An Inside Job

Some mistakes are worse than others: wearing your underwear inside out isn’t as uncomfortable as wearing it back to front.” ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Greetings Dear Ones!

I am making Sunday brunch for friends and the kitchen is out of eggs so I dash to the henhouse to gather a few.  I feel terrible robbing their nest while they are looking—usually I offer a distraction like a treat that makes them all run squawking outside while I quickly plunder their smooth, warm treasures.  Lately it’s been difficult. The little ginger hen has been particularly broody lately. Refusing to abandon her post, she crouches in the box, hissing and protecting her darlings from villains like me.  It’s been very warm here recently and when I get back to the stove and crack the first three eggs, they explode with a faint Pop.  A brownish liquid runs from them into the glass measuring cup where I break them one by one before adding them to the pan.  For a second, I wonder why they don’t smell, the way one wonders if that hot sauce is really hot, just before it sears a whole through your tongue.  Within moments, I am running for the compost pile gagging. (I should write a book on how to hostess the most exciting brunches.) From the outside, the eggs looked just fine.  From the inside, I’m going to have to leave the windows open and fans running for a week.

This is often how it is with clothes.  They look fine on the outside but inside they are rotten.  Sometimes gaggably so.  And to fix them, very rarely are we able to do anything topically.  We have to take a blade and dig right in there.  We must excavate and explore the interior spaces, learn every back alley or hidden tunnel, while the body dirt falls on the cutting table and ironing board.  (A co-worker calls beach sand and bugs “surf and turf.”)  Sometimes, we cannot answer a single question without exploratory surgery first.  We get to see ugly like you’ve never dreamed it could be, inside a forty-year-old velvet tuxedo whose wearer appears to have liberally smeared his nether regions with Preparation H before each formal event.  Some of the prettiest dresses on the outside are unmentionably gross on the inside. Often, as we cut along the seams and reveal the seam allowances on the inside, we see what color the garment was when it was made, before it was stained or faded or patched or dyed with mystery beverage by those who serve party punch in trash cans.  There are all kinds of information to be gleaned behind the seams.

We never know what we are going to find inside someone’s clothing but the solutions to their problems begin there.  We must go Inward if we are to solve Outward.  It’s pure Zen.

A woman comes in with her son’s trousers.  The little pucker lines around her mouth reveal her obstinancy. “Can you let these out and lengthen them?” she wants to know but in a way that is telling, rather than asking us. A flushed and starry-eyed Bridesmaid is confused about why her gown looks smooth on the outer layer but she feels the lining “has lumps in it.” A jolly, portly man with dimples wants to know why his suit jacket lining falls down every time he puts his hands in his pockets.  A forlorn bride wants to know if we can let out her gown a trimester’s worth.  To each of them I say, “The only way to answer is to go In and go Deep.”  We cannot tell by looking at the outside what is truly happening on the inside.  We, quite literally, must turn the In side Out. The only barrier standing between the answers we seek and the surface mysteries is our Courage.  We must dare to Sink.  The answers to all these surface questions lie Under.

It’s a fascinating world beneath the linen. A man brings a sport coat to us and insists that we need to do it over for him. We’ve done it wrong, he insists.  He says we were to shorten it but it flops in a disagreeable way that vexes him.  After he leaves, I take it to my table and begin the archeological dig.  I see the work of at least two tailors who went before—the one who made the jacket in the first place, and where the next tailor made some alterations.  It’s as easy to spot the differences as it is to distinguish between people’s signatures.  We each have our own “way.”  With relief, I immediately ascertain that it was not I who caused this problem.  Eagle-eyed Prudence insists we check again to be sure.  She fully expects me to be to blame. But I am not. I am certain I have never worked on this coat before in my life.  Neither has any other person in the shop. None of us do things the way this person has done this work.  The jacket was shortened by folding up the bottom and blind-hemming it in place—leaving a huge wad of fabric tipping outward against the back of the outer layer of the jacket.  Nothing was trimmed off. The bits near the corners were cut and left completely open.  Someone had “stitched in the ditch” in the wrong color thread—probably whatever was conveniently to hand (indicating a lack of professionalism)(or a lack of bog-standard, ubiquitous black thread)(“Nonsense,” says Prudence, “how can it be ubiquitous if there was a lack of it?”)—on all of the vertical seams, making it billow and pucker oddly.  Most home sewers do not own a blind hemmer, so this was obviously some sort of professional—perhaps very old school, working quickly, who didn’t want to charge the guy a lot of money?  Who knows? The speculations are fascinating.  When I show the other ladies what the inside has revealed, we all agree. None of us did this work.  The man must be mistaken.  He is a regular customer and we fix a lot of his clothes—perhaps he got confused.  He bought the jacket second hand and it probably came this way.

We all leave our indelible marks on each other—inside where we cannot see them immediately.  They are marks of love, of trauma, of conflict…the scars of learning and growing.  At least, where clothing is concerned, it’s fairly easy to correct mistakes—once one identifies the problem, it’s only the work of a day to sort things out.  I wish people themselves would be as simple!  If only I could cut through my own seamy-ness, peer under a flap of my own soul and say, “Goodness! Look at this tangled up mess!  What is this??? Is this YARN?” and begin to unwind myself and straighten myself out.  Sport coats are way easier!

Once I understand how the extra fabric in the man’s sport coat is causing his problem, it’s easy to trim the excess, reattach the lining in its proper place and anchor the seam allowances so that the bottom does not sag.  With a good pressing, the jacket looks much better, “Normal” even. 

A young friend eating my now-eggless brunch, smiles at me and says “I’m so glad I have people in my life who challenge me and force me to change my ways!” We have been talking of someone who recently inspired her greatly.  “He called me out on some of my nonsense and I had to agree that he was right.” I gaze at her fondly.  I can appreciate how she has changed, how she is blossoming and coming into her own power, and I am so incredibly pleased for her.  It’s a privilege to see her relinquish all sense of victimhood and step into her own Grace.  She is Magnificent.  After a pause, I say “well, I hope you never expect ME to be that kind of friend!”  She laughs. “Why not?”

“I’m way too lazy.  Besides, I really don’t have the stomach for telling people what is wrong with them. All I can see is what is Right with you.  I’ll be the sort of mushy friend who likes you No Matter What.  The kind who, when you go off your diet, admits that she ate not one but TWO pints of Ice cream the day her sugar-free daughter went back to college.”

“Oh, my God…” she says, snorting tea into her lungs so fast that tears pour down her cheeks as she tries to breathe without laughing. “You didn’t!!”

“Oh, but I did!  And I won’t be the sort of friend who bails you out of jail either, so don’t make me your one phone call…”

“No doubt you’ll probably be locked up with her,” says Prudence, snarkily.  

It’s not my job to change other people. Hell, it’s hard enough to change their clothes!  Besides, I have yet to figure out how to change myself.  The 18th Century Sage, Samuel Johnson  says “The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove.”  Yep. Just as I suspected, Happiness, like clothing, is a job one must do from the inside.  After a lifetime of offering “Helpful Suggestions” to roommates, offspring, siblings, a spouse, I may not yet be a fountain of Content but I certainly agree that all attempts to Change Others only multiplies the grief we propose to remove.   (Boy, have I multiplied some Grief in my day!)  From here on in, I’m sticking with pins and pens to do my crafting.  We can work on each other’s clothes, not each other’s souls.  It is not for us to decide how others ought to be internally. Likewise, only we can decide for ourselves—only we know for sure if the Inner and Outer worlds are fitting well, stitched together securely, and Aligned properly.  The Answers are Within. We each get the privilege of Tailoring our own One Precious Life to fit us as we choose.

Be Well, my Dearies!  I love you Just As You Are, ragged Insides and all. Thank you for your Good Work today and for all you do to bring your lovely Light to this world!

Yours aye,