Posts Tagged ‘dresses’

Do I Know You?

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

243moondoor

moon door diptych by Max Greenstreet

“Man is constantly watched by powers that seem to know all his desires and complications. He has free choice, but he is also being led by a mysterious hand.” Isaac Bashevis Singer

Some months ago I began writing a new novel. I’ve written dozens of novels in my life, published a handful of them, and when I am not writing a story or a novel or a play, I tend to feel somewhat ungrounded. I am something of a social recluse, and socializing with the characters populating my fiction is the main kind of socializing I do. This has been true for more than fifty years now; and though I do not recommend writing fiction as a substitute for forging friendships, that is what I unwittingly chose to do and am now habituated to.

As it happens, I do not “think up” my characters, nor do I devise a plot before beginning to write a story, nor do I have any idea what I might write from one sentence to the next. Thus the characters who materialize in my unfolding works are strangers to me when they first arrive, and a large part of what holds my interest in the process of writing a long work of fiction—a process that may require thousands of hours of work—is getting to know these strangers and discovering why they have chosen to come live with me.

The central character of the novel I’m currently writing—and I didn’t know she was the central character until a few days ago and a couple hundred pages into the book—is a fifty-two-year-old French woman who is writing a book about another of the characters in the book—a man I thought was the main character after I’d written a hundred pages or so. He is obviously an important character, but the French woman has emerged as the person on whom everything in this book depends.

When I hear this woman speaking to other characters in the book, it is as if she is in the room with me—her accent and way of constructing sentences definitely French. Until the last few chapters I wasn’t sure I liked her and I was somewhat suspicious of her motives vis-à-vis the other characters, but I like her now despite her many flaws. No, I like her because of her flaws, which are not really flaws but aspects of her personality that troubled me at first and now seem to be clues to who she is.

I rarely write or speak about my writing because I am uncomfortable with writers and artists holding forth about their creative processes. So why am I writing about the novel I’m writing? Because I thought you’d find what’s going on interesting.

If that is so, why am I uncomfortable with other writers and artists talking about their creative processes? Because many of the artists and writers I’ve heard talking about their art and their writing make generalizations about creativity based solely on their personal experiences. This is not only wrong thinking, as the Buddhists would say, but makes those writers and artists sound, to me, like pompous academic dimwits.

Indeed, I have several times gone from liking the work of a particular writer to despising the very thought of them and their books after hearing them make pronouncements beginning with, “All writers…” or “Every writer…” or “Most artists…” If you are a writer or an artist, please don’t do that.

So this morning I woke to a continuation of the scene I was writing last night involving my French woman. She has just returned to her hotel room with two dresses she bought in the previous chapter. She tries on both dresses, studies herself in the mirror, and to my surprise decides not to wear either dress to the party she is going to, but instead wears a long-sleeved shirt and trousers.

When she was in the dress shop having a fascinating time buying the dresses and thinking about how she wanted to present herself at the party, I was certain she was going to wear one of these dresses to the party, and that her wearing a dress was going to have a significant impact on some of the other characters attending the party. But that is apparently not going to happen now. Or maybe it is. Or maybe she won’t even get to the party. Or maybe she will get to the party and change her mind and go back to the hotel and change into one of the dresses. But maybe when she arrives back at the hotel with the intention of putting on one of the dresses, she will find the hotel on fire.

These scenarios, I remind myself, spring from trying to imagine what might happen; and that kind of guessing/inventing never works well for me when I’m writing fiction. Not knowing is the state that works best for me—allowing a less conscious part of me to run the show while the pen is moving on the paper.

Here is a passage from the first draft of The Recipes of Alexander Skåll.

Andrea undresses in a large well-lit dressing room appointed with a small sofa and two mirrors. She puts on the yellow dress, looks at her reflection, and feels terribly feminine—a feeling that fills her with anxiety.

Teresa is waiting for her outside the dressing room and leads her to a large room with floor-to-ceiling mirrors on two of the four walls—Serafina and Margarita seated in the center of the room on a black leather sofa, the fat little dog sprawled between them—one wall of the room dominated by a large window looking out at a burbling fountain on a brick terrace overhung by a Japanese maple with green leaves turning yellow.

“I like this dress on you,” says Serafina, sounding surprised. “It hangs very well on you and this shade of yellow does not fight with the red in your hair. You have good shoulders. We can make this fit you perfectly, but perhaps you will humor me and try on a dark green dress we just finish making. A little more…daring. You know?”

Men In Dresses

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

If I be not in a state of Grace, I pray God place me in it;

If I be in it, I pray God keep me so.

Jean D’Arc

Various accounts of the life of Joan of Arc, or as they say in French, Jean d’Arc, suggest that when she first heard voices urging her to wrest control of the badly beaten French armies and lead them to victory over the occupying forces of the British, she wasn’t sure if the voices were those of angels or self-delusion. I know how she feels. A week ago I woke to a voice saying loud and clear, “Men in dresses,” and for hours thereafter, visions of men wearing dresses came fast and furious.

I saw the capitol mall in Washington D.C. filled with millions of men in dresses, not kilts or robes or even skirts, but full-blown dresses made originally for women but now worn proudly and purposefully by men. Please understand: these millions of men were not dressed up as women. They were not wearing makeup. They were not trying to imitate women. They wore sensible shoes. They were merely men, the vast majority of them heterosexual, in dresses.

Why were all these fellows wearing dresses? I didn’t know, but I felt in my bones that these visions were prophetic, and furthermore I sensed that men in dresses, both the idea and the three-word expression, would play a key role in the salvation of the world along with the salvation of human society. My linear logical mind told me I was delusional, but my gut, if you will, told me I was right on.

So I wandered deep into the forest and sat at the base of a mighty redwood and spoke to the unseen powers of nature or whoever it was that had contacted me. I said, “What meanest thou by men in dresses?” I thought by using that older form of English I might entice even the most reticent spirits to join in the discussion. I was flying by the seat of my pants. I was whistling in the dark. I had no compass in my quest to understand why these bizarre visions had been sent to me.

Then I heard a voice. Well, I didn’t really hear a voice. I sensed a voice. And maybe what I sensed wasn’t technically (measurably) a voice, but more of a feeling. Yes. That’s it. I had a feeling. A feeling deep inside. Oh, yeah. And the feeling said unto me, “Enough with the olde English. By men in dresses we mean just that. Men wearing dresses. If men in great numbers start wearing dresses, trust us on this, eventually all men will start wearing dresses, unless their job absolutely precludes wearing a dress, and when the majority of men are comfortable wearing dresses and wear dresses most of the time, then for reasons we can’t explain to you yet, there will come a cognitive and spiritual sea change in how men and women think about life and the planet, and most importantly in how men and women think and feel about each other, and this sea change will spark a vast and celebratory global transition away from the paradigm of weaponry and greed and inequity, and usher in a time of peace and compassion and creative family planning that will reduce the global human population to planetary perfection within seven generations and make of the earth a paradise once more, and render humanity vibrantly diverse and creative and profoundly graceful.”

“Fine,” I said, liking the vibe of this feeling I was hearing, “but what does that have to do with me?”

“You have been chosen as the messenger to bring this news to the world. You are deeply, one might even say absurdly, heterosexual. You had two brilliant older sisters and relish the company of women, and, well, we can’t tell you the Big Reason we chose you, but believe us, it’s a really good reason.”

“Oh, come on. Why me? And for that matter, why choose an illiterate peasant girl, speaking of Jean d’Arc, and not some well-connected princess to lead the resistance? Why not invade the psyche of some macho movie star with fabulous media connections? Why an unknown middle-aged semi-recluse perfectly comfortable in trousers?”

“Sweetheart, we’ve been grooming you for this role over several lifetimes. Trust us. You’re the perfect person to lead this movement.”

“You keep telling me to trust you. Why should I?”

“We’ll get to that later. For now, how do you like these visions we’ve been sending you? Of men in dresses. Compelling, no?”

“I see all sorts of problems with your plan.” I directed my words to the massive tree, imagining my words traveling up the trunk to the highest branches and from there skyward. “First of all, assuming I could convince an initial bunch of guys to wear dresses with me, what makes you think we wouldn’t be taken for a bunch of cross dressing exhibitionists?”

“Oh, you most definitely will be taken for a bunch of cross dressing exhibitionists. Not to mention perverts and weirdoes. But since you’re so fond of referencing Jean d’Arc, remember, she was considered as nutty as a fruitcake until she proved herself otherwise. This won’t be easy. Saving the world never is.”

“Great, so I’m supposed to spend my golden years as the brunt of jokes and verbal abuse and who knows what else? Listen, I’m flattered you thought of me, but I’m sure you can find someone better suited, pun intended, to the task.”

“We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow. In the meantime, we’d like you to focus your thoughts on how you will stage your first massive Men In Dresses demonstration to achieve maximal media attention. Bye bye.”

I walked home in a funk. Being sent visions is completely different than thinking things up or imagining things. Visions are out of your ordinary. I know that doesn’t sound like a proper sentence, and it might not be proper, but it’s accurate. Whatever your ordinary might be, a vision is not of that. Not obviously anyway. Visions don’t follow logically from inklings or predilections or stuff you’ve been working on. I’ve never wanted to wear a dress. And I’ve never thought it was neato or even keeno when a man wore a dress. Indeed, men in dresses have always made me uncomfortable. What’s the point, unless one has a rash you-know-where and you’re trying to avoid chafing? So…

I decided not to focus my thoughts on how I would stage my first massive Men In Dresses demonstration to achieve maximal media attention. If these spirits had a plan, let them present it to me in full flower. And so they did. They didn’t even wait until the next day. I was eating a desultory lunch, avocado on rice cakes with goat cheese, and pondering my diet to discern if I’d eaten something that might have triggered the whole Men In Dresses concept, when a high definition vision came to me of how I would stage my first massive Men In Dresses demonstration to achieve maximal (and positive) media attention. And with this vision came a partial understanding of why the spirits had chosen me. I’m a huge fan of elegant design, and this way to stage the first massive Men In Dresses demonstration was, in the immortal words of Richard Pryor, pure pussy.

Okay. So. Brown paper grocery bags. We, the ten thousand men attending the first Men In Dresses critical mass, bring our dresses to the demonstration site in brown paper grocery bags. This is critically important. Brown paper bags are a symbol of no frills masculinity. No real man would be embarrassed to be seen carrying a brown paper grocery bag. Embarrassment is the first and largest emotional obstacle to making this whole thing work. Men, believe you me, are very easily embarrassed.

Secondly, a minimum of ten thousand men must participate in the first demonstration because any fewer than ten thousand will be, well, embarrassing. This will require a great deal of advanced planning, but there’s nothing wrong with advanced planning, especially since ten thousand men without exhibitionist cross dressing tendencies will need serious convincing about why we’re doing this and how it will not be embarrassing.

Thirdly, we will wear jeans and T-shirts and sensible shoes over which we will put on the dresses we’ve carried to the demonstration site in brown paper grocery bags, thus eliminating any worries about undressing in public or being seen carrying a dress. Eventually, men will feel perfectly comfortable traveling to massing sites in their dresses, though that will never be expected or required. The idea is to get men used to wearing dresses in public with a minimum of discomfort.

Fourthly, as stated before, no one will wear makeup or act girly. This whole movement, in these initial stages, according to my spirit guides, is about wearing dresses. Everything else, whatever that turns out to be, will follow from that.

Fifthly, I have to write a declaration, something along the lines of the Declaration of Independence, brief and poetic (in a masculine sort of way) and deeply inspiring, that will compel millions of men to become Men In Dresses.

Which is to say, I have to compose a stirring text from the dictations of the spirits. Once I have the declaration in fine fettle, I will send the speech to the seven men the spirits direct me to send the speech to, and these seven men will each send the speech to seven other men, and so on until seventy thousand men have received the declaration and one in seven commits to showing up for the first public display.

The cool thing (and a huge relief) I just learned is that if I can successfully transcribe the Declaration of Men In Dresses and the attendant Oath of Commitment To Wearing Dresses as given to me by the spirits, I will be exonerated from wearing a dress until the fourth critical massing. Here’s what they’ve sent me so far.

Beneath our clothing, we are each and every one of us naked. We hold this truth to be self-evident.

(This piece originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2010.)

Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com