Archive | Past Matters

The Patterns You Keep

Norris with her bossy little husband.

Lately I’ve been wearing Norris Church Mailer’s castoffs around town. In the final years of the last Mrs. Mailer’s life, I had a friend who was dating her youngest and most toothsome son. It was no surprise, since the two (three, really) looked an awful lot alike, and when cancer whittled down the former Ford model’s once-impressive figure, I ended up with some of her size 12s.

At the time they drowned me. I was still keeping up with the Joanses and working at a gossip magazine where the median size was 2. But I was loath to throw out Norris’ gorgeous time capsules of late-70s and early-80s swank: padded ultra-violet sweaters, studded oversized belts, striped silk blouses. Fingering the materials, I’d transport to hey-day Studio 54 and Elaine’s, where clear as day I could see her towering like a brick-house over her bossy little husband, shining the good-natured self-enchantment that made her such a gas to be around even when she was suffering.

Then in a rare bright spot of this dreadful spring, I realized her big bolts of glamour finally fit me. Rather than feeling like a paunchy, middle-aged failure, it was as if I’d grown into a woman I revered. Behold the power of the right second-hand piece.

I try not to write about what a terrible clotheshorse I am. It’s not a labels thing. I tend to look down on designer clothing, a residual of coming up in a town where the most flamboyantly wealthy people were also the blandest. What I dig are wildly individualized uniforms–projections of what and who a person is feeling on a given day. Audrey Hepburn on Acid! Space Crone Liberationist! Erma Bombeck Chic! Every outfit is a costume, an opportunity to radiate a unique frequency of light, and this requires an array of options that would appall a certain organizing guru whose surname starts with K and ends with O. As in uh-oh. Continue Reading →

Best Little Girl in the World

I’ve been doing a lot of visual research for my book and today found two pics from my 20s that really freak me out. I wrote last week about my struggles with anorexia nervosa, but the photographic evidence was still tough to see. Back then I thought I looked so fly but in the one at left I am covered with a pelt of fur and at right I am literally concave. Please note: There’s nothing inherently wrong with body hair but it’s disturbing that the thick dark hair covering my limbs and abdomen fell out when I started eating regularly.

I may be flattering myself but I think in my zaftig 40s I actually look younger. Certainly it’s unclear if I’d be heading round the bend to 50 had I not found a way through my anorexia. At 25, I had auto-immune issues, joint problems, a jaundiced complexion, digestive disease, and frequently fractured bones. Yet no doctor connected these problems to the fact that I was severely underweight. It is a betrayal of the social contract to ever comment on another’s weight, yet I received so much approbation for walking around obviously ill that I was drafted as a model. (Not a humblebrag, modeling is fecked.) To be fair, it may have been hard to tell I was eating-disordered since I have my mother’s strong and sizable bones. Still. My head loomed like–well, my head loomed like fucking Barbie.

A View from the Bridge (Sorry, Mr. Miller)

I keep having a dream that I’m crossing the Massachusetts Avenue bridge connecting Boston to Cambridge. I suppose I could look up the name–doubtless one or two of you know the answer–but what really lingers when I wake is a dreamy possibility. Some part of me doesn’t want any concrete facts to disrupt that feeling.

Growing up I always loved the view from that bridge–an updated Monet painting, with the Charles River a big, dipping blue, sailboats and tiny motorboats bobbing, young and old people clutching hats and drinks. Flanking both sides were rising trees and sleek roadways–toy-cars in the grand scale afforded by that bridge. To the Northeast I could see the Museum of Science, where my father took me on Saturday mornings to study chemistry and cubs. To the Southwest were the parks, fields, all the homes I knew best.

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"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy