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.

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. 🙂

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.

Good Enough

Okay! I’ve looked at every single post at least briefly in comparing my site on Typepad and here in its new home on WordPress.com. Things look a little different, but all the content is here.

Lots of work to be done making it look prettier—when and if I decide that’s the best use of my time—but it’s good enough to start posting here again.

It’s bloggin’ time.

Test Post

Working on fixing some formatting issues as I proof my migrated data.

Finding a display issue with how the old !more tag is handled.

—-

After more looking it seems like:

– you can’t search for HTMl like that tag in posts on wordpress.com, wait, no, I’m (delightfully) wrong and you can.

– I did a sneaky thing for a while in 2004 and on by styling the excerpt but not hiding it on a subpage to create a different look for my short linky blog posts (which look like nothing so much as tweets, a couple years before Twitter).

– debating how to deal with this now in the migrated content… and deciding to edit them all to remove the excerpt tag now that I’ve figured out how to find them all.