far above rubies
What to write? Where to write? I bought a new journal from a street trader in Manhattan. My old journal is running out of pages and I’ve been glad of the opportunity to move on after six years of writing between its purple velvet covers. That journal was bought in Northampton, Massachusetts before the year turned to zeros and its pages record single adventures, multiple misadventures and much angst. It is the journal of a twenty-something. Pages are bloodstained – notably, with pierced nipple blood – as well as ink stained. I’ve been feeling constrained by it recently – I’m ready to end that chapter.
I’ve been looking for a new journal for a few months – knowing that on a purely personal level a journal is epoch making and that a new journal cannot be bought without care. I had an idea of what I wanted and I found it, as I hoped I would, while I was looking for something else. It is beautiful: leather bound with a design embossed on the cover. The trip to the US, now I come to think of it, kept throwing up issues of worth. I showed my new journal to a dear, dear friend and she smiled, was a little amazed, a little overawed: “I could never write in something so beautiful; I need scrappy notebooks.”
For the NY leg of my trip, I stayed in Queens with a co-worker who I didn’t know well. Over the course of my visit I learnt a lot, too much, about – let’s call her – Andie. I told her that I wanted to shop while there – I had a list of items that I needed to buy and would like to purchase with the flimsy dollar rather than weighty pounds sterling. Accompanying others while they shop is not something I enjoy so I was surprised that she wanted to come with me – particularly as she has always seemed careless about clothes.
Andie is large, not terribly so by American standards, but certainly larger than is healthy. Andie has a nervous laugh and is self-deprecating to a fault. She has all the “right” books on her shelves: literature, feminist theory, cookbooks. I was envious of those books – there was some overlap, but I don’t have such an extensive library. Andie is married to an out-of-work animator. Andie and I share enough common characteristics to make me uncomfortable with the comparisons. And yet, and yet.
I value myself. This shows itself in many different ways. Where I write is important to me – I am going to take intense pleasure in the decadent leather-bound journal. I will, when it makes sense to me, spend money on clothes. I will choose clothes on the basis of what makes me happy rather than on the basis of cost (where happiness is expressed by an equation where cost is a factor, but so are colour, cut, material and feel). It has taken me a long, long time to get here. Before TA started to encourage me I too chose clothes as some kind of penance: will it wash well, not show dirt, is it practical?
Is fat a feminist issue and is fashion a means of oppression? Can self-worth be expressed by eyebrow waxing or can a person’s politics be worn on their sleeve like I often wear my heart? I’m not sure I know the answers as well as I used to.
The cookbooks were well thumbed but unused. We ate takeaway and breakfasts in a diner where they knew Andie’s order in advance. Andie wore clothes with an air of disdain and a seeming ignorance of the stains on them, but in quieter moments it became clear that this wasn’t a matter of mind on other things, but rather a painful avoidance: mind over matter. Comedy earrings suggested that she couldn’t take self-decoration seriously while an absence of mirrors made me wonder if she couldn’t bear looking at herself.
I don’t care a fig for fashion. You won’t see me sporting tulip skirts or tartan city shorts this season, but I do care for style and happiness. If your style makes you happy then that’s fine by me, whatever that style may be (furry, bright, anarchic, fetish). Just don’t try to tell me that you’ve captured the moral ground with your low self-esteem because I won’t be able to prevent myself from trying to show you how beautiful you would be if you stopped hating yourself.