Tractor Pull

Unlike those romantic beings who imagine farming as a bucolic and sweet, easygoing fairytale of a life, I am thoroughly undone by the thought of a mere day spent living like a farmer. I don’t doubt that those who choose it can find beauty and joy in many times and places therein, but the sheer intensity of labor and the long, relentless hours required for such a way of life would be utterly and overwhelmingly consuming to a weakling like me.

Still, I have tremendous admiration and gratitude for the work that farmers of all kinds perform, and I am far from immune to the attractions of magnificent farm animals, crops and all of the tools and implements and structures that make farming possible. For starters, I would have a pretty meager diet and little to wear if it weren’t for farmers, so I’m very conscious of the gifts and comforts that are mine by virtue of their hard work and the gifts and sacrifices that they and their charges bring to my existence. You should all be thankful for the clothing contributions I receive if for nothing else, given that otherwise you’d be stuck seeing me flouncing around garbed in nothing more than what I could manufacture from leaves and bark, and that’s a frightening thought.

But it’s no surprise that in addition to my love of what farmers and farming do to give me a richer existence in such practical matters, as a visually obsessed person I am also admirer and fan of all of the beauties that are part of the seen aspects of farm life. I know I’ve mentioned this before in many ways, celebrating those subjects and objects that enliven my dreams and strike my fancy among rural locales and sights as well as vintage and battered, heavily used and aged, Stuff. If I’m not obsessed with the loveliness of rural life, I’m at least a serious admirer of its visible characteristics.

Not smallest among these delights are all of the wonderful and sometimes mysterious machines that populate the properties of farmland. I may lack any ounce of desire to operate any of them, not least of all because I know how hideously dangerous many farm machines are, but I do love to see them, whether in action or at rest. The latter, truthfully, is all the more appealing when it’s of a machine that is so long and hard used that it can’t be operated any further no matter how much elbow grease and baling wire is applied, and it now resides as a totem on the front forty, weeds or flowers embracing its long-flat tires and curling up around its blasted motor. When I think of it, perhaps that’s because I like the thought that I will be held in such an embrace, metaphorically, in my old age. In any case, as I wander through the farmlands along the way of my own life’s passage, I do find they have a great pull on my soul.photo

Flantasia

graphite drawingThe Warbling Flantical

Upon a promontory sat the Flantical, in coat and hat,

In curled toupee and beaded gloves (the sort his sort of person loves),

And sang a tune so bold and sweet, a choir gathered at his feet

And joined their voices, fine and strong, to this his pure and sacred song,

Admiring both his vocal fire and handsome mien in that attire,

And so anon, the Flantical and choir closed their canticle

And all dispersed, but all retained the melody that still remained

In head and heart; that is the story born upon that promontory,

And each Flantical now loves to sing it, wearing beaded gloves.digital illustration

Fashion Simplified? Forget the Frills, Get a Guy Guide

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What’s good for women to know about clothes is not really all that different from what men ought to know. First, of course, *wear* some! Unless you’re in a nudist colony. That’s a different topic for a different day, no?

Never has anyone suggested I was especially stylish, let alone a fashion maven. I wear dresses or skirts, and have even been known to kick up a pair of high heels from time to time voluntarily. In fact, I’ll admit to being so stereotypically girly as to like jewelry and shoes just a little more than it strictly healthy for my wallet.

Frilly, however, I am not. I feel ridiculous, conspicuous even trying on stuff with too much twinkle and ruffle, and am compelled to do a quick Coco Chanel obeisance and remove an item or two from my ensemble if I feel over-decorated. Sometimes, in truth, nothing beats slipping into the most user-friendly jeans, those worked almost to death and not pre-aged by some corporate design slave, until they are softer than bunnies’ ears and they conform precisely to my every nook and cranny, however unflattering that may be. By the time any clothes achieve this magical status, of course, they are generally worn so thin despite any and all repairs that even a ghost would put her knees and elbows right through them. Pity, that.

In any case, I suppose for the most part what would best serve me as style advice is what would do for most men. The males I know are more willing to admit, most of them, that the primary goal is comfort and all else had best conform to it. But even the least conformist among my male compatriots also recognize a need to appear appropriate for business and social occasions, if only to get along smoothly.

My solutions, for the guys and me both, are simple and few. Stay unfussy. Basic, classic shapes, relatively few or subtle patterns, and not too much extravagantly showy stuff. Strong, comfortable, easy care materials. For me, and for lots of people, it’s great to have clothes that are wonderfully packable, so it’s as easy to travel as to hang at home.

Though I love heels and feminine looking shoes, I’ve gotten older–and, I hope, smarter–enough to prioritize health and comfort very highly and now am willing to save up longer and invest more to get better quality low heels and, hurray, flats that will still please my taste preferences. This, it turns out, is becoming a larger theme in my wardrobe: comfort still reigns, and I’m still a determined bargain hunter who is never happier than in finding a good item of clothing for under ten US dollars, but certain things are absolutely worth the extra effort and expense of genuine investment.

That category, for me, includes staple or foundation clothes like shoes and other most often worn items. My grandfather, the most serious clotheshorse in my lineage, said that you could read a lot of a person’s character in his or her shoes and the care given them. I’m not entirely focused on shoes, despite my love of them, but I tend to agree with the sentiment that well-tended classic clothes of the sort best suited (no pun intended) to the occasion make a good impression. Good shoes. Just a couple of pairs of slacks and/or skirts (or a Utilikilt!) and/or a dress or two. Pieces that are sturdily made and perfectly fitted to form will flatter your best features and cover your sins, and they won’t need to be replaced often for either getting too worn out or dated. You’re good to go for work and generally common events without worry about making the correct choice and getting by with both comfort and class.

Accessories–socks, vests, scarves, hats and watches and all of that sort of thing–can certainly change the character of a strong basic outfit and personalize it as little or much as one likes. And sometimes, these are the easiest wardrobe items to find at spectacular bargain prices, so it’s easier to vary an outfit with them than to have multiple expensive, high maintenance ensembles cluttering choice and storage.

The foundational elements of design give plenty of clues how to make the most of what clothes you have, whatever they are and whatever your personal style. On a person, monochromatic sets of pants, socks and shoes give the appearance of longer legs than the broken-line look of wearing those three in different colors. Skin toned (whatever your skin tone) shoes on a woman in a skirt or shorts make the shoes look like an extension of her legs rather than an eye stopping different color, and again, they create ‘longer’ legs. A fitted torso (shirt, dress or jacket) is narrower in proportion to its top-to-hem length and so will tend to make the man or woman wearing it seem slimmer than a loose, baggy garment. And so it goes. All of the design basics in the world, however, will not guarantee you feel comfortable or that your clothes express your personality, so while I think it’s both practical and attractive to pay attention to smart details–and ask for help if you’re not so knowledgeable about them–clothes only indicate the man, they don’t make him.

Since I long ago conceded that my philosophy of housekeeping is to make everything as easy as possible for an inveterate lazy-pants, no-iron shirts are a gift from the gods, and packable knits the virtual equivalent of wearing jammies to work. So I’m likely to break rules, if there are any, in favor of what pleases me. But you know, sometimes it really is enjoyable, if not de rigueur, to wear something tailored and crisp and beautifully fitted.

This, my friends, is one of those places where I have actually learned a few useful items over time. Behold, in this my era of crepitation, I can still learn a thing or two. Thing One: professional tailoring can make the ordinary extraordinary for less than buying custom. Wearing extraordinary things doesn’t hurt your image, unless you’re cultivating a scuzzy vibe. I won’t judge you. Thing two (and also not recommended for those polishing their grunge-meister cred): dry cleaning. While it can be pricy and is pretty ecologically objectionable, is the only way to make some tailored clothes look, and stay, the way they should. Invest in these two and, more significant even than that you will love your clothes more, your clothes will love you more, and for a longer time. That is a good investment.

But enough of this. I’m going off to find my jeans and T-shirt. My work here is done.

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Multiplication tables.

Where are They Now?

In a couple of generations, so much change! It seems to me, at this point in my life and the tiny spot where that life sits in human history, that change grows ever speedier, as well, but I can only guess at that. I do know that within the memory of my own family and friends, what was common knowledge and something like a cultural vernacular at one time within those groups disappears with the rapidity of birdseed down a squirrel’s gullet.

When I was growing up, computers were still [refrigerated] room-sized and full of punch cards that represented their binary data in concrete form, and any private individual owning or knowing how to operate one was generally a subject for science fiction and fantasy. You might think the magnitude of the gap between then and today’s ubiquity of such techno-wonders as laptops and smartphones and their ilk would carbon date me, but no, I am still alive and kicking (though not nearly so high as, say, a Rockette), and I expect that today’s marvels will have become equally quotidian and us, equally blasé about them almost before I can blink my diode-wearied eyes.

One of the more obvious markers of the speed of our cultural shifts has been our costume, at least since we started wearing clothes. I can, to be fair, imagine that–once there were more than a couple of people around wearing leaves and animal skins–there was immediately somebody on hand checking out whether the prognathous brow next door was adorned with a groovier piece of saber-tooth fur than her own, and some other body busily rearranging his gunnera leaf cape because he’d noticed with some envy that the cave dweller across the way had added another leaf to his ensemble for a hat, giving him a little more screening from the notice of passing pteranodons.

So eventually, we arrive in the present day, when there are still a few ladies alive who can remember wearing middy blouses, and their granddaughters instead wore midi skirts. And in the course of my life, I remember a number of fashions and popular items of clothing that have ranged rather widely and sometimes even circled back to repeat a generation later, when the young and trendy are distant enough from their original appearances to be unaware of how ridiculously out of date the New Thing looks to the people who knew it as the New Thing thirty years earlier. This tautology of togs can be amusing, mystifying, a tad mortifying, or possibly just inspiring to those who kept the ‘offending’ garments in their attics for just such an occasion or at least out of laziness and apathy. In any case, we find ourselves seeing the past replayed despite our long-ago vows to never revisit such awful and embarrassing gaffes of taste, expense and/or comfort, and as much as we might revile them on their reappearance, it’s not entirely unknown for us to readopt them along with the crowd, when they’ve become familiar again.

Where are they now? Probably right where we left them, waiting to be picked up and worn once more. Much as it pains me to admit it, you will probably eventually find me wearing, again, such vintage garb as elephant pants, soap-and-water saddle shoes, paper dresses, bobby socks, a matching crocheted vest and tam, dickeys, or perhaps just a tasteful voile pinafore over my dress. Not sure if I’ll go as far as a bustle or a farthingale, but since everything old is eventually new again, I can’t say for certain that I won’t, either. Safe to say I think it highly unlikely you’ll ever see me wearing a girdle or V-boots or armor, even if those should become familiar personal accoutrements again anywhere during my life, but I rule nothing out–weirder things have happened. And I’d hate to get too out of sync with my fashionista neighbors, don’t you know.digital illustration