I'd like to welcome Carolyn J. Rose to my blog today. After 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, she teaches novel-writing in Vancouver, Washington, and founded the Vancouver Writers’ Mixers. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking.
Over the course of my life, I’ve had to adhere to a number of dress codes in order to succeed—or at least stay far enough under the rule-makers’ radar to reduce the hassle factor and/or hang onto a job. I despised most of those codes. In my opinion, they didn’t make good sense.
The first code was imposed by my grandmother who loved to sew and made almost all of my clothing. The code was simple: pink is for girls and blue is for boys. Part two was: you’ll grow into it. Suffice it to say that once I got a job and could buy my own clothing, I never again wore a pink tent dress.
The second code was the one enforced at my high school in the mid 60s. The word Draconian leaps to mind. Girls weren’t allowed to wear slacks. So, on icy Catskill winter mornings, I walked the quarter mile to the school bus wearing two pairs of tights, knee socks, boots, and long woolen skirts (in shades of pink and red my freshman year). Books clutched against my puffy ski jacket, I repeated through chapped lips, “Get good grades and get out of here.”
After a seven-year respite from dress codes during my college and VISTA Volunteer days, I worked at a TV station in Little Rock where heels and pantyhose were part of an unwritten code. They were “just what everyone wore.” To get along, I went along. My arches are still paying the price.
In the 90s, I worked in a building where the dress code was generated by safety concerns—open-toed shoes or sneakers were not allowed. Finally, a dress code that made sense.
Today I work as a substitute teacher. I’ve never checked to see if there’s an official code for me because, so far, “neat, clean, and covered up” seems to be working.
It’s in my nature to rebel against rules, especially pointless rules, but last week as I shuffled to my office in my early morning writing attire, I wondered if perhaps a few—let’s call them guidelines—would boost my self-image and consequently increase my productivity. Torn T-shirt, frayed pajama bottoms, hand-me-down bathrobe, down-at-the-heels slippers. Comfortable? You bet. Professional? Nope.
I considered the outfits I don later in the day when I’m not due at school: stretched out T-shirts or sweaters, baggy jeans or shorts, droopy socks, beat-up running shoes, worn sandals. Again, not choice #1 for a job interview.
I seized the opportunity presented by a simile about writing that wouldn’t develop and dashed to my closet in search of more professional attire. After sliding hangers back and forth along the bar, I discovered I still owned one jacket; it’s a deep blue and, from the puffiness at the shoulders and bits of snipped thread in the lining, I knew it once had shoulder pads. Where they are now is a mystery, but I have broad shoulders from swimming, so I thought it wouldn’t look too bad. Besides, I wasn’t going farther than my office.
Forging on, I found I own exactly no skirts and only one dress, a sleeveless print from Hawaii that screams “party time” not “take me seriously.” So, slacks it was. I discovered one pair of all-purpose black ones that were just a little tight in the waist, and a black blouse that wasn’t too wrinkled. From the rear of the shoe rack I unearthed a pair of dusty black two-inch heels that, like the slacks, were just a little snug.
I decided a true professional would pull on a pair of stockings, but found that mine apparently left the building with my skirts. A search revealed only two knee-highs, one nude and one gray. The gray one had a hole in the toe the size of a stuffed olive, but I folded the toe under. What the heck, this was just an experiment. Right? I pulled them on and started hunting for accessories.
Nothing too extreme, I decided. That ruled out the earrings that look like Ritz Crackers, the mini bananas, and the ones that say “in” and “out.” Didn’t I once have a pair of silver hoops? I discovered only one. Well, maybe if I combed my hair over the naked ear I could get by.
Shoot! The hair. I got out the curling iron to do a little styling and, while gazing in the mirror, realized that I’d definitely need makeup—a lot of makeup.
An hour later, I settled back in my office chair to wrestle again with that pesky simile and found myself wrestling instead with the outfit. My toe slipped through the hole in that knee-high, my blouse slid out of my slacks, and the waistband that was just a little tight while I was standing compressed my internal organs and impeded my digestion when I sat.
The simile continued to evade me and I felt my legs throbbing as the elastic in the knee-highs cut off circulation. In an effort to take my mind off that, I leaned over to get my coffee and my earring snagged on the puffed up shoulder of my jacket. As I tried to work it loose, my elbow came down on the keyboard, printing a long line of Vs.
In an outdoor voice, I used a four-letter word. Thinking it was a command, the dogs raced to my side and . . . sat.
Wondering if dogs just don’t hear the letter “h,” I worked the earring loose and tried to get back to work on that blasted simile. But the dogs, who were still sitting, whined because I haven’t provided a reward. I abandoned the simile yet again and plodded to the kitchen where my slick-soled heels slid on the linoleum and catapulted me against the counter.
Limping to the bedroom, I changed back to my usual attire and decided that in the future comfort comes first. The minute I was back in my baggy jeans I came up with that simile: A writer needs a dress code like a rainbow needs government regulation.
If you have a simile that applies to how you dress for writing success, Terry and I would love to read it. One commenter will get a copy of The Big Grabowski. Winner announced this weekend.
Carolyn is the author (or co-author) of nine novels including Hemlock Lake, Sometimes a Great Commotion, and The Big Grabowski. To read first chapters or find out more about her, visit her website: www.deadlyduomysteries.com