Neurotic poet fashions

August 8th, 2008

In 1996, I joined the League of Canadian Poets, and went to the annual meeting for the first time.  How do you dress to meet a hundred poets? Expensively….

I’ve just put $400 (!) on my credit card, trying to spend my way out of terror.

I’m in Ottawa for the League conference. I registered a couple of months ago and then more or less put it out of my mind. In retrospect, I was probably reluctant to bring it IN to my mind. The day before yesterday it came home that I really had to get on a plane to Ottawa in forty-eight hours. Yesterday, I finally put together a list of things to pack, based on the fact that Ottawa has had a heat wave for the past week.

I arrived to find the weather has done a back flip, cooled down and clouded over. I unpacked to find that – in a suitcase large enough to take me to Mars and back – I had virtually nothing that matched, nothing that suited the weather, and nothing to suit the conference agenda either. The most serious gaps were something to wear under the only jacket I’ve brought with me and something to wear for the evening events that would hit the right note of poetic-talent-at-the-cash-bar.

I’m nervous about being here. I’d like to stamp myself on the memories of at least a few other poets. But this is the kind of gathering where I’m worse than useless – not even a wallflower. More like flower wallpaper. I’m also conscious of being forty-seven – hardly a hot young star in the literary sky.

So I want to look good, as good as possible. Only I can’t get away with skimpy little tops and tight skirts any more. I don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard, even though I’m trying as hard as I can.

And of course this is one of those weeks when I feel homely. There are times I look in the mirror and see all the lumpishness that flesh is heir to. Heiress to. Other times, I can live with my reflection. (I don’t know what to make of these alternating realities. I mean, it’s the same mirror, the same body the same eyes. It’s a bit like Schroedinger’s cat, existing in a nervous superposition of states.)

When the going gets tough, as the saying goes, the tough go shopping. I can flex a credit card with the best of them. But when the going is this tough, so is the shopping.

I went tramping round the Bywater Market, looking for trendy little shops where I could get something ‘interesting.’ Finally gave up and went to the shopping mall on Rideau. Bought wildly anything that looked like it might work.

Now I have a closet that looks as though I intend to stay here through at least three seasons and a weird black vest that I will probably never wear. (Who wants to stand out that much?)

I still look dumpy in this godforsaken mirror.

And tomorrow I still have to go down and attach myself to a wall with suction cups.

– From a journal entry, May 23, 1996

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