Momentum

Dante, never one to sugarcoat things when writing about hell’s 9 circles or the terrifyingly familiar sins of purgatory, chose to put the phrase a great flame follows a tiny spark into the “Paradiso” section of his masterpiece.

Given that most of the wet matches I brought with me when I clawed my way out of limbo #562 are still drying, it’s a comforting thought. And hey: I’m starting to see flickers of light in some parts of my life and wisps of smoke in others. Surely that’s a positive sign?

Of course I’m hoping I’ll eventually have (contained) flames that qualify as steady-and-ready if not Mr Alighieri’s “great.” In the meantime, however, I’m glad I have what I have—including a better ability to support those trying to move from draining stagnation to freeing stag leap.

…motion is a sure-fire clue there’s momentum of some kind afoot, but it’s surprising how much energy can be conveyed without word, sound, or movement…

(top to bottom: Ilya Idelchik’s vivacious “Flamenco Dancers” grace San Diego’s Spanish Village Art Center; orchids in Balboa Park’s Botanical Building defy homogenity; just outside Granville Island’s totem-carving wonderland, flexing fish bedeck a totem pole that welcomes visitors; artist James Harrison’s glass-centric Ghost Ship casts a 24-hour glow on Portland Oregon’s Eastbank Esplanade)

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Parade of Peacock Feathers Dress

Having apparently squashed the rose-colored glasses I keep around to help offset personal and global downers, I’m extra-bummed that anytime I fall in love with something beautiful there’s always a least a little darkness attached.

Take silk: though I felt called to start budgeting for my Periwinkle Silk Goes Goddess-y Blouse the moment I saw it—and vowed to have a less poufy, more printed version created in dress form—knowing the very very tough life that captive silkworms lead definitely cast a cloud over my greed.

Because even I, with my “Let them eat mulberry leaves!” perspective, feel a bit guilty about how ole silkworms feast, molt, mate, lay eggs, and die soon after. Author Dana Thomas, observer of modern silk production, leaves no room for one to have happy fantasies about silkworm eggs going on to live happy caterpillar/silkmoth lives, either; she notes that (hopefully unexploited) workers steam the critters in their cocoons before unwinding the cocoons onto reeling machines and getting down to a process where “the work is swift, the water filthy, smelly, and very hot.”

Kind of grim, right? By the time I’d done two months of off-and-on searching for silk fabric I was worn down with liberal guilt.

[But then that’s part of the reason Thomas’ excellent book is titled Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster and not Consumption: Enjoy It Mindlessly.]

Naturally I could have reassessed my wants, abandoned my quest for a silk print, and turned to bamboo jersey. Once I stumbled upon a fabric with the right colors, design, and sheen for my purposes, however, I’m afraid the plight of the silkworms was mentally filed under D for Denial and cross-referenced under H for Hypocrisy.

As a bonus, the madcap print—varying sizes of peacock feathers sprawled over a 2-foot repeat—reminded me of one of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever seen, James McNeill Whister’s Peacock Room.

I’m discovering that my custom peacock feather print silk dress (worn V-neck/halter style) loves a good breeze

Though a mere dewy-eyed girl when I first encountered Whistler’s beautiful deep aqua and gilt creation, I’d still move in today. Especially as the room boasts a mural that captures the seemingly eternal battle between those who create art for money and those who hold the proverbial purse strings.

My childhood love: James McNeill Whister’s Peacock Room — loved even more now for its mural (Art and Money; or, the Story of the Room)

But back to the dress, close sibling to my voluminous periwinkle purchase.

As documented earlier with the blouse, the style is a mix between a simple Greek chiton and a peasant blouse. A drawstring neckline and a detached belt let the wearer transform it from two sewn-together rectangles to a dress/tunic that can be worn in a variety of styles.

In my case all the “variety of styles” involve feathers on poitrine and posterior, but when one is channeling a peacock, shyness isn’t an option. I’m actually hoping a wild print plus under-engineered clothing shape = loud and clear sign of midlife crisis.

WAKE UP PEOPLE

L, 3 yards of silk Haute Hippie peacock print fabric await transformation; R, pale silver sandals meet up with meandering peacock feathers

However, as a fan of structured clothing, I’m naturally clinging to my creation’s drawstring for dear life. It’s my gateway to texture and shape, and although the string and channel construction is underappreciated in my household (“It looks…Amish,” quoth my beloved), I stand by my belief that a gathered neckline or sleeve has timeless charm.

If the style was good enough for the innovative Madeleine Vionnet, by gum, it’s good enough for me!

Speaking of art and money: As one of the master’s of the goddess-y gown, Vionnet’s mix of technical and artistic skills centered around ease of movement and letting the inherent qualities of a fabric shine (L, detail of a 1936 pleated neckline; R, shoulder detail from a 1938 gown — both c. the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Lately it’s been good enough for those hired to carry on Vionnet’s work, too.

During her long career, Madeleine Vionnet expanded industry horizons; today Vionnet SpA reinterprets her vision (Spring 2011)

In fact, I’m somewhat mourning my tradeoff of fewer pleats for less width/more manageability—but since I’m busy trying to figure out how and where to put necklines, hemlines, and volume I don’t have much time to dwell on my decision.

I’ve pretty much decided I can do false-advertising-in-action demure…

A short + straight waist means I rarely belt, but the crazy print of Peacock (keyhole in back/high neck variation) does keep the eye moving…hopefully away from slatternly slip straps

fear I need to draw the line at front-pleated skirts…am safe with the split shoulder, V-neck halter style better modeled with the Periwinkle Pouf…

A multi-way dress has many challenges, and while my sewist conquered print placement I’m testing necklines, hem lengths, and volume distribution

…and may have broken something trying to be trendy via tunic, cuffed skinny jeans, and vaguely cage sandals.

Technically, my Peacock dress can become a Peacock tunic…so I’ve thrown my staid basics aside in order to experiment with about 10 (aging) trends at once

Luckily for me and my styling efforts, the peacock symbolizes renewal. Here’s to having such a vividly colored reminder that every failure marks another opportunity for success!

PSA 1 and 2: Learn as Betty Kirke, costume historian and author of the classic Madeleine Vionnet, shares her knowledge about Vionnet’s revolutionary construction techniques—or get a glimpse of the Vionnet retrospective at the Museum of Decorative Arts (redirects to YouTube):

PSA 3: Get a look inside the jewel box known as the Peacock Room, currently housed in the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, and read up on the artist-patron feud that inspired the room’s famous mural

Song in the Key of Busby Blue Dress

While some are born with a crispy, linear personality and some acquire one, others are awed and/or bemused by the very thought of such a thing.

I fall into that third category, and I fall into it hard.

In fact I’m so far from starched that behind closed doors I’m often ensconced in some raggedy hodgepodge of insanely comfortable, minimally seamed, usually be-lycra’d items. And I have to confess that I rather like things that way.

Generally, however, I try to pull it together when I leave the house. After all—and with apologies to Mr Wilde—being the focus of one style-related intervention may be regarded as misfortune; being the focus of two looks like carelessness.

Thus far, my efforts to incorporate qualities of my downtime ensembles into my public wear have led to a co-dependence on structured-but-not stiff items. I may not own any vintage Claire McCardell, daggummit, but no matter the trend du jour I’ll fight the good fight trying to channel her philosophy of dressing. Which is why shaped knits, softly draping lightweight wools, and tailored jackets with a little—or a lot—of stretch all know I’m an easy mark.

What can I say? I like clothes that move with me.

Especially when something about them makes me feel I’m ready to dive into a pool and start performing underwater acrobatics.

Sure, turn it 90 degrees and it's a stretch break...but then I can't pretend I'm a sychronized swimmer

L, a young Freedom Valley PA sync'r sails through the air; R, covering top US synchro athletes and their hopes for Olympic gold

Granted this dress had a head start at grabbing my cash since I’m a sucker for deep blues and have deliberately accumulated many of them…but its combination of a drapey front plus wide, ripply sleeves sealed the proverbial deal for me. So 40s-meets-slinky-70s!

No 70s-era Studio 54 denizen would have been caught dead in my shoes, but I like to think the dress might have passed muster with a dancin' dame or two

The devil in the deep blue details: unlike many similar sleeves I've seen lately, this dress has a panel that ensures undergarments and modesty are covered when one's arm lifts

[Given my short-waisted H/Rectangle frame, I bought with the knowledge that a slightly flared skirt may have been more flattering. But hey, at least I kept the self-belt looped in the back and tied on the side to avoid the belt-under-bosom look!]

Now: As a longtime fan of Esther Williams’ strength, grace, and glamour I’ll happily go on record as saying I consider anything even vaguely reminiscent of synchronized swimming’s beauty and/or 40s-era clothing design to be a very, very good thing.

Of course I also think anything involving ACTUAL synchro is even better, which is why I’m excited to see the sport formerly known as “water ballet” receiving more attention in popular culture.

From Sync or Swim documenting the training of top US synchro athletes to Men Who Swim investigating how one man’s midlife crisis took him on a chlorine-soaked path toward stylized glory to the easily accessible DVDs of Ms Williams and her corps gliding through Busby Berkeley’s intricate choreography, synchro is getting hot hot hot.

L and R, Esther Williams, the woman who swam to screen and business success; C, equal-opportunity synchronized swimming meets mid-life crisis

One can even find the water-drenched Aqualillies troupe offering LA-area workshops to regular folks who hanker to boost their fitness via eggbeaters, torpedoes, and ballet legs.

Need more proof that it’s a swell time to add a touch of mermaid to your closet or workout routine? You’ve got it….

Rebecca Glassman's "Synchronized Peeping Practice," arguably one of the best-ever entries in the Annual Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest

PSA 1: While my prior video of Esther Williams talking about her professional relationship with choreographer Busby Berkeley (“Certainly the possibility that I might be injured was never a factor when Buzz was dreaming up his routines; he just assumed I could do anything”) is no longer available, this substitute includes iconic scenes and Williams’ commentary on her past and present

PSA 2: See one of Busby Berkeley’s most famous land/pool sequences in this clip from 1944’s Bathing Beauty

PSA 3: Discover more about revolutionary US ready-to-wear designer Claire McCardell in this New York Times article discussing the retrospective exhibit ”Claire McCardell and the American Look”

Awww Ya Big Lug Boots

Last winter, I justified buying two new pairs of boots by telling myself several things about my existing, beloved pair—that I was tired of wearing them; that given their age, replacing worn soles didn’t make financial sense; that their once-plush cushioning was MIA.

That last bit was true, but the other points…well, it turns out the other points had merit but not meat.

Which meant that instead of running about devil-may-caring with my fresh boots, I couldn’t stop longing for my more battered pair. Maddening!

Every time I slogged gingerly through wet leaves, I recalled my former boots’ hearty tread; the second my toes shivered or registered a bump in the pavement, I pined for their well-insulated chamber. Not 10 months ago I’d seen a verdant shimmering in the distance and purchased accordingly, so why was the grass looking so very, very chestnut here on my chosen side of the fence?

Turns out I missed my old boots, and I missed them bad.

It’s not that my newer footwear was a complete loss, of course; as we entered our second season together, I was wearing each pair of my Millennial Generation boots several times a week. But as my discarded pals sat in an out-of-the-way closet, awaiting their (belated) disposal, I became more and more sentimental.

Because as someone who’d started paying attention to my visual presentation quite late in the game, the boots—my first well-constructed knee-high coverings—had been a gauntlet thrown down against a long-time friend’s sadly accurate assessment of my style as “black, baggy, and covered in cat hair.” Compared to what I’d been wearing on my feet, they were chock full of swashbuckling sass.

And up until I’d banished them to the closet last winter, the boots had kept me company on pedestrian commutes, weekend wanderings, and not-frequent-enough vacations where I trod up, down, and all around. To think I’d almost sent them back because the frivolity of their left side/right side zippers initially made me nervous!

[Fortunately, I’m a Gemini: since it makes me uneasy to shun multiplicity, the boots stayed. The duplicate, half-size up pair I’d ordered to help assess fit arrived with 2 left feet; as a clutzy person I suppose I should’ve taken that as a sign and hesitated to shun them, too, but shun I did.]

When it came right down to it, I still loved my “mature” boots—and still beholded them as gorgeous even if their supple leather was a bit worn in spots. Granted their interior’s plushness had deteriorated over time, but I could and WOULD try harder to cozy them up.

So a few weeks ago I sheepishly hauled them in for their 4th annual re-heeling…and a more elaborate surgical intervention. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how excited I was to see the soles I’d wore down with activities mundane and invigorating completely renewed and grippy:

I wavered for a year, but how could I fail to put new soles on the double-zippered boots that have gone through so much with me?

ALMOST

I celebrated the footlift by shoving better-than-last-year’s aftermarket gel pads into them and breaking a bottle of champagne over their arches. Only the best for my buddies!

Don’t get me wrong: just because the Vibram soles are the same brand as the ones on my hiking boots, sometimes I have to pick the hiking boots.

Yes, technically my hiking boots have MORE of a lug sole than my beloved boots (but they are both Vibram)

But when I’m traveling, I find my old standbys allow me to cover almost any kind of terrain where walking plays a big role.

The boots were a key part of my walking-centric 40th birthday trip...

...and have trod miles in cities and small towns...

...happily taking me over grass and dirt

Though when things move from “just plain walking” to “walking without killing oneself,” it’s back to the hiking boots. And crossing my fingers.

Though I have to admit my black boots aren't magical: in certain situations, I'm back in sturdier footwear

Since I’m prone to restlessness and dissatisfaction and boredom, but also someone who enjoys many of the ties to my past, I guess I need to be less cavalier about old favorites when searching for something new. By the time my boots’ tread wears out again I’m hoping that perhaps—just perhaps—I’ll have mastered the art of escaping the ruts, but rejoicing in the grooves.

Gratuitous Color Shot #8: Could you elaborate on that?

At the risk of messing with my street cred as “the least Zen person I know,” “kinda tightly wound,” and “a massive overanalyzer,” I am constantly trying to be more accepting of what the universe sees fit to offer me.

Especially when it sends me signs—sometimes literal signs—to chill no matter how ragged and beset I may feel:

Is the message behind the message ‘last one standing’ or ‘doesn’t stand a chance’?

LIKE WOW, RIGHT?

Unless I’m misinterpreting the message and I’m supposed to aim myself at people and try to take them down, way down.

[Which actually fits better with my grudge-holding, argumentative personality. And it’s not as though the universe’s micro- and macro-level choices are above reproach…so why SHOULD I trust it will take me in a useful and/or life-enhancing direction?]

If I’m going to get serious about ceding control/practicing acceptance, however, I really need a Quick Start guide. Because otherwise I don’t see myself mastering Being the Ball anytime soon. I mean when my days aren’t PACKED FULL of trying to influence people over whom I have zero control, they are positively brimming with passive, slack-jawed waiting for various proverbial stars to align in my favor.

Sure, Kathy the Idahoesque Acupuncturist offered a morsel of help when she recommended I visualize being a fish who lets the currents take me where they will.

[Me: “I feel more like a salmon. How about I visualize a salmon getting upstream in spite of the currents?” Her: “No.” Me (silently): “Killjoy.”]

But I need a little bit more direction than that.

Especially since I have to say that stumbling around trying to be the Ball or a Fish or the Wind Beneath My Wings usually leaves me depressed or fed up. And when I hit a certain point of fed-upness I start to detach from my usual outcome-oriented desires/fears, a state of mind I like to call “going all Thelma and Louise.”

POLICE (O.S.)

(over loudspeaker) Place your hands in plain view. Any failure to obey that command will be considered an act of aggression against us.

I repeat, turn your engine off and place your hands in plain view.

INT. CAR – DAY

THELMA
What’re you doing?

LOUISE
(loads gun) I’m not givin’ up.

….

POLICE (O.S.)

(over loudspeaker) I repeat, cut your engine off and place your hands in plain view.

THELMA
Ok then, listen. Let’s not get caught.

LOUISE
What’re you talkin’ about?

THELMA
Let’s keep goin’.

LOUISE
What d’ya mean?

THELMA
(indicating the Grand Canyon) Go.

LOUISE
You sure?

THELMA
Yeah. Yeah.

Maybe Going All Thelma and Louise is a subset of Being the Ball; hell if I know. I also don’t know how people in truly life or death situations weigh their odds without losing their minds.

But when it comes to fraught yet garden-variety decision making, I’m starting to realize it’s only when I really and truly stop trying to please others that I’m likely to be rewarded.

And it kind of bothers me that I usually get what I want when I demonstrate that I’d rather go over a cliff than surrender. How does that jive with what one hears about compromise and cooperation and everyone loving a team player, huh?

But I guess people with power—people who have something others want—often respond better to bravado than supplication. Or often enough, anyway. So after recently negotiating for something fairly big in my generously termed professional life, I’m adjusting to (and cautiously celebrating) the results.

Trouble is, there’s a part of me that can’t stop remembering how good my foot felt on that pedal….