The Unexpected Zen Of Underpacking

Collage photos via Getty Images

It’s okay to be unprepared

One of the most gratifying purchases I made in the entirety of 2016 was a nondescript beige bra for which I giddily forked ¥1400 (or about $13 USD) on the ground floor of bustling, balmy Kyoto Station in Japan. There was nothing inherently special about the bra itself—it was a completely unassuming, no-frills, wholly utilitarian undergarment, with nary an embellishment or even an underwire—but the moment it became mine, I hoofed it to the station’s nearest public bathroom, peeled off my sweaty, filthy Wacoal minimizer, and swapped in this unsullied, dry, gloriously fresh replacement. I felt like I’d been baptized.  

I was in the midst of traveling through Japan with nothing but a backpack, and I’d packed accordingly—that is to say, hardly at all. That September, the weather seemed to vacillate between only two options: torrential downpours and the kind of oppressive humidity that feels like being tightly swaddled in a hot, wet packing blanket. Throughout all of this, I’d cycled through approximately four outfits during hikes to mountaintop temples, strolls through Harajuku, long bike rides in the valley of the Japanese Alps, and up-close hangouts with snow monkeys. We were on the move nearly every day, which meant my past strategy of sink-laundering and air-drying wouldn’t fly. By the time we arrived in Kyoto via train, every last item in my pack had been drenched in rain, perspired through, air-dried to a wrinkly, sweat-encrusted crisp, and resoaked more than once. Needless to say, I felt disgusting. 

I’m not a style blogger by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I regularly chill in interesting door frames wearing flowy Reformation jumpsuits. But social media, compounded with the fact that I married a photographer, has added a flicker of self-consciousness to my own philosophy toward travel documentation; in short, the pictures are inevitable, so I might as well try to look halfway decent in them. In Japan, saddled with a backpack and consistently damp the entire duration of the trip, that seemingly simple objective was quickly left behind (along with the pair of heels I ditched in a Tokyo hotel room on day three, because when you carry your luggage on your back, priorities change quickly). 

Instead, I was left to contend with the sensation of schlepping around one of the most fashion-forward places in the world while wearing clothing that I'd either sweated through three times already or that I wore simply out of necessity as my options dwindled. (I distinctly recall visiting Nara’s sacred temple complex, Todai-ji, in the middle of a 90-degree day wearing the one clean outfit I had left: a black turtleneck leotard and miniskirt. It was a combo I'd normally wear out to a bar. To stand in the presence of a towering Buddha or feed wafers to the town’s sacred deer? Not so much.) 

For the first half of the trip, I felt sloppy, uncomfortable in my own skin, and, most of all, conspicuously, noticeably not cute. And then, a barely perceptible shift started to take root. I sort of stopped caring.  

Having fewer options allowed me to just suit up in whatever ensemble was least filthy and actually get to the vacationing part, rather than starting each day by staring down a giant suitcase stuffed with an entire Madewell sale rack’s worth of options. Did I emerge from my trip with IG-worthy proof of my ability to adventure while looking effortlessly, breezily stylish? Nah. Did I feel deeply envious of the Tokyo women I saw gliding through the streets of Ginza in impeccable, airy ensembles? Oh, hell yeah. But once it became clear that me looking cute was a nonstarter, my own vanity was eliminated from the equation. And that tends to uncomplicate things really fast. 

Last year, a male Conde Nast Traveller editor groused about how social media influencers, and their quest for that perfect IG selfie, are tainting the purity and wonder of travel; rather than taking in natural beauty and letting the awe wash over them, tourists now choose to insert themselves into the landscape, skipping over the whole “feeling amazed” part of travel and instead using the grandeur of the natural world as a mere photo shoot backdrop. For the record: I don’t think, as he claimed, that Instagram is “ruining travel,” or that influencers are “spoiling the view for the rest of us” (it’s the Grand Canyon! There’s room for everyone, my dude! A “beautiful little pixie in a designer hat” isn’t blocking your view, probably!). But speaking as someone who doesn’t exactly leap at the opportunity to be photographed when traveling, I find myself occasionally asking my partner to be complicit in an Instagram husband dynamic. I mean, find yourself lounging supine on a beach on the Amalfi coast or standing on the summit of a mountain you just climbed and try to suppress the urge to document yourself there. That sort of journey is a narrative anyone would want to include themselves in.  

But, when you’re lumbering through the winding alleyways of Kyoto wearing workout attire and aching for a laundromat, that dynamic shifts a little bit. Or, at least, it did for me. 

Feeling like a poorly dressed ogre on vacation isn’t ideal, and I’ll be the first to admit it isn’t really that hard to pack smarter—but, to be honest, I don’t think I really want a suitcase that runneth over with cute clothes on my next trip. Not just because eliminating the paradox of choice frees up extra brain space and time that might otherwise be wasted on fretting over what to wear, but because it sort of forced me out of front-facing camera mode: to take it in, to feel that once-in-a-lifetime awe fully, to turn my gaze outward, and, yes, perhaps to feel a little more humble about my place in the world, instead of seeing each incredible place as an Instagram playground. 

Though, next time around, I’ll probably bring a couple more clean bras. 

Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images

Sounds fake, but okay

In a new interview for Australian Vogue, Kendall Jenner makes the claim that being associated with the Kardashian name was a setback in her modeling career. Hmmm, that's funny, because power and influence usually works in their holder's favor.

In the interview, Jenner addresses skeptics who doubted that she would make it as a professional model. "A lot of people assumed that because I came from a 'name' that it was a lot easier for me to get to where I got, but actually it's the completely opposite," she says.

"I've always been the person to prove [critics] wrong, even when I was younger," she says. "I've always been a hard worker: that's in my blood. My parents raised me and my little sister to be that way and the rest of my sisters, too." In the profile, it's revealed that Jenner used to attend castings "simply as 'K' or 'Kendall' to distinguish herself from her famous family."

But keeping her name off her portfolio wasn't going to fool anyone, really. Her face has been on television for years, and it seems unlikely that a casting agent wouldn't know who she was even if Kendall didn't come out and say it. Perhaps Jenner was more closely examined and more readily criticized by people who doubted her, but I'm not sure I believe that she had a harder time gaining a modeling platform or booking big jobs, even if she didn't use her last name.

After all, Jenner was likely able to get into those big casting rooms right away because of her family's connections, and she was able to devote her time to pursuing that career because of the wealth they have. She would've had a much harder time making a name for herself if she didn't come from an influential family. She probably wouldn't get to be so selective about which shows she walks, and she definitely wouldn't be the highest paid model in the world.

Screenshot via Hulu

Introspection is not a bad thing

In Look Back at It, we revisit pop culture gems of the past and see if they're still relevant and worthy of their designated icon status in our now wildly different world.

"It just seems like you agree to have a certain personality or something, for no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it, I mean, how do you know it's even you?"

Iconic '90s show My So-Called Life is filled with existential questions and observations like this, with many, if not all of them, voiced by high school sophomore Angela Chase (Claire Danes). They're delivered with a familiarly annoyed tone, as if Angela can't believe things are the way they are, and that they're unlikely to change.

Angela lives with her parents and sister in a comfortable home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and spends her time navigating the social scene of Liberty High School. She's undergoing a big change, having switched friend groups and fallen in with a cooler crew, namely Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer) and Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz). Thanks to them, Angela dyed her hair from blonde to a "Crimson Glow," and is encouraged to indulge in her obsession with Jordan Catalano (a pre-Gucci Jared Leto), the kind of guy who's constantly applying Visine and has a limited chance of actively graduating.

From the first moment of the first episode, Angela's voice is pure, unadulterated teen angst. The melodrama can, when watching as an adult, feel like it's too much. And then there's other times, like when Angela talks about the agony of Sunday evenings, that it feels unnerving to relate so much to a 15-year-old:

"There's something about Sunday night that really makes you want to kill yourself, especially if you've just been totally made a fool of by the only person you'll ever love, and you have a geometry midterm on Monday, which you still haven't studied for because you can't, because Brian Krakow has your textbook, and you're too embarrassed to even deal with it. And your little sister's completely finished with her homework, which is just, like, so simple and mindless a child could do it. And that creepy 60 Minutes watch that sounds like your whole life ticking away."

Angela is nothing if not an over-thinker, preoccupied with very teenage problems like zits and gossip and who to talk to at parties; her thoughts on the most simple of relationships are extreme, like when she thinks about how she felt before she became friends with Rayanne and Rickie: "it seemed like if I didn't, I would die or something."

Sometimes, her melodrama feels suffocating—particularly when related to Jordan Catalano (it's imperative to say both his names). Angela wonders: "Huge events take place on this earth every day. Earthquakes, hurricanes... even glaciers move. So why couldn't he just look at me?"

As an adult, it's easy to think that, of course, Jordan should look at her: She's smart, witty, open-hearted, pretty, has good taste in music. But then, there's no way to make sense of how crushes work. As a sophomore in high school, I also pined after guys who I felt were out of my league, and after the only girls who were out... but who were dating each other. My thoughts probably (definitely) sounded a lot like Angela's, and I was similarly dissatisfied with my life.

At the time, that dissatisfaction felt oppressive—and I wouldn't want to relive it entirely. But that introspection was also what saved me. By questioning what was around me and interrogating how I really felt, I was able to reject the trappings of my conservative town, figure out my own politics, and accept my own queerness. My teenage dissatisfaction with the way things actually are made me grow as a person, and it shaped me into who I am. Thinking about Angela now, and how her angst fueled her, reminds me that I should also let myself indulge in some teen angst—even as an adult.

In one of the show's final episodes, Angela pauses to reflect on the value of her overthinking. She's ringing in the New Year with her friends and decides her resolution could be "to stop getting so caught up in my own thoughts, because I'm like way too introspective… I think." But she decides against that idea, because "what if not thinking turns me into this really shallow person?" Same, Angela. Same.

Courtesy of HBO

Thanks, I hate it

In an interview today with The Cut, Vanderpump Rules star Stassi Schroeder blessed readers with some of her thoughts on HBO's Game of Thrones, and since we can't get enough GoT talk, we were excited to see what Schroeder had to say.

And, in case you're wondering if Schroeder is a fan of GoT, don't: She's actually such a massive fan that she refers to her fans Khaleesis, and they call her Khaleesi right back. So!

Anyway, after the wide range of responses to Daenerys' fiery mayhem in the show's penultimate episode, The Cut wanted to check in to see how Schroeder was faring, and ask what she thought of it all. While Schroeder's opinion on Dany is mixed (she found the Dragon Queen's "crazy" actions to be relatable, but she didn't think it followed Dany's character arc), it wasn't, like, a bad opinion, just a bit muddled, if not so different than those of the majority of viewers.

Schroeder's real hot take, though—what we feel comfortable calling the worst GoT opinion we've heard—is about another character altogether: Arya Stark. Here's what Schroeder had to say about our favorite blacksmith-banging, Night King-killing, proposal-denying assassin in all the Seven Kingdoms: "Arya, I feel like she probably should have just married whats-his-name [Ed. note: Gendry! His name is Gendry!!]. What's wrong with being a lady and a badass at the same time? You don't have to choose just one."

And, like, sure, you don't have to choose just one, but Arya would never choose to be a lady. That's not her! So, if we're still talking about characters behaving inconsistently, Arya saying yes to a proposal (a rushed one at that) would have been absolutely bonkers. Arya's not about to change her entire personality just because some dude drops down on one knee and proposes, and to want her to do so would be like wanting Dany to act like a sheep, instead of a dragon.

All to say, you know nothing, Stassi Schroeder.

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hoto by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Civic Entertainment Group

Our favorite grouchy girl died today

Today is a sad day, because it is the day Grumpy Cat died. Also known as my personal favorite feline celebrity, Grumpy Cat died from complications following a urinary tract infection. The super relatable cat—real name, Tardar Sauce—was only seven years old.

Grumpy Cat was first introduced to the world in 2011, back when LOLcats were everywhere. Grumpy Cat's downturned face (the result of feline dwarfism, according to her owners) was the subject of a huge amount of memes—she was even the 2013 Meme of the Year at the Webby Awards—and was the subject of her own Lifetime movie, in which she was voiced by the Grumpy Cat of actresses, Aubrey Plaza. But, though we loved her for the memes, we loved her even more because we related to her mood.

Grumpy Cat was so relatable because, like us, she was completely over everyone's bullshit. Unlike us, Grumpy Cat didn't hide her feelings with a smile. And while that was because Grumpy Cat literally couldn't do that, we like to think that she also just didn't want to do the emotional labor. Which is why, in honor of Grumpy Cat, have the courage to roll your eyes at someone today, instead of forcing a fake grin. And just think about how Grumpy Cat's probably frowning at us from some sort of kitty afterlife, utterly annoyed that everyone is mourning her death.

Screenshot via YouTube

And I need to see the rest ASAP

As excited as we already are for Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, Booksmart, to hit theaters next week, we just got even more desperate to see it. Why? Well, the first six minutes of the film were just released, and every minute is incredible.

The film opens on Molly (Beanie Feldstein) meditating and listening to a motivational tape telling her she's better than everyone else, and to "fuck those losers." Her room is decorated with pictures of Michelle Obama and RBG, so we know her head is in the right place. We learn she's the class president when she arrives at school with her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever).

It's there that we get a glimpse of the social hierarchy in which Molly and Amy exist—but somewhere down near the bottom, way below the popular kids, the theater nerds, the stoners, and even the annoying class clown.

The film officially hits theaters on May 23, but Annapurna Pictures is holding advanced screenings across the country today, May 17—we're actually holding two of them! So, if you're in L.A. or New York, check them out.

But also, you can watch the first six minutes of the film, below, and prepare yourself to watch the whole movie in a week.

BOOKSMART | Uncut First 6 Minutes