Friday, January 30, 2015

70s Plaid and Why I Am Not a Professor

This is the story of how a simple plaid skirt made me think yet again about Why I Am Not a Professor. Bear with me; it's a circuitous path to the tale.

I have wanted a plaid, a-line skirt like this forever, probably since the 1970s, when I first saw them sported by smart (in both senses of the word) women everywhere. 

I finally found one on Mod Cloth and snapped it up immediately.

It is a quintessential 1970s skirt, most often paired with pert blouses or turtle-necks, and slouchy boots or bright, whimsically coloured tights.

Skirt: Mod Cloth; Sweater and tights: Reitman's; Bag: ; Pendant, large ring, shoes, jacket, bracelet, and sunglasses: vintage
This was the look I had in mind when I styled my new skirt. 

I'm not sure it looks quite right though. Mod Cloth said this skirt ran small and suggested customers buy it one size larger than their regular size. In my case, I think this may have been a mistake; I don't feel it hangs quite right. Do you think I should hem it a bit shorter? I think that might help. I'm a shorty.

Still, on the whole, the outfit worked -- I got compliments from strangers -- and I did feel very 1970s and a little bit early 80s.

It was only afterwards that I realized how much I had dressed like this Igigi model. I have this image on my Pinterest board, Style Inspirations Past and Present, and I was thinking of her some when I got dressed, but I didn't realize I was almost copying her. 

Whoever styled her outfit clearly had the 70s in mind, so I don't think looking a bit like her misses my mark.

I was very excited to emulate this particular look because I associate it with the kind of woman I think I've wanted to be at certain moments in my life, including moments in my childhood.

As I came into puberty around ten or eleven, I started thinking about what kind of a woman I wanted to become. I felt that what I was to become was up to me, but I felt that my range of choices was very limited. I could be what I called a "sex kitten," desired and popular but without self-respect; I could be a hippie, unshorn, unkempt, and of the past; or I could be a feminist, trousered and strong, but lonely and unattractive.

None of these options really appealed to me but I didn't understand I had other options. I think, in my attraction to this plaid skirted, prim trend, I saw a glimpse of another choice, one where fashion, feminism, education, and self-respect could somehow co-exist.

I wanted a world where I could like pink, and still be strong and own my own body (a body which, as a sex trafficked child, I had never yet owned). I did not yet know that such a world could exist. It was certainly not one the feminists I knew thought could exist. If you liked pink, you were not a feminist. It was as simple as that. 

The movie 9 to 5 might have been the first time I saw feminist women who also had style. I loved this movie. Who wouldn't? I used to show it to my E.S.L. (English as a Second Language) students who were immigrants and woefully under employed, given their education and job experience. Male and female alike, they loved it too, male and female alike.

Three strong women, fighting back against their "sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot" boss? Can't we all relate?

Lily Tomlin's character was the strongest of the three women, and take a look at her outfit; it's plaid and it's pink! Win and win.

In my mind, career women wore this look. It wasn't a "sex kitten" look and it wasn't a "hippie" look. It was a look of strength and style. What a concept.

It was also a look I associated with a high level of education and a keen intellect. It was the look of journalists, teachers, and professors, as exemplified here by Miss Sherwood, the English teacher on the T.V. show, Fame. 

I grew up to have a pretty good education myself. I first taught E.S.L. and then college English for years before my disabilities made it impossible, so I guess I fit my own, childhood idea of a woman who wears a plaid skirt.

I wasn't the only one who associated the look with education. This back-to-school issue of Seventeen supports the association.

And pretty much all I can think when I see this image is: student.

For the record, I was not this kind of student. I was the radical, protest attending, leftie journalism writing, dead poor student. I was the student with no financial help from my family because they had abused me horrifically and contact with them was akin to emotional suicide. I was the second-hand clothes wearing, bohemian student. I was the student always looking for the people and perspectives that were left out of the materials we were studying. I had seen too much of life already to leave my professors' words unquestioned.

I was the angry student -- even during my post-graduate work.

I went back to university to get an M.A. in English when I was in my thirties. I had decided to become a professor because I felt intellectually stultified in my work teaching E.S.L. I needed more. 


But that "more" wasn't being a professor. I realized that quickly. I just did not fit in. I could do it and do it well: my grades were excellent, I already had years of teaching experience, and I got glowing references. But I could not take Academia seriously. 

To me, it was a world of painfully, even laughably sheltered students who grew up to be painfully, even laughably sheltered professors. I had never had the luxury of being sheltered. 

A sex trafficked child, I left home at seventeen and lived poor and rough for a very long time. By the time I was ten, I had seen murder, heroin addiction, sadism, paedophilia, and other depravities for which I, with all my education in English and Communications, still cannot find a name. 

I'd seen more than the scholars I met during my M.A. would ever see, more than they'd ever imagine even existed. And, in my opinion, their innocence made them inferior scholars. Their limited range of human experience limited their interpretive skills, limited their intellects, and limited their imaginations. They were blind to this fact.

Here's an example. In one of my M.A. courses, we studied several of Alice Munro's short stories. Now, I love Alice Munro. She's my favourite author. But, when professor and students alike said that one of her strengths is that she writes about the complete range of female experiences, I had to object. What about women's lives, I was asked, could she possibly have left unexplored in her many works of fiction?

"Well, for instance," I said, shaking all over, "she's never written about an under-aged prostitute working the streets on skid row."

The entire class, including the professor, laughed at me. It hurt like hell. My face still flames with impotent anger when I think of that moment. Later, the professor, his voice dripping with dismissive sarcasm, joked that we should all take a field trip to skid row where he was quite sure we would learn a lot.

Well, yes, they could learn a lot. But they never would. 

There were those who said that Academia needed people like me, people with my perspectives. Well, maybe Academia needed me, but, if this was the way that my knowledge and ideas would be received -- and it happened often -- I sure as hell didn't need Academia. Maybe they needed my perspective, but, if they refused to hear it, I would do them no good and they certainly wouldn't do me any good.

I sometimes wonder who I would now be if I had not been abused as a child. I suspect I would indeed be a professor, probably living in New England, working at one of those well-respected, brick, ivy covered, post secondary institutions.

But I was abused. I know things I cannot unlearn, and I simply must apply them to the way I use my brain, to the way I see, to the way I read, to the way I teach, and to the way I write. I did not feel I could do that as a professor, not in Academia as it is today. To be an academic, I would have to compromise my intellect and my very being in ways I just could not accept.

I'm really not good at that kind of compromise. 

I can look the part of the professor, but I'll settle for being a highly educated, brainy, fashionable blogger. I reach more people this way anyway. More people actually hear what I have to say. And I can say whatever I want to say.

I'll just remain an outsider and continue my lifelong habit of observing the world from an outsider's perspective. I will not try to change what Del, one of Alice Munro's protagonists calls, "my old devious, ironic, isolated self." Whatever the reason -- abuse, brains, oddity, some combination of all these and more -- it's who I am.

To paraphrase the poet, Robert Frost, I will go on avoiding the road most taken.

How could I do otherwise? 

I go my own way, carrying my devious, ironic detachment with me.

And I will go on noticing the little things that many others seem to miss, like these January flowers ... 

... that match my scholastic skirt, which I will not wear in a scholastic setting ...

... on a beautiful day ...

... so bright, it blinds ...

... as the people flood the streets with their books and school bags and coffee.

There's more than one way to be smart. There's more than one way to use a good mind.

Personally, and call me crazy, I think my outsider, observer status in the world is part of what makes me so observant, even on seemingly trivial matters such as fashion. I enjoy that. I enjoy using my brain that way.

Check out my purple eye shadow, so in keeping with my late 70s, early 80s look.

Check out how the photo with my curl falling onto my forehead suddenly reminds me of Shirley Temple, to whom I was frequently compared when I was a small child.

I didn't know who she was, but I hated her because she made me feel on display. My similarity to her, whoever she was, brought unwanted adult attention, pinching of cheeks, comments on my supposed beauty or cuteness, or something. To me, being on display meant abuse, sexual abuse. Whoever this Shirley Temple was, I hated her, but I also felt sorry for her. Maybe she was as unhappy as I was.

Other people just see a cute kid. I see things differently -- but not wrongly. I could be right. It's worth a thought anyway.

But, despite all this, I still loved my hair. Joy and sorrow can coexist. Trust me, I know. I know things others don't have to know.

I still love my hair to this day. I often dress to compliment it.

My only quibble is that it's only red in certain light, not in all light. Maybe, when I finally go grey, I'll dye it just a bit more red than it really is.

That's if I ever go grey.

I'm 44 now. The greying process began years ago but, for me, it's really really slow. Nobody believes me, but if you look really hard, you can see a little grey. See? Look hard.

I think I've got a few more years of auburn, though, don't you? I like to wear bronze and brown jewelry to pick up the red in my hair. Such jewelry also makes me feel bohemian, in a 1970s sort of a way.

I got this ring for under a dollar at a garage sale in Toronto, when I was getting my M.A. there. I've only recently learned that the ring was made by Rafael, a Brutalist designer who worked in Toronto in the 70s. It's worth about $100. I think my eye for quality is yet another "symptom" of my observer, outsider status in the world

I paired it with this Brutalist bracelet given to me by a fellow lover of vintage, and this $2, 70s pendant that my friend, Sal, bought for me when I was going to pass it up. He insisted that I must have it. 

I got this great bag at an Ingledew's sale recently; it solves one of my disability style struggles. Since my back injuries took over my life, it's very painful for me to carry anything of any weight whatsoever, like a journal or a notebook computer. It's easiest if I carry things in a backpack or close against my chest. I've been using a backpack that my step-son used in kindergarten and, trust me, it effectively ruins every outfit. This bag is a good solution.

I knew it would fit perfectly in the front basket of my mobility scooter.

And, of course, I had to be sure Beau got a photo of it doing just that.

My chronic pain disability, caused by the child abuse, is yet another thing that helps me know and see the world differently from other people. It's yet another way in which I don't fit in. It's yet another perspective from which the more fortunate could learn -- if they chose to listen. 

And so, I sally forth on my unbeaten path, noticing the good and the bad both, the decay and the beauty in decay. 

Am I, as a professor friend of mine says, "wasting a good mind"? I don't think so.

There is light and there are shadows and I exist in both. That has made my path an unusual one, but it's who I am. And I must be true to that.

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

My Tribute to Dolce and Gabbana -- in my Little Italy

This is my little tribute to Dolce and Gabbana's 2012 collection. I had a lot of fun studying their work and its campaign, developing an outfit to pay homage to it, and taking photos of that homage at my favourite Italian cafe. 

It all started with this shirt paired with this necklace. The two together immediately made me think of Dolce and Gabbana. 

Anyone who has seen The Devil Wears Prada remembers Streep's scathing monologue about how high fashion filters down to cheap lines produced for the mall market. I suppose this shirt is a case in point. I bought it at Reitman's in 2014 but I'll bet its designer was at least unconsciously influenced by Dolce and Gabbana's 2012 line.

Do you see what I mean? The black background, the large rose motif: my shirt is a distant cousin of this dress, however much Mr. Dolce and Mr. Gabbana might object. (I do secretly hope that they'd actually like my outfit but who knows?)

(And, by the way, that guy smoking the cigar? He's a dead ringer for my first landlord in a neighbourhood called Little Italy 25 years ago. I still live in Little Italy and I think that's part of why the Dolce and Gabbanna campaign so tickles my fancy.)

So, I had the shirt, but it was these beads that pulled it all together. I have wanted a set of Murano, Fiorato (a.k.a. wedding cake) beads since forever. As the name suggests, they are Italian -- and they are beautiful. I found this necklace for a whopping $10 at a local thrift store. Individual Fiorato beads sell on Etsy for between $6 and $20, so I was pretty pleased with this steal of a deal.

I just love them.

My new necklace reminds me of a rosary, as seen in  Dolce and Gabbana's jewelry collections.

Add a little cleavage and you're good to go, D&G style.

Monica Bellucci style.

Charlotte style!

My earrings too were chosen to emulate Dolce and Gabbana's work.

Of course, their lines use gold, sapphires, rubies, and garnets, while I found my glass earrings in the garbage. But beauty is beauty and I'm happy with my earrings.

When I first saw this line, it was clear to me that their primary inspiration was Italian widows dressed in traditional, widow's black. When I first moved to Little Italy, all those years ago, I still often saw widows wearing all black: black tights or nylons, black shoes, black dresses, black cardigans, and black head scarves. I was not surprised when I saw that the 2012 line is sometimes called the Sicilian widow. 

You see the woman stirring her glass of tea?

Here, I am her.

Of course, being disabled, I can no longer wear all my marvellous heels, not if I actually have to, you know, function in any way. But I dug my little booties out of storage just to match some of the widow's weeds in the campaign.

And I even dug out my fantastic red and pink, Italian sling backs.

God I love them. God I miss them!

God how I miss high heels!

My outfits often don't feel quite right without them. The booties are so perfect for this outfit but I just can't move in them.

But, in keeping with the theme of the traditional Catholic widow, I can wear this great headscarf.

Maybe it's my Jewish roots showing, but I like the look of a nice headscarf. Not many of my friends agree with me. That won't stop me though, not when I'm in the mood.

Another thing I like about Dolce and Gabbana's campaign is their choice of the then 40-something (now fifty) Monica Bellucci as muse and model. She playing a character in the photo shoots: that of the sexy young widow. 

A few wrinkles and creases can be sexy. Yes? Yes!

I really like that Dolce and Gabbana's campaign is intergenerational. I've never been one to think my elders are dull. I've cultivated friendships with them all my life, even when I was a child.

And, yes, I do get fashion inspirations from them too. If you follow my blog, you've probably already figured that out. I like to call my style "Classy Grandma." 

Old people are not invisible to me. Mario and I both use mobility scooters and often commiserate about insurance companies, chronic pain, and life itself.

I've often heard the elderly complain that they have become invisible. That's just wrong! Just today, while I was riding my mobility scooter down the street, I saw an old lady being pushed in a wheelchair. I looked at her and gave her a big, "I'm disabled too" smile. She gave me a big, "Wow, you know I'm a real person" smile back. I didn't even look at the woman pushing the chair. It was a genuinely warm, happy moment.

Really, isn't that how life should be: the generations mixing together and learning from and teaching each other? I've always thought so.

Now that I'm a step mother, I have children in my life too and that's nice, even if it does mean that I know more about pop trends and, blech, pop songs than I really care to know. 

(Don't you think this particular photo is just begging for a caption and story?)

Tall Boots: Ecco; Shirt: Reitman's; Cardigan: boutique; Gloves: Warmen; Hair clip, earrings, black ring, bracelets, brooches, neclace, skirt, handbag, cape, booties, and skirt: vintage
Where does one go in Little Italy to find just such an intergenerational environment? Why, one's favourite Italian cafe, of course. So I bundled up in my cape and headed out for what I consider my café. 

I met Beau there. I proposed to Beau there. And I've written a lot of blog posts there.

As with the rest of my outfit, my cape too was in keeping with the D&G look.

You don't have to go far to see that my neighbourhood is the real, Italian deal ...

... though it's very hard to find any old architecture even vaguely reminiscent of Italy.

Still, the locals do their best. This mural is on the side wall of an amazing Italian bakery. I think this buxom baker would fit right in in the Dolce and Gabanna campaign, don't you?

In looking at their campaign ...

... it becomes much more clear to me just what the owners of "my" café were up to with their famous --- some might say infamous -- interior design.

They were, in part, going for the look of a piazza, like back home ...

... to give their patrons, as they say, "A Touch of Italy."

It even comes with us old fogies as fixtures out front, decorative but much used canes and all.

I live in a real neighbourhood, where shopkeepers and their patrons actually know each other, know each other's families, know each other's joys, pains, struggles, and victories.

Perhaps even more importantly for us coffee lovers, I live in a neighbourhood where I can walk into the cafe and say, "My usual," and Nick will know what I mean.

In these days of sprawling suburbs, box stores, and car culture, many think such neighbourhoods are things of the past. They're not.

Nick and his two brothers have been working at their father's cafe, and I've been coming to it, since we were all in our teens. Now Nick's own children sometimes pitch in on the weekends. Their are other such cafes -- and restaurants, and grocers, and cheese shops, etc. -- like this in my neighbourhood.

Each one has its loyal regulars.

I've known people to regularly drive in from the suburbs just to have an espresso in this admittedly, wonderfully, kitsch hang out. Yes, it's a bit of a stereotype of Italian life, but everyone enjoys it.

Yesterday, I said to my rabbi, "I should take you to my cafe for some great coffee." He said he didn't know the cafe. "Oh you've been there," I said. "It's the one with the cheesy Italian statues." Why yes, he said, yes, he had been there after all. I just knew it!

When created with playful respect, representations of stereotypes can be affectionate, not demeaning. Dolce and Gabbana, themselves Italian, clearly had fun with the stereotype of Italians as passionate, fiery, and emotional. 

I'm  not Italian, but I'm one of those fiery types myself, much to Beau's discomfort. Over time, he's learning to be okay with it.

The theory, I guess, is that, even with its upheavals, its ups and its downs, a passionate life is a life well and fully lived ...

... full of animation ...

... and emotion ...

... and beauty ...

... and companionship ...

... and humour ...

... all in the intergenerational fullness of life.

So get out there and have fun with it. Enjoy it.

Really, truly, enjoy it.

(I'm linking this up with Not Dead Yet's Visible Mondays, What I Wore Wednesdays, Random Wednesdays at Because Shanna Said So, and Hat Attack with the fabulous Style Crone.)