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Saturday, April 4, 2015

On cuteness, youth, and glitter make-up.

The performance aspect of blogging worries at me. I want to do things genuinely and for their own sake, and it troubles me when I start to think in terms of Can I and Will I Maybe Write About This? It seems to dilute the intention behind and experience of... doing anything really.

But, on the other hand, it's kind of lonely here in my temporary basement apartment with no one to share things with but J. Not to say that I don't have friends that I can share things with, but it feels obnoxious to constantly crow 'oohh... I made a thing, want to see?' Or to hold forth on the topics that I've been turning over in my head and/or diary. At least with a blog I can sort of casually leave these things in a visible place, and people can look at them or not as they so choose. At any rate, it frees me from the worry that I'm boring people.

This next bit is of the holding forth variety. I'll just leave it here.


This is Barbara H. Donnelly.  As you can see she is (was?) "one of America's foremost experts in Needlepoint and Crewel Work." The used bookstore that my friend D and I visited last weekend keeps its craft books in the very, very back, and we almost missed them, and then when we did find them, it seemed almost not worth it because they were mostly old and uninteresting. BHD's The Crewel Needlepoint World was definitely old and, from a 'stuff I could actually use to improve my skill at needlepoint' standpoint, fairly uninteresting. (Though its promise that, "Vests that showcase his hobbies and interests are sure to be a favorite with your man!" was pretty funny.) But I needed to own Barbara H. Donnelly's picture and bio.

It's important to me to be sincere and earnest, and I am afraid that someone will read my appreciation here as ironic or snarky. It's not! I mean, I get that on one level her frosted white eyeshadow  and windswept helmet hair is funny, but I'm not writing about her right now because I want people to laugh at her, even gently.

So, why does she appeal to me, then?

Let's talk about cuteness. My book club is working through Kim Werker's  Make It Mighty Ugly, and this week we got to the activity that seems to be the centerpiece of the author's philosophy. (We also got to Skype with her, and that was pretty cool, and you can read about it here.)

The exercise asked us to make dolls or creatures or whatever-whatever that were "ugly." Which of course leads into a discussion of what exactly IS ugly? The issue I ran into was that any plan I made toward ugliness evolved pretty quickly into something cute. After all, ugly can be pretty cute. (Uglydolls are a whole thing that succeed because of this fact.)

I REALLY like cute things. I really like Sailor Moon and cakes with sprinkles and vintage floral EVERYTHING. I wear glitter nailpolish and flowers on my head.

I am almost forty.

 I'm very interested in the idea of what makes a proud and glad mature life. Not that I think I'm so very old at Almost Forty. I get it; I get it. Forty is Still Young. I've been offending people by saying that I'm middle aged for almost ten years now, and likely people will continue to be offended by my saying so for the next ten. But what is so wrong with being middle aged?

Is middle age just the admitted end of cute? Eff it all, but maintaining a youthful look and personality is HARD, and I'm not sure I think it's worth it. As much as I adore everything pink and and pretty, there's a part of me that longs to be free of the compulsion to physically BE that myself.

Imagine being able to happily own and wear cute stylish things while not being cute or hip! Imagine settling comfortably into the figure your body wants to cut (for me, more and more solid with each passing year. I seem to have skipped that adorable alterna-plump stage and gone straight to matron.) Barbara represents for me this idea of an engaging, happy, and genuinely attractive life beyond the glamour of youth. Fuck yeah frosted eyeshadow! Fuck yeah North Suburban Embroiderer's Guild of Illinios! Fuck yeah cute mustard woolen turtleneck with a thimble brooch!

I first started thinking along these lines when I saw the Harry and Edna pictures at the Intuit Gallery in Chicago. The people in the pictures were so comfortably and happily old! And yet still festively dressed and doing fun things. Edna's dresses were amazing, and in spite of her apparent wealth, you didn't get the sense that it would have ever even occurred to her to go to a gym or salon to remain thin and blonde forever and ever.

Also, I know that Edna and Barbara are a good deal older than I am. Having not had children, I think I feel more of a kinship with empty nesters than I do with women my own age. I'm not trying to make anyone feel old before their time. I just want it to be ok for me to wear glitter nailpolish and party dresses and to be pleased with myself even though I grow (by many people's standards) frumpier and less exciting all the time.

Are cuteness and ugliness polar opposites? Or is there some place where cuteness and not-conventionally-pretty-ness meet and become even more fabulous? Edna and Barbara live there. Several of the dolls we made at our book club/craft night do too. I'll admit that I'm scared to go there now, but I think it sounds like a lovely, lovely place.

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