"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Thursday, June 05, 2008

on the intimacy of clothing: an analysis of what's in my drawers

yes, that is my closet, but i hardly wear half of it. really, the middle shelf is all i wear and the rest are keepsakes. read on...

i'm sorting through my desk drawers at home. oh desk drawers. they're so fun to clean! don't you agree? drawers are like the limbo of office supplies and personal effects. if they get shoved into a desk drawer they're probably on their way to the garbage, but for some reason, you decide not to toss it just yet, and hide them away in the back just for yourself to find later when you're trying to cut down on all your material possessions.

i read an essay or short story a long time ago about a middle-aged man confronting the reality of his father's death. he realized he never knew his father in the way he wanted to, and now, after his father's passing, was trying to reconstruct his father's life from his possessions. in the story, the author finds his father's wallet tucked away in a nightstand drawer, and clutching it close to his heart, tells the story of the object: how its edges were worn from everyday use, how he imagined it snuggled close to his father in the back pocket of his jeans, the smell of the old leather (isn't it amazing how that smell never completely fades?), imagined the stories that wallet could tell: all the places it'd been, the kinds of things his father bought, the touch of his father's hand, the pace and rhythm of his walk as felt from a jeans pocket (i remember the story being particularly striking to me when i read it, however many years ago, b/c of the significance of the wallet being so close to his father's bum, tucked into a pocket and nestled beside his father's buttock - something so peculiarly taken for granted and yet so beautifully described that it made me wish more things could be kept in back jeans pockets.)

of course, i read that story a long time ago, but something about it lingers with me still: the idea of closeness, how use and physical contact transforms our objects into possessions. old shoes, worn and hole-y shirts...

one of my friends said recently that the idea of our bodies conforming to our clothes made him squirm. at the time, i imagined a body with the qualities of a liquid, taking the shape of its container (we are, after all, how many %'s water?) i imagined a huge fat man (or woman) squeezing into a pair of pants, and afterward, the shape of the flesh when it was declothed - the lines pressed into skin from pant creases, the bulge of stomach fat demarcating where the extra flesh flowed over the top of the waistband. yes, that was gross. but now i imagine the opposite, and think of our bodies shaping the clothing, stretching them thru wear and use, the touch of skin lingering in the fabric, the warmth exuding through the fibers.

i guess this explains my penchant for taking people's clothes. i love borrowing worn clothes. while packing and sorting through my closet for things to donate, i found a pile of clothes i'd borrowed indefinitely from my friends. almost every close friend of mine is now missing a shirt, a pair of pants, mittens, a hat, a sweater... i've kept them all this time because they really do have emotional value: i feel safe when i put them on, like i'm wearing a hug.

example: my friend John and i had a mud fight on the lawn behind Shriver Center my junior year. it was one of those spring nights when the trees are just days away from full bloom, and it was raining (i love the way night-time spring rain smells. the smell of cooling daytime pavement and saturated dirt and leaves). we got completely soaked, so we jumped in the fountain. it was wild and wonderful. we went to his house afterward and he lent me a t-shirt and a pair of old corduroy pants to change into. the pants were a little too small for him and they were a little too big for me, but i loved them. i put them on and felt like a little kid playing dress up. a week later, i gave the t-shirt back, but i never returned the pants. that summer, i packed his pants in my suitcase bound for Mongolia and wore them nearly every day (you can see, i'm wearing them here) - the air was so dry we hardly ever changed clothes.

i also have my friend Brittany's brown cardigan sweater. it doesn't fit me very well (the shoulders are bunchy), but i still wear it occasionally and hope that maybe, just maybe, it will fit this time.

i have piles of my mom's old clothes, which i love to wear and think about the prior life they had. was this the dress my mom was wearing when she met my dad? is this the skirt she wore out on their date when he proposed? i found an old color block sweatshirt that belonged to my mom which i wore all the time when i was in elementary school. i spilled acrylic paint on it once in art class and cried for almost half an hour in the bathroom when i realized i'd stained it and ruined it forever.

and i feel cliche about it, but i love wearing my (ex)/boyfriend's clothes. i found one of my ex's old t-shirts in the closet. i loved sleeping in it. i haven't worn it in about 2 years since we broke up, but i still appreciate its softness, and the smell, which i swear, still reminds me of his apartment and the Writing Center.

my boyfriend Ben lent me one of his shirts the other day b/c i was cold, and even though it didn't fit me too well (the sleeves were really long, it hung off my shoulders, the neck was really low), when i wore it, i felt safe and warm, like he was holding me close - closer than would be physically possible with just our arms alone (sometimes i wish i could pull someone into me so tight, and eliminate all the spaces between us, the way you can pull a shirt around you and your body heat fills in the remaining spaces in between). i thought of all the times i'd seen him in this shirt, the way it hung on his shoulders, the way it felt against my cheek when i hugged him, and how much i wanted to be able to take that feeling with me to L.A., when we will be half a globe away from each other starting in the fall. lucky for him, i didn't decide to steal it right then and there, though the thought had crossed my mind.

borrowing clothing is a really intimate act, like sharing a personal space with someone else. think about it: getting into someone's pants (literally, rather than idiomatically speaking, that is). walking in someone's shoes. wearing your heart on your sleeve... i'm out of examples but i'm sure there are more...

this is why i hate packing. i always go to my closet convinced i am going to cut down so much of the stuff in there, that i'm gonna donate half of what i have and make room for new things. but, i always end up putting things back on their shelves. i just can't bear to throw them out or give them away. my dad chides me for being over-sentimental, but he doesn't understand! - this is love i can take with me and tuck away in drawers...

with love and a pair of hand-knit mittens,


Rae Jin Devine said...

Have I mentioned I love you writing?

Through a negative, forlorn twist on all that and you've got my feelings about packing/cleaning.

It's simply because I've had to do it so often you see...

stephan!e lee said...

thank you very much, Rae. that means a lot coming from a fellow writer.

i've noticed my enjoyment for writing has grown since getting away from the pressure of school. what's more, the nature of my writing has changed a lot: not so analytical as before, but more feeling. and maybe more honest. more vulnerable, too.

funnily enough, i was just thinking that i should be SICK of packing by now b/c i've done it so many times. thinking back on the last 4 years, i've already had to pack and unpack 8 times. i guess some things you just never get used to...

anyway, thank you. it makes me very happy to hear you enjoy my writing.