Tag Archives: pride

Off the wagon, shopping-wise

ticketsWell, now I’ve gone and done it. This is bad. I went on a shopaholic spending spree. You probably sense that I’ve been doing worse over the past month, and this afternoon, I realized how bad things have gotten. I’m embarrassed to confess this to you, but I simply went and spent a lot of money without thinking hard about it. I thought I was doing better with the shopaholism, but here I am off the wagon.

I’ve been very unhappy at work, and recently, things got even worse. But applying for jobs hasn’t been enough to fulfill my hunger for satisfying work. One advantage is that I avoided buying physical objects. The other is that I’m not going to be able to afford many physical objects for a while. I have now spent enough money that from now at least through this spring are going to be belt-tightening times. Avoiding physical objects is not enough of an improvement — I simply should have not spent as much.

Zummara_MedievalOver the past few weeks, I bought tickets to 4 early-music concerts in February and March, and I prepaid for Saturday to Sunday single nights at four-star hotels for 1) the weekend before New Year’s last month; 2) this weekend; 3) Presidents’ Day weekend; and 4) Memorial Day weekend. Oh, and I’m planning to visit the nuns for three days at the end of this month, which is $400 including the bus fare.

It isn’t enough to say the concerts are cheap and that I got really good deals on the rooms, that I could bring my own sandwiches to the hotels (room service doubles the cost of a hotel stay), and that the nuns almost certainly would accept less money than I intend to give them. No, I have to admit sadly that I simply spent too much.320px-Waiter_pouring_Zardetto_sparkling_Prosecco

And regardless of how grim my finances now look for the next few months, I am very happy to have all these experiences to mull over or look forward to. I’m still on the shopaholic high at the moment.

There’s a shrill little mosquito buzz of worry about how I am going to keep up with the payments as the bills come in, and some thumping sounds of embarrassment at trying to buy my way out of my unhappiness, both muffled by my shaky confidence that as much as I am a shopaholic, I have never gotten into financial straits I couldn’t get out of. Nevertheless, despite these alarms, I still feel happy to look forward to these experiences. They are anodynes that will (um, I hope) ease the pain of my work situation.

I went back to Wikipedia about “oniomania,” or shopaholism:

Compulsive buying seems to represent a search for self in people whose identity is neither firmly felt nor dependable, as indicated by the way purchases often provide social or personal identity-markers. Those with associated disorders such as anxiety, depression and poor impulse control are particularly likely to be attempting to treat symptoms of low self-esteem through compulsive shopping.

Well, that fits my situation to a tee. My once rock-stable work identity has been shaken by some nasty events at the office; I’m anxious about landing a new job and learning it; I’m depressed at the prospect that it may take years to find a job that I can do this well in, in terms of both competence and pay; and very strongly, I feel like asserting class markers, as pretentious and shameful as it is.

I want to tell my boss: “I stay in good hotels where they call me ‘madam’ and offer to summon the bellhop to pick up my matching luggage, and I eat good room service there, where the waiter lifts the lid off the entree with a flourish. I go to sophisticated early music concerts. I have a convent I like to visit and give money to, as if I were a medieval noblewoman. I want you to know, Boss, that I am still a smart, dignified, hard-working, professional helper, the way you used to treat me.”453px-Gheorghe_Tattarescu_-_Stareta_Manastirii_Ratesti_

So as happy as I feel that I have all these pleasant events coming up this spring, it’s all rooted in bitterness and resentment, and that is not a good thing. The only positive about this is that the purpose of the convent visit is to talk with the abbess about how to handle my work situation with less bitterness and more patience, while retaining my firm decision to leave this job. But she can’t do the heavy lifting. That’s up to me.

I’m ashamed at being so pretentious and resentful and shopaholic, because compared to millions of Americans in dire straits, I’m doing all right. But I know that I am no longer in the right job if my work situation brings out traits such as shopaholism that put me in a bad situation.

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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.

Clothes don’t make the man, but…

Among the many articles currently published about Veterans Day was one about a rather winsome homeless vet, and a time-lapse video of his makeover. See the three-minute video here:

After the makeover, he looks great! But he’s the same guy with the same hopes and dreams and abilities and experiences; he just looks different.

Does his appearance matter in any profound way?

I have written about the topic of grooming and the material world before, particularly in relation to my reaction to someone who took me to be a laundress and my reconsideration of my harsh response.

Indeed I did tell the historical anecdote of a man who, claiming to be humble, was told by a monk that he should shave off half his mustache, go about his daily business, and see if he were really humble.

The spiritual truth of that excellent story is that it is much harder to be humble than we often imagine, that we might be less humble than we might think we are, and that we should not think we are better than we are just because of our grooming. All true.

But which applicant would you hire for a job, the man who looked homeless at the start of the video, or the nicely groomed man in the suit and tie at the end of the video?

The video implies that the makeover actually turned around the man’s life, so that he started to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and so on. And anecdotally, makeovers can change people by showing them the possibilities of what they could be. Thus, it seems that grooming really can be a catalyst of positive life change. And this only makes sense, because we are physical beings as well as mind and spirit. What affects one aspect of us affects the other aspects.

We would like to imagine that the material world doesn’t matter. We scoff (justifiably) at the ostentatious rich with their designer clothing and fancy cars, because as materialists, they imagine that their externals make them better than lesser mortals. We are horrified (justifiably) at people who disrespect waiters and other service personnel due to a belief that a lesser job makes a person of lesser value. We would like to believe that appearances don’t matter — but if that were the case, there would be no mirrors in bathrooms, or anywhere else.

Most people we encounter are actually exquisitely sensitive to their and our place in the social hierarchy. Find someone who denies that, and usually they are also in denial about having reverse prejudice, and they have something unkind to say about people who sincerely enjoy wearing neckties or high heels.

Most of us like to see people who are at least neatly groomed and dressed, and we feel more at ease around them. Some people are also ill at ease around obese people because they think of body size as a part of grooming. (“You should be an ascetic shopper about what you eat,” said a friend of mine bluntly a few days ago.) Brutally unfair as it is, many people are uncomfortable around people with dramatic physical traits such as mobility impairments. And we may not be impressed by the size of people’s homes, but we may be discomfited by the way they keep their abodes, particularly if they are hoarders.

I know from personal experience that shopping modestly on a very limited budget, it is surprisingly expensive and effortful to be neatly groomed and dressed. And on the other end, when one is drowning in stuff, it is also mentally and emotionally exhausting to deal with the physical objects one hoards. Like it or not, the material world matters, both our bodies and our possessions. It can give us great joy and it can be incredibly burdensome. And it also affects how we interact with others.

We are not ghosts in machines, we are not spirits inhabiting seashells. It is deluded to think that in our essence we are non-physical beings. We own our unique bodies; we interact with the material world in our own unique ways; we mate with people not just spiritually and psychologically compatible but whose appearance and grooming we like; our emotions are called “feelings” because we feel them in our bodies. It is not a coincidence that “junk” refers both to objects that we own and also to genitals. Our bodies, and the material objects we keep around us, are part of who we are.

Just as we should not be “respecters of persons” who denigrate the poor and honor the rich, so too we should not pretend that our bodies are mere shells or machines inhabited by the real us. We are not only mind and spirit; we are body, as well. And so, what we do with our bodies and our physical possessions is of real importance. Matter matters.

One nice piece

320px-Alice_par_John_Tenniel_11

Alice apparently lives in an SRO.
Click to see Carroll’s text.

When you live in an SRO, a space so tiny that you practically have to step out into the hallway to change your mind, you learn a special way of viewing your home.

For example, you learn to view your neighborhood as merely an extension of your house, rather like a large yard. The nearest food store really is a store of food, your pantry.

You also learn to make little compromises, like learning to scoot into the shower just before the guy who likes a leisurely shave in the shower shows up, even if that is about ten minutes earlier than you would prefer.

And you learn that you can have whatever furniture you want in an SRO, so long as it fits and doesn’t require being bolted to the wall. One of my neighbors has a sofa bed. I don’t know how he and his friends wedged it in there, but they did. He has almost nothing else in his place but that treasured sofa bed.

Nice armchairBut I understand that. When you’re living small, it’s tempting to get a big statement piece. I knew a guy in college who managed to shoehorn a very nice upholstered armchair into his room. It wasn’t quite as nice as this one, but it looked that good to teenaged me. (No, no, we weren’t interested in each other, if you’re wondering if we both fit in that chair simultaneously.)

The SRO room I have comes with lamp, table, chair, some kind of thing with a drawer or drawers, and a new bed. You choose from what you want and whatever is available. I eagerly chose a four-foot desk, and I bought a cheap rolling office chair instead of the one provided. I told the building management not to bother getting me a bed, and I sleep happily on the floor next to the desk.

Computer cartI don’t use the desk, except for stacking boxes of chowder. When I am not at work, I spend most of my time lying on the floor at my computer, which is where I am now. This is not a good thing for my health, because it’s pretty close to bed rest. Just about anything would be more active than that.

So I thought about putting my desk back with the other furniture that new tenants choose from, and buying a stand-up desk. Stand-up desks are supposed to be healthy for you. You join the greats (as well as Donald Rumsfeld). Writes one fan:

Sir Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Jefferson worked at stand-up desks. Donald Rumsfeld works at a stand-up desk and if my memory serves me correctly, Vladimir Nabakov (one of my favorite writers of the 20th Century) wrote his novels on index cards at a stand-up desk.

After all, Emiliano Zapata said, “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

It could be very affordable. And indubitably it would be healthier than lying on my belly.

But I could stretch beyond merely having a standing desk. I’m also tired of living with metal table legs and composite board. Indubitably I could make my place nicer, more civilized.

da Vinci stand up deskSo, what if… what if I got One Nice Piece? What if I got a piece of real wood furniture, the kind of furniture that you dust and polish, not the kind you wipe down? The kind of furniture that, when you are done cleaning with it, makes your place smell like lemon oil instead of Lysol wipes? The kind of furniture that feels like satin wood under your fingertips, instead of plastic laminate?

What if I got a nice wooden stand-up desk? Isn’t that handsome? Wouldn’t it feel good to use?

I could save up for it; hard work but what a wonderful place to exercise my intellect as well as my legs! (Okay, well, to write this blog.) It would change my place from a room to a home, and be good for me, too!

Alas, I don’t think I will use it. If I don’t sit at my desk now, I would have no motivation to actually stand up. It is all part of a fantasy of the lithe, active, stylish person that I am not.

And who am I kidding about dusting and polishing, when I can barely manage to scrub my sink now and then? A beautiful wooden finish will dull under the thick coat of the urban grit that coats my windowsills, which I  vacuum about twice a year.

And is it not pride that motivates me? Embarrassment at living in an SRO when people I went to school with have multiple houses (even though I daresay I have less debt)? Should I not feel instead the dignity of my way of life?

That wooden stand-up desk is a lovely piece, anyway, though. I refuse to condemn it as overly luxurious if it is a One Nice Piece.

If you are thinking of getting a stand up desk to get healthier, you should have one that honors your work, and honors the workers who made it so carefully. Your place doesn’t have to look like it came out of the Horchow Collection to have One Nice Piece to remind you that it is a home and not just a place to live.

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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