An A for effort

Two years ago I was in writing hell.

I was in the process of finishing up my master’s thesis, and as such, was spending upwards of thirteen hours a day sitting in front my computer (and I use the term sitting pretty liberally, because for much of the time, I just contorted myself into the most back breaking positions imaginable to human kind – so much so that it’s really quite amazing I didn’t rework the entire curvature of my spine) writing a path dependent analysis of British and Canadian immigration policies and immigrant integration schemes, post-1945.

Nymeria was pretty much the best study partner I could have asked for.

Overall, I loved writing on the subject matter, loved my research (carried out both here in Canada and over in the UK), and very much loved the finished product.

Of course the million dollar question is, would have I said all this to you then?

Maybe.

Probably not.

What most likely would have happened instead, was that sometime during our conversation on the matter I would have either burst into tears, or begged you to go out and buy me a 7/11 apple fritter.

(Had you said either yes, or no, I probably still would have cried. From either disappointment or happiness – believe you me, those fat, salty sobs would have flowed.)

Sitting here, writing this today, with so much perspective on this event, it is pretty darn easy to talk about how great the whole experience was.

Nymeria is also here to remind me not to get completely delusional. She would like me to remember that at the time I was completely knackered. PLUS: Animal Print.

However at the time, I was a miserable wreck; as previously noted, my life was rife with high-drama crying fits, poor nutritional choices, and completely cringe-worthy, totally horrifying fashion statements.

If I only had one word to describe my dress sense for the first four months of 2010, it would be BRUTAL.

Just brutal.

I am disclosing this today, because I want to provide a different perspective (or palate cleanser if you will) from last Friday’s post.

I feel compelled point out that there have been times in my life where I have, on a daily basis, fashioned outfits that would have propelled me to the top of any worst dressed list out there.

Sometimes when I look at old photos, particularly of the early years Mr. M and I spent together as a couple, I often repeat to him, “Thank you so much for staying with me despite all the times I looked absolutely deranged.”

He normally just smiles, and dismisses my claims.

(Although, to be real here folks, if you take a second at the photos, he may be thinking along the same lines. We are a match made in (crazily dressed) heaven.)

But getting back to Thesisgate, 2010.

By the end of my scholarly run, things had gotten pretty darn bad.

Indeed, my closet had pretty much devolved into the following two outfits:

The first?

My pajamas.

The words on this sweater "who gives a hoot?" eventually became a short-lived life motto of mine.

Each morning I would wake up, and immediately begin writing. No shower. No bath. I would type away until about one o’clock, at which point I would eat a banana completely slathered in peanut butter, drink a pot of tea, and then have a massive, massive sweat-and-panic attack. To combat my massively rising anxiety, I would throw myself into different feats of strength, which sometimes meant push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups, but other times meant episodes of Gossip Girl.

After these exercises (in self-loathing), my garb would be sufficiently grodtastic, so I would take everything off, wash them, dry them, wash myself, dry myself, and then put the whole thing on again.

At the height of my efficiency, I probably had about three different sleeping ensembles on the go, none of which (I promise you) had a best before date that outlasted my defense date.

Blargh.

Outfit number two was my “Going Out Outfit.”

Now, at the beginning of January, this setup was at least a “semi-normal” ranking, on a scale from plain jane to absolutely barmy.

It mostly consisted of a pair of thick, comfortable leggings, a cute (albeit short) summer dress (it pretty much covered my bum and that was it) and a rotating duo of cardigans.

Unfortunately, before I really knew what was happening, I started adding soccer socks (on top of the leggings), big doc marten boots, chunky mens sweaters, and really outrageous scarves to the whole shebang.

I looked a bit like a cross between Daria, Blossom, and Claudia from the Babysitter’s Club.

The only thing missing was a giant hat with a bunch of fake flowers stuck to it. I mostly just wore old-school Canuck’s toques and a pink beret.

In my opinion, (and to the many, wide-eyed, confused individuals, who saw me wearing this in public places)- this is not a very good look.

For anyone.

(Or at least not anyone over the age of fourteen. In 1992.)

The day after I defended, Mr. M (ever the gentleman) very politely asked if I could never , ever, wear any one version of the getup ever again for the rest of my life.

I very respectfully (not to mention eagerly) agreed to do so.

I’ve also stopped eating 7/11 baked goods.

( But you can pry my penny candy from my cold dead hands.)

So there you have it my darlings. A (very bleak) fashion confession from yours truly.

Okay, so I have scoured my archives for a digital copy of my "going out outfit" and couldn't find one (good thinking on my part it would seem.) So please accept this as evidence of some of the silly things I do like take photos of my hairdo before going to work so I know what it looks like.

And I would like to make it very clear that when I do offer critiques on this here blog spot, they are never done with any malicious intent, or mean spiritedness. It is a way for me to deconstruct my relationship with the fashion industry, and how both my choices as a consumer, and my (evolving) taste aesthetic inform not only my perspective of the industry, but also of myself.

I spent a lovely afternoon with my sister in-law V on Sunday, and she remarked that she thinks there are lots of people out in the world who probably wish they could try on some of the more, well, unique outfits available for purchase at different stores, but never have the nerve or gall to follow through.

(To which I say (of course) is: GO FOR IT DUDES! It’s a TON of fun!

She also remarked that the salespeople probably spend quite a while speculating on who will even purchase the store’s crazier merchandise when its shows up at the store.

And just like them, I so desperately want to know who, if anyone, is out there is purchasing the strange apparel I’ve come across in downtown Vancouver.

And if I find out, I won’t have the heart to pass judgment.

After all, they’re probably just in the midst of finishing their PhD.

And their pajamas are still in the wash.

Tie a yellow ribbon

Today the sun came out.

This was truly brilliant.

Although I spent the majority of my day running around like a chicken with her head cut off, bopping around the city in taxi cabs, driven by semi-mad (and generally intolerant of all other motorists on the road) middle aged men, or otherwise glued to my computer screen sending out fourteen (give or take) different types of invitations to a 2,000 person gala event I am in the midst of organizing – just seeing those magnificent rays breaking through the ever-present cloud cover was downright magical.

Hello friends! It's been so long.

I am also happy to report that over the last two days I have felt a real shift in the air.

The cold in the mornings is less biting, less sharp. I can hear chickadees calling out to one another, echoing off the dew dappled branches, in harmony with the early hum, and buzz, of the world waking to a new day.

The air smells a little sweeter.

The wind blows a little warmer.

I can sense the cherry blossoms waiting to emerge from their long winter rest, and I can almost imagine a time where I can run about in sundresses and pedal pushers, ride my bike in flip-flops, and wear sunglasses at least every other day.

I am aware that I may be jumping the gun here, but I am so ready to herald the arrive of spring, I become giddy at the mere thought of any day where the temperature moves into double digit territory.

A girl can dream, right?

It was this giddiness that brought me back to H&M on Thursday to try on a few of the pieces that had caught my attention last Friday, and of course – the newly arrived merchandise.

This activity alone led to a full on laugh attack smack dab in the middle of my change room.

Seriously, I need to meet the principal buyer for this store, because based on their choices I wouldn’t know whether to shake their hand or send them to the loony bin.

Do not pass go. Do not ever work in the clothing industry again.

While I was putting on my outfits I was literally shaking with laughter – hooting and snorting like some crazed owl-pig hybrid.

To paraphrase those dude bros from LMFAO, who put it ever so wisely: I’m sexy and I know it BUT I LOOK COMPLETELY BARMY.

Now, don’t misunderstand me here – I am completely aware that I am a bit of a jerk (and a half), repeatedly showing up at this store with the express intention of only trying on clothes (clothes that nobody in their right mind has the business of buying) and never purchasing anything.

I am always especially aware of this fact after I’ve just spent a good chunk of my time in the store, careening about the change room, blinded by laughter, while chronicling the entire escapade with my camera phone.

Also, that this is, for sure, the definition of weirdo, hands down, bar-none, I am sure.

And yet seriously folks, as much as I am aware of my complicity in this whole charade, it still unnerves me to think about how all this merchandise (expensive merchandise at that) does end up going somewhere (and that place certainly is not the Lower Mainland Goodwill), which then makes me think that I shouldn’t feel like such a wanker, because I am not the one buying all these incredibly strange, over-priced articles of clothing.

And what I really start to think about (once my laugther has died down) are what (I perceive to be) the pros and cons of the fashion industry, and what I’m finding more and more to be its overall transient, fickle, and seemingly arbitrary nature.

Despite, of course, my slightly-wavering love for (what my aesthetic dictates to be) beautiful, beautiful pieces.

(This is where the whole endeavor gets a little sticky, you see.)

Like Heidi Klum has said, hundreds and hundreds of times: One day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.

People will spend over one hundred dollars on a suit jacket that they may wear once, that will not be a style a week from Saturday, just because they can.

The privilege and excess that the entire industry is built on, is truly astounding.

Plus so much of the clothing is not only completely unflattering, but downright BIZARRE.

Okay, so you could argue that the really bizarre thing is going and trying on clothing and taking photos of yourself (headless at that.)

Yet, despite the fact that my own actions don’t exactly connote a healthy level of sanity (I am aware that all the young, dispassionate individuals working at the store probably hate my guts) I’m hoping that my commitment to an academic deconstruction of the women’s fashion world (or at least some in-depth selfrefleciton on my own relationship with the industry) will make my actions less objectionable.

Or at the very least be enough to keep both of my feet firmly planted in the “sane” swimming pool of life (which isn’t all that deep, let me tell you) and not swimming laps with the dudes who are purchasing this:

Ummm. BANANA-RAMA.

Or this:

Do my pants remind you of a race track finish flag?

Okay, let’s go back to the first one and take one more look at that shirt:

When I retire to Florida, I'll wear many shirts like this.

(P.S. I am definitely wearing pants in that photo despite the fact that it looks like I’m not. Dodgy stuff here folks!)

When I showed this snap to Mr. M he was so incredibly distressed at the idea of this piece of clothing even existing he was pretty much at a loss for words.

While I felt like a cross between a big band leader and a detective from Miami Vice (and maybe also an extra from a Janet Jackson video circa 1989), he just thought that I looked absolutely deranged.

“Who would possibly think that a flesh toned suit would look GOOD?”

Who indeed.

But more than that, I am still wondering about where all those pieces of clothing go. Who is purchasing them? And who is manufacturing them? And what about designing?

And how do I feel about asking all these questions, if I myself am purchasing other pieces of clothing from the store?

Case in point, I ended up purchasing this sweater:

Love, love, rainbow love!

Am I, at the root of it all, stifling creativity, both on a design end, and a consumer end, when I lampoon these pieces?

Should it matter at all to me what people spend their money on, and how they dress?

While taking part in this one-side dialectic makes for some interesting thought patterns, most of the time I just end up feeling like such a grumpy, old fool.

So then should I, a self-assessed (at times) stodgy, bad-tempered prat, just let the crazily-dressed kids play all they want on my lawn, especially if they are wearing lemon coloured suit jackets, with tapered, zippered pants, hounds-tooth leggings and sheer metal crop tops?

I don’t have the answer to that one, dear readers.

Not yet at least.

But come spring, I’ll be on the lookout for these outfits. And the answers they might provide.

And also chickadees.

I’ll be on the lookout for them too.

It’s just so appealing

Hi friends!

I’m not sure what the temperatures are like where you find yourself bopping about, but as of late it has been absolutely blinkin’ freezing around these parts. Currently, there is wet, wet snow, whirling its way around the downtown core and the majority of men and women scurrying about on the sidewalks look, at best, downright miserable.

A park close to our house. One word: BRRRR!

This morning as I walked to a conference I was attending (a hot topic of which just happened to be climate change – go figure!) I narrowly missed being walloped by a fellow pedestrian’s umbrella, as it tried to make up its mind whether to take flight, or just turn itself inside out.

Yikes!

This weather is just one giant yuck-hole.

In fact, the more that I think about it someone should totally wake up all those lying, bastard groundhogs and let them know that I (and probably the majority of the folks living here on the West Coast) are suitably unimpressed.

Early spring you say? Early spring my foot!

In an attempt to remind myself that life is so much more than just rain drops (there are of course, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens) may I present to you, dear readers, one of my favourite things:

(Edit: “Favorite things” can also be read as strange, idiosyncratic activities that fill me with more pleasure than they probably should. And I’m okay with this.)

Onwards!

Peeling vegetables/fruit.

For real, I LOVE doing this. I could peel yams or apples until the cows came home.

I’m not sure what it is about this activity that I find so fab – a lot of it probably has to do with my sense memory, and what I automatically associate with the peeling of potatoes, or peaches, or pumpkins, or pears. Peeling fruit and veg is, for me, a reminder of a holiday.I pine for this smell.

It is Thanksgiving; it is Christmas. Two celebrations that remind me of family, and fireplaces, of laughter and light; rooms that smell of rosemary and cinnamon, and spiced cider and cloves; it is Mr. M’s cranberry-kissed lips, and his gravy stained oven mitts; frosted windows, overlooking gardens, both green and white, from dustings of snow.

It is love (which is strange I know – but it is true!)

So today as I travelled home on skytrain, I thought about the different things I could make that would require me to peel, peel, peel (I have three different utensils to choose from when I take on this task), and many different kinds of veggies at that.

So I decided that the perfect antidote to both this soggy, sunless day and my now urgent need to, well, strip legumes of their skin, would be to make a frittata, Ethel-style (aka with sweet potatoes, instead of regular ol’ tubers, and two kinds of cheese!)

I was introduced to the frittata by the brilliant and hilarious Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten – how good is that?) and while I have never quite yet achieved her level of fluffiness, it is something to which I aspire.

I picked up the goods that were required for the task (plus a few other treats, such as fresh strawberries and whipping cream) and Mr. M was lovely enough to pick me up at New West station, relieving me of the burden of walking up the (ridiculous) Eighth Avenue hill, in the rain, laden down with food stuffs.

Ready to rock! Chop! PEEL!

And they say chivalry is dead!

As soon as I got home, I put on my professional cooking outfit (my Dr. Seuss t-shirt and stripped pyjama pants.) This is after all, serious business.

BOOYAKACHA!

The first thing I did was infuse my oil as it warmed up in my cast iron pan.

Bottle this scent and sell it!

I started doing this a couple of years ago, and it is a method that I highly recommend. I learned this from my genius chef-extraordinaire sister – I add garlic, salt, pepper, basil, and chilli powder and I promise you, as the oil heats up the smell of all the different herbs and spices coming together is something pretty special.

Also, it saves you the time from adding flavour later, and if I may so myself, it just always tastes better doing it this way.

Love these colours. They sure taste good too.

(But then again, this could just be a sensory reaction that I have, due to the awesome memory of cooking fried potatoes with my two sisters, three summers ago while we all vacationed in New York together. A late morning, after an even later night, spent sipping home brewed espressos and nibbling on fresh baguettes, slathered with nutella and peach preserves.)

But still, take my word for it and try it!

Green with hunger.

Sometimes I cannot believe how quickly time seems to be passing – a blink, a skip of a record needle, a missed alarm clock, or a late dinner date – three years have passed since that trip but I feel as though I just got off that plane yesterday.

A marriage made in taste heaven.

So I peel carrots and sweet potatoes, and chop onions, and grate cheese – because during this simple, self-satisfying activity, time slows. It doesn’t stop, but a lovely lethargy sets in, that allows the world to sit back, and breathe.

EGGY.

Time also slows when I dance about our kitchen, singing Rod Stewart, and Mr. M breaks it down in the living room, in front of the fireplace, his shadow looming large, flickering on the adjacent wall.

Nymeria, sits watching, intrigued by our antics, and perhaps perturbed (but not enough to move us from her line of vision.)

CHEESY.

And so on this windy, wet Wednesday night, Mr. M and I will peel, and chop, and dance, and we will wrap ourselves in memories and time, rhythms and rhymes, eating a frittata, dreaming of spring.

VOILA!

A spring without umbrellas.

Oh how the girl feels

One of my favourite bands ever is Franz Ferdinand. If you don’t know about them, I definitely recommend that you check them out – they are tip top groove troopers and pretty much my number one choice every time I feel the need for a mad, solo dance party.

I saw them live a couple of summers ago and these rocking Scotsmen put on a fab show, despite the pouring rain, slick stage, and a brutal opening band.

Anyway, there is a song of theirs that I love very much – it’s off of their third album and is called “No You Girls”. It’s a great tune, so definitely have a listen if you are interested:

The lines that always get me are near the end, when Alex (Kapranos, the band’s lead man) sings:

Sometimes I say stupid things
That I think
Well, I mean I
Sometimes I think the stupidest things
Because I never wonder
Oh how the girl feels
Oh how the girl feels

I feel as though these lyrics work for so many different situations (whether taken literally or not). I mean, who hasn’t been in the position where they have said something that (inadvertently) comes across as ignorant, because they haven’t taken the time to consider whether or not other parties involved may be offended, or come at the issues from a different point of view?

Not I, that’s for sure.

These kind of things happen all the time – rarely for malicious purposes, and hopefully the offending party can quickly rectify their faux pas.

Unfortunately, I feel as though the self-awareness required to do said rectifying is often lacking when it comes to the majority of these situations.

For instance, yesterday I felt very much like I was in fact the girl in those above lyrics – awash in a sea of inconsiderate, unaware, and uninformed comments, made by so, so many individuals who hadn’t given a moment’s thought to whether or not their words may 1.) be impolite or 2.) indicative of huge social problems existent the world over or 3.) infused in such casual misogyny that trying to explain why their comments are harmful would be pointless because a.) JEEZE ETHEL they weren’t meant that way, so how could I misconstrue them to such a degree? or b.) I should probably just lighten up and learn how to take a joke. You feminists have no sense of humour!!!

For the sake of full disclosure, I should let you know that This Is True. As someone who cares about the status of women, I am required by law to be a full-on laugh suck-hole, governed by nothing more than my intolerance of jokes and laughing.

(My hatred of all men of course, is second only to this.)

Le sigh.

You see, lovely readers, yesterday was International Women’s Day.

Which I’ve actually come to believe is also “International Day for Men to Ask Why There Isn’t an International Men’s Day?”

For the answer to this question, please consult the answer to, “So, like, why don’t we have White Entertainment Television?”

P.S. To all people (whether male or female) who ask these questions, you are part of the reason why International Women’s Day and Black Entertainment Television exist.

Also, I just want to put this out there (for hopefully the last time): the number of times “get back in the kitchen” or “make me a sandwich” have ever been funny is zero.

Zero times.

What’s that you say? It was all in jest?

Yeah, no. Answer’s still zero.

(And anyone who says otherwise should probably stay away from choral arrangements, or singing in front of dogs, because they are tone deaf.)

Right at this moment as I am typing these words I am doing ninja-style yoga breathing in an attempt to both regulate my heartbeat and bring my blood pressure down to a simmer (and not the roiling boil it is currently checking in at.)

I also LOVE to laugh, you stinking rats!!!

Breathe in…breathe out…

As some of you may have guessed, my mood today hasn’t exactly been one hundred percent cheerful.

I keep oscillating back and forth between happiness and rage. As soon as I start to feel cheerful, I slip-slide back to wrath so quickly that it makes my mind spin.

*In all seriousness folks, I am beginning to think that as I get older I am going to become so consumed by sadness over all the world’s ills (that as much as I try, I just cannot change) that I may die of a broken heart.

(And that’s probably the best case scenario! In reality, I’ll probably keel on the treadmill, have working myself up into the frenzy of all frenzies, wearing the shorts that always fall down when I run.)

And that’s serious class (with a K.)

So because I spent so much of today thinking of these things, and because the weather was absolute crap during my lunch hour, I walked over to the mall and proceeded to try on three outfits from H&M, all from the men’s clothing section, all based on what was advertised on the male mannequins.

And I have to say, I really, really liked them.

The crotch on the pants was a little low, but overall they were super comfortable.

I don’t know if this is because of my sour mood, or my pre-existing penchant for men’s fashion, but I had a hard time not buying every single thing I tried on.

I REALLY like these pants.

(I also thought about how the guy working in the dressing room didn’t bat an eyelash when I handed him the clothes I wanted to try on. I couldn’t (and still can’t) help wondering what reactions the exact opposite of that situation would garner – how would he have felt if I was a man, trying on women’s clothes?)

I think I will buy this sweater. But the pants were so tight I think I may have cut off some circulation.

I’m almost even interested in taking up a short sociological experiment: for two weeks I would dress solely in masculine clothing. After the time was up, I would switch, and wear only (what society deems) feminine clothing – along the way I would chronicle the different reactions I encountered to both modes of dress, and how they varied during the course of the trial. This is a topic that I’ve given much thought to for a long time, but am only now thinking of acting on it.

What do you think?

I’ll let the idea marinate a little longer, and let you know as my deliberation process progresses.

In the mean time, I am going to continue to do my yoga breathing.

And I am going to weigh the pros and cons of those burgundy pants.

And I am going to wish all the amazing, brilliant, and inspirational, women I know and love, a very happy, (belated) International Women’s Day.

I don’t know what I would do without you.