Saturday, June 19, 2010

When Outfits Attack

Life after 40 is not for the easily embarrassed. I am in a process of reflection to decide whether I can live with that truism or if I need to seek other options. As the other options are looking bleak, I'm temporarily embracing the ludicrous in my life and sharing in the hopes that the cosmic joke is meant to be laughed at.

I have had so many humiliating moments lately that I decided for the sake of sanity and brevity to share only one category today. And the winner is: sartorial humiliation.

(Warning: this post is not a great one for men, my mother, the easily embarrassed, or anyone with a shred of personal dignity. If you have given birth, breast fed in public, been employed as a health care worker, or would rather laugh at me than realize you've been wasting your life on sudoku and bad television then this is the post for you.)

First Episode: Clothing Confusion

I arrived at work two weeks ago feeling well-rested and enthusiastic. As my boss is also my husband I figured he'd be doubly pleased to be in my ebullient presence. I practiced being a happy morning person on the children and the other parents delivering their kids to school. I assumed that the surprised smiles on the parents were affirmations that people love cheerful and energetic. What a stupid ninny I am.

At work I bounded up the stairs, merrily opened the door to the office, and called out in my best Debbie Reynolds impression, "Good Mornin'!" The boss was out. Our best friend, co-worker, and chief heckler was in. "What happened to you?" he muttered. Not the reaction I was hoping for.

"Good night's sleep I guess," and in an attempt to remain positive I launched into some of the many hopes I had for the day ahead that I had been considering on the way to work. I was coming to the end of my list and wrapping up with an expansive arm gesture when I felt a breeze that no woman ever wants to feel suddenly at work.

For want of a better term, I'll call it a nippular breeze.

With my arms still spread wide I looked down to blessedly NOT see my own nipple. What I did see was both explanatory and briefly more perplexing.

The source of the nippular breeze was a strange gap in my dress at the cleavage. The gap was caused by a stiff piece of fabric known in some circles as a tag. This fabric looked suspiciously like the tag in the back of the dress but I wondered, who puts a tag in the... front of... oh NO! With a trail of decidedly un-cheerful expletives behind me, I dashed into the bathroom, took off my dress, and turned it right way round with the last of my energy for the day.

Upon returning red-faced and discouraged to the office lobby the heckler said, "Don't worry. You didn't flash me. It was just hanging in a way that made your butt look huge." How very comforting.

I eventually confessed to this morning horror on Facebook hoping for some, "I do that all the time" comments. Instead many friends ruptured appendixes and gallbladders as well as spitting perfectly good coffee out their sinuses guffawing at my expense. Oddly, I still felt better.

Oh, if only that were my sole tale of clothing woe...

My lifelong friend turned 40 last week and was planning a great big night of: nothing. I kidnapped her for a full schedule of fine dining and crazy karaoke wearing her favorite color in a pair of pants that I made at least 6 years ago. I have only worn these pants a few times because they are quite dramatic. They are essentially wrap-around pants and a stiff breeze can show an acre of thigh. I was well prepared for this and wore a blouse that was rather long for some coverage, while being attentive when I sat down to keep the side vents closed.

If only I had been more attentive to the ties.

Anyone who has ever worn anything wrap-around knows that the ties are crucial. In these pants the front tie is particularly important. Why anyone would put a crucial tie in the front where it can be sneakily undone by a seat belt on the twenty minute ride to the birthday girl's house so that when a person gets out of the car the entire back of the pants falls to the ground leaving a person standing with a two yard long apron in the front and causing a shocking breeze that for want of a better term can only be described as an assular breeze in the back... is beyond me.

When that cool assular breeze blew past my behind I screamed like I had been shot. I sat down very fast but I couldn't stop laughing and tears were running down my face, so my daughter and friend panicked thinking I was having some sort of a fit.

As I tried in vain to communicate my predicament, all I could think of was that I was wearing a pair of back-of-the-drawer underwear. They reside there because the pattern on them is so loud they can be heard even under denim. They are the vuvuzela of panties and here I had just flashed half her apartment complex with them.

My friend swears no one saw, but I think my daughter had temporary partial blindness and I know that the security cameras, some satellites, and the man on the other moon caught it.

Final Episode: Making One's Own Mayhem

For our final vignette of the day I will share with you some sartorial humiliation in the making.

Because I am demented (it really is the only possible explanation) I have decided to make my own underwear. This idea came to me at an outdoor concert where my store bought undergarments were not cooperating with the rest of my outfit. Enough said on that. Use your imagination. (Oh, now she gets discreet.)

At that uncomfortable concert I thought, "Pants, blouses, jackets and shoes don't fit me... why should I expect underwear to fit me? I make some of my own clothes. I should make my own undies."

Thinking just like this is how the world ended up with toxic waste, nasty fast-food, and bad TV.

If only I hadn't gone through with it, but after much consternation, very little research, and some pre-sewing bragging... I made me some underwear this afternoon.

I am wearing this article of clothing... RIGHT NOW and I am about to get in the car for a 90 minute drive. Say what you will, but I question if anyone at Exxon, BP or Three Mile Island could possibly be as stupid as I am. This is a disaster in the making.

Did I mention that I did not use a pattern? I just took another pair of underwear from the drawer (front of the drawer this time) and cut fabric around it.

Did I mention that I did not use elastic? Elastic seems to be the source of my woes in other undergarments so I decided to skip it. I wonder why they even put elastic in panties? I bet I'll know the answer to that question by the end of the day.

Did I mention that I don't own a serger? All the sewers reading this just passed out on the floor. For those of you still conscious, making women's undies without elastic or a serger is like building a house without anything sharp and nothing to pound stuff with. A person might could still get away with it if a person had a pattern… oops.

Did I mention that I got front and back, inside and outside all confused? With the right combination of those mistakes everything could work out. You already know that I did not get the right combination, don’t you?

Did I mention that I tried to take a picture with my phone of the article in question on the behind in question and that was almost more humiliating than every other story I have told today? My thinking on this was that with a picture I could see what they looked like, because having not gotten into a car yet, they feel just fine. The good news – the photos were all blurry and are all deleted. The bad news – turns out that patterns are very, very important and that every warning you have ever heard about stripes is true.

In case you have not formed a full visual yet, there I am in the middle of the afternoon standing in my kitchen squinting at a blurry picture of my fanny crookedly clad in a pair of undies that may be on backwards and are definitely inside out when I hear the voice of Stevie Nicks singing "Landslide" in my head. I start humming along as I scroll then delete. Scroll, squint, gasp in shock, delete.

"If you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills, the landslide will bring it down..."

Lovely tune. That's when it hits me: these panties make my behind look like a landslide took out my right cheek. No amount of hitching seems to put that snow covered hill back together again. Oh heavens. Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

For those of you looking for the big spiritual meaning in all of this, I'm with you. At the most obvious, I need a tailor. More subtle are the lessons I have yet to learn. Perhaps today, particularly in the next 90 minutes, I am going to learn essential life and sewing lessons, all of which should decrease future embarrassments of aging. Maybe by sharing these humiliations I am becoming a wiser person.

One thing I know for sure, should I end up in an ER today, somebody is in for quite a surprise.

"Doctor, we don't know what happened to her but some sort of disaster has befallen her britches."

No dignity. No dignity at all.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

In the Company of Dudes

I work in an all male environment and it is turning me into That Chick who spends too much time in the company of dudes.

Exhibit A: Today I opened up a sleeve of Thin Mints. I called out to Ink Dude in the back office, "Yo, Ink - you want a Thin Mint?" He did not respond. Before I became That Chick I would have gotten up and walked (Thin Mints in hand) to the back office to offer again. Instead That Chick muttered, "No response, no cookies."

Exhibit B: Last week I used an expression the boys taught me in a conversation with one of their male friends. Let's say the operative word I used was "Weltmeisterschaft".

That Chick: You know he is all Weltmeisterschaft.

The Friend: Ack! (He kind of squeaked like a mouse.)

That Chick: What? You're a musician. You know I'm right. He's got Weltmeisterschaft written all over him.

The Friend: Okay. Whatever. I'll agree as long as I never have to hear you say that word again.

That Chick: Huh? You mean Weltmei...

The Friend: Ack! (And he ran away.)

Exhibit C: I held a staff meeting a couple of weeks ago to discuss toilet cleaning responsibilities, the lack of non-alcoholic beverages in the office refrigerators, and the office sexual harrassment policy. The jokes those boys made about the agenda were unrepeatable. By the end of the meeting Ink had cleaned the toilet but nothing else had been decided and I was laughing too hard to care.

Exhibit D: Speaking of Weltmeisterschaft, that's how the Germans talk about the World Cup. That Chick wants to buy a TV for the office so she can watch her team (Deutschland, of course) when they play. That Chick is all down in the mouth because her team is not looking good this year. That Chick has choice words in several languages that are not fit for polite ears when she thinks of her team not placing in the final three this year. That Chick says fussy things to her co-workers regarding sports apps on her droid. I read over that list and all I can think is, "Who is this woman? Sports... apps... on her... droid???"

I have always thought that gender differences were overblown in our society. I thought that "masculine" and "feminine" were cultural constructs with often nefarious power implications. I never felt like I fit in with the extremes on either end of the spectrum. Yeah, I sew, cook, and do crafts with the kids but I like philosophy and sci-fi, homebrew and barbecue. It all seemed to end up being a kind of gender neutral collection of interests shared by both men and women. Until I worked with all dudes. Now I am either "the girl" of the office which is a role I have NEVER coveted or I am That Chick who runs with the big dogs rather than stay on the porch.

Don't get me wrong. I truly work with three of the nicest guys I have ever known. They are smart, funny, responsible, loving Dads. They are serious about their work and they work hard. They have been incredibly patient with my office music choices which range from jazz to bluegrass, alt-country to hip hop, Sinatra to Snoop Dogg to Springsteen and back again. But put them together and throw me in the room and we become Three Dudes and That Chick.

I am not in full feminine crisis mode yet, but the day is nearing. When I give one of the boys a "Good Game" bum smack and belch out loud I'm checking myself into testosterone rehab: a quilting convention.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

June 6 - Libby Booth Was Born

There are people who hide from honest emotional engagement because it is too messy, too scary. I admire those folks like I do fire-eaters and tightrope walkers: I could never do it, but I imagine that it would be cool if I could. At least for a little while.

This is the eve before my aunt Libby's birthday. I love birthdays. Can't remember them to save my life, but I love them. Reason #5 for having a large percentage of male friends - most of them don't remember birthdays either and are thrilled when you buy a round to celebrate theirs even if it is 6 weeks late.

I would not have remembered that Libby's birthday was tomorrow. My mom told me today. She is the oldest sibling and not only remembers birthdays, but has all those other responsible, thoughtful habits that are the hallmark of so many firstborn.

My aunt was many things but responsible was a little lower on her list, let's say. But she had many other fine qualities including a great laugh, a green thumb, an eye for design, a flair for theatrics, and the most beautiful eyes in a family full of beautiful eyes. She loved animals. All of them. She loved Jackson Browne and the Allman Brothers, and dancing. She loved Mardi Gras and Halloween. And she was alive for her birthday last year but is not this year.

I am envying the emotionally distant folks of this world because I imagine them handling something like this pretty easily: the anniversary of the birth of a unique and flamboyant life ended too soon by her own hand. I like to think that this imaginary "they" do all kinds of things in the face of something like this. They play golf. They watch TV. They don't think about it. They don't regret. They don't wish for time machines or amnesia or to wake up and it will all have been a dream. They sure as hell don't blog about it.

I don't eat fire. I am afraid of heights. If I know you more than a day, chances are I'll get emotionally attached to you. And the anniversary of my aunt's birth makes me so sad I don't even know what to do with it. In writing this I am not looking for pity, or comfort, or solace. As I keep looking at the clock waiting for it to be midnight so her birthday will start and we can be closer to it ending I just think... I am not alone.

My mother remembers her sister's birth and has two other siblings who will be trying to get through tomorrow, too. My aunt grew up with twins who remember her birthday like they remember their own. Libby was their "third twin." I inherited the twins in the will Libby did not have. They keep her alive for me. I keep her alive for them. There's Libby's son, her step-daughters, her friends, her neighbors, her husband. Everyone has to deal with tomorrow and the realization that her birthday this year has become something we all "have to deal with".

I have several friends and other family who carry the weight of being recent survivors of suicide loss. Tomorrow may not be their day of lost promise, but they know what I mean. I stopped crying and feeling anxious and wrote this for them. Nobody else seems to be talking about the way it feels when someone you love kills herself and then her birthday comes ten months later and you feel so strange and extra sad. I think it translates to other traumatic deaths and the grief of those survivors, too. I think. I know for sure that there are some losses that make other people afraid to talk to you and this is a big one.

The pain of love lost is dreadful but when I imagine my world without ever having Libby in it, that feels much worse. Maybe next June 6 I'll know what to do with myself. Maybe next year I'll have some emotional distance. What I hope is that next year when my mother reminds me that it is the day before Libby's birthday, I can think about more birthday kind of things in Libby's honor and less funeral thoughts.

More Mardi Gras less Maundy Thursday.

More beer less tears. (She'd find that one extra funny.)

May those who were unable to die at peace, rest in peace. May those of us left behind know peace, too.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Cheerful Survival

This post was nixed because it is sad and I'm tired of bummer posts. It is resurrected as more news from the Gulf Coast comes in.

I'm standing at an oyster bar in New Orleans with a dripping empty shell in one hand, beer in the other when it occurs to me - misery changes not only how we see the world but also what we are capable of seeing in the world.
Now I was not miserable at that moment as I had my own friendly fireman in tow in case the Tabasco got out of hand, and I was eating in New Orleans - how bad can life be? There was the looming possibility that we would never eat indigenous oysters in that city again, but this was the third fine establishment of the evening so the threat of of environmental annihilation had been pleasantly and intentionally dulled by hops, barley, andouille and other gifts of the land of Saints.
By my second oyster I had already started a friendship with our shucker who asked what brought us to the city. We explained that we had finished another volunteer week of Katrina rebuilding in Mississippi and were observing the sabbath in that unique NOLA fashion of eating and drinking too much. And the Shucker said in complete seriousness...

"NAW! Mississippi got hit by Katrina, too?"

I then proceeded to break the very bad (and very old) news that his childhood summer playground had been wiped out. He was shocked. It was surreal. I listed off the cities in which we have worked: Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, Waveland... he knew them well, but was hit particularly hard by the news that Bay St. Louis had been heavily damaged. At first I thought, how could he not know? Now I think, why would he know?

In times of difficulty we shield ourselves whether intentionally or instinctively because we cannot bear to be wounded again. Why would someone who was trying to get through the devastation of his home, the jewel of the South, take an inventory of other devastation? Where would the TV be that he would watch the coverage on? And who would begrudge him if once he had the luxury of turning one on he chose to change the channel instead of watching more bad news?

Optimism is powerful taken straight but a chaser of willful ignorance can be just the boost one needs in the face of the unfaceable.

I've thought a great deal about this cheerful man since I left NOLA assuming I'd eaten my last real all Louisiana gumbo and oysters. I used to be an optimist. It was one of my finest qualities. Then I got a series of life beat downs that I found it hard to stand up after. I have not become a pessimist but I do always have a plan B, a packed suitcase under the bed, a few lines prepared should I need to deliver a eulogy. I can't embrace life with both arms any more because one is always guarding my gut from the inevitable sucker punch. I do endeavor to give life a mighty high five, though.

When asked about the oil spill the Shucker firmly and cheerfully told us that it was not going to be a problem for New Orleans. (To his credit, this was only a week after the spill when the news was still ridiculously low key.) His exact words were: "We gonna' be alright." This one was going to pass them by. Good point of view for a professional shucker to hold onto, in my opinion. And even if he no longer shucks, I do believe that he will be alright. He had that mindset and air about him: the cheerful survivor.

I then started to wonder where I could get some of that. I want to be a cheerful survivor. I'm very good at gallows humor, gutting it through, and empathy but I want to work on my cheerful survivor chops. I want to have the chutzpah to relax into the turbulence instead of thrashing determinedly.

This is becoming more important to me now that the life of a survivor of suicide loss is less of a postcard I look at wondering who on earth would have mistakenly sent it to me and more of a package I unwillingly carry around because I don't know where to put it. I found myself thinking the other night that through a strange series of connections, addictions, and errors, my aunt's death is one of the late casualties of the Vietnam war. "If there were no such thing as agent orange then..." This is fruitless thinking. It heals me not a jot. (And ain't auspicious!)

I follow a similar fruitless line of thinking on my grandmother's sadness. "If her mother had not died so young..." I think, and then I imagine this line of history threading from the 1930's to today where everything would have been different. This is regret, not optimism. This line of thinking fails to take into account the innumerable blessings in the lives of we, her descendants, that come from that flawed line which connects the young mother who died suddenly in rural Virginia to my giggling children running about acting like Bengal tigers 80 years later.

If there's any lesson from my grandmother's travails, or my aunt's suicide, it is the Shucker's lesson. We are going to be alright. We may need to put some blinders on to the woes of the world for awhile, but we will survive.

Today when I am overcome by the empty awful feeling of no going back that comes with grief; today when I heard my aunt's beloved Jackson Browne haunting me through the radio; today as more bad news comes about the Shucker's homeland I try on the weight of the cheerful survivor. If misery changes the world I see, I can have some control on how blurry or defined the picture is, can't I?

Sap is Rising

Beware: Post fest is coming. I've been muzzling myself again. I figure if I put them all out there at once, no way will you read every one, so my perfectionism will be unnecessary. This nixed post was some time in April when I was supposedly publishing whatever drool I could spew.
I was inspired by my blogging buddy of the Great White North, Guy Wonders, to capture some of the joy of a Southern Spring day. For Guy's take on Spring in suburban Canada go here.

The Doctor has said I need to beef up the walking and I swear he muttered "while you still can" but that was probably just the chatter of my anxiety. So I'm doing five times a week, mostly in my neighborhood which is loveliest in Spring. This weekend was another Virginia stunner. Because I was just too darn healthy (HA!) I have developed a mild but irritating eye condition. The upside is that colors are astonishing this Spring. I go outside and the world looks like a cartoon. I'm a big fan of green and with lush grass, fluffy bushes, and fresh trees there is much to celebrate.

I like to sometimes walk with headphones on but have had to adjust my tune choices because I just love that depressive Southern music. But Ryan Adams crooning about the slow death of his soul, Jason Isbell lamenting another failed co-dependent relationship, and my beloved Lucero's detailed descriptions of sobering up only to sink down again do not jive with the abundance of lilacs, azaleas, tulips and other happy bursts of color in yards and alleys all over my 'hood. For respite I have turned to R&B because they sing about Spring. Well, they sing about sex, but my high school coach said that was the same as Spring. And at least they are happy about it.

R&B also helped me realize that my 7 year old has reached "student of the human condition" status. He has been grounded for three weeks for lying his tail off to me about school assignments. After the misery of having to deal with his sulking and sighing the first couple of days, it has been quite pleasant to have him underfoot making anthropological and philosophical declarations.

Recently I was flipping through radio stations because my parental discretion slipped. While driving I zoned out listening to a satellite R&B station and when I came to, Little Man in the backseat was trying to figure out why Rihanna wants a Rude Boy. I barely caught the dial in time before he asked why the neighbors know Trey Songz' name.

For those of you lounging around listening to opera and Garrison Keillor on the weekends, let me explain modern R&B to you. Much of it is very dirty. Short on metaphor, little left to the imagination, and all about sex. Makes Marvin Gaye look like a celibate monk. Makes Gladys Knight sound like a prude. Makes Teddy Pendergrass, god rest his fine sexy soul, seem kind of prim.

That said, I have enjoyed my month long foreign exchange listening program because R&B is not only good for walks. It is danceable and I am alone in the office for extended stretches that beg for dance breaks. Say what you will about the "Ah-a-a-a-a-alcohol", but it begs for some shimmies.

So, Little Man is in the back seat as I hurriedly switch off Trey Songz crooning about his vociferous and insatiable girlfriend. I jump through three stations and we hear, "Look into my eyes, can't you see they're open wide, would I lie to you, baby?' then "Love to love you, baby" then "I love..." when he sighs and shakes his head.

"Whazzup, Lil' Man?"

"Mama. (sigh) Why are all songs about the same thing?"

"You mean love?"


"Lack of imagination, my boy. I heard a song about animals today. It was a mystery, a who-done-it involving a peacock, a wolf, a Mama Bear, a raccoon or two. Very interesting stuff."

"Now THAT sounds like a good song. Was it on the kid's station?"

"No, outlaw country."

"Mmmm... outlaws..." he said in the same tone as he says, "Mmmm... cookies." I love little boys.