Okay– so those of you who have followed me since the beginning are aware that my “look” has changed. Yes, older, and very much fatter, for one thing, but even more, my dress has changed.
When I taught high school I originally started dressing as professionally as possible. Classic suits, hose, nice shoes– whole nine yards. Then I had one of those days where nothing worked right and I got to my class with my hair down, my heels in my hand and my hose shredded. Instead of laughing at me, the kids a actually relaxed around me, and while I still couldn’t dress worth a shit, it didn’t matter because mostly I was wearing jeans and T-shirts. Their opinion mattered, my administrations didn’t.
By the time I was going to events as a writer, I was… well, badly dressed.
I mean, really badly dressed.
And I was being asked to not just go places, but to go represent.
My first convention– GRL, I think– I decided to wear promotional T-shirts. I asked my husband how I looked while looking over FB posts.
“Well, you look okay, but that big white shirt isn’t exactly flattering.”
“I, uh, wore one of those every day.”
My first RT I wore Hello Kitty T-shirts over black miniskirts and tights. Yes, I was over 40, why do you ask?
My first RWA–2013– I wore jeans and T-shirts, and the sight of all of those AMAZING writers in their work clothes left me tongue-tied and defensive.
I was not representing.
By 2015 I’d figured things out a bit–and have been dressing like a grownup in public pretty much ever since.
I’ve become acutely aware of myself when in a crowd of fellow professionals. My wardrobe has expanded, and my self-consciousness diminished just a tad, and hopefully I’ve learned how to be a grownup in public–and to represent my genre much more responsibly. It was something fourteen years of disapproving high school administrators could never get me to do, and here I was, doing it all on my lonesome.
It’s taken some hard work but it’s been worth it. Self-confidence–it’s not that I haz it, but I can put on a nice dress and pretend.
So there I was, at RWA 2018 and dressed professionally, when through chance and fateful cockup I ended up having drinks with Suzanne Brockman, her husband Ed, their son, Jason, and his husband, Matt.
They were delightful. Jason has been a longtime reader and he’s funny and charming and warm– the whole family is just awesome. Of all things, Matt and I ended up bonding over our love of small dogs. I had a great time–and, uh, did I mention Suzanne Brockman is my hero?
Read Hot Target when it came out. Read the preface, about Jason coming out, to my husband. Cried a lot. I think it helped make us both who we are.
And there we were, having drinks. (EEEEEEEE!!!) And she asked me out of the blue if I wanted to sit at her table when she received the LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT RITA AWARD.
I don’t know if those caps are big enough, but I think you might get the idea.
And I almost turned her down.
Because I didn’t have anything to wear.
All these years of training myself to be THAT person–the one who looked good and professional and unembarrassing to my genre– and I had a chance to be part of history–and if you read the transcript
it’s AMAZING history–and I almost said no.
Seems silly, doesn’t it?
But the clothes have been a prop–and a damned good one. They’ve been the self-confidence I still haven’t developed, the self-assurance I’ve never had. I still spend a day and a half coming down from big conferences and crying, because the pressure of saying and doing the right thing, of not being too… too ME can be extreme. (And given that I asked a panel of medical professionals at this conference if there was a cap to how many people can see your cooter when you squish out a puppy–in those exact words– I’d say no amount of pressure can take away the ME.) The clothes were my defense against Imposter Syndrome. I couldn’t be an imposter if I had the wardrobe, right?
And I had clothes that were good for the back of the room, where I thought I’d be sitting with my friends to cheer on other friends, but not for the front of the room.
So for a moment I balked.
But Suzanne Brockman was wearing jeans and a T-shirt at drinks, and she took no bullshit from any quarter. Surely I could find SOMETHING in the giant suitcase I’d brought for that week, right? I mean, what sort of idiot turns that down for a DRESS?
Not this one. I mean, Suzanne would get all the attention–how hard would it be to find something blackish and watch her in awe?
The first dress was meant for a black bra–which I hadn’t brought. The second dress had something wrong with it–I don’t remember. I finally threw on an outfit I’d meant to wear for the signing and looked at Mate hopefully.
“Of the three outfits you tried on in the last fifteen minutes, that’s the one I dislike the least.”
I stared at him. “I’ll take it,” I said, and then I threw my phone into the stupid black purse with the chain strap that I save for trying to look classy and ran out the door.
Suzanne was awesome.
I’ve posted the transcript of her speech at the top of the page, so you can see how inconsequential my stupid dress was to the whole thing. I DID almost kill her with my stupid purse when she came back from the stage, because it fell off the back of my chair. I kicked it under, as punishment, and my phone survived, so we’re all okay.
But my point was this.
Props aren’t bad things.
The small rituals we go through to give us the confidence to do brave things can get us through the days of drudgery when bravery is the furthest thing from our hearts and minds.
But even as we use our props, put on our makeup, find that dress that doesn’t suck, look for shoes that can accommodate swollen feet, and grab a purse that doesn’t look like a yarn bag, it’s important to remember that props are just that–
Props in theater help a production go smoothly, help us forget that the house isn’t really a house, it’s just a set, and that the beautiful heroine on stage was a total twat to us in grade school and why are we watching her in a college production again?
So props aren’t bad.
But they’re not real.
It’s the writer who had penned the message, and the actor who delivers it with enough conviction to move us. When we’re both the actor and the writer, being without our props can be scary. We’re naked there on the stage of human concourse, and only our sincerity and conviction can sustain us.
We shouldn’t let the lack of our props keep us from that stage. Even if we’re up there as the audience (and how meta is THAT? God, it’s late. Don’t answer.) Not having the right props is immaterial. Do we have the right message? Do we have the convictions we can be proud of?
Suzanne Brockman got up and delivered a barn burner of a speech about inclusion, and about how we ALL needed to be a part of it, and how 53% of white women voted against it, and it was our job as writers to make sure that never happened again. She told us we had voices, and asked us how we could write about love if we didn’t believe EVERYBODY deserved it.
She spoke truth.
And I got a front row seat.
And nobody was going to give a shit about what I wore.
|Amy and Jason Gaffney. RIGHT? Dudes…|
Because what she said was real.
I need to remember that.
Not that I’ll suddenly go back to Hello Kitty shirts again, but because one of the reasons I’ve always had such a hard time with props is that I’ve had my head in the real. Suzanne reminded us of what’s real.
That’s really all that matters.