Fear Of Shopping

Vintage Clothes Shops Camden London
Vintage clothing shops in Camden. Fun, but not this time! Image by iknow-uk via Flickr

I did it.

I went out and spent a gobsmacking amount of money last weekend buying new clothes.

It was not quick, simple or fun — at several junctures, like an infant needing a nap, I found myself trying not to cry with total frustration. Everything was ugly: too tight, too expensive, too baggy, too bright…

The poor sales associate, Frances, fearing my imminent meltdown, found the department manager, a lovely, calm, reassuring man named Dallas. He offered the necessary sangfroid of my admired sartorial tutors — Clinton and Stacy on my favorite television show, What Not To Wear.

(If you’ve never watched, and need female fashion help, WNTW is your new best friend, the kind whose style and panache are matched with compassion and kindness for your freakouts over body issues. We all have them!)

Only with the help of three gently-encouraging people, including my sweetie who — being a photo editor and a man who’s been my partner for 11 years has both a great eye and knows my taste — could I even find enough clothes to feel that, yes, I now have assembled the start of a stylish and professional wardrobe.

Big deal, right? Isn’t this pretty basic stuff?

Maybe if…

You make a lot of money, so spending it doesn’t freak you out and make you fear a penniless old age in a cardboard box

You work in an office surrounded by other people whose clothing and style help you figure out what to wear so you’ll fit in

You wear clothing in a one-digit size

Your mom/sister/best friend/auntie/Granny/gay male friend with fab taste took you shopping and helped you develop a clear idea what’s flattering on you. Which, of course, must change as you age. But how?! (My poor Mom and stepmom fled in fear after a few teenaged trips with me in search of a winter coat and a prom dress. I finally found both but not, literally, without visiting dozens of shops. I haven’t shopped with anyone female and stylish since then.)

You’re blessed with total confidence about the shape and size of your body and which colors and shapes you’ll rock. (My late step-mother, 13 years my senior, had exquisite clothing and a teeny tiny body and made me feel like a heffalump. My mom, a former model living far away, saw me in March: “You’re fat!” she said. Accurate, perhaps, but not confidence building.)

You don’t live in a city where many women and/or their husbands are very high earners, work out daily and stride the streets with terrifying hauteur In New York, (as in some other punitively stylish spots), looking successful on a budget isn’t easy. And if you’re ambitious and don’t look the part, you’re toast.

I find buying clothes so overwhelming I avoid it and then — boom! — I really need to look great right now and what the hell am I going to wear?

In 2009, I appeared on CNN on two days’ notice, in 2010 on BBC within hours of getting an email from England and, quite likely, will be doing some television appearances when my new book is out in two weeks. Right now I have 12 public appearances scheduled, from a closing conference keynote in Minneapolis in August to a local library reading in two weeks.

So I need clothes that are: flattering, comfortable, stylish, age-appropriate, forgiving of the weight I haven’t lost yet and chic.

And semi-affordable.

And what do people expect an author to look like?

No pressure!

Luckily, I finally found some great things, including two Tahari dresses, a strong sea-blue cotton shift and another in black; a gray print sheath dress that works with my curves, and three pairs of trousers. That’s a ton for me to buy at once and everyone was worn out, hungry and cranky by the time we got out of the store.

But working alone at home, year after year on a tight budget, has meant I’ve slid by on a snoozy, safe, comfy diet of leggings and Ts , flats and cardigans. Time to up my game!

Do you enjoy shopping for clothes?

What are your favorite places to find great things?

A One-Room Schoolhouse In Brooklyn

Looking south at southbound platform's ID mosa...
Image via Wikipedia

I first heard of Still Waters in A Storm— of course! – watching BBC, who interviewed its founder Stephen Haff about his unusual and innovative “one room schoolhouse” in a storefront in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Haff is a quiet, soft-spoken man whose life is dedicated to the admirable and challenging idea that low-income kids, and adults, need and deserve a clean, bright, welcoming physical space in which to gather, write, read, play, talk and grow together.

As I watched him on BBC, I emailed and offered to come visit and talk about my own work as an author of two non-fiction books, one about women and guns in the U.S. and one about working in low-wage retail work. To my delight, he emailed back that evening and said, “Come!”

So, last Saturday, I drove an hour from my home north of New York City to the storefront in Brooklyn. There I met a handful of female graduate students working on their MFAs in creative writing, who volunteer with and tutor the kids during the week. I also met about a dozen children and adults, ranging in age from eight to about 30, regulars there.

What I liked most, and found truly lovely, (albeit demanding of some patience with diversions and whispered sidebars), was the intergenerational piece of this — beyond classroom or family, when do adults and kids just sit together and get to know and trust one another’s creativity and possibilities?

I have no children in my life at all, not even nieces or nephews or friends with kids who  I am close enough to to be included in their family activities. I like kids, even though I chose not to have any myself, and miss their energy and humor and relative innocence. I felt lucky to be able to join them.

The afternoon began with fresh pizza and juice boxes. Then we settled in around a long row of tables pushed together and got down to it — writing. Whatever came into our heads. Then — gulp — we read it aloud to one another, and waited to hear what others saw, heard and felt. Criticism and praise are off limits, only honest reactions to content.

It was amazing.

One very brave girl shared a brutal story of a personal crisis. Two little boys, giggling and strutting, did a rap song about their teacher. I normally work alone at home and never share my work face to face with a soul! My editors and agent all work, as I do, by email or telephone so we never have the joy — or challenges — of seeing someone’s face crumple with dismay or confusion, or light up with pleasure.

There was an immediacy and intimacy to the afternoon, as the light faded outside into evening, that was powerful and extraordinary.

Stephen needs: two couches, violins, a floor lamp, more wooden tables and chairs — and donations for their $2,000 a month rent.

I hope you’ll consider helping!

She Killed Eight Of Her Babies — And The Husband Had No Clue

Sleep Like A Baby
Image by peasap via Flickr

This is the story in France right now, with the BBC reporting there are already 40 journalists in the tiny rural town of Villers-au-Tertre, near the Belgian border.

The woman, a nurse in her 40s who has two daughters and grand-children, confessed to killing eight of her own babies between 1989 and 1996, but only two corpses have been found at their current home. Police suspect she might have brought the other corpses with her when they moved in.

The woman, mordbidly obese, managed to keep every pregnancy secret from her husband.

Not sure if this story is more a cautionary tale against morbid obesity or abortion versus infanticide.

Chocoholic Fun: Filmed Today By The BBC

Cadbury Dairy Milk packaging
Image by renaissancechambara via Flickr

The things a blog post can lead to! Cadbury, as some of you may know, is facing a potential bidding war between Hershey and Kraft soon to take over the venerable British confectionery firm. I blogged about this recently so today was filmed — shriek! — talking about the deal for BBC, to be shown in Bristol, where Cadbury is located. My voice, husky right now with a tenacious cold, is apparently going to be used in BBC radio reports.

It was odd fun. We filmed the piece at Tea & Sympathy, a great candy and tea shop on Greenwich Avenue in Manhattan, with the proprietor, Nikky Perry, a woman my age who’s a hoot. For someone who loves really good chocolate, being surrounded by boxes of Maltesers and Crunchies was heaven, even if I had to be lucid, for multiple takes, about business. Nikky made me a good strong cuppa’ (tea) which I sipped between takes and we shot several angles of me pretending to buy a Crunchie, a bar of infinite deliciousness.

Her British husband dropped by, wearing a wool sweater whose entire front panel, neck to waist, was a huge Union Jack. Loved it.

I lived in England ages 2-5, then moved to Toronto, where British traditions still reigned and some, today, still do. We drink a lot of tea, make it in a large china teapot and put on top of that pot a woolen or cotton object that looks like a hat — a tea cosy — to keep the pot warm. Nikky’s shop had Christmas crackers (the kind with toys inside) and handmade tea cosies and even a mosaic portrait of Queen Elizabeth — who I met in 1984 while covering her visit to Canada.

On a bitterly cold Manhattan morning, what fun!

Designer Labia? Count Me Out, Boys

Doctors conduct a vagina surgery on a patient ...
Is this really the place for a scalpel? Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

British women are lining up to nip and tuck their lady parts, reports the BBC. The surgery, performed to make the labia, the external vaginal lips, more attractive isn’t new, but last year saw a 70 percent jump in its popularity. Labiaplasty (warning, graphic photo attached), is done for a combination of aesthetic and functional reasons, surgeons say. It’s increasingly popular worldwide, sorry to say.

One doctor tells the BBC:

“They’ve gone a bit over the top. Essentially this is just about removing a bit of loose flesh, leaving behind an elegant-looking labia with minimum scarring. The procedure won’t interfere with sexual function.

“Women want this for a number of reasons – some find it uncomfortable to ride a bike for instance, but for the majority it is aesthetic, that’s true.

“Lads’ mags are looked at by girlfriends, and make them think more about the way they look. We live in times where we are much more open about our bodies – and changing them – and labioplasty is simply a part of this.””

“Elegant-looking”? Please, show me (no, not literally, thanks) a chic set of male genitalia — or a bunch of guys lining up surgery to make sure their boy-bits are as attractive as all those in porn magazines, terrified to be considered unattractive by their female (or male) sexual partners.

Any guy who’s wigged out by a woman whose vagina doesn’t match his porn-fueled fantasies is really a very sad little thing and any woman who cuts her flesh to please him and his ilk needs to re-consider.

Want sex, even with your allegedly imperfect labia? Try a little candlelight, a little wine, a little — acceptance?