In Which Our Heroine Dresses Comfortably and Waits for the Backlash

29 March 2004

Every spring, I have to remember that my standards are not the rest of the world's standards in yet one more way: clothes. The minute it gets to be really nice out, I start wearing skirts and dresses most days. I'm more comfortable in them. Mostly I wear short and/or full skirts for ease of motion. Most of what I wear is wash-and-wear; I have very little patience for ironing and hand-washing and none at all for dry-cleaning.

But somehow "dress" and "dressy" and "dressed up" have all gotten conflated. So for the first several weeks of spring, if I shower and dress first, Mark will come in and look at me and ask, "Am I supposed to dress up, too?" And I say things like, "This is a denim skirt!" Because in my mind, a denim skirt is jeans without legs. No one should ever feel the need to dress up for a denim skirt. And a simple cotton knit dress? No one should ever feel that they are underdressed with someone wearing a cotton knit tank dress, unless they're wearing sweatpants with strategic holes in them or something of the sort. I think this is part of why I'm not particularly picky about my friends' clothing: it's not my fault I'm comfortable in clothes that get interpreted as dressy. I don't wear makeup or hair goop or high heels; those things which are trying to me, I don't try. So if my friends find skirts trying, I have no desire to try to get them to wear them. I'm dressing comfortably, to suit myself. I want my friends to do the same. I don't expect it to come out looking like me -- until college, I had very few female friends. I'm used to my friends looking nothing like me. (Although that was the early '90s, so I did dress a good deal like some of my friends...but that's beside the point.)

When people feel you've made an effort, they're more likely to compliment it. So starting in the spring, I get a lot more of, "Oh, you look nice." Which is pleasant to hear at any time; don't get me wrong on that. Compliments accepted here, with reasonably good grace when I can manage it. But every once in awhile, I think, "You know, I don't look so hideous in jeans and a sweater, either." And from this end, it's pretty much the same thing.

Michelle and I did an experiment in college. We went to stores and so on, on separate occasions, wearing skirts and wearing jeans. People were consistently nicer to us when we wore skirts. We both like wearing skirts and choose to do so fairly often, compared to what our jobs don't demand of us -- I believe one could be a lit grad student/instructor without ever wearing anything non-trouser-like, and I know it's possible for fiction writers. But it still seemed unfair that personal comfort should get us extra niceness. Maybe more unfair than if we'd been suffering in the skirts, because that, at least, would have represented effort rewarded, even if it was silly effort.

Effort rewarded; ah well. It's a nice concept, at least.

Columbine is talking about politeness. But he's also talking about self-effacement, and I think he's conflating the two needlessly. The example he uses, of Mike Barnicle being impolite, would not help if Mr. Barnicle used more hedge-words and self-effacement. If, instead of, "That sounds like a terrorist's name!", he had said of the Iranian people in question, "That sounds like a terrorist's name to me, but that's just my opinion, and, y'know, reasonable people can differ on this," he would still be what Columbine has rightly called him: an asshole.

And you can have middle ground on a subject and still be rude, and you can have a harshly divided subject and still be polite. Compromise and politeness go well together, but they aren't synonyms, nor even necessary preconditions for each other. You can snarl, "All right, jerkface, we'll do it half your stupid ugly way and half my brilliant beautiful way." Or you can say, "No, I'm afraid we'll have to go our separate ways on this, because I think you're completely wrong and you think I'm completely wrong. But let's talk about something else, and would you like another cup of coffee?"

Being direct and being hateful are not at all the same thing. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with you there" really doesn't leave much hedge room -- it's not something that the other person has to take a few minutes to digest to figure out that you think they're wrong -- and yet it's perfectly pleasant and doesn't make any personal attack. Indirect stuff can be really hateful, too: "Oh, well, I'm sure I can see why someone like you would feel that way," leaving the tone to convey what the other person's impression is of people like you.

What I'm saying is, there's no quick fix. More politeness, in the sense of genuine consideration for others, would be nice. A greater ability to compromise would also be nice. Less hatred would be better than nice. But none of them is magical, a cure for what ails us in its entirety.

Ah well. Anyway, Mark and I went to the library book sale yesterday afternoon. $2 for a paper grocery bag you could fill with books. We spent $4 and came back with 40 books (but some of them were for Stella!), and we could have jammed several more books in, but there didn't seem any point to taking things we didn't really want just to have more. On the other hand, what we did get was a nice mix of definitely-want and why-the-heck-not. I picked up a couple of reader-recommended books I'd otherwise have just gotten from the library, because I had room in my bag and no reason not to fill it. It was good. It was crowded. The old ladies and the little kids pushed and shoved a bit, and since I browsed both mysteries and children's books and picked up some of each, I was right in the danger zone. But it was all right. Worth it, to be in a crowd of people that excited about books.

Whenever I come into the office, though, I get "This Is Where It Ends" in my head, because of the bit that's my life all over: "I don't buy everything I read -- haven't even read everything I've bought." (If The Jer is going to attach a BNL song to a Fortean author bio, he could do worse than this one, I think. It's probably true of most of us.) I have instituted a firm rule that only crucial work-related library books may come home with me until I've read down the piles a bit. Sometimes arbitrary rules turn out to be necessary, and I'm afraid this is one of those times.

I didn't spend much time with Fool's Fate yesterday, and I'm fairly annoyed with it right now. They're off to slay the dragon, yes? or perhaps not, depending on what happens when they get there, but anyway: dragon. Sallying forth, ta ra ta ra. And then...blah blah blah, politics, blah blah nobody even trying to assassinate each other, for heaven's sake. This is the pinnacle of the series. It's not pinnacling. It can start any time now. I'm almost 200 pages in. I won't mind if it starts. Any. Time now. With the starting. Yeah.

Since I am now a gen-u-wine homeowner, I was looking at the Menard's ad, even though I hate Menard's with a fiery passion. And if I was not a homeowner, I never would have discovered that it is possible for one to buy a patriot toilet at Menard's. Yes. Lest your waste products meet a commie pinko end, I suppose. "If even your feces love Lee Greenwood, buy our commode!" Good heavens.

But I discovered that there's a store I haven't tried, up in Eden Prairie, and I'm going to go up there and see if I can get clothing that isn't pastel. It's in Eden Prairie Center, so it's connected to stores where Timprov can shop for sorely needed jeans and shorts. So we'll probably head up there sometime this week. Hope for a brighter tomorrow, or at least one less afflicted with pinks and peaches.

Maybe I'll just wait for the backlash. Yes, the anti-pastel backlash, that's what I'll do. Everybody else will get sick of the pastels, and designers will make things in forests and burgundies and cocoas and midnights and plums. Or jewel tones, sapphires and emeralds. Yes. Maybe even deep spices and pumpkins, I could do that. Backlash. All right then. I'll just wait here.

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