Muses

Glorious Broad #9: Debra Rapoport

PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER SCALZI / DISTILLED STUDIO

PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER SCALZI / DISTILLED STUDIO

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GLORIOUS PROFESSION: Healer, Teacher and always — Artist

GLORIOUS PERSONA: Extravagantly Stylish, Re-inventor, Eco-Aware, FREEEE

GLORIOUS QUALITIES: Passionate, Engaged, Generous, Connector, Celebratory

GLORIOUS PHILOSOPHY:

You gotta play. You gotta make a mess.

Strolling down the street with Debra recently, we were approached (ahem, SHE was approached) by fan after bedazzled fan: “I love your style,” “where can I find that vest,” “your look makes me sooo happy,” and my favorite — “thank you inspiring us for what our future CAN be.”

It’s just part of Debra’s everyday to be both a magnet and energy source. I thought I knew my Debra 101 — muse for Ari Cohen's Advanced Style, collector of recycled materials for her art, Instagram celeb …  But I knew bupkis (Debra word I have adopted) about the multitude of reinventions and hard won savvitude this resilient broad has in her. Fasten your seat belts for an amazing Glorious Broad, Debra Rapoport …

HOW AND WHEN DID THIS FABULOUS “STYLE” THING COME TO YOU?
Since I was 3 years old. When we moved to NJ my sister and I were wearing black tights and ballet slippers. My mother used to take us to Greenwich village on Friday nights to “hang out…”

SO YOUR MOTHER WAS COOL …
Very cool … we were strict vegetarians before — well, anybody. We’d never went to doctors — we’d visit “quack” doctors in the middle of the night. She was a real maverick.

WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
Manhattan. Then Florida. After 6 months, my mother declared “I cannot live here.” Then off to the suburbs in our Italian boho shoes, black tights, surrounded by bobby socks and saddle shoes. We became the “curiosity.” So I know the feeling of being an oddity from way back. (Laughs)

WOULD YOU SAY YOUR MOTHER WAS YOUR BIGGEST INFLUENCE?
Yes. My mother. My grandmother. A grandma can do no wrong.

We’d go to Grandma’s for a sleep over and immediately gravitate to the sewing machine — take the button drawer out, dump it on the floor, and start playing. My grandfather would say “Oy — they are making a mess” and she would say “Be quiet — they’re being creative” and that runs through me. You gotta play. You gotta make a mess.”

SO WHAT STARTED FORMING THE DEBRA I SEE BEFORE ME?
I was shy, insecure as a kid and through art school. But little by little my confidence increased — enough to apply to grad school. And that’s where I realized what education was. Not intimidation. But bringing in the light. Positive criticism. So Berkeley. Berkeley changed my life.

HOW LONG WERE YOU THERE?
11 years. Got my M.A. from University of California, Berkeley and taught for 8 at U.C. Davis. Textile and costume history as an art form.

WHY’D YOU LEAVE?
After 8 years, I just couldn’t stand academia. I threw in the towel. And I was tenured at 35. Everybody thought I’d lost my mind. One of the youngest ever in a creative field, or some bullshit like that …

SO THE IVORY TOWER DROVE YOU CRAZY?
The headaches I would get. I’d throw-up on the side of the road on my commute. And then I realized: there is something wrong with this picture! Teaching I loved. But academia… I’m still friends with all the faculty though …

OF COURSE YOU ARE STILL FRIENDS. I’VE BEEN TO YOUR PARTIES …
Yep.

SO WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO WALK AWAY FROM TEACHING?
It was 1979. I left my husband. I left him the car. He gave me a camera and we had a $35 divorce. I said goodbye.

OUCH!
Well, yeah. We met in an alternative community. It was called Synanon, a drug rehab place. And in '69, they opened to squares like me. I had been visiting a friend who was living there, finishing up grad school, wondering where am I gonna make these kinds of friends again? I don’t do parties. I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink. I don’t screw. And this community was totally chemical and violence free. And I thought, yeah, this is healthy. So, I got involved. And I met my husband.

I’m famous enough. Who cares. That and $2 will get you on the subway.

COMMUNITY AGAIN — THEN WHAT?
Well, the writing was on the wall. We lived there for two years, but it was getting too fascistic. Humiliating me over bullshit. So, we moved back to Berkley. Stayed married for five more years. And then it was time for me to move back to New York … solo …

SO COMING BACK TO NEW YORK WAS A COMPLETE RESTART FOR YOU IN EVERY WAY, RIGHT?
Oh yeah … I wasn’t sure what to do next. That was a tough time for me.

But then, my sister and I started a catering business — healthy catering. I had a lot of connections at the crafts museum and a gallery I’d shown with — ‘cause I was always making my art and jewelry through all of this. The gallery would have parties and hire us —and we’d dress up and you know — the textiles! The healthy food! It was perfect. Our claim to fame was this incredible seaweed knot I would make and deep fry  — shiny, gorgeous green. And people would say what is this? I said, just keep eating them. I'll tell you later — if I tell you, you won’t like it …

We did that for a bunch of years until my brother-in-law couldn't stand the smell of fried grease in the house! So. My sister dropped out.

CAN YOU SAY HUSTLE?
And then, I went into the flower business with a friend. We had big accounts, major parties in the D&D building. After 16 years, I said to my partner: You know what. I can’t deal with this design shit anymore. I’m going into healing. I just want to work with my hands, go anywhere in the world. And heal. I don’t want to deal with dying flowers any more …

OMG. I NEED A TIMELINE FOR YOU AND YOUR TRANSFORMATIONS. WHAT YEAR IS THIS?
1999. I studied reflexology, polarity, and several other oddball things. It includes cranial sacral, neuro linguistics, and all kinds of fascinating stuff, liquid light, spiritual center.

SO HOW LONG DID YOU DO THAT?
I’m still doing it!

AND YOU STILL TEACH?
Yeah! I continue with workshops and teaching. And somewhere in there I became a community chef, with CSAs, Community Supported Agriculture. I’d cook at the housing project at the old St. George Hotel on 28th Street. Food would be delivered from the farm. I wouldn’t know until that morning what was comin’ in. And whatever would show up — I’d put together. Guys from the building would come over and say, hmmmm, what are you cooking? Smells good. And I’d say, it’s spinach, blah blah blah — but no meat. Try it anyway. We’d get a lot of WOWs. It was a great way to wake people up.

But through it all, I was always teaching in bits and pieces and always making art. Always making embellishments for the body. Large over-scale things like hats, headgear, wearable art.

I’M SEEING THE THEMES, CONNECTING THE DOTS … ART, COMMUNITY, FUTURISTS, ENVIRONMENT … GIVING BACK …
Yep

SO AFTER ALL OF THESE LIVES, WHAT DOES SUCCESS MEAN TO YOU AT THIS POINT?
Contentment, happiness, friendship, health. I got enough money. Making a money in speaking engagements and my hats. I’m famous enough. Who cares. That and $2 will get you on the subway.

AND I LOVED YOUR TED TALK WITH ARI ON AGEISM …
We did that a few years ago, had a ball. Ari does a version of me, giving that talk — with my New York accent — about when I was a teen, makin’ out with the dog while my beautiful sister was out on dates.

HOW DID THIS ARI/ADVANCED STYLE CHAPTER COME ABOUT?
I went to the New Museum, October 22, 2009. I just had on a sweater, a necklace, and a pair of — oh I don’t know — knickers and pink hair. This guy comes running over to me “Hi. My name’s Ari. I photograph women over 60 – can I take your picture?” and I said “How do YOU know I’m over 60?” He takes a few pictures — we start talking — I give him my business card. Five days pass, never hear from him. So I called him. He came over. We spent the whole day together, photograph the whole apartment, dressing, undressing, artwork — and the rest is history.

YOU AND ARI “CLICKED”
We had a lot in common. I’m Jewish. He’s Jewish. I’m a vegetarian. He’s a vegetarian. He did these drawings of dolls, I made art. You know, a lot of the other women don’t make things. They love to shop and dress…

AND YOU DON’T SHOP …
No.

I LOVED THE ADVANCED STYLE FILM … AND THOSE EARLY VIDEOS …
Ari met Lina, who is Lithuania and I’m half Lithuanian. I said: Ok, I’m going to adopt you — you’re my Lithuanian daughter. And we started doing these videos. And that led to the film. Most of the women are Jewish. It almost looks like a New York Jewish film, right? (Laughs)

Debra in an early video — love the way the dress turned backwards looks COOL — and the black leather dress FUCKING HOT …

HOW DID YOU START BEING AN ENVIRONMENTALIST? YOU WERE AHEAD OF YOUR TIME …
Yes. Like my mother. In ’67-’68 – I was doing my master’s dissertation in Berkeley, and I worked only with recycled materials. I didn’t care about ephemera. I’d make things out of toasted bread. And if it crumbled, I didn’t care.

IT’S VERY BUDDHIST …
Yeah! Wabi-sabi. Incompletion. Imperfection. Impermanence.

SO TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CURRENT LOVE LIFE. WERE YOU EXPECTING THIS?
Absolutely not. I was happy, single, busy. A friend tried to introduce us. She told me he was the only one she knew (other than me) who was reading labels on food boxes since the ‘60s. I said,  no way. What would I want with an old man. When I met him the second time, time stood still. He tried to hold my hand through a concert and I thought “hey, I’m 62, I’m not gonna get pregnant. So, what the fuck?” He walked me home and slowly but surely, we realized we had thrifting in common, we like healthy food, cooking, music, we are both on a spiritual path but we didn’t want to follow a guru. So, here we are …

This is the third time. It is the charm. And it’s probably going to be the last. But … you never know …

WAS THERE A TIME WHEN YOU WERE MOST “CONTENT?”
No. I don’t think that way. It’s all in the friends, my partnership. Being able to live in New York. Being able to play. Everything is an act of play right now. I mean, I do lose my temper when I’m the only one cleanin' up the bathroom. But, you know, I’m only fuckin’ human…

WHEN DID YOU GET INTERESTED IN MENTORING?
From being a teacher. And not having kids. I never wanted kids. I knew what it took to be a good parent. I like young people. Starting with Ari. Starting with Lina. And it’s easy. You hang out. And send them home. You learn from them and they learn from us.

I LOVE COMING TO YOUR PARTIES AND SEEING THE MIX OF AGES …
It’s not so rare in Europe, but here, in New York, it’s rare.

YOU DRAW THAT ENERGY TO YOU …
I have a willingness to make a family! Isolation is our enemy.

THERE’S A LOT OF ISOLATION THESE DAYS.
Yes. And there doesn't hafta be. I always say, New Yorkers are the friendliest people. When you're at the library or a coffee shop —  look up. Say hi. Ask how's your coffee? How's your writing? You start a conversation … people talk!

ANY DESIRE TO BE 20 AGAIN?
Shit no. 25 maybe ‘cause that was a turning point in my life. But no. it was horrible. Horrible.

DO YOU TELL YOUR AGE?
I don’t care about my age. I’ll be 74 soon. I have no gauge. No pacing. No 50-year-old kid. No 5-year-old grandkid. So I just am who I am. 

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU TOOK?
I feel I have played it so safe. Close to the chest. Everbody’s off to India. Not me. I don’t even want to go around the corner. I guess I’m into emotional risks. Like moving into my boyfriend’s apartment two years ago!

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH ALL THAT STUFF?
Got rid of 98% of my possessions. I’m FREEEE! But I'm still out there collecting, recycling for my hats, headgear and wearable art! That’s why I call myself “Debra Debris…”

You can find this amazing Glorious Broad on insta @debrarapoport — and she’s all over Youtube.


Glorious Broad #4: Sarah Jane Adams

Photo by Leah Runyon

Photo by Leah Runyon

GLORIOUS PROFESSION: Antique Jeweler, Instagram Icon

GLORIOUS PERSONA: A Cheeky Glorious Broad

GLORIOUS QUALITIES: Generous, Joyful, Adventurous – and not takin' it all too seriously

GLORIOUS PHILOSOPHY:

I never considered myself a fashionista or any of those bullshit labels – I’m just me doing my thing, traveling, living out of a suitcase

Sarah Jane Adams @ saramaijewels has got 160,000 followers on Instagram. Ok, not 218,000 like Kim Gordon, not 10.5 million like Madonna, but still.  What she’s got is 160,000 obsessive fans — and I’m one of them. Sara lives part time in Australia, part time in London and part time just about everywhere else she feels like floppin’. She is the wandering gypsy I think we all want to be, or I wanna be. My ex went on a solo six month bike trip with his backpack and little else a year ago and all men gravitated to him with lust and envy and a “why can’t I” misty gaze. I think Sarah brings that up for women — not the envy but feeding the free-and easy-let’s-go-for-it part of you. Hey, I’m a pro-active kinda lady and live the life I want to but she’s an exaggerated version of what I could be on a very courageous day. Me and the 160,000 others who can’t get enough of her.

INSTAGRAM "STARDOM"
I’m drawn to rocker chicks, only this one answered my Instagram message. I asked if she would let me interview her. She agreed within minutes. Now Kim Gordon wouldn’t do that... 

She was on one of her first trips to NYC and I remember her big teddy bear of a man commenting to me while we photographed her: “Amazing — one year ago we had no idea what Instagram was and now it has changed our lives.”

ABOUT THAT FERRET
Half of Sarah’s appeal on IG is her attitude ‘cause she simply just doesn’t give a f***. She started out as a ferret. Yes, a stuffed ferret. Now that’s a lady who definitely doesn’t take it all too seriously. One day she had on a really old Adidas jacket, mixed it up with “whatever was around” and let her daughter’s boyfriend take a smart-ass picture of her. Her daughter posted it, hash tagged AdvancedStyle and AriSethCohen from the uber popular over 50 style blog — and all hell broke loose. Ari, creator of Advanced Style, happened to be in Sidney, came over the next morning, took a couple of photos, and that’s pretty much how it started. Sarah and Ari have become good friends since, and she has the utmost loyalty and respect for the man, “a gentle gorgeous soul.” “I never considered myself a fashionista or any of those bullshit labels – I’m just me doing my thing, traveling, living out of a suitcase...”

And that’s what comes through...her genuineness, her humor, her not giving a shit...

AND SHE'S NOT A NARCISSIST
If you’re on Instagram, you know there are a LOT of narcissists on it. Sarah is quite the opposite. She’s real. She speaks the truth. Her mantra: “Be yourself. Speak up.” She attracts all kinds of ages, all kinds of cultures. “I’ve got different genres of followers. Obviously, I’ve got a bunch of Adidas people (she loves her Adidas), the Brazilians love me ‘cause I am colorful and bright, I am festive, the older and middle aged women like me because I’m gray and able to live my life and have a happy time, the Japanese kids love me cause I am quirky and wear things in an unconventional way. And then there are the Philly people! I found them and they inspired me — so it’s very much a reciprocal thing.”

That’s the difference with Sarah. It’s reciprocal! She asks things. She responds. She does give a shit about the people who follow her. In fact, she considers them “her therapists.” “To have 160,000 therapists out there — some of whom are vocal and some of whom aren’t — that’s huge. I mean, what a blessing is that.”

Enough of me waxing on. Let me introduce you to the girl herself on a couple of rants. She’s the real deal — a “Gloriously “wicked, cheeky, wind up merchant” to quote Sarah …

Wrote, directed, designed, edited this first of a series of video interviews with feisty, strong, charismatic women who are part of the tribe called Glorious Broads. Sarah, who sees herself as a gloriously "wicked, cheeky, wind up merchant" is all that - but so much more. She's got style, wisdom and attitude galore.

This piece or a close facsimile was originally posted for Huff Post 50. Since the article, I've had so many women write me about Sarah's magnetism. Well, she's in Montenegro today — tomorrow — who knows?

Glorious Broad #3: Yamuna (yah-moon-a)

Photos by Leah Runyon

Photos by Leah Runyon

GLORIOUS PROFESSION: Visionary. Teacher. Healer.

GLORIOUS PERSONA: A Revolutionary Glorious Broad

GLORIOUS QUALITIES: Ferocious, Funny, Sexy, Irreverent, Rebel

GLORIOUS PHILOSOPHY:

The bottom line is — if you’re stupid in your body — you can be smart as you want in your mind — but if you are stupid in your body and just can’t be bothered with it — you’re pretty stupid.

GB: Though Yamuna and I had not actually met, our paths crossed plenty in that New York City way. I’d pass her studio on Perry Street after getting my body fairly plummeted at my local gym. Yeah, I was a gym rat — but I’d think — I gotta visit this place and get worked out and stretched by that goddess.

Well, I blew that opportunity. Yamuna moved on and is spreading her gospel globally: body sustainability. I now know I was the prototype for one of her dumb baby boomers — killing myself daily the way I did at age 30 — not listening to my aching bones …

I date these women. I see what they are like and if, in fact, they meet with my criteria of “Glorious.” Yamuna blew me away. Yes, she’s a unique beauty — but it was the carriage, the way she held herself that differentiated her from the rest of the schleps on the street — including me. We were “instant” girlfriends as she explained her body revolution in her funny, irreverent, kick ass way at her spectacular west village apartment…a Revolutionary Glorious Broad…

THE GLORIOUS BODY AND THE REVOLUTIONARY: 10 questions

DID YOU DREAM AT 20 THAT YOU WOULD BE THE WOMAN YOU ARE TODAY?
I dreamed it at 11. I used to say to my father: “I don’t know what it is yet — but I’m gonna do something radical for the world. And I’ll be doing this at 80. I’ll be going “oh yeah, so when you are 80, these are the things that happen in the body — these are the things you need to watch out for.”

CAN AN AGING BODY BE A WISER BODY — EVEN A GLORIOUS BODY?
Hell YEAH. It has to be. Otherwise it’s no fun. The bottom line is — if you’re stupid in your body — you can be smart as you want in your mind — but if you are stupid in your body and just can’t be bothered with it — you’re pretty stupid. The body needs more care every decade you get over 50. And you have to ignore the self-medicated society we live in…

PREACH...
We have drugs for menopause. Drugs for thyroids, cholesterol, blood pressure … you name it. We’re a medicated culture. Take control of your own body

Women keep secrets ... like ... we don’t talk enough about perimenopause or menopause. It’s a bitch! Women should be preparing for menopause when they turn 40.

SO TELL ME YOUR PHILOSOPHY IN A NUTSHELL
Your body speaks to you. Your hip, your knee, your hands, your shoulder, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. I call myself “the intelligent, alternative, knowledgeable” source to body sustainability. I can tell you that I can be wrong about almost anything in life — but not when it comes to the structure of the body — that’s where my expertise is. Body logic — hands on work.

BODY LOGIC? MORE PLEASE …
When my daughter was born, I was injured and had destabilized my left hip. It was impossible to find adequate treatment so I experimented with yoga to heal myself. I thought of my body as a laboratory — using practical knowledge once you understand the anatomy. I perfected that first body of work and began to teach it. That built my reputation. And then I moved to Spain and there was nobody giving me a body logic session. I bought a cheap little ball and started giving myself sessions so the ball and my body weight against the wall became my hands. I went wild. I did this for months and then realized — this is the birth of a new work. We’re gonna teach people how to be able to literally work on every part of their body and be able to problem solve, self-heal and maintain. This will be revolutionary. So…that’s how it started…

WHO ARE YOUR MENTORS…YOUR HEROINES WHO INSPIRED THIS PASSION?
If I look at the women in my life, Edith Harper was a huge influence. Older, wiser, a life therapist  I had the good fortune to meet and be nurtured by. Her motto was: “Get wise sooner.” And Therese Bertherat who wrote “The Body Has Its Reasons” in France. She was the first one who revolutionized “soft gym” – you don’t have to kill yourself.

BUT HOW DO YOU GET YOUR MESSAGE “TO THE PEOPLE”? YOU HAVE SEMINARS IN FABULOUS EXOTIC PLACES ALL OVER THE WORLD BUT … ARE YOU AN ELITIST?

No! I do a daily blog! I have 5,000 followers and give practical stuff they can really do. Try this, how about this — but I always do it first. And this is on my Facebook page each day. Free!

DO YOU HAVE A MESSAGE FOR YOUNGER WOMEN — HOW TO KEEP THEIR BODIES HEALTHY THROUGHOUT THEIR LIVES?
Oh yeah! Do not listen to what the fitness world has ever told you — because it’s wrong. You can't work out at 50 like you did when you were 30, having a 22-year old hulk beating up your body. It's a moronic thought. There are more joint replacements than ever before and aging without your own body parts fully intact is not the best choice for aging gracefully. And start thinking out of the box. You don’t have to kill yourself.

YOU'RE GIVIN’ OUT SEXINESS — DID THAT JUST GET BETTER WITH THE YEARS?
I walk into a room now and feel sexier, fitter and totally in touch with what I own — so different from my younger self. The last thing I want is my body at 30 because, you know what, my body is smarter today. I never thought about how I walked down the street and use my feet, my knees and my hips when I was 30. I do it today. Because I am connected to it. I feel like we need to be examples. We can’t tell people: Wake up, be smarter, younger if WE don’t. You can’t talk it and not live it.

YOU'VE COMPLETELY REVOLUTIONIZED HOW WE FEEL ABOUT LONGEVITY – BUT HOW ABOUT YOU?  YOU WANT TO HIT 100 YEARS OLD? DO YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT THE INEVITABLE END?
Oh yeah – I can’t wait! I am so bored by people who want to live to 100. That’s a gross out. I’ve lived a super full life already. I could die now. There’s enough of what I have created to keep going for generations. So I don’t want to live to 100. BORING. 

This Glorious Broad is a powerhouse. Check her out her daily tutorial on www.facebook.com/YamunaBody.