Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Casual vs overdressed

I was visiting my daughter in Austin recently, and while getting ready to meet some of her friends at a birthday party in her honor, she casually mentioned to me that I really didn't have to change for the party as I was a little overdressed as it was. In fact, she said, I am almost always "dressed up". Hmmm. Could it be that after years of wearing pretty much nothing but jeans and graphic tees, I have now swung the other way?  It's a dilemma a lot of us who work from home have to deal with, how to balance extremely casual I-cannot-possibly-wear-this-out-in-public attire with more acceptable, clean, it's-actually-my-size clothing. I definitely don't need a work wardrobe, so no skirts, pantyhose or suits. I also don't attend the kind of events that require anything close to formal or even cocktail attire (whatever that is). On the other hand, I do occasionally venture out into the social world, so I need what I call Casual Nice clothing. I never thought I would ever find anything more comfortable than jeans and tees, even when my daughter years ago urged me to invest in something other than grub wear (yes, it's the same daughter...ironic, no?) But I could see her point. That point was driven home one evening a couple of months later when my good friend asked me to go with her to a wine tasting.  She mentioned I probably didn't want to wear jeans (!) which left me scrambling to find the one outfit I owned that could be considered business casual. It occurred to me that I might want to have a few more items in my closet that were a little more upscale than sweats and Levis. I had some caveats, though. Whatever I bought had to fit, be reasonably priced, preferably be black, and above all it had to be very comfortable. Like sit all evening and not have to rearrange or tug or adjust anything comfortable. I wanted pants that looked as good at the end of the evening as they had when I first donned them, with no sagging knees or baggy butt. It's taken me awhile to find a fashion identity that isn't centered around jeans, but now that I have, I admit I really don't wear jeans much any more.  I don't have an extensive wardrobe, but what I have I like and feel good in and, best of all, I don't have to dig thru the hamper to see if that going-out-in-the-world outfit is clean. So, yes, I probably have meandered over to a more dressed up style of clothing. I still work in sweats and tees and am grateful for that. But it's nice to draw a definite line between that extremely casual (if not downright sloppy) at home style and a just-in-case-I-run-into-someone-I-know outfit.

So yes, daughter of mine, I agree, I do sometimes wear much too dressy clothing to WalMart to buy toothpaste and coffee. But I would rather be found in the deli department looking like I was on my way to someplace fun than have people wonder if I have showered that day.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Is perception reality? In this case I hope not

Have you ever noticed that you can often tell the age of an author by the slang that she uses or I should say, misuses?  I was reading a romance book about a rancher in Texas who was supposedly in his mid twenties.  He was expecting a woman at his house for dinner so when he got home off the range he took off his boots and, since he didn't want to greet her in his socks, put on his Romeo slippers. Romeo slippers?  I immediately thought of him slipping into this romantic, seductive personality. Kind of like 'leave my ranching self at the door and put on my Romeo slippers, baby, and I'm in the mood'.  Not so. Thru the wonder that reading a book on Kindle is, I was able to immediately google Romeo slippers only to find that they are just normal everyday slippers. Sigh. So, wait, in what weird universe does a guy in his twenties have a special name for his slippers? And not just a guy, I remind you, but a rancher in Texas! I've known lots of guys in their twenties, both now and back when, and I can state with some assurance that not one of them would have the slightest clue about what Romeo slippers are. Chances are pretty good they don't even own a pair of slippers, Romeo or otherwise. Nor would they care in the least about welcoming a woman into their home in their socks. Unless of course there were holes in the socks, but probably not even then.

This got me thinking about not only how misused slang can show an author's age, but how characterizing older women in certain ways can do the same thing. I read a lot of books, many of them romances, because as the great Nora Roberts once opined, romance books are the only ones where you can be assured the woman will be the focus of the story and not just a convenient accessory. In many of those books (not all, but many), anyone over the age of 50 who is single is seen as past the age where she can expect a romance of her own. If she isn't a widow still mired in 30 year old grief, she is a divorcee, or perhaps a spinster (yes, some authors still use that word) who wears a bedazzled velour sweatsuit and sports blue hair (due to an "hilarious" mishap with a home dye job). Most of my friends are over 60 and I doubt any of them own a velour sweatsuit, bedazzled or otherwise, and not a single one of them has blue hair. I was reading a book last night and came to the laugh out loud phrase describing an older friend of the heroine as "over 40 but still attractive" like there was an expiry date on her looks that she was rapidly approaching. Mind you these are books written by women for women.

I'm wondering if characterizing older women as clearly past their prime at 50 is a matter of the author not knowing anyone that age, or knowing a lot of them that age that clearly fit that profile, or if they are merely playing to their readership, establishing a kinship by creating an exclusive club that they are members of but that older women are not. Perhaps it is simple a case of authors in their 20s thinking as I did in my youth that women in their 50s and beyond have zero left to contribute and less than zero desire to do so. If so, then I would suppose that as the authors age, so will their consideration of a woman's possible expiry date.  Until one day, when they get to their 60s and pick up a book where the woman their age is knitting in a corner, blue hair and all, while the young heroine gets to have all the fun. I can just imagine them reading that and saying WHAT?

Friday, December 30, 2016

Remembering my big brother

While this time of year brings wonderful memories of past holidays and much joy over new experiences, it also makes me a little sad. There is a rip in the fabric of my family and a brother sized hole in my heart. I was the younger sister to a dynamic, smart and manipulative brother whose talents and intellect were praised by family. He was the first born, a son, in the days when that was a very important thing to be. He was the smart one, the charming one, the one who did everything first and did everything well.  At least according to my mom.  My mother constantly pitted us against each other. She would hold one or the other of us up as an example while admonishing the other child to be or not be more like the other. Although we were very close as children, with that kind of parental pressure it's not a surprise that by the time we reached middle school, we could barely stand to be in the same room with each other. With a firm determination to not follow in his footsteps so that I would not, could not be compared to him either favorably or not so favorably, when I entered high school a year behind him, I looked for things he had no interest in...speech, drama, music...and avoided where he excelled...math, art...things he had put his stamp on. Where he was loudly charismatic, I was the quiet one who sought not to make any of my own waves and to keep out of the wake of his. I was the one who went along to get along.

All of this makes it sound as though I resented my brother, when in reality I did not. Following a brilliant but underachieving brother left the door wide open for me to pursue things that ultimately I came to love and excel at. Since my mom was consumed with wrangling my increasingly difficult brother, I was allowed a freedom that under other circumstances I might not have been. With zero pressure to make good grades, I did so easily and without much thought. I had a friend who stressed about each test, quiz or term paper, and who panicked at the thought of not getting an "A", while I did not. I was free to take Speech and Drama, Choir and Journalism. I even took a class called Yearbook Staff where we all got A's for pretty much just showing up. I overheard my mom on the phone one day telling a friend that she could always depend on me. It never occurred to me to be resentful of that dependence. It simply was.

All the way thru high school, not only did our activities and friends not intersect, but neither did the two of us.  I doubt I said more than 100 words to him in his entire senior year and while I was in just about every music program and play the school had for four years, he never attended any performances. I was shocked when, on his first visit home from college, he brought me a charm for my bracelet. Of course he asked for it back the next day because he wanted to give it to his high school girl friend, but I appreciated the thought. For my 18th birthday, the November after I started college, my parents wanted to buy me a proper leather briefcase to take to debate tournaments, but he preempted them by getting me a fun canvas one covered with flowers because, as he put it, I was not a proper leather type of girl. We became pretty good friends after that, mostly because we went to different colleges and only met during holidays. He became a decent student and graduated with a degree in Psychology while I remained focused on Speech and Drama.  We got married the same summer and he and his wife and me and my ex spent quite a bit of time together those first few years until jobs, friends and other interests separated us.

He passed away suddenly from bone cancer in December 2012.  By that time we were once again growing closer as I had relocated to Southern California to spend more time with family. When I think of my brother now, it is not that contentious competitor for my mother's approval, nor the distant and sometimes sullen high schooler, or even the much younger big brother who taught me how to swing a bat and catch a fastball, but the man he became.  A man who loved family and knowledge for its own sake and life. A man who did not believe in putting off until tomorrow the fun to be had today. A man who gathered friends to him as effortlessly as anyone I have ever known. That's the brother I remember and that's the brother I will always miss.