Friday, August 30, 2013

The "girl next door" in hell; or, you can't tell by looking

Shirt: GFY Press; Shorts: Reitmans; Clutch and sunglasses: thrift
To break with my own general style trend, I tried to look tough on this day. Though I've always been a rebel in my own way, I've never been very good at looking the part.

Boots: thrift
This day's look started with the boots, which I got for $5.00 from a street vendor. Sure, I know, Nike isn't very "street" but it put me in mind of a kind of rocker chick, street look popular in my youth in the 80s.
Chris Walter
I thought I'd toughen up the look with a shirt that bears the logo of my friend Chris Walter's press: Go Fuck Yerself, or GFY, for short. A flaming typewriter and a swear word? On a t-shirt? Now I was street!

Okay, Chris is punk, and I was going for more of a rocker look, but both looks have a rebel spirit to them. Besides, I was going for what I thought a rebel looked like when I was a kid in a tiny mill town. My scope was still pretty limited back then.

Diamond ring: Birks; Dragon rings: a vendor where I work; Stackables: two bespoke, one boutique; Costume ring: vintage
I tried pretty hard to look scary tough...

... but Chris will always look tougher than I do, no matter what he wears and no matter what I wear. Trust me: I've seen this guy in fuzzy slippers and you still wouldn't want to mess with him.

It's not just his tattoos and height that make him seem so different from me. It's about how we move. My mannerisms have always been extremely feminine, in an old-fashioned kind of a way. His? Not so much.

Crystal rocks: found by Beau's son
Yet, the simple fact is that, to survive my life, I've had to be tougher than anyone I know.

Looks can be deceiving. 

Bracelet: vintage
Throughout my childhood and teens, I experienced horrendous brutality and violation which I don't think anyone could survive --  spiritually, mentally, or physically -- without being stronger than strong and tougher than tough, whether it shows or not.

By the time I was eleven, I had been subjected to sexual abuse so severe that my back was permanently injured, eventually leaving me disabled and in chronic pain as an adult. 

Not to mention the inevitable PTSD.

Earrings: Jessica
So, yeah, I'm tough like you can't even imagine, regardless of how sweet I might look and how sweet I looked as a kid. I am sweet -- sweet and tough.

I always wanted to be the obvious tough kid, the one who wore his pain and anger in his clothes, his face, his actions, and his mannerisms. Like John Bender in The Breakfast Club.

I sure as hell could relate to his emotions and I knew why he acted like he did. At the time, I thought I lacked the courage to be that way. Now I think I had a different kind of courage.

I was deeply drawn to such characters and I also wanted to be like them but it just wasn't me.

Me, at about fourteen.
I looked like this, and I had the grades and even the personality to match.

The worst part is that I thought I looked tough and cool in this photo. See that curl over my left shoulder? "Tails," longer bits in shorter hair, were all the rage then. That cute little curl was my failed attempt at a tail. The mismatched earrings? Street, man, really street. The stripey shirt? I could have been in a rock video? Right?

Again, not so much.

I could just never could pull it off.

People were always shocked if they saw me do drugs or smoke a cigarette. "You?!" they'd say incredulously. They said I looked like the Ivory Girl or "the girl next door." They were right. I did. A Jewish Ivory Girl but, yeah, pretty squeaky clean.

My face and body did not betray anything I was going through, or any of my rebel spirit, even when I was being kind of wild.

And, yes, I sometimes was pretty wild at a very young age. I did drugs, I partied, I had sex too young. It all seemed normal to me and fine. It was going on in my home. Why shouldn't I do it too?

But I was always too sensible to really go crazy and behave as people thought rebels behaved. It wasn't really in my nature.

See that little girl on the left? That's me at fifteen.
I really always was too sensible to be a complete rebel of the sort generally recognized as rebels. I saved most of my anger and rebellion for political action, fighting for the oppressed but not for myself.

Yet I sure did know how those more obvious rebels felt.

I wanted to be like Kristy McNichol in Little Darlings: angry, a little butch, scary, visibly old beyond my years. Watch the above video to about 1:20 and you'll see what I mean.

I did not want to look sweet and innocent. But I did.

I wanted to be like this.

Me at about fifteen.
But I looked like this. I don't think anyone ever looked a me and thought, "Something is wrong in that child's life. That child needs help." I wish they had.

In psychobabble talk, I was and am what they call "high functioning." There are a lot of kids and adults like that out there: we seem normal but we've lived through, or are still living through, hell.

In other words, you can't tell by looking.

The fact is that as much as I was tempted by the forms of rebellion I saw around me, I just couldn't bring myself to that level of self-destruction, no matter how much relief it would have brought me in the short term. 

Some kinds of rebellion, some kinds of acting out, can destroy one's future and I just couldn't do that to myself.

Believe it or not, this is actually a burn that I got from a flying popcorn kernel catapulting out of my popcorn maker. But it looked so much like a track mark, I just had to use it in a post.
I knew and know that many with backgrounds like mine self-medicate with heavy drugs. How many junkies were abused children when they began shooting up? Christ, how many people were, like me, given drugs by their parents and elders? There were drugs in my home, and I did take some drugs, but I never got very serious about it. It's not my style.

I just had plans for myself, I guess.

I wouldn't let my past defeat me. I wouldn't rebel in ways that would ultimately ruin me. 

I couldn't look the part. But I couldn't be the part either. I wanted too much for my future. My rebellion just had to be more constructive.

The rebellions I'd seen in others ended up hurting them, not their abusers. I was damned if I'd destroy myself. That would be letting my abusers win and there was no way that was going to happen.

I think at some point I realized that my power was in my brain. I was smart, and I knew it from a very young age. I was arrogant about my intelligence but I think that arrogance helped me have both confidence and plans. I wanted to go to university. I wanted to write. I loved study and I did well in school. 

All this, I thought, would take me somewhere I wanted to go. I didn't think so much about money or security, not then. Instead, I thought about the world of the mind and of learning, and of writing. That was the place I wanted to go.

Somewhere inside myself, I decided not to run away until I finished school. I graduated from high school with academic honours. Five days later, at seventeen, I left home. 

It was not easy. I was very very poor. I worked my ass off for a good education, good grades, and a resume in writing and editing. I was an editor at my student paper and at a local gay newspaper. I was a good, if confrontational and opinionated student. I became an ESL teacher, and, then, after getting an MA in my thirties, I became a college English instructor. 
Lately, I'm becoming a writer again, after a fashion.

I did all of this with PTSD.

I will admit that these days, as I realize that my disability is probably permanent, I do feel somewhat defeated. Because of callous pedophiles who used me when I was a child, my physical pain prevents me from reaping the full benefits of my achievements: I can't work full time so I'm again poor; and my active life is gone. Sometimes, I do feel like my abusers won. 

Still, this doesn't change what I accomplished and what I may still accomplish in my future. Most of the people I work with and most of my students know nothing about my past, though I guess now some of them will. I think most people believe that those with pasts like mine can't achieve much, but we can, and we do.

You can't tell by looking -- at a face, or a lifestyle, or a resume.


Even Chris would agree that the street life and the junkie life aren't very constructive forms of rebellion. He was on the streets and doing hard drugs for years and years, but now, he too is a writer.

We can bang our drum with our words, not self-destruction.

Instead of turning my pain, anger, and indignation inwards, I can direct my words outwards, in my teaching and in my writing, perhaps even making a difference in the lives of others. Ultimately, it's a much better form of rebellion than the ones I so admired when I was a child.

So, oi, you nasty abusers! Take that!

I'll leave the final words to another tough chick whom I could never resemble: Pat Benatar, singing something of an anthem for me: "Hell is for Children."
(Since this post is all about being invisible, I'm posting it over at Visible Mondays.)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Oprah Dress: or making Beau's jaw drop

Dress: Purple Rain; Shoes: Wonders; Thin Gold Promise Ring: Bespoke (K Pepper Jewelry): Bangle, handbag, and rhinestone ring: vintage; sunglasses: thrift; Pendant: bespoke (Costen Catbalue); Gold earrings and diamond and gold ring: Effy; Hairband: Stylistics
I used to call this my Oprah dress. Why? Because the ovals on it remind me of her trademark 'O.' I'm not a huge Oprah fan, but I am a fan of her sense of style and I don't mind owning an Oprah dress.

I'd completely forgotten that I owned it. I was looking for something cool and comfortable on a hot day and I found this at the back of the closet. I hadn't worn it since before my back gave out, and I'm quite a bit bigger than I was then so I wasn't sure it would still look good on me.

But I thought it looked fine.

So did Beau. He liked this dress a lot.

I mean, he really really liked this dress. He kind of lost his breath when he saw it and kept saying things like, "This is my new favourite dress. Why haven't your worn it before? I really love this dress."

Glasses: Geek Eyewear; Shirt: Old Navy; Silver Promise Ring: bespoke (Frank's Jewerly)
He kept looking at me like this all day.

I can't say that I thought it looked quite as good as he did, but I do think it's flattering. Wrap-dresses and faux wrap dresses just seem to play up all the right features in an hour-glass figure, no matter how full that figure is.

The only type of woman a wrap dress doesn't seem to flatter is a very skinny woman. For all the rest of us, it's kind of a go-to style, guaranteed to look lovely.

Plus, the colours go extremely well with my own colouring, particularly my hair.

Now my hair, quite classically Jewish, is a bit of a puzzle for people. Is it red?

Or is it brown? As with my eyes, which are green in some light and brown in others, it seems to depend on the lighting and the season. I'm frequently asked if I've dyed my hair and I never have.

Both my hair and my eyes are pretty distinctly Jewish. The only time I've met someone with eyes like mine, he was another Jew. The only people I've met with hair like mine are also Jews. Think of Woody Allen's hair!

At any rate, it's no matter whether I'm a redhead or a brunette, with green eyes or brown eyes: oranges and browns suit me regardless.

I thought this look was quite 1970s, a time when browns were all the rage..., naturally, I had to pose in front of this van. I'm pretty sure it's a Westfalia.

We were being watched while Beau took these photos so I felt a little self-conscious, which only led me to ham things up more. 

Wearing my oval pendant to match the ovals in this dress was a no-brainer. So was wearing this swirly diamond and gold ring, and the orange and brown rhinestone one.

I always think about Morgan when I wear this onyx, gold, and diamond pendant. As some of you know, I designed it in remembrance of Morgan. You can read about that story here. Make sure to have hankies with you when you read it. Apparently, I have a knack for making my readers cry, or so they keep telling me.

The theme of the day was the colour scheme -- brown and orange -- so it wasn't hard to choose these sandals. I've been very happy with them, though finding them was a huge job unto itself. Finding footwear that won't hurt my back is really trying, for body and spirit.

Beau was so besotted with me in this dress that he was eager to take photos. So I thought I'd get a little artsy.

In these photos, you can get a better look at the tiny gold  "promise ring" Beau got for me. I wanted something very slim and unobtrusive so that it wouldn't clash with any of my outfits or any of my other jewelry. That way, I could wear it all the time. 

It's so thin that I'm a little worried it will wear through before we even get to an engagement ring, which is in our plans. Eventually, I want to replace this gold band with a whisper thin, shared-setting, diamond eternity band. That would go with anything, right?

At forty-two, having never been married, and only once before been engaged (to a woman, when I was twenty-four), I have mixed feelings about engagement rings. They seem so... so heteronormative, like a man is staking his claim on a woman before she stakes her claim on him. I abhor gender roles and do my best to avoid them in a relationship.

But I am a gal who loves any excuse for diamonds and beautiful jewelry, and I do think diamonds, being the toughest and most long-lasting of all the gems, are a nice symbol of love. So, okay, I'll do the engagement ring thing -- someday, down the line. 

I once insisted that, if I was going to have an engagement ring, Beau had to have one too. But that's just not in keeping with his personality. I can't be so hip on bending gender that I ask him to be someone he isn't. The compromise? He'll keep wearing his promise ring (which you can see above) till someday he switches if for a wedding ring -- that has a little diamond in it. He's fine with that and so am I.

Curly hair hint: No matter how poor you are, if you want your curly hair to look good, invest in a good, layered haircut three or four times a year, and use a good, anti-frizz product. (I use Sebastian Potion #9.)

But I digress.

I felt the lighting and the dress made it a good day to show off my hair, before the greys really start taking over. They are there now, more and more, but they're still pretty hard to spot. I'm not really concerned about how I'll look with white hair. I think it will look good. It's the in-between stage I'm more concerned about.

When that hits, I'm thinking I might go for being a redhead all the time, even in dark lighting.

After all, regardless of what others might think, my skin has always known that I'm a true redhead. I'm white as white can be, I cannot tan, I freckle like crazy, I burn in an instant, and I feel woozy after even half an hour in direct sunlight.

This is my skin after all summer outside. Really.

When I posed here, Beau wanted to continue to be artsy so he said, "Do something interesting." I did. I lifted my skirt like this. Apparently it was pretty high. Beau blushed all crimson and looked around to check if anyone had seen.

You see, Beau is convinced that everyone else finds me as attractive as he does; he always thinks people are checking me out when I'm pretty sure they're not. He's not the jealous or possessive type. He just thinks my beauty is an objective fact that others recognize.

It's cute and amusing and does wonders for my self-esteem.

For his sake, I lowered my dress -- a little.

It seems that the kitchen staff at the sushi place we went to were as artsy as we were that day. Those pinwheels are made of radishes with edamame. 

And just look at that little ginger butterfly.

I can't believe I'd never been to this place. It's right in my neighbourhood. I'm glad I did finally make it there and I'm definitely going back. In a city known for its great, and well-priced sushi, this place was really exceptional. 

At a certain point on a hot day, one gives up on one's hair vanity, ties it back, and digs in to a good meal.

It opened at 5:00. The line-up outside started at about 4:45. Who lines up for dinner at 4:45? People who have had this sushi, that's who. 

And so this artsy-fartsy gal, with her boyfriend framed in her sunglasses, says goodbye to another day. After all that walking and sitting, my back hurt like hell, but I guess it was worth it. A girl's got to live a little, even if a little is all she can manage.

(I'm linking this up to Visible Monday over at Not Dead Yet.)