Sunday, April 16, 2006


The carillon at the Baptist church next door is set for new daily hymns every month. This month the 9AM hymn, which is the first of each day, bangs out “Christ the Lord is risen today” except today, Easter, because it’s Sunday. On Sunday the first tune is the call to worship at a quarter to ten. I was not there to see how many Easter bonnets arrived.

The snake, worldwide a strong symbol of renewal and rebirth because it sheds its skin, emerging all new and shiny, is never preached about on Easter in Christian churches because the beast has another role in Christian iconography. (Physicians use the serpent, but as a pair, which makes it different.)

This year shedding a skin is a good symbol for my own renewal because I’m going through my clothes, some of them bought in hopes of losing weight and never worn but now just fitting. But skin-shedding is also an unfitting icon because I’m going back to former clothes -- a snake can’t reassume old skins: it must get bigger and bigger.

My clothes were bought in different parts of what has been a compartmented life. I still have some rather splendid things from the Sixties, like a persimmon velvet jacket with jet embroidery. In the Seventies, as an animal control officer, I bought almost no clothes because I was in uniform. In the Eighties, at seminary, I wore flannel shirts and homemade denim pants. My advisor worried and worried that I wasn’t dressing like a professional. I still have the tweed suit that I bought at graduation, but not the high-heeled boots that went with it. He nearly swooned when he saw that outfit and complimented me so much that it was painfully obvious that he was trying to manipulate me into dressing that way all the time.

I still have my homemade “preaching dresses” meant to look good above the pulpit -- a bow under my chin -- but suggest a robe -- no waist at all. And my preaching blouses are still with me -- the best ones with a little ruffle around the neck and then that bow again. There’s an iconography to collars on religious leaders: the dog collar, the forked tab, the ruff. Mostly they refer to the period in which that kind of leader first emerged.

When I came back to the rez briefly to teach in Heart Butte, I mixed and matched what I had, since there was no money for new clothes, but I was too fat to go back to my preaching clothes. The kids scoffed and sneered, conditioned by television to believe -- like my seminary advisor -- that no white person dressed casually had any value. They themselves wore black sweats. Hoods up. Pulled down over the face.

Back in Portland in my clerical/secretarial job, I was behind the scenes rather than at the counter and could be relaxed. Shirts of all sorts -- never tucked in -- over gaudy skirts. I watched for men’s tuxedo shirts on sale. My attention was on earrings -- real pendant d’orielles -- which I made from beads that I bought from the many bead shops on lunch hour. Now I rarely wear them, forsaking their gypsy attitude for practical gold hoops. Several of those skirts have been converted to sofa pillow covers.

All through every stage my wristwatch has been a large men’s leather strap quartz, good for seeing at a glance while I drove the animal control truck, while I prowled the stacks at Regenstein, while I preached or counseled, while I was packed onto a Portland bus. Now I only wear it if I’m shopping. My wardrobe revolves around fleece shirts, heavy sweatpants and woolly nightgowns.

That’s the way it goes with renaissance, self re-invention, new skins. Throw some things away -- keep others. Adapt to the now. But I was a costumer for a while way back there -- I’m well aware that clothes have a playful aspect -- deception -- and that they can point to the future.

I’ve been very intrigued by the new Pope’s preoccupation with acquiring new and more splendid robes. Even others have remarked at his splendid red kid Gucci loafers. Red shoes, eh? Not the shoes of a fisherman. What if the next loafers are snakeskin?

What does an author wear for readings? Should I show up all in black like a gunslinger? Or denim -- specially tailored -- like Paul Dyck, the artist? I think, depending on income, I’ll incline towards Coldwater Creek and Silhouettes. Both are catalog stores -- that’s what we know about here. Those outfits will be a balancing act between disclosure and disguise. There is an audience to please, but down inside me is an egg that will hatch the next book, an Easter egg, if you like. Some snakes do lay eggs, you know.

I have a pair of red high heels. Haven't tried them on. What if they fit?


Patia said...

There's a bunch of mythology about red shoes, isn't there? What would Clarissa Pinkola Estes say about the Pope's?

I've been thinking of doing a similar post about the way I choose to clothe myself. My style is a mix of themes: cowgirl, goth, urban, J. Jill artsy, hippie-granola natural fiber, fat girl practicality.

I'm not a big fan of real snakes, but I love the symbolism of rebirth, renewal and ancient feminine wisdom. Spirals, too.

SB said...

Another post I love. I want to write about it -- maybe when I start sleeping again.