Month: September 2014

Overdressed (3): On Dawn and the Now-But-Not-Yet

924069417 (1)She just has an ease about it.

Never mind that her life–in less than a month– has gone from cozy house-for-two, enviable to every local-goods-only hipster in the metropolitan area to a potentially haunted fixer-upper with a Dairy Queen around the corner.  The holes in the ceiling and the drywall on the floor, the peeling wallpaper and the lack of appliances doesn’t seem to weigh in against the previous owner’s care to plant enough variety of flowers so that something blooms in every season.


39240011Dawn is better able to teeter along the discomfort of the Now-But-Not-Yet better than me– or most people I know.  Wandering around between each falling down room in a wedding dress she wore one year earlier, she is nearly giddy with the destruction.  Tools are already in use, progress is being made.  But the progress is so slow: one tiny nail in one giant rafter in one room of a dozen rooms each day.  And Dawn is just fine.  Thriving, in fact.



39240012While the house gets into shape, Dawn and her husband live their time in a small portion of the house with two active cats and one lazy golden retriever.  It seems like a near-classic movie scenario: newlywed couple, broke down house, close quarters, ghost lady for comic relief.  And the lovely bride taking each set back and frustration with a can-do attitude and a smile.



40180023The delight of Dawn becomes your delight.  Maybe there is something to having nothing together– to have everything completely falling apart around you and not one person there to judge you for it.  What Dawn has figured out is that the falling apart is not forever, so there is time to enjoy it.  No need to get it all together at once, either.  A clean bathroom and a dish-less kitchen sink can be just the peephole one needs to see what is Now… but Not Yet.



39240007  In her bustley, heart topped, lattice-work backed wedding dress, complete and bejeweled, Dawn makes a lovely contrast.  The choice she made in that dress has brought her to this work-of-love-and-art house, and she is serenely enjoying every minute of it.  I believe that makes Dawn a lovely contrast anywhere, wedding dress or not.








Taking Pictures of Me Taking Pictures

I interrupt this blog series on beautiful women wearing nice dresses to bring you perhaps the most meta blog I will post.  And maybe the most narcissistic.  Truthfully, I am having terrible technical difficulties that inhibit me from doing what I want (which is the next installation of the Overdressed series).  That is perhaps something I choose by a life of touring with finicky and sparse internet connections.


But, since I started this blog 11 weeks ago, I have been determined to post each week, regardless of how prepared or adequate or generally stable I feel.  Like a practice in self discipline.  Or a practice in finding something to pour all of my dread into each week.


I have since encouraged my pal, Scott Tyler, to buy into the dread of blogging, and he snarkily replied by writing a blog of pictures he’s taken of me taking pictures.  And as much as he wanted to believe it was just a way to laugh off his own urge to write, the truth comes out that he is a very good writer and has particular insight into the curves and bogs of the creative process.  Not only does he engage in it on a regular basis, but he also witnesses and takes a vested emotional interest in the creative lives of others.  He, as the only other member of our band, has also become the primary subject matter of spare film over the last couple years.  A very gracious sort of soul that also happens to be extremely photogenic.


He has begrudgingly sat on this blog for a couple of months.  And I used the same pushes he pushed me with all these years, and he has finally posted the first installment of what I think will be a long and engaging series of his strangely God-view-esque perspective on the creative life.


All that saying, you should read it.  Now.  Go!

Overdressed (2): On Bethany and the Art of Regeneration.


Bethany was, at that time, a woman caught between two lives.  Or a woman caught between a series of lives.  In the least, she was a woman caught between two marriages– years from one that took her old soul like antique lace to a flame, and weeks away from one that has replaced reams of her life’s fabric.  This is not to describe Bethany in relationship to one man or another.  This is just to say that Bethany did not choose her old wedding dress for this project, nor did she violate the Sacred Rule by pre-wearing her new one.

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The 11-year-old J. Crew A-line cotton white dress was bought for her christening at the Eastern Orthodox church– and she just can’t let it go.  Not because of her devotion to orthodoxy over a decade ago– she has since disengaged with the church.  It’s just that the dress, at the time, was so damn expensive.  Buyers blues evidently can have a startlingly long trail.  But judging by the faces of the occasional icons on the walls, casually placed among the photos of her four children and fiance, the dress isn’t just a guilty pleasure.  It isn’t an anchor to history masked with denial, either.  It is a snow white declaration of re-purposing what she has to tether a long rope into a future made of better things– as Bethany described, the value of the love of self over the art of suffering.

“I have extracted all the good parts and left, traveling down this road alone, now.  Just like everyone needs to.”

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Add in a bucket of paint, and you have one of the prettiest metaphorical ropes in history.  Her house is divided by color, but united by the lived in and tenderly cared for.  A house that has the vibration of regeneration– one that held her when she wanted to leave, and forced her to paint small patches each day to help forget about the old life and marriage, “I would buy something small every day with my 50% off coupons at Michael’s to recreate the space.  Little steps.  Every day.”

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While I was surprised and delighted that she didn’t choose a wedding dress, it was apparent she chose a dress of renewal– which surrounds her every day– because she actively pursues it.  Her curtains are her grandparents dresses and tablecloths.  There is a wall of heroes who, I swore, moved Harry-Potter-painting style as she lightly tapped each one and described their importance.  And that bucket of paint.  It sits now with two brushes between the kitchen and the laundry room, resting-in-wait of the next old memory to be painted over new.  The house is mystical with the energy of a woman who has taken careful time to be brave and keep working.  Even her two black cats– Dusk and Dawn– spend most of their time beneath her feet, bewitched.

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Who I met that day was not who I would’ve met seven years ago.  Probably none of us are.  But some people– like Bethany– are able to wear their past selves remarkably well, without shame, and know that the transition is where most of their life is squeezed in.  And it is her responsibility to proclaim those times as starting new.



Also, I’ve never seen anyone eat cereal so elegantly in my life.


Overdressed (1): On First Right of Refusal

Maybe I should have taken it as an indicator– a subconscious plea to make an exit, a turn around.  What woman meticulously plans to have a wedding dress made under the specifications that she will be able to wear it again after the big day?

I had called on a local artist friend in the Asheville area to weave it: an A-line, heart topped, knee length thing with off-white vintage warp and silver (it sparkled!), orange, yellow, and burgundy weft.  After each fitting, the weaver would describe to me how to wear it after the wedding was over to make it less bells-a-ringing and more dress-up-party-down.  It was possibly the cheapest bill the entire wedding, and simultaneously the most well thought out.

I’ve worn it twice since.  Once to a dinner party to prove to myself that I would wear it again.  A second time for a photo shoot for the band, and as dress up rules apply, doesn’t really count.  All of my I-never-want-to-have-dead-real-estate-in-my-closet-when-someone-else-could-use-it’s are now best intentions, and the dress sits in the same place it does for many women: under an internally lit sign that says, “Not Yet.”


The compulsion is not just with wedding dresses.  Last year when I visited a friend and former college roommate in Louisville and admired her dress collection, she instinctively welcomed me to try them on.  And, of course, I did.  When I reached a particularly sleek, gray-nearing-drab-but-perfect-for-professional-or-winter-day-activities one, I was smitten.  Liz insisted I take it.  But then that thing happened:

“But if you get it home and ever stop wearing it, you have to bring it back.”

I’ve worn it three times in a year, but it weighs heavy in my closet.  Have I done it justice?  Should I keep it to prove that I will wear it enough? Should I return it just to rid myself of the pressure?

Of course, Liz never mentioned the dress again– even when I met up with her in Boston last week.  Likely, it never crossed her mind.  My neuroses is the only one still fixated on the dress.


As I was going through the early stages of divorce almost exactly a year ago, I made a trek to Ohio to find solace in my closest friends– who also happened to have been my bridesmaids.  We spent the days watching zombie movies and The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, eating anything that contained both chocolate and peanut butter, and considering each break in the rain as an invitation to walk the neighborhood.  We talked about what-went-wrong-what-will-I-do-what-about-everything-I-haven’t-thought-of-yet… and the dress.  What will I do with that dress?

Well, I would keep it.  It wasn’t a representation of all I had lost, it was a representation of artistry and care and beauty.  And it may be the only good thing I take away from this mess.


A few weeks later, I returned to Ohio, and found that my friend and former professor had done some life purging of her own: she was getting rid of her old dresses.  She used explanations of I’ll-Never-Fit-in-it-Again-Anyway and This-Will-Never-Be-Back-In-Style, but there was a resoluteness about her.  She was parting from a 20 something life she couldn’t return to and choosing, instead, to embrace the life of almost 50.  But not without a fair fight.

She offered the dresses to me, taking care to remove each one from its plastic sheathing, and explaining the importance and value of each one: where she bought it, where she wore it, why she stopped wearing it.  It was a fantastic assembly, as each dress bowed to its previous owner and waited expectantly for me: are you my new mother?  I chose a couple I knew I would wear, some I would alter, and some for the value of her story.  Her first date with her now husband suit was taken, not because I would wear it regularly, but so that someone would care for it the way she had.  She didn’t need the expectation of history staring her down every morning, anymore, but also couldn’t throw the over 20-year-old piece into a pile for Goodwill.  As I packed it up, that thing happened again:

“If you get home, and you decide you don’t want it anymore, I have first right of refusal.  You’ll have to bring it back.”


These attachments we make, I’m sure we all realize, are not to the dress itself, but the memory.  The day that changed our lives.  How we looked in that moment.  How much money we spent on it then, and how we still can’t forgive ourselves for it.  The hope that we will feel as happy as we thought we did when we wore it then.  And when we give it up, it’s always with The First Right of Refusal.  Here, you carry this in your closet for a while.  Prove its worth.  Validate that what I believed was true of it still stands.  Then I can let it go.  Maybe this is why mothers hand down their own wedding dresses.  Maybe it’s why some don’t.


As part of my homespun therapy, I spent a couple of months this year photographing five women in my immediate vicinity.  Mostly, I needed a friend– a whole gaggle of them– to pull me out of my embarrassed-to-be-seen-post-divorce hibernation.  Partly, I needed something to keep me busy– something good and present and focused.

I prompted each of the five women to choose a dress– any dress– that they have that they will likely never wear again, but absolutely can’t get rid of.  Then, I asked each of them to wear that dress in their home, and let me photograph them– one roll of color and one roll of black and white– as they perform their run-of-the-mill tasks  What resulted was five interesting and beautiful women with five interesting and beautiful stories that I am delighted to leak onto the internet over the next five weeks.

I gave each of them First Right of Refusal before I shared.  They declined.