Imminent adventures of a fashion dolt

I am heading off to England and Italy in a few weeks time. Naturally, one shops in such alluring destinations.

In order to make the most of my time and budget, I decided to lash out on a personal shopper in Rome. This was before I did the basic research, an elemental mistake. An internet search on the topic lead to a fair number of stories and comments which could be summed up as ‘If you’re over a size 10, forget it’. At this point, I should confess my actual size.

In Australian sizing, I’m a size 18, and my feet are between 10 and 11. To complicate matters even more, I’m also six feet tall. Finding an empire waisted dress that sits properly under my admittedly generous bust, instead of cutting it in half, remains a distant dream…Nor is making my own clothes much of a viable option because the big four pattern companies seem to think that all women are between 5’5” and 5’6”. The last time I was that height, I was about 10.

So here I am, big all round, innocently contacting personal shoppers and saying Hello, can you help me? Cringe. The lady I chose gave me a reply worthy of the UN. This also seems to be uncharacteristic. The same women who reported if you’re not a size ten forget it also had tales of rudeness and disdain from the sales assistants. All of the preceding has produced, well, it would be far too melodramatic to say a crisis but certainly a great deal of anxiety.

I’ve learned over the years to get curious about my anxieties, rather than anxious about my anxieties. I may not resolve the anxiety itself, but I will have learnt a smidge more about what makes me tick. So I asked myself, what clothes do I remember having that I absolutely loved and felt fantastic in? My list was brief. There are only 8 items. Which, given that I have been wearing clothes of my own choosing for approximately 10950 days, is astonishing.

Even more astonishing to me is that these eight items are unevenly divided into two short time frames. They total about five years out of the last twenty five. The first is when I was an undergraduate and before I met my then husband. The second was the short interregnum between him and the next horrificly costly relationship.

I married a man with what could politely be described as a lack of emotional intelligence. Like many people, he reserved his acceptable behaviour for ‘the world’ and his less than acceptable behaviour for those he professed to love. I, having swallowed the furphy that love changes everything and with my own equally substantial baggage, allowed his words to poison me. I guess I don’t remember a thing about what I wore during those years because I was far too busy trying to keep my head above water.

I do remember that in the last week before making a decision to leave my husband, there was a dress involved. It was the first piece of clothing that I had ever attempted to make. A blue floral dress, super simple, just a gathered skirt and a sleeveless bodice but I was proud of it. I asked him to help me pin up the hem. He refused. My sewing skills had improved enough during the interregnum to have made two of the items on my list of eight. I was most pleased with the pink linen princess line dress, which I wore with a white linen jacket and sky high navy blue Alta Linea shoes.

I suspect that if someone had handed me a Valentino gown (that’s on the bucket list) sometime in those missing, memory less years I would have shoved it in the back cupboard and forgotten about it. I was too much of a broken drone (harsh but true) to care one iota. Sure, I shopped during those times. I went to work and represented my department and so forth and no one ever called me into their office and told me that I needed to up my dress standard. Before starting the all consuming PhD, I remember the act of making clothes but I have barely any memory of what I made.

Nothing stands out. I can only conclude that in my chronic bleakness, accentuated in the later years by grief, made me blind. No frock, not even a couture original, could have alleviated the sludgiest of emotional sludges. The skill, artistry and devotion that went into it would have been lost on me.

Things are better these days. The fact that I am even attempting this whole shopping in Rome business is a sign of great progress. That said, this little bit of introspection has made me a little more comfortable about accepting that I’ll never be fashionable. When I review my 8 pieces, only one the green brocade hotpants could possibly be encompassed in that most dreadful of phrases, ‘fashion forward’. It’s not my gift. If it was, I wouldn’t be hiring a personal shopper.

I’m no less anxious about this trip. The Italians will quite likely mutter ‘Che brutta’ as I go past. But I can at least say that at last, if Valentino ever did make a gown in a size 18 I might have the insight and the clarity to carry it off.


The (highly delayed) importance of sorry

* Due to technical difficulties, all posting ceased from 21 March (the day I wrote this), but hopefully I am all go now*

Uncharacteristically, I spent most of my day in Parliament House.  I am no political animal at all.  In fact, I find the public behaviour of our elected members (which are the only bits I get to see through media) to be distressing and at times offensive.  So for me to spend a day in Parliament is a big deal.

Why was I there?

To hear the still Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, deliver an apology to people affected by forced adoption practices in the past.

But before I talk about that, I want to share some of the dream that I had this morning.  My dream director is amazing.  She delivers (quite regularly) dreams of stunning clarity and perception.  So in this dream, I wake up in bed, and I know that my home has been sold out from under me without my knowledge or consent.  In the bed is a baby, who speaks to me.  She tells me she is in pain.  I stroke her and massage her in an attempt to make her feel better.  I look to my left and see a funeral cortege passing by the house.  A woman comes in and speaks to a man who I now realise is in the room.  She talks about their ownership of the house.  I respond that she may own it legally, but certainly not morally. 

This dream captures so much of the drama that happened today in the Great Hall.  The distinction between adult and child, and between legal and moral positions.  A stream of people in mourning, and most importantly, a baby in pain.

If I had been able to speak all those years ago like the baby in my dream, here’s what I would have said.  I need my mother.  I am small, and frightened and helpless.  I know this one particular woman, I know the sound of her voice because I heard it while I was growing inside her.  I know her smell.  I recognise her voice.  Hers alone.  I want her.  And more importantly I need her.  Her alone.

But that’s not what happened. 

A lot of people managed to persuade themselves that children of mothers who were not married did not feel in the same way that other babies did.  They managed to convince themselves that in some way, we didn’t feel like normal human babies.  There was, apparently, something about the wearing of a white dress and a gold ring and the power of certain words uttered by certain people in certain places that granted children born to that woman the right or the ability to feel.

This is not new in history.  Discrimination has taken many forms in human civilisation., but usually around religion, skin colour, and gender.  And usually, being a member of that group meant that wider society, the ones with clout, managed to impose a view that denigrated their human-ness.  My mother was not married to my father, and that meant that we were all treated as something less than fully human.

At the other end of the spectrum, the parents who adopted me also had equivalently damning fictions foisted upon them.  They had lost two children.  One after a day of life.  The second was still born.  They got told that they wouldn’t notice the difference.  That they wouldn’t miss their babies.  And, that the baby they adopted wouldn’t know the difference.

 It was a colossal lie.  Governments and institutions around Australia participated in perpetuating that lie for decades.  Adoption is founded on loss.  Grief, pain and despair are at its core.  The apology today, building on the apologies given in various state legislatures, recognises that truth.  It is long overdue.

I love the fact that it was delivered on the equinox.  The equinox is a time of balance between light and dark.  As I wrote in the memory book today, I hope that this day will mark a moment in time when the everyone who was affected by forced adoption can find balance between the losses of the past and the hope of the future. 

 Because life, however gnarly, however bleak at times, has great promise.  I send my love out to everyone, with my deepest wishes that all of you, regardless of where you sit in the adoption triangle, experience kindness, peace and beauty in your life, now and for evermore.