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“Desert bougie solitaire” outfit

No one will read this because it’s Treefort in Boise but I’ll write it anyway. I stopped at a thrift store in Las Vegas and bought…everything. This dress says, “I sell crystals to heal your chakras from my Mercedes sprinter van. #vanlife”.

My dad gave me this sweet cowboy hat right before I left. It has a Harley Davidson emblem in the middle. I was, indeed, born to be wild.

pink & patterned Sage boho dress with fringe – $13, Savers in Las Vegas | Harley Davidson cowboy hat – $0, gift from dad | hot pink Columbia trail shoes – $80, REI outlet

“The Dunes are Alive” outfit

The Kelso Dunes in the Mojave Desert sing. Like Julie Andrews with less Astroturf. When you break off a swath of sandscape, it vibrates the entire dune in this guttural hum. Earth throat clearings.

Over 20 years ago, I camped on the side of this dune while on an “Into the Wild” style backpacking trip. More of an escape. Sand, everywhere. Coyotes, too. Another howl that cannot be captured by audio devices. The vague always lit vibe of Vegas haloing the mountains.

Dune side that night, I dreamed of an orange beetle. It broke open to a radiant white goo. Now I’m writing a novel adaptation of this stint in the desert. (If not of the David Lynchian dream.)

Strange and surreal, to come back here looking like you wear the sky with a backcountry sheepskin BDSM bodice. This place, already a sort of fiction in your mind. You, a sort of fiction, too.

Sage sky dress – $13, Savers in Las Vegas, NV | The Comstock Load sheepskin vest – $60, from a friend’s familial clothing inheritance | no label, made in Italy leather boots with fur trim – $30, Restyle thrift store

Cheep it to the place you remembered it last.

“The End of an Era” outfit

It’s the fin de siecle—and fin de this sick outfit. This will be the last time I ever wear this dress. It’s from the 1920s. Over 100 years old. It’s silk and velvet brocade with tassels and a fur-lined skirt. It’s the most exquisite dress I’ve ever owned. And I’ve owned a lot of exquisite dresses.

But the seams rip every time I move. I kept painstakingly sewing it back together. The last time I wore it (before this last, last time photoshoot), I hand-sewed it for a half hour before going to Story Story Late-Night’s “A HOLiDAY NOT TO BE REMEMBERED.” It was a powerful show. The stories were riveting in the way that makes you put one hand on your heart and one hand in the air to feel the palpable electric buzz of the collective human experience of raw, real storytelling. I’m glad that this was the last event it will ever go to. I will not forget it.

But sometimes, beautiful things cannot be resurrected. Because they are simply done here.

Seven years ago, I had an ego death of sorts. Tho painful, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. I learned the hard way the vital lessons I desperately needed to learn before I could ever become the person I truely want to be.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like that line from Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Do: “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh! She’s dead!”

The old Jessica is dead. She was lovely and weird and porous and fragile and low self-esteemed and always seeking ways to escape. She had zero healthy boundaries. I both hated and adored living inside of her. She loathed herself a lot. She was miserable too often. She projected all the time. Only her fantasy life and ungrounded idealism kept her alive and lit.

But as Cheryl Strayed once said to an aspiring writer: “You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done.”

This bitch no longer lives in fantasy. She spent seven years in a cocoon. As goo. Trying to figure out what is real and what is not real about herself and her dreams and her perception. Finally, she has emerged. A butterfly. Still delicate but fierce as fuck. She is free and she is responsible. She lives in clear-eyed vision and inspired daily action. She is far kinder to me. She is deep-down content. She is pretty fly. I can’t wait to see where her new wings take her.

I assume I got this unlabeled antique dress from In Retrospect like 10 years ago but I can’t really remember that or the price | Frye boots with brown antique leather – $200,

Cheep it like a metamorphosis.

“Watermelon Sugar High Seas” outfit

When you buy a wicker watermelon clutch purse on the beaches of Isla Mujeres, make sure you pretend to eat it and spit out the seeds into the sand, so that when you later randomly pass a clutch of servers standing in front of a restaurant, they’ll mouth out your action and laugh. Making you a legend. A legend of the sandìa mime jokes.

When I quit my job 8 months ago, I wanted to travel for one week out of every month. Finally, this year, I am nailing all my goals. Travel-wise and client-wise and money-wise. I’m exhausted, frankly. And I’m learning to adjust to reality. And realize the value of routine and a sense of place.  

But I’m proud of myself. For going there. Over and over and over again. (Yes, this is my third trip to Mexico this year.)

I’m proud of myself that I woke up at 5:30 am to catch the sunrise and silence of this abandoned shell beach house on the south tip of the island. Especially after I failed to take one decent shot in 300 frustrating attempts the day before.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been one to immediately give up when I’m not perfect at something. “Live impeccably or die” – my motto, apparently.

This year, I try, try, try. Even when I’m bad at it the first time. Because I think Yoda was wrong. Between the do and the do not, there is only the try.

This go around, this next half of my life, I am not giving up on myself. I will make my dreams happen. Even if it’s hard. And sweaty. (That’s what she said.) And a total do-over.

I am remaking myself into my highest vision of myself (by making infinite adjustments as I go). Don’t believe me? Just watch.

geniune batik Keris cream empire waste cotton dress with black seaweed design made in Solo, Indonesia – $75, Blue Foot Vintage (aka my friend Danielle) | handmade wicker watermelon clutch – 500 pesos ($25), beaches of Isla Mujeres | black & cream sun hat – gift, my other friend Danielle | Steve Madden leather sandals – $3.99, ReStyle thrift store (that broke shortly after this from too much seawater and sand)

Cheep it to the (watermelon) core.

“Reading Myself at the Japanese Reading Room (NYC)” outfit

A read is an insult pointing out one’s flaws, according to Urban Dictionary, which I consult for my job, OK? (One time a corporation I worked for blocked out this site for obscenity and I had to take it to the top…of the internal chat gossip thread.)

I love Cheep because, even after 11+ solid years, it makes me realize how mediocre I still am at so many things. It keeps me on my toes (literally, in strange modeling poses just Googled near the Guggenheim). It makes me look at and interact with the world strategically. Peculiarly. And pack my bag with intent.

When in New York, I tend to listen to New Yorker fiction stories and wander around town. This particular Monday, my only mission was to get a Cheep shot, any cheap shot, in the Upper East Side.

No sweat. Until you’re sweaty under a Central Park bridge like an outdated middle-aged fashion troll. For what…exactly? I tend to ask myself…at unusable photo 300.

TBH, I don’t really know how to take a good photo. (Or shoot my shot in gen.) My camera is generic and subpar and set to auto. My fashion is still often questionable. I do not know how to edit out even earbuds. I can only tweak the color badly. All of this…is OK.

The nature of a good creative project is that it keeps you guessing. Curious. Pushing yourself to make a fool of yourself. It makes memories of mere moments. It gives you the occasion to meet the occasion. To capture the inherent drama of that particular place and time.

This is why I Cheep.

Tori Richard Honolulu for McInerny vintage black & pink floral empire dress – $35, Antique World Mall | black & silver metallic clutch – $4.99, ReStyle thrift store | Betsey Johnson rabbit shoulder duster earrings – gift, aunt. Apple earbuds – gift, parents | Chloe butterfly rose-colored sunglasses – $70, Nordstrom’s Rack | Frye boots with brown antique leather (the perfect packable travel boot that go with anything) – $200,

Cheep it to get read in the ultimate reading room.

“The dress my grandma wore to my mom’s wedding” outfit

I officiate weddings in the dress my grandma wore to my mom’s wedding. This last Friday, I cried more than the bride, seeing her float toward her groom (and me, peripherally) through rows of perfectly arched trees in an idyllic rural Idaho garden in the glow of the golden hour.

I love that electric feeling of real love. Like that time I almost got struck by lightening in the Sawtooth peaks, you run your fingers through the air and feel the sparks. It makes magic of mortals.

The love stories in my family are legends. Epics. My grandparents loved their way through jungles and concentration camps in the war-torn Philippines. My parents found their way back to love after a tragic 10 year split. Though it seems unlikely, so do the plots of all great Lifetime movies, I hope to someday have my own love story of legend (or psychological romantic thriller with shocking twists….oh, wait…*crosses off list*).

Until and if I do, I’ll feel the vibes in this dress.

vintage 1970s – no tag but looks like Gunne Sax light pink & cream boho wedding guest dress – passed down, Grandma Margaret Moule

Cheep it to the real love that sparks between your fingers (but does not electrocute).

“The Eyes Have It” outfit

In 1984, the Telescreen, peering into your room like a dull mirror inset in the wall, recorded every private act for the nosey overlords to look / listen in. “Never,” we claimed. Then came Alexa. And all our George Orwell / Jeff Bezos dreamscapes came true. “Watch me now,” said the Danger Twins, and the populace. In the end, we opted in.

Apropos for Apocalypse Capitalism, it’s like we got the Splenda version of the dystopia. Fake, saccharine…tastes like the uncanny valley…and conveniently comes in tiny packages.

OK, maybe I’m dark. But only dark in the sense of a Salvador Dali surrealist film obsessed with high contrast and the eyes. What we see and what we don’t see. What is visible and what is invisible. What we choose to look at. (Like Lou Reed.)

Sweet dreams.

no label (handmade?) 1960s electric blue starburst gown – $45, Antique World Mall.

Cheep it looking upside down and sideways.

“The House of the Rising Sun” outfit

This dressing gown would only be house-of-ill-repute hot in 1718, the year New Orleans was founded by French knaves, and reputable women were in scant supply. Meticulously unbutton with your eyes this Reformation Era chic boudoir cosplay in the French Quarter. Patterns for days. Swampy-heat languor for miles.

In my fevered imagination, this dressing gown is the mirror image of the one the woman—taken in the bloom of her youth by consumption—who haunts this historic house wears. Her gray train shuffles against the hardwood. “Did I hear something?” one asks. Just the wind near the French doors. You imagine.

Misslook dressing gown, $14. Antique World Mall


“The Unbearable Lightness of Being Dawn Baer” outfit

How people live without an alter ego I’ll never know. Lately, mine has been Dawn Baer. She wears vintage concert tees without bras. She wears wire-framed 70s dad glasses with thick lenses (so you can’t read her unspoken shade). She wears forest green wool berets hand-beaded with a tropical beach. She cadged her jacket during a stint in the Idaho Fish & Game. She inked her name on the label in all-caps: BAER DAWN.

When I think it’s finally time for Dawn Baer to hang up her beret, a bitter gust comes in. What’s blowing in the wind this time? Better put on your trusty Fish & Game jacket (that I found at the Antique World Mall), Dawn Baer.

Trigger warning: Bambi. I’ve now passed off a memory that involves the Idaho Fish & Game to Dawn Baer. See? It’s good to have an alter ego. Get some distance between you and you.

There I was…I mean…there she was…a dorky doe-eyed information forest ranger in her mid-20s in Stanley, Idaho. A middle-aged man came in to the station and said, “Do I have something to show you.”

Never go with a rural man to a second location, was a rule she did not yet know, so found herself standing in the parking lot beside his jacked-up, too-big truck as he opened the passenger door.

He placed a doe in her hands. Yes, Julie Andrews. A deer. “I found it on the side of the road near a steep cliff. Thought I’d save it.” Then he took off.

When the Fish & Game officer finally called Dawn back, his fury for every act of human stupidity pointed directly at her head. “The mother was probably right there,” he spit out. “I’m going to have to shoot it.”

Her fate and the doe’s fate seemed so inextricably twined. Both powerless in bureaucracy.

Dawn and the doe waited for hours in the head ranger’s office, the one with the spectacular panorama view of the Sawtooths, long after the station closed and the dusk settled in. She cradled the mewling spotted baby deer, looked into its guileless black eyes…while vainly apologizing for everything humanity has ever done and softly cooing about its mama…as it suckled the tears cascading down her cheeks.

vintage-made in USA ACT [Action Clothing Technology] Idaho Fish & Game green jacket – $55, Antique World Mall | Creedence Clearwater Revival In Concert black tee – $12, Antique World Mall | Italian wool yarn NN07 No Nationality knitted rainbow sweater – $75 (down from $400), Nordstrom’s Rack | hand-beaded forest green beret – $14, Antique World Mall | ADAY teal leggings – $120, | studded Frye boots – $75, Bombshell & Blokes Salon fall boots ale

Cheep it with Dawn Baer.

“To be or not to be in Death Valley” outfit

My longstanding quest for Cheep has been to capture the look of a disinterested bohemian model in an Anthropologie catalog. She side eyes you in her cotton patchwork gown against a distressed backdrop—fingering strange, decayed objets d’art—like an end-of-times queen of leisure.

At long last, a solid decade into thick of Cheep, I finally reached my goal in a ghost town in Death Valley called Panamit City. Here’s a step by step guide to achieving this rare look:

STEP 1: Get stupid lost and stranded in the desert. Idiotically go to the entirely wrong side of the mountain to the rockiest road in Death Valley. Foolishly drive straight up it and viciously slash your tire to bits. Fail to locate a jack. Contemplate your slow, lonely demise for at least one night and one morning.

STEP 2: Get jacked. Somehow get cell service for just the tense five minutes it takes to call your dad and get him to Google where Honda painstakingly hid the jack in 2001.

STEP 3: Stress shop in Pahrump, NV. In the day-long wait for a new tire, go on a Goodwill dress binge.

STEP 4: Backtrack through space and time. Find the right trailhead. Hike seven miles straight up a canyon. Follow a brick mine stack that looks like a fallen castle to an abandoned cabin littered with bones and backpacker detritus.

STEP 5: Strip naked to air dry while you liberally spread the highlighter you (wisely?) packed in all over your sweaty face. Throw on a boutique cast-off gown.

STEP 6: Stick a rusted thingamabob in your wrecked hair. Fondle a bone. Self style a photoshoot that, even after 10 years of practice, still takes 100 tries to achieve two decent pics.

STEP 7: Repeatedly, existentially question yourself. Is this really what I’m doing with my life? (Answer: yes.)

And that is how to Anthropologie anthropology.

no label boutique cast-off bohemian black & purple psychedelic cotton dress – $8.99, Goodwill thrift store | Maasai red, white & blue beaded bracelet – $2000 Kenyan shillings (about $20) 

Cheep it when you’re ghosting the rest of the world.