Saturday, June 22, 2013

West Coast Summer Solstice: Quaker Gray

Boots: Ecco; Dress: Soprano; Camisole: Reitmans; Hat: from Barefoot Contessa ; Jacket, purse, earrings, necklace: vintage; Large Ring: Birks: Small ring: Mikel Grant
Summer Equinox got it all wrong this year. This was supposed to be the day with the very most sunlight in the whole year. But this is the West Coast. So it was gray. That's how it works here. It's gray. A lot.

So, when you think about it, Summer Equinox got it just right... for here.

Personally, I've learned to find incredible beauty in our gray coast. I fell in love with it when I was a six year old immigrant here, and I love it still.

When I look up at the slate gray mountains across the slate gray water, veiled in softer gray mist and clouds, I feel a deep sense of wonder and mystery, like I'm breathing in something mystical, maybe even divine.

 I like this photo because I think it makes me look like a little old lady.
Yes, sometimes I do trudge along in the grey and rain and feel a little brought down, but not as much as you'd think.

Classic Quaker image: The Presence in the Midst

Besides, I was raised Quaker. Quakers traditionally wore nothing but grays, whites, and blacks. If a Quaker lady can't learn to like gray, she's doomed.

Finding the mystical, the wondrous, and the divine within quiet, subdued simplicity is the Quaker way. It suits me sometimes.

My God, I still have cheekbones! What a nice revelation.
Though even this subdued outfit would not pass Quaker muster. Not with the lace, the green hat...

... and the jewelry.

It's true that there is an odd sense of stoicism that comes from living with this much gray and this much rain, but it's nothing compared with the stoicism the rest of Canada needs to endure its winters.

And I felt a little bit tough and "street" in my sombre grays, silvers, and black leather.

Besides, even on the gloomiest of days here, gray is not actually the only colour.

There is also green. There is a LOT of green. The forests are dripping with it. We are, after all, a rainforest clime here.

I may have chosen this forest green hat as an unconscious way to harmonize with my home.

My beautiful chosen homeland.

And we locals find ways to spruce it up... our own way.

And, when the sun does come out, even a little, it looks like this here.

And this.

So there!

I'm linking this up with Visible Monday on Not Dead Yet because, well, I think gray should be visible too. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thinking in Pink: not an oxymoron

Sunglasses: thrift; Earrings and smaller ring: vintage; Larger ring: Effy; Bracelet: from Barefoot Contessa; Blouse: I seem to have cut out the tag so who knows? But I got it at the Jean Queen ; Skirt: thrift; Shoes: Ecco
Remember the last time big huge rose patterns were en vogue? Yeah, that's right. It was the 80s. I had a Laura Ashley dress, splashed with big rose clusters that I loved at the time but look back on with great embarrassment. 

But why? Most of us who remember the 80s can agree that most of the fashion was awful. But the floral thing? Was it really that bad? It's quite... pretty.

So here I am, posing in front of the college where I teach, sporting huge rose clusters once again. And looking just fine, I think, despite my trepidation about repeating fashions past.

Beau laughed at these sunglasses (in which you can see him) when I got them. I don't know why. I think they're fashionable and fetching and I don't care what he thinks... much.
There was a time when I would not have worn something so feminine to teach a class. I wanted to be Taken Seriously and felt that such an overt embracing of the feminine would prevent that from happening.

But I've been teaching for a long time now and I'm confident that I know what I'm doing. I can teach Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in old dungarees or bedecked with pink roses. I know my stuff and my students know I know my stuff.

One of the perks of my job is that we really don't have a dress code so I decided a while ago never to buy clothes for work, but only to buy clothes for myself. The outfits would work themselves out and I'd feel much more like myself in the classroom.

Besides, who the hell says that pink and brains don't go together? That's just sexism, isn't it? A woman in pink can think!

These earrings proved to be a hit with my students anyway. Two students complimented me on them them as soon as I sat down at my desk. When I told them that the earrings are ceramic, they were amazed. I guess they assume everything is plastic?

After work, Beau came and picked me up in a co-op car which we had to drop off right next to this community garden.

I love the garden's whimsical shed that reminds me of nothing more than a hobbit home.

It is indicative both of my neighbourhood and of my city that such eco-whimsy exists in the shadow of some of the less savory aspects of urban living.

Above me is our rapid transit system and, behind that, a medical and office building. This little area is well known for crack, meth, and heroin and Beau and I passed several drug users on our way home.

But there was this garden right in the middle of it all, and a nice little residential street butting up against it. It's like that here. Even the areas with the ugliest social problems are green and pretty, and real neighbourly neighbourhoods are everywhere, coexisting with these problems. I'm used to it.

I just had to pose by this Volkswagon and motor cycle. As a child of hippies, I practically grew up in Volkswagon bugs, and my father has a passion for vintage and antique motorcycles to this day. Here, then, I am in a familiar setting.

Look at those cute, droopy eyes... on the bug, not on me.

Notice the weird stucco on the walls? It is an odd quirk of my city that many of our houses are sided with ugly stucco in greys, whites, pinks, and greens. Much of it is decorated with shards of broken glass. Seriously. It sparkles nicely in the sun, but it's as sharp as... well, broken glass. As a child, I frequently had cuts and scrapes just from accidentally brushing up against my own house!

This one is stucco too, but not the sharp kind, thank God.

I'd never met this kitty before. Beau, trying to get me home quickly, stupidly said, "There is no cute kitty on that balcony. No there isn't." Of course, I immediately looked and there was this sweet cat who came when I called him. He (the cat, not Beau) and I snuggled and chatted for a bit. He (also the cat, not Beau) did most of the talking.

Then he said goodbye and I haven't seen him since. I will though. I hope.

I'm linking this up to Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pink Parasol and Pale Skin: a necessary combination

Parasol: bought at Barefoot Contessa; Earrings: vintage; Tank-top: free bin; Sunglasses: thrift; Freshwater pearl necklace: gift from a friend

I am white white white.

So I hate hate hate the sun.

So, of course, I have a parasol.

And, of course, because I'm femme femme femme, it's pink.

Happy summer... to all you aliens who like that scorching orb in the sky.

Me and my white skin will just wait for fall.

(I've linked this up over at Not Dead Yet for Visible Mondays.)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Why I Teach: a student helps me remember

I'll be honest with you. There are times when teaching can seem like an utterly thankless task.

I teach English at a well-respected local college. I love and care deeply about what I teach: primarily literature, composition, and critical thinking. It is precisely because I care so deeply about it that I often don't love the teaching process itself.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, today's bubble wrapped generation of kids has been weaned on an educational system that tends to foster self-esteem over achievement, and emotional comfort over intellectual rigor. In other words, praise and grade inflation are common; being required to work hard and pay attention to details often are not.

Some of my students are shocked to find that they actually have to work hard to pass, let alone do well in college courses. Some are perhaps even more shocked to find that they have to attend class regularly, do their work on time, meet assignment guidelines... all without their instructors chasing them down for their work, cutting them unwarranted slack (warranted slack is another matter), or otherwise holding their hands throughout the process. In other words, they are appalled that they are expected to have self-discipline and behave in an adult manner. 

I am not the only teacher to feel this way by any means. If you doubt me, take a listen above to Branford Marsalis talking about his own experience as a teacher.

Add to all this the fact that admissions standards in colleges and universities have been lowered, and I find that I frequently teach students who aren't at all well-equipped to succeed in a post-secondary setting.

For example, at first, I was shocked to find that I had to teach basic grammar to students, starting with parts of speech -- nouns, adjectives, adverbs, etc. -- and moving on to the correct use of commas, apostrophes, quotation marks, and capitalization. Now, I'm just used to it. But I'm not happy about it. My field is literature and the history of the English language. Grammar is, or should be, the purview of elementary and secondary school.

Finally, a university degree has now become what a high school diploma once was: necessary for any white-collar job. Therefore, many... okay, most of my students are not getting a post-secondary education for the love of learning, or even to fulfill any specific dream or ambition. They are there to Get A Good Job in a Good Company, any job, any company.

Money and ease are the goals, not learning.

I was trying to show off my eye makeup in this photo, since I so rarely wear makeup, but you can't really see it.
This can all be pretty damned demoralizing for someone like me who is passionate about the joys of  life-long learning, the importance of critical thinking skills, the beauty of language, and the nourishing potential of literature. 

Look how proud he is! I love that he's so proud.
Yet I have never once taught a class where there wasn't at least one student in it that I really enjoyed teaching. 

This is not always because they are the smartest, or even the easiest students. Sometimes, a student is just really engaged with the material, even if she is not doing well in the class. Other times, a student challenges my teaching in an informed manner, proving to me that he has not only read the material (in itself a wonder of wonders) but has grown interested in it and formed opinions about it. Other times, a student is just refreshingly respectful and attentive. Sometimes, a student comes from a really rough background and finds, in me, an understanding rarely found in the sometimes rarefied and privileged academic environment.

Dress: Reitman's; Shoes: Ecco; Dress clips and bracelet: vintage; Cane: Sunburst; William's suit: hand-tailored in Shanghai; William's shoes: Deer Stag
But yes, there are also the students whom I love teaching because they are simply ridiculously smart. These are very often the same ones who challenge me the most. None of these categories is mutually exclusive.

William was one of these students.

William was, in fact, a student who thought English classes were a waste of time, a pointy-headed, intellectual game of spouting "deep thoughts" of no real value. I'm happy to say that I changed his mind.

He was very quiet in my class for the first few weeks, until the day I asked students to verbally paraphrase a passage from Donald Hall's "Four Kinds of Reading." As was always the case when I taught this essay, most students froze in terrified and/or bewildered silence. The few who did try blundered badly. Then: more silence

Then William put up his hand with a confused look on his face that clearly read, "Why are people finding this so difficult?"

Calling on him, I said something like, "Go ahead, state the obvious," and he proceeded to give me a perfect, succinct synopsis of the paragraph. What a joy! 

What a relief.

Shortly thereafter, William came to my office to speak to me. I'd been having a very difficult semester with "problem" students and I had not yet received tenure, so I was worried about what was to ensue. Was this student angry with me? Was he about to go over my head and complain about me for some imagined slight?

No, nothing of the sort.

William had discovered in my class that he liked school. My class, he said, made him feel "like an intellectual," and he really enjoyed that. He was starting to rethink his plans to become a high school teacher and was thinking about going all the way to a PhD.

What, he asked, was my advice about what English courses to take next and what major to pursue? We discussed his interests and I gave him advice from there, thinking either a degree in History or English would suit him well and telling him that the two disciplines dove-tail nicely. I advised him to take English survey courses to give him a foundation in literary history.

The rest is a bit of a legend. William proceeded to become the darling of every instructor who taught him. We all gave him good references, and worked hard to help him find work that would look good on his resume.

We all expected him to be our colleague sooner or later.

He kept in touch with many of us, often asking for our advice. When my back went out and I was bed-ridden, it hurt too much to respond to his questions by email, so I asked him to phone me instead. He and I ended up becoming friends. He was at my tenure party. He's helped me take a sick cat to the vet on more than one occasion. 

He was my first friend ever who is younger than I am.

Cape: a gift from Sal's step-mother
So when William, who did not have familial support through his degree, asked me and his former History instructor to attend his convocation, I was more than happy to say yes. He'd done well, all on his own, with top grades in his honours degree in History and a minor in English. I had attended my own undergraduate convocation without any family too and I knew that having someone there in his corner would mean a lot to him.

I was touched and honoured that he asked.

I also knew it was going to be painful for me to drive all that way and then sit for that long, but it was important to me to attend. Worse, in addition to my back injury, I also have endometriosis and it was flaring badly that day; a lower back injury and endo are a pretty deadly combination.

I brought my cane and I was glad I did.


I didn't just lean on my cane. I leaned an anyone and anything else I could, as you can see here as I use William as a second cane.  

But, of course, a little bling helps. On this day, I finally found a good excuse to wear my dress clips, all three of them, as they would have been worn in the 30s and 40s. The faux wrap dress had a bit of a 40s vibe to it so the clips and all the sparkle went well with it.




Ring on left hand: Birks; Ring on right-hand: heirloom
If you can't bling at a convocation, where can you bling? 

I wanted to wear shoes more in keeping with the 40s vibe but I knew my back wouldn't hold up to that. 

William and I both put a lot of thought into what we wore. He asked my advice: a Western suit or a Mao suit? He began to describe a Mao suit to me and I stopped him, saying, "Um, William, you're talking to me. Of course I know what a Mao suit is!" 

The choice was obvious, was it not?

In keeping with our chosen fields, we were both a little retro.

Beau's glasses: Geek Eyewear; Pants and shirt: thrift. I bought the shirt for him and I think it looks pretty good. Oh, and that ring you can just see on his hand? That's an upcoming story.
Though I'm not really fond of this photo of me, I just had to show you this splendid view from the rose garden at William's university. When we all went there to take photos, William confessed that he'd never been to the garden and had never spent time gazing at this view through the whole course of his degree. After all, he told us, he was there to learn, study, and work, not to enjoy flowers and views.

I found this a little sad.

So here's to William's continued academic success... and here's to his learning to stop and smell the roses on the way. He deserves it

And here's to William thanking me for teaching, when teaching sometimes seems like a thankless task.

(I'm posting this over at Not Dead Yet for Visible Mondays because I think a story like William's should indeed be visible to all!)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Beau and Boo Wear Blue: the relativity of a woman's size

Jean jacket: thrift hand-me-down from a friend; Ring: Birks; Jeans and shirt: Reitman's; Hat: I don't know; Beau's hat: Jaxon; T-shirt: Old Navy; Jeans and dress-shirt: thrift
It was a dark and rainy day, and Beau and I had errands to run. It was not a dress up sort of a day. Each of us threw on an outfit quickly and without much care.

And lo! we matched. 

I found it so amusing, I had to take a photo, smudgy selfie though it was. Are we already turning into one of those old couples who look alike?

Later, when I looked at the photo, I was struck by how little I look next to Beau, or how big he looks next to me, depending on your perspective. I've been noticing this about style bloggers: they talk about accepting their "average" or "plus" size bodies -- and then they pose next to their partners and look tiny. By what crazy standards are we calling ourselves big?!? 

Holy lack of perspective!

Okay, it is possible that Beau dwarfs things, like our little car co-op cars, fetchingly complimenting our blue ensembles of the day.

But, really, I'm not so very big! 

In fact, Beau calls me Boo. That's his nickname for anyone "little and cuddly" and a bit roundy, like a cute cat or, well, me. "You're just little!" he says, with endless surprise, when he hugs me. "You're a little Boo."

I can't remember, but I think this started when he learned that I say "Kitty!" to my cat exactly as little Boo says it to Sully in the movie Monsters Inc.

Anyway, I like it. It makes me feel cute and sweet, something I haven't often let myself feel as I've wended my way through the world all alone. 

Brooch: vintage; Hair clip: Stylize
Did I say I put this outfit together without much care? Well true, but I took a little care. That's just how I roll.

I knew the denim went with the navy shirt, and I thought the dark day would be brightened by the blue and green vintage brooch. The way the weather changes here, I also knew the rain might stop and the sun come out, so I turned a hair clip into an adornment on my jacket. 

I was right. The sun did come out and the pavement steamed like a sauna. I was glad for the clip.

I wore the dove both because silver goes well with blue, and because I wear my dove on days when I'm feeling shaky and need a little bucking up. It's both a Jewish and a Christian image for divinity and hope, so it speaks to me. It's a little like a welcome visitation from the Holy Spirit, or whatever you want to call it.

Seriously, these cars are really little. I don't know how Beau folds himself into these things. The other day, an old lady bent over and peered inside at him, just to get a look at how anyone could even fit into such a car. She told him he looked cute in there. 

I agree, though he also looks tense. He hates driving, which, aside from environmental reasons, is why he doesn't own a car. I know better than to even get my license. I'd have a complete breakdown driving in the city, I'm sure.

The car is so little that, tired and grumpy after our errand (getting a back-friendly foam mattress for me and Beau to lounge on at his place), we thought Beau had forgotten to rebook our car and someone had driven off in it. You see, it was so tiny that we couldn't see it hiding between two normal sized vehicles. There we stood, grumbling tummies, big foam mattress, steamy pavement and all, thinking, "Now what?"

But I saved the day (or I like to think I did). "There it is," I said. "You just didn't see it because it's just little, like me!"

 Oh, and here's big Bobby, otherwise known as KITTY!