Gratitude Sunday: What To Be, What Not To Be

Gratitude * Sunday

Quote of the Week – “We never know what is enough until we know what’s more than enough.” Billie Holiday

Sunday Haiku

Clouds, that special shade
of snow, weight my valley with
cold flurried teases.

Sunday Musings
Full disclosure: I used to dress up like Billie Holiday. She was a black woman who sang blues music, and sadly became addicted to drugs. I was a suburban white girl who liked to dance and drink and fortunately dodged the addiction bullet.

Did you ever play dress-up? Wear a costume? Act in a play? Ride in a parade?

I did all those things while growing up and even during adulthood. Mom kept a variety of old clothing around and the four of us kids were allowed to play dress up. We would decorate a small stage area in the garage and memorize songs from her old records and present them to the neighborhood kids. We created carnivals and circuses all requiring exotic costumes. It was a suburban version of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney’s hey-gang-let’s-put-on-a-show-in-the-barn.

Every year our elementary school put on a parade. I don’t remember now what it was for and for some reason I’m thinking it was toward the end of the school year, like early June. There was always a local big-name celebrity as the Grand Marshal, like Rusty Nails, Mr. Duffy, Heck Harper, or Ramblin’ Rod. There was a “float” or an antique car for the grand marshal to ride on. Kids dressed in costume and walked, or rode bikes bespoked with ribbons and tassels, or pulled decorated wagons with younger siblings the short mile and a half parade route from the school up to one of the local grocery stores where the parking lot was large enough for disbanding the parade. One year my sister and I had received hula skirts as a present from our uncle in the Navy. We dressed our youngest brother in a sarong and went as a Hawaiian family (sans make-up – Mom deemed us too young for make-up, but not for hula skirts and bikini tops) with leis we created from flowers from our yard. One brother declined to participate; he was adamantly cowboy that day.

Around the age of 12 I began experimenting with make-up and learned of my many skin allergies which limited make-up use. Many costumes can be implied without darkening the skin or altering hair color. In high school theater classes, I didn’t like acting; I liked to do the hair and the make-up and costumes.

My childhood church had costume parties for the tweens and teens every year for Halloween. If they hosted the party, they thought they could control the narrative, and that is food for another essay. Suffice it to say, at our church parties we were less likely to cause trouble like smashing pumpkins or TP-ing a neighborhood house. Costumes never had any guidelines or recommendations. I was fascinated by any culture and history beyond my own white suburban experience and often chose exotic characters, especially strong women characters. One year I dressed as Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile. I took my model from a World Book Encyclopedia picture and Mom was so creative helping make costumes we thought of as vaguely authentic. I imagine now they were far from authentic and today would possibly be considered inappropriate. She draped me in luxurious cloth and fake pearls dripping from a head piece over my forehead. Another year I was Pocahontas and Mom raided Dad’s stash of buckskin to rig me a dress, and my brother lent me a beaded headband he’d made in Boy Scouts. I have no doubt in my mind the details of the costume were culturally incorrect, inauthentic, or unlikely in any way representative of what the person Pocahontas wore or looked like. We were making up the costume to suit what resources we had on hand so we could play at a party.

By the time I was in high school I was in love with all things Motown, soul, and rhythm and blues. I especially loved dance songs and girl groups, and I also loved the wave of women in Rock and Roll, like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Stevie Nicks, and Bonnie Raitt, and folkies like Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Janis Ian, and Cass Elliot. I wanted to be Diana Ross, or Tina Turner, or Gladys Knight, or Aretha Franklin. I loved the Pointer Sisters’ glam and Bette Midler’s flash. I discovered Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughn, and Nina Simone, and Etta James.

I knew I’d never have the fire and energy of Tina Turner, or the soul of Aretha, but anybody can sing the blues. Weekends I’d put on my version of Billie. I haunted thrift stores looking for glamorous slinky 1940s dresses, the more sparkly the better, and by the late 60s and early 70s you could buy those old dresses cheap. I prowled through estate sales and yard sales searching for old flashy rhinestone earrings and bracelets. I bought strappy fuck-me pumps, even though I could not walk or dance in heels, and learned to stumble along in them. I wrapped strands of my straight hair around rags to get tiny springy spiral curls. For nearly a year, I had a standing order at the local florist every Friday afternoon for one white gardenia.

At the time we went dancing every weekend at various venues in the Portland Metro area. One girl pal and I went anywhere the music was good and mostly free, including gay bars. It was all just good fun, with as little seriousness as one could apply. We’d get ready after work, having some coffees to get the fire inside started while we applied our make-up and slid into our sultry dresses. We never wore blackface, too much work, and our make-up always melted off during the dancing anyway. We went for the full glam effect, enhancing what was already beautiful in our own faces. I’d fluff out my curls, and pin my gardenia in my hair on one side like Billie wore hers. We’d strap on our heels and strut out to the bars dancing til they closed. By the end of a night of drinking and dancing, my curls fell as straight as ever and the gardenia was brown and wilted. They never lasted more than one night. I didn’t call myself Billie but I wanted to emulate her, not the junkie part, but the glamorous singer/party girl part.

Was I appropriating black culture? Addiction culture? Jazz or blues culture? Native American culture? Egyptian culture? Hawaiian culture? Was I inappropriate? Were the choices of costume different in the 1960s or 1990s or now? We know more now. We are learning what hurts people every day.

Likewise the university dress-up gender party. When I was at university, the Student Life department had an event for people to cross dress in a safe space. It was a sanctioned party on campus sponsored by the school, meant to recognize and celebrate diversity. All students were invited to participate. I decided to attend and since I’m a fat old white woman, I became a fat old white man. I slicked my hair back and hid my braid, strapped a pillow in place under my huge boobs so it looked like one big man-belly, dug out a western shirt, borrowed a bolo tie from the hubster, and put a suit jacket on over it all. Several “straight” people participated. People came in the most creative costumes and the party was a blast.

This was 1998, only 20 years ago. I’m not a man nor am I gay. Was I appropriating gay culture? Male culture? I’ve been around gay people in my family since the day I was born. Was it wrong to play at this event, when it was open to all students, and attend with several classmates with whom I was friends, some who happened to be gay and some who happened to be straight? To me you love who you love, regardless of any other difference, and that party was simply great fun.

My costumes and choices came from love and admiration of the cultures of others, but how does anyone else know that? Am I a freak because I don’t think what I am and the culture I’m from is the only one of value? Am I trying to achieve some sort of moral high ground because I never used blackface?

I don’t know. I thought I was playing then. You know, having fun pretending. Not trying to hurt other people’s feelings. I hope there is a difference between a costume for fun and dressing for intimidation and malicious hatred. My favorite costume for Halloween since becoming adult has always been a witch. The year of the disastrously failed experiment mixing lime jello with clown white to get green witchy skin and the skin reaction that lased for days afterward put an end to changing skin or make-up anything. Am I violating the witches of the world by creating a witch costume? Isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

Are there lines that shouldn’t be crossed? Of course. Blackface, KKK hoods and robes, and Hitler costumes are obviously inappropriate. But I loved Micheal Jackson and it might have occurred to me to choose that costume. Is it wrong if you love and admire a person or a character to choose that costume? Did I make inappropriate choices? By any standard, maybe and probably yes. Would I make those choices now? Probably no. If I were to choose a costume these days I might be much more cautious, though I’m too lazy to change up my witch costume, which has remained nearly the same since I was 16 years old, these last 50 years. These days I’m wanting a warrior queen costume, though I’m physically non-violent (I couldn’t wield a sword to save my life) nor royalty in anybody’s queendom except my own.

Have our attitudes changed over the years? Certainly. That Pocahontas or Cleopatra costume I wore when I was a tween could be considered appropriating or at least poor taste now. But what about a man who dresses as Carmen Miranda? Or a woman who dresses as Boy George in his early days? Or the hetero couple who exchange genders, he going as her and she as him, and win the big prize at the Halloween costume party? A wealthy person who dresses like a hillbilly or a farmer? A poor person who dresses like a monarch? The Latina girl who dresses like Marilyn Monroe? A white person choosing to dress as a geisha? The young white kid who dresses like a rapper?

There is a difference between being mean or malicious when choosing a costume, and playing a role for a party, play, parade, or just for fun. I’m glad we are learning about other cultures and how to be sensitive to other people’s feelings. We’ve had enough of hurtfulness and when we pay attention to other people and their cultures we learn what’s hurtful. Sometimes we have to call a costume a costume, and get on with the pretending, because we are writing the play as we go along. Spend some thought employing all the filters and sensitivity you possibly can, and choose something that cannot be misconstrued in any way as hurtful to another person.

Color Watchcolorful attractions in my neighborhoods this week – We had enough snow to color everything white. Broad whitened view of my yard. Plastic spinning spots of yellow weighted by white. A white house for cold birds. Broken winged blue bird looks prettier covered in white. Ceramic sea bird can’t shake off the white snow.

Current View – {These are only my opinions about movies and books, but don’t let me stop you from trying these reviewed items yourself; your opinion may differ.} Finished the eight seasons of Shameless (2011 – currently in 9th season, rated TV – MA) available on Netflix. I don’t buy Showtime so I have to figure out how to see season 9. I might get to wait. * Dumplin’ (2018, rated PG – 13) about a beauty pageant contestant whose daughter is not a “standard” beauty yet enters the pageant anyway along with a couple friends who also do not fit the beauty pageant “profile”. *Spoiler alert* The “not pretty” girl gets the hot guy in the end; at least he’s a nice, hot guy. I’m not a fan of Jennifer Aniston, and with this movie, I’m still not. * I am, however, extremely fond of documentaries and found this movie at the library. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014, not rated) gives some historical overview of the last wave of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s and 1970s. I was there. We were angry. We made a few things happen toward women’s equality. For a few years we got a little complacent. Now with a misogynist buffoon who thinks he gets to have all the say over people in the United States of America in the highest office, we are angry again. I predict good changes will be happening. Because we are still angry.

Currently ReadingWhereas (2017, poetry) by Layli Long Soldier, powerful lyrical words about owning dual citizenship in America and as a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. Poetry takes me a long time to read. * Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman (2017, sociology) by Anne Helen Petersen. While reading Peterson’s thought provoking words I can’t help but think of the double standard that men often sound loud, yelling their message to the crowd, yet when women feel strongly about something we are judged not only by the content but by the delivery. As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich says, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” If we are to make changes in our society we must define both the issue and the pathway to change.

This week I have been grateful for:

  • My area had a snow threat this week and grateful to get my groceries for the week early, as there was a rush on grocery stores and many stores ran out of popular items.
  • The fat red robin I watched in the little dirt patch by the library. The library is enlarging and the small trees in the patch had recently been removed to accommodate the changes. I imagine it was abundantly rich with juicy earthworms.
  • Only a light dusting of snow.
  • Spotting animal tracks in the snow. I have neighbor cats, squirrels, possums, raccoons, skunks, and a variety of birds sharing my neighborhood.
  • Not having to go anywhere in the cold and snow.
  • A rare night when I had the pool all to myself.
  • Choosing to go to the pool which is fortunately only about half a mile away. Slow and steady, no problem.
  • How the pool warms me to the bone.
  • Remembering no matter how messed up my Social Security retirement is (and boy howdy, I really found a big crack on this one), today’s situation is today’s, and eventually it will all be worked out.
  • Having piles of books and movies from the library so I don’t have to make a last minute run.
  • Getting one more thing done toward a new-bed-ready room.
  • A handful of fresh pears from the food bank.
  • A luscious pork tenderloin also from food bank, and how refreshing oneself on a recipe before starting makes a difference these days.
  • Water.

Hoping you have a lovely week.

Namaste. Peace. Blessings.

Floral ribbon border by Laurel Burch

This entry was posted in abundance, Aging, Education, Entertainment, GRATITUDE, Grief, Health, History, Nature, Photography, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Gratitude Sunday: What To Be, What Not To Be

  1. piratesorka says:

    Seems I have done my share of dressing up, at no time did I actually pattern myself on a real person which to me falls in the imitation section instead of costume. Blackface is clearly out. Although at one time I owed a actual Indian sari, so I wrapped myself up but a red dot on my forehead, gave myself a streak of white hair and called myself Indira Gandhi.. One year while at graduate school, for Halloween I dressed in a black priestly garment ( the long sort) but I wore a red slip under it and I had a bishops little red velvet skullcap on my head. The guys thought it was a real hoot. I’m sure an actual bishop would not have been so amused but then what the hell would he be doing at our Halloween party???? My favorite garb I have is a Medieval outfit and that does not bother anyone…my girls certainly get a lot of fresh air in that outfit….in Medieval times seening mor boobs and less arm was all the rage. Now I imiagine my fave outfit is my pirate gear….I can even get away with actually using a eye patch on my left ( mostly blind eye). I think, truly that adults need to play dress up sometimes but we need to draw the line on ridicule of a race or individual. People just need to get creative and have fun….but not at someone else’s expense.


  2. Pingback: Gratitude Sunday: To Be Or Not To Be; or Random Duality | Sassy Kas

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