Into October


October is a month of grief for me. It started in 2006, when my friend Julie died. I was newly 17, which was traumatizing enough, but it was a particularly fraught time for a number of additional reasons and then Julie died and the earth stopped spinning. My body and mind have wrapped that ache up like a broken jar, brown paper over sharp edges. I had known other people to die before Julie, but she was the first person who I loved wholly and separately from my family and I felt the loss of her love keenly. I can remember now just how it felt. After Julie there were other October deaths, so early on I began to believe that October was the month when my people die. At first I dreaded it, but over time that has changed. Of course, over time there have also been a lot more deaths and I’ve amended my former belief to the much simpler “people die”.

There has been a lot of writing about grief lately- I think because we have a lot to grieve these days, the biggest and most obvious being The State of Things. This past month I learned that there are people who look at grief with scorn and shame and it may be naive, but that surprised me. When I talk about grief I am not talking about the immediate days after a loss, when the rest of the world gets inked out and time warps and your skin hurts, though that is surely grief as well. When I talk about grief I am talking about what we all carry with us every day, the dead whom we have loved and now miss. How do you survive in a world where grief is shameful? There is sadness in grieving, yes, but there is celebration too. I don’t have the option in my belief system of imagining my loved ones cavorting together in a place of eternal light (though I can appreciate the comfort in that). Instead I imagine them where I know them to be- all together in my heart for as long as it’s still beating.


An anecdote about Julie, while she is on my mind.

I came out to Julie before anyone else in the world. I was in her classroom, after school. I don’t remember what exactly I said, but she was cleaning desks when I told her and she paused and asked me to come over to her. She pointed at a desk, where someone had written “Mrs. Caldwell is a lesbian” and said to me “I’m going to leave this one here because it’s a compliment to me”.

Into September

Working alone can sometimes feel like you are hurtling through space, ricocheting from idea to idea, eyes forward. When you get a moment to pause and look behind you the trajectory has already faded from sight and you are just there, wherever you are. After some months of traveling life in that manner I am starting to slow a bit and put down markers. As someone who has spent a lifetime bucking structure, the need to instill it for myself doesn't exactly come naturally, but it has revealed itself as a need nonetheless. Monthly essays will be one small step towards making a habit of reflection. A handhold, a record, a repetitive motion. A monthly newsletter as well. One looking forward, one looking back. 


September is my birth month and so a new years of sorts. I go into each September with resolutions and a deep, deep, LL Bean catalogue, back to school craving for plaid. Writing here is one of my September resolutions. 

Some weeks ago a friend asked for insight on balancing a work life and a creative life. It was a timely question- I had just started working very part time again and was wondering how everything would shake out. My initial reaction was to say to her "I don't know you just do it!!" which is honest and really... not helpful. 

Creative work (and, I think it's okay to call it work, because work does not mean anything bad) has been a part of my days for as long as I can remember. When I was very little I would stumble out of bed and plop down at my art table next to the kitchen door and get to work. These days I've more or less returned to that habit. I roll out of bed and wander to the living room/studio where I try to remember and write down all of the good ideas I had as I was falling asleep. I knit before breakfast, I pull out fabrics and I get busy in my head. Then I wake Tavi up and she makes me coffee. When I was younger I worked full time away from home, sometimes at two or three jobs. For those years I crammed my creative work into every other waking hour: I knit before I walked to work, I kept a sketchbook and drew constantly, I focused on portable handcrafts. I wasn't terribly social and I didn't do much else besides work and work. I was industrious and I was younger and I had something to prove and I was mad a lot. Maybe the best advice I could give is "get mad", but that will rot your stomach eventually so it's not a lasting solution. The best thing I did for myself in those years was save money for the future. I didn't have a plan, but 8 years later I had that money to live off of when my source of income dried up and I am thankful to that mad kid who cashiered at the co-op 7 days a week for minimum wage. 

Maybe the trick is recognizing that your life won't look like anyone else's. I've never had a lot of qualms about that (although, funny enough, I find myself pausing now and then as I watch my peers have children and buy houses and I can clearly see where my life's trajectory splintered away from that tract). You might work jobs that aren't your career, while your career looms un-named in a basket next to the couch (and your parents panic as loudly or quietly as they are inclined to). You might learn to cook instead of eating out with your 9-to-5 buddies. You might eat a lot of rice. You might wake up at 5AM to work before work, you might work while your friends are going out or while your lover is sleeping. You might work on the weekends, you might always and forever be the only one with Tuesdays free and zero other spare time so you just work on Tuesdays too. You might be investing in expensive new materials while your peers make down-payments on houses. You might live in an unconventional space and you might live there a lot longer than you anticipated. You might not make any money for a whole month, and then you might make double what you need and blow it all on Lithuanian linen and wind up just as broke (ahem). It's okay. The trick is knowing that you can quit anytime, become a dental hygienist or work in a bank, but the trick is also realizing that you can't really do that, that you won't survive this life if you do, and no one knows if you'll get another one. 

Fashion Revolution No. 5 // The Karate Jacket

 Photos from  here  and  here .

Photos from here and here.

A few weeks ago I spotted the Rudy Jude Karate Jacket in my stories and it stuck with me. Sometimes that happens with an article of clothing- you see it and it calls to you (I remember you, burnt orange wool skirt on Etsy from 7 years ago that sold before I could scrape together $40). Often it's out of reach. At $295 the Rudy Jude jacket certainly is for me. A lot of companies I admire are cost prohibitive for me and many others and that is part of what is tricky about ethical fashion. Anyway- the jacket. After a few days with it hovering in the back of my mind I found a child-size, well worn, cross front martial arts jacket at the thrift for $4. Now- it's not the same thing. It's a poly-cotton blend rather than organic cotton. But the tag says "Made in the USA" and a little digging has revealed that it was actually made in Chicago. And it's black!

Thrift success! A $291 savings!

I've been wearing the jacket almost everyday. It replaced my old black canvas jacket from high school which has finally bitten the dust. It fits over a sweater. It fits over a dress. It nips in at the waist. When I wear it with a long black linen dress and my black sandals I feel like Georgia O'Keeffe heading out to paint in the desert. But if I am honest, I have been waiting for someone to call me out on it, and yesterday a friend did and now I have to reckon with the other half of this jacket, which is its cultural significance. (Yes, I should have done this before I even bought it, but the path to virtuous consumption is fraught and sometimes tempting to ignore, especially when you are broke and just need a damn jacket).

Step one is always a quick google. A visit to the manufacturers didn't offer up much information. I found a chat room where I learned that traditional Karate Gi are white, not black, but in these mixed up times it depends on the school where you practice and on your instructor and also on whether you prefer to bleach out dirt stains or have them not show up in the first place. I also learned that Karate came to Japan from China a long long time ago, and became popular in the US after US soldiers were stationed on a base in Japan after WWII. Karate practice in the US differs as much as yoga- ranging from a full on lifestyle to a straight up workout. 

When I think about cultural appropriation I always think about these leggings I've seen at Target that are printed with traditional Navajo blanket patterns. Now- those patterns have incredible cultural significance and they were not created to encase white-girl-buns. The fact that they now do is incredibly offensive and rude. That's a cut and dry example, but where does the issue lie here?

Is it me, a white, American woman of European descent, wearing a bastardized American version of a Japanese garment that was manufactured for American children practicing Japanese martial arts? 

Is it the garment makers, who altered the traditional Gi by adding poly to the fiber blend? And manufacturing/selling it in the United States?

Is it the American kids practicing a traditional Japanese form of combat as an after school activity?

Is it Rudy Jude, for creating a fashion-only version of Gi and selling it? (note: they don't call it a Gi, they call it a Karate jacket, which to me seems like a nod to their inspiration without claiming to be making the same thing)

And while Georgia O'Keeffe is on my mind- what about the tradition of women artists adopting clothing from other cultures? O'Keeffe and her kimonos are not alone. Frida Kahlo donned many traditional costumes that were not of her tradition, and Ray Eames lived day in and out in a dirndl inspired getup. The ability to admire and be inspired by many many cultures is important, if not formative in making art. 

My biggest question is how to live in the gray space between America's tradition of bulldozing other cultures and emblazoning them on our sneakers and the scathing judgement that hisses "that was not made for you"?