On Saturday, my sister came up from Providence to go with me to see the Hollywood Glamour exhibit at the MFA. Although it was just one small room, the exhibit was just what I love–gorgeous gowns and sparkly jewelry, all from the heyday of Hollywood, in the 1930s and 1940s. In many ways, that era has come to define what we think of when we think of glamour–slinky gowns, diamonds, painted-on eyebrows, and elegantly-curled hair–despite the fact that the country was struggling through the Great Depression, the exact opposite of all of this glamour.
As my sister and I made our way through the exhibit, one of the things we both noticed was how tiny the waistlines were–one thing about Hollywood that definitely hasn’t changed.
After exploring more of the museum and going to eat lunch, we decided to go shopping. I wasn’t planning on buying anything because, frankly, I’m still trying to pay off all the shopping I did in November and December. But a sales rack of jeans at Ann Taylor caught my eye–they had black skinny jeans on sale for $40, which is a great deal, so I tried them on.
I need new black skinny jeans because the ones I have no longer fit. This has become a disagreeable theme in my life.
The good news is that the Ann Taylor jeans fit, so I bought them. But when I came out of the fitting room to get my sister’s opinion, a saleswoman told me they looked good and she has them, too, and loves them. After raving about how comfortable they are, she then said I should buy a size down, if I could, because they tend to stretch. She then told me what size she’d bought.
I know she was doing her job and trying to be helpful, but the thing was, I couldn’t size down. And the size the woman told me she’d bought was smaller than the size I was wearing–multiple sizes smaller. This fact, while annoying, wouldn’t typically bother me, but, and I’m a little ashamed to admit this, when I’d first seen the saleswoman, I’d thought she was a little…big.
So I bought the jeans and continued shopping with my sister, but I couldn’t get that saleswoman out of my head. While we wandered around Kate Spade Saturday, I complained to my sister. She asked me why I was comparing myself to the saleswoman. I just shook my head. Fact is, I compare myself to others constantly–from the anonymous women on the train to fashion bloggers to my best friends. I think many women do. It’s difficult not to.
But I no longer know what exactly I’m comparing, because the image I have of myself and my body is different from reality. That, too, is something that plagues most women, but while in the past, I thought of myself as bigger, frumpier, uglier than other women in a more general way, now I don’t know what to think.
My body does not feel like my own. In the last year, I’ve gone from someone who was more or less the same size I’d been my whole life (minus that halcyon summer after college when I was small enough to get away with wearing a tiny, bright blue pleated mini-skirt) to needing to buy new pants because the ones in my closet, the ones I’ve been wearing for the last ten years, no longer fit.
Of course, this happens. It’s a natural progression–of aging, of lifestyle changes (too much beer and not enough gym time, in my case), of babies or sickness. But I wasn’t prepared–this tectonic shift in my body happened gradually, without my knowledge, until one day I noticed I never seemed to be comfortable. My jeans were too tight, my dresses didn’t fit the same way they normally did, all I wanted to wear was stretch pants.
For the past couple of months, I’ve been working to come to grips with this transformation. Rather than fighting it, telling myself that I just needed to diet and work out more and I could fit back into my favorite jeans, I’ve been working on thinking about ways to feel comfortable again. I’ve bought a few pairs of jeans on sale in larger sizes. I’ve bought several pairs of leggings. One quote from Women in Clothes stood out to me–”So many psychological problems fell away when I started tailoring my clothes to my body instead of the other way around.” (Karima Cammell)
I know my body may not go back to the way it was, even if I cut back on the beer and late-night ice cream and work out more often. This might be the way my body is now, and I’d love to be able to accept that and move forward, to worrying about the things in my life that are really important. Unfortunately, that means doing a full-scale closet purge and purchasing new clothing that fits me and makes me feel good about myself. I say unfortunately because if money were no object, this would be an amazingly fun project, but since money is most definitely an object (a scarce object), the prospect of needing an almost entirely new wardrobe is scary. And it’s not just scary for financial reasons–purging my closet means getting rid of many of the things I’ve been wearing for the last decade of my life, casting away dresses and sweaters and jeans that have formed a part of my identity.
But I will take it one step, one garment at a time. Building a new closet along with trying to build a new life–always a work in progress.
Have you had to rethink your closet because of changes in your body? How did you do it? Tips appreciated!
Sunday night, before the snows came, I spent the evening sitting around a fireplace in a rambling old mansion talking about literature with a group of smart women writers. It wasn’t for class or book club or any kind of writing project. We’d come together just to talk about stories–specifically, the stories from the 2014 Best American Short Stories.
A friend from the Grub Street fiction class I took last spring graciously invited a bunch of writers into her home, with the sole intention of dissecting stories (and drinking wine). Though I belong to a book club, this was different–we didn’t really know one another or have any agenda. We did, however, have an assignment–we were to read the collection with Kurt Vonnegut’s famous term paper assignment in mind.
The assignment, in short, asks students to do the following:
Read them for pleasure and satisfaction, beginning each as though, only seven minutes before, you had swallowed two ounces of very good booze. “Except ye be as little children …”
Then reproduce on a single sheet of clean, white paper the table of contents of the book, omitting the page numbers, and substituting for each number a grade from A to F. The grades should be childishly selfish and impudent measures of your own joy or lack of it. I don’t care what grades you give. I do insist that you like some stories better than others.
Reading with an assignment in mind produces a wholly different experience from simply reading a collection of short stories. For me, when I read, especially a collection of stories or essays, I tend to bounce from one to the next without paying much attention to what came before or really processing what it was I just read. With the assignment in mind, I paid attention to what I was reading–not just for technique or good lines or plot devices, but to whether or not I was enjoying it. And that made a huge difference. Reading like a writer often means thinking in terms of the writing style, what we could or couldn’t pull off in our own writing, which tricks we might want to try for ourselves, etc. But reading for pure enjoyment? That’s something totally different.
At this ad hoc literary salon, we assigned our letter grades from each story to tiny post-it flags with our initials, then stuck them onto giant neon-pink posters hanging around the dining room of my friend’s house. She’d made a poster for each story, with just the title and author. After we were done touring the house (a seriously gorgeous house from 1846 with original art, secret passageways, multiple grandfather clocks, sleeping porches, a “gentleman’s shaving chamber,” and a tuxedo kitten named Burrito) and having some snacks, we walked around and assigned our post-it grades, chatting along the way. When we finished, we collected the pink posters and gathered around the fireplace in the library–a dream room full of antique books, TWO grand pianos, and lots of busts (“this house came with a lot of heads,” my friend explained)–and got to work.
We went through each story in no particular order and talked about why we enjoyed them, why we gave them the grades we did. The results were really interesting–there was some consensus, but for the most part, we enjoyed very different stories. Some stories I loved, others loathed. And it was okay, because enjoyment is a very particular and personal and subjective thing. There didn’t have to be an explanation. You could simply say, “I didn’t like it,” and that was enough.
Overall, I thought the collection was okay. I enjoyed reading it, but I think mostly because I read it with this gathering and assignment in mind. If I’d read it on my own, I don’t think it would have struck me as a standout, stellar collection. In fact, I’d already read most of my favorite stories, since they’d appeared in The New Yorker. The biggest problem, which we discussed a bit, was the lack of diversity. The vast majority of the stories spoke to a completely contemporary, white, American, experience. “MFA Workshop” stories as my friend called them. And while that happens to be writing I sometimes enjoy (I’m pretty traditionalist when it comes to short stories), I have to wonder if that’s really the “best” of what America has to offer. I highly doubt it. There are so many great writers of color out there, and so many writers who are doing interesting things with form and subject matter. I have to wonder where they were during the selection process. I’ve read Joyce Carol Oates. I’ve read Charles Baxter. I’ve read Karen Russell and Ann Beattie and T.C. Boyle. Sure, they’re amazing writers. But isn’t there space for new talent as well?
I have a lot more to say about the collection and about stories and about talking about writing, but it’s Thursday morning and I need to get to work.
Have you read the collection this year? What were your thoughts? Favorite stories? Have you ever done an experiment like this with a collection of stories?
Almost two years ago, I read an article on Flavorwire calling for contributors to what looked to be my dream book–a book edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton that would focus on women’s relationship to the clothing we wear. With such talented and interesting editors, I knew the project was going to be a good one. So I immediately filled out a survey and emailed it to the editors, excited to be a part of something crowdsourced and new.
In October, when the book published, all of the contributors got a free copy. I was blown away by how beautiful the book was, and just how vibrant and unique and diverse. There are interviews, essays, and poems, but there are also women’s Xeroxed hands, photos of collections of various items (earplugs used over the course of a week, handmade dresses, leopard-print tops), pictures of Molly Ringwald (and other women) wearing other women’s clothing, projects in which women analyze the things they bought over a period of time and why they bought them, compliments, and conversations. Because the editors were so open and inviting with their call for contributors, the book represents the voices and views of more than 600 women around the world–that’s powerful stuff.
Of course, when I got the book, the first thing I did was flip to the contributor section to see just how much of my survey was included. One of the editors had also asked me to share the Google doc I use to get dressed in the morning–the ongoing document where I jot down ideas for outfits and then delete them as I wear them. I thought maybe there was a chance that was included in the book–the editor had called me a “clothing curator” after all!
But, it wasn’t. In fact, there are only four words that belong to me in the entire 515-page book. And that’s fine by me, because it’s been so much fun to be a part of this project. I plan on writing more about the book and I’m thinking of doing some posts inspired by the book, but today, I wanted to tell you about the event I was able to participate in on Friday night at Harvard Bookstore.
An important part of the book’s launch have been events held at local bookstores with various contributors hosting clothing swaps. (If you’re not familiar with the concept of a clothing swap, I’ve hosted three, and written about all of them.) For Boston’s event, Harvard Bookstore asked me if I would participate. I made sure they knew I only had four words in the book, and then I agreed.
So that’s how I found myself sitting at a table in front of a microphone in a room full of people, talking about a book I didn’t write. There were two other contributors there as well, who were both in a similar situation, and I think we did a good job, given the circumstances. I was super nervous, given that I don’t have any experience talking to a roomful of people and I was afraid I was going to be completely out of my element.
But, because I am a lucky lady, I had a whole cheering section of friends and family there to support me, which helped immensely. I also had a new dress that I bought on a whim in San Francisco because it was brightly colored and has cacti on it. That helped too.
The crowd was great–very engaged and excited and interested in the book and the swap. A few women came to talk with us afterward and I even got to sign a few books and take some photos. It was a lot of fun–I felt like a rockstar. We had some great questions, and though I was worried I was going to be out of my element, it turns out that talking about dressing and style and image and identity is something I’m pretty comfortable with, and happy to do.
I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to sing the praises of Women in Clothes, and to be involved with the project in any capacity. It’s seriously a great book, and if you have any interest in how women wear what they wear, or know anyone who does (it’s a great gift), I’d highly recommend reading it.
And if you came out to the event last week, thank you thank you thank you! You’re the best.
*All photos courtesy of Thomas Kielich
I read an article a few weeks ago that I liked. The headline, “How to Email with an Old Friend After Falling Out of Touch,” was what initially grabbed my attention. Maintaining friendships is a top priority of mine, and I’m not always the best at it. I thought maybe I could learn a couple of things. I like reading articles that promise a potential life lesson or two. The piece is actually a lovely meditation on the passing of time and shifting nature of relationships rather than a simple how-to list. In it, the author, Paul Ford, shares what happened when he decided to send an old colleague a list of lessons he’d learned in the past decade since they’d last talked. Instead of the usual “Things have been good. I got married, I work here, I have two kids, I live here, etc. We should grab lunch sometime” catch-up email, the list of lessons served as a true compendium of what he’d been through over the years. In return, his colleague wrote back a similar list a few days later. They’re not best friends, but I’m sure that the exercise was illuminating for both of them, both personally and in relationship to one another.
Usually, at this time of year, we’re busy with holiday obligations, wrapping up work to meet final deadlines, and scrambling to make New Year’s plans. The Best Of lists can get overwhelming–Best Books By Women, Best New TV Drama, Best Independent Movies, Best New Restaurants, Best Red Carpet Gowns, Best Articles Written about Puppies by Women Named Adelaide. Sometimes, the reflection and the looking back are exhausting.
And then there’s the looking ahead, to that shining bastion of possibility known as the New Year. As though once the calendar turns to January, all of our sins from 2014 will be wiped away and we will be fresh and clean. We will go to the gym every day and stop eating sugar and read 150 books and delete our Facebook accounts and save a million dollars and pay off our student loans and travel around the world and join a rock band. Or something along those lines.
So the end of every year is fraught with this quantified looking back and planning ahead. But since I read that article, I’ve been thinking about the notion of lessons. I wondered what it is that I’ve learned. A decade is a long time, and because this past year was certainly a challenging and eye-opening one for me, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to ask myself what I’ve learned from 2014. So, in no particular order, here are some lessons I’ve learned in the past year:
I learned what it means to be a good friend. I learned how to ask for help. I learned that having an office with a door is helpful when crying at work. I learned that crying at work is not very productive, but sometimes necessary. Also, that crying in life is not very productive, but sometimes necessary. I learned how to find a therapist. I learned how to navigate online dating. I learned that Tinder is terrible.
I learned how to say goodbye to people, a dog, a city, and a life, and how to find my way in a new city, with new people, to build a new life. I learned that just because you move back to a place you once lived it doesn’t mean it will be the same as when you left it. I learned that it is heartbreaking to lose a pet. I learned how to make zucchini noodles and flourless peanut butter cookies. I learned how to cook for one. I learned how to hang curtains and what gender-free contra dancing is. I learned that I prefer Chipotle to Boloco, by a lot. I learned how to be the bigger person, even when all I wanted to do was yell and make prank phone calls and say mean things. I learned how to mourn for things that are not dead.
I learned to forgive, both myself and others. I learned that if I don’t have a pet of my own, I become that creepy lady on the street who will follow your dog. I learned what it feels like to have one of my books at work publish on time and be well-received, despite initial challenges. I learned how to adapt to great change, both personally and professionally. I learned when to let go and when to hang on. I learned how to ask for what I want (most of the time). I learned that, sometimes, if you’re in the right place at the right time, you just might end up in a magazine.
I learned how to be a leader. I learned how to be alone–and to revel in it. I learned that life doesn’t go the way you expect and people will shock you. I learned that you can feel beautiful even when your pants don’t fit you anymore. I learned that you can both love and hate someone at the same time. I learned how to comfort friends who’ve experienced great loss. I learned perspective. I learned what the water feels like in the Columbia River Gorge and how the doughnuts taste at VooDoo Doughnuts and that lavender grows all along the sidewalks in Portland. I learned how to dance in a disco cab and then at an empty hotel bar in Dallas. I learned how to organize a trip with friends. I learned what New Orleans smells like in the morning and what Bourbon St. looks like on a Saturday night. I learned what a lobster roll in Maine and oysters in Wellfleet taste like. I learned how to adjust my expectations.
I learned that sitting on my front porch is one of my favorite activities, and also that having a parking spot makes having a car in the city practically painless. I learned that driving to the grocery store makes grocery shopping less miserable. I learned the geography of Jamaica Plain. I learned that you can’t keep every friend. I learned that there are good men out there. I learned my own self-worth. I learned that you get what you give. How to take a writing class and how to take writing criticism. How to stop taking everything personally. How to appreciate all I have. How to march in solidarity and defend my beliefs. How to not let the weight of the world diminish the simple pleasures of every day life.
There are, of course, countless more, and all of these are not 100% complete–I am, as always, a work in progress. I do sincerely feel like I learned a great deal this year, and while I’m grateful for those lessons, I’m really hoping that 2015 isn’t a quite so lesson-laden year.
What has 2014 taught you?