Tag Archives: pretty frocks

The Past Is A Foreign Country

2 Dec

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep, etc.

And then God created the Garden of Eden, and made a dude out of mud to be in charge of it. Then one day when this dude, Adam, was sleeping God took one of his ribs (ew) and from that rib magically made Adam a lady-friend, Eve. Then Adam and Eve lived in paradise for, like, three days, until Eve, the original third wave feminist (she embraces diversity, change and choice!), took some bad advice from a phallic symbol serpent and ruined everything.

And we’ve been nostalgic ever since.

Sometimes I think that nostalgia is the human condition. I mean, we’ve got a minimum of three major religions based on this yearning to get back to a past that none of us remember or even understand; the most we know about it is that Adam thought it was awesome. Then again, Adam also thought that wearing fig leaves was awesome, and was married to someone who was basically his clone (I mean, is that how it works? what with the rib and all? what’s the science here? anyone?). Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that I’m not sure how reliable of a source he is.

I mean, here’s the thing: I am the queen of nostalgia. Ask anyone – I basically get nostalgic at the drop of a hat.

(Hey, remember that time you dropped a hat? How great that was? How much fun we had? Why don’t we ever have good times like that anymore?)

I don’t just moon over actual things that I’ve experienced either; I spent a good chunk of my childhood feeling nostalgic for just about any time in history, from the ancient world all the way up to The Great Depression (I blame a combination of having an aunt who is an egyptologist, reading excessive amounts of historical fiction, and watching Annie on VHS until the tape wore out). I used to drive my mother bananas by whining at her that I should have been born in the Victorian era (in response to which she would usually remind me of my fondness for indoor plumbing), and nearly every elementary school class photo shows me decked out in some kind of puffed-sleeve Anne of Green Gables floral-printed nightmare, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

If there was a book at the public library with a picture of a girl in a laced-up bodice and peasant skirt, I’d read it. If there was a weirdo food mentioned in something I’d read (blanc mange, I am looking at you), I’d tried to find a recipe for it. After learning that people seriously believed in fairies until not that long ago, I began to (non-ironically) leave food in our backyard in case the fair folk were hungry for chocolate-covered graham crackers and milk. And you know what? To be honest, my adult self is not that different, although nowadays I would probably eat the cookies, fairies be damned.

What I’m trying to get at here is that I’m totally guilty of romanticizing the past. Totally! That being said, I don’t use that as an excuse to hate the present. I mean, I like flush toilets and computers and being able to vote and science-based medicine and all that good stuff. I am pretty down with modern life (although I am sad that I don’t get to wear bustles or hoop skirts). I guess what I am trying to say is that I am confused by people who think that living a middle-class existence in the western world is basically the worst, ever. I’ve heard women bemoaning the fact that feminism has ruined womanhood (is that even a word? my spellcheck thinks it’s a word), and the fact that women can now vote, own property and work after marriage is somehow preventing them from being stay-at-home mothers or housewives or whatever. I’ve heard people complaining about the “chemicals” in antibiotics, and saying that they only do homeopathic or herbal treatments – nothing “unnatural” or doctor-prescribed. I hear people talking wistfully about the days when science didn’t exist and everything was just natural and wholesome and wonderful.

People talk a lot about “authenticity” when it comes to objects and experiences. They don’t want Walmart to exist; they want everyone to buy things from farmer’s markets and local mom-and-pop pharmacies and department stores. They want to drive to Mennonite country to buy hand-made furniture and hand-dipped candles. They want to practice yoga at sunrise on a mountaintop with someone who has studied in India and can read their chakras. When they travel to South America, they don’t want to go on a guided tour; they want to see the unspoiled part of the rain forest, want to see the “real” locals who are unspoiled by contact with the west. We’re obsessed with our idea of what’s “real”; these days, people worship at the temple of the real.

Sometimes I think that our desire for authenticity has a lot to do with our love of nostalgia. We think that the people who came before us lived lives that were somehow more “real” than our own.

But you know what guys? The past is a foreign country, and so on, and so forth. We don’t know what it was like back then; all we can go by is what we’re told, or by deciphering what’s been left behind. We will never be able to understand how people felt or lived back then; their circumstances, though not totally alien to ours, are different enough that we will never fully be able to grasp their emotions, or beliefs, or the ins-and-outs of their daily lives. We just have to trust that yes, being a woman before feminism was a raw deal, and yes, modern medicine saves lives, and yes, science and modernity serve some kind of purpose. I’m not saying, let’s not be critical of society; what I’m saying is let’s keep pushing forward and trying to make things better instead of daydreaming about a past that we can never get back.

I’m not saying that Walmart is amazing, or that any of the things I mentioned up there are bad in and of themselves, just that it’s hard to have some kind of moral superiority about where you shop when there are kids who would probably starve if there weren’t discount stores where their parents could get a cheap meal. I’m also not saying that our society isn’t obsessed with consumerism, because we are; we’re consumerist as hell. But you know what? People in the past didn’t own less things because they were better than us; it was because they couldn’t afford them. If you want to live a life of simplicity where all you can afford is a mattress on the floor and one change of clothes, then by all means, please go ahead. However, don’t kid yourself that you’re being more “real” than the next person.

Sometimes I think that the appeal of history is that we know how all the stories end. We know who wins the Battle of Hastings, and whether or not Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon, and whether or not the Titanic will ever reach New York (spoiler: it won’t). And yeah, a lot of history was scary and bloody and downright awful, but at least we know what happens. I mean, better the devil you know, right? Our modern lives terrify us because we don’t know how anything will end; sometimes it seems like we’re careening towards our own destruction, running full-tilt at things like global warming and nuclear war and widespread poverty and famine. I’ve got news for you, though: if these things terrify you, all the hand-dipped candles in the world aren’t going to save you. If you’re scared (and you probably should be), then get up and go do something, for God’s sake. Sitting at home wishing that you lived in Elizabethan England is going to accomplish exactly nothing.

I mean, except reminding you how awesome those giant ruffs were. Can we bring those back, please?

Bustles - the best, right? Baby got back, etc.

Bustles – the best, right? Baby got back, etc.

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On Bullying And Being A Clothes Horse

6 Oct

I like clothing. I like it a bunch, and not just because it gives me the ability to not be naked. If avoiding nudity was my only concern, I probably wouldn’t have as many clothes as I do.

For those of you who don’t know me very well, let me be really super clear on something here: I own a lot of clothes. A lot.

I used to not care so much about what I wore; I mean, sure, I liked getting dressed up, but if someone gave me money, I spent it all on books (or sometimes books and candy). Gifts of clothing at Christmas or my birthday were considered boring, and beneath my interest; they were quickly set aside in favour of more interesting packages. When my mother gave me money to go back-to-school shopping, I would spend as little of it as I could on a few shirts and a pair of jeans at Walmart, then save the rest for the more interesting stores.

Then puberty hit, and people started making fun of the way I dressed. Why? Because teenagers, that’s why.

Not only was I lacking in fashion sense, but I was also widely considered to be quite ugly. A classmate of mine took a sort of informal poll on the relative attractiveness of the girls in our class, and I rated lowest. Out of 28 classmates, only one (a girl named Cindy who was well-known to be the nicest person ever) had said that I was “sort of pretty”; everyone else, even (especially?) the boys had marked down “ugly” next to my name.

I tried to laugh it off, but underneath I was heartbroken.

I went home, cried, sassed my parents, ate some ice cream, cuddled my cat, scrawled in my diary, etc.

Then I decided that this was, in part, a solvable problem.

I couldn’t change my facial features or the basic structure of my body, of course, but what I could do was learn how to apply makeup and wear the correct clothes. In order to do this, I would have to figure out what the right ways to do these things was, because I honestly had no idea. I began to observe my classmates as if I were a cultural anthropologist; I made notes on what they wore, how they did their hair, and what shade of lipstick they applied. I bought fashion magazines and pored over their pages, cutting out pictures of the outfits I liked. We didn’t have a lot of money, so I started spending time at Value Village, Goodwill and the Salvation Army, digging through the racks for things that might look good, or fit me well.

I began replacing my wardrobe of printed pastel sweatshirts, track pants, babyish puffed-sleeve dresses and unflattering stovepipe jeans with slightly more grown-up attire. Back then, I wasn’t necessarily trying to be fashionable, or even dress particularly well; I just wanted to fit in and be able to disappear into the crowd. I gravitated towards basics like plain t-shirts and tank tops paired with jeans, khakis or a simple skirt. All I wanted was to be normal, because I thought normal meant that I wouldn’t be bullied anymore. I wanted to use clothing as a sort of protective armour, one that would make me look like an average high school student instead of someone with a target on their back.

By the beginning of university, I’d begun to wear things like vintage slips and old, beat-up leather jackets. I tied my hair back with old kerchiefs I’d bought for cheap in Kensington Market. My grandmother gave me an old coat of hers from the 60s, and I wore the shit out of it. I was starting to look kind of good.

While in Halifax, I was lucky enough to have two roommates who a) were approximately the same size as me, and b) had awesome, badass fashion sense. We instituted an open-closet policy, and having access to a sort of communal wardrobe gave me the chance to experiment with different looks without having to commit to them. I stopped wanting to look normal, and started wanting to look interesting. I learned to accessorize. I started putting outfits together in unconventional ways, and discovered that I kind of liked doing that.

Now, weirdly, some people actually consider me to be fashionable. It’s still a label that feels strange to me (and I often think it means “you sure do own a lot of clothes!”), and I don’t really believe that I dress particularly well. I still sometimes feel like my clothing is a disguise rather than an a form of self-expression. In a lot of ways, I’m still that skinny, ugly teenager who has no idea what to wear; I still study the way people dress (more out of habit, now, than out of necessity), and although I don’t cut pictures out of magazines anymore, I do pin copious amounts of fashion on Pinterest. But now, instead of feeling like this is something that I have to do in order to fit in, I do it because I’m looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. I also do it because I enjoy it.

Having taken the time to look back and write all this down, I’ve realized something: I took an experience that was ultimately really sad and tough and demoralizing, and out of that I developed a passion for something that I didn’t really care about before. Being bullied led me to explore and learn to love something that I might not have thought much about otherwise, something that still brings me happiness as an adult. And really, isn’t that the best possible outcome of a situation like this?

Anyway, here are a few things that are inspiring me these days. Maybe they’ll inspire you, too!

Tweed Skirt from Steven Alan

Shameless

23 Sep

On Thursday my piece about girl culture was featured as a guest post on Shameless Magazine’s website.

My response was as follows:

1. Stare blankly at computer screen, totally dumbstruck

2. Run around in circles, yipping excitedly

3. Run down to the store below my studio and tell the two dudes who are working

4. Try to explain to said dudes why I am so excited

5. Send my mother the following email:
MOM MOM LOOK I AM A REAL WRITER CHECK IT OUT
xoxo
Annabelle

6. Receive this in response:

Congratulations. Great Job! Of course you are a real writer. I always knew you were a writer. Love, Mom

7. Go home. Realize that I am really, truly happy. Decide not to do anything about being happy, but instead just sit there and experience it.

8. Put on a pretty dress

9. Pick up Theo from daycare and take him to the park

10. Try not to think about the future

When I say, try not to think about the future, what I mean is: I will try not to stress at this moment about what and where I will be published next. I will try not to worry about writing something amazing, about being The Best I Can Be. I will take this for what it is: pure and unadulterated awesomeness.

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This is good. This is good. This is good.

How I Met Your Father (or, guess what my favourite feeling is? the answer is nostalgia)

12 Sep

Today is my wedding anniversary. Three years ago today I got married.

Matt and I first met in early 2005. We were in a one-act play festival together (I almost wrote one-cat play festival, which would be AWESOME), and we met when I was hanging out backstage with my friend Debs. Matt walked in and immediately took off his shirt (because he had to change, not because he wanted so show off his sweet abs), and I remember thinking three things:

1. He is totally my type

2. He looks super young, though

3. Don’t let him catch you staring at him

Later, during the same festival, I came backstage and saw him sitting alone. For some reason I’d gotten it into my head that he was 18, and I felt super gross that, at 22, I had a giant crush on an 18 year old.

One thing that you have to know about me is that I have a history of saying awkward things at awkward times. This explains why, when I found him there, I immediately blurted out, are you really only 18?

No, he said, giving me a weird look, why? Did someone say I was?

No reason! I said, trying to sound super casual and not like a possible cougar. But, um, how old are you?

20, he replied.

Oh. 20. Well, that was do-able (literally, heh).

Okay, I said, starting to back away from him. Well, that’s good! Good to know, I mean. Okay bye!

At the cast party a few days later, we kissed. Then we kissed some more. This was all well and good, except that the party was at the apartment of someone I didn’t really know, and now we were making out on a stranger’s bed. So I asked Matt if he wanted to come back to my place, and he said yes.

Here’s the thing: I was 22 and had never had a one night stand. Though I’d had a succession of roommates who had brought the occasional stranger (or familiar face) home from the bar or a party, I’d never been brave enough to try it myself.

As we walked back to my place in the wee hours of a bitterly cold early spring morning, I couldn’t help doing a little silent preening.

This is it, gloated my inner monologue. My first one-night stand. I am finally a cool grown up who does cool things like bring strangers home. Home to my BED, that is. 

(Oh God I hope my mother isn’t reading this)

The problem with the whole one night stand thing was that it turned out that I really liked Matt. I realized this the next morning when we went out to The Spartan (the greasiest of greasy spoons) for breakfast. We were all messy morning hair and bleary, happy eyes, and the old Greek women clucked their tongues scoldingly as they brought us our food.

We giggled as the women retreated behind the counter, occasionally throwing us dark looks while muttering in a language neither of us understood. We know what you’ve been up to, their eyes seemed to say.

It probably didn’t help that Matt had several large hickeys on his neck. Whoops.

We had so much to talk about that morning. I don’t remember any of what was said, but I do remember thinking, this is good.

We saw each other fairly frequently over the next couple of weeks. At some point Matt started to want to define our relationship, but I was hesitant. I’ve never been great at relationships, and I figured that what we had was so nice, why should we risk screwing it up?

Plus, I really loved how grown-up it sounded to say, Oh, him? No, he’s not my boyfriend, he’s just the guy I’m sleeping with.

Then, after several months of not paying the utilities bills, my power was shut off and everything kind of went to hell. We had no electricity, and no hot water. Until we got our shit together and figured this out, my roommate and I needed to find other places to stay.

I called Matt in tears, expecting him to say that he didn’t have room for me.

Come on over, he said. Just come whenever and stay as long as you want.

Later that day I showed up at his front door with a knapsack full of clothing and frozen food. He hugged me and carried my bag upstairs.

At that moment, I realized that he was definitely my boyfriend.

Even after my power was turned back on, I stayed on at Matt’s place, all through that spring and summer. When I think back to that time, it has this sort of enchanted, hazy in-between feel to it. The days were cold and wet, even well into the month of June, and we spent most of our time together in bed. We drank wine and ordered in Chinese. We rented the first two seasons of The O.C. and watched episode after episode, pretending we were sitting in the warm California sun.

We were so young. 20 and 22. That’s crazy.

On September 12th 2009, I walked down the aisle of a tiny stone country church while my friends Rachel and Caitlin played the cello and clarinet. I had a crown of flowers in my hair and Matt, who was waiting for me at the altar, wore a kilt. My smile was impossibly huge; he had tears in his eyes.

Afterwards we went to the Officer’s Mess at the Royal Military College, which had this wonderful feeling of old-world shabby-gentility. We ate, we drank, we danced, we sat by the water and watched someone  set off fireworks on Wolfe Island.

Our wedding wasn’t big, or fancy, but it was perfect. I’m a big believer in not thinking of your wedding as the happiest day of your life but, you guys, it was so happy.

And here we are, three years later. This morning I was woken up in the dark hours of the night by Theo wanting to nurse, something which would usually bother me. Today, though, it was different. Waking up to feed my baby reminded me how far we’ve come since we first met, how happy I am that we’ve been on this journey together, and how amazed I am that we made this tiny, sturdy, independent little person. So instead of my usual grousing at having to get up late at night, I leaned over, kissed Matt, and said, happy anniversary.

I love you, Matt. I’m so happy that you’re in this with me.

What I looked like after I found the open bar.

In case you were wondering, this is the song we danced our cheesy first dance to:

And then the next day I got really fucked up on Ativan and flew to Paris for the Best Honeymoon Ever, but that’s another story for another time.

Family Pictures

8 Sep

A few months ago we purchased a family photo session with Diana Nazareth through Ethical Deal. I am a sucker for candid, natural light photography, and I love, love, love Diana’s work. At the end of August, we went out to the Brickworks for our session, and Diana just sent me the first image:

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I can’t even tell you how much I love this. I feel like this represents our little family so perfectly ❤

I can’t wait to see the rest of the pictures!

The Secret to Happiness

13 Aug

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Practice random acts of yoga.

Then make your husband* photograph you using the hipstamatic app.

*please note that you can substitute anyone in place of “husband”, including but not limited to: your boyfriend/girlfriend, best friend, life partner, girl you met once at a party, boy you met once at a party, person you met at a party who doesn’t want to be defined or limited by gender, your coworker, a mutant cat who was born with opposable thumbs and enough smarts to work an iPhone, Wes Anderson, that dude who gave you the side-eye because you wanted to use exact change at the corner store, your mortal enemy (I don’t recommend this one, though – they would probably take a blurry picture ON PURPOSE), your great aunt, your great aunt’s mortal enemy, Rob Ford, Rob Ford’s mortal enemy, a dude walking by on the street, the bartender from your favourite local watering hole, punk rock teenagers, punk rock adults, punk rock Margaret Atwood, etc.