LEONARD COHEN'S FAMOUS BLUE RAINCOAT
This has been a brutal year, a transformative year, and most of all a very reflective year. I speak not only for myself I think, but for many of us.
Leonard Cohen's death this week was a huge catharsis for me. Just a few weeks ago I listened to a rebroadcast of his interview with Terri Gross on her Fresh Air program in 2006. She asked him a question about the meaning behind his song “Blue Raincoat”. His answer was a lightening bolt of recognition for me.
Here is the excerpt of the interview that brought me into self alignment and awareness.
GROSS: What about the image? Do you remember how you got the image of the famous blue raincoat torn at the shoulder?
COHEN: Well, I had a blue raincoat. It was a Burberry. And it had lots of buckles and various fixtures on it. It was a very impressive raincoat. I'd never seen one like it. I think I bought it in London. And it always resided in my memory as some glamorous possibility that I never quite realized. So it began to stand for that unassailable romantic life, the opposite of a cloak of invisibility, the garment that would lead you into marvelous erotic and intellectual adventures. So that's what the symbol was, I think.
I've found it very hard to create, think, write or communicate this week. And then I listened to the Cohen interview again and I realized when I create, I take an in-breath. When I release it out into the world, I am taking an out -breath.
So in the spirit of breathing again and spinning positive energy out into the world in my own way I am conjuring my own "blue raincoats" for you so you can go “into marvelous erotic and intellectual adventures.” Thank you Leonard, for leading me back to myself. Hallelujah.
As our journeys continue and I thank you again, always, for being a part of my soul's journey – conjuring possibilities - leading me back to myself and out into the world again.
Ten years ago this year, my mother "The Dickey Queen" left this planet to go to the Big Dairy Queen in the Sky.
After her death, I went to pack up her house and found five legal sized tablets tucked into various drawers. She used these on which to write client notes while at work. Each one had pages of handwritten notes - the beginnings of her unpublished autobiography. These "mom-oir" notebooks riveted me. Who was she writing this for?
One of them started with, "I was born on the cusp and have been there ever since. I am neither Libra nor Scorpio. Not that I consider myself a misfit, but perhaps my peer group does."
My mother was a force of nature. She was born in 1930 in Savannah, Georgia to older parents who had no idea what to do with a child. Her mother, Margaret Jerusha McCann, was an Army Nurse in World War I. Her father was a barge captain from Wales who adored her, but who was rarely home to soften the blow of the harsh parenting her mother provided.
Another excerpt from her legal pad musings gave me a huge insight into her own upbringing.
"While my father embodied integrity sprinkled with wry humor, my mother attacked my personality as she attacked germs when she was a Nurse during World War I. I was too critical, too bold, too everything so she felt a desperate need to make me socially acceptable or as I saw it, acceptable to her." In the picture to the right, my grandmother, her mother, Margaret Jerusha Davis is the last woman on the right.
My mother met my father at Oglethorpe College in Atlanta, Georgia and loved his quirky personality. He wore bedroom slippers to class and recited poetry to her under magnolia trees on the university campus. He was also engaged to marry another woman at the college when he met my mother.
My mother got her brief moment of fame at Oglethorpe for her own unusual fashion statement. She told me that she was one of the poorer students at Oglethorpe and had only 2 jumpers to wear. She wore dickeys to change out her look. One day on her way to class she had an inspiration. She pinned a floral placemat inside her jumper and created a fashion movement at college with her placemat dickeys. Hence her moniker many years later, The Dickey Queen.
My parents graduated from Oglethorpe College in 1954 and got married. My mother had a degree in Music and was a classically trained opera singer. My father got his degree in English Literature. They got married in 1954 and I was born in September of 1956. By then my father was working as a shoe salesman at Adler's Department Store in Richmond, Virginia and was desperate to go to graduate school and get a real job.
Timing was everything, and soon my father was offered a full ride to get his Ph.D at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. It also gave him the opportunity to work with Buckminster Fuller - known as Bucky, an iconic thinker and creator of the first geodesic dome. My mother did what many graduate student wives did with small children, and started her life as a Southern Woman struggling to live among Yankees.
She often joked that this picture below, from their college days, in which she pretended to cut his head off with a hatchet, was such an opportunity.
When I was five and my mother was pregnant with my sister, Sandy, my father announced he was in love with someone else and left our family. The year was 1962. My mother was alone in the "North, with Yankees", and far away from her home and family in Savannah.
My mother rallied like the warrior queen I knew her to be, and went back to graduate school after my sister was born. She got her degree in Vocational Rehabilitation, and immediately started working as a counselor at the University. Restructuring her life in the early 1960s was not easy to do. She was the first divorced woman in Carbondale and she was a proud and very private outsider.
She was the keeper of her friend's darkest secrets. She was the champion of her client's dreams. And she was a towering figure in our lives.
While the thought of disappointing her was unthinkable, I am sure I did disappoint. And she chose not to have a life of her own, so that we would have her laser-like attention available to us, at all times. It often was suffocating and unnerving to have her live her dreams through us.
I turn 59 this year and I too, am thinking about my own 2nd Life. My mother was curious and a perfect candidate for a wonderful new life. But she did not have the options and opportunities she'd have today. As I move forward, reframing my own life, I am grateful to have her courage and curiosity.
Perhaps her unfinished autobiography dared not say what she wished she could have done. Better left unsaid, unwritten and most of all, unread.
Thank you mother for giving me the courage to be myself. I wish I could give the gift back to you so you could live and write the life you wanted to have.
I found this "prescription" in her diary while I was writing this today.
There are certain things that I inherently believe. I believe we all have a contract of some kind with the “invisible hand” that guides the universe. For some of us it’s pretty literal with fine print and lots of directions. And for the rest of us, it’s not.
I imagine when we are drop kicked back to earth from heaven like a soccer ball, some of us hear “Go back and save the whales.” And then are people like me who have a fuzzy memory of hearing a vague directive. I know when I plummeted back to earth I did not have a plan. I felt like an alien with thick glasses and bad hearing aids.
My germinal moments in life started with memories of what I was wearing, and continue to this day to evolve and revolve around clothing. And I now realize, 58 years into this relationship with my clothes, that clothing is my prop for self expression. Like a ventriloquist, clothing spoke the thoughts I could not. And clothing has led me on a journey back to myself.
My first memory was handed to me via my mother, the indomitable Dickey Queen. Yes, the Dickey Queen. I am part of a clothing lineage. The Dickey Queen told me that when I was in nursery school I made her wash and iron all of my outfits. I then made her line them up in the order I wished to wear them. She also said red was my favorite color.
I find that story hard to believe, but it’s too boring to make up. And if you know me, you know I've only worn black for last past 30 years.
At the age of 6 my world shattered. It was 1962 and my father left my mother – and me. My mother was 9 months pregnant with my sister, and we became the first divorced family in our small university town.
What I wore changed that year too. I refused to wear anything that matched, and I created my own strange garment pairings. When my own matched set of parents split up, I stopped wearing anything that matched. My form of grieving was to mimic the separation through my clothing. I was a misfit.
In high school my aversion to wearing things that matched worked in my favor. I was one of the first to wear dresses from the 1940s I found in thrift stores. I wore the retro dresses with lace up combat boots. Matched sets were OUT, and I was happy for the first time in my life not to be burdened by a what should I wear dilemma.
In 1979, I moved to San Francisco at the age of 23. There, funky clothing was totally in. I lived off Haight Street, and though it was not the heyday of the Haight/Ashbury movement, it was close enough for me. During my first summer there, the Dickey Queen came to visit me for two weeks. On our first night out, we passed a Free Box on Haight street filled with tantalizing clothing.
Free Boxes were commonplace in the late 70s. In that box, I remember finding a black cardigan with a rabbit fur collar. I put it on. Okay – none of us would do that now, but when you’re 23 and have no impulse control, you put that wonderful thang on before someone else snaps it up. The Dickey Queen was horrified that I was even looking in the box, and she never dreamed I’d actually pull something out and put it on. Seconds after I slipped this furry wonder onto my body, she jerked the sweater off me and said, “You don’t know who’s been wiping with that.” Yep. The image she conjured up had the desired effect. The sweater went back into the box.
My clothing journey became a CONSCIOUS one when I moved to Los Angeles and started working in the film industry.
My very first job was as a publicist at Media & Values Magazine. It was run by a progressive, very opportunistic nun who, in order to keep the magazine going, was in constant fundraising mode. On my third day there, Sister Liz told me that we would be going to an event that night. It was a private Salon at the home of a wealthy Hollywood fundraiser. She told me that Norman Lear and other luminaries would be there. Her parting words to me at the end of the day were, “Wear something elegant that will represent my magazine properly tonight.” I had lived in Los Angeles less than a week and the only clothing I had was all black. Specifically, black leggings and a black sweater from Lane Bryant that I constantly wore until they disintegrated.
Yikes! I had about $30 to my name, so I drove to Ross “Dress for Less” to get a frock for this event. And what a surprise was in store for me! I zipped to the plus size section, where I again found that loathsome phrase “Women’s World” (which must be a world the size of a pin-head, since that’s about how many things they had in my size from which to choose).
It was a horrible shopping experience. Nothing fit, nothing looked good on me, and I had to be at the event in one hour! I was panting with anxiety when I finally found a long slinky black knit dress - and bought it. To cover up my stomach and back, my roommate loaned me a kimono. I added a long strand of chunky amber to my ensemble, and zoomed off - hoping I looked acceptable to Sister Liz.
While the event was low-key, the people there were right out of PEOPLE MAGAZINE. I did indeed meet Norman Lear, as well as Bill and Hillary Clinton. Bill was freshly anointed after his speech at the Democratic Convention, and no one really knew the Clintons yet. The room was filled with luminaries. And I was not nervous. I got a lot of compliments on my “stunning” outfit, and I suddenly made the connection - that I could make my own statement with clothing. I realized I had a unique eye.
I finally did it! I conjured myself. Black “under wear”, tribal jewelry and an Asian jacket created a gestalt that was and still is “me.”
And I have to say, I’m pretty sure that that evening was in my contract with the "invisible hand". And while I remained in contact with Norman Lear for many years, I did not go to any more high profile events for a long long time.
I didn’t have to. I was on my way to transforming my own life with “conscious adornment” as my prop. Designing clothing is another step in my journey – guiding women like me back to themselves.