Marlowe Granados is a writer and filmmaker based in Toronto and author of the novel Happy Hour, which will be published in September.
I have always wanted to live a big life – one filled with charm, adventure and mischief. Before isolation, I was known to flit from one bar to another, finding time for numerous dates, and always showing up to the party (invited or not). If I wanted to go for a drink, I’d happily take myself for one, not the least discouraged by being out alone. I am lucky to have a wardrobe fit for any occasion, and I am always one to choose dressing up and not down. I liked to go where the night took me. My home was just a place I passed through on my way to another destination.
When people asked me to describe my lifestyle I only thought of the glittering Rosalind Russell in the titular role of Auntie Mame howling, “Live! That’s the message! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” Ms. Russell later explained the philosophy in a radio interview as, “Going out and meeting life, touching it and getting out in the foreground.” This, to me, has been the only way to live.
As isolation began, it seemed that I was on the mind of several friends. They would call to check in saying, “It’s been difficult … but I kept thinking what about Marlowe? What will she eat? How will she live?” Of course, it was an adjustment. Domesticity does not suit me. The contents of my fridge range from soda water to nail polish. I keep sweaters in the freezer. My kitchen is equipped like Noah’s ark, only two of everything and rarely used. I have never asked my landlord to replace my oven even though it is from a time when cooking veal and “fowl” was standard (there is a guide on the stove with suggested temperatures for both). I didn’t think it was something to invest time in.
A few weeks in, as I attempted to sear a bavette steak on a video call, my friend shook her head in disbelief, “I can’t believe we’ve let it come to this.” I began to understand that for friends who were used to being regaled by my exploits, to see me forced into this new climate was not only sad for me, but for them.
From the narrow frame of my phone, I saw people find quaint pleasures in this sleepy state. As weeks rolled by, I would have to give in and try isolated life with the old circumstances of my personality. Something would have to stick to make these days feel less like a never-ending threshold. Early on, it was listening to Billie Holiday and painting. It felt luxurious to sleep in and set up my easel by the afternoon. Then, I took to writing long unanswered e-mails and two-hour phone calls. Time melted. I stirred the pot with old boyfriends who got in touch and sent longing texts to men that could have been. I found artificial ways to blow up my new life and add manufactured drama to the fold. Then a stretch of days arrived where I took turns between immense terror and grief. Overcome with panic, I lost a whole week under my covers.
Like everyone else, I found comfort scrolling through my camera roll. I felt nostalgic for my old life. It seemed imperative to preserve the pleasure it brought me – but where to start, especially now that I was alone?
Prior to the pandemic, I often thought about the beauty of glamour – how it was made, and the public and private aspects of it. Its appeal lies in illusive components – the appearance of being effortless, charming and slightly out of reach. The most glamorous figures have always been women who had a sense of mischief. They knew something you didn’t and they were always one step ahead. Think of Bette Davis in All About Eve, or Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Glamour was achieved by keeping a secret for yourself, giving that added layer of distance between you and other people. In this way, it is almost always singular and alone.
It seemed natural to open new inquiries into glamour, away from the public. For almost four months, I have been forced to sit with myself in new ways and reimagine what living can be like when no one else is around. We all have to revert to being a little childish and remember our sense of fantasy. Saidiya Hartman writes in Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments that “Beauty is not a luxury; rather it is a way of creating possibility in the space of enclosure, a radical art of subsistence.” Often, we are made to feel that beauty is out of our grasp and that our pursuit of it is frivolous. But what if it’s exercises in imagination and fantasy that make it all worthwhile?
I have always dressed for myself, but whenever I was in public people found heart in it. Maybe it was courage to do the same. So, during those weeks when none of us left the house, I put on my most outrageous clothes, and finally mastered a smoky eye. I set up my tripod and documented these experiments. Curation is often spoken of negatively, as though intention makes your life less authentic. Balzac writes in Treatise on Elegant Living that to distinguish one’s life through elegance, one must be “endowed with that indefinable faculty that always prompts us to choose truly beautiful or good things.” It can be said that glamour is just elegance with a touch of mystery. You, too, can put on an earring, and spray some perfume, to re-establish your sense of adventure.
Old Hollywood movie stars aestheticized what glamour could look like, and in everyday life it can be found in fleeting glimpses. Think of a stranger getting into a taxi and driving off, while a cloud of their perfume lingers. It treads the line between fantasy and achievability – when you recognize it, you feel that with some adjustments it can be accomplished. It has the rare effect of radiating outward. Being close to it makes you feel all the better – and when it leaves, you always want more.
When I look back on the early days of the pandemic, it will be glamour that I remember. It was the thing that I clung to during a strange, unfamiliar time. All we want is to be in proximity to it, because it gives us hope that that kind of life is not so far off. Just like the soft gesture of reaching over to your friend, glamour is one of the things worth saving. My city is now opening up. There is a chance I’ll be able to take myself for a drink once again – albeit under physical-distancing rules for our new normal. Even though it will never be how it was, with this new life I will still bring a sense of occasion.
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