Writing 101: Connecting the dots
Memory is subjective. What we see through the eyes of our youth can be so different from mature understanding. I think back on times when I was certain I was right, when my views were clouded by determined judgment and no one could tell me otherwise. I later found out, through maturity and wisdom, that I had gotten the whole situation wrong.
The beauty in learning things through experience can be expressed so well in writing. We can relate incidents from those early years, describing what we did or thought at the time, then explain how we came to learn otherwise. I call it connecting the dots through writing.
For instance, I grew up in the Deep South, attending an elementary school where girls were not allowed to wear pants. My grandmother and mother were always seen fully made up and never without lipstick or pantyhose. Girls had to dress up to go out and that usually meant skirts and dresses. And for Easter, our shoes matched our bags and we wore gloves, those itchy, irritating covering that suffocated my poor hands.
One of my first memories is of a pop song that I heard on WTIX in the New Orleans of my childhood. I wanted to be the person the Cowsills sang about in “I Love the Flower Girl.” “Flowers in her hair, flowers everywhere.” I saw myself running through the park like those hippies on TV dancing in San Francisco.
But that wasn’t the proper style, I was taught so I followed that line of thinking for years, buying skirts I hoped would match well with blouses and sweaters, matching the right shoes with the right outfits. Most of the time, I failed miserably at making it work. My eye shadow never looked natural, I could not figure out the proper use of foundation, I’d buy a shirt to match something and it almost always failed to do so. And shoes — my size 10 feet with oversized arches could not handle heels!
My mother used to always say, “They’re wearing these nowadays and you should too” when she wanted to convince me to wear something proper and feminine and I’d wonder who the “they” were! They certainly didn’t look like me. She also convinced me that women in a man’s world dressed for a corporate boardroom, so suits, heels and stockings were de rigur. Whether I was an editor in a newsroom or an author at a book signing, I needed to play that part. My best friend, on the other hand, instructed me to wear boas and hats at my book signings, playing the part of the romance novelist. Neither scenario suited me.
“I love the Flower Girl. Was she reality? Or just a dream to me?”
One day I read how Katherine Hepburn loved pants. She bucked the dress trend and created a style all her own, borrowing from men’s closets. I also started getting wicked headaches from using makeup, even the hypoallergenic kind. I woke up one day and wondered why I was playing this part, this façade that had nothing to do with the real me.
I gave up the makeup — what a relief to not have to struggle through that task every morning, especially when my two young boys would run me ragged getting them off to school. No more stockings and high heels either, the former thankfully backed by a fashion trend and the latter thanked by my feet. I haven’t worn a dress in years, which usually resembled seed sacks when I did, but I do occasionally don a skirt and blouse, something more akin to that flower child. As for the book signings, people don’t come to see a corporate executive or Barbara Cartland, they come to see me, more of a Bohemian type who prefers jeans and artsy jackets. (That's one of my favorite outfits at right.)
I look back in time and see a girl trying hard to follow the status quo but who really wanted to fit into the Summer of Love. As I write this memory, I connect the dots from those early days until today and trace how many experiences have awakened me to who I really am. I’m a few years past 1967 but I think I’m finally there.
“And I knew, she had made me happy. Flowers in her hair. Flowers everywhere.”
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