Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Horrible Things and Beautiful Things: Sublime Mercies' First Year

From: Cloche Hats, Dress Clips, and Aesthetic Escapism

It's been a little over a year since I started this blog. From the very first post, a few things were clear: my blog was not only about style; it was as much about the writing as it was about the images; it would seldom show conventional poses; it would be full of vintage and retro fashion; and it would be full, just FULL, of jewelry.

It would also be feminist. I wanted to join the community of style bloggers who were, whether consciously or not, kicking back at the limited definitions and parameters of beauty that we have had forced upon us as women. I wanted to do what other style bloggers had helped me do: expand definitions of beauty to include older women, short women, fat women, women of colour, disabled women, and other groups who have been told, over and over again, that we can't be beautiful. Hogwash!

But I also had a covert reason for writing this blog. Though I didn't say so, it was, in large part, my effort to find a way to cope with both severe chronic pain, and PTSD. By overtly writing and sharing images about the things that bring me joy, what I call Sublime Mercies, I thought I could increase my own pleasure in being alive, despite its pains.

I was right.

I had no intention of writing about my suffering, at least not my PTSD and its causes. But, slowly, it became clear to me that my story was integral to being honest, even about my style. Tentatively at first, and then more and more overtly, I wrote about having been a sex trafficking victim as a child, and about how that severe sexual abuse caused the back injury that eventually led to my disability and my PTSD.

From: Sexy Teacher? Naw, just a pleated skirt and lots of blue

I really did think that I was just going to write about pretty things.

From: The Beauty in Getting Older
I thought my blog would mostly feature nice outfits, beautiful images of nature...

From: The Waves: A Universe of History in a Ring

... and lots of jewelry...

From: Pretty In Pink: JQ Clothing and the Diversity of Beauty

... especially brooches -- grandma brooches to be exact, the more old-fashioned, the better.

From: The Tenure Dress: Part Two

Indeed, many of my posts are still "just" about fashion, and, I think most of my readers are still those into style, including other style bloggers.

From: Tweedy, Sexy Librarian?
To this day, this post, which is really just about style, is my second most read, probably because it has the words "sexy" and "librarian" in the title.

From: The Oprah Dress: or Making Beau's Jaw Drop
I had a lot of fun with style this year. Even if I could only go out for a little bit because my back was hurting terribly, I had a reason to dress up -- to take photos and write posts for you, dear readers. You gave me ideas and great feedback. My old sense of whimsy in dress really returned, as did a sometimes shaky faith in my own beauty.

Even if I didn't always feel beautiful, I felt worthy of adorning myself -- my aching, pained self -- with beautiful things.

From: The Beauty In Getting Older

There was also some hair vanity. 

From: Small Blessings: Birds and a Balcony

There was quite a lot of hair vanity, actually. I'm not confident about a lot anymore, but I'm still relatively confident about my Jewish hair. After all, I'm forty-three and have yet to dye, perm, or straighten my hair. Who can say that?

From: Well of Allusion: Charlotte Likes Chloe and Olivia

Though some of my feminist, leftie, academic friends seem dismissive of the value of style blogs, I am not interested in shifting my blog entirely away from its style focus. I'm having far too much fun to do that. And I do still see genuine feminist value in what I'm doing.

However, it quickly became evident that, even if my blog remained entirely about style, which seemed unlikely, my disability was relevant and could not be left out of the discussion.

I'm not sure the able-bodied think much about how disability can affect one's style and self-image.

From: Chalotte Issyvoo Rocks the Schoolmarm Shoes

Shoes, for instance, become an instant issue for those with mobility struggles. I used to wear high heels a lot. I still have them stored in boxes in the basement. I honestly couldn't really imagine looking good or well-dressed without wearing heels.

But there is no way on God's earth that I can wear heels anymore without causing myself severe and lasting pain. I won't do that to myself.

From: Feeling Like Piglet: All Brave In Brown and Gold

So I began trying to find lovely flat footwear. And I wrote about it, because it was part of my style story.

From: Chalotte Issyvoo Rocks the Schoolmarm Shoes

But there are other things too. For instance, with my disability, I gained a lot of weight. And with that weight gain, I gained something else I'd never had before: breasts. Like, real, there they are, boobs. I liked them, but I really had no idea what to do with them or how to dress them.

So, if you were wondering why I mention my chestal area so often in this blog, now you know. They're new to me, and a lovely accessory to many an outfit.

From: Heat Wave: Body Image Blues and Canada Day Courage

But I will tell you honestly that my body image has suffered tremendously with this disability. I still struggle with that.

Though my tale is a particularly sad one, I think any style blogger who is being honest will tell you that body image is a part of her style story.

So I wrote about that too.

After all these years, fat is still a feminist issue.

From: Valentine's Day: The Beauty of Love
Having Beau in my life has certainly helped me with my body image as he thinks I'm beautiful and tells me so every day.

Perhaps, then, it was no coincidence that it was when I wrote about my love for Beau that I found the courage to begin to write about the abuse I endured as a child. I was terrified to write this post. I thought I was very clearly stating, "I was sexually abused," but apparently I wasn't. Most readers didn't even notice it or realize what I was trying to say.

From: Feeling Like Piglet: All Brave In Brown and Gold

I continued to write about abuse in ways that I thought were very clear but readers continued to miss. In this post, I wrote about filling out forms for victims of violent crime. My goal in filling out these forms was to try to get some money to deal with both my back injury (which has made full time work impossible) and my PTSD.

I thought people understood. They didn't. Is that because I was being too shy and not being clear, or is it because people just want to remain blind to the realities of child abuse? I think it's both. 

From: Victory and Defeat: A Wheelchair on a Mountain Top

This blindness to child abuse does bother me, and I guess I just stopped having any interest in helping people maintain it.

When I finally spoke with my doctor and my physiotherapist about the extent and brutality of the sexual abuse I experienced, they were adamant that this was the cause of my disability. I was devastated.

And I wrote about it -- explicitly, finally. I "came out" as a survivor of child sex trafficking. The response was pretty overwhelming and supportive.

People started calling me "brave", "strong", "courageous", and other adjectives I would not often think to use for myself. 

But, you know, they're right. No-one could survive my childhood with her soul intact the way I did without being damned tough. This fact, this fact of the survival of my spirit has been frequently commented upon by my readers. I'm starting to take some pride in it.

And, yeah, it does take courage to write about all this.

It was around this time that I came up with this signature image -- my feet astride a sign saying, "KEEP OUT" -- and this signature phrase: "Trespassers will be electrocuted." You'll see this in several posts, in different weather and with different outfits.

It means I'm learning to see my body as entirely mine and entirely sacred. Those who violated that sanctity are criminals and I should see them as such.

From: When Christmas Is A Trigger: Enduring the Holidays with PTSD

Just before Christmas, I wrote my most daring post yet, in which I graphically described some incidences of sexual abuse that occurred on Christmases past, and the reasons why I seem to get sick every single Christmas. I explained what a trigger is, and how it relates to PTSD and trauma.

Yet again, those who knew me and had been reading my blog reacted with shock at what had happened to me. Yet again, I was shocked that they had not understood the severity of the abuse. I suspect they're going to be shocked some more in the coming year as I tell even more of my story.

Silence just no longer interests me.

But this latest post also elicited something that surprised me: rage. My readers were filled with rage at my abusers. It had never occurred to me that such a response was appropriate. My God, I thought, did I really value myself that little? I'm starting to try to feel some of the rage that my readers feel.

From: Pleasant purple: Soothing the Pain of PTSD

Of course, in writing about the abuse, I also wrote about PTSD. This was the first post in which I wrote about it really directly. I told readers that this face, showing in my wan smile the struggle of PTSD ...

From: Bringing the Spirit to Its Knees: Chronic Pain and Depression
... and this face, which shows the severity of my physical pain, are my real faces. They show the real me.

From: Retro Girl: 40s Flair

However, many of my old friends are most struck with how often they see me smiling in my blog. They say they never used to see genuine smiles on my face. That's nice to hear.

I realize that my smiling face is also my real face, also the authentic me.

From: Small Blessings: Birds and a Balcony

So my blog became overtly about what it had always been about covertly: the little beauties that helped me to survive and even thrive, and still do so to this day.

Of course, that means I wrote about birds on my balcony.

From: Morgan's Pendant: The Cat Who Taught an Abused Youth How To Love

And about cats. There are lots of cats in my blog.

This particular post about little Morgan, who died a few years ago, and the pendant I designed in his memory, evoked a lot of tears. I seem to make my readers cry a lot. Sorry.

From: Schoolmarm Skirt: End of Term Blues -- In Red

I also found myself writing a lot about the knowledge I've gained from one of my lifetime passions: learning.

In my "real life", I'm a college English instructor, and I do sometimes write about my work, including my frustrations with North American post-secondary institutions as they are today.

But mostly my passion has come out in a natural tendency to share the things I've learned with my readers. I just get so fascinated by things that I can't imagine others wouldn't be fascinated too. And, in the end, isn't this what a teacher does?

From: Cleopatra, King Tut, and Me: Art Deco's Mania for Egypt
This has led me to write about all kinds of things, especially fashion history. In this post, I wrote about the influence of the discovery of King Tut's tomb on Art Deco fashion. 

From: Retro Girl: 40s Flair

In this post, I wrote about 1940s fashion history but found myself including information about the 60s and the 80s too.

Of course, given my career, I often also write about or reference literature, from lesbian literature in the early 20th Century ...

From: Charlotte Issyvoo: Girl Convict in an All Girl Prison!

...  to pulp fiction "girl prison" narratives of the 50s and 60s ...

From: Looking Jewish: Sally J. Freedman and Me
... to how my childhood resemblance to a fictional character in a Judy Blume novel helped me recognize my own Jewish ethnicity and appearance.

From: The Waves: A Universe of History in a Ring

My love of literature naturally expands to a love of art, design, and cultural history. When I bought this ring, I wrote a piece about the history of the "swirl" image in art, from 1,000 year old illuminated manuscripts, to Art Nouveau jewelry, to the steam rising off baked goods on a mural in my neighbourhood.

From: Gay Pride: Charlotte Issyvoo Goes Camp

I also wrote a fair bit about queer issues. As a bisexual woman, I have a long history of queer activism and I suppose I continue that trend in my blog.

Plus, let's face, it, the fashion is so much fun!

From: Cozy Colours

Part and parcel with both my feminism and my queer advocacy, is a strong critique of gender as it's learned by and even forced upon children and adults in our culture today.

From: Rehearsing Masculinity: Gender Fuck in a Bow Tie

Though I'm very feminine in appearance, I've encouraged gender bending, in fashion and in thinking, and I've spoken of the great fun in doing so.

From: Red Rain: How To Brighten a Dark Day

But, again, not all my posts are Deep or Intellectual.

I also write about rain -- a lot.

From: West Coast Summer Solstice: Quaker Grey

It's impossible not to write about rain here. That's why you see so many jaunty hats in my posts: to keep the darned rain off my face. People here seldom carry umbrellas but we sure do love us our hats.

Plus, carrying an umbrella hurts my back, but wearing a hat doesn't. If you're able-bodied, I bet you never thought about that, did you?

From: Red Rain: How To Brighten a Dark Day
I have my strategies for dealing with the dark rainy season.

Did I mention that it rains a lot here? It really rains a lot. Really.

From: The Beauty in Getting Older
But I adore my part of the world and I think that's evident in my posts. Often, my blog seems like a bit of a love story to the west coast of Canada.

From: Heat Wave: Body Image Blues and Canada Day Courage
Where else is a park like this right in the middle of the city?

From: Small Blessings: Birds and a Balcony
Where else in northern climes can you see hummingbirds all year round?

From: Early Spring on the West Coast: Purple and Pink and Yellow, Oh My!
Where else are spring shoots coming out of the ground within a week of the official first day of winter?

One thing I did know when I began this blog was that nature would figure prominently in it.

From: Try to Catch the Sun: Bright Strategies for a Rainy City

Yes, we do have to hoard the sun when it comes, because soon it will be gone, but I don't mind. Most of us don't.

From: Perky in Pucci: How to Brighten a Blah Day
In addition to being a love story to my city, this blog has turned into something of a love story to my very bohemian, left wing neighbourhood, with its many great cafes...

... its art and activism...

From: A Slimming Dress, A Great 'Hood, and a Little Boy's Blessing

... its intellectualism, and its genuine community spirit.

I love it here. It's not just where I live. It's my home.

From: My New Neighbour: Beau Leaves the Burbs

And now it's Beau's home too! Beau moved into town from the dreaded suburbs this year, and I couldn't be happier. Both he and his boys (who live with him) love it here too. Every time we go out together, Beau comments on how great our neighbourhood is.

From: Lovely Lazy Day

Yeah, Beau is a big part of this blog too.

Beautiful Beau. I'd given up on finding love... and then I found it. How about that?

You know, this blog was Beau's idea. And he now admits that he knew I'd end up writing about heavy stuff. He had a secret agenda: get Charlotte writing again, because she's supposed to be a writer, and her life story will start pouring out. "Baby steps," he says -- toward the book he's sure I will some day write.

From: Valentine's Day: The Beauty of Love

So let's see what this next year brings, both for this blog, and for all of our lives.

Let's keep each other posted, shall we?


  1. This is my first time here in your blog. I read this post and felt that I had read it from the first day you started writing it.
    What a great writing and courage to write about all of that.
    I'm happy that the New Year brought me a new thoughtful blog!!!!
    You're right, I loved it so much that I want to be a follower.....
    Let's keep in touch?

    1. Thanks and I'm glad you'll keep reading. Who knows where the blog will go this year?

  2. Never saw your blog before today, so all I can say is, wow! Never realized what an all -encompassing blog you've worked on over the past year! Glad that you love your location (West Coast of Canada), as that's where I used to live. But I always felt the call of living in Europe, and when I first set foot in England, I knew that this was THE PLACE for me. Different strokes for different folks, hey?

    Have you read The Thoughtful Dresser? I think you would find it parallels some of what you've discovered for yourself: that how we dress can actually be a healing experience, and not just something to keep out the draft. It's not as trivial as it appears at first glance, or as trivial as some folks would have you believe. I think you would enjoy it.

    Cheers, an ex-Vancouverite living in England,
    Rosemary of

    1. I wasn't born here but, for me, this is home as Europe is for you. I know the drawbacks of my chosen home, and have lived in much bigger cities, including NYC, but here I am and here I'll stay.

      Thanks for the reading suggestion. I'll check it out.

  3. The eloquence with which you write your painful story and combine it with your love of style is true art. Thank you for all that you give and for sharing your love for hats with Hat Attack.

    1. Thanks! And thanks for sharing your elegance with all of us.