To be honest, I’ve spent the last couple of years feeling rather “meh” about getting dressed. In the past, the thing that has saved me most when I’m running late or feeling lazy is to just wear dresses. They’re simple and fast, and you can’t help but match. But while I love the ease and simplicity of not having to construct an outfit, I sometimes leave the house feeling a little like I didn’t try at all (cuz, well, I didn’t), and the rest of the day looking generic and unmemorable. I recently realized the solution to this while accidentally being forced to meditate in a room full of middle-aged-new-agers. Bear with me here.
The other night I attended a talk and reading given by Natalie Goldberg. If you don’t know: she is the author of several books on the the practice of writing, most notably her 1986 bestseller, Writing Down the Bones. My mom had the book and lent it to me at a pivotal point in my adolescence (which, wow, could have been literally any moment, I realized the second I typed those words).
To be honest, I didn’t remember much of Goldberg’s philosophy. I was informed by my friend Jessica on the drive over that the event was to be hosted at a Santa Monica mindfulness/yoga/meditation center. We predicted that there would be very few men present.
“I bet if there are any, they will be in their early 50’s, and have that permanent 5 o’clock shadow that manages to somehow look clean-cut.”
“And their hair will be in perfect shaggy waves that appear just-careless-enough to make you wonder how long they spent in front of a mirror.”
“But they are mostly humble and speak in soft, yet deep voices.”
“And wear cashmere sweaters.”
“And paisley scarves that still manage to look masculine.”
“These men are fascinating contradictions!”
“They are riddles wrapped in enigmas!”
Turns out we totally called it, excepting the prominent prayer beads we failed to mention.
A gong or something comparable sounded and a woman introduced Natalie Goldberg as her dharma sister or something and Jess and I, whispering, made another prediction that because our snarky sarcasm was exuding so thickly from our pores, we had maybe ten minutes before the entire room would be glaring at us. We would likely be asked to leave within the hour.
Then Natalie began to speak. Her instant charm made my judgmental mind quiet down and I reminded myself that I had payed to come here. This wasn’t some wealthy hippie school assembly I’d been forced to attend.
(Don’t worry, you guys. This post isn’t going to turn into “how I stopped being a sarcastic jerkface”. That is never going to happen. If I didn’t have my snide inner monologue, I wouldn’t have anything.)
Natalie spoke for a while, told stories, read from her latest book. She had us sit in silence, stare at our shoes, and focus on our breath for ten minutes. Twice. Which, as earlier, turned out to be actually quite lovely.
But the highlight of the night for me was two excerpts she read from William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!.
The first was this:
“There was a wisteria vine blooming for the second time that summer on a wooden trellis before one window, into which sparrows came now and then in random gusts, making a dry vivid dusty sound before going away”
She read the passage slowly, enunciating each word in her soothing mama hen voice. She noted that the words offered just enough detail. We have a picture of this scene, a description of the sound. But Faulkner was apparently not satisfied, for in the very next paragraph, he says it again, getting more specific, more intimate:
“There would be the dim coffin-smelling gloom, sweet and oversweet with the twice-bloomed wisteria against the outer wall by the savage quiet September sun, impacted distilled and hyperdistilled, into which came now and then the loud cloudy flutter of the sparrows like a flat limber stick whipped by an idle boy”
My god. So good. She read this apparent re-write and I had an almost physical reaction to the words. I had to remind myself to breathe. So much detail packed into a seemingly simple scene. You feel that brutal late sumer heat, you hear those sparrows in a deeper way than if you’d heard them in person. I tried to read Faulkner when I was younger. I found it too dense and barely made it through a third of the book. But if you slow it down and really listen? My god.
Her advice regarding this example was simply, “Get close”. I understood.
After this passage was read, she urged us into our second ten minute session of silence. We were not supposed to be thinking, but I couldn’t stop. How could I apply this philosophy to other areas of my life? Thinking of everything on a grand scale is for kids. This kind of patience and focus must be honed over time. It is a kind of reward for growing older that we usually don’t even realize we’ve received.
I thought of mine and Jessica’s earlier descriptions of the contradictory fashions of imaginary men. How could I focus in closer? The baby softness of the cashmere wool has a strange slickness that brings a nervous perspiration to the fingertips, a pang of heartache to the wrist. The pashmina wraps the man’s velcro throat loosely, its many shades of teardrops embracing each other with joy, bursting into exultant confetti like the sweat beads of reunited lovers in long-awaited afternoon bliss.
That was more like it. Why simply call something by its name? Why take the easy route? Abstraction and simplicity have long been praised in literature, art and fashion, and that’s all good, but why not deviate from that? Let’s embrace details. Let’s say exactly what we want to say. And let’s say it while getting dressed as quickly as possible.
Let’s talk about the infamous little black dress. Simple, classic, versatile. We think of it as a default. A staple. The only descriptors given to the LBD are “little” and “black”. Design wise, this seems stifling, especially to a girl with ever-changing tastes. But I always find that the capacity for great creativity exists within strict parameters. Think about it. There are so many more traits such a dress could possess!
The playful peekaboo of one shoulder, a sporty halter, a prim refined boatneck, a sexy strapless sweetheart. Velvet, silk, chiffon, lace, beaded, ruffled, body-con, flowy, structured, a-line, empire, vintage, modern. The list goes on, and it makes for endless combinations for accessorizing. Details are what make a dress unique. Try these on for size:
Oh, and a LBD doesn’t have to be all black, either. It doesn’t even have to be little. Its all up to you. What kind of dress do you want to wear? It could be a Lady Bird, a Lascivious Buckle, a Lusty Beast, a Leggy Bandit, a Lavender Ballet, a Lengthy Brushstroke, a Limber Butterfly, a Lost in Barcelona.
No matter how you slice it, your clothes speak for you. And I dont want my clothes to say things like “I just worked six days in a row”, or “I’m going to Walmart”. I’d rather they whispered sweet nothings and giggled and sung little songs. I’d rather they bloomed twice and gathered gusts of sparrows.
(photos courtesy of Debenhams)