Tag Archives: humility

Nothing that drastic

Some years ago, I discovered that I love staycations, rather than traveling. My style is to call them “mental health breaks,” aspirationally staying in a local four-star hotel for a night a few times a year. (My latest conquest was the InterContinental, on which I used points to get an absurdly low rate on a top rate room. My next conquest is the Langham.)

These places provide numerous amenities I don’t have at my SRO: A bed, a bathtub, movies, a pool, fine restaurant food served to me on a ceramic plate at a table with a cloth instead of handed over a counter in a styrofoam box, and access to alcohol, the latter prohibition in my SRO probably to prevent fights or people drinking themselves into a stupor alone every night.

In a hotel, unlike the smallest real apartment I could rent at three times my SRO rent, I don’t have to clean the bathtub, tub, and sink, change and wash the linens, go out in the weather to watch movies, and lug home a bottle of wine that will half spoil because I cannot drink the whole thing in time. A hotel room for a night or two gives me true appreciation of amenities for a fraction of the cost of having them where they are merely burdens. (And, as I mentioned in my post on interior design, they have given me a taste for simpler design combined with finer, more durable materials.)

I have made these mental health breaks often enough over the years to sense how hotel clerks size up the customers. But, as I’ve told you before, I tend to look like a bag lady at the best of times.

Frame Traveler in Venetian PaisleyBringing one’s luggage in plastic grocery bags means bad treatment. Using black fabric bags means routine, mindless treatment. Bringing three or four largeish bags in a loud, matching Vera Bradley pattern means being treated like C’mell in Cordwainer Smith’s novel “Norstrilia.” A generous 20-oz. cold bottle of water appears from nowhere, the lightweight bags are gently lifted onto a giant brass luggage cart, and upon arrival at the room, the bellhop carefully explains how the thermostat works before bowing, accepting his tip, and literally backing out of the room.

The bear-man leapt from his stool with astonishing speed. “Cat-madame!” he cried, “A thousand pardons. You can have anything in the place. You come from the top of Earthport? You know the Lords of the Instrumentality personally? You would like a table roped off with curtains? Or should I just throw everybody else out of here and report to my Man that we have a famous, beautiful slave from the high places?”

“Nothing that drastic,” said C’mell. “Just food.”

So it is with embarrassment at my pretentiousness that I admit that for years, I have wanted a fine leather designer purse. Not the tacky fabric kind with an “LV” or “CC” logo; I mean the real real thing, leather. And classically styled, no fringes and useless buckles hanging off it. If humble Vera Bradley can get me this far, what will Longchamp or Coach Classic or Chanel get me? On the rare occasions I have had a chance to examine them, I am impressed by the scent and flexibility of the leather, the attention to rounding off the ends of the stitching, and so on. If you don’t have one of these real bags, and you can afford it, get the real thing and not a fake.

Coach classic duffle leatherBut I also know I have an almost magical, magnetic predisposition to walk clumsily into the tongues of doors hard enough to ruin shirts and, doubtless, ruin a fine leather bag. A good watch will keep running on time, A Vera Bradley bag is loud enough to hide the marks, a leather bag is scarred forever.

And, well, there isn’t much I want from the hotel, not worth spending that kind of money on something that has to be handled with such care to present a social clue that may or may not register. Nothing that drastic. Vera Bradley you can’t miss, it punches you in the eyeball at a fraction of the price.

So I must confine my admiration of fine leather products to the other side of the screen or the window. I’m all set now. Thanks for the free bottle of water!

Cinderella’s stepsister

Z9360141-Cape_fur_seal_flippers-SPLThis is so embarrassing that I can feel my face blushing hot as I begin this post. I’ve seen people roll their eyes when I raise the topic. And I fear this post will come across as one long whine. But whether we express it like a child, or not, like an adult, the fact remains that when we long for something we know we cannot have, our wish is a whine.

I want to stop fantasizing about buying anything from this entire category of apparel, so I’m getting it out in the open here.

So, anyway, it’s just this. I wish I could wear women’s shoes. That sounds pervy, but I actually am a woman. However, women’s shoes aren’t made in EEEEEE width, so I have to wear men’s shoes, or the occasional particularly wide, ugly EEEE women’s shoes that I can fit into with the edges of my feet slopping over. Maybe that’s why that guy took me for a laundress — my shoes looked too practical, even with clothes from Talbots.

Red flatsOnlineshoes.com, where I get many of my shoes, tells me that it has 19,273 women’s styles in medium width, 24 styles in EEEE width, and none at all in EEEEEE.

I’m grateful for those twenty-four styles, and for the men’s ultra-wide shoes, even as I long to have nineteen thousand styles to choose from.

But, you see, a woman’s outfit is constructed from the shoes up. If you don’t have the right kind of shoes, your outfit is severely constrained. If you are wearing what are called “walking shoes,” your “nice” clothing requires pants to hide them. No skirts, no dresses to wear to that wedding, that fundraiser, that nice restaurant.

Fortunately, I work where practical shoes are rampant and some of the executives occasionally even wear running shoes with skirt suits, so at the office, I get away with wearing mallwalkers with dresses. And admittedly, I did fit right in at the farming convent, what with some of the nuns wearing work boots with their habits and all of them wearing stout, practical, unisex-looking shoes. But I literally do not bother trying to get a job where “professional attire” is expected.

Louboutin_veryprive_roseAs relaxed as my workplace is, I wish that just sometimes I could wear shoes that are stylish or fun, or just varied — flats, pumps, ballet slippers, galoshes, multicolored jelly sandals, shoes that come from department stores, running shoes, knee-high boots, clogs, huaraches, even just cheap shoes.

A few brands, bless them, make women’s dress shoes in EE, but I literally cannot get my feet into them. Like Cinderella’s stepsisters, I would have to cut off some of my foot to get into an EE shoe. If I hold a B width shoe up to the sole of my foot, it appears that I would have to amputate at least two toes.

The footwear I have to choose from is not advertised as fun, stylish, or sexy. My shoes are advertised as supportive, stabilizing, “anti-roll,” “diabetic-approved,” and, sometimes even “post-surgical” — not for running or dancing, not for hiking or fishing, not for brides or wedding guests, and not even, like clogs, for standing.

womens-asics-gel-kinsei-5-hot-punch-white-royal-349216_200_45And I don’t just wish I could wear shoes of a popular width. I wish I could wear shoes in colors other than black, white, and brown, which are the only shades that ultra-wide shoes come in. Red shoes would be especially nice — they are apparently quite emotionally evocative for many people, and not just for me. Blue would be nice, though, too. I don’t need a rainbow.

If you can wear shoes in colors — and even men with average D width feet can find athletic shoes in all sorts of colors — feel lucky. If you can wear foot-destroying stylish high heels, count yourself fortunate (and don’t wear them too often). Think for a minute about what it is like to be forced to wear shoes that look unprofessional and are unsuited to dressy occasions, that are no good for most athletic activities. I am not telling you to be Imelda Marcos, but I encourage you to truly appreciate and enjoy the range of options you have.

New Villager_BLK_PLIf I felt like it, I could get all into Theory of the Human Body and write huffily about body shame and pressure on women to adhere to a certain slender ideal. I could accuse the shoe industry of unfairness. I could meditate on the cruelty implicit in “Cinderella,” the implication that no matter how pretty one’s face is (Cinderella’s stepsisters were not ugly; they were pretty), one can escape one’s lot in life or get a rich and powerful spouse only by having tiny feet.

I don’t feel like shaking my fist, though. I do not think that it is wrong to adorn the human body. I delight in wearing my nineteen lipsticks in a range of colors most people cannot carry off. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, because I recognize that, sadly, I am at one end of the bell curve in terms of foot width.

Men's New Balance MW928However, and this is what I am getting at, I just wish that choosing my shoes could be a little bit fun, instead of a heavily sighing contemplation of a few styles on the basis of which one least evokes astronaut boots.

That’s it, that’s all, I’m just longing for objects that are completely useless to me.

I want to stop doing that.

Precious mettle

Seraphim_of_Sarov_coinWhen I saw today’s item, I immediately wanted, quite intensely, to get it in my hot little paws. I want to make it twinkle and glitter and shine in the sun. It is affordable in itself, although for a half-ounce of silver it is quite expensive. The price is in the art, which is exquisite. I want to see it in person.

But at a deeper level, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

In Christianity, there have been various ways of dealing with Exodus 20:4-5, when in the course of handing down the Ten Commandments, God says,

4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…”

The question has been whether this passage is referring to any depiction of anything, or a depiction of people and events of religious significance, or specifically idols that are worshipped as gods — or somewhere in the middle. There have been tremendous conflicts over this topic during the Iconoclast Controversy and the Protestant Reformation, and people have died for their beliefs on the topic.

In line with current consensus allowing objects stimulating reverence for religious entities (with variation on how explicit those objects can be), there is a genre of silver bullion with religious themes, ranging from the Ten Commandments to the crucifix to the Lord’s Prayer to “Footprints.” Some people are willing to pay a high premium for bullion with religious themes. A few are even offended by the American Eagle with the goddess Liberty depicted on it, PAMP’s bullion with the goddess Fortuna on it, and the like. I suspect there may be some dynamic here about Judas, who was paid in silver to betray Jesus, and spiritually decontaminating silver bullion.

However, it was only recently that a series of bullion came out with my religion’s themes, even though using silver to honor a saint by decorating a scene or portrait is perfectly ordinary in my church’s tradition. A saint (I forget which one) expressed our perspective most clearly when he said something to the effect of (and I am paraphrasing here), “Bind two pieces of wood into a cross and I will kiss the cross; take them apart, and I will throw the wood into the fire.”

Use silver to decorate a picture of a saint or a religious theme, and it honors its subject; melt that silver (from need, without hostility), and although its absence may leave the picture sadly bereft of its prior magnificence, the silver is just scrap.

So a silver depiction of a saint is in no way strange. And I want this half-ounce bejeweled piece of silver depicting St. Seraphim of Sarov. I really admire St. Seraphim; I like the look of silver bullion; I think this item is very, very well executed; and I don’t for one second want to worship it. It’s just one heck of a nice creation that makes me contemplate the holiness of this saint.

However, I also find this item profoundly disturbing.

Seraphim print iconSt. Seraphim of Sarov, of all people! He was a hermit of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries known for his asceticism, his mysticism, and the peaceable way he attracted wild animals of the forest, ranging from rabbits to wolves.

He was so brave that he once famously allowed himself, without resisting or trying to escape, to be beaten almost to death by frustrated robbers who found nothing of value in his hut besides a picture of the Virgin Mary. When they were captured, he asked for leniency for them. He was exceptionally not a materialist, even among saints. Possibly only St. Mary of Egypt, who lived alone in the desert naked, could be called less materialistic, and she had the advantage of a warm climate!

St. Seraphim knew about the world, but he lived as far out of it as possible. He is recorded as having said, in a long discourse,

I come of a merchant family in Kursk. So when I was not yet in the monastery we used to trade with the goods which brought us the greatest profit. Act like that, my son. And just as in business the main point is not merely to trade, but to get as much profit as possible, so … our business as Christians consists not in increasing the number of our good deeds which are only the means of furthering the purpose of our Christian life, but in deriving from them the utmost profit, that is in acquiring the most abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit.

That is, mere good deeds are necessary but aren’t enough; it is their spiritual effects on us that matter more. I think many (if not all) religious believers would agree with that, but still, it is a pretty high standard.

Seraphim wooden IconA decorated piece of precious metal with St. Seraphim’s image on it calls to mind the wonder of his spiritual excellence, and it reflects the glory of Paradise that he abides in to this day.

It is also a massive betrayal of the very asceticism, mysticism, unworldliness, and humility of his entire way of life.

So as reluctant as I am — and I am very reluctant, because this is a beautiful piece — I will turn away from this little silver icon. If you, like me, have a devotion to St. Seraphim, or are even just intrigued by him, I highly recommend buying this wooden icon (and its inexpensive matching wooden veneer greeting card) or this printed icon depicting him feeding his bear friend, as being more in keeping with his spirit.

Everyday carry

After I put up my most recent post, “War Paint,” I thought, “Now what was all that about? I didn’t even ask my readers to buy Russian Red, let alone Orgasm.”

“All that” was the shrill angst of the post.

I had said I had been prideful, but that was no more than a nod. I really had been prideful. I could have said to that man in the laundromat, “Sure, I don’t think anybody will bother your stuff, but I don’t work here, so why not ask the person in the office.” But I didn’t; I pushed back at him for having assumed I was in a different and lower social stratum than I am. That’s quite prideful. Tired and stressed as I was that night, it was completely unnecessary for me to puff myself up like that.

Lipstick yields many joys: the wide range of its tints, the varying feel on the lips, the subtleties of sparkle and gloss and matte velvet. It yields a high return of pleasure on the cost of investing in a tube.

Above all, it bears power. As Etelka Lehoczky wrote in a review of a book on lipstick, “It’s more armor than invitation, a deliberate subordination of phallic power (the little tube) to the looming female lips and tongue.” I am a plain woman and yet I have seen men hold their breath, lean forward, and stare at my mouth when I have applied lipstick after a nonromantic dinner where I was accompanied by my partner.

My behavior revealed the assertiveness I signal when I wear lipstick. When I spoke confrontationally toward that man in the laundromat, I had pushed back just as hard as I would not have had to, had I been wearing lipstick.

So while there is private joy in wearing lipstick, there is also public aggression. When I select a tube or two to pack in my purse each day, it is my version of the “everyday carry” of knife aficionadoes. Veronique Vienne drew this analogy explicitly when she wrote, “I never leave home without my Swiss army knife and a tube of lipstick. As far as I’m concerned it’s the only two weapons a woman needs. The knife I seldom use- the presence in my bag is mostly symbolic. The lipstick, on the other hand, truly empowers me.” It is even airplane-safe in this post-9/11 era.

A monk in the eighteenth century once asked a group of men if any of them were truly humble. One naive man raised his hand. The monk asked if his interlocutor was willing to shave off half his moustache and go around as if nothing had happened, and the younger person fell silent in humiliation. If you really want to be judged on who you are in the essentials, what you look like should not matter to you.

The same goes for lipstick.

And that is how I know it has more power on me than anything I have yet written about on this (admittedly young) blog.

So I am still not sure whether I can recommend to you the purchase of the makeup I described.

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