Photo by Naava Guaraca

Insane Girl Winter: Studio Diaries 4  

I’m making things in the studio that feel less emotionally abrasive. I’m looking for beauty everywhere.

By Naava Guaraca


I started dubbing early 2022 “Insane Girl Winter” when I read My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh and So Sad Today by Melissa Broder back to back. The energy was nothing if not frenetic—Omicron was still keeping us inside and my brain did not feel equipped to handle another round of incessant fear. When we went into lockdown the first time, I was still using my fake ID; now, I’m newly 23. We’ve all done a lot of growing up these past few years, and the beginning of 2022 felt like it cemented all this change firmly into the tapestry of time. So I decided to start reading again the way I used to when I was eight.

In January I read:

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (4 stars)
Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Oliva (3.5 stars)
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (4 stars)
So Sad Today by Melissa Broder (3.5 stars)
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (4 stars)
Blue Nights by Joan Didion (3 stars)
Milk Fed by Melissa Broder (4.5 stars)
November 9 by Colleen Hoover (2 stars)

I’m trying not to be too harsh of a critic, but I’m rethinking the way I’m reading this time around and consuming literature specifically for the purpose of expanding my worldview. Dreaming of You was special, a fabulous mix of dark comedy and Spanglish. Milk Fed combines two of my favorite subplots, lesbianism and eating disorder media, and I LOVED it; my reading felt premediated by learning how Melissa Broder’s brain works (a la So Sad Today). My Year of Rest and Relaxation has been on my to-read list for a while now, and I’d always heard the most insane mixed reviews; my consensus is that Ottessa Moshfegh is, unfortunately, one of the smartest girls in the world. I didn’t even realize until several days afer I’d finished it that we never even learn the main character’s name.

Blue Nights was as fantastic as any Joan Didion number, but I felt it paled in comparison to the more widely known The Year of Magical Thinking. November 9 was a read for my work book club and transported me to when I used to read fanfiction on Wattpad as a 13-year-old. Colleen Hoover writes such a specific kind of book, and there’s definitely a hierarchy when it comes to whether or not one of her books is going to be worth your time (Verity, for example, was so. good.). And last but certainly not least, I loved starting off the year with the newest Sally Rooney. Beautiful World reads exactly like either of Rooney’s other novels, but it’s layered with dense emotion and just a tad more existential contemplation. I had mixed feelings about some of the characters, but I liked that she kept me on my toes. It does take a little while to get going—I’ve had to tell several friends to stick with it, push through the first 150 pages to really get to the good part. And somehow, it truly is worth it. The last hundred pages or so cemented me firmly in my belief that Sally Rooney is going to be one of the defining writers of our decade. It’s a wonderful book to get lost in.

In February I slowed down a little, and read:

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (4 stars)
Drown by Junot Diaz (5 stars)
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (4 stars)
The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr (3 stars)

Drown is one of my favorite books of all time. The way Junot Diaz writes about the experience of living between two worlds is magical. He finishes his sentences with the most perfectly timed Spanish slang and uses just enough of it that if you don’t speak the language you might not grasp his wit. The Vanishing Half is the first book I’ve ever listened to, a form of reading I never thought I’d enjoy, but it was the perfect accompaniment to long hours of painting. Brit Bennett is a fantastic writer to say the absolute least, and the story, which follows two sisters as they drift through life separately and together, was beautifully written and so captivating. The Liars’ Club was an impulse Thriftbooks purchase I made a while ago. I read the first chapter for a class back in college and loved Mary Karr’s prose. I got about 200 pages in before I had to start skimming. A good, dense book.

Death in Her Hands was, in a single word, shocking. The protagonist is an older woman who lives alone, and the entire story takes place mostly in her head. She grips us through page after page of internal spiraling, and we start to feel just as insane as she is. The writing is powerful, to say the least. Coupled with Year of Rest and Relaxation, Moshfegh has proven herself a master of insane-girl literature. It’s my new favorite genre, and one that’s started to creep into every contemporary tale about women. We can’t help our insanity these days. Moshfegh gets it.

March matched February’s ease; I read:

Artful by Ali Smith (4 stars)
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (5 stars)
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (4 stars)
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (4 stars)

Fun Home has been sitting on my shelf for a while, and I wanted something I could read quickly and enjoy. Alison Bechdel never misses. I’ve been excited lately to read No One Is Talking About This, after reading reviews and hearing about it nonstop, and it does not miss. Patricia Lockwood also has the makings of one of the greatest writers of this modern-day mayhem, and the way she weaves social-media slang and meme references into a chilling tale about a family tragedy blew me away. This is a novel to get your hands on immediately and devour. It’s delicious.

Artful was brought home to me by my girlfriend, who had asked an employee at McNally Jackson for a recommendation (I can imagine it perfectly: her, saying, “My girlfriend is an artist and a writer. She’s currently on a mission to forget why she ever stopped reading in the first place,” and him, grinning, replying that he knows just the book for me). The prose felt like a cross between Maggie Nelson and Annie Dilliard, and it felt like a book I’ll return to in the future and understand differently. In a similar artistic vein, The Blazing World the second of Siri Hustvedt’s novels I’ve read. Like What I Loved, which I read last year, Blazing World places its characters in the nitty-gritty of the New York City art world.

Shows I saw:

Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure

I hadn’t been to the Guggenheim in forever and I caught this show on it’s last open day in January. It was rainy and the sun was already dipping below the horizon by the time I arrived. I started at the beginning and walked up, taking my time to settle in front of pieces and consider their conceptions.

Vasily Kandinsky: Around The Circle

As I continued walking up the Guggenheim’s ramp, I saw this Kandinsky show, full of huge paintings I’d never seen before. The pieces were like music, built from abstract shapes and designs. As I neared the top, I came across some of my favorite paintings, pieces I’d first seen at the Guggenheim during a visit with my mom when I was in high school. Kandinsky’s late-stage abstraction is most interesting to me. He paints representationally in a way that feels impressionistic. They’re beautiful to the eye.

Jennifer Packer: The Eye Is Not Satisfied with Seeing

Potentially one of the most fantastic painting shows I’ve ever seen, Jennifer Packer IS the moment. Over sienna-primed canvases, she explores texture and mark-making with paint whilst representing friends and bodies, intimate spaces and home settings. So much of her work feels experimental in nature, and yet also feels complete. The unfinished qualities allow her to explore and then move forward. She varies her canvas size greatly: some pieces cover entire walls, while others can fit in the palm of your hand. Somehow, it feels like she never uses the same color twice. I was awe-stricken.

Things I watched:

Amanda Seyfried absolutely killed as Elizabeth Holmes in Hulu’s The Dropout. She hits just the right amount of awkward and yet passionately devoted that the real Holmes had (I’ve read the book and listened to the podcast and read the articles, I know). The show’s eight episodes are also the perfect amount of time to encapsulate the backstory/drama/ensuing fallout. This is one aspect that Netflix’s Inventing Anna cannot relate to. In what should have been at least three episodes shorter, the show is mostly carried by Julia Garner’s insanely dramatic Russian accent. The best part of the show is when we get to watch the characters almost get kidnapped in Morroco because Delvey runs out of credit cards to max out. I remember the exact day that the Cut article about her dropped. I watched the show because I’ve been salivating over the prospect of a visual representation of the story for almost four years. I definitely wish I’d watched it on 1.5x speed, just to get through it. My toxic trait is that I love scam media. Jia Tolentino said it best in her essay “A Generation in Seven Scams:” “In becoming party to a scam, we access some of the hideous glory of scamming: we get to see, if not to actually experience, what it might be like to loot the place and emerge unscathed.”

The experience of watching Euphoria at the beginning of this year felt like a cultural phenomenon akin to watching and live-tweeting X-Factor every week in 2012. Euphoria was horror where we were expecting teenage drama. Plotlines were left open everywhere and guns were onscreen far more often than we could’ve expected. Men do love to write an unnecessary militaristic subplot. You can read a more complete list of my thoughts here. It was wonderful to sit down once a week with at least one to three friends around me to engage in timed viewing. Streaming services don’t really offer us that anymore; it feels rare that an episode of a TV show drops and HBO literally goes down because that many of us are trying to watch it. All this to say: once a week for an hour, we all felt collective insanity. And then we were expected to go to work on Monday.

I watched Hacks on recommendation from Mickey (COPY’s wonderful inventor and creative director) and really, really enjoyed it. The HBO original follows comedian Deborah Vance (played, epically, by Jean Smart) who’s about to be kicked out of her lifelong Vegas residency. They hire a young, ironic comedy writer to bring an edge to her routine, and we watch their relationship ebb and flow. It’s a fun show. I’m entirely unoriginal in my streaming habits and cycle through four or five different sitcoms over and over again to sustain me; Hacks was fresh and fit right in.

In the studio:

We started 2022 off with an Open Studios on April 1st. Our studio is in the basement, with temporary walls built to divide out our spaces. In March, we decided to set a deadline for ourselves; April Fools Day was set for a Friday, and we all felt the end of the year’s first quarter would be the perfect time to invite some friends to come to see our space and work.

What ensued was a productive span of time for all of us. Isabelle is working on several large paintings and finished a whole slew of studies in time for the show. Regina put all her paintings on the wall together, added some finishing touches to works-in-progress, and ended up with an entire body of work that sings in unison. Dillon started stretching canvases and made a whole collection of new prints. Marie brought in her sculptures. I made a small handful of pencil drawings, put up some of my prints, and hung up the paintings I’ve made in the last year.

I made us a flyer and we all invited our family and friends. Everyone drank through 24 bottles of wine, conversation flowed for hours, and we managed to fit more people in Studio B than I ever thought possible. It was a turnout that reflected the communal feeling we’ve all worked to foster in our shared space. I’ve mainly been focused on making paintings that look visually appealing, in sharp contrast to the investigative, familial-based work I was making in school. New York often feels oversaturated with creation, and it’s easy to get lost in what we feel we should be making. Open Studios was filled with celebration for what we’re loving doing.

As the year barrels on and winter rolls into spring, I’m working hard to be mindful of my consumption, spend more time outside, and take breaks that don’t involve looking at my phone. I’m remembering to open the window when I paint so my head doesn’t fill with fumes. I’m going to shows again–Elton John, Tame Impala, Arcade Fire–and dancing on my own in the middle of the crowd. I choose every next book to read based on my current undying love for contemporary fiction, and I figure I’ll catch up on everything else later. I’m making things in the studio that feel less emotionally abrasive. I’m looking for beauty everywhere.