybody else, can’t pretend to understand anybody else’s perspectives (another lesson gleaned from that English professor is the inability to understand other’s thoughts unless you can inhabit their mind through stream of consciousness narration or the first person perspective). But if Harvard has taught me anything, beyond the history of urban renewal, beyond Keynesian macroeconomic theory, beyond what the best food in Harvard square at 3 a.m is, it’s to take that time. Have a longer meal with a friend. Stay all the way through a Q and A session at the end of a lecture. Spend just one more moment watching the sun set by the Charles river.
In those moments where I felt left behind, where it seemed everybody had it all figured out and I had just fallen back to square one, it became my mantra.