I told myself sternly: You will not buy more books.
You will not buy that skirt at the mall.
You will spend your money on organic food.
Suddenly I was part of the “Voluntary Simplicity” movement.
I have spent far, far more this year than I meant to, especially on books.
On the coffee table right now are:
- Colette’s Return from Love
- Conrad Richter’s The Light in the Forest
- J. P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man
- Barbara Pym’s Crampnot Hodnet
- Linda Gregg’s All of It Singing: New and Selected Poems
And part of a chest of drawers now holds books.
As for my bookshelves…
They are double-stacked. They’re in every room.
As a young woman I paid half the rent until I realized my income lagged far behind my husband’s. I had a degree in School of Letters and another in Classics. I was not prepared to live in the world. I favor liberal art degrees, but you can’t, for instance, be a doctor or lawyer (two of the very few professions I’ve heard of) unless you go back to school. This is what my friends and I did: teach at private schools (you’re supposed to have a rich husband to do this), freelance, become a paralegal, or go back to school.
Some did all.
Books, books, books! I said. That’s what I want.
I journeyed to bookstores with a friend who was in a wheelchair. She picked me up at my apartment: she drove, I did not. And we went to bookstores all over the city.
In those days we were huge fans of Cynthia Heimel’s humor books, among them Sex Tips for Girls, But Enough About You, and If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?. We wanted to be Cynthia Heimel. We sat over coffee and pastry and laughed and reflected. Did you have to live in New York to live such a life? Possibly.
Heimel wrote about unconventional feminists who wanted boyfriends, nice clothes, and possibly kippers for breakfast. We enjoyed the thought that at 40 she wanted to be “a post-feminist middle-aged maniac: the strange old bird with one hundred dogs wearing an old leather jacket. ”
We were wild then. My friends wanted things she’d never had because she was in a wheelchair. We got some things…others not!
Take the inspiration of Heimel’s “What’s a Crone to Wear?” in Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I’m Kissing You Good-bye!
I don’t know if I’m going insane (don’t answer that), but I’m walking down Melrose Avenue the other day (yes, I’m in Los Angeles, so what? I’m not having a good time or anything) and I’m popping into one store after another, looking for a long skirt, and it’s like searching for the Grail.
The clothes are wool, though it’s warm.
…they’re going to shove wool down our throats until we gag and choke and die.
And then there are the fashions.
But the other thing, and this is the main thing, is that I’m looking at clothes for teenagers. And the more I look at these butt-skimming, crushed Velvet sausage casings they call dresses, at the distressed leather motorcycle jackets, at the spangled T-shirts with rock stars’ faces emblazoned across the chest, at the shiny spandex bicycle shorts, at the sequined bras decorated with plastic fruit, the more alienated I feel.
I went to the mall recently. I can’t afford a lace sheath mini-dress for $325. (Anyway, it wouldn’t do.) I don’t want a cat sweatshirt. You are either a slut or a spinster. So I looked at a variety of tops, realizing I could wear them with slacks, and bought five so I’d have something new.
People treat me better when I wear “matron clothes.” Arrive in your bicycling clothes and they’re arrogant. Arrive in a “matron” top and jeans and they’re affable.
I don’t have any dresses anymore. I have a baggy jumper, with butterflies embroidered on it, circa 2001. I have a black dress, circa 1991. I have a schoolmarm dress I got married in, so tiny it looks smaller than my first communion dress, which I also have, courtesy of my mother.
Every woman should have a dress in her wardrobe for emergencies. I do not.
But I’m not spending money on clothes these days. I’m spending it on organic food.
I recently made a food habit list.
- You will be a vegetarian.
- You will be a vegan.
- No, you will not be a vegan. That’s too strict.
- You will eat more whole grains.
- You will eat more local vegetable.
- You will drink green tea.
Here’s what you are allowed to buy: cookbooks and lattes.
For instance, I bought Mollie Katzen’s new cookbook, The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation. We love Mollie Katzen’s recipes. I very much look forward to making Mushroom Lasagna, Green Beans and Beets with Pickled Red Onion, and Sweet Potato-Chickpea-Quinoa Burgers.
And I had a latte at Barnes and Noble yesterday.
We’ll see if I can stay simple!