Dressing

 

I heard Tim Gunn interviewed this morning.  He said that he was worried about his new fashion TV show being released during the pandemic.  Wasn’t it wrong, frivolous, insulting?  His network said it was uplifting.  They put the show out.  Thank God.

Yes, I wear jammies and loose shirts every day now.  Pretty much.  Easter I put on a nice dress.  When I had a work zoom with people I didn’t know, I put on a work dress.

This doesn’t mean clothes and dressing aren’t important.

Even if I’m wearing my comfy clothes, those clothes are meaningful to me.  I have  navy pajama bottoms with constellations on them, a gift from my sister a few Christmases ago.  I like how they are night themed.

I have my overalls I put on for the hard labor of taking out the trash.  Down a whole flight of stairs!  Around the house!  Past my car!  My overalls have rips and paint spots, too.  Just throwing the straps over my shoulders makes me feel like I’m ready to do cleansing physical work.  I got them to build a house in Mexico, and I’ve loved them ever since.  They also still fit my new over 40 body, which is great.

I have a pair of yoga pants that I’ve had possibly forever.  They are grey, they are thin from use, but they are the old yoga pant shape, loose and looser on the bottom, and soft, soft, and they don’t squeeze anything, anywhere.  I love them, too.

I get to wear my favorite robe, which is jet black with colorful geishas and their fans.  I use the sash in my hair or tied around my waist with other dresses.

I enjoy time with my extensive collection of sockies.  No, not the sockies from Mario 3, that one stepped on to eject their former owners.  I have black sparkly sockies, purplish stripes, stripes plus raccoon faces.  They are the super warm super soft material that’s probably from space, without any grippies on the bottom, so I can slide around if I want to.

I wear my yellow dress with the burn hole.  I don’t feel right wearing it outside, but at home, I love it.

Now that it is warm, my outside the house clothes are much closer to my inside the house clothes.  In winter, I often hang out in the house in the long underwear I wore under whatever skirt or dress I took off.  Now that it’s warm, summer dresses are back.

I had Tim Gunn’s show on my calendar from the time it was announced.  It was one of the things I had to look forward to during… this.  I haven’t watched the last episode because I don’t want to run out of watching artists putter and make things and poke me with new ideas for how to dress.

And beauty is harder to find now.  Extravagant beauty.  Because I can’t hunt it or gather it, exploring my favorite antique mall and my favorite vintage place.  Flipping through racks quickly, because I know what I like, and what will please me.

I crave bright prints, as I usually do in the spring, big, bright, punching prints, and billowy skirts that let you sit in the grass or romp around with a dog or a kid.

Beauty matters.

I spent a little time looking through photos to appreciate clothes and outfits that made me especially happy.

I was crazy about the color of this long-sleeved t-shirt.  CRAZY.  It was rust, baby poop color.  I loved it.  I haven’t been so nuts about a color since I was nuts about Frank Lloyd Wright orange red.  My obsession with mustard and brown/orange yellows continues.  I always love a 3/4 sleeve since my arms are so long.  Regular long sleeves are often too short.

Occasion: Drinks with friends at Harry’s Bar and Tables, in Kansas City.  I was back visiting.

I still have, and wear, this little robe.  It always makes me feel happy and snappy.  And I always love stripes.

Occasion: coffee in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, on our way into the City, with my sister.  That place had good bagels, but wasn’t very cozy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This coat I bought while I was working at the worst job I’ve ever had.  One of the few good things about the job was that it was very close to a great vintage store in Brooklyn.  Immediately when I saw it, I thought of “Mad Men,” and I thought wearing it could make me truly happy.  It does.

Occasion: getting ready to go somewhere in NYC, and being in so in love with it I wanted a photo.

Vintage black cotton eyelet lace boatneck with straps, knee length.  This dress made me feel like Jackie Kennedy or Audrey Hepburn.

Occasion: Night of Obama’s first election.

Both the dress and the shoes, so special.  The dress barely fit me, but it was  lovely snug.  I loved the color, the cut.  I got it used.  It was homemade, maybe a costume.  Seams messy inside.  And those shoes with it, people stopped me to love those shoes all the time.  I need to have them re-heeled again.

Occasion: seeing the Jeff Koontz show at the Whitney.  I realized I don’t like Koontz, and I was rather lonely, but I looked great.  So there’s that.

This top from H & M I was so in love with.  I still have the sash to use with other things.  Great print.

Occasion: My first walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, several years before I moved to NYC.  I was just visiting.  We drank a lot of wine in an Italian restaurant on the Brooklyn side.

This green t-shirt said NYC, and I loved it until it had holes in it.  One of my top t-shirts of all time.  (Others: ostrich, TMLMTBGB, C’est la vie whale, squid, samurai bear, princess, Coney Island.)  The thing in my hair was my stepmom’s, from the ’70s.

Occasion: after a Fringe Festival “Star Wars” themed puppet show in Kansas City.

I still remember feeling cute as hell this day.  Big asymmetrical brown sweater, the top with the tie, I love those, and my favorite jeans of all time, rolled up for my boots.  I don’t think anyone else was wearing jeans and boots like that, but I didn’t care.  It made me feel like a pirate.

Occasion: visiting the New Museum, NYC.

This red dress I wore in Rome, and on Fourth of Julys like this one.  So comfy.  Vintage from Hawaii. I love the other two ladies’ dresses, too.

Occasion: Fourth of July in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.  I was feeling so neurotic earlier that day, but once I got to playing badminton, I had a lovely time and got quite a workout.

I wore this to the opera, and to a silly Christmas thing.  It might be the loveliest that fit me the best of all the dresses I’ve ever owned.  I couldn’t find the fancy photo at the Met, but this shows the dress off in a fun way.  It is vintage.

Occasion: Brooklyn Christmas drag show featuring Jesus and Mariah Carey.

Don’t Forget

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now we know: no one chose this trauma.  It happened.  It happened to all of us.  Like suddenly there’s a worldwide pandemic and we don’t have enough food or we can’t get a medical test we need, or we are laid off.

Trauma can cause you to not be able to do anything unless you first feel safe.  Never feeling safe is exhausting, as you may now know on a deeper level.

Many people in poverty, in dangerous neighborhoods, have felt this way every day all day long for your whole lifetime.

Living with a lot of people in the house means it’s hard to get things done.   Cats wander in.  Kids cry.  The kettle boils.

People in poverty are more likely to live with extended family, or friends.  In my experience, the less money people have, the more generous they are, particularly about sharing food and sharing space.

It’s hard to get things done when younger kids are crawling all over you, or people are cooking, watching TV, talking, in every space available in your house.

Like, say, your homework.  It’s hard to focus on abstract work when there’s activity and unpredictability all around.  Even kids who have access to great technology are struggling now.  Kids without technology, or a space quiet enough to work in, don’t even get to try.

People who live with you must be cared for.  Some of those people in those places bursting at the seams are likely to be elderly, ill (physically or mentally), or suffering from some serious PTSD from the jump.  In Kansas, people who are black can expect to live 6 years less than their white neighbors (Census data, Kansas Center for Health and Environmental Statistics).  Many people maintain differences in health outcomes are somehow not about systemic racism, but about people who are black being somehow different from other humans, in their abilities, or strength, or values.

Such thoughts are racist thoughts.

Many times kids in poverty are enlisted to help care for household members.  I think that’s a good thing in many ways, but obviously too big a burden can take away time and energy that  you need for other things.  It can also cause kids to act really immature and wild at school, because at home they have adults responsibilities.

Now you may know (if you haven’t thought about it lately): if you don’t have it, you don’t have it.  There are people who rarely go without.  In this time, we have experienced having continuing desires to go places and buy things and have things, and there has been no way to satisfy these cravings.

If you are in poverty, you may be dealing with such cravings and yearnings 24/7.

Trauma makes it hard to remember.  If I struggled before the pandemic to remember why I went into the kitchen, during the pandemic I have struggled to figure out, what did I do yesterday?  Or the day before?  And shoot I am in the kitchen, why?

All the memory work involved in schoolwork (of which there is, and must be, plenty, from sight words to medical terms) is significantly more difficult for people in trauma.

They often have other strengths, strengths of empathy and grace under pressure and loyalty and love.  But they may need more time, and work, and smarter work, to retain information they need.

In times of trauma, you have to prioritize and let a lot of things go.  Everyone who stopped wearing real pants now understands more about why when you’re struggling, you might let things go.  You might look a little scruffy.  We all do, right now.

More of us may now understand that if you don’t pay your rent, it isn’t necessarily because you are lazy or foolish.  We are all at the mercy of our employers, our customers, or the amoral economic system.   And the employers of people in poverty are often ruthless in their strategies to keep people poor, by giving them inconsistent work, work that isn’t quite full time, work without benefits.

The American government may step up and give money to the middle class.  Americans who are struggling more are required to prove that they “need” help, to prove they are working hard enough to help themselves, and help will be limited to short periods of time.

The Kansas government, for example, will give people in poverty money 24 months over the course of your entire life (don’t have multiple crises!).  A single mother of two in Kansas can make no more than $10 grand a year, or she loses help from the government.  Raise your hand if you can live on $11,000 a year with two kids.  (In rural areas, where there is little economic activity, work requirements are particularly draconian.)

Middle class people won’t be told they should have saved for a rainy day like a pandemic.  Or asked to fill out a million forms.  Nope.  When middle class people are part of the crisis, the government deposits $1200 in their bank accounts.  No one asks if they will spend it wisely, or if they can be trusted with money.

Have you applied for a small business loan or unemployment lately?  You may now know that getting help from a government bureaucracy is difficult.

The systems don’t work right.  There are hoops to jump through that don’t make sense.  There are requirements for paperwork that you just don’t have.  You have to show up in person, hoping that your time away from work or your kids or your granny will be short enough that no catastrophe ensues.

What we don’t have at this time is the additional difficulty of transportation to places where you can get help.  In most cities, that is a huge barrier.

Kansas requires its WIC participants to get education about nutrition and cooking, as if not knowing how to eat healthfully results in a lack of funds.  Or as punishment for the help other Kansans are offering you: hey, we will help, but you gotta be told how to spend your money wisely.  Getting to classes on nutrition, when you have a job that has no consistent hours, and a child, is a big ask.

You may have learned some of this.  You may have known all of this, but now you know it in your body.

I wonder if people who lived through the Great Depression knew this.  I think many of them did.

Please don’t forget it.  It needs to be said, people who don’t have money and resources are still people.

People who work in slaughterhouses and meat processing are also people, and their lives and their health is sacred.  Homeless people are people.  People in New York City are people.  They are not worth less than people with money.

It feels weird to have to say this.  But I’ve seen a mayor of a large American city saying, “We’ll be the experiment, let us start spreading the virus, and the people who die, die.”

Luck doesn’t make you more of a person.  Working more or harder doesn’t make you more of a person.  Having a degree, or a job with a fancy title, or having a job at all, none of this makes you more worthy.  Being sick, with physical or mental illness, with addiction, with trauma, doesn’t make you less of a person.

A lot of major world religions, in fact, would say those experiences can make you more of a person.

So please, don’t forget when it’s time to vote.

Don’t forget when people around you say, “If those people were more responsible/went for more walks/ate less government cheese….”

Don’t forget when people complain that kids in poverty do poorly in school because they have bad teachers and bad parents.

When politicians pour money into subsidizing highways and oil, but not into busses.

Don’t forget when politicians say we can’t afford health care for everyone, or addiction treatment for everyone, or other kinds of mental health care.

Don’t forget when politicians tell you there isn’t enough money to help your fellow citizens.  When your people are in trouble, you get them help.

Don’t forget.

Note:

Who am I to talk about this stuff?  I’ve worked most of my career (almost twenty years) with people in poverty, mostly as a high school English teacher.  I’m currently studying issues of race and education.

References:

Kansas Census data referenced

Kansas welfare requirements

Rural Kansas economic issues

Image: “Angel Applicant,” Paul Klee, 1939, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Self Soothing

On Easter, I had two long Zoom calls with each side of my family.  It was just a bunch of people happy to see that a bunch of other people were relatively okay.  For my uncles to joke in the same way they have my entire life, that was nice.

I tried hard to amuse my nieces and nephews with my pirate puppet.  He and I reacted, whispered to each other, and eventually made out a little bit.  (It’s not serious.)

 

 

 

 

 

Then I put on this TV show that seemed stupid, and started coloring in my new mandalas 4 ever coloring book.

I listened to the show and colored or like 6 hours.  Not sure.  It was very hard to make myself stop and eat something.  So I didn’t stop til like 1 in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

Of the self-soothing strategies, coloring in my mandalas is a really good one.  I’m fine with using that as my obsessive/compulsive compulsion.  It’s the new organizing your house!

 

 

 

 

 

Possibly stranger than the coloring, the show I was watching is called “Fatal Attractions.”  Each episode features two or three stories about a particular kind of animal, and how its hubristic owner is mauled or eaten by it.

It’s so relaxing.

 

 

 

 

 

In every story, there is clearly no one to be blamed but the dumbass who thought his hyena/cobra/tiger/hippo was totally safe because he loved his hyena/cobra/tiger/hippo.  In every story, the narrator says things like, “His luck was about to run out,” or “as luck would have it.”  In most stories, a friend or relative of the person who loves his hyena/cobra/tiger/hippo says something like, “I couldn’t keep [dumbass] from being with his [hyena/cobra/tiger/hippo], because that was his whole life.  He wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t get to [care for/feed/sleep with/swim with/manage the Grindr account of] his [animal who ends up killing him].

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was praying for a show that would engage me so that time stood still.  This was that show.

Don’t judge.

The moral of every episode is, don’t keep dangerous animals, dude!

There were some women.  But mostly men.  From the U.S., Australia, Germany, South Africa.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a perfect catharsis, according to the ancient Greeks:

–an important man (in his own eyes)

–flies too close to the leopard/rattlesnake/lion/crocodile

–CHOMP

–shake head and understand I am actually lucky, though it looks like I’m a person trapped in my home obsessively compulsively coloring in a coloring book

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, I don’t want to mock the friends and family of the dumbasses (and certainly I have been a dumbass many a time).  I figured, though, getting interviewed about their loved one for a TV show might be cathartic for them, too.

The stories are reenacted.  That is probably amazing, too, in its own horrible way, but I was busy coloring mandalas, remember.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another thing that makes this okay is the animal is almost never punished.  Sometimes the animal is wounded or killed during the attack, but hey, them’s the breaks, predators.  No one blames the animals.  Every single person is like, crocs gonna croc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a time with no certainty and no clear path forward, storytelling that follows a template is welcome.  And we must thank the stars if our coping mechanisms are as harmless as sensational television and coloring books.