How to Dress for Your Dream Job

trainingbra
“I’m wearing nice underwear, and you’re not”

Okay, I confess. As if you didn’t already know this, I confess to being a clothes-aholic. Being properly dressed has been an obsession of mine since seventh grade, when I found myself at a new school, among strangers, with no acceptable clothes and no means to buy any. I’m talking from the skin out. The other girls were wearing training bras, for cat’s sake.  I wore these little cotton undershirts. The horror.

Anyway, the burning humiliation of that year is still with me, and as a result I’m always looking for the perfect outfit, that combination of garments that will cause my enemies to faint with envy and my friends to understand that all is well with me. As a result I am a sucker for fashion magazines, clothing ads, shoe ads, and books by people who promise to tell you how to dress with elegance and style. Of the latter I have three or four board feet in my library.

dress
Project Gravitas dress

So today when an email appeared in the inbox entitled “How to Dress for Your Dream Job” I had to pop it open and read it, even though I’m not really looking for a dream job right now, or maybe I’m doing my dream job, if only it would pay something. The email was from Project Gravitas, a clothing company that makes, as far as I can figure out, black clothes with built-in girdles.

Sure, I’m tempted. Who wouldn’t want to go to New York City and slink up and down the streets looking like a tubby trial lawyer in a girdle? But that isn’t my life right now. Sitting around the house writing in a black dress with a built-in girdle would grow uncomfortable in a couple of hours. Then I would have to peel it off and throw it in the corner along with yesterday’s bra.

bedheadpjsThe truth is that before we figure out how to dress for our dream jobs we have to figure out what our dream jobs actually are. Writers need one serious outfit to wear to town, so impeccable that agents, editors, and publicists will faint with respect and fear, another to wear to conventions, so charming and approachable that readers will seek our company and beg to buy our books, and yet another to sit around in all day like the shlubs we really are. Pajamas are good. These are from BedHead.

But maybe your ambitions are a little more grandiose. Here’s a dress fit for a queen, Elizabeth’s coronation dress in fact. Maybe if you wear it they’ll give you a job like that.

britains-queen-elizabeth-iis-1953-coronation-dress
You might as well dress for success.
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Clearing Out

Two friends of ours in their eighties have been forced by a number of physical challenges to move into “assisted living.” It’s coming to all of us, folks, one way or another. They sold their house precipitously and somebody threw all their possessions into cardboard boxes, which were moved to a storage unit and piled ceiling-high. I will quickly pass over the fact that the same hand that packed their stuff higgledy-piggledy—or perhaps some other hand—got away with all the lady’s crystal, fine china, and jewelry.  She’s over it, so I should be over it too. Now it’s time to deal with what’s left.

tintypeOur friends go to the storage unit every day and open these boxes, which have to be cleared out before the rent comes due on the unit.They try to sort things. What to keep, in an assisted living facility where there is no storage, there are no locks on the doors, and the staff is light-fingered?  What to throw away, among the memorabilia of two long and distinguished lives? Since they haven’t any children who seem to be interested, we—that is, some of their friends from church—have been stopping by every so often to try and help. Snapshots, souvenir travel booklets, certificates of awards, linen table napkins, children’s books, handkerchiefs, razors, cups, straw baskets, screwdrivers,  old clothes, knick-knacks, tintypes of mysterious unknown relatives, all thrown together in three-foot-square cardboard boxes, with packing paper crammed in to fill the spaces. Bit by little bit we get it squared away.

Why am I telling you all this? As a warning, that’s why. Those of us who are still able-bodied and more or less in our right minds need to go through our own stuff now, today. At least one of the helpers went straight home from the site of this disaster and started in on her stuff.

I must start in on mine. My first editor (may he rest in peace) told me to keep all my papers. He said they would be valuable someday, so I have three bins of literary papers under the guest bed, and you know what? No one will ever want to look at them. I have long since abandoned the fantasy that some graduate student in the distant future might be interested in my work. As for the editor, he died in a hospice in Brooklyn (possibly the same hospital where my grandmother did her nurse’s training in 1903, but that’s neither here nor there). He had no children. What happened to his papers? Probably hauled away by the New York City sanitation people, along with his worn-out handkerchiefs, razors, cups, screwdrivers,  old clothes, kitchen utensils, and knick-knacks.

It just seems sad. Sometimes the passage of time itself seems sad. What to keep? What to throw away? The time to decide is now. Get busy.

 

Why We Leave Stuff out of Memoirs

You will recall that I read Admiral Sir Guy Gaunt’s memoir with a pang of disappointment. All the good spy yarns were in there, and that was great, but he left out the juicy bits.

You will doubtless also recall that I explained these omissions as the natural behavior of an officer and a gentleman.  I was imagining Captain Jack Aubrey sitting at table on HMS Surprise with his fellow officers, telling war stories. Would he talk about the women in his life? Certainly not.

But I was mistaken. Here is a bit of typescript that was pasted inside a copy of The Yield of the Years. Not my copy. Somebody else’s copy.

Gauntletter

Interesting to note that the address on his letterhead is Tangier, the paradise he praised in the last chapter of his book without mentioning anything that was happening in his life.

So we see that Sir Guy’s second wife was typing it all up for him, and if that weren’t dampening enough, she was doing it for their daughter to read. Everything is now explained. Do I want my children to know all the deviltry I got up to in my youth? Not on your onion.

Spinning the Memoir

I finally got my hands on Admiral Sir Guy Reginald Archer Gaunt’s autobiography this week (The Yield of the Years, a story of adventures afloat and ashore). I have now read the thing cover to cover, and while I still insist that it was worth every penny I paid for it, at least to me, it pains me to report a glaring omission.

Sir Guy never mentions his wives and children.

TuliaHe mentions a few women in passing. One is Tulia, the Samoan girl who followed him into battle with Gaunt’s Brigade to put down an insurrection (or take sides in a civil war) in Samoa in 1899. Another is an unnamed wealthy New York society woman and German sympathizer, whom I recognized as Mrs. Edmee Reisinger, the beer heiress. He talks about the pony he rode on Samoa. But if he mentions putting in at Hong Kong in 1904, he says nothing about how he married a widow there, Mrs. Margaret Elizabeth Worthington, daughter of Sir Thomas Wardle (This according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography), and how their marriage ended in divorce in 1927, after he ran away to Canada with the wife of the Royal Ophthalmologist.  Nor does he ever mention the 35-year-old widow he married in 1932 (when he was 63), Sybil Victoria Joseph, née Grant White, or the two daughters they had together.

SammyHe speaks affectionately of Sammy, the pony. Later he describes in loving detail the sailing ship he bought after he left the House of Commons in 1926 and went to Canada. But, women?

The thing is, Sir Guy didn’t write his memoirs for me to read, or any other romantic-minded woman. He wrote for his friends in the Navy, who would have thought him a complete bounder if he talked about his personal life. The stories he tells are all about his school days, his military career, and his yacht, and thumping good yarns they are, the kind of stories an old admiral would tell at a dinner of brother officers.

Franz Rintelen, German spy, wrote his memoirs too (The Dark Invader). Probably he was a bounder. His enemies said so. But included among the war stories (half of them bald-faced lies) is a touching account of how he came home to his wife after long imprisonment in Atlanta and found that his marriage was dead, whereupon he sorrowfully left. Not a word of reproach for his wife. He hadn’t been home in years and years. Reports of his death had come to her again and again. It was just too much for her.

It is interesting to note that of the two World War I spy memoirs, only Rintelen’s is still in print, while Sir Guy’s is so hard to find that one has to pay hundreds of dollars for a copy. Either that or sit in the Library of Congress and read it, a task of several days. Rintelen, I think, was writing for the money, while Sir Guy was writing because his friends told him he should. His memoir is more interesting in and of itself than Sir Guy’s, which has its charms but rambles a bit and has to be picked through for historical facts.

I ask myself: What are you allowed to leave out of a memoir? Anything you want to, I guess. It’s your story. If you don’t want to admit to ever having been married, why, go ahead and leave it out. Write it any way you want to. Lie your head off. Who do you want to be? Who do you want people to think you are? Go for it. The more unknown you are, the more free you are to make up the life you always wanted.

That’s what I plan to do, if I ever get down and write my memoirs. Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow. Let’s see. First I need a few heroic deeds. And maybe a pony.