slut (plaid dress, plaid coat, & clashing shades of red)

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“You always dress so classy,” she said to me as we passed on the street. “I really like how you manage to look sexy without being, you know” – she lowered her voice – “slutty.”

If anything has ever made me want to unbutton my blouse and rip a few inches off my skirt, it was that.

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That girl was just one person, sure. But I wish that attitude weren’t so endemic to the vintage community. I’ve unfollowed a couple of tumblr rockabilly blogs for continually posting stuff like “reblog if you wish women still acted like ladies”. It’s funny to me how people don’t see that ideals of modesty are constantly evolving. Many of the styles these vintage girls fetishize were downright scandalous by, say, Victorian standards. Exposed ankles? What a slut! Who’s to say today’s iterations won’t look positively dowdy in fifty years?

I hate that the way I dress comes with embedded implications of how I think or what values I hold. I, personally, prefer a more understated sex appeal in my daily life. (My burlesque life is a whole other beast.) I’m not comfortable in short skirts or tight dresses, but don’t think for a second that I’m okay with shaming people who are. My fifties dresses don’t come with fifties values. Perish the thought – you can value modesty for yourself without hurling epithets at those who aren’t just like you!

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I feel caught between worlds sometimes. I want to present Prim as Fuck and still be loyal to my poly folks and my burlesque dancers and my sex workers. I don’t want my personal style to negate my commitment to My People, and I definitely don’t want it to imply, ever, that I’m complicit in shaming others’ sexuality.

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on modernity (vintage florals, pink coat, red hat, & yellow tights)

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I don’t understand this emphasis on “vintage with a modern twist”. I don’t want a modern twist. I want to wear my circle skirts and corsets the way God (or Dior) intended. I want to look like a walking anachronism. A ghost in petticoats. (And then I want to open my mouth and shatter the daintiness, because fuck yeah contradictions.)

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It disturbs me, this obsession with looking “modern”. Living in 2015, I have thousands of years of fashion to inform me. Why would I want to confine myself to what’s trendy right now? Why would I want to telegraph “my mind is so small that I only care about what’s right in front of me”?

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I bristle when I hear “outdated” as an insult. God forbid I don’t reinvent myself every time something new comes down the runway. God forbid I know who I am and dress like it. Why is it a bad thing to know what you like? Why should I retire my attachments because someone else has decided it’s time to replace them?

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If modern styles are your thing, then wear them to death. From an artistic standpoint, I have nothing against innovation. But I question any ethos that praises modernity just because. Growth for the sake of itself. Wearing new things to fit in with the hordes of other people also wearing new things, to signal…what, exactly? That you’ll wear that dress or those shoes for a season and then leave them to collect dust? That’s not really something to brag about.

Vintage girls, they say, live in the past. We yearn, secretly or not so, for a time when men opened doors and women didn’t leave the house. Maybe some of us do. I can’t speak for everyone. But I know I’d rather fetishize the past than forget it.

 

housewife (’50s dress, dollar-store pearls, & oxford pumps)

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The milkman’s wares were spoiled this morning

but I didn’t say anything because what can he do?

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I try not to shoot the messenger,

but my whole life is messengers, it seems –

the sticky webs of secretaries I’m put through just to reach Richard;

the doctor who phoned to say my father was dead.

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Each of us only a medium,

a cog oiling itself against umpteen brothers.

With that slant, life seems less disappointing.

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The girls who sassed me in high school are only pockets of meanness,

channels for some mighty practical joke.

The man at the bank who pats my behind

is mere victim to the lusty ego men can’t help.

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The whore splayed out on Robert’s desk

when he thought I was at home with the linens

is only a puppet, a pornographic mannequin,

and the blankness on Robert’s face

just an emissary of an indifferent God.

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why i don’t write about body image (yellow novelty print & red leopard)

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I’ve always found the mainstream media fairly easy to ignore. I never internalized images of women smoother and slimmer than I. They weren’t personal, you know? I understood implicitly that they were just doing their thing, or trying to sell me something. That they weren’t targeting me from on high. What did needle at me was their counterpoint. “Love your body” rhetoric was much more pointed. “Hey you. You with the body. Did you know everyone hates it? Did you know that our entire society wants you to fail?”

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Until then, it had never occurred to me to construe slender women in advertisements as an attack on my self-image. Without such well-meaning but accidentally damning reminders, I might never have learned insecurity. Without Upworthy, without Dove, without “love yourself” plastered on mirrors and across sidewalks, I might not have figured out that women were supposed to hate ourselves.

I know they mean well. I really, really do. I know there are many young women need help ascending from self-hatred. But I’m not sure maintaining their bodies as public property is the best way to do that. To a shy girl convinced everyone is gawking at her, there’s not much of a line between “everyone thinks you’re ugly” and “everyone thinks you’re beautiful”. The subtext remains: “everyone has an opinion about your body and feels entitled to share it with you.” How about “it doesn’t matter what everyone thinks, because it’s your body, not theirs”?

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Fixation on beauty is no different, really, from fixation on ugliness. It still turns you inward. It still narrows your world to the scope of your own body. It bothers me, deeply, that such cloying affirmations pass for “women’s news” (seriously, go to any woman-centric news source), while men’s news wins the dignity of being just news. A man’s world is endless, but a woman’s must be narrowed to the breadth of her form. A woman must know how beautiful she is, how choice and rare, before she can hope to function in the world. A woman is nothing unless she is beautiful. I realize I’m building quite a tinfoil hat here, but I can’t be the only one to notice that so much mainstream feminist rhetoric replicates the exact structures it’s trying to tear down.

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It’s not that I don’t believe in beauty. If you’re reading this blog, that should be self-evident. I want to paint my face, lace my corsets, and light the fuck up. I WANT to be beautiful. Not everybody does. For every woman who needs the boost of Upworthy or “All About That Bass”, there’s another who prefers to conceal. Who would rather escape public scrutiny. A gaze is a gaze, no matter how complimentary. Running body commentary sticks with you, no matter its angle. When I was ten, I didn’t make the distinction. I internalized, instead, that everyone was staring at me whether I wanted it or not. I grew up to be someone who does want it, but that’s beside the point.

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I don’t like hearing “everyone is beautiful” because beauty isn’t mandatory. Because whether or not I feel beautiful is no one’s business but mine and those from whom I choose to seek affirmation. Neither beauty nor ugliness is a public commodity. I don’t want to move through the world, through the culture, through the blogosphere constantly reminded that my body is under scrutiny.

We don’t say “everyone can run a 4-minute mile” or “everyone has a rich, harmonious singing voice.” We acknowledge that virtues are distributed differently, that it’s not a value judgment on those who lack them, and move on. Beauty is no different. It’s one asset of many, not something inherent to womanhood. It’s part of you, but it isn’t you, and I think those who equate body image with self image would do well to remember that.

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bitch, i’m fabulous

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I have never in my life liked leopard print. Any animal print, for that matter. It’s an inside joke among my loved ones, a slice of family mythology: “everyone get Skye leopard stuff for Christmas [hurr durr]!” But this coat, courtesy of Danica, is the thing that reorients my entire life. When a piece of clothing is so striking that it makes you question long-established disgust, then you wear that piece until it falls off your cold dead bones.

I broke it in last night over my last meal of the year. ‘Tis the season for “bitch I’m fabulous” Advanced Style aesthetic. ‘Tis every season for that.

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This year I plan to…

  • grow my hair long and dye it back to pink. I love my flapper bob, but I want to do things with my hair again. I want clips and pins and towering Victorian updos. And I want it all in pink, because anachronism.
  • get that much closer to finishing this goddamn religion degree. I have a complete minor (Latin language & literature) and all my electives, so I can focus 100% on religion.
  • transition to wearing 100% vintage. I wear exclusively thrifted now, but not all my pieces are vintage vintage: I do have some reproduction. This year, I won’t buy a garment without certainty of its age.
  • visit Portland and take selfies in front of waterfalls
  • stage kitten for the Vermont Burlesque Festival
  • either finish my novel for real this time or commit seppuku, because what other option do I have really

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the other holy grail

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Sometimes you’re killing time at Old Gold before work and you decide, because you’re an incorrigible masochist, that trying on the fit-and-flare with the Peter Pan collar might be a good idea. It’s just for fun, you keep lecturing yourself, knowing full well that the purse strings are already loosening.

And then you pay up front and walk out wearing the dress, because sometimes good vintage is a matter of imprinting, really. Would you abandon a duckling that decided to make you its mama?

This dress is my Christmas present to myself. (If you follow my Facebook, you’ll notice that I also received a 40-legged stuffed caterpillar as long as I am tall and that it is the light of my life. I am a simple creature, driven by good vintage and weird garish novelties.)

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fiction

Writing is the thing I am best at. It’s also, by accident or design, the thing that frustrates me the most. I can take a hundred photos every day, but writing comes slower. Every word is a reflection of Who I Am As A Person; I don’t want to consign anything anything short of perfection to the page. So I plod along, dropping words here or there and fantasizing about the cigar I’ll smoke upon my first book deal.

I’m working on four stories right now. Here’s an excerpt from each one.

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Her name was Rachel, and I loved her. Before her, my loves were mild. Uninspired. I could take or leave those pale-eyed girls. Rachel was more. Her hips swelled into my hips and her hands belonged in mine. I loved Rachel. Let that be known.

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But in the fields I couldn’t keep my mind to myself. It lit harshly on other times, other Issachars. He was young and new, potential yet unwhittled. Were there rudiments of the future man in those unbidden smiles? He was twelve, and first felt God stroke his still-beardless face. He was twelve, and he knew.

He was fifteen and beginning to feel his truth. The bones that had carried him to manhood were filling now with a different kind of purpose. Beyond subsistence, beyond existing itself. His prayers dizzied and dazzled him. He was twenty and fervid, passion collecting itself in those bones he knew to be more than just his. He felt vocation down in the deep where boy becomes man becomes martyr. He was twenty and he was sure.

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“I am a peaceful woman,” Lizzy was fond of counseling herself, a rejoinder to that which implied otherwise. “It’s the rest of the world that’s mad.”

That night in front of the mirror, she counted out a hundred, two hundred strokes with the ivory-backed brush. Lizzy let her eyes go soft. Under midnight’s trickery, she was almost Lucy Allister. You could find the common blood in the tatty curls and permaflushed cheeks. But Lizzy’s Granny was gunning for matronhood even in her youth. Her breasts contained multitudes; her hips conquered life itself. Lizzy was Granny Lucy Allister’s colder, leaner successor.

She looked at her reflection and said “hello, Granny.”

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..but even surly and stern, she was still a woman. And he a man, no matter how awkwardly he wore his alien form. In the daylight hours, he was never to touch her. He knew this viscerally, and he had vowed to honor it. Even their shoulders, bowed together in conspiracy, would never brush. He had learned to compartmentalize on the nights when she leaned into him and begged.

(what I totally never write Maleficent fanfiction that was totally someone else and not me)
 
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and now for something completely different

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First of all, let’s address the fact that my bag looks like a giant drooling face. Okay? It’s out of my system now, so we can all move on. It was gonna haunt me.

Second of all, I’ve gone, once again, full society dame. From twee to sinister to eccentric matron. Such is the circle of Skyfe.

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In other news, I’ve been in kind of a funk lately: everyone wants to read good writing, but pitifully few are willing to pay for it. In the age of instant downloads, people feel entitled to art on demand. I am all for open source culture and expanding the marketplace of ideas, but that shouldn’t mean artists work for free. You wouldn’t believe how many journals/blogs/online magazines I submit to every month. Most of them are happy to print my work – in exchange for “exposure”. Fine, but I can’t eat exposure. Exposure doesn’t keep the heat on.

My partner Josh, who has a master’s degree in 3d printing and emerging technology, has the same problem. I suspect it’s because what we do looks deceptively easy. “Pff, anyone can write a short story. Anyone can press a few buttons and run a computer program.” I worked as a copy editor for two years, and the number of people who doubted the necessity of my position was ridiculous. “Why do we pay her to fix typos? Anyone can do that!” My imagined reply: okay, if you can, then WHY DON’T YOU?

I am actually – perish the thought – considering going back to school, if only to keep myself busy while I figure out what to do. And a few more credits to my still-unfinished degree can’t hurt.

In the meantime, I’ll keep tweeing up the place, flirting my way into burlesque shows, and having a lot of things to say.

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dame in plaid

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It’s just a basic day dress, your average McCardell-esque cotton shirtwaist, but this dress always feels ineffably fancy to me. There’s something so elegant in the soft swingy folds. I feel like a working-class wife dolling up her children for Sunday service: practical but far from plain. Forget aprons and rolled-up sleeves. The order of the day is pearls, plaid, and lace-up boots. And a really excellent hat, because of course. I should really learn to do finger waves.

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opening night

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I have been performing for fifteen years. Cabarets and madrigal choirs and bucktoothed middle-school plays. I love it all. I’ve got comedy/tragedy masks tattooed on my shoulder blades, for crying out loud. And haunted houses are still my favorite medium of all.

Every show looks the same behind the scenes. No matter how niche or cutting edge or avant-fucking-garde the performance, the crew is having the exact same squabbles over making the lights work and where to put the giant spider. (Maybe that last one’s just me.) After ten-hour workdays, after shoveling sawdust and spattering blood on everything in sight, it’s easy to stop caring. The magic goes out and the mundane rises to take its place.

Opening night announces itself. You pull all the levers and deliver all the costumes and hope for the best. And then you hear your first screams of the night. You toss a little blood in just the right places and hear breath drawing sharply in. Someone faints. Twice. True story. When the last stragglers run away screaming, you find your graying, zombified lover. And you scream together, because the screaming – the screaming is what makes all this worth it.

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One night down, five to go. This is what I am actually wearing today. I pitted ghoulish against cozy, and cozy won.

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