Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mystery Girl is a Real Doll

My local transit hub is not known for being an urban fashion centre. In fact, it's mostly known for being drug dealers' central. It's a corner I avoid when I can, not because it makes me feel unsafe, but because seeing all that human depravity makes me feel sad and uncomfortable.

This young lady, with her adorable, prim outfit and ladylike posture, most decidedly did not fit in.

She looked almost like an old-fashioned little doll, so neat and clean-cut, like maybe she was on her way to church, or had just stepped out of Jane Austen novel, only pausing briefly to modernize her look but still maintaining her fundamental gentility.

Her outfit was a bit of a revelation to me. Of course we all know that black and white look well together, but her particular combination of black and white was unexpected and superb. 

I wanted to ask if I could take her picture for Sublime Mercies, but there was no time. Her bus was about to arrive.

So I decided, rightly or wrongly, that it would be okay to take her photo as long as her face was not visible. So, dear reader, she'll always remain a mystery to us: the mystery of the girl who was a real doll.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mod and Op Art: The Dumpster Divers' Edition

Dress: from the trash (see below); Leggings: I totally forget; Boots: thrift; Earrings: Jessica; Headband: Stylize; Sunglasses, brooch, bauble ring, and black and white ring: vintage; Diamond ring: Birks; Shadow: Beau
I got this dress in the trash -- sort of. I live in a neighbourhood where it is simply considered rude to place one's good trash in the dumpster. Instead, one should leave good trash beside the dumpster where others can come and pick through it and take what they want.

So, to be technical, I got this dress beside the trash.

It's ended up being one of Beau's very favourite dresses on me.

I'm honestly not really sure why. It's not like it really shows off my figure or anything,which is often what causes him to exclaim over an outfit I'm wearing. 

I guess it has something to do with when he came of age: in the late 80s and early 90s, when short dresses with leggings and flat boots were all the rage. 

You know how it is; whatever was stylish when you first started noticing boys or girls (or both), well that gets stuck in your mind as forever sexy. Me, I still have a thing for feathered hair. I freely admit it.

But, actually, I think this outfit is far more reminiscent of 60s Mod than it is of early Grunge.

Mod fashion embraced Op Art. If you felt a little motion sick looking at a dress, it was just right.

It was the 60s, after all, when everything was weird and wild.

Pierre Cardin
Maybe it was because of all the drugs. Maybe it was because of all the excitement over the new space age. Whatever the reason, weird was good.

Like this brooch that is from the 60s, and my bauble ring which is more modern but suits the look, I think, because it's weird.

Basically, if your outfit would make someone's acid trip trippier, it was a far out, right on outfit, man. People generally know this about hippie fashion, but I think it can be said of Mod fashion too.

Now, as some of you know, I have recently had lessons in how to pose perfectly for a photo, and I tried. I really did. I stood elegantly with one foot in front of the other. I stuck out my chin. I tilted my head (way too far) to the side. 

I was terrible at it but I was trying. I was focused, I was determined, I was going to get this right...

... Oh look! A feather!

And a birdie!

And that was the end of Charlotte's efforts to pose perfectly. 

Pose schmoze! I was just me...

... being easily distracted, bird lovin' me. 

And reminding you all that trespassers will be electrocuted.

(I'm joining the fun over at Visible Mondays on Not Dead Yet.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembrance Day: sometimes war speaks for itself

I'm in the midst of marking essays and have no time to write a post, but I feel the need to do so anyway. It's Remembrance Day. 

We often hear people speak of "better and simpler times" in the past. I think those into vintage fashion are sometimes particularly guilty of glamourizing the past.

The truth is that no time in human history was ever better or simpler, not ever. Life has always been glorious and horrific, wondrous and terrible. 

And war has always been hell.

So I'm just going to post a few things that pretty much speak for themselves.

A Korean solider comforts his comrade. Considered the apex of masculinity, war can actually often break a man's spirit and take away whatever power (manly or otherwise) that he once had. This is beautifully illustrated in the following poem written during World War I by Wilfred Owen:

Dulce et Decorum Est (“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”  = “It is sweet and right to die for your country.”)
by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!--An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. 

This amazing sequence is from the movie Gold Diggers of 1933. It is a powerful testament to the need to remember and support soldiers when they return from war, even during times of economic depression.


A teenage girl is raped by Nazis and left naked on the street. We now know that rape is an extremely common "tool" of war. It has always been so, since before Homer wrote of women as a prize of war in The Iliad, and probably always will be so. The powerful poem Tortures, gives me chills every time I read it. Given my own history of having become disabled as a result of severe abuse, this is my favourite poem: 

Tortures by Wislawa Szymborska

Nothing has changed.
The body is susceptible to pain;
it has to eat and breathe the air, and sleep;
it has thin skin, and the blood is just beneath it;
an adequate supply of teeth and fingernails;
its bones can be broken; its joints can be stretched.
In tortures, all this is taken into account. 

Nothing has changed.
The body shudders as it shuddered
before the founding of Rome and after,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
Tortures are just as they were, only the earth has grown smaller,
and what happens sounds as if it's happening in the next room. 

Nothing has changed. 
It's just that there are more people,
and beside the old offences new ones have sprung -
real, make-believe, short-lived, and non-existent.
But the howl with which the body answers to them,
was, is and ever will be a cry of innocence
according to the age-old scale and pitch.

Nothing has changed. 
Except perhaps the manners, ceremonies, dances.
Yet the movement of hands to shield the head remains the same.
The body writhes, jerks and tries to pull away,
its legs fail, it falls, its knees jack-knife,
it bruises, swells, dribbles and bleeds. 

Nothing has changed. 
Except for the course of rivers,
the lines of forests, coasts, deserts and glaciers.
Amid those landscapes roams the soul,
disappears, returns, draws nearer, moves away,
a stranger to itself, elusive, 
now sure, now uncertain of its own existence,
while the body is and is and is
and has nowhere to go.

A fifteen year old, German, child soldier, is captured by the Allies during World War II. The problem of child soldiers has not gone away. As we all know, it is going on right now in Africa, and this short poem is about that:  

The soldiers are children and the monkey’s young.
He clings to my leg, heart against calf—
a throat filling, refilling with blood.
Last week, the children ate his mother—
dashed her head against the breadfruit.
A young girl soldier laughs,
tears the baby from my leg
and hurls him toward the tree.
See, she says, you have to be rough.
When she was taken, the girl’s
heart, too, pulsed in her throat.

And, finally, this is an image of extraordinary human tenderness in the midst of terrifying human cruelty. We are all capable of both -- tenderness and cruelty -- and it has always been so. There was never a better and simpler time.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Picture Perfect Poses: A Lesson from a Reader

On Jean: Dress: Kim's Boutique; Leggings: H&M; Booties: thrift; Vest: Wind River; Handbag: Coach. On me: Dress: ?; Earrings: Toni Cavelti; Diamond Ring: Effy; Brown ring, brooch, and bangle: vintage; Raincoat: London Fog; Shoes: Ecco
Jean was one of the first fans of Sublime Mercies.

She and Beau knew each other in childhood and she began reading Sublime Mercies when Beau posted it on his Facebook page. Soon after that, she wrote to me from Korea, telling me how much she was enjoying my blog. Needless to say, it was a good feeling.

Jean has taught ESL (English as a Second Language) in Korea and also works in educational publishing. I taught ESL for many years, mostly to Japanese and Korean students, so she and I have more than just Beau in common. 

Before long, Jean and I found ourselves frequently conversing on Facebook, when it was late at night here, and early in the morning there. 

So, of course, when she said she'd be in Vancouver for a few days, we arranged to meet for dinner. It was a chance for us to meet each other in person, for her to reconnect with Beau, and for me and Beau to meet her husband, Jun. 

I was amused by Jean's downy, puffy, fluffy winter vest. Clearly, she hasn't spent much time in Canada for a while if she felt it was cold enough for such winter wear. Me, I'm not even wearing tights with my outfit.

I don't know why, but I'd somehow expected Jean to be more demure. Maybe it was because she'd written to me about her shyness to wear certain types of outfits. Maybe it's because, like Beau, she was raised in an extremely conservative, doomsday cult and I expected some of that conservatism to linger. 

But it turns out that she is funny, loquacious, and brash -- like me.

We had a lot of rather talkative fun, while Beau and Jun were quite a bit quieter than we were.

Before we even got to the restaurant, Jean and I were talking fashion. 

Her boots remind me of a style that seems to be quite popular with local Native Canadians because it echoes traditional Aboriginal footwear. I recently met the mother of Beau's son's best friend (who is Native) and, not only was she wearing boots like these but, when I commented on their resemblance to traditional Aboriginal fashion, she told me that is why she had bought them and that she had bought two pairs for her daughter too.

It's interesting to see how fashion trends spread around the world.

When I first saw what Jean was wearing, I thought her short dress was sheer lace! So I thought she was very daring indeed.

Jun and Beau said they were bored with our talk of fashion, but I'm not totally convinced that they were. When we took this photo, we told them to "look manly." This was their very best attempt, local craft beers and all. Are they convincingly manly? Depends on your definition of manly, eh?

Note that each man is smiling fondly at his lady love: Jun at Jean, and Beau at me.

I'm not yet used to spending time with other couples as part of a couple myself. I was single for a very long time, and it still feels odd, this double-dating thing, almost like something mainstream people do, not me. It was kind of nice, though, to compare notes on our respective interactions with our partners. 

Of course, we had to talk about Jean's rather dazzling wedding ring. I wish I had a photo of it from the side; from that angle it looks like flower petals rising to frame the central diamond. Aside from its beauty, and aside from its being a sign of their commitment to one another, this ring is very special to Jean and Jun because Jun's mother, much beloved by both of them, picked it out before she passed away last year.

Me, I'm still struggling to commit to a ring. It's easy to commit to Beau but one ring, for life? That's a struggle.

This was also the first time I'd heard of "accent nails," the addition of a few sparkley nails to an otherwise more demure manicure. Now that Jean's shown them to me though, I often notice them on my students. 

Me, I've never even had a manicure, but I'm thinking of getting pedicures next summer, since it's now painful to simply cut my toenails, let alone paint them. If you're not disabled, I'll bet you never even thought of that: cutting one's toenails is difficult with a back injury.

Jean really wanted you, dear readers, to see the lovely colour this Coach bag. I don't blame her. I've always wanted a pair of boots this colour and have yet to own one. But hey, as Patti of Visible Mondays says, I'm Not Dead Yet. I'll own a pair some day.

Of course, now I too needed to share the details of my outfit. I always zero in on the details. As you probably know by now, jewelry is my joy, and I adore old costume jewelry brooches. I can never have enough.

I was really glad to see that both Jean and Beau have shed the worst of the inhibitions and body hatred imposed upon them by their cult when they were children. No-one who grew up in difficult circumstances can ever entirely shed the effects of those difficulties, but nor need our lives be entirely defined by them.

I mean just look at Beau, all hip and relaxed and stuff. No longer is he buttoned up to the neck, literally or metaphorically. 

This is his new look, thanks to me. I got him some plaid shirts at Value Village and now he's Mr. Hipster. He tends to wear "uniforms": almost identical, but nice, outfits, day after day. We're working on that. Diversity is fun!

So are the snap buttons on this shirt. I can "rip" his shirt off him lickety split, without actually damaging his clothes: the best of both worlds.

But my main memory of this evening is Jean's absolute perfection in posing for photos: chin out, head tilted to the side, gentle smile. She's like that in all these photos. Therefore, she always looks good in every photo. 

I've never managed that. Beau says I move too much, when he's trying to take my picture. Just as he gets the frame perfect, he says I wiggle, or worse.

There are always several photos of me talking, often because I'm giving the photographer instructions. I never seem to be content to just be the object of the photos; I must be their controlling subject as well. (Yes, that last sentence clearly reveals that I'm English teacher.) 

Every photo shoot contains several in which at least one of my body parts is blurry with motion.

I asked Jean to give me lessons on her picture perfect posing. Here's how it works: thrust your chin out to hide any soft, double-chin; do a little 3/4 profile to bring out the cheek bones; look sideways at the camera to seem sweet; smile gently. 

Even as I burst out laughing at the effort of all this, Jean kept her pose and her composure perfectly.

But look, it really does work! See how lovely and sharp chinned we are? Too bad this blurry photo is the only one in which I actually got it right. As you'll see in future posts, I've tried it since and I still can't get it right. This time was a fluke, I think, but I'll keep trying.

Maybe some day I'll look sweetly demure in every photo. But don't hold your breath.

(I'm posting this over at Spy Girl for her purple fun.)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Red Rain: How to Brighten a Dark Day

Hat, brooch, earrings, and boots: thrift; Jeans, sweater, and camisole: Reitmans; Raincoat: London Fog; Ring: boutique
It's autumn now.

It's the season of bright and beautiful leaves.

And more beautiful leaves.

And, if you live in my part of the world, lots and lots of rain. Seriously: a LOT of rain, sometimes for days or even weeks on end. Note the river in the gutter by the red leaves above.

Now, I don't mind rain as much as many people do. It doesn't tend to dampen my spirits all that much. But, if I'm already in a bad mood when the dark, rainy stretches hit, well, it doesn't help.

I was already in a bad mood when when this dark day rolled around. I was cranky and angry. I was angry with the people who abused me and left me crippled. I get stuck in a bad mood cycle: I'm in a terrible mood because I'm in physical pain, I'm in pain because I was abused, I could feel better if I could exercise, but I can't exercise because I'm in pain, and that's because I was abused.

And, no, the rain didn't help.

So I couldn't exercise vigorously as I used to. At least I'd walk as much as I could -- not much, slowly, with pain, and in the rain -- but maybe it would help, at least a little.

And I'd brighten the dark day as much as I could. Maybe that would help too.

It started with the boots that I found for a mere $10 at my local Value Village.

Up until the last ten years or so, this city was crying out for bright, cool rain boots. I used to wear gumboots, those dismal black and brick rubber things you'd imagine wearing to muck out a barn. But, in the last several years, designers have been putting out great, crazily coloured, rubber boots. I really like this idea of feminizing things that were once considered too practical to be pretty: rubber boots, hammers, whatever.

Needless to say, brightly coloured boots are a fashion trend that was readily embraced in my part of the world. On this day, Beau commented that all the women were proudly wearing them for the first time and it's true. We were.

He also commented that we'd all be sick of them in a few months and that's true too. We will.

But, for now, I was excited to wear my polka dot boots.

Once I'd picked the boots, the rest of the outfit came together from there: brightness was the key.

When I bought this ring, I thought it would be perfect for summer days but, by the time I'd walked out of the store with it, I'd changed my mind. This was a ring to make the dark rainy days a little brighter. This was a winter ring.

I wouldn't normally mix pink and red but the boots do and it seems to work, in an eccentric sort of a way, so I went with it.

And since I was going with going with clashing red and pink hues, I added these earrings to continue the polka dot theme in my boots.

And any dark day is made a bit better with a ceramic flower brooch, especially if it matches the mural behind you. I'm glad I live in a murally sort of a neighbourhood.

This pink wall is new in the neighbourhood. I really must thank those at JQ Clothing (formerly known as the Jean Queen) for choosing this colour for the wall of their new location. It's so fun, I have a feeling it's going to show up a lot in my blog...

... especially on days when the brightly coloured leaves so quickly turn to a brown, mulchy mush like this.


I've also got to thank Beau for loving my curves so much. When I took off my jacket for him to take this photo, he made a happy noise of appreciation. I knew he would. He loves my skinny jeans. I've gained weight since my back got bad and I just wouldn't have had the confidence to wear a "body con" outfit like this before Beau started bolstering my ego.

I've  been explaining to him about "plus sizes." He thinks the term is ridiculous. Lately he's taken to looking at me and saying, "Plus sized!" and then bursting out laughing at the absurdity of such a term applied to me. He thinks I'm wee.

There really is something very wrong with an industry that refers to healthy, normal sized women as "plus size." We need to get rid of the term altogether, for all women, of any size.

But, if there is anything about me that's "plus" now, it's my curves, and Beau thinks that's a very good thing.

He was supposed to be photographing my earring here. He thought he was being sneaky by getting a cleavage shot -- but look in the mirror behind me. Beau's busted!

Not that curves are very evident in weather like this, we're all so covered up. They'll re-emerge in the spring.

Until then, we'll all just have to recall spring in our outfits. Check out the flower on this hat! I got it for $10 at a local thrift store. Is it too flashy? I thought maybe it was but I got lots of compliments on it and the wide brim really kept the rain off, so what the heck? Besides, I love the current revival of cloche style hats. It's sooo 1920s.

One more bit of rainy weather sparkle? The rain drops themselves, rolling off my London Fog raincoat, caught in the flash of my camera.

There's a metaphor in there somewhere but I'll leave it to you to figure it out.

(I'm joining the fun on Style Crone's Hat Attack, Spy Girl, and Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet because, hey, look at my hat and boots!)