Monday, January 16, 2012

Know Thyself: Dress Accordingly

The first time I joined a somewhat formal writerly community, in January of 2002, I wore an ugly green pantsuit and smiled entirely too brightly. I was ten weeks pregnant with my first child, and I had just quit my middle school teaching job because the instructor at a community college creative writing class—the only such class I’d taken—had said I should. And, so, here I was, at the semester’s opening reception of the Queens University MFA Program, ready to begin.

And now, ten years later, all I can do is hope that I make sounder fashion choices these days. As with so many other things in life—and in writing—I knew the pant suit (with an elastic waist, no less) was all wrong when I did it, but I did it anyway.

I can say there was something I liked about that horrible suit. I think I liked the jacket—tweedy gold-threaded muted piney-mustard green (okay, so that sounds unforgivably terrible, actually). I liked that it was an ensemble—three distinct pieces of clothing that went together (I haven’t mentioned the matching scarf because I really am trying to forget it; shudder). I liked that it was dressier than anything I usually wore. That I had heels to wear with it. That the length of the pants had fit me (though the jacket pretty much swallowed me whole). I liked the idea of the suit, but not the suit itself.

Like that once-upon-a-time-on-a-shopping-trip-with-my-mother-pantsuit, so many things I’ve tried to pull off in the world of fiction-writing have been better in theory than in actual execution. Once, I tried to write a story about a woman infected with tiny, white, flesh-eating insects. She also happened to be trudging along in a bad marriage; the woman was literally bugged to death. (Get it? Get it?) I’ve written stories with too many characters, stories with too few. I’ve written failed ghost stories and over-written allegories and saccharin poems about the long-ago passing of my grandfather and an essay about a girl (myself) who turned into a stone (my not-so-funny struggle with motherhood and out-of-whack hormones and the realization that, hey, I’m not a girl anymore).

I’ve used contrivances that were hugely self-conscious and ultimately false in life, in fashion, and in writing.

It’s another way of looking at killing your darlings. Throw out the ugly green suit. Know thyself: dress accordingly. Be bold in your writing. Write the terrible story about the tiny white bugs—because you have to write such crap; you really, really do—but push through it. Come out the other side. Take a deep breath. Start again. Now, say what you really want to say.

12 comments:

Mary Akers said...

Brilliant.

And you will be happy to know that I have no memory of you in a green pantsuit, ever. I do remember you smiling brightly, though. :)

Nancy said...

Oh no, Susan, I guess I need to put back the green pantsuit I had picked out for Thursday!

Don't we all have those memories that make us shudder?

Kim Church said...

LOVE it that you thought a green pantsuit would make you look like a writer. And no doubt it did.

Georgia W said...

If you had worn that outfit the year I was your twenty something age, you would have worn matching green shoes. It's a cycle. By now you are probably comfy in casual clothes whenever you appear in public. Kids have a way of demolishing vanity and promoting an interest in survival. Writer skills.

Susan Woodring said...

Mary, what a relief! THat you don't remember! Here's hoping no one else does!!!

Thank you, dear.

Susan Woodring said...

Ha, Nancy! I'd love to see your green suit!! Hee hee! Very excited about seeing you Thur.

Susan Woodring said...

Oh, Kim, no. It made me look like a major dork.

Sigh.

Susan Woodring said...

Yes, Georgia, my kids definitely remind me to pare everything down to survival...

Thanks for reading, dear.

jessica said...

Never seen you in an ugly green pantsuit. You're always dressed so well, and understated elegant!

Me? I have about three rotating "writer outfits" depending on weather/audience. And you know they always include terrific shoes.

T. J. Forrester said...

Not the green pantsuit metaphor!

Okay, it worked well, genius actually, I'm impressed. I do want to read that killer bug story!

Susan Woodring said...

Very smart, Jessica. And, you always look so sophisticated!!

Susan Woodring said...

T.J., oh, no, no, no. The killer bug story is dead. I mean, erased from my hard drive, all paper copies burned...