We’ve all made sartorial mistakes.
In case I should forget mine, there are plenty of pictures and videos of me that prove I’ve made misdirected fashion choices. I’m thinking of the belted baby doll dress in the second season of Quilty, the “are-those-cornrows?” hairstyle in the third season, the yellow nail polish on the first Love of Quilting series I un-officially co-hosted. These were all mistakes.
But we learn — not in spite of these misfires, but because of them — to internalize the truth: just because something is trendy does not mean you should wear it. Ballet flats give me piano legs. Cap sleeves cut me across the widest part of my arm. Most bluejeans add ten pounds to my frame. (Until very recently, when I actually found a great pair by accident, I had not owned a pair of bluejeans in over six years. There are other things one can put on one’s bottom half, you know.)
If you are sixteen, you can pretty much wear whatever you please as long as you can get out of the house before your mother throws her body against the door to keep you inside. But I have spotted the “hi-low” skirt trend and it is so bad, I don’t believe even a nymphy, achingly pretty sixteen-year-old could pull it off.
The hi-low skirt is a short skirt with a long, sheer skirt over it. What can the designers be thinking? It doesn’t make sense. It is not aesthetically harmonious. The short skirt is not cut in a remarkable way to begin with and then there’s this long, gauzy afterthought, this sheer mistake wafting all over the place. I think it makes a gal look like she’s fallen from a great height and has hit tree after tree on her way down, leaving ripped bits of her real skirt on the craggy branches. Now she’s just got one bit of dress left — a bit of dress and a slip underneath.
Oh, but I see it! I see the “hi-low” on the streets of Chicago. Not all over town, but some. And I look with wonder and I put on a black turtleneck. Turtleneck loves me, hi-low loves me not.
“Look at that!” my friend said, pointing across the street. “That’s a shoe.”
I looked over. It was a shoe. Just one. Nice, too. Pretty sexy. We crossed the street to investigate and I took a picture for you. My friend and I were full of breakfast.
Because you, gentle reader, are so gentle (and chaste and respectable and pious) I shall ‘splain to you something called “the walk of shame” because the shoe this morning was perhaps the best evidence of the WOS that I have ever encountered. The walk of shame happens when you spend the night at the home/apartment/dorm room of a paramour/booty call/random dude* and you have to leave and go outside. Sometimes you have to walk a fair piece because there are no cabs or bus stops nearby. A walk of shame can happen just to where you parked your car the night before; that definitely counts. Sometimes, you can’t find your purse/wallet and you have to walk the whole way. That’s gonna be the worst right there, because the only thing worse than the walk of shame is the long walk of shame.
The shame happens for the following reasons:
a) you have baggage about extra-marital sex (and you had some)
b) you are hungover (again)
c) you are dressed in the clothes you wore last night, as evidenced by the fact you are in a cocktail dress at nine in the morning, barefoot, your high heels wedged into your purse because your feet hurt
d) you’re being honked at (people not on the WOS love the WOS)
I did the walk of shame exactly once. I was in college. I was so far from home that morning that it makes me cry just thinking about it; there was no bus. There was no car. There was me, a sparkly blouse, and about a mile-and-a-half of questionable sidewalk between me and my sweet, sweet coffeemaker and bunny slippers. I got the honks. I got the cramp in my foot. I got the vodka headache and I definitely got the message.
But I had both my shoes.
*guys can do the WOS but because most dudes’ day clothes look similar enough to their goin’ out clothes, it’s less obvious. Also women + sex = societal shame, men + sex = “sowing oats”
I make quilts. While I sew, I enjoy various media. Sometimes it’s radio, sometimes it’s a podcast. A lot of the time it’s junky television via the Internet.
There is lots of great, game-changing television out there. I don’t watch it. It takes too much focus. (I can’t watch Mad Men and sew patchwork; it’s unfair to Don Draper and unfair to my quarter-inch seam.) Instead, I watch gameshows. Reality gameshows. Biggest Loser, America’s Next Top Model, and Master Chef are totally — like, totally — my favorite shows. They’re just engaging enough to keep me company but utterly devoid of real substance. Perfect.
So I fire up the HuluPlus and I let entire seasons play. The downside to this is that any mystery or magic used in putting the shows together is gone. I know the template now. The challenges, the editing, the hosts’ indignation and the tear-jerker stories behind the contestants — every show, every game, it’s all die-cut. What’s really hard to listen to after hour eight are the interviews. I’ve figured how they do them. I’ve never experienced an actual reality show interview, but I am 99% certain they play sections of the already taped show for the player and ask him/her leading questions about what they were thinking at the time. And I picture the interviewer being extremely bored because these players, they say the same thing every single time.
Interviewer: “What does this competition mean to you?”
Player: “This competition…it means everything to me.”
Interviewer: “When Heidi walks out, what are you thinking?”
Player: “I’m just thinking, ‘What is going to happen next?'”
Interviewer: “What are you thinking right now, when Susan put the shrimp on the plate?”
Player: “Right now, I’m just hoping I don’t go home.”
Interviewer: “What did you come here to do? Is this just a game to you?”
Player: “I came here to win. This competition is not just a game for me.”
And on and on. And every once in awhile, something actually dramatic or surprising will happen (doesn’t happen often) and I’ll whoop or holler while I’m pressing my fabric and if anyone saw into my condo, they would see that I am a nerd.
La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club was founded in 1961 in New York City by Ellen Stewart. The website says: La MaMa is a world renowned cultural institution recognized as the seed bed of new work by artists of all nations and cultures, and that it true, I have seen it with my own eyes.
Each year, La MaMa takes a handful of folks to a renovated convent in central Italy for a playwright’s retreat. The retreat is ten days, you must apply and be admitted, and the facilitator changes from year to year but is always a decorated, critically-acclaimed, commercially successful writer. The year that I was accepted into the program (yo, 2010!) I had the good fortune to study with Lynn Nottage, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright whose play Intimate Apparel is currently being adapted into an opera at the Met. I know.
Of all the provocative, creative moments Nottage encouraged and fostered in our group that year, I think back again and again to her List.
“Write down your five favorite authors of fiction who are no longer living,” she said. Sure, I thought, and breezily put down Woolf, Maugham, etc. “Now list your five favorite living fiction writers.” Everyone was scribbling on their legal pads. We did the same for non-fiction. Though this was fun, I was surprised at how many numbers there are in the number five. Maybe I didn’t have enough espresso at breakfast.
“Okay, favorite dead poets,” said Lynn. I know poetry better than the average bear, so I wasn’t daunted by this so much, except… Did I have five favorite dead poets? The world is spilling over with devastatingly beautiful poetry and choosing my five favorite poets should be extremely hard: hard because one could not possibly winnow it down to five. I got stuck at four. I was starting to dislike this exercise.
“Now, list your five favorite living poets.”
Full stop. Me no likey. The truth was, I didn’t know current poetry well enough to have one or two favorite living poets, let alone five. I was ashamed to admit that aside from a slam friend who I genuinely admire, only Billy Collins came to mind. Billy Collins!? I don’t even like Billy Collins, but I froze. I had one space out of four filled in and all my blathering about being an artist, being culturally hip was dissolving before my eyes. I was embarrassed.
“Now,” said Nottage, “Five favorite dead painters.” We were all fidgety at this point — we knew what was coming. “Now list your five favorite painters painting today.”
I had one: Chuck Close. But he’s just one of the few living painters I know of.
There were a few other prompts. When we were done, Nottage said, “Look at this list. Where are there holes? Those holes are your homework. And not just while you’re here, but from now on. Read what poets are doing today — how are they writing? How are painters painting today? Where is art going? These are your fellow artists. Explore their work, too, not exclusively the work of dead people. Living artists are important to us and to the world we live in. You should know them, find your favorites, and follow their work.”
And you? Do you know poetry? Who is painting today? It’s a big world out there and the ancient work, the vetted classics, they are classic for a reason; they stand the test of time. But this is our time.
Look around, investigate. Google. Visit new museums. Find the artists next door, not just the ones on the shelf.
Fall has come.
When I got back to Chicago after my balmy — and surprisingly rainy — trip to Atlanta last weekend, the slightest little chill in the air wafted under to my nose and it was unmistakable. Even if it hasn’t come all the way in the house, fall has a toe in the door.
Just like you can’t be a little bit pregnant, it can’t be “a little bit autumn.” When that chilled, sharp-edged air slices through the sky, you know what time of year it is and that you can’t go back. Maybe — and I’m serious about this — it’s death. Perhaps our human senses are tuned to the decay of the trees; after all, as leaves change color, they’re dying, getting ready to fall and hibernate and regenerate later. Maybe our spidey-sense is still intact all these millennia later and when we know it’s autumn, we are scientifically right.
Like so many of my white, middle-class, Midwestern brethren, I love fall. Marketed as it is as to us a time of pumpkin-spice lattes, fireplace make-out sessions, holiday plans, etc., how could we not love this season?
But there’s a disturbing ring to fall for me, as well. It is impossible to describe. When the chill comes, at least twice and sometimes as many as thrice, I will experience a palpable sense of dread. My throat feels like it’s falling. My heart aches. All the bad days, the late nights, the homework, the housework, the breakups. It’s ineffable, inexplicable; it’s all the in- words rolled up into a second’s worth of time when I’m walking on State Street, say, or stepping into a taxi.
I think it’s called melancholy. Or ennui. Or just surprise. Surprise that every year, fall slips in with pointy teeth for two seconds before it beams with a genuinely beautiful smile.