Monday, January 18, 2010

Days 120 and 121, In Which I Boldly Blend Literature and Fashion

On Saturday, I wrote about letting go of sixty pounds of sweaters and purses. Right now they're weighing down the trunk of my car--probably not enough to make the back of the car sag or get better traction on the snow. Still, it's a lot of stuff.

What follows may sound like a stretch, but bear with me.

Whenever I finish a story, a novel, an essay, a poem (I'm a terrible poet!), a review--whatever kind of writing I'm doing--I have an urge to send it out for submission immediately. I'll have been working on it so long, and so intently, that I don't want to see it again. Ever. Well, maybe not ever. But not for a long time. I get so close to the words that I don't really even see them anymore. The characters' voices have become real just by virtue of their echoing in my head over and over and over. I can no longer see their good qualities or their flaws--Or they just look like one giant GLOB of flaws and I'm embarrassed by them as though I were a fifteen year-old forced to show candid family photos to my friends.

But I almost never pop work in the mail (or email) just as soon as I finish writing it. I like to let it sit. Sometimes it's for a couple of days, sometimes it's for a few weeks. I need the distance to see it clearly. Rewriting gives me more pleasure than drafting a piece of work. I get to reshape the world I've created. Make it better. I'm often stunned by the missteps I've made or the silly, unconscious puns, word repetitions, or obvious gaffes. When I find them, I'm momentarily embarrassed, then thrilled that I caught them before the piece went out.

What happens in the time that passes between my writing THE END the first time, and opening up the piece again for revision? Life happens. Even over a matter of days, I'm a different person. I've learned things, read things, wept, laughed, traveled, thought, cooked, ironed, argued, loved. I can't see the story in the same way because I have different eyes. Different eyes--they're like a kind of extra-added bonus on top of the days we've been given to live.

So, here's the connection: I'd been away from my sweaters and purses for four months. Longer, actually, because I hadn't worn any of the sweaters since last spring. They were always in view, of course--mostly stuffed into my closet shelves in great wads so that after I pulled the first layers out, more wool, cotton, rayon, and silk slid down onto the floor like rocks of a mountainside. Four, seven or eight months. That's a long time. I'm overwhelmed to think how different I am, how different my life is from eight months ago. But, of course, it's not just me. We're all different. Sometimes in really tragic ways.

I found it startlingly easy to set aside more than half of the non-Wal-Mart sweaters I owned. Many of them had been abandoned by me years ago, but I was hanging onto them for irrational reasons. There were sweaters I adored in the giveaway pile. But they don't suit the person I am now or they don't suit my circumstances. "Kill your darlings" is a famous phrase that all writers know. If you love a sentence or word with irrational devotion, you probably need to dump it. There's a difference, I know. Clothes that make us happy or feel good about ourselves are always in style because confidence is always in style. Word "darlings" often just don't suit the actual work. They're too precious, too gilded. But I'm thinking of a certain rose-brown, delicately crocheted, long cardigan that was made to be worn over a tank or cami. It was gorgeous. I'd bought it because I'd seen one much like it on a certain diminutive writer-chick and it looked fabulous. Oh, how I wanted to look fabulous in that sweater! It was expensive, tasteful, charming. I tried to wear it every year for eight years. I think I actually wore it for three whole days over the course of almost a decade. And, still, it was in my closet.

But the months-long distance from all of my clothes has made me see them with different eyes. More critical, more objective, less emotion-driven, and more honest eyes.

As Martha used to say: "It's a Good Thing."

Day 120:

Gosh, I like purple. Too bad this sweater is shapeless at the bottom and acrylic as well. How cute would it be in silk?!

White Stag sweater: $10; To the Max blouse: $3 (clearance); Calvin Klein cords: $17 (Sam's); Earrings: $7 (George, I think)  Total: $37

Day 21:

I call this my Poor Girl's Ducks Unlimited Field Brunch ensemble. Very khaki and earth-toned for camouflage, with a luxe scarf for style. The vest is from the men's department (Great idea, Carrie!) and is faux-sheepskin lined. The outer shell is a reasonably soft canvas. Sturdy zipper. Deep pockets for extra shotgun shells or a dainty silver flask.

Wrangler vest: $25 (men's dept); Norma Kamali French terry 5-pocket pants: $15; scarf: $5; George turtle: $10; No Boundaries belt: $8; Faded Glory boots: $23; Earrings: $7  Total: $93

Visited StLouis briefly this past weekend and browsed some new Norma. More on that later....

Hope you're having a terrific week!


  1. So true, so true! I often find the best - clothes, books, nicknacks - are those things that I revisit over & over again, seeing them with new eyes each time, and loving them still. Doesn't it make you all warm & fuzzy inside when you read your words again and find that they still ring true days and months and years later? Sure, some of the sweaters and purses and shoes have to go, but (much like the words & phrases and characters) the ones that get to stay are loved all the more for the fact that they endure, that they still give you that satisfied feeling when looking at them from new perspectives.

    And yay on the vest, looking good as always! : )

  2. Hey lovely,

    I loved this post! I enjoy revision on short projects, find it more daunting on the longer ones. And time is key which is hard because I'm always fighting with that impulsive -- get it out there, it's brillaint, followed by, OMG, it's a nightmare, people will think the sepsis did cause brain damage (I read that result is not an infrequent side effect -- joy!) As for decluttering, it is my very favorite thing to do. I would love to be a professional organizer (nobody ever watching me in the world would imagine it, but I'm very organized in the house, to the point of madness) I love your story about the sweater. That old impulse of making things work, no matter what, based on an ideal. I'm definitely a member of that club.

  3. Carrie, you're so sweet. You said it all much better than I did. It makes me think I need to do a post on some of my treasures. : )

    Dearest Michelle, Will you please come and organize me? And for me, that "impulse of making things work, no matter what, based on an ideal" often makes life very interesting--in that Chinese curse kind of way.

  4. Yay! Treasure post, treasure post! I should think that would be a fun one to read. Of course, so far everything you write is fun to read...

    Michelle, if you're interested in being a roving organizer, please add me to your list of stops. I live in a state of organized clutter, currently!