Leaning into stories, backing out of my own spotlight

Mostly I’m creating and playing and sharing the results. But a little bit of my online agenda these days is quietly folding away old self-centric things. It feels less important now to turn the attention to myself rather than to the art I can make with my unique experience.

So I put away out of the public eye another batch of the oldest posts. Pictures from my childhood.

A pretty and well-mannered little child, attention focused on a book, one button undone, perhaps from fidgeting with it.

Studio portrait, technically recognizable as me, but also just about any toddler. Finger in mouth. Baby shoes with a carefully folded over sock. A floral print dress.

With Grandma. She is wearing beads and is about the age I am now looking at this picture. No, younger by several years. My cousin is beside us and for once I’m the one wiggling and excited by something out of the picture and my cousin stands, cautious and serious, gazing at the photographer.

Me in an outfit of pale colors including white tights and shoes and a wee cardigan over my palest pink dress, sitting in a sandbox intently shoveling sand into a cup. Scooping sand with my bare hands. Kneeling in the sand. Later, apparently, on what looks like the porch of a vacation home—empty wading pool, grill, folded chair, strewn toys, a slatted wall behind and pine boards underfoot—the tights discarded, staring open-mouthed at the photographer and leaning forward, my long hair blanketing my shoulders and my eyes dark under my straight bangs.

Grandma and my cousin and I in a wooded area. Us two small ones at a picnic table. Both of us chipmunk-cheeked. My cousin (wisely, I now deem) in overalls, while I am in a white turtleneck and cardigan.

A picnic with Grandma, photo by Grandpa. I sit on her lap. She’s in shorts and has her sleeves rolled up above the elbow with a neat cuff. She’s feeding me something. I’ve got the white turtleneck again, but now I’ve got blue pants and suspenders, white shoes and red sneakers. You’d think it was from July, but the slide was developed in May. The wreckage of the picnic lies around us. Red-and-white striped cups. Plates and bags and a casserole dish and a partially eaten pie and plates with napkins and bits of uneaten food and a box with a Pepsi logo so old I don’t remember it. Also the ubiquitous big thermos for my grandparents’ coffee. We are under a tree on the grass beside some still blue water. Seems like a lovely time. And there’s pie left…

A month or so in the future perhaps. The pink dress with the short pleated skirt, but no tights, no long-sleeved shirt underneath, and bare feet. Walking on grass. Gazing out over the lawn, laundry basket in the distance, perhaps at the backyard of my great-grandmother’s house next door to my grandparents’, sucking my thumb. Sitting in a small, red, inflatable wading pool—seemingly only there to keep toys contained or provide a smooth place to sit on the grass with my bare legs—and making a growling face like a lion or tiger. Playing and trying on different voices and attitude, looks like. Throwing a ball with someone, probably Grandma. Next to me is a little stuffed animal of a dog of which I was very fond. Its short, blond fur was a little scratchy I remember. Curled in the little dry pool, sucking my thumb.

My great-grandmother, mother of my mother’s father, in a pink Chanel-style dress with pearly beads, with me and my cousin standing beside her looking like dolls or cherubim, the Christmas tree with fancy glass balls and silver tinsel behind her. It is one of the most happy and relaxed pictures of her I recall. Her old hand with its swollen knuckles rests lightly on my little arm and both my cousin and I have our hands on her lap. The past and the future together at the turning of the year.

And then the next day and the frenzy of presents. My cousin rushing toward the photographer arms outstretched, wrapping paper in each hand. She is wearing a cute 1960s short shirt dress in a boisterous green pattern and has bare legs. I, in the background, have a brown flannel, long-sleeved nightgown over white tights. I’m clutching a doll and something else, the doll I recall as being one that was at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Looking at it, I think the thing in my hand might be a blue and white striped mattress from the dolls’ white bunk bed. That was made out of wood and I was so fond of it that it moved to my parents’ house at some point when it took on a new life as a toy shelf, if I remember rightly. Though it was always “the doll bed” when I referred to it.

Another picture and now I have a red long-sleeve shirt or dress and yellow tights and black shoes. My cousin and I are completely absorbed in the new Fisher-Price dollhouse, the one that folded closed and the handle acted as a latch. I loved that thing and it led eventually to me years later saving up my money (earned doing chores and selling pussy willows to downtown office workers) for my first really big purchase: the Fisher-Price Castle. In the background of this picture my aunt kneels on the floor, her long, long hair hanging across her lap, wearing pants with an wild pattern with flowers on the kneecaps, and possibly a shawl in a completely different but equally intricate pattern. Someone in the foreground, too blurry to recognize, is wearing royal purple. Ah, the 60s. Behind us is a Christmas tree with presents still wrapped under it and one very visible string of popcorn adorning it. Another day maybe? Definitely at my grandparents house now and I’m wearing a two-piece pajama/sweatpants outfit in white with red stripes. I’m standing in the middle of a pile of wrapping paper and boxes from which has emerged some sort of doll bassinet and two dolls, one white and one black. I am efficiently and with total focus stripping one of the dolls of its clothes to put it to bed. An adult in the background is grinning at the scene.

Stepping forward toward seeing a little more of the conscious self I remember, but still gazing through that foggy glass into early childhood, catching familiar motions but nothing I can name with confidence.

Election Slate March 2020

It’s been a busy February/March, so my notes are a bit more terse than usual. Thanks for reading!

President: Warren
Best person for the job. We need someone who can effectively restore our government to full functioning after these devastating years of the Trump administration. Whip smart, experienced, rational, inspiring, effective.
There are other candidates I like too—if it’s not Warren, I’m voting The Democrat 2020—but I hope it’s her. I’ll particularly call out Bernie Sanders; he deserves credit for keeping the center from sliding even further to the right than it did.

County Central Committee
I’m going with my pal Fred’s advice here: “if you also think that the housing crisis is our #1 issue and you believe the best way to solve it is to build all the things,” take a look at the DCCC endorsements from YIMBY Action.

US Rep: Pelosi
She’s doing as well as could be done under the present circumstances. I’d rather see her continue to take the heat than move a new Speaker of the House into the front lines to be smeared by Trump/GOP while their partisans are as rabid as they are now. If there was a chance of any liberal bill passing, her individual positions might matter, but that’s not our current reality.

State Senator: Wiener
Committed to the hard, iterative work of good governance.

State Assembly: Chiu
Ever since his work for us here in San Francisco I’ve been impressed by Chiu. He is motivated to work for the common good, and has passed up other opportunities in order to devote himself to public service. I’m glad every time I can vote to keep him working for us.

Judge seat 1 – Ly
Judge seat 18 – Proudfoot
Judge seat 21 – Singh
Endorsements by other good SF judges are the deciding factor here.

Prop 13 – Schools & Colleges Repair, Construction, and Modernization Bonds
YES

Measure A – City College Job Training, Repair, and Earthquake Safety Bond
YES
We need to maintain our investment in public buildings, particularly those which grant us other benefits of a better educated populace, and this is a good way to fund that. (Opposed by Republicans and other anti-tax groups.)

Measure B – Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response Bond, 2020
YES
We’ve been lucky not to have another major quake since 1989. This continues our work from previous bonds to improve our resilience to disasters of all kinds. (No opposing arguments submitted.)

Measure C – Retiree Health Care Benefits for Former Employees of SF Housing Authority
YES
Some federally funded HA employees have been moved to be city employees and this transitions their retiree health coverage. (No opposing arguments submitted.)

Measure D – Vacancy Tax
YES
Establishes a set of fairly detailed rules to discourage landlords leaving ground floor retail and commercial untenanted. Tax is per linear feet facing the street and how long it has been vacant. Owners are only taxed when space empty over 6 months (182 days). There are exceptions, e.g., to protect non-profits, buildings where certain permits have been applied for or issued, after a fire or natural disaster, only applies to certain districts. The revenue is earmarked for a new small business assistance fund. The list of supporting neighborhood and beloved SF businesses is impressive. I think this is very likely to fix the mismatch between landlords expectations of the market and those of local businesses. (One of the opposing arguments weirdly asserts this will deter pop-ups, when it seems very probable to encourage them. Two 3 month pop-ups would protect the building from the tax. Opposed by Republican Party, a real estate broker, and those who feel that there is insufficient data supporting the “common wisdom” 1. that we have a vacancy crisis and 2. that this would help even if we did.)

Measure E – Limits on Office Development
NO
Ties the city’s annual allotment for Large Office Projects (50,000 square feet and over) to whether the city is meeting its Affordable Housing Goals and sets a minimum goal of 2,042 very low-, low-, and moderate-income units per year for this purpose. If goal not met, the next year’s allotment declines by same percentage as shortfall. Very complex thing that did not reach the ballot through process with sufficient adjustment based on different stakeholders. Does not provide any additional funding for the affordable housing it mandates, and thus seems to just guarantee reduced tax revenue and reduction in money for affordable housing which comes from new office development. Also seems very likely to put displacement pressure on other spaces when new office space isn’t available. We’re already limiting office development and we’re not seeing the same kind of “all office, no residential” problems we did during the boom 20 years ago. We do need more affordable housing, but the proponents of this measure’s blind optimism that it’ll all work out and get built despite reducing funding for it is misplaced.

old photos of my parents as a cloudy mirror

There is a picture of my parents with me when I’m not quite a year old. They look like the college seniors they are. Eager, young, with a freshly-scrubbed but slightly exhausted look about them. I am shouting or singing, happy not crying, and wearing a diaper.

I think back to my boyfriend in my own junior year. To our own bright naivety which ended in the rainy season of the following year. We were thinking we might get married, fantasizing names for the two children we’d have, but wisely wanting to wait until after college when we had more resources to handle kids. Thanks to birth control (and good luck), we had time for the fantasy and the relationship to end before the pregnancy came.

Looking at this picture, I see a timeline for myself that I escaped. The one where a nice guy, but one with whom a relationship wasn’t going to last, and I didn’t have a pretty excellent little kid. The one where we then have to deal with being parents when the relationship inevitably fell apart despite our efforts and hanging on longer than we would have without a kid. The one where the kid always would have the oddness of having a divorced parent who was around less and less as life went on, but who was still somehow “next of kin”. The one where my own life choices would always be informed by being a parent, and where I would both gain and lose by that fact.

Given how different my perception of what I want in life was just a few years later and how consistent many parts of that vision have remained in the decades since, it’s clear that I wasn’t ready to make a decision on parenthood until I was nearly 30. I am so grateful I had the time to come to that decision and connect with the reality that being childfree is the life I want. Thank goodness for birth control and non-pressuring family!

I flip ahead in my photos and there is nearly one year old me, playing on a blanket with my 50 year old grandmother—four years younger than I am now. I have an abstract sense that I should think “Oh, that could have been me; I could have had the specialness of that relationship!” but my actual reaction is more like having reached the safety of the sidewalk after a near miss by a turning car.

A cute, little, chubby-cheeked, laughing child with a goofy baby-tooth grin and Grandma is having so much fun with her. But I’m ever so much more comfortable imagining the child’s view than the grandparent’s.

Here we are camping (Is Grandma in curlers? Oh, the 1960s!); she was always so active. I bet she and my biological father really bonded over their love of the Sierras. Here are my cousin and I, so close in age and so different in appearance, fumbling around with the door of a tent, not really able to coordinate much yet. Sitting up mastered, but not so much the standing and walking.

A month on and I’m a year old, delighted at the sight of Grandpa. I’m inside a parked car, standing up by clinging to the windowsill, mouth and eyes wide with happiness. The window glass reflects my grandfather taking the picture of me—shine of head where the hairline is already giving up ground at age 51, hand curled gracefully out of the way of the lens. An iron bridge is reflected behind him, like a giant Erector Set creation.

We jump a couple or more months ahead in time. Notice of my 2nd immunization against polio—a spectral shadow of death in the past scatters in the light of my childhood, now distant past and the threat largely forgotten. I have learned to walk and here are photos—I stand! Leaning against a table or a box. I toddle to play with the knobs on a big old cathode ray tube television—poor toddlers today, so many fewer delightful knobs. I pick up random objects. I lurch around a living room. A relative in her teens or twenties—wearing an A-line dress, a cardigan, and a bob cut not that different from the one I recently had in the present—kneels on the floor to interact with me. It’s my grandparents’ house, the living room—less tidy than I remember it later—as we all visit, with a cardboard box full of toddler toys, a stack of magazines, a male relative lounging shoeless in white socks, horn-rim glasses, dark pants, a white short-sleeve shirt with something in the pocket that looks like a smartphone but can’t be so is probably a calculator or notepad. At the side of the picture a man’s bare legs and bottom of their shorts and the edge of what might be a woman’s skirt.

I see the clues to the time as well as knowing the family dating of this old snapshot and think back not to my earliest memories, but my historical knowledge. What was happening in the world then. What were these adults dealing with in the world around them. What headlines of racial tension, nuclear tests, the space race, gun violence, and new countries escaping colonial rule were they reading and perhaps discussing?

Time rolls on. My parents, looking a little more experienced at this parenthood thing, grinning as wiggly little me on her lap tries to reach for a stuffed animal offered by the photographer or their “assistant”. Probably not my grandparents, judging by the peasant-style shirt my father is wearing. The hair cut is still respectably short, but the widening lapels and simple X lacing up the front of the shirt betray hippy sensibilities. My mother is radiating confidence. Her hair continues to transition from an-updo-short-of-a-beehive to the natural long look I recall from childhood. She must have graduated by now and be working professionally.

And then it’s the end of that year. Early in that month I had a smallpox vaccine. Thank goodness for vaccines. Science really did help the course of my life run more smoothly and pleasantly.

That Christmas is the first where I could coherently open my own presents and I was very interested in the process, judging by the picture where I’m ignoring the photographer and tearing into the paper, while my cousin looks off at someone to figure out if she’s allowed to begin.

There was a huge family reunion when we visited the area where my grandparents and most of the rest of the family lived. We two first great-grandchildren held on laps, my great-grandparents in the center. All very respectable, but at the far edge of the picture, my hippy uncle in sheepskin jacket, long hair, and medium-long beard (Has he ever cut it since?), and my aunt with her long straight hair. Would they be welcomed to this gathering without the powerful admission ticket of the first great-grandchild, my cousin sitting on her mother’s lap? That they were was good for everyone. The connections re-knitted after a break. The generation of cousins above mine shown more possibilities in how to live their lives and express themselves. Everyone loosened up a bit over the years. And that hippy uncle of mine is now the leading genealogist to whom the family turns with history questions. 🙂

Focus, and Joyous Calm

These days I’m using my growing energy levels—hooray for being off Prednisone!—to actively improve my health, strength, and flexibility, both physical and mental.

My Discardian practice of late is equal parts letting go and upgrading. I’m paring away what I no longer need to or care to have on my list, and leaning into creative efforts that match my current activities and interests.

So, an appreciative waving of a handkerchief to cocktail writing and nerdery as that ship sails off, and then turning with delight to join friends for storytelling and adventure in our D&D games.

The oldest posts here can also slip away across the sea of time. Here on the departing boat is a baby, me, determinedly sucking a thumb as someone out of frame holds the other hand, apparently trying with limited success to get a spoon of food in my mouth. In the background, a chalkboard with a cartoon, evidence of the wit and creativity of my young mother. Forward slightly and a round-faced toddler, able to sit up and crawl, enjoys a blanket on a lawn in the sunshine. Child-me is wearing a little blue dress and has a white fluffy bunny stuffed animal. Probably Easter, because my mother is sitting on the grass in a little Chanel-style suit in a pale pink I cannot imagine her wearing today. White pointed shoes. Knees held tight together because the skirt stops 2 or 3 inches above them. The controlled femininity of the 1960s, tempered by the freedom to get down on the ground with her little one.

Hard to feel the last image on this page recede out of the public eye, to fade into the normal obscurity of old family photos, rarely stumbled upon. Toddler Dinah gazes up happy, excited, at my beloved grandfather Bob, seen in profile with the corners of his eyes crinkled looking down at me. So often I wish I could show him something I just found online. He would have been made as sad as any of us by the inequality and polarization of these times, but oh how he would have adored the myriad devices and the ascendence of nerdery. Just the other day, as Joe chortled over the sub-reddit “What is that thing?” I wanted so much to show it to him.

And so, there it is. The good parts don’t actually go that far away. What I enjoyed about him, what he enjoyed and we loved to share with him, those live on into the century he didn’t get to travel in with us.

The handkerchief I’m waving belonged to him.

Legacy vs. Lineage

Chalk it up to aging, having a parent die, climate change, the general shaking up of assumptions that is the latter-twennyteens, but I’ve been wrestling with my creative goals in blogging.

Jason Kottke, who started before me (and that’s saying something), had a very helpful post recently, ‘The Legacy of Philip Glass‘. Glass said about the future of his works, “I won’t be around for all that,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”

Now as someone trained in history and librarianship, that’s not a sentiment I swallow easily. As someone who has had seen the writing legacy of beloved people—pour one out for Leslie, for Brad—vanish or fade from the Web, that’s something that instills worry not a sense of release.

But Jason also quoted and linked to Austin Kleon expanding that piece with thoughts about lineage vs. legacy:

“I like this idea of thinking about lineage vs. legacy, because it means you can sort of reframe any worrying about immortality and how you’re going to project yourself into the future, and think more about what you’re taking from the past and what you’re adding to it that creates a more interesting and helpful present.”

That’s got me looking hard at what I’ve been doing with my ‘retroblogging’. I described it as writing an autobiography in slow motion. And, to pull a phrase from Kleon, it was centered in projecting myself into the future.

But the future doesn’t need more of me.

That’s why I decided decades ago not to have children; I do not require permanence of myself or of some sort of avatars of me.

When I look at my major works—my book and game store in the mid-1990s, the book Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff, the book The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level, and what I’m doing with the Kabalor project—the value wasn’t in my first ideas, it’s in the synthesis of ideas I achieved after studying, listening and learning from others.

That’s a reminder to turn the inputs into outputs. Instead of merely talking or documenting, amplify and reflect.


As I write this afternoon, I’m looking at old pictures and thinking what they can inspire. A wiggly handed baby with her mouth open and a bit of a combover being gazed upon with love by a woman with a small bouffant suitable to a 60’s soul backup singer. The same baby dancing horizontally—foot kicking, arms waving—with tongue sticking out of her mouth in concentration. Excited baby amidst toys, bracketed by grandmother and great-grandmother. Wiggling baby/toddler again, hands waving and mouth open, in lap of laughing mother, hair now smaller but in a cute ’60s dress that still evokes stylish femininity. Back to baby on the rose-printed blanket on the floor amidst toys including foil pie pans, thumb in mouth and hand gripping the blanket edge. Rolling and stretching hands to be picked up. Unable to sit up, but able to raise on hands to gaze into a doll’s face or at the camera. Puzzled by the toy grandpa beckons with, unsure if it’s worth releasing the toy in hand to reach for. A note about immunizations—Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio—which places this baby at a point in time. Baby in a little tabletop seat, like a carseat but before they came into use, gaze away from mother, thumb in mouth, other wrist held gently to keep that hand from interfering with the loaded spoon; a mealtime standoff. In mother’s lap, gripping the spoon as she coaxes me to cooperate and eat; she is beautiful, like an escapee from a Renaissance painting, and I am intently focused on taking control of my fate, even if it only involves this bite. And with intent, I become not “a baby” but “me”. In father’s lap in an armchair beside a board-and-cinder-block bookcase, gazed at by him and by mother sitting beside chair, her hair in transition from fancy updo’s to the long natural look I remember from childhood; they are so young, so young. And, the baby, me, is safe and happy.

Filter, absorb, create, refine. I mark the posts with the pictures private; nothing to offer others. The next time through, my thoughts above will become further distilled, and maybe then or the distillation after that, if ever, there might be something to carry on beyond my time.

Election Slate November 2019 – San Francisco

Delayed by spending a lot of time this week watching fire news to be ready to assist Sonoma and Mendocino county family if they needed to evacuate (which none of them did and all have power again, yay!), but here’s where I landed for this election in San Francisco.

Mayor: London Breed
She’s doing a great job shifting a lot of things that don’t change quickly; we’ll be reaping the housing growth and homelessness reduction benefits from her tenure for a long time.

Member, Board of Supervisors, District 5: Vallie Brown
Deep local roots and brings powerful experience to the Board, and she’s been doing a good job.
Definitely don’t want to vote for Dean Preston, who seems—based on his actions in elections since 2016—to place his political advancement over the good of the district. That he persistently tries to displace competent women in office is particularly problematic.

City Attorney: Dennis J. Herrera
Doing a really great job.

District Attorney: Chesa Boudin
Brings a new perspective and helps balance out the political viewpoints in city government so it isn’t entirely Breed-backed.

Public Defender: Manohar Raju
Sure. Seems fine. Good endorsements.

Sheriff: Paul Miyamoto
Backed by retiring Sheriff Vicki Hennessey, who I liked.

Treasurer: José Cisneros
Keep a good thing goin’.

Board of Education: Jenny Lam
Sure. Seems fine and more experienced than other candidates. Good endorsements.

Community College Board: Ivy Lee
Sure. Seems fine. Good endorsements.

A, Affordable Housing Bond: YES
Solidly endorsed. Opposed by the Libertarians who pretty much don’t like collective effort for long-term good if it might possibly cost them any money or ever inconvenience them for a minute.

B, Department of Disability and Aging Services: YES!
Important thing on this one isn’t the renaming, it’s the requirement for three of the seven members that (at least) one seat be held by a person age 60 or older, by a person with a disability, and by a person who has served in the U.S. Military.

C, Vapor Products: NO NO NO!
Ok, Joe Camel.

D, Traffic Congestion Mitigation Tax: YES
We do not win the fight against greenhouse gases unless people’s behavior shifts and there are a LOT more cars on our streets since Uber and Lyft. Funds from this will help to make public transit more competitive and increase public safety.

E, Affordable Housing and Educator Housing: YES
Opposed by the dang Libertarians again. Selfish fucks; it isn’t even a tax or a bond proposal! It changes zoning to allow more housing—which we super duper need in this city.

F, Campaign Contributions and Campaign Advertisements: YES
Yay, ethics and transparency in campaign funding and ads!


Re: endorsements, if David Chiu endorses someone, I tend to take them more seriously. David Chiu has always carried himself as a thoughtful public servant, in my experience.

Cool stuff to notice in the sample ballot booklet:
p. 4 – info on Enhanced Election Transparency
p. 10-11 – delightfully large print double spread on Accessible Voting and Services
p.13 – reminder that the 2020 Presidential Primary for California will be MARCH 3, 2020. Mark it on your calendar. Make a note, plan to vote!
p.116 – just inside the back cover, after all the actual text of the propositions, is a handy ballot worksheet.

(We have such a great Voter Information Guide.)

My current project: Kabalor, a binaryless universe for fantasy gaming

Kabalor is my original universe for fantasy gaming which moves away from the binary bias and colonialist baggage of certain other games built on wargaming and traditional divisions of good/evil, male/female, civilized/savage, people/monsters. The core tension is not a battle between binaries, but the shifting power dynamics among Chaos, Order, and Balance.

Rather than lock myself away to write a sourcebook alone, I’ve created a Patreon community where I can share the growing body of work as it is ready, hear feedback and ideas, and make a better game for us all. The more gamemasters and players of Kabalor, the more it will be the open, inclusive, diverse, fantastic universe we need.
patreon.com/kabalor

A purple/lilac skinned hooded figure wearing leather armor stands in front of a heavy wooden door, holding a crossbow in her hand and pointing it upward. She has leather armor, big cuffed boots, and a dagger at her hip. The figure and the door are both 1:60 scale miniatures.
HeroForge mini of Alia Haako, Ethakan rogue, as painted by the wonderful Astrid Bjørge

You can click the ‘Follow’ button on the Patreon page to receive new free posts as they go up. Thanks for reading and sharing feedback with comments if you feel like it.

If you want to really get into it, you can become a patron. Your monthly $1 support allows you to see exclusive or early versions of materials shared with my patrons plus new content about Kabalor every week. Also you’ll get access to detailed discussions and polls about the content and what comes next.

As I share this new universe, because I grew up within and continue to enjoy a lot of privilege (white, cis, middle class, educated), I need to do the work of listening to under-represented voices. Finding the flaws and dismantling them will take a community. By supporting my patreon you support that work. I look forward to learning from and amplifying those voices.

Happy blogiversary to me

21 years? That can’t be right. Twenty-one? Well, huh. Yeah. 21.

I probably would have done something more on the blog today if I hadn’t spent the day working on getting things set to launch a new project.

I’m creating a new universe for fantasy gaming, one which moves away from the binary bias and colonialist baggage of certain other games built on wargaming and traditional divisions of good/evil, male/female, civilized/savage, people/monsters.

Because I grew up within and continue to enjoy a lot of privilege (white, cis, middle class, educated) I need to do the work of listening to under-represented voices. Finding the flaws and dismantling them will take a community and I’ve begun to set that up on Patreon.

Stay tuned for further announcements very soon. 🙂

Accepting my reality and celebrating my personal style that fits it

It’s been two years since I first began experiencing symptoms of the rare autoimmune disorder I’m living with. It’s fortunately very responsive to medications and I only rarely experience symptoms now, and when I do they aren’t the worst ones. But my gums are still sensitive—I can’t eat food nearly as spicy as I used to, and I wasn’t a heat fiend by any means—and my torso basically won’t tolerate a waistband. Bras can only be of the very softest kind—we’re way beyond “no underwire” here—and its a grudging negotiation. Thank goodness for overalls.

Seriously, Carhartt saved me. I loved overalls as a kid and when, desperately trying to figure out what to do with the “no waistbands” problem in January of 2018, I finally ended up reading a clothing discussion on an IBS forum and saw “You could always wear overalls, I guess, ha ha! :D” it was a hallelujah moment. Amazingly, that was just when they were on the cusp of becoming fashionable. When I was at my most vulnerable, dealing with all kinds of discomfort and anxiety from my diagnosis, the disorders, and the medication side effects, I would go out in my Carhartts and get sincere “I LOVE your overalls!” Such a blessing at that low point.

It’s been a year and a half. I’ve weathered the body distortions of the corticosteroid Prednisone—which redistributes your fat and gives you moonface—along with having some weight gain from profound fatigue interfering with my ability to exercise.

me in July 2017, 2018, and 2019
Prednisone can radically change your appearance to the point where you start not looking like yourself to yourself in the mirror. It is deeply unsettling and compounds other possible side effects, anxiety and depression. Oh yes, and something in the mix has also changed my complexion, but that’s minor in comparison.

Now that I have tapered Prednisone down to 1mg/day, and hope in a month to be able to continue weaning my body off it, I’ve got a lot more energy, a lot fewer side effects, and a lot more confidence in taking on something like a wardrobe refresh.

Now overalls are not something that leaps to mind as the obvious thing to build a capsule wardrobe around, but I am up for the challenge. I’ll be on these medications for at least another year or two, probably more, and while I’m looking and feeling WAAAAY better (thanks!), overalls are gonna be my jam for a good long time to come.

Time to lean in and embrace overalls as the core of my style. And why not? They bring me constant compliments everywhere I go!

So, today is the start of my building a greatly pared down wardrobe. Time to let go of a lot of stuff that’s been sitting in the way, not being wearable, and find the good pieces hiding behind it that work with my current lifestyle, body, and style.

I began over the past week by reading and watching a lot about capsule wardrobes and finding your style.

Caroline Joy of un-fancy.com has some good stuff including this high-level set of notes on how to create a capsule wardrobe.

I haven’t done the full questionnaire but I’ve started thinking about a lot of the questions here in this free printable wardrobe planner also from un-fancy.com.

Use Less on YouTube has lots of great advice. Here’s the Capsule Wardrobe Guides, but also check out the other playlists.

What all this has brought me to is deciding my clothing tends to fall in 6 categories (with the last three each being used a tenth as much as any of the first three):

  • Routine (Lowkey Lapgoat* Ready)
  • Out and About (Routine out of the house)
  • Get Togethers and Shows
  • Mess Making
  • Hot & Lazy (a.k.a. tropical climate vacation)
  • Fancy Time

My day-to-day life sees me bouncing from typing at my desk to watering plants in the back yard to cleaning to meditation. I want a comfortable, practical, unfussy, friendly, relaxed, cheerful wardrobe.

My style goals are:

  1. Have a great base of would-wear-every-day items
  2. supplemented with things to dress up fancier but still feel comfortable and radiate Dinahness
  3. and built around items that encourage me to be active and creative.
  4. Keep my look well-coordinated to offset the casual comfort with color and texture poise.
  5. Keep black as one of my core colors because I look great in it.

So the first step to making that easy, is to look at what I have.

I gave myself clear space in the bedroom for the job—cleared top of the dresser and the whole surface of the bed—and pulled out and rough sorted almost everything but jackets and underwear/leggings in half an hour.

I roughly sorted things on the bed, colder weather on the left and warmer on the right, with stripes across the bed for my six categories (and my most used categories nearest the foot of the bed for easy access).

What was clear at this point was:

  • I had totally forgotten about some great stuff I already had (because it was in drawers that didn’t have daily items)
  • I have a lot of stuff that doesn’t fit and I’m only beating myself up by holding it over myself like some kind of body-conformity sword of Damocles
  • All that stuff folks say about you actually having MORE style when you work with a smaller, more carefully curated wardrobe is clearly true.

Time to pull out the rest of the clothes!

I pulled together my core colors: black, chocolate, the greens of forests and mosses, and (probably) cognac—because that’s the color my preferred medium-light weight overalls come in. (Carhartt Crawford Double Front Bib, which I get from Zappos)

New unwashed pairs of overalls bracketed by faded pairs on the top here. I don’t actually like the faded color of the cognac/caramel (“Carhartt Brown”) that much, but I needed to be able to switch it up somehow over the past year and a half.

Anyone who has been in our living room will laugh because you can find all those colors there.

Using this advice I’m going to try dyeing a few faded pairs in the washing machine. If it works, cognac/caramel becomes an accent color not a main color.

Having my main palette represented in actual garments made the next step go quickly.

I held every garment piled on the bed (except the black ones) up to see how well it went with each of my main colors. As I went I laid them out with the best matches nearest to me.

Sadly, my custom buttondowns from Kipper Clothiers (shirts 1, 2, and 4 from the front) are still too tight around the armhole to wear comfortably. Almost to the wear-them-unbuttoned point though!

It’s amazing to see so many of the greys that were the core of my wardrobe moving off center stage, but with a changed complexion and chocolate brown coming in as a new main color, they need to make room for greige.

That choice to bring chocolate brown in as a main color is surprising since I basically own nothing that color besides these overalls. But I’ve been wearing these about half the time for over a year and a half, so they’ve had a good test. 😀

I need more green and to add brown, but I’m fine on black as you can see.

So, taking stock after a couple hours work on this, I had confirmed that my sense of the categories of my clothes matched reality when I rough sorted them. Then sorting by color allowed me to direct half a dozen items or so to the charity box (e.g., some blueish-gray shirts).

I had created a prioritized (by matchiness of color) set of things to try on and make sure they actually fit.

The trying on is the most physically tiring part, so I’m set a timer for 30 minutes to see how far I got. When it went off at 10 minutes to 4pm, I chugged on through up to the hour and got through all the Main colors and all but a couple dozen pieces of those arrayed along the floor beside the bed.

My plan, after trying on those last pieces, is to take the stuff that fits from the laundry basket where it was thrown in the fitting frenzy and arrange them in the now empty drawers. I think I’ll group them by Category and within that by cold/middling/hot (we have very variable weather here in San Francisco).

This went way faster than I feared.

*It’s great to be ready for unplanned baby goats in your lap.

My first autumn

In the picture, Grandma Susie is feeding me with a spoon. It’s a well-framed picture, her own left shoulder at the left edge of the picture, my face in the top half of the center line, framed by her arm holding the spoon, and behind me on the table a bowel of fruit. I’m looking over the spoon toward the camera. Grandma’s smile is visible around the side of her face. A lovely domestic scene.

What draws my eye, though, is not the tender moment, but trying to figure out what print that is on her shirt. Are those early typewriters with interspersed flowers? Or some sort of cash register?

That’s not to say I don’t love the sweet way Grandma is feeding baby me, but I don’t feel a gravitational pull toward toward the domestic bliss. Non-parenting was a good choice for me.

The next blog post in that month shows just how quickly people forget the scourges that once assaulted us. An immunization record I found says I got my first vaccine against Polio on that day.

Last in this month is a happy baby (me) at about 3 months old under a very nice baby blanket. Vague resemblance to me, but if the picture was unlabeled, I wouldn’t know it was. Still, a happy baby indeed.

Let’s go on to the next month. Visiting the other grandparents (my father’s), I’m much bigger, but still pretty floppy as humans go. I’m shown in a clever garment my mother made, basically what amounts to a sleeping bag with sleeves and hood. And, as my mother noted on Flickr when we were discussing the picture, “a zipper down the front for changes”. I could wiggle without kicking off what was keeping me warm. Pretty great for a pre-crawling person. I am still not to my present eye identifiably me.

A photo of my father looking at me as he props me up in his lap. I gaze up at him open mouthed, apparently fascinated. His expression in profile though is calm and neutral. Maybe all faces are subjects of intense interest to four month old babies. He sits on a bench, a photo on the wall behind him of his mother holding him as a baby. Above his head the photo of a past beloved dog and other family pictures are visible in the distance on the knotted pine wall.

When I think about the 21 year old men I’ve known throughout my life, I know that it would be extremely exceptional for one to be ready to make this life choice. I’m delighted to exist, don’t get me wrong! But I do wonder what the lives of those two very different people who came together to—surprise!—make me might have been if I hadn’t come along. My sympathy for those young folks is on the side of being able to have an ordinary college romance, learn from it and move on. Now I know my mother at least gained a great deal from the path of parenthood and I’m sure she wouldn’t have turned back the clock and caused me not to exist. My father felt enormous responsibility toward me, I believe, and genuinely liked me as a fellow human. But he wasn’t cut out for marriage and parenthood so young—few are!—and if he could somehow have known that I could be me and exist as a person while he side-stepped into a different time path, I think he might have. I do not think it would have made as much difference as he might have hoped, but perhaps the opportunity to engage more with his restlessness while young would have helped his journey in later years.

Then a photo of me in a dress made for my maternal grandfather’s christening in 1915. Right arm in motion, tongue sticking out a bit, probably kicking under the long white dress. A perfectly good baby. And many copies of this picture were passed around in the family. I came upon three and my uncle gave me a scan of the copy he had.

Another photo, perhaps from the same day, in a different little white dress, this one more gauzy, with silky ribbons, echoed in the cuffs of my socks. Very fancy outfits for photo day. I continue to wiggle happily. I look a bit Japanese in this photo. One of my eyes still retains more epicanthal fold than the other.

The next photo—three copies of it—has me in my little zipper-front sleeping bag outfit looking positively triumphant about being held up in a sitting position (by Grandma, I think, judging by the watch).

Naked (but mostly concealed by my mother’s arm) baby me looks at the camera as I’m lifted onto a towel after a bath in a big kitchen sink. There’s a toaster behind me.

A slightly eerie picture of me, possibly after bath with wet hair, laying on a plaid cloth, stuffed animal just slipping out the left side of the picture as I make claws with my hands.

The next picture looks more to me like a baby picture of my childhood friend Rick than of me. Grandma Susie holds me on her lap smiling. She’s wearing a flannel nightgown or housedress with lace around the flat collar. She is smiling and looking down to see my reaction as the photographer gets my attention. I’m a chubby-cheeked, somewhat sleepy looking baby here.

Still I don’t really see myself in these four-month-old baby faces. Well, maybe a little glimmer in the one where I’m being lifted. Something about the shape of the eye. Dinah just beginning to come through.