Sunday, 27 January 2013

#337: Mad for Fashion

Having declared my fascination with Mad Men, I have to say that it is the clothing that really makes my aging heart go pit-a-pat.  I remember clothes the way men remember cars, and I loved my 60s wardrobe;  the filing cabinet in my brain labelled "What Nancy Wore" is packed with outfits from this era.

I admit that my passion for 60s fashion is partly fueled by its association with my personal history. (For instance, I can recall the jackets, dresses and high heels I took to Europe in 1964.)  But there are other reasons why these clothes still pack such a psychic and fashion punch.   I had a hands-on relationship with my 60s wardrobe. I sewed almost everything from 1959 to 1971, so I can look at what Peggy or Megan are wearing, and recall the fabric, the texture, and how hard/easy it was to work with.  And the look was so "modern"!  The new waist-less shapes-- tubes and A-lines-- were a refreshing departure from the structured clothing of the 50s.  Not to mention, easy to sew. These were clothes-for-the-young:  cute and sexy.  And with shorter skirts and eye-popping colour they also carried a whiff of youthful rebellion.  Change was on the horizon, and year by year throughout the decade, it was reflected in what we wore.
Sew easy

The advantage of having been so thoroughly seduced by the fashions of this period is that I can now watch Mad Men and predict when "the look" will change.  Will Don and the boys ever lose the snap-brim hats?  Will Joan succumb to comfort and try a fashionable, new, lower heel?  Right now, as I await Season Six, I anticipate the arrival of the *gasp* pant suit.  It was a Big Deal at the time, so it is bound cause a flutter in the office of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.  It is hard to imagine anyone today wasting intellectual effort denouncing a particular style because it might ruffle propriety.  Flip-flops in the White House:  that is what now passes for fashion outrage.  But pants in the workplace?  Western civilization was at risk.

There was, in fact, a dress code at the University of Alberta which forbade women to wear trousers, even in the coldest winter weather.  Finally, one frigid snowy day I committed a radical act and boldly wore a pair of warm pants to campus and was rather disappointed that no-one turned me in.  Did Mrs. Sparling, the Dean Of Women, think that we would be less ladylike thus clad?  We were certainly less cold.  The powers-that-be perhaps assumed that keeping women in skirts would somehow staunch the tide of feminism.  But I don't recall behaving too badly in my first pant suit,  a modestly cut, fully-lined ensemble of grey and white striped flannel with a tailored, collarless, three-button grey jacket.  I saved my temper for the sewing machine and the challenge of creating this outfit. I am sure that I even behaved quite well when I eventually went bra-less under that jacket.  And that raises another question: will the ladies of Mad Men abandon their bras?  Now there is an interesting prospect.

1960's Simplicity 8401 Womens Pattern Jacket Skirt Pants Suit Scarf Misses Vintage Sewing Pattern Size 10 Bust 32 1/2
Aggggh! Pants Alert!
No mistake: I loved the Sixties Look when I wore it and I love it now when I see it on TV.  It fills me with nostalgia: "a sentimental longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations" (thanks, Wikipedia).  When I wistfully consider this definition, however, I conclude that it is not the clothes, or the events, or the stuff  that I really miss:  it is youth, my youth.

I suppose other people must get sentimental over reminders of their special decade, too, although I find it hard to imagine nostalgic longing triggered by That Seventies Show.  Not all decades are created equal. (A bit harsh perhaps?  But then, I was in my thirties by 1974. Obviously untrustworthy.)  Objectively speaking, my decade was special because it was the beginning of so many movements that are still unfolding. All that positive energy, optimism and hope is what made the 60s swing. I am just happy to have gone along for the ride  -- and to have had the matching wardrobe.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

#336: Still Mad....

If watching Mad Men fills me with a certain unease about my failure to detect the winds of change until they were already blowing the aluminum ash trays off the TV trays, it also fills me with delight and nostalgic longing.  Not for that world run by white men, but for its trappings.

Giddy pleasure is what I feel when entering this virtual environment with its cars, furniture, movies and music--all the sights and sounds that remind me of my late teens and twenties.   Even the Draper-Pryce office full of clattering electric typewriters  (Selectrics, possibly?) recalls a summer job when I was seconded to fill in for a vacationing stenographer.  ("I'm not that good", I told my boss.  "You'll be fine", he assured me.  And I was.)

I also experience a frisson of familiarity when specific products are pitched by the ad agency and I am pleasantly surprised at how many I recognize, because in 60s-era Alberta we were in a retail no-man's-land, or that is how it felt.  But even in the wilds of Western Canada I would have been able to buy Heinz Beans or Ponds Cold Cream -- had I been interested. And I was a certainly a consumer of Clearasil and Mountain Dew, although Jantzen bathing suits ("just wear a smile and a Jantzen") were, alas, beyond my budget.

Not every Draper-Pryce ad campaign plucks the strings of memory,  but older viewers who see the wonderful episode where Don is inspired to name the circular slide projector Carousel, will give a little sigh as they reminisce about "slide show" evenings. We all owned stacks of Carousel trays full of slides that we inflicted on patient friends and family.

Bruce and I still have our boxes of slides but our slide projector disappeared sometime in the 90s.  Never mind.  EBay exists for people like us who suddenly have retro needs and longings. (Too bad I no longer lust after an authentic 60's Jantzen bathing suit.)  Our new,/old eBay Carousel projector is now at the ready, just waiting for me to sort the slides in preparation for an evening of personal time travel.   Don would be so pleased.      

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

#335: Retiree Time

During the break at Qi Gong yesterday I was talking to the two women who are named Terry.

One of the Terrys was wearing a perfectly simple and elegant looking, molded white watch.  I admired it, and she held it up so that we could see the round, blank face.  Two watch-hands were its only adornment.  "It's my retirement watch", she explained.

"Oh dear", said the other retired Terry.  "That's not me at all."  And she produced her watch:  square, silver, and replete with hours and minutes all etched in black.  There was an hour, minute and a second hand.

Of course, I was wearing a watch too. (Most older people wear watches.)  But I was pleased to note that with its 12 tiny crystals and two hands, mine is a sort of timepiece compromise: not too laid back but not too OC either.  Perfect for a retiree about to turn 69, and still looking for the right balance. 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

#334: Retirees and Resolutions

It should be easier to stick to resolutions once we are retired---right?

Everything is in our favour.   There is greater incentive.  Finally: an opportunity to get healthy, eat better, or learn another language before it is too late!  Use It or Lose It is an imperative that is hard to ignore when we are over 65 -- this may be our last chance.  And what is stopping us? Opportunities abound.  We have more time.  We can be more flexible. The excuses we trotted out when we were working --I'm too busy or The class is on the night I work-- no longer apply.

These optimum conditions may not necessarily lead to greater success, however.

I was reminded of this recently as I stood in line at the grocery store.   I looked behind me and noticed a women about my age pushing a grocery cart surmounted by a gigantic bunch of kale, that uber-nutritious cabbage-cousin.   Beside the kale was a string bag containing about a dozen sweet potatoes, and behind that, several brownish boxes of what appeared to be quinoa, or brown rice, or barley.  Whatever it was, I was pretty sure it was healthy and whole grain.  I didn't want to peer too closely, but if I had, I am sure that I would have also seen a large container of blueberries and a nice piece of salmon.   MENU MAKEOVER!  MENU MAKEOVER!  This older shopper might as well have had a sign attached to her cart. 

But good for her.  And lots of luck with the kale.  Last year in January, I resolved to "eat more kale" and proceeded to produce a kale-full casserole that probably also included sweet potatoes and brown rice and possibly turmeric (super healthy!) and tomatoes (full of carotenoids!)  It was the sort of dish that always makes my husband inquire, suspiciously, "Is this a real recipe [and not just something you made up]?  Yes it was a real recipe, but one that put the "rough" in roughage.  It was the opposite of comfort food, if you take my meaning, and though the kale might not have been the problem, I composted the leafy remains.  My digestive system needed time to recover.

But that was a year ago, so maybe it is time to give kale another try.  And, although I can't face another kale-casserole,  I could do what I used to when I wanted to sneak healthy vegetables into my children.   Perhaps through the application of "stealth cookery" I can fool myself and Bruce.   Sure enough, when I Googled "kale" and "chocolate" this is what I found:   Double-chocolate-kale-muffins. 

It is a real recipe, but how badly do I want to keep that healthy resolution to eat more super-vegetables?   In truth, I'd rather have a plain old double-chocolate muffin with a vitamin pill on the side.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

#333: Mad about Mad Men

I am hooked on Mad Men

When I was working, I was rarely able watch at its usual time, and after a few episodes I gave up.  But I knew I would get back to it, and now, five years later thanks to the magic of Netflicks, I've seen the first five seasons in quick succession. Bring on 1966!

A lot of us are mad about Mad Men. But I am sure that no-one enjoys it as much as the cohort of folks who have first-hand experience of the Sixties.  If you are over 65, this was your life--your smoke-filled, alcohol-fueled, sexist, racist, homophobic life.   And that is just the first episode.

In fact, I am sure that the under-40 crowd cannot possibly experience this TV show the way I do. I think that younger viewers probably find it compelling , but in the same way that I appreciate Downton Abbey.  (I love everything about this early 20th century English saga although I have not lost loved ones to mustard gas, or toiled below stairs, or rallied for women's suffrage. The series is interesting, even captivating, but my appreciation is not the same as if I watched Matthew in the trenches.and experienced a visceral flash-back, a "this was my life" epiphany.)

Not so, Mad Men.  Take that first episode.  The staff at the agency are attempting an advertising makeover for Lucky Strike in the wake of research that hints at bad luck for Big Tobacco.  But for those of us who lived or worked or hung out with smokers (and that was pretty much everyone), watching Don and his advertising cronies struggle to think of something good to say about cigarettes while they light up again and again is not just a bit of dramatized social history. It is an OMG I was there experience.  I remember smoky bars, cars and staff rooms. I sat in those spaces.  I choked on that air. And if you were alive in 1960, you did too.
Got a light?

There is plenty of  "real" history in Mad Men:  Kennedy dies, John Glenn walks on the moon, Beatlemania hits North America, etc. But it is the social history that resonates, and smoking is just one of many gasp-inducing (pun intended) behaviours that assault our current sensibilities.  The sixties precipitated an avalanche of social changes and Mad Men exposes them all by simply and faithfully dramatizing life as it was, exactly as I/we lived it.  I remember that! must surely be the guaranteed response of every 70-ish viewer to every episode.    You'll know what I mean if you have watched while Don and the gang blithely drive drunk (seat belt-free), smoke in bed, litter, waste natural resources, swat their kids (and worse),  make racist, sexist and homophobic references, and most tellingly, boss around their secretaries and their wives.  Assumptions about the role of men and women in the workplace and at home propel many of the best story lines.

In my case, however, I remember that translates more accurately to I'd forgotten about that, but now I remember, and I am slightly appalled.  And here is where younger viewers have an advantage; they can view this careful portrayal of my life and times without feeling somehow guilty.  It is harder for those of us with personal experience.  There has been such a complete attitude adjustment in the last 50 years it is hard to imagine that my generation was once so unenlightened.  With the wisdom of hindsight, I feel vaguely responsible, and cannot help but wonder how could we not have spoken up?   Perhaps I can excuse myself because in 1960, I was only 16.  But even the adults I knew tolerated a good deal more than they complained about.   Cigar-chompers were not sent to the patio even though others were made sick by the smell. If a girl "got herself" pregnant, it was assumed to be "her fault".  Drunken drivers left a party and no-one thought to stop them.  Women assumed domestic chores (on the job and at home), unhappily but without question.  We were polite and adaptable-- just like the staff at Sterling Cooper.  Even Peggy, the clever, quietly ambitious copywriter with whom I most identify, knows the necessity of accommodation.

My daughters and their friends can watch as the Sixties lurch towards liberalism on Mad Men and be  impressed at how far we have come.  My response is more personal.  I wonder what took us so long.   We were like those frogs that adapt to boiling water,  tolerating the status quo because we didn't really know how else to behave.  Not yet.

OMG, indeed. 


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

#332: Happy 100

Even though I know a number of women who are well over 90, I had never met a centenarian until I visited Bruce's amazing Aunt Edna on the occasion of her 100th birthday.

We had missed out on the official party because of the 6-day flu.   However, we were fine to travel a few days later, so off we went --two hours there, two hours back--to help out with the left-overs and deliver birthday wishes.

I don't know Edna very well, but arriving just for lunch and not for a big celebration, I had a bit more time to visit and talk with the birthday girl.

Edna lives with her daughter and that may account for her excellent health.  She is mobile and sharp-witted, an inspiration to those of us who have a few more years to cover before we reach that auspicious milestone.  Most women her age would  be getting about with a cane at the very least, but no assistance was required as she cut us pieces of angel-food birthday cake (her favourite), put them on china plates with silver dessert forks, and delivered them to where we were seated.

The care with which she served that cake is no accident.  For 23 years, Edna worked at Birks Jewellers, a job she adored.  Surrounded by beautiful china, crystal and silver, she was in her element.  Her job provided an outlet for her artistic interests and talents, and she still talks about this experience with pride and pleasure.

I was amazed that at 100 years, she still considers her work-life so significant -- a defining part of her life story.  Then I began to think about the other older women that I know, and I realized that many of them are just like Edna.   In spite of all they have experienced over a lifetime, when they tell you about themselves they are very likely to say-- within the first five minutes -- "I was the office manager at So and So", or "I was a legal secretary until I retired" or "I was a high school English teacher"  even though it has been as many as 30 years since they last drew a paycheck.

I don't know what to think about this.  Will I reach my nineties still looking fondly back on my career as a librarian?  I don't doubt it.  Or are there other identities I could be cultivating in the years that remain?  (That was my intention when I first retired!)  I remind myself of what else I might become:  Volunteer. Traveller. Gardener. Grandmother.  The first days of a new year are a perfect time to have this interior conversation.

And it is not as if I (and my age-mates) don't have a good chance of reaching 90 or even 100 -- especially if the array of cards on Edna's sideboard has any significance.  When I bought our card, it was one of two 100th-birthday cards in the shop.  I picked the nicest, prepared to discover that Edna already had several duplicates.  But ours was the only one of that design.  In fact, with exception of a couple of twins,  all her cards were unique.  Some were garden-variety birthday cards,  but  most enthusiastically trumpeted  100!  100!  100!  In other words, Edna may be my only 100-year-old celebrant, but there are obviously quite few others out there. 

Oh my.  Consider the implications.  If I am fortunate enough, healthy enough, to survive that long, I will probably have lots of company.  And if that is the case, I figure we all need to start thinking now about what we want to talk about as we dig into that angel food cake.