As I’ve mentioned before…in the UIC Writing Center, reading aloud was the quickest way to find the rough in a piece of writing. Here’s a recording of my last post, Style My Way.
Style is a formula. (Is that something a stylish person would never, ever say?) Personal style at zero is basic coverage, plus all of the things you like, minus all of the things you don’t like or suspect you can’t pull off.
Over the years I’ve drifted from kinda outfits to uniform. There were piles of v-neck sweaters, and two orange dresses that I’ll say no more about. Today, I’ll wear something if it’s black, gray, or gray with a hint of hue, if it’s simple and stretchy, if the sleeves have breathing room, and the hem hangs long, but it doesn’t have to do all that at once. I’ll stray from gray-black for jewel tones. Special wash-and-dry labels are a deal-breaker, unless it seems like I can get away with a Gentle Wash Cycle and Low Tumble. Cotton has long been my closest ally, and I’ve never owned anything in silk. At least, not intentionally, and probably not for long. I admire and hate wool, for being so warm but oh-so-itchy on my sometimes sensitive skin.
You won’t usually see me in logos, bell sleeves, ruffle sleeves, crew necks, or Halloween costumes. Okay, maybe a ruffled sleeve now and then, but mostly because the rest of the top was inoffensive. My all-time favorite Halloween costume involved green paint, green clothes, and halved Styrofoam eyes on my head. I was a frog, and I was nine. Every year since has been a struggle to think of something amusing AND simple. Please, just let me check IDs at your Halloween party, or be the bartender. Everything else is unmanageable.
As for dresses, the length always hits with strange effect assuming it’s not too short or too long to begin with, and because dressy shoes are stiff, thin, narrow, and slide across the floor, I’ve avoided them for most of my life. The last time I found myself trying to solve the “What to Wear” dilemma with a dress, I bought uncomfortable shoes, and these I wore once. The dress is my partner, my comic foil, except I never asked it to be. And yet, as I’ve been told repeatedly by friends, a dress and Doc Martens is perfectly acceptable, and if I wait until my late 30s to embrace this lesson, I already know the perfect Sinatra song to sing as I do (it’s not “Accidents Will Happen, tyvm).
Read 20/20 Vision, or listen below.
I wear glasses, so I get my eyes examined every few years. There’s a peripheral vision test. You peer into these binoculars with a black paddle over one eye. You see nothing but white-gray.
They start the test. You push a button every time you see a flicker of movement. Gray-white in white-gray.
I always pass. You know how I know it’s not bullshit? When I’m in the subway, and I’m scrolling through your Facebook, NOT liking your copied and pasted chain messages, I spy, out of the corner of my little eye, a mouse crossing the tracks. Every single time. Even though the mouse is a dirt brown spot crossing decades of dirt brown scum, plastic wrappers, and brown wooden tracks. I see him. And I think about how I’m waiting for the train, and how we’re not so different, he and I.
I live in the city, he lives in the city. He is brown, I am brown. He’s up late trying to get home, me too. I can’t see far, he can’t see far. He just needs tiny mouse glasses.
Flying 4,240 miles, you gain 7 hours going west, or lose 7 hours going east, which makes a flight look like 16 hours or 3 hours on paper. It feels like a work day. A work day in which you are stuck at your desk, trying not to pee or worse. If the flight is at the middle or end of your day, you will also jerk awake several times, close your mouth, check out the screen showing your flight’s progress, and shift your buttocks because part of it has gone numb.
You cover the length of the Oregon Trail twice. You have a good chance of missing your connecting flight. You can listen to two Mindy Kaling books, back to back. You can watch Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and Sunshine, and still have time to listen to an Interpol album.
Traveling 8,480 miles, you will remove your shoes, raise your hands above your head, show a booklet with your photo, and describe your plans to a stranger every time you cross an imaginary border. They might huff because clearly you have not dedicated enough time to their motherland.
Then they will stamp your booklet, and they will let you pass. You will use several currencies, coins in different hues and diameters, denominations familiar and relatively similar.
Chicago’s coordinates are 41N and 87W. Hamburg (53N), London (51N) and Dublin (53N) are more north by 10 degrees. The same summer day is longer. If you’re from Chicago, you love the extra hours of light, even as the humidity smothers. June 20 is an hour and half longer. There may be rain, but it’s a cold rain. I know. Calm down. It is real.
When walking around London and Dublin, look for street signs on corner buildings, not on special poles. When you’re ready to end the night, but still hungry, look “takeaway” and snag a discount. Mince meat is really just ground, but it’s fun to say, so order a mince meat and potato pie.
Exit signs are green with a figure running toward a box, which begins to make more sense when you realize “exit” isn’t really an international anything. The crosswalks told you which direction to look in in white paint. We kept looking both ways regardless.
At the cafes, I didn’t observe pots of stale coffee, and as I would have at home, had a fresh Americano. Scones were rounder and taller in Dublin, not the neat little triangles we were used to seeing. The escalators in Hamburg were stationary until sensors detect your approach, then suddenly they are in motion. The train doors in London and Hamburg don’t open until you press a button. I wasn’t there long enough to get used to this. Luckily there were three of us, so when I missed the cue, someone else pushed the button.
There are so many more miles to go in all directions. I’m not looking for anything in particular. I want only to witness the world as it is while I’m in it, and see the exoskeletons of architecture’s past, and the foundations we’re laying for the future. I’m keeping my eyes open and my camera on.
“Read it out loud,” was advice we gave in the Writing Center at UIC, and the impact of hearing what I write continues to improve my writing. Even today, at the ripe old age of 34.
Work in progress:
January 10, 1992
I’m still grounded, I’ve been grounded for 5 days so far, I can’t stand 9 more. I wish the boys I like, liked me as much as I like them. It’s about 7:50 and I am TOTALLY BORED.
In my Sweet Valley Saga books people die for love and are very passionate. I wish someone would love me and die for me (I don’t want anyone to die.) I just wish I had passionate love, though I’m 11, I hope no one ever reads this, or they’re DEAD!!!!
11 year old me was conflicted on which feeling was stronger, a desire for excitement, or the impending embarrassment of being found out.
Before you knock Sweet Valley Saga for stirring a kid’s emotions, you should also know that’s where I first learned about the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.