Black dresses, fancy aprons, humanity, shame: Announcing the Uniforms of September

Everyone! The Uniforms of September Street Team players have shared their choices, and I’m pleased to announce their public commitment to wearing these things, and (mostly) only these things, September 1-30.

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Also, I’d like to fill in a gap I think was left in the article which inspired this project (“Why I Wear the Exact Same Thing To Work Every Day by Matilda Kahl for Harper’s Bazaar). The gap is the question of what to do with the 90 seconds or so gained when a person’s wardrobe choices have been forcibly narrowed.

Maybe it’s more than 90 seconds, maybe add a few more for when you check yourself out in the mirror and go “wait, this isn’t working” and change into something else. Maybe that happens every fourth day or so? So, total, that’s probably about nine minutes per week of brand-new free time. The assumption might be that we’re supposed to use the extra time to get to work faster. If so, I don’t think the exercise would add much value to our lives.

I propose instead that we blow that newfound nine minutes on something great. Something new. Something we’ve been craving, and it’s clear that we are people who crave or we wouldn’t voluntarily sign on for a 30-day wardrobe challenge.

I didn’t warn the Street Team about this, so in addition to announcing their uniforms, I’ll go ahead and suggest what they might do with their luxurious new pocket of time.

We will start with Rachael, who is an excellent example of how this whole deal is different than the kind of uniform you wore for high school tennis or whatever. Because it’s basically just a narrowing-down of whatever you like best or have the most of or both:

rachael

Variety, but with a theme. Choice and theme are the things.

Rachael is superextremely well-rounded, what with running marathons and biking marathons and publishing and teaching and getting a Ph.D. She does all this is because it’s how she was raised. Woman has a work ethic. You grow up reading books and weeding baby graves, this is how it plays out. I suggest Rachael use her newfound nine minutes per week to do absolutely nothing of substance. Watch recommended cartoons. “Recommended” like you can go so far as YouTube but don’t search for anything, just let the Internet feed you whatever. Empty silly candy, Rachael. You and your work ethic can work it off later.

Here’s Greg:

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Greg’s got a bunch of jewelry thanks to frequent world travel. It is way too ridiculous for work. So guess what? Now it’s his uniform! This is now exactly and only what Greg is wearing to work. It’s his travel stories told without anyone having to fake-seem interested in his photos. Yay Greg! Yay uniform!

In addition to his bigdeal day job at MSU, Greg is an artist, and his giant multimedia portraits of people he’s encountered during all that travel are stunning. I would personally like to show them at the Arts Center of Saint Peter just as soon as he’s ready, which means as soon as he’s produced about 40 of the things. Therefore, for Greg’s nine minutes per week I would like him to daydream about the next piece. No, daydream about the opening reception, which will be spectacular. Hell, Greg, your plan here is so clean and simple, just take an extra-extra ten seconds per day and dream about both.

Here is Juana:

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Juana goes around like she’s an artist but in my experience she seems to operate from a mindset of strategy and efficiency not usually associated with the artsy. To wit, she has a clause:

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On one hand I’d like Juana to keep working at the Arts Center, but on the other, I can see where she’d make a good supreme court opinion-writer which I guess would mean she’d first need to become a judge. So for her nine minutes per week I suggest Juana think about how to fold law school into the mix along with the grad degree she’s doing at the moment, running the Arts Center’s clay studio and getting her daughters to Taekwondo. It’s fine that I’m saying this. It’s always ok to suggest adding one more thing to somebody who already thinks about hyperbolic space for fun.

And here is Michelle:

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This I love. It’s uniform-upon-uniform, functional-upon-classy/dressy, the dirtiest of things upon the one thing we all know should not cannot get dirty: The white blouse. THE white blouse. What Michelle has here is a juxtaposition of different kinds of elegance, both of which play with boy vs. girl, clean vs. dirty, white collar vs. clay collar (that’s my new fashion term for professional potters — you are welcome, potters!). It’s just all-around really good.

Michelle has been through a whole lot of loss due to a tornado, and then recently, more loss due to a house fire. She’s been through those big things and more. You know what I suggest Michelle do with her 90-or-so-seconds per day? I suggest she save it until the uniform has been donned, and everything feels really good, and then she should walk up to a mirror and say: DAMN I look polished and complete. Because she does, and she’s learned how to get there from scratch a few times over. I would say her new nine minutes per week would be well-used on self-back-patting.

Also I love what Danielle is doing:

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I don’t know Danielle very well but she strikes me as a creative who could go for miles and miles in many different directions. She’s done a hardcore job here of limiting her choices, so that probably gets her way more than nine new minutes per week. But then add laundry time, because we are talking about a single t-shirt and I don’t know if she has multiples, but then again laundry time is also good thinking time. God, Danielle, I don’t know if this means you have an extra hour per week, or just the nine minutes, or what. I do know that your purist interpretation of “uniform” entitles you to the most varied possible use of any new time it provides. So my suggestion is that you balance the admirably severe limitation of A-line-denim-skirt plus Campbell’s-Soup-t-shirt with as much free-falling creative chaos as you can handle.

Here’s mine:

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The leather strips are cut from discarded remnants of luxury handbags and stuff like that. Some of them are scarred and most of the cuts are jagged. They are fantastic.

So is all the copper I keep buying from local artists. Do you have any idea how easy it is to justify spending money on local art when it’s basically your job to encourage people to buy local art? Not to mention when the stuff looks like this:

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Check out how the copper is all pocked and lovely. Check out how it looks so completely at home and happy to be on a hand that’s slowly turning into the hand of a much older relative whose veins are popping out. You can see why the leather and the copper are the main things of my uniform.

You can also see why I need to spend my newfound nine minutes per week with this:

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I found it on my bookshelf recently, a gift from a friend a while back, and at the time of the gift I was like mmmm hmmm that seems like an interesting read (but I didn’t read it). Since then I’ve taken to writing about personal style as if it’s the most important thing in the world. Probably a good counterpoint to that would be exploring something far far away from vanity, which is what Martha Nussbaum‘s got going on here.

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I’m excited about this. Excited to read this stuff in the morning, and then think about it while I wear my fancy September getup to do stuff like, say, empty the Arts Center’s dehumidifier. Quick-clean a toilet after a kids’ group blew through the galleries. Which, now that I’m thinking about it, might make a nice photo gallery. Oh my God.

So this is the game we’re playing, Rachael and Greg and Juana and Michelle and Danielle and the rest of the self-appointed Uniforms of September Street Team (it’s only September 1) (you can still self-appoint, everyone else!). You look so great already. Really. I’m excited to hear how it goes, how you liked what you wore, and what you thought about instead of what to wear.

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Happy wearing! Happy September! Do keep me posted. And, read more about my life-changing new crush on copper in the November issue of Mankato Magazine.

My friend Jen looks supercute in her new health care directive

Today I had the honor of notarizing my friend Jen’s health care directive. She has a great new haircut, so our conversation was pretty much fifty-fifty.

kinda short

This prompts me to remind my friends that you guys, I’m completely available to notarize your health care directives and read your Fashion Tarot at the same time.

notary + tarot = OF COURSE

Not a general Tarot reading to warn you about which boxes you should check on the directive. I can’t help with that. I mean Fashion Tarot, as in, how to plan for a great-looking exit. An exit that has dignity. Honestly lovingly vain, with a dusting of good taste. I mean, you don’t want people putting you in an outfit that’s only in your closet because you spent so much money on it but you actually hate it because it’s the interview suit that didn’t get you the job. Or it’s some v-neck thing you kept meaning to give your younger, bustier sister. Who needs that at their own visitation? Call me because I can help.

We can do couture, like Mark Mitchell Burial. Gorgeous stuff.

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We can do organic. You would look so good as a tree. I mean SO GOOD.

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We can talk to deathxpert Rachael Hanel about how to document the whole ordeal with flair.

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Bottom line, though, is that you should do your plan. If you’re a Mankato Clinic person, they’ll bug you about it at your next appointment anyway.

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So just write up your stuff, and then call me. Seriously.

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My notary commission is valid through January 2015. My desire for you to look good is ETERNAL.

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Border Protection won’t let me give you the good stuff

The last thing I did before I left South Africa this week was buy all this great food to bring back for everybody. Tasty stuff. Ostrich pâté, springbok pâté, crackers called Salticrax which aren’t exotic but the name is funny even if you’re sophisticated, like me. Supersophisticated. Look how poised I am while the manager at the duty-free shop takes back all my stuff once he realizes I’m American, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection doesn’t allow meat. And the Salticrax aren’t that funny on their own.

i tried to bring meat

This left me torn between sadness over not having any treats to bring to work on Monday, and excitement over looking non-American enough that I got away with buying this at all. If that’s why it happened. I’m pretending it was. While I sort that out, here are some hassle-free souvenirs:

For Claudia, an undead flower.

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For Brian who’s been painting and posting the most contagious black lines in search of his Black Madonna, a tavern wall.

bar wall lines

For the Black Madonna.

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For all my artistically risky friends, and the regular risky ones.

at the bar in neiu bethesda

For my friends who worry about size of their ass or anything else.

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For my friends who brew their own. This was in the yard of a microbrewery where Scott accidentally ordered a popular lager and the proprietor said, man, you’re at a microbrewery, you’re being insulting. We re-ordered. The head was impassive.

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For Jacob who enjoys a roadside skeleton.

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For Rachael who is macabre.

unkempt lovely

For Amy who thinks about decorating her rafters.

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For Goth Mom whose shadows are delicate yet terrifying.

also at the bar

For Launa who would wear these quite well.

for launa

For Shandy, the only woman in the Western world to wear a baby as stylishly as Africans do. Check this out, with a bath-sized towel. Every mother there does it just like this. I don’t know how the baby doesn’t fall out backwards or why this looks so right.

for shandy

I don’t know why I’m cursed with hair that won’t turn into soft dreds.

i wish i had more hair

It’s possible that I haven’t surrendered enough, yet, to something. A shampoo-free life. Something.

god first

This is for Scott and Becky who showed me a version of surrender, the version where Scott drives an hour in a traffic jam to a city that’s closed.

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To see the lights.

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Hello from Gandhi to Jake.

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Also for Jake.

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And here’s a little take-home for me so I remember how it felt to spread out my pencils in front of a breathtaking tableau and then remember that I can’t actually, like, draw. I can’t draw big things.

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I tried anyway, of course, artistic risk and blah blah blaaaah. That was enchanting for only so long. About this long:

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I was so blank in the face of that, I went up to the edge of the pool and took a picture of that instead. Like, fine. If the sky’s going to be that way I’ll just see what’s in the pool.

the lion pool

The pool was at Glen Garriff Lion Farm in Harrismith, where I also got to see this. I watched and watched and watched.

not from a can

To simulate my experience, imagine that it’s chilly but the sun is relentless. Imagine smacking sounds and tearing sounds, longer and more luxurious than noises you can make yourself. But you can try. After a while you maybe can’t help it. There you are in the sun and the stillness, watching this, not a single canned thing for miles and miles. I mean hectares. Just this, and this is everything, and it stuck in my eyes and ears and now I’m giving it to you, and Border Protection can’t really do anything about that.

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It’s time to talk about my hair again part two: Ecstasy

My friend Rachael Hanel wants to start a green cemetery but she’s not sure how. Here she is in a regular one.

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“Green cemetery” meaning  “…as natural as possible in all respects. Interment of the bodies is done in a bio-degradable casket, shroud, or a favorite blanket. No embalming fluid, no concrete vaults.” (Courtesy of greenburials.org, a good starting point for the biodegradable-curious.)

Rachael gets the mechanics of it, but she’s like, what about the politics? How do you convince a community to zone for this and fund it when most believe embalming is more respectful, more beautiful?

My answer to that is a) sex and b) my hair. Politics follow pleasure and vanity, so the key to making natural burial politically and socially desirable is sexing up the notion of decay. Los Angeles mortician Caitlin Doughty gets at this in her essay on natural burial. In it, she says:

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If we work towards accepting, not denying, our decomposition, we can begin to see it as something beautiful. More than beautiful— ecstatic. The ecstasy of decay begins as disgust and revulsion, the way we feel when we imagine ourself as a corpse. But disgust and revulsion turn to pleasure as we use that feeling to realize we are alive now. We will someday be dead, but today blood pumps through our veins and breath fills our lungs and we walk the earth.

I’ll do us the favor of translating that into women’s magazine language and say that hey, ladies, if we all anticipated decay the way we once longed for hips and first periods, we would feel really good about grays. We would feel excited and great. We’d be, like, did you get yours? I got mine. My mom said to hide it but I’m not.

Because gray hair and all the other stuff happening right now, to me and my friends, means things are unfolding as they should, that we’ve made it this far, we’re about to get the rights and privileges entitled to a woman of this age and stature.

I’m not sure what those are but I also wasn’t sure at thirteen at some hotel pool in Wisconsin, when I was leaving the pool area in a green one-piece that had a single shoulder strap, just one, I don’t know why my mom let me buy it but thank you, and I turned around and this one kid and his friend were still looking. And I was like, ok, I don’t know what this is but it’s something.

I would very much like to do my part to elevate decay to that same place. My friend Claudia Danielson has been onto this for a while. Here’s a shot from her series titled “botanical benediction.”

claudia's decay

This is a hotly inevitable flower. Delicate and yet far more sure than you are, right now, of anything. Does not care what you think. Does not care if you’re looking. Pink whether it’s the pink you expected, or not.

And here’s me on a day I showed up at Claudia’s studio in a sad state, really distraught, about what I don’t remember but it was bad. The kind of ache that makes decay sound a little like a vacation. I went on and on about it, and Claudia was like, hey, before you start feeling better, can we shoot this?

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I like how the eyeliner is really pretty worthless up against the pores and split ends. I think my chicken pox scar has never looked better. And I like to think that by growing out my gray and making some art with it, I’m advancing Claudia’s work and Caitlin’s mission and Rachael’s vision, and possibly saving the world from so much matchy-matchy casket + collagen + embalming fluid + L’Oreal box color.

You guys. Stray gray hairs are the new green strappy one-piece. I’ll be over at the decomposing hotel pool. Feel very free to join me.

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What an editrix wears to the acknowledgment ball

It’s official! With this week’s arrival of my copy of Christopher Fisher’s A History of Stone and Steel, I am the most-acknowledged person in my writing world. Chris acknowledged me among his critique buddies. It’s a very macho book.

faith hope bootsThe University of Minnesota Press recently released We’ll Be The Last Ones to Let You Down, in which I’m acknowledged by author Rachael Hanel who is a hot boundless thing right now. So by association, what she said here makes me feel kind of boundless as well. Not as on-fire as the display font at the top, but like the rule underneath it. Well-spaced and ready.

gravedigger's daughter saysLast fall saw the release of Amy Stockwell Mercer’s second book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Eating Right with Diabetes: What Will Work, in which I’m delighted to be acknowledged among Amy’s personal-and-private storytellers.

amy's womenAnd proud to have written the foreword, which the publisher let me sign like this:

oh what like i ever get to use MFAI don’t know if any writing programs name this as a goal, “get acknowledged,” but I think they should. It feels great. I think it would make a good category at the Minnesota Book Awards. “Most Acknowledged.” I would win the inaugural award, of course, and would strive to wear something appropriate.

what the editrix wearsSomething “taut and luminous” per the blurb on Christopher’s back cover, “macabre and lyrical” as the Star Tribune said about Rachael, down-to-earth yet bold yet low-carb for Amy, which is what she is and how she writes. I  would accessorize with a few harsh but hopeful pieces for my writing friends who are just one bleeding red edit away* from a gorgeous published page.

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*Call me.

Ann’s Fashion Tarot: Death

It’s the opposite of shopping season, today, for you. It’s your time to purge.

The regular Tarot Death card signals a loss or an ending that makes room for something new. The kind of ending that’s like, hey, I just can’t do this anymore. Because I think I want to do something else but you’re in the way.

The Fashion Tarot Death card commands you to go get some Steelsacs and spend a couple hours in your closet, and take a harsh look at everything and be real about what’s dead to you. If you haven’t worn it in a while, or you have but it failed to make you happy, or it doesn’t fit so it’s just hanging around taunting you, it goes. Put it in the bag. Get that bag to Goodwill or Salvation Army or your sister’s house or whatever as soon as possible.

This is not an easy card for a lot of reasons. You might not know where to start. You might get rid of something you’ll miss. Death is a tough one but it’s the only way to make space for what comes next. And what comes next is going to look amazing on you.

Death is sponsored by Rachael Hanel, a gravedigger’s daughter and author of We’ll Be The Last Ones to Let You Down.

Tomorrow: Temperance.