Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rambling: Weekend (In which I engage in self-absorbed burbling, without even a picture.)

I'm taking Friday off. So it's the weekend. Now. Woohoo!

I've been experiencing stress stupidity--stuff just dropping out of my head and letting the rest of my mind deal with the hole. A three-day weekend of no obligations should spackle over all that. I hope.

In fact, I can tell that I'm already settling down because I started, earlier in the day, to develop a migraine, complete with nausea. Whee! This is normal for me--when I've been rushing around trying to fulfill demands for a sustained period, and then suddenly get to relax, the migraine comes. I believe it's called a "stress letdown migraine." I have a tradition of consuming plenty of caffeine on the first day of a vacation or the first day after a project is done and delivered, to reduce the odds of it coming on full force. That works beautifully if I've been limiting caffeine, but not so much if I haven't; today's headache just giggled at the Coke that I tried to pour on it. So I just smacked it with Excedrin Tension Headache. That'll teach it. No, this is not a product placement; I only take the stuff as a last-ditch sort of measure, and firmly intend to cut down on the caffeine so that ordinary caffeinated beverages become the nuclear option. If you see what I mean.

I'm sounding like one of those elderly people that discuss their health quirks in excruciating detail. At least you don't have to maintain eye contact and an interested expression. And I promise I won't tell you to stop mumbling.

Um.

That is all.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Blogging: Eh?

I'm getting older. And so are my eyes.

As I wander around the Internet, I more and more often find websites with little tiny print, so that I have to resize to be able to comfortably read the posts/articles/whatever.

My own blog has become one of those websites.

So I wanted to ask: Is it just me, or do others think that my blog could benefit from the post text being a little larger?

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Beauty: Feminism, single standard, and haircuts

You know how you run into one mention of a topic, and the topic keeps popping up everywhere you look? That's been happening to me with regard to fashion and feminism and femininity and beauty and such things.

I recently participated in a forum discussion about beauty. In that discussion, it became apparent that some participants--a small subset, admittedly--felt that runway models were the ultimate definition of feminine beauty. Not one possible definition--the definition.

Now, the specifics of the definition were a little fuzzy--for example, I'm not sure if those advocating runway-model beauty were aware of the relatively small chest size of most runway models. I suspect that these men might have been dreaming about the actresses who depict models in movies, rather than the actual models. They also seemed reluctant to accept the idea that those women may not look, when they step out the front door to get the paper in the morning, precisely the same way that they look in movies and magazine covers.

But those are nitpicks. What struck me was the idea that there is a single definition of feminine beauty, and any other beauty is not merely different, but inferior. That women who don't strive for this particular brand of beauty are failing to make the most of themselves and resigning themselves to a miserable man-free existence, and that men who don't want this specific kind of beauty in a woman, who want something else, are deluding themselves, or "settling", or so weird that they don't count statistically.

This was accompanied by the idea that when women strive for beauty, they are of course striving to please men and to gain male attention. The idea that a woman might want to take joy in her own appearance, might have her own idea of her own beauty, seemed to be...well, simply not there.

On that topic, The Reluctant Femme led me to The Brainy Femme which led me to Felicia Day's blog post about the reaction to her cutting her hair which led me to "Why Patriarchy Fears the Scissors" from The New Statesman. The writer of that article referred in part to yet another article, one about women who (gasp) cut their hair, the message of which she summarizes as:

The essential argument is: men like long hair, and what sane woman would ever want to do anything that decreases her capacity to please men?
Yes. That, yes, is what I was getting from that small percentage of the men in the thread: The incredulous reaction, somewhere between indignant and pitying, to the idea that a woman would have any priority--in particular any priority with regard to her appearance--other than the priority of pleasing men.

Um...

You know, I seem to have veered. The idea that women are frantically working to please men, and that women who have other priorities are deeply disordered, is certainly one that makes me indignant. But that one doesn't seem like as much of a puzzle--I can see the motivation behind it. People in power want to believe that the people not-in-power adore them and want to please them. They want to believe that the powerless are content with the power structure and are striving to fulfill their assigned role in that structure, rather than trying to change it. It's a happy comfy belief, one that could logically be held by some men, hopefully a steadily shrinking number of men.

It's the idea of a single definition of female beauty that I'm curious about. What, exactly, makes that a happy comfy belief? I think that people believe what they wanna believe, so I think that the happy-comfy has to be in there somewhere. Who benefits from the idea of one and only one definition of female beauty?

I suppose that such a definition means that more women are not beautiful. If we accepted tall-and-willowy beauties, and short-and-curvy beauties, and round-faced beauties and long-faced beauties and all kinds of beauties, more women are beautiful. And more women are close to beautiful. And more women can choose which sort of beauty she wants to emulate, or even (gasp) declare their own kind of beauty.

And that would give those women power. Is that it? Is that all? Is it like corporations that try to keep every employee convinced that he's not good enough? Confidence and security leave an opening for reaching for strength and power?  But I see a little too much planning there. I find myself wanting to quote that quote about malice and stupidity--I see too much effort put into malice. I think that comfy beliefs are usually about ego or reducing anxiety, and I don't see that here.

But, and ah, then we've got advertising. Advertising does benefit from, and actively work to encourage, insecurity and not-good-enough feelings. Advertising can convince women that they're not good enough, and then, not necessarily even by intent, convince men that they need the premium product, the woman that fits the single definition of female beauty. And so then both sexes see just one definition of female beauty.

Maybe.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

(Edited to clarify that the folks advocating a single standard were a small percentage of the men involved in the thread, not, as the previous phrasing might have implied, a small number but all the men.)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fashion Writers: My Bad


I owe fashion writers an apology.

I imagined them as Mean Girls all grown up, perching in tiny chairs next to the runway and squealing "Ooh! Ruffles!" Nodding in approving unison as they see that the models have gotten even more skeletal this year, and whispering and tittering when they see a colleague wearing a skirt that's eight millimeters too long.

That's bad enough. But worse, I slipped and fell into the idea that primarily-feminine interests are superficial and airheaded. Well, not all of them, but with regard to fashion. It's related to a trap that digs itself rather frequently--the idea that women can be as serious, as intelligent, as worthy "as men". That idea sounds vaguely empowering for an instant, until it becomes clear that it makes men's worthiness the standard. Men as norm, men as yardstick, women as the deviation struggling to return to the norm. If men are the standard, then that leads dangerously to the idea that women have to give up anything uniquely feminine in order to be worthy, or at least normal.

And, yes, I know that there are no new thoughts here. Feminism has been fighting over traditional femininity since, well, forever. Whether to embrace it as part of a proud identity, whether to reject it as a male-imposed standard, and any number of other positions in between and scattered around, including the position that it's men, in being deprived of things like, oh, a glorious scarlet crystal-pleated skirt (I still don't like ruffles), who are being suppressed by a patriarchal society.

The point where I owe fashion writers an apology is in assuming that they're all trying to undermine the power of women. Actually, the bigger point where I owe fashion writers an apology is in assuming that they're stupid.

I'm sorry.

Now, this doesn't mean that I've seen any specific fashion writer as stupid. In fact, that's where I should have seen the fundamental wrongness of my premise. I've never encountered a stupid fashion writer. I just assumed that the writers that I encountered were all exceptions, intelligent people adding worth to a subject that has no inherent worth.

Linda Grant, author of The Thoughtful Dresser? Exception. Elizabeth Cline, the author of Overdressed? Exception. The writers of the articles in Fashion Projects magazine? The fashion critics that they write about? Amanda Stuart, the author of a biography of Diana Vreeland? Diana Vreeland herself? Every blogger that I've encountered in the perfume-blogging and sewing worlds who's written about fashion? Exceptions, exceptions, and more exceptions. Josephine Picardie, the author of My Mother's Wedding Dress? The final exception.

Why final? Well, reading My Mother's Wedding Dress was the point where I finally and firmly realized that when you can't find an exception to the exceptions, the rule is wrong. I think that this book did the job because I couldn't say, oh, well, she just happens to occasionally talk about clothes as a way to address bigger issues. The author worked for British Vogue, and many of the essays in the book come out of interviews that she did in covering fashion. She's a fashion writer. She's a fashion critic. There's no getting out of it. And she's very smart, with things to say.

Yes, she uses clothes to address bigger issues. I realize now that they all do. Fashion criticism is not all about ruffles and hemlines, any more than perfume criticism is all about analyzing the notes or movie criticism is all about special effects or camera angles. The narrower subject has inherent interest, yes, but the subject also has plenty to say about the rest of the world.

Sorry.

Why didn't I know this? Why didn't I assume that an area that fascinates so many women must also have something to appeal to intelligence? Why, when I know that people giggle at the phrase "perfume criticism", did the very phrase "fashion criticism" strike me as vaguely funny?

Again with the sorry.

I feel as if I owe someone a nice fruit basket.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Rambling: More, and bubbly, rambling


When I take a bath, I often find myself thinking--along with reading and sometimes drinking something fizzy and having a snack (there was that haiku about chips in the tub, after all) and, oh, yes, bathing and washing my hair. I just had the idea of starting a blog series titled "after the bubbles", but that would add a work ethic to the bathtub, and it wouldn't be long before I started bringing in a notebook along with the snack, and plotting ways to safely bring in the iPad to start the writing in the presence of the bubbles. So, no series.

Sometimes when I catch a flash of my face in the bathroom mirror I think that I'm pretty, especially when my hair's up after a bath. Then I look again, and I analyze, and my nose looks too round and dumpling-like, and the rest of my face is merely workmanlike-functional, and that's that for the pretty until next time.

When I started this clothes thing I focused--not particularly by intent--on the clothes that I had never experienced before. Little black skirts that expose my calves and even, gasp, my knees. Silk. Jewelry. A coat that isn't the same as the coat I wore yesterday, and the same for my shoes. A bra that fits. A shirt that dips toward the bra-that-fits instead of hugging my neck. Contented puttering around holding this shirt against that skirt, though not without moments of frustration when I realize that that corn-colored silky sleeveless top that I paid too much for goes with absolutely nothing at all.

I'm already shifting to a new phase--for example, realizing that the novelty of exposed knees wears off and I really prefer a long, slim skirt that flirts with my shoes, though maybe when I find one I'll look for walking ease in the form of a slit that occasionally shows my legs rather than a knit fabric that hides them.

My, that was a long sentence. Blame the bubbles.

And the skirt could be something rich, sometimes, maybe tapestry-like with a silk-satin lining in a color. Sagey green woven in leaves and lined with emerald silk, let's say.

My fingers are pruney.

And that is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Rambling: Rambling

I'm overdue for a post. I was doing so well, too. For a little while, there. So I ramble.

Um.

Rambling requires a topic. I don't seem to have a topic. I'm thinking about ice cream. And the fact that St. Cupcake in Portland has stopped selling cupcakes. Well, mostly stopped. As I read it, one of their other stores will eventually serve a very (very) limited selection of cupcakes.

On the other hand, Blue Star Donuts is good. Really good.

On the other other hand, I'm supposed to be reducing sugar and carbs again.

To continue with joyfully destroying one's health at Portland restaurants, Tilt has astoundingly good bacon. I don't think they serve it as bacon; I seem to recall that it came in a sandwich and was so perfect that I extracted it from the sandwich for maximum bacon focus. There's also the praline bacon at Screen Door. And the maple bacon donut at Blue Star, which I think is better than the maple bacon donut at Voodoo Doughnut.

Also, the charcuterie at Gruner. And the charcuterie at Little Bird. And the marrow bones at Little Bird.

I'm sure that Portland has green food. I don't eat much of it. Except for the sliced fried okra at Bollywood Theater. And the strawberry balsamic ice cream at Salt & Straw next door contains fruit. That's health food, right?

Um.

I feel fat.

That is all.

Image: By Steve Morgan. Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Books: So Sure of Death, by Dana Stabenow

I've read all but one of Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak mysteries, and the exception is only because that one is out of print and my efforts to get a used copy have failed so far. So now I'm moving on to her Liam Campbell series. I'm reading them entirely out of order; I've read at least two that come chronologically after this one.

I like them all. (Though I prefer Kate.) I like them so much that they turn my mind to the whole "genre fiction"/"literary fiction" conflict. I assume that Dana Stabenow's mysteries are genre fiction, and that I'm therefore supposed to blush a little bit about reading them, and claim that I only take them to the beach. I'm supposed to see genre fiction as the Cheetos of literature, right? Overflavored, oversalted, and with orange powdery stuff that will stay with me and rub off on thoughts generated by finer literature.

Feh.

Now, there are some genre fiction novels that I do see as the equivalent of...well, not Cheetos, actually; I find Cheetos to be a very fine experience of their type. Maybe the equivalent of those dubious generic imitations of Hostess snack cakes. Vaguely pleasing, nominally fulfilling expectations, but with a disappointing aftertaste that makes you want to go eat something else. (Like a Cheeto.) Vaguely likable people in those stories have cute thoughts about cats or dogs or recipes or home improvement or real estate or expensive shoes, and meanwhile somebody gets murdered. (Oh. Yes. While I'm generalizing my thoughts to fiction in general, the "genre" that I'm talking about here is murder mysteries. We've met, right?)

But Dana Stabenow's mysteries have those moments that make you say, for example, "Oh, my God, he said that to Kate?! He's doomed. Just doomed. Huh? Don't interrupt me, I'm reading!"

And to me, a book that gets you bug-eyed and gawpish about a character, based purely on the character rather than on exploding helicopters or stashes of drugs, can look literary fiction in the face and say, "Feh."

Um. I guess that's about all. I suppose I should really say six or eight words about the actual books, huh? They're set in Alaska, modern day. There's a lot of crime and politics and a moderate amount of sex. Often there's food. There's a wolf. But only half. Read 'em. They're fun.

That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fiction: Snapshot One

(It's been a long time since I wrote any fiction. So I'm writing snapshots--once-upon-a-time scraps, generally without enough plot to call stories--just to get started again.)

Jane was a seamstress at the theater. Every day, she worked with satin and velvet and silk braid and beads and crystals and horsehair and grosgrain, in a room crowded with headless armless mannequins.

She wasted not. The velvet collar of her going-to-church coat was a scrap from Juliet's burial clothes. Her Christmas scarf was decorated with seventeen extra crystals from Lady Macbeth's gown, the one stained with the old man's blood. Her bedtime robe was the coat, green and gold with an amethyst silk lining, that Petruchio wore to tell the audience about killing his wife with kindness. No one noticed when she folded it and carried it home on closing night.

This year, a director with a minimalist vision arrived to create Romeo and Juliet. He directed Jane to dress the cast in twentieth-century shapes, every character in the same wheat-colored rough-woven linen--he'd brought a swatch. Jane protested; if he wanted soothing natural colors, what about cream-colored satin, or eggshell silk chiffon with georgette facings? For modern shapes, what about Edwardian gowns with short trains? And swallowtail coats?

But she lost, and she sewed the neat modern garments, and she swept the hateful burlap-like scraps out of her workroom the moment that the rack of costumes was rolled away. And for the very first time she gave away her tickets for opening night.

But she couldn't stay home and make cocoa in Petruchio's coat when everyone she knew was out in the night-time. So she put on a mock-Chanel suit that she'd pieced from the scraps from Hamlet's funeral garments, swept a scarf made from the rejected cream satin around her shoulders, and went to the movies. Not the new metroplex with fourteen screens, but the old theater with the neon front and the red velvet seats. She bought a small popcorn and an Italian soda with cream, and sat down to wait for Cary Grant.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Books: To Love and Be Wise (and more Josephine Tey)


I just finished Josephine Tey's To Love and be Wise, from 1951. (Hmm. Why do I keep thinking that her books are just a little bit older?)

I was going to go on to say, "This finishes my re-reading of all of Josephine Tey's books..." But then I went Googling to find a list, and found three books that I've never read: The Expensive Halo, Kif, and The Privateer. It appears that I can say that I have finished re-reading all of the Tey mysteries--these appear to be more in the category of odds and ends. I'll be reading them all the same. (Oh, and there's also something called Claverhouse. And two plays. Hmm.)

So. This finishes my re-reading of all of Josephine Tey's mysteries, a goal that I started in 2013. The full list, in roughly the order that I (re)read them, is:

The Franchise Affair
Brat Farrar
A Shilling for Candles
The Daughter of Time
The Singing Sands
Miss Pym Disposes
The Man in the Queue
To Love and be Wise

I'm very fond of these books. They give me the pleasure of a classic "cozy", but I find them more challenging and less predictable. They break the nice tidy cycle of a murder mystery that I was describing in my last book-related post--and come to think of it, they don't always have a murder. And I want to meet the characters; they're so very likable, in a way that's sensible and quirky and dry all at once.

In the new introduction to the new printing of all of these books, Robert Barnard says, "Her readers...give to their favorite Tey novel what they once gave to their favorite books of childhood, to The Wind in the Willows, Little Women, or whatever: unconditional enthusiasm." Yes. Exactly. I think that mine is The Franchise Affair, though that may just be because I read it the longest ago, so my craving is the strongest.

Er.

That seems to be all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fashion: What I Wore Friday (Plums!)

I'm often (contrarily) annoyed when I like something that's in fashion. Last year, I spent weeks craving garments in a particular plum-like color, then realized that I was craving them not because I had conjured up that shade from my imagination, or from seeing an actual piece of fruit, but because that shade was everywhere, in store racks and on people. Once my craving was revealed to be a Caving In To Evil Consumer Forces, I resisted for a while. Resistance was aided by the fact that I could never quite find the right shade in the right garment in the right size.

Then I found what I wanted in a tee, and a darker version in a sweater, and I realized that I already owned a lighter version in a scarf, and the caving was complete. I wore them all today, with the my now-customary knee-length black skirt, black tights, and what I call my Dutch Girl Shoes. (A pair of black Dansko flats, but not the clog-shaped ones.) I enjoyed all the color, and am now tempted to go find three shades of green.

That is all. I suspect, frankly, that I just wanted to post the photo.

Image: Mine.