Cindy La Ferle on April 26th, 2011
The key to successful aging is to pay as little attention to it as possible. ~Judith Regan
Friends, I’m taking time off for a week or so. This essay ran in Strut magazine in the fall of 2007. I’m happy to report that I’ve purchased two military jackets since its publication….
What is hip?
By the time we reach our forties, most of us have discovered that fashion history repeats itself. What goes around comes around – even if we can’t button it across the middle.
This occurred to me last week at the local mall, where I was haunted by the ghosts of my high school wardrobe in every clothing store I visited. There were racks of ruffled skirts and gossamer peasant blouses. Rows of knee-high boots lavished with embroidery. Stacks of jeans dripping with beads and sequins.
My inner teenage girl desperately wanted to buy everything in sight – including the spiffy military jacket that must have been inspired by Paul Revere and the Raiders. But the voice of common sense – the voice belonging to my inner middle-aged mom – told me it was time to shop for something more mature. Something “age-appropriate.”
Ever since I turned 50, I’ve been grappling with the concept of age-appropriate dressing. I mean, with Goldie Hawn posing for magazine covers in miniscule tank tops, and Mick Jagger prancing around in the same hip huggers he wore back in 1968, what do fashion editors mean when they tell us to dress our age?
In my early thirties, not long after I became a mother, I went through the obligatory matron phase. Obsessed with parenting duties, I schlepped around grocery stores and school parking lots in oversized T-shirts and ankle-grazing denim jumpers – outfits that made my late Grandma Ruby’s housedresses look seductive. It took years to correct those fashion mistakes, and I have an album of photos to prove it.
Maturity doesn’t have to be synonymous with ugly shoes and frumpy polyester suits.
Not long ago, a stylish friend in her eighties reminded me that reaching maturity doesn’t have to be synonymous with wearing ugly shoes and frumpy polyester suits. Echoing the late Coco Chanel, my friend believes that achieving a style of one’s own can take a lifetime – and that a woman should never stop trying. I admire her savoir-faire.
As a young girl, I spent hours reading Seventeen and experimenting with fashion accessories. Clothes were costumes, part of my creativity. Over the years I tried several different “looks” until I found one that came close to expressing the authentic self I was trying to become.
Today I have no desire to revisit my youth. I don’t miss the insecurities or the acne or the go-go boots. But I do miss the fun I had with fashion when I was 16. I haven’t outgrown my weakness for romantic, handcrafted details — and I’m still crazy about anything vintage.
During our recent visit to the mall, my college-age son asked if we could stop at one of his favorite clothing stores. Walking the aisles, I pointed out that a lot of the merchandise bore an eerie resemblance to outfits his dad and I had worn at his age. (I didn’t even flinch when my son called the style “retro.”) He wandered off to look for a new track jacket while I admired a gorgeous display of hippie jewelry.
“They carry a lot of great stuff,” I told him as we left the store and headed for the mall exit. “But it’s all way too young for me, and I’d look silly in most of it.”
My son rarely has an opinion about women’s fashion – mine or anyone else’s. But this time he repeated verbatim what I always tell him when he asks for my opinion on his clothes.
“If you like it, that’s what matters,” he said, shrugging. And that was all the encouragement I needed. Next week, I’m going back for that cool military jacket.
Need some fashion advice from the experts? For excellent tips on dressing with style after age 40, subscribe to “Fabulous after Forty” online.
–Photo of the invincible Lauren Hutton on the catwalk –
Cindy La Ferle on April 17th, 2011
It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” ~John Leonard
All too often, we put our social lives on the back burner because we’re too busy with work or family obligations. Or because we think we have to pull out all the stops to entertain company.
Earlier this year, within a very short period of time, several of my oldest friends buried their beloved parents. With these losses fresh in mind, my friend Debbie (in the photo at left) and I made a pact to get together more often — and to keep it simple.
As the old Beatles song goes, we get by with a little help from our friends. But new research indicates that it goes much deeper than that: An emotionally supportive social network brings us several health benefits. This week’s column on Royal Oak Patch.com is a meditation on the tender topic of friendship. It includes some new resources to help you cultivate, nurture, or weed out your own garden of friends. Please click here to read it. — CL
Cindy La Ferle on April 14th, 2011
The eye is meant to see things. The soul is here for its own joy.” –Rumi
For collectors of inspirational quotes, the ecstatic poems of the Persian mystic Rumi are pure gold. I find most of my favorites in one of the finest anthologies of Rumi’s work, The Soul of Rumi, translated by the incredible Coleman Barks. “The Soul is here for its own joy” is such a powerful line that I just had to use it in a collage earlier this year.
Click on the images for a detailed view. You’ll note that the dress was assembled from magazine ads and scraps of wrapping paper. The word “ops” appears on the elbow of the figure. This was totally unintentional; I didn’t notice it until after I layered another coat of glaze on the piece. Talk about a message for a recovering perfectionist!
Cindy La Ferle on April 2nd, 2011
Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the staircase.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
This essay was first published in the online magazine, Literary Mama, and is included in the print anthology, Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined (copyright 2006; Seal Press). It also won a 2nd-place creative nonfiction award in Detroit Working Writers’ annual spring competition.
Spring is just a few weeks away, yet the barren landscape outside my office window looks more like the moon than southeast Michigan. Piles of brittle, gray snow flank the curb, and the sidewalk shimmers with black ice. Only diehard neighbors stick to their evening jogging routines. Spring is just a mirage.
On the liturgical calendar, it is the Lenten season. According to T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Ash Wednesday,” it is the time between “dying and birth.” It is not the ideal time to face a changing identity, pending menopause, a stalled career, or a recently emptied nest. It is the time of year when, despite my better judgment, my cheerful disposition is easily frayed. Lately my writing life seems like a long wait in line at the post office.
And it’s not that I’m seriously blocked. Just lonely. For the past five months, my only child has been happily settled in his cramped dormitory room at a university in another state. I’m still adjusting to the hollow echo of his oddly clean and empty bedroom, looking for remnants of my old self — my mothering self — in the bits and pieces he left behind.
Empty nesting, I’m convinced, is harder on mothers who work at home — mothers who stare into a computer monitor until the garden thaws in May and children migrate home from college.
Heeding the advice of a friend who happens to be a local pastor, I’ve learned that community service is the best antidote for what we Midwesterners describe as acute cabin fever. “You need to leave your comfort zone. Use your gifts in the community,” urged the pastor. In other words, do unto others and get over yourself.
Which is how I ended up working an afternoon shift at a warming shelter for the homeless.
Answering a need during the cruel winter months, a small church in my neighborhood opens its kitchen and dining room to approximately 50 homeless men and women at a time. Job counselors and social workers volunteer their expertise to those who struggle with substance abuse or unemployment (or both). Churchgoers are recruited to serve meals, scrub sticky tables, pour pots of black coffee, and perform simple clerical tasks for the under-staffed warming center.
The visiting homeless are required to wear name tags. Before starting my first shift, I was advised to call each person by name and to refer to the group as “guests.”
I have worked with the homeless in other circumstances. But I am always a bit shy at first. These people – the guests — have formed their own community, complete with its own set of rules and rituals. I am an outsider in their midst; a white journalist from planet Suburbia. I feel inept and alien when confronted by so much horrific need, yet I have come to serve, and in a small way, to mother.
My first assignment was to ladle out steaming heaps of ham and potatoes to each hungry guest who had lined up at the serving table. That day, there were close to fifty, mostly men. Most were eager to talk and visibly grateful for a free meal. I was taken aback, initially, at the way each guest wanted me to spoon his portion onto a plate and hand it to him. Not a single person would take the plates I had already filled and set on the table in the interest of moving the line quickly.
Nearby, in a cluttered corner that served as makeshift office space for the center, another volunteer was keeping company with a guest whose name tag read “Marian.” Aloof and unkempt, Marian flashed angry, intelligent brown eyes and wore a burgundy wool cap over her brow. Playing a game of Scrabble on the office computer, she didn’t mix with the other guests, nor did she want to converse with my fellow volunteer. Her body language wasn’t hard to translate: Keep out. Don’t touch. My heart is not open for business or charity. She didn’t look up when we asked if she wanted a hot lunch. Fixed on the computer screen, she mumbled something about a candy bar she had eaten earlier, and declined our offer.
One by one, all the guests except Marian were served, and I was told by the center organizer that it was time to clear the tables for dessert. I began my assignment quickly, grateful once again for the focus required of even the simplest domestic routines.
Then, suddenly, a voice.
“Excuse me, excuse me?”
I barely heard her over the metallic clatter of roasting pans and serving utensils. It was Marian, the Scrabble player. Without turning from the screen, Marian repeated her question, more audibly this time, to anyone within earshot: “How do you spell fragile?”
Slowly, carefully, my fellow volunteer spelled the letters aloud and repeated them: F-R-A-G-I-L-E.
Returning to the kitchen with an armload of dishes, I reconsidered the word and what it meant. I recalled how carelessly I’d been using the adjective to define or describe the strange terrain of my new empty nest. And how, in a single instant, its meaning, its very etymology, had changed forever. – Cindy La Ferle
– Top photo: “Morning Breaks” by Cindy La Ferle –