I’m one of the 639 other authors of Women in Clothes, and this means a few slivers of my opinion on this complicated topic can be found inside this lovely book. It’s based on a survey that was open to anyone to fill in, with questions like “Do you remember a time in your life when you dressed quite differently from how you do now?” and “What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had with someone on the subject of fashion or style?” The survey is, indeed, still open if you’re the kind of person who, like me, enjoys a good questionnaire.
One of the things I do with my time is teach writing, and one of the things I often say to my students, when they can’t think of what to write, is: think of a time when you really wanted to read something about a particular topic, and you couldn’t find anything. Then write that story. Good stories, I continue, often start their lives as a question. In the introduction to Women in Clothes Sheila Heti writes of the moment when she came up with the idea for Women in Clothes, and it was through a similar desire. She’d decided, after a lifetime of not thinking very much about clothes, to figure out how to dress. She rode her bike to a bookstore to look for the book that was about what women thought as they dressed and shopped. There was no such book.
Now this book exists, and it’s full of stories in all their candour and strangeness. Some stories I can relate to, such as Sadie Stein’s tale of transformative clothes that, whenever you wear them, something changes. I’d met a few powerful dresses in my time, an evil wig, a squirrel brooch with magical powers. Other stories make me think what utterly different creatures other humans can be. There’s photos of collections of unworn necklaces and striped shirts, navy blazers and lipstick blots. It is a little like sitting in a new friend’s bedroom, cross-legged on the bed, while they show you outfits from their wardrobe, trying to decide what to wear. Your eyes roam around the room, taking in everything.
After reading the book I got to thinking what I might have written about clothes in the past. I’ve written plenty about op shopping but the one story that came to mind was this story about dresses and kisses. 50 shades of polyester… here is some of the story, originally from I am a Camera #11, from 2007, a long time ago.
Looking through my papers the other night – and “my papers” is not one concertina file of neatly organised documents, let me tell you – I found the Schreurs celery girl.
She has long been my favourite produce box mascot, I with her beauty spot and crest of hair. I’d imagine her to be very healthy, with her diet of celery. I was pleased to find her in a cardboard envelope of otherwise unrelated papers (though what would be related, a collection of fruit and vegetable mascots carefully cut out from boxes? If only). Because a few months ago I noticed that her diet of celery had transformed her into another girl altogether.
21st Century celery girl, I know times change, and it must be nice to give the bikini a rest, but I do miss the old you.
Recently I was asked if I had ever been in a band, and in the way of the longtime memoirist I thought “I’ve written something about that”. I dug through the big pile of zines I’ve made over the years until I found a newsletter I wrote in 2007 which answers this question.
While I guess I would have liked to have been in a band that released records and played shows, my musical life has continued in the hypothetical. To the above list I can now add Lolly Cake, from 2010, a duo of Simon and I that sound like the White Stripes if the White Stripes had been teetotallers from Dunedin (named after my favourite NZ sweet). The debut and only Lolly Cake 7″ is Atoms and Evil b/w Albatrocity. I put the 7″ art we fabricated into a plastic 7″ sleeve and it looked remarkably authentic. Just add music!
That brings us up to date. Things have been quiet on the imaginary band front over the last few years – perhaps now it’s retrospective time and a Pack of Fags needs to get back together, even though we never got together in the first place.
I have made a mix for the excellent Australian literary journal and bunch of raconteurs The Lifted Brow. It includes such Vanessa favourites as the Shop Assistants, The Clean, and a wild version of “Get Off My Cloud”. It’s a good accompaniment for most activities, ones I have identified include going on travels, getting things done, staring out the window, and dancing around the kitchen.
The excellent Alex Wild and I have made an award-winning split zine about the perilous world of used cars and our adventures with them and the dubious characters we met along the way. There’s crime, romance, mystery, chance and sensible hatchbacks, in Auckland and Sydney. An ocean separates us but we have curiously parallel experiences.
It has been a while since I’ve made an I am a Camera but it has risen again, this time with a story about Sydney. I’ve been doing a lot of writing about the city on my blog Mirror Sydney over the past few years. The city that I know is different to the one that most often gets written, so that’s the kind of story you can find in this zine. It’s about three eras, the 1980s, 1990s and the present, and includes maps I’ve made of these times.
The zine made its debut at the Other Worlds zine fair and is now listed on my Etsy shop if you’re interested in buying one, I will also be stocking it with distros and stores soon. This zine was written and drawn painstakingly over the last year, printed on The Rizzeria and put together in the living room of a fibro house in the inner west of Sydney while half-watching monster movies and drinking Earl Grey.
I’ll be at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this year for a few events relating to Ninety9. First of all I’m running a teen memoir workshop called “Puberty Clues” on Saturday May 17th at the State Library, in which I will tell you all I know about writing a coming of age memoir. The next Friday, the 23rd of May, I’m on a panel about music and memoir with Emma Ayres and Omar Musa, “A Life in Rhythm“. It’s on from 4:30 – 5:30pm at Pier 4/5. Later that night I’m reading at “Mixtape Memoirs“, hosted by The Lifted Brow at the Festival Club. This jolly event will be from 7:30pm and features writers reading stories about an important song which changed their life somehow. This song will be performed live by the house band, and there will be accompanying visuals from comic artists – something for almost all the senses! What song have I chosen? There’s no fun in me revealing it now, but I will say that it’s usually listened to alone in a darkened room, or when emerging from the dry ice on the dancefloor, swishing your cape around.