Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Rhetorical Roar of the Adorned Body

Sunglasses, earrings, and sandals: vintage; Top: Old Navy; Skirt: vintage gift from a friend
This skirt is, first and foremost, fun. It's fun to wear, fun to move in, and has a fun, retro appeal.

As is usual for me, it led me to think Deep Thoughts, in this case about oration, writing, and rhetoric and the body's role in all three. But we'll get to that later. First: the outfit.

It's a skirt best seen in motion. It swishes, it rustles, it flips. As I wrote in my last post with this skirt, it immediately calls to mind ballerinas of yore, when their skirts weren't so short and their bodies weren't so thin. In keeping with this look, I chose to wear a tank top and a very casual, high updo, like a ballerina in rehearsal. 

I just had a much needed hair cut and, as always when my hair is shorter, my little corkscrew curl escaped and took off on its own. I've had that curl since I was absolutely wee, I have a photo of me at about two with said escaped curl.

And check out my eyelashes: I told you I was a natural red-ish head! Even my eyelashes are auburn. I somehow get a kick out of that.

But let's get on to my earrings! Despite my three piercings in one ear and two in the other, lately, I've been really into clip-on earrings from the 50s and early 60s. I love the way they follow the lines of the ear and jawline to create a wonderful, feminine elegance. 

They're also generally quite cheap as so few people want to wear them, convinced as they are that they will hurt. Some do, but many do not. If you're willing to fuss with screw-back earrings, you can get them even cheaper. 

I got this thermoset pair for $10 and was so eager to wear them for my blog (that's you, dear reader) that I didn't worry too much about the fact that they don't quite match the skirt. I figured there was enough space between the skirt and the earrings that the mismatch of colours would not be easily noticed.

Besides, I didn't so much colour coordinate this outfit as choose colours that created a fun, sunny mood, as befits such a whimsical skirt.

I got these shoes from a street vendor for only $10. They're Aerosoles and are wonderfully comfortable on my always aching back. They're very soft on the soles of my feet too.

Yes, I know I'm very white. I've mentioned it before. These feet were in the sun all summer. Really. The freckles on my arms prove it.

Altogether, I think the outfit worked quite well, yes? I'd like more canes in more colours and patterns, but the black one wasn't too bad. It didn't really detract from the outfit, did it?

Now on to the meat of my post, the thesis if you will. Notice how much I've talked about my body in this post? Does it sound vain or trivial? See if I change your mind as you continue reading.

Perhaps because the skirt is so lovely in motion, I was in motion a lot as Beau took these photos.

Marlon Brando as Marc Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar
And, when I saw the photos, I reminded myself of nothing more than Antony giving his famous, "Friends, Romans, countrymen," speech to justify the murder of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare's play of the same name.

It's true: I'm a talker. I have been all my life. While I may possess the gift of the gab, I hope that I also possess the rigor of the rhetorician. I recall from high school that Antony's speech was presented to us as a prime example of fine rhetoric: the ability to convince others of your view, by using the fine art of speaking and writing with flourish, beauty, and reason.

Portia in Julius Caesar
But, despite the fact that I've given God knows how many speeches at political rallies and lectures to university students, until I saw these universal, "I'm speaking! Listen!" poses, I hadn't really thought of the role of the body in rhetoric.

Are these poses universal? They seem to be.

Portia used her body to convince her husband, Brutus, of her  own argument -- that she could be trusted with a secret. She stabbed herself most brutally in her inner thigh, then gave no sign of her pain in word or in deed. He was convinced and he told her his secret. 

As someone whose body has been brutalized and suffers terrible, constant pain as a result, I am all for the inclusion of the relevance of the body in all our comings and goings in this world, including or the content and form of our rhetoric. 

This sets me apart from many academics who claim that the body is a social construct. (Don't get it? Don't worry. I think it's a stupid idea.) It sets me apart from many philosophers who see the body as little more than a container for the mind, its sufferings, needs, and pleasures irrelevant to any truly intelligent understanding of the world, politics, and society.

The body is relevant and it is through the body that we communicate with one another. 

Some kind of feminist gathering or conference in the early 70s. Gloria Steinem is smoking on the left.
The body is central to our experience of the world and to others' experiences of us. Case in point: was this woman's voice rasping and her throat sore from all the cigarette smoke in the room? Did her argument suffer as a result? Did it hold more or less credibility because of her raised finger and political buttons?

The body is the vehicle for communication, even when we're writing. When the body fails us, so does our ability to communicate. Just ask anyone with a neurological disability that makes movement, including speaking and writing, difficult or even impossible.

Marlon Brando as Antony
And our bodies seem to want to speak in universal gestures beyond language and beyond nations.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
I is interesting for me to note that some of the public orators whom I admire most were or are speaking against oppressions that are centrally about bodies. Martin Luther King was speaking against the oppression of dark skinned bodies. The woman above was speaking against the oppression of female bodies.  I often speak against the oppression of disabled bodies.

 The body is relevant. The body is central to every aspect of living. It is not merely a carcas in which our souls and voices abide. We are our bodies -- free or enslaved, fit or broken, black or white, male or female -- and we have to speak and write within its limitations, and within the limitations placed upon it by an often unjust society.

So don't forget to enjoy your body too! Speak with it, write with it, listen with it. But also adorn it, love it, treat it with kindness. 

Adorned and vocal, hear you roar.

(I'm sharing this over at Visible Mondays on Not Dead Yet.)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rallying the Troops: Our Engagement Party

I am not a conventional person. I was raised in the counter-culture. Thus, it's not even so much a matter of my eschewing mainstream customs; I genuinely don't know those customs.

When it comes to this wedding thing, for instance, Beau and I are doing everything backwards -- apparently. We got engaged a while ago but got our engagement rings (yes, rings, one for him and one for me) several months later. We haven't yet set a date yet for the wedding.

And we had our engagement party six months after we announced our engagement. I don't even know if it is the custom to have engagement parties. Whatever. We wanted to have one so we had one. We thought it was particularly important since we probably won't get married for a few years. We wanted to do something celebratory to cement our commitment to each other before the wedding.

I was very nervous about the party. If you read my blog, you know that I was a victim of sex trafficking for seven years as a child. It should be no surprise then, that I have struggles with commitment, love, and, yes, the concept of marriage. Because of my struggles, I felt like maybe our party would, in my heart, be a farce. If I couldn't be the perfect partner or be perfectly comfortable in a relationship, what right did I have in having a party to celebrate that relationship?

I told my woes to my friend (whom you'll meet later in this post) and she said something very wise. "Think of it as gathering the troops," she said. A relationship, she said,was not just about the two people in it. Good friends help sustain that relationship too. Those friends are our "troops." She also said that nobody feels totally confident about anything. "Fake it till you make it," she said. "There's nothing wrong with that."

Dress: too old to still have its tag; Earrings and Boucher brooch: vintage; Engagement ring: Britton Diamonds; Faerie ring: boutique; Larger Ring: Birks
So, with this metaphor and philosophy in mind, I felt more relaxed on the day of the party.

I picked a dress that had a vaguely bridal look because it is cream coloured and "flowy," as Beau would put it.

I even wore a bouquet of a sort: my new-to-me, vintage, Marcel Boucher brooch.

Fashion tip: if you have ample bosoms and find many outfits reveal a bit too much of said bosoms, in aid of modesty, use a lovely vintage brooch to pull the fabric together. It's classy and practical all at once. Plus, isn't "bosoms" a fun word?

I also wore my fairy ring. I used to wear it constantly in my late teens when I'd only recently escaped my extremely abusive home. It both reminded me of a female deity who comforted me, and made me feel that I too had "wings" now. I was free now and had flown away from the abuse.

When I'm really feeling defined by my past, I wear this ring once more to remind myself that, despite the chronic pain caused by the abuse, despite the PTSD, my life is my own now. No-one owns me anymore and, within the limits of my disability, my choices are my own.

On this day, I was freely choosing to fly into Beau's arms and tell my good friends all about it. 

Beau dressed to match my outfit, in cream and purple. It seemed appropriate for the occasion. Matching our flowering bush was not planned but was fortuitous.

Our friend, Kim, tried to get us to pose perfectly for engagement photos but we're not so good with the posing. I like the spontaneity of our messed up photos better anyway.

Because I long ago cut of all contact with my abusive family, I had no family to invite to our party. But I have some real and good friends. Here are just some of them, as not all of them could attend.

Since I am not a mainstream sort of a gal, neither are any of my friends. I'd been worried that some of them would think that my getting legally married was too "bourgeois," too hegemonic or something.

I was wrong. At one point, Beau and I gave little speeches about our engagement. (At Beau's insistence, they were impromptu, something that really goes against the nature of my writer's heart.) I could see in people's reactions to our speeches and in the speeches some of them gave, that they are just really sincerely happy that he and I found each other.

They know what I've been through. They know about Beau's extremely conservative upbringing in a Christian doomsday cult. They know how we've both struggled in life. Far from judging us for being too mainstream, all our friends radiated warmth and happiness for us.

Such wonderful "troops" to gather!

I've known some of them for a very long time indeed. Katey and I went to high school together, where we always vied for the highest grades. She always won because she loved the sciences and the humanities, while I still only favoured the humanities.

She and I have a bit of a romantic history from our youth. She was also recently and very suddenly widowed. So Katey's genuine good will about my engagement and happiness shows the particular generosity of her warm heart. I do so feel for her in her bereavement and sudden, single parenthood.

She provided a moment of magic to the party. She arrived with a large bunch of salvia flowers in her arms. Before she'd even set it down, a hummingbird flew right up to her and began supping from the bright orange blossoms. Everyone held still and watched with awe. Many had never even seen a hummingbird before. I think hummingbirds are the most magical of all birds, and I love me my birds.

Katey also provided a moment of fun for me, feigning the "girlie" squeal of excitement over my engagement ring that I wanted but didn't get from most of my less jewelry-obsessed friends.

Kent and I also know each other from high school. Born disabled, Kent has been an invaluable friend to me as I adjust to life as a disabled person. He's given me great advice on everything from what scooter to get, to how to deal with the prejudices leveled against the disabled.

Did I mention that I went to an alternative school? This might be the time to do so as we gaze at my friend, Jo-Jo, an actress and yet another old high school chum, accidentally doing her very best Meg Ryan imitation (you know, the salad scene). My school of only about 100 students, had a disproportionate number of gifted students, cracker-jack teachers who let us call them by their first names, tremendous academic rigor, and an informality and freedom that let students sink or swim on the basis of their own ability to be responsible and organized. 

It's a school that produced journalists, actresses, musicians, librarians, professors, writers... and very few business people. Jo-Jo is not the only old high school buddy whom I regularly see on television. If I had not gone to that school, I'm sure I would not still have so many friends from that time today.

Coco too went to my school and works in film and television. Like me, she suffers from chronic pain which forced her to leave our party early. I remember us both, underage in bars, watching punk bands and dressed as oddly as possible. Ah, to be young, high, and able-bodied again. Sigh.

Kim too was a high school chum and, yes, she is utterly ageless. Seriously, this woman is over 40! Kim does healing energy work, about which I am skeptical, but she has done it for me and, my skepticism not withstanding, it has helped me. Chronic pain and PTSD can leave one feeling like one's insides are in a state of tumult and chaos. She can help calm that tumult.

And here is the older sister of one of my high school sweethearts. She and I share photos of cute baby animals with each other online. Her mother then finds them and reshares them. Not everyone appreciates all the fur and feathers but I know she does.

These two are both blasts from my past. Don, on the right, is old school left, with his suits and his ties, his deep faith in unions, and his refined manners mixed liberally with "bullshits" if he doesn't agree with someone's politics or finds fault with someone's logic. He is the former philosophy professor of my ex-girlfriend from a million years ago. He regularly gives me the simultaneous insult and compliment of saying that my "great mind" is far too good to "waste" outside of academia. He badly wants me to get a PhD. My Masters degree and college teaching job are, in his opinion, just not good enough for me.

Harvey, on the left, is new left. For many years, he ran the queer hang out in my neighbourhood, a friendly cafe that hosted many queer events, including the open stage night where I met and became friends with its wildly talented MC, Sal.

Harvey is also an extremely gifted artist.What he can do with paper and scissors! You just wouldn't believe it.

Sarah, on the left, was a chum in university and, like me, like many of my friends, has known her share of woes. Her life now is a good one and that's down to her: her strength, her faith, her love. I am happy for her and she for me.

Not all of my friends are bright and sunny at all times. William, one of my former college students, had also known his fare share of woes before he was even full grown. 

Personally, I'd much rather have friends who know about and face the negatives of life, than those who paste on a phony "positive attitude" and blind themselves to reality.

Sal too has his dour side. That's okay by me. Sal is a bright man who knows his way around social and political analysis. I'll take that over small talk any day.

Sal is one of my dearest friends and will be a bridesmaid or maid of honour or whatever they're called for my wedding. He's taking it quite seriously and helped us organize this party.

Emmy was my neighbour in the apartment building where I lived for 12 years before Beau and I moved in together. I'm not sure I would have survived the first few years of my disability without her. She helped me with cooking and cleaning, came over for regular visits, and even stayed up all night with me when the pain sent me on a spiral of panic attacks I didn't think I could bear.

Plus she's a total cutie patootie, but I don't think she knows it. 

Remember I mentioned a friend who told me to "rally the troops" and "fake it till I make it"? Meet Sophie, my friend and cleaning lady. It became clear early on in my disability that I simply could not do the bulk of my own housecleaning. Sarah introduced me to her own high school chum, Sophie, and she's been helping me out ever since.Whenever she comes by, we tell each other our woes and elations, including some of the x-rated ones, and she gives me good advice. Have I given her any useable advice? I hope so.

And check out her darling little daughter whom I'm watching turn into quite the little fashion plate as she approaches her teens. I still remember her talking my ear off about her grandparents' dog. How quickly they grow up!

And now, of course, Matt's pals are my newest friends. They are a very loyal bunch, not as obviously flamboyant as my rather theatrical pals, but steady and good to the core. Larry here is our manly man friend who actually knows his way around tools and was invaluable to us when we moved. He's also a really swell feminist, understanding the subtleties of sexism in a way that many women don't even understand. 

Yes, he's single. Did I mention that he's an amazing cook and is great with kids? 

Here's Mira with her recently adopted daughter, the crazy sweet, Kira. Mira's husband, who couldn't attend, is the one who helped me get Beau to the spot where I proposed to him (Beau, not Mira's husband!)

Kira came all the way into town after a day's work as a manicurist and was very tired. She looks just a little blurry here, which I think is probably about how she felt. Some day, though, when she's up to it, I want her to teach me about makeup. Remember how I said I was raised in the counter-culture? This means I have very little knowledge of girlie skills like how to wear makeup. 

She's also said she'll give me a pedicure. I can't really reach my feet now that I'm disabled, and painting my toenails would be a pain not worth enduring. So: enter Kira!

Speaking of feet, I love this array of great footwear here, all attesting to the offbeat and individual styles of my various friends. Which are your favourites?

I enjoyed looking at my friends' little stylish touches ...

... like Igie's flower bow in her hair ...

... or Jo-Jo's spikey bracelet... But wait, Katey is putting a motherly hand in the way of the camera. The photo was going to look just a little too sexy for such a young girl and we all decided that simply was not kosher.

Let's try again. That's better. Now notice how her bracelet matches her purse.

Now notice the whimsy of the flowers on Emmy's pants, and that little tattoo thing on her foot.

You know, when I first looked at all the photos from our engagement party, I felt insecure. All my friends are so slim and fit and I'm... disabled so a bit, zaftig. (That's yet another great Yiddish word, meaning pleasantly, deliciously plump.) But, good God, given everything I've been through, body and soul, girl and woman, being a little extra curvy should be the least of my concerns. 

Besides, Beau loves my curves.

A lot.

I mean, really really a lot! If I ever doubt his love for me, I'll look this photo. That's the look of love in his eyes, folks. Lucky me!

It was really nice to see my friends getting to know each other and getting along so well. It doesn't always work that way but it did with my friends.

Plus how cute is Emmy here? I told you she's a cutie patootie. 

More lovely touches: Kent's sporty style crutches, Coco's many tattoos.

And, my God, look at all those smiles, even on faces less prone to smiles than Kent's.

I sometimes felt that my friends were almost art directed to match one another, all uniquely offbeat, but somehow well-coordinated anyway. Bohemia rocks, man!

And here's a study in contrasts: Jo-Jo with her well-learned movie star pose... and Beau with his, um, less than studied photo bomb pose.

Which caused him to spill tea all over Sophie's purse. Oopsy!

He's a goof. I've learned to love that about him. 

He really makes me laugh a lot, even when I'm very down. I didn't understand the value of a partner who makes me laugh until I met him. 

Of course, he's so much more than merely the guy who makes me laugh. He's the man I'm going to marry.

He's my support, my comfort, my best friend, his embrace the safest place I know. He's my tree. 

He says I'm his tree too.

The troops all seem to agree. 

(I'm sharing the joy and the fashion with Visible Mondays on Not Dead Yet.)