Naked and the New Black Jacket

Last night I was sitting with Bruce and he was doing something on his phone after telling me about getting a new guitar, visiting with his friend Anthony, who is also a guitarist.  As he fiddled on his phone, purchasing some additional accessory for the sound system he is building at home, I suddenly felt so sad and deficient. I started to cry while sitting there in the kitchen on the little stool waiting to turn the zucchini over in the oven.

This doesn’t seem to be about the new black jacket. But it is. Because really I was crying about the jacket and all of the undone projects I think about every day but, lately, particularly the jacket because it has gotten cold and I want the jacket to pull on in the morning. I wish to stretch my arms into its embrace, the sleeves stretching just a little as I straighten my arms and my right hand slides out the other end first and I watch the white fingertips emerge, framed by the black jersey. Brenda gave me this fabric this past summer as it’s not in her palette and black looms large in mine. I don’t even know how many yards are there. She also gave me a beautiful pale grey, same style of jersey. Both are a wool blend. I haven’t burned them to get a sense of the ratio of fibers – how much wool, how much synthetic.

It took a moment for Bruce to see I was crying and when he did he asked why and I said I suddenly felt sad and he told me not to be sad. I knew he thought it’s because of his cancer so I told him I wasn’t sad because of him, that I was disappointed in myself because I don’t do the things I love. I don’t make the things I want to make. I make things for the business, little things, closures, fill orders, cut leather straps into small pieces, punch them, rivet them, set snaps, attach hardware, put them in plastic sleeves with the correct card listing the product name, product code, provenance, instructions for use, instructions for how to recycle the card, compost the plant-based plastic (which just seems like a self-aggrandizing gesture because there are not many localities with easy and available industrial composting facilities and if you don’t have access to composting then plant-based plastic is no better for the environment than any other plastic), and find JUL on social media.

I was crying because these repeated movements are the making I do rather than the other making that I want to do every day, most of the day. My work table is piled with leather, with the tools for making these styling solutions, with the tiny off-cuts of strap ends and the little nubs of leather left over when I punch holes.

I keep telling myself that it’s a matter of schedule. If I organized my time better I could get everything done.  I would get everything done – product made, house cleaned, de-cluttered, and downsized, everything excess purged, every unwanted and unused item re-homed, relocated to the place it now belongs, used by someone, nothing wasted. If I organized my time better I could get everything done.  I would get everything done. And I would have time and a clean cutting table to lay out paper to make the pattern, re-cutting the pieces of my sloper to become the style lines and silhouette of this new jacket that investigates the possibility of a personal grammar of seams that describe where the contours of my body change direction. I imagine a luxury of time in which I can just play with forms in paper and then try them out in muslin, documenting this experimentation with conjuring three dimensions out of two.

I didn’t say most of this because Bruce was more interested, perhaps, with what he thought was a validation – protesting that I am making things all the time, that even the little little things (as I call them) are beautiful, that I shouldn’t beat myself up, that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, that my protestant work ethic is making me unhappy. This sort of validation does not help me or assuage the pain. It is not comforting. I am not satisfied with making the little little things I worry are disposable. I kept saying over and over – I want to make beautiful things. I am naked. I don’t have a jacket.

Kevin does this too – tells me not to be so hard on myself, that I’m fine the way I am. These attempts to validate the adequacy of my daily routine invalidate the rest. If I seek validation, I want a different sort, one that supports my interest in making my designs, in developing my writing, in becoming a better business woman, in developing the educational content my customers are asking me for.

I don’t fully understand this dynamic – this impulse of theirs to calm me by patting my head and telling me it’s ok. Especially Bruce, who is always striving to perfect his art, to carve out time for his photography so that he can comfortably assert he is a photographer who supports his art with his job, rather than he has a job and takes photos when he can. I am that same person. When I say I’m a designer I want it to mean of clothes, not (only) of knitwear jewelry and screw-in closures.

Actually this is not about the Black Jacket. I’m writing about self-fulfillment.  Funny to use that word, which I use to talk about the orders I pack – fulfillment. I fulfill other people’s orders. I do not fulfill myself. There is a voice that says – you are complaining about something you do nothing about. I have not made a garment since I made the Little Black Overdress this summer. No, that’s not true. I made the pajamas for Bruce. I wasn’t going to make them at first because I want to work on the Black Jacket. But I made them because Bruce has cancer. He loves them. They comfort him. I need the next project to comfort me.

The fact I don’t change myself is what makes me sad, more than some yearning to make something in particular. I despair my own immovability, my own stubborn resistance to self-fulfillment year after year. I don’t want this to sound so self-pitying. It’s not supposed to be self-pitying. I actually wanted to talk about the Black Jacket! 

Ok. What is this? Is it a diary of making and non-making? Because surely making is also preceded and succeeded by non-making. Before I can make in the world I must make in my mind. And if I am disciplined I will describe and sketch. It is not solely a deficiency that my impulse is to go straight to the material. This morning I read a brief description of a designer who draped and cut fabric directly on live models. I wonder if she is the one I read about years ago who used to stick pins in her live models too? That would have been a horrid modeling job. No amount of beauty would have made that cruelty seem justified. I am now questioning that assertion; is there beauty that justifies unnecessary suffering? No. I don’t think so. I think there is a kind of cult of personality that gets created around aesthetic genius of terrific brilliance, artists whose creations are so exquisite and ineffable, that the suffering of another (purposefully constructed as an insufficient, daily-grind, unrealized and unrealizable person), in the service of the designer’s production, is a price we are supposed to be willing to pay individually and as a collectivity. But I don’t think the suffering of others is required for the creation of beauty. I think beauty can be redemptive, should be redemptive. Everyone who participates should be able to lay claim to some benefit.

Author: Laura Bellows

Designer, Anthropologist, Writer

2 thoughts on “Naked and the New Black Jacket”

  1. We all deserve to find self-fulfillment, and if a black jacket is the way to yours, then I suggest that you practice establishing some sort of routine or habit that will give you some time every day to further that goal along. Perhaps look at your energy levels during the day and find 30 minutes when you can make that your time to take one small step. I think I understand because I believe my path to self-fulfillment is through creating things by hand but somehow I spend time doing everything but, and then another day, another week, another month has gone by. I’m good at the dreaming about the creating and living in my head, but actually doing seems so easy to set aside. I’m working on blocking out a specific hour in the more productive parts of my day and literally doing something, anything by hand. I managed to be hands-on for almost two hours today which seems huge for me! When and what step will you take tomorrow? All my best, Nan

    Like

    1. Thank you for your generous response. Your strategy sounds right, especially the fact you are considering energy level. I think that’s so key and it’s something I need to understand better about myself – what times of day work for me to do which of the activities I need to get done.

      Like

Leave a Reply to nanaluma Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: