My husband says it is odd when I start a blog in this intimate fashion, as if I am talking to someone. He says, “Who are you talking to?”
I shrug and say, “It’s just a different writing technique. It feels good to approach entries different ways.” Which is true. But it is also true I like to think a close friend is on the other end, instead of a critical audience, so sometimes I rather write in close, first person narrative.
I think Mark likes my blogs more formal because they make more sense to him that way- like the purpose of my being here is to practice a writing exercise, rather than something that feels exploitive of the family as I share funny exchanges of our day. (It is just that real life is such a great spring board for thought, don’t you agree? Most family stuff is universally true.) But I have enough formal writing in my world that I don’t necessarily want a well-constructed blog. It’s more enjoyable to write as if I’m talking to someone I share a bond with. I guess I am like a kid with an imaginary friend, only my buddy isn’t playing beside me, invisible. My friend lives in the circuits of my computer, kinda like in the movie Startrek, when the captain started talking to the space ship and it talked back in a sexy woman’s voice. (Of course, if I imagine my blog talking back, it sure as heck won’t be in a sexy woman’s voice. Something more along the lines of Mandy Patinkin’s deep, intimate tone would be more my style.) This confession makes me sound lonely. Ha. Maybe I am.
I am off the point.
Today, we will begin the long, laborious process of moving into our new home.
We are starting by moving things we don’t need for daily survival from the cabin to the new house, then we will take the things like beds and such, that will signify the official change over (we will start sleeping at the house) – then a moving van will take our furniture from the storage unit (where all our true possessions have rested for 1 1/2 years) This will probably occur next Tuesday or Wednesday. We have lived a long time without lots of “stuff”. I am guessing half of what we packed away will be discarded when we unpack it, because we now have a different perception of what is important in life. Downsizing is all the rage, and while our house is upsized, our neediness for “things” has definitely been downsized.
Moving is exciting, in an exhausting sort of way. The house is remarkable – I need to post more pictures so you get the entire scope. People keep reacting to it is such funny ways. The other day, the electrician asked if he could walk through with a video camera because he said, “There will never be another house like this one.” Mark and the builder exchanged a funny smile, because they are already working on plans to build another one like it – or probably better, if Mark has his say. But as far as I’m concerned, they can build a dozen houses like this one, and none will be as special. Copies never have the heart and soul of the original. There are details that are distinctly “us” in this house, things you would never do in a generic house made for resale. I love those details the best. I always hated that concept of doing things to your home for “resale”- as if all the decisions you were making were for the next guy. I personally, rather paint the place red if red happens to put me at peace. Beige is for sissies.
(Holly Molly – another bird just hit the window of this cabin. See what I mean? That is so freaky!)
Anyway, someone also made an offer for our house and land that represents almost twice what it cost to build. Whether or not that offer would take serious shape is one matter. But the theoretical concept was out there now.
Mark’s eyes bugged out of his head and he said, “What do you think about that?”
I said, “The house would come furnished, of course. WITH A WIFE AND KIDS! Cause if you think I’dl live in a temporary situation for another 1 ½ years while you build another house for us (and probably have a heart attack in the process) you are insane.”
“Um… yea, I agree totally.” He said.
Like he had a choice? The thing is, you could spend a lifetime building things and selling them to people who do not have a vision to create a remarkable environment themselves and probably make a fine living of it. But that is like devoting your life to enhancing everyone else’s quality of life. I think it’s important to live in the here and now, for you, and no profit margin is worth putting that off. Tomorrow never comes, ya know, so you can’t afford to put “living” on hold for sometime in the future.
I do love our new house, but the fact is, it is only a house. I keep reminding my husband that a house can be a prison if you are not careful to keep life in perspective. He sighs and promises me life will slow down and we can focus on non-material things as soon as we move. I’ll hold him to that.
Nevertheless, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled and breathless over the place we will be living. The house is cool, but even better is the setting with all the glory of nature outside the door. I have everything I’ve ever wanted in a life-environment now – a beautiful office for writing, an amazing kitchen (complete with some pretty cool ovens that are both convection and regular, along with other perks to delight a cooking enthusiast), a private dance studio as big as our former children’s dance center just for us –not for work, but for dancing for the joy of it (ah, bliss), nature trails for walking or running right outside the door, horses and llamas as part of the landscape design,…. a fire pit, a workshop for my husband’s junk, and even a big hot tub AND a Jacuzzi tub to soothe my old bones when I dare try using any of the afore mentioned perks.
For all that I might say a house is just a house; I have to admit this house is a slice of heaven and it is worth the sacrifice of alternate experiences, and the long wait, to get it. I wasn’t as enthusiastic as my husband to build something so grand and so permanent – but I am glad now that he did. Moreover, it has given me further proof (not that I needed it) that my husband has some amazing gifts that only need a bit of encouragement and support to flourish. It is rewarding to see your spouse happy, doing what he loves. Above all else, I think that is the best thing about the change in our life. Happiness isn’t a house, but it sure is being able to build one if that is your heart’s fondest desire.
This weekend, some friends from Sarasota came to visit. They are shopping for some land up here. They couldn’t pick a more awkward time to visit, because I can’t entertain while we are between homes in the midst of moving, but they said they will be busy scouting land, and they are cool with our being distracted. I am just hoping they find some land they want to buy, because that will assure they’ll come back later to close on it. Then, I can take care of them properly. Stuff them and take them out to play. I did manage to make them breakfast today, an egg, ham and hash brown casserole, crusty whole-wheat biscuits and a German apple pancake covered with sautéed apples. (This was more about killing off the last of our huge apple supply than about cooking something nice. In the past week I’ve not only been pushing sliced apples as a snack and put them in fruit salad, but I’ve made apple cobbler, warm apple cake with caramel sauce, apple gingerbread, and now a German apple pancake. I’m taking the last few sad little fruits that look ready to turn, to our horses. I will finally be apple-depleted. Whew. Using all those apples we picked was a challenge.)
New subject: Yesterday, I wrote my final assignment for my non-fiction professor. I hated sending it, because this concludes our work together. I enjoyed his tutelage so much that I chose to work with him for two terms (one full year), which took some groveling at the school director’s feet. I have learned a great deal from this professor. He is a good teacher, because he is encouraging and inspirational, yet he pushes students to expand their knowledge and abilities. He gave me great leeway to explore my interests, which allowed me to venture into creative non-fiction following the path of my own enthusiasm. When I graduate in June, I have every intention of writing a memoir or two – one about life transition and country living, the other about how a dancer is made (which would involved retracing my steps as a child with certain eager expectations – through to New York where the reality of dance was discovered, and into the world of making a stable living at the art, i.e. compromise (studio stuff). Finally it would explore why a dancer leaves the art – circling back to the childhood expectations and ideals and the life lessons learned along the way – it would be an interesting, albeit difficult, project to undertake). Then again, I’ve kinda written this book already. It isn’t a memoir, but a fiction accounting that begins at a dancer’s retirement . Through a series of flashbacks, diary entries and other such nonsense, the story of how art can become a powerful factor in one’s self image is unveiled. This is my thesis book, but I’d bore you to tears if I talked about it any more than this. Hopefully, you will read it someday – as an act of friendship if nothing else.
I am also considering writing a regular non-fiction book (how-to) that outlines studio management and dance education practices. I’ll call it the Million Dollar Dance studio. Catchy, hun? What studio owner wouldn’t want that book? I know I have an audience for this because I am still hired as a studio consultant and seminar guest fairly regularly. My reputation lingers even though it has been years since I was a New York name, go figure. Having managed a supremely successful studio (with Mark, of course, I don’t mean to omit his part in this success), I have real-life evidence to draw upon to support the theories this book would present. I must say that when it comes to running a dance studio, we know our stuff, and so much of our process was unique from other schools, that a case study would be a nice offering for others who could use some practical guidance on how to make a living teaching dance. I’m told that the combination of my experience and reputation along with the literary training I’ve now acquired, would make this an easy proposal to sell to an editor. Non-fiction book deals are sold before they are written, unlike fiction or literary manuscripts. And I have actually learned all about putting together this kind of proposal, thanks to my new degree. The problem is, while I could write this book in my sleep, I don’t know that I want too. It would be an easy way to be officially “published”, but I am thinking I need to step away from the dance school mentality and dive boldly into something I am less familiar with (and less qualified to do)- just as a means of stretching the Ginny envelope. I need to let go of what I know and take some risks (and some falls) as I tackle the things I have less confidence in. . . Gotta take your first steps sometime . . .
Funny – I have a little wooden sign over my computer that says, “Boldly Going Nowhere.” Ha. I think that says it all.
Anyway, you can make me eat my words later when I get all mopey and depressed and feel like a failure because I can’t sell a manuscript, so I resort to writing the dang dance management book as a way in ease into the publishing world. I am never as confident as I sound, ya know.
I wrote my last creative non-fiction essay yesterday, at least the last one that will be critiqued by a teacher. Any further attempts at this kind of thing will have to be done on my own. Hate to lose the motivation to produce – but no one can stay in school and have a teacher hold their hand forever. Now, I must turn my attention back to my fiction book. I have to have it all finished in about three months, for that is when I turn in the thesis for review. E-gad. Then, I must prepare a graduate level seminar for the final residency. Haven’t picked a subject yet. Have NO idea what I want to focus on. However, unlike many of the students, I’m not dreading this element of the degree. I am very comfortable teaching. I don’t find the idea of standing up and lecturing intimidating at all. Once I pick a subject, I am confident I will do whatever research is required and I’ll present the information in a solid way. For some people in the MFA program, teaching is a new (dreaded) experience – but not for me. Teaching is teaching, no matter what the subject, and I’ve been addressing crowds for a lifetime. Actually, I look forward to teaching a writing concept rather than a dance concept. It will be a nice challenge.
Speaking of which, I was asked to teach a writing class at the Appalachian College where I work with Kathy. I told them I have to wait until after I graduate. Still, this is something I will seriously consider later. I was also told one of the writers at the local newspaper office keeled over dead from a heart attack at his desk last week. Sad. They said, “They could seriously use you over there. Interested? We can give you a recommendation.” Again, I said that until June I can’t consider heaping anything more on my plate.
All these little things make me feel there is promise for a new sort of future for me. When you are brave enough to open a new door, it leads to many other doors. I love nice long hallways with lots of doors to chose from! But I also don’t want to bury myself in responsibility that isn’t required. I sort of want to keep myself free to write the book of my heart. I pursued my MFA to prepare myself for just this. How many people can pause life to follow a dream? Not many. I must cherish my opportunity and not throw it away. It is easy to let the most sacred opportunities pass us by when we are not brave enough to venture out of our comfort zone. Comfort is lovely. But discovery leads to an even greater comfort level.
Anyway, I must clean the cabin today, because friends are visiting. I thought I’d share my final MFA assignment essay here for anyone interested. I know Jamie will read it if no one else. (And send me a few corrections as only an English teacher can…) It is about something that happened to me this week that made me look at myself a new way . . . . . Save it for later if you’re not in the mood now. I know some people do that – save things for later. Just be careful how much you put on hold – good things get forgotten or lost that way. Enjoy!
Pretty is as Pretty Feels
Since I woke up a few minutes later than usual this morning, I skipped taking a shower. Instead, I tied a lovely, new scarf around my head and garnished the look with some complimentary jewelry. I like fashion. I like accessories. It just so happens, I liked my “look” today. The scarf I selected, a muted grey, yellow and coral design, made my eyes “pop” in an attractive way, and it brought out the blush in my skin. Most importantly, my stylish (somewhat dramatic) ensemble was proof that innovation can change a morning from “frantic” to “creative”.
I went downstairs, smoothing out my matching grey sweater while glancing around the room, searching for my favorite boots to complete the overall fashion statement.
My fifteen-year-old son looked at me and said, “Halloween is over, Mom. You don’t have to go around looking like a gypsy.”
My first impulse was to pinch him. My second, was to remember a kid wearing torn jeans and a faded T-shirt with a commercial logo blazing across the chest, would never be editor of a fashion magazine.
“Your jeans have a hole in them,” I said, just to remind him I’m the ultimate authority on appropriate dress.
He grinned, poking a finger through a frayed hole that suddenly seemed strategically placed, because it sure wasn’t in an area where jeans get realistic wear and tear. “You bought them like that. I think we paid extra for the hole.”
Just as I opened my mouth to make a retort, my nineteen-year-old daughter breezed into the room. She said, “Good Morning, twenty-year-old-Mommy.”
Was that a compliment? Or a crack? Every forty-seven year old woman would like to look twenty, right? Or, is she saying I am not dressed age-appropriately? No forty-seven year old woman wants to look like she wants to look twenty, especially if she is missing the mark by about seventeen years. E-gad.
“Am I too old for this scarf?” I asked, as I reached up to tug on the rim checking to see that my bangs were tucked in. I fingered the tails of the scarf, making sure they were still draped softly around my shoulder as well.
“It’s cute. Can I borrow it?” my daughter asked.
I considered for a moment my daughter’s love for zany hats and vintage accessories, the kind of brave articles that only overconfident, young adult’s wear as a public display of their individuality. I glanced at the clock. Less time than ever to take a shower now.
I decided to ignore both my children. They are, after all, just kids. What do they know?
My husband walked into the room. He saw the scarf and paused for a moment as if contemplating how best to react. “Cute,” he said, then proceeded to pour himself a bowl of raisin bran.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He looked at me innocently. “That . . . is . . . a . . . cute . . . scarf,” he said, as if slowing the comment down would help me process his opinion and take it in the polite manner with which it was intended.
I narrowed my eyes. My husband is no fool. He wouldn’t dare tell me if I looked dumb in this scarf. It’s his duty to make me feel good about myself. Besides which, what does he know? He thinks I look cute in grubby jeans and a paint-splattered T-shirt. Not to mention that it’s hard to respect the opinion of someone dressed in a camouflage undershirt and work boots, not what you’d call “fashion savvy” by any stretch of the imagination.
“Thank you,” I said, crinkling my nose at my son in an “I told you so” way.
I motioned for the kids to head to the car, privately discrediting my husband’s generous compliment. Love is blind, ya know. But I like it that way and it’s only fair that the “unconditional attraction clause” in marriage works two ways. Therefore, I didn’t make a comment about his yard-work outfit and instead, kissed the top of his head, careful not to let my chic scarf touch his goofy baseball cap, lest it get dislodged from its perfectly jaunty angle (The scarf, that is, not the baseball cap. That was already crooked, my husband’s hair sticking out bozo-like around the edges.)
Trying to retain my usual laissez-faire fashion attitude (no small feat when wearing something that now feels like a costume), I dropped my kids off at school and stopped by the coffee shop to get a latte. I visit this store every morning at ten past eight, and so I share a friendly report with the girl working behind the counter.
She smiled as I entered and said, “Morning. Nice scarf.”
I paused, trying to decipher her tone. She couldn’t very well say, “Morning. Weird look for you,” now, could she? Therefore, what exactly did she mean? “Nice scarf for a twenty year old” (which she is) or “Nice scarf for a gypsy?” (Which I’m not) or, “I’m polite so I will say ‘nice scarf’ to make you feel comfortable, even though you’ve come in here this morning wearing a get-up so odd it can’t be totally ignored“?
“I didn’t have time to shower today,” I said, feeling the need to make a disclaimer.
“I have days like that,” she said. “But still, I like the scarf. I picked those same colors for my kitchen.”
She thinks I look like a kitchen? I headed back to my car, holding what had become a rather tasteless latte in my cold hands. Two women smiled at me from across the parking lot, no doubt glad to be standing downwind. I imagined they were thinking, “See the scarf. That woman must not have taken a shower today. Why else would she go out in public wearing that outrageous scarf on her head? Doesn’t she remind you of a kitchen?”
I quickly drove home, instantly jumped into the shower and took great pains to do my hair just so.
So much for my brave fashion foray.
When I think about my response to everyone’s reaction to my scarf, I feel a bit sheepish now. I pride myself on being a trendsetter and a free thinker. Since when do I care what other’s think? I liked the way I looked in that scarf. I believe the colors made my complexion glow and covering my vibrant red hair brought attention, for once, to other features. But the fact is, every woman wants to be perceived as pretty, and while we recognize (on a intellectual level) that it’s only important we feel good about ourselves, deep down, we like to think other’s share our positive opinion. Even though I personally thought my scarf was pretty, I simply didn’t trust my “look” was perceived in a positive way by others, and as such, it ruined the pleasure for me.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” my mother use to say. And, “Beauty is only skin deep.” That may well be true, but why is it that every beholder has a different ideal of what is skin-deep-pretty? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what is pretty to each individual has little to do with our natural gut reaction to a visual image. We are taught what is pretty, just as we are taught to be prejudice or taught what religious or political affiliation is right and good within our intimate family circle.
Fashion changes. Botticelli women were all the rage in the 1460 but in 1960, emaciated Twiggy was the ideal. In each case, a healthy, non-excessive body weight wasn’t receiving the admiration it deserves. Cultural style mandated what body type was perceived as beautiful.
Historically, we look back on those trends and shake our head at the absurdity of public opinion. But knowing beauty has been established by social attitude in the past still doesn’t stop us from allowing our concept of what is and isn’t pretty to be influenced today.
I don’t suppose I will ever consider the women of Ubangy striking, no matter how large the plates they use to deform their natural lip line may be. I can’t imagine I’ll ever feel envy over their stretched earlobes, deformed by wearing massive iron rods where I would wear delicate jewelry. These forced physical adjustments are considered beautiful in the Ubangy society, but not in mine. And no matter how long I stare at pictures of these women, seeking an understanding of their concept of beauty or attempting to appreciate the originality of their fashion trends, I can’t seem to get past the fact that their ideal doesn’t look attractive to me personally. Would I feel differently if I saw the same style on the cover of vogue magazine? If the stores I frequent began pushing displays featuring a similar look, condoned by designers I admire, would I find myself trying to enhance my features unnaturally, because my perception of beauty will have been altered as social acceptance becomes the norm?
I sponsor a child named Muliken, in Ethiopia. I not only send monthly support to enhance his life, but we exchange letters. One day, I sent Muliken a large, eight by ten picture of me so he would have a face to connect to the person he was talking to across the sea. He wrote back:
My dear sponsor,
Thank you for the pictures. I see you have marks all about your face.
I am sorry. What sad thing has happened to you?
I thought his response endearing. I wrote back a long letter explaining that, what he perceived as a malformation, was simply freckles. I explained skin pigment and told him that lots of people in America have these markings on their face, like leopards from his world. His honest reaction to my looks didn’t bother me. In fact, it made me chuckle, for I understood he had probably never encountered anyone with my complexion before. Muliken didn’t consider me pretty; he actually saw me as deformed in some way, but I wasn’t perturbed by this, because I recognized and respected the huge cultural difference between us. The fact that Muliken didn’t find me pretty didn’t make me question my self-image at all.
Since I understand the power of cultural influences, why does it disturb me so much when my own society passes beauty judgment? Knowing, intellectually, that beauty is influenced by cultural (and sub-cultural) attitudes, I should shrug off public opinion and not allow it to shake my confidence. Yet, it does.
My son is fifteen, enmeshed in a culture where standing out from the “in” crowd often results in being ostracized. He and his friends all dress the same, speak the same, and think the same. They spend hours studying the internet and TV in a mad struggle to keep abreast of what is “cool”. They believe they must comply with the unspoken code of what is “in” to earn coveted peer approval. In his eyes, my wearing a funky scarf when no other mothers are wearing them will set me apart from my “peers”. Therefore, it’s a fashion risk my son simply cannot approve of. To him, how the scarf actually rests against my face, bringing out the color of my eyes or enhancing my skin tone, has little to do with whether or not I look pretty wearing it.
My daughter, on the other hand, is a bit older, of an age where flaunting social norms is considered daring and independent. She not only applauds the possibility of her mother standing out, but she wouldn’t mind borrowing the scarf herself, since it attracts attention. To her, how the scarf actually rests against my face, bringing out the color of my eyes or enhancing my skin tone, has little to do with whether or not I look pretty wearing it.
My husband doesn’t see much beyond my face or figure. As a busy man who skirts many of the cultural influences in the media (he has no interest in fashion magazines and rarely shops) fashion evades him completely. He does like me in a tight sweater; a pair of clingy jeans, maybe even a pair of come-hither boots, once in a while. However, his taste in a woman’s dress has nothing at all to do with fashion and everything to do with reminding him just what is under the clothes. To him, how the scarf actually rests against my face, bringing out the color of my eyes or enhancing my skin tone, has little to do with whether or not I look pretty wearing it.
Unlike my family members, my friend at the coffee shop has no personal stake in how I look. No one is going to think more or less of her simply because one of her customers looks like a twenty-year-old-mother-gypsy. I sincerely doubt she notices how the scarf molds the shape of my face or enhances my coloring either. She sees a lot of faces in a day, and I bet the only faces she considers pretty, are those wearing a smile. Yet still, when she said, “Nice scarf,” I didn’t trust the comment.
I did my laundry today and after I washed my scarf, I hung it up with a dozen other beloved scarves and wondered whether or not I will wear any of them.
My gut instinct is to purchase a new alarm clock so I will never wake up late and be faced with the “no-shower” dilemma again. This would dissolve the motivation for donning a scarf. But perhaps that is the wrong attitude. Perhaps I should begin a campaign to parade my individuality for all to see. I can wear a different scarf everyday for a month as a matter of principal. The problem is, when people get accustomed to seeing me in scarves, the “look” will fail to make a fashion statement. If I abruptly change my image, people might even feel badly for me as they wonder if I have cancer or if I can’t pay my water bill as they try to figure out why I am dressing out of the ordinary. Besides which, I’d get awfully tired of the same old look, no matter how nice an experiment it is to draw attention to parts of my body other than my hair.
I could always just wait until wearing scarves becomes fashionable again. It is only a matter of time until the mussed hair look will lose popularity and a sleek, colorful scarf will take center stage. A scarf fashion trend would increases accessory sales and anything that increases revenue will eventually prove popular, thanks to economical world forces. I just have to sit tight, and wait for that to happen. Then, I can don a scarf and when people say “Nice scarf” I’ll trust they mean it, for they will no doubt be wearing a scarf too.
I could always listen to my children’s opinion and save the scarf for next Halloween. Or wear it when I am feeling particularly old and want to pretend I am twenty again. I can even wear it for my husband with nothing else, just to see if he notices (he won’t.)
But the truth is, whether or not I wear the scarf again has nothing at all to do with how other’s perceive it and everything to do with how I perceive other’s perceive it. (Complicated, but true.)
I have to decide what is pretty in my estimation. And that means I have to stop second guessing remarks that are probably nothing more than earnest recognition of my walking into a room looking different than usual.
The truth is, this morning, no one said my scarf was unattractive. I decided they didn’t like it because I read something into each and every comment made about my “look.” In the end, it’s safe to say the only person who didn’t really think the scarf looked natural on me was me.
“Pretty is as pretty does,” my mother would say.
So the question really is, “Does wearing a scarf make me feel pretty?”
Looking at the wide array of scarves hanging in my closet, I have to admit, I like the color, texture, and multitude of style options that scarves offer. So, tomorrow I’ve decided to get back on the horse and try wearing one again. I’ll consider it an experiment. It may be wise to tie the fabric tightly around my ears to block out the sound of other’s voices. Then, I won’t be influenced by anyone else’s opinion of what is or isn’t pretty. However, for this to work I have to understand that to be really comfortable wearing something different, there is only one voice I must silence.