Friday, May 29, 2015

Elizabeth Jane Howard: Mr. Wrong

I'll be so sad when I've finished reading through Elizabeth Jane Howard's novels--only three left unread!  Mr. Wrong was a treat, especially since I read it immediately after finishing the difficult Autobiography of William Butler Yeats.

I love this pulpy cover

Mr. Wrong is actually a collection of short stories, and "Mr. Wrong," the first story, is a macabre tale of a young woman and the creepy things that happen after she buys a second-hand MG after moving away from her parents to London.  I didn't realize that EJH wrote spooky stories, and she does it well.  "Mr. Wrong" is deliciously suspenseful, with hints at gruesomeness, but is also a poignant story of how lonely it can be in the big city, the difficulty in making friends, and dealing with overbearing parents.  Other stories in the book concern failing marriages, a ten year old girl who makes desperate bargains with God in order to calm her anxiety about her mother, a brief sexual encounter on the way to the train station in Marseille, and a disturbing account of an overbearing stage mother and her daughter.  The final story, "Three Miles Up" brings us back to the supernatural, as two men on a boating holiday on the canals, take a mysterious girl on as a member of the crew.

One thing that EJH excels at is writing from a child's perspective.  Her children are so real, especially the way their half-savage behavior, and entirely alien-to-adults reasoning are depicted. Two of the stories, "The Devoted" and "The Whip Hand" are about children, and I think these two were my favorites in the collection.

If you have never read Elizabeth Jane Howard, you must. You really must, although it might be best to start with The Beautiful Visit or her Cazalet series.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Building a Professional Wardrobe Part II: What does work

We've covered what doesn't work if you're trying to create a versatile professional wardrobe. Now we'll talk about what does work. After I'd been at my job about a year, I realized I had to stop making random purchases.  I spent some time analyzing my taste, and decided that I should stick to classic, unfussy styles in navy, white, khaki, and black.  This was not a revelation, but it helped to keep this decision in mind, so that I wouldn't buy silly things on the spur of the moment, which I've been known to do.

With that in mind, I invested in six basic pieces:  A conservative-length pencil skirt, a silk polka dot blouse, khaki chinos, cotton shirt dress, cashmere tee, blue Oxford blouse (pictured with the cashmere tee).  These, along with a pair of black, lightweight stretch wool trousers, which I'd bought during my SAHM days, became the backbone of my go-to-meeting wardrobe, and still are to this day, although I don't wear the skirt and dress so much anymore because of my psoriasis.

Foundation of a work wardrobe

Six pieces is a bit thin.  At this point, the people I meet with the most are probably thinking, "Here she comes again in that polka dot blouse."  I recently bought two pairs of trousers, both navy, but one cropped and one full length, and three tops: a linen blouse, a linen tee, and a striped Breton top, in an attempt to create a basic work uniform.

I'm sure that many of you saw the article about the woman who wears the same thing to work every day.  I'm intrigued by the idea, but I don't want to wear the exact same thing every day.   A while back, fashion blogger Not Dressed as Lamb, demonstrated a way to create ten separate work outfits from four tops, four bottoms, four accessories, and four shoes.  I borrowed her idea and created my own grid.

This was a fun exercise, but when I actually tried to put outfits together, I found that they can't be combined interchangeably.  The blue linen blouse, for example, doesn't look right with the khaki pants, but it does work with the two navy pants.  I wouldn't wear the heels with the khakis, or the sneakers with the black wool trousers, which are the dressiest in the bunch. (Not that you can tell from the abysmal photography.)  All of these pieces can be worn in at least three seasons of the year, and some are suitable year round.  I have other clothes, of course--pink and blue oxford shirts, my cashmere tee, the pencil skirt, a pair of gray stretch chinos from my SAHM days that I love. For fall and winter, I would add my wool bias plaid skirt, and some sweaters, particularly a gray cashmere from Everlane that has the perfect neckline to be worn with an Oxford shirt.

Linen tee, cropped wool pants, sneakers

Navy trousers, blue blouse, ballet flats

Boring?  Yes, but I don't mind. As you can see, when I put the grid into practice, I failed at accessories.  I do often wear the red chunky bracelet and the pearl necklace, but I'm not likely to wear the scarf in the summer and I tend to wear my shirts untucked, so don't wear belts very often. It was still a useful exercise and helped me to look at my clothes with new eyes.  Those sneakers, for example, I hadn't worn in over a year, and now I've rediscovered them.  Since I work in healthcare, where a lot of people are on their feet all day, casual footwear is accepted, but sandals and open-toed shoes are strictly forbidden.

When buying work clothes, I also have to take into consideration the fact that I now ride a bicycle to work.  I wouldn't bike in the black pants.  They are the dressiest pants that I own, are dry clean only, and have a wider leg that could get caught in the bike chain.  I have biked successfully in both of the navy pants.  Chances are, as the weather gets hot, or if I want to wear something that won't work on a bike, I will pack my work clothes and wear something casual for the bike ride.  I have a pair of Prana trousers in a stretchy tech fabric that are perfect for this, and are also suitable for casual Fridays or no-meeting days.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats

I read this for the fifty classics project and because W. B. Yeats is one of my favorite poets.  It doesn't really read like an autobiography, but is an account of the literary, artistic, and theatrical luminaries he associated with.  Many of whom I hadn't heard of.  If you are going to read this, it might be helpful to brush up on who was important in the arts in the 1880's-1910's, as well as refresh your knowledge of the pre-Raphaelites.  I am familiar with Oscar Wilde, of course, and Yeats' description of how he decorated his house is one of the gems in this book.  (All white with touches of red.  It sounds like Wilde's drawing room would have been at home in any modern decorating magazine, but must have been deemed singular in the 1880s.)

Here are some pictures of Yeats.  Handsome, no?  I was so struck by his resemblance to Daniel Day Lewis, I had to make sure DDL didn't actually play Yeats in a movie.

Young Yeats

W.B. Yeats or Daniel Day Lewis?

I think we can all agree that William Butler Yeats ranks with  literary hotties such as Charles Lamb and Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Thank goodness he had the sense not to grow dreadful Victorian facial hair.

The Autobiography turned out to be a challenge.  It starts out kindly, with Yeats' memories of his childhood in Sligo, but soon you're grappling with the complex literary and spiritual societies Yeats associated with.  He was a member of The Golden Dawn, for example, a society that studied mysticism and the occult.  He was also active in a movement to resurrect Irish literature and drama.  I think of Ireland as having a strong literary tradition, and in my opinion, the Irish are the best writers in the English language.  But Yeats, of course, would have been unaware of how enormous his own contribution to Irish literature was to be, and was writing about the pre-Joyce Ireland.  The Autobiography concludes with his experiences in Sweden, accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

I don't know how to conclude this post.  I might have said that I feel enriched for having read this, but Yeats writes in the Autobiography about the limited mental capacity of people who are always trying to enrich themselves.  I never thought I was a genius, but it's unpleasant to see yourself grouped with the lumpen proletariat.  Oh well.

Let's conclude with a poem.  Yeats was my grandfather's favorite poet, and sometimes he would recite for us, from memory, his favorite of Yeats' poems.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.