Being Shiny

It was an interesting conjunction. I’d posted a tweet about the character Chrisjen Avasarala on The Expanse and statement necklaces. This one:

I’ve never been one for big necklaces, but the combination of using Zoom for more interactions and watching Chrisjen Avasarala on The Expanse has me browsing through statement necklaces that I don’t have the budget for and I’m not sure I’m brave enough to wear.

It was getting some interaction with twitter friends. At the same time I was in a Zoom writer date and during one of the pauses a fellow writer asked me what I was working on. I started talking about the work I’ve been doing to prep for the next class I’m teaching online. She then said something like “Wow you’re so amazing” with a tone that also suggested that she felt out of place and insecure. I was immediately hit with a desire to shrink. I felt like I was being too shiny, too impressive and I needed to tone myself down so that I wouldn’t make my friend uncomfortable.

So here I am sitting and looking squarely at that desire to not outshine others, and my own words about not feeling brave enough to wear a statement necklace. I think both are things I need to get over. I’m consciously trying to claim my own competence and to not apologize for having it. Even when that competence is based in acquired experience and study rather than an official degree or certification. This is part of granting myself permission as I wrote about a few weeks ago. Shrinking myself to fit in doesn’t actually make anyone else feel more secure in themselves, while me stepping forward to own my abilities might show them a path where they claim theirs. If I’m standing tall, I’m in a better position to help others and make space for them to grow too.

I think again about the character of Chrisjen Avasarala. She owns the screen every time she is on it, dressed gorgeously, making hard choices, willing to apologize for mistakes, but never apologizing for being herself. I can try to be a bit more like that, with or without necklaces.

Wedding Shopping

On Saturday I accompanied my daughter and her fiance as they went shopping for a wedding dress. From the moment we walked in we felt the weight of expectation. We were greeted at the door and assigned an appointment with a stylist who could be with us in just a few minutes. The store was full of women prepared to pamper and flatter because surely every woman wants to feel like a princess when buying a wedding dress. We were surrounded with racks of sparkling, flowing white. And somehow they all had a sameness to them which seemed completely unappealing. After a few minutes we were convinced that we weren’t going to find anything and we were making contingency plans involving going to a vintage clothing store, ordering off the internet, or perhaps even sewing.

Then the stylist showed up and listened to my daughter’s concerns. To the fact that she didn’t want anything sparkly or scratchy. She knew that having dress that rustled as she moved would grate on her nerves. She needed something that she could wear comfortably for hours at a time while having to mix and mingle with crowds of well wishers. A dress that was lovely, but designed for wearing not for flashy display. The stylist listened and helped her pick three dresses to try on. We were then led to an area with dozens of mirrors, dressing rooms on a raised platform, and a ring of chairs surrounding it. It was an area designed to put the bride on display. Fortunately we’d walked in during a quiet time, so we didn’t have to deal with other brides and their entourages. It was just us and a stylist asking “So does this dress make you feel like a bride?” while my daughter stared at her in disbelief and said “I have no idea what that feels like.”

Several other stylists stopped by since they didn’t have clients at the moment. They all kept asking “do you think this is The Dress?” and you could hear the capital letters on The Dress. As if we were on a quest to find the one true dress. Which seems like a lot of emotional weight to put on some clothing. We even spotted a sign which was obviously designed for women to hold up while taking Instagram photos.

And yet despite all the interest and expectation, the stylist was very good at her job. Once she realized that my daughter was more interested in a dress she could wear while running from a zombie apocalypse should there happen to be one mid-wedding than a dress which made her feel like a princess, the stylist changed which questions she was asking. (The moment of complete bafflement on the stylists faces as we were making running-from-zombie-apocalypse jokes was sort of priceless.) We were fortunate and surprised when the second dress turned out to fit all my daughter’s needs while simultaneously being lovely. The last act of the stylist was to have my daughter ring a bell to indicate that she’d found The Dress. I think the tradition is to ring the bell loudly so that everyone in the store could cheer. Fortunately the store was pretty much empty and the bell can be rung quietly too.

We were handed off to a seamstress to talk about alterations, she was much more practically focused and she was also geeky enough to laugh at zombie apocalypse jokes. My daughter has another fitting in three weeks and we’ll pick up the completed dress a comfortable month before the wedding day. So we have another task complete and we can move on to the next one.

The Importance of Geek T Shirts

My son has been drowning in the social swamp of junior high. Today he was finally able to put words to the fact that he doesn’t feel like anyone at the school is like him, that he has nothing in common with any of them. I know for a fact this is not true. That school is full of geeky boys who love video games and would be happy to be friends with my son. The trouble is that my son can’t pick them out of the overwhelming crowd. Even when he does admit that there is this one kid in his History class who he likes being around, my son’s anxiety stops him from asking “Do you like to play video games?” My son is terrified the other boy will say no. He’d rather not know that risk asking.

I sat there with my son in silence, finally recognizing the scope of the problem my son has with making friends. His anxiety makes him incapable of reaching out, asking the simple social questions that foster connections. Instead he has to wait until he’s around someone enough that they become familiar to him. Then he has to wait until there is a conversation he feels comfortable joining. Even then he often shuts down, retreats inward, is unable to speak. He needs potential friends to come to him, repeatedly, even if he retreats from them. Only they have to approach him without alarming him. All of which is really hard to expect in the social milieu of a junior high.

So I shrunk the problem smaller. What thing could we do to help my son have a conversation about video games with the one kid who might become a friend? I realized my son needs props. He needs simple conversation starters. He needs signifiers of what his interests are so that people who are also interested in those things will approach him. My son needed geeky t shirts.

I’d never before recognized the real social value of geeky clothes. They are the tool by which introverted people signal their tribe. The Zelda Triforce symbol says worlds to another Zelda fan, but probably goes unnoticed by those who don’t love Zelda. And if two folks wearing Zelda shirts meet, they already have a topic of conversation to start on. They can discuss the various Zelda games, characters in those games, which ones they like best, and on and on. From there it is easy to compare thoughts on other games, and then maybe agree to get together and play games sometime.

My son has had a smattering of geeky clothes over the years, but he’s grown a lot in the last eight months. He’s grown out of them, worn them out, or they represent things he used to love and doesn’t love as much now. He needed up-to-date clothes that represent who he is right now. He needs shirts that will make other geeks laugh. So I dropped a pile of money on t shirts today. They’re important.

Dressing Up

It is not often that Howard and I get a chance to put on our nicest clothes. Usually it is in connection with an award ceremony and thus is an inherently stressful situation. On the cruise we got to dress up without stress and we quite enjoyed it.
Fancy 1

Here is a better picture of my dress. I’m standing with Ellen Kushner.
Fancy 2

I’m quite pleased with the dress. I found it at a thrift store. It had been overlooked because at the time it was a pants suit. I altered it to be a dress and made the shrug to match. One of the nicest things is that the base fabric is polyester knit, so I can wad it into a ball in my suitcase and it will still come out wrinkle-free and ready to wear.

Clearing out the Closet

I ran my hand across the row of skirts. They were things I’d worn, things I still wear, and things I might wear. I began grabbing those in the bracket categories and pulling them off the hangers. It was time to let go of the skirt which could be really cool if only I found the right match for it. It was time to bag the skirt which I used to wear, but no longer feels comfortable. When the skirts were thinned, I did the same for shirts. Anything uncomfortable or stained came off the hangers. My closet had more space. I removed the red shirt I don’t like to wear, but kept because having a red shirt is useful. Now I can see a red shirt gap in my wardrobe and perhaps I’ll look to find a shirt I like to fill that gap.

The closet purge was triggered by a conversation with Howard that clicked into my long-term dissatisfaction with my appearance. My body changed shape in the past few years and I guess I kept hoping it would revert. It was only a shift of five pounds. I’ve had that sort of shift before without needing to adjust my wardrobe. So small a shift seemed like it should be easy to back track. It used to be easy. Or maybe it was denial that let me make do with only two pairs of pants that fit comfortably. I filled in the space between wash days with grubbier-than-usual clothes because elastic waistbands don’t remind me that I can’t zip the pants I used to wear. There was also some stubborn denial in the fact that I don’t want to be a person who complains about getting older or gaining weight, particularly in so small an amount. I know that I have less cause to complain than many women. In fact, I know that I’m very fortunate and that the weight I’m mentally grumbling about is one that women with health issues would be delighted to achieve. My current body shape is socially acceptable and is right on the border between normal and overweight for my height.

The truth is that human bodies want to add weight as they get older. I’m going to have to learn to dissociate my feelings of personal attractiveness from my memories of my twenty or thirty year old body. Even if I do manage to shed five, ten, fifteen pounds, my body will be different than it was before. Also, I think my dissatisfaction with my appearance has far more to do with things going on in my head than with the shape of my body. The things going on in my head were reflected in my closet and drawers which were full of clothes that used to be wonderful, or might be lovely if. I had to clear out all of that, so I can see what really is useful. I don’t need all of my clothes to make me feel pretty, but I certainly need to get rid of the ones that contribute to making me feel ugly. It will take me awhile to fill the gaps in my wardrobe. Money is tight this year and that has led me to hang on to stained clothing because I didn’t want to pay to replace it. Part of what I had to set right in my head is that sometimes I’m allowed to spend clothing budget on me instead of always on Howard or the kids. I always forget that when money gets tight.

I’m not going to give up the fight for those five pounds. I’d like to plant myself firmly in the normal range because I believe that is best for my long-term health and well-being. But I’m going to stop believing that losing weight is the quick path to feeling better about myself.

Pulling Things Out of the Closet

Little things can make a world of difference. I have been frustrated with my closet for years. The shoes were always in a jumble at the bottom. I thought about getting a shoe rack, but if my shoes took up vertical space, they would interfere with hanging space for shirts. So I kept having to rummage in the bottom of my closet any time I wanted to wear a pair of shoes that had been out of use for awhile. It was only a little bit frustrating, but a little bit of frustration each time begins to accumulate. A couple of weeks ago I was again rummaging for shoes and I felt sad that the rummage process sometimes squashed some of my more attractive shoes. In fact I’d taken to leaving my prettiest shoes in their shoe boxes to protect them. Except that exacerbated the rummage problem. This was when the light went on in my head. I have pretty shoes. They are intended to be decorative. They can be decorative even when I am not wearing them on my feet. I bought a simple shoe rack and put it out where my pretty shoes could make my room feel nicer. It worked. Every time I walked into the room and saw my pretty shoes lined up on their rack, I had a small happiness in my day instead of a small frustration. This week I’ve been doing lots of organizing and I realized that I’ve been hiding away other pretty clothing items which could be decorating my room. I’ve now fixed this.

My scarves and shawls look lovely hanging next to the shoes. The hooks are just adhesive hooks. They don’t damage the dresser at all. Even better, it only took me fifteen minutes combined to assemble the shoe rack and put up the hooks. My work shoes and snow boots still lurk in my closet, but I don’t mind if they get jumbled around.

I also pulled out my earrings where they can be admired.

To hang my earrings, I just used hot glue to affix a fabric mesh into a picture frame. Perhaps later I’ll find a prettier frame, but this works for now.

The hooks for Howard’s hats are not quite working yet, but it still gets them out of the closet and looks better than the jumble which used to adorn the top of the dresser. This picture does not do justice to the lovely warm brown of the top hat.

Bit by bit I am making my house a place full of small beauties and happinesses rather than small frustrations.

Favorite Colors

I’ve been thinking about colors lately. Part of this is driven by the fact that I still have kids in elementary school. In the lower grades knowing your favorite color is of paramount importance. Every “about me” survey will ask about favorite colors. Kids will ask each other as well. Knowing a person’s favorite color tells you something about them. When I was in elementary school I struggled with this question, because I didn’t have one. I liked all the colors. Any time I faced one of those surveys I would write “rainbow” or “all of them.” It came as a great surprise to me to reach adulthood and discover in myself a marked preference for the color green. I don’t know when it started, I don’t know why, but green became my favorite color during the years when my kids were babies and toddlers. That was also the period of time when spring solidified its place as my favorite season. Perhaps the two things were linked. Green is a lovely and soothing color. It blends well with lots of things. Once I discovered my preference for it, I was comfortable. I expected to prefer it for the rest of my life, just part of growing up.

Of course we never stop growing up. Adulthood is not a stopping place, it is a long passageway. There are emotional stages and growth to be gone through as long as we are alive. Of late I’ve discovered that I am drawn to the color orange. I’m also drawn to brilliant persimmon, teal green, sea blue, and deep lavender. Any color that is soft but vibrant. (Not florescent colors. Those hurt my eyes.) I want to surround myself with bright colors. I want to wear them. At first I was concerned by this trend. Perhaps seeking bright colors meant that I was seeking attention, that I wanted people to notice me. But I don’t think it is about forcing people to notice. I think it is more to tell myself to be brave, to stop hiding. I spent several years where most of my thoughts and actions were dictated by suppressed fear and anxiety. Many of my thoughts and actions still are, but I’m starting to untangle it. I’m starting to learn how to dismiss fear. I can be a person who loves and wears bright colors even though it means they may sometimes clash with things around me.

Storymakers Day 2, the Whitney Awards, Retiring a Dress, and the Day After

Howard is out of his element at the Storymakers conference. It is an event full of women, many of whom read and write stories that are essentially romantic. I’m not precisely in my element, but in many ways it is a better fit for me than the average Science Fiction convention. On the whole these are readers of Austen, not Niven, though there are definitely individual exceptions. Not that “fitting” matters because we always find wonderful people at these events. I guess the difference is that I’ve walked away from Storymakers with a long list of follow-up items–people to contact, things to do–where Howard is spending today switching gears. Tomorrow I’ll be following up and he’ll be moving on. Although that may have more to do with me being the business manager and him being the artist. Perhaps the whole perception is entirely imaginary, a result of me being very tired.

The extreme fatigue hit me right after I finished my last teaching hour. The cover design class went very well. We covered the important material and were able to give intelligent answers to all the questions. I’d love to co-teach with Crystal again anytime. I’d love to teach that class again. In fact I have a whole list of classes that I want to be able to teach. I’m going to blog that list (possibly tomorrow) so that I can reference it as necessary. Often I’m invited to participate in programming only to draw a complete memory blank when they ask what I’d like to teach. If I file the list intelligently, in an easy-to-find location, then perhaps it will someday be useful to someone who is considering inviting me to an event. If nothing else, making the list will convince the back part of my brain that we really are allowed to think about something else now. On the same theory, I’ve made a list of things-to-blog. In making that list, I realized that I still have thoughts left over from our trip to Moab. It has been an exceedingly brain-busy three weeks.

At the end of the Storymakers conference, I attended the Whitney Award banquet with my mom. Howard volunteered to go home and be with the kids so that we could stay. I wore my orange dress, the one I last wore to the Hugo award ceremony in August. I was a little worried about wearing the dress, the night of the Hugos was not my best night. I knew that wearing the dress might trigger somatic memory, particularly since I was wearing it to another award ceremony. I did not want another panic attack like the one at the Hugos, but I needed to wear the dress again. I needed to see if I could disconnect the panic from the dress. The Whitneys were a good practice event because they are much less emotionally fraught for me than the Hugos, we were not eligible for any of the awards. Also, I had a change of clothes in my car, so in the very worst case I could duck out and change. The trouble with the dress is that it fits tightly across my ribs. It does not actually constrict my breathing, I can fill my lungs completely, but it feels like it constricts. Constrictive clothing can magnify or trigger a panic attack. Additionally, the fabric of the dress does not breathe at all and so in a warm room I can easily feel over heated. Over heating can magnify or trigger a panic attack. It turns out that this lovely dress is at least partially at fault for my Hugo experience. I put on the dress and was fine. I walked down to dinner and felt completely relaxed. I sat down to dinner and I had to arrange my thoughts carefully and breathe cautiously for about 30 minutes while my body toyed with the first edges of a panic attack. I prevailed. I wore the dress all evening, had a lovely dinner conversation, hugged all my friends in the post-ceremony mingling, and went home feeling triumphant. However it is time for me to retire that dress. The things I love about it do not outweigh the drawbacks. Fortunately I have something much more comfortable that I can wear to the Nebula award dinner.

My mother reports that she thoroughly enjoyed the Storymakers conference. She has dozens of ideas about how to improve her book and an invitation to submit directly to one of the editors who also attended. I’m so glad that she was able to come. I get to have her for three more days before she returns home to care for my grandma, who will be released from the hospital soon. This is mom’s last vacation for awhile because grandma will need lots of loving attention as she continues to mend. Once again I wish I could be more help. I live so far away from them. But at the least I can give my mom this vacation she has earned.

Tomorrow, after I scramble to catch up on all my work, I’m headed to The Avengers with my kids. I’ve heard it is quite good. Howard has already seen it twice. Today I rest.

How I Spent My Conference Saturday: A Report of an Ordinary Day

General Conference Saturday is the day when I turn on the radio and work at some project while I listen to the elders of my church teach about true principles and how to be better people. This time I decided that my project would be a major re-organization effort in Gleek’s room. She hoards things. In the space of two hours I hauled four trash bags of stuff from her room. Most of it was actual garbage, cardboard boxes, crumpled papers, paper bags, candy wrappers. Some of it was the remnants of games long forgotten. Some of it was things that got broken because they were buried. None of it is stuff that she will ever miss or think of again. Sometimes things enter our lives and then stick around long after the purpose for them has gone.

The two hours of conference ended before the job was done, but in the space between sessions I went on errands. I was in need of new shirts. I bought a whole pile of new shirts three years ago. They served me well, but about the only good thing left to say about them is that they are still serviceable. I wanted some shirts that I would not be embarrassed to wear in public. Fortunately the Merona brand at Target is reliably inexpensive and looks good on me. I discovered that this year’s spring palette is perfectly designed to be all my favorite colors and to compliment my skin tones. I don’t think I’ve seen bright persimmons and oranges like these since I was a teenager. I bought an array of shirts. I’m going to watch for sales and buy more to stash away for when these become merely serviceable. This will be important because either next year or the year after all of these lovely colors are going to go out of fashion again. Perhaps this inclination of mine might indicate where Gleek gets some of her tendency to hoard.

My next stop was Sam’s Club. In an effort to be a healthier person, I’ve taken to eating salad for lunch. Sam’s has big cartons of Spring Mix lettuce for just $4. It provides me lunch for almost two weeks. I am amazed at how much lettuce is crammed into these containers. I drove the long way to Sam’s Club because the construction-crowded freeway is a place to be avoided on conference weekend when the roads are filled with out of town visitors. As I drove this more leisurely route, my eye caught on the pair riding a scooter ahead of me. A middle aged man was driving, but his passenger was an elderly man. I watched them as they chatted while stopped at a traffic light. They were quite obviously enjoying the same beautiful spring weather which had me driving with my windows down. I imagined a whole little story for this man and his grandfather. Seeing them made me happy.

The second session of conference let me finish Gleek’s room. Four hours of work and four garbage bags of things which are leaving my house never to clutter again. This makes me quite glad. Though one of the conference talks did make me cry. It was unexpected to be feeling contented and happy then be crying. I felt like Amy in the fifth season of Doctor Who, when something reminds her of the boyfriend who was wiped from her memory. She would be happy and then suddenly crying without knowing why. Oh well. It passed quickly and I finished the job I was doing.

To complete the day, I pulled out my hammock swings and hung them in the back yard. Then I sat in one and drifted for awhile. That was followed by a phone conversation with Howard, always worthwhile. Up next: dinner. Then later this evening I’ll sit down and watch some Avatar with the kids. All in all, a very good day.

My Closet and the Clothes in it

After my post about Red Shoes and Wishing, someone pointed out that what I was trying to accomplish with a wish list might work better as a Pinterest board. So now I have a Pinterest account and I’ve begun slowly populating my pin boards with appropriate images. I’m not sure how I’ll use the site yet. I’m still in the being-confused-by-new-social-media-site stage. Fortunately that stage is now a familiar one and I’m confident that it’ll begin making sense as I use it.

One of the pin boards I created is called “wearing beauty.” I’ll be filling it with clothing I own, clothing I admire, and clothing I hope to own some day. It allows me to collect images of fashion in a way that lets me survey it at a glance. The red shoes go there, for example. It is already apparent to me that the board gives the impression that I dress elegantly every day, which is simply not true. Most days I’m wearing what I affectionately call my “mom uniform.” It consists of a pair of jeans, a solid color knit shirt, and either bare feet or socks. The shirt usually has stains or spills on it. My hair may or may not have been brushed that day. On cold days I accessorize with an old red terry cloth bathrobe and bright yellow fuzzy socks. When I’m headed out to run errands or do other out-of-the-house things, I’ll upscale to an unstained shirt, brushed hair, and shoes. These clothes are not fashionable, but they are supremely suited for their task. While wearing them I am able to get stuff done without fussing over my clothing. There is a beauty in utility. If I have some spare creative time I may see if I can find a way to represent my mom uniform on the Pinterest board.

For years the mom uniform was the only clothes I owned. Even my church clothes had a heavy emphasis on wash-ability, move-ability, and adjust-ability so that they did not interfere with the management of young children in an environment not particularly suited to them. But then I started having to make professional appearances. I was able to let that part of myself which enjoyed fashion wake up and start collecting pieces. These days I’ve got clothing ranging from formal wear to paint-spattered work clothes. Each category of clothing is useful to me, but I am constantly winnowing to make sure that the various clothing types stay in balance. Sometimes clothes which are too worn for professional clothes get moved over to the nice mom clothes. Nice mom clothes gradually become stained mom clothes. Some items get culled completely as they are no longer useful. The culling is critical to make sure that I don’t run out of space in the closet.

I do have a special category of clothes called “project clothes.” These are clothes which are not yet what they could be. Sometimes they need mending or adjusting, but other times I intend them as the basis for a full creative project. I can’t have very many of these, they take up space and are not currently useful. However project clothes are the hardest category for me to cull. I have to let go of how I imagine they could be. Sometimes I have to let go of a shiny possibility in order to make room for a useful necessity.

All of this makes it sound like I spend lots of time and money considering my clothes. I don’t. I buy new things a couple of times per year and most of my “new” things are second hand via a thrift store. Usually these shopping expeditions occur in the the nerotic pre-public-appearance stressful time where I become convinced that everything I own looks horrible. A couple of new items can stave off that feeling for about half a year. Hopefully my new Pinterest board will not prompt me to be more spendy, but will instead help me have a clear picture of how to spend money carefully on things I really want and can use instead of a closet full of project clothes which I have no time to fix.