Saturday, December 28, 2013

On writing and Edward St. Aubyn

I’m not trying to uncover the facts of my life, but to discover the dramatic truth of the situations I was in. Something being hidden is a necessity before I can start writing. If I have something to say, it’s much easier for me to just meet up with a friend and say it. If there’s something that I really don’t want to say, as in Never Mind, or something that I don’t know how to say, as in Bad News, or something that I don’t even know what it is, that’s what makes me submit to the horrible process of writing a novel. It is very unpleasant. After I’ve written a novel, I feel a little bit clearer and freer than I did before, but while I’m writing it, it’s horrible, it’s intensely upsetting. But for some reason I feel obliged to go on doing it. It’s the only thing I can do. 



And also, when asked if I like writing I used to enthusiastically reply yes. Now I hesitate. Sometimes I like it- when it's like hypnosis and you're discovering the story as it flows from your fingertips in a heavy fevered sonambulance. When you know what you want to say and you have the words to say it- rarer than you might expect- then, it is smugly satisfying. Words hitting the page like arrows hitting a target, as if by reflex.

Sometimes it is like wrestling a foe you can't quite grasp, always twisting out of your grasp, barging into you where you least expected, dragging you somewhere you're unwilling to go. You can discern the dim shape of it but how to pin it down? Exhausting. It throws you back on yourself, on your abilities, on your ideas. 

At other times, I sit gaping at the silent screen, handwritten notes lapping around the keyboard. Stunted sentences that I quickly delete. I gesture emptily with my hands, prompting nothing from my shy and teeming mind.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Almost done or 'Gemma Ward, wimples and thesis writing'

Because nothing says Christmas like Gemma wearing a nun's coif ignoring her robot toy collection. 

Actually, interesting aside: I was talking the other day with some colleagues, including my supervisor, and somehow we got onto the topic of nuns. 'When are nuns going to influence fashion?' he joked and I, ever the font of arcane knowledge, piped up- well, nuns were very much in fashion in the 1930s! I found a beautiful picture the other day of Baba Beaton, Cecil's sister, on her wedding day wearing none other than a headpiece inspired by nuns' wimples:

Et voila.

Anyway I did not start this post to wax lyrical about my favourite model nor about nuns' clothes but to reflect on the startling fact that it is now mere days until Christmas and also I am writing my last thesis chapter. The very last one. Right now.

So basically you've noticed that I post less and less frequently on dear old Fashademic but I am no less fond of it nor less grateful for you for sticking with me (us?) all these years of PhDing. And... I don't know... the nearer I get to having the entire thing written and to actually submitting it, the more I find myself reflecting on the entire process and feeling so thankful for the opportunity to do it. Thankful for everyone who has helped and read and encouraged me along the way, thankful to you guys for sharing the process with me and also in a state of some disbelief that I might actually finish the project.

I mean, it's not like I doubted my ability to get it done (except for a few pale-faced moments when yes, I wondered what on earth I had signed myself up for) but more that it's such an enormous undertaking that I just took each small step as it came- read widely, write this chapter, plan and research the next one, give a paper, write another chapter and so on, until somehow I have five chapters fully drafted and another in a promising early state, seeing it all bristle and hang and build around itself.

It's sort of flourished and grown, grown with me, grown around and through me, expanded as the blogosphere changed and turned into this whole other thing than I could have anticipated when I first proposed it. Surely that happens to every PhD student- isn't there a saying that no-one would sign up for a PhD if they knew in advance how difficult it would be? I don't know if that's true but it's certainly what I expected (but better) and also not what I expected (and harder.)

But let me quit the diarising (heck, you can read all that in my Acknowledgements if you want- which, already written! high five) and give you a feel for the overall thing- because I've not told you much about what I'm actually writing about, except in snippets and the odd ramble about what I've been reading.

So... okay. I do all the position-y groundwork (why this study is necessary/important, why I did it in my discipline, what has already been said about style blogs and how my work complements or takes it further or challenges it) and then write a history of style blogs, positioning them within the context of the expansion of the blogosphere, and relation to the emergence of fashion-based blogs. I trace their shape-shifting through two main 'waves' of style blogging (did I just invent some terminology? What PhD would be complete without it, I ask you.)

Then I address the main criticism that style blogging has attracted as 'risky' and 'narcissistic' and argue that while I see how people (who don't understand the genre or who have a vested interest, but I keep this snark quietly to myself) could make that (mis)reading, they're making it on the grounds of ignorance and within a  history of criticism of women's writing. I explore the ways style blogs can be seen as sites of feminine self-representation, storytelling, sociality and agency. I get v. passionate in this chapter. I'm pretty proud of it.

Okay so then we get to chapter four which is the chapter-that-wasn't-supposed-to-be-a-chapter. But then my 5000 word plan sprawled into a 17 000 word behemoth (how am I going to cut it down? wail) on readership- what it feels like to write to an imagined but 'real' readership (hi), what it feels like to read style blogs and then how we can conceptualise the dynamics of style blog readership. It's not a conversation and it's not a community, I argue- it's something else (sorry guys, you'll have to read it to find out the conclusion. Is the suspense killing you? No? Ok.)

Then chapter five which was my biggest wrestle of a chapter- I tied together a million strands of ideas and parallel ideas and fashion stuff and photography stuff and blog theory stuff to write about the performance of style and self on the blogosphere. I still can't believe it's fully drafted. I'm a little afraid to look at it again in case it disappears in a puff of smoke and I have to do it all over again.

And then, finally, chapter six, the chapter I'm currently writing: all about style bloggers and the fashion media. I'm taking up those chestnut ideas that keep rolling back around- is style blogging a kind of fashion criticism? (well... no) What is the basis of the criticism it has attracted from the professional fashion media? (O HAI BOURDIEU) And stuff like that. It sort of rolls together the PR and media angles without going too deep on the implications of the consumptive side of it- there is just too much to say on the latter and I don't have any more room (or time).

So that's it, guys. Almost four years of thinking about personal style blogs almost all written up. The next two months will be a flurry of finishing writing, editing, rewriting, and doing prosaic formatty stuff like writing a glossary and bibliography and stuff. But I have already chosen a font (Cambria, cause it reads nicely and (more importantly?) sounds like the name of a fabric- cambric, duh), so that's the main thing. Right?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two memories of past outfits, both influenced by books.

 I am going through file after file looking for notes or articles that I've compiled over the past four years in anticipation of writing this next (last!) chapter. As I've done so, I've discovered a couple of bits and pieces that I wrote for friends' projects and forgot to give them (sorry Kate!) or wrote with the vague intention of crafting them into a personal essay before probably deciding that I should really get back to work (like I should be doing now?)

So it is that I present to you two fragments in which I catalogue two outfits that are bright in my memory for various reasons. They are not the high point of my life in clothes (vomit. My life in clothes? Aka the name of my B-grade autobiography) but they are languishing on my hard drive so here! I hope you enjoy 'em.

i.                     Not quite Claudia Kishi
 A cliché of certain girls of my generation, I too was sucked into the Stoney Brook world of the Babysitter’s Club (the BSC for those playing at home) and who should catch the eye of my fledgling sense of style than the maven herself, Claudia Kishi. The artistic, dreamy Japanese-American Vice President, whose horrifically bad spelling is only redeemed by her snazzy personal style. This is a character who would team one wooden parrot earring with one dangling plastic earring in the shape of a lightning bolt, worn with a painter’s smock, ripped jeans, mismatched knee-high socks and platform sandals. In other words, just the type of bohemian visual supernova that a girl like me yearned to emulate, stranded as I was in suburbia and awash in peers who lived their lives in the almost-but-not-quite surfbrand labels Hot Tuna, Bad Girl and Cheetah.

I remember staring nervously into the depths of my built-in cupboard, pushing the flimsy chipboard sliding door as far over as it would go to try and make my scant collection of clothes seem more full of prospect. It seemed best to build my homage to Claudia with the clothes I wore least, in the surety that combining them would, through some alchemical process, render them as cool as her vintage blouses and acidwash jeans sounded. I built a winning ensemble around a sleeveless onesie, made of that hypercolour fabric that that turns a different colour in flushing splotches at the application of heat, be it from the iron or (embarrassingly as I got older) the clammy heat of armpits and the small of my back. My onesie was a pale coral colour and I dressed it without a shirt underneath, with socks under rubber thongs and one earring. The effect was, if somewhat unusual, dashing. I stepped out of my room in a slightly anxious flush of suspense, waiting for my mother’s gaze (and judgement) to fall upon me. “You are not going out in that!” Instantly, I felt deeply misunderstood, indignant. It was as if a phantasm of Claudia rose behind me, stood at my right shoulder and egged me on. “But it’s like in the Babysitter’s Club, Mum! I’m like Claudia Kishi” Her steely gaze ended the discussion and I dragged my resentful self back into my room.

ii.                   Not quite a Sweet Valley twin
Years later, I experienced a similar scorn at the behest of my peers at youth group. Again indoctrinated by the style of American girl culture, I was inspired by the jaunty layering of the girls with Whitsundays smiles of Jessica Wakefield and the Unicorn Club. Luckily for me, I was the proud owner of a shrunken knitted vest that Mum had let me choose from the Recycled Rags stall she co-ordinated at our church fête every year. It was just the thing, and to hold it and know it was mine was a fierce pleasure the likes of which I had rarely felt before. It was the hungry pleasure of having something I had longed for without knowing I longed for it, visceral in the teeth-sinking satisfaction of it. It was not only a matter of replicating what those girls looked like but somehow, by imitating them, to be made in their likeness so that I too would be effortlessly social, smiling, beautiful. Such were the inarticulate longings of my fourteen-year-old self.

Unfortunately, the other girls at youth group had missed the memo. I could not have anticipated their response as I dressed, but I only thought of them in an abstract way, anyway. They were shadows flickering at the corner of my mind which, like a mirror, was reflecting the dream self I desired to be with the real fleshly self hastily buttoning my blue sateen Miss Shop blouse, this corporeal teenager hurrying to the chimerical self lingering in the play of possibility, of shadow and light. I wore a short skirt- it must have been black- and blushed pre-emptively at my daring. The blue shirt smoothed over my flat chest and over that, the precious white wool vest, with its two pearlescent plastic buttons at the nape of the neck. It was slightly cropped, allowing the dovetails of the blue blouse to skim free and visible at the bottom.

I brushed my hair up, shimmering with nervous excitement. The collision of my desire with the gentle weight of these garments had heightened my senses, so walking out of my front door to the church next door, I was keenly aware of the setting sun, its rays too distant to carry warmth in their dying glow. I smelt the early back-burning on the evening air, the hale smoky tang at one with the residual heat of the day, like a wave absorbing my clammy palms, my heart which was primed with the anticipation of being the height of fashion.  Proud and a little uncertain, I walked into the loose cluster of girls congregated around the frangipani tree bordering my garden and the church property.

So they stood in knee-length boardies, singlet tops with spaghetti straps or Chesty Bonds singlets, the thinness of their cotton fabric countered by the juicy colours they were manufactured in that year, the hot magentas, tangerines and limes at odds with the black and blues of the favoured boardies of all discerning Year Eight girls at the time. “What are you wearing?” squawked Deirdre. She was tall, broad-shouldered and new to the group. She came with the vague threat of being from the same school as all the rest, with a reputation of being a bit of a bully, the kind of girl you needed to befriend before she could decide she didn’t like you.

“You look dumb! Why are you wearing two tops? It’s too hot.” But worse than her scornful scattershot sentences was her laughter, bitchy and genuine. And dumb I was in the face of her smirk. How could I explain what that outfit had meant to me? The sophisticated edge I had inhabited a moment before disintegrated and left me exposed. The shame that had lain latent on the other side of the knife’s edge of my risk enveloped me. I was suddenly convinced that I did indeed look silly, that my layering was redundant, my skirt too short.

I fled back home, deaf to the calls of the youth group leaders bringing up the rear, rounding everyone into the church hall for games. I don’t remember what clothes I grabbed to replace the scorned outfit but I do remember being deeply relieved that I only lived next door and that, most important of all at fourteen, that none of the boys had been there to witness my gaffe. 

(And I guess it’s lucky for me that I never got it into my head to emulate Anne Shirley’s puffed sleeves or Laura Ingalls Wilder’s pinafores or things could have got a whole lot more interesting.)

(One day a psychologist is going to explain the significance of how my identity was shaped by the books I read. Things happen to me and in reflection I decide something like 'it's okay, it was also like this for Emily' (of New Moon, duh).)

Fake fashion gossip column and lobsters, because why not?

And also, another scrap I just found that I wrote I don't know when. Surrealism and the influence of Schiaparelli, lobsters on leashes and the liquid sleaze of old gossip columns come together in something entirely without purpose but also a little bit amusing (... at least to myself.)

Wallis Simpson by Cecil Beaton in the infamous 'Lobster Dress' by Schiaparelli.

In and on fashion – with C.C. Greene
There is a curious fad at work among the fashionable set in this jewel city. The well-heeled and those that aspire to be like them have taken to walking out with sea creatures affixed to their wrists by long leashes. 

The muse behind this no other than Madame Hortense Poncy, whose recent arrival from Paris caused quite the stir. Alighting from her private jet in a black silk opera coat with a pair of cat’s-eye pince-nez, she cut quite a dash from the outset not least because of the lobster, “Bobby”, which trailed from her elegant wrist at the length of a diamond-encrusted collier and leash. We have it on good authority that the collier is comprised of no less than thirty-six emerald cut baguettes claw-set in platinum. Created by Cartier especially for this coddled crustacean, it was designed especially to withstand the pressure of Bobby’s claws and the general wear and tear of rubbing against his flaming carapace.

No sooner had photographs of Madame Poncy and Bobby appeared in the society pages than raffish young men and society dames alike were sighted out and about with leashes of their own. We noted rising artist Derwent Kirkpatrick walking down the centre of Darlinghurst’s Stanley Street with a ribbon extending from each gloved fist, two glimmering goldfish keeping pace in the gutter as he strode by in creepers and a velvet-trimmed cordovan.  

On a slightly different note, Lady Alice Stevenson, formerly Miss Wagga and now the pride of Woollahra, appeared at last week’s Rojane Pearls 'Gems of the Sea' launch with live seahorses plaited among the South Sea shiners in her auburn curls. She intermittently sprayed them with Perrier to keep them alive, and the curling and uncurling of their tails made a charming accompaniment to her Madame Grés frock and lambskin sandals.  

Watch this space, Sydneysiders. Surely it can only be a matter of time before octopi leap off our plates and onto our hats and we hang live crabs from our earlobes!