Sunday, August 10, 2014

Art School Madness, the Writer's Life, and the Counter-Culture as Home

When I put this outfit together, I was thinking of an art school look, circa 1980.

You know, like in the movie Fame. Do you see the woman in between Leroy and Coco? Her, the one with the vest, jeans, and pageboy cap. People like her were my inspiration for my outfit.

The hairstyle, a bit like Coco's, just made sense: natural, tousled, a bit bohemian.

There's something somehow irreverent and rebellious about pairing highly tailored business wear with more casual clothes like jean shorts. There's something cheeky in wearing your grandmother's necklace as a tie. It all bespeaks a certain art school student sensibility: wearing the clothes of businessmen in a way that shows a rejection of the businessman's "straight" life.

Shoes: Keds; Shorts: Reitman's; Vest, purse, sunglasses, earrings, barrette, D'Orlan brooch: vintage; Right hand ring: Effy; Engagement ring: Britton Diamonds; Monet Necklace: was my maternal grandmother's; Bracelet: was my paternal grandmother's
As cheeky as it may be, this deliberate rejection of mainstream values does actually reflect who I am quite well. I love this photo of me.  I think it captures who I really am, the good and the bad: irreverent, cynical, caustic, independent, opinionated, vocal, brainy, skeptical, rebellious, iconoclastic, and sad but soldiering on. 

I've just described a perpetual outsider, haven't I? It's possible that I've just described a writer, isn't it? Well, a writer is a kind of artist, isn't she? I've always thought so. In fact, I've often felt that literature and Creative Writing should be considered fine arts and taught in art schools.

There is no doubt that there can be some smugness in the artist's mentality and, yes, it can be reflected in the fashion choices of those who set themselves apart from the mainstream. Take our penchant for second hand clothes and offbeat style. We are, in a way, saying that we reject both the look and the materialism of mainstream culture.

"We're free-thinkers," we seem to say in our demeanor, "not like you guys."

Perhaps I'm able to see the flaws in my own, counter-culture milieu because I grew up in it. I don't have the wide-eyed sense of discovery that those who didn't grow up in have when they first enter the counter-culture. 

Still, I valued the counter-culture enough that I always wanted to go to the school in Fame and, indeed, I ended up at an alternative school not unlike it, and I remain good friends with many of the people I met there, teachers and students alike. Several old classmates were at our recent engagement party.

The counter-culture may not be the utopia some believe it to be but it sure as hell is better than the alternatives (pun sort-of intended).

I've often seen that excited exuberance of youth as they discover art, become artists, and/or leave the mainstream and enter the world that has been my world all my life.

A scene from the movie, Fame
They think that their Art (and it's definitely capitalized), is going to change the world. And in the process, they're going to have far more fun than those stuffy "straights" out there.

In a way, they're probably right.

They're creating Art, man, shattering the hegemony, and challenging people's minds, man.

Though the artist's world wasn't as new to me, I have felt much like these youth. I studied Creative Writing in my first year of university (after having already been on my own supporting myself for a year). I was so darned open-minded about Art and Literature, it makes me chuckle to remember my nineteen year old self. It was all good, and the weirder, the better. Bizarre, inscrutable movies; difficult, non-narrative novels; baffling plays in tiny venues; sexually explicit performance art that turned my stomach; strange and uncomfortable visual art: it was all good, and new, and exciting!

And Important. It was all very important.

With this overblown sense of the importance of one's work, comes inevitable self-doubt. Thank God. It stands in for the humility and tempering of enthusiasms that comes with aging. 

But, all mocking aside, the counter-culture life -- the one usually lived by writers, intellectuals, and artists -- is not an easy one and I don't think its one anyone enters lightly. It's an outsider's life, a life of alienation and, at times, loneliness. It's also often a life of poverty. 

So why would people choose it? Well, to that question, I would ask, is it really a choice?

I know a thing or two about being an outsider. I know about being alienated within my society. I was raised by hippies; I was sex trafficked from the time I was nine; I have a "gifted" level of intelligence; I'm bisexual; I'm Jewish; I was so severely abused, I'm disabled. That's a lot that sets me apart from my society. That's a lot of unchosen alienation.

So why on earth would I choose to be a writer and to live in the counter-culture? For one thing, I feel far more comfortable in the counter-culture, precisely because of all those things that set me apart from the mainstream. I'll never be "normal." I'll never want to be normal. I'm in similar company in the counter-culture.

But I don't choose to be a writer and it is that aspect of who I am that most places me in the counter-culture.

I have to read and write like I have to breathe. I have been an avid reader since I was five. I began writing my first "novel" when I was seven and have been keeping a journal since I was eight. To this day, my high school friends and teachers ask if I'm still writing and are glad when I say that I am. I have book a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall book collection. 

My life experiences might mean I have a little more to say than some writers, but no matter what else had happened in my life -- good, bad, or indifferent -- I would be a writer. It's simply who I am. It's not a choice. 

And so I keep company with others like myself. 


And that is really all that the counter-culture is: people finding a community of others like themselves -- whether they go to art school or not.

(I'm posting this in Visible Mondays on Not Dead Yet and in Shoe Shine on Ephemera. Let's see what others think!)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Old Cats, Bad Backs, and New Ways to Have Fun

It's been very hot weather lately. I hate it. I mean, I really really hate it! Heat like this makes me feel smothered, suffocated, trapped. It also makes me feel like I have a low-grade flu all the time, the symptoms of which only subside when the heat relents.

In addition to all this, hot weather makes my back pain worse because it's just too darned hot to lie on heating pads and take the hot baths that so relieve my pain.

Of course, I also burn easily and am very prone to sunstroke.

So, yeah, I hate hot weather.

Maxi dresses are not a solution to my discomfort but they are an aid.

Dress: Route; Sandals: Wonders; Earrings and right hand ring: Birks; Necklace and gold-toned bangles: gifts from Beau; Glass bangles and sunglasses: vintage; Hair clips: Stylize; Pinkie ring: boutique
They're also easy on my back, which is something I need a lot lately. You can see me reaching from solid object to solid object to support myself and take some of the weight and pressure off my back. Clothes that put any pressure on my lower back -- whether from a belt, a waist band, or a tight seam -- increase my pain level really quickly. Maxi-dresses don't do that.

Let's face it: maxi-dresses are the closest we'll ever get to wearing our nightgowns in public. Well, there was that nightgown that my much loved aunt let me wear as a dress in southern California heat when I was six, but, since then, I've made an effort not to wear nightgowns as day-wear. Pajama tops: maybe. Nightgowns: no.

The pain in my lower back increases exponentially over the day, especially if I'm trying to do... well, anything that involves being upright for a while. I often stretch it out as I'm doing here, trying to relieve the pain. Nothing is a cure but some things are a help.

I finally have a mobility scooter, which has given me more freedom, but I'm supposed to try to be a bit active so as not to lose what little strength I have. When walking, I've been having to use a cane all the time now.

I do so hope you've noticed that I try to co-ordinate my canes with my outfits. If I had more money, I'd have more canes, but at least I have a brown one and a black one, to match cool and warm toned outfits. I also now have a really pretty white one decorated with delicate pink flowers. It's a summery cane, don't you know?

Beau and I don't own a car but we do use a car co-op, so Beau can ferry me around when I'm not doing well, which is often. I find myself waiting in the car a lot, while he runs errands that are too painful for me to handle, or just infinitely faster for him to run on his own.

I watch the world outside of my window (to quote the band, 10,000 Maniacs) and feel sad sometimes. I'm an introvert so I don't generally ache to join the world, but I do feel jealous of the people who have the choice of whether or not to join or reject it. It's like gay marriage: you might not personally want to get married, but you sure do want the choice to be yours to make. My back prevents me from choosing whether or not I'm out and about and a part of the world I don't even always like that much.

On this particular day, I had another reason for wearing a very comfortable dress. Milo needed to visit the vet. I know from experience that, whenever I take a kitty to the vet's, my back pain gets much worse because I get all tense and worried.

Probably because of my own history as an abused child, I can't bear to see animals suffering, especially since it's impossible to explain to them what's going on.  (I long ago stopped eating all meat but seafood.) When they cry in the car and get scared or angry at the vet's, I stiffen up and, presto: pack pain.

But, as we all know, even geriatric cats like ours can get themselves into all kinds of trouble, like Bobby here, discovering cottage cheese and immediately throwing up because he's lactose intolerant.

Both of them recently got into a fight with a neighbour cat who made the mistake of thinking that they might like some company in our back yard. They both got bitten but, while Bobby's cuts healed well, Milo's did not.

So, off to the vet we went, crying Milo indignant in his home-made cone, but still happy to accept ear rubs. The vet and his assistants were all very impressed with Beau's makeshift cone. They said it was the best one they'd ever seen. Milo was quite a bit less impressed.

So yeah, even old cats and fat cats still get into trouble, but they seldom catch birds and that's a good thing, since I'm bird crazy. After three years of trying, I finally attracted a Goldfinch to my feeders. Soon, he brought a girlfriend, and, a while after that, they brought their young.

Aren't they the prettiest little things? Hint for attracting them: they like Niger Seed, but you've got to be patient.

Hummingbirds are another favourite of mine. I have no fears of my cats catching hummingbirds. Who ever catches hummingbirds?

Hummers are very territorial so I've really only been getting the one female (the one on the right). But, for a few days, a male (the one on the left) tried to share our flowers and feeders with her. She chased him out of our yard over and over again. Here, he's standing his ground, hissing at her. I think his efforts failed because I haven't seen him since, but I have seen her.

She won the argument and continues to enjoy our home, safe cats and all.

Old cats are a special kind of weird and require different sorts of care. This is my vet's very friendly cat, a long hair too old to groom herself well. They took the clippers to her for the summer and this was the result. She has no sense of how silly she looks. She knows for a fact that she looks great and we all want to love her and hold her as usual. She's half right.

But old cats, like disabled humans, mean more medical appointments. Thus, I knew what to wear for maximum comfort, without sacrificing style. 

And this finally brings us back to my bright and colourful outfit. I wear this dress a lot but it's only made it into the blog once before, here.

The children's playground, with all its bright, primary colours, seemed the perfect backdrop for a photo shoot with such a colourful dress. This was after the exhausting vet visit, of course.

Cats are way less work than kids. Who was the little snit kid who thought this was funny? Such a rebel he/she is... not.

Actually, I kind of am a mom now, or a step-mom anyway, but our kids are older, almost ten and almost thirteen, two milestone birthdays up and coming. They're now too old for a playground, and, I hope, too young to make stupid signs about "weed." I hope they never get into drugs. 

I did but that was pretty much inevitable. There were a lot of drugs in my home and it was common for adults to give them to kids. The first time I remember using pot, I was eight and my mother gave me pot brownies on a hiking trip, something I would never do with my step-children, or any children. By the time I was twenty-one, I was completely drug free. When your parents think something is cool, it holds little appeal after a while. Besides, I had better things to do with my time, like getting an education, and earning money as a writer. A rebel I am, and drugs get in the way of that.

So, while my step-kids are too young for drugs and too old for playgrounds, I'm the reverse: too old for drugs, and old enough for playgrounds. But I'm too disabled to play in them in any conventional way. Play and fun have to be found in different ways for me.

I pose artfully near the playground equipment, and try to make it look like leaning on it for support is part of the art, not part of the disability.

I get all bossy with my photographer (aka, Beau).

(I think I look just like a Jewish mother here but maybe I'm buying into the stereotypes.)

I colour and pattern coordinate with my city, and with this playground, instead of playing on it.

I bedeck myself with jewelry.

I frame myself like a painting, the active subject of my art, rather than the object of someone else's art, as so many women have been over the course of history.

I pose with flowers that match my outfits ...

... the flowers and I both catching the sun to the best effect.

I make up new ways to wear my hair.

(I think this is Beau's second best photo bomb, his dark shadow on my shockingly white back. His best photo bomb -- so far -- ever is here.)

I wear wacky sunglasses and take selfies.

I learn new ways to attract new birds.

And I laugh at my cat in his stylish new cone.

These are some of my new ways to have fun and be playful in my pain. Do I miss dancing and running and walking and a million other things I used to do for fun? Of course I do! But sometimes, in tragedy, old dreams and ways of being do need to be let go. But they must be replaced with new ones or the spirit will fall to its knees.

So I have my fun. And I call it art.

Oh, and don't worry, Milo is perfectly fine now. Fat -- and fine.

(All the cats and I are joining the fun over at Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet, 52 Pick Me Up at Spy Girl, and at Shoe Shine at Ephemera.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Myrna Loy, Clara Bow, and Me: 1930s Style Today

This outfit could be perceived as modern, particularly because of the pattern mixing. But, actually, as is almost always the case with me, I was also alluding to much older fashion trends.

I was thinking of the 1930s.

Even if people can't quite tell why, they always think I look a bit old-fashioned. I do this on purpose. My outfits almost always allude to the past, but often in subtle ways. This outfit is a case in point. It might not be obvious to those not in the know, but it does bear a passing resemblance to styles of the 30s.

Hedy Lamarr
For example, the transparency of my blouse lends itself to a 30s, retro look. Of course, in the 30s, I would not have worn the blouse with only a bra underneath. A camisole or slip would have been absolutely necessary for decency. But it was hot and it's 2014, so I figured it was okay.

As you can see here, pattern mixing is nothing new, though this woman and I both prefer our patterns to have some sort of thematic link to one another.

Note her puffed sleeves too, which are a bit like mine. Flutter and lightly puffed sleeves were very fashionable in the 1930s.

I also thought a bangle which could almost pass for bakelite would be fun, as they were immensely popular in the 1930s and are collectors' items today. I don't yet own any but some day I will.

Yes, my bangle matches my sofa. Some day, I'll show you that sofa set. It's from the 30s, with amazing, Art Deco lines.

The bangle also matches my thin red belt which I added for a "pop" of colour, to define my waist, and to add to the 1930s look.

After the drop waists of the 1920s, thin belts at the natural waistline made a comeback in the 1930s. (And isn't it kind of cute that this little girl's belt is a bit askew just like mine? They must have felt so grown up in these outfits!)

During World War I, women experienced a level of freedom and autonomy they had not experienced before and this was reflected in their fashions, which moved from heavily corseted, fussy, feminine attire to shorter skirts, and more comfortable, elastic girdles.

These changes accelerated after the war. Instead of "helpless" and decorative women, fit and sporty women were in style. In other words, for the first time ever, thin was in. It was, in fact, a sign of liberation at the time. People had no way of knowing how terribly wrong it would go in the future.

The styles of the 1920s look great -- on mannequins and very thin women. Those dropped waists and flat fronts on flapper dresses, however, did nothing to flatter the average woman with hips, breasts, and a waist. The return of the waist in the 1930s must have been a great relief to mature and curvy women everywhere.

Blouse: Reitman's; Skirt: George; Shoes; Ecco; Hair clip: Stylize; Earrings and belt: vintage
With this renewed appreciation of the female curve, longer hem-lines made a comeback as well. If I were being perfectly true to the 30s, I would be wearing a longer and and it would be a pencil skirt, not an a-line one. But, heck, I'm disabled and I'm short and this skirt looks better on me. Besides, if my outfit were too period perfect, I'd look costumed and those days are past for me. Sort of.

In deference to my disability, I now always wear sensible shoes, though I try hard to find ones that are pretty too. These mary-jane flats were no longer in style in the 30s.

In fact, both mary-janes and shorter hemlines are much more in keeping with the 20s but, again, mixing it up a bit keeps me looking more allusively retro than mimetic.

Besides, mary-janes were one of my earliest vintage fashion crushes. Along with cloche hats and 50s crinolines, 20s mary-janes were unspeakably fascinating to me when I was about ten. I still utterly adore them and am toying with wearing the ones with heels on days when I'm using my disability scooter. I have a beautiful pair left over from the days when I could still walk well.

Mary-janes seem to have been used more for sports in the 30s. Oh well. Close enough.

Did I mention that it was a hot day? Humid too. If you have curly hair, you know what that means: uncontrollable curl and, yes, frizz. If you're Jewish, you probably call the jewfro. It behaves as it chooses to behave and, on this day, it chose to behave...

... like the peyot (forelocks) of little, Eastern European, Orthodox boys, dressed here as they did in the 1930s.

I'm rather proud of my very (Eastern European) Jewish auburn curls, even when they're unruly, as you can see by my pointing to them and insisting that Beau get shots of them.

Pre WWII photo by Roman Vishniac. It is obviously heart-breaking to see all these little boys, knowing how many would be lost in the Holocaust.
They are perhaps the most obvious marker of my ethnicity and I kind of like that. Why look like everyone else when you can look like who you are?

Another strong marker of my ethnicity? My eyes, with their downward curve and little puffs underneath: like this little boy above who looks so much like my uncle, it's uncanny.

Clara Bow
I wasn't actually thinking about any of this when I got dressed. Instead, I was thinking more of Clara Bow and her famous auburn locks. Somewhere in my mid-teens, my grandmother and her friends, who had all been born at the beginning of the 20th century, began exclaiming that I looked like the movie stars of their youth. At the time, I didn't know what they were talking about or who Clara Bow  was, but I could tell from the fuss they were making that what they were saying was a good thing.

I often fuss with my hair, trying to pin it such that I look like I have a bob like Clara Bow's. Lots of women did that then; an actual bob was still considered a bit racy so pinning long hair to look like a bob was a more modest approach.

But it's not easy. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don't. (See above about curly hair doing what it wants to do, not what I want it to do.) 

Would Clara Bow have approved of my hair? I do hope so.

She loved her unruly hair, and so did the public. So I'm going to enjoy mine too.

Now what about my sunglasses? Are they in keeping with 30s style? In a word: no.

Though they're not so far off as to be awful. In the 30s, round sunglasses were absolutely it, darling.

Clearly, the chicest ladies were wearing them.

Apparently they were also sporting little Wire Fox Terriers ... 

William Powell, Asta, and Myrna Loy
... like Asta in the Thin Man movies. 

If you haven't seen the Thin Man movies... oh, just DO! They're simply too too fabulous (as they would have said in the 30s).

That's it. That's my elucidation of my fashion choices on a hot day in July.

Now go have a cold martini, darlings, or have several, just like Myrna Loy and William Powell. It's tres 30s.

(I'm taking this cocktail party over to Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet and to Shoe Shine at Ephemera.)