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Posts Tagged ‘creating yourself’

This weekend while thrifting, I found this little piece of American history: the moon landing. It made me think, as it always does, about the incredible bravery required to undertake a thing like that. I also laughed a little, remembering how I used to get rid of overly pushy guys at college parties by telling them I thought the moon landing was a hoax. This worked in the 80s. I think now you’d either find yourself in a debate or worse, talking to a true believer. (When the flat earth society is a real thing again, there seem to be more and more folks who truly believe in a lot of oddball conspiracy theories.)

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The Apollo 11 plate also made me think about a question I frequently get from readers of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things: how did I create Wavy? I always wish that I had a simple answer, or even a complex but straightforward answer. The truth is that my characters mainly create themselves out of the random detritus that fills my brain. For example, Wavy’s name is an amalgam of two real people. I had a great-great-aunt whose nickname was Wavy and a babysitter whose name was Wyvonna. Put those two things together in my head for 40 years, and when a strange little girl stepped out of hayfield to watch a man on a motorcycle ride past, her name was Wavy. I didn’t consciously give her the name. That was just her name, from the very first draft of the first scene I wrote. When Kellen wrecked his bike and sent this little girl to call for help, he asked for her name. Before I knew anything about her, her answer was Wavonna. I also knew that Kellen, concussed and bleeding, heard only the first syllable, and so misunderstood her name and subsequently gave her a nickname that stuck. I didn’t plan any of that or make any conscious decisions about it. It just was.

I know absolutely that Wavy’s grandmother had this plate in her house. Lots of people had this plate, but not many of them would have viewed it as magical. For Wavy, six years old, thrust into a new house again, living with another stranger, the discovery of this plate connected her to her old life.

She was born on July 19, 1969, so to find a plate that marked the day after and marked such an important milestone in space exploration, it seemed like a sign to her. Proof that this was going to be her home, that her grandmother was someone she could trust.

What of that old life? Where did Wavy’s original connection to the stars come from? Her neighbor Mr. Arsenikos, who first taught her the constellations. That connection is very much about the seemingly minor detail of Wavy’s birthday as well. That first day she met Mr. Arsenikos, she was a small girl, just four, and afraid to be at home while her parents fought. Imagine knowing it’s your birthday, but having no one in your life act like it’s important, until you stumble across the old man living next door, for whom that day is also special. As Wavy notes, Mr. Arsenikos was a sailor aboard the WWI-era USS San Diego which struck a German mine and sank on July 19, 1918. The day is important to them for different reasons, but all the same, it creates a bond that is the start of Wavy’s love of astronomy.

That connection is at the heart of why she forges a bond with Kellen, a stranger who wrecks his bike right in front of her. It’s another birthday, forgotten by all by Wavy, this time made special by the universe delivering an injured giant in conjunction with the rare planetary alignment that assisted the Voyager 1 and 2 launches that same summer. For someone like Wavy, it’s another sign that she’s supposed to make that great leap of trusting someone new. She doesn’t necessarily know why it’s important, but she feels it.

This is how characters come to life for me, out of bits and pieces that ultimately fit together and mean something to the character. Rarely do I know anything about a character until they’ve walked into a scene and spoken. (Or not spoken, as the case may be.) It’s part of the magic of writing for me.

(July 19th is also Lizzie Borden’s birthday and the day in 1595 when astronomer Johannes Kepler developed a geometrical theory to explain the movement of the planets.)

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Having opened my closet and divulged my shoe secrets, let me take it one step further. Although it’s fairly straightforward to find practical shoes that will aid me in my daily commute and my dog chaperoning duties, finding cute or sexy shoes is an entirely different concern.

I’ve never been a terribly girly girl, but I do on occasion like to put on a dress and look passingly feminine. Cute or sexy, however, is a tall order when you translate them into a size 11 or 12. The vast majority of shoes simply stop being cute or feminine in my size. The sales floor model is invariably a 6 or 7, and nearly every pair of sandals, pumps, peep-toes, slingbacks, and stilettos look good in a 6 or 7. Those very same shoes in an 11 or 12 … I’m often wearing shoes that would not be out of place on a cross-dressing man. In fact, I am sometimes wearing shoes intended for a cross-dressing man.

With that taken into consideration, I present my year in shoes, the impractical edition:

myshoes2015_impractical

  1. These shoes are a time-travel contingency plan. If I wake up tomorrow as a 75-year-old woman, I am going to book a cruise, and take salsa lessons with a punishingly younger man, while wearing these shoes. They are unbelievably comfortable, obviously glittery, and they straddle that wonderful line of coquettish and old ladyish.
  2. Hard and fast rule: when you find a pair of Jeffrey Campbell platforms with 5 chrome buckles in your size on sale, you buy them. No questions. No hesitation. You buy them. Worry about where you’ll wear them later. At some point you will need to feel like an Amazonian dominatrix, and when that moment strikes, you’ll have the shoes.
  3. AutumnYou have probably gone off the Halloween costume deep end, when the shoes you’ll wear with it one time cost as much as a pair of shoes you’ll wear a hundred times. These are those shoes. Cute, but not particularly suited to anything by my Autumn costume.

Today, these shoes feel more important than they did when I wrote the practical version of my year in shoes. With David Bowie’s death, I’m reminded that clothes and shoes are more than just the coverings we wear to keep out the cold. They are also what we use to create ourselves, in the way Bowie re-created himself over and over during his career.

Our clothes and shoes can be armor against the world, or a billboard or a cry for help or a protest or a celebration. I knew this better when I was sixteen and nearly every outfit I owned was a “costume,” according to my mother. Somewhere along the way, I forgot just how much what I wear affects how I feel. I’m going to try to remember this more in 2016. Preferably while wearing those Jeffrey Campbells.

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