In the Real World...

Greetings my Dear Ones!

Well, the bad sledding we call “Spring” continues here in New England.  Proms are going on despite lashing wind, bucketing rain, and seasonally below average temperatures. Sunday night, surrounding areas got a light dusting of SNOW—but not enough for proper sledding… The dogs and I are still crowding each other around the wood stove in the evenings.  The lambs, bless them, have wooly coats several inches long now and are quite happy bouncing around outside, impervious to the raw weather.

Another thirty gowns left the shop last week and we have called a halt to taking any more in—all we have to do is get the sixty still on the racks OUT before the mothers and fathers subsidizing this frivolous festival of fabric have to eat their weight in alka-seltzer.  Of course, Prom gowns are not all we do here—they aren’t even really the priority.  Weddings are.  Wedding Season overlaps Prom Season, as well as Graduation Season and Rip Your Pants For No Good Reason Season.  In the Feast of Absurdity that is a tailoring shop in Springtime, one portion of the plate is dedicated to Graduation gear.  Quite a number of girls are bringing multiple dresses in along with their prom gowns because they are also Seniors who are graduating.  I spent two days remaking vintage suits for boys who wanted to wear their father’s old tuxedos to their events.  Despite the weather and the dismal chances of a garden, it is a time of great Hope…of Optimistic New Beginnings.  

A graduate-to-be telephones to say that he does not have a cap and gown that fits him.  He wants to know if we can take the zipper out of his gown and then put in [his words] “a huge hunk of stretchy material and then cut that in half and put the zipper back in the middle of that” and how much would that cost?  Did he major in Fashion Design? Prudence wants to know. If not, tell him to shut the hell up and let us do our jobs the way we already know how! His garbled requests are so mystifying over the phone we insist he has to bring this gown into the shop so that we can walk around it in person.

When this engineering student comes in and shows us the situation, we realize that, for all his graduate-level book-learning about physics and geometry, this kid ain’t smarter than a fifth-grader, hell, he ain’t even smarter than a seamstress.   For one thing, in sewing, as in Newtonian physics, for each thing you do to a garment there is an equal and opposite reaction.  To keep things symmetrical i.e. “beautiful” (the ancient Greeks—symmetry = Beauty)  one must split the difference required (whether you are taking in or letting out a garment) and do the SAME THING to both sides as best you can.  Front and back are partners in this, left and rights are partners in this.  It’s like a square dance, with head couples and side couples.  They have to do maneuvers that balance and match.  It’s something we humans appreciate in our dancing as well as our clothing. 

This young man wants to enlarge only the front of his gown, so that the arms and side seams align somewhere with his scapulae. Think of cracking an egg top to bottom and only opening the front.  Naturally, we could not tell someone about to get a big piece of paper for being Smart, how dumb his solution was.  He rants on and on about needing “stretchy material” while we ignore him and take the measurements for the two side panels in matching fabric he needs.  Later, we add extra pleats so that the gown flows around him like a graduation gown is supposed to do.   “He’s going to learn a thing or two once he is out in the Real World,” someone comments. 

It gets me thinking.  What, exactly, IS “the Real World?” Russell Baker said “The best advice I can give anybody about going out in the world is this: Don’t Do it. I have been out there.  It is a mess.” I peer around the shop—this has got to be it. There is a half-naked woman in the dressing room whose feet smell like the inside of a hockey bag; there are scraps and thread and glitter ankle deep all over the floor, the phone won’t stop ringing and there is a man waiting at the counter to tell us that his wife has two different sized legs and we’ve wrecked her pants by hemming them evenly.  A woman who spent the morning sucking down a giant latte laxative from Junk ‘N Donuts has just gone into the restroom and had a dump that is making my eyes water.  It’s even obliterating the pong from Miss Hockey Feet. Beautiful gowns hang from the ceiling everywhere I turn.  I cannot see my co-workers in the forest of pastels… Yep.  This is the Real World alright.  

We are all part of some fantastic Show.  What is “real” about the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what sort of costumes we need to act out the pageants of our lives?  Is it “real” to dress everyone in identical ceremonial outfits and then have them listen to a 45 minute address about how Individuality is What Matters out “In the Real World”?  I think about the days when I sat in rows of matching caps and gowns, as if we were all attending Hogwarts, getting thoroughly sedated by the guest speakers, before they opened the gates to ‘the real World’ so we could rush in, like it was an amusement park, and ride all the rides! and transform the landscape with our youth! and energy! and enthusiasm! And, um, crisp…new… knowledge…. (slump) and by the time they were done—we all just stumbled numbly towards our relatives, wondering where we would go to eat and what would happen next.  The “real world” has been something like that ever since—the struggle to locate our families and loved ones, and figure out when and where and what to eat.  I’m pretty sure it’s been like that since cave times.  Get the graduates all fired up on platitudes about “Oh the Places You’ll Go” and achieving the high standards “Of generations that went before you” and then spend the rest of the day wondering where grandma wandered off to. And so it begins… this new chapter in your life.

For those of you who have not been there yet, in the Real World you will find:

·        Salt looks a lot like Sugar—be wary!

·        Your education only qualifies you to do more learning.  You have NOT learned enough—not by a long shot!

·        98% of the people you deal with are actually very nice but the 2% who ruin it for everybody make you wish for a solitary job in horticulture

·        The boy doesn’t always get the girl

·        The girl doesn’t always get the boy, or the girl, or the job, or the book deal, or the laundry folded…

·        The test comes first, the lessons after

·        Depending where you go to school, you are taught either of two things: that swearing is wrong, or that praying is wrong.  “They” were wrong.  You must do both.

·        Good & Evil are partners here to teach us to step up our game, become better people, and to understand the significance of well-knit socks…

·        Miracles happen when you least expect them

·        So do disasters

·        Only Living prepares us for life and you’ve already done some of that, so you’re good

·        You will need more diapers than you first imagined

To the young graduates shuffling through our shop, before they hop on that Hamster wheel of life alarmingly bereft of satisfaction, I want to say:  don’t get stuck spending eight hours a day to get money to buy things you think are going to make you happy, finding out they don’t actually make you happy, then going back to work to trade another eight or eighty hours to see if the next cycle will make you happy… Do the thing that makes your heart sing.  Sometimes it will be hard and that’s good for you.  Good and “easy” are not synonyms.   But pay attention: If what you are doing turns you into someone your own heart does not like, stop doing it. Ask what changes can be made, then make them. When we become people we don’t like, we start to resent those we serve.  No Good comes of that.  Listen to yourself—not the self that says “let’s sit on the couch and binge-watch Netflix”—but the Deep Self, the part of you that knows Right and Wrong.  Listen to that self.

If you can’t hear that self, get quiet and listen harder. There are layers of awareness.  And for Heaven’s sake, DON’T EVER let anyone tell you you are broken or defective.  You are not broken; you are Whole.  Maybe you  are just not yet fully developed—in the same way that my little lambs are not “broken” they are just very young and small and silly and walk as though the earth is a trampoline. In the same way, apple blossoms are not apples yet. Just because they are not apples does not mean they are wrong or “broken”—just that they need time, water, sunlight, bees…  Your youth, your innocence—these are your Gifts, not your Fault.  Take your time, build the self and life you choose.   A lot of the daily stuff will be about where to go, what to wear, how to find the ones you love in the jungle of other faces, but occasionally, you will pull off Great and Magical and Big things.  Be proud of it all. Especially the little stuff.  As Bette Reese said, “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.” 

Grow Strong!  Be Well!  Do Great things and make lots of money—Social Security is counting on you! (Ha ha ha)

With all sorts of stinky, smelly, glitter-encrusted REAL love,

Yours aye,