Laurie Chandlar

Laurie (L.A. Chandlar) lives and writes in New York City. Her love affair with the city is clearly evident in her blogs and is personified in her recently completed manuscript, The Silver Gun. The novel is a high concept mystery set in 1936 New York City, following the life of the resourceful and impetuous Lane Sanders, aide to the most powerful man in the city, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Laurie's blogs and articles are about everything under the sun, from musings about love and city life, to how she got started writing. But the main thing that connects her writing together, whether it be her manuscripts or her blogs and articles, is her love of life and finding the magic, the Real Life within the every day. You can visit her website. And FB fan page.

Midnight in Paris… in New York

I had been researching the past for years, and now I was on a hunt for literary inspiration. I’d done the best I could with books and biographies, musty copies of original Life Magazines, YouTube, and interviews. Now I needed something different and I found a new experience. Art in the midst of life.

I stopped at the top of the stairway leading down into darkness. I adjusted my pearls and flexed my gloved hands as I stepped down the metal steps one at a time. I got to the bottom and the door was closed and black as night. I knocked at the door and wondered if a small window would slide open and a hushed voice would demand, What’s the password?

I waited. And wondered. Anything can happen when there’s a knock at the door.

It was modern day, early twenty-first century. But when that door opened, I was ushered into the past, to New York City in the Twenties and Thirties. Feathered head bands, red lips, flapper dresses, suspenders and fedoras were everywhere. To my left were velvety alcoves around tiny tables where you could sip on cocktails and eat little morsels of goodness. To my right was a long bar where men and women from eighty years ago were drinking out of Speakeasy-style white coffee mugs. One woman in a long white dress looked astonishingly like Ginger Rogers. I walked over to the bar, ordered a “Bad Romance,” and of course the capped and suspender-sporting bartender asked if I wanted that or a drink. I said with a knowing smirk, I knew you’d say that.

Then the music started and the elephantine saxophone and the clarinet played while the outrageously dressed singer sang her heart out. Songs reminiscent of Cole Porter, Bing Crosby, Paul Whiteman and Al Jolson. We all smashed together onto the dance floor and bobbed back and forth, witless of the tight fit as we twirled and shimmied. I had been struck speechless as I entered this new world. Everywhere I looked were people from the past. I had gone hunting for inspiration, and I found that, but I had found much more. I’ve been researching the Art Deco era for years now and I was craving the ability to jump into the past just as Owen Wilson did in Midnight in Paris. And then a friend told me about Club Wit’s End.

In February 2009, Diane Naegel and Don Spiro created the monthly celebration of the Jazz Age lifestyle, music and aesthetics. They like to think that enjoying fine cocktails, dancing the night away to  hot jazz, and dressing in your finest is not a lost art in New York City. The name Wit’s End comes from the nickname that Dorothy Parker gave to Aleck Woollcott’s East Side apartment– somewhat infamous hangout for the Round Tablers and others in the New York social set.

Club Wit’s End and the Dorothy Parker Society

The Wit’s End is held at Flute, 205 West 54th Street, New York City. Flute was once the speakeasy Clube Intime run by the infamous Texas Guinan.  On the last Saturday of every month from January to October, 7PM to midnight, they offer a chance to go back in time with live music from bands such as Grandpa Musselman & his Syncopators, Baby Soda, The Red Hook Ramblers, Gelber and Manning, Cynthia Sayer, Brian Newman and the Moonlighters.

Talking with Don Spiro and Kevin Fitzpatrick, the manager of Wit’s End, I discovered a generous philosophy that is quite a refreshing attitude in the music scene. Don Spiro said, “Wit’s End has definitely contributed to the traditional jazz music scene in New York, offering a place where bands can play to people who appreciate them in the way they should be (as opposed to playing in theaters where people are stuck in seats). We also feel musicians should be compensated for quality and, as a result, we have a great reputation amongst musicians. Wit’s End has become a hub for people who like all things 1920s and 30s, and we reach communities around the world. We are connected to similar clubs in Los Angeles, Chicago, Providence and Austin, and have branched out to other organizations like the Art Deco Societies in NY, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. We co-produce an annual Fourth of July show, the Liberty Belle Spectacular, with other vintage themed promoters in New York and have teamed with the Museum of the City of NY, the Ziegfeld Club, and the Dorothy Parker Society.”

Art historian David Garrard Lowe said that the Art Deco era had “an unabashed advocacy of beauty.” Club Wit’s End echoes that reality. Climbing down those stairs, knocking at the door and entering into the era that I had been researching and “living” for years, was incredibly meaningful. It was like walking right into my novel and I found myself subconsciously searching for characters that have become my friends, waiting for them to walk around the corner at any moment. I found a way to experience the past. And to be able to grasp a small parcel of time to enjoy it bodily instead of just mentally? Magic.

To learn more about the Art Deco era, I highly recommend  A Journey Into Dorothy Parker’s New York and The Lost Algonquin Round Table, written and coedited, respectively, by the founder of the Dorothy Parker Society, Kevin Fitzpatrick.  At DorothyParker.com you can find out about the society’s unique events including a gin tasting (Dorothy Parker American Gin, of course) in Brooklyn on April 30th as part of a Dorothy Parker launch for National Poetry Month. Another favorite (if you can get your hands on a copy), is David Garrard Lowe’s Art Deco New York. It is an exquisite photo journey and a witty, history lover’s dream.

Pablo Picasso said, Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working. We need to make spaces to create and find inspiration whether we’re feeling the passion or not. It’s a discipline as well as a compulsion to create; it’s a fantastic mix of the two seemingly diametrically opposed elements. Emotion, intuition and passion combined with the basic discipline of just doing it.

In Midnight in Paris, Gil (played by Owen Wilson) says, “How is anyone ever gonna’ come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city? You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form…” There is art to be found and savored everywhere you look. Inspiration is not passive and as Picasso says, it needs to find you busy. We need to be experts at seeking out beauty, and then be prepared and willing to see it. We need to seek out that closed door and knock. And wait. And wonder. Because anything can happen when there’s a knock at the door.

 

The Art of The Smile: A Dangerous Experiment

“Peace begins with a smile.”  -Mother Teresa

“Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.”  -Mark Twain

It seems that humanity has always been enamored with the smile. It is the universal language of good will. From peacemaking to flirting, the smile is an invitation of sorts, to meet in the middle. From the mysterious smile of the Mona Lisa to the brilliant, toothy grin of Julia Roberts, it is captivating.

I found a debate online about the obvious lack of smiles in early photography compared to the flamboyant smiles of today on the covers of American magazines. There are many theories among the smile enthusiasts. The two most reasonable center around the bad dental care in earlier centuries and secondly, that the ostentatious, vainglorious American culture of today idolizes the insincere but beautiful smile on the outside that endeavors to hide the ugly truth within.

I think it’s a little from column A, a little from column B. And both theories have a big miss on the true beauty, the sweet nature, and the compelling pull of an authentic smile.

Mark Stibich, Ph.D, wrote about the top 10 reasons to smile. In summary, he wrote that smiling does 10 incredible things for us: smiling makes us attractive, changes our mood, is contagious, relieves stress, boosts our immune system, lowers blood pressure, releases natural pain killers and seratonin, lifts the face and makes you look younger, makes you seem successful, and helps you stay positive.

I think there is an art to the smile. In the Oxford English Dictionary, art is “the expression of creative skill,” but we all know art is so much more than that. Art is an expression of who we are, what we are wrestling with, what we think. And art never happens without intent; the artist must have discipline or he never really creates.

I noticed recently that a friend of mine has very marked concern lines on his forehead. And I saw that the look of concern was the very first look that came to his face at each and every encounter or discussion. What did I look like when I wasn’t paying attention? What was my go-to face? Concern? Anxiety? Inanity? And what did that say about what was going on underneath? Taking into consideration the things that I had been pondering about the smile, I decided to embark on an experiment. A dangerous one.

For one week, I would smile more intentionally. I would try to make my “resting face” a pleasant one. Not fake, just pleasant. I would make an effort to be more conscious of my facial expression. It actually takes more muscles in the face to frown than to smile, and the wrinkles from smiles are a hundred times more attractive than frowning ones…  So why not give it a whirl?

I must admit, I entered into this with not a little fear and trembling because I live in New York City where anything and everything can and does happen. So this had the potential of becoming an experiment on steroids.

It was an entertaining week to say the least. And it was fun. I felt more aware of life in general because I was trying to create a new habit. I wasn’t just surviving, but living. And watching.

I had a couple comments from Starbucks employees that it was nice to serve someone who was happy. I saw many more people smile around me than I had ever noticed before (evidence to the smile’s contagious nature). I had better customer service at most places that are frantic like McDonald’s and grocery stores. A couple people offered me their seat on the subway when it was crowded (that never happens). And I was more aware of kindnesses shown to me and when they weren’t, I didn’t really care.

And my favorite, funniest moment, was when I was in the grocery store. I was holding an enormous bunch of groceries in my arms because I had made the erroneous judgment that I didn’t really need a basket. As I was getting up to the counter, a man came over and nodded to my groceries and said, “Hi.  How about instead of all that, I take you to lunch?” I looked down at my humorous armful of goodies including a large, unfortunately phallic roll of polenta and stammered with striking wit, “Uh, thanks.”  Then continued on slightly more smoothly with, “I am extremely flattered, but extremely married. But thank you.” He smiled and said, “You just have a great smile, really beautiful. Have a great day.” And I did.

And because I feel that it is a moral imperative to add, my husband didn’t like the polenta. But he did say that I do indeed have a great smile.

The experiment was an interesting success. And I highly recommend it. I abhor inauthentic happiness – but that’s not what I’m talking about. I think the art of the smile is a worthy sort of art form and one that I wish to pursue. I did indeed feel all of the above top 10 reasons to smile.

My husband has a theory that as you age, you lose the capacity to hide who you really are. As I’ve talked with many elderly relatives and friends,it seems there is something to that. So many people fall sharply in the embittered and brittle category, or to the vastly opposite side where their delightfully wrinkled countenances have the extensive history of their smiles written in their face of today. I admire that. I see the peaceful and pleasant face of the ninety-five-year-old that I hope to be one day.

photo by:

Finding Bits of Wonderland

Alice irritates me. I should amend that; Disney’s Alice irritates me. Tim Burton’s Alice is much more provocative. But in the first version that I witnessed as a child, even at age seven, her decisions were ridiculous and she cried so much that it ruined any admiration I originally had for her spunk. But Wonderland . . . Well now, that captured my imagination.

On an especially dreary winter morning, the rain and sleet slipped through a crack in my umbrella, surprising my unsuspecting head with every shocking drop. The slush on the street was unusually deep and threatening to overflow into the top of my sturdy boots. People bumped into me as I clambered down the slimy, steep steps into the subway. I slid my MetroCard through the swiper and burst through the turnstile with an argumentative briefcase, awkward umbrella, and heavy coat that was now beginning to stifle me with the heat of the subway.

Bryant Park Skating Rink

And then . . . And then I heard a violin, guitar, bass, and the vocal line, “It’s the bittersweet symphony of life . . . ” by The Verve. The violin was exceptional and the music made all of us bemused travelers look at each other and try out some tenuous smiles. Suddenly the ironic moment hit me: the bothersome weather and being smashed in with a bunch of wet strangers, combined with beautiful music and the lyrics of the sweet symphony of life. Bittersweet. Perfection.

Hulbert Footner, author of the 1937 nonfiction travel book New York: City of Cities wrote about New York as an exceptionally amazing place because you could look at something 99 times and on the hundredth be completely arrested by its magnificence. After a decade of living in New York City, I still find that to be true. Over and over I am astonished at something breathtaking that I thought had become familiar and average.

This past December I took a new route to Bryant Park, taking the 7 train in Manhattan one stop west. I was going to a meeting but left early so I could visit the outdoor holiday bazaar in the park. I climbed the subway stairs, unsure of where exactly I would pop out. It was already dark and as I came to the top step and sprung out of the dark subway stairway, the scene that I had been expecting had altered, transforming into a panorama worthy of Wonderland.

The trees in the park managed to keep most of their leaves and, remarkably, were still green. They formed a lacy green canopy over the park, lit from underneath by an unearthly white glow coming from the skating rink. The backdrop was the velvet black of the night and the whole scene was encircled by the sparkling mountains of the midtown skyscrapers. Filling the air was the cheerful din of skating music and merry­makers. I walked to the west side of the park and was met by a scene out of Dickens. The beer garden restaurant was open with its Adirondack chairs sprinkled about, yellow fairy lights above, and makeshift fire pits here and there where people warmed their hands, roasted chestnuts and marshmallows, and drank their frothy beers. It was tantalizing to all the senses — a stolen moment of awareness.

Later that winter I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve been there a hundred times. Well, maybe it had only been 99 times and this was that magical hundredth. On Friday and Saturday nights, the museum is open late and I had never been there in the evening. I walked in and was surprised to be greeted with live classical music floating down through the grand entryway. The music made my eyes look up and around to appreciate that majestic entrance in a completely new way. The skylights that are all over that massive museum were a glossy black and the lighting gave the familiar paintings and sculptures new tones, new textures. Components to the pieces leapt out in fresh new angles and came to life.

The Egyptian Room was extraordinary with its fifty foot wall of glass overlooking Central Park. The snow glittered in the moonlight and the lamplight glowed along the paths. In the room itself, there was a waterway mimicking the Nile and in the absence of daylight, the yellow lights made the surface of the water shimmer and the Temple of Dendur shone a warm golden. I longed to stay and write in there for hours. At the back of the museum was a wine bar with a live jazz band that blended nicely with my Chardonnay, cheese, and olives. Finally, as I walked out of the museum, the fountains flanking each side of the museum misted and glowed in the nighttime air. Enchanting.

I don’t know where the magic comes from or what exactly makes that hundredth time so special. I’m quite partial to New York City and think the city really does have an energy all its own. But everywhere there are unseen, exceptional moments to be had. Perhaps it’s about taking a new approach: visiting somewhere during a different part of the day, finding a new angle, going with a new friend.

Author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. says, “Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.” Maybe it’s a perspective of heart, of openness. Watching and waiting for those stolen moments. But, I think, it is also about risk and not dithering around so much that you never make any choices, nor experience anything new at all. Being aware — actually creating the time to hear the bittersweet symphony of life. To find the small bits of Wonderland left to us.

Alright. I grudgingly admit it: perhaps Alice isn’t so irritating after all.

“Alice” by Shel Silverstein

She drank from a bottle that said DRINK ME

And up she grew so tall,

She ate from a plate called TASTE ME

And down she shrank so small.

And so she changed, while other folks

Never tried nothin’ at all.