Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Wardrobe Stories

I wore the above jumper dress out to dinner on Valentine's Day at our local Thai restaurant (amazing food, kitsch decorations and a great mix of families and friends as well as couples). The dress is originally from Topshop but I bought it from a charity shop in Camden, London. The complete outfit also included the brown leather Levi belt (formerly my Dad's) that I've mentioned before, and a brown imitation leather jacket I spied in the window of a 'save the cats' charity shop before Christmas last year (that wasn't its exact name but whatever it was, I remember thinking that it was a dubiously specific cause). It's always fun to wear an outfit that's primarily second-hand, but it was the dress that especially made me smile.

Neither of us can remember why we were in Camden or exactly when it was, but I know it was definitely in the early days of our relationship. My then boyfriend (now husband) was still learning how to navigate the rocky terrain that is my emotional landscape, and I was (am still) learning to try and be more flexible. It's trivial but true that - out of all the things we could have clashed over in those early days - I would get the most defensive over my dress-sense.

I think it comes from always having looked different and drawn the eye: "ethnic minority", so much taller than my peers for most of my teens - it was impossible for me to fit in, so I created a crazy niche for myself and guarded it with my life; "individuality is sacred" was my mantra. To have a man come along and suggest that a different accessory here or there might work well was more than I could put up with - especially when he was right. It seemed such an affront to my militant independence. And when my immediate enthusiasm for this dress was not matched by his, I took it very VERY personally.

Sometimes it's the smallest things that have their unassuming roots dug down deep in something sensitive - something like self-esteem, unconditional acceptance, awkward memories. Buying this dress was a catalyst for some of the conversations that gradually lowered my guard. Make no mistake, I still dress how I want to dress. But I learned to leave room for other influences and, above all, lighten up! Five years later, eating out together on Valentine's Day in that dress, we could laugh about things that weren't funny at the time. And I remembered, with the help of a humble item of clothing, just how possible change is.

'Wardrobe Stories' are a string of posts helping me to appreciate the clothes and accessories I own in an atmosphere where it's easy to end up taking things for granted.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Feel-good Film

I doubt that this film was intended to be anything more than family fun and, given that I'm neither a seasoned critic nor knowledgeable enthusiast, I'm not going to attempt to suggest whether it's "good". But I like watching it because it reminds me of things I believe about love. Leaving aside the questionable morality of giving a person away as a birthday gift (which I confess I was completely blind to until my friend Anna pointed it out a couple of years ago), I actually think this fantasy depiction of a relationship is far closer to my reality than the average 'real-life' based romantic comedy.

Without going into too much detail, the hunt for power, eternal youth and beauty is a big part of the plot and, if you feel like being profound about it, the film definitely contains a parody of society's preoccupations with those things. Against the backdrop of all that superficiality is the unfolding story of a love that is lighthearted and characterised by banter, but at the same time is felt so deeply and given so completely that it literally makes the female lead radiant, empowers the male lead to live forever, and enables them together to defeat danger and darkness. Pretty powerful stuff!

And love is like that. In my life, it's love that inspires me to move past insecurity, to be brilliant, to stop being afraid. It's incredibly precious when that love is concentrated in one particularly empowering relationship - when sexual attraction is only one part of the magnetism holding two people together, and the real reason for being together is the almost unbelievable fact that it would be impossible to be the best version of yourselves apart. That's romance with a captial 'R'. But I'm convinced that empowering love is out there for us all to encounter, in all sorts of forms: faith, family, friendship. Granted, life is a little more complicated than 122 minutes in a fairy-tale universe, but I watch this film and find myself feeling like my ability to be loving is some sort of cosmic superpower that I should use and not squander. 

A film that achieves that can't be all bad...

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Pocket Money - Part 2

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Reading and hearing about the on-going uproar over high pay and bonuses in the last two weeks, I haven't exactly formed an educated opinion - it's been more along the lines of having a reaction. And, unfortunately, my reaction hasn't been massively constructive either. I've felt really depressed. Depressed at how the muddle of information I ingest from both camps leaves me feeling completely incapable of making up my mind; depressed that despite being sure there might be a little more to the issues it surely isn't right that our supermarket CEOs are making millions while workers on the shop floor aren't paid a living wage. Depressed that there's such an anger and readiness for vilification,  and 'us vs them vs everything'.

In my depression, I reached for two proverbs and a promise. I wonder, would the world look different if I acted like I believed them?

Proverbs 20v23 - The LORD detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please Him.

Proverbs 21v1 - The King's heart is in the hand of the LORD; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases.

2 Chronicles 7v14 - "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sins and I will heal their land." 

Is prayer a legitimate reaction to an overwhelming feeling that somehow, somewhere along the line things need to be different? In the middle of that difficult-to-articulate sense that someone should do something, is it okay to abdicate that ultimate responsibility to God and expect Him to change attitudes and move immovable people and structures (with our input) - because He too wants better for us? Is it alright to not know what to do but still hope that the right thing will be done? Is it worth a try?

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Day 76

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Routine is a funny little so-and-so: if forced to go for weeks without it through unemployment or illness its absence can be excruciating, but get into a rhythm and it can suddenly seem relentless or claustrophobic. And then comes the countdown - waiting for the weekend or annual leave or anything other than one more ordinary day.

There are things that are hopefully coming my way that I'm really looking forward to, but I also recently discovered another incentive for ticking off work-days as they pass: it makes me remember they're unique. 

Tomorrow is Monday, but in my mind it's also Day 76 and - unlike any old Monday - it's not coming around again. Instead of getting restless in the face of weeks and months of routine, I need to make Day 76 go somewhere. Day 76 has to get me to Day 75. It can dictate the rest of my week; it can influence how the people around me feel towards me and about themselves; it could be the beginning of something or - let's face it - it could always be the end. So what if it looks boring? So what if it IS boring? Day 76 has a job to do and from the time that alarm goes off it's "now or never".

One day last year I was suddenly let go from a job that sometimes felt like it would never end. No prizes for guessing I missed it when it was gone. One day nearly two years ago, my childhood ended and my dreams came true. One day last year a friend of a friend died in a road traffic collision. Those were extraordinary days.

But the ordinary days are arguably the best days. The ordinary days are the opportunities to lay the groundwork for the big days - the for better or worse days. The ordinary days are the ones where we get to become the people those life-changing, fun-filled or dramatically defining days will expose.

Honestly, I SO wish I loved Mondays more (actually it's Tuesdays I have real issues with). And I'm hopeful that one day there will be changes - external and internal - that mean I do. But in the meantime, I'm concentrating on at least giving each day a fighting chance to do some good in its own right before it comes to a close, never to be encountered in quite the same way again.

Teach us to number our days [so] that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90v12 - The Bible

Over to you, day 76. Do your thing.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Wardrobe Stories

Midweek this week, a colleague came into work with fluorescent pink laces in her black trainers. She's part of the cleaning team and is required to wear a uniform, but when we got talking I commented on the flash of individuality on her feet and how little colour my work-wardrobe usually involves. Deciding what to wear the next day our conversation came to mind and I picked out a skirt I haven't worn in at least three or four years.

This one survived the great cull of 2010 - partly for sentimental reasons. It's a calf-length 'gypsy' skirt, with bright embroidery and tiny mirrors stitched right the way round at the thigh and knee. In a word, it's "pretty": not beautiful, or particularly intricate, or wildly original - it's just a full-bodied, colourful, mass-produced skirt. With a scarf, boots and bangles it's capable of being outlandish but a plain top and blazer and it's almost conservative.

I can't remember exactly how I wore it when it was new back in 2005, but I do know that I choose it as the centre-piece of my outfit for the first of a three-day Oxbridge interview. I was 18; I had never stepped foot in the University city let alone the quad of the college that was eventually to become home for 4 years, and I'd only recently made the mental transition from assuming I would do English and Music somewhere local to applying to read Law in a place so steeped in tradition.

The consensus is that first impressions are important, and I'm not going to go against the grain on that one. But I do think that to even stand a chance of coming across well, it's crucial to be comfortable - to know why you're where you are and to know who you are in that context. This skirt helped me do that. Without straying beyond the bounds of what was appropriate, it enabled me to be colourful - in my appearance, but also in my conversation and my thinking. 

It's been good to get re-acquainted with it and find new ways of wearing it after all these years. It's been even better to remember that being myself is the most constructive thing I can do as I look to make progress in work and in life.

'Wardrobe Stories' are a string of posts helping me to appreciate the clothes and accessories I own in an atmosphere where it's easy to end up taking things for granted.
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